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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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.

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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.

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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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When the Garden Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Drop Cocktails!

At the start of this year, I shared the story about the pink lemon tree acquired in October 2013.

We’ve waited for months for the first lemon to be ready to pick (almost a full year, actually), only to see hundreds of tiny lemons, barely the size of peas, fall to the ground during 3-4 growth cycles. While that may seem discouraging to some people, this plant has been enjoyed even without fruit for months, indoors and out.  Its tiny white and purple flowers are extremely fragrant, as is the beautiful, shiny, variegated foliage. When it isn’t indoors filling the garden room with lemon perfume, it’s outdoors bringing delight to the honeybees.

By late May, the pink lemon tree was moved from the garden room indoors to the back patio where it enjoyed outdoor living for 3 full months.  However, with the temperatures expected to drop into the 40’s (F) in New Hampshire tonight, it is time to bring this beauty indoors during the overnight hours

But, before that happens, we needed to pick a lemon. Today, the first lemon was harvested! The pink lemon variety never really turns completely yellow – it’s a creamy yellow color with green stripes. The fruit size is small, more like a lime or golf ball.

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A lot of thought went into what to do with this lemon – we really wanted to be able to taste its lemony flavor, but with only one lemon, there’d be hardly enough juice for even a thimble-full of lemonade.  The truth is that I didn’t care what the end offering would be, I just wanted to cut open the fruit to see its pink flesh.  It looked a little more salmon color than bright pink – and was beautiful.

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When you grow your own lemons, you enjoy fruit that is not covered in wax because it was shipped to your market from thousands of miles away.  Instead, the outside of the lemon rendered a big spray of oil when it was cut and then squeezed.

Thankfully, if you have vodka in the house, you can skip the lemonade and go right for a lemon cocktail.  I did a quick search online to find a recipe that only needed a few ingredients and Ina Garten offered the solution. Her recipe for a Lemon Drop cocktail was perfect – I simply cut the ingredient portions in half for my one, lonely lemon.

Voila! The most delicious Lemon Drop Cocktail that took nearly a year to make!

IMG_4917Cheers! And, here’s to the remaining 4 lemons that should be ready in as many weeks. If you have suggestions on how I should plan to use them, let me know via a comment!


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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.)

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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 perfumy 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!)


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Mandevilla: Garden Splurge or Investment?

It’s too hot to work out in the garden today.  But not too hot to take a walk thru the garden to take in how things are thriving (or not) as we approach the midpoint of the growing season.

Grace joined me today for a quick visit to the garden early this afternoon – she likes to walk along the paths and sniff where the neighborhood cats and other critters have been since her last inspection of the area. (When I’m not looking, I know she leaves ‘pee-mail’ to let the cats know who actually owns this garden!)

I captured a photo of her as I was admiring the mandevilla on the trellis.  Grace doesn’t like the hot weather, but the mandevilla sure does. It’s a plant that is typically found in Central and South America.  Everything in the garden that loves the summer heat and humidity looks great this week.

Pink Mandevilla

I used to think that purchasing mandevilla for my NH garden was an extravagance….each pot costs about $30. Wow! $60 for annual flowers for the trellis?!?!

However, I’ve had success with overwintering the plants in my basement during the winter. As a result, I now look at these plants as an investment since I’ve kept some for as long as 5 years.

Phew! Justification that my splurge on these plants only costs about $6 per year (which is so much less than most other annuals for sale at the local nurseries in the spring!)

In case you ‘re wondering,  the mandevilla in this photo is a new 2012 “investment” into my garden.  I’m hoping for at least one more growing season.

But, if that doesn’t happen, the beauty that this pink mandevilla is bringing to my garden today, makes it worth every penny that was paid back in the spring.