Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wildlife and wild weather!

 Early yesterday morning the back garden could have been dreary. Not a ray of sunshine, a light misty rain clouding the air, grey and somewhat foreboding with the threat of possible damaging hail and tornadoes coming through by late afternoon. Having seen the terrible tornado damage over the past few days, including other parts of North Carolina not far from here, as well as the South and Midwest, the garden was not friendly until I saw him/her tucked under the wing of an angel.

 I like to think this is the same chipmunk who, with its family, hibernated underground in the front garden bed all winter, and is now out and about enjoying springtime.

 Soon he was shuffling about under a bird feeder, joined by a mourning dove……

 ……and then a squirrel, one of a large family nesting in a large oak close by.

Far right you can just see Mrs. Towhee joining the breakfast club!
Playing (well at least eating!) together made the garden so friendly despite the grey weather - and note the quotation on my stone. This was the quote my maternal grandmother actually wrote in my childhood 'autograph book' - anyone recall them?  I have always thought these words perfect and they should be somewhere in all gardens.

 I had to take these pics from the window knowing all would scurry away if I went outside. That tiny 'chippy' is much smaller than a squirrel and boy can it move quickly!

We fared well regarding the storms that went across our state yesterday - terrible flooding in some areas nothing bad here. Today however once again we'll have an ear on the news and weather forecast much of the day - could have severe storms later. Thank you to all the kind friends who wished us well knowing we were at risk…and perhaps still are. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tasty Tuesday #8 ~~~

~~~~~ or, 'an easy cake with clematis on the side'.

OK, the 'unspringable' spring form pan went into the trash can. After the hammering to remove the treacle cake I couldn't face trying to mend it.  Later I'll buy another because sometimes one requires a spring form which works - but I'll look for a foolproof one that doesn't make a fool out of me!
These are the cake pans I love to use - the silicone version which releases your cake perfectly and is easy to clean.

On Saturday morning I baked again, just in case someone stopped by for a cuppa. One of my true favorites is the Raspberry Buttermilk cake. Quick and easy to rustle up, it's a cake for the coffee break, for afternoon tea, or for dessert at dinner.  Add a dollop of freshly whipped cream and it's even more delish!

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tsp sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk - shake well prior to pouring
1 cup fresh raspberries 

Preheat oven to 400F.
Butter and flour a 9" round cake pan (I use silicone)
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking power, baking soda and salt
Beat butter and the 2/3 cup sugar at high speed in mixer bowl until light and fluffy
Add egg and vanilla, beating well
At a low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk - begin and end with flour mixture. Mix only until combined
Spoon batter into the pan, smooth top. Scatter raspberries over the top, sprinkle with the tablespoon of sugar

Bake until golden - 22-25 minutes - and cake tester/toothpick comes out clean. (I raise my oven rack up one level to prevent bottom of cake getting too brown - and find that 22 mins. is perfect for the silicone pan).
Cool in pan 10 mins., turn out on rack and wait another 10 mins. then invert cake on to a serving plate.

You will enjoy this easy to make cake - and of course you could add other berries. I may try strawberries next time now that the locally grown ones are arriving at the farm stands here.

Click to enlarge

Over the past very warm and sunny weekend my clematis opened - I love these flowers. 

This is my entry for Tasty Tuesday this week. Our hostess Penny will have lots of recipes to share from all who participate. Head over to The Comforts of Home and start cooking!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Elephants and Roses~~~~~

It was amazing how quickly this week sailed by. I was busy every day.
Besides gardening, I was cleaning, searching through cookbooks, baking, soup making, flower arranging and shopping.  I entertained a special guest from South Africa………an interesting and exciting country which I've visited twice.  Susan is English but has lived near Johannesburg for many years, but not so long that between us we were soon able to recall so many English things, most of which were food and their often funny names.  We had the family youngsters laughing when we discussed bubble & squeak, spotted Dick, bread & dripping, differences between Bovril and Marmite, tripe and onions etc.

I baked a new cake - a Treacle & Spice Victoria. The guests liked it, I thought it too crumbly. It gave me a terrible time in the morning when refusing to dislodge from the spring form pan - which wouldn't 'spring' and I ended up pounding on the bottom with a hammer to get the darn thing out so I could decorate it with the fresh orange icing!

The lovely flowers, a great buy at Trader Joe's this week at just $3.99 a bunch - two bunches here, mixed roses and alstroemeria (Peruvian lily).  I'm hoping to dry the roses.

You must know by now that I am a great lover of elephants.  I had such wonderful safari experiences with African elephants, including an unforgettable, very cold, early morning ride on one in Botswana HERE, and riding an Asian elephant bareback in Thailand HERE and HERE,
Following those exciting times and to hold on to the memories, I just had to purchase the Pottery Barn elephant pillow shown above on the couch. Then to top it off, Susan brought me this fabulous elephant bag from South Africa - I'm using it now as my knitting bag and I'm really thrilled with it.  Thank you Susan, looking forward to when you return here later this year.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Before and after ~~~~ a lot of work!

Click pics for details

Before - this back corner was looking awfully untidy. Ivy was encroaching on, up and under our potting shed. My own fault though because I planted it with good intentions - to disguise the neighbor's storage shed!  It hasn't made much of a difference on that shed yet, but is growing everywhere else! So this week we spent several hours pulling ivy, raking leaves and then moving what had become more than vintage 'yard art', more like rusty junk!

A few years back I went through a phase of dragging home old stuff for the garden - a bicycle, old shutters, lanterns, windows, wood trellises, a big framed mirror, galvanized watering cans and buckets etc.

Through rain and snow, hail and wind, the yard art gradually turned to yard junk. What was neat and arty suddenly looked a nasty mess ~ and we want to get out from under all this extraneous stuff around the cottage and garden.  Downsizing somewhat, and serious tidying up is definitely in the cards.
To dispose of this oversized junk we requested a 'special pickup' from the city - miraculously they arrived as promised early yesterday morning and hauled it away.

After - it does look much better. I kept the mirror glass, like how the garden is reflected there,
just threw out its rotten wood frame.

Will feel safer sitting on the bench for a garden break now that huge tangle of ivy has gone - snakes came to mind, although we've not seen any yet this spring.

Planted two small potted hydrangeas used indoors over Easter - hopefully they will grow tall there in partial shade, and eventually help hide the old shed. The shallow concrete 'bowl' holds water for butterflies - it was the top of a birdbath until recently, then most of the edge crumbled when I tried to relocate it! Butterflies are already visiting the garden, a good sign.

Coming up next in the garden, planting seeds - herbs and flowers - a few more pots of petunias, a couple of those bright green sweet potato vines, and who knows what else might catch my eye at the garden center…….it's so hard to restrain myself when it comes to plants!

Are you planning a weekend in the garden?
Here in North Carolina the weather is perfect and working outdoors such a pleasure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

After Easter….

Something really weird has happened here this afternoon!
I posted a long, what I thought quite lovely, post for Earth Day at noon - even had some comments - and that post and the kind comments have disappeared, poof into oblivion. Don't recall anything happening like this before!

Instead this post somehow appeared and some of you left comments - I'd not even completed this post and had definitely not published it - it seems somehow the draft has shown up in some bloggers readers!

I did use my laptop at Starbucks this afternoon - perhaps it overdosed on java and is now playing tricks on me!

Has anyone else had Blogger problems today?  
Please let me know if trickery is spreading through Blogland!

A Spring change on the front porch……

The decorated urn in my new header was a spur of the moment/design minute while out in the garden on Easter Sunday afternoon. After a cloudy morning the sun popped out and, although rather breezy, I decided to take a garden walk with my trusty Felco (the best) pruners in hand.

Click pics to enlarge

Are you like me, never certain when to actually prune what? This day I was just doing random nip and tuck in the back area. That meant clipping cheeky invasive wisteria vines creeping into a nearby tree - not good. Some never-to-see-the-light-of-day lower leafless rhododendron twigs required removal. Swathes of ivy draping over the edges of some very big pots scattered around the garden had to be given severe haircuts before taking root in the surrounding ground……the biggest no-no for which my DH is ready to toss ME into the compost bin! Ask him how many hours days he spent last Autumn yanking yards of ivy from the flower beds!

I ended up lifting this huge and heavy urn up onto the potting bench - used for decoration, or supporting a tea cup or wine glass, rather than actually potting - on the front porch. Added an old, fast turning vintage, grapevine ball, the pruned twigs and some of the ivy, and voila something new and quite pretty to welcome any and all callers to the cottage.

Note the fern in the basket in the foreground.  This one of two maidenhair ferns I purchased last week - both to plant in the shady back garden as companions to the bluebells. It's so dainty and bright so decided I'd keep one in the pot here until the weather heats up, then later transfer to the shady ground it apparently enjoys and will eventually spread across.

Perfect weather now for playing in the garden. A little rain has watered the plants and settled the pollen, there are no biting mosquitoes yet, and I've managed to get many outdoor chores done. Next on the list is cleaning out the potting shed……….and painting some small pieces of furniture that have been hiding in there over the long, cold winter months.

What's happening in your garden this week?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Oranges and Lemons…….

I did a double take at one of the more posh garden centers near here last week. This beautiful waxy looking blossom caught my eye. In a little side area there was a line of large plants, some already bearing fruit. I'm sure many of you will recognize this blossom immediately, for others, like me, you will stare at the fruit, then check the tag, and realize California and Florida are perhaps not the only states where citrus fruits can grow. Of course, an orangery, more about them HERE, would be a plus if one plans to venture into raising citrus fruits in a climate such as ours this past six months. Lacking the big bucks required to build a large temperature controlled glass house, I think my weekly mesh bag of lemons will continue to come from the grocery store, those boxes of Florida oranges we pick up at Costco will suffice……and I'll leave the raising to the citrus farmers, thank you very much. 

I do think these are gorgeous blossoms and they smell divine.

Meyer lemons have an intense flavor and are hardier than regular lemons - would still 
need to be brought inside during the winter months here in North Carolina though.

………and then there were these.  
New to me - are you familiar?  Calamondin, a small hybrid citrus fruit - go HERE 
for more about this interesting tree.

However, no matter how pretty, fragrant, tasty or interesting, no purchases of citrus fruit trees this Spring for our garden, just can't take on another thing. We have enough to contend with in the garden now. With long distance travel plans for early Summer, just when it starts to heat up big time here in the south, we cannot start another garden……orange, lemon and lime groves, no way!

Saturday, April 19, 2014



Friday, April 18, 2014

This week at the garden centers………

This week has seen me running back and forth to several garden centers. 
The plants are out, people are buying, gardens all over are looking
good……..well many of them, some people just don't seem 
interested in this particular hobby.  I know from personal experience
gardening is not for the busy, weary, those on a strict budget, and 
older less mobile people. However, even if one cannot add to the 
plantings, I feel anyone with land around their home can at least 
make the effort to keep it tidy and perhaps add a bright pot of 
annual color. It lifts the spirit to see something growing and 
blooming near the front door, it brings the butterflies and bees, the 
birds come and sing their lovely songs, it just makes life more 

This particular 'big box' garden center was definitely big on hydrangeas. I love them and have several growing - mine are all blue. I think these pinks are lovely too but I don't have any place to plant them.

We've just had three nights of temperatures dropping to freezing - Mother Nature you can tease and be somewhat cruel, we curse you at times but thankfully we've survived and my plants seem to be OK. I did have to tuck my hanging ferns, and recently planted window box, into the potting shed, and all around people were running hither and thither covering tender plants with whatever lightweight fabric they could find.

Click pics to enlarge

This morning the sun is shining, it's warming up, I'm going into the garden now. I will point, Bob, my ever patient DH and unofficial 'master gardener', will dig another hole or two, and together we'll add a couple more azaleas - don't forget this is the south y'all, and what would our southern gardens be without azaleas!!!  Mulch will follow, lots of mulch, before the torrid heat of the southern summer arrives. Yes gardening, as I said, is not for wimps, it's hard work, but it pays off big time when you drive up to your home, let out a big sigh, and know your efforts have paid off. We'll be gardeners for as long as we can.

Are you a gardener? Do you do your own or have assistance from a professional?
What are you planting this spring?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April Note Card Party……..

My Easter and Springtime theme for this month's note 
cards spotlight my white china bunnies.
Each year I love bringing them out from their storage 
box tucked away in the attic, unwrapping the dozens of 
sheets of tissue paper they nestle in through the 
remainder of the year, and placing them around the cottage.
I think you can see how happy they are!

The bluebells and jonquils are the flowers I'm 
cutting from the garden this week.

Joining Vee's fun Note Card Party for the month of April.
Pop over to visit all the lovely cards here at 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tasty Tuesday……………..

Flatbread with Fontina cheese, caramelized red onion and figs.

Easy peasy if you need something quick and tasty for a luncheon or simple supper.

A flatbread/pizza crust
Red Onion
Olive oil
A few dried figs

Thinly slice a large red onion and sauté in olive oil with a smidgen of sea salt until lightly browned and soft - stir constantly so as not to burn.
Take a Stonefire (my favorite) flatbread/pizza crust - I keep a couple in the freezer - cover with sliced Fontina or other cheese you have on hand.
Add the caramelized onion.
Thinly slice the figs and scatter on top.

Bake in oven on rack according to flatbread instructions.
Remove when done and add arugula - healthy and pretty - tossed with a little olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

Click my version to enjoy - then rustle up your own!

I'm joining Penny's Tasty Tuesday - 
go see all the delicious recipes on her blog The Comforts of Home.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wonderful wisteria…………………

Spending a little time each day working outside in the garden. 
Much to get done whilst it's warm and mostly bug-free, however the pollen 
is quite heavy now and the landscape has taken on a yellow fog, and my 
sneezing is almost constant.
The azaleas are opening gradually and should be ready for Easter. 
 My wisteria bloomed this weekend, not a lot of blooms (perhaps due to 
the very cold Winter) but still pretty and the fragrance delicate and lovely. 
Soon it will just be an arch of pale leaves over the arbor.  

Click on pic for pretty wisteria close-up