Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A late African spring


Sparaxis elegans, an indigenous spring flower, is blooming in drifts near my parents' house in the greenbelt - a green and public right of way - that shoulders their property. For the most part, exotic and invasive plants are making life difficult for the native flora that should thrive, here, but the sparaxis plants are toughing it out, dogs and foot traffic notwithstanding. The tree is the background is a pear in blossom, a possible relic of old farmland.


The Frenchman and I went for a walk here soon after landing. I spent my days in this pretty green place in my early teenage-hood, stalking tadpoles and watercress, walking with our own dogs, sometimes followed by a cat (Garfunkle, black and white, who often shouted for me to slow down).


It is late spring in Cape Town. The equivalent of early May in New York City. Leaves are new, grasses are beginning to flower.



We met a group of American tourists being guided along the path. We saw two Cape chameleons having a fight, and a third on the tree where we often see many. Small girls rode horses, and our own corgis overtook us even though we had not invited them along: they went out walking with my dad, who sits on a bench here for a long time and looks at things. He was surprised but happy to see us. He forgets most newly acquired facts. The surprises of vascular dementia.


Roses ramble up the outside of the living wall that hedges my parents' garden. They were planted decades ago and fend for themselves.


My friend Don identified this tree - Diospyros whyteana, a South African species of persimmon, commonly called bladder nut. I had never seen it in bloom, before. My mom has three in front of the house, looser limbed, and I still did not recognize it.


And higher up, where very few humans and dogs walk, statuesque Wachendorfia thyrsiflora. 

Soon, we leave on a little roadtrip, following the south coast to the Eastern Cape, and then straight up north through the Karoo and into the Northern Cape, before doubling back to Cape Town.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

How to grow a Thai lime


I brought my Thai limes indoors for the winter a couple of days ago, when the heat was steaming in the garden, the striped Asian mosquitoes were biting and September felt like July. It felt mad.

Today, cool, dry air has arrived. Thank you, weather.

You can read all about how to grow Thai limes (and the complications of their names) in my story for Gardenista.

The Frenchman and I are Cape Town-bound soon, and the next posts might be from another hemisphere. If you would like to join me on a fall forage walk back in NYC, see the link below for one in Green-Wood and another in Prospect Park, in November.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Back to the garden


I have been trying to redress the wrongs of months of minimal gardening.

On Monday I turned in the manuscript of Forage, Harvest, Feast - the new book that I have been working on for, oh, some time, now. Until I see it again, after the first round of editing, I get to do the things for which there has been no time. I have missed gardening.

Today I pulled out some crazy damn morning glories and hacked back dead things and cut back nettles (allowed to grow but setting seed), calamintha and agastache. I pulled dahlias and transplanted hordes of volunteering thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana). If you need a plant that gives back, that's the one. And I planted cool weather edibles even though the tropical storm weather has brought humidity back after some freakishly autumnal and clear August weeks.

The mosquitoes were still biting. The striped, daytime invaders. But I hope that when I return from South Africa at the end of October I will find peas, and arugula and bok choy and lettuces in the vegetable patch And no more mosquitoes.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fresh ginger


Every morning I spend about 10 minutes in the garden with a cup of coffee, looking at things and watering. Then I go back in and work. I have missed gardening as the new book has taken over my life. But today I had a good excuse: I needed fresh ginger for a recipe I was working on. The leaves in the two troughs nearest the house (where my Thai basil forest and curcumin also grow) are looking healthy and I could see the pale new rhizomes pushing out of the soil.


If you are used to tough, store bought ginger, as I am, fresh ginger is unbelievably beautiful.

I planted rhizomes that had begun to show small pale new sprouts (no leaves, just swellings), well after the last frost date, once nights were reliably above 50'F. These troughs have a couple of morning hours of sun for May, June and July, and right now they are in complete shade again.


The pink at the base of the culm (the botanical name for a grass stem) is gorgeous. The skin is transparently thin, and simply disappeared as I microplaned it into a filling for dumplings.

Next year I will plant more ( I think I said that last year...).

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Who dat?


At the stroke of midnight, as September arrived, an early autumn settled on the city. Also, the cricket (yes, there is only one) began singing.

August was absurd, in the best way, with low temperatures and air that did not feel like a suffocatingly wet, hot blanket. This is the first year where I never actually packed our duvet away. There were a few stifling nights this summer, but only a handful.

Then yesterday,  I heard a new sound in the garden. A sort of chip! chip! - like a cardinal with a cough. Later, as I worked at my laptop at my desk, which is really the dining table, I saw this little bird.


I love the fall migrants. Often tiny, somehow very at home and confident in a new place, but also unbearably fragile. They travel so far (and yes, you can read a lot into that). And to find them resting in a green space you have made is like a small blessing (not a word I use, easily - it is so overused and has become trite).


The photos are bad because they are taken through double glazed windows, and a set of wrought iron burglar bars, but I watched him/her for a long time, busily chasing down tiny insects, always remaining under the cover of leaves and flitting about beneath the plants. And s/he is still here today, bustling about in the rear of the garden.

Yet to identify the bird. Tell me if you know.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Autumn Wilds Foods Walk


Green-Wood Ramble
5 November 2017
12pm - 3pm
$45

THIS WALK IS SOLD OUT

Join me on an autumn ramble and picnic in the wooded hills and dales of beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery, where some of New York's most impressive trees grow. While we will be identifying everything botanically edible as we walk, this is also a chance to explore one of the most serene places in the city. 



While every year is unique in its timing, and leaf color and leaf drop will vary, Green-Wood is one of the best places to appreciate the changing season without leaving the city.



Green-Wood is home not only to Leonard Bernstein, but to mushrooms and acorns, beech nuts and sheep sorrel. I'm not promising mushrooms, just saying: You never know. If the conditions are right we may chance upon some late hen of the woods.




...and maybe a persimmon or two. 



The park-like space is also the refuge of New Yorkers like ground hogs, raccoons and opossums.


...and birds still making their way south. Green-Wood is a popular refueling and resting station.


And of course, there are the famous parrots. 


We will share a fall picnic of seasonal, wild inspired snacks which may include hen of the woods pâté, mugwort shortbread and persimmon spice cakes. And a cordial from a very good cordial-making year.

More info and meet up details will be sent to you in the week before the walk. Attendance is limited. See you in the fall!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The red and black ones


Almost every morning, when I sneak into the garden with my coffee before sitting down to work, a monarch greets me. The Joe Pye weed offers plenty of nectar. And at six feet tall is bordering on unruly. I need a meadow.


They visit the common milkweed in the vegetable plot, and seem very restless, rarely settling for long.


And yes, the distinctive milkweed bugs did arrive. I don't who told them there was milkweed, here. Oncopeltus fasciatus, apparently harmless, so I leave them be. This one is sitting on the pods of Asclepias incarnata, growing in a pot.

In September I will be cutting the common milkweed back, very carefully. Those stems also rose to five and six feet, and happen to be planted over the row of diminutive saffron crocus, whose flowers should be emerging in late autumn. I am not sure if being shaded by the milkweed all summer (when the saffron is dormant) will have hurt, or not. Last year they produced enough saffron for one pot of bouillabaisse, which I thought was quite exciting.

I might order more.

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