Sunday, December 27, 2009


Rutgers Gardens has a large holly collection.

I’ve driven by it many times, but never taken the time to photograph it. The hollies with yellow berries intrigue me.

As you can see, the light was terrible this afternoon. Harsh, washing out all of the colors. I had terrible trouble with shadows.

So no Photo of the Day. I took a few nice ones, but nothing that really stood out.

I thought this was kind of fun:

You can see all of my photos from today on Flickr.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Oak Tree Was Right

There's a Camry under there somewhere

The oak tree was right. It’s still two more days until winter officially begins and a record-breaking Nor’Easter blanketed the mid-Atlantic area with up to two feet of snow. “Only” eight inches fell in my yard. A significant accumulation, though, for New Jersey where we rarely see snow until January.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Christmas Story

In the spirit of the season, I’d like to share with you my favorite Christmas story. But I have to warn you. Don’t expect a sweet, syrupy tale of a Christmas miracle. I start out each December decorating my tree while wearing a hat that says “Bah Humbug” and listening to parodies of Christmas carols, dogs barking Christmas carols, chipmunks singing carols and my all-time favorite, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”. I love Christmas in my own twisted way.

So, without further ado, I present my favorite Christmas story:

I may be jinxing myself, but I have never had a problem mixing cats and Christmas trees. Our first cat, who came to us courtesy of a sign for free kittens tacked to the community bulletin board at the grocery store, completely ignored the tree and its decorations in favor of the tree skirt.
He loved sneaking under the tree, messing up the carefully arranged skirt and then curling up in the resulting nest of fabric, with a look that clearly said “I’ve been a bad boy, haven’t I?”. Thrilled that he had no interest in my precious glass ornaments, I gladly played along, scolding him out from under the tree and then carefully smoothing and arranging the skirt back into a perfect circle. I swear he was grinning as he ran from the room.

We played this game over and over again every year during the month of December until his untimely death at age 9 from kidney cancer.

Our next cat was a pure-bred Maine Coon who made up in fur for what he lacked in personality. He came to live with us in January, so I had almost a year of anguished waiting. Finally, the big day came. The tree was brought home, the lights and beads were strung and the fragile glass ornaments were carefully unwrapped and hung on the branches. I took a deep breath and waited.

And waited. And waited. Mr. Total Lack of Personality had no interest in the tree or the skirt. He did, however, develop a taste for the water in the tree stand. I knew that poinsettias were poisonous for cats so I researched online to see if evergreens were in any way harmful to felines. The answer came soon enough, offline.

Mr. TLoP developed diarrhea. Explosive diarrhea. Projectile diarrhea. You could tell when a spasm hit. His head would jerk up. Then his face would assume a pained expression and he would race for the litterbox where he would squat, vainly trying to confine the contents of his bowels to that small rectangle of litter. Instead, to the accompaniment of loud farts, he would spew poop all over his litterbox and the surrounding walls and floor. He was mortified.

After a weekend of scrubbing cat feces from walls and floor, I stuffed him into his carrier and took him to the vet who prescribed kitty Kaopectate and sent us home with stern instructions to cover the tree stand and keep an eye out to make sure that Mr. TLoP didn’t drink any more tree water.

There was no need for the admonishment. Mr. TLoP had learned his painful and embarrassing lesson. He drank only from his water bowl and steered clear of that shiny, dangerous thing in the living room.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Where Am I??

I know that it looks like I’ve disappeared again. I haven’t. I’ve been busy and posting the results elsewhere. My fellow Straw Hatter and co-blogger, “A” and I cooked Thanksgiving together again. You can see those recipes on our blog, The Wooden Spoon. After Thanksgiving, we did an informal Buche de Noel bake-off at the Rutgers Gardens Holiday Party, recipes coming soon. And I’ve started a new tradition on our blog, Christmas Cookie of the Week.

When I’m not creating culinary wonders in the kitchen, I’ve been writing. You can browse my portfolio at to see what I’ve been up to. Like wallpapering my bathroom. Or rendering my oven unfit to cook in a few days before Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, there are also a few stories about my cats.

So if you stop by here and don’t see any updates, check my other hangouts to see what I’ve been up to lately.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


It’s going to be a hard winter. I’ve got proof.

(There is a photo that is supposed to go here, but it seems to be lost amongst the thousands on my hard drive.  I'll post it when I find it.)

Folklore has it that oak trees produce an over-abundance of acorns ahead of a bad winter and fewer acorns when the following winter will be mild. This past fall, deceptively warm, was marked by a veritable monsoon of acorns courtesy of my neighbor’s oak tree.

Walking on my driveway and lawn was like walking on marbles. The sound of acorns crashing onto my car had me constantly checking for dents. I even checked my head for dents after being hit more than once.

Good did come of all of this mayhem. Normally, I have to harvest the seed pods from the Blackberry Lilies long before they ripen because the squirrels consider them a delicacy. This year, I must have missed one. And so did the squirrels. They had apparently gorged themselves on acorns and weren’t looking for anything else to eat so a lone pod was able to ripen and then open, showing the shiny black seeds that make the characteristic autumnal display.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day Flowers

Thanks to the mild weather we’ve been having, there is still color in my gardens. Just not what you would expect. Not asters or mums or goldenrod. Of course not! This is my garden where anything can, and often does, happen.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, while nuclear war still seemed a possibility, I read somewhere that the only things that would survive a nuclear attack were cockroaches. I’d like to amend that statement to include Rudbeckia.

Over the years, I have learned to take advantage of their propensity to grow anywhere. I dig up small clumps and distribute them to friends, confident that even the most neophyte gardener with the blackest of thumbs, can’t kill them. They are a great “starter plant” for timid beginners. It doesn’t matter where they are planted, like cockroaches, they will grow and multiply.

Which is how they have spread all over my yard. Any place where I need a little color or nothing seems to grow, I plant some knowing that within a few years, I will have a big bright bunch of yellow flowers.

I seem to see the world differently from most people. Take, for instance, my introduction to old-fashioned single hollyhocks. As a child, I first saw them growing along a rustic split rail fence, their huge stalks towering over not just me but also the adults. Who were all admiring the thatched roof on the house. A house with a thatched roof is unusual but a house with a thatched roof in the middle of a city is downright bizarre. While the adults were wondering how much the homeowner’s insurance was costing the inhabitants of the thatched roof house, I was wondering what the big flowers were called.

I grew them in the garden I had when I was in high school. My first house had too much shade in the yard to grow most flowers. My current yard is shady except for the strip along the Ugly Green Fence. I tried growing hollyhocks there but they succumbed to rust.

Occasionally, one still pops up either from dormant seed or seed brought in by the birds. Sometimes they manage to hang on long enough to flower.

I have one garden where virtually nothing grows. I don’t know if there is something wrong with the soil or if the quantity or quality of the sunlight is a problem. The garden was originally dug by my daughter and planted with mainly purple flowers. The daffodils, iris and asters that she planted still grow. I planted sage which has done well and Echinacea which hasn’t done so well.

And then there is the bare spot. Not even weeds grow well there. Years ago, I tried planting all green flowers in that space, but they didn’t even make it through one season. Except for the miniature rose. It’s still going strong. Every year it gets bigger. I’m wondering how much larger it can get before it is no longer consider “miniature”. It seems immune to the Black Spot that attacks my heirloom roses. And it blooms exuberantly. The flowers are only very vaguely green but they definitely make up in quantity what they lack in color.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Swarthmore Arboretum

After our tour of Chanticleer, we took advantage of the picnic area to have lunch. Then it was off to Swarthmore Arboretum. The arboretum is located on the campus which has many beautiful buildings.

There are hidden gardens.

And inviting places to sit.

My favorite place?

The rose garden, of course!

Or maybe it’s the shady amphitheatre.

I wonder . . .

…is this real or a clever garden ornament?
We were exhausted after walking all day.

We wondered if this kitty was willing to share his bench.

And that’s the end of my tail tale.

You can see all of my photos of Swarthmore arboretum on Flickr.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chanticleer Revisited

After being wowed by Chanticleer last fall, I leapt at the chance to visit again, this time at the end of June. It was even more beautiful at that time of year.

The trip produced two Photos of the Day:

I liked them both so much that I printed them and hung them on my wall.

Visiting gardens is a great way to get ideas for my own gardens.

I would never have thought of planting red poppies in a largely pink and purple bed, would you?

I always think of cutting gardens as utilitarian,

but if designed right, they can be beautiful.

Even a veggie garden can be an attractive place to sit.

You can see all of the photos of my trip to Chanticleer on Flickr.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Willowwood Arboretum

I love revisiting gardens. There is always something more to see. This is especially true when visiting the same gardens during different seasons. I had an opportunity last April to go to Willowood Arboretum, which I had first visited a few years ago during the month of September.

First, the Photo of the Day. There were two of them this time.

Look! It’s not centered. I’m making progress on that front.

I love this photo because it is up to the viewer to decide what is the subject. Is the picture about the flowers? Is it about the gate? Is it about the ivy-covered stones?

Visiting Willowwood during the month of April when the gardens were just starting to come alive, gave me a chance to examine the bones of the garden as well as the functional and decorative objects in the landscape.

I don’t recall seeing this water pump last time probably because it was overwhelmed by the shrub and other plants and flowers that captured my attention instead. The sunny daffodils made this little vignette really stand out.

This house grabbed my camera and wouldn’t let go.

I don’t recall this feature from my last visit. It looks like a perfect spot for containers. And check out the great stonework.

Also a contender for the Photo of the Day.

When I looked at the photos I took on my first trip to Willowwood, with the exception of the gate, there is not a single picture of any of these things. I didn’t “see” them through the mature vegetation and colorful flowers.

You can see all of the photos of my trip to Willowwood on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

...or too many books

I’ve created a new blog. I know what you’re thinking: have I lost my mind? How many blogs do I have now? Four? Five? Even I’m not sure any more. This one, however, is low maintenance. I will be posting book reviews that I have been writing for LibraryThing as an Early Reviewer.

I am an eclectic reader. Always looking to discover new areas of knowledge as well as adding to my acquaintance with my favorite topics. Being an Early Reviewer offers me the opportunity to read books that aren’t available in my local library or mentioned in the New York Times Book Review. I read books that I might normally pass up (Casanova, surprisingly interesting). Another perk is the review copies. Translation: free books.

After carefully reading each book, I spend a few hours writing a thoughtful review and then post it on LibraryThing and Posting reviews on my own blog allows me to credit the publishers who have so generously provided review copies and link to their sites. I’ve “opened” a store on and “stocked it” with the books that I have reviewed. Anyone who is intrigued by a review can easily purchase the book. And I can make a little money, never a bad thing.

The most difficult part of the new blog was the title. “OldRoses’ Bookshelf” or “From the Library of OldRoses” were too boring. I wanted something catchy, something fun, something creative. I was drawing a blank until last week. Looking at the piles of books cluttering up my house, I realized that I was going to have to bite the bullet and buy more bookshelves because you can never be too rich or too thin or have too many books.

And a blog was born: …or too many books.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Book Review: A Rose by Any Name

It’s no secret that I love roses, especially heirloom roses. I love their gorgeous flowers. I love their heavenly scents. I love their toughness. And I love their names. Residing in my garden are Baronne Prevost, Cecile Brunner, General Jacqueminot, Mme. Pierre Oger, Mme. Plantier, Therese Bugnet and Zephirine Drouhin. Who were these people and why were roses named after them?

Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello set out to solve those mysteries. They initially chose about four dozen roses with interesting histories. But the problem with roses and their stories is that when you start out discussing one tale, it leads to another story about another rose which leads to yet another story about another rose, etc. By the time the authors finished, the four dozen roses had become over 1200.

It’s those stories that make this book so fascinating. Rather than a dry list of names each followed by a short explanation of the person/place/thing for which the rose was named, we are treated to tales of danger, intrigue, humor and pathos, all with historical tidbits thrown in to put it into context.

We visit gardens that no longer exist and gardens that are still going strong. We learn about the game “Rose Alphabet” wherein players must come up with rose names for each letter of the alphabet. Also included are several recipes using rose petals or hips along with the story of the discovery of rose oil in India.

Most of all, it’s the people and their stories. Gods and goddesses, kings and queens, saints and sinners. Presidents, war heroes, painters, fashion designers, actors and actresses. Humbler folk such as family members of rose breeders.

The authors debunk a few legends. My personal favorite is the quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: “I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.” Not true, unfortunately.

A glossary of rose and gardening terms is included as well as a bibliography, both very helpful. The lack of an index was the one glaring omission in this otherwise wonderful book. There is no way to look up a specific rose.

As for the “people” growing in my gardens? Five of them are covered, but you will have to read the book yourself to find out which ones and the stories behind them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sole Survivor

I had this great idea last year as the much-anticipated Pinetree Gardens catalog arrived. Instead of just ordering their luscious red zinnias to be planted in the hummingbird part of my “Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden”, I would also order zinnias in orange, yellow and white.

I would create waves of color. The red zinnias, as usual, would surround the hummingbird feeder. Next to them on either side would be the orange zinnias, followed by the yellow zinnias and ending with the white ones. Very Gertrude Jekyll.

I should know by now that any time I have one of my “great ideas”, it should be duly noted but never, ever put into practice.

Two rabbits moved into my backyard this year. Initially I wasn’t alarmed, having already dealt with a cotton-tail attack years ago. A truce of sorts was eventually reached. They stopped digging up and eating my tulip bulbs and I stopped planting tulip bulbs.

Tulips are a waste anyways. They look great the first spring and then are never seen again. I concentrate on bulbs that not only return every year, but also multiply, spreading color everywhere. Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, grape hyacinths. Can’t beat ‘em.

So when a couple of Peter Rabbit’s relatives showed up this spring, I allowed myself to think “how cute!”. For about 30 seconds. Which is how long it took me to discover that all of the tiny annual seedlings interspersed among the perennials were really a Bunny Buffet.

I start all of my annuals from seed. I fill in the gaps between the perennials with them, creating little spots of color. This year, I had only gaps. The seedlings never made it past their first set of true leaves.

Those waves of color in the Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden? Never happened. I planted the zinnia seeds, was happy to see most of them germinate and thrilled when the seedlings made it to their first set of true leaves. Then I never saw them again.

Literally overnight, every single plant but one disappeared, victims of the voracious rabbits. Perhaps mocking me, they allowed one zinnia to grow. Appropriately it is white, the color of mourning in most Asian cultures.

Blooming in My Garden

Aconitum napellus

I don't know the variety of this monkshood. It was part of a collection of different varieties that I ordered and planted years ago. This is the only one that survived. And this is the first time that it has ever bloomed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Frelinguysen Arboretum

Visiting gardens and arboretums with non-gardeners can be trying so I jumped at the chance to re-visit Frelinghuysen Arboretum today, this time with volunteers from Rutgers Gardens.
First, I give you the Photo of the Day:

As usual, this was one of those “oh, that’s nice, let me get a quick shot of it”. At the time, I was concentrating on finding an artsy way to photograph the architectural details of the accompanying house. Which did not come out as well. When will I ever learn?

There is a rose garden at Frelinghuysen, but my favorite garden is the veggie garden.

I don’t even grow veggies, but if I did, I would want to do it in a garden just like this.

About a decade ago, someone had the bright idea to use the runoff from the parking lot to create a “marsh/meadow garden”.

Today we would call it a “rain garden”. No matter what you call it, it’s still beautiful.

You can see more photos of my visit to Frelinghuysen Arboretum on Flickr.

Morris County Farms

Thankfully, for my wallet’s sake, there are no nurseries like this near me.

I’ve seen heron fountains and frog fountains, but I’ve never seen an otter fountain. Have you?

Not all of the greenhouses were filled with plants. Some had aisles and aisles of holiday d├ęcor, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

This was taken with my cell phone but it still looks good. It was even better in person. I have a terrible weakness for glass Christmas ornaments. I promised myself that I would only make a purchase if I found something really, really unusual. What were the chances, right?

Two words: Big Ben

And, of course, every greenhouse needs a cat.

This one was named “Oz”.

You can see more photos of my visit to Morris County Farms on Flickr

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Got Milk?

After purchasing my first digital camera, I became a real shutterbug. I read about photography, took classes, studied other photographers’ work. I even managed to take a few good photos. As long as I stick to gardens, wild places, inanimate objects, insects, and the occasional butterfly, I’m golden.

No people, though. Not only do they not interest me as subjects, when I do try to take pictures of them, the results look like they were taken by a child. I am also incapable of taking pictures of my cats. Again and again, when they do something cute, I run for my camera only to be disappointed with the outcome. Those cute poses don’t look nearly as cute in my photos.

Today I had an opportunity to shoot some cows. Cows are good subjects. They’re cute and they don’t move around much, right? Well, no.

These were the skinniest, boniest cows I’ve ever seen. Probably not surprising since they were dairy cows and valued for their milk production, not their meat production. And they were terribly muddy. Black and white and muddy and covered with flies. Not terribly attractive.

They also moved around a lot. Every time I had a picture framed and focused, something would move. A head. A tail. An entire cow. It was very frustrating. I did manage one nice shot of a cow peacefully grazing against a great background of fence and trees which was totally ruined by another cow’s bony butt in the foreground.

I thought that I had enough of the offending rear end out of the frame that I could crop the rest out afterwards. No such luck.

So let’s sum up, shall we?

Plants yes, people no
Butterflies yes, cats no
Spiders yes, cows no

The take away here is that I should steer clear of anything warm-blooded.

You can see photos of my visit to Hageman Farm as well as more of my pathetic attempts to photograph cows on Flickr

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Where's Waldo (Feline Edition)

Can you spot the cat in this picture?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blooming in My Garden

The first daffodils of spring.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Signs of Life

If you look closely, you can see that the gardens are beginning to stir.


Bronze Fennel