Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sensational Succulents for Containers

It's hard to imagine a more carefree container plant than succulents. These plants need little water and little attention. But they deliver big in the design department, with sculptural shapes and unexpected color combinations that lend excitement to any decor.  Their flowers - which typically come in winter or spring - are just an added bonus.

As evidence, I submit these beautiful pictures photographed by my talented friend Isabel Gomes. See for yourself why every home should have some succulents.

Containers for succulents are limited only by your imagination. In this Santa Barbara garden, Aeonium 'Kiwi' adds color to Chumash Indian-inspired rock planters.

Mix succulents in different colors and shapes to create bold displays. Tiny, intricate aeonium encircles a larger variety of aeonium in this attractive arrangement.

A simple pot of aeonium adds drama to the garden, especially when paired with cheerful orange nasturtiums.

Portulacaria afra is also known as elephant bush. That's because the plant is a source of food for elephants in its native Africa. But elephant bush looks equally at home in this classic cherubic container, doesn't it?

Want to learn more about succulents? Visit Debra Lee Baldwin's site. This well-known photojournalist writes frequently on these plants, and offers great advice here and on Twitter @DebraLBaldwin.

Learn more about Isabel Gomes at Isabel Lawrence Photographers. Or, follow her on Twitter @IsabelLawrence.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Honest Scrap Award (Or, A Bit About Me)

If you've been following Seasonal Wisdom, you've probably noticed my stories tend to focus on other people. The fact is I'd rather write about other folks and their traditions than myself.

But this post is different. That's because Helen Yoest of Gardening with Confidence and Dan Eskelson of Clearwater Landscapes tagged me for the Honest Scrap Award. They're such nice people, how could I possibly refuse?

The Honest Scrap Award rules are simple. Tell 10 things about yourself. Then ask seven other bloggers to do the same. So, here goes...

A flower lover from way back...

  1. A bit of a gypsy, I've lived in cities as diverse as Boston, Orlando, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Other places I've called "home" include Germany (a small village near the Austrian border); the Idaho foothills and more...
  2. All my travels have led me to appreciate the different ways people enjoy life, celebrate in the kitchen and have fun in the garden. Viva la difference!
  3. I wish I could be a specialist. I really do. But it wasn't my destiny. Over the years, I've written about everything from jewelry history and agricultural issues to intellectual property rights for organizations in the United States, Europe and Asia.
  4. So, what are my favorite topics? That's easy to answer - gardening, seasonal folklore, local foods and healthy living.
  5. Some people collect stamps. I collect seasonal traditions, folklore and superstitions that reveal interesting facts about the way we used to live. Sure, I love the latest trends, but it's the mix of the old with the new that inspires me most. Believe me: history is stranger than fiction.
  6. In warmer months, you'll find me in my "work-in-progress" garden. We grow lots of vegetables, herbs and flowers ... particularly the older, rarer varieties.
  7. To win my heart, it helps if the plant looks pretty, smells good, tastes delicious and plays well with others. Although I've been known to let a few slackers survive...
  8. Local foods are my passion. I'm blessed to live in a state with delicious pasture-raised animals like grass-fed beef, American Wagyu beef, lamb, bison and elk. As for produce, my first choices are always from local growers or my own backyard.
  9. Buying local foods is a topic I write about in Grocery Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2010). You'll also find information about the nutritional benefits of eating vegetables, fruits and herbs, along with tips on planting, preparing and preserving fresh foods.
  10. Incidentally, none of the Grocery Gardening co-authors had ever met in person before working on this book. We first met on Twitter, and communicated mainly via Skype conference calls, e-mail and other technology tools.  Quite twenty-first century of us, don't you think?
So, now that I've shared a bit about me, I'm forwarding the baton to seven more bloggers. But no pressure to participate, please. It's just my way of drawing more attention to your wonderful blogs.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Make a Toast to Wassail

Spices often used for wassail, including allspice, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.
Image by The Gifted Photographer at

If there's a drink that deserves a toast this holiday season - and all winter, really - it's wassail. This steaming spiced concoction is often made with roasted apples; sugary spices; dark ale, wine, sherry or port; along with other warming ingredients.

"Wassail: a liquor made of apples, sugar, and ale;
a drunken bout; a merry song."
Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, 1756

The word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon toast waes hael (or something similiar), which means to "be well." And this drink has long been closely connected with good health.

Since the Middle Ages, wassail was served during the winter season, particularly at New Year's Eve and Twelfth Night (Jan. 6), so that folks could wish fine health to each other for the new year.

"Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and
send you a happy New Year."
The Wassail Song

Make a Toast: Wassail is now a big part of our culture, without us even knowing it. For example, the expression "to make a toast" comes from the toasted bread often served on top of the wassail bowl.

"It was likewise the custom... for the master of the house
to fill a large bowl ... and drink of it first himself,
and then give it to him that sat next, and so it went around."
Gentleman's Magazine, 1784
Bless the Trees: Among the strangest customs was the apple wassail, which dates back to the 16th century. Around Twelfth Night (Jan. 6), English farmers brought wooden wassail bowls to their apple orchards for an annual celebration.

The farmers blessed the fruit trees by drinking to their health. They also put pieces of toast around their roots or hung the toast from the branches. Why? To ensure a good harvest in the coming year. The arcane ritual still takes place in parts of England today.

"Old apple tree, we wassail thee, and hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know, where we shall be, till apples come another year
To bear well and bloom well, so merry let us be
Let every man take off his hat and shout to the old apple tree."
Apple Tree Wassail, North Somerset, England

Recipe: There are many different recipes for wassail. Here's one for you to try. To make a wassail bowl, you'll need:

A big bowl, preferably wooden
3-4 pints of dark ale or beer (other recipes use wine, sherry and/or port)
1/4 cup of holiday spices such as allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom (whole; not ground)
1/4 cup of sugar (to taste)
4 apples, preferably roasted
1 1/2 cup of orange juice
The juice of one lemon
Toasted bread for the top
Lots of good cheer and positive intentions

How to make a wassail bowl:
1. Slowly heat ale or beer. Add spices, sugar, apples, orange and lemon juice.
2. Before the drink boils, remove from heat and serve with toasted bread on top.
3. Serve immediately while still hot.
4. Have fun.

Health Benefits: There's a good reason why wassail was connected with good health, and the spices play a big role.

As I wrote in Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Foods, (co-authored with Jean Ann Van Krevelen, Amanda Thomsen and Robin Ripley) there are plenty of health benefits to eating herbs and spices of all types.

The spices in wassail are no exception. These spices are packed with healthy properties. Allspice and cloves have antiseptic qualities that come in handy during the winter. Cinnamon has been shown to improve the body's circulation, as well as other benefits. And ginger and cardamom both strengthen the digestive system, to name just a few qualities of these spices.

So, make a toast and drink your wassail for good health in the new year!

Learn more about the health benefits of spices.

Explore more about wassail traditions:
The Oxford Book of Days
The Stations of the Sun

Order copy of Grocery Gardening