January 2, 2012

Organic Gardening Magazine

The February-March issue of this vital magazine features an article on my North Carolina garden, Chatwood. It shows a picture of the back of the house, which is on the historic register. It was built in 1806 as an inn and tavern for the grist mill–still standing–down the road. It’s a rambling Federal farmhouse  with a front porch and the old millstone at the base of the steps.  The primo joys of the house are the spicy scent inside that reminds me of ancient Italian churches, its leisurely gardens and meadows and walks along the Eno River.

With six acres of camellia and azalea swaths, a butterfly garden and many large perennial beds, plus a three-room walled rose garden, the upkeep of the property, to put it mildly, remains a challenge. Or, you might think of it as a calling. The cover photo was taken in the rose garden.


I love the 1770 barn and the nine outbuildings, even the funky forties greenhouse–don’t touch that wire!–where Willie and I now have an ongoing project. He grows gourds in summer. They’re like kudzu–just take over whatever space they can.  All fall they dry out in the greenhouse.  Around Thanksgiving we begin to drill round holes in some of them and to scrape them out. The insides, packed with seeds, are SO primitive.  The gourd has a mighty evolutionary drive!


We clean them with steel wool, spray with sealer, run wire through the top, drill a little drainage hole in the bottom–and there’s the birdhouse. They’re hanging in trees everywhere and they also are Willie’s Christmas presents to friends.  Bluebirds like them, especially, and many are home to little yellow finches. These are still drying:


This is such a satisfying project!  As the gourds dry, I love the mottled surfaces, and the cheery shapes seem like little creatures!

Back to the Organic Gardening article!   Lovingly written by my friend Kim Sunée, there is a recipe for easy strawberry semifreddo from our soon-to-be-released The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, and other recipes are included on line at organic gardening.com/tuscanrecipes

When Kim wrote Trail of Crumbs, her editor asked me for a blurb. I read the manuscript and we have been friends ever since.  She came to Tuscany twice to help Steven Rothfeld and me with the food prep and styling when we were photographing for the cookbook.  In North Carolina, we had a very fun day with photographer Peter Frank Edwards styling the food, trying to photograph the semifreddo before it melted, and picking bouquets.


One challenge of the land is the number of volunteer trees all of whom want to choke out the others. For Christmas, Ed gave me two orange tools that grasp and uproot saplings.  The tools are made by The Weed Wrench Company, www.weedwrench.com .  They were recommended to us by Nancy Goodwin, whose lovingly curated garden, Montrose, is the major one in our area. She thinned a woods for a magical garden full of cyclamen, primroses, ferns, snowdrops, peonies–a secret poem of a garden. Nancy has all measures of these simple and amazing tools.


Their secret? Jaws and leverage. You fit the trunk into the maw and as you pull back, it closes and the leverage lifts the offending tree out of the ground.


The instructions say over and over “don’t fall backwards.”  We are clearing some of the woods of underbrush so that the meadows and woods become seamless rather than the meadow abutting a stop-view wall of weeds, vines, and volunteer pines. Good winter work–a corrective for all the feasting of the holidays! On New Year’s Day, I spotted two daffodils in bloom! The garden is just waiting to burst forth again.

Happy 2012! May we all foster our inner selves–read and feast and travel and act boldly and rest and pursue private dreams.