Tag Archives: Home and Garden

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.

August in the Garden–Beth Trissel


I’m sharing an excerpt from my nonfiction book, Shenandoah Watercolors, a 2012 Epic eBook finalist. Free in Amazon Kindle from August 19th through the 23rd.

“It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Rain, rain, rain, heavy pewter skies and more rain, days on end. Unusual for high summer in the valley, although sometimes we experience monsoon like spells of weather. But for one long glorious moment this afternoon the billowing tiers of white clouds parted and the sun broke through to reveal blue sky. Wow. It’s still there.

Silky, pink ‘naked ladies’ are abloom in the back garden. Some folks call them Resurrection Lilies. The flowers shoot up from the bare earth long after the robust foliage dies down. Masses of blooms emerged this year and they smell so sweet. Feisty little hummingbirds have discovered the enormous buddleia and all sorts of butterflies flutter over its wine-colored flowers.

I was surprised to find an extremely healthy pokeberry bush thriving among its all-encompassing branches. Actually, I like poke with its deep purple berries, if I don’t think about it being a noxious weed and reseeding everywhere. The juice from these berries was one of the first inks of the New World. They have narcotic properties, as do the roots. Every part of the plant is poisonous except for the tender green shoots that are harvested in the spring.

Even so, the medicinal value of poke was highly valued and used by Indians and colonists alike, but with much care. A little bit of cut up root steeped in several cups of boiling water made a concoction to be sipped sparingly. Poke, more than any other plant, was regarded as having the power to dramatically alter the course of an ailment.

Death is also a dramatic altering and could occur if too much was administered. I suppose the healer then made a mental note to use less next time. If self-medicating, the patient didn’t have to worry about next time.  And if some poor soul was on his (or her) way out to begin with, at least they could comfort themselves with the knowledge that they’d tried their best to save them. Sometimes that’s all we can do, and leave the rest to God.

*Royalty Free Images

How To Make Fragrant Potpourri–Beth Trissel


“It is at the edge of a petal that love waits.” ~William Carlos Williams
For gift giving, fund-raising, or just plain fun, consider making fragrant potpourri. Begin in the spring or summer  by drying rose petals, an essential ingredient. Other flowers such as bachelor buttons, asters, straw flowers and statice add color. Any blossoms that dry well can be used. Mints, lavender, and lemongrass are excellent herbs for fragrance. Save the peelings from citrus fruit. Additional scent comes from manufacturers who sell potpourri supplies.

Order ground orris root, lavender, and essential oils. Sachet bags can be made from circular scraps of breathable fabric all tied up with ribbons. Decorative jars also make attractive holders. Baskets filled with fragrant sachets are an appealing presentation if fund-raising is your goal. Here are some potpourri making directions from my experience and the book, Potpourri, by Ann Tucker Fettner.

“When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy,there is always the garden.”—MINNIE AUMONIER

After you’ve collected and dried an ample quantity of blossoms and herbal leaves, mix in your other ingredients. Use a large bowl, not plastic, but ceramic or pottery. To hold the scent, you will need a fixative, often calamus or orris root. Generally, you use a tablespoon of a fixative for every quart of dried material. Add any spices you’ve chosen, cinnamon bark broken fine, rubbed mace, ground cardamom seeds, by sprinkling them over the petals and fixatives. If you like, add the crushed citrus peel, maybe some crumbled vanilla bean, and mix well with your hands.

The ingredients must be absolutely dry or the blend will molder. To all of this, add your favorite essential oils, rose, lavender, geranium, or tincture of musk or amber. Experiment with different blends. Don’t combine all the oils in the same batch. The possibilities are endless.

When you’re satisfied that the mixture is well blended, let it age in a crock for several weeks. Don’t have a crock? Brown paper grocery bags will do. Store the mixture out of sunlight in an airy corner or attic. Stir occasionally, then package prettily and enjoy.

“Flowers are love’s truest language.”

—PARK BENJAMIN

***Royalty free images

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

Lovely Reader Review for Shenandoah Watercolors


“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. I didn’t rush through it because I found it such a peaceful way to de-stress when I needed to. I’d read a chapter or two, or even a few pages and feel calmed by the flowing language, which painted scenes of baby animals growing in verdant pastures, kids skating on the frozen winter pond, birds trilling summer songs and garden projects of all kinds. Mrs. Trissel, a farm wife in a setting that makes you want to move to the Shenandoah immediately, has an insightful way of weaving the world around her into a quilt of colors and patterns, scents and sounds. Her perspectives are delightful. She doesn’t gloss over the hardships, but takes in the joys with such depth all is tempered and balanced.

Mrs. Trissel has an amazing knowledge of flowers and plants and a sense of humor that had me laughing on many occasions. Whether accompanying her husband to the county fair, pouring over seed catalogues with her youngest daughter or rolling her eyes affectionately at her older daughter’s ballooning wedding plans, the reader feels part of that life. She has a fascinating background that is revealed in snippets here and there as offhandedly as plucking flowers in the many gardens on the farm. Both that background and her obvious knowledge of literature (lovely quotes included throughout) add depth to her day-to-day life which comes across to the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’ve read a lot of memoirs, but none so appealing as this one. Highly recommended.”

~Amazon Reader Review by C. G. King

 

“Parsley – the jewel of herbs, both in the pot and on the plate.” ~Albert Stockli


Parsley seeds must go to the devil and back nine times before sprouting.” ~Old Folk saying that stems from the length of time it takes parsley seeds to sprout.

“An honest laborious Country-man, with good Bread, Salt and a little Parsley, will make a contented Meal with a roasted Onion.” ~ John Evelyn (1620-1706)

“A prudent Victorian English girl would not cut parsley, as that would make her unlucky in love, or give it away, as that would give away her luck in love.” ~ From http://www.motherearthliving.com/Mother-Earth-Living/HERBS-of-LOVE

This year we have a thriving parsley plant (pictured alongside asparagus and black-eyed Susan and one close up image) and one that got buried under the dill and is not so content.  The kind of parsley we favor is the flat-leafed Italian variety, best for cooking. From the Kitchen Dictionary:  “There are more than 30 varieties of parley, but the most common are curly-leaf and the more pungent Italian or flat-leaf parsley. The flat-leaf has more flavor than curly parsley and is preferred for cooking, while dried parsley has little flavor at all. In ancient times parsley wreaths were used to ward off drunkenness. Chewing parsley will help with bad breath from food odors such as garlic”~

Read more: http://www.food.com/library/parsley-171#ixzz1RGqCyTOv

Parsley has an interesting and ancient history of use and much lore surrounding it which I find fascinating.   From my favorite source for antiquated herbal information: A Modern Herbal:

“There is an old superstition against transplanting parsley plants. (*I had no idea just how old this superstition was, but am aware of it.)  The herb is said to have been dedicated to Persephone and to funeral rites by the Greeks. It was afterwards consecrated to St. Peter in his character of successor to Charon.

In the sixteenth century, Parsley was known as A. hortense, but herbalists retained the official name petroselinum. Linnaeus in 1764 named it A. petroselinum, but it is now assigned to the genus Carum.

The Greeks held Parsley in high esteem, crowning the victors with chaplets of Parsley at the Isthmian games, and making with it wreaths for adorning the tombs of their dead. The herb was never brought to table of old, being held sacred to oblivion and to the dead. It was reputed to have sprung from the blood of a Greek hero, Archemorus, the forerunner of death, and Homer relates that chariot horses were fed by warriors with the leaves. Greek gardens were often bordered with Parsley and Rue.

Several cultivated varieties exist, the principal being the common plain-leaved, the curled-leaved, the Hamburg or broadleaved and the celery-leaved. Of the variety crispum, or curled-leaved, there are no less than thirty-seven variations; the most valuable are those of a compact habit with close, perfectly curled leaves. The common sort bears close leaves, but is of a somewhat hardier nature than those of which the leaves are curled; the latter are, however, superior in every way. The variety crispum was grown in very early days, being even mentioned by Pliny.

Turner says, ‘if parsley is thrown into fishponds it will heal the sick fishes therein.’

The plain-leaved parsley was the first known in this country, (*she’s speaking of Great Britain) but it is not now much cultivated, the leaves being less attractive than those of the curled, of a less brilliant green, and coarser in flavour. It also has too close a resemblance to Fool’s Parsley (Anthriscus cynapium), a noxious weed of a poisonous nature infesting gardens and fields. The leaves of the latter, though similar, are, however, of a rather darker green and when bruised, emit an unpleasant odour, very different to that of Parsley. They are, also, more finely divided. When the two plants are in flower, they are easily distinguished, Anthriscus having three tiny, narrow, sharp-pointed leaflets hanging down under each little umbellule of the white umbel of flowers, whereas in the Garden Parsley there is usually only one leaflet under the main umbel, the leaflets or bracts at the base of the small umbellules only being short and as fine as hairs. Anthriscus leaves, also, are glossy beneath. Gerard called Anthriscus ‘Dog’s Parsley,’ and says ‘the whole plant is of a naughty smell.’ It contains a peculiar alkaloid called Cynapium.

Stone Parsley (Sison), or Breakstone, is an allied plant, growing in chalky districts. S. Amomum is a species well known in some parts of Britain, with cream-coloured flowers and aromatic seeds. The name is said to be derived from the Celtic sium (running stream), some of the species formerly included growing in moist localities.

Of our Garden Parsley (which he calls Parsele) Gerard says, ‘It is delightful to the taste and agreeable to the stomache,’ also ‘the roots or seeds boiled in ale and drank, cast foorth strong venome or poyson; but the seed is the strongest part of the herbe.’

Though the medicinal virtues of Parsley are still fully recognized, in former times it was considered a remedy for more disorders than it is now used for. Its imagined quality of destroying poison, to which Gerard refers, was probably attributed to the plant from its remarkable power of overcoming strong scents, even the odour of garlic being rendered almost imperceptible when mingled with that of Parsley.

The plant is said to be fatal to small birds and a deadly poison to parrots, also very injurious to fowls, but hares and rabbits will come from a great distance to seek for it, so that it is scarcely possible to preserve it in gardens to which they have access. Sheep are also fond of it, and it is said to be a sovereign remedy to preserve them from footrot, provided it be given them in sufficient quantities.”~

Excerpt from My Nonfiction Book, Shenandoah Watercolors


“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, and crimson lupines…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, and not to be confused with the benign box turtles, but I shouldn’t end on that visual image.

Way up beyond the hills and the distant fields, the Allegheny Mountains rise 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.~

*Pics by my mom and daughter Elise

SHENANDOAH WATERCOLORS at Amazon and Barnes & Noble