Open Garden Day at Stonewell Farm, June 2, 2012

Stonewell Farm Open Garden Day

Saturday, June 2, 2012  10:00 am – 4:00 pm

 (Rain Date, Sunday, June 3rd)


Stonewell Farm

39 Beckwith Road, Killingworth, CT 06419

We will be hosting our yearly Garden Open House on Saturday, June 2nd from 10:00 am till 4:00 pm. The rain date is the following day, Sunday, June 3rd, same hours. As always, admission is free.

This year we have the honor of featuring the work of Michael Fogg, an incredibly talented sculptor and craftsman whose work must be seen to be believed.

 Those who have been before, will see some changes. We’ve expanded and combined the Kitchen and Herb garden into one, we’ve added another border or two, moved some shrubs around and have created a fruit garden.  We hope you will drop by.

Carefree Beauty rose

Planning the Kitchen Garden

Planning a garden is similar to planning an addition or a room to your home. You ask yourself the same questions: what will it be used for, how will it be used, how do you want it to serve you? There are as many different kinds of Kitchen Gardens as there are people and,so, I’ve prepared a list of the different directions a kitchen garden can take, hoping that it may serve as a guide for folks who may be planning their gardens for the first time, or for those who are thinking about expanding their gardening horizons. These are ‘thumbnails’ of the different types of gardens that one might think about. Subsequent posts will address each garden type in detail.

  • The Weekend Garden: Folks with weekend homes often look for a simple, low maintenance garden that doesn’t require daily visits to care for. Good candidates for this sort of garden include a concise list of short and long crop varieties. If I were living in the city and visiting my place in the country on weekends I’d want tomatoes, peppers, maybe corn, some salad greens, some perennial herbs, some root vegetables, like carrots, parsnips and turnips. I would avoid things that need regular attention, like cole crops and certain curcurbits.
  • The Summer Garden: This type of garden focuses on crops that produce well in the heat of the summer. This includes summer squashes, beans, peppers, eggplants, some cole crops; kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, and then, basil, tomatoes,asian greens, potatoes, and collards.
  • The Family Garden: This is a garden that everyone in the family commits to. It will produce salad greens, radishes, squashes, beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, swiss chard, spinach, kale, collards, tomatoes, potatoes, and corn.
  • The Heritage Garden: Those who are interested in ensuring a diversity in our seed supply and open-pollinated plant varieties, as well as preserving heritage and heirloom plants, will be interested in cultivating and maintaining this kind of garden. Some of the varieties that will be grown in this sort of garden may lack the disease resistance that newer hybrids possess, but will make up for it in diversity and plant vigor.
  • The Potager: A french term, the ‘Potager’,(literally, the ‘soup’ garden) in my mind, refers to a system of planting and cultivating whereby the plants are packed in tightly and the garden includes flowers and other ornamentals.
  • The Paintbox Garden: This garden concept focuses on the aesthetics of color in the garden, taking into consideration the appearance of the vegetbles as seen in the garden, as well as their appearance as served up on a plate by a chef.

Cilantro Pesto. Eureka!

Farfalle pasta with broccoli and cilantro pesto.

Gardeners who plant cilantro know something about self-sowing. Cilantro is one of those plants that likes cool weather; early spring or fall. If you try planting it when the heat of summer is on, you will be disappointed with leggy plants that never develop the large, healthy, bright green, robust leaves that you see in the markets. It goes to seed rapidly and the plant becomes so spindly that it’s very easy to miss when weeding. The advantage to this is that, in its seeming invisibility, while you’re dashing around the garden and kitchen trying to deal with the zucchini, green beans, radishes, lettuces, etc…, the cilantro is busy casting it’s seeds about. When the cool temperatures start settling in, so too do the cilantro seeds.

Right now, the garden is replete with robust cilantro plants, and though I long to find a recipe for that wonderful, slightly acidic, slightly sweet, green sauce, cilantro condiment that is served in every Indian restaurant that I’ve ever patronized, (this would, of course, be a ‘canning’ recipe, which seems to be very hard to come by on the web), I’ve yet to find one.

This evening, in an attempt to forestall Andrew’s complaints about the cilantro plants ‘that you (I) never do anything with” I did a websearch and came upon a Cilantro Pesto Recipe. After reviewing several comments and suggestions for alterations, I got the drift and whipped up a giant batch in the cuisinart. I blended it with farfalle pasta and steamed broccoli florets and it was exceptionally delicious. It would be great served with shrimp, adding, perhaps some more lemon or lime juice and a few gratings of rind, and it would make a very nice, quick canape spread on bruschetta. ( I was just eating spoonfuls of it straight from the cuisinart, but this, though tasty and indulgent, is not, perhaps, the most elegant serving suggestion).

Better yet, unlike basil pesto, its retains its bright green color. I’m so enamored of this Eureka recipe that I’m going to freeze a few batches and remind myself of this season in mid-winter!


In a blender or food processor add the following:

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 – 3/4 cup of olive oil

4 cups or more of cilantro, stems and all

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)


Garden Chores to do now.

An early morning stroll through the gardens with a cup of tea, and then pen to paper to create the To Do list. After all this rain, weeding will be on the top of the list, but if you’re hoeing the kitchen garden, hold off until the soil dries out a bit, otherwise the weeds will simply re-root after being dislodged.

Late May ‘To Do’ List:

  • Feed the roses and deadhead them, if necessary.
  • Feed the perennials. (This isn’t absolutely necessary if have good rich soil, but we try to broadcast a balanced, organic fertlizer, throughout the borders, at least once a year, in addition to the horse and chicken manure that we mulch the gardens with in spring and fall).
  • Add aluminum sulfate to the soil around the microphylla hydrangeas (if you want clear blue flowers). This will be the second of three applications, early spring, late spring, early summer.
  • Plant flowers for cutting; zinnias, sunflowers,marigolds, cosmos.
  • Weed. This includes editing (pulling) self sown thugs that will shade out other valuable plants.
  • Thin the lettuce plants
  • Train the pea vines

Confessions of a Heretic; Annuals in the Perennial Garden

A few years ago I would have been a rather harsh judge of folks who planted annuals in the perennial border. I would have classed them in the category of those who add sugar to their tomato sauce or Miracle Whip to their potato salad. Basically, it struck me as a sort of ‘cheap trick’. That’s all changed. Not only do I now include annuals in the perennial border, but, I celebtate them. (By the way, I’ve no longer any qualms about adding vinegar and sweetener (agave syrup, perhaps?) to a potato salad, essentially creating homemade ‘Miracle Whip’.) Pardon me, I digress.

I can’t pinpoint the moment when I experienced the change of heart regarding annuals. It might have occured while I was admiring the ebulliant, effusive quality of the cutting garden one August day. Likely, I was comparing it, and the diversity of color, form shape, growth habit of its inhabitants, to the drab, tired, waning shades of green in the perennial borders with only rudbeckia (bright gold), perovskia (hazy blue), caryopteris (hazy blue) to do the heavy lifting. The cutting garden, on the other hand, who’s job was to provide blooms to adorn our interiors, was flowering away, with wild enthusiasm, Multi-colored dahlias, multi-hued zinnias, cosmos in shades of white, pink and vermillion, china asters in fresh pinks and magentas with sunny, yellow eyes, Bells of Ireland, with vibrant, spring green stalks, tall, African Marigolds in egg yolk, lemon, and acid yellow, drifts of lush, pink, white and carmine larkspur, robust mounds of signet marigolds, deliciously fragrant and edible. (I love to weed around these….it is PURE aromatherapy, and I’m not kidding!)

What changed? Did  I leap over to the other side, from dogmatist to pragmatist. Maybe. In retrospect, I think the artist that I am, imagined a peace treaty and a trade agreement with horticulture. This is an uptight way of saying that I embraced an “all-in” philosophy of  garden design. Does it add an expense? Sure. Is it worth it? Yes.

For clients, incorporating annuals into their perennial borders, can be  an added expense that is not always welcome, and, of course, it’s not essential, but it can extend the beauty and pleasure of the garden tremendously.

The ‘All-In’ Chaos Garden; Secrets Revealed!

“I want my garden to look like yours”

Memorial Garden-July 2011

A work in progress, the 2-year old Memorial Garden at Stonewell.

This will come off as supremely arrogant, but, in fact, we get this comment alot. Of course, it’s flattering and is obviously offered as a high compliment, but, my gut, unarticulated reaction is “Really? You want an unstructured chaotic jumble of plants that can’t decide if they’re a perennial garden or a wildflower meadow? Really?” Don’t you see the weeds? Don’t you notice that there’s too much of one thing in bloom, or not enough foliage color variety, or that the balance of height and growth habit is a bit ‘off’?

Permesso, but, I’ll let you in on a little secret; our own personal gardens ( not ones we create for clients) are so ridiculously labor intensive and weirdly curated that any normal person, learning of our peculiar approach and activities, would conclude that we’re crazy and would back-off. I should add something of a disclaimer here, along the lines of “do as we say, not as we do”. The first shocker is that we mulch our gardens with horse manure, not generally considerd a weed suppressor. Our soil is almost pure sand and soil fertility is what we’re after. Maybe, someday, when the soil grows up, we can mulch the beds with bark mulch, as normal people do and as we do for our clients. Until then, we continue to heap on about 60 tons of partially composted horse manure a year. Of course, weed seeds ecstasize over this quirk of ours and so we spend crazy, inordinate amounts of time weeding. To add to this ‘all-in’ approach to our gardens, I sprinkle the all important ‘chaos’ ingredient, Michelle’s ‘Special Blend Fairy Dust’ throughout the gardens on any bit of open ground (by which I mean bare manure) that I can find. This previously undisclosed special blend combines annual and perennial seeds that I harvest from the plants we grow, so every year the amount of seed increases and I’m compelled to go further afield to spread the fairy dust that results in the chaos that I fundamentally object to. ( I really don’t know what this pathology would be diagnosed as; I welcome suggestions). The ‘Special Blend Fairy Dust’ is mostly a mix of poppy seeds with some other, self-sowing annuals, and a perennial or two, thrown in for good measure; (papaver somniferum, p. rhoeas, Iceland poppies, lychnis coronaria, and, occassionaly, nicotiana sylvestris), and it’s very difficult to weed or mulch around these ‘fairy dust plants’. (add another 60 hr. work-week to the ‘To-Do’ list for this light-hearted, whimsical, poetic flourish). Some seeds take, some don’t, some sow themselves, often in places where we don’t want them so there’s a lot of editing that needs to go on once the seedlings emerge (add about 18 hours for this). Andrew usually groans when he catches me doing my fairy dust thing ( and rightfully so, I now realize) but he’s the first to screech when I pull a pink poppy so it doesn’t clash with an orange rose.

Yes, in the end, in our own personal gardens, we manage to create poetic, impressionistic, cottage gardens that seem to possess romance, casualness, and present a wild, carefree, abundant, free-flowering mood, but these are extremely high maintenance gardens; clearly not for the faint-hearted.

Garden Observations and Predictions

Last weekend, Andrew and I were sitting in the shade, enjoying a drink and resting our backs after a long day of gardening and the conversation turned to what peculiarity or pestilence we might predict for gardening season 2012. While sowing seeds, I’ve noticed a larger than usual population of cutworms, so I’m predicting clear-cutting of seedlings in the vegetable gardens and the flower borders. I’m taking precautions and making sure I have a good supply of paper and aluminum foil collars to put around the base of the plants. I just read that cutworms dislike excessive moisture and will migrate to the surface of the soil seeking higher and drier ground. As I write, it’s pouring out (perfect timing for the all the seeds I’ve just sown) so, if the rain lets up by this evening, I’ll venture out to the garden and police for cutworms. I may even bring along eagle eye, grub and caterpillar gourmande, Benazir, the matriarch hen, as back-up. I’m also predicting a worse than usual Japanese beetle year, as I’ve found more than plenty of the grubs in my digging activities. If you use those beetle traps, stock up on them NOW. Don’t wait till June, when they’re likely to be sold out.

Andrew’s prediction is a greater chipmunk population than last year.That may be so we’ll keep an eye on that. I don’t want to commit an act of hubris, or cast a sort of jinx, so I’ll approach this prediction/observation with delicacy. I’m talking about the pests that I refer to as the Velvet Underground. Have you noticed that there are barely any mole tunnels this year?  My ‘aide memoire’ is that moles are the meateaters and voles, the vegetarian opportunists that use the mole runs to eat the roots of cultivated plants. (Of course they wouldn’t touch a dandelion root or a bit of crabgrass, so common!) It’s quite possible that we may have a bit of reprieve from the Velvet Underground this year. Let me know your thoughts and observations if you are in our New England area.

PS: I just dispatched another cutworm.

Slate Garden Labels

A rummage around the barn yielded a stash of old roofing slates and I thought they’d make sturdy plant labels. Thus far I’ve only made a few and those are primarily for perennial herbs. I like the idea of making them for all the annual vegetables we grow, and leaving a space beneath the vegetable name to add the specific variety in chalk or wax pencil, something removable that would survive the rain and could be changed from year to year.

image of handpainted slate plant labelsimage of handpainted slate plant labelsimage of handpainted slate plant labelsimage of handpainted slate plant labels

Getting serious about footwear for work.

These boots are made for working, and that’s just what they’ll do….

Andrew and I are fed-up with the inferior footwear that we’ve purchased over the last couple of years. Five years ago, we were able to find relatively serviceable, reasonably priced work shoes, a cross between a boot and a shoe,with the Clarks brand. No more. These have held up for approximately 3 months, splitting at the join between the last and the sole. Three months at $ 40.00 – $65.00  x 4 quarters = a rough average of $150.00 per year for bad shoes for each of us, and this doesn’t include the  value of the time wasted for purchasing these inferior products, which would bring the cost up to about $450.00. Basta with the bad shoes! We’ve done some research. It seems that the USA is unable to provide us with the rugged, durable, well-crafted, quality, slip-on footwear that we require so, we’re going to give the Australians a shot in the market. Blundstone, a former ‘quality’ company that is now uber-chic, with the sad result that it’s manufacturing in Thailand, has, uncannily, disqualified itself as a source for high quality footwear. That leaves us with Rossi, our number one choice. Tonight we ordered the Endura 301 in Black for Michelle and the Parka for Andrew. Both of us have very wide feet and M, has extremely high arches. Our research gives us hope that our requirements will be met by  these boots. We’ll keep you posted………..

Volunteer Fun

Dill volunteers

Dill, poppies and a few cosmos

Assessing the grounds after a strangely mild winter, it was fun to come upon the valiant and vigorous volunteer seedlings in the gardens. Last month, while clearing the old kitchen garden fence, we rolled up the plastic deer netting and set it into a corner of the garden with the a stone on it to re-use for the new garden fence. Setting the new posts a week or so later, we noticed some seedlings around the netting pile. We moved the netting and discovered a large, vigorous patch of dill seedlings clustered in approximately 5 or 6 square feet, and interspersed with a few poppies and cosmos around and beneath the netting and near the south facing foundation of my studio. Meanwhile, in another section of the garden we noticed quite a lot of cilantro, some lettuce, and a few mustard greens. For me, the lesson to be learned here, is to pay attention when nature decides it’s the right time to start growing certain things.

Self-sown, red-leaved mustard green ‘Senposai’