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.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Autumn Artichokes and Pistachios

I promise I have one more post about the England trip, but I couldn't let another day pass without sharing a quick and easy baked stuffed artichoke dish I made the other night.  I know artichokes can seem daunting, and they do take a little work, but they are so worth the effort.  And when I saw these beauties at the store, I needed to scoop them up.  They were incredibly fresh and the size of large grapefruits (or small melons!)--perfect for stuffing.

Lemon and Pistachio Stuffed Artichokes

~Makes two very large servings (I ate half of mine and finished the rest for lunch the next day)
~All measurements are approximate.  I eyeball everything when I cook!  This recipe is very forgiving, and you can easily make substitutions as you go.

  • two extra-large artichokes
  • 2/3 cup pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped
  • approximately 1 cup crushed crackers or bread crumbs (I used lavash every seed crackers)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 mince garlic cloves
  • large handful chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • olive oil (I use it as needed to moisten the filling and then to drizzle on top after the artichokes come out of the oven)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

To prepare the artichokes, cut off the stems with a serrated knife, making the bottoms flat so they will sit upright in the baking dish.  Then cut off the top 1/3 of the each artichoke.  You'll still have some tough outside leaves.  Pull these off.  Take a sharp serrated knife and trim the outside of each artichoke until you have no tough, fibrous parts left.  If you are new to cooking artichokes, there are loads of online photo tutorials for trimming them.  In fact, you can visit Saveur for a good one.

Once I've removed all the tough outside leaves, I take a knife or pointed grapefruit spoon and scoop out the hairy choke inside.  When you spread the leaves apart a little, you'll see it at the center.  Scoop it out, making sure you remove all the fibrous hairs.  They don't feel good in one's mouth!

Now rub the whole denuded and rather sad-looking artichoke (I promise it will become beautiful again) with a half a lemon.  The lemon juice helps to keep it from discoloring.

Okay, all the hard stuff is out of the way.  I promise.  From now on it's easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Toss all the stuffing ingredients together in a bowl, adding the olive oil last, just to moisten the whole lot.  It will look, smell, and taste gorgeous.

Hold an artichoke in one hand and scoop stuffing into it.  I use my clean bare hands, making sure I get stuffing in between the layers of leaves--every crevice--leaving no lovely ruffly space unfilled.  When you're finished, you'll have these rather sexy rosettes overflowing with goodness.

Place them in a flat-bottomed casserole dish, pour in about an inch of boiling water around them, being careful not to pour the water over the stuffing (this will give them a steam bath in the oven).  

Rub some olive oil on one side of a large piece of foil.  Cover the dish completely with the olive oil facing in towards the artichokes.  Now tie a piece of cooking twine around the edge of the dish to hold the foil tightly in place during cooking.

Bake for about 45 minutes.

When the artichokes come out they will be tender and luscious.  I like to take off the foil cover and pop them under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp up the tops.  Then I sprinkle a little more cheese and a small glug of olive oil.

I placed our artichokes at the center of a bowl of pasta that I'd tossed with some simple aglio olio I'd made while the artichokes were cooking (heat oil in a pan, toss in minced garlic, red pepper flakes, fresh parsley, salt and pepper, then cook for about five minutes--that's it).

The stuffing tumbled out into the pasta as we ate, using a combination of fingers and forks and knives to work our way through the layers of the artichoke, making the entire meal a treasure hunt.  And the combination of lemon, pistachio, and cheese in the stuffing creates a very special flavor--a little sweet, very nutty, but balanced by the acidity of the citrus and the salt of the cheese.  I think you will love it, too.

I truly think this is the best time of year for cooking and sharing meals.  Happy October, my friends!