Monday, July 15, 2013

Window Box Doldrums

Why do I feel like a wastrel when lying abed on a sunny Sunday afternoon, nose to book, and somehow industrious when doing the same while basted and splayed out at the beach?  

This has nothing to do with the subject at hand, yet again renovating the window boxes, but it's a stuck thought that needed to shake lose.

Note the pink geraniums in the lead photo. These are fake.Geraniums, as you may or may not know, do not do well in 90 degree weather. They stay green, even flourish in their greenness, but are hard pressed to put out more than a measly flower or two between June and September -- at least in the tropical heat that smothers Washington, DC each summer. 

And so, we make do. The Prince and I took a highly organized trip to the Maryland suburbs yesterday, first to the fantasia that is Homestead Gardens to look for pond plants, then to Michael's for fake flowers, then to Pet Whatsis for a dozen feeder fish* for the pond.

We're late with the fish business since our little garden again became an aviary this spring with successive bird births and if the pond is not covered during this period, well, tragedy inevitably ensues. 

Of course, tragedy also occurs with fish, when one allows one's prince to tend to one's pond--though I am never one to assess blame.

So here we are in July and the five frontal boxes look good, if a little dull, with small leafed ivy dripping over the sides and green potato vine beginning to cascade down the front, but there's little of natural color -- just pops of purple wandering jew, some no-account coleus, and several experiments that are a complete waste of water. My red fauxberries are doing fine, as one would expect of fakes.


Fine, but a little dull

 Michael's supplied the following -- a couple of bunches of pink geraniums, and some little purple stuffs and these pink nubbins. All at 70% off -- so for like 6 bucks, replenishment. Dirt cheap is FINE for this sort of job, just look for reasonably natural colors  -- and don't fret the leaves, rip them off if they're too tacky. These blooms are about to borrow from reality.

The trick to effective fakery is to break the bunches apart so individual florets can be cleverly dropped into appropriate locations -- like next to the actual doing nothing geraniums, thusly:

Not Enough
Now one steps back and says -- NOT ENOUGH -- and sticks a few more stems in. And voila!

Repeat process with howevermany boxes you have and done. If one were really anal, one would move the flowers about each week as if they're actually blooming. One is not. 
*Feeder fish are what I suppose pet shops consider junk. Variously colored and frequently quite pretty, they are served to snakes and whatnots; lagniappes before the rodent course. They happen to be cheap. I bought a dozen for $3. And if the Prince doesn't do these in, they'll grow to impressive size, live for years, and be just as uninterested in me as those fancy koi the racoons got.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Larcenous Thoughts on an Urn

Despite frequently mentioning thievery as the cheapest, most efficient method of obtaining plants and ornaments for the small urban garden, I am not the sort to wander the neighborhood by night uprooting and scavenging peoples possessions. Really I'm not.

Oh, I might snip a bit of a plant here and there, nothing that anyone would notice, just enough to stick in some water or dip in rooting powder. Or I might pick up a twig at a garden center, something they'd otherwise discard, and do the same. But actually pillage?

Bad karma.

HOWEVER. If I was Going to Steal, this urn would be at the top of the list. With a witty interplay of color and texture it has the look of MacKenzie Childs, though I don't think it is. (And if it was, I couldn't afford it. Just look at the photos -- and prices!)

Nor can I think of a way to fake/make it, although I have most of the parts -- a reasonably similar urn, a base that would work, a husband that could be beaten into assembling the thing. My painting talents, however, are decidedly minimal. 

But this urn has taken this porch from charming to I-almost-clipped-someone's-new-Mercedes trying to get a look at it. 

So I shall put it out there into the universe, which is something I keep hearing one needs to do if one whole-heartedly wants something.

 Universe! I'm telling you I really really want this pot!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Peanuts are Plants Too

I know what Baby will say about this: Ma! If you want to write about food start a food blog.

But a peanut is a plant, oui? And I don't grow everything I write about. I also buy both plants and peanuts in the supermarket. It's all interrelated. And I like these peanut cookies, even if I nearly choked to death on a bit of one last night as The Prince instructed: Arms over head! Arms over head!

He always says that when I choke to death and it never works. Get me some damn water.

But that is neither here nor there.  And I have nothing else to write about today so peanut cookies it is.

Wikipedia says (you needn't bother to read this, I didn't):  "The peanut, or groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), is a species in the legume or "bean" family (Fabaceae). The peanut was probably first domesticated and cultivated in the valleys of Paraguay.[1] It is an annual herbaceous plant growing 30 to 50 cm (1.0 to 1.6 ft) tall. The leaves are opposite, pinnate with four leaflets (two opposite pairs; no terminal leaflet), each leaflet is 1 to 7 cm (⅜ to 2¾ in) long and 1 to 3 cm (⅜ to 1 inch) broad."

Resume reading. 

I like these cookies because they take about ten minutes to whip together and another ten in the oven and they're done. You might have noticed that most cookies require some hours rest in the fridge.

Hours of rest? Really? When I want a cookie I want a cookie, now.

For these you just mix the batter and toss spoonfuls (spoonsful?) on a baking sheet. It happens to be a very tasty batter too, which is why I usually get involved in baking -- that sudden and insistent hunger for batter, preferably scraped out of a bowl with my finger while leaning over the sink (which means it has no calories). 

I can also make half a batch, roll the other half into a lumpy log, wrap it, and freeze it.

There are various reasons for freezing half, actually two: If I don't, the two of us will probably finish all of the cookies at a sitting; and I can whip out the second half, slice it into rounds and bake them in the unlikely event that someone pops by for tea.  

I think the tea thought because of my Aunt Ann who used to do just that, and it was like an amazing parlor trick. Growing up in New York, surrounded by shops tendering sublime pastries and breads, I didn't think baking was something one could actually do at home. I also didn't know that a veal was not an animal until I was 25, but that is neither here nor there.


1 stick softened butter**
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup salted peanuts (like Planter's)

Preheat oven to 350

Cream the butter and sugars, add the vanilla and egg, beat well. Add the flour and baking powder and then the peanuts. Blend well.

Drop by the tablespoon on a baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 10 minutes. 

**If your butter isn't softened, like mine never is -- see batter craving -- cut it into pats, it'll soften up quickly enough in the mixer.

*Next time, Jill's walnut and mushroom pate, a ringer for chopped liver! Walnuts and mushrooms are plant material, right? While chicken livers? That's too much of a stretch, even for me.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Winter Window Box Again - A Stroke of Luck

While the backyard is full of them, I didn't buy pansies for the window boxes this fall.

I have a Springtime habit of  overstuffing the five boxes that suspend from the front windows. Installing pansies would have required prematurely uprooting or discarding basics like the massive drips of potato vines that had reached Rapunzel lengths,  the hot pink geraniums that revived with the first cool blasts of fall, and frills like the bits of wandering jew that had grown from  exclamation points poked into the boxes in April to substantial flourishes.

Besides, I needed to find room for the tiny cabbages (!) I picked up at the Raleigh Farmer's Market when I visited Baby in North Carolina this past November.

Garden snobs sniff on, but cabbages delight me, the colors, the textures, the feel of a birthday card when you're five years old and the bunnies hop hop down the yellow path with blue birds and butterflies winging overhead and daisies and zinnias dotting the psycadelically green grass...all cabbages need is a little glitter. (mmmmmmmmm thinking glitter. That's an aside.)

I feel I must here reinforce my curmudgeonly creds: I don't like photos of cats, bunnies, or babies. In fact I don't particularly like kids (other than MY Baby)-- unless they're strange, or have froggy voices, or are at least a little weird looking. That's enough for today.  

One last thought about the cabbages, since I think this post is about petunias, finding them small -- in six packs, no less -- for ONE DOLLAR EACH -- was a halleluja event. Full size cabbages are not only ridiculously expensive, they bolt too quickly in this warmish climate, shooting up leggy bits that disorder the pretty clump. They are also difficult to plant in window boxes because of their large root balls (which don't take kindly to trimming, by the way). Plant full sized cabbages and you can have little else, which  doesn't at all suit me.

After two months they are now the perfect size, by four they'll start to become unlovely, but it will be Spring and time for a cycle of something else.

So now that the cold has dropped over us like an icy shroud, and I contemplate the immediate loss of whatever in the boxes has so far survived and find myself hungry for the color and cheer of pansies.

As luck would have it, Maggie and Gary are leaving today for half a world cruise, a month on a ship that will leave from New York and eventually pitch up in Australia where they'll spend another month exploring.

What I get out of this -- in one of those mom and dad went to Hawaii and all I got is this stupid t-shirt events -- is four 4-packs of pansies from her terrace that she never got around to planting. Oh, and two avocado plants rooting in a glass jar, but that's neither here nor there.

I toted them home last night and sat a pack in each corner of the two lower boxes and find I am delighted with the way they look -- hoisting up the rear of the display in a way they ordinarily would not.  In past years I've tucked them on either side of whatever I've got going on as a centerpiece, which means they're usually obscured by adjacent foliage.

While I don't know about maintaining them in the shallow soil of the plastic containers,  I'm delighted with the composition (although I expect those last waggling leaves of a purple wandering jew to be a black sog by tomorrow -- finally, a frost!). 

I need to containerize them in such a way that they retain the lift, but don't require near daily fussing followed by near certain death.

Small pots would do I think and might be unearthed from my charming potting area under the back porch, feel free to fantasize while I move a spare tire and the rusted saw blades. Among other things.

But how much more interesting would it be to employ a little creative reuse of stuff more immediately to hand -- a line of thinking that reminds me of gardens and window boxes at a recent Philadelphia Flower Show, where various non sequiturs became part of the displays.

I have plenty of oddments lying about, and if I was feeling a little more energetic I'd photograph them nicely against a black backdrop so they sparkle. But I'm not, so I'll just say that on a quick inventory of household objets that I just did between the keyboard and the kitchen there is the concrete thingamabob doing nothing on the fireplace hearth that sits next to a copper urn that is likewise under-employed, and the three glass lamp shades that are for some reason sitting on the kitchen counter (which probably have to do with a Princely project - but I could just look blank and say "I dunno" when he asks where they went), and the trio of long-stemmed, pink and green Mexican wine glasses that are never in use, and a few silvery bowls with sufficient depth ....

Off to play.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

News Brief from the Tiny Conservatory

The Clamondin

 Introducing the newest addition to my wee greenhouse, the Clamondin, which bills itself as "the other lime," though it smells like an orange, specifically the insanely sweet scent of the orange blossom perfume that Kristen brought back for me from a trip to Cocoa Beach maybe ten years ago. Pure 1950s Florida in a bottle. 

I keep it on my desk and sniff it in times of (generalized) panic, like tropical smelling salts, which is why it appears full. This is not the sort of scent One, meaning me, wears in public. 

The Clamondin was a gift from The Prince for our 30th anniversary, knowing I (fortuitously for him) prefer exotic plants to jewelry.  It joins the key lime and the Meyer lemon, and the various jasmine, hibiscus, amaryllis, and bromeliads that winter in the tiny solarium off my second floor home office.

While Clamondin's were introduced to Florida in 1899 (according to Purdue University's horticultural site), I had never heard of them. These prolific fruiters are said to be juicy and sweet, the plants grow in anything from clay to sand, and are reasonably cold tolerant.

Plus! Duke reports the fruit can be used as a shampoo, a hair growth stimulant, and a laxative. It's also said to ease the itch of insect bites, bleaches freckles,  soothes coughs, "expels phlegm," and the leaves can be brewed to create a "carminative"* more powerful than peppermint at relieving flatulence.

It's also "a prime host of the Mediterranean and Caribbean fruit flies," however these are not known plant threats in Washington, DC.

All in all a perfect plant, eh?

Getting back to the smell of the thing. I would not have known that the Clamondin (notice the artful blackdrop in the photo? It's just a cape on a chair but it looks so professional for once. I'm very pleased with myself) had such a delightful scent except that it needed repotting and instead of doing this on the solarium floor, where it was certain that I'd spill dirt and then stand up and grind it into the carpet and then have to haul the shop vac upstairs again, I wisely carried it downstairs and outside to the area under the porch that I'd like to think you think is my spacious and charming  potting room.

It was as I was walking down the stairs that I caught a euphoric whiff of the plant's blossoms, of which there are many.

One, meaning you, might wonder why I hadn't noticed this incredible -- really quite extraordinarily powerful -- scent before the traipse.  I mean, the entire staircase vibrated orange.

May I now introduce you to Yolko Ohno and The Bluebird of Happiness, also known as Yolko and Blue.

Several months ago they joined my boy birds Shakira and Boychic who I thought required girlfriends. (Although Blue's femininity is now questionable. But that's another story).

Sadly, I am an extremely slow learner who is easily swayed by blasts of romantic inspiration. I should know by now that there is little charm to the actuality of free-flying feral birds in the house, only to the notion.

To be blunt. The upshot or downshot or whatnot of this family addition is that  four birds create far more than twice the seedy, feathered mess and STENCH as two.

I do not know why this is, but it has led to a great deal of unnatural activitiy. To whit: I mop, I vacuum, I wash the (mainly decorative) cages and sniff and sniff and still there's this foul, ammonia stench.

This I am combating with various odour eliminators,** which I might add Do Help, but while they soften the bird reek to near subliminal levels they unfortunately eliminate the transporting scents of the tropical plants that are half the purpose of this room, replacing them with an  offensive whiff of cheap perfume.

I am not supposed to be reduced to furtively sniffing orange blossom perfume from a bottle. I am supposed to be sitting in the wicker chair in the greenhouse inhaling and exhaling ecstatically. 

And so it goes.

* Carminative. What a dainty term that I'd never heard of!

The butler arrives, crystal glass on silver salver: "Your carminative, madam."

"Thank you Reginald, please crack the window before you retire."

 ** Nature's Air sponge is one. Activated charcoal stomped under the rug is another. A sprinkling of Arm & Hammer's Pet Fresh carpet cleaner is the third. Only the charcoal is odorless.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Raising the Dead

The corpses of Christmas past march forlornly down the streets, waiting for the trash truck.  Block after block they lie scorned, when just days ago they were lovingly decorated and tastefully white-lit -- or tarted up with tinsel and colored bulbs (but never mind those).

How about a second coming?

Consider the winter window box (that's one of mine above). Much of the filler is branches of pine and fir scavenged from the street to flounce down the front, replacing the summer potato vine, and stand tall at the rear to give oomph to the cabbages and berries that are the main show.

Another box, a neighboring street, a more modest display-- but charming, I think. Like a spot-colorized black and white photo. Here, sprigs of green form a  nest for pine cones. Given the winter chill (I hesitate to say cold since we're still wearing sweaters in mid-January) the greens should stay nicely at least into February.

It's so mild here that the roses are still in somewhat straggly bloom. If you hadn't thought of pansies and cabbages and ivy and such -- winter mode for your boxes -- and need something to punctuate the greens, the last of the roses would do nicely.

Stick them (or any other flower that's malingering in the garden) in those plastic rose/corsage water holders with the stabby bases and poke them about.

When the tree branches brown, as they sadly must, there's plenty else to replace them that's either free or reasonably cheap, for instance a snow storm of baby's breath.

For scavenged color without fuss, branches of holly do very nicely just stuck in the soil -- big ones for a lush back-drop, twigs if you've got greenery already in place or simply massed upright to fill the entire box.

Rhododendron and magnolia leaves mix well with berries but can also stand alone. Or combine them with cypress or yews for a shaggy drip over the edges, maybe adding a scented filler of rosemary and some tangled branches of witch hazel or bittersweet and rose hips for punctuation. Maybe toss in a camellia or two (in those water holders) just...because.

Needless to say, if you don't grow these plants you can steal them (on moonless nights) from your neighbor. 

Follow Me!

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for odds and end (and bits and pieces) that don't add up to a post -- yet.