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Hellebores Heaven


Good evening, flower friends!

Boy do I have a floral treat for you guys tonight… ’cause my favorite local nursery is holding their annual hellebores festival this weekend, and, after perusing the drool-worthy photos posted on their website, I couldn’t resist taking a sneak peek at the fabulous flowers they have in stock. For any and all local hellebores lovers, I highly suggest taking a trek over to Kwekerij Bastin¬†to see if there’s a wonderful winter-blooming plant just for you.

The whole entrance of the nursery is packed with cascading layers of pinks, purples, creams, and reds. Singles, doubles, picotee, anemone-blooming… from the brightest of whites to the darkest of blacks- you name it, they’ve got it.

As I gazed longingly at the ocean of beautiful blooms before me, I was well aware that my budget would accommodate only a small selection of new plants. Decisions, decisions…

While some of the varieties were more “run of the mill” hellebores, there were some knock-outs here and there that really stole the show. The plants whose “wow”-factor initially caught my eye were “Tutu”, “Elfin”, “Picotee”, “Painted Bunting” and the pink doubles.

To further complicate the delicate process of elimination, each plant from the separate cultivars had subtle variations. These tiny differences made it especially difficult to make a definite decision as to which plants were coming home with me. Did I want one with more freckles? A softer shade of pink? Darker edges? Larger flowers?

As the sun sunk lower in the sky, I knew the countdown had begun. Time to pick out my new flower friends, pay for them, and bring them back home. The final selection revealed a definite soft spot for doubles and, oddly enough, it seemed that the soft pinks had stolen my heart.

Tune in tomorrow to see which plants made it into my final few and to enjoy a little more hellebores fun with me! :)

Visions of Violet


Hello there, everyone!

Isn’t it interesting how nature’s timing can work out in such a way that several very different flowers of very similar hues blossom simultaneously? A carefully orchestrated concert of the finest and most fragile flowers conducted by the flower fairies… a sweet symphony of spring. I couldn’t help but notice such a harmonious stroke of good luck while working in the garden the other day- my very first bright blue anemone, a scattering of deliciously-scented violets, and the friendly faces of iris reticulata. The vivid colors of all three friendly faces definitely made quite a statement in the garden amidst a decidedly drab backdrop of browns and grays.

I couldn’t resist cutting a few of these very violet vixens to celebrate the new life that the flower fairies have granted the garden.

The tiny violets got bundled into one very petite, sweet-smelling posy. A springtime bridal bouquet for a precious little flower fairy, perhaps?

The rest got thrown into a crazy combination of foliage and forsythia. I quite liked how the bold yellow of the forsythia blossoms contrasted with the violet hue of the anemone and brought out the tiny specks of gold in the iris.

I hope you’ll join me as we raise our flower fairy wands and cast a spell of good growth over this years garden. Here’s to a brand new season full of flowers , may your garden flourish and thrive! :)

Sowing Seeds of Sweet, Sweet Summer


Welcome to a fresh new week, flower friends!

I hope the weekend treated you kindly, leaving you refreshed, rejuvenated and full of new energy. Sunshine poured through the windows this morning as the birds chirped in the garden, which made it nearly impossible to deny the sneaking suspicion that spring has sprung. From the very first violets to crocuses covering the grass, a distinctly spring atmosphere has swooped down upon us.

There’s no inspiration quite like Mother Nature… she really knows how to get you in the mood, keeping you on your toes and gently pushing you in the right direction. With weather like we had today, it’s impossible to stay cooped up inside. Alas, I promised myself that I would get some seeding taken care before heading out to spend a blissful afternoon in the garden.

I’ve been itching to get some sweet peas off to an early start indoors, so this morning was all about getting them soaked and ready for planting. Soaking the seeds prior to popping them into their little pots is optional, but I find that it really does work well. It might be tricky to tell from the photos (taken several hours apart), but the small seeds swell to about twice the size and soften up quite a bit. This short bath allows them to germinate more quickly, giving them a healthy head start on their journey toward maturity.

I’m trying out some new varieties this year as well as some seeds left over from last season. This is me being super organized, by the way. Labeling and tagging isn’t usually my strongest suit, which, in the long run, doesn’t seem to hurt my final judgement calls as to which varieties make the cut and which will get the boot. Luckily the varieties that I’ve grown have been relatively easy to tell apart once they begin to blossom. This year, however, I really want to keep everything organized right from the get-go. We’ll see how long that lasts!

I won’t be going crazy with early sowings of sweet peas, though, since a hefty number of volunteer seedlings are already happily growing in the garden. Thanks to a combination of our incredibly mild winter and my laziness in harvesting last years seeds, this is the first year that I’ve seen such a surprisingly large turnout of healthy-looking baby plants.

I suppose my next task will be removing all of last years debris from the trellises and raking the soil clear of weeds. Then I’ll pinch the baby plants back to promote bushier growth and transplant them against the trellis.

Hopefully this succession of sowings will keep the sweet peas coming all throughout the summer… ’cause, let’s face it, you can never have too many sweet peas! :)

Have you guys already gotten started with seed-sowing? What’s growing on your windowsill or in your cold frame?

Friday Foraging


Happy Friday, flower friends!

What started as a dreary and wet day ended up surprisingly full of sparkling sunshine and blue skies. Yes, dark grey clouds rolled through now and then, spontaneously soaking anyone caught enjoying the great outdoors, but all-in-all I was pleased that the moist and muddy forecast proved to be quite inaccurate. It’s probably not a huge surprise that I chose to forego my long rainy-day indoor to-do list in order to enjoy a few magical moments in nature. With so much life popping out from beneath winter’s cloak of brown and grey- moss, crocuses, pussy willows, budding blossoms, and even leaves- who could resist a little round of foraging to bring a bit of that precious new life indoors?

In the hopes of forcing some buds into early production, I brought a pair of clippers and a small bag along for the ride. A few branches of bright green budding leaves and freshly sprouted pussy willows made their way into my goody bag…

Some wild cherry branches got clipped as well…

It’s amazing how my favorite little forest path changes throughout the seasons. Soon the forest floor surrounding the creek will exchange it’s mask of fallen leaves for a carpet of bright yellow lesser celandine.

Happy with my small bag full of bounty, I chose to just enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature and let the rest of her natural wonders be.

I always seem to forget exactly how long it takes to force cherry blossoms into action… but hopefully come Monday I can put together a sweet little spring arrangement full of my foraged finds!

Have an absolutely wonderful weekend, everyone, and I’ll look forward to seeing you for fresh start on Monday :)

Stop and Smell the… Leaves?


Good evening, flower friends!

I’ve regretfully neglected my small stash of scented geranium plants that have been housed indoors, letting them grow far too long and leggy. Since it was high time to give them a little trim, I figured that now would be as good a time as ever for a round of show and tell… I’ll share a few of my favorites with you guys and show you how I like to use them. Plus, to be totally honest, it makes for an excellent excuse to play around with the first flowers of the season!

Among the varieties that I have growing, there are several that really stand out either in terms of fragrance and/or form. Although “Chocolate Peppermint” doesn’t currently have any leaves, it’s a real winner in both of the aforementioned categories. The others (from left to right: “P. Denticulatum”, “P. Graveolens”, “Maple Leaf”, and “Giant Oak”), vary in terms of potential flower arranging value. I have a few other varieties as well, but, for today’s purposes, they aren’t even worth mentioning.

A very close runner up for favorite fragrant foliage is “Maple Leaf” (shown below en masse). It’s fragrance is somewhat standard (albeit still incredibly delicious), but it’s extraordinarily large leaves and long, sturdy stems make it a wonderful addition to any hand-picked bouquet. “Giant Oak” has softer, fuzzier leaves with much less sharply-incised edges. It tends to be a bit floppy, though, so the leaves seem best suited for buttonholes and other small-ish arrangements.

All leaves make excellent additions to handheld arrangements of all sorts- the constant contact and rubbing releases the fragrant oils that make scented geraniums so special. Today, since most of the flowers that can be found growing in the garden at the moment are on the petite side, I figured it would be fun to put together a couple buttonholes.

The first fragrant bunch includes one dreamy, creamy double hellebore, a short stem of burgundy-edged helleborus foetidus, plum-colored heuchera leaves, maidenhair fern, a couple extremely early knautia flower heads, one tiny sprig of jasmine, and a small selection of scented geranium leaves.

If you thought that colorful options got thrown out the window for winter weddings, then you’re painfully mistaken. If you should be looking for a splash of gold, it’s during these late winter months that forced bulbs, bright yellow jasminum nudiflorum, and vibrant forsythia take center stage. For this bright bunch, I used forsythia, hellebores, jasmine, scented geranium leaves, and one solitary painted daisy specimen.

Who says that flowers are the only thing worth smelling? Sometimes an unassuming leaf can pack just as powerful a punch of perfume. The combination of the geranium’s subtle spicy-rosy aroma and the floral fragrance of the jasmine make for an incredibly delicious bunch of flowers to wear on your chest.

Wishing you all a sweet day. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses… and the leaves! :)

So Bad, They’re Good: Carmelitas


Good evening, fellow sugarholics anonymous!

Today’s recipe is all about butter, sugar, and cream… but, then again, how many tasty treats don’t involve these three essential ingredients? Trust me, you’ll want to forget about calories and let these melt-in-your-mouth delicious cookie bars take you away to pre-diabetic dreamland. Carmelitas are so bad, they’re good… or are they so good, they’re bad? Well, bad for your conscience, at least. But, nevermind about that… let’s just get down to the nitty-gritty and start baking! :)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 25 caramels (I used Werther’s Originals “Caramelts”)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 100 grams chocolate chips

Start by preheating the oven to 175 C (350 F) and greasing an oven-friendly dish (I used a medium-sized pyrex dish). Pour the brown sugar into a large mixing bowl, add the melted butter and stir together. Next, add the flour and rolled oats. Using a spoon, or your handy-dandy hands, combine all of the ingredients together until you have a chunky and moist dough of sorts.

Take half of your dough and gently pat it into the bottom of your greased dish. Place the dish in the oven and let the bottom layer bake for about 10 minutes, or until it turns slightly brown.

While your bottom layer is baking, it’s time to melt the caramels and cream together!

Stir frequently to keep the caramel from burning. Once the two key ingredients have melted into a luxuriously lavish liquid, you’re ready to move onto the final phase of preparation.

Remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips before pouring the caramel-cream evenly over the entire surface.

Sprinkle the remaining half of your dough over the top and, once again, place the dish back in the oven. Let the carmelitas bake for about 10-15 minutes before removing them from the oven.

Now comes the really tricky part- you have to patiently wait for the caremelitas to completely cool and the caramel to fully set before you can dig in. To speed up the process, you can stick ‘em in the fridge… or, if you’re really impatient like me, pop them in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Once they’ve turned from a molten chocolate-caramel mess into a solid mass, all you have to do is cut them into squares and enjoy! :)

These small squares of gooey goodness didn’t stick around for too long. Many were shared with visitors and friends, but I found myself cutting off tiny piece after tiny piece… which made me feel a little less bad about eating something so good. All I can say is that I sincerely hope that you’ll enjoy these easy and tasty treats just as much as I did! :)

Sweetly Scented String Garden


Hello, fabulous flower friends!

Hopefully the weekend treated you well, and you are ready to kick start a brand new week full of fresh energy. I don’t know about you, but I experienced an inexplicable surge of inspiration this weekend… with so many ideas flooding my mind at once, it will simply be a matter of finding the time and energy to tackle them all. The first on my “to-do” list, a fun and flowery project that I’ve been waiting for ages to try, is a suspended garden of sorts. Closely related to the Japanese art of bonsai, Kokedama (moss balls) takes indoor gardening to a whole new level… literally.

I had originally planned to use a willowy orchid to hang in the nursery, but after searching high and low, I couldn’t settle on an option that was both affordable and aesthetically pleasing. Fast forward to my “a-ha!” moment during last week’s trip to the local Aldi when I happened upon some reasonably priced jasmine vines. Dare I say that these heavenly scented, feminine, and delicate creatures would make an absolutely ideal hanging plant?

I know that the scent of jasmine is one of those “love it” or “hate it” kinda things… but I love it. I’ve loved it ever since I was a wee one, begging my dad to let us plant one solitary specimen outside my bedroom window at our rented house. Suffering from an unfortunate aversion to strong scents, he reluctantly agreed to let my garden grow. Having left my little jasmine plant behind long ago, I often dream of growing a new friend here in Belgium. Our harsh winters seem to disagree. So, why not give it a go inside?

All I needed for this simple and straightforward project was a bit of string (or fishing wire if you’d like a more minimal look), a potted plant, and a sufficiently-sized sheet of moss.

I began by carefully teasing the vines of jasmine away from the cheesy metal “loop” form around which they had been wound.

Next, I tucked the soil and root ball safely within the confines of the moss. Holding the moss tightly against the plant with one hand, I used my other hand to wind the string around and around, forming something of a moss ball with jasmine vines sticking out from the top.

The more colorful or contrasting string you use, the more attention you should pay to the abstract art you are creating with your layers of string.

Once your moss is tied nice and taught around your root ball, cut three equally long pieces of string. In a strategically triangular pattern, tie the three pieces of string to the “abstract art” string already in place. Gather the three pieces of string together at the top and tie them into a double-knotted loop.

You can leave various vines hanging and wind others up the suspended strings, or leave them all dangling wild and free. The choice is all yours.

I’m debating between using the hanging jasmine as a sort of natural mobile above the little one’s crib or as a clever distraction device above the changing table… probably leaning toward the latter.

All it should take is a good soak once or twice a week (depending on what plant you use) and a bit of time to dry before hanging it back in place. Thanks to the buds in bloom, the nursery already smells delicious… to me, at least! :)

Labor of Love: Valentine’s Day Lonely Bouquets


Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

I hope your day has been love-ly and full of warmth, whether it be thanks to a special someone, a close loved one, or a furry friend. What started out as an (overly)optimistically sunny day has come to a very wet and windy end. But never fear! The sudden change in weather didn’t dampen my plans for launching a flower frenzy throughout the surrounding villages and cities.

I gathered a few bits and pieces from the garden- mossy twigs, herbs, hellebores, snowdrops, skimmia, and scented geranium leaves- before heading back inside to assemble a variety of Valentine’s Day Lonely Bouquets.

While arranging the bouquets, I was in seventh heaven thanks to the divine combination of hyacinths and rose geraniums. Yum!

The big bunch of tulips and hefty assortment of hyacinths that I had brought home from the market got split up into seven pretty posies. I printed out some “take me!” tags, tucked the bouquets safely into the trunk of the car, and headed out on my undercover mission to spread some love this Valentine’s Day.

Pausing for mere seconds to snap a few “in situ” shots, I stopped at various bus stops, parking lots, crosswalks, city benches, and train stations across town.

Despite the steady sprinkle of rain, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my little labors of love disappeared. Most were gone within minutes!

The biggest surprise came as we were waiting to pick up our oh-so-romantic to-go order for Thai food. We were sitting, enjoying the intoxicating aroma of fresh basil, chili, and coriander when a man rushed in carrying one of the bouquets. He popped behind the counter, grinning from ear to ear and giggling with the waitresses and cooks. He handed the flowers to one of them before sitting down to eat his meal. What are the odds?!

I honestly can’t imagine a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Sharing the love with others and spreading secret smiles fills my heart with so much happiness. I was also lucky to have a handsome helper keeping me company during the distribution process… and the dinner was great! :)

Wishing you all a wonderful day and sending you lots of love!

Love is All You Need


Good evening, lovebirds!

Are you guys getting ready for tomorrow’s celebrations? Do you do anything fun or fancy on Valentine’s Day, or do you choose, instead, to boycott the materialism and fakery? Whether you’re a devout supporter and romantic at heart or a partypooper, there’s no denying one very special and deeply rooted relationship… of course I’m talking about the hot and steamy love affair between flowers and Valentine’s Day.

It’s with this undeniably special relationship in mind that I plan to take to the streets tomorrow, wearing my very best flower fairy attire, in order to sprinkle some floral fairy dust throughout our local villages.

A trip to the flower market resulted in a treasure trove of romantic beauties. I ended up coming back home with an extremely large bushel of tulips and an equally huge bundle of hyacinths. Something about the pastel shades of hyacinths, the soft lilacs, pale pinks, and creamy whites… they look as ravishingly beautiful as they smell.

I plan to pair these little lovelies with some snowdrops, pussy willows, skimmia, and anything else I can gather from the garden. Perhaps even the first of the hellebores? Although I’m a bit afraid that they are too fresh still to enjoy a lengthy lifespan after being snipped from the garden… hmmm.

Should you be curious as to the secret message these flowers will carry with them, you’ll be happy to know that hyacinths in general impart a playful message, while white hyacinths in particular stand for unobtrusive loveliness and blue hyacinths stand for constancy. Tulips are used as a declaration of love… ooh-la-la! Should I choose to add a hellebore here and there… well, that would add a touch of scandal to the bouquet! Maybe it’s best to leave them out? ;)

If you happen to be out and about around Maastricht and its surrounding villages, and if you happen to be feeling a bit glum on V-Day, be on the look-out for a lovely little Lonely Bouquet! I’m sure these friendly flowers would very much enjoy your company and fill your heart with love.

Scrubalicious Bath Bombs


Good evening, everyone!

Today I’ve got a tasty treat for you… a lil’ DIY bath and body project that I’ve been dying to try. Bath bombs! What better way to bring a little romance into your life this Valentine’s Day than soaking in a rich and luxurious bath, right? That’s what I was thinking, anyway. Due to the difficulty I had finding one key ingredient, what started out as a quest to make my own bath bombs ended up as a surprisingly pleasant body scrub. Don’t worry, though, I’ll go ahead and give you guys the full ingredients and recipe and see what you can come up with! :)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of Coconut oil
  • 5 tablespoons of liquid (I chose rose water, but you can brew your own tea or cook up your own herbal concoctions)
  • 2 tablespoons of epsom salts (or, as I used, Himalayan salts)
  • 1/2 cup corn starch (Maizena as it’s called here in Holland)
  • 1 cup baking soda (bicarbonate of soda for Dutch locals)
  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • Several drops of essential oil (optional)

So, the citric acid is what makes the bath bombs fizz… and, of course, I couldn’t find this essential ingredient anywhere around these parts. It was available online, but I didn’t think it was worth the fuss of placing an order for something I thought that I might be able to do without. I read somewhere that since Jello contains a hefty amount of citric acid it could be deemed a worthy replacement. Well, my 1/2 cup of strawberry Jello didn’t do the trick. It did, however, make a very nutritious and nice body scrub. The combination of the ground salts and coconut oil left my skin feeling refreshed and moisturized, while the subtle strawberry and lavender scent helped relax the mind.

Let’s get this party started! In a medium bowl mix together your dry ingredients (ground salts, baking soda, citric acid, and corn starch). Using your hands, mix in the 2 tablespoons of coconut oil until you achieve a somewhat chunky sand-like texture.

Now it’s time to slowly stir in spoonfuls of your liquid of choice. Oddly enough, this step turned my bath bomb batter blue… go figure! Stop adding liquid once you’ve reached a mold-able stage.

Tightly pack your bath bomb batter into whichever molds you choose. I used small and simple silicone molds which were wonderful! The more detailed your molds are, the more difficult it will be to remove your bath bombs in one piece.

Let the bath bombs dry overnight before trying to remove them from the molds.

Once they’re hard and dry, they should pop out easily, leaving you with a lovely little selection of sweet smelling bath time treats!

If your weather is going to be anything like ours on Valentine’s Day, perhaps a nice warm bath will be the perfect way to relax both your body and mind.