Archive for the ‘This & That’ Category

Still loving my All-Clad slow cooker and the great collection of slow cooker recipes from the Williams-Sonoma blog.  

This past weekend, I made the last of the winter recipes – Stout-braised short ribs.  Served over gemelli pasta with butter and grated cheese.  Outrageous!  The recipe is located here:  http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/stout-braised-short-ribs.html.

A new article from Williams-Sonoma highlights the slow cooker’s versatility for preparing lighter, spring recipes – combining traditional spring meats such as lamb, with fresh seasonable vegetables.  See the full article here:  http://blog.williams-sonoma.com/slow-cooking-for-spring/    I haven’t yet tried cooking fish in the slow cooker, but the  salmon recipe looks quite simple – and tasty.  Definitely one to try!


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Plant lovers:  if you live in or travel to the Delaware Valley, make it a point to visit RareFind Nursery .  I was first introduced to RareFind by Ken Arnold, the retired landscaper who now tends the beautiful grounds at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, NJ.  RareFind carries plants, shrubs and trees that you simply won’t find anywhere else.  Located in Jackson, NJ (close to 6 Flags and outlet shopping), the nursery is situated in the Jersey pines, an ideal location for the rhododendrons, azaleas and other natives that love our acid, sandy soil.  In particular, RareFind offers an amazing selection of the native, deciduous azaleas that are much sweeter and lovelier that the garish Asian variety so commonly seen in gardens.  Wander through the lush display gardens and then settle in for some serious plant shopping.

Yesterday was perhaps my third or fourth trip to RareFind. My goal was to select trees and shrubs for my Woodland Border restoration project.  Following Ann Lovejoy’s ‘Golden Bowl’ approach, I selected ‘Princess Diana’ amelanchier grandiflora trees for the large understory, and some Rhododendron minus v. carolianus shrubs for the small understory.  (I’m going to underplant the rhododendrons with a few Coast Leucothoe that I picked up locally last week).  I also selected a beautiful Cornus Alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) to anchor the streamside border.  Even as a young tree, the dogwood has gorgeous, purplish bark and a graceful sympodial branch structure.  Finally, I picked up a few perennials including Sedum Ternatum (which, coincidentally is recommended by Mount Cuba Center in my moss gardening course).

My 'rare finds:' Rhododendron minus v. carolinus; Amelanchier grandiflora 'Princess Diana' and more

All in all, a successful plant excursion.  My trip was cut short by rain – otherwise I would certainly have spend much more time, and money!  Not to worry though, I’m sure I’ll be back.

I'm simply rhapsodizing about this beautiful Pagoda Dogwood

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Even before the daffodils bloom, I’ve been on the hunt for signs of spring.  And pleased to say that the signs are cropping up everywhere around my yard.  Here are a few:

Lovely winter aconite, also known as 'wolf's bane'

Stella d'Oro daylily

Purple Plum heuchera

'Autumn Joy' sedum, one of my favorites

A brave snowdrop

There is a tenacious little Ilex crenata that the birds must have deposited.  Last year I dug it out from under the roots of a Barberry shrub – and now it’s back!

And the best prize of all, from the vegetable garden, a tiny bunch of Lamb’s lettuce that sprouted from last year’s seed.  Amazing!

Mache or Lamb's lettuce

It is almost time to plan out my new plantings for this year.  Lots of work in the back woods border, new vegetable beds.  I’ve even ordered some asparagus crowns for the vegetable garden – first ever attempt at asparagus.  Ah, the prospects are enticing!  Spring, welcome back, you’ve been away too long!

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During my vacation this week, I got to watch ‘Being There,’ the classic film about a mentally-challenged man who, by mere chance, becomes an advisor to Washington’s political elite.  Certainly one of Peter Sellers’ finest performances, and meaningful on so many levels.  I’ve seen it several times over the years, each time discovering fresh nuances that add to the story’s timeless appeal.

This time around, I considered  the implications of Chauncey’s brief pronouncement: “There is much to do in the garden in winter.”   It’s a curious statement, untrue on the surface, and yet absolutely essential just beneath it.  Because really, what could we possibly do in the garden in winter?  Read the seed catalogues as they arrive in the mail?  Draw our planting designs for next year?  Wipe down the tools that we left to rust in the garage?  It’s too darned cold out – I don’t want to do anything!

That’s when it hit me.  For gardeners, winter is the time to rest after the frantic rush of autumn harvest.  And it is not just inevitable – it’s essential.  We need to restore the energy that has been completely spent – by work, by Christmas shopping, by  preparing and serving a fabulous feast to our families and beloved friends.  All the wonderful rituals of the holidays need to close with a period of quiet.  We need the balance of activity and stillness.  Without rest, we simply can’t grow again.

I had been planning a very active holiday break – family visits, a trip to Center City, projects at home. And indeed, I got to do some of those things, and enjoyed them tremendously.  But for once, I stopped short of pushing myself beyond all limits.  I embraced the need for quiet by spending time at home – reading, playing with the new kitten, and, luxury of all luxuries:  napping.  And it felt great!  For once, I feel ready to return to work, revitalized instead of exhausted.

Piet Oudolf  shared his perspective in a recent NYT article: “The garden in winter is an emotional experience,” he said. “You think in terms of decay and disappearing and coming back. You feel the life cycle of nature.”  Oudolf has  probably done more than any contemporary designer to show us the beauty of the winter garden.  See his proof in the lovely photo below:

Piet Oudolf's Winter Garden, from the New York Times

I’m very thankful for the long holiday break, the gift of rest, and the lessons of the winter garden.


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As a Unitarian Universalist, I do my best to live according to the seven UU principles, including ‘Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.‘  This one is really important to me as a gardener, because I believe that we are all stewards of the earth.

So – All chemical fertilizers and pesticides are completely eliminated from my lawn, yard and gardens.  I dig out the dandelions by hand, and just let the wild strawberries and violets grow at will.  I’ve begun to use more native plant species to attract wildlife to the gardens (and it’s working, too – I’ve seen many more dragonflies and butterflies over the past two years).  I was even gentle with the scary looking Black Swallowtail caterpillars that munched their way across my tomato and dill plants this summer – mostly I left them to enjoy their feast, although once or twice I relocated them to the woods where they could much on something else!

So, I had think long and hard about what to do when five lovely deer came to visit this past Thursday morning.  Ah, they were so graceful as they glided silently through the woods.  Keeping the interdependent web of all existence in mind, I watched as they worked their way across my carefully planted shade garden, nibbling on leaves of this plant and that.  I tried to be compassionate – this lovely creatures were hungry, and I’m in their back yard, not the other way around!

But alas, I had to draw the line when two of the fawns descended upon my much-loved oakleaf hydrangeas.  These are perhaps my favorite shrubs in all the garden.   I planted them in the spring just after finishing my Shrubs II course at Longwood, and I’ve tended them painstakingly through the wretched summer heat.  I’ve waited patiently for the hydrangeas to grow large enough to flower (evidently not this year, but certainly next).  And now, I eagerly anticipate the beautiful fall color that they will soon develop.

So, I must admit – I dropped the link in the interdependent web of all existence at that moment.  I opened the window, shouted at the deer to move along, and watched regretfully as they glided away.

Next spring, I’ll have to ring the shade garden with some other aromatic shrub to keep the deer at bay.  But as recompense, I’ll also plant something delicious for them to enjoy – just far enough north in the woods that they will stay the heck away from my hydrangeas!

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I am from New Jersey, but you can bet I’m no ordinary tomato.

Seven months after the sudden death of my beautiful, wonderful brother, I am searching for ways to re-engage with life.   I am drawn to my garden because it reminds me that life goes ever on, in a circle.  Even after the harshest winter strips us to the bone,  good things return to us.

How can I honor him?  He helped so many young people develop the best within themselves.  I don’t have his charm, his talent, his easy way with all kinds of people.  But I can do other things.  I am inspired to apply my passion for gardening to help build a stronger community and a more beautiful world.  Wish me luck.  Here goes the journey….

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