Saturday, December 29, 2012

'Mrs. Aaron Ward': A rose and her eponym

I have a small rooted cutting of the early twentieth century rose 'Mrs. Aaron Ward' coming along in the garden now. My plant is of the climbing form discovered in the early Twenties; the original bush form was introduced in 1906-7.  It has not yet bloomed here. I've assembled an interesting collection of older roses, and now I'm busy keeping my nose buried in old books to track down more information about them.

Earlier this year a newspaper article on the release to the public of a treasure trove of digitized versions of old lantern slides prepared from photographs of Frances Benjamin Johnston got my attention. At the time I went to the website for these and took a look:  there are thousands of slides to be seen.  For a Christmas present this year Wayne gave me a copy of the newly published volume by Sam Watters on the life and work of early twentieth century photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, Gardens for a Beautiful America 1895-1935,  Acanthus Press, New York, 2012. This is illustrated with a selection of lantern slides from the Library of Congress collection here:

I've just started with this one, but no sooner had I skimmed the contents than I hit pay dirt: there is a photo there captioned "Rear Admiral Aaron and Elizabeth Cairns Ward, circa 1914" .  On the opposite page is another photo captioned "Willomere, Real Admiral Aaron Ward House, Roslyn Harbor, New York. Rose Garden, circa 1914". I'll stick my neck out and say that the rose garden photo shows an extensive planting of  the rose 'Mrs. Aaron Ward'. The height and the color look right: this is known to be a very variable rose in terms of color, and the colors shown in the image seem right on to me.

Keep in mind that these are not the sort of color slide transparencies we were used to until the arrival of digital photography. They are in fact an example of an amazing hybrid technology in use at the time: the monochrome slide original was painstakingly hand tinted resulting in something which is neither simply a photograph nor a painting.  The photographer generally gets the credit for these images, yet the person who did the tinting was at least an equal partner. The colorist for Johnston's slides was one Grace Smith Anderson  according to Watters' text. These tinted slides can produce magical effects, effects unique to the process used to make them. No modern color photograph is apt to approach the moodily atmospheric effects seen in these slides.

And here are two of the Ward images from the Library of Congress collection (both of these are included in Gardens for a Beautiful America 1895-1935):


Next June look for an image of the rose!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

From the garden on Christmas Day

The venerable tradition of keeping tabs on what is in bloom in the garden on Christmas Day and New Year's Day is one I enthusiastically observe. The climate here, especially in the past, was not always supportive of this; but recent years have been so mild that local gardeners are turning in the sort of lists which in the past we thought were unlikely outside of the milder parts of England. 

I have my favorites among winter flowering plants, and one in particular, the Algerian iris, makes me feel that we are really in the running in the pursuit of this sport. And by "we" I mean those of us in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Many of us tried to grow this plant in the past, and few if any of us saw flowers. The developing buds evidently freeze readily, and although the plants survived from year to year, the flowers did not develop properly. But recent winters have been different, and it's a real pleasure to see it blooming each year now. That's it center right in the image above. 

The image above does not give the full roll call of today's garden: I had cut some Helleborus foetidus for this group, but they got lost along the way and I did not notice their absence until the images had been made. Winter honeysuckle has buds today but no open flowers. Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, is in advanced bud only. 

Here's what's in the group above: how many can you pick out? Look for these: Camellia sasanqua, Jasminum nudiflorum, Iris unguicularis, rose hips, Narcissus tazetta, Chimonanthus praeox 'Luteus', Adiantum venustum, Adiantum capillus-veneris, Skimmia "Brookside", Ruscus aculeatus, Smilax smallii, Smilax laurifolia, Arum italicum, Galanthus elwesii, Rosa 'Safrano', Iris foetidissima, Hedera helix 'Manda's Crested', Viola walteri, Cyclamen persicum, garden hellebores and (mostly hidden) a leaf of Fatsia japonica.  

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Allium oschaninii French Gray Shallot

This is the French gray shallot which, as it turns out, is botanically distinct from the shallots of grocery stores ( or at least the grocery stores where I shop). The grocery store shallot is botanically a form of the culinary onion, Allium cepa. The French gray shallot is a distinct species, Allium oschaninii. There is a school of thought which claims that the French gray is the true shallot, and while that point of view might have merit, for practical purposes it's about as significant as the distinction sometimes made between cassia (what most of us  - "us" in this case being most of us Americans - know as cinnamon) and "true" or Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon are distinct in taste, and shallots of the onion sort and French gray shallots are distinct in taste. All have their uses.

The gray shallot originated in the middle east where it still grows wild. We call them French gray shallots probably for the same reason we call dwarf box "English" box: because that's where our predecessors more than likely got them. French gray shallots are not native to France.

As far as I know, both culinary onions and garlic are known only as cultivated plants; culinary onions are grown from seed, but garlic apparently is not known to produce seed. My French gray shallots have not bloomed here, and I don't know if they produce viable seed or not. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Iris unguicularis

Iris unguicularis, the Algerian iris, began to bloom last week; the flower you see in the image above is the second to appear this season. This species has the potential to bloom from November right through April. The plant shown above grows in a cold frame; another one grows nearby outside the frame.

The flower buds are very sensitive to freezing in my experience, so the plants get covered on cold nights. When they successfully bloom during the winter they are the largest true flowers to be seen in the garden.

The related irises known as Iris cretensis and I. lazica  will follow later; in fact, I see flower buds developing on I. cretensis now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Passiflora incarnata How to eat maypops

Passiflora incarnata was the subject of the second post to this blog back in July 2007. It's been in the garden for decades, and now ramps freely on the front of the house and over all nearby shrubbery. It flowers and fruits freely. The first few times it fruited I tried the fruit and was not favorably impressed: there was a bit of something sweet and citrusy, but little more. I wrote them off long ago, and began to wonder why any one would make a fuss about them.

Yesterday some nurses came by to help with mom. As one of them approached the house, she spotted one of the maypos on its vine. In a richly modulated tone of voice which expressed surprise, indignation, disbelief, delight and who knows what else, she rhetorically asked (it was obvious that she knew the answer) "what are these?" And before I could articulate my reply she pounced on one, ripped it open, and began a sonata of gustatory pleasure sounds. Then came questions as numerous as the seeds in the maypop.

I told her what she already knew: that they were passion fruit. I began to ask her how she knew about them: was she from one of the Caribbean islands or somewhere in South America (no, she was from Zimbabwe!). It was hard to keep her attention because the whole time we talked she eagerly scanned the tangle of vines for more fruit - and as soon as she found some, promptly consumed it. In a movement which suggested plenty of practice, she broke open each fruit and exposed the cluster of seeds, each seed  in its individual juicy capsule. I noticed that these clusters were darker than the ones I had sampled.  So I tried one too: it was much, much better than the ones I had tasted earlier in the season. They were definitely juicier, and they had a rich fragrance and flavor the ones I had tried did not have.

So I not only learned how (and when) to eat maypops yesterday, I learned that they are well worth eating! In the image above you see a very ripe one: the aroma was enticing once the fruit was broken open.  The juice is not plentiful, but there is enough to make them worth trying. The flavor has a quality which suggests grapefruit to me, but grapefruit mixed with something else a bit musty. This quality is also present in the ripe fruits of mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Crab for breakfast

Well, not really: but I fixed some scrambled eggs the other day, and since I was in a mood for something a little different I began to look around for something to add to them. Let's see, maybe some shallot, or thyme, or marjoram, or celery seed or... that's it, curry powder. I sprinkled just a bit into the eggs and then cooked them up. As I took the first bite I was distracted by something in the morning paper, and it took a moment for me to realize what I was eating. It tasted so much like crab that I stopped reading and focused on the eggs. The texture was not right for crab, but the taste sure was.

Now I'm wondering if eggs cooked this way might be used to make a mock-crab salad or sandwich, something with mayonnaise, chopped celery, a bit of onion and parsley.. Maybe I'll conduct a little experiment at lunch today.