A New Garden Adventure: Online Education from Mount Cuba Center

For anyone interested in native plants, Delaware’s Mount Cuba Center is a fabulous resource.  I’ve been wanting to take courses there, but distance and schedules have just not allowed it.  So I was happy to learn that Mount Cuba has launched a series of online courses designed to share their wonderful education resources with audiences everywhere.  Mount Cuba Center Connect, the online education portal, describes itself as a “virtual garden of eastern North American native plants.”A

My first online course, Moss Gardening, examines the variety of moss textures, describes  landscape uses for moss and explains how to establish a moss garden.  This course will serve as a perfect complement to my next large-scale garden project – restoring the woodland border on the north side of my yard.  I dive in to the material tonight.

Here’s to the start of a new adventure!

Trillium, phlox, foamflower and other native beauties. Photo from http://www.mtcubacenter.org

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Book Review: The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey

Disclaimer!  I’ve just joined the wonderful book site, Goodreads (www.goodreads.com), and now have a huge backlog of garden books to review.  So I’ll be posting them periodically over the next few weeks.  Look for me on Goodreads if you’re a member too!

The Organic Lawn Care Manual, by Paul Tukey

My husband purchased “The Organic Lawn Care Manual” in 2008. Out of curiousity, I thumbed through it and found it highly compelling. Paul Tukey’s advice just makes good sense – for the earth and for ourselves. And it’s easy to follow. We immediately adopted the all organic routine, tested our soil and amended it based on the results, applied corn gluten for weed control, and even started making compost. Our lawn looks great, not in a 1950’s suburban perfect sort of way, but real and healthy. What’s more though – the book inspired me to start advocating for natural lawn and garden care practices. I  joined the Million Acre Challenge, and even did a speech on organic gardening at my local Toastmasters club. I’m not exaggerating by saying that this book inspired me to make many positive changes in my life and my community. If you care about the environment, it’s a must read!

Meyer Lemon Risotto

Continuing last year’s rhapsody about Meyer lemons, I’m thrilled to share this link from Simply Recipes:

http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/meyer_lemon_risotto/

And now I have to rush out and buy some beautiful Meyer lemons to make this dish. I was oogling them in the grocery store yesterday (if that’s even a word), but wasn’t sure how I’d use them. Well, here’s the answer!

Spring! Welcome back, I’ve missed you so….

Even before the daffodils bloom, I’ve been on the hunt for signs of spring.  And pleased to say that the signs are cropping up everywhere around my yard.  Here are a few:

Lovely winter aconite, also known as 'wolf's bane'

Stella d'Oro daylily

Purple Plum heuchera

'Autumn Joy' sedum, one of my favorites

A brave snowdrop

There is a tenacious little Ilex crenata that the birds must have deposited.  Last year I dug it out from under the roots of a Barberry shrub – and now it’s back!

And the best prize of all, from the vegetable garden, a tiny bunch of Lamb’s lettuce that sprouted from last year’s seed.  Amazing!

Mache or Lamb's lettuce

It is almost time to plan out my new plantings for this year.  Lots of work in the back woods border, new vegetable beds.  I’ve even ordered some asparagus crowns for the vegetable garden – first ever attempt at asparagus.  Ah, the prospects are enticing!  Spring, welcome back, you’ve been away too long!

Winter Cooking: OUTRAGEOUS Red Lentil Soup

Inspired by an article on Egyptian food in this month’s Food & Wine magazine, and by the fortuitous discovery of a bag of red lentils in my pantry, I made this OUTRAGEOUS lentil soup in my slow cooker.  Forgive the all caps, but my house has smelled so wonderful all day.  I can hardly wait for my husband to get home so we can eat dinner!!!

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup (photo from Food & Wine magazine)

Mise en place:

  • 1 lb dried red lentils (soak overnight in cold water, or use the hot soak method – boil for 2 minutes, then soak for an hour in the boiling liquid).
  • 4-5 large carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 4-5 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 t minced garlic (ugh!  my brand new jar of garlic was bad, so I had to toss it and resort to garlic powder….)
  • 1 t smoked Spanish paprika
  • 2 t chile powder
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t ground turmeric
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 carton broth – vegetable, chicken or beef (I used Wegman’s beef broth, because that’s what I had on hand)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (I used Hunt’s Fire Roasted tomatoes; they complement the dish nicely!)

Optional:

  • 2 T soup base
  • 2 T Moroccan Harissa or hot sauce

Soffritto:  Saute the vegetables in olive oil until slightly tender; add the garlic and saute one minute more.  Drain the lentils; add to pot.  Add broth and seasonings.  Stir and bring to boil.  Transfer to slow cooker.

Cook:  In slow cooker, on high, for 3 hours.  Remove from heat; puree lightly with a stick blender.  At this point the soup tasted a bit bland to me, so I added the soup base and harissa.  Now, it’s OUTRAGEOUS!

Winter Cooking: Fragrant White Chili

I’m loving my new All-Clad slow cooker.  Unlike others I’ve had, this one is programmable and immediately launches into ‘keep warm’ mode at the end of the cooking cycle.  I also like the cast aluminum insert, since I can brown the ingredients on the stovetop directly in the insert, and then place the entire insert into the base for cooking.

 All Clad slow cooker with cast aluminum insert (photo from http://www.williamssonoma.com)

Here’s a recipe for a quick and tasty white chili.  It’s fragrant but not overly spicy –  the perfect dish for the end of football season!

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 1 can small white beans or cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken broth (or 1/2 broth and 1/2 white wine)
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 t smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 t ground cumin (or more, to taste)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 t turmeric

Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until softened, 3 mins.  Turn heat to medium-high; add turkey and brown.  Lower head to medium again and add garlic; saute another minute.  Add broth, beans and seasonings.  Stir to combine.  Transfer to slow cooker ; cook on low for one hour.  Top with shredded cheese and sour cream or yogurt.

Now I get to spend my favorite Sunday with my honey, eating chili and watching the playoffs.  And if I say, ‘Go Birds,’ well, I’m not really cheating – since this week I’m cheering for the Ravens!

Reflections on Chauncey Gardner and the Winter Garden

During my vacation this week, I got to watch ‘Being There,’ the classic film about a mentally-challenged man who, by mere chance, becomes an advisor to Washington’s political elite.  Certainly one of Peter Sellers’ finest performances, and meaningful on so many levels.  I’ve seen it several times over the years, each time discovering fresh nuances that add to the story’s timeless appeal.

This time around, I considered  the implications of Chauncey’s brief pronouncement: “There is much to do in the garden in winter.”   It’s a curious statement, untrue on the surface, and yet absolutely essential just beneath it.  Because really, what could we possibly do in the garden in winter?  Read the seed catalogues as they arrive in the mail?  Draw our planting designs for next year?  Wipe down the tools that we left to rust in the garage?  It’s too darned cold out – I don’t want to do anything!

That’s when it hit me.  For gardeners, winter is the time to rest after the frantic rush of autumn harvest.  And it is not just inevitable – it’s essential.  We need to restore the energy that has been completely spent – by work, by Christmas shopping, by  preparing and serving a fabulous feast to our families and beloved friends.  All the wonderful rituals of the holidays need to close with a period of quiet.  We need the balance of activity and stillness.  Without rest, we simply can’t grow again.

I had been planning a very active holiday break – family visits, a trip to Center City, projects at home. And indeed, I got to do some of those things, and enjoyed them tremendously.  But for once, I stopped short of pushing myself beyond all limits.  I embraced the need for quiet by spending time at home – reading, playing with the new kitten, and, luxury of all luxuries:  napping.  And it felt great!  For once, I feel ready to return to work, revitalized instead of exhausted.

Piet Oudolf  shared his perspective in a recent NYT article: “The garden in winter is an emotional experience,” he said. “You think in terms of decay and disappearing and coming back. You feel the life cycle of nature.”  Oudolf has  probably done more than any contemporary designer to show us the beauty of the winter garden.  See his proof in the lovely photo below:

Piet Oudolf's Winter Garden, from the New York Times

I’m very thankful for the long holiday break, the gift of rest, and the lessons of the winter garden.