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

 

Winter Treats

Blooming Jasmine

I try to grow a couple of new plants every year.  One of the plants I added to our tropical collection last year was Yellow Jasmine ‘Revolutum’ (Jasminum humile).  I didn’t expect it to bloom this year especially during the winter.  All the tropical plants reside in our basement under daylight fluorescents that stay lit for 12 hours each day.  The furnace provides just enough heat for them too.  I expected it to go semi-dormant like the other tropical plants, but to my surprise….it bloomed.

I have spent time sweeping the leaves up and pruning branches off the other plants in the basement.  Then, two days ago,  I spotted  lovely bright yellow flowers.  They have a very subtle scent, not as strong as other jasmine.   A lovely treat.   Now I have good reason to go to the basement more often than just to water the plants  or to do laundry.

A cluster of Canary yellow flowers at the end of each stem
A cluster of Canary yellow flowers at the end of each stem
Not just a lovely yellow, the flowers also have a subtle sweet scent
Not just a lovely yellow, the flowers also have a subtle sweet scent

 

First Day Of Winter

And Snow, Right On Schedule

Today is the official first day of winter and it has been snowing lightly on and off all day.  It’s very peaceful and quiet outside, the only sound the birds singing.  The birds are the only bright colors in the garden at this time and without them it’s a plain brown and gray everywhere we look.  We couldn’t fill the feeders fast enough but we’re not complaining.  Here’s my first day of winter outside:

Light snow on and off all day
Light snow on and off all day
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Spent Goldenrod flowers
Spent Goldenrod flowers

There’s nothing to do in the garden at this time aside from filling the feeders, cleaning and filling birdbaths, and stalking birds with the camera.  So, I spend time in the house trimming tropical plants, reading and listening to the music.  This time of year the radio stations seem to put Beethoven’s Symphony #9 and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on almost everyday, so far, twice today on our local station.  I don’t mind at all especially the Symphony#9 which I always turn up really loud.  For some reason this symphony always sounds so much better loud.  A friend once told me that Beethoven composed this piece when he was nearly deaf so he needed to feel the music.  I don’t know if that’s really true but when I listened to it at Carnegie Hall I could feel the vibration.  The same goes for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. When not listening to the radio, our outside chorale is equally good to me.  Herewith some of the Avian Chorus’s members:

Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
American Goldfinch in show
American Goldfinch in show
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch

Though nothing is flowering in the garden, flowering continues in the basement and on the windowsill.  Nothing soothes my mood like the scent of jasmine and they are still blooming.

Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine close up
Winter jasmine close up
Moth orchid at the bay window
Moth orchid at the bay window

Basement Garden

Still Blooming

What’s left blooming in our garden now are just some hardy roses, calendula and the broccoli that we let bloom for the bees (though technically a vegetable).  The re-blooming iris are just producing flower buds which may or may not bloom.  The weather has been staying around 50º F during the day and drops down below 40º F at night.  Last week it dropped below 30º F for a couple of nights and that stunted the growth.  The iris will bloom again if the weather stays above a frost.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

There may not be much left in the garden but down in the basement where the tropical plants reside in winter there is still activity.  I can smell perfume wafting up the basement stairs from a variety of jasmines every time I open the door.  I’m thinking of taking a table and chair from the garden and putting them down there so I can continue the joy of being in a tropical garden in winter.

Night Blooming jasmines continue to bloom
Night Blooming jasmines continue to bloom

The Night Blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) are doing well this year.  I re-potted the largest one to its benefit.  I also propagated a few plants from the main one and gave some to friends.  They perfume the basement now, competing with the Orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata).

Jasmine-Poet
Jasmine-Poet

Jasmine ‘Poet’ (Jasminum grandiflorum) loves cooler temperatures and started to bloom profusely outside, but it continues to bloom down in the basement.

Christmas cactus
Christmas cactus

One of the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera hybrid) bloomed as soon as it got inside.  This is a hard to kill plant.  No matter how negligent the treatment I give them they never miss producing flowers year after year.

Orange jasmine
Orange jasmine

I took this Orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata) photo back in June when it enjoyed sunlight outside.  It still blooms here and there until sometime in the middle of winter when it will bloom heavily again.

Later Summer For Tropical Plants

About Time To Go Back To Winter Camp

It’s a little bit too cold for mid-September this year.  Some nights the temperature has gone down below 40°F and hovered around mid 50°F during the day.  But it has gone up to 70°F during in the last two days.  The thirty degree gap between high and low temperatures makes it difficult for me to decide whether to move the tropical plants back down to the basement.   Although it’s not yet freezing, these plants don’t like to stay in a temperature below 50°F, but I do want them to get real sunlight as long as possible.  I think I’ll move them this weekend if it doesn’t rain.  Better safe than sorry since many of them have been with me for many years.  They have been putting up with confinement (in a pot) all these years so I shouldn’t discomfit them further.  The weather may not have been on their side this summer but they still offered fragrant flowers throughout the summer and some of them are still pushing to bloom even when it’s a little bit too cold for them.

'Azores' jasmine
‘Azores’ jasmine

‘Azores’ jasmines (Jasminum azoricum) have just produced new flower buds that will blossom when they’re already in the basement.  They flowered through mid-winter while residing in our basement last year.

'Poet'
‘Poet’

‘Poet’ Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) seems to like cold weather.  It started to bloom more when the temperature dropped and is still blooming.

'Belle of India'
‘Belle of India’

‘Belle of India’ jasmine (Jasminum sambac) really struggled this year.  Its’ leaves dropped at one point when it had been raining for a several days and it was forced to sit in water for a bit. It managed to produce a couple of flowers anyway.

'Maid of Orleans'
‘Maid of Orleans’

I repotted, changed the soil and trimmed the roots of the ‘Maid of Orleans’ jasmine (Jasminum sambac) this year.  I gave them a close pruning as well.  It’s a ritual I do every couple of years for all the potted plants so they can have fresh dirt and more leg room.  They respond well by producing bigger flowers abundantly.

Almond verbena
Almond verbena

Almond verbena (Aloysia virgata) is happy after receiving a crew cut early this spring.  It can grow pretty lanky and floppy when it doesn’t get enough sunlight.  Now it’s a little more compact and blooming better too.

Orange Jasmine
Orange Jasmine

Orange Jasmine (Murraya paniculata) produced a lot of flowers earlier this summer and is still flowering here and there.  Their three inch tall offspring seems to want to flower as well.  Maybe because they are closer to the house and warmer.

Poet Jasmine

The Poet

Yes, someone named this jasmine ‘Poet’ or ‘French Perfume’ (Jasminum grandiflorum).  I’m not sure I like the name or the scent best.  I can see why it get this name.  One whiff of its scent and you can write a few lovely lines of  poetry.  If you keep sniffing it, you may be able to pull a Robert Frost act.

It’s a lovely vine with very dark green leaves and 1.5 inch white flowers.  Its fragrance is a little bit sweeter than the Jasminum sambac and  seems to do well when the weather gets a little colder.  The temperature has been hovering around 50 degrees or lower at night and gone up to 60 or 70 during the day here.   It started to bloom as soon as the temperature dropped and blooms profusely now while the  Jasminum sambac like Maid of Orleans and Grand Duke of Tuscany are producing less and smaller flowers than in the heat of summer.  The Poet flowers also last longer than a day, but are not as fragrant when picked and taken into the house.  So, using it as an air-freshener like the Jasminum sambac is out.  Well, at this time of year we can sit and enjoy it outside longer since it is too cold for mosquitoes to fly around.  Maybe that was nature’s intent.

Pure white 1.5 inch flowers with a sweet fragrance
The blossom close up

The Jasmine Effect

Bringing a Smile to Stranger’s Faces

This blog has nothing to do with either growing or using jasmine, but I want to share a wonderful experience I had today.

I have a long train commute between work and home, but I don’t find it a waste of time for the hour and fifteen minutes I spend traveling in each direction.  I can always find something to do whether reading, working on a project, sleeping when I feel really tired, or writing this blog for that matter.

This morning, as soon as I got a seat, I started to make a garland from the jasmine I had picked before leaving.   I use it to make an offering for the Ganesh statue at work, out of respect.  After a few minutes, the guy sitting across the aisle leaned over and asked whether the jasmine was real.  I offered him some, but he really just wanted to stick his nose in the bag and take a deep sniff.  “This is very soothing.” he said.  Aside from that, just “Thank you.”  I continued stringing the garland for a few more stops before reading my newspaper.  Shortly after that another passenger sat down next to me.

When the train got to our final destination I got up and took the bag of herbs I had cut for my colleagues.  She, the passenger next to me, commented on how great the basil smelled.  We had a short discussion about basil on the way up the platform and she accepted some jasmine.  She was delighted and kept sniffing the jasmine in her palm.

Both incidents are common to me every time I carry jasmine with me, but what happened next really made my day.

I got on the subway heading for my office.  An elderly couple got on the next stop and sat across from me.  They were probably in theirs seventies.  They were holding hands, chatting and leaning against each other.  What drew my attention was the affection they showed for each other.  It was so pronounced, so radiant.  I couldn’t help but smile and kept observing them,  just short of staring perhaps.  I offered them some jasmine before I got off the subway.  The gentleman accepted them while still holding her hand.  Both smelled them and looked up at me with a big, genuine smiles.

“Thank you very much.  You made our day.” He said.

“No, Sir, you made my day.  You’re such a lovely couple.  Enjoy them and have a wonderful day.”  I walked off the train.

Yes, something about an older couple displaying love and affection that makes me melt.  I still remember that my father cried his heart out when my mother passed away a few years ago.  He was over eighty years old then and he still misses her and talks about her.

This is what I offered friendly strangers and the Ganesh at work – Jasminum sambac ‘Maid of Orleans’

More Jasmine

Never Have Enough

After a flood of “Maid of Orleans” jasmine (Jasminum sambac) a couple of weeks ago, there are still some flowers to pick for the house everyday but not as many, not until the second wave of flowers bloom.   They are forming new flower buds again and won’t slow down until they are back in the basement wintering over.

Now it’s the time other jasmine give their performance.  The “Belle of India” jasmine (Jasminum sambac)blooms next.  Yes, they are “sambac” as well.  The delicate white flowers are bigger than the “Maid of Orleans”, around an inch in diameter, with longer petals, and they smell just as sweet.  Some of the flowers are even double-layer petals.

The “Grand Duke of Tuscany” jasmines (Jasminum sambac) also start to bloom.  They are really grand when they bloom.  Each flower has one inch diameter with multi layers of petals and strong jasmine scent.  I have this vision of them in a small delicate vase on a dresser or on a jacket lapel.  I did cut some flowers and brought them in the house, their fragrance got even stronger in the evening.  The good thing about them is that unlike other jasmine, the flowers will last a couple of days instead of blooming for only one night.  They are too big to just pick the flowers off the plants so cutting them with their stem attached is a perfect way to bring them in the house.

Next to bloom is the “Azores Jasmine” (Jasminum azoricum).  This jasmine will wind up a small trellis very well and produces flowers in clusters.  Its fragrance is a little bit sweeter than the “sambac”.  It’s also a fast grower and can stay in a small pot as long as you feed it well.

I’m not done with the jasmine yet, still have a couple more to go.  Yes, I collect as many varieties as I can find.  I’m still looking for one particular jasmine, English name unknown to me.  I’ve seen them in Thailand but nowhere else I’ve been.  It has very small flowers that like stacked up stars.

I also wish I could capture their fragrance as well because the photographs alone just can’t do them justice.

Maid of Orleans blooming.
Belle of India produces larger flowers and smells as sweet.
Grand Duke of Tuscany is pretty “grand” when flowering.
Azores jasmine has more delicate petals but a sweeter fragrant.
This is the mysterious jasmine I’ve been looking for. Have you seen it?

Maid of Orleans Jasmine

Not Just Fragrant

It’s that time of year again, when our Jasmine blooms profusely.  They perfume the garden in the evening and early morning.  I line them up on the pool deck where they can get full sun and are easy for me to collect the flowers.  The Jasmine “Maid of Orleans” (Jasminum sambac) are the ones that bloom before any other jasmines I grow.  They bloom throughout the year but only sporadically when we keep them inside.  I don’t blame them since they only get to enjoy outside sunshine and heat for a few months out of the year.  But they are nice enough to produce flowers even when they are cooped up in our basement under artificial sunlight.

It’s a Zen moment when picking jasmine flowers.  The fragrance calms your nerves; take a full breath of jasmine and let it out slowly while picking them.  Enlightenment is within reach.  On working days, I’m ready to face a crowded commute to the city again thanks in part to Jasmine and its wonderful effects on me.

Anyway, jasmine is not just good for it’s fragrance.  You can use the flowers as an air freshener, offered as a garland, used in cooking or infused in drinking water and tea.  I float fresh jasmine flowers in water to give the water a wonderful scent that is very soothing and cooling in summer.  I mix the dry ones in tea to make jasmine tea from the mix.

Just keep in mind that you should use only the Maid of Orleans (Jasminum sambac) which may be sold in other names, like Arabian Tea Jasmine, for instance.  This is the only one I know of that can be used in food.  You should also make sure that the flowers weren’t sprayed with pesticide.  You don’t want that in your tea.  Growing jasmine is easy and you’re better off growing your own if you want to consume it too.

They flower profusely in summer.
Beauty up close
A full bowl of fresh picked jasmine
Giving a lift to water in a glass our friend Kim gave us

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