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 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




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Find the Seed at the Bottom of Your Heart…

Gerber Daisies are one of my favorite flowers. Being an annual, there’s always a pot of them in the summer garden to add splashes of color among the perennials. That means I get to pick out a new plant each year – and there’s always a bright array of options ranging from red and orange to hot pink. My closest friends know that I can’t resist seeing one of these flowering plants or a bouquet of cut stems without taking a moment or two to absorb their beauty.

Gerbers are a plant that I can usually find at a local grocery store by mid February (Whole Foods in Nashua usually has great ones!) Bringing this live plant into my home during the later part of winter, as the days start to get noticeably longer, gets me excited for the start of the pending gardening season. (Especially on days like today, when the three storms over the past five days bring a fresh accumulation of over 25″ of snow.)

The ritual of adding this annual flower started about 15 years ago with a pot of bright red Gerber Daisies to welcome visitors at the entry to the backyard garden.  The blossoms were about 4-6 inches across were show-stopping as they bloomed all summer. There were always at least three flowers in bloom with as many buds pushing up through the dense soil. I diligently deadheaded the plant to always encourage new growth – until one day I faced a dilemma.

One of the newly emerged buds, on a stem still less than an inch tall, didn’t look like the others. It was very flat and lopsided, as if someone had tightly pinched it. Being close to the end of the growing season, there was only one more bud pushing through the soil. My first thought was to snip the odd bud. I didn’t.

About 10 days later, the most beautiful flower was revealed — a bright red Gerber Daisy with a beautiful, perfect heart center.


I pull out this image every year, to share it with friends for Valentine’s Day. It’s a heartfelt reminder to look past perceived imperfections because there may be something perfect inside just waiting to be revealed.

Side Note: I think it’s important to share this factoid, since this is the ‘Garden with Grace’ blog. When Grace, the dog, was in a New Jersey shelter, her name was Gerber before she came to New Hampshire via an animal rescue group.  There were thoughts of adjusting her name to Daisy, keeping the thought of Gerber in place, but since she responded to Grace and arrived on Good Friday, the rest of history. That said, I think of that girl whenever I type the words Gerber Daisy. She had her imperfections too, including scars from years of abuse, but when cared for and loved, she had a perfect heart, too.

“Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower.”

~ Shigenori Kameoka



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Keep Your Face to the Sunshine…

There is always so much hope when seeds are planted  in late spring.

Especially sunflower seeds.

We look forward to their golden petals all summer, while at the same time, know that their arrival signals the transition to shorter days and the autumn season.

The New England weather challenged backyard gardeners all summer long as severe to extreme drought conditions gripped the region. (We lost our little bit of lawn — again — yes, that ‘Sad Sod Situation’ continues to be a challenge – but we’ll discuss that in another post someday.)

Beginning in  June, we watched the sunflowers struggle.  The dozen or so inch-high seedlings were a much sought after ‘garden buffet’ delicacy for this year’s over abundance of chipmunks and squirrels. In the end, we were able to grow a TWO eight foot tall sunflowers that became a stunning, late early autumn focal point, adding much-needed color to the garden. (Even the hydrangea failed to bloom due to the challenge of changing climate conditions.)


It was amazing to watch the single large flower on each stem slowly open and come to life over the course of four days.


Day 1 – Ready to Burst


Day 2 – Time to Wake Up


Day 3 – Almost There


Day 4 – Hello Sunshine!


Once each flower opened, the bees quickly began their pollination process.  It was amazing to watch the bumble bees AND honey bees over the course of about 10 days navigate around and around the flowers’ centers to pollinate and bring the sunflower seeds to life.



As the seed head grew bigger and heavier each day, I was looking forward to harvesting some of the seeds to save for the 2017 garden. The plan was to leave the majority of the seeds for the songbirds to enjoy.




A squirrel used a nearby trellis as a ladder to reach the seeds.  Fresh sunflower seeds became another menu item in the backyard garden buffet. Delicious!



The seed head continued to swell for a few more days and approximately three weeks after the flower first began to show its sunny face, its head bowed deeply toward the earth as autumn set in.  By day 30, the squirrel came back, hungry and in full force, to strip the seeds row by row – creating an interesting pattern.


Second to peonies, sunflowers have always been one of my favorite flowers (lavender would round out the top three.)  After enjoying hundreds of sunflowers from self-sown seeds in the Greeley Park Community Gardens a few years ago, it was gratifying to grow sunflowers in our own backyard garden this summer. Perhaps in 2017, we’ll double our crop …. and raise four of them!

This feeling of optimism that sunflowers bring must be part of the story behind the Helen Keller quote that inspired me to share the story of our 2016 sunflower success:

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. 

 It’s what the sunflowers do.” ~Helen Keller

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Rediscovering Inspiration

It’s that time of year in New Hampshire. The garden is done…hit by multiple freezes over the past week. I spent this morning in the garage and potting room organizing tools, putting away hummingbird feeders, and just looking around to see what could be salvaged or recycled for 2016 and what will no longer make it through another gardening season.

The Garden Cat, who continues to stalk me, found that I was in the potting room at the back of the garage, so he joined me for a while…he settled into the perfect spot to look over the spent garden to keep an eye out for chipmunks.

20151025_112138After I finished my “chores” I took some time to browse through the “Garden Library” in the corner of the potting room. It’s an eclectic mix of gardening guides and books collected over several decades by multiple generations of family gardeners. Some are gifts from friends, as well. This special library is stored in old wood crates, including one from Producer’s Dairy in Nashua.


Today, my eye was drawn to one of my all-time favorite books by Adelma Simmons. I met her in 1993 at her farm/garden that was known as Caprilands in Coventry, Connecticut.


At that time, I had a fascination with herb gardening and my visit to Caprilands turned that fascination into what is now a lifetime obsession. She signed this book for me 22 years ago this month.


A lot has changed since that visit to Connecticut. Ms. Simmons passed away in 1997 and her herbal paradise is no longer open to the public. You can read more about her via this link.

The one thing that is unchanged is my obsession of growing and using herbs for culinary, mixology, and aromatherapy purposes.

I loved rediscovering this gem of a book today and remembering back to the day that I visited Caprilands in October 1993. I look forward to reading “Gardens of Delight” again to find renewed inspiration for the 2016 garden. (Thank you Adelma! )


My Secret Garden and the Discovery of a Schizo-Zinnia

There’s a secret garden in my backyard. You can’t see it from the street, from any of the windows in my home, or from anywhere else in the perennial gardens in the yard unless you follow the path that takes you along the neighbor’s fence, behind my potting room at the back of the garage.

The secret garden has a long, 20+ foot row of zinnias along its path. The zinnia bed was added to the garden two years ago after seeing all of the beautiful zinnias at the Community Gardens in Nashua’s Greeley Park. I still visit there to get inspired and to visit Sophie who has the most beautiful zinnia garden you’ll ever see.

This year, I planted the zinnia seeds late in June, so they just started to put on a beautiful show as we flipped the calendar to September. There are zinnias of every color, shape, and size that you can imagine.

There is one that you’d never expect to see, let alone imagine. It stands taller than all the others. It’s nearly 55″ tall.

55inchZinnia (1024x768)Its blossom measures nearly 3″ across.3inchZinniaBloom (1024x768)It’s a Schizo-Zinnia.

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This flower has two distinct personalities. It didn’t know if it wanted to be hot-pink or white with speckles. So it’s both.

It looks like someone took two completely different flowers, cut them in half, and stitched them carefully down the middle to become one interesting bloom.

As a gardener, I’m in awe of every flower in the garden. From April to October, I run out early each morning to see what Mother Nature has delivered since the day before.

Over the past 2 weeks, the morning garden walks include a turn along the path to inspect the zinnias. Usually a blur of color and textures, I’ve walked by and have been glad to see that they are finally blooming and adding every color of the rainbow where you’d least expect it at the back of my yard.

Mother Nature is incredible. She surprised me by making this special flower stand tall and be noticed.

She made me stop.   And look.    And wonder.

This flower will stay in the garden until it’s ready to be dead-headed in mid-September.

Then the seeds will be saved to plant a surprise for next summer……in the now, not so secret garden.


Gardening at the Gardner Museum

Living in southern New Hampshire, I have the luxury of access to some of the most wonderful art museums in the world, all within an hour or so (depending on the traffic!) drive from my home.

My favorite (with no offense to any of the others, since I love visiting them all!) is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  I feel a sense of peace as soon as I walk into the grand old building that features a spectacular courtyard. You’ll have to view the photos of the courtyard on their website since photography is not allowed during visits.

There’s a connection (that I just can’t explain), that I feel whenever I walk though the entrance to this museum. Many of my friends know my secret as to why I became a member of the Gardner a few years ago. I always thought it would be a great place to attend a party.  Well, my membership has not let me down!  I’ve attended some exhibit openings filled with great fanfare.  But, one of my favorite parties at the Gardner takes place on the Third Thursday of each month.

This winter, I made it down for the Midwinter Tropics event on the Third Thursday in January. My good friend, Liz, joined me for this little mid-week field trip into Boston.  Once we survived the nearly 2 hour drive (to go only 45 miles), we had a wonderful time.

It was a trip that ended up filling this gardener’s desire to get her hands dirty!  In addition to the networking and bars throughout the museum, there was a little workshop area filled with hundreds of sedum plants, buckets and piles of peat moss, and dozens of tiny wood boxes.  The fragrance of the peat moss was a great reminder of spring while we were still in the middle of a cold January when the days were still short and the nights were so long.

An opportunity to Garden at the Gardner to create our own mini works of art was such a treat on that Third Thursday night of January. It also made this winter just a little more bearable!

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My friend, Liz (L) and me Gardening at the Gardner!

“All gardening is landscape painting.”  –  Alexander Pope  

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Maintaining a garden blog has been a challenge during  a long, harsh winter in New Hampshire.

While my head has been filled with motivation to keep a blog interesting during the midst of a winter filled words like “polar vortex” and “arctic blast”, actual inspiration to get the thoughts out of my head and out to the digital world has been lacking.

Until today…

Maybe the idea of an extra hour of daylight this evening and the pending arrival of spring, along with a great find that was tucked away in a binder of gardening materials, was all that I needed!

Here’s the great find. It’s a poem that a former neighbor named Kate,  wrote for my mom, Kathy, about the garden. It was written over a decade ago. Before the dog named Grace came along to inspire this garden blog.

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I love how words, put onto paper to create such a lovely poem, so many years ago, can have such a more impactful meaning many years later.  Which brings to mind this quote about inspiration that I think relates perfectly to gardening.

“Every moment and every event of every (wo)man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” -Thomas Merton