Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter Scenes and Warm Winter Wishes!

"Snowwwww, snowwwww, snowwwwww!  I want to wash my hands, my hair and face in snowwwww!"  So goes the Bing Crosby song from the 1950's. He sang this song, not only in the movie White Christmas, but also made it famous on one of his many Christmas albums.  It's a light and happy melody that hearkens back to vintage Currier and Ives winter scenes of New England on a crystal clear evening, after a majestic snowfall, with stars shining bright as the horse and sleigh glide to a stop in front of a welcoming farmhouse nestled perfectly between carefully shoveled snowbanks and soft candlelight glowing gold in the windows with twinkling lights outlining the roof top. Standing and waving in front of this cozy home is none other than a large and fluffy snowman with coal-black eyes, an old top hat and, of course, a corn cob pipe.

Why the snow falls only like this in our hearts and minds and Hollywood movies,  I'm really not sure. However, I for one, am glad I can keep these thoughts safe and unscathed as I will inevitably shovel 12-18 inches of the cold, wet, heavy, slushy version of snow in my own driveway more times than I will be prepared for this coming winter.  It will also help make slogging through the unplowed roads of my neighborhood, with the dog romping twenty feet ahead of me oblivious to his own mud-caked fur coat while the cold wind drives icy snow crystals into my face and eyes, a little easier to bear.  

So as the rain drops fall, this year in Northern Virginia over Christmas Eve and straight through Christmas Day and the outdoor thermometer rises over the 60 degree mark, I will hold close, pictures of perfectly frozen ponds with skaters gliding effortlessly over the winter glass, scores of holiday music and warm family memories.   Winter may be slowly approaching us at Blooming Hill, yet I know as sure as I am typing this that it is coming! Sadly, it has settled in so harshly in other areas and my prayers go out to those who have had too much snow already!  Their dream of a white Christmas, I'm sure, is something else, entirely. 

But, if you are like me, I will look out into my own yard and see gently falling snow through the raindrops and tiny magical reindeer pulling an intricately adorned sleigh instead of those devil deer foraging around an old wheel barrel filled to the brim with leaves, twigs and such, ready for the compost pile.  Farther afield, there is a vision of angles perched on the blackboard fence, in sore need of repair, singing in the foggy mist along with the crows cawing at a fox prancing by with his early morning catch of the day.  Come to think of it, all of this makes a pretty nice winter scene to remember, as well.

This year's Christmas picture, taken in July---Christmas in July!
Here's hoping you have the best of Happy Holidays and warm winter wishes from all of us, here at Blooming Hill.  See you next year!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Welcoming Pineapple

During this season of family homecomings and friendly gatherings, when the home fires burn bright and the dinner table is lovingly set with comfort food and toasty, warm drinks, you may find a place, if you haven't already, for that prickly-skinned fruit with the wild leafy headdress and sweet sugary scent, otherwise known as the ever-friendly pineapple.

This tropical fruit is a native to South America and the West Indies and even though we think that the pineapple has been a symbol of hospitality as far back as ancient Greece, it is actually the lowly pine cone who should get the credit for the origins of this legend as pine cones have always been plentiful almost everywhere in the world, being used by the Greeks to make wine and found in carvings and decorations throughout history as symbols of fertility and abundance of life.  Pineapples originally stood for luxury and wealth, which isn't such a bad thing either.

It was not until the early 20th Century when the pineapple truly took this coveted welcoming position in legend, over the common pine cone. In fact, sea captains can probably be credited most with the pineapple's meaning of welcome and hospitality.  They would often attach a pineapple to their front door or gate to let friends and neighbors know they had arrived home safely and there to receive visitors.

Early Spanish and Portuguese explorers, as far back as the 1300's, were the first Europeans to discover the pineapple known by the tropical natives as "na-na". Through twists and turns of the Spanish, Portuguese and French languages the "na-na" eventually became known in England as a "pineapple" because of it's similarity to the pine cone coupled with  its sweet and juicy flavor, something like an apple.  Well, at least the English people of those earlier centuries thought so and that is when the pineapple quickly became a symbol of luxury and wealth, due to its rarity and expense in northern climates.  Yet, it often crowned the top of opulent centerpieces on hostesses' tables in order to impress guests.

Pineapples were in demand, however, in all households of the time, and if someone could not afford to buy one, they could at least rent a pineapple, on a daily basis, from grocers and merchants who were lucky enough to have them. Being perishable commodities, pineapples could often spoil on the long journey, by ship, across the ocean.

The pineapple arrived here in North America during colonial times and just like the Europeans, the American Colonists became very fond of the pineapple as well, especially in the South where they could grow a little more easily. The pineapple became particularly prevalent in artwork beyond the the table centerpiece and throughout the home, although the pine cone was also used as it was very common and beautiful.  In fact, much of the early carvings and pottery that came from Europe and Colonial America were probably of the pine cone, especially carvings found on bedposts and doors.  (Remember--their meaning in the language of flowers is tied to fertility and abundance.)

Yet, in the end, the beautiful and nutritious pineapple is a lot easier to eat than a pine cone, for sure. Rich in vitamin C, the pineapple is good for colds and coughs and fighting off the flu.  Not only that, the pineapple is also good for digestion--most certainly all of these are welcoming attributes, indeed. It is not strictly one fruit either.  Rather, it is 100-200 small fruits all fused together--the more the merrier!

So as you gather together bags of apples and onions, bundles of celery and carrots and loads of cranberries, don't forget to add the welcoming pineapple to grace your cornucopia of thanks and celebration.  Consider it's meaning and enjoy it's fragrance but, most importantly, eat it and savor it's benefits by toasting to you and your family's good health and good fortune, whatever that may be, as the pineapple signifies open hearts and open hearths.

Note to readers:  many of the images I used for this blog posting came from web photo stock images of pineapples in general and Williamsburg, VA decorations. Pictures of the flag, the fountain, the pine cones and the painting of fruit are my own photo images.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Not Your Average Garden Club Meeting

A visitor from Sleepy Hollow
I've talked about about my garden club, the "Night Bloomers," before.  We are a collection of individuals who gather, once a month at a members home, to share our garden experiences, knowledge and tips, and many of us belong to other gardening/nature organizations that also contribute in expanding our gardening horizons.  We are not a rag-tag organization, nor are we a "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" group.  However, I would not classify us as one your textbook, "white glove society" garden clubs, with lots of rules and bylaws either, as rules and bylaws are virtually unheard of in this particular group.

I think this is their landscape designer and his assistant.  Certainly not a landscape architect, as he would have white hair and his assistant would be truly angelic.
A couple of neighbors floating by.
We are basically normal, everyday people concerned about our herbs and vegetables and flowers. That is, until the month of October rolls around on the calender and we meet at Night Bloomer member Susan's home--in the early evening--presumably before all of the "ghosties" and "ghoolies" come out to do a bit of weeding, hoeing and reaping of their own.

Susan with her husband, Richard, a.k.a. Egor and Morticia.
One of the guests brought his version of pumpkin pie, a la EEK!
Family pets, Jack and Russell, greet visitors as they enter the cemetery--I mean property.
This is the garden club meeting where gardening concerns take  a different turn and Susan's home and yard, which is usually brimming with colorful flowers and foliage, sophisticated statuary (from Blooming Hill, of course) and neatly sculpted rock-lined paths through trees with bowing branches turns into a scene from the Amityville Horror Movie. Did I mention that Susan and her husband, Richard, are members of the Amityville Horror Society???  They really are lovely people, you know.

She gives a whole new meaning to the term "Ginger".
Anyway, the Night Bloomers met for our annual scary October meeting, last night, at Susan's aptly appointed Halloween home where she and Richard will meet and greet friends and trick-or-treaters from around the neighborhood. If you ask me, all they need is a little thunder and lightening and they can call the place "Pet Cemetery."

Dorothy and the flying monkeys aren't anywhere to be seen.  Can you blame them???
This "neighbor" asked for a ride home last night but I said I didn't have room in the car--I hate lying, although it is a Mini Cooper.
As informative, and enjoyable as the evening was at Susan' home, by the end of the Night Bloomer's meeting, when the really dark shadows reveal themselves, I always make sure I walk out through the gardens with everyone else, get in my car, lock the doors and speed off before any witch or skeleton has a chance to bum a ride home with me.  Then I hum Christmas Carols the entire way back to my house as it helps take my mind off of the macabre evening I just sat through.

A couple more of the "neighbors" were out for their evening stroll as I was walking into the garden club meeting. I was just praying that they weren't going to ask me any questions about lavender or when the shop at Blooming Hill is open.
Can't wait to see what you have planned for next year, Susan and Richard!  Until then...
It's a yearly tradition that I've come to look forward to as Susan and Richard's Halloween home is happily occupied by two generous spirits who play along to the holiday and are unafraid to share their sense of humor and good will with their friends at a "not-your-average" garden club meeting, and beyond.  Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Love

Henry David Thoreau once said about pumpkins, "I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion." That may also be true for any one of us, as our love affair with pumpkins seems to grow out of dark, spooky nights, ancient legends and fairy tales that end in "and they lived happily ever-after..."

The colors of the season mirror the colors of pumpkins.
Whether they are meticulously handmade or mysteriously rise out of a corner patch in the garden, pumpkins and even misshapen gourds steel our hearts during this picture-perfect season of brilliant reds, glorious yellows and burnished browns, all wrapped up in breezy blue autumn skies.
Yet, bright orange and creamy white globes coupled with silvery green stems can take our breath away in the stillness of a starry night or even a crystal-clear day, conjuring up images of cackling witches, black cats and ghosts swirling around haunted houses.

The pumpkin has been around for thousands of years and is thought to be a native of Central America, bringing with it a rich heritage, not only to the legends of Halloween throughout the world, but also to the tradition of Thanksgiving here in America, both in decoration and nutrition. Pumpkins were present, if not at the first Thanksgiving between the Indians and pilgrims, but definitely documented at their Thanksgiving meal, the following year.  Since then, pumpkins have graced just about every Thanksgiving table, in some shape or form, throughout America ever since.

 "For pottage and puddings and custards and pies 
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies, 
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, 
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon." (Pilgrim verse, circa 1633)
I'm really glad that hairdressers today do not make a habit out of using pumpkin shells as a guide for cutting hair!
In the early colonies pumpkin shells were also commonly used as a template for haircuts to ensure a round and uniform finished cut. As a result of this New Englanders were sometimes nicknamed "pumpkinheads".

Rich in antioxidants, pumpkin extracts have been used for medicinal purposes, too.  Long ago, pumpkin was thought to help erase freckles and cure snake bites. Traditionally, pumpkin is used in treating bladder irritations, kidney infections and intestinal worms while the seeds of pumpkins are believed to have properties that can effectively aid in avoiding and/or treating prostate cancer.

A little pumpkin wisdom from the late 1800's described this member of the squash family as "usually very large and of considerable weight. It is sometimes said of a very stout person, that he resembles a pumpkin. The comparison is vulgar, and cannot fail to be taken as an affront." That being said, I would also add that there are indeed some pumpkins out there that only a mother could love. However, the charm and whimsy of any pumpkin is something to be cherished by all of us as they often hold snapshots in our hearts of colorful memories, happy thoughts and good times.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Chrysanthemum, The Autumn Flower

It must be autumn as the signs of the season are making themselves apparent. Just as the flowers of summer are on the wane and the trees reveal their sun-burned heads, cloaking themselves in red and gold and brown, it's about this time in early autumn, when chrysanthemums begin to bloom freely in pots at front doors, in kitchen gardens and parterres and even along the roadsides.  This "late-comer" to the garden party will face the coldest days of October and the dreariest days of November with steadfast cheerfulness in their own rainbow of pink and umber and crimson.  

In the language of flowers, the chrysanthemum represents cheerfulness, first and foremost. Long ago and far away in the lands of China and Japan, these happily adorned flowers originated in the color of yellow, with elegant curling petals atop stiff stems wrapped in shapely silver-green leaves.  They have been around for the better part of 3000 years.

Through generations of floral engineering, not only have the colors of chrysanthemums expanded but also their meanings, from cheerfulness to loveliness, even in the face of adversity, bridging together the colors created by the summer sunshine and the strength needed to stand up to the rigors of winter winds. In fact, in the Chinese tradition of flowers, chrysanthemums are compared to men rather than women and, are considered a flower of honor along with plum blossoms, orchids and bamboo as they all represent strength and nobility. 

Chrysanthemums are edible and make a lovely herbal tea with a decidedly spicy twist that is reminiscent of their aroma.  Many Chinese women will choose chrysanthemum tea over coffee any day of the week.  This autumn flower is known to have health benefits such as being a natural coolant to the human body and can boost immunity.   In fact, ancient people believed that this long blooming flower, able to withstand very cold weather, had captured the soul of both the sky and the earth.  When you think of a chrysanthemum in that way, how could it not contribute to anyone's good health?!

The word "chrysanthemum" comes from Greek words meaning "Golden Flower."  Today, countries throughout the world recognize this sturdy yet colorful bloomer for its cheerfulness in the garden as it is a wonderful shield against the adversity of the coming harsh weather by extending the "Golden Days" of autumn just a little longer.