Wednesday, March 4, 2015

It's Tree Tappin' Time!

The maple tree buds will be swelling soon.
There are certain things that signal the end of winter and in a year that we didn't think could possibly be as bad as the last (but was), we're celebrating each one as it occurs. It's officially the beginning of the end.

Strangely enough, this was a winter that just five months ago, I was dreading in the worst way. Just the thought of what was to come threatened to be my undoing, but here we are on the down side and I'm none the worse for wear! Yay!

This past week brought the Ft. Wayne Home and Garden Show, the first of such shows for me for the year and though I thought I'd not attend this year, I grabbed my cousin Debbie and off we went. I didn't find a single thing that inspired me there, but it wasn't a bad way to spend a bitterly cold day either.

On the home front, we're wrapping up a long-awaited (15+ years!) kitchen renovation and soon the spring season will be in full swing with other shows and travel. But as daytime temperatures finally inch upward past the freezing mark, it's time to tap the maple trees!

Monday, we gathered up our spiles and collecting pails along with the drill and headed out to get maple syrup season under way. It was a beautiful, sunny winter day with a fresh, fluffy white layer of snow covering the ground, belying the interaction going on between the trees and the ground around them.

Both of the maple trees tapped in this photo are large enough to support
two spiles/buckets. The rest of the maples we tapped only have one each.

Five trees are slated to be tapped this year - two more than last year - and we got three of them set up with their buckets. Two trees got two taps each while another one received just one tap. We'll tap the other two when the drill battery is recharged.
After last year's season, we decided that processing the sap for syrup would not take place in our kitchen especially now that we've got a brand spankin' new one. That's just too much steam to deal with, so this year I purchased a portable induction cooktop for use with my stainless steel stock pot (thanks for the suggestion, Susy Morris!) and it will be done either outside or in the garage, depending on the weather.

About an hour after we finished tapping the trees, I went back outside to see if the sap was running yet, and sure enough, three of the taps had liquid dripping from the spiles. I was rather surprised since we've not had any days above freezing yet, although Monday came close at 31°F. Night temperatures below freezing and daytime temps above are what are needed to get the sap flowing.

A sapsicle!

It won't be long before we'll have enough sap to process for some of that unbelievably scrumptious maple syrup, but for now, we wait. You can read about our last year's maple tree tapping experience (our first!) here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Longwood Gardens: Shades of Gray

It would just be too tacky to make a play on "that movie" that premiered over the weekend, so I won't do that. But I have to show how much better Mother Nature does it anyway.

In my last blog post, I shared some photos of last spring's visit to Longwood Gardens.The conservatory there is a world all in itself, with each partof it worthy of an essay highlighting its features. It was the lovely shades of gray in its Silver Garden that especially caught my eye this visit.

Take a look:

So many of these plants exhibiting gorgeous shades of gray/silver/blue look as if they would be feathery soft to touch (and some are), however those stunning agaves are anything but. Flowers are beautiful, to be sure, but the Silver Garden of the conservatory is a prime example of how foliage, with subtle hues and bold textures, can be a stunning element of design. Fellow St. Lynn's Press authors, Christina Salwitz and Karen Chapman, have written one of the best books on this subject Fine Foliage: Elegant Plant Combinations for Container and Garden.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Springtime Visit to Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens, the treasure created by the Pierre du Pont family near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is an enjoyable experience at pretty much any time of the year, but my visit last April made more of an impression on me than my first visit way back in September of 2006. The reason for this may have been a combination of two things.

When I made that first visit, I was a new gardener and while absolutely awestruck by its loveliness and grandeur, my familiarity with plants had not yet reached a level much beyond their aesthetics. That alone is more than enough to appreciate this garden or any garden, for that matter, but as my knowledge of and experience with plants has grown exponentially over the years, I look at gardens through different eyes.

Now I look at the design of the garden as a whole, as well as individual plots and vignettes. I try to figure out why I like them, why they work, and ponder whether any of it would work in my own garden. I also look at individual plants that catch my eye and wonder if I could grow this one or that one, all the while looking ahead with regard to maintenance, drought tolerance, and attractiveness as it matures.

Consider too, that visiting any garden in spring - for a northern gardener, at least - lifts a person's spirits after enduring a long, cold, and dreary winter. Last spring was especially joyous because of The Winter That Was.

I was more than ready to see swaths of daffodils and tulips and smell the wet, green fragrance of the gardens coming to life again. Not just the hyacinths or lily-of-the-valley, but that medley of "green" that even those without sight would recognize as spring.

THIS is how you do a conservatory.

This second visit to Longwood Gardens was planned but yet by chance, as it was a personal add-on to a business trip to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, just outside Harrisburg, where I spent two days touring the Ames Tools facilities and getting to know their company and their products. Good friend Shawna Coronado had been invited by Ames too, and we were delighted when we discovered we both were attending.

With several thousand tulips, you too can have a yard that looks like this!

That's when the wheels started turning in my head as to the possibility of us staying an extra couple of days (at our own expense) so that we could visit both Longwood and Winterthur, if possible, since we were going to be relatively close to both of them. Having visited both places previously, I was hoping to see them again and introduce both to Shawna, but unfortunately, Winterthur would have to wait for another time, because you know how time is - there just never seems to be enough of it.

One of the most photographed locations at Longwood includes the stone
and iron gazebo.

The mother-daughter dynamic duo,
Katie Dubow (left) and Suzi McCoy
After spending two wonderfully informative days at Ames, we were hosted by Suzi McCoy and her husband in their beautiful Kennett Square home, with a lovely dinner at nearby Terrain garden store, where we were joined by Suzi's daughter, Katie Dubow. We also enjoyed a fun breakfast at Fran Keller's Eatery, a local restaurant, where we were joined by a couple of other Garden Media Group peeps, Stacey Silvers and Emma Fitzpatrick.

We arrived at Longwood around 11:00 and for the next six hours, explored the gardens inside and out. If that seems like a long time, I can assure you that it went by in a flash. With over 1077 acres and a conservatory that is alone worth the cost of admission ($20 for ages 18+, $17 for 65+, and $10 for ages 5-18), and camera in hand, it's almost not enough time.

I took over 400 photos that day and choosing which ones to include here to give you a taste of what you can expect to see when visiting Longwood Gardens was not easy. The gardens outside are stunning in their design and use of color, while the conservatory can be described as the best four-acre backyard you can imagine, where the weather is always just right.

Because I know you're going to ask, those pink towers of loveliness are
Echium wildpretii. Appropriate specific epithet, don't you think? Wild and
pretty, for sure.

The gardens celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2006 and miniature terrariums were used as table decorations during a celebratory banquet. When I made my first visit to Longwood in that year, their beautiful gift shop offered some of them for sale. I was able to purchase one and enjoy having a memento of both my first visit and their centennial year.

As with any garden, your visit will be different depending on the time of year you visit. Without further ado, here's more of Longwood Gardens in spring:

In the vegetable garden

The iconic gazebo stands opposite the skunk cabbage coming up on the
other shore of the lake.

I'm thinking that those are some well-placed benches, with that lovely view.

The ferns were stretching out their fiddleheads.

In the children's garden inside the conservatory

In the conservatory

One of the many water features in the conservatory.

The bromeliads are quite happy by this fountain in the conservatory.

One of the conservatory hallways

I've never seen such beautiful foxgloves, inside or out.

Delphiniums and ferns in the conservatory

Beautiful pathway in the conservatory

In the conservatory


Conservatory fountains

Golden Clivia in the conservatory

Bougainvillea in the conservatory

Bleeding Heart
(Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

Bathrooms. Yes, really.

Poppy Anemone
(Anemone coronaria)

Oh, those blue hydrangeas in the conservatory!

Squirrel Corn
(Dicentra canadensis)

Purple Trillium
(Trillium erectum)

Tulipa 'Angelique'

The Topiary Garden

Longwood Gardens is located 45 minutes from Philadelphia and just 30 minutes from Wilmington, Delaware. It's one of the many beautiful places to visit in the Brandywine Valley.

Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road,
Kennett Square,  PA 19348


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