Monday, February 28, 2011

Datura in February

Datura stromonium seedheads, Floyd Bennett Field

There's something about the seedheads of the Jimsonweed in late winter at Floyd Bennett that feels more like the southwest than the edge of Brooklyn. I guess it must be a pretty powerful hallucinogen if just looking at the seedheads takes you on a trip. The pretty double flowering Datura sp. variety from the rose garden at Brooklyn Botanic pictured below is also pretty out of this world. This weed and plant of many names is both dangerous and beautiful and featured in Amy Stewart's book "Wicked Plants". All its parts are poisonous, but it's the toxic seeds that make it so successful a plant down at our community garden and in many parts of the world.

Beautiful double-flowering Datura variety in the Cranford Rose Garden, Brooklyn Botanic

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What's Popping at Floyd Bennett in Late February

The victorious V of emerging garlic now that the garden plot is snow-free

Red Maple getting ready to bloom

And some spinach that overwintered beneath the snow cover in my plot. Some Red-Winged Blackbirds and bees were out too enjoying the warm sunny day.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Windowsill farming?

Nah. I picture that involving a really tiny farmer with really tiny tools. (Admittedly though if you attach the word farming to just about anything these days, you'd generate a little interest-- urban plus agriculture equals really hot right now, proving that trendiness is not necessarily always a bad thing.) But we're just plain old regular-sized gardeners trying to give the vegetable seedlings a little more light on a gray morning. Even a south facing window in the city won't prevent legginess. It was pretty dark outside early this morning.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Time Travel

Fuller's Teasel remains in February

The remains of the teasel at Brooklyn Botanic in February conjure up memories of lilies and sunlight and I am transported back to one amazing summer afternoon in the Shakespeare garden. There are plants that will forever bring me back to this place where I first got to know them. I'm grateful that I've been imprinted by these beautiful images of Brooklyn Botanic and that each walk through this place remains both fresh and familiar. Teasels are agressive plants and considered invasive in some parts of this country, but it's easy to see why gardeners planted it.

A summer's afternoon and Fuller's Teasel in the Shakespeare Garden, above and below

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's Red and Pink and Green all Over

The Camellia House at Planting Fields Arboretum blooming spectacularly now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

First Harvest

The picture's not great, but we've got to celebrate the first harvest of the year. Lucky for me, I have a gardening partner with a cold frame who came home today with a bag of arugula and kale from his garden plot. It's time to get excited about the spring crops.

Catkins, Seasonality and the Windowsill

The Manchurian Alder across from the Children's Garden, Brooklyn Botanic, dripping in catkins.

I'm learning that if you want to live with the seasons, you have to come to appreciate the uniqueness of their beauty. You can get flowers anytime in the city, shipped from warmer climates, but your vase won't reflect the season it sits in.

The flowers and the color will be here before we know it, but for now, inspired by that amazing Manchurian Alder at Brooklyn Botanic, I'm enjoying a simple bouquet made of fallen catkins on the windowsill. I may be happiest and thrive best in the warmer months, but I'm learning to celebrate where I am, the here and the now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Catkins and the Contortionist

C is for catkins and contortion and for Corylus Avellana 'Contorta', a must-see in the winter for its form and later its bloom. This one is in the Fragrance Garden at Brooklyn Botanic. Pretty gnarly, dude.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yesterday Snowdrops

Snowdrops blooming, Brooklyn Botanic Perennial border
at the foot of a Crepe Myrtle at Brooklyn Botanic. This morning the real thing. It's still winter.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Old and New

Yellow Witchhazel hybrid in the winter sun, Brooklyn Botanic

I went to Brooklyn Botanic today because of Karla's post about the blooming South African bulbs in the Warm Temperate Pavilion on Brooklyn Botanic's website, but found myself outside mostly caught between the beauty of the old and the new. I never made it inside, but that's ok. It's a good excuse to return again this week. I bet it will be a beautiful week at Brooklyn Botanic outside and in, but most of the blooms will be inside.

The remains of a Japanese Persimmon in winter, Brooklyn Botanic
Yellow witchhazel flowers

Friday, February 18, 2011

Yellowwood Again

Freshly cut Yellowwood, Prospect Park

There's always something to see on bike rides in the park. How about some beautiful yellow heartwood, recently cut from the Cladrastis kentukea near the lake? Last year's bloom time in Prospect Park? Mid-May. Thanks to Mike and the Woody ID class at Brooklyn Botanic, I can almost correctly spell the botanic name of this tree without spellchecking via a quick google search. Almost, but not quite. I usually end up putting the r in the wrong place. Botanical names can be a challenge to spell.

Yellowwood flowers and chive

Yellowwood flower cluster and chives in a what's-blooming bouquet from last year, May 17.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Potatoes vs. Eggplant

An early red potato flower (70 to 90 days)

In New York City, it's all about real estate and so it goes in a city garden as well. I'm faced with a big decision this year, in a bit of a crop rotation quandry with the solanaceae family. There's not enough room in my garden plot for both potatoes and eggplant this year, so one will have to go. Tomatoes and peppers are a must. Right now I'm leaning towards growing potatoes because I love the surprise of digging them up and I'll probably be able to get a nitrogen-fixing crop in after they are pulled. But if the zuchinni bites the dust again due to borers and disease, I might regret that decision. (I know eggplant and zuchinni aren't the same thing, but they can be used so similarly for a summer meal.) I'm pretty sure most people would go with growing the eggplant over the potato, but I've got a sweet spot for growing the spuds. It makes you feel like you could be a farmer.

White Eggplant, Summer 2008

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


There's a lot of grace in the garden, with or without sculptured wings, and you don't have to practice or believe in anything at all to appreciate why the garden and plants have played a role in spiritual practices throughout the ages, from the gardens of Buddhist or Medeaval monks to a streetside churchyard in Park Slope. For me there is enough grace in the arch of last year's hydrangeas, like in the picture above and in an emerging bulb in Anne's garden this afternoon just breaking through the soil's surface.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ninety Plus Ninety

Mid-November morning in the rock garden, Brooklyn Botanic

It was just about ninety days from a brilliant fall morning until the light of today.

Beech leaves and a bare skyline in mid-February, Prospect Park

And in another ninety we'll be more than halfway through spring. The winter may seem long and cold, but really it's just a cold blink of an eye. We'll be getting a taste of the near future later this week, with a spell of spring weather.

Under an Umbrella Magnolia in Mid-May, Native Flora Garden, Brooklyn Botanic

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fair Weather, Flat Tire

Pine grove in winter, Prospect Park
A small grove of pines, near the top of the hill, Prospect Park loop

Cycling and gardening are different pursuits, but they share some things in common. If you ride a bicycle or tend a garden pretty quickly you will begin to wonder how anyone can refer to talk about the weather as small talk. Rain, the threat of or the lack of, will seem ridiculously important. You will come to know which direction the wind blows. Your eyes will pay attention to small details, sparks of light in the shards of glass on the pavement or tiny yellow eggs on the underside of leaves. You will have to learn to adapt your plans to the whims of the weather, small rodents (well, that's only gardening, rodents are pretty inconsequential when it comes to cycling) and luck. Sometimes you get lucky. You catch all the eggs and save your eggplant from the dreaded Colorado Potato Beetle infestation. And sometimes you ride over the glass and get a flat coming up the hill in Prospect Park. You will just have to dismount between a small grove of Pines and a Beech with some leaves still hanging on, catching the winter sun. That's the way it goes.

Beech leaves in the winter sun.

With both pursuits you will mark the seasons in a personal way (your first tomato, your first spring century), you will reap the rewards of the hard work of spring in August, and you will come to know the place where you are more intimately. You will probably remember the great days in each season of the year and you will consider yourself lucky to have spent some of the minutes of them outside pursuing something you love. For me 2011 felt like it started today; with the mild temperature, streets cleared of snow, my first bike ride in the park, the hints of pink in the leaf buds of a Beech, and the first white blooms of the year spotted on the slow jog home.

First snowdrops blooming of the year, Eastern Parkway
First Snowdrops blooming, Eastern Parkway.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Saucer magnolia buds in winter Prospect Park
Saucer Magnolia buds this winter, Prospect Park

It isn't true that anticipation belongs to the winter season alone and it isn't true that anticipating the future necessarily equates to ignoring the present. Every season has its moments of waiting and watching and it's anybody's guess whether the blooms are more beautiful than these moments of beauty and anticipation that precede them. Outside now the buds on many trees are becoming more prominent as we anticipate spring.

Magnolia plaza, Brooklyn Botanic
In Magnolia Plaza, Brooklyn Botanic

Emergent lily

Anticipating a lily, emergent in spring

Spring is just as full of anticipation as the winter, though the moments may be more brightly hued. The great bulk of time spent in the garden is in the watching and the waiting, in anticipation, and therein lies almost everything good, all the charm and all the wonder.

Zinnia flower bud before opening

A Zinnia before opening

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's That Great Tree on the Corner?

It never ceases to amaze me how much plant life there is to see on any given walk outside in the city since I've taken up gardening. What's that great tree on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Classon, I wonder. In passing by quickly it looks like a yew with somewhat pendulous branching. Maybe Taxus baccata 'Dovastoniana'? The trees of Brooklyn's streets and courtyards don't come with the handy labels of Botanic gardens, but the tree above brought to mind the collection of Yews north of the Shakespeare garden at BBG, which look so beautiful this winter, like they are their own small forest. This is the time to really look at and appreciate all things evergreen.

Passing by the Yew forest, near 900 Washington Ave entrance, Brooklyn Botanic

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winter Still

One thing about winter in the garden: there is time to focus on some of the small details of life. There is less busy-ness, less color and matter at hand so you can find yourself looking at a whisp of a hyrdrangea flower in its last stage of being or the seedheads of butterfly bushes that still wave head high in the wind as you might any garden in the riot of spring bloom. In these still moments of winter the delicate beauty of decay and the subtle hues of brown can be enough to contemplate.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dried and Sown

Dried parsley and ivy in window

I still think the dried fruit and seedpods of the ivy pictured above and below look interesting after a week hanging in a vase, and the dry summer parsley holds on, though not as vibrant as when fresh and in season in a bouquet. Last summer, parsley, basil and fennel were some of my favorite flowering herbs from the garden to add to home bouquets.

Dried ivy fruit and parsley

Below, some spinach sown for Joe's cold frame to get a jump on the vegetable growing season. It's anyone's guess when we'll be able to work the soil in our garden plots down at Floyd Bennett. As of Sunday, my plot at least was under more than a foot of snow. Joe's coldframe is completely snow free though.

spinach seeds sown in egg carton

Spinach seeds sown in an egg carton.