Gardening Week

May 22, 2012

#1 Front of house

Welcome to gardening week at MarthaAndMe. We just had a ton of work done on our gardens and I thought I would share it with you in pieces. First, I have to say, yes, we had help. After years and years of struggling with weeds, messes, sore knees, and absolute frustration, we have given in and hired someone to clean up our gardens each spring. And it has made such a world of difference. He comes in with no mercy and weeds, trims, chops, mulches and edges my gardens within an inch of their lives and it gets done in a matter of hours instead of Mr. MarthaAndMe shouting at each other in the backyard for


three weekends in a row.  So, Martha, I completely understand your gardening “staff,” even if mine comes for only a few hours once a year!

Next, I have to share that when we bought our house 12 years ago, it had NO landscaping. There was one garden by the road with some evergreens and a couple of shrubs. There were ancient 40 year old shrubs around the house that were all stem and no green. And that’s IT.  The circumference of the yard  was also giant old evergreen shrubs that were all stem and were out of control. Most of those came out when we fenced our yard.


Every year we’ve been trying to work on a bit more to get it looking decent. We are at the point now where I am no longer embarrassed by my yard, which is a huge improvement!

#1 Front of house. A few years ago my brother-in-law brought his pick up truck over and used it to pull out the ancient shrubs that were planted around the house. My dad went with us to the garden center and helped us pick some new things. It’s in really good shape now since it has had years to grow. The hydrangea is in front of the window. To


the far right you can see the edge of the wisteria which has been blooming for a couple of years now, but wants to grow up the house like a vine.

#2 This was one of our biggest disasters. There are old lilacs along the property line here and each year we started cutting them back a bit. Eventually there was enough open space for a bed. We tried to make one ourselves, and it filled with weeds. Finally, our lawn guy put a weed guard down and now it is finally weed free and I am trying to grow some ferns, peonies and some other things in here. I hope to add a few things to it each year.

#3 is a continuation of #2 towards the backyard. This was more overgrown


lilacs. Amazing Garden Guy cut them all back, ripped out the tons of weeds that were under them and mulched. Suddenly we have all this space where we can plant things. It’s a gorgeous new area I need to figure out what to do with.

#4 is on the other side of the fence from #3, in the backyard. The sticks in the corner are actually from a hibiscus plant that has quite a story. When my great grandmother Rose passed away, seeds for this were


found in her Bible. No one knew where they came from. My great Uncle Bill planted them in his yard. They grew into a beautiful hibiscus with pink flowers. He dug some up and gave it to my dad, who in turn a few years ago, dug some up for me. Last year we had to move this when we built an herb garden, and I am relieved to see some green shoots coming up from it. This plant means a lot to me and somehow connects me to a woman I never knew. Also in the photo is a rhododendron which I am hoping will grow. We tried two of them in the front of the house and couldn’t get them to grow there.


#5 is a continuation from #4. Here you can see that we’ve planted an apple tree (fingers crossed! We also planted another elsewhere in the yard for cross-pollination). I am hoping it will provide some shade for the lilies of the valley and tiger lilies that are growing there. These used to grow in the weeds in this area and we managed to keep them when everything else got ripped out. They need some shade though, so I am hoping this tree will do it. We also planted a butterfly bush I am hoping will survive!


#6 is along the back of our deck (we have an awning with screens that attach to it – that’s what you’re seeing on the deck – it gives us an extra room in the summer). We had the deck built the first summer we lived here (there was a tiny concrete pad only before that). This garden suffered a disaster from Garden Guy though. He had his kids helping him and one of them uprooted my big beautiful clematis vine, which grew up the side of the deck and along the posts. There are still some shoots in the ground and we are hoping it will come back. It took me YEARS to get this to grow. It started next to the garage and never really took off there. We moved it to the back and it was happy and grew. I’m really, really disappointed that this happened, but he has promised to replace it if it does not grow back. Sigh.


#7 We tried for years to get things to grow next to the toolshed. The problem was that this area would flood every spring. Finally, we had drainage tile put in and it solved the problem. Now I finally have a cute garden started here. The two shrubs are new. I put in hostas last fall that I split from some big ones I had growing elsewhere.

#8 This is my favorite garden. It’s right outside the windows at the kitchen table area (they are to the left of the little window you can see which is the bathroom), so every morning when I eat breakfast, I look out onto this garden. Last fall we planted bulbs here and


they all came up. It made me so happy to be able to see those early flowers every morning. We’ve added a shrub and some flowering plants here. The vine came from my dad and it makes orange flowers. It has really filled in nicely over the years and we essentially built this garden around it. The birdhouse was made by my son.

#9 This is in the front of the house, next to the driveway. This area used to be a mess for years and years. It was always slightly lower than the driveway and the neighbor’s yard, and would be a giant mud puddle all spring and then a dust bowl all summer. The basketball net stand used to be stuck in here and my son used to have toys all over this area. Finally we built it up into a bed using bricks to enclose it and hold the dirt in. It was a miracle! My dad let us dig up some of the green ground cover plants and those have spread nicely. I also transplanted some lilies of the valley from the backyard here. Towards the road there are black eyed Susans, also from my dad, that bloom in late July or early August. This is one of the fullest and lushest gardens of all and it makes me happy every time I pull in the driveway.

#10 This is the newcomer on the block, my herb garden! We used to scratch around in the dirt next to this side of the deck but then last fall had some dirt put on it to make a real bed. I planted parsley, thyme, chives, oregano, basil, rosemary, mint, sage, and cilantro. I wanted dill, but could not find any plants, so I bought some seeds I may try to start. This is right next to the steps from the deck, so I can pop out from the kitchen and get what I need while cooking. I’m so excited about it! I’ve grown herbs in pots for years up on the deck and am happy to finally have a designated area for them.

What I want to stress is that what you are seeing in these pictures is the result of 12 years of hard work. most of which we did together (imperiling our marriage every time!). It took forever to get to this point and it looks fantastic (finally) in these photos, but for years I despaired about the ugliness of my yard. If you are struggling with an ugly yard, keep working at it, one piece at a time and you will finally, finally get there if you are persistent. And I highly recommend hiring an amazing garden guy for a few hours once a year to come in and bring tough love to your garden. I never would have put down weed guard (didn’t even know it existed) and I would never have been so drastic with the lilacs, but it had amazing results!

That’s the end of today’s tour. I have some more posts coming later in the week with some more gardening things, so stop back in!


Spring Flowers

March 22, 2012

We’ve had almost a week of unseasonably warm temps here (in the 80s), so all of the bulbs we planted in the fall are growing by leaps and bounds and I’ve got some gorgeous flowers out. It’s so early in the season, but I’m so glad to see them! Has spring come early for you?


February 23, 2012

Photo credit: Simon Howden

We have just signed up for a share in a CSA. For those of you who haven’t heard of this, a CSA is community supported agriculture. You pay a fee up front for a “share” which entitles you to pick up your portion of the farm’s output each week during growing season. I’ve been wanting to do this for years, but had some requirements I was having trouble with:

–  I needed a farm that was reasonably close by. I did not want to drive 45 minutes each way. I found one that is literally 10 minutes away.

– I wanted weekday pick up times. Many farms schedule pick ups on weekends and we spend many weekends at my parents’ lake house.

– The farm had to be organic (not necessarily certified, but meeting standards at least).

I finally found all of this in The Root Down Farm. We’ll be getting a share every week for 22 weeks, from June to November. The farm also has a u-pick section which includes cutting flowers and some veggies you can just help yourself to. I wish they also had fruit, but that’s asking a lot! The cost is $540 for the season (which works out to about $24 a week) for a share that feeds 4 people. That is probably a bit more than I spend each week on produce, but it feels like an investment that will be worthwhile. I think it will force me to use more veggies, and to try veggies I might not be using at this point.

My dad used to have tons and tons of veggies he shared with me, but in recent years, he hasn’t grown as much at all, so I’ve been buying more at the store. I’m also excited to be supporting a local farmer. My grandfather’s family was one of the original farming families in our town, so this feels like going back to my roots.

A local store called Farmers and Artisans sells locally grown produce, dairy and meats, and also has a bakery. They are selling organic milk shares. I toyed with doing this, but ultimately it didn’t make sense. The cost per gallon was at least $1 more than I pay at the grocery store, I would have to drive farther to get it, and the milk does not come in glass bottles. As far as I’m concerned, that is the holy grail I am searching for – milk that is organic and in glass. I can get organic milk in plastic or I can get regular milk in glass.

What has your experience with CSAs been like?

Great-Grandmother’s Hibiscus

September 8, 2010

This is the hibiscus that grows next to my deck. There’s quite a story behind it. When my great-grandmother, Rose Osborne, passed away, some seeds were found in an envelope in her bible. No one knew what they were or where they came from. So my great-uncle Bill planted them in his garden.Uncle Bill and Aunt Erma had a small city backyard, yet Uncle Bill kept it meticulously groomed. He grew tomatoes and roses and other plants and even had a putting cup in the center of the yard. The seeds grew into a beautiful hibiscus plant. Uncle Bill nurtured it for years and then dug a portion up and gave it to my father, who grew it on the side of his garage, where the plants grow to be six feet high each year. When we moved here and I tried in my lame way to do some landscaping, my father dug a portion up and gave it to me. Every year I think it’s done for and every year it comes back. It fools me because nothing much happens with it until late June or July when it finally begins coming up again. Every August, I have beautiful flowers, which remind me of Rose, the great-grandmother I never met.

Trumpet Vine

July 21, 2010

I enjoyed sharing my clematis vine, so I thought I would show you my other successful vine, a trumpet vine. My dad has one of these and convinced his to make a baby (apparently you bury the end of it underground and it will sprout up as a new, separate plant that you can dig up and move – thanks Dad!). We planted it next to an old wooden fence that encloses the dog section of the backyard. For several years it grew but didn’t flower. Then suddenly it decided it liked us and now it makes flowers every year. It doesn’t seem to have as many this year as in years past, I think because we had some major lawn work done right next to it (some septic work and drainage tile) so it is probably still a little bit huffy over that. This is another plant I do absolutely nothing to – I don’t water, feed, or trim it. And this one clings nicely to the fence by itself!

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They Bailed on Me

July 14, 2010

I was all set to make a lovely meal last night. I bought some tuna steaks and was going to grill them and serve with a lovely mango salsa. I had some fresh pretzel rolls from the store and local corn on the cob and some green beans from the farm stand. Then Mr. MarthaAndMe texted that he had a late meeting and wouldn’t make it. No problem – Teen Martha loves tuna so I would make it for the two of us. Then she went shopping for shorts, had a crisis (couldn’t find any!) and decided she had to keep shopping before going with friends to a fair. That left me and Dude Martha, who insists he does not like fish. The tuna remains in the fridge and I’ll try again tomorrow. (if you’re wondering, I had a salad for dinner and he had tuna from a can which does not qualify as fish, apparently)

In the meantime, this is a photo of my amazing clematis vine. I can’t grow much of anything, but this thing is going nuts. I originally planted it next to the garage where it did nothing at all. Then a few years ago I moved it to the backyard next to the deck. It went crazy and now gets tons and tons of flowers. This past winter my crazy dogs who now can run free in our newly fenced yard decided it would be fun to chew the vine down. By spring, there was nothing left. I was sure it was a goner, but it has come back to its full beauty. Now if I could just manage to tame it a little bit! It wants to just grow along the floor of the deck and I keep trying to get it to wrap around the posts.

Must-Have Herbs

April 27, 2010

My May issue of Living arrived and there is section in it about an herb garden Martha designed for the NY Botanical Garden. It includes a list of what her must-have herbs are in an herb garden: Genovese basil, Red Rubin basil, Pesto Perpetuo basil, chervil, dill, Fernlead dill, flat leaf parsley, sage, sorrel and spearmint.

I grew up with a large herb garden. My dad has one in a raised bed on the side of the garage. I was often sent back there to pick herbs for my mom as she cooked dinner. He had everything you can think of.

We have a sad little herb garden here. Basically we scratched up the dirt next to the house, next to the deck and planted some chives, which come up every year, as well as some oregano that comes back also. I usually plant some basil and it almost always dies.

This year, we are going to make the herb garden bigger and surround it with some landscaping bricks to hold the dirt in. My must-have herbs will include:

– chives

– basil

– oregano

– rosemary

– dill

– sage

– thyme

– parsley (curly leaf)

– cilantro

What are your must-have herbs for an herb garden, or what would you grow if you had one?

Basement Gardening Update

February 4, 2010

I think we can now unquestionably say I have a black thumb. Mr. MarthaAndMe got me one of those hydroponic self-contained little gardens for Christmas and I am attempting to grow herbs. One month after we got it started, I have one little pot that did not do anything, 3 that are slumped over and dead and one that grew (basil). Mr. MarthaAndMe took it apart and determined the pump is broken, so we’re ordering a new one. I’ve transplanted the basil (the only survivor) into a little pot in my kitchen. I’m clearly cursed.

Gardening in My Basement

January 8, 2010

If you’ve been following along, you might remember The Great Garden Debacle of 2009. Martha convinced me I needed to garden. I started seeds inside and planted them and had them all wiped out by frost. Then I bought some plants and had an invasion of creatures and ended up not getting much out of my garden at all. It was a sad Martha attempt. We do not have green thumbs – or maybe we just don’t have the time and patience needed to grow a garden. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have fresh produce at my fingertips. My dad plants a huge garden and I am always thrilled to bring home what it produces. I’ve also had success in the past with container gardening.

One of things I am determined to grow is my own herbs. Martha has sold me on the value, flavor and necessity of fresh herbs. I do have a small herb garden near our deck, but seem to successfully grow only chives and oregano in it. And that is only useful during about half the year here in Buffalo.

Mr. MarthaAndMe bought me one of those aquaponic growers for Christmas. You fill it with water and nutrients and it will grown a variety of herbs and vegetables under UV lights. To get started, he got me an herb assortment. We set the equipment up right after Christmas and now there are a few things sprouting (although I am getting worried – only some of the 8 things seem to be poking their heads up!). I’m hopeful I’ll get some fresh herbs at least and I’ll be very grateful to have them too, considering how expensive they are to buy in tiny little packets in the produce section. Will our black thumbs extend to basement gardening too? I hope not, but please tune in to find out!

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Martha Mondays: Suet Birdfeeders

November 23, 2009

This week’s Martha Mondays was my pick – suet birdfeeders from November Living. Let me say I am so, so, sorry. If you made this and it stunk up your house as badly as it did mine, I apologize. I think this is truly the nastiest Martha thing I’ve ever made. My grocery store did not have suet so I ended up at a butcher. Mr. MarthaAndMe chopped it up for me since I was grossed out by it. The directions say to render this until it liquifies. It seemed to me like that would be pretty simple but it wasn’t. It took FOREVER, it smelled horrible, and I was not sure when it was actually done. There were lots of chunks of stuff still floating around in the liquid fat, but it was starting to burn. I pulled the plug and strained it.

Martha says you have to strain it with cheesecloth – I just used a sieve. Then you have to let it harden, then melt it and strain it again. Can I just say, this seems like a LOT of work for birds. Seriously, can you see Martha taking an entire afternoon to make these birdfeeders? I think not. I’m sure she buys them from someone who makes organic artisan suet birdfeeders or something.

So I did let it harden and liquify it again, but I confess I did not strain it the second time – there was nothing in it to strain out. I just did not care enough. I mixed in the sunflower seeds, peanuts and cranberries and we smushed it into plastic containers with string in it and froze it. I actually halved this recipe, but somehow it made 4 containers full. I was a little concerned when about 3 hours after I put it in the freezer it wasn’t sticking together.

I left it in overnight. This morning we checked them and they all seemed loose, but we hoped for the best. We took the most solid one outside and tried to get it out of the container. You can see from the photo that it completely fell apart.

What a mess and what a disappointment. I’m wondering if maybe the butcher didn’t give me enough suet? Maybe I should have kept on cooking it down even though it was on low and was burning? I don’t know what to think, but it sure would be a lot easier to just BUY one of these suet things in the store for $2 than to spend this much time horsing around and ending up with such a mess!

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