Sunday, May 25, 2008

soon, salad

The cold frame is the place for my baby lettuces, and a couple of overwintered spinaches and one big head of lettuce. To keep cats and rabbits and other rascals out of them, we exclude them with a pair of screens made of wire fencing.

This big juicy butter head lettuce that overwintered has been feeding us salad already. Pat told me I can let it flower and seed, because lettuces are open pollinated and the seeds should be true to the parent. I think that's what she told me, I should look it up, too.

And hardening off the basils, peppers, celosias, and some various other herbs.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Three Umbelliferae (what is the plural?) in a row. Big: Angelica archangelica, a self-sowing biennial great-big herb. Needs an adequately watered spot.

Smaller: Sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata, one of my favorite spring herbs for its tasty leaves and seeds. I'd call it a short lived perennial in the situation where I have it planted, so I watch for seedlings to coddle.

... and little Chervil, Anthriscus cerefolium. A biennial that sets seeds early. The plant dies off in the summer so you must leave some ripening seed. A lesson in not being too tidy. The seedlings appear later in the summer or early fall, staying green all winter.

Some kind of a yellow and green variegated Artemisia that I picked up last year at a yard sale, family Compositae.

Ginkgo biloba, a whip when I planted it, now it's as tall as me, a small tree. Patience.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Monday in the Backyard Herb Garden

Recap of our volunteer work day at the county extension demonstration herb garden:
Sharron and Gloria met me in garden to work, we worked from 9-1:30 with a small learning break. Mike brought 12 pails of compost. We spread it and dug some of it in.

We planted:
1 very small ginkgo tree (a bare rooted whip I purchased at Genesee Conservation District last year and grew in a pot)
1 white common yarrow (Flint Yard and Garden plant sale)
3 Achillea 'Terra Cotta' yarrow (Bluestone Perennials)
3 Dianthus 'Bath's Pink' (Bluestone Perennials)
onions in 'compost bed' (donated by Pat Whetham)
several seed packets in "compost bed": arugula, swiss chard, kale, dill (seed from Meijers), french sorrel(seed from JLHudson Seedsman).
10 calendula seedlings in culinary circle (seed from Michigan Herb Associates) .

We paused for some herb learning time:
I brought herb butter to sample on a sliced baguette.
(Recipe: whipped butter, lemon zest and fresh lemon juice, and minced chervil, chives, and a little winter savory. We discussed using and freezing herb butter wrapped in waxed paper and shaped in a log as shown in the photo.
This butter we sampled would be great served with poached salmon or chicken, eggs, or on steamed Michigan asparagus.)

I brought bottles of my dried chervil, parsley, chives, and french tarragon to compare with fresh herbs. All these herbs are ready to use fresh from the garden right now. In each case, the fresh samples I picked would be miles better to use right now than last summer's dried herbs.
We also talked about lovage and ginkgo.

I brought some useful books:
For identifying plants: The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers- Eastern by Neiring and Olmstead (Knopf)
For i.d. plus information on medicinal uses of plants: Peterson Field Guides Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Foster and Duke, (Houghton Mifflin)
A great little book on using herbs: The Herbal Pantry by Tolley and Mead, (Potter)

I'd like to say a special thanks to Kathy who the painted Herb Garden sign. The color is what I'd call a sort of French lavender blue - it looks great! I'll have to take a photo of it next time I stop by the garden.
Special thanks also goes to Mike for hauling more buckets of compost, and for working on the drainage tile quest. These additions to the garden will be a big improvement.
And loads of appreciation goes to Gloria who led the way double digging that compost into the bed where we planted the yarrow.
Thanks goes in advance to Karen for offering to be our 'watering angel' for the seeds we just planted.
Finally, big thanks to Sharron as well for the hard work on Monday - we always comment the garden looks better after a work session. Sharron offered to map the garden when she can get there on her own because we are always tired out after working on our gardening projects.
The working volunteers are what makes the project good.

a chicken mansion

Saw this on Craig's List - wouldn't you love to come home and find one of these in the backyard? In my next life: bees, chickens and a small lady goat.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's still Spring here

May is Morel Month in Michigan

That was the title of a pamphlet I picked up from the Extension years ago and it just sticks in my mind and comes out my mouth whenever I come across anything to do with these delicious native mushrooms. Talk about fungi perfecti!
I just saw a sign on the local gourmet deli/store advertising morels and it reminded me of this: A couple of weeks ago my kids took me to Eastern Market in downtown Detroit (I picked up a couple of herbs and a beautiful Rex begonia) for my birthday and my son Skip bought a pound! of morels and split them with me. Later we went to one of the very nicest restaurants I've been to in all my years, and we had a memorable meal.
We were done in when we came home, and cooking a gourmet supper (or ANY supper for that matter!) was too much to even consider! so I did what I could - I picked the primo morels out of the bunch to use the next day (I like a buttery morel sauce over pasta) and I dehydrated the rest. I ended up with about a pint jarful to store for other meals.
I took a blurry photo to remember our day.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A jumble of spring wildflowers

A bed of wildflowers, all in a jumble. Too many ferns, volunteer Forget-me-nots, thug Columbines but some goodies managed to settle in, too.

I'm very fond of this Early Meadow Rue: Thalictrum dioicum of the Buttercup Family. Bees love it and when the slightest breeze wafts by, it twinkles.

We always call these Canada Anemones: Anemone canadensis of the Buttercup Family.

These glossy flowered early bloomers are commonly called Swamp (or Marsh) Buttercups: Ranunculus septentrionalis of the Buttercup Family. Buttercups in general are garden thugs, but this one stays neat.

I'm pretty sure this one is False Rue Anemone: Isopyrum biternatum. Another member of the Buttercup Family. Too tiny to be a garden bully. The bigger leaves are columbines, and the purple leaves are Labrador violets.

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis. Another member of the Buttercup Family. I wish this one was more vigorous in spreading. Too bad it's not as bumptious as it's Buttercup Family cousins, because the roots are collected for folk medicine and are becoming rare. The flowers are very temporary.

I love the way Trilliums turn pink when they're beginning to fade: Trillium probably grandiflorum. I say that because it turns pink with age, it doesn't smell, it doesn't nod, the flowers have stalks, and there is no marking on the petals. That's as far as my field guide goes, so I say T. grandiflorum. Same family as Wild Oats, the Lily Family.

How did that Wild Cranesbill geranium get there? I guess it wants to duke it out with the ferns. Geranium maculatum of the Geranium Family.

Jack in the Pulpit from the Arum Family: Arisaema triphyllum.

This one stumps me. I thought it was a skunk cabbage when I dug it up, but it hasn't bloomed - probably too dry where it's planted. Looks like some kind of Arum to me.

Now this one is Wood Poppy, a.k.a. Celandine Poppy: Stylophorum diphyllum of the Poppy Family. I'm pretty sure.

Mayapples under the quince in another bed, between the peony and some bigroot cranesbill geranium. Some people call Mayapples Mandrake, but it's not the hoo-hoo Mandrake of legend. Podophyllum peltatum of the Barberry Family. I just noticed in my field guide that Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla is also in the Barberry Family.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Miniature Bearded Irises

Bloom after Dutch Irises, but before the Florentine Irises, which are followed by the German Bearded Irises. I associate the minis with garage sales (the Michigan equivalent of yard sales because we need cover in case of rainfall) because one year everyone who walked by the blooming mini irises (one their way up the driveway to the sale) wanted to buy them. To heck with the one dollar blue jeans!

I probably could have made some money off of them, but I didn't sell them, and I don't trade my irises because I wouldn't want to plague anyone else with my iris borers. You see the shot holes in a few of the leaves? I've had iris borers for years, some years worse than others. I spoke on the subject to an iris expert in his own yard one time and he told me of the extreme measures needed to attempt to defeat borers (and he did battle them), and I decided right then and there that life was too short to use nukes in my garden.
It kind of defeats the purpose of gardening when you turn away from nature, and nurture, and life giving, doesn't it? Just wrap the whole thing in a coating of chemicals?
I'll settle on digging and cleaning, and accept the results.

Another Rainy Day

And I had a day off to play outside in my own garden, shoot!
Yes, I say "shoot", I wonder where that came from?
Shoots are good things in the garden, unless they're weeds.

Anyway, it's another rainy day, and I shouldn't whine. The weather bureau says our through-April cumulative snowfall for the winter was 2 tenths of an inch short of a record which was good. The ground and the trees need recharging.
But here with my tuna can measure I've accumulated under half an inch of rain this past several weeks when we should normally have collected at least a good inch a week.
The spring flowers have been tremendous, but the leaves of the trees could use a good rainy boost right now while they're expanding.
By the way, we had our first hearty salad meal last night, the few lettuces that overwintered in my cold frame are huge, sweet and succulent, and it felt so good to bring in a bowlful of home-grown leaves! And the baby lettuces are growing so prettily for summer salads.

So I'm indoors and maybe this would be a good time to talk a little about the Home Street garden project, of which I'm a volunteer gardener along with my gardening friend Sharron, some Master Gardeners, some Applewood volunteers, and some Land Bank people.

A few weeks ago four of us canvassed the neighborhood - I think we passed out seventy or so invitations - going door to door to reintroduce ourselves to the neighbors. Unfortunately the people we talked to the longest were unable to come to our meeting for health and scheduling reasons. But we did have some good conversations. Seven of us met at the church on the corner, the minister there is welcoming and willing to work with bringing out some of his people. If all goes as discussed, we will have a foothold in the community now.

We made a calendar, but Sharron and I showed up last week to pull weeds for a couple of hours before our first scheduled work day which was yesterday. We noted that the dead tree has toppled during the winter - part of it hit the roof of the vacant house next door. Someone needs to take care of that tree!

Yesterday five of us pulled most of the straw off of the beds and did some weeding and edging and cleaning up. We have a full lawn bag with winter accumulated trash - bottles, glass, food wrappers and so on. The used straw was going in the composting corner - somebody needs to build some bins!

I had to talk to convince Phil to keep the straw on a bed a la Ruth Stout. I read her "How To Have A Green Thumb Without Having An Aching Back" and all that straw on the compost beds being piled in the corner for future composting could just as easily be left in place for mulch to supress weeds and keep the moisture from disappearing. Only weeders and waterers would choose 'beauty' over utility, and for my gardener's eye, a well mulched garden looks healthy and beautiful.

Sharron had the idea to make a new straw-only bed near the Home Street sidewalk and plant sweet potatoes in it, which is a flash of inspiration. Why didn't we have sweet potatoes in the plan! Our new trainee volunteer, Nickie, was telling us about all the mouthwatering ways she uses sweet potatoes, and for me they are the embodiment of comfort food.

And our little depressed urban neighborhood surely needs some comfort. We hear gunfire occasionally while we're working, but I'm learning the folks there live with that as background noise, like the sound of cars and buses and smells of cooking.
A man was killed by gunfire on our block in early April, and while we were standing outside of the church after that first meeting, we had our first taste of immediate gun violence, a man on a truck was firing a handgun up the street while driving north on MLK Boulevard.
Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. What is this Beirut?
No, it is a depressed, forgotten neighborhood in the middle of the United States of America, a neighborhood with good people living there who tend their own yards and talk to us strangers, and who don't deserve these abandoned houses, and slum landlord owned rental properties, and the community decay that comes with powerlessness.
But I digress.

So we are ready for another truck load of compost to be dumped and wheelbarrowed in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mothers Day Recap

Tony and Ashley picked out a green pear scented soy candle for me and brought the grandbaby girls over for me to hug for a little while. They are so charming.
Skip and Tree sent a pretty flower arrangement in a perfect for me ceramic box with white roses and lilies and we had a nice long phone conversation.
Patrick? You tell me. Ashley says he probably worked the Mothers Day shift so his colleagues could have the holiday off. She is sweet and I like to think that way too. But I miss him and we will see him in a few weeks now. Knock on wood.
Frankly, seeing and hearing and hugging is tops with me.

Today after I came home from the Home Street garden I was doing some paperwork and the patio door was open. I kept thinking I was breathing in the fragrance of some spring flowers, or maybe my neighbor was drying her clothes with some new fabric softener. I went outdoors for a minute ... hmm? Just everyday springish nice air ... the scent was in the house. Of course, it took a while for this old nose to figure it out - Skip and Tree's flowers were scenting the whole room. It was the lily there on the table, doing what lilies do.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rainy day

It's damp, drizzly, and Monday morning, when I should be working at the demo Herb Garden at the Extension, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about that project.

We had a good initial meeting two weeks ago at the Extension office. I had received a list of trainee volunteers from the last Master Gardener class, and had passed around a volunteer sign up sheet at the April M.G. meeting, so I had a lot of potential volunteers. I sent e-mails to 10 and 9 showed up for the meeting. We are already doing better than last year!

Terry reserved a room for us so the cold weather wasn't an issue. For introductions we talked about why each of us wanted to work in this project - to learn about herbs was the common response, and what our assets were that we could bring to the project. All except my gardening friend Sharron are Master Gardeners and most are also involved with other gardening volunteer projects. For example Gloria is a former florist who is also working on a raised bed herb garden for seniors in her town. Mike has a small farm, selling compost, mums and pumpkins in the fall, just put up a greenhouse and planted herbs in hope of getting into
business wants to learn about the plants he's growing.

Kathy offered right away to spruce up and paint the Herb Garden sign. Margaret offered to bring a Mideastern chicken and rice herbal dish made with garam masala that she makes for our lunch one week. Mike offered to bring tubs of his compost and he has a line on some old drainage tiles that we could use in the Tea bed for restraining the mints. Sharron has graphic art talent and will finally make me a good map of the plot.
Doesn't this sound like a great group?

As a group we decided to meet on Monday mornings to work in the garden with an eye to having it in good shape for the Genesee County Master Gardener Garden Tour at the end of June.

We toured the garden, and I noted that some of our Master Gardeners hadn't even been back there yet. Terry printed up copies to distribute of a nice Extension bulletin that I'd found on the Internet, from the University of Kentucky, on growing culinary herbs, which is a good place for new herbies to begin learning about herbs.

Back indoors I had a snack ready to share, of course, tiny heart-shaped lavender short scones (biscuits, really), that I made that morning, with a delicious Queen Anne's Lace jelly that I had purchased from Donna Frawley who spoke at the Herb Symposium two days before.

We ended the meeting with a project. I brought bottles and bags of dried herbs from my garden and also from last year's Extension herb garden. We discussed making herbal tea (tisane) from dried herbs as we passed around sample herbs. I discussed my favorite herbal tea book for beginners The Herbal Tea Garden by Marietta Marshall Marcin (Garden Way, 1993).
We made our own personal herbal tea blends and each of us made two teabags to take home, using paper tea bags that you fill yourself and seal with an iron. (I got them from Nichol's Garden Nursery which you can find online.)

I dug up some more names, and sent some more e-mails out, and got no responses. (Howd'ya like that?) Last Monday we nine met in the garden and set to work. Luckily the fall cleanup went well, so the two to three hours were mainly spent cleaning up the debris of winter.
I brought dandelion tea to sample, and talked about dehydrating the leaves of the young dandelion for a spring tonic tea and the roots which I grind for a mineral rich winter tea. I brought along a package of a commercial health food store tea called Dandy Blend to compare with my bottle of home ground dandelion root. They look and taste a lot different!
Dandy Blend had a cute picture of a dandelion on the label and it is very tasty and good for you. But it is pricey, on par with instant coffee I'd guess. The label of Dandy Blend calls it Instant Dandelion Beverage, but lists roasted barley, rye, chicory root, dandelion root and beetroot. It tastes like Postum which is chicory, I think.
Dandelion root, dehydrated and ground, has a bland flavor. I rather like the Dandy Blend better but like I said it is spendy, so my idea is to mix it half and half with my ground dandelion root.

I think I'll try to do a herb oriented demonstration like this every time we meet, and the volunteers who want to know more about herbs can learn that herbs are just plants that have a use.
Growing herbs is no different from growing flowers and vegetables.
And there is no secret to using them - but there is a secret it seems in today's busy, packaged food oriented society to using herbs, and that is to learn something you want to try and then to actually DO it.
Like the Nike ad suggests.
Only... the weather has to cooperate!

Now for some photos. Here are Calendula flowers drying in my dehydrator. The flavor is so minimal with calendula petals, and retaining the color and shape are important. The dehydrator does a good job in this instance.

A closeup of a herbal tea (tisane) blend: the flowers are of pineapple sage, Salvia elegans.

I 'garbled' the dried leaves from the stems over a clean bedsheet. You can grow a large quantity of herbal tea plants in a very small amount of space and with
minimal expense. You can be confident of how they were grown and how they were harvested and processed. You can have fun making your own custom blends.
So why buy commercial?

Added Note: While I was looking through my photos for something else, I ran across this one of my dandelion project. So I'm adding it later here in this post where it belongs, with the dandelion tea tale. Which may be stepping on Blogging Ethics but I'm doing it anyway.

What you see is my bag of dried leaves, a tray of dried roots and crowns, and my dedicated to herbs coffee grinder with ground root.

Another stepping stone

My friend Norma sent me this photo of her stepping stone to share with you. She was pondering what color of grout to use, and had the inspired idea of using white grout for background but making the butterfly 'pop' by painting the grout around the butterfly with black enamel paint.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday - Daffodils for Mom

The photos are from a couple of weeks ago, but their sunny color brightens up my day and I hope yours. I used to give my Mom daffodils, so they mean sonmething to me.

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature Lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

stepping stones and checkered lilies

I made this one in Norma's community ed class. The next one will be better.

I earned this one a couple of years ago. Whoa, now that I look at the photo I see I should have taken a whisk broom to it before our photo shoot.

Fritillarias - these little checkered lilies, what some call guinea hen flowers, grow for me. And the sow themselves everywhere, sometimes with white flowers. The big impressive stinky Frits that I'd love to grow last one year and die. Why is that?

With a closer look you can see the checkered pattern in the petals: