~~~~~~~ Uncommon Plants for the Garden Bring Much Joy ~~~~~~~

Photos and top of article by Elizabeth Fiend

Uncommon Gardens.

Even though my garden is big by city standards, there’s never enough room for everything I want to grow. One of the strategies I’ve developed is to grow things that I can’t buy in a store.

Enter Elder and Josta, two delicious nutritious berries (pronounced yusta-berry). Make juice, pies, jellies. Dip the huge elderflower in (soy) milk, drudge in cornmeal and lightly fry up a delightful Flower-Fritter!

For a more adult type of fun try alcoholic infusions. Easier than pie to make, much easier.

Method: fill a big glass jar with flowers or fruit, pour the liquor or wine over and cover. Let it sit awhile. One week, two weeks a few months, there’re no hard and fast rules. When you’re ready strain off the flowers, or use a tomato press to squeeze every last bit of juice out of the fruit.

When I make a concoction out of both flowers and fruit I infuse each one separately. This way I’m straining flowers and squeezing fruit.

Last year I made an Elderflower Gin that was out of this world. A splash of tonic and you have the essence of sunshine in a glass.

This year I’m basing my beverage on the Whiskey Sour. First I’m infusing the flowers in whisky. After two weeks I’ll strain out the flowers and I’ll add the Jostaberries. This I’ll put through the tomato press (or use a food mill) so all the dark, tangy goodness from the berries will stay in my beverage.

We’ll be drinking this mid-summer in the garden with friends. Want to come over?
Elizabeth Fiend

Below find an articles on the horticultural properties of Elder trees and Jostaberrie bushes, and an article that details some of the mythical and magical properties of the Elder.

~~~~~~~~~~ Elder in Folklore and Magic ~~~~~~~~~~
Source: The Practical Herbalist

Elder is a relative new-commer in world folklore, holding her place most prominently in European history and mythos where she has been associated closely with the Celtic faerie lands and those similar otherworldly realms of various European traditions. Elder is sacred to many goddess-traditions and especially to the goddesses Venus and Holle. Most popular among pagan traditions modern and old is the myth of the Elder Mother, a spirit who inhabits the Elder tree and holds the power to work a variety of magics in this world.


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The view from our garden dinner table, makes everything taste twice as good!

If you’re looking for me, check the garden ! I’ll be working, lounging or eating there every week from now on. Enjoy some photos from last years efforts.

Garden and photos by: Elizabeth Fiend

I do so enjoy my hammock!


Sprouting plants from the food in your pantry

Source: The New York Times ~  Written By Michael Tortorello

For an all-purpose garden tool, you can’t beat a full set of molars.

Andrew Montain, a 28-year-old urban farmer, presented this theory the other day in my kitchen as he rolled a nutmeg seed in his hand like a gobstopper.

“I want to crunch into this with my teeth and see what happens,” he said. Maybe it was a shell. Maybe it was a whole seed. He was eager to find out, but first he had a question: “How’s your liability insurance?”

I had invited Andrew to my home in St. Paul not to test his dentition, but to conduct a botanical experiment: If we plopped this nugget in a tray of dirt, would it grow into a nutmeg tree?

What I was imagining was a kitchen garden in the most literal sense: a crop borne of the pantry instead of the usual seed catalog.

For generation after generation of farmers, the staple crops we ate at the table — wheat and barley, maize and beans — were the same seeds we sowed in the fields. They were descendants of the first semi-wild crops that had more or less “‘volunteered’ for domestication,” as Peter Thompson, the British conservationist, wrote in his 2010 book, “Seeds, Sex and Civilization.” These seeds “germinated rapidly, completely, and at low temperatures.”

Today’s farmers, with their pedigree seeds, grow foods that are bigger and more bountiful than the peasant crops of the past. The viability of the seeds these cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables produce, though, is an afterthought.


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GARDEN WREATHS written by Elizabeth Fiend

I recently created two wreaths out of vines from my garden. One wreath is ‘living’ so I guess I could call it topiary. It’s like a magical window I look through to the rest of the yard.

I started it with a hula-hoop, if you look closely you can see the green and white stripe of the hoop. With a piece of string I suspended the hula-hoop above the grape vine, hanging it from the cross-beam of a seating area Mr. Fiend built in the way-back of our yard. At first I tacked another piece of string from the bottom of the hula-hoop to the ground so the wreath wouldn’t swing around in the wind.

Every couple of weeks during the growing season I would wrap and tie down the vines around the hoop, at the same time cutting back vines that were growing in the wrong place. It was slow going at first and tricky to keep the vines growing in the proper direction and I almost bailed on the project. But I kept at it. Three years later it looks smashing. Don’t you agree?

I came up with the idea of using a hula-hoop as a base for the grape-wood circle because when the wreath was sturdy enough I could easily cut open the hoop and twist it out leaving a truly amazing circle of live wood suspended in the air. I think I’m ready to cut the hoop, but I’ll wait until the winter when there are no leaves.


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Henry David Thoreau, Your Own Back Yard, and Global Warming


[Photo By: Elizabeth Fiend. Baby cardinal taking first flight, in my own backyard!]

Article Written By ELIZABETH FIEND

I’ve been reading Wild Fruits, an unfinished, recently published manuscript by American naturalist Henry David Thoreau. The book is a combination of diary and essay, chronicling the ways Thoreau spent his days and what he learned during the final years of his brief life. With each page I get more jealous, wishing I too could spend my day stalking a bee to find its hive and to learn what type of flower the bee drinks nectar from and how that affects the flavor of the honey.

Of all the things I love to do (and I love to do a LOT of things) observing nature is on the top of my list. Fantasizing how I could manage to spend my days doing what Thoreau did, I realized my main stumbling block is that I’m just not as big of a mooch as Thoreau. Sure, he worked some in his family’s pencil factory (in fact, he “invented” the modern clay-and-graphite pencil). But he also spent quite a lot of time not working, crashing at his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house and living on, and off of, Emerson’s land.

I work full time at a library, not some of the time at a pencil factory. But still, I manage to spend quite a lot of time observing nature, especially the ecology of my South Philly back yard. There’s a lot going on outside, even in the midst of a large city. I actually start my observing while I’m still lying in bed each morning — If you listen to the sounds of the outdoors you can learn quite a lot, especially about the birds. In fact, I think I know more about what the birds in my ‘hood are up to than my human neighbors, whom I never see and don’t particularly want to hear.

Phenology — derived from the Greek word phainomai, to appear or come into view — is the study of the seasonal timing of life-cycle events. As the seasons change, so do the actions and characteristics of living things. Phenology is mostly concerned with firsts: the first day the maple trees bud-out in spring, or the first day they begin to show fall color. It is a very, very old science, older than the word science.




These are two of the hawks that visit my back yard which is right in the middle of the Philadelphia. They’re Cooper Hawks. Female hawks are generally much larger than male hawks. The lady on the right has red eyes which means she’s an adult. The hawk to the left still has yellow eyes, indicating he’s a teenager.

These two stop by every few days to relax in the giant holly tree. Sometimes they stay for a bit and take off after a tasty pigeon. Other times, they sit on the branch and snooze the day away.

Generally they only hang out back in the  winter. In the summer we can spy them flying way high, up in the sky, circling and gliding on the noontime currents. We love to see them and appreciate them so much.

hawk three WEB 2015 130 hawk one WEB 2015 033


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Posting and photos by: Elizabeth Fiend


Now that we’re both over 50, everyone asks ‘How do the Fiends stay so youthful looking?” It’s living the good life, which in our book includes eating plenty of colorful, fresh fruit and vegetables.

In the summer we get the freshest fruit by growing our own. Amazing, but we grow the above raspberries, blue berries and black raspberries in our city backyard smack dab in the center of South Philly — yeah the same hood Rocky once beat-up meat in.

Berries are loaded with antioxidants and they taste good, two reasons why we eat them every chance we can. According to Lisa Turner in Better Nutrition “Few fruits have quite the provocative allure, the fragile charm or the nutrients of berries. They’re full of fiber, minerals and vitamins, and loaded with healing antioxidants. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are rich in proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that can help prevent cancer and heart disease. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries contain ellagic acid, a plant compound that combats carcinogens. Blueberries also appear to delay the onset of age-related loss of cognitive function.” [Following is an article describing exactly what antioxidants are and why you need them.]

It’s actually quite easy to grow berries and I recommend it if you have the space and desire. We’ve had the red raspberries for a few years, but this year is our first crop of black raspberries. There were many cultivars to choose from when I purchased my plants — the biggest berry, the earliest to bear fruit, the juiciest. Hard to decide, so I let fate have a hand and got the plant named Allen, even spelled the same way Mr. Fiend spells his name. It was a good choice –it’s big, early and juicy.

web_red_rasp_cu_garden_summer_june_09_047.jpg web_bkl_rasp_cu_garden_summer_june_09_053.jpg

FRUIT FACT:  How can you tell the difference between black raspberries and blackberries? A black raspberry when picked will have a hollow center, just like a red raspberry (see photo above). Blackberries hold on to their cores when picked. And, yes, I’m growing blackberries too. They’re just beginning to flower and will bear fruit in about a month, coinciding with the figs.

How Antioxidants Work
Antioxidants minimize damage to your cells from free radicals.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis.   Source: WebMD Feature.   Reviewed by Charlotte Grayson Mathis, MD.

An apple slice turns brown. Fish becomes rancid. A cut on your skin is raw and inflamed. All of these result from a natural process called oxidation. It happens to all cells in nature, including the ones in your body.

To help your body protect itself from the rigors of oxidation, Mother Nature provides thousands of different antioxidants in various amounts in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. When your body needs to put up its best defense, especially true in today’s environment, antioxidants are crucial to your health.



First Lady’s Organic Garden Concerns Chemical Firms


Source:      Written By Jim Snyder      Posted by Elizabeth Fiend

Michelle Obama planted an organic garden to promote fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet, but some chemical companies are worried it may plant a seed of doubt in consumers’ minds about conventionally grown crops.

“Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical,” the Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) wrote the first lady last month a few days after she and fifth-graders from a local elementary school planted the White House Kitchen Garden.

The garden is designed to produce fresh fruits and vegetables for the first family and White House staff and guests. The garden itself doesn’t give the group heartburn. The letter also congratulates the first lady “on recognizing the importance of agriculture to America!”

But MACA, which represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Crop Protection, is rather less thrilled about the fact that no chemicals will be used to grow the crops. The group is worried that the decision may give consumers the wrong impression about conventionally grown food.


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Obamas ready to start a White House garden

First Lady Plants Vegetable Garden on White House Lawn


Source: Chicago Tribune       

Posted by: Elizabeth Fiend

By Rebecca Cole

This year, the vegetables served at the White House will be as locally grown as possible — right on the South Lawn.

After a campaign by gardeners and sustainable food activists, the First Family has decided to dig up part of the White House grounds for a vegetable garden. In a ceremony Friday, First Lady Michelle Obama and local elementary school students will break ground for the project.

It’s part of the first lady’s promotion of healthy food for her daughters, Malia and Sasha, as well as for the nation. But like many parents, the Obamas have had mixed results: Michelle Obama recently said a version of “creamless” creamed spinach by White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford still was a bit too “green” for the kids.

More than 100,000 people asked the president to plant a garden on the White House lawn, according to Kitchen Gardeners International, a coalition of gardeners whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow their own food. The group’s Eat the View campaign to plant “high-impact gardens in high-profile places” specifically urged the First Family to plant an edible garden within the first 100 days of the Obama administration.


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Left — Kale and chard mingle with other garden plants. Right — Spy my lettuce growing among the Columbine. For the first time I put a net over it. This really helped because the birds were ‘giving it a hair cut.’ Photos by: Elizabeth Fiend

You’ve got your spinach, your bok choy (and a zillion other ‘choys’), your soft, dainty salad greens, yer sturdy kales and collards. Dandelion and mustard greens, Chinese broccoli, broccoli rabe, beet and turnip tops — they’re all part of the green family. I also include green, leafy herbs like basil, mint, parsley and cilantro in the green clan.

Lots of cultures celebrate greens in their cuisine, but with the exception of a few Southern favorites, your Standard American Diet (SAD) generally ignores these powerhouses of nutrition, taste and versatility. Still I was pretty surprised when a well-dressed, intelligent businesswoman said to me, “What you GROW kale in your yard?” And then proceeded to ask how I cooked it. I blurted out, “Like every other green” With a “duh” implied. Geez.


The next second I realized what my new column would be.

Greens! Are! Grand! You gotta get with them this fall and winter (and forever).

If you don’t like greens, you haven’t had them prepared properly. Or, prepared in a way you like. Greens go with or in almost everything. What do you like?

Quiche, omelets (and other egg dishes), burgers, chili (or any dish with beans), tomato sauce (or any dish with tomatoes), potatoes, Indian, African, Asian, Italian food? Greens, they go with all of these foods.

Polenta too. A few slices of baked polenta and a mess of greens, a glass of red wine — you got dinner.

Greens are super foods for sure. They have hardly any calories, a negligible amount of fat (if any) and they’re loaded, I mean really loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Greens are even a great source of dietary fiber.