Friday, April 29, 2011

white flowering crabapples of the Conservatory Garden

Finally the white flowering crabapples in the Conservatory Garden are blooming their heads off.
I had a few minutes to get these shots this morning and as I'm sitting here editing I can still smell their sweet, ever-so-subtle fragrance.

Love spring.

more spring pics finally posted - scroll down!

The crabapples in the Conservatory Garden in Central Park burst out on Monday. The heat has moved the flowers along quickly but they were still looking (and smelling!) stunning today. This week I've taken well over 100 pics so it is going to be a little while before I get them all up. The main point is, if you live near Central Park and haven't treated yourself to a walk recently, you should! This couple below was loving life. She was crashed in the sun and loving it, and he didn't look too miserable himself. As I said to the two guys I was chatting with at the end of the work day, "how can you go wrong with 20,000 tulips?" More pics from "the office" to come soon. ...and as always click to enlarge.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

crabapple allees (the iPhone pics)

Here you can see the two colors of the allee pretty well. The trees in the foreground have begun to open their pink buds to expose the white flowers and the pink trees that make up the other half/side of the allee are still holding on beautifully.

the crabapples are blooming, the crabapples are blooming!

It's that magical time of year again. The crabapple allees in the Conservatory Garden are officially in bloom.
Malus floribunda is the botanical name for Japanese flowering crabapples.
As the stories goes, the 44 trees that make up the two parallel plantings that flank the central, Italian section of the Conservatory Garden were raised on a farm up in Newburgh, New York. Supposedly the trees were brought down the Hudson on a barge while in full flower either the spring of 1936 or 1937 on their way to be planted in the garden which opened to the public in September of 1937. What a sight that must have been, even if these trees were much smaller those decades ago. Half the trees, those adjacent to the lawn, set pink buds but have white flowers and the other half are a very strong pink from beginning to end.
The pink ones come out just a day or two before the white. They explode late April and if the temperature stays nice and steadily cool then the flowers can last for a few weeks. If it gets really hot they shed their flowers quickly. The tiny flower petals of pink and white rain down on you as you stroll through the serene tunnel of statuesque, mature trees. It is in fact a magical time if you can catch it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trees of Note: crabapple allees in the Conservatory Garden, Central Park

This morning I found, following much anticipation, the Japanese flowering crabapples (Malus floribunda) of the Conservatory Garden beginning to bloom. Because of their color and bloom time everyone sees them and thinks they are flowering cherry trees. Like cherries (and pears and hawthorns and...) crabapples are members of the rose family so it makes sense that the flowers fool people. As with all plant ID you have to learn to see more than just one thing, like flower. Especially with woody plants you have bark, stems, buds, leaf, flower, fruit/seed. If you want to really get good in the garden you have to expand your abilities of observation. Once you get to know the bark of cherries versus crabapples it gets easy to differentiate.
An allee (with an accent over the first "e", pronounced "Al-aye") is a landscape design term for a parallel planting. In the Conservatory Garden in Central Park the Japanese flowering crabapple allees date back to the 1930's and divide the three sections of the formal garden. Here you can kind of see the difference in the pinks, right? The trees closer to you with the lighter pink color are actually only in bud. They will actually open white as I will show you in the next couple posts. The trees behind are that fabulous vibrant pink that is such a wonderful surprise for the senses this time of year.
Don't worry, more pics of the allees to come in the next week. They are officially in bloom and they will only be as glorious as long as we have sane, tame springtime temps in the 50's and 60's., if you are in the neighborhood, hurry. These freak 70-80 degree days accelerate the development of flowers and cause these brilliant creatures to pass bloom quickly, so you don't want to delay!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'

I know, they're not even fully open yet, but I couldn't help it. I am loving this new (to me) Muscari. 'Valerie Finnis' is not the rich blue or bluish purple, aka your typical grape hyacinth, but instead a dreamy ice blue! Combine with your favorite daffs and some deep colored little species tulips and you got a great spring show coming your way.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunshine Astoria

Gifted with a great spring day we decided to walk over to Astoria Park. Apparently my focus for the day was the bridges. Aplenty in this neighborhood, these amazing structures really help give good ol' Astoria, Queens it's own awesome charm. thoughts at least. Above: once we made it to the park, the East River, Manhattan Island in the distance, and the Triboro Bridge. Yeah, yeah, yeah, RFK whatever, it's always going to be the Triboro to me.
Not the best shot I've taken in the park, but the Hell Gate bridge (aka the Amtrak bridge) is a beautiful span and a great backdrop to the north end of Astoria Park.
one hell of a vine filling up that northeastern facing base of the Hell Gate bridge
Of course we had to stop in to the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall near Krissy's old studio apartment and have a pitcher in the sun. Just about six years ago we met here for the first time to toss back some brews and get to know each other. Aren't we glad we did!
It was a pretty perfect spring afternoon, the first of many to come, no doubt. Eventually we retreated home, walking over the train overpass we got to know very well as it was the main passage between our apartments those years ago.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Shrub of the Week: Spiraea thunbergii

It's been a truly sensational year for the Spiraea thunbergii. That's right, a kind of spirea. When I tell people it's a kind of spirea most people follow with, "oh, bridalwreath". As I often have to correct, this is not bridalwreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia) but a different species known commonly as a Thunberg spirea, or as I prefer, Spiraea thunbergii. There are something like 70 spirea species out there which I myself had little to no idea. I've become fond of this Chinese native, having learned about it via the Conservatory Garden in Central Park where it's used as one of the many different hedges throughout the nearly 6-acre formal garden.
Left to their own devices (and not hedged) these shrubs would not be very different in size, but would certainly have a more rounded, upright habit with tons of the fine stems and branches arching outward. A member of the rose family, this sun lover has tons of tiny little buds all up and down their slender stems that explode this time of year, and what a year indeed.
I can't say I've ever seen these bloom so exquisitely in the few short years I've known them. The individual white flowers are smaller than your pinky nail, but with thousands and thousands of them you obviously can't go wrong. And the best parts have yet to come. This summer these guys will give way to a vibrant brighter green foliage that plays wonderfully off the slender stems of reddish brown, the leaves thin and lanceolate to further provide great fine texture to the landscape. I then love when they drop their leaves in fall and you are left with nothing but the killer cinnamon reddish wood, which literally seems to glow in the evening winter sky when placed with rich green conifers. I'm telling you, a shrub worth knowing. From my mentors I am told it is more of an old fashioned shrub and not so common in the trade but I admit I'm out of the loop on this one. It's been a while since I was a nursery plant slinger.
Spiraea thunbergii
- native to China
- hardy in Zones 4-9
- typically grows to 3-5' feet tall and easily as wide
- white spring bloomer
- member of the rose family, Rosaceae
- needs full sun and halfway decent soil

Magnolia x soulangiana (saucer magnolia)

Sure enough the saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana) have begun to burst. Spring is such a fabulous time for so many flowering trees. No doubt this one is always a crowd pleaser.
Magnolia x soulangiana is commonly called a saucer magnolia
- a 20'-30' tree in the Magnoliaceae family
- hardy in USDA Zones 4-8
- a medium grower, a foot a year in well-watered full sun
- large fleshy 2-4" flowers bloom pink with a rich fragrance
- original hybrid was raised in Soulange-Bodin at Fromont, France, grown with the seed of Magnolia denudata and the pollen of Magnolia liliiflora, first flowering in 1826 (Dirr, 1998)

(all shots taken in Central Park, early morning, 4/15/2011)

Magnolia 'Galaxy'

There are a lot of spring blooming cultivars of magnolias on the market. This is one I was introduced to as a student up at the New York Botanical Garden, a magnolia named 'Galaxy'. The above shot was taken rather unintentional, early one morning when the flash accidentally went off trying to get some halfway decent shots before the start of the work day. But later reviewing the shot I realized how well it shows the big, fleshy flower. The color of these flowers as they open is a much darker, richer pinkish-purple compared to your typical saucer magnolias.
The above is by far not the best botanical shot I have ever taken but you can see the very clean conical shape this cultivar takes over time, another characteristic of 'Galaxy'.
Standing at the edge of the drip line and looking up you see how fabulous the deeper colored flowers look against the spring sky. And then as they open they expose the inside of the massive petals which are almost bright white.
...great tree.

one of the all-time best albums (aka Support Record Store Day!)

I've probably posted this video before. ...and probably on a Saturday such as this no less. But I never tire of rocking out with The Specials on my solo stay-at-home Saturdays. There are not that many albums that you can listen to straight through and enjoy every minute of. For me this is one of those albums. Saturday morning soundtrack of sorts.

The Specials, originally on Chrysalis Records Ltd, UK, 1979
Vinyl recently reissued by the good people of Capitol Records

Today, April 16th, is National Record Store Day. The idea is that we take today to celebrate the existence of the record store, that always awesome destination that has always provided us exposure to new sounds and new tunes in a unique setting all their own. And now many local shops use today for special in-house events that can include live shows or special limited edition releases of gems you're not going to find by clicking one of these new fangled computer thingys. So you should go to and see what is going on in your 'hood, and get out there and join the celebration. I have to flip the record. Go support your local record store!

...and rock on, rockers!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tree of the Week: Magnolia stellata

(shot in Central Park, 4/15/2011)
Magnolia stellata is commonly known as a star magnolia.

- Considered hardy in USDA Zones 4-8 (maybe as warm as Zone 9)
- Not a terribly fast grower but can grow a foot a year at youth if you're good about watering and plant in generous, protected sun
- Not much in the way of fall color but the sturdy oval leaves add a nice, easy texture to the summer landscape and the fuzzy buds that sit through winter are one of the reasons we love trees in the Magnoliaceae family
- Here in the northeast US these bloom earlier than the saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana) and the 12-18 petal white flowers have an unbelievable sweet fragrance that will totally stop you dead in your tracks (kind of like me with this guy this morning!)
- There are a lot of cultivars out there, and I admit I don't know a fraction of them, but a personal fave is 'Centennial' which originated up at the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts.
- Native to Japan and introduced to the States in 1862 (Thanks Dirr!)

(Magnolia stellata 'Centennial' in the Conservatory Garden, Central Park, 4/15/2011)

oh, and as an aside, a note about another flowering tree of spring. Obviously this is the time of year that everyone wants and loves me to identify everything for them. And I love to, always love a good ID question, but recently I had to catch myself. The question was, "what is that wonderful white flowering tree I see in bloom right now?" Before I went into my usual praise about star magnolias I realized I had to ask a question myself to narrow it down. "Big flowers or little flowers?" I questioned in response. The reason being because if you are talking instead about a tree with small white flowers in clusters all over and a little bit of foliage having started to emerge then you are probably curious about a character called the Callery pear. A member of the rose family like flowering cherries and crabapples, the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) is often found as a street tree or viable option for a small urban garden around NYC. But should you be drawn enough to it that you want to have one of your own get to know the better cultivars that are out there and be sure to stay sharp when it comes to smart pruning. If badly raised these trees can be structural nightmares well down the road due to to opposite branching and not enough room for all that included bark. ...but that is a post for another time. Get out there, it's a beautiful day!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"This is your receipt..."

"This is your receipt..."
collage on paper
6.5" x 10"

"Scary God Poster"

"Scary God Poster"
mixed media collage on paper
6.5" x 10"

"Pastel Practice"

"Pastel Practice"
oil pastel and paper on paper
6.5" x 10"

genius tune

My friend Liz posted this on the book of faces this morning and I couldn't be happier that she did. The Kinks with "Waterloo Sunset" helping to make a rainy, gray, sick day at home a little dreamier....

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Magnolia stellata 'Centennial'

Magnolia stellata 'Centennial' (Centennial star magnolia) coming into bloom in the south section of the Conservatory Garden, Central Park.

With a sweeter fragrance and larger petal count, the star magnolia is the seasonal precursor to the large-budded pink saucer magnolias (Magnolia soulangiana) which won't be out for another couple weeks. The cherries (Prunus spp.) around the reservoir are blooming, as well as the ones down at BBG according to my regulars. Typically the cherries are out before the flowering crabapples (Malus floribunda) which still need another couple weeks before they are fully out. It should be a fabulous end of April if this weather keeps up.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

slow cooker cook books

Hey McB,
I have to admit I don't remember where we got these so I have no idea if they are hard to find. But we have a few slow cooker cookbooks and with a little tweaking we've gotten a bunch of good meals out of all of them. For the most part there are two cookbooks that we go to when we want to have an easy day in the kitchen. This first one is awesome because it has slow cooker recipes and other non-slow cooker (fast cooker? oh, nevermind.) recipes and they all rock. There is a regular stove top pork, white bean chili that is so easy and so yum. And of all the slow cooker beef stews we have tried this one is up there. Anyway, here is number #1:
Slow Cooker Casseroles & More, Publications International Ltd., 2002
ISBN 0-7853-7619-4

The second is much simple and therefore at times much more our speed. Less ingredients, less complication and less involved assembly, that's pretty much why we got slow cookers, right?!. This one especially we found had great ideas, great foundations for good dishes, and with a little tweaking could be made really dee-lish with relative quickness and ease. I've altered slightly their creamy seafood chowder recipe and it's the bomb, ...seriously. serious. chowder. Anyway number #2:
Fix It Quick - Favorite Brand Name Slow Cooker,
Publications International Ltd., 2004
ISBN 0-7853-9681-0

Hmm, both have this "Favorite Brand Name" moniker or whatever you call it. I wonder if that might be a help. Anyway, happy eating!