Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Award Winning Garden

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded my garden the blue ribbon in the 2015 Garden and Greening Contest!! I was selected from over 250 entries this year in three states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.  This contest invites backyard gardeners, community gardeners, and anyone passionate about greening our public spaces to enter. I am grateful to my friend, Pat, who persuaded me to submit an application. A few years ago Pat, along with her Women's Club, received an award for a local community flower garden they maintain. She visits my garden often, and one day last spring, she arrived with literature from the Horticultural Society, assuring me my garden was worthy -- I guess only the gardener sees the warts. I submitted the application online by the deadline in June.  Of course, I hoped for some recognition, but never dreamed of attaining the blue ribbon.

I filled out  a simple form having determined which category I should enter: Combination Garden- Any size garden with both vegetables and flowers where both have significant impact. I wrote a brief narrative and submitted some photographs. This is what I wrote:
My gardens are ten years in the making and continue to evolve. Born and raised in England, I am trying to create an English cottage garden in the Poconos, facing such challenges as rocky ground, numerous deer and a short growing season. I designed five distinct areas: a pond surrounded by cottage garden borders, a shade-garden retreat, a container garden, a Woodland Walk, and a kitchen garden with a unique potting shed. I grow a wide variety of perennials, annuals, shrubs and vegetables. My many native plants attract pollinators in this certified wildlife habitat and pollinator friendly garden. I practice sustainable gardening: making compost and collecting rainwater in five water barrels. I am a Penn State master gardener volunteer who retired to indulge my gardening passion.

The judge (and his sister) arrived in the middle of August. My garden was passed peak, but when we learned the judging date, H.H. and I tidied the beds, added new mulch, refreshed the containers with new plants, cleaned up the fish pond and did whatever else was necessary to make the gardens sparkle inspite of the heat and lack of blooms.

It was a long wait until I heard from the Society a few days ago. I received a beautiful letter and a certificate. The letter says they will honor my accomplishments at a reception hosted at PHS in Philadelphia in December. I may bring one guest to the reception. Of course, my guest must be the wonderful Undergardener, H.H., who does so much of the grunt work. One tiny disappointment: the PHS sometimes holds the reception at the Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg, but not this year. I don't know if this is because our governor is not living there in his attempt to save taxpayers' money.

Photographs of the winning gardens will be shown at the reception. (The photographs in this posting are some of my favorites taken spring through fall this year. They are in no particular order.) In addition to a certificate they will present me with two tickets to the 2016 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show to be held next March.

 At a meeting of my master gardener group last night, I shared this information in the hope of encouraging some of them to enter in future. Individual gardeners may enter in-ground gardens or gardens grown exclusively in containers. Community gardeners may enter vegetable and flower gardens, garden blocks and public-space plantings and parks. I hope some of my blogger friends in the three state area will consider entering this contest, too.

 It was a wonderful year in my garden, and my blue ribbon award is the icing on the cake!

Happy Gardening, dear friends,
Pamela x

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Finding Beauty in the November Garden

The trees are bare, the sky is gray, the unusually warm spell is over and the air is damp and cold. November in my garden. I am tempted to forgo uncompleted gardening chores and hunker down indoors with a good book. A walk through my gardens, however, reveals a particular beauty. While the ground did not freeze yet, John Updike's words ring true:

"The stripped and shapely
Maple grieves
The ghosts of her
Departed leaves.

The ground is hard,
As hard as stone.
The year is old,
The birds are flown.

And yet the world,
In its distress,
Displays a certain

-   John Updike, A Child's Calendar  

The swing in the shade garden still tempts me. The round mirror on the fence adds interest and creates depth, pleasing me. Probably I should put mirror and cushions indoors before winter arrives.

I love the soft green of the white pine trees in the Woodland Walk. H.H. planted more than a hundred of them many years ago, and I am thankful for their beauty especially now the deciduous trees have given up their foliage.

White pine near a bare cherry tree in the Woodland Walk

I've cut down dead and dying plants in the cottage garden, leaving some seeds for the goldfinches to enjoy.  I've pulled up all the frost-destroyed annuals, removed some over-aggressive groundcovers, separated and transplanted daylilies and other perennials, and weeded the beds.

"If it is true that one of the greatest pleasures of gardening lies in looking forward, then the planning of next year's beds and borders must be one of the most agreeable occupations in the gardener's calendar.  This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down those sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect.  People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth."
-   Vita Sackville-West  

I removed some aggressive pulmonaria plants threatening to engulf the prickly pear.
Purple cone flower seeds have a special beauty.

Looking back at last November's posting I see the crabapple tree was LOADED with berries while this year's crop is rather sparse. Some believe the amount of berries denotes what sort of winter we will have. Last year's winter was horrendously cold, so does the scant amount of fruit mean a milder winter this year? The weather man predicts warmer weather due to El Nino. I hope the forecasters and the tree are correct!


My frog collection and the succulents in hypertufa containers await their winter home in the garage where they will be protected from the harsh elements. The  weeping spruce and other dwarf trees around the pond are especially lovely.

My mini horse, Dude, and his faithful companion Billy the goat are undeterred by the changing season. Dude's coat has started to thicken giving him a scruffy, not groomed look. Rolling in the dry leaves further intensifies his bedraggled appearance.

Like a naughty child, Dude loves to roll in the leaves.

On my walk through the November gardens I find no blooms, but some green foliage, like this protected fern.

I put the kitchen garden to bed, but the herb garden on the patio yields small amounts of rosemary, lavender, borage, and parsley.

Herb garden

Not so lovely -- the crows were busy:

Those darn crows!

A lack of green foliage and blooms in the garden means this is the time when houseplants come into their own. I brought mine indoors when the temperature fell below 50 degrees F. and placed them in south-facing windows. The Christmas cactus is blooming, and all my houseplants look healthy and beautiful.
Some reasons why I grow houseplants:
1. They convert carbon dioxide to oxygen
2. They absorbs toxins, like formaldehyde, from indoor air
3. For me, they provide (necessary) contact with plants during the long winter months.

Clockwise from left to right: spider plant, aucuba, fern, Christmas cactus, zz plant, various succulents

I write a monthly article on gardening in the Poconos for our local newspaper, The Pocono Record. My November topic is houseplants. My articles appear on the second Saturday of each month, so the November one is due on the 14th. In it I give a 'houseplant survival guide' of sorts. I haven't always experienced success, so it helps to pick 'easy' plants; my favorite easy houseplant is the ZZ plant. I blogged about the ZZ (sometimes called Zeezee) plant in February 2011. Click here to read the posting. What I love most about the ZZ -- it can survive long periods of neglect, low light, and lack of water.

ZZ Plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia
I am choosing the ZZ plant as my first pick for a new round of Dozen For Diana. Diana of 'Elephants Eye on False Bay' in South Africa challenges us on the second Wednesday of each month to choose a cherished plant. Check out Diana's wonderful blog and join the fun. I am a month behind, so you will see two choices from Diana.

I am linking with Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of each month. I look forward to visiting gardens around the world to see their particular November beauty.

Also, I'm linking with Pam at Digging for her Foliage Followup. Pam encourages us to showcase foliage on the 16th of each month. Thanks to Diana, Carol and Pam for hosting three great memes.

I have many more November pictures showing that 'certain Loveliness' mentioned by Updike, but this posting is long enough. What is especially lovely about your garden this month?

Your gardening friend,
Pamela x

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Harvest Festival at Quiet Valley

  'Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods'  
-- William Allingham

At sunrise today the trees beyond the barn were on fire with autumn colors; the fall leaves are stunning this year. A trip to the grocery store, a task I normally hate, becomes a visual delight and makes me feel blessed to have settled in such a beautiful part of the world.

Fall in my neighborhood.

We made several trips to the Lehigh Valley this week for doctors' appointments (one of the necessities of old age.) Each time we emerged from the Lehigh tunnel into our beloved Pocono Mountains I was overwhelmed by their magnificent beauty.

Leaving the Lehigh tunnel and entering the Poconos.

Even before the leaves peaked in color, the trees were beautiful in Quiet Valley. We visited the historical farm there for the 41st annual harvest festival earlier this month.

Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm


Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm, just a few miles from our home, is a 19th century Pennsylvania German farm dedicated to the preservation and education of rural farm life. Period-dressed "family" members re-enact the life of the original Pennsylvania German family who lived on the farm from the 1760s to 1913. The theme of this year's harvest festival was 'Green is Our Valley -- Homesteading." In addition to demonstrations and displays dealing with the theme, there were plenty of traditional skills and heritage crafts to see such as spinning, weaving, broom making, scrapple making, apple butter making, basket making, and candle making.


Basket Weaving

I learned about the flax plant. Flax, one of the most important crops to early American farmers and to the economy of our emerging nation, was grown for linseed oil and for making linen. Incidentally, garden flax is a larval food source for the variegated fritillary butterfly.

The humble Flax plant Linum Usitatissimum
Making tow from flax to be turned into twine.

This year, the farm ladies were excited to dye their linen with cochineal, a red dye, that they hadn't used before. To make the fabric colorfast, they treated it with mordant, a mineral that helps dye adhere. They used indigo that they grew themselves to dye wool from the farm. Onion skins and marigolds produced yellow dye and madder root produced colors from orange through peach and red.

Drying newly dyed skeins of wool.
Beautiful colors.

They showcased vegetables and herbs for their home remedies, such as allium (onions and garlic) used to treat wounds, skin infections and insect bites.

We bumped into old friends, Janet and Larry. Janet was carrying a beautiful bouquet of the aromatic herb 'Sweet Annie.' There were herbs, dried flowers and wreaths for sale. I purchased a wreath for my potting shed and posted a picture of it last time.

Sweet Annie Artemisia
Next to the farmhouse we paused to listen to 18th century music.

The 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry re-enactors portrayed the everyday life of soldiers in the 19th century, while the New Jersey Frontier Guard showed French and Indian war soldiers trekking through the farm throughout the event.

We spent several hours at the farm, culminating in the enjoyment of homemade ice cream. As we drove the short distance home through the lovely PA countryside, H.H. and I agreed it was a perfect day.

'Brilliantly tinted foliage dances along outstretched branches ... made all the more gorgeous by glimpses of contrasting green in the grass beneath and roughly textured, lichened bark of adjoining trees.' 
-- Malcom Hillier
Soon after our visit to Quiet Valley we had our first killing frost in the mountains. Fortunately, with plenty of warning, I brought indoors some plants for overwintering, I took cuttings from tender perennials, and I picked the last blooms of the season.

Rescued from the first hard frost.

Where-ever you live in the world, I hope your current season is as beautiful as mine!
Pamela x

Working brick oven at Quiet Valley Farm

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