Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Musings

Hello, chickadees!  Our part of the world is about to get hit with a winter storm that will keep us all shoveling and snow blowing for the next couple of days.  Mr. Magpie and I had plans with friends for the whole weekend, plans involving festive things like horse and carriage rides, holiday fairs, brunch, and long walks.  Most of those plans have been cancelled, which makes us sad, but we are consoling ourselves with a roaring fire in the fireplace and copious cups of tea on the sofa avec les chats. 

All in all, this Christmas season is turning out to be a wonderful one.  I've made a few twig wreaths, including the one above, using invasive vines we had cleared from the property.  No wires needed to make these simple wreaths.  Just weave the vines around the bottom of an old bucket to get started, and then you can finish the wreaths as natural, free-form lovelies from there.  Even better than the wreaths are the driftwood trees that my sister is making.  I will share a picture of the one she made me soon.

I'll be making my Maine Needham candies soon, too.  You can click this post from last year for my recipe.  If you like Almond Joys, you will love these candies made with chocolate, almonds (in my version), coconut, and potatoes.  Sounds crazy, but they taste divine.   

I know I'm partial, but I can't imagine a better place than Maine at Christmastime.  The morning that we went to our favorite tree farm, a light snow began to fall, turning the whole place into a snow globe.  As we tramped through the brambles in search of a tree that "needed us," as Charlie Brown would say, we could hear kids laughing and running through the trees.  Pure magic.  

And then there was the visit to the Holiday Open House at the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, a wonderful farm where they rescue horses.

I can't imagine Christmas without animals and long walks in wild places.  This Christmas we plan on going for a walk through one of our favorite bird-watching spots, Gilsland Farm.  We've been hearing about a lot of owl sightings in the area, so we're hoping for some good luck.  In our own backyard, the feeders have been visited by all the usual suspects, along with red breasted woodpeckers and lots of Carolina Wrens, which are a lovely tawny color against winter's snow and bare branches.  We've cracked open the autumn pumpkins to share with the squirrels and chipmunks, who have been feasting on them all week.

We are off to a holiday open house tonight to see friends and raise a cup of cheer before the snow flies.  It is bitterly cold outside, on its way to below zero in the next few hours, so I am worried about all the folks who don't have coats and mittens or even a roof over their heads tonight.  Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and warm and dry.  I hope you have a full belly, and I hope people you love are nearby--or just a phone call or a text away.  This can be a joyous time of year, but it can be incredibly hard, too.  May we all be able to give help when it is needed . . . and ask for help when we need it ourselves. 

xo Gigi 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Essence of Living Locally

Stone wall, Peaks Island, Maine 
Just touching base today to wish a warm and happy Thanksgiving to American readers of The Magpie's Fancy!  

I also wanted to let you know that I have two stories in the newest issue of t.e.l.l. New England Magazine.  I'm thrilled to have my writing and photographs in t.e.l.l.  It is a beautiful publication that celebrates the local people, places, and traditions of New England.  The editors are creating a unique place for writers and photographers from the region to showcase their work, and I'm honored to be a part of it.  I was also pleased as punch to discover that my friend Laurie Wheeler has two photos in this issue as well.  

Click here to see the magazine.  You can adjust it to fit your screen size, and you can zoom in for easier reading.  My pieces, "Peaks Island Homecoming" and "Conjuring Autumn," are on pages 20 and 116, respectively.  I wrote the text and took the photos for the first story.  Jenn Bakos took the wonderful pumpkin pictures that accompany the second one.  You'll find gorgeous articles and photos throughout the magazine, plus some tempting autumnal recipes.  

Stone tower on the Back Shore, Peaks Island, Maine

I can't think of a better time than Thanksgiving to celebrate all things local.  As the big box stores seek to destroy the last vestiges of what is special about the holiday this year by opening their doors on Thanksgiving day itself, I am happy to ignore them.  I'll shop at local stores on Small Business Saturday, and I'll stop for a coffee at a favorite local cafe.  I know that I am fortunate to live in a city brimming with incredible shops and restaurants, but even here the chain stores are starting to encroach upon the local shopping district, and we now have not one but two Starbucks in our beautiful Old Port.

We have a choice.  We don't have to shop and eat and do all our daily business at chains.  In Portland we have more outstanding local coffee shops than I can count on two hands . . . and hundreds of restaurants . . . and many, many incredible bakeries . . . and dozens of specialty boutiques . . . and that Maine Adventure known as Reny's Department Store.  We can completely and utterly ignore the chains this Christmas . . . if we want to.  

I want to.  I love living locally.  I love thinking locally.  I love that other folks do, too.  And I love that my city doesn't look or feel or smell quite like any other city I've ever been to.  I love that the shopkeepers in all my favorite stores know me by name, and vice versa.  I can't say the same for the mall just over the city line.  If you've seen one mall, you've seen them all.  

Chickens in Autumn, Peaks Island, Maine

I am sending much joy to you and yours as the holiday season kicks into high gear.  May you be surrounded by those you love, and as the torrential rains pour down here in New England, may you all stay warm and dry.

xo Gigi

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Start the Day

This is our breakfast spot.  On days when we have a little time in the morning, we pick up bagels slathered in pimento cheese  here  or whatever looks most amazing here and head to Cape Elizabeth to watch the day begin at Portland Head Light.

It's never the same twice.  I've munched happily here on calm days, during fierce storms, and every kind of day in between.

This is one of the most painted and photographed lighthouses in the world, so I have nothing new to show or tell about it.  Like so many others, I take pictures every single time I am here.  I'm drawn to the beauty of the light itself, but also to the ancient, cragged rocks, and to the sound of the waves.  Always the waves.  See?  Nothing new here.  Just crazy love.

This isn't even the first time I've posted about the lighthouse, and I have a funny feeling that it won't be the last time.  For more sunrise shots like the one below, take a peek here.  For other pretty ones, look here.  

And for those of you who are wondering, no one died in the Annie C. Maguire shipwreck of Christmas Eve, 1886. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Garden in October: Taking Stock After the First Year

Rosa 'Abraham Darby' by David Austin--a repeat bloomer with a lovely light scent.
I'm growing it to ramble along the white picket fence that surrounds our herb and patio gardens.

I can't wait any longer.  I must give you a few peeks at the garden this fall.  I know I haven't shared much of what has been going on around here in the house and garden this year, but that's because we've just been so focused on doing the work that I often don't pause to take photos or jot down notes. 

Sweet Drift Rose.  This one is a fantastic ground cover shrub that blooms constantly.  The tiny blossoms are pale pink when they first open, and then deepen to this rich cherry as they age.  I've noticed that the cooler the nights get, the deeper pink these little beauties get.  I have two Sweet Drifts thriving in part sun.

Well, I finally paused long enough to snap a few shots while I was out working in the garden one late afternoon last week.  As I wandered through the gardens, I was struck by how many flowers were still blooming this late in the season.  It's easy to think of Maine as a place where the growing season is over by the end of September, but fortunately that simply isn't true.

Iceberg Rose.  A very strong repeat bloomer with creamy white petals.  I'm training it to climb up our sunporch.
An unusual, partly green radicchio.  Radicchio are perennials, and this one is forming its third head of the season.  Each time you cut off a head, another one grows.  What a fantastic plant!

Not only are the flowers still blooming, the vegetables and herbs are still producing.  

I'm praying that the first frost holds off until the end of the month so these sweet cherry tomatoes will have time to ripen on the vine.  Tomatoes came late this year, but they've been incredibly sweet, especially the full-sized 'lemon boys.'

A corner of the herb garden as the sun begins to set.  Chives, sage, green and purple basils, rosemary, and parsley are all giving one last beautiful show before the frost.

One of the raised beds.  On the left is part of a rustic arbor we're building as an entrance to the patio gardens.  We'll be smothering it with honeysuckle, clematis, and roses, of course!  To the far right is a teepee covered with scarlet runner beans and sweet peas.  

Sage is one of my favorite plants.  I love to cook sage leaves in butter to top fall dishes.

Italian parsley

Everbearing strawberries and alyssum make wonderful partners in the raised beds.

The sweetest smelling sweet peas I've ever grown!
Pine needles from our GIANT white pine have made a natural table cloth.

I love capturing that moment before the flower has completely unfurled.

Coleus in a yard sale urn.

The new Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea is just beginning to blush.

A corner of the patio garden where hydrangeas are tumbling into gooseneck loosestrife, chocolate eupatorium, acidanthera, and lots of other lovelies.

Our feeders are frequented by chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, cardinals, sparrows (of all sorts), and lots of other birds.  The doves and squirrels eat whatever drops to the ground, plus we scatter corn. In the garden we've been seeing lots of hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and even my favorite cedar waxwings coming to feast on the hawthorn berries.

Joey Chestnut

We leave the chipmunks cracked corn in a clamshell on our garden shed stoop.  Here Joey Chestnut fills up his cheeks until he looks like a cartoon, then he scurries off to store the booty in the incredibly cool chipmunk condo (old stone retaining wall) where they live at the edge of our lawn.

Perhaps the most wonderful surprise this fall has been just how well the dahlias have thrived.  I know some people detest these fireworks of the flower world, but I adore them.  It's worth all the work of having to dig them up every fall and replant in the spring.  They bloom for months and months, providing uninterrupted color and drama to the border.  Mine started blooming in August and they are showing no signs of stopping.  

This white dahlia is larger than my handspan, and each flower blooms for two to three weeks.  As old blooms fade, they are quickly replaced by fresh, frothy neighbors.

The beauty above is a true dinner plate dahlia.  I haven't measured it, but I would guess that it's about 8" across.  Each blossom on this one plant has emerged in a different pattern of fuchsias, yellows, pinks, and oranges.  I'm in love.

New blooms emerge on this dahlia nearly every day!

And then there are the standbys, like Russian Sage and Pink Phlox.  I think the phlox below has re-bloomed at least four times this summer.  I was expecting the show to be over by now, but a whole new set of blooms has appeared.

foxgloves, agastache, and dahlias
A sweet pale yellow sunflower

Petunias in the garden shed window 
Gathering blossoms to take inside

This first year of gardening here at the new house has been full of adventure and surprises.  I have loads more photos to share and plans to discuss with you.  We've only begun, really!  There were very few things planted here when we moved in, so we planted almost everything you see.  We created several new beds, including a large privacy border, the hobbit garden, and some smaller beds out front. As we've worked, we've come to depend on a few key principles:
  • Amend, amend, amend.  We are gradually making our own compost and leaf mold, but since our piles weren't ready for the gardens earlier this year, we brought in tons (literally) of organic matter, topsoil, mushroom compost, manure, and other good stuff.  We are just this fall beginning to add our own compost to the gardens.
  • Go organic.  Completely.  No excuses.
  • In the vegetable and herb gardens, stick with the principles of companion planting to help make going organic much easier.
  • Focus on the textures and colors of foliage as you build the garden.  I know most of these photos are of the beautiful blooms, but I will share a series soon that illustrates how important leaf color and shape is to creating a strong foundation for the overall feel of the garden.  One of my favorite new shrubs we planted this year was a ninebark 'diablo,' which we chose for its bronze leaves and gorgeous bark that reddens and peels in the winter, providing much needed color and texture year round.  It has sweet blossoms in late spring, too, but I'd still love it if it didn't.
  • Create focal points and plenty of mystery (thank you, Alan Titchmarsh).  Remember that rustic arbor I mentioned above?  That is giving us a bit of both, especially since as you approach it, you catch sight of the gorgeous vanilla strawberry hydrangea just beyond it.  It catches my eye every time and makes me want to go exploring.
  • Trust your instinct when it comes to color.  If you love a color, use a lot of it, and repeat it throughout the border to create rhythm and flow.  Our house is white with a red front door and red shutters.  I'm not a huge fan of red flowers, but I do love deep pinks and fuchsias, so I used them liberally to connect the garden with the house.  I also added whites, purple/blues, and soft yellows.  To contrast with these, we've used several plants with bronze and silvery leaves as well as a few, like creeping jenny, that are chartreuse.  The lime-greens provide a great backdrop to almost every color and they keep the garden lively.  
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat--shapes, colors, single types of plants.  If you love one plant, create large swaths of it, or use it again and again throughout the garden.  I am gradually transplanting clumps of gorgeous 3-foot tall daisies throughout the garden, so that its blooms can create a sense of unity and flow all midsummer long.  I'll do the same with other plants I love, like brown-eyed Susans, Russian sage, drift roses, and catmint.  
  • Use evergreens for year round architecture and color.  I used to ignore evergreens too often in planting schemes.  Now I am learning to use them (especially dwarf varieties in interesting colors) more and more.  
  • Finally, buy plants from local nurseries and spring fundraising plant sales, or swap them with friends.  I am no longer buying plants from large chain stores for many reasons, including the fact that they use pesticides that are killing the bees and butterflies.  I plant my garden in large part to help support wildlife, so why should I go to all this effort to garden organically, only to bring in plants that are poisonous to the very creatures I want to help.
I hope this peek into my fall garden has been fun.  I promise more soon, including some shots of whole beds from above, to show some of the planting schemes I've been working on.  

And I haven't forgotten that I promised one more England post.  It's coming together!  Life has been full of travel and work all fall, which is a very fine thing, indeed. 

Happy October, my friends.  Thanks so much for your visits, comments, and emails.  They truly make my day.  I apologize for not always answering emails right away.  I can't always stay caught up, but you know how much I appreciate hearing from you.

xo Gigi

Saturday, October 5, 2013


I snapped this photo with my phone as I walked through Fore River Sanctuary here in Portland, Maine.

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."  
~L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

If I could be anywhere at any time, it would be right here and now, in October, near the ocean, on a path through salt marshes just before sunset.  A great blue heron stands sentry beside the footbridge, still in the shallows.  My legs brush against wild asters and the skeletons of Queen Anne's lace as I make my way.  A rush of wind brings the scent of salt and rotting leaves, which I think should make me feel sad or old or melancholy, but it doesn't.  Instead, every autumn of my life is with me all at once, making the trail suddenly both familiar and new, as if I've never walked it before, but could find my way just by the sound of goldfinches flying from tree to tree along its edge.  Up ahead is the old stump where I will turn back, follow this same way back to the trailhead.  The same grasses, the same reeds, the same stones and leaves, yet nothing will look the same.  I will be older by seconds, by minutes, by strides; I will see everything from another side.