The Charmed Garden

From Planning to Planting, and from Harvest to Table.

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Summer Break in a Shakespeare Garden

This past weekend Moraine Valley Community College presented it’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars. This year the play was The Winter’s Tale, re-imagined to take place in the mid 20th century in Sicilia and Bohemia with the very clever addition of a psychedelic Bear chasing an exiting actor off stage.

The play was set so close to the Shakespeare Garden you could have watched it from the benches in the garden, and many of us did just that.

The  garden is designed with plants that are referred to in various Shakespeare plays. The path winding through the garden has plaques on stands with quotes from his plays in which the flowers are referenced. Here are two of my favorites.

The garden is just beautiful. There’s sun at one end and shade at the other with a red brick path winding through it.  Places to sit off the path are nestled under trees or tucked behind the flower beds. The Shakespeare Quotes are scattered along the way. There’s a sundial at the sunny entrance with purple Salvia and Liriope circling it.


Simple birdbaths are surrounded by Peonies, Allium, Sage, Boxwoods, and perennial grasses.  Mounded Boxwoods give structure and an English garden feel.


The garden is perfectly designed in this designer’s opinion.  Perennials are planted in mass, giving it consistent textures and colors. The heights are staggered. The flowing perennials are anchored with mounded boxwoods. Specimen bushes are placed in each section of the garden. Structures (bird baths, sundials, plaques to read) are placed along the way to encourage you to take your time and enjoy the view. Benches are tucked into their own little garden spots off the path, in the sun or out of it.

It is an island of color and tranquility in a high traffic space on a busy campus.  A beautiful place to take a break, relax and rejuvenate.  Exactly what a garden is supposed to do. If you’re in the area I highly recommend visiting the garden for inspiration or just for a brain break.  Bring a book and stay awhile.


I will leave you with one more photo of the play


The Princess of Silicia and the Prince of Bohemia in a scene from the Winter’s Tale. The Prince is our youngest son, Daniel. I don’t think I’m too biased when I say the play was wonderful and the actors fantastic.


This is hands down my favorite quote and it’s very true. It is why we garden and why we seek out gardens. It’s why we take our kids to parks, why we treasure our National Parks, why some of us camp and some of us hike. It’s why we boat, bird watch, grow so many damn tomatoes that we can’t even give them away.  There are different paths to happy, and nature in all its forms can help us get there.

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Slow Cooker Applesauce from the Windy City

Mother Nature has taken her time, but the cold has finally settled in here in the Chicago area.  Lucky for us the change in seasons has come slowly because the apple festivals and farmer’s markets have been a lot more fun. Shopping outside in the cold rain just makes everyone miserable.

We bought a huge box Seconds at an apple festival in Ravenswood, one of the many neighborhoods in Chicago with friendly little city in a big city vibe. The box was a deal at $20.  It was a mix of about 20 pounds of different varieties of apples that were bruised and really ripe.

IMG_4448We made the Best. Applesauce. Ever.   Really simple and really really good. Sweet and Tart with the subtle flavor of the warming spices, Cinnamon and Star Anise. The hardest part of this recipe is the peeling. So put on a movie, or a podcast, or watch Sunday football all day, like we did.  It helps if you have a peeler, mechanical or human 🙂

Here’s mine.


My apple peeler is vintage, but still pretty easy on the eyes.

We set aside about  20 apples to use in a couple of soup recipes.  The rest became our apple sauce.  Here’s the recipe.


20lbs of Apples – Farmer’s Markets usually sell their apples in small or medium sized baskets or one large 10lb bag. This recipe calls for 2 large bags.  You can get a bag of one variety or a mixed variety. I’ve always made this apple sauce with a mix of sweet and tart varieties and it comes out tasting great every time so I would recommend trying it first with a mix of varieties.

Two sticks of cinnamon and One Star Anise – Normally you would only need one star anise and two cinnamon sticks.  However, this was a double batch for us. The box of apples was endless.  Like two football games and an episode of Walking Dead endless. 

2 cups of water and 1 Crock Pot (slow cooker)

STEP ONE – Peel, core and chop

STEP TWO: Add all the ingredients at once to your slow cooker. If you’re cooking a lot more apples than will fit in your cooker, no worries.  After the first batch cooks for about an hour or so, the apples will reduce in the size and you can then add the rest of your apples.

Step Three – Once you’ve put in every last apple, first and second batch. Put the top on and let it cook  for 3-4  hours on high or 6 hours on low.  Sneak a peak. If they’ve become brown from the spices and mush from the cooking, they’re done.  Turn off your cooker and let them cool over night.

Step Four – Your cooked apples are now ready for the food processor or a blender. If you don’t have either, a potato masher will do the trick too.  Mash and/or process your apples to the consistency you like, smooth or chunky.

STEP FIVE – Put your fabulous APPLE SAUCE in containers. I put ours in jars so we could share some and to make it easier to store. It will last in your fridge for at least a month, but fair warning you’re going to like this so much it won’t stay in your fridge for long. Use it to cook with, in your smoothies, on pancakes or waffles, or to satisfy a craving for something sweet.


I love Cinnamon in anything. I especially love Star Anise in this recipe, and well who doesn’t love apples in one form or another. Put them, all together, and cook them over several hours and I guarantee that when you smell this it will bring a smile to your face. When you taste it you’ll your whole body will smile.