Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

The first snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) of the season, spotted on a walk the other day

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Everything is all set, the tree is up, the presents spread out underneath it, and I am sitting down with a big pot of tea (rose green tea from Kusmi, one of my current favorites). Wishing everyone very happy holidays!

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Tears of a Queen?

My specimen of queen's tears (Billbergia nutans), which I have had for just about a year and which has tripled in size in that time period, is just beginning to bloom again. So far there are three inflorescences, each promising a cascade of green blossoms edged with shimmering peacock blue suspended from an arching stem covered in pale pink bracts.

Queen's tears (Billbergia nutans)

These are fast becoming my favorite bromeliad, although I would also like to have some Aechmea fasciata again like I did as a kid in Germany. Back then I got the offsets from my great-aunts, who all had windowsills full of that species. I very rarely see it in nurseries and florist's shops now and when it does show up the price always seems outrageous for what is often not even a particularly sturdy and well-grown looking plant...

Happy Fourth Advent Sunday!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Flowers for the Season

Two trips to Trader Joe's in the last couple of days each had me returning home with some bargain-priced holiday cheer of the floral variety. Three days ago I came back with a $2.99 poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Today it was a beautiful Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) priced at $9.99 - three weeks ago the fancy florist's shop down the street wanted $29.99 for specimens that were in no way any nicer!

Red poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

 Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)

Meanwhile, the forsythia branches I brought back from the Michigan garden to force have begun to open their first buds, over a week ahead of schedule.

Forced forsythia branches blooming

Sometime in the next couple of days I should also go and get a Christmas tree before all the nice ones are gone...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Bit of Inspiration

This summer I came across this brief article - more of a photo essay really - about myriad small yellow flowers appearing in the lawns around the Tomb of Humayun in Delhi during the summer monsoon rains. Somehow the images stuck in the back of my mind; I think it would be a lovely effect to try to recreate in the garden.

City Nature - Yellow Flowers, Humayun's Tomb

The flowers are yellow rain lilies (Zephyranthes citrina). They are native to Mexico and are only supposed to be hardy to zone 7 but I wonder if in a sheltered spot and with some winter protection they might make it here. They certainly seem to be carefree and prolific in climates that agree with them.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Indoor Garden

A little over a year ago I visited a friend in New Orleans. I came back with a bag full of plants and lots of seeds, including several handfuls of Canna indica seeds gathered in the lush, overgrown backyard of the building where she was living at the time. In late winter I planted them in a pot and kept them warm and moist on the window sill along with the other seeds I was sowing. Nothing happened. Everything else germinated, but not the Canna seeds. Eventually, some time in early June, I gave up and threw the contents of the pot onto one of the raised beds. Lo and behold, in late July a little seedling finally appeared between the eggplants. Once it had a few leaves I potted it up and brought it to the balcony, and in October it moved to its winter quarters in the sun room. Shortly afterwards it began to send up further shoots from its expanding rhizome - there are three so far! - and today it opened its first flower. I was expecting the typical orange-red most common in the wild form but instead got a lovely bright yellow with striking red leopard flecks on some of the petals.

My Canna indica seedling blooming for the first time

The sun room is looking nice and lush otherwise as well. Here is a quick look around:

One day I will figure out some elegant way to cover up the space below the plant benches. Maybe I can grow enough trailing plants to curtain at least a good part of it. Then again, their pots would take up a lot of space on the benches themselves...

Winter Jasmine!

As I mentioned a few days ago, I was expecting the branches of winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) I cut at my parents' place in Michigan over Thanksgiving to come into bloom very quickly. Today the first blossoms opened, a rich saturated yellow that ought to drive away any winter gloom.

 Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

One ought to have enough of this plant in the garden to always be able to bring in a few branches for forcing. Generally a pretty carefree plant, it really seems to appreciate lots of water throughout the growing season. The plants in the Michigan garden had never before grown as much or set as many buds as this summer, which was much cooler and wetter than usual.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Happy Second Advent Sunday!

Our somewhat improvised Advent wreath

Thursday, December 4, 2014


December 4 is Barbaratag, the feast day of Saint Barbara, which according to German tradition is the day to bring in branches of flowering trees and shrubs to force into bloom for Christmas. I actually cut mine a few days early when we were at my parents' house in Michigan for Thanksgiving last week. Like last year, I got some big branches from the forsythia hedge, but this year I also cut a small bundle twigs studded with flower buds from the winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum).

Forsythia branches... Disregard all the unsightly technology in the background

Twigs of winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

The jasmine is a bit of an experiment, but considering that even outside it will start flowering during mild spells in the middle of winter - in the milder and wetter climate of my childhood hometown in southwestern Germany it produces veritable cascades and curtains of bright yellow for much of the coldest part of the year - I suspect that it will actually begin blooming well before Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2014

More Saffron!

Today was an unseasonably warm day, and I came home to find a few more blooms in my new saffron bed in an otherwise wintry garden.

Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) in the garden today

Also, since in my last saffron post I included an 18th-century Persian-language reference to the saffron crocus from India, here is another text about Crocus sativus and its cultivation from the same time period but a rather different cultural context, namely England:

Saffron culture appears to have been quite important in England during that time. The town of Saffron Walden even got its name from the pretty little spice plant.