Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Orange chrysanthemums in the front yard

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mystery Flower

I collect seeds. A lot. Often. If I see an interesting plant by the wayside and it has seeds that appear to be ripe, at least a handful will inevitably find its way into my pocket. Most of the time I have a fairly good idea what the plants in question are, but occasionally something just looks nice or is new to me and I decide to give it a try. A plant from one such unidentified batch of seeds fished from a pants pocket weeks later just began blooming, and I was wondering if anyone could tell me what exactly it is - "yellow daisy-like flower" does not make for a particularly precise Google search.

Yellow mystery flower beginning to bloom in the sun room

I planted these seeds in April, and the plant has been slowly but steadily growing in a pot on the balcony all summer. The flower buds appeared rather suddenly and rapidly about three weeks ago, right around the time I moved the plant inside. Given this behavior, I suspect that flowering in this species might be triggered by short days and that it generally blooms in winter.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fall Bounty

My mom just sent this picture of this mornings harvest from the garden in Germany:

'Concord' grapes (Vitis labrusca cv.), walnuts (Juglans regia), and figs (Ficus carica cv.)

Every time I buy walnuts at the store and consider their price I miss the big walnut tree in our front yard in Germany...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Return of the Roses

As anyone who grows them in this part of the world knows, most roses have their peak in May and June around here, and those species and varieties that bloom just once a year generally flower only then. Those roses that are capable of repeat bloom - which includes the modern hybrid teas and those plastic-y "Knock Out" roses that have conquered every strip mall parking lot and suburban front yard in recent years - generally languish somewhat through the hotter part of the summer but then put on another beautiful show as temperatures cool down in the fall. I already posted about 'Gruß an Teplitz' a little while ago, and today I wanted to share a few pictures of the historic China roses 'Old Blush' and 'Slater's Crimson China'.

Rosa 'Old Blush', leaning out from the balcony

Another bloom of 'Old Blush' - note how different the shape is, with many more petals

Rosa 'Slater's Crimson China'

Meanwhile, my mother sent a picture this morning of the beautiful Bourbon variety 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' blooming in our old garden in Germany.

Rosa 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'

Tonight we might get the first frost, so I moved a few more plants inside this afternoon. The roses, though, I do not expect to be fazed by just a light frost. Last year they bloomed well into December.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2015

Fall is in full swing and the nights are getting quite chilly, but there are still quite a few things blooming in the garden. The stars of the show are those plants that only come into bloom at this time of the year. Much like short-lived spring flowers, they are all the more precious because their appearance is so brief and seasonally specific.

Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus)

An orange chrysanthemum...

... and a pale pink one

Heart-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) - these pop up by themselves and can be a bit weedy but their delicate fall bloom is lovely

However, there are also still a few flowers that are just carrying on from summer and will do so until frost cuts them down.

A big red zinnia (Zinnia elegans cv.)

Agastache rupestris

Dahlia 'Mrs. I. de Ver Warner'

 Nicotiana mutabilis

 Abyssinian gladiolus (Gladiolus murielae)

 Nicotiana sylvestris

Finally, there are those cool-season flowers that largely disappear during the heat of summer but now begin to bloom again, reinvigorated by cool weather and fall rains.

'Resina' pot marigold (Calendula officinalis 'Resina')

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

A tall single stock (Matthiola incana cv.)

To see what is currently blooming in other people's gardens, check out May Dreams Gardens.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Searching for Saffron

I am still completely enamored of my saffron crocuses (Crocus sativus). Now in their second year, they are really starting to come into their own. For saffron production the flowers are plucked early in the morning on the day they first open, but if left alone each individual flower actually lasts for two or three days.

In the little saffron plot

Beautiful as it is, and having been cultivated and prized for millenia in various parts of the world, the saffron crocus has also left a trail across a number of literary traditions. In previous posts I have mentioned some things that have been written about it in Persian and English. Here, now, is a Sanskrit verse by the 11th-century Kashmiri poet Bilhaṇa, with my attempt at a translation:

सहोदराः कुङ्कुमकेसराणां भवन्ति नूनं कविताविलासाः।
न शारदादेशमपास्य दृष्टस्तेषां यदन्यत्र मया प्ररोहः।।

sahodarāḥ kuṅkumakesarāṇāṃ bhavanti nūnaṃ kavitāvilāsāḥ |
na śāradādeśam apāsya dṛṣṭas teṣāṃ yad anyatra mayā prarohaḥ||

Those who delight in poetry are truly siblings of the saffron flowers
After leaving the country of Śāradā I have not seen even a trace of them anywhere else.

The "country of Śāradā" refers to Bilhaṇa's homeland of Kashmir; Śāradā, literally "the autumnal one", is an epithet of the goddess Sarasvatī under which she has historically been worshipped in the mountainous region at the northern tip of South Asia. Ruins of a temple complex dedicated to her can still be found in the village of Sharda in the part of Kashmir that now belongs to Pakistan. Sarasvatī is the goddess of learning, music, and the arts, and her association with Kashmir is particularly fitting since in the late Middle Ages Kashmir was famous throughout much of Asia as an unparalleled center of Sanskrit literary scholarship. Yet Kashmir also is - and has been almost since time immemorial - the only place of commercial saffron cultivation in South Asia, and is thus strongly associated with the spice and the plant that produces it. The verse, therefore, builds up dense layers of references to both Kashmir as the land of literary connoisseurship and Kashmir as the home of the saffron crocus. Even the word I translate as "trace", prarohaḥ, literally means "sprout", and the particular name of the goddess that presides over the region's literary achievements that Bilhaṇa chooses to use is simultaneously a reference to the flower's season of bloom - a season which, within the largely tropical world of Sanskrit literature, is in itself somewhat of a specialty of temperate Kashmir.

Another close-up of a gorgeous bloom


Cox, Whitney. "Saffron in the Rasam." South Asian Texts in History: Critical Engagements with Sheldon Pollock. Eds. Yigal Bronner, Whitney Cox, and Lawrence McCrea. Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies, 2011.

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.