Archive for July, 2012

Eric’s Pet Plant: Spider Flower (Cleome hassleriana)

Eric doesn’t know this (or didn’t, when he sent this column) but cleomes and I have a long history. My mother always had a good sized stand of them in a bed beside the lawn, and when I was a tot they sort of scared me. The bushy plants were way bigger than I was. The flower stems did seem kind of spidery, and they had hidden prickles that made grabbing unwise. One way and another I failed to see the beauty part.

violet cleome hassleriana (spider flower)

The spider epithet comes from the seedpods, which continue to develop as the main stalk continues to flower. ” Looks great in a large vase!” says Eric. I agree.

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Lois Dodd and Her Students – Firehouse Center, Damariscotta, Maine, August 4th – September 14th


It’s going to be a humdinger – as anyone who knows Lois and her work, as a painter and as a teacher, will have no trouble believing. There are probably thousands of artists who have profited by her influence. This show,  at the Falcon Foundation’s Firehouse Center, is a selection of  work from forty (40!!) of the best, including sculptors as well as painters, just to keep things interesting.

Crapaudine Beet (the Lady Toad), a Root to be Reckoned With

crapaudine and mango salad

Salad of Crapaudine beets, endive and mango, with (optional) sweet cicily

As I see it, my unseemly craving for Crapaudine beets can be blamed squarely on heirloom tomatoes, the gateway drug of historic vegetable addiction. Growing these famously delicious “unimproved” varieties isn’t all that easy,  but it’s not difficult, either, and the pleasure payoff is immense.

So you go along with the tomatoes for a while and then you try maybe a special snap bean saved by somebody’s grandmother. Good! Onward to Black Mexican corn, introduced in the  late 19th century, then lettuce that Thomas Jefferson grew…

In other words, you’re hooked, – or at least I was –  easy prey for a weird beet that was already being called “one of the oldest varieties” in 1882 (in Les Plantes Potagères, translated as The Vegetable Garden, by MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux, a seedsman whose company was founded in 1742).

Crapaudine beet with greens

Crapaudine beets (lady toad is a rough translation from the French), even look pre-modern, from their fat carrot shape to their rough, barklike skin. The triple top on this one is unusual, but the rest is pretty true to form – including that dancing auxiliary root; Crapaudines often fork somewhere, independent of the stoniness of the soil.

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