Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yeah, I've Got the Christmas Spirit

Tomorrow's To Do List:
  • Early morning meeting with client to review drainage plans
  • Attend Christmas Show at daughter's school 
  • Bake cookies for daughter's holiday party
  • Check client's garden installation progress, site new location for river birch tree
  • Pick up quick gift for "secret Santa" exchange at daughter's holiday party
  • Finish addressing, writing little personal notes, stuffing, licking, stamping and mail Christmas cards (picking up where I left off after the "F"s - only 135 to go!!)
  • Review gift list and pick up last few stocking stuffers
  • Send copies of client's patio plans to contractors for estimates
  • Find 5 sweet little hostess gifts to take to upcoming parties over next 3 days
  • Get gifts to husband's family to Federal Express (while 2-day is still an option!)
  • Hang wreath outside that has been lying on the ground for a week waiting until I attach the bow and buy some more floral wire
  • Buy more floral wire (at the hardware store - pick up a couple of stocking stuffers while there)
  • Plan Christmas eve and day menus
  • Prepare grocery lists for 2 different grocery stores
  • Finalize dog sitting schedule for post-Christmas trip to niece's wedding
  • Buy wedding gift for niece
  • Take husband's tux to cleaners
  • Write 3 thank you notes for holiday parties last week
  • Buy new slacks for son to wear to wedding
  • Shower and dress for 3 holiday parties
  • Drive children to various events for evening
Really, this is my list for tomorrow.  I don't get excited or worked up over Halloween because I know, every year, just around the winter solstice, I turn into the Tazmanian Devil.  

Monday, July 25, 2011


Being a good Texas girl, roadkill never frightens me. I've dutifully taught my kids the Roadkill Car Game (I one it, I two it, I three it, I four it, . . . I "eight" it.)

At a party recently, my friend - the host - asked, "what tree is this?" In the wee hours of the morning and after more than one glass of wine, that's not an easy question. I thought I knew, but in the dark, I couldn't see the bark or the form of the tree either. I surely didn't want to be wrong so I put off answering until the next day.  So I plucked a leaf to take home for researching in the morning.

My favorite horticulture professor warned her students of client roadkill questions and trained us by giving her infamous "roadkill quizzes." She would line up 10 small branches, sometimes with leaves, sometimes not, for us to identify. Her hardest was the cone roadkill quiz - yes, 10 cones from different conifers that we then had to identify the tree or shrub that produced the cone.

But she was right. I get these questions frequently, from friends, neighbors and clients.

The answer here:  Carya glabra, Pignut Hickory.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Selecting Containers for the Garden

A new client is searching for the perfect containers for her front porch and back patio. The color of the container, as well as height and construction, must be consistent with the architecture of the house and reflect the taste and style of the client. 

Resin pots - small 8" square, medium 24" tall, large 30" tall

Cast concrete pots, stained brown - 24" tall and 30" tall
Glazed terra cotta pots 29" tall

Glazed terra cotta pots 30" tall

Glazed terra cotta with texture 30" tall

Small brown cast concrete 8" and 10" tall - to sit on small table
Stay posted for the final selection and finished product next week!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Penny for Your . . . Tulips?

While I adore the artistic nature of creating an outdoor garden with all its color and texture, I am not so adept at crafting flower arrangements.  My stand-by is to buy lots and lots of the same flower and plop them in a big vase.  Lazy?  Perhaps.  Inexperienced?  Definitely so.  Like anything else, the more you research, learn and practice, the better you become.

I attended a flowering arranging program this morning presented by Washington, DC floral designer Phillipa Tarrant.  She shared three arrangements based on themes:  a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired window; a Chevy Chase Hunt Club arrangement completed with kiwi vines and pheasant feathers, and an incredibly simple, yet elegant bowl of purple tulips mimicking the look of a Tiffany glass window.

A Frank Lloyd Wright window
  Using a very low glass vase, the Oasis (foam material used in floral arrangements) was wrapped in Aspadidrus leaves, then stems of pussy willow were wrapped around the bottom the base for the tiny dots of texture as in the window.  Long stem roses, iris and billy-balls added the spots of color.  

Frank Lloyd Wright inspired arrangment

Philippa then, using a small 6" Oasis form that can be set inside of another container, such as hunt trophy (as was the idea here), she used greens and browns with spots of red to create a dramatic look that would spill over the edges.

Philippa demonstrates creating an arrangement to reflect a Chevy Chase Hunt Club scene
And lastly, and exquisitely simple, Philippa explained that just using a small bunch of tulips, left out for a short while so that the stems are more limp and easier to manipulate, an elegant arrangement can be made by just setting the bottom of the stems at the bottom of a large fishbowl (this one is 12" in diameter), and gently coaxing them to twist around the inside of the glass.  Here, only seven tulips are used.  For a bigger statement, use a grouping of three bowls sized 12", 8" and 6" to create a large arrangement on a small budget.

Philippa explains how tulips can be manipulated inside of a glass bowl

An "airy" arrangement of tulips
Of course, tulips always seem to fall limp after a few hours in a vase.  Philippa's trick - add a couple of copper pennies to the bottom of the vase and the tulips will perk right back up!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Chocolate Garden?

It's Ash Wednesday and I have, as I have since 1982, given up chocolate for Lent.  Easter is late on the calendar this year, and I was just thinking about how I might be able to fulfill my cravings without actually eating chocolate. 

What would be in a chocolate lover's garden?  Chocolate colored plants?

Dahlia 'Karma Choc'
A nursery in Washington state, Chocolate Flower Farm, specializes in all things chocolate for the garden, like the Dahlia 'Karma Choc' and Delphinium 'Kissed by Chocolate.'

Delphinium 'Kissed by Chocolate'
Chocolate scented orchids? Cocoa shell mulch?  There is no dearth of ideas about how to create a chocolate garden

Monday, February 21, 2011

Winter Reading

It is February and though a recent spring tease brought the crocus to life, the landscape is still drab, gray and barren.  During the "off-season," I tend to re-read books and magazines for inspiration and ideas for spring and summer projects. 

Most recently, I spent some time with Pamela Harper's Time-Tested Plants, a book my favorite plants professor swore was the best for learning how to craft a four-season garden. 

Her book is divided into seasons, and highlights key trees, shrubs and perennials, that when combined, can bring the landscape beauty at any time of the year.  Reading her section on autumn and winter reminded me of the plant I covet in February - Hamamelis x intermdiea, the witchhazel hybrids.  She eloquently describes the flowers of the cultivar 'Jelena', which blooms the longest of the hybrids:  "The blood-orange colors of its spidery apricot petals stretched out from crimson calyces bring a warm glow to the winter scene."  Planted with southern exposure to the sun gives a natural backlighting, offering a coppery glow to warm the day.

Michael Dirr, noted horticulturist and king of all things woody plants, questions "[w]hy these plants are not in greater use is beyond me."  Besides their contribution to bringing one out of the winter doldrums, they offer brilliant fall color and an interesting upright, spreading, loosely branched form. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Girl Scout Cookie Dilemma

A few years ago, our family converted from "regular" food to "all natural" food, meaning we eliminated any and all artificial dyes, artificial preservatives and artificial flavorings.  It was as difficult a transition as we had anticipated and I like to believe that we are all now, and will be, healthier for the change.

Simple research into the production of artificially made ingredients will turn you off of them too (spoiler alert).  Vanillin, the artificial vanilla flavor, is made from paper mill waste.  That smell alone will have you looking again at the labels on your food packaging. 

FD&C food colors are petroleum by-products, often called tertiary products.  Rather than waste, the clever chemists at oil refineries figured it would be productive ($$$) to make other products after gasoline, rubber and plastics.  Of course, they just put the leftovers in our food.  Yum.

However, there are a few things that have been difficult to replace in our kitchen cupboard.  Marshmallows (yes, Kraft's Jet Puffed have blue dye to make them whiter).  M&Ms.  Girl Scout cookies.

Why Girl Scouts of America has not transitioned away from artificial ingredients, I'm not sure.  Even with a Girl Scout in the house, we skip ordering a year-long supply of Thin Mints, Do-si-dos and Samoas.  There are plenty of peanut butter cookie alternatives that are much better than Do-si-dos.  Whole Foods sells a brand of cookie called "Back to Nature" whose Fudge Mint cookies have the same crunch as Thin Mints.  But Samoas, there is nothing similar in any of the stores I now frequent.

After declining to order Samoas for my daughter today, I decided to hunt for a recipe to make them from scratch.  These - from the blog "Babble" - look like amazing treats.  I'm anticipating that they will likely taste much better than the original Samoas! 

Homemade Girl Scout Cookies: Samoas

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar (or granulated)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
Dipping Caramel (recipe follows)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (available at health food stores)
12 ounces of chocolate chips

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add in egg and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the bowl, if necessary. Add in vanilla. Beat until smooth. With mixer on low, add in salt and flour. Mix until completely incorporated and dough is uniform. Pull dough together and shape into a cylinder with a diameter of about 2 1/2 inches. Wrap in parchment paper and freeze for at least 25 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice dough into 1/8 inch disks and place on baking sheets, about an inch apart. Once you have made 30 cookies, wrap up the cookie dough, freeze, and save for another time. Use a tiny circle shaped cookie cutter or a large round cake decorating tip to cut a hole in the center of each disk. Refrigerate for an additional 10 minutes. Bake for 8 minutes, or until crisp. Let cool completely.

3. Add coconut into the caramel. Warm the caramel in the microwave for about 10 seconds if necessary. Take cooled cookies and gently dip them completely in the caramel. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Freeze until set, about 5 minutes.

4. Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each interval, until fully melted. Place the caramel coated cookies in the chocolate. Use a fork to pull them out of the chocolate and place them on a parchment line cookie sheet. Use the chocolate still on the fork to drizzle stripes over the top of the cookies. Refrigerate until set.

Dipping Caramel
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar)
4 tablespoons corn syrup
6 tablespoons water
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons cream (DO NOT use plain whipping cream)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan with high sides, combine sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt. Whisk until combined, and set over medium-low heat. Swirl the pan every now and then to help distribute the heat. Use can use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush the sugar crystals down the sides of the saucepan. When the sugar dissolves completely, raise the heat to medium. When it comes to a boil, watch very carefully for the bubbles to become more viscous (this means that the water has evaporated and that it is ready to go through the candy stages). As it is bubbling away, you want it to turn a deep amber color. When it does, remove the heat and, working quickly, use the spoon to scoop up a small amount of the candy and drop it into the small glass of water. If the blob turns hard like lollipop, then it is ready. If the blob is still soft, put the pan back on the heat. Keep testing until the candy is hard. Remove from heat.

2. Whisk in butter, 6 tablespoons of cream, and vanilla (Careful here, as the mixture should bubble violently for about 10 seconds). If the caramel isn’t smooth right away, return the pan to low heat and whisk until smooth.