Archive for February, 2009

Summer Bulbs

Thought for the day, on  the arrival of the final shipment of vegetable seeds: What made me think I had room to plant 7 varieties of peas?

Thought for the week, on lusting after a truly gorgeous, frighteningly minimalist modern garden seen in a magazine: What makes me think I could ever give up summer bulbs?

Even a brief pass through the catalogs of Willow Creek Gardens and Corralitos Gardens is enough to produce a wish list of gladioli, eucomis, tuberoses and dahlias that would fill about a quarter acre I don’t happen to have.

But how to choose?  If your  dahlia collection included

Babylon Bronze

Babylon Bronze

 and you were not all that into dahlias, would you really need 

Blown Dry

Blown Dry


Read More…

Scientists Refused Permission to Study Genetically Engineered Seeds

As Dave Barry is wont to say, I am not making this up.

As usual with the Times, the interesting agricultural news is over in the business section. First paragraph below gives you the flavor; click on the title to read the whole thing.

Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

Published: February 19, 2009

Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists…

The Original Wedding Cake – Fruitcake

Ok, not the original, but the traditional until recently and when you stop to think about the custom of saving the top layer to eat on your first anniversary, fruitcake does sound like the best bet, especially in the days before freezers.

Bleeding heart and hosta; no flowers necessary

Bleeding heart and hosta; no flowers necessary

The picture is to say Spring is Coming. It has nothing to do with wedding cake but I don’t have any of the fruitcake; I don’t know anybody who’s getting married and I owe Colleen the recipe, having promised it to her over three months ago. If you don’t have a wedding on tap either, there’s always the bookmark option. If spring is coming, can Christmas be far behind? Read More…

Garden Books: Our Life In Gardens

By Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, illustrated by Bobbi Angell (with the accuracy, sensitivity and elegance she always brought – full disclosure – to our collaboration at the New York Times Garden Q&A.)


This is the first page of the first chapter; you’ll be seeing the cover all over the place if you haven’t seen it already.

When Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd decided to call their third book Our Life in Gardens, they probably didn’t mean “our” to include everyone who ever fell for a plant. But that’s the way they made me feel.

No matter that my gardens will never be a patch on theirs, that they have taken zone defiance beyond art into legerdemain and amassed a collection of rare plants that puts most public gardens to shame, they share discoveries, admit obsessions and air plenty of strong opinions as though their readers were their equals on a level playing field of horticultural passion. Read More…

Rugelach to the Rescue!

Politics got you down? Dispirited by a landscape of straw, grey brown, dull green and dirty snow? Feeling slightly guilty because you didn’t happen to make your sweetie a chocolate cream pie for Valentine’s  Day?

Time for a batch of rugelach, one of the world’s more wonderful cookies – being as they are right next door to pie while being a great deal easier to make ( and a great deal more durable since they never get soggy).

plum, chocolate and apricot rugelach

plum, chocolate and apricot rugelach

Read More…

New Day at the Department of Agriculture?

Hard to say – but Secretary Vilsack is making many very encouraging noises. The mainstream press has been busy with other things, but this press release lays out a whole bunch of priorities that if implemented would be quite the turnaround. Excerpt below is shortened but not otherwise edited. Italics mine:

• Combating childhood obesity and enhancing health and nutrition, indicating that the department should play a key role in the public health debate and that nutrition programs should be seen as an opportunity to both alleviate hunger and prevent health care problems.
• Advancing research and development and pursuing opportunities to support the development of biofuels, wind power, and other renewable energy sources (
and he’s not just talking about corn).
• Making progress on major environmental challenges, including climate change. Vilsack said it’s important that farmers and ranchers play a role with USDA in efforts to promote incentives for management practices that provide clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat, and help farmers participate in markets that reward them for sequestering carbon and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
• Supporting the profitability of farmers and ranchers by providing a safety net that works for all of agriculture, including independent producers and local and organic agriculture, and enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act…
• Restoring the mission of the Forest Service as a protector of clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat; a provider of recreation opportunities; a key player in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration…

There’s quite a bit more, so for convenience here’s the link again.

Seen Any Opossums Lately?

Never thought to record sightings, so cannot absolutely swear, but I’m pretty sure there are more and more ‘possums in the mid Hudson Valley, and I’m convinced it’s Zone Creep, wild animal division.  The opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has always had a wide range and can occasionally be found as far north as Canada, but the place you find most of them is the South, so if they are becoming common here…

Opossums are nocturnal except when extremely hungry, so most of the ones you see are the ones that have had encounters with cars.  But we’ve surprised them many times on evening trips to the compost. And last week right around teatime there was a good sized one in the bee yard, hoovering up the dead bees that get deposited in front of the hives when it’s warm enough for the survivors to clean house.                                                                                                                                  

Opossum eating cake instead of bees (Bill threw some so it would hold still)

Opossum eating cake instead of bees (Bill threw some so it would hold still)

This daylight encounter prompted a bit of research. Turns out opossums have a LOT of fans ( who knew?). Read More…

Ilse's All-Star Herring Salad

If you are of a saving disposition, you know how satisfying it is to be going through old storage boxes looking for, say, a potato ricer and among the hoarded tools find a great saucepan you’d completely forgotten you had.

You also know what’s coming next; the find was a recipe. I was searching for a pre-computer Good Food column about 3 Day Black Fruitcake (requested by Colleen back on Halloween – eek!). This involved pawing through many boxes of ancient clippings. And there among them was a guide to herring with the recipe for Ilse’s Salad, the great converter of herring haters into passionate fans.

Ilse's Salad, with beets, potatoes,apples and onions - and herring

Ilse's Salad, with beets, potatoes, apples and onions - and herring

When the piece came out in 1985, the things that herring had going for it included great taste, moderate price and lots of health-promoting fatty acids. Now we can add: less endangered than most of the fish you’d actually like to eat and less well-seasoned with toxic pollutants than most other fatty fish.

I’m speaking here of pickled herring, a dependable staple available almost everywhere. Fresh herring, one of the world’s tastier foodstuffs, more or less doesn’t exist because it has a shelf life of about 5 minutes. Like mackerel, bluefish and similar delights, it gets disagreeably fishy so fast only those who’ve eaten it right off the boat know how delicious it can be, and it’s almost never sold in U.S. fishmarkets. Of course we never used to see edible fresh sardines, either, so maybe eventually…

where was I? Oh, the recipe Read More…

Internet Garden Catalogs – the missing Link

In the old days ( like before about 2005), seed and nursery catalogs were glossy shopping magazines. They came unbidden in the mail just when you were sick to death of winter, bearing page after page of enticing close ups: brilliantly colored trumpets and daisies, clusters of nodding bells and panicles of jewel-drops,  all  guaranteed to make you forget that your garden was not the size of Versailles. 

Cosmos bipinnatus 'Double Click'

Cosmos bipinnatus 'Double Click'

Understandable. Closeup photos are the easiest to take, for one thing. Plus we know from the garden center in spring that nothing sells as well as eye candy. Add the fact that printing and postage are big expenses, and it’s no wonder the mail box wish books cut right to the chase. 

But on the net, production costs are the same for one catalog or ten million; distribution is dirt cheap and space limitations have no meaning (let’s hear it for links!).   

 So why do we see mostly this:

Lupine 'Morello Cherry,'

Lupine 'Morello Cherry,'

and nothing else?

Read More…

Snow in Eccleston Square

 The  big snow in Britain is making so much news I got a little worried about my long time penpal  Roger Phillips and all the nifty plantings in Eccleston Square.

No problem, quoth he:

“Yes big snow last night the largest fall since 1963!

Here are a couple of shots, the Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ was great.

Hamamelis ( witch hazel) 'Jelena'

Hamamelis ( witch hazel) 'Jelena'

 Plus a view

Eccleston Square covered with snow

Eccleston Square covered with snow

All the kids are out there making snow men.

Love Roger

Given that I’ve always wanted one and never had a place to put it, I wish he hadn’t reminded me about ‘Jalena,” a cross between Chinese and Japanese witch hazels. It not only has those spiffy winter flowers but also sports some of the most brilliant fall foliage to be found. (When you find it on the tree; autumn storms often knock it all down.)

Pictures by Roger Phillips