Eric’s Pet Plant: Buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora)

Winter is finally upon us. Not counting the stubborn grass and a few stalwart edibles, everything green is common evergreen: juniper, arbor vitae, boxwood, rhododendron…

And almost everything deciduous is down to the bare branches, many of them in need of shaping. What all this is reminding me is that I definitely need some snazzy new material for the string of garden beds that will (next spring) finally be unified into a single sweep of Things That Look Good From Inside The House When Inside Is Where We Are Most Of The Time.

Enter Eric’s excellent suggestion:

Corylopsis pauciflora – earlier than forsythia, far more delicate and FAR more fragrant, to say nothing of better behaved.

Read More…

Last Call Fall Bulbs – in case you share my “can’t say no” problem

Allium christophii, aka Star of Persia

Allium christophii, aka A. albopilosum, aka Star of Persia. A prolific self-sower, among its other virtues, though succeeding generations are smaller than the originals. Also a bit less intensely purple than my camera wants you to believe.

Pop Quiz

1) How many spring-blooming bulbs is too many?

2) How many spring-blooming bulbs is there room for?

3) How many spring-blooming bulbs must be planted before there are enough to cut for the house without diminishing the outdoor show?

Around here, the answer to all three questions is “Who knows?” Several thousand into it I’m not there yet, and that’s not counting the little guys (crocus, muscarii, scilla and the like don’t even show up until there are thousands – unless you force them, which I heartily recommend).

Reason for mentioning it now, when even procrastinators – no names please – have usually gotten all of them in: CLEARANCE SALES!!

Read More…

After the Storm – My Plea for Minimal Pruning

It IS important to clean up, so a certain amount of saw work is inevitable. But it doesn’t hurt to wait a minute on the re-shaping, even though the natural inclination is otherwise.

This is recent experience talking,

maple tree with leaves in snow

We got 22 inches of snow in the infamous October storm. Note that the maple not only has leaves; they haven’t even started to turn.

The loss list keeps expanding as falling leaves expose broken branches we missed earlier, but the general shape of the disaster has been clear for long enough to prompt a bit of family discussion on the subject of remedial pruning.


blooming giant magnolia tree

Somewhere between a third and a half of the magnolia, seen here in happier days.

snow-laden magnolia with breakage

It’s not too clear through the snow, but you can see it’s the middle that went.

Read More…

Autumn Soup: Winter Squash, Chestnut and (Wild) Mushroom

autumn soup (chestnut, wild mushroomand winter squash)

late autumn color, late autumn flavor: winter squash, chestnuts and wild mushrooms

Must say I do love a soup that tastes rich and creamy without being heavy – or containing cream. Also nice if it doesn’t require an arsenal of seasonings and is easy and quick to make.

The quick part does assume the squash is already baked, and that you know speedy ways to peel chestnuts, but why not? *

As usual, the ingredient list is pretty much the whole recipe, but given that the beauty shot of the main ingredients promised something a bit more extensive, here’s a rough outline, based on the most recent iteration.

“Rough” and “most recent” are definitely the words for it; this is one of those home style soups that’s infinitely variable.

In other words, almost impossible to screw up.

Read More…

Autumn Soup Ingredients: chestnuts, wild mushrooms, winter squash

chestnuts,wild mushrooms, winter squash

Ingredients for autumn soup: chestnuts from a farmers market, Lactarius thyinos (no common name), hen of the woods, Queen of Smyrna squash

I took this picture to run with the recipe – not yet written – because I was about to roast the squash and chestnuts, making them less photogenic.

But then I realized the picture itself is a massive seasonal alert. So:

Bill’s detailed hen of the woods hunting advice is here.

The post where I roll all over in delight about the squash, after a timely reminder that the window of specialty squashes is both small and right now, is here.

And really a lot about roasting and peeling chestnuts is here.

Further refinements:

Read More…

Hunting Wild Mushrooms – Porcini, Chanterelles, Lobsters and More


craterellus-cantharellus-tubaeformis=C. infundibulaformis

I probably should have titled this “Harvesting Wild Mushrooms;” there are all kinds of them just about everywhere (or at least everywhere in the Northeast). Our vegetable gardens may be soggy – even without Irene this has been a mighty rainy summer – but in the silver lining department there’s a bumper crop in the woods and fields.

Read More…

Larkspur planting time

This started out to be about blue, and how plants that are far apart in most ways may be mighty similar in the color department.

blue flowers

That’s a sweet pea (legume family) on the left and a larkspur (buttercup family) on the right. The seeds are coriander and will be a new crop of cilantro by fall.

But then the larkspurs took over, because – at least in the north – they’re a real low fuss delight (unlike some flowers we could name). Larkspurs are so closely related to delphiniums they used to be in the same species, but this airy member of the family almost never needs staking.* Also unlike delphiniums, larkspurs are seldom bothered by slugs and snails. Plus they don’t dwindle and die out on you after a couple of  years. Plant just once and have them forever.

Read More…

The Gooseberry Fool

Would be me; thinking I could just make some of this classic English dessert, put up the recipe and move on to something gardenly like breeding peonies, growing great basil or one of the many other topics on the tip of my desktop.


Reading up on gooseberry fool – don’t laugh; it turns out to be a much explored subject* – led me into a briar patch of nursery catalogs, from which I have only recently emerged.

gooseberry fool prepared 2 ways

Two ways of serving Gooseberry Fool.

Read More…

Counting the Bees

 honey bee apis mellifera on eranthus

Their backs turned to us: no problem. Our backs turned to them: catastrophe!

At this point, most people are at least dimly aware that it ain’t about the honey. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are essential to the commercial production of most fruits and vegetables and those bees are in deep, deep trouble.

Being a locavore helps, especially if the locality is your own back yard, but staying away from agribusiness produce isn’t going to fix the problem. Even crops grown on small farms and in gardens need pollinators, and in many respects the woes of (non-native) honeybees are also the woes of native bees (there are scores of species) and other native pollen transporters.

What to do?

Read More…

Tomato Pests (Hornworms) – and THEIR Pests (Braconid wasps)

(female) luna moth, Actias luna

A Luna moth (Actias luna). Not the enemy, even though its children are very large and green.

I don’t have a picture of a hawkmoth, aka sphinx moth or hummingbird moth (so named for its ability to hover and its very long tongue). But if you see one of these gray-brown creatures, almost big enough to pass for a small bird, you’re seeing disaster on the wing. The Hawkmoth’s very large green children are hornworms.

Manduca quinquemaculata or Manduca sexta, tomato or tobacco hornworm

Tomato – or more likely tobacco - hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata or M. sexta), both voracious consumers of tomato, pepper, petunia, tobacco and other plants in the nightshade family.

In our New York and Maine gardens, hornworms usually show up in late July or August. But I’m thinking about them early this year because a Facebook friend in Virginia is already beset.

“Hornworms are eating my tomato plants,” she wrote, “anyone have advice on how to get rid of them?”

But of course!

Try the tips on Hornworm eradication at the end of this post, I replied, and if you get the chance, employ these two major organic defenses:

Read More…