Now’s the time to point readers to Larry Hurley’s article on our website titled Getting the Most of your Fresh-Cut Christmas Tree.  His tips are definitely evergreen – good year after year.

Photo credit.

Sally’s Amaryllis – Coaxing, Not Forcing, Nature


Sally’s Amaryllis

I don’t know how long ago the tradition started and I’m really not sure how many other friends and family receive (or received) an amaryllis bulb from my parents but some time, years ago, they began a holiday tradition and sent a bulb, of their choosing, as a holiday gift. When a square box arrived with the words “Open Immediately ~ Live Plant” arrived, we felt that marked the official start of our holiday season. Whether sent or purchased from a local, reputable nursery like Behnke’s, giving an amaryllis as a gift can start a tradition and or bring nature’s beauty into a home. I know it’s my holiday season.

How many other recipients looked (or look) forward to a bulb’s arrival and do/did they enjoy the growing process as much as the stunning results? To be honest, for the first few years, I enjoyed the challenge but I doubt I was really invested in the process of forcing any bulb much less an amaryllis. I hope, like others (no matter how an amaryllis enters their life) the joy, and anticipation, has become an integral and loved tradition linked with a gardener’s “winter months.”

It might not be a time of year when we look outside the window in search of color, growth, emerging greens and climbing vines but that only makes this gardener relish the amaryllis more. It’s a joyful, appreciated sight and I don’t take this beauty for granted.


A forced bulb is different than, for example, multiplying cone flowers (though they, too, are stunning). When a forced bulb’s colorful blossoms burst out of the tear-dropped shaped bud, it’s a breath taking sight culminating from a long growing period (the length of time depends on conditions and type of bulb). It’s like a magician waving a wand, grandly stating . . . “TA-DA!”


A singular or cluster of blossoms can be appreciated from all angles and they last (sometimes they need staking for support). Whenever I’ve had a particularly long stem showing signs of breaking, I cut them and put them in a vase – it’s just as lovely when cut and I think they last a long time. Somehow, a cut blossom from a bulb I’ve watched and nursed for well over a month is intensely satisfying – far more satisfying than buying a bouquet and equally wonderful to collecting colorful blooms from a summer’s garden.

As the years passed, I started taking pictures of the flowers to share with my parents (in Cleveland) but I didn’t give much thought to what I was doing; I watered the bulb, watched it grow and took a picture. In hindsight, I was learning how to force bulbs, engaging in the amazing process and archiving the results. I don’t think I will ever become blasé about nature’s tenacity, mysteries and beauty. Ever.


Photo courtsy of Ellen and Carl Metzger

Courtesy of technology, I learned of a few relatives’ experience(s) with my parents’ gifts. I started asking about their process and collected some pictures. Some relatives save their amaryllis until after New Year’s Day and I think that’s a really great idea.

Whether or not they travel, so they want to be able to take care of the bulb and watch its progress, doesn’t matter. I just think it’s another wonderful aspect to forcing bulbs during the winter months.

Spring flowers can be forced in January and February, announcing a season inside before we see the majority of those flowers in the landscape. Paperwhites, amaryllis, fall crocus . . .. The list continues. How amazing to be able to have the much desired continuous blooming garden because we can bring the garden inside and don’t have to follow the seasonal forecast.

I know many bulb enthusiasts save their bulbs and follow the guidelines to bring them to flower in subsequent years. Maybe that will be my next challenge but for now, I’m not that organized. I dream of that potter’s shed and organization but for now, it remains elusive.

When I look at the photographs I have of previous amaryllis blossoms, I enjoy what those pictures tell me. I think about my mother looking through the White Flower Farm catalogue and making her choice – always based on aesthetics with a little practicality added here and there; she didn’t like long stems that might break, the colors were important to her and she was drawn to new varieties and sometimes, the dwarfs. My mother (Sally) took the process very seriously and I appreciate that. I always admired her aesthetics and it showed in everything she did.

red-amaryllisNo matter – tall, short, variegated, vibrant, subtle – I love(d) them all. Sometimes I would look at that green pot covered in moss and even though I followed the directions to the letter that bulb didn’t show much promise.

However, just as promised in the directions, with the proper light, watering and waiting (the hard part for me), growth really did begin. Nature will always amaze me. I will always respect Her.

My amaryllis always starts growing slowly. Sometimes I wonder whether or not the bulb’s going to make it or if I got a dud. But once it starts growing, I honestly think I can watch it grow. When the leaves emerge, I know the process begins in earnest but when those buds form, I really get excited. They grow in leaps and bounds – it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done this, it’s just as thrilling as last year and the year before . . .


When my mother passed away in March 2011, I returned from Cleveland to my house in Bethesda – and saw Sally’s Amaryllis in full bloom. I know, I know – sounds hokey, planned and impossible to believe but it’s true. I walked into the house and…..


Sally’s Amaryllis

… There it was.

I won’t/can’t go into the whole “my mother was present” or “it was a sign of nature’s cycle” because that’s not my way but much, much more importantly, that was not my mother’s way. Reality was her “middle name.” All the same, I sure was thrilled to see Sally’s Amaryllis.

In December, the year my mother passed away, when the box from White Flower Farms arrived containing Sally’s Amaryllis, I was thrilled. It took my breath away. My father continues the tradition with the same consideration, enthusiasm, attention to detail and thoughtfulness they began all those years ago. My dad (David) looks through the catalogue, thinks about Sally’s aesthetics, adds a dash of his own preferences and sets about ordering amaryllis bulbs. With every year, my appreciation takes on new meaning and my visual archive grows.

I’ve been photographing this year’s choice and it has yet to flower. My father selected Lemon Star this year – a new variety that sold out quickly. This might be the year I care for the bulb to resurrect it next winter and I look forward to the blossoms. With two large, full pods full of flowers, I’m sure the selection will be stunning.

Because my house is in chaos with renovations and construction, the window where I keep all of my plants is no longer safe for plants. I probably will end up losing some (Orchid lovers be forewarned) but the amaryllis is one of those things I just won’t leave up to chance. I moved it into my bedroom in hopes of enough natural light and protection. The selfish part of me decided it would be nice to watch the process with a front row seat and it will cheer me up as I recover from some procedures I’m having done on my spine (nothing helps with pain relief as much as the beauty of growing and blossoming plants).


Lemon Star Amaryllis Growth Chart

The anniversary of my mother’s passing (yahrzeit) on the Hebrew calendar is 3 Adar. Her name will be read at my synagogue’s services on February 8th and 9th where I will say Kaddish and at home, light a yahrzeit candle to mark this anniversary. On the secular calendar, the anniversary of Sally’s passing is March 8th.

I know there will be an amaryllis bloom; maybe on the plant, in a vase or photographed in my visual archive. Regardless, Sally’s Amaryllis is a special family bond similar to a strong connection to nature’s cycles.

Though I believe the lighting of a yahrzeit candle to mark the anniversary is from Proverbs “The soul . . . is a candle of the Lord,” my soul’s connection is through nature’s mystery, cycle, tenacity and beauty. I don’t think Sally would disagree. I think she would also like the liturgy that says, “As long as we live, they too shall live.”

Posted By: Emily Stashower Behnkes Guest Blogger

Emily Stashower

Emily Stashower of

Bored, on a hot summer day, I decided to write a few blogs and add photographs of my garden. As an amateur gardener, photographer and mother (my twins are 23 and I’ve no clue what I’m doing . . . still), I thought it appropriate to find yet another area to pursue with amateur standing only. I read “Blogging for Dummies” – the title says it all – and started

After the first two months, I had close to 700 readers and Google began advertising. My blog continues to flourish and, like my garden, is a work in progress. As I approach the first anniversary of, I’m proud to say I have over 5,000 subscribers and, on average, each month there are at least another 5,500 readers.

I gave up trying to figure out Google’s AdSense program (don’t need the stress, rules and punitive issues related to their protocols I can barely decode) and try to write about a variety of subjects using nature as the unifying theme. Nature is instructive, helps me reflect, provides a challenge and keeps me involved in diverse, important, topical themes.

I am an amateur writer, photographer, gardener, bird watcher . . . you name it. I hope that makes the blog (and me) approachable and easy to relate to. I’m learning and recently became a Nest Watcher for Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology because my garden seems to attract active nests. I hope the blog does a good job of describing more than pretty flowers and/or photographing the birds nesting in the bushes. Combining the art and science of biology (and related fields) the blog interprets life experiences.

Sometimes an empty nest is just a nest without a bird. Other times, it’s a middle aged suburban woman rediscovering interests and cultivating passions. I am flattered, and stunned, by the blog’s growth. Then again, I’m stunned my garden is flourishing. I could not possibly be more appreciative of your support, interest and assistance as I continue to “grow.”

Baking Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Baking Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Feeling fully entrenched in the holiday spirit, it was only appropriate that we began baking our Christmas cookies. We have a few die-hard family cookie traditions and then there are a couple new experimental additions each year. My mother’s family is English and my father’s family is Norwegian. We make mince pies for my mother’s side, Krumkaker for my father’s and chocolate chip cookies just because.

Grandma's Scotch Shortbread-made-with-Homemade-Butter

Grandma’s Scotch Shortbread made with Homemade Butter

I have also in recent years taken to making my grandmother’s Scotch Shortbread. It’s a classic recipe for a crumbly, buttery and decadent bar. My grandmother does not cook often anymore, so I enjoy baking her old recipes that are nostalgic for her. I usually also send her home with a small tin for personal consumption. Scotch Shortbread is an extremely simple recipe that is also great for including children, as it requires getting your hands a little dirty.

Scotch Shortbread

1 Lb. Butter
4C All Purpose Flour
1 C White Sugar

Bring butter to room temperature. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. With hands, knead and mix all ingredients together until equally incorporated. Evenly press into 9×13 baking pan. Bake for 50 minutes until golden brown. Let cool about 10 minutes and slice into 1”x2” bars. With a toothpick, poke three holes in each bar for aesthetics.

There’s something essential about using your hands to make the recipe work. I’m a firm believer that the recipe requires the heat of your hands to incorporate the ingredients smoothly without over-working the flour. And most children would love an excuse to get grubby baking.


Fresh Homemade Butter

I proudly conquered homemade butter this week. I’ve been reading over and over that it’s so easy to make and have been determined to give it a shot. And the rumors were true. All it takes is a carton of full-fat heavy whipping cream and a mixer with a whisk attachment. The whole process was painless and satisfying. I can’t see why at this point I’d purchase store-bought butter at such outrageous prices ever again. Especially since you can make large batches and freeze any surplus.

Homemade Butter

Pour 1 carton of heavy whipping cream into mixer with whisk attachment in place. Beat for about ten minutes until cream separates. Pour contents through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Gently squeeze contents of cheesecloth to remove all whey. Store in plastic wrap in refrigerator. Whey can be stored and reserved for a variety of other culinary purposes.


Fresh Butter Straining

With a small scale, I measured the butter into 4 ounce (1 stick) rounds and wrapped in plastic wrap so they were already measured and ready for holiday baking. I had on hand, a carton and a half of cream which yielded exactly a pound of butter. This must have been destiny, as that’s just what I needed to make my grandmother’s shortbread. So homemade butter in hand, I got to baking the most rewarding batch of scotch shortbread I’ve made yet.

Grayson and I also made two new cookies this year based on what we had available in the pantry. I had a peek and for some unknown reason, we had not one, but three, canisters of rolled oats. So clearly, some kind of oatmeal cookie was in store.

We settled on Oatmeal Peanut Butter cookies as peanut butter is my little sous chef’s favorite. I also purchased some organic shaved coconut that needed using up so we made lemon coconut cookies which turned out absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It’s no wonder people gain ten pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. But I think we can all agree, it’s worth it.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Making Memories

Christmas Ornaments Backwards

Christmas Ornaments Backwards

It all started years ago. My love of Christmas and the decorating of THE TREE! Growing up at Behnke’s, I was so lucky to be able to pick out very special ornaments each year in our Christmas Shop. My habit got even worse after I got married and had my children.

Our tree is filled with mulit-colored lights (one year I was going to get white lights and got a lot of frowns from the family) and so many ornaments that even after giving away boxes of them to both of my children, I still cannot get them all on the tree. As they got older, I would let my kids help hang all the precious memories on our tree. Even the fragile ones. We lost very few over the years, but still kept adding to the collection.

I had my grandmother’s old beaded garland that we would drape on the tree and then, last but not least, would be my prized collection of German glass icicles. I think I have over 100. All shapes and sizes.

As the years passed and the kids would show up to help with the tree or come for dinner strange things would happen. I would look over and one ornament or the other would be backwards. Unacceptable! I would turn it around never hearing the snickers behind my back. This went on for awhile till “slow me” caught on that my son, Steven was playing tricks on me. I am not sure but I think my daughter, Jaimie, got in on the act also. As time went on it was not just on the tree. I would see a special Santa with his face to the wall or a angel looking the wrong way. This Thanksgiving however, took the cake!

Christmas Ornaments Upside-down

Christmas Ornaments Upside-down

It started with my serving bowls–which I always label so I know which bowl has what I want in it–and of course I know that I have enough bowls for the meal. I mean doesn’t everyone do that? Needless to say, my labels were all mixed up. Mashed potato bowl said rolls, etc.

That evening my children decided to decorate the tree for old mom since I was so tired. At one point, for a joke, they even put our big old stuffed toy turkey on the top of the tree as a Thanksgiving Tree Topper.

Soon the tree was done except for the beads and the icicles which were left for me for another day. Then it happened. I looked, and then I took a second and a third look.. No way, they would not have done that.

Our glass bird was upside down! And that was not all. Most of the rest are backwards. Silly kids.. Won’t they be surprised when they come home on Christmas and they are all still turned around! Old memories and new is what makes this season so very special to me.

Posted by: Stephanie Fleming


This week was sprinkled with a little more Christmas cheer as everyone in the family is into the Christmas spirit. We have picked our Christmas trees and they are up – brightly adorned with sparkling lights and a mish-mash of all of our lifetime’s worth of ornaments. My favorite part of this year’s holiday seasons is Grayson’s grasp on the holiday. As with most things this time around, this is the first year he’s really comprehending the whole occasion.


Grayson at the North Pole

The tradition starts with a fresh-cut Christmas tree. As children, we always made an evening event out of decorating the Christmas tree. As adults, my husband Chris and I have continued these traditions in our home. This year, with the farmhouse still under renovation, there is no room for a Christmas tree there. So, we brought the tradition back over to my parent’s house. As tradition dictates, we enjoyed cookies and eggnog, while listening to Christmas carols as the ornaments slowly made it up onto the tree one by one.


Trimming the Christmas Tree

Grayson’s attention span for tree trimming in years past has been close to non-existent. But this year, after seeing the tree at his other grandparent’s home, he was excited and anticipating decorating a tree at my parent’s house. He eagerly darted between the boxes of ornaments and the tree carefully placing each ornament and stepping back to admire his work. At the end of the event, he managed to decorate four small branches with about fifteen glass balls. Needless to say, as imperfect as they appear, no one will move them. We all silently agreed that they look perfect just as they are.


Preparing the hot pepper mash

Interestingly enough, I still had a project lingering from my Summer garden. I had started a batch of fermented hot sauce about six weeks ago from the last of the hot peppers. After watching it regularly over the weeks to check its progress, it appeared to have completed its process. The peppers were transferred to a wire mesh sieve, ground with a wooden spoon to remove skins and seeds, and then bottled with the appropriate amount of rice wine vinegar. Although this batch only made two jars, I am content. We don’t use a tremendous amount in general and I am just happy to have conquered my first fermentation project; small yield or not.


Firery Fish Pepper Hot Sauce

I also made my first cup of homegrown lemongrass tea. I have been fighting off a cold for a few days and thought I’d give it a try. Lemongrass is supposed to have many proposed health benefits, and I really just wanted a nice cup of tea. I steeped about a tablespoon of dried lemongrass leaves from my Summer garden for 10 minutes in hot water and added a little local honey. The lemongrass has a smooth and refreshing lemon flavor, similar but also very different from the citrus fruit. It’s safe to say that lemongrass has found a permanent home in my garden.

We’ve also been enjoying collecting fresh eggs from our bantam chickens. They recently began laying about a week ago after patiently waiting nine months. Grayson steps into his boots and we head off to the coop each morning to check for eggs. Some days there are none and others a couple, it’s always a little surprise. Sometimes, Grayson carries them carefully back up to the house. After successfully harvesting a total of six eggs, he has yet to trip or drop and break an egg – so far. I’m still learning and appreciating that it’s the simple things that can bring the most joy.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

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