Okra Christmas Decorations

December 13th, 2019

Yesterday we took a little trip to Colonial Williamsburg to see the Christmas decorations.

Look what I found!

Okra and Peacock Feathers

Okra and Seashells

Vita Sackville-West for Sale

December 3rd, 2019

Well, actually just her writing is for sale. I’m selling a Folio Society edition of In Your Garden and In Your Garden Again. And because today is Giving Tuesday, I’m donating a percentage of the proceeds to World Central Kitchen. I should note that the donation will be made whenever the book sells, not just today.

The book combines two volumes in one, both collections of columns she wrote for the Observer newspaper from 1946 to 1953. For a sample, check out this column from 1950 about the beginnings of the famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle. This is my favorite passage from that column:

For my own part, I am trying to make a grey, green, and white garden. This is an experiment which I ardently hope may be successful, though I doubt it. One’s best ideas seldom play up in practice to one’s expectations, especially in gardening, where everything looks so well on paper and in the catalogues, but fails so lamentably in fulfilment after you have tucked your plans into the soil. Still, one hopes.

‘Tis The Season

December 2nd, 2019

Thanksgiving is over, let’s go Christmas shopping. But first, would you like to hear about my Thanksgiving stuffing recipe? I’m thankful that I still have fresh herbs in the garden. And this is not really a recipe, more of a technique or idea.¬† I chop up yellow onion and celery and saut√© them in a mixture of butter and olive oil (I like the taste of the two combined). Then take whatever bread is on hand and dice it into small cubes. This year it was walnut bread. I’ll give you that recipe in a minute. Toss the bread cubes into the frying pan and stir. You might want more oil or butter in the pan, depending on how festive you feel. Then, chop up whatever fresh herbs you have, but I would suggest that there should at least be some rosemary and sage. This year I used rosemary, sage (really nice sage from seed from Renee’s Garden), Italian oregano (bought from DeBaggio’s in the spring), and French thyme. All amounts are to taste but you want it pretty herby. Toss the herbs into the pan, along with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like. Sometimes I like to add Old Bay or another all-purpose seasoning mix, but if you use something like that then wait to add the salt. Taste it first and see if it needs it. Now moisten the stuffing with some chicken stock, or turkey stock, or vegetable broth. It should be fairly wet, but not so wet that it turns into mush. Butter a covered baking dish large enough to hold it and turn the mixture into it. Roast it, covered, along with the turkey until it’s heated through. Depending on how you like your stuffing, you can uncover it and let it brown a little on the top towards the end of the roasting time. I used to stuff the turkey with this but I’ve been convinced that it’s a bad idea from a food safety standpoint, and anyway we only smoked/grilled a couple of turkey drumsticks this year. There was just enough room on the grill for a pan of stuffing and the drumsticks. Oh, and I used the extra chopped herbs in the rub for the drumsticks.

Now for the commercial break. I’ve been selling some of my things on eBay and Etsy since August. I currently have a couple of herb books as a bundle listed on Etsy.


They’re both wonderful books, but I just can’t keep everything (imagine a crying emoji here), and I’d love for them to go to someone else who loves gardening, cooking and crafts.

OK, back to the Thanksgiving recap. Walnut bread. I’ve been making Alexandra Stafford’s Peasant Bread for a couple of years now, but I’ve changed it a little to suit us better. I now make it in one metal loaf pan (instead of 2 Pyrex dishes) and sometimes vary it by adding things to it. So, basically, I use her recipe scaled a bit to make enough for one 9 x 5 loaf pan. For me, that’s 195 grams of Prairie Gold Whole Wheat flour, 390 grams bread flour, 11 grams salt, 11 grams sugar, 7 grams instant yeast and 520 grams water. I’ve been a much happier baker since I changed from measuring by volume to measuring by weight. It’s more precise and gives more consistent results. There are many food scales to choose from, but when I’m done selling on Etsy and eBay I’m going to ditch the food scale and use instead the postal scale I bought to ship things out. When the dough has risen and I’m ready to put it into the baking pan, I fold in about 100 grams of chopped walnuts. Then it goes in the well-buttered baking pan for the final rise. I bake it at 425F for 22 minutes, then lower the heat to 375F and bake for another 22 or 23 minutes.

So that was our Thanksgiving. I’ll be back in a day or two to tout some more garden-related items I’m selling. Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention that there’s a sale going on through December 4 in many Etsy shops, including mine. Shop my sale: 20% off when you spend $10. TangledBranchesStore

Plants for Patient People

October 26th, 2019

This is my new favorite fall plant – Salvia leucantha, or Mexican Bush Sage.

I’ve grown it for a couple years now and it goes like this. Find a smallish plant in the spring at the nursery (I got mine at DeBaggio’s Herbs). Plant it and wait and wait and wait, because for all the rest of the spring and summer it’s a nondescript green blob (which is not bothered by critters, so that’s a plus). And it grows and grows and grows to a bigger blob about 4 feet tall and wide. Then in September it begins to bloom profusely and attract zillions of pollinators. It’s spectacular from the time it begins to bloom until it freezes (which might be as soon as next weekend).

I need to do a better job of finding companions for it, but this pale yellow ‘Rocket’ snapdragon looks OK (even if the photo is blurry).

The species has white flowers and purple calyces, but there’s a cultivar with purple flowers (S. leucantha ‘Midnight’). For me, that one is a little more compact.

It’s not winter hardy in central Virginia, but I think it’s worth planting every year.

Catching Up and a Tip for Dahlias

September 21st, 2019

But we’re still gardening. In fact, we’ve got the kitchen garden back into better shape than it’s been in years. And we’re growing a lot more flowers in it and fewer vegetables. The dahlias are spectacular this year, thanks to a tip I read in the Old House Gardens newsletter.

I started them all in nursery pots and then sunk the pot and all into the garden. Looking at the rather small size of the pots, I thought this could not possibly work, but it does. Previously, when we planted the tubers directly in the garden, we lost about half of them due to rot and underground critters. We did not lose any that way this year. And I thought, well, that’s fine when there’s enough rain but when it gets dry it won’t work. I’m wrong again. We’ve been in a dry spell recently (first one in two? years) and the dahlias droop a little in the afternoon sun but other than that they’re still going strong and blooming like crazy.

Oh by the way, I’ve opened an Etsy shop to have a second way to sell my stuff online. The things there are more craft-related, but I do have some (ok, one as of right now) vintage garden books listed.

Enjoy Your House Plants by Dorothy Jenkins and Helen Van Pelt Wilson, 1944

Selling My Stuff

September 16th, 2019

Ok folks, I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here and now I’m going to spam you with stuff I’m selling. That’s probably not a great opening line for a salesman but that is my skill level at it.

The spouse and I are seriously thinking of moving to a warmer climate. I keep telling people that in my 30+ years in Virginia there’s been about 10 once-in-a-hundred-years snowstorms. I’m ready to take my chances with hurricanes or tsunamis or earthquakes or anything but another gigantic snowstorm.

One big thing that’s been holding us back is the volume of stuff we have to sort through to decide whether to pay somebody to move it. Well we still have to sort through a lot of it but now we’ve decided – we really don’t want to pay to move very much of it. So out it goes. Here are a couple of garden-related items I have up for sale on eBay.

December Blooms: Witch Hazel

December 8th, 2018

Along the Saunders-Monticello Trail yesterday, several witch-hazel trees were in full flower and this one in particular was glowing in the late afternoon sunlight. A bit of natural cheer during the shortest days of the year.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)