Finishing our Heirloom Recipe Box

In the last post, we discussed the first half of creating an heirloom seed box to be tucked into a gorgeous pot or given as a gift on its own.  I have chosen the theme of an herb garden, and decorated the fronts of my recipe cards with a detailed drawn picture of each herb.  Again you can use photographs or even pressed flowers if you like, I just like the hand drawn look as it is more personal and this is for a dear friend.  If you would like to use a pressed plant, you need only dab a small bit of clear drying glue to fix it in place, we will protect it at the end by covering the recipe cards with contact paper or laminating them, so they will last for a very long time.

Here are two examples of my cards:

These are the fronts of my Rosemary and Lemon Verbana cards.  When I have laminated them I will attach a small envelope to the Rosemary card with seeds (the verbana grows well with cuttings so I will have to make a separate gift of that).  The detail you put on the drawings is of course, up to you.  I’ve tried to detail what the flowers look like, what the leaves and roots should be like, because I am primarily interested in these being a reference tool.  I wanted my friend to know what a healthy plant should look like, a. because I am a terrible one for weeding, I never know which plant to pull, so I feel like a visual would help other people with similar problems and b. if the plant were not healthy, it’s differing appearance could tell a gardener right away.

On the back should be several short bits of information. 

  • When to plant (whether its a month or as soon as the ground thaws, after the last frost)
  • How deep to plant seeds, spacing of seeds or seedlings and soil makeup (for example, rosemary likes soil with more alkaline properties)
  • How much sun and when to water
  • I included a bit of history or trivia on each card, such as what folklore says about the plant or how it has been used in other times and places
  • Uses (besides being pretty!) and which parts of the plant to use (for instance, lemon verbana’s leaves can be used as a substitute for citrus peel in baking)

Here is a photo of the back of my rosemary card, I also added tiny drawings to decorate the card (scrapbooking elements, tiny pressed flowers or petals, or stickers would be beautiful too).

Add as much information as you can find, you never know what’s going to be useful (in the sowing, growing or harvesting!).  When you are through, simply laminate or encase in clear contact paper.  Tuck the cards into your box, and be sure to leave some blank cards and a little growing room so your friend (or yourself) can add to it down the road.  Make sure to let your friend know to store this box in a cool, dry place to prevent germination of any seeds that are enclosed (the outdoor gardening shed would be perfect).  Once you and several of your friends have these “recipe” boxes, you can trade both seeds, cuttings and recipe cards from your own gardens.  This would make for a very special gift, ensuring long exchanges and friendships.

Have you got any suggestions on making this recipe box more special?  Or how to incorporate cuttings?  Have you got any nice ideas for tucking into gardening pots to be given as gifts?

Please send us photos of your recipe boxes, we’d love to see all the creative ideas and artistic plant drawings out there!


Heirloom Recipes

Winter is a time for dreaming.  Both plants and gardeners take a well deserved rest while visions of next year’s blooms and plums (even if they aren’t sugared) dance in our heads.  It’s a perfect time to plan and prepare, even if our grandest dreams sometimes go awry.  A little extra legwork now can make some of those visions a simple reality, and can provide a very thoughtful gift for garden lovers in your life.

I love to give planters as gifts for my gardening friends, because they are so versatile and come in such stunning designs.  This year’s favorite?

The sueki urn

The thimble pots


The Sueki Urn is ideal for my very special gardening someone and the whimsical thimble pots are perfect for funloving friends and especially children who love gardening, both are available from The Trellis Store .  But I always hate to give planters empty, as attractive as they are, empty planters always feel a little forlorn.  Sometimes I find a nice set of garden tools or gardening gloves, or a few beautiful outdoor books.  This year though, with almost everyone I know crafting something special with their own two hands as a gift, I wanted to create something special and unique, something that people would know was from me.

While I was thinking about this, the Thanksgiving holiday launched upon me and I pulled out my mother’s recipe box for some old pie recipes.  It’s old and yellowed and some of the cards are a little sticky or are softly redolant of pie spices and baking cookies, but it’s one of my most treasured possessions from my mother because it has so much of her in it. 
It struck me that recipes need not only be for food, but could also be for plants.  I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve tried growing a new strain of vegetable or flower and been at a loss for certain bits of information at some point during the process.  When am I supposed to plant?  How much space between each plant? Is this leaf coloring normal or is a disease attacking my plant?  Those kinds of things.  I always give saving the seed packets the old college try, but somehow they inevitably get lost at some point.  So I was thinking of how useful it would be to have all that information in one memorable place, in some kind of order for me to reference.  A sort of recipe box for seeds.  Of course I can always purchase a gardening guide or plant reference book, but that is sort of like buying a generic cookbook.  How much more useful it would be if I had something tailored specifically to my garden, complete with tips, old wives tales, and pretty illustrations (if that’s what I want).  So I decided to try this project for myself and my close friends.
First, I needed to find a box that would fit both the file cards and seeds that I wanted to attach to each one.  I also wanted room for my collection to grow, so I found a large sturdy card file box. 
The one I selected features a seasonal design, since I intend to give it as a christmas gift, but you could just as easily use a photo file box or a paper mache box that can be decorated with paintings or pressed flowers, just as you like.  Any of these options is commonly available at a craft store such as Joann’s or Michael’s. 
Once you have your box and it is decorated the way you like, you will need some index cards.  Make sure to purchase cards that easily fit inside your box with room to spare.  I chose 4 x 6 cards and I will stand them sideways for a nice, roomy fit.

You can use index cards, recipe cards or pieces cut from sturdy paper stock

Once we are through putting down our “recipe” we can laminate them or cover them with contact paper to prevent wear.  This is a good step to take because hopefully these cards will withstand dirt, moisture and general mildewy conditions in a garden shed or right in the garden itself.
Next we need to choose which plants we are going to keep recipes of.  If you are making this for yourself, think of the crops you generally plant each year and start there.  If you are making this as a gift, try to think of a theme.  For example, this time I will make an herb garden box.  Perhaps you have a friend that likes mediterranean cooking, you could fill the box with plants like tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic, onions, and eggplant.  That is not to say you must use several different plants.  If you have a friend that adores roses for example, you could include several different varieties of roses, or even several different bits of advice for just a few varieties.
Once you have chosen your variety of plants,  you can either prepare a small pouch with seeds you have gathered or purchase heirloom seeds for each plant.  Seed Savers is a good place to get heirloom seeds, with reasonable prices and a worthwhile foundation.  Why heirloom seeds?  Hybrids that you get from seed companies are only reliable for one generation.  If you collect seeds from hybrid fruits they may not be viable, but heirloom seeds always will be and this is a project that we want to last for our friends for years to come.  Each pouch should have a seperate type of seed and should be attachable (by glue or staple) to your card, that way, the correct seeds can be placed with their recipe card every year and it will be easy to tell what type you are planting. 
Next you can either use a photo from your own garden of each plant or you can draw your own version (I like the latter, it makes it more personal).  Be sure to draw as many pieces of the plant as you can manage, leaves, stem, flower and fruit or seed sac so that you or your receiver will be able to know at a moment what they are looking for. 
Next time, we will show you some pictures of our illustrated plant recipe cards and talk about what type of information should be on each card . . . so stay tuned!

Making Your Garden Matter

This is a hard time of year for too many people.   Frequently, our neighbors who have been on the margins, whether financially, medically or psychologically experience a turn for the worse around the holidays.  While these days should be ones of health, hope and happiness, too often it means the opposite for some.  While we all look for ways to help throughout the year, the holiday season makes us feel we want to do more somehow.  With all the demands on our time and our wallets, we can sometimes feel stressed or resentful when someone asks us for more.  So here are a few things we can all do while enjoying a favorite hobby, gardening.

1.  Bring your brightest, freshest flowers to the local hospital.  Did you know that research has shown that having fresh flowers in a hospital room can help patients need less pain medication, have lower blood pressure and make them feel less fatigued?  There are too many patients that are without this simple pleasure.  The nurses on any floor can help you find someone in need of a little green cheer.  Not only will the fresh flowers help, it will also help to know someone cares.  Make those blooms count!  We promise that the person you give them to will appreciate them and think them more beautiful than you can imagine.

2. Give your extra produce to a local food bank.  This can be done on a personal level (we all have extra potatoes, zucchini, squash, onions or herbs that we don’t need) or you can organize an indoor Plant  A Row for the Hungry drive to supply food banks with fresh produce over the lean winter months.  You can find info on the Plant A Row program at The Garden Writers Association.   It’s very difficult for food banks to afford fresh produce in winter months, leaving many people to go without.  With just a little extra effort, our neighbors could be enjoying healthy fruits and vegetables year round.

3.   Visit a  local assisted living center or nursing home with potted plant cuttings from your houseplants.  Not only will these plants have the same pain ameliorating and emotion boosting effects as flowers in a hospital room would have, but research has shown the longer a person has the opportunity to care for a living thing, be it plant or pet, the better they fight off depression and anxiety.  Residents with potted plants or pets not only live longer, but have a better quality of life and are more active than residents who do not have this.  Make sure to make the pot small, so that if space is limited the resident can keep it without making their room uncomfortable.  You can always come back for a nice visit to check on how the resident and your plant are doing and bring a bigger pot!  It will give you something in common to talk about and you will make someone’s day so much brighter!

4.   Collect seeds from your plants and donate them and your time to a community garden.  Many urban and suburban communities are recognizing and honoring the value of green spaces.  Chances are, there is an underfunded, undermanned community garden near you.  Not only do these gardens usually need supplies, they also need people that know how to garden and most especially, know how to teach others to garden.  You don’t have to be a master horiculturalist.  If all you know is how to grow potatoes or roses or even just how to prepare soil, your knowledge is important.  Go spend half an hour a week weeding or teaching.  You will be pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic the participants are and your gift of both seeds and knowledge could hardly go to a more worthy endeavor.

5.  Go and care for a sick neighbors plants.  Winter or spring, plants need care.  Some of our neighbors just can’t get around their home or garden easily this year and might need a little help trimming, watering or just shoveling snow to get to their greenhouse.  There is nothing so crushing to an avid gardener than to see their work wither away or spill over with choking weeds.  Not only will your neighbor be much more cheerful with a tidy, healthy space, your whole neighborhood will appreciate it (and hopefully pitch in!).

These are just a few ideas that will cost you little to nothing in both money and time but will result in an astonishing amount of happiness for a few people that really need it right now.  Can you think of some other ideas from the garden that could help?  Do you have a charity that could use a gardener’s assistance?  Send us a note so we can share!

Overnight guests? Making linen smell fresh and fragrant

With a few of your favorite flowers, herbs or any aromatic plants, you can make your own unique linen water or essential oils to make your home smell delicious as only you and your garden can.  Since every flower has a unique scent based not only on species, but also on soil composition, which other plants share its space and maturity, your linen water will be yours alone, no one can really duplicate it.  Today I’ll be using some leftover pine branches from our trellis project to make a pine scented linen oil but you can use any plant with a strong scent that you enjoy.    You will need about two good cups of your chosen plant.  Remember to use the plant part that holds the most scent.  For flowers, this is mostly petals, but for things like rosemary, the leaves and branch both contain heavy scent  or in citrus, most of the scent is in the peel rather than the flesh of the fruit.  For delicate petals or fruit, you will not need to do much in preparation other than gathering your products.  For woody or tough plants like the pine I will be doing or rosemary for example, you will want to bruise the plant to help it get started releasing their oils.  Delicate plants will easily release their oils when boiled, but woody plants need a little help to start.

My fresh pine needles, you'll need about two cups

To bruise them you can crush the plants between your fingers, chop them with a knife or do a very quick burst in the blender.  I just crushed them with my fingers as I pulled the needles from the branch.  You will need a large soup or stock pot, a clean rock or brick, a glass bowl and some kind of cover for the pot (a steel bowl works best, but as a pie pan fits best over my pot, that is what I am using today).  Place the brick in the center of your stockpot and fill the pot with water just until it is almost level with the brick.  Seat the bowl on top of the brick (the brick is so your bowl doesn’t float around the pot.

although you can't see it, there is a brick under the bowl to keep it from floating around

Next, pour your petals, leaves, peels or needles around the bowl into the water.  This is basically a makeshift distillery.  Next we need to make a collection surface.

You will need a sort of cap for your pot that will seal fairly tight (it doesn’t have to be jammed in there, but you want to catch most of the steam rather than letting it go.  If the cap to your pot is not perfectly flat, it will work pretty well.  Simply invert it so that the pointiest part is hanging directly over your empty bowl.  If your pot lid is flat like mine, the next best thing is a curved metal bowl.  Glass is ok but won’t let your distilled waters and oils condense as fast as metal.  As I said, my metal bowl won’t fit, but I found a pan that will work pretty well. 

No peeking after this point!

Put your makeshift still on medium high heat, and when you hear the pot begin to boil you are going to cool down the cap by filling it with ice or cold water.  If your cap is shallow, you may want to place another bowl on top or put the ice in a bag so you can easily exchange it when it is all gone.   Otherwise, you will have to lift the lid and will lose some of your oils and linen water.  As long as the lid is cold, the steam from your petals and water will condense onto it and drip back into the empty bowl, leaving you with distilled water and essential oils.The plants should boil about an hour, but make sure that if the water level is getting low, you take the pot off the heat.  Burnt plant material will make the whole product smell bad (not to mention it can damage your pot) and you will have to start over.  If the plants are boiled too long, they will start to lose their fragrance and though the water will still condense into your pot, it will carry no more oil or scent, making your product more diluted.

When you are through, the liquid in your collection bowl will look like plain water, but it will smell great!  If you want to separate the oil from the linen water, cool your collection bowl and the oil should rise.  If you cool it enough, the oil should become solid, making it easy to skim off.  The linen water is ready to use as soon as it is cool.  Pour it into a spritzer and spray on curtains, sheets, and towels for a pleasant scent (just make sure your guests aren’t allergic to the particular flower you used!). 

If you would like to make hand cream with the oils you’ve collected, Mama Cheap’s Blog has a great recipe, but you may have to repeat this process a few times to get enough oil.  But that’s okay, the whole time this batch was cooking my whole house smelled like Christmas!

Pressed Flower Suncatcher

It’s always sad when flowers we grew or were given to us wither and must be thrown away.  Pressed flowers are an excellent way to preserve the beauty of your plants and the lovely memories that come with them.  Flowers are easy to press, just place them between pieces of parchment paper and place under a large stack of books, flat bricks or any flat, heavy object for a few weeks until they are dry and papery.  You can also purchase a flower press which will perform the same process but more quickly and uniformly.

Once you have these beautiful pressed flowers though, what do you do with them?  Here is one excellent project you can do to make attractive stained glass suncatchers or ornaments for friends.  Use flowers from your own garden or flowers you have pressed from an arrangement they have given you to give it an extra special, personal touch.  Once you get comfortable with the process you can make smaller or larger versions, we’ve even seen earrings and pendants made this way!

Materials for a stained glass suncatcher

You will need a few specialty items for this project, but these tools are now relatively inexpensive and useful for many different types of crafts.  You may be able to borrow them from friends, or if you choose to purchase them, you will be able to find other uses for them. 

You will need:

  • a sautering or soldering iron these can be found in hobby shops, stained glass stores, hardware stores or ordered online.  A smaller version will work best here, especially if you are new to soldering
  • copper foil and metal solder, available online or at stained glass stores
  • flux, available online or at stained glass stores
  • two matching sized pieces of stained glass preferably 2″ by 3″(it can be clear if you like but the ending suncatcher will not have the same gem like quality)  You can buy these from a stained glass store precut or by larger pieces and cut them yourself using the scoring method.  This method is detailed nicely here along with a nice step by step walkthrough of sautering
  • a small paintbrush
  • 5 or 6 of your prettiest, flattest pressed flowers
  • clear drying glue
  • a c-clamp or helper
  • newspaper

Preparing your glass

Once you have your stained glass sized correctly, place them on a clean, dry work surface and thoroughly clean and dry your glass pieces with windex or vinegar, oils from finger prints can prevent the foil from sticking to your piece.  Peel a small section of the backing off your copper foil, just to start it (if you peel the entire piece it may collect lint or get tangled and stuck while you are wrapping your glass).  Begin just past one corner of your glass piece.  Make sure your foil is centered on the edge of your glass square, so that a very little bit of the foil will hang over and fold down on both the back and front of the glass (as if you were gift wrapping).  Press your foil firmly down and fold the overhang down onto the glass.  Continue around the perimeter of the glass, peeling away the backing as you go.  Try to hold the glass in the center as you are doing this to prevent touching the clean edge you are foiling.   When you meet the edge you started at, cut the foil and finish pressing down the edges.  Before you set this piece aside, go over the foil one more time to press out any bubbles and make sure the foil is tightly holding the glass.  Move on to the next piece and repeat the same procedure.  When both glass pieces are foiled, lay out your flowers on one of the pieces of glass.  Colorful flowers will create an attractive pattern, but don’t forget the exotic textures and shadows leaves and ferns can make as well.  Once you have created a design you like, put a tiny dab of glue on each flower or element and affix to the glass.  Don’t worry about sticking your flowers all the way down, this is only to prevent them from sliding while you sauter, the weight of the glass will hold them in place. 

Getting ready to Solder

Next, you will want to brush all the foil with flux.  This is a vaseline feeling substance to help the solder grip the foil.  It’s best to do this with a paintbrush, as it will need to cover the whole foil surface.  After you have painted the foil with flux on both pieces, it’s time to get ready to sauter them together.  While most of this project lends itself to crafters of all ages, sautering irons are extremely hot and this section should be left to an adult helper or crafter.  Place your glass pieces together (if you have chosen textured glass, make sure the flattest sides are facing each other) with the flowers in the middle, lining up all the edges and place it on the edge of your workspace on top of the newspaper.  Affix a c-clamp to your table and gently clamp down your piece.  This is to keep it lined up and pressed together while you sauter, it doesn’t have to be terribly tight, and if you are lacking a c-clamp, have an adult helper press down on the center of the glass while you sauter.  You (and your helper) can use soldering or safety gloves to prevent burns from your soldering iron and metal solder.  These are available at stained glass stores, hardware stores or online.  Your metal solder will look like a coil of heavy wire.  Unwrap a length that is comfortable for you to hold (this project probably won’t take more than a few inches.  Hold your metal solder in one hand (usually not the one you write with) and your heated iron in the other (usually your writing hand).  Place the tip of your iron directly on the foil of your piece (try to split the tip between both pieces of glass so the solder will fill the seam between them and fix them together).  Touch the tip of your metal solder to the tip of the iron.  The metal will melt and fix to the foil.  Keep moving your iron down the foil seam to spread the metal solder and keep touching the solder to the iron to make a raised metal seam (it will look like a series of long bubbles all interconnected).  When you have finished with one side, turn your piece and finish the other three sides.  You can affix a metal hook for hanging by bending a small piece of wire into a semicircle.  Place the hook on the top edge of your piece and have a helper hold it in place with tweezers or small tongs.  Press the sautering iron to each end of the wire and add a drop of metal solder to fix it in place. 

Finishing Touches

When the glass piece is cool (it will only take about half an hour), gently clean off any extra flux with windex or vinegar.  String a ribbon through the hanger and hang in a sunny window or give to a special friend for a unique gift from your garden.