Monday, July 26, 2010

More Than Just Lavender, You Know...

My friends, Kim and Nora, from Abernathy and Spencer Greenhouses and Nursery stopped by this morning to take some cuttings from various lavender plants that they will start, grow and eventually sell there.  They did this last year and now have some different varieties, from my plants, that they are selling this year.  Making cuttings from a plant is the most reliable way to propagate lavender and I am so pleased that Abernathy and Spencer Greenhouses and Nursery find my collection of lavender plants intriguing enough to take cuttings from.  They have selected cuttings from some of my favorite varieties like "Betty's Blue," "Mitchum Gray" and "Royal Purple,"" among others, so if you see some pretty lavenders there with names that are just as pretty, chances are they started out in my garden.

The lavender bushes in my yard have all been harvested and most of this year's crop now hangs from the rafters in my basement.  Soon, it will be time to start fussing and primping over it, like I do every year, in order to get it ready for the the fall shows and fairs.  This is just a small quantity of what is hanging throughout the basement, attic and various hardly-used closets--if there is such a thing--in my house.  Actually, the lavender is ready to go's just that I'm busy in the garden collecting and gathering other everlasting flowers, herbs, pinecones and more--anything that I've found over the years that help make a beautiful and natural bouquet, wreath or arrangement of some kind.
I think these rose hips, rose petals, pussy willow catkins and mountain mint leaves left to dry in plain cardboard boxes make a colorful display just this way!

It's that time of the summer when I have to start bending over to walk through my workroom in the basement.  Even finding available space on a table can be a bit challenging down here where boxes separate different leaves, seed pods and petals giving them a chance to breathe and mature.  Baby's breath and yarrow along with scented geranium and mountain mint start making their way into the rafters as well. They may not look so pretty hanging up-side-down right now, but their lovely, mingled fragrances reminds me of how they will look when they finally end up in a finished project for a fair.

The season for gathering rose petals is slowing down during these dog days of summer however, I 'm still faithfully collecting them for potpourri this year.  Peter was a bit surprised to find me still pulling these perfectly lovely, yet not too plentiful blossoms at this time of the summer season off of the bushes, but it's now or never.  The vibrant pinks and reds of the petals are beautiful just as themselves but their color will accentuate anything they are mixed with, especially lavender. In flower language, pink and red rose petals stand for beauty, grace and sweetness...dried or fresh, they certainly beautiful, graceful and sweet.

This side parterre-bed in the knot garden boasts all sorts of flowers and herbs that can be collected and dried from  globe-amaranth to baby's breath.  Lately, I've been collecting the colorful stalks of Chinese lanterns with their bright green to deep orange lantern-shaped husks.

Old-fashioned standbys like baby's breath, lavender sea statice and German statice provide delicate texture  to arrangements.  While these have been plentiful in my garden this year, I have found that a little goes a long way because they dry so big and fluffy.  Even here, still fresh in the garden, baby's breath billows out and around the cockscomb and globe amaranth.  It's appearance conveys purity of heart, gaiety and festiveness.  Well, at least I look happy, even in the heat of the day.  While they are just about ready for the picking, different varieties of celosia (cockscomb) from pencil shaped plumes to lacy fans also display their "frillyness" and lend the garden a sense of humor, which they are known for. I'll wait another week or so before I begin to collect these flowers to ensure they are at their deepest color and fullest shape.  They will continue to produce new blooms from this point on, until the first frost.

Rustic pine cones and course magnolia seed pods can lend simple elegance to anything from fine crystal bowls to plastic garden containers and beyond.  This is where I began to recognize, several years ago, that sparkly gold glitter as one of my dearest friends when it comes to crafting with natural everlasting material.  But here, on this July day, no glitter is needed to enhance their earthy beauty.

There is still so much more in the garden that I haven't mentioned that is just coming into their full ready to be harvested mode, like this curry plant with its tiny yellow buds.  So, I'll add this to my ever growing list of "to be cut and dried" flowers.  Scented geraniums, like the Lady Plymouth variegated variety, also shown above, will continue to grow and flourish until the first frost as well and will supply lots of fragrance and texture to arrangements and potpourri.  It's one of my favorite "cut and come again" garden plants that can thrive in a pot, loves summer heat and doesn't need a lot of water.   Basil blossoms, calendula flower heads and pumpkins are all getting themselves ready to be picked and stored for fall, too.  Whew, I'm tired just thinking about it.  However, I've got time.  There are still a few more months here in Northern Virginia before the frost appears, even on this little pumpkin nestled under the protective vines of a tomato plant...(or any other pumpkins, gourds, flowers and herbs, for that matter.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hot Spots in The Garden

It's July and it's hot and there are hot spots everywhere in the gardens from beautiful texture to glorious color.  But, you have to really look for both on these hot, hot July days.  No, I have not gone completely off my rocker--although I'm fairly sure the heat has gotten to me--looking, desperately, for ways to keep plants and cuttings and myself cool while trying to water the gardens judiciously. I know perfectly well that this fan can't possibly cool off the patio but, I can dream can't I?  The weather forecasters keep telling us how many days in a row we've gone with being over 90 degrees and I'm too hot to care anymore.

But, I did try the fan, as an addition to the permanent ceiling fan in the greenhouse.  Alas, all it seemed to do was make the hot and sticky air in there feel even  hotter and stickier and that definitely did not help the interior of the greenhouse one iota!

What's a plant to do in this kind of weather other than just go with the flow of things? Yep...Just like this old renegade pumpkin vine in the greenhouse that seems as happy as a clam, no matter what the weather is, inside or out. But, to me, that's the problem--there is no flow, so to speak.  After all, it happens every year--high heat and not enough rain.  So, since the extra fan didn't help cool the greenhouse, there was no sense moving more plants in when it was obvious that I had to move all that was in, out!

Plan "B" had me moving all of the plants and cuttings out of the greenhouse and squirreling them away in the herb garden and the perimeter beds of the knot garden for a cooler way of life.  I have also resorted to planting many of the larger potted plants in existing beds to help conserve on watering.  It's not so bad...Lavender cuttings stuck in sand-filled jiffy pots are enjoying their own type of sauna in small plastic containers tucked away in a shady corner at the back of the house.  And, the smaller cuttings gathered around these "mini greenhouses as well as in various places under leaves and in corners of the gardens seem quite happy to be getting some fresh air, albeit rather hot and sticky July fresh air.

While the gardens remain in good shape and full of texture, like I said, you have to look for the color beyond the varying shades of green in the white-hot sun during the day due to the extreme heat and shortage of moisture, beyond humidity, here.  It seems that rain at any point of the day or night can be all around us but not here at Blooming Hill.  Isolated thunderstorms mean just that...isolated.  It can be raining down the road or in the next town but not here!  I've watched many times with frustration, the rain clouds skirting the Blue Ridge but never crossing over them.  Watering from the hose can only do so much and the gardens are looking for a good all-over soaking which, it seems, is a very long shot into the coming week and going forward. However, there are some "bright-hot" spots throughout the yard. 

Even in this hot weather, zinnias and pumpkins, marigolds and African Blue basil and mandevilla and petunias--perennials and annuals of all kinds--are keeping a stiff upper lip and still showing off their color while valiantly holding on to their petals and blooms.

As they say in the gardening business, "Have watering cans and hose, will travel." Onward in the constant struggle to keep plants going through this terrible hot spell...wait a that a rain drop I just felt?  It's a tough summer but hope springs eternal here at Blooming Hill!  I hope it does where you live, too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Weathering Garden Pots with a Moss Patina

This eerily blurred view of the setting sun, glowing red through the thick rain clouds and hazy atmosphere last Thursday evening, after only three hundredths of an inch of rain, got me to thinking about the fate of this summer's garden here at Blooming Hill.  The intense heat and high humidity of the past week found us slowing down the pace in the garden, save for what seemed to be constant watering of the ever-thirsty plants--especially those in pots.  Fortunately, the troublesome weeds have also begun to curb their voracious march through the beds and are taking vacations to somewhere where the ground has to be moister and softer to conquer during these "High Summer" days.

Surprisingly, moss is growing in some of the driest of places throughout the yard and it's soft, almost velvet appearance got me to thinking about what I could do with this fuzzy green carpet that seems to be thriving even in these grueling "Dog Days of Summer."  "Let's try weathering garden pots like Martha Stewart does!"  I said to Peter, who was all to eager to try it as well.  After all, we had the moss, water, shade and most certainly, humidity.  All we had to do was make a stop at the Philomont General Store for some buttermilk and Peter and I were in business.  However, in the back of my mind, I was thinking that we need to get a life around here if the thought of "mossing pots" seems like an exciting thing to do on a hot summer weekend.

A quick moss starter recipe is as follows...I'm not sure whether Martha Stewart would approve or agree but, we were now fully committed to this project of encouraging moss to grow on just about every pot we have here at our happy little "Philomont Farmlet."  Here it is:

Moss Starter Recipe:

Take a clump (a small handful) of healthy moss from your yard (or ask a neighbor for some if you don't have any, or buy it at your local nursery) and crumble it into your blender.

Add about 2 cups or so of buttermilk and about 2 cups of water.  Or, at least equal parts of each depending on how much moss you have.  (We made two batches since we wanted to weather just about all of our pots--those to sell and those in our own collection.)

Blend the ingredients together, with the blender set on it's lowest speed, until the concoction is completely mixed and is the consistency of a thin milkshake.  Add more water if necessary.

Now you are ready, like we were, to go to town, so to speak, and paint garden pots, statuary and anything else we could think of to, hopefully, lend a mossy, antiqued texture to pots in the garden. It's a fun and easy project that, apparently tastes good, least Tucker thinks so.

We couldn't resist the urge to paint my stash of small, new and old pots gathered in the greenhouse and waiting to be filled with scented geranium, rosemary, myrtle and chrysanthemum cuttings almost ready for transplanting. I'll be offering these at fall fairs. Even though a missed pumpkin seed seems to be thriving, with lots of flowers and buds on it, nestled comfortably in the dirt floor of the greenhouse, it seemed a bit too sunny for moss to grow on pots in here.  I'll be moving these to a shady spot where the moss will have an easier time emerging.  The pungent aroma of buttermilk and dirt smelled like some kind of earthy salad dressing and really permeated the air in the greenhouse. It took only a few minutes to quickly paint the mixture on these pots and I was glad when they were done and moved back outdoors. Thank goodness for fresh air!

Every time I turned around, it seemed as though Peter found yet another pot in the yard to paint! Well, why waste a perfectly good concoction of buttermilk and moss?  Anything in the garden made of terracotta, natural stone or cement, it seemed, was not left untouched by Peter's artistic hand.  And, Tucker, following along, liked the idea too, and left his seal of approval.

So, now I've added watering pots to my already too long of a watering list--(what was I thinking?!)--and am waiting patiently for ordinary clay pots to turn into charming pieces of  garden ephemera with an artful twist from Peter and me and Mother Nature, herself.  New pots and old pots, both filled and unfilled, are growing moss on their surfaces and soon will have a rich, earthy green patina to show off.  How clever is that?!?...I know...Like I said before...We have got to get a life around here!  I'll keep you updated on the condition of the pots...