Saturday, December 31, 2011

Plant of the Year 2011

Monarda punctata! (Horsemint, Spotted Beebalm), pollinator favorite

I think it bucks tradition to pick the plant of the year when the year is on its last legs, but I'm gonna do it anyway. Of all the plants I watched this year, from atop fancy penthouse gardens in Manhattan to roadside weeds, the one that gave me the most pleasure and the opportunity to learn was Monarda punctata! (I tend to think the point the latin name is calling for is the punctuation of an exclamation point because this plant is that awesome). Whether observing a bumblebee methodically circling round and visiting all its flowers at the amazing Herb Garden that Caleb tends at Brooklyn Botanic or crouched fascinated by the pollinator show it provided in my own garden, this plant always brought me both delight and wonder. In my vegetable garden, it was the clear favorite of wasps, so I'll cast my vote with them for this interesting native plant for plant of the year.

(I first encountered this plant at Brooklyn Botanic Garden as a horticulture intern last year in both the Herb and Native Flora Gardens and I owe the amazing show it provided in my own garden to my friend Susan, who gave it to me to grow for my own.)

Monarda punctata in July, Brooklyn

Friday, December 30, 2011


For Wini and Halina to celebrate their new home, a bouquet from Joe and me that also celebrates some of what is beautiful outside now in Brooklyn in early winter. Different colored berries and evergreens along with dried grasses and seed heads, and in the case of this particular bouquet, one found feather, I think from a duck.

Below, before it made the journey from our home to theirs. Giving a bouquet that you made is fun in the same way that giving away some cucumbers you've grown in the garden is fun. Joe says it would have been even more fun if we'd grown everything ourselves and he's right about that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Out of Season

I've got some Magnolia buds opening in a vase in the last week of the year. I'd never have guessed that this would be so. And it was only by a chance encounter last month with some pruned branches on a bike ride in Prospect Park that I get to celebrate this unseasonal occurence.

In contrast, last year in early December, I came upon an unusual sight. It was very cold like winter and on a Kousa Dogwood, there were both some autumn leaves (yes, the right season) still hanging on, but also some unseasonal blooms. I felt as though I was experiencing three seasons in one day.

December 2010, Brooklyn
Should I have been surprised? After all, I'd also seen a variegated Kousa blooming at Brooklyn Botanic in September of last year.

September, 2010, Brooklyn Botanic
What can I tell you? You learn about plants by paying attention to their regularity through the seasons and also their irregularity or their response to the weather conditions. This is true whether you are new to gardening or a pro. For instance, on The New York Botanical Garden's Plant Talk blog, there was recently this post about unseasonal observations at the New York Botanical Garden. There, also Kousa Dogwoods blooming out of season among other plants. Does that mean perhaps that Kousas are more sensitive in their response to seasonal fluctuations than some other species? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I'm not a scientist and I don't have the kind of data to answer that question. But you don't have to be a scientist to just think like one, whether you find all the answers to your questions or not.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

They are Farmers, They Grow Food For The People

I said before that I receive regular e-mailed updates and a newsletter from my potato seed farmer,(Wood Prairie Farm) and this video arrived today. If it doesn't play here, follow the link to the youtube video uploaded by Food Democracy Now.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gleaning and Prospect Park, 2011

Normally, my gleanings in Prospect Park are simply the information gathered about what is budding or blooming. But there have been a few times this year when I've gleaned in the park in a way that is closer to the idea of gleaning in the fields or gathering what is left for waste but still usable. The latest example of this kind of gleaning are the Magnolia branches with buds in the vase above. On a bike ride in the park I had passed some branches on the ground left by parks workers, who I'm assuming were pruning as part of park maintenance, whether for the health of the trees or safety of park users and workers. They hadn't been hauled away yet and I just clipped the tips of a few of these cut branches to bring home for a vase.

Below, two similar rides in the park in late winter and early spring offered opportunities for salvaging, but the reasons I was able to gather those times were not because of park work, but normal wear and tear of the year. In both instances, I found branches recently damaged by wind or weather and was able to bring home some blooming witchhazel and the amazing early growth of a young Buckeye.

(This post was inspired by my recent watching of a film by Agnes Varda, which made me think of her beautiful documentary film, "The Gleaners and I".)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Trees

but not the decorating kind, just two London Plane's across the street from my brother's, where we celebrated.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Garden, Moving and Curious

The Moving Garden, Brooklyn Museum

Last minute shopping at the Brooklyn Museum, I passed "The Moving Garden" an installation that encourages of all things, people to give the gift of a flower as a participatory work of art. And then I bought a work of art for my young gardening niece Emma, this beautiful book The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, where both a young boy and his garden are the curious charactors. This kid likes to draw pictures too.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Bouquet Study

A Bouquet in May as in Mayapple

Have you ever looked at a bouquet as an opportunity to learn something? If you haven't, can I turn you on to that as an idea as I was first turned on to it in the lunchroom at Brooklyn Botanic during my horticulture internship (be quick! there's a deadline) last year? I have a ton of sweet memories of work/studying at Brooklyn Botanic and some are of studying branches or bunches of flowers gathered together in water in the lunchroom. There's more than one lesson in the bouquet above, but one is that May is an excellent time to go for a walk in the Native Flora garden at Brooklyn Botanic and be on the lookout for blooming Mayapples.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Because You Always Start From Where You Are

Fruit of Callery Pear Silhouette on a gray day near winter, my street in Brooklyn

Every journey or adventure begins from the same place, where you are. So it makes sense that when you start out to know the names of trees and more about plants that you start near home on the street where you live.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Year, A Day and About an Hour Apart

Looking at Lagerstroemia in Lily Pool Plaza at Brooklyn Botanic, Dec 17, 2010

I was only half joking when I talked about creating my own botanical holidays and celebrating the Holiday of the Viewing of the Paper Bush buds. There is much truth in the jest. We are free to create our own rituals and celebrate the seasons in our own way. I went back to Brooklyn Botanic to look at the Paper Bush buds on Sunday and to look at the Crape Myrtles at the far end of the Lily Pool Plaza because I wanted to see if I could recreate a moment for myself, but I was also keeping an eye out for things I'd missed noticing before in this time of the year, on the cusp of winter. But my feet were cold so the trip was short and I really will have to return again next year.

On Dec 18, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Holiday of the Viewing of the Paper Bush Buds

On this, the second annual Holiday of the Viewing of the Paper Bush Buds, there were some early blooms. Am I making up botanical holidays for myself now? Well yes, I am. Having never created a holiday before and being somewhat unsure what the criteria are for such a thing, I've pretty much gone and done it much the way one earns the right for riding shotgun in a car, that is by calling it.

I've chosen to celebrate this particular holiday on the third Sunday of December quite arbitrarily and I imagine any old day in winter would do just as well. I do recommend though the celebrating be done on a very cold day in the last hour of light at Brooklyn Botanic, if you're in Brooklyn. If not, then you have to go out and find your own Paper Bush spot to celebrate. As of yet, there are no official sponsors, logos, or lore attached to this celebration, so it's wide open for interpretation.

Edgworthia chrysantha, Paperbush, winter buds
At the inaugural celebration

Friday, December 16, 2011

Part of the Year in New York City Bees

Were you paying attention to New York city bees this year? Did you catch this cool story about the naming of "new" species in New York, the neatly named Gotham bee being found at Brooklyn Botanic even? Knowing that even experts sometimes have to rely on DNA to identify between species makes me feel better about rarely getting beyond genus when trying to name the bees I find in my own garden. But it still won't stop me from paying attention to these visitors and giving it a try.

The bee in the top photo is one I identified in my own community garden plot as Triepeolus lunatus or something close. Am I positive that my ID is correct? Not by a long shot. But this is one of the places I sought out information from when attempting my identification. (If you follow that link, one of the first photos is by John Ascher and shows this bee on a Black-eyed Susan at Brooklyn Botanic.) The bee below I feel somewhat confident about calling an Agapostemon female. I'd love to say it's Agapostemon splendens, but perhaps I'd need to submit some photos into to get that far. But wouldn't it be neat if I did and the person to call it definitively was none other than Dr. John Ascher?

There are a lot of places to learn more about these bees, our native pollinators, but the most fun place for me is usually with my own eye in a garden I love.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Still Green

There's a weeping willow down at the community garden that remains mostly green with most of its foliage intact this week in December. Since seeing it over the weekend, I've been keeping an eye out to see if I can spot any other deciduous trees that haven't changed color yet. So far, nothing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

With Regard to Seeds

"With regard to seeds- some look like snuff, others like very light blond nits, or like shiny and blackish blood-red fleas without legs, some are flat like seals, others inflated like balls, others thin like needles; they are winged, prickly, downy, naked and hairy; big like cockroaches and tiny like specks of dust. I tell you that every kind is different, and each is strange, life is complex. Out of this big plumed monster a low and dry thistle is supposed to grow, whereas out of these yellow nits a fat gigantic cotyledon is supposed to come. What am I to do? I simply don't believe it."

Karel Capek, The Gardener's Year, Chapter 4, Seeds.

Like Capek, I am apt not to believe in seeds or rather I tend not to believe in the ones I sow, always worried that somehow I haven't got it quite right this time round. Did I plant when it was too cold or too warm, will the rain wash them away or is it too hot and dry for them to stay sufficiently moist for germination? Maybe the seeds were too old, my fingers a jynx? I used to think this was mostly due to a certain anxious nature and insecurity in myself, but perhaps it's due to the fact that there's still a part of me that simply can't get over this most natural of things, that a plant should grow from a seed. Perhaps, this is universal even and the gist of what Capek is writing; that for all that we know, even at the highest levels of gardening expertise or science, we are all still a bit in awe with regard to seeds and that if we are not, maybe it is only because we are not regarding them in the right light.

I'm enjoying this book.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gardener's Year and Gardening Friends

I received a sweet present from my friend Susan in the mail today, a copy of Karel Capek's The Gardener's Year, first published in 1929. And because it is a slim book and one I have been really looking forward to reading, I am trying to digest it slowly and not just gobble it up all in one night as I am apt to do, leaving myself with nothing left to savor tomorrow. Already I've read the two introductions to the book (one by Michael Pollan, the other by Verlyn Klinkenborg), the first short and sweet chapter, and am forcing myself to stop right now on page 7 after reading the lines "Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart."

I have been especially lucky in discovering and pursuing this insatiable passion because I have given my heart over to gardening (or was it stolen from me by the garden I wonder?) in places alongside many others giving their own. I was lucky that my first garden was in a community garden, ensuring that my thoughts about gardening would necessarily forever include thoughts and memories of other people, and I was incredibly lucky to study and work alongside not only the talented gardeners on staff at Brooklyn Botanic, but also my fellow horticulture interns (Susan and Anne included among them). To find a passion at any age is of course a fantastic thing all by itself, but a passion shared with friends is something else entirely.

My friendship with Susan is not solely based on gardening, but it was born and grown in a garden, the most beautiful one in Brooklyn at that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Candle on Your Birthday

Joe makes crepes and he also makes candles. When Joe is making candles it looks very similar to when he is making crepes, the beeswax melted in a pan like a flat pancake and then rolled, but it smells a lot different. This year he tried adding some lavender from the garden to the beeswax for scent, but he doesn't think it worked. It's Joe's birthday again and this post is to celebrate.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How to Save Something

Chamomile flowers deadheaded
Three easy steps.
Grow something.
Dry it.
Tuck it away for a rainy day.

Some things are simple. The challenge, in particular for city dwellers in small apartments with no outside access or maybe even a sunny southern exposure, is finding the space to grow that something in. Am I lucky to have access to such a space, the something saved in this case being open space for a community of gardeners to grow in and on? Tremendously.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Just Potatoes

Are they just potatoes? Well, the seed potatoes came from a family farm from way up north in Maine, Wood Prairie Farm, and they were double certified, both organic and by the state of Maine. The first year that we grew potatoes at the community garden, it was just by some internet searching for certified seed potato that I found the Gerritsen's farm online and ordered some. They yielded well and we continued to order from the farm, both some other vegetable seed and each year since potatoes. But now, I don't just order my seed potatoes from Wood Prairie, I also follow the news about the farm, both in emailed newsletters they send out to customers and elsewhere. And some people are talking about Jim Gerritsen and The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association's lawsuit against Monsanto these days.

So are they just potatoes? Well, yes they are. The ones pictured above are just some potatoes I grew. But there's more than one definition in the dictionary for the word just and it seems to me that the people I buy my seed potatoes from aren't just growing potatoes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On a Need to Know Basis

Sunflower grown for edible seeds, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, early August (4 months ago)

How much you come to know about sunflowers depends on how much you need to know. It's a personal thing really. Do you need to know when it might bloom as an annual for decorative purposes? Do you need to know what the optimal soil temperature is for germination because you want to plant seeds or are you curious about when you can expect to harvest yours because you like to eat sunflower seeds? Care to know what the top sunflower oil producing countries are or where in the United States the most sunflowers are grown? Maybe you'd be satisfied with just knowing what local farmers sell them as greens at the farmers market. Are they annual or perennial, open pollinated or hybrid? Are the ones you buy in a bouquet bred to be pollenless for the cutflower market? Are you curious to know what pesticides were used on the ones raised for oil that made their way into the bag of chips at the bodega and how those chemicals might be effecting bees?

There's an entire world to explore in just sunflowers. How much you come to know about sunflowers depends mostly on how much you need to know and the questions you ask.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Oats

Joe's Oats in late October

Oatmeal for breakfast cooked at home or maybe an oatbran muffin from the local cafe. Oats as food for people and animals or straw. Oats as a covercrop or living mulch, an organic tool in the garden. There are plenty of reasons to plant oats or just to learn about how, why or where the ones you eat are grown. Joe uses them in the vegetable garden and the community garden pumpkin patch as a cover crop. This year in Brooklyn, they met with snow in late October and mild temperatures in early December. Next year? Who knows.

Oats in early December

Monday, December 5, 2011

Something to think about in December

Look at some seed heads on White Snakeroot as you pass through the park. Start thinking about seeds. Chuck some seed heads from your garden over the fence into an empty lot. Will the seeds be dispersed and germinate? Who knows. Keep thinking about seeds. Go through last year's flowers seed packages with Susan and wonder how many seeds it would take to fill an abandoned lot. But if eventually you find yourself staring at a picture you took of a Cardoon seed head at Brooklyn Botanic from last December, you should probably tell yourself that's it. It's time to stop thinking about seeds already and just start thinking about something else. It's time for dinner anyway.

Cut up the last of the beets from your garden for salad and think about how it was dark today before 5pm. Then think about how the next time somebody says to you that we are almost at the shortest day of the year, which is good because then the days will start getting longer again, you will just tell them they are delusional. You will say no, all that it really means is that we have the whole winter before us. You will say no, what it really means is it's a long time till beets out of the garden again. Wait a second. Take a breath. You know what you should do? You should probably just eat those beets slow and think about something else. You should probably just start thinking about seeds.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One of These Years

there will be room for asparagus. For now, there's just admiring it as it fades out at the season's end in my neighbor Susan's plot.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The More Things Change (take two)

Broad Channel, Marginal Land in Jamaica Bay near the JFK Airport. 05/1973
Photographer: Tress, Arthur - Original Caption: Broad Channel, Marginal Land in Jamaica Bay near the JFK Airport. New York City Owns This Land and Leases It for Five Year Periods. This Renter Is Cultivating a Vegetable Garden 05/1973

It doesn't matter whether you're focusing on the past, what's happening today or trying to envision the future. The things that matter remain the same. For the Documerica Project (1971-1977), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired freelance photographers to capture images relating to environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970s. The pictures here are just a few by photographer Arthur Tress. They capture a piece of New York City's environmental history, and can be viewed along with others from the project at the National Archives' Flickr pages here.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Photographer: Tress, Arthur Original Caption: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Landfill Operation Is Conducted by the City of New York on the Marshlands of Jamaica Bay. Pollution Hazards and Ecological Damage Have Called Out Strong Opposition 05/1973
Photographer: Tress, Arthur - Original Caption: Landfill Operation Is Conducted by the City of New York on the Marshlands of Jamaica Bay. Pollution Hazards and Ecological Damage Have Called Out Strong Opposition 05/1973

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Very Special

Specialness is in the eye of the beholder. I can't verify whether or not the Hennessy was in fact very special, and as far as lot litter goes, the bottle's not bad-looking and is even intact (perhaps filled with flowers it might make a nice container even), but I do think the Nectaroscordum and other bulbs we planted today are going to make one empty lot in the city a little special. It's December first and still we dig.

Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. bulgaricum (Honey Garlic) flower at Brooklyn Botanic