Lilacs & Lemon Verbena


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.

Sweet Violet Simple Syrup

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.

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Bluebirds & Lilacs


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.
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Bleeding Hearts & Tadpoles


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!
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Asparagus for Breakfast


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?
Happy Spring!

No Water

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.

Asparagus, Seedling & Geraniums


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!

Country to City

Yesterday I just about finished the spring cleaning on the back gardens.  This morning we visited my middle daughter.  Last  summer she got married and moved to a city.  Luckily, there’s some outdoor space and she and her new husband made it really inviting!  They refurbished an old patio set of mine.  She sewed up some fabric pillows and  he filled buckets from a home improvement store with pots of herbs.   We had brunch on their patio… vegetable frittata,  fresh fruit and croissants.  It was  a great visit.  I miss my daughter and wish that she didn’t live so far away (I exagerate; it’s less than 1 1/2 hours away)  but it’s good to see that she and her husband are making such a  nice life of their own.

Say it isn’t Snow


Once it finally gets warm and things start growing and blooming outside, it feels as if it will last forever. But it snowed yesterday and last night the temperatures dipped into the 20’s. The magnolia blooms, still not quite opened are turning brown at the edges. I suspect the cold will take its toll in other ways but out in the yard everything looks fine and luckily, the snow didn’t stick.

Daffodil Days & Seedlings

There’s lots of different types of daffodils blooming in my yard now.

The seeds planted back in March are doing well except for the Milkweed.  Not a single sprout in sight.  The growing seedlings get a boost of a tablespoon of fish emulsion  dissolved in a gallon of their water twice a week.   Kale, some herbs and cabbages are set out now, during the day.  The sprouted peas are planted in a potted trellis that held black eyed Susan vines last year.

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Meanwhile, tomatoes, peppers and tender annuals continue to grow in the basement under lights. Our last frost date is in just 5 1/2 weeks and by then, everything will be planted out in the garden

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April Showers


The rhubarb is unfurling and things are coming alive. The fritillaries I planted are looking good but seem to have had no effect on deterring moles. My front yard is a giant mole hotel. All the roses except the rugosas are ruined, the roots eaten to nubs.
It’s raining so I’ll be spending the day in the kitchen.   I have more seedlings to transplant, (they are taking over the house!),  and I want to catch up on some cooking. There’s chicken broth on the stove. We buy local, free range chickens and not a bit is wasted. Even the bones are used.. burnt in the fireplace and composted.
If I have time, I might work on some needlework later and make some berry crumble with the last of the blackberries and raspberries, in the freezer from last year’s crop.

Happy, productive days!

Daffodils, Garlic and Little Fish

The first daffodils opened today!  The garlic has poked through and is looking nice and sturdy.  Seed potatoes are coming in tomorrow.

I lost all the fish in the pond this winter. Talking to the girl at the pet store, I found out that many pond owners here lost their fish.  The winter was just too cold for too long.   I’ll be introducing a few fish at a time  into the pond for the next month.  These are feeder fish.  People buy them to feed other pets. They cost a dime each.  I feel sorry  for the fish that froze over the winter but living for 8 years in my pond was a better fate than what they may have met as turtle food.

Edible Landscape

I’ve been really inspired by the Grow Food not Lawns movement. The past few years I’ve been transitioning my massive perennial borders and front flower beds into mixed gardens, integrating my existing plants with vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit. This combination can be beautiful and practical. Rhubarb, zucchini and most vegetables are so attractive and look great among the flowers and shrubs. Lots of flowers are edible and pretty… Bee balm, calendula, violets, nasturtiums, roses and lavender, to name just a few. Strawberries and creeping thyme are great ground covers and borders. Currant and blueberry bushes are easy to grow, attractive when they come into flower and even prettier when they set berries. Columnar fruit trees are another great option. Cabbage and kale are great fill ins. Lancinato kale has a lot of visual interest but it gets eaten up by little green worms here so I grow the Green Scottish Curled instead. Herbs offer so much in the way of flowers and color..echinacea, catnip, lemon balm, variegated mints, borage..The list goes on and this post is getting long. As the season progresses, all the little plants filling my tables under lights crowding the sunny windowsills will hopefully be big and strong and make their way into the gardens. Ideas are percolating for artful/ edible combinations and integrations. I’m hoping this gardening season is productive and beautiful for all of us!

Seed sprouting, Jojoba, Lyme

Easter was great.  Easter Monday was a beautiful day.  It’s been cold and rainy since then but the  indoor seedlings are thriving, sending out their true leaves.  Thanks to the good advice of my blogger friends, the Friariello di Napoli pepper seeds sprouted right up after placing the tray on the radiator for a few days.

The power company took down a big maple in my front yard.  It’s a sad sight.

This morning, I made some bug repellant.  Having had Lyme disease and living in a state where it has reached endemic proportions, I have to admit it scares me a bit.  I take precautions.  I don’t want to douse myself or my dogs with pesticides so I’ve been using something home made instead.  I add 25 drops of rose geranium essential oil to 4 ounces of Jojoba and keep it in a dark, glass jar.  I  apply the mixture all over myself before getting into my gardening clothes. Other essential oils can be added but  rose geranium is reputed to repel tics.  Jojoba is a good carrier.  It lasts longer than a water based carrier.  It’s light, easily absorbed by the skin and has the benefits of being antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and  offers nutritive benefits as well.  It never goes rancid because technically it’s a wax, not an oil.   After gardening, all my clothes go right into the washing machine.  I immediately take a shower.  It’s an annoying routine but better than getting Lyme disease again.   So far so good!

It Starts!!


Today was my first snow-free day out in the gardens. I spent 6 hours in the front yard and got 4 of the 7 beds cleared.  Out back is where the real work begins. I left leaves in the beds and the plants high last Fall so the birds could have the seeds. I have to laugh, I start the day running out the door to get at it and just a few hours later I’m wondering why I have so many gardens.
Poking around for signs of life, I was a little sad to see that even though the pond is dug down 3 feet, one of my fish didn’t make it through the winter. I put 12 little feeder goldfish into the pond when we dug it 8 years ago. No sign yet of any of the others. There’s lots of other things popping through though. It’s so exciting. I have a LOT of work ahead of me

Sprouting Seeds & Easter Daffodils

Seeds are sprouting all over the place. I may have been wrong, and cheerfully so! Looks like we might have daffodils for Easter after all. Does anyone out there know if Milkweed takes inordinately long to sprout indoors? (save the Monarchs!) Also, I think my seeds may have frozen in the mailbox. Not a single pepper seed has taken. If they froze, would that have ruined them? Everything else is fine.  Happy Spring!

Cabbage Patch, Calendula & Diamataceous Earth

I may have been a little over enthusiastic in sowing the seeds for my cabbage patch.  I have over 60 little plants.  Cabbage is great for saurkraut, of course,  and if you make your own you can add all sort of good things to it…carrots, kale, onions..even oranges.  Delicious!  I like to stir fry cabbage in coconut oil. It is  sweet, a little crunchy and doesn’t smell like sulfur when cooked this way.  Onions, fresh garlic and sea salt taste great with it.   Pea pods make a great addition too.

I have a lot of calendula started too.  Fresh calendula petals added to stir fries, salads..even fruit salads make things look pretty and add extra nutrition.  Dried petals retain their shape and color when added to glycerine soaps, vinegars and oils.  In the garden, they  are workhorses and make terrific companion plants.

I notice the fruit flies beginning to hover and multiply over my seedlings.  A little food grade Diamataceous earth sprinkled on the potting bench will take care of that problem in no time.  It’s non toxic and safe for pets.  Once it gets wet it is no longer effective. In the past, I’ve had issues with ants and japanese beetles in my old house.  Last year I sprinkled Diamataceous earth in all the windowsills, along the perimeters of the cellar and on top of the beams.  It really worked .

Speaking of Cabbage Patches and little sprouts…my daughter is having a baby!  The first grandchild!  I added the last stitch to this happy little quilt last night.

Spring Flowers, Winter Thaw

The first flower has  sprung!  Most of the snow in the front yard has melted.  The back yard is still  snowy but a heat wave of 60 degrees is coming so that should be gone soon.  I was working in the front gardens today, mostly pruning and cleaning.  After just a couple of hours, I realized that  I  am out of shape.  I cooked up a batch of vegetables in some of my chicken broth and ran it through the blender when the vegetable were tender.  Vitamin packed and good for the bones!   I am excited that have a lot of work ahead of me and I want to be up for it.

Away from the Snow

Aside from getting a flat tire on the highway in Washington DC at midnight, (watch those potholes!), it was lovely to get away from the snow for a few days.  My husband had some business in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Their spring seems to be slow starting too but it was definitely in the air.  Doesn’t this macaroni and cheese look delicious? It was!

Hyssop , Cactus Sprouts & Roof Rakes

This is what a roof rake looks like.   It has come in very handy.  I’m getting a lot of needlework and painting done in these long, cold nights.  My cactus seeds sprouted into 7 little cacti so far.  Still holding back on the major seed starting but I can’t resist starting a few early trays.  I planted some blue hyssop.  The bees love it but really I’ve planted it for my friend Arthur. When I had my shop, he would cycle in a mile or so every day to visit me .  On his 80th birthday, he brought in a cassette player and some big band music and asked me to have a birthday dance with him.  He loved Blue Hyssop.  It will bring happy memories and good energy to my garden.

Snowed In

We were snowed in again yesterday.  At this point, it really doesn’t matter.  I think I ‘ve gotten used to it.  I spread my projects out on the dining room table and spent the day meandering through them all.  It’s too early to plant up the seeds but a few pots here and there give me something to look forward to.  It’s exciting to see the little sprouts coming through and to check them each morning.  March 1 st came in like a lion so you know what that means!