Create A Winterthur Inspired Everlasting Christmas Tree

A tour of Henry Francis du Pont’s former extraordinary home was my destination this year to enjoy holiday style decorations. An eighteen room dollhouse, fully decorated with Christmas treasures and other handmade pieces was also one of the draws for me.

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur

Another was the large fir in the Conservatory decorated with hundreds of multi-hued dried flowers or “everlastings” that looked as fresh as if just picked. The iconic ‘Dried Flower Tree” is a tradition for Winterthur and people are amazed when they see it.

Dried rose and statice on the tree looked fresh
Dried rose, Chinese Lantern, and Statice on the tree looked fresh

Arrangements are placed throughout the house all year-long with fresh flowers, and after they have done their duty in the floral designs, the flowers are taken to the basement of a cottage on the property. There, they are dried in the room dubbed “the drying room”. Serving double duty, these flowers arranged on the tree create a multi-hued rainbow effect that is stunning.

A single rose hangs from the tree
A single rose hangs from the tree, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For the actual process of decorating this tree, which started in 1986, look at this video.

Most of the flowers are picked on Winterthur’s property throughout the year and either air-dried or dried with silica gel, a  crystalline dessicant. Starting in March/April with the daffodil, any flower that can be dried is used for that purpose.

Some of the dried flowers used
Some of the dried flowers used

Everything is then packed into a fumigant tent for three weeks, starting in early October, to kill any pests. In late October, the flowers are brought out and organized by color into long boxes. Starting with the topper, the staff works all around the tree, bunching many of the flowers for a bigger impact. Special flowers like peonies and roses are placed singly on the branches, wired for stability.

Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Dried peony
Dried peony

Queen Anne’s Lace, peonies, daffodils, and zinnias are dried for ten days with silica gel as these don’t dry well with air drying. Others like larkspur, yarrow, billy balls, safflower, cockscomb, money plant, hydrangea, and Chinese lantern are air-dried in a dark place for about a week and then are packed away until ready to be used.

Grasses are also used
Grasses are also used
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For hours and more information about Winterthur, go to Yuletide at Winterthur.

Make Your Own Everlasting Tree

You can hardly see the artificial tree for the flowers!
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center at Winterthur

Seeing the miniature tree at the visitor center got me in the mood to create one at home. A small artificial tree is all you need, preferably one with lights already loaded. I had plenty of dried flowers that I picked and dried throughout the summer months. My list included sunflowers, statice, roses, cotton, allium, strawflowers, globe amaranth, nigella,  salvia, hydrangea, cockscomb, and orange slices.

I used silica gel to dry my roses
A dehydrator came in handy for the orange slices and large flat flowers
Air dried sunflowers
Lay out your materials
I decorated a small artificial tree with lights already loaded

A pick machine with steel picks is the easiest way to make small bunches of flowers, but if you don’t have the luxury of this great tool, you can simply gather bunches together and wire by hand.

An old pick machine
Using a pick machine is the easiest way of making small bunches
An alternative is to use small wooden picks with wire to bunch the flowers by hand
I bunched up globe amaranths by hand with a wooden pick
Insert the bunches into the tree and fasten with hot glue
You can hardly see the artificial tree for the flowers!
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur- picture by Amy Sparwasser

Winter Squash Soup & Pie Recipes

I love Butternut squash! It is a sweet nutty squash that is very nutritious – full of vitamins A and C and fiber. Versatile in many types of dishes – soups, roasted, steamed, risotto, pies, pasta, gratins – the recipes are endless.  And perfect for Thanksgiving!

Butternut squash soup is a favorite during cold months and once you cook up a batch, you can make several tasty meals from it. My absolute favorite soup cookbook, The New England Soup Factory Cookbook has the best squash soup that I have ever tasted, called Butternut Squash Soup with Calvados, Gorgonzola Cheese, and Prosciutto. I have  adapted it somewhat, most notably, adding the sage leaves and using Feta cheese to the garnish. For my recent post of using Sage, an underused herb that is supposed to be “brain food”, go to Favorite Herb-Sage.

Butternut squash soup

Recipe

Butternut Squash Soup With Apples

A savory treasure of a healthy soup. The topping of prosciutto gives a nice salty contrast to the sweetness of the soup

Ingredients

Garnish

  • 1 T avocado oil or olive oil
  • 6 slices proscuitto, cut into small chunks
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced ( I used granny smith)
  • handful fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 C crumbled feta cheese

Soup

  • 4 T Butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 C diced onion, about 1 large
  • 1/2 C celery, about 1 stalk
  • 2 C diced carrots, about 3
  • 1/2 C diced parsnips, about 1 medium
  • 2 Large green apples , peeled and diced
  • 2 Lbs butternut squash, peeled and diced, about 1 medium
  • 8 C chicken stock
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 C light cream
  • 2-3 T Calvados, an apple brandy, optional

Instructions

Instructions-Garnish

  1. In a saute pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add prosciutto and pan fry until crispy. Remove from pan and set aside.

  2. Add sliced apples and sage leaves and saute lightly until the apples are crisp tender. Set aside for use later

Instructions-Soup

  1. In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, apples, carrot celery, parsnips, and butternut squash. Saute for 10 minutes

  2. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about an hour. Turn off heat

  3. Puree the soup in the pot using a hand blender or working in batches, with a blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot if using a blender and season to taste with salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. Stir in cream

  4. Return to heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Stir in Cavados right before serving

  5. Top each serving with a sprinkling of Feta and garnish with slices of sauteed apple, the prosciutto and sage leaves on top. Enjoy!!!

Other Varieties

Overflowing my pantry, my winter squash harvest is a treasure that I use when I get the urge to cook something savory and good for you. I have new squash favorites like Kaboucha and Delicata, but I always revert back to Butternut as my go-to winter squash for soups or creamy pasta recipes.

Kaboucha squash has a nutty taste
Kaboucha squash has a nutty taste

Kaboucha, which is a Japanese pumpkin, has a fluffy, chestnut texture widely used in Asia. I would compare it to a cross between a sweet potato and pumpkin. All winter squashes are full of beta carotene, iron, vitamins, and other good stuff.

Growing

So many delicious fall recipes lend itself to these versatile tasty squashes, that I have increased the space devoted to growing them in my veggie garden. And yes, it does take some serious space! A sprawling vine, it can spread up to 10 feet horizontally or vertically, but I consider this a well-earned space in my garden as winter squashes are quite prolific and easy to grow.

Winter squash, Japanese Futsu,  growing on vine
Futsu is prolific in the garden and turns a wonderful nutty color when ripe
An immature butternut is still green; when ripe, the skin turns a golden brown and hard to pierce with your fingernail
An immature butternut is still green; when ripe, the skin turns a golden brown and hard to pierce with your fingernail

Harvesting and Preparing

When the rinds of winter squash are tough enough to resist being punctured with a fingernail, cut them with a short stub of vine attached, like their cousins, pumpkins. Be sure to wait until they are fully ripened and sit the squash out in the sun for at least a week to fully cure before storing in a cool place indoors. Keeping for months, squash are handy to pull out from storage when you need something for dinner as a main or side. The only downside to winter squash is preparing them. They are very tough to chop and I once cut the tip of my finger off when chopping one up! To avoid this, you can buy the pre-cut pieces at the supermarket, or use them with the skin on.

Delicata is anouther favorite, with nutty flesh, which is not as sweet as Kaboucha or Butternut
Delicata is another favorite, with nutty flesh, which is not as sweet as Kaboucha or Butternut

Boston Marrow

Another winter squash that you might like to try is the Boston Marrow. Hard to find, except at farmer’s markets, I was delighted to find this heirloom squash at a local farmstand/orchard and was able to savor it for the first time.

Pile of Boston Marrow, photo from Burpee
Chop your Boston Marrow into manageable chunks for peeling

According to Burpee who is now carrying this hard to find squash, they describe it as; “Once you taste the melt-in-your-mouth “pumpkin” pie that this squash yields, you’ll be making it as often as possible. Sweet, carrot-orange flesh, cooks to a creamy, custardy texture for perfect pies, puddings and breads. Delicious alone. A fine choice for areas with a short growing season”.

 

This blue ribbon winning basket features a Boston Marrow squash

Boston Marrow History

An heirloom squash with more than 200 years of documented history, and even thought to be much older- like ancient, Boston Marrow originated in the upstate New York area. Legend has it that Native Americans gifted this squash to colonists and seeds were later passed on to Salem, Massachusetts in 1831. Marrow soon became one of the most important commercial squashes for over 150 years. But in modern times, nearly every seed company had dropped this unique treasure. In recent years, with the interest in heirloom veggies increasing, it is being picked up again by seed companies.

Used primarily as a pie squash, its skin is also thin and easy to peel. Due to its success in cooler conditions with a shorter growing season, the squash has spread throughout the US. If kept in a cool dry place, the squash can last to the following spring, another trait prized by early growers.

Growing between 5 to 52 pounds each, these squash can be made into quite a few pies. And what a fabulous pie!  Flesh of the Boston Marrow squash is less sweet and dense than that of Butternut squash, which gives it a wonderful custardy flavor.

One piece of the squash being peeled
A piece of Boston Marrow with the seeds removed

Resulting in a much better tasting pumpkin pie, it is lighter in texture and flavor. Starting with a basic recipe from AllRecipes for a butternut squash pie, I have revised the spices to my liking and substituted Boston Marrow. The resulting pie was a big hit with my family for its creaminess and wonderful flavor. Everyone was coming back for one more piece, until it was gone.

From a 6.5 pound squash, I was able to make 3 pies!

Boston Marrow pie

Recipe

Boston Marrow Squash Pie

A wonderful fall pie recipe; if you can't find Boston Marrow, substitute Butternut Squash

Servings 8 people

Ingredients

  • 3 C Chunks of winter squash, peeled
  • 1 C Brown sugar, packed
  • 1 T Cornstarch
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 12 oz can Evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 t Cinnamon
  • 1/4 t Freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 t Ground cloves
  • 1/4 t Ground allspice
  • 1/2 t Ground ginger
  • 1 Unbaked pie shell

Instructions

  1. Steam the squash chunks in a saucepan for 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain.


  2. Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.


  3. Pour into pie shell and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice. Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes, until the center is set.


  4. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Blending in food processor was the easiest way to mix everything

Happy Thanksgiving!

Amaryllis-Queen of Bulbs

 

Red Lion, Apple Blossom, and Minerva- a great trip of Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens
‘Red Lion’, ‘Apple Blossom’, and ‘Minerva’- a great trio of Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens
amaryllis-as-cut-flower-longfield
Great used as a cut flower, Amaryllis ‘Splash’, from Longfield Gardens

If you are a flower lover, you are starved for color right about now. I turn to the big box stores and nurseries to pick up my flower fixes. With grapefruit sized amaryllis bulbs available now, you can have bloom November through February if you start them at different times and use different species. Christmas indoor plants give us a breath of a living, blooming plant that we are missing at this time of year and I always buy several Amaryllis bulbs for starting and try to entice my old ones to burst forth with a flower stalk.

Amaryllis 'Minerva' at Longwood Gardens
Amaryllis ‘Minerva’ at Longwood Gardens

These bulbs are native to warm climates, so they don’t require a cooling period to trigger blooms. Amaryllis and paper white narcissus both belong in this category.

An unusual Amaryllis bloom
An unusual Amaryllis bloom

Amaryllis Facts

Of all flowering bulbs, Amaryllis is one of the easiest to force into bloom. Packaged in a single bulb, a flower embryo is waiting –  ready to burst into bloom with a bit of encouragement. The Amaryllis, Hippeastrum, originated in South America’s tropical regions and comes in many beautiful varieties including reds, white, pink, salmon, and orange. There are also many striped and multicolored varieties, usually combining shades of pink or red with white. Doubles, miniatures, and some very exotic ones that look like butterflies are also available.  The large flowers and ease with which bloom, make Amaryllis extremely popular. The blooms brighten a gloomy winter day and are a snap to grow.

Loose Amaryllis bulbs blooming at the nursery
Loose Amaryllis bulbs blooming at a local nursery

Choosing the Best Bulb

Always pick out the largest plumpest bulb that you can find – the jumbo size. Bulbs are storage vessels and the more storage-think larger bulb!- more flowers. If you buy one at a big box store that is already planted in a pot, you usually get a plant with only 1 stem – a 26 to 30 cm bulb. You are paying a premium for the convenience of an already potted bulb, but with smaller and fewer flowers. Choosing larger single bulbs at a good nursery or ordering on-line will get you a better quality and a larger, older bulb. The larger bulbs, 34 cm + are a full year older than the smaller bulbs, so you are paying a bit more. I prefer paying extra to get a loose larger bulb with more flowers that last longer, than for a smaller potted up bulb.

A range of sizes of bulbs will give you various bloom sizes and numbers
A range of sizes of bulbs will give you various bloom sizes and numbers
A jumbo Amaryllis is about
A jumbo Amaryllis is 34 -36 cm per bulb

In addition, look for an emerging flower bud coming out of the bulb. Choosing one with an existing flower bud  means that the bulb is ready to go and can bloom within 5-7 weeks.

26/28 cm – 1 stem (occasionally 2) with 3 to 4 flowers

28/30 cm – 2 stems with 3-4 flowers per stem

30/32 cm – 2-3 stems with 3-4 flowers per stem

32/34 cm – 2-3 stems with 4-5 flowers per stem

34/36 cm – 3 stems with 4-5 flowers per stem

Bud full of promise
Bud full of promise
Double-flowered ones are my favorite
Double-flowered ones are my favorite

Quick Planting Tips:

  • Planting Period:                  October  to April
  • Flowering Period:               Late December until the end of May
  • Flowering time:                    7-10 weeks
  • Larger bulbs:                        Produce more flowers
  • Always store:                        Loose bulbs in a cool place between 40-50 degree F. 
  • Flower Production:             2 to 3 stems per bulb
  • More Impact:                       Try planting 2 or 3 bulbs per pot
    Pre-potted bulbs are usually smaller in size and less flower buds
    Pre-potted bulbs are usually smaller and less flower buds

    024-8

    Preparation for Planting

    To get a head start soak the bulbs for an hour in warm water to hydrate the roots
    To get a head start soak the Amaryllis bulbs for an hour in warm water to hydrate the roots

    Place the bulb into lukewarm water for a few hours to jump-start emergence. I received my bulbs from Longfield Gardens with a heat-pack giving off warmth so the bulbs wouldn’t freeze in transit.

    Ordering my Amaryllis bulbs from Longfield Gardens in January means that I receive a heat pack that keeps the bulbs from freezing
    Ordering my Amaryllis bulbs from Longfield Gardens in January means that I receive a heat pack that keeps the bulbs from freezing! It is best to order these bulbs earlier, in November or December

    If you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature keeps them from blooming before you are ready.

    White Nymph Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens
    ‘White Nymph’ Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

    Planting 101

    • Pick out a container that the bulb will fit into snugly, maybe an inch or two larger than the circumference of the bulb
    • A ceramic container is preferable to a plastic one because the weight of a flower, stalk, and leaves in full flush, will topple over the whole plant
    • Pot the bulb with good quality potting soil, leaving 1/3 of the top of the bulb or the ‘shoulders’ exposed; Water until you see moisture coming out of the bottom of the pot
    • If you want to accelerate the growth of the flower stalk and flower, place the pot on a heating pad

      Bottom heat will accelerate blooming
      Bottom heat will accelerate blooming
    • Keep in a sunny spot and keep moist and you will be surprised how fast the flower will appear
    • Once flowers appear, if you want the flowers to last longer, keep in a cooler spot
    •  Each year that you keep your Amaryllis alive, it will get larger and produce offsets (tiny bulbs that will get larger)
      Leave about 1/3 of the top of the bulb uncovered
      Leave about 1/3 of the top of the bulb uncovered
      Fill in with fresh moss for a finished look
      Fill in with fresh moss for a finished look

      Tying and staking a 'Red Lion' Amaryllis keeps the flower stalk from flopping
      Tying and staking a ‘Red Lion’ Amaryllis keeps the flower stalk from flopping
This container has a very old Amaryllis that keeps on getting larger and larger every year
This container has a very old Amaryllis that keeps on getting larger and larger every year

From my experience with waxed bulbs, I won’t be buying these again!

Re-Blooming & After Bloom Care

  • Cut-Back- After the Amaryllis has stopped flowering, Don’t throw it away (unless you have a waxed bulb)! Possible to force again, you need to follow a few simple directions.  Cut the old flowers from the stem after flowering, and when the leaves start to sag and turn yellow, cut it back to the top of the bulb.
  • Leaf Growth and development Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer, or at least 5-6 months, allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow.  I simply take all my pots outside and set them in an out-of-the-way place and never look at them all summer.  Let the rain water them.  When the leaves begin to yellow, which normally occurs in the early fall when the days get cooler, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.
  • Bulb Storage- Clean the bulb, removing and rinsing off all soil, and place it in a cool (40-50 deg. F), dark place such as the crisper of your refrigerator for at least 6 weeks. Caution: Do not store Amaryllis bulbs  in a refrigerator that contains apples  – this will sterilize the bulbs.  Store the bulbs for a minimum of 6 weeks. I usually place the bulbs in a dark cool corner of my basement as I don’t have room in my refrigerator. Alternatively, you can leave the bulbs in the pots in a cool dark space. After about 6 weeks, you can pot them up.Removal from Storage- Once your cooling period is up, replant your bulbs as if it was a newly purchased one. Be sure to fertilize the bulbs with dilute plant food as the original bulb has used up all the food stores. For more impact, I like to pot three bulbs to a container.
    Apple Blossom has been potted up with 3 bulbs to the container for bigger impact, from Longfield Gardens
    Potted up with 3 bulbs, Apple Blossom makes a good show, from Longfield Gardens

    You can safely start Amaryllis until April, so there is no rush for these to bloom!

    Evergreen Amaryllis from Longfield gardens
    Evergreen Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

Thanksgiving Succulents

Decorating for the fall season is always top of my list of feel good things to do. The variety and colors of pumpkins and gourds that are outside of the normal fall color range is exciting to arrange with. Also, succulents that have grown like crazy all summer need to be pruned, brought in to warmer temperatures, and are a perfect partner for fall arranging.

Hanging baskets of succulents ready for taking cuttings and prunings
Succulents come in an array of sizes and shapes

 

With my Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas post getting tons of views all year long, succulents are maintaining their popularity and usefulness in all kinds of ways. Pumpkin decorating with succulents has reached mainstream audiences and many decorators are using these for their table centerpieces. Go to Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats to see the variety of things that you can do with the combination of pumpkins and succulents for a long lasting table and unique arrangement.

Pumpkin decorated with succulents
Top of pumpkin covered with succulents

Succulents on pumpkin

Picking up an old fashioned wicker cornucopia on my travels inspired me to decorate it with the succulent/pumpkin/gourd idea.

The larger one which measures about 18″ long works better with large gourds and succulents; the smaller cornucopia which measures about 12″ long works with tiny pumpkins and hen and chick succulents
Place bubble wrap in the cornucopia and gather your materials.

Placing some bubble wrap in the cornucopia to support the arrangement was the first step and then gathering my materials. I used fresh/dried gourds, dried pomegranates, air plants, cotton bolls, okra pods, oyster shells, and lots of succulent cuttings. The cuttings will last a long time through Thanksgiving and then I will recycle them into pots to root for next years succulents. Adding dried ornamental corn and baby pumpkins to the mix completes the display. No glue or oasis was used, I just inserted the materials into the bubble wrap.

Place your largest items in first; in this case, the gourds

Add your succulents, pomegranates, and other pods
This cornucopia is a little different the addition of oyster shells; See my post on a Williamsburg Christmas

Other Succulent Ideas

Here are some other succulent Thanksgiving ideas for centerpieces.

Top of a large pumpkin had small pumpkins attached
Houseplant succulent candle centerpiece
Pumpkins, succulents, and air plants on a side board
Table setting of pumpkins and succulents
Succulents and Pumpkins as a table setting

Foraged Outdoor Arrangements

Baby, it is cold outside….
Those popular lyrics say it all. We are warming up inside with a glass of wine and enjoying ourselves. But if you entertain or just bring in the groceries, you need some holiday arrangements to greet your guests or lift your spirits. Here are some ideas on doing outdoor arrangements in your old containers that held overflowing annuals which are now toast. Remove those old plants and transform your pots into something magical and stunning. Add mini lights and you have something incredible to greet your visitors as they drive up to your house and enter.

Light up your arrangements with spotlights
Red twig dogwood branches, fresh eucalyptus, greens, nandina berries, gold tipped arborvitae

Foraging

Forage in your garden and on the roadside and at the local store to pick up some treasures. Shopping at a local Wegman’s, I snatched up some gold painted huge pine cones that were fabulous!! Trader Joe’s is also a great resource, perhaps for Eucalyptus and other treasures, like Winterberry. For my post on foraging on the side of the road, check out Foraged Foliage and Berries for Fall.

Laying out the goods
Some foraged lichen covered branches
I grow this gold tipped arborvitae especially for Christmas decorating
Simple but effective vine ball full of tiny lights on a bed of greens

Choose the Right Plants

Growing the right sort of plants in your garden is the first step. I just planted an evergreen Magnolia tree, Brown’s Bracken, so that I can use the branches in future projects. I have started to trim it sparingly, but it is growing pretty quickly and I intend on trimming more in the near future.

Browns Bracken Magnolia on my property

Using the greens and berries from your own property is very satisfying and you can be sure they are fresh. Contacting my neighbor who has a huge stand of juniperus chinensis that rings around her property produced a tub full of juniper branches. She allows me to cut at will and it is a great blue grey-green for Christmas decorations.  Any blue berries are a bonus.

Juniper berries

Also, I grow red and yellow twig dogwoods and curly willow, just for the branches that I use for drama and height in my containers. All of these are easy to grow  and harvest for your projects. Winterberry in both red and gold are another shrub that is easy to grow and important to add color to arrangements.

Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow twig dogwood along with birch logs and cotton branches add drama to this container
Winter Gold Winterberry growing in the garden
Harvesting the bounty of my trees and shrubs in November; the blue black berries are privet
Harvesting gold Chamaecyparis
Dwarf Thujopsis dolobrata, or commonly known as Hiba Arborvitae is a wonderful addition to fresh green arrangements
Closeup of Thujopsis
My red Winterberry in my garden; ready to be picked
Dried hydrangea flower heads are ready to be picked
Incense cedar drapes over the edge of a container
Dusting of snow frosts the surface of this container

Favorite Herb-Sage

Sage has grown on me. Evoking memories of Thanksgiving meals in grandmother’s kitchen, it is a flavor that I enjoyed but didn’t use much beyond stuffing and sausage.

Carving up a sage stuffed turkey on Thanksgiving

I nearly always used it in a dried poultry seasoning mix and that was the extent of my experience of this flavorful herb. A valuable herb for containers and a deer resistant plant are many of its attributes, but I love this fresh herb for cooking in fall and winter.

Sage biscuits with beef barley soup

Cooking

Sage uses in cooking are many beyond the traditional. Fry up the leaves in butter, add some sea salt, and use them scattered on soups, salads, veggies, and other dishes to add crunch and flavor. Use sage in a brown butter saute, add some pine nuts,  and toss over butternut squash pasta. Yum!!

Saute ham chunks with sage leaves for a soup topping
Fry your sage leaves whole in butter, add fresh ground sea salt, and chop them up for flavoring recipes

Chopped up fresh, sage added to your stuffing for your holiday meal is so much more pungent than the poultry dressing that sits in your herb cabinet and can be several years old. Its flavor is so intense, a little can go a long way.

Sage, Salvia officinalis, is one of the few herbs that, even as its leaves grow larger, the flavor intensifies and the leaves are still delicious after the plant flowers.

A Snap to Grow

Easy to grow either outdoors or inside during the winter, sage is drought tolerant and grows well within a wide range of temperatures and planting zones. Evergreen here in the mid-Atlantic, I still like to have a plant inside as it shrivels outdoors in the cold. The plants also seem to fizzle out within a few years and get woody, and it gives me the opportunity to plant new ones. There are several variations, like a variegated one and purple leaved type that add foliage color to containers.

Growing sage in containers

Preferring a well drained sandy soil, sage is especially suited for container growing as it stays small with regular harvesting. Notice, I say sandy? When you pot up your sage plant indoors, give it grit or sand and it will be happier. I use aquarium gravel from the pet store.

Sage in a container

The one caveat is not to over water this herb as it will rot. And indoors, you need to provide plenty of sun. If you don’t have enough sun in a west or southern facing exposure, at least 6-8 hours of sunlight, provide supplemental lighting with a grow light.

One of the most attractive culinary herbs in foliage and flower, the soft blue blooms fit in perfectly in a perennial garden. Usually gardeners plant it separately in an herb garden, but I use it throughout my perennial beds.

Blue sage spikes, seen at Stratford On Avon

Sage Biscuits

Moist flavorful biscuits great for small sandwiches or for soup

Servings 9

Ingredients

  • 2 C Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter, cut up into pieces
  • 3/4 C buttermilk
  • 1/4 C Fresh sages leaves, cut up

Instructions

  1. Measure dry ingredients in large bowl

  2. Wash and dry your sage leaves. Chop up sage leaves into pieces

  3. Add cut up butter into dry ingredients and mix with pastry blender until pieces are no larger than a pea

  4. Add buttermilk and cut up sage leaves and mix with fork into a ball

  5. Turn out onto cutting board dusted with flour and mash down with the heal of your hand until the dough is about 3/4" thick

  6. Cut with biscuit cutter or juice glass to make 8 or 9 biscuits and place on ungreased cookie sheet

  7. Bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes until the tops just start to brown

Recipe Notes

A great addition to these biscuits would be 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese.

For instructions and inspiration on making a fresh herbal wreath that includes sage, go to Fresh Herbal Wreath.
Materials for a kitchen culinary wreath
Completed dried wreath with sage, thyme, globe amaranth, bay leaves, and curry plant

Low Maintenance House Plants Are Back

Ok… I am old enough to remember the houseplant mania (usually with macrame) in the seventies, but people now are just rediscovering what we knew all along……that houseplants have been reborn and many are actually very easy to take care of. Many more varieties are available to growers now than ever before, and new ones are always hitting the plant nurseries.

House Plant Fashion Show

A nearby garden center/nursery, Valley View Farms, even put on a “fashion show” of houseplants so people could see the large variety that is out there, with lots of old stalwarts, like Philodendrons.

At a recent “fashion show” of houseplants at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, MD-showing off products to take care of your houseplants
Valley View Farms “fashion show”
Showing off plants at Valley View Farms

And it goes without saying, low maintenance is key with our busy life styles.  For a good article, read 9 of the easiest house plants that anyone can grow. 

 

A bay window of houseplants stage at the Philadelphia Flower Show
A bay window of houseplants staged at the Philadelphia Flower Show
Old fashioned houseplants fill a window
Old fashioned houseplants fill a window

Yes, that Monstera Philodendron that you have been growing for ages is suddenly very in and on Instagram. Who would have thought? The 70’s and 80′ s mod houseplants are the social media stars of 2019 and I don’t see any end to the trend. In fact, the bigger the plant, the better. Get rid of some furniture to make some room for plants. I removed some seldom used easy chairs from my living room to make space for some large plants.

Monsteras are huge

New Varieties

But, just like those old bell bottoms that are shoved to the back of the closet, there are new iterations of the same “old”. Take Sheffelaria……. you can buy a variegated one now.

Variegated Sheffelaria
Variegated Sheffelaria

Collections of houseplants are in. Not just one, but many- like over 100 specimens decorating your house or apartment. The more, the merrier!

All kinds of houseplants, from succulents to ferns to tropicals, are decorating indoor spaces
All kinds of houseplants, from succulents to ferns to tropicals, are decorating indoor spaces

Reasons to Grow

Why grow houseplants? If you are a city dweller, the reason is simple…..to bring nature in. If you live suburban, the reason is more complex. Bringing nature in is one of them. But also, growing things that you wouldn’t normally do outside, like growing a pineapple. Yes, you can grow a pineapple in your living room! Or bring in succulents and cacti that normally wouldn’t grow for you outdoors, but with such interesting forms and shape, and ease of growth, why not? Or maybe you are fascinated with citrus….. you can easily grow limes, lemons, kumquats, or oranges. Not enough to feed you, but enough to satisfy your green thumb curiosity.

Pineapple
Pineapple

Plants elevate empty spaces and large rooms and make them alive. If you have cathedral ceilings and wondered what could fill the space…look no further. Many can tolerate fairly low light conditions which allows them to be placed near doors, stairs, and in hallways. Be sure to look at the plant requirements and try to match the correct conditions for best success.

Display your houseplants creatively

One of the huge advantages of growing plants indoors is the improvement of air quality and the removal of toxins from the environment. Most of you will be aware from school Biology that plants convert carbon dioxide into the air we breath (oxygen), so it makes sense to allow some space in the home for them to promote good health.

Houseplants can be hung, elevated, and displayed creatively to suit your space
Houseplants can be hung, elevated, and displayed creatively to suit your space

NASA created a clean air study for space stations and produced a list of house plants that do more than just turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Removing large quantities of benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the atmosphere is the normal everyday benefits of growing houseplants.

Bat Flower (Tacca chantieri) is an exotic flower that mimics a bat in flight
Bat Flower (Tacca chantieri) is an exotic flower that mimics a bat in flight
Woven Sanseveria makes a cool plant
Woven Sanseveria makes a cool plant

For the top 10 air purifying houseplants, go to Nasa’s Clean Air Study.

I like the weird ones though. The climbing onion is bizarre and a conversation piece.

The weird climbing onion, Bowiea Volubilis, is a unique addition to my houseplants

There is a houseplant out there that will satisfy anyone, from someone who wants to really get into the minutiae of growing-like orchids, or just to have something that requires little to no care-succulents.

Adding grow lights to your house is easy with these set ups
Anyone can grow succulents
Anyone can grow succulents; just give them lots of light
Wow! Cool Philodendron!
Wow! Cool Philodendron! White Variegated Split Leaf Philodendron
Sometimes my houseplants surprise me. This is a cactus bloom that appeared!
Something blooming in the middle of winter, Streptocarpus, lifts your spirits

 

Blooms & Bamboo at Longwood Gardens

Visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is always a pleasure and one I try to do several times a year. Fortunately for me, it is close by. I made a day trip which included a visit to Terrain, a destination nursery/garden center that is worth a trip on its own. For other posts on Longwood, go to- Longwood’s Summer of Spectacle and Christmas at Longwood.

I had never been to the fall Mum display and last week made the hour and a half journey to take it all in, and was blown away by the artful mums and stunning bamboo constructions. Blooms & Bamboo: Chrysanthemum and Ikebana Sogetsu Artistry is the official title, and features masterworks of Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, and bonsai. For more information on the behind the scenes, go to The Making of Blooms & Bamboo.

Bamboo archway

The bamboo structures were massive

Bamboo

Created by Headmaster of Sogetsu, Iemoto Akane Tehsigahara, the exhibit features two large-scale displays of bamboo and natural elements showcased in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory. Featuring 635 rods of bamboo manipulated into spiraling, twisting, and intertwining natural works of art that were over 15 feet high, these works of art towered almost to the roof of the conservatory.

If the bamboo exhibits weren’t enough, thousands of blooming chrysanthemums trained into imaginative forms and shapes by Longwood’s own horticulture masters were on display.

Mums

My daughter and I posing in front of the massive single chrysanthemum plant that features over 1000 blooms

The first thing you see entering the main conservatory is the massive Chrysanthemum plant that was started in the Longwood’s greenhouse 17 months ago. Beginning more than a year in advance, thousands of chrysanthemums are nurtured and trained meticulously into giant spheres, spirals, columns of cascading flowers, and pagodas. To appreciate the many different types of mums, go to Chrysanthemums: A Class of Their Own. 

Each bloom is supported and tied in
Cross section of the sphere showing how one mum plant is trained
Masses of unusual mums were placed out in the conservatory
Spider mums
Labeled types of mums
Mum pagoda
Mum fan
Smaller mum sphere from one plant
Football mums line the conservatory passages
Mum growing up a wall
Cascading mums draped the conservatory columns
I loved the lavender colored corner of the conservatory
A free form mum

Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage, complemented the mums
Cuphea ‘Candy Corn’
Cuphea ‘Candy Corn’ set off the yellow orange corner of the Conservatory
Sabra Spike Sage was a great autumnal color

Ikebana 

The Japanese art of flower arrangement, Ikebana, was showcased in the Sogetsu school which is one of the styles of Ikebana. The Sogetsu School focuses more on free expression and is based on the belief that Ikebana can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, by anyone. From the number of people who were exclaiming over them, there were plenty of admirers. For more information of Longwood’s Ikebana, go to Art For Anyone: Sogetsu Ikebana.

Bonsai

Numerous examples of Bonsai featuring miniaturized mums were my favorite. Bonsai is the Japanese art form of cultivating small trees or plants that mimic the shape of scale of full size trees. Through different techniques, such as wiring, shaping, and root pruning, these are amazingly like their full size plants. For more information on these, go to Character Development of a Bonsai.

Pomegranate tree
Different mum bonsai

This mum was growing over a small boulder

You can still see the exhibit now until November 17 and you can buy your tickets at Longwood Gardens.

Foraged Foliage & Berries For Fall

Porch pots are an old fashioned way to decorate a deck, porch, or other entrance to greet people with something colorful during the fall and winter season. Burning bush, dogwood, viburnums, hydrangea flowers, and other fall colored branches are available for the taking along road sides or your property.

Spicebush on the edge of the woods
Blue Amsonia, a great perennial for fall color is the yellow in this arrangement

Foraging in the Wild

Burning bush has escaped to the wild as an invasive and you can spot it a mile away on the side of the road with its flaming branches.  Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, a native, shines with a yellow light through the woods and Bittersweet, another invasive, tangles through trees.

I found this abandoned hornets nest
The nest is really beautiful!

Rose hips, wild Hawthorne, Jack in the Pulpit berries, Sourwood tree foliage, and Kousa Dogwood foliage and berries- the list is endless. Just walk down your neighborhood streets with pruners and start trimming off some branches. Be sure to be careful where you trim. If it is a neighbor’s property, ask permission first.

Jack in the Pulpit berries

I gathered bittersweet and also the lichen covered branches of this dead tree
The lichen covered branches are really interesting in porch pots
Japanese Maple, Hairy Balls, lichen covered branches, burning bush, blackberry lily berries, winterberry, and nandina

Christmas Porch Pots

Porch pots are an easy inexpensive way to dress up your entrance and they are especially valuable for Christmas entertaining. For my recent article on Christmas porch pots in The American Gardener, go to;

Porch_Pots_TAG_SO19

Christmas porch pot

But in the mid-Atlantic, our fall has been such a long Indian summer, the fall foliage is waiting for me to pick and use it.

Orange Fothergillia makes this porch pot stand out
The Oakleaf Hydrangea leaves and Winterberry make this arrangement

Safety Tips

Be careful as your forage for fall materials. Poison Ivy also turns a beautiful color!!  When stopping on the side on the road, pull off far enough that you don’t stop traffic. I always wear gloves, long pants, and good sturdy shoes.

Poison Ivy turns a great color, but beware!
My blueberry bushes turn a brilliant red in the fall
The large yellow leaves are Calycanthus or Carolina Sweet Shrub

Top 10 Materials for Fall Arrangements (Mid-Atlantic Region)

Gather materials and plunge them into a big bucket of water

1 Viburnum foliage and berries-the berries come in red, yellow, pink, and blue

2 Blueberry-flaming red foliage

3 Dogwood-foliage and berries

4 Maple-Japanese Maples and Sugar Maples have awesome colors in the fall

5 Oakleaf Hydrangeas-turning a burgundy color, these are long lasting for foliage or flowers

6 Sassafras-brilliant orange and red foliage

7 Nandina-berries and foliage

8 Fothergillia-beautiful burgundy and oranges

9 Grass Plumes-adds great texture

10 Burning Bush-flame red colored foliage with berries

Variety of fall berries that you could use
Fothergillia turns a brilliant orange color

The Process

Begin with a tall well formed branch as the backdrop

Starting with a pot of soil left over from  your dead annuals, simply insert the cut branches into the soil which will hold everything in place. Soil is better for these large pots rather than floral oasis as it holds up better and the large branches stay firmly in the soil.

Dogwood and Burning Bush branches with Viburnum berries are stuck in a container that had annuals all season
The addition of the yellow and red Viburnum berries add texture and color
Nandina berries draping over the edge adds dimension
Finished container measures 4′ x 4′
Japanese Maples turning color
Color spectrum of Japanese Maples

For the western part of the US, quaking aspens, Salal, and Eucalyptus are valuable additions to your tool box of foliage.

In Colorado, Quaking Aspens are great for yellow and orange foliage colors, photo by Amy Sparwasser

Making Your Fall Pumpkins Last

With Halloween around the corner, pumpkin carving skills need to be honed and executed on the most perfect orange sphere that you can find in the pumpkin patch. If orange isn’t your thing, there is a rainbow of colors to choose from. Check out my post on Decorating Pumpkins-Pumpkin Eye Candy.

 

White pumpkin owl family
Artistically carved pumpkin at Ladew’s Garden Glow
Use black paint to make your design stand out
Love the floral hat!!
Closeup of hat

Making Your Creation Last Longer

  1. Make sure you thoroughly clean out and scrape the guts. The cleaner and drier you get with the gooey pumpkin innards, the longer it will last.
  2.  Rinse the entire pumpkin in cold water and dry.
  3. Spray the pumpkin insides with a solution of  1 Tablespoon of peppermint soap or bleach to a quart of cold water. The peppermint soap acts as an anti-fungal and the bleach kills any organisms that lead to rot and decay.
  4. Apply a thin coating of petroleum jelly to the outside to stop the pumpkin from drying out.
  5. Place pumpkin in fridge in a plastic bag to store overnight or place outside in the cold. The colder it is (not freezing!) the longer it will last.
  6. Rehydrate with a spray of water when you take the pumpkin out of the bag.
  7. Don’t use real candles as the heat and melted wax will hasten the demise of your pumpkin. Use small small floral votives that last for hours.
  8. To last the longest, paint your pumpkin.
Tools for carving-the wooden handled tool is for paring off the skin

For the best tutorial on carving pumpkin faces, look at Carving Pumpkin Faces.

Decorating a Whole Pumpkin

If carving a pumpkin is too much trouble for a pumpkin that lasts for about a week, consider decorating your squash with succulents which will last for months.

Green pumpkins look good with succulents
Use drieds along with succulents
Spraying your pumpkin gold adds some glam
Wisps of grass add a good design element to this pumpkin

For how-to on decorating pumpkins with succulents, check out Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents.  

Picking the Best Pumpkin

When you are at the farm stand picking out your perfect specimen, be sure to look it over for soft spots and gouges into the outer skin. If either of these are present, your pumpkin will likely rot before you can start decorating it. Poke and prod the pumpkin all over to make sure it is healthy. Have a plan of what you would like to carve as that determines the shape, size and orientation(sideways, upright, upside down) of your final creation. If you want the pumpkin at its best on Halloween, don’t carve it too early. One day ahead or the day of is perfect so that the pumpkin holds up.

This makes a great sideways pumpkin
Consider carving your pumpkin at a different angle
Make it simple

Picking out from a local market means you won’t get a bruised and battered pumpkin that traveled far from the farmer.

An outdoor work area is preferable as the job can get quite messy. Using brown/butcher paper or a trash bag underneath makes cleanup a snap.

 

Carefully paring away of the skin adds to the expression of this face
Draw from a template if you want an elaborate design
For elaborate designs, artists uses templates
Attach accessories to make your pumpkin unique

 

Group your pumpkins for a bigger impact