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Gardening and Country Life in Glorious Color!


cover-for-swcI’ve labored away adding lovely images to Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about life on our small family farm in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Given my love of gardening, this includes a strong focus on my gardens and love of nature. The book is already out in print with images, but now that kindle and nook E-Readers support colored photographs, I’ve added heaps more. Shenandoah Watercolors in available in  eBook and print format at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I will also get it up on Kobo soon. If someone is dying for me to have it somewhere else, let me know.

Book description: Author/farm wife Beth Trissel shares the joys and challenges of rural life on her family’s small farm in the scenic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Journey with her through the seasons on the farm, owned by the family since the 1930’s, and savor the richness of her cherished gardens and beloved valley. This journal, with images of her farm and valley, is a poignant, often humorous, sometimes sad glimpse into country life. Recommended for anyone who loves the country, and even those who don’t. ***Shenandoah Watercolors is a 2012 EPPIC eBOOK FINALIST.


The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in springExcerpt:
  The heavy rain has given way to a misting drizzle, but streams of water pour down from the hills and make new ponds and creeks. It’s chilly with that raw wet feel. This spring is awash in moisture and amazing after last summer’s searing drought. I’m struck by the intense beauty around me, and I thought I was already seeing it, but it’s so much more somehow. The grass seems to shimmer, yet there’s no sun out today, and the meadow is so richly green it’s like seeing heaven. Our barnyard geese are enraptured, as much as geese can be, with all the grass. If there’s a lovelier place to revel in spring than the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains, I don’t know it. Narnia, maybe.I’ve been thinking about my favorite places.

Dark hollow falls on Skyline drive, Shenandoah national parkThe pool I like best lies in the woods near a place called Rip Rap Hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A splendid falls cascades up above, but I like the pool far more. We always meant to go back, but never have. The cold water ripped through me like liquid ice and is as clear as melted crystal. I could see the rocks on the bottom, some slick with moss, others brown-gold in the light where the sun broke through the leafy canopy overhead. Trout hid beneath big rounded stones or ones that formed a cleft, but the men tickled them out to flash over the flat rocks strewn across the bottom like a path. Drifts of hay-scented fern rose around the edges of the pool, warming the air with the fragrance of new mown hay, and made the shady places a rich green.Now, that’s a good place to go in my mind when I’m troubled. The problem with cities is that people don’t learn what really matters. Don’t really feel or know the rhythms of the earth. When we are separated from that vital center place, we grow lost. Sadly, most people will never know what they are lost from, or where they can be found.~

***Images of the Shenandoah Valley in early spring and Dark Hollow Falls in the Blue Ridge.

The Heartwarming Story of Violet the Cow and Baby Buttercup


Colin and Chloe with Buttercup“The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.”
― Ogden Nash,

In the world of cows, 92% of the females in a boy/girl set of twins are sterile and called Freemartins. The reproduction systems in these cows are malformed and they rarely ever grow to adulthood with the ability to reproduce. One cow defied the odds. She was taken in by our daughter Alison and her husband to raise on their little farmstead.  Her story as told by Alison.

Diron holding baby calf.jpg1 “Early in 2011, a brother and sister twin Holstein calf set from my parent’s dairy farm (Trissel’s Farm) came to live with my husband and me. A female cow, who is twins with a male, is almost always infertile, nature is smart like that, and so they’re generally used for beef. And that’s what we were raising them for. We decided it was best not to name the pair; but our [then] 5-year-old son, Colin, called the twin calves Violet and Moo. As Violet grew, we couldn’t help but notice that once a month it was an incredibly hard job to keep her in our pasture. Our neighbor’s field of a few beautiful Herford cows, complete with a bull, boarders ours. One cold morning in early spring, I was loading the kids in the car, getting ready to take Colin to preschool. I noticed Violet was missing from our field. We drove all around looking for her, and even drove to our neighbors house, twice, thinking maybe she was visiting their cows. The second time we drove to their house, because I had no idea where else she could be, Colin spotted her. “There she is!! She’s making friends already with the ‘bully’ cow!”  So she was, and so our neighbors allowed her to stay for a few days.

Months went by and we hadn’t thought much about the incident with the “bully cow.” But come to think of it, she hadn’t tried to leave the field in a long time.  And well, yes, she was getting big. Bigger than her twin brother.This past fall, a farm vet confirmed that the (almost) impossible had happened. Violet was pregnant and due around Christmas time. Her darling half Herford heifer calf was born a few days before Christmas. Violet the Cow rejoined her sisters of the herd at the Trissel Farm. My neighbor says she thinks Violet knew what she was doing all along. Her baby girl, named Buttercup, is with us now and someday will be a dairy cow too, only not on the Trissel farm, but on a place in the country providing milk for several families.”~

Colin and Chloe holding heavy cream carton with their image on the label ***Baby Buttercup, Colin and little sister Chloe are featured on the Shenandoah Family Farm’s cream label. In 2013, our family banded together with 20 other small family farmers in the Shenandoah Valley to produce and sell our own natural, local, sustainable dairy products. For more on Shenandoah Family Farms, visit our website and like us on Facebook. Also, you can help us bring our local products to your grocery store by signing the Product Request Petition. We’ll send these requests right to stores in your area so you can try our products as soon as they are available (we’re shooting for later this month). It’s a dream we’ve worked hard to achieve and our best hope of preserving our farms for future generations in the Valley.

*Images of Baby Buttercup and Colin and Chloe and their father Diron

Mad Enough to be Sane–Beth Trissel


Pussy WillowWell, maybe. Last evening as the sun dipped behind the trees on the wooded hills above our farm, I set off with my trusty wheelbarrow heaped with pussy willows we’d rooted last year and wintered over in the garden–where they could not possibly remain–and a shovel. My aim, the farm pond in the meadow. Highly curious heifers with no regard for personal space followed at my heels like pet dogs. If I turned around, they were breathing down my neck. A little disconcerting, so I waved them back. Repeatedly. I was also slightly concerned about chancing upon a coyote, but decided with this lot keeping me company that wasn’t likely. Might not have been anyway, but coyotes do visit the meadow when making their rounds late in the evening or at night. Rarely in the day.

lab mix, our farm dog LanceMy two farm dogs chose not to go with me on this particular venture. Wise. I had to toss the pussy willows, contained in feed sacks after I dug them out of the garden, and my shovel over not one, but two, electric fences and then roll beneath the wire to reach the grassy edge of the water. For those of you who think it’s easy to dig in wet muck sucking at your shovel and your boots, I can assure you that it’s not. Already worn out after a day of overdoing it in the garden, this final endeavor took the last of my reserves. And I sank in the squelchy mud up to my boot tops.  Then my knees. Digging and clawing my way along, I shifted clumps of saturated grass and oook to get my plants into place. Then heaved myself back up the bank to the meadow and pushed my barrow home. A task I desired to accomplish before dark so I could still see the electric fences, installed, btw, to keep the cows out of the pond.

beth252celise252candcowsIf the pussy willows are happy there, we will have lovely catkins next spring. Supposedly, they prefer swampy places and the edges of streams, so this spot ought to suit them. But I reserved one to plant someplace else, just in case.

As ever, I am in pursuit of Eden on earth. My own bit of heaven. And I have the aching back to prove it.

(***Images of Lance in the muddy creek near the pond and daughter Elise on a different outing. And our oh so friendly cows. To be expected, really, as they were hand raised and bottle fed, etc).

pussy-willow-hatsI did a search on pussy willow quotes and found this rather unusual one: “Everything that anyone would ever look for is usually where they find it.”
― Margaret Wise Brown

I have no idea how that relates to pussy willows, but liked the quote. I hope to find my willows where I planted them, growing happily. I shall report back.

Don’t Entrust Your Ducks To Just Anyone—Beth Trissel


Years ago, I raised ducks for our farm pond–a story in itself–and then decided to take on several ducklings offered to me by a kindergarten teacher who hatched them in the classroom incubator and needed a home for the little quackers. I housed them safely in an unused dog kennel and decided to raise them for friends who have a smaller pond on their farm. One was a white Peking duck and the other two were white with markings, probably some mixed up kind of ducks.

Oh, the care and effort I put into those ducklings and the pride to see them thrive and grow into bright-eyed, trusting souls who greeted me eagerly. Ducks have lots to say and these were especially friendly. And handsome. But after generously gifting my feathered friends to human friends, I later learned they hadn’t received the care I assumed they would, nor were they checked on regularly.  No food was forthcoming, or water provided when the pond dwindled from drought. That hadn’t occurred to anyone. In fact, I was casually informed the ducks were nowhere to be found. Their disappearance wasn’t even noted at any particular time. Not that anyone was concerned, of course. Except me. Why had I let them go to such a negligent home?

Earlier this summer, my 2011 art major graduate daughter Elise was entrusted with a tiny aloe vera plant that was on its last leg, or leaf, by a college friend of hers. Between the two of us, this pathetic specimen has made an amazing comeback, and we both revel in its progress. Now, my conscientious daughter is making noises about giving it back. ‘What?’ I say. ‘To the negligent plant person?’ It’s gonna be the duck thing all over again.

To those of you without much fondness for ducks or plants, this lesson can be cross-applied to anything you’ve put time and effort into nurturing.  Don’t entrust what you care about to just anybody. This also includes your kids.

‘Gardening is not a rational act.’~Margaret Atwood–Beth Trissel


Given our most trying weather of late, I agree with that sentiment, but will never give up. I just reassess.  The picture of me on the right of this blog was taken beneath our lovely apricot tree that fell during last week’s fierce windstorm. Many trees and plants went down in that blast. Next spring a new apricot will go into the ground.
It is ever my wish to have a garden like Mr. McGregor‘s, but I must remember that his was in England and did not undergo the brutal trials that have beset  mine. Weather in the Shenandoah Valley swings between the extremes of north and south in the most erratic manner, and is very hard on plants.  Try as I might, only the strong survive.  And sometimes, not even them.
Most of you know me as a writer, and so I am, but I’m a gardener first. My thoughts ever turn to how the plants fare and I grieve when they suffer. Every spring I truly believe this year I will triumph, this year I will not be undone by the vagaries of nature, and each year I have my moments of glory and disappointment. But there’s always next season. And I still hold out hope for a splendid fall. For now, I’m salvaging what  I can.
‘A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.’  ~Luis Barragan
‘A good garden may have some weeds.’ ~Thomas Fuller
‘A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.’
 ‘A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.’ ~Doug Larson
‘All gardening is landscape painting.’ ~William Kent
‘But if each man could have his own house, a large garden to cultivate and healthy surroundings – then, I thought, there will be for them a better opportunity of a happy family life.’ ~George Cadbury

‘Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.’  ~Luther Burbank

‘Garden as though you will live forever.’  ~William Kent

‘God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.’ ~Francis Bacon

***Pre-storm photographs taken by my daughter Elise

My Answer to World Peace


This will come as no surprise to those of you who follow my blog, but I strongly feel and emphatically declare the world would be a far better place if everyone had a garden.  I’m convinced when people are growing things, they’re much less prone to destructive behavior.  Granted, violent extremists, serial killers and zombies seem beyond redemption, but the rest of humanity would gain immeasurably from a connection with the earth.  To cultivate a garden is to commune with the essence of life and the source of all creation.

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

I urge planting herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers in an outdoor plot–convert a patch of lawn if need be–or as part of a community garden. This is a particularly good idea because it brings together people of all ages, from the very young to the elderly, and provides wonderful learning opportunities for children while tapping into the storehouse of knowledge many older people have.   The interaction between those joined in the common purpose of producing food and beautifying their neighborhood helps cultivate the people along with the plants.

Above pic from the site How To Start A Community Garden.

Our church has a communal garden with small plots for those who ask for them.  Folks garden side by side, sharing trials and triumphs and learning together.  More churches could do this if they tilled up part of their yard and put in vegetable plots  instead of only grass.

Sacrilegious?  I don’t think so.

Back to the garden, think sustainable methods, like making compost, and practice organic gardening.   Encourage beneficial insects, butterflies, and song birds to make their home in your yard.  You’d be amazed how many you can attract just by planting a patch of sunflowers and zinnias.

Anything that rots and hasn’t been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide can be used as mulch, although it’s best to compost the material first.  Old hay or straw make good mulch without needing to break down before using.   Different parts of the country have various natural material that can be used.  Organic matter feeds the soil and encourage earthworms.   Remember, as I tell my children and now grandchildren, happy worms make happy dirt.  Worms are the gardener‘s friend.  Non-hybrid, heirloom seed can be saved for next year and shared with others, and old-time flowers can be divided and spread around.

If digging in the earth isn’t an option for you, try growing plants in pots on a patio, deck, rooftop, sunny windowsill, or under fluorescent lights.  These can be fairly inexpensive to set up.   I used to have a stand with long fluorescent lights suspended over it about 6-10 inches above the foliage.   Raise the lights as the plants grow.  You’ll need warm and cool fluorescent bulbs for good plant growth, but not the more costly ‘grow lights.’  Although they’re good too.

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

A film I really enjoyed about how gardening can reform and transform prisoners is Greenfingers with Clive Owen.  The movie is based on a true story which makes it even better, and it’s a love story, another plus, and the fabulous Helen Mirren co-stars.  I also really like actor David Kelly.  He’s wonderful.  The gardens featured  are gorgeous and I never tire of looking at Clive.   This is a feel good movie.

“Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart. ” ~Russell Page

****Royalty free images–except for the film cover

For Lovers of Gardening and Country Life (And Wannabes)


My award-winning nonfiction book, Shenandoah Watercolors, is free at Amazon Monday May 14th–Wednesday May 16th.  Written in a month by month journal style, Shenandoah Watercolors follows a year in my life on our farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Excerpt from May:

“The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,

Upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…”

~William Shakespeare

The heavy rain has given way to a misting drizzle, but streams of water pour down from the hills and make new ponds and creeks. It’s chilly with that raw wet feel. This spring is awash in moisture and amazing after last summer’s searing drought. I’m struck by the intense beauty around me, and I thought I was already seeing it, but it’s so much more somehow. The grass seems to shimmer, yet there’s no sun out today, and the meadow is so richly green it’s like seeing heaven.

Our barnyard geese are enraptured, as much as geese can be, with all the grass. If there’s a lovelier place to revel in spring than the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains, I don’t know it. Narnia, maybe.

I’ve been thinking about my favorite places. The pool I like best lies in the woods near a place called Rip Rap Hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A splendid falls cascades up above, but I like the pool far more. We always meant to go back, but never have. The cold water ripped through me like liquid ice and is as clear as melted crystal.

I could see the rocks on the bottom, some slick with moss, others brown-gold in the light where the sun broke through the leafy canopy overhead. Trout hid beneath big rounded stones or ones that formed a cleft, but the men tickled them out to flash over the flat rocks strewn across the bottom like a path. Drifts of hay-scented fern rose around the edges of the pool, warming the air with the fragrance of new-mown hay, and made the shady places a rich green.

Now, that’s a good place to go in my mind when I’m troubled. The problem with cities is that people don’t learn what really matters. Don’t really feel or know the rhythms of the earth. When we are separated from that vital center place, we grow lost. Sadly, most people will never know what they are lost from, or where they can be found.~

***FREE kindle at Amazon. Also available in print with lovely photographs taken by my talented family.

“This is perhaps the most beautifully written memoir I’ve ever read. Its lovely and languid descriptions of the picturesque valley, the farm and gardens are equaled only by the charming and funny descriptions of the antics (and conversations!) of the farm animals. What a joy this is to read…” Amazon Reviewer C. G. King