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Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Fragrant Garden Do-Over

I don't know about you, but I rarely make New Years's resolutions. Last January I resolved to not lose my Felco pruners and to spend more time on Blotanical meeting new bloggers, both of which I accomplished, but I had made those resolutions months before the Jan. 1 deadline. I normally make a resolution after realizing I have just done something profoundly stupid. Here's how it works:

Me: Oh my gosh! I didn't know you were pregnant! You look beautiful. When are you due?

Someone Else:  I'm not pregnant!

Me: (silently to myself) STOP TALKING!!! Geez Louise, NEVER do that again!!!

Yep, that's how resolutions work for me. There's no need to make resolutions in January since they're usually an ongoing process. However, I am a planner, researcher, and compulsive list maker and am always resolving to do this or that. Last winter I decided to add more fragrance to my garden by introducing a Ginger Syllabub rose and Four O'Clocks to the mix. Both were absolute failures. The Ginger Syllabub rose wasn't a Ginger Syllabub at all but a scentless pale beige imposter, and the Four O'Clocks were too unhappy to bother being fragrant. Pacified by the memory of spring lilacs, the heady aroma of several trumpet lilies and a mound of mint, I was frustrated but undeterred and set about researching new plant possibilities. I made a new list.

White 'Fragrant Angel' coneflowers smell like honey. Kalimeris and 'Tikki Torch' coneflowers grow in the background.

Trumpet lilies are so powerfully fragrant that you can smell them from several houses away. I once made a bouquet of them and brought it inside but had to take it outside because the scent was too strong. But they're wonderful in the garden. Heliopsis grows nearby.

'Sceptre d'Isle' roses smell wonderful but you have to get close to be able to appreciate the fragrance. White geraniums grow as its base.


Fragrant plants added in the fall:

Sunday Gloves daylily
Jude the Obscure rose
Peggy Martin roses
Variegated solomon's seal (Polygonatum)
Naked Lady lilies

Fragrant plants being added in the spring:

More fragrant daylilies
Abraham Darby rose
Carolina Jessamine 'Marguerita'

Fragrant plants already in the garden (including foliage):

A fragrant hosta
'Hyperion' daylily
'Fragrant Angel" coneflowers
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum) - slender and broad leafed varieties
Phlox (Supposedly these are fragrant but I can't tell. Maybe I just need a new nose!)
Roses (Only a few are fragrant)
Dianthus 'Cheddar Pinks' - very small clump
Sweetspire 'Little Henry'
Trumpet lilies
Sweetbox shrubs (Sarcocca humilis)
Various herbs

I grow a lot of lavender. If you stick the dried seed heads into a food processor with a few cups of fine white sugar and process for a few minutes, you'll end up with lavender scented sugar that's wonderful in baked goods.

Can you think of any I've missed? There are still vacancies in the container garden.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Final Gift - Accidental Enlightenment

This post is dedicated to all the gardeners who survived the hellacious droughts of Summer 2011, even if their gardens didn't.

My final gift is indispensible to any gardener and must be had in quantities guaranteed to burst any stocking or box. If I could wrap resilience and faith, I would package them up and pass them out to everyone I could.

I am an optimistic realist and love the challenge of identifying and solving problems, even when they're my own. As my garden grew this summer, I began to realize what a complete wreck several beds had become and stopped posting pictures of them. Ragged seedlings I hadn't pulled hid disasterous design and a giant, shallow rooted rudbeckia that demanded constant water and a rampaging white gooseneck loosestrife dominated several other beds. Meatball shaped barberries looked ridiculous under a huge viburnum and a few areas were packed with disjointed planting combinations while others stuggled in bone dry shade. Tired of killing plants on my shady front porch because I forgot to water them, I finally stuck a few sacrificial heuchera in a pot and called it an experiment.

Birdhouses, when potted correctly, are tremendously xeric. Creeping bramble has been planted in front. It's a tough evergreen groundcover that is supposed to have beautiful fall color, although mine are still mostly green because this spot only receives morning sun. It will eventually cascade over the sides of the pot. A massive, but winter dormant, clematis thrives in the moist soil to the right.

I wonder if any birds will move in?

Creeping bramble is in the raspberry family and should be fruiting this summer.

By mid-July, it had become screamingly obvious that major work needed to be done to most of the garden. While the observation was easy, the realization wasn't. It forced me to see my garden as it was, not as I imagined it to be. The problem with mistakes is that we become so used to seeing them, we simply stop seeing them at all. They blend like leaves into the landscape until we only see the completed scene, not the individual leaf.

I redesigned a large portion of the garden near my dogwood tree in the fall 2010 and loved the result.

Buoyed by the success of several beds that had been redesigned the previous fall, I began making a massive To Do list of autumn projects. I gave myself a few days to wallow in my embarassment and humiliation, then got over it. I became almost clinical in my approach, which wasn't always easy. The peonies in my front garden had to go, a decision I wrestled with all summer. While gorgeous and easy, they had been planted in a miserably hot, dry spot, and were mildewy by mid-summer. Despite the various contraptions I employed, they flopped every year, their stems bent at the edges of the hoop, the grass littered with petals.

Several beds, one 20 feet long, were emptied, the soil ammended and lifted by up to five inches, and then redesigned and replanted. But the more I worked, the more my faith that I was making the right decisions grew. Gardens, like life, are fluid and needn't be defined by the mistakes of the gardener. I could be as resilient as my garden, which despite its problems, was full of wildlife and moments of beauty.

 Blue veronica grew squished in between coneflower and phlox seedlings, daylilies, a giant rudbeckia triloba to the right, and a 'Chocolate' eupatorium. Most of the coneflowers developed aster yellows and were pulled and the phlox seedlings were transplanted to another bed. The rudbeckia and eupatorium, which needed more moisture, were removed. 'Chocolate' grows all over the garden and reseeds like crazy.

By midsummer, the veronica was in sad shape after growing in almost near darkness thanks to an enormous rudbeckia.

Seed grown rudbeckia triloba grew to almost five feet in just two months. It shaded out everything around it, nearly killing several plants. Wine cups, callirhoe involucrata, continued the destruction by almost suffocating the thyme and orange milkweed seedlings growing nearby. I dug up the winecups and gave them to a friend with a hot, dry slope. 

Cute, but not cute enough to make up for its evil ways. However, this would make an incredible plant in a sunny, moist meadow.

By the time I ripped out the rudbeckia, the veronica looked like an octopus. This spot was packed with pathetic little seedlings, which I pulled after cutting the veronica back. It rebounded once it began receiving more sun.

Rudbeckia triloba is incredibly shallow rooted and demanded constant moisture.

I replaced it with well behaved rudbeckia fulgida 'Deams'.

Knautia 'Macedonia' was growing in too much shade and had collapsed onto a different patch of veronica. While it was pretty at first, it became an ugly fight for survival. Much to the relief of the veronica, I relocated the knautia.

I truly love the striking flowers of white gooseneck loosestrife. However, it invades moist garden soil like a virus and is hard to erradicate.

This picture was taken in mid-spring before the Loosestrife Crusades hit their stride. I'm convinced the flower heads are pointing in the direction of their next take over. By the end of the summer, loosestrife filled the bed and I had to dig up the entire bed to hand pick every root from the soil. I did not succeed and the battle continues. However, 99% of its forces have been destroyed. Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', assorted phlox, and Maltese Cross were among its victims.

I managed to cut the loosestrife back before it completly edged out the Maltese Cross, which I moved to a different bed.  I've saved the most hideous pictures for a Before/After post I'll publish next summer.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Gift to You - The Swiss Army Knife Approach

It's quite possible you already have this gift but I'm hoping you won't mind receiving it twice. My gift this week is encouragement, resourcefulness, and tenacity. They are my gardening Swiss army knife and are often the most useful tools I have. I've used it successfully to help a mostly happy but slightly miserable Roguchi clematis.

Roguchi is an extremely easy clematis to grow. It will tolerate a bit of shade and likes to be pruned to the ground every spring.

Without something to climb on, it will just sprawl along the ground.

It grows between a massive Rose of Sharon and the metal railing to our basement.

Although it has been growing happily, the spot where I planted the Roguchi isn't perfect. It needed more support than the metal railing provided and had collapsed onto the patio, suffocating the plants growing nearby. An enormous Rose of Sharon had siphoned off all nearby water leaving the surrounding soil parched and constant thirst had left it stressed and subsceptible to mildew. While it was gorgeous in spring and fall, I often ended up cutting it back completely during the summer to rejuvenate it. Moving it simply wasn't an option. There was no where else to put it.

Encouragement: If the plant was happier than it was miserable, the problem could be resolved.

Resourcefulness: How could I solve this problem cheaply?

Tenacity: I refuse to let this plant die or look bad simply because I couldn't figure out a way to make it happier.

Dry soil: I wrapped a 10 foot soaker hose around its base to allow me to water it deeply once a week and marked the end of the hose with a bird hose guide I bought at Lowe's.

If I don't mark my soaker hoses with hose guides, I forget where the ends are.

Soaker hoses come with a little blue pressure moderator at the end. I always take it out and just use the spigot on the hose to determine how much pressure I want to use.

Floppy stems: I covered the railing with black bird netting and tied the netting to the railing using twine. Twist ties off a bag of bread work well, too. I also surrounded the stems with green plant supports to encourage the clematis to grow upright instead of sideways.

These green supports connect to form any shape you need. They are great for any plant that tends to be floppy.

As pathetic as this looks in the winter, it's invisible in the summer when it's covered with the clematis.

Mildew: I added homemade worm compost, which has strong anti-fungal properties, to the soil to help keep mildew at bay. I've used worm compost as a fungicide on mildewy monarda before and it worked wonders. I tried to find a scientific study documenting the anti-fungal properties of worm compost and couldn't. But since I've seen it work, I just use my own anecdotal data.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Gift to You - White Chocolate and Cherry Brandy Bites

This is recipe is my own creation based on a cookie I saw in a magazine. Brandy soaked tart dried cherries are mixed with white chocolate, nutmeg, and orange zest to create a confection just for adults. Unless, of course, your children have developed a taste for hard liquor. In that case, hide the brandy and these cookies!

1 cup sweet, unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 cups flour ( I use King Arthur All Purpose)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
about 12 oz dried tart cherries ( I use Montmorency)
zest of one large orange
about 10 oz chopped white chocolate
750 mL or larger bottle of brandy

Pour the cherries and brandy into a bowl and let the cherries soak for at least 30 minutes. They can soak longer, too - no worries. Once you're ready to use them, drain off the brandy.

Preheat oven to 350.   Cream the sugars and butter until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until thick and fluffy. Don't rush this part! You'll see the butter mixture change texture and color. When it's thick, fluffy, and lighter than it was to begin with, you're ready to move on to the next step. I don't use a stand mixer. Instead, I use an old school Kitchen Aide hand mixer.

In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Dump the flour mixture on top of the butter mixture along with the drained cherries and white chocolate. Adding the cherries and chocolate now ensures they'll be coated with flour which helps keep the cherries from sinking to the bottom of the cookie. Mix the moist and dry ingredients but don't over mix!!! The more you mix the flour, the more gluten you create which produces a tough cookie. Just mix to combine. It should only take about a minute.

Ready for the cookie sheet

Bake on an insulated cookie sheet for 14 minutes or so. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a foil or parchment lines counter top. I never use a cooling rack. It promotes air circualtion and gives you a dry cookie. Once the cookies are cool, store them in an air tight container. Your stomach works well! These are even better the next day.

Yum! If you make these, let me know how they turned out!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Gift to You - Classic Chocolate Fudge

This is a repost from last December but the recipe is so delicious, I thought I'd post it again. This month I've decided to create a post every couple of days called My Gift to You. A few of the posts will be recipes and some will be gardening related. Please take them as a gift. :o)

My garden is almost completely dormant, the leaves have fallen, and those that haven't are brown and crispy. So this week, I bring you fudge. Every December, I make pan after pan of fudge, package it up, and trot over to my neighbors and friends. It is thick, creamy, rich, and very easy to make. As much as I love gardening, I also love to bake.

My recipe is simple and delicious and I hope you give it a try. I always use Ghiradelli or Guittard chocolate chips when I bake. They are made from a much higher quality of chocolate than Hershey's or Nestle. I buy mine at Target, a national chain store with discounted prices. Just using semisweet chocolate will render the fudge too sweet.

Tammy's Fabulous Fudge

2 cups white sugar (454 g)
2 cups evaporated milk (NOT lowfat/nonfat)
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes (227 g)
2 12 oz packages Ghiradelli Bittersweet chocolate chips (340 g)
1 12 oz package Ghiradelli Semisweet chocolate chips (340 g)
1 tsp vanilla ( 5 mL)

In a large, heavy pot combine the sugar and evaporated milk. Stir well. Turn the heat to medium and bring it to a gentle boil. Don't bring the heat up too gradually - as in turning it to really low and then waiting forever for it to boil. Just turn it right to a medium setting (I turn the gas to a setting of 5 out of 10 on my range.) and let it come to a gentle boil.
Once it has come to a boil. let it boil for 9 minutes or until a candy thermometer consistently reads 233-235 degrees. Do not stir! Just leave it alone and let it boil on medium heat. If it starts to boil up too high in the pot, turn the heat down a bit, but don't stir!!! I always use a timer for this part to help keep me on track. It takes about 9 mins to reach 235 degrees.

This is what the milk/sugar mixture looked like right before I turned on the timer.

While the milk/sugar is boiling, dump the chocolate in a bowl, mix it a bit and cut up the butter. Pile the butter on top of the chocolate so that when the timer goes off, you're ready to go! Make sure the butter is cold!

This is what the milk/sugar mixture looked like right before the timer went off. If yours is a lot more bubbly or frothy, no worries. Once the timer rings and the temp is 233 - 235, turn the heat OFF. If you have an electric stove, take the pot off the heat or it will overcook. Moving quickly, dump in the chocolate, butter, and splash in some vanilla. I never measure it but you can if it makes you more comfortable. Stir the chocolate mixture with a heavy spoon until it is glossy and thick, just a few minutes. Pour into a 13 x 9" pan and refrigerate until cool.


Here is a pan of fudge!! The whole process from start to finish takes less than 20 minutes. I usually line the pan with a long piece of tin foil to make removing the fudge easier. I just forgot when I made this batch.

You can also create different variations using the same recipe.
Peanut Butter Cup Fudge - Use one bag the semisweet chips, one bag milk chocolate and one bag bittersweet chocolate chips. Add a big bag of chopped mini peanut butter cups once the all the chocolate/butter has been added and has started to melt. Stir to incorporate but don't stir so much they dissolve.
York Peppermint Patty Fudge - Add a big bag of chopped York Peppermint patties to the pot after the chocolate/butter mixture has been added. Stir to incorporate but don't stir so much they dissolve.
Rocky Road Fudge - Add about 2 cups toasted walnut pieces and about 3 cups or so mini marshmallows to the melted chocolate right before it's ready to be poured into the pan. Stir it a bit to coat and then pour into the pan.
Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt Fudge - Add about a teaspoon extra fine sea salt to the pot at the same time you add the chocolate and butter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thankfulness Challenge + W4W = Happy Accidents

I love a happy accident, especially when it involves expanding my garden to accommodate fabulous plants that were accidentally shipped to me, free of charge. In September two Peggy Martin roses arrived at my door, despite the fact that I hadn't ordered them. I was shocked, thrilled, and informed by the wonderful folks at the online nursery that the shipment had been an accident caused by a glitch in a new computer system. I couldn't believe my luck.

A week later, two more Peggy Martin roses arrived. Ecstatic but a bit perplexed and wondering where I was going to put four climbing roses, I called the company again. A second accident, no worries and no charges. By this point I was beginning to wonder if two roses would be arriving every week. Two of the Peggy's went to a friend and two went into a new garden bed I dug just for them. The company must have fixed the error because the deliveries stopped (unfortunately!). But a section of grass that I had been dreaming about ripping up to expand my garden now holds a new sunny, moist bed full of perennials shaded out by the ever expanding canopy of oak and ash trees in my garden. The only cost was compost and mulch.

I'm thankful for happy accidents and the humor and joy they can bring!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankfulness Challenge - Anticipation

My attempts to grow amaryllis last year were disasterous. If you are tempted to buy a discounted amaryllis bulb in January after spotting it listing forlornly on a clearance shelf wedged between a battle scarred Christmas elf and a cheap bikini, just keep walking. You cannot save it. Let it die in peace.

But this year I started early and put the bulbs in a much larger pot than the one I used previously and it seems to be working. I like to think the extra soil is keeping them a bit warmer. Considering these bulbs are tropicals, maybe I should sprinkle a little sand around their base and play some steel guitar music for effect. :o)

Today I am thankful for the excitement of anticipation.

The amaryllis flowers will be pink and white.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankfulness Challenge - Enough for Everyone

My family and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday to accommodate various work and travel schedules. A homemade feast will be laid out and our stomachs filled.  According to an article I read in our local newspaper, several hundred thousand pounds of food has been donated to area food banks. On Tuesday, 45,500 lbs of free turkey was handed out at Fed Ex Field in MD. The article brought me to tears. Today I am incredibly thankful that not only do I have enough to keep my family fed but that I was able to help those with less.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thankfulness Challenge - The Upside Down Turkey

In addition to gardening, I love to cook and thought I'd share a recipe that I'm very thankful to have. Each year I cook Thanksgiving dinner for a large group of friends and family. It's hectic and loud and I love every minute. Cooking the turkey, believe it or not, is the easiest part. I pop it in the roasting pan for about 20 minutes, then take the pan out of the oven, turn the turkey upside down so the breast is pointing down in the roasting pan, and then stick it back in. It looks weird, but who cares! The fat from the bottom of the turkey seeps through the breast meat, ensuring the moistest turkey you've ever had. About 45 minutes before the turkey is done, I flip it back over so the skin on the top can roast to a fabulous crispy brown. It's mindlessly easy.

Here are the specifics:

1.    I start with an organic free range turkey that I've brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with salt   and pepper. I stuff the cavity with carrots and onions. I pour about a cup of water into the roasting pan and pop it into the oven breast side up at 400 F for about 20 minutes.

2.   Take the roasting pan out of the oven and use turkey liers to flip it over. These look like giant forks. I stick one in each side of the turkey near the wings and give the bird a big heave. I brush the bottom of the bird, which is now pointing up while the breast points down, with melted butter and salt and pepper, and then stick it back in the oven. I turn the temp down to 325 F.

3.    About 45 minutes before the turkey is done, take the roasting pan out of the oven again and flip the bird over so that's it's breast side up. Baste the top of the turkey with pan juices and stick it back in the oven. How long the turkey cooks depends on how big it is. This guide is really helpful.
Timetables for Turkey Roasting (325 °F oven temperature)

3.   There are a lot of interesting ways people determine if their turkey is done or not, but the jiggle-this or wiggle-that techniques aren't always reliable. But a meat thermometer is! When the breast reaches 170 and the dark meat reaches 180, the bird is done. You can take it out when the temps are about 2 degrees lower because the meat will continue to cook as the bird sits. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before you carve it. You can buy a meat thermometer at the grocery store.

4.   If you use this method, let me know!! It's easy and always works! Just don't drop the turkey. :o)

These are the turkey lifters and roasting pan I use. I bought them from Williams Sonoma. The picture above is from Williams Sonoma, too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thankfulness Challenge - Mick Said it Best

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need, ah yes...

The Rolling Stones

Three large crepe myrtles grow enthusiastically in the corner of my garden, their branches laden with frothy lavender flowers each summer and brilliant red foliage in the fall. But this year the leaves just curled up and died, scattering their remains along the carpet of mulch like dirt on a grave.

While the crepe myrtles shed their summer selves, the dogwood and 'Yoshino' cherry quietly began to blaze. Without the crepe myrtles to steal the show, they took center stage and I looked forward to seeing their new hue every morning before work. What I wanted was breathtaking fall color from every tree and shrub in my garden. Instead, I got just what I needed - solo performances that made me applaud.

Today I'm thankful I don't always get what I want because it makes me grateful for what I have. 

 'Yoshino' cherry  

Dogwood 'Stellar Pink'
Sweetspire 'Little Henry'

To see a crepe myrtle with beautful fall foliage, check out Southern Meadows blog. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thankfulness Challenge - Blame it on Elvis

A neighbor once asked me to tour her freshly painted and decorated house and then asked my opinion. It was lovely and well done, I offered. "But ya know, " I couldn't help but add, "my opinion doesn't really matter because I don't live here. You should decorate it in whatever style makes you happy. It's YOUR house." She just stared at me. "You could even carpet the ceiling. It worked for Elvis."  She threw her head back and laughed but I was serious.

Green shag carpet covers the ceiling of the Jungle Room at Graceland, Elvis's mansion in Tennesee.

I recently overheard a gardener belittling some of the more conventional fall shrubs as too common for her garden. She pitied the poor idiots who had resorted to stuffing their landscapes with the same plants that populate the grounds of local shopping centers and dentists offices. Where were the exotic, rare, and difficult to grow specimens that announced to the world a REAL gardener lived there? The more she babbled, the more irritated I became.

I'm thankful for every gardener who grows burning bush because they're gorgeous, azaleas because they love them, and Knock Out roses because they're easy. Pink flamingos and concrete fruit baskets may not be my cuppa tea, but if it's yours, drink up! I'm thankful for every gardener who declares to the world, "My garden has never been featured in a magazine and probably never will, I planted giant zinnias in the front yard because they make me happy, and if you don't like my kissing gnomes you can kiss my asster!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thankfulness Challenge - Caterpillar!!

I found this little buckeye butterfly caterpillar in the ragged remains of my almost-dormant perennial snapdragons today. They love the snaps and verbena bonariensis. Last summer I had several dozen buckeye caterpillars but this summer I didn't see any. However, I could have missed them because I wasn't really looking. I hope this little guy has a parka handy. I'm very thankful that it survived all the transplanting I've done and that there are still leaves on the snapdragon.

Buckeye butterflies (junonia coenia) are native to much of the warmer climates of the United States and can overwinter as a caterpillar, chrysalis, or butterfly. Their host foods include perennial snapdragons (antirrhinum), verebena bonariensis, toadflax (linaria), plantains, and ruellia. With the exception of the plantains, all of their host foods can be found in my garden, but I usually find them in my verbena and snaps.

These perennial snapdragons are champions of heat, drought, and full sun. They form a bushy mound about a foot wide and a foot high. I purchased mine at Plant Delights Nursery since I couldn't find them locally.

Buckeyes are small butterflies that seem to enjoy a wide variety of nectar producing plants. They were quite fond of my annual 'Buddy' gomphrena this summer.