Thursday, December 30, 2010

Santa did good.

I love having a passionate hobby, because it promotes theme gifts. This Christmas, gardening ruled. Yes, I got that composter (thank you, Pam), along with a bucket for collecting my food scraps.

My daughter Anna, who is a huge Etsy fan, also gave me seeds from "The Bear Foot Shaman," a vendor named Radonna Fox who is an aromatherapist, gardener, and collector of

heirloom medicinal, vegetable, and flower seeds. I can't wait to try to grow these beauties. Have you ever seen a watermelon more beautiful than this?

My cousins and locavore comrades Sharon and Kristina (be sure to check out Kristina's Confections, yum!) sent a beautifully crafted slingshot and seed bombs. I'll be bombing my own yard, as well as my neighborhood.

And last, but not least, my ever-so-thoughtful husband put much needed garden stakes under the tree, along with this fabulous weeder for old ladies called the "Reach Weeder." It's light weight and expands in length so you don't have to bend over. But even more impressive is the Reach Weeder's blade. After a work out in the garden, I can take it to the beach to fight off sharks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy holidays from Mother Nature.

Mother Nature wrapped up Christmas weekend for me with two happy memories. First, a little snow, just a sprinkle, but the first snow on Christmas Day in Memphis in almost 100 years. I'm hoping our unseasonably cold winter will help control the hungry garden pests next summer.

Next, on the day after Christmas, I was walking Griffin at dusk when I spotted an owl in my neighbor's oak tree. I've been hearing owl calls at my home for 15 years, but have never seen one before in the neighborhood. He (she) was quite large and made a beautiful silhouette in the tree branches. I watched for five minutes before she took off in a majestic swoop. I felt blessed.

The next day, I took a photo of the stand of trees where I spotted her to honor the feeling. And I researched owls online. I think I saw a Barred Owl, pictured above, but that's just a guess.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa are you listening?

I'm a big talker, and sometimes (gasp!) I talk more than I do. This is especially true when it comes to composting. I've read so much about composting that I understand green matter and brown matter and hot compost and a wet compost (frankly, those last two weren't too difficult to figure out).

But have I started composting the endless piles of food scraps I throw out every week? No, because I've been stymied by what type of composter to buy. (And yes, I've talked endlessly about that decision too.)

Happily, the Christmas season has spurred me into action, and thanks to one of my favorite gardening sites (Gardener's Supply Company), I've found the perfect solution: a simple wire rectangle with a door, so it's easy to reach in with a shovel and turn the pile.

Even better, the composter costs $40, which isn't as cheap as chicken wire, but is a lot less than the $200 composting bins that are ugly as well as expensive.

I told Santa I wanted the composter, but because I know he's busy, I went ahead and ordered it myself. How's that for decisive action?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday rescue.

Most of the holiday greenery at Lowe's is gone, but on my last run a few days ago, I found a rosemary plant marked down to five dollars. I guess nobody but me wanted it. (I'm a sucker for needy plants, dogs, or kids.) This poor baby was starved for water and its plastic pots was ripped.

So for a day or so, I soaked it in the sink, re-potted it in a clay pot, wrapped it in green foil, and decorated it with ribbon and a gold angel. Voila! With a little love, my kitchen table turned into a bit of Christmas cheer.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This is really lame.

I woke up this morning to a gray sky spitting snow flakes. The flurries didn't last long, but the cold settled in, breaking some sort of record, I imagine. Typically, Memphis doesn't see afternoons stay in the 30s in


I was excited about Sunday's cold weather (let's build a fire!) until I looked out my kitchen window and saw the dismal state of my vegetable

garden. I hadn't pulled up the plants, because a few stragglers still hung on the tomatoes, but the cold weather closed the book. Check out the ice near the roots of the cucumber plant. I guess this is the what's called a deep freeze.

Only one veggie survived the night cold: hot Thai peppers! So, feeling invigorated by the temperatures, I decided to finally pull up everything else. It was freezing, and I'm sure, yet again, my neighbors think I'm nuts.

Once it warms up a bit, I'll turn the soil and start layering in the ingredients for my spring lasagna. Can't wait!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kings Park says goodbye to a real beauty.

It took 250 years to grow this grand dame, but only six hours to level her.

It was a sad day in my Kings Park neighborhood to watch the beautiful red

oak in Brooks Terry's yard come down, but believe me, he tried to save her. Brooks started worrying about the tree (which stood a few feet from his marvelous mid-century home on Tall Trees) when he noticed bees flying in and out of one of its cavities. He consulted two experts, who both confirmed that the tree was diseased.

The arborists estimated the tree's age at 250. (For the math challenged, that makes the tree older than the Declaration of Independence.)

"They said it might live two more years, but we though we should go ahead and get it down," Brooks said. "Even if it fell away from the house, the root ball is so big it would tear up the living room."

Once Brooks saw the tree's hollow trunks, he knew he'd made the right decision. "The tree was even sicker than we thought," he said. The

trunk also was lined with thousands of dead bees and spent honeycomb (pictured above in the first photo). Apparently, the same fungus that kills the tree eventually kills the bees too.

Happily, there is a bit of a nice ending to this story. Terry plans to salvage the impressive burl at the base of the tree, and he can still admire the red oak across the street, which is the oldest red oak in Shelby County.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My best buy.

I'm in Maryland taking care of my Mom, and the Whole Foods store in Annapolis is my go-to stop for almost everything, including these lovely tulips.

The display in the store is stunning, and the price of each bunch? Only $6.99. I'm not sure if the tulips are available in Whole

Foods stores everywhere (I suspect so), but trust me on this: You deserve a week's worth of elegance, and it only costs a dollar a day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pam+Anna+NYC= Love

When I started my blog, I swore I would never post anything that wasn't related - at least vaguely - to gardening. Lesson learned? Never say never.

No Lawn? Try This.

Let's be honest. Would you sit on a bench draped with a piece of sod? Even more nuts, would you decorate the sod with three voltaires and a vase of white roses?

I would not, which is probably why I'm not the owner of a charming Brooklyn florist called Graceful Gardens. The shop is located on Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, not far from my daughter's apartment. I stopped in on a recent visit, and loved the shop, despite the sod bench tableau.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Question of the day.

Every year, this branch on one of my Japanese maples turns red before the rest of the tree. Can anyone tell me why?

An insider's tip.

If you are lucky enough to still have a few tomatoes left, don't wait too long to pick them. I've been assuming heat and drought (no rain in two months!) are causing these splits in my tomatoes, but my go-to guy Keith Forrester from Whitton Farms says no: The splits are caused by leaving tomatoes on the vine too long.

"We pick our tomatoes when they start to turn," Keith says.

Too much watering (guilty as charged) also contributes to the splits, because tomatoes turn water to juice. Gives "bursting with flavor" more meaning, don't you think?

Friday, October 8, 2010

I am so pumped.

The Midsouth Native Plant Conference kicked off tonight at the Dixon, and like all great events, it started with food. A barbecue buffet, wine station, and beer from Memphis' own Ghost River Brewery were set up in the garden pavilion - a lovely building and outdoor terrace built on the site of the garden's original greenhouse.

Meandering back through the garden's pathways (there were lanterns in the trees!), I stopped to admire an unfamiliar plant. "What is this," I asked the lady behind me. "That's artillery fern, only it's not a fern," a man chimed in. "It's a member of the Pilea family, and it's called an artillery fern because if you shake the stems the seed pods go flying like, three feet. Beautiful isn't it?" And there he was, Felder Rushing, rock star of the native plant world, on his way back from grabbing a little barbecue too. And, yes, he was wearing his hat.

Felder's lecture, which started a few minutes later, was a gentle and humorous prod to live harmoniously with our planet: collect rain water, use pesticides judiciously, follow your gardening bliss. He also peppered his talk with homespun advice. I particularly loved his instructions for composting, which he credited to his mom: Quit throwing the stuff away, and pile it up somewhere. Felder doesn't even turn his compost piles. Don't you just love that?

When I got home, I sat outside in my courtyard and gave the garden a good once over. The flowers are spent, the tomato plants never grew tomatoes, the leaves are starting to fall, and the crickets are singing despite the cool nights. There is work to be done, and it is perfect.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A shout out to Memphis gardeners.

If you love your planet and your plants, don't miss this weekend's native plant conference at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. Not only does the event include garden tours, wine and refreshments on Friday, and box lunches on Saturday (love it when there's food), the speakers are both fun and knowledgeable.

Nature plant guru Felder Rushing kicks off the conference Friday evening and Tennessee nurseryman and storyteller Don Shadow winds things up Saturday afternoon. In between, other experts will discuss the big picture (conservation, sustainability) and the nitty-gritty (what plants to put where).

If you can't make the conference, check back next week. I'm hoping to post the best of what I learn.

Monday, October 4, 2010

An ode to okra.

After growing vegetables this summer (modest effort thought it was), I have a big statement to make: Okra is the best vegetable to grow in the Mid-South. Okra

thrives, despite heat and no rain. It's also healthy (can you say vitamin C, A, B complex, and fiber?) and the blossoms that foretell the pods are luscious and beautiful.

Despite my love for okra, I didn't know much about it, so I did a little research, and this is what I found: Okra dates back to Ethiopia in the 12 century BC. It arrived in the U.S. with the slaves in the late 1700's, who eventually taught the Creoles in Louisiana how to use the pods to thicken gumbo. The plant is a member of the mallow family, which I didn't realize even though I've admired the hibiscus-like blossoms all summer. Guess what else is a member of the mallow family? Cotton!

Fast forward to the summer of 2010, when for me, okra has been an inspiring experiment in how to grow vegetables from seed. I have six plants. Each is at least six feet high and still producing vegetables in early October.

Unfortunately, cooking with okra can be a bit of a challenge, because it takes time to accumulate enough pods for a pot of gumbo. So I've started slicing up the pods seven or eight at a time for a saute with a little garlic, onion, and a 14-ounce can of roasted, diced tomatoes. The other day, I used my sauteed okra as a topping for greens, finished with a few shakes of cider vinegar. Delicious!


Saturday, October 2, 2010

And finally, the best news.

The day before I got back to Memphis from Maryland, Tony picked what we thought was our last canteloup. We sliced it and ate it immediately. Perfection! And what a beautiful color!

A few days later, I spotted two more melons on the vine, hugging the curb in front of the bed. There's also another little beauty hiding under a leaf. It's the size of a walnut.

Now the good news.

After my initial dismay, I went foraging through the tangle of vines in the vegetable garden and found a few hearty survivors. I felt a little like Scarlet looking for that damn carrot.

The beans were making a last stand, both in the pot and on the vines. I also found a cucumber, a Japanese eggplant, two tomatillos, a handful of okra, and a very lonely Roma tomato.

I'm not sure about the tomatillos. Earlier in the summer the fruit dropped off before it was ready. These last two have those darling little wrappers on them, so how do I know when it's time to pick?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

First the bad news.

In case you are wondering....this is what happens to your gardens when you leave for more than a month during the hottest summer anyone can remember: The vegetable garden slips away; the ferns give up; the sunflowers turn brow, (they are disgusted with you); the herbs disappear; and the basil goes to seed.

I was feeling sorry in myself until I read a recent column by Felder Rushing, native plant guru, who also was gone this summer and returned to a yard of disappointed and disappearing natives.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Loving the color red.

So how about these tomatoes I picked this weekend? Our plants haven't been as productive as I hoped (blame that damn heat!), but they sure do taste great.

Basil cornbread. Yum.

It's a little hard to admit this, but sometimes (actually, more than sometimes) the first thought I have in the morning is, What am I going to make today? Lately, I've been thinking about the basil cornbread recipe I spied earlier in the summer in Bon Appetit. So I made it this week with basil from the garden.

I doubled the amount of basil because I always double the basil in recipes, and that change was a good thing. I've been making cornbread for many years, but this is the best recipe I've ever used. It's a little complicated: You pulse cold, diced butter in the food processor a la pie crust, but it is so worth the trouble. We ate the cornbread with soup, for breakfast with jam, and as the bottom layer to Tony's grilled veggie fajitas. Delicious!