Monday, April 12, 2021


In the cold mountains north of us I picked some bare forsythia branches from a scrambled, tumbling hedge on the edge of the woods. The shrub is very invasive. 

But it is very pretty when it opens a few days later on our Brooklyn windowsill.


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Sunday, April 11, 2021

An early, edible spring

Early spring on the stone table. 

Field garlic, some dandelion rosettes, dandelion flowers (their petals destined for tartlets for a forage picnic); ground ivy (Glechoma hedera) in the tiny dish at the back - it is quite minty in flavor and is very beautiful in lawns; no idea why people spray it.  

And early violets, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), and chickweed. I'm working more with chickweeds this season: Their fresh flavor is like cornsilk. 

The little blue vase of yellow flowers holds coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara, a sub-alpine perennial from Europe and Asia that is now quite at home on this continent, where it invades disturbed ground and roadsides.


Edible Spring Plants: NYBG class, 27 May

Monday, April 5, 2021

The harbingers of spring

On a grey Easter Sunday we drove north to the Catskills. Since our last visit, in early March, trees had toppled into the rushing river, changing its profile.

Within minutes the sun came out and the temperature on this warm side of the valley rose from four-layers-plus-woollen-hat-and-gloves to T-shirt. It was wonderful.


And then we found the ramps (Allium tricoccum). I have collected these native wild leeks here for years but this time we walked further than usual. The slopes were greening as far as we could see.

Backpack with ramps

I collected enough leaves to make a large bunch wide enough to fill my backpack. But often I just stood, and stared, smiling at this robust population of the delicious spring edible, so vulnerable to commercial exploitation.  In some places it is wildly abundant. In others it has been razed. 

They are not that hard to cultivate (spring sun, summer shade, humus-rich soil, plenty of moisture). 

The river far below ran fast, while up on the damp slope the ramps were growing almost audibly. In amongst them ephemeral wildflowers like wake-robin and toothwort were beginning to emerge. There were some early insects. And birds catching them. The fragile edge of spring.

Le Creuset with lamb

Back home, a pot of lamb shoulder had been cooking in a very low oven, all day. Lamb with a spoon, my mom used to call it (I called it spam with a loon). It was fall-apart tender when we walked back into the apartment, eight hours after leaving.

And I added some ramp leaves to melt for a final half hour's fragrance. Their wild onion scent made the Frenchman hum happily.

Sandwich in a pan

The next ramp meal was a grilled cheese sandwich, on sourdough I baked late last week. Grated cheddar, mustard, ramp leaves. Cooked in sizzling butter.

A feast. And necessary fuel for all the ramp preservation to follow.  Ramp leaf oil, ramp leaf salt.

Much more ramp stuff in that chapter of Forage, Harvest, Feast


Saturday, April 3, 2021

Street spring

In the neighborhood at the beginning of April an early cherry is in full bloom. Probably an 'Okame' or a variation on that hybridized theme. 

The fatter, frillier, better-known 'Kanzan' (often referred to as 'Kwanzan') is still a couple of weeks from busting loose. 


New class: May 27th, NYBG: Spring's Edible Plants

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Early Spring at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden


I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the first time in many, many months, cycling across Prospect Park to get there. You book online and show up at your appointed time and gate. 

If you are in New York, and can go, choose the Flatbush Avenue entrance. It is stunning, right now, designed for early spring, and it is at its peak.

The scene-stealers there are the luminous winter-hazels (Corylopsis).

And they have a warmer yellow backdrop of an unusual abundance of Edgeworthia. Its downy yellow flowers appear on bare branches that look almost succulent. They have a very strong fragrance, too.

The winter-hazels range from small shrubs to one of the largest I have ever seen (that giant is just west of the rose garden).

While I love - and advocate for - native plants, it's hard not to smile at a hill of daffodils.

And then there are the hellebores. They are glorious.

And good from every angle.

The relatively new layout at that Flatbush gate is luxuriant with them, planted under camellias that are in bloom, and about to bloom

The high berms allow you to see right into the flowers' hearts.

And what about the magnolias?

They are another story.


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Spring, in increments

Walking on a well traveled woodland path in Prospect Park I stopped abruptly. Diminutive bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), the most exquisite little spring ephemeral, has emerged. The afternoon was overcast and the flowers were closed and well-wrapped in their leaf cloaks. I wished them well, so close to dog paws and people feet.

They have many companions - the gazillion germinating seedlings of last year's biennial garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) flowers. 

The damp leaf litter of winter is also green with garlic mustard that will bloom this May. Looking at the plants, I planned a forage walk around the cunning invaders from Europe. They are edible, after all, and rather delicious. If you like garlic. And mustard. 

The spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is beginning to bloom.

And so are these. But what are they? Elm?

On sunny slopes henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is beginning to get overexcited.

And in damper, shadier areas, purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) is flowering. I'm wondering how, or if, it hybridises, because these leaves look a little different.

The magnolias have just woken up. Their petals taste like minted ginger.

 And under-appreciated Pieris is weeping in white.

It has begun.



Friday, March 26, 2021

The door opens...

Things change. The sliding door to the terrace sometimes stays open for hours, during the day. Some evenings are warm enough for drinks outside. The new pillow covers from Skinny La Minx have been slipped over the down pillows (the most forgiving pillows, ever - occasionally they have been forgotten outside in the rain, and then they dry right out again). 

The pots under the table are from Gowanus Nursery - owner Michele overwintered alliums in them and came to my rescue when I realized I had left it way too late to order those bulbs - sold out, everywhere. I will plant them next week so their first, premature leaves are not burned by a possible freeze. I really wanted the big purple balls for bees - they adore them. And, as usual, I have ordered too many lily bulbs for the space (when in doubt, squeeze). Those are from The Lily Garden, also as usual.

It's a garish drink, the Aperol Spritz: prosecco, Aperol, sparkling water and (blood) orange slices. But March deserves it.

The windowboxes have been sown with arugula and cilantro, and the violas are to keep our spirits up, in the meantime.

Some time in late April all the citrus trees will migrate back out to the terrace, along with the bay tree and the myoga ginger (I divided the myoga in fall, left one out and brought one in - to see if the outdoor one might make it). In May the sleeping sand ginger will follow. And two tea plants (Camellia sinensis) will arrive, too. 

I know, not much space will be left for humans. But we are good at sidling...


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