Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

I will probably not get around to blogging much in the next couple of days because I will be traveling with my family but I wanted to wish everyone a very happy New Year and all the best for 2011.

China aster (Callistephus chinensis) in my family's previous Michigan garden

Let us hope that it will be a good year, both in the garden and beyond.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Have Been Interviewed!

Aleem is doing a series of interviews with other garden bloggers on his blog the The Lovely Plants, and I am today's installment: Interview with Young Gardener

There are also some pictures of the garden from the past summer...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Presents

For Christmas, my wonderful parents gave me a whole stack of great gardening books this year, four in all. My mom has an amazing ability to keep track of books I have at one point expressed an interest in and sooner or later I always find them under the Christmas tree or arriving in a package for my birthday, often alongside some other similar book or another work by the same author which she thought might interest me as well. This year's treasures are the following:

Our Life in Gardens by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd (Here on Amazon)

Our Life in Gardens

This book, first published in 2009, is a beautiful account of over 30 years the authors spent living and gardening together, first in the Boston area and then at their famous garden in southern Vermont called North Hill. As such, it is not only full of practical observations and advice regarding a plethora of beautiful and rare plants but also constitutes a touching portrayal of a relationship and the making of  garden which is as much a home as the house to which it is attached. There are certainly things in this book that I disagree with, mostly with regard to the cultivation of some plants or particular remarks about garden design. This used to bother me in a gardening book but I have now come to understand that it only helps me to define, refine, and explain my own opinions. Now such minor points of contention in no way detract from the pleasure I derive from reading such a marvelous book. Sadly, Wayne Winterrowd passed away earlier this year, so this will have been the last book by him. Luckily, however, there are earlier ones, two of which were also among my Christmas gifts.

A Year at North Hill: Fours Seasons in a Vermont Garden by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd (Here on Amazon)

A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden

This book, published in 1995, is similar to Our Life in Gardens in that it was co-written by Eck and Winterrowd and presents a very personal account of their Vermont garden, its plants, and its seasonal labors, but it also has beautiful photographs and, as the title suggests, it is organized by seasons. This makes it perhaps a bit more useful as a garden advice book, though its prose is just a beautiful as that of Our Life in Gardens.

Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens by Wayne Winterrowd (Here on Amazon )

Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens

Published in 2004, this heavy tome is much more of a reference work, though it, too, offers Winterrowd's elegant - almost lyrical - and subtly entertaining writing style. The book lists, describes, and discusses a staggering number of annuals and plants that maybe grown as such and comments on the advantages and vicissitudes of their cultivation with an honesty that is brutal but refreshing. For sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), for example, Winterrowd does not simply repeat instructions originally intended for the coastal climates of of Western Europe like so many other books do but he frankly admits that climatic conditions across North America make the plant challenging, if not impossible, to grow and a short-season pleasure at best. Which is not to say that the book is negative tone, for many plants are recommended enthusiastically and one is almost sure to come across a number of interesting plants one has never thought of growing before.

The Curious Gardener: A Year in the Garden by Anna Pavord (Here on Amazon)

The Curious Gardener: A Year in the Garden

This book, published this year, is a collection of essays by Anna Pavord published as part of her gardening column for The Independent. Wonderfully witty, it is fun to read and also contains much sounds advice, though once again I find myself disagreeing strongly in a few select cases, such as Pavord's instructions on how best to grow basil or how to prune a Hydrangea paniculata. Admittedly, however, in this case those differences of opinion are likely due mainly to the difference in climate between Pavord's England and the American Midwest and Northeast. The book also has a certain good-natured bluntness which  I enjoy, my favorite line so far being, "Growing calcifuge shrubs such as azaleas or rhododendrons in soil that does suit them is not an experiment. It is murder." I wish the landscaping firms here in southeastern Michigan took this statement to heart instead of annually torturing to death rhododendrons by the hundreds, stubbornly unaccepting of the fact that these plants, grown in the acidic soils and mild, wet climate of parts of the Southeast or the Pacific Northwest, will never flourish here like they do on the East Coast or in blessed parts of Western Europe.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

My family's Christmas tree

Wishing everyone very happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Patron Saint of Gardeners

After writing the Barbaratag Post, in which I mentioned that Saint Barbara happens to be, rather oddly, the patron saint of mathematicians as well as those who work with explosives, I remembered taking a picture several years ago of a tile mural of Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners. I figured it would only be appropriate to write a short post about him and so I tried to read up on this relatively little-known saint. I did not find much but did learn that Saint Fiacre was born in Ireland in the 7th century and later emigrated to France. He was apparently a skilled herbalist and healer as well as something of a hermit who tried to avoid human company and spend much time in the cultivation of his garden, which is most likely why he is considered patron saint of gardeners.

Azulejo mural of Saint Fiacre in the gardens of the Reales Alcázares in Seville, Spain

He is also considered patron saint of florists and taxi drivers and, bizarrely, of those who suffer from venereal diseases. Personally, I think that is an even odder combination than mathematicians and those who work with explosives...

Friday, December 17, 2010

The State of My Houseplants

I am sorry I have been absent for so long; I was just too busy with final papers and exams to take the time to write a post, and then, too, not much seemed to be happening around here horticulturally. Outside everything is bare and frozen - though there has not been any snow yet in these parts - but many of my indoor plants have been doing quite well, so this will be a little update on them. I apologize for the mediocre quality of the pictures; apparently I am incapable of taking good photographs given the lighting conditions in my windows.

Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus)
First up is a picture of the last bunch of flowers produced by the Paperwhite narcissus bulbs I potted up early in the fall. Now I know that it does not take any skill at all to get these two flower, but they still make me quite happy by adding a bit of spring cheer to this time of year (rhyme not intentional). Instead of throwing them out now that they are done flowering, I will try to cultivate them through until the leaves die back and then plant the bulbs in my family's garden in the spring. Let us hope that it works out.

 Crown-of-Thorns (Euphorbia milii)
The second picture shows my little red-flowered crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii), which has so far brought me nothing but joy as it has been happily growing and flowering profusely for the past two month. My Maranta leuconeura erythroneura has been similarly fantastic, though that was somewhat less of a surprise since I already prior positive experiences with the regular form of the species. Not only has it been growing happily and without any pest or disease issues, but it has also been producing delicate flower spikes with tiny white flowers flushed with purple. They are rather inconspicuous but I find them pretty nonetheless.

Maranta leuconeura erythroneura

My Tradescantia spathacea appears to be doing all right as well, though admittedly all that means is that it is not sick and has grown a bit since I got it about two months ago. I have saw these used a lot as ground covers in India this past summer, and somehow that made me want to give them a try as a houseplant when I saw them at a flower shop here. I have since learned, though, they can be extremely invasive in warm climates and can cause horrible allergic reactions in dogs, so perhaps their cultivation should not be encouraged...

Tradescantia spathacea, syn. Rhoeo spathacea

Perhaps the most exciting development, however, though unfortunately also the least photogenic, is that some of the date pits I planted in late September have germinated into tiny date palm seedlings (Phoenix dactylifera). They were taken from fresh dates bought at Trader Joe's right after I took the GRE when I was craving comfort food, which at the time apparently meant dates.  Extremely delicious they were; the variety, known as 'Medjool' (مجهول) , which means "unknown" in Arabic, is one of the varieties more commonly grown in the US, though apparently it originates in Morocco. I like it better than the Tunisian variety Deglet Noor, which is probably the most commonly sold variety in western countries, because even though the latter keeps its shape better and is prettier  it is not as sweet and flavorful and can be rather dry. In any case, two of my 'Medjool' seeds are sending up their first leaves and even though date palms apparently do not come true from seed and there is little chance that my inevitably potted palm babies will ever grow to fruiting size, I am excited.

 Date palm seedlings (Phoenix dactylifera)

Now I just have to hope that my plants make it through my absence over winter break...

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Today is the feast day of Saint Barbara, a early Christian martyr and saint who is the patron of mathematicians and those who work with explosives. Her commemoration warrants a post on this blog because in the German-speaking world, there are various plant-related customs tied to Barbaratag or "Barbara Day". Traditionally, Barbarazweige or "Barbara twigs" are cut on this day and brought inside to be placed in a vase. These are normally small branches of cherries (Prunus sp.), apples (Malus domestica), or even forsythia (Forsythia sp.), though at least where I am from branches of the sweet cherry (Prunus avium) are most common and most traditional. The idea behind this is that in the warmth of the house, the branches will start flowering by Christmas.

Blossoms of an ornamental cherry (Prunus cv.)

Another, less wide-spread tradition associated with St. Barbara's feast day is Barbaraweizen or "Barbara wheat", for which wheat grains are placed on a plate and kept moist, the intent being that they germinate and grow into a bush of grassy greenery by Christmas eve. If you want to read more about St. Barbara and the Barbarazweige, you can visit last year's post which is a bit more extensive than this one.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gardening Book Recommendations from The New York Times

Today, the book review section of The New York Times included a lengthy article of gardening book recommendations with short reviews by one Dominique Browning. The article is well written and entertaining, and some of the books sound very interesting indeed - I am particularly looking forward to reading the essay collection by Anna Pavord at some point:

Gardening Books

I have also been think that at some point in the coming weeks I might do a post with book suggestions of my own, or about books I am really looking forward to reading. For now, however, term papers have to take precedence over lengthy pieces...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah!

Today is the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish "Festival of Lights", which will continue on until December 9th. This holiday commemorates a miracle associated with the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after it was desecrated by enemy forces in the 2nd century BCE.  There was only enough oil to fuel the eternal flame that was supposed to burn in the temple for one day but it would take eight days to make more. Miraculously, the the flame kept burning until the new oil was ready.

Various historic Hanukkah Menorahs (Source:

There a numerous traditions associated with Hanukkah. In commemoration of the flame that burned for eight nights, candles are progressively lit each night on a Menorah with nine arms. People also often play with special four-sided spinning tops known as dreidels and gifts are exchanged in many families. There are also certain foods that are associated particularly with Hanukkah, including potato pancakes known as latkes and fried, jam-filled doughnuts known as paczki or sufganiyot. Supposedly these are linked to this festival partly because they are prepared using oil, hence linking them to the miracle at the center of the holiday.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Picking my favorite plant... absolutely impossible because I rarely come across a plant I do not like and even sometimes feel bad pulling up weeds. However, Fer over at my little garden in japan is having a Blog Carnival and the idea is to add a link to a post one has written about a plant one really likes. I guess I could have used one of the plant profiles I had already written but I thought it would be better to come up with something new so I tried to think of a plant I grow that is a bit out of the ordinary and about which I have not yet posted very much. I ended up picking a little pink sun rose (Helianthemum 'Rhodanthe Carneum' syn. 'Wisley Pink') which grows in the front border of my garden back in Michigan.

Helianthemum 'Rhodanthe Carneum'

I love sun roses (Helianthemum sp.) because they look almost exactly like their bigger Mediterranean cousins the rock roses (Cistus sp.) but unlike them they are hardy for me and require virtually no care, except for some protection against hungry deer and rabbits in the winter. The plant that produced the flower in the picture happily grew in the front yard of my family's first house in Michigan for several years before being transplanted in the burning heat of summer to the new garden. It looked a bit bedraggled for a while but by the next spring it had completely recovered and put on a beautiful show of flowers as though nothing had happened.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy First Advent Sunday!

Today is the first of four Sundays leading up to Christmas which in Germany are celebrated as part of  Advent. Traditionally, each family decorates a wreath of fir or spruce branches with ornaments much like those hung on the Christmas tree as well as four thick candles. This wreath is known as the Adventskranz or "Advent wreath", and on the first Advent Sunday one of the candles is lit, on the second two, and so on, until all four are burning by the time Christmas arrives.

My family's Adventskranz

I think this tradition helps to make the joyful anticipation for Christmas even greater. If you want to see the Adventskranz my mom created last year, you can see that post here. Happy holidays everyone!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Mom's Green Thumb

Since I have been off to college, my parents have been left to take care of many of my plants for much of the year. Apart from the plants I had acquired during my high school days, I have also been adding another dozen or so new houseplants every spring when I have to vacate my dorm room for the summer. As a result, my dear parents have pothos a-plenty, in addition to a growing collection of orchids, African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha), Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera truncata), aloe (Aloe vera), cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), and numerous other houseplants ranging from rare to common. My mom has been taking great care of all of them; she even uses orchid fertilizer now and despite her aversion to fleshy and/or fuzzy leaves she has kept the African violets happy.  The following are just a few pictures of some of the developments I was most impressed with when I got home:

This little cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) graced the windowsill of my dorm room two years ago and has been flowering on and off ever since

Pale blue flowers of a brown-leaved coleus seedling (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Emerging inflorescence of parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

Flower buds of olive (Olea europea)

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) from last year setting new flowers

It is great to be able to come back and to see one's plants doing so well. When I return for Christmas break in a couple of weeks and everything outside is grey and frozen, I will still be able to enjoy windows full of greenery...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Here in the US it is Thanksgiving today, and like many I am back home at my parents' house for familial comfort and lots of food.

Celebratory chrysanthemums

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and much to be thankful for this year!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Summer Travels 2010 - Part 18: The Garden of Five Senses in New Delhi, India

Here, finally, is the last of my posts about my garden visits this summer. Back in Delhi on the very last leg of my trip, I made my way to the area known as Saidul Ajaib Village in South Delhi one morning and visited the Garden of Five Senses. This public garden was developed by the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation and inaugurated in 2003 and while that might seem like a rather unromantic beginning, the garden on the whole seems to have turned well. The design is imaginative and unusual, the plantings are well maintained, and even on the scorching summer day of my visit there was a steady trickle of visitors.

Banner at the entrance

 Elephant sculpture near the entrance

View in the entrance area

The garden is divided into various themed areas. I turned first to the Khas Bagh, a modern re-interpretation of the formality of Mughal gardens. It features straight paths lined by hedges composed of various species, pomegranate shrubs (Punica granatum), and desert fan palm (Washingtonia filifera), as well as water features, sculptures, and a semi-circle of elegant stone arches at its far end.

Path in the Khas Bagh

Fountain in the center of the Mughal-inspired garden area

 Double pomegranate blossoms (Punica granatum)

Just beyond the Khas Bagh lies a series of walled enclosures entitled Vriksh Aangan or "plant courts", which are filled with a number of different plant groups, including palms, succulents, and bamboo. Even though largely lacking in flowers, I really liked these somewhat labyrinthine spaces.

One of the principal pathways in the Vriksh Aangan

One of the "plant courts"

An unusual row of arches

On the small hill that rises above the Khas Bagh and the Vriksh Aangan there are a number of serpentine walks, lawns studded with specimen trees, terraced flower beds, sculptures, and a very pretty lily pond arranged around a massive wind chime sculpture.

A bed of pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora)

A bed of Plumbago auriculata

 I really liked this combination of chartreuse sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) with pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora)

Terraced walks and flower beds

The wind chime tree by the Kamal Kund or "lily pond"

Pale blue water lilies (Nymphaea caerulea)

Another blue water lily, probably Nymphaea nouchali

Finally, the complex also includes a somewhat less landscaped hill with an amphitheater of sorts, various trails, and good views of the nearby Mehrauli Heritage Site with its famous Qutb Minar. On the whole, it is a pleasant place to spend a bit of time and definitely one of the most unusual public gardens I have visited in India or anywhere.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interesting Article from El País

For those who read Spanish, here is a link to an article on the website of the Spanish newspaper El País about a new exhibition highlighting the importance of gardens for the development of impressionist painting:

La Fundación Thyssen expone el colorido salvaje de los jardines impresionistas

I like the idea behind this exhibition - the connection it makes between gardens and other realms of human creative expression.

Happy Eid ul-Adha!

Today is Eid ul-Adha (عيد الأضحى), also known in English as the "Festival of Sacrifice". One of the most important holidays in Islam, it commemorates Abraham/Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael/Isma'il at the command of God and also represents an important stage of the Hajj (حج‎), the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Front of the Jamia Masjid in Delhi, India

Apart from prayer, the most important way of celebrating holiday consists in slaughtering cow, goat, sheep, or other such animal, with part of the meat traditionally distributed among the poor and needy. For me, the most direct effect of the holiday this year is that my professor canceled today's Arabic class...

Last year's Eid ul-Adha post may be found here.

Highlight from a Weekend Outing: The Palm House at Allan Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Two of my friends and I went to Toronto for the weekend and one of the sights that we visited - at my insistence - was the conservatory in the downtown park known as Allan Gardens. Built in 1910, it is called the Palm House and contains a number of different plant collections and displays. One enters through the central dome of the palm house proper and immediately finds oneself under a canopy of bananas (Musa x paradisiaca) and various species of palm. From here, a long greenhouse filled with tropical flowers and foliage plants branches off to the right, while a temperate house filled with Mediterranean species and seasonal floral displays lies to the left.

Outside view of the central dome of the Palm House

Sign explaining the history of the Toronto Horticultural Society and the park

Inside view towards the ceiling of the dome

We turned right first and traversed the warm house planted with a variety of tropical plants, including many common houseplants as well as some more unusual species. There were several stunning varieties of hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), a nice specimen of flaming glory bower (Clerodendron speciosissimum), taro plants (Colocasia esculenta), Senna alata, bougainvilleas (Bougainvillea sp.), and much more. Philodendron hederaceum trailed from large hanging baskets in various spots and some of the border were dotted with the delicate blossoms of Gladiolus callianthus.

View along one of the paths in the tropical house to the right of the central dome

Flowers of flaming glory bower (Clerodendron speciosissimum)

A pink double hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

A particularly large-flowered single variety of hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

A double yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

A deep velvety red hibiscus cultivar (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

Senna alata

 Flowers of shoals spider lily (Hymenocallis coronaria)

Another view along the central path; I really like how the various foliage plants, like Maranta leuconeura, look as groundcovers

At the end of this tropical house lies the arid house, filled with a nice collection of cacti, agaves, and other succulents arranged in a pretty manner.

 One of the borders in the arid house

 A large-flowered cultivar of crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii)

 A view along the central path of the arid house

From the arid house we had to go back through the tropical house and through the central palm house dome to continue our tour in the temperate house. Here,by far my favorite element was the seasonal display of old-fashioned giant chrysanthemums.

 View along one of the paths in the temperate house

 One of the chrysanthemum displays

 An orange chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum sp.)

 The water feature in the temperate house

 Some more chrysanthemums

At the end of the temperate house we entered another warm greenhouse dedicated to tropical plants. Among the highlights of this tropical house were a collection of orchids, several beautiful Abutilon cultivars, a white mandevilla vine (Mandevilla boliviensis), a skyflower (Duranta erecta) with brilliant blue flowers edged in white, Ipomoea indica, and a vast array of tropical foliage plants.

 View along one of the three paths in the second tropical house

 A light pink Abutilon cultivar (Abutilon x hybridum)

 A deep red cultivar of Abutilon x hybridum

 Flowers of Mandevilla boliviensis

 A Cattleya hybrid

 A bright blue, white-edged variety of Duranta erecta with  Codiaeum variegatum 

 Ipomoea indica, a large tropical morning glory

 Flowers of Allamanda cathartica

 View along one of the side paths

On the whole, one of the things that most impressed me about the Allan Park Palm House is just how meticulously planted and tended all the displays were - and that too in a greenhouse open to the public free of any charge! Other than that it might not be a terribly unusual place as far as conservatories go but it is definitely a lovely spot to escape from the chilly fall weather for a bit and soak in some tropical color and warmth.