Monday, January 30, 2012

Ivy in Winter

Last year's end of January bouquet needs to be gathered from another place. The ivy that was growing on the tree outside Susan's studio at the navy yard was hacked last year, but it's not like ivy is a rare thing here in the city. I still can't help but think about flowers and bouquet material in the same way that I think of vegetables. I think of them as things to grow. I consider when to plant seed, what they need to succeed or when to expect their bloom for harvest. Which ones might succeed in a scrappy lot in the city? But also too, like the ivy above, where I might find them growing by the wayside.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Just a Little Color

It isn't true that there is no color to be found in winter. In every season there is color, both subtle and intense.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Inspiration for Velcro

                                 Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus) seed head January, Prospect Park

and one of Joe's favorite treats (not the seed head, but the roots) at Gen, our local Japanese restaurant. At least that's what I think these seed heads hanging around in January are.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

At First You Will Say

Ferraria ferraiola in the Iris family
that you have never seen anything like it. But after more reflection, you might say, but it reminds me a bit of an Iris or below maybe Muscari. And then you will be botanizing old school style before everything was named. The old botanists weren't always right about everything they labelled and sorted, but they were right enough of the time for anyone trying to learn about plants to consider looking at things the way they did. For example, looking for similarities that are visible to the eye when sorting out the world.

(My cellphone camera does not do the colors and the delicacy of these South African beauties justice. They are worth seeing in person over at the Warm Temperate Pavilion that Karla tends at Brooklyn Botanic. So many colors in that small space now.)
Lachenalia mutabilis in the Hyacinth family

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Counting Seasons

We draw hard lines between the seasons on a calendar and we mark our own time in years in the same way too. But the seasons bleed into each other, with evidence of last year's autumn via lingering seed heads on this year's winter day and still future plants just seeds waving in the wind. My best friend's son turned a year old today and he is just beginning to walk and to name the world around him. Now I've been wandering around on two feet for many more seasons than him, but still in some ways I too am just figuring out the world around me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

If It Looks Like a Pea

                            Seed pods of Albizia julibrissin (Silk Tree, Mimosa), Park Slope, Brooklyn

then it just might be related. When you start out to know the names of plants and identify the things growing around you, the task can seem overwhelming. If you've never paid attention before, you might find yourself bewildered at every corner, even in a densely urban area like New York City known more for its steel skyscrapers and architecture than for its teeming plant life. But there are street trees everywhere and landscaping plants around apartment buildings and a lot to see if you keep your eyes open and focused on more than the pavement. So you start with what you've got in the way of knowledge and make associations based on what you know. It's pretty likely when you see something above your head that reminds you of a snow pea pod that you are looking at a tree in the same family as the pea. If that's only as far as you get, it's not so bad. It's a big world with a lot of plants and you can't learn everything at once. In this case, the pea pods belong to the Albizia julibrissin, which has more than one common name in the US. And while it is planted for decorative reasons, it is also a tree that has naturalized in Brooklyn and more southern parts of the US, and in some places it is labelled as an invasive species.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Some Bark and A Bud

Because it's winter and it's cold and I couldn't survive if I had to withstand the elements outside on my own right now without protection, but the pine and the deciduous azalea will endure, no sweat. They are beautiful and they are fierce.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Just a Bit of The High Line in January

I was at the High Line this afternoon and of course, when I was there I felt that the place had been designed solely for me and for a sunny winter day, with all kinds of wonderful plant parts catching the sunlight or in silhouette giving me a place to rest my eyes. But at the same time, I know the park wasn't conceived and designed solely for plant geeks and garden nuts, although plants are one of its most important design elements. For a lot of people, I'd imagine it's just this cool public space raised above the city streets, a transportation corridor repurposed as a park, that provides a place to sit or walk, explore or take in a view of the Hudson and Manhattan skyline, and that's fine too. You don't have to be mad for witchhazel (although quite frankly, how could you not be?) to have noticed it today or know what grass seed head caught your eye to have enjoyed the sight of both. But the sight alone might spark the curiosity to know a little more about plants. You never know. I woke up to plants through vegetable gardening. For some people, the High Line might be the thing to do it.

                                   Calamagrostis brachytricha in January at the High Line

         Because the darkest of browns counts as a color too

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Continuing Ed

Much like any garden constantly changes and grows over time, both in small ways daily and in larger cycles, so too does the continuing education of the gardener, whether it's by taking classes, walking somewhere wild or very skillfully cultivated or just paying attention to the ways plants change through the seasons. Susan and I got a dose of all three today, attending the first round of the Winter Lecture Series at NYBG (The New York Botanical Garden) and on a quick walk on the grounds which revealed the delicate beauty of Caryopteris seed heads in the winter light. I'm not sure that I'd ever really looked at this plant before in winter and it seems I was missing out. Think those wispy seed heads in the wind were all I saw and learned? Not by a long shot. The aptly named Todd Forrest of NYBG also gave an introduction at the lecture about the newly renamed Thain Family Forest over time, and the human endeavor involved in some of the current work being done to measure, manage and restore this remnant of old growth forest. An added bonus? Seeing a picture of good old Anne during his slide show demonstrating the process of measuring the DBH (diameter at breast height) of the forest's trees, which brought back memories of my day doing the same in the forest with her.

It's nerdy but true that I believe that any day in a garden is a day of Continuing Ed for me, but not every day contains the possibility of taking in so much at once. So today was a very good one.

Caryopteris Seed Head, winter, The New York Botanical Garden

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Oh and Bark Too

On a sunny, somewhat blustery day in winter, here's to some good-looking bark to lay eyes on. I'm kind of in love with the bark of a good Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia), big or small. (Below, a Bonsai version seen at Longwood Gardens. Man, if you really like a certain tree, does it ever blow you mind to see it as a Bonsai) There's something about that bark that makes me want to lay hands on it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Leaf's The Thing

...I'm enjoying right now. Any opportunity to watch a leaf unfurling on a branch is a fine one in my book. I didn't try to force these branches at all, happy enough to just have those beautiful buds to look at, which make the Magnolias so compelling and easily identifiable in winter.

It finally feels like winter here in Brooklyn, but the first leaves of spring are not so far away at all.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Remembering the Wilds of Two Summer Rides Past

Summer 2010 (but this year, not spotted in the same place, most likely because the mowing cycle was different)

It's a long way from now till the wilds of the roadside weeds pictured here are blooming or going to seed. How long? Until blooming Queen Anne's Lace alongside drying Curly Dock seedheads, like above? Maybe six months. Until the possibility of blooming old field clover at the old airfield I garden at, like below? Maybe five. How much is there to see and learn from now about weeds and wild things until then? An infinite amount.

It's hard not to repeat yourself writing a blog, but perhaps not repeating yourself is an unworthy goal, for we live with and within seasons and cycles, day and night, an almost ridiculously constant repetition, and with changes we sometimes can only notice after long periods of time. It is a very small thing to follow the growth of the things around you, their cycles, and to appreciate them in their moment and make note of it for the future or as my mom likes to say, for posterity. But there are far worse ways to spend your time and your attention. I'd rip these things out if they were in my vegetable garden, but I can love them as I pass them on my way there. We are allowed some duplicity in life.

Summer 2011

Friday, January 13, 2012

Quince Flowers at Susan's

Outside now in Brooklyn, most branches are bare, with the exception of those plants that hold their leaves here throughout the winter and the winter buds of next years leaves and flowers on decidious trees. But inside at Susan's, there is a branch or two with some blooming quince flowers. And they are all the more sweet because the sight of something blooming now is rare. They put me in the mind to visit a conservatory at a botanical garden or public garden nearby. With the exception of a florist or bodega, where flowers are flown in from warmer climes around the world, I can't think of somewhere else right here in New York City where I could get a real taste of what it might be like to be in another season where things are blooming.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

At the Lot in January

The crimson clover planted so late hangs on as more garbage piles up since Susan, Anne and I were there last planting bulbs. The garbage is not a new story. Abandoned places have a tendency to be seen as illegal dumping grounds. We don't have any more right to the lot than the garbage dumpers, but still, we're looking forward to seeing some blooms in the spring. Some green from our bulbs is already pushing up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Just a Few Bits from Last Year

Chasmanthium latifolium (native) along with weed grass seed heads (bouquet)

to get me through the winter. It's kind of a sparse bouquet, just a shadow of a thing really, but it moves with the slighest movement of air, much like the things it contains do outside. It will have to do right now for a January bouquet. What better time to embrace the idea of sparse beauty better than winter anyway?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rosemary Blooms Still Lingering At the Zoo

                                              Rosemary, Early January, Prospect Park Zoo

There were sea lions being fed too very nearby, if you're into that kind of thing and what kid isn't.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Wild and Otherwise

One planted in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park and the other pioneering on its own at old Floyd Bennett airfield. I'm still thinking that it's what you see that matters. I'm not sure whether both are Little Bluestem or whether one is Common Broom-sedge, but I know that in both cases, I'm looking at a resilient native grass.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why a Picture

Rhus copallinum, (Dwarf Sumac, Winged Sumac, Flameleaf Sumac)

For me at least, a picture is always a handy first step when trying to ID a plant. If I had any drawing skills and a whole lot more patience, probably sitting before a plant and sketching it would be even better than taking a photograph. I knew that I was looking at some kind of Sumac when I snapped the picture above down at Floyd Bennett this fall, but I did not know that the "wings" I was looking at on the leafstem were the key to identifying which Sumac. And it was easy as pie to identify it when I got home and looked at the picture I'd taken alongside the drawing for this plant in a Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What Am I Looking At?

Yesterday, on a walk with Susan, the first of what I'm sure will be the many plant mysteries of the year. What could possibly be blooming at the start of the new year in Prospect Park? It seems like some kind of Viburnum. I thought the branching was opposite, but I think I'll have to return to see if I can find some more clues.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More Dreams, Another New Year

Marking the seasons last year
(From the collage above: Clockwise from top left: Watching swelling buds on a Sweetgum at winter's end/spring's beginning; The last light of spring on a SweetPea vine flower; Cutting flower's with Susan at summer's end; Viewing Paper Bush buds on one of the last short days of fall.)

I'll probably start the new year with more dreams on my mind once again than concrete goals. I'd like to say at the end of this year that I came close to making a living wage working in the horticulture/gardening field, and though I'd love to say that this is more of a concrete goal than a dream, I'm not so sure that's correct. I have dreams of a certain lot in the city filled with flowers, a temporary, experimental urban flowerfarm. This I know is a big dream, unattainable really and just a hair illegal, but it's such a good and fun one that I'm willing to pursue it wholeheartedly anyway. Probably the only thing that I can be sure of is that if I watch the seasons unfold outside and pay attention to the beauty and the growth in a moment, I will learn more about plants, one dream that was fulfilled last year.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Last Year There Was Snow on the Ground

This year on the same day, there is the only the coldest weather of the season so far and clear ground. If I was in Prospect Park right now as the sun nears setting on the day, I wonder if I'd be looking at the same things as last year. Would I be counting pine needles, looking at tree silhouettes for clues on identification, or admiring Magnolia buds catching the last light of the day? Probably. One could spend years and years on end, a lifetime really, just getting to know some of what there is in just this one city park. It's a small thing to pay attention to what's growing around you in the moment, a winter bud, branching patterns, or the number of needles on a pine, a tiny thing really, but you are connecting to something bigger with the practice too. I have plans to go for a walk in the park with Susan tomorrow. The goal as always is just to see a little bit more of what there is.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Let's Get This Thing Started Right

Let's pretend it's not 2012, but the beginning of 1928 perhaps and through some miracle of time travel, we are not only in Prague in 1928, but the internet has travelled with us and Karl Capek is blogging just the tiniest bit from the January chapter of his book, The Gardener's Year. He has just told us gardeners that not only in January should we be cultivating the weather (we will trick it into warming up by putting on our heaviest clothes or freezing by writing about how warm it is), bemoaning the advice of gardening handbooks that tell us to use the winter for repairing things we don't have like pergolas and greenhouses, but also that now is the time we should be appreciating the best-known January plants, the "so-called flowers on the window-panes".
Drawing by Josef Capek from his brother's book, The Gardener's Year
"Botanically the flowers of ice are distinguished by the fact that they are not flowers at all, but merely foliage. This foliage resembles endive, parsley, and the leaves of celery, as well as different members of the family of Cynarocephalae, Carduaceae, Dipsaceae, Acanthaceae, Umbelliferae, and so on; they may be compared with the genera: Onopordon or cotton thistle, Charlemagne's thistle, Cirsium, Notabasis, sea holly, globe thistle, woolly-head thistle, teasel, "saffron thistle", bear's breech and with other plants with spiny, feathery, toothed, jagged, cut, clipped or hackled foliage; sometimes they resemble ferns or palm leaves, and at other times the needles of the juniper; but they never have flowers."
Karl Capek, The Gardener's Year

So let's get this thing started right, this new year, time travelling with the lovely words of one that went before us, a writer who loved to garden, and with an appreciation for the humor and the magic, the wonder we will find this year in gardens (even if right now they should only be gardens of ice on the window panes). I hear that tomorrow in Brooklyn, there's a chance of flurries.