Category Archives: Gardening

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.” ~Ruth Stout


“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” ~Charles Dickens

By early March, my spirit yearns for warmth, color, the earth reborn…A flush of green tinges the meadow, a hopeful sign. I’ve started seeds in the greenhouse and, to my delight, most are coming up. Baby violas are potted in readiness, with the promise of more diminutive pansies to follow. Flats of sweet alyssum will go out among the earliest flowers to perfume the air and attract pollinators. Spinach and cabbage seedlings await transplanting. Parsley is showing its face. I’ll seed more herbs and vegetables soon, like heirloom lettuce, basil, sweet peppers, and tomatoes. And flowers–always. I may even start peas indoors this year because our soil is so wet they may rot otherwise.

We’ve had a drenched winter after last year’s drought, and the weather shows no indication of letting up. No one wants a drought again, just ‘normal’ weather. Daughter Elise and I are sorting through seed packets from last year and carefully ordering more. The greenhouse will soon burst with new life.

“Every spring is the only spring — a perpetual astonishment.” ~Ellis Peters

In the garden, I greet tiny pendulous snowdrops, an old friend. These delicate bulbs are tough as nails. The spreading mounds began from a handful of bulbs daughter Alison planted as a small child. Our much-loved pussywillow was son Cory’s choice as a wee lad. Fuzzy catkins line its branches like the tiny kittens the pussywillow is named for. Daffodils, tulips, and the green points of crocus leaves are emerging. I plant more bulbs each fall. Discovering them is like an Easter egg hunt. The faithful snow crocus made its appearance yesterday. ‘Tis my dream to have masses of crocus everywhere, filling the yard. How splendid that would be. A great trumpet of spring.

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” ~Proverb

In the Midst of Winter–Wrens!


Since summer, we have had a tippy-tailed little bird bobbing around the back garden (Cone flower with Red Admiral Butterfly in the garden)and visiting the feeder that hangs near the pussy willow. As winter closes in on us–and it looks to be a cold one–we hear bird song. And it’s not only our mental mockingbird.

(Royalty free image of house wren. I haven’t gotten a good pic of ours yet)

Yesterday, I spied the singer up in the crabapple tree. Today, he sang from the pussy willow. But the really fun thing is that there’s a half-dozen wrens darting about. Never before have we had a flock of wrens. Must be my reward for planting more native wildflowers, and leaving evergreen shrubs unpruned until they are massive. Last years garden growth remains for spring cleaning. Tansy, catnip, massive native asters, parsley, seed heads…are still out there. Rather, a tangle. The moral of this gardening story is, if you’re untidy you get wrens.

I’ve added peanut butter, suet, and apples to the feeding choices in the back garden, though the wrens seem happy with sunflower seeds. When it gets bitter, I will refill the bird bath often and add extra fruit to the meld. My hope is to attract more fun birds.

(Inside looking out from our sunspace. Geraniums love it)

This past summer, especially late summer/fall, we had scores of butterflies visit the garden as a result of the copious flowers. They visited coreopsis, zinnias, coneflowers, bee balm, Queen Anne’s Lace, black-eyed Susan, phlox, tithonia, catnip, thyme., and many more offerings. The biggest bird draw were all the sunflowers, but they also like the flower seed heads. Insect eaters have plenty of bugs. Bees were also frequent garden visitors. The beautiful rose-colored flowering buckwheat was a hit and will make a return to the garden.

(Cone flower with Red Admiral Butterfly in the garden)

This spring, cleaning up and cutting back old growth awaits us, and some mulching. Replanting will follow. Winter takes its toll. But we are well on our way to a nature habitat.

Hubby Dennis is fixing up my greenhouse and will add a heat source. I am giddy at the thought of soon being back in there. I might even grow edibles.

Reports and pics to come.

A Glorious June In The Garden


The Shenandoah Valley has been blessed with a lovely June this year, not too hot, and we’ve received enough rain to water the crops and the garden(s). I relish the good earth while I can. Summer inevitably gets hit with heat, drought, and bugs, but before all that, this is the Garden of Eden, or as near as I’m likely to come. The battle to survive without succumbing to nature’s harsher summer side lies ahead. But I have prepared the gardens as best I can. The plants we grow are hardy wildflowers, heirlooms, and herbs, with some vegetables mixed in. Nothing fussy.  Many of the flowers choose their own sites. And every single day in the garden is different. A perpetually changing world, magical in its way.

Below is an image of my mini wildflower meadow. I’ve ordered more seeds from Eden Brothers, my favorite site, and am expanding. I shall need a longer hose for those dry days. I absolutely love seeds, brimming with possibility. What wonders may come…all from a packet of tiny life-bearing seeds. If they grow. I can’t stop planting them to see. Then watching,  gleeful when they sprout. And waiting for the blooms, like an Easter egg surprise, because only I know what will be when the majesty unfolds. A wonderful secret to hold and to tend.

In every gardener there is a child who believes in The Seed Fairy. ~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

This would be me.

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves. ~Mahatma Gandhi


May is the wackiest, loveliest month, swinging from soaring heat to frigid cold. Now that the month is almost over, seasonable temps have arrived, and we’ve gotten some nice rain. Despite this roller coaster weather, most of the plants survived.

We grow hardy perennials, reseeding heirlooms, wildflowers (some might be called weeds), herbs…greens, especially Swiss chard, and a forest of dill. It’s possible I accidentally planted two seed packets. We’re reluctant to thin the excess as swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feed on the ferny foliage. Much of the dill is left to bury whatever else we had in that vicinity. Carrots, maybe…beets…  Some of the adult butterflies are soaring about the garden(s).

(Image of Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar and ladybug below taken today)

(Black Swallowtail on Bee Balm from a past summer)

Our garden is not carefully planned, and exists as much for the bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects as for us. We have a lot of ladybugs, lacewings, baby praying mantis, hover flies that resemble honey bees but are beneficials…and I’m not sure what, but a lot of good bugs to battle the bad. The plants often determine what grows. Those that do well tend to be takeover varieties, requiring some management.  By August it’s a jungle. Every single year. But this spring we’ve  mulched with a lot of hay, made valiant attempts at order. We even mulched many of the flower beds with bark like other people do, leaving spots for the reseeding flowers to do their thing, and make frequent rounds to pull out weeds, thistles, etc. But the ‘etc.’ has a way of overcoming all. Perhaps it’s best to do what we can and glory in the untamed beauty. We rarely achieve tamed.

(Swiss Chard with Peas behind below)

Weather means more when you have a garden. There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans. ~Marcelene Cox

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view. ~H. Fred Dale (Thanks, Anne)

Gardening requires lots of water — most of it in the form of perspiration. ~Lou Erickson

God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done. ~Author Unknown
I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from and Old Manse

Gardens are a form of autobiography. ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity. ~Lindley Karstens, noproblemgarden.com


You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt. ~Author Unknown

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence. ~Benjamin Disraeli

The garden is the poor man’s apothecary. ~German Proverb

(Heirloom peony)

Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897 (Thanks, Jessica)

No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden. ~Hugh Johnson

(Happy Coreopsis)

Nothing is more completely the child of Art than a Garden. ~Walter Scott


I am giddy in May with the abundance of new life surrounding me in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. My garden(s) burst forth and I plant and weed like mad.  Everything grows so fast, there’s never enough time for all the tasks that need doing. I remind myself to stop and look at the glistening beauty, inhale the scents, hear the birds. It’s impossible to remain indoors for long in May.  Tender greens, asparagus, and rhubarb are ready to be harvested. And onward ho.  The garden waits for no one. I must run to catch up, but I can also just let it be for a while and savor.

(Nook in the back garden with columbine. A dandelion going to seed at far bottom right. 🙂 Much mint mixes with the flowers back here.)

Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps;
Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps.
~A. Bronson Alcott, “The Garden,” Tablets, 1868

Despite the gardener’s best intentions, Nature will improvise. ~Michael P. Garofalo (Always, and with a lot of freedom here.)

I say, if your knees aren’t green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously re-examine your life. ~Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes (The knees of my gardening pant’s are green or dirt colored this time of year)

(Dame’s Rocket in back garden)

The garden is the poor man’s apothecary. ~German Proverb (Perhaps it should be everyone’s.)

No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden. ~Hugh Johnson (This is so true.)
The hum of bees is the voice of the garden. ~Elizabeth Lawrence (I have a wealth of plants for bees and butterflies, and seeded yet more.)

My garden is my favorite teacher. ~Betsy Cañas Garmon, www.wildthymecreative.com (Yes, and I am learning everyday.)

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides. ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show (I rush outdoors each day.)

(Violas beside currently unoccupied toad house)

My little bit of earth in the front garden is one of the places that I find my bearings. The rhythm of my day begins with a cup of coffee and a little bit of weeding or dreaming. ~Betsy Cañas Garmon, www.wildthymecreative.com

Life begins the day you start a garden. ~Chinese Proverb

As a gardener, I’m among those who believe that much of the evidence of God’s existence has been planted. ~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

Learn to be an observer in all seasons. Every single day, your garden has something new and wonderful to show you. ~Author Unknown

Fingers now scented with sage and rosemary, a kneeling gardener is lost in savory memories. ~Dr. SunWolf, professorsunwolf.com

(Old-time poppy that has been here forever. Blooms each May.)

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a gardener is to think you’re in charge. ~Janet Gillespie

An optimistic gardener is one who believes that whatever goes down must come up. ~Leslie Hall

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation. ~Phyllis Theroux (Maybe so.)

(My mom took this iris pic from her yard)

One of the healthiest ways to gamble is with a spade and a package of garden seeds. ~Dan Bennett

Happy Boots, Happy Self


happy-garden-farm-bootsI’ve been thinking about my garden/farm boots a lot lately, partly because I haven’t ordered a new pair in two years, and daughter Alison is also debating this question. We’re fans of the colorful spirit-lifting kind. She’s torn about which pair to get. Initially, you can get away with one pair of oh, say yellow polka dot boots for everyday and town wear, if you hose them off after feeding the goats, chickens, etc. But it doesn’t take long before the gloss is gone.  Mud and manure take their toll, which leaves you really needing two pairs. I’ve actually accumulated three of the same happy print over the years. They’ve held up well, but one pair has formed a small hole in the sole–easily detected when wearing them in the wet–and all have lost their shine. No zip left. Question is, do I get another identical pair because they’re so swell, or risk a new pattern?

My son-in-law asked why not just wear plain black, which better endure and are what most men favor. My farmer husband and son do. Alison said her soul would be just as dark while wearing them. Where’s the fun in that?

What it gets down to is having the money to purchase alternate pairs of the same puddle splashing, mud slogging, critter feeding (and other stuff) boots. It can seem rather frivolous when watching your budget. However, when my last new pair were still fresh enough for town, I wore them to get allergy shots to the delight of nurses and patients, and cheered passersby at the grocery store. I brought joy and light with me wherever I went/skipped. There’s far more to boots than you may realize. Children know this.

Ask a kid if they want yellow/pink polka dots, bright flowers, happy animals, or back boots and see.

“Everyone chases happiness, not noticing that happiness is at their heels” – Bertolt Brecht (Literally, if you’re wearing the boots.)

One of my current glossless pairs pictured above. For those eager to know, these are called Sloggers and sold at Amazon. Isn’t everything?

‘Lavender is of ‘especiall good use for all griefes and paines of the head’ ~ John Parkinson, 1640


O’Keeffe (A Beggar on Horseback, 1798) ~ “My dear, have some lavender, or you’d best have a thimble full of wine, your spirits are quite down, my sweeting.”
I love lavender, such a wonderful fragrance, among the best in the world. Every year we plant more seedlings, in an effort to keep them going. Lavender is one of those herbs we have difficulty getting through our harder winters and so may or may not come back. Of the different kinds we’ve grown, Lavender Munstead seems to be the hardiest. Being dwarf, it doesn’t get too big to interplant among other herbs and roses. We are trying a new tiny variety this season that has bloomed for weeks, so shall see if it survives. Its name escapes me, but the grower can be found again next spring. The French variety from Provence has the most exquisite fragrance but isn’t very hardy. If possible, provide a sunny sheltered location out of strong north-west winds for lavender and the plants will be longer lived. Prune back dead growth in the spring. We will be planting more, that’s a given.
Lavender flowers are easily dried, make delightful sachets, and are an essential ingredient in potpourri. I suppose one could ‘make do’ with rose petals, but I like a mix of both along with other herbs, spices, and essential oils. In addition to its highly valued scent, lavender has a history of medicinal use and a rich lore. I rely on the essential oil in the house, even sprinkle drops on the dog’s brush several times a week. Lavender oil repels insects and doesn’t harm the dog as some essential oils can when used directly on pets. Be extremely careful around cats.
Turner (Herbal, 1545) ~ ”I judge that the flowers of lavender quilted in a cappe and dayly worn are good for all diseases of the head that come of a cold cause and that they comfort the braine very well.”
lavender4
The following is from A Modern Herbal:
“The fragrant oil to which the odour of Lavender flowers is due is a valuable article of commerce, much used in perfumery, and to a lesser extent in medicine. The fine aromatic smell is found in all parts of the shrub, but the essential oil is only produced from the flowers and flower-stalks. Besides being grown for the production of this oil, Lavender is widely sold in the fresh state as ‘bunched Lavender,’ and as ‘dried Lavender,’ the flowers are used powdered, for sachet making and also for pot-pourri…
ENGLISH LAVENDER (Lavandula vera), the common narrow-leaved variety, grows 1 to 3 feet high (in gardens, occasionally somewhat taller), The majority of the oil yielded by the flowers is contained in the glands on the calyx. The two-lipped corolla is of a beautiful bluish-violet colour.
French Lavender oil is distilled from two distinct plants, found in the mountain districts of Southem France, both included under the name of L. officinalis by the sixteenth-century botanists, and L. vera by De Candolle. The oils from the two plants are very similar, but the former yields oils with the higher percentage of esters.
(image from our garden)
The SPIKE LAVENDER (L. spica, D.C., or latifolia, Vill.) is a coarser, broadleaved variety of the Lavender shrub, also found in the mountain districts of France and Spain, The flowers yield three times as much of the essential oil – known as Spike oil – as can be got from our narrowleaved plant, but it is of a second-rate quality, less fragrant than that of the true Lavender, its odour resembling a mixture of the oils of Lavender and Rosemary. Parkinson in his Garden of Pleasure says the L. spica ‘is often called the Lesser Lavender or minor, and is called by some, Nardus Italica.’ Some believe that this is the Spikenard mentioned in the Bible.
lavender 3
History: Dr. Fernie, in Herbal Simples, says: ‘By the Greeks the name Nardus is given to Lavender, from Naarda, a city of Syria near the Euphrates, and many persons call the plant “Nard.” St. Mark mentions this as Spikenard, a thing of great value…. In Pliny’s time, blossoms of the Nardus sold for a hundred Roman denarii (or L.3 2s. 6d.) the pound. This Lavender or Nardus was called Asarum by the Romans, because it was not used in garlands or chaplets. It was formerly believed that the asp, a dangerous kind of viper, made Lavender its habitual place of abode, so that the plant had to be approached with great caution.’
make-lavender
L. Stoechas Another species of LAVENDER, L. Stoechas, known also as French Lavender, forms a pretty little shrub, with narrow leaves and very small, dark violet flowers. It is very abundant on the islands of Hyères, which the Ancient Romans called the ‘Stoechades,’ after this plant. This was probably the Lavender so extensively used in classical times by the Romans and the Libyans, as a perfume for the bath (whence probably the plant derived its name – from the Latin, lavare, to wash). It is plentiful in Spain and Portugal and is only used as a rule for strewing the floors of churches and houses on festive occasions, or to make bonfires on St. John’s Day, when evil spirits are supposed to be abroad, a custom formerly observed in England with native plants.
The odour is more akin to Rosemary than to ordinary Lavender. The flowers of this species were used medicinally in England until about the middle of the eighteenth century, the plant being called by our old authors, ‘Sticadore.’ It was one of the ingredients of the ‘Four Thieves’ Vinegar’ famous in the Middle Ages.
The Dwarf Lavender is more compact than the other forms and has flowers of a deeper colour. It makes a neat edging in the fruit or kitchen garden, where the larger forms might be in the way, and the flowers, borne abundantly, are useful for cutting.
(Image from our garden)
All the forms of Lavender are much visited by bees and prove a good source of honey.
Lavender was familiar to Shakespeare, but was probably not a common plant in his time, for though it is mentioned by Spencer as ‘The Lavender still gray’ and by Gerard as growing in his garden, it is not mentioned by Bacon in his list of sweet-smelling plants. It is now found in every garden, but we first hear of it being cultivated in England about 1568. It must soon have become a favourite, however, for among the long familiar gardenplants which the Pilgrim Fathers took with them to their new home in America, we find the names of Lavender, Rosemary and Southernwood, though John Josselyn, in his Herbal, says that ‘Lavender Cotton groweth pretty well,’ but that ‘Lavender is not for the Climate.’
lavender lady
Medicinal Action and Uses: Lavender was used in earlier days as a condiment and for flavouring dishes ‘to comfort the stomach.’ Gerard speaks of Conserves of Lavender being served at table. It has aromatic, carminative and nervine properties. Though largely used in perfumery, it is now not much employed internally, except as a flavouring agent, occurring occasionally in pharmacy to cover disagreeable odours in ointments and other compounds.
Red Lavender lozenges are employed both as a mild stimulant and for their pleasant taste.
Lavender-french
The essential oil, or a spirit of Lavender made from it, proves admirably restorative and tonic against faintness, palpitations of a nervous sort, weak giddiness, spasms and colic. It is agreeable to the taste and smell, provokes appetite, raises the spirits and dispels flatulence. The dose is from 1 to 4 drops on sugar or in a spoonful or two of milk.
A few drops of the essence of Lavender in a hot footbath has a marked influence in relieving fatigue. Outwardly applied, it relieves toothache, neuralgia, sprains, and rheumatism. In hysteria, palsy and similar disorders of debility and lack of nerve power, Lavender will act as a powerful stimulant.
fields of lavender
‘It profiteth them much,’ says Gerard, ‘that have the palsy if they be washed with the distilled water from the Lavender flowers, or are anointed with the oil made from the flowers and olive oil in such manner as oil of roses is used.’
Culpepper says that: ‘a decoction made with the flowers of Lavender, Horehound, Fennel and Asparagus root, and a little Cinnamon, is very profitably used to help the falling-sickness (epilepsy) and the giddiness or turning of the brain.’
lavender oil 2
Salmon in his Herbal (1710) says that: ‘it is good also against the bitings of serpents, mad-dogs and other venomous creature, being given inwardly and applied poultice-wise to the parts wounded. The spirituous tincture of the dried leaves or seeds, if prudently given, cures hysterick fits though vehement and of long standing.’
In some cases of mental depression and delusions, oil of Lavender proves of real service, and a few drops rubbed on the temple will cure nervous headache.
lavender at provence
  (A field of lavender at Provence)
A tea brewed from Lavender tops, made in moderate strength, is excellent to relieve headache from fatigue and exhaustion, giving the same relief as the application of Lavender water to the temples. An infusion taken too freely, will, however, cause griping and colic, and Lavender oil in too large doses is a narcotic poison and causes death by convulsions.
Lavender’s use in the swabbing of wounds obtained further proof during the War, and the French Academy of Medicine is giving attention to the oil for this and other antiseptic surgical purposes. The oil is successfully used in the treatment of sores, varicose ulcers, burns and scalds. In France, it is a regular thing for most households to keep a bottle of Essence of Lavender as a domestic remedy against bruises, bites and trivial aches and pains, both external and internal.
lavender 3
 There are many, many ways to enjoy lavender and benefit from this wonderful herb. I hope you are inspired to put in a few plants this year, or grow one in a pot.
Nonfiction Herbal

Nonfiction Herbal

My illustrated herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles, is available in print and kindle at Amazon.

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales.

Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.