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.

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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!

Home remedies, Starting seeds & a Pug

Schools are already being cancelled for tomorrow because another foot of snow is supposedly on its way!  Milk sold out today at the grocery store but they have plenty of cactus seeds.

May 31  is the date here when we are deemed safe from frosts.   I save all plastic containers that can be used to start seeds indoors.  A  large, screw in hook is a handy device to create drainage holes.  It easily makes a hole in thick or thin containers without cracking the plastic.  It’s too early to start seeds for my garden but I thought it would be fun to try sprouting some cactus. (cactusses?, cacti?)

There’s been a lot of  cold and flu remedies, natural antibiotic and ‘master tonic’ recipes floating around on the internet.  I’m not sure I would subscribe to those claims but the ingredients looked interesting so  I made a quick vinegar tincture with garlic, ginger, horseradish and a little bit of  hot pepper.  That combination will surely open the sinuses but I’m thinking a couple spoonfuls would  give a good punch to a smoothie, dipping sauce or salad dressing.

I think our dog  Harvey might be feeling a little depressed over getting another snowstorm.

 

 

odds & ends

I’d rather be gardening….but that is a long way off !  Reading this morning’s  post of  one of the bloggers I follow, Johnwhays, renewed my resolve to enjoy these cold winter days and put them to good use.

I finished a pillow I was making and it adds a cheerful note to this funny chair that I painted and reupholstered earlier.  I removed the back from some earrings I had and gorilla glued them onto the ends of the arms.   I don’t go for “high style” here, (obviously, lol),  I lean more toward the whimsical….things that make me happy

I made my weekly batch of kefir in this big, 8 cup glass jar. For any of you out there that want to make your own kefir and haven’t gotten your own kefir grains or don’t want to deal with maintaining them..dehydrated kefir starter works great and it’s quick and convenient. Eventually, I will get a hold of some live kefir grains  but this is  fine for now.

A while back  I learned from another blogger, Agnes from Gaiainaction , that it’s possible to start plants from  grocery-store bought ginger and tumeric  and that she had done it.  I potted some up and will keep them moist.   Hopefully, if I can keep myself from poking at them, they will be growing in no time!

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Warm from the inside

 

I woke up to snow this morning! I never checked the weather report so it came as a complete surprise. I guess I’ll spend some time shoveling today before everything turns into a frozen, crusty mess..it’s still soo cold.
Yesterday I made a good, warming soup. A bunch of kale, 2 carrots, 2 small potatoes, a tuber of tumeric and a 3 inch chunk of ginger root all went into a pot with homemade chicken stock. Everything was brought to a boil and then simmered until the carrots were tender. When it cooled down a bit, I pureed the whole lot. It tasted good.. a little,spicy, warm and kind of exotic to my New England taste buds. Sea salt, black pepper and a teaspoon of coconut oil made it even better. I’ve been trying to think of ways to incorporate fresh tumeric into my diet..it has so many health benefits: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and there’s a lot of studies showing it may improve brain function and increase endorphins. I’m in! Maybe I wont feel crabby and sore from shoveling this snow:)
My daughter is still home with me for a few more days. Last night we watched the first of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy together and we turned this year’s Christmas cards into next year’s gift tags. Tonight is part 2. I do love having her back home.

Homemade Christmas Gifts

My house felt like a Christmas workshop up until Christmas Eve. The carols were playing, sewing machine whirring and the house was filled with the smell of warm cookies, beeswax and herbs.
All my homemade gifts were done on time. Cotton pillow slips and floursack towels were embroidered, washed and ironed. Beeswax votives came out clean and sweet, their wicks straight and trim. The rosebud and lavender drawer sachets smelled like my summer garden and so did the lavender soap. My daughter’s painting was finished, framed and varnished.
The last of the baking, apricot pastries, went quickly so I had time to try out a new recipe. I saw these Almond Bars on Everyday Cheer and I knew they would be delicious and easy… they were!
Christmas Eve was rainy and chilly but it didn’t matter. We had a fire crackling away, a delicious dinner and everyone was filled with a happy, expectant feeling.

Loose Ends


This has been a busy week! Mostly I’ve been cleaning, organizing and tying up loose ends so next week I can focus on Thanksgiving. Then our Christmas season begins. So exciting!
Oranges are tasting good right now. Citrus shouldn’t be composted but I don’t throw away the peels. The oils are naturally antibacterial and they smell so nice and fresh and clean. I spread them out on some paper and as they dry I add them to  white vinegar in a big jar. Soon this will be filled with the dried peels and in about 4-6 weeks, I’ll strain the peels out, put the liquid in a spray bottle and I’ll have a good, natural cleaner that won’t smell like salad dressing.
The tinctures I made this summer were all ready to be strained, bottled up, labeled and put away in the medicine chest. One of my favorites is lemon balm. It’s such a safe and gentle herb and it is said to have anti viral properties and be mildly relaxing. The tincture picks up that green, lemony scent. It’s delicious as a tea but it’s properties aren’t retained well in drying. It’s very easy to grow, kind of takes over really, but for some reason the tinctures and essential oils are  pricey in the stores. I think it would make an excellent cordial- another project for next year.

There’s going to be a lot of cooking, baking and holiday projects going on here. I arranged a separate work space for the projects because I’ll need my kitchen free. It’s been fun organizing my sparkly bits and pretty patterns and arranging it all together. Just looking at everything gives me so many ideas! The sewing machine will take up a permanent residence in the midst of it from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas week. This is such a wonderful time of the year!!!

November- Wormwood & Apples


Wandering outside in the garden today, Silver King Artemesia caught my eye. It’s a Wormwood, one of the few things harvested in November and I had almost forgotten about it!  I snapped a few stems and within minutes had them wound into a simple wreath. It has a fresh, clean scent. I hung it in the kitchen, on the door leading to my spooky old cellar.
Tomorrow, I’ll gather the rest of the Silver King. Dried, it makes a great addition to sachets, being a powerful moth and insect deterrent. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties so I use it to make a simple household cleaner. I fill a glass jar with fresh or dried wormwood and citrus peels and completely cover everything with white vinegar, so all the herb is submerged. This mixture sits for 4 weeks and is shaken daily. Then the herb and citrus are strained out of the vinegar and it’s all done. All this will take no time at all but today I had other plans.
I had a big basket of local organic apples and wanted to use them while they were fresh. I made apple turnovers. They freeze really well and are worth the effort. I used organic, non hydrogenated vegetable shortening and butter to make the pastry and rolled it a little thinner than I would for a pie. Also, I mixed a couple tablespoons of arrowroot flour in with the apples, sugar and cinnamon. That thickened the juice as the fruit cooked so the crust didn’t get wet or soggy. So delicious!
 

Home from Williamsburg


I was away for a few days in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I love going there and always come back with lots of ideas for projects and my gardens.

This visit was particularly nice because the trees are still green there and just starting to turn.  Here, the trees are bare. The berries on the bittersweet wreaths I made popped so I still have some fall color in my windows.

I got lots of  wreath ideas while I was in Colonial Williamsburg.  The bittersweet and grape vines are still pliable here so now would be a good time to cut them and wind up some wreaths to decorate  later for Christmas.

I really like bee skeps. I googled how to make them and they seem too complicated for now but I think it would be pretty easy to make them out of vines, in this traditional shape. Today, though, I am going to pot up some oregano, thyme and mint from outside. I saw these herb baskets and thought how nice they would be set in a sunny window during the winter.