Garden Lifestyle

Summer is Fading Fast and Fall is in the Air (Not to mention a hurricane!)

Here in my Maryland zone 7 garden, crops are slowing down and the intense heat of summer is cooling just a bit.

Picturesque farmhouse built in the late 1800s with a lively stand of Monarda didyma, which attracts hummingbirds. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Just back from a great trip to upstate New York, where I went to visit herbalgalpal and fellow gardener, Gert Coleman. I made the trip with my cousin Sharon Crain, we have shared an enthusiasm for all things herbal for many decades. Our other herbal cohort and fellow “cookie” Pat Crocker, drove down from Canada. We all arrived with summer bounty from our gardens and local farmers’ market produce, so we had an amazing array of foods to create wonderful meals and we dined on simple, wonderful, garden-inspired dishes. We spent quite a bit of time indoors—creating and cooking—and around the kitchen table, savoring food, friendship and sharing our favorite books. Gert had gathered flowers and herbs from the wild and her garden and every room in the house had a fragrant display.

Outside, we walked and hiked the hills that were at the base of the Catskills. Dog Thorne, led us along the miles of different trails through meadows shoulder high full of goldenrod (we identified at least five) wild grasses, native phlox, Joe Pye weed, eupatorium, and much more. We climbed into the pines where it was cool and shady and sat by waterfalls that cascaded down age-old stony cliffs. We oohed and aahed at the panoramic vistas of green hills and we got up-close and personal with our cameras photographing Indian pipes, wild flowers and berries, apple trees and blackberries, not to mention the pollinators. Speaking of which, the hummers outside of Gert’s kitchen window entertained us throughout the day zooming from nectar to monarda and chasing one another about the front flower beds. Gert and her husband, Peter, planted a new bed with a variety of flowering perennials, squash and beans and herbs which were loving the weather there and lush from the abundant high-water table.

It really dawned on me how fast summer is going—fall was definitely in the air there—nights and mornings we had on sweatshirts, long pants, socks and shoes. Though in the day we paired down to short-sleeves or sleeveless and needed a sunhat for our hikes (besides wearing a hat somehow keeps the pesky gnats from flying in your face which was good tip from Gert). 

While there we visited The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, which is an absolute must if you are in the area. We loved the gardens, farm animals, and the shops with the first-person interpreters. My favorite shops were the apothecary where we learned to roll ginger pills and make herbal lozenges and mint sugar. And the weaver/broom maker where we saw lovely yarns dyed with natural plants from Echinacea to woad and goldenrod. In the garden, they were growing impressive, corn, cabbage, Swiss chard and tobacco, which happened to be in bloom. I delighted in the hop poles there, which were an impressive site. We enjoyed the baby chicks and ducks of course, the geese were honking loudly and the goats were frolicking and butting heads. They had the most perfect turkey house I have ever seen, built of woven vines with a thatched roof.

It was hard to leave such a lovely restful spot; however we all had our lives and gardens to return too. We did though, and stopped at the Cooperstown farmers’ market (another great photo op) on our way out of town, where we loaded up on gorgeous garlic bulbs, baked goods (sustenance for the trip home) and a few must-have veggies that we didn’t have in our gardens at home.

How to preserve herbs for winter use
Back at home, the picnic table on the back porch holds each days’ harvest—always tomatoes, chiles and squash—sometimes onions, garlic, cukes, beans or eggplant. I was compelled to harvest my near-flowering basils upon my return and this week I froze some aromatic pastes, hung basil to dry, and of course had pesto for dinner. It is not too late—in fact you better get out there and cut yours! You will be glad this winter to have it on hand in any way to brighten meals. For instructions on preserving your herbal harvest go to my videos on this site. Check out How to Harvest Annual Herbs, How to Dry Herbs, and How to Freeze Herbs. The pastes are easy and a quick and efficient way of putting up a lot of basil. Happy Herbing!

An earthquake, then a hurricane
Added note: Last week, we inhabitants of the Mid-Atlantic experienced a 5.8 earthquake. Having never experienced one before and not having a clue that we might have one, I knew instinctively it was an earthquake as I sat here in my office and the ground shook beneath my feet. It certainly gets the adrenalin pumping! And here it is happening again–my adrenalin rise that is–as we prepare for Hurricane Irene. These are pretty strong messages coming from our planet Earth. We are battening down the hatches as well as everything out there in the garden that might blow away. To all of you–be safe and–fare thee well!

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