Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's it like?

When I tell people what I do for a living they often look at me funny. "Can you make a living at that?" they ask. Then, "What's it like?" I've decided that being A GARDENER is a fantasy to most people. They can't quite imagine I get paid for doing what most people just fiddle around with on the weekend. For the record: I do very little fiddling.

As for what it's like, well that depends on when you ask me. Yesterday I was terrorized by an enormous and territorial carpenter bee.

Carpenter bees are about 2 inches long, black, and shiny. Males hover and swoop, both to check out possible mates and to chase away possible competition. I'm not sure which I was, but Mr. Bee wouldn't leave me alone. I felt like an idiot, dodging and ducking as he flew directly at my head. I feel even more ridiculous today, since I've learned males don't have stingers. I'll be back there tomorrow and I promise to stand my ground.

Also yesterday, it was 90+ degrees. That is just too hot for April. Even if you like your work, 3 hours in the blazing sun saps your energy. When I walked through the park at the end of the day I moved at half my normal speed. What's my job like? Tiring but satisfying.

But on a day like today (temperature about 60 degrees) I have the best job in the world. The air is cool but not so breezy as to interfere with sweeping. The crabapple is in full bloom, azalea buds are plump and ready to pop. Redbud flowers are open

and the Anemonella are in bloom.

My client was out of town this morning, so I listened to music as I fertilized. I don't usually listen to music while I work, because I find it VERY hard to listen to good music without singing along. And dancing a little. Some people find that entertaining...others do not. And since I always strive to be professional I usually leave the musical performance at home. But not today. It was glorious: sunny, cool, floriferous, tuneful, and a lot better than being chased by a giant carpenter bee!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Foggy Photo Essay

More often than not, this is the debate that goes through my head as I prepare to leave the apartment in the morning:

Me: Should I bring my camera today?

Lazy Me:
Nah, it's going to rain and besides I'm already carrying my VERY heavy tool bag PLUS plants.

Yeah, but I'll be walking home through the park and I might see something cool...

Lazy Me:
Forget it! I don't want to carry the extra bulk and weight.

So, this morning I did NOT carry my camera and it's the last time I'll let Lazy Me win an argument for a very long time. There was so much to shoot on the terrace where I was working, and all I had was my woefully inadequate iPhone. The resolution is low, you can't choose a focal plain, or fiddle with aperture. Very, very frustrating.

Especially on this misty morning when there was much that was alluring: tightly pleated, young Viburnum leaves, Amelanchier flowers heavy with rain, buds just starting to unfold on the Rosa rugosa. None of those pictures turned out well enough to post here (dammit!) but I offer these few to show you what's growing today in a rooftop garden on the Upper West Side.

Japanese maple leaves unfurl.

Boston ivy looks demure and manageable in early spring.

Buds of staghorn sumac 'Tiger's Eye' are ready to pop.

I adore Rhamnus 'Fine Line'.

Next time I promise to bring my real camera.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My contest entry!

The folks at Gardening Gone Wild are having a photo contest and this is my entry, Amelanchier canadensis:

The challenge is to submit a photo of a plant native to your region that you think deserves more attention than it currently gets. Originally they wanted the plants to be water-wise, but that's no longer one of the criteria. I took the above photo last year, first week of May. The tree is one I planted on the ferny verge between our cultivated space and the un-manicured, surrounding woods.

For years I've sung the praises of Amelanchier candensis to anyone who will listen. I use it whenever I can, both in my Pennsylvania landscape and in my business in NYC. It's a low maintenance plant, with four seasons of interest, and anyone looking for a small tree or shrub should consider it. Different species of Amelanchier are native to different parts of the U.S., so there are plenty to choose from depending on where you are. They have many common names: shadblow, serviceberry, and Juneberry being the most common in my neck of the woods.

Some people call it shadblow because the flowers (blow is an archaic word for flower) bloom when the shad run. The name serviceberry comes from colonial times. Flowers bloomed when the snow had melted enough for the preacher to walk to church and perform the first service of the spring. I prefer Juneberry because it conjures neither religion nor fish.

Juneberry requires no supplemental water once established (making it, nudge-nudge, water-wise!), is relatively deer resistant, and tolerates a range of growing conditions: mostly sun to mostly shade, rocky soils, rooftop containers. There are few trees that offer so much and demand so little.

The plump, unopened buds are held widely spaced, like a candelabra. They're white, edged in pink and just this week I've been struck by their beauty. Sadly, my attempts to photograph them have thus far been thwarted by high winds. Small, white flowers follow, often before its leaves emerge and before neighboring trees have started new growth, they flash white as you drive past and in the spring garden, they’re a bright focal point.

In early summer, clusters of berries attract birds to the garden. Juneberries are slightly bigger than blueberries; they start out red, and ripen to a deep, purply-blue.

In fall, the foliage is bright yellow, turning orange, and it’s one of the first trees to drop its leaves, revealing what some consider its best attribute: beautiful bark. In fact some people prune off the bottom branches of the tree to show off its slim trunks, subtly marked with vertical, silvery stripes. They look lovely against the snow.

Even among those who appreciate the beauty of the Juneberry, few appreciate the taste of its fruit. Juneberries are delicious and firm, tasting something like a cross between blueberries and strawberries. Its seeds are small and plentiful, unobtrusive to chew, and adding an almond flavor. They don’t all ripen at once, so you can harvest juneberries for about four weeks. A single tree produces a prodigious harvest.

The berries are delicious eaten out of hand, and they freeze well. I’ve dried Juneberries for cereal and salads, made Juneberry-peach compote (below), Juneberry sorbet, and Juneberry-rhubarb jam. This year I've got a tart recipe to try out.

Seriously, what more could you ask for in a woody plant: striking flowers, tasty fruit, colorful foliage, ornamental bark, and so very easy to grow. What's stopping you?

Friday, April 3, 2009

the last of the Meyer lemons

It's a rainy day in Shohola, PA. The ground is so saturated that great puddles stand on the lawn. Clearly no work is getting done in the garden this afternoon. Clearly, also, the Meyer lemons I brought back from CA 10 days ago must be used and used quickly. So, in an attempt to create sunshine on this gray day, I made Meyer Lemon Marmalade. (I promise this is the last of my gushing Meyer lemon posts. It has to be...I used up all the lemons.)

The ratio of lemons to water to sugar is 1:1:1. 10 lemons gave me 6 c. of chopped fruit, which is the maximum amount you should use (less is fine). When preserves are made in overly-large quantities, they may not jell. (It's a complicated balance between the amount of time it takes to thoroughly heat the fruit v. the amount of time the pectin bond survives high heat. If you want to know more about the science, leave a comment!)

Cut 1/4 inch off the top and bottom of each lemon, then slice the fruit in half vertically. Cut each half into several segments, about 1/4 inch thick. Remove and save the seeds and central pith. Cut each segment into small pieces and measure your fruit.

Combine the fruit with an equal amount of water in your jelly pan. Place seeds and pith in a jelly bag (or cheesecloth) and add this to the fruit, attaching the bag to the handle of the pan. Boil for 20-30 minutes, till fruit is tender. Eat a piece to test for done-ness; if it's chewy...keep cooking!

Remove pan from heat and remove pectin bag from fruit. Set aside until it's cool enough to handle, then squeeze the bag to remove pectin, which will be creamy in texture. You'll get about 2 Tbs.; stir this into the fruit mixture.

Add sugar (same amount as water and fruit) and return the mixture to the boil. At 15 minutes start checking for done-ness (although it may take as long as 25 minutes). Use whichever test you like: thermometer @ 220 F, spoon test, dish in the freezer test. Being the compulsive type, I do all three.

This made 10 x 1/2 pints of the best marmalade I've ever had. Michael says I should be more modest but when it's this good...what's the point?! You'd know I was faking it.

Labels: ,

East meets West (blueberries meet Meyer lemons)

Last weekend I tinkered with a jam recipe and came up with what I now call East Meets West. Foraged blueberries from Shohola, PA and foraged Meyer lemons from San Jose, CA. I increased the lemon juice and zest components and worried that it might be too lemon-y (and not blueberry-y enough) but Michael assures me this is not the case.

2.25 cups blueberries

3 tsp. grated Meyer lemon rind, 1/2 c. Meyer lemon juice

3.25 c. sugar

Combine all of the above and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Stir in 1 envelope liquid pectin (this might not be necessary since lemons have a lot of pectin; I'll try skipping it next time) then bring back to a rolling boil. Continue to stir and let boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Cover and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. This made 6 x 1/2 pints.

If you try this with regular lemons, reduce zest to 2 tsp. and juice to 1/3 c. Meyer lemon juice is sweeter and its zest is less bitter than that of regular lemons, so the larger quantities work. Either way, it's a winner!