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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Spring Awakening

It snowed again in southern New Hampshire over the weekend – about five inches of slushy, heavy snow. The wintry early April day brought a flock of seven Cedar Waxwings to the garden. When they weren’t stripping the few remaining red berries from the holly shrubs, they were huddled in the Weeping Cherry tree.

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Today, it’s sunny and 60 degrees (F) at 4pm. The longer days of sunshine are quickly melting the latest – and hopefully last – blanket of snow.

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While most of the paths in the garden are still white and slippery,  a swath of purple blooms caught my eye when I stepped onto my my front porch to get the mail.

Spring has arrived! The crocus are blooming — just as expected in early April.

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I grabbed my camera and walked through the areas of the garden where sun melted the snow from the stone paths.  (The ground in these few areas is very soft, almost muddy, so I didn’t venture far.)

It’s always a thrill to find the crocus in bloom. While expected, it always feels like the first flowers are a miracle.

The garden still has a brown dormant winter appearance – from the decaying leaves, pine needles, and sticks that will eventually be picked up either by the birds building their spring nests or during the initial hours of our annual spring cleanup gardening day.

No matter how sleepy the garden appears under the latest blanket of snow, Mother Nature does a spectacular job of waking the flowers that typically appear in late March thru early April.  This includes the crocus and scilla.  As soon as the purple crocus start to wind down, the bright scilla open to full bloom to bring new life and spectacular streaks of blue to line the garden paths. I don’t even need a calendar to know when Easter is just two weeks away.  Seeing these two spring flowers in bloom is always the first indication that the Easter Bunny is expected very soon. (And that it’s time to pick up the ingredients to make the traditional Pickled Beet Eggs for the pending holiday.)

While walking through the garden this afternoon, my soul filled with gratitude. Not just the sights of pops of bright color hear and there, but with the sounds of the songbirds who are out, searching for their spring mates.

I felt caught between two seasons – winter because of the snow cover. And, spring with with the early blooming bulbs.  I’d once read a quote about crocus that included the word Grace. That seems like the perfect way to end today’s story.

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“A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace.”

-David Steindl-Rast


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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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Fuller Gardens: A Fragrant, Rose Lover’s Paradise

I’ve spent so much time in my own garden this summer, that it was a treat to visit someone else’s last week!

I could have not have picked a better evening than last Wednesday to visit Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, NH. It was the night of their Annual Garden (and Art) Party!

A long time Granite State resident and frequent visitor to our 13 mile seacoast, I’ve passed the sign for this well-known NH garden hundreds of times over the past few decades, but never turned off of Route 1-A for a visit.

The property is within view of the Atlantic Ocean, among the sprawling estates that line the narrow and curvy road along NH’s scenic seacoast. I was a guest of my friend, Bobbi, who is a new resident of this area – she’s also a long-time gardening friend. Plants from each of our gardens have been shared with one another and our families for many years. This was Bobbi’s first visit to Fuller Gardens, too.

We were both in awe of the rose gardens that include 125 varieties and 1700 bushes. Immediately, we noticed that the roses in our own gardens aren’t planted like the ones at Fuller Gardens. Neither of us mound the soil around the crowns of our own rose bushes.

The beauty all around us was almost overwhelming. Right away, we found the path that lined the area of the David Austin roses. The fragrance enveloped the area — there’s no better scent than that of rose mixed with the misty sea air (if it were bottled, I’d buy it all!)

There were hundreds of people at this garden soiree. But, I didn’t notice until I looked through my photos the next day that I captured a moment when the gardens appeared to be quiet and lonely. The reality is that the air was not only filled with the fragrance of salt air and roses, but also with the sounds of jazz and people laughing and talking, and ooohing and ahhhing! Only one of the artists (and none of the party-goers) was in what is now my favorite photo from that evening. Several artists from across the region were sprawled around the property, all painting their own beautiful interpretations of the gardens.

Garden2015-FullerThis is how I will always remember Fuller Gardens. Serene, fragrant, and overwhelmingly beautiful.

While the estate also features a gorgeous Japanese Garden, Conservatory, and English Perennial Garden, Fuller Gardens is definitely a rose lover’s paradise. It is now at the top of my list of “must-visit” places for people who travel to and through New Hampshire.

I can’t wait to go back! (And tend to the roses in my own garden a little bit better!)


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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!