It was a beautiful day in NYC today. I went down to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and even sat outside to enjoy my lunch and the sunny weather that climbed upt to 60 degrees. I saw some lovely things outside but inside the bonsai room there was something that really stood out. Was this here before? It's not the first time I've been here. Nevertheless, it really stood out this time. I'm not a fan of bonsai - all that pruning and forcing- but the results I can appreciate and this specimen has a few things that I really like. I like it when they overhang the table they are on, it just looks particularly spectacular. Then I like the really substantial trunk which of course needs everything else to follow through harmoniously and this really does to me. Lastly, I like the pot, it really stood out from all the other terracotta ones. Even the wall which always looks so dull and gray looked right behind the green pine needles and even that shadow - a bold modern shape is the perfect juxtaposition for that ancient tree.
I was downtown yesterday in the East Village and had my first glimpse of spring flowers in the city. There were popped Magnolia buds, flashes of yellow Forsythia and in Albert's garden on 2nd street there were these lovely Hellebores. A quick look in the archives tells me that my first sighting last year was mainly yellow flowers around this time in Central Park and then it was the middle of april when I started to see pink buds in Washington Square and then the big flower show all around Manhattan was a week later. Another week later I enjoyed the daffodils at the NYBG and in early May I enjoyed the Lilacs at NYBG and the Cherry Blossoms at BBG. Just like my happenstance discovery of yesterday's blooms, the sightings last year were similarly unplanned, but now it looks like I have a plan to follow.
Right around the time I noticed the moss growing between the paving stones, I also noticed a couple of large moss patches in other parts of the garden. I kept forgetting to bring some back with me until the last visit so I could hop aboard the new craze for an indoor terrarium. I had a square glass vase perfect for the job so I immediately set up my little moss garden. Some lessons learned: the glass has to be spotless or it looks really messy and it really needs some 'landscaping' meaning it needs some other visual elements like stones and it definitely needs some kind of slope.
Despite doing all of the above, it still looked a little blah, until the last few days and things have somewhat come alive with all kinds of tendrils and even a little clover. It really does look like a micro landscape and draws you right into it. I might be hooked and interested in trying out some different ones. I did some research as you can see in the Moss post in OGMedia.
I recently uploaded in OGMedia a collection of cyanotypes from the New York Public Library of British Algae by Anna Atkins. I've been drawn to the aesthetics of this collection for a while now, loving the graphic quality of the images as well as the interesting range of blues that results from this process. Maybe I'm drawn to the similarity of the hues to old indigo textiles- which similarly range through all kinds of permutations from Cyan to Prussian Blue. These are a couple of graphic studies created digitally in photoshop that I've been working on and want to continue to explore. Photographically I need to take some more images with the specific needs of this mind- it needs high contrast, fine details. The image on the left is in fact from an old engraving but the one on the right is from photographs of the bronze fennel I took last summer. I also like the combination of faded labels and hand written text - it might be interesting to work on a series of blue flowers or grasses in this style.
This must be the toughest portion of the calendar to navigate. Not quite the month of Lilacs, not quite out of winter's cling. I notice that my Plumbago is flowering. I have not done right by this plant, letting it shrivel to a crisp, then watering it back to life and not just once and not just twice either. But it made it through the the winter and has sent out this one wan bloom in the palest blue. It had me looking back into the archives to look for the image on the right which the colors sort of reminded me. Running outside to do some chores I scan the trees to see if we're there yet. Sadly, no tender green leaves. Just another week though and if I get myself down to Central Park I might get to see what I saw last year. Just another week.
Is the sweetest. I have a real jump on the season having been up to Mamaroneck a few times now because of all the seed starting. Last year it wasn't until May that I had my first taste of the kitchen garden's earliest produce- chives. This year, while preparing the beds I also tidied up the chive patch dividing it up and potted up a little patch for myself to bring home. The picture actually shows the 3rd or 4th cut- it grows fast. I won't be edging the whole beds with chives as I thought I might, the reason being- there were a few survivors from last year - the thyme and marjoram. The reason may be how close to the edge I planted them which must keep their roots a little drier so I might expand on that theme.
The footage is actually from a couple of weeks ago when we had a fairly hefty snowfall. I thought I would save it to post on the first of spring titled something like 'Goodbye to all that". A requiem to winter. It's turned into more of a deja vu, as I looked out increduously this morning to a replay of snow falling on oak outside my bedroom window. It didn't last, thankfully and the sun is out. Happy Spring. Fingers crossed.
Soundtrack: Above and Below from Frozen Silence
Why wooden seed trays? Because I'm slightly OCD with aesthetics. I love how they look. Empty yogurt containers and black plastic- not so much. But it's not entirely about just the surface. I'm also into the notion that Michael Pollan seeded - Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize. I think this is an idea worth running with in other areas including gardening - its not just about retro aesthetics, its also how using old tools and ideas changes how you experience or understand things.
How do you make wooden seed trays? You enlist the help of your friend (Jim) with a theater/set building background and has lots of tools and stuff. He did a great job- all the corners are mitred, the wood is recycled from the original horse stables. He even has them set in the window at a tiny angle to maximize sunlight exposure.
Are you only using wooden seed trays? No. In an abundance of caution- we will also be using two plastic trays- they will go in the cold frame and as I mentioned earlier Noah is also working on our tomato plants.
Back to the surface thing. Aren't they beautiful? And they look amazing in the wood lined potting shed.
"The love of dirt is among the earliest of passions as it is the latest" Charles Dudley Warner
Last week I started reading My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner whose opening paragraphs sing the praises of dirt and digging. Then, Ann Raver's article conjured up a sensual earthy start to spring, smelling the earth and feeling it between her fingers. By the weekend I was jonesing to do the same, curious to see if, as she decribed the earth was 'like chocolate cake'and ready for planting.
It turns out, like life itself, it wasn't all chocolate cake there were some gummy wet balls to contend with but we dug, added compost crumbled with our bare hands sifting out stones (still after all these years). The next day I did it some more. I don't think the vegetable beds have had quite this much of a work out and probably never been this level. I planted two rows of spinach in the larger bed and decided not to risk the peas- they'll go in later. The smaller bed awaits the cold frame already built and waiting for a coat of paint.
On the left, images culled from a 1930's seed catalogue -the dream- plump nutrient dense vegetables, ordely rows of fresh produce. On the right, the reality, my assemblage of seed packets old and new. The half rolled ones actually signifying the most potential, the proven members of the bunch - carrots, swiss chard, beets to name a few that actually grew, actually made it to the table last summer. Then there's the bunch of black flower seeds bought on a whim, that I never got round to planting. This years additions are a little more thoughtful, with a little more research behind them - peas and spinach intended for early cool weather planting. Then there's the really old stuff- ancient sweet peas, purple beans, wild rocket, chinese forget-me nots from random impulse purchases - will they actually sprout? Prepared with seed starting information I recently gathered, I'm off tomorrow to Mamaroneck with my little packets.
This is a painting of the house in Mamaroneck, from when it belonged to its original owner in the early part of the last century. As you can see, something about its aesthetics heavily influenced the aesthetics here. Although it primarily looks the same today, there have been some substantive changes much like this blog which started out life as a way to simply keep track of the plants we were buying and where we were planting things.
Then, I found that I was enjoying taking photos of plants and flowers, then came the HD video camera. Along the way, I figured out how to tweak html, discovering new ways to present the digital media that I was creating. In short, things changed from the digital notebook that it started out as to a sort of creative project including blogging anything else I was working on creatively that had a botanical bent. Then came tumblr, and vimeo and vintage books and the creative project became a sort of media hub, mainly for me - these were things I wanted to note and come back to look at again.
Now, I'm thinking I want to do more. I want to make some things this summmer (stay tuned) that are garden and botanically related but I'm also digging this whole handmade movement in general, Etsy, Make, Craftzine, Instructables and how its all relevant to or in tune with green sensibilities, natural or recyled materials. So there's a new section here called GreenKraft that pulls these themes together with a focus on garden, botanical or nature subjects.
I'm also ditching tumblr, moving everything back here to blogger, configured a bunch of rss feeds so everything is mapped out on the front page. The painting of the house seems like the perfect visual for this property I've built, renovated and remodeled on the internet, arts and crafty with hopefully the same serene vibe. Mi casa su casa.
So after much deliberation, I've made the choices for the tomatoes that will be grown this year. Eight plants will be grown- 2 Black Krim, 2 Brandywine, 2 San Marzano Plum, 1 Costoluto Genovese 1 Persimmon. All chosen for variety of shape, flavor, color and end use. I may swop out one of the Brandywine with something faster maturing at the last minute. The new strategies this year are growing everything from seed, Noah has some, we're going to do a couple and increasing the number of plants from 6 to eight. If all goes well I might try evolving to the next stage which is trying to save seeds rather than buy packet seed for the following year and if I do I'll be designing a graphic for the seed packet- I already sort of have one that's a t shirt graphic.
This is from the week before when I zoomed into Brooklyn Botanic Garden to get a quick snoop on what was going on and primarily to pick up some seeds. Yes there were many more spring blooms like witchhazel, some crocus and some delicate buds on the paperbush but these snowdrops trembling in the breeze were the standout memory. Bad news about the spectacular crocus patch I discovered last year- they are doing work near there and its completely trampled over.
I didn't get to see the green lilacs do anything more than shrivel and sputter out shortly after quite impressive flower buds began to form. The second bunch of branches I brought home however have stirred. A few days ago after doing not much for a week, the dogwood branches sent out some delicate leaves. I've moved them now into the dining room where mounting evidence that spring is round the corner can be found in the amount of light that now slants in from a winter sun that's beginning to raise its head above the neighboring buildings. This glimpse of spring is ironically only available indoors, looking out, its still a cold, dismal snow strewn scene.
I'm riffing on the title of Jonathan Silvertown's book An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds to both celebrate the mysteries of the seed, a subject that filled my weekend and also to put some perspective on the ambitions for this summer. No, nothing quite as grand as an orchard, but a garden for sure- definitely the kitchen garden and a little of the flower garden.
I was up at Mamaroneck this weekend with the primary goal of delivering some tomato seeds to Noah, boy gardener wunderkind who says he can get tomatoes to eat in May. We'll take July. Fingers crossed we get some hefty seedlings that can make a difference- last year we didn't have tomatoes until mid August.
Then I got Jim fired up about rustling up some old school wooden seed trays. He fell hard for this idea adding his own fancy to make a cold frame with some windows he has leftover from work. Why not add some new climbing structures for the beans and tomatoes, I said sketching up the the 4 post structure I saw at Wave Hill. We headed out to the potting shed and the vegetable beds to measure and Jim scribbled down a whole bunch of numbers. I can just see it all now, in my mind's eye, the garden invisible, for now.