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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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.


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Porch Dog + Porch Frog = New Blog

One of the most frequent conversations that I have with my neighbors is about my dog, Grace, and how much she enjoys being the “Porch Dog” this summer. Whenever people go by, Grace is out there, relaxing under the ceiling fan, enjoying all that “porch living” has to offer!

Grace enjoying her day on the porch.

Grace is about 14 yrs old. I’ve had her for the past 6 years, so almost half of her life at this point.

This is amazing to me because she arrived at the Animal Rescue of New England as a dog that was in need of a lot of attention. She was initially categorized as a ‘Katrina’ dog that lost her owners during that storm 7 years ago this week.  The closest to reality that is now known or believed, is that Grace was a resident of the Humane Society in Newark, NJ and was used as a bait dog in a fighting ring in East Orange, NJ before she was rescued.  Grace ended up in the ‘ring’ after the death of an elderly owner (at least that’s what she has shared with the animal communicator that she visited last year). 🙂

She arrived at the shelter with puppies (7 according to her records that noted – “Do not PTS”  – PTS=Put to Sleep). She also had more puppies at the shelter (according to some stories/records).  I don’t like to think about this part of Grace’s life, but I do acknowledge it – and appreciate the team at the NJ shelter that continuously “checked” her out and brought her back in each time ‘her time was up.’ That said, she definitely deserved to be where she ended up for the 2nd half of her life – especially as I look at her tired, old, aging body, covered with scars from her face to some of her feet,  as she rests so contently on the front porch this summer .

YES! I admit that she is spoiled and she is definitely the “Porch Dog”.  She is out there by 7am and won’t come back into the house until after dark (which seems to get earlier each day as we wind down the summer of 2012.)

I’ve recently discovered that Grace has company on THE PORCH (my friend Terri has noted that this term should be in all CAPS because it seems to be a summer destination!)

There is the “Porch Frog” that  joined Grace on the porch (I mean, THE PORCH)  earlier month.

Technically, it’s a Grey Tree Frog – common here in NH.  It has been hanging out during the day, taking its place behind one of the window shutters.

Porch Frog's Home

Peek-a-Boo! Porch Frog behind the shutter.

It leaves every evening as dusk sets in, just before Grace comes in for the evening.  He heads to the garden in my backyard, I imagine to eat the bugs that only come out at night.  It’s become a routine, every morning, the “Porch Frog” is behind the shutter and every evening, it heads out, hopping across the patio furniture and into the backyard.

Porch Frog

Porch Frog heading out for the night!

Once the frog jumps into the magnolia tree each night, Grace seems ready to come into the house for the evening.  (Of course, the people on the porch get excited to see the frog’s evening migration, and it seems odd to me that Grace doesn’t seem to notice.)

I have a strong suspicion that Grace and Frog are true porch companions and we’ll never know what they talk to each other about all day long!


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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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Shhh! Nashua’s Best Kept Secret Garden

I’ve run out of room in my backyard garden to grow vegetables.  My grandfather would find this fact  hard to believe if he were alive today.

He always had a HUGE vegetable garden, some flowers (the peonies he planted over 40 years ago still bloom in the late spring), and a perfectly manicured lawn that would take him over three hours to mow each week (plus many countless hours keeping weed free!) 

Peonies in bloom late May this year.

Over the years the green, weed-free lawn shrunk dramatically.  (My mother always said that grass is one of the most costly and frustrating  perennials to grow…..She was right!)

The lawn was replaced with perennial gardens filled with flowers – selected by trial and error –  for a Zone 5 garden.  And slowly, over the years, flowers  and shrubs have filled in the area of vegetable garden. The old oak and maple trees next door have also pushed their roots into my yard, making it nearly impossible to prep the soil for a new vegetable garden each summer. The tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and herbs were all moved to containers throughout the perennial gardens, but the results of this effort have varied over the past few years.

At the end of last summer, I vowed to stop trying to grow vegetables that I could buy at the Nashua Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings.  I rationalized that the money and time saved on water, fertilizers, and time would be better spent to support local farmers.  (At the rate I was going, the few tomatoes that I did harvest cost at least $10 each!)

Then Peter stopped by the house. He grew up in my neighborhood. He knew my mother and other neighbors when they were all kids back in the 50s and 60s. My mother and I also knew his mother and aunts because they all had homes nearby.  Peter shared info about the community garden at Greeley Park in Nashua.  And even better, he offered to share some of his space in 2012.

I thought he had forgotten about our discussion last August.  Then, out of the blue, he stopped by my house the Sunday morning this past Memorial Day weekend with news that the garden was ready to plant! Better yet, water would be free and he ’tilled the soil so it was ready for plants!  Oh…AND there was A LOT of space – so much that this area is actually being tended to by my mom, two other neighbors, and me! We just had to get the seeds/plants and take care of our section.

To say that this summer’s gardening experience has been interesting is an understatement. Waking up at dawn to tend to a garden across the city at 6:30 am on the weekends is something I would have NEVER considered in the past. This summer, it just seems natural.  (I have to go this early to avoid the full sun and heat of the day and to ensure that I have time to deal with the garden at my house later in the day!)  The early mornings are the most peaceful at Greeley Park.  Especially during these last few weeks of summer.  I love that the sunflowers greet me whenever I visit the gardens at Greeley Park.

Sunflowers on a foggy morning at Greeley Park.

The jury is still out  whether having two different gardens to tend is worth the effort.  Some days, when all I can pick are blossom-rotted tomatoes, it seems more like work vs. a passion or hobby.

This morning was different. My mom and I took Grace out for a ride to visit the garden. This was a big deal because Grace is getting up there is age – she’s about 14 now and it’s more of an effort for her to get into and out of the car, so we have to plan her trips to include visits to the gas station and bank (both stops offer biscuits at the drive-thru!) Today’s trip included a garden visit.

There were no other people in any of the gardens and it was great to see an old dog be so excited to visit a new place and sniff so many new smells!  She was ready to run down the path, as soon as she leapt out of the car!

Once we arrived to our ‘plot’, it was exciting to have so  many things to pick since my last visit four days ago.  Grace found a nice shady place to rest along the tomato path while I (almost) filled my harvest basket.

Grace rests in the shade cast by the tomatoes.

The cherry tomatoes are all ripening at once, which is good because we also have a bummer crop of seranno chili peppers – fresh salsa is definitely on the menu for later this week!  The broccoli is still sending off enough shoots to fill a dinner plate each week and the eggplant (which were planted late) are all in bloom and look great for (hopefully) a late August harvest!  Some things are not doing so well, but I won’t dwell on that today. With such a short gardening season in NH, I’ve found it more productive to focus on the good things.

That’s Gardening with Grace.