Enjoying the Apple Blossoms

Depending on when the trees bloom, the results can be modest, abysmal, frosted, or luxurious. This year, the apple trees have really outdone themselves. The blooms are absolutely amazing because the weather was perfect for the trees this year. Just looking at the trees from a distance, you can see that they’re decked out in spring color that’s certain to please.

The apple trees are truly luxuriant with blossoms this year.
Apple Trees Decked Out with Flowers

It’s a warm spring day with just a slight breeze, so getting into the orchard is quite an experience. The flowers are quite pungent and walking around is delightful. Unlike many other years, there hasn’t been any hint of frost or strong winds to damage the flowers, so the clusters are nearly perfect.

The white blossoms are incredible and the odor is quite strong.
The Blossom Clusters are Beautiful

The bees and other pollinators were quite busy on this particular day. A count showed that there were at least fifteen different kinds of insects busy at their job of pollinating the flowers. They didn’t pay any attention to me, of course, and I paid little attention to them. I was simply taken by the absolute beauty of the flowers and wanted to share them with you. Let me know about your favorite sights, sounds, and smells of spring at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Summer Flowers

Every summer I plant flowers to make the area around the house cheery.  There are flowers in the front, in the back, and in a tire next to my clothes line.  Most of the flowers are arranged and I know the names of the vast majority of them.  Some of the patio favorites are princess feathers, nasturtiums, snap dragons, alyssum, and morning glories. The flowers appear at different levels and mixed with herbs (peppermint in this case) to provide interest:

The flowers are mixed in with herbs and presented at different levels.
The flowers are mixed in with herbs and presented at different levels.

The fairy garden, old shoes, tree trunk, and other elements all help create an interesting mix that provides a feast for the eye. The fairy garden is a gift from a friend. I add new plants to it each year. This year’s flowers are quite nice:

The tiny pink flowers of the fairy garden work well with the figurines.
The tiny pink flowers of the fairy garden work well with the figurines.

One of my favorite flowers in the hanging pots in the back of the house is the morning glories (mixed with nasturtiums in this case):

Mixing the morning glories and nasturtiums provides all day color.
Mixing the morning glories and nasturtiums provides all day color.

The front porch usually has wave petunias mixed with an assortment of other flowers in two pots (one on each side of the porch). The color combinations are interesting this year because one of the mixed in elements are nasturtiums (of three different colors no less):

Wave petunias mixed with other flowers can provide an interesting arrangement.
Wave petunias mixed with other flowers can provide an interesting arrangement.

The other pot uses the same concepts, but with different colored flowers. So you see the same idea on both sides, but the contrasting flowers prove to be quite nice. Both sides actually do have all three colors of nasturtium, but it’s apparently against the rules for all three to bloom at the same time:

Color variations and textures differentiate the two front porch pots.
Color variations and textures differentiate the two front porch pots.

Organization is nice, but sometimes you need a little creative chaos, which is where my tire flowers come into play. I simply sew seeds from a mixed flower packet and enjoy whatever comes up. Sometimes I’m not sure about the names of the flowers. This year I did end up with a sunflower and something interesting called love lies bleeding (the prominent strings of flowers are the love lies bleeding).

Interesting mixes of flowers can be quite pretty.
Interesting mixes of flowers can be quite pretty.

That really long strand in the front is a single flower. Even though some flowers, like the sunflower, attempt to steal the show, it’s important to look everywhere. Some flowers shyly peek out from near the bottom of the tire:

Sometimes the smallest flowers are the prettiest.
Sometimes the smallest flowers are the prettiest.

Of course, there is a lot more to see, but these are some of the highlights of the flowers for this year. The point is that summer lends itself to some beautiful arrays of flowers to please the eye (and sometimes the palette, nasturtiums, among other flowers, are edible). Make sure you plant plenty of posies to keep your heart happy.

 

Fun is Where You Find It (Part 8)

One of  the series of posts that I’ve produced that have received the most comment and views is the Fun is Where You Find It series. This series of posts is designed to help you do something fun for next to nothing. The fun today was started when someone gave me a basket filled with goodies for a special event. The basket is really interesting because it looks like a little house. Rather than put the basket aside as a means for packaging someone else’s gift, I decided to make something interesting for me in the form of a basket with silk flowers to decorate the house. Silk flowers are especially nice during the winter months because they perk the house up when there aren’t any real flowers available (except at a premium rate from the florist).

The basket was free, of course, and I did find a few flowers in the craft closet, but this turned into one of my more expensive projects. I spent about $20.00 in total for the supplies that I used for the basket. The first need is floral foam to use to hold the flowers in place. Floral foam comes as dry and wet blocks. For a project of this type, you need dry blocks. The blocks will require shaping. All you really need is a good utility length knife. Carefully cut the foam to fit the inside of your basket.

Of course, you also need some silk flowers and greenery. A friend and I went to a craft store and had a wonderful time perusing the assortment. I tried to shop carefully. It almost looked like I had too many flowers at first, but I amazingly didn’t end up with much left over. The flowers are always provided long, so you need a diagonal cutter to safely clip the stems to length. The diagonal cutter was the only tool I needed to get the job done besides a good, sharp, knife. Here’s the results of my efforts.

A flower basket in the shape of a house with a springtime arrangement.
Re-purposed Flower Basket

Even though this isn’t one of my less expensive projects, it should provide a nice decorative element for my home at a price far below what I would have paid for a finished item at the store. Let me know about your latest crafting project at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Cold Spring

This has been an interesting spring for people in Wisconsin. Not only did we have a cold winter that included some late snow, but we can’t seem to warm up this spring either. Generally, people plant their potatoes on Good Friday here. I haven’t heard of anyone who has actually made the attempt yet and it’s now past Easter. If the trend continues, the gardens will be late this year and we’ll have to hope for a longer fall to make up for it.

This may be a good year for brassicas, which require cooler temperatures to do well. If the weather continues as it has, we might have problems growing green beans, tomatoes, okra, and peppers, all of which require warmer temperatures and a bit of dryness as well. Trying to discern what the summer weather will be like from the clues provided in spring can be difficult and we’ve been quite wrong about them in some years. The result is that the garden doesn’t produce as well as it could. So, even though it looks like it won’t be a good year for tomatoes, we’ll plant some anyway. The best gardens are diverse and the best gardeners hedge their bets about how the weather will change.

Having a late spring means that the flowers aren’t out yet. In fact, we don’t have a single Easter flower yet. Our trees, usually starting to bloom by now, are just barely experiencing bud swell. It’s possible for a garden to overcome a late spring to some extent simply by planting items that take less time to develop. However, fruit trees are another matter. Growing fruit requires a certain amount of time and you can’t easily change the trees you have from year-to-year based on the probable weather. The hard winter is supposed to provide us with a better fruit crop this year by killing a broader range of harmful bugs, but the helpful effects of the hard winter may be subdued by the late spring. Late flowering means that fewer fruits will mature to a full size and that trees may drop more fruit should the summer become hot.

The one thing that isn’t really affected by the late spring are the herbs. Because herbs typically have a short growing cycle, a late spring isn’t as big of a problem. The only herb that might be affected is the lovage, which may not have time to go to seed (a real loss for us since the plant doesn’t produce enough seeds to hold over for multiple years).

It’ll be interesting to see how this summer turns out and what we get in the way of crops. Every year provides surprises, but the weather this year may provide more than most. How do you overcome the oddities of weather in your garden and orchard? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Delicious Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote The Wonders of Queen Anne’s Lace. In that particular post, I provide a recipe for making a delicious jelly from the flower. This year’s jelly is the best Rebecca has ever made. The flowers were plentiful and extremely fragrant this year. In fact, the wildflowers as a whole were amazing this year. Something about the cool wet spring and odd summer weather caused the wildflowers to grow in such profusion that every trip to town was a joy (I just wish I had thought to stop along they way and take some pictures—such is the problem with missed opportunity). The difference was so incredible that the road department actually held off mowing the shoulders just so people would be able to enjoy the flowers longer (the shoulders have since been mowed in the interest of public safety). Wisconsin’s rustic roads received quite a workout as people enjoyed the splendor.

In thinking about my post earlier this week about every year being a good and a bad year at the same time, the profusion of wildflowers this year is definitely a good thing. However, it also brings to mind an issue that everyone needs to consider when using herbs of any sort (including Queen Anne’s Lace). The difference in potency this year is striking. Just sticking my nose into the bag I used to collect the flowers this year was overwhelming and you can definitely taste the difference in the resulting jelly. Herbal potency varies year-by-year and also location-by-location (it also varies according to the age of the plant, the part of the plant used, and a number of other factors). It’s important to consider the strength of the herbs you collect when you use whole herbs as we do. We don’t use herbs for medicinal purposes (an exception is comfrey, which I do use for foot baths and on sore muscles), but we do use them in cooking where a difference in potency can be quite noticeable and sometimes unwelcome when the result is unbalanced. In short, you need to take potency into consideration when picking and using herbs.

Some people try to overcome these differences by using a standardized herbal extract. A standardized extract contains a specific amount of the active ingredients in a particular herb. You can depend on the herb extract acting in a certain way. However, the equipment needed to create a standardized herbal extract is well beyond the means of most enthusiasts working in smaller herb gardens. In addition, there is some discussion that standardized herbal extracts leave out valuable, but less researched, components that are also useful and helpful. In short, when you buy a standardized herbal extract, you might not get everything the plant has to offer.

In looking at the beautiful jars of Queen Anne’s Lace jelly now adorning our larder shelves, I know I’ll enjoy a bit of summer this winter every time I have a bit of it on my toast. Sometimes the wonder of herbs comes from enjoying them just as they are. Even so, the smart gardener does keep potency in mind. Marking jars with perceived strength is a good idea, especially when cooking with a particular herb could lead to a resulting imbalance in the taste your food. Let me know your thoughts on herbal potency at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Spring Change

Nature casts off her winter garb,
pure white ermine,
soft and plain.

Showers in renewing,
springtime rains,
begin afresh once again.

Breezes blow her dry once more,
sweeps the old
clean away.

Sunshine comes,
to give her warmth,
makes her children frolic and play.

Puts on a new,
frock of green,
fragrant, musty, earthy hue.

Displays her jewels,
of flowery delights,
red and yellow, orange and blue.

Springtime’s promise,
of more to come,
brings to mind summer’s fun.

For now we’ll see,
her labors great,
winter’s gone, spring has won.

Copyright 2013, John Paul Mueller

 

Bounty and Beauty in the Woods

Anyone who knows me knows that I spend a lot of time in the woods. There is always something to see there, even in the dead of winter. In reality, there is quite a lot to see that you’ll never find unless you know where to look. Some hidden items bespeak the bounty of the woods, while others tell of the beauty you can encounter there.

Recently I went up into the woods to look for morel mushrooms. Our damp, cool spring seems to have produced a bumper crop of them. In fact, normally I find just a few, but this year we ended up with a bowl full of them. What surprised me most what the size of these mushrooms, they were a lot larger than usual. Here are a few of the larger ones I found:

WoodsBountyandBeauty01

Fortunately, size doesn’t diminish the wonderful taste of these mushrooms; you just get more of a good thing. Rebecca fixed them up with a roast, which was absolutely delicious. The mushroom season is extended this year and I hope to find a few remaining morels on a venture into the woods today (weather permitting, of course).

Sometimes beauty is also hidden. While wandering through the woods, I noted our may apples (sometimes spelled as mayapple, without the space) are up for the year. When you walk through the woods, you see a nondescript bit of vegetation that is slightly reminiscent of palm trees when viewed closely. Some plants have one leaf (first year) and some two leaves (second year). The second year plants will produce a beautiful blossom (just one). I picked one for my lovely bride to enjoy as shown here:

WoodsBountyandBeauty02

The single flower has an extremely light, but pleasant smell. The may apple is actually a useful plant, but most people haven’t even heard of it. The leaves, when boiled, produce a natural insecticide that you can spray on a variety of plants. The insecticide washes off cleanly with the next rain. You can also dip seeds in it to prevent a variety of problems.

The native Americans used the may apple root as a medication. It’s used as a laxative and also a purgative. In fact, it may surprise you to find that some modern medications, such as podophyllin, also rely on the may apple.

There is some discussion about the fruit because most people have no clue as to when to pick and eat it. The fruit must ripen on the plant or else you’ll get poisoned (not enough to die, but you’ll wish you had). It has a subtly lemon taste and is absolutely delicious. Most sites tell you not to eat the seeds, which is good advice. The seeds won’t make you sick, but they do tend to have a laxative effect when you eat enough of them.

This is also the season for springtime flowers. While the may apple might be a little on the self-conscious side, most flowers are quite showy. This year we’ve been blessed with an abundance of cranesbill geranium as shown here.

WoodsBountyandBeauty03

Most of these patches are relatively large and the flowers are knee deep (sometimes deeper). Our moist, cool spring seems to have brought out more than the usual number of these delightful flowers and it’s hard to go very far without seeing a patch of them. They do spring up each year, but this year’s display is astounding. The eye catching beauty of this group of flowers hides the may apples and other plants that are also part of the picture.

The woods tends to hide things from the casual visitor and the presence of showy displays tends to make discrete displays even harder to find. In order to see both the bounty and the beauty, you must look—really look—to see all that resides within. Let me know about your latest experience in the woods at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Enjoying My Own Personal Flower Garden

Every year Rebecca works out a new arrangement and adds plants to her gift to me, a personal flower garden. Every morning I wake to the scene below our bedroom window of Rebecca’s hard work. I know it’s an effort because getting into that rock garden is hard. It’s on a slope that’s taxing even for me; I can’t even imagine how hard Rebecca must have to work to maintain it for me. I talked about my garden a little last year in the Making Self-Sufficiency Relationships Work post.

One of Rebecca’s goals is to make sure that something is always blooming in my rock garden. It’s a little difficult to accomplish, but I know that people in the past performed the same task to ensure that there would always be something pretty to see. I really respect her efforts to make the garden as pretty as possible and to keep it that way all summer. So, the pictures you see in this post are a mere snapshot of my rock garden. Later in the summer, the scene will change and then it will change again for fall.

A favorite new plant is a pincushion flower. The exquisite blue flowers are really hard to capture, but I managed to get a passable picture of them. The real world flower is even more beautiful than the one shown here.

RockGarden01

One of the flowers that came back from last year is the blanket flower. It’s a favorite of mine because the colors change slightly over time and I love the fact that the flowers are bi-colored. This year the blanket flower is paired up with fiber-optic grass. As you can see from the following picture, the combination is really nice.

RockGarden02

A few of the rock garden elements are edible. For example, the chives have some beautiful flowers that are also edible (as are the chives). I’ve always found chives to be a nice addition because they combine color and texture so well.

RockGarden03

Some of the flowers are quite bright. One of the flowers in this category is the coreopsis. Rebecca has them placed where their profusion of bright flowers will show up best. This is another holdover from last year. Immediately below the coreopsis in this picture is bugleweed ‘metallica crispa’, which has already bloomed for the year, but will continue to add its deeply colored foliage to the garden.

RockGarden04

Most of the pictures that I’ve found of wild strawberries online show white flowers. I’ve been assured that the plants in the rock garden are wild strawberries, but they have these dramatic pink flowers. As with many other plants, they’ve come up from last year.

RockGarden05

Another bright pink flower in the garden is seathrift (armeria). This year the seathrift is nestled in with some ferns and a happy looking frog.

RockGarden06

As I said last year, the view from our bedroom is for me alone. When I go out my back door though, I see some amazing beauty—the rock garden, our herb garden, the woods, and bushes surrounding our patio. Most importantly, I see the love my wife has for me in producing something so quiet and peaceful for me to enjoy.

RockGarden07

 

Enjoying the Flowered Woods

I always find the springtime woods inviting. All of the flowers are amazing! Unfortunately, I don’t know the names of every flower out there, even though I’m sure that someone has named them at some point. Every spring does bring back a few friends, such as the cranesbill geranium:

WoodlandFlowers01

The berry brambles produce a riot of flowers too. The gooseberries, black caps (black raspberries), and red raspberries have already bloomed and set fruit. However, the blackberries are only now putting out blossoms and the initial burst of flowers portends a wonderful summer of berry picking.

WoodlandFlowers02

I can taste the berries now. Our entire woods is packed with berry brambles. There are times when I can pick two or three gallons of berries in a single day. In fact, the limiting factor is usually the amount of time I have to pick, rather than the number of available berries. Everyone eats the berries during the summer months, including both birds and squirrels (oddly enough). There is no doubt in my mind that other forest creatures benefit from the berries too.

Sometimes the woods offers up something special. In times past, I’ve encountered bloodwort (bloodroot) and mayapples. Both plants were used for medicinal purposes in the past. The mayapple fruit is edible in small quantities as long as you know when to pick it. The fruit must ripen on the plant and must be completely yellow. The leaves can be used to make an effective insecticide when boiled, allowed to cool, and then sprayed.

This year we were treated to something special, a jack-in-the-pulpit. It showed up right above the rock garden at the very edge of the woods, so Rebecca was the first to spot it. I must admit that it’s a bit hard to see. We’re fortunate that this one came up so close that we can enjoy it each year. In fact, Rebecca plans to extend the rock garden to include our new addition.

WoodlandFlowers03

Of course, there is a lot more to see in the woods and I hope to be able to take time to enjoy it all. Do you have a woods near to you? If so, do you ever get to enjoy all of the beauty it contains? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Enjoying the Spring Flowers

Spring has come incredibly early to Wisconsin this year. I’m amazed at just how fast everything has budded and flowered. We’ll actually make it to Easter this year after my spring flowers have blossomed and reached their peak. Given that we’re hustling to fit everything in, I haven’t taken a lot of spring flower pictures, but here are a few showing my tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinth (amongst others).

SpringFlowers01

The flowers that appeal the most this spring are the grape hyacinth, which are especially fragrant for some reason. The odor is downright overpowering at times. It must be the unusually high temperatures that we’ve been experiencing. Interestingly enough, our crocus came up, bloomed, and are already gone for the season.

We have a number of different varieties of daffodils. A favorite of mine this year have white petals with yellow insides:

SpringFlowers02

They look incredibly happy. Of course, the plum trees are blooming as well. This year they’re just loaded with blooms.

SpringFlowers03

I’m just hoping at this point that we actually get to keep some of the fruit. Wouldn’t you know it, the trees just start blooming well and the weatherman has to ruin everything with a prediction of frost. Our weather hasn’t been quite as nice the last few days as it was earlier in the month. That’s part of the problem with an early spring—the trees start blooming early, which exposes them to a greater risk of frost.

Fortunately, the pear trees are just starting to get ready to bloom. The buds have started to burst open a little, but they’re still closed enough that a light frost won’t hurt them.

SpringFlowers04

The apples aren’t even as far along as the pears, so there aren’t any worries with them. I really do hope my plums survive the night. A frost would probably ruin our harvest at this point. It doesn’t pay to worry. The weather will do what the weather will do whether I worry or not, so it’s best just to let things go the way they will. Every year brings it’s own special set of challenges.

So, are you experiencing an early spring this year? If so, what sorts of challenges are you facing? How do you plan to use the early spring to your advantage? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.