building garden beds from the soil up

img_7420Although the space we have fenced in was once the site of a very successful garden, it hasn’t been maintained in years.  Then as if to add insult to injury,  some thoughtful person seeded it heavily with Bermuda Grass.  Really heavily-inches thick on top with roots half a foot deep.  What a nightmare!!!  We started the process of building the beds today and in 4 hours time, we only finished 3 (4’x4′) beds.  This is going to take a while to do and we may not have much of a garden this spring.

The first thing we did was to outline the beds with string.  Using shovels, Darry flipped the top 8 inches of soil and we spent a lot of time shaking out the roots to save the soil and remove the Bermuda Grass roots and rhizomes.  Along the way, we threw many larvae, worms and beetles at the chickens who were watching our every move! img_7426My good friend and fellow Master Gardener Shirley always tells me that Bermuda Grass is meaner than a snake and if you try to rip it out, it gets even meaner.  She is absolutely right about that!  Each jointed area is a node and it has the potential to become a complete plant.  It isn’t enough to just pull it out, you must remove all of the little pieces or you will have lots of new little plants!  We spent at least an hour sifting the soil as we turned it to remove as many little pieces as we could.

img_7428Once the soil was prepped, we spread the contents of a bag of Black Cow Composted Manure over the surface.  We didn’t have much to work with and bit the bullet and purchased a bunch of bags to use.  As far as purchased compost goes, this stuff works pretty well.  We then cut used leaf bags to cover the surface of the bed.  Our hope is that the paper will help cut back on the weeds and Bermuda Grass from sprouting in the beds.

img_7429Since we haven’t found an arborist to supply us with wood chips yet, we are using a combination of cardboard and leaves to control the Bermuda Grass in the walkways.  Free leaves and cardboard make this project a lot more affordable and keep stuff from going to landfills.

img_7431We purchased a dozen broccoli starts to test our method.  To plant each start, I cut an “X” in the paper and folded the pieces underneath to create a hole.  Then I used my hands to make a hole and plant each start.

img_7432It isn’t the prettiest bed I have ever seen but it should work!

img_7433We are also without rain barrels which means using city water and decided to top each square with straw.  If all goes well, this layer of straw will help conserve the water so that we do not have to pay Metro for tap water.  The added bonus, the paper and straw will also break down over time and help improve the soil.

Be sure to visit the blog regularly to see the progress of our new garden.

baking from the garden; cucumber bread

IMG_6786Gardeners have preferences when it comes to the plants chosen each season and I am no different than most.  In my flower beds, I always include a mix of herbs and edible flowers as well as those that will attract beneficial insects and help repel the destructive ones.  My vegetable garden follows the same plan and tucked in between the crops are many of those same herbs and flowers.  Companion planting is another of my strategies in the garden but honestly, I haven’t seen a huge improvement by following the does and the don’ts of plant location.

This year, like every other year, I have planted cucumbers in my garden.  The selection of varieties chosen include Marketmore (both #70 and #76), Homemade Pickles, Charming White, Lemon and Tendergreen.  The weather pattern this summer has been challenging and while none of my squash plants survived and produced fruits, the cucumbers have done well, at least, two varieties have.  Homemade Pickle plants produced enough cukes that I have completely stocked my pantry with pickles and relish and I have enough gathered now to make one last batch of relish.

Making salads with cucumbers is another one of my favorite summer activities.  While I enjoy adding slices to green salads or just mixing the slices with a little rice wine vinegar, honey and chili flakes, I decided to try something different.  With more Tendergreen Cukes than I could eat, I thought about a loaf of bread and what it might be like with cucumber puree in it.

IMG_6790The previous photo is a Homemade Pickle and this one is Marketmore #76.  In the past, Marketmore #76 has been a great producer, this year, not so much.  My thoughts are that the weather has affected the yield but more importantly, I think the soil is still lacking.  If you have been following this blog, you are aware that we started this garden from the ground up two years ago and this is the first year that we are planting in the ground.  Lots of layering with materials such as compost, leaves, coffee, chicken litter from our hens and eggshells has greatly improved the structure but I think it needs to be amended further and turned as well as given a season off to let the nitrogen levels fix.

IMG_6792The tendrils are amazingly strong and these plants would sprawl out all over if I give them a chance.

IMG_6769For my first batch, I peeled, seeded and pureed some cukes.  The pale green liquid was added to a hard roll recipe and the dough was shaped into batards.  My thought was to keep it simple and I added a few dill seeds to the mix.

IMG_6775Once baked, it was nearly impossible to see that the cucumbers had an effect on the dough.  The interior of the loaf is nearly white and the crumb is a tiny bit compact.  Not the results I was hoping for but still a good loaf of bread.

IMG_6780After giving it some thought. I started a second batch of dough using a different recipe.  For this batch, I left the skin on the cukes but removed the seeds before pureeing.  The liquid was a much darker shade of green and had little flecks of skin in it.  For the dough itself, I settled on a recipe that used a Poolish style starter to develop more flavor in the dough.  After letting the flour, water and yeast mixture age overnight, I mixed the dough using a method that does not include kneading the dough.

There are several good books out there that use this method but I chose to follow the Country Loaf recipe found in Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and found here in this New York Times Recipe.  To clarify, I did not use his recipe, just his method for mixing, shaping and baking the dough.

IMG_6781As you can see, the inclusion of skin gave the dough a good amount of green color.  The little flecks of skin provide some visual interest and a little texture, as well.

IMG_6799Using a lovely little banneton mold that my husband gave me, I was able to give the loaf a nice spiral pattern on the surface.

IMG_6806As you can see, the interior has a tint of green to it and a few green specks here and there.  The crust baked up crisply and it tasted wonderful while still a little warm.  The problem, it just didn’t taste like cucumber, at least not while it was warm.  Once the loaf cooled and sat for several hours, the flavor of caramelized flour and dough from the crust of the bread was no longer the predominant flavor.  The subtle, earthy and almost sweet, flavor of the cucumbers was fairly obvious.

This loaf recipe is a work in progress and if all goes well, it will be part of my next book.  Until then, I will have to make more bread and test it for flavor and color, and you will have to forgive me for not including a recipe that is only half done!

if the garden gives you cukes, make pickles, lots and lots of pickles

IMG_6646When I was plotting the garden earlier this year, I planned on using a large amount of space for cucumbers because I think nothing beats a freshly picked cucumber when making a salad.  Whether it is a bowl of lettuce topped with tomatoes and cucumbers or a bowl of slices in a hot-sweet, vinegar marinade, cucumbers are one of my favorite guilt-free pleasures.  This year, I made sure to plant plenty of them so that I could have them all summer long.

In the past, I have tried to grow pickling cukes too but haven’t had much luck with them.  While at the feed store stocking up on chicken scratch, I came across a package of pickling cucumbers from Livingston Seeds and appropriately titled, Homemade Pickles.  According to the website, the vines only grow 2-3/4 feet, mine grew vertically on a trellis and I can assure you, they went at least 6 feet a piece!  Allow them plenty of space and if you go vertically, give them a sturdy structure with plenty of surface space to grab onto.  Since I pick them regularly, almost daily, they have continued to produce a pretty good amount for over a month now and my pantry is beginning to look like a pickle shop!

When I am going to can pickles, I like to boil the jars and lids to sanitize them.  My canning pot holds a lot of water and can seal about a dozen jars at once.

IMG_6661The light in the kitchen is beautiful in the morning.  It is one of the things I like most about our home.  The windows allow a lot of light in and in the summer, we can go most of the day and into evening without turning on lights in the kitchen.

IMG_6665These cucumbers have good flavor, soft skin and did not get bitter even when left on the vine too long-a few got missed in the leaves, swelled up and still did not turn bitter.  These have been soaked overnight in a brine and are draining while the jars boil and the vinegar mixture is prepared.

IMG_6669When I make dill pickles, I like to add a few mustard seeds and a pinch of dill seeds.  Fresh garlic, crushed red pepper, black peppercorns, dill from the garden are added to a boiled mixture of cider vinegar , water and salt.

IMG_6671If you like to can, I highly recommend picking up a pot that comes with a basket.  It makes putting the jars into the pot and removing them so much easier and safer.

IMG_6672The other tool I recommend, a pair of canning tongs, seriously, if you do not have them, buy them.  Too many times I have tried to use regular kitchen tongs and have scalded my hands on more occasions than I can count!

IMG_6673The pickles are packed into the jars with the spices and herbs and then the boiled vinegar mix is poured over them leaving about half an inch of space.

IMG_6677When the tops are put on, be sure not to screw the bands too tightly.  Nothing is worse than removing the jars from the water bath only to see that they have crimped and buckled because the bands were too tight!  Load them into the basket and then lower it into the boiling water.

IMG_6689After a boil of 10 minutes, raise the basket and remove the jars to a rack to cool.  Listen for the lids to pop as they cool.  If you find that some haven’t popped and appear sunken in the middle, put those in the fridge and use them first.

IMG_6690The recipe I used recommended allowing the jars to sit for 3 weeks to age and allow the flavors to develop.  Since I have been making these pickles a few jars at a time, I decided to open one today and taste them.  They did not disappoint!  One thing about this recipe, no alum was used and despite that, they were pretty crispy, for a pickle anyway.

IMG_6692The color has changed dramatically over the weeks.  These will be enjoyed with many sandwiches…

IMG_6678Sandwich-Sliced Dill Pickles

(not sliced, speared)

adapted from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich

makes 6 -8 pints

5 pounds pickles with blossom ends removed-I only had 3.5 pounds but used the full recipe and yielded 5 pints plus one half pint

6 tablespoons sea salt, divided

2 quarts plus 3 cups cold water

2 cloves garlic jar each jar

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar

4-8 peppercorns per jar

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds per jar

pinch of dill seed per jar

1-2 sprigs fresh dill per jar

2 3/4 cups cider vinegar

Quarter the pickles into spears or cut into 3/16 inch slices, make sure to cut the blossom ends off and remove the stem end as well.  Place into a large non-reactive bowl.  Dissolve 3 tablespoons of the salt in 2 quarts of cold water.  Pour over the cut pickles, cover loosely with plastic and place a plate on top to weight them down.  Allow them to sit at room temperature for 12 hours.  When ready to can, dump the pickles into a colander in the sink and allow them to drain completely.

Place the canning jars and lids into the basket and lower it into the canning pot.  Fill the jars with water and then fill the entire pot so that the jars are covered by 2-3 inches of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil and allow the jars and lids to boil for a few minutes.  Raise the basket and using canning tongs, carefully lift and drain the jars one at a time.  Place them upside down on a rack to drain and dry.  Do this for the lids as well.  Keep the water at the boil, adding hot water if much has evaporated.

In another smaller, nonreactive pot, bring the vinegar to a boil with the remaining 3 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of salt.  Stir to dissolve the salt and then turn off the heat and keep it on the stove while you pack the jars.

Place the spices and herbs into each jar.  Fill the jars so that the spears are snug but not so tight that they are crushed against each other.  Pour the hot vinegar mix over the pickles, leaving about a half inch of space.  Wipe the rims, place the lids on and screw the bands so that they are secure but not tight.  Make sure the water in the pot is at the boil.  Load the jars into the basket and carefully lower it into the pot.  Boil for 10 minutes, raise the basket and remove the jars with the tongs.  Place them on a rack and allow them to cool completely before storing in a dark, dry place.  Check the lids, if any have not popped and inverted, place them in the fridge, allow them to age for a couple weeks and use them first.  The remaining jars should be ready to use in three weeks.

hanging gardens; a chandelier planter tutorial

IMG_6327Apparently, I can Pinterest along with the best of them.  Repurposing things has long been a hobby of mine but since Pinterest came along, there are so many people sharing ideas and photos that if you spend some time looking, you can quickly become overwhelmed with photos and tutorials.  Unfortunately, for every great step-by- step tutorial, there is a vaguely written and generally poor one to counter it.  Having seen so many for turning chandeliers into planters and outdoor lighting, I decided to give it a go when I found this fixture at my local Habitat for Humanity Restore.  The painting on the metal made it look a little old and rustic which meant I wouldn’t have to try and paint it but even better was the $5 price tag.

IMG_6332Knowing that I had to find three plates and cups, I searched in the housewares department and the gardening department.  While I could not find plates at the HHRestore, I did find three terracotta pots that were already coated with a nice garden patina.  A quick visit to my other favorite thrift store in town, the CHKD store, turned up these nice Pfaltzgraff saucers.  At 78 cents a piece, how could I say no?

IMG_6335A quick preview of what is to come.  If you can, take your fixture with you, it will give you the chance to view the pieces together and make sure they fit.  Plates have a ring on the bottom that can make it awkward to assemble the pieces.  My plates were not a perfect fit but came close enough that I was able to make them work together with the cups on the chandelier.

IMG_6329After removing the electrical components and cutting the wires, I was left with the bolt at the bottom and a piece of threaded pipe.  To attach the plate and pot, I needed a coupling nut to attach to the pipe that would also be used to secure the plate and pot with a bolt and washer.  This is another reason that you need to take your fixture to the store with you; every single fixture has its own sized parts and while some are easy to find, others are proprietary or just not easy to locate.

Apparently, my fixture fell into the latter category.  All bolts and nuts are sized by diameter, either in US standard sizes or metric sizes.  To further complicate matters, not only are they sized by diameter, they are sized by the thread.  While a wonderful young man at Lowe’s was willing to help me figure out which size coupling nuts I would need, he could not sell them to me and my only choice was to order them off the internet.  The bottom line, I would have to pay close to $20 to get the three coupling nuts!!!

IMG_6358After considering that for about 12 seconds, I went off to my local ACE hardware store and told my sad tale to a wonderful salesman.  He was intrigued him enough that he and I spent close to 20 minutes tracking down parts.  When all was said and done, I placed a coupling nut (that still wasn’t cheap but at least it wasn’t as expensive as the others) in the cup and then I filled the area around it in the cup on the chandelier with quickcrete that we had at home.  After letting it cure over night, I assembled the rest of the parts.

IMG_6342The plates need to be drilled out and you will need to use a special drill bit, a glass and tile bit.  Place a couple layers of masking tape over the area to keep the bit from slipping and carefully drill a hole slightly larger than your bolts.  If you’re worried that bolting the plate and pot together will cause them to crack, place a rubber gasket or two in between the parts; I did use one but do not think it was necessary.  Because I did not take measurements, my piece required a bunch of extra washers, I suggest you buy a couple packs of extra washers so that everything is snug.

IMG_6367As you can see, I have a small pyramid of washers in there.  If I hadn’t put so many in there, my pots would have wobbled and tipped.  When I was done, my pots were secured and did not move at all.

IMG_6373Ready to be filled with plants.

IMG_6351Because this is a chandelier, it needs to hang!  While I was at ACE, John, my helpful hardware expert cobbled together a few pieces to create a loop at the top of my fixture.

IMG_6352The top of the post actually comes off and I removed it and inserted the pieces to create the hanging loop.

IMG_6353It was a tiny space to work in so I suggest you get a hold of some really narrow and long needle nose pliers if you have a fixture like mine.

IMG_6360The finished hanging loop is ready to hang!

IMG_2027The final step is to fill the pots.  One thing many folks don’t consider when they arrange plants in hanging planters is that size is crucial.  My pots are small, about 2 cups in capacity and that means a plant could quickly out grow the space.  To prevent that from happening, I chose plants that I know have shallow growing roots that require little space; sedum and succulents!  To fill my cups, I used a sedum v. John Creech and an ice plant.  They have a low watering need and will not out grow the cups quickly.

IMG_2028

Happily hanging in its new home!  My new potting bench, another HHRestore purchase is actually a desk with a mismatched dining room hutch bolted to it.  Because they did not match, I painted the whole thing brown but also did some white clue crackle painting on it.  Finally, I have a place to fill pots and start seeds that does not include sitting on milk crates and working on the ground.  It also gives me a place to store all of my tools and supplies by the garden without looking like a dump zone!

visiting the gardens of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate

IMG_6206Mount Vernon is about 140 miles from our home in Williamsburg and that may seem like a bit of a drive to walk through a bunch of gardens, but to two gardeners, this was the perfect way to spend a beautiful sunny day.  If you plan on taking the trip, do yourself a favor and purchase your tickets online at least 3-4 days in advance.  Not only will you save $3 per adult, you will have the option of choosing a time for your visit to the mansion and if you are willing to spend a little extra, you can also purchase tickets for the special tours.  We booked our entry tickets online and purchased tickets for the Gardens and Groves tour and started our visit with a guided tour of the upper and lower gardens.

The sun was pretty harsh and it made taking photos tricky but I managed to get a few!  The photo above is of the lower garden.  George Washington was very meticulous in many aspects of his life but unfortunately, he did not keep good records of his garden and for the people in charge of keeping them, they have had to do a lot of digging for clues and a lot of guessing based on what was available at that time.

IMG_6207In the lower garden, most of the beds included fruit trees grown in the espalier style.  Some were trained to grow up against walls and others, like these apples, were grown as a living fence for the garden.

IMG_6214There were so many apple trees-I was truly jealous!

IMG_6208This trellis looks a little intimidating but it is easier to construct than you might think.  There weren’t any plants growing near it so I wonder what it will be supporting.

IMG_6209The high walls surrounding the garden created a micro climate that helped keep the temperatures up to give the plants an early start in spring.

IMG_6215Have you ever heard of cabbage envy?  No?  Well, you have now.  Down by the river, there is another small garden area near the 16 sided barn.  We literally stood there and stared at the cabbages.  Someday, when I grow up, I’m gonna grow cabbages like these…

IMG_6216And not a cabbage worm in sight.  Then we stood there and wondered what chemicals they were using on them to keep the caterpillars at bay…

IMG_6221These onions were at in bloom and they must have been near 5 feet tall and as big as a softball.  Again, some day…

IMG_6223As we ponder the possibilities of fencing for our own garden, I admired this one because of its simple construction.  Then I remembered that I do not live in a forest and my husband is not a lumberjack; this might not be our solution.

The 16 sided barn sits on a small slope and was interesting to see.  On weekends, they must have livestock here, but not on our trip.

IMG_6218Really loving the fencing

IMG_6224This house is a recreation of a cabin that belonged to one of the more prominent slaves and his family.

IMG_6228Just out of view from the mansion is a row of buildings.  Many had a specific purpose; salt house, smokehouse and so on.  This was the knitter/weaver house and as a knitter, I had to stop in and take a few photos.  George Washington led a very ordered life.  His primary goal was to be as self-sufficient as possible and while he had the advantage of wealth, the slaves working on his estate were able to produce most of what they needed.  The things produced here would most likely have been used on the property.

IMG_6230The wool would have come from livestock on the estate and it would have been processed by slaves who would have also used it for weaving and knitting.

IMG_6234Along side the weaving house was a small plot that was called the botanical garden.  In this small space, Mr. Washington would experiment with new varieties of seeds and plants.  If they were successful, they would have been added to one of the gardens or groves to produce food.

IMG_6235There is a recreated blacksmith shop along the path as well.  In this shop, tools are produced using the same methods that were employed over 200 years ago.  Most of the tools they make now get used around the estate.

IMG_6236As we looked on, this gentleman was working on a project.  They may have a lot of stuff in there for visual impact but this really is a working blacksmith shop and he went back and forth between the table/anvil and the fire as he worked on the piece in his hand.

IMG_6237There were horses present back then but there wasn’t a farrier to produce shoes for them.  Because Mr. Washington was not one to spend money unnecessarily, he made sure that a few of the blacksmiths were properly trained to produce shoes and tend to a horse’s feet.

IMG_6242One of the most interesting parts of our Gardens and Groves tour was the greenhouse.  While we were not permitted inside, it was interesting to know that back then, they would grow citrus trees and other tropical plants in the greenhouse during winter and move them outside in summer.  There was a room in the back of the building where a fire was tended around the clock to keep it warm for the plants.  The men in charge of keeping the fire lit would sleep in that room .

IMG_6244The larkspur is one plant that they know was growing on the property when Mr. Washington lived there.  They actually sell packages of seeds and when my mother in law visited here last year, she brought me one.  So far, I haven’t had any luck getting them to germinate but I will try again this fall.

IMG_6250After seeing these poppies, I have a new admiration for them!  Beautiful when in bloom and then come the seed pods, which I think are just as pretty as the flowers.

IMG_6251In the upper garden, flowers are everywhere but if you look closely, there is a vegetable garden hidden in there too!

IMG_6260We toured the mansion (a quickly guided walk through with little time to stop and truly take it all in-and no photos allowed), walked the grounds, saw the tomb and trees that George Washington himself planted (two tulip poplars and a hemlock-absolutely huge) and then wandered through the museum.  The museum is a trip in itself, honestly.  There are several videos to watch and plenty of historical displays with lots of text to read.  He was such a fascinating man and it was a bit overwhelming after all the walking in full sun for two hours on the grounds.  Then we arrived at the end of the tour and the final display; his teeth.

Mr. Washington did not wear wooden teeth.  He also did not neglect his teeth, actually, he did what he could to save them and actually visited the dentist!  Back then, when teeth would fall out, they would use wire to hold in replacements.  When he was inaugurated for  his second term, he only had one single tooth left and made the decision to have it pulled and just use dentures.  Those dentures now rest in a glass case for all the world to see.  They consist of a mixture of human and cow teeth and they are set into hinged, metal plates and they look unbelievably uncomfortable-it is no wonder he was not smiling in his portrait!

Bottom line, go if you can!  Buy your tickets in advance and go in the middle of the week before school lets out for the year to avoid the crowds.  And one other suggestion, if you want to see all three floors of the mansion, visit in January or February.  The number of visitors is so small then that they open the third floor up to the public; currently, the crowds are too large and the structure is not stable enough to withstand the traffic.

my mother’s garden

IMG_5924Just as there are many types of plants, there are many types of gardens.  Some gardeners work with shade, some with flowers or succulents and others with just vegetables.  Potagers, cottage gardens, rain gardens and so on.  Personally, I have an herb garden, a shade garden and a sunny area planted with perennial flowers in addition to the very large potager style vegetable garden that takes up much of our front yard.

Then there is my mother’s garden which is nestled on top of a mountain in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in a forest like setting; the rocky soil is deeply shaded, heavily wooded and full of wildlife.  Planting a garden in her yard is challenging because of the large rocks in the soil, the lack of sunlight and the fact that the deer eat everything, including the things they shouldn’t.  Despite all of these things, my mother’s garden is inviting, full of surprises and a wonderful place to visit and sit a spell…

IMG_5927Gardening with deer is a challenge.  Especially when the community you live in is surrounded by state owned forest land.  At times, there can be a dozen or more deer grazing around the yard.  The landscape provides areas for them to sleep and rest and even when you think the small herd may have left the yard, it is entirely possible that some are still there but out of view.  As if the deer weren’t enough, black bears also live in the area and have come through yard and more than one raccoon has raised a litter of kits in a tree near the shed.  If you think deer can do damage, mischievous raccoons and squirrels can also cause problems.

IMG_5931As a result, my mother is a gardener of things.  All around the yard, you will find statues and knick-knacks, baskets of silk flowers and plants, gazing balls.   She finds things in stores and yard sales and has them all over the yard.  Bird houses hang from low branches all over the yard.  Every where you look, little pops of color are present and it truly makes for a restful place to spend the afternoon outdoors.

IMG_5934The deer really do eat just about everything and it was surprising that these little bluets were present since they are usually eaten to the ground.

 

IMG_5940A constant theme in the garden is a smiling sunface.  Actually, sun and moon faces are all over.  That may be partly my fault since I often send them to her!

IMG_5945In a small hillside drainage pond, frogs rule.  They are loud and you can hear them all over the yard.  On this afternoon, I saw four of them in the water and on the rocks around it.

IMG_5947This is one of the few parts of the yard that actually has plants.  The previous owners of the yard placed fencing around plants and shrubs to protect them from the deer.  It was an unattractive sight and my mother has removed most of it.  Although that meant the plants within met a nibbled to the ground death, it greatly improved the appearance of the yard.  One place she left the fencing was around the pond and in this small area, she has a few hostas, several sedums and lily of the valley along with statues and knick-knacks.

IMG_5952Lichens and moss cover all of the rocks in the yard.

IMG_5953The pond is truly the focal point in this part of the yard.  The Autumn Joy sedum has filled in the crevices above and moss and ferns are filling the areas near the water.

IMG_5954Gazing balls are one of her favorite ways to add color to the yard.  She will tell you that they must be colored and not silvered.  Twice, my mother has placed silvered gazing balls in the yard and twice, a woodpecker tried to kill his reflection.  Both of those gazing balls were shattered.

IMG_5957You must walk around the yard to see it all because it is everywhere.

IMG_5959Along the back of the house, she has a simple row of silk plants with pottery and glass accents.

IMG_5960 (1)In that row, tucked in a corner, is what remains of a deer skull.  It seems that this buck died on the property and after the vultures cleaned it, my mother placed the skull in her garden along the back of the house.  Squirrels continually gnaw on the bones to keep their teeth in shape and have chewed up quite a bit of the skull and antlers.

IMG_5962Have you ever heard the phrase referring to “bones knitting,” especially if you have broken a bone?  It is easy to see why they say that when you look at the fuse line going up the skull.  This was one of the most fascinating things to look at in the garden!

IMG_5965You really must look carefully or you might miss something.

IMG_5967And look everywhere, despite being colorblind, my mother has a talent for choosing colors so that they either blend in seemlessly or jump out.

IMG_5968She also has a talent for finding unusual pieces like this pottery base to a planter.

IMG_5928This old bench is so worn out that she has added a board to hold the objects on it.  That gnome looks familiar-he lived in our house in Nashville for years and when we moved, I sent him to live with my mother.  One of the girls, I think Alix, painted the tile and yes, the plants are silk.  At least the deer won’t eat them!  But beware, the raccoons love to move things and you never know what they will do.

chaos

Chaos noun, behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions, also known as the effects of spring weather on the garden.

The weather this spring has been hard to predict.  Cool at night to highs of 90+ during the day, multiple days reaching 80+ and then in the blink of an eye, drops to the 40’s at night and days that barely cross 50.  Up and down and up and down…stretches of a week or more with no rain for a somewhat dry April, to rain nearly every day for the first full week of May.   Seedlings that emerged and then dampened off or the seeds just rotted altogether.  Plants that did grow at all for weeks and instead, bolted.  Then, suddenly, rain and more rain.  The garden was transformed nearly over night and I am now enjoying fresh picked produce by the basket!

 

IMG_5793This part of the garden does not get much direct sunlight and once the crape myrtle, which is not in the photo, leafs out completely, it gets little filtered light as well.  Last spring I spent a week amending the soil and adding shade tolerant perennials to the bed.  This year, nearly all of them came back except for a bleeding heart plant and they have truly filled the space.IMG_5795The iris actually gets enough light because it blooms before the crape myrtle creates shade.  Also in bloom are azaleas, dianthus and phlox.

IMG_5800Remind me to tell you the story of the gnome sometime… He is watching over the sunny part of the garden.IMG_5806Love the little blossoms on the strawberry begonia.

IMG_5817While I have put a lot of work into the perennial beds near the front door of the house, none of that compares to the amount of work the vegetable garden has taken.  We began in late fall of 2014 by composting the leaves that fell from our trees with grass clippings from the lawn and bags of coffee grounds from Starbucks.  In spring of 2015, I topped each of the beds with that compost and placed 45 bales of straw on the beds in the garden.  Throughout the year, I attempted to grow vegetables in the bales with out a ton of success. In early winter, when the bales began to tip like drunkards, I broke them down and scattered the straw on top of the compost along with more coffee, ground egg shells, compost (that includes litter from our hens) and a topping of purchased garden soil.

In February, we hooped two beds and I seeded them with cold hardy greens and lettuces.  Some seeds germinated nicely, others not at all.  We filled a third bed with purchased starts for cold weather veggies.  Things moved very slowly.  The beds were a little hot for the plants and I was beginning to get discouraged.  Finally, in April we began to see growth and were able to begin picking greens for cooking and salads as well as radishes and turnips.  My collection of lettuces are doing very well and I am picking them regularly.

IMG_5818Peas were slow to get going but have finally come on board.  Gotta love the tendrils and the way they tie themselves into knots.

IMG_5819Everybody loves surprise potatoes!  Must have missed one when I harvested them last fall.  not sure what it is but I am thinking it is most likely a yukon gold but the alternative is red norland; either way works for me!

IMG_5820A lot of firsts this year.  Ailsa Craig onions along with some radishes from an 8 year old package of seeds I found lurking in the box!  We have lots of mushrooms coming up in the beds.  Did you know that is a good thing?  There is a relationship between plants and mushrooms and when some combinations are grown together, you can actually improve your yields-this pairing was random and not of my doing but my fingers are crossed that it helps.  Want to know more about it, pick up a copy of Mycelium Running and read about it!

IMG_5822Chinese cabbage is doing so well-and I grew this from seeds!

IMG_5823The way chard glows when backlit never gets old.

IMG_5828These rutabegas are taking off in the garden.  If you grow them, be sure to eat the greens too!  Cook them as you would collards and the plant will be doing double duty.

IMG_5829Another of the firsts in our garden, salsify.  Have no idea if we will enjoy it but I saw some plants in Colonial Williamsburg in the garden the the local master gardeners maintain and decided it was pretty and it needed to live in my garden too!

IMG_5831Speaking of pretty, these radicchio starts have been stealing the show for a while now.  We pull a few leaves off from the bottom and are letting the heads fill out.

IMG_5832More starts, celery is taking its time.

Welcome to my garden, my little slice of earth.  Feel free to wander through and admire the plants, dinner will be ready just as soon as I wash the lettuce.