One of my sisters-in-law always had a number of small, themed Christmas trees on display at her house. It was only later that I discovered she put these little trees away fully decorated until Christmas rolled around again. I thought it was a brilliant idea and created a few of my own. The only one I still have is a Christmas tree that is covered in miniature garden tools: hoes, rakes, buckets, watering cans, even a hand-mower. Instead of a star on top, there is a minute clay pot with a trowel and bit of Hydrangea flowerhead.
Living in Wisconsin meant that I could always find straw ornaments from Scandinavia. As you can see, they are a main element of the decoration.
I loved all the straw ornaments but baskets were my favorites and I collected a nice assortment. Alas, many of these things are now made far from Scandinavia — in China! I haven't seen any beautiful pieces like mine in quite a few years.
Among the special treasures on the tree are some small baskets hand-made of fine copper wire. You can see two of them hanging on opposites sides of the tree below. They were created by Mexican artists and each one had the name of the artist attached to it. I put those tags in the baskets where they remain. They were purchased at the wonderful Seed Savers Store, one of many memorable Monroe St. merchants whose shops I still miss.
Current temperature: 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-5.6 C) but feels like 7 degrees F (-13.9 C). Windy and white outside. We are both engrossed in mystery novels and ignoring the weather since Mark went grocery shopping and got home as it was starting to get nasty out.
For much of the autumn, I had this Chinese vase sitting on the granite vanity top in my bathroom. Every time I walked through the garden and saw another interesting bit of dried material, I clipped it and added it to this arrangement.
But once we hit December, brown definitely looks out of season and sad. So I swapped it out for some holiday glitter. This is a silver vase we bought years ago at a garage sale. It's filled with sparkly and beaded "flowers" that I've been collecting over the years. The little cut glass jar with the silver lid is part of my grandmother's silver dresser set, that is out of the picture at the other end of the vanity. You can see more of that set of Art Nouveau silver here.
I love all the glitter and silver and mirrored reflections. It's a perfect display for New Year's. But this bouquet also requires me to constantly wipe glitter off the counter!
Stop by Rambling in the Garden, the host of this most delightful meme, to see what other gardeners have found to put in a vase this Monday.
Seems like everyone in blogland has gone out to report on what's happening in their gardens this month with odd December weather happening in many parts of the world. We've been above normal in temps and rainfall and below normal in snowfall.
When you live someplace that gets quite cold and snowy every winter, a break like this is a pleasant respite. So nice not to have to shovel snow or drive on slippery streets.
From a gardening standpoint, however, it is a mixed blessing. I love looking out and seeing the green foliage of ferns, Hellebores (above) and Epimediums (top photo). But I am getting nervous about some of the other sights I am discovering in my garden. Here's a late December update from Zone 5 in Wisconsin.
We did have one heavy, wet snowfall of about five inches in late November. The weight of it flattened lots of things that are still green, but some like Carex sylvatica (above) and Lizula sylvatica 'Aurea' (below) continue to maintain their mounded silhouette.
A number of ferns are still standing but none look as fresh and sprightly as this ruffled hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium angustifolium). This has been growing in fairly dry shade for seven years but looks as happy as the ones I have growing in a much boggier spot.
This maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustum) looks as good in December as it has all year. So delicate looking and so tough in reality.
Arum italicum 'Ghost' goes dormant in the summer so spring and fall are its seasons. But I rarely get to see it like this: a clump full of marbled leaves and not hidden by other plants in the garden.
Heuchera villosa 'Caramel' just keeps on cookin'. I'm still picking Heuchera and Heucherella leaves for small foliage bouquets.
Now for the December down side: Newly planted Grape hyacinths and year-old 'Magnet' snowdrops (below) are visibly pushing up.Since these are early bulbs I am hoping it all works out.
Both my newest and oldest Hellebores have big buds fully above ground. They seem to be waiting to see what happens next and I am doing the same!
Happy Birthday to my sister Meg who was born on this day. Yes, I do mean December 25.
During the heyday of New Wave and Punk she was in a well-known West Coast band, Los Microwaves. She's the female vocalist on the left in these monster blow-ups of the band (above). She also played bass guitar.
She's the one in the pix on the far left and in the corner, though someone's head is hiding her face. The band did a reunion tour in 2014. Is she one cool sister or what?!!
In northern climates like the one where I live, most gardeners grow Helleborus orientalis varieties. The Hellebore referred to as the "Christmas Rose," Helleborus niger, is generally not hardy here. But I do grow a H. niger variety known as a Thanksgiving Hellebore. Our crazy weather this year let it bloom and it still has flowers. But they've faded from their original sparkling white to dusty pink, transforming it into a "Christmas rose"!
My father was born on this day in 1919. He enlisted in the United States Navy just after Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941. There's no specific date on this photo but it must have been taken between 1942 and 1945, when he'd have been in his mid-20s. I have the 1943 Christmas Day dinner menu from his ship, the USS Long Island. You can read about it here.
In my family an assortment of homemade cookies was the traditional dessert for Christmas. My sister Meg's birthday is December 25 so she rarely celebrated with a birthday cake. I remember one year my mom did make her a cake and it felt unnatural to be eating cake instead of cookies on Christmas.
Once I moved away from home after college, I started a new tradition when I began to make Linzer Torte for Christmas Eve, which was father's birthday. It was spicy and wintry and yet still not a cake. Then I made a dozen plum puddings for quite a few years. They were a labor of love but I don't have enough friends who like this dessert as much as I do so it fell out of my repertoire.
But winter always seems like the time of year for fancy desserts. I make these roasted pears with candied hazelnuts and a nutty Frangelico sauce every few years because it's fairly easy, tastes good and is very dramatic visually. The recipe came from the November 1997 issue of Gourmet Magazine as the finishing touch on "A Pacific Northwest Thanksgiving."
Though it would be a lovely ending to a holiday dinner, it would work with any winter meal or just invite a few neighbors over for dessert and coffee and wow 'em with this.
. . .
WITH HAZELNUT SYRUP & CANDIED HAZELNUTS
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 firm-ripe Bosc pears (about 2 1/4 pounds total, one pear per person), stems intact
3 tablespoons hazelnut-flavored liqueur like Frangelico
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small heavy saucepan simmer water with 1 cup sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. (Syrup may be made up to this point 2 days ahead and cooled completely before being chilled, covered.)
Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly butter a shallow baking pan.
Coarsely chop hazelnuts. Stir nuts into syrup and simmer 1 minute. With a slotted spoon transfer nuts to baking pan, arranging in one layer, and reserve syrup. Cut butter into pieces. Bake nuts in middle of oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Immediately add butter to nuts, tossing to coat and separate, and with a spatula transfer nuts to a plate to cool Nuts will crisp as they cool. (Nuts may be candied 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Reserved syrup may be kept, covered and chilled, 2 days.)
Lightly butter a shallow ovenproof kettle or casserole dish (about 12 by 2 1/2 inches). With a sharp knife trim a very thin slice from bottom of each pear to enable pears to stand upright. Dip and roll each pear in reserved syrup to coat completely. Transfer pears as coated to kettle, standing them upright, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Add liqueur, lemon juice, and vanilla to remaining reserved syrup and pour down side of kettle or casserole.
Roast pears, uncovered, in middle of oven until undersides are tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes.
Arrange pears on a serving platter. Spoon syrup around pears and sprinkle with candied nuts. Serve pears warm or at room temperature.
Note: I think the hardest part of this recipe is figuring out if the pears are ripe enough when they are still firm. The photo shows my version of the dessert so you can see what a pretty presentation it makes.