Pinky and the Pine

Pinky Winky from the Deck
Pinky Winky this summer  from the deck

Once upon a time there was a hydrangea called Pinky Winky.

Every summer she grew in stature and grace. The woman who planted her near the deck admired how the flowers started white and then went through many subtle variations of pink as they opened and matured to a deep rose.  She even left the brown flowers stay until spring – for winter interest she said – when Pinky dropped her other leaves and went to sleep.

The nearby pine tree watched all of this, the woman constantly at the door, on the deck, her loving attention.  “That woman is far too fond of flowers.” He thought.  “All she ever did for me is pull the poison ivy and creeping Charlie that want to smother me.  But then, without asking me, she planted some other vine to grow up my trunk, one whose leaves look a lot like Pinky’s.  It’s true she also made a flowerbed around me.  And I do get extra water when she thinks they are dry.  But none of that’s for me.  I’m just a backdrop, staging.  Neglected.

I tried for flowers to make her happy but all I can do is these heavy brown things that the squirrels like.  I see her throw them into the woods when she mows the lawn.  That’s how much she cares for me.  She cares far too much for these little, bright, short-lived things.  I will have to remind her of the beauty of power.”

It wasn’t something that he could do on his own, he had to harness the power of a snow storm, too.  A wimpy one, there was no wind, but the heavy snow and sleet gave him what he needed.  When he felt one of his lower branches breaking under the weight, he took direct aim at Pinky.  As a bonus, he tried for the small rose in front, but the woman had protected it with a metal cage.  Now a twisted metal cage.

“That’ll teach them.  Pinky may have beauty but I have the power to destroy.  A ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!”  He roared.

The woman thought it was the wind.

Over the same deck railing
Over the same deck railing
The light branches are the hydrangea, in the pine bough
The light branches are the hydrangea, in the pine bough
Most of the pine bough cut away, except for the part directly in the center
Most of the pine bough cut away, except for the part directly in the center
What was left
What was left
Broken and heavily damaged branches removed
Broken and heavily damaged branches removed

Waht’s This?

It’s supposed to be Mizuna, maybe from a packet named Kyoto Mizuna, but I’m not sure.  I buy from a couple of sources and not sure which package I used this time.  Even Kyoto, which is supposed to have fatter leaves, does not have rounded serrations.

I reordered and will throw out all other packages in my stash labeled mizuna, but what do I do with these plants?  Do you think they are some other kind of mustard (mizuna’s family)?

not mizuna?
not mizuna?

Swiss Chard Experiment – LED lights

Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard was one of those things that I used to like growing better than eating.  There are so many different colors to feed the eye.  But once I used it in Molly Katzen’s Pasta with greens and feta, that changed.  So yummy; so pretty; my favorite, just for the looks is any red variety.

So as I started to grow greens under LED lights I became curious as to whether I could make this recipe in the winter with my own greens.  Swiss Chard showed up on lists of things that people had grown successfully but there wasn’t much information; it can often be used as a micro or baby green; I think it was even in some baby and micro-mixes that I tried under the lights before I gave up on mixes (that’s a different story).

The seedlings were well beyond micro or baby sized when I blogged about them on February 1, 2015.  As I mentioned in that post, I put three of the 2″ soil cubes into 3″, round coir pots.  The pictures show them on the right (with some Simpson Elite lettuces in the picture before they are cut, but you can ignore them for this post.)  To make it clear, the plants you see in both flats are from the same batch; the ones on the right were potted up.  My poor record-keeping would make any real scientist want to shoot me but I don’t think the two flats were treated differently in any other significant way.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThe results suggest that Swiss Chard wants deeper soil to mature normally.  In the pots, the coloring is better, the stems are wider and the leaf shape is more elongated, more similar to what I would get in the garden. However, all of those characteristics are less than what I would expect from mature chard, grown in the summer garden.

Taste tests next.

LED growing 2015

Swiss chard
Swiss chard

What else could I be writing about in this weather?  As I write, all I can see out of my basement windows is the snow.  I started the usual lettuces and a couple of greens for the new year.  My “big” experiment is Swiss chard.  I was sure I could get them to micro green size and maybe even baby green size – done.  I really would like to get them big enough for cooking.  I wasn’t, and I’m still not sure how much room their roots need to get to maturity.

The leaves started quite rounded on long, thin stems, and the bigger ones are still not as elongated as I’d like to see, using what I’ve grown in the garden as a comparison.  But I could start cooking with these if I really wanted to do so.

Today, I did what I’ve been planning to do for awhile and put some of the crop into small pots to see what effect more root space might have.  We’ll see.

arugula and mizuna

Last trial with arugula failed; because of fungus gnats, I think.  (The arugula is the rounder leaf at the front of the flat in the picture above.  The spikier leaves in the back are mizuna.) This trial is looking good except I expected these leaves to be more elongated, too and deeply lobed.  They are quite hot; I should probably harvest the bigger leaves this week.  I don’t know how they do for cut and come again; the mizuna in the back of the flat is great at that.

greens 2015

One flat of greens is going under the new LumiBar LED Strip Light and in the new environment; a sturdy shelving unit.  I should be able to consolidate my setup and move the other two lights under the shelf where this flat of greens sit but I want to start with a simple trial of this light. The red and the blue for this light are adjustable; when they are both at max, it shows a lot more blue than the older lights.  I’m leaving them at max because there’s no way of knowing what’s best for this exact mix and I’m not funded for trials!

new light setup

 

Freida under the Lights

Alas, Fred and last winter’s pygmy sundews did not make it through the summer.  Once I turned off the LEDs, I couldn’t find the right combination of light and coolness to keep them alive.  So when I started up the lights this fall I made another order to California Carnivores.  I let them pick the sundews, a sample pack, and unfortunately, none of them have colored as nicely as the ones that I picked last year.  But they seem to be doing their job as I’ve seen the occasional gnat but no damage to the plants.

Fred’s variety was no longer available so I ordered a pretty Nepenthes spathulata x ramispina (M-SG).  Lacking any better ideas, I named her Freida.  She is bigger and her darker color makes her look fiercer than Fred did.  Also the detail along her “blossom” edge looks like teeth to me.  Very fierce.  Shiver…

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThe slender stalk in the lower picture front right is an emerging “blossom”.  The small structure at the end will develop into something like the large, complex structure in the top picture.  By then the mature one will have shriveled up, hopefully after feeding.

Click on either picture to enlarge.

Carnivorous Plants and the LED Farm

 

N. chaniana x veitchii (S-TC) aka Fred
N. chaniana x veitchii (S-TC) aka Fred

I promised you a serious blog post about Fred (N. chaniana x veitchii (S-TC)) and the pigmy sundews.  Since the sundews are blossoming, it seemed like a good time to deliver.  To give you some context, I was having problems with fungus gnats and their larvae in the soil cubes where I grow lettuce under LED lights.  They were especially destructive of some of the slower growing greens like mizuna and I lost much of one crop to them.  I didn’t want to use insecticide and read that these insects are a favorite feast for sundews.  I consulted with California Carnivores about plants that would stay compact and ordered a few pigmy sundews.  Fred was an impulse purchase.

Although Fred’s picture looks quite similar to the one I posted earlier, he gorged and lost one of his pitchers and replaced it with a new one.  The small appendage that you see in the foreground will be another.  The larger pitcher has already closed so I expect that it will soon turn brown and wither.  I read that this is the natural progression.  Since Fred has covers on his pitchers, I can’t see if he’s getting enough to eat but his color looks good, more like the catalogue description; more rose than the green that he exhibited just out of shipment.

Drosera callistos, “Brooklyn Large Form”

Pigmy sundew Drosera callistos, “Brooklyn Large Form” is not large at all.  The largest cluster is about the size of a dime and most of them are smaller.  These have tiny, fuzzy white centers forming that I suspect are or will be the flower.

Drosera paleacea ssp. Palaeces

Pigmy sundew Drosera paleacea ssp. Palaeces has miniscule white flowers held on string-like stalks, about ¾’ above the clusters.  To any gardener who has a blood lust for the critters that want to eat what we produce, notice the little back specs in the dewy pink fuzz: former insect agents of salad destruction.  <Evil laugh>

I still have questions, like whether these plants need to go dormant and if so, what will that look like?  And will those flowers have seed that I can harvest?

Fred the Assassin

Fred the Assassin
Fred the Assassin

I’m small.  It’s not my fault.  I was designed this way.  Petite and tender green like the emerging shoots of plants in spring, touched by delicate pink.  Pretty but deadly, I’m the deceiver, the destroyer.  I eradicate. 

My brothers and I were cloned.  Mercenaries, our lives were sold to aid in the war against bugs.

I do not march.  My skills are of a different kind.  Slender stems, springing from an innocuous stalk carry lightly capped amphorae.  Rounded, voluptuous, each curve gently highlighted in the sweetest blush contains a precious liquid deep inside that attracts the hungry enemy to my door.

“What is that perfume, that luscious smell?”  They move closer.

“Come on in,” I encourage.  “You’ll find out.”

The charming cup is lined with soft and gentle fuzz, a zillion hairs to smooth your path.  “Go deeper, my friend.  Please be my guest.”

It’s one way into the chalice. 

Temptation is how I kill.  I will suck your juices.  I will dissolve your bones.  I will feed.

It’s lonely here.  Except for some silly, oozing pygmies, I stand a solitary watch. My insidious skills protect flats of lettuce that share my colors but not my deadly purpose.  More red, more green, more leaf thrown out with careless abandon, they foolishly succor the enemy.  They offer space between their roots to his offspring who feed on their dying leaves.  Who grow fat and breed.

The fools.

The enemy is everywhere, in the ground and in the air.  They taunt me with their flights, their freedom, as they visit destinations I can only imagine.

More fool I. 

Those I protect become salad.  For pity sake, I guard salad!

I was not cloned to question but to serve.  The calculated result of an insidious breeding program by monsters seeking to combine subtle beauty with deadly appetites in ever smaller packages. 

I am Fred the Assassin.

Serious article about Fred and his pygmy friends at http://gaias-gift.com/blog/?p=1991

LED First Harvest 2013

Under the lights
Under the lights

These greens were targeted for Thanksgiving but my timing is a little off.  Someone said Thanksgiving was late this year?  In the harvest picture below, from bottom left, clockwise:

  • Cilantro:  Calypso, which takes cool weather, bolts slowly and can be grown as cut and come again.
  • Shiso:  Aka Perilla; this is a red variety that I pick small for its color.  It does put out more leaves after being cut and has a very muted, almost-mint flavor.
  • Mizuna:  The common green variety.  I like the results of growing it under lights as outside, it seems to attract every chewing insect known.  Until growing it inside, I’ve always had to eat holey leaves.
  • Purple Mizuna:  See the single leaf in the middle of the board, with spoon for sizing.  My latest trial and I dunno?  I was thinking it was too little leaf surface to use up space under the lights and it’s skeletal shape is a bit off-putting, but it has the nicest peppery flavor.  It made my last egg salad sandwich quite elegant.
  • Spinner with Red Sails and Simpson’s Elite Lettuce
  • Majoram:  I got the nicest tasting marjoram plant at Lyman Estate’s herb sale this spring; normally I would let it die this winter but it’s SO good that I started cuttings under the light.  They weren’t happy; I’ve lost all but one; it’s more stem than leaves and I keep cutting it back without improvement.  But if I can just string this one plant along until next season, the genetics are there.
LED harvest
LED harvest

Total harvest this year so far has been about 12 oz.  Very fresh and pretty; organic, too.  The organic fertilizer that I’m using is based on fish pooh and kelp.  Sundays, when I fertilize, are smelly.  And I’ve learned from experience to only mix what I need.  It gets truly abominable when it sits.  It’s interesting that a few days after fertilizing, most of the smell is gone, well-metabolized by the fast growing plants.

 

Thuj Two and One

Thuj Two and One
Thuj Two and One

From left to right. At least they are green.  This was taken in the food garden this weekend, where my new trees have over wintered.  The sun hasn’t made it up over the tall evergreens to my south on a regular basis so the heavy, wet snow is taking its time to leave.  I did work on the south side of the house where the snow was gone in a warm crescent that includes most of the rose ghetto (the dedicated rose bed).

After the heavy rains and warm weather of Monday, most of the snow is gone, but it’s cold and I have to go to work so the garden waits until the weekend.

But there is promise.

Salad in January

Fresh from the "farm"
Fresh from the "farm"

The family has named my LED light setup, the farm.  I like it.  I haven’t posted about it much this winter because I have no idea how many pictures of lettuce growing in flats the world really needs.  But this is from my second set of seedlings and the last experiments before I convert their use to growing seedlings for the garden.

Simpsons Elite and Red Sails are still the staple crop and will continue to be.  I start one flat and then split them between two when they need the room. The red sails varies in color depending on how much light it gets; with some of the plants in the middle of the flat getting very red. These were picked small.  I can pick for weeks but at some time the plants get tired and brown easily.  I picked the last good leaves from the crop I timed for Thanksgiving and threw the rest of those plants on the frozen compost pile today.

The two plants that are keepers from this year’s experiments are mizuna, the spikey leaved green at the front of the crisper and a variety of perilla called “Britton”, the small, bright pink/purple leaf toward the back left of the crisper. Both of these plants offer distinctive flavors in addition to textures and color that contrast and enhance my main crop lettuces in the bowl.  Although I find it’s easy to drown out those subtleties with the stronger flavors that we usually add to salads; crudities like sliced onions and even most salad dressings.

The perilla leaves are supposed to have green tops with red undersides.  But grown under the lights and picked as baby greens, they stay red on both sides, although the underside is brighter.  I didn’t get good germination but the day I planted I saw that the seeds do better with cold treatment, before planting.  The rest of the packet is in the freezer.

I’ve always had trouble growing apetizing mizuna in the garden as it’s a favorite of chewing insects.  And while I’ve eaten what’s left, it’s not an attractive salad green when full of holes.  There are no pests under the lights.  I’ll be growing more of it next year.

The stringy stems you see in the crisper are cut and come again cilantro, another experiment that worked.  One pot has served more than my winter needs.  I need to come up with ways to use it when fresh tomatoes aren’t in season.  I’ve been using it chopped over salads and bean dishes.  The variety is Calypso; it seems to do well under the cool conditions and along with the lettuces.

I also grew half a flat of mache and I’m not sure whether to do so again.  It could be a fertilization problem but the leaves never got as big as they do outside and I didn’t get a strong nutty flavor from the ones I picked.  Another downside is that I can grow two crops of lettuces and baby greens in the same time that it took the Mache to mature.

 

Rosemary in the Winter

I grow lot of my heat loving herbs in pots and then bring them in for the winter; they don’t go under my LED lights as I don’t want to introduce outdoor pests to that area.  But I can usually get a few years out of a Rosemary plant by overwintering it near a window.  I can have fresh herbs for cooking and any fallen needles make the vacuum cleaner smell good.

A more ambitious garden friend has taken cuttings and thinks they’ve rooted.  A very few of us on the gardens list were chatting about when to pinch back and fertilize.  The consensus, if you can call it that with only three people chatting, was that it was best to wait until the plants were showing signs of active growth, probably at the growing tips of the four to six inch stalks.  And then someone said, could they be putting energy into buds at the end without it being evident and well, none of us seem to know the answer to that.

My potted plant from last summer is doing the opposite; it’s growing numerous but weak stems from the ends.  This is the side of the plant that has been closest to the window.  These weak sections do not concentrate the oils well or develop much flavor, either.  I’ll cut them off when the plant goes outside this spring.

Rosemary's winter growth
Rosemary's winter growth

Under the Lights

Lettuces and Mache under lights
Lettuces and Mache under lights

This lettuce was started to harvest for Thanksgiving, less than a week away. I went with an organic fertilizer this year, kelp and fish based, 4-3-3. I’m not completely thrilled with the results (not that I’m blaming the fertilizer); the leaves look a little leathery. The red lettuce is “Red Sails” and the green is either “Yugoslavian Yellow or Simpsons Elite” I started some cubes of both and can’t tell them apart. Most of he Red Sails are a little too deeply red, there should be more green and variation, so I’ve been moving the lights further and further away. Does anybody know what I’m doing wrong to get leathery leaves?

None of what I’m growing now requires heat and I leave the basement cool; 60 degrees or less.

Red Sails lettuce

I’ll pick them early and crisp them well; with the addition of pears and goat cheese, they should still be fine for Thanksgiving Day salad but I’d also like to improve my results.  I’ve seen red lettuce that was blanched by crimping the outside leaves together; maybe I’ll need to learn how to do that.

A friend from a warmer climate (apparently) asked me why I’m not still growing lettuce outside. I’ve been waking daily to frost and a crusty soil. I could use crop covers or season extenders but on my north side of the hill, I don’t get much sun, either. So for comparison’s sake, the first picture below is Mache, (variety Vit) aka corn salad that I planted in September outside. It will sit at this size all winter long but will be my first food crop in April when the sun hits this bed.

Mache planted outside in September
Mache planted outside in September

The picture below is Mache that I planted on October 19; it’s growing slowly but has definitely pulled ahead of the outdoor planting.

Mache started in October, under lights
Mache started in October, under lights

Thuj One and Two

Thuj Two and One, unpacked
Unpacked

I mentioned in my post on Sandy’s damage that a gardening friend had recommended Thujopsis dolobrata as an interesting and useful evergreen plant for my northern border.  She said it was somewhat rare and I’d tried to find it at some of the bigger nursuries in the area, without success.  Although they are slow growing and these will take a long time to mature, I decided to buy some small plants online from Evergreen Nursery.  Buying small plants, I could easily afford a spare.  They left Chattanooga, TN, on November 6 and were at my door last night when I got home from work.

They were strangely packaged in a box that originally seems to have held frozen salmon, wild-caught near China (thrifty nursery), and also strangely placed in the box horizontally, with their verticle stems folded.  I guess that gave them less room to shift?  One of them had a major branch broken off in shipment and they have some slight browning on some branches.  But for being in a box and bouncing through several states in various trucks, they look pretty good.  Here they are soaking on the deck.

Soaking in their new pots

 

I have named them Thuj One and Two.   Thuj Two lost the branch and also has a second leader.  He might make an excellent candidate for bosai, if only I knew anything about bonsai.  I’ll let them dry out somewhat from their welcome home soak and let them get some weak afternoon sun.  Then they will spend at least the winter with their pots submerged in the soil in one of my garden beds; maybe the summer, too.  I still have a lot of cleanup and preparation to do for their final home and gardening season is pretty much done here.

This white pattern on the underside of their leaves is characteristic of the plant and one of the features that sets this evergreen apart.

Thujopsis dolobrata underleaf detail
Underleaf Detail

Should have caught this earlier

My Meyer Lemon tree was having a good summer on the deck.  It liked our extra heat and put out a lot of new leaves.  I bring it inside for the winter where it usually sulks and loses leaves but it does usually blossom a few times and I love the smell.  One of the sweetest smells there is.

Sooty Mold on citrus
Sooty Mold on citrus

Other citrus trees that have gotten this treatment have had scale once I bought them indoors that I would have to fight. The last one gave up and died.  But they’d never had scale outside and I blithely believed that with my healthy, bug-friendly back yard, they never would.  They have a lot of predators to keep their numbers down.  I saw the black spots, and went hmmm, will have to wash that off and procrastinated.  Then I saw the ants; lots of them.  Took a closer look and recognized my old citrus enemy, scale.

Scale
Scale

Did some reading; the sooty mold and the ants should have told me right away what the problem was.  They are both an indirect result of the sugary substance that the scale secrets.  It drips on the leaves and feeds the mold and the ants love it.  The ants may even have helped deter predators as part of their symbiotic relationship with the scales.

So first, my sources said, get rid of the ants.  Before these pictures were taken, I sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the stem of the plant.  It may have reduced the numbers but there were still some pretty happy ants a few days later.  After losing the last plant, I’d determined to use a horticultural oil before bringing the plants indoors for the winter so, after some research, I decided to try Bonide’s All Season’s Horticultural Oil, now.  The temperature range should be good for the next few, dry days.  Too warm or too cold and it may not work or worse, further damage the plant.  And it will wash off in rain.

I also pruned the plant and took out everything beyond the bad infestation in the picture, branches that were crossed or that had no leaves.  The baby scale is so small that it may take multiple treatments to eliminate the population, if that’s even possible.  The horticultural oil that I chose can be used on houseplants so I will be vigilant.  I’d also planned to try the LED lights with some larger plants this year, just not sure about introducing a plant with pest problems into the environment where I grow things from seeds.

 

Paris Agricultural Salon and a Political Encounter

[wpvideo uZF6aBqp]The thing is, I don’t like crowds. And the Paris Agricultural Salon ‘s web site says that I was one of 681,213 visitors; it felt like most of them were there on the same day I visited. One of the many reasons for the timing of my late winter French trip was the Salon. Imagine the biggest state fair that you can and then make it bigger. No, bigger; and more crowded, too. I’d been there some years ago and enjoyed the wide variety of exhibitors and exhibition subjects from animals to growing stuff to regional food product.

I arrived in the morning and tried to head to the back of the show area, thinking maybe fewer crowds, but got distracted by cows. I’m tall, and cows are big enough to see over the heads of others. The French maintain many regional varieties with distinctive coloring for each; brown spots, black spots; the Normandy cows have a distinctive black ring around the eye.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such variety. I even sat in the judging area while judges slowly reviewed cows for features beyond my comprehension and watched a few (cows, not judges) make victory laps around the ring.

I finally tore myself away and decided to get back to my plan. Heading to the back exhibition halls would also put me near to the food area and it was getting to be lunch time. No rush; which was a good thing as the crowds were getting so thick that you could only move at the speed of the people around you.

The back of the hall was also the location for the small booths where vendors were direct-selling food products. It was an incredible assortment of cheeses, cured meats, wines and herbal remedies. But I had to keep moving; I wasn’t staying in Paris and didn’t want to try to carry the stuff around. Most of it wouldn’t have been allowed back into the US, even if I’d tried. I did think that the number of wholesalers that I remembered (who offered free or cheap tastes of their products) had been replaced by retailers who wanted to sell you something. Meeting the eye of someone behind the counter risked a high pressure sales encounter.

Lunch was yummy if simple; salmon in a white sauce, roasted potatoes and salad at a Scandinavian restaurant; simple trestle seating, delineated by timber and bright banners from the rest of the similar restaurants. After lunch, I intended to wander gradually back through the displays and to the front halls, this time through the dogs and cats.

The most remarkable, if somewhat scary events happened as I was wandering back through a section that narrowed between two of the exhibition halls. Between me and my destination were cameras and bright lights everywhere and a crush of people. Since I couldn’t tell exactly where the crowd was going or why, I decided to find a spot and hold my ground until I could see an escape. It became obvious that there was a person at the center of that mass who was the focus. At some point, I asked a person near me who it was and I heard “Mitterrand”. Being a badly raised Tasuni, with a poor knowledge of French history, I didn’t realize that this notable was deceased and thought he was the reason for the crowds. Holding my ground became harder as the notable at the focus of attention moved toward me. The mass shifted in my direction then flowed around me as he moved toward the man next to me and shook his hand. (It feels like moving water under your feet, btw, and you have to keep them under you in a similar way.) My irrational thoughts at close encounter, (flight/fight must have been kicking in) were first that I was much bigger than this notable and could easily take him in a fight and then that his bodyguard, placed firmly (and somewhat intimately) between me and the notable was a small man, too. Hand shaken, the moving mass pulled away from me as I congratulated myself on my crowd surfing survival skills.

There is a certain excitement in these things and even disliking crowds, I’m not immune. I found what I thought was a safer place, near a wall, and took commemorative photos of the crowd, the high hanging microphones and bright lights. Speeches were made and shouts sounded in acclamation. Once again the mass started to move. It started to move through the area by my wall, and then shifted direction again, toward me! No place to go; I once again held my ground as the notable moved toward me. This time, the women next to me got firmly kissed on both cheeks. I probably could have shaken his hand that time but for the camera in hand, doggedly videotaping.

When I could, I decided to leave by a side door rather than try to make it through the crush in the hall. There I found his cavalcade of cars, more security and police. And cameras; real French paparazzi! Someone asked me who and explained that it couldn’t be Mitterrand, maybe Mélenchon, who was slightly left of Sarkozy and doing well that week in the poles? It made much more sense that a candidate would put himself through that craziness. I cattily wondered about the big American (probably armored) SUV parked with the outside security guards and whether a French politician could actually afford to be seen getting into one.

Circling back to follow the plan, the dogs couldn’t be seen behind the crowds. Children were out of luck unless placed on the shoulders of parents. And the crowds had raised the temperature in the pavilion, along with hundreds of other animals, to the point where everyone was uncomfortable. I let the crush move me to the door, found the Metro and called it a day.

Back at my hotel, watching the evening news, along with the headline that the show was setting records for attendance, I saw a familiar face being featured. My close encounters were with François Hollande, the Socialist Candidate for President. And he had worked closely with Mitterrande in his day so I may have heard the name and misunderstood the reference.

And isn’t that just like travel! You start off with a destination and a plan for what you want to see, plants and animals, and all of a sudden, the topic changes to culture and politics!  And your trip is richer for it, enhanced with small dangers and the chance to learn new things through intimate exposure. Suddenly, an ignorant Tasuni has a motivation to watch French elections more closely, to see how the petite, hardworking, courageous and affable Socialist candidate influences his country.  Whether he wins or not, his leadership of the Socialist party will drive policy for the near future.

I would hope that my candid musings are not offensive, because if I had the chance to talk to him I would tell him how much I respect and admire the people of a country where gardens and gardening are so valued. I come back time and time to France to visit because I know that I’ll find inspiration; beauty and history, expressed through plants. I know that people need jobs and justice, but I selfishly hope that those problems can be solved while preserving the cultural values that I love.

 

Villa Ephrusi de Rothschild

French Garden
French Garden

Be sure to see both the video and photo gallery below.  This garden has been on my list for many years.  I’d traveled to Nice on both business and pleasure and it was after one of these trips that I’d read about the gardens at the nearby Villa.  This garden is also tied to the history of a woman, Béatrice de Rothschild.  She was not officially royalty; the day when kings and queens ruled Europe was over; but all of the elements were there.  Disparities of income; excesses of the rich.  A single woman after her separation from her bankrupt banker husband, she raced horses and flew airplanes.  She must have had a considerable amount of spunk.

The garden was built in the first decade of the 1900s on a rocky, windswept promotory.  According to the Villa’s web site.  In a manner much like the garden designers for kings, they dynamited the rocks that were in the way and brought in enormous quantities of earth to create flat spaces for gardening.  If you visit, be sure to use the free audio tours to learn more about this woman and her times.  The pink, birthday-cake of a villa holds world-class museum collections of porcelin and art, among other things.

This garden also has themed spaces; the French garden forms a classic vista on the top of the hill, from the vila to a belvedere in the distance.  The reflecting pools between the rough formed water feature at the end of the garden play fountains, coreographed to music in the best Las Vegas fashion.  The other gardens play down the hill, below the French garden and as I wandered through them, I would hear a new piece of music play for the fountains and wonder, what are the fountains doing with that?  This short video shows the transition from the water feature where it drops from the level of the belvedere.[wpvideo YttGZv9u]

The desk person at my hotel in Bealieu sur Mer told me that I could walk to the gardens.  The benefit of adding a few miles of walking to my day in the garden was a wonderful pedestrian-only cliff walk, along the edge of the ocean, most of the way to the gardens.The phot gallery starts there. [oqeygallery id=27]

Domaine du Rayol

The Mediterranean
The Mediterranean

(Photo Gallery below)  Compared to many of the historic, public gardens in France, the Domaine du Rayol is a latecomer.  This beautiful, unspoiled promontory, a short distance from Toulon, was discovered by a few families at the turn of the century.  The buildings and gardens went through two periods of consolidation and development. First, 1910-1940, when they were owned by a Parisian businessman, who eventually sold the main residence for use as a hotel and built a smaller structure near the ocean for himself and his wife; and later, in 1940 when war forced an aircraft manufacturer to buy the property as a refuge. The domain’s web site says that with his staff and dozens of gardeners, this was a time of glory for the garden.  After the hostilities, it was used only as a summer home and then deserted.  Protected by environmentalists from development, the Coastal Conservancy bought the property in 1989. Influential French Garden Designer, Giles Clement, has further developed garden interest by integrating plants from other Mediterranean climates in a patchwork of international gardens.  Although, to be honest, as I wandered around, I threw out the map and just enjoyed the juxtaposition of cactus against succulent against rock against tree against ocean.  Blossoms everywhere.

This was another great location for breathing; often and deeply.  Eucalyptus added spice to the quiet sweet smell of the mimosas, all mixed together on the sea breezes. Paths wound their way up and down and crossed the bluff from the entrance hall to the ocean; enticing the visitor to go here; no there; well, maybe there; just as a well-designed garden should.  The ocean views could be enjoyed from many locations, including a terrace that lead to a small beach, although the beach was closed to the public.  It was all right; I found another spot that day to put my feet into the Mediterranean.

The ground between plantings was almost always covered with clover, probably planted to keep things lush and fertile.

Some distance away from the ocean and following the sound of water, I found a small stream spilling down through the deeply shaded rocks.  Crisscrossing the quickly falling stream eventually led me to a picturesque, vine covered structure, tucked into the low spot in the porous rock; a 20th century folly or a true well house?  I could imagine milk jugs from the farm, cooling in the dark, damp hut but then garden follies often imitate functional structures.  A mystery; for sure.[oqeygallery id=26]

Dear Departed Saul, Paris

Saul 2004

Saul was a TV star. I saw him in Living Language videos long before I knew I would make his acquaintance. Hanging about with the likes of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the famous bridges of Paris, (Pont St. Louis between Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite) he was bound to attract attention. Shots of the Cathedral from the river always caught him, draped insouciantly over the concrete retainer wall, lounging in the sun. Just another good looking, well-placed tree.

 

Saul behind bars
Saul behind bars

But when I saw him in person, it was different. The way his branches whispered to me in the breezes; his cool, green demeanor in contrast to the hot summer pavement and his rugged maturity made me mad to know him better. I visited him every time I could. Most trips to Paris, the fence gates were closed and we had to commune from a distance. But one day I slipped through an open gate and placed my hand on his rugged bark. What strength and beauty; what a moment.

Sadly, one trip, they were trimming him drastically; cutting off branch after branch; leaving raw, blunt wounds where ever they’d snatched him bald. I fretted for his health but last time I saw him, he’d been recovering.

Saul Jr, 2012
Saul Jr, 2012

Many years and other loves have intervened; it’s been so long. I was eager to see him again but when I finally found our spot, he was gone. Not even a stump of Saul remains for me to mourn. I miss him and have commemorated him here. The good people of Paris have planted another, younger weeping willow in his place. Saul Jr. will have to do a lot of growing to fill his shoes. I’ll have to come back often to check on him.

(“Saule pleureur” is the French name for weeping willow. They are known as fast growing, but short-lived trees. Saul had probably outgrown the small space between the sidewalk and the concrete abutment near the bridge between Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite years ago and the size of his trunk would indicate he’d probably lived several times the life of most of his variety. I do wonder what finally ended his days. And I will miss him.)

Bormes les Mimosas, France

Bormes les Mimosas
Bormes les Mimosas

While preparing for my trip to the South of France, I’d read about a pretty little villiage where mimosas were featured, Bormes les Mimosas.  I stayed there the first night after the TVG (fast train) to Toulon.  This actually IS the way to the villiage.

The way to Bormes les Mimosas
The way to Bormes les Mimosas

 

 

 

 

In spite of a small psych-out with the manual transmission of the rental car, reverse next to first; really Opel?!?  I made it.

The villiage
The villiage

Blossoms everywhere and the warm afternoon sun was releasing a heavenly scent. I wandered around; climed to a high point above the villiage where I could see even more.  Yes, that blue in the distance is the ocean.

Across the Villiage to the Ocean
Across the Villiage to the Ocean

Breathed a lot.  Had Un Kir on the terrasse of the restaraunt, overlooking the valley and the sea in the distance.  However, at that time of day, the favored item seemed to be huge and beatiful ice cream concoctions.   My hotel room is one of the windows in the center of this shot.

Up to the Villiage
Up to the Villiage

I loved the way that the succulents on this corner made it look like someone had wrapped  up the corner for Christmas.

corner shot
corner shot

The next day, I visited the nursury and on to Domain du Rayol, more later.

 

Mimosas in France

I just returned from a quick trip to France, spending most of my garden time in the south of France.  I’d read that it is Mimosa time in that region and set out to learn what I could, camera at the ready.  Michel Racine’s book on gardens in southern France recommended a nursery where they are propagated, Pepinieres Gerard Cavatore, in Bormes les Mimosas.  I spent the night in the Village and found the nursery before I left the area.  Not only did they let me wander around and take pictures, but Julien Cavatore answered my questions and gave me some basic information about the plants.  Like Julian, their web site is full of information.  This summer, they plan to move their operation to a bigger location and start adding additional plants that are suitable for the dry Mediterranean climate.

The plants that are called mimosa in France are Acacias.  The exact numbers depend on the sources but there are well over 1200 varieties of Acacias, most of them originating in Australia.  The Cavatores graft and sell over a hundred varieties.  (I tried to count them on the website and gave up.)  I read that they were imported to England by explorers in the late 1700s and brought to the south of France by the wealthy English who had winter villas there.  They have thrived.

They color the air with a sweet scent when the sun warms the Cote d’Azure hills in early spring.  The bees like them and they last well as cut flowers.  They are a warm climate plant that does well in dry conditions.  I don’t know why I don’t see them more in the southwest but Julian told me that Huntington Gardens in California does have a collection.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens  Website has a good section on Acacias.  Fun to learn they are called “wattle” in Australia.

What struck me most is the wide range of sizes, shapes and colors for these plants, although the blossom is primarily found in shades of yellow.  I’ve pulled together a gallery of shots that starts with variations in blossoms and leaves, some of the leaves are blue/grey into purple shades, and ends with shots of their use in the landscape.  I’ll be posting more about the gardens and locations where these shots were taken, soon.

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