Cold Day, Warm Memories of Italy

18 degrees this morning, and for North Carolina, that is stupid cold. I’ve been colder – I grew up in Massachusetts and went to college in Middlebury, Vermont – but after 23 years in the South, I’ve grown older and less inclined to take pride in braving the cold. So this morning I am turning my thoughts to a warmer time in a warmer clime – my trip to Italy in 2014, the most memorable of my garden travels. Of course the art and history were unparalleled; and the food! I could spend hours on the food. But today my focus is on the vibrant flora of the Amalfi Coast.

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Bougainvillea, Lantana, Cupressus, it is no accident that the words are Latin in origin. What better language to describe the plants that thrive in the Mediterranean climate? On the Amalfi Coast, the village of Positano is vertical, with every road winding and climbing. The lush plantings do the same, with cascades of plants tumbling down the hillside in a riot of pinks, yellows and oranges – hot colors in a hot climate. Lemon trees are ubiquitous, with their fruit hanging temptingly over the heads of astonished tourists. Scent is everywhere, stopping me in my tracks to locate the source.

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Cats roam free, oblivious to the foot traffic, wild but mellow, they allow you to pet them but remain aloof at the same time. This is their town, their region, their Personal Eden. They are proud, as they should be. Color is everywhere – in the buildings, the clothing, the food, and above all, the flora.

I took this trip with dear friends from my college days – a promise we made to each other at the naive age of 18 to meet in Italy to celebrate our 50th birthdays. So many promises like that are broken. I thank my friends Amy, Leily, Barbara and Ginny for keeping that promise. On a cold day like today, when my own soil is frozen and I am too cold to venture out into my own garden, I have my memories to keep me warm. Ciao, bellas!

Capri

Nothing Tastes Better Than Home Grown

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Edible Landscaping is near and dear to my heart because I love to garden, and I love to eat fresh fruits and vegetables – who doesn’t? This year I got a very late start on my Winter vegetable planting. But here in NC,nature provided an unexpected warm-up in December, and 8″ of rain, resulting in a bumper crop of greens. It helps that they were planted in pure Soil3 from Super-Sod. Soil3 is my favorite compost http://www.soil3.com and I use it in my vegetable gardens, as a top-dressing for all my perennial gardens, and on my Emerald Zoysia lawn. As a disclaimer, I work for Super-Sod, but if I lost my job tomorrow, I would still use this compost.

Yesterday afternoon, I headed out to the raised vegetable beds and cut Cabbage Collards and Curly Kale. I added them to some organic bok choi, onions, homemade ham stock, bacon fat (yum), turmeric, salt and pepper. This mix simmered for about an hour and a half. I served the greens with back beans and a perfectly cooked steak (thanks to Gary the Grill Master). If you grow your own food, you know it always tastes better because it doesn’t get any fresher than picked that day; and the personal satisfaction of saying “I grew that” is pretty tasty too!

What grows in your Winter Garden? If you don’t have one, start one in your Personal Eden! Need advice? Just ask! I will be offering a Vegetable Gardening class in March so stay tuned…

 

Winter Warm-up – The New Normal?

Like most folks I know, I have been enjoying this taste of Spring in December. Long walks in the woods, evenings around the fire pit, games on the lawn with my grandson, cut flowers in Winter… But at the back of my mind there has been a nagging worry. What does this mean for gardens and gardeners? Is this the new normal?

First let’s focus on what it means for our plants this year. These unseasonable temperatures will have consequences this Spring. The plants themselves are not at greater risk, but blooms now mean fewer blooms in Spring. Fewer blooms mean less fruit, seed and nut production. Less food for us, less food for foraging animals, and less nectar to feed our pollinators.

I’ve seen a few bees out foraging this week.  Foraging now means they return to the hive hungry, and feed on their precious store of honey – honey that they will need to get them through the Winter. If you keep bees, make sure to supplement their food this Winter. Come Spring, they will venture out and find fewer blooms, less nectar. The life cycles of pollinators may not coincide with flowering this year, and that will have a negative effect on both pollinators and plants. We will see reduced pollination and thus less fruit production. This is sad for home gardeners, and financially troubling for commercial growers.

Whatever you do, don’t prune yet! It is tempting to get out in the warm weather and do some cleanup, but pruning now will encourage new growth that will be susceptible to winter kill when the temperatures drop again. Fruiting plants need more cooling hours before they are ready for production, so leave them be until February.

So is this the “new normal”? Climate science says we can expect continued gradual warming, and Winter warm-ups like this will become more common. http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg2/index.php?idp=353 While an individual cannot change the weather, we can do our part to reduce our personal carbon footprint, and put pressure on corporations to do the same. And we can keep on gardening, organically whenever possible. Please reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides to give our bees a fighting chance. Our Personal Edens have a net positive effect on our local air quality, soil health, wildlife health, and our own health. So keep up the good work, fellow gardeners! Keep Calm Garden On. Magnolia in December

 

Personal Edens Returns

A few years ago, I started blogging about my garden and other gardens designed, tended and loved by avid gardeners. It was one of very many things to which I had over-committed. As often happens, the things you enjoy doing get pushed aside for the things you must do. That path has been trodden by many before me and will be trodden again by many to follow. If you see yourself falling into this pattern, take heed. Take care of what really matters – there is only one unique and special you. Take stock, decide what matters most, what you love to do, and free yourself from the energy vampires. And welcome back to Personal Edens!

I have loved the term “Personal Eden” for as long as I can remember. To me, it means your paradise, and your own garden can be just that. It doesn’t have to be magazine-worthy, it doesn’t have to follow current design trends, it just has to be a place you love to be. The plants, the outbuildings, the paths, the hardscaping, the yard art…all express your style. You walk outside and your blood pressure drops. you breath deep and relax. You want to be outside. You built this. That’s your Personal Eden. So welcome! Check back in soon for garden tours, tips, advice and lore. Follow me down the garden path…