Sunday, January 25, 2015

For the Love of Hellebores!

 I am sure that there are many of you who are in love with the hardy, modest, and subtley elegant Hellebore. I can still see their dark green leaves from the bay window, holding up in the snow. I would like to add many more next year because though they are refined, they are tough. Deer seem to stay away, and they bloom for a long time here in Maine. In their third year, the clumps have substantially grown into being a beautiful evergreen mass in shady areas.

Here is the lovely Helleborus Spring Promise Sandra in its second year. Lime green and white flowers that have rose freckles push up from the leaf rosettes in late fall and early spring. As the clump gets bigger it takes on more gravitas in its corner.

Here is another, the Helleborus ballardaie HGC Cinnamon Snow. This one is even more unassuming as the flowers start out quite dusty rose like the stems and underside of the leaf, but then mature into something paler.

Here are two more I am thinking of for this next year:
Helleborus x hybridus Swirling Skirts. This picture from Fraser's Thimble Farms
is just the beginning of what they have to offer.

and perhaps this pale beauty Helleborus x hybridus WD Pale Pink also available through Fraser's Thimble Farm.

Of course another great resource for Hellebores if you can't find what you need is White Flower Farm. They have many Hellebores to choose from and have a great mail order reputation. 
For more about the love of Hellebores, this Fine Gardening article will  satisfy!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tree Dreaming Deep

Every year at this time I start plotting what trees to buy in the up coming season. On this old property, I lose trees every year. Some due to storm damage, some due to the creeping wet part of the property, and some due to disease and old age. I hope to keep ahead of it all and plant more than I lose each year.

Trees constitute at least half, sometimes more, of my annual budget for plant material. They are a commitment both financial and physical. To plant trees right you need time, the right amendments, and a strong back. I am excited about this Acer griseum, Paperbark Maple, we put in last year. Look at that gorgeous bark! This will replace a weeping birch that succumbed to the bronze birch borer. No wonder the chickadees have loved the birch, it provided another source of food while they line up to wait for the feeder! For a few years it was in decline but was so spectacular by the front door that we kept it for winter interest. But now it comes down in huge chunks with every storm, so we will have to take it down this spring. This maple will be similarly stunning in winter out the bay window!


I have had successes and failures. That is part of the game. I planted five Betula Nigra, River Birch, in our lower field 5 years ago and it is amazing how well they are doing. From our bedroom window the trunks now are turning white and are a great contrast against the hemlock forest behind them.

Not doing well are the cherry and peach trees I planted in the herb garden. The cherry, Prunus 'Lapin', attracts every Japanese beetle from miles around! I have never had a leaf after July, much less a cherry! The peach, Prunus 'Reliance', had one spectacular year with 100's of peaches. This was after a November dousing of Copper Sulfate for the rust. They ripened and fell before I could buy containers to freeze them!  But then the winds of last winter seem to have killed the north east side and half of it didn't leaf out. That is two dead or dying trees out of four in the garden. Something has to change!

My solution is more crabapples! They are hardy, disease resistant, and have two season interest. There are so many varieties that you could collect a few every year.  Here are my top choices: 
Here is Malus sargentii 'Tina' a wonderful small dwarf crabapple that has pink/cream buds that turn white.It's maximum height is 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, making it nice for this small intimate space.

Malus 'Prairifire' I prune it back to create a dense shape every February and I can tell this tree will be spectacular in a few years. Super disease resistant, gorgeous dark pink flowers, it is tough enough for my harsh micro climate. I bought another one for the front of the house.
My favorite information chart is this one from J. Frank Schmidt + Son Co. to compare and contrast attributes!

photo credit:

On the wish list is Malus sutyzam 'Sugar Tyme', a white blooming crab with pink buds, it gets to be 18 ft high and 15 across. I think it will catch up fast to the other two and will replace the peach. The peach will move to a more sheltered area.

photo credit:
Then to replace the cherry will be perhaps Malus 'Coralcole', the Coralburst crabapple. This will grow 15 ft high and 15 ft wide and will be another pink flower with bronze type leaves. People exclaim that this is a show stopper that has a profusion of flowers. The cherry will move far away, so as to attract the hoards to the end of the property!

Then I am giving consideration to some interesting maples and perhaps a sugar maple to replace the 150 year old sugar maple that is in it's last years after being struck by lightening.  Then to look at costs, varieties, and sizes available from local nurseries. This information will help make the final choices.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ceviche in Winter

I had a ceviche like this when we stayed at an incredible little house in the Dordogne, France. We had been there for a week and had gotten close to the couple who owned the property. They invited us into their home for dinner on the last night. It was there that I had one of the most memorable meals of my life. Everything so simple, so fresh. Alain, our host, had made a ceviche like this one and I vowed to recreate it when we got home.

This is how easy it is:
  • Take any fish that is very fresh (I just ask at our market what is fresh enough for ceviche that day.) This day I used shrimp, scallops (that he said had been caught the night before) and some sole. I have used trout and squid, I think Alain used mackeral. I like all the different textures, and certainly the sole at $4/lb vs the scallops at $19/lb makes the variety practical. 
  • Put it all in a bowl and cover with either lemon or lime juice. This usually uses 2-3 lemons or limes. 
  • After about 6 hours, the citrus will have "cooked" the fish (you will see it has turned white.) 
  • Then I add capers and their juice, paper thin slices of red onion, some parsley or cilantro, and thinly sliced hot pepper or flakes. I also add a bit of zest from the made even easier with my new microplaner! That's it! So fast, so good, company worthy, sheer goodness!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Stephanie Pilk: Floral and Interior Designer

Recently I have had the pleasure of visiting Stephanie Pilk in her home studio. It all started with a progressive afternoon of studio/garden visiting with her mother, portrait artist Jean Pilk. After a wonderful afternoon of looking at gardens and studios, paintings and floral arrangements I was inspired. Stephanie is both a floral and interior designer, describing her work as "composing and transforming spaces to live in, work in, and celebrate in." These spaces all involve plant material because, as she says, "no space is complete without some botanical presence."


Many people may remember her store, Flora Home. There she  made her reputation as floral designer extraordinaire. Now she helps Tony Elliot at Snug Harbor Farm. As Creative Project Director, Merchandiser and Buyer, or as he says "goddess of creative projects," she brings her own style to weddings, events and soon, their online presence. A wonderful partnership between these two incredibly talented plant connoisseurs!

While on a visit, I fell in love with a fabric she had on her side chairs in the living room. I had wanted to find some fabric for a small French chair that had had an unfortunate encounter with our dog. She showed me a line of fabric that she uses for many interior jobs called French Laundry. This line is exactly what I had been looking for forever! I even have made attempts to buy the actual c.1800's French fabric it emulates at Marston House in Wiscasset (but it was closed for the season!) This American company is known for their linens and uses only local artisans and craftspeople to produce their growing line.  Her eye for contemporary beauty that has one foot in the past is her specialty.

I feel distracted every time I stop by because of all the interesting things to be seen in every corner of the studio. My kind of place, where the boundaries of home and garden are blurred and it all is a feast for the eyes! Tools of the trade, including glue in the melting pot (might be a fondue pot base?), bits from past arrangements, an antique plate, and swatches of fabric, are all tucked together in surprising combinations.

For all the tangible and natural beauty that can be seen there, what perhaps I love most is what she calls the detritus of past seasons. Some will come back to life with love and care, some will be replaced with next year's new flame. I love the look of the past season's containers of all types and sizes displaying the beauty of summer past in crumbling elegance.
Keep posted for her new website and what she has going on in Spring.