Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guess Who's Coming for Lunch?

Certainly not a sign of spring but definitely an indication there was some sort of "foul play" afoot, a group of black vultures, not turkey vultures, showed up in my yard the other day with the intention of cleaning up the possum who had met it's fate there after the heavy rains this past week. Black vultures, like turkey vultures, are a protected species here in Virginia and while they are just as ugly, black vultures are a bit smaller than their red-headed cousins.

I discovered one of these buzzards surveying the situation as Tucker and I left for our walk and by the time we returned, eleven of his closest friends had shown up as well. Try as I did, I just could not convince them to all sit together while I took their picture! They were just as wary of me as I was of them.

Seeing the vultures sitting on my roof lent a bit of an Alfred Hitchcock aura to the dreary, wet day. Where is Tippi Hedren when you need her, anyway? They are as creepy as they look and insisted on staying for an hour or so even after I disposed of the poor possum. I think they hung around in disbelief that I actually had removed their "luncheon special" from my yard. They seemed to eye me with a certain amount of disdain.

Protected, yes. Welcomed, no. Move along, fellas. There's nothing of interest here for you anymore.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dill is the 2010 Herb of the Year

I had the good fortune to travel, this past Friday, to River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia with my friends Kim and Arlene(that's them in the picture at left and a picture of the main house of River Farm) for the monthly meeting of the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America (HSA). I am not a member of the Potomac Unit like Kim and Arlene but I am a Member-At-Large of the HSA and, every so often I attend the Potomac Unit's meetings and see what's going on in this very active and vibrant group that is connected to HSA units all across the country as well as internationally through the International Herb Association (IHA).

River Farm, located on the Potomac River, was originally owned by George Washington and is close to his main estate, Mount Vernon, just a few miles further south and also located along the banks of the Potomac River. River Farm is now owned and operated by the American Horticulture Society (AHS) and is used for public and private educational programs of all sorts, especially horticultural ones. The entire grounds consist of teaching and display gardens and panoramic views of the Potomac River. This picture, at left, of a knot garden using boxwood and bay standards is very similar to the knot garden Peter planted in our yard last spring. The next picture is of a novel use for a pile of dirt and some extra sod you may have laying around your yard--turn it into a sod sofa--a new perspective in "going green" with garden furniture. Had it not been such a dreary, cold and wet day, I would have tried it out.

This particular meeting of the Potomac HSA was about the 2010 Herb of the Year, Dill and featured celebrated international writer and cookbook author, Susan Belsinger, also a Potomac Unit member. Susan took time from her extremely busy schedule to talk to the group about "Edible Herbal Umbels" of which, one of the most popular umbels out there in the herbal world, coincidentally, is Dill (Anethum Graveolens). It is a member of the Umbellifrea family of plants that include those with flower or seed heads that resemble in some way, shape and form, umbrellas. Sorry that this picture of Susan (green apron) is a bit blurry, but she moves fast when she is speaking.

The Herb Society of America's mission is dedicated to promoting the "knowledge, use and delight of herbs." Now you may say that this statement seems oversimplified but I would tell you that you could not go to many other nonprofit national and international organizations that are made up of people from all walks of life and many are experts in their fields of horticulture, science and technology, medicine and landscape design and architecture, and ranging from housewives to writers, business owners, plant growers, teachers, doctors and scientists. It is a multi-faceted and fascinating organization of people and it aims to educate its members as well as the general public on the cultivation of herbs. For example, the HSA has published on their website a 28 page document dedicated solely to Dill. Everything you may have thought you ever needed or wanted to know about this herb and it's many uses can be found there.

For starters, Dill has been cultivated since around 400B.C. and is mentioned in the bible and, historically, Dill's uses have ranged from flavoring in cooking to medicine and even witchcraft, yet this herb has never been considered one of the more "glitzy" ones out there like rosemary or thyme. However, Susan Belsinger showed the Potomac Unit and it's visitors a thing or two as to why Dill has it's staying power by demonstrating a few of her "Herbal Umbel Recipes"-- such as a Bloody Umbel (Bloody Mary's with Dill-infused vodka), Greek-inspired Dill Feta Cheese Spread and a lovely, spicy pastry called a Lemon, Dill and Pistachio Sharing Cookie (something like one of those giant chocolate chip cookies you can buy at a Mrs. Field's cookie shop only way better!)

I had a wonderful time at this meeting as I always do because I manage to pick the most fun and interesting ones to attend--one of the advantages to being a Member-At-Large. At the end of the meeting, Susan raffled off a few packages of her favorite types of Dill (Dukat Leafy) and I was one of the lucky winners! I probably should have bought a lottery ticket on the way home that day as I never win anything and it did turn out to be my lucky day--spending it with good friends, eating good food and attending a most intriguing meeting about Dill.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

They Would if They Could and They Can!

This is proving to be an especially hard winter on all of us here in Northern Virginia with bitter cold temperatures, record-breaking snowfalls, downpours of rain that turn into ice and those ever-present, unwelcome house guests that go by the name of whitetail deer. Yes, you know them well don't you, because when they are not in my yard, I can probably find them in yours. Yesterday, I awoke early to find a family/herd of these hard to get rid of lovable looking Bambi's sampling breakfast in two of my biggest lavender beds.

This time of year always brings these increasingly hungry buggers closer to my back door, and even front door, in search of rare but nice, soft green leaves still clinging on various bushes as well as any hint of clover in the grass. Since an abundance of clover during the summer is present in the field grass on my property, the deer seem determined to hoof and claw their way down into the soil in search of what is lurking there for the coming days of warm weather.

Anyway, Saturday morning, there they were. Brazenly munching away among the lavender bushes and even occasionally sampling some, much to my distress. No use sending the big, black, imposing-looking dog out after them because he just sits on the porch looking at them, too afraid to remember that he is "King of the Yard!" Rather, I decided to get the camera and catch them with their hands in the cookie jar--so to speak. Yes, we all know the basic premise that lavender is deer resistant, meaning that deer do not eat it but now I have proof and we all know that if deer are hungry enough, they will eat just about anything. And, yes! They really have sampled lavender but at least it does seem that they do not particularly care for it's culinary value.
after all, woody plants can't be that tasty, especially ones that smell like perfume! Yet, the deers' curiosity and trampling hooves can still do considerable damage.

I have read articles claiming that deer in urban areas are much more aggressive than deer who live--and dine--in the country because there is much less vegetation in more populated areas and deer have even been known to go through garbage in search of food. If desperate enough for food, these city dwellers can injure and even kill dogs who try to stand in their way. (Maybe Tucker read or heard me referring to an article or two about this. Or, more realistically, he considers them to be his friends since they are in our yard day in and day out!) I'm thinking that I've got some "city slickers," looking for a better life out here in the country, moving into my neighborhood. In fact, while taking the pictures, I'm pretty sure I heard one deer say to another, "Oh. "dear" look...the welcome wagon came out to take our picture. Isn't that nice of her?" Well, ate least they had the decency to step out of the lavender beds while they posed for this last picture...

So, if you see these guys in your yard, don't fret too much. I'm sure they are just passing through on their way to my yard.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Painting January Away

Since the weather outside is truly frightful, we have turned our attention to indoor projects for this year's coming fairs. While I am sewing and puttering at my little work table, Peter has been busily painting and is now about half of the way through with a picture of the lovely little town of Bluemont, Virginia, about six miles up the road from us and where the Bluemont Fair takes place every year. This painting promises to be a lovely tribute to this once bustling resort town, located on the side of a mountain, where Washingtonians once came to escape the heat of the city, up until about 100 years ago. Today, it is a sleepy little town filled with charming Victorian homes being fixed up by young families who want to escape living altogether in, or in the immediate suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The success of his painting of the Hamlet of Philomont, done several years ago, and the scene of Middleburg, finished last year, has shown us both that there is a definite desire for these Loudoun County towns to be preserved by an artist so I think he is embarking on a journey of his own making and attempting to paint and portray these lovely historic villages in his own style.

Originally, I had hoped that the Bluemont painting would be done by the Bluemont Fair in September. Now I'm hoping that not only Bluemont will be done but also Lincoln, VA and perhaps Round Hill, VA. too? Lofty goals, I know--especially when spring is lurking right around the corner and we can return to spending our time in the gardens.

Peter a Landscape Architect by education, training and trade, found his painting "niche" way back when we were first married and living in married student housing at Purdue University. We couldn't afford pictures to help cover the white-washed cinder block walls of our tiny apartment. So, in his spare time, he would paint on old breadboards and sometimes canvas. He even would buy lathboard, nail it together, and paint on that turning ordinary pieces of wood into charming country scenes displayed in our small rooms then and that still grace our home today.

My sister, Chris, a talented artist herself, became one of his biggest fans through the years and she and I were always encouraging him to paint more but there was never a lot of time for Peter to pursue this particular hobby. Now that school, baseball and all of the trappings that come with a growing child have bitter sweetly set us free, Peter has returned to painting. These two pictures, left and below, are among my favorites and done on kitchen bread boards were painted about 15-20 years ago. Today, the church's home is in our guest bedroom while the New England town is diplayed in our kitchen.Add Image

Many of his paintings have now been converted into prints at a local gallery and Peter, the ever-discerning artist, prefers to mat and frame his artwork before selling them. We have not parted with any of his originals yet (other than to various family members like my sister and Pete's mother) except for the Philomont picture which was painted for and sold at the Banneker Elementary School Auction when our son, Kevin, was in fourth grade there. However, Peter's collection is growing and, thankfully, we have a print of the Philomont painting which also hangs in our kitchen and in the homes of many other Philomont and Loudoun County residents' homes, too.

What a wonderful hobby to have and what is even more wonderful is to have the talent to be able to practice such a hobby as to paint beautiful pictures. There are a lot more pictures he has painted and I will show them to you in future blog entires but, for now, enjoy these as I do.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelfth Night - Jan. 5 or 6

The Epiphany, formally the last day of Christmastime festivities, is today, January 6. Yesterday, January 5, is often referred to in Christian practices as Twelfth Night because for many Christians, it marks the coming of the Epiphany and concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas. Twelfth Night occurs as a last time for Christmas revelers to gather around a tree, often an old and very large apple tree outside (not the evergreen tree that has been dutifully standing in your living room for the past few weeks looking gorgeous and festive) and wish the tree and its spirit good health in hopes for a good harvest in the coming summer and fall. These merrymakers would also drink a whole lot of cider, too--probably in an effort to keep warm on a cold January night.

In garden lore, Twelfth Night is also traditionally a time to take down the Christmas decorations as legends suggest that leaving them up after Twelfth Night can be unlucky. Gardeners of old would often advise people to use care in taking down evergreen boughs and not discard them but ceremoniously burn or bury them with respect and reverence in their gardens, thus bringing good fortune to future crops and plants on a homeowner's property.

My trees, however, are artificial and already lovingly tucked away in the attic for a well deserved rest until next year and, hopefully, guaranteeing another year of happiness and good fortune. Whether your Christmas decorations are already packed away or not, I wish for you the same throughout this entire year.