When the early spring bulbs first peak through the dirt, I start getting excited for spring. While I like all four seasons, the muted colors of winter wear on my spirits and I find myself eager for the purple crocuses, the pink hyacinths and the yellow daffodils that I know will bloom within a month or so. I still need to plant snowdrops, those early-blooming tiny white flowers that announce the end of winter, even if they are half buried by actual snow. That can be a project for my fall to-do list.
The sight of my daffodils and crocuses has my mind on more immediate concerns. I want to order another dozen or so lilies of the valley to add to the bunch I have planted under my bedroom window- what a great wake-up call, the sweet smell of those flowers! I’m eager to see if I get some blossoms on my new lilac bush or if I’ll have to wait another year for it to get established, and I look forward to seeing how my hydrangea bush does. All the plants have been stressed by the drought, and I hope my frequent waterings last year were enough to help it survive.
That’s one of the best things about spring: it gets you looking forward. Winter is the time to sit back and reflect, but soon that quiet time will be over. Spring- the word itself speaks of action, of movement. Of growth and progress and new beginnings, starting with the new blossoms that will soon grace our gardens.]]>
Groundcover is perhaps the most hardy category of plant. You can forget to water it for an extended time and it still keeps hanging in there. Some groundcover plants actually repel bugs, and insect infestations rarely do them in. They stay green until late in the season and often green up again early in the spring.
I like groundcover for its hardiness, but I especially appreciate its diverse beauty. Lamium alone has 40-40 different species; some, such as the ones in the photograph with pale green leaves bordered by dark green, have variegated foliage, and most have flowers that bloom in the spring, producing pink, white or yellow blossoms. Some species do better in full sun while others shine in the shade. Ajuga, or bugleweed, also has 40-50 species. Its leaves range from different shades of green to purple to silver to pink, and its blossoms come in blue, white, lavender and pink. I have some ajuga planted in my front yard, and it continued to thrive through November and well into December; while we’ve had a mild winter overall, that’s still pretty good.
Phlox are a lovely flowering groundcover that produces sweet-smelling pink, white or purple flowers early in the spring. Phlox do well in sun or partial shade. Another fragrant favorite: thyme. Creeping thyme provides a dense groundcover which releases a strong, pleasant scent when walked on. Thyme prefers full sun; it will live on less but might look a little spindly.
While some people don’t like lamb’s ear and find it too invasive, I think it’s a good choice for that out-of-the way spot with mediocre soil where you don’t really want to plant something fancy, but you don’t want a blank spot, either. Lamb’s ears are as soft as the name implies; they grow up to two feet tall and have purple flowers. They grow in sun or partial shade.
With hundreds of types of groundcover to choose from, it’s easy to add lots of interest to the yard and cut back on the amount of mowing you need to do, which helps the environment and frees up more time to dig in the garden!]]>
Tip #1: Light Requirements for African Violets
Many people make the mistake of placing their African violets in direct sunlight, thinking that the more light, the better. Like all plants, African violets need the type of light they would receive in nature. Plants, including house plants, evolved over centuries in specific light, soil and moisture conditions. If you can recreate such conditions, your plants will thrive. For African violets, this means bright yet indirect sunlight. A bright eastern or western window is ideal, but you can also keep your African violets in a room with southern exposure as long as you don’t keep them on the windowsill itself. African violets can also thrive with indoor plant lights, so don’t hesitate to keep your violet collection under artificial lights if you wish.
Tip #2: Provide Adequate Moisture and Humidity, But Don’t Drown Your Plants
African violets need high humidity, but indoor conditions, especially in winter, are often very dry. To remedy this situation, use a dish of pebbles or rocks underneath the pot. Add water to the dish of pebbles. The evaporation process will provide humidity around the African violet itself.
African violets like moisture, but they don’t like to be soaking wet. To tell if your plant needs water, just stick your finger into the soil in the pot. If the soil feels wet and soggy, it probably is! If it feels dry, water the plant. Never let the plant get too wet or too dry.
Tip #3: Use the Right Fertilizer
Lastly, to encourage your African violet plants to bloom, use the right kind of fertilizer. Choose a fertilizer that is 100% water soluble, meaning it will dissolve completely in water. Other types of fertilizer may burn sensitive violets. Follow the package directions carefully.
African violets are great house plants and usually, very forgiving of new gardeners’ mistakes. For more information on African violets, visit the African Violet Society.]]>
2013 is here. Can you even believe it?
I am so excited about this brand-new year and all that is to come. I have so much to be thankful for. 2012 brought some amazing things my way – including a huge move from Missouri to Texas, the opportunity to spend more time with family, an amazing new job (for the United States Postal Service!), and so much more.
So much has been going on that it has taken a lot of energy to keep up. I have been enhancing my energy levels with an energizing smoothie each and every morning. I make them different every day and I can’t wait for the day I have my own homegrown spinach and kale to throw in to the blender as well!
Having a smoothie chock-full of nutrition is a great way to start your day – and this new year!
You can toss whatever you have on hand in to your smoothie. Have fun with it. Switch things up. Just try to drink one every day.
1 banana (frozen and broken in to chunks) You can also use an avocado and just add ice cubes.
1 cup (or so) of your favorite liquid (I have been using grapefruit juice or almond milk or herbal tea or water)
1 scoop of your choice of vitamin or protein powder
a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon (it’s been known to balance the blood sugar!)
a handful of blueberries (or your berry of choice – especially if you have your own berries in the freezer or canned!)
Note: You can add a couple of drops of stevia liquid or honey if you wish. Taste test before pouring in your glass or jar.
Put all of the above ingredients in the blender.
I personally use the “crush ice” button first to grind up the frozen fruit.
And then I hit “blend”.
Lastly, I hit the “liquify” button for a super smooth smoothie.
Drink up and enjoy the flavor, volume, and energy!
Happy New Year to you all! What will you grow in your garden or containers this year?
I want to grow spinach, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions for sure. I don’t know what else I’ll add to that list – but I’m excited!
Will you make smoothies part of your morning ritual?]]>
This year, did you pull out the green beans you’d canned from your garden? Or maybe you broke in to your pecan stash in the freezer to whip up your famous pecan pie. Perhaps you are a hog and/or turkey farmer and enjoyed a feast of meat that your sweat equity provided.
That is such a good feeling, isn’t it?
While Thanksgiving is about putting a bountiful spread of home-grown and/or home-cooked food across a big table, is is more of a time for being thankful and sharing those blessings with others.
This Thanksgiving, like countless others, my family whipped up plates of dinner with all the fixings and containers of individual desserts, and delivered them to neighbors in our area who had no family or friends to cook for or eat with them.
The look of shock and gratitude on the faces of the people we delivered to was the truest blessing of this holiday!
No matter if you used recipes that were handwritten in old notebooks and note cards that had been passed down from generations, the authentic recipe for days of yesterday follows:
Reflect on your family and friends and on holidays passed. Make it a point to take your focus off of making everything so fancy and perfect – and instead, focus on spending quality time with family and friends.
And if you take time to share some of your bountiful meal with those who are forgotten, you will discover the true meaning of Thanksgiving!
How did you celebrate this year? Will you do it differently next year? Will you include a neighbor or two who will otherwise spend the holiday alone? Will you use this recipe I’ve provided when preparing for Christmas or another upcoming holiday that you celebrate? Let’s talk!
Yesterday, I planted 250 spring flowering bulbs in five small holes in the garden. I used a technique called layering, which allows you to plant more bulbs in less space while still providing the bulbs with all they need to be healthy and bloom profusely next spring.
Layering spring bulbs involves choosing bulbs based on blooming time. Not all spring bulbs bloom precisely on May 1st; there are early, mid and late spring blooming bulbs, and even summer blooming bulbs.
You can choose flower bulbs from the same family, such as all tulips with various blooming times, or different bulbs.
I chose to plant galathnus (snow drops), tulips and Dutch iris in the same space. Last year, I had great success with tulips and Dutch iris. The Darwin hybrid tulips bloom in late April here in my zone 7, southern Virginia garden; the Dutch iris blooming in mid to late May. By planting them in the same hole, I had almost continual color from flower bulbs right up until June, when the annuals took over the task of providing color.
To layer spring bulbs, dig the hole as deep as you need it for the bulbs requiring the most depth. In this case, my tulip bulbs needed about eight inches of depth, so we dug the planting hold to that amount. Plant the bulbs pointy-side up, like a chocolate kiss, spacing them out according to the package directions. Group them in odd numbers and avoid planting them in a row; even numbers and rows of bulbs end up looking artificial, while odd numbers and clusters look more natural.
Next, place a layer of soil over the tulips bulbs to raise the planting depth to the next level. My Dutch iris bulbs needed about six inches of depth, so the tulip bulbs got a layer of soil over the top that raised the depth to the appropriate amount. I then planted the Dutch iris bulbs, covering them with a layer of soil and adding the tiny galanthus bulbs over the top. Another layer of soil, some mulch and voila – I have three layers of bulbs, and expect a continual show of color from March through late May.
To keep critters from digging up your flower bulbs, there are a few options. Sprays from the garden center add an unpleasant taste to flower bulbs that make them unpalatable to mice, voles and squirrels. Be sure to wear gloves and follow the package directions for application carefully. An all-natural option is bone meal added to the planting hole; it nourishes the bulbs while also said to repel rodents.
Don’t fret if your bulbs make an early appearance. A warm spell, such as the one we had this week, fooled some of my daffodil bulbs into peeking out from the soil. Cold weather is expected to return later this week, including a hard frost, so the stems will likely get nipped, but the bulbs should still produce flowers next spring.]]>
I blame my mother-in-law for my obsession with fresh herbs. Several years ago she surprised me with a potted basil plant, and I’ve never been the same since. I had always enjoyed using spices in my cooking, but I never knew what a difference using fresh herbs would make. Chopping a few basil leaves and adding them to spaghetti gives the dish verve far beyond what you get from mass-produced store-bought dried basil. The next year I planted enough herbs in my garden that I was able to harvest and dry them to use during the winter, and I discovered these home-dried herbs also had better flavor.
A couple of weeks ago our unseasonably warm weather came to a halt. We went from highs in the 80s to highs in the 50s and nighttime lows around 30. Before the temperatures dropped, I harvested the last of my herbs for one final pot of spaghetti sauce prepared with fresh basil, marjoram, oregano and rosemary. It’s a simple dish to fix: I just chop about a half an onion, some garlic cloves, half each a green pepper and red pepper, and sauté them in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil (unless I’m cooking for a meat-eater and then I add a small amount of Italian sausage and leave out the vegetable oil.) I dump this into the crock pot with a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce and an 8-ounce can of tomato paste, plus a little water. I have found organic tomato sauce gives the spaghetti a much better flavor.
Then I add the herbs: about two tablespoons chopped basil and one and a half teaspoons each of chopped oregano and marjoram and about one teaspoon of rosemary. I add a pinch of sugar and cook at low heat for a few hours. Herbilicious!
Herbilicious might not be in the dictionary, but it really should be. Herbs can take a dish like baked chicken and transform it from bland to grand- all it takes is a little chopped rosemary and sage. They make a simple potato soup into a meal that everybody raves over: rosemary, sage, cardamom pods (I’ve got to buy that one since I don’t live in the right climate to grow it) and bay leaves make the difference.
This year I discovered I could grow herbs in my yard, even though it doesn’t get a lot of sunshine. I chose the sunniest spot available and, while my herbs didn’t grow as big as they did in my former very sunny backyard, they did grow and thrive, enough so that I was able to harvest and dry some to use this winter.
If you’ve never planted herbs in your garden or would like to expand on what you have, winter is a good time to start planning for the next growing season.]]>
I have decided to bring my garden back to life, by keeping an indoor garden. The way I see it, if I grow enough fresh herbs all winter long, I can pretend that this dry, dusty growing season never happened.
Not one to take the easy route, I like to keep my herbs in their own individual pots and add grow lights. Yes, it might be simpler to just buy a premade indoor garden setup, but where is the challenge in that? Now, I have small pots of my favorites: basil, rosemary, chives, and mint, all growing under lamps that have full spectrum lights screwed into them. An added benefit, si that grow lights cast a lovely reading light over the area. It is nice to sit and read gardening magazines, making my wish list, surrounded by the scent of fresh herbs growing.
If you want to join me, start with something simple. Find your sunniest window and put a pot of something there. Try something that can survive with less than optimal care, like mint (any gardener will tell you – you can’t kill mint). Mint grows so easily, it never has to set
foot, err, root in soil of any kind to grow. Basil is the same way.
Grow these two hardy herbs, and have all the herbal tea and spaghetti flavoring you will need for the winter. Very little effort and big reward. Need more inspiration? How about trying your hand at an herbal standard? These beauties, also known as topiaries to some. They are often huge and located in some pretty fancy landscape designs. You can also find them in a more manageable size, for a desk or table.
Find one that is well manicured, growing well, with no signs of drying out. Then, if you are in a cooler climate, please be sure that it is very well wrapped before bringing it out of the store and into your vehicle. Don’t leave it in the car to do more shopping, just whisk it home and unwrap it once you get inside, away from cold drafts.
Keep it in a well lit area, adding a grow light if needed, and prune it to keep the tight shape. In our home, we like to use rosemary standards, and have had great luck with them. I add a tiny string of lights for the holidays, for a festive look. They are adorable and smell wonderful. Check them out!
Photo: © byJulie]]>
Fall arrived early in my part of Virginia this year, approximately three weeks ahead of schedule. Leaves are turning ochre, crimson and gold, and the air is redolent with the scent of logs crackling in wood-burning stoves in the neighborhood. In the vegetable garden, the squash has begun to mature, and I wonder, “When can I harvest the acorn squash?”
Fall squash differs from summer squash in many ways, and one way is how they look and feel when they are ripe. Fall squashes are meant for winter storage, and therefore, the outer shell or rind must harden before plucking them from the vine. Summer squash turns softer when ripe; winter squashes, including acorn squash, harden.
Another clue to tell me when to harvest acorn squash is the color. Acorn squash begin as a pale green color and turn a dark, rich green the riper they get. Yellow spots are nothing to worry about; generally, any place where the squash is touching the ground is yellow or orange. It will taste just fine.
The last clue to tell me when acorn squash is ripe are the little vine-like tendrils growing near the stem where the squash attaches to the plant. As acorn squash ripen, these turn brown and brittle.
All three signs are a good indication that your acorn squash are ready for harvest. Store them in the refrigerator and enjoy during the fall and winter months.]]>
I guess it’s time to face it. Summer is finally over and it’s time to embrace fall. Not that I have anything against mums, and pumpkins, and corn stalks, but it’s hard to let go of all the time I spent trying to keep all my plants alive.
This is the perfect time to get starting building my indoor garden. Since my main love is herbs, I like to focus on what to grow for the holidays. If I start now, things will be ready for harvest, just as I need to use them for Thanksgiving.
I have my favorites: basil, sweet marjoram, sage, thyme, that work for most of my cooking needs. These can all be good for an indoor garden, and I grow them every year. Basil is a little more delicate, growing well, but suddenly dying back after it has been harvested enough that the plant’s energy is spent. I like to have two basil plants growing at different times for this reason. One is 2 weeks younger than the other. Staggering them this way, ensures that I am never out of my favorite fresh herb.
Recently, I have found some pretty elaborate indoor gardens. Although my husband is unusually tolerant of my green thumb, I think even he would object to a 6 food tall mini-greenhouse in the dining room. My dream would be a tunnel connecting our retail greenhouse right to the main house. Then, I could go back and forth in my slippers all winter. Right now, I do have to put on my boots, but I can grow greens almost all winter in the unheated greenhouse. It isn’t nearly as fun as if I were trudging out there with a cup of tea in my jammies though.
Finally, a friend reminded me today, that pansies are the perfect spot of color during these fall days. This is the perfect reason to move all the herbs inside, and have an excuse to get myself back to the garden center for more plants. Those porches are starting to look pretty barren. I suppose it’s nice to have some extra time away from the outdoor gardening, but I still don’t have to like it.