Monday, October 31, 2011

Flowers in the House (Of Autumn)

What's Blooming Bouquets on the last day of October

It's been a great joy and a bit of a surprise to find that I like the primal colors both in the garden and in a vase. I wouldn't have guessed that red and this golden yellow zinnia would be among my favorites to bring home from the garden this year and they certainly scream out the colors of autumn in New York along with the goldenrod.

Below: what remains of the flower harvest after a freak October snowstorm and our mystery pumpkin. The seeds were given to Joe for the pumpkin patch and the donor thought they were an Amish pumpkin, but we're thinking it might be a Musque de Provence squash at this point. I guess we'll see if it changes color off the vine.

And last, something dried from the season, because outside it's also time to admire things as they go to seed and fade. Goldenrod, a couple sprigs of lavender and dried porcelain berries. The berries didn't retain their color, but no matter, I like them anyway. Plus, they are a little dark and spooky, so they will go with Jane's theme of horror, this month for her Flowers in the House gathering, where the celebration is always about what she and her cronies currently have in their vases.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Just Because

it caught my eye at the garden on the windy and wintery October day that followed the snow.

A Lot Can Happen in 24 hours

Gingko leaves late October

and that's not always good. Yesterday I ought to have been checking out fall color, with the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, not slogging through slushy streets. And while the storm will not be as dramatic as the October blizzard in Buffalo a few years back, which really devestated deciduous trees unable to hold the load of snow and leaves, it's still a strange sight and a little disturbing to see so many leaf-covered trees covered in snow.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Bouquet, Two pounds of Lettuce and the Harvest Before the Storm

Late October bouquet before the snow

Harvesting the bouquet wasn't a tough call, though in hindsight we could have harvested many more flowers from the pumpkin patch and given them out to neighbors, but the lettuce was another story. It seemed so hard to believe that it would snow significantly before Halloween in downstate New York, but there was the forecast, which sounded ominous. So out came two pounds of lettuce. I'd have preferred to harvest it over time, but we will just have to eat like rabbits over the next week or two and be lean and mean. The good thing is that most vegetables, lettuce included, that are harvested out of your own garden last just a little bit longer in the fridge than store bought.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Opuntia, Say it Like You Mean It Even if You Mispronounce It

Opuntia humifusa at winter's end, Brooklyn Botanic

It was probably twenty years ago that I realized the Prickly Pear Cactus grew wild in southeastern New York. I can't remember exactly how I came to know this or exactly where I saw it growing, but it was only last year that I learned the botanical name of the species and saw it flowering. And I do remember exactly how I came to know the botanical name and flower. It was in the Herbaceaous ID class at Brooklyn Botanic.

Sometimes it takes a few seasons to come to know something and other times it takes many more. Here, Opuntia humifusa, a botanical name I actually love to say, (like so many botanical names I'm quite sure I mangle it but I say it like I mean it), over the seasons.

In bloom
Opuntia humifusa now, this fall, Brooklyn Botanic

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Buds, Berries and Leaves: Color and The High Line

Pretty sure these are next year's flowers, just beautiful buds right now on a deciduous native azalea. There aren't plant signs at The High Line, but you can find their plant list online. The buds remind me a lot of the Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) in the bed right outside of Native Flora at Brooklyn Botanic and I wouldn't be surprised if it is that species. (It is on the plant list)

An almost unreal display of berries on the Harlequin Glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum, Asian origin).

And the bright orange leaves on a cutleaf Sumac. A garden is never just about the flowers, and in the fall and in a place like The High Line, that's incredibly easy to see. It's almost time to start focusing on buds again and the beauty beyond the blooms, a good project to take me through a cold winter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Late Bloomers at 615 Green

I don't know the name of the rose, but named or not, it most definitely smelled sweet. And toad lilies (Tricyrtis sp.). A sweet autumn combo in a community garden member's  plot. Were the bees digging it too? You know it.

Monday, October 24, 2011


and untended...

October is an interesting time, no matter what plants you're paying attention to outside. There are still plenty of blooming flowers and crops to harvest in the vegetable garden, and if you live somewhere with deciduous trees and shrubs like New York, there is color. Just like in the spring, when there is massive transformation, it's a particularly good time to pay attention to plants if you are trying to learn more about them. The difference though is that the days are getting shorter and not longer, so you have to make the most of the minutes outside in autumn sunlight. (the first picture is on a sunny afternoon at Queen's Botanical Garden, the second, not long before sunset in an untended corner by the shed in my brother's backyard.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Growing Roots

If it grows underground, it might surprise you at harvest time and therein lies some of the fun in growing root crops like carrots. You're never quite sure how long they are, although usually you know how thick they are because they tend to crown up out of the soil when they're ready for harvest or you can dig a little down around them to feel or see their width. Carrots are cool too because you can direct sow them in the garden with no need for transplanting, unlike say your tomatoes. (although Joe direct sowed tomatoes and peppers in the garden this year with success.) Mine never seem to germinate at the same time or grow at a uniform rate, so they tend to be ready for harvest at different times. And that's cool too because you can just harvest what you need for the day and it's as fresh as can be. This one isn't a monster, but it doesn't need to be. It just needs to taste good. (And it did.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Day, Another Stage

in the life cycles of a butterfly and an allium. I bet the Black Swallowtail caterpillar above is nearly ready to overwinter in its chrysalis and man, if I could get a picture of that for my bug-loving nephew, it would be cool. I'm betting that he can figure out which end is which on this caterpillar just by looking at its legs.

Below: garlic chives going to seed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Few Seconds on Grass

Whether you're talking about reinventing the concept of the American front yard, concerned about whether or not Roundup Ready Kentucky Bluegrass is a bad idea or avoiding high-fructose corn syrup in your diet because of something you read by Michael Pollan, you're thinking about grass. And thinking about grass and realizing how incredibly important this family of plants is in a staggering variety of ways, if you never have before, is probably a good idea.

The fall's a good time to appreciate the beauty of certain grasses in the garden and maybe learn to identify and name a few species. There are a lot of places you could go to do this in New York City. I happened to take these pictures of the native Chasmanthium latifolium at Queen's Botanical Garden this past Sunday.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Skipper and a Native Bee

Skipper (possibly Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus)

on one species in the garden today, Verbena bonariensis. The bloom that keeps on going and going and going. (and going and going and going maybe a little too crazy if you let it reseed, like I have, but I wouldn't want to miss the great pollinator show that comes with it.)

Metallic Green Bee, Agapostemon genus bee (female)

Native pollinator (metallic green bee) on Verbena bonariensis, Brooklyn

Monday, October 17, 2011

Walk to an Old Kettle Pond

What we think is a Praying mantis egg sack, Forest Park

On our bike ride home from Queen's Botanical Garden yesterday, we stopped at a restored Kettle Pond in Forest Park for a quick walk. We've passed the area on hundreds of bike rides through the park but never noticed an open gate leading into the area. We poked around for a bit and discovered a praying mantis egg sack attached to a drying aster flower stalk, (or at least some kind of composite flower) plenty of ducks we don't know the names of and at least one potentially invasive species inhabiting the water. All things considered, not a bad pitstop for a bit of studying.

Yellow Floating Heart (Nymphoides peltata). Pretty, but not necessarily a good thing outside of its native habitat. Another common name is the Fringed Water Lily because of the fringes visible on its five petals.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Zinnias 6 days Out

I have to admit that a lot of the thrill behind bringing home flowers from the garden right now is studying how long they last, learning how to condition them best (for me a night in the fridge after harvest) and figuring out what the optimum time for harvesting is. Maybe that's because my roots in gardening began with vegetables and my tendency is to see what I grow as a crop for harvest. The smallest zinnias here were barely blooming when harvested, the petals just narrow blades, and I thought maybe they would open fully and last longer in the vase because I picked them so young. And so far they have, but it's also cooler now and they probably survived the ride home better too. I still daydream about farming, both vegetables and flowers, but in the meantime, I spend my time paying attention to the plants I'm growing and the ones I pass, and how they do in each season.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I'm pretty sure Joe's lavender only reblooms because of the timing of his deadheading and harvesting. The Viburnums in Prospect Park and on Eastern Parkway on the otherhand are doing it on their own (I think), but I could be wrong. Pretty sure I saw these same leathery-leaved Viburnums blooming last fall too.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Edgeworthia, Again

We passed two Edgeworthia (Paperbush) plants yesterday on a walk to Prospect Park and admired those amazing flower buds which make this plant so beautiful to lay eyes on in the winter months. Susan had just planted a very tiny one in the front yard at a client's home and was wishing that it was more impressive to see right now. (Currently it looks like a few wee branches with some leaves and small buds.) But if it survives and thrives, it will grow into something grand, and be totally worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Following a Favorite, 2011

From top left: Sweetgum leaves emerging mid-April, buds in March, leaf color late September, dried fallen fruit in winter

Some encounters with Sweetgums,2011. The year isn't over. Follow your favorites because you can't learn everything about plants in a year, but the chances are good that you will see a lot if you remember to pay attention to the ones you love.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Alphabetical Autumn Stroll

A is for Asters with Amsonia. (even if the asters are no longer called asters botanically) An A+ combo for fall, as seen in the border outside of Brooklyn Botanic, museum side.

B is for the blueberry bush around the corner. What beats a plant that produces both fruit and fall color?

and C is for the cordate (heart-shaped) leaves of a Redbud cultivar, maybe 'Forest Pansy'. (Just the youngest leaves at the tips of the branches were this vibrant red, so I don't think it's the straight species, which is more typically yellow in the fall.)

All natives to North America and with the exception of the Amsonia, which grows wild in Oklahoma and Arkansas, all northeast natives to boot. Not too shabby a showing for a few square blocks in Brooklyn.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Fennel

Late Instar of Black Swallowtail caterpillar

It's been an amazing few weeks for butterfly watching down at the community garden, today's caterpillar sightings included. If I'm lucky, I might get the chance to watch a chrysalis overwinter on some fennel volunteers (a pretty successful weed) in my garden or nearby. Today I saw a few different instars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly in the caterpillar stage of its life cycle. While its unseasonably warm right now, I'm thinking that this must be the last generation of this species before our first frost here in New York. We'll see.

An earlier instar, methinks

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Leaves and Seeds

The dogwoods on my brother's block look they have hit peak color for the season. Can you believe I was speaking with someone in the spring (who actually works in the business taking care of gardens) who didn't get why dogwoods are awesome and particularly in east coast gardens, where the plant is native? I'm not sure what I see that they don't, but for sure fall is a good time to lay your eyes on a Dogwood. It's also a fine time to go out looking for seeds and start dreaming about next year's garden.

Queen Anne's Lace seed head

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Day of Big Sun

monarchs and Bob's asters,

bigtime bugwatching and getting nothing done in the garden. Just my kind of day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The More You Look

the more you will see and it doesn't matter whether you dig mushroom hunting, are just beginning to identify trees by their leaf shape or have recently discovered that there are Tulip Tree samaras at your feet and above your head in the canopy in the fall. The point really is just to focus your attention, if even for just a moment, on even just the square foot of earth where you happen to be and see if you aren't knocked out by how much there is to name and know just a little better, and by how ridiculously beautiful it all is.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sweet Early October Reprieve

Broom Corn, (actually a sorghum and not botanically a corn) Pumpkin Patch, Floyd Bennett Field

The corduroys will have to wait. There's still time for lazing on a sunny afternoon yet.
Dried Corn tassel, (Zea mays) Pumkin Patch, Floyd Bennett Field

Spring, Fall

Maybe not so different after all. (Or at least that's what I tell myself in order to cheer up as I break out the corduroys.) There will be magic again soon.
Where was I? Brooklyn Botanic.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Early October Bouquet

Zinnias and Garlic Chives Seed heads

So what if they're common? Zinnias manage to provide blooms for so long and are cheap from seed and you can plant them in any color you like. The colors of mine are a surprise to me because they came in a mixed seed package. I planted this round direct in the garden along with my fall crop of carrots, beets and greens and they started blooming last week.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Feeling's The Same

The early autumn leaves me feeling a lot like in the early spring. I feel that if I stop to blink or don't take advantage of my minutes outside, I'm gonna miss something fleeting and fantastic. And then I'll have to wait a whole nother year to catch a glimpse of it again.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

If It Has to Get Cold

Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) seed head beginning to turn , Brooklyn
at least there will be some color first. Here the pretty seed heads of some Chasmanthium latifolium I passed on my way to the farmers market today. The color is subtle right now and kind of captures the feeling of anticipation of full-on Autumn for me. If I was growing this shade-tolerant East Coast native grass, I'd probably be cutting some of those seed heads to bring in for a bouquet.