One of the glories of gardens is the space and visual stimuli they provide for quiet contemplation and for reading. The garden design books give lots of examples, lush, austere, expansive, cozy; whatever your available space and inclination allow. Reading or drawing while sitting amongst plants is a great pleasure.
Here are a few pictures from garden design books of contemplative spaces suitable for reading, and adaptable for city or suburban environments.
Welcome into the garden through a wooden moon gate arch and down a path to relax and enjoy the sunlight or the shade with a good book. From: Well-designed Garden
Or enjoy a garden bench among poppies, foxglove and catmint You
You may enjoy sitting in a woven-willow arbour in the rose garden which has had its lower criss-crossing stems stripped bare so that the pattern remains visible but the canopy becomes dense by midsummer. From Dream gardens
Sit and enjoy chair for reading nestled in a lush composition of texture and color. A
A bench made of living pin oak planted in its traveling crate. The leaves are pruned off the lower shaped areas to make the piece look more attractive.
A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew, A cloud, and a rainbow's warning, Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue-- An April day in the morning. - Harriet Prescott Spofford, April
After a brief taste of summer, Mistress Weather returned us to a more typical spring season. Gardeners across the region are getting their hands dirty preparing vegetable gardens for planting and finding early annuals to bring color to April’s rainy days. My husband and I still have a LOT of work to do with the landscaping and yard around the house we bought last year and the work will probably take us a few years to make it as we dream it can be. We do plan to have a small kitchen garden this year, though, and I have been working my way through books about smaller gardens to figure out the best crops for my space. Now I just have to hope for a few days without rain so I can get the planting started…
Rain is not the only form of shower to watch for in April. The Lyrid Meteor Shower happens in the skies April 20 – April 21, with best viewing predicted for pre-dawn hours. Set your alarm for 2:00 am (or just make it a “star party” and stay up all night!), grab a blanket and a lawn chair (or an old camping mattress like my mom and I used to do) and head outdoors to take in the show. Think it might be too bright in your neighborhood to see anything? Join the National Capital Astronomers group at their first Exploring the Sky event for 2012 on April 21. If you miss this one, don’t worry—there are other meteor showers throughout the year, most notably the Perseids in August.
This was an excellent summer for tomatoes on the farm. This year, I scaled back on the variety of items in the garden and just put in tomatoes, peppers and cutting flowers. It’s very exciting when the first little greenies begin to swell and ripen, but later I found myself inundated with many, many ripe red globes begging to be put to some use.
We ate a lot of fresh tomatoes and made gallons of fresh salsa using the jalapenos and the green peppers. The flowers came inside to brighten up spots all around the house. Although I planned to can tomato sauce, or marinated peppers, I just never got around to it. There's always next year, and here are some great resources for the home canner.
Canning and preserving home grown fruits and vegetables is becoming more and more popular as the locavore movement spreads. People may have small plots in their yards or even on their patio or deck. Here a few resources to help you realize a greater return from your gardening investment.
"Well Preserved" by Eugenia Bone is a collection of 30 small batch preserving recipes and 90 recipes in which to use the foods. In addition to canning, the book shows how to use methods like oil preserving and curing.
"Complete Book of Home Preserving" by Judi Kingry comes from Ball Home Canning Products, and is considered the canning bible for both beginners and experts. Over 400 recipes will give you just about everything you need to know to make full use of your homegrown fruits and veggies.
If you are more of a visual learner, the library also offers a DVD called "The Art of Canning.", which covers equipment needed, storage and cleaning everything as well as the basics of canning jam, pickles, vegetables, even eggs!
There are a couple of farm/ranch life blogs that I dip into on a regular basis - one is The Pioneer Woman, which is blogged by Ree Drummond. Drummond spun her very entertaining blog into a cookbook, and now a Food Network show. She has a section on canning that is just right for beginners, with a strawberry jam project. Strawberry jam is where I got my canning start - it's a good way to learn the basics.
Chickens in the Road is the site of a West Virginia blogger, Suzanne Mcminn. Suzanne moved to a small farm in rural West Virigina several years ago, and write about her adventures with goats, cows, the weather, her garden, and small town life. She has a great online community of like-minded people who share their advice and recipes, and a couple posts give the basics of canning, with lots of pictures and step by step instructions.
A tried and true friend to both farmers and suburban farm types is the local extension service. The UMD Extension Service offers advice on all kinds of topics, and held some classes earlier this year on various aspects of canning and preserving foods. They seem to be planning more classes later in the fall, but I'm not able to find specific dates - check back on their website. In the meantime, they have a nice powerpoint presentation called "Grow it, Eat It, Preserve It", which walks the viewer through the steps of both water bath and pressure canning.
At long last, I will soon be a homeowner! I have had house envy for years as all my friends were buying houses but I had to keep renting apartments. It’s been an exciting whirlwind these last couple of months, looking at properties online (my favorite site for searching was Redfin for how easy it was to use and for the amount of detail you could see about each property) and talking with my future husband about the kind of home we want to create for ourselves. I will admit up front that we were lucky to have the process go very quickly and very smoothly—we decided to start looking in mid-May, made an offer at the end of our first day of touring with a realtor and will settle on our new house before July! This is a first home for both of us and we thought it would take us several months to find something “just right.” Thanks to the research I did before we started, we knew what to expect during the entire process and understood some of the pitfalls and problems we could face.
Now the fun begins! We considered buying a “fixer-upper” but most of the ones we looked at needed more fixing and upping than we wanted to handle. (Remember the movie The Money Pit? I had visions of that happening to us.) Our new house is in great shape, but we plan on some minor repairs and updates and using my green thumb to cultivate a small garden and adding colorful flowers around the house to really make it ours. The library, of course, has loads of resources to help us plan and undertake all these projects.
What we can’t do ourselves will require help from a professional. We’ll definitely be checking the ratings in Washington Consumer’s Checkbook as we get to know local services and contractors. We’ll also be consulting the ratings in Consumer Reports when the time comes to replace any major appliances or purchasing new electronics. (All library branches subscribe to the print versions of Washington Consumer’s Checkbook and Consumer Reports. In addition, you can find other consumer information online through our consumer information resource page).
My own little plot of earth looks like a miniature prairie. Only the fittest and the strongest survive! I forage for wild arugula, dandelion leaves, Chinese leeks, bamboo shoots, gobo, fuki and...where is that tasty green we had last year? My child once asked, “Mommy, is this really safe to eat?” “But of course, dear, we use no pesticide or fertilizer.” I suppose I could add rabbit meat and venison on our dinner table, too, for the nourishment they seem to get from my prairie, but that will be another topic for this column.
Most of us won’t or can’t be organic farmers. But thanks to the library, at least we can read, listen and watch about others who took the leap.
In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver described her own year-long experiment to grow what her family ate after moving from suburban Arizona to rural Appalachia. She wrote, "Our highest shopping goal was to get our food from so close to home, we'd know the person who grew it. Often that turned out to be ourselves as we learned to produce what we needed, starting with dirt, seeds, and enough knowledge to muddle through."
I recently found myself temporarily transplanted to the farm fields of western Montgomery County. While this causes me to grumble about the more frequent emptying of my gas tank (and my wallet), I found that there are many good things to be had out here. Of course, the best part just might be a visit to one of your up-county library branches, like Poolesville or Damascus. So what else should lure you out to the country?
In season, there are always farm-fresh fruits and veggies to be had. From summer corn and tomatoes to fall apples and pumpkins, there’s sure to be something for everyone. In just a few weeks, the area’s strawberry patches will be teeming with families and picking (and eating!) their juicy goodness. Why not make a batch of strawberry preserves, just like grandma used to? (catalog link?)
-Wide Open Spaces, Fresh Air, and Grand Views:
You’ll find an abundance of natural surroundings here. My
The past is alive out here, whether you’re walking in its footsteps along the C & O Canal Trail or driving through one the many historic towns here. Civil War buffs will note that both Union and Confederate troops moved through and camped out in the area. Take a ride on the historic White’s Ferry, in operation since 1786, and now the last of its kind on the Potomac. Many of the farming families here have been long established in their communities as well and many have connections to these earlier times.
-Life In the Slow Lane
Life is lived at a much slower pace (and we’re not just talking
about speed limits). Things are more easy-going and laidback here. It makes for a nice respite from the breakneck speed of life in the more urban areas of the county. Since everything is more spread out here, there’s no sense in rushing to get anywhere. You’ll arrive soon enough. (And if you try to hurry anyway, you’ll probably pay the price. There are no less than three speed cameras spaced throughout my route to work.)