the dormant season

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Winter is my dormant season when I have time to hibernate with good books, good movies, and good searches on the Internet…

here is a good garden find:

 

And if you are in the mood to root around your closets, here is another good project for the dormant season:

 

IF I lived in my perfect world, this is what my home would look like…
yes it would…

 

How are you spending your dormant season?

Soothing, quick comfort food for winter days

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And did I mention a one pot creation? This sinfully easy concoction suits both families and singles…Are you ready?

Shopping list:

  • 1 quart Imagine organic chicken broth (no substitutions)
  • one package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Bell & Evans preferred)
  • one pound Red Garnet yam (usually one) peeled and diced (the only yam I eat)
  • one pound Carrots of Many Colors (organic found at Trader Joe’s), peeled and sliced
  • 1 T Herbes de Provence placed in a tea infuser
  • a few ribs of organic kale, rinsed, stem removed, and torn in small pieces
  • Himalayan salt to taste
  • Serves 4 and may be doubled

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Begin with a medium/large stew pot. Pour broth into pan along with the herbes tea ball…and bring to a boil. Add chicken thighs (do not rinse, just open package and add to boiling broth.)

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A classic herb seasoning…if not found in this fancy jar, find in the bulk department of WF.

Reduce heat to medium, cover pot and simmer 10 minutes. Add both yam and carrots to broth/chicken, cover, and continue simmering 10 additional minutes. In the final moment, add torn kale to the pot, cover, and cook 1 minute more and not any longer…overcooked kale is bitter! Remove the tea ball (allow to drain into the pot for full herb flavor)

Before serving, shred chicken thighs into reasonable pieces using two forks or your gloved hands…and remove any bits of fat that remain too.

gently steamed kale

Organic kale is a wonderful, tender, healthful leafy green if cooked properly. NEVER, EVER steam or simmer more than ONE MINUTE. Please.

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Have you found these sweet carrots at Trader Joe’s? Carrots of Many Colors are seasonal, so I stock up this time of year.

Have your bread, biscuits, or crackers ready, along with heated bowls (zapped in the microwave for one minute, empty.) Serve the soup steaming, drizzled with a little olive oil.

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Dessert can be a delightful pumpkin tart, made at home

This quick soup is colorful, healthy, and may be reheated in portion sizes throughout the week for smaller households or for trips to the office.

Bon Appetit!

And Happy Holidays to all my readers!

Copyright © 2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved

ahh, November

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My central Virginia gardens endured one of the hottest, driest summers in recent history.P1050040

Since most of the fifteen-year-old landscape is well established, only the few new installations required weekly monitoring. The basement dehumidifier supplied a consistent 2-gallon supply of free water daily, greatly reducing the labor intensive task of hose dragging.

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Let me introduce you to Black Diamond crape myrtle, added to my front garden this summer. Notice the wonderful deep leaf hue and pleasant color of the flowers…this plant blooms multiple times per year and reaches 12′ high. I look forward to many years with this new variety…

I gave up raising home vegetables in 2014. Too many persistent insects prayed on tender leaves, leaving undesirable remnants. I fully support organic growing methods, yet for the effort involved, I would rather spend my time tending the heirloom daffodils, peonies, and lilies that reside here. These spring beauties bring endless joy to me and my market customers come April/May, and by the time June heat and humidity build, I am spending only minimal time outdoors.

2015 Peony city market May

abundant peony harvest 2015

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Early spring brings abundance

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dazzling organic peppers grown by young farmers. There is no need for me to fight veggie insects in my gardens…when I can support local efforts.

Gardening during cool temps from November-March soothes my soul. The tempo is slow. The air is crisp and clean. I add to my perennial collections, as fall is planting season. And above all, the dastardly biting insects are absent and I once again enjoy the outdoors.

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terrace wall refurbished with Muhly grass showing off on the other side…September is mighty showy here.

This month the arborist arrives with his bucket truck and helper. He annually sheers the 135 Leyland Cypress that border my property. This year I am tasking him with drastically reducing the elevation of the rows…tough love. Over the years, they slowly crept up to twenty feet, a height I no longer desire. Soon entire row at the back will be totally eliminated by the power company, as maintaining it is now unsustainable and my splendid privacy fence doing a fine job.

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photo of stained privacy fence. After a contractor’s estimate of 12 hours and $400 labor, I knew it was up to me to complete this job. Six hours over two days delivered one handsome fence to Swallowtail Cottage.

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I am in love with this chipper…perfect for the job at hand…

As of today the house and shed are washed/painted/caulked where needed. The roof chimney and vents are caulked and painted. The patio furniture has a fresh coat of paint (yes that DTM paint project two years ago was a miserable failure.) The windows are washed inside and out. 23′ of deer fencing is installed in the lower corner of the garden to close a gap. Three arborvitae and a Kousa dogwood will replace an ancient dogwood (Cornus florida) and an unimpressive japanese maple. Eventually this new installation will screen the deer wire.

THEN, on the fifteenth of November, I shall have knee surgery…just a repair for a torn meniscus.

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Baby 5 was my perfect companion during this gravel project. She held steadfast, despite my concerns that I would break her.

Yes, gardening does take a toll. Perhaps last November’s foundation planting did in my knee. That two tons of river rock did not seem that difficult, yet perhaps it was the eleven hours it took to prep/plant the seventeen shrubs. Ahh, November.

A time to complete chores, reflect, relax, and bask in the glow of a dreamy winter ahead.

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this is the view from my back door, over the herb garden during winter 2015

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Copyright ©2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved

August garden

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There is one word that describes the month of August in central Virginia… steamy. Not unlike steam room cloying temperatures and humidity with dew points in the 70’s.

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August skies over Swallowtail Cottage

This year does not disappoint. Any Virginia gardener knows this month requires resolve and fortitude and multiple trips to the shower. If Mother Nature holds back quenching storms, this gardener must rise before dawn to drag hoses around for blooming plants, inviting nectaring insects and butterflies to have sweet tastes. Newly added plant material must be monitored for even moisture, if they are to survive and put down healthy root systems.

Despite these character-building conditions, I want to share with you the beauties that dot my landscape this month…

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The Chinese Lycoris squamigera, more commonly known as Naked Ladies, are plentiful around here (zone 7a) as summer beauties yet are extremely persnickety. They send up tall, flat leaves in the spring that die off, then tall spikes appear this month. With multiple flowers on plain or naked stalks reaching 36″ tall, they are quite the show stopper. They never need staking, yet when I transplant them to other garden areas, many never bloom. Go figure…

Formosa lily from Tufton

Formosa lilies are native to Formosa and grow easily in my gardens where they readily self sow… the original seed came from Tufton, a property once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

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The Formosa seed pods during winter, with actual seeds removed. Stunning, yes?

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This Honeybells fragrant hosta and nine sisters were gifted to me last year. Now blooming and 48″ high, the steamy August garden is blessed with visual cool and fragrance. PS: generous applications of spent coffee grounds around the base of early leaves completely stopped the onslaught of slugs…a Whole Foods Barista was happy to give me their dregs any time that I asked.

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A close up of this dreamy hosta Honeybells. Too bad the biting ants like the flowers too or I would cut stems for the house and market.

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The only phlox I grow here at Swallowtail Cottage, Davidii stands tall and does not succumb to any mildew. Incredible.

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Another gift from Kate. The Celadon poppy blooms early spring and again this month. I am told this poppy is invasive, yet tucked back in the rear garden, I invite a bit of delicate color and naughty.

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THIS is a thug. Rudbeckia triloba…I do not remember ever planting it, yet this year a huge area of the butterfly garden is filled with these 6′ tall bloomers! I took many bunches to market and will stuff the rest in the burn barrel, as they have needles along the stems and are as rough as a cob. OUT!!!

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Autumn Joy sedum attracts flutterbyes by the dozen and is an easy-care perennial. A classic in any garden. This was on the property when I bought it in 2001, and I have shared many clumps with neighbors.

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Ahhh, my summer delight. The Natchez crape myrtle. One double trunk grows in the front lawn, and a five-trunked specimen thrives on the west side of the house. These beauties provide dreamy shade during summer months, have refreshing blooms where honey bees bury themselves, and in fall, leaves change to a brilliant hue. Did I mention the peeling bark during August? This shed reminds me all is well with much visual interest.

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The shedding bark layer curls and twists, revealing the baby smooth leather-like under bark. I often find myself stroking the trunks as the sensation is like no other.

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I laugh every year when this silly PJM rhododendron blooms in August…All of its companions bloom in the spring, when they should, but here, no. I really do not like pink of any kind in the garden, yet planted PJM’s years ago for their winter bronze leaf color.

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Let me introduce you to a new variety… Black Diamond crape myrtle, added to my front garden this summer. Notice the wonderful deep leaf hue and pleasant color of the flowers…this plant blooms multiple times per year and the plant tag promises a mature height at 12′. I look forward to many years with this new variety…

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And Babe, the topic of my last post, survives despite its weird appendage in front of its right leg. After emailing photos to the Wildlife Center, they too are stumped and suggest that as long as Babe is eating well, to leave it in the wild. Although Babe continues to molt and look rather pathetic with its shabby coat, I eagerly wait to see what sex it is…can anyone guess?

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This plaque, found in a shop at Tryon Palace, reminds me that the garden teaches forever.

Twice per week this time of year I run errands and make deliveries very early, then confess to enjoying short afternoon naps in the air conditioning. Heat is hypnotic. Reclined on the loveseat, dozing between paragraphs of a Baldacci novel, I later rise and do indoor chores. Then around 7PM I dress for insects and head out weekly to mow and perspire. Soon. Soon. Very soon, there will be lower dew points and garden clean up, as the blooming show will be mostly over until next spring. And this gardener will sigh a large exhale.

Thanks for reading along. Your comments are always enjoyed.

Copyright © 2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved

tough love

Yesterday afternoon I observed a young, lone cardinal standing on the terrace wall calling out in vain to its parents. The calls were pathetic. When any bird arrived at the hanging feeder, this young cardinal vibrated its wings and stood open-mouthed begging to be fed. To no avail. This went on for some time. Much too long for this observer.

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This young cardinal is at the peak of rejection and frustration. Its parents decided this day was time it learned to feed itself. Notice the big feet and long nails…better to cling and grab. Oh my heart went out to this lone babe!

For the past five years, following the death of my beloved Miss Kitty, wild birds became the object of my affection. As a devotee, I feed custom organic seeds and dried fruit to most birds who visit. To date seventeen types of feathered beauties arrive year round for my handouts. Those of you who have followed along have seen numerous posts filled with photographs, as I attempt to capture the antics and habits of wild birds here in my central Virginia gardens.

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If a bird could weep, this would be the face before tears flow.

Yesterday was no exception. It was time for the young cardinal to feed itself. MA and PA decided to get on with their lives…tough love indeed. I quickly found a small, shallow saucer and placed chopped sunflower seeds and dried currants, both a favorite of cardinals in particular, on the wall where the young bird was frequenting. Then it became a watch and wait from indoors with my camera perched on its tripod. Yes, these photos were all taken through two panes of glass and solar film.

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When I had all but given up, the babe jumped onto the saucer…backwards…

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then reversed it position and began eating like there was no tomorrow! Cheers went up from inside the house! It’s the small victories, yes?

The late afternoon storm had soaked the young cardinal, rendering it even more pathetic in appearance. For a few minutes I wondered if it was injured, as the top of its beak looked askew…

As the afternoon slipped into twilight, the babe feasted a few more times at the saucer and even managed to capture and devour an insect in the turf, giving me hope for its survival.

When morning arrived,  I refilled the saucer and added another filled with fresh water… then waited for Babe.

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Right on que, Babe arrived at the saucer and began its morning feast. Cardinals feed early and very late. Good thing I am an early riser.

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With a healthy appetite, Babe dined for many minutes, managing whole currents. I am not sure what is going on above its right leg… hopefully not an injury.

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How intelligent and spry! A huge difference from the afternoon before!

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How quickly this observer forms attachments!

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Babe even puts up with the obnoxious finches…the bane of my feeding efforts!

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Strong appetites make healthy birds. I am delighted and hopeful for Babe’s success. This is just one example why I host these beauties in my gardens. Tough love is just that. When happy transitions occur, I exhale in relief.

As days and weeks continue here at Swallowtail Cottage and the summer melts into fall, I will gaze out my kitchen windows and follow along as my wild bird saga continues.

UPDATE: Four days following this post, Babe returns daily to the feeder numerous times per day and is drinking from the water saucer nearby. That weird clump is still hanging in front of Babe’s front right leg, yet whatever it is, it does not appear to impair Babe’s functioning.

Copyright © 2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved

In the mood for shrimp this July 4th?

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With July fourth around the corner and summer heat and humidity present, I decided to pull out the stops and shop for festive seafood. Landlocked here in central Virginia, most of the ingredients for this recipe came from either Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Since I do not live in Maine, lobster is out of the question, although langostino is a fine substitute for lobster OR shrimp. Please enjoy this quick recipe inspired by the famous Lobster Roll…ah LaSauce.

This past winter I ate my weight in TJ’s Argentinian wild caught shrimp. Discovered in the frozen food section, I hoarded pounds at a time and feasted regularly. Meaty and tender and ready in four minutes, what could be better? Following a few month’s break from the binge, these beauties called out to me again today.

Are you ready for a simple, simple recipe?

At Trader Joe’s pick up a package of butter croissants, a pound of Argentinian Wild Caught shrimp, some organic bread & butter pickles, a bag of organic celery hearts, and a bag of organic blue corn chips…see photos below.

At Whole Foods, collect a jar of 365 organic mayo, a lemon, and Old Bay seasoning.

OK here is the simple:

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Bring water to a rapid boil and add one pound frozen shrimp. Bring back to the boil ( this takes about four minutes) stirring occasionally then drain once water returns to a boil…do not overcook and do not rinse!

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wash and finely slice organic celery…about two cups

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Trader Joe’s biggest secret…tender butter croissants…I do warm these babies for a few minutes in a toaster oven…slice first ~ never a microwave please!

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The label says it all…tender, plump, and they cook in four minutes

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What could be a better snack food? Organic, multi-grain, gluten free.

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Mix in a few simple ingredients: shrimp, mayo, lemon, celery, Old Bay to taste, and everyone is happy. The Milk Stout happens to be my fav adult beverage and I find it at WF.

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The presentation…in minutes this tasty treat will impress; just remember your favorite beverage. The pickles did not make this shot, as I snacked them.

Happy Independence Day to all Americans, and may peace prevail. Be safe.

PS: I do not receive any compensation for mentioning these products…just wanted to share my findings with my readers. Bon Appetit!

Copyright © 2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved

gardening is all about change

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and hanging on and letting go…

As I flailed around during May, reeling from Mother Nature’s multiple challenges while wringing my hands as beloved plants took hit after hit, I reminded myself: #1 I have no control over Mother Nature, #2 all things are temporary, #3 a gardener must be resilient.

My love of the earth and passion for most things beautiful and fragrant, began decades ago. Before the age of seven I remember lying under the tall patch of blooming Persian lilacs at our Long Island home, content never to move again.

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in 2014 the hummers enjoyed sips from the pineapple sage…

At age eighteen, I left home for college, and was away from lush gardens. I quickly learned that a sunny park across from my dorm could fill my need for green. As a BFA graduate, my first job took me to Portland, Oregon where I was mesmerized by the artful Japanese Gardens and the historic Portland Rose Gardens. I could have stayed there forever.

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the narrow gravel path is embraced by tightly shorn boxwood hedges.

Alas, years later, with roaming days behind me, I found myself working on Capitol Hill. Whenever possible during lunch hour, I strolled the magnificent grounds of Congress designed by Frederick Olmstead, and frequently lunched on the edge of the marble fountains outside the Supreme Court. Those were the days.

Miss Kitty sighting?

Heirloom Tiger Lily provides nectar for this Swallowtail

In 2000 I departed the urbane, and put down roots at my first country house. The abode turns out to be a needy box, yet the half-acre provided me with a tabula rasa. No more containers on the postage stamp balcony.

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Fruits of my labor…homegrown blueberries…as the pan’s contents bubbled, the color deepened

Once the mistakes of former owners were obliterated, my gardening intuition prevailed, as it does today, sixteen years later. Following numerous consults with garden experts, I quickly surmised that my intuition was the light to follow. Recently, as I glanced at my archived plant tags, I removed 50% of my original purchases. Either the plant tags lied and specimens quickly outgrew their place, or plants failed to thrive without frequent spraying. As a master gardener who is intolerant of needy plants, garden edits are becoming an annual ritual.

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March garden edits included a stump grinder. The rug junipers became a garden thug in many areas, yet hand removal was impossible. Thanks to my arborist and his great tools…

Hours in the garden provide solitude amongst the songs of wild birds, handsome toads, and the occasional reptile. When the sun rises above the cypress trees, I step indoors and enjoy views out every window. The passage of time in my gardens is what sustains me. The beauty of thriving plants inspire me. Ten thousand photographs later, I attempt to share moments of bliss.

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This handsome creature posed for me in the very hot sun for ten minutes! I adore moments like this when nature provides fleeting glimpses of my garden residents. 

Every garden reflects the gardener, and often inspires on well after the person who tends it; or for that brief moment in time, a place comes alive in this time, and perhaps lives on in memory.

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exhilarating moments

Planting and working the soil teaches us that there is hope despite adversity, that during the most difficult times, all things are temporary, and as in life, a gardener must learn to accept change, hang on to every fleeting moment when perfection finds its way, and to let go with grace.

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a telling proverb

Copyright © 2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved

 

the May that floats

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Normally, May is one of my favorite months as a gardener. Normally, the gardens burst with color, texture, and fragrance. Normally, May is a time for celebration and a time to bid farewell to the cold of winter. To date friends, 2016 weather continues chafe the best of my patience and optimism. Is it time to throw in the towel?

First, late killing April frosts affected many precious plants. Early tender perennials became steamed lettuce mush. Can you imagine?

Relentless May rains saturate even the best soils, threatening bulb rot and setting the stage for massive fungal issues in coming weeks. Harvesting six-hundred stems of heirloom peonies while dodging rainfall is, at a bare minimum, unpleasant for both me and my flowers. So much for garden delight. Rain days at the farmers market greatly reduce revenue, as only the hardy shoppers appear, and they typically are not in the mood for delicate stems. So much for my May cash crop. Currently, my flower fridge is overflowing and another few hundred stems beg to be harvested. Do you feel my pain?

Typically, June brings relentless heat and humidity to my Virginia gardens, seasoned with biting midges, ticks, and mosquitoes…for months. May is normally the time before June’s wickedness — inviting blissful strolls, the discovery of transcending scents, and the ability to see the fruits of my labor. Ha! At least my automobile is not floating down some side street, as Texans endure the spring from hell.

Ok, enough misery.

Is it time for the “For Sale” sign? Or shall I persevere? My inner voice whispered many times recently, “if it ain’t fun, don’t do it.” Well, I ain’t havin any fun as a gardener so far this year. Yet I am not ready for a condo. Been there, done that.

Do I publish this or press delete?

How about some comments from my followers?

From a drenched blogger/gardener in central VA. 

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Is it time to hang it up?

 

this is why I grow daffs and tulips…

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These images show a glimpse of what is blooming now at Swallowtail Cottage. The real challenge remains with capturing the essence of each flower…

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Another face not seen in my inventory. I am thinking Thalia, based on the catalogue photograph, c. 1916

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These tulips have survived for fifteen years here. Moved numerous times, they were inexpensive, yet provide dramatic, elegant color in the late March gardens. Greigii Queen Ingrid.

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These two beauties are new to my gardens this spring. I must refer to Brent & Becky’s Bulbs catalogue to name names, as they quickly became a blur.

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Last fall I converted all five raised beds from veggies to heirloom daffs and tulips. These two are newbies to Swallowtail Cottage. The white is Erlicheer, a sweet smelling heirloom; circa 1934.

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Notice the cup of this miniature newbie…the delicate rounded edges…awesome! As I check my inventory, I do not see this one listed…can anyone identify?

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This daffodil is so old nobody can identify it…they are prolific here and I am delighted to admit I rescued them…Any ideas? The white daff is Mount Hood, c. 1937.

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This wild-child tulip’s name is Honeymoon. I may need to add more to my beds, as they sold immediately at market yesterday.

Although Mother Nature ruined the first day of the farmer’s market yesterday with cold and rain, these flowers brightened my day as I shivered in place. About one third of the stems came home, so sadly, what I don’t give away, will become compost…ah the life of a flower farmer…

Stay tuned for more images of my gardens. Afterall, home, garden, life is what it is all about.

Copyright © 2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved

the first day of spring 2016

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Despite the 40F temperatures and overcast sky this morning at Swallowtail Cottage, here’s a glimpse of what is blooming in my half-acre gardens…enjoy!

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PJM rhododendrons show their stuff this chilly spring morning.

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O’Neal blueberry flowers…provide edible, delectable fruit come May, with the help of local pollinators.

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Two years ago, I collected 2000 heirloom daffodils, crocus, and lilies from around the property and added them to a 30′ ditch. A powerful early spring statement…with more blooms to follow in weeks to come.

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One deep rear shrub border is home to Japanese maples, hellebores, daffs, an adopted clump of old variety spirea, Green Velvet boxwood (raised from cuttings), assorted lilies, chindo viburnum, oakleaf hydrangea, one floribunda rose ‘Tiny’, hostas, phlox Davidii, clematis, red hot pokers, miscari, and three tuteurs.

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Buxus Green Mountain boxwoods never fail to impress. Easy care and sprinkled with tiny, delicate blossoms in late March. Have I confessed I adore this variety of boxwood?

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This herbaceous Euphorbia or garden spurge has survived fifteen years in the same northerly spot at the front door. Cut to the ground after bloom time, this plant is bullet proof, bouncing back year after year. Highly regarded for their brilliant chartreuse bracts, textural foliage, and elegant growth habit, places them among the elite plants with significant garden significance. Note: all euphorbias ooze a milky white sap, latex, when cut or broken, so wear gloves when pruning and avoid skin contact.

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The hellebores are stunning this time of year. Over twelve inches tall, they brighten the landscape. A winter/spring garden favorite…

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When the sapsuckers girdle my dogwoods or maple trunks, I dangle shiny CD disks from inner branches. Highly effective.

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Hard working raised bed area produced various veggies and herbs for over a decade. Now they are dedicated to heirloom daffodils and tulips.

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A new addition to my 2016 gardens…a mason bee or “solitary bee house” as the UK designers describe…was sent to me as a birthday present this month. Thanks again Barry!

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The resident Eastern bluebird pair chose my nestbox during late winter, and today the wee female adds finishing touches to her nest…built one pine needle at a time, in three days.

Has this post inspired your first day of spring? And please check out the related spring post links below…

Copyright © 2016 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved