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.


Soup, There it is!

The official end of summer is here.  I actually saw a lone tree that beat the crowd and changed its color already. It was a young tree, probably only planted a few years ago, and it was a beautiful rust color. Youth showing off.

If you have a veggie garden, you’re probably still harvesting and now have more  tomatoes than you know what to do with, and probably plenty of peppers and beans. If you’re like me, you’ve harvested them a little late. I seem to forget the beans once the tomatoes finally ripen, and forget the Eggplants, any stray Zucchini and definitely the Kale and, oh yeah the herbs too.  What I do with the over ripe veggies and neglected herbs is put them all in the same soup pot. I make Minestrone.

pot of minestrone photo

This tomato based soup benefits from a long slow cook, which tenderizes the green beans and kale that have become fibrous in the heat of late August and early September (and because I waited so long to pick them 🙂 ). Also, the longer the pot simmers the richer the flavor of the tomatoes.  You can use almost every vegetable or fruit (yes, tomatoes are a fruit) you have in your garden right now to make this soup. You can make it with or without chicken broth. Adding water to your pot instead of chicken broth just makes broth out of your veggies at the same time you are making your soup.  Or – instead of water you can add vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade, to add an extra layer of richness.  We made our soup the same day we harvested, so it did take us about 4 hours start to finish.  We knew that was the goal for the day, so we set aside the time together, and it was actually fun. Almost meditative, maybe.


This is some of the harvest we used in the soup – onions, carrots, potatoes, and kale.

Basic Recipe for Minestrone (means “big soup”)

Here’s our recipe for a single pot of Minestrone. You can double or triple it to make a giant pot. You can even adjust it to include pasta, which is the traditional version. Also you can adjust it to include more of the veggies you like or exclude the veggies you don’t like. It’s all good.

Olive Oil – 2 to 3 TBS (enough to cover the bottom of your pot)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

2 large potatoes, cubed

2 cups chopped Tomatoes

1 cup beans (fresh from the garden, rinsed from the can, or dry beans that have been soaked and then cooked)

1 cup of chopped string beans  (yellow, green or purple string beans, whatever you have in your garden or strikes your fancy at the market)

2 cups of broth or water

1 cup of shredded Kale

1/2  cup of chopped zucchini

1/2 cup of chopped celery

1 Tbs each of finely chopped/shredded  fresh Oregano and Basil (if using dried reduce to 1 tsp of each)


We used everything we picked that day, doubling our recipe.


FIRST: Add the olive oil to the bottom of your soup pot and warm on medium heat. Saute the garlic and onions in the olive oil until they are translucent, roughly 5 minutes.


I had about a cup left of this veggie broth which I added after the onions and garlic were cooked. 


NEXT: Add the carrots and your green beans, and toss for a few minutes to coat them in the olive oil. ADD  your chopped tomatoes and herbs, salt and pepper, and your broth or water.

Having a food processor makes it a lot easier and saves your hands for the garden. I did also add some hand chopped tomatoes for texture. You can do it either way.



Here the pot full of veggies before it has cooked down. It smells as good as it looks.

Let this gorgeous pot simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

NOW: Add your zucchini and potatoes, let cook for another 30 -40 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. The soup will thicken and as the tomatoes break down and the other vegetables will soften.


NEXT: Add the shredded kale and if using cooked beans add them as well. Simmer for 20 minutes. If using pasta, add 1/2 a cup of small pasta and cook for another 10 minutes.  Check to see if you need to add more water or broth. The soup should be thick and the vegetables tender with a sweet mellow flavor.


You can serve this hot right away with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and maybe some crusty bread. This soup tastes even better the next day, and the next, and the next – if it lasts that long. In fact, we freeze it in quarts so in the long cold nights of January we have warm soup made fresh from the garden to brighten our spirits.