Jun 26

Love at First Bite

Love at First BiteBelow is article in the Spring Edition 2013 of Edible Berkshires

On our first date Chris Blair offered to cook dinner for me. As an architectural designer he felt the need to redo his kitchen, but consequently, given his addiction to cooking, he was suffering withdrawal. To ease his pain, he searched for places to cook. I happily obliged, since the way to my heart, mind, and soul and anything else was and is through my stomach.

I beamed when he came prepared with all the fixings: beautiful lamb and spices for a Lamb curry and even a pan; however, I blanched when he pulled out “The Fanny Farmer’s Cookbook.”  Fanny was great for simple, American fare, but Indian food?

The joy of being wrong. He emerged from a clean kitchen – which I loved – and served one of the best curries I ever had eaten.

Bok choi was another early date food where mercifully I kept silent when I watched him burn butter and then braise the quartered bok choi in the pan with a little chicken stock. At the meal, I grabbed a glass of water prepared to drown the burnt flavor, but instead closed my eyes and savored the caramelized vegetable, which resulted from his browning the butter, not burning it.  That was 26 years ago; now I take my job seriously as Chris’ sous chef, his vegetable gardener (but as a landscape designer, I have to sneak in edible flowers), and wife providing him whatever our Zone 5a can grow including zucchinis.  While most people bemoan the abundant yield of zucchinis, Chris sees it as opportunity to dice them in 1/2-inch pieces, which he cooks in olive oil. He stresses the greater the surface exposed, the more the flavor. Sometimes he’ll combine it with my shallots, other times garlic scapes.  I’ll try the same method, and it’s never the same; I think he sneaks a little truffle oil or some other surprise soupçon on top.

Chris makes terrific fennel salads with shaved parmesan cheese and a fennel soup with just onion, leeks, hint of garlic all simmered in a chicken stock. It tastes like it’s filled with cream, but there’s not a drop of dairy. So one summer I grew fennel, but the bulbs were so small that it wasn’t worth dedicating the private space these vegetable snobs demand – they will only grow with others in the mint family.

Someday I want to raise chickens for him to make into a stock, but so far I can’t get pass the Disney doe, Bambi, effect as he calls it…chickens are just too cute to kill.

Of course summer means tomatoes. At our home that means green tomatoes coated with corn meal and fried gently and eaten immediately, burning your fingers.  The red tomatoes, he seeds and cores so all that remains is the flesh, an ideal ingredient for his new passion, terrines. His porcini, artichoke and tomato terrine is another reason to love hot weather.

Fall affords him so many cooking opportunities. Chris insists on waiting till we have a frost for really good kale. My job is to wash and de-rib the kale leaves, which he transforms into a pile of thin strips. After a quick steaming and sautéing with garlic, he’ll pour just a dash of decade aged balsamic vinegar on top before serving. Chilly temperatures also sweeten Brussels sprouts, which he chops into small pieces and roasts with olive oil and salt.

People constantly tell me how lucky I am to married to someone who loves to cook and is so good at. True, but I made conscious choice decades ago thanks to his lamb curry and burnt butter.

Jun 07

Stick with Karen in the Garden- Azalea

Azalea ‘Karen’ is one of my favorites…the name is a coincidence……This wonderful shrub lasts a long time, thrives in our Berkshire winters, and is maintenance free. The magenta flowers jump out, particularly against white plants such as Dicentra Alba (white bleeding heart). I also love it, because the way it feels like an impressionist painting. Oh, and it blooms in part sun/part shade. Most descriptions will say it is evergreen…not in our Berkshire Zone 5, but the leaves will return in the spring.

Azalea 'Karen' a true garden buddy!

Azalea ‘Karen’ remains a true garden buddy!

May 22

A New Garden for a Great Client


A garden in the woods…

Low maintenance, natural looking, and color. For low maintenance we filled the area with perennials, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees.
We also took down a a very sickly spruce that was block the view of the garden from a terrace.

Apr 15

A Sad Day for Boston, a Sad Day for All


Apr 11

Edible Berkshires – The Best of the Garden

I loved writing this article for "Edible Berkshires"

I loved writing this article for Edible Berkshires

We don’t have to separate veggies or fruits from flowers. Blueberries like soil that is really acid or low pH, and that’s just what hydrangeas with blue flowers love…so I love putting them together.
Read my article in the spring issue of edible Berkshires and learn so many wonderful tips and so much more.

Mar 27

Linda Pastan’s Garden & More Poem


By Linda Pastan

 A whole new freshman class

of leaves has arrived

on the dark twisted branches

we call our woods, turning

green now – color of

anticipation. In my 76th year,

I know what time and weather

will do to every leaf.

But the camellia swells

to ivory at the window,

and the bleeding heart bleeds

only beauty.

Mar 22

First Day of Spring in the Garden

St. Patrick's Day may be gone, but I want green

St. Patrick’s Day may be gone, but I want green!

Gardeners woke up and groaned throughout the northeast on this first day of spring.  Just when we were celebrating the emergence of daffodils leaves, winter aconite flowers, snow drops, and a chance to do the glorious job of spring cleaning.  It snowed.

I was scheduled to do apple tree pruning.

I drowned my sorrows on the computer, designing for a wonderful return client, which cheered me up no end. I placed oakleaf hydrangeas off to the side of their new screen porch. In the front, I created an herb bed, and then framed a part of their new hot tub seating area with beautiful boulders and viburnum plicatum mariesii. The hydrangeas will provide white flowers all summer and then the leaves will turn red. White flowers will blanket the viburnum. It will then fill with berries and reddish purple leaves.

Gotta go shovel…

Mar 01

Landscape Design in the Snow

Let your fingers do the drawing

Let your fingers do the drawing

The snow is melting….maybe…so it’s time to begin making plans for your gardens, which sure beats watching for signs of spring, since like a watched pot that doesn’t boil, spring comes slower when you stare at the ground.

Here’s a plan: go inside and enjoy a grey day by going through your gardening books and catalogues. Make a list of the places you want to change or plants you love and want to add to your garden. Think about places that need color, or spots where you’d like some shade or privacy.

I have a client who wants screening in front of her home, not too tall or too thick. We are looking at shrubs that like sun, will provide some color, are low maintenance, and, given global changes, are drought tolerant. She has Hydrangea ‘Tardivas’ growing already, and we talking about incorporating them into the screening with Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ (which I’ll talk about another time) and one of my all time favorites: Physocarpus (Ninebark) ‘Diablo’ with its burgundy leaves, disease resistance, and speedy growth.

Grab a pencil and have a fun creating a new landscape design for your home!


Feb 20

Long Division (landscape design-wise)

landscape design

Garden math

In a matter of weeks you can begin adding plants to your landscape design for free…yes free! Often when I visit a new client’s home, I will point to hostas, astilbes, echinacea (coneflowers), irises, and more plants and explain that by dividing perennials, they can have at least 10, sometimes 20 free plants. While hostas require some muscle and a very sharp saw or knife, most other perennials can be split apart like pieces of pizza. In one client’s garden we started with five white astilbes, and now they’re a mass of white surrounded by boulders and maidenhair and Japanese painted ferns.

Feb 05

Rugged Lenten Rose in Your Landscape

What a pal!

How’s this for a resume: Lenten Rose or hellebores prefer shade or part shade, bloom in very early spring, oftentimes popping out of a light snow cover in zones 4 to 9; the shiny green leaves stay luscious throughout the summer and most of the winter (except when I accidentally step on them); they are deer and frost resistant and drought tolerant; and they’re really beautiful flowers, which can wake up the edge of a woodland in Spring. Oh, one more thing, if they’re happy, they’ll spread, but not get crazy about it.

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