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Foxgloves – Heart Stopping Magic

 

Here we are at the solstice, climbing the big hill of the calendar like kids in the first car of a roller coaster.

We could try to savor the moment but summer is off on a roaring start. Hang on tight!
IMG_3369Shooting up like rocket and lasting only as long as a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone, is Foxglove, Digitalis purpea, a giant poisonous beauty used to make digitalin, a common heart-disease medication. Could it be a coincidence that it’s so stunning it makes your heart skip a beat just to look at it? I doubt it.

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New York Botanic Garden

Foxglove grows like weeds in England which is why it has become visual short hand for the quintessential cottage garden. In typical Brit fashion it is also the stuff of elfin legends; covered in freckles, aka “elf fingerprints,” they are also known by the names “Dead Man’s Thimbles” and “Witches Fingers,” no doubt because its poisonous sap keeps insects away. But not Fairies. The plant is, so they say, lousy with fairies; sleeping in the blooms, making a living by selling the gloves to foxes so they’ll be even more stealthy when they raid the hen house, that sort of thing.

Enid Blyton "Foxglove Storybook"

Enid Blyton’s “Foxglove Story,” as found on the charming Victoria Stitch blog.

 

Rumor has it the fairies will have it in for you if you mess with their favorite sleeping bags, causing you no end of grief. But just as the plant is both poison and antidote, so can it be used against Fairy magic.  From the The Fairy Lore of Foxglove:

a child is Taken and a squalling changeling left in its place,

place foxglove leaves beneath its crib.

The faeries will bring back the stolen child.

You know, that would have saved me no end of trouble, had I only known. Kidding, Dear Children, kidding! (not kidding…)

IMG_7656And yet, back here in real life, Foxglove is here only for a heartbeat so enjoy it while you can. It is hard to find (not at any grocery store, but you knew it wouldn’t be, right?), but my friends Leon and Carol Carrier of Plant Masters set me up with some beauties. I also grew a petite native variety, Digitalis parviflora.

Digitalis parviflora from Sunshine Farm and Garden

Digitalis parviflora from Sunshine Farm and Garden

Compared to its behemoth cousins, it is almost diminutive with a timid butter yellow hue. I’m finding it not only lasts longer in the garden but also works will in for design work, adding some elegant curve without overwhelming the whole arrangement. IMG_3378

Come see what my other floral design friends, have done with Foxies: a drop-dead gorgeous bridal bouquet of cafe au lait dahlias and peach foxglove from Two Little Buds of Hamilton, Ohio, a mothers day bunch being hand-delivered by Katie Koch of Califlowermama, a  Riz Reyes  arrangement that takes advantage of Foxgloves height and volume, and a sweet petite posy by Hannah Keen. Clever little fairies, all of them!

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Preserving the peony dreams

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Ah! that smell. Fresh and green – a little like a rose, a little like broccoli. Not to everyone’s liking, I understand, but nothing will transport you faster to your Grandmother’s backyard faster than a face plant in a big fluffy peony pillow and a big long whiff.IMG_4064

It is fitting that Memorial Day is the traditional start of peony season. Everyone’s Grandma grew peonies it seems, so it’s not surprising that our olfactory senses team up with the neighboring hippocamthus to bind that peony smell with memories of childhood and all the other happy May events: prom, graduations, weddings, the unbearably close last day of school. I hold on tight to memories of my Grandma Frances, whose peonies I dug out of her Ohio backyard and took home with me after she went off to that Great Garden in the Sky.

Wet bare feet covered in grass clippings and huffing away at a big white Festiva Maxima peony – I am no longer here in Maryland but back on rain soaked cement steps, leaning against the back screen door with a parfait glass of of strawberry jello and cool whip, listening to the sound of dinner dishes being washed and Grandma singing to the LP sound track of My Fair Lady.

Later she would come out and join me with her own parfait glass and we would watch the ants crawl over her peonies buds. “But I want to be a Lay-dee in a Flaaaa-oaaar shop…” Grandma would bray in her best Eliza Doolittle. Not every flower can boast such time traveling magic.

IMG_7492And not all memories are fond, sadly, and back here, IRL, some local flowers growers may have more sulfur than sweet-scented memories of the 2016 Spring that Wasn’t. Some will have to pen an En Memoriam to entire peony fields that did not make it through this particularly cruel April. Bob Wollam of Wollam Gardens in Jeffersonton VA, calls it “the most challenging spring” in his 25 years of experience as a grower. After an April 7th freeze, growers in North Carolina and Virginia watched in dismay as their just ripening plants froze in bud. Later flowering specimens who survived that cold snap came down with Botrytis fungal disease after 15 consecutive days of cold rain. Some growers reported losing 90% of their peonies crop. This uncooperative spring will be felt for a while, putting growers several weeks behind in planting summer annuals and being particularly cruel to macro hydrangea, which may also be in shortage this year. And yet the thought of frozen peony buds seems just spiteful.

But the sun has come out and I remain grateful that my back yard blooms made it and that my clever designer friends have been busy giving peony its due.

Carol Clayton Photography

Carol Clayton Photography

peonies at ErinsIMG_7604

Peony and Ranunculus from Mimoza Design DC

Peony and Ranunculus from Mimoza Design DC

And if this isn’t enough memory preservation for you – here then is my recipe for Peony Simple Syrup. This morning’s batch is going into Kombucha. The next batch will take a swim with some gin in a martini piscine.

 

 

 

 

Peony Syrup

three or four locally grown, organic peony blooms, preferably a fragrant variety like Festiva Maxima or Dr. Alexander Fleming

3 cups of water

3 cup of sugar (more if you want to make a thicker syrup for desserts)

juice of 1/2 a lemon

IMG_3098Set a kettle on to boil as you gently pull the petals off the stem, leaving aside green leaves and any pollen stamens, and place in a bowl. Pour the boiling water over the petals. And here – I just have to just say – sorry about the smell. It will look like sad wet toilet paper and smell like broccoli but stay with me here! You’ll be glad you did. Cover the water and petals with a dish or a towel and let sit out overnight.IMG_3103

The next day, pour off the water, squeezing water from the petals, then measure the water. Discard the petals. Add the yellow peony water to a pan along with the exact same amount of sugar as water (more if you intend to use this in desserts and need something thicker), bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool.

IMG_3109Once cool, add the lemon juice and watch the pink peony magic happen! IMG_3110

Pour into a pretty bottle (extra points if it’s a bottle you inherited from Grandma) and enjoy! Add to seltzer water or splash into your favorite cocktails or kombucha recipe or save it for whenever you need to resurrect a happy memory. Serve it with Prosecco and call it an Eliza Dolittle. Stored in the fridge, it should last about a month.

IMG_3111 Thanks for the memories, Peony!

Dogwood

Just at the height of a dreamy spring opener, a sobering hail storm came through last night, blasting tender little buds off branches and making a mess of the containers I naively filled with summer flowers and herbs. In southeastern US, such spring cold snaps are called “Dogwood Winters,” as farmers have learned to keep their eye on the lovely and native Cornus Florida trees and plant crops only after they flower.

IMG_2823 And so before I go out to clean up the mess (“buh-bye, tomato seedlings, my bad…”), I’m going to take a moment to celebrate that gorgeous know-it-all, currently in flower and reminding us all that it’s still her time to shine.

Luckily I know other talented designers capable of giving Dogwood it’s due. The branches really excel in either in full length frothy form, filling design space with a effortless, almost anti-gravity kind of feel

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Two Little Buds

or cut short or floating, all the better to appreciate the 4 flawless white or pink bracts (leaves, actually) that surround the inner chartreuse flower cluster.

Mimoza Design DC

Mimoza Design DC

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from Christine deBeer’s design tutorial, “How Do You Do?”

I am also a fan of that Canadian Creative Genius, Christine deBeer and her ingenious use of twig armature for other flowers – which in addition to being stunning and clever, avoid the use of floral foam all together. Here she uses leafed out Dogwood shrub twigs, those pliable red branches that add eye-candy to the winter garden, reminding us again just how all-season and unstoppable Dogwood can be.

Christine de Beer "A Floral Fable."

Christine de Beer “A Floral Fable.”

So go enjoy your Dogwood while you can. The tomatoes can wait.

 

be sure to visit my friends, Two Little Buds and Mimoza Design by clicking the links on their names and photos. And have fun learning a thing or two at Christine de Beer’s Tutorial Page. 

mud balls

a bit of Spring experimentation going on…

 

IMG_2387…these days with several new projects keeping me busy…I wish I could say out of trouble as well, but I have turned into a bit of a stealthy little Moss Bandit, decimating friend Laura’s backyard as I steal borrow a teeny bit of the gorgeous green velvet that grows behind her camelias.

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IMG_2242 But all in a good cause as I had fun making little mud balls of joy. Kokedama is the Japanese word for moss ball and this “poor man’s bonsai” as it is often called is nothing more than an ingenious way to grow plants, no pot needed. They are happy sitting on a plate of rocks or suspended from the ceiling on fishing line or macrame – all the better to enjoy the plants distinctive shape. In Japan everything from herbs to trees are fair game. IMG_2267

I was lucky enough to learn the craft from our area’s best creative design team, Sarah and Shinki at Mimoza Design, who were kind enough to lend me a cup or two of akadama, the granular clay that helps the potting soil keep its shape. Amending the soil with peat allows the roots to breath and stay healthy. Finally, a robe of live moss really brings home the living breathing nature of these cuties (I promise Laura, I will fill in the divets in your yard).

IMG_2266And then no sooner had I wiped mud off my nose and pulled sphagnum moss from my hair than the thought occurred to me: “where is Grandma’s good silver?” I love the contrast of mud and moss and a really posh tea service. IMG_2269My moss balls have found a happy home at Goldsborough Glynn antiques in Kensington where they are displayed on miniature sterling loving cups, silver plate compotes and suspended in mid air. I’ll keep making them until the moss runs out. I hope you’ll come seem them and give them a good home!

 

 

arranging clouds

IMG_1948There is a stillness at the end of winter – a hesitation while the snow melts and the lawn heaves a bit from the thaw, like Mother Nature rolling over under a blanket of sod.

IMG_1593IMG_1922IMG_1945This breathlessness makes me think, for some reason, in white and green color palettes, of tentative new beginnings and tender young shoots. It’s like arranging clouds. Adding in crystals and silver only underscores that icy thrill.

Here’s a look at some of my end of winter projects – a hanging garden of hellebores, the last of the poinsettia and wee little baby fern heads, IMG_1786IMG_1789IMG_1796IMG_1898and an attempt at a curly willow spiral with pussy willow, pieris and chandelier crystals on a silver dish, filled out with ferns and succulents in hidden shot glasses of water. IMG_1849Hope you enjoy arranging some clouds.

***AND big thanks to Christine de Beer for her lovely curly willow spiral project – I attempted here in an altered form, wrapping a curly willow garland around two bottles, one clockwise and the other counter-clock wise. IMG_1737IMG_1838IMG_1852Her spiral is larger and more obviously graduated, so I recommend you follow her advice to the letter. But this, I think, was a fun first attempt. I love how it draws you in to see what’s inside.

The Dreaming Garden

ImageMy mind is as blank as my new Moleskin for Gardeners.

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Or not so much blank as filled to the bursting point with ambitious ideas: spiral garden beds, dry river-bed paths and vertical wall gardens –

“I can do that too!”

I yell at the Pinterest screen, drunk on garden porn.

So my January is filled not with planning but paralysis. I mean – where do you even begin?

What, I wonder, do the professionals do in winter? What about my clever gardening friends, the amateurs with loads of experience and enviable gardens…what secret schemes are they hatching?  What about the newbie – do they know what they’re in for?

I decided to ask them all.

I asked gardening friends and professionals about their January planning process and the answers ranged from impressive (e.g. plans to redo an entire back patio that makes way for a home “power station” to plug in the new Prius), to avoidance (e.g. plans for a long foot bath and a lie down with a cuppa tea).

Local flower farmer Suzanne Montie of Red Chimney Farm in Bowie MD, has barely scrapped the winter mud off her boots: digging up and storing the tender dahlias and calla lilies tubers, putting in a new hoop house, planting rows of  early blooming larkspur, agrostemma, dianthus, daisies, bupleurum, delphinium, bachelor buttons, etc, etc – you would think if anyone deserved a long winter’s nap it’s her, but noooo, here I am with my list of questions asking her what’s she going to do NEXT?!

But lucky for me, she’s game. While under the afghan with the seed catalogs this month she’ll be on the hunt for flowers to make next year’s wedding customers happy – maybe by adding a super sweet, super pretty tuber rose to her rows. Expensive but worth it, she thinks, given the number of pink-starved brides out there last season…

http://www.dutchbulbs.com – tuber rose, Pink Sapphire

marigolds for todos los santos

found on the RumbleCrunch blog site: http://ramblecrunch.com/

and at the other end of the flower trend, she’s thinking of reintroducing that garden stalwart: marigolds. Last Hallowe’en she saw an uptick in Hispanic customers searching for the traditional Dio de Todos los Santos flower.  After the fun of flower seed orders, she’ll work on finding “equipment to make my life easier,” like tractors, tillers and walk-in coolers. Then there is her deer, groundhog and other vermin battle plan to tackle, so looks like a busy January for her.noble deer see how annoyed he was?There really is no rest for the wicked, I guess.

Maraichere très fine frisée

Maraichere très fine frisée from Wild Garden Seed

Professional organic landscaping pal, Edamarie, of Backyard Bounty, enjoys the January pause button as it’s really the only time she can concentrate on her garden. She promises to spend this winter storm weekend under a blanket, circling seeds selections in her new find – Wild Seed Garden  catalog, hunting her favorite fava bean and frisée seeds, and thinking of replacements for her beloved camelias and fig, both victims of two consecutive polar vortex winters.

Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Swap – January 31, 2016

But then I talk to Beth, my community garden neighbor, who, even in the depths of January has garlic and greens going gang-busters. She has trips planned for the Philly flower show and the Washington Gardener Magazine’s seed swap, then planting seeds in her impressive basement set-up of florescent lights and heated seedling pads. But even with her unstoppable Can-Do attitude, she still finds herself beset with worry. The warm December followed by the prospect of another freakishly brutal winter and what it means for our tender little gardens:

“I think our gardens are worrying too. I noticed that my asparagus was sending up shoots, so I broke off one to taste it and it tasted bitter and toxic. I think the asparagus was trying to communicate its anxiety for the world and our country.”

I hear ya Beth…anxiety mixed with ambition to tackle a newer bigger better vermin-free garden this year leaves me overwhelmed. I mean, who am I kidding? Any plans I do make always seem to fall victim to polar vortexes and voles, so why bother?

I stare at my very empty Garden Planner and feel a bit hopeless…until…

Image Wait..what was that? Did you hear a back hoe? Is he…did that guy just say he can’t WAIT for spring – he’s going to go to work right now?!

 

 

Oh YES! It’s Walker Marsh and he is on a roll! He and his crew slogged through a year’s worth of Baltimore City red tape until last month when they were finally cleared to break ground on Tha Flower Factory  – Baltimore’s newest urban flower farm at 1433 N Gaye Street – sitting, as Marsh says “on its own island in between two busy streets, an oasis in the hood.”

  

This time next spring he plans on having an combined community space and cut-flower farm. Image 3“Just imagine,” he tells me, “a sunflower that grew through the concrete!” 

Yeah, but where did Walker ever get the idea, I wanted to know – how does such an ambitious enterprise spring to life? Not surprisingly, it involved the thing that means the most – home:

I’ve always had a love for flowers because of my mother so I naturally wanted to grow them. I feel like flowers have a magical ability to make people feel better. And if you have ever been to Baltimore you’ve prolly seen all the abandon homes and “urban blight,” as they say, in many of the neighborhoods across the city. This urban blight has a very powerful negative effect on the people coming up in these neighborhoods. So I wanted to provide a place of beauty and hope to battle against hopelessness.

Wow. Exactly what this Gardener needed to hear. Thanks, Gardeners. My pencil is sharpened and I’m ready to roll.

“Can’t wait! Can’t wait for the Spring, baby – Let’s GO!” – Walker Marsh

 

 

 

Pretty Little Liars – Café au Lait Dahlias

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found on Pinterest (of course) with a credit to http://www.greenshoeswedding.com

Behold! The autumnal It Girl of wedding florals: the stunning Café au Lait Dahlia. She’s the one making the Pinterest rounds for every bride looking for that coveted and hard to describe color of BLUSH.  A not white, not cream, kinda sorta pink color bordering on caramel that really does look like coffee with a lot of milk in it. In addition to its remarkable size (ranging from approx. 6″ diameter to the roughly the size of your face) and non-stop billowy texture, this flower provides just the right tea-stained hue for a out door rustic wedding with a vintage vibe. Image 3Image 2 Image 4(photo credits: thevinesleaf.com, brides.com and martha stewart weddings)

Or does it…?

See, this is a flower of many colors. While the Bridal Industrial Complex has turned its focus solely on its creamy ability to match the current craze for neutral and blush color schemes, the flower seems determined NOT to match, thank you very much. Sometimes it is pink. IMG_9082Sometimes it is striped. And sometimes it commits the sin of being a color not seen since your Mom’s wedding in the 1980’s:  lavender. IMG_9330You might even damn it all together and call it that most out-dated of all colors: mauve.

It’s a flower with the ability to make tough farm hands cry. Josh Flynn, the General Manager of Wollam Gardens in Jeffersonton VA hangs his head in exhaustion at the mere mention of Cafe au lait; “…all those designers, calling me…’why did you send me purple flowers?!” He just shakes his head and can’t go on.

So growers have learned the hard way to let designers and brides know ahead of time that it may or may not be the honeyed color of a misty morning dawn they saw in a Martha Stewart photo shoot.

Despite the Pinterest wall to wall coverage of tan flowers, this is a flower with a mind of it’s own. The tuber catalogs are very clear: “color variations do occur.” Some suggest the variation has to do with the amount of sun, soil composition or time in the season, but growers like Josh see the reality in the field; “when literally one plant right next to the other is vastly different it makes that very hard to believe.”

I gotta say, I like that in a plant. If that mauve beauty clashes with your bridesmaids peach dress or upsets your wedding planner, so be it. Take your objections up with God. Café au Lait has her own ideas.

IMG_9090And so a toast, to that floral wild card – Café au Lait: long may you change your mind.

This Week in Flowers – Mid Summer

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Over the Potomac and through the woods to MidSommar Farm we go, in search of dahlias and lisianthus for some lucky September and October brides.  IMG_8841IMG_8840Karen Gesa and her daughter gave me a tour of their adorable start up flower farm with its abundance of echinacea, cosmos, gomphrena, nicotinia, bells of ireland and herbs. IMG_8831 IMG_8829IMG_8832The Cardinal Basil is practically a flower in itself. And this Carmine Lisianthus – IMG_8833 just about killed me (note to my Jewel-tone October Bride – keep your pretty little fingers crossed!).  Karen gave me a bundle of delightful flowers with just two stems tuber rose and my entire mini-van became a perfume bottle on wheels. Felt like I was driving home from heaven…and, who knows? I may very well have been. IMG_8845

The farm name reminded me of the lull happens in mid summer, a peaceful little interlude IMG_8765where we can enjoy the last of the callas, glads and tuber roses before we dive head long into a heady harvest of dahlias, salvia and the lisianthus second-showing.  This year’s Dahlia growing season has been vexing for some growers, what with weirdly cool spring and then heaps of rain, which seems to have put things back a notch. But there really is no stopping a Dahlia. Stand back and hold on to your socks. They are about to be knocked off.IMG_8861

This Week In Flowers – July

 Full blown

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this week’s CSA bunch from Red Chimney Flower Farm – with echinacea, zinnias, crocosmia, gladiolas and more

Wollam Garden crew

Bob and the Wollam Garden crew

Suzanne making bunches

Suzanne making bunches

that’s where we are, summer-wise! Full of everything with more to come. Zinnia, sunflowers, gladiolas and celosia are just getting started, along with the summer “it” girl, lisianthus. We wait all July for her to show up. I’m also very excited about crocosmia, a funkly little red-orange flower on a swooping stem with a sword like, long lasting foliage. crocosmia(image courtesy of Gardening KnowHow.com

This summer, local flowers are filling CSA orders and shelves at Takoma Park Food Coop .  Come find something pretty!

atta girl

Allie and Peterthis is my kind of wedding:

colorful, kookie, with a high play quotient.

canal bridgeallie and maidscolorful bowling ballstossHeavy on the laughter and lilacs. An unapologetic dash of cigar and bowling shoes. Lots and lots of smiles.

 

bowling ballsWhen I met with Peter and Allie last year, they had only two themes in mind for their May wedding at Pinstripes in Georgetown: wine and fun. Kindred souls, clearly, this quickly became a mission close to my heart.

Even irreverent good times require a bit of homework to pull off. Investing in a wine bottle cutter, we learned the art of cutting wine bottle to make vases from the bottoms and candle votives from the top.winebottles wine cork slicingbrides maidswine cork boutonniereWe sliced wine corks into boutonnieres and brides maids accessories. We filled wine bottle boxes with herbs and gathered bunches of local spring flowers, including that most “abbondanza!” showstopper of them all: lilacs. IlilacscenterpieceImage 2Put it all together it became a kaleidoscope of good cheer. Pretty much like Allie and Peter themselves. kiss by the canal

“Cento di questi giorni”

thanks to RMN Photography for all the great captures!