Gardening


Wednesday I got to spend the day with one of my favorite people in the world, the lovely Ann. I can’t even believe it had been over two years since we saw each other last. Ann is one of those great people that when you get together, two years feels like two weeks. Of course, many things have happened in both our lives since we saw each other last, but we slipped easily into meandering conversations and it was just wonderful.

Giant bird nest at the Morris Arboretum

Ann is talented in many ways, but plants are definitely one of her passions. It was so nice to see the grounds at her house. Of course, as the master of the garden Ann saw the needs-to-be-done parts, but as a visitor I just saw the lush and lovely garden beds and calming forest that she has created.

We chatted for a while at her home (absolutely beautiful and inspiring, by the way. What great artwork! What fabulous personality! Something magical tucked into every nook and cranny.) and then headed over to the Morris Arboretum. I’ve been there before, for a friends wedding ages ago and then again with Chris back in 2010. Going with someone who knows about plants is a completely different experience though. Ann was a fantastic guide, and I learned more than I can remember. Ann and I both love the fernery, so despite the heat we spent some time in there, watching the fish and enjoying the lushness of it. I think it was half under construction when I saw it last- looks lovely now.

The fernery

The whole arboretum is pretty amazing. I think my second favorite area to the fernery was the Japanese hill and water garden by the swan pond. I think I must have completely missed it last time I was there. Walking up to it isn’t too impressive, but once you’ve wound your way inside, the slight mounding and statues tucked away transport you to another place. Would have been even lovelier if the caretakers hadn’t been mowing around the swan pond, but I suppose the constant care is why the arboretum looks so good!

My walk with Ann in the heat has reminded me that while working at home and freelancing, I need to make sure to take advantage of the time I have to just Get Outside. It is hard when you’re so used to being locked in an edit room, staring at a computer all day. I find myself doing the same thing now, and getting a little stir-crazy during the day. Perhaps it would be different if I lived in a house with windows overlooking green expanses- South Philly sidewalks and concrete yards aren’t nearly as enticing. Ah, but the greenery isn’t that far away and despite the muggy awfulness that has descended on Philadelphia these last few weeks, if I’m not on site at a job I need to be spending more time in the sun.

Trumpety flowers that belong on Mars

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Garden 2012

The garden has been started. I’m pretty pepper heavy again this year. They seem to be what we use most, grow rather well in the back and give me something to can at the end of the season. After last year’s debacle with mislabeled plants (and ending up with ALL hot peppers instead of the good variety I had planned) I thought it would be best to avoid the large lot garden stores. A weekend in Jersey provided the perfect opportunity to swing by Wellsweep Herb farm. Mom was looking for plants anyway, and it was a beautiful day out. I was only going to get one pepper, but I ended up buying one of each kind they had. Muscato, Jalapeno, Summer Sweet, Garden Salsa and Serano. Should be a good variety this year, and I trust them to be labeled properly. I also got a pineapple sage, with no real plan for it. My rosemary was still alive (!!) despite my lack of care of it, and of course the strawberry and mint won’t die. I pulled all the mint  and half of the strawberries out of the large planter and potted them in smaller pots to clear room for the peppers. I also picked up a thyme plant, lavender, basil and marigolds from the local garden shop, Urban Jungle. That fills out my available pots and planter.

Wendy

My sempervivums are doing well, too. Wendy flowered last year, so she’s back to her short little self. I don’t remember if I planted regular ones with her. I assume I must have, otherwise half of Wendy lost her fuzz, and I don’t know how that would have happened.

garden strawberries

I’m still struggling with a few garden related things though… like how do I keep strawberries on the plant long enough to ripen, but not too long that bugs get to them? And most importantly, how do I keep the neighborhood cats from pooping in my garden? It is awful. It seems they think it is their own personal litter box. Not good for the plants, and sure stinks up the back yard. Any suggestions? I tried netting to keep them away, but it didn’t really work. I’ve also tried putting sharp sticks in the garden, but that had limited success. Is there something I can plant that would keep them away?

Hamster memorial markers

Yes, these are hamster gravestones. My step-dad Tom made these for me. They marked the spots at my grandparent’s house where my hamsters were buried. The house is being sold, and so the markers are now memorials in my garden. One is brass, the other two are aluminum. Tom machined (and came up with) the epithets for the markers.

Acro's marker

Acro. “Here lies Acro the hamster, died because she couldn’t run any faster.

I went downstairs one day, on my way to the kitchen or the bathroom or something and nearly walked right over her… my escape artist hamster, never to run away again. From the state she was in, we figured Sadie, or dog, got her. Of course, Acro (so named because of her acrobatic tendencies) was about 4 years old at the time, a ripe old age for a hamster, so it is entirely possible she escaped, died, and then the dog got her. Either way, it was traumatic. Acro had a pretty good history of escape. I had to keep a pile of books on top of the cage, otherwise she would push up the hatch and climb out. Of course, the most memorable escape was completely my fault. We were playing with her in the doll house we had, me, my sister and our friend Sarah. Mom called us down for lunch, and by that time, Acro was curled up asleep in the doll house. We didn’t want to wake her up, so figured our little paper towel tubes that we taped to the edges of the doll house would keep her in if she woke up. Needless to say, she wasn’t there when we got back. She ended up getting into the wall somehow. My dad used a hand drill to drill a hole in the wall, and somehow coaxed her out. Her other escapes were not so dramatic, but they were persistent. I’m glad she escaped before she died, she went out doing what she loved. Years later, my stepdad made the gravestone for her. **UPDATE** Mom called to correct me on this story. She says Dad used the power drill, and that I wasn’t home for it. Confirmed with Dad, he used the cordless power drill because the hand crank drill was too small. He used the bit you would use to drill a doorknob hole. Also, the time Sarah was over and Acro escaped we found her under a cabinet in my room. The wall escape was a different attempt.

Little Dude the adorable

Little Dude. “Here lies little dude, went away from his mom a little too soon.

I was heartbroken when Acro died. I loved that hamster. So I went to the petstore to get a new one. They had just had a litter, adorable little cream and light brown mottled hamsters. I picked one and started playing with him. At one point he wriggled out of my hands and landed on the floor, pretty sure it was head-first. He was a little dazed. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to buy an animal that just fell on his head, but I felt bad for him, and thought it was my fault he fell. He was super tiny, and the fall combined with being taken away from his mom so early did him in pretty quickly. Not sure how long I had him, maybe a week or so. He got less and less lively, and wouldn’t eat anything. One day I found him, stretched out and dehydrated in one of the hamster tube. That was the end of poor little dude.

Ariel the long-lived

Ariel. “Here lies Ariel. She lived long, did nothing wrong, and died of old age.

After Little Dude died, I didn’t plan on getting a new hamster. I was too sad, I had lost two pets in a short time and didn’t want to lose another. But I think because I was so sad, my Dad decided to surprise me with a new hamster. She sat in the cage, a little brown hamster, wanting me to love her. I never really fell for her the way I did with the other hamsters, but she was a good companion. She was named Ariel because she liked to be as high in the air as possible, making her nest in whatever tube contraption was the highest up. As the epithet says, she lived for ages. I don’t remember finding her when she died, I think my mom must have.

That was the end of my hamster experience, and I have no intention of starting it up again. They were good pets, and I’m glad that I finally found the memorials buried under layers of mud in the back yard of the Martinsville house.

Shucked Oysters

So raw I think they’re kinda gross. To be fair, I pretty much made up my mind before ever trying them. They look so slimy! So chewy! You eat them alive! But they are pretty interesting looking. I think their history is pretty interesting. They’ve gone from a working-class food to a delicacy. According to Wikipedia:

In the early 19th century, oysters were cheap and mainly eaten by the working class. Throughout the 19th century, oyster beds in New York harbor became the largest source of oysters worldwide. On any day in the late 19th century, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along the city’s waterfront. Oysters were naturally quite popular in New York City, and helped initiate the city’s restaurant trade. New York’s oystermen became skilled cultivators of their beds, which provided employment for hundreds of workers and nutritious food for thousands. Eventually, rising demand exhausted many of the beds. To increase production, they introduced foreign species, which brought disease, when combined with effluent and increasing sedimentation from erosion, which destroyed most of the beds by the early 20th century. Oysters’ popularity has put an ever-increasing demands on wild oyster stocks. This scarcity increased prices, converting them from their original role as working class food to their current status as an expensive delicacy.

6 million oysters a day! That seems like a huge number, no wonder the stocks were diminished.

African Violet about to bloom for the first time

On a non-oyster note…. This photo of my African Violet was taken about a year ago. She was just starting to bloom for the first time. After seeing the African Violets JenO’s mother had, I realized I must be doing something wrong. I found myself some organic flower food and started actually tending to the plant. And she thrived! It seemed she was always blooming. So I kept up the feeding and watering regiment, and she did fine. Until recently. I’m not sure what changed. Maybe I was over watering? Over feeding? Not only did she stop blooming, but her leaves curled up and mostly died. I tried cutting back on the water, and the few leaves left seem to be doing better, but she is still a shadow of her former self. I don’t know what to do! I may need to re-pot her, she is just in the plastic pot she came in. Will that even help? Does anyone have any suggestions?? I loved seeing her little purple blooms catching the sun, and I’d love to be able to nurse her back to health.

hippo planter

hippo planter

My poor planter. I bought some great Sempervivums last year that did wonderfully for ages. Then one day, they just died. I’m not sure what happened. Over watered, under watered, under sunned… could be anything. However, while running some errands over the weekend I found myself in the garden section of Lowes. A hanging basket of succulents sat staring me in the face. For $14.99- sure! I split the plants between the original hanging basket and my hippo planter, all decked out with some new soil. I left the hippo outside for a day or so to let the plants settle, and brought it inside tonight. I hope it does well this time. Its pretty much my favorite planter ever, one of the best 50¢ purchases I’ve ever made.

starting to really like asparagus

So, to bore you with more tales of vegetables. This week I was super psyched to get strawberries. We signed up for the veggie share, I was under the impression that only full shares got overflow fruit. Fully planning on making a salad with some strawberries and some carefully rationed goat feta. (The goat cheese man, Andy from LindenDale Farm has another market that he is going to make his primary, so won’t be coming to center city much longer) Alas. When I arrived to pick up my share, mushrooms instead of strawberries. I am not a huge mushroom fan. I just don’t like the texture. But one of the reasons I signed up for this CSA was to get myself to eat veggies I usually avoid…. so I tried roasting some last night with some asparagus. Unfortunately, I made a disastrous attempt at fancy fish (hybrid bass with chopped zucchini, red peppers, spring onions, drizzled with wasabi dressing and Asian BBQ sauce, topped with a ton of chopped spinach. Total Fail.) so the mushrooms had nothing to go with, and I ended up tossing them. I was going to try again, chopping super small to throw in with the Indian chicken I was planning on making tonight, but I pulled a 7am-7pm day, and completely forgot by the time I got home. The only time I’ve ever liked mushrooms was when my friend Jon Adams made a mushroom pate, by cooking them down and blending into a smooth paste. All the taste, none of the texture. May just have to try it myself.

first crop of the year

So after the disappointment yesterday, imagine my surprise when I went out to the garden to water it today and saw three red strawberries hanging from my plant! I’ve never gotten a single eatable berry from this plant, the bugs always get to them first. This year the plant has some more space, and some of the berries ended up growing over the side of the planter. I think they did well because they weren’t lying on the ground, prime bug-eating-temptations. I put them in the fridge and plan to cut them into a salad tomorrow. We’ll see how much flavor they have. I’m just super excited to get my first edible (other than herbs) crop from the garden. Soon, peppers… but I have to be patient yet.

PS- any ideas for purple mizuna? I’ve never heard of it. A search for recipes shows some salads and some stir-fry ideas… but real-life experience and suggestions welcome.

The weather is humid, the sky heavy. The city’s edges looked like they were drawn against a chalkboard today as I drove home. While this might not be great weather for people, it seems to be doing well by my little garden.

Plants all set, waiting to grow

This is the third year of the little boxed space that I traded a hand knit skull and crossbones scarf for. The first year I was ambitious- cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, various other plants. Last year I axed the tomatoes, but kept the cucumber. This year the shift to all peppers was completed. I never ate the tomatoes and the cucumber never bore much fruit anyway, and it was a bully- its large leaves shading and hindering the growth of other plants. The peppers have always survived the best, and been the most useful for cooking. We have so many kinds this time! Cherry red hots (quite robust and very popular last year), jalapenos, sweet gypsy, two other kinds (one spicy, one sweet-ish) I can’t recall right now. More herbs, too, but in separate pots next to the garden. Spicy globe basil, cinnamon basil, thyme. Mint, though its been transplanted from the garden into a pot. I’m going to try hard to get the basil to survive. I don’t have a very good track record with it, unfortunately. And my favorite- the marigolds. Someone told me that marigolds help keep bad bugs away, and I’ve been planting them ever since. Bright puffy African marigolds have joined the herd this year. I love them. They’re so full of joy! Last but not least, my little strawberry plant, which has powered through all three years. Sadly, I never get to eat the berries. The bugs always get to them first, and I can’t bring myself to spray them with any kind of pest control.

I can’t wait for the plants to grow up. I can’t wait for our first BBQ with full foliage. Tucked in the back corner of the garden is a little solar light- you can sort of see it in the photo. It glows so nicely! I also got a strand of colored lights, but they’re not up yet, I’m going to wait till our first event to string them outside, so they don’t sit out in the rain unnecessarily.

So it’s been a while, but looks like this little blog is going to be graced with more green for the upcoming months. I can’t wait till we can start cooking with peppers from my garden. The CSA that we signed up for starts in a week or two, also, so we’re sure to be delightfully swamped with fresh vegetables. This muggy weather might be just awful, and sticky summer around the corner, but the sun and warmth means things can grow again, and for that I am glad.

strawberry blossom

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