Garden with Grace

"I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some." ~H.Rappaport


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Garden Hack #3: Hosta Hides Fading Daffodils

The Garden Hack Series continues!

The first two Hack’s led to so many wonderful conversations among friends. Especially popular is the Wine Cork Mulch hack! Now, whenever friends open a bottle of wine, they tell me they are ‘making mulch’ for my garden! I still need a few more corks for one project, but with the help of so many ‘mulch makers’ in my life, it should be finished soon!

With summer on our doorstep (we’re actually on day 2 of a 3-day heatwave in New England right now), I look around the garden and still see some fading foliage of the daffodils from early spring. In order to ‘charge’ the bulb for next year’s blooms, it’s necessary to keep the daffodil foliage after cutting the spent flowers. As the foliage starts to brown and wither away, it’s not the most attractive sight — but I’ve been using a solution that I read about a few years ago, and it works quite well!

Garden Hack #3: Hosta Hides Fading Daffodil Foliage

In the fall, as the hosta falls apart after the first heavy freeze in New Hampshire, I’m usually preparing all the garden beds for their winter rest. By this time, gardening feels tiring – almost exhausting. But there’s always the final big push to plant spring bulbs. I just keep reminding myself that the extra effort to plant some tulips and daffodils will be rewarding come spring.

I can’t remember where I first read about this idea, but it’s one of my favorite Garden Hacks (after the Wine Cork Mulch!) When daffodils are planted among the hosta in late fall, you’ll save some time cutting back the withering foliage come June. The newly emerged hosta grows at a rate to completely camouflage the brown daffodil foliage, but doesn’t detract from the spring blooms. If anything, it enhances them, but bringing more color and depth to the the bare ground. I liken this to the work that florists do when they ‘green the vase’ before creating a flower arrangement.

This photo is from mid April of this year, just as the daffodils started to bloom. I love how the newly emerged hosta gives a bright green look of life to that entire garden bed.DSC_1053

The wonderful thing about this hack is the daffodils bloom for several weeks and just as they start to fade, the hosta really takes off to hide the fading flowers.Daffodils-Hosta

By early June, the hosta reaches it’s full size for the season, completely covering the daffodil foliage that is working hard to charge the bulbs for next year’s flowers.Hosta-Daffs

Here’s a broader view of the garden from last week. You can see on the right, the arrows point to the section of the garden where the hosta is doing its magic trick of making the daffodils disappear!Garden Aerial_LI

“Gardening is learning, learning, learning.

 That’s the fun … You’re always learning.”

~Helen Mirren

 

 


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Garden Hack #2: Wine Cork Mulch

For many, many years, my friends and I saved wine corks – always thinking of all the crafts we would create with them, including wreaths, trivets, tree ornaments. Those crafty days never  really took shape (other than one or two wreaths), even though we always had the best of intentions.

After collecting hundreds (if not thousands!) of wine corks for nearly two decades, it was time to do something or to pass the corks on to someone who would. At the same time, a young paper bark maple tree was planted in the backyard. It needed mulch, but there’s an effort underway in my garden to cut back on bark mulch because it zaps nutrients from plants.

Hack #2: Wine Cork Mulch!
CorkMulch - PaperbarkMaple.jpg

Suddenly, the idea of Wine Cork Mulch became a reality and good use for more than 25lbs of corks! I just place the corks where I’d normally put bark mulch. It worked out perfectly for the Paperbark Maple planted a few years ago, adding whimsy to a new garden focal point. After nearly three years, the natural corks weathered to a silver-grey, similar to how teak changes color over time. Yes, there are even some plastic corks mixed in – adding tiny splashes of yellow, blue, and dark purple.  Occasionally, on a very windy or rainy day, a few corks may blow or bounce out of the bed, the same happens to bark mulch.

The success of this mulching project resulted in the continued collection of corks to mulch another bed across the garden.

CorkMulch-2017 Before

This spring, we started to mulch the bed that leads to the secret zinnia garden behind the garage. Surely, this big bucket of corks would fill the space completely — or so we thought!

CorkMulch-2ndBed.jpg

We were close. But definitely needed more corks to complete this project. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that it’s okay to ask for help. Friends love to help other friends, especially for interesting projects. When I realized more corks would be needed, I simply put out a call to my friends via social media on a Sunday afternoon to bring corks when they visit over the summer.

Within hours, my good friend and fellow gardener, Terri (aka: @TerriinRed on Twitter) stopped by, not with corks, but with unopened bottles of wine that included corks!  A few days later, Liz came over after one of our Friday morning walks with a huge bag full of corks – well over 100 of them! (Liz was featured in one of my earlier Garden with Grace stories when we spent an evening in 2014 Gardening at the Gardener Museum in Boston.) 

The cork mulch has definitely become a fun conversation among my friends in recent weeks, especially as more people drop by to contribute to what I call a ‘worthy cause!’ Most recently, Cathy dropped by to catch up after her vacation to Italy. She brought corks (and a few rocks from Tuscany – for my garden!)

Rosemarie brought over A LOT of corks a few days after Cathy. Like the start of this story, she also saved corks for years for craft projects. However, she did make some good attempts and many of the corks donated by Rosemarie have drill holes! (I love my friends!)

As you can see, I put Cathy and Rosemarie to work to help with the actual garden mulching. (Another benefit of cork mulch over bark mulch is that it’s not a dirty or buggy project!)  Of course, both of these wonderful women were rewarded with a glass of wine!

I’m constantly finding corks in my pockets and purse now! After a visit to other friends’ homes for gatherings like Mother’s Day or an afternoon lunch, instead of bringing home a ‘doggy-bags’ with leftovers, I simply keep the corks, knowing one cork here and another there will add up fast.

A successful cork finding mission took place this week.  During a stop for a drink at MTs Local Kitchen & Wine Bar in Downtown Nashua, a conversation was struck up with the bartender about my Wine Cork Mulching project.CorkMulch-MTs

I shared some of my photos and asked if MT’s kept their corks or just tossed them away. By the time I was ready to leave, I was offered a bag with 48 corks! All are now in my garden. My one regret is not counting ALL of the corks before putting them into the garden beds. (That knowledge would have sparked some interesting conversation when entertaining in the garden — of course with more wine to keep the cork beds full!)

It’s going to take a few more weeks to fill in all the gaps for the latest project, so I’ll keep on my mission to find more corks. And, if you happen to visit MT’s Local in Nashua, the cork from your glass or bottle of wine enjoyed with your dinner just may end up in my garden one day!

I think cork collecting may now be considered an ongoing adjunct hobby connected to a gardening obsession. I’ve already found a new bed to mulch with wine corks. I’m thinking the one with the Wine & Roses Weigela and Summer Wine Ninebark would be ideal!


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Garden Hack #1: Screen Out Seedling Problems

Sometimes, we all need ideas, tips, and tricks to make our work in the garden easier. Over the the past five years, I’ve tried and tested several “Garden Hacks” and want to share the ones that truly work so others may use them too.

My first Hack involves recycling and upcycling. Honestly, there is no better place to engage these practices than in the garden!

Garden Hack #1: Screen Out Seedling Problems

This is my favorite Garden Hack because it was published in Fine Gardening magazine’s February 2016 issue. (There’s nothing more rewarding than your favorite gardening publication validating your tip – in print!) 

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The tradition continues this growing season. Despite a cold, rainy month, my future salad (Black Seeded Simpson lettuce) is thriving in its screened setting.

Lettuce hack

Once the seedlings get a little bigger, I’ll remove the screen for a few hours each day, but will cover it up at night to keep out the visiting nocturnal critters. We’re hoping for a first cutting for salad in early June.

Do you have a favorite Garden Hack? Share it with a comment!

 


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The Power of Patchouli

Patchouli reminds me of Brussels Sprouts or Cilantro. You either love it – or hate it. There’s really no in-between.

Personally, I’ve always been fond of Patchouli, enjoying its fragrance in candles and essential oils. I knew Patchouli came from some exotic plant, but never in my wildest dreams thought about growing it in New Hampshire – until early spring of 2015.

While shopping for container annuals and herbs at Salem’s Lake Street Nursery during the early days of spring, there it was….a tiny 4 inch pot of Patchouli for under $5!

This trip to the nursery was after the record breaking winter of 2015, so there was so much hope for the months ahead – coming across the small Patchouli plant was an unplanned bonus. I had no idea what to do with it – nevertheless, it made its way back to Nashua  to be added as a whimsical item for the 2015 garden.

The young leaves had the fragrance of….well…Patchouli!

It was amazing to touch the leaves, releasing their oils to scent my hands and the air nearby.  It was also fun to show it to garden visitors, by breaking off a piece and asking them to guess what it is. Most people remarked it smelled familiar, but they can’t come up with the plant. Once I tell them, there’s always great discussion on the memories that the Patchouli fragrance evokes. One garden guest immediately shared that it smelled just like our friend, Karen. (She was absolutely right – I never think of Karen without thinking of her signature fragrance!)

By the end of the 2015 growing season, the Patchouli plant was about a foot and a half tall and wide and it seemed a shame to let the October frost claim it. So, an experiment ensued.

I cut the stems off and dried the leaves to create a small dish of Patchouli Potpourri. Within a few weeks, the fragrance from the dried leaves disappeared. After cutting back the plant to the soil level, it was watered well and over-wintered in the basement.  By spring of 2016, the Patchouli plant came back to life and was ready for another growing season in our New Hampshire garden.

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The perfect place in the 2016 garden was under a 30 year old Weeping Cherry tree in the backyard.  By the end of the summer, it turned into a huge shrub – reaching its maximum size of 3′ x 3′. Unfortunately, the growing season was not long enough to allow it to reveal the white flowers I’ve read about when researching Patchouli.

By late September, as the cooler nights started to set in, it was time to do something with the Patchouli. I really wanted to create some essential oil…..so I did.

It was a several week process — I used instructions found online. Since I don’t have the equipment to steam distill the oil, I used the method of infusing the dried leaves in the oil. Basically, you dry the leaves and infused them in a carrier oil. I used organic Sweet Almond Oil.

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Time to cut back the Patchouli

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The neighborhood Garden Cat supervised the Patchouli Harvest

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Patchouli after being infused in oil for 2 months. The entire plant fit in one hand.

patchouli-bottling-step

Production line – 12 one ounce bottles!

The jury is still out on the final result.  Personally, the fragrance is light and smells fresh or green – not deep and musky as I expected. Apparently Patchouli Oil improves with time. As it ages, it turns darker and the fragrance grows more potent.

Interestingly, many people are anxious to receive gifts made with plants from my garden. Not true with the Patchouli Oil.  More people than not have kindly said, “Thanks but no thanks.” So my few Patchouli loving friends are part of a longer term experiment to determine if the end product actually improves as it ages – like a fine wine!

In the meantime, I’ve been researching the various uses for the oil beyond it’s powerful fragrance. Among other things, I learned Patchouli Oil has been used for thousands of years and was once considered very valuable, being used as an exchange for gold by early European traders.  One pound of Patchouli for one pound of gold. King Tut even arranged to have 10 gallons of it buried in his tomb!

The history also includes use to scent fabric in the 19th century, to keep moths away, as well as to treat skin maladies and sexual dysfunction.  Today, it’s being used primarily as I expected, as a fragrance. The aromatherapy benefits of Patchouli Oil include anxiety, stress, and depression relief. You can learn more about the history and uses of Patchouli Oil at Mercola’s website.

patchouli-bottled

In the end, my production of Patchouli Oil resulted in 12 ounces of medium-yellow colored oil – to perfectly fill the 12 bottles I ordered for the project.  The label designed for the bottles includes one of the sunflowers from my garden grown during the 2016 season.  It will be interesting to save a bottle or two for a few years to see if the fragrance and color deepen to what I was initially expecting.  Only time will tell.

“Suddenly, I felt like I was wearing Patchouli Oil in a room full of Chanel.”

~ Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City


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28 Day Transformation of a Sad Sod Situation

Of all of the perennial plants in the garden, growing a lush, green lawn has been the most challenging over the years.  When my grandfather was alive, maintaining the perfect lawn was his obsession.  The entire yard consisted of a moderate sized vegetable garden and the greenest, weed-free lawn in the neighborhood, if not the entire City of Nashua.

As the years have gone by, the lush lawn has evolved into large perennial gardens of local plants and flowers, most of them drought and deer resistant. However, there are two areas of the backyard with grass — each about the size of a putting green.  The paths through the gardens wind around these patches of lawn.

After the removal of an old, dying cherry tree about 7 years ago, the grass just wasn’t doing well while the tree’s roots rotted. As a result it was replaced with fresh loam and sod (about 6 years ago).

It looked beautiful, but without an irrigation system, it required a lot of water. Yes, so much water that that the first water bill of that summer was outrageously obscene. Thankfully, the investment resulted in lush, beautiful grass until the oak tree abutting my property that gave nice shade was removed last summer.

Like the cherry removed a few years earlier, it was a dying, large, old tree. It was dropping 10+ foot branches and was a hazard to the neighbor’s home and the fence on our property line. The tree became more of a concern after the dangerous, late October storms 2 years in a row – the Halloween Snowstorm and Hurricane Sandy.

The removal of the oak in the late spring of 2013 dramatically changed the sunlight across the entire garden. Overall, the evolution to a full sun area was good (actually great!) for the majority of the garden.

Except for the sod.

A Sad Sod Situation (with apologies to Sir Elton John!)

Over the past two summers, the soft, lush, green lawn turned into a brown, crunchy mess (the only green to survive consisted of weeds, which actually did very well this past summer.)  Oh, yes, it was the sun scorching the grass, but also the fact that I over fertilized in the fall of 2013 added an extra ingredient for disaster.  This is my best of life experience example that supports the idiom that “Too much of a good thing can be bad.”IMG_4877

After some research and a little desperation (for a few days, I considered buying that “As Seen on TV” product called Hydro Mousse!), the reality hit that the dead sod needed to just be removed and a new lawn had to be planted.  Timing was perfect for this late August decision because fall is the best time to plant a lawn and focus on caring for grass.

Hope is on the Way

On September 4, a landscaper started the project. In an hour, he and his crew removed what was left of the old, dead sod. On September 5, he stopped by for another hour and spread fresh, new loam.  Then, on the morning of September 6, the Tall Fescue grass seed was planted. He actually planted 2 layers of it.

Within a week, little tints of green stated to appear.  Within 2 weeks, the areas of new grass started to show real life.  At 3 weeks, it was time to a quick mow! September was cool but dry in Nashua, so the new grass was watered 2x a day for 3 weeks. (The September water bill has not yet arrived!)

Finally…..It’s Good to Touch the Green, Green Grass of Home

Today, marks week 4.  I’m just amazed at the transformation that has occurred in 28 days.IMG_4978

There are still some small open patches that will be tended to in the spring, but the grass is once again soft, lush, and green.

It’s the kind of lawn that makes you want to kick off your shoes and walk barefoot across. Exactly like you’d expect of the green, green grass of home.


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Growing a ‘Load’ of Lemons in New Hampshire

Fifty lemons are a load for one person, but for fifty persons they are perfume. – Ethiopian Proverb

I saw this proverb today and thought about the lemon tree that is now growing in my garden/sun room in New Hampshire.  (It’s such a more positive thought than the proverb about making lemonade from lemons, isn’t it?)

During my travels to the California Bay Area while working for Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard over the past 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to become friends with many people who live in beautiful cities and towns close to San  Francisco, include Palo Alto and San Jose.

I’ve always been impressed, and admittedly, a little (ok, very!) jealous, of the gorgeous lemon and orange trees that so many of them take for granted in their own backyards.  When I say ‘take for granted’, many comment that the trees are messy and more of a nuisance vs. benefit.

When traveling to California during the winter months, I’d always return home to New Hampshire and think about how nice it would be to have my own lemon tree. Just for that fresh spritz of lemon to brighten a boring piece of fish. Or, a twist of lemon for a cocktail made at home.  I’d be able to do so many things with my own home-grown lemons.

Time to become a Lemon Farmer

I never realized that this desire could become a reality, until I saw the fruits of the labor of two friends, in different areas of NH, who have been maintaining fruit producing lemon trees for the past few years.  Both Bobbi (in Hampton Falls near the coast) and Joe (in Nashua across the street) have had much success growing Meyer Lemons in NH.

This year is my turn to become a “lemon farmer”!

The tree was purchased locally at a nursery just over the border in Chelmsford, Massachusetts late this fall and was about $30. While the Meyer Lemon trees that I know Bobbi and Joe have had success with didn’t look so healthy at the nursery this fall, there was a beautiful variegated Pink Lemon tree (called Eureka) that looked lush and was full of flower buds (which seemed odd since it was fall.)

Pink variegated lemon tree.

Pink variegated lemon tree.

The lemony fragrance of the flowers and foliage was (and still is!) just amazing.  Bringing this tree into my home has been like adding a natural perfume into my home that envelopes my living space.

The Fruits of my Labor

Fast-forward 3 months.  The pink lemon tree has been such a treat – at this point, primarily for the fragrance. However, the bright variegated foliage is a nice addition to the few indoor plants that are maintained inside of my home during the winter.

The lemon tree lives in the one room of my old home that sees natural light almost 8 hours a day in the winter.  I’ve learned that it doesn’t like a lot of water and needs occasional doses of an organic fertilizer.  Overall, it’s been almost maintenance-free.

Baby pink lemons masquerading as limes!

Baby pink lemons masquerading as limes!

The blossoms keep blooming, giving off that perfumey fragrance and the tree is filling out with some nice fruit. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that I was growing limes, based on how they look today.

Hoping for a Load of 50 Lemons

I do hope that I can grow even half of that number of lemons from this little tree!  Of course I’ll add a some fresh lemon twists to some homemade cocktails, and spritz some boring fish. And, I’ll even make some (pink) lemonade! But I will also share these little beauties with local friends who need that uplifting fragrance that a fresh lemon brings during the middle of a NH winter.

I look forward to a blog post early this spring to provide an update when this lemon farmer prepares for the first sunroom lemon harvest!


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Basket of Brussels Sprouts (Yum! or Yuck?)

I’ve been visiting and working in the garden at Greeley Park every two or three days during the past couple of weeks.

This morning’s 6:30 am visit was quiet, with the exception of the crickets chirping (it definitely sounds like August when the crickets chirp quietly in the morning!) Oh, and I may have been overheard cursing every time that I picked a tomato that had blossom-end rot.

Thankfully, today was the first day that I picked more good tomatoes than bad ones. It seems that the blossom-end rot only affected the early fruit that set up on the vines when the weather was fluctuating between very dry and very wet in early June.

The consensus (from all of the self-proclaimed gardening experts who feel the need to weigh in on this topic) is that since only one type of tomato was affected, there was something wrong with the actual plants not being able to take in enough calcium during the early part of the growing season. Affected are the Polish Linguisa heirloom tomatoes. Polish Linguisa is paste variety of tomato that I had success growing in containers in my backyard the past two seasons.  The Sweet Cherry 100s and Brandywines are doing great and there should be a full harvest in about a week. (I have so many great tomato recipes, but honestly, I look forward to a simple BLT sandwich with at least one of them!)

After picking some pretty good looking tomatoes,  as well as finding a few pieces of broccoli, about 10 string beans, and a few dozen (more!) seranno chili peppers (I think I’ve picked over 200 the past three weeks!), I checked on the brussels sprouts.  Here’s how they looked a few weeks ago.

Brussel Sprouts sprouting in June 2012

Brussels Sprouts sprouting in June 2012

Brussels sprouts are supposedly better after they have been touched by frost, so I was not anticipating that they would be ready until late September or early October.

I was delighted to discover that today was the day for the first brussels sprout harvest! This a veggie that my grandfather tried over and over to grow in his own garden without success.  I’m thinking that he may have paid too much attention to them because I did almost nothing and am seeing great success this summer! They just needed some organic compost (created in my own backyard with chicken poop from my neighbor’s five hens) and a few sprays of organic Neem (to keep the moths and catepillars at bay).

Since I didn’t  have my usual gardening tools with me to cut off the stalk of the plant this morning (I went to the garden just to pick a few cherry tomatoes and the brussels sprout harvest was not on my radar for today), I simply snapped off most of the leaves and pulled the plant right out of the ground (well, it actually took a few good tugs).  Surprisingly, the shallow roots weren’t very resistant for a plant with such a big, heavy, sturdy stalk .

There were 46 (my lucky number this year!) brussels sprouts on this stalk – each had to be cut off individually with a tiny knife. While removing them, I realized that this is one of the reasons why this veggie is so costly, it’s very time consuming to harvest!  A few of the sprouts were size of peas and marbles, but a lot were the size that good brussels sprouts should be…like ping-pong balls.

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Brussels Sprouts harvested today.

There are still five more brussel sprout bushes in the garden….they look like they need another month or so to continue growing and will be ready to harvest close to when the first frost is expected in NH.  (That harvest may bring over 200 more brussel sprouts….probably all at once!)

Funny thing about brussels sprouts — you either love them or you hate them!  I have just as many friends who give me a disgusted (yuck!) look when I mention this year’s crop, as I do brussels sprout favorable (yum!)  friends who are expecting “their fair share” of sprouts….soon.

Today’s crop  will be shared (fairly) at tonight’s dinner table with  the gardeners who planted, watered, weeded and kept the bugs away from them. The sprouts will be roasted with extra virgin olive oil and just a touch of sea salt and a twist of fresh cracked pepper.  (Yum!)