Saturday, June 15, 2013

Inspiration: Dirt, Books, and the Gardens of Others

I have an obsession with exploring other people's gardens.  Botanical gardens, city parks, backyard plots, and balcony pots--all of them fascinate me.  

I also love reading books written by gardeners.  In fact, I have a collection of books--not just how to's, but philosophical ramblings, scientific explorations, and historical overviews of garden design and landscape architecture.  

The more I read these texts, and the more I wander through the beds and borders planted by other gardeners, the more I learn, of course, but it's not the kind of learning that brings clarity.  In fact, I find gardens more mysterious and wonderful now than I did when I was five years old, building fairy kingdoms beneath the hostas and rhododendrons.

No matter how many seeds I have sown over the years, no matter how many daylilies I have divided, I am still amazed when a plant I planted makes its way up out of the soil and into the light of day.  Does this make me a simpleton?  If it does, so be it.  It's a heck of a lot more fun than the alternative.

So, I keep wandering.  And I keep reading. 

 This morning it was a book by Charles Dudley Warner, published in 1870 called My Summer in a Garden.  

"So long as we are dirty," Mr. Warner writes, "we are pure."  Amen, I say, as I find this passage in perfect keeping with that wonderful quote from Margaret Atwood: "In spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."  I nearly always do, whether it's dirt from my own garden or someone else's.  Either way, it's my favorite perfume.

P.S. I took all these photos the other day at one of my favorite places, Gilsland Farm (Maine Audubon).  As my regular readers know, the community gardens there are an endless source of inspiration to me.  I hope they inspire you, too.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chive, Basil & Radish Butter

Just a quick post to share with you one of our favorite spring and summer toppings/spreads/oils/schmears/indulgences: chive butter.  I've extolled the virtues of sweet and spicy radish butter before.  I'll probably do it again.  

What I love most about it is that you can vary it endlessly.  This summer it's all about adding minced chives from the garden, along with whatever herbs are looking great in the garden at a given moment.  Today I ran out into the rain and snipped off a big leafy bunch of purple basil, so we got the one-two-three combo of chives, basil & radishes.  It doesn't take much to transform butter, which is pretty perfect on its own, into something transcendent.  

For this combo, I soften a stick of butter, then mince a handful of fresh chives, a few leaves of basil, and one or two radishes.  I then stir it all together, along with a sprinkling of sea salt, since my butter is unsalted.  You can add pepper, too, although the radishes from our garden are pretty peppery, so I didn't.

Then you've got a spread for sandwiches (I like it for cucumber sandwiches; Mr. Magpie likes it on turkey or roast beef) or crackers.  It's also gorgeous tossed with steamed veggies or rice, or added at the end of a saute for pasta.  In fact, you can toss just this in with some cooked pasta and some grated parmesan--heaven!  It's great for making omelets, too!  We keep a bowl of it in the fridge so we can use it whenever we want.

I so hope you'll enjoy this, my friends!  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Bit of Earth

Lilacs, lilies of the valley, and bridal veil spirea.  The white flowers are my favorites.  Some, like the lilacs and lilies of the valley, were already here.  Others, like hydrangeas and white climbing roses, we are adding.

I have been longing to write a post about our gardens here at the new house, but as I told my friend Robin recently, I have found myself silent in the face of how much it means to me to have gardens again. It is the single most important change in our lives since we moved, and I've needed time to process just how significant this change is. People who don't garden, or those who occasionally putter in the petunias, will think we're crazy, but Mr. Magpie and I can (and do) easily and happily spend entire days doing nothing but digging, clearing, weeding, planting, hauling, and digging some more.  When we're not doing our jobs or spending time with family and friends, you can find us in the garden.  Beware if you come to our house: chances are we will hand you a shovel, rake, or hoe and tell you to get going.  This may seem rude or presumptuous, but we're not entirely lacking in social graces; we'll provide the sunscreen and the lemonade.  

I love discovering mushrooms in hidden spots in the garden.

I know my friends who garden understand completely, especially those who have been deprived for a few years (or more) of even a small "bit of earth" (as Mary calls it in The Secret Garden) in which to plant a packet of seeds and a paper bagful of bulbs.  Sure, if you are a gardener in your heart, you'll muddle through with a pot of thyme on the kitchen windowsill, a tomato or two on the balcony, an African violet on the coffee table, but as lovely as these are, they are all just a kind of making do until the day when you can once again dig into actual earth in all its wormy, loamy, dirty goodness.

And I love all the moments that make up gardening--the joy of the first radish tugged from the ground in spring (just had our first ones over the weekend) the glory of a perfect dahlia in August, the backbreaking work of preparing a brand-new bed for planting.  I even love the failures, for from them I learn.  And I learn from books, too, and videos, and websites.  I study them for hours, researching the best plants for our acidic clay soil, looking up endless methods of staking indeterminate tomatoes, and scouring seed catalogs for native plants that the bees and butterflies and birds will love.  I'll share a few favorite sources for knowledge and inspiration at the end of this post.

A favorite corner against a stone wall in of one of the new beds: astilbe, goutweed, and heuchera in front of a venerable weigela that was already here, and that we love for its arching shape in the border.

Mostly, though, I love watching the changes through the season.  So many of them are measured in millimeters and inches over the course of several weeks, while others are show-stopping surprises, like a rose bud suddenly opening overnight to reveal a shade of coral I'd never known existed in the whole wide world.  I wake up early with the cats in the morning, often before the sun has risen, and I sneak outside to watch the lawn turn silver in the first rays.  Yesterday that meant I got to see the carpet of viburnum blossoms that had fallen during a rainstorm overnight.  The front yard and steps were covered with lacy blooms, and truth be told, at 5 o'clock in the morning, I could have sworn they'd fallen just for me.  Of course that was just an early morning fancy.  In reality, I know they were making way for the red berries that will form and feed the birds, and thus the cycle will carry on with or without me, which is a fact that brings me an odd comfort.  I'm just a caretaker, a watcher, and a waiter.  I wait for the next seed to sprout, the next bud to form.  

Salad made with fixings from our garden and the farmers' market.

With each change in the garden, I am changed, too.  No ruler could measure it, but I sense it just as I do the nearly imperceptible shift in a row of lettuce from one day to the next . . . and then the next . . . until one day, before the dew has even dried, the leaves are ready.  

Sending you all warm thoughts today.  I know I have been away a great deal, and I've loved the emails from friends who've wondered where in the world I am.  I promise, I'm right here in my garden, and I have much more to share.

xo Gigi

P.S. Here are links to a few inspiring people and places (I have lots more that I'll mention in future posts):

Alys Fowler's Edible Garden (6-part series)


Seed Companies: