What’s blooming now in my garden

With the first autumn rains coming early this year, the garden has greened up in the three weeks we´d been away. The daisies (Bellis perennis) are looking fabulous. The yellow flowers among the daisies are not dandelions — they´re autumn hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis).

Daisies gnarled olive trunk yellow flowers fab.JPG

Here’s a closer look. The back side of the petals are a lovely pink.

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I’d totally forgotten that I’d planted a cyclamen tuber in this boulder some time ago. What a lovely surprise! The curled up stem close to the soil is a seed capsule which bears as many as 12 seeds. Very clever of the cyclamen to insert the seed capsule into the soil. Ants are attracted to the sweet coating of the seeds and carry them away from the plant. They´re not interested in the seed itself and leave it once they´ve licked it clean, thus aiding in the cyclamen´s proliferation.

Cyclamen in boulder.JPGThe chrysanthemums, despite being frozen last winter, have come through. Here they are looking promising in bud.

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A few spiral orchids (Spiranthes spiralis), also known as lady´s tresses orchid, are still in bloom, but most were flattened by heavy machinery when the new septic tank was put in while we were away.

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I am willing myself to be optimistic that the spiral orchids will come back next year. The double track made by the backhoe into the daisy “lawn” (ouch!) was precisely where the spiral orchids grew thickest last year.

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Some lovely pale blue chicory are still in bloom.

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The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo, madroño in Spanish) has fruits  ripening at the same time as its new flowers. It is often mentioned that the species name unedo (“only one”) is due to the insipid taste of the fruit, so that one is enough. To my surprise, the arbutus fruits on the two trees we have here are very sweet, too sweet for my taste in fact. A potent liqueur is made from the fruits in Portugal (called aguardente de medronho) and the Canary islands. In Madrid as well, licor de madroño is a typical drink, perhaps because the madroño and a bear feature on the coat of arms of the city, although the tree itself does not flourish in Madrid.  I am tempted to suggest that the specific unedo is actually because if you eat more than one, you are likely to become inebriated, due to the high alcohol content of the ripe fruits.

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Can you see the bumble bee on one of the flowers?

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The blossoms on this miniature pomegranate were a surprise. I had not expected any for at least two more years. I wonder if there will be some mini fruits? Watch this space….

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Colours of the New Year in the Galilee

We were in the Galilee and Jerusalem for just over a fortnight last month for Rosh Hashana. It was a bit early for most of the wild flowers, but there were enough blooms to brighten the verges and the sea coast. We had wanted to take the cable car to see the sea grotto in Rosh Hanikra, but there was a long snaking queue of other holidaymakers with the same idea. So we gave up and just walked along the beach which was relatively empty. Only a few families had set up tents for the day. (No overnight camping or walking at night on this coast, as it is close to the border with Lebanon.) Yellow-flowered succulents were blooming among the rocks all along the coast at Rosh Hanikra.

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I was overjoyed to come upon sea lavender (Limonium latifolium) in bloom. It was growing in pure sand.

Rosh Hanikra sea lavender .jpeg

Further south along the same coast, sea lilies (Pancratium maritimum) were also in full bloom.

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More Pancratium maritimum growing from a fissure in a boulder, south of Rosh Hanikra.

Rosh Hanikra Pancratium maritimum2.jpegA related Pancratium species has the most curious large seed heads. These were growing in the Sde Yaacov nursery of Mediterranean bulb specialist Oron Peri. I hoped to buy seeds of some rare endemic bulbs, but was daunted that they would take 3 or as much as 10 years to flower.

Pancratium maritimum seed heads zoom

Cyclamen in bloom in Oron Peri´s nursery. These are among the earliest to bloom — in a few more weeks, all the other autumn bloomers will be out.

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Exquisite leaves of a cyclamen species at Oron Peri´s nursery.

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All along the coast, sea squill bloomed in crowded groups. I wish I could have taken photos of them, but couldn´t as we were on the expressway, with no pedestrian access to the flowers. Here are photos from Oron Peri´s nursery. The surrounding beds will be crowded with blooms in a few more weeks.

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The Israeli species of sea squill is taller and with a fatter stem than its Spanish relative that I have growing in my garden in Valencia.

Oron Perri nursery sea squill zoom

A group of Israeli sea squills in the Zippori archaeological park. The hill behind is Nazareth.

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Just for comparison, here is a group of Spanish sea squills in my hamlet. These are shorter and with more slender stems than the Israeli species.

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More photos of my New Year holiday to come in my next post.

 

 

Purple in the vegetable garden

Color is something I’d never considered as a criterion for choosing which vegetables to grow… that is, until this year. It’s not that I hadn’t appreciated the lovely blue-green of cabbage leaves before. Or the equally gorgeous silvery grey and majestic structure of artichoke leaves. But this year I decided to go with purple. In particular, purple kohlrabi. I confess I’ve never eaten much kohlrabi before, neither green nor purple. But the photo on the seed packet was so irresistible, I just caved in.

As a plant, purple kohlrabi, did not disappoint. It started out with purple stems, and its leaves are veined with the same exquisite colour. Even if it bore no fruit, it is such a beautiful plant, it made me so happy just to be able to grow it.

 

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And of course when the ‘fruit’ started to swell up just above the roots, it was almost unbelievable!!! I harvested it at the size of a plum, but I couldn’t stop gazing at it. It was so stunning in all its parts — its stems, its leaves with their purple veins. How could I cut into such beauty, or even contemplate eating it? Just cutting off the leaves pained me. I reluctantly peeled off its lovely purple coat to put it in a  salad. It was sweet and extremely crisp. I shall definitely be planting more.

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The other contributor of purple to the vegetable garden are purple-podded beans. I’m growing them for the first time as well. The stems, similar to the purple kohlrabi, also start out purple. And the flowers are divine.

Color in veg gdn prpl podded pea flwr vine gYou can see the bean developing below.

Color in the veg gdn fab 3 stages of pea fab.JPG I love the way the purple-podded bean tendril and new leaves go well with the kohlrabi leaf with its light purple veins.

Casa color in the veg gdn kohlrabi lf pea leaf fab.JPGIn the same veg bed is Amaranth ‘Velvet Curtains’. The amaranth’s seeds are edible, as are the young leaves, though I have yet to try them.

 

Amaranth seedlings2Given lots of water, they grow very fast and quite tall.

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The amaranth looks great behind the purple-podded bean. On the left is a bean leaf, which has purplish tones as well. The frilly leaf in the middle is kale.

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Casa color in the veg gdn amaranth curly kale g.JPGI’ve sown orange Tagetes all around the perimeter, not only for the colour contrast, but as well to deter nematodes A bit brassy, but quite cheering.

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It’s great to see what works and doesn’t work in terms of color and texture. I’m not too sure brassy Tagetes is in the right place, but as long as it deters nematodes, it can stay right where it is.

 

 

 

 

Garden blues

Blue in the garden begins with the wild chicory. Last year they only grew in one place, but this spring they have seeded all over the garden.

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Then the electric blue ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glory takes over.

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Here’s a closer look at ‘Grandpa Ott’. I brought the seeds with me from my garden in Bonn.Casa morning glory blue zoom fab

These are Salvia farinacea, I believe, otherwise known as mealy sage. Unlike the other sages, they have shiny leaves that, rather to my surprise, withstood last winter’s snow and hail quite well.

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Summer heat doesn’t faze them either. Here they are, looking quite hale, after the last heat wave.

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Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is another of my faves. It’s another toughie, standing up well to cold and heat. Depending on the time of day, it can look blue or mauve. The photo below was taken in late afternoon, so the setting sun’s scattered red rays may have tinted them slightly lavender.

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The agapanthus, which I brought with me from Germany, is not used to having a thuggish local lavender nearby. It has gotten rather swamped, and will have to be moved where it can spread itself.  I hope to get more of them, as the flowers are really true blue.

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Tough lilies — A lesson in survival

Last year while exploring an abandoned quarry, I came upon two clumps of what I took to be some kind of lily near a mound of dumped construction debris. (It is illegal to dump such material except for in the designated area, but people do it anyway. Shame on them.) The plants looked moribund, but I thought I might just manage to rescue them, as the leaves were still showing a bit of green. The clumps were rather heavy, so we only took one home. What with one thing and another, and with so many other plants that needed immediate attention, the clump did not get planted into the ground. I´d left it sitting near an olive, waiting its turn till I got around to it. Every so often I would give it some water, but not in a regular fashion.

Imagine my surprise when I saw what looked like a flower stalk just a week or so ago. And as the days went by, more and more stalks came springing up. What joy to behold these marvelous white blooms now gracing this former bedraggled clump. I thought they might be Pancratium lilies, but these look like something else entirely. I suspect they are a species of Crinum, perhaps a hybrid. If anyone can identify them, I´d really appreciate it.

Crinum lilies?.JPG

Well, seeing how lovely these lilies turned out to be, my cupidity was aroused, and so we went to see if the other clump was still there. And it was. While nosing around, I found yet another clump abandoned under the shade of a pine. While cleaning up the bigger clump, removing the dried up leaves, I spied a flower stalk two days ago. I hadn´t expected it to flower so soon. I thought it might need a year to settle down, at the very least. This morning, like a miracle, the whole clump seems to have woken up and decided to strut its stuff. Overnight, flower stalks have erupted all over. And this is a plant that has only received whatever rain has graced it over the winter. It has been baking under the sun as well. This is most definitely one tough plant!

Lilly abandoned large_6702

Strewn on the ground are the dried leaves that I´d cleared from the clump. The pot was only for transporting it from where we´d found it. It had been abandoned just on its own roots. Two flower stalks are peeking out.

The one that has been more sheltered from the sun is showing just one flower stalk. Its leaves are also not as robust. Perhaps it needed to be out braving the sun and being blessed by the rain.

Lily abandoned small_6703

This morning both clumps were planted into the ground and watered. We shall see how well they take to a little bit of pampering.

Sowing with the moon

There are gardeners who faithfully sow according to the phases of the moon, firm in their belief that the tug of the moon’s gravity influences germination time. I have in the past tried to time my sowing of flower seeds as the moon heads towards fullness, but I have not kept a record of how much faster germination happened. This year however, I’ve actually noted when I sowed seeds and when they eventually germinated. The earliest to germinate was a green vegetable: mizuna (Brassica rapa var. Nipponica), also known as Japanese turnip greens (and sometimes as mustard greens). Sown on the 1st of July, they germinated on the 3rd, a mere 48 hours from sowing. I was truly amazed.

Mizuna early germination_6441

I was concerned that the higher temperatures at the end of June would deter germination. Another concern was the onset of summer heat for the next month — according to a local gardener, mid-July to mid-August is the period of greatest heat. I’d been away during what would have been the best time to sow seeds for summer crops, but now that I’ve sown the seeds, it would be interesting to see how they fare at the height of summer. Today the mizuna look like this, with their first true leaves — the serrated ones — up. I shall have to thin these out soon.

Mizuna first true leaves

The optimum soil temperature that triggers cabbage (and its relatives, such as mizuna) seeds to germinate at 99% certainty is 77ºF or 26ºC (from germination tables posted by Tom Clothier. On average at this temperature, cabbage seeds should germinate in 5 days. So, my result compares favourably. Could this be attributed to the power of the moon? Hmmm… I honestly don’t know, and I would need another sowing (if not more) of the same seeds when the moon is on the wane for comparison.

The runner beans, sown on the same day as the mizuna, took 5 days to germinate, and leaves opened out on the 6th day. Cucumber – a local variety with a pale green skin and a similar shape to snake gourd — took 3 days to germinate. This is the same number of days posted by Tom Clothier at 86ºF (30ºC), though I doubt it refers to the same variety of cucumber.

Tarragon and Thai basil germinated in 4 days, and the dill and salad burnet likewise. This herb gardening site  gives 10 – 14 days as standard for tarragon seed to germinate (no soil temperature given on this site; for basil, 5 – 10 days. If using a special propagation medium (and I did not), basil could germinate in 2 – 3 days, and tarragon in a week.

Okra germinated in 5 days for me, and the germination time given for it by the SF Gate (no soil temperature given) is within a week, so it has germinated well within the normal time expected.

I also sowed some flower seeds: cosmos sprouted in 4 days; and sunflowers in 5 days.

Whether the moon’s phase had an accelerating effect or not, the rapid germination of these seeds – some of which are quite old and have been in storage for the past 3 years – is nothing short of astounding. The air temperature at sowing time has been between 21ºC (69.8ºF) and 27ºC (80º F) during the day, and dipped by 3 – 5ºC during the night.

I’m too much of a skeptic to garden entirely by the moon, though it remains to be seen whether the seeds I sow from now on, i.e., during the moon’s waning or dark phase, will germinate as rapidly as those sown before.

For those who are curious about gardening by the moon: this site recommends planting annual flowers and vegetables that bear crops above ground during the moon’s waxing phase: that is, from the day of the new moon to the day of the full moon. Flowering bulbs, biennial and perennial flowers, and vegetables that bear crops below ground are best planted during the waning phase: from the day after the full moon to the day before the new moon.

A German gardening magazine, Mein Schöner Garten, and its sister publication, Mein Schönes Land, use a more detailed moon calendar published by the Anthroposophical Society in Switzerland. This society also advocates Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic method of gardening. The society’s Mondkalendar (moon calendar) even goes into specific hours, not just days, for garden care of flowers, leaves, fruits, and roots. It also recommends when to trim hedges or to do weeding, so that the subsequent growth is slower or weaker, thus lightening these garden chores.

I leave you with the moon over our hamlet, the day before it was full.

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Walking in the midst of olives and almonds

It’s been over two months since my last post. Now back from Bonn and loads of physiotherapy, I am elated to be able to walk long distances again. My favourite walks at any time of year in our hamlet are those taken deep within the surrounding olive groves and almond orchards. It is now the beginning of summer, and the grasses and wildflowers that had been blooming since late winter and spring beneath the trees are now waist-high. Soon they will be mown down, not only to remove competition for water, but also more importantly to deter grass fires. There are enough remaining blooms though in the almond groves, mostly dainty pink thistles and yellow cat’s ears, plus here and there a rare bell flower (a campanula perhaps), in amongst the sere grass seedheads, giving a somewhat pointillistic effect.Olive grove grasses wild flora _6246.jpg

A blue bell flower.

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Between six and seven in the evening, the sun is still high. There is still a good hour, and perhaps more, till the sun sets, and for a brief respite from the heat, we duck under the long-spreading branches of olives, and enjoy the lemon-tinted light under the leaves.

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Further along our walk, in the low late afternoon light, olive trees’ leaf tips are burnished silver.

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Just as we head back home, I notice a solitary conifer, its leaves a rusty red. I hope it’s not due to some disease.

 

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Cherry blossom viewing in Spain

Te traeré de las montañas flores alegres, copihues,
avellanas oscuras, y cestas silvestres de besos.
Quiero hacer contigo
lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you
what spring does with the cherry trees.

– Pablo Neruda

Not far from Villalonga, just a few kilometers up and over the ridge overlooking the magnificent semi-circular mountain range that is aptly called the Cirque de la Safor, is the Vall de Gallinera. ‘Vall’ is pronounced ‘Vai’, and I just realized recently that I had been mispronouncing it lo these many months. 😉  The Vall de Gallinera, partly in Valencia and partly in Alicante, is famous for its luscious dark-red sweet cherries that ripen in May. And right about now is when the cherry trees are in bloom. Although the online news mentioned that the best time for cherry blossom viewing is the end of March, spring this year has come rather early, and even the cherry tree in our garden is beginning to bloom. As we are a few hundred meters higher than the Vall de Gallinera, perhaps, just perhaps, I thought the cherry blossoms might be at their peak. If the online news pages turn out to be right, we can always go again, having seen for ourselves at which stage of bloom the trees are in.

And so off we went last Sunday. And what a splendid show of cherries in bloom [els cerrers en flor (Valenciano), los cerezos en flor (Castellano)] awaited us, from Benisilli through to Alpatro and beyond. So, best to go now if you wish to see this spectacle at its peak. The blossoms last about fifteen days, depending on the weather and temperature, naturally. Some orchards even had their trees starting to leaf out. I’m so glad we did get to do hanami (blossom viewing). And, unlike Japan, there were no tourist buses or parties of slightly tipsy revellers picnicking under the trees. No traffic, no crowds. Just us and the dogs. A few cars passed us by, but none stopped to take in the spectacular blossoms and admire them. I have to admit I rather prefer it this way. And, unlike the purely ornamental Japanese cherry blossom, there will be gorgeous fruit to look forward to in a couple of months’ time.

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Asparagus in Japan’s Snow Country

Asparagus is not the first vegetable that comes to mind when people think of Japan. Yet whenever I see or eat asparagus, I cannot help but think of that year that I lived on a surfeit – and oh, such a surfeit it was – of fresh asparagus. And it was all thanks to Okuyama-san.

Okuyama-san had an asparagus patch of his own, in a field just on the outskirts of town. Every morning and late afternoon, just before and after work at his printing shop, he trudged there with old Pochi (then barely able to see, his eyes clouded with cataracts). Of all the plants he grew there — a medley of stalwarts like giant radish (daikon) and Chinese cabbage (hakusai) and chrysanthemums — his favourite, and obviously his pride and joy too, was the asparagus. And he lavished it with attention and generous feeding with well-composted leaf mould and compost all mounded up into a soft and fluffy brown futon. And the asparagus in turn repaid his solicitous care with the fattest and most succulent spears.

The year we lived there he was gifted with another patch nearby – a larger one – that had belonged to the old woman whose field abutted his. She could no longer give it the attention it needed, she’d said, and so passed it on to him where she knew it would be in the best of hands. And with so much to spare, Okuyama-san had a bundle for me every few days, enclosed in a large leaf of giant fuki to keep them moist, left at my doorstep to greet me first thing in the morning.

When we had a group of science fiction translator friends come to stay with us one weekend in spring, a feast of Okuyama-san’s asparagus awaited them. Aspara tempura nante, shinjirarenai! (‘Asparagus tempura! Unbelievable!’) was their delighted response. There was so much asparagus, I’d made some into salad as well, with a dressing of miso (made by our neighbours across the road), walnuts, and mirin – from a local recipe (kurumi miso-ae) shared by another neighbour.

With the next batch that I hope to glean from my wild asparagus patch, I know exactly what I’m going to make with them. And if I find some sake (I may need to go to Valencia for this), it will be a fitting meal with which to remember Okuyama-san and our days in Yuzawa, Akita — in the heart of Japan’s snow country —  by.

As I write this, fog has come in from the sea and completely covered the mountain ahead, which was, just minutes ago, nice and clear.

I leave you with a photo of lovely wild orchids growing in a nearby olive grove. March came in like a lamb, behaved like a lion some days ago, and although it’s not roaring at the moment, it’s still far from its mild manner at the start. I’m not complaining — the plants that I’ve sown need the additional coolth to mature. Happy spring everyone!

Pink white orchids olive grove fab_5639.JPG

 

Foraged lunch

While walking around the back garden looking for spring wildflower surprises at midday, I spied several spindly stalks swaying in the light breeze. As I got closer, they turned out to be wild asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius; in Valenciano, esparreguera)! It took me back to the late 70s, to the first book that inspired me into foraging and gathering and eating wild foods – Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus.

Well, the beauty of it is that there was no need to stalk these at all. They were just there underneath the pines, the ground having been cleared of the thicket of viciously spined smilax vines that had made that side of the garden a forbidding jungle about a year ago when we moved in. (Though ruthlessly slashed a month back to clear the ground, the reddish new smilax shoots are beginning to push through. Known here as zarzaparilla, they are apparently edible. Hmm… do I dare try them as well? We shall see.)

I was enthralled, walking from clump to clump of waving asparagus, breaking off only the tender top tips, and in no time at all I had a good handful. Just the ticket for lunch – freshly picked wild asparagus! They were brilliant with pasta and some home-made pesto (also from ‘foraged’ basil – actually plants that were past their prime in a nursery that had closed down last autumn) made with artisanal green olive oil from Catalonia. A generous amount of chopped garlic was stirred in at the last minute. And to my surprise, the asparagus tasted much sweeter than store-bought ones. Bliss! Casa Wild asparagus pasta_5605

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