Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A garden's story

While I have posted here on the progress of our 1st Place garden, I recently charted the 12-month process in one story for Gardenista:

Rehab Diary: A Year in the life of a Brooklyn Garden

We have been in Carroll Gardens for almost a year, and this July is very different from the frantic one we did not enjoy last year, looking at endless potential apartments with a wide array of outdoor spaces, packing, and getting ready to move.

As I type I look out of a window into the new garden and see at its farthest edge some sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus) growing eight feet tall. Yes, I measured them this morning. Superchokes. I planted them late last year for their edible tubers and late summer flowers, but also for some botanical privacy, as a leafy screen against an ugly fence. They seem happy.

Last night as we ate pizza (rare take out from Lucali's, nearby) we saw two raccoons trotting after one another along the white birch pole fence.

Bolted leafy greens have been taken out of the farm (the central vegetable plot), many more seeds been sown.

I will travel far south soon, to the southern tip of Africa. While I am away the Frenchman, and then when he joins me, two gardening friends (Julia and Kirstin) who live in the hood, will look after watering. But no one is expected to weed (frowned upon by the United Nations Agreements on Human Rights) and I wonder what I will find when I return. As the weather changes, new species of weeds emerge in waves.

In a brutal age (but would the methods of Genghis Khan, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, the First World War, Vietnam, be less brutal? - we had no social media then to broadcast everything to everyone in real time; humans are not worse, we are just connected) a garden - where sorrow and delight coexist on a botanical plane - becomes an even greater privilege and refuge.

If you can, find one, or help make one.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

High Line

The ever-changing flower scene on the High Line is a great New York pleasure. While I am often allergic to the Popular, here is an exception. Despite the tourist throngs and the slow walkers (I am a fast walker), I love seeing these plants, and feel lucky to be able to experience the change from month to month.

The pictures above and below belong to late May.

The Frenchman's iconic place of work, sticking out below:

Allium 'Everest,' below - a couple did well in my garden this year, but a few in the back rotted and turned out funny-looking. Probably due to bad drainage.

And June, below: Baptisia alba.

I had never liked astilbe until I saw these pink sweeps.

The beginnings of liatris, below, my new favourite flower in my own garden - tough, and effortless.

Echinacea and leadplant (Amorpha canescens):

Milkweeds. Asclepias tuberosa is the orange. A. purparascens, below

And beautiful bee balm, Monarda.

July and late summer are also very good times to visit, so if you're in town, don't skip. Afterwards, go to Chelsea Market and buy some impeccable fish at The Lobster Place, or just sit down and order sushi or lobster at the bar.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Rattes in a cage

Stupidly, I did not note when exactly I planted these potatoes, known as les rattes. Fingerlings. But it was late April. From potatoes that had sprouted. By early May the first leaves had poked up above the ground and I started mounding earth up against their stems.

I dug them up on the 4th of July (so about 8 weeks after planting) and we ate the first ones that night in a Niçoise salad, with quick-pickled beets, and arugula and lettuce leaves, purple basil and chives from the garden, plus the obligatory eggs.

They have a firm, waxy texture and very good, slightly nutty flavour. The second portion was eaten as a potato salad with mayonnaise and crisp celery heart (try and find organic celery - it is one of the most sprayed crops out there, as it is is a bug magnet), and I'll pan-roast the last batch. If I can stand to turn on anything that generates heat. It is very hot and very muggy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July report

Early July, and the Formosa lilies are open, with the 'Silk Road' close behind. And the gloriosas are in bloom along the fences. The single row of fingerling potatoes has been dug and we ate the biggest ones last night in a Niçoise salad. Arugula has bolted but I'm leaving the flowers for the bees for now. The painted ponies have needle-sized beans. Five tomatillo plants are flourishing, one is puny. The fennel has been occupied by eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars, and the sparrows are helping me with aphids.

I have sown more cilantro, and some fenugreek.

At night, the fireflies dance.

It is Wednesday and I am trying a new thing, cocktail hour for plant people. Botanical drinks, botanical bitching. Or perhaps we'll talk about football.

Yeah, right.

Or perhaps we will just melt. It is very hot: 100'F/38'C forecast for today.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Macy's Fireworks 2016 and the Butterfly Meadow

The most recently planted area of Brooklyn Bridge Park to open was the Butterfly Meadow, at the end of Pier 6. It's filled in well, and in May irises were blooming in the boggy bits.

I was there again recently and already the seasonal change is dramatic.

I must check the park's plant list to find out what the yellow daisies are, but the Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) has begun to open (so has mine, back on 1st Place).

And above, a bit of sleuthing and Googling over drinks (makrut-bergamot gin with tonic) at an inaugural plant persons cocktail hour at our place led to the identification of Filipendula rubra - the tall pink plumes in the background. I had never associated the name with this plant, an eastern U.S. native like a giant astilbe crossed with goatsbeard (Aruncus). Fantastic height.

We'll stick out noses in here tonight but it might be pandemonic: the 40th Macy's 4th-of-July fireworks show will be staged in the East River, this year. There will be a double barge of fireworks moored south of the Brooklyn Bridge and the whole of Brooklyn might be camped out, here (if you'd forgotten, Brooklyn would be the fourth largest city in the USA if it weren't a mere borough of New York City; so that's a lot of campers).There will be four other barges higher up, between 23rd Street and 37th. Go there! Also, parts of FDR Drive will be closed off for public viewing. Go there!

And may it be a peaceful night of nothing more explosive than pretty colours.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

It's summer - time for beans and basil

The jungle. In the foreground is my row of Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, a forager's gardening experiment. 

It is just beyond midsummer, and the days are growing minutely shorter even as they grow hotter. We have had more sun than I had anticipated at this time of year, and I have been able to grow more crops than I had hoped. Like beans. Grow Journey sent me two different bush beans, part of my January and May seed-of-the-month membership. 

These Painted Pony bush beans arrived first, in January, when winter still had us in its very dark and depressing grip.Summer beans seemed like a fantasy, back then. But they were very pretty.

And then the sun came. The vegetable plot receives about six hours of sun right now, which is borderline for many vegetables, but I learned in Harlem that climbing beans can thrive in four hours of sun. So I planted the Painted Ponies in early June, after taking out the fava beans and the first sowing of arugula, which had bolted faster than we could eat the tender lower stalks.

I find bean flowers very pretty, so there is the extra, ornamental boost.

Dragon's Tongue bush beans, above, arrived next, and they are growing tall, already.

As always, if I forget something about my seeds, I log into my member dashboard on the Grow Journey site and can see previous months' seeds listed, as well as detailed information about how to grow them in my Grow Guides.

Bush bean-growing is new to me, although I remember my mother's very healthy bushes in Bloemfontein, when I was little. And the snap and itchy green taste of eating the beans right out of the garden.

Some beetle is eating holes in the Dragon's Tongue leaves, and I should get some beer again for traps, in case it's a slug, not a beetle. Aaron von Frank, one of Grow Journey's founders, has written a lovely tip-of-the-month piece about how to work with insects on the Grow Journey blog -  I have found it helpful. He quotes one of my gardening principles, which is actually part of the Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.

Counter intuitively, the gardening industry is not very green at all.  From the thoughtless use of pesticides and herbicides, to overuse of synthetic fertilizers like Miracle Gro (not to mention their manufacturing process), from phosphorus runoff into waterways which causes dead zones in the ocean, to the mass production of plastic pots, to the destruction of peat bogs, to the planting of highly invasive species. 

What are we thinking? In short, many gardeners are not. Thinking, that is.

I am still surprised when gardeners tell me they do not grow organically (even as I am still learning more about permaculture practices and their benefits). Aaron writes in that article about the no-till method by comparing it to the effect a tornado has on a house, and how digging into the soil destroys the habitats of beneficial insects and microorganisms.

 AND I have just learned that firefly larvae live for two summers before becoming fireflies (we have dozens every night now) and eat insects like aphids! The adults do not eat.

Finally, the Thai basil is a small forest, now. I planted it in one of the shadiest spots near the house, in two gifted troughs from my friend Julia. I was not sure how it would do. But the plants are growing sturdier, and are now sharing space with some sprouting ginger plants, another experiment.

Grow Journey offers a free 30-day trial (you pay $3.99 shipping and handling), and it's an excellent way to dip your toes into the waters of monthly seed packet arrivals.The biggest benefit for me has been trying new types of crops, and learning new methods of gardening. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


After a weekend away for work, visiting other peoples' gardens (in Buffalo), it was good to come home again, and find the Formosa lilies in bloom. And we still love our umbrella.

The garden is not there, yet, but it is so much more there than it was, when I first saw this space last August.

When I am impatient, I remind myself...


So, then this feels better.

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