It is going to be a springtime of learning.

My Master Gardener friend Jo drafted Mom and me to help with a high tunnel project at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days site in Rock Springs, 10-plus miles from State College. Chris, another MG, heads the Centre County MG demonstration gardens just outside the high tunnel door.

A high tunnel is similar to the hoop house we had at Fleur-de-Lys, only this one is larger and has aluminum arches covered with clear plastic and sides that roll up when (if) the weather warms. Inside, we have a 4’x18’ raised bed and will soon have two tables holding a dozen Earth Boxes. The other half of the tunnel is empty, to make room for chairs when we hold presentations in the “teaching tunnel”.

Jo, an interior designer, transports her talents outside into perennial gardens and is a master at recruiting volunteers to showcase their skills. Chris has a long history with the MG program and is a gregarious gardener who always has a treat—plastic bag of Brussels sprouts in fall, jar of hot pepper jelly in winter, bulbs of stargazer lilies in spring.

We will have an “open tunnel” May 17, as part of the Garden Fair and Plant Sale, sponsored by the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners of Center County (quite a mouthful). Our MG herb expert will give a talk on Culinary Herbs, and with a little luck, our Earth Boxes will be billowing with fragrant, tasty and gorgeous boughs of basil, lemon verbena, rosemary, parsley…you get the picture. The raised bed will have three mini gardens: the Square-Foot Quilt Garden, the Pea Teepee Garden, and the Power Greens Garden. After the Garden Fair, we will switch out the raised bed plantings to make way for a grafted heirloom tomato trial garden for Ag Progress Days in August.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Chris stopped by the other day bearing gifts of peat pellets and donated seeds before she left for a business trip to Phoenix. I had never seeded a peat pellet before, so I was a little nervous, but heck, it’s only plant science. Chris warned me that you need “really warm water” to get the peat pellets to expand quickly.

The weekend arrives. I put the teakettle on the burner in the kitchen and start laying out the 86 peat pellets in their plastic trays on the atrium table. My cohort figures we are having a party.Image

When will the chocolate cookies be ready? Mom asks

They are not cookies. They are peat pellets. We are planting seeds.

When will the cookies be ready?

They are not cookies. They are for starting seeds.

They look like chocolate cookies.

They don’t taste like chocolate. They are made of peat moss.

So you don’t put them in the oven?

No. We’re using them to grow plants.

They look like such good chocolate. I could eat them up.

You know how there are two kinds of people in the world, those who see a glass half empty and those who see it half full? Well, there are actually three kinds—those who see chocolate. That’s my mom. Just a few nights ago we had dinner at an Asian-fusion restaurant where chocolate-brown linen napkins were wrapped around silverware and a white sleeve of chopsticks was strapped on top. Throughout dinner m mother would raise her eyebrows and motion to an unoccupied table, saying to Marina, “Look at that yummy chocolate dessert.” She repeated herself three or four times, despite our explanations to the contrary.

Back to our seeding. The warm water works. The peat pellets expand like pop-up sponges.

Those look like good chocolate cakes.

Well, they’re not. These are peat pellets so we can germinate seeds.

Every time I see them, I think it is a good piece of chocolate I can eat.

Finally, all 86 peat pellets are watered, seeded, and labeled. I snap on the clear plastic “greenhouse” lids and placed them on a card table where they will be warmed by the sun, if it ever shows.

Come to think of it, they do look resemble the cupcakes sealed in plastic containers in supermarket bakeries. All I can hope is that the darn seeds germinate before she tries to sneak a bite.

That next day we have a work session at the high tunnel to transplant donated seedlings into our Power Greens Garden.


My mom sits in a lawn chair watching the crew. We plan. We dig. We space. In goes the kale and chard. Next come the napa cabbage and spinach. We water. We label. Up go the bamboo teepees, our much-needed “visual interest” according to our designing woman. We are making progress. We are making a garden. As the cold rain patters on our plastic shell we are warm with activity and accomplishment.

Jo steps back, admires the work, and reaches into a bag for her Tupperware container. She peels off the lid and offers the first of her batch of chocolate brownies to my mom. Laurie Lynch

BTW: Our teaching tunnel is fueled by plant labels made from recycled wine corks supported by bamboo skewers.

Title Exchange: We had dinner with Emelie, a friend from the Lehigh Valley, last week.

She asked if I had read any good books recently. I knew I had, it’s just that the names didn’t come to me until I got home: The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

And Emelie’s suggestions were: City of Thieves by David Benioff and Plainsong by Kent Haruf..

Your Turn: If you’ve read a great book recently, add the title in the comment section of this blog.

Words Worth Reading: “The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.”—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And Another: “With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?”—Oscar Wilde




3 thoughts on “Fleur-de-Chocolate

  1. I liked Passage by Connie Willis. She’s a terrific science fiction writer. I also enjoyed To Say Nothing of the Dog by her.

  2. Really enjoyed Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. A contemporary novel about a concierge in an apartment building in Paris.

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