Tag Archives: growing herbs and heirloom flowers

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)

Glimpses of Our Late May Garden


ChivesSpring 2016 in the Shenandoah Valley has been especially challenging for farmers and gardeners. Crazy warmth in March lured plants out to be zapped by inevitable frosts and May has been the coldest, wettest I can recall until these past few days. We swung from having the furnace on in this old farm-house to sweltering heat. Not easy on people or plants. Still, there is much beauty in the garden, captured by daughter Elise.

“A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.” ~May Sarton

Chives and (Chives and poppies)

We mix herbs with flowers and vegetables. A wonderful meld. Wildflowers are also a favorite in the garden, like wild aster and Queen Anne’s Lace, plus, plus. Some were planted by birds and the wind, others from seed or stock we purchased. There are those who might refer to these as ‘weeds.’

Poppies 2(California Poppies)

Of course, we have the garden cat, also called the Apothecary Cat or Apothecarist. I decided our garden is a physic or apothecary garden because it has many medicinal plants, which includes some of the so-called ‘weeds’, thus justifying its less than perfect state (according to suburbia, anyway, which, thank God, we don’t live in). Elise suggested kitty be called the Apothecarist (one who dispenses medicines and herbal cures). Kitty doesn’t do that, but it’s a great name. Before this, he was known as one of the triplets.

Garden cat

Apothecarist Cat

The Apothecarist Cat

This spring we’re making pathways with cardboard boxes covered in straw, using my Amazon box collection. I save those boxes religiously. The straw we gleaned from the barn. Pathways are a work in progress. Below is a pic of me against a patch of sweet alyssum we’ve planted in drifts in many sections of the garden. It’s just beginning to bloom. We are using alyssum as a ground cover and to attract beneficial insects and honey bees.

The gardener at work

It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not. ~W.C. Sellar & R.J. Yeatman, Garden Rubbish, 1936

My box/straw pathway, next to the potato patch. The sticks mark the many little herbs and flowers we’ve added to keep them from getting stepped on. How glorious it will be when this is all lush and blooming. I’m smashing potato bugs.

Laying a path in garden

Salad Garden(Salad Patch)

Peony by Elise(This Peony has been here forever, since my Mother-in-law’s time and possibly farther back than that. The house was built in the 1870’s.)

Cyclamen(Cyclamens)

In the kitchen window, I have several pots of cyclamen. These remind me of my late sister-in-law, Catarina. A cyclamen was the last plant she ever gave me. She loved flowers. I grow cyclamens in remembrance of her, and I often think of her. I ordered this pink one last year from Jackson & Perkins to commemorate her passing. The next month, J&P sent me a second identical plant. So I have two thriving cyclamens. Thank you whoever sent this. I inquired, but no one at the company seemed to know why it came at no charge. Maybe Catarina didn’t trust me to keep the first one alive. Admittedly, the cyclamen she gave me didn’t make it, but this is the same color, and I’ve learned more about their care now.

One of life’s mysteries. The garden is full of surprises.

Some roses didn’t survive the plummeting temps this winter, but Abraham Darby did. My favorite rose.

Rose

***All images by Elise Trissel.

How Long Have Folks Had Cottage Gardens?


English Cottage GardenFor eons. Cottage gardens stretch back hundreds of years to the time when people used herbs for everything and grew most of their own food. These gardens acquired their name from the country cottage around which they grew. I love cottage gardens best of all and strive to have my own. However, there are drawbacks. I live in a boxy white farm house, not a cottage, and our yard and gardens are rather sprawling for that overflowing, filled to the brim, in a compact sort of way look. Like mine, these small gardens are (and were) a mix of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. I strongly associate cottage gardens with the British Isles, because of our shared history and the influence of the Mother Country on the New World. But other countries have them too.

Old Watering Can in Beautiful GardenPeople acquired the plants for their cottage gardens from friends and family in the form of ‘starts’ (root divisions) cuttings, and seeds. Very much as I do today, only I have the added benefit of seed catalogs. They are called passalong plants. Sometimes these gifts of plant starts to others have come back to me when my own died out.  Thank heavens, I’m generous. 🙂

Back to the garden, encourage beneficial insects to make their home among the plants and experiment with companion planting. Avoid monochromatic schemes and think variety. And remember the old-time, non hybrid varieties of flowers and vegetables. A great book about growing heirloom plants and sharing them with others is Passalong Plants.  A delightful read chocked full of information. And Happy gardening!

Out With the New–In With the Old–Beth Trissel


My 'Somewhere in Time' Series--Beth TrisselHearken ye back to whatever  was right and good in your life, and reconnect, revive, resurrect. And remember those who’ve gone before you.  They had much wisdom.  The door to the past awaits you.

My fascination with herbs is largely prompted by my absorption with all things historic and the thrill of seeing, touching, sometimes tasting, and above all smelling the same plants known by the ancients. Herbs have changed little, if at all, over the centuries and offer us a connection with the past that precious little does in these modern days. It’s pure intoxication to rub fragrant leaves between my fingers and savor the scent while pondering the wealth of lore behind these plants.  This year consider planting an herb garden, even if it’s on your windows

herb gardenI’m scheduled to give four online workshops on Herbal Lore and the Historic Medicinal Uses of Herbs for various groups in 2013–beginning with Savvy Authors in March. An autumn workshop for Celtic Hearts Romance Writers will focus on herbs and Lore of the British Isles. The main workshop features a broader range of  lore and peoples, including Native American. The other groups that have invited me to give a workshop are FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal) and FTHRW (For The Heart Romance Writers).  If you’re  interested in taking part, contact me or one of these fine groups.

***Do a find for Herbal Lore on this blog and you will find much to peruse.

Gardening Tips On This Wintry Day


*My garden in a sunbeam, picture by daughter Elise. Ah gardening, so dear to my heart.  I come from a long line of plant lovers and inherited the gardening gene.  I’ve passed it on to my younger daughter, Elise, my right arm in the garden, but all of my children are fans to some degree.  And now, the little people, the grandbabies are our new crop of apprentices. My five yr old grandson is of some actual help.  The same cannot be said of the two yr olds. (*Pic of grandbaby by Elise)

My main recommendation when it comes to gardening is to use a lot of compost and natural mulch, like well rotted hay or straw, even leaves, in your vegetable and flower beds.  Healthy plants better resist insects and disease.  Earth worms are a gardener’s best friend and thrive in natural mulch, humus-enriched soil.  Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides or you’ll kill the worms and other beneficial insects.   I’ve even gone on worm finds and introduced more into the gardens, plus bought them from a reputable online source.  Yes, I’m nuts over worms as are my grandbabies now from my enthusiasm. (*Pic of nasturtiums by my mom)

My primary focus in gardening is our vegetable, perennial & annual flower, and herb beds.  I’m particularly fond of heirloom and old fashioned cottage garden plants.  Some of these vintage varieties involve saving seed and ordering from specialty catalogues. Those herbs and flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and honey bees are of special interest. I strive to provide a wildlife sanctuary of sorts.  The American love of a chemically dependent green lawn is the opposite of what beneficial insects and wildlife require, and plants for that matter.  Think wildflowers and herbs.  Rejoice in the butterflies and hummers that will follow.

We rotate annual our garden vegetables as well as practicing companion planting.  There are time honored combinations we’ve tried as well as making some of our own discoveries. Nasturtiums and radishes planted closely around the cucurbit family (also commonly referred to as the cucumber, gourd, melon, or pumpkin family) help to deter the squash vine borer and cucumber beetles which are deadly to the plants.   This family is our most trouble prone, so gets the greatest attention when it comes to companion planting.

Radishes are also a good companion for lettuce, spinach, and carrots.  If I were to choose one companion plant it would be radishes and the second, nasturtiums, but there are many excellent choices and we’re learning more all the time about effective combinations.

I interplant garlic with roses and have beneficial effects in warding off some of the pests and diseases that attack them.  *I prefer the old time roses and David Austen varieties that combine the best of the old with the repeat bloom of the new.  My favorite rose is Abraham Darby by David Austen. (*Pic of Abraham Darby Rose by Elise)

Tomatoes grow more robustly when planted near basil.  Peppers also like it.  Sweet marjoram, which reseeds itself for us, is another beneficial herb to interplant with vegetables and flowers.  Mint helps deter cabbage worms.   Pumpkins and squash better survive when rotated from their usual spots.  This year we tucked a pumpkin in among the massive, native clematis vine growing along the backyard fence that we refer to as ‘the beast.’  The borers didn’t find it, plus ‘the beast’ helped cradle the orange globes.

We’ve observed that old fashioned sunflowers with multiple heads (planted by birds from the birdseed variety) grow the most vigorously.  Sunflowers attract masses of goldfinches, a favorite songbird, and when planted in and around corn, reduce army worms in the ears.  Marigolds are an excellent companion plant for vegetable and flowers to help ward off Japanese beetles.  Borage enriches the soil, attracts honey bees, and is another good companion for squash.  Onions planted near carrots help repel the carrot fly.  Chamomile is another good companion plant but use it sparingly.

Encourage beneficial insects to make their home in your garden and experiment with companion planting.  Avoid monochromatic schemes and think variety.  And Happy gardening!  (If spring ever returns to these snowy realms.)

Images of our garden, goldfinch, and grandbaby taken by my daughter Elise and mom, Pat Churchman. Hummingbird is a royalty free image.

A Lovely June Day in the Shenandoah Valley


“There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

This is one of those sweet June mornings when the world seems fresh and new, too soft for words, but I’ll try. I’m looking out the two windows in my bedroom as I write into the most beautiful gold light, the sort of light photographers love. Roses glow like jewels, their red, yellow, pink blossoms heavy with rain from the night. White daises sparkle, lacy pinks, red clover, lavender candy tuft, angel wing poppies, nodding columbine bells, spires of blue salvia, crimson lupines…and all the plants with a rich promise of more to come.

Hues of green spread through my yard and garden, out over the meadow, and up into the hills beyond the fields. The sky is washed in pale blue at the edges, deeper blue as it arches upward. And the air is alive with birdsong. Cows impatiently bawl for more hay, greedily snatching at the bales tossed down to them from the mow. Plump gray and white barnyard geese fuss, as is their way––I never quite catch the argument––while the goslings make this funny whistling sound.

“Waddle-butts,” I call the infants, “busy little waddle-butts,” plopping down to rest when they tire and then darting off again to catch up with the group.
If a gosling falls too far behind, its shrill peeping can be heard over hill and vale, by all, including the baddies out there that eat silly babies. Given the absentmindedness of mama and papa geese and auntie and uncles, it’s amazing that as many goslings survive as they do. Somehow, they manage, usually.

Wood duck mamas loudly cry ‘whoo-eek’ from the pond to round up the ducklings darting over its calm surface like little bumble bees. Mallard babies quietly follow their mothers in a dutiful row or all huddled together. Not so the wood ducklings. They are far more independent. But fast. Bad old snapping turtles are hard pressed to catch them. Snappers are the pond’s version of sharks, but I shouldn’t end on that visual image.

Way up beyond the hills and the distant fields I see the Allegheny Mountains rising above all. Why weren’t they called the Blue Ridge? They are equally blue, and can be every bit as hazy as the Smokies. What’s in a name? Much? Little? Some are steeped in meaning, others not. I don’t even know what Allegheny means, only that the mountains are glorious. They seem to roll on and on forever like the swells of a sea. I tell my daughter, Elise, that as long as the mountains stand and there are green meadows, we are well.

****

This piece is an excerpt from my non-fiction collection entitled Shenandoah Watercolors that my mom and I are combining with her lovely pics. This photograph of larkspur and the rose was taken last week by my daughter Elise. Mom and I are thinking of self-publishing Shenandoah Watercolors digitally so as to include all of her pics. We doubt any traditional publisher would allow them all.

For more on my novels, please visit:
http://www.bethtrissel.com/
The beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains are my inspiration.