Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Viburnum farreri and when it blooms

I was looking through last year's New York pictures, clearing many out, keeping many, when I looked at the deliciously fragrant Viburnum farreri I photographed around the corner here in Cobble Hill on March 28th, 2009.

This year I photographed it on the 25th of March, with just this one flower cluster left on the tree, which was already fully leafed out.

Dias Beach

Vince and I visited Dias Beach at Cape Point while we were in Cape Town, and I wrote about it for the informative Cape Town Blog, where it is posted today.

I winced and then laughed a little at my wincing, to see myself described at the end of the post as a "landscaper". Argh. Perhaps it's a North American thing. But as I said to the editor in an email, "landscaper" conjures up visions of acres of red mulch, brutally pruned (juniper) topiaries and a clapped-out van with tools hanging from it. I..."Ay"...I said, am a garden designer. "Desayner..."

He must think I'm a real pain in the rear end.

One other correction is that the pretty little blue flower in the post, so heliophila-ish, whose identity had me stumped, was id'd very kindly by Tony Rebelo, as Heliophila (yes!) cinerea, or limestone sporrie, who said it is endemic to sandy areas over limestone, on the southern peninsula. Not 'the Cape' (a huge area), as the description reads.

That makes a very, very small part of the world its home. I am so pleased to have seen it. It was growing beside the wooden steps down to the beach.

Yes, there were bluebottles that day. The sea was very rough, as it always is on that beach, and the high water mark was blue with them, so we trod carefully. But they are beautiful.

Blogger issues and forsythia

Forsythia on the Brooklyn Promenade.

Thank you for your responses about 66 Square Feet (the Food). Blogger is not allowing me to respond to your comments, and this may mean that in general comments are disabled until the issue is resolved by Google.

Seem to be a slew of Blogger problems recently (image uploads, comments, and editing are dodgy), so it's rather disquieting. I'm going to switch back to Internet Explorer temporarily to see if the problems are Firefox-related. And dump all my cookies*.

I just love technical rant posts, don't you? So interesting.

So - this blog will stay the same, and the recipes will go over to the food blog!

*Update, one minute later: Huh, weird: I cleared all my cookies, and voila. It's all working!

Go to Tools (in your browser, top left), Options, Privacy, Show Cookies, Remove all cookies. Of course this will mean that you need to type out addresses, usernames and passwords from scratch wherever you use them.

This has to be the most boring post I have ever written. I promise not to do it ever again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

66 Square Feet (the Food)

Thanks to Frank, whose suggestion it was, I have started to index my recipes on a blog called 66 Square Feet (the Food). Some friends have kvetched that it is hard to find specific recipes here, and I agree. Not neat enough.

It will be gradual, and I will add some every day.

What I'm not sure about, is whether I should stop writing about food here, and stick to food at (the Food) blog? I think I'll keep to the old way, and catalogue on the other blog, but any feedback you have would be appreciated..

Brooklyn Bridge Park, sort of...

On a rainy, foggy evening, we walked along what is almost the Brooklyn waterfront, to see what had become of the park on the East River, whose fence-banners proclaim a "Winter 2010" opening. After a long, traffic-noisy trudge from Atlantic Avenue, along Furman Street, we saw a lot of earth moving. It looked a lot like it did a year ago.

But right at the end, beside the Fulton Landing, in the shadow (if there had been sun for a shadow) of the Brooklyn Bridge's Brooklyn Tower - completed in 1875 - there was green. Officially called Pier 1.

Pretty perfect green. Imagine a blue sky day. New leaves on trees. Picnics.

Yesterday evening, as New York was preparing to set another March rainfall record, the park was deserted, aside from two other intrepid visitors, two rangers, and an elderly cleaner, cleaning an impeccably clean space. The cleaner smiled shyly at me, and I back at him. I think we were both happy to be on brand new turf.

One has a new view of the Watchtower stronghold, too. It is so weird. What is In there? Bibles? For all the people who are not allowed into heaven?

Very unprepossessing in this picture, but a series of granite steps overlooking the East River is a wonderful, raked amphitheatre for the Brooklyn audience to behold Manhattan, across the water.

The best part for us, was our proximity to water. The thick-moving, powerfully-flowing water of the East 'River', pale brown, reacting to tide and tributaries pouring runoff from the rest of the state into the sea.

I have always loved this working waterway. When it has been cleaned up, I will miss some of the dereliction.

Between the park and the BQE, demolition and reconstruction continue.

And from above, near the Promenade, it appeared that this abandoned, sunken park might be part of the makeover.

What would the Roeblings - father and son - think if they could see their bridge (completed in 1883) now? What would George Washington have thought, in 1776, retreating with his troops to Manhattan? He who could not have imagined the Brooklyn Bridge, let alone an iPod?

A long way to go until it is green, but a helluvan improvement over the inaccessible wharves of before.

The park has a lot of rules. I can predict that we'll break at least one of them. What is a picnic without bubbles?

Check back in May.

Daphne odora



Growing behind the townhouse of good friends Dan and Nancy on St Luke's Place in the West Village, is what might be my favourite plant in New York City.

Its fragrance literally fills the whole garden. The minute a door is opened from the house, its scent wafts in. It is at the height of its bloom, and while we sniffed it and looked at the garden, sap dripped from a trimmed branch of the birch tree high overhead. The witch hazel had already dropped its yellow streamers and the winter hazel had just a few flowers left on its branches. The azaleas had buds. In neighbouring gardens magnolias, cherries and crabapples were fattening up.

The daphne flowers are small and waxy, and will open even if there is snow on the ground. I associate its perfume with very cold air. The first time I stepped into that garden in winter the scent was so strong that it stopped me; I had never seen this plant before.

It is Daphne odora, probably "Aureomarginata".

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blogger blues and small prize

Blogger is having some issues: you might notice that some pictures are missing from posts. Apparently they are working to resolve it.*

Blogger allows me to load pictures, I shall do so...until then, think of shrubs in bloom and in scent right now, in this here zone. And guess about which one I am going to post.

Hint - it is growing in a friend's garden in dappled shade. You do not have to nail the species, but genus is necessary, or common name.

Winner receives...winner receives...thinks:


Well, I would post a picture of what the winner receives, but Blogger isn't letting me!

Winner receives a hand-beaded net thingy made and bought in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, to put over the milk jug or jam pot so that flies don't drop in it. This is useful in Cape Town, where, in late summer, flies are a pest. In Constantia at any rate. It is nice and light and can be mailed anywhere.

If more than one correct answer is received, I shall draw from a hat. If you are in the US of A, I will throw in some of the tall, black Fire Island hollyhock seeds.

* Obviously the problem has been fixed, and there is the doily in question. If you wish to retract your answers in case they were right, now's the time. You might not want to have anything to do with the doily. I posed it on a champagne glass in lieu of a milk jug or jam pot. But there are no flies in Brooklyn.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday lunch


Stinky, Smith Street: Sullivan Street baguette, cheese, saucisson, pâté
Chinatown: spring onions
New Green Pea, Atlantic Avenue: radishes
Eric 'n Mimi: leftover Prosecco

Earth Hour dinner

Earth Hour last night, before and after.

On the menu: flavour bundles (pork, ginger, garlic, jaggery, tamarind, peanuts, dried shrimp) wrapped in lettuce leaves, then hot Thai chicken curry with sticky rice. Cold tapioca with palm sugar syrup, dragon fruit and mango.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Edgeworthia papyrifera and other surprises

Thanks to a gimlet-eyed Anonymous commenter on my blog, who had read my confident post at Shelterpop about Winter Flowers, I made a call to the clients for whom I designed this terrace garden in Tribeca last year. The purpose: may I please come and see what has survived on your terrace; in particular, the Edgeworthia papyrifera?

The answer, By all means.

Hm, what did that mean, I wondered. Was it a trap? Was my whole planting scheme a flop, all the hours of planning and research and plant-fantasy a waste? Would a tundra-like desert greet me?

So I went.

We three stepped onto the terrace and there it was. In full bloom, scent flung all about it like sunshine in the cold wind.

It was the one shrub I chose about which I was concerned. It ought not be hardy here, but Atlantic, a reliable nursery, was selling it, and I had fallen in love on the spot. As one does. And my reading suggested that that it might be marginally hardy here. 'Here' we are in USDA hardiness zone 6b, but near the Hudson's whipping winds (which really come from the frigid west), I was worried. And yet...

How happy I was.

I had last left it looking like this, in November:

And when I bought it in September, it was a lushly-rounded shrub with elongated leaves, below. Will it bloom again, asked Stephen and Ilse. No, I said, apologetically, this is it, meaning, Just in spring.

NO??? They chorused: Never again???

Well, next spring, I smiled.

They subsided...

So, to sum up: Edgeworthia doing well in Zone 6a, I'd say, at least (unscientific as my opinion is); no more than about 4 hours of sun total, and rather exposed. Neutral soil, well drained.

Lest you think it was all perfect and happy, regard the collection of sticks planted nearby (the middle sticks with dead leaves, the sticks on the left are alive - Hydrangea 'Tardiva', and the dry grassy things are alive: Japanese ribbon grass):

Not quite the same as it looked in late November...Camellia 'Winter's Snowman'. Ironically, on paper, hardier. "Cold hardy to -23'C". But this specimen succumbed to the wind, while another was more protected against a western wall , beside some Fargesia rufa, a small clumping bamboo (still green and lush). That one lost one branch where snow had lain around it in a drift for weeks. I should never have planted this camellia in the teeth of the wind.

More good news, but not unexpected: this hardy Corylopsis spicata, a winter hazel, in full bloom. This part of the terrace receives just a couple of hours of sun near midday.

Below, here it is last November:


And the other winter hazel, Corylopsis pauciflora.

Viburnum tomentosum "Mohawk" had just opened - a little earlier than I had anticipated, but there are hundreds of tightly closed green buds on the branches - and was spicily fragrant. I wonder how they fared in last night's zub-freezing temperatures...

And at the shadier end, the Magnolia stellata was in bud.

Lest you think it will all be over in a rush, there are two other viburnums to stagger the season of bloom, hopefully lasting through May, then comes the fringe tree (Chionanthis virginicus), three species of hydrangeas, the Franklinia alatamaha (September flowers - 'discovered' on the Alatamaha River) and then hopefully the surviving camellia.

So a visit filled with relief, some lessons, and a reminder that this is the best part of making gardens - as I was in danger of forgetting: seeing the pictures in one's head, then on paper, come to life, and stay alive.


Friday, March 26, 2010

A Frenchman's Karoo

Pic: Vincent Mounier

The Frenchie's entertaining post about our time in the Karoo National Park is up. At last!


The Callery pears on Atlantic Avenue, near Damascus Bakery and outside the Cook's Companion (why do I always think that place belongs in a mall in Connecticut?).

Window box on Baltic between Smith and Court. There is always something interesting going on in this miniature garden.

$3 daffodils at the Key Food on Atlantic.

A parrot and his human mate sharing peanuts outside the Long Island College Hospital...

...and the Bergen Street subway station, summed up.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Planting garlic

I think I'll make garlic soup tonight. Roger Verge has a fabulous recipe in his out-of-print* (so baffling, as it is a masterpiece) Entertaining in the French Style. Sumptuous photography, beautifully laid tables, flowers, delicious drinks in lovely glassware, full menus. I read it as an old teenager when I thought nothing of making 8 course meals, and little flashes of light from its pages remain with me still.

The garlic in this country can be very good. Not always the case in South Africa, where it is often irradiated and half dead, in my opinion. Walking into my local grocery store and buying five fat heads with fat cloves, all for a dollar seems miraculous.

So I peeled the papery layers off one head, and planted each clove about an inch deep in new potting soil, each about four fingers' width from its neighbour. Last year I planted already-sprouted garlic, and these were quite new, so we will see if it works. I give them ten days to show me some shoots.

And I have four heads left, hence the soup. It involves chicken stock, egg yolks and some white bread, and comes out frothily white. Very good.

* I see that New Entertaining in the French Style was published in 2002.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A moment of silence

Long ago an astrologer told me some things (I had a singing crisis with the Whoop, and wanted to know whether I should just throw in the towel). He said that I would reach - somehow - a world-wide audience. This was meant as a sort of comfort. At the time he thought it might be through singing and cd's, but he said it could be via anything creative, somehow disseminated widely. He mentioned photography.

I did not know what a blog was, then.

He also said that it was OK for me to like Things. Things, he said, give you  (me) a great deal of comfort.

My Woodstock glasses give and gave me a lot of comfort. I am quite happy just contemplating them. They hold roses, or a single terrace flower, or a drink. Each is unique because when they were made they were in fact not made very expertly: they were the first commercially-produced glass in South Africa. Flat champagne glasses, sherry glasses, custard cups, tumblers, big and small. Tiny bubbles trapped in the glass hold Cape Town air, vintage late 1800's.

They are hard to find now, and the rarest of all are the smallest tumblers, the ones I love most.

So it was with some alarm that I noticed a gap on the drinks tray when we returned from our long southern summer sojourn. No little tumblers. A big one missing too.

I had wrapped and packed away the 6 beautiful crystal champagne glasses that Bevan had given me years ago, Just In Case. At the time I had looked at the Woodstock, which we use every day, and, I needn't be paranoid. They're strong.

Big mistake.

Be paranoid. If you can't bear to lose a thing, protect the thing. After I inquired of our cat sitter, in an email, what might have become of them, he said they had been broken in the dishwasher. All of them. An odd tale since I have washed them there so many times myself. For all their age they are sturdy little workaday things. They have survived years of our travels and many cat sitters and visitors, and are now gone.

None of this mentioned at the outset at all, when we arrived after flying half way around the world to find him just having woken up, bed upside down, apartment stinking of the cloves he'd burned to cover the cigarette smoke; only upon inquiry, along with a host of other things broken, damaged, stained: Pots, pictures, chopping board, linen, filthy bathroom...the horror.

His answer to these charges, incidentally, was: I am too young to be acquainted with the nuances of home ownership. That's a direct quote. He is twenty-two. He was living with parents at the time, who presumably did not require him to clean the toilet, make the bed, wash his sheets. Etcetera. In retrospect,  I should have sued him. It would have been worth a day wasted in small claims court.

The cat, it is important to note, is neither broken, nor damaged, nor stained. And this bears consideration.

(But: We only learned later that The Tick played his amped bass guitar in the wee hours, so that the neighbours wondered what was going on. This explains why our poor kitty was hiding in the cupboard when we came home. It incenses me.)

I found myself lying in bed last night, with my open book unread and un-escaped-to on my chest, just thinking about the glasses. I loved them. They were clear, beautiful in the light, and special, and gave me joy each time I touched or looked at them.

I will miss them.

If you see them, drop me a line.