Friday, April 28, 2006

The other colors of Spring and some sadness

We are so hungry for a change from the drab colors of winter that colorful flowering ornamental trees are a delight to our jaded eyes. But, for some unknown reason I've been more aware this year of the various shades of greens and yellows and even brick reds and burnt siennas of the newly opened leaves and flowers of trees not normally known as ornamentals.

There are whole spectrums of colors only unconsciously seen, like background noise they have to compete for our attention with the more colorful trees and brilliant flowering bulbs. For instance the newly opened sassafras leaves are a bright yellow but not noticed very much. Some of the trees are colored a certain hue because of the blending of flowers and new leaves. The distinctive color of the Russian olive is an example of creamy white flowers blending with pale whitish green leaves giving it a pastel green look. The ashes, maples, the reluctant oaks and sycamore all have their characteristic colors.

A new appreciation of the things hidden in plain view make the ornamentals seem somewhat out of place and artificial. Maybe that's too harsh a word. The winter is endless and we become obsessed with bright colorful things.

I am enjoying it all.

After I had written this our 10 year old cat with a large stomach tumor died this morning and one of our Koi apparently jumped out of the pond in the exuberance of Spring. It’s mouth was partially eaten away by a cat or raccoon. A sadness in all this beauty.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fiddleheads, Ramps and foraging for wild foods

Article from the NY Times

I guess wild foods are a big deal now in trendy restaurants, following the trend of eating wild game. When I was a very young kid we ate wild greens and didn’t even know they were weeds! We actually planted amaranth and ate the young plants as spinach. I didn’t have real spinach until much later. Actually that’s not true. We ate spinach cold and chopped in small bundles as a side dish. But we didn’t call it spinach so I just didn’t know that was the real spinach.

Our neighbors had a good laugh when we raided their unkempt backyard full of young lambsquarter and amaranth. I guess reading Euell Gibbons’ books only reinforced my early childhood experiences. Some edible things are just unpalatable though, like purslane. Yuck. I can’t get past the sour taste and mucilaginous texture. Bitter is ok, like young dandelion greens but I draw the line on slimy, slippery things.

My grandfather used to eat very bitter things like bitter melon and even chrysanthemum flowers. But it had to be only a certain type of chrysanthemum. He ate it because he thought it was medicinal but he seemed to actually like the taste. I remember him giving me a small bunch of petals to eat. I immediately spat it out. Wow was it ever bitter but apparently it wasn’t poisonous. I thought plants produced bitter alkaloids to warn off animals from eating them?

I read somewhere that fiddleheads had a cancer causing chemical in them. But I would think you have to eat quite a lot before it became dangerous. I’ve eaten my share of fiddleheads and so far have not notice any adverse effects. It’s a seasonal dish so you really can’t eat that much of it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Follow up on Wild leeks aka Ramps

I sent a check to the Ramp Farm for some ramp bulbs intending to plant them but Mr. Facemire, the owner emailed a note saying the bulbs were already unavailable as noted on their website. The ramps for eating were still being sold until the end of April so I asked if it was possible to order ramps with soil and roots attached and he was kind enough to send them to me that way and even mentioned that the ramps would grow if I planted them. Two bunches of ramps arrived very quickly by priority mail. One of the photos shows the newly planted ramps. If you look carefully at the detailed photo you can see that there are rhizomes which a couple of the ramps are attached to. I cut off the eating bulb part a little higher than I normally would thinking that I could plant the rhizomes like the rhizomes of irises etc. Will see if this works.

We ate the other half of the order cooking the leaves and all in some olive oil with portobello mushrooms and a little fake bacon. The ramps were delicious! Someone said that the ramps were the best tasting of the onion family (alliums) and I concur. The flavor was subtle but definitely oniony and insistent. I thought the portobellos would overpower the ramps but not so. It held up well and nicely complemented the mushrooms.

So I can't wait for next Spring when I hope the newly planted ramps are ready and I've already planted the seeds I bought previously so I hope these will sprout for future meals. Oh and I hope the rhizomes sprout too.

If you'd like to try some, I believe the Ramp Farm still has some until the end of the month but you'll have to send the check in post haste as they don't take online orders.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Scorpion weed - Phacelia campanularia

Aka, California bluebell or desert bluebell, Wild Heliotrope. Waterleaf Family (Hydrophyllaceae) now Boraginaceae according to Wikipedia.

I thought I'd try a different sort of annual instead of the usual ones we plant. I saw some pictures of the California bluebell and this seemed a perfect plant to go in several sunny dry spots we have in the garden. I had some very good results last year planting a kind of salvia but it grew to about 3 feet + tall and shaded many of the smaller permanent shrubs so I needed something shorter. Phacelia campanularia has a nice blue flower with scalloped leaves for added interest and only supposed to grow to about a foot tall. I was able to find seeds in bulk fairly cheaply from a company in Vermont. The seeds arrived very quickly and this company seem to have an interesting variety of flower seeds. You can see the flower on their website, American Meadows.

Some tidbits about Phacelia.
Phacelia: based on the Greek phakelos, meaning "cluster," and alluding to the densely crowded flower spikes of most species of the genus (ref. genus Phacelia) from the calflora website. This is an informative site for the derivation of latin names of plants.

From Wikipedia: "Phacelia is a genus in the family Boraginaceae of about 150 species of herbs, native of Western North America (the most), Eastern U.S.A. and South America. The genus was formerly treated in the separate family Hydrophyllaceae but was transferred by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group to the Boraginaceae on genetic evidence."

So there you have it. Since it's going to rain tomorrow, I'll scratch the seeds into the dry ground today. Will post pics as soon as they bloom.

Moving a lot of plants and rant

These past few weekends were nothing but slave, slave, slave. I sited, marked and transplanted 15 one year old japanese maple grafts and one green leafed mutant from our "Bloodgood" and a 2 year old graft "Oshio Beni".

I also transplanted 5 shad blow serviceberries "Amelanchier canadensis" and moved two azaleas which were growing into a weeping red dissectum japanese maple.

Last week it was planting 6 clump river birches to screen out houses being built beyond our backyard and moving 5 misplanted (mis-sited) evergreens and a Chinese redbud, to block out more of the side neighbor. Then mowing our ever diminishing lawn as I slowy convert more of it into planting. The lawn is a nuisance getting infested with annual grasses and weeds like creeping charlie, dandelions, sedges and chickweed. I tried to do without pesticide/herbicides but I'm losing the battle badly. So converting the lawn to berms and planting beds is a priority.

By this you would think we are antisocial recluses but we seem to live in a neighborhood of plant/trees haters and only do this in self defense to compensate for the lack of greenery. Well not so much haters as they are terribly ambivalent towards plants. Their yards are essentially barren except for the occasional tree and obligatory shrubs around the house. But they pay great homage to the lawn thanks to lawn services who duitifully spray fetilizers and pesticides in abundance and mow weekly. No wonder all the rivers and streams are so heavily laden with chemical runoff. I've seen large 3,500-5,000 sq. feet homes with an acre of land all in grass with almost no plantings in our township. And this is more than 10 years after the houses were built. Did they run out of money to do the landscaping after buying a lavish home? Well enough for the rant.

PS: The yellow magnolia did turn out to be "Butterflies".

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Vitamin D from Mushrooms!

Good news! A delicious way to keep healthy. Zapping white button mushrooms with 5 minutes of UV light apparently boosts the vitamin D content so a single serving will give you up to 869% of your daily requirement. Vitamin D helps to maintain strong bones and has anti-cancer properties. This is especially critical during the winter months when we aren't exposed to enough sunlight to create our own vitamin D.

From Yahoo News and the AP

Monday, April 17, 2006

In search of Ramps (Allium tricoccum) or the wild leek

I am always on the look out for wild foods to try. We routinely eat lambsquarter normally a prolific weed in the garden and young amaranth also. If you can't beat them eat 'em. Burdock are also tasty if you can manage to dig out the long taproot. So my interest was peaked when the NY Times had an interesting article about wild leeks or ramps. Some say ramps are the best tasting of the onion, leek family. I looked in the boggy areas of a wild part of our park but haven't seen anything resembling them so I have resorted to buying some ramp bulbs from the Ramp Farm. They have some interesting photos here.

You can buy ramp seeds here from, it's under Allium tricoccum. I bought a packet of wild leek seeds too so I hope they sprout. Seedman has some interesting and unsual seeds. I'll have to look into it further when I have more time.

Maybe in a year I'll write if they're worth the effort to grow. Apparently they even have a festival the "Feast of Ramson" in West Virginia and other places.

Here are some interesting websites about ramps.
Wild Man Steve Brill


Friday, April 14, 2006

Serviceberry, Amelanchier canadensis?

The serviceberries are in full bloom now. The tag on the plant at the nursey read "Shadblow". I had no idea what it was but the then small tree looked very nice so we bought all four which were available. This is a great landscaping small tree, covered with white flowers in spring and in June (also known as junberry tree) the trees are covered with berries. We've harvested many quarts of fruit and they make wonderful pies especially when mixed with blueberries. In the fall the leaves turn bright red,orange and yellow depending on the variety.

Shadblow apparently comes from the shad an ocean fish. Shad would run upstream to spawn in the spring coinciding with the flowering of the tree. Blow? I don't know. Maybe the fish breaking the surface of the water as in the breaching whales, "Thar she blows"?

Serviceberry, servicebush comes from the colonialists who thought the berries serviceable or just ok but alright to eat. Picky, picky, picky. The indians in the northwest would make pemmican by pounding the fruit with meat and drying it for consumption during the lean months of winter.

There are many varieties some bush like some tall as 20 + feet but all beautiful in my eyes.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Miscellaneous plant photos

Big mature Magnolia stellata on the Princeton campus.
Chinese redbud.
Last of the camellias.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Magnolia "Seiboldii" now yellow magnolia?

I was very excited that our magnolia “Seiboldii” set flower buds last fall for the first time since we bought it four years ago. I bought it for its white flowers with red center. A georgeous tree and blooms. It was suspicious that the buds were a bright apple green but I wasn’t too concerned but now it seems that the tree was mislabeled as the almost bursting buds are a definite yellow color.

Well yellow is good.

Now to try to identify what kind of yellow magnolia it is. Could it be “Butterflies” or “Yellow Bird” or M. acuminata? Butterflies is a cross between M. acuminata the "cucumber tree" and M. denudata. Elizabeth is another variation of the acuminata x denudata. Yellowbird is a cultivar of M. acuminata.

We actually tried to plant a “Butterflies” in our front yard but the spot proved to be too wet and the tree blackened and died even as I tried to raise it on a mound giving the roots more air. So I’m thrilled to have a yellow magnolia but would have also liked to own a “Seiboldii”. Well maybe in the future but we’re running out of space for trees anyway.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tipsy flowers? Give them some hard liquor!

From the AP and Yahoo news.

Weird. Why would someone do a study like this?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Species tulips (tulipa)

These little red species tulips keep popping up every spring. They were inherited from the former owner and are a very early spring delight. I've tried to find more bulbs but so far I haven't found the right ones - the red tulipa I bought haven't bloomed yet. Maybe it's Tulipa armena Boiss. var. armena but I'll have to look it up. The other tulip is a water lily tulip, Kaufmania, Ancilla very short stems with large flower - ugly, gaudy to my mind but interesting coloration. Unfortunately we seem to have purchased a lot of seems you don't always get what you want or think you'll get by looking at catalogs.

I got interested in planting more species tulips (tulipa) with the intention that we wouldn't have to replant bulbs so often so we bought a whole lot these types of bulbs. The tulipa saxatilis with tiny yellow flowers are just about ready to bloom hopefully these will naturalize and spread.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Dr. Merrill magnolia

I love all magnolias but this is a favorite.

Our Dr. Merrill magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri) is in full bloom now. I like it better and better every year. It's multi petaled like the stellata but the petals are much fuller and when slightly opened which I think is the most attractive state, looks somewhat like magnolia cylindrica blossoms. I am a little concerned that it's not growing as vigorously as I thought it would. When I first bought it, it was lush and full of leaves which 1/3 promptly turned brown and fell off despite constant care. But it otherwise seems to be doing well enough.

Click on the photo to enlarge.
My Photo
Location: Zone 6, New Jersey, United States

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