Thursday, November 29, 2007

You think you don’t care about seedheads, I’ll bet. You like flowers, and maybe fragrance, and certainly fall color. (Yes, you’re nodding, you love fall color! Very good.) Here’s Vernonia noveboracensis, many weeks after finishing its long, late bloom. Nice, yes?

I’m not in a hurry to cut this back – it’s still tall and stately, and I haven’t had a lot of seeding in from this plant in my front garden. (I think this is because the seed wants to fly away on the wind, and if it flies more than a few feet it will hit the sidewalk.) So when you read in garden books that you must cut everything back, please remember – it’s a matter of when you prefer your work, and which consequences you’re avoiding. (More on this in spring, when I no doubt will regret at least a few of the chores I’m leaving undone this fall.)

And speaking of other ways to be beautiful at this time of year, would anyone care to hazard a guess what this is? It's a bit of a trick question (that's a hint, and an apology). There will be prizes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Still-glorious autumn

Oh, sure, you’re tired of me telling you about all the wondrous plants with those end-of-season virtues you don’t care about. Well, how’s your garden, this week after Thanksgiving? True, my Amelanchier foliage display is done, and the Fothergilla gave up all but a few last glowing leaves in Monday’s rain.

But see the plant formerly known as Aster cordifolius,* the one you think too dull for your garden? Still blooming. Don’t those pale blue stars make a spectacular contrast with the wine-red blueberry foliage, and the divine gold of Clethra alnifolia? The Clethra that was so deliciously fragrant for weeks in later summer (note seedheads)?

*Taxonomy alert: they renamed all the North American asters. This is done for good scientific reasons. Not because using the word Aster for both common and scientific names makes life too easy for regular folks. The asters (from Greek, meaning star, via Latin) were a happy oasis in a plant world full of lilies that aren’t lilies, violets that aren’t violets, palms that aren’t palms. Luckily, it’s easy and fun to learn scientific names! And the more names you learn, the more names you can learn. Repeat after me, Tyrannosaurus rex! I knew you could do it. Now try: Symphyotrichum cordifolium. (“Commonly” pronounced blōō wŏŏd ās'tər.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mad about saffron

Our friend Hassan gave us this beautiful Iranian saffron when he visited back in – oh, it was so long ago. We recently cooked with it for the first time (because we thought we’d misplaced it, but it was in the spice rack all along). Now we’re torn between using it every meal and hoarding it so it lasts forever. It’s painfully expensive – it takes 75,000 crocus blooms to make a pound of the spice*, and harvest involves plucking three stigmas from each of those blooms by hand. Don’t reach for your calculator – I know you only use about an ounce of saffron a year, so I have done the math for you. You’d only need 4687.5 blooms! And a certain amount of back-breaking labor to plant all those bulbs.

Let’s grow it anyway. Crocus sativus is beautiful, blooms in fall, produces something delicious – a no-brainer Sara-plant, for sure. It has known uses in treating depression, preventing cancer, enhancing mental function, and lowering high cholesterol. I missed my chance to plant them this fall, but have already marked my 2008 calendar to make sure I order some for early fall planting. Those who know me well are permitted a little gasp about the advance planning, but no snickering.

Do not confuse with Colchicum, a.k.a meadow saffron or autumn crocus, also called naked ladies. I know that sounds exciting, but it's quite poisonous (though still a useful plant - a derivative is still used to treat gout, in synthetic form). Another great fall-blooming bulb. Make a note in your 2008 calendar, maybe?

Brent and Becky's Bulbs is one good source: this image is theirs, and shows how much fun we'll have harvesting each delicate stigma from a 4-6" plant.

Bring kneepads or beer, help with planting or harvesting, share recipes. I'm thinking 100 bulbs. Don't plant a dozen of these - a dozen bulbs this size, even in a tiny urban garden, is just a hiccup.

*Perhaps true, but like "72,000 ladybugs to a gallon," it sounds like a fake-science way of saying sooooooo many.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

November in my heart

Amelanchier - at least kicking into its full fall glory. It's my dream tree (so I planted three of them). Its June berries aren't just "edible" - they make it all the way to "delicious" (eaten out of hand, in pies, as jam - best ever was the sorbet I made with my friend Ellen). As she says, few trees give as much. The berries attract birds if you don't finish them all yourself. The little white-star blooms in April lift the heart in the nick of time. And this fall color felt a little late this year - but worth waiting for, yes? The trip from green through gold to flame and crimson is the glory of my garden, and fall is my garden's glory season.

I've made my garden so autumn-glorious to fight the feeling of decline that comes with darkening days. This year the glory feels more like loss. On November 2, we lost our heart-dog, Emmett. He was the sweet center of our home and our days.

Our friend Kath took a last picture of him:

His illness was very brief. We miss him.