Archive for February, 2012

Fragrant Violets

I heard a new term the other day: songworm, the tune you can’t get out of your head. Happened just in time; ever since Valentines Day I’ve been hearing Frank Sinatra singing I Bought You Violets For Your Furs.

purple fragrant violets, Viola odorata

A classic bouquet of violets, tightly bound stems, galax leaf frame (no doily, however)

If that sounds more than a little old fashioned, that’s because it is. The song is only in my head because my father used to croon it to my mother and whether he ever bought her any I do not know. They did court in New York City in the late ‘30s, when nosegays of fragrant violets were still a staple of winter romance. But by the time I grew up the whole tradition – along with the violets – was long gone.

Or make that almost gone.

Read More…

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and Ultimate Chocolate Toffee Crunch– Easy and Even Easier

Myself, I’m trying a blood orange version of the recent Shaker Lemon and Cherry Pie for Valentines Day, but this being a chocolate drenched holiday, I feel it incumbent to point you toward a couple of never-fail favorites.

Old Faithful, The Little Black Dress of Chocolate Cakes

one-bowl chocolate cake, with filling and frosting

This is the Almond Joy Variation of the chocolate cake. It's also just fine just plain with whipped cream, or with chocolate ice cream and fudge sauce if your dearly loved one is anything like mine.

Heath Bar Cookies, aka Chocolate Toffee Crunch

heath bar cookies/ chocolate toffee crunch

Heath Bar Cookies. All four major food groups: sugar, salt, fat and crunch. With chocolate on top. Most distressing part is how simple and quick it is to make rather a lot of it.

The New U.S.D.A. Climate Zone Map

lavender hybrid gladioli in a cutting garden

Zone 6 zone denial tip: standard hybrid gladioli are reliably hardy only to zone 9 - or 8b, maybe - but if you have well drained soil, plant them 5 or 6 inches deep and mulch heavily in fall (in this case before the ground freezes), there’s a good chance they’ll come back.

By now you’ve probably gotten the word: the long awaited, massively updated USDA Climate Zone map, the first revision since 1990, has finally arrived. And  – insert giant snarky “this is news?” – it shows large swaths of the country have moved up at least a half zone.

In 1991, when I got together with Bill and began gardening in the Hudson Valley, I could joke that my new life didn’t net me a single climate zone, even though the NY garden is about 300 miles southwest of the one in Maine. Until a couple of weeks ago, they were both in zone 5b. Now, while New York remains 5b – by the skin of its teeth, from the looks of things – Maine has been promoted to 6a.

Read More…

Eric’s Pet Plant: Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia japonicum var. bealei)

young leatherleaf mahonia

The young (only 3 feet tall) Leatherleaf Mahonia in full bloom at Marsh Gardens on January 27th. Eric has planted it near a red berried American holly, to make, as he puts it “a visual pun,” on the two plants’ quite similar leaflets

I was so pleased when Eric sent this – in my mind, Mahonias are associated with far more clement climates than either of mine. Eric’s place over at Yale IS a lot warmer than it is here, but with a bit of shopping around for a protected spot, it sounds as though I just might be able to plant a clump of these beautiful, fragrant winter bloomers.

Read More…