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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