Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Does Your Garden Grow?

with Lee McKenzie and Helen DePrima

This month we're chatting about two of our favorite things: gardening and writing. We hope you'll join us!

HELEN:
Good morning, Lee. Warm weather has finally arrived in New England after about ten minutes of spring. I've been congratulating my perennials, especially my roses, for surviving one of the worst winters in recent times. Now the rush is on to get my vegetables up and running for a good harvest while trying to grow my next book for its September deadline. Tomatoes, beans, squash and apples from my heirloom tree will all demand attention just about the time I'll need to polish my manuscript.

Helen's Irises
How are the growing and writing progressing on the Pacific coast, Lee?

LEE:
Hi, Helen. I love roses, so I’m happy to hear yours survived the harsh winter! Your irises are looking lovely, too. We had one of the mildest winters on record, and harvested the last of the winter kale about a month ago. One of my favorite things about the west coast is having a winter garden.

My current writing project has well-established roots (I know my characters’ backstories well) and lots of tender new shoots. But I can’t say it’s come into bloom yet because the hero and heroine haven’t realized they’re falling in love. Or if they have, they’re still keeping it a secret. When I’m hung up on a plot point, Finnerty Garden at the University of Victoria one of my favorite places to wander and reflect.

The pond at the University of Victoria's Finnerty Garden
Helen, what variety of heirloom apples do you grow?

HELEN:
A local orchardist tells me I have a Red Gravenstein apple, a volunteer that showed up in our woods and is now thirty feet tall. It bears only every other year so beginning in August I start to make enough applesauce to last for two years. I placed this tree behind the barn in my book Into the Storm, scheduled for release in December, so my characters can enjoy the bounty as well. Beets and potatoes are now sprouting in the raised garden bed where my spinach wintered over—such a treat to pick fresh greens as soon as the snow melts. And of course it's rhubarb time; I really should make a rhubarb upside-down cake, pretty as a mosaic.

Helen's wildflower garden
I'm well into the second book in the Cameron's Pride series; I do a lot of "writing" while digging in the dirt.

LEE:
We have a very old heirloom apple tree in our backyard. By old, I mean at least sixty years, and it may be older if it dates back to the dairy farm and orchard that was replaced by this neighborhood in the 1940s. It’s one of the King varieties, possibly King of Tompkins County, and lives up to its name by producing extremely large apples.

I can attest to it being rhubarb time. I baked a deep-dish strawberry-rhubarb pie for our family brunch last Sunday. It was a large pie and there were no leftovers!

One of the heroine’s in my Riverton trilogy is an avid cook—apple strudel being one of her specialties—and I’m working on recipes to include in these books. I don’t know how readers feel about this, but I love to read books that have recipes in them.

Late-spring rhododendrons at Finnerty Garden
To round out our gardening theme this month, Helen has a special giveaway for one of our readers—luxurious gardener's hand soap and lotion –and Lee is offering one of her backlist titles (winner's choice). To be eligible to win, just post a comment below. We'd love to hear about your garden or anything else you love about springtime We’ll post the name of the lucky winner on Saturday!

Happy reading! Until next time,

Lee and Helen

45 comments:

  1. Beautiful garden pictures!! Springtime where I live in NC is such a beautiful season and I love the blooming flower trees that dot the landscape. There are bursts of color everywhere!! I just wish it lasted longer. I would love to garden but I'm afraid the little critters and animals that roam my yard will destroy them, and I'm allergic to the sun so the effort is very difficult for me. So, in the meantime I enjoy the fruits of everyone else's labors. Congratulations on your upcoming book releases, and thanks for the giveaway opportunity. ( :

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    1. Laurie, I love springtime, too. Here in the Pacific Northwest it starts in February so it already feels as though we're well into summer. Critters can wreak havoc on gardens here. Our backyard is deer-proof but nothing seems to keep out the racoons. We can't grow corn because the little rascals knock down the stalks and feast on the cobs before they ripen!

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    2. Ah yes, the visiting critters. Fortunately the root-eating voles didn't attack my roses over the winter and my chipmunk population does no harm to my veggies beyond stealing a few cherry tomatoes. No woodchucks yet and I hope it stays that way. Soon I'll see our wild turkey families out back; they love to dust-bathe in my pumpkin patch.

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    3. Congrats, Laurie! You're our giveaway winner this month! Please Helen and I are delighted to announce that Laurie Iglesias is the winner of this month's giveaway! Congratulations, Laurie! Please contact me via my website www.LeeMcKenzie.com and give me your mailing address. Helen will send your gardener's hand soap and lotion and I'll give you the backlist titles I have available.

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    4. Thank you so much!! I'm so truly grateful and excited about the win. I've already contacted Lee McKenzie via her website. Thanks again. ( :

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  2. You had me at 'garden,' ladies! Gorgeous photographs, too! Hope your Thursday is wonderful! :-)

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    1. Thanks, Loree. Right now my raised bed crops are in their infancy, but my pole beans are already demanding support. I plant purple beans as well as my faithful Kentucky Wonders, easier to spot in the green foliage. This year I'm also trying honey dew melons for the first time.

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  3. I love the garden photos! But now I'm hungry for strawberry rhubarb pie at 9:00 in the morning. :)

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    1. Dana, I see absolutely nothing wrong with having pie for breakfast! Thanks for joining us today!

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    2. Dana, here's my recipe for rhubarb upside-down cake. I arrange the rhubarb segments like a mosaic -- very showy when turned out on a plate.

      RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

      1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
      About 12 ounces trimmed fresh rhubarb (do not use frozen rhubarb)

      2 large eggs
      1/4 cup granulated sugar
      1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
      few grains salt
      1/4 teaspoon baking soda
      1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
      1/2 sup all-purpose flour

      9 x 1 inch round cake pan

      Heat the oven to 350 F. Cut the butter into small pieces and scatter it over the bottom of the ungreased cake pan. Let soften while you continue preparations.
      Trim the ends of the rhubarb and discard any leaves. Wash and dry the stalks. Cut them into 1 inch lengths. You need 2 1/2 to 3 cupfuls.

      In a large bowl, beat the eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt with an electric mixer at high speed for about 5 minutes, until very thick and pale. Beat in the baking soda.

      Meanwhile, spread the softened butter thickly over the bottom and lightly up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bottom. Arrange the rhubarb in concentric circles on top of the brown sugar.

      Sprinkle the flour over the surface of the egg mixture. Fold in gently but thoroughly with a rubber spatula.

      Spread the batter evenly over the rhubarb. Bang the pan two or three times on the counter to remove any large air bubbles. Bake until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. (Be careful not to over- bake. There is very little fat in the cake and it can get dry if overbaked)

      Place the pan on a wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and invert it onto a serving plate. Let cool at least 1 hour before serving.

      This is a very light dessert, only 1-2 T. of butter and 1/2 cup of sugar total.

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    3. I've never had rhubarb, so I'll have to try this!

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  4. I loved reading about your gardens, ladies. Thank you for sharing, and best wishes with your WIPs!

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    1. Thanks, Kate. Weeding gives me time to plan the next chapter.

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  5. The one thing I miss is my rock garden back in New Jersey – the wisteria rapped around the fence, the peonies, the violets, and the iris – all enjoyed with my neighbor and a cup of tea. Thanks for sharing the lovely pictures.

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    1. Sounds lovely, Marion. Gardens are definitely meant to be shared :)

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    2. Gardens are a lot of work but very satisfying especially when enjoying the bounty in mid-winter. My butternut squash down cellar lasted until April.

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  6. Lovely pictures! Makes me want to plant something and I don't have a green thumb!

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  7. I do not have a garden. I do have a Forsythia that has blown down and been replanted several times and looks a little like some Bonsai experiment gone wrong. I have an old rose, too, and when the trellis blew down, I wove the growing vines through the balusters in our railing, and it's really kind of pretty. I'm imagining both of you looking a little like Diane Keaton in 'Baby Boom' the winter she puts up applesauce. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and am wishing you good fortune with those characters who aren't sure what they're doing. Thank you, also, for the permission to have pie for breakfast.

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    1. LOL, Muriel! You have a very blustery garden by the sound of things. A very good reason to have pie for breakfast, if you ask me.

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    2. Old roses are a joy, not as fussy as the fancier hybrids. And I wish I looked like Diane Keaton! My applesauce has a secret ingredient no one suspects: apple skins. I don't peel my apples so the red skin yields a beautiful rosy product, sweet with no need for sugar or spices.

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  8. I do not have a garden. I do have a Forsythia that has blown down and been replanted several times and looks a little like some Bonsai experiment gone wrong. I have an old rose, too, and when the trellis blew down, I wove the growing vines through the balusters in our railing, and it's really kind of pretty. I'm imagining both of you looking a little like Diane Keaton in 'Baby Boom' the winter she puts up applesauce. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and am wishing you good fortune with those characters who aren't sure what they're doing. Thank you, also, for the permission to have pie for breakfast.

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  9. Fun post ladies! What a neat contrast between New England and the Northwest. I love Victoria--one of my favorite places for a vacation get-away. Gardening seems to be a universal hobby there? Just walking around you see so many beautiful gardens and plants and flowers everywhere! I'm going to put Finnerty Garden on my list for my next visit.

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    1. Finnerty Garden is lovely year round, Carol. And it's free!

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    2. PS: Let's get together for tea next time you're in Victoria :)

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    3. I envy Lee her mild winters and extended growing season. Seed catalogs arriving just after Christmas are sanity savers as the snow drifts waist high.

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  10. Ladies, your gardening talents are amazing. I envy you. Nothing much grows in my yard but cacti. One of them blooms a lot, but due to nothing I've done.
    Helen: when I grew up in Oregon we had Gravenstein apple trees. They make the best pies and applesauce. Some say they're too soft to ship well, which is why they aren't in stores any more. Looking forward to those grown books, too.

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    1. Roz, I would love to have a cactus garden! Some succulents do well here, but I've only had success with them in containers with soil that drains well.

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    2. Roz, believe it or not, we also have a cactus garden here in New Hampshire, a few high-elevation opuntias that reward us with blossoms every summer.

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  11. What gorgeous garden pics! I'm devoted to gardening and love everything about it. I remember visiting Washington when I was 6 months pregnant with my first. We also took a ferry up to see the Butchart gardens in Victoria. OMG they were incredible. I still want to go back.

    As for my garden, one of my dogs was acting strange and fidgety/irritable yesterday evening. This usually happens when she has gotten into wild mushrooms :(. Well, I didn't see what she'd done before coming in for the night, until this morning. She'd dug up my entire flower bed under one of my crape myrtles. We're talking a massive, deep hole with at least 30 tulip bulbs dug up and scattered everywhere. Sigh. I had them planted by color in a pattern. Now, they're just buried however I could fix things. I won't know what it'll look like until next spring lol.

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    1. Rula, is your dog's name Gardener by any chance? LOL!

      The Butchart Gardens are truly spectacular. The Abkhazi Garden is another amazing garden in Victoria that's well worth a visit. http://blog.conservancy.bc.ca/properties/vancouver-island-region/abkhazi-garden/

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    2. Your dog may have been channeling my uncle who fried up a batch of tulip bulbs my aunt had stored in the fridge. He said they did taste a little funny but fine with plenty of salt and pepper.

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  12. Lovely photos, and I'm definitely making that rhubarb cake. My rhubarb is about to push my house off the foundation, so i need an excuse to cut some.

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    1. Helen's cake does sound delicious, Beth. I'm going to try it, too!

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  13. I have a recipe for spiced rhubarb bread I'd like to try -- in my spare time! Plain stewed rhubarb on ice cream is a treat as well, sort of the official start of summer in New England. I'm always tempted to relocate my big plant to my front perennial garden. The leaves are handsome and the flower heads would be a nice dramatic statement.

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  14. Just looking at your pictures makes me wish I didn't have a black thumb. *sigh* At the present I have two small pots of petunias that need watering and a peace lily I've had since 1997. The lily surprises me every year when it makes it through the winter. It's the only thing I haven't kille. lol.

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    1. Patricia, I love having plants in pots and other containers. One of my neighbors has mobility issues since having a knee replacement, so her husband built several table gardens for her. Each one is 3' x 4' and about a foot deep - essentially large boxes on legs. She grows lettuce, carrots, green onions, etc., and is able to do all of her weeding, watering, thinning and harvesting from a standing position. I think it's a brilliant idea!

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  15. I loved reading about your gardening and your writing, ladies! What beautiful pictures! Lee, I also love to read books with recipes in them! Thank you for sharing your rhubarb upside-down cake recipe, Helen!

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    1. Thanks for joining us today, Britney! I have several recipe cards that go with some of my backlist books. If you're interested, feel free to drop by my website and send me a message with your mailing address. I'll be happy to pop some in the mail for you!

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  16. Patricia, your lily should give you hope. Maybe it would like a friend or two for company. And I feel a petunia attack coming on -- the new ones blossom all summer without being pinched back constantly. Yes, today I'll go buy petunias -- thanks for the nudge.

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  17. What beautiful pictures! We have five varieties of irises that bloom in mid-May. My seven-year-old daughter (whose birthday is May 22) announced this year that they were a gift from God for her birthday! They are so vibrant and beautiful. My only wish is that they bloomed longer! Thanks for sharing, ladies!

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    1. What a lovely way to look at flowers. Thank you for sharing your daughter's wisdom, Christy.

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  18. Helen and I are delighted to announce that Laurie Iglesias is the winner of this month's giveaway! Congratulations, Laurie! Please contact me via my website www.LeeMcKenzie.com and give me your mailing address. Helen will send your gardener's hand soap and lotion and I'll give you the backlist titles I have available. Happy reading, everyone! See you next month!

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