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Versatile and Beautiful Lavender

Summer Lavender Grosso

Above, a hedge of lavender next to my driveway popped into glorious fragrant bloom in June. I don’t know who was more excited – me or the bumble bees.

I can never bring myself to cut the flowers while they are in full bloom – the sun on the flowers is too glorious. But when they’ve passed their prime they still cut beautifully and are wonderfully fragrant.

Cut lavender fills the kitchen with fragrance

When my son’s girlfriend saw my giant pile of cut lavender she immediately thought of lavender lemonade, and took a handful to make lavender syrup. It was delicious.

Easy to grow and easily available, lavender will grace your garden, attract pollinators, and is truly a sensory joy. Lavender is drought tolerant, does well in zones 6-10.

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Weeds

A good-sized pile of weeds for this early in the year and the hoe that helped dig them out.

I don’t know anyone that likes weeding. It’s back-breaking, necessary work. Sure, there’s some satisfaction in a weed-free garden bed but it’s short-lived. The weeds are back almost immediately, it seems.

So today was weed the garden beds day. I didn’t get them all weeded – I only managed to weed two of them. It was overcast, which is good weeding weather, and it had to be done.

And it’s fine. Pulling weeds from around the lettuce and knowing I’d be eating it in a salad later created a sense of calm and purpose. I took a break around noon, cut enough lettuce to fill a big colander, pulled a couple of radish, and came in to enjoy a nourishing lunch. It’s the most basic luxury to have to pay attention to when it rains (or doesn’t) and to know that aside from the nutrients in the soil there’s just water and sunshine in your food. And no plastic waste.

young swiss chard and pepper plants in the near bed, cutting lettuce behind it, beets and asparagus in the rear.

Back to weeding… I always joke with my husband that grass only grows where I don’t want it to. It never seems happy to grow on the designated lawn area, it much prefers my garden and our driveway.

Other “weeds” – verbena, squash, and tomato that self seeded, were spared. It’s tough to pull plants I’ve actually bought/planted just because they are growing in an inopportune spot. I dug out some verbena and put them in a spot near the kitchen window where I can watch the monarch butterflies visit their vivid purple flowers this summer. And the squash and tomatoes… I have a suspicion the squash is actually pumpkins. Last year they took over the garden because I felt bad pulling them out. In the end they crowded out the butternut squash, which I won’t let happen twice.

wildflowers in the west field

And then there are the pretty weeds, like the wildflowers that grow in our fields. These pretty daisy-like flowers pictured above, buttercups, purple, red, and blue flowers… we mow around them.

I’ll leave you with a photo of our cat, who really enjoys watching all of the activity at the birdhouse you can see pictured. It is nestled in a giant beast of a climbing hydrangea that has taken over one wall of our garage and is adjacent to a raspberry patch that is trying to take over the west field. Smudge (the cat) may be aware that there is a nest with baby birds … and the constant coming and going is the parents feeding their little ones. Or maybe not.

I always wonder what our cats are thinking.

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May in New England is Heaven

Lilacs nodding in the sun

Many would say that the months between and including December and April are too damn cold in New England. On most days I am among those people, saying to anyone who will listen that New England is no place to age.

But then May comes.

Along with the trees bursting to life in bright spring green, pink, white, red and yellow, the lilacs appear. For a couple of weeks the air is fragrant with them. Lilly of the valley perfume the air at night, a sweet, haunting, beautiful scent. And (where applicable) strawberry flowers open delicate white petals to the new sun.

Strawberry flowers

And the forget-me-nots, chives with their globes of purple flowers, bleeding hearts– all of this after the famous bulbs. It’s like having a baby – you forget the pain of childbirth when you hold a baby in your arms. A similar thing happens here in May. The discomfort of winter fades and softens, replaced by wonder, joy and pleasure. Also lettuce, snap peas, radishes and rhubarb. 🙂

forget-me-nots

As I write this I’m sitting on the porch listening to crickets. The last of the day’s light illuminates the sky in periwinkle-gray, the trees make dark silhouettes and the last intrepid birds are still singing — calling home family members that have stayed out too long, perhaps. A flash of pink lightening in the sky.

Pretty heavenly.

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First Salad

Cutting Salad and Radishes. Crisp and just arriving.

Today we had some sun and warmth; May is variable in New England and this week was chilly, so it was nice to see the sun. I wandered out to the garden with a hand trowel and a few zucchini plants I bought at our friends’ farmstand up in Stowe, dug out some compost from the bottom of the pile to mix into the garden bed, and popped them in to the soil. Hallelujah.

There’s something really calming about gardening. If you let yourself just be present for it, it has a therapeutic affect. Since starting a new job last June I’ve been pretty fully immersed. I work long days– from home, luckily — and thoughts about work creep into the hours I’m not working. But when I’m in the garden the smell of the soil and fragrant flowers, the sound of the birds and the breeze in the leaves of trees, and the feeling of my hands in the dirt has a way of holding my full attention.

Today it was just me and my son Tristan at home. He has a summer class this evening (calculus, which, it turns out, is better to take when you don’t have other classes competing for your attention and energy) and when he spotted the radishes I brought in he selected the largest one and popped it into his mouth. When he was young I grew radishes on a tiny plot we had at an apartment we were renting– two squares of the garden in the backyard came with the Cambridge apartment. It had raised beds and walkways made of brick. Tristan would pull the radishes I grew out of the ground and eat them before I could wash them. It was pretty great.

So now, about 18 years later he’s still eating the radish I grow. There’s something very cool about that.

Radish and rhubarb this week

A couple of weeks ago the radish and lettuce looked like this …

radish in the left row and cutting salad on the right

With so little in the world to feel sure about, the idea that I can grow radishes year after year gives a certain comfort. I think it’s comforting to Tristan, too.

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April Fools

Crocus and violas. Harbingers of spring.

Yesterday Inga texted to tell me she was in trouble at school and the principal was really mad at her. I didn’t panic but my heart sunk thinking of her in principal Bottomly’s office, missing class. I texted back “what happened?” Fortunately she didn’t leave me worrying for long before declaring the text an April fools joke.

I won’t write much here tonight except to note that along with April fools the crocus came and went, the chives are up. It’s amazing how plants that are so tender can weather 17 degree nights like the ones we had this week.

Chive emerging in spring

The hellebore are blooming. They are absolutely gorgeous. The photo here is from the last week in March:

nodding hellebore – spring beauty

The garlic and rhubarb, likewise, have emerged and the peonies, hyacinth, and bergamot are just starting to reach up through last year’s fallen leaves. I can’t wait for the lilacs to bloom. AND we’ve been getting eggs for weeks. 4 today.

We stopped over at the local feed store and they had adorable chicks for sale. It was so tempting to bring some home; Jon remarked it is rather cruel of them to leave such irresistible chicks right by the door, impossible to pass by them without cooing and having to fight an urge to scoop one up.

Spring!

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Snowdrops. Finally spring!

It was a kind of magic to wake this morning to the site of grass and the earth uncovered. When the sun set last night everything was still covered in snow.

But even more magical today were the snowdrops.

snowdrops emerging after the snow has melted in Massachusetts

Over breakfast I told Jon that I was going to go out to look for them today. He said – ‘Really? We had snow on the ground until last night. Do you think there will be any?

Well… yes! I did find one just emerging in the lawn this morning. And during our afternoon walk – voila! Jon actually spotted them first.

For me, these are the first true sign that spring is here.

I’ve recently begun to ask myself what one thing I can do to make myself happy today and making an effort to do that thing. This morning the answer was to take the time to go out and look for snow drops.

On the way back toward the house I passed the kitchen garden and noticed the first chive shoots are reaching up out of the ground … freshly clipped chive with scrambled eggs! And the hellebore are pushing up and unfolding. I can’t wait to see them.

It’s exciting to think I’ll be turning compost into my spring garden beds and planting lettuce and radish in a month or so…

chive along the kitchen pathway, 2021

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Love in the Air

the kitchen door – ready for valentines day

Winter is well and truly here at the farm, just in time for spring!. Today we are having a blizzard – gusts of wind up to 60 mph, snow flying. The birds are hiding, everything has disappeared under a blanket of white.

But the girls started laying this week. I found two frozen eggs on Thursday, a reminder that the old calendar of holidays was in tune with things. We are coming up on Imbolg, the old pagan celebration of light and fertility- our first sight of spring. The chickens know it. And of course seeds start to stir around this time in the northern hemisphere because the days are lengthening. It’s time to start thinking about this year’s garden.

Asparagus. Strawberries, Rhubarb… all perennials that will emerge this spring. The garlic I planted last fall – too early, I think; planted in early October and was sprouted and starting to grow before the temps turned consistently cold – we will see how it fares.

seed catalogs and the fireplace- Imbolg in New England

And what happened with the food as medicine experiment, you ask? It was a success, even in the face of starting a demanding new job in June. It was successful not because of the diet, but because I engaged my own intuitive healing. Seeing Henri and changing my eating habits was a turning point; I realized more concretely than I had before that my state of mind was driving everything: what I saw and experienced — and my health. I realized I have the power and responsibility to change what I focus on. I wound up returning to a more “regular” diet, cutting back on dairy and wheat, and taking up a daily meditation and yoga practice. The result: my hypertension is much better (not gone, yet, but I’m optimistic it will fully resolve with more meditation :-), and my arthritic ankle is much better and still improving. I’m looking forward to a year in the garden on it.

today’s view from the farm “keep”

May the white goddess bless you with sweet dreams.

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Food as Medicine. I’m Living it.

Blueberries, nuts, avocados, bananas … Some of the things I can have on the elimination diet

Last week I went to see Henri Balaguera, who is a doctor of functional medicine (he is also a traditional doctor of western internal medicine). It seems everyone I know has heard of functional medicine. Before this appointment, I hadn’t; I was there on a referral from my husband Jon, who knows Henri from the Lahey Clinic, where they work together.

Luckily, there were leaflets in the waiting room so that I could familiarize myself with what might happen after I entered Henri’s office.

Henri spent a few hours with me, talking first about my familial relationships before discussing my symptoms, which include an arthritic ankle, hypertension, back pain, and episodes of depression. What struck me was how much time Henri spent talking to me about my relationships and how they affect me. His intuition, together with an obviously genuine interest in helping me heal and a kind of wisdom I don’t often encounter made the appointment not just affecting… it was life changing.

So much so that I went there saying “I won’t be doing any crazy diet or changing what I eat. I eat a very healthy diet.”

And here I am changing what I eat. The reason for this is simple. Henri diagnosed me with dysbiosis and increased intestinal permeability. That translates to leaky gut syndrome. Not arthritis. It was like getting a new lease on life.

And he is confident that once I deal with my leaky gut my arthritis will cease to plague me. He also mentioned I had some work to do on my relationships and that my spirituality, which for so many years was a bigger part of my life, needs to take priority. He thinks my hypertension will benefit from this advice since my anxiety will decrease with a more accepting perspective on the things that people close to me do and have done.

Functional medicine is a kind of holistic medicine, so Henri was treating all of me. Not just my hypertension and my ankle, though he assures me both will benefit from a few adjustments to my habits and habits of mind.

wilted spinach and garlic over brown rice pasta with kalamata olives, red pepper flakes, and olive oil.

So far, it’s been 5 days. I have given up coffee, wine, gluten, dairy, sugar, eggs … there has been a great deal of complaining and whining. Jon jokes that we are eating twigs. He has decided to do the diet with me and has not complained. I am doing all of the complaining for both of us.

A few days in, I have more energy, I feel lighter, and the pain in my back seems to have stopped. My ankle still bothers me and my blood pressure is still up. But it’s only day 5.

Our cat Gray in the garden by the birdhouse, where good food can be found.

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First CSA share of the year

Today we picked up our first organic share (Upswing Farm, Pepperell, MA – they have a pickup in Holliston, God bless them). We got Bok Choy, lettuce, parsley, arugula, and spinach. I am psyched.

I fished out an old recipe for soy-orange glazed salmon that uses Bok Choy in the vegetable fried rice and cut some chive from our garden in lieu of the spring onions and away we go.

Meanwhile, out in the garden, the snap peas are emerging, the lettuce is growing, the asparagus is still coming in and the beets are up.

As if that wasn’t enough to celebrate, I hatched an idea for what to do with extra pot seeds I accidentally ordered. I can sell my extra plants! I’m not sure that’s entirely legal but I got more seeds than I meant to and what I am going to do with them? Seems sad to waste them and it’s not like I will really use all 12 plants. And being me of course they are germinated and growing. Hopefully I’ll find buyers. 🙂

And today was actually a tree planting day here. We lost a whole line of conifers during a microburst a couple of years ago and finally got around to picking out some replacements. It turns out our warmer winters have been challenging cold-loving trees that have traditionally done okay here – like the gorgeous Colorado spruce, for instance. So the awesome perennial people at Weston Nurseries (a nursery local to us) recommended an alternative – Frazier Fir – and we picked a traditional (read giant) rhododendron and male and female winterberry shrubs to feed the birds to complete the area. They arrived today and they look beautiful out in the west field. I am sure our neighbor is happy — while we like each other it’ll be nice to have our trees back.

Happy Tuesday everyone!

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Spring Food and Blooms

Asparagus is ready to pick in Massachusetts

Spring is well and truly here. We brought in our first asparagus this week, the hyacinth, tulips, forget-me-nots, and daffodils are blooming, and the swiss chard and broccoli are growing happily. I can cut chives for my scrambled eggs and have asparagus from the garden for dinner.

There’s a sense that you are witnessing a miracle when the asparagus appears. Food that emerges, year after year, and can be snapped off and popped into your mouth. There’s little else in life that is so easy and delicious. And the way they push through the ground, one spear at a time, is truly a visual marvel. My first reaction when I saw asparagus growing out of the ground was: “really? I can eat that?”

tulips, forget me nots

This year, though, I found myself reflecting on how planning, patience, and a small amount of relaxed acceptance really paid off. Planning the garden, planting, and letting go of expectations resulted in a mellow kind of waiting that ended with spring colors appearing all around. It could have gone differently. Maybe I wouldn’t have had so many blooms or the deer might have eaten every tulip the day they bloomed. Happily, though, the gardens are beautiful.

Not everything has been so care free and delightful, though. I set out some borage one day and came back to … nothing. Thanks to the rabbits. Same thing with the bachelor’s buttons. So I’m thinking pots for peppermint because it’s invasive, and pots (elevated) for everything the rabbits like, too. Professional-speak words like “pivot” and “adapt” come to mind, but so does a picture of Bill Murray from Caddyshack. 🙂

hyacinth

As we wait for our second wave of spring flowers, like the bleeding hearts below, I’m still nursing basil and hot pepper seedlings, and watching the weather forecast for frost…


bleeding heart buds … the flowers will be spectacular

…and reflecting on how patience isn’t just one of those virtues people admire, it comes with rewards.

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