2014 Fall Sale & a Friendly Plant Swap

Have you ever been to or hosted a plant swap? A few of my friends have started getting together in the spring and in the fall to trade plants and I attended for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It’s a really nice way to get rid of the plants you need to thin out.


photo credit: Modern Sauce, the lovely hostess of the 2014 fall plant swap

I took oregano, lemon balm, sedum, bee balm, lilies, and cannas. Others brought hostas, hellebores, and iris. Everything found new homes, and then we piled in a car and went to the wonderful Green Thumbs Galore Fall Driveway Sale. Everyone bought a few plants and we joked that next year we’ll be bringing cuttings from our purchases to the swap!

There are lots of reasons plant swaps are fun. You get to hang out with people who have at least one common interest. It’s a fun way to get ideas on how to deal with problem areas in your yard or garden. We talked about things we’d like to do, someday. One person wants to learn more about propagation; I want to learn more about fruit trees. Plus, you might end up with some new plants!

One attendee said the best thing about a plant swap is that if the plant dies, you can blame the person who brought it. That seems reasonable enough to me!

From the plant swap, I brought home some hellebores, for the only shady area in my yard, and some rosemary cuttings. The hostess had a big rosemary plant. It’s the only one I’ve seen that survived last year’s extra hard winter. I’ve got 10 cuttings in water. If they root successfully I’ll take most of them to the next swap in pretty little pots.


Photo credit: Emily Fazio, plant swapper extraordinaire!

At the sale, I got Russian sage, a crocus, and some gaillardia. I’ve wanted Russian sage for years. It is a beautiful color and has a really wonderful texture. A friend used to grow it and include it in gorgeous bouquets of cut flowers. Gaillardia is simply cheerful. I love the bright color and long blooming period. The crocus was completely an impulse buy — I’m not even really sure what the bloom of a crocus looks like!

The combination of the plant swap and going to the sale was great. I hope that it becomes a set in stone tradition.


The Apple Jelly Saga — Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my first attempt at making apple jelly. (spoiler alert: it didn’t go well) As promised, this is the sequel to that post. It’s a good thing the apple trees were productive this year…

The Second Attempt

Making true apple jelly means extracting the juice from the apples. In all my research, it seemed that most folks cooked the apples until tender then hung them in a cheesecloth bag or strainer over night and let the juice drip down into a bowl.

Since making the jelly on my own was a failure, I decided to get the family involved on the second attempt. The apple trees grow on the family farm, after all. We didn’t have any cheesecloth, but we did find a new, clean, white undershirt — you know the kind commonly called a “wife beater.”

We cooked down the apples, then pulled the shirt over a huge mixing bowl. Of course when we put the apples into the shirt, it just fell down to the bottom. Since we are creative people, and there were about 10 of us trying to come up with a solution, we knew there had to be a way! There was: duct tape.

We taped the shirt to the bowl so that it wouldn’t fall down, put the apples in, and covered the whole mess. The next day…there was about ¼ cup of juice in the bottom of the bowl. I still don’t understand why our brilliant idea didn’t work. But, since it takes about 7 cups of juice to make a batch of jelly we were out of luck. Again.

At this point, I was ready to abandon the entire idea of making a sweet, preserved treat from the apples. I was leaning heavily toward slicing them and making half-cooked pies to freeze and use all winter. Because apple pie, right?

The Third Attempt

Then, I came across this recipe for Rosemary Infused Apple Preserves, and noticed that

I left the rosemary instead of removing it like the recipe instructed.

I left the rosemary instead of removing it like the recipe instructed.

you used the whole apple — no need to extract the juice! I had to try one more time. Happily, the same day I made preserves, I’d promised to show a cousin how to bake homemade bread. We ended up with fresh, hot bread and homemade preserves. At the same time! It was a moment of culinary bliss.

This recipe resulted in something that seemed more like applesauce than it did anything else — but the most flavorful applesauce I’ve ever had. Since I’m a rebel, I didn’t really follow the recipe. Here’s what I did instead:

  • Peel, core, and chop the apples
  • Cook until they are soft, with a few sprigs of rosemary
  • Taste
  • Add the desired amount of sugar (I used significantly less than the recipe called for)
  • Squeeze the juice of a lemon in
  • Cook until the sugar is dissolved
  • Mash and stir until you have a consistency you like
  • Load into clean, sterilized jars and process in a water bath

I haven’t tried it yet, but these preserves would be delicious with a strong cheese. Or maybe with a pork roast. Definitely on breakfast toast. Next year, I’m skipping the jelly attempts and going straight for these preserves!

Bringing In the Trees

I like to have a few houseplants. They cheer me up in the winter, and a few potted plants scattered through the garden in the summer add interest. Plus, it brings back childhood memories. My mom had a schefflera that she bought in a small pot — maybe a one gallon size — that grew into an enormous plant that she loved. I remember her washing each leaf individually with soapy water when it got infested with aphids.

But things can get out of control…Right now, I have a red rubber tree, an orange tree, a orange treelime tree, a palm tree, a hibiscus, a corn plant (that would become a tree if I put it in a bigger pot), a peace lily, and a cactus — and a house with a few, small windows. Each one of my houseplants has a story, and I love them all, but it may be time to let go of a couple.

The palm and peace lily were part of a dish garden that someone sent when my mother-in-law passed away. In my mind, they are reminders of her. I don’t think I could part with them unless they were going to stay with one of her other children.

Similarly, the orange tree belonged to my father-in-law, aka Pap or Pappy. He took care of it for 30 years! He kept it on a table and supported the branches with strings attached to hooks in the ceiling. He didn’t take it out for the summer; it stayed on a table on a little sun porch where his washer, dryer, and deep freezer were. Several times when we visited for Christmas, it had tiny oranges all over it. They never got quite as big as golf balls, but they did exist!

When Pappy’s loved ones noticed what meticulous care he took of the orange tree, they added to his citrus collection: he also had a lime tree and a lemon tree. My brother-in-law took home the lemon tree, but we ended up with both the lime and the orange. They are not doing as well under my care. They are living, but in the last three years we haven’t seen an orange. (Probably because I’m not a faithful with the fertilizer. I understand they are heavy nitrogen feeders.)

My children gave me the cactus. It is one of the toughest plants I’ve ever seen. When they gave it to me, it was very small, and had one of those colored balls from another plant grafted on top. The ball on top collapsed and seemed to rot away. I gave it up for dead and put the pot in a window sill in my laundry room and forgot about it. At some point, the pot got knocked off and it landed on its side between the wall and the dryer. Unbelievably, when I found it, it was still alive. I repotted it and it started growing. A year or two later, it developed black spots all over one side (it may have gotten too cold next to the window). Again, I figured it was a goner, but it recovered again. That thing will probably outlive me and my kids!

The red rubber tree came from Aldi — the grocery store. It was $2 and in a one-gallon pot. It was cute. The red rubber tree LOVES living at my house. It’s huge. Giant. Behemoth. It’s five feet or so tall, and at least three or four feet around. I think that I love it simply because it appears to love me so much. Alas, it’s the one that really needs to go — partly because it’s so giant, and partly because it doesn’t honor anyone’s memory.

But the point of this post is that things can get out of hand if you have too many houseplants. We brought the citrus trees in last week when the temperature threatened to dip near freezing. The orange tree is in the middle of the kitchen and pokes me every time I open the oven or the fridge. I have no idea where the rubber tree will go. Every window will have as many pots crammed around it as possible. At least we’ll have good indoor air quality, right?


The Apple Jelly Saga – Part 1

Last winter, I planted several apple trees — two in my yard, and four at the family farm. Of the two in my yard, one is doing spectacularly. It needs to be pruned, but is healthy and growing well. The other was the victim of a small accident — my husband cut down a small mimosa growing on our fence line and it fell directly onto the apple tree, breaking most of its tender branches and splitting the trunk all the way down to about a foot off the ground. But it came back! I couldn’t believe it when I found new growth all around where it had been split. We’ll see what it does next year.

Of the trees at the farm, one appears to be dead, another is living but suffering, and two others are doing well. I’ve tried to identify the pests and/or disease that killed the first one, but apples are susceptible to so many different things. We are lucky to also have two fully mature, producing trees at the farm! They are old — they’ve been there as long as I can

They may not be grocery store pretty, but they are farm fresh delicious!

They may not be grocery store pretty, but they are farm fresh delicious!

remember — and no one is sure what variety they are. The fruit is small, splotchy red, and very slightly tart.

This year, they both produced heavily so I decided to try my hand at making apple jelly. Then I read some recipes and decided to try apple preserves instead! What I actually ended up with could be more accurately described as apple flavored syrup with pieces of apple…Here’s the recipe I (sort of) followed: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/caramel-apple-jam.

I say “sort of” because I did things out of order, which, no doubt, was the downfall of my preserves. I put everything in the pot together and simmered it until the apples were tender, then brought it to a boil and then put it in sterilized jars. It didn’t gel. Live and learn,

The jars look nice, anyway!

The jars look nice, anyway!

my friends.

On a positive note, that apple syrup will be perfect for sweetening oatmeal and for eating with pancakes. AND — there are plenty of apples left to try again. This time, I’m going to go with a traditional jelly recipe, and follow the instructions much more closely. I’ll let you guys know how it works out!