Tag Archives: garden

Getting Ready for the Garden!

This past weekend when the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the 50s and even 60s, my mind started to think of spring. The hardest part of this time of year is the waiting. I know, that’s common for many people dreaming of bathing suit weather and summer, but for me, I just want spring. I want to be cleaning out the garden, raking out the winter mess and cutting back that late season growth. I want to make the changes I’ve been dreaming about all winter. Really, I just want to play in the dirt! 🙂

As you may remember, we moved into our new house a year ago. This past year, spring, summer, and fall was all about assessment and clean up. Since we only ever saw the house in the winter, it was fun to watch it come to life. I spent many weekends pulling invasive vines, replanting saplings to better areas, trimming trees, chopping wood, and really bringing back the garden that had been neglected for a long time. After a year, it is great to see the yard take shape, and now we’re ready for the next planting, planting.
Planning the Garden

This winter, I’ve been like a kid in a candy store. Every catalog I get my hands on, I devour. Every book I’ve had on gardening, and ones I’ve been able to borrow, I consume. I’ve been doing a ton of research to make sure I’m ready for this spring, and, boy am I ready! I have some gardens laid out, and I can’t wait to get started. So, while I patiently wait for the weather to be ready, I thought I would share some of my posts over the years about late winter/early spring prep work for the garden.

Garden Planning and Catalogs

Ordering Seeds

Garden Clean Up

Think About Starting a Compost Pile

Even if you’re not as excited as I am, hopefully these posts will give you an idea or two. I just hope the warm weather continues so I can get out there, although something tells me someday soon I’ll be outside in my winter coat and gloves, raking out the beds! 🙂 Hurry up spring!

Indoor Gardening in the Winter Months

BegoniasI’m not sure if everyone is experiencing freezing temperatures, but here in the Philadelphia area, it’s been cold! This week, we’ve had temperatures in the single digits and wind chills in the negative numbers. Thankfully, today it’s a balmy 27 degrees F! 🙂

With the cold temperatures and the post-holiday slump, I can’t help but get excited for spring and playing in the garden. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still holding out for a big snowstorm, which I love, but with the countless plant catalogs filling my mailbox, my mind keeps wandering to the garden. Thankfully, I have some indoor plants to focus on during this time!

Peace Tree FarmYou may remember, this summer, I took a tour of several nurseries. The first one we went to was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA. They had an amazing assortment of plants, but the one area that really caught my eye was their variety of begonias. I’ve wanted to start an indoor begonia collection for many years, and just couldn’t ever find the varieties I wanted. Well, on that beautiful day in June, I hit the jackpot. I excitedly purchased 6 varieties to add to my ever-growing houseplant collection!

Since June, I’ve been thrilled to see how the begonias have really established themselves and thrived inside. I have them all sitting on the windowsill of my picture window in my living room. They have continued to grow, ever pushing towards the sun, and have even started to send out delicate flowers. And, since we’re in the midst of winter, with snow on the ground outside, I thought it would be nice to share some recent pictures. It’s not quite a garden walk, but a little detour to remind us that spring is coming! begonia 1I love the color of this one and the big leaves. It certainly catches your eye.begonia 2The variegated purples leaves and long stems make this one a nice addition.begonia 3This one is covered in leaves.blooms 1And there was a little surprise of blooms hidden under the leaves.

begonia 4This one has great color also, with a hint of purple.blooms 2You can’t miss the blooms on this one, shooting out.begonia 5This purple and chartreuse isn’t such a hint. It’s a dramatic look.blooms 3Once again, the blooms are shooting out towards the sun, or at least until I turned the pot.begonia 6The last one, I love the purple edging on this one!

How are you getting through the cold winter months? Hopefully you’re finding some inspiration, and spring, somewhere! Stay warm!

A Fall Garden Walk!

Yesterday was pretty much the perfect fall day!  The high was 69 degrees.  The sun was shining.  The skies were blue.  The wind was blowing.  And, because of the cold weather last week and the rain this week, the trees and the ground are covered in amazing shades of brown, gold, and crimson.  As I said, perfect!

After I came home from work, I decided to take a little stroll through the yard and see how things were coming along.  The garden is definitely nearing its end for producing new flowers and leaves, but it still has so much to offer.  I love keeping the dead blooms and shoots in the garden, especially as we near Halloween.  There’s just something perfectly autumnal about it!

So, join me for a little walk around the garden!

purple mumsYou can’t really talk about fall gardens without talking about mums.  Here is a shot of some purple ones that are probably over 25 years old but still doing great!front mumsA front view of the same purple mums.  I love the yellow centers.white mimsA different mum I have in the garden…this one is cream.black eyed susan stemsI love the way the dead stems look in the garden this time of year.  These are black-eyed susans.coneflowerThis coneflower I added this year is doing well and still blooming.asterAsters are perfect for fall color too, and I love the shade of purple for these.roseThis one rose doesn’t want to give up!crabappleThe crab apple looks great this time of year.rose of sharonI’m not sure these Rose of Sharon buds will ever open, but they look great against the backdrop of that tree.red treeA close up of that tree…I love the red leaves it gets in the fall.apple treeI seemed to have caught more sun than apples in the apple tree.pumpkinMy surprise pumpkin plant has a little pumpkin growing.  Not sure how big it will get, but still a nice surprise.  Be careful where you drop those seeds…this year’s trash could be next year’s pumpkins!maple leafAnd certainly the maple tree is getting into the action, putting on quite a show.

I hope the colors are just as inspiring wherever you are.  And I hope you’re enjoying the fall…it’s the best!

A Summer of Nursery Tours

I’ve been very lucky this summer.  I have had the opportunity to tour several nurseries and garden centers, some of which are not always open to the public.  It was so inspiring to see the huge variety of plants that these gardeners are making available to the public, and the cutting-edge techniques some of these nurseries are employing to ensure they are helping, not hurting, the environment.  It was also very exciting to be able to take some of their amazing plants home with me! 🙂

Peace Tree FarmIn June, I attended a nursery tour class through Longwood Gardens.  Our tour guide, and general expert, for the day was David Culp, a knowledgeable gardener and author of The Layered Garden. David planned a tour of several amazing nurseries that day.  The first stop was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA, with an impressive greenhouse and state of the art production.  They are certified organic, and they have the most amazing begonias I’ve ever seen.  I’m happy to report that I’m now the proud owner of 6 of their begonias, and they are doing great!

Peace Tree Farm Production

BegoniasWe then went to Paxson Hill Farm in New Hope, PA.  They have a beautiful nursery, filled with amazing plants, but also a garden maze, peacocks, and even turkeys.  I was happy to be able to take home some of their varieties of coneflower and a few other perennials that are doing great in the garden.  Paxson Hill Farm MazePaxson Hill Farm TurkeyPaxwon Hill Farm PeacockOne of the last stops we had that day was at RareFind Nursery in Jackson, NJ.  They had wonderful trees and shrubs, and a great variety.  I’m happy to report that I am now a witch-hazel owner after spending some time at their nursery!Witch HazelNorth Branch Nursery HydrangeasAlso this summer, I was visiting in Ohio and was lucky enough to meet the owners of North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, OH.  North Branch Nursery is a truly impressive operation with over 300 acres and 300 varieties of trees and 300 varieties of shrubs.  They grow over 20,000 perennials each year and have 75,000 plants in container production.  It is an absolutely beautiful property.  The property is huge, and we were happy to take a tour.  You can meander through the fields, seeing all of the trees and shrubs they have growing.  And the greenhouses with perennials is a site with such a great variety!  They grow just about everything!North Branch Nursery RosesNorth Branch Nursery ClematisNorth Branch Nursery TreesWhile we were there, I got a Little Lime hydrangea that I was very excited about.  I haven’t seen these before, but it’s a dwarf variety and has the most amazing lime green blooms.  The plant was beautiful and very hardy.  It is doing great in the yard.  North Branch Nursery Little LimeLittle LimeI was also thrilled to receive their 2014 catalog this week in the mail.  You can really see the breath of offerings they have in the catalog.  I can’t wait to dive in and see what other inspiration I get for next year!North Branch Nursery Catalog

So often, we get used to convenience, and if you’re looking for plants, that could mean looking no further than your local Home Depot.  But there really is so much out there.  If you haven’t explored some of those hidden nurseries in your area, even if they are a drive away, give them a try.  Catalogs are also a great way to get variety, but there is nothing like wandering through a nursery to get your creative juices pumping!  I know it was a great experience this summer for me, and I plan to keep it up in the future!

Growing and Growing and Growing…the Garden!

This summer has been absolutely beautiful.  It’s been cool with low humidity, and just about perfect, or at least where I am.  In fact, it’s mid-August, and I don’t even have the air on.  Judging from the way the garden is performing this summer, the plants are enjoying the mild weather too.

This year, I haven’t had to do much watering, not even in the vegetable garden.  And the weeds haven’t been as bad as they’ve been in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m out there pulling weeds quite often, or just letting them slide, but it doesn’t seem as bad this year.  Maybe it’s the mild weather.  So, since the garden keeps on putting on a show this summer, I thought I’d give you an update.

As you can see from my picture above, the butterflies are loving the butterfly bush.  And, this time of year, it’s covered with beautiful lavender blooms.

Hot Pink Crape MyrtlePink and Purple Crape MyrtleI have three kinds of crape myrtle in my garden, and they are spectacular this time of year.  These above are the hot pink, which I think is my favorite, but also purple and pink.  If you look closely at the second picture, you can see the purple blooms.  They’ve sort of grown into each other.  One of my absolute favorite shrubs.

Black-Eyed SusanThe black eyed susans are at their peak this time of year.  I have yellow blooms all over the garden.  They add such great color, and, as you can see from the picture, they are just covered with beautiful blooms.

PhloxAnother show stopper this time of year is the phlox.  I have white and purple, but this one steals the show.  It’s a pink and white mix.  I just love it.  Too bad the phlox season is a short one.

HollyhockThe hollyhock are also putting on quite a show this time of year.  When I first planted hollyhock, I think I was in college.  I bought seeds and planted a great double variety I found at Burpee.  I loved their bold colors and huge double blooms, but, as I get older, I appreciate the simple single blooms as well.  The single blooms have more of a cottage garden look to them, and I love the show they put on, rising high above the rest in the garden.

DaisyDaisies have to be one of the best perennials out there.  They are so versatile, with there beautiful white blooms.  They are so hardy.  And, probably the best thing, they have a long blooming season.  These have been blooming for a while.  And, although the show isn’t as big as it first was, they are still popping up in the garden.Cone FlowerThis one is a new addition to my garden this year.  It’s a coneflower named Raspberry  Truffle.  Isn’t it just great?  The blooms are big and colorful, and it’s quite a showstopper!20140805_194601Another must have for any shady spot in the garden is a hosta.  I have quite a few in my garden, and this time of year they send up those lovely blooms.  I am a huge fan of the big, beautiful leaves, but when those blooms come up, they are just perfection!

PumpkinsAs a lesson to everyone about the importance of properly disposing of pumpkin seeds, I found this surprise in my perennial bed in front of my back porch.  I must have dropped some pumpkin seeds last Halloween, and it looks like they sprouted quite a big pumpkin plant.  I can’t wait to see what starts growing off this shoot.

TomatoAnd because an update of the garden wouldn’t be complete without a vegetable update, and I have spoken enough about the squash and zucchini, this is a picture of one of my favorite things!  It’s my FIRST red tomato of the season!  This beautiful Brandywine was found just 2 days ago, and I couldn’t have been happier.  I have been waiting for a long time for these to turn red.

Of course, I couldn’t wait to dig in, so, I turned that beautiful baby into one of the best bruschettas I ever made!  Bruschetta

Hope you’re enjoying your garden or maybe a neighbors! 🙂  And I hope you’re having great weather this summer too!

Strawberries Everywhere…and Strawberry Shortcake!

Strawberry PlantWhen I was in 6th grade, my younger brother gave me a strawberry plant. At our school, the 6th graders had “partners” in 2nd grade, and he was my partner. We helped them with school work and projects, and did some fun things with them during school. At some point, they grew strawberry plants for us as a gift (for the life of me I can’t remember why). And, at that young age, I had already loved gardening, so I was very excited to take it home and plant it in the garden. Sure enough, it did great that summer, and then the next spring, there were strawberries and plants everywhere. While the strawberries were great, over the years, my mom had enough of the plants taking over the entire garden, so, unfortunately, they all came out. But, I learned a few very important lessons: 1) strawberries are really easy to grow and delicious, and 2) the plants will take over any space you give them!

BiteMany years later, as I was cleaning up the gardens at my house, and pulling out tons of pachysandra that had been planted just about everywhere, I had a revelation. There are 3 very small beds next to my house that are completely enclosed in concrete. The beds boarder the house on one side and the sidewalk on the other. So, the light bulb went off, and I decided to plant strawberries there. They could grow and spread, and not intrude on anything else, and they have done great in this spot. For many years, they were enjoyed by my nephews who would pick away and eat them, covering themselves in the red juice. Now that they are a little older, they have some self-control, and I get to enjoy the strawberries, and when I’m lucky, there are enough to make strawberry shortcake!

For me, there is only one way to make strawberry shortcake…and that’s with a biscuit or scone. Don’t get me wrong, when you use pound cake or some other cake, it’s delicious. But it’s just not Butterthe same for me. I love the crumbly texture of the biscuit that soaks up the juice, combined with the creamy whipped cream and juicy berries. The recipe I have I adapted from one I found online, which, for the life of me now, I can’t find the link, but it’s a simple scone recipe with macerated berries and whipped cream.

Whisk together 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Cut in 1/3 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces. If you have a food processor, you can use that. Otherwise, just try to work in the butter using a fork. I often times need to get my hands into it to break up the pieces of butter. If you do this, just be careful, you don’t want the butter to melt. You need to work it fast if you use your hands. Then whisk 1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/2 cup heavy cream until combined. Pour that into the flour mixture and stir to combine.

Ready for OvenTurn the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times. Form into a 7 inch round, then cut about 2-3 inch pieces. As you can see from my picture, mine are not perfect at all. 🙂 Place them on a greased cookie sheet and brush with a little cream, half and half, or milk, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. You want them a little golden and a toothpick to come out clean.

As those are cooking, you can get the strawberries ready. It will take about 2 lbs. strawberries, although this time, I mixed strawberries and blueberries. Whatever you prefer is fine, even Fruitpeaches are great this time of year. Take about half the fruit and smash it with a potato masher. Then add the rest, along with 1/4 cup sugar. Let that sit for a while so the juices run.

The last component is the whipped cream. I used 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream and about 3 tablespoons sugar, but, whenever I make whipped cream, I always taste it. Some people like it sweeter, some people like it less. I am on the sweeter side! Start whipping the cream, and, once it starts to thicken, add the sugar and continue whipping until stiff.

Whipped CreamOnce the scones are cooled you’re ready to assemble. Of course in our hurry to eat them this time, I never took a picture of the completed shortcake, but just cut the cooled scones in half, spoon some fruit on the bottom half, with the juice of course, top with some whipped cream, and add the top!

And I know what you’re thinking, it’s a little late for strawberry season if you grow them at home, but there are tons of strawberries in the grocery stores right now, not to mention blueberries, peaches, etc. Just get some fruit, and have at it!Ready to Eat

Harvesting Basil for Pesto!

Last week I talked about harvesting in the garden, but so many times, I’ve forgotten about really harvesting in my herb garden. Sure, I’ll run out and grab some rosemary for roast chicken, or basil for a sauce, but to really get the most out of your herbs, you want to harvest them at their peak to enjoy them, but also promote new growth and a higher yield.

Herb GardenThis year, I decided to grow my herb garden in pots on the porch. I’ve planted herbs for years in a small section of the garden, but I find, often times, they get taken over by the bigger vegetables. Also, if you have hardy herbs, growing them in pots makes it easy to bring them in during the winter, enjoy them all through the off-season, and then taking them outside in the spring and already having a start on the garden. That’s what I did with my rosemary. It was great to have fresh rosemary all year, and when the weather warmed up, I took it back outside, and it’s been thriving since.

Basil PlantFor my herb garden this year, I have the above mentioned rosemary in addition to sage, tarragon, and Italian leaf parsley, which I started from seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The seeds were great and the plants have done incredibly well. I’m really happy with them. I also have chives and dill that I took the short cut and purchased at my local garden center. They are also doing well, but for my favorite, I was lucky enough to have someone bring me back seeds from Italy last year. I’ve never had basil do so well, and I can’t quite figure out if it’s the fancy seeds or just luck this year.  Either way, the basil has been doing great, and it’s time to harvest some and, of course, make pesto!

Basil FlowerI’ve found that herbs start out strong, and look amazing, but they usually get to a point, about this time of the summer, where they start to get leggy and just don’t do so well if left alone. However, if you cut them back, and bonus, you get to use what you’ve cut, they come back for a second life. The other thing to look for is if the plants start to go to seed. If you start to see flowers on the plants, that means they’re putting all of their energy into reproducing. While this may be great if you’re looking to get seeds for next year, if you’re still looking to use the herbs and want a longer season, you want to snip these flowers off. I simply pinch off the blooms, and then make sure that I use that branch next when I need some of the herb.

Leaves ReadyAs you can see, I’ve cut a good bit off of my basil plant. I’m hoping to make 3 batches of my pesto recipe. Each recipe makes about a cup of pesto. One note, I prefer to use a food processor for this recipe. You can use a blender, however, I’ve found that you need to add all of the ingredients first, and it does need some stirring and help to get completely processed. If you’re using a food processor, follow the process I’m outlining below. To start, take 3 cloves garlic, peeled, and chop them up in the food processor. Next, add 2 cups basil leaves. You just want the leaves for this, and you want pretty packed cups. Whirl that around until the basil is nicely chopped, then add 1/4 cup pine nuts and Ingredients1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese, grated. Give that another quick whirl. If you let it go too long, it will come together, almost like a dough. If that happens, don’t worry, you’re still good. With the food processor running, slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil, and process that until it’s nice and smooth.

After I was finished with this batch, I made 2 more. If you’re making several batches, just start over. You really don’t want to double or triple the recipe, as it doesn’t turn out as good. But, the good news is, I don’t even wash the food processor in between. 🙂

If you’re growing herbs, I hope they’re as productive as mine have been this year! And if you’re not, stop by the grocery store and pick up some basil. Pesto is a great sauce to have on hand, especially in the summer for a quick pasta dish. Enjoy!

Pesto