Friday, June 30, 2017

Love Wins

Today the parliament of the country of my birth, and which I still consider home as much as the US, has finally decided that I, and millions like me, deserve to be equal citizens under the law, that love is love.

German Parliament Votes to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

It did so after years of sometimes downright petty opposition and obstruction from Chancellor Merkel and the more conservative sections of her party. Today even close to a quarter of her own party's parliamentarians chose to stand on the right side of history and to support love rather than discrimination, prejudice, and hate. The most die-hard of bigots will likely try to raise the issue to the Supreme Court. One can only hope that reason will prevail and nothing will come of these reactionary and malicious efforts.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Rice - A Lament

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will have probably noticed that I have a thing for rice. It is not only my favorite grain to eat but also my favorite grass to grow. To me, nothing quite compares to the brilliant green of rice foliage. I can obsess over the subtle differences between varieties - in habit, in the shape and size of the grain, in culinary characteristics. Not surprisingly, then, growing rice has always been an aspiration for me. As a child in Germany this was a challenge since unhulled rice capable of germinating, let alone any specifically sold as seed, was not available. When I finally got some seed it was by pulling it out of a dried flower arrangement featuring some panicles of rice in a restaurant in Portugal's main rice growing region near Alcácer do Sal and by writing to a botanical garden specializing in tropical crops - we have such a thing in Germany, oddly located in a small central German town called Witzenhausen - which eventually sent me a small packet of the Italian short grain variety 'Balilla'. I even once managed to extract a single grain that had somehow escaped hulling and polishing from a bag of white rice and got it to germinate. All of those resulted in vigorous plants but when it came to heading the panicles would never fully emerge and the little hulls become mottled with dark brown spots before even opening to flower. I never managed to harvest a single grain from all those plants.

Freshly planted rice in the New England garden two years ago

After moving to America I did not get my hands on rice seed for years, and then in college I also did not have an outdoor space where I could have grown rice. Only in recent years did I get to try again, after being so lucky as to get a balcony and a nice bit of garden space and coming across seeds of some rice varieties offered online - including seeds of the Russian variety 'Duborskian' grown in New England. Since then I have been experimenting with an ever larger variety of mostly heirloom rice varieties. The first two years they grew very well, though only some varieties - those less reliant on shorter days to induce heading - actually flowered in time to produce ripe grain.

My little plot of rice in early summer

Encouraged by these successes - and determined to succeed with a greater range of rice types - I added even more varieties and space dedicated to rice last year. However, there were problems right from the get-go. When the seedlings where just coming up in the sun room in April, a mouse got in the house and one night went on a devastating rice sprout binge. Thereafter not only did I have to restart a substantial portion of my transplants but in an effort to keep them safe from a mouse that forever escaped capture, I also kept them in places considerably less favorable to growth than the bright warm sun room. Consequently, the seedlings that eventually went outside were smaller and sicklier than they should be. Add to this a cool, wet June and they did not really take off until July. Even so, several varieties were ripening nicely by mid-fall; I managed to harvest most of the 'Duborskian' but just as other varieties started joining the party mice invaded the garden and within days decimated the harvest.

Ripe 'Duborskian' rice

In desperation, I dug up the best plants of the rarest varieties I was growing, potted them up and brought them inside to finish ripening. Some managed to; then the mice found their way inside once again and we battled an infestation until after Christmas. Here in Delhi I had not necessarily planned to grow any rice in my little balcony garden. Then I bought a bundle of mint at the neighborhood grocery store and it was tied with a rice stalk with a panicle full of ripe grain so of course I had to plant them. I started a few, the seedlings came up nicely, I bought some pots without drainage holes - the only ones I could find were plastic - and potted them up, only to the see them rapidly get sick and wither away. Birds destroyed two more seedlings. I started over and tried different soil but the same happened again. Finally I planted my last handful of seed but of these only one germinated. That seedling is now planted in a regular clay pot and so far is doing well, fingers crossed. Struggling to grow rice successfully in New England, where rice is hardly a long-standing crop - although there have been amateur growers for a while, and there are small commercial efforts in Vermont and Maine - is one thing, but failing in Delhi, a city surrounded by large-scale commercial rice growing in Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh, is truly frustrating. So here is to hoping...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Eid Mubarak!

عید مبارک

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2017

I am afraid I do not have terribly much to report for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day from my little balcony garden in Delhi this month. This time of the year, at the end of the hottest part of the year,   flowering here is at a bit of a low point, and most of what is in bloom are woody vines and trees. My young plant collection lacks both of those so all I can offer at the moment are some Madagascar periwinkles (Catharanthus roseus) and Portulaca.

One color of Madagascar periwinkle...

... and another

Portulaca grandiflora flanked by Bassia scoparia

Meanwhile, in the garden back in New England quite a few things are of course blooming, and the husband extraordinaire sent some pictures:
A newly planted Lantana

Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa), which I have been trying to establish in the garden for a few years, finally taking off

Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora)

Hopefully next month I will have more flowers to show from my efforts here. In the meantime, head over to May Dreams Gardens to see what is blooming elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


I am back in my New England garden for a quick visit after having been away for six months; the garden is in great shape overall but what has been particularly interesting is to see which plants of questionable hardiness have made it through the winter and which have not. A lot of my plantings are  a bit of a gamble in that way. Moreover, since I was going to be away this year, last fall I planted out a few things that I would have otherwise overwintered indoors on the off chance that they might make it. There have been a few real surprises among those plants that made it and those that did not. Complete losses that I had not anticipated included all the fancy florist's chrysanthemums I grew last year as well as all my Parma violets. I knew their hardiness here would be borderline but in our relatively protected garden and with heavy mulching I was not expecting them to be gone entirely. Similarly, Opuntia cacanapa 'Ellisiana' is completely gone, while the native Opuntia humifusa is flourishing and  Opuntia phaecantha, too, is doing very well. Two year-old cuttings of 'Chicago Hardy' fig froze back a bit but are sprouting vigorously. The heirloom dahlia 'Mrs. I. de ver Warner', known for its atypical hardiness, survived its second winter in the ground unscathed, but another modern dahlia hybrid in a much more exposed spot also survived, even though it is much further behind in leafing out. The poppies Argemone platyceras and Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum also survived quite happily, and so did all my Kniphofia uvaria seedlings. A healthy 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' rose that should be hardy died while a Phygelius that had not even been happy during the summer is resprouting, if weakly. The foliage of my saffron crocuses, now in their third year, should still be green and photosynthesizing, making food reserves for the corms to power good flowering in the fall, but it has already disappeared almost entirely. I suspect a lack of snow cover during the coldest parts of winter and munching by the rabbits that usually stay in the neighbors' grassier yard are to blame. In any case, I will probably have to replant my saffron patch after this year. On the positive side, by far the most surprising survivals were two tuberoses in a raised bed and, completely unexpected, a seedling Canna indica in a clay pot completely exposed on the front steps of the house. Granted, they are small individual sprouts emerging from formerly sizeable root stocks but even so it is impressive.

Opuntia phaecantha

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) with a 'Color Guard' yucca sprout

'Chicago Hardy' fig

Dahlia 'Mrs. I. de ver Warner'

A tiny tuberose sprout 

A little Canna sprout emerging from a pot that spent the winter on the front steps

The lessons to be drawn from this, I guess, are to a) overwinter cuttings of all fancy chrysanthemums inside, b) experiment with tuberoses planted out and heavily mulched for winter, c) try more dahlias besides 'Mrs. I. de ver Warner' as permanently planted perennials with some winter protection. Always learning!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

La vie en rose

The balcony garden is still coming along slowly. There have been some new additions, and some of the plants that for a long time did not seem to do much are beginning to take off, perhaps finally over transplant shock and helped along by recent rains and a bit of a drop in temperatures. Here are just a few snapshots of mainly pink things providing color right now - I will have to make sure to add more other colors as I keep collecting plants:

A caladium I picked up on a whim

This Portulaca grandiflora had more deep-pink striations on the flowers when I bought it; hopefully it will return

One of three colors of Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus rosea) that I have

My little heirloom rose reblooming just a bit in the heat

Hopefully with monsoon rains coming in a few weeks, the balcony will continue to get more lush. I recently got two banana saplings, which should add lots of foliage once they get going. Perhaps some fast-growing vines would also be good to extend the green upwards more...