Monday, April 28, 2014


My first-ever order from Old House Gardens arrived today, lovingly packed and with a hand-written note on the invoice. They are a small company that specializes in rare and heirloom bulbs based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not very far from where I spent my teenage years and where my parents still live. I got two types of tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) and some pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora). The former I have long loved and in fact once grew successfully as a child in Germany - probably with a healthy dose of beginner's luck - and the latter have caught my attention a bit more recently during my trips to India, where they are among the more common garden bulbs and often seem to thrive on neglect. Hopefully I will be able to repeat my early successes with the tuberoses and the rain lilies will be as happy with me as they are in front yards and in pots on roof terraces in India. Most of the bulbs from Old House Gardens do not come cheap but I hope that the quality will be higher than what one sees in stores around here. Besides, a lot of their offerings are just so tantalizing. I am already pondering whether I will have to have some of those double hyacinths, dagger-petaled Ottoman-style tulips, and oh-so-pretty jonquils and tazettas come fall, even if they cost several times as much as their more ordinary cousins available at the big-box stores or local garden center.

My order from Old House Gardens, with the planting instructions and catalog that were included in the package

In other news, the first bud of the curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) opened today. The fragrance is not as strong as that of its more ornamental cousin the orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata) and decidedly spicier, with a hint of the aroma of the leaves which are one of the distinctive flavorings of South Indian cooking.

Curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) in bloom

Now back to my research, which at the moment consists to a large extent of reading historic Persian and Sanskrit horticultural manuals. They are great fun for someone in love with both plants and the languages and cultures of South Asia and the Middle East as I am, but they also make me want to grow every plant I read about... Just where could I put a little saffron plot... and where the damask roses, and the blue waterlilies, and those myriad kinds of jasmine...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Unexpected Flowers and Many More Seedlings

One of the indoor plants which I at times thought would not make it through this winter is my little curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), brought back a little over a year ago from a trip to San Francisco. It had grown well enough over the summer, but with declining light and temperatures in the fall it stopped growing and soon after got a vicious spider mite infestation against which nothing seemed to help. A little over a month ago the spider mites finally went away - I am still not entirely sure why - so I decided to give the almost completely defoliated little sapling another chance. I repotted it and moved it to one of the warmest spots in the apartment, on an East-facing window sill next to the stove. Soon after it began to start growing again from the tip of the stem. That in itself was very exciting, but as the new flush unfurled over the last week or so, it turns out that it consists not only of new leaves but also a sizable inflorescence for such a small plant.

Flower buds on curry leaf (Murraya koenigii)

The flowers are evidently not going to be particularly showy but supposedly they will be fragrant, similar to those of the plant's more ornamental cousin orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata). I just hope that this development  really means that the plant is recovering, rather than being some last-ditch effort at reproducing before giving up entirely! That, incidentally, is something I am starting to worry about with regard to my osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), which continues to blossom but has yet to produce any vegetative growth under my care...
Yesterday also saw me pricking out another two batches of seedlings, of 'Old Fashioned Vining' petunia and 'Only the Lonely' ornamental tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). To make room for them, I began moving some of the other hardier seedlings, such as the Portuguese kale, out on to the balcony to harden off and get accustomed to higher light levels before going in the garden proper. Hopefully the lower temperatures predicted for the next couple of days will not be a problem for them.

Seedlings of petunia and ornamental tobacco, alongside Eritrean basil and rice - the latter in particular is coming along great so far and already beginning to display that intense, almost glowing shade of green I so love about rice plants

I had also run out of cell packs for all of the seedlings, so I re-purposed some egg cartons; I hope the baby plants do not mind slumming it for a bit. Now if only these upcoming couple of cool days are the last ones so even the more heat-loving plants can start transitioning to the outdoors. The young egg plants are really getting sick of their crammed window sill quarters, as is all that basil...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Seen on a Spring Walk

Today was sunny and mild, and after planting out some pots of flowering Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête' - they were giving them out for free on campus earlier this week - in the garden downstairs, I went on a bit of a walk around the neighborhood. Magnolias, forsythias, and early ornamental cherries are beginning to bloom, and daffodils, hellebores, and hyacinths are out in full force. Crocuses, Siberian squills, glory-of-the-snow, and other such small early bulbs are already fading fast, disappearing as quickly as they burst into bloom once the snow melts.

Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Cherry blossom time - Higan cherry (Prunus x subhirtella) I think

A small greenhouse filled with a riot of color

On a street I rarely walk along I came across a lean-to greenhouse filled top to bottom with flowers that I had never noticed before. The small space seemed to be completely filled with shelves of Cyclamen, a Calamondin orange (x Citrofortunella microcarpa) full of  bright orange fruit, and clivias, impatiens, and several different varieties of bougainvillea, all in glorious bloom. The garden around the house was rather unremarkable and plain, which I find a bit considering that there is clearly a very skilled gardener behind that greenhouse display.

Friday, April 11, 2014

More Seedlings

I spent a very peaceful afternoon today pricking out seedlings and planting some more seeds. Among those seedlings moved to more spacious quarters were roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Eritrean basil (Ocimum gratissimum), Portuguese kale, and two kinds of marigold.

 Seedlings of Eritrean basil, Portuguese kale, red valerian (Centranthus ruber), garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica); the seemingly empty cell backs on the upper right are standing in water and are planted with rice ('Duborskian' and 'Hmong Sticky')

The additional seeds sown today were of Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi var. franchetti) and orange cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus). Meanwhile, the first patch of fairly hardy transplants, consisting of stocks (Matthiola incana) and some seedlings of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) were moved to the balcony to harden off and get used to the sunlight. In a little while they will be ready to go into the garden downstairs.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring! Spring! Spring!

It is getting warmer outside - today was positively balmy, even if it started with rain and ended quite windy - and inside there are flowers and more and more seedlings coming up every day.

Just a few of the seedlings, mainly marigolds and roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

The last of the indoor balsams

The tiny Osmanthus fragrans, still oh-so-fragrant and flowering more than ever

So far only crocuses and some very early daffodils are in full bloom outdoors but a few more days at these temperatures and the trees and spring bulbs should burst into flower just in time for Easter.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Basil Blossom

Most of my south-facing window sills are fast filling up with seedlings for the garden - stocks, eggplants, chili peppers, parsley, and a number of different basils, to be joined soon by numerous other flowers - and I am so far very happy with how they are all coming along. Perhaps the most vigorous little plants have been those grown from a batch of seed of sacred basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) from Fedco Seeds. They have come up so quickly and enthusiastically, in fact, that yesterday the first flowers appeared.

A pale purple basil bloom on the kitchen window sill

These differ a bit from the holy basil or tulsi I have had from other seed sources, both in how quickly and lustily they have grown and in overall habit and appearance but I am certainly very pleased  with their vigor.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bouquets and Such

One of my Persian teachers came for tea and waffles on Saturday, and brought me a beautiful spring bouquet left over from a function the day before. Made up primarily of hyacinths, it has been perfuming the whole dining room ever since.

Lovely colors, lovely smell

A recent trip to Trader Joe's to buy groceries also had me coming back with a bunch of long pussy willow branches, quite cheap at $2.99. After a few days in a big vase in the sun room, the silky, silvery catkins are beginning to dust over with golden yellow pollen.

Willow catkins - they actually have a faint fragrance

Finally, in a simple glass vase on the dining table, there is currently a single branch of my cane begonia which I cut off after it became top-heavy and began leaning into and smothering neighboring plants.

A branch of cane or angel wing begonia - it holds up very well in the vase

While not as glamorous as the hyacinths and tulips or even as elegant as the willows, I still think it is certain sculptural beauty, and there is something nice about making use of home-grown plant material.