I’ve cut back a lot this year on growing edibles. In the past I’ve gotten carried away with all sorts of herbs and we almost never used some of them. There are others, like lemon balm, that we almost never use but since it’s thriving and happy it got to stay. 🙂 I have one cherry tomato plant and one red pepper (sweet) plant. I don’t think I have any other vegetable attempts.
I was making some salads for us to enjoy in the intermittent hot weather. Aside: it’s been as crazy here as in other places in the world. For example: Wednesday it was 91 degrees in the afternoon. Saturday morning it was 41. Memorial day we did finally edge up into the 70s, but only late in the afternoon before it then started cooling down again. Here we are on Friday – HUMID and in the 70s and we’re due for thunderstorms (heads up, Honour). They are promising 80s on Saturday and – oh hallelujah! – 90s on Sunday. I’ve been sooooo COLD. Back to the salads! There are 3 types of lettuce: arugula, red leaf, and romaine. They were for my tossed salad. The dill and parsley were for the chickpea salad. Yummy!
The Memorial Day weekend was, as I said, VERY cold and VERY rainy on Saturday and Sunday. Monday things finally started to dry and warm up. We had TEN PEOPLE on the deck for BBQ dinner. It was GLORIOUS! We’d not been together since Feb 2, 2020. So much hugging and smiling and laughing!! It was wonderful to be back together again. I got to show off my latest acquisition for the deck – my new ice cooler. 🙂 My sister and I had gone to an Antiques & Collectibles show back in April. This Italian ice cart caught my eye, caught my sense of humor, and I thought it would be perfect on the deck. When my husband texted back to say he AGREED, the deal was done. 🙂 He keeps saying “we’ll get a lot of use out of it” and I keep laughing and saying “oh my it is so kitsch that it is art and I LOVE it”. Seriously – it gives me such joy. I smile every time I see it. And yes – it is useful. It holds A LOT of ice. Deceptively so. We had 3 bags of ice in it for the BBQ and it looked paltry. But our drinks were cold!
Look! Purple flowers!!! I’ve had vinca vines many times in the past. I like having them trailing down from hanging pots, swaying with the breezes. I like them in my big planters lined on the front walk, ‘connecting’ lawn to flower. In all that time, however, I don’t think I have ever had them flower. I’m guessing that is because I usually don’t buy them until sometime in May, which might be past their flowering time. This year life continues to be ‘different’. No – this has nothing to do with the pandemic. This is about the seasons.
The past winter was very mild. Other than some crazy cold days in February, it wasn’t that cold. I have been amazed at how many of my plants wintered over on the porch. Even my rosemary, which doesn’t make it onto the porch, survived. And thrived. Usually it hangs in there until February, then one night it will throw up its metaphorical arms and die. Not this year. I have all sorts of things coming back, which is great! What’s not so great is that for many of them I have no idea what they are. 🙂 Ah, the perennial question: Are they weeds or are they flowers?
Some things are recognizable- jasmine, vinca, dusty miller. The herbs: lemon thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, chives, lemon balm. LOTS of mint. I think the dianthus is back. But there is a lot of green that I’m not recognizing.
I cropped the photos so you don’t see the 2 huge bags of potting soil and the huge bag of top soil. I’ve been buying more planters and pots. 🙂 I bought seeds again this year, knowing even as I did so that last year’s didn’t work all that well. Actually, my cosmos and zinnias did – I sowed them directly into the beds. I’m going to try again with radishes. I was unable to resist picking up 2 Romaine plants. 🙂 I really need a “support group” but I want the one that tells me what I’m doing is natural and healthy, not the one that tries to help me quit.
We had no snow this winter. Our temperatures swing from the 70sF to the 40sF. I was sure we were done with worrying about the plants. I’m so ready to start tossing seeds in the big pots and to pot the succulents I bought. I also bought some more thyme – English thyme. The thyme that wintered over is lemon thyme. I thought that this past weekend was going to be a garden day.
The past weekend wasn’t too bad weather-wise. It was the weekdays after that had the bad forecast. Winds of up to 60 mph were predicted for Monday, along with driving rain. Tuesday was supposed to have temps in the 50s. Wednesday night had frost warnings – temperatures 30-35F. Excuse me???? We had NO winter and now in mid APRIL we have FROST warnings? So annoying!!!!! Well, I’d already moved the pots down off the porch, so I figured I’d better cover them. The succulents and time and ivy on the porch were probably fine, but as long as I had the plastic out, I covered them as well. Everyone made it through the night with no trouble. I don’t think it got below freezing. I left them all uncovered last night when the temps were in the low 40s, and I think maybe the cactus that had orange flowers may have been unhappy. Time will tell.
Oh rats. Just heard a forecast for Tuesday night: 30-35. NO!!!!!
Life has gotten incredibly surreal, hasn’t it? I’ve wanted to come here and chat, but I’ve had writer’s block. There is so very much I want to say, but I have rules for myself about what I post. I have a lot of unpublished posts as well, the kind of thing where I was venting about something specific, and writing it out was sufficient venting. I have half-written posts that even I don’t know where I was intending to go. Then there are the zillions of posts I’ve written in my head. It seems odd that there is so much to say, so much happening, yet I can’t get the words out.
I miss writing here. Writing tends to make me focus on things that give me pleasure. Reality is a mixed bag, after all. I took a look around the house – oh em gee all you can DO is look around the HOUSE now, right??? – to see what repairs needed doing that maybe I could do. I’m watching TV with my husband and we are having serious in-depth conversations about synthetic life forms (AI, androids, et al). I went out into the garden this weekend, into the sunshine, and took pictures of my plants, hoping that would spur me on. Yay for my garden because it really helps to keep me centered. The only other thing that can calm me down these days when I start freaking about viruses and politics and “end of the world as we know it” is to listen to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo give his daily press briefings. He’s so calm, articulate, smart, good-looking, reasonable. He calls this stay-at-home situation “The Pause”. I love that term. I live in NJ but I tune in for the NY update every day. If I can’t catch it live I watch the replay later. *smile* Governor Murphy is doing a good job, but he’s no Cuomo. My coworker, who plays for the distaff team, told me that even she has a crush on Gov Cuomo. She explained that we are part of the great Cuomosexual awakening. *grin* I LOVE that term, too. But Gov Cuomo only speaks for an hour or less so my garden is the more reliable tranquilizer. When it finally stops raining. It WILL stop raining, right?
I found a picture I took a few weeks ago, when the first signs of flowers were starting to appear. That was so long ago. Or maybe it was last week? Because when we are all working from home, and not going out, well, every day blurs into the next into the one before and none of us seem to know what day it is. (Another reason to love Gov Cuomo – he starts his press conferences saying such things as Happy Tuesday!, and then I KNOW what day it is and can check to see what meetings I have scheduled.)
Two weekends ago it was warm and sunny and beautiful and we were all required to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel. I spent several hours doing garden cleanup. I didn’t have the money last fall to hire the service that usually does my fall/winter cleanup. That means that there are lots and lots of dead leaves matted among last year’s stalks and fencing. I needed to cut down the grasses and the dead peony stalks and pull up the dead goldenrod stalks. Five yard bags of debris. And that was only the front garden and the rudbeckia garden. I still have the porch garden and along the driveway and along the side of the house to clean. Ugh.
We had such a mild winter this year in central NJ. The only snow we had was in December and it was less than 2 inches and melted by the end of the day. That was it. I don’t think we even had 4 days in a row of sub-freezing temperatures. All of that means that much of my container garden wintered over and has come back green and healthy. Not only herbs, but I believe I have verbena coming back in one of the pots as well. Something that is not an herb is doing quite well. I know that canna lilies, which I absolutely adore, need to be dug up and the bulbs stored in a garage or basement or something. I never do that (by that time of the year I am totally sick of gardening). I indulge myself come spring and buy new ones. I am wondering if any of them will have wintered over and come back. The problem I foresee is that I have NO idea what a canna lily sprout looks like. What if it is coming back and I think it’s a weed and pull it? That rationale could get me to skip weeding my garden until what – end of June maybe? 🙂 That’s quite appealing.
I took the containers off the porch and put them out in the sun and the rain, lining the walk. There are some canna lilies in one of those pot as well. I’d save so much money if some of those came back. As it is, I’m going to save a lot on my herbs. I have healthy rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, cilantro, curly parsley, lemon balm, mint, sorrel, chives, oregano, and marjoram (note the use of the Oxford comma). The marjoram is not in the picture – it’s sitting on the front steps. There is basil in the picture but that is cheating – I bought them at the grocery store. 🙂 I LOVE the smell of basil – it cheers me right up!
I was born in New Jersey, raised in New Jersey, lived here all my life with the exception of college. I am indeed a Jersey girl. But sometimes the laws governing this state make me crazy. I’ve run into it with regulation preventing our family doctor from writing a proper prescription for my son, and I’ve come up against the laws preventing me from buying alcohol.
I was reading the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago and there was an article about replacements for eggnog (a truly repellent drink). There were recipes and pictures and one in particular caught my attention. I was reading the print version which had many pictures and recipes, but I see that the online link (assuming it will work for you) comes up with the very same cocktail that caught my fancy – Shaken and Firred (adapted from Heidi Smart of Hood River Distillers, Hood River, Oregon). The picture all by itself is enticing – cool, simple, herbal. When I read the recipe, I was determined to try this drink.
1 oz vodka
1 oz Clear Creek Douglas Fir Brandy
1/4 oz dry vermouth
Add these to an ice-filled shaker, shake and strain into a martini glass rimmed with sugar and garnished with a sprig of rosemary.
Delicious, right???? I sent my husband an email and asked him to call our 3 preferred liquor stores and see if they had the Douglas Fir brandy. I wasn’t expecting that they would, but I thought we’d try the simple approach first. They did not have it and only one offered to obtain it for us. I stopped in that store a day or so later and left my name and number for someone to call me back so I could order (the cashier could not do that). Never heard back. Okay, not a show stopper. I was out with a friend and asked her if she had a high-end liquor store near her that might carry the Douglas Fir brandy. We got out our smart phones and began calling about. Nope, none of the stores near there carried it and none offered to help order. Fine, be that way. When I got home I went online to order it. I found a distributor, placed an order, got a confirming email and was quite pleased.
The next morning I received an email from the distributor telling me they were out of stock and couldn’t fill the order. So I tried a different distributor, at twice the price (old joke from my Treasury of Jewish Folklore: 6 kopeks? Sam down the street is selling fish for 3 kopeks! So why don’t you buy from Sam? Because Sam is out of fish. When *I* am out of fish, *I* sell it for 3 kopeks also!). These folks told me right up front – we’re sorry – we cannot ship liquor to NJ. Not really a surprise – I was pretty sure that was true and had been quite surprised when my order had gone through the night before.
Now, however, it was becoming more than wanting to try this drink. Now it was becoming a matter of ‘oh yeah, you think you are so smart you can STOP me from getting what I WANT???’ Time to be creative. I contacted my son and told him to look for it at his stores (because I could see that there WERE stores in Phoenix that carried the Douglas Fir brandy). Then I thought I’d never see it if I left it up to him so I went online again to order it SENT to him and then he could mail it to me. *smile* I’m so clever. Not. Apparently it could not be shipped directly to Arizona either. All the Phoenix stores were out of stock and the nearest store with stock was in Washington. A long drive from Tempe. So now I’m really ticked. This is beyond amusing – I am GOING TO GET THIS BRANDY. Big gun time. I contacted my friend Tess who LIVES in Oregon. Hah! I’ll get someone to walk up and buy a bottle directly and mail it to me.
I contacted Tess (who thought at first I was a spammer because I foolishly used FB messaging instead of simply texting). Once I proved my bona fides (by sending her a photo of the cauliflower ornament in my sukkah) we ended up having a long phone conversation, catching up with our lives. She promised to get me information. The next morning I had an email from her. It supplied the NJ distributor for Clear Creek, the contact’s name, his cell phone, and the fact that he still had 7 cases left. *laughing* We should take that information to the local liquor store and have them order it. I was traveling on business but my husband did indeed take the information to the store. They said they were placing an order that day and they would add the brandy to the order. On Friday my husband went to retrieve our treasure – 2 bottles of Clear Creek Douglas Fir brandy. They’d ordered 4 bottles and we took 2. *laughing* We hadn’t even TASTED it yet.
That night was the big unveiling! Once I’d fed the cats (you remember them, right? black cat, gray cat, white cat), my time was mine. I went outside and cut some fresh rosemary. I rimmed the martini glass with sugar. I assembled the ingredients. I filled the shaker, shook and strained. Placed the rosemary on the glass. BEAUTIFUL!!! I took a sip. Well. Not exactly what I was expecting. 🙂
I’d wondered about the taste when I opened the bottle of brandy. It didn’t really SMELL very much like fir. The drink really didn’t taste much like fir either. It wasn’t bad, mind you, it simply wasn’t the herbally flavor I was imagining. My husband and I discussed it, dissected it. We thought that perhaps substituting genepys des alpes for the vermouth might get it closer to herbs and trees. That was last night’s experiment. Still not matching my desire. My husband wants to mix it with chambord, but I want a green drink, not a pink drink. I want herbs, not fruit. I tried soaking rosemary in a little bit of simple syrup and added that. It might have worked had I given it more time – there really was no rosemary taste. Now I’m looking for rosemary bitters, I see that such a thing exists. I want an herbal, plant flavor. Any suggestions for a recipe?
At last, summer is here. In NJ that means the 3 Hs – Hazy, Hot, Humid. Hot is fine with me. Hazy is tolerable although not preferred. Humid is only good when the temperature is below 85. Above that – we all melt. I guess I am truly aging. There was a time when the humidity didn’t really bother me all that much. Now even I, child of the hot sunshine, find that hot & humid is uncomfortable.
I was working from home last week for several reasons. I had a lot of meetings and if I work from home, I don’t need to use a headset – I can use the laptop speakers instead. After a few hours, any headset is annoying. The company office is air-conditioned of course. And while many are perfectly comfortable with that, I am always freezing if the sun is not beating on the windows there. It was not – it was rainy and hazy on the non-rain days. There were some other good reasons to work from home as well, but those 2 top the list.
Working from home means that I can get up and walk about between calls. I can do chores during my usual commute time, and during lunch. I was possessed by the salad genie and for 2 days I created summer salads. Three of them could be made without any heat, and for the 2 that needed some cooking, I turned on the fans and dealt with it. 🙂 When I rested on the 3rd day I had a fresh green tossed salad, lentil salad, chickpea salad, coleslaw, and a pesto pasta with broccoli.
It’s always fun to watch the food creations come into being, but it was even better because I could walk out to the front garden and clip whatever herbs and lettuce I needed. My brother-in-law gave me the simplest most tasty recipe for coleslaw: shredded lettuce & carrots, mayonnaise, white balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, and basil. I like my coleslaw dry, not wet. I find that 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise mixed with the vinegar is enough sauce for me. I walked out to the garden and clipped 3 types of basil to add to the mix, instead of using dried basil. It was delicious. I know it was because my husband devoured nearly all of it within 2 days. 🙂 (He doesn’t seem to care for the lentils. That’s fine – I LOVE the lentils.)
I used the basil, dill, lettuce, lemon balm, and parsley fresh from the garden as well. Fresh herbs definitely make the flavors pop. We have a farmers’ market every week in town, so we went up to the market and got fresh onions, fresh garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread and pickles. I had a chance to use the salad bowls I’d made many, many years ago when I was still “doing pottery”. They seemed the perfect touch. Dinner was a delicious stuffed bread with fresh veggies and salads. A perfect summer meal when it’s just too humidly hot.
Yesterday I walked about in my bare feet, toes digging into the still-wet earth. The last week has been wonderful for my psyche – the plants are coming back!!!! I walk out each day and simply STARE at the green leaves and the yellow and purple crocuses. I have things coming up where I know I planted something new last year. Unfortunately, the little sign is gone so I’m not sure WHAT it might be. I have other long-loved perennials pushing through as well. I know what they are by where they are, because I don’t always recognize the new growth. Last year I planted the curly grass (you can see it in the top picture) and it made it through the winter. I’m a little sorry I put it where I did, because there is typically a large planter in front of that spot so most people won’t see it unless they are looking at it directly.
It’s also exciting to see how many of my herbs wintered over. In one of the pots I have either lemon balm coming back, or sorrel. Or maybe it’s a weed. *grin* I’m waiting to see. It also appears that both the bay and the rosemary might have made it through the winter as well. I usually lose both of those and have to buy new ones, but they are both still fragrant and supple, even if I’m not seeing new green yet. I can always hope. 🙂 The photos show the lemon thyme, sage and chives that most definitely wintered over.
The crocuses pushed through and the daffodils are all showing buds. I had more poppies but I do not have much luck with them. I’ve planted them several times yet they don’t seem to thrive. There’s only one showing at the moment. I noticed the Monkshood is coming up along the driveway. I try not to plant poisonous plants, but I ordered these last year anyway. It was such a mild winter that I’m wondering if my canna lilies might come back. They never have in the past, so I’m not really expecting them this year either, but there does seem to be something happening in that general region.
Two weeks ago I needed more reassurance that spring would really get here. As I mentioned in the last post, I’d bought some bulbs and tubers. I also placed an order with my favorite online nursery, Heritage Flower Farm. I’ve mentioned before that I ADORE Rudbeckia laciniata var. hortensia, or as they are in the vernacular, the outhouse plant. *grin* Insult them if you wish, but they are gorgeous and a group of them tall and proud in the summer sunshine is a sight to behold.
When I’m ordering plants I try now to stick to perennials. I’m trying to save both dollars and my energy. If it’s going in the ground, I want a perennial. I’ll put the annuals in the big pots. I always want to find flowers for the pollinators – trying to grow native plants. I have very little area that is full sun, so I need plants that will also tolerate shade. And I like tall, bushy, wild-looking plants. Some people do color-themes, but I like a riot of color. Every time I say to myself that yellow is my favorite flower color, I realize that I love orange too, and there’s a lot to be said for red, and you need white to bring out the contrast, and purple picks up the colors in my awnings, and blue is spectacular. You can see why I have LOTS of colors. They are all the best. 🙂
The rest of my current order from Heritage includes Agastache foeniculum Anise hyssop, Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed, and Boltonia asteroides False starwort, Bolton’s aster. The Butterfly weed is to encourage the monarch butterflies that still exist in our area, and it grows 2-3 feet tall. The hyssop blooms later in summer and is blue, when a lot of my late summer is orange and yellow. It grows 3-5 feet and does not require full sun AND the deer don’t like it. Given how often I’ve come home and found a handful of deer grazing on my neighbor’s lawn, I try to find things they DON’T like (and hide the things they do like behind those). The Bolton’s Aster is new for me. I was intrigued by the description and height (6′): “cloud of profuse, spectacular small white daisies cover this 6 foot tall Midwestern native. Exceptional because it flowers in fall”. I’m not sure yet where to plant this. I think I may need to dig up some more of my lawn. 🙂
Soon. Soon. Soon. Digging in the dirt, removing the debris and weeds, preparing the beds. Soon.
As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I love my garden. I love flowers, I love growing herbs for cooking, I love the smell of greenery. I know that I have many bulbs I could dig up and winter-over, but it’s all too much effort at this point. At the same time I’m very happy come the fall and I can stop taking care of all of the plants. 🙂 Maybe some day (that oft-referenced, never-actioned retirement) I’ll be the kind of person to dig up bulbs and store them in the basement. That day is not today. I do, however, attempt to winter over the succulents. They are interesting and comparatively tidy. Even more relevant, however, is the fact that the cats appear to be uninterested in them. This year I also brought in one of the palm trees from the front porch. I’m not sure which species it is exactly, but I checked all of the ones that look like what I have and they were all okay for cats. I bought it at Home Depot so if anyone can put a better identification on it, that would be helpful.
When I had the kitchen updated a bit approximately 12 years ago, I added grow lights to the bay window. I had visions of starting plants from seeds, and growing herbs in the winter. I did some of that but not very much. Instead I’ve been using that area to winter-over the succulents. I started with succulents a few years ago after seeing the beautiful arrangements my sister made. I had one pot, and it was small enough that I could bring it in and out. Last year I expanded to another pot, a big one that was on a roller out front. It weighs a ton. My husband brought it in for me and we had it on the floor by the door to the deck. This year that location is no longer available so we had to lift it up to the window seat in the breakfast room bay window. Oh my, that thing is HEAVY. Two of the three palms had already died by the time we were moving the plants inside, but one of them still appeared to be salvageable. I pruned off all of the obviously brown and broken fronds and we brought that in as well.
The major problem with bringing the plants inside is the water. First I need to remember to water them. Second I need to remember not to over-water them and flood the shelf underneath. The pot in the kitchen is easy – not too big, not too heavy. The other 2 pots are extremely heavy and I thought they might crack anything that wasn’t metal or soft plastic. They are sitting on platters that function but are not aesthetically pleasing. My new kitchen and breakfast room are definitely about aesthetically pleasing. I’m on the hunt for some platter that is attractive, of the correct depth, and waterproof. And THAT’S why there is no picture of the base of the pots! I also moved a grow light into the breakfast room – you can see the pinkish light in the photo. I’m not sure that will be sufficient light for the succulents, but I hope it works. My memory tells me that the palm does NOT need direct sunlight (it was on the porch, after all), so I am hoping that it will have sufficient light from the window and what it gets from the grow light.
Many of my herbs winter-over with no assistance from me. The mint has been coming back for a few years as do the chives. Last year the thyme also managed to save a bit of itself. I take all of the big pots, take the flowers out and put them in the compost (or in the leaf bags) and put the now plant-less pots on the porch. Then I take whichever herbs have survived the frost and cold and place those pots as the second row. They line the railing so they can get whatever sun and rain comes their way. The chives seem to manage on this benign neglect so I put them in the corner where I hope they will get the most sun and rain. We’ll see how the others do. The pot with the rosemary and bay leaves is way too heavy to move. I’ve considered digging up those 2 plants and bringing them inside simply for the lovely smell. Maybe if I get super ambitious this weekend I’ll do that. But if past performance is any indicator of future earnings – probably not that likely. 🙂
And now for the obligatory cat photo. GC was all curled up on the couch. She meowed a few times but obliged me by staying in that spot. She’s such a sweet girl.