Tuesday, July 30, 2013

And even more shot from the Canon

Wayne made these comments: "The battery came with the camera, but the memory card was extra. I bought my camera on sale for less than $300, but the memory card, extra battery, and carrying bag brought it back above $300, but I don't remember how much above.

I think I used the flash on the bullfrog.

The moon photo was emailed on 6/20. I used a tripod for that one.

The damselfly was sent of 5/27, if you want that one."

More shot from the Canon

All of these were taken with the camera as it came from the box (after the battery was inserted): no special lenses, no tripod, no flash. From little bugs to the Statue of Freedom on top of the Capitol dome (and at night, too), just make a few adjustments and then point and shoot. The camera also records short videos with sound. I'd say that's $330 well spent. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Birds, bugs and flowers shot from the Canon: Wayne's new PowerShot SX280 HS

Wayne's new Canon PowerShot SX280 HS camera makes me feel as if my Digital Rebel is an old Kodak Brownie. There is no way that I could get pictures like these with my camera, and these pictures were taken with a point and shoot camera.  It's time for an upgrade! 

Cucumber stories: #5

During my first year at the community garden plots, while I was still getting to know some of the gardeners, I played a trick on one of my gardening friends. She called me down one day to ask for advice about her cucumbers. Now these were not just any cucumbers, but so-called Armenian cucumbers, and my gardening friend was Armenian. I explained to her that the Armenian cucumber is not a true cucumber but rather a savory melon. Before I left, I also mentioned that I was growing some, too.

A few weeks went by, and my friend again sought help: her Armenian cucumbers were not bearing fruit. I went down and took a look, and the vines seemed healthy, but there were no flowers. I told her to be patient.

What I did not tell her was that my Armenian cucumbers were bearing. And soon I played my trick. One day when she was away I cut a big ripe Armenian cucumber from my vines and took it down to her plot. There, using a piece of raffia, I tied the ripe cucumber into her plants so that at first glance it looked very convincingly like a cucumber growing on her vines.

The next time I saw her, I asked her how her cucumbers were doing. They weren't doing anything, she told me. I asked her if she was sure. And this time I mentioned the ripening cucumbers on my vines. Perhaps, I suggested, she had not searched her vines carefully? I offered to go down and help her look. Of course I went right up to the place where I had tied in my cucumber, and let out an exclamation "here's a big one!".

She couldn't believe her eyes: there was a fine ripe Armenian cucumber waiting to be picked. She pulled on it gently, then with a bit more force. Then she took a close look: she saw the raffia, but still did not catch on to the hoax. She unwrapped the raffia, still evidently thinking that this cucumber grew on her vines. At this point, I was beginning to wonder if I should tell her that I had tied in that cucumber - maybe it would have been better to let her think she had grown it. But finally she took another look at the raffia, then looked at the dried stem of the "freshly picked" cucumber, and then she gave me a look. At that point we both had a good laugh, the best kind of laugh, the kind which, even years later, can be evoked by nothing more than the mention of words "Armenian cucumber" between us.

So I'll bet that that's something else you didn't realize that you can make with cucumbers: friends!

Cucumber stories: #4

Another cucumber story: there are plenty of gardeners whose gardening ambitions do not extend beyond tomatoes and a bit of basil.  For these gardeners, the tomato is the one plant worth growing, and many yearly pursue the goal of producing the first ripe tomato in the neighborhood. Some of these gardeners go to a lot of bother early in the season to get their tomatoes out early and then protect them from the frosts or even freezes which are likely to occur. This is not a new game, although the vegetable of choice has changed over the years. A bit over two hundred years ago, Gilbert White fussed in a similar way over his cucumbers: cucumbers were the tomato of the late eighteenth century English vegetable garden. Evidently, that the tomato might be palatable to persons of refined taste was unthinkable back then: if grown at all, the tomato grew in the ornamental garden, where its supposedly poisonous qualities paired in a moralistic way with the name love apple. White and his contemporaries went to a lot of trouble with hot beds made cucumber-cozy with manure, and they too celebrated the ripening of the first fruits of the season. 

Cucumber stories: #3

Another cucumber story: that little bowl of thinly sliced cucumbers with sweetened vinegar and some thinly sliced onion was so good that I began to think of other ways of enjoying it. There was a very ripe muskmelon (cantaloupe) in the house, so I cut out little chunks of the melon and mixed it with the cucumber mix. The result was really tasty: for one thing, it really brought out the melon quality in the cucumber. Cucumbers and melons belong to the same plant family, and are placed in the same genus.  And from a culinary point of view they have some qualities in common, and the combination of melon and cucumber in the sweetened vinegar was right on the mark. It was so good in fact that I decided to try it in a more important way. I roasted some pork ribs, cut off the meat and cubed it. Meanwhile some jasmine rice was cooking. When the rice was done, it was mixed with the dripping from the roasted pork, and then a big bowl of cucumber and melon slices in the sweetened vinegar was mixed in with the rice. The pork went in next, and I soon sat down to one of those “where have you been all my life” experiences. This combination would probably be just as good without the meat.  

Cucumber stories: #2

Another cucumber story: on one of the first occasions when I dined with Wayne’s parents in their home, cucumbers of all things provided the most memorable element of that evening. When we went in for dinner, there on the table was a small bowl with thinly sliced cucumbers in sweetened vinegar. This really moved me because mom often put out a bowl of thinly sliced cucumbers in vinegar for my dad. My dad grew up on a farm in Caroline County, Virginia, and I always assumed that that bowl of  cucumbers in vinegar was a rural Virginia tradition. You have no idea how welcome that little bowl of cucumbers on Wayne’s parents’ table made me feel. 

I later discovered that the cucumbers in vinegar thing is in fact very widely enjoyed. When my sister told my niece that I had used the gift cucumbers to fix a bowl of cucumbers in sweetened vinegar, my niece told her mother that that was exactly what she had done with some cucumbers she had grown.    

Cucumber stories: #1

The gift of a couple of cucumbers last week has provoked memories of what I’m calling cucumber stories here.

The cucumbers were grown by a friend of my sister. The grower took up gardening a season or two ago.  The cucumbers are evidently of one of the long, seedless variety best grown on a support to keep the fruits straight. The ones I got were not straight – they were curved like a bull’s horn. No matter there: the shape does not determine the taste, and it is the taste in which I’m interested. After my sister handed them to me I got a knife and tasted one: they were delicious. During the week which followed I used them in a variety of ways, and these ways in turn kept me thinking about cucumbers all week. 

The very appearance of those cucumbers brought back a memory: forty years ago I lived briefly in Manhattan. I had a room on the upper east side  in the house of some people I met through business connections. After I left Manhattan and returned home for good, I got busy with gardening again. I had a small vegetable garden that summer, and at about the time the vegetables were ripening, my brother in law was planning a business trip to Manhattan. I gathered up a bundle of my home grown vegetables and asked him to drop them off at the home of my erstwhile hosts. I still remember the look on  my brother in law’s face when he looked in the bag: my home grown vegetables did not look like grocery store vegetables. They were crooked where they should have been straight, they were lumpy where they should have been smooth,  some had been left to grow too long : in other words, these vegetables were not about to win a ribbon at the county fair. But they were home grown, and I had grown them. I never heard if my Manhattan friends even got the vegetables, and I long wondered if my brother in law really delivered them. I did hear from them later, but the vegetables were not mentioned. But I've never forgotten those vegetables, and when my sister handed me those two twisted, a-bit-too-big home grown cucumbers I was reminded of the ones I packed up for my Manhattan friends.  Don't we all feel that sort of pride about the first vegetables we grow in our own gardens?  

The two cucumbers described at the beginning of this piece were consumed before I had a chance to photograph them; the ones seen above were given to me the other day by another gardener up at my community garden plots.  When they look like this, you have to keep reminding yourself that it's the taste which counts. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rudbeckia laciniata 'Hortensia' aka "Golden Glow"

Known since the late nineteenth century, this robust prairie plant was one of the most esteemed and widely grown garden perennials at one time. It's widely known as "Golden Glow", although officially it's 'Hortensia'.
 At six to seven feet high, the slowly spreading clumps produce a spectacular effect when in full bloom. It’s also easily grown, and no doubt there was a time when it seemed to be everywhere. Human nature being what it is, it was not long before this plant was on the same list with scarlet sage: more than a few self-styled purveyors of good horticultural taste in the early twentieth century warned gardeners to eschew the two of them. How wrong they were!

Eventually the plant became so marginalized that it became hard to find. Luckily for us we did not lose it. The modern surge of interest in perennials seems to have largely ignored it. But it’s still out there, decorating summer gardens as beautifully as it ever has.

It’s hardly a plant for small gardens, and it does become an aphid factory in late summer. But for a couple of weeks in the summer you can cut flowers from these plants to your heart’s content.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cephalanthus occidentalis

This is the buttonbush, commonly found in wet areas. It has a surprising distribution in nature, being found in eastern Canada down to southern Mexico; it's also found in Cuba. The flowers are fragrant and the butterflies soon find them. Botanically it belongs to the same family as coffee and madder.

It grows so well here that every few years I cut it back severely: its response is always the same - quick regrowth.

This is such a distinctive looking plant that it is not likely to be confused with any other common garden plant, but there is another shrub rarely seen in our gardens, Adina rubella , which is similar in bloom. The Adina however has much smaller leaves. Adina and Cephalanthus both belong to the botanical family Rubiaceae. 

lots of lilies

I took a quick walk through my little garden up on the hill the other day to pick lily blooms. At least one of nearly everything in bloom was cut. You see the result here. These are mid-season sorts - the early ones are long gone. This has been a great year for lilies at that site.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fasciated stem of Lilium 'Red Velvet'

If you look carefully at the lily stem in the image above you'll notice something odd: towards the top of the stem the normally round stem begins to flatten, and the flower buds and blooms appear to be attached to a flat, strap like structure which at the very top begins to fork. In lily circles, this condition is called fasciation; in some other groups of plants such growths are called crests. These growths are fascinating, and since there are so many more flowers produced on these growths, you might think they would be highly regarded. They are not. This condition has been known for centuries, and old books have some particularly repellent illustrations and photographs of them.

Are they harmful? Growers have long debated this, but most growers now believe that they are not harmful, not a manifestation of disease, but rather an indication that the growing tip of the stem was damaged in some way at a crucial point in its development. I've never known the same lily plant to repeat the cresting year after year, But some varieties seem more likely to produce crests. The lily above, 'Red Velvet' is one such. They are certainly interesting and definitely colorful. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Seseli gummiferum

I’ve always felt that plants of the family Umbelliferae offer a unique look for the garden, one most gardeners ignore. At this time of year the flat umbels of dill can be seen in many gardens, and they will soon be followed by the more robust and architectural umbels of parsnips. Cilantro, parsley, chervil, carrots, and fennel generally spend their time in the vegetable patch, but when they bloom they show qualities which might lighten up many a herbaceous border.

Outside of the vegetable patch there are many other ornamental members of this group. Search the seed and plant lists for the names Angelica, Peucadenum,  and  Ferula for more interesting and ornamental plants. Many of these are big, coarse and very imposing. Heracleum is another member of this group, one whose garden worthiness is controversial.

The plant shown above is a member of the genus Seseli. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of species of Seseli, but this is the only one I’ve seen in gardens. This one seems to be a perennial (many members of the family of umbellifers are biennial,  others monocarpic). Last year, one of the two I have died down at midsummer: I thought that was the end of it. I had bought two with the idea of getting seed, and so this apparent loss hurt. But when the growing weather returned, new sprouts appeared.

As you can see, this species has very ornamental foliage.

I’m not sure which species it is: my notes are confusing on this. Two names are mentioned: Seseli gummiferum and S. elegans. The latter is certainly appropriate.   The Jelitto site suggests the English name "moon carrot", although that is not a literal translation of the German names they cite.