Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Ever-Growing Gardens

With all of the hub-bub going on over in the lavender beds, it seems as though I haven't had much time to spend enjoying the rest of the gardens. It is, after all, just past the summer solstice and the weather, although not completely cooperative around here, has been kinder than usual in providing rain water and breaks, here and there, in the high heat and humidity. Because of that, the small cutting garden I planted this year in the back of the property as well as the herb garden seem to be thriving on their own. After being gone for the past several days I spent part of the evening wandering among the snap dragons and zinnias, salvias and cosmos taking in their scents, colors and textures and marveling at just how fast they went from tiny and neat, to big and just about overgrown.  If any of you have teenagers, I'm sure you catch my drift...don't blink.

Apparently, those devil deer have been keeping tabs on my comings and goings because, in my absence, they claimed the sunflowers as their mid-summer salad toppings during one of their late-night dinner parties...isn't that always the way? I had a close-up picture of how they had eaten the poor things down to the nub but a I think one of the more wiley guys snuck in and deleted it off of my computer.  At least they seem to be leaving the morning glory vines alone for the time being. Little do they know that some Liquid Fence dressing is in their culinary future around here.  Although I believe nothing short of planting myself permanently out in the garden will keep them away, a few of the bigger deer look as though they would welcome a game of chicken with  me. 

The kingly golden yarrow and the lacy pink-tinged guara in the herb garden highlight the phlox buds just beginning to make their appearance as an introduction to the almost-here July garden. Everything is vibrant and luscious looking and maybe, just maybe, in serious need of a high-summer haircut in an honest effort of keeping up appearances while the bee balm is finally waking up and getting out of bed.   I'm sure the neighbors are talking, shaking their heads filled with pity as they can imagine how unruly teenaged flowers, with minds of their own, can be.

The roses are currently taking a bit of a breather right now but I can see them budding for another round very soon while little green hips are also appearing among their leaves. It is time to tie their long graceful branches to the arbor frames and ready them for their second round of bloom-time reminding me that roses are a summer long gift to the gardens. I just wish they would not be so temperamental when it comes to this humidity but, I've learned you just be thankful for the bountiful beauty the gardens offer up each year and realize all of this is not totally under my control.

Gone five days and even the flower pots are over-flowing with petunias, geraniums and begonias.  Don't you just love annuals?  I do. Of course I've always been about instant gratification...and these annuals behave better, too!  Being away from the gardens have given me a new appreciation for them, vowing I will no longer take them for granted, a least for the rest of the summer.  After all, it is their summer, too and sometimes I just have to let go.  However, I better get my machete ready and go exploring beyond the lavenders on a more regular basis in order to keep everyone in line out there.  I'm still the boss around here...I think!

Monday, June 20, 2011

For The Love of Lavender

Two weeks into the lavender harvest and I am overwhelmed, knee-deep and loving every minute of trying to keep my head above the purple haze that surrounds the house. By some stroke of celestial fate, the weather this week has been cool and forgiving after a blistering weekend of high humidity that just about did me in by last Sunday evening after a weekend spent at the Virginia Herb Fair in Middletown, Virginia where I had a wonderful view of their hillside lavender field nestled into the confines of a lush labyrinth carved into a grassy knoll.

In between the Virginia Herb Festival, keeping house, keeping cool, visiting a lovely lavender farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia, golf and so many other must-do tasks, I get caught up in daily, I spent my time among the lavenders happily welcoming back into my gardens and lavender beds what seems to me to be throngs of bees this year for the first time in several years. I am not sure if there is a beekeeper nearby or the bees are finally winning the fight against the harsh virus that has claimed so many hives in recent years, but I am overjoyed to see them busily flitting and buzzing from blossom to blossom, intent upon their duty and seeming every bit as overwhelmed as I am in just playing catch-up for all of the lost time not spent among the lavender. The trouble is that these guys don't very much posing for pictures.  However, there was one big guy who seemed intent on mugging for the camera--, so I could not resist.  To quote Martha Stewart, the bees "are a good thing" and, bees coupled with lavender, are even better!

White Oak Lavender Farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia was my midsummer treat to enjoy with purple and pink eye candy lined up in perfectly coiffed long rows of fragrant lavender blossoms named Provence, Royal Velvet and pink Melissa--all favorites of theirs and mine--waving lazily in the sunny afternoon breeze. I had felt quite proud of my own lavender collection, always boasting of over 500 plants to those who care to ask me about them until the owner of White Oak said they currently tend 6000 plants--yes. I said 6000 with their goal being 10,000 in the next few years. My head was spinning just thinking about the work involved in that. I am a bit jealous, too. After all, who wouldn't want 10,000 lavender plants in their yard to gaze at and breath in day after wonderful day.

However, reality set back in while on the phone last  week with my sister, Chris, who wants me to send bundles of lavender to her for the bridal shower we are hosting for our niece, Jennifer this coming weekend in Chicago. "Can you provide bundles of lavender for the guests' party favors?" she asked coyly.  "Sure," I said. "How many do we need? Twelve, maybe fifteen," always eager to please my older sister. Then, silence. "There are fifty on the guest list," she said and I could tell she was smiling even over the phone. GULP. "Fifty?!". Well, okay fifty bundles coming up and to be sent ahead of me for the shower of our beloved niece. I had to call for reinforcements and get the troops organized and focuse on that project this past week.  Obviously, there is no time to loose as it is in any case when lavender is concerned. Packing and shipping it will be another story altogether.

To top off the first two weeks' worth of harvesting lavender, I hosted 11 people who came  to hear Kim Labash, owner of Loudoun Valley  Herbs, talk about the "Edible Herbal Bounty" that can be found in the garden. She prepared and served a delicious and creative lunch from this bounty...YUM!  Her presentation was out in my gardens under the shade of a tent as well as dogwood and pink pussy willow apropo. Kim topped off the luncheon with mint, lemon and luscious lavender sorbets with the piece de resistance being creamy lavender ice cream...OH MY!  And, to wash it down, we all had some elder flower cordial she had also made--Kim is such an imaginative cook.  Before we all knew it, lunch was over and it was back to work, work, WORK!

The past two weeks, it seems to me, have been too busy to think beyond lavender as it must have been for Peter, too.   On Father's Day, he informed me of the three to four new lavender beds he has in mind to create in the back yard and he'll need at least seventy more plants to fill them. Another big gulp from me, followed by a hard swallow and say I can manage that with the cuttings of Hidcote Blue, Mitchum Gray, Seal, Alba Provence, Gros Bleu and others I have growing in the greenhouse which, he assures me, won't be any problem at all to tend and harvest as we go. I, of course, am contemplating at this point either death by lavender, cloning myself or growing another six pair of hands, whichever might be the easiest, while he and Tucker sit in a Zen-like state together as they bundle lavender for the shop. Well, more lavender beds always look do-able when you are in the "zone" and who doesn't love it's bewitching aura and intoxicating scent? Anyway, didn't I say, somewhere back in this post, that I wouldn't mind 10,000 lavender bushes in my yard?  

So, it seems to me that it is time to cross another lavender bridge and start branching out...spread my wings even more, so to speak, and boldly go where I have  never gone before when it comes to growing, tending and crafting lavender...maybe not 10,000 plants worth but how about, oh, let's say maybe 800 plants worth?! I'll continue crafting lavender soaps, potpourris, beautiful bundles and keep on collecting different varieties of this wonderful plant searching for the cream of the crop, although I suspect that includes every last one of them.  Sounds like I'm choosing death by lavender-- many, many years from now, that is--way too much to do and to enjoy in life around here.  Wait a minute...why am I doing this?  Of, yeah, for the love of lavender, of course!  If you have the tme to stop by and visit Blooming Hill, one of these days, you will understand.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sunday Afternoon

Baby Blue - L. Angustifolia in the Knot garden.
Royal Purple-L. Angustifloia
Have you heard the news here at Blooming Hill?  The first of the lavenders began showing off their pretty purple plumes in the gardens this weekend...Let the harvest begin!  The chickens are pickin' through the almost neon "Baby Blue" Knot garden while prim and proper "Thumbelina Leigh," simply glow in their new purple frocks.  "Croxton's Wild," and one of my favorites, "Victorian Amethyst," seem to shimmer in their two-toned petticoats while a new introduction to my lavender collection which promises to also melt my heart, "French Fields," is all ooh-la-la and savoire faire!

We celebrated this joyous event here at Blooming Hill (along with World Environment Day, of course!) by hanging the first of the new recruits among the white-washed rafters of the garden shop...I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in early June, can you?!  Peter pounded the nails into the wood while I hung the bundles to the tune of classical music...Good Lord!  I think we need a life around here!

Vistorian Amethyst -L. Angustifolia
French Fields-L. Angustifolia
Having never been a fan of heights,
I try to avoid ladders whenever possible and I've forgotten how high up you actually are when standing on the forth step of a 10-foot ladder...the things I do for this ever-lovin' and fragrantly irresistible star of the garden!  It brings new meaning to swinging from the rafters.  I can't wait to see so much more of it hanging perfectly purple and frilly in the shop. It will be so lovely, indeed.

Thumbelina Leigh-L. Angustifolia
So, that is how we spent a perfectly lovely Sunday afternoon--with lavender and, at the moment, we look forward to the bountiful harvest in the days to come.  And yes, you may ask me how I'm feeling about all of this dreamy lavender in about three weeks and don't forget to remind me of how I am feeling right now.  I suspect, like any other year in the past, my tone will be a bit haggard by then, but I will love the lavender no less.

Of course, before all of the other plants get a bit jealous and start harrumphing around the place, I should tell you that they are every bit as pretty as the lavender.  Each flower and leaf  possesses it's own charm and comes all dolled up to the summertime dance trying to impress me and out-do their garden bed neighbors, too.  However, the bells of the ball in my heart, will always be the lavender bushes!

Irene Doyle-L. Angustifolia
I have found my passion in growing and harvesting a plant that keeps giving in return and I think I'm pretty blessed.  If you have time, stop by and tour the gardens before the purple haze party becomes a memory by the end of July.  It is truly a sight to see right now, here at Blooming Hill.