Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy First Advent Sunday!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving... and now let the Christmas season begin! As always, my mom has put together a lovely Adventskranz or Advent wreath. You can see those from previous years here, here, here, here, and here.

The first candle lit on the Adventskranz

Wishing everyone very happy holidays!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Put to Bed

This fall has been mild verging on balmy, and so the garden has not gone fully dormant yet. The pot marigolds, stocks and Nicotiana mutabilis are still blooming, and annuals and biennials that relish cool, moist conditions, like garland chrysanthemums (Glebionis coronaria), wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri) and corn and Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas) continue to actively grow, producing wonderfully stout and chubby shoots and foliage. One can only hope that the winter will be snowy and not too cold, so that much of this growth will actually survive and burst into glorious bloom come spring. Nonetheless, after a first real frost earlier this week, I tidied up the garden a bit, cutting down what had been blackened by frost, and covered with thick layers of dry leaves those things that need some protection to make it through the winter.

In the garden today - Nicotiana mutabilis is still going strong, and there is lots of lush foliage of Calendula and other cool-season annuals and biennials; cozy and sheltered under the piles of dry leaves are Jasminum x stephanense, Agapanthus 'Hardy Blue', Dahlia 'Mrs. I. de Ver Warner', and torch lily seedlings (Kniphofia cv.)

The only thing left to do will be to cut down the Nicotianas after the first bout of frost heavy enough to take them out, and then to let things sleep peacefully through the winter - hopefully under a thick insulating blanket of snow - until spring brings new growth and new work.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Still Blooming

I somehow missed Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this month, but there are still some beautiful flowers in the garden that I wanted to share:

Even after a year filled with Calendula blossoms, this might be the biggest and most perfect pot marigold bud I have ever managed to grow

'Resina', bred for commercial use in cosmetics and such, is a bit daintier than the purely ornamental selections of Calendula officinalis, but it is a beauty nonetheless, and in the garden here it flowers almost non-stop, ceasing to bloom only briefly in the hottest weeks of July and August and when the garden is under a thick cover of snow

There is always something exquisite about Petunia exserta, even if its true color is almost impossible to capture, perhaps because it is simultaneously so clearly a petunia and so un-petunia-like

I also did some actual gardening work today - I pricked out a handful of florist's cineraria (Pericallis x hybrida) seedlings. An old English book about gardening in the cold greenhouse says that they go into bloom as soon as they become pot-bound and thus only grow as big as the pots they are in allow. I therefore moved the seedlings directly into fairly big clay pots, even though they are tiny. Hopefully they recover well from the stress of transplanting and grow nicely through the winter. I have visions of big mounds of blooms in all shades of white, pink, purple, and blue come spring...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fragrant Fruit

A few days ago I bought some citrons of the 'Etrog' variety, which I have previously talked about here. Relatively little known today, citrons (Citrus medica) were probably among the earliest citrus fruit to be cultivated and held considerable cultural and economic importance in various part of the world throughout history. They are appreciated as an aromatic for their wonderful scent - the reason I am now keeping mine in a bowl on our dining room table - and as the source of succade used in baking and confectionery. The fragrance of the ripe fruit is strong; it wafts far enough that I randomly catch whiffs of it as I walk through the apartment. It is also quite distinctive: citrusy, but much sweeter than that of lemons and lime, almost floral.

 'Etrog' citrons

As with many species of citrus, it is unclear where exactly the citron originates, but it likely hails from somewhere in South or Southeast Asia. It has been cultivated on the Indian Subcontinent since antiquity, and is probably the most prominent type of citrus in Sanskrit literature. The scholar of Sanskrit and South Asian religions James McHugh writes the following about it in his magisterial Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture:

"This is the fruit of Citrus medica L. This is a large fruit known as a "citron" (cédrat in French), and it is the same fruit known as the etrog used in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This fruit was probably far more culturally prominent in the ancient world than today, no doubt as an important source of citrus scent prior to the ubiquity of oranges, lemons, and other fruit. The citron is somewhat like a large lemon with thick pithy skin, scant internal flesh, and many seeds. The peel (tvac) of this fruit has a lemony citrus fragrance and was used as a mouth freshener. It is mentioned as such in the Kāmasūtra where citron peels (mātuluṅgatvacas) are said to be part of the ideal man-about-town's domestic paraphernalia. As well as the mātuluṅga, it is also known as bījapūra, "full of seeds," and it is a common element in certain iconographies, for example, Jaina sculptures of yakṣīs. A stylized and elongated version of the same fruit is held by the female attendants who adorn the famous Hoysala temple of Somnathpur near Mysore. On these elongated fruits, the knobbles and ridges that are found on some citron varieties are carved in a very regular manner (as is the case for stouter depictions carried by Jain yakṣīs), and the fruit, therefore, somewhat resembles a rather pointy, dehusked ear of maize. On the basis of these sculptures, it has been mistakenly suggested that maize was present in India prior to its introduction from the New World. The great irony of this claim is that it obscures the significance of South Asia as the origin of many citrus species." (McHugh 68-69)

A medieval Sanskrit tree cultivation manually prosaically entitled Vṛkṣādīnāṃ ropaṇādiprakaraṇa or "The manner of planting, etc., for trees, etc."  devotes three verses to the care of the citron, more than it dedicates to most other garden trees of classical India:


शृगालमीनखण्डे तु मूले दत्ते सुवेगतः।
बीजपूरी फला दुग्धगुडमांसजलोक्षिता।।

पिण्याकमदिराबीजमत्स्याखुपललेन च।
सिद्धेन वारिणा युक्ता बीजपूरी बृहत्फला।।


ṛgālamīnakhaḍe tu mūle datte suvegata
bījapūrī phalā dugdhaguḍaṃsajalokṣitā

piṇyākamadirābījamatsyākhupalalena ca
siddhena vāriṇā yuktā bījapūrī bṛhatphalā

 Watered with water mixed with sesame meal and meat of mice, fish, and hog
The citron shall be bending under a wealth of many heavy fruits.

   And when given pieces of jackal and fish at the root and watered with milk with palm sugar and meat
The citron will rapidly fruit.

And treated with a perfected paste of asafoetida, liquor, marrow, fish, and mice,
 Along with water,  the citron bears huge fruit.

Whether this cultivation advice is to be taken at face value I will leave open to debate for now, but I will definitely plant some of the seeds from these citrons when they no longer look nice enough for the dining room table and see what will grow.

McHugh, James. Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 2012.  
Sureśvara. Vṛkṣāyurveda: Das Wissen von der Lebensspanne der Bäume. Rahul Peter Das, trans. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1988.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happy Deepavali!

"A row of lights" - the literal meaning of "Deepavali"

शुभ दीपावली!