Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Picnic in Central Park

After doing a bit of this, yesterday evening, in the Conservatory Garden...

...we did a bit of that.

While we ate Vince remarked, It's been a very long time since we had a picnic. 

He was right. The Harlem move knocked the picnic right out of us.

It's been over  a year since our last picnic, on the roof in Brooklyn. And before that, there was this one, with our healthy, happy kitty (who has been rallying  over the last few days).

In fact, there were lots of picnics.

And it has been a year, now. 

Perhaps we'll picnic more often.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Central Park botanical walk

Central Park's North Woods
12pm - 2pm

Join me on an edible botanicals ramble through Central Park's North Woods. We'll spot and discuss weedy edible greens, from prolific pseudo-grains like lamb's quarters and amaranth, to easy-to-recognise pokeweed, and burdock. We'll see burnweed and greenbriar, sumac and spicebush, and talk about what to do with them.

We'll see fruit and nut-bearing trees, the plant that killed Mrs Lincoln, and a few others inbetween. If we are lucky, there may be a mushroom or two, but we need some rain!

It is migration season for the birds that use the Atlantic Flyway, and we are likely to encounter songbirds and their friends en route south, too.

We meet at 12pm at the  SW corner of Central Park North and Lenox Avenue.


What cows should not eat...

At last, a mystery solved.

For months I've been eyeing a plant in one of the planter boxes on the eastern side of the terrace. It came up near the jewelweed, and I had no idea what it could be. Neither did anyone on the plant ID forums I belong to. We wus stumped.

Now that it's in bloom it is obvious: white snakeroot, Argeratina altissima (formerly Eupatorium rugosum). Famous for killing Mrs Lincoln (mother of Abraham), by way of her cow. Milk sickness was passed on to humans and calves by cows who'd grazed on the plant,  and apparently killed thousands of people in the 19th century before they figured out the cause. I wonder if it still does, occasionally?

I know this silly plant. It's in bloom all over the New York City right now and crowds the paths in woodland areas. When I was Litter Mobbing in Prospect Park we were surrounded by it for weeks. It is all over the abandoned backyards on either side of us. But I wasn't expecting it in a planter box on the terrace, and had never paid special attention to the young leaves, and so failed to recognize it. This shady spot has inadvertently become the native corner. I like it.

(Speaking of woodlands: there'll be an edible botanicals walk this Saturday in Central Park, from 12pm - 2pm. Details to follow.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

East, through Harlem

Every few weeks I walk east, way east, through Spanish Harlem, to do some shopping.

If I had a garage for it and the gas, I'd be tempted.

Peppers, I think...

...I guess, after the divorce, you need the movers?

Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, babee. Byoodeeful.

Which makes me think of Pablo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sourdough focaccia

Sourdough sultana focaccia.

Yes, it's sourdough weather again (a few days ago the coconut oil in the pantry cupboard turned from liquid to solid and I knew the season had changed).

I made just one sourdough loaf in the summer, and it lay down and cried. Then I did. Boules and breads that call for a 500 degree oven belong to the cool and cold months. But the starter has been living in the fridge with weekly feedings, and the other day I suddenly craved - craved - the sour cherry focaccia that is served at Balthahzar, for breakfast.

In Harlem, sultanas had to stand in for cherries, and the first attempt is quite good, though not perfect. I added olive oil to the dough, and used the water the sultanas had soaked in. When the hot loaf came out of the oven, I sprinkled sugar over the top.

Later, I sent a hunk upstairs to Wolfgang, who told me it went very well with some liverwurst, which is what he served to his family of eight, long ago, in Germany, on Sundays.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Green-Wood botanical walk


Green-Wood Cemetery
27 September 2014, 12.30pm - 3.00pm

As I wrote in 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life, some of the city's most beautiful trees grow in Green-Wood. I have sat under them in the hottest months and felt cool, and have rustled through the leaf litter in fall, sharing the grounds with no one but a stately ground hog, who is king of Green-Wood.

Join me on a quiet exploration of one of the most peaceful parts of the city. Also the most hilly. Rare, in New York City.

Image: Google Maps

After rain, the lawns are home to mushrooms and sometimes one finds maitake growing on the roots of the mostly stately trees.


It will be a walk with eyes trained to what grows in lawns and on trees. We may see little. We may see a lot. But it will be beautiful.

We meet on the sidewalk at Green-Wood's main entrance on 5th Avenue and 25th Street. Closest subway is the R at 25th Street. More details will be emailed before we walk.

Bring a sandwich and drink, and a sense of adventure.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Conservatory Garden - late summer brilliance

Run, don't walk, to see the English Garden in the formal Conservatory Garden collection, in the northeastern part of Central Park.

I passed through on my way to the North Woods but was transfixed here, lost track of time, spent my Canon's battery on pictures (using the Frenchman's telephoto - I was actually on a bird hunt!). I'll be writing story about the plantings for Gardenista, with lots more pictures.

[Here is that story...]

In the meantime, just go. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The plum at the water's edge

Found in Brooklyn: very sweet and perfumed beach plums (Prunus maritima).

These will be turned into a sauce, tomorrow. We hummed as we ate them, straight from the small shrubs. Three small boys watched us, asked, and soon joined in.

This is shrub of shorelines and dunes, native to the long eastern coastline, from Virginia (more or less), up to Maine. It is underused in gardens. Plant it in full sun and in very well drained soil. Beautiful in spring in a cloud of white blossom, filled with fruit in late summer.

The next botanical walk will be in Green-Wood, Brooklyn, on Saturday. Quiet, green, hilly, filled with enormous trees...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Moving a garden

Wednesday evening, above. Vince and Estorbo waiting for hummingbirds. Both of their mouths open.

Yesterday afternoon, above - plants in transit.

Yesterday evening. Roof exposed, with stone slab for our table - the lighter rectangle. I was out all afternoon (cat, cab, vet, $600 later), and, regardless of the upheaval, this was a lot of work for our landlord and his helper. Really heavy work. It may sound perverse, but I like the exposed look, because it interests the roof garden designer in me. This is excellent support for a roof garden: steel I-beams, laid on supporting walls, well off the delicate membrane - the real deal. It takes and distributes weight so well, with deck above the beams. The roof membrane below must have been very dirty/ I am sorry I didn't see it before it was hosed off. Years of debris would have collected - the spaces between deck boards are a little wide and a lot can drift down. Another rule of roof gardens is that you must have access to that under deck area for periodic cleaning, and also to the roof drain, for clearing. I lay awake at night in Cobble Hill during downpours. The deck was nailed down over the roof drain. Terrible idea.

The pots are now in our landlord's front yard, below our front windows, right on 127th Street. I hope none of the plants walk. I don't think they will. The white tarp is covering his woodpile, which materialized this summer. For the freezing winter to come. 

Today work on the leaky roof is set to start. Hopefully it does. Hopefully we'll be back out there to enjoy what's left of the very lovely weather New York is enjoying.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Harlem hummingbird

It happened. A hummingbird came to the terrace. It buzzed once, disappeared up a dark building shaft, an impossible green speck, then reappeared a few minutes later, from the other side of the terrace. It visited the jewelweed, flew off, and came back a third time. Long enough to allow Vince to take some really good pictures with an appropriate lens. I was frozen in place with my 50mm, which I had been using to shoot pictures of garlic and fennel, for a food story. But I snapped away, anyway.

The cat was sitting nearby and at one point I saw his eyes light up:

I took his picture. I thought he must be looking at a bee. But minutes later the hummingbird hovered into my field of vision.

Don't worry -  he doesn't eat birds. But he likes to watch.

I was transfixed by the sweet creature. Very, very happy.

It stayed longest at the jewelweed, which is in full bloom. I planted a few seedlings that I had brought from Inwood in the spring, in case of poison ivy contact (it's reputed to prevent the rash), and I also thought it might do well in this difficult, shady corner (it has). Little did I suspect that hummers are drawn to it. It touched on the cardinal vine several times, and on the scarlet runner beans, too. All winter  - the long winter of my discontent -  I dreamed of a summer terrace, to stay sane (it was touch and go) and ordered seeds of plants I thought might attract these tiny birds.

I hope it makes it all the way home. Wherever that is.


                  September Botanical Walk Schedule

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Terrace pleasures

Alpine strawberries, Greek yogurt, and maple syrup.

Tasted better than it looks.


September Botanical Walk Schedule

Monday, September 15, 2014

Brooklyn Bridge Park - wild edibles window shopping

Brooklyn Bridge Park, Piers 1 - 6
20 September 2014, 2pm - 4pm

Over the last six years the former wharfs of the formerly shut-off  East River waterway have been transformed into an accessible edible indigenous plant playground. Bayberry, sassafras, sweetfern, elderberry, bee balm, sumac, beach plums, pickerel weed, cattails...the list is long.

We don't collect plants in such a high profile and carefully designed setting, but I find this lovely series of waterside parks is an ideal outdoor edible classroom.

Walking ten steps reveals a new plant whose culinary qualities are under-explored or simply unknown to most cooks and eaters. We learn to ID, scratch-and-sniff, and talk about eating possibilities.

We meet at 2pm at Pier 1, at the entrance to the (hidden) wine bar and cafe near the pond (straight in line with Doughty Street), off Furman Street - see map link: look for red markers.

The closest subways are the 2/3 at Clark Street, from where it is a 10 minute walk downhill to the park, or the F to York Street.

The walk will end at the foot of Atlantic Avenue. There is plenty of good shopping upstream, and at Sahadi's you can purchase foraging-related items for the kitchen, such as powdered sumac, and mahlab (wild cherry kernels)...

Adjusted expectations

The full sun, Brooklyn days of the exuberant Clematis viticella "Etoile Viloette" are over. I mean, it tried its best. And it gave us flowers in June and again, a sprinkling, in August. It is tangled in amongst the asters I transplanted - the only plant I kept when we moved in, last October. But you could tell it was just going through the motions. It wanted sun. From dawn to dusk. Sun, sun, sun. Not just overhead for four-minus hours.

Instead, we have the Westervelt gift of the shy and lovely solitary Clematis "Roguchi" (a hybrid of the species C. integrifolia and C. reticulata), who would also flower much more prolifically in full sun, but whose beautifully formed flowers warrant individual interest.

I'm interested to see if the David Austin roses come back for a fall showing. Also gifts, this time from Michael Marriott, the rosarian for David Austin, they were very pretty in late spring and into June. Summer hit them hard and for the first time I have seen thrips as a New York City rose pest. Sun, more sun. please. This is Boscobel, a few days ago.

I am getting some pots ready for fava beans and peas, just as the cardinal vine has come into bloom. That was wishful thinking: hummingbirds, I hoped. Hm.

For all I know, it and the jewelweed have been besieged by hummingbirds. They just take off the minute I step outside.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Vining vegetable


Any guesses?

Hint: it takes off in warm weather.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beautiful garlic

My bundle of Hudson Clove garlic arrived two days ago, beautifully packaged, tied, and each bulb individually labeled. There was a little bonus bunch of shallots, too.

My friend Frank grew this garlic - it was pulled in July and has been curing till now. I have seen none more beautiful. It will be employed soon in various ways: definitely in the creamy garlic soup (in my book, and a cool weather staple in my house), definitely roasted, and spread on toast - with a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper, and definitely kicking the rear of the summer sniffle I have managed to acquire.

If there is still some garlic left (it's a small-scale New York production) treat yourself or a friend to this wonderful bouquet.

I can't think of a lovelier gift. It teaches you what garlic really should be.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gardener Q&A: Richard Arm

I visited historic Vergelegen, outside Somerset West, on my recent trip to South Africa. I first saw this wine estate when I was studying archaeology at the University of Cape Town, and was involved in a dig on the crumbling property. I remember picking small ripe oranges from disintegrating wine barrel planters on the decaying stoep of the manor house. Later, at home, I scooped out their shells and filled them with orange sorbet for a dinner party. I wasn't cut out for archaeology. Digging up the past never interested me as much as creating something for the present and future.

A lot has changed since then. For one thing, the estate is now owned by Anglo-American - so money is no object. The land and buildings are now a showpiece, and have been beautifully restored over the years. You can read my article about Vergelegen's background and gardens, with lots of pictures, on Gardenista. Richard Arm, the head horticulturist and garden manager at Vergelegen since 2010, was very generous in providing information for that piece. He was also kind enough to sit down and answer the questions that I like to put to people who have gardening in their blood:

Do you garden for a living?

Yes, I am lucky enough to be the horticulturist and get to play in the dirt every day.

Where is your garden?

Vergelegen Wine Estate near Cape Town, South Africa. We have extensive historical gardens and our estate is open to the public

What size is your garden? Approximately!

All the area in the heritage core of Vergelegen is approximately 60 hectares [148 acres].

When did you start to garden?

I remember being at least five years old and helping my dad in the garden on a weekend.

Who or what inspired you to garden? 

The love of the great outdoors and remembering a well-proportioned garden gives a sense of calm and peace that everyone should experience. Unfortunately these days people are too busy to stop and take in these elements that make living – living.

Do you remember the first plant you grew? 

That has to be the bean in a jar in pre-school but I also remember growing radishes from seed in our veggie patch at home in my early years.

Has a plant ever disappointed you?

No plants don’t disappoint, we make mistakes and try to grow plants where they are not happy. I always say work with nature and then things start working well.

What plant has made you happiest?

I started out as a young horticulturist in 1990 and since then planted thousands of trees. I get great joy from seeing these trees now being majestic parts of the landscape; these are the rewards.

What do you love about your garden right now?

Right now we are entering spring and all the big oak trees on the estate have brand new leaves and are looking fantastic. The wisteria have also started flowering - also, Wow!

What do you feed your garden? 

I stick to certified organic fertilizers in our gardens and worm compost .

How often do you garden?

Every day is a good day to garden.

What is the garden chore you look forward to? 

Sounds a bit strange but I love mowing the lawn. This is my thinking time and nothing bothers me as I make lots of noise with my lawn mower. Also the smell of freshly cut grass is a happy childhood memory.

What is your least favourite garden chore? 

I have dogs at home … this is my least favourite job…

Where would you like to garden, if you could garden anywhere? 

I must say I am happy in my space now; it takes a lifetime to learn what to grow where and why. If I changed it would take me way out my comfort zone (this might be a good thing?).

What would you like to grow, that you can't?

I would love to grow vanilla vine just for fun. These rare and sought-after culinary ingredients fascinate me.

Food, flowers, native or ornamental? 

I grow all these at Vergelegen. The best of all is to grow ornamental flowers that are food – artichokes for example. My favourites are the flowers that bring joy to the garden.

Your favourite garden writer, or personality?

My favourite garden personality is Keith Kirsten. From a young age I remember his TV gardening programs and these made a big impression on me. Now, later on in life, one of his favourite gardens is Vergelegen. He often visits with overseas visitors and I then have the privilege to show him around. Inspirational!

What plants do you dislike?

Invasive alien vegetation in our fynbos areas. These create severe fire threat, and they are very bad for our water resources.

Would you like more sun or more shade?

I am lucky to have the best of both worlds with everything in our gardens. I am a summer person so preferably sunshine, and I love growing our own vegetables and herbs and these prefer good sun.

If you could visit just one garden, where would it be? 

That would be Kew Gardens on top of the list, no doubt.

What would you like people to know about gardening?

Gardening is good for the soul. It's where you can find that inner peace we are all looking for in our hectic lifestyles these days. Nature teaches us to slow down, breath, and smell the roses. It works for me, anyway!


Previous Q&A's 

Stephen Orr
Maureen Viljoen

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Transformation of herba non grata

1. Garden weed - Amaranthus retroflexus (or possibly another species...). To wit: pigweed. 

2. Harvested crop.

2. Green sauce with pureed, preserved lemon.

4. Top layer of appetizer, above aioli, red pepper sauce and  pesto. 

Instruction: dip toast, eat.