Paranoia and Revenge

Those carefree days of pots on the kitchen windowsill are gone. It's now a scene of urban paranoia - my pots are wired to protect them from the neighborhood thugs who not only sticky finger vegetables but pull out herbs too, who knows why, frustration? kicks? I'm talking about those local hoodlums da squirrlz that terrorized me last year. Ok, I should be aware that they are part of the whole living creatures thing, so let's begin this civilly this way and I'm not growing anything tempting in there to get them all hopped up like last year.

Recently up at Mamaroneck, I found this guy dead on the lawn his neck ripped. The theory was he had been dropped by a local hawk- it had happened before. I must confess, I couldn't help letting out an inner primal scream for this token of bloody revenge for my lost harvest of 2008 - Yesss! Mayzie, who spends her life chasing squirrels outside, quite oddly didn't want to have anything to do with it. Weirdly, the squirrels in Mamaroneck are quite civilized, they take the odd tomato, take a bite and then leave the rest in the nearest terracotta pot.

+ OccasionalOasis:Nature & Numbers

+ GreenKraft:Grass Sleeve


My gardening days up in Mamaroneck usually involve a quick consult of the weather, a quick phone call to confirm the logistics of a visit and off I go. Until this crazy rainy weather hit town. Now not only are those single non rain soaked days becoming more fleeting, they've also become a moving target constantly slipping out of view into next week. Time keeps on slippin, slippin, into the future. It looked like there were some non rainy cloudy days ahead this weekend, that's gone. I didn't fully trust that it would be dry today, it was. My expectations are low- it doesn't have to be warm, the sun doesn't need to shine. Maybe one day next week, I might actually do some gardening.Fingers crossed.

Gardener, Heal Thyself

"go out in the urban fields of New York City and collect 12 plants growing in the streets of the Bronx that can be used as medicines by homeless people"

I was going to post something today about the medicinal properties of plants, more an intial post in a series since I think the subject is getting some interesting momentum. It's both getting some popular exposure by people like James Wong and the searchable internet is allowing for some interesting evidence based discoveries about these medicinal properties. I was going to write something about Oregano - after reading this interesting study about its antimicrobial properties. But I'll leave that for another time because that request above by artist Jeff Geys to ethnobotanist Ina Vanderbroek which she posted about on the NYBG blog pretty much puts the subject into a perspective and context that just blows my mind.

First of all I love the combination of scientist, inspired to think creatively and an artist formulating a project whose premise is both humanitarian and common sensical. The plants Ina selects are 'considered weeds' and 'growing in sidewalks and abandoned lots', which lends this endeavour called Quadra Medicinale a certain irony since physic gardens, herbalists and apothecarists knowledgeable about botanical remedies were the precursors of modern medicine. It puts some interesting new angles to the question 'what should I plant next?' It also makes you wonder what the properties are of plants that are already in the garden that are not what you typically associate with medicinal properties.

For example that image on the left from the Kew Herbarium is of Diascia Integrimma, you know that pretty coral annual, I just recently put in again? Well it's got some medicinal properties, I just don't know what yet but they have it growing in the Chelsea Physic Garden. I must find out. The guy on the right is Pierre Quthe, famous Parisian apothecarist and my current muse.

Shadow Book

Yet another day of rain. I decide to work on a project that's been on my list - do something with the shadow pictures I took back in 2000 in San Francisco. When I moved to Potrero Hill I began to notice the shadows of trees and large shrubs on the walls of houses I guess because there were more of them than NYC where I had come from. Also, there may have been something about the distance from the house, or the size of the shrubs and definitely the variety of wall colors. I began to notice some particularly beautiful ones, when the light was good, dreamlike impressions of trees, abstract splashes of dappled light and shadow. I liked how organic they were draped across the geometric planes of doors and gates and grills.

A few weeks before I left San Francisco to return to New York, I walked all around the neighborhood, photographing these shadows so that I could have a record of them. The photo of shadows on wooden shingles is particularly poignant as it's a view from my little cottage- shadows of Wisteria leaves, in my courtyard that had an Avocado tree and Jasmine. It didn't seem right that this collection of botanic shadows was languishing in an old hard drive, it's nice to see them, not forgotten, in a book, just about them.

Read on Issuu

Spinach Fail

Epic Fail. They sprouted and almost immediately bolted. I made it up to Mamaroneck this past Wednesday, a single dry day sandwiched into the monsoon weather we are experiencing here and I'm glad to report that, the spinach is the only real bad news so far in the kitchen garden. In fact dinner that night included a salad for five from the garden. Our first course was also harvested from there, pasta with shrimp and a variety of asian vegetable leaves and pea shoots and tiny little carrots- I think we had one each- all in a buttery lemon and sage sauce.

The directly sown Mediterannean Cucumber, Purple Beans and Blue Lake pole Beans have all emerged. I swopped out three of the tomatoes with the strapping new ones I brought up. Things look good and aesthetically too. The vegetable beds have not been quite as packed as they are now so they look quite lush. Some twigs from the lilac pruning add a little rustic charm as supports for the snap peas and I ended up using short lengths of 1 x 1 as labels which makes it all look organized. These labels were scraps leftover from Jim's excellent new frames for the climbing vegetables. He followed the design that I saw at Wave Hill to make them, I'll have pics up when things get going.


I quite like the tweet alerts from both @NYBG and @bklynbotanic that keep you updated on what's going on or peaking. I wish I could have reacted immediately to the latter's update on June 3rd - The Cranford Rose Garden is the most beautiful I've ever seen it. Rain, rain and more rain kept me away until a couple of days ago when I managed to squeeze in a quick visit. Although there was plenty to enjoy, many of the roses had just tipped over their best. I took a quick snap of the Veilchenblau which was already looking pretty tatty but looking at the photo, I'm reminded why I wanted a record of it. The blooms really have an interesting range of colors. I've learnt that it's called the blue rose- which it really isn't quite, but it does some really beautiful tones of mauves on the way to a grayish violet- and what I love is that all the flowers are slightly different shades and tones.

One of the climbers is really on its way out in Mamaroneck, it's got some kind of disease, and this might very well be it's replacement. I always thought that you couldn't plant a rose in the same spot that another had been, but on doing some research, that may only be true for the UK and not here in the US. There's also some measures to take to prevent any risk of this - so I'm going to be on the lookout for this.

+ GreenKraft:Stone Leaves

Lemony Dusk

These are a couple of images that I happened to take in the early evening. The Nicotiana was at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and the Alchemilla in Mamaroneck but in the new rear section that has recently been landscaped.

These lemony lime colors are not only some of my favorite, I realize looking at these images that they work really well at this time of day when the light is low. Another thing is that the colors are flowers not foliage as I have been posting about recently, and a flower color that's missing in the walled beds.

I can't really have Alchemilla there as they are pretty prolific self seeders and I haven't found these green Nicotiana yet to buy, neither seed nor as plants. I must be more organized next year and order the seeds early. I'm going to get these Green Mist Queen Anne's Lace too. In the Conservatory Garden there was also this lemony Oak Leaf Hydrangea and something else in the background that I couldn't identify.

+ GreenKraft:Handmade Soap

+ OccasionalOasis:Nostalgia

Take me Higher

I was downtown yesterday when the sun came out, breaking a spell of gloomy wet weather we've been having. I decide on a whim that this was the perfect opportunity to go see the High Line. Past the Apple store, a left just after Alexander Mcqueen, there it is, right across the street from Helmut Lang, the stairway up to the much anticipated creation of the garden design world's star brand, Piet Oudolf.

Even in it's incomplete form, it's clear that the High Line is a perfect storm of, visionary concept, masterful execution and head exploding artistry. It's impossible to describe how this New Yorker felt to be taken up on a higher plain and be afforded a brand new visual experience of this city that felt futuristic and vintage at the same time. I couldn't take it all in all at once, I'll have to go back, again and again to savor what these first impressions promise.

I noticed the subtle references to what was originally there, the rail tracks. I loved the long fingered pavings that perfectly graduated the beds with the path that weaved organically to the left and right. I was thrilled by the photographic opportunities, the Manahattan views framed by berries and flowers, the long, long vistas translating into all kinds of possible random focus and blur compositions, the west side location lending unbroken access to the evening light from the setting sun.

I used the word brand with Piet Oudolf because he has very successfuly created one that sylistically is immediately recognizable. Something that I've seen over and over in books, magazines, photographs but which I found strangely uncompelling in the World Trade Center Garden. Here, the controlled wildness, the drifts and repetitions, the different chapters of sophisticated color palettes, the combinations of mundane and unusual plants was in a word - genius and uniquely in his vernacular.

The sensory high that this new Manhattan landscape is able to induce is sadly punctuated by the inevitable downer of having to share it - rowdy children, conversations yelled into cell phones, dawdling path blocking groups. This is nothing new for a seasoned urban dweller but I did, so wish I could have been like Joel Sterfenld walking the the High Line back in 2000 unfettered by all these intrusions. Maybe then I would have understood some of the descriptions used originally for this place, melancholy, haunting. It's certainly not that now, but as a creative venture built on that concept which now manages to evoke a landscape that suggests and triggers many thought processes about the fragile balance between the urban and natural, it's a resounding success.

+ OGMedia:The High Line

New Angles

The Iris is blooming at the front of the Mamaroneck house - again. Of course it is, as it should do every year. Going into the third year of this blog, this event illustrates some interesting aspects and challenges of maintaining a journal or record or blog. I've been noticing how I've been using it more to trace what I did last year or the year before- it's made me surprisingly more aware of seasonality and very specifically - I know exactly when certain things should be blooming. Another thing is, and the Iris is a good example, what do you do about things that happen again, and again. I reported the Iris blooming, last year. Now what? Is there a new angle that I can explore each year to the inevitable repetitions of the garden cycle?

I examined the photos of the Iris I took this year and one thing that is definitely evolving is what my interests are in terms of capturing or photographing the subject. This year, I was interested in the visual rhythm of the foliage. It's a new thing- I've been doing it more these days - like the lilies of the valley photo. I'm not quite sure which came first, my interest in it pictorially or my increased interest and awareness of foliage texture. As the flower beds mature, as more of the colors 'work', I now notice what may be missing in terms of variety in foliage. When I visit the public gardens, I notice more how cleverly shapes and textures are utilised by the designers and take note.

A ha moment: it's not just the garden that evolves and matures, it's the gardener too.

Get Black Krim

I planted a couple of Black Krims back in 2007 and loved their flavor. Last year I replaced them with Black Japanese Trifele, which were good, but tasting Black Krim again from the farmer's market underscored the decision to put it back on the planting list for this year. I started seed as well as getting Noah to start some - hoping for the ginormous plants that he's capable of getting.

Things didn't pan out that well. Although we got some awesome plants from Noah that were big and healthy as expected, we don't know what they are because Noah forgot to label them. The ones I started, turned out puny. I decided to plant all of Noah's substituting one of the eight plants with the puny black krim, with a plan B to maybe replace it if I came across a better sized plant from the market.

Out of the blue, I receive an email from Nanette Maxim who writes the Gardening 101 column for Gourmet magazine expressing interest in using one of my photos for an article she is planning about tomatoes called Tomato Maniacs. I'm thrilled of course that she did end up using the photo and included a lovely recommendation for this site. I'm also now a fan of this column, I learnt a lot from her article on soil science and that link to the tomato terrine blew my mind a little.

The photo was of those 2007 Black Krim plants which has now propelled plan B into - get Black Krim. Right away. Thankfully, my favorite tomato plant source Silver Heights Farm had a couple today and they were huge, healthy specimens. They'll go in this weekend - better late than never.

+ OGMedia:Tomato Culture

When White Clover Blooms

I've become slightly fascinated by the flora that live on the median that separates the avenue and path that the Mamaroneck house is on. This started with noticing that there was a substantial assortment of wildflowers growing there in early spring. One aspect of the fascination is with it's 'wildness', that despite the lack of any kind of cultivation it's a mass of blooms. Then somebody came a few weeks ago and mowed it all away, but that wasn't a deterrent everything is now back in full swing.

The flowering sequence is also interesting, first dandelions, then lesser celandines and claytonias, then violets and wild garlic and now white clover. Coincidentally I've become aware of and increasingly interested in a gardening calender based on phenology. When the dandelions bloomed, I knew it was time to plant the potatoes. When the forsythia bloomed it was time to plant peas and prune roses. What a great concept - must put together a pictorial chart at some point.

So now that I'm thinking this way, my first thought on seeing the huge patches of clover flowers, was- what does this mean? According to Poor Will's Almanac- this means flea beetles come feeding in the vegetable garden. Noted. Here in New york City, a walk in Central Park yesterday evening revealed that when the white clover blooms it's time to sit on the ground outside and enjoy the warm weather late into the evening.

+ GreenKraft:Plastic Fantastic

Williamsburg Rose

I came across this image last night - beautiful climbing old fashioned pink roses, eden rose perhaps? They are particularly memorable becasue they grow not in some rural cottage garden but smother a rusty chainlink fence that surrounds the outdoor eating area of a diner in Williamsburg. The folder it was in tells me it was taken around the same time a couple of years ago which then makes me curious to know if its still there and blooming. So off I go to Brooklyn today, it's been a while since I was last there. It's my old neighborhood and I always like to visit and see what's going on there.

Coincidentally the Renegade Craft Fair was on in the park and I took a look around. It's grown significantly since the last time I went, handmade things are clearly getting very popular, as is Williamsburg. Its changed, way more people, more restaurants, more sidewalk tables- even the skyline is noticeably populated with a lot of new condo buildings. In a way it's not a bad thing, it makes for more urban gardening - there were more planters, window boxes, potted plants decorating the many restaurants and entrances to new loft buildings. At the Craft fair, artisans worked with all sorts of recyled materials and natural materials like bark and antlers, they are inspired by owls and bees and assorted creatures, and there were many, many botanical prints. Nature is fueling a creative spike.

Were the roses still there? Were they blooming? Yes.

+ GreenKraft:Renegade Picks

Bronze and Burgundy

I mentioned before that I'm allowing the bronze fennel to spread itself a little this summer. One of the reasons is seeing images of the Laurent Perrier Garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Show where bronze fennel was planted fairly liberally. I liked both the color as a foil to the flower colors as well as its soft textural effect. It was also interesting to see Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ on the plant list for the Perfume garden, as one of the ingredients in the recipe for a perfume made for Queen Elizabeth I - the inspiration behind this garden.

The Weigela 'Wine and Roses' is flowering now, rich magenta colored flowers but I find the foliage equally beautiful, burgundyish but especially in sunlight the shrub glows bronze. Behind it, the burgundy background is provided by the Sand Cherry Tree that grows to the side of the flower beds. The Weigela has teamed up with the Fennel in the south west bed the last few years. This year their burgundy bronze color pairing will be echoed in the south east bed where the new fennel tenants combine with the Perilla I planted there last year's new offspring.

+ GreenKraft:Rustic Wedding

La Pivoine

Peonies are so operatic. Their foliage in spring, arches out of the ground, and the show begins, sotto vocce, but you know behind that bronzed fan is a diva coyly preparing to take center stage. Soon, buds appear out of nowhere and quickly begin to swell, building like the crescendo of an aria. Unfailingly every year you marvel at their density, you stare, mesmerized at the ants that crawl all over them and you promise yourself that you must not miss the drama of their blooms erupting.

And then the star turn is in full tilt, you can't take your eyes of them, their color and shape hog your attention. When you don't look, their scent calls, and makes you stop what you're doing, close your eyes and take in a little more. You whisk some home and they draw a perfumed circle in your apartment that stops you in your tracks everytime you step into it's heady perimeter.

One look at them, and you think of opium dens, silk cheongsams, crimson velvet flock wallpapered boudoirs. Next week they will be inconsolable, their blowsy heads bent with grief, their feet scattered with their tattered robes as they wail their swansong. Rapturous applause ensues for another bravura performance.

+ OGMedia:Trad Tools

+ OccasionalOasis:Ohio


AKA vegetable garden thinnings. Although micro is not a bad description since that's what they are- teeny tiny. Which means usage is limited to somewhere betweeen a herb and a vegetable simply because there's not really a whole lot of them. Since some of them were spicy- mustard greens, arugula this sort of worked out in a salad more about potato and white beans. I'm not complaining, they were delicious - I even packed oh about a half cupful of the precious little things including delicate yellow flowers of bolted bok choy, to bring back to NYC.

There is a new marketing of microgreens going on- its no longer the hottest new restaurant salad trend - that's so 2002. Now its houseplants you can eat. Just grow them on your kitchen counter. In fact grow them in recycled soda bottles and save the planet as well.

Wait. There's something to this. They aren't going to grow much bigger because of the light thing so its more of a dedicated crop as opposed to a thinning. I already do a fair amount of sprouting. This seems like a natural evolution - urban homestead countertop microfarming. Stay tuned. Meanwhile outside the kitchen window, I have one pot wrapped in fencing to thwart those wretched squirrels with basil and chillis. Lets' see how long that survives.

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