Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A late African spring


Sparaxis elegans, an indigenous spring flower, is blooming in drifts near my parents' house in the greenbelt - a green and public right of way - that shoulders their property. For the most part, exotic and invasive plants are making life difficult for the native flora that should thrive, here, but the sparaxis plants are toughing it out, dogs and foot traffic notwithstanding. The tree is the background is a pear in blossom, a possible relic of old farmland.


The Frenchman and I went for a walk here soon after landing. I spent my days in this pretty green place in my early teenage-hood, stalking tadpoles and watercress, walking with our own dogs, sometimes followed by a cat (Garfunkle, black and white, who often shouted for me to slow down).


It is late spring in Cape Town. The equivalent of early May in New York City. Leaves are new, grasses are beginning to flower.



We met a group of American tourists being guided along the path. We saw two Cape chameleons having a fight, and a third on the tree where we often see many. Small girls rode horses, and our own corgis overtook us even though we had not invited them along: they went out walking with my dad, who sits on a bench here for a long time and looks at things. He was surprised but happy to see us. He forgets most newly acquired facts. The surprises of vascular dementia.


Roses ramble up the outside of the living wall that hedges my parents' garden. They were planted decades ago and fend for themselves.


My friend Don identified this tree - Diospyros whyteana, a South African species of persimmon, commonly called bladder nut. I had never seen it in bloom, before. My mom has three in front of the house, looser limbed, and I still did not recognize it.


And higher up, where very few humans and dogs walk, statuesque Wachendorfia thyrsiflora. 

Soon, we leave on a little roadtrip, following the south coast to the Eastern Cape, and then straight up north through the Karoo and into the Northern Cape, before doubling back to Cape Town.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

How to grow a Thai lime


I brought my Thai limes indoors for the winter a couple of days ago, when the heat was steaming in the garden, the striped Asian mosquitoes were biting and September felt like July. It felt mad.

Today, cool, dry air has arrived. Thank you, weather.

You can read all about how to grow Thai limes (and the complications of their names) in my story for Gardenista.

The Frenchman and I are Cape Town-bound soon, and the next posts might be from another hemisphere. If you would like to join me on a fall forage walk back in NYC, see the link below for one in Green-Wood and another in Prospect Park, in November.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Back to the garden


I have been trying to redress the wrongs of months of minimal gardening.

On Monday I turned in the manuscript of Forage, Harvest, Feast - the new book that I have been working on for, oh, some time, now. Until I see it again, after the first round of editing, I get to do the things for which there has been no time. I have missed gardening.

Today I pulled out some crazy damn morning glories and hacked back dead things and cut back nettles (allowed to grow but setting seed), calamintha and agastache. I pulled dahlias and transplanted hordes of volunteering thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana). If you need a plant that gives back, that's the one. And I planted cool weather edibles even though the tropical storm weather has brought humidity back after some freakishly autumnal and clear August weeks.

The mosquitoes were still biting. The striped, daytime invaders. But I hope that when I return from South Africa at the end of October I will find peas, and arugula and bok choy and lettuces in the vegetable patch And no more mosquitoes.

______________________




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fresh ginger


Every morning I spend about 10 minutes in the garden with a cup of coffee, looking at things and watering. Then I go back in and work. I have missed gardening as the new book has taken over my life. But today I had a good excuse: I needed fresh ginger for a recipe I was working on. The leaves in the two troughs nearest the house (where my Thai basil forest and curcumin also grow) are looking healthy and I could see the pale new rhizomes pushing out of the soil.


If you are used to tough, store bought ginger, as I am, fresh ginger is unbelievably beautiful.

I planted rhizomes that had begun to show small pale new sprouts (no leaves, just swellings), well after the last frost date, once nights were reliably above 50'F. These troughs have a couple of morning hours of sun for May, June and July, and right now they are in complete shade again.


The pink at the base of the culm (the botanical name for a grass stem) is gorgeous. The skin is transparently thin, and simply disappeared as I microplaned it into a filling for dumplings.

Next year I will plant more ( I think I said that last year...).

______________________

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Who dat?


At the stroke of midnight, as September arrived, an early autumn settled on the city. Also, the cricket (yes, there is only one) began singing.

August was absurd, in the best way, with low temperatures and air that did not feel like a suffocatingly wet, hot blanket. This is the first year where I never actually packed our duvet away. There were a few stifling nights this summer, but only a handful.

Then yesterday,  I heard a new sound in the garden. A sort of chip! chip! - like a cardinal with a cough. Later, as I worked at my laptop at my desk, which is really the dining table, I saw this little bird.


I love the fall migrants. Often tiny, somehow very at home and confident in a new place, but also unbearably fragile. They travel so far (and yes, you can read a lot into that). And to find them resting in a green space you have made is like a small blessing (not a word I use, easily - it is so overused and has become trite).


The photos are bad because they are taken through double glazed windows, and a set of wrought iron burglar bars, but I watched him/her for a long time, busily chasing down tiny insects, always remaining under the cover of leaves and flitting about beneath the plants. And s/he is still here today, bustling about in the rear of the garden.

Yet to identify the bird. Tell me if you know.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Autumn Wilds Foods Walk


Green-Wood Ramble
5 November 2017
12pm - 3pm
$45

THIS WALK IS SOLD OUT

Join me on an autumn ramble and picnic in the wooded hills and dales of beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery, where some of New York's most impressive trees grow. While we will be identifying everything botanically edible as we walk, this is also a chance to explore one of the most serene places in the city. 



While every year is unique in its timing, and leaf color and leaf drop will vary, Green-Wood is one of the best places to appreciate the changing season without leaving the city.



Green-Wood is home not only to Leonard Bernstein, but to mushrooms and acorns, beech nuts and sheep sorrel. I'm not promising mushrooms, just saying: You never know. If the conditions are right we may chance upon some late hen of the woods.




...and maybe a persimmon or two. 



The park-like space is also the refuge of New Yorkers like ground hogs, raccoons and opossums.


...and birds still making their way south. Green-Wood is a popular refueling and resting station.


And of course, there are the famous parrots. 


We will share a fall picnic of seasonal, wild inspired snacks which may include hen of the woods pâté, mugwort shortbread and persimmon spice cakes. And a cordial from a very good cordial-making year.

More info and meet up details will be sent to you in the week before the walk. Attendance is limited. See you in the fall!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The red and black ones


Almost every morning, when I sneak into the garden with my coffee before sitting down to work, a monarch greets me. The Joe Pye weed offers plenty of nectar. And at six feet tall is bordering on unruly. I need a meadow.


They visit the common milkweed in the vegetable plot, and seem very restless, rarely settling for long.


And yes, the distinctive milkweed bugs did arrive. I don't who told them there was milkweed, here. Oncopeltus fasciatus, apparently harmless, so I leave them be. This one is sitting on the pods of Asclepias incarnata, growing in a pot.

In September I will be cutting the common milkweed back, very carefully. Those stems also rose to five and six feet, and happen to be planted over the row of diminutive saffron crocus, whose flowers should be emerging in late autumn. I am not sure if being shaded by the milkweed all summer (when the saffron is dormant) will have hurt, or not. Last year they produced enough saffron for one pot of bouillabaisse, which I thought was quite exciting.

I might order more.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hot roots



I grew horseradish for the first time, this year. It arrived from Johnny's Seeds (in the company of several seed packets whose contents failed to germinate altogether - I don't think it was Johnny's fault, but it was frustrating) in March. I planted it in long holes, dug at an angle. It took months to show signs of life.


But all five roots sprouted, and there they are, looking uncannily like yellow dock (Rumex crispus). I think we will be able to harvest some, conservatively, late in the year. Or perhaps I should save them, for next early spring, which is when the fat, rude rude roots start showing up in local stores for Passover. I can't help blushing when I pick one up (each one has two balls, plus, er...you you know). You harvest them by cutting of the large root and saving the side roots for replanting. Left too long they become gnarly and fibrous. All this is theoretical knowledge, for me, clearly.

Freshly grated horseradish is one of our favourite condiments, eaten raw, its sting going straight up the nose, rather than down the throat.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August in bloom


A quick peak at what the garden is doing. In the potted section, one of the best things right now, and for weeks past, has been the pineapple lilies. I have never grown Eucomis, before. My mom has them in her Constantia garden and they are native to the grasslands of South Africa's summer rainfall regions. This is Eucomis autumnalis, and it has been in bloom for eight weeks.


Much slower to begin blooming, which is good, because its season will be longer, is Eucomis 'Leia.' I will have to lift the bulbs for winter and store them in the longsuffering fridge (the Frenchman never knows what is going to attack him when he opens its door).


These are also a happy surprise. I have never grown dahlias before, either. I had no idea what to expect and thought they would bloom only late in the season, but this is 'Nuit d 'été' and it has been flowering since early June. The plants dislike very hot weather and the blooms shrivel in response, but we have been having a really mild August and they are thriving again. Thirsty plants. I water daily.

The pineapple lilies and dahlias above came from Brent and Becky's, ordered in February when one is grasping at horticultural straws and prone to shopper's remorse. But both are so healthy and long-blooming that I will get more, next year.


These little dahlias came from Lowe's. I ignore them in the side beds at the back of the garden and they keep on flowering. In general I cannot recommend bulbs from the giant emporium - they are mostly in terrible shape and stored for weeks in hot conditions so that they either wither or sprout and are not viable when you plant them. The dahlias made it.


The heuchera that keeps making more. I have lost track of its offspring. Low maintenance and drought tolerant and flowering late in the growing year,  I find it prefers being dry and squeezed in its pots. This plant (Heuchera villosa) and its children have moved all over New York with us.


The curry leaf trees that overwintered unhappily indoors are thriving, outside.


Inside their bird netting the figs are ripening, at last.


And there is a precious collection of makrut (Citrus hystrix) fruit. I hope they ripen, but it will be indoors, if they do. The skin is intensely aromatic. One tree is flowering and fruiting, while the larger one is not. It's odd. I use the leaves for drinks and cooking.

In wild foods cookbook news: I have reached the final lap: four weeks until deadline. I am now on the photo phase (choosing, editing). The manuscript itself stands at 142,000 words and change. There are still some more recipes to add, test and shoot. Today's testing includes a raised pie with elderberries and a spiced pawpaw bread.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The good things


This is a new cocktail I shook up with a fermented elderberry syrup (sweet, sour, lightly alcoholic), rum and early summer's honeysuckle cordial. It's not as sweet as it sounds. And elderberries are very interesting.

Name suggestions?

The glass is resting on my friend Stephen Orr's really good and very beautiful book, The New American Herbal (no the drink did not sweat on the book). I love dipping into it when I take a break from my own plants.

The parts of the weekend you do not see are the meltdown, the hair pulling and the gnashing of teeth. I was a little overwhelmed by the work still to do on my book, and then a serious camera glitch pushed me right over the edge.

The Frenchman weathered it, somehow. He also quietly ensured that within 24 hours a brand new camera was not only bought but delivered to the front door (the 21st century is magical in this way). Then he did the laundry, put it away, made the bed, bought two nights of dinners and cleaned the kitchen.

Now that. Is a husband. I feel quite small.

After the meltdown I made black cherry ketchup, elderberry soup and wrote 6,000 words.

Then we ate Trader Joe's pizza, and watched possums.




Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sit down. It's supper time.


July has ended.

Days are full. Very. Very full.

Evening is a pause. Stop. Breathe. Sip. Talk. Watch for possums (we have a baby again - tonight, after inspecting the garden, it walked on the wires, high above the back of the garden, with great confidence).

And now it is August. Five weeks until I meet a book deadline. With life insisting on happening, inbetween.

But we will always have supper.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Backlit Saucisson



Sorry, folks, this is a (not very) secret message. Regular programming will resume shortly.

(And sometimes a saucisson is just a saucisson. No bad puns, here)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The monarchs are here!


I walked into the garden a few days ago and saw...monarchs on the milkweed! Plant it and they will come. This is very gratifying.

The species above is Asclepias incarnata - swamp milkweed. I planted it first in Harlem and it moved with us. It is growing in-ground and is much less vigorous than Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed, the one I also eat), and I recently planted another in a large pot. This is an easier milkweed to control, if you are a neat gardener.


This smaller butterfly is on the common milkweed, which was planted late in spring 2016 and which came back very strongly this year. And not exactly where I was expecting it, either. If you have spreading anxiety in a very orderly garden, I recommend using a planting barrier under ground as a medium term control. I am not sure how it would work, long term. The runners are vigorous and shoots will appear many feet from the parent plant. Ideally, plant it in a wilder section or in a meadow. The pollinators - many kinds - will love you. Or, my top soapbox suggestion: Grow it as a farm crop. Because you can eat the shoots, young stems, tender leaves, buds, flowers and pods.

Or plant a different milkweed.


And this one is on the common milkweed pods. I may squeal with excitement if I ever see a caterpillar or even better, a jewel-like and green cocoon.


They also stopped on the Ligularia. (The milkweed is where they lay their eggs.)


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It's been ten years...


Early evening. One of my favorite times of day.

Two anniversaries: I started writing this blog in 2007. It is ten years old. In Internet terms that is about 1,000! It grew from my first not very good photos, taken with a series of small, much loved Canon point and shoots. Hi tech, in those days. But these pocket sized creatures led to an almost obsessive interest in digital documentation and to a level of confidence I had never felt until then. The cameras were somehow a screen and filter, letting me move through the world without worrying as much about what it thought of me. I created the blog in a year that had begun very badly for me, where I was so despondent that I was prescribed anti depressants by a shrink who should have known better (he said he would not treat me if I was not on them. I never went back and ditched the pills after four weeks - I'm not saying they are not important for some people, but they were not what I needed, then. I needed someone to listen). A few weeks later I began to write.

My interest in photography led, a couple of months after I began blogging, to the Frenchman, who was waiting and waving at me from the west coast of this huge continent, in Vancouver, BC. Our July emails set off an electrical storm that culminated in his touchdown at Newark Liberty International that September. Four months later we were married.

I know. It's an old story. But I like telling it.

This blog, and its offshoots, on Facebook and now evolving on Instagram, led to new friendships, locally and across the globe, and these have enriched my life in innumerable ways, personally and professionally. My work changed, my skills improved, I was and remain challenged and inspired by what comes to me via 66 Square Feet.

Happy birthday, blog. You saved me.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The time of the lilies


The day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva, the orange ones on the left) have just come to and end. We ate quite a lot of them! Very helpful for recipe testing. 


Now the Nicotiana mutabilis and agastache are flanking the big flush of July trumpet lilies.  On the right are 'Summer Palace' not liking the New York heat and humidity, I suspect. Their promised pink is quite washed out. June belonged to the elegant Lilium 'Regale' and also to the pure white Formosas (some are still blooming in pots)  - the latter were hit hardest by our early spring freeze and only a few survived. 


'Silk Road', so disdained the first time I received it as a bonus bulb from the peerless Lily Garden in Washington state, is now the flower I will always associate with my New York gardens. Our lease has just been renewed for another year (I was holding my breath), but there will be other gardens. Who knows where.


'Silk Road' is tough and striking and reliable and tall.


And she smells good.


These, above, are about six feet three inches tall.


The agastache escort. 


The delicate turks caps of 'Madam Butterfly' are lovely. I should have planted them in pots, I think, as they are a bit lost in the jungle of the side beds.


And echinacea - this one a gift, now well established, from either Kirstin or Julia, both neighborhood friends with green fingers.


These are...what? They have 'Ice Caves' written all over them but emailed orders yield no confirmation; I am going to have to scratch through my saved printed invoices to check. 


And 'Silver Scheherazade.' Tall and late blooming and needing some staking.

Like me.

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