February 28, 2010

Winter's Beauty and Fierceness

Some plants are just designed for snow. A grove of White Spruces display a horizontal motif on the Drake's Creek train in the White Mountains. Now, as we reach the end of February, the transition of seasons cross over and blend. One day, it's winter, the next, it's spring, then, winter grabs hold again. Here in New England, it is very noticeable, and it's what makes these next few months of transitions more about "seasons' than season, for we may end the snowy season, soon it will be the ice season, the black fly season, the mud season, a time of snow squalls, ice storms, balmy days, and before long, vernal pools and spring peepers. Until them, we take each day as it comes.

This weekend, I snowshoed in the most incredible conditions that felt more like those wheels of images in my older brother's view Master of Yellowstone in winter than it did of northern New England. If you can't tell yet, I love snow, and I love winter.

Near the summit of Jenning's Peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire after a week of unusually strong winter storms.

Ice on Balsam Fir trees on the wind blown summit show remarkable patterns of crystallization, albeit in a horizontal manner.

I was planning another hiking trip this weekend, but when Thursday's huge storm hit, I thought that I might not go. For it was fierce.

Last Thursday was an odd weather day.After going out to dinner in Providence after work, I drove home north, one hour, I watched some Olympics, I went to bed. Around 1:00 am I was awakened by a sound not unlike a summer thunderstorm. It was very windy, with winds so strong that I thought that I was dreaming at first, with 50-70 mile per hour winds the tall spruce trees outside of my bedroom window we're leaning at an angle nearly breaking. I could hear large trees cracking in the back yard, and dropping with loud thuds. In the end, we lost two dead American Elms that narrowly missed the duck coop, but broke a fence in the back yard requiring the dogs to be hand walked until today when the fence was repaired.

Strange weather is not uncommon in New England, home of the perfect storm but this one was strange and odd, and I was wondering if the hiking trip I had planned in the White Mountains of New Hampshire might be cancelled since 350,000 residents had lost power with the storm, and more snow was expected in the higher terrain. Regardless, I decided to persevere and keep my commitment and not cancel. Out of the fifteen people who decided to participate, only six of us showed up in the snow.

My hiking bud's making their way up some of the steep trails.
The hike required snowshoes, and lots of gear since the weather in the White Mountains can change at any moment ( the highest recorded wind speed ever recorded on earth was on top of Mount Washington in 1934, it was 231 mph, in this same area). But fierce was not what I experienced, instead, something magical happened. I met my group after driving through heavy, heavy snow that was drifting down in a peaceful fluff, the sort of snow that sticks to every branch, twig and bud making the very steep snowy hike beautiful, yet difficult since the snow was unbroken and deep, and to make it more challenging, the hike was extremely steep in the deep snow, and the trail markers were hidden. Regardless, we all knew that we were experiencing rare beauty, and I will remember this hike for a lifetime.
My friend Jon stands looking into the blowing winter wind admiring the view from a look out on the trail.
The forest was quiet, but the top of the mountain brought strong, icy winds, and frost covered Balsam firs with horizontal ice crystals that stung as they hit your face. Mother nature has designed these northern growing evergreens so well, that although they look painfully frozen, the ice within the needles actually protect the branches, and the heavy snow at lower levels safely cling to the flexible branches. If these we're landscape plants in a garden, the native species wouldn't break, whereas the Chinese imported species seem to always snap. In the same was that imported species generally get nipped by early frosts in New England, yet native species emerge later.

Still, the snowdrops are coming up and the witch hazel's are late, but almost in bloom at home!

Discovering Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

I order seeds from a number of seed companies, and, in an earlier post this past month, I shared some of my thoughts about a few organic heirloom seed suppliers that we're less than respectable. But, there are many heirloom seed suppliers that are exceptional, with excellent materal, service and authentically grown and collected varieties. In this post, I am going to share a new fav, and one which is rather new on the scene. Meet Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Oh God.......if I have to pick just one melon, which one would it be?

I first ordered from Baker Creek last spring, when I found their site online, and discovered their amazingly long list of heirloom tomatoes. Check it out, it is a little overwhelming! But enough about heirloom tomatoes, for this winter, I received a printed catalog from Baker Creek in the mail, and suddenly I could read about the amazing back story of the company, and, see what a beautiful catalog it is.

The company has an inspiring back story, since it was started by Gere Gettle when he was 17 years old, and that, my friends, was only 12 years ago! In 1998 he was filling orders with his mom in his bedroom, and had 550 orders. Five years later, he printed 20,000 catalogs. In 2000, her carried 725 varieties in the catalog, and in 2008, he had 1200 varieties. This year, he printed 150,000 catalogs, and, the catalog is stunning. More like a well designed lifestlyle magazine, than a seed catalog. It's a little too tempting. Check out some of these spreads I photographed last Sunday before our big storm in New England.

They carry flowers, too.

A selection of heirloom squashes make selecting just one, practically impossible. Next to tomatoes, which I will let you discover with Baker Creek, squashes are some of the most impressive when grown from heirloom seed. For ornament or flavor, heirloom squashes are suppreme. Not everything is better when grown from heirloom seed, but sometimes, they offer a more authentic product, and squashes fit into this category. With varieties from quiet villages and countries from around our planet, heirloom squashed demonstrate an ethnic narrative that few agricultural crops can today.And you can grow a piece of our human history in your garden. And taste it too.

With heirlooms, often the story is what makes the experience so rich. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds tells you so much about each variety, that you just want to buy them all, and sometimes, people do. Last year, about half of the tomatoes I wanted, became sold out, so order early.

I am growing some very special oriental eggplants this year.

An heriloom Sweet Pea is already emerging in the greenhouse. These varieties are often more fragrant, but less showy. But there is a charm about them, that one cannot get from the big, blousy Spencer varieties from England.

Some seeds of more slower growing varieties of vegetables have been started early. I am simply using seed trays for many of these, since I am only sowing a dozen seeds or so of certain peppers, eggplants and fennel.

February 22, 2010

A peaceful hike In the land of Bode Miller

I've been a slug this winter, and even though I drive by a gym every night, no, wait, I lied.....three gyms ( where I have memberships!), I still have not done anything physical. Then, my dear Wii Fit tells me that I have to lose 45 pounds, and it groans every time I step on the board to "make believe" that I am ski jumping. It all adds up to a sad realization that as I age, I am finding it more and more difficult to do anything that will require me to sweat ( or stretch, for that matter).

So I joined an outdoor hiking club. ( I know, I know, as if I have ALL of this spare time!); but the reality is that I will stay more committed. You see, if I have to sign up for a hike in January or February, it will be more difficult to back out which would be far too easy to do once I realize that it would be below zero, or snowing, and that I might be treking up a 3000 or 4000 foot trail with ice crampons, or spikes and snowshoes. Ugh, but then, I could not back out because if I did, there are those who are cued on the list who will gladly replace me. So, I joined since this intrigued me. I knew that I would keep me committed.

Don't get me wrong, I love hiking, I love the outdoors, and, in the winter, there are fewer snakes on the trails, so I was completely up for this venture. This weekend we hiked Mt. Potash in Lincoln, New Hampshire, near where US Olympic Skier Bode Miller grew up. Here, deep in the White Mountains National Forest, the views were so spectacular, the snow, not that deep for mid-February, and the temperatures, rather nice near freezing, since it reached almost 40 degrees F. in the valley on Saturday.

I was reminded of my winter sessions Dendrology class at Unity College in 1981, in Maine. I still can remember how fun it was ( fun for me) to identify all of the native trees in the boreal forests around the campus while winter camping and trekking. One notices things in the winter woods that one does not notice in the spring or summer when there are so many other plants capturing our attention. In the winter you can appreciate the bark on the Birches, the golden curly bark on Betula lutea, and remind yourself to snip off a twig at suck on the branchlet which tastes like Birch Beer ( wintergreenish). Mosses, granite, Viburnum buds, and all of the iconic northern forest evergreens like Tsuga canadensis ( Canadian Hemlock), White Spruce (Picea glauca) and Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir). With the snow, it all looks like a pretty Christmas card from L.L. Bean.

A frozen waterfall in a gorge was magical and captivating.
Winter hikes offer trails that are not crowded, and are surprisingly pleasant if the weather is nice. Next week, I am taking a longer one, but next winter, I think winter botanizing in the New England woods will be first on my list.

Exploring the Botanical Pools on Flickr

Flickr and Flickr Groups are very useful for seeing a plethora of species shot in the their wild habitats, and plants in private collections. It's like a million garden tours, and 10,000 plant society journals in full color, all came together into a search engine and then bred with Facebook. It's informative and fun to explore online, and the quality of images and the knowledge available, is far more than what one can find on a simple Google search. Plus, you can write and contact the grower personally, or ask someone where they took the photo. It can be be very useful. Just about any plant family, genus or species is represented, and if one is not, you can start your own group or pool.

There is even a group called Plant Geeks.

...and Daffodil World

And..Dogs on Roofs, but I digress.

I tend to be very active on the social and image storage site Flickr, and then, I don't use it for 5 months. And so it goes, with these sorts of things, but flickr is my first choice for image sharing and research when I am looking for images and info on something the is not available on a Google search. For plant geeks, it's so much more. Last week, one of my images was requested for a pool on camelia's called Las Flor Mas Bella ( Only Camellias), and.....there are 1719 members in this particular group, with 9078 images as of last Sunday. Just Camellia images that people have taken. Amazing.

Exploring Flickr can surprise even the most experienced of growers. There are groups for most everything, and 'Pools' where members can post within a theme or subject be it the 'What's in my Refrigerator door letter' pool,

'Refrigerator door art' pool. and a 'What's in my college roomate's refrigerator pool. But check this out...there is a pool ( group) for Lachenalia.

And, one on Hyacinthaceae

and, saxifragaceae

Flickr groups are very useful for seeing other forms of the same plant you are growing, and for connecting with others who have either photographed the plant in the wild, or who are growing it in a collection. Sure, there are some who are less experienced, or in some groups, such as BLUE FLOWERS, are more visually oriented rather than botanically savvy, but by and large, the majority of the botanical groups are composed of well informed people who have a wealth of information. I particularly like seeing the images of many of the plants that I grow, shot in their native habitats, such as South Africa.

February 19, 2010

Move Over Harvard Glass Flowers...Mrs. Delany is in the house

A Pancratium umbel cut from paper in the 1700's by paper artist Mary Delany ( British Museum Image)

It may seem silly to report on an art exhibition after it closes, but this artist is worth knowing more about, and if you find yourself in London over the next few months, let's say while attending the opening of the Chelsea Flower Show or visiting Kew, you might want to check out an exhibition that rivals the Glass Flowers at Harvard, but this time crafted in Paper. I introduce you to Mary Delany, and her extraordinary papercut botanical illustrations.
There are some things that I just seem to find late in life, such as the Harvard Glass Flowers, which I visited for the first time last year, (Yes, they are absolutely worth seeing and are amazing). See them at the Harvard Museum of Natural History ( thanks ready Anonymous, who kindly pointed out that the Glass Flowers are at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, not the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, instead, it is adjacent to it. I don't have an option in Blogger to slash-out corrections).

While snooping around the internet last week, I came upon a plant artist which I was not familar with, although many of you may be - Mary Delany (1700 - 1788); whose elegant, luminous cut paper flowers rival the most delicate floral paintings from England. Most incredibly, Mrs. Delany did not start her craft until she was well into her sevenites! So I though that I would share her name and direct you to her work- it's worth looking at.

I think that her work is equally as interesting as the Glass Flowers for many reasons, but mostly because they were created two centuries ago. Her extraordinary work continues to inspire and amaze those who have been enlightened, and a recent museum exhibition has been curated which speaks to her body of work. This touring exhibition just closed at the Yale Center for British Art, and opens this month in London. It is entitled 'Mrs. Delany and her Circle' , and although Yale was its only venue in the United States, (it closed January 3rd, 2010) you can, I believe, still get a publication (need to check on this). The exhibition now is open now in London, at the Sir John Soane's Museum, (Feb 6th to May 10, 2010).

February 17, 2010

Botanizing the wild side of eBay

Uniflora darwinii, the seeds of this South American alpine Calceolaria are available from Strange Wonderful Things, a seller of unusual plant material on eBay, a seller based in the San Francisco area.Sure, I agree.....type in "RARE PLANT" in the eBay search engine, and you will get everything from pink african violets, to worn out, paper thin 'rare' EMO Roger Plante concert t-shirts. In the odd world of ebay selling, a buyer has the advantage if they are savvy eBayer's, and if buying plants use their best knowledge. Yeah, everthing is a risk when buying it over eBay, but we are adults, and I will assume that you can easily sniff out the bogus from the brilliant. Still,even I get caught sometime, but hey, I guess that's the fun. It's a bit like playing Antiques Road Show, but honestly, I have recieved lots of great plants from ebay ( Heck, I've even sold lots on it!). So here is a whill around with some of what I found on-line while cruising from worn-out vintage Screen Star t_shirts a fetish of mine).

Deppea splendens, a 6 inch rooted cutting is also available right now by the seller Strange_wonderful_things, on eBay.

The rare Argentine Fuschia, F. tilletiana, also available from the Strange Wonderful Things site.

Other plants from Chile are available from a seller called potato-rock, who ships plants from California, here, another rarely seen Calceolaria.

Calceolaria arachnoidea

Impatiens namchabarwensis, a very unusual blue Imapatiens offered for sale from a seller that I have not bought from yet, called Tasteelectric. Lots of interesting things, but mostly from seed.

This Daylily, 'Geneva Firetruck' DF-B1C (Hanson 2002), plus many more, is available from BLUERIDGEBUTTONS, a store on eBay managed by Blue Ridge Daylilies. You name it, Hosta, Lilies, Daylilies, Peonies, Japanese Morning Glories, it all can be found on eBay. Usually, the better varieties and the hard-t0-find newer introductions are available too, since most collectors know that by the time a new Daylily reaches your local garden center, 30 years has gone by.

I've been tagged. Honest Scrap Award.

I am not so hip to the blogland lingo but apparently I have been "tagged" by
Risa from Garden and the Good Life blog tagged me with an Honest Scrap Award. That means I have to tell you you 10 things about myself that you would not find out about me on my blog. So here goes. ( ugh) 8 (plus two), ugly things you don't know about me.

1. Even though I bitch alot about the publishing world and the promise of a digital one, I collect books and have a fetish for magazines, in fact, I spend as much on magazines as I do on food, and my library is immense with stacks of books that drives everyone crazy.

2. I have this fantasy of leaving my fast-paced life behind, and moving to Vermont to live in log cabin with no electricity ( except for my computer!) for one year so that I could slow life down and just note the migration of birds and listen to the rain.

3. I had this brief career as a contemporary artist in the mid 1990's with kind-of-an-'important', as they say in the art world, museum exhibition ( Matt Mattus-LURE) at the Worcester Art Museum, and one at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art ICA. I guess some of my work is in some permanent museum collections, nothing major, more like the Wellsley College Museum, I was interviewed on All Things Considered though, and was also voted as a Boston Now artist by the ICA. Not sure why I stopped, I think I was freaked out by my German curator's not so artfully written catalog which was panned by ArtNews, I quit and haven't done any work since.

4. My AP photo with Me and Jimmy Carter. Yikes. This 1978 Kansas City Times newspaper cover captured me and Jimmy in color, was a bit of an accident since I was just attending a national conference for the Future Farmers of America, in KC, ( I was even funnier, the state president for FFA for Massachusetts). All 50 state presidents were allowed to sit at a press conference on stage at the Kemper Arena when protesters gathered outside after hearing about the start of the hostage crisis in Iran that started that day. The doors we're locked, and I had my Forest Gump moment. Security got tight. I was pulled out of line, but allowed back it at the last minute, and the only seat left on stage was the one next to the President. All I could think of was "I'm gonna get shot" and "what should I do". Everyone saw me on National news, with Walter Cronkite. It was all about me, and not Jimmy Carter.

To add on add people to have my pic taken with, something I am not into, really, but "just happened to be there",I can add in Michael Jackson and Mohamed Ali ( separate occasions), when they made a secret visits to our offices at Hasbro.

5. I have a very real phobia about snakes. I even spent extra money to make the foundation of my greenhouse 4 feet deep, and raised up 1 foot off the ground so that you have to step up and over the sill, to keep snakes out. Last year, I saw a garter snake on the walk to the greenhouse, and I screamed like a big girl, it freaked me out so much, that I wouldn't walk that way dark all summer unless I had a big stick to bang. Weird part is, I am only afraid of Garter snakes ( they are the most horrible) and small, skinny New England snakes, not Boa's or Pythons, or Rattlesnakes even. Just fast stripey skinny beige snakes. Can't even look at a picture of them. I don't feel bad, I hear that Dan Hinkley shares the same snake phobia. of course, I have planted rock walls everywhere!! I've created a snake haven!

6. I'm a foodie, but the only thing I don't like to eat is Kidneys and zucchini. Kidneys stink like pee, Zucchini squeaks when you eat it.

7. I went to College in Hawaii. Majored in Classical Piano, but I wanted to be an ornithologist when I was growing up, but my brother 'advised me' that although I graduated with a Biology degree from Maine, that I wouldn't really make any money at it, especially in research if I went on to Cornell to continue banding migratory Red Knots (Sand Pipers) in the Arctic ( my thesis), so since I played piano too, I got a piano scholarship to University in Hawaii. My brother still won't talk to me about it. He ended up being a biologist. I'm now a creative director for a toy company, go figure.

8. I'm allergic to cats, and I really don't like em either. Don't know why.

Now, I need to tag others...hmmm...
I tag:

1. Judy Glattstein

2. Stephen Orr

3. The Bulb Maven

4. Panayoti Kelaidis

5. Mike Slater

6. Elisabeth Zander

February 14, 2010

Oh, Saint Valentine

Around Valentines day, the tipping point happens - for by mid-February, the sun begins to feel stronger. One notices the days staying longer, ( it's light out when I leave work now), and the plants all seem to know that spring is coming, for suddenly, buds start to swell, and many plants begin new growth. This is Camellia season, both in California and under glass in the cold, snowy north. So on this St. Valentines Day, I simply will share some images of what is in bloom today.
The Vireya crossed made with x 'Saint Valentines Day', are all good bloomers, and this one, which has lost its tag, is appropriately in full bloom.
The Hobby Greenhouse Association of Massachusetts had their garden tour in our greenhouse yesterday, we all had a good time and thankfully, it was sunny. This Acacia pravissima caused some chatter, since it looks very much in like many Acacias one sees in northern greenhouses.

The mid-season Cyclamen species are starting to bloom, here, a cute tiny C. trochopteranthum blooms in an alpine pan. This relatively new to cultivation, species comes from a limited area in south-west Anatolia, Turkey. It was first classified as C. alpinum, but recently the Cyclamen Society is researching wild populations to clear-up this muddled genus, with the first task of clearing up the taxonomy within this species where there seems to be two variants. Which ever one I have, it clearly is not as floriferous as some of the photos I've seen in England, but, then again, I don't fuss over mine that much.
One of my new Japanese Azaleas, Azalea kurume from Nuccio's Nursery in California is starting to bloom, the color is perfectly purple.
The Correa Western Pink, that I brought back from Oregon last March, is still in bloom. I don't think that there was a day all year, that this shrub from Chile didn't have flowers on it.

A Pink single Camellia from Japan.

The single Camellia's are all blooming a bit late, this one blooms more typically at the Holidays.
Camellia 'Silver Chalice"
This one looks big, but the flower is the size of a nickle. The species form from China of Camellia lutchuensis. It's fragrant, too!
Oxalis purpurea 'Peach'