Snow on Show

Thinking about the gift of God’s love as I looked out on my deck this winter morning. . .

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my ❤️ heart.

-Poem by Christina Rossetti, used as lyrics for a hauntingly beautiful Christmas carol.

Sow What about Seed Swapping

Table at Will County Extension Seed Swap
Table at Will County Extension Seed Swap

January 30, 2021, was National Seed Swap Day. Don’t worry if you missed it because there are many seed swapping opportunities throughout the year. Gardeners have, of course, been swapping seeds for ages. And we certainly don’t limit this activity to one day a year!

I wrote about making your own seed packets in my newsletter yesterday, but don’t expect to see many fancy homemade seed packets at seed swaps. You’re more likely to see handwritten or plain printed labels on envelopes of all sizes as most people just grab whatever is cheap and handy. While it’s fun to celebrate National Seed Swap Day by getting together in larger groups to exchange seeds, we couldn’t do that this year. Instead Kathy Jentz, who got the last Saturday in January officially declared National Seed Swap Day in 2006, hosted a chat about how to swap seeds safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides listening to those ideas, you could look around for smaller scale seed swaps in your area, perhaps with pick-up spots at libraries or university extension offices. You could also check with your own group of friends and local garden clubs to see if anyone wants to swap seeds, perhaps with a no-contact porch pick up. Folks in my town’s garden group on Facebook have often posted and shared seeds and plants with each other.

Old seeds aren’t all that’s available through seed swaps however. Fresh seeds may come from gardeners who collect and save seeds from plants growing in their gardens. Good candidates for seed saving and seed swapping must come from plants that are open-pollinated (i.e. not hybrids), so that the seeds will produce plants that are like their parent plants. In addition, seed saving works best with seeds that are self-pollinating (without separate male and female flowers), such as beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers. I don’t recommend swapping seeds from homegrown cross-pollinating plants, such as cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds. You never know what to expect if you plant those seeds!

From home gardens:

DO COLLECT seeds from open-pollinated (non-hybrid) and self-pollinating plants—beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers.

DO NOT COLLECT seeds from hybrid or cross-pollinating plants—cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds.

Before the pandemic—in fact, before the internet—exchanging seeds through the mail was a common practice. Now online, the Seed Savers Exchange is probably the largest one in the U.S. You can find more mail seed swap groups on social media by searching “seed swap.”

Downers Grove Legacy Seed Library table at Darien Garden Inspiration Day event

Seed libraries are another mechanism for trading seeds. Often housed in actual libraries, they work in a similar way. You can take seeds and sign them out. They’re yours to plant and grow. When your plants produce more seeds, you return some back to the library. I could not find an up-to-date national list of these, but you can search for one near you online by entering your state or county and the words “seed library” in the search. There are two near me, the Lisle Library District Seed Library and the Downers Grove Legacy Seed Library. I’ve met volunteers from the Downers Grove one when they were giving away seeds at an event sponsored by the Darien Garden Club.

See my recent newsletter for seed packet craft ideas and a recipe, Oriental Green Beans, that I like to make with purple pole beans—grown from seeds that I got at a seed swap.

In Remembrance of Rosemary

I got this beautiful rosemary tree as a gift this Christmas, and I hope to help it to live to see a Christmas future. I think its chances are good even though overwintering rosemary indoors used to be quite a challenge for me. In climates where the winters are not as harsh, it can be left outside and will eventually grow into a large shrub. Here in zone 5b you can try leaving it out for the winter if you’ve planted it in a spot with a warmer microclimate. Even then, however, you’ll need to protect it if a severe freeze comes along. Someday, when I’m braver, I will try leaving a rosemary plant outside and see what happens.

“There’s Rosemary for you, that’s for remembrance! Pray you, love, remember.”


For now I just grow it in containers and bring those containers inside for the winter. Alas, rosemary doesn’t like the dry heat in my home even though we have a whole house humidifier. I tried a number of things in the past—pebble trays, misting, and even a terrarium—but met with little success.

Painted dead rosemary shrub at the Chicago Botanic Garden
Dead and painted rosemary at the Chicago Botanic Garden

I know I’m not the only one who struggles to keep rosemary alive. How many of you have bought a sweet little rosemary tree during the holiday season only to see it fizzle out by February? Take courage, for here are some tips to remember.

  1. Plant rosemary in a large container. Do not plant it in the ground if you hope to bring it inside for the winter. Rosemary doesn’t like to be transplanted, and when you combine transplanting it with moving it inside, it will most likely die. You don’t have to start with a large container if the plant is small when you get it. But be prepared to pot it up as needed until you have a plant that is growing in a container that’s 14” in diameter and at least 12” deep (about 6-7 gallons). Rosemary roots can grow to be 12-24” deep. In the spring I will transplant this rosemary tree from its 1-gallon size container into a larger pot.
  2. Place rosemary close to a sunny window, preferably one that’s badly insulated. The cool air by such a window is more humid than the rest of the house. Mine is on the floor next to a sliding glass door that leads to our deck.
  3. Most importantly, do not over-water it. Rosemary tricks us because when we see its leaves dying back and turning brown, we think we should water it more. But this can easily lead to root rot because rosemary is one of those herbs that thrives in dry well-drained soil. Don’t water it when the plant looks dry; water it when the soil is all dry. At that point I take mine to the sink and give it a thorough watering. Then I leave it there until it’s fully drained. After I return it to its saucer, I don’t water it again until the soil has dried.

With these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy rosemary all winter long even if you don’t live in a rosemary friendly climate.

For you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep seeming and savour all the winter long

Watering Rosemary Tree

2020 Update

Well, we’ve made it to the end of 2020. Happy New Year! I hope your holiday celebrations have been joyful and refreshing despite probably being smaller this year. At least many of us could meet virtually through video conference calls with our friends and family.

It’s been quite a year, and I have much to be thankful for. This is, for one thing, the year that I finally got this website up and running. While 2020 was certainly a difficult year in many ways, it was a great year for gardening. As many folks had to stay home and some had more time on their hands, they worked on improving their home environment, both inside and outside. And empty store shelves inspired many more to start their first vegetable gardens or to increase their already existing edible crops. I certainly hope this trend continues and will do all that I can to help all these fellow gardeners.

Despite the worldwide pandemic, 2020 was a good year for me and my family. Here is how I summarized it in the update we sent out with our Christmas cards:

It’s been an exciting year of many transitions. In the beginning of the year Stan and Debbie traveled to Taiwan and the Philippines, and thankfully we stayed one step ahead of the coronavirus. (That’s the China Sea behind us in the upper left photo.) In the spring we enjoyed having both boys at home with us as our state went into lockdown. In the summer restrictions were loosened enough for Roscoe and Emily to adapt their plans and still have a beautiful wedding on July 18th. They’re living in Oak Forest, IL. Roscoe is the Pastoral Assistant at Hickory Creek Church in Frankfort, and Emily teaches third grade math in Manhattan, IL. In the fall, Silas returned to Cedarville University, where he gave his senior trumpet recital on Oct. 25th. And now Stan has accepted a buyout package from Ford and is retiring from the insurance business, effective Dec. 31st. Big changes ahead!

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8

2020 has indeed been a “year of drought”! Yet it has been a fruitful year, and we thank the Lord for His never-ending grace and mercy. Whatever comes in the year ahead, may we all be like that tree, growing more deeply rooted in the Word of God (Psalm 1:1-3).

The psalm referenced here gives the key, I believe, to being a fruitful tree even in a year of drought: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.”

If we draw our strength from the Bible, like the tree gets its nourishment from a fertile stream bed, we can survive troubled times and even flourish spiritually.

Here’s My New Blog

My Blog

This is it! I’ve been talking about launching a new blog for several years. And now, at the beginning of 2021, I’ve made this new website public:

My posts here are going to be organized around the same three themes that run throughout my newsletters:

  • GROWpractical gardening tips
  • EATgarden-to-table eating
  • ENJOYgarden style living

Plus—because I want to plant spiritual seeds as well as literal seeds—I’ve added a fourth theme to my blog, for posts about the Bible and faith:

  • PRAYgrowing spiritually

Click on GROW, EAT, ENJOY, or PRAY above to see my posts related to that topic.

My Newsletter

I’ve been writing an email newsletter since June 2018 and now have several hundred subscribers. If you’d like to join them, you can sign up for The Gardener Wife newsletter right here.  It’s not just about gardening—it’s about garden-style living! You’ll still get practical tips for growing; plus, with my garden-to-table eating recipes and advice, you’ll learn how to use what you grow (or what someone else has grown). 

What people are saying—

Excellent! Well written, informative, fun!!

… you’re right on. Keep it coming.

April Wong Loi Sing

Lots of good, no – EXCELLENT info!

Donna Hirsch

Wow! What a great newsletter. You are soooo very thorough in your writing. I love it.

Diane B.

You can subscribe to my newsletter right NOW!

Success! You're on the list.
What else do I do—

My Social Media

I’ve also been posting on social media. Here’s where to find me, @thegardenerwife:

  • on Instagram – for lots of photos
  • on Facebook – for more details and information + garden-related events and news
  • and even on YouTube – for occasional videos

My Public Speaking

Giving a Gardening Presentation

Plus, I give presentations on both gardening and faith topics.

Need a speaker for your club, library, or other group?
Email Debbie@thegardenerwife for information on my topics and presentations.

The Gardener Wife

My Goal

Other services that I provide are listed on my Work with Me page. I’m doing all this because

want to help you to GROW SOMETHING, something beautiful–even better, something to eat!

Thank you for stopping by and catching up on what I’m doing!

Working on The Gardener Wife Newsletter

Finding Tomato Tastings

Going to a tomato tasting is a fun way to enjoy others’ gardens as well as your own. When I couldn’t find any after first reading about tomato tastings years ago, I held my own. I invited others to bring tomatoes, printed voters’ ballots and winners’ certificates, and made a party out of it. This year I combined it with my first ever open garden day.

Tomato tastings are easier to find now. Try an internet search to see if there are any in your area. Keep your eyes and ears open for signs and announcements when you are at farmers markets and county fairs. Check your local newspaper. While reading the Chicago Tribune’s food section a few weeks ago, I found a tomato tasting at Green City Market that was held just a few days before my own.

If you’re not a tomato fan, you could look for other tastings. On the day that I was at the Green City Market, one of the vendors was doing a plum tasting. I’ve done a tasting with different barbecue sauces I had canned. Tastings are fun, and they can help you decide what to grow, buy, or make in the future.

See my next post for how to hold your own tomato tasting.

Open Garden Day + Tomato Tasting Contest

Photo by Laurie Fanelli for The Homer Horizon

My big event last Saturday, the Open Garden Day + Tomato Tasting Contest, was fantastic! I had a blast preparing for it and then meeting and greeting visitors throughout the day. THANK YOU to each of you who came!

I’m grateful for the publicity I got, too. Right before the event, the Ferry-Morse Seed Company shared my post showing a large Garden Leader Monster tomato grown from one of their seeds. My local paper, The Homer Horizon, featured me on their cover and ran a story about the event. WELCOME to each of you who recently subscribed to my newsletter as a result of that event!

Speaking of results, here are the results of The Gardener Wife Tomato Tasting Contest 2018 (photos by Patt Bailey):

#6 Sun Gold from Iron Creek Farm of LaPorte, IN

Best Tasting Cherry Tomato
#6 Sun Gold from Iron Creek Farm of LaPorte, IN

Best Tasting Full-Size Tomato
#13 Hungarian Heart

Best Tasting Non-Red Tomato
#5 Dark Cherry

Apparently not everyone who voted for Sun Gold put it in the Non-Red category. Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes (#7) received the next highest number of votes. It’s too bad that this tasting did not include the top winner from previous tastings I’ve had, Super Sweet 100s. Sadly, I did not have enough ripe ones ready on the day of the tasting.

Simple Seasonings

Now that folks are harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers in my area, I’m going to tell you my favorite seasonings for eating them fresh.
Cucumbers — Halve them lengthwise and sprinkle them with salt-free lemon pepper. This is exactly what I did on one of our Shakespeare picnics (shown above).
Tomatoes — Cut them in wedges and sprinkle a little fleur de sel. Not just any sea salt—it has to be fleur de sel. Trust me. Fleur de sel is collected from the salt floating on the surface of the seawater, and it has a sparkling pure taste. It’s the secret ingredient that takes my salsa, bruschetta, and caprese salad to the next level. I get it at Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma. A little 4-ounce container lasts a long time.
Cherry tomatoes — Just wash them and set them out in a bowl. We eat them like candy. My favorites are Super Sweet 100s and Sweet Millions. Mmmm—sweet summer candy!

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Watering Tips

When we don’t get enough rain to keep the garden producing goodies for my table, I have to water it. Here are some general watering tips for gardens.

  • Water from below. Never spray water onto the foliage or flowers. Remember that the roots need the water, not the leaves. Here in the humid Midwest many plants are susceptible to fungal diseases that are spread by overhead watering, so I shy away even from foliar fertilizers. I use soaker hoses in my raised beds. I attach the hose to the soaker hose and turn it on just a quarter turn, not full blast, so the water comes out at lower pressure and slowly soaks the root zone. Then I set a timer to remind myself when it’s time to move the hose to the next bed. Whenever I use the regular hose for watering, I attach a long water wand to it so that I can direct the water down toward the roots without bending over.
  • Water deeply and less often. Frequent light waterings will encourage your plants to develop shallow roots, and they will fade quickly in a dry spell. When we get no rain, I aim to water the kitchen garden twice a week. Remember, however, that newly planted seeds and plants will need to be watered more frequently until their roots have grown and they are established.
  • Know the water needs of your plants. This is as important as knowing their sun and shade preferences. Put plants that need more water, such as hydrangeas and astilbes, in the wetter areas of your yard. Keep plants like cactus, sedums, and begonias in the drier, quickly draining areas. Most vegetables require well drainingsoil and one inch of rain per week.
  • Keep accurate track of the weather. Your plants may need to be watered more often during a heat wave. What appears to be a heavy rainfall might be turn out to be only 1/4 inch of rain. I recommend using a good rain gauge. If you don’t have one, you can tell that the ground received one inch of rain if you dig down and see that it’s wet 6-8 inches deep. Watering just the top inch of soil is not watering the garden enough.
  • If you have rain barrels, you should be careful about using their water on edible plants because of possible contamination from roofs and gutters. You should water the soil only; do not get the plants wet. Stop using the rainwater a couple weeks before harvesting. I recently found this extension service article that discusses the question in much more detail.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you should at least scroll down to the “Best Practices and Recommendations” section at the end. It talks about using a bleach solution to lower the risk of contamination of edible plants. 

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Elegant Picnics

ENJOY — garden style living
Illinois Shakespeare Festival 2018

Summer is my favorite season—and nothing says summer like a picnic! Also, nothing tastes as good at a picnic as fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit from your garden or from wherever else you can get it. This is true whether you’re packing a simple lunch to take with your kids to the park or pulling out all the stops like I do whenever we go to a Shakespeare festival. 

My husband and I are huge Shakespeare fans, and we discovered the fun of outdoor Shakespeare performances over 20 years ago. I have been adding to our elegant picnic paraphernalia ever since. You may not be into Shakespeare, but perhaps there are concerts in the park or other events in your area that warrant a special picnic set up. Perhaps you’d like to have an extra-lovely picnic for two to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.

I started by getting a picnic basket and soon found tin plates printed with antique porcelain china designs (shown on the right in above picture). I like them so much that I keep them out all the time on a tiered stand in my dining room. Ceramic dishes are too heavy, in my opinion, so I recommend melamine plates (such as the one on the left in above picture) if you cannot find tin ones. Instead of plastic glasses, however, I’ve bought pretty painted glasses from thrift stores. We like to bring folding chairs and a tray table or camp table with us rather than a blanket, and I put a pretty tea towel or small tablecloth on the table. A little vase with a fresh flower finishes the setting. For easy transport, get a vase that can fit in your vehicle’s cup holder and that has a narrow neck to prevent spills.

I put crackers and food items that don’t need to be refrigerated in the picnic basket, and I put the beverages and other food in a shoulder-strap cooler. Nowadays, it’s possible to get a picnic basket that’s insulated. The food I pack for these picnics varies according to how much time I have and what’s in my garden, pantry, and freezer. There’s nothing wrong with buying some or all of the meal. It’s really up to you. If you’re an organic gardener and any of your edible flowers are blooming, then you must use them to decorate the food. You must!

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.