Wednesday, April 30, 2014

favorite perennial plants

it's all about gardening during these long, full days of spring. we're not just focusing on our vegetable & herb garden; we have been spending time in our front flower beds. we lost four big, beautiful lavender plants to the harsh winter so we've been filling in the holes with other perennial plants. it's so exciting to invest in plants that will grow fuller year-after-year. i love adding annual flowers to our pots on the porch, but i am reserving our front flower beds for perennials. i thought i would share my favorites with you today!

1. hostas: i love their bright green color & leaf shape. they're easy to maintain, too. 

2. creeping phlox: phlox typically flowers before most any plant in the spring so it provides a pop of color when everything else is still in a deep winter sleep. we choose creeping phlox to grow over our wooden borders. i am so excited to see its growth next spring!

3. lavender: i already miss our big, beautiful lavender bushes. i added one lavender to our bed in hopes that it will survive our winters. it smells so yummy. during the summer, i cut off the blooms to add to little flower bouquets for friends.

4. peonies: i added a peony from the nursery, too. it shouldn't bloom until next spring, but i cannot wait. the soft peach color & smell is my favorite.

5. coneflowers or echinacea: i absolutely love coneflowers. they are native to this region & are easy to maintain. this season i found coneflowers in a citrus & red color instead of the usual purple. i am so excited to see the beautiful flowers for the first time. 

6. hydrangeas: hydrangeas are a southern tradition & a must for any garden down south. my mother-in-law gifted me two hydrangea bushes last summer that are doing quite well, despite a surprise freeze we had a couple of weeks ago. 

7. purple salvia: this is a new one to me, but i already love the big purple flowers. 

8. creeping jenny: i absolutely love creeping jenny's bright green color & it does so well here. it is such a beautiful ground cover. 

i still have my eye out for a shasta daisy. they're so bright & cheery!


purchasing perennials can be expensive. we always keep an eye out in the newspaper for special deals on plants throughout the season. take a look at the reduced price cart of plants at lowe's & home depot. we have found beautiful plants that just needed a little tlc. in addition, fall is a great time to purchase perennial plants before nurseries close for the season.

what are some of your favorite perennial plants?
- natalie

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

bringing the garden inside

Last summer I gave myself a little treat- every Sunday morning I'd get up, see what was blooming, and make a big arrangement for the dining room table.  It was fun to choose different vases (some of which I made) and pair them with the different shapes and colors from the garden.  It's something I'm continuing this year (and it's one of the things I love about Memphis- I can find something in bloom *almost* every week of the year).

This Sunday we held an Indian-themed potluck and I made several small arrangements for the buffet tables, which we dressed in really bright Indian bedspreads (I was sad that I'd given away my old college "tapestries" from my brief want-to-be-a-dead-head days, so I borrowed them from a friend).
Here are the little bouquets on Sunday, arranged in my McCarty Pottery wine cups:

I picked the peonies that were in fat bud because it was beginning to storm (I'm so glad that I did because they would have shattered before we could have enjoyed them), the last flower bracts of the euphorbia that's been so pretty for weeks (that's the chartreuse), wild sweet william ("blue" phlox, though it's purple to my eyes), some deep blue/purple tradescantia (spiderwort) pale yellow false indigo (baptisia), and some roses from my neighbor Theresa's yard (mine were in bud, not yet blooming).  I love little full clusters of flowers- spilling over the sides of their containers.  These cups are some of my favorites to arrange in- they were wedding gifts that I never drink out of but use regularly for arranging.

Here they are on day 2:

The peony flattens out as it ages, and the roses are opening up.  The phlox smells divine!

And today: day 3
The tradescantia really pops out now- a few more flowers open every day.  The phlox is loosening up and dropping blossoms on the table runner, and the roses are all open now.  My peony is starting to tilt and fold, but I'm bringing in new buds that open up so quickly.  I really like how the yellow baptisia picks up the yellow of the euphorbia, which I really just used as a filler.   Our dining room is in the center of our house- between the front door and the kitchen, a pass-through to the bedrooms and up to the studio, and has north-facing windows.  I've been so happy to have this riot of color this week- it's been dark and rainy and they have lifted my spirits and reminded me of the nice time we had with friends over the weekend.

Beautiful Rosemary

Of all the things I grow in my garden, rosemary is one of my favorite herbs and one of the more challenging ones to care for.  Although temperamental here in the PNW, under the proper conditions rosemary can thrive.  Shrubs prefer well drained soil, lots of sun and protection from winter elements.

Rosemary is currently in full bloom here in Seattle.  One of my favorite ways to use it is paired with garlic in a hearty focaccia bread.  I've been using this recipe for years; it's versatile and can be used for pizza dough, focaccia bread or rolls.

Basic Pizza and Focaccia Dough

1 Tablespoon yeast
1/2 Cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Cup cold water
2 Tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing
4 Cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

For Focaccia, add:
1/4- 1/2 Cup chopped rosemary
1/4- 1/2 Cup chopped garlic

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and sugar and let rest for 10 minutes.  Add cold water and olive oil.  In a separate bowl, whisk together one cup of flour and the salt, then add to the water mixture.  Add the remaining 3 cups of flour one cup at a time.  Once it's too difficult to stir, turn onto a floured surface and knead.  Knead for several minutes, then place in a large oiled bowl.  Cover with a damp cloth and allow to raise in a warm corner for at least 1 hour, or until dough is doubled.  Punch down and shape into desired shape.

At this point the dough can be used for pizza, rolls, or focaccia.  For focaccia, I shape it into a rectangle and fill one cookie sheet.  Drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, sprinkle chopped rosemary and garlic (I use a lot!).  Let it rise for 30 minutes or so.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  After it's cool, cut into squares, slice horizontally and fill with your favorite sandwich fillings.  Tonight, we had yummy apple pecan chicken salad sandwiches.  They were devoured!  Enjoy!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Night in the Garden


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There is nothing like unwinding on a Friday night in the garden. After a busy week there is no other place I'd rather be than in my own backyard.

For me it looks something like this... prepare a simple meal, turn on some music (loud enough to hear out back), pour myself a drink and then out into the garden I go. Tonight there was pesto pasta and salad for dinner, our local jazz station on the radio and a G&T with extra lemon.

I had picked up some sorrel,"lacianato" kale and "bright lights" swiss chard plants this week and was itching to get them in to the ground before the forecasted rains. I tucked some in pots and planters and amongst the perennials. I seeded some more greens, weeded and cleaned out the chicken coop.
The storm came earlier than expected but I was able to get the last few plants in.

There is still dirt under my fingernails and I can hear the rain watering my newly planted crops. The perfect way to start the weekend.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hope everyone is enjoying the spring after this long winter here in Philadelphia it’s such a relief.

Flowers from the garden

Baby columbine

I wanted to mention that I really love reading about the Tend gardeners all over the country. It makes me travel while I am kind of stuck in my home with my newborn. 
Those beautiful gardens are dreamy--- so much space !

Here in our backyard the biggest challenge is space. As we don’t have much of it, we have to optimize space by choosing very carefully where to plant. Every year we definitely get better at it.

This morning I was looking at the garden out of the kitchen window and I could see the birds coming to take some hay to make their nest, they were so many. We must provide nest materials for the whole neighborhood...

 This week I want to present you my new addition to the garden which I received in the mail. They are espaliers trees and I got them from a nursery that specializes in this very European way of growing fruit trees. Espalier is an antique way of pruning the trees to get them to grow flat against a wall or to create a fence for a decorative purpose or fruits. It is great for a small space. The ones I ordered are 2 single cordon pear trees, a Bosc and a Duchesse d’Angouleme. They are against a neighboring wall next to our raspberries. Let me show you how we planted them…

I cannot wait to see them grow and bloom...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

overwintering kale & a spring soup recipe

as my husband & i were working in the garden earlier this month, we were surprised to find overwintered kale & spinach! what a treat!

overwintering is, simply put, lasting through winter. we planted our spinach & kale in our fall garden. we've overwintered swiss chard & kale before, but we were surprised to find these garden goodies in the spring after such a harsh winter. to overwinter greens, we usually heavily mulch the base of the plant in late fall with straw mulch or dried leaves.

i harvested fresh kale from the garden one morning for a delicious crockpot soup i had in mind that evening. it was delicious & full of flavor!

if you don't have kale growing in your garden right now, you can find it at the farmers' market in big bunches. fill up your market basket & come on home to make this soup recipe -

we paired this soup with a sweet potato for dinner, but a nice hunk of bread would be nice. you could also make this soup vegetarian with vegetable broth & white northern beans. enjoy!

- natalie

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

spring business

Good morning! I am so tickled to be here with you and share a little about what's going on in my garden.  Memphis has a really warm climate (we've recently been moved to zone 8a) and spring usually comes early for us- the end of February and first of March brings daffodils, hyacinths, and sees hellebores taking their exit.  Even after our fierce winter (we usually see lows in the 20s and were stunned by some of our single-digit lows this year), spring has been lovely.  The tulips and daffs are almost over, azaleas in full swing, and the dogwoods have another week or so before they say goodbye.  Roses are budding up and my asparagus is sending out the first tender spears.

I have been doing a lot of prep work for the other major part of my garden this spring- I got a new beehive!  I have had a top bar hive for two years.  This is the top bar hive, to the right, in mid-summer.

Originally, I bought a nuc (a starter hive with a queen, workers, and eggs) and was sad to see it die of starvation in March of 2013.  Mere weeks after I cleared the hive, some friends alerted me to a swarm of bees clinging to a weeping willow tree in their neighborhood.  One morning my husband and I donned veils, grabbed some sugar water spray, a bee brush, and a modified banker's box and captured our first swarm.  The bees were happy and gentle and increased exponentially in numbers- so much so that I wondered how I'd work with them.  One morning in May, I stepped outside the back door and saw another swarm in the very top of my fig tree! I called my bee mentor and we retrieved it (with a lot of work) and it went to his bee farm. 

A swarm is the bee colony's way of dividing- only very healthy colonies with a good laying queen will swarm- essentially, they outgrow their space.  The queen lays eggs and when the worker bees realize that they're close to running out of room, they build a specially shaped cup, called a queen  cup, in preparation for a swarm.  There are usually several, queen cups.  When the queen lays the egg into the cup, the workers feed the developing bee royal jelly to facilitate her growth from a regular worker bee into a queen.  Once the cell is capped, the queen will leave with up to 60% of her colony, looking for a new home.  A swarm is generally a gentle thing- all of the bees are clustered around the queen, keeping her warm (90 degrees is their optimal temperature), but sometime they land in inconvenient places, like the top of the fig tree!

After capturing two swarms in 2013, I wanted to avoid that this spring.  I bought a langstroth hive from my bee mentor and we began the process of checking for queen cells, pulling frames of brood and eggs, and moving them into the new hive body.  We moved the old hive to a new location, hoping to confuse the foraging bees so that they'd go to the new hive, and made sure to leave plenty of capped brood in the old hive so that the colony would continue to thrive.  In this photo, we've pulled the frames from the top bar hive and are checking for brood (the baby bees and eggs).  You can see that the comb is built off of wooden bars (and plastic supports, because sometimes in hot weather the comb has softened and fallen off of the bar- it is a big mess when that happens).

This is my new langstroth hive.  The bottom two boxes hold the same sort of triangular-shaped pieces of comb from the top bar hive.  The upper box holds smaller square frames that are full of foundation and drawn out comb.  When I checked them last week, they were beginning to store honey in the upper box.  The natural colored wood holds a large feeder.  As the colony grows, I'll add more boxes for honey storage.  I still need to paint them, too.

I felt very pleased with how the transition went and both hives seemed to be active.  Just as I was congratulating myself on having avoided a swarm, I looked up into the antique rose bush outside my back door and saw this:

A swarm!  Early on Monday morning I was ready to start my day in the studio when I noticed bees flying into the rose bush.  It is not yet blooming, and the camellia that grows with it has finished up for the year, so I was perplexed until it dawned on me what had happened.  I was going to have to capture a swarm anyway!  Happily, these bees are not my bees but a swarm from either a neighboring hive or a feral colony.  They are a different type- more yellow with more highly defined stripes than my two colonies.  Again, I called my mentor, and he came to get them.  This removal was easy, especially in comparison to the swarm in the top of my fig tree.  Several days later, I looked up again and there's another swarm.  Very same spot.  Pheromones?  Who knows.

At this point, I am preparing myself for another swarm and getting a bee box ready so that I can get them to someone else who can rehome them.  Tis the season for bees.

If you should be so lucky to see a swarm of bees, don't panic!  Look up your local beekeepers association and see if they have a list of beekeepers who will come to rescue the swarm (and you!).

Thanks for reading about my spring bee adventures.  I'll see you here again next Tuesday with more news from my Memphis garden!

Monday, April 21, 2014

blooming this week

I hope you had a wonderful Easter weekend with family and loved ones, I sure did.  I was able to take a few minutes yesterday to walk alone through my garden.  It's always incredible to me when things can appear lifeless all winter long, and then start to bud and come to life again in the Spring.  So many parallels can be made with gardening and the Easter holiday we just celebrated.  I wanted to share some of the blooms that I've been enjoying this week in my garden.

(all photos taken with a hasselblad 500 c/m, polaroid film)

Pink and white bleeding hearts are popping up all over.  My mother-in-law has some red one that are absolutely beautiful!  Maybe next year all add some to my garden.

White anemone with dark purple centers and iberis (candytuft).

A variety of ranunculus and burkwood viburnum.

Dark purple anemone and english daisies.

Ranunculus and spring bouquet viburnum.

Lily of the valley, hellebores (a current favorite of mine) and astilbe about to bloom.

I'd love to hear and see what's blooming in your gardens.  If you don't mind sharing, leave a comment or link in the comment section.  Thank you for being here today!