Monday, July 28, 2014

America's Kitchen Garden

The expansive front lawn of the White House.  Not a single blade of crab grass or clover blossom in sight!
Our group  at the Northeast entrance gate.  There is a lovely pedestrian mall and park here surrounded by government buildings and offices just outside of the gate where visitors can linger. 

Every once in a while, I take off my garden gloves, step out of the greenhouse and leave the lavender plants behind, for just a little while, in order to go and visit someone else's garden.  I'll admit that I don't get that chance very often but when I do, I make sure it is a really special garden to visit!   This past Friday, Peter and I had the opportunity, along with several of our "herbster" friends and gardening colleagues, all members of the National Herb Society's Potomac Unit, to have a private tour of the White House Gardens.  And, like any garden tour worth it's salt, it included a tour of the inside of the White House as well.

The Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

The fountain on the White House South Lawn, sometimes described as the "back lawn" since the front of the White House faces Pennsylvania Avenue on the north side.  In this picture, the fountain appears to be an American garden version of red, white and blue.
The Jacquelyn Kennedy Garden and the White House lawn and plantings, up close and in person, are even more impressive and beautiful, especially on a clear and cool July morning--a scarce weather commodity in hot and humid Washington, D.C. during the summertime.

It was totally awesome that the Obama's, who couldn't be there to welcome us, sent Bo and Sonny to say "Hello."  Really!  All in a days work for them, you know.
Twenty-five of us represented the HSA Potomac Unit members along with White House Chief Horticulturist, Jim Adams who is also a Potomac Unit member and past president of the Unit as well.
The highlight of the tour was seeing the White House Kitchen Garden, located on the South Lawn, and implemented by Mrs. Obama in 2009, along with the White House Chefs and a local 5th grade class, in her efforts to encourage Americans to increase healthy food choices. There have been many vegetable gardens of varying degrees, sorts and locations, through the years, at the White House starting with John and Abigail Adams back in 1800, to Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden and even the Clinton's rooftop garden, before this particular one was installed.

White House Chief Horticulturist, Jim Adams, talking with our group in the Kitchen Garden as we perused the beds and asked a lot of questions.
This current Administration's garden is packed with salad greens, herbs, vegetables, perennials, (including my favorite, lavender) and annuals that are not only nutritious but also designed to attract pollinators, as there is an eight-drawer beehive situated close by.  It was installed just a few years ago and is maintained by a White House carpenter who also happens to be a beekeeper in his spare time.

The White House Beehive about 50 feet away from the Kitchen Garden and nestled in a setting of trees and bushes that provide some shade for the bees, intermittently, throughout the day. 

Everything looks healthy and happy.
The Kitchen Garden itself consists of raised beds, separated by mulched pathways and is contained within 1100 square feet.  Given that this is on the lawn of America's premier home, it is not pretentious in any way and reflects the wants and needs of a busy family, focused on healthy eating habits and, who also just happen to entertain--a lot! Of course, the vast majority of us do not have National Park Service employees weeding our own gardens. Nor do we have a chief horticulturist on staff to oversee the entire operation.  Yet, this well-tended garden is designed to be useful and understandable for anyone, gardener or not, and most importantly, welcoming. Just what would be expected, for it to be an "everyman's" and "everywoman's" garden.

It was a great way to spend a morning in such a special place and I didn't have to pull one weed, transplant something or water a single plant.  I think I'll go and visit another garden soon!  Until then, see you back in the lavender field at Blooming Hill.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bees + Honey = Honeybees = Life is Good!

Well, he's not exactly "Pooh Bear" with his honey pot, asking the bees out in the hundred acre wood if they could kindly spare some honey.  Nor is he "Yogi Bear" on some clandestine mission assigned by "Cindy Bear" to steal honey from the unsuspecting bees and somehow outsmart that clueless "Park Ranger Smith." But, he is out there collecting our very first batch of honey from our very generous bees, here at Blooming Hill.

Our bees have been cohabiting with us since March of last year and, despite all of the very real and serious concerns of colony collapse disorder and this past cold, very cold winter, they made it through their first year just fine and gave us 27 pounds of golden, sweet honey!  Not bad for novice bee keepers just wanting an apiary stocked with bees who, we hoped, might help boost the lavender harvest.

"Cindy Bear, who???
All last summer, we fretted about them since we never really saw them flitting through the lavender as we expected they would just naturally do.  In fact, if we saw a half dozen of them flying about our 600 or so lavender bushes, throughout the entire season, that would probably be overstating the obvious!  Oh sure, we saw bumble bees and mason bees and butterflies and all sorts of insect creatures, including those darn devil deer, whom I classify in the "totally invasive, bothersome and unwelcome creatures" category.  But, did we ever see a honeybee in the lavender?  No.  Peter kept checking them every few days, thinking they may have died or swarmed, looking for a clue or something that may have kept them from the lavender.

They have a new umbrella awning out there under the persimmon tree
However, hear and there, we would find them swirling around the fountain, congregating in the hydrangea bushes and conducting morning "coffee klatches" in the persimmon trees, not to mention all of their nightly parties in their own "Copa Cabana." Yet, in their continual efforts to reassure us, we could hear their quiet humming, almost a mantra really, in the background of the everyday sounds of the garden.

Then, there was that cold, hard winter with not one but two polar vortexes to boot. But, those marvelous and mysterious and industrious bees persevered and clung together, somewhat cozily, in their home-hive and gifted us this July with honey they produced from the drawn nectar they collected while traveling anywhere up to 5, sometimes even 10 miles from their colony, during the gathering season.

In order to guarantee that the honey Peter harvested from the bees had a lavender influence,  I collected some of my favorite Lavandula  angustifolia culinary varieties like "Hidcote," "Melissa," "Folgate" and "Royal Velvet" to infuse into the honey for 4-5 days. Then, we strained it again and bottled it up.

Pretty, isn't it? Now we just have to come up with a label!
The end product is a delicious honey that retains the scent of our lavender field; delicately floral, well balanced, smooth and worth both the worry and the wait.
Next spring, we will add one more apiary to give our expanding brood a little more room.  Until then, we left them with some of their own honey to store and enough time, this summer and fall, to gather and produce more honey for themselves to endure the coming winter season--come what may--as they bravely face the changing climate and challenges here in Northern Virginia, as in any other part of the world, these days.

(Image taken from Pinterest.)
This spring and summer, we have seen our honeybees frequent the lavender more and more as our neighbors, I'm sure, also continue to see them.  However, I guess they are now realizing that this is their home and while they can travel wherever they please, there is no place like home! Thank you, dear honeybees for the work you do, and for your delicious gift of golden honey and thank You, Dear Lord, for the honeybee!

Note:  Just in case you are interested, our Blooming Hill raw, filtered lavender-infused honey will be available in our shop in the next few weeks.  Obviously, with 27 pounds, there is a limited quantity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Champagne Wishes and Lavender Dreams

My wedding dress displayed on the lawn, this past Sunday afternoon.  Come to think of it, now it's just a month or so shy of thirty four-years-old.  Lots of lace and a chapel length train.  Oh, so very 1980!
Champagne bottle tops attached to clear candle holders were the vases for tussie mussies made by the guests at the "Happily Ever Afternoon" tea party.  They made perfect party favors.
Well, it wasn't exactly an episode of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", this last Sunday.  (For those of you who are too young to remember that 1980's TV Show hosted by Robin Leach whereby he would close each episode his thoughts of "Champagne wishes and caviar dreams.") Yet, it was a lovely "Happily Ever Afternoon" garden party held under shady porch eaves and sun-drenched white canopies with lavender-infused prosecco pouring freely while scones smothered in jam and cream and tasty tea sandwiches were the order of the day.

Some of our lovely guests.
Some more of our lovely guests.
Some more of our lovely guests enjoying tea on the porch.
Floral dresses, chapeaus and fascinators adorned the guests of honor--and all who attended were the guests of honor--while they poured pots of tea and reminisced, planned or just talked on the topic of weddings.  It did not matter whether or not each lady had been a bride herself.  What did matter was that everyone was happy and had attended or will attend, at some point, one of the happiest of all special occasions in life, a wedding!
White tents and tulle provided shade and cool and even a touch of charm and whimsy to the linen tablecloths, silver, crystal and china.

Tags for the tussie mussies explaining the message of the herbs and flowers used.  Among the flora to pick from were; rose for unity, boxwood for constant love, Lavender for devotion and marjoram for joy and happiness.
Wedding cakes made by my dear friend, Kim, owner of Loudoun Valley Herbs.
The weather was perfect and even if it had decided to rain, it would not have mattered because rain on a wedding day or on a day that has anything to do with a wedding is good luck!!  (Aside from the fact that no matter the weather, the sun always shines at Blooming Hill.) Tulle floated in the warm breeze and crystal chandeliers tinkled while tussie mussies, conveying the warmest of wishes to love and life, were created by each guest.  And, of course, a petite wedding cake prepared expressly for her to share, or not, thoughtfully bestowed at the end of the day.

Kim and I standing by my wedding dress with her wedding veil crowning it, just before the tea party began--none of us showing any age at all!!!  We look just a little wrinkled and I am referring to the summer linen we are wearing--nothing else.  Looking at the wedding dress--was I really that skinny way back then?
I can't even fathom of a more pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon than enjoying champagne wishes and lavender dreams wrapped in "sweetly-cool" white thoughts filled with happily ever afters...
Isn't this a wonderful idea for a champagne bottle?  Of course, none other than my true love, P. Lorenz came up with the idea.  He cut them and I glued them.  The bottoms were used for vases of flowers that adorned each table while the happy guests took their top home festooned with their own handmade tussie mussie....aaaahhhhhhh!  I really like garden parties--especially ones that end ever so happily.