Tag Archives: gardening

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!

Hitting the Garden Hard!

It seems like out of nowhere, summer arrived. It’s hot, humid, and wonderful out. With the warm weather, the garden has been bursting. It’s been a ton of work to clean out the garden, trim back trees, and weed, but it’s been amazing to see so many beautiful flowers and plant come to life. Before the dog days of summer really get here, I thought I’d take you for a little tour of the garden.huge rhododendronThis amazing rhododendron is my favorite plant. There are tons of white blooms bursting all over, and it’s HUGE.

 

white rhododendronDetail of the beautiful white rhododendron.

 

red rhododendronIn addition to the huge white rhododendron, there are several deep red ones. The blooms are a striking color.

 

hostasAlthough it’s a bit hard to tell, this is a pretty steep hill. I was thrilled to see hostas growing along the hill. I’m going to add a few other perennials to the hill, but this is a great start.

 

variegated hostasIn the front yard, there is this variegated hosta, which provides great contrast.

 

fernsThere have been ferns popping up everywhere. These are in a shady area under a pine tree. I may add some ostrich ferns to the mix, just to add some height, and maybe some Japanese painted ferns for some color.

 

azaleaIn the front yard, there are at least 10 azaleas. Some of them haven’t been cared for too well, but they all bloomed this year. This one was one of the show stoppers, even though early in the spring it was being attacked by a woody vine. It’s a beautiful coral color.

 

more azaleasAnother azalea that’s doing well in the front is this lovely lavender one.

 

treesThese are some of the trees providing lots of shade in the front yard. Thankfully it’s a mix of types of trees, including several red maples, adding a mix of color.

 

creeping phloxThis creeping phlox is not doing so well in the shady front yard. Hopefully it will take off when I move it to a sunnier spot.

 

vincaOn the side of the house, there is a spot under the pine trees that’s covered with vinca. It’s hard to see, but there are beautiful purple flowers all over the vines.

I hope you’re enjoying your time in the yard as much as I am. It’s been a lot of work cleaning out a new space, but it’s great to see some payoffs already!

Witch-Hazel for Weary Winter Weather!

Right now, the temperature is 11 degree! It’s scheduled to drop to 4 degrees tonight! Yes, 4 degrees! Today we had wind chills of -15 degrees, and we’re expecting another 4 inches of snow tomorrow. Winter just keeps chugging along. As it does, I keep dreaming about the spring, and gardens, and blooms. This is definitely the time to start planning for the spring. It’s also a great time to start ordering seeds and bulbs. But the best way to get into the gardening mood and satisfy that craving is to see beautiful blooms in your garden, coming through the snow. With witch-hazel, that is possible.

I have to admit, until this past summer, I haven’t had much exposure to witch-hazel. Sure, I’ve heard of it, but I was never inspired to plant it until I read David Culp‘s book, The Layered Garden, about extending the season and adding interest all year-long. I was inspired. This summer, when I joined David and others on a nursery tour, I decided I had to have one of these amazing plants.witch-hazelWitch-hazel is a small, deciduous tree, growing to anywhere from 9 feet to 25 feet. It has a beautiful spread, with a lot of interest. The image above is thanks to Indiana Public Media to give you a sense of what the blooms look like. Unfortunately, mine isn’t anywhere near this big yet…yet! As you can see, the best part about this great tree is the bloom. In winter, sometimes as early as January or February, they are covered with these wispy, beautiful blooms in striking colors of yellow, orange, and even red.

As the buds develop, they are just round clusters that seem to grow and grow, not very large, but full of beautiful blooms. Below are some images of the trees at my work. They are farther along than mine at home, and you can see the color starting to shine through.progressingseed podsThis summer, I found a great variety of witch-hazel at RareFind Nursery in New Jersey. The plant I bought back in June has done well this summer and fall, and the blooms are just starting to appear. I can’t wait till it’s covered in amazing bright orange color. Witch HazelThankfully, it did well in the summer!winter witch-hazelAnd it continues to do well. Now just waiting for those blooms to open!close upIf you’re looking to extend your garden season or just an interesting addition, consider witch-hazel. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the garden, and a very interesting tree to have. It also can help take care of that gardening itch in the dead of winter. Also, with a name like witch-hazel, I’m sure it would help with any potions you’re trying to brew too! 🙂

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!

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

How Does Your Garden Grow?

GardenIt seems like only a few weeks ago when I was writing about planting seeds, but it was actually March 21.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 months, so I thought I would give you an update and let you know how I went about planting everything.

Even though I was on top of the seed planting, my transplanting outdoors was delayed.  Sure, I can blame it on the long winter and the rain we kept getting in the spring, and I can even blame it on the trip we took to Greece in May that took up my time Tilling(more recipes from that trip later), but, really, I was just late! 🙂  I finally tilled the garden and planted everything about a month ago, and, even though things are a bit behind, they are doing really well!

This year, I did try to be strategic about my tilling the garden.  If you turn the soil and then it rains in the next few days, it’s a bad scene.  All of those weed seeds that were just turned get fed with the water and start to grow.  However, if it’s warm and sunny, the seeds will dry out and die.  This year I seemed to time the tilling right and the weeds haven’t been that bad…so far.

Ready for PlantingOnce I got the tilling done, I was ready to plant.  You may remember I had a lovely diagram that I put together for my garden.  And, even though I had the best of intentions, my garden doesn’t exactly look like that diagram.  Things happen!  The beets didn’t quite make it when I took them outside…I didn’t end up with as many squash plants as I wanted…you get the idea.  So, no worries, I adjusted.  However, even Marigoldsthough you may need to make adjustments, I still stand behind the diagram!

After I planted, one trick I always use is planting marigolds around the perimeter of my vegetable garden.  I’ve found that this really keeps the deer away.  The one year I didn’t, the deer had a feast.  So I keep doing it!  I guess it could be a coincidence, but I’m not taking any chances. 🙂

I’m pretty happy with the progress and looking forward to a good yield.  If you’re growing this summer, how are your vegetables coming along?  Here is how things are coming along in my garden…

As you can see from the top picture, my tomatoes are starting to bloom…slow but steady!

The eggplants are coming along!

EggplantThe arugula is doing great…but pay no attention to those weeds growing in there! 🙂

ArugalaThe zucchini is getting huge!ZucchiniBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds was nice enough to send me some complementary red romaine lettuce seeds that are coming along!Red RomaineSince I didn’t have luck with all of my seeds, I did get some spaghetti squash to fill in, and it’s doing great!Spaghetti Squash