Signs of Summer…family, farm, garden and nature on hot, hazy days…

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Every summer, as soon as school was out, my family would pack up the old family car and drive to North Carolina to visit our grandmothers and my favorite Aunt. Rolling down the dusty driveway, I looked over the front seat trying to get a glimpse of the farmhouse and barn and my Grandmother! There she was, standing by the porch just outside the kitchen door, wearing her blue cotton dress and white apron, a dishtowel thrown over her shoulder. Jumping out of the old 1948 Packard, I ran down the dirt driveway where my Father had parked the car in front of the old white clapboard house,  I quickly hugged my sweet grandmother and then squealing with glee, headed straight for the garden while she followed behind with an old enamel bucket. She knew exactly what I wanted to do…pick some juicy red strawberries to go with her shortcakes ready to come out of the old wood stove oven that I just knew she had made. For topping the berries, Daisy had been milked earlier and her fresh cream was straining through cheesecloth into an enamel pan… soon to be whipped with the old egg beater! I picked a whole bucket full of warm strawberries!cream

My next chore was to get the cream from the wash house and help with the beating until it became a mound of luscious, fluffy, sweet cream. It took a while and as my arm would get tired I would stop for a minute only to hear Grandmother say…”No stopping, keep beating ’till it’s done or it just won’t be fluffy enough…and not too much sugar either!”  Then I had to rinse the berries and pull off the green caps, slice them and sprinkle with a wee bit of sugar.

After a dinner of fried chicken, done in a huge black iron skillet, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, fresh green beans grandmother had picked while I worked on the strawberries…it was finally time for dessert! Of course I did have to help clean up the dishes from the table, wash them in a dishpan sitting in the huge cast iron sink that I constantly had to pump water into, rinse them in heated water in another pan and then hand them to my brother to dry and stack on the kitchen work table. It wasn’t called an island in those days! AND, we were the dishwasher! Finally ready to make dessert, Grandmother showed me how to fork split open the shortcakes, made rich with fresh churned butter, then scoop on several spoonfuls of berries, topped then with the other half of the cake, more strawberries and then finally…a huge spoonful of sweetened whipped cream…I was in heaven right there at Grandmother’s table.

The day had been long since getting up at 6:00 AM, leaving home we then had a 3 hour car ride. The rest of the day was spent picking berries, feeding the chickens and gathering eggs,  beating the cream and just running around the farm looking at all the animals and livestock and riding the ancient FORD tractor…and then family dinner,  followed by the best treat ever!

Yawning, I knew I couldn’t stay awake much longer so Grandmother started pouring the warm water she had been heating into the wash tub sitting in the kitchen so I could take a bath…running around the farm barefooted had really been fun but I was a dusty, dirty mess.  She told me firmly that I was not going to get into bed with just laundered, clean white sheets, crisp from ironing, fresh on the bed, until I had bathed, and besides…it was Saturday night! Sitting in the wash tub I rubbed her lavender soap on the dirty spots and poured warm water all over me while Grandmother used a pitcher to rinse my hair after soaping. Wrapped in a huge cotton towel, I walked to the bedroom at the back of the house to put on my pajamas and climb into the creaky old iron bed. Grandmother came in to spend a few minutes brushing out my hair before kissing me goodnight…she winked and said, “Don’t read too long under the covers, you’ll run down the flashlight battery.” How did she always know…?

Grow Your Own Berries…a burst of summer! Like so many seasonal fruit delights easily grown in home gardens, there is a very short time that berries are available…so pick often, preserve, freeze, bake and eat some daily. Nothing better on a lazy summer early evening than wandering through the garden, with a glass of wine, picking blackberries warmed by the day’s sun…fresh, sweet, fragrant and so much more tasty than those from a market.berries

Picking from your own plants is one of the joys of the summer season…if you have the time to take care of some new plants now, you’ll likely find fruit vines on sale at local garden centers. I suggest you buy a few vines, get them in the ground, water carefully until you see new growth. Then, monitor as you would your garden.

Birds also love fresh berries so if you have the problem just get some bird netting and cover your crops. Sometimes birds get trapped in netting so look for some that has small mesh. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are the easiest to grow and offer crops for picking from June to early August, depending on varieties.

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Tune in to birdsong…As the sun sets over the trees and the bright light of summer fades to that time between dusk and darkness, the air begins to fill with evening birdsong. Shadows have darkened, the breeze has dropped and there is a hush punctuated only with the whine of insects and a few birds chirping. The moon rises beyond the trees and the song begins. Birds use their song for several purposes…some to attract a potential mate, some calls communicate between family members and often their short alarm sounds warn of any approaching predators. I enjoy walking through the garden listening to their song and sounds, often identifying a few familiar messages.

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 GARDEN NOTES…Water tomatoes in the morning at this time of year,  if you water too late in the day, wet foliage at night encourages blight. ALSO, as shown in photo, cut/remove lower and inside leaves on tomato vines to aid ripening and encourage the plants to put their energy into fruit production.

Pick lemon verbena leaves to make a refreshing tea or water for warm summer days!

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My chicks follow me everywhere I go in the garden, if I find a bug I toss it toward them and see which one can make the catch…they obviously know me as the food/feed provider even though they roam freely all day, scratching and pecking. It’s such a hoot to watch them waddle/run around the yard going after bugs and just having fun! She is one of my beautiful Gold-laced Wyandottes.

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From Holly and me, happy end of June…

 

All set to enjoy summer in the garden…

…nice long warm days, blue skies and fresh air feasts.

June, a month of strawberries and roses abloom! It’s also the month for wearing hats and cool linen in the garden…and a month for enjoying meals outside.

Early summer harvest…what’s in season? Ripe, juicy, sweet, mouth-watering, luscious, deep scarlet strawberries…inextricably linked with the arrival of summer. The best way to enjoy them…just picked with a bit of real cream and perhaps a freshly baked scone.

Fresh air feast…also coming into season! Some early grape or cherry tomatoes are just in and ready to pick for a tomato tart…This is such an easy, simple way to show off those tiny gems of flavor. Use puff pastry to cut rounds for crust…spread some herb goat cheese on the bottom of the crust, place tiny  sliced tomatoes as shown in the photo. Drizzle some olive oil, sprinkle S&P, and top with shredded Parmesan. Bake 375 for 20 minutes or until golden brown and risen. Truly divine enjoyed with a glass of wine while sitting on the patio watching the antics in the garden.IMG_4529

A Haven of Herbs…there are some shade loving herbs that will flourish in the garden. Fragrance and flavor, provide a harmonious mix in the potager…….Mint, parsley, chervil, chives, lemon balm, sorrel and more do well in a morning sun spot followed by great afternoon shade, in fertile, well-drained moist soil. Of course mint and lemon balm can be thugs that will survive and spread no matter what the conditions. Contain both by planting in large pots sunk into the soil. Lift the plants in the fall, divide the rootball and replant a small clump in fresh compost, back in the pot. Chives, parsley and chervil are pretty well-mannered in the garden and will grow and thrive well almost anywhere…although chervil does prefer cool weather.

Joyful benefits of mint…garden mint or spearmint in an infusion or tea was recommended by 17th century herbalist, Culpeper, to calm the stomach and help prevent indigestion. Often, after dinner, I make mint tea from a large handful of mint, steeped in hot water for a bit…You can drink the tea hot or pour over ice for a cooling and refreshing summer drink. Extra flavor can be added with lemon verbena leaves.

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Hollyhocks...sometimes called fairy hats…are one of the most popular cottage garden plants. They bring statuesque splendor to any planting bed or border and look especially striking against a wall or fence. Their majestic funnel-shaped flowers are abundant in early summer making them attractive to bees and butterflies. Hollyhocks are biennials and re-seed easily. They grow best in fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny location in most areas of the country.  NOTE: I always collect the little seed pods that form from the blooms to help perpetuate the stand of hollyhocks in the flower border.

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A time and place to dream and reflect…A pretty patch of woodland garden, a tranquil, lush spot through which to wander…Each evening after dinner, glass of wine in hand, I make a circuit of my garden. It’s the perfect way to wind down after a busy day. I delight in watching how everything is growing and changing…like weaving the tapestry together. And, just before dusk is the perfect time for watching wildlife visitors. To me, these relaxed balmy evenings and often an alfresco meal in the garden are what summer is all about…

OBELISKS, the exclamation point in the garden…Planting on structure offers another dimension in a garden…it adds obvious height and lifts the eye from the ground thus creating a garden that invites and surrounds. Supporting acts such as an obelisk, a rose arch, a trellis, a trio of bamboo poles and woven pole fencing…all give a little vertical assistance to a variety of plants. Pears grown this way thrive and produce abundant clusters of fruit.

Have you heard about watercress, the original “superfood” ??  A great addition to a salad, sandwich or made into a lovely soup. You can easily grow this green magic in your garden or in a container along with other greens that support brain health and much needed iron to our diet.

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So much more soon… but for now, while I’m working all day in the garden, Holly keeps watch over her growing flock.

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With love and growing good wishes…Patricia & Holly

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