Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ea and Grammy

my kind of drummer

All you need to know is to focus on the drummer. We are still trying to figure out whether he and Gian Carlo were separated at birth or not. You decide.

...for comparative reference here is an old Mink Lungs show from Houston in 2003. Gian Carlo is the one all the way to the right.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Keith Haring balloon from the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, in partnership with the Keith Haring Foundation)

May we all be thankful for what we have and those we love, for the good things in life and our ability to get through the bad, and the chance to be a little gluttonous with friends and family. 'Cause we are all going to hit the gym tomorrow, right!?! Yeah, I'm not thinking that far ahead.
I don't know about you but I'm smelling pancakes and sausage and thinking about the bottle of Champagne I picked up last night. I love holidays...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ahmad Jamal Trio, "Darn That Dream", 1959

There's something about fall in New York that always makes me go back to jazz. The two go clearly and easily hand-in-hand to me. A perfect soundtrack while walking in the wind and whirling leaves and turbulent transition to winter. Lazy nights listening to the old Verve album "Ella and Louis" and dreaming about things like moonlight in Vermont. Amidst the barrage of nauseating Christmas music (CBS Radio, why did you have to start so soon?!?!?) I pray they might play a little Vince Guaraldi Trio, that classic "Peanuts" jam that you can't deny puts a smile on your face. Of course, my impatient ass bought "A Charlie Brown Christmas" so I don't have to necessarily listen to the radio at all for the next month, which I totally recommend doing by the way, but I digress. Among the other great jazz pianists of our day is Ahmad Jamal, below with his trio in 1959. I was introduced to Ahmad Jamal some years ago by my father while working with him at Florence & Son, in East Hampton, NY. Always a keen ear for excellent jazz and opera, dad loves Jamal's piano playing. And I must say, I'm a fan too. Two seconds ago I learned he just put out a new album in 2008. I should do more searching, but for now, Ladies and Gentleman, Ahmad Jamal...

(courtesy of youtube and thanks to my brother Tim for finding it)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"ice maidens"

Apparently winter is coming early this year to NYC...
...hence the "ice maidens" of Central Park.

Monday, November 17, 2008

jealousy (aka tree envy)

A cousin of mine is in his first year out at Humboldt State University and recently sent this pic along from a trip to Redwood National Park. I can't even begin to describe how instantly jealous this made me. Even though I lived on the west coast for a portion of time from 1999 to 2000 and was among these brilliant redwood trees it would be many years later before I would become such an arborifile (?) with dreams of being among these giants. Ah, well, someday I'll get back there.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

new Begonias

Begonia x 'Sinbad'
These past couple weeks I have been scrambling to save various annuals from an untimely trip to the compost pile before frost sets in. Before bringing them in I cute them back pretty hard, pruning back to just above the node(s), leaving a few stubs remaining. Thanks to the (now inside) heating up of their root systems, keeping the roots and soil slightly moist, and misting and trying to keep the humidity increased, I have seen the plants determination to maintain what us botany geeks love to call the "root-to-shoot ratio". These such begonias have been putting out tons of new growth and I am so happy to see them bounce back so well. You have to love species persistence to survive. Now the challenge is just to keep the humidity up through the winter months. Good thing I get up at sunrise every morning and can mist my new acquisitions as much as they like. And I love this one, with the comical white polka-dots:

Begonia maculata 'Wightii'

"Monthly Water"

"Monthly Water" (detail), collage on paper, 8"x8", aef99


Photograph taken from the dashboard of the old '94 Explorer while driving cross country in 1999. I think this is Nevada. Love that the clouds are level in contrast to the slope of the land.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

wood pile

Life Magazine, 1966

I've been wanting to use this in a collage for a while now but still haven't found the right images to match.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"It would take a dead man not to move on that."

Mimi and Richard Farina performing "Dopico" and "Celebration for a Grey Day" on Rainbow Quest with Pete Seeger (No. 16)

thanks Tim and YouTube!


Astoria, Queens, NY, 6:57AM

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

potting up bulbs for spring

Even though most of the annuals were still holding on in the containers out front, like the hibiscus above, I decided to take advantage of the day off and get my bulbs planted for spring. If you don't have a garden of your own this can be a great way to add a little green to your life. Not to mention it is really easy to do and your neighbors will be totally wowed. Then, once your bulbs are done blooming in late spring you can pull them and replant the containers you already have in place for your summer display. But let me not get too ahead of myself.

You will need pots, bulbs, and potting soil. If you are going to plant big bulbs like tulips or daffodils then you want your containers to be at least 10" or more in depth. This is so that your bulbs can be planted with enough room beneath them for their roots and enough room above for the necessary winter protection and growing room. Over the winter months your bulbs will take advantage of days in the 40's and 50's and will put out a lot of root growth and shoot growth under the soil so that they are properly anchored and ready to put on a great show come spring. Glazed terra cotta or fiberglass pots are less likely to crack if they are exposed to a lot of moisture and freezing and thawing temperatures, but they can be much more pricey too. I opted for basic 12" terra cotta pots (at only $10 apiece) and I think they will hold up fine for a season or two. For the bulbs, I am experimenting this year with five or six different cultivars, two different tulips and four different daffodils. Last year I got double tulips and double daffodils and although beautiful, I realized the over-petaled flowers were a bit too heavy and required a lot of staking. This year I picked based on some height variation and different color combinations that I hope will play well off each other. As far as the soil, a brand-name potting soil will be fine, as long as it has good drainage and won't retain too much moisture. Don't bother with some generic bags of pulverized who-knows-what. Bulbs need good drainage and it's always worth investing in good soil because that is the base of good plants. You might also want to grab a tape measure and sharpie.
Usually first I mark the inside of my pots. Putting your tape measure against the inside of your container, mark your pots 2-3" from the base, making sure you have at least 6"-8" of room above that marking. This is the level at which you are going to plant your tulips and/or daffodils. Put down your base of soil and then you can place your bulbs. In a garden setting you would space your bulbs a few inches apart, but for containers we want to max-out the space and the wow factor so you can place them closer against each other. Think about how the shoot and foliage of the plant will be narrow and upright and it makes sense that you can jam them together a little more closely. One container I did with the two different tulips, a yellow 'Big Smile' and deep purple 'Queen of Night' for a little contrast. The four kinds of daffodils I placed randomly in the other three containers. Then I slowly fill in the rest of the containers with the potting soil, packing it down some, but not with too much force. Remember the importance of drainage when it comes to bulbs.
Because of the flare of my containers I stopped before filling them up all the way. Minor bulbs are what horticulturists call the many different bulbs that you can find that are significantly smaller in size. These would include such plants as Chionodoxa, Muscari, Scilla, Crocus, and others. Here I have some Crocus corms from last year which did really well for me so I figured I would reuse them. For these bulbs I have measured down about 2-3" from where the soil level will ultimately be and leveled the soil around the edge of the container. In years past I have laid down a whole layer of minor bulbs but found that they put out enough roots of their own that it wasn't the easiest for the larger bulbs underneath to penetrate. Therefore this year I decided just to ring the smaller Crocus around the edge of the containers so that the containers are nice and full of foliage and flower from lip to lip.
Then top off your containers with soil and again pack it down just a little bit. Place them and you are pretty much done and ready for spring. I crumpled some leaves as a quick-fix mulch and during the holidays will probably recycle some Christmas tree cuttings to add some interest and protection to the tops of the containers so that we're not just looking at pots of soil. The mulch will also help absorb a little bit of the winter freeze so that the soil temps can be more regulated, which is why we mulch in the first place. If it rains that will be fine because I know the soil is free draining enough, and if it snows I will wipe off excess snow so that the pots do not get too overly saturated.
And then before you know it spring will be here and you and everyone around you will be psyched. Happy planting!

Monday, November 10, 2008

three trees in fall

Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis
-commonly called a thornless common honeylocust
-a member of the legume family, Fabaceae
-common honeylocust is a native North American species, and quite tolerant and durable
-yes, the seed pods and multitude of leaflets can make this a messy tree come fall but the golden yellow color the foliage turns this time of year always makes me love them

Crataegus sp.
-a hawthorne, though I am not sure of species and/or cultivar
-a member of the rose family, Rosaceae
-the fall/winter fruit set can be a wonderful addition to the landscape, especially given the nice dense canopy, but inventory the neighboring evergreens because cedar-apple rust has been an issue for me a few times

Oxydendrum arboreum
-commonly called a sourwood
-in the heath family, Ericaeae
-North American native
-a great four-season tree, with nice big texture in the landscape, late summer flower, and obviously great fall color.

(photos taken in Central Park in the early morning sun, November 10th, 2008)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Skier Guy

It's true, before arborboy there was Skier Guy! Thanks for bringing me back down memory lane Ellie. Annie S. created this gem for me. Don't know if you have seen it before. Oh, Skier Guy, he was a piece of work! (lol)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

early fall color (a late installment)

If you haven't already it is really worth your while to go take a walk in Central Park, or in any major NYC park for that matter, and check out the fall color. I know for my friends north the changing leaves have mostly fallen by this point, but for us urbanites we are being gifted with a nice long fall. Of course, if you are in the city today you know it is rather craptastic out there, but maybe tomorrow or next week you can treat yourself to some of nature's brilliance. The following pics I took back on the 3rd of November, but hopefully they will inspire you to get out there and stroll among the myriad of colors. This is why I love the northeast and the fall and this amazing collaboration.

Lagerstroemia indica 'Tuskegee' is commonly known as a Tuskegee crapemyrtle. Crapemyrtles are probably my favorite small to medium sized trees. A late summer flower atop the foliage, fabulous strucutral bark with plenty of interest, and some slamming fall color. There are so many different cultivars out there and each one has specific characteristics - flower color, bark color, fall color, etc. This is a tree I could become a real collector of. I know an estate gardener up in Greenwich, CT, who has been working on his own crosses in order to create a salt tolerant line of crapemyrtles for estates like his, right on the Long Island Sound. A badass tree that is becoming more and more welcome up here as our winters get milder and milder.

Then there is Amsonia hubrichtii, commonly called Arkansas blue star or narrow-leaf blue star. A North American native, the thin blue star flowers emerge late spring or early summer on these three-foot fluffballs of foliage. Then the green foliage really begins to pop this time of year. This is the beginning of the fall color and is now even more glowing.

When I started in horticulture years ago I wasn't much for oakleaf hydangea, or Hydrangea quercifolia. Now, however, I have really come to love this more naturalistic woody shrub for its shade tolerance and exceptional fall color. Any shrub where you can get green, red, and purple in those big textured leaves would be welcome in my woodland garden or border. I am not sure of the specific cultivar but there are many great ones out there. The dried flower clusters I think too add character to this native powerhouse. When the leaves finally drop you will see the interesting exfoliating bark beneath.

A lot of the horticulture mags are doing awesome spreads of different grasses, and in the fall how could you not!? This is a new one to me that I will keep in mind for many years. Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry' is commonly called black fountain grass, even though when I photographed it I thought it more purple in color. Anyway, the flower clusters of many different fountain grasses will stop you in your tracks when fall comes around. Only a couple feet tall you could use this in an annual or perennial garden with ease. Rumor has it this grass can seed itself around like crazy, and with that many flowers on those tall spires I would not be surprised. Guess I will have to keep my eye on it.

Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is also native, an upright herbaceous perennial that establishes well in only a couple years time thanks to spreading rhizomes. If you are a shade gardener chances are you know this plant very well along with your hosta, astilbe, hellebores, and brunnera. The small bell-shaped flowers that bloom along the stems under the foliage come out late spring and are very delicate, and can sometimes be missed. If you have a set of stairs somewhere that would allow you to plant this up at waist- or chest-height it is great because then you can really get at eye level with the plant and really appreciate its form. The white flowers mature to dark seed pods that almost look like very bue/purple grapes. There is also giant solomon's seal, Polygonatum commutatum, and that guy can get to be real big (5', 6'+). In the fall I love how solomon's seal turns a dusty light gold before the foliage falls and becomes almost translucent on the wet ground.

I admit that I usually focus more on the trees and shrubs, but here is balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus, an upright herbaceous perennial that also proves its worth in the fall landscape. Late summer big, rounded buds pop open to purple star/cup shaped flowers that you will enjoy a lot. A couple months later you get the fall color. With the contrast of bright yellow and and earthy near-purple foliage all on one plant it can hold up very well, even on its own.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Euonymus alatus: invasive bastard!

I love helping to educate people about various plants in the landscape so when people ask me to identify something I'm happy to. But in the fall there is one shrub that I inevitably get asked about a million times over and it makes my skin crawl. Can you tell me what that amazing bright red shrub is? I see it all over in public parks and shopping centers. The stems are corky and winged and I just love how vibrant it is this time of year!

Yes, I know the plant exactly. Oh yes, I'm sure I see the one you are looking at. Positive. It is called burning bush, botanically known as Euonymus alatus, and don't be fooled, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is perhaps one of the best examples of one of the worst invasive shrubs in the northeastern United States. Originally chosen and planted in American gardens because of its brilliant red fall color, burning bush is an introduced species with no natural predators. Planted in suburban lots all over the northeast the seeds eventually spread, mostly via birds, into nearby woods and began to produce multiple seedlings. Now, from southern New Jersey to northern Massachusetts natural forests and woodlands are being disrupted and native species are losing the fight against this invasive shrub. Driving in the fall you might not think anything is wrong as you see patches of the bright red shrub amidst your local woods, but a trained horticulturist will be quick to tell you otherwise. Organizations devoted to restoring natural ecosystems and habitats can no longer attempt to eradicate the problem and the plant populations that have run rampant; the best we can do now is to control the infestations as best we can. Some states have made great strides to make invasive plants illegal to buy or sell, but I am sorry to say you can still find burning bush for sale in New York State. It makes me a crazy person. If you want to know more visit the New England Wild Flower website and their page on Euonymus alatus.

You can tell this is a topic I feel strongly about. When you realize you love a plant do the right thing and research it before you just go and buy it. Because a plant might have one or two interesting characteristics does not mean it is welcome in our local environment. And if you think you are exempt because you live in a city then try and tell me you don't have any birds, wind, water, or sewer system in your neighborhood, and I'll still tell you how you are single-handedly destroying our nature ecosystems. Don't be an ass. It all goes back to one basic people forget all too often, think before you act.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

364 vs. 173

...good job, America, good job. It is safe to say that more people voted in this election then any other presidential election in history. In fact, 125 million people voted, and that is a remarkable statistic. We got involved, and we spoke up, we thought, and we won ourselves a worthy president for a change. Now, don't get me wrong. Not that there isn't still a long road ahead to economic recovery and sacrifices we must make in order to live as well as we do, but I for one am excited to once again have a President of the United States of America that I can stand behind and support with pride. Phew. Feels good.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Please. Everyone. Vote. Make your voice heard. It's the most important thing you can do.

America Speaks

I just returned from the polling station in my neighborhood, a local public school coated in bright paint and young minds creations. It was a bit of a zoo but the staff were keeping their cool and moving along the crowds as smoothly as possible. I voted and thanked everyone for working and helping me out today. As I was walking home I saw a close neighbor, one of the many matriarchs in this little part of Queens. We stopped and gabbed for a sec and she admitted that this is the first time she is voting. As a first time voter at 50, I could tell she was nervous so I told her what to expect - this table, that table, they'll show you the machine, etc. In addition to her voting in this election she mentioned that her daughters are voting for the first time too. They are 21 or 22 and on their way to being strong and educated women. I was so excited to hear that they are all being sure to vote today. I think this election is a call to action like never before, and I am so proud that people are stepping up to the challenge. America is speaking up, and I couldn't possibly be any more thrilled. Thank you for voting, and if you haven't yet, be sure to.

There is an electricity in the air, and it feels great!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Study in Ethnobotany: the marigold

This time of year I love to find marigolds around the neighborhood. They remind me of Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, the amazing Mexican holiday I studied intensively as an anthropology student at the Colorado College in the 1990's. A unique combination of ancient Meso-American beliefs and fundamentals of Spanish Catholicism, Dia de los Muertos is a time for the living to acknowledge, honor, and accept death and the deceased by inviting back for a short period of time the souls of their lost loved ones to enjoy all that life offered. Art and ritual are the main components behind this annual acceptance and celebration of death among Mexican and other Central American cultures. With offerings, prayers, and feasting, the living welcome back the souls of their deceased loved ones. For a short period of time the dead are reminded of all that they had when they were alive and the living are reminded of the one thing that they can count on, that death will come to each and all in due time.

During October of each year greater than usual quantities of food and art are infused into local community marketplaces throughout Mexico. Artisans, farmers, and even politicians gather their specific creations and set up stalls to offer their goods to the rest of the community. Calaveras, the printed satirical broadsheets loaded with skeletal imagery, circulate through the towns and cities bringing political comedy to the event. Turkey and chicken, chocolate, herbs and spices, squash, and cornmeal are among the most popular foods found in the marketplace during October. Special bread, pan de muertos, is prepared and baked in unique shapes like human bones. Sugar skulls in all shapes and sizes are found in the thousands, ornate and beautiful and perhaps even bearing the name of lost loved ones. Homemade figurines are colorful and whimsical, showing skeletons doing normal everyday actions and activities like using a sewing machine or riding on a bus. Pottery and candles are made in excess as well, continuing the list of essential Day of Dead necessities used to create an elaborate alter space inside the home, the ofrenda, where food and gifts will be offered up to the souls. The smell of copal incense and flowers fill the marketplace air, specifically during Dia de los Muertos preparation. Paper banners and mask are the final objects found in the marketplace before the opening days of November, adding even more color and homemade artistry to the community centers.
Marigolds, the genus Tagetes, are native to the American tropics and subtropics except for some 50-odd species. They are seeded down in Mexico in August so that they bloom right before the start of November. The marigold (Tagetes patula and its many hybrids) is considered by many to be the "flower of the dead". The Aztecs valued marigolds and referred to them by their Nahuatl name, Cempasuchil. They used flowers in conjunction with death rituals because of their naturally ephemeral existence. For rituals regarding the dualistic relationship of life and death the Aztecs thought it just to use an ornament just as ephemeral as human life. Returning to the present, families still believe that the scent and color of the bright orange flower work to attract the dead, and help guide their souls back home for the ritual at hand. Leading from the front door of the home into the house and to ofrenda, where gifts are left to be enjoyed by the dead souls the marigold petals create the trail the dead souls can find and follow to safely return to their living families. Traditionally the family prepares a great feast and sets it out for the returned souls to enjoy. The family then goes to the cemetary and prays through the night, returning home to eventually eat the food, the physical remains of the gifts left for and enjoyed by their loved ones.
This is a great little stand of marigolds around the corner that is still holding on despite the quickly cooling temperatures. As a lover of anthropology, horticulture, ethnobotany, and art I could go on and on about this amazing holiday and these amazing plants people usually only know as reliable sun-loving annuals. But alas, I couldn't transcribe my entire senior thesis because I have Sunday football to watch. For more information about Dia de los Muertos treat yourself to a Google search or two - it really is a fascinating ritual, one us death-fearing Americans could learn something from. Take care.