Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sunny side up

Egg cup o'sunshine, in wet, wet Harlem.

Do you know the yellow flowers?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The wild woods - an excursion to Pelham Bay

To Pelham Bay Bay Park we went, on the 6. It takes a lot less time from Harlem than it did from Cobble Hill. Spring beauties were out in drifts of white. I have never seen so many.

We pointed long lenses at tree stumps but did not see the owlet that is in alleged residence.

There were woodland anemones on their "stems like threads" (perfectly on cue, as I write about them in the April chapter of my book.)

There was cutleaf toothwort.

There were deer! (I have never seen deer, here.)

There were thousands of trout lilies.

And forests of Japanese knotweed, below. It is really out of hand. I have never seen as much. This is a problem, because this part of the city is also home to a wonderful diversity of  indigenous wildflowers and spring ephemerals which are outcompeted by the weedy thugs. I was also struck by the green sheets of day lilies also invasive) and the presence of masses of garlic mustard. 

The good news? Well, you know what it is. Primo kitchen ingredient. But it needs to be harvested NOW. 

Why can't we host a knotweed festival? A famous April feast. Have foragers and cooks and chefs and writers and gardeners and botanists and park custodians all make friends and play catch the knotweed for a couple of days.

And then eat it, together. This is a spring treat.

After stops for photos and knotweed collection, we headed to our favourite island where someone once planted garden flowers - lily of the valley (which make the Frenchman homesick for his childhood in Antibes, where there was a festival honouring them), grape hyacinth and shasta daisies, all around some stone ruins - and had our picnic.

Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Marlon Brando. Such a good looking young man. So very odd, later.

Prosciutto and arugula with home made mayonnaise and mustard, on brioche buns, and some field garlic bread left over from Saturday's Central Park wild edibles walk. We put cheese on that, naturally, with a schmear of Mrs Ball's hot chutney.

Spiky, with yellow buds, growing from a crack in the rock. No idea.

And a butterfly.*

Then a detour for winter cress, a walk to the bus, making our trip a good  5.5 mile round trip, and south, on the 6 train back to Harlem.

The butterfly reminds me: I have a book about homegrown herbal teas to give away. I loved the butterfly giveaway I did a couple of years ago, where everyone described their first local sightings. It made the most evocative poem. Perhaps it's time to do that again...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Scenes from a Wild Edible walk in Central Park

Central Park is just a hop and a skip away from where we live now, in Harlem. From Cobble Hill, it had been a 40 minute subway ride. For Saturday's walk in the Ramble I hoofed it from home across to the C train on 125th and then rode south for about ten minutes, exiting beneath the American Museum of Natural History, on West 81st.

The park was in spring swing.

Our group entered the Ramble, and wandered in a large circle for the next two hours, picking up a lost member of the party on the way, who had waited in vain for us to gather on East 81st Street.

There was a lot to see. Violets and greenbriar (below, being inspected by writer and forager Frank Hyman), pokeweed and knotweed, jumpweed and forsythia (edible!), trout lilies, Trillium and blackberries, serviceberries and winter honeysuckle and a Cooper's hawk breakfasting on a squirrel.

Beautiful ostrich fern fiddleheads, observed but not touched.

Boaters basked.

And exercised.

And we paused for a snack of field garlic bread and butter.

Then we parted ways in the park, or meandered to the subway together, where the C train took me and a leopard all the way home.

Maybe I'll bring the leopard (it's a vegetarian).

Friday, April 25, 2014

Circling the wagons

It's a modest little thing: birch poles to offset the fishbowl effect on the Harlem terrace. They will support Gloriosa lilies and Clematis and hyacinth beans. It is not a real screen. All in the head.

I put the posts in a week ago (they are six feet  long and go all the way to the bottom of the wooden planters, two feet deep) and yesterday afternoon the Frenchman helped me attach the cross pieces. As soon as we had finished, the four-strong flock of mourning doves came to visit, walking up and down the birch poles on their little rosy feet. They approve. 

There will be more interesting pictures to come, I hope, with plants.

I would like to stay here longer. There is a lot to like. 

The sour cherry down below is in bloom. 

And the Uvularia grandiflora came up and flowered in record time. I would have planted them with woodland phlox and ferns, to take over in their dormancy, if the terrace budget had been bigger. As it is I've splurged on good potting soil and some pots, and those birch poles.

Our time here is uncertain. Tell that to a gardener, whose pleasure is investment in the future.

And uncertainty is my demon with the longest tail.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Happy spring, on Lenox Avenue

The hate speech sign outside the Atlah church has been active in the last few weeks. First there was the hate speech itself. You know, stone the gays? Then came the graffiti: "God is gay" (I think; a little hard to make out). The graffiti was cleaned up, and after that Macy's came in for a hit...

(Scratches head...)

And now this.

The man needs therapy. Too much dirty laundry in plain sight.

Spring in Central Park

The serviceberries (Amelanchier spp., also called Juneberries, and shadblow - note to self, go to Chelsea Market to find shad!) in Central Park broke bud a few days ago. 

And these are the weeks of the Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica). 

True blue. By summer, they will have disappeared. Good companion plants for ferns.

In this wonderful patch they share space with May apples (Podopyllum peltatum) and the weedy lesser celandine (Ficaria verna), which has overrun this part of the North Woods; very pretty, but suffocating in its habit.

I was surprised by how many May apple patches I saw in this part of the park. Very nice.

In one spot it was losing a battle with mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), below - also very invasive. 

The trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have opened. It still amazes me that one can see this collection of Northeast American natives in the city of 8.3-something million human beings. 

Drifts of violets. This was late in the afternoon, after rain, and there were very few people in the park.

The mystery rope nets, below.

In the winter I decided they were for erosion control. I doubt anyone thinks they could suppress the lesser celandine. I must find someone to ask.

This Saturday's walk, farther south,  in the Ramble, should be a good one...

More here: Spring ramble

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Eat an invasive plant for Earth Day

Young knotweed shoots are top of the list when I think of my favourite spring vegetables. Sour, soft, and very adaptable.

It's far more fun to eat Japanese knotweed shoots than to pour glyphosates on them. Put away the Roundup, and whip out your pruning shears or oldest kitchen knife and get slicing. Or invite some local foragers over to de-shoot your clumps of knotweed. While the herbicide schills claim that glyphosates degrade too fast to harm the environment, studies are mounting that suggest the opposite.

I still wonder whether repeated harvesting of the shoots might not deplete the underground rhizome of its energy and eventually lead it to die off. Would a progressive park manager not allow foragers to collect the shoots from a designated Japanese knotweed patch? The plant is out of control in our local parks and I see no harm in such an experiment, and much potential benefit.

Above? My lunch today: Japanese knotweed and field garlic soup, with a drizzle of field garlic greens oil.

Heartbreak's flowers

On Easter Sunday we climbed a low mountain, called Mt. Taurus (or Bull Hill) above Cold Springs, on the Hudson, diagonally opposite Westpoint. The mountain may not be very large but the path did go straight up. Fittingly, this part is known as Heartbreak Ridge.

Everything was brown and grey, with patches of old green moss on the rocks.

The old quarry below looked like an Okavango delta. But no crocs or hippopotamus. Only a lost tourist who had ridden the train north with us. Later we caught the same train to Manhattan together again.

Dun and metal and slate. The pointed suggestion of buds to come on the trees whose rough bark I did not recognize.

One green plant, on the compact path.

Trail markers pointed the way, pinned to the unknown trees.

And in the leaf litter signs that the Easter bunny had passed.

And right at the top of the ridge, where we turned off the path to eat our sandwiches on a rock high above the river, and far below the soaring turkey vultures, flowers.

Several clumps grew within feet of one another, and nowhere else. The rest of the forest remained dry and papery. Later, their leaves made them easy to identify: Hepatica nobilis. At least I think that is the species.

After lunch a mourning cloak butterfly flew through the trees, rested, took off again.

We climbed in T-shirts and descended in layers of sweaters. 

We brought home Japanese knotweed, found on the lower slopes, and an unexpected sunburn.