Raised Bed Gardening, Plant Container Ideas, Yummy Savory Garden Cornmeal Pancakes and more…

“We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.”  William Hazlitt
This year I  put in a new raised bed garden over by our barn hill that will be specifically for Neil’s sausages!  I am so excited about growing and drying all the herbs. Raised beds are such an easy way to go for anyone, especially if you don’t have a large area.   If you want to have a no fuss, no muss garden try raised beds, they require very little maintenance and can grow almost everything! 

Raised Bed tips on how to make & grow!
*The lumber you use should be at least 10″ high or higher if you want it. Although for proper root growth this is the minimum. 
*Do NOT use old rail road ties, no matter how many you get for free- they contain a poison called Creosote that will leach out into your soil, be taken up by the roots of your plants, nourish the plant and you get all the by-product in the fruit that it bears when YOU eat it! Yuck!  Stay away from treated lumber for the same reasons.  (this pertains only to those who want to grow organically!)
*Your raised beds can be as long as you want them to be, but the best width is 4′ wide.  With this width you can easily ‘reach’ in from both sides.  You never want to ‘step in’ your RB, this compacts the soil, which makes proper root growth more difficult.  My farms RB’s are either 4’x4′ or 4’x8′, these work best for me.
*Find a sunny location in your yard and decide how many you would like, or should I say how many would fit!  I would not have a stitch of grass if I didn’t have boys that need ‘play space’!
*Fill your box with from the bottom up with a mixture of well rotted manure, compost, old grass clippings, hay or straw and top with a rich, loamy soil. 
*After you have your box filled with all the plants you want to grow, put a layer of newspaper (NOT colored print sections) about 3-4 sections thick between your plants, top with a layer of grass clippings or straw to act as a mulch. You will have virtually NO weeding!
*Water thoroughly and enjoy your hard work! 
For a very concise book on Raised Bed gardening I always recommend ‘Lasagna Gardening’ by Patricia Lanza.  I also recommend companion planting with all your growing ventures. I use Louise Riotte’s, ‘Carrots Love Tomatoes’.  Both these books will give you a great start to your gardening ventures.
Other nifty ideas for plant containers:
1.  Old galvanized chicken feeder or waterers, tin buckets, watering cans, old metal double burner caners (see picture) enamel ware anything… be sure to put drainage holes on the bottom- unless there it is well rusted and has time worn ones, even better!
2.  Wheel barrow’s or old wagons can be found at any flea market or garage sale.  You can either put the plant pots directly in the containers or fill em’ with dirt and direct plant.  Either way, totally adorable!
3.  Barrels or metal wash tubs are great as well.  I have a old half barrel at my back door with a bleeding heart in it.  When it is in full bloom it is simply stunning. 
4. Old drawers, crates or even an old wooden trough (yes I have had one).  These work great in your garden’s to add depth and interest.  You can plant anything in them. 
The idea’s are endless, if it has a hole to put dirt in you can plant it, just depends on your taste!  The key to successful container gardening is proper drainage.
*One more tip- to save on dirt when filling very large containers, recycle packing peanuts, old broken Terra cotta pots, small plastic pots, etc.  Put these in the bottom of your container until about half filled, then pour on the dirt!  They will also be much lighter if you need to move them!

Here’s a yummy recipe using Taylor’s Cornmeal Pancake Mix!
Taylor’s Savory Garden Cornmeal Pancakes
1 Pkg. Taylor’s Bake Shoppe Cornmeal Pancake Mix – follow instructions and add to batter:
1 cup niblet corn, drained                                                            

1/4 cup diced bell pepper (any color 1/2 cup diced red onion                               
 1 small peeled & shredded carrot, from Willow Ridge Farm
1/2 tsp Taco Seasoning

1/4 oil

1. Stir together all ingredients except oil. 
2. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls into hot oil.  Cook 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Garnish with fresh chopped Cilantro, sour cream Salsa !
Happy Day,


Make a Blooming Chair, How To Make Herbed Vinegars & Oils and Recipes!

Beautiful dill can be added not just to dishes
but also in bouquest

 Flowers are bursting open everywhere and the fledglings are leaving the nest… young robins are hopping all over the garden eating creepy crawlies and enjoying being out of the nest… glorious, glorious summer!  The fields are starting to bear and the harvest will soon be coming on heavily… that means ‘puttin’ up time is just around the corner.  Of course we’ve been busy with rhubarb and now strawberries are ripe for the pickin’ and that means the yummiest jam of all…  Strawberries scare me though… that is growing them. They are really the only ‘garden’ fruit I don’t grow. The runners and weeding they require have never tempted me… until this year! I think I have figured a way to keep them… I will blog more on this next week, so keep watching.  Today we’ll stick with more herb stuff and of course some garden junque too! Enjoy and thanks for comin’ over!

Blooming chairs you ask… I am all about big & beautiful now with certain things. I am sure you have all seen those cute chairs that have potted flowers growing right out of the seat. I just love them, and of course I have some.  Here is the simple ‘how to’ to make your own.
Step 1~ If you don’t have  an old chair already, you can easily find one at any thrift store, antique shop or flea market.  If you can find one that has a cane seat you are doing great, because this will make your job all the more easy.
Step 2~ remove the caning from the chair seat to make an open hole where your container can be placed.
Step 3~ I would simply go to a nursery and purchase an already big and beautiful hanging basket- be sure it will fit in your seat hole… take it home and put her in! Presto, instant blooming chair…
* to make it cuter if you can by chance see the pot it’s in, put it in an old tin bucket!
… of course if you want to plant your own, do just that.

Notice the chair in the forground… I purchased
a patunia hanging basket, transfered into an old
tin bucket and then placed in seat hole.  I also
just put pots on top of chairs as you can see the
potted geranium in a tin bucket on the chair on
my front porch.  Have Fun!

Herbed Vinegars & Oils can be made quite easily and inexpensively, especially when you are growing your own herbs. For those who love to grill or roast, or have salads often,  you will find that having these oils & vinegars on hand to be a real treat… and what a way to wow your guests.  Here is the ‘how to’ and some ideas on different combinations…

**How to make Herbed Vinegars~
You can use the leaves, seeds and flowers, singly or in combinations of freshly picked herbs to make herbed vinegars.  The vinegar should be the best of the cider or wine varieties available, as herbs will not disguise the sharpness of a bad vinegar.
1. Pick the herbs for the vinegar in the morning after the dew has dried but before the heat of day has driven off some of the essential oils that give herbs their flavor.  Use only perfect leaves and flowers, discarding any that have tuned brown or show signs of having been eaten by garden pests.
2. Bruise the herbs slightly before putting them in a glass bottle or ceramic crock with a tightly fitting top.  Use about 1/2 cup of herbs for each pint (2cups) of vinegar, more if you want a stronger taste.
3. Then follow one of these two traditional methods:
  ~A. Pour the vinegar over the herbs in a clear glass bottle and close tightly.  Set the bottle in a sunny window for two weeks, turning it frequently.
  ~B. Heat the vinegar; then pour the hot vinegar over the herbs in a bottle or crock and close tightly.  Let steep overnight.
  Whichever method you use, you may want to strain and re-bottle the vinegar at the end of the steeping time, adding a fresh, unbruised sprig for decoration.  This is a matter of aesthetics- a choice between one simple spring in the bottle or the generous bunch of herbs used to flavor the vinegar.

**HOW to make Herbed Oils~

Herbed oils can be as simple or as complex as you like.  To make you own, simply add the desired herbs and spices to the oil (olive oil is best, but you can also use a good vegetable oil) and steep in a closed bottle or container in a warm but not hot place for a few weeks before using.  

 Here are some yummy combo’s for you try now that you have the ‘how to’s’….
~Vinegar idea’s:
*Tarragon is most common alone~ or add lemon thyme, basil, chive blossoms, burnet work well in salads
*Burnet and borage~ add borage flowers to white vinegar and it will tint it a lovely pale blue while giving it a subtle cucumber flavor…
*Dill with whole seed head intact ~ add a bit of lemon and garlic for delicious variety
*Mint for lamb dishes and fruit salads
*lemon thyme for fish
*Basil for tomatoes ~ add borage and burnet for a yummy twist
*sage for marinating rich meats and fowl
*chive blossoms for a faint oniony flavor
*nasturtium buds, flowers and leaves for a lovely peppery flavor
*oregano, fennel and garlic
*lemon thyme and garlic
*raspberry leaves and lemon balm… yummy for a salad
*and of course garlic… for everything!

~Oil idea’s:
*Thyme and rosemary make a quick pasta oil to toss the noodles with
*garlic, chili peppers, rosemary and thyme make for a yummy barbeque oil that is wonderful to marinade and baste your grilled meats
*Peppermint, garlic, cumin, coriander, cloves, mace and fennel adds a taste of the Middle East
*Thyme alone is wonderful to brush on veggies for the grill and chicken
*Fennel and garlic are yummy on fish
*garlic, thyme and a bit of sage go well with grilled veggies

You know what you like… so be daring and try new things with all your wonderful herbs!

**Taken and Adapted from, Herbs, Gardens, Decorations, and Recipes, by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead, published by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publishers, 1985

Here are some yummy recipe’s to try… 

Spiced Vinegar
3″ cinnamon stick
1 whole cracked nutmeg
4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
1 Tbsp. allspice
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns

*Follow instructions above; let steep 4 weeks in a cool place; when ready strain the mixture and bottle. Store in a cool, dark space.

Rose Petal Vinegar
3 cup white wine vinegar
1 rose bud to place in bottle
5 cup rose petal, lightly crushed

*Follow instruction above; steep 4 weeks in cool place; when ready strain the mixture and bottle. Store in a cool, dark space.

Cucumber Dill Sauce
1 cup water
1 cup organic raw sugar
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

1. Combine water, sugar, salt and vinegar, stir until thoroughly dissolved; add cucumber.
2. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving; when ready to serve, drain cucumber, fold into sour cream and add dill. 
*use on top of baked potatoes… yummy!

Happy Day,


Tussie Mussies Made Simple, Putting Up Rhubarb, Rhubarb Crisp and Rhubarb Punch!

Yummy Rhubarb Crisp!
Well here we are getting fired up about the garden and all that she will bear for us… spring, summer, fall and winter… each holds a different gift for the individual.  Most people are not aware of the extended growing capabilities that we now have available in more northern climates, such as mine here in the thumb of Michigan.  We have some cold winters but with heated and unheated greenhouses, high tunnels and/ or hoop houses the posibilities are quite amazing.  No we can’t grow tomatoes, they need a certain amount of sunlight to bear that vine ripened flavorful tomato.  I don’t believe in hydroponics and wouldn’t eat anything grown that way on purpose… read the labels friends, you’d be surprised at what you’re eating during the winter months.  I believe, but don’t totally practice eating ‘in season’… my family likes banana’s and oranges and we buy them in the winter. I do realize that eating local and in season are wonderful and right things, but, we are a bit spoiled. With all the preserving and root cellaring we do we have pretty much every thing we could want out of the garden all winter long and right on through spring until it all starts coming in fresh again.  With our hoop houses we can have fresh greens and lettuces all winter long… like I said we are spoiled! Which brings me to helping you put up some rhubarb and giving you recipes on how to use it in and out ‘of season’… enjoy!

*What are tussie mussies you say… or you are saying quaintly how you haven’t heard that term in ages… either way, it is a far cuter word than ‘bouquet’… Brief history on them… from reading I have discovered they apparently originated in Elizabethan England and people carried and sniffed them around to help disguise the dreadful stench of London’s streets. They are made with aromatic flowers and herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and rue, which were believed to be protection from the plaque and other diseases.  They were also believed to help cleanse the air of a house where sickness was. By the time of the Victorian era they had become ‘highly stylized nosegays’, (I like that word too), and had ‘become a favorite way to send messages to friends and lovers’.  They also were used in bridal bouquets, they were both pretty and practical.  So now that you know how these adorable little things came to be lets get into the fun of making them and learning the meanings behind particular herbs and flowers.
During my discovery on tussie mussies I learned the meanings and sentiments that go behind many herbs and flowers that I as an avid gardener never knew… yes I know red roses mean love but no I didn’t know that basil has a double meaning, it can symbolize both love and hate.  I am sure that some of these little gestures or as said ‘notes’ could have caused some serious ‘oop’s, that’s not what I meant’ moments.  So here are some interesting meanings behind those much loved blossoms and herbs…
*Lemon balm is for sympathy
*chervil represents sincerity
*rue conveys disdain
*parsley represents festivity
*rosebuds are of course for love… although different colors mean different things… more on that another day
*violets stand for modesty
*basil can represent as mentioned above both love and hate… be careful on who you send that one to!

A standard bridal tussie mussie was very symbolic… here is what would have typically been included in one…

*rose for love
*rosemary for remembrance
*mint for purity
*thyme for courage
*lily of the valley was for the return of happiness
*lavender gave luck… although it also represents mistrust, ummm..

How to make a tussie mussie…
The American Museum in Bath, England gives instructions in a museum booklet for creating them.
You can make tussie mussies with fresh herbs and flowers with dried materials.  A fresh t.m. can be dried with its charm and fragrance intact if you’re careful to use only those fresh ingredients that dry easily; lavender, thyme, mint, rosemary, and southerwood, for example.  Use as many sweet smelling herbs as possible, and try to include herbs with contrasting colors and leaf shapes.  These simple guidelines will yield a traditional tussie mussie.
1. Start with a fresh rose, still in bud, or a few sprigs of a flowering herb like sage.  Surround the rose or flowering herb with a circle of green leafed herb, preferably one like southerwood that has rather finely cut leaves.  Tie the stems together with a piece of string or knitting wool.
2. Add another circle of a fragrant herb, and tie again.  Repeat this process- varying the colors and leaf shapes from row or row and using flowering herbs like mint or marjoram if you have them on hand- until the tussie mussie is the size you want.  Make the last circle with a large leaved herb such as lamb’s ear or rose geranium.
3.  For a formal effect, create a collar for the nosegay by cutting a small hole in the center of a paper doily and slipping it over the stems.  Tie the finished tussie mussie with a ribbon to hold the doily in place
… now you have the means to make and give adorable messages using your blossoms and herbs! 

  *(information taken and adapted from “Herbs; Gardens, Decorations, and Recipes, by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead; Clarkson N. Potter, Ind./Publishers, 1985)

Rhubarb is a spring treat that you either love or hate… there is no gray area with this tangy, mouth puckering fruit.  Asparagus and rhubarb are two of the first home grown things, other than lettuce & greens from the hoop houses that we get to feast on after winters long silence of green stuff.  My family all enjoys rhubarb in any desert, pie or preserves… Mix em’ up with yummy strawberries and they are more manageable.  Rhubarb is extremely easy to store for winter and takes no more time then to pick, clean and cut.  We cut the pieces into 1 inch chunks and then toss them either in one gallon ice cream buckets or freezer bags; freeze fir up to 1 year.  Enjoy your favorite treats year round.  One thing many people fail to realize is that you can eat rhubarb all summer as well… just be careful not to harvest after it has gone to seed.  Once the seed heads have dried and died back, simply cut back and then enjoy some fresh stalks, just don’t pick it to much… slow and easy during the summer and fall.  Be sure to water it during dry spells to keep the new stalks coming on.  Here are some easy and yummy treats to enjoy this spring time treat! One other thing to remember when harvesting rhubarb is to always leave at least one third of the plants stalks so it will be strong and can replenish itself.

Here are a couple favorite’s around the Smith house…

Rhubarb Crisp

    6 c Rhubarb cut into 1” pieces
1 1/2 c sugar
6 tbsp  flour
1 c brown sugar
1 c oatmeal
3/4 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c melted butter

   1. Combine first 3 ingredients, toss and place in 9×13 pan.
2. Combine remaining ingredients and sprinkle over Rhubarb.

3. Bake @ 375 for 40 –45 minutes.
4. Serve warm with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Rhubarb Punch…

4 c diced rhubarb
4 c water
2 c sugar
1/2 c orange juice
1/3 c lemon juice
2 liters clear soda– sprite, ginerale, etc.

Cook rhubarb in water till soft. Strain through a clean cloth lined colander.  Add sugar to the liquid & bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Add juices.  Chill.  Add soda just before serving!

Happy Day,

More Garden Junque Ideas, Window Pane Mini Greenhouse, Seed Packet Calendar Box & Yummy Rhubarb Upside Down Treat

This is my potting shed.  It was a cast off from a friend… they were going to
burn it.  Now you may be thinking how crazy, but it didn’t look like this when we got
it.  Neil cut new boards on his sawmill and we resided the outside and inside,
put down a new floor, painted and lovingly adorned it.
This side sports an old window pane, discovered by the curb side, an
antique scale, garden bike and one of my favorite types of pots…
old tin buckets.

Ryan and I were transplanting more tomatoes in the green house yesterday… he enjoys playing in the dirt~ after all he is a boy.  He got 14 flats done and was quite pleased with himself, especially with him earning fifty cents a flat and it didn’t even take him an hour!  Work is an ethic that needs to be taught when they are young and being able to earn a little bit on the side isn’t all that bad either.  Afterward, I was watering in the hoop house and was just standing there looking at all the neat rows of lettuce and tomatoes and taking in the deep earthy smell… I love to be outside, in the gardens in the fresh air… how much better when it’s with my children!  We’ll talk on a bit more about how to utilize garden junque and cute-sifying your gardens today!

More Garden Junque Ideas!
As I was talking yesterday about garden junque and other neat items to add interest to your gardens, I got thinking about the outside of our homes and how much better the windows look if ‘dressed’ up as well!  Once again, flea markets, rummage sales and antique shoppes are probably your best bet to find some neat stuff.  Here are some more junque items to watch for & ideas on how to use them.
*I have a really neat old door that I attached to back of the garage where the kitchen garden is, put a distressed wooden primitive type star with grapevine on it and presto- no more bare wall!  I also have a french door type on the back wall of my potting shed with a neat shelf over top and antique farm tools  on either side it.   
*Window boxes are a must or putting a neat old barn wood shelf to house your pretty pots (see photo) is really cute too! 
*Neat wooden drop leaf table or enamel ware tables to put on your porch and decorate with flower pots.
*Old metal wash tubs make great planters once again adding height and dimension into the garden.  You can also use it for entertaining- just fill it up with ice and then put bottled water, soda or juice in- too cute!
*Double burner caners- now here’s a find- I actually found one of mine at a junk-yard.  Now it is a planter in my flower beds.
*Tree stumps make wonderful places to set a pot of flowers on or even to make a cute rustic bench to stop and take a break and enjoy your flower beds- simply get two stumps relatively the same size and place a board- barn wood is best and place across the two stumps- instant bench!
*How many times have you driven past a home getting brand spankin new windows put in and there is a whole pile of the old wooden windows laying a the curb?  Well, I’ve seen a lot where I live and there is no way I can just leave them sit there, especially if they are paned~ what a find!  I put one of course on the side of my potting shed and then added three old tin pails as planters right under them… pansies look perfect, right beside one of my garden bikes. (see photo)
~ I also have one on the wall on my front porch above a table I decorate up with plants and other stuff!

This is my mini greenhouse that Neil made for me.  We purchased these window panes from an antique dealer
at a flea market for only $5.00 a piece.  I usually have a pot of geraniums in it.
These pots rest on top of an old piece of barn wood.  Who says you have
to use traditional window boxes!

 *Window Pane Mini Greenhouse~  (see photo) I am sure many of you who love to page through magazines like Country Gardens have seen really cute mini green houses made out of… you guessed it~ old window panes!  Of course I had to have one and my dear husband willingly obliged to construct it for me.  Here’s a simple how to!
~SUPPLIES:  First you will need to find 6 window panes, preferably paned for the cutest effect.  They should be the same size, unless you or your spouse are very creative!  You will need screws long enough to go through the wood part of the window and into the other window.  One piece of angle iron cut to the length of window- this is what will attach the two roof pieces, drill and metal drill bit.
~Next do any repairs that you think necessary- like re-caulking/glazing any loose panes or re-painting.  I like the chipped paint look- aka as distressed 🙂 !
~Choose one pane and put down flat, this is the floor of your green house
~Next choose two panes for the roof.  With someone helping and holding the two panes as to make a tee-pee, put angle iron across the two and screw it on to hold the two pieces together.
~Choose the 3 side panes- the front will be open; Attach the back wall by screwing it to the bottom side of the floor window; take one side and screw it to the side of the back wall and the bottom of the floor; repeat for other side wall.
~Once the sides are securely attached to the floor carefully lift the roof onto the base~ you will have to find a spot to carefully screw through to attach the roof to the base- this will depend on the size and type of window you use.
Well now your mini greenhouse is done and all you need is the perfect spot to put it… and I am sure that you won’t have a problem doing that! Put a big metal or enamel ware bucket filled with petunias in it and stand back and awe!

Gift giving can be as fun as one makes it.  We all have friends and they all have birthdays and some unfortunately even move away.  Here is a great gift idea for any occasion you want!  This gift is great for a cook or gardener.
Seed Packet Calendar Box
Supplies you will need: 1 pretty 4″x6″ or larger recipe/file box, 12 plain subject index cards to fit; Index Cards to fit your box, colored with no lines are cute; seed packs- at least 12. Optional items include cute letter and theme stickers
1. Either write or use letter stickers to put the months of the year on the index cards.
2. Buy seed packets for each month of the year.  Place the packets in the index for suitable planting times.  In colder climates where some months may be inappropriate for planting outside, include seeds that can be started indoors.  for cold climates write instructions for how to start seeds indoors.  In cold climates when even starting seed indoors would be ill advised, give a gift certificate from a local nursery or florist for an indoor flowering herb, plant or perhaps some bulbs like paperwhite or narcissus, to be planted in pots and forced for indoor blooming.
3. Consider in which month you gave herb or veggie seeds and when they would be ready to harvest; write recipes for using those herb or veggies- be sure to file in appropriate month!
4. Include fun ideas and gardening tips or even a ‘what to do this month’ list in each month.  Martha Stewart has these type of lists on her web site as well as her magazine. 
Here are a few ideas for cold climate areas to give you a head start:
*Lavender seeds would need to be started indoors in cold climates in January, give a Lavender Short Bread Cookie recipe in June when it is in full bloom.
*Peppers and Tomatoes should be started indoors by the end of February- Find a Brushetta and Stuffed Peppers recipes to add in the months of August.
*A gift certificate to any store that sells bulbs could be added in the month of September so they can be planted in October to enjoy next spring.
*A gift certificate for the month of April will give your gardener friend an opportunity to get a grape vine, raspberry or fruit tree started.
*If your friend is a gardener who has a veggie garden, give a gift certificate for the month of September to purchase a blueberry plant.
… Of course there are many other options, so just have fun with it and watch your friend smile! 
We know it’s good for us… really it is!  Some of us~ including me, just can’t get beyond the stringy sour… well here is a winner that even I like!  Give it a try!
Yummy Rhubarb Upside Down Treat

3 cup rhubarb, diced
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 – 6oz package strawberry jello
1 can pineapple rings, juice reserved
1 box yellow cake mix (18 1/2oz pkg.)

1. Layer the bottom of a slightly greased 9″x13″ baking pan with pineapple rings.
2. Combine rhubarb, sugar and jello in bowl and mix; pour over pineapple rings- set aside.
3. Prepare cake batter according to package directions substituting liquid with pineapple juice- if not enough add water to make proper amount; pour batter over mixture.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40-45 minutes; let cool then invert onto a cake plate to serve!

Happy Day,

Easy Rose and Coleus Topiary’s, Garden ‘Junque’ Decor, Potting Shed Door Organizer, Yummy Asparagus Bread

Keep your eyes posted for
cute bird cages to adorn your
porch or patio!
It’s easy to stay organized… read on for more nifty
ideas on potting shed organization!

Right now garage & rummage sales are around every bend along with estate sales!  I don’t always have time to go to these because I am typically at market on Saturdays and by the time we are on the way home, the last thing I feel like doing is ‘saleing’.  Thrift shopping is another story though… I know I will find just about whatever I want at the ones we drive past in the city on our way home.  But good garden junque is not so easy to find this way.  Antique shoppes, flea markets and sales are better shopping opportunity for this kind of stuff.  I love to add elements into my beds that give a feeling of invitation… cool old chairs, stools and benches say ‘come on in for a stay!’, tin pails and buckets add height and dimension in the flower beds; ladders and bird cages can be incorporated as well!  I love to get lost in my flower beds and just relax… weed, water and rest… gardening, what could anyone want more?

Topiary’s are very charming and can easily be made with many different plants.  Use large pots for them and be sure to put at least 3 inches of pea stone on the bottom of pot before adding your potting mix.  Here are a few ideas, have fun!
*Coleus- choose a single stemmed coleus; pinch out all the side growth until the stem reaches a height of about 12 to 18 inches; you will need to stake the stem to keep it straight and for extra support.  Once the plant reaches the desired height, begin to pinch back the top; when each of the two branches develops four leaves, pinch their tips.  Continue pinching the tips that form from the top branches after their four leaves develop.  The main stem will get very woody and square.  Fertilize and continue pinching out all blooms that may form. 
*Rose- to make a rose tree you will need a rather large pot~ choose a plant at least 2′ to 3′ in height that has an upright, centered ‘leader’ cane that you will be able to stake as the ‘trunk’; once selected you will need to cut all the other canes off before planting the rose.  Strip all the leaves & stems off the bottom 2/3’s leaving about 12″ of leaves & stems at top .  This will be the ‘rose ball’ on top.  As the leaves form keep cutting and shaping your top, meanwhile continually stripping any new growth on the bottom of the trunk.
Other plants to try~  Peonies and Bright Yellow Sweet Broom- (very similar in appearance as Forsythia)- follow same instructions as rose.
Good luck & have fun!

Garden Junque is so fun to incorporate in your gardens and it adds character and charm for very little.  I love to thrift shop and garage sale~ as they say, ‘one person’s trash is another persons treasure’.
*I got both my garden bikes this way.  Every garden needs at least one! Put a cute basket on the handle bars and plant some pretty trailing plants!
*Old tin pails & buckets... geraniums like nothing more!
*Enamel Ware… do I need say anything else?
*Cool old chairs  to put potted plants on and surround with Shasta daisies!
*One very cool thing to keep your eyes open for are bird cages, especially free standing ones~ table tops are cute too, but the height of free standing cages adds structure to your flower bed and an artsy touch.  I plant morning glories at the bottom to grow up the cage and then put potted sweet potato vine or nasturtiums inside the cage- two or three.  (see photo)  
*If you can find some neat old wooden ladders, put one of these in the background of a flower bed and put clay pots with petunias on each step~ or whatever suits your fancy.
… the ideas are endless!

I am all about organization, whether it be in the house, green house or the potting shed… everything has it’s place so put everything back in it’s place!  A really easy way to utilize the door of the potting shed is to be able to hang stuff on it! There are lots of great ways to do this. (see photo)
*Attach a piece of left over lattice to the inside of the door, get some ‘S’ hooks and hang more often used garden tools on it~ easy and accessible.
*Purchase a clear plastic shoe organizer and hang; you can keep packs of nails & screws, garden tags or stakes, twine, seed packets, hand tools or anything else you may have that can fit into those nifty little pockets!
*Peg board is a wonderful thing.  You can use this on the door and the walls.  Hooks come in every shape & size imaginable to hang whatever you need.  

Here is a great way to get those family members who aren’t so fond of asparagus to get the nutritional benefits from it.  This is a great variation to Zucchini bread!
Yummy Asparagus Bread

3 eggs from Garden Gate, beaten
1 cup safflower oil or similar
1 2/3 cup raw organic sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 pound asparagus, grated
3 cup bread flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

1. Whisk together eggs, oil, sugar’s and vanilla; add asparagus; mix lightly.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk remaining ingredients except the nuts, if using; add flour mixture to liquid mixture; stir to blend; stir in nuts now if using; divide mixture equally between 2 lightly greased 9″x5″ loaf pans.
3. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour, or until a toothpick comes out of center clean.

Happy Day,

Be Green Ideas, Nifty Bug Trap, Mailbox in the Garden and Yummy Spring Spinach Topped Tomatoes

Welcome me back!  Well I do apologize for being gone for awhile here at For Dragonflies… my computer was giving me some issues for a bit over a week and then we have been busy here planting all the good stuff that fills our farms CSA share boxes each week and provides the lovely spread at our market tables.  But this is one of my happy places and I am glad to return!  Right now at The Garden Gate we are very busy… raising piggies and chickens and getting the raised beds and field planted.  I love the busyness of this time of year… it is exhilarating for me… I feel refreshed and alive and cherish every moment I can be outdoors.  We just planted the raised beds outside the hoop house with chard & beets today… the cherry tomatoes, lettuces and basil are growing beautifully in the hoop house beds, the sausage garden raised beds are full and growing beautifully!  Green is good in more ways than one.  I will give you some fun ideas on how to be green that won’t tax your time or wallet! 

Being ‘Green’ has been around for awhile now and I think more and more people are finding out that it isn’t that much more expensive or time consuming to do the ‘green thing’.  Here are a few easy tips for those of you that want to try to make a change in improving your ‘foot print’.
*Use compostable garbage bags… this way even though you have to contribute to the mounding piles of debris in the dumps, at least the plastic will break down.  We use Compostable Plastic in our fields to make our beds that we grow in.  It is corn based and breaks down into the soil by mid season by the sun.  No more piles of plastic getting burned or going into the land fills.
*Re-cycle!  If you live in the country and have to pay for trash pick up- like we do- find where your local re-cycling station is.  We purchased several laundry hampers to put our junk in- one for each paper, metal, glass and plastic.  We have several stations in our area.  Just plan on doing the drop when you are going into town.  It really doesn’t take that much more time! You will be able to find one in your location in the phone book or of course you can always ‘Google it’.
*If you have either flower beds or veggie gardens use your newspaper to lay under your mulch.  I love to garden but I am a lazy gardener and don’t want to do a lot of extra weeding or tilling.  We lay newspaper- (not the colored sections- b&w only-)  in layers and then cover with grass clippings or straw in our veggie gardens & raised beds; in my flower beds I use wood mulch on top of paper.  It keeps the weeds at bay and helps hold the moisture in even better.  By the end of the season it is broke down completely and ready to be tilled in with the grass or straw!
*Paper towel and toilet paper card board rolls can be donated to any daycare center or school.  Of course call or go on in and ask before you do the donation.  These can be used in a lot of fun arts & crafts activities for the children… not to mention it saves tax dollars on supplies!
*Egg cartons can be given back to your farmer!  We love when our customers bring us empty egg cartons- we are happy to refill them each week and re-use!
*Plastic clam shells- you know, those containers that strawberries, blue berries, raspberries, etc. and organic lettuces come in!  We are always happy to get these from our customers- we like to re-use them in our CSA share boxes!
…. these are just a few that I can think of off the top of my head… be creative and be green!

Well we know that spring has come and along with all the beloved blooms and birds, we also get the good & bad bugs.  Here is a nifty was to get a few of the bad guys without using chemicals! 
Build a bug trap~ to get rid of those very nasty yellow jackets that love to pester us and hang out when ever we are trying to enjoy a nice meal on the patio, try this!
*First cut the top off a plastic soda or water bottle about a quarter of the way down- 2 inches from the shoulder; invert it inside its base to make a funnel, securing the edges with tape- water proof type.
*Next, mix 2 cups of warm water with 1/4 cup of sugar; mix until completely dissolved; pour into bottle.
*With a nail or screw poke one hole on opposite sides of top of the bottle, about one inch from top edge; use craft wire to create a hanger by inserting into each hole and twisting so it doesn’t fall off.  Hang in a tree or where you know they are active.
The wasps will climb in to reach the liquid and will either drown or be unable to climb out!

Mailbox In The Garden… a truly charming way to add a bit of country to one of your flower beds in to mount an old or new mailbox on top of a post in your bed!  You can keep your garden gloves, trowel and scratcher right inside it… no more wondering where you left them!  To make it even cuter get one of those pretty mailbox covers or even  better hand paint it!  Of course plant some Shasta Daisies around the post to add that perfect final touch!

At market we will soon have fresh tomatoes grown right in the dirt in our high tunnels- vine ripened and delicious- right here in Michigan.  Here is a super yummy treat right here, right now!  Enjoy!
Spring Spinach Topped Tomatoes

2 cups chopped fresh spinach
2 tsp. instant chicken bouillon
1 tsp. sea salt
3 large tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated- plus extra reserved for topping
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1 cup herb seasoned corn bread stuffing
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 garlic clove
1 egg, beaten

1.  Follow bouillon instructions to make 4 cups of broth; bring to a rolling boil and add spinach leaves, reduce heat to medium; cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes; drain well.  Cool and press out excess liquid.
2. Lightly salt tomato halves and place with cut side down on 2 paper towels for about 15 minutes to absorb excess moisture. 
3. In a small bowl, combine spinach with corn bread stuffing, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, onion, butter, egg, garlic and pepper; mix well.
4. Place tomato halves, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish; divide spinach mixture over tomatoes; sprinkle with extra shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Happy Day,

Cooking & Baking with Herbs, Herbs for Pets, Lovely Lavender and Yummy Lavender Recipes

Lavender is one of my favorite herbs.  This is a garden stone I had purchased at the farmers market that sets in it.

Lavender is one of my favorite herbs; although I don’t use it as a culinary herb even though you can, I am partial to it as a lovely hedge about my flower beds.  Evan loves lavender, he will often bring me a bouquet of the sprigs he has picked… so sweet. 

Cooking with Herbs is such a special treat… once you start using fresh herbs and taste the difference from the dried, it will be hard to enjoy them as much in the winter.  Fresh herbs are a culinary delight to the senses and add a flavor that is hard to beat. Many people skip herbs when baking, so here are some yummy ‘Herb Additions’ to your everyday meals along with some baked good recipe’s!
*Make your eggs Italian– add 1 tsp. each of minced fresh oregano, basil and thyme to about 8-10 large eggs before scrambling them. 
*Savory Pancakes; try adding 1 tsp. of fresh sage and 1 tbsp. each of chopped chives and Parmesan cheese to your pancake or crepe batter- roll up thin slices of ham and/or cheese in the finished products!
*Add tarragon with some root veggies by adding 1 tbsp. of minced tarragon to cups each of grated parsnips and grated carrots.  Quickly stir fry the mixture in 2 tbsp. of butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil.
*Spice up those burgers by adding 1 tbsp. each minced fresh chives and parsley to 1# ground beef, along with 1 egg and 1.2 tsp. each salt & pepper before forming into your patties.
*Home brewed Herb Tea is so special- try adding 2 tbsp. of chopped fresh herbs to 2 cups of boiling water; steep for 6-7 minutes; strain herbs and sweeten to your desired liking.
Try 3 cups raspberry leaves to 1 cup lemon balm for a special summer drink.

Lemon Basil Cookies
1/4 cup butter
1- 8oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. lemon rind, grated
1- box Lemon cake mix
1.4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Cream butter & cheese; add egg yolk and lemon juice until well blended.
2. Blend in dry cake mix one third at a time; last portion by hand; stir in coconut, nuts, lemon peel and basil.
3. Drop by teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden in color.

Basil Pound Cake
1/2 pound butter
2 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry basil, ground fine

1. Cream butter and sugar; beat eggs and blend with creamed mixture; stir in salt and flour beating well; add basil, blending well.
2. pour into a greased, small loaf pan; bake at 350 degrees fro 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Herbs for your best friends, Fido and Kitty! 
*For Fido, grow some fennel; dry the ferns; make a sachet and add in their doggy bed or in their favorite sleeping spot.
*For Kitty, grow a patch of Catnip! Although is it yummy for kitty, it is not for humans- so don’t get excited and make a tea.  Cats will go ‘hog’ wild over it though, so to keep kitty from eating it down to the roots, try putting a homemade box or dome made of chicken wire over the top of the Catnip; secure down to ground with ground staples.  As the catnip grows through the wire, kitty can have a treat without eating it to the ground.
Sorting Through Lavender~
There are dozens of varieties of Lavender as you can see looking through seed catalogs.  There are many shades of purples and even pinks; there are types that are good for edging and others for cutting to use in bouquets. I personally prefer Grosso Lavender for my bouquets.  I like Hidcote for my borders.  True Lavender is not as hardy and I have lost several over the years if not mulched well in the fall and if we had an extremely cold, hard winter.  There are both tender and hardy perennials, so be sure when you purchase your plants or seeds you determine your Hardiness Zone and the plants/seeds. 
*Lavender does well if protected from extreme cold & freezing and harsh winds.  It does best in Zone 5 and above.
*Lavender likes a well drained alkaline soil and full sun.
*Lavender will remain much nicer with regular pruning, otherwise it has a tendency to get a bit leggy depending on your variety.  I never trim back my Hidcote or Grosso.  Hidcote sprawls beautifully over my rock borders while Grosso makes a perfect mound with long, upright bloom spikes just perfect for cutting.
*To harvest it for drying, wait till the buds just open, or you can wait until they’re in full bloom; dry stems in bundles about 1 1/2 inch in diameter, hanging upside down in a cool, airy spot.
*Use it in the laundry~ take a handful of blossoms, securely tie in a linen handkerchief and toss it in the dryer with your clothes- no more ‘fake’ lavender smelling clothes!
*Sprinkle dried lavender stems into the fireplace; as they burn, they’ll delicately scent the air.
Lavender isn’t just for sniffing and bouquets; try these special sweet treats and see how tasty this lovely herb can be!

Lavender Sugar
In a food processor finely chop 2 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers, stems discarded.
Add 1 cup of sugar; blend.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
Sprinkle on top of ice cream, use in tea, add to sugar cookies or sprinkle on vanilla yogurt.

Summer Melons with Lavender Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white grape juice concentrate
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1/4 cup lavender flowers, fresh or dried
4 cups of cubed melons: watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew

1. Bring water, sugar, juice concentrate and juice to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Add flower blossoms; cover and steep for 1 hour.
4. Strain flowers.
To serve, pour cooled syrup over cut melon cubes; toss lightly to coat; serve immediately.

Lavender Cookies
3 1/2 Tbsp. dried Lavender
1 cup butter
3 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
3 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda

1. Grind lavender and sugar into a powder in food processor; cream in butter, add sugar and lavender then the beaten eggs; add vanilla.
2. Sift the soda & baking powder into one cup of the flour; add to sugar mixture.
3. Alternate remaining flour with mild to make a soft dough.
4. Use a cookie scoop to form cookies; drop on ungreased cookie sheet; bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Happy Day,

Herbs: Planting, Tips & Varieties and a few Herb Recipe’s!

Some of the herbs in our Kitchen Garden.  As you can see I use lots of ‘containers’… An old drawer holds my oregano, several pots partly burriered have basil, old wooden tool box houses parsley and others planted around.

The end of the month… we are already through one third of this year… I certainly cannot believe how fast time keeps moving on.  Our farms winter market is over ~ 21 weeks have flown by and now the regular season farmers market which will consume the next 29 weeks our lives begins… Gardening and farming will soon take up much of each day.  I love this time of year and the feeling of exhilaration that comes along with it.  In the next few entries here at Dragonflies, I will be focusing on Herbs. We will be able to start putting out all those goodies in the gardens, decorating our porches and patios and adorning our flower beds with boundless blossoms… my favorite time of year!

Now to touch on Herbs, one of my favorite subjects in the world of gardening.  I have mentioned in earlier entries about our Kitchen Garden and the herb part of it, here is a photo of one end of it in mid-spring when basil’s and the more tender annual herbs have been put in. As you can see I use many types of containers to hold the herbs including an old wooden drawer for oregano, party buried pots for basil’s, an old wooden tool box for parsley.  There is thyme, lemon grass along with several other herbs planted directly in the ground around the containers.
I am going to break this up into four sections over the next couple entries;  Planting, Varieties, Tips and of course
Cooking with.

You may be wondering where do I put herbs? I don’t have an herb garden or I don’t even know how to cook with herbs. Well as you will come to learn herbs are a gardener’s best friend… they are both easy to grow and use. Once you get started you’ll wonder how you ever did without them.  So first lets break down this section into a couple groups as well: Where to Plant and What to Plant!

*Where to Plant:
  Well, here again you have several choices which include right in with your regular veggie garden if you have one; you can create an Herb Garden separately, in your kitchen garden; or you can incorporate them in with your flower beds.  I have all of the above and so can you!  As you will find out, herbs are great friends with both veggies & flowers, they are not just yummy they are natural enemies & deterrents to several bad bugs that want to eat your good stuff!
~In my Flower Beds I incorporate a hedge of purple basil; we use them for both culinary uses as well as in bouquets- we let some of them bloom out for this reason… absolutely stunning in bouquets!  I also use thyme off set with creeping phlox along the rock border of several of my flower beds; they can be snipped through the season for kitchen use and then a few left to bloom after the phlox has finished it’s show.
~If you want to have a separate section for herbs in your Garden rather than intermingling, then I would recommend using Raised Beds at one end to put them in.  Also, I would focus on one bed for your perennial herbs such as oregano, chives, sage, tarragon and thyme; another for your true annuals such as basil, savory, marjoram and lemon grass; and yet another if you can for your biennials such as parsley and fennel.  If you have rosemary, be sure to pot up and bring in the house; although it is a hardy annual, if you live in Zones 5 or lower it will not survive our freezing temperatures.
~In our Gardens and Fields I use herbs right along side of many of the veggies we grow.  As an Organic produce farm I believe in and practice completely companion planting.  Here are a few everyday ones for you to use:
  ~dill with carrots or cabbage- the dill confuses carrot rust flies, which lay their eggs on carrot roots and may deter cabbage pests as well.
  ~Basil with tomatoes will keep tomato horn worms at bay- not to mention it is believed that they encourage one another  to grow!
  ~Chives with roses to discourage insects and diseases- any allium member for that matter.
  ~Most any type of mint planted near cabbage or tomatoes to ward off the white cabbage moths, aphids and flea beetles.
  ~Oregano enhances the flavor of beans in the garden and repels insects that bother broccoli.
  ~Sage enhances rosemary, deters cabbage moths, carrot flies, flea beetles, and slugs.
  ~Plant thyme next to tomatoes where its flowers will attract bees for pollination.
Go to the previous blog post to see many ideas of companion planting with herbs.
We also have a Kitchen Garden which has yet another separate herb section. This is used primarily for our everyday cooking.  With us growing produce for farmers market and our CSA we need to have a little something that’s just for us and where we don’t have to walk out to the field or hoop house. 

What To Plant:  You may be a bit of a challenge simply because there are so many varieties of each type of herb.
There are several basic culinary herbs that I will recommend and some tips on each, along with a couple that your pets will appreciate as well.  I am not planning on going into the world of medicinal herbs simply because I am not knowledgeable enough to feel comfortable telling people how to use them.  I am completely for the use of them and I would highly recommend educating your self in this area.  I will say though that we eat a lot of raw garlic in flu season!
*Basil will never treat you wrong! In my opinion the number one most important herb- although I have a biased opinion because I love Italian cooking… so maybe my opinion doesn’t mean diddly right here!
There are many types of basil’s and you may seem overwhelmed when you go to purchase your plants.  The tried and true is Genovese for the truest Italian cooking.  I once purchased a variety called Italian Pesto, it is comparable to Lettuce Leaf which is so named because of the very large leaves. Greek Dwarf is a tiny leafed perfectly mounded basil, used in many Italian dishes- the leaves make it a challenge.  If you like to cook with fish and/or chicken then try lemon and lime varieties; if you are into Thai cooking get a Thai Basil- yes that is what is called- it is anise flavored; Cinnamon basil is also available.  If you want both culinary and for bouquets arrangements try Purple Ruffles or Red Rubin, both stunning when in bloom and the leaves are very similar to a Sweet basil. 
*Parsley is my tied for second staple herb.  I use this in many potato dishes, chicken soup and of course pasta sauces.
*Thyme, oh how I love thyme… Any time we are grilling there is a bowl of Olive Oil with fresh thyme leaves soaking and infusing the oil to be brushed onto summer squash, eggplant, chicken and fish and of course pizza crust just before the sauce goes on… yummy!
*Oregano is a must have if you are creating pasta sauces and salsa too!
*Sage is an herb that we use in our Artisan Sausages that Neil creates- main staple to our famous Breakfast Sausage.
*Fennel is also all about our sausage, except this goes into our wonderfully yummy Italian sausages… not overly fennel flavored, just the right blend.  This is also for those fish lovers, fennel and butter brushed onto fish just before grilling.
*Rosemary is not one of my favorites, but many people use it on fish & chicken and in potato dishes as well.
*Marjoram is what I will use in exchange for thyme occasionally if I feel like a little something different.
*Tarragon, again great in Olive Oil for grilling fish & chicken.  Also yummy on beef roasts.
*Chives of course are another staple to the kitchen garden cook… baked potatoes smothered in sour cream and topped with fresh snipped chives, tossed into a salad or thrown in with radishes (see the last blog for a yummy Chive & Radish Dip).
*Cilantro is another must have for us fresh salsa lovers.  Good in any Mexican dish.
*Dill, certainly not least, but this one is reserved most often for canning those yummy pickles.
Again, this is just the basics to help you get started, so have fun and be adventurous, you can always find a recipe!

Here are some yummy herb recipe’s to get you started in the kitchen! Have fun…
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Fresh Chive Topper 
Use on baked potato, scramble eggs or anything else you like sour cream on!
Blend all Ingredients:Blend all ingredients:
8 oz container sour cream1 c or 8oz container  Sour Cream
1/4 cup shredded cheddar or Colby cheese
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped chives

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Fresh Basil Dressing 
1/2 cup wine vinegar
 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
 1 cup olive oil 
6 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, minced
 salt & pepper to taste. 
Combine all and serve over fresh garden salad.

Thyme Grilled Vegetable

16 baby potato– about 1 quart
1/2 c chicken broth
1/4 c Olive Oil
2 tbsp fresh Thyme, minced
1/2 tsp salt
3 large peppers, sliced– use different colors to make it pretty!
2 c sliced onions

In an un-greased 9×13 inch baking casserole, combine the potatoes, broth, oil, thyme & salt.  Grill, covered over medium heat for about 25 minutes.
Stir in peppers & onions.  Grill 25-30 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender.

Happy Day,

Choosing Perennials, Lavender Heart Card, Easy Flavored Sugar’s Gift & Yummy Apple Pie Oatmeal

Flavored Sugars make a super cute gift.
See how to below

Lavender Heart Card… see how to below

Our gardens are filled with love, patience and long suffering… these are attributes that we as spouses, parents, co-workers and such strive to maintain and build in our personal character.  I believe that gardening helps us grow these virtues.  I always tell my my friends that God made me to love gardening because that was the only way He was sure to get these virtues instilled in me.   Perennials I believe help along with this much more than annuals.  My closer friends know how much I enjoy ‘instant gratification’ 🙂 ~ which is why I probably will always incorporate my beloved annuals… petunias, nasturtiums, pansies and the likes~ they are ever faithful!  Today we will look at perennials and the pro’s and con’s to them along with some tips & hints on maintenance.

Perennials can create a challenge for some due to the simple fact there are so many to choose from.  Several factors come into play when deciding on what, where and when.  I will touch base on what I believe to be the most important factors to take into consideration. Perennials will be where ever you place them for a long while and if they are larger plants such as shrubs and trees, you need to make sure you love what you choose!  The color of your home, whether it be dark, light or painted brick, vinyl siding or painted wood~ all play into the choices. You wouldn’t want to put a white flowering pear in front of your white house- you would loose all interest because when the tree is in full bloom you would loose the tree into your home.  A pink flowering crab on the other hand would be much more stunning.
Many of the factors listed with annuals are also relevant for perennial, for instance sun & shade tolerances.
~Size is one factor with perennials that does differ from perennials.  You will be looking at trees and shrubs as well as bush types, ground covers, small to mid-size growers. 
~I would suggest that first you go to a nursery or garden center with a note book, plan on spending some serious time there.  Go through each category of plant that you are interested in; jot down what you like and the details to that plant.  If you have a really good plant encyclopedia at home, you won’t need too much of the detail, but if you don’t be sure to get these details- sun requirements, blooming time, height & width at mature stage and any special requirements that might be listed.
~Bloom time is one factor to pay close attention to.  You will want to be sure to incorporate plants that will give you seasonal blooming.  Here are a few more common perennials and there bloom time:
*Spring bloomers: Ajuga, bergina, bleeding heart, columbine, coral bells, hellebore, lady’s mantle, peony, poppy, primrose, viola and of course bulbs such as snow drops, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and my favorite of all, tulips.
*Summer bloomers: Astible, baby’s breath, bee balm, coreopsis, day lily, delphinium, dianthus, helianthus, hosta, lupine, obedient plant, phlox, purple corn flower, black eyed susan, Shasta daisies, Russian sage, scabiosa, sedum, verbena, veronica and yarrow.
*Fall bloomers: Aster, chrysanthemum, lobelia, Japanese anemone and goldenrod.
The next thing to take into consideration when you are ready to purchase is, “What size plant/shrub/tree do I start with?” Well the fact of the matter here is truly how much money and patience do you have! I most often times want the biggest bang for my buck and therefore typically will go with a smaller plant and be patient with growth.  There are a few ‘slow’ growers that I don’t, like trees for instance.  I’ve done the catalog mail order and get a ‘twig’ in the mail, which has in every situation been mowed over, run over by a child, week wacked or dug up by an animal! No thanks~ too many disappointments and wasted time in this area.  What I do is wait until August and go to the garden centers when everything is typically marked down 50% and buy the 8′ to 12′ trees.  I mulch heavily and water deeply and regularly so the tree will have plenty of time to take root and make it through the cold Michigan weather I live in.  I have not lost one yet!  This is also what I do with some of my larger shrubs if they are going to be in a ‘high risk’ area. Otherwise I go for the small pots here too.  Mulching and watering is the key to success.
* A few other tips:
~Prepare the soil well- add plenty of organic matter to ensure adequate water and air circulation.
~Always plant the plant to the same depth of the size of the pot that you purchased it in.
~Water often the first season. This will aid the plant in developing a strong root base.
~Fertilize in spring- most growth happens during this time.  Choose appropriate fertilizers according to type of plant.
~Mulch year round- this aids in maintaining moisture and protecting roots.
~Get more blooms!  Dead heading certain varieties, such as roses will stimulate more blooming.
~Division of plants, especially Iris’s and bulbs are crucial to long life and better blooming.  Be sure to read on each plant before dividing, some prefer spring, others fall!
There is so much to be said and time and space would never allow me to do it all in a day’s blog.  I hope this helps you get started!

For a thoughtful gift, create on of these simple Lavender Filled Heart Cards. 
*First you will need to choose a sheet of card stock and cut to the desired size;  fold vertically in the center. Cut two heart shapes from a piece of printed muslin to fit nicely on the front of your card; stitch them together, outsides in, leaving a small opening; invert the hearts; loosely fill with dried lavender; stitch the opening closed and attach the heart to the card.  See attached photo!      

Flavored Sugars are an easy thing to make, here is a quick recipe that you can use on oatmeal or in your tea.  They make super cute gifts as well.  See attached photo!
Start with 2 cups organic raw sugar.
For Vanilla Sugar: Split 1 vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds from the bean into the sugar; then bury the bean in the sugar.
For Cinnamon Sugar:  add 1 1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon and 2 sticks.
For Cardamon Sugar: add 1/4 cup whole green cardamom pods.
The sugars will stay flavorful i a sealed container for up to one year. 

To make it gift worthy put the sugar’s in pint size jelly jars; using pinking shears cut a cute piece of fabric circle 1 1/2 inch’s wider in diameter than the metal lid; place fabric circle over the lid, place on filled jar and then seal with ring.  Create a cute contents label to put on the front of jar. Happy giving!

Oatmeal doesn’t have to be the way grandma made it- goopy & thick!  This alternative to an already hearty breakfast goes a long way when it tastes like Apple Pie.  Sometimes we are really busy in the morning and getting a good breakfast can be a challenge.  Here is a quick, forget about it in the crock pot till morning meal that is sure to please!
Apple Pie Oatmeal

2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup steel cut oats, uncooked
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. apple pie spice
1 apple, cored, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup raisins, optional
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker sprayed with non stick spray; stir well until well mixed. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Happy Day,

Kitchen Tips & Tricks, Cute Curtain Tie Back, Herb Garden Spritzer & Citrus Raspberry Tea

Yummy & refreshing Herb Garden Spritzer… see recipe below!

Really cute curtain tie back… see how to below!

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen especially in the summer when we are busy with all the canning & freezing we do around our home.  I love to can as you will learn more this summer through my blogs I am sure!  Right now I am excited with spring and all the bounty she holds… rhubarb, asparagus, fresh greens, spinach, fresh garden tea… oh spring is delicious.  But I think all the seasons can be, especially with the season extensions that we have now with hoop houses and heated green houses at our farm.  With our Winter CSA they allow for fresh stuff all year!  Today I am kitchen mode so here are some fun ideas, tips, decorating ideas and yummy drinks to read about! Have a great day and wonderful weekend!

Handy Kitchen Tips…
“Food should be prepared with butter and love.” Swedish Proverb
*If you are in need of a Cake Stand simply use an inverted bowl and a pretty plate set on top! Presto- cake plate!
*To make colored sugar for decorating cupcakes or whatever simply start with 1 cup of sugar in a zip lock bag, add 2-3 drops of food coloring, knead the bag of sugar until completely blended; lay out evenly on cookie sheet and let air dry before putting in air tight container.
*Chocolate Cut Outs are easy to make and add an elegance to your desserts.  Simply spread melted chocolate thinly on a sheet of wax paper and chill until nearly set.  Cut out whatever shapes you would like using cookie cutters, chill again, then gently peel off.  Store flat in plastic freezer containers if you have extra!
*If you soak your wooden kabob skewers in water for about 20-30 minutes before you are ready to grill they won’t burn and your goodies won’t stick!
*Don’t open your oven door when baking especially, it drops the temp down almost 25 degrees every time- not good for those cakes & brownies!
*When you make hard boiled eggs, have a bowl with ice cubes in water ready to put them in; leave set for 1 minutes and watch the peals come right off!
*Don’t have an icing piper- no problem, use a one gallon plastic bag, put icing in bag, twist top as to push down towards one corner of bag; snip off a tiny bit of corner and there ya go- pipe away!
*Use a muffin pan to put your baked potatoes in- stand them up and bake as normal!
*Need to soften butter fast and don’t want to use a microwave~ shred the butter with a cheese grater, it will thaw faster!
*Your lettuce won’t brown if you tear it with your hands instead of cutting with a knife.
*Cut your bacon into 1 inch bites before frying if you are going to add it to a salad or other dish that calls for crumbled bacon- no more burnt fingers because of impatience 🙂 !
*Use a veggie peeler to make chocolate or cheese curls- so slick and fast!
*Use cookie cutters to cut cheese into fun shapes for your appetizer tray!
*Cut the center out of mini melons or even pineapple halves to serve your yummy fruit dips; use hollowed out bread rounds to serve veggie dips in- place in center of serving plate and put veggies all around.
*Need a lot of ice for a punch bowl~ use a muffin tin to make jumbo size ice cubes that won’t melt as quick. To make them extra special, boil water first and then add viola blossoms and freeze.  Boiled water freezes clear. 
*Use blue Mason can jars, small vases or pitchers to stand pretzels for dipping in, cuter & clever!
*When making muffins use an old fashioned ice cream scoop, they will all be the same size. To ensure they have nice round tops, only grease the tin half way up where the batter will stop.
*When getting ready to start a kitchen project, make sure you have all ingredients before you start!
*For faster, easier clean up start your project with a clean sink of hot soapy water, and wash as you go! No big mess at the end!
*Substitute apple, orange or pineapple juice for the water in cake mixes- adds a nice flavor!
Cute Curtain Tie Back & Napkin Rings
See attached photo’s!
Here is a super cute idea for your kitchen or dining room curtains.  To make this nifty tie back, simply drill a small hole approximately one inch in from the end of the fork’s handle.  Hold the utensil face up, then use pliers to bend the prongs back toward the handle, making sure to form a rounded C shape rather than a V.  Finish by screwing the tie back into your window molding.

Brighten up your table for entertaining with these floral napkin rings. Buy faux roses in your favorite hues at a crafts store, then sew them, singly or in pairs, onto regular hair elastics with a few stitches.

To fit standard dinner napkins, cut a bandanna into 6- by 9-inch strips. Fold each strip in thirds lengthwise, then fold in thirds width wise. Sew a button on one end, about 1 inch from the edge. (Choose any colorful loose buttons you may have on hand; they don’t need to match.) Then cut a corresponding buttonhole on the opposite end of the strip.

Here are samples of the home made napkin rings described above!  Be creative and change them up to suit your decor and taste!

Here are a couple recipes for refreshing drinks… a nice change from the usual!
Citrus Raspberry TeaMy two favorite flavors of teas are raspberry and any citrus… When Taylor threw this concoction together it was an instant hit for the whole family… a bite of citrus with the earthy goodness of raspberry.

4 cups water
6 Raspberry Tea Bags
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 12oz can each frozen Orange Juice AND Lemonade concentrate, thawed
10 cups cold water

1. Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil in pot; remove from heat and add the teabags; steep overnight or for at least 8-10 hours; discard the teabags.
2 Pour into a large pitcher; add remaining ingredients.
Serve cold and be refreshed!

Herb Garden Spritzer
A refreshing drink for those hot summer days that are on the way.

1 bottle (750-ml)of Sparkling White Grape Juice
1 cup Real Lemon juice
2 cups Lemon Lime soda
1 1/2 cup raw organic sugar, divided
5 Tbsp. lemon zest
2 cups lemon thyme leaves (2 bunches)
1 1/2 liters tonic water

1. In a large pot, bring first 3 ingredients and 1 cup of sugar to a boil; add lemon zest; reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 5 minutes until sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Remove the pot from heat; add 1 cup/bunch of thyme leaves and steep for 15 minutes (let set).
3. While mixture is still hot, add a few more thyme sprigs plus 1/2 cup sugar.
4. Set a 2 quart container in a bowl and fell bowl halfway with the ice.  Strain the mixture into a container; place bowl in freezer and add water to cover ice; chill until cold and mixture is slushy, about 8-9 hours.
5. Divide among glasses, then top off with the tonic water, add ice if desired; garnish with thyme sprigs.

Happy Day,