Wednesday, December 19, 2012

That Was Then, This Is Now!

Me, as the flower girl, age 4, in my cousin Susan's wedding on Saturday, December 16, 1962.   Sorry for the picture quality but I was taking pictures of pictures in a photo album in a softly lit room full of candles.
The wedding party, adorned in satin, lace, deep red velvet dresses and black tuxedos.  I'm the short one, to the left of the bride, with the  frown on her face yet, (probably a good thing for me that you can't make that out so easily) still bravely holding on to the beautiful white fur muff which became one of my most prized possessions for many years.

I really enjoy reading the "Time-Warp Tuesday" installments on my good friend and fellow blogger, Karen's ( site.  She always gives me a good dose of pleasant memories and happy nostalgia to think about so, I thought I'd do my own "Time-Warp Tuesday."  Only, it's now Wednesday so, I think I'll call mine, at least for today, "That Was Then and This Is Now Wednesday."  Even with that explanation for a blog entry title, I'm already late in talking about it since this really has to do with this past Saturday, December 16, and the 50th Wedding Anniversary party for my Cousin Susan and her husband Bob.  I  had the good fortune to help celebrate it with them, and the rest of our family, not only this past Saturday, but also fifty years ago as the four-year-old little girl you see in the pictures above.  Yep! That's right.  I was in the wedding party as her flower girl.  I know, I know--even with the visual, if you know me, it's hard to visualize me as a flower girl, even at the age of four.

Susan as the beautiful and very happy bride.

The father of the bride, my Uncle Glen, walking his daughter down the aisle.
Flower girl (me)  and ring bearer (my cousin John) walking down the aisle, together.  The only thing I truly remember  is going faster than John and turning around to tell him to hurry up.  Gosh, I was bossy even then!
The year was 1962 and Susan, the beautiful bride and her handsome groom, Bob, with nothing but good fortune ahead of them, came together on a chilly mid-December evening in a candlelit church surrounded by loving family and friends looking on while casting warm wishes and glad tidings their way.  My cousin, John, one of Susan's younger brothers, was my partner in crime as the ring bearer and contrary to our very serious facial expressions, I'm told we had a good time.  Of course, that was after I cried through the wedding pictures (and probably ruined a few good ones, to be sure) because I was a very tired little girl who just wanted to go home and go to bed.  No such luck, I had to stay and party the night away.  You know, the more I write about this, the better I remember just how good my four-year-old life was!  Scratch the no such luck part.

Fifty years later, still the happy couple with their handsome son, Rob.
Fifty years later, the ring bearer, John, and flower girl, me, have aged a bit but I think we still make a pretty good-looking  flower girl and ring bearer duo.  We are available should you need us for your own wedding events.
Bob, me and Susan.  What a blessing it was for me to be a part of their history together.
Anyway, fifty years later, we toasted Susan, Bob and their wonderful son Robbie and celebrated their life together and all of their good fortune, once again, surrounded by loving family and friends this past Saturday evening in a candlelit room on a lovely old estate in Geneva, Illinois. If only Susan's parents, my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Glen, both passed away for many years now, had been there to celebrate as well.  Yet, I think I saw them out of the corner of my eye, mingling and laughing with the other guests there as the champagne was poured and the cake was cut, once again, in the candle light of a chilly mid-December evening.

My Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Glen, proud and loving parents of Susan, the bride, the oldest of six siblings.  With that many brothers and sisters, how did I get to be in the wedding, you ask? Well, I had the good fortune to be just the right age at just the right time.  Susan's has two younger sisters; Kim who was a bridesmaid in the wedding and Vicky who was an infant at the time.  The other three siblings are boys, Buddy, Micheal and, of course, John. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Fifteen days until Christmas and counting.  The trees are up, the stockings are hung and, the Christmas cards, welllll, the Christmas cards will get written sometime, I'm sure.  Looking out at the herb garden, I see a tangle of tans, browns and mahogany's with undeniable spots of emerald greens that make the December garden come to life. Four of these herbal bright spots are parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  They not only brighten the sleeping garden but also they bring their flavors and scents inside.  After all, can you even think about that roasted Christmas goose (a.k.a. the turkey, in my house) without these four crucial ingredients?  Yet, there is so much more to these legendary garden mainstays that stretch beyond even the summer song's "Scarborough Fair."

Take parsley, for instance, cold resistant and still so very abundant in the garden and it comes with all sorts of benefits such being  packed with plenty of the vitamins A and C as well as calcium and parsley always dresses up a salad or pays a perfect compliment to fish and poultry.  I think the prettiest parsley is the curly kind but the more flavorful parsley is the flat-leafed or Italian kind. There is never really any need to nurse along a pot of indoor parsley, through the winter on the windowsill, as it will almost always provide the gift of beautiful leaves from your outside parsley patch for whatever your culinary needs may be.  In the language of floriography, parsley has always stood for joy and celebratory feasts.

Then, there is sage, which long ago was regarded as an herb that could cure almost anything.  Even it's genus name, Salvia officialis, means "health" or "salvation."  Sage is no longer known as a cure-all but can you imagine your turkey stuffing without at least a pinch of it?  Sage's presence in the garden year-round provides a healthy dose of grey-green folksyness and legend, too, such as, "sage promotes a happy home" and "where sage thrives, the woman rules."  With benefits like that, who would not choose to grow sage in their garden?  Certainly, not me, as sage always comes with wishes for long life and good health.

My favorite of these four essential herbs is rosemary, sometimes called the "Christmas Herb." It's rich heritage is steeped in all of the festivity of the season.  Rosemary's evergreen and fragrant stems are wonderful tucked into Christmas arrangements and those lovely standards and topiarys you see at garden centers and Blooming Hill got their start long, in history, ago as tiny tabletop Christmas trees.  They are still often brought inside and decorated while their piney, minty fragrance wafts through the house and mingles with the sweet cinnemon and citrus smells of holiday baking.

Finally, thyme, perhaps the oldest of these herbs, and maybe even the oldest of all herbs, and most assuredly the most classic, cannot be left out of this conversation.  It's green, earthy fragrance has often been described as the "dawn of paradise," coming in flavors of lemon to caraway to licorice. Thyme can be present in almost everything from meat and poultry dishes to cough syrup.  It can also help soothe indigestion, improve eyesight and relieve your headache.  This elegant little herb is an ancient symbol of energy and magic and, as much as bees love lavender, their very favorite herb seems to be thyme.  In fact, orchards were traditionally planted with thyme to ensure that bees would come in vast numbers to help pollinate the fruit trees.  Beyond that, thyme is believed to be the herb that dressed the Christmas manger for Baby Jesus.

This magical combination of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme bring whimsy and wonder to the December home both outside and inside.  Just take the time from all of your Christmas must-do's to run your hands through these herbs, or even open up your spice jars tucked away in your kitchen cabinet and breathe in their enchanting fragrance.  Then, you will see what I mean.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'Tis the Season!

The sleeping garden in early winter here at Blooming Hill.
Holly, lovely holly. Just in time for December!
"Silly gardener! Summer goes and winter comes with pinching toes..." And, so the English poet, R.L. Stevenson continues to paint December in harsh terms, "When in the garden bare and brown, you must lay your barrow down."  This is a good description of  the gardens, roadsides and rolling pastures   that surround Blooming Hill as December approaches fast and furiously. Yet there are hints of deep winter greens in stalwart beauties such as boxwood, holly and ivy, pine trees and evergreens and even tender rosemarys.

P. Lorenz, in his "Christmas tree creating zone."
A choir of angels, caroling along in the kitchen.
Snowmen bearing garden gifts.
 Yule Tonkas dressed for Scandinavian weather. 
While any thought of summer into fall has all but faded completely from my memory, inside, December comes to life in the bright lights, glittered ornaments and all the trimmings of the Christmas Season. Glad tidings bloom in poinsettias and glow in the soft candlelight.  Angels pose serenely while snowmen never need worry about melting, even in the warmth of the kitchen and mischievous Yule Tonkas (Swedish Christmas Elves) make celebratory plans of their own.

Winter white repose in the dining room.
The living room Christmas Tree in all of it's indoor splendor.
Homespun family room theme complete with tiny reindeer.
Wishing you peace this December.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November's Bittersweetness

November is widely considered to be one of the most drab and colorless months of the year.  The golden harvest has been gathered and the peak colors of fall have long since fluttered to the ground and wind-swept away. Yet, autumn's last breaths cling to the gnarled branches of tall oaks and stately maples in the burnt oranges and reds of the Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatis) vines, hanging, twisted and tangled in tinsel-like fashion.  Oriental Bittersweet grows carefree, not caring that it is no longer welcome wherever it appears.

The roadside vignettes feature this colorful vine overtaking blackboard fences and twisting around tree trunks affording the grey days of November their own faded charm. Even though this vine is invasive and can easily choke out precious native plants and the strongest of trees, I love to see it growing like witches hair, tossing and swinging in the chilly, dry air.  It defies the onset of darkness as winter approaches fast and furiously.

Did you know that there is also an American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)?  Yet, as far as the Oriental variety is invasive, the American variety is not and is even a protected plant species.  It does not germinate as easily as its Oriental cousin and it's berries only form at the end of each branch of the vine, not along the entire vine.  American Bittersweet has been virtually overtaken by it's aggressive cousin that was introduced to North America, back in the 1860's, ironically, to help combat soil erosion along roadsides.  It now grows freely along the Eastern Seaboard and reaches as far west as the Rocky Mountains.  And, as we know, all too well, it is very hard to eradicate.  Even more surprising is that both of these vines are really false bittersweet.  The real bittersweet is actually a plant called Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) that looks markedly different and is a member of the potato family.

In the language of flowers, bittersweet  represents truth.  Perhaps because truth can hurt sometimes, but in the end, truth becomes a satisfying closure and, perhaps, even sweet.  It is a poisonous plant to humans in as far as it will make you quite sick if you eat it.  However, bittersweet is the survival winter food for many birds, especially Eastern bluebirds, grouse and pheasants.  Even those pesky squirrels who may have misplaced their stash of nuts will dine on bittersweet.

So, as fall gives way to winter, bittersweet tempts us to decorate our fall tables and doorways, reminding us that November will not go quietly into the night.  Bittersweet vines will decorate this month and climb,like Jack on the   beanstalk, into the sky and wave good-by, carefree and colorful.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Cold Frame

Plants in the very crowded greenhouse.  Everybody needs a little breathing room.
Assembling the frame for the new cold frame.
What do you do when you run  out of every available space in the pretty petite greenhouse, fully stocked,  in the backyard? Why, you build a ten foot by ten foot cold frame, of course!  It's a place to help keep my happy place (a.k.a. the overflowing greenhouse) well--happy.

Placement of the cold frame is out in the back of the property, close to a water spigot.  Just because it's winter doesn't mean that plants, especially in cold frames, don't need an occasional drink of water.
The plastic covering  being positioned over the frame.
As the lavender cuttings root well enough to transfer from peat plugs under grow lights and close to sunny windows in the house, to 3 inch pots and spend a little time hardening off in the greenhouse, they can now go out and live happily in the cold frame, along with any other cold loving perennial that is spending this winter not firmly planted in the ground.  We covered the ground with a nice soft bed of pine needles for all of these little lavender lovelies to nestle down into and stay cozy and warm.  Soon, this cold frame will be much fuller as the days and weeks pass.

Placing plants out in the 10 ft. by 10 ft. frame that can be raised on warm days.  Don't worry-- a lot more lavender plants will be going in and filling up the space.
A floor of pine needles keeps everything dry and snug.
Ready for winter 2012!
That's what we did over this past weekend as we buttoned the gardens up and prepared for a much colder winter than it was last year.  At least, that is what the weathermen and the Farmer's Almanac are predicting for the Mid-Atlantic Area.  We will be ready!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Her Royal Hurricane, Sandy!

The greenhouse and Witch Hazel tree, ready and waiting for H.R.H.Sandy to arrive.

A footnote of October's whimsy and beauty before it all went south.
First, there was "Snowmeggeden," a couple of years ago.  Then, there was the longest, hottest July accompanied by the longest, hottest, muggiest power outage, this past summer, I think I've ever lived through and, in the last few days, we have faced and conquered "Frankenstorm" (a.k.a. Her Royal Hurricane, Sandy).  Geesh!  What's next?!  Okay...I already know the answer to that question..."DON'T ASK!"

Sure, last week's beautiful weather and lovely autumn colors lulled us into a false sense of security.  Yet, it seems that the extreme sports we see on television, like motocross, spelunking and skiing down mountains ahead of an avalanche now face some competition when it comes to the extreme weather we can all experience in our own backyards.

The gazebo, tied down and holding it's own in the pouring rain.
Just snoozin' while H.R.H.Sandy snuck in through the back gate. Some watch dog, huh?!
The last twenty-four hours ended a week-long wait for what the meteorologists warned us would be bigger than we could imagine and their warnings didn't disappoint us or, at least me.  Here at Blooming Hill, it all started out innocently enough and we were ready with our brand new generator that promised even running water for flushing toilets so, bring it on!

Leaves on the shop's front porch floor after H.R.H.Sandy's departure.
A river runs through it, around it and any way it pleases!
And, on it brought with the power going out around 7pm last night and not turning back on until around 10:30am this morning. (Thank you, Dominion Virginia Power Company, for not making it any longer than that.) Her Royal Hurricane, Sandy also brought with her a sloshing six inches plus of rain and relentless wind, here at Blooming Hill--PHEW!--What a night.  It was even raining in both the living room and family room fire places while water also decided to make a grand entrance in our otherwise always dry basement.  Surprise!  However, we were too clever and quick for H.R.H. Sandy to make any real appearance down there.  Thank goodness for lots and lots of old beach towels and especially the "Shop Vac."

Blooming Hill's umpteenth fallen tree of 2012.
The "Chainsaw Maverick" totally in his element
A tired and tentative labragator in the rain.
So, we awoke to find a river running through the property, down the hill, surrounding the shop and skipping over stones, branches and rocks, spilling into the culverts and ponds farther afield. Not only that, at the top of the driveway, H.R.H. Sandy left her calling card as only she could, a toppled tree.  At least the wind had subsided by this morning but, the rain just keeps on raining.  Even the resident "labragator"  was beginning to look a little tentative and thoroughly over all of this moisture.

Work, work, work! Always work!
Almost finished but never really done and, never boring here at Blooming Hill.
Yet, I know it could have been worse, I mean way worse and my heart goes out to those in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut with a prayer for them to be safe, take care and be vigilant...extreme weather is only getting started.  We still have to get through this coming winter that's already throwing out all kinds of extreme cues and while H.R.H. Sandy has left the building, so to speak, Her Supreme Highness, Mother Nature, is rolling up her sleeves and getting down to work.