seeds

Planting Blessings – Lessons from Childhood

Planting Blessings – Lessons from Childhood

Born in Ballymena, 30 miles north of Belfast, my Nana never lost her Irish brogue, even after moving to England as a young woman. By today’s standards she didn’t have much. She left school at 11 to look after her siblings “just as we were starting to learn long-division”, married the boy next door, lived in a little council house in Wallasey, Merseyside, and devoted her life to raising children and keeping the home nice.

Yet her life and her legacy were rich beyond words.

One of the earliest lessons she taught me, sitting in her sunny yellow kitchen drinking tea and eating homemade “wee buns” (translation for the non-Irish: small cupcakes), was to count your blessings. She was a devout Christian who lived her faith every day. Reminding me to count my blessings wasn’t a trite checklist but rather a way to teach me gratitude. What today, some might consider an aspect of mindfulness.

Regardless of your belief system I think you’ll agree that when we learn to practice gratitude for all that we have, rather than focusing on the things we don’t or that we have lost (people, opportunities, jobs, health), we find an inner peace. It changes our perspective. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor does it diminish the reality of such losses, but it helps us find a path through them.

1983. Left to right: me (age 22), mum, Nana, Aunty Edie (mum’s sister) – visiting me at a youth camp where I taught canoeing each summer

Nana taught me how to appreciate the little things; a big pat of real butter melting in a volcano of hot mashed potato, making daisy chains on her tiny back lawn, the warmth of a coal fire on a winter’s day, catching “tiddlers” (tiny fish) in jam jars at the lake in a nearby park, tasting my first ice lolly in her back garden (first photograph). Throughout my life she modeled what it meant to love by freely giving me her time and undivided attention. She stayed up late at night making outfits for my teddy bear on her old treadle sewing machine, listened to my various teenage woes with a sympathetic ear, and cheered me on at many orchestral concerts as I got older. And her hugs. She was a great hugger.

What’s this got to do with gardening?

When we plant seed, we plant hope. We don’t plant a seed expecting it to perish. We plant it expecting it to thrive. We nurture it, enjoy it, and often share the fruits or flowers with friends and neighbors. We plant the potential for blessings.

My challenge to you

So many choices

As you start to browse through all the seed catalogs and plan your garden, take a moment to pause and consider how you might be able to bless others. Can you grow a few extra seedlings to share with a neighbor? Do you have room to grow extra vegetables for your local food pantry? Perhaps find room for some cosmos or snapdragons in your garden this year, for the pure joy of being able to cut bouquets for a friend?

There will always be things to worry about, losses that we struggle to accept, health concerns that threaten to derail us.  Yet our garden reminds us that there will always be a new season.  The circle of life will continue, and we can choose to focus on all that we have been blessed with and how we can pass that on.

My recent trip to England was a significant turning point as I struggled to adjust to the loss of my mum (the linked blog post will explain why if you’re curious).  At Christmas I had another moment of clarity as I watched our little granddaughter, Anna, happily handing building blocks to my husband, while my grown up children and their partners chatted and laughed in the background. It was this. Now it’s my time to be the Nana. It’s my turn to make clothes for teddy bears, teach little hands how to bake, how to plant a seed, how to love. I am blessed beyond belief.

I think my Nana -and my Mum, would be proud to know I have finally understood their legacy.

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I can still hear Nana singing:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Johnson Oatman, Jr., pub.1897

May 2019 be a year of blessings for you, and an opportunity for you to share your gifts, time, and blessings with others.

Shades of September

 

Whats' new this month?

Whats’ new this month?

It’s an odd time of year. Neither summer nor fall. Cooler but not cold. Perhaps chianti rather than sauvignon blanc but not-quite-ready-for-a-full-Bordeaux type of weather

I typically head into the garden to see what is new – newly blooming or in leaf – not newly going into decline! So what is there to get excited about in September? October and November will be redolent with autumnal shades: does September offer anything other than a weary landscape?

As I uploaded my images I was surprised to see how many shades of red there were; not the fiery fall colors that the smoke bushes and maples promise for the future, but chill-tipped foliage and flowers in shades of rose and ruby that suggested it was time to find my fleece jacket. Berries were also in abundance, from the glossy red honeysuckle that cedar wax wings prefer to viburnum, barberries and Red Beauty holly.

Enjoy a September stroll with me

Flowers Galore!

Many perennials and shrubs put on a second flush of flowers in fall while others are an autumnal highlight.

Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush

This Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush  is STILL pushing out blooms even as it leans on a winter daphne – instant floral arrangement

Many of the white paniculata hydrangeas age to pink – a great opportunity to play with plant combinations

Sometimes it isnt the actual flowers that have a pink hie but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Sometimes it isn’t the actual flowers that have a pink hue but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Berries, seed heads and more

From oversized to teeny-tiny, there are berries and seedheads throughout the garden already.

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Raspberry-like seed heads of the kousa dogwood tree –  Christmas in September??

Talking of the Holidays, this Red Beauty holly seems to be well ahead of the curve too!

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on the Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny berries on a barberry

Left to right: Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on a Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny barberry berries

Foliage

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

While shades of red, orange and gold are expected on many trees and shrubs as autumn approaches, it is the unexpected multi-colored additions to foliage that I feel is a bonus to the September garden

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

I was surprised to see Mountain Fire andromeda still showing off mahogany colored new growth

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And then there are the tiny succulents on the green roof of this delightful bird feeder that are also turning color.

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What’s happening in your garden this month?

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Blanket Flower Beauty

THis stunning (unknown) variety of blanket flower was purchased as a plant. I'd love to find the seed for this!

This stunning Fanfare Blaze blanket flower was purchased as a plant. Love the fluted petals; I’d certainly like to find the seed for this!

Do you buy perennials or grow them from seed? My Mum was a remarkably thrifty – and patient gardener and grew many perennials such as delphiniums from seed. The first year they would get to be respectable sized plants but if they flowered it wasn’t a spectacular show. They would typically take three years to get to that chocolate box image of towering spires of lavender, pink and blue blooms. That was enough to put me off – three years seemed much too long to wait!

So when I was given seeds for the perennial blanket flower (Gaillardia) from international plant breeder Benary I was initially rather underwhelmed. Their saving grace was that these perennials are drought tolerant and deer resistant and the bold colors would work with my color scheme so I decided to give them a go. I started the seeds indoors under grow lights in February of this year and by early spring they were large enough to prick out into individual 4″ plants. (My Stumpdust dibber was the perfect tool for transplanting).

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. Ours are made from salvaged wood

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. The ones from Stumpdust are individually hand crafted made from salvaged wood

I really wasn’t expecting them to do much this year so used the sturdy 4″ plants to edge a raised bed of basil in my vegetable garden, planting both out at the beginning of June.

The 4" transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

The 4″ transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

Wow did they GROW! Each plant quickly formed a compact mound at least 12″ wide  and bloomed in such profusion that they became a colorful highlight in the garden just six months after starting them from seed. In fact the plants are so big I may be able to divide them next spring.

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

The two varieties I grew were the popular Arizona Sun with its distinctive rays of red and yellow petals and the softer Arizona Apricot; golden yellow petals deepening to warm apricot at the center.

Apricot Sun - for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

Arizona Apricot – for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

There are lots of other colorful varieties and seed is readily available from many vendors including  Swallowtail Garden Seeds, Burpee, Park Seed

If you prefer to grow the native blanketflowers looks for common blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata) which is a perennial that attracts native bees as well as butterflies. You can buy that wildflower seed here. Alternatively the annual, native Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) may self-seed in ideal conditions. Available here

Design Ideas

Use in a drought tolerant border with lavender, sage and succulents. Perfect either in your landscape or even for a parking strip

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Parking strip planting – Portland, OR

Use in containers – they bloom for months without a break! Although I did deadhead spent blooms during the peak summer period, the seed heads themselves are attractive. These newer varieties lend themselves well to mixed containers, being more compact thus ‘hiding’ the foliage with flowers.

Celebration is a vibrant shade or orange-red that looks stunning with this variegted mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus 'Lemony Lace')

Celebration is a vibrant shade of orange-red that looks stunning with this variegated mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’)

Cultural Conditions

  • Hardy in zones 3-8
  • Full sun
  • Water; average-low. Drought tolerant once established
  • Soil; well drained soil is essential. Sandy or average loam is ideal. Avoid non-amended clay.
  • Deer resistant (and said to be rabbit resistant – I’ll let you know!!)
I'm watching you......

I’m watching you……

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Pretty Enough To Eat

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Gone are the days where ‘salad’ meant a limp lettuce leaf and a dollop of salad cream (in the UK) or ranch dressing (in the USA)! Leaf crops such as spinach, peppery arugula and crunchy kale jostle with a tantalizing blend of colorful lettuce varieties. Harvest some young beet leaves, carrot tops and herbs and you have a fabulous base to add cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers and spring onions. The adventurous chef may even sprinkle in a few edible flowers for a garnish.

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Buying all those ingredients at the store isn’t cheap, however, and how often have you had to throw out the last of the salad leaves because it went bad? The good news is that we can grow all of these in our own gardens – even if we only have a small patio. If you’re new to edible gardening start with something easy such as lettuce, especially if you grow  one of the ‘cut and come again’ or mesclun’ blends.

How to grow lettuce 

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6" or so

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6″ or so

Whether you are planting in the ground or a container be sure the soil is weed free and friable (that just means that it crumbles easily in your hand rather than a wet clod of clay or superfine and sand-like). Do not fertilize; too much nitrogen can make the flavor bitter

Select an area that receives 4-6 hours of direct sun each day, preferably in the morning. Many lettuce varieties will bolt in high summer and/or hot afternoon sun and actually prefer to get direct morning sun but afternoon shade. You may be able to shade them by planting on the eastern side of a row of tall tomatoes or beans for example

Loosely sprinkle the seed onto the soil surface as directed on the packet, cover with ~1/4″ soil and water thoroughly but gently.

If you are planting out seedlings space them approx. 6″ apart to allow room for them to grow. I use a row marker to keep the lines straight.

Keep the soil bed moist.

Harvesting

Cut what you need for now - and come back for more later

Cut what you need for now – and come back for more later

For cut and come again varieties harvest leaves with scissors, leaving the main plant in situ.

For head lettuce thin to spacing indicated on the packet (eat the thinnings!)

Sow small amounts of seed every 2-3 weeks to extend the harvest

Tips

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

There is no need to work lettuce into a crop rotation. Just plant them where space permits between slower growing plants.

Water in the morning to reduce the likelihood of fungal disease developing.

Problems

Squirrel damage!

Squirrel damage!

Slugs – use Sluggo Plus or set beer traps

Bolting – some varieties are more prone to this than others. Also dry soil can cause this.

Squirrels, rabbits and more! – Rabbits won’t jump into beds that are 18″ tall so a taller container or custom height raised bed may be your answer. Squirrels were an unexpected challenge when we filmed our class in San Diego but we think we have them thwarted by adding a hoop structure over a raised bed and covering it with window screen.

Favorite varieties

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

There are SO many to choose from but I always leave room for;

Jericho – a crunchy, romaine type lettuce that is very resistant to bolt.

Little Gem – a classic semi-cos variety that is crunchy but tender

Gourmet Baby Greens – a mesclun mix from Botanical Interests

 

Interested in more ideas for easy vegetable gardening? You might also enjoy The Movable Feast.

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Resources

Building a Raised Bed Garden; our NEW video class for Craftsy teaches you everything you need to know with step-by-step instruction. Discover more and get up to a 50% discount!

Raised Bed Workshop; live in the Seattle area? Join Andy and I in our garden May 16th for a morning of instruction, demonstration, and inspiration. Limited space – get the details

 

 

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Winter Adventure for Children of all Ages

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I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at  The Morton Arboretum  recently while I was speaking in the Chicago area. I could see straight away that this was somewhere special; 1700 acres of stately trees and gardens including lakes and natural areas. The casual (cold) visitor might just head straight for the coffee shop (great food) or could be forgiven for being tempted to browse in the gift store (especially since it sells my book Fine Foliage) but I think the children had the best idea – bundle up and head outside to PLAY!

playground

Children want to explore and experience life not just observe it from a distance and this arboretum has the best Children’s Garden I have ever seen and encourages them to do just that. The award winning four acre garden combines learning and play with plenty of sturdy nature-inspired things to climb up, over and through for the super-energetic (that would have appealed to our son) but also wonderful boards and illustrations about leaves and roots (definitely more our daughters style who insisted on reading EVERY sign in the museums….)

leaves

Great use of pathways and playground equipment to show children different leaf shapes and how they attach to a branch

Chicago has been buried under an apocalyptic amount of snow this year so you might wonder what there could possible be in the garden. I can assure you that there was plenty to see, touch, smell and listen to. I loved watching children squeal with delight as they stroked the velvety pussy willows, discovered the spicy scent of  a witch hazel, listened to the rustling oak leaves still clinging tenaciously to the branches. Even the seed pods of the silverbell tree (Halesia tetraptera) tinkled like tiny bells and frozen grasses waved stiffly in the breeze on this cold winters day – and it was all beautiful.

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Then there was the huge European beech tree with its bark that looks just like an elephants skin and branches that dipped down to the ground as well as a magnificent weeping willow – eye catching even without its leaves.

beech

Several people told me that they wished I could see this garden in summer in all its splendor. I replied that it’s easy to create an exciting summer garden – this takes far more skill and attention to detail. In fact I have barely touched on all the fun elements this contains.

If you live nearby, take time to visit this wonderful garden – even in winter – even without children. You’re never too old to play a game of discovery. You can always thaw out later with a hot cup of soup -or two.

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My special thanks to the wonderful staff at the Arboretum who took such good care of me; from those in the education department who helped me coordinate my workshop to the ladies in the office who kindly babysat my luggage while I took these photographs before flying home.

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