Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Proudly Introducing: Healthy Innovations

Hey fellow readers! It's been quite some time since I've posted and Celtic Gardens is alive and well. I have some really exciting news to share! I've started a new business! Introducing Healthy Innovations, a holistic diabetes management education and nutrition counseling online hub. Check out the website  at: The website is launched with updates arriving daily! Stay turned for a new blogspot for Healthy Innovations, too!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Icicle Works

Greetings Wild Indigo readers and welcome to 2016! Here at Celtic Gardens Mother Nature has aimed her wand wielding a most icy spray. The affect was a magical crystalline landscape.

Dew of the Sea
The large mound of rosemary hasn't met her match despite being weighted down by the ice.  Its name comes from the Latin rosmarinus, "dew of the sea," referring to its blue flowers and rosemary's Mediterranean habitat on cliffs above the sea.
Coral Honeysuckle
Have care: impalement warning!

Since the photos were shot Celtic Gardens has shed her icy crust and breathes a sigh of relief. A small branch from the cedar out front fell but we escaped without substantial damage. However winter is far from over!

Stay tuned for more Celtic garden mayhem and as always may happiness be a ray of light in your minds, body and soul!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Holidays to One and All!

Happy Holidays! As the end of 2015 draws to a close, before the last grain of sand falls from the hourglass, the last Wild Indigo blog for 2015 includes a collage of photos from both oddities found in the Celtic Garden as well as magnificent photos taken in a curious exhibit in Pittsburgh, PA.

First before we begin let me just thank you readers, who span the countries of Poland, Turkey, China, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland and France to name a few, including those in the States for reading the musings of this blog. Whether it be for information, fun or the photos, thank you! Its been fun researching, photographing and sharing my thoughts with you.

Now here in North Carolina our current weather pattern is bewildering to say the least. Meteorologists are forecasting 80 degrees on Christmas Day! Its currently raining cats and dogs outside and with the balmy temps I'm crossing my fingers the trees and flowers won't be duped into emerging from their very short hibernation!

Case in point: I think some of my plants are confused.


So for the first time ever, the Celtic Gardens will have blooming nasturtiums just in time for Christmas!  The yellow variety bloomed in November but the red variety is currently in bloom with more flowers on the way!

And much to my delight the sage plant in the crescent moon garden is also blooming! These deep purple almost black flowers have a velvety appearance and small showy white stamens inside the flower. Not sure if the local bees will enjoy this botanical delicacy but other curious pollinators sure will.

Decking the Halls Coma ~ Fa La La La La
Photobomb courtesy of Annie Mae

 Phipps Conservatory, located in Schenely Park, Pennsylvania is a treat for any botanical enthusiast. The gardens, founded in 1883 by Henry Phipps, was gifted to the City of Pittsburgh but currently is operated by a non-profit organization. Turns out Phipps gets its green not just from the exotic plants inside or membership fees. The entrance way is LEED certified (Silver level) whereas the actual greenhouse received Platinum cert and is the first and only greenhouse in the world to receive such recognition.
Phipps Conservatory Main Entrance

There are fourteen rooms to explore ranging from palm gardens, sunken gardens, spicy gardens and tropical forest gardens. One of my fav's was sitting in the stillness of the cool night air watching the carp mull about in the outdoor Japanese Garden. You can read more about the facility and check out their blog here.

Star of Bethlehem
Crocodile Cheers
"Wishing Well" in the Parterre de Broderie

Desert Room
Tropical Forest Conservatory

South Conservatory
Brilliant Outdoor LED Light Display

As 2015 winds down to a halt we at Celtic Gardens wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season filled with laughter and joy with friends and family. 2016 holds much promise and we're looking forward to our bright future!

And as always, may happiness be rays of sunshine in your mind, body and soul.  Cheers!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Autumn Flutterings

Greetings Wild Indigo readers! How are you? The seasons are changing here at the Celtic Gardens. Aside from the deluge of rain earlier in the month - to the tune of 24" over a ten day span - we've been seeing much cooler seasonal temperatures. Recently roof tops have glistened with a frosty sheen as well as some blades of grass depending on what part of town you reside. Our flowers and plants remain untouched but sensitive plants have been brought inside for safe measure.

In case you're a fellow star gazer the Orionids are active this time of the year, peaking on October 20, but still visible through November 7. Haley's Comet pretty much says "eat my dust" to the big blue marble so the Orionidic debris are the resulting meteor showers. The best times for viewing are just after midnight or just before dusk. I remember seeing Haley's Comet in the skies back in the early 90's. It was spell bounding to look up and see the fiery ball of light and long tail streaking through the sky. Haley's next Earthly appearance will be in 2061.

So whether we're catching rain droplets or falling stars the Celtic Gardens have officially entered the alluring Fall season. Leaves around the neighborhood are changing into glorious crimson, magenta, rusts and reds, particularly on dogwood trees. Maples are turning greenish yellow so against the pines they are a sweet display. The crisp morning air gives way to warm rays of afternoon sunshine permeating the air with the fragrance of Fall.

The myriad of summer birds, hummingbirds and butterflies have dwindled which is usual for this time of year. Sulfur butterflies abound and I happened to photograph this Fritillary butterfly the other day. I think it OD'd on passionflower nectar because catching a photographic moment was like herding cats! It fluttered any which way but loose all camera shy until my presence was acceptable. Then it was all like, "girl, hit me with your best shot."

Interestingly enough, at first glance, I mistook this beauty for a Monarch butterfly which was entirely plausible seeing the red milkweed is still blooming like gangbusters.  Fritillaries are commonly mistaken as such and it wasn't until I noticed the dorsal wings that I knew otherwise. As you can see the underside of the wings are strikingly similar to that of a monarch. Fritillus means chessboard or dice box and so Fritillaries are aptly named. This patterns serves as camouflage when at rest in shady spots.

Like fennel to swallowtails, violets are the caterpillar's preferred garden staple.  But the butterflies aren't so picky and enjoy my zinnia's nectar. Female butterflies of this species emit their own version of Love Potion #9 - a pheromone - to attract the opposite sex. They mate in the summer and afterwards  momma can lay up to the tune of two thousand eggs at a time - now that's a labor of love folks!

Back in September the fennel was teeming with eastern black swallowtail caterpillars who nearly ate every last frond! On that particular morning over fifty of the little guys happily munched away to their hearts content but later that afternoon every last one had vanished.  I mean    * P O O F *    Now in the past I've personally witnessed the obliteration of these docile creatures as wasps annihilated their bodies in a feeding frenzy. Knowing full well this is nature at work, still, its no less comforting. So I wondered what happened. Since food was getting pretty scarce, did they form a search party and skedaddle in search of bounty elsewhere? I may never really know but I am happy to say a lone ranger has been located!


As I was tidying up the deck I flipped over this willow basket whose location was turned upside down on the deck floor near the fennel plants. For some reason I turned it over and look! This little one latched onto a twig and has entered hibernation! Now I've seen chrysalis before but only during the summer months. Admittedly we've had a warm Fall so perhaps this one means to emerge sooner rather than later but hopefully the cool evening temperatures signal to remain safe inside until better days arrive.

And now for something completely different ................. the Sustainable Neighbor Fall Garden Tour will be on hiatus this year but be sure to look notices come Spring 2016. Stay tuned for more garden mayhem here at the Celtic Garden. Our beds are full of Fall/Winter offerings and updates will continue.

And as always, may happiness be like a ray of sunshine in your mind, body and soul.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Bunches of Basils!

Greetings Wild Indigo readers! After a somewhat crazy few weeks schedule wise I've squeezed in time to jot down the long awaited basil pictures and info.  I've been wanting to put these pics and thoughts into the blog all summer long so to celebrate the final weekend of summer, viola!

What garden is complete without basil? This versatile herb, grown for its lush aromatic foliage, is a staple for both landscaping and container gardening. Belonging to the Lamiaceae plant family (which also includes mint, sage, lavender, rosemary, oregano and thyme to name a few) these handsome plants are easy to grow and generally have high yields for culinary delights ranging from pastas and eggplant to teas. Not only is basil a staple ingredient in such classic Italian dishes like caprese and bruschetta but basil's popularity largely associated with Mediterranean cooking is of the likes of none other. A little known fact about basil: it's not native to the Mediterranean region. In fact it was brought over via the spice trade routes from India.

Enter specimen #1: Ocimum Sanctum

May I proudly introduce to you: Tulsi. Otherwise known as "Sacred Basil" in Hindi this basil has been a staple in Indian culinary fare for centuries. Now Tulsi basil leaves possess a most unique scent. To me its a delicate cross of vanilla meets honey with a twist of that traditional basil aroma. Its leaves are slightly fuzzy and thicker than common sweet basil which stand up nicely in teas and beverages. Just brushing up against Tulsi stirs the fragrant leaves and when its in bloom its the best party in town! Perhaps you've heard of Holy Basil tea? While fighting a summer cold I plucked a handful of  Tulsi leaves and with the addition of several varieties of mint leaves the result yielded a delicious hot tea. Simply put the leaves in a cup and add hot water. Steep until the desired strength and/or color is achieved then sip. A touch of honey also soothes sore throats. Traditional Tulsi tea only uses the basil leaves and yields a lovely honey colored tea with a flavorful taste to match. Concerning the plant itself, benign neglect wins the day! However it is happiest in loosely organic well draining soil. Nearly 50 seeds were sown to yield this one plant so be generous and patient come spring when trying to germinate Tulsi basil. It has grown to at least 20 inches across and roughly 3 feet in height. It has far outgrown any other basil in the basil bed so its stealth is admirable. This is my first growing of said basil and measures to root plants for overwintering are under way.  I highly recommend this culinary delight!

From India, basil traveled on the backs of many a camel and spice trade caravan into Europe eventually finding its way into Asia, specifically Thailand. If you've ever ventured into a Vietnamese or Korean eatery Thai basil is a staple ingredient.  Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora) has a stronger more pungent flavor - almost anise. But it flavors pho and Asian dishes with amazing culinary flare.

Enter specimen #2: Cinnamon Basil

Mmmm ... Cinnaminaminamin
Now Thai basil can be referred to as cinnamon basil but the cinnamon basil plant (Ocimum basilicum cinnamon) holds its own presence in the basil kingdom. The plant has striking dark burgundy almost purple stems with matching veins in young leaves. Also known as Mexican Basil it contains the same chemical that gives cinnamon its flavor. (methyl cinnamate) Now the leaves aren't as wide as common sweet basil and appear to be a bit longer and narrower all told. Again these are hefty leaves that stand up well in teas. In the garden its a common companion plant for roses and tomatoes to deter white fly populations. According to Wikki, cinnamon basil became a cosmic hit when the space shuttle Endeavor delivered it FTD style for LEO experiments in the International Space Station. Cool!!!! I've used this basil in the makings of a simple syrup and mixed with a spirit or two the heavens roared in applause! Simply take a handful of cinnamon basil.  Steep in boiling water. Discard leaves (the compost worms enjoyed them!) then add organic fair trade sugar until the desired sweetness was achieved. Mix spirits of choice accordingly and sip preferably under a starry sky. Salute!

An uncommon basil which is not stocked in typical home and gardening establishments like Lowes or Home Despot was found on the humble trays at Bloomers Nursery in Sanford is the next featured basil in my collection.

Enter Specimen #3: Pesto Perpetuo

Ocimum Citriodorum: (a.k.a. Basil delicioso!!)

As you can see this ain't your Father's basil! The variegated leaves add to the beauty of this plant and are much smaller in length and width than traditional sweet basil. But man does it ever pack a flavorful punch! As the name suggests, Pesto basil is best suited for pesto making.  I made up a batch and froze it for later use in stews, soups and yes traditional pesto pasta. Here's the basic recipe I used.

Now this basil is a bit mysterious to me. I've never seen one flower so therefore yielding seeds has eluded the Celtic Garden. Growing cuttings is an option to attempt overwintering plants until spring so we'll see what the future holds. Perhaps the magical Pesto Perpetuo fairies will grace the Celtic Garden with their presence and gifts.

Enter Specimen #4: Sweet Basil

Oh Mickey you're so fine.... you blow my mind ... Hey Mickey!

And here it is rounding out the fourth and final basil variety in the basil beds, Ocimum Basilicum makes its grand blog entry. Now comparatively the leaves are wide and long with the familiar emerald green color and glossy sheen. In fact the longer they grow the stronger their flava! Though not as tough as Thai or Tulsi, sweet basil is strong enough to be rolled up with a thin slice of fresh mozzarella and dipped in eggplant tapanede. Goes great with a nice shiraz. Sweet basil is the grandest of basils due largely to its cultivation popularity and renowned culinary reputation. You just can't go wrong cooking with basil paired with fresh garlic, olive oil and heirloom tomatoes for a quick and easy pasta sauce. Again, this garden staple is worth its weight in gold.

One more note about basil.  Its relatively easy to propagate from seed and root from cuttings. All it really needs is organic well-drained soil and plentiful sunshine. To encourage a more bushy plant cut the main stem early on to encourage side growth.  Pinch off flowering buds and pick the leaves frequently. For with each leaf picked two will grow in its place. (two for the price of one!) For storage its best dried though I've heard of folks storing basil as olive oil infusions and freezing basil in ice cubes.

That wraps up this week's blog edition. By the way stay tuned for info regarding the annual Sustainable Neighbor Fall Urban Garden Tour. Details TBA.

And as always may happiness be like rays of sunshine in your mind, body and soul!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Garden Variety Bat Man

Greetings Wild Indigo readers! Its Friday and another weekend is upon us and another work week behind us.  But for avid gardeners like ourselves our work in the garden is never done! If you're like me you'd might as well have the Cannon Power Shot glued to your hoe since the best shots of nature are unexpectedly spontaneous.  Now I've been putting off for weeks my basil series namely due to the fact that there have been so many other pop up events and critters occupying blog space. This week's photos are no exception as we explore a "black and yellow" themed blog so on we go.

Enter exhibit A: spidy and baby.  Commonly known as Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope Aurantia are a distinctive "garden variety" arachnid as noted by their golden and black abdominal markings. The name means "gilded silver face" from which nature has provided not one, not two but eight eyes to meet their visual needs. This gal has her web cast between the fennel stems. There's a section in the middle of the web with a thick zig zag stitch (I doubt any sewing machine could stich one like it) called stabilimentum where she tends to hang out. Notice her young-in by her side. She encased a brown wasp with mercury man speed as baby takes the apprenticeship role, observing momma in action. (baby's notepad and pencil not photographed)

Ain't no itsy bitsy Argiope Aurantia. That's MRS to you young lady!

Admittedly this next photo is blurry but functional. I've been trying all summer long to get a shot of both the male and female Eastern Golden Finchs together but since he stood out against the flowers this photo was the easier of the two.  There seem to be two pairs of male-female golden finches enjoying the zinnia flowers both in the front and in the rear gardens.  They are territorial as one male chases after the other as well as his female mate from the flower beds.  They'll be heading to Mexico on their migratory vacation soon but we'll have those zinnias ready for next years buffet!

It's amazing how insects can take a licking and keep on ticking.  This poor yellow tailed swallow (minus the yellow tail) has sustained substantial damage yet it just fluttered amongst the zinnias like it owned the joint.

Enter exhibit B: Moon and Stars Heirloom Watermelon.  Now this is my first attempt at growing watermelon and oh what a beauty this one turned out to be! Before cutting it from the Mothervine I noticed another growing nearly adjacent to the large one and snapped a quick shot.  I particularly enjoy the yellow speckles distributed on both the leaves and fruit. 

After weighing this puppy on the digital scale I was pleasantly surprised to find it weighed a modest 17 smackers.  Not bad for my first watermelon. Oh but wait until you see the inside!

Lovely flesh you have there, daaarling!

What impressed me most about this luscious morsel wasn't just its delicious sweet flavor or the one-of-a-kind yellow interior, not even the refreshing juice dripping from my chin but .....

Before storming the castle

.... the seeds! See ... hardly any to speak of and if you look closely the seeds have a black tip so yes folks even the seeds were pure novelty specimens.

After storming the castle

I've never even seen a yellow watermelon let alone grown one so for me - and you're talking to a girl who can't for the LIFE of her grow a freakin tomato  - this was the summer's Celtic Garden First Prize blue ribbon trophy, hands down.

That's it for this weeks installment.  Catch me at the City Market this weekend for some soaps and sundries.

And as always may happiness be like a ray of sunshine in your mind, body and soul. : )

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Nectar of the Gods

Greetings Wild Indigo readers! Last week was pretty crazy so in lieu of the missing post last week my focus this week will be heavy on info with pictures as the highlight. August has arrived and with it comes some lovely flowers which have just bloomed in the Celtic Gardens.  Now hard core gardeners are always keeping their eyes peeled for curious and unusual botanical additions.  Most of the time road trips to Big Bloomers in Sanford are in order for such pleasantries. But for this gardener all I have to do is periodically check in down at the City Market on Saturdays to see what exotic offerings LITFM has for sale. This week's post will focus on the recently purchased Red Asclepias Tuberosa. That's right folks, I said RED!

Asclepias is the genus name for all milkweeds and is derived from the ancient Greek physician Aesculapius and refers to the medicinal properties of the roots. Asclepias extract is an ingredient in medicines used to treat asthma, dyspepsia, and coughs. American Indians used cooked milkweed for food and medicine. Unopened flowers, immature seed pods, and young shoots may be boiled in several changes of salted water. When served with butter, they resemble asparagus.

Milkweed, in particular the orange flowered species, tends to be a native local variety.  Common milkweed was also called wild cotton, Virginia silk, and silkweed. These old names elude to the many utilitarian uses people have discovered for the fluffy contents of the seed pods. The early settlers stuffed mattresses and pillows with it and during World Wars I and II the downy filling went into life preservers and flight jackets. Also known as Butterfly weed and chigger plant, milkweed is a perennial in this locality and is considered to be a wildflower as well. 

If you ever saw photos of the seed pods you can well understand why "weed" is part of its name for its silky hairs could carry the attached seeds for miles on a windy day. The process of pollination to grow these seeds is pretty tricky. According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, milkweed flowers are hermaphroditic (they have male and female parts) but they require cross-pollination by insects to form seeds.  Enter the pollinators into the equation. The sweet nectar of the Gods from the flowers attracts bees, wasps and flying insects. They enter the crown of the flower and walk along the petals toward the food source. Their feet slip between the petals into a narrow opening where pollinia are hidden. Pollinium are horseshoe shaped with a tiny pollen sack attached to each end and a u-shaped handle in between. (kinda reminds me of a Michael Kors handbag but whatever!) The insect hooks its leg onto the handle thereby dislodging the pollinium and carries it to another flower. When it lands the insect again slips its feet into the narrow opening, but this time when it pulls its leg free the pollinium comes loose and sticks onto the stigma of the female flower part. Viola! Pollination achieved! One to five flowers from each umbel become fertilized and produce a seed follicle. This fleshy and pale green pod is covered with soft-pointed bumps. The follicles grow to 5 inches long and 1½ inch (4 cm) wide, drying and turning brown when the seeds mature in late summer and fall. Then the pod splits lengthwise, releasing the flat brown seeds. Each seed has a tuft of silky hair (pappus) attached and is easily carried aloft by the wind. And now, thanks to the fine people at Penn State for their information, we come full circle.

Where O Where are the dubious Monarch Butterflies? Seriously, it's been years since I've laid eyes on a single one.  Years ago while visiting Maui, Monarch butterflies were strikingly plentiful, adding to the mystic of the islands. But now, at least here in Fayetteville, to me they are just a fond memory. The dwindling  Monarch Butterfly population may be due in part to modern American farming practices, namely the use of glyphosate herbicides. (BTW: ordinary household Roundup Weed Killer contains this ingredient) This broad based weed killer used especially in corn fields where milkweed is a common accompaniment effectively kills weeds in the field to include the Monarch's preferred habitat, milkweed.  Now as stated earlier, milkweed can make a pest of itself in a farmer's field. But said weed control has drastically cut down the habitat of these beautiful insects.

The King of the Butterfly needs a surge in plants which support their natural habitat to encourage their migration. Informative sites like this one give great tips to help restore monarch habitation and encourage Monarch migration back to its hay day. And be sure that you don't mistake this caterpillar for a pest! : )

Now getting back to the cautionary sides of growing common milkweed plants. When any part of the plant is broken a sticky white sap oozes from the wound. This sap can cause a red itchy rash and if it gets into the eye can cause significant cornea inflammation so its best to wear gloves during handling and pruning while being mindful to keep the gloves away from your face. If some suspected sap gets on your hands then promptly wash them with soapy water. Common milkweed (Asclepias Syriaca) contains cardenolide which is chemical steroid and a cardiac arrester. Concentrations of this chemical vary from one milkweed species to another. But Monarchs use this chemical to their advantage for as they consume milkweed leaves this chemical builds up in their bodies and makes them toxic to predators. So if a bird ate a Monarch butterfly or caterpillar it would throw up. How brilliant!! But considering its usefulness the Celtic Garden is quite pleased to call this plant a staple despite its potential danger but more on that in a minute.

So let's unveil the goods, shall we? I love these star-shaped buds and look at that gorgeous red color!

 They're just starting to open up. What a treat!

The plant started from a single stem and is now branching out at the sides.  This plant has a long tap root so when looking for the perfect spot be absolutely sure, for uprooting and moving it to another spot could kill the plant.

That winds up this weeks post. I hope you enjoyed reading through it and tapping into all of the provided links it as much as I enjoyed researching this post. Stay tuned for more wild and wooly Celtic Garden adventures as we begin winding up for our Fall garden while caring for Summer's harvest.

And as always, may happiness be a ray of sunshine in your mind, body and soul.  ; )