Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Most Perfect Flower

The saffron crocuses (Crocus sativus) began to bloom today. They are perfect.




As if their luminous rosy purple color were not enticing enough, the flowers are also scented. The fragrance is incongruously fresh and spring-like, though with a hint of spice. Those bright red stamens are the source of saffron after all.

From My Childhood Garden...

My mom is in our hometown in Germany at the moment and she sent this picture of the fruit ripening on one of the fig trees we planted in our garden there when I was a child:

Figs (Ficus carica)

Apparently the 'Souvenir de Malmaison' rose we planted next to the front door is in full bloom as well, and the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) I brought as a small sapling from Portugal fifteen years ago is now actually a small tree towering over its corner of the garden. I have not been back in a while, but it is nice to see that at least some of the plants I used to tend to are still flourishing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trusty Stalwarts

The nights are starting to get quite chilly, so I have begun moving the most tender tropical plants indoors. Among the first to come inside were curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius), galangal (Alpinia galanga), and the most delicate form of holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) that I grow - the last was already beginning to droop a bit from the chill! Another plant that has begun to droop recently but for reasons that completely elude me is a little seedling of some species of broom (either Cytisus or Chamaecytisus) that germinated last spring from a mix of seeds I had collected here and there. At first I did not care much for it , but then it grew nice and healthy all summer without demanding any attention and produced lovely silvery-grey foliage. As often happens with initially inconspicuous plants that surprise me with their vigor and carefree disposition, I eventually grew very fond of it. Then a few days ago it began wilting all of a sudden; at first I thought it might be the cool weather, but it has hardly been cold enough yet to bother any broom. Too wet perhaps? I have moved it to a sunny window for the time being and am letting it sit dry. Hopefully it will recover.
Luckily there are other plants that are not deterred by the change in temperature or wilting mysteriously, at least for the time being. The beautiful and intensely fragrant antique rose 'Gruß an Teplitz' has just produced a new flush of flowers, as has the night-blooming Epiphyllum strictum in the sun room.

Rosa 'Gruß an Teplitz'

 Epiphyllum strictum

I also just took cuttings of my perpetual carnations, something I have never done before. According to the vintage gardening books I consulted it is a rather delicate process involving "sharp sand" and "gentle bottom heat" - hopefully the only sand I could get at the nearby garden supply shop and a seedling heat mat set up in the sun room will be sufficient. Two big boxes of bulbs have also arrived, but more on that later...

Friday, October 2, 2015

All Pandan Everything

The best of significant others finally came back from a very long work trip this week. It took him to a number of countries, but he was happily able to conclude the trip with a few days spent in Malaysia visiting family and friends. Among the things he brought back were a pandan chiffon cake and, given that last weekend was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a box of snow skin pandan mooncakes. Consequently, I decided to do a post on all the ways this wonderful flavoring can currently be found in our household.

One of my pandan plants (Pandanus amaryllifolius), flanked by a small pandan chiffon cake from Lavender, pandan kaya, a pandan snow skin mooncake, and three different kinds of pandan flavoring for baking

Different pandan flavorings for baking

A close-up of that snow skin pandan mooncake, on a Japanese mochi plate

Pandan was one of the first things about Malaysia that I fell in love with - apart of course from the best of significant others! - and it has become one of my favorite sweet flavorings. The aroma is a bit hard to describe, though it has been likened to that of basmati rice or freshly-baked bread. In its ubiquity in Malaysian sweets and pastries it is a bit like vanilla in many Western cuisine, though it is also used quite a bit in neighboring Southeast Asian cuisines. Traditionally, the fresh leaves are used, either by being cooked with the food and then removed or their juice being extracted and added to the food. The plant is not difficult to grow, as long as one can give it a fair amount of warmth and moisture - it is a wholly tropical plant and will not put up with any cold. However, one can also buy pandan extract or flavoring. In case you want to play around with either, here is the recipe I have used when making pandan chiffon cake from scratch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fall Travels 2015 - Part 1: Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA

The weekend before last I went home to my parents' place in Michigan - I  already posted a few flowers from the garden there - and that Sunday, while enjoying the most glorious fall weather, my mom and I took a walk around Cranbrook, the historic estate and gardens at the heart of the Cranbrook Educational Community. The latter encompasses not just PK-12 schools but also a prestigious and historically important graduate school of art and design, an art museum, a science museum, and an Episcopal church. I have written about Cranbrook before, but the gardens looked particularly beautiful a week ago so I wanted to post some of the pictures.

View along the Reflecting Pool towards the Cranbrook Art Museum

A lovely toad lily (Tricyrtis sp.)

The mansion bathed in autumn sun

The Herb Garden

On one of the terraces between the house and the Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden from above

Perennial borders in the Sunken Garden

Another view of one of the beautiful long borders

A white Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis cv.)

An autumnal riot of New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae cvs.)

Apparently the greenhouse range, which is located just behind the Sunken Garden, can be visited on certain days as well. I never knew about this, but I will have to make sure to check it out next time I am back in Michigan.