Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Cool House

The Philadelphia home - and a bit of garden - of the people behind two Instagram accounts I love, Neal Santos and Andrew Olson, was featured on Design Sponge.

In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home with an Urban Farm

Check it out for lots of plants, creative design, and adorable dogs!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Weekend Trip: United States Botanic Garden, Washington, DC

We went on a quick trip to Washington, DC, this weekend, primarily for a holiday dinner for the husband's job. Among sightseeing, meeting up with friends and various wonderful meals we managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the US Botanic Garden with its impeccably maintained greenhouse plantings. As always there was a lot to see, so here are just a few snapshots:

A picture-perfect cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) laden with fruit in the entrance hall

A big pot full of a Hippeastrum cultivar

One of many Paphiopedilum hybrids on display

A very delicate white Oncidium

 A lovely Cyclamen mirabile

The garden was busier than on any of my previous visits. It being a weekend close to the holidays there were lots of families with children, escaping the freezing temperatures outside and looking at the seasonal Christmas-themed displays. It made for a less peaceful experience, but it was also nice to see so many people and especially kids admire and get excited about plants.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Festive Reds

I was not really intentional but somehow most of the flowers blooming on my window sills right now are a Christmas-y red, as if to complement the season.

A red flowering maple (Abutilon x hybridum)

An impatiens (Impatiens walleriana cv.) that I brought in from the balcony before it got too cold

A pelargonium - somehow these always flower better for me in early winter and mid-spring right after they have been brought in and shortly before they go back outside than during the summer on the balcony

A potted chili plant I brought inside because it was still full of fruit

A little poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) - this one of course was an intentional Christmas addition

Outside meanwhile the garden is now beginning to really go dormant. Several days of hard freezes are predicted for the coming week. I do hope that we get a bit of snow before the worst of the cold so that the plants will at least be a bit more insulated.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Last Bouquet

The nights are getting frostier now, so today I cut some flowers still blooming in the garden in case the cold would get to them otherwise.

A little bouquet of late-season color

There are still chrysanthemums, of course, and the self-sown garland chrysanthemums (Glebionis coronaria) are still putting out new flowers, too. A lot of the lavender put out a second flush in fall that still continues on due to the chilly temperatures, and the perpetual carnations have set lots of buds since the weather has gotten cooler and wetter. What I did not expect was that strawflowers would hold out so long, producing new flowers through short days and near-freezing temperatures.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rare Potatoes

Another piece on a cool heirloom vegetable and its relationship to a particular place:

Die schlauesten Bauern haben die teuersten Kartoffeln

Unfortunately it is only in German but there are some other articles in English about the Bonnotte potato and Noirmoutier to be found online, though most do not seem to be able to see much beyond the oddity of a pricey potato.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


A few days ago, I used some of my homegrown saffron and rice for the for the first time. The only rice variety of which I harvested enough that I felt that I could spare some seeds to try cooking with rather than keeping them all was the short grain 'Duborskian'. With short grain rice and saffron, I decided to give Risotto alla Milanese a try, a dish in which these two ingredients take center stage. I used this recipe from Saveur, though as a vegetarian I left out the bone marrow and replaced the chicken stock with vegetable stock.

Some threads of my homegrown saffron and hulled 'Duborskian' rice

A closer look at the hulled rice grains

The most time-consuming part of the process was hulling the rice grains, which I did with my kitchen pestle and mortar. After dislodging the hulls this way, it took lots of tedious hand picking to separate out the grains.

The finished risotto

The preparation of the risotto itself was faster, even if it is not the quickest dish. It turned out rather well for being my first attempt at risotto. More importantly, perhaps, they rice and saffron I grew worked just as they should in this dish. Maybe next I will try the saffron in a sweet dish..

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Happy Advent!

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and being German that means I had to put together my Advent wreath and light the first candle.

The first light on the Advent wreath

Thanks to the wreath the living room now smells wonderfully of pine. There is really nothing that makes it feel more like Christmas.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Planting More Bulbs

On Friday I volunteered with the Rose Fitzgerald Greenway Conservancy to plant bulbs with a group from my husband's place of work. We planted over five thousand bulbs in three hours - various species of Allium and narcissi, Chionodoxa and species tulips. It was a lovely fall day, and it felt good to spread around some beauty.

Loads of narcissi laid out for planting

Apart from fall foliage, there were also a few things still blooming and a few things just beginning to bloom around us in the Greenway's gardens as we were working.

Some of the last blooms of the fall-flowering Crocus speciosus

An early Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)

Today is decidedly gloomier and colder. Perhaps our first frost will finally arrive tonight. On the other hand, the latest of my chrysanthemums are only now beginning to really bloom.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Quick Excursion: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Today I spent some time at two of the wonderful museums we have relatively nearby, the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The latter does have a lovely little Japanese Garden, but as it was already almost dusk by the time I got there I did not visit it this time. However, the former is chock-full of horticultural interest - in fact, as much of the art there, while impressive and of great significance, is not exactly my cup of tea, the plant displays are for me the main attraction!

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's iconic courtyard, with its tree ferns and the late-fall display of chrysanthemums

Another courtyard view

17th-century Mexican tiles in the museum's Spanish Cloister

A decorative wood carving

Detail of a Japanese screen showing the red wild form of Camellia japonica

In the greenhouse

Flowers, foliage, and fruit in the greenhouse

One of many perfect citrons

 Massive bicolor chrysanthemums

A very happy Paphiopedilum lady's slipper

Very tall orchid inflorescences of a species unknown to me 

 'Lili Gallon', a chrysanthemum that has yet to fully open in my own garden, as a disbud with a single giant flower per stem

'Kokka Bunmi', another variety I have been growing, as a disbud

Some beautiful red chrysanthemums grown in a more relaxed manner

I really should make more of an effort to make it to the museum more frequently to see the different seasonal floral displays. In particular, I have yet to see the famous display of nasturtiums trailing down the courtyard façades in April. The chimney bellflowers (Campanula pyramidalis) in late summer, too, are quite unique and must be worth seeing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2016

We have had a very mild fall so far - the climate change perhaps that this country's new regime will be so vigorously and dementedly denying? - with predicted freezing temperatures having failed to actually arrive three times so far. The one upside, perhaps, is that we still have quite a few flowers in bloom.

The last of the Abyssinian gladioli (Gladiolus murielae)

Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), revived by the cool, wet weather

One of the last of the strawflowers (Xerochrysum bracteatum)

Bidens pilosa or Bidens alba - I never know which one it is that pops up in our garden

A pale calendula (Calendula officinalis)

A big, wonderfully butter yellow chrysanthemum, grown from a potted plant bought at Trader Joe's for Chinese New Year last winter

French marigolds (Tagetes patula) still blooming

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) positively glowing

Tassel flower (Emilia javanica)

Chrysanthemum 'River City'

 A vigorous red dahlia whose name unfortunately escapes me

Chrysanthemum 'Samson'

 'Slater's Crimson China'

Chrysanthemum 'Kokka Bunmi'

 The indefatigable purple ice plant (Delosperma cooperi)

Chrysanthemum 'Emperor of China'

 Chrysanthemum 'Cambodian Queen'

To see what is blooming elsewhere, do check out many other garden bloggers' current blooms at May Dreams Gardens!

Monday, November 14, 2016

An American Survivor

For the past week, I have been all but paralyzed with the terror of what is happening to this country, the way racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia and all sorts of other hatred and bigotry, as well as just plain apathy and ignorance, have seemingly won out and are now threatening to derail and reverse virtually all the progress we have made in the past years. I am still reeling, still very afraid, and still furious. However, there are still flowers, and one of the ones still blooming in my garden in particular is giving me a shred of hope as a symbol, a metaphor of what we all must strive to be - an American survivor.

Dahlia 'Mrs. I. de ver Warner'

'Mrs. I. de ver Warner' is an American dahlia variety introduced in 1920. A descendant of Mexican wildflowers domesticated by the Aztecs, like all dahlias, it survived for decades after disappearing from commercial cultivation and the bulb trade as an heirloom pass-along in some gardens in Kentucky. Most remarkably, it did so as a hardy perennial overwintering in the ground, in a part of the country generally too cold for dahlias to be hardy. It has thrived similarly for me here in New England. There you have it, then - a large, flamboyant, bright pink and hard-working descendant of Mexican immigrants that has survived and flourished through all the indifference and inhospitable conditions this country has thrown at it to produce nothing but beauty. The very essence of what being American should be - needs to be! - all about.

You can read more about the story of 'Mrs. I. de ver Warner' here.

More importantly, here are some ways to get started on doing some good and help write our own story of American survival:

Now go and fight for the America I once believed in and want to believe in again. Fight for an America where I and the people I care about can feel safe. Fight for the survival of the diversity, intellectual vibrancy, and promise of equality that really do make this nation great.