Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In the Garden Again...

We spent some time in the garden this weekend... but the weather has taken a turn towards summer.
This means that the burmuda grass is going beserk, that insects want to bite me and that my plants have a decided preference for wilting and dying!
Still... I am hopeful for some tomatoes (they are blooming)... the racoon left us ONE bunch of pawpaws, and I have a lot of blooms.
In the last week alone, my coreopsis, tomatoes, rose campion, yarrow and jasmine have all bloomed.
The sunflower seeds DS planted a week ago have sprouted and begun to grow.
We have some beans growing (both green and lima) AND a peanut. Yes... 'A' peanut. Dh bought some raw peanuts to plant and ONE of them has sprouted :D
I am thinking of picking some of my blooms and making a bouquet for the table... one good aspect of the heat is to severely reduce the pollen count... which had made Dh and myself feel rather poorly last week!
I now have some weird yearnings for a pool in the back yard... and a desperate hope that the biting flies are GONE this year! Please....
On a nice note regarding insects though... we HAVE seen the dragonflies in the yard... including a heretofore unseen yellow one, a number of butterflies... including blues, sulphurs and the tiger swallowtail... and this fellow, whom I believe to be either the questionmark butterfly:

Here he is on my pawpaw tree (that is a net trying to keep the coons out of the fruit you can see) but he had a decided preference for my hop vine.
He fluttered about the garden quite happily.

I also believe that this is the culprit, who for tha past two or three years has devoured my pleurisy root (also called butterfly weed) plant as a caterpillar...

Well... it certainly looks like the kind of caterpillars that enjoy lunching there anyway... take a look :)

The caterpillars are quite ferocious looking arent they?
If you click on the link above or the picture, you can have a closer look at them ;)

To end on a nice note though... I found a great site while trying to identify the dragonfly I mentioned earlier (who visited when my camera was not here :( )... check it out for some fantastic nature photography!

Trek Nature

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Creatures and things...

After my adventures in photography in the garden, I found a whole lot more things to photograph!!
I took pictures of fruits, of insects and flowers galore.
But my favourite photos come from a weekend trip to the bookstore...
Near the bookstore is a retention pond... filled with fish, geese, and a beaver... who came over for a snack!

He seems to be a most friendly fellow... here he is eating a carrot someone was kind enough to give him... although he does not care for the garlic bread nearby!

The kids were amazed with his ability to hold his food like a squirrel... and I had to comment on his likeness to a groundhog... if it were not for the flat tail behind him, and his love of the water, I am sure I would have thought him one!

We were able to get quite close... here is a good idea of the area he lives in... and the reason for his tameness :D

That is DS, throwing him some bark mulch. I blame the film version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe myself... he had just re-watched it and remembered the 'raw fish and wood chips' dinner. It's a shame it was not more like the book which had Mrs. Beaver cooking the real thing (fish and chips) and the children loving it!!

That was a week ago... but for something more recent you can see here:

This interesting fellow was found dead on our back steps. I wish I had managed a few more photos, because he really was pretty... but alas... the wind took him away!

It looks to me to be a kind of cuckoo wasp... he is metallic blue, very pretty! Of course, if you know for sure, please do post!

As for the garden... it is a little weed ridden... we had a break because DH had to do the car and a member of the family died, but we're back onto it again.

So much so, that my back is killing me after sustaining a nasty burn on Sunday. Someone has hidden my sunblock... and in an effort to keep cool, I managed to burn my back. Not unfortunately, a rare occurrence! Fair skin can be a real curse sometimes!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Nature Study in the Garden

Considering that DS had finished his mathbook this week, I decided to take lessons outside today. Or at least take the kids outside!
So out we go... no it was not as easy as that... I had to have my notebook and field guides and my camera... the kids needed pencils and paper and hats... you get the idea.
After about 10 minutes, we did however, manage to get out.
It was beautiful enough for a nature study day... I know the birds are out in force... I watched as a Cardinal and his mate were chased by another Cardinal... I saw butterflies flitting this way and that...
And I heard a tapping coming from above... I looked up and saw this:
OK... it looks like a tree. It *is* a tree...
But there on the trunk, there is a downy woodpecker, pecking away at the tree trunk.
Unfortunately for me, they are a little small for the camera to catch so high up there!
There was obviously something good there though... he would peck a little, fly away and then he'd come back for more.

I traipsed around the garden, searching for photographic ideals... I wanted some NATURE photos!

I did manage to swing a honeybee:
he was busy working on one of our roses...
he flitted from rose to rose, barely stopping long enough for me to capture his picture. I had to wonder if I was making him nervous, but he seemed to be ignoring me. Perhaps the flowers were just no good!
He was also fascinated with an unopened bud... but no luck for him there!
and a bumblebee...

This one was flying around my comfrey... again, so fast I had a time trying to capture him on film. You can really see the pollen 'sacks' on his hind legs well.
I had intended to use him as a good 'nature study' example or the kids... they were too busy looking around them!

I wasn't too thrilled to find this guy in my roses:
I have heard too many stories about earwigs.
I mean... just look at the pincers on that thing!
This is apparently the European Earwig which you can read more about right here.
This site: what's that bug, is a fascinating site... with lots of earwig information!

and the flowers were more than willing to stand still for me.

This beauty is an eglantine rose... like in the Shakespearian poem I quote in my header :)
They have a very faint scent, but are famed for their foliage, which is slightly apple scented when moist or crushed. And yes, I did try ;)

This is the Indian Strawberry a non edible relative of that delightful summer fruit :D
Not that it stops DD from trying to eat it or picking the whole bunch.
By the time it was 'naptime' she had probably harvested the whole area of fruits... I know there was a sizeable pile on the table anway!

And my herbs are looking great:
This one is Borage... the flowers are tiny blue stars... and they are edible. They taste a little like cucumber, and are a great way to jazz up a salad!
Borage is related to the comfrey... and you can see this in the hairs that are all over the leaves. Believe it or not, the leaves are apparently edible too... not that I have tried them (although I did eat the flowers).
I am a terrible person when it comes to my edible plants... I can't bare to take the blooms off of them because of their stunning beauty... just look at it! ;)
Speaking of edible...
The catmint shown here among the spearmint, is blooming and looking good! Both catmint and spearmint can be used to make herbal teas... and my friend at Making Footprints has told me how she makes a sun tea, using spearmint and lemon balm.
It's not my only flowering herb though... I have more.

One of my favourites is the CHIVES... you can also eat the blossoms from this culinary favourite... or even use them to make a pink vinegar or oil, with a chive like flavour. I am thinking of trying it this year! My favourite chive recipe, however, is when you get some small, new potatoes, and boil them until they are tender. (Yes you can steam them if you prefer). Toss them in butter and sprinkle with chives! Great served hot or cold. You can even add chives to your potato salad!

And what about a ROSARY Garden?

Having a closer look through the Mary Garden Site, I was taken by surprise at the 'Rosary Garden'.
I dont know why... I have seen rosaries done in many different ways, but this was a very unique idea! Stepping stones represent the prayers the way a rosary bead would do. Some are full rosaries, others just a decade, and the mysteries are represented with the flowers.
Then there was the 'Via Crucis' or ' Way of the Cross' garden, with stones to represent the stations of the cross, illustrated with plants for each station.
I had heard of the 'Via Crucis' gardens... they are often in cloisters and opened to the public around Easter. My sister visits one with her school... and at Easter, they end in the 'Easter Garden' and at Christmas, you have the stable to see.
It's amazing the way the contemplative life can incorporate God, Jesus and Mary into every step isn't it?

How to make a Mary Garden from Catholic

Our Lady's Bedstraw:

Our Lady and the Infant Jesus, staying in the stable, had nothing but straw and hay to keep them warm. There was nowhere to lay the infant, but the manger where the straw for the animals was kept, and Mary used it.
When Mary laid down her child upon the straw, the straw burst into bloom, the yellow flowers representing the divinity of the Infant Christ.

Image used with permission from Way2go4 Walking Holidays Ltd -

Another plant there, that which we call Lungwort or Our Lady's Milk Drops is characterised by white spotted leaves. It is said that the spots got there from drops of Our Lady's milk as she nursed the Christ Child.

There are so many more legends out there, that I am sure I will share more with you another time ;)

In the meantime, enjoy!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A new cool book

will be coming out in October... check out the link ;)

China Bayle's herbal Book of Days

My Herbal Library

I had someone comment on how they would love to browse my herbal library...

Well... here is my list ;) I do not consider it comprehensive, or complete. Some of the books are not Christian in content... and I have blogged elsewhere on my frustration at how much of the Christian society tends to dismiss herbs out of hand because they think it is witchcraft and now the best herbal information is often found in a pagan book. I wish someone would write some more Catholic books! I have highlighted the ones I think best :D
I love the herbal Almanacs... not because of the pagan influence, but because they have some wonderful recipes and information on herbs in there.

2002 Herbal Almanac

2004 Herbal Almanac

2005 Herbal Almanac

2006 Herbal Almanac

Common herbs For Natural Health: Juliette de Bairacli Levy

Blooming Bellamy: David Bellamy
Natural Health Bible: Ed. Steven Bratman
Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs: Ed. Sarah Bunny
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician: Nicholas Culpeper
Culpeper’s Colour Herbal
Field Guide to Eastern Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Foster and Duke
Gerard’s Herball (abridged)
A Modern Herbal Vol. 1: Mrs. Maude Grieve
A Modern Herbal Vol. 2: Mrs. Maude Grieve
Spices and Herbs: Elizabeth Hayes
Holistic Herbal: David Hoffmann
A Handbook of Native American Herbs: Alma Hutchens
Back to Eden: Jethro Kloss
Lasagna Gardening with Herbs: Patricia Lanza
50 Year Anthology of the Herbalist Almanac: Clarence Meyer
Mother Nature M.D.: Eric Meyer
Four Centuries of American Herbs: Patricia Mitchell (booklet)
Hygeia; A Woman’s Herbal: Jeannine Pavarti
PDR for Herbal Medicines
Blackberry Cover Herbal: Linda Ours Rago
Heritage of Herbs: Bertha Reppert
Natural Child Care: Marybeth Riggs
Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: Aviva Jill Romm
Herbs and Things: Jeanne Rose
Herb Gardens of Delight: Adelma G. Simmons
Herbal Treasures: Phyllis Shaudys
Colonial Kitchen Herbs: Ferne Shelton (booklet)
A Christmas Herbal: Adelma G. Simmons
Natural Home Remedies: ED. Karen Sullivan
Family Herbal: Theiss
The Herbs of Life: Lesley Tierra
The Way of Herbs: Michael Tierra
Herbal Home Spa: Tourle and Weinberg
Natural Health, Natural Medicine: Dr. Andrew Weil

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Saint and Marian Gardens

I have an extensive collection of herb books... I would venture to say that it is better than most at least! It takes up the best part of a small bookcase, and the reason it is good, is because I also collect some of the older books out there.
One such older, herb book, is Herb Gardens of Delight by Adelma Grenier Simmons... who is an author of note for those interested in herbs.

My favourite garden in the book, is the one she calls a Garden of the Saints. It features a design in the shape of a cross, a statue of the Blessed Mother at the foot, surrounded by Marian plants. The saints Fiacre and Francis are there, surrounded by symbolic plants too.
Her list of plants include those mentioned in the Bible and those which are given names or legends to go with the Saints.

You can read a little about the so called 'garden saints' here.

This one, is St. Fiacre, the 'Patron Saint of Gardeners' :)

Of course, you might remember my Easter Garden... here is a picture of one at St. Francis de Sales Church, England.
It shows the empty tomb after the resurrection...
it's also fairly easy to incorporate into your child's garden!!

There is a legend told us about the Rosemary bush... how, when the Blessed Mother was travelling one day with her infant son, she had need of a place to dry his swaddling clothes after washing them in a stream. She placed them on a nearby bush, with pretty, small white flowers.
Once dried, she was pleased with the scent they imparted, and blessed the bush, whose flowers turned blue forever after, and the flower is known by her name... RoseMARY :) See the full rosemary picture here.

For more information on Marian Gardens, you can visit the sites in my sidebar links ;) or those below:

This garden and some instructions can be found here at

Other Links:

Catching Tadpoles...

When I was a kid, back in England, I used to like reading books about My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards.
I distinctly remember one story, where the older girl went catching tadpoles in a stream, and the younger (naughty) one followed in her shoes and socks.
I was fascinated with the idea of catching tadpole... that is using an old jam jar to collect tadpoles from ponds and streams. It was something that used to be quite popular in the UK and even when I was little.
Watching a TV show set in 1920's/1930's England (Poirot for those who care) I saw the same scene... kids with an old jam jar, collecting tadpoles.
I wondered to myself if it were a peculiarly English tradition... because I never see it even referred to over here... although people do seem to like catching tadpoles, they dont seem to use the good ole jam jars (jelly jars for those of you not aware of English differences) :D

We call it 'Pond Dipping' in the UK... and it forms a large part of our science lessons... especially the Nature Studies aspect of it.

I did it both in High School and College! Although we didn't do it specifically to get the tadpoles... we were studying the wildlife in the water.
In fact, it is quite fascinating to put a drop of pond water under a microscope and see what is wiggling in it... and you'll realise why most people are wearing their wellies when they do it! (Wellies= short for Wellington Boots, the English term for rubber/gum boots).
A quick tour of the internet, brings up a British fascination for pond dipping... perhaps because it is a British term, I dont know...

Anyway, perhaps the BEST possible way to get frogs and tadpoles... is to make your own tadpole haven... or pond! You can go here and see how!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How to Make a Nature Notebook

I have had a notebook for almost two years. My entries are rather sporadic. They vary from griping about the weather, to future plans, to pictures.
But so many people would like to start one, and so many people do not know what to put in it.
I think of it more as a 'notebook' than a journal, and I put anything I please into it. I don't have to please anyone but myself!

The book, is a hardbound, plain paged journal I got from Barnes and Noble. You can get them pretty much anywhere though... prices vary.

I have notes dating back two years... to when my daughter was a baby!

I drew a rose... but messed up the shading, and I drew a picture of my baby (oh the mother's heart!!).
I made observations and jabbered a lot!

One time we collected shells from the river beach. I took them home and experimented with my watercolours. I was not totally pleased with the result, but put them in my book anyway!

Another time I drew the view from my window during a storm, and complained about tornadoes passing through.

I even commented on a caterpillar inhabiting one of my plants... it was one of the more interesting caterpillars I had seen!
If a poem catches my fancy, I will cut it out or print it out, or copy it out into the book.
I have been known to compose one or two, but there are many more out there that are great poems I want to keep.
I have Shakespeare, Wordsworth and the one shown by Mary Oliver. Some poems are scraps of paper kept inside the pages. Others are actually part of the book.
On the left page is the last verse of Wordworth's Daffodils poem.

Each page has the date and weather noted on the entry. The temperatures are approximate, the weather usually what is happening right at the time I write.

I have some garden plans in there too. Partly to help me remember what I have planted and partly to preserve it for posterity.
I like to think that one day some descendant will be reading it and maybe want to re-create something I have done!

My latest entry is a mixture of garden plans and notes of the new plants I bought last weekend, with some drawings of plants and stuff in the garden.

Nothing special, elaborate or ornate, just my own observations and notes on what I drew!

So you see... making your own nature notebook can be fun! By having one, you can be the example you want to be to the children. They will be interested in what you have done... and some days, they will sit beside you and draw.
Other days, they'll be off exploring... but it is all fun!

The beauty of Nature

I am sitting here at the computer, wondering if my post will make it, because a storm has just come in. Dont get me wrong, I love storms. Always have.
Although I will add that most storms over here in Virginia, are a little more vicious than those I was used to back home in England.
The rain, is always harder... the little splashes on the road that I used to call rain fairies, are always there. There is no gentle rain the way I had it back home. Mum tells me that the rain is not as gentle there either, anymore. It's a shame, because I vividly recall sitting by the window, watching the rain, in the hopes that the 'rain fairies' would come :)
On the up side, my garden desperately needs the water. My new plants and herbs, that I got from the herb festival are growing already. Normally, this puts me in the garden with a bucket of water and a cup to water them with. Thunderstorms do the job for me... both in filling my bucket and in watering the plants. I dont keep the water in the bucket any more though, as mosquito bites really cause me to swell up these days.

Here is our first peony of the season... beautiful isn't it?

And my favourite garden view...

And DS, telling us about his garden... how he built his tripod. How he took a coffee can, buried it part way, filled it with water and put weeds in it. Definitely the makings of a gardener!!

Monday, May 01, 2006

My Garden

When you look at our garden, it really looks special.
It took us years to get here.
When I first moved to America, my husband had plain grass, with a few antique roses.
After a year or so, we started adding the garden beds... we deesigned the circle area after those we had seen in historical sights.
We made a few mistakes. Our circle is too big to weed easily... but I have a solution up my sleeve ;) Our 'square corners' are likewise too big... but filling them with flowers is helping with the weeds !

Our paths were made bit by bit... we would buy as much as we could each week. It took months... an entire spring and summer one year, to make the path and the circle.
The beds that the path passes by had all taken the previous year to make.
The patio was another project that took the best part of a year. It wasn't quite as bad as the path... but we were well into summer before we had enjoyment out of it.

The plants have been gathered over the years... and have special memories associated with them.
Some came from my Mother-in-Law's garden, others from historical sites we visited. Some are volunteers... like ALL of the Irises we have!!
Many of our plants are natives... I like to grow them and OLD varieties especially. I am proud to say that the founding Fathers would recognise most of the plants here!!

The trees in the garden have varied histories... a few were transplants... from gardens of friends, or from further down the hill of our own garden. Some were planted from seed by my husband. Others were saved by him... they all have their own stories!

A garden is not something that just happens. It takes years... and believe me, patience grows with it. I am not the most patient person in the world. I always want my garden now but the truth is, that wont happen. I always try, but the garden grows at it's own pace... allowing me to slow down some and enjoy the world.

The most recent addition to the garden, is a table, with which we can sit on the patio and enjoy our food. The chairs are old, an inheritance from the patio of my mother in law, but the memories they bring are priceless...

Gardens are truly food for the soul.

Heaven at Home

Our weekend was not as warm as last weekend, but it was just as much fun.
It started with a trip to the local herb festival... an annual even where I buy a lot of plants!
This year I bought more than ever... probably because there were no herb books in sight ;)
So what did I add to my paradise?

Rue Ruta graveolens
Anise Pimpinella anisum
Horehound Marrubium vulgare
Mullein Verbascum thapsis
Bee Balm Monarda didyma
Borage Borago officinalis
Italian Large Leaf Basil Ocimum basilicum
Garlic Chives Allium sativum
Spiderwort Tradescantia
Virginia Spiderwort 'Concord Grape' Tradescantia
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tomato, var. Cherokee
Tomato, var. Brandywine

Some of the plants replace old ones that died or were mistakenly removed from the garden!
Things like the tomatoes, were an experiment to see if we could get something rather tastier than the normal varieties! We'll see!

I also took the time to place my Jasmine in a 'pyramid' temporarily, until we can get it an arbour. This means that we are no longer attacked by it as we walk past!

The roses are in full, sweet scented bloom, and the bees are vying for their scent with us!

DS also worked in his garden. He decided to build his own 'tripod' and added an interesting feature!

Yes... it is an old coffee can filled with water and cut weeds. I am not sure why ;) The marigolds are DD's, and the spikes are gladiolii... the sage coloured foliage is from a Rose Campion (they have taken over the garden!)
You can see it looks a lot better than it did a few weeks back!