Slow Cooking – from Winter into Spring

Still loving my All-Clad slow cooker and the great collection of slow cooker recipes from the Williams-Sonoma blog.  

This past weekend, I made the last of the winter recipes – Stout-braised short ribs.  Served over gemelli pasta with butter and grated cheese.  Outrageous!  The recipe is located here:

A new article from Williams-Sonoma highlights the slow cooker’s versatility for preparing lighter, spring recipes – combining traditional spring meats such as lamb, with fresh seasonable vegetables.  See the full article here:    I haven’t yet tried cooking fish in the slow cooker, but the  salmon recipe looks quite simple – and tasty.  Definitely one to try!


Planting Asparagus, Spring 2012

Today continues the vegetable garden evolution.  I planted the beautiful Jersey Prince asparagus from that arrived this week from White Flower farm.  Thanks to Margaret Roach for this informative article on asparagus planting techniques.         Fortunately, the beds were easy to prepare because I had previously added dried manure to the soil.  Since the beds are so narrow, I did place the asparagus crowns closer together than usual.  I planted just under 20 crowns altogether, filling up the right bed completely.  As the plants grow in, I’ll finish filling in the  trenches with the remaining soil.  Then, I’ll get to enjoy the lovely plants in the garden for a few years before I can begin to harvest the spears.

Trenches prepared for asparagus plants

Trenches prepared for asparagus plants

Asparagus crowns in place

A Trip to RareFind Nursery

Plant lovers:  if you live in or travel to the Delaware Valley, make it a point to visit RareFind Nursery .  I was first introduced to RareFind by Ken Arnold, the retired landscaper who now tends the beautiful grounds at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, NJ.  RareFind carries plants, shrubs and trees that you simply won’t find anywhere else.  Located in Jackson, NJ (close to 6 Flags and outlet shopping), the nursery is situated in the Jersey pines, an ideal location for the rhododendrons, azaleas and other natives that love our acid, sandy soil.  In particular, RareFind offers an amazing selection of the native, deciduous azaleas that are much sweeter and lovelier that the garish Asian variety so commonly seen in gardens.  Wander through the lush display gardens and then settle in for some serious plant shopping.

Yesterday was perhaps my third or fourth trip to RareFind. My goal was to select trees and shrubs for my Woodland Border restoration project.  Following Ann Lovejoy’s ‘Golden Bowl’ approach, I selected ‘Princess Diana’ amelanchier grandiflora trees for the large understory, and some Rhododendron minus v. carolianus shrubs for the small understory.  (I’m going to underplant the rhododendrons with a few Coast Leucothoe that I picked up locally last week).  I also selected a beautiful Cornus Alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) to anchor the streamside border.  Even as a young tree, the dogwood has gorgeous, purplish bark and a graceful sympodial branch structure.  Finally, I picked up a few perennials including Sedum Ternatum (which, coincidentally is recommended by Mount Cuba Center in my moss gardening course).

My 'rare finds:' Rhododendron minus v. carolinus; Amelanchier grandiflora 'Princess Diana' and more

All in all, a successful plant excursion.  My trip was cut short by rain – otherwise I would certainly have spend much more time, and money!  Not to worry though, I’m sure I’ll be back.

I'm simply rhapsodizing about this beautiful Pagoda Dogwood

Vegetable Garden – Spring 2012

Finally time to sow early spring vegetables!  After a few unsatisfactory growing seasons, I’m planning some major changes this year for the vegetable garden.  First, I’m turning the right section into a perennial asparagus bed.  This part of the garden gets the most sun, so I think the asparagus will do well.  Plus, the plants themselves are so beautiful, I’ll enjoy them during the TWO YEARS that I’ll need to wait for the root systems to mature.  Just yesterday, I received word from White Flower Farm that my order of Jersey Knight asparagus crowns is on its way to me.  I’ll be able to get them planted before my UK trip.

Seeds for my spring vegetable garden

Beyond the asparagus, I’m focusing on early season vegetables – peas, bush beans, carrots.  I’m headed out to plant these today.  I’m also sowing leafy greens – Swiss chard and lettuces – as well as their floral companions, marigolds and nasturtiums.  So far I haven’t had a chance to order any other leafy greens, but I do want to try mache again and a few different lettuce varieties.  My sister-in-law also asked for kale.  Later on in the summer I’ll add the cucumbers and squash.  The other traditional summer vegetables – tomatoes, peppers – are going in a grow box on the front lawn where they will get more sun and hopefully produce better yields.

Fingers crossed for a beautiful and bountiful harvest!

Book Review: Ann Lovejoy’s Organic Garden Design School

Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design SchoolAnn Lovejoy’s Organic Garden Design School by Ann Lovejoy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ann Lovejoy’s Organic Garden Design School has helped me form a design to restore the woodland gardens that were stripped earlier this year by overzealous tree trimmers. Her ‘Golden Bowl’ analogy enabled me to understand the concept of tree canopy, high understory, low understory and perennials. Previously, I had been focusing just upon low understory shrubs and perennials; now I understand that adding some medium sized trees will help create a more gentle transition from woodland to garden border. Her ‘rule of thirds’ (one third evergreens, one third structural shrubs and one third perennials) also provides a useful guideline for garden design. I will start applying these ideas right away – both to plan out my plant purchases and to site them appropriately.

The only criticism I would have of the book is that some of her recommended plants are considered invasive in this area. Fortunately, I’ve got a good list of native alternatives from my studies at Longwood Gardens. Overall, Ann Lovejoy’s Organic Garden Design is a tremendously useful guidebook. I borrowed it from the local library – and now I’m going to buy my own copy!


Trampled Underfoot!

About two months ago, I made the mistake of allowing a tree service company do some work in my Woodland Border. The workmen were supposed to trim low-lying branches, remove a few dead trees and clear away rotted logs. I think they were really just looking for firewood to sell, because they were overzealous in their trimming. None of the live trees were really harmed, thank goodness, even though the workmen trimmed more than I wanted. The real problem is that they dragged all the cut logs through the planted border and across my yard. As a result, my once-beautiful woodland border is now completely TRAMPLED UNDERFOOT!

My woodland gardens, now trampled underfoot!

What a mess! Now there’s major cleanup and repair work to do. I’ll look on the bright side here however. In my day job as a marketing professional, I use the term ‘compelling event’ to describe an issue that prompts a client to move forward at any given point. Here, I’m using the cleanup as my ‘compelling event,’ to achieve two outcomes:

–Increase the scale and impact of the woodland border, with major additions of native shrubs and plants
–Create an even more beautiful setting for my Summer Garden Party in early June

With these goals in mind, I’m heading to Rare Find Nursery on Saturday to pick up a large order of native shrubs. Here goes the next project!

Spring Containers 2012

Last Saturday’s road trip to Delaware, with an impromptu stop at Willey’s Farm (, a wonderful local nursery and produce market, yielded the materials for some lovely Spring containers.

Pansies, herbs and salad greens for Spring containers

Inspired by photographs in magazines and online, I’ve been wanting to make Spring containers combining flowers, herbs and salad greens.   Here,  I used some of my favorite herbs (Rosemary, Spearmint), added some trailers for visual interest (Thyme), and tried out some new plants as well (Arugula, Anise Hyssop).  I made a few for my front step, and a few to give as gifts.

A few containers on the front porch

I also rejeuvenated the Winter containers from my class at Longwood Gardens, (see prior post) by removing the cut greens and adding herbs and flowers.  With the bulbs in full bloom, my Winter containers are now also beautiful Spring containers.  Take a look at the results!

Winter container, redone for Spring