Category Archives: Uncategorized

I GET MY KICKS

Roots Do It

Some people get their kicks from hang gliding; some from racing cars. Call me mundane, but I get a similar thrill, minus the fear, from seeing cuttings of some new varieties of figs that I am propagating take root. The cool thing about hang gliding, racing cars, and rooting cuttings is also the sense of satisfaction you get from doing it well.

The current batch of cuttings provides special satisfaction because the method I used, gleaned from the web (see, for instance, what turns up with a search for “fig pops”), permit me to check and observe progress frequently. Usually, I stick a cutting into a rooting mix and learn that rooting has taken place by the resistance of the stick to an upward tug or by roots escaping through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. With fig pops, I get to see each cuttings wiry, …

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PINING FOR PINES

More Than Just Pignolis and Piñons

Pine trees first appeared on earth 170 million years ago amidst lush, steaming forests of tree ferns and the footprints of dinosaurs. In time, human footsteps replaced those of the dinosaurs. Pines and humans have been intimately associated ever since. The trees have been worshipped; the cones have represented symbols of fertility; the pitch has sealed ship hulls; and the wood has been used for construction and for paper.

Korean pine

Throughout this long association, seeds of certain pines have been part of our diets. The flavorful seeds of native pines have a long history of use as “nutmeat” by the people of Siberia, the Himalayas, southern Europe, and the American Southwest. Look into almost any Italian grocery store in America, and you’ll find tempting cookies studded with pignolis, which are seeds of the Italian Stone pine (Pinus pinea). Pine nuts are the nut for …

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AMUSING MUSINGS

(The following is excerpted from The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden, available here.)

Write the Name Right!

With little pressing, gardenwise, this time of year, why not muse about plant names — their common names and their sometimes intimidating-looking botanical names? Take the tree commonly named dawn redwood for example. ”Dawn redwood” admittedly reads more easily than this tree’s botanical name, Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

Wait! don’t stop reading! Instead, speak the Latin name aloud slowly: me-ta-see-KYOY-a GLYP-to-stro-boy-dees. It’s delightful, tonal poetry vocalized by a smooth dance of the lips, the tongue, and the upper pallete. 

Sensual pleasure aside, botanical names have a practical side. That woolly-leaved plant that sends up a candelabra of creamy yellow flowers each summer has a hundred or so common names. I call it mullein but other names include Aaron’s rod, Adam’s flannel, bullock’s lungwort, and velvet plant. This plant has only one botanical name, …

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Rosemary Tips

Secrets to Survival

I’ve killed plenty of rosemary plants over the years, typically in late winter. At least that’s when I’d discover that they were dead. Casually brushing against the plant would bring dried leaves raining to the floor.

Problem is that rosemary has naturally stiff leaves. They don’t wilt to broadcast that the plant is thirsty. And then it’s too late; the plant tells you it’s dead as it’s leaves flicker down.

Perhaps like you, I knew that rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region. The picture in my mind is of the plants thriving on a sun-drenched, dry, rocky hillside in poor soil. True enough, except below ground the roots are reaching deep or wide for water. Which my potted plants can’t do.

Following this latter realization — duh! — I haven’t lost a rosemary plant in years. The secret to keeping a potted rosemary plant happy is to keep it well …

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PRETTY BARK AND TASTY NUTS

Bark Giveaway

Walking in the woods or an arboretum this time of year is a good time to play a game of tree identification. You say, “But trees are leafless!” No problem. Often, all you need is to look at the bark.

You might think a white-barked birch would be an easy identification. Not necessarily. A white-barked birch might be, instead, a European birch (Betula pendula). This one is distinguished from our native paper birch (B. papyrifera) by the dark, diamond shaped fissures on its bark. Or Himalayan birch (B. jacquemontii) or Asian white birch (B. platyphylla). Of course, these last three species aren’t likely to turn up in our woodlands.

I’m often snagged by cherry birch (B. lenta), whose bark isn’t white at all, but whose young bark resembles young cherry bark, then morphs with age into longitudinally elongated plates. The giveaway for cherry birch comes with breaking a small twig and …

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Hazels, Filberts, Cobnuts; Good by any Name

Nuts are Good

Let’s talk about nuts. No, not about nutty politics, but about real nuts such as fall from trees and shrubs. (Peanuts are borne on a small, annual plant, but despite their name, are legumes, not true nuts.) Nuts are an overlooked food. For all you protein people, nuts are high in protein, and, for all you heart-healthy people, they’re high in the good kinds of fatty acids. I eat them because, unadulterated, they’re good-tasting and generally good for you.

Ripe filbert nuts

Nuts are not difficult to grow, and can make attractive dual-purpose plants as both edibles and as ornamentals.

Black walnuts are especially easy. Squirrels do the planting for me; my job is to get rid of excess trees, of which there are plenty sprouting all over the place. The next job with walnuts, after gathering them up, is getting at the nutmeat. Well worth the effort, in …

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The Green Faerie

In a Smoke-Filled Café . . . 

What you are about to read might have been improved upon if I had been writing with la fée verde (the green fairy) looking over my shoulder. Or better yet, if I also was writing from a smoke-filled cafe in Paris.

The Green Faerie, Viktor Oliva

Or even better, from a smoke filled cafe at the turn of the 19th century, hanging out with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and Lord Byron.

There’s a certain mystique with drinking absinthe, la fée verde, a distilled spirit concocted from various herbs which might include tansy, fennel, green anise, and bee balm. The most important ingredient is, of course, Artemisia absinthe, absinthe, the plant. Absinthe is one of many plants in the genus Artemisia, commonly referred to as mugwarts or wormwoods.

Full disclosure: I generally am not fond of this genus because it’s one of …

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Giving Thanks

Share the Bounty

Thanksgiving is a holiday that really touches the gardener, this gardener, me, at least. If nothing more, it’s a harvest festival, a celebration of the bounty of the season’s efforts. And the season has been bountiful, as is every season if a variety of crops are grown.

Like most home gardeners, I grow a slew of different vegetables and fruits in my gardens. This year’s poor crops of okra, lima beans, and tomatoes was counterbalanced by especially bounteous crops of peppers, cabbages (Asian and European), and various kinds of corn (sweet corn, popcorn, polenta corn) and beans (green, cannelloni).

More than just give thanks, why not give back? One way would be to share the bounty with others who either don’t garden or can’t afford to purchase enough produce. Ample Harvest (www.ampleharvest.org), Angel Food Ministries (www.AngelFoodMinistries.org), and Feeding America (www.feedingamerica.org) are three organizations that can direct your …

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CATS ON A COOL, GREEN ROOF

Not Green Enough

I’m looking up at my green roof, my evergreen roof, and it’s not green enough. Literally. I had expected that by now the roof would be solid green. It’s not.

The green of this roof was supposed to come from the plants growing on it. Because conditions up on the roof are very harsh, the plants I chose were tough ones, hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp.). Hens-and-chicks look like little cabbage heads of stubby, succulent leaves. Baby plants push out from around the mother plants, grow, and make more babies, and so on, ad infinitum. Or so I hoped.

The roof only has a couple of inches of “soil” on it and covers a porch, so has no heated space or insulation beneath it. If winter temperatures plummet to 10 degrees below zero, not uncommon here, temperatures within that thin layer of soil also plummet to 10 degrees below zero. If summer temperatures hit …

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