Holiday Wreath

This year I really mixed it up.  Normally I like a naturalistic wreath for the fireplace, like the one I created last year.  Very pretty and soothing, but this year I wanted something different. I guess you’d say the wreath below is fanciful rather than natural. (The glitter and peacocks tends to give that away!)FullSizeRender

Last year’s wreath was about saving money. This year it’s all about color and sizzle.  We’re having a long stretch of dreary, foggy weather that’s unusually warm and drab for zone 4b in December.  We needed zing. And now we have it.IMG_4021

The picks with the glittery balls on the end were on sale and I used the remaining turquoise ribbon for the Christmas tree.  So I was reasonably economical, if not exactly as frugal as last year when I foraged in my own garden for decorations.  But the picks are all reusable, so if we have another dreary December next year, I’ll have that going for me!

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Say What?






It’s less than four weeks until 2015!

Do you know where your year has gone? Because I sure don’t know what’s happened to mine.

So I’ve decided to do a rerun on summer 2014 .  .  .  starting with the July garden and repeated whenever I feel the need through this hectic time of year.

As I  flipped through photos of the front garden, I was surprised to see how good it actually looked this year. Usually, it’s the opposite, and I suspect most gardeners feel the same way. We look at photos and only see the weeds, blank spots, or underperforming plants. The glass is frequently half-empty for gardeners, despite our innate optimism that next year will always be better than this one.

Sometimes, though, I think distance lends clarity. Take my front border, for example.FullSizeRenderThis is the front border in July. It faces south and slopes away on the west end—a fact I’ve attempted to disguise with the cedar fence and tall junipers on the lower end. (You can just make out the curving chartreuse bench on the western edge.)

What I like here is the rhythm created by the repetition of form and color.  Many Happy Returns daylily clumps repeat the yellow theme along the bed. Pink astilbes are repeated in the pink blooms of the ornamental grass, which is fronted by darker pink asiatic lilies.  The deep rosy-pink of the Smoke Bush in the background hold things together and the dark red of the Monarda adds punch.  All of these, with the exception of the ornamental grass, are long-blooming, lasting three weeks at least and are very low maintenance.FullSizeRenderThis is the bed that runs roughly parallel with the front border and also along the sidewalk. What I liked here was the deep blue of the Little Bluestem grass against the Chuckles(Ridiculous name for such a pretty rose, but no one asked me.) rose and the way the May Night Salvia, although bloomed out, still provides structure and contrast with the flowing stems of the grass.FullSizeRenderHere’s a closer view of the Helianthus and the Chuckles roses. This has a sort of lush but carefree air that I like.  Again, both these perennials are long-blooming, a trait I look for more and more as I gain experience as a gardener.  Brief beauty is all well and good, but long-lived blooms are always a plus.

So what’s on your plate for the last weeks of 2014? If it all seems like too much, take a minute to soothe your soul by revisiting the lush green of summer with me.

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FullSizeRenderI’m off to shop, bake and prepare for tomorrow. Despite my determination to keep the meal small and simple this year, I’ve managed to commit to making three desserts.     Mmm . . .  I guess that does reveal something about my family’s priorities.

But before I go, I wanted to wish all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving a day that unfolds as beautifully as this flower.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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A Year in Photos

FullSizeRenderEvery picture I’ve taken to date in 2014.  From spring tulips to massive spiders hanging from the fence, it’s all here:  Cats, kids, food, even a rare blond raccoon found dead[fourth row from bottom, five shots in] on the street— and all the flowers fit to print.

This quilt of many colors was organized for me by my new iPhone, and I liked it so much I thought I’d share.

Kinda cool, huh?

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photoAwhile back, I was really craving pumpkin bars.  I rarely make desserts with cream cheese frosting, though.  I find heavy, thick frosting overwhelms a tender cake crumb. Still, cream cheese is a good contrast to pumpkin and spice, so I decided to create a lighter version that has more the texture of a marshmallow cream.  It succeeded beyond my expectations.

In fact, I was barely was able to save a piece to photograph.  Even my picky middle child liked this cake.

As you can see, this is more a cake than bars.  And the ratio of frosting to cake is much better this way. Traditional pumpkin bar recipes call for a jelly roll pan and result in a bar that is barely an inch and a half tall.  I used a 9×13 baking dish instead.

The other substitution was the spices.  I used a good Vietnamese cinnamon and Chinese 5 spice together and increased the suggested amount by about a third.  A quality ground ginger with allspice would be another great variation on this theme, but I wanted to avoid the boring pumpkin pie spice flavoring here, and I also wanted to create a cleaner, warmer taste, which Chinese 5 spice delivers in spades.  Chinese 5 spice, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a combination of star anise, anise seed, cloves, ginger, and Chinese cassia cinnamon. I like the Penzey’s brand, but whatever you use, make sure it’s fresh! Old spices ruin far too many dishes, and as we move into the holiday season (at least here in zone 4b) fresh spices are a must. For spices I use infrequently, I’ll write the date purchased on the container so I can’t kid myself about how old the stuff is.                       photoHere’s the recipe, if you’re interested. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 15oz can of cooked pumpkin

Combine above in electric mixer until smooth.  Then add the following dry ingredients:

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour(Whole wheat pastry flour could be substituted here, if you wish.)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp Vietnamese Cinnamon

2tsp Chinese 5 Spice

1 tsp salt

Pour into greased 9×13 pan. Bake 40-50 minutes.  Check with wooden skewer for desired doneness. Cool thoroughly.

Frost with the following:

8 oz cream cheese, soften

2/3 cup unsalted butter

pinch of salt,

3 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar

1 tsp Penzey’s double strength vanilla or 2 tsp regular strength vanilla

Whip until light and fluffy.  You may have a bit of frosting left over.  Freeze in an airtight container for later use if small children are unavailable to help you dispose of leftovers. Conventional wisdom dictates refrigerating cake with cream cheese frostings.  Mine never last longer than 2 days, so I leave them on the counter.

Your choice. Either way, enjoy!



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Last Stand

photoYesterday was the first snowfall of the season here in zone 4b.  Just a few miles to the north, they had over a foot of snow.

Here in Minneapolis, though, only around five inches fell. Schools remained open and life shuffled onward, albeit at a slow pace.

Trees that had yet to fully drop their leaves have done so overnight. Golden brown leaves flutter over a fresh bed of white earth as the winds whistled down from the north and sends them dancing across the lawns. Although the landscape still has the feel of fall, winter’s snowy hand has been raised.  A warning.

It’s coming.

Garden regrets and triumphs alike will sleep beneath their winter blankets of white.

Next year, every northern gardener must be muttering now.

There’s always next year!

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More Glorious Grasses

photoStrangely, this rosy grass is actually called Little Bluestem,”The Blues.”  The stems of this cultivar are bluish during the growing season but now have turned shades of rose and pink that glow on a sunny day like today.

One of the best things about ornamental grasses is the way they catch the fall light. They often seem almost electrified, lit from within.

Another example is this Purple Moor Grass, “Skyracer.” Its joyously deep yellow fall color grabs your eye and won’t let go. I highly recommend Moor Grass because it’s so undemanding.  This specimen is around 5 years old.  Like most of the bigger grasses, Moor Grass need room to look its best, but on the plus side, Moor Grasses aren’t thuggish or overpowering.photophotoThe blooms, at eight to nine feet tall, sway and move in the slightest breeze. The whole plant is very graceful and attractive all season long, but fall is when this ornamental grass really shines.

Do give ornamental grasses a try in your garden.  There are grasses to fit any size space.  Then, next fall you’ll be so happy with with yourself!

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