Saturday, March 31, 2012

What Matters

it's what you see and what you dream. The reality is that much of this lot is ridiculously dry and dusty (for now). Susan and I planted last night (some chives, some sea thrift, we think they will handle it) and digging into the ground was something like being in a great dust storm of earlier times, mixed with hitting chunks of brick and cement. Not ideal, in other words. But if you crouch down in certain areas, there are all these amazing bulbs that managed to survive in this most inhospitable place and they are spectacular. I am crazy for this tulip. It is the sweetest yet tough-as-nails thing.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Up On the Roof

I started a new job over here. It's a great opportunity to learn more about green roofs from some pretty cool people and to participate in one of the more sustainable and worthwhile things happening in the world of plants today. As an added bonus though, its also kind of fun to be working in the kinds of places that almost make you forget entirely where you are. With my head down weeding today and hand raking out plant debris, a lot of the time I forgot that I wasn't actually standing on the ground. That's a pretty good trick for a completely fabricated environment on a rooftop several stories up above street level. It's like an alternate reality.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How Many Times Can You Fall in Love On One Spring Day?

With a heavenly scent, sweet flower or some fabulous foliage? Too many to count if you spend a spring day at a nursery or two. Let the crushes begin. It's a new season and it's time to fall in love again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Leaves on the Block

Really new because not only are they the first of the season, the tree itself was only planted last fall. Looks like some kind of Linden. Just a few leaves out and many fat buds. It's been hard to follow the order of things this season because the warm temperature has pushed so many plants ahead and so much is happening all at once. But even in this speediest of springs, there are small moments in the lives of plants to catch while just walking down the city street. So this year, the eating of our first salad tonight out of Joe's cold frame and the earliest leaves of a Linden coincide. Not exactly a serious phenological observation, but we'll take it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Flowers in the House (of One Wild and Crazy March)

Unfortunately, I am not only late to Jane's Flowers in the House party, I'm also short on flowers in the house because Susan and I have been busy trying to get them in other places. So here is a flowers in the house (of muffins)...

One in the commode (at home, a sweet picking by Joe)

And some in the house (of coffee) up the block. Kind of wishing that they could all be mine to wake up and see tomorrow morning when of all things winter will actually be making an appearance for the year. Not sure I'm so ready yet to be growing these things for other people to enjoy. We didn't think these daffs were going to come up and be the typical yellow (you never know with some bags of bulbs), but now I'm thinking that maybe we don't need to be so quick to dismiss the ordinary as not being worthwhile.

 For Jane's sweet pickings and what's blooming now in Virginia (lilacs already, holy moly), visit Jane at SmallButCharming and follow the links to her fine flower-loving friends too. (Sorry Jane. Next time I'll be sure to remember to save some for home and for me.)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

But They Could Be Wild (and that counts for something too)

Tulipa turkestanica, a bouquet all on its own, Brooklyn

There's something about the wild ones, even if they aren't in fact growing in the wild that captures the attention. The tulips above aren't from around here, but as far as I know, they aren't a named cultivar or a hybrid either. They are a straight species, a wildflower, not unlike the bloodroot I saw blooming yesterday at the community garden, just from a different part of the world. They can be found growing in their native mountain ranges (Turkestan, Iran) or in cultivated gardens, and in this photographed case, a stalled construction site in New York City. As a vegetable gardener, it would be hypocritical of me to pretend any kind of strong preference for a "pure" species or for wildflowers. Most things I grow in the vegetable garden have been changed and altered by human selection and breeding over time, and indeed without that human intervention and agriculture's development over the centuries, the world as I know it and the city and civilization I live in just wouldn't exist. Still how can I resist the thrill of seeing these things, those species that have managed to make it to this day on their own terms and in their own lovely way, so to speak, despite all the years that we humans have cultivated and changed plants for our own pleasure and gain?

Of course the tulips above didn't have any say in where they were going to be living out their lives. They were ordered, shipped and planted purposefully. But almost the same thing is true of that bloodroot (Sanguinara canadensis) below too. While this species is a native wildflower, it didn't come up where it is on its own. It was also planted purposefully.)  So these are both wildflowers from different parts of the world that aren't in this particular case wild in any meaningful sense of the word wild, but that didn't make them any less lovely to see in their moment of bloom yesterday.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On The Street Where I Live

The Callery Pears are blooming. This happens every year of course in early spring, but it is only in the last few years that I have known exactly what I was looking at. And I owe my knowledge of certain trees directly to the simple act of sowing some vegetable seeds in a community garden. Falling in love with growing vegetables opened my eyes more fully to the plants around me and instead of vaguely knowing what I pass, I have a name to call things now. For me, this has been fantastically orienting and with each thing I learn, I just want to learn more.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Three New Small Bouquets (Brooklyn Grown)

Before there were airplanes and refrigerated cars on trains, the modern industry of flowers covered in Amy Stewart's Flower Condifential, there were florists who were flower growers. The beginnings of the industry were not so different from the practice of gardeners bringing in clippings from what they have growing. If you think about it, a really well established garden with a variety of flowering plants and shrubs and evergreens can really provide ample material to bring a little something in from the garden to enjoy inside in every season. I tend to see something beautiful in just about every piece or stage of a plant as I imagine most gardeners do. When I envision this little dream further along, the flower farm, whether it's pieced together through small plots like it is now or in one location, would have a lot in common with a garden. Perennials, evergreens,grasses and shrubs that would come back every year are necessary as well as seeded annuals and herbs for raising yearly. Just like in the vegetable garden, the idea of diversity is important. If it's not going to be organic and it's not going to support pollinators and healthy beneficials and be the kind of place to hunt for native bees or cool insects, in my mind it's not worth doing.

But that's the future. Right now there are three new small Brooklyn Grown bouquets at BlueSky Bakery on 5th Ave in Park Slope, and some fresh-harvested daffodils (they were supposed to be white, but turned out to be yellow) being conditioned in the fridge. We were envisioning the idea of being able to service nearby restaurants and shops with something fresh, local and seasonal, and these little bouquets fit the small tables that are common here in Brooklyn where every inch of space is at a premium. It's just an idea in its beginning stages and there's much work to be done if it is going to be successful in even a small way, but it is crazy fun. Any excuse to grow something, to have a hand on the ground works for me. Now are we gonna get a good rain soon or what?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Trillium and a Bee

The Trillium looks like it's getting ready to bloom. I was happy to see this transplant come back this year and am hoping it spreads. Below a honey bee looking pretty happy with the weeds. There are more than weeds blooming now, every day more and more. Still, there's such a great mass of blooming weeds now at the community garden it would be hard to believe that it isn't providing some sustenance for pollinators. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In Every Moment.


This is why people garden.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Capek and his March of the Buds

"So! While I was writing this, the mysterious "Now" must have come: the buds which in the morning were still swaddled in tough bands have put forth fragile tips, sprigs of forsythia have begun to shine with golden stars, the swollen pear buds have unrolled a little, and on the points of some other buds gold-green eyes are sparkling. Out of resinous scales young green leaves are shooting, fat buds have burst, and a filagree of ribs and folds is emerging. Don't be shy blushing little leaf; open, folded little fan; awake downy sleeper, the order to start has already been given."

Karel Capek, The Gardener's Year
Passing an Oakleaf Hydrangea and its unfurling leaves of spring

(I'd forgotten that I was going to try and squeeze in one quote a month from this little book. I misplaced it though and just found it today under a pile of catalogs. If there's one thing for sure about Capek, he wasn't subtle at all about buds and spring marching in.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

At Blue Sky Bakery

                              Photo by Susan of some Brooklyn Grown bouquets in Blue Sky Bakery

Susan got so excited about making those small bouquets in old bottles and about the idea of making this dream work that she ran out to get some fresh  (and salvaged) lovelies going for her friend Erik over at Blue Sky Bakery  in Park Slope. One sold too, straight off the counter with the baked goods. Can you believe it?

Blue skies and sunny days by the way totally coincide with the growing of flowers (though we need some gray ones for the rain too) and the stuff that comprises the ingredients of bakeries. It's really encouraging to us that a business that cares about the ingredients in their food is excited about our flowers.  It makes us feel that we really are on the right track slowly pursuing our dream. (It's one thing to convince yourself that an idea is good, and seriously you have not read a gazillion emails from me madly trying to convince you on the topic. I need no convincing. It's another thing entirely to have that echoed back to you and really necessary to give you the push you need to move forward. So we owe Erik a great big thanks for that.)

I completely believe that there's a market out there for some small locally grown bouquets.  I guess we're gonna see now if that market is really there or rather if we can find our way to it, and then if we can continue to patch together the space in the sun to get it done properly. We know that people are going to eventually come around to the idea of this old practice of florists being the growers of flowers, just as they are embracing the idea of organic farms or supporting their local foodshed through farmers markets or CSA's. We're just starting out, but the idea is to build something small, something we can care for and grow organically. I had a feeling that those little old bottles would excite Susan, but I had no idea how much.

This post is in celebration. We don't know what the future will bring, but it's important to recognize a milestone. (A book on cycling gave me that fantastic bit of advice.)  In a way, every bouquet is just a celebration of a moment in time; a bloom, a bud, a branch in the life of a plant, so it's fitting.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Beneath the Straw Mulch

of the vegetable garden I found the columbine plant that I'd sowed from seed last winter. Will it bloom this year I wonder? It's been a long enough wait it seems already. It's almost a year since it produced its first true leaf below, and months and months longer still if I date all the way back to when I harvested the seed while working one afternoon in 2010 with Mike in the plant family collection at Brooklyn Botanic. It will be that much extra sweet I hope when I finally see it bloom.

It's hard for me to really fathom the kind of patience that it must take to be a plant breeder or to be a regular grower of perennials from seed, but I think I'm beginning to understand how the practice might be addicting and rewarding if you had a little space to dedicate to it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Some Bits in Old Bottles

Some bits dried from last year but still vibrant. Some branches freshly pruned for practical purposes but saved for the vase. Some heath fresh because it's blooming now. And bottles found on the shore. A real salvager's delight. (Susan is a salvager of things, so I know she had a good time playing around this afternoon and I have a thing for the old and the new.)

I can't count the number of blooming things in Brooklyn right now (mid March! holy cow!), but we are still a little shy of some very eagerly awaited blooms from a dusty lot. We're hoping for some rain, but taking advantage of the insane weather and planting anyway. Today some divided yarrow, sedum and stachys. We know they like it dry, but are they ready for how tough that lot really is? We'll see. Some seeds are germinating inside in cellpacks, and the garbage that's been accumulating awaits tackling. The grand plan is to just keep on going until we cannot anymore. We'll plant some things for harvest, some things to leave be, some for the pollinators and see what comes. It's just a little dream we're following.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The First Leaf-Out Close to Home

Those are leaves up there all right. The first New York City Street tree to leaf out on my block is Prunus padus, the European Birdcherry. (not the greatest pics snapped with my laundry in tow, admittedly, but they will do for marking the occasion this year) And the Callary Pears look like they're itching to get going soon too.

First tree to leaf out on the block this year just shy of mid-March

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Bended Knees

at 615/Green weeding with Susan yesterday, we caught sight of a trillium heralding an early spring. (link to Uli's beautiful pictures and informative post on this genus of plants from last year) Is it one transplanted from that awesome native ephemerals class at Brooklyn Botanic last spring? Perhaps. With construction of the new Native Flora Garden extension being a focus over at Brooklyn Botanic this year, I don't imagine this class will be offered again. But the sight of that trillium has me in the mind for a walk through Native Flora at BBG sometime really soon with my eyes peeled towards the ground for emerging ephemerals.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Alpha Males and The Ladies of a Red and a Silver Maple (A Post for Sarah)

Red Maple Male Flowers, Last year, March 20th, 2011, Prospect Park

Last year when I saw this flower, I joked about it being a possible pink maple if there was such a thing, but that I really thought it was a Red Maple with only male flowers. (the leaf nearby on the ground helped with identification) I had read that Red Maples could sometimes have both types of flowers on the same tree, but that more often than not a tree had either male flowers or female flowers and since I only saw stamens and anthers on this tree's flowers, it seemed like a tree that produced only male flowers. The female flowers or rather their parts are what form the fruit, the samaras that are associated with maples.

Below is a picture of a different tree that very same weekend last year. I assumed that it was also a Red Maple, but that this time it was a tree with only female flowering parts. Now, I am still unsure of whether the tree below is a Red Maple or a Silver or a hybrid of the two (I had forgotten that I'd gone back to watch the leaves unfold about a month later in April and that they looked more like a silver than a red maple and I don't remember checking again when the leaves were completely open. I'll do it this year though.) At the time, I'd read that they are closely related, that they do hybridize (into the Freeman's Maple in the trade) and that their bloom times can overlap. Either way, though, the flowers below don't seem to have anthers at all and this same tree is blooming now this year. (I haven't checked on the one above in Prospect Park though.)

This post is for Sarah over at her blog, musingsfromdave. She's got a nice new camera, so perhaps she can get some really good closeups of these flowers up in Vermont, where they should be behind us a bit. Thanks for making me go back through my pictures. I think the picture below and the one from my recent post is actually a silver maple now.

Female flowers, (possibly Silver Maple, last year, March 19th, Floyd Bennett)

Is There An Opposite of Anthropomorphizing?

What can one say about these delicate-looking flowers that will accurately desribe how hard as nails tough they really are?

Is there an opposite of anthropomorphizing and is there a way to say that word without tripping over your tongue? If I had to decribe myself in plant terms, I'd be only half-hardy and even that might be a stretch. Tender is much more likely. I can barely make it through the winter with my eyes wide open and usually only start feeling like myself as the weather warms. And there's no doubt about it, I would never be blooming now.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Following The Seasons in Your Own Way

Female flowers Red (Or is it a silver maple? What I know is that the flower appears to have only female sex parts.) Maple, March 10, 2012 Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn. Same tree last year , a bit later.

There are lots of good reasons to pay attention to trees and the other plants around you as winter gives way to spring. If you've already learned what a tree's flowers look like, you might then begin to track its bloom time in your own way throughout the years. Last week on Brooklyn Botanic's news blog, arborist Chris Roddick explained a little bit about the complexity of factors that effect the variability of the exact moment of bloom from year to year among species. I enjoyed his post not only because it offered some insight from someone who has spent two decades observing and working with trees, but also because it speaks to the power of observation. And paying attention is something that anyone with any level of botanic knowledge can do. I don't expect to solve any great scientific questions by paying attention to seasonal cues and clues in my own small way, but this small act does make me feel connected to a broader scientific community that is always asking questions and trying to figure out the connections between complex factors in a changing world. And of course, it's incredibly convenient that there is always also the simple joy in celebrating the moment and its beauty.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Orange Wheel Barrow

In the famous poem of course, the wheel barrow is red and the chickens are white. Over here though, it's the colors of Halloween and the first one of the season feels so heavy because your gardening arms are out of practice from the lazy winter.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Which Way to Look?

It's hard not to feel like a kid diagnosed with ADHD right about now. I can hardly take a step outside without catching the sight of something fantastic and fleeting. There are fat buds up above on many trees, blooms below, and even now with everything just beginning, still the sight of things fading slowly from both this season and ones past. It's hard to know which way to look. Here: just two blinks of the eye on a walk this week through Brooklyn Botanic.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Two Firsts Spotted This Week At Brooklyn Botanic

First Star Magnolia flower spotted unfolding above in Magnolia Plaza and below, the first leaves emerging on a Siberian Crabapple in the Osborne. (Well they are my firsts for the season at least. You have to mark the seasons in your own way.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

From One Year to the Next, A Cherry, Prospect Park

Last year, I stood at the foot of this very same ornamental Cherry (I'm going to go with Okame cherry, it's definitely an early one) in Prospect Park on the opposite ends of one week and snapped some similar photos. The difference between last year and this one? (besides my having to rely on a phonecamera and not the real thing this year?) About a month. The tree is not yet in full bloom, though, the earliest of flowers are open on it. Looks like I'm going to have to just start officially calling it spring and amping up the minutes of paying serious attention outside now. If it's going to be a fast onset to spring, I don't want to miss it. (Also spotted yesterday, the first leaves on a crabapple and a magnolia bud opening at Brooklyn Botanic.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ID'ing at the Lot

What to make of this tight rosette? Could it be Common Evening Primrose?

Over at the High Line where plants are left to do their four season thing, it's the beginning of a busy time, spring cutback. (link to the high line's blog post on the cutback beginning) An army of volunteers will be assisting the hort staff over the next six weeks with cutting back grasses and perennials that have been left as is over the winter months in order to make way for this year's emerging shoots. So if you're the kind of person who enjoys getting to know plants in all their stages, the next few weeks are the last opportunity to see what's still standing on the High Line after winter, while the new season is beginning. The practice of waiting for late winter for cutback is cool for a lot of reasons. There's the beauty of course to pay attention to in winter and the invitation to wildlife who might nest or feed during the winter months, but for a beginning gardener there's also the potential for a lesson to be learned about what not to pull out of the early spring garden. Identifying plants by their remaining stalks or earliest stages as a seedling is a useful skill and at least for me, it's a lot of fun to learn.

Over at the lot where we planted bulbs last fall, we are still exploring what has managed to grow in this very disturbed space and we are doing that by observing both dried stalks and young rosettes as well as emerging seedlings. I think the tight rosette pictured above is a young Common Evening Primrose, Oenethera biennis. I don't think it makes a great cut flower, but it's a native plant that will remain as is. If I'm wrong? Well, I'll at least learn what it is for the future. The mugwort below? Well, that's going to have to go. It's a useful plant, but it is a thug.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Deadnettle

What to do with the Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) one of the major blooming weeds en masse right now down at my community garden and by the roadside? Weed it out? Take it home to eat? Leave it for the bees and any other pollinators who might be hanging around in these cool temperatures? I lean towards the latter, removing it only where it's crowding my garlic or other bulbs. Throwing it in my compost later, most likely after is has seeded, probably isn't the best policy for trying to control a weed. But I like the look of this one, a low mass of purple in late winter/early spring and I'm pretty sure that like a lot of plants in its family (Lamiaceae), other herbs I grow in the garden, that it is a draw for pollinators. Right now most of the blooming things (there are a few others, yesterday chickweed, henbit and speedwell) in some places, like my vegetable garden and grassy patches by the side of the road, are weeds.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Following the Bill (H.R.2606) and the Proposed Gas Pipeline through Gateway

Metering and Regulating Station Location and path Alternatives from 2009 Draft by Williams

I'm certainly hoping that the bill in Congress that will authorize both a gas pipeline right of way through Jacob Riis as well as a new industrialized use of Floyd Bennett Field via a metering and regulating station will not sail through the Senate without the public hearing about it or having the opportunity to weigh the project's merits or detractions. Since the story broke locally via NY1 about the legislation passing in the House, I've been asking people their opinion about it and what I've found is that most people I talk to have heard nothing about it. Following this project is a little like playing the role of investigative journalist for oneself. And one part of following the project, a very important part in fact because without it the project cannot go forward, is following the path of H.R. 2606 in Congress. The latest news on the bill is a scheduled hearing for next Wednesday, March 7th at 2:30pm by the US Senate National Parks Subcommittee.

There is an expression that says a picture is worth a thousand words. Well if so, I'd like to draw your attention to the image above provided in one of the public documents by Williams that's available on FERC's e-library site. While this proposed gas pipeline project is being touted as part of a "green" agenda for NYC's future energy supply, you might notice that there is quite a bit of green in that picture above. And the greenest areas in that picture are the areas included in Gateway National Recreation Area. If you know a little bit about the history of the land use in this particular area and in New York City in general, you will understand that this is quite a remarkable and wonderful thing indeed. My understanding is that despite a history of all kinds of industrial use, this part of New York City (Jamaica Bay and its surrounding area) encompasses the largest acreage of open space today. (the image does not include the whole of the area)

I'm paying attention to this bill and to this project as are the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers (please follow the link to read why this bill and project are important) and the Jamaica Bay Task Force. I'm waiting for major media outlets to do the same.

Link to my posts on this project:
All posts on this project:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Shadow IDing?

There's identifying plants in the usual manner.... and then there's searching for clues in the shadows

I see a resemblance and that's good enough for me. (After all, it's not like there's a field of botany dedicated to identifying plants by their shadows. I'm just doing it for kicks.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

There's No Way Your Nephew Is As Cool As Mine

Photo by Aaron

If your nephew isn't sending you pictures of flowers and foliage and reptiles to boot, well then there's just no way your nephew is as cool as mine. I got a supersweet slideshow via email on a rainy end-of-winter day full of Hawai'ian sunshine.

Photo by Aaron

Does this kid know how to win his aunt over or what? He is just light-years ahead of me in knowing where it's at. I hope he doesn't mind that I hijacked some of his photos for here.

Photo by Aaron

Seriously. I kid you not. My nieces and nephews are supercool.