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Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Is

There is a long laundry list about what this holiday season means to different folks but Eric Sevareid sums it up best. “As long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, Christmas is.”

P.S. I’ll be returning with gardening blog posts, thoughts and ideas to keep us going through the winter months. But a little holiday break is in store to just enjoy what Christmas is. Stay safe, healthy and enjoy the beauty of the winter landscape. See you in 2011. Annie
Images from the Internet

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Flurry before Xmas

It’s finally upon us. The flurry of last minute mania has arrived on our doorstep. So let’s stay focused on what is really important about this holiday season - service to others. Pay attention to the folks ringing the bell and those who might need a little extra help in your local community. Let’s take an example - if you are a garden center with a surplus of extra poinsettias or wreaths, don’t see it as a loss. Consider it a way to brighten up a senior housing complex or a local homeless shelter. You can even drop one or two off to your town’s police, fire station or overbooked emergency room. These folks work round the clock on holidays when most of us are opening gifts and sharing cheer.

And as I wrote on my personal Facebook page today, may there always be enough light in our hearts to protect our service men and women. Extra blessings and prayers for your families that endure what others never see.

So for those lucky enough to have snow flurries this Xmas, enjoy them and share your extras, even if they may seem sparse. There is always, always, always someone with less. I hope everyone will use the next two days to find a small way to ‘pay it forward’ to someone that needs a little bit of your flurry before Christmas.

The inspirational quote for today is a German Proverb. “Charity sees the need, not the cause.” That is truly the spirit of the holidays.

Images from the Internet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Perk Up Your Morning

An unknown author captures our AM jet fuel best. “A morning without coffee is like sleep.” For the coffee connoisseurs out there, some may think it’s all in the bean you use to grind and brew your ideal pot of morning Joe. But one cannot overlook the equipment. Most of us have used the typical Mr. Coffee pot and some have even taken the money nose dive and purchased those fancy rigs that do everything with the exception of blowing your nose. Although these types of gizmos make awesome coffee, some take an enormous amount of valuable kitchen countertop space and others are just plain overpriced for the same end result you can achieve with inexpensive equipment. The two best options out there for those coffee lovers who want the best cup of perked Java without the $1,000 + price tag is the French Press or the good old-fashioned percolator. The French press is a tad too strong for everyday use. It takes a bit to figure out how to get that brew just right but it’s perfect for special weekend sipping. It also comes in handy when the electricity goes out given you can still boil water.

For everyday use, the best option on the market is the good old-fashion percolator. This contraption takes up no counter space, gives an unbelievable cup of coffee and you use less beans then most drip coffee makers. It also looks retro. A big plus for the style oriented coffee drinker. The one drawback: it can be a challenging exercise in morning dexterity. It’s advised you prep the pot the night before (i.e., clean all its parts) so as not to create a sunrise disaster. There is nothing like the sound of percolating coffee gurgling in the background in the early morning hours. It’s a bit nostalgic; kind of Ward and June Cleaverisque.

So if you are really into coffee, remember that it’s all in the beans but the wrong equipment or technique can ruin even the best cup of Joe. Speaking of beans – take it one step further to get direct shipped coffee from the grower at a fairly reasonable cost. You leave out that middle man (or men) plus support the farmer growing it. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, which means there can be a lot of dividends being cut from the same pound of coffee with very little going into the farmer’s pocket. We found a great coffee grower in Hilo, Hawaii that ships our stash on a regular basis at a very reasonable price. When you think local, it doesn’t always have to be in your backdoor. Supporting local farmers wherever they may be is a great way to keep the agricultural industry what it should be – a little less industrialized.

So if you are looking for that last minute present for under the tree, get perking. You only have three more shopping days left!
Image from the Internet

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Heals You

Doug Larson reminds us that “the aging process has you firmly in its grasp if you never get the urge to throw a snowball.” As we approach a yearly milestone this evening, the winter solstice, we should consider how to keep ourselves active and healthy. Don’t overlook the use of herbal remedies. A great book to peruse for those who are seeking a little relief from the common bugs and sniffles to nerve and circulatory problems is the ‘The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies’ by Norman Shealy, M.D. Ph.D. I picked up my copy in the sale section of Borders and found it to be a useful reference book. The simple herbs we grow in our own gardens or those that flourish and surround us in the native landscape often possess medicinal properties. Many of us overlook the obvious, especially when we experience common ailments. We run to the doctors or grab an over the counter remedy rather than seek out the old-fashion treatments, few of which have any side effects. Often times, the cure is in our own pantry.

If you are one of the lucky ones with a foot of snow, get outside and throw a snowball. Keep yourself healthy and don’t forget that your garden is always with you, even in the depths of winter.
Images from the Internet

Monday, December 20, 2010

A True Stocking Stuffer

An unknown author once said that “true love is like a pair of socks: you gotta have two and they've gotta match.” How many mismatched and worn out socks do you find in your sock drawer even when you purchase those really nice designer brands?

For gardeners and those that love the great outdoors, when it comes to socks, one must dress for the occasion. Every sock is not created equal even though most of us have tried quite a few on the market. But by George, I believe I’ve found a keeper for the garden or outdoor nature lover - the Dahlgren sock. This is designed for the connoisseur of hardcore hosiery. Why if this was a fine wine, Parker would give it a 98.

It’s not too late to find a retail store to purchase this last minute gift under the menu key, BUY. So if you are looking for a truly awesome stocking stuffer, why not do it with socks. Dahlgren’s website says, “They take socks seriously.” So if you love your gardener, give them a serious pair of toasty socks.

P.S. Are you one of those folks with an unkempt sock drawer? Then you may appreciate Steven Wright’s dry wit. “I got up one morning and couldn’t find my socks, so I called Information. She said, “Hello, Information.” I said, “I can’t find my socks.” She said, “They’re behind the couch.” And they were!”

Images from the Internet

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Creative Meltdown

Unfortunately, my creative juices can start off like an old diesel but this gal has nothing to crank out today. I’ve got nothing in the garden and landscape design category worthy of your time. Not even a decent recipe to share. I am in a complete panic. My Christmas shopping, baking, you name it – none of it is done. The work piled high on my desk – well, let’s just say I can’t find the bottom. That’s what a two plus week flu can do to you right around the holidays as you trudge through without getting much accomplished. Then panic sets in and boof – it’s the Italian snap! The timing belt breaks – the engine won’t start.

So here’s a surefire remedy for getting through a creative meltdown and the best shot I can give this blog post today - a boost of levity. So to you and me, with the holiday countdown ticking, here are two great jokes I found out there in Cyberspace to keep everyone’s Friday hopping. Enjoy the jokes – I’d say they’re ‘classics.'

"Why is Christmas just like a day at the office? You do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit." ~ Unknown

"What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a new job the next day." ~ Phyllis Diller

Have a happy, jolly Friday and I’ll give it my best shot to get the diesel running for at least another week of creative garden design factoids and inspiration. After that, Annie’s going on a productive holiday hiatus. Time for an engine rebuild! Maybe I’ll come back as a hybrid!

Image from the Internet

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Imagine This

Unfortunately, as the days get shorter and colder, most of the color that surrounds us is from the sky rather than the ground. Our gardens have shed its once picturesque and eye-catching foliage. Whittled down to its winter outfit, the austerity of our gardens can be stark or dramatic. It always depends on your imagination and point of view. So speaking of views, make sure you capture those special winter moments of illumination in your landscape.

When the sun is just starting to breech the horizon or set in the winter sky, silhouettes of trees and shrubs can offer spectacular effects. What create the matrix of a winter garden’s atmosphere are the many twists and turns and various patterns of the trunks, branches, stems, and remaining seed heads of the landscape. Let’s not forget any hardscape or other sculptural elements that embellish and accent the winter composition. Terri Guillemets imagines it best. “The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter is in the imagination.” There is no hibernation for a creative minded gardener.

Images from the Internet

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nature – Always Open for Business

The holidays often keep our eyes closed to everything except the hustle and bustle. Don’t shut the door to what is still growing and thriving around you. As Lao Tzu’s infinite wisdom reminds us, ““Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. “

Above photo of a wild mushroom captured during Monday’s walk in the woods
Photo taken by Annie (Bilowz)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Knowing What Went Before

Winston Churchill once stated, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” This profound statement is the foundation of any creative discipline, including landscape architecture. Even those that may not be attracted to classical style and composition can learn from its theory.

Take for instance the recent recipient of the 2011 Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture, New York architect Robert A.M. Stern. This award is given annually to a living architect "whose work embodies the principles of traditional and classical architecture and urbanism in contemporary society, and creates a positive cultural, environmental, and artistic impact."

This may be hard to get your noodle around but the premise of this prize is simple – do not ignore the classical theory that has shaped the multidisciplinary field of architecture. Stern himself captures this best. "I believe you cannot innovate without knowing what went before," he said. "This would not be a discussion if we were talking about music or art. I do feel it is a fragile and threatened tradition in the education and practice of architects."

This winter, understand the history. Delve into the classical theory; approach buildings and landscapes from a different point of view. Understand what Churchill really meant when he said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

Some information used for this blog were excerpts from the attached Wall Street Journal article.
Images of New York architect Robert A.M. Stern’s work from the Internet.
Congratulations to Mr. Stern.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Prune the Unnecessary

It’s amazing when you are flattened with the flu that half of December can blow right by but you are still required to complete the remainder of the 2010 to-do list. Yikes! So not to panic, it helps to stay focused and take care of the priorities.

Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us in a horticultural way the importance of trimming the unnecessary. “As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so should you stop off your miscellaneous activity and concentrate your force on one or a few points.”

Speaking of pruning, this is a good time to take care of any dead branches or split crotches on a tree before any heavy snow or ice. This isn’t the season for major pruning, which is typically performed in late winter to early spring. This is the time for obvious pruning; to remove the dead or weakened limbs and attend to any apparent structural issues.

When the ground is frozen and there is little to no snow, it is ideal to remove any large hazard trees or trees earmarked for removal. But like anything, don’t undertake tasks that should be done by a professional. It’s not the season for emergency room visits so use common sense.

If you prune now, you have less catch-up work when the weather starts to break. In short, make good use of your time before snow flies. Rid yourself of the unnecessary activities and focus on those that are a priority. Before you know it, the clock will strike midnight and 2011 and all its resolutions will be upon you. Pick one or two tasks and focus. You can achieve great things when you keep your compass set on a clear direction.

P.S. You want to make sure you aren’t removing any residents.
All images from the Internet.

If you like this blog, check in for your daily share's worth of garden inspiration, landscape architecture and design tips; always original, not cookie cutter and copied. Just like our design work, we strive for unique! We invite you to contact Bilowz Associates, Inc., or to browse our portfolios. Like our Facebook follow on Twitter or subscribe to the blog to receive posts daily via email or a feed. You can follow with visuals on Pinterest and find us on LinkedIn and Houzz, too.  And you can also find us back on our Google+ Business Page. (Landscape architects/Landscape Design/serving Massachusetts and New England.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Gold Star

This is the season when we often see gold stars adorning our holiday cards or Christmas trees. Many may see this glittery star as a symbol of hope while too often, as we have seen this week in Massachusetts, it signals for a military family that their star, once blue is transformed to gold. It is important during this holiday season that we do not overlook those who have served, continue to serve and those families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. While November is the month to be thankful, we should never forget that December is the time of giving. For those that gave all.

To my readers, even though most of you follow because you love to garden, I’d like to share a poem I wrote in January 2007.

Helen’s Hill

By Ann St. Jean-Bilowz

The trail of motherhood
Leads her past
Its jagged rocks
Brushing against her skin

Its rough edges
Cutting her
Yet she trudges on

His spirit guides her
On the summit’s desolate route

Helen’s Hill
Her trail of motherhood
Afraid if she does not reach its top
It will take his last breath from her memory

He is her guide
Her star
Placed in her hands
A memento of his valor
Once blue
Transformed to gold

Through her star
She speaks his lost words

Through her gestures
She lives his forgotten love

He is her guide
Her star

At the top
She sees him

His first steps
His last hello
The wave goodbye
His last salute

Her son
Country first
Until death
We do part

Only a memento of his valor
Placed in her hands

He is her guide
Her star
Once blue
Transformed to gold

She lives to tell his story
His life
His honor
Her passion to make him whole

Her climb is his memory
In Grace’s footsteps
She follows

His spirit guides her
On the summit’s desolate route
Helen’s Hill
Her trail of motherhood
Once blue
Transformed to gold

Afraid if she does not reach its top
It will take his last breath from her memory

Her climb is his memory
In Grace’s footsteps
She follows.

Helen Hill is a Gold Star mother. She lost her son, David in Vietnam. This poem was written to honor Helen and all of our nation’s gold star families.

Grace Darling Seibold founded the Gold Star Mothers after losing her son, George in World War I. Twenty-five mothers met on June 4, 1928 and formed the national organization, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

For more information on today’s Gold Star organization:

TAPS is another organization offering “immediate and long-term emotional help, hope, and healing to anyone grieving the death of a loved one in military service to America, regardless of their relationship to the deceased or the circumstances of the death.”
24 hours a day
7 days a week (800-959-TAPS)

As always, there must be an inspirational thought for the day. An unknown author’s words seem most fitting. “Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”

All Images from the Internet

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Season to Be Jolly

This cat has it right. Put your holiday cap on and smile. As the retail mania and festivities swirl around us, take Victor Hugo’s words to heart. “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”
Images from the Internet

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where’s My Pudding?

I’m not much of a pudding fan but it all depends on how you define it. Here’s a quick and easy European recipe that can turn a rather frigid December day into a cozy evening by whipping up this warm homemade dessert. This recipe is a crossover between a bread pudding and a cake. You use flour rather than crusty stale bits of bread for your base and the sweetness of this dessert is just right.

So here it is. For my banana lovers, you’ll get the perfect balance of butterscotch and banana. The only must do is to serve it warm and accompany with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy.

Banana Butterscotch Pudding


1 cup of flour
1 pinch of salt
1/2 cup of sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 ripe banana mashed
1 cup of milk
1 lightly beaten egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter melted

For the topping

1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons maple syrup (substitutes golden syrup which can be found in specialty shops)
1 cup water


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Sift the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder into a bowl.

Add the banana, milk, butter, egg and vanilla extract - whisk together until mixed well. Fold into your dry mix. Pour into a greased baking dish.

Making the topping:

Place the brown sugar, syrup and water in a small pot and bring to a boil.

Pour the boiling mixture carefully over the pudding and bake the pudding for 30 to 40 minutes until firm to the touch.

Unfortunately, this flu is shutting down everything with the exception of my taste buds. So for anyone seeking a surefire remedy for the flu just get a pot of tea brewing and the oven cranking. W. Edwards Deming stated the pudding process best. “It does not happen all at once. There is no instant pudding.” Although being a famous statistician, he probably wasn’t referring to food!
Image of Banana butterscotch pudding from the Internet

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Place to Hang Your Hat

This chilling wind and a flattening cold got me thinking about the importance of my wooly winter caps. Hats don’t flatter me but I continue to pick out some corkers from the jester fleece cap to a stylish cashmere fedora. I’m constantly seeking purpose versus personality; much like fences in a landscape.

Think about it? How often have we seen a fence or a hat that makes us think - it either works or it doesn’t. We all embellish the image of a white picket fence and what it symbolizes but why on earth do we install fences? There are functional and aesthetical reasons. Fences may establish barriers, delineate boundaries, enclose a space, create privacy, protect and secure or simply reduce sound or wind exposure. Sometimes a fence is merely an aesthetical folly; it supports a choice flowering vine or it embellishes an entrance or gateway.

There is a certain language in fences that speak of character, personality and intent ranging from utilitarian to a statement of status and style. So what to do when selecting a fence? Choosing a fence for your property should be done as carefully as picking out your choice of hats. It can have a strong imposing presence. Ask yourself, what I am trying to say with a fence. Welcome. Keep out. This is mine. Dig me. Function or fashion or the right balance of both.

Understand what a fence is made out of and its durability to the conditions, specifically if it is meant to be one of function. Bringing in a fence specialist is a good idea but don’t let anyone sell you on the wrong look. Do your homework because sometimes the best fence is no fence at all. You may use screen plantings, stone walls – the list is endless.

If you goal is functionality, much like a winter hat on a cold day, you may want a fashionable look but you don’t want to forgo its purpose, much like a good, durable fence. If it is mainly for aesthetics, ask yourself if your property wears it well. Most people don’t wear hats well so this same rule may apply for white picket fences. In the meantime, post your favorite hat or fence photo. Here’s my pick.
You have to look close to see what’s on her hat!
Let’s end with an inspirational hat quote by William Jerome. “Any old place I can hang my hat is home sweet home to me.”
Image of Hat from the Internet

Monday, December 6, 2010

Our Aging Gardens

With the temps dropping well into the teens, it’s hard to believe that we are still in the fall season of our gardens. Although winter doesn’t officially start until December 21st, most of us have succumbed to our wooly pajamas and flannel sheets. We may not even ponder our outside world as we wrap ourselves in our own protective winter guard. But I still see so much beauty in the garden. One of the few things that remains uncut in our perennial borders - the ornamental grasses. This should be a staple in the New England winter landscape. With so many choices, one can find an ornamental that suits their fancy. The wispy, curling tips of this Miscanthus sinensis Maiden Grass in my own garden displays a meadow-like beauty only found on the open prairie.

There is always something captivating in our maturing gardens, gracefully appearing in the midst of the morning sun. If we look at our landscape much like the way Brigitte Bardot saw aging beauty, our gardens can enchant us, even on the coldest of fall mornings. "What could be more beautiful than a dear old lady growing wise with age? Every age can be enchanting, provided you live within it." Enjoy the remnants of your aging gardens and live within its seasons. Annie – Now it’s time to get this aging gal some more Theraflu!
Images of Miscanthus sinensis Maiden Grass taken by Greg Bilowz

Friday, December 3, 2010

Guarding Your Garden

Today’s blog may be a tad short and to the point. Unfortunately, I’m going down for the flu count. A quick tip that went unmentioned in the December 1st annual checkup blog for your garden is to protect your tree trunks, especially your fruit trees with tree guards. The attached PDF flyer from Ontario gives you some additional ideas on controlling the vole population and talks specifically about tree guards. Some of the data may not be relevant to your particular area but it is an extremely informative article regarding these pesky creatures.

Oesco, a supplier in Western Massachusetts can head you in the right direction with your tree guard options. You will find the staff friendly and extremely knowledgeable and their extensive catalog works well for any online shoppers. You also want to protect your trees from the deer population as Bambi can be equally devastating in the winter months.

To end this short post and plunge forth into the weekend, the inspirational quote comes from Marcus Aurelius. “Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.” For everything else, there are tree guards. Have a great weekend. Annie

Image of winter rodent damage from the Internet.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Showcase Your Winter Landscape

Although some die hard gardeners have one foot near the potting shed door and one foot by the fire, we can still embellish our gardens’ features and highlights, even in the midst of the dreary winter months. One of the simplest ways to capture the outer entrance to your home and highlights in your garden can be done with landscape lighting.

Think about the ambiance of outside holiday lights. The illumination of each twinkly bulb triggers a glow within us all. Now picture carefully placed fixtures radiating a stone path or a beautifully sculptured tree. Your garden becomes like a museum, where each piece of art within your garden is lit in such a way that every visitor may see it in a different light.

Well executed landscape lighting integrates the architecture of your home with the outside living space. It draws you in and guides you through the exterior spaces, even if you only view an outdoor terrace from an indoor window. It highlights features that are otherwise lost.

To showcase the beauty of your winter landscape, stretch beyond the holiday bulbs and consider options for outdoor lighting. You can pick some exquisite yet small fixtures that do not detract from your ultimate goal – illuminating the features in your outdoor spaces.

To encapsulate why light is so important to us, you only need reflect on the amazing survival of the 33 Chilean miners. Imitating day and night saved them so as not to lose their sanity while stuck miles below the earth. We are creatures of habit and extremely photosensitive. Light is an important aspect to our routines and our moods. It’s a known fact as the days get shorter so does our spirit.

Katherine S. White broadens this thought with her inspirational quote. “From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens – the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Yard’s Annual Checkup

Think of this first day of December as you would the first day of spring. This is a good time to schedule an annual checkup for your landscape and garden. Whether it is the vole or rabbit perpetrator hideouts or the ailing branches on a shrub, bush or tree, now is a good time to run a final assessment of your property. As with our own health, early detection can be a matter of preventive measures rather than an underlying problem becoming a bigger issue.

So here’s the annual pre-winter inspection that should keep your garden in check for spring bloom.

- Run a soil analysis before the ground freezes. This is one of those things that often slip through the cracks but understanding your soil condition is critical to why everything survives and thrives in the garden.
- Check all trees and shrubs for damage or diseased limbs. This is a good time to assess what should be pruned i.e., crossed branches or branches with poor structural integrity.
- For big trees, this is a good time to contact a reputable arborist regarding major pruning, guying, cabling or removal of potential hazard trees prior to winter storms.
- If you haven’t removed the fallen leaves, debris, and the dead tops of your perennials, finish this before snow flies. Many diseases and insects overwinter in last year’s growth. If not removed, it can infect next season’s flush. Many diseases that hit a garden can be easily prevented if you keep your plant beds clean. Cleanliness is particularly critical with fruit bearing trees or vines.
- Mound your roses and mulch any newly planted material. Perennials in particular can be vulnerable to being heaved from the ground when exposed to periodic freeze and thaw conditions.
- If you have strawberries or garlic planted, mulch them with straw. This layer of insulation protects the crowns from severe cold.
- Winter inhabitants can raise havoc in your garden. Evict them before the season closes in. You can always rent ‘Caddyshack’ for some quick humorous tips. I did get some moth balls to place in the shed. The putrid smell is enough to knock over the best of us. We’ve yet to try the sonic buzzers. I get mixed reviews on them so if your success rate is high with these gadgets, post the name and price.

Hope that covers your garden’s annual check-up. And don’t forget to put a winter compost bin in close proximity to a pathway sure to be cleared of snow. Keep it accessible for handy kitchen scrap deposits. It’s one of those dreaded winter chores but you shan’t waste these valuable odds and ends. We’ll take a wrap with a funny inspirational quote from Joan Welsh. “A man's health can be judged by which he takes two at a time - pills or stairs.” Move on your annual garden checkup. One step now saves three steps later. Have a great 1st of December. Annie

Images from the Internet

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Farms, No Food

On occasion, I tap into a news article floating out in cyberspace. Although this particular read takes us across the pond, its content is relevant to our own farming industry in the United States.
It places a keen eye on the poverty levels of farmers in the United Kingdom. Unless we know farmers firsthand, few of us ever understand our food producers’ dilemmas. Many farmers in the U.S. and abroad subsidize their income with other work. Unfortunately, this is a reoccurring theme and unless we pay attention to it, we will continue to lose farmland and the valuable resource it provides us – our food. The title of today’s blog, ‘No Farms, No Food’ is a bumper sticker that many local farm owners stick on the back of their pickups. Ralph Waldo Emerson got it when he said, “The first farmer was the first man. All historic nobility rests on the possession and use of land.” Post your comments and thoughts. Annie
Image from the Internet.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Decorating the Old-Fashion Way

Winterberry, pine cones, dried flowers – these bits and pieces of nature may still be showing up in your garden or during your early morning walks. Want to make it a simple holiday? Bring the outdoors inside for the winter festivities. There is no shortage for quick decorating inspiration. But why resign yourself to the sometimes difficult glossy magazine tips at the checkout counter? Immerse yourself. Check out a local botanical garden and take a gander on how they are decking their halls. See how to use greens and floral arrangements to liven up the joint. You should be able to find a garden club, a florist or some other home goods store with an evening class to give your creative holiday juices a jump start. If you want to be inspired, look for some local talent with loads of decorating tips. As Charles Schulz points out, “Decorate your home. It gives the illusion that your life is more interesting than it really is.” This is the season when we can all get into embellishing the homestead with bits and pieces of treasures from the attic and greens from the outdoors.

P.S. Here’s a class I am going to check out this Thursday evening at Still Life Consignment located at 68 Tower Street in Hudson, MA. You need to sign up in advance. Phone (978) 562-3221

Thursday, Dec. 2nd 6-7:30pm
Designer John Mansfield will inspire you to transform what you already have in your home into Holiday magic! This seminar will be FREE to the public, and all who attend will be entered to win our Raffle Basket. Refreshments will be served!Sponsored by Still Life and Home 2 Home Services.

If I can’t tie a good bow, I can always check out my favorite consignment bargains. Annie
Image of an awesome homemade centerpiece - from the Internet

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Leftover Friday

There’s plenty to do the day after Thanksgiving, especially if you’re one of the fearless early morning shoppers. Here are a couple of quick tips for leftover holiday kitchen treasures should you prefer spending the long weekend dabbling with the Thanksgiving leftovers.

Residual Eggnog

This rich creamy drink may still find residence in your fridge after the Thanksgiving feast. Search for an easy rice pudding recipe and substitute the eggnog for milk or combine a small amount with the milk and egg mixture. There are tons of simple ways to use eggnog (i.e., French toast) but rice pudding is a cinch, smells yummy when cooking (takes an 1 ½ hrs.) and settles quite nicely in the tummy after the heavier holiday pies. Granted you’ll need some leftover rice, which may not be a traditional Thanksgiving fixing but rice is a cinch to cook up and the pudding is a great afternoon snack. I forgo the raisins in rice pudding. Raisins out of the box or covered with chocolate taste great but cooked? There’s something about that puffy, bloated cooked texture that I forgo with recipes calling for raisins.

Turkey Soup

My latest kitchen discovery: the best soup is made with a Dutch oven. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this handy kitchen tool, you don’t have to fly to the Netherlands to purchase one. This heavy cast-iron pot is perfect for soups. If you have that leftover turkey bone, don’t toss it in the trash. Use it to make a soup or even a stock for future recipes. The slow cooked simmering from a Dutch oven creates some of the clearest and best tasting broths. You can do it with a ham bone, leftover chicken bones; get creative. And don’t waste anything.

I’ll be back on Monday with blog posts but you may find a twitter or a photo on our fan page in between. Post your leftover holiday recipes or tips. Next week we’ll get back to design, gardens and all that good dirt.

We wrap up today with a W. T. Purkiser quote. “Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” What better way to celebrate! To everyone, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

All Images from the Internet

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What’s in the Oven?

In case you’re doing the last-minute turkey scramble, be it a first-time host or you just need a different twist on cooking the holiday bird, Ina Garten’s (A.K.A. The Barefoot Contessa) sure-fire tasty but easy recipe is a winner. This is an uncomplicated way to get your veggies and turkey done all in one pan. Plus it has oodles of olive oil and a stuffing recipe on the side. You can have your guests bring the squash, green bean casserole, desserts or additional condiments.

What’s Thanksgiving without the turkey fever – a four day stint of sandwiches, soups, or pot pie? Last Thanksgiving, all we asked our guests to bring were the desserts. I recall asking for desserts – not disasters. Rule of thumb – always keep an extra something in the cupboards for any cooking catastrophe. You can always make it up with an interactive game of charades. All was forgotten about runny chocolate cream pie once the guests engaged in a challenging game of how many syllables and it begins with… It gets competitive in a big family. The store-bought Tiramisu ended up being the winner in the dessert category.

Post your fondest Thanksgiving memories or tips for how to make it through the holiday meal. To end with our inspirational quote for the day, Johnny Carson obviously attended a disastrous holiday meal. “How to thaw a frozen turkey – blow in its ear.” To be safe, go to a local turkey farm and buy it fresh.
Images from the Internet

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Checklist Worth Living By

There are always a host of chores to do in the garden although at this time of year it often feels like the ‘hunkering down before the storm’ period. If you need a fall list of buttoning up chores for the garden, there should be plenty in the Annie archives. You may even find a few holiday ideas or recipes to get you in a festive mood.

My sneaking suspicion is that even for the hardiest of gardeners, the outdoor undertakings become overshadowed with holiday fury. Although last minute garden chores are a surefire way to beat any early winter doldrums, the season’s festivities undoubtedly take precedence by eminent domain.

To keep oneself on track during the hectic frenzy, lists often do the trick. A while back, I found a checklist in a daily business newsletter. I clipped it out and posted it near my computer. It’s similar to a gardener’s checklist; valid 365 days a year.

Curiosity leads to creativity.
Trust your positive instincts.
Faith is always stronger than failure.
Success without conflict is unrealistic.
Never let a problem become an excuse.
Always look at what you have left, not at what you have lost.
Don’t miss the best things in life.
You will never win if you never begin.
Fix the problem, not the blame.
Share the credit.
When the going gets tough – laugh.
Never make an irreversible decision in a down time.
Treasure time like gold.
The real focus of this season for gratitude and giving often takes a back seat. So forgo the fancy packaging and check out this list worth living by. Enjoy the remaining days in 2010. Treasure time like gold. And don't forget the pleasures of a winter landscape when you can leisurely peruse your garden checklist! Annie

Images from the Internet

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Electrifying Season

November and December are the two months when there is an extra charge of energy in the air. During the holidays, sparks can fly in different directions with frenzy and excitement. For some, it isn’t always this exhilarating, especially in these tenuous economic times.

So when you are preparing for this joyous season, remember the fitting words of William Faulkner. “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” Make time to unearth the endless opportunities to give back and be grateful. Share your talents, fortunes or lend an ear to a friend, family member or even a stranger that’s lacking some spark. This is the season to produce gratitude. And don’t forget to share and nurture what may still be growing around you. There is always room for gardening in your busy lives. Bur for now, dig for the gratitude and generate an electrifying season.

Dog Images from the Internet

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Harvest Table

Are you the one with dibs on Thanksgiving dinner this year? If so, decorating the table with a festive flair is one of the easier parts about preparing the entire feast. Lately, one of my favorite crazes has been collecting glass canisters. What makes these jars perfect for entertaining is your holiday guests have eye candy without the large Hors d'œuvre platters or messiness. Plus, putting out snacks like dried fruit and nuts guarantee there is something to nibble on without spoiling one’s appetite for the main spread.

If you want to put your guests on a diet prior to the sit-down, you can always fill the canisters with dried seed heads from your garden or create your own potpourri with lavender, sage, spearmint, wintergreen ….there are a host of things that may still be growing in the herb patch.

So don’t stress the set-up for the harvest table. Make it simple but colorful. Leave time to spend with your family or guests. Andrew Weil gives us a head-start on Thanksgiving inspiration, a favorite holiday for the foodie. “Get people back into the kitchen and combat the trend toward processed food and fast food.” Make your feast wholesome and stress-free. Remember to go local if you can ….root for the home team – our farmers.

Top image of colorful jar filled with Potpourri (From the Internet)
Below image - one of my glass jars filled with pretzel sticks. You can do something more colorful like M&M's or Candy corn (From my phone -professional photographer unavailable)

P.S. Not responsible for hands stuck in the cookie jar!
And don't forget to post your favorite table decorating ideas.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Big Root Geranium

To expect autumn foliage only as grand as the leaves of a Sugar Maple, we often overlook what might or could be occurring on a smaller scale in our fall plant beds. There are plenty of ways to hold onto late season foliage with choices as vibrant and rich as the Maple leaves. Geranium macrorrhizum, which means ‘Big Root’ is a hardy perennial and ideal choice. Often overlooked by many, this weed smothering groundcover thrives in full sun to partial shade; perfect for many garden locations. The varieties range in color blossom from white, light or deep pink flowers.
Expect this show of color in late spring to early summer. Its foliage emits a pleasant citronella-like fragrance, offering a bit more than just a versatile groundcover. Plant one of the pinks, ‘Bevan's Variety' under trees, shrubs or edge a large plant bed.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we are that much closer to putting our gardens to bed. But as Hal Borland points out, “autumn is the eternal corrective. It is ripeness and color and a time of maturity; but it is also breadth, and depth, and distance.” Make sure you add some longevity to your perennial garden with versatile selections like Geranium macrorrhizum.

Top Photo of fall foliage Geranium macrorrhizum by Greg Bilowz
Second Photo of Geranium macrorrhizum in bloom - Image from the Internet

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Pattern of Our Surroundings

Today is an assignment day. Go beyond your usual route whether by car or foot and discover some natural form that inspires you. Get enthused and motivated to put a plan in action. Sometimes when we stare at something in our own backyard for too long, we lose perspective. If you are considering anything beyond a few flowers or shrubs in your garden, this is a much needed exercise. No need to go into design theory. Your assignment is to discover some of the simple patterns in nature. These patterns can be difficult to articulate in words but become obvious to the keen observer. It is all around us. If you want to enhance your surroundings, it is essential to be this keen observer. So take this assignment seriously. Get out there today and discover what inspires you in its natural form. You’ll be surprised upon return to your own space how you may see things from a different perspective. Marcus Aurelius articulated it best. “No form of Nature is inferior to Art; for the arts merely imitate natural forms.” Hope you'll post your favorite findings.
Image from the Internet

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bloom's Best

Arthur 'Bugs' Baer once said, “A newspaper is a circulating library with high blood pressure.” So why start your Monday overloading the brain with negative news. Jump-start the engine and schedule some garden reading. If you are looking for a coffee table addition for your upcoming winter perusal, ‘Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses: Expert Plant Choices and Dramatic Combinations for Year-Round Gardens’ is a perfect choice. Another Timber Press hardcover, you shan’t be disappointed by this book’s lovely photographs and philosophy. The Bloom family, the Blooms of Bressingham, has been gracing us for decades with their perennial introductions and developments. My favorite Bressingham is Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and of course, there is Geranium ‘Rozanne’, the workhorse for many perennial gardens and a 2008 PPA Perennial Plant of the Year.

If you are looking for one worthy gardening book for your holiday list, this is a well-rounded choice. Six chapters lay the garden process out neatly for even the novice but trust me. Your die-hard plant geek will love this one for the shelves. The spectacular imagery along with the insightful text is timeless; key factors when collecting for your garden library.

If you didn’t get out and enjoy the brilliant New England weather this weekend in the gardens, you best have a darn good excuse. There is going to be plenty of time for cozying up with a book. But when you do curl up by the fire, sneak a peek at Bloom’s latest and tell me if you agree.
Remember where you can find us. You can follow us on Twitter or our Facebook page Or straight from the blog. Have a great Monday. Annie

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekend Garden Scene

Jack Handey, the American humorist said, “I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it.” There is always room for humor in the garden scene especially on Friday. So just in case you aren’t stranded like these two blokes above, you may want to check out what is happening in the local garden scene.

One option is a fantastic recession deal – free admission for a Winter Open House at Tower Hill Botanic Garden from 10am-5pm this Sunday, November 14th. For all you lucky buggers that have your garden chores buttoned up, pack up the family caravan for a late autumn ride to the Boylston countryside. It’s also a fail-safe in case any clouds roll through. You can sneak into my favorite spot, the Orangerie and bask in the ambiance of glass, tropical plants and classical music.

If you have a little extra time, hop on Rt. 290 to 495 and head out to Bonsai West. Everyone loves this place. Whatever you do this weekend, put a little garden skip in your step. Before you know it, that deserted island might start looking good. Have a great weekend. Plant Ahoy.
Cartoon Image from the Internet

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Quirky Oak

It’s the tree we most know and often see standing tall above the rest in the landscape. The majestic Oak Quercus sp., is a member of the Beech family (Fagaceae). There are over a hundred species of Oak that grow in North America yet this tree tends to be quirky. The nature of its deep root system makes some Oaks difficult to transplant; hence one is hard-pressed to find many of size for sale in the nurseries. But somehow this quirky species adorns our landscape; even the plant novice knows the mighty Oak tree. The special ones often started as acorns and take generations to turn into a regal specimen.

The massive White Oak in my parents’ backyard was always strong enough to handle the tire swing that ate up a lot of my summer afternoons. It helped to have someone near by to push you off into the yonder but if there was nothing else happening, twisting around and daydreaming on the tire swing was always an option. In Michael Dirr’s ‘Hardy Tress and Shrubs’ he refers to the White Oak in simple terms. “The majesty of a mature Oak warrants pause for reflection.”

To sum up what makes Oaks extraordinary, Napoleon Hill captures it best. “The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It's the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” Today’s message: plant an Oak for the next generation.
To my Dad, who I still honor on this Veterans Day for his service to our country. You were the strongest Oak in my life and your little acorn is still a nut!
Images from the Internet

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Beyond the Frying Pan

Looking for some late season vegetables and herbs to add more than just splash to the dinner plate? Swiss chard, Kale, Brussel sprouts, Arugula, Radicchio, Sage, Thyme and Parsley give color and texture late into the season plus offer plenty of culinary options. Since July, our Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’ (photo above) has been kicking out bold spikes of color. A great green for sautés, Swiss chard is a bit milder than spinach, which also does well late into the season. A note to the kitchen cook - the flavors intensify with these veggies during the cooler weather.

Beyond the frying pan, let's fast forward to design. Looking for ideas on how to lay out a beautiful and tasty culinary garden? Here is an example of a late October garden patch in northern England. This display shows how you can arrange the plants with a bit of formality.

Think beyond the standard vegetable rows and get a bit more geometrical or organic with free-flowing drifts. There is no standard rule, no right or wrong. If you are limited for space, you can always try your luck with containers. Don’t run out of steam because your tomatoes are done for the season. Keep this group of plants in mind as you compile your seed order for next year’s garden. As Orison Swett Marden says, “It is like the seed put in the soil - the more one sows, the greater the harvest.”

Photos by Greg Bilowz

© 2009

© 2009 Ann St. Jean-Bilowz/Bilowz Associates Inc. (including all photographs, unless otherwise noted in Annie's Gardening Corner are the property of Bilowz Associates Inc. and shall not be reproduced in any manner nor are they to be assigned to any third party without the expressed written permission and consent of Bilowz Associates Inc.)