Monday, December 18, 2017

Ol' Red

A week to go until Christmas and the rush is on since there is no place like home for the holidays and the best way to get there, at least in a Hallmark Christmas card, and perhaps in our own imaginations, would be in a vintage-style, fire engine red truck with your faithful, furry four-legged friend at your side and a freshly cut fur tree in the back, maybe with a few wrapped presents, too.
This piece of Americana seems to be the newest holiday--yet has always been there in plain site--symbol of coming back home to spend time with family and appreciate the simpler things in life, even if it means your home is in a city high-rise.

Our Blooming Hill rendition of "OL' Red" is a real work horse here, hauling everything from trailers and boats to stone and mulch the whole year through:)
I happen to be one of those fortunate owners of an old red truck.  However, our "Ol' Red" is  border-lining on something akin to being beyond bucolic, but has survived more than a few new transmissions, is approaching 300 thousand miles and is proudly competing with the Ever Ready Bunny and an old Timex watch as it "takes a licking and keeps on ticking!"  Yes--I know I'm showing my age with that commercial buzz line:)

Something about these images of old red trucks carrying a fresh, perfectly shaped Christmas Tree just plucked from a snow covered forest of fragrant pine and ready to be displayed in a place of honor, turns our hearts toward home, wherever that may be.  Anticipation swells in our hearts as we envision the emerald green tree in a ruby red truck trundling through the woods and over the icy roads to the front door of the ever familiar homestead.  A wood burning fire, Nana's cookies and hot chocolate await their arrival. There is no room for Scrooge here--just homecoming happiness and love!

In any case, fire engine red trucks with faithful four-footed companions sitting calmly in the truck bed along with the perfect Christmas tree is portrayed just about everywhere from trays to mugs to life-sized nostalgic renditions ready for sale in modern Christmas displays.  Who can resist these iconic pieces of Americana---It seems I certainly can't! Season Greetings to you and your family from Blooming Hill.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Witch's Garden Courtesy of the Herb Society of America

Thought I would share this interesting and fun blog posting from the Herb Society of America, of which (not witch, mind you) I am fortunate and proud to be a member.  Note: Anyone can join--it's a great organization.  Anyway, this is terrific read for you "Herbie-Halloweenies!"

Herb Society of America posted: " By Jackie Johnson ND, Planhigion Herbal Learning Center From Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, we seem to have an undying curiosity of what plants witches used….and for what.  In the spirit of Halloween, it seems appropriate to explore these. Shakespeare g"
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The Witch’s Herb Garden

By Jackie Johnson ND, Planhigion Herbal Learning Center
From Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, we seem to have an undying curiosity of what plants witches used….and for what.  In the spirit of Halloween, it seems appropriate to explore these.
Shakespeare gave us the most recognizable and infamous of all incantations with the three Scottish witches in Macbeth:
"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."
Although there are variations on the plants symbolized in the chant, following are some of the more accepted versions:
·       Eye of newt – mustard seed
·       Toe of frog – buttercup leaves
·       Wool of bat – holly or moss
·       Tongue of dog – hounds tooth
·       Adder’s fork – violet
·       Blind worm’s sting - knotweed
·       Lizard’s leg – ivy
·       Howlet’s wing – garlic or maybe ginger
We wonder, did the wise women (or witch) use odd names for effect, for safety, or something else?
Perhaps it was something else, something politically motivated. After al, women practiced the healing arts throughout Europe, mostly as midwives, until the church and state targeted them. And that happened because the church and state wanted the power and money associated with healing arts.
When Rome fell, monks gathered the healing herbs brought across Europe by the Romans.  Then, they became the healers. Power hungry and corrupt leaders always need a scapegoat to blame for the troubles in their worlds, and what better place to look than older defenseless women who owned valuable property just waiting to be confiscated?
I’ve always wondered about the bravery -- or maybe the stupidity -- of these foolish men. It raises a question: If these women were as powerful and wicked as charged, how could the prosecutors survive? Weren’t they afraid that a nose twitch could web their fingers, curse their family….or  far, far worse?
But these powerful women persisted, from the burning times until now. The journey of the “witch” (or wise woman) continues, though still under a cloud of suspicion.
Let’s look back to the Wise Old Woman who lived on the far edges of the village, alone, with her cats.  Her home is rundown, the plants and trees are overgrown, the path is covered in leaves and rusty gate squeaks as we push it open.  It’s autumn and the days are shorter and the air is brisk.
You’ll find monkshood (aconite) so lethal that it was used to poison arrows and, in World War II, the Nazi’s put it on their bullets.  Witches believed it could make them invisible if they tied the seeds to them wrapped in lizard’s skin.  It was reputed to protect one from vampires and werewolves.
In the garden the winter rose (black hellebore) sits in the corner in bloom. Thought to be a cure for insanity, it would also help one become invisible.
In the back is a lush bunch of witch’s bells (foxglove).  They seem to be growing in each corner of the stone fence.  Ahhh, for protection. I imagine if we looked in the cottage, we’d see black stone floors – dyed with the leaves of the foxglove- to keep negativity out.
What self-respecting witch would be without moonflower (datura) with white flowers that bloom in the night and give off an intoxicating fragrance?  Used as a hallucinogen, and to increase physic vision and communicate with friendly spirits, the plant is poison to even handle.   When a visitor would come begging for something to stop another from harming her/him, the Old Woman would often take the seeds, wrap them in brown cloth and tell the visitor to gather something belonging to the alleged ill-doer and place the bag of seeds on top of the item and hide it well.  So long as the bag remained over the object, the ill-doer could do them no harm.
Overgrowing anything in its way, the deadly nightshade knows it will always be the Devil’s favorite plant.  Often nightshade was put in ‘flying’ ointments, but was also handy for helping one forget an old love.  Some believe the more nightshade in a garden, the greater the protection from evil.
Continued on October 31, 2017 

Part  II:

The Witch’s Herb Garden II

By Jackie Johnson ND, Planhigion Herbal Learning Center
L0051251 Mandragora (Mandrake) plant from 'De historia...'Continued from October 30, 2017 … See Part I
All alone in a corner of the Old Woman’s garden are the mandrakes – waiting for some poor fool to pull them out.  They scream when ripped from the ground you know, and any person or animal hearing the scream will immediately perish.   Long used for dark magic, this plant was sacred to Aphrodite and used as a powerful aphrodisiac.  Too strong, some say.  Its roots are shaped like humans and carrying even a tiny piece insures good health and much more.  It hides from man, and it glows in the dark.
The following steps for harvesting mandrake was taken from an old English Herbarium from 1000 AD
  1. Before sunset – draw a circle around it with an iron tool lest it flee from you.
  2. While facing west, cut off the top of the plant.
  3. Being careful not to touch the plant, dig around it with an iron tool.
  4. When you see its hands and feet, fasten them.  Take the other end of the rope and tie it around a hungry black dog’s neck.
  5. Throw meat in front of the black dog so he cannot reach it unless he pulls up the plant.
  6. Run fast lest you hear the screams and perish with the dog.
Difficult, yes, but mandrake was one of the best plants for hexing, and black dogs were easy to find.
Aside from the poison garden, people would visit the Old Woman for a variety of reasons.
Many wanted love charms.  In front of the house, for easy pickings, sits the love potion garden.  The most important plant in the garden for love is the apple tree. Sometimes the spell was as easy as cutting an apple with the intention of forever love, and handing half to the object of affection. Both halves must be eaten simultaneously for the charm to work.
Caution was required when cutting the apple … an even number of seeds on both sides meant love and a happy marriage. If one seed is cut, rocky love will follow and the marriage will be filled with anger and yelling.  If two seeds are cut, the husband will perish within one year.
Apple blossoms are so sweet smelling, is it any wonder they were often dried and used in love potions?
Protective amulets were cut of apple wood, and when properly done, insured a long life.
RoseOther plants in the love garden include lemon balm, roses, basil, catnip, daisies, peppermint mallow and periwinkle.   Several of these in a sachet under your pillow might help the man of your dreams come into your life.   If your love has left you, you might be instructed to put a vase of mallow flowers in your window.  This should make him think of you and return to your arms.
The inability to become pregnant brought a number of women thru the Old Woman’s creaky gate. In the back, along the mossy stone fence, lies the fertility garden.  It is filled with cucumbers, carrots, mustard, and poppy and more.
Some women would come to visit the Old Woman to insure there was no pregnancy or question what was to be done about a current one.   That garden was outside her back gate and the plants were scattered through the forest, looking like they weren’t cared for to the uninformed.  This allowed her to claim ignorance if “they” came for her.  We won’t talk about what might be in that garden.
Infidelity was a common complaint and many women wandered in seeking help with rotten husbands.  The Old Woman might hand them some dried basil with instructions to sprinkle it on his cheating heart as he slept.  Or she might suggest slipping a caraway seed or two in his pocket.
And thievery – oh such a common complaint.  For that the Old Woman might suggest caraway seed sprinkled around the property to help bad guys choose another place. And if you were about to travel, a piece of comfrey with your belongings would help them travel unnoticed.
Yes, the Old Woman’s garden was full of plants.  Every corner of her yard offered up something to the trained healer/witch/midwife.
No wonder so many feared or coveted her knowledge.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wild Women in the Garden

The heavy downpour of rain, last Saturday evening, marked the end of "Naked Ladies" flaunting their figures in our garden. No--I'm not talking about the wonderful women of all sorts, celebrating bridal shower teas, baby shower teas and/or garden clubs holding meetings here while having tea.  I'm talking about Naked Lady Lilies (Belladona amaryllis), of course! Those pretty in pink lacy flowers, whose greenery appears in early spring, then shed the leaves that once wrapped around their slender stems as soon as their rosey floral spring hats bloom to perfection.  I'm sure you have some "wild women" a.k.a. Naked Lady Lilies in your garden, too, and enjoyed their feminine fragrance and coquettish allure while they were blooming.

Black-Eyed Susan's, wild women in their own right, seem a bit timid in the presence of bold Naked Ladies.
Naked Lady Lilies sometimes called Belladonna Lilies or even Surprise Lilies (probably because they bloom all of a sudden after they lose their long leaves, just when you don't expect them to) bask beautifully in the heat of high summer.  They seem to dance wildly in the sunshine and unashamedly under the moonlight.  This year, it's a wonder that they didn't stick around for the solar eclipse next week!?!  I suppose they had other plans and did not want to share the solar/lunar spotlight, or lack there of.

This sorority of beauty queens has been around in the Southern United States since Thomas Jefferson introduced them to Monticello, way back in the 18th Century. He had little luck in growing them, as he wanted to constrain them to his greenhouse.  However, "Naked Ladies" have other ideas and enjoy their unabashed freedom in the light of a sultry summer day, sometimes springing up where no one ever thought they would grow.  They are considered hardy in zones 7-10.  They also thrive here at Blooming Hill, located in Zone 6B, and come back every year, preferring to stick closely together (strength in numbers, I presume, since they wear next to nothing.)

In the meaning of flowers, (Floriography), "Naked Ladies" really don't translate into what their name implies or anything else, for that matter.  However, if you take the meaning of Belladonna, the plant that is dangerous Nightshade and, combine it with the general meaning of a Lily, which is gaiety, coquetry and youthfulness, you kinda come up with a "Lolita-like" meaning for a Naked Lady Lily.  Just sayin'...

I can't recall ever planting Naked Lady Lily bulbs but somehow, they showed up in a garden border off of the back porch years ago and re-bloom every season.
So, their garden-style burlesque show is over for now and the ladies' performances have all but disappeared for the season. Yet, true to form, I know those seductive Naked Lady Lillies will boldly return to dance in all of their glory again and again, in our summer garden, for years to come.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August Fireworks

Related imageJuly 4th is one good reason to celebrate our country.  It's also, at least to a serious gardener, a way to usher in high summer and relish the zinnias taking hold and savor the burgeoning vegetable garden. But, July 4th comes and goes all too quickly and the high humidity days of late July start eyeing the nasty dog days of August as it looms closer and closer until, one morning we wake up and find August is already upon us.  Already?!? Where did the fresh face of June go to? It seems to me that any day after the fourth of July is a blur of daily hand-to-hand combat with the weeds in lavender beds and, that battle does not yet look to be won during these first days of August and now waning summer. (#nuclear weeds!--haha)
Red Crepe Myrtle posing with it's friendly summertime neighbor, hydrangea.

However, along with these days where one can feel a little "hang-dog" while trying to refresh and replace spent plants in the herb and vegetable gardens, along with the ornamental borders, comes some beautiful bright spots in the August landscape. Here in the mid-Atlantic and southern regions, the beautiful shrubby tree and splendidly colorful Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) flaunts her graceful, arching branches in jewel tone colors.   

The pops and sprays of colors from white to purple (my favorite--no surprise there) to blood red explode like firecrackers along roadsides, next to homes and in fields of emerald green, illuminating their surroundings and lending freshness to August's white hot days. If their colors don't make you pause, just take a look at their textured, 3-D peeling bark for added drama.😏 Just sayin'...

The two immense "Natchez" Crepe myrtles that adorn the front of my home sprinkle summertime snowflakes down on our front walk for weeks and carpet the brick path with soft white petals that melt slowly into the ground, making this kind of flowery precipitation at times other-worldly.  By September, these summer blossoms have all but disappeared leaving behind green shiny berries that stay on the trees through winter, turning brown, and then into spring and even summer until a new crop of papery petals come forth.

Crepe myrtle derives its name from two things; first its leaves closely resemble the common herb, myrtle(Myrtus comunus) and secondly, its flower blossoms also have a wrinkly feel to them making them somewhat like crepe paper. These splendid mid-summer to fall beauties are hardy to around zone 5 making crepe myrtle a queen a the south and a rising star of the north as more varieties are introduced in the plant world.

In the Language of Flowers, the meaning of crepe myrtle stands for "eloquence" or "well-spoken" as its power of persuasion in letting us know that summer has no intention of relinquishing it's hold for quite sometime is on full display during the month of August.  So, let the fireworks continue and the colors burst free and wild from the flowers of crepe myrtle and let's celebrate the dog days of summer made so much brighter, due in large part, to the splendid nature of the Crepe myrtle.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's May--Let's Celebrate!

Here's to May!

His mantra is "mulch, mulch, mulch...more mulch..."
Yesterday was May 6 and the 143rd Kentucky Derby was on and, it seemed like a good excuse to take a break from the mulching and the weeding in the rain and have a good stiff drink, even if it was for just two really exciting minutes.  So, what should you drink when the horses are "running for the roses?"  Why, Mint Juleps, of course!  A little bit of whiskey, a lot of crushed ice, a good amount of sugar and a long, cool sprig of "Kentucky Colonel" mint makes a hardy pick-me-up while we sat down to cheer on the horses. 

Cold and frosty.
Anywhoo, I realize that we are first and foremost a lavender farm, while we sipped on our mint-inspired drinks, but when you think about it, mint is a member of the same plant family as lavender (Lamiaceae, which basically means square-stemmed flowering plants) and we kind've "took care of that bottle of whiskey--however, it was almost empty, anyway and we will recycle the bottle.  So, hey--it's all good!

Cheers to you!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Who's Fooling Who?!?

When I was a little girl growing up in the Chicago suburbs, there was a commercial on television for Chiffon Soft Stick Margarine that featured an actress portraying "Mother Nature" who tastes the margarine, thinks it's butter and then she is told it's really margarine.  Ms. Au Naturale gets a bit testy, to put it mildly, and then says, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!" Then, she waves her hands causing lightening to strike.  It was a cute ad.  I'm not sure how effective it was when it came to selling Chiffon Margarine. I'm not even sure if Chiffon margarine is produced and sold anymore! However, forty years later, I still remember the advertisement and it still makes me smile.

Displaying IMG_2908.JPGThe weather, however, that Mother Nature seems to keep handing us this winter of 2016/2017 has been no joke!  Beyond winter, last summer never really translated into fall while fall never really turned into winter and winter, as confused as he may be, is trying his darnedest to at least make one brave stand before he hands the keys over to spring next week.  Who knows what spring has up her sleeves?  Perhaps we should check with Mother Nature.😉
Displaying IMG_2910.JPG
Well, at least the Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) is blooming during Lent, out in the
yard, in spite of the snowy and frigid cold weather.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Purple Door

That's a very young me (in my twenties) on the porch.
Peter and I once lived in a purple house.  No kidding.  It was a grand, 100-year-old Queen Anne Victorian in an historic Maryland neighborhood just to the north of Washington, D.C.  that we restored and painted during, what now seems and is, a lifetime ago.  That royal "grand dame" was the beginning of my lifelong foray into and love affair with the world of lavender--plants, that is. Fast forward 24 years later and now we live in a grey-blue colonial saltbox, surrounded by lavender plants, that boasts none other than a purple front door.
Our house here at Blooming Hill, this
past summer just before we took the
leap of painting the front door purple.
A side view of the house and just some of the lavender,
this past summer.  In the early evening light, the grey-blue
takes on a purple hue.

Related imageview beautiful custom door hardware handcrafted by master artisans >
A home's front door says a lot about the person or persons who live inside.  It's one of the first things you see as you often take the hand of the homeowner in greeting and are welcomed into the heart of their humble abode, whether it's a tiny trailer or a magnificent mansion.  Often, brides are carried over the door's thresh hold in celebration of life, love and happiness. A door, like the pineapple, is the quintessential symbol of hospitality.

My beautiful front door in winter.
My beautiful front door in the fall.

I've thought a lot about this in the past several months as I've began to notice more and more front doors on all sorts of houses painted in shades of pale lavender to deep purple, the colors of royalty, love and good fortune.  And, as the owner of a lavender farm, I've come to believe that if people who don't own a lavender farm think a purple door is a good idea for their front door, well then, it's got to be a great idea for my front door by showcasing a little bit of our welcoming Blooming Hill personality. So, this past October, we painted our front door a lovely shade of purple to compliment our field of lavender any time of the year! I hope it says that very welcoming, lavender-loving people live here, too.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Purple, Or Shades Thereof!

Okay, so the Pantone Color Institute may not have chosen a shade of lavender to be the hottest color for home and fashion trends for 2017.  They did, however, manage to include "Twilight Purple," "Bodacious," "Grape Kiss" and even a little purple-y number called "Smokey Grape"  in the spectrum of what coordinates flawlessly with the favorite chosen child this year, called "Greenery."  The nature inspired spectrum ranges from this yellow-green combo to a fiery orange appropriately called "Flame" and reflects the ever changing dynamics of the outside world we all long to bring into our homes and lives.  "Island Paradise," "Primrose Yellow," "Pink Yarrow" and even "Lapis Blue" made the cut this year, too.  They are colors with a modern vibe, fit for Fixer Upper with other airy shades like "Pale Dogwood," " Kale," and "Hazelnut" completing this year's Pantone rainbow.  But can somebody tell me where the color purple--or shades thereof--  IS when it comes to the hottest of our what's trending for 2017?  Anyone??? Anyone???

Image result for images of purple colored vegetablesWell the color purple, or shades thereof, is showing up in the culinary world and zeroing in on healthy and fashionable eating in a big way.  Just travel down a few of the aisles in your grocery store's produce section and take a gander at the stacks of blueberries, piles of fancy lettuces with their lavender and magenta ruffled edges and rainbows of radicchio showing off smooth, tasty stalks. Maybe select some iridescent bell peppers or go for the ever-ready eggplant, stalks of midnight asparagus, waxy, purple cabbage and even, dare I say it, purple-brained cauliflower.

Image result for images of purple colored food and vegetablesDon't forget the beets your mother made you eat when you were little.  They are now prettier than ever and aren't those cute little bunnies raiding your vegetable garden showing off their good taste when they choose the purple carrots over the old orange standbys.  Peter Rabbit never ate so well! The options and possibilities in eating purple and shades thereof, are endless and all the better for you to eat healthy, my dear!  Oh, you want something a little more party-hardy?  How about purple potato chips or acai berries covered in chocolate!  (I think I'm making myself hungry.) And, tea and coffee infused with lavender buds never tasted so delicious.
Lavender, fresh off the bush.
Bits and pieces, all usable.
Strained, cleaned and separated purple, lavender and pink lavender buds.

Although you may not think about actual lavender buds, out there on that bush that blooms so elegantly in your yard every summer, as something at the top of your "must-eat" list, when it comes to food trends this year, it's totally in the color scope of purple--and shades thereof--and edible things that taste really good.  Next time you are looking for something special to treat your pallet to, try a few lavender buds mixed into your sugar and top that morning slice of wheat toast with it or blend a little into some sea salt and  sprinkle it over your deviled eggs, chicken wings or fish patties.  Maybe mingle lavender buds with a little black pepper and shake it on those juicy, thick hamburgers out on the grill.

Image result for images of purple cake and ice cream

Image result for images of purple colored drinksIn the mood for something that says a little more lavender and you want to go whole hog?  Try some lavender-infused ice cream or lavender flavored cookies, cakes and pastries of all kinds.  Who says you have to stop with grape soda? Make some easy to prepare lavender syrup and mix it with your favorite bubbly beverage like ginger ale, tonic water or vodka. Lavender syrup is great with champagne or, if you are looking for something a little more pedestrian but still very tasty, celebratory and, let's face it cheaper, mix it with your favorite Proseco and enjoy!  Salads, casseroles, spreads and toppings of all kinds are compatible with this versatile and tasty herb that has been around for centuries.

So, you want to start with something easy and tasty? Well. here it is--Lavender Sugar...
Herbs in salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, cut in half and split lengthwise and then into small pieces.
1-2 tablespoons of dried lavender (your choice of variety but I would stick with a Lavandula
       angustifolia like 'Royal Velvet' or 'Buena Vista'.

In a spice grinder or blender, pulse the ingredients together until finely minced.  Transfer to a jar, cover tightly and store in your spice cabinet for at least 5 days before using to ensure that all of the flavors will infuse nicely together.  Use on or in wherever you normally use sugar and see how you like it.  There are lots of great lavender-inspired Cookbooks out there, not to mention a plethora of recipes all over the internet.  Go ahead and experiment!
Image result for images of purple colored food and vegetables

PSSST!...If you are looking for lavender to cook with, craft with, decorate with or anything else you can think of to use it for, we've got it here at Blooming Hill.