Monday, June 24, 2013

I Curse You, Poison Ivy!!!

Imagine me cursing and shaking my fist, because that’s exactly what I was doing when I spotted THIS...

Poison Ivy.

Yep, that is poison ivy. I never had poison ivy until we moved into this house. I was getting little patches on my arms and wrists every year. Finally I learned to recognize it, with help from my sister’s boyfriend who points it out EVERYWHERE he ever sees it. I thought I had gotten rid of all of it in my yard, then I spot this. And it wasn’t even hiding. It was right there out in the open, on the gravel path in my kitchen garden. I almost stepped on it. That’s probably part of its diabolical plan, growing right there in the path like that. I will get the last laugh, though (insert evil laugh here).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Nepenthes from Wegmans???

I was grocery shopping at Wegmans tonight and noticed a display of succulents and terrarium plants. A couple of people had told me they had seen succulents at Wegmans, but I hadn’t seen them yet. They had potted containers of mixed specimens, along with small, individual plants you could buy. It looked like they had been potting these up right there where people could see them and be enticed to buy something. Succulents and terrariums are obviously a popular thing lately, but much to my surprise, they had a display of Nepenthes (hanging pitcher plants). I had been wanting one ever since I saw one at a vendor booth at the Philadelphia Flower Show. That one was $40 so I decided against it. This was $14.99 – a no-brainer! I had to buy one. It’s healthy-looking, but will probably need repotting.

Nepenthes — hanging pitcher plant.

I have two bog/carnivorous containers that have some different kinds of pitcher plants, sun-dew, venus fly-trap, that kind of thing. But I never had a hanging pitcher plant before. Isn’t it cool?!?!

Nepenthes close-up.

Nepenthes are carnivorous. Insects are attracted to the color and nectar secretions. The red rim is slippery and insects fall in, sliding down the walls of the pitcher, into the fluid at the bottom of the trap. The plant then digests the insect. They like bright light, but not direct sun. Right now it’s warm enough to keep it on my screened-in back porch, however, I will bring it in when the cooler weather comes. Man, I haven’t been this excited about a plant since I found all of those different varieties of succulents at Lowes, much to my surprise. Surprises are good!

Nepenthes (aka Monkey Cups).

According to, Nepenthes are native to parts of South East Asia, India, Madagascar and Australia. They are often called “Monkey Cups” because monkeys will sometimes drink the fluid from the pitcher. Mmmm...a yummy drink of partially digested bugs. Ick!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Digital Garden Photography Class

For the past five weeks I have been taking an online Digital Garden Photography class through Longwood Gardens. It’s my first online class and I didn’t know what to expect or how much I would learn, but it’s been a great experience.

I had taken a photography class in college, however, that was longer ago than I care to admit. Let’s just say that there wasn’t such thing as digital cameras then and I had a used Pentax K1000, a good workhorse of a manual camera back then.  When I moved over to digital in 2005, I never really felt comfortable with the manual settings and wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing anymore. I was a bit intimidated by all of the buttons and settings. I had been looking for a photography class that would go over the basics again, in a digital environment, but was hoping for a garden-related one. Longwood Gardens to the rescue! This class fit my needs perfectly.

Each week we had to watch a video online, then we would have a homework assignment that we would upload by the end of the week. There was a discussion board where we would post our homework pictures and the instructor and other students would comment/critique. We all learned from each other as we read the feedback from the instructor and other students. I would get really excited each week to see what images the other students would post. Everyone has very different backgrounds and experience levels, so it was fun seeing what they would do each week. We would give each person’s photo a star rating (1-5 stars, 5 being the best). 

The first week was learning about equipment selection and camera handling, along with file types and sizes. The second week was about setting up for a shoot and learning about manual settings, exposure, and metering. The third week was compositional techniques. I took this photo of my climbing hydrangea for that assignment. It uses the rule of thirds and negative space. I used a macro extension tube for this shot.

White climbing hydrangea.

The fourth week was about the direction and quality of light, such as using back lighting, side lighting, or diffused lighting. When I read this assignment, I knew I wanted to shoot my smokebush. When it’s not too hot or too cold, I drink my coffee on the back porch in the mornings. I am always amazed at what the morning light does to the leaves of the smokebush. It makes it look like they are different colors, have a translucency, and the leaves and stems create dancing shadows on other leaves. I wanted to try to capture that. It took me three different mornings of shooting to feel like I got a good enough picture that captures what I wanted it to. It’s still not perfect, but what is! This assignment was the turning point for me in the class. I feel like I learned a lot about composing a shot, shooting from different perspectives, and shooting at different manual settings. I finally started to feel like I understood my digital camera and its manual settings. Everything started to “click” in my head.


The fifth week was about capturing the “mood” of color. I decided since this was the last assignment, I wanted to practice everything I learned about set-up, composition, and light and combine it with color. I packed up my camera equipment and tripod and took a field trip to the Morris Arboretum. I knew there would plenty of subjects there. I ended up concentrating mostly on Love-in-a-Mist, Red Hot Poker, and some peach-colored roses. For this assignment, I chose to use the Red Hot Poker since it screams analogous color (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel) and gives a sense of being sizzling hot and happy! This was my only image to get a four star rating from my classmates. The others had gotten three stars.

Red Hot Poker (Torch Lily).

The last thing we had to do was upload four images as a “portfolio” of our best work from the last few weeks. I decided I wanted to use images the instructor hadn’t seen before. For the first image, I included one that I had taken earlier in the class when I was experimenting with my macro and the light on my smokebush. I included this because I had originally really liked it, although I see all of the flaws in it now based on what I learned about my manual camera settings. I still really like the way the shadow of the flowers are on the leaf, though.

Smokebush flowers and leaves.

The following are all images that I had taken at the Morris Arboretum and that I included in my final portfolio. I feel like they show that I finally am understanding my camera better, as well as lighting and composition.

These are lovely peach-colored roses with a dark purple smokebush in the background. The shadows became black, really making the graceful flowers jump out at you. I love that there are a few water droplets on the one leaf.

Peach roses and smokebush.

This image is of Love-in-a-Mist seed pods and is more of a monochromatic color scheme with all of the greens. Love-in-a-Mist is a gorgeous annual. It’s a double-whammy because not only does it have interesting, beautiful flowers, but also these fascinating seed capsules. You can see a bit of spider web in this shot. I really like the back-lighting in this image.

Love-in-a-Mist seed pods.

This is probably my favorite photo that I took during this class. It is the Love-in-a-Mist flower and is another example of analogous color. I love the lighting in this shot and how the multiple pistils in the center are shadowed on the flower petals. This is a truly fascinating flower. I actually planted some in my garden this year and they are just leaves right now. I hope mine actually blooms and forms seed capsules so it self-seeds.


I learned a lot over the past few weeks, more than I thought I would. Will I break out the tripod and carefully compose every shot I take for my blog from now on? No, no I won’t. I just don’t have the time for that. But it will having me look at my garden differently and trying shots like these more often.

I want to give a shout-out to my instructor, Jon Cox, for all of his valuable feedback during this class. Thanks, Jon! You can see what a talented photographer he is if you check out his website:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Flower Garden in MAY?!?!

I just realized that I did not post much about what was going on in the garden in May, other than the macro shots and morning light pics. I guess that’s what happens when you’re working full time and taking two classes (a digital garden photography class and a web design class). Here’s what was happening...

The azaleas started to bloom about the weekend before Mother’s Day.  I missed getting a shot of the other azaleas in the front yard, but here are two.

These azaleas are in the back yard by the shed/workshop.

After the azaleas, the white peonies bloomed in the front yard. I love the little pink splashes in the middle. Unfortunately, these got beat down by rains not long after I took these pictures.

I had posted some other photos of my purple Columbine. Here’s the one that’s a different shade than most that I have. I love these and I’m not really sure how/why they are different than the others.

 I love the pink blossoms against the dark leaves of the Midnight Wine Weigela.

I planted this Summer Wine Ninebark last year in the overgrown area that I had cleared out. I am amazed that these plants are doing so well when there was a giant tree trunk here that we had to get ground down. (I guess I like “wine” plants as much as I like wine!)

Speaking of the area that I had gotten cleared out last year...I discovered that the 2-3 foot area along the screened-in back porch is all GRAVEL. Yes, gravel. Try digging and planting in gravel! I guess it was put there for drainage. This really foiled my planting plans. I decided to go with some decorative planters instead – two tall and three short. The shorter ones contain boxwood to tie in with the boxwood in the Kitchen Garden and the taller ones contain Canna and variegated Ivy.

We have had this blackberry bush for a few years now and it never really produced berries. There was a lot of blooms on it this year, so I am hopeful that maybe, just maybe we’ll get berries this year. That is, if the birds don’t get them first. (I actually just checked this today and I DO see LOTS of berries forming!) This is actually in the Kitchen Garden by the neighbor’s (unfinished) fence.

This is the area that I refer to as the “secret garden.” It’s kind of hidden by the side of the greenhouse. I have had LOTS of troubles getting anything to grow in this area over the years due to poor light, soil, and drainage, but have finally had some success.

The climbing hydrangea and pink rose on the arbor were both gorgeous this year, however, I don’t have a great picture showing them. You can kind of see them here behind the Weigela and catmint.

This is another view of the flower garden and arbor.

The flower garden seen from the very back corner of the yard.

The roses were blooming really nicely starting the end of May through the beginning of June. Then we had a few days of heavy rain and they aren’t quite as pretty as before. Here’s a pink rose and catmint. All of the neighborhood cats love the catmint.

This is a David Austin Abraham Darby rose.

This is another David Austin rose, but yellow. I can’t remember the name right now...chalk it up to getting old!

Pink roses and purple spiderwort.

The Siberian Irises were lovely at the end of May. These are a division from some I had planted at my mom’s house. They have spread really quickly.

The herb garden near the back porch door. Usually the mint is the main thing in this area. This year the lemon balm seems to be taking over. I think I need to help out the mint. I must have mint for my iced tea and mojitos!

This robin follows me all over the yard whenever I am outside. When I weed or put out the sprinkler, he gets lots of worms and grubs, so I guess he’s pretty smart to follow me. Unfortunately, it looks like he pooped on Mr. Wiggles.

So what’s going on in June? Well, so far it has been mainly the roses. The hydrangeas are beginning to flower, though. More to come...hopefully I can get them posted before July!

Canning Class

I love learning and if you read my blog, you know that I like to take some sort of garden-related class at least twice a year, if not more. Today I had a class in canning at the Morris Arboretum. The instructor was canning connoisseur, blogger, and author, Marisa McClellan. She demonstrated how to make Strawberry Vanilla Jam while talking about the canning process. I have never canned anything before and have always thought it would be neat to try. I was a bit afraid, though, after hearing my mom talk about jars breaking and lids popping off. This one-day class helped me overcome my fear and get excited about trying to can something...anything...sometime soon.

She brought her book with her, “Food in Jars.” I was so won over by the lovely book design by Running Press and the interesting-sounding recipes that I bought one and had her sign it. Here’s a picture of the book, along with the small jar of Strawberry Vanilla Jam that I brought home with me from the class. (We tasted the jam before it was jarred and it’s delicious! It’s best to let this set for a week, though. I hope I have the patience to do that!)

“Food in Jars” by Marisa McClellan

Some recipes in her book that I would love to try: Chunky Fig Jam, Oven-Roasted Peach Butter, Orange Vanilla Curd, Pickled Asparagus Spears, Dilly Beans, Gingery Pickled Beets, Caramelized Red Onion Relish, Boozy Canned Peaches, and Homemade Cultured Butter. That’s a lot! I better get started!

Marisa was a fantastic teacher and very personable. If you happen to get a chance to check out any of her classes, do. I think you’ll find you’ll want to can something, too! She also has lots of delicious-sounding recipes on her website.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Recipe from the Garden: Strawberry Mojito

Strawberries are in season and boy do I love strawberries. I don’t grow them in my garden, but I always try them from different farm stands in the area until I find the sweetest ones. When I was a kid we used to go to a farm where you could pick your own. We would come home with tons of strawberries. My mom would make strawberry pie, strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam, you name it, plus we’d eat them plain. One year I ate so many strawberries that I broke out in a rash from them! Yep, that’s actually true. I had a strawberry-red rash all over my belly.

Last year I posted one of my favorite drink recipes: mojitos. This year I thought I would try a strawberry mojito. I found this particularly refreshing last weekend after working in the yard all day. I feel like it had too much sugar, though. Next time I will try less sugar.

This recipe is by Jolene from

Strawberry Mojito


• white sugar, for rimming
• 2 large
limes, quartered• 1/2 bunch mint leaves• 7 strawberries, quartered
• 1 cup white sugar• 1 cup white rum• 2 cups club soda• 8 cups ice cubes


Pour 1/4 to 1/2 inch of sugar onto a small, shallow plate. Run one of the lime quarters around the rim of each cocktail glass, then dip the glasses into the sugar to rim; set aside.

Squeeze all of the lime quarters into a sturdy glass pitcher. Toss the juiced limes into the pitcher along with the mint, strawberries, and 1 cup of sugar. Crush the fruits together with a muddler to release the juices from the strawberries and the oil from the mint leaves. Stir in the rum and club soda until the sugar has dissolved. Pour into the sugared glasses over ice cubes to serve.

A pitcher of Strawberry Mojito and Molly enjoying the strawberries.

Molly jumped in my shot just as I took the picture. I’ve heard that strawberries are an aphrodisiac, but I didn’t know that they had an effect on cats. Molly went nuts when she smelled the berries. She started rubbing up against them. I had to take them away from her for fear of her getting cat hair all over my precious strawberries!

What is THAT?!

As I was working in the yard today, I discovered this sap stuff coming out of a tree where a branch had been removed. I have no clue what this tree is. I doubt it’s a maple, it gets white flowers in the early spring. But what the heck is this gooey stuff? (BTW I took this first shot with one of my macro extension tubes.)

Is it an alien?

A low-lying branch had started to break off a few years ago, so we cut the rest of it off with the chain saw. That explains the look of this area of the tree.

The area of the tree where the sap is coming out of.

It rained really hard yesterday, so maybe that has something to do with this? I don’t know, doesn’t seem like water. Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s a good sign. I have wondered for the past couple of years if this tree is diseased because of this weird stuff I have found on the leaves before. If I see that this year, I’ll be sure to post a picture of that.

Here is another alien-looking thing. This is moss that is growing on top of the wood hutch that we have our trashcans in. It’s on the cedar shingle roof part. (I took these two shots with a macro extension tube.)

Alien-looking moss.

Seriously, it almost looks like miniature aliens could live here.

More of the moss.

I’m guessing there are all sorts of varieties of moss. Might be interesting to learn about that sometime.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Kitchen Garden in May

Here it is the first of June and I am posting about May. Not too unusual actually.

Normally I remove my row covers from the raised beds the weekend of Mother’s Day, sometimes the weekend before, depending on when the weather forecasters are predicting the last frost. This year we still had a chance of frost the week after Mother’s Day! That cause me to leave the row covers on later than usual. This means I didn’t get to thin out my seedlings as early as usual, too. So when I uncovered the beds, a bit of chaos was revealed.

The Kitchen Garden / Vegetable Garden

Now I am thinning out by eating stuff! Lots of salads because lots of greens: romaine, spinach, arugula, gourmet leaf mix, and bibb lettuce. Oh and some kale.

Lots of greens!

And radishes go well in all of the salads I’m eating. 

Cherry Belle Radishes.

Having a garden really does make you eat healthy.

Prowlin’ for Peas

The last couple of weekends I have been prowling around to all the farm stands in the area looking for fresh, local peas. I have tried to grow peas in my garden a few different times and have never succeeded. It’s disappointing because I really love peas. Today I finally found them at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market. Wahoo!

Peas grown locally, but not by me!

As much as I love peas, I’m not a fan of shelling them. Today the internet has been cutting in and out, so I shelled them while I waited for it to catch up to me!

How will I prepare my peas? I like them cooked pretty simple, with a little butter and fresh herbs from the garden.