Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Day in a Life

It was the seventh day of October 2009. Ham, the ten-year-old Schnauzer was "praying" under the desk. Fancy, the hyperactive two-year-old pug was doing the same under the coffee table. It 's their favorite resting position. Maybe it was just my overly active imagination but with their clasped front paws partly tucked under their chins, I thought they were praying. I wanted to believe that dogs with their highly developed senses know when something is not quite right with their masters. It is not too silly for me to imagine that yes, they can smell our worries and our fears. When we were feeling low and grounded like these flightless birds under the buffet, I thought they know for sure that something was wrong.

Two slices of homemade oat bread, toasted; 2 bananas, a kiwi, 2 hard boiled eggs, and 1 pint of orange juice = breakfast for two. This year I started making the oat bread for breakfast to keep my cholesterol from crossing the dreaded line. It is a hearty yeast bread with rolled oats, oat bran, and maple syrup. Sometimes I throw in a cup of walnuts. Very good and very easy to make with a heavy duty mixer. I used a Kitchen Aid but sometimes I think kneading it by hands when I'm motivated and have the time doubles the health benefit.

After breakfast I decided to do a little work outside. The weather man predicted a high of 61 degrees Fahrenheit. A good day to haul the remains of this year's garden to the compost bin. It's a fall ritual that mentally closes the garden door. Not as exciting as planting flowers and vegetables in the spring but there's comfort in knowing that LoLa's Garden exist. Not just in my dreams but in reality. The memories linger and I remained contented throughout the winter months.

I have always admired the beautiful pink dogwood that seems to gracefully float outside a friend's apartment picture window. So when I saw a Pink Stellar Dogwood on sale in one of the local nursery, I bought it without asking too many questions. Well it's a dogwood alright but not the one I dreamed of owning. The one in my dreams have branches that grow horizontally. The branches on this one are more upright. The blooms are too few, more white than pink, and comes with too many leaves. Last summer it looked so stressed and I found out why. I noticed some vigorous branches growing on the trunk just a few inches above the ground and the leaves were slightly different. My tree was turning into a bush. I didn't know it was grafted to a root stock and didn't do anything to protect it last winter. I am hoping our winter this year won't be as harsh but just in case I removed the unwanted growth and covered the graft with mulch. I want it to survive and recover simply because of its history. It taught me something and the blooms are pretty. Don't you agree?

Lunch was fast and easy. A package of Top Ramen soup, about two cups of diced onions, celery, carrots, broccoli and leftover roast chicken meat = hearty soup for two. Sometimes I use cabbage instead of broccoli or angel hair pasta and chicken broth if I don't have Top Ramen. The result is basically the same. A homemade soup that is tastier, fresher and more satisfying. And it's almost as fast as nuking a canned soup.

Dear Heart was watching hockey, a commercial, no! A John Wayne movie, another commercial? No, back to hockey, still a commercial, checked history channel, back to hockey. It's one of the reason I don't watch TV but I had to laughed thinking about the advertisers not getting their money's worth. Back in the seventies when all we had was a rabbit ear on top of the TV set, I remember watching a lot of TV shows. Now that there are hundreds of channels on cable, I probably average around 3 to 5 hours a month. I am a reality show virgin and I think I'll keep it that way. Because there are so many things to read and Pogo's computer games are always waiting. Some games are a challenge and require a lot of play hours to master. I like winning. It feels good. Though sometimes I think the robot cheats, or maybe just luckier than me.

Hockey - DH and son are big fans. When the Spokane Arena was new I volunteered to use one of my son's season tickets (he had to work) not to see the Spokane Chiefs play but to see what the brand new arena looks like inside. I brought a book about forensic DNA and was amazed how my almost 20-year-old-5-credits in genetics helped me understand what the lab detectives were looking and doing with the specimens. Eventually the screaming stopped and DH told me it was time to go home. I asked "Who won?". Needless to say he still enjoys telling the story every chance he gets.

Hockey, is also the reason why a red and white Heart Surgery booklet from the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Spokane is on top of the coffee table. DH is very passionate about hockey. And it bothers me that he is now willing to miss a game when our son works and can't drop him off and pick him up at the front door. He is 74, the parking lot is too big and he have a hard time walking that far. So because and only because he so love hockey, I was able to convince him to see his primary doctor to asked for a handicapped parking permit so he can park close to the door and not miss a game. And without missing a beat the good doctor said okay but lets do a stress test first.

Of course the stress test showed some issues. The doctor send him to his cardiologist and he in turn ordered a coronary angiogram. DH had two blocked arteries that the doctors thought they could fix with stents but found out they couldn't. The wire would not go through the blockage. The stents were the first choice simply because they are less invasive. Plan B is bypass surgery.

Bypass surgeries are almost too routine nowadays. I'm sure most people in industrial countries have heard or know somebody who had one. But it is still a major surgery that requires 4 to 6 weeks of recovery. According to the booklet, the purpose is to go around or "bypass" the artery that is blocked using a vein from the leg to improve blood flow to the heart. Although thoracic surgeons are doing it everyday, it still sounds like a science fiction. A very complicated procedure that often use a heart-lung machine to pump blood to the body while the heart is temporarily stopped.

Tomorrow DH will see the heart surgeon. At the main time he is recovering from the previous failed procedure. It's been 4 days and he's still a little sore. We were told that surgeons don't like to do major surgery until the Plavix, a blood thinner that was given to him in anticipation of the stents is out of his system. Fancy started climbing on his lap and snipping his chest, burying her little nose as if she smelled or sense something bad. And I'm back staring at the birds. The birds I bought as garden ornaments and ends up collecting dust under the buffet. At first it was just a roaster, a hen and a chick I found at the thrift shop. Then my daughter gave me the one she got from CBK when she was a sales rep. And then it became an excuse to visit the thrift shop. Finally I decided to build a bird sanctuary under the pink dogwood tree. Maybe next year.

The thrift shop is my favorite place to explore when I'm bored, or when my mind is actively creating and collecting nothing but negative thoughts. When I'm looking at other peoples junk and watching other people who are also looking at it, I'm cheaply entertained. At the thrift store, my mind is now occupied and busy wondering what's this and what's that and why somebody got rid of it. At the book section I saw a must have Chocolate Lover's cookies and brownie cookbook for 99 cents. And at the kitchen ware section, a unique looking baking pan, also for 99 cents. If for any reason I find these stuff not worth keeping when I get home, I simply donate it back. A cheap thrill for me and another buck for them.

I love chocolate. The Nutty Clusters cookie recipe I found in my new to me Chocolate Lover's cookbook looks good, but I didn't have the right ingredients. No problem. Tweaking is my middle name and improvising is my game. I don't think I could copy and publish the recipe without the publisher's permission, so I won't. But here's what I did. Instead of unsweetened chocolate (2 oz for cookie and 2 oz for icing) I use 3 oz of Ghirardilli 60% cocoa bittersweet chocolate baking bar for the cookie and just 1 oz for the icing. Making only half of the icing is good for me but it's not enough icing to cover all the cookies. I also replaced the salted nuts with walnuts and I am very satisfied with the result. Still I'm wondering about the unusual baking pan. It is made in England. Please leave a comment if you know more about it.

What's for dinner? One word. Leftovers.

November 28 update:
I apologize for leaving this post as a draft for a long time. I just didn't have the time, the energy, and the right frame of mind to finish it. DH is right on schedule. He is successfully recovering from his triple bypass surgery and is free to drive again. What a relief. The driving restriction was almost as depressing for him as the open heart.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Huckleberries in Mother Nature's Garden

This is the winding dirt road that will take us to the huckleberries in Mother Nature's garden. The wild colony is less than ten miles from the paved road. However, this road is very primitive. So it's five to eight miles per hour all the way to the top of the mountain. Driving this slow is necessary not just for safety but also to fully enjoy the breath-taking scenery.

We (my son the driver and a friend and her husband, who is a passionate forester) are in North Idaho's high country. It's the second week of August and the wildflowers on the side of the road are starting to go to seed. Some of the petals are still soft, flawless and bright but most of the blooms have dried out. Surprisingly they still look very pretty. I mean naturally pretty and contented. Mother Nature obviously allows them to mature (age?) naturally and gracefully. And for no reason other than to produce viable seeds for the next growing season.

And these are the huckleberries in Mother Nature's garden. The western huckleberries according to Danny L. Barney Ph.D. of University of Idaho, belong to the genus Vaccinium, the same genus as bilberries, and the domesticated blueberries. The eastern huckleberries on other hand belong to the genus Gaylusaccia. They both look like blueberries because they are cousins and members of the heath (Ericaceae) family. But the fruit of Gaylusaccia contains ten large, hard, bony and crunchy seeds, making the berries difficult to eat. This is how some websites including Wikipedia described huckleberries when asked to compare it with blueberries. So for the record, the western huckleberries are more like blueberries but smaller, sweetly tart, and intensely more flavorful. And most importantly the seeds if any are not noticeable.

The huckleberry basket above is part of the Native American exhibit at the Grand Coulee Dam. (Please click on the picture to read the sign.) It is indeed a perennial favorite and is now being harvested from the wild for commercial processors. In the late seventies when we first started picking them behind 49 Degrees North ski resort in Chewelah, WA, if I wanted huckleberry wine, I would have to make it myself. Today, if you don't like wine how about a huckleberry martini or mojito? Some nice Spokane restaurant have it.

My Flora of the Pacific Northwest textbook listed several species of the western huckleberries including V. membranaceum, the state fruit of Idaho, V. deliciosum (YES! Love that name), and V. ovalifolium. They grow on acidic soil in coniferous woods in and around forest clearings at 2,000 to 11,000 feet elevation. The color varies from red to blue, purple and black. The huckleberries and blueberries above were frozen when I took the picture. The store bought blueberries are much bigger than the wild huckleberries but this too may change in the near future. The University of Idaho is conducting research on several species for edible landscape and future commercial fruit production. Not everyone is happy about it but if the demand keeps growing the domestication of huckleberries will benefit the bears who love it and need it to store fat before they hibernate.

This is the 30th annual Pig Out in the Park, in Spokane Washington's Riverfront Park. Six big days of fun from Sept. 2 to Sept. 7. Free admission and entertainment. There will be a total of 55 bands, 42 food booths and 3 adult beverage gardens. So what is it doing in my Mother Nature's garden post? The locally made MaryLou's Ice Cream is here. Next week they will be at the Spokane Interstate Fair.

The band on stage is Trampled by Turtles from Duluth, Minnesota. It's a string band playing bluegrass music so intense and energetic, a lot of people got up and dance right after I took this picture. Some dance with their babies, some with young children. Some dance barefoot, some with partners and some without. Grandpa was dancing with grandma and mom was dancing with dad. The green area in front of us were soon full of happy people having fun dancing and enjoying the music we don't hear very often. My friend and I were having fun too watching the players and the dancers. Listening to the mandolin, the fiddle, the banjo, the guitars and the vocals, while eating MaryLou's yummy homemade huckleberry ice cream in a homemade waffle cone. Life is good.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Manito Park and Botanical Garden Part 3

The Gaiser Conservatory at Manito Park is named in honor of Dr. David Gaiser, a longtime park board member, and it's the place to see tropical and subtropical plant specimens from around the world. There's always something blooming here even when the snow outside is a few feet deep.

Madagascar Jasmine or Stephanotis is a twining vine, and a vigorous climber with a waxy, white star-shaped scented flowers. Most people have seen the flower. Stephanotis is a popular component for bridal bouquets and corsages . However, it's a treat to see the vine with the exotic blooms in this part of the world. The vine requires no lower than USDA Zone 10 to thrive outdoors.

This Madagascar Palm is also showing off with white huge flowers in front of a Jade plant and an American native Giant Saguaro. An African Milk Tree to the right is one of my favorite houseplant. Although mine is in a small pot and just a foot tall the mother plant was six foot tall, so it has the potential to grow this big.

The trunk of the Madagascar Palm and its scientific name, pachypodium lamerei remind me of a pachyderm, an elephant.

This Aloe is from Northwest Madagascar and is much bigger and taller than the woman standing behind it. I don't think my Aloe have the giant genes.

And even in the plant kingdom some families like this one just want to be left alone. This one really makes you watch your steps as you go around it. (My excuse for missing the tag.)

The Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Japanese Garden opens in 1974, the same year the city of Spokane hosted the World Expo. Nishinomiya is our sister city and the garden is named to symbolized the friendship. It's a beautiful and inspiring place to meditate. The scenery demands respect without saying a word. You just feel it. The sound of the water running under the trees tells you to slow down, be quite and enjoy the moment.

The Dahlia Trial Garden of the American Dahlia Society. It is one of 8 in United states. August and September are the best month to see the blooms.

Spokane, the Lilac city, also have a Lilac Garden at Manito Park. But they bloomed in May, a month before I started blogging. Maybe next year. Hope you enjoy the tour.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Manito Park and Botanical Garden Part 2

It is the second week of August and the Duncan Garden at Manito park is in full bloom. What a great day to be at the park. The temperature is in the low 80s and just enough clouds in the sky to keep us park lovers looking comfortably cool and contented.

This formal European style garden was originally called the Sunken garden. It was designed and built in 1912 by John Duncan, Manito's second superintendent from 1910-1942.

If you click on the pictures you can see the granite fountain in the center of the garden surrounded by the geometric beds full of flowering annuals.

There's probably tens of thousands of Cosmos, Begonias, Marigolds, Geraniums, Zinnias, Alyssums, Dahlias, Petunias, Snapdragons and many more that look familiar but I couldn't remember the names. It is a popular place for weddings and photo ops.

The park is open everyday and the admission is free.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Manito Park and Botanical Garden

Last month after dinner, my two friends and I decided to spend our monthly girls night out walking and visiting at the Manito Park and Botanical Garden in Spokane, Washington. Manito means 'spirit of nature' in native American language. The 90 acre park is more than one hundred years old and still managed to live up to its name. I come here often to see what's blooming and what I imagine will look good in Lola's Garden.

The Rose Hill above is an All American Selection test garden and the home of 1500 rose bushes representing 165 varieties of hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora and miniature roses. But no close ups or macros until I acquired the nerve to upgrade my point and shoot camera.

The Joel E. Ferris Perennial Garden is the flower lover's favorite place to stroll from early spring to fall. During our visit the Moonshine Yarrow, the white Shasta Daisy, the purple Garden Monkshood (above) and the Globe thistles (below) were in full bloom.

The thistles were 6-7 foot tall, and were swarming with bees. It looked really cool but probably not a very practical plant for a home garden unless the area is big enough to accommodate the prickly and aggressive plant.

The Duck Pond used to have more than a hundred ducks and geese but most of them were adopted and relocated during the 2008 duck round up. It was once a tradition for people to bring their stale bread when they visit the park. Feeding the ducks is pure entertainment. They will jump, dive and do all kinds of acrobatic move to get the stale bread as if they had nothing to eat all week. We think we are doing them a favor and we feel good feeding them. Unaware that we were doing them more harm than good. And people continued to give them junk food until there were too many wild birds staying in the pond year round just waiting for the hand out. Too many birds and too many stale bread equals too many bird poops. And the pond's ecosystem suffered. This is the reason for the duck round up and relocation. And feeding the ducks is no longer allowed.

I am not sure what this aquatic turtle is trying to tell me. My guess is that his world, the water is still too murky. "Help!"

Please go to Friends of Manito for more information about the park and gardens

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Favorite Annual Flower # 2 is a Zinnia

My favorite annual flower # 2 post is a Zinnia. Zinnias are one of Lola's Garden's favorite annual because they are heat tolerant, low maintenance and are very reliable bloomer all summer long. They also come in so many different colors, shapes and sizes. The Benary Giant series are the largest and most vigorous with fully double dahlia-like bloom that are 4-6 inches in diameter. They have excellent vase life and the bees love them.

An Orange Benary Giant next to a Nicotiana.

Three Zinnia varieties showing its range of colors, shapes and sizes.

Top left is a white carefree Zinnia from the Profusion series for ground cover and containers. It's an All-America Selection (AAS) Gold Medal and FleuroSelect winners. The bicolor one is Zowie Yellow Flame, another AAS winner. It's taller than the Profusion and a foot or two shorter than the Golden Yellow Benary Giant. These are the varieties available at Lola's Garden at the TIEG Garden Expo in Spokane, Washington.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Today's Flower is a Sunflower

My first "Today's Flower" post is a sunflower. This is one of the volunteers from the many varieties I planted last year and so far the most interesting. For more information about sunflowers, please read my June 29 post.

Go to Today's Flowers to see flowers from around the world.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Radio Flyer Wagon

The Radio Flyer above is my favorite garden toy but I couldn't bribe Ham and Fancy, Lola's garden stroller and dirt digger to sit in the wagon for a photo op. A picture of a little old lady taking her schnauzer and pug for a ride in a bright red Radio Flyer wagon might just look hilarious enough for Digg. Maybe my humorless dogs have more sense still I don't think Antonio Pasin, the Italian immigrant and cabinet maker who created the first wooden wagon in 1917 would have mind. According to the company's web site, he created the Radio Flyer for children and named the first steel wagon after "his fascination with the invention of the radio by a fellow Italian Guliermo Marconi and flyer which reflected his wonderment of flight".

Apparently, he was also a master in keeping his inner child alive. Wonderment in my opinion is the perfect antidote for boredom. Childlike curiosity is fun and exiting. And intellectual curiosity about something really amazing is more than a power walk outside the proverbial box. Because curiosity when fully active, simultaneously creates another time and energy consuming creature called imagination which as we all know begets creativity. So instead of being bored and calling a pro to pave my driveway and patio, I decided to pave it with cement pavers.

I am simply impressed and fascinated by the simplicity and the durability of my Radio Flyer wagon. I bought it because the wheelbarrow is difficult for me to balance and push when it's loaded and heavy. The wagon doesn't put too much stress on my back and is much easier to pull with just one hand. I've used it to haul hundreds of cement pavers, retainers and bricks. It has been three years and still no problem whatsoever. No loose or lost screws. No flat tire. Not even a squeak. And it is light and portable enough to take to the TIEG Garden Expo and the Friends of Manito Botanical Garden plant sale in Spokane Washington; or anywhere a cart is not available. Having a Radio Flyer wagon is like having a friend who is much stronger than me. It is always ready and willing to help with the heavy work around the garden. It's almost a dream come true.

This is the Radio Flyer that inspired me to buy one. It is one of the many outdoor sculptures scattered throughout Spokane, Washington's Riverfront Park. It is made of steel reinforced concrete and was created in 1990 by Ken Spiering for the Centennial Celebration of Children. Funded by the Junior League of Spokane, the sculpture is 12 feet high, 12 feet wide and 27 feet long. It's big enough to carry 300 people. And the handle? You guess it. It's a slide.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Greenbluff Strawberries

Greenbluff is a small farming community of rolling hills just a few miles northwest of Spokane, Washington. How small? Imagine 30 farms in approximately 12 square miles. According to their web site the Greenbluff Growers Association was established in 1902 to protect local strawberry growers from outside competition. While it is still the place to go for the reddest, sweetest, best tasting strawberries, the growers association now includes a winery and a restaurant, a harvest house, a Christmas tree farm, an alpaca ranch, orchards, berries and vegetables farms.

The U-pick strawberry farms are the first to open this time of the year. My son and I picked about 40 pounds to freeze and eat fresh in less than 2 hours Saturday morning. Then we stopped at the Harvest House for lunch and ice cream while the band above played some old songs. "What a Wonderful World" and "Tiny Bubbles" remind me of the little things I sometimes take for granted. Yes, little things are the best and the best are often free but the consumer in me sometimes forget.

Greenbluff strawberries are small in size but they are intensely sweet and flavorful, and so luscious they practically melt in my mouth. The red, white and blue shortcake above is perfect for a Fourth of July dessert but I made it for breakfast Sunday. It's simple. The ingredients are real and the pleasure is pure. I got the strawberry shortcake recipe from a very old Better Homes and Garden Cookbook.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Helianthus - two Greek words, helios for sun and anthus for flower is the scientific name for sunflower. Under normal conditions sunflowers range in height from 2 to 8 feet. The "Moulin Rouge" (above) from Lola's 2008 garden was 8 feet and 7 inches tall, but the tallest according to the National Sunflower Association is 25 feet and 5.4 inches. The largest head is 32 inches and Melvin Hemker in Michigan grew a branching variety with 837 sunflower heads. The country that grew the tallest is Netherlands and British Columbia is the record holder for the biggest sunflower head. Their source is the 2004 Guinness Book of World records. I have seen pictures of sunflowers that are taller than a two story house but I just can't imagine a sunflower plant with 837 heads. I thought it was a typo but to my amazement, these are indeed the current records. However, there is a contest every year to try to beat it.

Sunflowers that are grown commercially for food and oil are single-stem. The blooms are traditional golden-yellow. Blooms with yellow rays and dark center is known as the classic or the original color of sunflower. Those that are breed especially for the cut flower industry are also single-stem or non-branching varieties in classic yellow to orange colors. Usually these varieties have low pollen or pollen-free which makes them desirable as cut flowers for indoor decorations. But for home gardeners, the ornamental sunflowers' range of size, shape, and color is enormous.

Lola's Garden had a little fund raiser for a local crises nursery during the 2008 TIEG Garden Expo. Besides being a Leo I choose sunflower because of its universal appeal and popularity with children. It's a fast growing ornamental plant with magnificent blooms that produce the delicious seeds for birds and humans. It was the right plant for the job.

The varieties I started from seeds were Ring of Fire, Moulin Rouge Hybrid, Cherry Rose Hybrid, Soraya, Pro Cut Orange, Sundance Kid, Ruby Moon Hybrid Mix and Citrus Twist Hybrid. I ordered the seeds from Jung, and Johnny's.

The seedlings were transplanted in 4" peat pots and were about 6-10 inches tall when sold at the expo. My hope was to sell most of the 200 plus plants but only a hundred sold. Each plant was worth one dollar to the nursery. I suppose raising enough for a few boxes of diapers is better
than nothing but the result was less than satisfactory.

I ended up planting a lot of sunflowers even after begging families and friends to please take some. My son-in-law planted more than a dozen for the birds but the squirrels made salad out of the plants including those that were heavily seasoned with garlic and hot peppers.

Lucky me I had so many sunflowers the squirrels in my neighborhood had more than enough and left a lot of them for me and the birds to enjoy. And like good stewards the birds left some to reseed.

The second and third pictures are volunteers from last year. There were a lot of them around the greenhouse and in the garden. I thinned those that were growing too thick but the solitary ones look too healthy to kill. So once again without trying, Lola's garden is full of sunflowers. The second picture looks like one of the "Ruby Moon" mix. The third is definitely a "Ring of Fire". I am still hoping to see some variation in blooms. Maybe some hybrids and parents of the hybrids. I will update the post if I get lucky.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rhubarb: the Beautiful, Edible Plant

Nothing says "spring is here" more deliciously than the giant ornamental rhubarb leaves in Lola's vegetable garden. The leaves are beautiful but poisonous. The red celery-like stalks are the edible part. Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but the stalks are too tart to eat without the addition of sugar, honey or artificial sweetener such as Splenda. Rhubarb taste fruity when made into pies, muffins, or jams. It is exceptionally delicious with strawberries, so I always add a few cups to my recipe for extra flavor and nutrition.

The rhubarb plant above is three years old. My former neighbor gave it to me because her backyard is too rocky and shady, and the poor thing was not producing enough stalks for her favorite rhubarb and strawberry jam. I have been mulching the plant with compost and refrained from harvesting the few stalks last year. This year, the plant is established enough to share the harvest with the previous owner. And I decided to make my own version of the jam that she really like.

Her recipe for the jam had only three ingredients:

5 cups of chopped rhubarb
3 cups of sugar
3 oz strawberry flavored Jello gelatin.

I thought it had too much sugar, so I up the "fruit" to sugar ratio to 3:1. And as I mentioned earlier, I like strawberries with my rhubarb. Real strawberries. So I tried to tweak it some more to accommodate my own taste. My sweet tooth is not very sweet. I usually just drink plain water, or if I like some fizz, 3 parts carbonated water and 1 part pure juice. Juices, sodas and fruit flavored bottled water are just too sweet for my taste.

The jam is really easy to make. It also looks beautiful and it is delicious on toast, scones, yogurt, cheesecakes etc. It's a great way to enjoy rhubarb and strawberries off season, and it does not (I hope) send my blood sugar to the dreaded "Pre-D" zone.

LoLa's Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam

6 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
3 cups sugar (+1/2 -1 cup more if your strawberries are not very sweet)
3 cups chopped fresh strawberries
3 oz strawberry flavored gelatin

In a large heavy saucepan, combine rhubarb and sugar. Let it set for 5 to 8 hours or overnight at room temperature. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add the strawberries. Stir and continue to boil hard for 6 minutes. Stir a few times but be careful and watch out for (hot) splatters. Stir in the gelatin. Turn off heat. Ladle the hot jam into sterilized jars leaving a 3/4 inch space on top. Let it cool at room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze. Do not store at room temperature. Only jams that are processed in boiling water bath can be safely stored at room temperature. Makes 3 1/2 pints.

Moonlight Garden

A garden that glows in the dark and sparkles under the light of the moon is called a moonlight garden. Last year, the white petunias in Lola's Garden looked like giant stars gazing at the moon. It was like the stars have fallen from the sky and floated just above the ground. And like the unseen orchestra in a Broadway show, the Alyssum and the Nicotiana added drama and suspense by filling the air not with music, but with their sweet and intoxicating scent. I wished I could have fetch up a tent and sleep under the moon.

It was around nine thirty in the evening, when I took the picture of a Hosta and a Cerastium, to illustrate the reflective properties of the color white under a moonless sky. White flowering plants are the principal players in a moonlight garden. Some plants with variegated foliage like the Hosta Patriot also plays a minor role. The Cerastium or Snow in Summer is a creeping perennial with silvery leaves and sprigs of white flowers. Spokane is Zone 5 and Snow in Summer blooms in spring. The mound of silvery leaves that covers the matted base is probably where it got its common name. It is a beautiful plant for rock gardens and retaining walls and although the plant is invasive, the massive growth is easy to control with a shear. With Cerastium and Alyssum creeping around the pavers, the edge of the patio looked much softer and cooler to my eyes.

Sweet William, a fragrant biennial, also spiced up and sweetened the atmosphere of Lola's moonlight garden. The white flowers in this group are the only one that sparkles at night. The rest disappears in the dark. Sweet William doesn't produce flowers the first year and the plant or seedlings are not readily available. Nicotiana is an annual but the plant is also hard to find. However, both plants are easy to start from seed. Alyssum is one of my favorite annual. Very easy to grow, low maintenance, cheap and it happily reseed itself year after year.

Moonflower, a relative of Morning Glory, sounds like the perfect vine for a moonlight garden. "White blooms that are 5-6 inches across", "blooms in the evening after the sun goes down", and "the fragrance is lovely and unforgettable". Ipomoea Alba is definitely a must have for Lola's moonlight garden.

The seed had a very hard shell that requires soaking, or cracking to germinate. I started it very early in the greenhouse. Two out of six germinated. Before it was planted outside, the seedlings where transplanted in a gallon pot where it grew into two very healthy plants. But once it was outside it took forever to start growing again. In fact it didn't resumed growing until the end of July. The hot days and warm nights of the summer months really made the vine grew very fast, and it started producing a lot of buds in late August. September came, and still no blooms. Then the first killing frost arrived. It was a total bust.

As for the design, I personally don't bother. I have no desire to make my garden look like a secret landing for UFOs. Or anything that look like a Leo is trying too hard. I'm contented just knowing that under the moonlight, the fragrant flowers and the white blooms in Lola's garden are enchanting enough to touch my heart and go dancing in the dark.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Swarm of Honey Bees

Reports on the rapidly disappearing honey bees, (aka Colony Collapse Disorder) has been on the news since 2006. For the last three years, I honestly have no idea what they were talking about. Lola's flower garden always have a lot of honey bees and bumble bees, and a few aggressive and antisocial yellow jackets. Maybe because I do not use pesticides or herbicides. So what's killing them world wide? It depends on who's talking. Could be the chemicals? Genetically modified crops? Radiations from cell phones? Global warming? Nobody really knows for sure. I do know that they like honeysuckles, Echinaceas, Iceland poppies, and the Benary's Giant zinnias I got from Johnny's Selected Seed.

The honeysuckles and Echinaceas are perennials, and the poppies are reseeding themselves. So I only have to plant zinnias to bring them back this year. Well, nothing in this group are blooming yet but the honey bees are already swarming on my neighbor's tree across the street. Not knowing what to do, she called pest control and an apiarist from Greenbluff, a farming community just a few miles from Spokane, collected the bees and gently put them in a hive. He did it so carefully and easily, it was so amazing to watch him handled the swarm with bare hands. Must have lots of experience doing it.

Honey bees belongs to a social group of insects that lives in colonies with a queen and thousands of workers. The workers are all female but the queen is the only one who lays eggs. She mates with several male bees called drones to collect their sperms, and lays thousands of eggs. If she fertilized the egg the larva will hatch as a female bee. The female bee does nothing but work to support the queen and her colony. Drones are the result of unfertilized eggs. The drones are not physically able to work because their bodies lacked the structure to carry pollen or nectar to make honey. Their only job is to mate with the queen. The act requires them to lost part of their anatomy and so they die shortly after the job is done.

Swarming happens after the workers in an overcrowded hive, raised a new queen by feeding a young female with "royal jelly". The new queen stays in the hive. The old queen who has been forced out of her home takes about half of the workers, and swarmed to find a new home. This reminds me of an art exhibit I saw in Santa Fe, New Mexico, many years ago. It was all about refugees. Life-size, black and white photographs of refugees from all over the world. Some children were clinging to a big tree. I'm not sure if the bees got the idea from humans or is it the other way around? I'm just glad somebody gave the bees a home. I hope a few will come back to visit and graze on their favorite pesticide-free flowers in Lola's garden, and the refugees on those photographs, also found peace and a home somewhere.