Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grilled Pork Loin

Last Sunday's dinner was sooo good! Grilled pork loin that had been marinated in orange juice over polenta, a spinach salad and a decent malbec. I made the salad while my co-conspirator did the pork and polenta. The wine was one of our Wine-of-the-Month selections from Barrique's.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Serpents of Night and Day

Two more of my favorite plants are blooming! Arisaema costatum has a dark, striped spathe with a long whiplike spadix that hangs well below the pot rim. It's really creepy if you look at it. Which reminds me: Sorry for the ugly siding. It's going this fall.

A nice foil to A. costatum is A. candidissimum. This one has white flowers striped with green at the bottom and a pink flush inside the spathe. To seal the deal making it one of my favorites it has a light, pleasant fragrance. As soon as both of these multiply some more I'm going to try them for hardiness in my garden.

Monday, June 23, 2008


What kind of wine does one serve when enjoying nachos by candlelight in the garden? We tried a malbec and found it to be satisfactory.

  • Blue Corn Chips
  • Black Beans
  • Green Onion
  • Tomatoes and Tomato Salsa
  • Grated, Aged White Cheddar

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Prairie Walking

Yesterday morning we managed to get up and out of the house to join the local Audubon Society and Prairie Enthusiasts members for a field trip in the Thomson Memorial Prairie. Guided by a member of The Nature Conservancy and the grassland birds specialist with the state's Department of Natural Resources twenty-one of us waded through grasses wet and dry in search of birds. The real stars of the visit were the bobolinks. Several of them flew around us putting on an interesting show with their distinctive song and flight patterns. I had thought this was a new species for my life list but on returning home I found I had seen it before. I don't recall when and where. No worries, though. The grasshopper and savannah sparrows we saw became numbers 191 and 192 on the list. We also saw one or two dickcissels but the light was from a bad direction to really see them so I'm holding off counting this one.

At the end of the hike one of the guides mentioned that the wood lilies, Lilium philadelphicum were blooming in another nearby prairie. So we left Thomson and headed out for that particular designated state natural area. Along the way we got a closeup look at a pair of sandhill cranes just walking off the road chased by an angry red-winged blackbird. At this second prairie bird life was pretty sparse but the lilies more than made the trip worth it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Jammin' With The Simpsons

Strawberries are here! Last weekend local strawberries were available for the first time this season at the West Side Community Market, my farmers' market of choice. I bought a load for eating and making jam. What you see here is the mashed berries macerating in lots of sugar while the pectin boils on the stove. The pectin is an unusual pink color because I wasn't concentrating on what I was doing and dumped it into the berries rather than the water. I managed to scoop it out with only a little berry contamination and proceed as usual. The jam appears to have turned out fine anyway.

The Simpsons episode that was on during this operation was "Papa Don't Leach" in which country singer Lurleen Lumpkin is reunited with her father, Royce.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Minnesota Majesty

As if in honor of my Minnesota guests last weekend a couple of my Cypripedium reginae were in bloom. The Showy Lady's Slipper or Queen's Lady Slipper, a temperate terrestrial orchid, is Minnesota's state flower. I got these plants several years ago and was surprised at how quickly they grew. They've done well for the most part and I seem to remember sending their seed to a lab at one time so chances are good that there are seedlings from my plants out there somewhere.

The news, however, isn't all good. Like my C. pubescens, this species is having a hard year in my garden. Of the five stems I have, one looks severely battered, probably from the storms we had a while back. Another two-stem clump got one broken off just after it emerged by a falling branch, the other pictured here was murdered by a rodent just the other day. Despite their delicate appearance I'm finding they're tough plants and have no reason to believe they won't recover and do better next year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ladyslipper Sadness

Last year my heirloom plant of Cypripedium pubescens developed some kind of fungus. In asking around I learned that this species can get overgrown and susceptible to disease. As I hadn't divided mine it's not too surprising what happened. All of the top growth turned black and died back. On digging up the plant to replace the soil and treat with fungicide I discovered the center of the clump was dead through the rhizomes. Desperate to save this plant I divided it as advised and planted it in half a dozen different places around my garden. The original plant, seen above as it was in 2004, had over thirty blooming growths on it.
Following our record snowfall winter it looks like among the five sites I planted it where it survived there are about a dozen growths. One bloomed this year. The flower was much smaller than they have been in the past, but I hope it's a sign the plants will survive and thrive once they get used to their new locations.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Favorite Shady Genera Part 2 - Hosta

Hostas get a bad rap, most probably because of the overuse of a few frankly boring cultivars. Most people are familiar with plain green hostas and the white-edged ones. At the other end of the spectrum are the collector fiends who buy every new introduction regardless of how similar it is to something already on the market. I'll get my opinion on that out of the way so I can end on a positive note: It's painfully easy to register a hosta cultivar and way too many growers, professional and amateur alike, have done so with a mania. Consequently, there are many, many plants available, not all of which have been sufficiently field-tested for desirable characteristics beyond appearance. I suspect growers are propagating and releasing nearly any plant that shows a color or form variation from its parent(s) whether a seedling or sport. I've even grown a few new cultivars from seed but you won't see them in the local garden centers. One has the most beautiful ,round, clear Granny Smith-apple-green leaves with just the right amount of puckering. It doesn't increase, however. I would never ship that one off to the lab to be tissue cultured and marketed as 'Shady's Apple' just for the quick buck off a new plant. I'm not sure all growers feel the same way and consequently it will be years before the true stars of the the current flood of introductions are sorted out.

Having said that, I'll just mention a couple of my four score or so hostas that I find particularly worthy. The one pictured above is 'Sagae.' It is a variegated form of Hosta fluctuans and is still sometimes sold under some variation of that name. It's a large, somewhat upright plant with nice, strong leaves edged in a creamy white. The second plant I'll mention is 'Chartreuse Wiggles' shown right. I've tried this plant in several places in my garden and only now when I've got it in one of the brightest spots available where it gets some sun for part of the day has it really grown much. It's a small plant with a cute but appropriate name.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Favorite Shady Genera Part 1 - Trillium

Spring is a bit behind us now. But, few woodland plants characterize it quite like the members of Trillium. I've known trilliums all my life having been virtually surrounded by the lovely white Trillium grandiflorum as a kid. I was excited when I started gardening to learn that there are more species in this genus, each with their own beauty. I now have eight different trilliums in my garden and every year I'm happy to see them bloom. I've found all the ones I've attempted easy to grow when I start with firm, healthy rhizomes. I select species that are native to my area or nearby and shy away from ones like the painted trillium, Trillium undulatum. It may have the most striking flower of the species, but it also has a rather strict requirement for acidic soil.

Should you decide to try growing trilliums yourself, I highly recommend Frederick W. Case's monograph published by Timber Press. As far as I can tell it is out of print. Fortunately copies appear to be available through used book dealers. Bookfinder is your friend. My experience is that Timber Press books are outstanding in all respects.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Walk In The Garden

Yesterday I had an extremely rare opportunity. Someone I know actually wanted to go to Olbrich Botanical Gardens! I shouldn't say it that way, but an interest in flora isn't high on the list for most of my friends. A fellow phytophile was visiting and suggested OBG as a destination to visit so I jumped at the opportunity. Following a hearty lunch at a nearby restaurant two guests, my co-conspirator and I stopped by one of Madison's true jewels.

One of the highlights of the trip, as always, was the Thai Pavillion. The only one of its kind in North America, this intricate structure is flanked by reflecting pools and is set in as good a facsimile of a tropical garden as you can find in this area. The pavillion itself has been constructed without any nails or screws and is decorated with beautiful gold leaf details.

The rose garden was also pretty impressive. Coming from me that's quite a complement. I've been to a few rose gardens including Olbrich's old one and frankly they all sucked. They were about the roses and as any good designer knows there are few roses that can stand alone in the landscape. Paths lined with hybrid teas and beds of unaccompanied rugosa cultivars are a thing of the past. Oh, Krishna, please let them be a thing of the past! The Olbrich rose garden is an inspired collection of shrub roses, complementary shrubs and perennials with a heavy Mediterranean vibe. The space is anchored by a tower accessed by stone stairs overlooking a stone paved court surrounding a linear trough receiving simple water jets. Open spaces in the pavers planted with colorful perennials further reduce the formality of the garden. The place was too busy to get decent photos so you'll just have to take my word for it--the place rocked.

We ended our visit with a quick walk through the Bolz Conservatory where a canary posed nicely next to a waterfall. I enjoy my visits to Olbrich, especially in the dead of winter when I can go into the Conservatory and imagine I'm not in a godforsaken frozen hellhole. But it's great to visit on a nice early summer day with friends, too.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I'm All Over This Like White on Rice

OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But when an internets correspondent referred to black rice in a recipe she was sharing I did the whole head-tilt-confused-huh?-look. Yes, there is rice beyond white and brown. Somewhere in between there's even mahogany. So what's the deal?

Black rice is a group of old varieties of rice that really is a deep blackish color. It's reported to be very high in the nutrition star-of-the-moment, antioxidants! When I cooked it the water turned a beautiful purple color. I was able to note this as not all the water was absorbed in cooking even at the recommended 1:1.75 rice to water ratio. I cook white rice at a 1:2 ratio and eschew the other rice-cooking voo-doo recommendations with consistent success.

The particular rice I used is marketed as "Forbidden Rice." I know I've just done this recently, but I must *insert eyeroll here.* Honestly. It's like "forbidden" has become synonymous with "exotic" these days. It's food, people. Deal. One purveyor markets it as a blood tonifier. (Which I assure you is a perfectly cromulent word!)

Anyway, the rice cooked to a nice, tender consistency in thirty minutes without becoming mushy or sticky. While marketed as having a nutty flavor I didn't think it was any more flavorful than brown rice. Where I think it's really going to shine in my kitchen is in the visual presentation. I'm looking forward to working it into main and side dishes and seeing how much of the color can be bled intentionally into accompanying ingredients.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Treading the Primrose Path

My garden includes a primrose path. It's taking some work and replanting to get the plants established. But the gold and red ones have settled in nicely. In Hamlet, a play you may have heard of by William Shakespeare, a chick named Ophilia cocks off in the third scene of the first act thusly:

...But, good my brother,
Do not as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.
From what I've been able to find, Bill S. coined the primrose path phrase himself. The primrose meant beauty in the Elizabethan era and the path, of course, is life. It's a metaphor for a comfortable, casual existence.

Some times I think I'm on the primrose path myself, and I like it. As I write this I'm sitting on my deck looking out on blue and green leaves, purple flowers and the late afternoon sun shining on the grass. A wren is calling behind the pagoda dogwood and the water is splashing pleasantly in the rain barrel fountain. Soon I'll go in and enjoy a tasty and nutritious dinner. Tomorrow, after a few hours in the office my weekend will begin. I haven't decided exactly what that will include, but it's my time to do with as I will. This isn't the life I live all day, every day. But it's a state I strive for. It's the one that work and other obligations support. I'm not a puff'd and reckless libertine--at least not yet--but I believe there's an inherent value in enjoying life. There's a rede you can reck.

Another Peek at the Phallic Phlower

OK, I'm not proud of the post title but I couldn't resist. Sorry. The bloom on my Amorphophallus dunnii is more open now and you can see inside to the pretty coloration inside the spathe.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Lovely Ladyslipper

Last year was a rough one for my most prized Cypripedium, but more on that later. It was also the first year this plant, a hybrid called Gisela, bloomed in my garden. It's a cross between the native small yellow ladyslipper and a very red species from Asia. Apparently it's an earlier bloomer than my other, native species since they are most just a few inches tall at this point.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Yesterday I decided it may finally be safe to plant a tomato so I dug out Frankenpot! *cue creepy music* A few years ago this large pot somehow got broken. I drilled rows of matching holes along the broken edges and fastened it back together with copper wire. It looks kind of cool, I think.

The tomato was given to me by my heirloom vegetables consultant. It's a variety called 'Aker's West Virginia' and is supposed to bear in 85 days. At this point that seems like ages from now. In the interim I'll be getting tomatoes from the farmers' market--in fact, I am already! They don't have the full flavor of the ones grown outdoors but they will eventually and I really look forward to that!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I Picked a Vine Climbing Weedy, Lucille

An addition to the garden this year is a piece of iron "yard art" that I purchased at a neighbor's moving sale. Happy trails, Neighborinos! My plan is to grow vines on it so I planted a couple of Thunbergia alata at its base. My annual plants consultant warned me that they are rampant growers. I sort of hope they are. A bit of vertical interest with day-glow color just might be what my garden needed.