You Need a Garden Journal.

My preferred garden journal.

My preferred garden journal.

Anyone with a garden needs a garden journal. Why? Indulge me while I enumerate a few examples, in a Q & A format, of cocktail hour, garden observations that pose questions and present critical-ish thinking.

Questions/Observations:

  1. Hmm. I thought I’d put some peonies here but all I see is a huge catmint. How Odd.
  2. Geez, where did all these ugly orange daylilies come from?
  3. Wow, that catmint is *&^% huge. I must remember to divide it next year.
  4. I think that’s a weed but I’ll wait till it flowers to be sure.
  5. How great! These annuals that I put into this empty spot are glorious! I must remember that this space is reserved for iris divisions in the spring.
  6. This iris really needs to be divided. I wonder what color it is.
  7. Oh. That poor rose is really struggling there, getting swamped by the……………….I must remember to move it in the fall.

Answers/Observations:

  1. You DID put some peonies there. Three of them, fragrant ones, special ones, expensive ones, in early spring, when the ground was quite bare and there was no suggestion that the catmint would become Master of the Universe. You don’t remember? Hmmm.  Catmint is cheap; peonies aren’t. Fix this!
  2. Satan sent them.  Mark them with a 666 label, and move them to the Beelzebub Garden/Compost Pile in late fall or early spring.
  3. All the catmints will be HUGE, no matter where you put them. Lovely, yes, and the bees adore them. Commit to them. Treat them as the giant plants they will become, but not where they will shade out the other lovelies.
  4. It flowered. It’s a weed that’s now gone to seed, spreading its progeny throughout the garden. Next spring there will be a hundred of them. If you were clever enough to make a note of its leaf shape, you might have saved yourself a few hours of weeding next year.
  5. Oh sure! You’ll never remember that, and come next spring, you’ll be looking for locations for iris divisions and you’ll have long forgotten about this spot.
  6. Photos will answer that question. If you’d photographed the gardens you wouldn’t be perpetuating this hugely irritating,’ hit or miss’ garden design approach, which, by the way, you would never in a million years, permit for your clients!
  7. But, you won’t. Not without a garden journal ‘To-Do’ List, entitled Fall 2014. When fall begins to roll around, which is right around the corner, you’ll be busy harvesting winter squash and leeks, chopping and splitting wood, moving tender plants into the greenhouse, bringing in firewood, lifting dahlia tubers, cleaning out the henhouse,…forget it.

And this is why I recommend keeping a Garden Journal. I’m a Luddite, so I like to use one that I purchase from Lee Valley, which has a perpetual calender and allows for an index/table of contents to reference the numbered pages. Here, I can make journal entries with their correlative page numbers, which makes referencing information very simple. Of course you could use an electronic device to do this, and there’s probably even an app for garden journaling. The main objective here is to take control of your landscape and gardens, as much as one can do such a thing, so as to avoid disappointment next season. A Garden Journal is a wondrous thing! Over the years, when  questions arise over how things were performing in the garden in the past, I simply scroll through the entries and discover the answers. It’s great fun and hugely useful and enlightening! Gardeners!!!!  Get a garden journal going, if you don’t already have one, and you’ll be gratified to learn what you have control over and what you don’t. It’s a great thing to have.

Pesto

Pesto has always been a mainstay here. We process and freeze gallons of basil pesto in August.  When the frigid Persephone months of December, January, March, February arrive, we are warmed with woodfires and our dinners are perfumed with the promise of a future summer with abundant servings of linguine with pesto, washed down with Cotes du Rhone. Alas, Andrew’s diabetes diagnosis changes this, and we look for meals in which we can substitute the pasta. Not so hard, as it turns out. Pesto omelettes are delicious. Pesto mixed with greek yoghurt makes a nice sauce to braise chicken breasts in. Basmati rice is more diabetes friendly than brown rice (believe it or not), and so fried basmati rice with pesto and scrambled eggs makes a nice entree. Pesto, as a spread or dip, in lieu of mayonaisse, makes even a cucumber sandwich delicious. Similarly, pesto mixed with no-fat yoghurt, easily becomes the mortar for chicken salad, tuna salad, salmon salad, even egg salad.

For those without dietary restrictions, there’s still the classic. ( I will do this when Andrew is out of town, or asleep) ,linguine  dressed with pesto that’s been soothed and silkened with heavy cream (okay, or yoghurt……since there won’t be any cream in our pantry).

By the way, these days, I use toasted walnuts or almonds, in lieu of pine nuts.  I cannot justify the expense in regards to flavor.

My Pesto Recipe: Throw all of the following into the food processor.

3 cloves garlic

4 cups Basil leaves

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. sea salt

1 cup toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, your choice)

3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

 

Foodies will dissuade you from adding the cheese if you plan on freezing the goods. Follow your instinct. I, personally, notice no difference, and simply don’t have time to add another step of adding cheese after I’ve defrosted the pesto.  I’ve got stuff to do.

The Beekeeper’s Garden

shirley poppiesIt seems a bit presumptuous, to be writing about gardens for honey bees, as I am no authority. However, we do keep bees here at Stonewell Farm, and aim to keep them as healthy and well provided for as we can. Our gardens were well in the making long before we began keeping bees.  For the sheer pleasure of having an abundance of blooms and color, we planted annual cutting gardens with cosmos, larkspur, china asters, sunflowers, zinnias, gladiolii, dahlias. In February’s dead of winter, I scattered millions of charcoal colored  poppy seeds upon the blank,white canvas of snow, as if making a sketch for a richly colored painting that would materialize four or five months later; for our pleasure and stimulation, not the bees.

Beehive

But now we’re gardening for the bees as well. Gone are the Plume Poppies (macleaya cordata), pretty, in fact striking, but also poisonous to honeybees. We’ve learned that the Agastache, which is invasive here, and which we’ve been trying to weed out, provides a great source of nectar and pollen for honeybees, and so we’ve adopted a cautious tolerance of it; leaving some for the bees, in gardens which are not so particularly “curated” (which just so happens to be in the environs of the hives), and tearing it out where it will create aesthetic and horticultural conflicts with us. We have never been ‘lawn’ people.  We do have large, expansive stretches of “grass”, which means a green groundcover, but anyone can see that it’s mostly weeds cut short. Since there’s an abundance of dandelions and clover, both of which provide significant sustenance to honey bees, we’ve adopted an attentively diplomatic laissez-faire policy of allowing these plants to flower….attempting to mow when we think we’ve struck a balance, or compromise, between satisfying the bees and our neighbors. That means mowing before the plants set seed, and keeping the blades at the highest setting, to allow for the emergence of more blooms.

It just so happens that the plants we love are also plants that the bees love, and so now, the wheels begin turning for future garden plans and where we’ll put all these bee-friendly plants. Here’s a short list of plants that honeybees love, for those who would like to contribute to their welfare.

  • Agastache
  • Cosmos
  • Mint
  • Poppies (papaver orientale, papaver rhoeas, escholzia. papaver nudicaule)
  • Nepeta
  • China Asters
  • Clover
  • Dandelions

 

The Ultimate-ish Gardening Apron; Free Giveaway!

Producing a useful gardening apron is high on my list of things to do. I want to expand my apron offerings on Stonewell Cottage, to include the Ultimate Garden Apron. Many years back I had someone make a few artist/ craft aprons for me that were patterned on a sort of short, waitress style design. They were cute. When I moved to the country and actually tried using them for gardening, I discovered that they simply don’t function well. For the past couple of days I’ve googled gardening aprons and have found quite a variety, but surprisingly few will actually do the job they need to do. They look great on the real-life models who are standing erect and in a garden environment, tools nicely featured in generous pockets, and the more stylish ones are downright adorable and chic, not dissimilar to the ones I created years ago, but they just won’t do the job that I want my garden apron to do.

Here are my thoughts, based on real-life gardening work, and the criteria I will apply to designing the perfect gardening apron.

  • Firstly, the apron must have a slit through the front. Of course you want plenty of pockets for tools, seeds, etc..and these must be included, however, they will be positively useless if you cannot access those pockets in a crouched position. Its akin to keeping your tools in your front pockets…you simple can’t get to them, or worse, they’re jabbing you in the solar-plexis.
  • The apron needs to be more like a toolbelt, but not exactly. I have something like that and it presents problems for me. This takes me to the part that I think might be a hard sell because it seems so weird. I garden in a close fitting long-sleeved T shirt and sturdy jeans (baggy clothes catch on things, like rose thorns). In the classic crouched weeding or planting position, the T shirt rides up and the pants down, exposing a crescent of my lower back that gets sunburned. My garden apron idea is to have the apron tied on in the opposite way that it would normally be worn. In other words, a back panel would cover the lower back, preventing sunburn, the tie would be in the front, in my case, enfolded in belly fat, and the utility pockets would hang accessibly from the sides of ones outer hips, where they can be readily accessed.
  • The majority of people are right handed and so the narrow pocket for a writing implement might be on the right, but a similar pocket could be on the left, for lefties, or equally serviceable for plant markers. The heavier hand tools; the trowels and cultivators, would best be located as close to the vertical hipline as possible, so they work in harmony with gravity and our most durable and padded anatomical parts. (Sorry supermodels…talk to me about doing a padded couture version just for you!).

So I want your input and experience….pros, cons, all of it. There could be a bibbed version of the Ultimate Garden Apron. I suppose a bibbed version would provide additional storage for small items, but I think the pockets on the bib would have to be placed somewhere mid-chest and they would have to hang freely for easy accessibility, which means they can’t be very deep, otherwise they would block your field of vision. (Sometimes bibs can ride up and choke you a bit).

Oh, I forgot to mention…..my ultimate gardening apron must be durable and good-looking. I’m planning my apron around 100% cotton ticking fabrics, made in the USA.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a contest / giveaway. Totally subjective (but nepotism and familiarity free).  You MUST comment. Include details regarding what you want a Garden Apron to do for you. Based upon the seriousness and depth of you comments, I will select a winner, and he or she will receive one of my Ultimate Gardening Aprons within a months time.

Deadline for Comments is: April 1, 2014!!! I look forward to hearing from you!

Totebags – Franglais Chinois!

You know, we all seem to have a dozen or more totebags but few of them are chic or stylish. In an attempt to change that ethos I’ve come up with a stylish, chic and utilitarian version of a Totebag, smart enough to double as a handbag. The fabrics are chic, honest and rooted in traditional textiles.  The main body of the bag is a heavy-weight cotton ticking made in the USA. The exterior pockets, the lower part of the bag, are in a polyester ultrasuede made in China, trimmed and lined with the charming Provencale fabrics that we’ve imported from France, which also line the interior of the tote, which features an interior pocket for a cell phone or, whatever… The straps combine the durable ultrasuede and the yellow ticking fabric.

The 'Avignon' totebag.

The ‘Avignon’ totebag.

Chic and useful totebag.
The bold, stylish, and infinitely useful ‘Avignon Tote’.