Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Yellow Finch and Garden

I wonder what blossoms await their stardom this morning. 50 degrees and a most inviting cool breeze accompanied a little stroll to locate the offerings. Would you look at this Regal Trumpet Lily (Lilium Regale). I cannot imagine a garden without this fragrant beauty that was brought to us via China's Szechuan region.

What could be my favorite rose in the garden is R. "Louise Clements". What's not to love about her gorgeous color and amazing fragrance! and this poppy has blossomed non-stop.

Okay, it's not a blossom, but clearly stops me in my tracks any time it does this. Acer griseum (paperbark maple) struts its stuff all year long with its wonderful cinnamon colored bark, and for me, it is all about the bark!

The finch were so active, hurriedly scurrying and flitting about the morning garden, and as I turned back toward the front of the house they were flying in and out of the fountain, doing what they had to do, for they knew the coolness of the day would be transformed into the heat of the mid-80's. Quickly they disguised themselves within the neighboring trees as I came closer.

I sat motionless under the netted tent, enjoying this beautiful Saturday morning and purposefully waited and watched in hope of seeing the male yellow finch. Soon several somewhat dull yellowish-brown females ventured to the fountain for a sip or two, one decided to bathe, and in their very nervous way, abruptly again flew away. Back and forth, in and out... the little ladies were sprucing up for the day.

Abundantly available in our garden, they are delightful creatures as they twit and turn, skirmish about, but curious as only the females have ventured to the fountain. Ah, but there he is! Finally, but just for a few seconds, and shortly thereafter, she followed.

Had he just arrived or had he been lingering, watching, protecting the ladies while they drank?

Time to head back in, but one more for the morning. The Lavender 'Hidcote' is in its glory as am I when I gaze upon its stand. (Painter lady, lavender, daylily 'Lavender Deal')

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fresh Grilled Halibut

Last night's dinner was quick and simple, but excellent and so healthy.

We had gone to Costco to pick up a few things, and as we passed the fish counter, they were reducing the fresh Alaskan halibut to $6.98 a pound. Who could refuse that?

Grilled halibut with a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon pepper...
Fresh snap peas with a few broccoli pieces from the garden, sauteed quickly on high heat in a teaspoon of olive oil, and a dash of kosher salt at the end...
Garden greens with a little vinaigrette
(Note: that's my husband's plate)

We also thought we would try a New Zealand Ti Point Sauvie Blanc for under $9, bottled under the Kirkland brand. High expectation on our part due to the NZ, but tasted too much like grapefruit. I love grapefruit, but for breakfast.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Morning Kiss

A few moments ago while standing in my husband's office and gazing out the window, the sun gave its morning kiss upon the landscape.

It must be time to head outdoors before the heat of the day. 85 is forecast, so if I'm going, it must be now.

Rosa 'Chrysler Imperial' beckons.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Labour of Love

Sixteen years ago we decided to look for a different house, begin the search to find just what we wanted, and today we still chuckle at how it was then and where we are now. Had someone shown me this photo and said this will be your home, along with several acres of beautiful landscaping. . .

well, frankly I would have laughed, may have said that's a crazy idea... for I did not have that vision nor think that far ahead. (forgive the photo quality: taken with film, then pieced together)

We first built a matrix of those things we deemed priorities: 3 bedrooms, 2-3 baths (not yet empty nesters), large eat-in kitchen (great room style), 2 car garage. . . a light and airy home and one with some privacy and a view. Should the house have the majority of qualities, but require adjustments, we would assess all those costs and factors. Price, plus the estimate for improvements, had to fall within our budget, and all the properties selected would be equalized or weighted within the matrix criteria. Admittedly, some of it was subjective, but we did attempt to be rational and unemotional in the process. Our decision would be based upon our requirements and a sound financial business decision that said yes, if we do these things and it is good value we will be pleased with the selection.

We looked for weeks and found several houses to put on our list. The last house we viewed met all our criteria, a view, privacy, but was outside our dollar range and more house than we needed, but we would take a look. The rooms were all very large, many with vaulted ceilings and the openness and modern design was very appealing. It was a quality custom-built house! Some may have liked it as it was, but we immediately saw why it had been on the market for over a year: dated and in need of a face lift, it would require lots of time, money and energy. The nearly 6-acre parcel was more land than we wanted and it was in the rough so to speak, but it did offer privacy. Considering both the house and the land, all I could see was the work involved, and that was not how I wanted to spend my time.

Both the interior and exterior of the house were very dark; chocolate carpeting, heavy draperies, brown tiled kitchen, dark stained exterior... simply more darkness than we could tolerate. As well, the Douglas fir trees towered and surrounded the structure and blocked much of the light from entering the house; the land was unattended and thick with growth of blackberries, poison oak, scrub trees and brush and piles of old logs. No, not for me.

As we drove away with the realtor, my thoughts were of a house with little to do so that I might set up my art studio and begin to paint again... when I heard him ask, "What do you think?" My husband quickly replied, "Let's make them an offer".

"What? When did we discuss this?" And to this day we laugh, for the realtor immediately suggested that we go home and talk about it. It remains amusing, for I sensed that was his choice. I saw it in his eyes, his stance, his silent enthusiasm... he was absolutely enamored as it was all about the privacy and the view and somehow I knew that is where he wanted to be.

So after weeks we had our final list reduced to five, and now would rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, one being the highest. We analyzed each house, it's location, and what it would require to make it as we wanted in terms of effort and dollars, those costs of improvements.

Number one on my list was a relatively smaller house of newer construction with a beautifully landscaped small yard, and the only thing to do was to finish the room above the detached garages, a perfect office for my husband and a studio for me. Questionable was the surrounding vacant land. What was the zoning and planned use? The net of that discovery was that less expensive homes and apartments could be built on the adjacent vacant land, thus this house might lose its value.

No need for further details, but somehow the house requiring the most amount of work found its way to the top of the list. We would make an offer, and if it were rejected, we would go to number 2 on the list and so forth. It would be a rather low ball offer, but we felt it to be a fair one considering that much had to be done. If accepted then we could afford to redo the inside: paint, new carpeting, some updated lighting, and the exterior had to be painted. Plus, we had to do some landscaping, at least the perimeter of the house, as my idea of our home did not include blackberries and poison oak in the back yard and railroad ties at the front door. And my husband said this time there would be no pool, no animals, and no lawn. The acres of mowing, feeding of horses and cattle, and the daily maintenance of things would be behind us.

I am laughing as I review some of the old photos taken those many years ago, and this is just one of how it was then and where we are now. On the far left are three potted trees on the concrete, those first to be planted at our new home and the beginning of our landscaping.

We removed the railroad ties, expanded the planting area, and when we had the front area paved, a curb was added to define the space. Is it not amazing what a little dirt and a bit of paint can do?

What brought us to where we are today was a process that had a beginning, it unfolded and was developed over a period of years and that included hard manual labor on our part, but we loved doing it. We took great pride in our strides, and with time, patience and simply a one step at a time approach, made wonderful progress.

It may take a number of writings to show you the transformation we have made over the years, but I think it is an interesting one to tell and show.

We love our home and what we have been able to accomplish. I cannot say I would do it again, but what I can say is there is no place we would rather be.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all you wonderful fathers!

To my father who has been gone for most of my life
but whose smile I yet can see;
to my fine brother who works as hard as any good father can be;
and to one of our sons who now has a little one that fondly proclaims daddy.

To my nephew, my cousins, to all the good men in my life whose influence I cherish, but especially to my husband who has been and is the most wonderful man and father... the best I know. Happy Father's Day.

What Makes A Dad is a poem I ran across, author unknown, and thought you might enjoy it.

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,

The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle's flight,

The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,

Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it ... Dad

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Garden Brunch and Tea Party

As I write about yesterday's event, I find myself smiling, for it was a most pleasurable day, from the very early morning preparation, to when the ladies arrived at 9:30 a.m., to when we departed well after 1 o'clock, and there was ne'er a dull moment.

Elaborate it was not, but intimate, simple and fun, and it was from the garden that much of it was made available and that added to the pleasure. The garden flowers I had arranged the prior day were now placed about our favorite spots with little signs to encourage... stop and enjoy that areas atmosphere.

The table was set: a white cloth and folded napkins; colorful and fragrant garden roses in a small short center arrangement; sprigs of fresh herbs - bay leaves, lavender and rosemary lined the center of the table (and much of which the ladies took home with them); a floral notepad and lavender favor; and at the far end was a little tea pot with a small mouse... do you remember how the Mad Hatter and the March Hare finally put the (sleepy) mouse's head into a teapot?

A separate table outside the tent was arranged with a scalloped floral bedspread as a table cloth; upon it was a water pitcher and glasses, a large assortment of teas, cups and tea pots, cream and sugar, and of course a simple flower arrangement. "You must have a cup of tea!"

As I made final preparation in the kitchen, the ladies were enjoying one another and having their first cup of tea. In short order, we served buffet style from the kitchen and back outside we went for a nice brunch and wonderful conversation.

Whole Bran Muffins with apples, molasses, and walnuts
Spinach & Feta Quiche

Grilled Italian Sausage

Rosemary Yukon Gold
Red Grapes
Bowl of Colorful Fruit
, supplied by one of the guests,
a Fresh Strawberry Rhubarb Pie from another...
and of course "You must have a cup of tea!"

It was a perfect morning: overcast, cool breeze, but my mouth did fly open at one point when the rain fell upon the tent in a quick short burst. Shortly thereafter, the blue of the day appeared and we began our stroll along the garden paths, talking of various specimen, of many questions pertaining to our garden, and simply enjoying this day, together, the neighbor ladies. And you'll be happy to know we now have 4 new little birds nesting in the Sambucus.

What a great day it was! And you know who else had fun? My husband. He kept bringing out more pots of hot water, making sure we were okay, taking a few pictures, then darting off back into the house.

What a hoot! The ladies are already talking about when we might do it again. Perhaps the next time a few of the others will be able to make it, for we missed them.

Oh, and due to our abundant harvest of snow peas, they each took away a little bag of fresh ones, and oops, we forgot to vote on the favorite hat. Next time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mad Hatter's Garden Brunch and Tea Party

We have been prepping the last several days for a special event tomorrow morning: 9:30 a.m., some of the neighborhood ladies are arriving for a Mad Hatter's Garden Brunch and Tea Party. Cost of admission: they must wear a hat which they have decorated and befitting the theme.

Amazing how many more weeds have grown since we mulched several weeks ago, and of course, the deadheading is never ending.

I have made signs, tags for the entrees, and prepared as much of the food as possible: dough for Quiche crusts; grapes have been washed; whole bran muffins with apples have been baked and refrigerated; linens, plates, silverware, serving dishes, tea pots, cups and an assortment of teas... are all lined up on the counter.

There are many places we enjoy around the garden, areas to pause, sit down, enter, inhale, reflect, and thus, we have placed various signs accordingly so the ladies have fun in the garden: Please, do sit down... Please, do come inside... Please, do sit down.

Posted in several places is "You must have a cup of tea", and under the tent and upon the dining table: "You must have a cup of tea" and "Drink up, drink up. Move down, move down."

Flowers were cut this morning and arranged in an assortment of vases for around the garden: in the gazebo, our dining tent, the seating area in front of the pond, and in B's Tea Room. Oh, I haven't told you about that yet. Remind me to post on that next week.

Fresh lavender 'Hidcote Blue' (my favorite) was cut and bound with a tiny maroon bow for each of the ladies, plus a small floral notepad I happened upon for each to carry away.

And there must be a prize for the best hat! Hmm. I think it best to have the ladies vote on that.

So I'm off to the kitchen to do a few more things, but tomorrow morning, the food will be freshly prepared. What might I have forgotten? Oh, no one will ever know, and we'll have so much fun. I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Styrax And Rosa 'Rambling Rector'

Styrax japonicus (Japanese Snowbell tree)

Delicate little snow bells are falling from the sky. We marvel at these fragrant white flowers which grow beneath the foliage and horizontal branching. Having reached its peak, the blossoms have begun to blanket the area beneath the tree... like snow in June.

I love this rose and wish we could have it closer to the house, but its vigor is best suited where it currently resides, along a deer fence. In full bloom is this multiflora rambler, Rosa 'Rambling Rector'.

Its creamy white clusters of profuse semi-double blossoms abound. I do believe it could climb to the sky if there were something to support it, for it currently reaches 15 by 20 feet. Hard to believe this was once a 10 inch starter plant with a single stem when first we placed it in the ground. Shakespeare's Musk, some call it, but for me it offers a scent of clove. And that always reminds me of my father.

At each twist and turn in the garden this time of year, the air is filled with beautiful color and intoxicating fragrance.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weather Bug

Have you found the best way to forecast the day's weather is to simply look outside your window and just go with it? Clearly, the weather forecasters cannot tell you what to expect from one hour to the next, let alone a day or several days ahead.

Not forecast, at least on my weather bug, was the amount of rain we got on Wednesday; sunny, clear blue skies and to reach 72 degrees. Not. The day remained overcast, and the steady rain throughout the day was greatly appreciated by the gardens.

On Thursday, fog, clouds, a pleasant 55 degrees supposedly would yield 73 sometime during the day... and we would go with the flow and simply see how that turned out. Never have fallen for the excuse but it's raining... there is always plenty to do inside or out.

This morning's 55 degrees and lingering cloud cover makes for great gardening time so we are headed outdoors while it lasts.

Did I tell you we are having a Mad Hatter's Garden Tea Party this coming weekend? The ladies in our neighborhood have been invited for brunch and tea. The cost of admission is to wear a hat which each has decorated. We have plenty tea pots (found extra ones at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store... love that place), odds and ends of tea cups... the menu is planned, and I'm excited, for it will be so much fun.

Shall I check the weather bug? Nah... that kind of anticipation might just ruin the party.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trip To The Coast

We drove to the Oregon coast on Friday, a day to clear our heads so to speak. The heat and humidity had finally disappeared as the rains fell inland. There was a likely chance we might have clearer skies as we approached the ocean, but our greatest anticipation was to replace heads of pollen with fresh and sweet saltwater air.

A light rain followed us westward, and the temperature held at a constant 55 as we reached and drove north along the coastline. Mist and fog played with us throughout the journey, and any sunshine would be delayed for another day. But all was well as we traveled leisurely and visited with our friends who we had invited to join us some time ago.

Oftentimes this was our view to the east.

Layers of ancient lava flow are visible along the Oregon coast, but without difficulty the Armeria maritima and it's pink blossoms grow beautifully atop the beds.

As per our usual habit, we brought the essentials for a wonderful dinner: lamb chops for the grill, fresh garden asparagus, rosemary potatoes... and a nice bottle of Pinot Noir.

It was a rather short trip - leave the following morning - but it was a relaxing and enjoyable time.

Our gardens await back home.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Love The Rain

There is some fog in the valley, and the light rain will most likely keep us inside today, except for a brief period to cut some lettuce for tomorrow night's dinner with friends.

I love when it rains because our vegetables are saying, yes! Hopefully we will forgo the thunderstorm forecast for later today.

Yesterday I posted a photo of the foggy morning garden, and here is a more distant view. My husband proclaims there is an aura of mystery about the fog in the garden.

... and in for a little closer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What's Not to Love

As the day breaks, what's not to love about this foggy morning garden? All appears silent and softened, and I reflect upon last nights wonderful evening with friends.

My husband had just opened the '04 Artesa Sauvignon Blanc that would accompany the jalapeno and cheese quesadilla appetizer, along with a homemade guacamole, when our guests arrived. We were excited as always to see them, and they too were joyous, and especially as they were conveying a fresh mixed garden salad, a variety of lettuce leaves they had planted themselves in their first garden! A few fruits and a raspberry vinaigrette made it a perfect accompaniment for dinner.

A new Sauvie Blanc, '06 Two Angels, seemed to be a good choice for our stroll in the garden. Warm and steamy it was as we kibitzed along the paths, stopping to photograph some flowers (a favorite David Austin 'Wenlock'),

gathering a few sweet onions and beets in the vegetable garden for our friends to take home,

and stealthily viewing the nesting bird within the Sambucus nigra 'Pulverulenta'. Likely since we had guests, the little rascal permitted this evening's photograph. I tried most of one morning to do so, but to no avail (look at the eye)

Although the forecast had changed from thunderstorms to just hot and partly cloudy, the air indicated otherwise and the humidity hung on. As we headed in, would we dine in or outside in the gazebo? Remarkably we would eat out, for the temperature began to drop.

My oh my what a fabulous dinner we had! As I think and write about it, the flavor remains vivid, and I believe I can still taste the garlic, fresh parsley and cilantro, olive oil... umm. I mentioned yesterday we would be trying a new recipe: flank steak with Chimichurri sauce recommended by Rick Bakas, and indeed so happy we did.

Accompaniments: quickly baked (at a high temperature), a slightly seasoned combination of cauliflower and a bit of broccoli from the garden; a simple garlic smashed potatoes (Yukon Golds but not ours yet); fresh garden salad, and an Oregon Merlot, '04 Skipping Stone.

We talked and laughed as we always do, and as the evening progressed, the sky darkened in the south and a shift brought a much cooler evening. The rain began, followed by bursts of lightening in several directions, and a beautiful western sunset was the culmination to a fabulous evening.

What's not to love? great food, fine wine, and an evening in the garden shared with wonderful friends.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce from Diana's kitchen, courtesy of Rick Bakas

Steak Rub

1 1/2 pounds Flank Steak
Salt, about 1 TBSP
Pepper, about 1 TBSP
Olive Oil, about ½ cup

Chimichurri Sauce

2/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup Spanish vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 cups fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 cups fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 TSP ground coriander
1 ½ TSP kosher salt
½ TSP pepper
¼ TSP cayenne
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Generously coat the flank steak at least several hours before grilling and allow it to marinate at room temperature.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a blender, blend together and set aside.

Grill steak over medium heat until desired doneness, about 3-5 minutes each side. Be careful not to overcook as meat is at room temperature. Remove steak from grill, cover with foil and allow to rest for several minutes. Thinly slice the steak (slight angle) and fan pieces onto a platter. Drizzle a little sauce over the steak and serve additional sauce at the table.

Rick recommends not serving a big high alcohol red wine like Cabernet, Zinfandel or Shiraz, but rather a Merlot or Meritage blend. Bon Appetit.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sticky Weather

From whence this humidity doth come? This is the Pacific northwest, not the Midwest or east. We have had several weeks of hot and dry weather, and last night's light rain presented a wonderfully cool morning. But it appears to be sticky again... perhaps due to a forecast of a thunderstorm, another anomaly for this area.

The 80 degree temperatures we have been experiencing has caused the garden to grow leaps and bounds and requires a daily check. Yesterday we gathered parsley, cilantro, broccoli (we're having friends join us for dinner this evening), and a few more Texas Sweets, as we eat them up in no time and they still require thinning.

Unintended was the gathering of beets... the leaves had grown 6-8 inches in a matter of days and several had already begun going to seed.

For now, it's back to the kitchen: I am trying a new recipe, courtesy of Rick Bakas a marinated grilled Flank steak with a Chimichurri sauce, an Argentinian recipe from his father-in-law. Besides, we have not yet selected which wine we will have.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden: Before And After

Yesterday as we walked to Capture The Morning Garden, and talked about the various trees, shrubs and plants in bloom, I was going to add several more photos, but chose to save them for today.

As we passed the spectacular Viburnum plicatum 'mariesii', I would have turned to face the upper part of the hillside, and this is what we would have seen...

and as we continued to the right and toward and beneath the birch trees, we would have made another stop before ascending the hill to another section of the garden.

We enjoy doing the before and after photos of our garden, 15 years ago and what things look like today, so now I can show you the before, the process through which we had to go in order to get here, the removal of the underbrush, poison oak, and wild blackberries. (lower left of the photo shows a pile not yet hauled away. My apology for the photo quality for it was BD, before digital and I pieced together two photos, but it still works and gives you the idea.)

Is it not amazing what a little hard work and time and patience will do? The reward... at times renders me speechless.

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson