Italian Tortellini Soup

I am going to start this page by sharing an award winning soup recipe. Italian Tortellini Soup. Award winning you say? Yes that is right, award winning!  The office where I used to work holds an annual soup competition. Employees prepare entries and each office selects their favorite soup, and sends the winning employee to the regional soup cook-off. This recipe was my office’s winning soup and at the region competition it was declared the overall regional winner. Great recipe! My supervisor was so delighted when my recipe won that she and another co-worker plastered my wall with pictures of soup cans. It brightened the office for a couple of weeks.

Where did the recipe come from? We had a neighbor who had Italian family roots, and she shared this soup with my family. We loved it. That was about 10 years ago. I’m glad that I asked her for the recipe. She gave me a copy of her family’s cookbook, The LaFrance Family Cookbook. You’ll love all the healthy garden produce that is the highlight of this recipe.

(I have a little secret–over the years I adapted the recipe to simplify the preparation and to take advantage of the bounty of my summer garden all year long. I now make the recipe with my own homegrown tomato sauce, which makes it extra delicious. I’ll share the adaptation soon, it is not included in the recipe below. What follows is the inspirational recipe that was given to me.)

Italian Tortellini Soup

Ingredients

1 lb. Italian sausage (bulk or remove the casings)

1 cup onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 2 cans diced tomatoes)

5 cups beef stock or canned beef broth

1-8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 large zucchini, diced

2 large carrots, thickly sliced

1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced

½ cup of 100% grape juice

1 tbsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. dried basil (or 3 tbsp. fresh)

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

8 – 10 oz. fresh cheese tortellini (results are also good with frozen tortellini)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Fry the Italian sausage in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl.

Remove all but one tablespoon of sausage drippings from the Dutch oven. Add the onion and the garlic to the Dutch oven and sauté until translucent. Return the sausage to the Dutch oven. Add the stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce, zucchini, carrots, bell pepper, grape juice and the herbs / spices. Simmer on low until vegetables are tender.

Add the tortellini to the soup and cook a few minutes until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with a sprinkle of with Parmesan cheese.

Pruning Fruit Trees

Saturday was sunny and not too cold, the perfect weather for pruning our fruit trees. Does pruning also hold a bit of mystery for you? I have studied the topic, and while the basics were clear, it remained a mysterious art to me for years. Even though the authors offered guidelines, photos and some diagrams, because those images didn’t look like my trees, I was still left uncertain. By applying the guidelines and my limited sense of esthetics, I started experimenting. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I still often wonder whether I’ve done it “right.” I am not yet an expert home orchardist, but I am learning. The trees are healthy and we get good amounts of fruit, so I know I’m doing some things well.

What have I learned?

  • I prune the fruit trees during the late winter while the plants are dormant.
  • Because I know that a blunt tool can lead to unintended damage to a tree, I sharpen my tools frequently. This step also makes the work easier.
  • To prevent the spread of disease, I keep my tools clean and the cutting blades disinfected. I repeat this between trees. To make this easy, I use bleach-free disposable wipes.
  • I know how to use four pruning cuts (pinching, heading, thinning, shearing) as appropriate and I understand each will result in corresponding change in the growth of the tree.

Pruning Resources:

Pruning Basics from OSU Extension Service

Pruning Your Home Orchard from OSU Extension Service

Fruit Trees: Training and Pruning Deciduous Trees from UC Davis Cooperative Extension

Disinfect Your Tools to Prevent Disease

 

The dormant season is also an ideal time to plant trees.

  • You can purchase trees sold as “bareroot” plants, growing in containers, or with their root ball wrapped in burlap.
  • I prefer bareroot trees for two reasons: 1.) they are relatively lightweight which makes them easier to move and plant, and 2.) the roots are visible such that I can determine their condition.
  • I have planted fruit trees from containers, and those trees have flourished for the most part, but I have also found trees for sale that had been in the container too long and had developed circling roots that could strangle the tree, and wouldn’t venture far into the surrounding soil leading to a less healthy and potentially unstable tree.

Planting Resources:

Planting Your Bareroot Fruit Tree by UGA Extension

Planting Bareroot Trees from Fine Gardening Magazine

 

Garden well,

The Midnight Gardener

Beautiful Basil

Basil is beautiful for so many reasons. Shall I list them for you? OK, just for you:

  • Basil has an amazing aroma and flavor. It has the ability to transform a simple dish into something spectacular.
  • Basil has a gorgeous appearance–it is like a beautiful houseplant but is one you can also eat.
  • Basil is great for your health. It is high in Vitamin K and offers smaller amounts Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. It’s aroma will lift your spirits.
  • Basil will regenerate. That is right. Clip off  a bunch and even more beautiful stems and leaves will grow back.
  • Homegrown basil is beautifully easy on your purse. The only cost is a few dollars for a seed packet and a bit of soil. Store-bought fresh basil will only provide enough leaves for 1 or 2 meals, and at a steep cost of $5.00 or more.
  • It is beautiful that a flush of basil leaves growing now can be preserved for use later. I slice up the leaves (see chiffonade of basil) and then stir in a quality olive oil until well coated. I loosely pack about a tablespoon of this mixture into the cups of  mini-muffin tray, to about 3/4 full. I add a bit more oil to cover. Then I take the tray to the freezer overnight. I remove these “basil hockey pucks” from the tray and store them in a freezer bag. Later, when I want to add basil to a dish or sauce, I can simply add the quantity I need from the freezer. Coated in the oil, the basil is preserved such that when used, it is closest to fresh. In this way, I have fresh-tasting basil all year long!
  • Basil is truly beautiful to grow, and it will add what my daughter, Keepsake Collector, calls a “pop” of gorgeous green color to your kitchen.

We grow basil year round–you can too! I promise. It is so easy and it takes very little time.

Steps to Grow Basil

  1. My favorite basil variety for cooking is Geneovese. I also like growing other varieties. Select which kinds you want to grow and purchase a packet, or get one of the packets that has mix of several types.
  2. Fill a 6-8 inch decorative houseplant pot with moistened potting soil. Firm the soil down, adding more as needed. (If you have seedling mix, you can improve germination by add 2 inches of seedling mix in a layer above the potting soil.) You should have 1-2 inches of space left between the soil and the top edge of the pot.
  3. Plant 6 or 7 basil seeds in the dirt. They should be scattered evenly, not just in one spot. Add a very thin, light dusting of soil to barely cover the seeds.
  4. Cover the pot with a layer of plastic wrap to keep things moist.
  5. Place the pot in a sunny windowsill or under indoor plant lights where it will receive 8-10 hours of strong light each day. All will be ok if the soil gets warm, but avoid locating the pot in too hot of a place or nothing will grow (I use plant lights and a heating mat with a plant thermometer that together keep things at about 80 degrees.)
  6. Wait. Practice patience. If the soil was moist and you keep it covered with the plastic, you shouldn’t need to add water until after the seeds germinate.
  7. Germination can take 5-10 days. When you see the tiny green seedlings begin to emerge, you can check the conditions. If all is moist, keep things covered for a few days longer as the tiny seedlings get their start. Then uncover the pot.
  8. Watch the seedlings. If your light source is insufficient, the seedlings will shoot up in search of light and become fragile and leggy. Also, watch the conditions of the soil. Add water before the surface of the soil begins to dry out. (I use a spray bottle for the first weeks as the subsoil will still be moist but the first few inches need to be misted.)
  9. Depending on the brand, there may be some slow release nutrients in the potting soil or there may be very little. If I am uncertain, I begin to add diluted liquid fertilizer with each watering (25% of the strength described on the product) after the seedlings are about 2 weeks old.
  10. Because germination won’t be 100%, I encouraged you to plant more seeds than is advisable in a small pot. After the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall, select the best seedlings and cut out any others that could compete and create crowded conditions. The pot in the photo below is 6-1/2 inches across and is full with 4-5 plants. IMG_5358
  11. To achieve a bushy plant full of leaves, basil plants should be “pinched.” Without this step, the plants will grow along a single main stem and develop very few leaves. I start once the seedlings have 3 or 4 sets of leaves. I use my fingernails to “pinch” the main stem just above the 3rd set of leaves, being careful not to damage the tiny waiting buds that form in the leaf nodes. I use the trimmed leaves in my cooking. Additional details and photos can be found in How to Pinch Back Basil and Make Pesto.
  12. Once the weather is warm enough for tomatoes to be planted, take your basil starts out to the garden too. Plant them in a rich bed of soil and continue to maintain similar conditions and continue to pinch the plants as they grow. You’ll be amazed by the results. Enjoy!

Start with Good Seeds

Long before it is time to plant seeds, while it is still winter outside here in western Washington, there are steps you can take to get great results in your garden. What planning do you do now?

My planning starts with reflecting on the prior year, and establishing a plan for the coming season.

  • What crops grew well, and what didn’t?
  • What were the biggest successes at the dinner table? Anything we didn’t like?
  • Did we grow too much or too little of anything?

The next step in planning for me is learning about and acquiring seeds. While I buy a lot of seeds, I also grow and save some of my own seeds and I swap seeds with other gardeners. I rarely buy anything from the seed racks at the national retailers however. Large-scale seed suppliers offer their top quality seed to farmers. Home gardeners aren’t their top priority. In my experience, such seeds lead to limited success and considerable frustration.

Over the years I have had the best results by selecting high-quality varieties that are adapted to my climate and region. For example, I live in the U.S., north of Seattle, Washington, where we have relatively mild winters and a late start to sunny, summer conditions. I have to select early varieties and perhaps use season extending techniques. If I were to choose plant varieties that require a long growing season, nothing would be ready for harvest before end of the season.

Instead I buy from seed companies who cater primarily to small-scale growers and home gardeners. The best suppliers also operate regional trial grounds and conduct regular germination tests. Take a look at one of their seed catalogs and you will note that such companies distinguish themselves by offering fantastic culture information about each plant. Reading these catalogs will provide a gardener with a lot of information about the advantages of different varieties and the way in which the best grow them.

This is a list of my favorite seed companies:

Garden well,

The Midnight Gardener

F is for: “Fluffy Soil”

Hair: brown hair, blonde hair, black hair, white hair, auburn hair, strawberry blonde hair and today there is blue hair and sometimes even pink hair too! My hair: bright, bright, the brightest of bright-red hair; the not-so-good color of red, that garish-stand-out red color. This is a hair color that works in some people’s favor because they have a firecracker personality to match and they are fine to stand out. As a young person I did not want to stand out, but on the night of this memory I was a teenager at a dance and I did want someone to notice me and ask me to dance. No one did. I stood alone at the edge of the dance floor. All of my friends were invited by boys to join them and dance. Who knows why no one came over; my mind at the time blamed the fluffy, over-permed, (you know what I am talking about my 80’s friends) bright-red hair!

I am a late bloomer when it comes to believing in myself and recognizing who God knows I am becoming. Through much of my life I was convinced that I was not good enough, had little talent, and that no one liked me. In a way I was so “me” focused that I thought everything was about me. I mistakenly thought everyone noticed everything I did and said, and they thought it was all flawed. Hopefully we all know that this kind of anxious thinking just isn’t connected with reality. It has taken time and extremely difficult experiences involving this same hair that I am now seeing myself as inherently good—divine even.

To explain further let’s consider two staples in any kitchen garden, fluffy soil and home grown carrots.

Have you ever seen homegrown carrots that are gnarled and forked, like when three carrot roots grow from one carrot top? What happens to cause these carrots not to grow to their ideal potential of long, straight roots? My husband (The Midnight Gardener) has explained to me that during the first weeks after sprouting, a carrot seed sends a fine, thin root deep into the dirt, which if it doesn’t meet obstructions such as compacted soil or stones, will grow straight without becoming stunted or forked.

When he first built our garden boxes my husband spent hours screening our gravel-strewn soil through a homemade soil sifter with the help of our oldest daughter. I remember thinking, “What a waste of time! Those bits of stone are tiny.” I felt annoyed with him and the unnecessarily meticulous and slow process. What I have since realized is that while his preparations with the soil took a lot of time, it was not time wasted because only fine, fluffy soil will grow garden vegetables as glorious as they are meant to be. My favorite carrots happen to be purple and when they are grown in the finely screened soil of our garden boxes, they are delicious, truly divine. Our oldest daughter, Clever Girl, the one who sifted all that soil, eats them straight out of the garden box.

Oh, and by the way, if you visit our garden please do not walk on my husband’s fluffy garden soil—stay on the paths or risk a scolding! Because the soil slumps over time, he aerates and maintains our garden beds each spring with a broad fork.

Returning to my fluffy, over-permed red hair…I hate to bring up the word cancer, but it is one of those words that has been a part of my life since the age of 13. Ovarian, lung and skin cancer have rocked my world and been the cause of the battles that helped me recognize and access the divinity within myself.

When I was thirteen I was thrust into a frightening fight with ovarian cancer. I underwent surgery, during which doctors removed a grapefruit-sized tumor and the affected parts of my body. Surgery was followed by three months of chemotherapy treatments. During the 1980’s cancer patients, especially children, were required to stay in the hospital during these treatments. I was in the hospital for a week, then could be at home the next—this pattern continuing during the three months.

Near the end of the treatment, I noticed that my hair had begun to fall out when I brushed it. So I stopped brushing my hair altogether. My hair next began to snarl into knots. Finally, when only a few strands held the snarled mass to my head, my mom and I sat in the shower as I sobbed and she gently removed what was left. After that, I wore a wig to school until my hair grew back.

Years later, at the age of forty-two, I had to subject my body once again to chemotherapy treatments. This time it followed a diagnosis of lung cancer. One morning I startled awake to the feeling of hair against my face. With dread in my heart I noted the many hairs on my pillow. It was at 4:30 a.m. when I woke my husband. It had become my determination in the preceding weeks that this time it would be up to me when my hair came out. I had made my decision. I asked my husband to shave it off right then. I wanted it done before the children awoke.

In those next moments he became known to me as the “Great Beautician.” Why? Because he took the time to use the clippers, then an electric razor, and finally shaving cream and a razor to leave my head nice and clean. He kept my spirits up by talking about funny things, and he told me, “You look beautiful” when I felt truly hideous! My practical (read: “cheap”) husband has teased me off and on throughout the years that I didn’t need an expensive hair dresser because HE could cut and color my hair. (And this from the man who did my daughter’s hair like Farrah Fawcett one Sunday when I had early meetings, and who brought her to church like that, with a part down the center and those feathered wings, and who, when I accused, “She looks like Farrah Fawcett from the 70’s!” cracked a naive smile and responded appreciatively, “Perfect! That is exactly the look I was going for!”) In response to his offers, I would just laugh, roll my eyes and change the subject! But, on this early morning with gentle curls of my red hair strewn on the kitchen floor around his slippers, I considered him to be a great beautician, my best friend and the love of my life.

Over the months that followed, my lack of hair was a daily reminder of my diagnosis. My 7-year-old daughter offered this unvarnished observation, “Momma, you look like an alien.” One morning when I came downstairs without a hat on, my 6-year-old son looked away and pleaded, “Mom, I am going to turn away and when I turn back around, you will have your hat on.” I laughed at each comment, instead of crying because they were both oh, so sincere. I did wear many cute hats instead of a wig, as I had done as that 13-year-old bald teenage girl. Thoughtful family and friends knit, sewed or bought me lovely hats. And you know, I began to realize something about myself—looking at my altered self each day in the mirror, I started to realize that I was beautiful with hair or without hair. I recognized something deeper and I began to understand my own worth through God’s eyes.

“Boo hoo” to all the self-esteem books out there. We are endowed with divine worth! As children of God we have a deeply-seated and intrinsic value. I began to understand that I needed to love and forgive myself more. I needed to stop deleting every imperfect photo of myself, for example, and eliminate the belief that I looked awful every time my face appeared on my phone’s screen. “Ahhhh!” I used to scream when I saw myself on the camera. I try not to do this anymore, but change is hard! I am however, seeing myself more and more as He sees me. I am striving each day not to let my potential for growth be stunted by overwhelming negative thoughts about myself. I am asking you, and telling you, that you can do the same. We must stop stunting our growth by stamping down the fine, fluffy soil within us—we must remember that we are created by a perfect God!

I want to be loved by the people that surround me—we all do, but more and more I am caring less and less what others think of me. And maybe no one will ask us to dance, or like the looks of our freckles, or our hair, or enjoy every word that we speak, but to me it just doesn’t matter. I know I am a daughter of God and what He thinks of me and how I feel about Him is of greatest value to me. As this knowledge sinks more deeply into my heart, I find more peace and I feel less fearful and worried.

Who He intends for us to become is beyond anything we can imagine. The sifting here on earth, for me and I am sure for you, has been and will continue to be difficult, tedious, and yes—plain old hard work. We may continue to have moments when we doubt ourselves. But, over the past two and a half years of recovery, I have heard His words in my mind over and over again, “Trust me.” In Psalms 91:2 we read, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

My friends—believe in Him, trust Him and rest in His love. For when we meet Him face to face again He will not care about the state of our hair but He will recognize the condition of our hearts and want to know that we trusted in Him.

**If you are new to my site please click the Welcome tab to understand more about What can He grow?

What’s Growing? Strawberries

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February Happenings:

February weather started with snow and has ending with snow. What about your weather?

Our garden has been covered in snow during much of February so very little gardening had happened until our family  went to the Snoqualmie Valley Seed Exchange. We try to go every year. It was exciting to meet up there with local farmers and casual gardeners. We met one family whose gardening passions led them to create the non-profit Dirt Reborn, which organizes volunteer-led organic gardens in order to give away hundreds of pounds of fresh garden produce to those in need.

We bought ten strawberry starts (Seascape, a popular day-neutral variety) from them! These ten plants were my first outside plantings of the season. I just had surgery on a problem left foot, so I planted the strawberries while wearing a calf-length medical fracture boot, half covered with a plastic bag to keep my foot dry It was a beautiful sunny day and I felt alive again! What a great day back in the garden.

In the Northwest, February is the perfect month to plant strawberries. You may have noticed that the strawberries in the grocery stores are finally tasting sweet and delicious again, after a couple of lousy berry months. Yum!

A few strawberry planting ideas:

  1. Plant strawberry starts not too deep but deep enough that the roots spread out well. The crown of the plant should be just above the soil.
  2. Strawberry runners will spread out from the plant and take up quite a bit of space, so plant strawberry plants at least 12 inches apart.
  3. When purchasing strawberries, consider buying several varieties–some which produce a flourish of berries in the spring (June-bearing), and others which fruit throughout the summer (Day-Neutral and Everbearing). How delicious to have strawberries ripe for picking all season long!

P is for: Sweet Peaches With a Sprinkle of Sugar and Extra Cream

IMG_5158[1]P

In 2013, I called a friend of mine and asked her if she would teach me how to bottle fresh peaches. I had done this with my mother as a child, but was uncertain if I was ready to take on the task alone for the first time. My friend happily agreed and we spent one delightful afternoon together bottling sweet peaches. Some of the peaches weren’t quite ripe, but my friend reminded me that this wouldn’t matter because once sugar was added, the peaches would taste delicious. She was so right–but I wouldn’t discover the deeper truth of this statement until one year later.

In 2014 I spent months in treatment for lung cancer, both chemotherapy and radiation treatments, five days a week. Radiation treatment involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. The trouble is that the rays may also need to pass through other structures and tissues before reaching the target cancer cells. My esophagus and surrounding areas of my chest had to be exposed to radiation, which led to an acutely sore throat and extreme difficulty swallowing during the latter part of my treatments. It became nearly impossible to eat anything other than soft, bland foods or liquids for a number of weeks. To make things worse, the chemotherapy treatments caused most everything to taste and smell bad.

There were few foods that I could eat without great difficulty. One of those foods was sweet, bottled, peaches–either plain, with cream, or made into peach smoothies. I had only canned twelve bottles of peaches the summer before, and when I reached that last bottle I felt distress as I still had weeks of treatment to complete. The same friend had driven me to my treatments once a week, and I told her how the peaches she taught me to can were helping me to survive my eating woes and that I was on my last bottle.

image-2A few days later, as I returned home from treatment, I found a large box on my front porch. There was a homemade note from my friend. I opened the box and found 12 beautiful bottles of peaches. She had taken the time once again to teach me, and this time the lesson was about giving and serving. It takes a lot of time to prepare and can food, but her efforts were such a sweet blessing to me when I could eat very little. Her service enabled me to continue eating as I finished my treatment. Friends give so much and make the challenging times taste a little sweeter, just like adding a sprinkle of sugar and little extra cream to delicious peaches!

My Late Night Habit

I appreciate Jen’s invitation to offer some insights to you here on her blog. What she wrote is true–I have spent hours in the garden late at night when all is dark except for the rich brown soil just within the circle of light being cast by my headlamp. I do admit to having set up, on a few occasions, a pair of portable work lights with their dazzling halogen bulbs so I could flood a swath of the yard in 1,400 watts of near noonday brilliance. I’m sure those nights frustrated the neighbors and confused the plants as both had expected darkness and rest.

I’m the son of a two parents who loved being in the garden. Dad taught me while leaning on a favorite hoe, as I stood in a furrow between rows of growing vegetable and berry plants and worked alongside him. Mom was there too, with me tagging along to harvest beans or raspberries, and later in the kitchen, dressed in a well-worn apron, she guided me in cooking and preserving what we grew.

Dad’s work as an agronomist involved conducting plant research. As a child I loved to visit the greenhouses and other research facilities, and when I reached my teen years I sometimes traveled with him to examine test plots in the fields of regional farming communities. Dad was raised on a farm, as was his father and grandfathers, and so I am the first generation removed from daily farm-life.

Are you at all like me? Do you make plans in the winter for the next gardening season? Do you peruse seed catalogs in January, start your seedlings in February, and erect a few cloches in March to allow the garden beds to dry? Maybe I’m the only one that finds myself thinking about the garden tasks that need doing on my commute home from work. In a way, getting out into the garden to make progress on just one goal is something that drives me during the day as if I’m rewarding myself for working hard at my job all day.

Gardening is a creative outlet for me where I can quickly see the results of my efforts. Don’t you find it rewarding to grow something beautiful and delicious? I like to experiment and try new things in an effort to get a better result, and this curiosity leads me to read a lot about the subject. My first efforts to grow my own garden were often frustrating, but those failures led me to understand more and to adapt my approach. Since then I’ve learned some of what works and what doesn’t.

In case we do have a bit in common, let me offer you some tips on selecting a great headlamp for midnight gardeners!

  • My priorities are a bright, adjustable beam with a comfortable headband, controls that are easy to manipulate with gloved hands and a housing that won’t be impacted by a bit of dirt.
  • I like the ability to quickly adjust the lamp to move from a bright, diffuse beam for working up close to a focused, penetrating beam with a long reach for scanning across the yard at night.
  • I like lamps that are durable without being overly bulky or heavy. Most that I’ve used recently take 3-AAA batteries, which works well. I tend to use the brightest settings, and this drains the batteries in only a few hours. I keep extras nearby.
  • Finally, I’m pragmatic and like a good deal!

Coast HeadlampMy current headlamp is the FL72 model by Coast. It has nice quality focusing optics that create a 405 lumen beam that will cover a distance of 450 feet. Jen found these at Costco in a two-pack for under $30. Don’t have a store nearby? At the time I write this, they are available online as well. Coast confirms these are the same product at their FL75 model, just in a two-pack for Costco. A single FL75 headlamp is selling today on Amazon for $44.49. Look at that–i just saved you some money!

Until next time,

The Midnight Gardener

Introducing my husband–The Midnight Gardener

Before my husband begins to post in this section, let me first show him to you through my eyes via the following story. Then I’ll tell you the story of how I came to call him The Midnight Gardener.

My husband gives very thoughtful gifts. After reading some of my stories and hearing my desire to share them, he gave me this website for my 45th birthday. Cool idea, huh? And, when I was fighting cancer in 2014, he ordered cancer awareness ribbon pins and wristbands to give to friends and family to wear in support of my fight. He even gave a pin to my thoracic surgeon. I would see it, pinned to the lapel of her white lab coat, each time I met with her, and now at my six month visits. You may or may not know this, but there are defined awareness colors for each kind of cancer. Lung cancer awareness is with a white ribbon. Doing this for me was wonderful, but it isn’t the gift I want to tell you about.

img_4862My favorite uncle (who is a landscape architect) came to stay with me during my treatments. He improved the landscaping in a section of my yard, starting a shade garden and planting several hostas. The Midnight Gardener, my endearing husband, finished this garden and surprised me by adding an array of flowering plants such that something will be in bloom year round, and all with white blossoms. He called it Jennifer’s Garden. Now, just out my window, I have a reminder that I am alive and still blooming. I love this man of mine!

Now, why the name The Midnight Gardener? My husband is the son of a plant scientist and he spent many days in test fields or in the home garden working with his dad in the soil. He spent a few summers on his grandparent’s farm, wishing he was big enough to lift a hay bale. I think he was around growing plants so much that learning how to grow a fantastic garden became a natural passion for him. He is also a detailed planner who likes work done to the highest quality. Need I say more? This work takes time. And when does a busy husband and father get time to work in the garden? Well, after work, helping with homework, bedtime stories and occasionally the dishes, he has a bit of time to head outdoors. The Midnight Gardner owns many headlamps, and construction-style outdoor lights. He can be seen in the vegetable garden late into the evening, sometime until midnight and beyond. In fact, it is true that I have had the neighbors call to warn me of what they perceived to be the flashlights of backyard intruders. I chuckled as I told them, “It is just my husband, the Midnight Gardener!”