Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stop and Smell the December Flowers.

Oh, the weather outside is...65 and sunny?

It's not beginning to feel much like Christmas.

Don't get me wrong. I'm enjoying this respite from the gray, South Carolina drearies immensely. After all, this former northern girl remembers many brutal days, driving to work at the publishing company in the Chicago 'burbs, with the wind chill registering -30 degrees. Or wading through the lake effect snow. Or shoveling the driveway, only to have it covered fifteen minutes later by the snow plow.

No, I will never complain about southern winters.

I will, however, admit that I was less than optimistic about my ability to participate in December's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. I'm terribly tardy in starting my paperwhites, which I thought would be a featured photo during bloomless December. I also haven't planted the amaryllis, which is a Christmas staple. In fact, my Christmas bulbs are lingering in the garage, along with an additional 1,200 bulbs that called my name as soon as I heard “40% off sale.”

Thank goodness for warm weather. While other folks are decking the halls this weekend, I'll be digging new beds for my tulips, peonies, iris, and fritillaria.

Although I'm an epic fail with Christmas blooms this year, I did take a break from the baking fury that's consumed me today to take a stroll outside.

And—shocking! I found blooms!

The first hellebore bloom of the season...

Our daughter's schizophrenic cherry tree. While I love this tree, because we planted it for Kristen when she was born, it is, honestly, a stupid tree. Who needs cherry blossoms in December?

I do, however, love, love, love the blooms of the fraise des bois. Somehow, the blooms of these little gems remind me that spring--and fresh strawberries--and not too far away.

Thank you, camellias, for hanging in there through December. The blooms are starting to look tired, but I found a few that were photo worthy.

A rogue calendula bloom! What in the world are you doing, little flower? Don't you know you should be dormant? Oh...maybe it's that thick layer of leaves that I never cleared out of the herb's giving you some nice insulation, huh?

A very confused viburnum. 

OK, so I'm cheating a bit. No, these aren't technically blooms...but I'm just thrilled that our potager continues to produce throughout the winter. I'm especially excited because I planted the fall garden late. To protect the produce, I've been covering the garden anytime the temperature dips into the mid-30s. So far, so good. Crossing fingers that I don't get lazy one night and forget!

And, of course, there are pansies...

...ridiculously adorable little flowers, aren't they? Honestly, look at its little face--it looks like a supermodel with false eyelashes and collagen enhanced, pouty lips.

The beauty of South Carolina--we plant our pansies in the fall to enjoy all winter and into early spring. Thank goodness for their splash of cheerfulness.

We gardeners who live in SC are pretty darn lucky. We can usually grow something year round.

Still—I have to admit, last Christmas was amazing. It snowed. On Christmas. It was a South Carolina miracle.

I'm hoping for a repeat.

Even if it means I won't have any blooms to share for January.

Happy Bloom Day, everyone!

XO ~


Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Dress-Up.

For most people, December is a time to dress up, visit Santa, and take the kids to The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker is always on our holiday agenda.

But this year, instead of dressing up to watch Sugar Plum Fairies, we decked out some chickens.

Which is not as easy as you might think.

Who knew that this cute little wine accessory is exactly chicken-sized? 

And who knew how much fun we'd have, dressing up chickens on a Sunday afternoon?

Do you dress your pets for the holidays? Kiki is lobbying for attire for the entire menagerie, but Peter is protecting the pups from her stylist dreams.

We'll see who prevails...

Ho Ho Ho!

XO ~


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Cheer.

It's December 3.

Most people are decking the halls. 

My husband, however, is building a new-and-improved, half-storage-shed, half-chicken-coop palace.

The kids are with friends, and I'm sitting in the dark office, wondering if I can hire some elf to come wire up and plug in all the lights and decorations that I have (single handly) hung outside.

Because my husband is building a chicken coop.

Fa la la.

I think it's time for a glass of Christmas cheer.

Just curious--who handles the decking of the halls in your home? You? Your spouse? Is it a team effort? And--if you don't deck the halls, I wonder--who's in charge of your festivities, such as buying holiday gifts, birthday organizing, etc? Inquiring minds (mine) want to know...

XO ~


Friday, December 2, 2011

Bliss. (With a side of sugar.)

You know how it is. It's December. Gifts to buy, last minute sparkly white shirts to locate for fifth grade orchestra concerts. Add in the merry making, enforced holiday cheer, Martha Stewart wannabe crafts (which always are a fail in our house), then sprinkle in a few birthdays, chicken coop projects, greenhouse growing...and December is madness.

This morning, in my favorite work avoidance activity, I scanned the lovely Saipua and Floret Flower Farms blogs when I found this: December Photo Project.

I'm already a day late. BUT—maybe I was actually a day early, since I took this shot on 11/30, during our outing to the National Gingerbread Competition display in Asheville at the Grove Park Inn. It was Peter's birthday, and he took the afternoon off. (Shocking, I know!)

What can I say? I am amazed at the talent.

And fantasy.

I want to be a little fondant woman, claiming this beautiful building as my own.

It's my dream business—a flower shop.

With fresh baguettes next door.

And, when the mid-morning sugar craving hit—I could just lick the walls.


Who knew I would find my perfect world in gingerbread?

Happy December!

XO ~


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making Magic.

Last week, I picked up a novel called The Magicians by Lev Grossman, thinking that this might be a fun read for our girlie. As I found it in the teen section, however, I decided to read it first. (Confession: I love kids books, teen books, ANY books.) 

Whew. Thank goodness I checked it out! Within the first two pages, the author introduced topics including virginity (or lack thereof), masturbation, as well as some... flavorful... language.

Now, I'm not a book burner. In fact, nothing incites me more than extremist groups who try to ban Harry Potter from school libraries. But, I do worry about age appropriateness, particularly when a 10-year-old reads books with teen protagonists.

Yep. Not passing along this book to my daughter just yet.

Don't get me wrong—it's a good read so far. It's just too mature for my Kiki. Although she loves books with magic and fantasy, this one has a bit too much harsh reality that I don't want her to experience ever too soon.

Still, there is something magical about pushing the limits. As a child, I definitely read books that were too advanced for my age. And boy, do I remember the trouble we got in for passing around my friend Diane's dog-eared copy of Forever. I wasn't typically a rule breaker, but on the few occasions that I did—it was, well, thrilling.

And empowering.

Maybe even a little magical.

Breaking the rules and pushing limits is still a bit of a rush—but now, my rebelliousness lives in the garden.

(Wow, writing that aged me about 20 years, didn't it?)

I admit—I am very behind on my gardening chores this fall. In fact, I just planted our fall vegetable garden—two weeks ago. Even by South Carolina, zone 7b standards...that's late. It's almost futile.

Unless you push the limits and disobey certain rules.

Recently, I've become enamored with the concept of season extension. What can I do, with our little piece of earth, to feed my family throughout the winter? How can I keep my fall garden producing? Can I fight the elements and extend the harvest, even if the “experts” disagree? Will my garlic crop fail if I don't get it planted by Halloween? Will my lettuce wither and melt if I plant it in late October instead of mid-September? Or can I thumb my nose at conventional gardening wisdom and produce a bumper crop of brassicas to harvest in January?

The key, I think, is to break some of the rules...but still adhere to some of the tried and true methods for season extension.

There's a really terrific program with which I'm lucky enough to be associated: Greenville Organic FoodsOrganization's (GOFO) Grow Healthy Kids. Through GOFO, schools in a local district can participate in growing an edible garden, complete with lessons that match the ever important state curriculum standards. The students receive transplants and seeds, as well as organic fertilizer and supplies, from GOFO. However, the key to the success of the gardens is the highly technical row covers GOFO provides, which allows the schools to protect their crops during cold periods, so that the kids can continue to harvest crops throughout the semester.

Plastic covering + bent metal masonry ladders = mini greenhouses.

The schools can participate in both the spring and fall, with the focus on cool weather crops, since those are the veggies most easily grown during the school year in Upstate South Carolina. The low tunnels are easy to install, and the supports can remain in place throughout the growing season. When a freeze watch is issued, the teacher or students can simply place the plastic over the supports, securing the covering to the ground with rocks or bricks to keep it in place. The plastic protects the plants from damaging frost and insulates the plants from severe temperatures. On average, the temperature in the low tunnel is approximately 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. In our zone, those 10 degrees can mean the difference between an ongoing harvest—and complete crop loss.

Because I'm the Master Gardener liaison for the Grow Healthy Kids program, I decided it's time to practice what I preach.

Typically, I plant our fall garden in the potager—my experiment in an attempt to design a formal, attractive kitchen garden. Honestly, our other gardens are—to put it nicely—wild. Unkempt. In serious need of hours of weeding and prettifying. The potager is my one place that I try to keep balanced and organized. 

It's also the perfect experiment for bending the rules with season extension.

Because the potager resides in the midst of our backyard, and because our two sweet pups are fabulous destroyers of all things green, my darling husband installed a fence around the potager when we designed it.

My supports are already in place!

With no need to buy additional hardware to make low tunnel supports, I headed to the big orange box store to purchase the plastic cover. I spent a little bit more for a thicker covering. Wow--who knew how many assorted plastic drop cloths are available? For $25, I found a 4 mm, 20' x 50' plastic sheet to serve as the insulation of the low tunnel.

Honestly, the trickiest part of installing my winter covering was unrolling the plastic—if you have a friend handy, recruit the extra pair of hands. Still, in less than 15 minutes, the potager was covered, the plastic was secured to the ground on each side of the fence with several rocks, and the cool weather crops were insulated against the nighttime low of 30 degrees. 

Now, that's cold for South Carolina!

While the plastic protects against the freezing temperatures, it can also damage the garden if the temperature spikes. Immediately following our few days of freezing nights, we're back in the 70s this week. 

The beauty of the low tunnel system is its simplicity—when it's warm, roll the cover off the frame and leave it on the ground (or, in my case, on one side of the fence...)

and when the temperature drops—pull the cover back over the frame.

Presto! Fresh veggies into the winter!

It's like magic! (I hope.)

So, because I planted the fall garden so recently, I haven't harvested anything from it yet. Soon, I hope we'll have lettuce (eight heirloom varieties), spinach, chard, broccoli, pac choi, red cabbage, and cauliflower. 

But, because of the “Produce Post” hosted by, I thought I'd share a few things we're enjoying this week from the garden:

The fraise des bois keep surprising me. Even after several frosts, they are still producing fruit—and more flowers! Love, love these tiny delicious garden gems.

Last night, along with the quiche made from the eggs provided by our backyard chickens and enhanced with chives from the garden...

...we ate one of the last tomatoes of the season...picked green and ripened in a paper bag with a banana. Ripening green tomatoes was a huge success—our freezer is now filled with bags of tomatoes to use this winter, all picked while still green.

Our nine varieties of garlic harvested this summer continue to be a staple ingredient in almost every dish we cook. How can anyone not like garlic—especially homegrown garlic?

Probably the single most prevalent item I'll be using from the garden this week will be herbs...lots and lots of sage, parsley, rosemary, and thyme for Thanksgiving dinner. Our local, organic turkey will be dressed with many herbs. I'm still harvesting:

 Provence lavender

Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

 Pineapple Mint


 Tri-Color Sage

Curly Parsley


 Greek Oregano

 Lemon Thyme

 Rosemary, possibly my favorite of all herbs.

So, while we won't be eating from the potager just yet, we might be harvesting heirloom lettuce to serve at Christmas dinner.

Homegrown lettuce in December? It's kind of...magical, don't you think?

Happy gardening!

XO ~