Category Archives: Gardening

October On Our Farm in the Shenandoah Valley


Misty mountains, autumn leaves, and garden tidying…now and forever more I will associate the pungent minty scent of catnip with my fall garden. I’m in cleanup mode, pulling weeds, grass, catnip seedlings, and struggling to root out large mounds of the fragrant herb.

(Catnip growing in with tansy in the garden)

It’s not that I dislike this old-time plant, not in the least. But several years ago, daughter Elise planted four clumps at either end of the vegetable plot to act as beneficial companions and attract pollinators, which catnip does well. Butterflies favor the blossoms and potato bugs can’t sniff out their desired food when potato leaves intermingle with catnip. Since then, hundreds of their offspring have graced every corner of the garden. Flower beds also play host. I’m fond of this potent plant so leave seedlings here and there, and on it goes. Catnip will inherit the earth, as will mint, comfrey, dill…but I love them all. And, of course, cats are mad for it.

We haven’t had hard frost yet, but soon will. As I work outside, I pause to gaze over the meadow and hills rising beyond our farm and admire the changing leaves. Yesterday’s overcast sky only muted the beauty–which I don’t mind–and the mist made the mountains appear even more mysterious. While walking the dogs into the field I call the back forty, I summon halts to savor the beauty. The dogs stand, nose to the breeze tossing my hair, and sniff appreciatively. Country scents of cows and new mown grass float around us. Barnyard geese honk, birds call, and cows let me know they see us. Pockets of mist hovered between the hills this morning, the subdued bronze and orange in the trees showing through in places. When the sun comes out, these autumn hues will shine. The woods above our meadow are called ‘Burnt Woods’ by locals because of their flaming color in the sun. Glorious.

(Maples in our meadow)

(Sugar maple at our pond)

(Hills and the neighbor’s farm behind our pond. See the Old Order Mennonite Church?)

(Misty mountains in the distance seen on my walk with the dogs)

Meadowlarks still trill from the tall grass, reminding me of spring, while wild geese fly in V’s overhead. I’ve left tangles of asters, bittersweet, and clematis in places in hopes of attracting the wrens who visited our feeder last year. They like a bit of untidiness, as do other birds.

(Fall asters and last of the dahlias above)

(late ground rose)

(Pocket of flowers)

I’ve been on a bulb planting craze lately, hiding them like Easter eggs to discover in the raw winds of March and balmier days of April and May. These early flowers elicit such joy, how can I resist adding more? I also sprinkled hardy annual flower seeds around for spring color like larkspur, violas, wall flowers, poppies, and sweet alyssum. Spinach is seeded for early greens. By late winter, we’re starving for them. This is when the new leaves of dandelions are appreciated for cooked greens.

Hubby Dennis’s mother made a wonderful creamy dressing to pour over dandelion greens with bacon and hard boiled eggs. That stuff made anything good. I found her recipe in an old cook book. I could post it for you in spring. She also used it on watercress. One unfortunate spring, the whole Trissel family, apart from baby Dennis, contracted typhoid fever from consuming contaminated water cress. Seems a man who lived above the spring where the cress grew was a typhoid Mary type of carrier with a leaky outhouse. Who knew? All of the family survived because new medicines were available by the early fifties.

Back to the garden. This garden was my mother-in-law’s before I became its caretaker. The first years that Mom Trissel and Dennis’s father lived at the farm they had no indoor plumbing and only one electric outlet. She boiled up her wash in an outdoor kettle. And this old farmhouse was built soon after the Civil War. But that’s another story. There are many tales to tell from this beautiful valley.(Our land leading to another farm and the hills seen on our dog walk)

(Gorgeous trees at the church up the road from our farm)

‘Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.’ ~Faith Baldwin, American Family

“If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” ~Vincent Van Gogh


My June catchup. Sorry I’ve been so absent on the blog.

“It is at the edge of a petal that love waits.” ~William Carlos Williams

For a hushed moment after sunrise the sun touched the garden and everything was new and perfect. Then the sun rose higher and I saw the Japanese beetles. They love the same plants I do, like roses. Despite  my annual battle with these noxious pests, my garden is a little bit of Eden. I tripled my efforts outdoors this year after my dear father’s passing. The Memorial Garden reminds me of a painting as it unfolds. Gardening is a living form of art.

Neglected corners remain in the yard, but gardening is an ongoing journey. I’m eyeing the long border along the road with ideas for improvements I might make late summer or fall. Efforts there must be undertaken with caution because of the road monster.

(Breadseed Poppy–seed originally from Monticello)

Did any of you see Finding Neverland years ago, starring a young Johnny Depp as Author J. M. Barrie? Excellent film, made before Depp went off the rails. Near the end of the movie, Kate Winslet, who portrays the mother of the boy who inspired Barrie to write Peter Pan, enters  the wondrous Neverland set Barrie has created. (Peter Pan began as a play in 1904.) At times, when I go into the garden, surrounded by magical beauty, it reminds me a bit of that scene.

There’s nothing quite like a near perfect day in the garden. I say ‘near’ because perfection is elusive and my idea of a magical garden excursion may not be yours. But when the cerulean sky reaches to heaven, flowers sparkle like jewels, and leafy green enfolds me, I am uplifted. In that moment, I am happy.

All winter and spring I dreamed of delphinium spires. This is ‘Million Dollar Blue,’ an improved kind from Wayside Gardens, more heat and cold tolerant.

On blue sky days, the ridges rise clearly beyond the wooded hills. Country noises fill air pungent with farm smells sweetened by herbs and flowers. Meadow larks trill from tall grass, bees hum, and butterflies flit. I chase them with my camera.

When a new birds calls, we must know what kind it is–recently an oriole. Red Winged black birds have a distinct cry. They mostly stay at the pond but sometimes visit our back garden. Goose squawks resound except during afternoon siestas beneath the pear trees. Never mind, I spoke too soon. Our two buddy brother roosters peck around and crow, a lot. A typical country sound.

We still hear cows. Young ones will remain until old enough to go, but we had to sell our dairy herd–sad sigh. We’re remaining on the farm, thank the good Lord. Son Cory will raise beef cows while Hubby Dennis runs his farm machinery business. As for me, I will garden, cherish my friends and family, and write again. Not much to report on that front, but I’m beginning to miss writing, an inherent part of who I am. Or was. I know Dad wouldn’t want me to give it up. His death, on top of my brother Chad’s, threw me more than I can say, but I’m slowly mending, largely with the help of garden therapy. I’ve come to realize missing them will ever be woven into the fabric of my life.

This country scene may not strike some as idyllic, but it’s heaven on earth to me.

Hollyhocks set off our barn in this pic. I used to call it ‘the old red barn’ until Cory redid it in white. A decorative barn quilt adds color to the front.

(Bathsheba climbing rose from David Austin)

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~John Muir

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” ~Henry David Thoreau

(Red Admiral Butterfly on mini buddleia from Jackson and Perkins)

The fuzzy bumble bee (pictured below on larkspur) reminds me of a tiny teddy bear. The heirloom larkspur has been here longer than I have. The flowers come in blue,white, pink, and purple. A hardy annual, it reseeds for the next spring.

All images were taken this month by me.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” ~Rachel Carson

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” ~ e.e. cummings

The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. ~George Bernard Shaw


“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, http://www.wildthymecreative.com

(Foxglove and roses in my Memorial Garden)

Living on a farm allows me more than a bit of earth, but the garden is also where I find my bearings. As much as I savor fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s the flowers that feed my soul. Beds dating back to my late mother-in-law’s day wrap this old white farm house and flow along the side of the road where drivers roar past. The road wasn’t such a menace in Mom Trissel’s time. Now, it’s ‘gardener beware’. I’ve reeled back more than once while working in that bed when a driver zoomed by alarmingly close. I have this crazy hope they will slow down to admire the flowers. Plus the barnyard geese graze in my front yard and sometimes wander near the road. We have about two dozen squawky Pilgrim geese. We’d have even more but they aren’t great parents and often misplace goslings. We’ve rescued some babies but can only do so much. It’s a running joke about the geese hating me, while not minding Hubby Dennis or daughter Elise. I think it’s because I clap and shout to get them away from the road and out of my yard. In addition to grass they graze on my plants, like phlox and bee balm. Tender lettuce is also a favorite but the vegetable plot is fenced in. Pic of goose with the monarch was taken last summer. Those are tithonia flowers the butterflies love.

Below are Shirley Poppies, Larkspur, yellow evening primrose, roses, iris, yellow coreopsis, and blue Love in the Mist blooming now in that massive bed along the road. A giant old-fashioned rose commands the far corner. This sea of color overflows with wildflowers, perennials, heirloom flowers, roses, and herbs. The abundant plants are so thick there is little need for mulch. It’s my living barrier to that beastly road. Grandchildren also play in the yard, but on this side of the border. The kids love to explore the many beds that comprise my garden, but they aren’t allowed to stick a toe in that one. Only I risk life and limb.

I’ve whittled down the vegetable plot over the years and expanded Mom Trissel’s flower beds while adding others. Herbs and blossoms surround my vegetable garden and mingle with the edibles. Drifts of wildflowers I seeded in April are lush with promise but I’ve knocked myself out dragging the hose around during dry spells. Blooms fill our small back garden from the white snowdrops in late winter to pink Queen Charlotte anemone in late summer. I watch from the kitchen window as feathered friends visit the bird feeder and hummers dart. Because this garden is enclosed by a wall, I can only expand it so far. Aggressive plants like fragrant Egyptian mint and Queen Anne’s Lace have taken too much ground, though both are beautiful. The mint should have been planted in a pot but I didn’t know that thirty years ago. Battling mint is an ongoing struggle and I must thin Queen Anne’s Lace. Iris and Dame’s Rocket (below) are finishing up for this season, as are Mom Trissel’s peonies. I moved some of her peonies and iris to the kitchen and Memorial gardens. My dear grandmother gave me this white iris years ago.

Dear to my heart is the expansive Memorial Garden I’ve labored in since late February. Not only have I worked there every day the weather permitted, but often when it didn’t. Cold wind blasted me in my scarf and multiple layers. Raw drizzle misted my face and chilled my muddy gloved fingers. In the early days, if temps hit the upper forties, I headed out the door. Fifties was a heat wave. Sometimes I waited until mid-day for the ground to thaw enough to dig. Everything was brown and depressing at first, apart from emerging daffodils. The only beauty lay in my vision of what could be. But I was bent on digging out wild asters that had overrun this enormous bed and creating a glorious site. I still dig tenacious roots out daily, but I’ve left some asters growing along the fence. They are butterfly magnets. The colorful mounds, some reaching over six feet tall, flutter and buzz with life in late summer. If I’m not careful, though, that’s all I’ll have. And I badly needed a goal and physical work this spring.

(Me digging aster roots. Hubby took pics when I didn’t realize)

I spent hours crawling around in the bleak cold getting out roots. See the tiny plant surrounded by stones? It’s a poor little rose that got lost in the asters, much happier since its rescue. Asters pictured below.


“Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.” ~Author Unknown (Truth! My back ached terribly in those first days,not much now.)

“I cultivate my garden, and my garden cultivates me.” ~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

The garden has, indeed, cared for me. My father’s passing in late December, only a year and a half after my brother Chad’s death, left me overwhelmed with grief. Then my mother-in-law died. The Memorial bed is also for her. All the digging, clean up, planting, mulching, path making, and ongoing planning for what to put in where has given me a much needed focus. Writing eluded me as I never thought it would. But nature hasn’t. And Lord knows the seed catalogues and online garden sites are there for me. Local ones, too. I have discovered some wonderful gardeners through the world of YouTube. My favorite is artist Jeri Landers. the Storybook Gardener, who has been of much comfort and inspiration. I love her creativity and gardening style and avidly follow her YouTube channel.

Like Jeri, I would describe my garden as cottage, country, with native plants. I’m not in the least formal. In one video, Jeri suggested finding an unsightly–even ugly–corner and making it beautiful. So I tackled the kitchen garden, another bed ruled by an overreaching plant, Bishop’s Weed. It was a hard slog, but I am delighted with the transformation. Then I took on a third bed overrun with a different kind of wild aster, and so on…You see the pattern here. I worked until I dropped, but it helped lift my spirits.

Jeri raised stunning foxglove from seed this year, while I bought plants, so guess what seed I ordered yesterday…plus, plus. I have a little greenhouse Dennis built for me eons ago, but it relies on solar heat. Too often seeds I sow in spring don’t germinate, even with a heating mat. I like Jeri’s idea of starting some of the hardy flowers in summer and wintering them over to bloom next year.

My most enticing plant lure are roses. At last count, I’ve moved four from various corners of the yard where they weren’t thriving to join five existing roses in my Memorial Garden. Two more roses were given to me, and I’ve purchased fourteen. So far. You can’t have a remembrance garden without the queen of flowers. Most came from English rose breeder David Austin and Jackson and Perkins. (J and P had a super sale this past week.) Several roses spilled into my newly reclaimed kitchen garden. I eagerly await those that have not yet bloomed. Among my new Memorial Garden additions are delphiniums, various buddleias, oriental lilies, gladiolas, hollyhocks, sweet William, iris, peonies, hardy geraniums, dianthus, bellflowers, less aggressive perennial asters and an annual aster, heuchera (coral bells) Lady’s Mantle, phlox, yarrow, saliva, rudbeckia, violas, columbine, different varieties of poppies, foxglove, lupins, verbena, catmint, sweet alyssum, lavender, chamomile, lemon marigolds… I’m still adding. Pics below from emerging blooms in that garden: roses, nepeta (catmint) miniature delphinium and violas. I started violas and alyssum from seed.

Carding Mill — David Austen Rose

Grief has its own timetable, with unpredictable ups and downs, as uncontrollable as the tide. I’m slowly finding my way, but know the sadness will never fully leave me. I already knew this from past grief, but never quite so sharply. I’m blessed with a close loving family and dear friends. They are my lifelines. I hope to find my way back to writing. This is the most I’ve written in months and it hasn’t been easy, but cathartic. For me, gardening is a vital part of healing. At some point, I will add a plaque, statue, or remembrance stone to the Memorial garden. Maybe all three. It’s a work in progress.

“I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation.” ~Phyllis Theroux

First hollyhocks opened yesterday.

“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)