Monday, December 31, 2012

Ordering seeds!

Woo, hoo! I had a great time this morning organizing the seeds that I have (a lot) and starting to order more. 

Tops on my list were callalo (edible amaranthus) that we'd eaten in the Caribbean, but is grown throughout the tropics (and warm-season temperate areas) and "seasoning peppers" - a Capsicum chinese variety that has flavor, but not the heat of traditional Caribbean peppers.

I also ordered some interesting Indian vegetables along with the Asian ones-- from Evergreen Seeds, tinda (an edible gourd) popped up (and went into my cart) along with "India Spinach Beet" -- which looks like a type of chard. 

Along with roselle (or sorrel), the hibiscus used for a delicious tea (from the fleshy calyx) at Christmas time in the Caribbean, I'm having fun ordering seeds!

I've also included asian eggplants of various sorts, yard-long beans, and red-leaf mustards.  Yum!

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

A mild winter so far

Returning home from winter break travels, I was surprised that we'd still not had a hard freeze in the Piedmont. Some of the camellias near the house are loaded with lovely pink and white flowers -- the white-flowered ones are a treat because they're almost always browned by freezes!

The cilantro and arugula are still looking great - both can withstand light frosts, and maybe more if they've been gradually exposed to lower temperatures. (The cilantro is in a glazed ceramic pot, while the arugula is growing as a big patch in the satellite garden.)  The parsley is still looking good, too, of course, and the French sorrel is putting out new leaves, too (apparently the deer haven't been back recently).

On my walk this afternoon, I saw a large patch of mustard greens (similar in cold hardiness) looking good, too. It'll be interesting to check out the kitchen garden next to the visitor center (at the botanical garden where I work) to see how the snow peas are faring!

In the mountains, the weather has been a lot colder, temps into the lower 20's.  It'll be interesting to see how the greens in the raised beds there have fared on our next trip.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Two weeks in the Caribbean

St. John view
St. John view
A couple of weeks on two relatively quiet Caribbean islands has been largely free of gardening observations. I didn't see many vegetables or fruits of any sort being grown on St. John, US Virgin Islands, aside from our friend's plantings (she's been planting tropical fruits such as bananas, mangos, and papayas, as well as sowing lettuce and growing tomatoes). The island is largely dependent on imports from surrounding islands and the mainland for most fresh provisions, apparently. There seems to be a small trend towards establishing kitchen gardens (according to a tourist booklet on the plane) by some resorts in the UVI's just to serve their own restaurants. I can certainly see why this would have appeal! St. John is quite dry so it's challenging to have enough water available, with cisterns being widely used for water-harvesting.

The prime attraction on St. John is the vast expanse of national park, both above and below the sea. Snorkeling is fabulous, as are the beaches and hiking.

Our second week is being spent on Dominica, a largely 'natural' island of rugged topography and remarkable vegetation. In coastal areas, agriculture is practiced largely in small-holdings of bananas, cassava, and taro, punctuated by groves of oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines.

market vendor in Rouseau
Market vendor in Rouseau
Passion fruit, star fruit, and oranges
Passion fruit, star fruit, and oranges
Vegetable growing seems to be limited to relatively small entrepreneurial folks growing market vegetables (right now, lettuce and carrots seem to be in demand).

local produce from Dalvina
local produce from Dalvina
I bought some "spinach"--actually an amaranth (callalo) - not the New Zealand spinach I was remembering (I actually recognized the plant as amaranth, but didn't remember exactly what NZ spinach was) - carrots, lettuce, onions, and "seasoning peppers" from a woman near our cottage, and chatted with her a bit. She grew vegetables all year round in raised beds bounded by metal roofing. Her chickens provided the fertility for the nice-looking soil.

We saw a similar plot on a hike up into the surrounding hills (of banana plantations) - the young woman tending this market garden was more ambitious. She even had a bit of broccoli growing - amazing for this warm climate.

View from our cottage in Dominica
View from our cottage in Dominica

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gardening and creativity

I've been re-reading a lovely book that I've had for awhile -- Fran Sorin's Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening.  She's a tremendously wise gardener, and her book, published in 2004, has obvious 'legs' as it's still in print.

I'm planning on leading a workshop this spring where we'll explore some of the  exercises she describes in her book. And, I'm proposing another workshop and a talk based on this approach in the future, as well.

I think we're missing the creativity in gardening in our popular horticultural press in this country (probably in NA as a whole).  We're all about landscaping language (and tasks), even in fairly sophisticated pieces about gardening in our various magazines, websites, etc.

I've greatly enjoyed Gardens Illustrated (published through the BBC in the UK) for its plant and design-based approach -- they seem to be more about celebrating the creativity of the garden designer and the gardener, instead of thinking about gardens as the equivalent of a room that gets "decorated" every so often, so the articles seem like they have a fresh approach.

Plants grow and change, so are a challenging artistic medium, but they provide an exceptional creative palette, too, for expressing and creating a surrounding space (a garden, if you will) that suits YOU, not anyone else.

Piet and Anja Oudolf's garden, late September 2012
That's what I'm thinking about when I'm considering why I garden and for what purpose, and how I encourage folks in my classes, too, for that matter.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A anthocyanin-rich fall

It's been a great year for red leaf color here in the Eastern U.S.  Very minimal cool nights followed by a LOT of warm sunny days seem to have resulted in much more intense late reds than usual.

It's been remarkable warm now for weeks, so anthocyanin production must be unusually high. (The red and purple pigments, in fall, are produced using sugars from photosynthesis - in real time - and sequestered in the vacuoles of leaf cells).

Our oakleaf hydrangeas are brilliant right now, as are all the feral Bradford pears around campus and the neighborhood.

And the last blueberry leaves are crimson, along with Clethra alnifolia (Coastal Sweet Pepperbush) -  I've never see it so vivid.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An almost full moon

It would have been a great time for a full moon hike this month. The moon has been glorious - luminous and glowing over the last few evenings.

Tomorrow night, it's full. Temperatures are moderate now, but they could have just as easily been overly cool and chilly. And the nocturnal symphony is largely quiet now, too, making evening hikes not quite as rich.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Final evening sounds

Coming home from the grocery store this evening, I heard some of the final evening songs of fall -- whether they're crickets or tree frogs, I'm not sure. 

We had a good freeze on Saturday night, so I was surprised to hear them, although the warm temperatures before (and after) have buffered the dip in temperature.

The moon is already luminous in the evening, even though not full until Thursday.  It was low in the sky, so visible -- it would have been a great time to schedule a full moon hike, but who knew it would be so mild?

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

late November vegetables

November greens have been a high point of an otherwise quiet gardening period, distracted by dog-sitting and coursework.

The Hakurei turnips continue to amaze me. Even unthinned, they've been remarkably productive (and tasty!)

Without a hard frost, the arugula has continued to flourish -- it's remarkably tasty as a cooked green, which tones down the heat-induced bite of the raw leaves, especially the larger ones.

I've been waiting to harvest much of the kale, since it's one of the cold-hardiest greens, and supposedly tastes better, too, after being subjected to cold weather. 

But probably equally important, it's also really attractive next to the parsley, leeks, and chard!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ginkgo fall colors

a luminous ginkgo
From my study window, the ginkgo under the power line corridor is amazing right now -- both from the study and our bedroom.  We planted it almost 20 years ago, so it's tall now.  And beautiful this year.

view from my study

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hakurei turnips

LW harvesting turnips
I've been ridiculously pleased with the turnips in my raised beds in the mountains.

I'm not sure exactly when I sowed the seeds (my search for blog posts about turnips resulted in this array of disparate thoughts about turnips and other greens), but it was sometime in late summer.

There were at least five (maybe six) weeks that I didn't get back to the mountains at all this fall, between traveling and tending to Woody.

But I've been recently harvesting turnips, for sure.  Amazing.  I didn't do anything for almost six weeks and have harvested huge amounts of Hakurei turnips (Japanese white turnips) and their greens.

Here was a (final) small bunch harvested today from one of the beds (I transplanted Tuscan kale into all of empty spots and am hoping for rain overnight and tomorrow to keep the plants well-hydrated!)  And I still have another block of turnips to harvest, too.  Not thinned, so the turnip roots are modestly-sized, but the tops are lovely.

Turnips are ridiculously easy to grow

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fall's ebb and flow

It was cooler today, and with the time change, it's now dark earlier in the evening.

Happily, in late afternoon, light streams into the living room and dining room, as the sun is lower in the sky as fall progresses, so it was lovely to spend time there late today. 

My study is in shadow by then, as is the kitchen, so it's a joy to be experiencing the light out front, being surrounded by the woodland garden and forest.

view from the side gate
I love the view from our front rooms and porch every year in fall and winter, as the light illuminates the rooms.

Here's a post from 2009 and another along the same lines.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall greens and peppers

I'd figured that the vegetables in the mountain beds would have been frosted by now (it was supposedly below freezing last week). But an unexpected weekend found flourishing greens (unconsumed by woodchucks or other herbivores) and a final crop of ripe peppers, most 'Pizza' - a favorite thick-walled pepper and a few sweet frying peppers, along with some ripe 'Big Jim.'

Amazingly, the peppers hadn't been affected much by frost, but I went ahead and pulled up the plants, not knowing when frost might hit. Vegetables in the front garden are pretty darn visible in an urban environment!

I was delighted to see robust beds of Japanese turnips, producing heavily in spite of not being thinned. Yum. Delicious at lunch today. Fresh sweet turnips, especially these thin-skinned ones, along with their mild greens are an unexpected treat. Deer selectively ate their way through turnips, broccoli, collards, French sorrel (!), spinach, and lettuce in the Piedmont (roughly in that order), so I was really happy to see the abundance in the mountains. Lots of red chard, beet greens, and arugula are flourishing as well.

Herbivore note: in my experience (so far), woodchucks and deer are not interested in garlic, leeks, peppers, onions or potatoes. In previous years, woodchucks have eaten cilantro and arugula first, then moved on to other greens. We've only had deer 'issues' in the last couple of years, as their populations have built up in the Piedmont (and we live in town). This year, in their drop-by and sporadic visits, they've ignored both arugula and cilantro, bypassing them for French sorrel, which is remarkably tart. They seem to enjoy sorrel, though, as they're coming up right next to the house to enjoy it in the main vegetable garden bed outside the kitchen door.

A flourishing bed of greens and herbs

ripe 'Pizza' peppers

Japanese turnips

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Interpretation, gardening, and programs

In my trajectory as a garden educator, interpreter, and teacher, I've found a couple of basic truths. (I had a lovely experience this morning doing a program for 20 graduating Master Naturalists).

It's not about the information, rather it's about connection.

It's about engagement, not content.

It's not about what you know, but how you teach.

And taking advantage of teachable moments, where ever they happen is key.

We saw a Cooper's Hawk today in our morning walk, probably attracted by migrants coming through the Garden. I certainly hadn't seen one in the Garden before.  It first sat on a fence rail above the Duck Pond and then swooped below one of the ginkgoes up the slope, trying to nab something beneath a Salvia clump.

We couldn't see if the hawk was successful, but s/he then perched on top of a nearby sign for awhile.

A teachable moment, for sure.  I wouldn't have known that it was a Cooper's Hawk, but a naturalist from a local state park was part of our group (he's one of the regular teachers).

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Wind, vegetables, and falling leaves

Apparently, the winds here and in the mountains of North Carolina are secondary to Hurricane Sandy.  Amazing.  There's been snow around Asheville already at high elevations, with more rain and wet snow to come.

The lows in Asheville (located in a mountain basin) are supposed to dip to 31° on Wednesday and keep those overnight lows through Friday.

Hmm, that'll take care of the pizza peppers!  I haven't been there to tend the mountain raised beds for quite awhile, because traveling and then staying home with Woody, recovering from knee surgery (no stairs for him!) has limited my mobility.

I'm thinking that we might be able to get up to the mountains this weekend, if Woody's cleared for stairs, or maybe I'll just scoot up on my own, to check on things. 

I had pulled out all of the remaining tomatoes, beans, and tomatillos in September, so happily won't face a lot of clean-up (aside from the peppers!)  Some might actually be still OK, if I process them them right away.

I'd sown lots of greens, not anticipating Woody's surgery, in late August, so may have beet, turnip, and mustard greens to harvest, depending on how hungry the woodchuck that Tim (my gardening companion) spotted on his last visit has been.  I sowed lettuce and spinach seed, too, in a bit of late season enthusiasm.  It'll be interesting to see what's doing well.

Here's a view of one of the front beds from two years ago.

October, 2010
I love how leeks will sail through (even) tough winters looking great.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Storm time

I've been reminded again today, as Sandy approaches the northeastern U.S., of the power of storms.

We've had nothing but some strong winds and a bit of rain today, mainly from a Gulf-based system, not Sandy.  But leaves blew off, raining down on the lawn and mulched beds. I wish we'd got some more rain, as it's been dry for weeks.

But, it's been a glorious fall so far, and the reds have deepened on the dogwood leaves, the sassafras and persimmon leaves are striking, and the hickories and oaks are holding forth, too.

No yellows in our ginkgos yet -- they're late.  I just searched ginkgo in previous posts and these came up, all mentioning the clear yellows in November!

This image was from Nov. 20, 2010.

Ginkgo biloba, SCBG
It's one of a pair of ginkgos near the nature center at the South Carolina Botanical Garden planted at the same time (one is a lot larger than the other).

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Evening porch view

A wonderful September day (in late October) found the porch a perfect spot for dinner.  It's still normally nice at lunch, but at dinnertime -- how pleasant (although a bit unnerving, too).

The reds and purples have been deepening noticeably over the last few days, along with the yellows and oranges becoming more evident.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Fall color

 A beautiful fall day had me admiring the purples in the dogwoods and the exuberance of the (non-cut-back swamp sunflower) in the border that we see from the porch.
from the porch
Normally, I would have reduced the stem height in June, but didn't this year.  The tall stems are now flopping dramatically, but are really quite pleasing.  And the buddleia to the right continues to host an abundance of butterflies, including the last push of monarchs, as they're moving south.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall saffron crocuses

It's been busy, trying to keep Woody calm (ha!) and tidying and planting as I can.

But I was glad to see the first saffron crocus in flower.  I'd noticed their foliage a couple of days ago, and made a mental note to watch.  The fun of having a blog is I can search and realize that I posted in previous years, too, about them.

I snagged the stigmas (the 'saffron') of this flower to dry.  There will be more to come.  These are plants were established quite a few years ago.

Here's a photo from 2008, from a post on Oct. 26 of that year.

Saffron crocus (2008)

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

A tidier garden

Happily, even with a recovering Golden in tow, I've managed to clean up quite a few more of the seedling/sapling volunteers (think redbud, magnolia, sassafras, Althea, lacebark elm, American holly, Chinese privet, nandina, English ivy, etc.)  Not to mention the runners - Bermuda grass, vinca (major and minor), air potato vine, and morning glory.

And the entrance to the front door actually looks like a flagstone path again, and not the entrance to a mysterious house in the woods.  Woo-hoo!

Hmm, there's still LOTS to be done, but I'm feeling better about it.  Geez, nothing like talking about and showing images of your garden in better times to help kick-start things.  And a dear friend's suggestion that we visit together while we garden was encouragement, too.  She's the original energizer bunny of mulching and weeding, so her suggestion helped me out of my gardening funk!  Major garden cleanup involving pruners and heavy cutting is NOT on my list of favorite gardening activities.

I'm hoping to get out and get my garlic in the ground in the next couple of days. It's the perfect time, and my beds are ready.

The satellite vegetable garden is being nibbled on by some sort of herbivore (deer? rabbit?) I managed to harvest the turnips ahead of it, but didn't get a chance to check on the arugula today.  I don't think it's a woodchuck, because, next to my potting bench, all the Tuscan kale in a tall ceramic container was eaten, right next to a container of cilantro, which has been a favorite of woodchucks in the past.

Thankfully, none of the normal nibblers care for garlic!

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mid-October gardening thoughts

My garden(s) at home need some attention.  We've had delicious Hakurei turnips the last few evenings, with plenty of arugula and cilantro, too, along with bright red pizza peppers, too.

But helping Woody (our sweet rescue Golden) recover post-knee surgery is a primary focus currently, returning from traveling, while Tim is finishing up fall field work for his second book.

Woody needs to be quiet as he heals (uh, that means that one of us needs to be with him, as he's so averse to being alone!)

Happily, he rested comfortably as I weeded the main vegetable garden here in the Piedmont this afternoon, and attended to the woodland wildflower patch in front of the house.

I had sowed all sorts of greens in our mountain beds, thinking we'd be up there more this fall, but will need to depend on my gardening companion's harvesting, as Woody isn't supposed to do any stairs for at least 6 more weeks.  (We have three levels in our small mountain house).

Tim will be looping through at our mountain house on a long field work trip, so hopefully, he'll be  bringing back more peppers and greens....

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I've been reviewing photos (from my trip for a program tomorrow) and it's been amazing to review some of the images from the gardens I visited.
celebrating senescence

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Street view
(Another post that apparently didn't go).

I'm ending up my trip in this amazingly well-preserved (and famous for it) medieval town. Even with a lot of tourists, fewer now than there would have been in summer, it's fun to visit.

Market place from tower
There's more than enough to see and enjoy here, so I'm spending a couple of days (without driving) before heading back to Frankfurt and home.

View from Rathaus tower
This has been such a great trip, with lots of diversity. I'm looking forward to sorting out pictures and doing a more complete reflection on my experiences seeing gardens big and small, plants in public places, travel in general, etc. after I get back to my desktop.

view of town from wall


Heading home and Jakob's Weg

Way sign
Jakob (St. John)
It's been a great trip, and I found it meaningful to end up with a photo of Jakob (who was a pilgrim, and maybe is St. John? That's what the leader of a city tour said today.)

Rothenburg ob de Tauber was a wonderful place to try to experience what it was like (many centuries ago).

I've been on a bit of a pilgrimage myself, so I've connected with the Jakob's Weg.

These paths connect eventually with the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route in Spain.

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A cloud of Monarchs

Monarch on Helianthus
It's been cloudy and cool the last couple of days, but Friday and Saturday were sunny and mild. 

There were clouds of Monarchs and other butterflies visiting the Buddleia and exuberant Helianthus (Swamp Sunflower) in the border that I see from my study window. (The Helianthus hadn't been cut back this year).

Taking a turn outside with Woody (who's recovering from knee surgery and needs to be kept quiet), I enjoyed the show.

There were over 15 Monarchs (it was hard to count) visiting flowers, along with Gulf Fritillaries and Sulfurs.  Quite nice!

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

I'm ending up my trip in this amazingly well-preserved (and famous for it) medieval town. Even with a lot of tourists, fewer now than there would have been in summer, it's fun to visit. I'm spending a couple of days here before heading back to Frankfurt and home.

This has been such a great trip, with lots of diversity. I'm looking forward to sorting out photos and reflecting on my experiences when I get home.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

A kitchen garden seen on the road

I turned around and went back to take a picture of this vegetable and flower garden in the Neckar Valley ( traveling between the Schwarzwald and Rothenburg ob der Tauber (a wonderfully well-preserved and reconstructed medieval town.)

Check out the solar hot water panels sheltering the wood pile, with additional panels probably supplying energy for heat ! (This would also be via hot water, I think - there are modern hot water radiator units everywhere I've been during this trip.

With extensive solar panels everywhere, I've been wondering about what exactly they're powering. I passed an Aldi grocery today which had an entire roof of solar panels - presumably that's electricity for the whole store, but I'll need to do some research about this when I get home. Solar is so much more prevalent here - on farm buildings, residences, commercial buildings, etc. along with centralized stations with multiple panels.

And it's interesting, too, to see wind turbines in all sorts of places, some of them quite unlikely.

On another topic, I've been seeing lovely fields of leeks, so I was glad to see these in this garden, too.

A kitchen garden near Horb am Neckar
A kitchen garden near Horb am Neckar
A nice row of leeks

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Schwarzwald sunset

Here's a favorite experience today, seeing the sunset after a largely overcast day.

View toward Schoenwald

A full moon was already visible


Forest floor

Friday, September 28, 2012

Traveling into the Schwarzwald



Hard not to like!