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Our company blog, Annie's Gardening Corner, takes a sneak peek at how we balance our own love for everything green + a place to find inspiration, garden ideas and landscape design tips.

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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Daily Grind

Need a way to spice up these winter days? If you want to increase and intensify the flavors of your culinary spices, here’s a simple overlooked tip. Always buy whole spices. Prior to using them in your favorite recipes, toast and grind them yourself. All you need is a frying pan, a stove top, a spatula, and a grinder used only for your spices. One of our old coffee grinders suffices for this job. This gadget can save a lot of time or you can use a mortar and pestle to work those arm muscles. If you tend to buy your spices processed i.e., all ground in a jar for you, the intense flavors of the spice diminishes and doesn’t add that same oomph to your recipes.

Here’s the simple process for grinding your own spices.

Put your spices in a dry frying pan on a medium heat. Stir the spices constantly until they start to crackle and steam (do not smoke or burn as it creates a bitter flavor.) By toasting the spices, you release all the fresh essential oils encapsulated in the spice. Transfer the toasted spices on a plate and let them cool to room temperature. In small batches, grind thoroughly and store in an airtight mason jar. These spices can last for months so prepare more than one batch for future cooking. If you like Indian cuisine, this is the only way to properly prepare your spices.

Think it’s a bother for just your spices? Try something simple like cinnamon. You’ll quickly get the picture when you use fresh vs. pre-processed in a dueling recipe. This tip also works on any nut. Lightly toast prior to chopping and mixing into your recipes that call for chopped nuts. This toasting and grinding process also provides a free air freshener. Just think of all the benefits. Good day to grind your spices is after you cooked fish.

To kick off the last Monday in January and to end today’s post with an inspirational quote, here’s an anonymous but fitting excerpt. “The daily grind of hard work gets a person polished.” In other words, don’t let an extra step scare you from not trying something new. This mid-stretch of winter is the best time to tackle your spice grind.

P.S. For anyone subscribing via email that prefers to reply direct, I’ll keep an email address in the blog You can always post on our fan page or follow me on twitter
Image from the Internet

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sweet Reason

Looking for a new challenge in the veggie garden this spring? Here’s a sweet enough reason to save a small patch of fertile soil for something different. There are loads of factoids about the many different varieties of sweet potatoes but it is Friday so no technical lingo and no dabbling in the sweet potato vs. yam debate.

Although a bit pricier for its bareroot than a regular potato, the growing conditions are similar – good organic soil, plentiful water and warm temperatures. It helps to use black plastic to keep the weeds down and offer extra toasty conditions, specifically in the colder climates.

So if you are looking for a sweet reason to be thinking about spring, let’s think sweet potatoes. Although Douglas Adams reminds us that “It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes,” I’m going with a bit of Lennyism from Lenny Kravitz. “My dream is to become a farmer. Just a Bohemian guy pulling up his own sweet potatoes for dinner.” Have a great weekend and don’t forget to post your favorite sweet potato cooking tips. P.S. For anyone subscribing via email that prefers to reply direct, I’ll keep an email address in the blog You can always post on our fan page or follow me on twitter
Image from the Internet

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Miles Away

Delays and cancellations may be part of today’s forecast but there is always time to start thinking seeds. If you can’t find the energy to dig yourself out of this snowy mess, why not use the time to plan for your spring veggie garden. This 2008 Mother Earth News article, ‘Know When to Plant What: Find Your Average Last Spring Frost Date’ may help churn and burn some of this winter gunk out of the engine.

Cool season crops like broccoli and cabbage should be first on your list. You can always start seeds indoors if you want an established spring crop. Like anything in this gardening world, it’s important to understand those climate factors so be sure to click on the link for the National Climatic Data Center where you can figure your last spring frost date.
The spring planting season may seem miles away with these winter storms but everything creeps up on us when we aren’t paying attention. So dig through your seed catalogs and remember E.B. White’s words of wisdom, “Before the seed there comes the thought of bloom.”

The sun just popped through the clouds. I can see spring already, even if it feels miles away.

Images from the Internet

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

These Boots are made for Walking

Dressing for the cold weather and slugging through the snow can be challenging at best. If your only destination is to hop in the car and insulate yourself from the outdoor conditions, slugging seems that much more difficult. A quick jaunt in the landscape is often the best way to get rid of the winter doldrums and liven up your spirits. Take Howard Thurman’s advice. "Ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

For me, getting outside and embracing the elements wakes me up. The cold air clears the lungs and gets the blood flowing. So before the next storm, bundle up and grab a good pair of boots made for winter walking. Enjoy a brisk jaunt in the woods. The pristine landscape and winter elements are breathtaking.

When the weather packs its next punch, pick up the latest gardening book, catalog or schedule a winter seminar before the spring flowers pop up. Each season has a reason. Find what makes you come alive in winter.
Image from the Internet

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Silhouettes in the Snow

The winter garden’s profile is often the most pronounced but overlooked outline of our landscape. Basil Bunting, although referring to various forms of art, states this theory best. “Whether you listen to a piece of music, or a poem, or look at a picture or a jug, or a piece of sculpture, what matters about it is not what it has in common with others of its kind, but what is singularly its own.”

The winter season, with all its shortcomings is meant to give us a perfect opportunity to assess the individual lines, shapes and profiles of our landscape. Although the time of rest and hibernating, winter is also a chance to review, assess and put change in place for the upcoming growing season.

Design begins now, not in the depths of spring throes. Why wait to smell the dirt, touch the stone and feel the vision unfold? Peek out the window. Your garden is what you see now – the silhouettes in the snow. Don’t see any shapes, lines, or profiles dressed in white? Time to think design!
Top Image by Greg Bilowz
Bottom two images from the Internet

Monday, January 24, 2011

Keep Your Paws Warm

With today’s arctic freeze temperatures, George Herbert’s words, “Every mile is two in winter,” is a chilling reminder to keep your paws warm. If you need to be outside, do not leave home without the appropriate layers. No need to be concerned about your plants, though. A decent covering of snow does insulate much of our vegetation. So thank goodness for the current snowfall. An open winter (i.e., no snow cover) in these frigid January conditions can raise havoc with certain plant materials that are marginally hardy or recently planted and not fully established. So when you look for blessings in disguise, think snow.

Yes, we could live without these below zero temperatures. Even hardy New Englanders dislike when the mercury drops off the dial but there is always a bright spot. Dig out the snow shoes or the cross country skis and go for a shuffle. This winter scenery is clear, brisk and absolutely spectacular. The conditions don’t get any better as long as you can handle the elements. Just remember to protect the paws and check out the winter landscape. Start slow and enjoy the ride because “every mile is two in winter.”

Photo of Ben's Big Dog Paws by Greg Bilowz

Friday, January 21, 2011

Soul, Soil and Sun

With this constant state of snow accumulation, it’s time to crank up the tunes and put in a mixer of soul, soil and sun. While swaying to the beat, this is a perfect weekend to size up your indoor plants’ living quarters and soil conditions. With the heat blasting and the dust flying, you may think that watering is enough to tend to these indoor companions. If you are anything like me, changing the pot size, the soil or even giving the extra shot of fert is often overlooked. With chilly temps predicted for the weekend, outdoor activities could be limited. It's time to give those indoor plants a little extra TLC.

P.S. In the case of this Begonia, ‘Phoe’s Cleo’, moving it to another window recently produced a blossom.

So in the words of Meister Eckhart, “What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.” It’s the season for contemplating. There’s plenty of catch-up gardening time in the spring.

Image of Benny the infamous Border Collie - photo taken by Greg Bilowz
Image of Begonia 'Phoe's Cleo' taken by Annie

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Winter Thought

If you are seeing too much white these days, why not add a splash of pink to your winter thoughts? Check out this Proven Winner, ‘Pink Home Run’. This is a low maintenance rose for those like me who can shy away from the thorny creatures. This variety is a disease resistant, compact formed rose that requires no pruning for its continual display of blooms throughout the growing season. It can handle the elements – zone 4 to 9. This rose is one for the spring acquisitions. Here’s the link for you to check it out yourself.

So how many more days until we wake up from our winter sleep? Are you counting? While we dream about our blooming gardens, remember to stay positive with your winter thoughts. Start building the plant palette. Think big for your flower collection. W. Clement Stone says it best. “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.” I’m adding this star to my rose collection. Annie

Image of 'Pink Home Run' from Spring Meadow Nursery

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Season of Slow

The conditions outside remind us that moving too fast can be treacherous. Whether walking, driving, or skidding your way to a destination, the best way to get there safely is with less speed and more patience. When it comes to our garden, much of what is situated in our landscape requires a resting period. Yet as humans, we tend to refuse the season of slow or our own period of dormancy. Most perennial plants, specifically those growing in our region, need a time of rest to stay healthy. As the plant world goes, everything is sound asleep. The tricky time for our region’s horticultural scene is March, April and the beginning of May, when the temperatures begin to transition and fluctuate. If things wake up too early and the temperatures plunge, there is a chance for serious damage. So we should take heed to an old proverb, “slow as molasses in January.” It’s the correct pace for the day.

Images from the Internet

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Connected at the Hip

Sorry about the missed blog on the holiday. Intending to write, I just couldn’t keep focused. My mom broke her hip on Sunday and although I can typically write through thick and thin, my mom’s surgery was my only focus. We are a bit connected at the hip so I may as well have been sedated throughout the process.

But moving forward with my garden analogy; this situation is similar to a tree bough breaking in the midst of a winter ice storm. Trees can handle a few missing branches but when something major impacts its structural stability, immediate attention is required. Although my mom has a bit of age on her, she is still a prize tree. Even the Doc said he was working with strong bones. With a successful surgery, the long haul of getting back on track is scheduled for everyone’s agenda over the next few months.

So take care of your trees this winter. Pay attention to any severe snow, ice or wind damage. Remember to call in the experts when you determine it’s a major break and be patient. The healing process can be a tad long but there can still be a lot more longevity in those limbs. John Henry Jowett sums up the purpose of a tree and our lives best. “May my life be like a great hospitable tree, and may weary wanderers find in me a rest.” My mom still has many a bowl of pasta and meatballs to share with her family.

P.S. Today's blog post is a little later than expected due to technical difficulties so hoping we are back on track for the week! Annie
Image of damaged tree from the Internet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Winning Team

Building a balanced team is more important to a successful outcome than any one particular skill set. Communicating and working as a whole is imperative to navigate the challenges that ultimately occur during the course of a project. As a customer, when meeting with and interviewing a professional, it is always critical to find winning dynamics. It all starts and ends with a great team.

How does the machine work when it hits a bump? If your apparatus/team is finely tuned to adjust to pot holes, ditches, and the typical ups and downs of unforeseeable events, then the project is destined to stay on track. Achieving and maintaining balance with your team is essential yet not always easy to accomplish. It takes work. How each member interacts with the other makes any project successful. Cultivating the best skill set and working toward one goal forces your team to check their egos at the door. This warrants a great leader to orchestrate the team. Just look at how successful New England Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick is with his strategy- “in order to create a great team, you have to give up a lot of your individuality.”

It does take one leader running the show and typically in a sizeable project, it should always be the homeowner driving this boat. The challenge is finding the right team and keeping the players on track. Lao Tzu states leadership best. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Remember to build your winning team before undertaking your project. Go Pats!

Image from the Internet

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snowflake Shutterbug

In its perfect whiteness, before the snow gets mucked up with salt, sand and the usual drudge, start snapping photos of your winter backdrop. Dorothea Lange reminds us what an image can create for us with her simple observation. “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” There are no hard and fast rules for photography. Yes, time, patience and a bit of skill makes one master a technique and establish form but there has been a lot of amateur photography that captures a moment better than many a paid professional. The world is vast of wonderful images taken by those that just felt the moment and didn’t pass the opportunity up. So don’t sit idle today. Take heed to the words of my favorite photographer, Ansel Adams. “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Make time to bundle up with your snow boots, hat and mittens and hold that lens to your eye. Capture this amazing light, form and shape to hold this beautiful setting still. Otherwise, you can catch the next flight south. Annie.

Images from the Internet

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beating the Snow Blues

Are you hiding in dormancy, waiting for winter to blow by? Often times you can trick yourself into another season. It’s similar to how we force flowers to bloom in a greenhouse. One way I always like to feel seasonably warm when there ‘ain’t no sunshine’ is by creating a summer dish in the dead of winter. You can be resourceful and check the cupboards but a surefire way to plug into warm weather is with a fresh green salad. What better way to get versatility of vegetables and summer combined in one? So if you are piled high in these winter snow drifts or you are one of the unfortunate ones without electricity, this salad is a perfect recipe to beat the snow blues.

Citrus Salad Dressing

The juice of 2 squeezed lemons
The juice of 2 squeezed oranges
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1/8 cup of white balsamic vinegar or white vinegar
2 tablespoons of sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Mix ingredients together
Add ¾ cup of extra virgin olive oil and blend

A few serving tips:

Serve on a bed of arugula and sunflower sprouts. The flavor of citrus and arugula are like a match made in heaven. You can use other greens but these are your best choices for awesome flavor.
Alter your citrus taste by mixing lemon and limes.
For a different orange zest, use tangerines rather than navel. Test and experiment with the citrus in your home.
You can also use this dressing as a marinade, particularly with grilled chicken. So don’t waste any; it’s good to the last drop!

I borrow two quotes to finish today’s post and provide inspirational thought for this snowy New England day. Anne Morrow Lindbergh shares her insight on how many of us respond to this season. “Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath, for the instinct to be half asleep all winter is so strong in me. “ But Albert Camus reminds us that “in the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

So there you have it. The best way to beat the snow blues is to find your summer. Have a picnic. Create a salad and spread a blanket on the floor, crack open your favorite beverage and get the fire roaring. Just think – no bugs! And before you know it, the entire yak will be about the sizzling summer temperatures.

Images from the Internet

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Two P’s of Winter

Catalogs abound, this is the gardener’s season of patience and planning. With a snowstorm predicted to dump inches of the fluffy white stuff, thoughts of flowers and bountiful vegetable patches leave us nowhere to turn except the two P’s – patience and planning. If your mailbox is chuck-full of the colorful publications, don’t toss them aside for another day. Use this time wisely to peruse, plan and order whatever you fancy for spring. Things move fast and with the grow-your-own vegetable craze, why wait for the leftovers. Get the best of the best. The only way to accomplish that is with a plan. The rest is patience. Spring is just around the snow drift. Annie

Images of Snow Drops in the Snow from the Internet

Monday, January 10, 2011

Gingerly Restful

Getting back into the swing of the things, one realizes that town politics, even if you left for a year would still be in the same rut when you return. I should realize that watching the rerun of the selectmen’s meeting that I missed is a surefire way to get indigestion. That said, a soothing concoction that helps with ones digestive problems is an easy island recipe for your blender - ginger beer. “Ginger, a plant native to India is used for a digestive aid and is also used as a physical and spiritual cleanser. It helps colds, coughs, flu, indigestion, belching, abdominal pains, motion sickness, laryngitis, arthritis, hemorrhoids, headaches, impotence, diarrhea, heart disease and memory loss. It is used as a food, a tea, a gargle, a compress and is also used as massage oil. Do not use in case of high fever, bleeding with inflammatory skin conditions or if an ulcer is present.” It’s less of a warning label than your typical pharmaceutical commercial.

With all these uses, it makes sense to find the freshest piece of ginger in your supermarket or specialty shop and get chopping. Avoid wrinkly skin. You want tight, fresh healthy roots. It should look like it just came from the ground. The longer the root sits around, the harsher the flavor. Asian or Indian supermarkets are your best bet for the freshest ginger roots.

For a simple ginger beer recipe that will help with a bout of indigestion and the last rerun of your local selectmen’s meeting, here are the simple ingredients and directions.

For a quart of ginger beer:

Peel and chop 4 ounces of fresh ginger
In a blender, add three to five tablespoons of sugar with ½ cup of warm water to dissolve the sugar.
Add the fresh ginger and the remaining 3 & 1/2 cups of cold water and a quarter teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and process in your blender.
Place in a container in the fridge and let the ginger pulp settle. You may want to strain the ginger prior to serving. Pour over ice for this tasty drink. This concoction has a bit of a kick so one must acquire a taste for fresh ginger beer. If you like, you can add a splash of seltzer to give it a bit of fizz. You can adjust these proportions as needed.

So to end our daily blog in Annie fashion, the inspirational quote of the day is summed up best by Earnest Benn. “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.” So remember to stay gingerly restful and centered. Happy Monday.

Quoted information on ginger - excerpt from the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies, C. Norman Shealy.
Image of fresh ginger root from the Internet.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Ashleigh Brilliant reminds us that “sometimes the most urgent thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.” Next Monday, full idle with the daily gardening blogs, Facebook and Twitter updates. The island internet coverage didn't allow anything other than complete rest. Tune in on the 10th! Annie.
Poppy Image from the Internet

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© 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.)