Sunday, May 13, 2012

Auricula Theaters

The New York Botanical Garden has an Auricula Theater set up in its herb garden.  Auricula theaters were developed in the 17th century on Continental Europe initially to protect delicate exotics like tulips and auriculas.  In the 18th century, English collectors of primula auricula's started to produce these lovely theater-like cabinets to show off their collections.  These displays became more elaborate with trompe l'oeil curtains, arches and swags.

The NYBG Auricula Theater was designed by the Dowager Countess of Salisbury.  A little gift idea for next Mother's Day, perhaps?
Calke Abbey

Calke Abbey

Lady Salisbury at NYBG

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I said "Frieze!"

Last Sunday I visited the Frieze Art Fair on Randall's Island.  It is supposedly the biggest contemporary art fair after Art Basel.  Here are a few shots of works I thought were interesting, although if you asked me to extract any deeper meaning out of them, I might disappoint you....

Dolly Parton is a work of art in any context!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Vitamix Composting 101

Since Jim over at Federal Twist mentioned Vitamix composting, I thought I'd post some photos of my composting process.  I love the ease of Vitamix cold composting.  Easy to break down, easy to work into the soil and easy to clean the Vitamix unit itself.  What more can I ask for?

Here is a bowl of scraps to be composted.  You name it, it is in there...veggies, fruit rinds, tea leaves, coffee grinds and even organic paper towels.  You may also want to add some potash or other nutrients depending on what your soil needs.

Into the cauldron!  Almost to the top, but leave room for water.

I add as much water as the canister full of scraps will hold.

A few incantations i.e. turning the knob to full spin and....voila!

I pour the mixture directly into the soil around the plants.  You should also work  the mixture in so that it doesn't sit on top of the soil and get crusty. No harm done if you don't work it in, but the crusty green sludge on top of the soil may offend your highly tuned aesthetic sensibilities...

After mixing it in, the worms and Mother Nature do the rest.  Easy-peasy and about 7 minutes from start to finish.  What do you think?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My View from Federal Twist

Last weekend, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Jim Golden's country home, Federal Twist.  I have been a great admirer of Jim and his gardens in New Jersey and in Brooklyn, which he chronicles on his blog, View from Federal Twist.  Jim is my neighbor in Brooklyn, so I am very lucky to have established a friendship with Jim that goes beyond the four corners of my laptop screen.

Jim and I immediately fell into discussing all things gardening on our trip out to Federal Twist and he is a font of knowledge, trenchant observations, strong opinions and questions.  The garden itself is a wonder.  Jim will be the first to tell you that the soil is less than optimal, but what he has done in the way of skillful design via grading, paths and plantings is really a sight to behold.  Federal Twist, in my opinion, is a garden that is allowed to just "be", but not in a neglected or amateurish way.  Jim is an inveterate plantsman and has introduced many into Federal Twist.  Some thrive, some don't, some simply disappear.  That is fine with Jim, though, as he always has in mind some other magnificent specimen to install into the ever changing planting scheme.

I particularly enjoyed Jim showing me where he originally installed some plants, only to find a few years later that they moved to another spot in the garden, apparently disagreeing with Jim about their location. It is a gentle, steering hand that has made Federal Twist, but it is also a garden with a very real and loudly-spoken dialogue going on between the gardener and the garden.

Thank you Jim for sharing Federal Twist with me.  I am a better gardener for it! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Acanthus mollis

Tomorrow I'm going out to the nurseries on Long Island to select plants for a design project.  While there, I'm planning to pick up a few choice specimens for my own garden.  I have been enamoured lately with the Acanthus mollis (from the Greek 'akantos' = 'spine') or "Bear's Breeches"(I don't think they look at all like breeches, bear's or otherwise).  There is something just stunning about the size and unctuous color of the leaves and the tall spires of its flowers.  A semi-shade plant, I have read that it needs to be "protected from hot afternoon sun", although my sources do not tell me how long in the afternoon or how hot.  Oh well, I won't know until I try.

Here's the scoop on those ole Bear Britches:

Common Name: bear's breeches
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Zone: 7 to 10
Height: 3 to 5 feet
Spread: 2 to 3 feet
Bloom Time: June to July
Bloom Description: White (sometimes pink)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium (the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I think)
Flowers: Showy Flowers
Other: Has Thorns (ouch!)

I think a big clump or two of Acanthus will give great texture and form in my garden.  Cross your fingers for this experiment....

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fiddling Around

Fiddleheads are coming up in some of the gardens I visited this week.  The young sprouts of ferns have one of the most magical shapes I can think of.  "Why can't they stay that way?" is my initial response, the same as when I see baby animals.  Nonetheless, the ferns are as magnificent completely unfurled as they are in their infantile state, so I can forgive the short time they spend in spiral form.

Of course, there are times when these gems can only be appreciated in their young state.  Below is one of my favorite ways of doing so.  
A delicious fiddlehead salad is one of my favorites.  I also like to steam and serve them with pasta.  They have a very "green", slightly bitter taste which goes very well with cheeses for some reason.

I think I'll go and hunt for them at the local Farmer's Market today.  If I were a rich man, I would buy ever fiddlehead sprout up! Have a great weekend!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Weekend Roundup

My dog Max...rounded up

Hello All,

Just wanted to share a few of my favorite recent posts from other blogs from the last week.

  • The Darwinian development of James Golden's garden at Federal Twist.
Enjoy!  Michael

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gone Daffy

Yesterday was the last day of my conifer identification class at the NYBG.  We were supposed to have a final examination where we would go out and identify 25 different conifers, but the instructor took us on a daffodil identification lesson instead.  In his words "There's no better time than today to look at the daffodils."  There was a take home written component to the exam which will now have to count for the total grade.  Oh well, no complaints from me.

I have new-found appreciation for this ubiquitous harbinger of Spring.  I certainly did not know that there were so many divisions in the Narcissus family (11 in all!) - from Trumpet to Poeticus to Doubles to Small Cups to Split Corona to Cyclamineus....and the list goes on.  My head was reeling and I couldn't keep up with the varieties in each division.

By the way, there was a bit of a drizzle coming down and a nip in the air.  In other words, a perfect early Spring day.  With all of this warm weather we've been having, I had almost forgotten what an early Spring day could be like.  It was perfection in my eyes.