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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Today’s Seeds are Tomorrow’s Garden Harvest

Gardeners can relate to the euphoria felt when finding seed and gardening catalogs while sifting through a pile of mail – usually holiday bills – as the darkness of winter sets in. The delivery of these catalogs in late December and early January bring excitement akin to the of the arrival of the old-time Sears Wish Book when we were children.

I have several gardening and seed catalogs in the rooms across my house right now, but there are three I keep returning to as I dream about my 2019 garden. In fact, I’ve just set a date to go through these catalogs with my friend Jane later this week. Together, we will make final decisions on what to order and then share the costs and, of course, the work as we look toward spring.

Jane is one of my BFF’s when it comes to gardening (and in everyday life in general, too!) I love it that she is very methodical when it comes to starting her plants from seed. She did this for the first time last year and her results were fantastic, with a variety of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs – that she generously shared with me. Jane in the only person I know who has even successfully started rosemary and parsley from seed.

I used to be obsessed with starting my seeds in late winter/early spring. I had all of the shelving and other supplies like grow lights and warming mats. For a gardener, there’s nothing more motivating than the fragrance of soil wafting through the air while starting seeds when there’s still snow on the ground. Our effort of starting seeds indoors was quite successful and we’d end up with hundreds of seedlings – way too many for our small garden, so there were always plenty of unique plants to share with friends across the region.

Over time, the cost and commitment for the small amount of plants I could actually plant in our garden forced the decision to stop this late winter ritual. Now that I have a friend who is eager to start her seeds (she has much more space for a vegetable garden than I do), I’m looking forward to again, digging in to this favorite activity in 2019. I’ll share our progress as we move toward spring.

Meanwhile, an unexpected gift arrived at my doorstep last week – and it ended up being my first batch of seeds for 2019. My friend Maria and her daughter Sophia send me “Garden BonBons”.

I wish I had known about these ‘seed bombs’ when I wrote about great garden gifts for the holidays in late 2018.

Well, with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, these ‘Garden BonBons’ created by Moultonology are beautifully packaged just like fancy, high-end chocolates. But, they are not candy to eat, they are candy (seed bombs) to plant in the garden.

While I haven’t planted these yet (the ground is frozen in New Hampshire until May), I still love the idea and creativity they represent. One box is a mix of seeds for garnishing cocktails. The other is to attract bees and butterflies. I’m already planning document how they grow in a story later in 2019 – so keep an eye out for that update this summer.

As you may have been noticing, the days are getting a little longer now. (In New Hampshire, we can see a little daylight at 5pm!) Are you now inspired to take the step to turn the dreams of your 2019 garden into reality? What are some of your favorite seed and plant sources? And what seeds will you be starting this year? Do you go with the tried and true, or are you an experimenter? I’d love for you to share your thoughts with a comment.

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”

Proverb


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A Gardener’s Thoughts on this US Election Day

Voting is like gardening.
You need a plan.

Know which seeds to sow.
Boldly remove weeds that are invasive.
Remember that too much fertilizer (BS) does more harm than good.

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Image is a photograph from a card I received this summer. It was created by an artist named Sally Apfelbaum – Language of Flowers series.


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A Tour of My Garden in Under 7 minutes

When news of a hard frost came as an alert on my mobile phone yesterday, I went to the garden to pick the last of the zinnias to bring indoors and to say good-bye to the perennial flowers that were still blooming late into the autumn.

The temperature was a chilly 45 degrees with a blustery wind, but I had the urge to do a quick last minute garden tour – with this one under my belt, I promise to capture more  garden tour videos throughout the season in 2019. But for now, here’s my farewell to the 2018 garden.

Click here for a Garden Tour in under 7 minutes.

PS….Amazingly, the day before this video was taken, I found this gorgeous ruffled daylily in bloom. Just as everything was winding down for the 2018 gardening season, this beauty made a guest appearance. (Making this morning’s freeze even more sad.)

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Dig, Shake, Stir: From Garden to Bar

One of my favorite things about gardening is to find creative uses for harvested items, especially the herbs. Over the years, I’ve dried herbs to create interesting crafts with everlasting flowers such as lavender.  However, a favorite way to save and savor some favorites from the garden involve cocktail infusions.

When I have an abundance of  hot peppers at the end of each summer, I buy a bottle of plain vodka. Something like Smirnoff works well (though I do have a friend who chastises me, insisting I should only use top shelf spirits – – let’s just say that we agree to disagree!). I toss in a few spicy peppers that have been partially cut to the new bottle of  vodka and within a week, it becomes a spicy ingredient for a fantastic Bloody Mary! And as the Pepper Vodka ages, it gets even hotter — so I simply top the bottle off from time to time with more plain vodka. It’s seems like an endless bottle by mid winter. By the next summer, I’m really to start all over again.

In years past, my neighbor usually had so many peaches and plums that he resorted to begging his friends to take them from him – or he secretly delivered them to our homes, whether we wanted them or not! With his harvests, I’ve infused the peaches and plums in brandy.

Other experiments included pears infused in brandy and rhubarb infused in vodka. (Those were never made again, but were worth trying. In the end, it was a waste of good pears and rhubarb that could have been better used in a baked item where they would be enjoyed more.)

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This year, I tried two new infusions.  Blackberry Brandy and Lemongrass Vodka.

My friend Bobbi lives at the NH seacoast and is a fellow gardener. I love that her garden has a blackberry and blueberry patch, along with some pear and apple trees (and a pony named Sachi!)  At the end of last summer, I paid her a visit and returned home with armfuls of peaches, pears, blueberries, and blackberries. The peaches, pears and blueberries were saved for eating. But, the blackberries were picked with the intent to make a batch of Blackberry Brandy for the 2017 holiday season.

Blackberry Brandy is very easy to prepare. I simply took a large (sterilized) glass jar, added the blackberries (about 1.5 c) and a few tablespoons sugar (since the berries were more tart than sweet this year), lightly muddled the ingredients and then poured a bottle of E&J Brandy over the mixture. I let it sit in my cool, dark basement for 8 weeks, and stirred the dark, thick contents of the bottle weekly. Then I strained it through cheesecloth and bottled it. I’m pleased with the results, but will add more blackberries if I try this again next year.

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The surprise creation of the summer was the Lemongrass Vodka. I’ve grown lemongrass in the garden on and off for the past 20 years. Lemongrass plants are sometimes hard to find, so I simply get a stalk of lemongrass from the grocery store in the spring, put it in water, let it root and plant it in the garden in early summer (sometimes in a container, sometimes in the ground.) It makes a beautiful filler plant and sparks good conversation when friends wander through the garden and realize that it’s very fragrant.

I browsed online for ways to create an infusion and all suggested cutting up the inner parts of the lemongrass stalk – some suggested chopping it in a food processor, but I just hand cut it. The stalks on my lemongrass were cut a few weeks before I did this project, which make them smaller, drier, and less pliable.  You can see in the photo on the left, the lemon grass just sitting in the jar of freshly poured vodka.  Within two weeks, the spirit took on a beautiful golden hue.

My Lemongrass Vodka has an herbaceous fragrance and taste with just a light citrus background note. I’ve tried a few cocktails with the infusion, including using the spirit in a straight up dry martini with hint of vermouth. I’ve also tried it with a bit of Lillet instead of vermouth. Both options were good. Most recently, I mixed equal parts of Sake and Lemongrass Vodka and served it very cold.  That was also nice — and a little lighter as far as the hit of alcohol from a straight vodka cocktail.

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I ended up with enough Lemongrass Vodka to fill two small bottles – one for my bar and one for a friend who appreciates unique cocktails as much as I do. He and his wife are on a kick now making a lot of Asian cuisine, including Ramen dishes. I’m looking forward to hear how they create an Lemongrass cocktail to pair well with their newfound culinary experiments!

As I look ahead to planning my 2018 garden in the coming months, I hope to find new items to grow to bring to the bar. Perhaps this will even be the year to create an official Cocktail Garden! (Afterall, it would be an ideal setting for the perfect party!)


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#BloominginMyGardenNow

Good-Bye 2017 Gardening Season!

It’s been three weeks since our first hard freeze in southern New Hampshire. Work in the garden has been winding down. It’s time to rake leaves to create more mulch/compost, clean and store delicate statuary and birdbaths, bring in hoses, etc. Planting spring bulbs should be fun, but after a long season, even that project feels like just another chore. (I’ll think differently about that when I have 50 new tulips blooming come spring, though!)

I’ll be honest. I think every gardener needs a winter break – especially following a successful gardening season.

Overall, 2017 was an excellent season. The zinnias were spectacular! We had a decent harvest of fresh herbs and greens, tomatoes, and peppers. The wine cork mulch project far exceeded expectations! And the hummingbirds arrived and departed exactly as expected – delighting us every single day during their nearly 6 month visit.

The were only two disappointments. 1) The lack of peony flowers in June and 2) the ever constant ‘sad, sod situation’ of the lawn. (Planting white clover seemed like a genius idea this spring. I was even bragging about how great the yard looked in May and June. Then ‘Beatrix Potter’ arrived! Our new resident wild cottontail bunny enjoyed the clover in July — eating all the lush green back to the roots. Oh well, I guess everyone needs to eat and that was the only havoc wreaked our new garden visitor.)

And here it is, late November and I’m just sharing some of the 2017 stories now. My original intent with my ‘Garden with Grace’ blog was to document each growing season – in detail. That said, while I’ve had the best of intentions, as well as at least a dozen gardening stories (constantly!) in my head, I’m not as consistent with sitting down to write during the summer months.

Hello Instagram!

Thankfully, I can look back to my photos – especially those on Instagram – to remember annual gardening highlights. I invite you to FOLLOW ME via: https://www.instagram.com/gardenwithgrace/

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I’ve been using #BloominginMyGardenNow for a few years now and never realized that it’s pretty much MY hashtag until a friend in the media called it out for me. (By the way, as a marketing and communications professional, I think that’s pretty cool, and admit that I’d tried to create a hashtag to be my own, it would’ve been a lot more difficult!) 

It’s amazing how a basic mobile phone camera can create such detailed photos of flowers and in some cases, insects. I don’t use any filters on my Instagram photos, so what you see, is what I see. On the days I’m searching for inspiration, I scroll through my Instagram feed to either write, plan for next year’s garden, or just remember past moments in the garden.

So my documentation of each gardening season is, indeed, getting done. Not in the way initially intended or planned, but it works nonetheless….very much like the actual act of gardening, itself.

“Despite the gardener’s best intentions, Nature will improvise.” ~M.P. Garafalo

 


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Good Gardeners Know the Best Dirt

One of the first signs of spring in my world is always the fragrance of  newly opened bags of potting soil for seed starting and transplanting. Fellow gardeners know — fresh dirt just smells incredible! It’s a heavenly spring fragrance, especially after a long New England winter.

I have about a dozen large pots for annuals, including flowers, herbs, and vegetables around my garden that I fill with fresh potting soil late each spring – it’s about a $100 investment………….for dirt!

This year, I used different soil mixes in different pots for different plantings. I didn’t intend to conduct an experiment. There was some left over Doctor Earth soil in my potting shed that I used in some of my tomato planters. Then I found some Organic Miracle Grow Moisture Control with coir potting soil at Costco (huge bags – I think 15 qts for $9.99 each.) I used this in my five coleus planters and one of my herb planters. And finally, I got some Coast of Maine potting soil from the Nashua Farmer’s Exchange for my other large herb planter. Coast of Maine products have long been a favorite product in my garden – especially their awesome Lobster Compost.

It’s important that no matter how experienced we are, good gardeners always seek experts to help us to grow our skills and knowledge. Gene and Judy, the owners of the Nashua Farmer’s Exchange, are the experts I count on for good advice.  They have been ‘trusted advisors’ to both my mom and me for many years when it comes to trying new things and finding solutions to garden challenges.

This year, Judy recommended the Stonington Blend  potting soil from Coast of Maine when I stopped in to get the dirt on the best dirt for my large herb containers. Knowing the great quality of the Coast of Maine products, I took Judy’s advice. While the product is a little more expensive than I typically purchase, it was on sale and worth a try.  As I paid for my purchase, Judy whispered to me that the Stonington Blend has a great reputation among medicinal marijuana growers. I found that interesting and kind of funny since I was purchasing POTting soil.

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Stonington Blend by Coast of Maine – A New Garden Favorite!

Not realizing that I’d need A LOT of soil for my herb planters, I bought only enough Stonington Blend for one container (which wasn’t an issue – or so I thought! – since I bought those huge bags of the organic Miracle Grow mix from Costco). So, each herb planter used different soil – which set up my unintended gardening experiment this summer.

Seeing is believing!

First, I will share that both planters had the exact same conditions and were set about 10 feet away from each other, with the same amount of sun. The only difference is that one had the Miracle Grow Soil and the other had the Stonington Blend.  The Sweet Basil in both containers is the true testament to the difference – both came from the same batch of seedlings, started at the same time.

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September 2, 2017 – Miracle Grow – Organic with Coir Moisture Control (#1)

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September 2, 2017 – Stonington Potting Mix – Coast of Maine (#2)

Both of these containers were planted during Memorial Day Weekend of 2017.  And clippings from both containers were taken all summer – however, the quality of the herbs in the Miracle Grow was just terrible this year. I actually took more cuttings from the Stonington Blend container (#2) because it was so much further ahead all summer. Initially, I started the Thai Basil – on the far left of container #2 – in the Miracle Grow container. It didn’t do well, so, I transplanted it to the Stonington Blend container in early August – within three weeks, it quadrupled in size – that was my confirmation that the soil was the big difference between the two containers. (I harvested the Thai Basil last week to make Spicy Tofu Basil for dinner last week. It was so good, I ended up making it twice! That herb is now top of the list to plant again in 2018!)

Here’s the comparison on the day that I harvested Sweet Basil on September 9, 2017.

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Both bunches of basil were started together and harvested at the same time. The big, bright bunch on the left was grown in the Stonington Blend. The lighter, smaller leaves were grown in Miracle Grow Organic Moisture Control Mix. Same number of plants in each container.

I visited the Nashua Farmer’s Exchange in mid September to share the results of my unintended experiment with Gene. He gave me a lot of background on the movement of soil producers around the country to create top quality potting mixes for the medicinal marijuana market. From what I gather, the product I used from Coast of Maine is one of, if not the top, potting soil available for this purpose today. For my own use, I’m just awestruck with the results we saw for my herb containers.

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My Garden Advisor, Gene, owner of the Nashua Farmer’s Exchange.

Container #2 with the Stonington Blend is still on my back patio – and is absolutely flourishing! The flat-leaf parsley and mints that looked terrible just one month ago in the Miracle Grow container were transplanted to the Stonington Blend – that I mixed up well – on September 2.  Here’s how that planter looked one month later on October 1, 2017 (Before I harvested the Thai Basil):20171001_135813In the past, this was a week when remaining herbs would be removed and containers cleaned and put away until spring. However, with absolutely no frost or freezes expected in southern New Hampshire for at least two more weeks, these are staying put so I can enjoy the parsley and mint through October.  Halloween Mojitos, anyone?

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” ~Janet Kilburn Phillips

 


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The Magic Garden of 2017

If our garden had a theme song for the 2017 Gardening Season, it would be “The Magic Garden.” (Specifically, the version by Dusty Springfield!)

It’s been a beautiful and busy gardening season. And while I had the best of intentions to post more stories, there was always another reason to spend more time outside instead of inside writing blogs.

The weather was wonderful (some would say a little too cool at times!) with just enough rain, sun, and warmth to bring us the most beautiful flowers we’ve seen in years. Some of the perennials we thought we’d lost during last year’s drought came back to life and were better than ever, and even the new lawn of clover took in well (the bunny can attest to that!)

Here’s a visual overview of this summer’s Magic Garden!

 

 

“There is a garden
Something like the shadow of a butterfly
And lies beyond the gates of dark and light
And darling, it belongs to me
And when you go there
There will be such laughter in the dimpled sky
The songs I sing
Will drive away the night
The magic garden
Has a way of making you feel free
It’s the place I’ve made for you
From five Players cards and dominoes
And it won’t fall down
And when your dreaming vanishes
Like snowflakes in the summer sky
Melts away in darkness
And you don’t know why the magic garden
Waits with all the gates wide open
And darlin’, I’ll be standin’ just inside
It’s so soft and warm
Behind those hedges
No hard edges
No hard edges
It’s so soft and warm
Behind those hedges
No hard edges
No hard edges”
Songwriters: Jimmy Webb / Jimmy L Webb
The Magic Garden lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC