There’s been no rain for weeks, temperatures have been in the 80’s, the soil dusty and as dry as a bone. Finally, last night thunder storms rolled in. Relief! I’ve been working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week getting seeds planted and annuals set out. I’m almost done. It’s wet, hot and humid out today and the Mosquitos are swarming so I’m booking off and having my friend over. She’s a gardener by trade and needs a break too. Both of us are feeling (and looking) a little crooked and scraggly. We’re going to make stepping stones, drink tea and have eggplant and oatmeal cookies for lunch.
My Grandmother set a lot of store by her plants. Cabbage was a big favorite of hers and she grew a lot of it. She made all kinds of delicious things with her cabbage and used it medicinally as well for stomach problems, spring tonics, growing pains and skin conditions.
Bridal Wreath bush (Vanhoutt spirea) was another plant she kept. She grew them from cuttings. When my Mother got her own home, Grandma planted a Bridal bush in the yard right away because she said it would help to keep my Mom’s marriage sweet. She planted a Rose of Sharon too, saying it brought the protection of a Mother’s love. A Lilac tree had to be just outside the back door of every home. I don’t know why. Could be, my Grandmother just liked Lilacs. She never cut them unless a big rain was on its way. Then she would gather as many as she could before they’d ‘rust’ and be ruined on the tree.
Borders are starting to fill in and flowering shrubs add nice bursts of color. Lilacs are already fading with the unseasonably hot temperatures but the humidity enhances their fragrance and it just fills the air! A tree peony planted 3 years ago bloomed for the first time ever. The rhubarb got away from me and sent up its feathery seed stalks. It’s more tender and less stringy if eaten before that happens. I love the look of rhubarb but the taste, not so much. Last year I made a lot of crumbles, cakes and breads with it and wasn’t really crazy about any of them. I even tried making rhubarb pickles but they turned into a soggy mess. Maybe a rhubarb chutney would be good.
My daughters brought me a semi-dwarf peach tree, a gooseberry bush and some raspberry plants for Mother’s Day. A big hole had to be dug for the peach tree… twice the depth and width of the pot it came in. It took over an hour to dig because of all the rocks. I backfilled the hole with soil, compost, leaf mold and added a good handful of dry dog food to the mix as well.
My little dog Flora trails around at my side all day long. I feel lucky to have such sweet company.
Lilacs are blooming. This one opened today and is so beautiful I couldn’t resist snipping a little and taking its picture. It smells just as good as the standard lilac.
Lemon Verbena doesn’t look like much but it makes up for that with its extraordinary fragrance. It’s tangy, not sweet and very fresh and clean. When I had my shop, I used to go to Gilbertie’s Herbs wholesale greenhouses, to buy plants to sell in the store. Mr. Gilbertie showed me a gigantic lemon verbena plant that he had in one of his greenhouses for many years. He rustled a few of the branches and the most wonderful lemony scent filled the air. Lemon Verbena is only hardy in zones 8-10 but is easy to winter over indoors in a sunny windowsill. It has a woody stem and with a little simple pruning, the plant can formed into a pretty tree shape. If it is repotted as needed into a larger pot, it will get huge! I saw this little verbena at the garden center and decided to give it a go. Maybe it will get as big as a miniature tree some day, like Mr. Gilbertie’s. Fingers crossed.
Violets are in full bloom throughout the garden so I made some sweet violet syrup. A spoonful in a cup of herbal or darjeeling tea is delicious. A splash in a glass of iced water adds a tinge of color, subtle flavor and a bit of sweetness. It can be added to fruit salads, lemonade, iced tea or cocktails.
I picked violets without the stems and washed them in cold water. Then I loosely packed the flowers into a clean glass jar and covered them with boiling water. Eight hours later, I strained the infused water and measured it . There was 3 cups. I put the violets, infused water and 3 cups of sugar (same measurement as the infused water) into a non reactive pan and stirred it over low heat until all the sugar was dissolved. I added the juice of 1 lemon. (Lemon is optional. I like the taste better with the lemon but it does change the color of the syrup, giving it a pinkish hue instead of purple.) I strained the violets out with a fine mesh strainer and poured the syrup into a sterilized glass jar. Once it cooled down, it went into the fridge where it will be stored.
I should probably mention that violets that may have been exposed to pesticides, lawn fertilizers or sprays should never be used. Also, I took some shortcuts from traditional methods. I infused the violets for 8 hours and most recipes recommend letting them sit for 24 hours. I used organic cane sugar which isn’t pure white and I didn’t remove the green parts at the bases of the flowers, probably compromising the color of the syrup. Here’s a link for a recipe without the shortcuts and with some more good ideas on how to use the syrup.
I saw a bluebird going into the house I put up! ..bluebird of happiness
… I embroidered one right in the middle of the quilt I made for the little baby coming our way. Speaking of which, I was hoping lilacs would be nice to cut for the baby shower next week. It’s been in the 80’s here and dry so I’m not too sure that’s going to work out.
Viburnums and spurge are looking beautiful and the apple blossoms are opening. Giant bumblebees are everywhere. I am glad I decided not to get beehives this year. I have a good local population and I didn’t want to meddle with it.
I’ve been planting out cabbages, bok choi and some herbs. I still have a a lot more planting to do. I should have started the kale sooner. I’m glad I did extra tomatoes though. I broke 12 plants by dropping a light on a tray and last night my husband tripped in the dark onto another tray on the back porch.
My daughter will be home from her first year of college this weekend, just in time for Mother’s Day.
Today I’m off on a little road trip with my friend Pat. About an hour away is a giant garden center. People visit from miles around. These days, I’m hesitant to buy anything because I don’t want to bring flowers into my yard that may have been sprayed with something that could kill the bees. I never would have even thought of that 10 years ago. I think that is sad.
On a happy note, we’re getting a much needed drizzle today. I planted 25 more strawberry plants and dug a new bed for my homeless potatoes yesterday so they’ll get a soak. A new bed isn’t ideal for potatoes but as I’m going to build the soil up anyway as the grow, I think it will be fine.
The bleeding hearts are looking gorgeous and my little pond is filled with tiny black tadpoles! I wonder what kind of frogs they are. They develop into tiny black frogs, only about 3 mm. long.
I finished the bag I started a while back. All ready for Spring!
So thankful to wake up to sunshine, flowers and WATER! Our water was restored yesterday. Early in the morning until late afternoon.. all weekend long, this small business owner worked to replace our water pump and tank. The pump was 200 feet down into the ground! I am so thankful to him. He went above and beyond what I expected. There are still business owners that care, do excellent work and have a lot of integrity.
The flowering trees are still blooming, the currant bushes are in blossom too. The funny fritillaries didn’t seem to help my mole problem but I like the whimsical note they bring.
Asparagus is coming in. There’s nothing like it….freshly picked from the garden, blanched in boiling water just until the color turns very bright so it is tender yet slightly crisp. I melt a little butter on it and add a sprinkle of sea salt. I had it first thing this morning, out in the garden with some coffee and cream.
I planted the apple trees this weekend. A few years ago, my cousin in South Carolina gave me an odd tip; when planting fruit trees, she adds a handful or 2 of dry dog food into the hole. I’ve done it ever since. I wonder if that is a common thing?
This morning there was no running water. Luckily, a nice man came right away to assess the problem. It turned out to be a pretty big one, as far as these things go. The well pump was broken. Finding the pump was the first issue. For a while he thought it may have been under the patio or even worse, under the driveway pavement. Good thing it wasn’t. He said the problem with old farmhouses is that there’s a lot of buried metal and his pump locater gets thrown off. Once he had a good idea where the pump might be, he started digging with a shovel but things got complicated and the man had to get a backhoe. He ran over an electricity line but it only went to the garage and nobody got hurt. Codes have changed since the pump was last replaced in 1979. Things will have to be set up differently. If all goes well, I should have water next week some time. Now, it’s late in the day and the nice man is still out there digging with the backhoe. This pump is down deep, I guess. It could have been worse. I’m glad it didn’t break a couple months ago when the snow was 3 feet high. We would have had to wait til the frost table went down and that would have caused a cascade of home owner disasters.. frozen pipes, heating and plumbing problems… Best to count blessings at this point.
The days suddenly seem too short, there is so much to do. Most of the seedlings are brought outside during the day. The tomatoes are suffering a bit, too much too soon for them maybe. They’re sensitive at this age and it won’t be safe to set them in the garden until the end of the month. Cabbage, kale and bok choy stay out all day and night and will be planted out sooner. All the wintered- over geraniums are out too. They’re a bit leggy but once they get used to being outside, I’ll cut them back and repot them. If the temperatures dip too low, I’ll have to bring them in.
Picking up my seed potatoes, I couldn’t resist a gorgeous bundle of 2 year asparagus plants. Beware of impulse buys! I have an asparagus patch already, about a dozen plants. They’re just starting to peek through. I really didn’t need more but there’s nothing like fresh asparagus and they are perenniels.. Oh well. Asparagus beds have to be prepared properly. I used the space I had allocated for my potatoes. It was already prepared with good compost. I set the plants in and covered them with 6 wheelbarrows full of soil I have brewing beneath leaf piles in the back. I’ll continue to build up the bed on a weekly basis, adding more soil and amendments.. eggshells, compost, coffee grinds, etc. The process with potatoes is similar except I wont have to be as conscientious about keeping their plot as rich.
A couple dwarf apple trees and a tayberry bush arrived in the mail. Those will be planted out today. The trees are bare root so I set the roots in a bucket of water until I’m ready to go. Happy Spring!