Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Get thee behind me, prejudice

I was not a mandevilla person. But kyk hoe lyk ek nou, as they say in South Africa. Look at me, now.

My feelings for (against) mandevilla were associated with an aversion for pink flamingoes (the un-ironic, garden kind), fishing gnomes, shiny, chromed garden railings, red begonias growing with gritted teeth in full sun, and perhaps even with Miracle Gro. Not my thing.

Then came the leafhoppers.

These tiny green sucking insects ruined the scarlet runner beans I had planted to grow on our terrace railings. They hoover the chlorophyll from leaves, which turn dry and burned-looking. I had intended the beans as a lightly leafy privacy screen along the terrace edges, and hoped the bright flowers might also feed passing hummingbirds (as they did in Harlem and at 1st Place). There is no effective treatment for leaf hoppers that is not systemic. But I garden organically, and so I pulled the beans out.

Already halfway through the growing season I needed something fast-growing. Enter the mandevilla, grown as an annual climber in this climate. And I chose white. The more common pink was a step too far.

Six weeks later it has sent out long  tendrils, and every evening I weave them into strategic gaps.

I'm almost ready for the pink flamingoes.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Evening on the terrace

Hibiscus in the late light on the terrace. Sharing quarters with shiso and echinacea, and a Thai lime as a neighbor. Very cosmopolitan, like the surrounding city. Different cultures and ethnicities, all getting along without killing one another. Mostly. 

The satellite flowers of the hibiscus swivel gently with the sun.

Also as the sun sinks, fire time. Remember to grill your peaches. These were easily some of the (maybe the) best peaches I have ever tasted (from Kernan Farms at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket). The heat warms the sugar and caramelizes them a little. A light flick of salt and a squeeze of lemon give you a perfect companion for some juicy ribs.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Growing galangal

The tropical and subtropical edible forest story continues:

And then came two species of galangal, bought from Companion Plants at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival last September (and screened for either explosives or drugs at airport security in Columbus - the screener had also never heard of pawpaws, the Ohio state fruit). 

Galanga alpinia looks a lot like cardamom (in the background), ginger and turmeric (all members of the Zingerberaceae family) and it kept its leaves indoors through winter. Now, in sticky August, it is shooting for the waxing moon.

The more exotic-looking Kaempferia galanga is native to the shaded and humid forests of Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Southeast Asia. It is endangered in the wild. It is one of several plants referred to as galangal and is used as a herb and spice as well as medicinally and in perfumery.

It disappeared completely, indoors, so for most of the winter the worried Frenchman looked at what he thought was a dying plant and then an empty pot (I was in South Africa for three months when my father was ill and passed away). When I came back I wiggled my fingers under the soil to see if its rhizome was still sturdy and firm. It was. We relaxed. It was just sleeping. Every few weeks I gave the invisible plant a light drink. In May it went outdoors when the temperatures overnight stayed above 50'F. In very early June the first leaves appeared, tightly furled and upright, before they relaxed and lay flat on the soil's surface.  It hates direct sun, so is sheltered behind a leafy salvia.

And today (TODAY) I glanced down while sipping my morning coffee on the terrace and noticed what looked like a fallen white flower on the leaves. I looked more closely. It bloomed!

While I bought these two plants to use in the kitchen I am not sure when I will steel myself to eat up some rhizome. But their leaves are heavily aromatic, and maybe soon I will snip one, and begin the Malaysian experiments I have been longing to try.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

The subtropical food forest

This is the mourning doves' view of the terrace. They like to hang out on the roof.

In the lower third of the frame is the unplanned edible subtropical forest. With stragglers along the edges.

It all began at 1st Place with those two big sunny bedroom windows, perfect for overwintering tender citrus, and I chose Thai limes (Citrus hystrix - often called kaffir, the South African K-word; less offensively and more appropriately known as makrut or Thai lime) for their famously perfumed leaves, figuring that the trees were unlikely to produce fruit (I was wrong!).

The two Thai limes now each have about 30 bumpy fruits, whose zest is the most aromatic I know.

The limes were joined by cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), which is almost too successful. I am about to divide it, yet again. And curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) - both bought while I worked on an assignment for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, writing about subtropical herbs. I fell in love.

Who was next? The Meyer lemon, the finger lime, the myogo ginger. And then the two galangals. It's infectious.

They all come indoors in autumn (the link shows their 1st Place winter quarters) and rush for the exit again in early May, or when overnight temperatures stay above 50'F. They relish our muggy summers. The satisfaction of having exotic fragrant leaves and fruit within hands' reach is immense. Especially when these ingredients are hard to find, even in New York.

This week's posts will be all about these plants, their challenges and rewards, and how our apartment-hunt late last summer had to take their needs into account!