More is never enough

seed.packs

I’m so excited about my garden, despite the blanket of snow outside my windows. I’ve decided to try winter sowing this year and so I’ve been busy designing and dreaming, scheming and selecting seeds, and potting and planting them up.

In other years, I’ve planted early crops under a cold frame in March, but this year (and I’m a little late for it) I’ve stuck some seeds out in the snow. Here’s how: Save clear-topped plastic containers, order seeds, fill containers with damp soil, sow seeds, close containers (except for air and drainage holes) and place them in a sunny spot, outdoors. That’s the rough plan, anyway, and a reasonable one, at least, according to my internet search and wintersown.org.

planted.seeds

My internet search also yielded the quote, “More is never enough.”  More googling suggests Marty Rubin as the source of this quote. I have no idea who Marty Rubin is, or the context of the original quote, but feel that in the context of garden planning, it could not be more apt.

I am dreaming big right now. With spinach, arugula, water cress, broccoli, parsley, and a some foxglove now winter sown, I’ve also ordered three kinds of tomatoes, beans, squash, carrots, nasturtiums, zinnias and more. A whole colorful summer garden’s worth of seeds.

As I now consider adding shrubs, perennials, and roses, I realize that late winter garden dreaming is the correllary to seasonal garden ennui. Now is the time for ambitious garden planning. Now is the time when more is never enough.

winter.sown

A summer screenprint and a giveaway!

wild.oats.green.2

Last summer, when my children were squared away in day camp for a few weeks, I decided to teach myself some printing techniques.  I had been admiring beautiful hand-printed tea towels on etsy and felt a persistent itch to try it myself.

I tried out a few different techniques and one of my successful projects was this wild oats print, made by screen print.

To teach myself, I watched what felt like a thousand youtube video tutorials. I wish I could point to one particularly helpful tutorial, but none stood out, though several were helpful. In the end, the clear, step-by-step instructions in the book Print Liberation helped the most.  Plus, the book is edgy enough that it made me feel just a tiny bit hip.

After creating my screen using a photo emulsion technique, I printed on newsprint, I printed on scraps of old sheets and finally, I printed on linen tea towels I had ordered online. None of my prints were perfect but most were satisfying to create.

wild.oats.green1

I printed these wild oats in perky spring green and some in a beautiful fall golden yellow, which some how escaped my camera. I washed, dried, ironed, folded and packed them away to be presents.

Now that Christmas is over, I have officially given them all away… except for one, which I now offer to send to a randomly drawn winner. To enter to win this 100% linen, hand printed tea towel, please leave a comment below. I’ll pick a winner next Friday, January 17th. On the off chance that I don’t actually know you in person or Facebook, please make sure you include your email address in the comment form so I can contact you. (It won’t appear online.) I’m pretty sure the competition will be sparse so give it a try! I can tell you from experience it’s a thrill to win a blog giveaway, no matter what the stakes. (Thanks, Kate at book nook!)

I’ll be posting a few more of my summer printing projects soon, though I can’t promise any more giveaways. In the meantime, my wild oats screen rests in the basement, waiting patiently until next summer.

P.S. I had to include this last photo too. In addition to printing, I was experimenting with staging photos a lot last summer. Those were peonies from my garden. I can hardly belive how dreamy they look! I can hardly wait to get back in the garden!

wild.oats.green.3

On photographs and flowers

zinnias

In addition to vegetables, my garden also produces flowers. Maybe it doesn’t produce the variety I might like (no dahlias, no roses, no aqueligia) but it still thrills me to cut and bring in home-grown flowers. I sometimes fuss and re-arrange the stems and take photos, but before long, I am tossing wilted brown stems into the compost bin.

Earlier this week, I gathered a final bouquet of the summer, wandering, snipping, reflecting, enjoying the garden as it heads toward dormancy. I was so delighted with the resulting bouquet, I posted it in on (you guessed it) instagram and facebook.

final.bouquet.complete

There is much handwringing these days about how we (collectively) over-document our lives, posting photos of our breakfasts, tweeting the splits of our latest run, sharing minutiae. It might be true that in the act of documenting our lives we miss out on living them. Yet, what about the pleasure we get from celebrating (and re-visiting the photos of) the simple and ephemeral moments in our lives?

final.bouquet.2

For me, there is undeniable pleasure in documenting my garden. It is an act of joy and an act of creativity. Sometimes its hard not to share. Forgive me, dear readers, if I sometimes over-share. I may have posted excessively about my hydgrangeas this summer, but I have spared you the snapdragons, foxglove, and clematis, among others. For this year.

mixed.bouquet

One way to dry Hydrangeas

cut hydrangeas

Despite my self-proclaimed garden ennui, I have been spending a little time in the past few weeks tidying up around my yard, trying to tame some of the wild late summer growth. As part of those efforts, I cut back some of my Hydrangea “Annabelle’. (This variety can take heavy pruning, or not – for more info look here.)

Rather than throw these cut stems out, or put them in water, I decided to try drying them.

I took an old copper planter, taped a grid  with floral tape to support the blooms. After stripping off the leaves, I dropped the stems in and stepped back, satistified, but uncertain of how they would look once dried.

Turns out, they look great, almost identical (see photo below). I’m not sure if this qualifies as a craft project, or a gardening project, but either way it was entirely satisfying.

Fresh cut hydrangeas, drying in the fireplace on the left. Three weeks later, fully dried, on the right.

Bringing home the bay laurel


bay laurel and squirrel

I have a new friend. No, not the squirrel, the plant – a bay laurel plant.

I bought this beauty a few days ago at our local farm stand. Not that I need another plant. I was picking up some blueberries, onions, corn for dinner, when I decided to take a peek at the herb plants.

Since I already have a garden full of herbs, I was innured to the charms of the basil, oregano, dill, etc. But, when I saw the bay laurels, they spoke to me. The perfectly oval leaves, the shiny-smooth leaf surfaces, the tinges of red on the leaf edges. Just charming.

I had never, in my memory, noticed a bay laurel plant. I’ve thrown dried bay leaves into various soups, sauces, stews for years and never really considered the source. I was seized by that passion which grips collectors of rare orchids, comic books, whatever. I knew I had to have one.

The pleasure this little sprig has given me in the past few days far outstrips its $4 price tag. I move it from place to place outside, admiring it and hoping it will be happy in my yard.

Since bay laurel is frost sensitive, it will be coming indoors this fall, and keep company with my other houseplants. Perhaps I’ll try to train it into a topiary form. Perhaps I’ll clip and dry some leaves to use in the kitchen. More likely, I’ll just barely keep it alive through the short days of our Massachusetts winter. No matter, it will bring me cheer, perfect or not.

Hydrangeas at home

hydrangea and dew 2

Hydrangeas have to be one of the more magnetic flowers to photograph. Two summers ago, when I was a more dedicated user of instagram, hydrangeas cropped up in my feed regularly. Yet, I didn’t have any growing in my yard.

Last summer, we finally added some in the form of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’. I’ve always had a thing for white and greenish hydrangeas and we were trying to stick with mostly (North American) native plants. ‘Annabelle’ fit the bill on both counts. (Not that I don’t appreciate a hedge row of blue or pink H. macrophylla.)

I also knew I wanted this particular variety because I frequently pass a pair of ‘Annabelles’ in my neighborhood. I used to fantasize about taking a few blooms home with me. So, it was a thrill this morning to go to my own newly established plants and select a few stems to clip and bring inside. There they are – puffy, delicate, frothy, almost delicious-looking.

cut hydrangeas

With plenty of blooms left on the plants, I’ll get to watch the flowers as they weather and change over the rest of the summer, long life and variability being one of the beautiful aspects of most hydrangea blossoms. I’ll probably even cut a few to bring in and dry. Feels almost like having my cake and eating it too.

An old instagram shot of unknow hydrangea with aging blossoms turning pink at the edges.
An old instagram shot of aging hydrangea blossoms turning pink at the edges.

How to press plants like a botanist

ready to press

In May, my yard has been filled with Lily of the Valley. Perhaps this is why I felt so cavelier about pulling these flowers up in bunches for my latest project.

As a botany graduate student, I used to go plant collecting, pressing and saving weeds and specimens to learn and remember. That’s when I acquired this plant press and filled the layers with wild collected specimens of  Gnapthalium, Lespezeda, and Verbascum.

Only recently did I think to use my plant press to preserve specimens from my garden. Since I hadn’t used the press in years, I ordered new supplies: cardboard ventilators to go in between specimens, white paper blotters to help absorb moisture as the plant dries out, and new straps to pull the flat layers of the plant press tight. (That’s why the blotters look so fresh and clean in the photo.)

plant press

Once my new plant press supplies arrived, I pulled up some lily of the valley and got started. To press them, each plant should go inside a few layers of newspaper, and any notes about the plant or collection date can be scrawled on the paper. I wanted these specimens to be decorative, so I tried to spread the leaves out a little before closing the newspaper and placing it between newspaper and blotter layers.

pressing.plant

Each specimen, inside its folded newspaper gets stacked on top of a white blotter layer and then on a cardboard ventilator. These layers – cardboard, blotter, plant in newspaper then get stacked up like a layer cake and placed between the wooden ends of the plant press.

pressed

With my stack of plants and papers organized in my press, I put the straps around it, pressed down on the top board, and tightened the buckles. Admittedly, there was a crunching sound – not something I remember from my earlier days studying botany, and something that made me wince.

pressed lily of the valley

A week later, I opened the press up and found this, beautifully pressed specimen. Not sure why but it was a thrill. I’ll let these pressed plants dry a few more weeks and then mount them, maybe frame them. We’ll see….

Starting Seeds

planting kale

Finally. I’ve planted some seeds for my vegetable garden. Last Monday, I sewed cool season crops: arugula, beets, kale and spinach. I was so excited to get started, I probably didn’t amend the soil enough, but I did manage to turn the soil with some slow release fish fertilizer. Hope its enough.

indoor.seed.planting

Yesterday, I started tomatoes and a few watermelons indoors, in jiffy pots. This is the first time I’ve used Jiffy pots. For years, I used an elaborate tray system with a wicking layer to keep the soil moist, but those seemed to have “disappeared” during a shed clean out. I suspect my husband.

planted.beet.seeds

I can’t wait to see these seeds geminate – its probably my favorite part of growing from seed. The sight of a tiny white root (botanically speaking, “the radicle”) sticking out of a seed never fails to thrill me. And when the curve of the first shoot sticks up from the soil as it unfolds out of the seed? Even better.