Monday, August 31, 2009

Food for a hungry man

Last week I had been traveling back and forth between home and western Virginia; my hours were irregular and my eating was even less so. I fell prey to fast food repeatedly. When I got home for good, I wanted a meal high in bulk and fiber and low on fat - something interesting, flavorful and satisfying. Something as simple as a baked potato fills the bill, but it also means an hour wait for it to bake. Yet potato satisfies as few other foods do, so it had to be potato in some form.

The other day I was browsing a WWII era cookbook and came on a recipe which combined mashed potatoes and peanut butter. I was having trouble getting that taste combination in my head, so as soon as I had the chance I tried it. The potatoes were cubed and boiled in chicken stock. When the potatoes were getting soft, they and the stock were put into the food processor. About two tablespoons of peanut butter were added and the mixture was processed enough to make a thin puree. It was too thin, so I added some chunks of stale baguette to thicken it a bit. This basic peanut butter mashed potato combination is good in a bland sort of way. But I wanted something with a bit more presence on the palate. I began to make additions…

Talk about fusion food. Earlier that same day I had been reading a Greek cookbook (think skordalia and taramosalata), and unconsciously those preparations must have guided my next additions. The first additions were a bit of olive oil and some chopped garlic. The result? Good, but I knew it could be better. Then I added some chopped cilantro and the juice of a lime. Now I was getting somewhere.

But it still needed something, and that something was serendipitously on hand: kippers, smoked kippers if that’s not redundant. I say serendipitously because I’m probably the only person in our family who even knows what a kipper is. I broke the kipper up into small pieces and ran the food processor enough to incorporate it thoroughly into the potato mixture.

The final result was comfort food of the best sort – a nice combination of the familiar flavors of the potato, peanut butter and garlic combined with the intriguing, sprightly flavors of the cilantro and lime and the smoky quality imparted by the kippers.

What we didn’t eat right away appeared at lunch the next day, this time as little balls rolled in flour and fried until crisp in olive oil. These were delicious spread on celery.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Glamini glads

This year I’m trialing various garden glads. This week a form new to me has started to bloom. These are sold under the name Glamini Glads.

Experienced gardeners generally have plenty of stories to tell about the absurdities of the mass-distribution catalogs: the hyperbole, the misidentifications, the outrageous colors (blue tulips, roses and dahlias, anyone?) and the dubious hardiness claims. Why this happens is beyond me because, in most cases, the plants themselves deserve better than this shabby treatment.

The catalog entry for these Glamini glads provides a good example. It shows what seem to be typical garden glads cut down and stuffed into a container; such foliage as can be seen is suspiciously short, and the stumpy, graceless inflorescences squirm artlessly upwards as if to distance themselves from the deception taking place below them.

Forget all of that. In the garden these Glamini glads are really graceful and beautiful. They measure over 30” high with three inch flowers. The flower colors are appealing: they remind me of sherbet colors.

Count these as a good addition to our garden flora (at least until the thrips find them).

I purchased these as a mix and then went back to the catalog to identify them as they bloomed. So take the cultivar names given here with a grain of salt. If I've got them right, the one above is 'Emily' and the one below is 'Zoe'.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I wonder where I got it...

Late this afternoon I wandered into the kitchen to look for something. There on the kitchen table was the paper napkin and rows of leaves you see above. Mom had been out in the garden and picked up some crepe myrtle leaves which were showing early color. She has an eye for leaves showing unusual color patterns or particularly vivid color. In a few weeks she'll be bringing in leaves of the Franklin tree (glorious, waxy scarlet) and any others which catch her eye.

I have memories from early childhood of short neighborhood trips mom, my sister and I took to collect leaves, acorns, grasses, feathers - whatever chance and the season offered. My sister would have been in the Taylor Tot at that age, I would have been four or five.

Mom got us pointed in the right direction at an early age.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Satin'

A plant of Hibiscus syriacus ‘Blue Satin’ was obtained earlier this year. I’ve had my eye on this cultivar for several years, and I’ve always hesitated. Why have I hesitated? Because Hibiscus syriacus cultivars, with the exception of some notable cultivars to be mentioned later, have the potential to infest your garden with hundreds of unwanted seedlings. This small shrub is one of the ultimate pass-along plants: so much so that there is inescapably something trashy and weedy about it. It’s often seen flourishing on abandoned inner-city lots and other waste places. It’s widely known as Rose of Sharon or called Althaea, a name sometimes used as the generic name of hollyhocks. They are both members of the mallow (hibiscus) family, Malvaceae.

These blue-flowered cultivars of Hibiscus syriacus (there is also ‘Blue Bird’) become a nuisance once they begin to bloom freely. One must either pick off the spent blooms frequently or be prepared to pull seedlings for years. But are there any other large-flowered, blue-flowered hardy shrubs for their season? I can’t think of any with large flowers. There are the various Buddleja, Vitex and Caryopteris, but all of those depend on flower clusters for effect: the individual flowers are tiny.

Individual blooms of ‘Blue Satin’ are about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. The color is hard to describe. Early in the morning, out of direct sun light, they seem blue, the sort of blue seen in some hardy Geranium. By noon, in bright sunlight the magenta tones are strengthened, and the color, to my eyes at least, is much less attractive. The same thing happens with the blue-flowered garden geraniums I know. Of the images shown above, the upper one was made before the sun struck the bloom, the lower one was made in full sunlight.

Something really exciting happened in the Rose-of-Sharon world in 1970: the United States National Arboretum named and introduced the beautiful triploid cultivar ‘Diana’. Not only was it beautiful, it rarely produces seed. No trash plant this, it’s a beautiful addition to our summer garden flora. The tantalizing excitement continued in 1980 when the Arboretum introduced three more of these triploid cultivars, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Helene’ and ‘Minerva’.

Exciting as these cultivrs are, they are not the plant for which some of us were patiently waiting. The untimely death of Donald R. Egolf, who had guided the development of these cultivars, evidently brought an end to this line of breeding. What we are still waiting for, of course, is a triploid, seed-free, blue-flowered Hibiscus syriacus.

Until that happens, if you want a blue-flowered Rose of Sharon be prepared to spend a lot of time cleaning up after its prodigious seedling production.

For more information about the US National Arboretum introductions, check out these links:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lycoris squamigera is a tough one!

When I left the garden shown in the Lycoris squamigera in a country garden series, I was carrying a bag of Lycoris squamigera bulbs. My hostess offered them to me with the comment that they had been dug earlier in the spring. As she returned from the house with the bulbs, my expectations rose because she had a plastic grocery bag with what seemed to be a muskmelon-sized lump. As soon as she handed the bag to me, my hopes were dashed: the bag weighed about as much as a peanut and, as a discrete squeeze revealed, seemed to contain only chaff.
When I got to the car, I took a closer look. Yes, the bulbs were extremely desiccated; but they seemed to have a solid core. Maybe a bit of life lurked in some of them.
I soaked them at the first chance, and something amazing happened. Within a few hours those bulbs went from featherweight ghosts to heavy, plump, seemingly normal bulbs. I was amazed, although I should not have been. I’ve known Nerine to do the same thing: shrink down from a two inch diameter bulb to a pencil-thin core during the dry season and then miraculously plump up with the first good soaking.
Those Lycoris squamigera bulbs are not wasting any time: they are already sprouting new roots!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lycoris squamigera in a country garden

At about this time last year I stumbled upon a small country garden full of Lycoris squamigera. A knock on the door of the house did not bring an answer, and I was reluctant to enter the garden without permission. It was very tempting, especially since the garden was unfenced and very welcoming.

I was in the same area this weekend and took a detour from my planned route to see if I could find this same garden this year. Not only did I find it; this time the mistress of the garden was on hand to invite me in and tell me a bit about the history of the garden and its plants. I was probably there for about two hours: an hour and forty-five minutes chatting and fifteen minutes photographing plants.

I would not be surprised to hear that others have seen similar gardens in the small towns nestled in farming country across the land. The garden I visited Friday was bright with phlox, August lilies, physostegia, perennial herbaceous hibiscus and balloon flower. But the real show came from the hundreds of Lycoris squamigera.

I hope everyone enjoys these pictures. They are a glimpse of a form of gardening which is probably slowly disappearing. And only someone with very deep pockets indeed would be able to plant Lycoris squamigera in this quantity now.
Be sure to click on the images to see the enlarged version.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lycoris longituba

The genus Lycoris has had an interesting history in our gardens. Some, such as Lycoris squamigera and L. sanguinea, were well known in New England gardens a century ago. Others, such as L. radiata, became naturalized in the Gulf states. L. squamigera became the common Lycoris of the North and L. radiata became the common species in the South. Other species were imported occasionally, but the stocks were typically mixed, there were the usual problems with accurate nomenclature, and commercial nurserymen here in the US did not take them up enthusiastically. Nor, it seems, did the gardening public. Was there ever a "Lycoris Society" ? I don't think so. One Sam Caldwell made a stir about forty years ago by showing a nice range of hybrids. Few people back then had ever seen a Lycoris seed, much less a home grown hybrid. Nothing permanent seems to have come from Caldwell's work.
Now there are probably more varied Lycoris available than at any time in the past. Hardy yellow-flowered Lycoris, long a holy grail of Lycoris enthusiasts, are now readily available. More to the point, there are now several Lycoris forms readily available which set viable seed: these promise an even brighter future for these plants in our gardens.

The plant shown here, Lycoris longituba, is a relatively new arrival in my garden. These were obtained in 2007 and are blooming here for the first time this year. This Lycoris longituba is said to be a good species, good in the sense that it sets viable seed which, if grown on, produce more Lycoris longituba. But from what I've read, the cultivated stocks seem to be variable.

The catalog description led me to expect white-flowered plants. Indeed, from a distance they do look white. But close up it becomes apparent that the color is more complex: the white is suffused with orange and yellow, giving an orange-juice-in-milk effect. It's very beautiful.

The fragrance of this one is pleasant, a quality it does not share with all of its relatives. The plant we call Lycoris squamigera, for instance, has a scent which to me is the scent of vinyl.

For the future: there are at least two different (purportedly) yellow-flowered species growing here: I'll show those when and if they bloom.

What triggers bloom in Lycoris? So far, it seems to be an unsolved mystery.