Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

New begonias, off to a late start

Begonia seedlings
Begonia seedlings, about to be planted outdoors

I should have done this 6 weeks ago, but this morning I finally got some of my begonia seedlings outdoors and in the ground.  These are hybrid seedlings from a cross I made last summer, and they've been growing under fluorescent lights since germinating during the winter.  They got off to a slow start because begonia seedlings don't like the cool temperatures and low humidity of winter, but they grow explosively in the spring.  If I wait too long, as I did this year, they get a bit too crowded.  Summer also brings heat they don't appreciate and I know from past experience that they'll begin to decline indoors, succumbing to pests and diseases.  The south-facing sun porch where I grow them is the hottest room in the house, and even with air conditioning gets a bit too warm for comfort in July and August.  They do quite well in the ground, and are best planted out in early May but this year I held off, waiting to see what might come back from last year after a very cold winter put my plants to the ultimate test.  Many plants didn't make it, but I did have a few surprises.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stormy weather

June sunset
Washington National Cathedral at sunset (click here for larger image)

Having lived here for 24 years, I often take for granted this amazing city.  Washington, DC has given me some interesting views of some familiar icons, over the years and through the various seasons, and the unsettled weather of the last couple of days has given me some especially good photo opportunities.  Above, this was my view of the Washington National Cathedral from my roof deck last night, looking west over Rock Creek Park.  Please be sure to click on the link below the photo to see a larger version!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Good-bye basil, hello purslane

Purslane flowers
Purslane flowers

When I wrote about purslane (Portulaca oleracea) a year ago, I commented that I had never seen its flowers despite re-seeding prolifically (see Eat your weeds).  I speculated that it was cleistogamous, with flowers that self-pollinate without ever opening.  It turns out I've been looking at the wrong time!  I finally caught some open flowers one morning, and while it's true that the tiny yellow flowers are easy to miss and rather forgettable, it also turns out that they're only open for about an hour.  Not being a morning person, that might explain why I've never seen them before!

Sad basil
Purslane growing with some very sad basil

Since I let it go to seed last year, purslane is coming up all over again, in all my pots, including my container of basil.  Which is probably just as well, because my basil contracted basil downy mildew again, this time succumbing just two weeks after I planted it, when it was barely past the seedling stage.  This may be my Year Without Basil, which would be a true tragedy because I love, love, love fresh basil but I'm not sure what else I can do; any I plant now will just pick it up immediately.  Fortunately, this disease affects only basil and does not spread to other plants.

So purslane is my new go-to home-grown green.  But because even weeds have pests, I have to be careful when I harvest it not to also harvest purslane leaf miners.  They're easy to spot because they make the leaves look pretty ugly, and while they would be harmless enough to eat, I just don't want to eat bugs.

Purslane leaf miner
Purslane leaf miner

Purslane is a delicious and nutritious vegetable and I've experimented with it in several different recipes, always raw because for some reason, the idea of cooked purslane doesn't appeal to me (nor does the description of the cooked vegetable as "slimy"!).  I do a lot less cooking in hot summer weather anyway, unless I can cook on the grill!  Purslane makes a great salad, combining especially well with cucumber, onion, avocado, and citrus.  I always try different combinations, and this time I had some grilled corn left over from the last meal I actually cooked over a week ago, so tonight I threw together a cold salad with grilled corn, black beans, cucumber, avocado, and purslane.  I called it a salsa and scooped it with tortilla chips, and it was pretty darn tasty if I say so myself.

Summer dinner
A quick and easy summer dinner (alcoholic beverage optional)

Summer salad
Salad/salsa with purslane (among other things): recipe below

Summer salad/salsa 

Serves 2-4, with or without tortilla chips (all measurements are approximate)

1 small can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 medium Hass avocado, ripe but firm, chopped small
1 medium cucumber, finely chopped
1 cup grilled corn (kernels cut from 2 ears)
1 cup purslane, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper to taste

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Everybody should have a fernery

Fernery
Grotto, Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery

Where to begin?  After a bit of a break from blogging, I came back energized and inspired from an exhausting yet exhilarating three days in Philadelphia for a regional meeting of the Garden Writers Association (GWA).  As part of the meeting, GWA members toured the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, including Bloomfield Farm (a part of the arboretum not open to the public), with a visit to Chanticleer Garden the next day.  But let's start at the beginning: everybody should have a fernery.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spring waits for no man

Peony
Herbaceous peony (unknown cultivar)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the three days of glory (rarely four, often two, sometimes as little as one) my tree peony gives me.  It's always one of the first plants to bloom in my garden, in fact one of the first to stir at all, showing new growth long before the threat of frost is past (although oddly enough, the flowers have never been nipped by a late frost).  Tree peonies aren't really trees; they are hybrids derived from Paeonia suffruticosa (whose Latin name means "kinda shrubby") and related species with persistent woody stems that might grow a few feet tall at most.  Now it's time for the more familiar herbaceous peonies, the perennial kind that dies to the ground every winter, and tend to bloom a bit later.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Iris time

Irises
Iris 'Buckwheat'

Spring in Washington, DC is a delightful season but all too short.   We've just had 10 days in a row with temperatures above 80 (a new record for May), reminding me that heat and humidity often arrive early and that it's best to get most gardening chores out of the way by mid-May, before that window closes.  But spring-blooming plants like my bearded irises look so nice this time of year with no care at all, whispering we don't need anything, look how well we're blooming, just sit back and enjoy us for a while.  It's positively hypnotic.  By the time I snap out of it, June has arrived with its muggy summer heat and perhaps worst of all, bugs.  I was bitten by my first mosquito of the year just yesterday, marking spring as effectively over.