Get Growing: Brighten your Space with Cyclamen!

Now that the holidays are over and the decorations are packed away, the house always seems a little less exciting. That said, last weekend I decided to take a lead from my mom and spruce up the space with some indoor flowering plants.

When I was growing up my mom always had amaryllis blooming in the house after the holidays and well into January. I missed the boat on planting amaryllis and narcissus this holiday season so on Saturday I strolled over to Seattle’s Swanson’s Nursery and was cheerfully greeted at the entrance with a sea of cyclamen! Small in size and featuring bright pink, red or white flowers, these little plants are the perfect antidote to the dreary weather we have been having here in the Emerald City. Priced at about $8 and long blooming, I figured they were a thrifty way to satisfy my antsy green thumb and bring cheer to the kitchen table!

A sea of cyclamen at Swanson’s Nursery

I bought two pink ones. At home I removed them from the four inch pots and nestled them in a small brass planter purchased the day before at the thrift store. My little flowering composition now sits at the breakfast table and indeed brightens the room. Easy to care for, they only require water every few days and a pinching off of any dead blooms. With a little TLC they will continue to bloom, and apparently, they will die off in spring but they will come back to life next year!

For me, this “kitchen garden” keeps my itchy thumb active until the seed packets come out…

My Organic Kitchen Garden Year in Review 2021

As a gardener I am constantly reminded that life can often be mysterious but it always comes full circle! Now that the leaves are falling here in Seattle and the winds are howling around the neighborhood, it’s always fun to do a Garden Year in Review!

Throughout the gardening season, which starts in January for me, I take photos and try to document what I did and when I did it! This proves helpful on many levels as it acts as a prompt for the next year. While perusing my photos this morning, I was reminded how this was a particularly busy (and beautiful!) year for us in the garden!

This year we added a flock of hens, a custom chicken coop, raised beds, an herb garden, multiple miniature David Austin roses, scented geraniums from Christianson’s Nursery, and an array of trellises to grow beans. I also kept my 200 square foot community garden plot and the food bank bed going at the Haller Lake P Patch near my home.

In review, the rewards were huge both in terms of produce, herbs, and flowers harvested as well as in the personal rewards of starting many things from seed and seeing them come to maturity, both in the garden and on the dinner table!

Tulips with Spode Milk Jug and Chinese Porcelain Bowl

For me, gardening isn’t a chore, it’s a creative outlet that lets me experiment and dabble, hoping it all comes to some form of fruition! Some things did great. My herb garden is booming. I harvested a ton of tomatoes, cabbage, chards, kales, and lettuces.

That said, our pole beans were more challenging and I had to replant one plot three times as some evasive and annoying critter was devouring the tendrils before they could get a grasp on life. I never solved that problem in that corner of the yard, gave up on the bean plot right there and decided to plant something else. In the end the pole beans planted elsewhere in the yard did ok so that one corner of my garden world remains a mystery!

I could certainly say a lot more about all this but for now, here’s a photo tour from my Kitchen Garden 2021!

Now, it’s time to spring ahead to 2022!

Yellow chard starts
Lavender drying in a willow basket
Costata Romanesco zucchini-a fabulous Italian heirloom
Chard with eggs
Sweet peas, mint and lavender

Laura Bush Petunias

How to Make Lavender Honey

Sometimes the simplest things in life really are the most luxurious.

I was reminded of this last week when I decided to make Lavender Honey. I have enormous lavender bushes in full bloom on my urban lot and after I made Lavender Shortbread last week, I began to mull my other options. Lavender Vinegar? Lavender Honey Mustard? Lavender Crème Chantilly?

Then, lavender honey popped into my thoughts. I had recently read an article in Mother Earth Living and had earmarked that page. Then when my friend Marissa came by with a tub of honey made by a family in the neighborhood, I HAD to make lavender honey… it doesn’t get much more local than that, right? Lavender from the yard and honey from the neighborhood!

The process is ridiculously simple. I started with a small sterilized recycled Maille mustard jar. I then added about 1 Tablespoon of lavender flowers (picked off the stem) and poured in enough honey to cover the lavender. For good measure, I added a small branch of lavender too. The article in Mother Earth Living explained that honey is hydrophilic, which means that the honey draws the water from the plants and ultimately makes the honey even runnier. The article also instructs to simply let the lavender honey sit for a few days, during which time the honey takes on the subtle delicious lavender flavor and aroma and becomes runnier.

I left my jar on the kitchen table so I could watch it and by the end of the second day, it was runnier and very aromatic. Since I could no longer resist tasting, the next morning I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of my Lavender Honey to a couple of tablespoons of water with a dash of Penzey’s dehydrated ginger. I then microwaved the mixture in a small ramekin for about 15 seconds to infuse the flavors and poured the Lavendar Honey Ginger syrup over some diced cantaloupe and sliced local organic strawberries.

The result? It was so good that frankly it almost defied logic.

Bees working their magic on my lavender in full bloom!

Fresh, flavorful, aromatic, and healthy it was the perfect start to a summer day!

Thrifty Garden Hack: Easy Greenhouse for Basil

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

I was reminded of this recently while struggling to deal with basil starts in my garden. I love basil but it’s a bear to grow successfully here in Seattle. Our cool maritime climate makes it hard to grow the heat loving Mediterranean herb. I have tried plastic tunnel cloches over the years, and they work to some degree on the larger plants purchased at the nurseries. But this year, I am growing nearly 100% of my plants from seeds, which adds to the challenge with basil. (Slugs love the little plants, and it takes some heat to get the plants sufficiently ramped up and rolling for the season.)

However, while mulling my options last night, I popped into a thrift store to see if I could rustle up some kind of cloche, or protective cover that I could put over my basil seedlings. I trolled the storage box section and found nothing. I considered those large plastic iced tea containers for a hot minute, but the spout proved problematic and frankly, unattractive. In the glass container section, where they have the assorted glass bowls and Pyrex containers, eureka hit! I spied three dusty, yet stylish, glass salad bowls. It immediately occurred to me that they would be perfect over my basil. I turned the pedestaled bowls upside down and indeed they looked like a cloche to me! Adding to the thrill? Bric a brac was 50% off, so each bowl was $1.

At home, they got a quick clean with hot water and ammonia and in short order, they were positioned over my tender sweet basil plants in the garden. To prevent the basil from getting charred on a hot day, I set some bricks nearby so I can vent the cloche and cool the setup.

When I stepped back to survey the results, I thought they definitely have a European vintage glass cloche effect, without the hefty price tag!

In Season: Daffodils!

Daffodils! They have arrived. Strutting their cheerful ruffly flowers in gardens, parking strips and at grocery stores all over town. Without a doubt, they are a very welcome addition to the neighborhood because Seattle has been very dreary and rainy.

I have a few wayward daffodils blooming in my yard and in pots on the front steps, but for those of you who don’t, consider treating yourself to a little bunch…or two. They are generally far cheaper than the hot house tulips and they are just as lovely.

In order to get the most bang for your hard earned buck when buying a bunch of daffodils, choose those with tightly closed heads, and at home, trim the ends and plunge them in a vase of water. If you want to get the flowers to open a little faster, use warm water. If you want to slow the blooming process and make them last, use cool water. However, because daffodil stems release an oozy sap when cut, don’t combine daffodils with other flowers such as tulips because the arrangement will wilt faster due to the sticky liquid!

So, savor the season and buy some daffodils!

 

 

Sow Delicious! Tips for Starting Seeds

The days are getting brighter out here in the Pacific Northwest and that means it’s time to spring ahead. Even though we are still in the depths of winter, I use this month to start many of the plants and vegetables I want in my summer garden. Tomatoes, sweet peas, kales, lettuces, and cabbages being just a few.

Sweet Pea Flowers at P Patch
Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums and Poppies at my Certified Organic P-Patch in Seattle!

I, obviously, can’t plant them outside at this time of year, but I can sow them in my little home and indeed I do! This task, aside from satiating my green thumb, also allows me to grow a wide array of varieties and it saves me a ton of money, as flower and vegetable starts get pricier every year at the nurseries.

So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tools and tips for getting your seeds off to a strong start.

Seedling Mat
Hyrdofarm Heat Mat with Jiffy Pellets Lined Up and Nestled in Lettuce Boxes!

  1. Get a Seedling Heat Mat! Seeds need heat to sprout and electric seedling heat mats are the perfect tool for the task. They come in a variety of sizes, which is very convenient for smaller households. I purchased my Hydrofarm mat years ago and it still works great, maintaining a gentle and low even heat. I’ve also used windowsill heat mats to maximize space. That worked well too!
  2. Simplify with Jiffy Pellets. Over the years I’ve experimented with seeds, pots and seedling potting mix but to be honest, I’ve found that to be messy and time consuming. So, now I simply order Jiffy Peat Soil Pellets in bulk from Amazon. The pellets rehydrate with hot water in a flash and make it super easy for me to sow some seeds in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, when it’s time to plant the seedlings, the whole plug can go right in the ground, minimizing transplant shock.
  3. Save those plastic salad and takeout boxes. When sowing seeds indoors, it’s important to create a warm somewhat moist environment for the seeds to sprout and grow. I have discovered that the large salad boxes are perfect mini greenhouses! I put the Jiffy Soil Pellets in the box, rehydrate the pellets, sow the seeds, cover with the lid, and set on the heat mat. Boom! The seeds sprout often in a few days.
  4. Get a spray bottle. Seedlings need moisture daily and the only tool for these gentle little sprouts is a spray bottle. Mist the seedlings gently daily and they’ll flourish!
  5. Let there be light! If you are lucky enough to have a sunny window with southern exposure, you might not need supplemental light. However, here in Seattle, even with some southern exposure, my seedlings still need supplemental light in order to flourish and avoid getting leggy. My favorite tools come from the Hydrofarm Jumpstart system purchased years ago at a local nursery and now available from Amazon.

    P Patch Zucchini
    Sow Delicious: My organic P Patch last summer with zucchini, flowers, and tomatoes sown from seed at home!
  6. Be Inspired…sow…what are you waiting for? Growing your own seedlings is fun, creative, thrifty and healthy. Give it a try!

Seattle’s Pike Place Market-A Living Entity

Peonies. Prince William Sound Salmon. Cruise Ships. Tourists. Sunshine. Sea Breezes.

Peonies in buckets w pricing
Local peonies are stealing the show at the Pike Place Market right now!

The Pike Place Market I visited today is much different than the one I visited last January. Of course, TECHNICALLY and structurally it’s the same as it was back in January but this morning. the market wasn’t tenuously navigating Seattle’s unpredictable January weather.

Today, the market was strutting her seasonal stuff and loving it! Once again, I had to be downtown very early so after I “checked the box” on an errand well before 7:30 AM, I decided to stroll down the hill and head to the market. It was bright and sunny, and I figured it would be a great time to beat the crowds and see what’s coming in locally.

Alas, when I arrived I again found quiet streets and walkways. My first destination? The flower vendors who were clipping and arranging thousands of local peonies. One of my favorite flowers, the incredible array made me swoon. As much as I love to garden and have success with many things, my attempts to grow peonies have failed repeatedly.  These bodacious pink orbs, frankly, made me green with envy! I didn’t buy any simply because I didn’t want to cart them all over. That being said, they were a bargain and the prices ranged from $10 a bunch to $20. Local. Seasonal. Gorgeous beyond compare.

PWS King
On Ice: The King of all Salmon. This one from Alaska’s Prince William Sound

Next stop? The fish stalls. All the guys were sporting their waterproof orange pants, spraying the walkways, scooping crushed ice onto displays and answering questions from early birds like me. At Pike Place Fish Market they didn’t have any Copper River King or Sockeye because it’s been a rough season up there this far. They did have a massive 25 pound Prince William Sound king in a huge bin filled with ice. The adjacent tabletop display of Prince William Sound sockeye nearby also impressed.

Pike Place June 2018
Anticipating the Cruise Ship Crowds and Taking a Breather!

After that, I was ready for a breather so I traipsed over to the nearby park to do a little people watching and eyeball the massive cruise ship docked nearby. As I examined that Norwegian behemoth from afar, I knew the crowds from within would be emerging and heading towards the market so I beelined to breakfast at nearby Seatown, one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants. The Fried Egg sandwich with avocado, Bavarian Meats bacon and a side of crispy hash browns was just what I needed before trekking back UP the hill to catch my bus.

Bacon Egg at Sea Town .JPG
Seatown English Muffin Egg Sandwich with a Side of Bavarian Meats Bacon

While schlepping up to Third, I realized that the Market is indeed a living entity that shifts with each Seattle season.

 

 

Three Secret Gardens in New York City

Gardens in New York City? Can they really offer a respite from the urban jungle and the endless horn honking?

These were the questions I posed to myself when I was in New York City for four days last month. I was attending the Annual Conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and was also visiting my daughter who just moved to Manhattan.

With a little advance planning and a razor-focused gameplan, we managed to visit three gorgeous gardens–The Gardens at the Met Cloisters, the Heather Garden in nearby Fort Tryon Park, and the Conservatory Garden in Central Park.  All of the gardens were magnificent, inspiring and restorative. Here’s the recap:

The Gardens at the Met Cloisters

The Cloister Herb Garden 2018

Located in Washington Heights in Fort Tryon Park, The Met Cloisters is the ultimate respite. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Hudson, the historic Romanesque and Gothic cloisters are naturally inspiring in and of themselves, but for me, it was the medieval courtyard gardens that hit home. My daughter and I went early on a Sunday morning and the four gardens–the Judy Black  Garden, the Herb Garden, the Trie Cloister Garden and the Orchard, were in full swing.  There are garden tours at 11 am each day but unfortunately when we got there the couple in front of us snagged the last two spots for the day so we had to explore on our own.

Of the four gardens, the Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden was my favorite…for obvious reasons. As an avid cook, food writer and gardener, I love growing edibles and the Herb Garden was deliciously inspiring. Boasting scenic views of the river below,  the garden was segmented into quadrants of culinary herbs, medicinal herbs,  and vegetables. Fruit trees were situated throughout the plantings. Large terracotta pots were planted with olive trees, rosemary and other tender plants. Church bells rang from above and sparrows flittered about amongst the plantings. The plants were all carefully labeled and insights as to how they were used in the Middle Ages were noted.

The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park

Heather Garden May 2018

After the Cloisters, we decided to hunt down another Secret Garden. I had read something that alluded to a beautiful garden near The Cloisters but I couldn’t remember where it was so I started asking the staff at the Cloisters. No one seemed to know so I eventually had to go to the museum’s information booth and ask about “that nice garden nearby.” One informed gentleman in a back office heard my query, came forth, and then went off to another office to pull out a little brochure called The Heather Garden. He handed it to me and said, just go left down that way into the park. Ummm. Okay.

So, we trekked along, asked for a few more directions, trotted past the New Leaf Restaurant and eventually stumbled upon our secret destination!

Well, what a treasure! Fort Tryon Park was gifted to the City in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller Jr who then engaged the Olmsted Brothers, whose father designed Central Park, to design the park and the heather gardens. Over the decades the garden has had its ups and downs but in 2009 the Fort Tryon Park Trust reinvigorated the garden to what it is today…a multiacre all season garden boasting nearly 500 varieties of plants that attract flora and fauna such as birds, bees, and beneficial wildlife. When we were there, the garden was alive with blooms of bluebells, azaleas, iris, rhododendrons, peonies,  salvia and more. Aside from enticing Crayola color scheme at hand, the city air was also perfumed with heady aromas from the flowers at hand.

The Central Park Conservatory Garden

Central Park Garden Sculpture May 2018

The last garden on our list was the Central Park Conservatory Garden located in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue and 105th. An officially designated Quiet Zone, this six-acre formal garden was delightfully QUIET when we visited early on a sunny Monday morning. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue and features the Vanderbilt Gate, a massive wrought iron structure made in Paris and originally from the Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th. The garden itself features three smaller gardens each with an Italianate, French and English influence.  When we were there we had just missed some of the best blooms, such as the wisteria and the gorgeous tulips. That being said, the fountains and European sculptures made us feel as if we had landed in a beautiful garden somewhere in Europe.

 

 

 

Edible Flowers are Trending for 2018

Flowers. They are gorgeous in the garden…and on the dinner plate.

According to a December 2017 article from Forbes, edible flowers are a predicted culinary trend for 2018. Indeed, why not?

If you have a garden, they are easy to grow and they add a delicious splash of color both in the yard and on the table.  Some easy options? Calendula,  chive blossoms, lemon gem marigolds, and nasturtiums are at the top of the list.

I’ve grown these annuals for years. The packets of seeds or starter plants are inexpensive and the plants don’t require a lot of fussy upkeep.  Many of them even attract bees and ward off those sticky pests known as aphids. Admittedly, however, I haven’t really bothered to sprinkle them on my dinner lately. That might change this year.

Looking for some direction on how to get started in your own backyard or on your balcony? Check out this Edible Flower Collection Seed Packet from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine.   And, while considering this trend, be prudent and educate yourself before chomping.

For additional information and resources read “A Consumer’s Guide to Edible Flowers” published by Penn State Extension.

 

Sow the Seeds of Dinner

Gardening. It’s the ultimate added-value pastime.

Not only do you get fresh air, exercise and Vitamin D when you weed, plant and prattle around in the soil but you also get hyperlocal produce for dinner! Afterall, it was plucked from your garden, patio or even windowsill.

It doesn’t get much more regional than that, folks!

I’ve been an avid gardener for probably thirty years now and I continue to be amazed at how a simple little seed can ultimately work its way through the soil and onto my dinner plate a few months later.

Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb or a sprawling yard,  seriously consider growing something.  Think about what vegetables you enjoy,  do a little planning and give it a shot.

Chives or parsley can be “planted” on a sunny windowsill.  Mini lettuces can be sown in patio planters or in small spaces in the garden. Even tomatoes, such as Tom Thumb and Stupice, which are great for small gardens, can produce prolifically in a pot and taste great in a salad.

Need some inspiration? Here are a couple of my favorite resources for sowing the seeds of dinner!

Seed Racks at the Garden Center or Grocery Store

Don’t snarf at the seed racks in the big box stores. The seeds are well priced and the displays have a great variety. You can also score a deal by using coupons and the varieties featured are usually pretty easy to grow. Read the sowing instructions and give it a shot.  I regularly buy Burpee and Ed Hume from the racks at my Fred Meyer. What do I purchase? Zinnias, lettuces, chards, herbs, cosmos, sunflowers and more. Want a small space variety? Look for the little container icon on the Burpee packets. It’s a great indicator of which ones will work well in a mini-plot.

Mail Order 

Order some seed catalogs and read them on a rainy day. They make great wish books. I circle and mark mine up and then order. I have found some great small space varieties at both Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine and at Territorial Seed Catalog in Oregon. My insider tip? When in doubt, call the customer service folks at these companies. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have steered me in the right direction many times.

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