St. Francis Of Assisi And The Bird bath

Every Italian family I know has at least one statue in their garden. We have our reasons. We need to have the blessings of the saints around our home. This is a connection we’ve retained from our pagan past. Statues remind us of the homeland. Rome is beautifully littered with ancient sculptures, grottos and water features, so it’s part of our design DNA. And we have an ostentatious flair – big, bold, loud and shiny. I mean, who doesn’t love how stone looks when it’s sprayed with a garden hose …

I’ve had the Blessed Mother watching over my front garden since we moved to Rockaway. Mary centered prominently on the southeast side of my garden. Russian sage surrounds her.

1. Unlike most Blessed Mothers, Mary is not in a grotto dome_ she stands tall and free within the garden. For some reason, grasshoppers like to sit on her in the hot summer months
Unlike most Blessed Mothers, Mary is not in a grotto dome, she stands tall and free within the garden. For some reason, grasshoppers like to sit on her in the hot summer months

The sculpture has an old-world feel. She’s about 4 feet tall and made of concrete which has weathered, exposing the aggregate pebbles. She is a sight to behold and many neighbors have complimented her uniqueness.

The next logical statue after the Blessed Mother for the garden is Saint Francis of Assisi. He’s the patron saint of animals and the environment. We pray he keeps the squirrels and raccoons away from our tomato plants. He’s very popular among Italians.

2. Saint Francis safely secured on the handtruck (1)

A few weeks ago we started looking for a St. Francis and a bird bath on craigslist and we found both in the same location in Pennsylvania. Bucks County seems to be a “Statue Town USA”. Driving through we say many auction houses, quarries and thrift shops selling lawn sculptures, it was overwhelming, I wanted it all!

The bird bath was from one of these auction houses. It wasn’t cheap but worth it. It’s tall, and the basin is unusually large – 32 inches wide.  It has copper colored concrete with gray which makes it look like marble. The ancient Italian DNA is activated by marble.

3 Fill er' up! (1)
Fill er’ up!

Our next stop was to pick up St Francis. He was a steal, only $100. We met some young kid in the parking lot of Walmart for the transaction. This statue is the strangest depiction I’ve seen of St. Francis and that’s why I was attracted to it. His head is oddly sized. His expression is a bit eerie but also humble. There are several birds he’s interacting with.

With both sculptures in the car we headed back to New York. Matt and our friend Rob patiently adjusted the positioning of both until I was happy with their locations. St. Francis, I thought, needed to be displayed in the front garden for all to see. He is on the opposite side of the Blessed Mother, nestled between the oak hydrangeas. The bird bath we put in a shady part of the backyard, where we can quietly view the birds that visit.

Oh, Those Nooks And Crannies…

I made English Muffin pizzas the other day and they were so so good. I remember as a kid making them with my sisters on our small kitchen table at home. We’d each have 4 or 5 of our very own to “work on”, with whatever toppings my mother had on hand. We’d pile on so much cheese, pepperoni and black olives (my fav), that when the muffins came out of the oven, the cheese was sizzling over on the hot pan. It was so much fun for us. Do kids still do this?

english muffin pizzas

I think some of you know, Thomas’ English Muffins originated in America, not England. Samuel Bath Thomas, a British expat, emigrated to New York in 1874 and had a bakery in Chelsea. His “toaster crumpet” was popular in the hotel and restaurant scene. The term English Muffin was coined in 1894.

It’s said by the New York Times that only 7 people know the recipe for the famed English Muffin. Many professionals in the baking industry tried to crack the cranny code but all have failed. So, don’t try to find it online or experiment in the hopes of posting your homemade quarantine English Muffins on Instagram. It’s not happening.

My friend who I mentioned a few weeks back, Mr. Ed, put out another remote learning video for his students. This series is about popular jingles and what makes them so catchy. He asked his friends, students, and co-workers to submit entries. The one that resonated with me most, was the jingle my friend Katie Honan sang – the Bagel Bites jingle, from the wildly popular commercial from 1996.

Pizza in the morning,
Pizza in the evening,
Pizza at suppertime!
When pizza’s on a bagel,
You can eat pizza anytime!

Katie explained the deeper meaning of this jingle in her cameo, “It advertised an item from Ore-Ida that you might see in your freezer aisle. This item combines two very popular foods: a popular lunch and dinner food, pizza, with a very popular breakfast food, a bagel. And the idea behind this ad and jingle was that when you combine these two, you can eat them anytime you want. Now, I believe you can eat pizza and a bagel whenever you want, but this was the world we lived in, in the ’90s. I’ve always really liked the jingle, it was crazy and phonetic but I wanted to strip it down to get the core message of this liberating food.”

Katie’s rendition is great, check it out on Ed’s Youtube channel page here.

Interestingly, the jingle lyrics were altered from The McGuire Sisters’ 1957 single Sugartime, written by Charlie “Sugartime” Phillips. The original song is pretty sweet, listen here.

All this has me thinking … did inventors Stanley Garkzynski and Bob Mosher of Bagel Bites get the clever idea for their product from English Muffin pizzas? What came first? Bagel Bites came to market in 1991. That means I would’ve been 10 years old. I feel there’s a good chance we made English Muffin Pizzas before then. I’ll have to do more research on this.

Do others contemplate the origins of frozen snacks randomly or is it just me with a lot of time on my hands in quarantine?

Follow me for the day-to-day on Instagram, @theglorifiedtomato.

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What does salt tolerant actually mean?

With the help of Matt’s cousin Lesley Conroy, who is a landscape architect, we designed our front garden in 2016. Lesley and I both agreed on choosing plants that would be fitting for a coastal landscape.

Since then, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about coastal gardens and the effect of salt on plants. I’ve found that there’s a vast difference that salt has on plants and trees on the beach block, versus inner blocks on the peninsula. I see my neighbors between Holland Ave. and the boulevard growing apple trees, basil, hibiscus, and other non-natives in their front gardens!

Even though my house is only 100 yards closer to the ocean, the situation is very different. With heavy rain or wind, saltwater is brought up from the ocean. It’s basically raining salt. The plants, shrubs, and trees in my garden are damaged, despite carefully selecting salt-tolerant plants.

That brings me to the question, what does salt-tolerant actually mean? I’ve learned, It’s the degree at which a plant can withstand salt without significant adverse effects. This is salt from the air and salt that is deposited in the soil. It doesn’t mean that these plants are immune to salt. And each species has a varying tolerance.

I’ve come to terms with the salt issue in my garden. It’s a challenge that has made me a better gardener. A few tricks I learned are as follows:

  • Use a hose to wash your plants of salt residue right after a storm
  • Prune damaged stems. This is key for a fast bounce back.
  • Modify the soil, meaning, each spring add compost/soil to combat salt deposits.

chokecherry

One tree that couldn’t withstand the salt in my front yard is our Canada Red Chokecherry. Matt and I choose this tree for its beautiful purple foliage, white flowers, and its tolerance to salt. The tree, when we planted it two years ago, was very young, only 18 inches tall. We thought at first we weren’t watering it enough but later learned it was the salt. After every rain, all the leaves would singe away. As a last-ditch effort, we moved the tree in early March to the backyard. We didn’t even know if it was still alive.

I’m happy to report the chokecherry did sprout and is thriving in a large pot in the backyard, now protected from the salty environment in the front of the house. This little bit of protection seems to make a world of difference.

If you’re having salt problems in your garden there’s a link to the plants in my garden.

Remember, all plants will sustain damage from salt but the ones listed in the link are hearty and are your best chance for a beautiful coastal garden.

salt damage rockaway beach

The brick porch in past years had protected our serviceberry tree from the salt during heavy rains. Now that it’s grown past the brick protection, it’s subjected to the elements. Notice the top half is all brown. That happened a few weeks ago after a heavy rainstorm.

After transplanting the chokecherry into a large pot in the backyard, the tree is thriving!

The salt tolerance of a plant is often defined as the degree to which the plant can withstand, without significant adverse effects, moderate or high concentrations of saltwater on its leaves or in the soil within reach of its roots.

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DIY Indoor Greenhouse

April is holding up its end of the bargain – rain, rain, and more rain. It’s needed to jump-start our gardens and the growing season. I’ve been outside whenever the weather permits, weeding, cleaning up leaves, and dividing/moving plants to new locations.

Normally I start my veggie seedlings in the Beach 91st Street Community Garden greenhouse. I’ve been a member for several years now. A greenhouse is typically 20 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. The average temperature this month in Rockaway has been about 55 degrees. So the greenhouse is cooking at a toasty 75 degrees! Perfect for germination. But alas, this year, the garden leadership committee has understandably delayed the opening as a safety measure because of… you know what.

Without the luxury of a greenhouse this year, I had to adapt. I was about to buy seed starter kits on Amazon when I thought better of it. Why spend money on that when I can use what I have at home? I took eggs out of their container and put them back in the fridge in a bowl. Egg cartons are perfect for planting seeds. With cardboard cartons, you can put the plant directly in the ground. If you’re using a plastic egg carton, just use a spoon to loosen up the roots and soil before planting. Small plastic or paper cups, eggshells, avocado skins, cardboard toilet paper rolls housed in a cardboard box, and plastic food containers all work very well.

I have a few pro tips for growing seedlings inside. If you follow these guidelines, I’m sure you’ll have success!

DIY greenhouse set up. You'd be suprised what you can make with things lying around your house!

Moisture – Never, ever let the soil dry out! Check on them daily. Since seedlings are so delicate, a spray bottle is a great way to water as well as keeping the environment humid. Have some type of cover so the seeds are enclosed (like a mini greenhouse). A small plastic storage bin works great.

Lots of light – A sunny southeast-facing window is ideal for your seedlings to grow. Use a grow light for even better results or to supplement light if you don’t have good exposure in your home.

Soil – A light seed-starting mix works best. This always causes tiny growth to easily push through the soil to sunlight. But don’t stress this. I’ve used soil from my yard and I’ve never had a problem with that.

Plant appropriately – I plant three more seeds than the number of plants I want. Just in case some don’t germinate. It’s easy to forget and plant 10 tomato seeds and 10 cucumber seeds and so on. Then as they grow, you begin to realize you’ve over planted and you have no space for them! Most seeds can last a few years in a dry environment. So save what you don’t need.

Avocado skins are perfect for seed plantings

Label everything – I’ve made this mistake so many times, thinking “I’ll remember what’s what”. And then of course, I forget. Ultimately you figure it out but I suggest labeling so you can be prepared and plan out your garden. Write on the container itself or use wooden cutlery.

Acclimate for strength. About 6-10 days after the seeds have sprouted, you should bring them outside from time to time, to acclimate and get stronger. Do this on sunny warmer days. My father always told me never plant your garden before Mother’s Day. After May 15, it’s time to put the baby plants in the ground and once you do, they’ll really take off.

For more on gardening follow mw on Instagram.

DIY seed containers

tagged in garden, gardening