Monday, January 26, 2015

Need a Theme Garden?

Iris "Autumn Riesling"
I love a good theme garden and by theme it could be any of the following (and more):

* All one color
* All one kind of plant (like hosta, daylily and etc.)
* Names (like names of family)

A little history:  I was posting to my daughter's Pinterest page (Market Alley Wines) under the page for "Wine Garden".  Posting to a Pinterest page, used by a business, is rather time consuming and as a small business owner my daughter simply doesn't have the time to keep up a Pinterest page.  To generate interest in her Pinterest page, it must have many posts/pictures on a regular basis which then generates many "pins and likes" which then creates interest in her business.  I've gladly taken on her Pinterest page and it gave me an idea for this article.  

Iris "Champagne Elegance"
I receive updates from Schreiner's Iris Gardens and the latest is their Spring catalog.  So many beautiful iris, some historic, others new, in all different colors and types.  I used their photos of bearded iris with the names related to "wine" to post to the "Wine Garden" category.

Schreiner's catalog lists their iris alphabetically and I simply scroll through them looking for "wine" themed names.  I will say to those not used to searching by names, people who hybridize plants and then name them are a fun and interesting bunch.  The names will amaze and amuse you.  

Iris "Champagne Waltz"
 Here's what I pulled from Schreiner's (and "yes" I've bought their iris and "yes" they are as beautiful as they look in the catalog.) 

As you get ready for some January 26, 2915 garden dreaming, maybe a theme garden is in your future?  Or maybe a cold winter day of looking at pretty flowers is enough.  

Iris "Sweeter Than Wine"
Iris "Wine Spritzer"
Iris "Fine Wine"
Iris "Chilled Wine"

Friday, January 23, 2015

Garden Vignettes

Small walk of pavers runs through perennial beds.

Don’t you just love to roll the word “vignette” around in your mouth like ice cream on a hot day?

Vignettes are primarily used in the literary world but a garden vignette is a fun proposition.  Used in the garden sense it’s a little area where you’ve made a beautiful, mostly private, setting.  It’s not the whole expanse of yard, it’s that little nook people see when happening upon it while walking.

Occasionally, garden vignettes are nature made like walking a park path and all of a sudden there’s a rock formation or a waterfall.  In yards, vignettes are usually purposeful and designed.

Do you need a park like property to have garden vignettes?  Not really and the possibilities are many.  Some of the possibilities are: 

Down and around a shade walk.
Privacy and isolation:  The space should feel like it’s in another world.  It allows people the opportunity to “feel” as if they are no longer a part of the maddening masses. 

Color and texture: The choices of color and drama reflect the “feeling” you’re invoking.  Soft pastels or all green will calm.  Bright colors and sharp textures will brighten and invigorate.  Do you want the place to bring a bit of peace to your world or hit you with the WOW factor?

Besides nature:  A garden vignette should allow an opportunity to stop for a bit.  Whether designer furniture or a log, being able to sit a spell is an added bonus. 

Getting there:  Garden vignettes look accidental and for that to happen a path of some kind should direct you and your visitors.  One of the compliments I’ve received on my gardens was from a contractor working on something else who talked about how much fun it was to go from point “A” to point “B” and discover some little surprise alcove along the way.  If you’re thinking you can’t afford to lay 2,000 yards of poured concrete to get a path, paths to vignettes can be as casual as mowed grass or mulch. 

Missing the point:  A garden vignette shouldn’t be so well hidden no one ever finds it and you forget to visit, too. 

Tucked in a corner and under the roses and lilacs.
Size:   Garden Vignettes can be a miniature garden tucked into the corner of a porch or the entire area behind and around a structure.  Homeowners may erect a small train landscape over a hill or a major park may have a fifty-foot waterfall at the end of a trail. 

The blessings of accidents:  Some vignettes present their opportunity because you planted some perennial evergreen trees and bushes to hide something, for privacy or as a windbreak.  Others may be the result of a stack of fieldstone someone gave you for free and you never got around to making that patio. 

Keeping up the upkeep:  Garden vignettes can fast become just another weed filled corner unless they are faithfully tended.  Because many are in shaded areas, this helps to inhibit weed growth.  They can also be difficult to mow so making them without lawn grass helps that issue.  Water features most always need regular and routine care.

Looking under the pine branches towards a bird bath.
Location ideas:  (A) Corners provide perfect opportunities.  (B) A view only seen from a certain window or while sitting on the porch/patio.  (C) Tucked into the bushes by an entry door.  (D) Incorporated into the fencing.  (E) Under low hanging bushes or trees.

I remember the Congregational Church in Kewanee used to have this serene garden vignette.  It was the result of a few large pines, rocks and one huge evergreen bush trimmed up on one side to allow small statuary and flowers.  (Today it has lost its “vignetteness” because no one with that vision tends it anymore.)

Whether for your personal pleasure or for guests, adding garden vignettes is another garden tool worth contemplating.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Why Soup?

My old cooking stov

I inherited the “Student’s Manual in Household Arts – FOOD AND COOKERY” published in 1915.  It belonged to my dad’s oldest sister, Fern Shenk.  Aunt Fern was born in 1888, never married and taught school. She used this book in the classroom. 

The book is designed to teach young girls the art of homemaking and much of it could be used today.  Take out how to clean and light a coal or wood cook stove, it’s chocked full of practical advice for all kinds of household chores no matter whose shoulders it falls on today.

Because it’s soup weather, I thought you’d enjoy some information from the “Exercise V - Creamed Soups”.  So much of early cooking had to do with using what was available, how to use all parts of plants and animals and how to keep things from spoiling.

My Grandma's Hoosier cabinet 
Soup not only tastes good, it’s economical by stretching the supply of meat and vegetables, it contains a lot of nourishment and is easily digested.

The point of creamed soup:

It used the tough and indigestible parts of vegetables, which were later, strained out, leaving the bits of tender portions and nutrients.  The old “waste not – want not” adage.   After storing vegetables in the basement larder, they began to be less than prime as winter progressed.

Vegetables were preserved according to their type.  Root vegetables were kept cool and picked over regularly to make sure anything rotting was removed promptly.  Many vegetables, fruits and meats were either fermented or canned in jars.  Still others were dried.

Food storage
Realize in this era, the most up to date refrigeration was a block of ice in a heavy zinc or porcelain-lined wood cabinet.  Not having that luxury, a zinc lined box attached to the outside of the window in cold climates, brick lined flues in basement floors or submersion in the outside well would keep other things from spoiling – hopefully. 

Once the vegetables are strained through a large-hole sieve, the remaining vegetables are rubbed through a strainer.  This is reheated and a warm white sauce is added just before serving.

Never boil creamed soup after the white sauce or cream is added.  It will cause the soup to curdle.  Curdled soup doesn’t poison but it’s less than tasty or pretty.  I personally don’t like creamed soup thickened with cornstarch although it’s easier.  I make rue from butter, flour and milk (cream if you like living on the edge of cholesterol city) and beat with a whisk until smooth.

I enjoyed the book’s instruction on how to serve creamed soup:  “Never crumble bread or crackers into the soup because it will make an untidy soup plate filled with crumbs.”  Well OK then.  A rule I do wholeheartedly agree with:  “Each soup bowl should be heated.” 

And because I know you want to know:  “The soup spoon is placed to the right of the teaspoon, which is to the right of the knife, which is to the right of the plate, which is under the soup bowl.” 

And because you really do want to know:  “In eating soup, the side of the spoon farthest from you should be dipped into the soup, the spoon should then be raised to the mouth and the soup silently sipped from the side of the spoon.”  I’m old enough to remember when people actually did this because you were a disgusting clod if you didn’t.   Not to mention comments about how you were raised and your general over all intelligence level.  Manners were taken seriously in those days and I’m still OK with that.

For those of you who preserved asparagus from your garden this year (or went to the grocery), here’s a simple recipe:

Fresh Asparagus from my garden
“Cream of Asparagus Soup”

1 bunch of asparagus (or one can)
2 ½ C of water
1 slice of onion
Speck of pepper
2 C milk
4 T butter
4 T flour
1 ½ t salt

Remove the tips of asparagus and save to garnish soup.  Cook stalks, water and onion together for twenty minutes then rub through a strainer.  Mike a white sauce from the butter, flour and milk and add to the strained asparagus.  Season with salt and pepper (adjust to taste) and add asparagus tips and reheat but don’t boil.  Serve with toast.  For a modern touch, sprinkle with grated fresh Parmesan cheese.

It’s the perfect meal for a cold winter evening. 

Side Note:  Bishop Hill, Illinois, Colony Potter, Jeffrey Goard, makes some of the best soup bowls (along with his many other works of art) I've ever used.  They hold the heat, are ample in size, and are so beautiful any soup improves.  Seriously fabulous!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Sparkling Shepherdess

I have a sparkling shepherdess living on my dining room table and it’s not as messy as it sounds.  It’s an Amaryllis – pronounced “am-uh-RIL-us” and the name comes from Greek mythology.   The horticultural name is Hippeastrum.

I’ve bought Amaryllis bulbs for years in colors of reds, pinks, peach and combinations.  This year I have a delicious icy lime green and it’s stunning.

I’ve found cheap Amaryllis bulbs most always bloom and the blooms are wonderful.  This year I bought a huge healthy bulb from Green View Nursery in Dunlap.  When I talk cheap and expensive for Amaryllis bulbs I’m talking a range of $5 to $20.  There are Amaryllis bulbs for hundreds of dollars if that’s your thing. 

Here’s how the Sparkling Shepherdess goes:

The bulb:  The larger the bulb (typically from a nursery) the taller the stem, the more stems, the more flowers and the more varied flower choices.  The bulb must not be dried out, should be healthy and heavy;  like a firm healthy onion.  Do not knock off the dried looking roots at the bottom or the papery covering.  If you buy a more inexpensive bulb, make sure you can see and touch it first.  It’s OK if it’s already sprouted.

The pot:  Often it’s recommended you plant the bulb in a small shallow pot.  Do not do it even if you get that little plastic one in the box.  It’s how you place the bulb that is the key to success.  This year I used a pot that was 8 inches tall and wide.   It must have a drainage hole and sit on some kind of a saucer.  Overwatering or sitting in water will rot the bulb.  I placed a round coffee filter in the bottom of the pot.  Next I added about 2 inches of glass marbles, then two inches of potting soil.  I gently placed the bulb on the soil and gently spooned more potting soil around the bulb until 2/3 of the bulb was covered; tapping it to firm.  Do not cover top third of the bulb or it will rot.   The reason I chose a big heavy weighted-bottom pot is because the plant will be very top heavy when it blooms.

The Watering:  Sit the pot over the drain of your sink or other waterproof site.  Gently pour water over the soil – not the bulb.  I use the word gently because if you dump a whole hard stream of water all at once, you’ll have a mess and the bulb will rot.  Gently poor water over the soil until it is wet to the bottom.  Let it totally drain and place on the saucer in good light.  Do not water again until it has dried.  Empty any water that flows into the saucer.  Repeat through it’s life cycle.  Do not overwater and never water the top of the bulb! 

The other stuff:  I kept my bulb beside my kitchen sink, which has a west window, and this worked perfectly for light and monitoring.  Finally three leaves sprouted and then three stems started upward; reaching 18 inches.  Last week the top of one stem blossomed out into three stunning flowers.  Tomorrow there will be another stem with flowers.  In another week, the third stem will flower.   Because the stems reach for the light, I turned the pot every day.   

The Flowers:  It takes an Amaryllis bulb from 6-8 weeks to sprout and bloom.  The leaves are inconsequential to the plant’s beauty. The flowers have the shape of a lily and no matter the cost it will have beautiful flowers.  Some folks plant several bulbs in pot.

The after party:  Don’t throw the finished plant away.   Continue to treat it like any other houseplant.  Do not over water.  This is where you do everything right or be like me and forget you have the bulb because you put it in the basement and when you go down for the Christmas decorations and you happily start again.

The right way:  Give it a little fertilizer in the winter and keep in bright winter sun.  When the temps are over 50 degrees in the late spring, move outside.  Some put the pot outside and others plant the bulb in the ground (plant same depth.)  The more sun, fertilizer and water it gets in the ground, the more leaves it will grow, the more photosynthesis occurs and the bigger the bulb grows.  Lift the bulb before it freezes in the fall.  Brush off soil, cut off the leaves to about 2 inches and let the bulb’s roots dry.  Keep in a cool dark place (brown paper bag hung on the basement works for me.)   Pot up about 8 weeks before you want blooms. 

The bottom line:  Don’t be intimidated by the few rules for Amaryllis plants, they are well worth it for these spectacular sparkling winter flowers.