Monday, April 26, 2010

Malus 'Prairifire', Evening Garden Walk

When family or friends join us for an evening walk in the garden, I will point out "this is one of my favorite trees". The only problem with that statement is we have planted about 50 specimens over the years, and each was selected because of a particular habit or feature which we found especially appealing. This time of year a spectacular tree happens to be the flowering crabapple, (Malus 'Priarifire').

The photos do some justice to the actual blossom, an unmatched beauty of color in the landscape, and when I see this tree in full bloom, all I can think of is ‘HOT’!

As we start down the path the blue, purple and pink Columbine (Aquilegia), which have freely seeded, cover the area beneath one of the birch trees. Do enjoy the fragrance of the lilac while stopping for a moment to look at the rich purple red foliage of this great maple, Acer Platanoides 'Crimson King' (one of my favorite trees).

The sloping field below the main garden is home for the three Malus 'Prairifire'. These 15-20’ trees, rounded in habit, require little or no maintenance, do not drop their fruit, and clearly are quite the showstopper this time of year - a beautiful addition to any garden. (I won't tell you that we planted another young one in the main part of the garden last fall when we found it on sale.)

April brings forth their “fire” in the landscape, summer yields reddish green foliage, the fall transforms it into red and orange, and the red berries of fall and winter offer the birds a feast; the bark - a glossy dark reddish brown.

As we approach the bottom of the path let us turn right. The towering Cedrus Deodara can be seen in the distance, while the Ligustrum x vicaryi 'Aurea' (privet) nestles beneath the Malus.

A closer look says these two may have something going on.

Shall we walk beyond the Cedrus Deodara and turn back for an opposite view and a wonderful Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'? Don't you simply love the weeping whimsical stature of this evergreen? Reminds me of a Dr. Seuss character.

Well, it is almost time to go in. We hope you have found something to enjoy during this evening garden walk. Thank you for being here, and we shall do it again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Davidia involucrata

This month's theme in Gardening Gone Wild's Picture This Contest is "Green World". The photo is of the lovely asymmetrical white bracts of Davidia involucrata (aka Handkerchief tree, Ghost tree, Dove tree... ), a remarkable specimen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Perspective: Before 'n After

A lazy drizzly morning

following a fun-filled evening of strolling through the garden, with a brief stop at B's Tea Room, and dinner with our good friends D and R who brought with them our mutual friends who have been visiting from Alaska. Over the past 16 years they have experienced first hand the before 'n after perspective of our garden.

As family and other friends have visited over the years and they have their first stroll along the paths, we generally explain there was nothing here... everything you see, shrubs, trees, each plant, was placed in the ground by us. That generally elicits a rather casual wow... hmm... or really?.

When we go back into the house, one of my favorite framed photos is one taken of the front of the house shortly after we purchased it, and as we present it for viewing there is the sound of silence. Finally, the response is an amazed ‘There was nothing here!”, and that evokes a chuckle among us all. As you look at the beauty of the plants and the maturity encompassing the property, my guess is it may be difficult for many to imagine the land without it.

Once spring arrived in 1994 we had a forester take a look and offer advice. Many of the Douglas Fir trees were diseased and needed to be cut; additionally he suggested removing those that could potentially fall on the house. (For those not familiar, Doug firs are fast growing softwoods with a very shallow root system, thus have great potential of uprooting with the winds and saturated soil of the rainy Pacific Northwest and especially so on a rocky slope.)

The series of photos below are a simplified and scaled down version of our efforts. They were taken at approximately the same angle over the years; hopefully you can get an idea as to the denseness as we focus only on the north side. Unbridled is the term I sometimes use when describing the property.

1994, work began (two photos taped together).

Once the logging was complete, an outline for the various beds was planned by walking about and creating paths in concert with the natural lay of the land; cedar sawdust (from a local mill) was used to outline the pathways. There was so much to do, but our approach remained focused and simple: one step at a time, one bed at a time.

1995-96 Our labor of love continued, sometimes from 7 in the morning until 7 at night, one wheelbarrow of dirt at a time, one plant, one tree. Beneath this earth lie rocks and boulders and following the planting of our first tree, we realized dirt had to be trucked in for additional planting.

We loved it and still do; however, our pace is now much reduced and over the past several years have simplified some of the more labor intensive beds, and any planting is now generally reserved for the vegetable garden.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Earth Day, A Way Of Life

I believe and have often said
we are here as mere caretakers of this land until we pass it to the next.

Earth Day is on April 22, 2010, and Jan at Thanks for Today is sponsoring Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living project. Great things can happen when people come together and help bring attention to what we should be doing naturally, and Earth Day is one such reminder.

We have become a wasteful society: if it doesn't work, throw it away and buy a new one, as seemingly devised the cost of repair is often greater than buying another unit. Life has been made easier than that of our parents and those before them, and perhaps we are partly to blame because we don't want our children to go through what we had to. Consequently many now belong to the me generation filled with self-centered and self-absorbed wants.

When I first read about being green, I had to chuckle - we were green and didn't know it. It was not new to us, only newly defined. It is the way we live, our way of life. Among our beliefs are waste not want not, and lend a helping hand to neighbors and those less fortunate. However, that in which we do not believe or aspire is doing something at a detrimental cost to humankind and especially those in underdeveloped countries for political gain and profit.

Perhaps it was a generational thing as my siblings and I were reared with the influence of our maternal grandmother and my mother who taught us to waste nothing, save, conserve; buy only that which was essential and then only if we had the money to do so; hard work was our reward and key to survival. Additionally and importantly we were taught to respect another's property.

We are indeed the product of our parents, and this is the way we live today:

- We have few aluminum cans since we process much of our summer fruits and vegetables for fall and winter use and do not drink sodas/pop;
- any cans, bottles, papers... are separated, stored (cans and bottles are washed first), and taken to the local recycling every several months;
- plastic containers and freezer bags are washed and reused for freezing;
- all scraps from vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds, egg shells... are composted for the garden;
- natural fertilizers (fish, kelp, ash... ) enrich our vegetable garden, and we have helped others to start their own;
- as we leave a room, the light switch is turned off;
- personal water is drunk in reusable bottles;
- the number of birds nesting speak to the environment created for them at our home as do the hummingbirds, butterflies and honey bees;
- and we have no lawn! Over the past 16-year period we have planted trees, evergreens, shrubs, drought tolerant plants, ground covers... that require little or no water, and beds are watered for about 3 months of the year during the hot and dry period and then only once a week for 30 minutes.

At this point I risk having some leave, but Earth Day should also be about uncovering truths. We were educated to believe that people had a right to opinion, that debate was part of a healthy society versus indoctrination and dictates of a few, and that there be balance in ones life. Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge, wrote Kahlil Gibran.

I am troubled when around each corner looms a CRISIS and the answer is a quick fix that includes large sums of money, greater taxation and increased control, and when our children are being told/indoctrinated/frightened into believing that within just a couple years the ice will vanish, ocean levels will rise drastically, that the world will nearly disappear, and that the children are much smarter than their parents. Are you aware that according to the NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center) in Colorado that Arctic Sea ice will hit the “normal” line for this time of year and the ice is increasing. Information, data and discovery is being suppressed. While I am one who does not believe in global warming (after doing much reading and research), but rather think the earth goes through natural cycles, it is greatly disturbing when recent findings show that data has been manipulated (large periods of history deleted) and falsified to gain grants and big money; that influential people are heavily invested (venture capital) to make this a reality in order to reap multi-billions; that leading financial institutions are devising the newest trading scheme, the buying and selling of carbon credits, and that does nothing for our climate, only lines the pockets of the few most powerful; and that political agendas are being pushed as opposed to the good of mankind. Why is there silence in the media? Why happened to discovery and truth?

We are stewards of our earth and there is much everyone can do to leave this world a better place, but it must be done with honesty and integrity, one step at a time. We can pass this land on in far better condition, and it can be done through our example, by teaching and guiding. Earth Day is every day and it is a way of life.

One final thought: when I think of green, I cannot help but think of this.

Friday, April 9, 2010

House Finch and Pileated Woodpecker

Over the past week as the sun and blue sky have offered a break from the continuous rain, we have delighted in observing the work habits of our feathered friends; so many pairs working diligently throughout the now-animated garden, but one couple in particular decided to stay quite close to home.

As I have worked at the computer, my attention has been diverted to repeated and similar movement outside the large picture window to my right - intervals of continuous back and forth whisks and bobs. At the farthest edge of the window grows a Camellia with several branches slightly extended and seen from my seated position; to the left edge, but not visible as I face the monitor, is a 7-foot high Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aureo-marginata'. Left of the monitor is another window, outside of which is a small garden room with an Abelia, and on this particular morning a male House Finch was perched upon it.

I stood and moved cautiously toward the activity in order to observe the goings on. There the female gently bobbed and balanced upon the edge of an upper branch while dangling a small tender twig she had previously ripped loose from the Abelia and upon which her main guy stood watch.

Past the window to its opposite edge she flew to the Taxus baccata and into which she vanished. (They do love the columnar evergreens throughout the garden.) So as she caught a glimpse of me, was she thinking, What are you doing here?!!

The sentry preened himself, but overall remained steadily alert and with little movement.

Within minutes she was back to the Abelia to do it all again. Hurriedly she worked beneath him, then darted back to the Camellia, seesawing, perusing left, then right, and left again... past the window, back into the evergreen, then out... tirelessly she worked.

The day before yesterday, he got into the act. Where was she? Perhaps he told her, At this point I can take care of this... you go shopping. Thoughtfully, she might have replied, Right! while I've been working my butt off for a week now and it's almost done...

Yep, yesterday morning she was at it again, but now collecting some softer ground vegetation.

As I approached the window for a closer shot, I heard the whistle
of warning. There he was, monitoring atop the Camellia branch, and when he saw me, a shout out, and away they flew.

Could it be that it is finally time? I know I'm worn out.

Pileated Woodpecker (Drycopus pileatus)

On my way back to the greenhouse yesterday, but first with a pause to enjoy the beautiful golden foliage of Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold' tucked beneath Cedrus Atlantica 'Glauca',

... I could hear a sound within the morning silence. The closer I got to the structure the louder the rhythmic pounding. I tiptoed to the building's edge to sneak a peak, and something was hard at work only 20-25 feet away.

This guy with his red cheek pad was not phased by me. I made a slight clicking sound with the tip of my tongue against the roof of my mouth - click, click, click... which peaked his curiosity a bit, but he went on about his work. Might his brain be muddled from years of this forceful pecking?

I worked in the greenhouse for about an hour, and when I looked out again, there he was, but a change in position. He seemed to be enjoying the day as much as I. Was he sunning himself or thinking of the blog he would write about some old crazy woman watching him?

Is he not a bizarre and eccentric-looking character, yet striking? How can I look upon him and not think of Woody Woodpecker?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Garden Harvest and Greenhouse

So exciting is our first harvest/s (weight in pounds):

Rhubarb (2 pounds)
Asparagus (1 pound)
'New Red Fire' lettuce (0.5)
Mild Mesclun (0.5)
sweet Walla Walla onions (from last fall) (0.5)
Spinach... not enough to weigh.

My plan last week was to delay picking any spinach and wait until it was a bit larger, but yesterday I found that most of it had been eaten (lower left was all that remained). Now what would do a thing like that?

Fresh from the garden to last night's dinner plate: oven-roasted asparagus and a salad of the mesclun, onion, this beautiful burgundy-colored lettuce, with a raspberry vinaigrette, to accompany a grilled Tilapia. Now does it get much better than that?

Off to the potting shed and greenhouse I will go shortly. I've been gradually taking the seedlings from all over the house and repotting them in their new home.

I use the term greenhouse loosely, as it is not in the true sense of the word, but rather a simple addition to our old potting shed. It shares a common (outside) wall, and we purchased very few materials. We had leftover stone (seconds and purchased at a half price sale) from another little garden project and odds and ends of older leftover lumber that were saved and stacked over the years. We purchased 3 large inexpensive windows ($150 each), a new skylight ($150 on Craigslist), and a storm door ($150)... hmm, interesting number for each of those. Although it is some distance from the house, things are much more convenient and organized. We will be most interested to see how everything grows considering it does not have all the light a real greenhouse would have, but so far so good, especially this tomato plant.

The story behind the tomato plant: My husband was attending a meeting in Chicago the last week of February. That Friday evening, the 26th, we spoke and discussed our day. I told him I had visited our local hardware store (it's like a Home Depot or Lowes, but much better for there is always a knowledgeable someone waiting to assist) to pick up a bag of potting soil... and of course I might look at more seeds... just look of course.

I proclaimed, Can you believe they already had some tomato plants, rather large ones with a few blossoms, but I wasn't going to spend $3.00 dollars for one.

He asked, How big were they?

Oh, 14 to 16 inches tall.

And they had blossoms?

Yes, three blossoms.
And you wouldn't pay $3.00 for it? That's what it would cost for just a few tomatoes at the market.

When I picked this great guy up at the airport on Sunday, one of the first things I told him, Yes, I went back on Saturday and got the tomato plant.

Stupice, indeterminate: This tomato is the first to bear fruit in the summer and the last at frost in the fall. A potato leaf and with a small sized great-tasting tomato, it now stands about 3 1/2 feet tall, has 45 blossoms and two green tomatoes. Now is that not a smart man to whom I am married? This time, he was right. (wink)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Scalloped Potatoes with Gruyère and Spicy Slaw

This post is especially for Kiki, who asked a short while ago, what's been cookin' lately. Kiki, I hope you find something here that suits your palate.

We have a lot going on this weekend: a basketball game to watch
(GO WVU - sorry, my Carolina friends), a friend's birthday party, and food preparation, for we have guests joining us for Easter dinner tomorrow. I was going to have a leg of lamb, but opted for the following menu because it can be prepped ahead.

Baked Spiral Ham with Honey Glaze
Scalloped Potatoes with Gruyère
Asparagus (fresh from the garden), oven roasted with a little olive oil
Deviled Eggs
Cole Slaw with Pecans and Spicy Dressing

Slaw: Yesterday I toasted and chopped the pecans and set them aside. The vegetables were shredded and placed in a large covered bowl and refrigerated; the apples will be sliced and the pecans added Sunday morning when I'm ready to add the dressing and combine all the ingredients; the spicy dressing is made and in a separate container.

Today I'll make the deviled eggs, the glaze for the ham, and the scalloped potatoes, although the latter will be assembled but not baked until tomorrow.

I found this recipe by Tyler Florence on Food Network for Cole Slaw with Pecans and Spicy Dressing. I have made it several times but with a few changes: although I originally used the Napa cabbage, I found it to not be quite as crisp as regular cabbage, so today I opted for the traditional and with some red for color, and eliminated the onions. We love this full flavored slaw with its slightly spicy dressing, so be prepared for a little kick and enjoy.

Cole Slaw with Pecans and Spicy Dressing from Diana's kitchen by way of Tyler Florence

1 head Napa, Savoy or regular cabbage, shredded
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
2-4 carrots, shredded
2 Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped


1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar (I used Splenda)
1 teaspoon ground Chipotle
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cabbage, carrots, apples, and pecans in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the mustard, sugar (Splenda), mayonnaise, ground chipotle, and lemon juice until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss well to coat. Taste again for seasoning, then mound onto a platter.

Scalloped Potatoes with Gruyère from Diana's kitchen

3-4 pounds potatoes (skins left on), washed and sliced 1/4 to 1/2 inch
4 Tablespoons butter, divided
Medium sweet onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup half and half (that's what we had on hand)
1 cup chicken broth
3 cups shredded Gruyère cheese, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg(optional)

Panko (cracker crumbs or bread crumbs could be substituted)


Par boil potatoes in a saucepan about 5-7 minutes, until still slightly crisp. Drain well and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter, add onions and a touch of kosher salt and saute for 4-5 minutes. Remove onions to a separate dish and prepare the sauce. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the same saucepan and melt; add flour, salt and pepper and stir until smooth and blended. Gradually add milk and half and half and stir until sauce is thickened. Add 1 cup chicken broth, 1 cup of the Gruyère cheese, nutmeg and any additional salt or pepper, to taste. Stir until all is blended.

In a greased 9" x 13" pan or casserole, place a layer of potato slices, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, the sauteed onions, the remaining Gruyère and enough sauce to cover. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, a touch of salt, a final topping of sauce, then the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sprinkle with panko and dot with butter. Loosely tent with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes; remove foil and continue to bake and brown for about 20-25 minutes and until potatoes are tender.

: I used a combination of Red-skinned and Yukon Gold potatoes, and when in season I'll add a thin layer of Rutabagas between the two layers of potatoes. Remember, if you make this the night before, remove it from the refrigerator an hour or so before baking.)

Happy Easter and Passover to you and your family dear friends!