Where Violets Grow and other thoughts from the garden

Who bends a knee where violets grow, a hundred secret things shall know.” – Rachel Field

I’m putting in a little herb garden at the cottage.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.
Basil, Dill, Cilantro, and Chives, too.

It rained this morning and I bought plants in the mist. It seemed right somehow, to be buying seeds and plants in the spring rain.

In early early spring Mr. H.C. tilled up a long space of dirt in front of the peonies, day lilies, and the lilac bush. These old favorites were here when we moved in — just a long line of perennials that had weeds and grass in the bed and really needed something else to make them look pleasing. It’s in the back of the house, so I mulled around various ideas: a cut flower garden, more perennials, even transplanting the peonies so they could bloom where people could see them. Because really, peonies need to be seen, not hidden away in the back yard. But from what I’ve read, peonies don’t really take to being transplanted. And these two peonies are Very Large, Old Favorite varieties from way back when…

What do you think of a long line of herbs in the front?

Yes, I liked the idea too. And because there is lots of space, four blueberry bushes will be planted there next to the herbs. And caged. Because we have deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and a groundhog (with two babies!) who live under the tool shed. And a large opossum knocked on the front door last night. I really don’t know if opossums like blueberry bushes, but my guess is they probably do… And the rabbits around Apple Hill are unafraid of anything. Look how close little Flossie let me get to her last night:

So I’ve been weeding this new herb bed. I don’t really mind for it lets me breathe, think, pray, drink in the beauty of spring, and lean on the shovel. For awhile I was pulling up all the little violet plants, and then I wondered why in the world was I pulling them up? Violets are among my favorite spring wildflowers, and I certainly don’t care if they grow among the herbs. Violet flowers are edible and look beautiful in salads or sugared on cakes. In my old back-to-the-land hippie days I made violet jelly once. It didn’t taste like much, but oh, it was the most beautiful shade of fuchsia. The leaves are edible too, so I tried a couple of young tender violet leaves. They don’t taste like much either, but then neither does spinach raw from the garden…

My second favorite wild flowers are daisies. I’ve found several patches growing wild around the cottage, so I moved them into the bed as well. And if the little herb garden gets taken over by daisies and violets, well, that’s fine with me. It’s called the Que Sera Sera method of gardening.

My herbs are planted, seeds and plants both, and the blueberries are being planted as you are reading this. And there’s plenty of shovel-leaning going on too…

the lazy person’s guide to growing spinach

Plant seed in the early days of lovely September
when you need a break from canning tomatoes.

Pinch off baby leaves in October, November, December
Stir them with lemon in buttered potatoes.

Mulch with straw and hope for a mild winter.

I have tons of favorite spinach recipes. I was the kid in elementary school who took everyone’s spinach. Remember in 3rd grade when you had to clean your plate and Mrs. Gray checked every tray to make sure it was empty of food? Hmm…. that might be proof that I’m old….

I would rather eat spanakopita than brownies.

I’m a sucker for any meal that ends in Florentine.

When forced to buy greens, whether for cooking or salads, I always choose spinach, because, raw or cooked, chopped or whole, in eggs, on sandwiches, in dips, or just sautéed with onions or mushrooms… It’s always delicious.

But the curly Bloomsdale spinach that you can only get these days by growing your own is far superior to grocery store flat-leaved spinach.

Tonight we are just having it sautéed in olive oil and drizzled with lemon saba and salt and pepper. Simplicity at its finest.

But since you already know how to sauté spinach, I will give you one of my favorite easy recipes to take along somewhere. A potluck, a mom who just had a baby, or an easy meal for everyday — company or not. The next time I make it I’ll be sure to come back and post some pictures; in the meantime you’ll just have to take my word for it: it’s one of the best most hassle-free dinners you can make. Here’s what you need:

  • Spinach
  • Chicken, boneless (I cut boneless breasts in half, thighs I leave whole)
  • some tomatoes (The real recipe calls for sliced Romas, but I have halved cherry tomatoes, sliced regular tomatoes, and even reconstituted and chopped dried tomatoes)
  • your favorite kind of vinaigrette or Italian dressing — not Ranch!
  • parmesan cheese

Fill a 9×13 baking dish with spinach (one bag usually works).

Place chicken pieces on top of spinach. Place tomato slices on top of chicken. Pour some vinaigrette over the whole thing. (The original recipe called for a bottle of dressing, but I never use that much. Just make sure the chicken is nicely slathered  with the vinaigrette.) Sprinkle grated fresh parmesan cheese over all. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 until the chicken is done. Uncover it for the last 5 minutes to brown up the cheese a bit. Depending on the size of the chicken cooking times vary — smaller pieces take less time to cook. (Mine usually takes 30-40 minutes, but I always use a meat thermometer to be sure.)

While the chicken is baking, make some rice or cook some pasta or egg noodles because it makes its own lovely sauce that is yummy over rice.

And just in case you get the wrong opinion from this post, I am not a master gardener. I have done Absolutely Nothing in the garden yet this spring, except pick some kale and pick some spinach, and throw in some radish seeds on an 80 degree day in February… Potatoes? Not planted. Onions? Still in bags. Greens? Still in the seed packets. Partly I can blame the rainy weather: we still have a small pond where the onions are supposed to grow. But I got my bales of mulch today, and I’m ready. As soon as it stops raining…

 

The Accidental Orchid

Last summer my son-in-law brought me out two of his house plants to tend while he went home to Spain for a month. I was glad to tend the hydrangea; it was in a big pot and it could live outside on the porch next to mine. Mine was pink; his was blue. They would look lovely together, and I’m not afraid of hydrangeas.

The other was an orchid. I shook my head at that one. “Oh, I’ll kill that one for sure,” I said. “I’m not good with any plants that are tender or need a lot of care.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “Just give it three ice cubes a week. Or 1/4 cup of water. No direct sun, and if it doesn’t work, I’m not attached to it. Don’t worry.” Even though he said all that, I still didn’t want him come back to a dead orchid.

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That was in July. It had one icy white bloom atop a long thin stem; it looked very fragile. The bloom dropped off within a couple of weeks and left the long green stem. It wasn’t very attractive, but I dutifully gave it a quarter cup of water every Sunday. I didn’t think ice cubes would be good for a tropical flower.

After he came back from Spain, he was in the process of moving and told me to just keep the plants. The orchid didn’t do much for two or three months, and I was starting to think it was silly to keep watering such an ugly plant. (There’s a lesson there in that sentence….) But it didn’t look unhealthy, so I kept watering it.

One morning I was moving all the plants and dusting the window sill when I saw odd looking growths coming from the base of the plant. They were silvery. I had no idea, but since something was happening, I did some basic research on Phalaenopsis Orchid.

fullsizeoutput_18fa These were air roots. Of course. Every plant has air roots, right?

I did more research. There are about a hundred million web sites for novice orchid growers, and they don’t all agree. But the first web site I checked suggested cutting back the old flower spike. It may send out a new shoot, or it may not. Depends if it’s happy or not…

It didn’t seem unhappy, so I cut it back by half. Within days a little sprout appeared just above where it had been cut back. And within days of that little sprout, another shoot appeared, and this time it was growing out of the dirt. Er… it isn’t really dirt. It is magic orchid-growing chunks of pixie dust ‘media’.

Excitement mounted, and I went back to researching. It turns out that the 3-ice cubes per week is a Thing. More correctly, a company — Just Add Ice Orchids. Most of the spectacular flowering orchids that the big box stores are selling right now are orchids from this company. I have always just passed them right by, because I’m not really a fan of delicate hothouse flowers. Did I say that already?
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With air roots and two flower spikes, I actually started to get excited and attached to it. I texted my son-in-law with a photo. He corrected me on its gender and called the orchid a she. Yes, it is plain from the photos, she is a lovely March bride.

img_7837I began to use the ice cube method, since it has obviously been approved — not only approved, encouraged. Her flower spikes grew tall, and soon there were little bumps all along both of the spikes. Dare I think they would be flower buds? I counted them. There were seventeen!

Before you think that I am an absolute genius with tender hothouse orchids, I have a confession.

I struggle with lack of light in the months of November through February. (Does this mean that I myself might be similar to a tender hothouse plant?) So this winter I bought four JOYOUS lightbulbs — full spectrum light that mimics natural daylight. As I was choosing where to put them, I noticed in big print on the packaging (that’s the only kind I can read these days…) that these light bulbs can also be used as grow lights. So I put one of them in the schoolhouse light over the kitchen sink, so the houseplants on the window ledge could benefit from joyful light too.
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I cannot say with full certainty this is why the orchid is so magnificent. Several of the websites I visited said that light does not affect the blooming of orchids. Can I say I don’t believe them? I must also say that this is the first year that my tender Rosemary plant still looks this healthy in early March. Usually it dies by mid-January.

I sent a text to Pedro the other day with a photo of how spectacular she is. I offered to give her back. He generously declined, saying, “She must love your window.”

And the hydrangea? The deer ate it to nubs one night last fall. I brought the container of small sticks inside and shoved it in a corner of the kitchen. Since spring is around the corner (What corner, Where?) it is starting to come back too. I’m hoping its lovely lavender bloom will take over when the last orchid blossom falls off.

So go for that spectacular orchid. If I can do it, you can too.