Friday, April 20, 2012

What do Allergies, Herbs & History All Have in Common?

Me.  Most definitely.

Being passionate about the past, I relish a connection to those who’ve gone before us.  I’m fascinated with history and love old homes, historic sites, all that ties us to the richness of bygone ages. Intrigued with herbal lore, I often use it in my writing.  Herbs influenced every facet of life in pre-modern times and have changed little over the centuries. 

When I hold an aromatic sprig of rosemary in my hand, I’m touching the same plant beloved by the ancients. Some heirloom roses hail from the glory days of Rome. Amazing.  Awe inspiring.   At least to me, and I suspect to many of you as well.
To further that sense of oneness, and for their many uses, I grow a variety of herbs. Thyme, basil, sage, and chives are a few in my kitchen garden. Lavender and scented geraniums are wonderful for their scent alone. Ladies once wafted the delicate perfume of toilet water. Porcelain bowls filled with colorful potpourri scented musty parlors.

"I judge that the flowers of lavender quilted in a cappe and dayly worn are good for all diseases of the head that come of a cold cause and that they comfort the braine very well." ~Lavender and Turner (Herbal, 1545)

Before taking the leap into penning historical/paranormal romances, I wrote vignettes on rural life. I’ve compiled these into a memoir on gardening and country life, Shenandoah Watercolors, a 2012 EPIC eBOOK Award finalist available at Amazon in kindle, and now print, with beautiful photographs from my talented family.

At one time, I had a modest herb business and gave talks on herbal lore to local groups much as Julia Maury did in my light paranormal romance Somewhere My Love.
Back to my herbal enterprise, with the faithful assistance of my long-suffering mother we grew and dried herbs and flowers for wreath making and potpourri which we sold in the fall. Herbs and heirloom flower seedlings were raised in the small greenhouse my hubby built me and sold in the spring. 

Any profits were swiftly overrun by subsequent visits to the allergist,whom I’ve seen regularly for years now and still get four shots at a crack. It seems I developed every allergy latent within me by exposure to all these pollens.

*Note, If you’re allergic to ragweed, avoid an herb called Sweet Annie and the Artemisia family. But I’m considered to rank in the top ten percent of allergy sufferers in the nation, so what are the odds of that?

After being run indoors and my gardening curtailed, I took up writing and have used my love of plants there. I’m still an avid gardener, though with shots, meds and limits. 

*And yes, I do use local honey made from our wildflowers that's supposed to aid in building my pollen tolerance. I think it may be helping some. I'll report back, but hard to say for certain as I'm also on the shots.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.” ~ Ruth Stout

Spring came early this year to the Shenandoah Valley, though the weather has been, 'right mixy," to use a local country expression.Even more than usual for spring in these parts.

If it could always be spring….what joy.   And I’m allergic to it, been on shots and meds for years, but I love it anyway, I say as I sit here sniffling.  But such beauty sends the spirit soaring, despite the sneezing. These Virginia bluebells were given to me by my dear grandmother and have spread wonderfully in the dappled shade.

And best of all, I’m  back in the garden, with the usual accompanying aches as I get into what I call ‘gardening form.’   Or attempt to.
I come from a long line of plant lovers and inherited the gardening gene.  I’ve passed it on to my younger daughter, my right arm in the garden, but all of my children are fans.  And now ‘the smalls,’ the grandbabies, are our new crop of apprentices. My seven yr old grandson is of some real help.  

Sometimes the four yr olds are a modicum of  use, or not terribly at odds with the agenda.  But two yr olds and under are no help at all.  Nor, I might add, are well-meaning dogs who lie on plants.  One of our dogs, a lab mix, eats asparagus, corn, and tomatoes.  He’s worse than groundhogs and raccoons, so we’ve secured our fence against him.  I think…

My main recommendation when it comes to gardening is to use a lot of compost and natural mulch, like well-rotted hay or straw, even leaves, in your vegetable and flower beds. Robust plants better resist insects and disease.  Earth worms are a gardener’s best friend and thrive in natural mulch, humus-enriched soil.  I’ve even gone on worm finds and introduced more into the gardens, plus bought them from a reputable online source.  Yes, I’m nuts over worms as are my grandbabies now. Thanks to my enthusiasm, they think worms totally rock.  

My dream is to have the perfect garden like Mr. McGregor‘s in Peter Rabbit.  Dream on, I say to self. But I'm ever the dreamer, especially in the spring. Everything seems possible then. Even heaven on earth.

Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides or you’ll kill the worms and other beneficial insects. I mix up an organic brew to spray on susceptible plants to fight diseases and battle our most voracious pests.  I’m currently experimenting with concoctions. I like an online site called Gardens Alive that sells environmentally responsible products. 

To whatever organic brew I’m using from them, I add a Tablespoon of baking soda, liquid kelp or seaweed fertilizer, and insecticidal soap per gallon.  I avoid fish based liquid fertilizers as the scent attracts the barn cats who take undo interest in the plants.  I can’t say for certain how well any of my brews work, but at least I’m not hurting anything. ‘Do no harm,’ the physicians creed also applies in the garden.  Even organic insecticides can kill the good bugs and butterflies, so use with great caution.

My primary focus in gardening is our vegetable, perennial & annual flower and herb beds.  I’m particularly fond of herbs and old-fashioned cottage garden plants, those heirloom flowers and vegetables passed down from generation to generation.  

Some of these vintage varieties involve saving seed and ordering from specialty catalogs.  Those herbs and flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and honey bees are of special interest to me. I strive to create a wildlife sanctuary of sorts.  The American love of a chemically dependent green lawn is the opposite of what beneficial insects and wildlife need, and plants for that matter.  Think wildflowers and herbs.  Rejoice in the butterflies and hummers that will follow.
We rotate annual our garden vegetables as well as practicing companion planting. Time honored combinations we’ve tried, as well as making some of our own discoveries, are to plant nasturtiums and radishes closely around the cucurbit family (commonly called the cucumber, gourd, melon, or pumpkin family) help to deter the squash vine borer and cucumber beetles which are deadly to the plants. This family is our most trouble prone, so gets the greatest attention when it comes to companion planting.  

Radishes are also a good companion for lettuce, spinach, and carrots.  If I were to choose one companion plant it would be radishes and the second, nasturtiums, but there are many excellent choices and we’re learning more all the time about effective combinations. (Image of lemon scented marigolds, also of  benefit.)
I interplant garlic with roses and have beneficial effects in warding off some of the pests and diseases that attack them.  *I prefer the old-time roses and David Austen varieties that combine the best of the old with the repeat bloom of the new.  My favorite rose is Abraham Darby by David Austen. I just planted a new one.

Tomatoes grow more happily when planted near basil.  Peppers also like it. Sweet marjoram, which reseeds itself for us, is another beneficial herb to interplant with vegetables and flowers.  Mint helps deter cabbage worms.   

Pumpkins and squash better survive when rotated from their usual spots.  This year we tucked a pumpkin in among the massive, native clematis vine growing along the backyard fence that we refer to as ‘the beast.’ The borers didn’t find it, plus ‘the beast’ helped cradle the orange globes.
We’ve observed that old-fashioned sunflowers with multiple heads (planted by birds from the birdseed variety) grow the most vigorously.  Sunflowers attract masses of goldfinches, a favorite songbird, and when planted in and around corn, reduce army worms in the ears.  

Marigolds are an excellent companion plant for vegetable and flowers to help ward off Japanese beetles.  Borage enriches the soil, attracts honey bees, and is another good companion for squash.  Onions planted near carrots help repel the carrot fly.  Chamomile (German, the annual variety) is another good companion plant but use it sparingly.  The perennial form of chamomile, Roman (Anthemis nobilisis creeping all over the place and makes a lovely fragrant ground cover at the border of other herbs and flowers.

Encourage beneficial insects to make their home in your garden and experiment with companion planting. Avoid monochromatic schemes and think variety.  And remember the old-time, non hybrid varieties of flowers and vegetables.  A great book about growing heirloom plants and sharing them with others is Passalong Plants.  A delightful book chocked full of information. And Happy gardening!

Garden images taken by daughter Elise. Well, most of them. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Historical/Paranormal Romance-The Bearwalker’s Daughter

My talented daughter Elise did the striking cover.  Look for the bear.

I’ve spent days living and breathing this story, adding a new scene, embellishing others, and deepening the weave of this historical romance with an intriguing paranormal thread. Formerly Daughter of the Wind, the novel is now The Bearwalker’s Daughter.

What’s a bearwalker, you may ask? For that you will need to read the book.  Available in Amazon kindle now for the sweet price of .99.

Blurb: Timid by nature—or so she thinks—Karin McNeal hasn’t grasped who she really is or her fierce birthright.
A tragic secret from the past haunts the young Scots-Irish woman longing to learn more of her mother’s death and the mysterious father no one will name. The elusive voices she hears in the wind hint at the dramatic changes soon to unfold in the mist-shrouded Alleghenies in Autumn, 1784.

Jack McCray, the wounded stranger who staggers through the door on the eve of her twentieth birthday and anniversary of her mother’s death, holds the key to unlock the past.  Will Karin let this handsome frontiersman lead her to the truth and into his arms, or seek the shelter of her fiercely possessive kinsmen? Is it only her imagination or does someone, or something, wait beyond the brooding ridges—for her?~

Monday, April 16, 2012

"How I would Love to be Transported into a Scented Elizabethan Garden..."

 ‘Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, and with him rise weeping.’ 
~ Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale

‘If you set it,
the cats will eat it,

If you sow it,
the cats don’t know it.

Philip Miller, The Gardener’s Dictionary, Referring to Catnip

‘Salt is a preservative. It really holds flavor. For example, if you chop up some fresh herbs, or even just garlic, the salt will extract the moisture and preserve the flavor.’ ~ Sally Schneider
‘The Herbs ought to be distilled when they are in their greatest vigor, and so ought the Flowers also.’ 

‘The intense perfumes of the wild herbs as we trod them underfoot made us feel almost drunk.’ ~Jacqueline du Pre
‘I plant rosemary all over the garden, so pleasant is it to know that at every few steps one may draw the kindly branchlets through one’s hand, and have the enjoyment of their incomparable incense; and I grow it against walls, so that the sun may draw out its inexhaustible sweetness to greet me as I pass ….’
Gertrude Jekyll
“There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you: and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. O! you must wear your rue with a difference.  There’s a daisy; I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” ~Shakespeare, Hamlet

‘Thine eyes are springs in whose serene And silent waters heaven is seen. Their lashes are the herbs that look On their young figures in the brook.’ ~William C. Bryant
Waters are distilled out of Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, and Roots.
~Nicholas Culpeper
“We have finally started to notice that there is real curative value in local herbs and remedies. In fact, we are also becoming aware that there are little or no side effects to most natural remedies, and that they are often more effective than Western medicine.”  ~Anne Wilson Schaef

‘The basil tuft, that waves
Its fragrant blossom over graves.’
~Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookhm, Light of the Harem
“The herb that can’t be got is the one that heals.” ~ Irish Saying

‘See how Aurora throws her fair Fresh-quilted colours through the air: Get up, sweet-slug-a-bed, and see The dew-bespangling herb and tree.’ ~ Herrick, Robert ~Corinna’s Going a Maying

‘As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls, not
only because my bees love it but because it is the herb
sacred to remembrance and to friendship, whence a
sprig of it hath a dumb language.’
-  Sir Thomas Moore
‘Eat leeks in oile and ramsines in May,
And all the year after physicians may play.’
(Ramsines were old-fashioned broad-leafed leeks.)

‘My gardens sweet, enclosed with walles strong, embarked with benches to sytt and take my rest. The Knotts so enknotted, it cannot be exprest. With arbours and alys so pleasant and so dulce, the pestylant ayers with flavours to repulse.’ ~Thomas Cavendish, 1532.
‘When daisies pied and violets blue, and lady-smocks all silver white. And Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue, do paint the meadows with delight.’ ~ William Shakespeare, 1595.

‘Women with child that eat quinces will bear wise children.’ ~Dodoens, 1578.

‘Gardening with herbs, which is becoming increasingly popular, is indulged in by those who like subtlety in their plants in preference to brilliance.’
-   Helen Morgenthau Fox

‘And because the Breath of Flowers is farre Sweeter in the Aire (where it comes and Gose, like the Warbling of Musick) than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for delight, than to know what be the Flowers and the Plants that doe best perfume the Aire.’ 
~ Francis Bacon, 1625
‘Caesar….saith, that all the Britons do colour themselves with Woad, which giveth a blew colour… ‘ ~John Gerard, 1597

‘You have got to own your days and live them, each one of them, every one of them, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you.’~Herb Gardner

‘Once you get people laughing, they’re listening and you can tell them almost anything.’~ Herb Gardner

“According to old wives’ tales, borage was sometimes
smuggled into the drink of  prospective husbands
to give them the courage to propose marriage.’
-  Mary Campbell, A Basket of Herbs

‘As Rosemary is to the Spirit, so Lavender is to the Soul.
-  Anonymous

‘As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits, as the taste stirs up our appetite for meat.’ ~   Pliny the Elder
‘How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers?’
Andrew Marvel

‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance;
pray, love, remember; and there is pansies,
that’s for thoughts.’ ~Shakespeare, Hamlet

‘The first gatherings of the garden in May of salads, radishes and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby – how could anything so beautiful be mine.  And this emotion of wonder filled me for each vegetable as it was gathered every year.  There is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown.’
Alice B. Toklas

‘How I would love to be transported into a scented
Elizabethan garden with herbs and honeysuckles, a knot garden and roses clambering over a simple arbor ….’ ~Rosemary Verey

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