Thursday, February 28, 2008

Don't rub it in.

Two of my favorite garden bloggers Scott Calhoun and Gardener of La Mancha have recently posted images of their floriferous surroundings: huge masses of annual poppies in AZ and lovely woodland natives in northern CA. I thought it only fair to post a photo I took this afternoon in my Pennsylvania back garden.

While Scott & G of La M take brisk hikes (or leisurely walks) over green mountains and through forests brimming with spring flowers, I huddle by the wood stove.

It's 9 degrees (F) and the driveway is so slippery that I risked life and lens just to snap this photo. It will be at least another month before the Galanthus nivalis (snow drops) even begin to poke their little green heads up.

Baby, it's cold outside. So please don't rub it in.

P.S. Here's an unsolicited comment from Kelly Richardson, who attended my second lecture in Seattle; it was posted on the show blog and made me feel much better after the Sally Field debacle.

I attended a seminar called “No Space? No Problem!” This was a step-by-step container gardening guide by Ellen Zachos, who is the author of Down and Dirty: 43 Fun and Funky Garden Projects. Her vibrant personality and interesting ideas made the time fly by with me wanting more. I have been inspired to try my hand at an herb container garden by my kitchen window.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hing Loon Seafood Restaurant

Last night my friends Jeff Loewenfels and Judith Hoersting invited me to join them for dinner. Their cousins Jonathan and Ceclia Weber live in Seattle and when Jeff and Judith visit, they all go out for Chinese food. Cecelia is from Hong Kong (she and Jonathan met there) so needless to say, she knows her stuff. We walked into Hing Loon and I was sure we were in for a treat.

The menu was written on sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper, pasted up on all four walls. Kids ran between crowded tables. The light was fluorescent. Who cares? It smelled terrific, and the place was full of happy people eating. Hing Loon is all about the food.

A window behind our table gave a glimpse into the kitchen: busy, clean, and crowded! We put ourselves in Cecelia's hands and this is what she chose for us: cured jellyfish (crunchy outside, gelatinous inside), spring onion pancakes, salt and pepper squid (deep fried yet light, with some very hot peppers), crispy, 5-spice chicken (exquisitely spiced with crunchy skin cooked to perfection), sesame buns stuffed w/pork mincemeat and pickled vegetables, beef with black bean sauce, pea vines w/garlic (young mung bean plants, so tender), duck and mushrooms in ginger sauce. Several of these dishes were new to me...a rare treat indeed.

We were too full for dessert, but along with the fortune cookies came a soft cake-ish thing: a sesame ball. It had the texture of mochi and achieved a perfect balance between savory and sweet. I had two.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Damn you, Sister Bertrille

I don't imagine many people share my feelings, but today I have a bone to pick with Sister Bertrille.

You may know her as Gidget or Norma Rae, but today, Sally Field is the spokesperson for Boniva, one of the sponsors of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. I'd like to give Sally credit, and assume she didn't mean to kick my ass this afternoon. It's not her fault my seminar on family gardening projects was scheduled opposite her keynote presentation on healthy gardening.

I never had a chance. In a room that seats 360, I had 17 people. Don't get me wrong. Those were 17 great people, who participated fully, and I gave as good a show as ever. But come on! I like to think I'd attract a decent crowd if I hadn't been up against an Oscar-winner. (They like her! They really, really like her!)

Three guesses what I did to console myself. That's right...I went out for a late lunch. Two friends had suggested the Dahlia Lounge, but it's only open for dinner on weekends, so I poked my head into the nearby Serious Pie. I liked the vibe and ordered a glass of chianti, a green salad, and the special pizza of the day: olive oil, beet greens, anchovies, and a hot pepper cheese. Excellent taste combo but skimpy on the anchovies. I told the waitress when she stopped by to ask how everything was, and she offered to bring me a few more. We agreed there should be at least one piece of anchovy on each piece of pizza.

It was a little pricey, but I'm sure we all agree I deserved a treat. As for Sally Field...she's already on her way back to L.A. to attend some big party at Jeffrey Katzenberger's. It seems Steven Spielberg is going to be there and Sally wants to schmooze him for a movie role. Me? I'm looking forward to tomorrow's presentation on Small Space Gardening. It can only be an improvement. Right?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thanks, Cayce

The Pacific Northwest prides itself on its horticulture and after one day in Seattle, I can confirm: they're justified. I'm staying at the Warwick Hotel (which is underwhelming) but right next door, their parking garage is fronted by three not-bad-at-all mixed planters. Seriously. Parking garage planters? Mad props.

After checking in at the Flower Show and making sure my laptop could talk to their projector, I wandered down to the Pike Place Market. Turns out I wasn't in the mood for huge crowds moving at the speed of slugs, and I quickly became annoyed. I left the market, feeling quite surly, and half a block away I saw:

You may remember, a few days ago I put out a call for Seattle restaurant recommendations. Friend Cayce (in Tokyo) told me I should make an effort to get to Le Pichet. Since I trust her taste in food without question, I didn't even look at the menu, just headed in and took a seat at the counter.

After one sip of a cold, white Bordeaux, my shoulders relaxed. When I dipped into the brandade de morue nimoise (warm salt cod, garlic and olive oil puree w/grilled bread), I smiled. By the time I finished my green salad with mustard vinaigrette and hazelnuts, I wasn't entirely convinced I'd been cranky in the first place.

Thanks Cayce. You saved the day from across the Pacific.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I was walking in the park one day...

This morning I walked through the park to the upper west side. Cold, sunny, and for once, I had my camera with me. That was no accident; I spotted some of my favorite late winter flowers on Monday morning, and I wanted to post about them here.

There's a place at the top of Cedar Hill where the Asian witch hazels (Hamamelis hybrids) are glorious. People look at me a little funny when I step into the middle of the shrubs and breathe deeply. I don't care. Beneath the witch hazel are snow drops (Galanthus nivalis). Both plants are fragrant, but in cold air you have to get very close to detect their scents. Step right up and put your nose in the middle of the flowers...don't be shy.

Further west, by the castle, are clumps of river birch. I always admire their bark when I walk past, but it's especially lovely this time of year, with no leaves to obscure the view.

I'm ready to get back to work. I'm ready for Spring.

Friday, February 15, 2008

February Bloom

I have a cold room. Actually, it's a guest bedroom that we don't heat because heat is expensive. The temperature hovers between 45-50 in winter, which is perfect for certain late winter bloomers like Clivia and Cymbidium orchids.

Imagine my joy to get out to PA last night, after 2 weeks away, to find the cold room full of bloom. The Clivia is just starting to open up, and two different Cymbidium are each sporting 2 gloriously full flower spikes.

The Cymbidium make me feel especially talented, since they're not easy to re-bloom in this climate. They require cool temps to flower, and bloom is inhibited by summer temperatures over 80 degrees. I move them outdoors in June, to a shady spot (a bench under a blue spruce) and leave them out till just before the first frost. Then, they go into the cold room until I see a bloom spike. Oddly, the third Cymbidium isn't blooming, under identical conditions. But I ought not complain.

Tomorrow I'll be lecturing at Martin Viette Nurseries (East Norwich, Long Island) at 11 and 1 on flowering houseplants (including both of the above!), and Thursday I leave for Seattle, where I'll be speaking Saturday and Sunday at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. So if you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and say hello. And if you know a fabulous, off the beaten track place to grab a delicious bite in Seattle, please share!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm ready!

Tuesday morning I got an email from a worried client; one of her large evergreens had tipped over in our latest winter storm. This isn't the first time the tree has fallen, and frankly I wasn't looking forward to the fix. It's winter in New York City (i.e. not the growing season) and gardening in 30 degree weather isn't my idea of fun.

But, being a responsible small business owner, I dug out my tool bag and made my way to the terrace. Fortunately, the pot hadn't broken, but the wire that held the tree in place had ripped through the wire mesh of the terrace fence.

The tree was seriously top-heavy, so I took off 3-4 feet, doing my best to preserve the twisty shape of the tree. Next, I thinned the body. I hoped pruning a few of the interior lateral branches would decrease the sail effect, allowing the wind to pass through the tree rather than push it over.

As I worked, I warmed more ways than one. I unzipped my jacket and took off my hat. More importantly, I started to have fun. The fresh air felt great, and I stepped back to judge the shape of the tree. It looked good. In fact, it looked better than it had in the five year's I've been tending this garden. Pruning the tree brought out its personality and let it breathe.

My client had asked the building super to help me stand the tree up again, but I muscled it into place by myself and tied it in, this time attaching the wires to the sturdy top railings. I'd forgotten how good it felt to push and strain, to saw and prune, in the sun and fresh air. It might still be winter, but on East 79th Street today it felt like the first day of Spring.

P.S. Didn't have my camera, so this photo is from my cell phone.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

home, again

Ripped from the tropical warmth of Mexico and plopped back down in the middle of NYC. It's rarely an easy re-entry, but that's what happens when you live someplace you don't always want to be. At least we didn't have to drive home from the airport in a blinding snow storm, the way my parents did in Boston.

Before I devote the day to more mundane tasks, I want to post pictures of a few of the plants I enjoyed last week. One last, bright glimpse of sunshine and exotic colors, for you and for me.

Hibiscus species/hybrid

Strelitzia reginae

Nerium oleander

Aloe barbadensis

Allamanda cathartica

Alpinia purpurata

Carissa macrocarpa (Natal plum)

Sadly, I didn't know what this last one was until I got home and looked it up; if only I'd known the fruit was edible I would have taken a bite! Has anyone out there ever tasted the Natal plum? I'd love to know what it's like.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Hasta luego

Tomorrow morning I'm going to Mexico.

That's right. 13 family members, 3 generations, 7 days on the beach with good books, tropical flora, and rum drinks.

No phone, no internet, but I promise to take lots of pics to post when I return.

See you next week!