Friday, September 30, 2016

Basil ice cream and other garden wonders

The Grow Journey Thai basil that I planted out in late spring grows in two huge troughs (gifts late last year from my friend Julia Miller, who lives a few blocks away) right against the house. Apart from mid-June and till mid August, when they receive an welcome hour or so of direct sun, these troughs are in full shade. The basil is three feet tall and forest-like. I also planted some ginger rhizomes in the same deep troughs and their bamboo-like stems and long peppery leaves lean out above the Thai basil. The feeling is Edible Jungle.

So. You can grow Thai basil in shade. Yes, you really can.

What do do with so much basil? In Cape Town in August I tasted the most delicious ice cream I have eaten. Connie Finnemore served it at the end of a dinner and I was mesmerized by its flavor. Can you guess what it is? she asked. I got the lemon right, but I missed the basil and thought it was mint. It was so unexpected. And green. In short: Lemon curd, basil, cream and gin (recipe here). I was converted to ice cream eating on the spot. Back in Brooklyn I mowed down the Thai basil to take upstate to friends for the weekend, and whipped the ice cream up quickly when we arrived (I use home made lemon curd), so that it would be frozen by that evening. Everyone hummed with pleasure.

I made it again last week. The gin stops the cream from setting very hard, so it can scoop quite well. Even better, no ice cream maker required.

In the last few days New York decided to turn from an unseasonably hot 'n humid (yet rainless) September to chilly gusts with rain. I am wearing a sweater. And thank goodness, because I am thinking about mushrooms; it is hen of the woods season. Speaking of which,  the founders of Grow Journey, Aaron and Susan are into foraging and mushrooms, big time - you can see some of their finds on their Tyrant Farms blog. Another reason to like them.

So, it's time to plant fall greens in my garden where the glorious sun of summer has retreated to the very rear of the long plot, again. We have lived here for one year, and I remember how worried I was about the light, this time last year.

What is coming up? Here are the baby greens, all from those seeds of the month packets.

Bok choy - this cultivar is 'Prize Choy.' I have never grown it before and am hoping for the best - the birds have left it alone, and while I see some nibbles, mostly the bugs seem to stay away from brassicas. The online Grow Guide that you can access as a Grow Journey member tells me 30 days till baby harvest, 50 days till maturity. With my sun situation it may be a little longer. Cross your fingers.

Kale 'Dazzling Blue,' above.

Very tiny chard. But not Swiss: "‘MacGregor’s Favorite’ is touted as the best tasting of all chard (unlike Swiss chard, this variety has small veins like regular beets — beets and chard are the same species bred for different uses but you can also eat the young beet-like roots of this variety). The glossy, tender leaves are a deep, antioxidant-rich red with darker burgundy veins. An improved heirloom variety from Scotland, this plant can be “cut-and-come-again” all season long in most areas.' 

May it be so. I love chard, I love eating beet leaves (borscht season is almost upon us), and I love harvesting crops when the living world seems to be retreating.

And finally, 'Dragon' carrots are purple-red, and the Grow Guide says they have the same lycopene content as tomatoes. Good for hearts. Carrots are also a new crop for me. As a longtime container gardener I never felt I could offer up pot-space to carrots. Only 30 days for baby carrots, 70 to 85 for full size. And if the roots fail, there are always the leaves - very good in soup.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Brooklyn Bridge Park Forage Walk

I'll be leading a one-hour walk in Brooklyn Bridge Park tomorrow at 5.30pm. We'll scratch and sniff and learn new smells and tastes and talk about how to use these plants in the kitchen, or grow them at home.

Book through the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. Tickets are $10 ($5 for members of the Conservancy).


Sunday, September 25, 2016

New York nature

Yes, it exists.

I saw a black and white warbler in Central Park, hunting for bugs in a tree. He was unafraid and sweet to watch.

Bird books say that warblers are widespread but I only ever see them in fall. Last week there was a little yellow one in the garden.

                  Late-flowering boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), is a marker of early autumn.

A feral cat stalked across a path, looking well fed. An orchestra of staccato chipmunks popped from the woods behind him. Outrage. If you see something say something.

It is golden rod (Solidago) season. Many people think this is ragweed. It is not ragweed.

A bird dropped from a branch in the North Woods. Not identified. I was hoping for mushrooms, after a rain shower, but the rain was not enough.

I did see a great northern flicker. They are usually very shy and take off as soon as they hear or see you. I crept, soft-footed.

A day goes by.

Then, Staten Island, with the Frenchman, via a Car2Go. In Conference House Park (where peace was not reached, in 1776) we saw a fly catcher ruby crowned kinglet (see comments), above - busily catching flying insects.

Cranberry viburnums are ripe. Strange and sour taste.

Goldenrod on the water, its roots in the sand.

Staten Island's southern tip, with tiny waves lapping the beach.

And an army of Japanese knotweed inbetween beach and woods. 

I'll return in spring.

We headed to High Rock and Park, and its woods, where we found white tailed deer.

And, to my delight, dinner. Chicken, of the woods, Laetiporous sulphureus (the underside is brilliant yellow). They were very tender - this can be a very tough mushroom.

We'll be back in a few weeks, as our night time tempertures have dipped, and October is in the offing. That means one thing: maitake, hen of the woods, Grifola frondosa

Wish me luck.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Purslane power

Salted purslane on sourdough toast for breakfast?

 Garden crop. Tomatillo and purslane gazpacho?

Or purslane pickles?  (Above right are field garlic pickles, too, from spring.)

Read more, and get the gazpacho recipe, at Gardenista: Weeds You can Eat.

On the subject of wild foods: I'll be leading three forage walks in the next few weeks: September 28th is in Brooklyn Bridge Park (book through that link), from 5.30pm - 6.30pm; October 8th is in Central Park's North Woods, 1pm - 3pm; October 15th in Prospect Park, 1pm - 3pm. For the last two, follow the link below.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Brooklyn hummingbird

Hummingbirds have been visiting the garden. They appear suddenly, masquerading as moths, and then you focus, and notice. I love them. It has been two years since we have seen them - the last time was in Harlem; last year this time, soon after we moved in,  there was nothing for them to eat in our garden. 

They spend most of their time not at the Nicotiana, but around the jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) that I plant just for them. It is a cheap and pleasing indigenous Tall Plant - good for height and late-season flowers.

The Frenchman took these pictures, and is disgusted with them. But with low light and a fast bird, I find them enchanting.


Monday, September 19, 2016

The road

The time: late mid-August
The Place: South Africa

We had driven for hours, leaving the fresh greenery of the winter rainfall coastal regions and its rising spring behind us. We were headed not up the West Coast, famous for its spring flowers, but into the heartland, to the Karoo, and new vistas of dry mountains. It was a gamble, and I worried about the choice - we had so little time away, and for the Frenchman this was his very, very brief holiday in an intensely-pressured and taxing work year. It had to count. 

At last we turned off from the N1, and took Prince Albert Road (above) east towards the small town of Prince Albert, at the foot of the Swartberg. I was driving, and I was tired, but too stubborn proud to relinquish the wheel. As much as I enjoy driving on the open road it can be stressful when there are dozens of huge trucks* to pass at breakneck speed, especially in the beloved Landcruiser, a Turbo V8 who needs ample runway to come up to the requisite speed. Point her up a vertical rock track and she can climb it, she's as strong as anything, but if you sit on a truck's tail and then floor her nothing will happen. She'll ignore you unless she sees a hundred yards or more of  free roadway for her to build up her considerable speed. And this pisses off the cars behind you, hungry to scream north to Gauteng and its smokestack skies. So. Stressful. 

* truck in South Africa = tractor-trailer in the US

I'm digressing. 

So I was tired, and tired of being super-focused. And our destination, the Weltevrede Fig Farm beyond town, was still at least an hour away. Plus there were supplies to buy, first. 

Then the flowers appeared at the side of the road. It's a very good sign when I brake for flowers. It makes Vince smile. Instant tonic, right into the vein. There had been some rain, and an extra allowance, runoff from the tar,  had come to this dry soil. Flowers had germinated fast, as they must in this climate. We stopped, and pulled over, and walked on the side of the road in the clean air.

These are Arctotis leiocarpa, gousblom in Afrikaans. If cows eat them the milk turns bitter. 

Felicia namaquana (I think) on the left. Blou blommetjie - 'blue flower,' in Afrikaans.


I felt better. Flowers were a big bonus. We had come for mountains. 

Soon, we would find them.

[An aside: these were shot on my phone, the Samsung Galaxy S7. I'm in love with its camera.]


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Late-late summer High Line

The grassy, seedy stage of pre-fall, and late-late summer (for regular late summer see that link).

The liatris buds of early July have morphed to seedheads.

Towers continue to rise as development rides on the coat tails of the High Line's success (and plain old real estate-ravenous New York City market forces), hemming in the High Line's previously fully-exposed planting schemes.

You can see the Frenchman's place of work way in the background. I'm not thrilled that he goes there every day, it's way too high profile. Or maybe that's a good thing. Now.

Off-the-grid living appeals more and more. Off-the-grid, apart from super-fast Internet, of course.

Cue cacophonous hyenas.

But back to the High Line. If you are in town, at such a time, do not miss the High Line under a blanket of snow. No crowds, and spookily beautiful.


Lemon curd recipe

For an easy and delicious lemon curd recipe, head next door to 66 Square Feet (the Food).


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Butterfly meadow - Pier 6

I love having a bicycle. Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6 is now a 5 minute ride away. Wide skies, water, and the Butterfly Meadow. This monarch was one of several flitting about the butterfly weed (Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed - I have this species in our garden, too).

Swamp milkweed blooms later than common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and reblooms sometimes, with flowers appearing at the same time as seedpods.

Above: I think this is Northeast native Liatris scariosa (New England blazing star), although the Brooklyn Bridge Park plant list does not reflect that. It is later-blooming than the Liatris spicata  that made me so happy this year, at home.

The fall plantings are ablaze. Not sure what these are, yet.

September skies and oxeye sunflowers, Heliopsis helianthoides.

I will be leading a forage walk on behalf of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy on September 28th. The park is stuffed with indigenous aromatics and edibles and it's a beautiful spot to learn how to use them and where to plant them in your own garden. Tickets are available on the BBP website: $5 for members and $10 for non members.

Otherwise the next walks are on October 8th and 15th in Central Park and Prospect Park. See link below.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Ungarden

I have waited about two weeks to write this. First, because I needed to count to 1. Then, because 10 wasn't enough. And by the time I got to 70 I was too sad to write.

That is what happens when a gardener is told to ungarden.

Our neighorhood is unusual in New York because it has spaces for long front gardens, as well as backyards. Some of them there are very beautiful (you can see some of them in the article I wrote for Gardenista). In others there is plain concrete or oversized and very ugly gravel around unhappy shrubs. There are lots of shrines and plaster statues of Mary. Occasional concrete reindeer.

In ours - above - there are five junipers and yews. They are cut hard and suffer from drought. Around them when we arrived late last August was pale gray soil and white gravel and dead weeds and someone's abandoned tomato plant. Also a patch of hostas that looked worse and worse as the drought we experienced grew longer. Our bedroom  windows face this, and we pass it every time we enter or leave our ground floor apartment. Depressing. But also, for a gardener, inviting. This is south-facing and in full sun,whereas our back garden is in shade for most of the year (the exception being late June through August).

Late last fall I planted some perennials in the empty gravel patch, buying them at the local Gowanus Nursery and GRDN, in nearby Boerum Hill. Echinacea, agastache, amsonia (I had always wanted to grow amsonia). I got a deal on November plants at Gowanus, and acquired clary sage and ornamental oregano. I planted some of the mass of daylilies I divided in the back garden. I swept the front path every week and collected the fallen black locust leaves to use as a mulch on the barren soil. I hoped these plants would be able to tough it out with watering just a few times a week (by watering can, carried in several trips through the house).

Then came winter, as it does.

We shoveled our way out (no sign of the super. Fortunately I quite like shoveling; snow remains exotic, to me).

Underneath lay the frozen plants and I wondered if they would survive to make this front space more inviting.

They did. They emerged in April and began to settle in. I added some annual pansies and nemesias.

The scraggly perennial snapdragon burst into flower.  Alliums opened. Bees arrived. 

There was life, and beauty. That is what gardens are. 

In early summer the existing daylilies I had divided and moved from the weedy back garden flowered with the clary sage, now three feet tall. Neighborhood friends donated plants, neighborhood friends watered them while we were away.

By mid summer the agastache was tall, and we were shielded from the street by leaves and flowers. I am so sorry I did not photograph the liatris - it was stunning and is the most forgiving plant I have met.

When we came home from Cape Town I spotted two different warblers hopping about, here.  The garden was by then looking seedy in a mini High Line kind of way. The honey bees were still bending the calamintha stems low. On the streets the cicadas were raucous.

I came out to pick up a delivered parcel one day and bumped into our landlord with our (now former, mysteriously) super. The super was talking about this front garden saying it had its own set of "issues." Snow shoveling was mentioned. Odd for a guy who never lifted a shovel. Also under discussion were the pots with flowers on the stoop, planted by our neighbors, two floors above, who've been here for about ten years. Their flowers attracted us to this place, last year. We water their plants if they are out of town. At least three floors of this house are home to people who garden and who love plants.

The verdict: Everything had to go. My plants and their stoop pots. Our landlord said I should have asked if I could plant here. And he's right. I didn't ask. This is not my property. I just live here. When I asked him why he wanted the plants out he answered at last, quietly, that he preferred it to look "clean."

It took me a few days. Then, last Monday I dug it all out.

3 echinacea
2 amsonia
5 agastache
3 clary sage
numberless daylilies
2 hardy snapdragons
3 ornamental oregano
3 calamintha
5 late blooming alliums
3 spring alliums
1 lamb's ear
3 solidago
9 liatris
2 thyme

I left the sedum to flower. Then it too, will go. I made a snap decision: since these plants are sun lovers they won't like the back garden (although the calamintha will be OK), so I removed three roses in pots in the front, against the house wall and planted some of these perennials in them. The roses had not done well after late May - too hot.

One of the stoop-garden neighbors came out to water his husband's pots as I unplanted. We both had just one question: Why? A few days later their plants were in the compost bin - they were allowed to keep two pots.

What does this look like to you?  To me, it looks like empty ground, ready to be planted. Instead, it is the ungarden.

The exquisite irony is that people pay me to design gardens.

I am sad. It is like a hole in me. I know I have a whole back garden to play in. As long as I close my eyes as I walk past this dereliction. I know there are worse things. I know people are dying, in pain, suffering persecution, homelessness, unbearable loss. And we are poised on the brink of political Armageddon.

Perhaps that is why I am at such a loss. In the context of the constant bereavement of life, why must we suffer the loss of something that makes us and our neighbours feel better, in the light of the shitstorm to come?

There is no answer.