Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stop and Smell the Zinnias

The garden is so colorful at this time of year. A profusion of orange cosmos covers a five-foot area, makes a sharp right turn at the fence, and continues down several more feet before tapering off in a bed of almost-blooming marigolds.

Cosmos make fabulous bouquets. I've been combining them with dill and queen anne's lace in mason jars all over the house. The dill makes the air delightfully spicy.

Next to another patch of cosmos, my phlox is blooming nicely. I've got lavender...

...and white. Bees and butterflies love it!

My rose of sharon bush is ready to burst into blossom. The flowers are big, floppy, and ungainly, but I do like these tidy little conical blossoms that cover the bush every morning.

The queen anne's lace is glorious...

...and my russian sage is drawing bees from all over the city!

Even my oriental lilies have bloomed. I like to cut off the blossom heads and place them in tiny, three-inch vases. I've got them scattered all over the house, too.

Of course, I have my zinnia hedges, which by now are nearly 8 feet long and four feet wide. They're so easy to grow and each year I plow up more and more yard for them. Someday they'll have a very important place in my cottage garden!

It's easy to give them a quick glance and take pleasure in the beautiful flowers, just as they are.

Each one is so unique.

But sometimes, I like to get a little closer. The other day, I brought out a garden mat and burrowed into one of the hedges. The sun was out and the bees hummed steadily. It was very pleasant, and I felt perfectly happy there, waiting and watching. At first I just saw the insects on top of the flowers, like this honey bee.

But I waited patiently, and soon my eyes adjusted to a smaller world. Before long, I saw a tiny crab spider in one of the zinnia blossoms. Crab spiders don't build webs, although they can spin thin "drop lines" to help them move from flower to flower. They prefer to lie in wait and ambush insects that visit the flower for pollen.

What at first I thought was a discolored petal moved and became a shield bug. Shield bugs, so named for their distinctive shape, are common in gardens. They are plant feeders, and release a noxious odor when handled. I made sure to give him plenty of space.

Little gnats and flies soon returned to the zinnia leaves all around my head. Each one is so unique and interesting, but I despair of ever learning their identities. There are so many of them.

To my surprise, I saw several small praying mantises motionless beneath flower heads. Despite all the mantises that left the oothecas this spring, I have only seen one or two full-grown ones in the yard, and I thought they'd been picked off by birds. But no, they're just experts at not being seen. Like the crab spiders, they wait patiently for an insect to visit the flower, and then pounce.

Two flies found this zinnia stalk a perfect place to mate.

This fly has the most beautifully patterned eyes! Amazing!

I stayed outside for about an hour. The little creatures became used to me and crept out of their hiding spaces, and I watched them scurry about. What a nice, peaceful way to spend a morning!

Inside, things are a little more sedate.

I finished a knitting project recently, a cardigan for a friend's daughter. It's Kate Davies' Mini Manu and I learned several new techniques...

...such as pleating. Kate has an adult version of this cardigan that I might cast on for someday!

I decided to embroider some tiny flowers below the pleats, to match the vintage buttons I found. Pretty cute!

A few weeks ago, I bought some clearance bakeware at JoAnn Fabrics. I normally don't like to bake with this rubbery material, but you couldn't beat the price. So, I became the proud owner of a mini loaf pan.

I knew just the recipe for its maiden voyage!

Lemon Fruit Yogurt Loaf
From Smitten Kitchen
Makes 4 loaves

1 1/2 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup yogurt - vanilla or plain
1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup fruit (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)
1/3 cup lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease your mini loaf pan. Sift your flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and oil. Gradually add the flour mixture to this wet mixture, and then mix in the fruit. If you're concerned about your fruit being untidy and discoloring the batter, you can always mix it with a little flour before folding it carefully into the batter.

Pour into mini loaf pan and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, until golden.


You're not done yet! Mix the remaining tablespoon of sugar with the lemon juice and warm until sugar has dissolved. Once your loaves have rested for about 10 minutes, poke some holes in their tops and drizzle the sugar/lemon juice mixture over them.

These are so moist and delicious...probably one of the best dessert breads I've ever had. The nice thing about these mini loaves, too, is that they're easy to tie up with fabric and give to friends.

I hope you'll give some away soon. Have a great week!


  1. Thanks for the pictures of the gardens and the bugs! So fascinating!

  2. Thanks, I'm glad you like them!

  3. Lovely pics! Its always refreshing to see garden photos! love the mini-manu. I love the adult version a lot too..

  4. Thanks! It's on my list of cardigans to knit someday! :)