Garden And Poetry

April: The Most Poetic Month

I find April to be a very uplifting and romantic month for me.  Leaves sprout and start to unfurl, seedlings are pushing themselves through the soil to the surface and early flowers are blossoming.   Birds sing loudly to make their territory known and start their courtship.  Some birds have already built their nests.  Aside from these life-affirming activities, the Academy of American Poets also designated April as a Poetry Month beginning in 1996.

Many great writers and poets have taken an interest in nature.  Many of them are favorites of mine such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, John Donne and who could forget Shakespeare and Rumi.  There was even a book on Shakespeare’s Gardens published last year that I immediately ran out and bought.

The Poetry month also reminds me of my mother.  We would go out to the market on the weekend in search of plants invoked in poetry to add to our garden.  I still do now but mostly the most fragrant ones.  What flower is more apt for the Poetry month than the Poet’s Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum).

Poet’s Jasmine buds just about to unfurl in the evening
Fully open Poet’s Jasmine that perfumes our garden at night but lasts only a couple of hours after sunrise
I grow them in pots because, as tropicals, I can bring them in the basement during winter

And the ode to it by Thomas Moore (1779-1852)*

Twas midnight-through the lattice, wreath’d

With woodbine, many a perfume breath’d

From plants that wake when others sleep,

From timid jasmine buds, that keep

Their odour to themselves all day,

But, when the sun-light dies away,

Let the delicious secret out

To every breeze that roams about.

Walking through a garden, any garden, relaxes me and raises my sense of marvel and my envy of nature.  Nothing can duplicate what one has seen at that moment even just an hour after.  Nature gives us art, poetry, philosophy and most of all is life sustaining. Those who understand these facts will always try their best to preserve nature, but those who don’t will always try their best to destroy nature for profit.

Ruining the environment doesn’t stop at the border and the effort to slow this self-destruction rests on our shoulders, the ones who love nature and see poetry in every path we take through nature.  As Shakespeare put it ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.’ (Troilus and Cressida, Act 3 scene 3)**

Have a Happy gardening and reading in the garden.

 

*From Ode to Flowers: A celebration of the poetry of flowers by Samuel Carr, 2013

**From Shakespeare’s Gardens by Jackie Bennet, 2016

 

Spring Is Coming

And It Will Not Be a Good One

We came back from our vacation to a sharp drop in temperature.  Our friends told us that while we were gone the temperature had gone up to the 60°F for a couple of days and mostly hovered above 50°F for the rest of that period.  I can see the result of warm temperatures in our garden.  Roses, hydrangeas, tree peonies started to bud.  The silver maple in the front yard has blossomed.  The crocuses and snowdrops are blooming.

Many of over 200 crocuses we put randomly in the lawn last autumn have blossomed.
Many of the over 200 crocuses we put randomly in the lawn last autumn have blossomed.
Flowers open up with out bees to pollinate since the temperature was a little bit too cold for them to come out
We put crocus in as early food for bees but this spring the flowers opened up without the bees to pollinate since the temperature was a little bit too cold for them to come out

Then two days after we came back, the temperature dropped again, combined with a high wind that resulted in a wind chill below 0°F.  Last night the temperature was in a teens and today it is barely above freezing.  It’s de ja vu of last spring.  Plants started budding only to get frost burn.  We didn’t have any hydrangeas last year for this reason and the first round of roses looked awful.

Plenty of Snowdrops pushed themselves through mulch leaves
Plenty of Snowdrops pushed themselves through mulch leaves
Two bulbs of rescued tulip have become a healthy clump
Two bulbs of rescued tulip have become a healthy clump
Young leaves of Anise Hyssop stay close to the ground. Hopefully they won't get frost burn.
Young leaves of Anise Hyssop stay close to the ground. Hopefully they won’t get frost burn.

I don’t even know how the honeybees are.  They’ve been so quiet, no sign of dead bees in front of the hives.  We weren’t here when the temperature soared up to see if they were out cleansing.   They’ve been too quiet for my liking and I have no way of checking on them.  It’s either too cold or too windy to open the hives up for inspection.  To be on the safe side, I have ordered one more package of bees to be delivered in May.

Beehives, all wrapped up, amid snow when we left for vacation. Due to lack of storage, we left empty supers out in the garden, unwrapped.
Beehives, all wrapped up, amid snow when we left for vacation. Due to lack of storage, we left empty supers out in the garden, unwrapped.

Though it will not be a promising spring, I still look forward to it.  It’s time for me to start tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings and prep tropical plants in the basement for a warm and less seesaw temperature outside.  In a little bit over a month the seedlings should be able to set their roots in the garden and tropical plants will enjoy real sunlight.  And, hopefully, the hives will have survived another winter.

Cashmere Bouquet

Really A Fragrant Bouquet

I love fragrant flowers and try my best to collect them in our garden.  Many of them have to stay in pots as they are tropical plants.  As we are running out of space in the basement, I try not to get a new tropical plant.  I also try not to propagate plants I have.  It’s hard to do since I regularly prune them in spring when I take them out in the garden.  I don’t want to throw healthy branches away so I stick them in a new pot and they take root.  Some plants have been with us for many years and have grown much bigger so space is getting tight down there.

I couldn’t pass up the Cashmere Bouquet (Clerodendrum philippinum) when I saw one in a nursery offering a couple of years ago.  Even though I know how fast it can grow and its need for space, but one is enough.

A clustered bouquet of pale pink fragrant flower at the top of the plant
A clustered bouquet of pale pink fragrant flower at the top of the plant
Sometime it's white
Sometime it’s white

It a big leaf plant with white, sometimes pale pink clustered flowers.  It’s fragrance is lightly sweet and musky and cannot be replicated.  It reminded me of home, of childhood.  I think it’s the same reason why I grow jasmine and have been collecting varieties of them.

Young stem usually produce half a bouquet but still have soothing scent
A Young stem will usually produce half a bouquet but it still has a soothing scent

I mentioned that one plant is enough, but they are two now.  The old habit is hard to get rid of.  I repotted it in spring to give it some legroom but I also split it at the same time.  I wish I could grow it in the garden so I could have a whole patch.  It can be grown out side in warmer USDA Zone 7 and up.  But be warned, they can produce suckers and develop a colony very fast.

If you wish to grow it in a pot, it may not bloom as it likes direct sunlight.  But if you have a window with plenty of light, it’s doable.  One year I had a plant light right on it, to my surprise it bloomed in winter.  Keep the soil on the dry side otherwise it will rot.

Water Jasmine

A Tiny Fragrant Star

Winter is my time for basement gardening.  Where we live we have to put our tropical plants in the basement for the winter.  It’s a lot of labor to go through twice a year.  We take them in when we know that the night temperature will drop and stay below 45°F, usually around late September or early October.  Then take them back out in spring when the temperatures will stay above 45°F at night.  It was easy when they were small but it gets much harder once some of them grow taller than us.  But it’s always a pleasure to have them around.  They keep me going in winter and give us fresh herbs even when the ground is covered with snow outside.

Basement garden- with Kaffir lime in the foreground. The tropical plants reside here under plant lights during winter
Basement garden- with Kaffir lime in the foreground. The tropical plants reside here under plant lights during winter

Tropical plants that are taller than us in addition to Kaffir lime and the Ficus, are the Water Jasmines (Wrightia religiosa), of which we have two, one over six feet tall and the other is around 1.5 foot tall.  I grew both of them from seeds.  I did try air layering once but that plant survived only a couple of years.

Water Jasmine provide plenty of fragrant flowers for months during summer.
Water Jasmine provide plenty of fragrant flowers for months during summer.  Each flower blooms for a day but it flowers continuously.
The branches spread out in layers with flowers under each layer
The branches spread out in layers with flowers under each layer
Each little branches fill with tiny white flowers
Each little branch fills with tiny, fragrant white flowers
Clustered of flowers
A cluster of flowers
A closer look at the flower
A closer look at the flower
A cluster of white flowers that ready to bloom once the opening ones drop
A cluster of white flower buds ready to bloom once the open ones drop

They never flower when they are in the basement.  I guess it’s not quite warm enough and perhaps not enough light.  The taller one gets very finicky with temperature changes too.  It drops 95% of its leaves when we first take it outside or when we bring it back inside.  Leaves and flower buds come out again after a month in full sun.  The tiny white star-shaped flower has a light, soothing fragrance.  Each flower blooms for just one day but there clusters of replacements ready to bloom in its place.

When they are outside and in full bloom, various types of bees, honeybees included, come for the nectar during the day and the moths take over at night.  Its seed pod is also interesting, it looks like a wishbone.  Once it’s matured the pods split open and release seeds with a silky thread attached that the wind will catch and carry to a new place.  That is how I propagate it, by the seeds.  The plant grown from a seed takes a few years before it will flower.  Air-layer and cutting are recommended for faster flowering.

Its seedpods look like wishbone
Its seedpods look like a wishbone
Mature seedpods spliced open with seeds with silky thread
Mature seedpods opened up exposing seeds, each with a silky thread
Seeds I keep for propagation
Seeds I keep for propagation

Water Jasmine is easy to grow in a pot, as I do.  It needs a warm temperature and plenty of sunlight to bloom. It can be planted outside in USDA Zone 8 and up.  If planting outside it can be used as a hedge.  It can also be trained to create a Bonsai.

It seems to have no known pests when growing outside, however Spider mites are the main problem when growing indoors.  I use an insecticide soap to get rid of them and mist the plant with water weekly.  I’m looking forward to germinating some of these seeds in March and hope to have a few more to create Bonsai from.

Growing Tamarind From Seeds

Trial And Error

I love eating Sweet Tamarind and spicy tamarind candy so much so that I forgot it has a laxative property.  Tamarind juice is also used in many beverages and cooking.  You cannot make real Pad Thai or Massaman curry without tamarind juice.  Young leaves and flowers are also good in cooking.  The juice is also good as a non-toxic polisher for brass and silver.  Wood is also good used as a cutting board.  The plant can be trained as a beautiful Bonzai.  As much as I want to grow it as a tree because of the benefits it provides, I cannot grow it in our garden in this climate.  So, I settled for growing it in a pot like the other tropical plants I have – for the beauty of it.

When I mentioned to my friends and colleagues that I attempted to grow tamarind (Tamarindus indica) from seed.  They asked either …why? or questioned whether I know that tamarind is a very large tree.  Yes, I know tamarind is a long lived, large tree that can grow over 50 feet tall.  Why would I want to grow it then?  It’s because I want to know I can grow it from seed in a cold climate.  I love its beautiful leaves and it can be made it into a Bonsai.  If they grow well, I can eat their young leaves, flowers and fruit.  Fruit is less likely, actually, due to a very short high temperature season and resulting lack of sunlight in this climate, USDA Zone 5-6.

I kept seeds of Sweet Tamarind after having eaten the yummy flesh.  Yes, there is a type of tamarind fruit that turns sweet when ripened.  I put them in warm water and let them soaked over night before I put them in a growing medium.  I put the tray on top of a heat mat that was set to 75°F.   Looking back at my 2015 garden record, I put the seeds in on March 31 and they sprouted on April 11. I was surprised to see them germinate in two weeks.

Tamarind seedling sprout up within two weeks
Tamarind seedling sprouted within two weeks
A week old, new leaves started to unfurl
A week old, new leaves starting to unfurl

Once they grew around 3 inches tall and produced a pair of true leaves, I transferred them to larger pots.  They seemed to grow fast when they were very young but after a year the growing rate seems to slow down.  I’m not really sure if it’s normal for tamarind or it’s because they have to spend 6 months in a cool basement, under artificial sunlight.  Will they grow faster if they sit on a heat mat in winter?  I don’t know but I don’t have the space to put them on a heat mat as an experiment.

Transferred from a seed-starter to a larger pot after the leaves were fully unfurled.
Transferred from a seed-starter to a larger pot after the leaves were fully unfurled.
The four survivors enjoyed late summer outside last year
The four survivors enjoyed late summer outside last year

Out of eight seedlings that sprouted in 2015 only four survived the first year.  I think I may have watered them too much.  Tamarind does better in semi dryness.  In their natural habitat, they survive drought and do fine with less than fertile soil.

The survivors are now almost two years old and thriving in the basement at the moment.  They are around a foot tall but branching out with a lot of beautiful leaves.  I haven’t decided if I want to keep them at a Bonsai height or let them grow to four feet tall (the height that can easily be transported in and out of the basement).

Reside in the basement with other tropical friends in winter. In a couple of moths they can enjoy warm weather and real sunlight again
Relaxing in the basement with other tropical friends in winter. In a couple of months they can enjoy warm weather and real sunlight again.

I’ve learned that watering tamarind too much will kill it, so each one of them will stay slightly on the dry side.  I have not encountered any pests or diseases yet.  As far as I know they are fairly pest-free in their natural habitat.

I look forward to seeing them flower, maybe five to six years from now.  They may not flower at all, but like our Kaffir limes, the oldest of which is around 20 years old, thrive but never flower.  By then, any survivor should be something of real beauty.

Flowers For Pollinators III

Weed Flowers

Most people hate weeds, maybe with an exception for Cannabis.  I don’t like weeds either but as I turn our little garden patch back to nature, to make it into a sanctuary for other species as well as ourselves, I have to learn to get along with weeds.  When I walk through a farmer’s market, I also note that they sell many flowers we usually call weeds.  Quite expensively too, for something you would like to get rid of.  So, it’s still true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Pollinators love weeds.  There is no doubt about it as we try to eliminate them but they continue to proliferate with help from pollinators.  Many of these weeds are also edible and have medicinal properties.  As I’ve gained more knowledge about them, my perception has changed drastically and I have made room for them in the garden.

Here’s to beautiful weeds…

Queen Anne's Lace is loved by many pollinators
Queen Anne’s Lace is loved by many pollinators.  I have a patch of them and they look like snow in summer.
Chicory flower changes color from sky blue to lavender blue as it ages
Chicory flowers change color from sky blue to lavender blue as it ages.  Roots can be used as a coffee substitute.
Milkweed
I let Common Milkweed grow mainly for Monarch butterflies but I realized that honeybees love it.  It also has very sweet fragrance.  The downside is that it can spread not just by seeds but suckers.
Wild rose
I let Wild roses (Rosa multiflora) grow along our property line as they are very thorny and can be trimmed into a hedge.  With a strong clove scent and plenty of rose hips for birds, how can I ever deny its existence.
Morning glory
If you let Morning glory set seeds, you’ll not be able to get rid of it.  At least in my area winter helps kill them off but their seeds will grow next year.  My solution is to dig them up and replant where I want them.
Virgin Bower
Virgin’s Bower (Clematis Virginiana L.)  is in the clematis family and bees love it.  I don’t know how it gets into my garden.  The first one grew in the area that my two dead clematis used to be in.  I thought it was a seedling from one of the dead clematis.  Since I wasn’t sure what it was, I let it grow until it flowered this year.  Now ‘it’ has become ‘they’ because where ever the stem touch the ground it grows roots.
Clover
I have plenty of White Clover (Trifolium repens) in the lawn and I have to be careful when to mow so I don’t cut down the flowers.
Goldenrod
Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is a late season food source for pollinators
Jewel weed
Jewel weed (Impatiens pallida) is not just beautiful, it’s leaves also help sooth itchiness from poison ivy.
Dandelion
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) represents spring.  I know that spring is surely here when the lawn explodes with this bright yellow flower and I can stop feeding the bees.  It’s leaves and root are edible too.

There are more weeds growing in our garden than what I’ve mentioned above.  I’m fascinated by the fact that many of them are edible. I have not tried them all except for wild Daylily and dandelion.  I’m also surprised that many of the flowers and herbs in our area are considered weeds someplace else.

References:

  • Weeds of North America by Richard Dickinson and France Royer
  • Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso
  • Edible Wild Plants: Wild Food From Dirt to Plate by John Kallas, PhD.
  • Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
  • Northeast Foraging by Leda Meredith

Flowers for Pollinators II

Vegetables And Herbs

As I mentioned in the previous post, I left some vegetables and herbs flowering for pollinators and for seeds.  It also helps to draw beneficial insects into the vegetable patch.  The downside is that these beneficial insects don’t discriminate, they eat anything they can grab, honeybees and bumblebees included.  But we never have to spray our vegetables.

Globe or Greek basil has very strong flavor for a very small basil. I let some flower and draw a lot of bees in
Globe or Greek basil has very strong flavor for a very small basil. It’s only 6 inches tall with tiny bright leaves.  I grow many types of basil and found that they cross pollinate as well.  Last year I planted seeds I collected from the Globe basil but the basil that grew from it turned to be a short basil with small green leaves, a hint of purple and with a Thai basil taste.
Anise hyssop is everyone favorite-bees, wasps, butterfly and I.
Anise hyssop is everyone’s favorite, bees, wasps, butterflies and myself.  I like to brush against it which causes it to release an anise aroma.  The tiny flowers are also good in salads or desserts as it has a sweet nectar and anise scent.  Once the flower fades, the American Goldfinches take over for the seeds.
This is a honey bee favorite, Garlic chive. The flower is edible with strong chive flavor. Sometime I wonder if it will make honey smell and taste like chive
This is a honey bee favorite, Garlic chive or Chinese chive.  The flower is edible with a strong chive flavor. Sometimes I wonder if it will make the honey smell and taste like chive.
Any type of mints will do, they love it. Just don't forget to cut the spent flower off otherwise there will be plenty of mints in the garden. I have that problem and have to pull seedlings out.
Any type of mint will do, they love it.  Just don’t forget to cut the spent flowers off otherwise there will be plenty of mint in the garden as it spreads like crazy.  I have that problem and have to pull seedlings out.
Borage has pretty lavender and pale pink color that taste like cucumber
Borage has pretty lavender and pale pink colors and tastes like cucumber.  Flowers are good in salads and sweets.  However, it self-sows easily and can take over your garden in no time.
I love broccoli raab for it bitter taste. The wild one is very hardy
I love broccoli raab for its bitter taste.  Birds love the seedpods. The wild one is very hardy.
Chinese broccoli is one of my favorite
Chinese broccoli is one of my favorites.  It’s great in soup, stir-fry.  It’s also very hardy and self-sows.
Saffron is a type of crocus that bloom in late summer. I let the bees have the pollen before I picked three stamens off to dry.
Saffron is a type of crocus that blooms in late summer.  I let the bees have the pollen before I harvested three stamens off to dry.
I plant lavender along our walkway and stonewall where we can brush against them to create aroma in the garden. Not that many flowers that are deer and rabbit proof but this is one of them
I plant lavender along our walkway and stonewall where we can brush against them to release their perfume in the garden.  Not that many flowers are deer and rabbit proof but this is one of them

There are many more herbs and vegetables in our garden as both of us love eating fresh vegetables and drinking herbal tea.  Rubbing fresh herbs in your hands for the scent is also very refreshing.  I think the herb pollen that mixes in with the honey is also a good medicinal property.

Next will be flowers for bees from what we love to hate….weeds.