Sunday, April 27, 2008

NYC Grows!

When I left for Union Square Park this morning (the annual celebration of NYC Grows!) it was cold and rainy. As we set up the Fafard booth, Scott, Chris, Ann, and I agreed that surely no one would show up for our demonstrations in this crummy weather. But by 10:30 the rain had stopped and a crowd had gathered for my first demo: a container garden for a low-light, indoor location.

After that, the fun never stopped: excellent energy and an exciting day. Every hour I put together a different container combo for various growing conditions: full sun outdoors, sunny indoors, shady outdoors, and the ever-challenging, low-light indoor location. We raffled off each container garden after the demonstration and the line for free seedlings wrapped around the booth. Fafard gave away 1600 marigolds and cherry tomatoes and even more vouchers for free potting mix.

The funny thing is that I've loved and used Fafard for more than 10 years, long before I met any of the folks who worked there. I'd recommend it whether they were paying me or not. (In the interest of full disclosure, let me be clear, they are.) You may not be able to find it at the big box stores, but it's worth looking at your neighborhood garden center for a bag or two of the good stuff.

P.S. Thanks to Ellen Spector Platt for taking the photo!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

fresh and a little crunchy

Walking through Central Park on Wednesday (with 5 lbs of knotweed!) I saw an elm tree loaded with frilly clusters of samaras (seeds). I remembered reading something about their edibility in Sam Thayer's fabulous book The Forager's Harvest, but I couldn't remember exactly what.

Leda and I split the take, and Leda emailed later to say that she'd found the entry in Sam's book: the samaras of Siberian and slippery elms are indeed edible, both raw as salad crunchies, and dried, when the center seed can be eaten like a lentil.

American elm samaras are said to be hairy and not so tasty, but since most of our American elms have died (thanks, Dutch Elm disease!) and these samaras weren't the slightest bit hairy, we took the plunge and took a bite. The seeds were fresh tasting, light and airy, with a little bit of chewiness at the center. I can imagine them tossed (raw) with pasta and a little goat cheese.

The season is short, but I'll keep my eyes open over the week or two and let you know how that pasta recipe turns out!

P.S. Tomorrow (Sunday, 4/27) I'll be in Union Square Park all day for NYC Grows! I'll be demonstrating container planting techniques at the Fafard booth. Fafard makes a line of kick-ass potting mixes, and I realize you may never have heard of them but their products rock. And we're giving stuff away, so please stop by and say hello if you're in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

wonderful weeds

Today was Knotweed Day. Leda and I met in the Park at 1:30 and headed for the Ramble. We plan this date carefully because in a warm Spring knotweed can shoot up faster than kudzu. Ok, I don't know if that's actually true but my point is that knotweed grows fast and the older it gets the tougher it gets.

Why, you might ask, do we plan an annual event around a noxious, invasive weed? Well, I could tell you. Or I could send you here (clue: it's an article I wrote for about foraging for knotweed).

Depending on where you live, there may still be time to get out there and harvest some of your own. It's an easy crop to forage, in 5-10 minutes you can gather 5-6 lbs., more than enough for a gallon of wine, a few quarts of soup, and some stems left over for stir fry.

And look how pretty! It's almost as if this German art deco vase were made to sit on my mantel holding an artfully arranged bunch of weeds.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Welcome to Queens

Yesterday John and I met at the far end of the 7 train platform at Grand Central. We headed east and got off at the first stop in Queens, then walked a few blocks to Gantry State Park. I'd seen pictures of the park in a lecture by Rick Darke. It looked like a fascinating combination of urban industrial architecture, water, and plants, and I wanted to see it for myself.

It's early in the season, but the willow foliage was fresh and bright,

the brown stems of last year's ornamental grasses made a wonderful noise in the constant wind,

and the young green of viburnum foliage stood out against the still rich red of last year's fruit.

Since no excursion (gardening or otherwise) would be complete without a provocative dining experience, after exploring the park we headed north to Astoria. The Corner 26 Taverna was described as a small, homey place but when we walked in we weren't exactly greeted with smiles. I aimed my big gun at the cluster of men at the back of the restaurant: Kali mera sas! Pos eistai simera? A little Greek goes a long way in a situation like this; we were immediately made welcome.

We had meatballs (keftedes) just like yiayia used to make, dandelions (which I was assured they had picked themselves, not bought at the store), and pork souvlaki.

After Greek coffee (and a little glyko), we headed back to the subway and Manhattan. It's days like this that remind me why I live in New York City.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

First Blisters of the Season

A quick look around tells you spring is finally here. We've jumped from nights below freezing (last week) to 84 degrees in the shade (yesterday afternoon) more rapidly than I'd like, but I can't complain about the Spring beauties that have opened up in all this sunshine and warmth.

Spring ephemerals are some of my favorites plants. Clearly it's a case of playing hard to get; they don't last long, so I treasure them all the more. When I rake away the oak leaves and find Hepatica in thrills me every time. Ditto for the sessile Trillium, a pass-along plant from Mark Rose in NC. I wasn't sure it would thrive this far north, but every spring it's one of the first flowers to bloom. The mottled foliage is so beautiful I'd grow it for the leaves alone.

Most exciting of all are the lengthening, fattening buds of the Amelanchier. Last summer I splurged and bought a good sized tree. I extoll its virtues to anyone who'll listen: an explosion of white flowers in early Spring, delicious berries, excellent fall color, and smooth, striped, gray bark. I confess, I bought it for the fruit.

Today, as I wait for the Amelanchier buds to pop, I raked out the North bed, and I've got the blisters to prove it. It's my first chore every spring, and when it's done, my reward is to assemble the bottle tree. Sunlight catches on the colored glass and dangling mirrors, and the breeze makes the wind chimes sing.

Music, color, movement, light, and the first flowers of Spring. It's a very nice day.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mmm, butterbur

When I was in Japan last year I saw the flower buds of Petasites (aka butterbur) being sold as a seasonal vegetable in a small market in Yunishigawa. Of course I screamed out loud (as is my wont), and it was much to Cayce's credit that she neither fled nor visibly cringed with embarrassment. I hadn't realized it was edible. That evening we were served butterbur tempura, and later in the week we ate the stems of the plant as pickles and in stews.

In the U.S., rumors of toxins keep many people from eating butterbur (and sassafras and hay scented fern and who knows what else), although it's frequently listed as an herbal remedy for migraines. The fear of inadvertent poisoning may be why I was unable to dig up any recipes (in English!) for butterbur flowers, other than the traditional tempura. Nonetheless, it's my first found edible plant this season and I'm thrilled to see it raise its flowery head.

If anyone out there has a recipe for the flowers, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll wait till the flower stems (aka scapes) lengthen, then use them in stir fry or maybe pickle them. And of course, I'll continue to research any and all possibilities. I think the leaf stems (not the leaves themselves) may also be edible, as with rhubarb.

Petasites flowers before the leaves emerge; in my garden the buds push up through last fall's leaves before I've had a chance to rake them off the beds. The scapes lengthen to about 8-10 inches as the buds open. Next, large (and I mean LARGE) leaves unfurl.

can be invasive, but the leaves are highly ornamental and when you need something to cover a lot of ground (shady, moist ground) it's very useful.

And hey, if it gets out of hand you can always eat it!

Saturday, April 5, 2008 last!

My life doesn't suck.

Nevertheless, there are days when I don't feel as happy and peppy and bursting w/love as I wish I did, and there have been too many of those lately. (How many is too many?) Today I got a clue about this cranky, restless, dissatisfaction I've been feeling. Turns out it was as simple as being so ready for Spring I could scream.

Here in PA the daffodils are barely poking up. We had snow on Friday night, and full-blown gardening is barely a gleam in the eye. But today was opening day in Shohola, PA, and the joy I felt after setting out these lettuce starts was illuminating.

Lest it snow again this evening, I've protected the little leafy beauties with an umbrella cold frame. It will do double duty, keeping a piece of plastic between my salad and the deer.

I bet I'll be eating fresh salad next weekend, but even if I have to wait a little longer, at least I started gardening today. It promises to be an excellent season.