Friday, November 27, 2015


Boy, I hate to see November go, especially since the weather has been so good.  So often, November is a gray and gloomy month.  But occasionally, you get one that's more like October, with bright, sunny, mild days.  This November, especially the first couple weeks, was spectacular.  Even though annuals were done, the gardens continued to look attractive.  And I had snapdragons and calendula that bloomed until Thanksgiving week.
I'm just about ready for our holiday open house, which will be held Friday and Saturday, December 4 & 5 from 9 am to 5 pm.  The shop is fully stocked--plenty of handmade soaps, lotions and spritzes from Tina and Maryanne--the soap ladies, along with essential oils, carrier oils, butters and containers for DIY projects.  These items have been selling well for several weeks.  I know a lot of our customers are creative and crafty and like to make their own homemade gifts.  The tree in the shop is up and decorated with a variety of natural and herbal/garden themed ornaments.  Sometimes, people say they hate to 'undecorate' the tree, but that's what we want! We also have  dried herbs  and  spices,    herbal  teas, cat toys and cat & dog treats, herbal books, garden markers, potpourri, dried wreaths & arrangements, handmade beaded jewelry and lots of unusual gift items.  We also have potted culinary herbs and live topiaries available until Christmas.  During our open house we'll have specials on several of our most popular items, so it's a  good time to shop.  We'll serve hot mulled cider and a really tasty herbal treat--lemon thyme muffins.  You can also register for our open house prize drawing.  We know how busy it is this time of year and how many activities compete for your time and attention.  We truly appreciate everyone that visits the farm and supports our small, local business.
The other thing I'm working on, believe it or not, is preparations for next spring.  No seeding until after Christmas, but lots of paperwork to get in order--when everything must be started, and ordering supplies so it's all ready when planting time comes.  When you're growing plants, you're always working several months ahead.
I'm making my annual plea to anyone thinking about getting a new pet for the holidays, to please consider adopting a shelter pet.  Our dear Lucy came from the Humane League and we couldn't have found a sweeter dog or a better companion anywhere.  You can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a dog, but if you're not going to show them or breed them, a shelter dog can be just as loving and a wonderful companion pet.  I swear Lucy was smart enough to realize we 'rescued' her and she was grateful for that.  I know that since we got her she's always been eager to please.  There are so many animals who would love to find a forever home this year.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


We are working our way down our list of autumnal chores.  First, we took the shade cloths off the greenhouses.  We put them on in the spring to cut down on the amount of direct sunlight coming into the greenhouses.  This makes it more comfortable for people and also the plants.  Without shade cloth, it would be too hot and sunny for many of the plants during the height of summer.  Next, we cleaned out the vegetable garden and buried our potted stock plants in the ground.  This is how we winter over perennial stock plants.  Next spring, they're lifted out and I divide and repot them for new plants for the spring season.  It only works for perennials that are easily divided.  Others I start from seed or purchase rooted cuttings and pot them up.

I've spent the past week admiring everything that's still blooming in the gardens.  Frost is imminent, and most things will go--certainly with a hard freeze.  For mid-October, I was amazed at how much was still blooming--lavender, pineapple sage, heliotrope, nicotiana, roses, mexican bush sage, catmint, calendula, marigolds, strawflowers, sedum, zinnias, snapdragons.  I'm hopeful that the snaps will survive a while longer.  They always look so good at the end of the season and they are long lasting cut flowers.  I have both the dark wine-red 'Black Prince' variety and pink 'Apple Blossom' - so pretty in combination.

I've cut the last of the tender plants I want to dry and cut a big bunch of basil.  I keep it in water on the kitchen counter to extend my season for fresh basil.  What a treat for in spaghetti sauce, pasta dishes, etc.  After frost, we'll do final clean-up in the gardens and let them go until spring.

Now, I'm working in the shop getting things ready for the holidays--stocking holiday items, making arrangements, etc.  Also, working on the fall newsletter.  Be on the lookout for that in mid-November.  Remember, the shop is open five days a week, Tuesday - Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Christmas.  And mark your calendars for our holiday open house, Friday and Saturday, December 4 and 5.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


I'm enjoying the transition between seasons--savoring the waning days of summer, and looking forward to cool, crisp fall days.  I also notice the transition in my work.  Work outside in the gardens continues--but is lessening, while my work readying the shop for the fall and holiday season is increasing.  There are some things I must remind myself of as the seasons shift.  One has to do with watering plants.  During the summer, I soak the plants daily, so they can stand up to the high temps and remain healthy.  As fall approaches, and the weather cools down, I must remind myself to cut back and water just as necessary, allowing the plants to dry out between waterings.  It's the same for houseplants--cut back on the amount you water as temperatures moderate.  Also start to cut down on fertilizing.  Plant growth will slow down and in some cases, go dormant, as we approach winter.  Start slowly tapering off fertilizing indoor plants.

Work still remains outside.  Time to start thinking about harvesting annuals before frost comes.  It's a perfect time to make pesto with your basil harvest.  If you want blooming annuals to reseed next year, allow flowers to die on the stalk.  If the seed is hardy, allow it to fall for reseeding next spring.  If the seed isn't hardy, you can gather and store it, then plant next year after our last frost date.

I often talk to customers about how much I enjoy end of season plants.  As the garden winds down, some things just stand out in their amazing late season display.  Red pineapple sage flowers and fuzzy purple mexican bush sage are starting to bloom and boy, each one is stunning.  Pineapple sage has its bright color, sweetness and yummy scent.  Mexican bush sage has beautiful color and texture.  Annual vines are at their peak now.  One of my favorite part shade perennials is anemone.  They bloom pink or white, resemble a single rose and with adequate moisture, bloom bountifully.  And my snaps always look better in the fall.  I love them as a cut flower and they usually bloom longer for me than anything else--even mums.

The sweet autumn clematis is blooming.  It always reminds me of a fragrant white cloud on top of the pergola.  The fragrance is floral, but not overly sweet--a combination of floral and fresh.  The other vine on the pergola--jasmine--did not bloom at all this year.  Two severe winters took their toll.  The plants survived, but they died back all the way to the ground.  We really cleaned them out and they had lots of new growth this summer.  The tallest hasn't reached the top of the pergola yet.  I'm hoping for a milder winter--for their benefit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Last time, I wrote about how much I enjoyed a four season climate.  I also really enjoy the transition from one season into the next.  It's a combination of savoring the last of the departing season and anticipating the pleasures of the one to come.  Right now, I'm trying to relish each moment of summer remaining as it dwindles down.  The warmth of the air, the fragrance of fresh herbs in the garden and I'm eating all the fresh produce I can get my hands on.  At this time of year, I often think how nice it would be to have homegrown local fruits and vegetables year-round.  But I also wonder if it would seem such a delightful treat if we could get our hands on fresh produce at any time.

At the same time I'm appreciating the last bits of summer (like scraping all the ice cream from the bottom of the bowl) I'm anticipating the soon-to-come attributes of fall.  Some cool mornings, I can feel a slight tang in the air that I know will turn into the crisp coolness of fall mornings.  A couple times I've looked up to see small flocks of geese flying overhead.  Our lovely paperback birch has dropped a lot of leaves.  I'm sure it's from the dryness.  Generally, the leaves turn yellow in the fall.  These were dry and brown.  But it made for an enjoyable shuffle through the carpet of fallen leaves under the birch tree.  Unlike the white-barked river birch, this variety has tan, exfoliating (or peeling) bark which looks particularly attractive in the winter when the tree is bare of leaves.  It's also more tolerant of our hot, humid summers than river birches are.

Another sign of the impending arrival of fall--our goldfinch pair has started dining daily at the big stand of coneflower in front of the greenhouse.  Sometimes there are more than two, but a pair always come in together to enjoy the bountiful crop of seeds.  Sometimes, they fly back to the bee and butterfly garden to survey the area from a piece of decorative fencing or to splash in the birdbath.  Guess that's a pretty good day if you're a goldfinch.

I happened to be looking out the back door one day in time to see a giant bird flying over.  It was so low that it was easy to see it was a blue heron--I could even see it's feet hanging down as it flew over.  I thought it was going to land in the neighbor's above-ground pool, but it landed right at the edge of our wild, overgrown area.  It landed and immediately folded in its wings, making a very narrow silhouette.  It spent some time resting and walked around awhile.  I did not see it leave.  I've seen a heron flying over several times this year, so perhaps he lives in the area.

We still have a few perennials left for fall planting.  And the shop is fully stocked with our herbal products.  We are open Tuesday - Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through December.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


I am definitely a four-seasoner.  I like distinct seasons and the transition from one to another.  Lately, I've been thinking about all the summer things I enjoy.  First of all is food.  I love going outside and picking fresh herbs to use in my cooking--I do this almost daily in season.  I guess for summer, basil is my favorite herb.  Regular basil--the genovese type goes well with all kinds of summer veggies, plus vinaigrettes, pasta dishes and Italian/tomato dishes.  I also like the fresh basil-citrus flavor of lime basil--good on chicken, fish and southwestern dishes.  And cinnamon basil on fresh fruit--yum!

I realize I gauge summer by the fruit that's in season--starting with strawberries and apricots.  Then our wild black raspberries and sour cherries.  I love bing cherries which have a relatively short season and blueberries which have a nice long season.  Now I'm obsessed with two of my favorites--cantaloupe and fresh peaches.  I think the smell of ripe peaches is just divine.  I make cantaloupe soup--actually a smoothie, by combining 8 oz. plain yogurt, a medium-sized melon, cubed and a splash of orange juice in the blender.  Cool, refreshing and delicious.

And of course, there are fresh vegetables from the garden in summer.  Our sugar peas lasted two months this year!  We've had loads of green and wax beans and a few tomatoes--enough for a few BLT's so far.  We don't grow corn, but we've been getting  delicious  bi-color  corn  at our local amish farm.

Other summer enjoyments--the loud, distinctive sound of cicadas, lightning bugs at night, tree frogs and the sweet, sweet fragrance of honeysuckle.

I had another sighting of our resident box turtle.  I've seen him (her?) three or four times over the years.  I'm sure it's the same one because he's beautifully marked--bright orange on his legs and shell.  He lives in the back corner of the property--the wet, wild, thick area.  I only saw him this time because he was crossing the grassy area next to the woods.  I'm glad to see he's doing well.

I've definitely seen more honeybees as the summer progressed, although not like I used to see.  They've been very busy between the thyme when it flowered and all the clover in our yard.  Had several monarch butterfly sightings--but only one at a time, so I don't know if it's a lone one.  Swallowtails--black and tiger--seem plentiful and lots of smaller varieties are around.

I read something recently which regarded planting butterfly bushes in a negative light.  The logic was that since they are not host plants, they are less worthy.  Host plants are those that provide a food source for caterpillars before they become butterflies.  There's no doubt that host plants are vitally important in attracting butterflies to your garden.  But just  as the immature caterpillar needs a food source, so do adult butterflies.  And I must say that for sheer numbers, and certainly for variety of species, it's hard to beat butterfly bushes.  Ours are loaded with butterflies, large, medium and small.    My plan is always to provide variety in plants--host plants and nectar sources--and let the butterflies choose their favorites.

Plants I'm harvesting and drying--basils, tarragon, mints, chamomile flowers, calendula, savory, statice, gomphrena, orlaya (queen anne's lace substitute) and craspedia (petal-less yellow globes).

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Gardening is not for the faint of heart.  There are always conditions, sometimes extreme, that you must deal with.  My sister recently told me, when they returned home from a trip, much of their vegetable garden was shredded from a hailstorm.  Although most things will recover, it's a pitiful sight to see.  We've been busy here--we've gotten plenty of rain but no damaging winds with all the storms rolling through.  High winds can snap or even flatten plants quickly.  And of course the extremes of rainfall.  Too little and you spend so much time watering.  Yet the plants never seem to respond as they do to a good, soaking rain.  Too much rain, all at once, can doom newly set in plants.  New plants, without a fully developed root system, simply cannot absorb a large quantity of water in a short time. Our main "extreme" concern this season seems to be a bumper crop of rabbits.  It's been several years since I remember seeing this many baby bunnies.  We have so much clover in our yard that generally, it seems to satisfy them.  I would expect to see feeding on parsley, but so far, not much.  We did stop planting parsley in the outer gardens, because it always did get munched off.  But two plants they must love are pincushion flower and Jupiter's beard.  Pincushion flower has very dark, almost black flowers, sprinkled with white dots, so it really does resemble a pincushion.  Jupiter's beard has rosy-pink flowers and is a reliably reblooming perennial.  Both have been chomped off multiple times!  At least they saved me the effort of cutting back the Jupiter's beard after its first bloom.
So gardening teaches us flexibility--to roll with the punches and adapt to changing conditions. And it also teaches us patience.  I've talked to many customers over the years who complain their annual vines "aren't doing anything." Moonflower, fragrant, white, night-blooming morning glory, mina or firecracker vine, with sprays of red, orange and yellow tubular flowers, and hyacinth bean with purple pea-like flowers and showy, shiny purple pods are all annual vines.  Having only one season to complete their life cycle, you'd think they'd get off to a quick start.  But they don't.  They are very slow growing in the beginning and they want lots of water.  It's almost impossible to give them too much water early on, until they really get established.  At some point, the tide turns.  Then, you can see each day how much they've grown from the previous day.
One flower I've been harvesting and drying lately is one of our new selections this year--orlaya.  It's an annual, with lacy, white flowers similar to queen anne's lace, but without the weediness of that plant.  It's a bright, clear white and is a  great filler for cut flowers.  I think the dried ones will work well in the same capacity for wreaths and arrangements. Like many other annuals, the more you cut and deadhead, the more it blooms.  Same for gomphrena or globe amaranth, with papery clover-like flowers.  I'm harvesting the red 'Strawberry Fields' variety now.  I particularly like it for decorating at the holidays as the red color holds well.  The mixed purple, pink and white gomphrena come a bit later.
Our hydrangea recovered and are blooming profusely in various shades of blue.  If I would cut the blooms now, they would just shrivel up--I think due to the high moisture content.  So I wait until late August or September, and when the flowers begin to feel papery on the stalk, cut them and dry them standing in a vase.  Then they hold their shape and dry thoroughly.
A small selection of annuals and a pretty good selection of perennials remains during our plant sale.  And prices are great!

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Summer rolls on--now we're in July.  June just sped by.  Maybe that's because, with all the rain, I spent a good part of the month outside weeding the gardens.  Seems like we'd get everything cleaned up, then we'd get a big rain and instantly, the weeds were back.  We were lucky here, in that we got the rain, but not the high winds.  With all the moisture, the newly planted annuals are well established.  I've pinched back basils a couple times and the plants have branched out well.  Pinching back produces a compact plant with lots of foliage--exactly what you want with basils.
Since everything is growing so well, I've been doing a lot of harvesting.  I'm drying culinary herbs--like oregano, savory, thyme, mints, lemon verbena.  I air dry these in bunches or on my screened racks.  With the humid weather, it's hard to get them completely dry, since they reabsorb moisture from the air.   When they're nearly dry, I finish them off in the dehydrator, so they are completely dry before storing them.  I've harvested a good crop of chamomile flowers.  The dried flowers are a popular item in the shop--makes a great, relaxing bedtime tea.
I've been harvesting flowers for drying, too.  Yellow yarrow is just finishing up.  It dries so easily and the golden color is a wonderful addition to dried wreaths and arrangements.  Also harvested the striped, balloon-like seedpods of nigella or love-in-a-mist.  The blue, white or pink flowers are followed by the seedpods, which contain dozens and dozens of seeds in each pod.  I dry bunches, remove more and leave just a few to reseed.  Otherwise, I'd have a forest of them!
Good news on the honeybee front.  I've been seeing more then one at a time, but nowhere near the numbers I used to see.  Recently, they've been working the annuals blooming in the greenhouse.  And I'm starting to see more butterflies--lots of skippers, some fritillarys, red admirals and a couple commas.  Should have a bumper crop of swallowtail butterflies this year.  Had caterpillars on parsley and dill in several locations in the garden.
Our plant sale is on-going.  We're out of a number of varieties, but still have a good selection of perennials.  There's still plenty of time for planting and for them to establish themselves before the end of the season.  After July 4, perennials will be 33% off.  Plus, you get a free basil plant with your purchase!
Don't forget to cut back blooming perennials when they're done flowering to encourage growth of new, clean foliage. Also, if you want to cut back lavender for better shaping of your plants, this is the time to do it.  Other tasks include saving seed as the seedheads mature and making sure biennials drop seed.  They will produce new foliage this year and allow continuing flowering next season.