“The beautiful spring came, and when nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.”
Harriet Ann Jacobs
Every spring, just as the lilacs in my gardens fade away, my beloved fringe tree comes to life. It is my most eagerly anticipated garden show. The fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus, from the Greek chion and anthus meaning “snow flower”, is a native tree and does well in zones 3 to 9. It grows slowly from 12-20 feet high and equally wide. Because it has a beautiful curvilear form with branches that appear to spread and curl similarly to a willow, it should be planted as a specimen tree with plenty of space for it to stretch out its limbs.
You can see a lilac peeking behind the fringe tree which has just started to go into bud stage.
The graceful, delicate branches of the fringe tree in early spring budding stage.
Come May, its green buds open up to the most magnificent feathery fringes of white flowers that are suspended beneath the branches.
And the fragrance! Intoxicating! I have been known to throw impromptu gatherings when the fringe tree is blooming. I find the fragrance is more pronounced at night and with its white flowers, this is the perfect ornamental tree for a garden space you enjoy in the evening. If you are lucky to have a breeze blowing when the fringe tree is at peak blooming, the swaying of its fleecy clusters of flowers is just mesmerizing. This beauty requires little maintenance once established. It should be planted in well-drained soil in a sunny location but it can tolerate part shade. I have never pruned my 17 year old tree other than occasionally cutting a sucker-type of new growth near the soil. In the fall, its leaves turn a soft golden color. It is truly a remarkable addition to any garden space. Photos do not do it justice. I hope you can find a fringe tree blooming near you and stop and smell its jasmine-like perfume!
“While we often think of plants as giving a garden definition, it may be more accurate to say that light holds its complete identity. Without light, there is no color, no line, no shape, no form. Darkness swallowing a garden whole, enfolding its shadowy depths, where it lies in wait to be reborn in the morning.” P Allen Smith
During long winter months, gardeners itching to get their hands dirty are often going through garden catalogues dreaming of what to plant. With a barren landscape to ponder, take your armchair garden designing in another direction this year. Look at your space with a fresh, critical eye to study its structure, flow and function. Think of how many hours you actually enjoy your garden space. For many of us, daylight hours are spent away from our outdoor spaces. Ask yourself what would make it easier to use the garden at night? What would make your garden come to life after sundown? How can you extend the use of your garden by adding lighting? How can you make your outdoor spaces an inviting destination after dark? In hotter climates, being able to enjoy a garden at night when it is cooler is of utmost importance. Is your goal to dine al fresco more often? Do you want to sit quietly in a mood lit corner after dark to enjoy a glass of wine or a coffee? Your outdoor spaces can enchant by day and seduce by night when adding the right kind of lighting. Continue reading
“By all these lovely tokens September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer.”
Helen Hunt Jackson
When summer’s sultry heat has abated and the leaves have just started to turn is a wonderful time to enjoy some fall alfresco dining. Take a cue from nature and highlight autumn’s gorgeous jewel shades in your table setting. Start dinner a bit earlier to catch the setting sun and share some easy conversation around a table set under the early autumn sky. Bring in some candlelight and break out the sweaters to stretch the evening under the stars.
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.” Luther Burbank
One of my favorite challenges is to create floral arrangements out of what is blooming in my garden, no matter the season. Come fall, the selections are fewer but no less interesting. I was hosting a large group recently and needed several floral arrangements to place throughout the house. I went foraging in my garden and this is what I was able to find to work with:
- persicaria ‘Red Dragon’, for its pretty purple and green foliage
- hydrangea, in various stages of colors from green to deep pinks
- astilbe in its post flowering seed stage
- a few yellow annual dahlias still blooming in a planter
- hardy begonias both for their delicate pink flowers and for their striking heart-shaped leaves
- sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, still in its green stage
- a single ‘Pierre-Auguste Renoir’ rose
I will show you half a dozen way I used different combinations of these flowers to create beautiful arrangements, all a bit different from one another. Even when I didn’t think I had very much to work with and I was ready to run out to buy flowers, I managed to create seasonal centerpieces and hope to give you ideas to do the same.
For the bar area I created a tall arrangement in a birch bark container using astilbe, sedum, hydrangea, upside down begonia leaves and feather clusters in autumnal colors. I started with a tight bundle of astilbe. I then wrapped sedum around their stems. Next came a crown of hydrangeas just beneath the sedum. I finished the arrangement with upside down begonia leaves for their striking pink color. I just gathered the flowers in hand and tied the stems together with an elastic band to keep the arrangement tight. I stuck the feathers in last. This is my favorite creation by far. Doesn’t it look like it came from a high end florist? Continue reading
Come late August, I have usually thrown in the towel on my garden because the heat and humidity of Pennsylvania is just too much for this Canadian girl and I’ve let the weeds win my constant battle with them. This year I have an additional excuse for the sorry state of affairs! A garden snake startled me in early spring and took up residence in my garden. I know, I know. They are beneficial. They consume a lot of bugs and vermin. But I threw in the trowel right then and there and decided that this would be the year I let the weeds grow with wild abandon alongside their little friend. However when a garden party looms in your near future, one must tend the garden and tame the beast.
One of the weeds happily growing in profusion was purslane.
I remember reading about its nutritious value and decided I would find my inner foraging spirit and harvest it to eat. With its plump, soft, succulent-like leaves, purslane is high in beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, low in calories like most leafy greens, and rich in dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti oxidants. Dr. Strum natural skin care out of Germany uses it as a star ingredient in their line of products(WSJ Style Issue, September 2018). But I cannot tell a lie. I pulled the purslane up and was still hesitant to consume it. I am after all new to this foraging business. What if this was something bad for me? I photographed a patch with my favorite plant identifying app, PictureThis, and it confirmed the weed as being common purslane. (The app is a free download and is very easy to use. You take a phone picture through the app and it identifies the plant). Reassured, I took the purslane into the kitchen to come up with a recipe to eat it in. But truth be told, I was still dragging my feet, foraging whimp that I am!
“The best way to eat crabs, as everyone knows, is off newspaper at a large table with a large number of people.” Laurie Colwin
A crab boil is one of the easiest summer entertaining parties to host. Low on stress and high on fun, I make mine even easier by ordering the crabs already cooked, encrusted in Old-Bay style seasoning and picked up piping hot, right before guests arrive. Where we live these red-shelled beauties are Maryland blue crabs from the Chesapeake. Their Latin name, Callinectes sapidus, means beautiful swimmer. Their flesh is sweet and succulent and they are in season now. Aren’t they gorgeous? Continue reading
Are you dreaming of spring? Let me take you on an escape to the most beautiful spring garden in the world: Keukenhof. I had long dreamed of seeing the famous Keukenhof gardens in Holland which seemed to have seas of flowering bulbs. A few years ago I did make the dream come true and Keukenhof was truly an unforgettable experience. It is still one of my favorite trips. The garden was designed in 1857 as an ornamental garden for Castle Keukenhof. It has been open to the public since 1950 and features more than 7 milion bulbs in bloom with more than 800 varieties of tulips to dazzle one’s imagination. The garden is set in 32 expansive hectares in beautiful established woods with 15 kilometers of foot paths meandering throughout. Large swaths of flowering bulbs enchant in gorgeous woodland vistas with centuries old beeches. In 2018 the show is open from March 22nd to May 13th and this year’s theme is “Romance in Flowers.” Keukenhof is an easy 45 minute commute on public transit from Amsterdam. On the short journey, you will pass by the bulb farms with field upon field of tulips planted in large swaths of one color. That sight alone is worth the trip. Join me for a visit to Keukenhof!
“The difference between a bland tomato and a great one is immense, much like the difference between a standard, sliced white bread and a crusty, aromatic sourdough.” Yotam Ottolenghi
I always look forward to fall and all its splendour. But, hélas, it also signals the end of tomato season. In my garden, I have some tomatoes that are struggling to ripen with the cooler temperatures upon us and many that have become mealy and are just not that good. Slow cooking these end of season, less than perfect tomatoes, can rescue them and bring out some of their sweetness and improve their texture. Adding spices boasts their flavor and makes them fragrant additions to autumnal soups, braises and stews. When the garden gives you mealy tomatoes…..make slow-roasted spiced tomatoes!
To slow-roast them, cut the tomatoes in quarters or halves depending on size. For every pound of tomatoes, toss with:
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Spread the seasoned tomatoes on a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake in a 275 F degree oven for 2 hours. You will end up with caramelized, gently spiced tomatoes to use in various recipes and fill your kitchen up with the most heavenly aroma! Be sure to scrape up any cooking juices. I puréed mine with zucchini and onions into a creamy all vegetable soup. So good!
“And when thou art weary I’ll find thee a bed, Of mosses and flowers to pillow thy head.” John Keats
Moss envy! I dreamed of recreating this ancient looking moss in my home garden.
On a tour of English gardens last year, one of the things I loved the most were stone structures covered in moss. Some of these gardens were hundreds of years old and the moss looked even more ancient. Continue reading
“A weed is but an unloved flower.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox
If I spent every waking hour weeding, I still could not keep up with the weeds on my property. I eschew any form of chemical weed control and pretty much remove weeds by hand. There are not enough hours in the day nor is this the way I want to spend my time! Preventing weeds from growing in the first place would seem to the best plan of attack. Try I did: I had zero success with corn gluten preemergent treatments. I didn’t want to use chemical preemergents. Mulching helps slow down the growth of weeds but is in no way effective as weeds grow right through it or seed themselves via airborne transmission. Continue reading