Saturday, June 26, 2010

Plant ID: June Perennials

Dear Alex,
I'd appreciate it if you could let me know the names of the plants below. Thanks for always being so helpful.
-Andrea R. (New York, NY)

gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) - great plant but extremely aggressive (in my opinion truly invasive!) so I always warn the home gardener against this one. For the older, longer arborboy post about Lysimachia clethroides click here.

perennial geranium (Geranium ...?) - not sure which specific cultivar this is, but we can try and figure that out when we see each other next.

Prichard's Variety bellflower (Campanula lactiflora 'Prichard's Variety') - great plant, relatively new to me, but growing on me quickly. The foliage on the right side of the photo (more rounded in shape) is the neighboring meadow rue (Thalictrum).

thread-leaf blue star or Arkansas ble star (Amsonia hubrichtii) - LOVE this plant! Full sun, pretty little spring flowers but the golden fall color - fahgettaboutit!

maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus') - probably one of the more popular ornamental grasses out there in the trade. Some states consider it invasive but for us I have to admit I've never had real issues with it.

Great photos Andrea - thanks for sharing!

(all photographs are the personal property of my friend Andrea, with all rights reserved. Thank you for not stealing.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Out on the island this weekend we got to see my little niece Ea and celebrate Father's Day with the whole fam. Already in the 2's Ea is a walking talking machine! Growing like a weed we are all as captivated as ever. Here are a few shots of my little fave before Grandpa Richie's killer Sunday feast.

So quick to laugh and so cute. Whenever there was a silence Ea would chime in and direct the gang as she already knows how to do all too well. "Everybody clap!", she'd exclaim and the bunch of us would instantly burst into applause. Then it was "Everybody laugh!" and the hilarity would continue. By the time we got to "Everybody clap and laugh!" it was pure silliness.

Totally psyched when Grammie Sue is around.
to dig into Grandpa's insanely delish eggplant parmigiana! And that was just the appetizer. By the time dad broke out the unbelievable vitello con piselli (veal with peas) we were in no place to be photographed. Ah, gotta love holidays with loving family!

A Happy Father's Day to Gian Carlo and Richie and all the other great pops out there.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Away We Go

And away we went, to Montauk, and it was perfect. We have both been working and pushing very hard for the last couple months and we were beginning to feel pretty fried. It was time to make another visit to Gurney's for wedding planning so we figured out switching our work days and pulling off a long weekend together out on the east end. And it was just what the doctor ordered, especially when we finished the business portion of our visit and went down to the beach to enjoy tangerine cosmos, the drink of the day at the little beach bar. We met more members of the amazing Gurney's staff, sampled some of their amazing clams and oysters on the half shell at the Sea Grille, and lived it up, even if only for a few hours.

It only further solidified for us that we picked the perfect spot for our wedding. The invites are out and the response cards are already coming in and this was our treat to ourselves to celebrate.
Is it September yet???

Oh, and as a last little aside, for you Netflixers out there, check out the Sam Mendes movie "Away We Go". It's the tale of a young pregnant couple figuring out where they want to live and raise their first child, a very sweet and moving film. We watched it recently and really loved it, and since have been listening to the soundtrack by Alexi Murdoch which I highly, highly recommend. ...cheers,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Designed for Pollination

I recently mentioned in a post Asarum canadense, the North American native perennial known as wild ginger, a favorite woodland groundcover of mine. It encouraged me to go and find a patch of it and see if I could find a flower to photograph.

You see, in nature and in horticulture you have to remember that plant design has nothing to do with us and our wants, it all has to do with the species' partner in crime, it's pollinator. For all species of living things the greatest and most vital challenge ingrained, whether conscious or not, is to keep our species alive, to reproduce. It's why we marvel so at the presence and creation of life. In my opinion it's why humans developed an abstract mind, to overcome living in challenging climates and keep our species alive in the face of environmental challenges. Of course now our imaginations have gotten us into a heap of trouble in the other direction because we have so manipulated our own environment, but I'm not going to get into that now. But clearly Darwin was right on! Mutation and variation and natural selection are genius aspects of life, mind blowing in fact. Enter the wild ginger. Over the course of it's evolutionary lifetime Asarum canadense has come to be beetle pollinated. Therefore the flowers are not tall and flashy, in fact they are just the opposite. The flowers lay on the soil surface among the fallen twigs and leaf litter. They have all the basic parts of a flower, but a thing of beauty? Well I guess that falls to the eye of the beholder, doesn't it...? The outside of the flower tends to be white and fuzzy, perhaps resembling a mold or fungus that would grow on something rotting. Past the green petals the center of the flower is red and smells of carrion, the perfect lure for a beetle thinking it has found the ideal morning snack. The beetle enters, and finding no nourishment leaves and continues on his search, but not without gaining some pollen deposits on it's body. To the next flower he goes, sure that one might have what he is looking for. Accidentally drop off a little pollen, pick up some more, and we have pollination! Alas he is misled again, and so continues his woodland search. Reproduction begins and a species thrives. All thanks to something that most people will never think to look for, this little guy.

In the same vein have you ever thought about why some plants have white flowers?
It's a question I love to pose to people because in many cases they realize that they have no idea why a given flower, like this Hydrangea for example, is white instead of another color. They could be blue or pink or any other myriad of colors, but white, why white? might begin to see where I am going with this.
Now that it is summer and the nights are warm I have a suggestion. The next time there is a full moon and the sun has set, go for a walk. What you will see is that the white flowers show up best in the landscape, present and inviting even in the dark. For it is often at night that pollinators like bats and moths will come out of hiding and visit their showy, fragrant friends. Look up "moonlight gardens" and you can learn about fabulous nighttime blooms and be introduced to a whole new side of garden design. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised about the amount of activity in the nighttime garden as I once was.
And then when you visit your nighttime garden again in the future look at those old, past flowers. White hydrangeas in our back yards tend to fade to a dull pink color, much like the lotus flowers blooming continents away, but what is the connection? Upon pollination the flower has done what it has been asked to do, for seed will soon be developed and reproduction is underway. The flower changes color because it no longer has to attract a pollinator, or use the energy to stay that glowing white, and it can fade comfortably into the landscape. The pollinator passes by the now uninviting flower, knowing it is not worth stopping by, it's too late. I remember learning that in horticulture school and loving it. So smart, this world around us. ...and nothing to do with us at all!

Photo of the Day: Nature's Lighting

This is how I was able to start my day. In a moment of silence and study before the world came in to see for themselves. Hemerocallis are called daylilies because each solitary flower only lives about that long, a day or so. And though I don't promote the use of invasive plants, assuming this is in fact H. fulva, with a nice backdrop of Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) and a great shot of morning sun I couldn't help but marvel. It reminded me of a long driveway growing up that was lined with them, halfway down the road to the ocean from my parents house. Sun dazed I would stop and stare, thinking occasionally about running down the driveway as fast as I could, with fleeting orange explosions as my runway, to eventually discover the mysterious house that waiting somewhere around the bend. ...I would reposition my slipping beach towel and surfboard and continue on.

I had my moment of zen and got busy, for the weeds are growing like wild fire this year!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two Annuals of Note: Coleus and Verbena cultivars

I've been so busy between work and wedding planning that I haven't had the time for as much garden photography, but I had to share these quick shots of two new annual faves.

Coleus 'Dragon Tongue'

Verbena 'Lavender Grace'

Friday, June 11, 2010

Plant of the Day: Lilium

This is Lilium martagon, commonly called martagon lily or Turk's cap lily.

I've come to realize the flowers I like most are the ones that other people miss. I would guess it's why most of us love horticulture as much as we do. In addition to our instinctual tendencies towards nature because we realize we too are biological creatures within that we have found the true holy grail, endless discovery! You start with the things you've never seen before, in my case weird cacti and succulents, bold tropical plants, orchids. The world over we want to grow the things we can't because they feed that exotic fantasy. And then we kill enough of those plants we begin to look at our own landscape. The showy trees and shrubs were first place for me. Driving around my home town with my friend Nisse we would constantly be pointing out new plants people had that we could identify from the street. Eyes read the landscape differently now, backed by botanical latin. And then you get into botany. You realize you have to crawl underneath that big leaf to see the Asarum flower that is red and lays on the ground because it is beetle pollinated. Little native orchids pop in sun splashed woodlands so you have to be sure to take the evening walk with your head down instead of up, reading the leaf litter. Amidst the big, chunky texture of the Rodgersia and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) that get all the attention you spot a single lily. It's loose inflorescence of 2" flowers were missed, but not by these eyes.

Lilium martagon:
-commonly called martagon lily or Turk's cap lily
-native from Europe to Mongolia
-perennial bulb grows to 3-8' tall
(the one I spotted was in the 3'-4' range)
-broad leaves in whorls with flower spike of multiple blooms
("whorls" are when all the leaves on a stem radiate from the same node - see above)
-flowers purple-pink with amazing recurved petals, darker spots, and only 2" across
("recurved" petals mean they arch backwards away from the center of the flower)
-comfortably hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
-flowers in early summer
-grow in sun - part shade in well-draining organic rich soil.
A lot of references and web forums mention how well it naturalizes and adds to mixed borders and perennial beds and I don't doubt it. This one is definitely going on the list for when I finally have a yard and garden of my own. lengthy list for what will probably be a tiny piece of property. Ha!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pasghetti and Meatballs

This is for my friend Jill in Brooklyn...

Having grown up in a big Italian family one of the first things I learned how to cook was a tomato sauce. According to my mom there were a few things you had to know how to cook, so I'd say by the age of 14 I knew how to put together a decent tomato sauce, roast a chicken in the oven, whip up various side dishes, and so forth and so on. However it would be many years later until I would finally attempt meatballs. My grandma, Florence Pizzi Feleppa, would make the most unbelievable Sunday feasts of pasta and sauce and meatballs with sausage, all but the sausage made from scratch. So when my girlfriend gave up her vegetarian ways to rip back into the glorious world of pork and beef I figured it was time I stepped up to the plate and honor Grandma Flo. I am sure it can and will be adjusted and improved upon but here's a good straight forward recipe for tomato sauce with meatballs. So roll up your sleeves, sharpen your favorite chopping knife, get a bottle of red wine and pour yourself a glass, throw on your favorite Louis Prima record, and start thinking like an Italian.


- 1/3 - 1/2 lb. ground pork
- 1/3 - 1/2 lb. ground beef
- 1/3 - 1/2 lb. ground veal
(usually you find the three packaged together in your grocer's meat department advertised for making meatloaf, that's the package you want. somewhere between a pound and a pound-and-a-half total weight is good)
- 1/2 cup breadcrumb
- 1 egg
- 1 can (28oz.) whole peeled tomatoes in basil (I use Progresso)
- garlic (at least three good-sized cloves)
- parsley
- oregano
- basil
- salt
- pepper
- crushed red pepper
- any other Italian spices you enjoy
- grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- sundried tomatoes (optional)
- capers (optional)
- black olives (optional)

You are going to be cooking for a good 30-45 minutes at least and the general timing goes like this. Begin with the forming and browning of the meatballs. About halfway through the browning you will begin the sauce, and when the meatballs finally go into the sauce then you can turn that down and turn on your pasta water on. At that rate your sauce will be at a good place when your pasta is ready.

In a mixing bowl combine the ground meats, egg, 1/2 cup of breadcrumb, maybe a little parsley and oregano, pepper. Work mixture with hands until homogeneous. Because of the egg your mix is going to have some moisture to it but will not be runny or oozy, or at least you certainly don't want it to be. I make my meatballs about 2" in diameter and I think that is a good size, and this size recipe tends to create 6-8 meatballs, or dinner for three in our house. Using your fingers scoop the meatballs into even portions and roll them in your hands, working them until there are no major cracks or creases. Once formed begin a heavy duty pan on medium to high heat with a drizzle of oil to coat the bottom. Your goal for the browning is just that, to brown, not try and cook the meatballs through. The meatballs will sizzle and brown and with thongs you will continue to rotate until you get all sides evenly dark brown.

While you're browning the meatballs prep your sauce. Peel and chop finely at least three healthy cloves of garlic, and always err on the side of more than less. This is also where all those optional ingredients come into play. If you have sundried tomatoes around slice then chop about 8 of them so that your pile is a little bit larger than that of the garlic. If I have black olives or capers in the fridge I will chop a small handful (olives) or a few large tablespoons (capers) and have them ready on the cutting board too. Be experimental with your amounts of different ingredients and learn from your successes or failures to create your own signature sauce. It's all good stuff so it's not like you can mess this up. For me I have to admit I don't actually measure anything, I just have played enough that I know what works without being too much in one taste direction or another. Have fun with it.

Your meatballs should be looking pretty good by now. The pan is probably spitting a little bit but don't pay it too much mind. Don't panic and turn the heat down, remember, you're not cooking, your browning. If the meatballs seem browned before you have had a chance to begin your sauce that is fine, don't stress, turn them off and let them sit while you get the sauce going.

A few tablespoons of olive oil (more or less) to coat the bottom of your medium/large sauce pan. Heat on medium to medium-high. When warm throw into the oil your garlic. Toss garlic and let everything get hot and smelling good, without letting the garlic get too dark in color or burned. Add any "optionals" and a pinch or two of crushed red pepper. Saute everything hot and fast while you open your can of tomatoes and pull out a colander or strainer. After a few minutes of the flavors amalgamating pour the tomato juice from the can into the saucepan holding the tomatoes themselves in the can, and stir the pot. Using your hands or a small paring knife stab and break the tomatoes and mush them until you have a mix of the pulp and the rest of the tomato juice. Using a colander over your cooking pot pour in the rest of the contents from your can of tomatoes. With your hands or a large flat spoon strain all of the tomato juice into the pot and discard the leftover pulp. If you want a chunkier sauce you can add the pulp, which I sometimes do, but the other is the way my brother learned from grandma and if he swears it makes the sauce a million times better I believe him. Add a teaspoon or so each of oregano, basil, and parsley and stir well. Let the sauce get to a boil.

Once the sauce is at a boil add your meatballs and turn down to low or simmer. Get your pasta water going. Stir the sauce occasionally and let all those flavors meld, rotating the meatballs if not completely submerged in the sauce. (insert photo above) When your pasta is almost ready you can turn off the meatballs and sauce and let that sit for a few minutes. We find that three meatballs with sauce over a plate of spaghetti covered in a healthy dose of grated Parmesan and another glass of vino you are well on your way to being very full and very happy. Enjoy.

(photo here shows the tomato sauce with pulp btw)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Reggae for a mellow summer mood

Hot day in New York City, and it's only the third day of June. Summer is on. Gonna be a scortcha! Walking home the Queens boys had their chrome windows down and their stereos blasting. Got too much sun in the garden today but a cola on ice powered me home. Time to open the windows and pray for a stray breeze to blow down the Avenue. Dig out the mellow LPs for the evening session, Dos Equis and lime and couch time. One fave, the righteous "Curly Locks" courtesy of Junior Byles. As McB would say, can we drop it back into second gear? Oh hell yeah. Stay cool daddy-o.

and major thanks to Mrrk for his youtube LP videos from across the pond in London, UK. Fabulous.