Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year!

In the Garden of the Humble Administrator, Suzhou

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Place to Rest

The sun room got a new piece of furniture, a comfy rattan armchair.

Sitting among the plants

The printed cushion cover, which I thought very fitting for a room full of potted plants, is from Marimekko.

Friday, January 24, 2014

More Seeds

Another seed order arrived, this one from Fedco. It included yet another rice variety - I just cannot resist - originally from Russia, an Indian cucumber variety, two Slovakian opium poppy varieties bred for the quality and quantity of their seeds, yet another variety of mâche or corn salad, and sacred basil or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum). In addition, there were some more quotidian things, such as old-fashioned stocks, calendula, and borage.


I already have some tulsi grown from Malaysian seed going on my windowsill, but the little plants seem to be extremely tender so I decided to give some other seed sources a try. As for the poppies, I appear to have a thing for them at the moment, because in addition to the little packets of 'Ziar' and 'Elka' among my Fedco order I came away from a recent trip to the hardware store with some seeds of 'Hungarian Blue' from Botanical Interests. Now all I am missing are the three or so marigold varieties I want for this year... though in the course of acquiring those seeds, another variety or two of rice or opium poppies may of course slip in...

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Little Excursion and Some More New Plants

The day before yesterday was a lovely day of bright sunshine and unseasonally mild temperatures, and my mom and I took the dog and headed out to the suburbs, to walk amidst a bit more nature and to have a gander around super-quaint Concord, one of my mom's favorite places in the area. On the way we stopped at the Lyman Estate Greenhouses in Waltham, which I have previously blogged about here. Filled with lots of flowers and balmy warmth, they were a welcome slice of spring.

Cymbidiums and other orchids in one of the cooler sections

A beautiful delicate little bulbous plant - anyone happen to know what this is?

Bougainvilleas overhead

An assortment of little treasures; I am generally not a fan of those new black petunias, but there was something awesome about seeing such a well-grown specimen in the middle of winter

 A Canary Island Bellflower (Canarina canariensis), which I had never seen in real life before

The warm orchid house with its huge collection

 A camellia doing its gorgeous thing in the camellia house

They also sell plants at the Lyman Estate Greenhouses, and of course I could not walk away empty-handed. I bought a small sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), a sizeable dutchman's pipe or queen of the night epiphyllum (Epiphyllum oxypetalum), queen's tears (Billbergia nutans), and two little camellia cuttings, one of 'Victory White' and one of 'RL Wheeler'.

Sweet osmanthus or tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans)

Queen's tears (Billbergia nutans); note the lovely deep-blue stripe around the edge of the petals

All of these are things I have been meaning to get a hold of for a while, and the prices were very reasonable. Needless to say I am very happy with my haul.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Addition

While grocery shopping at Trader Joe's yesterday I picked up a new plant on a whim, as one often does. A stately Cymbidium orchid, it is now the biggest plant in the glassed-in porch/plant room and adds not only gorgeous blooms but also a lot of foliage.

Cymbidium cv.

Cymbidiums were never among my favorite orchids until I saw them as glorious outdoor container plants in San Francisco gardens in early spring, lining staircases and flanking doorways. Hopefully I can keep it similarly happy here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Literary Gardens - Part 2: Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa (1899)

Between the freezing cold outside and the kitchen remodel and various minor home improvement projects inside the apartment, there has not been much gardening-related activity here in the last three weeks. I ordered some more seeds which I might post about when they arrive. That being said, the days are getting longer again, an infestation of spider mites that plagued some of my plants over the last two months seems to finally be under control - knock on wood! - and soon it will be time to begin sowing seeds in earnest. In the meantime, here is an intriguing little passage from the Urdu novel Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa that I came across while studying for my general exams. Published in 1899, Umrao Jan Ada is by many considered to be the first real novel in Urdu. It chronicles the life of a tawā'if or courtesan who is also an accomplished poet in the northern Indian city of Lucknow over the course of the 19th century. You can think of it as a sort of early Indian Memoirs of a Geisha, and like that much later American work it has spawned sumptuous cinematic adaptations. Perhaps the most famous is 1981's Umrao Jaan starring Rekha, the most recent a 2006 version with Aishwarya Rai in the title role. The textual passage in question comes from a scene detailing a traditional poetic gathering or mushā'irah early on in the novel, the translation is my own:

اتنے میں ایک آدمی آیا اوراس نے ایک پرچہ  منشی احمد حسین کو دیا۔
منشی:(رقعہ پڑھ کے) لیجئے۔ مرزا صاحب تشریف نہیں لائیں گے۔ غزل تازہ بھیج دی ہے۔
میں نے آدمی سے پوچھا: کیا کر رہے ہیں؟
آدمی: (مسکرا کے) جی حضور سکندر باغ سے سر شام بہت سے انگریزی درختوں کے ناندے لے کے آئے ہیں۔ ان کو گول حوض کے کنارے پتھروں پر سجا رہے ہیں۔ مالی پانی دیتا جاتا ہے۔
رسوا: جی ہاں! انہیں اپنے اعمال سے فرصت کہاں جو مشاعرے میں آئیں۔

In the meantime a man came and gave a slip of paper to Munshi Ahmad Hussain. 
Munshi: (Reading the note) Take this. Mirza Sahib will not be able to grace us with his presence. He has sent a fresh ghazal*.
I asked the man: What is he doing?
The man: (Smiling) Sir, his highness came from Sikandar Bagh** towards evening bringing lots of pots of English trees. He is arranging them on the stones at the edge of the round pool. The gardener goes around watering. 
Ruswa: Yes! Where would he find free time from his activities to attend a mushā'irah. 
(Ruswa 14)

* A ghazal is a form of love lyric with a strict rhyme scheme and other elaborate conventions. It is one of the predominant poetic forms in Persian and Persian-influenced languages like Urdu.
** Sikandar Bagh or "Alexander Garden" is a former royal garden in Lucknow. It now serves as a park and botanical garden.

What would "English trees" have been in Lucknow in the 1890s, well into colonial rule? Clearly Mirza Sahib is rather excited about his acquisition, and as inconsequential as the vignette might be for the plot of the novel, it is an endearing invocation of the excitement of the passionate gardening aficionado.

Rusvā, Mirzā Muḥammad Hādī. Umrāʼo Jān Adā. Naʾī Dihlī : Maktabah Jāmiʻah, 1971.