Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spooky Forest Spirit

In honor of Halloween, I share this tree spirit I spied the other day.  The blue eye, pointy nose and spider web snot were too good to pass up. 

With this post I've achieved my goal for October of posting every day, 31 posts in a row.  I must admit its been challenging some days and I feared my subject matter was veering into mundane and uninteresting but ya'll just kept on visiting, reading and commenting on my daily ramblings.  Thanks for your continued support.  Not sure what November will bring, but I'll try to post as often as I can.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thinking back to a sunnier day

A few more reflections from the creek.  It was such a perfect day yesterday, this morning dawned rainy and grey again.  I keep hoping to look up and see a patch of blue but not yet. One of my most faithful readers; Carol S., is due any minute for an overnight visit from Virginia, I wanted pretty weather for her! But  it will be what it will be.  I had hoped for a jaunt to Duke Gardens...

This tree had a fallen tree that had washed down stream pressed against it, trapped, straddling the creek, caught against this trunk for several years.  It rubbed each time the water rose and wore this spot at the base, now the fallen tree has washed on down and this place has healed itself, the standing tree grows on. 

It's an awesome thing to watch the creek change season to season and year to year.  Old trees fall, clog the creek, wash away, leave big openings in the forest canopy where a thousand new seedlings sprout and vie for the patch of sunlight shining down.  Leaves carpet the dry stream bed, then sit murky under standing water, finally a big rain comes and scours it all clean, stream banks return to emerald mossand fern, creek bottom to black rock.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Welcome Back to the Woods

We took a long walk down by the creek today, first time this fall that we've been down to see what's happening along Morgan.  It's been incredibly dry:

The stream bed of the creek that flows from the pond, no water here for months and still no water here.
But the main creek is finally wet again.  Flowing from the two inches of rain that fell over the past week.  Here you can see the water moving.

This is one of my favorite spots, even when there is almost no water, if it's moving, right here there is a joyful noise of trickling water. That sound feeds my soul, especially after a long dry spell.

There are still spiders working the woods, searching for last suppers before the frost. 

The reflections of sky and trees on water, leaves above, leaves below, were spectacular today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The King of Greens

Well its spinach of course.   Of the many and varied green leafy wonders out there, spinach is my favorite hands down. Here a skillet piled high with giant tender leaves picked today.  In moments reduced to a dark green tasty mound, jazzed up with some shitakes and garlic, and accompanying some of the leftover potatoes and turnips au gratin from earlier this week.  Yumm. 

I love wandering the garden day to day and deciding what I shall pluck for dinner.  I was eyeing the broccoli this afternoon, the biggest head is the size of my outstretched hand, I think I'll harvest it this weekend.  oh boy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Artemesia Mug Out

I really enjoy gray green plants and have quite a few of them along our front walkway.  Here is a favorite,  Baths Pink, it makes this fantastic cushion of fine leaves all season and is covered with clove scented pale pink flowers for several weeks in the spring, it's a real winner.  I was particularly taken by the reddish-pink of the sedum Autumn Joy in contrast to the dianthus.  To the right is another grey-green that I like but that has a problem.

This is Artemesia Silver Mound, its lovely and ferny and soft in the spring but by mid-summer it has "mugged out" as my Papa used to say and the center turns this terrible rotten dead grey.  Anyone have a suggestion for how to handle this?  I've tried cutting it back and that helps, but I don't think I'm doing it soon enough.  Any thoughts from you gardeners out there on dealing with artemesia mug out?

Monday, October 26, 2009


Mushrooms anyone?  The thing about having lots of shitake logs, is that they tend to all come on at once, leaving you with pounds of mushrooms at a stretch.  They are delicious and given the price in the market a luxury as well.  But we're giving them away because we cannot possibly eat them all.  And well you know my freezer is full as I've been saying for weeks.  I'm pondering a cream of mushroom soup perhaps, stir fries with some of those good greens out in the garden, they are pretty tasty scrambled up with eggs too.  Any other favorite ways that you readers have of preparing shitakes?  I could use some fresh ideas.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Coffee Cake, Plums, Sweeties and Turnips!!

It's Sunday and I didn't have to work at either of my jobs as I did the past three Sundays, so it was a treat to sleep in a bit, make a couple of apple crumb coffee cakes, and go for a jog while they baked so I could come back and eat a quarter of one guilt free.

We then planted the two plums pictured above.  I 've always wanted plum trees, they are one of the few stone fruits that seem to do well in our climate.  We do have one of those saturn peaches that are shaped kind of like a donut, and 5 apple trees, the blueberries, strawberries, brambles and fig, but I still wanted plums.  Now I've got them.  Both are Japanese, one called Methley, which is purple inside and out and  Ozark Premier, that will be yellow fleshed.  It'll be a few years before they bear many fruit but the roots looked good and so did the trees.

After getting the trees watered and mulched we headed out to the veg patch to dig the sweet potatoes.  They were smaller than we had hoped and led us to believe we did not plant them early enough, next year, we'll start them a bit sooner and plant them in a slightly sunnier spot I think.  You can see from the photo, the smaller tray holds a lot of fingerlings, hopefully they can be roasted and maybe eaten with skins on?  Not sure, we'll find out.  We won't be wanting for sweet potatoes all the same, and there are all those winter squash...

Which brings me to the final activity of the day, making an awesome dinner with all kinds of garden goodies.
Roasted butternut squash with tiny beets, rosemary, garlic and olive oil*.  Turnip and mizuna greens simmered together with onion*, red pepper flake and a touch of bacon grease*. And the main course; turnip, radish and potato gratin (yes- I had some huge radishes so cooked them up with the turnips and they were lovely). The roots were combined with our neighbors sweet milk and cream, red pepper, dill, onion*,  diced ham*, and topped with swiss*.  Wow was that a tasty repast and almost all from right here.  Only items with an * were not home grown.  Life is good.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Maples Begin to Turn

Overnight it seems the maples have begun to turn.  The dogwoods and sourwoods have been red for a while, but in the last couple of days suddenly there are the brilliant oranges and reds coming from the maples. We love to watch  this tree behind the garden shed turn each year, it goes from green to a yellowish green to orange, glowing from the inside out, gradually getting brighter and brighter from the top down, like a burning flame.  Even on this rainy dreay day, the yard seems bright.

At the bottom of the lawn more maples and now hickory's turning golden.  There is still a lot of green out there, this is just the first week of strong fall color for us here in the Piedmont.  I'm hoping the rain won't knock all the leaves down to the ground too soon.  With luck we'll enjoy the changing leaves for several weeks to come.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Garlic Planting Time

I finally got my garlic in the ground today, a couple of weeks later than I had planned but this was the first chance I've had.  Dug up a nice bed where some tomatoes had been and added compost and some fertilizer and broke apart 7 of my biggest best heads from the spring to plant about 70 cloves.  They'll snuggle down in the ground all winter and grow their green tops until they plump up into big heads that I can dig again in June.  I've still got a couple dozen bulbs left from last springs crop to get us through the winter soup and stew season.  Having a big braid of garlic in the kitchen is one of the things that makes me feel really rich.

October 23rd and we still have peppers ripening up!  I picked every single serrano about a month ago and when I looked at the plant today, I see it has about 100 new peppers on it, what will I ever do with them all?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sleeping Bee

I've been seeing a lot of bees on other peoples blogs lately.  This sleeping bee, is it drunk from the scent of the ginger lily? Cold from the the chilly October night before?  I could have reached in there and petted him if I'd liked.  Seeing them brings to mind the song Sleepin' Bee from the musical House of Flowers.

When a bee lies sleepin'
in the palm of your hand
your bewitched
and deep in love's
long looked after land....

Hard to imagine that Truman Capote wrote a musical, but in fact he did and Dianne Carol and Pearl Bailey performed it on Broadway- that would have been one heck of a show!  My father had the album and we enjoyed listening to it together many moons ago.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Family Heirlooms

These two bowls belonged to my grandmother, she used them for rising bread as did my mother after her.  It pleases me no end to see my David using them to prepare his bread too.  Growing up my mom also used the bigger light colored one to make our Thanksgiving dressing.  It was southern style, "one third biscuit, one third cornbread and one third light bread" my grandmother always said.  Saved bits of frozen and stale breads, torn into bits and then topped with celery and onions that were boiled in turkey broth and all poured over the top and stirred in with salt and pepper and sage and covered to steam until the bread was softened.  Then a couple of eggs were added to the mix and it was all pressed into a hot cast iron skillet to brown in the oven so the outside would be crispy.  Won't be long now till we get to eat that special meal, always my mama's favorite.  The combo of turkey, mashed potatoes and crunchy dressing topped with gravy is one of the best in the whole wide world as far as I'm concerned.  I'm getting hungry just writing about it.

Those cast iron skillets that we use to bake the dressing and the corn pones, those came from our moms and grandmoms too.  There is something so rich and special about touching these things that fed the families down through the generations, to hold the bowls and skillets that were held by our ancestors and know we've so carefully kept them whole into this milleniium.  It's a tremendous and wonderful thing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beets are greens too

In keeping with my pledge to feature greens this week, here are the beets and carrots planted back in July.  The beets are finally getting large enough to pull and cook, the carrots still need some time.  A friend taught me a simple and delicious way to prepare beets.  Peel the raw beets and slice them thinly.  Heat olive oil or butter in a skillet and saute the sliced beets with salt and pepper, turn the heat to med-low and cover, stir occasionally until beets become tender, about 10 minutes.  Then add some chopped garlic to the skillet and stir a minute or two, then the stemmed, washed and chopped greens. Grate a little fresh nutmeg over all and cook till greens are wilted and tender, about 5 minutes.  You can add chard to this as well to stretch your greens in case your beet tops are not enough or getting ratty.  Add S&P as needed, serve along side a main course.  Simple, tasty and nutritious. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two White Dazzlers

You guessed right- another Camellia - Scented Snow, I agree it has a scent, compared to most camellias which smell like nothing, but I wouldn't say it was necessarily a pleasant scent.  Just sort of herbacious.  But a lovely flower it is with double petals and yellow stamens hiding in the center.  The plant has a very tree like form, tall and statuesque.

This one is Autumn Moon pure white and a perfect formal double.  When the petals fall to the ground, they are shaped like hearts.  That's all for tonight, I'm a sleepy, sleepy garden girl.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Good ol' Greens

This coming week I want to feature greens.  Here's fat crisp Bok Choy, ready to get washed and sliced into a stir fry.  The seed for a lot of my greens didn't germinate well so we've only got a few heads of this and that but all together there will be enough.  I like to grow a little of a lot of things so that I have good variety but don't use up too much space or have to deal with a lot of extra.  Especially at this time of year when I'm ready to slow down in the garden but still want to have fresh food.

We had a big work day at one of our community gardens today, it's so much nicer to tackle large jobs with lots of people.  A number of students came out from the university along with some other community volunteers and a few of our existing gardeners.  We raked a new area that was recently tilled and removed grass roots, rocks and tree roots and then sowed it all with clover to help build the soil and choke out any weeds.  In the spring we'll till it under and create 15 new plots for 15 new families!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mums and Asters, the perfect fall combo

When walking out of the woods and up to our house this is the view that greets you across the lawn. Big banks of asters and mums, I don't know the varieties, they are all hand-me-downs but I'm especially fond of this combination of the dark pinks and blues together.  I think I cut the asters on the right a bit hard and the mums not enough, the left side is more balanced.  I sheer them all back a couple of times in early summer to make for sturdier more floriferous plants come October.  My papa, who gave me most of my mums and asters, always said not to cut them after the 4th of July.

No picture I take seems to do the blue of these asters justice.  When I wake up in the morning and look out the bedroom window, I'm greeted by the dazzling spectacle of these cheery blue dainties.

Friday, October 16, 2009

New desserts, the green of clover and a snake!

I made this truly inspired dessert last night using the last 2 dozen fresh figs, cooked down with a couple of Tablespoons of sugar, juice of half a lemon and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon.  When cooled I added about a 1/4 cup of toasted almonds and a 1/4 of dark chocolate chips.  I wrapped the jammy mix into a log of pie dough and baked it.  I must say, they are scrumptious.

The clover popped almost over night and is now covering the bed I prepared last week with green.

I found this little guy hiding under the landscape fabric that I lifted up today in preparation for planting garlic.  I captured it in this orange bucket for a positive ID as at first I thought it might be a copperhead. Careful study and consultation of the field guides left us pretty certain it was a baby northern water snake.  Makes sense as I have seen the adults at the pond, which is where I took it to release it.  The eyes were the most obvious thing to say non-venomous as the pupils were round and venomous snakes have narrow slitty pupils.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peak at our water feature

This is one of my favorite sections of the garden, David's little sculpture I call it, right next to the kitchen door. Cannas in the back, horsetail fern with painters pallet mixed in, ferns around the water and sedums and geraniums out front.

We've tried growing clematis on this cedar snag but I think it's too wet and/or shady, the turtle came from a trip to Arizona.  There are chives and a magenta geranium.

I like the way the painters pallet grows up inside the horsetail fern, which you can see has become a bit of a problem, extremely invasive in fact and we are cosntantly ripping it out to try and keep it at bay.

And here is the tiny waterfall, now covered with mosses and ferns, falling into the pool below, nearly obscured by stones and plants, home to a large and elusive goldfish named Whitey and visited frequently by leopard frogs and tree frogs.  It makes a musical sound that can be heard from kitchen or bedroom when windows are open and outside while sitting on the patio.

I found this old cast iron bench back at an antique place and framed it in cedar to hang on this wall.  The cardinals in the magnolias spoke "southern" to me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Signs of Autumn and Another Rainy Day

More cold rainy weather is welcome today.  Forced to relax though the list of chores is long, I'm tired of go, go, going and glad for respite.  Planting garlic and the two new plum trees will have to wait for a drier, sunnier day.  Check out my latest column in the Chapel Hill News: Signs of Autumn in the Air.  You may recognize the photo from yesterdays post.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's hard to go wrong with zinnias

The only problem is that I didn't plant enough zinnias this year.  This beauty has been blooming for a solid week and seems to just get bigger, it's about 4 inches across.  And it's blooming just outside the kitchen window so I've been enjoying it every time I stand at the sink, how lucky.

Here is an autumn bouquet I made including zinny's, mums and asters which are putting on a big show right now all around our yard.  A basket of the winter squash we grew along with a braid of garlic that I made back in July after I harvested my crop, big and beautiful.  With birds migrating through right now, the bird book and binoculars have been a regular fixture on the kitchen table.  It must be fall.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rainy Day

It's been cold and rainy all day, the temperature actually dropped over the course of the afternoon and the rain got heavier too.  Not much of a day to be outside so I've got no photo for you or stories much to tell.

I want to give a shout out for my brother Alex who is featured in the Oct 7th issue of the Independent Weekly in a discussion with a couple of friends of his; local chef Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and sustainable farming advocate Scott Marlow of RAFI.  They are talking about a new book called Just Food: How locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly by James E. McWilliams.  They agree with some points in the book and not with others.  Check it out here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Last of the Beans

You'll probably be glad to hear this should be my last bean post, at least for this growing season.  These are Borlottos, they have the most gorgeous red and green pods, I normally pick them when they are turning a bit pale and start to feel like a kid glove but I pulled these to make way for that clover the other day.

The last of the season have been the very biggest of the year, look at those fatties in the foreground!  I'll add these to the 2 gallons I already have shelled in the freezer.  I've seen similar beans in catalogues and markets also called Tongue of Fire or horticultural beans.  They are easy to shell and excellent in soups, I especially like to put them in my minestrone and they are also lovely just simmered up with some onion, garlic and herbs, a little pork product never hurts either, they are very meaty and delicious.  A good brown pone of buttermilk skillet cornbread is the ticket for dipping into the beany broth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another Camellia

I know, more camellias?!  I do work at Camellia Forest so I just can't help myself.  This is Autumn Spirit, I adore the subtle white edges on the pink flower petals. This is a winning Camellia sasanqua that is a vigorous grower and another early bloomer.  A favorite.

I've got a pan of butternut squash, poblano chiles, onions and garlic roasting with cumin and chile powder, planning to add some chunks of pork that Mr.D smoked and roll it all up in tortillas, I think it'll be yummy. Now - some stretching after a long day of work.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Before and After

My project the past two days.  Cleared out all the winter squash, old beans and dug out the leeks, harvested the basil and made pesto, cut back the asparagus ferns, swept the paths and then turned the soil (by hand) and sowed clover seed, it's watered and ready to go. Glad to have that done.

When I harvested the basil yesterday I discovered all these caterpillars in the leaves, I think they are actually from bean beetles, but no beans left for them to eat so they jumped to the next crop. They were fairly entertaining trying to find their way out of the compost pail.

This one managed to make it over to my coffee cup.  They all went to the compost pile in the end, hopefully they won't come back to haunt us next year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First Fall Fire

Part of todays haul
My goal today was to clear out one of the veg beds where winter squash, basil, leeks and beans have been growing all summer.  I want to clear it to sow a cover crop of clover for the winter, its been on my list for days.  I did manage to get the winter squash out along with the vines and pulled 2 basil plants with which I made a giant batch of pesto for the freezer.  I didn't finish digging the leeks or planting the clover, tomorrow I hope.  I hadn't picked any veggies in a while but the peppers are starting to ripen up again and the eggplant looked like they were going to start becoming pure seed, it's so late in the season, they weren't really growing so I picked most of them.  I read somewhere about eating butternut squash immature, that they are buttery so I'm going to give it a try, I picked a couple of pounds of young green ones in order to pull the vines out.

We had this salad to start dinner tonight, a base of bibb, pears and toasted almonds dressed with a mustard, balsmic and olive oil dressing.  Topped with beets and figs and garnished with crispy croutons spread with Blue d'Auvergne cheese.  So good.  Eggplant roasted with peppers,tomatoes and garlic, tossed with pasta and some of todays pesto made the main course.

We then sat around an outdoor fire, the first of the season, drinking red wine and toasting marshmallows.  Life is pretty darn sweet ain't it?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Day Off

After busting my butt for several days straight I decided it was time for a true day off.  What does that mean, what does that look like?  I hardly ever stop completely but today I slept late, enjoyed a second cup of coffee with an english muffin filled with bacon and a farm fresh fried egg.  I puttered around the yard taking pictures, wrote for awhile, sat in the hammock and pondered life and the garden.  I went to the pool and swam for almost an hour, and then I went for a massage.  Yeah Baby.  I just finished a tasty supper with my man and I'm soon heading for the bed.  Don't be fooled, there were some chores snuck in there like laundry, cleaning the bathroom, filling the bird feeders, but nothing too strenuous.  Tomorrow I hope to get some bigger things accomplished, we'll see.  

Blissed Out

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Autumn Sentinel

Today I'm featuring another Camellia sasanqua called Autumn Sentinel, formerly Bob Green, I don't know why the name was changed but I think the pale pink of the flower is truly exquisite.  This is an extremely upright, columnar plant with the deep blue green leaves common to most of the sasanquas. It's also a very early bloomer so I've been enjoying it for a couple of weeks already.

I've been pulling extra shifts at the Forest lately as the owner is off to Taiwan to scout for new species.  I've got Camellias on the brain and I'm bone tired from schlepping plants around in the mud and rain all day long!  So- a short post and I'm off to my bed to dream about all those gorgeous plants and flowers that fill my days.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I've been growing fennel for a couple of years without a lot of success.  My farmer friends say you need to start it in February in a greenhouse and then set it out in spring.  Since I don't have a greenhouse I've tried direct sowing it in March and it has done alright but never gets very big.  I think it's really for cooler climates so by mid summer we've managed to harvest a few small bulbs and then it usually starts to bolt.

Accept this one here, which I harvested yesterday, a huge bulb, 7 months growing!  Very tender and crisp with that wonderful anise flavor.  We've enjoyed it sliced thinly into salads with our first fall beets the past two nights, very tasty.

A nice way to use the feathery tops and stalks-which tend to be tough and fibrous-is to lay them in a pile on a hot grill and then put a fillet of marinated fish on top of the fennel to grill it.  The flavor of the fennel drifts up into and permeates the fish and makes a very delicious dish.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I love moonflowers.  They're easy, you have to score the plump white seeds before you plant them but because they are related to morning glories, they grow rapidly.  I put a couple of plants in this pot on the deck and they took right off, covering the rail and setting buds.  They open in the evening and bloom at night,
I took these photos first thing in the morning.

Gorgeous pink, black and white moths with 4 inch long proboscis visit the flowers in the evening, I've not seen them this season, but they are truly fantastic.

We've had an exciting flurry of migrating birds come through the yard this weekend, rose breasted grosbeak, swainsons thrush, black-throated blue, Canada and Tennessee warblers were feeding in the vegetables and dogwoods this very morning.  What a treat.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hearts A Bustin'

This is a native flower that grows in NC called  "hearts a-bustin'"  It is a Euonymus americanus  and gets about 6 feet tall.  The color of the flower is spectacularly vibrant in autumn.  The deer browse it very heavily and so I'm glad we have several robust clusters of it inside our deer fence, I hardly ever see it blooming in the woods anymore.

We've got some growing next to this beauty berry and the combo of colors is brilliant.