Five Things to Start Collecting Now

You like¬†to browse the tables at country auctions, to wander through antique malls and to peruse eBay listings. ¬†You’re thinking of jumping into the world of collecting but don’t know where to begin. ¬†Once, I was like you. ¬†Now my husband will gladly tell you I no longer face that dilemma. ¬†Truth is, collecting doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive or consume your life. ¬†If you have three of anything, it’s a collection. ¬†I’m not talking Chippendale chairs¬†or Faberge eggs¬†either. ¬†It could be seashells, or vintage postcards. ¬†The important thing is that it’s something you love. ¬†These suggestions were inspired by a recent¬†trip to the Rural Society Antique Show and Sale at Warwick Farm.

  1. Ephemera.  This is just another word for old paper things like photos, postcards, magazine ads, posters, etc.
    Ephemera--an old fashion plate.
    Ephemera–an old fashion plate.

    Items like this are usually affordable¬†and easy to bring home, frame, and incorporate into your decor. ¬†Look for subjects that interest you. ¬†Perhaps¬†you’re all about¬†fashion, food, travel or old tractors. ¬†It’s all out there for you to find, and much of it is in excellent condition.

  2.  Vintage Textiles.   These also tend to be inexpensive and include such things as flour and feed sacks, old tablecloths, quilts and afghans.
    Vintage feedsack pillows.
    Vintage feedsack pillows.

    Of course, some quilts and samplers can be quite pricey depending on age and condition but it is still possible to find a good bargain if you keep a watchful eye out.  Also look for ways to repurpose your finds, like these clever feed-sack pillows.

  3. Old cast iron cookware. ¬†If you’ve priced the new stuff lately, you will appreciate what a good deal you can get at an auction or antique shop.
    Old cast iron cookware.
    Old cast iron cookware.

    With patience and some elbow grease,¬†you can clean a pot and re-season it and it’s just as good as new, possibly for pennies on the dollar. ¬† ¬†There are a lot of resources on the internet for learning how to recondition old cast iron and care for it.¬† My husband and I have¬†actually found some pretty amazing stuff¬†over the years. ¬†Avoid pieces that are severely rusted or deeply pitted.

  4. Vintage Flatware and Serving Pieces.¬†This is becoming a trend. ¬†I’m seeing lots¬†of it¬†used by food stylists in their photo shoots and I’m charmed.
    Vintage flatware.
    Vintage flatware.

    Old plates and glassware are good choices for collectors too. ¬†It’s really a matter of maintenance. ¬†If you want shelf pieces for display the field is wide open. ¬†If you want to use your finds, look for things that will stand up to repeated washing and drying and the usual wear and tear. ¬†Keep in mind that silver and silver plate need polishing and should not be put in the dishwasher. ¬†This could be¬†the reason so much of it shows up at sales and goes for a song. ¬†People just aren’t that into polishing silver these days. ¬†My mom actually discovered that the very best way to keep the shine on her silver was to use it every day and wash it immediately after use in hot soapy water.

  5. Yard and Garden Items.  Admit it.  You need topiary trees, chalk-ware guard dogs and a wing chair upholstered in moss.
    Creative yard and garden items.
    Creative yard and garden items.

    Other less quirky choices are flower pots and salvaged architectural pieces. ¬†At the sale, I found a great old McCoy Pottery strawberry pot. ¬†Almost anything can become a trellis or a plant container. ¬†Don’t be afraid to think outside the box with this one.


Day of the Daffodil

My and my mother’s weekend¬†adventure was strolling once again through the beautiful Bryn Du Mansion at the 70th Annual Daffodil Show and Sale, held by the Granville (Ohio) Garden Club. ¬†Creativity and dedication to gardening and especially the cultivation of daffodils were in evidence throughout the rooms. ¬†The theme of the show this year was “Daffodil Show 1945: Back to Our Future.”

Nineteen forty-five was the year of the very first daffodil show, and even with the austerity of the Second World War, daffodils were gracing yards and gardens in our little town. ¬†The show celebrated the presence of “daffs” in our lives then and now by staging household vignettes that might have been seen¬†at the end of WWII. ¬†These included a kitchen, a victory garden, a living room and a floor radio. ¬†I had to smile a little as a young mother tried¬†to explain¬†what radio¬†was to her little boy and girl. ¬†I was touched by lovely photos on display of servicemen and women from our area.

Daffodils in a 1940s kitchen vignette
Daffodils in a 1940s kitchen vignette
a 1940s floor radio with Roosevelt portrait and daffodils
a 1940s floor radio with Roosevelt portrait and daffodils
the 1940s living room with photos displayed
the 1940s living room with photos displayed
daffodils in a traditional vase
daffodils in a traditional vase

A large part of the show was dedicated to tables of daffodil creations by Granville residents from their own gardens.   The arrangements ran the gamut from very elaborate to super simple single stems and were inspired by literature, movies and fashions from the 1940s.  I loved them all but my favorites are here. It was a marvelous photo opportunity.  Flowers are seldom awkward or camera-shy.

daffodils and baby's breath in a lady-head vase
daffodils and baby’s breath in a lady-head vase
daffodils and strawberries
daffodils and strawberries
stems in an Arts and Crafts vase
stems in an Arts and Crafts vase

The show also had several large rooms devoted to judging daffodil specimens.  I never knew there were so many in the world!

so many specimens!
so many specimens!
and even more specimens.
and even more specimens.

Most fascinating to me are the miniature varieties.  They are perfectly formed, much tinier versions of the larger flowers.

miniature daffodils in a salt cellar
miniature daffodils in a salt cellar
table setting with miniature daffodils
table setting with miniature daffodils
tiny daffodils in crystal baskets, on a windowsill
tiny daffodils in crystal baskets, on a windowsill
diminutive display
diminutive display

In addition to all the inspiration from the gardeners, there were some shopping opportunities for a good cause.  I bought a nice poster, and bulbs are for sale for autumn delivery and planting.  Proceeds benefit the Garden Club.  My mom was able to select a small bouquet of 8-10 blooms for free.  (But we did give a little donation.)  We were told by a garden club member that when re-cutting daffodils to fit a vase you should never use scissors because it can crush their hollow stems.  Instead use a serrated knife.  More daffodil fun facts:

  • Squirrels, rodents and deer do not eat daffodils or their bulbs
  • Daffodil bulbs are long-lasting–perhaps several generations
  • Daffodils will grow under shallow-rooted ground covers like vinca

I hope you have enjoyed the images and info.  Does your local garden club hold any interesting events?  Have you participated?

for education and beautification
for education and beautification






Helping the Bees, and Things Spotted at The Arboretum

In my previous post I mentioned that we are greeting spring with a bit of trepidation. This is not unusual, as winters around here can take their toll on our yard and its denizens. A late cold snap last year stole most of Ohio’s peaches, ours included. We have a lot of trouble wintering our honeybees, too.   This year we are thrilled to discover the bees still alive after the last prolonged spell of freezing weather. Winter may not be done with us just yet, so my husband and I have had interesting discussions about how to best help our bees while wild pollen is in short supply.

Pondering Bee Nutrition

On our local radio station, the host of our favorite garden show had listeners emailing him about curious early spring bee behavior. People were noticing bees in their wild bird and chicken feeders and wondering what they were doing there. It turns out that they are foraging for grain dust from the millet seeds and cracked corn because it somewhat resembles pollen and may contain a bit of nourishment for them. The radio host suggested placing some cornmeal out just for the bees. I looked online to see if this was common practice. Most longtime beekeepers felt that the benefit of it was negligible, preferring to give their bees a pollen substitute. The consensus was that corn meal wouldn’t harm the bees but it probably wouldn’t help them either. We listen faithfully to that radio show though, and have always found the host and his guest-experts to be reliable sources of useful information, so as far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on the cornmeal.

A Useful Tree

Another idea we are toying with came as a result of seeing an Instagram photo posted by the Dawes Arboretum showing a Witch-hazel tree loaded with blossoms and snow. Maybe some very early and very late-blooming flowering trees will improve the odds for our poor bees. It can’t hurt, right? Witch-hazels are very interesting trees. They are actually shrub-like with a spreading habit, often as wide as they are tall. There are many varieties that would do well in our climate, and the voracious white-tailed deer supposedly don’t like to eat them.

witch-hazel blossom
witch-hazel blossom

Their blossoms are tiny but lovely up close, resembling little bitty spider chrysanthemums. And yes, the bark and leaves of Witch-hazel trees are used to make Witch Hazel, the mild astringent found in many medicine cabinets. Of course, this will not help this year’s bees much, but it is our hope that we get a swarm we can hive and in the coming years we’ll have more bees.

Witch-hazel trees are often as wide as they are tall.
Witch-hazel trees are often as wide as they are tall.
The Paucity of Sap

We also have been disappointed this spring in our maple’s sap production. It’s not looking like we’re going to get much syrup at all. With all the talk of new trees and our sap woes, I felt the need to visit the Dawes Arboretum and ask there about how the syrup season was going.

sap bucket hanging at Dawes Arboretum
sap bucket hanging at Dawes Arboretum

I went on the very last weekend of Maple Syrup Madness (their annual sap boil and self guided tour) but alas the sugar shack was closed. There were quite a few buckets still on the trees, and they appeared to be at least partly filled with sap, but I must wait to find out how much syrup the Arboretum was able to decant this year.

Spring Salamander sighting!

There is always something to see at Dawes, so I got some very nice photos of a few Witch-hazel specimens and a super lucky shot of a spotted salamander in a vernal pool.

spotted salamander in a vernal pool
spotted salamander in a vernal pool

The salamanders come to the pool in the Cyprus Grove at Dawes every year to lay their eggs. A vernal pool is a shallow pool that forms from the early spring rains and runoff, and it will eventually dry up. This is what makes it the ideal nursery for baby salamanders. It can support the amphibians and their prey, but not fish which would eat the salamander eggs.  I have never seen a spotted salamander before and may never again. The window of opportunity for them to reproduce (and be observed in the pool) is pretty small. The salamander I photographed seemed to know it was a pretty special critter and wasn’t at all shy.   Thanks, Mr/Mrs. Spotted Salamander, for making my day awesome!

Abbreviated, possibly.

Strange, the vicissitudes of Ohio weather. ¬†¬†We have jumped¬†from daytime highs of just above¬†0¬ļ¬†(Farenheit) and¬†nighttime lows of just¬†below 0¬ļ¬†(Farenheit) to rather seasonable daytime temperatures of 50¬ļ and nighttime temperatures hovering around¬†32¬ļ F. ¬†The maples in our low-lying area are not producing much sap for us. ¬†We hung fewer buckets than we normally do.

The maple¬†syrup producers in our vicinity have clouds of steam rising¬†from their sugar shacks.¬† Our beloved Dawes Arboretum’s Maple Syrup Madness has proceeded on schedule, we think. ¬†We have, until last weekend, been very¬†much “hunkered down.” ¬†It is my hope we have not missed the sap run in our grove. ¬† We suspect it has been shortened by the sudden shift in temperatures. ¬†I took this photo¬†about a week ago, just after the last snow fall. ¬†That snow is now gone from our area, leaving a moonscape of brown grass, mud¬†and¬†mole hills.¬† It’s a tricky time of year, filled with promise¬†and¬†foreboding.

Sugar Grove 2015

Do you see her?

photo of hidden fawn
Do you see her?

How about now?

photo of hidden fawn
how about now?

How about now?

photo of a spotted fawn
our fawn

My husband stumbled upon this critter while he was clearing brush. ¬†Her mama must be off eating grass and leaves to make milk for her. ¬†She’s darling. ¬†We’ll say she’s a¬†she because most of the herd we see on our place are does (doe?). ¬†In a few short weeks¬†she’ll be frolicking around with her sisters, cousins and aunties, eating everything we try to plant in our yard. ¬†For now she’s just a little sweetie.

Walking in the Woods on Easter Morning…

Here’s what we saw. ¬†Lots of these guys. ¬†Don’t know what they are but they’re abundant and not at all shy. ¬†They turn their little faces right up.

photo of wildflowers, unidentified as of yet
these are growing in abundance

The violets are some of our oldest friends.

photo of wild violets

Here are some new flowers we have not seen before. ¬†The leaves are just remarkable–like a watercolor.

photo of a yellow wildflower, unidentified
a new variety, to us
photo of a small insect on a wildflower
closeup of our new wildflower

Here’s another wildflower that was more scarce. ¬†In our woods there were just two, that we observed. ¬†Looks like a tiny face doesn’t it? ¬†I wonder what it is…

photo of a wildflower that resembles a tiny face
a tiny face?
photo of a wildflower that resembles a face
a tiny profile?

Time to break out the wildflower identification book.  Any Ohio wildflower aficionados are certainly more than welcome to chime in about these tiny treasures.  Happy, joyous Easter!


Gifts of Spring

This morning I noticed that our pussy willow tree was full of little grey catkins! ¬†It’s really truly spring now.

This tree is special to my husband and me¬†because it grew from a tiny cutting given to us by his mother. ¬†It’s huge now. ¬†We planted it next to our beehives when we had bees. ¬†Pollinators adore these plants and they’re easy to grow. ¬†Here is some general info on propagation and pruning.

photo of a bouquet of salix discolor (American pussy willow catkins)
bouquet of little catkins

The cuttings are also beautiful in spring bouquets and by themselves. ¬†If you don’t put them in water they can literally last for years. ¬†If you do put them in water they will go to flower and are also very pretty, but I love the catkins. ¬† ūüźĪ

A wild bird friend came to see what I was doing.

photo of a robin
a curious robin

Happy spring to you too.

Anticipation (and Patience)

Well, it’s 25 degrees outside this morning, and we’re boiling‚Ķ.sap. ¬†At last.

This is phase two of three; phase one being the collection of sap and phase three the finishing and decanting. ¬† Our “evaporator” is a wood stove and a stainless steel steam tray liner from a restaurant supply company.

photo of sap simmering on a wood stove
our “evaporator”

We simmer a gallon or two at at time until we have no more sap to add. ¬†Our vessel is small and deep, so it’s a slow process. ¬†We know it’s time to finish when there is just a couple of inches of liquid left, and it begins to form a dense foam. ¬†Then we proceed to the kitchen range where we boil some¬†more and test the syrup’s specific gravity with a hydrometer. ¬† Then we decant.

In anticipation and celebration of this year’s batch I created a label for our jars. ¬†Or maybe I’ll make hang tags for presentation‚Ķnot sure.

jar label I designed

One of the most fun things about making our own syrup is giving jars as gifts. Delighted recipients¬†always have lots of questions. ¬†It’s a great conversation starter.¬†Some of our neighbors have even been curious enough to start tapping their own trees. ¬†It seems like the interest in maple sugaring has really grown over the last several years. ¬† In any event, we’re having a blast.

Maple Syrup Season, Redux

We’re a little maple syrup obsessed lately. It could be that we love to eat it, but more likely it is that the conditions that make the sap run mean spring is finally arriving.  It takes daytime temperatures above freezing and nighttime temperatures at or below freezing, consistently for a few days.  The thaw a couple of weeks ago got our hopes up, but it didn’t last.   Now, it looks like the real deal.   At least one farm nearby was boiling (sap) yesterday.

Also, the Dawes Arboretum‚Äôs annual ‚ÄúMaple Syrup Madness‚ÄĚ event officially began last weekend.

Maple Syrup Madness

a family on the self guided maple syrup tour at Dawes Arboretum
A family on the self guided maple syrup tour.

If you‚Äôve never been, go. ¬†It‚Äôs a splendid opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy the Arboretum. ¬†It‚Äôs free to the public.¬†Just park and hit the trail.¬†The ‚Äúmadness‚ÄĚ is a self-guided tour through a sugar¬†maple grove where you will see various methods of sap collection and learn fun facts about syrup production through the years.¬†

For instance, did you ever wonder if tapping harmed the trees?   A cross-section of a sugar maple tree shows how the holes from the spiles (spouts or taps) remain even while the tree heals around them. Trees cannot be tapped in the same spot year after year, and it’s recommended that even the stoutest trees not have more than three taps.  Trees smaller than 10 inches in diameter shouldn’t be tapped at all, they say. Wait for your saplings to mature.

photo of a hole left in sugar maple by 1974 tap
1974 Tap

The highlight of the tour is the sugar shack where they have a brand new shiny evaporator. There are volunteers operating the evaporator and fielding all kinds of questions.  The evaporator is fueled by propane, but a cozy fire is usually going in the fireplace. You’ll learn how to tell the difference between pure maple and what is called pancake or table syrup.

photo of the sugar shack at Dawes Arboretum
The sugar shack.

When you‚Äôre done, you can walk back to the Visitor‚Äôs Center and buy maple products from a pretty dazzling array of them on display. ¬†Ironically, the syrup produced on the Arboretum grounds is not for sale because their sugar shack has a wood floor. ¬†A law stipulates that sugar shacks must have concrete floors, or so I‚Äôm told, but I have not done any research on that subject. ¬†I imagine that hobbyists who want to ‚Äúgo pro‚ÄĚ and sell their syrup would have their work cut out for them figuring out how to comply with food safety regulations.

photo of the new evaporator in the sugar shack at Dawes Arboretum
The shiny new evaporator.

For us home producers…

For us home producers, the internet is full of articles and videos about the myriad ways folks go about the business of gathering and boiling.  People collect sap in all sorts of things including plastic milk jugs.  They boil on electric stoves, gas stoves, wood stoves, in homemade evaporators and on open fires. They decant in everything from custom containers to jelly jars. It seems like there’s no right or wrong, except the obvious;  that you’re dealing with boiling sugar (!!) and you have to exercise more than a modicum of common sense and caution. So, what’s the best part? My husband says it’s being in his woods checking his taps and pondering the differences between what each tree produces during it’s day.  I like that too, and the fire in the woodstove when we boil.   And Belgian waffles when we’re done.

And in case you’re not convinced yet about spring, here’s a snowdrop, and some more from a day at the Arboretum.Maple_Madness (26 of 26)