Monday, January 31, 2011

Having It All...

No, not the fabulously rich, exciting career, rewarding motherhood, beautiful house kind of "having it all." That's so 2010! I'm talking about the cold weather laced with brief warm-ups and sun, fog, rain, sleet, snow, ice, back to sun kind of "having it allthat came with January 2011.  On top of all that, last week's rapidly changing weather also offered a myriad of mystery, intrigue, emotion and beauty in the gardens that only harsh weather can conjure up in the blink of an eye.

A  fog creeps in, as the poet Carl Sandberg would agree, on something like "little cat feet" almost every  morning bringing with it the company of those devil deer who, for some reason, think they are forever welcome here.  Who can blame them when Tucker finds it too much effort to chase them out of the yard while diligently keeping an eye out for that ever-elusive cat dragging in the fog.  The dusting of older snow that was here prior to last week's Nor'easter, hinted at what was to come last Wednesday and accentuated the reds, umbers, hunter greens and charcoals of January.  Then, when the snow came, it came fast and furiously leaving behind Currier and Ives winter scenes.  

We dug ourselves out "luge-style" taking time to shake at least some of the snow off and appreciate the serendipity of ice-kissed leaves and branches.  A little black ice was hiding beneath the snow so walking proved to be as dicey as driving.  Still the thick frosting of snow plastered against tree bark looks as though it was painted on with a frosting spreader.  Oh, what a tangled web old man winter can weave when he has a mind to.

One of the prettiest of plants here at Blooming Hill, especially during January, is Dwarf Nandina, showing off it's regal scarlet and emerald jewel tones encrusted in stark white. Giant tufts of Angel Hair Ornamental Grass bow to the elements of the weather while Pussy Willow begins to burst open as proof of those little cat feet prancing around the back yard when we aren't lookingBlue Spruce and cherry trees, White Pines and Magnolias stand tall as their branches are laddened with wet snow that refuses to melt even in the emerging warmth of the winter sun.

Garden statuary seem complacent and even more still than usual, wrapped in their snow blankets.  The deep green fox and the shovel-back crane, both very rare breeds indeed, keep a look out for more stormy weather yet to come.  Maybe they are the ones welcoming deer into the yard daily--maybe, it's not all Tucker's fault, after all.  And, the fountains are frozen firm. Careful---if curiosity can kill a cat, it can most certainly get even a big, black dog wet, cold and at the very least, stuck in the muck if it so chooses.

Peaking out from inside the greenhouse where the temperature during the day, if it's sunny, can reach a summery 81 degrees reminds me that the change in seasons is inevitable and moisture, in any form, is ultimately beneficial for the garden and its bounty, year-round.  Garden-variety geraniums seem oblivious to the snow that surrounds the comfortable confines of the greenhouse and the mother of all Ponderosa Lemons made its presence known this week as well.  Inquiring minds n here ask,"Snow?...What snow? What is snow?"

Yes.  We have it all right here in January, from snow to sunshine  and, perhaps, a little bit more than what we  asked for.  But, that's winter in the foothills of the Virginia Blue Ridge.  I found an old poem from garden folklore describing this time of year that seems most appropriate when summing up January in all of its glory.  It goes like this, "But now 'tis winter, child / And bitter northwinds blow / The ways are wet and wild / The land is laid with snow."  While finishing this up, I hear over my shoulder, the TV weatherman announcing , "It looks like we're in for a little bit of everything again this week."  Gosh...the perks of having it all comes with a price!

Monday, January 24, 2011

In The Eye of The Beholder

Has it been cold enough for you, lately?  Apparently, no one has bothered to ask us that question, here a Blooming Hill, lately, since I found myself outside this weekend  participating in the art or science, whichever way you look at it, of surveying.  This is the penance I pay for being married to someone who always has to be doing something.  I'm not complaining, mind you, but could he have picked just a tad warmer day to prepare for concrete footings that need to be poured, set and approved by the County no later than the middle of next month?  Oh, that's right, last week, I was wondering when February would be here.  But, this weekend...this weekend was just too cold to be outside.  It was, and still is, bone-chilling, neck-aching, nose endlessly-running too cold to be outside!

Although I do have to admit that the spot for our forthcoming studio/showroom is taking shape, from the ground up...literally!   Peter came home from his office, Friday evening, with a survey tripod and level in hand saying, "Don't plan on going anywhere until we've set the height of the footings on the sight.  It will only take 15 or twenty minutes and then you are free to go and do whatever you please."  Sounded easy enough--in my mind' eye, picturing a sunny 70 degree day with a light wind gently tousling my hair and birds twittering their melodious songs in the background, but not on a sub-freezing day with an icy wind piercing my eyes and forcibly freezing my fingers and toes.  I said to Peter, "Oh, what a wonderful idea.  I'm only too happy to help you do this," all of the while thinking, "Fifteen minutes!...and then I'm outta there!  Regardless!"

In spite of the weather, it was an educational opportunity to once again see and appreciate what exactly goes into the planning and installing of a building and parking lot on even the most simple and straightforward of sites, in order to make it look at the very least, right, if not pretty.  Even Tucker's interest was peaked by the sight of surveying equipment pointed in his direction.  What can it all mean? Something beyond the arrangement of items, it is the arrangement of the holder of the items so it doesn't fall down onto your head while you are enjoying arranging the pretty items inside of it...well, you know what I mean...right?!

So, there I stood, holding a measuring stick, recording numbers as they were called out to me and counting the minutes as they slowly dragged by.  Yet, in the end, it actually did take only 15 minutes to record and double check these measurements and then I high-tailed it back inside and left the chief contractor, surveyor, architect and builder, all wrapped up into one, to do whatever else he needed to do in order to ready the footings for concrete on the next warm day.  Loosely translated, that means the next day when the weather will be and will stay above freezing (32 degrees-Fahrenheit, that is) for a reasonable amount of time.

In the mean time, I'm watching, preferably, from some distance away, or better still, from a window inside of the house and venturing out only to sneak in a few pictures I can take here and there from behind trees.  If  I'm seen, I may be recruited to stay and hold a hammer, plum-bob or maybe even a saw...horrors!  I prefer to ooohhh and aaahhh from a distance, like inside of the house, and gazing down at the site, my head filled with visions of gardening delights...coming soon, very soon, indeed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January Cold

January started well enough.  A nice quiet yet cold month where I find myself hunkered down for 4 weeks.  Christmas is over and all of the decorations are finally put away and it's time to sit back and take stock in the coming year.  It's too chilly to be out in the gardens where plants are either under a foot of snow or the wind has completely cleared the garden of any debris so the place looks fairly neat, in a "wind-swept" sort of way.  And my favorite reading material appears magically in the post-- plant and seed catalogs, galore!  So, I brew myself a nice cup of herbal tea, stoke the fireplace and prepare to wait it out contentedly until the end of the month when I do start to get a little edgy for warmer weather and begin to tally up the chores waiting outside.

However, just as I was into full hibernation mode and all tucked into my 'snuggie' with pillows surrounding me to prop up all of the catalogs while some of my favorite herb and garden books sat within an arm's reach, a little tickle seemed to creep into the back of my throat, giving way, moments later, to a drippy nose that spread to a headache over my eyes and stretched into my right ear that, all at once, seemed hot and clogged, for whatever reason.  What's this?  A winter cold decided to invade my month of rest and relaxation?  How could this have happened?  I wear a hat, gloves and scarf everywhere I go.  I rarely unzip my jacket when outside and I wash my hands regularly.  Well, I've decided when you live with the likes of "Hurricane Kevin" who came home from college for Christmas break with a pretty virulent strain of something who then passed it on to "Tsunami Pete" proud owner of probably the most wicked of sneezes I have ever been in the company of, you are destined to pick up a few bad germs along the way.

Flash forward a few more days and suddenly I found myself in my own perfect storm.  The tickle developed into a raging cough, my ear was pounding and the headache, well the headache turned from slightly nagging to "blinding" as my friend Jacque had put it while on the phone with me the other day.  Time to break out the echinacea and brew up a pot or two of wellness tea.  Drinks for everyone!  It suddenly looks as though January has its own agenda for me and it involves enjoying the great indoors together with decongestants and ibuprofen.

Left with nothing to do but really rest and stumble around the house hunting for kleenex boxes and cough drops, I came upon a book I must have bought years ago and squirreled away in the cabinet, Herbal Remedies, An Introduction to Herbs and Their Therapeutic Uses.  It's premise, is to introduce how medicinal and culinary herbs have been used throughout the ages for their gentle and natural approach to healing.  Well,  I might as well try to read it since I have too many symptoms to count.  So, I flipped through to the section labeled "Head and Chest."  After all, the Chinese and American Indians have used herbs since ancient times to cure all sorts of illnesses.  However, the Chinese ended up building the Great Wall to keep people out and the American Indian was all but wiped out from influenza and other diseases that European settlers brought with them from their homelands so I will proceed with caution.

Listed for the common cold, in this book, were elderflower, peppermint and yarrow, all aromatic and used in a hot, hot tinctures or teas every couple of hours can help clear your head and dry up a runny nose.  Sore throats can benefit from echinacea, marigold and/or red sage...we all have these things hanging around the house in January, right?  Aside from the echinacea tea, I know I don't!  I've always been a Vicks NyQuil kind of a girl, but that didn't seem to quite do the trick this time.   Anyway, the book goes on to say that these herbs are good for persistent and infected sore throats.  They can be used as a tea, tincture or a gargle.I've always known the benefits of echinacea, as I said before, but never thought there were many marigolds out there that were ingestable and I'm not a big one for sage in any form but if it works, well maybe it could be worth a try.

Coughs are not only persistent and bothersome, to me, they can also be painful so anything that can quiet a cough would be a "good thing."  Ginger, honey, lemon, thyme and wild cherry were all listed along with marshmallow, comfry and coltsfoot as being very helpful to soothe coughs and calm the spasms that go along with them.  Obviously, those Luden Brothers have read this book before and really did their homework when they decided to go into the cough drop business.

Then, I found a section on earaches...the bain of my existence since I was a little girl.  Chamomile, hyssop, garlic, lavender, olive oil and that old faithful, echinacea, were listed to help with the pain and sometimes fever that can accompany an earache.  When I was little, my mother would buy olive oil from the pharmacy, heat it up on the stove and saturate a cotton ball with it and apply it to my inflamed ear.  I do remember that being quite soothing, however, the only olive oil I have now is what I use in culinary dishes, not the kind she bought in little blue bottles at Walgreens all those years ago.  So, I think I shall fore go trying that remedy for the time being as well.

And where did the stomach ache and nausea come from?  It's a head cold with a sinus infection, for heaven's sake...give me a break!  I certainly did not see this coming on and I certainly had a hard time grinning and bearing it, if for only a day or two.

Continuing on, I turned the page to read about headaches and migraines and there were listed lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, feverfew, skull cap and meadowsweet all used as strong infusions into herbal baths that can help you relax and and ease headache pain.  Will wonders never cease?  I actually have these on hand--fresh and dried.  Of course, a good, old-fashioned hot shower can also help the congestion that seemed have me in its unrelenting grip.

In the end, I ended up at the doctor...twice...begging to be put out of my misery where they handed me multiple prescriptions and told me to go home, drink plenty of fluids and rest.  Okay...I did that, been doing that and will continue to do that...Is it February, yet?

Be well!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Christmas Rose

While watering and tidying up in the greenhouse this morning, something lovely, down in a corner and behind some myrtles and rosemarys, caught my eye for the briefest of moments that made me do a double take.  Of course, I think just about anything in the greenhouse is lovely, right down to the dirt, but this was especially  so, because it is blooming in these darkest days of winter.  Two potted Christmas Rose plants (Helleborus Niger) are vigorously blooming and enjoying this Christmas Season.  Not really a rose at all,  but a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) it is small extremely hardy evergreen perennial that grows to about 15" outside in a shady place and blooms profusely from late autumn into early winter.

Here in my small greenhouse, there are white flowers tinged in pink, busily blooming on single stalks of dark leathery leaves peaking through the fragrant greenery of surrounding plants wintering on the cool floor where there is still plenty of filtered light and humid air to share. What a Christmas treat! Even though the Season of Advent is done, the Christmas Rose doesn't know this and seems intent to offer up its own gift for Epiphany which is just a few days away.

Christmas Rose also goes by a variety of names like Winter Rose or Snow Rose and even Lenten Rose and is considered an aristocrat of the garden because of it's stately evergreen beauty throughout the year and its ability to bloom during the winter when everything else lies dormant in the gardens.  I have seen this plant, time and again in other people's gardens and have always admired it. However, during the summer months when so many other plants are demanding my attention, I pass right by it when I'm in the nurseries making selections that seem to demand more of my attention at those times. However, I was in a nursery this past fall and saw a few left and marked at half price.  I couldn't pass up buying two--for the price of one, of course! So, I  brought them home and tucked them back in the corner of the greenhouse while packing it with everything that needed to come in for the winter and never really gave them another thought until serendipity crept into the corner of my eye this morning and pointed me in the direction of a "rose 'e're blooming."

This fetching perennial that looks similar to wild rose is a native to southern Europe and came by it's name, I believe, just because it does present its most precious gift of beautiful flowers always around Christmastime. A popular French legend from medieval times tells of a young shepherd girl named Madelon who was tending her own sheep on a cold and wintry night when a band of Wise men and shepherds came by her.  They told her they were on their way to visit the newborn Jesus and were taking him priceless gifts to honor him.  Madelon went with them but was distraught that she had nothing, not even a simple flower, to give to the Baby Jesus.  An Angel, hearing her weeping, appeared and brushed away the snow at her feet to reveal beautiful white flowers blushed with pink where upon Madelon picked them and offered them to Mary at the manger.

In any case, I'm so glad that I now have Christmas Rose for my own garden.   Now, I just have to decide on a nice shady place where it can find it's own respite during the hot summer months in order to re-bloom year after year in winter, here.  That shouldn't be too hard....after all, in the language of flowers, Christmas Rose means to relieve or take away one's anxiety.  So, I guess I'll pull a Scarlet O'Hara and worry about them come early spring when its time to plant.

In the meantime, a friend had written in her Christmas card to us a verse from an old German 15th Century Carol that seems to go along with the subject of Christmas Roses.  It goes like this..."Isaiah twas foretold it, the rose I have in mind, with Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.  To show God's love aright, she bore for us a savior, when half spent was the night. Lo, how a rose e'er blooming."  It may be referring to a real rose which, when white, does represent the pure innocence of a newborn baby but, today, I like to think of the Christmas Rose e're blooming in my tiny, vibrant greenhouse as a very special floral gift for me during the gray of winter, outside.