Monday, June 28, 2010

Pretty Pickers!

It may not be the sun-drenched fields of Provence, but the rolling countryside of northwestern Virginia is just as scenic and the lavender pickers are much prettier and much, much more pleasant, I'm sure, here at Blooming Hill! The lavender harvest continues with help from two very special young ladies, Alyssa and Brianna, both raising money for their church youth mission trip to South Dakota this week where they will work with and get to know boys and girls on a Lakota Souix Indian Reservation.

Alyssa and Brianna, with names as lovely as those of the lavender plants they are working on, appeared at my front door at 6:00 in the evening, last Monday, all smiles and very polite, ready to work.  Two sweet and gentle breaths of fresh air, that allowed me to take the night off from picking lavender and turn my attention to watering, weeding, making cuttings and other garden tasks that often take the very back seat during the month of June and into July when the lavender must be harvested.  Why hadn't I thought of hiring these two before?...I really can't say!  However, I'm sure, lavender fields in Provence could not compare with the beauty and peace that graced my own sun and shade dappled lavender field that evening with the presence of Alyssa and Brianna making divinely, fragrant purple-hued bundled bouquets. 

Working  into the dusky evening, their smiles never wavered and I didn't hear a single, "How many more do I have to cut before I can quit?" And, they made the most wonderful bundles with no effort at all!  They were "purple-perfect," ready to be hung and dried with no further primping from me...what joy!

No scowls or grimaces, just two pretty girls enjoying the buzzing bees, the warm summer evening and the task at hand, content in the knowledge that they had raised enough money through this, as well as housework, babysitting and yard work at other peoples' homes in order to go on a church mission trip to, yes...help even more people.  Such pretty pickers with names to match...Alyssa and Brianna, you are simply delightful.  Safe trip, thank you very much and I'll see you again soon to pick lavender at Blooming Hill. 

"She who works in a garden works hand in hand with God." Douglas Malloch

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lavender Reigns in June

Hot, humid, muggy, buggy conditions are often the harsher perks of a Virginia Summer and gardens can pay the price of withstanding the season.  As June wends it's way into longer hours of unrelenting sunshine and heat, and the bright blooms of spring make way for the warm flowers of summer, my gardens are transforming into peaceful corners of solace and welcoming outdoor rooms that rise to meet the weather challenges with a certain "jois de vivre."  Colors like golds and oranges, reds and pinks mingle carefree with creams, blues and lavenders among the green textures.

June is a lavender month and the Lavender...ahhh, the Lavender is blooming in shades from white to pink, blue, grey and the darkest of purples.  These plants are the "Princesses" of my garden domain, offering promises of lasting color, texture and fragrance while they rule, steadfastly, this month and beyond.  Lavender will continue to bewitch and bedazzle the most skeptical of garden visitors even after the last of the blooms have been picked and gathered by the middle of July....that's the beauty of majestic Lavender.

Wonderful, mystical, practical Lavender!  I can't seem to get enough of it.  And, although I don't see lavender as my favorite color--that would be pink which coincidentally, Lavender comes in as well--I cannot live without Lavender in my garden.  Even the word itself--lavender--evokes images of a soft, calm, gracious way of life, thanks to this wonderful gift of nature in the form of a simple plant called Lavender.

I have been growing Lavender for fifteen years now and, although I sometimes complain about the manual labor of it all, (I won't mention how Peter and Kevin feel about harvesting it--I think you may already have a good idea) along with the bugs and the heat of the day, I really do relish the rewards that Lavender provides throughout the year, whether it is in full glorious bloom or deep into it's winter sleep.  Lavender, in it's own way, has given me so much from wonderful friends to a deep appreciation for beautiful flowers of all kinds.  And, to my surprise and delight, honey bees have been returning to my garden in ever increasing numbers this year, flitting from one blossom to the next while gathering sweet nectar for their hives and pollinating everything they land on...oh, happy day!  In short, Lavender is a gift that keeps on giving and I intend to keep on growing it and learning about it's many wonderful qualities. 

And because of my never-waning interest in Lavender, I had a wonderful visit to Willow Pond Lavender Farm located in Emmitsburg, Pennsylvania this past Saturday morning, with my friend Kim, to enjoy their Lavender Festival.  It seems as though I am not the only one who has developed a deep appreciation for this wonderful plant that comes in so many different species and varieties.  In fact, I think I am a "newbie" at this Lavender growing business when I see the dedication Willow Pond has cultivated in promoting this versatile plant that attracts people as though they were bees to honey. 

Having over 40 different varieties growing in my own gardens, you'd think I wouldn't need or think of adding even one more Lavender plant and I went there with just that intention of looking, not acquiring any more!  However, the road to you know where is paved with good intentions and I came home with five new varieties of lavender to add to my own collection.  No, it is not an addiction problem--I'm pretty sure.  But, it has gone way past an infatuation with Lavender to perhaps how I prefer to think of it as a long-standing relationship with a fascinating plant that I can't ever seem to have enough of! 

So, try as I might, I  found I could not resist and had to bring a few new lavenders home with me from Willow Pond.  After all, Peter has been talking about adding a third demonstration garden out in the field to balance the two that are already there.  It was a very hard choice, but I somehow managed to select some lovely English Lavenders (Lavandula  Angustifolia.) with names like "Madeline Marie," "Two Amy's" and "Rebecca Kay" along with a really dark specimen called "French Fields."  I have a tendency to pick out lavenders based on their beautiful and poetic names rather than on their appearance.  Who can resist a lavender named Madeline Marie, anyway?!  I also bought one French Lavender (Lavandula x Intermedia), "Grosso Kew," a variation of the original"Grosso" but grown at Kew Gardens, the National Botanic Garden of England, just to see how different it might be.  All were tucked safely into a box and carried carefully home to Blooming Hill.  What is the fifth type of Lavender plant you brought home, you ask?  Well, I am always asked whether I know of very small lavenders.  So, for good measure and in my continual pursuit of more Lavender knowledge I added a variety called "Petite Lavenite" (L. Ang.) to my assortment as well and will keep an eye on it's growth habits in the coming months.

As beautiful as the lavender fields at Willow Pond are, (and, they really are) all in bloom, for those who came to spend time cutting sprigs of lavender for their own use or just to gaze upon the fields of purple haze, I had no problem resisting that urge, however, knowing my own plants were not yet completely harvested at home.  I have a few more weeks of harvesting to go and this part of being a Lavender grower, for me, is the hardest--the bushes are so beautiful in full bloom it's hard to begin cutting them yet, I spend every day fretting about getting them cut at just the right time to preserve their color at their truest shade.  When I finally begin cutting, I find every bundle to be just as beautiful as the one before and the rhythm and sway of gathering lavender helps me lose all track of time for at least a few hours.  No matter how much I have to do, it seems that I forget all of that and focus on the task of gathering Lavender blossoms...not such a bad thing, after all.

Grosso and Provence Lavender (both L. x Int.) especially, as well as Royal Purple (L.Ang.) are currently at their peak and boasting "technicolor" purple in their long, production beds.  However, others like Ana Louisa, Mitchum Grey,  Backhouse Nana (all L. Angs.) and many others, scattered about, are also in full bloom and harvesting is now becoming a necessity throughout the entire yard in order to capture their true shades of lavender, blue and purple at their peak.   The pink lavenders are already down and the whites are almost cut as well.   Grosso, Provence and Royal Purple are all pedigree work horses when it comes to the Lavender Genus.  They are large, prolific bushes with beautiful full blooms perfect for potpourri, crafts and arrangements. And, there are so many more bushes yet to burst out in their sheer purple-blue majesty, my head is spinning just thinking of them all.  Whew!  I need to stop and just go one bush at a time...they'll wait but not for too long.

And, lest I forget the rest of the flowers in the yard?...Never!  Their rainbow of colors and texture perfectly compliment that of the Lavenders, of course, calling me to admire each lily, hydrangea and rose's own unique charm and personality.  June, in all of it's glory and grace, is a lovely month producing so many stars in my garden and, because of the "royal princess" presence of many different Lavenders, they all are quite happy to serve as ladies-in-waiting. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Llamas To The Left Of Me...Trivets To The Right...Here I Am!


Well, actually, it was trivets to the left of me and llamas to the right and there I was--not exactly stuck in the middle, but situated in-between them as my booth neighbors at the Virginia Herb Festival at Sunflower Cottage Nursery in Middletown this past weekend.  Three days of fun in the sweltering sun and, even with a tent for protection from the elements and plenty to drink, I now have a pretty good idea as to how a fried egg must feel when over-cooked!

Peter and I set up camp last Thursday evening, the night before the Herb Fair was to begin because I wanted to get there early and claim a great space right next to the actual Sunflower Cottage on the nursery property where, I had been told, it was considered a prime location for vendors.   A place I was pretty sure plenty of people would walk by and see my booth--not up on the hill so far away from all of the herb and flower action.  And, by all accounts, it was a great space.  Zipped up tight and ready to go for the next three days...

I also learned that the old adage some very wise person once said, "Never work with children or animals because they will upstage you every time," is absolutely a very true one!  To my right, a llama named Raven and her two alpaca charges were the hit of the fair.  People who may have been looking at my booth with every intention to come in and browse, heading directly for a cast-limestone bunny or a handmade sunflower pin, would suddenly catch a glimpse out of the corner of their eye of one of these very calm and extremely cute animals batting their long eyelashes at them and away they would run right out of my booth barely taking time to put down what they were once interested in and hurry over to them with an, "Awwwww...look at those sweet, cuddly things...can I pet them?"  Never to even glance my way again!...(Insert heavy, heavy sigh here).

I have to admit that, yes, even I was a bit smitten by their "woolly" charm and natural guile, but really, I had the garden ornaments at the garden fair!  I had the Royal Purple and Mitchum Grey Lavender bundles beautifully bound and swaying in the soft summer breeze.  It was my booth, Blooming Hill, where fairy birdbaths were plentiful and handmade pillows were invitingly plump and colorful.  What did those "wiley" creatures offer other than maybe some pretty good garden fertilizer--okay some very nice wool, too--but it still needed to be spinned and who comes to a garden fair looking for fertilizer, anyway?!  Llamas over lavender?...What is this world coming too?!

"And the trivets?" you ask. How could they draw your booth visitors attention away?  They, along with many other pretty hand-painted items were located in the booth to my left and offered by a very sweet lady named Natalie.  Her booth seemed to always have a much cooler breeze and way better shade than mine as she sipped her bottled ice water and stayed calm and cool under the shelter of her tent. (Again...insert heavy sigh...).  Anyone in their right mind, including me on a few occasions, sought the shelter of shade and the comfort of a cool breeze under her tent canopy.  (Note to self...next year, take her spot.)

The entire plant nursery, full of demonstration and display gardens, called Sunflower Cottage, where the herb fair took place, is a very interesting and pretty location, especially for those interested in all things garden related.  It is situated in a valley of the Blue Ridge with lovely, long hoop houses filled with robust, healthy-looking plants, even in this grueling weather. There is a wonderful labyrinth dug and maintained by this nice young man named Shane who told me that they only gave him "something that you use to hoe or pull weeds with to edge, clear and smooth the path and I did it in only six hours!"   Only somebody young and naive could do that all by himself with a smile on his face, seemingly enjoying every minute of it and proud of his work, too. Ahhhh, the Zen of it all!  I think the karma must be good here even though the lavender in their gardens was not yet ready to pick this past weekend.

High Tea was also served every day in the actual Sunflower Cottage located just behind my booth.  It had a "Little House on the Prairie"  feel going on and it was where, I suppose, the llama, Raven, and her two little alpaca charges (but, not me) were probably invited every one of the three days of this fair to join visitors for some respite, good food and company.  At least while the llama and alpacas were on their break, people would come into my booth and spend some time--probably wondering to themselves the entire time, "where are those adorable creatures, anyway?!"

There were also some very informative talks and presented close to my booth as well from speakers about edible flowers and healing herbs as well as cooking demonstrations from well known area restaurants like L'Auberge de Provecal in White Post, Virginia and One Block West in Winchester, Virginia.  If you are a food groupie, you are already well acquainted with their fabulous fare.  In short, Sunflower Cottage was a happening place and I was part of it for the entire weekend.

All in all, it was a good time for me at the Virginia Herb Fair, peddling my garden wares as a vendor, albeit a very hot and sticky one and also the last of the fairs for me until the end of summer.  I always seem to have a lot of fun and I never miss an opportunity to talk about all of the fine qualities lavender has to offer.  However, it's now time to focus on the tasks at hand in my own garden where the lavender is growing a bit impatient and beckoning me daily to come and harvest it in order to get ready for a new crop of fairs in the fall.  There is never any rest for the weary around here but I love summer and high summer is just around the corner.  Now it's time to enjoy the fruits of labor in my own garden
 where there is only a big, friendly dog around who doesn't seem to have to steal the show--well, at least not all of the time.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Never A Dull Moment...

Where have I been these last two weeks?  Let's see...Let me think a moment...Traveling from one end of Pennsylvania to the other end of Virginia, it seems, with no rest for the weary in sight. It is now well into June and my head is spinning from cutting lavender to participating in various garden shows and even getting the porch wicker furniture painted and looking nice and new for the summer season.  Even the simplest of daily chores in the garden would not be ignored for a few hours to sit down and tap out a blog entry. The watering and weeding is an ongoing must on my own "honey-do" list...Currently, my daily mantra is "Cyndie, honey, just get out there a do it!  Let's not lolly-gag!"

But, I'm not complaining.  In spite of the hot, sticky weather, gnats galore and continual heavy lifting, life could be way worse.  The roses are in bloom, the lettuce has not yet decided to bolt and still supplying us with plenty of luscious greens adorning the dinner table each summer evening as we dine alfresco on our newly spiffed-up porch and the sweet, sweet lavender now bursting every day is always an excuse to have friends visit and partake in the beautiful garden views.  And, who can resist these plump, green and fragrant rose hips (pictured here) freshly picked from the Apothecary Rose Bushes in the back border?!  Surely, not me! 

I've seen honey bees every day, although not as many as I'd like, but they are still scurrying from blossom to blossom in pursuit of essential nectar for their hives.  I never seem to have the camera handy when they buzz by me and land on the bloom I'm about to cut.  However, this butterfly was kind enough to stick around long enough for me to run and fetch the camera and then paused to pose from his task at hand.  However, note to self--make it one of my missions, this coming week, to have it on hand and ask a bee to stop and say "cheese"  for the camera.  That being said, let me take you through my last two weeks.  Looking back, it doesn't seem so frenetic as it was while living through it.  However, I assure you, it was... 

First, I visited the Campania, Int'l  Factory and Distribution Center, up in Pennsylvania, to pick up a few small garden statuary items for the upcoming fairs I will be in.  Apparently, not that many vendors ask the Campania employees to let them take their picture.  These two gentlemen were only too happy to do so when I asked them to strike a pose.  Such friendly people...I'll be stopping by more often in the future because I can't seem to keep this stuff in stock and they seem to really like me there!

Next stop was the 51st Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour in Upperville, Virginia where I spent most of Memorial Day Weekend selling Peter's paintings, wreaths, plants, pillows, crafts and garden statuary to eager and interested gardeners and horse people alike.  This fair takes place on the grounds of the historic landmark Trinity Episcopal Church built from native Virginia sandstone and crowned with a freshly gilded golden rooster who proudly glistened in the sunlight.  I must say that even as a committed Presbyterian, this lovely church will make anyone consider becoming Episcopalian based solely on the beauty of this structure.  Alas, I contained myself but, I also promised myself that I will be back to enjoy the hospitality and fellowship of this friendly and generous congregation from time to time.

I thought I might show a few of the items that seem to be popular choices from Blooming Hill's assortment  for people's gardens for this summer season.  Here's an up close and personal view at some of my favorites...

In between the "hub-bub" of traveling these past two weeks, the lavender decided it was time to come out and play, displaying their splendorous buds in every shade of purple, blue, lavender, pink and white that you can think of--from the deepest tones to the softest hues.  I love these family bonding times even though, in three weeks time, my name will be posted as public enemy number one around here.  You'd be surprised how not fun harvesting can get when you are only on your umpteenth bush with countless more to go and the gnats are whirring around your face at break-neck speed, taunting you.  But, for now, I'll enjoy these smiling, happy faces shining down on me from Peter and Kevin and even Tucker who thinks he is in charge anyway.  Oh well, I'll humor them all and "grin and bear it" right through to the end of harvest time because, in the end, the satisfaction and benefits we receive from growing this mystical plant far outweighs the work.  Take a look at the beautiful knot garden (pictured below) Peter designed and planted last year with "Baby Blue" Lavandula Angustifolia along with English Boxwood and Rosemary.  It was almost a shame to cut the lavender in this bed because it was so pretty all dressed up in it's best purple-blue finery.  Yet, the blooms and greenery from these heirloom plants are forever etched in our minds and "Baby Blue's" everlasting blue is ours and yours to enjoy.
 

And then, finally, because we haven't had time to stop and actually smell the roses, so to speak, I thought I might add a few scenes from the gardens to help you breathe easily, smile and savor the summer season in all of it's early glory before the dog days of summer begin to set in.  Even in these crazy days where there doesn't seem to be enough time to water, re-pot, transplant or prune one thing, much less stroll through the garden in the early morning with a cup of coffee in hand, it does remind me that this is done, all for the love of flowers...
 
June promises to be yet another busy month for me.  Next on my whistle-stop tour of garden fairs is The Virginia Herb Festival at Sunflower Cottage in Middletown, Virginia, June 11-13.  If you are interested in more information about this popular garden event, go to www.sunflowercottage.net.   The weathermen are calling for sunny and very warm conditions there and the Farmers' Almanac concurs.  How else could it be in this "fair" state we call Virginia and home at this time of the year when June is bursting out all over? Until then, I'll be picking lavender, gathering rose hips, cutting lettuce and even smelling the flowers in between fairs.  If you are in the neighborhood, stop by, chances are you will find someone at home, busy in a lavender patch, to say the least.