Sunday, December 25, 2016

Week 4, December 25, 2016- It is Christmas

Welcome to Week 4 of the Mears Garden Winter Picture Contest.

It is Christmas. It is not just the Christmas season. It is Christmas day. It is a day, and a season, to remember a light coming into the world. How appropriate, and how needed.

It is also finally the time when the daylight part of the day is getting longer, a little bit each day. This past Wednesday was the shortest day. Sometimes it is hard to tell. We bottomed out in Iowa City at 9 hours and 9 minutes of daylight. Without counting the seconds, it was actually that amount of time for almost all week. The first day of 9 hour and 10 minutes will be Monday, December 26. But sunshine is so appreciated. It was sunny and 20 degrees one day this week. There was that wonderful thing happening called melting, because of the sun and probably some chemicals spread by the road crews.

In last week's contest the winner was...the yellow coneflower. It is shaping up to be a very good winter competition for coneflowers.

It was a very competitive contest this past week.

The full voting was
Yellow Coneflower 14
Lupines  12
Anemone 12 (with two phone viewers who voted by comment)
Caladium  8

Speaking of voting I need to direct this information at those of you who view this blog on your phones. Blogger (the program) gives me statistics about who looks at the blog. I know for example that at one time this past summer there were many page-views that came from Russia. Well this past week, 21% of the viewers looked at the blog from their phones. It can be difficult to use the poll from your phone. Several people have submitted comments that they could not vote from their phone. I think you may be able to do that, but it takes a little trick. If you go all the way to the bottom of the blog on the phone, you will get to something that says "view web version." If you click that  you will get to a version of the blog that will let you vote. If that still does not work, let me know. I assume that by using the same trick, phone viewers can look at the archives.

The Contest for Week 4

I have some great pictures for you this week including some of my favorites from this past garden year.

#1 Hellebore Gold Finch (March 29, 2016)

How about this yellow Hellebore. It is named Gold Finch.

Hellebores are  flowers I just met about 15 years ago. (I have gardened at this location for over 30 years.) They were not in my mother's garden. They bloom in the early Spring. Some are actually called the Christmas rose. Others, perhaps in colder climates, are called the Lenten rose. Last year we had one little flower that actually bloomed on Christmas. (It was so warm last December that I planted some bulbs right after Christmas. They did not do well.)
Hellebores come in all sorts of colors. This yellow one is a favorite. There is also a deep black.
There are singles and doubles, single colors and speckled two-tones. One of the best things about Hellebores is that they bloom very early. They are very cold hardy. Once they come up they came tell you whether there was a frost that night. If there was a frost, the plant will be bent over, almost touching its toes if it had toes. They rebound almost immediately. They are quite fertile. Almost every Hellebore plant in the garden has lots of little ones all around it. There is a 2-3 year seedling near this yellow plant. I am hoping it will finally bloom this coming Spring.

As I have said before, Team Yellow will have a good lineup for the post contest team competition. I wonder what other contests there could be. Maybe the different months could compete. Who would be the favorite? I would think April or May.
With 16 contestants so far this contest here is the month breakdown:
March    3
April      1
May       3
June       4
July        3
September 2

#2  Amaryllis (June 5, 2016)

Sometimes a picture just make my toes curl. Think about all those type of expressions. Something can knock you socks off. Where does that come from? How about that David or Pat? You are the professionals.

This Amaryllis is probably the variety named Apple Blossom. I do not keep the names for Amaryllis as much as I should. I have several dozen amaryllis plants. I have gotten many from people who were given them in the winter and who did not want to fuss with them after they have bloomed. Think of me as a member of the Amaryllis rescue society. The Amaryllis live outside in the summer and come inside in the winter. The idea is that they go dormant in the fall. You can then bring them out of dormancy, after a decent rest. They then give you that wonderful bloom inside when it is cold. It can take a month to bloom. I have found that if I leave them asleep until April, they will bloom outside. And what a splash they then can make in the garden. This picture was taken in June. Sometimes I can have several blooming at once. You can actually see another one in the background of this picture.

#3 Pizzazz, the Orientpet lilium (July 10, 2016)

During the garden dance of high summer, the daylilies are joined by the lilium. This is a group of hardy bulbs that include Asiatic lilies, Oriental lilies, Trumpet lilies and a few others. Some of these will cross with others. Oriental lilies and Trumpet lilies cross to form Orientpets. Pizzazz is one of those crosses.

Here are few facts about lilium.
First they are not even close to related to daylilies. They grow from a bulb. Daylilies have sort of roots. (Root analysis does not always define a group. Some Iris, like the early reticulata, grow from bulbs. Many others have ordinary roots. Others have things we think of as tubers or rhizomes.) Lilium are more closely related to tulips. Like so many types of plants, the different types of lilium bloom in sequence. The Asiatic ones take the lead. They are followed by the Trumpets, then the Orientpets and finally the Orientals. They can start in late May and last until August.
They have a pretty good survival rate. I have found, however, that they will not last forever. This is unlike hosta which I think will last that long. Their demise may however be blamed on a the amount of sun they get. I find they will do well in dappled light. I have some great ones in the front, along the sidewalk. They are right between the old Elm tree and the Walnut tree.
I do find that they will lean towards the sun, and therefore need staking. I often leave the stakes in all year. That way I know where they are going to come up in the spring.
Speaking of stakes these lilium can get tall. This Pizzazz is probably 4 feet tall.

#4 Cactus flower (July 1, 2016)

This is a picture of a cactus flower. It actually was on the same shelf on the west side of our house as was the amaryllis in the picture above. Plants on that shelf can have the light behind them in this marvelous way.
I got the cactus plant from our neighbors Cindy and Dennett who moved away this past year. They left this gift so they will be remembered. Plants from friends are special that way.
Actually they gave it to me about ten years ago. I now have many descendants from that original plant. They put off side shoots which can then be separated. That gives you...let's just say many plants.

The original plant did not bloom for several years. Then there was this grey fuzzy thing that turned out to be a bud. I still remember that marvelous first bloom as the bud got bigger and bigger. It seemed to take forever. When it did bloom, it lived up to the anticipation.

I now have about a half dozen of these cactus plants that are big enough to bloom. They bloom from July to September. This one was from July 1. And then there was the bloom in September. That is discussed in the bonus section.

There has always been a debate in my head as to whether single flower pictures are better than pairs or groups. When the contest started ten years ago, it was restricted to single flowers.
Please take a look at the picture right below, in the bonus section. A year ago the biggest cactus had five flowers bloom on the same day. It was amazing. This year was bigger. In September there was the best bloom ever. Remember you can see it coming. One day you notice there are all these little buds. You then watch it coming for a month. I struggled to decide whether to select the single cactus flower or the group picture for the contest. I could have put them both in. I ended up picking the single flower because of the back lighting. When you look at these two pictures I would like to know what do you think? Which would you have entered in the contest?

That's it for this week's contest. Enjoy the pictures. Voting and comments are always appreciated.

Bonus Section

Right at the start I must give you more cactus pictures.
First here is the picture that almost made it to the contest. Please understand that all this bloom in this picture is from a single plant. The bloom was on a Monday, September 19. It was particularly special since it was at a time when the garden was winding down.

I got the black background because the picture was taken at 5:19 in the morning.  By mid September is was rather dark at that time. The flowers had opened by around 9 p.m.
The flowers lasted really only for one day. In cooler weather they might still be a little open on the second day.

One thing that was amazing about this group of flowers was that they did all bloom on the same day. They had been in bud for a month.  It was as if something had triggered a system-wide reproduction event, for that one day, weeks before. Then everything developed at the same pace.

Here are more pictures from that Monday in September. remember you can do that slide show thing if you click on any picture.

This was about 7 p.m. on Sunday evening. There were 9 flowers on the one cactus. As a bonus a single flower bloomed on the smaller plant next to the big plant.

Actually a tenth flower on this biggest cactus had bloomed the day before.

After the July 1 bloom (contestant #4), there were no blooms for several months. Then all of a sudden...

This was an hour after the picture above. It was pretty much dark then. The flowers looked a little bit like light bulbs at that point.

This was the 9 p.m. picture. The flowers were fully open. They would last almost 24 hours.


These were the same flowers in daylight.

Here is the full frontal picture of the two pots in September, as they started to bloom.

Here are a few more cactus pictures.

The cactus make little plants in a circle all around the mother plant. I have been told that that original plant will bloom better if those little ones are removed. So I take them off and repot them.
Here I pulled them off and made a group pot.
Later you will see the alternative.

This was 2015, early in the evening, when a mere 5 flowers bloomed at the same time.

This is what the bud first looks like. It takes about a month to bloom.

The flower in the daylight has a bit of pink to it.

Here was the group of 9 the day before bloom. As I mentioned there was that single flower that just had to be first.

You can start to pot up the side shoots. Then you have...many pots.

Cactus plants are ideal in the winter. They are content to go dormant, and even do well in a cold window.

Let me show you hellebores.

First of all here is the flower from Christmas 2015.
They do hang down. There are are several pictures where a helping hand is needed.

They clump up nicely. Because there are so many seedlings I have not tried dividing them. I would think it could be done.

Here is the Gold Finch clump, sharing the stage with some crocuses.

Here is that same helping hand again.

What a lovely color.

This was a blooming seedling. I have found that they might bloom in the third year.

Here is a picture of one of the double (and speckled) ones from several years ago.

How about more lilium?

This is a trumpet lily from June 26. They can get tall. This was probably 5 feet tall.

This is an Asiatic pair. They do have spots.

This is Sumatra, one of the darkest of the lilies. It bloomed on July 24.

This is probably Casa Blanca, a popular white and fragrant Oriental lily. This picture was taken on July 23. The stamen are those extensions with all that pollen. They are rather hazardous. They stain like crazy. Actually with these big white flowers they will stain the flower itself. This is important because unlike daylilies the flower will last for a while. I believe it will last maybe even a week or longer.
There is also the garden joke where you ask a person to smell the plant. If they get too close they get a brown nose.
In fact florists will cut off the ends of the stamen when they are put into flower arrangements. That works if the flower is open. If a bud is placed in the
arrangement and then opens you have to cut them off or they might stain whatever is around.

This gives you an idea of the height involved.

Here are a few Amaryllis pictures.
 This is the same flower as Contestant #2.

Here are the Amaryllis on that same shelf with the cactus. They do want sun. Particularly after they have bloomed they will want as much sun as they can get. They then store up the energy into the bulbs for the next year. Like so many bulbs they only bloom the one time. A single stalk will have usually 4 flowers. A big bulb will have several stalks.

Chicken Paprikash
by Julia Mears

Today I will tell you about chicken paprikash and the family tradition that goes with it. My grandmother was German, and she lived most of her European life in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the province of Banat. She married a Hungarian man, an outsider, and then she went to live in his village. The Banat, I understand, had a lot of single ethnic group villages: German, Hungarian, Serb, Croat, maybe even Slovene. So my grandmother came to cook Hungarian food or what I understood to be Hungarian food. I am not sure about authenticity, although my grandmother was completely authentic.

My grandmother always cooked chicken for New Year's Eve and pork on New Year's Day, because the chicken scratches back and the pig pushes forward. And like the chicken, we want to leave the past year behind and like the pig, we want to move ahead into the new year. Often, my grandmother would make chicken paprikash for New Year's Eve.  

I started with onions. I bought some big onions because they are easier to prepare. I peeled them and cut off the root ends which can be harsh. Then I cut the onions in half length-wise and cut each half into half-moon shaped slices. I had about 6 cups of onion slices.

I heated 1/4 of plain salad oil (not olive oil or butter or coconut oil) in a soup pot, and I added the onions plus 1-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. I stirred, turned the heat to medium and let the onions cook. They should not make any noise (sizzling or otherwise); if they do, turn down the heat.

After about 15 minutes of cooking on medium-low heat, this is what the 6 cups of onion looked like. Limp, soft, reduced in volume.

Next I added 5 tablespoons of paprika and stirred it around. Yes, I know that is a lot of paprika. And it should not be the paprika you bought 5 years ago when you wanted to make deviled eggs.

Paprika comes in regular (sweet), half-sharp and smoked. Use regular. A little half-sharp would be okay. No smoked. Paprika also comes in origin-related varieties. I use Hungarian. There is also Spanish, which I am guessing would also be fine. And generic. The main thing is not old. And not smoked.

Then I added a chicken, a nice organic little chicken from Kalona (south of Iowa city, where a lot of Amish and Mennonite people live). My chicken was just under 4 pounds. And I added 8 or 9 cups of water. I like this picture.

I brought the soup (for that is what it is) up to a simmer over medium heat, which is better than using high heat. When it started to boil gently, I adjusted the heat. After 30 minutes, I took a look and turned the chicken over. I did that two more times. After about 2 hours, when I flipped the chicken over, it began to fall apart. That means it's done. I fished out the chicken and put it in a colander over a bowl to cool off. I made sure that any trailing onion bits went back into the pot. Then I boned the chicken and put the chicken meat back in the pot along with the broth that collected in the bowl under the colander. The bones and skin went into a plastic bag to be frozen until the next trash pickup. We do not have food recycling here, and although we compost fruits and vegetables and eggshells, we do not compost meat products. There are a lot of reasons to make this distinction.

Then I tasted it for more salt, which is usually a good addition. Here is the finished product.

My grandmother served this over something she called dumplings. These are not dumplings as Americans use the term but rather little pieces of a kind of egg-water-salt-and flour dough dropped by spoonfuls into a pot of salted water until they float from the bottom to the top of the pot. I will talk about them another day. Gluten-phobes would not be comfortable with these dumplings anyway. Rice is good, made separately and then spooned into the bowl (or soup plate as my grandmother said) with the chicken and onion mixture ladled over it. I think you will like it.

Consider this dish for New Year's Eve supper. Or at least chicken in some form followed the next day by pork in some form. I am in favor of observing all superstitions that are said to lead to good luck in the future.

Odds and Ends
Here is the houseplant of the week. It is a fantastic blooming orchid, an oncidium, probably called Twinkle. It started to develop its spikes, or bloom stalks, around September 1. Sometimes orchids teach patience. This one blooms quite nicely and regularly around Christmas.

Here is a closeup of the many many flowers.

Here is a picture from last weekend. I will tell you all about it next week.

Here is another orchid that has started to bloom this week. I do not know the name. Maybe someone out there can help.

The clivia really gives good color on an otherwise grey day.

The tree is set up and ready for Christmas eve ornamentation. Until that happens the dried pumpkins have been given the stage.

That is it from grey Iowa. I hope some of these flowers can warm you week. Have a good Christmas or other holiday time. Find the light out there. Now more than ever we must strive to find a time of peace.

Philip and Julia


Anonymous said...

Jim voted this week and he chose the cactus flower -- he likes the points at the end of the petals. Merry Christmas! Jane

Raisin said...

The amaryllis might have knocked my socks off, were I wearing socks. Oh the light in the flower's center! Cactus nearly got the vote - a hard choice. Merry Christmas to you both.

Dave said...


I haven't done any original research, but... ,

Go cactus flower!


Catherine Woods said...

I had a hard time choosing between the yellow hellebore and the lovely single cactus flower, and finally went with the cactus flower because of the light coming from behind and through the middle. Of all the cactus flower pictures you selected for us to view this week, this particular one is my favorite.

Margot said...

Tough call between the cactus & amaryllis. Love the background light & blue sky in these photos. The cactus got my final vote. That light from behind is angelic.....sort of goes w/ holiday times....the bonus photos "knocked my socks off".

philip Mears said...

Thanks for all the comments. I voted for the amaryllis this week. It and the cactus had that wonderful light from behind. Thank you sun. The center of the amaryllis had such great colors.
Margot- I am with you about pictures with the blue sky as a background.