Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day weekend in town

Having dinner at Deb's is like giving up in the very best way. Surrendering. Like slipping your clean, washed self between cool white sheets after a long day. Or skiing down a snowy slope, or diving into clear water where you are quite sure there are no sharks. Or perhaps a mountain stream in Lesotho is a better choice. Absolutely positively no sharks, plus flowers. She knows how to do it (so does Lily). A sense of occasion, of fun, of place, of beauty, of taste...blablabla. An elusive and rare combination. Jim made us prosecco cocktails with a splash of St Germain (I have to say, it's funny - I love the stuff, and own a bottle -  but what a superb advertising campaign they have run. It is everywhere. Elderflower cordial with a kick).

We sat on their back porch and looked at the roses, strawberries, peonies in the landlord's verboten garden, soft Englishy lawn (I think I may start campaign for lawns! But only in the subculture that eschews them. I still hate golf courses and Roundup), and listened to stories about Illinois and lake salmon and Greenpoint nip (Jim is Estorbo's dealer). Later we moved indoors for a Moroccan-inspired supper of chicken with hazelnuts, and the last ramps and the first asparagus. I had to eat my own rose petals (above, in goody bag) for dessert! Traumatic. Cats, blogs, books, Airstreams, grants and how to keep one's head above water. And with cheese we made quick work of the beautiful Cape Point Noble Late Harvest 2002 that Lyn gave us in Cape Town before our Last Lunch, there.

It may have been the accumulated effect of the alcohol, the balmy Greenpoint night or the long wait for the G, but I saw no reason why this could not be Cy Twombley in Brooklyn. Sort of.

Back in the hood, the roses on the corner of Congress and Henry are doing their thing. David Austins, one and all, and utterly neglected and thriving. And it shows how big they can get. I have said it before, but what a mystery this garden is. No one is ever, ever, ever in it. The holly has been dying and this weekend it was chopped in half. I think it was poisoned. I nearly stepped on a newly dead juvenile robin on the sidewalk, which was what made me look up, to see the truncated tree. It must have fallen from the branches. Now the old Japanese maple is dying. I wonder if it is a plot. Weird.

Simple. Pacific Street below Smith. Behind a shop, photographed through the chainlink. The tree is an amelanchier. Speaking of which. Edible Brooklyn is about to hit the stands and my Brooklyn amelanchier story is in it. And I am on the cover (Vincent's picture)! I should give the owners a copy so that they know what to do with the berries in a few week's time. Last year, this time (to the day!), I was baking with them after picking in Dumbo.

I looked in at GRDN on Hoyt Street. I left with a Wisteria frutescens (native to North America, with shorter, bluer flowers) and an Alpine strawberry, as an experiment. And possibly some parsley. There was an excellent shade perennial selection, but I have no more space.

Central Park, Great Lawn, picnic. Ja. I didn't know that I was catering for a vegetarian. I did ask. Before I made the picnic, I mean. So the poor vegetarian was met with pig rillettes, duck rillettes, duck pate, and lamb meatballs. I had a little Emily Post moment. Asparagus, cheese (sheep, which didn't help) and vichyssoise. If you don't have any in the fridge, make some. It is divine when ice cold. Midnight snack. Breakfast. Anytime. Drink it from a tea cup.

There was also prosecco. I may have drunk it all. And a very charming little girl who raced all over the lawn, sang us a song (It's a beautiful world), played soccer with some strangers and who requested Yellow Submarine from the kids singing Beatles song near us (who obliged). She really, really liked asparagus.

Early evening, dead center in the green city.

So. It is summer. The air conditioner is on.  Also on its last legs. Everything will grow faster. Things will happen. If we keep our wits, we might survive.

The Litter Mob in the New York Times

Rainbow condom in Prospect Park's Midwood. In the picture, Uli Seit of The Times

I'm sorry about but the picture, but, well, it is what it is.

The story of our litter pick up in Prospect Park is in today's New York Times, written by Elissa Gootman. It is very well written.

Vincent and I find ourselves looking at trash the way a connoisseur might, now. Which reminds me to post about Dead Horse Bay.

So, the next Litter Mob, June 7th - volunteers sought. The usual drill:

Meet at corner of East Drive and Center Drive (map here) in  Prospect Park, 9am sharp.

Gloves, grabbers, bags and birdsong provided (our gloves were late last time. Won't happen again...). Come armed with a sense of humour. Don't pack lunch. You won't want it afterwards. Not because you are feeling strange, more that you feel you need to be scrubbed down, first. Maybe emergency first responders for a nuclear disaster can practise decontamination on us, every other Tuesday.

We will also be doing a little horticultural work this time as a reward for schlepping condoms away. The Midwood still needs a lot of care, and helping to plant saplings is a step towards ensuring trees for future New Yorkers, who have not been born yet.

If you would like to help next Tuesday*, please RSVP me.

And thanks again to our last crew - especially to the Manhattan resident! -  for hard work, stiff upper lips and an excellent haul...

For more about the Midwood (the part of Prospect Park that we help clean) and its litter issue, visit this list of posts.

* It bears repeating that it is midweek because we are accompanied by an Alliance employee, who is not available at weekends.

As usual, some background posts on the subject - the sticky road to the Litter Mob, most recent first:

Litter Mob 2 - the images
Prospect Park Litter Action

Monday, May 30, 2011

Corner lot garden

An open lot on the corner of Pacific Street and Boerum Place survives while new, huge buildings go up ahead, behind and across the way. Two years ago peppers and tomatoes and summer savoury were planted along its rusted chainlink fence. Then it lay fallow, occupied only by the wounded cars that rested in its confines. This year, the gardener made a decision. Garden or bust. I hope I meet him or her.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Of warmer things

The first strawberries. I'll admit, not the sweetest. But nothing that a sprinkling of cane sugar couldn't fix. It draws their juice out, too, and makes them good with poured cream, with bubbly or just like that.

Summer arrived last week, which I thought was rather rude. I told it to sit on the terrace and have been distracting it with gin.

This evening, the first picnic of 2011 in Central Park, Great Lawn. I hope it is like this, when Marlene and I picnicked there and not like when I dragged Ellen and Michael to the lawn after rhapsodizing about the great coolth of the vast green expanse, only to find it partitioned by horrible and utterly unphotogenic  metal barriers. As usual, with picnics farther afield and with others to feed, it will be a bit of a mule and donkey show, with Vince (mule) and I (donkey) hee-hawing our way there from Brooklyn on the A and then the C train, carrying bottles of chilling prosecco, and baskets of bread, pâté, cold spring meatballs (mint dill, green garlic, lamb, breadcrumbs, ricotta salata), a walnut and pomegranate moh-lasses dip for the meatballs and...something I have not thought of yet.

Oh. Vichyssoise. The soup 'invented' and christened in New York. Good for hot and bothered tourists from Milwaukee. Should I or shouldn't I? I'll have to have word with the mule. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ready for their close ups

It's so brief: Dry sticks in winter; new, tender red growth in early spring. Green leaves. The tiniest buds. Weeks of waiting, and pink slits as the buds begins to open. The first rose. A party. Then the second, then all of them; the petals are falling. The last buds have opened into saucer-wide flowers. The camera comes out. So do the pruners, to deadhead, to prepare for the second flush. For these few hours of beauty.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why garden?

Crataegus laevigata "Crimson Cloud", Chrystie Street

Flowering trees for May are up at Shelterpop...

Earlier, someone arrived on 66 Square Feet after googling 'are wisteria beans edible'. I paused when I saw this. Wisteria beans are poisonous! I felt like shouting, all the way to California. I looked at their search and saw that they passed over seven other sites which said exactly that before landing on this blog where I wrote about lablab beans, the pretty ones that bloom late in summer. I think they wanted wisteria beans to be edible and I really, really hope they did not try any.

On another note:

Some brainstorming input needed. If you were interviewing gardeners, from all over the world, from sidewalk gardeners to terrace to famous to unknown, what questions would you ask them? I know it's a bit tricky, not knowing who the gardeners will be, but I will be working on a series where I interview people who garden, to find out what lies at the er, root, of their plant love. I'd like to pose the same set of questions to each of them.

Any ideas?

Roof farm

The potatoes on the roof are about the only thing that looks lush at the moment. Today I plant out the poblano peppers. And look forward to pork ribs simmered in an ancho sauce. I may have to wait a while. The strawberries on the terrace are ripening, practically overnight and a constant rain of rose petals patters onto the gravel of an evening.

And there is some Indian roast chicken, next door at (the Food)

Wild greens

Pokeweed, near Dead Horse Bay.

On tonight's menu. 

More later.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The SD95, its quirks and a hot rose

I have been testing two point and shoot cameras. The first is my 'old' SD880, which suffers from a sensor spot, which is nerve-wracking when more and more pictures are destined for professional purposes* (and it still tickles me that good point and shoots yield printable, professional quality pictures. Thank you, technology) - the spot means I must find and exterminate it in Photoshop. Then there is my new, not-yet-loved Canon SD95, a whole new breed of point and shoot, which may actually train me to be a more thoughtful photographer. It also shoots RAW, which is one of the reasons I chose it after reading reviews extensively (and fretting for months) - and it has a wider angle. I find I am shooting fewer macros (its macro is not quite as good as the 880's) and more scenes. BUT. Last night I hated my pictures of the terrace, shot with the brand new 95. The blues were wrong (the iris blues were wrong, too), and the image not as crisp as I would have liked. I was so depressed. So tonight I set the same table (and even mixed the same drinks!) and tried with the 880. Blues are fine. Then I re-shot with SD95 and discovered a few things. So Vince and I are delving into the 95's innards and settings and I am realizing a thing or two about my technical knowledge, and also laughing somewhat at the fact that my fancy little camera is going to force me to use manual settings more...

* Of course Vince's old Rebel has been my new favourite thing for the last six months. Especially when attached to a telephoto. It's just so big to lug around. The small camera fits into every day without a squeak. The Rebel with long lens makes its presence felt and suddenly you are a Photographer instead of a photographer.

Are you still awake?

These pictures are taken with the SD880, the old Canon. The SD95's battery poops out fast, after 200 pictures. That's two to three days, for me, and quite annoying. I knew about it when I bought it and figured I'd have to get used to it, as all newer cameras are heading in the same direction there. I always have two batteries and charge one while the other is slipped into its slot (wouldn't it be nice if we humans had a spare battery at all times? Instead we have to sleep. Or meditate. Or garden. Or meet in the woods).

On another note, the Pat Austin (apricot-orange below) does not realize that her days are numbered. Sad, but true. I only have two shrub roses, and I expect them to perform reliably. Eglantyne met with the same fate last year. If I had six, maybe she could stay. She hates the heat. Today her buds opened and drooped from sunrise to sunset. Over. Pat Austin is not a heat tolerant rose, no matter what they say, and it is only late May. This is her second summer on the terrace and I had hoped she might have settled in and toughened up. But no. Afternoon shade might be good thing for this rose, but here there is sun from sunup to an hour before sundown (I was reminded today that sundowners are a peculiarly South African concept - drinks at sundown). I want another Abraham Darby (pink, below), I think, as that rose is just astonishing (see how it bounced back from the brink, here). But if anyone knows - from experience - of another David Austin, or other rose, for that matter, that is an excellent repeat bloomer with fragrance, and that does not just give up in the heat, please let me know.  Perhaps I will be inspired tonight, in Deb's garden [weird, I just read that post again. I had updated it with a note about a double tornado dream I had - that was in May. On September 16th  two tornadoes touched down in Brooklyn and Queens).

In tomorrow's news, Dead Horse Bay, high tides, otter spoor, a new edible weed, broken glass, scavenged bottles for It...

Cat on a hot terrace roof

A roof cat's point of view. He says we should rise above it all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


After cleaning ourselves up - rubbing alcohol (against poison ivy) and interestingly hot water and soap (oh, you know, all the stuff that goes with soiled tissue paper, used condoms - 100's and 100's - and god knows what else) - at home after our trashorama in the Midwood in Prospect Park today I mixed mega, like, mega mojitos, with terrace mint. Then we felt clean.

Chatted to the cat. Made pork tonnato. Picked some roses. Cos that's all there is, really. 

Fodde? Afrikaans slang for pooped. Tuckered out, on an elemental level. Finished. Klaar. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Iris Garden

We walked past this pretty garden in Brooklyn Heights on our way back from the Promenade late on Sunday night and I smelled them in the dark. Wonderful. I went back in daylight for a picture.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Prospect Park Litter action

We will be in the woods tomorrow, rain or shine, and this time our clean up of the Midwood will enjoy some press attention.

Apart from seeing our core group again and meeting a couple of new volunteers, I look forward to the sights and sounds of these lovely woods. Becoming familiar with any natural area is wonderful because one becomes aware of the detail of change in the intervals between visits. The oyster mushrooms will have grown, flowers faded, others opened, leaves turned a deeper green. I'm also curious about how much new trash has been generated and whether the brush barriers around the old tulip trees have been left intact.

If you are suddenly able to join us read this post for details and please RSVP me.

Terrace weekend

I can see my neighbor, Danielle's yellow roses peeping out over the top of her terrace. On this terrace Pat Austin and Abraham Darby roses are covered in buds and should be gorgeous soon, unless they are so damp that they just fall off...I spent a couple of evenings potting up some old thyme that I had divided, as well as the oregano. Hope they do well. I may miss out on thyme flowers.

It rained of course, but held off for long stretches inbetween.

Long enough for the cat to run about and get spooked by Noises from Above (cat Rapture?).

He likes to park himself on the last bluestone slab at the very tip of the roof farm.

Then the sun came out for a bit, and the rain of Iceberg petals continued..

Pitter patter.

I am hording the mint for mojitos.

 A honey bee! I wonder if she belongs to Yann, who lives on Bergen Street with bees and hens. Maybe I can tag them...

I am thinking about getting rid of the tarragon, though it breaks my heart to do so (I've had it for years). I just don't eat it very often and am jealous of the room its pot takes up. More basil! Planted purple and Thai basil. 

The first Pat Austin bloom is opening. They look good now, but last year they hated the long days of July and turned small and crispy...Then again, they did bounce back in September. One forgets..

And New Dawn. Which is putting out new canes that grow inches, I swear, a day. I am measuring. 

And the happiness of the first butterfly.

Update: the butterfly effect?

Unbelievable that in Joplin, Missouri, the mayhem of a perfectly natural phenomenon was about to be felt. We are lucky.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cover crops

Growing under the terraced cherry trees of the BBG's new herb garden, very striking crimson clover (nitrogen-fixing Trifolium incarnatum) and...what is the grain? Is it winter rye? I love the idea of the herb garden but am not well acquainted with it yet. Although my first serious plant love was for herbs, and I became very interested in what they could be used for, apart from cooking, for some reason I do not go into this garden - something about it keeps me on the outside, looking in. But I love these wild cover crops.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Martha Stewart Living

...will be on the terrace, soon!

I don't know whether to panic, bake a cake, or open some Champagne.

Maybe I'll do all three.


I need volunteers to help me polish the gravel, paint over the blackspot and teach the cat some manners.

(Volunteers to be compensated with cake, bubbly and doses of panic. Fun, yes?)

Kir rouge

A summer staple. Good for sipping inbetween repotting herbs, rearranging pots, or picking up fallen white rose petals. The condensation on the glass starts to drip with little mud rivers, after a while. To make, a splash of good crème de cassis, a slug of medium to light-bodied red wine, a slice of lemon, ice cubes. Stir. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Elizabeth Scholtz's 90th birthday

Here is Betty's story, which I wrote for The Cape Argus, one of Cape Town's dailies. Click on the page to enlarge for reading (you may then click on it again to enlarge).

I asked for flowers

No words really necessary...

Vince was dispatched to take some pictures of the bluebell woods yesterday, as I was unable to get there myself and I was worried I'd miss them. I also need very good pictures (hence the Frenchman) for a specific project and he arrived in time for a particularly torrential burst of rain and wind. So we went back today. He took loads, so did I. I think - hope! - we have bluebell pictures. The flowers are heartbreakingly beautiful and the air under the enormous green cathedral of trees smells pale blue and just sweet enough.

An actual, happy honey bee.

For more bluebells, look at Vincent's stunning 360' bluebell panorama.

We did a quick tour of the gardens but I lingered as usual in the Native Garden. In time to see the Smilacina bloom.

Clematis ochroleuca. Non-vining clematis fascinate me, and this flower is so particular - a dead straight, poised, slender stem and the tiny bell in pale green and yellow. If I designed clothes these plants would drive me nuts with inspiration.

Pink lady's slipper - Cypripedium acaule. Far lovelier to me than the yellow lady's slipper, and the first time I have seen one. This one was uncaged - all the others are surrounded by wire to protect from critters.

Lupins! I have also never managed to be in the garden at the right time for them - and I can't remember the species.

Ask me what I want, what I really want? And I'll tell you, a stone house above a slope, a terraced meadow below it, the Alps across the valley and lupins in tall green grass, growing on terraces. 

Exactly that.

Thought you'd never ask.