Wow. Look at that. Right through the snow. Nobody ever gets bored with snowdrops...
Henry Mitchell, One Man's Garden

The snowdrops last year were well ahead of their time. This photo was taken last December 16th. I have shots of them in full bloom from other years but this was the earliest year ever. The year before I have pictures of them blooming in late January and again in March.

I never planted these little gems. They've been part of the gardens around the house longer than the 19 years I've been digging here. Gifts from the previous gardener who worked this yard.

With a stiff wind making it feel barely 20 degrees right now and a good 6 to 8 inches of snow expected tomorrow, today the snowdrops are brave enough to show just a couple inches of growth. But it's enough for me. As legend would have it the snowdrop is a sign that summer and sunshine will come again.


Savory Holidays

With us the holidays are always about food and family. No surprise really since we've had so many years of family holiday celebrations to perfect our favorite dishes.

For Thanksgiving we had a brined turkey that was so tender it literally fell right off the bone. And it made the darkest juices for an especially rich gravy.

For Christmas we had a ham that was hand-picked by our local grocer and cooked to the specifications of Cook's Illustrated magazine "Holiday Ham 101" article (Nov./Dec. 2007). The results were worth the little bit of extra work required for keeping the big ham moist. Delicious.

Family gift giving involved lots of food, naturally. My brother from Maine sent a beautiful wheel of homemade cheese along with other goodies, including sweetly aromatic raw honey from their apiary.

My other brother provided us with a host of New York City delicacies in a go green reusable shopping bag. The Italian dry salami didn't last long in this house.

My father made creamy mints for everyone harkening back to the days we would visit his uncle's candy store in Modesto, California. It doesn't matter how young you are when it comes to remembering a candy store. Those memories are well ingrained. And we're looking forward to using the gift certificate we received from my parents to the country farm market up their way. Locally grown produce and an endless variety of specialty foods.

As usual, the desserts we had for the holiday were plentiful. Raspberry trifle, chocolate fondue and lots of cookies. Suffice it to say, no one went away hungry.

So that leaves for today, after existing on ham since the 25th, the making of a fine ham split pea soup. I found a great recipe online that uses lots of ham: Hordes of Ham Split Pea Soup http://timeinthekitchen.com/2008/12/hordes-of-ham-split-pea-soup/

Even after all the food, all the eating, all the ham, I'm still looking forward to a hot bowl of soup using fresh thyme from the cold frame and dried bay leaves off my bay plant. Because just as with family and food, it wouldn't be the holidays without great meals made from leftovers.


Solstice Sowing

Seven years ago I unearthed a group of people as crazy about gardening as I was. Wintersowers. Long Island gardener Trudi Davidoff created a system for wintersowing using recycled containers for mini-greenhouses that resulted in a loyal following from across the country. They reside on GardenWeb with their own forum http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/wtrsow/ and on Trudi's Wintersown.org site that followed http://www.wintersown.org/wseo1/index.html.

In celebration of the winter solstice, Trudi invites wintersowers to sow four sets of seeds on the day of the year that marks the lengthening of daylight hours:

  • Remembrance - seeds that remind us of someone we knew but who is no longer with us

  • Life - seeds for plants that will provide nectar for birds and butterflies in our gardens

  • Mother Nature - seeds to produce trees that will clean our air and give shade to the soil and us

  • Faith - seeds for plants that are beyond our zone in warmth and represent our belief in the power that Mother Nature possesses to produce miracles.

I have records of seeds sown for the winter solstice dating back to December 21, 2002. And the seeds I've sown today are similar to those I sowed seven years ago.

  • Remembrance - Eschscholzia californica 'California Poppy' for my California grandmothers

  • Life - Buddleia 'Butterfly Bush' seeds collected off my parents' bush

  • Mother Nature - Ornamental maple seeds collected from around our cottage last Christmas in Ontario

  • Faith - Salvia coccinea 'Texas Hummingbird Sage' hardy to zone 7

To take time to celebrate the solstice in this reflective manner on the day of the year when the light begins to lengthen again is an investment in memories as well as in what lies ahead. Time well spent.


Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day December 2008

Two blossoms are open on one of the camellias my father gave me. Also a single Desert Rose blossom. The color is appreciated with gray skies today and more rain coming in tonight with the promise of a short blast of snow expected in the morning. And it was 56 degrees here this afternoon! How good the breeze felt without scarf, winter coat and gloves.

Over the weekend we went to check on my brother's house 20 minutes north of us. The storm came through last Thursday night leaving us sopping wet and raw. But just north of us was a different story.

Two days after the storm ice still gripped every surface. The force with which it struck was numbing. Yet the beauty of the ice was remarkable.


As the landscape's changing with the weather I'm missing the hikes and walks from the fall. In early October I walked the countryside with friends visiting from Germany.
(Click on photos for close ups)

We hiked alongside waterfalls in the cool rain,

found quiet overlooks of rivers and lakes,

explored covered bridges and

stone turrets.

And after they left I hiked with other friends closer to home.

One is an art teacher who sees color palettes in gray rocks.

Another friend agreed to walk with me along the freedom trail and visit John Brown's birthplace.

But there's one hike that's been special. It's a hill that I've looked out on for nearly 20 years since we've lived in this house. You can see it from the main staircase inside. I've spent a lot of time sitting on these stairs with a girl or cat in my lap. Or alone. It's a good place to think. And I've watched this hill over the years and noticed how storms wrap around behind it from the north and spill over the valley. And how the east sun makes it glisten in the early morning light following a snow storm.

I've had time this fall to walk and hike. When you have time you can do things you haven't had the chance to do before. Like walk that hill and its granite lined trails.

The time to get off the path to look inside tree trunks.

Time to examine closely the perfect ferns growing out of stones and fallen trees.

And best of all, time to look at life from a different perspective and appreciate the beauty that lies outside your doorstep.


First Snow

The first snowfall of the season came over the weekend. Looking out the bedroom window yesterday morning icy sap-sicles dripped from a maple branch. Chickadees, titmice, and squirrels have been regular visitors on this branch drinking the sap.

Holly berries cluster along stems beneath dark green leaves. Perfect for decorating the season.

The Joe Pye weed wears a crown of snow out back on the hillside. Their stalks tower above the echinaceas and New England asters swaying in the sharp wind.

A snow-tufted echinacea seed head punctuates the side bed like a startled emu bird.

The arrival of the first snow announces it's winter.


Siamese Philodendron

Our cats are not allowed up on tables, countertops or other surfaces. Normally they're very respectful of this. But occasionally the smallest of the six Siamese considers herself exempt from all rules but those she makes up for herself. This happens to be one of her rules today.


The holiday brought a stop to normal rhythms of the house with girls home, in and out at all times of the day. This morning the local grocer asked about them, both former clerks of his. He remarked on all the activity brought in with everyone coming back home. "Hubbub" he called it. Now it's quiet again.

Pots are finally stacked on shelves, containers emptied, drying rack hung in the rafters, and the last seeds collected. Catalogs are pouring in with new offerings and I have no energy to look through them at this point. A few weeks of winter will take care of that.

The Autumn Fern in the shade bed adjacent to the woods is thriving. It loves the angle of the afternoon sun at this time of the year.

In the cold frame the aeonium is producing tiny offshoots. I picked sage, thyme and parsley for roast chicken on Sunday and today it looks like they were never touched. And two more calendula seedlings have germinated.

We've had too much rain and too many clouds lately. A day like today with sun shining from daybreak all the way into late afternoon is a gift. It makes the cold tolerable and the email correspondences from a contact attending a conference in Phoenix slightly more bearable.