Category Archives: Uncategorized

In praise of inconspicuous

It is finally spring, after a neverending winter. The trees are a riot of flowers–at least the magnolia, redbud, flowering pear, crabapple and dogwood. Other trees seem quite plain in comparison. My daughter wanted to know what was wrong with our “other tree.”
“What do you mean? What is wrong with it?” I ask.
“It’s plain. Why doesn’t it have flowers?”
The tree was planted before we moved here. Yet another ‘Autumn Blaze’ maple. It has flowers, but they are just something to sneeze at. And its glory won’t be for a few more months, when it turns the same fiery red as half the other trees in my neighborhood. Landscape architects refer to it as orchestrated. I find it creepy. Unnatural. In the forest, the trees change colors and shades at different times, marching to their unique internal clocks, as part of some atonalist’s symphony. But in suburbia, it must be controlled. It must be contrived. It must be the same.
Like the row of pears that litter the street, I am sure the road to hell is paved with Callery pears. And like good intentions, they too will go down in flames.
But really, this is about inconspicuous. Between the magnolias and daffodils, tulips and flowering quince, a tiny brilliant flower is overlooked, amongst the twisted branches of Harry Lauder’s walking stick.

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Beautiful, isn’t it? And now that you know you’ve been missing this, look around: Notice everything else you’ve missed. And smile. Because now you know the greatest wonders aren’t in your face, and aren’t riotously loud. They are the little things that you didn’t know you were missing.

The dose makes the poison, the yoga mat, and the bread.

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Oh my god…I let children play with chemicals. Dangerous chemicals that are used in concrete and the food we eat.

I often wonder why luminaries in the field of botany chose new names for themselves. Carl von Linne chose Linnaeus. It seems to me if he really wanted to support his system of binomial nomenclature, he should have called himself Linne voncarlus. Or something like that. Today, scientists seem to go by three names, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the late Stephen Jay Gould. Which also seems a bit pretentious, until you mention Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. According to lore, he was a lot pretentious–I think the name doomed him. So he went by the name Paracelsus.

Paracelsus (1493-1591) was a jack of all trades, including botanist. However, Paracelsus has a warm place in my heart for coining the phrase ‘The dose makes the poison.’ Paracelsus felt that lecturing should occur in German, as opposed to Latin, to allow information to get to all people. At some point, I need to figure out if he wrote this in Latin, the lingua franca of the day (Dosis sola facit venenum) or in German (Die Dosis macht das Gift). I suspect if he were alive today, he would still be wondering why “the high colleges managed to produce so many high asses.”

Which brings me to asses–like Food Babe. And John Stewart, who made one of himself, I am sad to say. And yoga asses. And yoga mats. And back to Paracelsus, and the dose makes the poison.

Recently, there was much to do about nothing regarding a chemical, azodicarbonamide, that occurs in both bread and yoga mats. Crazy, huh? Until you realize that the dreaded chemical calcium carbonate does all of these things and more. It is used as building materials (limestone, paints, mortar, concrete), medicine (antacid and dietary supplement–think Tums!), food (leavening agent and is acceptable in organic food), toothpaste (mild abrasive), agriculture (in gardens to lime soil and in animal feed), and as a paper whitener. It’s even used in waste water treatment.

I guess I could go all histrionic and say “OH MY GOD! They use it to neutralize acids and make yoga mats.” They also use it in schools. It’s called chalk. And we could probably say the same thing about water, which is also used in all of the above and more. It too is terribly dangerous stuff: If you stick your head in a bucket of it, you’ll die. How scary is that? Not, because you now realize that I am being sarcastic, and I didn’t even need to use a sarcastic font!

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Homemade bread: Flour, water, yeast, salt. No preservatives. But since it was eaten that night, they weren’t needed.

The questions that weren’t asked with the yoga mat- bread fiasco, that need to be asked, are: Does the compound in question need to be there? I realize in a culture of more, it is hard to sell less…but bread is, in its purest form, the recipe of less: Flour, water, salt, and added yeast. Possibly even calcium carbonate to add calcium. And if you buy it in the store, in a plastic bag in the bread aisle, it will have something as a preservative. The question comes down to dose, because it is the dose that makes the poison. And back to Paracelsus.

Paracelsus said “Knowledge is experience.” Our public knowledge of chemistry is so poor, it informs our experience that this compound must be bad. Even when it may not be.

Experience is knowledge, or, at least, it can be, if you use it to learn. Maybe in the future, the promoters of hysteria (aka, The Media) will take the time to educate as opposed to inflame. Schlocky journalism (oh yeah, Jon Stewart, I can so out-Yiddish you! You have some chutzpah promulgating that chazarei!) won out over thoughtfulness. Maybe the next time something like this happens, and it will, experience will be knowledge, too, and thoughtfulness and education will win the day.

Good Mother F–oops, Stallard Beans

Good Mother Stallard Beans. Dried, soaked, and cooked.

The great news is that it didn’t snow this weekend. I could whine about the continued lousy weather–in fact, I did, but deleted that paragraph. In the meantime, I get by on beans. Not any old beans, I must say, but the end all and be all of beans. Good Mother Stallard beans. Ah yes, the magical fruit. And it is a fruit, dammit. Don’t you remember the song? How much more proof do I need to convince you?

Beans, a simple food best done simply, simmering with a carrot and bay leaf.

Beans, a simple food best done simply, simmering with a carrot, onion, and bay leaf. Even the teen likes these!

What about the fact that they develop from a fertilized flower –just like apples, cherries, and tomatoes (and peppers, and eggplants, and tomatillos, and pumpkins, and melons). Notice I didn’t say strawberries. That’s for another post, with a a daiquiri. Which is the only way I’ll go there. Anyways, back to task…Vegetables, by definition, do not have seeds and consist of the leaves, stems, and roots. We’re talking lettuce, and carrots; celery and rhubarb. Oh yeah, I had to add rhubarb. Why make things simple?

Now, for some people, the bean, being a seed, means it isn’t a fruit. Or, they’ll say “It’s a legume.” WTF is that supposed to mean? Wiki, that wondrous source of (mis)information states “A legume is a plant in the family Fabaceae, or the fruit or seed of such a plant.” So, what is it? Fruit or seed?

And what about Tamarind? Tama-what? You ask? Tamarind. That you harvest the pod, and scrape the pulp off the beans (notice I didn’t say fruit, or seed!). What in the hell do you call that? That crazy ass legume that grows as a tree in the tropics. It is used in chutneys in Indian cuisine, and in the sauce that gives pad thai its most excellent tang. You can even get tamarind soda. Most people have had it in Worcestershire sauce (if you buy Lea and Perrin’s). Fruit or seed?

Small fruit, up high in a tree, makes for a bad photo.

Small tamarind fruit, up high in a tree, make for a bad photo. It’s my only tamarind photo. Deal.

As long as we are down this rabbit hole, what about almonds? They are members of the genus Prunus, which gives us yummy peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots and…Almonds. Fruit or seed? Nuts, you say? Guess what? They aren’t nuts. NUTS! They are seeds.

Is your head hurting yet? Or is that just mine, hurting enough for the both of us? One last piece of trivia to blow your mind…that famous ‘almond’ liqueur, Amaretto di Saronna, is actually made out of apricot pits. It’s not even made of almonds. I need a sour about now. And a bowl of nut. Preferably smoked almonds…Oh beans!

Why, yes. I think I’ll have a bowl–as they are done simmering. It is one of my favorite, musical…fruits!

Buon Appetito!

Gin and Syntax, Take 2

Instead of whining about winter, I am now feeling the need to whine about my lost post. Apparently discard on a link discards the entire post. The ipad ate my blog. The dog at my blog. The dog ate my homework…and I got nothing but first-world problems.

I actually had a funny post. I joked about usually being happy to get 8″ of somethings (not snow, but now I don’t remember how I segued into the joke. But it was funny. You would have laughed, and possibly snarfed your coffee).

Somehow, I wandered onto the topic of gin. With 8″ of snow, there is not much gardening going on here. But there is drinking, made worse by the snow, and blogs that get eaten.

Gin. The extraction of juniper and other botanicals.

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Junipers and rust, like the one pictured here. I have some amazing juniper rust pictures, but this one bothers me. Because now I know it is a rust that isn’t supposed to be here. But it was. Don’t know if it still is. Sadly, I didn’t know it at the time.

Gin, particularly Nolet’s, which may mean ‘nectar of the gods’ in Dutch. If it doesn’t, it should. Redolent (Yes, Redolent!) of roses–it’s a total fucking flower bomb in the mouth. It flirts with juniper. And with citrus. But it is the flowers that linger, in the mouth for minutes after the last sip, and on the brain days later. It was that good. Roses. Violets. Something else.

Which brings me to rules and syntax. Syntax, the rules of grammar that I sometimes flout. Rules, including plant quarantines, which I try to adhere to, but simply can’t keep straight. And gin. Which pacifies me when I can keep the rules straight. And accidentally delete a blog.

Artichoked and the desperate need to grow plants

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Artichoke or thistle? Shit! I can’t remember.

This is the most horrible time of the year: Football is over and it is too cold to garden. There is at least 12-15″ of snow on the ground. But that is about to change, in a big, warm and wonderful way. Except for the flooding. Ah, spring in the Midwest!

My antidote to winter, which can last until May some years, is to start artichokes, although I’ve never started them so late. If they sprout, I’ll post a photo. I know I should put more effort into this, but I find I don’t have the energy or motivation. I feel quite knackered. Starting the seeds (putting one seed in one little pot, and covering the watered tray with saran wrap) seems to be all I have in me this year. I should probably bottom heat. At least I made room for them in the one west facing window of the house. They should feel lucky. All the other plants want to be there, hanging with the limequat.

The star of this show is Imperial Star, an F1 that works really well as an annual thistle, unlike…um…every other thistle I’ve tried and failed with. Heirloom artichoke…hahahaha. The closest I’ve ever gotten to one of those outside of upscale markets was my cousin’s stamp pad. She thought I was crazy with the purple artichoke. Now, she knows I am crazy about the purple artichoke (Violetta), but that it’s an unrequited love.

So, good old Imperial Star-after they germinate (if they germinate–why am I so not enthused about this? Oh, because I think I’m batting 0.133 in the artichoke leagues), I’ll throw their little hairy seedling arses outside to vernalize–a fake bitchslapping by Mother Nature to make them think they are actually undergoing winter. If they were exposed to real Indiana winter, like this one, they’d be dead. 

After I have seedlings, which I usually get, sometime at the end of March, I’ll take them over to Lisa’s coldframe, and see how it goes. Getting seedlings is the easy part. Growing the plants–not so hard. But getting actual chokes? So much can go wrong between now and then. It boggles the mind. Will Mr. Handsome eat them? Will I forget about them? Will they be vernalized enough? Don’t I have something better to worry about? Yes, of course I do. But this is enjoyable worry–Worry with very little skin in the game. And, if I do get seedlings, and, if they vernalize, maybe, just maybe, I’ll put it where I’m fairly sure my dahlias didn’t overwinter, and give it a go for perennial artichokes. I just hope I don’t forget and accidentally nuke that “thistle”…it happens sometimes. 

The artichoke, even when it doesn’t yield chokes, is such a wickedly beautiful plant in the garden. And it looks like thistle. ‘Cuz it is. It reminds me of acanthus, another thorny leaved plant that I love, and rewards my love with wounds and blood loss. Maybe I should switch to Stachys? I’d definitely lose less blood over it.

All this mollycoddling of this plant is infuriating because it’s cousin is the the thistle–the most pernicious weed I’ve ever locked trichomes with. And lose to. There is something sad about being outsmarted by a plant. Repeatedly. And to bear the wounds from these failures. So, I have one plant I have to trick, mollycoddle, placate and cajole to grow–and its cousin, that I seem unable to kill. It simply isn’t fair…However, this isn’t about destination: Artichoke. It’s about the trip. And the desperate need to grow plants. 

And a child who really, really, really wants artichokes. 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pictures Three, with Passion and souffle

I think one of the funniest moments, that has actually happened to me twice is the shock when a student learns that this, the passionflower:

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Turns into this:

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The passionfruit. Also knowns as the secret flavor no one can place in Hawaiian Punch.

There are native ones, hardy to zone 5, that don’t taste particularly good but have that amazing flower. Those that can take over your entire yard, so that you use chemical weapons, and your lawn mower and you still cannot defeat this horrendous weed. And there will be collateral damage, in the form of the tree your then boyfriend killed trying to destroy the passionfruit vine (pic to come).

However, this isn’t about that.

This is about the amazing passionfruit souffle that I made last night. That my daughter devoured. Because what else do you do with one passionfruit?

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You make souffle.

Because I can’t garden right now…so I cook. But this weather better change soon. I’m out of passionfruit on my not hardy indoor vine–and it needs to get its summer recharge if there are to be more passionflowers…and yes, passionfruit. Because its about to get ugly and desperate and sad. And if it doesn’t warm up, I’m going to gain a hundred pounds!

P.S. I may have screwed up the weekly post challenge. My apologies if I did…

A triumph of hope over experience

Unlike second marriages, gardening truly is a triumph of hope over experience. Second marriages, in my opinion, seem more like doing the same thing over (and over and over for some) and expecting a different outcome. Gardening allows you to sample much more, and you aren’t limited to only two genders of one species (even if they do come in a lovely array of colors).  Gardening is really like polyamory on steroids.

 

And I do have a lot of loves: Beets consist of Cylindrica, and Red Cloud; carrot include Nantes, Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple; tomatoes always include Speckled Roman and Sun Gold, and whatever garden crush I have (or my friend Lisa forces upon me).  But I have grown Sun Gold for over 20 years, and speckled Roman for almost as long.

 

Speckled Roman is a pain in the ass tomato that only seems to outperform Brandywine. That says it all.  And I can’t find my photos of it, as I try to reconstruct my database of 30,000+ photos so I stole this one, from someone who said never again.

 

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Stolen photo of Speckled Roman depicting what mine usually look like.

 

In defense of Speckled Roman, like the little girl with the curl, when it is good, it is so unbelievably good. But it usually looks like these. However, I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes. Except this one. I just love its meaty goodness. It is the only tomato I eat fresh. And it makes such unbelievable salsa. So I continue. Last year, it was positively hammered with late blight (pictues to come). But I love it. I know I am weak.

 

And then, there are melons. Charentais, a go to melon, that when it is good, may be better than sex—depends upon your partner, I guess. In thinking of past boyfriends, I prefer being single with Charentais. But why limit myself? I’m trying Noir de Carmes.  And I did what I know better than to do: Saved the seeds of this lovely little melon called Lemon Drop.  I hope Lisa grows it for me since she has the space.  It might be a train wreck of poorly assorted genes. 

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Nekkid punkin seeds.

 

Lastly, Kikui hull-less pumpkin will be spun again. Those seeds make me too happy. With curry powder. More on that in the autumn, I guess.

 

This year, though, I’m strangely bipolar on the subject of seed orders and face my garden with excitement (yay fresh beets, basil, and salsify) and loathing (boo weeds, bunnies, and whatever other fresh hell I have not yet experienced).

 

I am working on bunny proofing the garden. Little Handsome Man is old, and not the bunny muncher he once was. I will never forget going to bed, tired and bleary eyed, not recognizing the baby bunny head he left me on my pillow. The Godfather had nothing on this horror. It was just the head of a baby bunny. On. My. Pillow. How gross is that?

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He is a big kitty, dwarfed by bigger hosta.

 

Not as gross as having NO fennel. And NO beets. And NO peas. And no Beans. WTF? Bunny can’t share? He knows that I’m armed (with a shovel) and a geriatric cat and one-eyed dog. But Bunny Don’t Care. Bunny thinks she’s a badass. So bunny must die. Or at least be stopped.

 

And now I wish Little Handsome Man could kill the bunnies–just not leave them on my pillow, because then I wouldn’t have to enclose my garden like Fort Knox.  And I am loathing this, because I know, the bunny will outfox me.

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Mixed metaphor AND innuendo. Win-Win.

 

 

 

 

Blog Cult of Personality

I just finished the first half of my winter meeting extension extravaganza. This year has been more notable than previous ones–this January is more notable! More notable for snow, subzero temps, unbelievable driving conditions, commutes that take 8 hrs instead of 4 (as if 4 isn’t bad enough), stomach flu, deadly flu, and grifters. On the positive side, I meet some great people, get Jeni’s ice cream and bahn mi. It almost balances out in a karmic sense.

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Not my actual banh mi. This one is a thing of beauty!

 

I am lucky. I have pretty good turnouts for my talks. Keep in mind that people are there for credit, but they have a choice of talks, and they chose me. (“They like me! They really like me!”). It’s good feeling, one I wish I remembered when stuck on the side of I-70 with a blown tire feeling sorry for myself. The grifter was later. 

 

I hope they are choosing to attend my talks because I provide good information, in a way that they can understand (at least, that is what a few people told me). And that I make it fun, or make fun of it…or at least funny. But my point, in these things, is to get you to like the information. Adopt the information. Love it like it was your own information–because it is. And then use it. Because it will help you. We ran all these experiments, with controls, so we know what works, and what doesn’t. That is how expertise is developed– not just by doing the same thing over and over and blogging about it, but having controls, and trying to make it better, quantifying it and then repeating it. 

 

There is a common theme that runs through so many gardening blogs, gardening magazines, blogs in general, and self-improvement books that is so much more a cult of personality rather than addressing whatever brought you to the book/blog/website to begin with. This worked for me, so it will work for you garbage. There are so many ‘experts’ with so little expertise. And they’ve taken to blogs, and twitter, and seek followers.  There was (at least) one entire talk at two conferences about getting more followers in social media. Why do you want followers? 

 

I want thinkers. I want kindred spirits. If I wanted followers, I think I would start a cult–not a blog. And certainly not a blog like this. That is seriously fucked up. 

 

I use this blog to write and think my way through problems…Sharing thoughts is so important…but gardening is fairly solitary. It is one of the things I like best about it. But, the arugala has not been forthcoming as to how protect the beets, or why the broccoli bolted. Again. I’ve tried multiple varieties with little success ( and yes, I need to start earlier, and get a later summer…). And really, who will I share my photos of braconid wasps with? 

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Braconid wasp parasitizing a hornworm.

 

So many who follows these blogs (best garden, best self), buys these books, subscribe to blogs/email lists, whatever, never studying them, let alone implementing whatever pain in the ass tactic will actually solve the problem. Others buy into the cult of personality, and dream of perfection without practice or purpose, and buy into the bullshit the garden guru shovels (‘all organic’, ‘no work’ ‘easy’) rather than planning, let alone implementing any of these things in their gardens or their lives. “I have the app”, “I have the book”, “I went to the seminar…” none of it means shit without putting in the effort and the practice, to develop some level of expertise. And in order to develop expertise, you have to fail. Sometimes badly.  Funny thing is, I notice the experts and gurus don’t fail. Which led me to the startling realization that…

 

…there is no guru. There are wonderful plants we want to grow, and gardeners with varying talent and luck.  Sometimes we succeed, and occasionally, we fail. Some of it has to do with the cards we were dealt, and the cards that we played. But we recognize that failure is the beginning, not the end, and an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. That there will be new hands, new cards, and new failures. And new plants. 

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Silver maple and failure…this one I predicted!

 

So, I’ve told you I don’t know everything. That I’m not an expert or a guru. Even though I have a Ph.D. in plant failure, aka plant pathology. And way more than 10,000 hours of experience (thank you Malcolm Gladwell).  And that many of the problems you have with your plants, I’ve experienced (or tried to experience–how is that for crazy?). I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never seen whatever problem plagues your plants. But I’m also not going to pretend that it’s the end of the world–because it’s not. Actually, I think it is pretty cool. 

 

 I hope you’ll find a kindred spirit who is just trying to get something to fruit or flower for a momentary lapse of pleasure. And hopefully, not only will you learn from my mistakes, but I’ll learn from yours. Because one thing that I do know is that I learn more from horrible warnings, rather than outstanding examples of perfection. And so, I’ll be here to provide a horrible warning, because being an outstanding example of anything, let alone perfection, sounds pretty horrible.                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Dave

     When I wrote my first blog entry, I was hell-bent and determined to get it online before the end of the year. Little did I know, that it would be dated about 6hr later…making my arbitrary, self-imposed deadline already missed.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
I hadn’t looked at my email or anything else–I was so going to get this blog out by 2013. As a result, I didn’t know that my friend had died that morning.
     I saw Dave about 10 days earlier, ending with that lame joke coworkers often use, “See you next year.” Except I didn’t and now I won’t.
     I almost emailed Dave the day after he died, with a picture of a ripe babaco I just harvested. Then I remembered–as soon as his name popped up–I remembered.
     After a monumental fail with that same babaco last summer, Dave and I figured out a ‘Plan B’ in the event that tree died, which trees do when you  separate them from the majority of their roots. Dave was going to help me propagate the tree, so even if it died, there would be others. But the tree lived, held on to it fruit, and flourished. It’s Dave that is gone. And I don’t quite know how to get my head wrapped around this fact. We were going to have a babaco party…what the hell happened?
He hated getting his picture taken. And he didn't remember this!

Dave during Cinco de Mayo, a few magaritas in. Photo by Terri.

     Dave was a wonderful plant dork. He loved plants–quite indiscriminately, I might add. He had a hard time saying ‘No’ to plants, or throwing plants away. As a result, his greenhouse overflowed.  There were always plants for secretaries, for faculty, for kids, or the college student who was homesick, or just broke up with a significant other. He provided plants for my daughter’s elementary school classes, for all sorts of outreach activities, and for anyone that needed one (whether they knew it or not!). He kept a supply of sensitive fern (Mimosa pudica) and burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum) on hand, along with bromeliads, patchouli, anything to grab a kid, and their attention.
     Dave was the type of person who helped you catch cockroaches for another friend’s child’s bug collection. Actually, to be accurate, he caught and bagged the cockroaches, and I just delivered them, trying not to gag, because cockroaches are pretty gross. He was generous and shared everything–plants, cockroaches, and mealy bugs.
     The mealybugs were funny, and are…were a running joke. Dave did actually share mealybugs. In fact, he donated them to students in my class who needed them for an assignment. I think one student acknowledged him in his write up with “Mealybugs generously donated by Dave”.
     Dave took in more stray dogs than anyone I know, although it was no where near the number of stray plants. I have this wonderful Philodendron squamiferum from Dave. It is actually my second from Dave. It was a replacement from one that had gotten unwieldy. A week later, he brings me this gorgeous, healthy, squat Philodendron, nothing like the spindly, etiolated, wind-whipped and ravaged one I gave him. Our conversation went something like this:
P. squamiferum
Me: “Dave, there is no way this is my plant. This plant looks good. Mine looked like shit.”
Dave:”Nope. It’s your plant…at least…it is genetically identical to your plant.”
     Unlike his plants, Dave was one of a kind. And he will be missed.
     This wasn’t on my list of blog topics. I planned to talk about the babaco… I gave this blog a tagline of ‘Flowers, fruit, food and f-bombs.’ Flu is the ultimate f-bomb. Please get vaccinated.