Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pruning as Prayer


As Master Gardener, I learned that there is an optimal time to prune trees, bushes and just about anything in the garden.  And, like most people, I usually miss that window vowing to do better the next time the window comes around but I never do.

It recently occurred to me that there are a lot of people out there giving gardening advice and, although some of it is pretty much the same, a lot of it depends on the garden and the gardener.  

So this morning, with clippers in hand, I went out and pruned my "desperately in need of pruning" roses.  It may not have been the most optimal, by the book time to prune but it was the only time I had so I pruned.  And, guess what?  They'll be fine….. and why shouldn't they be?  I prayed over each and every one.

Well, maybe praying is not exactly the right word.  Praying implies that I was asking God to spare my roses from bad pruning.  It was more like meditating actually, a freeing focus on my task that cleared, quieted and refreshed my mind.

I got as much out of pruning as my roses did.  We both got the dead wood cut away and new places were created for fresh spring growth.   

Here's the key to pruning regardless of when you do it.....  never prune away more than about 1/2 the bush at one time.  You can always prune less but never more. 

If you cut away more than half the bush at one time, you will without doubt shock the plant and it may well die.  Sounds a little like people, doesn't it?  Cut away too much of who we are and we will no, doubt die, too.

After you're done pruning, leave the bush alone for 1 growing season.  It needs to get itself together.  People need to get themselves together, too... hence the happy hour, the weekend get-away and the shopping spree.

Timid about pruning?
Prune a little then stop.  Come back another time and see if you want to prune some more.  You can spread pruning over weeks.  You don't have to commit to anything all at once.

One last thought.... pruning is not cutting blossoms for the vase.  Pruning is shaping and molding and getting the bush to fit into its environment.  Cutting blossoms for the vase is just taking a little bit off the top.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How To Tell If Your Garden or Landscape Is Healthy

Bringing life to your garden

A healthy garden grows

A healthy garden or landscape  is alive with activity. 

There's lots of birds, bugs and butterflies.  Hummingbirds, too, and bees.  

When your garden is alive, it will grow and produce abundantly.  If there's no life, it will shrivel and die.   That's true for people, too. 

Bugs?   Did I say bugs?   Yes indeed!

A healthy garden needs LOTS of bugs.  Good bugs.  Lots and lots of good bugs.

Here's how it works:
Healthy plants attact good bugs.  Good bugs pollinate the plants and keep away the bad bugs.

Look closely!  
A good bug is
 hiding in fern-y dill and carrot tops.
It rewards us by turning into
a gorgeous butterfly! 
Birds eat bugs (both good and bad) and gently nestle the leaves of the     plants which helps with pollination, too.

Birds also leave their droppings which help fertilize the plants.  Droppings often contain a "volunteer" plant seed which is a gift from Mother Nature.  Birds bring their beauty and song to your garden, too.

But wait, there's more.... bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, birds' nests with tiny eggs, toads, even the ocassional kitty - all bring life to your garden.

Brightly colored flowers
attact birds, bees and butterflies
It's easy to pump up the volume of activity in your garden and attact birds, bugs and butterflies.  Just add brightly colored flowers (like zinnias) and a water feature (like a bird bath).  Skip chemical pesticides and weed killers.  It won't take long for your garden to come alive.

Whether it's gorgeous flowers, abundant vegetables or just a perfectly manicured lawn that you're after, your Garden of Eden should be as congested as Times Square on New Years Eve.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pliers - The Quick and Easy Way to Pull Out Thorn-y Vines

By Karla Jones Seidita
Home Economist & Master Gardener

It's May and I'm embarrassed to tell you that today is really the first day I have been in the garden this spring.  But last night, as I fell into bed, I vowed to get up and get into the garden before breakfast.  No excuses!

We've been so busy here at Cheesecake Farms (with a calendar chock full of guests - even mid week which is unusual for us) that I've hardly had a moment to spare.  Plus, we just had the outside of the Mane House painted - deck and all - so I was hesitant about doing any real planting for fear the painters would step on everything and break bushes with tarps.  But now the painting is over.

So this morning, as the sun came up and I opened my eyes, I got excited about getting into the garden.  No marathon mind you... just a pleasant hour or so of fresh air and sunshine.  I made myself a cup of coffee and headed out with my favorite tool....a pair of pliers.

I can hear you laughing but pliers are the perfect tool for pulling out nasty, thorn-y vines.  Just grab the vine with your pliers and pull.  Out it comes!!   The closer to the ground and the base of the vine you position the pliers the better.   

Happy Gardening!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Winter Garden - Dreaming About Spring

Dream'n About Spring
By Karla Jones Seidita
Home Economist & Master Gardener

Thinking about spring?

You're not alone!

Every gardener longs for the spicy scent of spring's early thaw.

This is a good time of your to plan a little before the gardening rush begins.

As you dream about the beauty of a manicured lawn, carefully pruned bushes and the beds of bulbs, think about the activity of your landscape.

A healthy garden or landscape will have lots of birds, bugs and butterflies.   Hummingbirds, too, and bees.  Your Garden of Eden should be as congested as Times Square on New Years Eve.   

Without activity and buzzing around, your garden might as well be filled with plastic flowers because it has ho life.

To pump up the volume of activity in your garden, attract birds and butterflies by adding brightly colored flowers (like zinnias) and a water feature like a bird bath.  

Forget pesticides and weed -killers.  Don't be afraid to let the bugs come.  They'll make a hearty dinner for the birds who'll reward you with their beauty and grace.

It won't take long for your garden to come alive.  The more activity in your garden, the healthier it is!!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chapter 30 - Fresh Thyme and Lemon Tea Bread

There's No Thyme Like the Present to Get into The Garden

If you're wondering where I've been (because it's been a couple of weeks since my last blog), I'll tell you.   I've been in the garden.

Pretty petunias
waiting to be planted
Virginia is a gardening state. 

I know that New Jersey is called the garden state (why, I do not know since it seems to be mostly asphalt and concrete) but in Virginia, gardening is our passion.

Maybe it's our abundance of horse manure (we're a horse state, too) that calls us to gardening.  Maybe it's love of our beautiful country side. 

Or maybe it's baskets of fresh produce for our kitchens and arm loads of cut flowers for our vases. 

Whatever the reason, we Virginians love our gardens.

We've had several weeks of rain then incredible heat so all our gardening chores here at Cheesecake Farms fell by the wayside.

But this past week, it's been gorgeous so each morning - just about sun rise - I've been jumping out of bed and heading out to the garden.

The Mane House
Trees and bushes are
 planted first to set the
I'm putting in a cottage garden in front of the Mane House.  It's been a long time coming.  

When we built the Mane House a few years ago, the builder stripped every bit of top soil from around the house and took it away - probably to sell it (Imagine that....selling OUR top soil!) - leaving us with solid clay.  Not even builders' grade grass grows in solid clay.

To repair the mess he left, I piled 24 inches of manure and straw from the barn all over and left it there for a couple of years before tilling. 

Since then, I've been planting slowly to make sure the ground is ready.
The Mane House
Perennials and herbs are
added to the front garden
First came the main elements...trees, hedges and bushes. 

With the next year came the perennial plants and herbs.  So far so good.  It's all filling in nicely. 

I use annuals (flowers and vegetables) to fill in the bare spots as the perennials take shape.  

Today, I decided to bake myself a treat.  Here's my recipe for a most unexpected flavor combination that you're going to love.

Fresh Thyme and Lemon Tea Bread
Snip a little thyme from your herb garden and whip up this oh so elegant, oh so lady-like, oh so unusual treat. Share it at tea or keep it all to yourself as a reward for all the gardening chores you've done.

Serve plain or dusted with powdered sugar.
Toast slices then spread with unsalted butter and a drizzle of local honey. 
Make lovely sandwiches using a filling mixture of softened cream cheese combined with a little milk or orange juice to make it fluffy.

Makes one loaf
Pan size: 8 X 4 X 2 inches
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 (3 oz.) package regular cream cheese (softened - low fat or fat free not recommended)
3 tablespoons butter (margarine not recommended)
2/3 cup sugar
1 large or extra large egg (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (no stems)
Grated rind of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons - a little more or less is OK)
1/2 cup whole milk (other milk not recommended)

Position oven rack so loaf will bake in center.  Preheat to 350 degrees.  Grease pan.  Dust with flour.

Sift flour, and baking powder together.

In another bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar.  Add egg, thyme and lemon rind.  Stir in half the flour mixture then half the milk.  Repeat.  Scrape bowl.  Beat on high 2 minutes.

Pour into prepared pan.  Bake in preheated oven 45 - 55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes before removing from pan.  Finish cooling, top side up, on rack.


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