Archive for December, 2008

Tool Care Time ( Better Late than Even Later)

This was a day of cold and high wind: trees and tall grasses swaying, the black mesh deer fence rippling in waves, a low roar waxing and waning outside the office window, which being old kept admitting the sort of drafts that make you think of Dickens. Snow coming tonight, with wind chills we will not discuss.

But just last Sunday it was above 60, the moving air a balmy breeze, the kind of day that says “come out and garden,” even though there’s frost below the mud and a lot of dream-over-catalogs-duty between here and the bloom of the harebell

Hensol Harebell, a favorite columbine

Hensol Harebell, a favorite columbine

Yet if all the early pruning is done, if it’s too snowy to rake and the holiday evergreenery has already been laid protectively over the sleeping perennial beds, what exactly is there to do?

I don’t know about you, but what I did was tidy the (temporarily) pleasant to occupy garden shed.

In some ideal universe, that task has also been accomplished: all tools were cleaned and sharpened in fall. Every size pot was neatly stacked, Read More…

Christmas Cactus, On Time at Last!

or almost on time, anyway. Given that it doesn’t usually get its movie together until February, I’m not inclined to be too fussy,.

The Christmas cactus, 12/25/08

The Christmas cactus, 12/25/08

As you can tell from its less than splendid shape, I have mixed feelings about it. Or not mixed, really, since feelings are the only reason we keep the thing. It was a gift from our dear friend Peter’s mother. After she died we kept it for him, and now that he’s gone too we keep it for him all the more. Plus it’s the plant froggy came in on (Tree frog. Size of a quarter. Adorable. Discovered in midwinter, it lived free in the greenhouse until spring). Read More…

Solstice Cookies – Now and Forever (with recipes)

Clockwise from upper left: spritz, pfeffernüsse, sugar cookies, gingerbread springerle, more sugar cookies, fruit/nut/chocolate jumbles.

5 kinds of holiday cookies

This post is appearing because the cookie recipe roundup (12/12) made me fear you might be thinking I don’t bake cookies very often or very many or very anything.

Very shaming and not very accurate, especially at the turn of the year when there’s no WAY I’m not crankin’ ’em out, though I don’t pretend to be in the same league as those indefatigable ladies who make hundreds of dozens and pride themselves – secretly or not – on the length of the recipient list. Read More…

Juniper Needs Pruning, Eats Path (or, The Heap Revisited)

Years of garden observation have given me a firm belief in 4-S ( Spare the Shears, Spoil the Shrub), but I still don’t do all that much pruning. Sometimes it’s because there’s simply too much else to do (see the original Heap, a spiraea of monumental untidiness) and sometimes it’s because the pruning is Bill’s department (see Fruit Tree Pruning Time).

But sometimes it’s because I’m reluctant to mess with something gorgeous, even when its increasing gorgeousness starts causing traffic problems.

spreading juniper

This is one of the junipers that came with the house. That angled object over on the far left is the edge of the greenhouse. Between them is – theoretically – a path that’s 3 feet wide. Between them is – actually – a gap of about 13 inches.

You can see why Bill warned me that if I didn’t get it out of the way he would lop off all offending branches in a straight line.

But here’s the thing about juniper pruning; Read More…

Dahlias with Dark Foliage: growing Bishop’s Children from seed and getting hooked on Black Leaves

First the good news: There’s no bad news. Dahlias are easy to grow from seed; dark foliage gives Bishop’s Children a striking presence that doesn’t depend on the flowers; and a single packet of seeds is a plant explorer’s cheap thrill: you never know what you’re going to get but you’re bound to get something worth keeping and keeping dahlias is easy too.

Bishop's Child, dark foliage in use

In my experience, flowers come mostly in red-orange and deep reds like the one above the rock wall. Foliage is mostly that same purple and mostly dahlia shaped.

a typical Bishops Child dahlia

a typical Bishops Child dahlia


Bishop's children packet sibling

Came from the same packet, so you never know. You can’t really tell from the picture but the leaves on this plant are deeply cut, almost scalloped, and as you can tell they’re a lot paler. 

 To get flowers the first year, start seeds early (mid-March if you’re in zone 5). Read More…

Cookie Recipe Roundup

I’ve been feeling the cookie itch, it being the season, so I thought “ well, I’ll just corral all the cookie recipes to make surveying convenient.” Then – to my great surprise – it turned out there were only seven.

Annual poppy, many generations from the purchased seed

Okay, It’s not a cookie. It’s a self-sown Shirley poppy in front of a canna leaf and the truth is it’s here because the available cookie photos are even scantier than the cookie posts.

Could’ve (and would’ve, had anyone asked) sworn I’d been bombarding you with endless cookie recipes, most of them mouthwateringly illustrated. Not true. Maybe just as well; I’m not sure more cookie recipes are, strictly speaking, needed. Nevertheless here they are, including the one for these cannoli

Cannoli (not really)

Cannoli (not really)

Read More…

Eek of the Week, Romanesco division, and Leafy Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts

For such terrific vegetable, Romanesco cauliflower is still far too rare, but it does seem to be headed in the right direction. After years of finding it only at farmstands, I saw it last month – more than once – at my favorite greengrocer. Gladdened my foodie little heart, even if it cost $3.50  a head and came so heavily swathed in plastic it looked a bit like King Tut.

Typical head of Romanesco, @ 9 inches tall and maybe 7 inches wide

Typical head of Romanesco, @ 9 inches tall and maybe 7 inches wide. approximate weight 1.5 pounds

So far, so good. But then just the other day I saw a basket of miniature Romanescos, heads about 3 inches tall, weighing perhaps 2 ounces, being sold for $4.00 each. This was in Manhattan, at Dean and DeLuca furthermore, but I think the sighting remains Eek worthy because those pricy little units were too big to be served beautifully whole and too wilted to be used in a massive flower arrangement which otherwise might have been way cool.

I will refrain from pious remarks about food stamps, but it does seem as though if you’re paying that much you ought to get value for money – even if it’s just snob value. Of course I didn’t buy any, so may be doing them an injustice. Maybe they have a different taste from full size Romanescos, the way Brussels Sprouts have virtues unknown to cabbages. And thus we pass to a happier topic,

New Wave Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts

Leafy Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts

Read More…

Skunk Tracks in the Snow

greeted us when we woke this morning —

no mistaking ’em; skunks’ short legs and long bushy tail create a unique undulating line, stuttering in light snow, smooth as a Japanese brushstroke in deep powder, either way a perfect shadow of their endearing waddle.

skunk tracks in thin snow

skunk tracks in thin snow

I know, I know, a lot of people don’t like them – especially people with dogs. But the problem there is simply that too many dogs don’t know how to back down. Unless you’re threatening the babies or cutting off the line of retreat or otherwise driving the poor thing into a defensive corner a skunk is the most peaceable of creatures. Read More…

Bees Love Flat Flowers

And so do butterflies — a big vote for single dahlias, is why I mention it.

This is one of the Bishop's Children, more about them soon

This is one of the Bishop's Children, more about them soon