An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

January 30, 2009

Loretta Sings With Herself

Loretta (The Weather Dog) is a Black and Tan Coon Hound, and hidden in the strands of this breeds DNA is the ability to sing or bay. Their job was to run all day tracking the coon or other prey, barking incessantly when its scent was found and treeing the poor critter until someone would come and shoot it (I wonder if raccoon tastes like chicken). Although we don't appreciate the constant barking, we do love when she throws her head back and lets lose in joyous song. Recently we accidentally discovered that she likes to sing along with earlier clips of herself in a kind of schizophrenic duet. Considering we believe that she may be her own cousin, nothing she does should surprise us.

I like this clip so much, I have made it a permanent feature at the bottom of the page. Who is crazier, the dog or the dog owner?

January 23, 2009

I Hadn't The Heart

Today was the first day we had nice weather in several weeks. It nearly got to 60 and it was sunny and windless. I got some 1/2 price bulbs planted (Scilla 'Excelsior') and finally got around to taking the Christmas lights off of the shrubs. I cut back foliage, raked leaves, cut grasses down and generally enjoyed my tasks in solitude. However, when it came to pulling weeds I could not bring myself to pull the Dandelion*. It is the 23rd of January and after last week's low of 15, I am amazed anything is blooming, so the pretty little weed will stay - for now.

*My French teacher wife will tell you this was once known as Dentdelion (lion's tooth), but now goes by Pissenlit (pee in the bed) in France.

January 18, 2009

A Good Time Was Had By All

I spent most of last week on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore helping my parents prepare and enjoy a party they were throwing in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary. An occasion like this is a rare thing and needs to be celebrated. My parents are not part of the Country Club set (although they easily fit in wherever they find themselves), so this party was not a catered banquet overlooking the 18th hole. They are both still very active (more so than some people half their age), so this event was not an afternoon tea in the day room at an assisted living facility. No, they had a party that fits who and where they are.

They asked my cousin if they could borrow the shed where he keeps and maintains his farm equipment. It had some very important things necessary for a party: indoor plumbing, an ice machine and heat (especially important Friday night when the temps eventually dipped below 10). The shed is a multi-purpose facility that also serves among other things as a dry marina and as a more-or-less private men's club, and it easily held the 75 party goers in toasty comfort.

My mom is on the right and her sister the left, and when these two women get down to work, it is best to do what you're told or get out of the way. Here they are embellishing the picnic tables with shells and greenery.
There were several guests of honor including Crassostrea virginica who we refer to as Seaside Oysters. These Oysters were harvested from Metompkin Bay by my father and my uncle. Seaside Oysters are the same species as those in the Chesapeake, but Seasiders being on the Atlantic side of the Shore are saltier, and to many people have more flavor. Although several were sampled in the raw, most were served steamed.
This is my son who has discovered many things this year, including a taste for Oysters.
Purists prefer them as God made, but others dip them in peppered vinegar or in cocktail sauce that is heavy on the horseradish. I ate so many, I barely had room for the other honored guests. Mercenaria mercenaria (so nice they named it twice) was brought to the party by another uncle in the form of Eastern Shore Clam Chowder. You will find no tomatoes or dairy products in this pot, rather it is all about the local Clams, though there are some potatoes and aromatic vegetables in cameo roles. If you are familiar with Hatteras style Clam Chowder this is similar, but much better and served 200 miles further north.
Another honored guest was Sus scrofa domesticus. The pork arrived at 7:30 in the morning to be ready for the 6:00 p.m. party. It spent the intervening hours at a warm but low temperature in the smoker pictured below. At the appointed time it was removed, allowed to rest and to gather its thoughts prior to being pulled by hand (but with great care), then served with sauce and slaw.

(For those of you who do not know any better, Barbecue is NOT anything that happens to be cooked outside or on a grill, nor is it anything served smothered in a sauce made by Heinz or Kraft. BBQ is a process learned from the previously indiginous people, Indians if you prefer, and is the slow cooking of meat at a low temperature until it nearly falls off the bone and jumps on the plate. Around these parts the meat is always pork, usually Boston Butt, and after nearly all-day cooking it is either chopped, minced or pulled. The sauce is usually vinegar based (North Carolina style) and used at the discretion of the diner. The BBQ can be eaten as is or on a bun as a BBQ sandwich, but it is always enjoyed with Cole Slaw.)
Other than Oysters, Clam Chowder and Pulled Pork there were plenty of sides and delicious home-made desserts made by aunts, other cousins and friends. Beverages (adult and otherwise) were available along with a large portion of conversation, and music appropriate to 1959.

Here are Mom and Dad about to kiss. On a similarly cold night in January 50 years ago, two young people prepared for a life together, but with the great unkown that is the future. Now they can look back on a life and a marriage well lived and celebrate with the friends and family that helped make it possible. May we all be so blessed as to know such satisfaction.

January 13, 2009

Bloom Day - Leftovers In The Fridge

This is the time of year when people make enormous pots of chili or soup and those never ending casseroles, feeding on them for days. Well that is some of what you are going to get here. After last month's bloom day where I lamented the fact that my Yuletide Camellia (Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide') has never bloomed well, I have now been getting full on it for weeks. I am not sick of it yet and hopefully you don't mind being served a few leftovers.

Let's pull out another dish or two from the back of the fridge before we see if there is any new stuff. I think I have some Mahonia x 'Winter Sun' still edible from December's GBBD.
Last time we were in the kitchen the unknown Quince (Chaenomeles) was starting to heat up too quickly, but it has been put back on simmer and maybe it can hold out until February.
I am able to serve you some fresh greens like this Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' and my Corydalis 'Can't-Get-Rid-Of-This'.

The foliage on the Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart' is very fresh looking right now, and later on the fruit will ripen, turn black and create a feast for the birds.
Helleborus foetidus is also fresh right now, but we will ignore its very unappealing common names like Dungwort and Stinking Hellebore.
I like to end a good meal with something sweet. Paperwhites are hardy for us here and are the first Narcissus to bloom. I happen to be one of those people who like their strong fragrance, even in the house.

Here is something I am working on for next month's meal, Edgeworthia chrysantha. I only have 7 buds this year, and I count them every morning. Long time readers of this blog may remember that this is the shrub I caught my criminally insane neighbor destroying. It has made a slow recovery, but it will never be the lovely single stemmed specimen that I had hoped for. At least it is alive and it will bloom this year.
It has been great having ya'll over and, I would love to chat, but I must go scour some pots now. On your way home would you mind running this covered dish over to Carol at May Dreams Gardens? Thanks, I do appreciate it.

January 11, 2009

A Day in the Chrysler

By the title you may think we were outside enjoying Saturday's 60 degree weather in a car, but we were in fact inside the Chrysler Museum of Art . We are fortunate to have an art museum in Norfolk that is on par with with cities that far exceed our size. The original museum was very "old school" and had a little of this and a little of that, but in 1971 Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. left the bulk of his art collection to the museum. He was an heir to the Chrysler automotive fortune his father had built and Junior's wife happened to be a Norfolk native. My how the mighty trust funds have fallen. The Chrysler is known for many things, but perhaps they are most famous for their glass collection. A good portion of it is not my cup of tea, but there are a few things I really enjoy like the Tiffany lamp collection (it was too dark to take pictures) and the contemporary glass.

Click to enlarge the picture of Chess Set by Gianni Toso. The white side is made of up Catholic figures and the black side are orthodox Jewish figures. Wouldn't it be fun if Toso also had a radical Muslim, extremist Hindu or an ultra fundamentalist evangelical set. They could play each other at chess instead of killing each other for real. Another part of the glass collection is this ghostly glass dress (Dress VIII, Karen LaMonte) which is the perfect size for a small girl. Although they have art from all eras, I tend to gravitate towards the more contemporary art (Bedroom Painting #2315, Tom Wesselmann). Music, Philip Evergood
This is my son's favorite piece. You can never go wrong with a robot made out of TVs (Hamlet Robot, Nam June Paiks).
I am very fond of Edward Hopper, and this is his New York Pavements.
This is one of my favorite paintings in the museum, The Neophyte by Gustav Dore. He has that 'what have I gotten myself into" look on his face.
I am also drawn to this (Une Japonaise, Jules Joseph Lefevre).
The following two pieces face each other across the hall, (Orestes Pursued by the Furies, Adolphe William Bouguereau)...
... and this, a collage made from pictures of junk and scrap, both are nearly floor to ceiling.
Pre-Columbian happy couple...
... and more recently (Portrait of Marcelle and Pierre Monnin, Alfred Leslie).
This is the symbol of the city's authority, the Norfolk Mace. It was created in London and presented to the city in 1753 just as Norfolk was becoming a municipality. During the Revolution it was buried in a Kempsville yard to keep it from the British. Decades later, a Confederate Colonel concealed it behind the stairs in his home which was occupied by Union troops, but the mace was not discovered. It is the only American mace that still belongs to the city for which it was created.
You know I could not leave without a few shots of the museum garden. There were a couple of magnificent Live Oaks and a nice European style courtyard. I will visit again during Dogwood or Hydrangea season.

January 9, 2009

Southern Garden History Society

About a year ago I stumbled upon a great on-line resource for people who are interested in garden history, particularly southern garden history. The Southern Garden History Society publishes the periodical Magnolia and past issues are available in .pdf format for you to spend cold winter evenings looking at. There is also a search feature that will let you look up whatever topics may be of interest to you. Don't expect a lot of breezy articles with beautiful photos. However, what you will find are scholarly, detailed articles covering a wide range of topics from stories about individual gardeners, historic trends, plant lore to garden preservation and more. Each issue contains several detailed book reviews, and there is also a link on the site to historic plant lists.

From my perusals I learned about Frederick Law Olmstead's travels through the south prior to the civil war, in which he referred to Norfolk as "a miserable, sorry little seaport town". I found a story about Peggy Martin and the Peggy Martin Rose which was the only survivor, other than a Crinum, from a garden that was under salt water for two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Wesley Greene of Colonial Williamsburg wrote a very detailed article titled The Evolution of the Lawn. You can also read about the "myth of the colonial herb garden". I also enjoyed an article about Anne Spencer and her garden in Lynchburg, Va. She was an African American poet and gardener, a demographic one would erroneously think does not garden based on the dearth of published information.

If you are interested the link of the past issues of Magnolia is here.
The search feature can be found here.
Plant lists are here.
Finally, information about the society in general is here.