Kiss me over the garden gate - courtesy Annie’s Annuals
The Beatles sang out “all you need is love, love, love”, an ancient philosophy not created by the Beatles, and it can play out in our gardens. As Valentine’s Day draws close the song is playing over and over in my head, combined with visions of Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, otherwise known as Polygonum orientale.
Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate is a fast growing five or six foot tall annual, loaded with graceful pendant pink flowers. This is a bushy sort of plant that I can easily imagine twining around a picturesque garden gate where a shy lady and a bold lover might share a kiss. This plant is not hardy, but it self seeds and will come back year after year. It would do equally well against a fence.
Love lies bleeding in my cousin’s garden
Of course, if kisses at the garden gate turn sour, there is always Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus. I first saw this annual in bloom at the Wave Hill Gardens in Riverdale, New York. It was stunning, if not shocking, with its long pendant wine red blossoms drooping and puddling on the ground. When I found the plant label I was distressed to find that I was looking at a visceral symbol of love gone bad. Having gotten over the shock, I now appreciate the drama of amaranth in the garden. Last year I admired the new amaranth that was planted at the EnergyPark in shades of gold as well as red. Both Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, and Love-lies-bleeding are substantial plants, tall and wide; both need full sun.
Coming on Love-lies-bleeding as an adult was an unexpected shock, but somehow my young self found bleeding hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, delicate and charming. Maybe in my younger years I could not imagine anything more tragic than a poet’s sigh when his beloved sent him away. Dicentra is a modest plant, usually less than two feet tall, with attractive foliage. It will increase in spread over the years. An annual helping of compost is always a good idea. The name bleeding heart is clearly descriptive of the little pink heart shaped blossoms with their tiny white droplets of blood arranged on arching stems. They bloom in spring in damp part shade, not shouting of a broken heart, just a whisper.
Roses have their own language of love and friendship. It all depends on the color. Of course, we all know that the red rose shouts out I love you passionately. The white rose has been known as the wedding rose, and white promises more than passion; it speaks of true love, reverence and charm. Certainly in a marriage we hope that by definition true love does not age, nor does the reverence and care each will take of the other, and that they will never cease to charm each other.
Roses, like the other flowers under discussion, do not bloom in New England winters. Valentine bouquets must come from somewhere else. I found statistics that estimated 110 million roses get sent on Valentine’s Day in the United States. Not even California can supply all those roses. Over the course of a year many of our roses come from Columbia, South America.
Lion’s Fairy Tale rose by Kordes in October 2016
I am devoted to growing at least a few roses in my garden. In Heath I wanted old fashioned antique roses even though they usually bloomed for only a short season because they were naturally hardy and disease resistant. Now I am looking for disease resistant roses that will bloom for a long season. I have included the very small Pink Drift, and OSO Easy Paprika with its small bright sprays. I have also added white Polar Express and Lion’s Fairy Tale with its peach blush, both by Kordes, a company that has been breeding disease resistant roses for 30 years or more.
We will never be able to buy local roses during the winter, but there are more and more local flower farms like Wild Rose Farm in Florence, that grow annuals and perennials that they sell over a long season in mixed bouquets, or in arrangements for special occasions – like weddings! One advantage to local flowers is that they are much more likely to be grown organically which is a benefit to the birds and bugs of our local environment.
Sometimes flowers are grown as an addition to the main crops of a farm. We once took a family trip to a pick your own orchard with our daughters and their children. We got a wagon ride, petted the animals, picked apples and then chose our pumpkins, and a big bouquet of bright autumnal flowers, asters, brown-eyed Susans, chrysanthemums, zinnias and big golden marigolds.
And that list of plants brings us to some of the results of all that love and romance – children. Flower names are growing in popularity for girls. There have always been girls named Rose, Violet, Lily and Rosemary, but flowers are claiming more girls. I have a friend whose daughter is named Hazel, back in favor, and my youngest cousin is named Zinnia. Newer names gaining popularity are Petal, and Iolanthe which besides being the name of the Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta is also the word for ‘violet flower’.
Boys are claiming the plant world, too. There is Fiorello or little flower, Jared, Hebrew for rose, and Florian.
This Valentine’s Day, whether we give a bouquet or a living plant – or box of chocolates – the recipient will know the gift is all about love, and that love is all we need.
Between the Rows February 11, 2017
Crocus on the Bridge of Flowers mid April
As I write I don’t know what Punxatawny Phil saw or said the other day. If he saw his shadow we will have a long winter. If he did not see his shadow we will have an early spring. February 2 is half way between the Solstice, the first and shortest day of winter, and the Spring Equinox, first day of spring when night and day are equal in length. So since we are halfway to spring it is pretty much a crapshoot.
Last year Phil predicted an early spring, but according to my records it got very cold after February 2, with below zero temperatures. Still there was no more snow, only rain until we had a light snow on the first day of spring. In all fairness, it had all melted by the end of the day. Does that count as an early spring? I think it probably does. Our backyard garden was clear of snow on Groundhog Day, but on February 25 it was flooded because of the rains, and because the heavy clay soil was frozen. Yet on March 20, the first day of spring, buds were swelling on the shrubs in the South Border and I went shopping for more shrubs.
There were no flowers in my garden in the early spring of 2016, and once again last fall I missed the chance to buy the little bulbs that would give me the earliest spring blooms this year. However, I know I can soon put in my order for fall delivery, and not miss out again. By the first of April when the Bridge of Flowers opens, crocuses are the first blossoms dotting the beds. I want crocuses and more.
The crocus is often what first comes to mind when people think of the earliest spring blooming bulbs. There are two types of crocus. Species crocus are smaller, and bloom earlier than the showier large crocus, but all are deer and rodent resistant, and all will increase and colonize.
Species crocus come in all the familiar shades of white, gold, lavender, and violet. The tommasinianus, tommies, crocus have small blossoms, but the squirrels will not dig them up, and they will increase energetically.
The large crocus have the same color palette but they also have richer purple shades and the very showy large Yellow Mammoth. Crocuses can be planted through the fall, and into November.
Scillas on the Bridge of Flowers
I grew Glory of the Snow, scillas and grape hyacinths in Heath. The joy of these little bulbs is that they will spread, sometimes in inexplicable ways. Starry flowered Chionodoxa, comes in shades blue, pink and white and is only 5 or 6 inches tall.
Scillas or Siberian squills have delicate blue blossoms. People often plant them in the lawn where they bloom early in April and look like a piece of the sky has fallen on the grass. The foliage dies and disappears by the time the lawn has to be mowed. Remember with any bulb that the foliage must be given time to drink lots of sun so the bulbs can renew themselves and produce even more flowers the next year.
I especially loved the grape hyacinths because they produced a larger, more vibrant blossom that made a bigger show. I grew the deep blue variety, but a look through any catalog will show you that they come in paler blue shades, in pale pink, white and even yellow. Some have two shades like Mount Hood which is deep blue with a white topknot.
I wanted to grow snowdrops just because of the name and then I loved the way they survived early spring snow falls. After growing them in the lawn for a while I moved some of them “in the green” which is to say when they are beginning to bloom, to a spot in front of the house in front of a low stone wall which created a bit of a heat sink. They bloomed even earlier and where I could enjoy them more fully.
I don’t believe I have ever seen a garden with anemone blanda, three to six inch daisy-like plants, but I think they would make a beautiful spring groundcover. They come in shades of blue, pink and white. These can be counted on to be blooming in mid May.
Any of the little bulbs, the ones that bloom earliest in spring need to be planted in masses to make any kind of show, and often come in bags of 25, 50 or 100 at modest cost. The easiest way to plant them is to dig up your chosen patch of soil, loosen and remove some of the soil and put it aside to be enriched with some compost. After they have been scattered so they are a few inches apart most of these bulbs will need to be covered with about four inches of soil.
Most of these early bulbs make a good underplanting for flowers that will come later. By the time your other perennials are putting out flowers the foliage of the little bulbs will have dried up and disappeared.
Smith College Spring Bulb Show
If you don’t have the patience to wait for your own bulbs, or your neighbor’s, to bloom remember the spring flower shows at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College will begin just a month from today on March 4 and run until March 19. Walking through the fragrant aisles of these carefully forced hyacinths, tulips and daffodils is just the reminder we need to remember that the first day of spring will arrive the day after the shows close. Mark your calendars!
Between the Rows February 4, 2017
Roses always speak of love, I think.
The Victorians had a secret language of love – flowers. I don’t know who decided that the peach blossom said, “I am your captive” or who then decided sending back a bunch of daisies meant, “I share your sentiments.” I do know that a century ago Kate Greenaway compiled and illustrated a volume called The Language of Flowers that listed hundreds of plants and flowers and translated their messages.
If a gentleman wished to compliment a lady, he could send a white camellia and testify to her “perfected loveliness” while a white hyacinth whispered of “unobtrusive loveliness.”
The Bridge of Flowers is all about love – for the community
A bouquet of red tulips would be a “declaration of love,” but we all know that the course of true love never runs smooth. Flowers don’t tell only of virtue, devotion or constancy. A modern lover might be surprised to have the florist deliver an armful of thornapple, but would surely suspect that a negative statement was being made. Greenaway’s hidden message is “deceitful charms”.
Inspired by Kate I’ve come up with my own possibilities for sweet whispered messages.
Cut flowers are wonderful, of course, but a living plant speaks even more eloquently of a green and growing affection that will not wither. Think of a pot of forced white tulips glowing in the candlelight saying, “You light up my life.”
Sunny roses for sunny loving days
Parma violets are one of the most romantic flowers. Fragrant nosegays of them litter the pages of sentimental novels and are presented to divas by ardent admirers. But if I set out a potted Prince of Wales, one of those faithful blue violets, my beloved should understand I consider him my own noble prince.
If my sweetie is even more than a prince, more than an ace, I would present him with a rex begonia, noted for its large handsome leaves in deep royal hues, which declare, “My King!”
Or, in a gentler mood I would set out a delicate angel wing begonia with pale pendant blooms blushing in the candlelight, “My guardian, my angel!” (You will notice that in the throes of a romantic message, there is no such thing as too much soppiness.)
Love has inspired countless volumes of poetry, and romantic rhymes have been uttered behind the palms at a ball and over the French fries at McDonald’s. I wish I were capable of poetry, or at least of reading a roundel or sonnet to my beloved. Surely my spouse would immediately understand that when I set out a bonsai landscape, an artistically windswept miniature tree on a mossy bank, that I am referring to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
“Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,
A flask of wine, a book of verse – and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness.”
I will supply the wine, bake the bread, and even roast the beast for my love to consume and enjoy.
If I come home with a blooming passionflower, its twining, clinging tendrils and passionately purple flowers would leave little to the imagination about the sweet nothings I’d like to be whispering.
More subtle would be a pot of oxalis, often sold as lucky four-leaf clovers, but the leaf segments are somewhat heart-shaped and in my book their message is, “You are my good fortune.”
We women know that there is no better place for a heart-to-heart than over a lovingly prepared meal. I could set out a centerpiece of potted herbs. In a look back I could take a leaf out of Kate Greenaway’s book and choose peppermint for warmth of feeling, and sage for domestic virtue. Or, thinking of the song, “You’re the cream in my coffee. . .” my modern message might be, “You are the flavor and savor in my life.”
Love, like many plants, is tolerant of occasional forgetful carelessness, but routine observation and thoughtful tenderness will make it flourish like a green bay tree.
A rambler rose, but true love rambles no more.
Stone plaque in the garden
Art in the garden. Art has had a place in the garden for centuries. Archeologists found pools, fountains and statuary in the ancient gardens of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Nowadays it would be hard to find any public garden or park that does not include art.
We home gardeners have also found that we desire art in our gardens. Water is considered by many to be the most basic artistic element. By definition the Chinese garden includes water and stone. This is true of the Japanese garden as well. Centuries old grand gardens in England, France and Italy have elaborate fountains.
I was happy to know that a handsome birdbath could be considered an artful source of water, and I was thrilled when I received the gift of a solar birdbath fountain. How fortunate we are that the entrance to every garden center is graced with bubbling fountains that only need access to an electrical outlet to keep flowing and recycling their water. In addition, there are more and more fountains that are powered by the sun
Urn fountain recycles water
.On my travels I have seen many simple fountains from millstones that burble at ground level, silently slip over the sides of urns, cascade from level to level, or splash over the tiers of the fountain. All are easily available at garden centers and online.
Stone is essential to the Chinese and Japanese garden, but not always appreciated in American gardens, but I think that is changing. About 25 years ago a friend asked me what he could do with the outcropping of ledge that he felt spoiled his lawn. I suggested that he had a ready made rock garden and could turn to small spring bulbs, and low growing plants like a prostrate veronica, sea pinks, dianthus, purple blossomed aubretia, thyme and, of course, sedums. However, in that particular case, the lawn won out with the help of loads of loam.
Some of us can take advantage of stone that is on site, but others of us may import the stone. We have local quarries like Goshen Stone Quarry to cut stone for us. A newer friend arranged to have a very large boulder installed in her garden making quite a statement. We imported stone and stone masons to give us a low stone wall.
Stone turtle ‘sculpture’
There are other ways to use stone. I saw a stone turtle comprised of several differently sized stones that,T placed together, formed a little turtle sculpture on the edge of a small lily pond. One of my favorite ways of using small stones of slightly different shades is treating them as mosaic material. I have seen them used in small projects and large. In a garden magazine I saw a photo of a pebble mosaic that took the form of a large oriental carpet. On the other hand I saw a stone stairway with a mosaic landing, as well as a path made of plain circular mosaic stepping stones.
Statuary can be the easiest thing for any of us to add to our gardens. There are always charming gnomes to be had, arranged to peek through the fern foliage. I have enjoyed the appearance of St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners and cab drivers in many gardens, but I think the Buddha may be creeping up in popularity. St. Fiacre may stand, breathing deep, taking a moment to recover from his chores, but Buddha is always sitting in peaceful meditation. I have a friend whose Buddha sits at the edge of a quiet woodland, and if he should open his eyes they would rest on the view of a stony brook singing its way down the hillside.
Buddha on stone
Some people have the talent and skill to make their own statuary. Many gardeners are now taking classes to learn how to turn cement into garden ornaments and troughs. However, there are artists who make their own statuary. This past summer I was on a garden tour in Minneapolis and environs. The final garden was Wouterina de Raad’s Sculpture Garden.
Wouteriana de Raad and metal mesh base
De Raad is a Dutch artist who emigrated to the U.S. about 40 years ago. She bought her small property with a rickety farmhouse and no plumbing 10 years later. She set to work building herself a garden and a workshop where she now creates concrete mosaic sculptures. She has turned her wilderness into a sculpture garden that attracts visitors who come to view and enjoy, and students who want to learn her techniques.
Wouteriana de Raad’s greeter
Her sculptures begin with wire mesh that is then covered with concrete and then the mosaic pieces. Her subjects include many creatures of the wild, jaguars that she remembers from her childhood in Indonesia, snakes, birds and fish. There is the jaunty man who greets visitors when they arrive, sprites who line the lush paths through the one and a half acre garden, mosaic chairs and gift boxes, and concrete couches for party gatherings around the fireside.
Wouteriana de Raad’s self portrait of herself as an American citizen
De Raad’s garden is exotic, always luring the visitor around the next corner. If any of us wanted to make our own concrete sculpture we could attend one of her 2-3 day workshops at her studio. Her website will also answer questions about the process, and give you an idea of what to expect. And you could always make a try on your own.
Bird and bath by Wouteriana de Raad
What kind of art do you have, or desire in your garden?
Between the Rows January 28, 2017
For those who would like to see more of Wouteriana De Raad’s sculpture, Pam Penick who writes the Digging Blog has written more fully, and taken better photographs here and here. Pam also wrote two excellent books: Lawn Gone and The Water Saving Garden
View from the Window January 31, 2017
The view from the window on this last day of January when the noon temperature is 25 degrees shows how the snow has melted, and where the wet spots in the garden are located, in front of the stone wall, and down the paths. Snow is predicted for this afternoon but everyone is hoping the Punxatawny Phil, the groundhog, will not see his shadow two days hence and assure us that there will be an early spring. He is only right 39 percent of the time, but last year his prediction of an early spring was on the money. I went shopping for more shrubs on March 21 – and then planted them!
Permaculture Promise by Jono Neiger
I first became aware of something called permaculture quite some years ago. You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to understand a word like that which includes the words permanent and agriculture. But, sad to say, I couldn’t figure it out. I spent some years of my childhood on a Vermont farm and there was nothing of a permanent nature that I could remember.
The first book I found about permaculture was a hefty tome that described permaculture as being based on the forest. This made no sense to me. How can you have farming in a forest. Finally, I did come to understand that the term forest farming had more to do with the practice of having layers of growth, like tree, shrub, then low growing plants.
Happily, Jono Neiger, of the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield, has written The Permaculture Promise: What Permaculture Is and How it Can Help Us (Storey Publishing $16.95), a beautifully understandable book about permaculture on gardens and farms, plus the ways that permaculture and its principles can help us build a more resilient future. After a brief introduction Neiger launches into a series of 22 short chapters that begin with the words Permaculture Can.
These chapters cover the topics you might expect like “Permaculture can ‘create self-fertile soil”, and “turn waste into food”, but these are followed by chapters on larger, more unexpected topics including: “create more livable cities, stabilize our food supply, help reverse climate change, and you can become a better designer of landscapes and of life.” Photographs illustrate the techniques that are being used.
One example that Neiger uses to show the ways that permaculture can be used are at Sue Bridge’s Wildside Cottage in Conway. I have visited Bridge who built a small energy efficient house powered by the sun, a root cellar for storing her harvests, and a small greenhouse. Neiger designed the terraces for growing vegetables and herbs, as well as a hillside planted with fruit trees and a fertility bank. A fertility bank consists of a variety of plants including comfrey and sweet fern that are called accumulators because their deep roots accumulate nutrients from the soil are and store them in their leaves. The plants can then be harvested and used as fertilizer.
A wet meadow was transformed into a rice paddy which amazed me. The Wildside site is productive in every way – for Bridge, the animals and pollinators that make use of it, and the visitors who come to learn and marvel.
Neiger gives examples of the way permaculture is being used around the world to collect water, regenerate eroded land, and build a resilient future.
As we built our new garden we used a permaculture technique called hugelkultur. We built a hugel. Hugel is a German word for mound. We begged our hilltown friends for logs, then built our mound by putting the logs on the ground and covering them with soil. Thank heaven for Martin’s compost farm. Our hugel is about 20 inches high, 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. This spring we will finish planting. We all know that buried logs stay wet. The purpose of the hugel is twofold, to capture rainfall and make irrigation unnecessary.
Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher
In his new book, Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change (Timber Press $39.95) Larry Weaner does not use the word permaculture. However, he has spent the last 30 years designing landscapes that make use of nature’s tendencies instead of imposing a design that does not take into consideration the attributes of the site, or the effect on the gardener.
Garden Revolution, written with Thomas Christopher, the author of many books including Essential Perennials, includes photographs of many of the woodlands and meadows that he has designed, but he explains the ecological principals can guide us in our own modest urban and suburban gardens. One of the most charming stories in the book is the tale of the cardinal flower that came to bring bright beauty to his stone patio. This did not happen overnight. It involved luck, and some very careful observation to see how and why the cardinal flower seed moved around the patio. Careful observation is always smart in the garden.
As knowledgeable as he is Weaner realizes there are many surprises in the garden. He has learned to welcome those changes. For 28 years he has tended his third of an acre garden, and he says every year has brought him a surprise. This is one of the pleasures of the garden. Even experts are not The Boss. Mother Nature is always eager to have her say.
Weaner is aware of the importance of native plants which support the birds, insects and butterflies of our area, but he also understands that the gardener wants an attractive garden, and preferably one that does not require constant labor by the gardener.
The Garden Revolution that Weaner describes is a focus on plantings that work with natural laws, that remain beautiful to our garden loving eyes, and that will mean less labor on the gardener’s part.
In my own garden I am always aware that there is more to learn bout plants, about the interaction between plants and the local wildlife, and about the effect even my little garden has on the environment. I turn to teachers like Neiger and Weaner with gratitude and pleasure.
Between the Rows January 21, 2017
Smith College Bulb Show March 2015
We have been have nightmarish ice on the walkways and roads, so I dream of Giverny and other landscapes that are warm and painted in shades of spring. I’m counting the days to the Smith College Bulb Show which will open this year on Saturday, March 4. Mark your calendar.
Smith College Bulb Show 2015
In 2015 the theme was Claude Monet’s beautiful gardens in Giverny. I wonder what the theme will be this year.
Mail order catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Attractive and colorful seed packets are blooming in garden centers. The constant promise of seeds is that they will germinate and grow providing us with healthy foods, zesty herbs and colorful flowers.
Some companies like Burpee have been around for over 100 years. Others are newer. Stories about beginnings are always fascinating and today I have stories about three newer seed companies.
When we lived in Maine in 1974-5 I learned about Johnny’s Selected Seeds when I was a member of the wonderful Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) organization. Johnny’s was founded by the 22 year old Rob Johnston in 1973 and I usually buy some seed from them every year. A visit to the johnnyseeds.com website tells the story of Johnston’s first inspirations when he was a student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and worked at the Yellow Sun Food Cooperative and goes on to tell the history of the farm and the business.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds mailorder catalog
The history of the farm includes prizes for their plant breeding which includes Sunshine kabocha squash, Bon Bon buttercup squash, Honey Bear acorn squash, Baby Bear pie pumpkin, Diva seedless cucumber, and Carmen sweet pepper, all of which were chosen as All America Selections, and all were bred by Johnny’s. They are also one of the nine original signers of the Safe Seed Initiative which pledges they will not knowingly sell GMO seeds, and in 2015 Johnny’s became an employee owned company. In 2016 Johnny’s breeder, and Johnston’s wife, Janika Eckert, was awarded the 2016 All America Selections Breeders Cup.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, rareseeds.com, is a newer company, founded by another young farmer in 1998 with a particular passion for heirlooms. Jere Gettler was only 17 when he sent out his first catalog; nowadays he offers nearly 2,000 heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers. This is the largest collection of heirloom seed in the United States, and it includes varieties from Europe and Asia.
Complete Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog $9.95
Many of the vegetables pictured in his large catalog are not likely to be found anywhere else. It’s fun to browse through and find wonders like the French Jaune Paille Des Vertus, a long keeping onion introduced c. 1793; the large Old Greek melon; Italian Verde de Taglio chard; Turkish Striped Monastery tomato; and Thai Chao Praya eggplant. There is also a variety of herbs, and even flowers.
Gettle must be an amazing businessman as well as a great seedsman. In addition to their farm and headquarters in Missouri, they opened a store, the Petaluma Seed Bank in California that sells 1800 varieties of seed, and more recently bought the Comstock Ferre Seed Company in Wethersfield, Connecticut. He also instituted the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California. His concern is that we all need to know where our food comes from, and we shouldn’t have to worry about GMOs. In addition to selling seeds from his outlets in Missouri, California, and Connecticut he and his wife, Emilee, have written The Heirloom Life Gardener and the Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook.
Gettle is not averse to anyone saving their own seeds. The staff at the Seed Savers Exchange farm in Decorah, Iowa hope you will save your own seeds and pass them on. This non-profit was founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Wheatley and Kent Wheatley because they were concerned about the shrinking of the gene pool of our vegetable food supply.
Any tour of our local supermarkets over the course of a year will show you how few varieties of vegetables are available. We certainly have a good supply, but all the supermarket broccoli (here and everywhere) is likely to be the same variety. The Wheatley’s considered the danger if that broccoli, or any other vegetable, was hit by a blight. In 1845 much of the extremely poor Irish population was subsisting mainly on a certain variety of potato. Potatoes are a good healthy food and you can live on them alone, but in 1845 the potatoes were destroyed by a blight that was not defeated until 1851. Over a million people died from malnutrition and another million left the country, many to the United States.
The Wheatleys worked to connect gardeners with old, open pollinated varieties with others who would also grow that variety and pass it on. Nowadays the Heritage Farm in Decorah has a refrigerated seedbank that holds 20,000 varieties of seeds at below freezing temperatures. It also sells packaged seeds that you might see at a garden center, but it is till possible to contact an individual gardener to get seeds to an unusual variety. For example they offer 495 beet varieties, each named with an indication if it is commercially available, if it is rare, or if it is only available through personal contact. The list is available on line, but you have to be a member to purchase the seeds through the Exchange.
The work that Kent Wheatley did was important enough that he was awarded one of the ‘genius’ MacArthur Fellowships in 1990.
Of course there are other reputable and wonderful seed companies. I was given a link to a post about other good sources for heirloom seeds. http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/10-best-seed-companies-selected-by-readers.html like Kusa Seed Society, Territorial Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Organic Seed Alliance that lists other organic seed companies.
Between the Rows January 14, 2017
Spice Collection – Christmas Gift
During the holiday season I do a lot of baking and cooking filling the house with spicy aromas. When I received a beautiful box of baking spices as a Christmas gift I got to wondering how far these spices had to travel before they arrived in my kitchen. I was further intrigued by an article in the Sunday New York Times, The World’s History in a Clove Tree by Amitav Ghosh which urged me on to further investigations.
Ghosh began with the Mulaku islands (formerly known as the Moluccas) also known as the Spice Islands, which were the only place in the world where cloves and nutmeg with its covering called mace were grown. These spices are common now but were incredibly expensive for hundreds of years because of their rareness, and rigors of transporting them to Asia and Europe. “Cloves from around 1700 BC have been found at the site of a settlement in Tell Ashara, Syria. To get there, they would have had to travel more than 6000 miles, through the ports of the Indian Ocean and overland through Mesopotamia. At every stop their price would have increased,” Ghosh wrote.
The world of spices is a large one. All of us use pepper (which originated in India) and salt without thinking about them as spices, but even they were prized. Along with cloves and nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and other spices they all traveled over the Silk Road by camel caravans. It was trade along the Silk Road that linked the great areas of China, India, Egypt, Persia, Arabia and Rome for centuries.
Beginning in the 16th century trading companies like the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company carried spices across the seas and competed violently to create monopolies.
In fact, the Dutch and British companies were such bitter competitors that in 1623 the Dutch beheaded 10 Englishmen along with many others in a mass execution, the Massacre of Amboyna. That caused the British to give up their enterprises in all the Spice Islands except for the island of Run. However, in 1667, the British wanted to reestablish themselves in Manhattan, then New Amsterdam, and the Dutch wanted them totally out of the Spice Islands. The result was an agreement to swap. The Dutch gave the island of Manhattan away to the British who then left RunIsland.
Cumin is among the most ancient spices originating over a large area from the eastern Mediterranean to south Asia. I first encountered cumin on the skewers of barbecued meat prepared by the Beijing Muslims in what we called the Uigher Alley when we lived in China. Those little pieces of spiced meat were delicious. Cumin is made from the seed of the Cuminum cyminum which is then pulverized.
Many of these prized spices were often more important for their medicinal properties, frequently digestive, than for the flavor they brought to the dishes served during the Middle Ages. Over time spices were no longer needed for medicinal remedies or preserving meats.
While many of these spices originated in a particular area it was inevitable that the trees and plants that produced them would spread along the trade routes. Ultimately prices came down and today we can afford all those spices.
Cinnamon may be the spice I use most often in my kitchen. At some point I realized that not all cinnamon tasted the same. In my Christmas box of spices there were two jars of cinnamon. One was labeled China or cassia cinnamon which is mostly grown in Indonesia where the Cinnamomom cassia tree is harvested. The label said it has a stronger fragrance and flavor, and it is the kind used in supermarket brands. The second jar labeled Ceylon cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka, and most of it is still produced there. According to the label it has a milder sweeter flavor and is suitable for coffee and hot chocolate as well as regular baking. Later I learned the only difference is that it is the Sri Lankan tree Cinnamomon verum tree that is harvested.
Baby Ginger from Old Friends Farm, Amherst
We cannot grow many spices here in Massachusetts. However, Old Friends Farm in Amherst grows both ginger and turmeric in unheated hoop houses. The ‘baby’ ginger that they sell at food coops and at farmers markets does not look like the brown roots that show up at the supermarket. Fresh baby ginger does not have the familiar dried skin, but a pink blush on the white root. It is not as fibrous and will not last long once it is harvested but it can be frozen and used as needed.
Old Friends Farm also grows and sells turmeric which is such a staple of many Asian dishes.
We can all plant cilantro which is an herb. Coriander is considered a spice, but coriander is the seed produced by cilantro. Those of us who have grown cilantro know how quickly it produces seed encouraging us to make successive plantings if we want to have a long season of this strongly flavored herb.
One point Ghosh wanted to make is that the thing we call globalization has been around for centuries with international trade flourishing and demanding communication and agreements between nations. I was drawn to the idea that the most common ingredients like pepper and cinnamon in our kitchen traveled far and have long and exotic histories.
Between the Rows January 7, 2017
View from the Window on January 12, 2017
The view from the window is warm and wet. The temperature is 50 degrees at 11 am, as it was yesterday. I am hoping we get back to more seasonable cold temperatures tomorrow. I am remember the loss of the local peach crops last year when there was an extended warm period in February before getting very cold again. The trees thought spring had sprung, the buds began to swell, but then disaster. Lets keep winter cold until it really is spring.
Yesterday I heard some weather prognostication on the radio that put forth the theory that because of weather disruption, our area may find that this kind of winter, with temperatures varying widely, will be the norm.