Gosh Darn You, Martha Stewart!

I fell in LOVE with the cover of Martha’s Easter Issue. I was positively obsessed!!

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I mean, what’s not to love, right??

So, with my characteristic over-enthusiasm, I decided to recreate Her basket for my daughter’s in-law’s Easter Table. That won’t be too hard, I told myself.

Around two hundred dollars’ worth of Martha Products later, I have a reasonable facsimile of Her Easter basket, if I do say so myself. Minus the adorable lop-eared bunny, of course!

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Martha may not have a warm and fuzzy personality, but She’s still one of my Pantheon of Women Goddesses. Hey, Athena wasn’t Miss Congeniality either! And who else could have had a bunch of federal prison inmates crafting?? To gild the lily, She’s an avid beekeeper too!!

She’s the tops in my book.

Have a wonderful Easter, Martha.  I was just kidding You in the title of my post.  :)

 

Cottage Gardening – The Grand Dahlia

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It’s a cold, rainy and generally gloomy Saturday in Cincinnati. I’ve managed to get a few errands done, but all I want to do is curl up and keep warm. Maybe do a bit of needlepoint…

Then there appeared a  bright spot – the blooming of a spectacular Autumn-colored dinner plate dahlia!!  It loves the miserable weather.  A gorgeous reminder that even a dark and damp Fall day can be beautiful!!

Cottage Gardening – October Garden

The coming of Fall is bittersweet. I hate to see my garden dying, but some flowers are at their most beautiful. Here are a few pictures I took yesterday.

Bee-Friendly Dahlia

Bee-Friendly Dahlia

White Dahlia And Hosta

White Dahlia And Hosta

The Last of the Roma Tomatoes

The Last of the Roma Tomatoes

Goodbye Until Next Year

Goodbye Until Next Year

English Cottage Gardening – Herbs Of The Mint Family

Herbs of the Mint family are a beautiful and useful addition to any cottage garden. They include such favorites as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, thyme, lavender, and lemon balm.

Basil flowers

Basil flowers

Sage

Sage

Originally, cottage gardens were grown for household use, not for beauty alone. Herbs were used as medicine, as flavoring for food, and to freshen the air in the damp, musty lodgings.

Rosemary

Rosemary

The concept of a separate herb garden, isolated from other flowering plants, would have been inconceivable to an early cottage gardener. Herbs and vegetables were grown side by side with roses and foxgloves, both of which also had household uses.

Bee on Lavender

Bee on Lavender

As you can see from these pictures, herbs can be as beautiful as purely decorative plantings. They are also very attractive to bees and butterflies.

Thyme

Thyme

I try to incorporate as many as I can into my overall garden design.

English Cottage Gardening – Bees Love Nepeta And So Do I

I love Nepeta aka catmint!  It’s also a favorite of honey bees and other pollinators. It’s deer resistant too!

Below one of my ever-present fluffy Bumbles enjoys a tasty snack…

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It is a beautiful plant to use in a border. Gertrude Jekyll wrote “it is a plant that can hardly be overpraised.”

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I find catmint easier to grow than lavender. If you cut it back after first bloom, it will bloom again just as vigorously.

My favorite cultivar is Walker’s Low which was the 2007 Perennial of the Year. The name, Walker’s Low, does not refer to the size of the plant, but to a garden in England.

Plant some catmint this summer. Your buzzing friends will thank you!

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Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – May 15, 2013

Foxglove, Hosta, and Clematis are the stars of my garden in May!

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  • Clematis (asurreygarden.wordpress.com)

English Cottage Gardening – Planting Mt. Everest

My back garden is, well, it’s very steep. I twist my ankle every time I take a stroll in it. I call it Mt. Everest.

Mt. Everest aka my back garden

Mt. Everest aka my back garden

I have some nice David Austin rose bushes planted in the border, but this year my gardening goal is to make a beautiful Gertrude Jekyll-style border for my bees who live at the bottom.

Bees at the Bottom of the Garden

Bees at the Bottom of the Garden

So far I’ve planted lots of lavender and some lambs’ ears. Today I’m planting nepeta and lilies. I’m thinking about buying golf shoes to garden in.

To keep myself motivated, I’ll post the progress of my border throughout the rest of the season. Wish me luck!!

Deb

Girl History Month – Gertrude Jekyll ‘Artist Gardener Craftswoman’

There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.

Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was an influential British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer. Her brilliant designs continue to inspire gardeners everywhere.

Hidcote Manor Garden

Hidcote Manor Garden

Gertrude was born into a prosperous family and was educated in the arts from an early age. Jekyll’s brother, Walter, was a friend of the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed the Jekyll family name for the title of his psychological thriller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde.

Young Gertrude

Young Gertrude

When she was 18, Jekyll was admitted to the South Kensington School of Art, where she studied painting, as well as botany, optics and the science of color. She would have had a career as a painter had not her sight begun to fail.

Watercolor by Gertrude Jekyll

Watercolor by Gertrude Jekyll

As her eyesight dimmed, Jekyll conceived the idea of creating art works from flowers and shrubs, and turning the design of gardens into an art form. She started to design simple cottage gardens and, as her career advanced, produced grand designs for country houses.

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Jekyll was greatly influenced by William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in art, architecture, and crafts during the late 19th century.  Morris advocated a return to an informal planting style based upon an idealized English cottage garden.  Jekyll shared Morris’s mystical view of nature and drew on the floral designs in his textiles for her garden designs.

William Morris Textile Design

William Morris Textile Design

In 1889, Jekyll was introduced to the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, with whom she began an association, creating landscapes for his avant-garde constructions. This successful partnership, with each influencing the other, resulted in one hundred Lutyens/Jekyll designs and greatly contributed to the English way of life.

Hestercombe House Garden

Hestercombe House Garden

Jekyll was a formidable plants-woman, who experimented with plants in her own garden at Munstead Wood in Surrey before recommending them to anyone. She taught the value of ordinary plants familiar to gardeners today, Hostas, Bergenias, Lavender and old fashioned roses.

Glebe House

Glebe House

Gertrude Jekyll concentrated her design work on applying plants in a variety of settings, woodland gardens, water gardens and herbaceous borders always striving to achieve the most natural effect. She had an artist’s eye for color and contrasted plant textures to great effect.

Munstead Wood, Surrey

Munstead Wood, Surrey

Jekyll was the author of 15 books, her most famous being Wood and Gardening, a guide to the creation of gardens in a variety of climates and conditions. She was a prolific designer, completing around 350 commissions in England and America, many of which still exist today.

In 1986, the rose breeder David Austin created a deep-pink shrub rose and named it in Jekyll’s honor.

David Austin's "Gertrude Jekyll" Rose

David Austin’s “Gertrude Jekyll” Rose

Jekyll died on December 9, 1932 at Munstead Wood, Surrey. She is buried in St John’s Churchyard, Busbridge. On her tombstone is inscribed the simple epitaph by Sir Edwin Lutyens, ‘Artist Gardener Craftswoman’.

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The Reason Why Bees Are So Busy…

Reprinted from the New York Times:

Nectar That Gives Bees a Buzz Lures Them Back for More

By 
Published: March 7, 2013

Nothing kicks the brain into gear like a jolt of caffeine. For bees, that is.

Courtesy of Geraldine Wright

And they don’t need to stand in line for a triple soy latte. A new study shows that the naturally caffeine-laced nectar of some plants enhances the learning process for bees, so that they are more likely to return to those flowers.

“The plant is using this as a drug to change a pollinator’s behavior for its own benefit,” said Geraldine Wright, a honeybee brain specialist at Newcastle University in England, who, with her colleagues, reported those findings in Science on Thursday.

The research, other scientists said, not only casts a new light on the ancient evolutionary interaction between plants and pollinators, but is an intriguing confirmation of deep similarities in brain chemistry across the animal kingdom.

Plants are known to go to great lengths to attract pollinators. They produce all sorts of chemicals that affect animal behavior: sugar in nectar, memorable fragrances, even substances in fruit that can act like laxatives in the service of quick seed dispersal.

Lars Chittka, who studies bee behavior at Queen Mary, University of London, and wrote a commentary on the research in the same issue of Science, said that in the marketplace of plants seeking pollinators, the plants “want their customers to remain faithful,” thus the sugary nectar and distinctive scents.

“The trick here,” said Dr. Chittka, who was not involved in the research, “is actually to influence the memorability of the signal using a psychoactive drug. And that’s a new trick in the book for plants.”

Robert A. Raguso, who studies the interactions of plants and pollinators at Cornell and was not part of the study, said in an e-mail, “It makes the reader think twice about where natural products that have economic importance to humans actually came from before we ‘discovered’ and co-opted their biology.”

Dr. Wright did not set out to investigate the evolutionary stratagems of plants. Rather, her goal was to use the honeybee as a model to study drugs that are commonly abused.

About eight or nine years ago, she said, “I ran across this paper on caffeine in floral nectar.” And then, she said, she thought, “ ‘This could be quite interesting because there might be some ecological interaction between the plants and the pollinator.’ That’s how it started.”

Several varieties of coffee and citrus plants have toxic concentrations of caffeine in leaves and other tissues, but low concentrations, similar to that in weak coffee, in the nectar itself. The toxic concentrations help plants fend off predators.

But Dr. Raguso pointed out a well-known axiom that “The dose makes the poison,” a principle that Dr. Wright and her colleagues followed in lab experiments. She conducted learning experiments with bees to see if they associated a reward with an odor, the reward being either sugar water or a combination of sugar water and caffeine in the same concentrations found in the nectar of coffee and citrus plants.

The effect of caffeine was not obvious at first, but as Dr. Wright refined her experiments, it became more clear that the chemical had a profound effect on memory. “If you put a low dose of caffeine in the reward when you teach them this task, and the amount is similar to what we drink when we have weak coffee, they just don’t forget that the odor is associated with the reward,” she said.

After 24 hours, three times as many bees remembered the connection between odor and reward if the reward contained caffeine. After 72 hours, twice as many remembered. They then tested the effect of caffeine on neurons in the bee brain and found that its action could lead to more sensitivity in neurons called Kenyon cells, which are involved in learning and memory. Dr. Wright said that this was one plausible route for enhancing memory, but was not definitive.

Insect and human brains are vastly different, and although caffeine has many effects in people, like increasing alertness, whether it improves memory is unclear. But the excitation of the Kenyon cells was similar to the action of caffeine on cells in the hippocampus in a recent experiment on rats, Dr. Wright said.

Such similarities in neurochemistry that allow caffeine to affect mammalian and insect brains in similar ways may seem surprising, but insects like fruit flies and the nervous systems of even more primitive organisms like nematodes have been used to study learning at the level of individual cells and the chemistry that changes their activities.

Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University, who studies the brain and behavior of a microscopic roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans, said that the bee findings added more support to the idea that some very ancient behaviors like learning must have very deep evolutionary roots. Finding the common neurochemistry in such diverse creatures, she said, is like “learning the vocabulary of the brain.”

Tools For The Cottage Garden

English Garden

My neighbors know my favorite garden tools are old silverware and my fingers. I’m Old School.

But there are 10 traditional cottage garden tools that make life in the garden easier. This season I’m breaking down and purchasing them.

1.  A Spade and Fork - Essential for digging and lifting the soil. I’ve been making do with a child-sized shovel from Home Depot. It’s time to get serious. I’m moving up to a child-sized spade and fork from Clarington Forge.  These tools are made in England and have heads made from a single piece of steel. The heads are securely riveted to an ash shaft. They are exceptionally strong and are backed by a lifetime guarantee. Much better than my old spoon.

Spade and Fork

Spade and Fork

2. Hoes – I’m going with a flat bottomed Dutch hoe that’s good for digging and weeding. In the early days of cottage gardening, hoes were the main tools used, although in much heavier versions. You may recall seeing them depicted in older English paintings.

Hoes

Hoes

3.  A Hand Trowel and Hand Fork -  If you can only afford one set of the finest garden tools, buy these. They may be the only tools you really need!

Clarington Gift Set

Clarington Gift Set

4.  A Rake – A rake is another tool that performs a multitude of garden tasks.

Rake

Rake

5.  Pruning Shears – I have about 5 pairs of pruning shears, from a big lopper to a tiny pruner. I’ll probably buy another one this year! All of mine are bypass secateurs which have two blades, like scissors.  I use them on all my plants as they are gentle and do not damage the fragile stems.

Bypass Pruners

Bypass Pruners

6.  Gloves – A good pair of gardening gloves is essential when pruning roses or anything with thorns. Also crucial if you want to avoid poison ivy.

Gloves

Gloves

7.  A Wheelbarrow - I couldn’t live without a wheelbarrow. Mine is a large plastic number, not vintage or beautiful but essential for composting the beds.

wheelbarrow

8.  A Watering Can - I collect rainwater for my container plants. And it looks good in a cottage garden!

watering can

9.  A Planting Dibber – This tool is useful for anyone looking to plant a large amount of seeds or small transplants.

Planting Dibber

Planting Dibber

10. A Trug – Okay, maybe not a necessity, but it sure is gorgeous!

A Cottage Garden Trug

A Cottage Garden Trug