Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week One- Mears Garden Picture Contest- December 4, 2016

Welcome to the Eleventh Annual Mears Garden Picture Contest 

The first Picture Contest was in 2005 and was conducted entirely by email. There has been a contest every winter since then, except for one winter a few years ago. The blog started in the summer of 2007, and the Picture Contest was on the blog that winter. Most prior contests appear in the Archive place on the right.

I will put up four picture-contestants every week, hopefully on Sunday morning, for the next 3 months. You can vote, if you wish, for the picture you like best that week. You can find the voting poll on the right side of this page. Voting lasts until Saturday at midnight. The weekly winners will compete at the end of 12 weeks to see which picture is the overall winner. 

You can also comment. That is down at the bottom of the post. I really appreciate the comments. I like to know what you think about particular photographs and/or why you voted the way you did. If you would like to receive an email of an image for your desktop or anything else, let me know by email. My address is in my profile, found on the right side of the page.

New features this year:
Subscription choice- I have added a place for you to subscribe to the blog. If you sign up, then you should get an email notice automatically when a new blog post is filed. For years, upon request, I have just sent a notice by regular email. If you have been receiving those emails all along, you do not have to ask again or "subscribe".
Recipes- During the last few months Julia has been adding one of her recipes at the end of the posts. These will continue this winter. Reviews have been favorable. While there is no voting about food, feedback, so to speak, is appreciated.

Week One of the Contest

So let me get right to the contest. I particularly enjoy trying to determine what exactly it is in a picture that a person likes. Is it the color? Is it the contrasting background? Is it some little drama presented by the picture? Is the picture a closeup of some remarkable part of a flower? Since I sometimes "crop" a picture, does the shape of the picture make it attractive? I go through all of these factors as I select the contestants. I also balance those same factors in determining which pictures will appear each week. 

Here are your four contestants for this first week. 

#1 Up against the wall, squill
       I just love this picture, taken on March 10, 2016. It is a single plant of the little spring bulb called scilla, a/k/a squill. It is right in front of one of the block shelves around the yard.
       In early spring the scilla/squill cover much of the yard with their little blue flowers. There are pictures of this blue blanket in the bonus picture section down later in this post. Later in the spring there is a second blue wave. 
       This could be one of those pictures where you could imagine a story. It sort of looks like the little squill is approaching the dark gate. A squill facing Mordor. This is just like all of us approaching.....the winter ahead.
       Maybe the squill has just come out of its hole and is looking to see if it is time to come out. Is it safe yet? 

#2  Hot Coral Coneflower
Red is a wonderful color in a flower. (It is good elsewhere too. We have a red car.) Sometimes a photograph can capture a color. Sometimes not. This picture of echinacea Hot Coral, taken on June 26, 2016, does the color proud.

Coneflowers have come a long way in the last ten years. There are lots of new varieties with amusing names like Tomato Soup and Raspberry Truffle. Here is a link that will take you to some of the newer types.

The new varieties can be expensive. I still am reluctant to pay $15-20 for a single plant of anything. For that reason, I have not gone out and gotten many new varieties. I have gotten a few, including this red one. I am discovering which varieties of Coneflowers stand up to time. If you have your own favorite coneflower tell me about it. Better yet send me pictures. I often will add followups to the weekly post, the next week.

Coneflowers do like sun. My garden is a nice mixture of sun and shade. I have many mature trees so I do not have much "full sun". But there are places which get decent sun. In addition because the trees are "mature", i.e. tall, a lot of the yard gets dappled sun. 
For the places where there is good sun, there is much competition for that space. I really like daylilies and iris and the many other plants that prefer sun.
It is interesting to reflect on how the sun/shade amounts change during the year and over the years. Everywhere is a sunny day in the Spring. Is that a song lyric? This is because the leaves have not come out yet. Over the years some trees get bigger and some thin out. Our lovely pink crabapple trees along Fairview are slowly shrinking by losing branches. They are old, at least 40 years old, and they probably could use more sun themselves. As they get smaller, there is more space for the sunny plants.

# 3 The Crocus group
Remarkably this picture was taken on the same day as contestant #1. That was March 10, 2016. It was a good day. I believe the variety of this crocus is tommasinianus Barr's Purple. They are an early crocus which, as you can tell, clump up over time. Because of that feature they might be my favorite crocus, at least until I look at other crocus pictures.
Tommasinianus crocus bulbs are suppose to taste bad, to those who would eat garden bulbs. That would mostly be the squirrels.

#4 Daylily Brookside Vandide
This nearly perfect daylily is one of my favorites. It has such a subtle amount of yellow. It then it has just that little ruffle. It is planted up by the front porch, in a place where visitors seldom venture. Most of the garden action is in the backyard. Maybe I should move it somewhere more visible.

I went through a daylily phase about 20 years ago. I obtained about 10-15 new varieties each year. It was a time of what seemed like limitless expansion. Then I filled up all my space. You can look at the backyard picture near the end of this post to get an idea of filled up space. For the last few years, if I want to plant something new, I have to take something out. That is all right.

The bonus picture section
This is a favorite part of the contest- the bonus section. I try to find pictures related to the contestants to give you plenty of pictures to enjoy. If you click on a picture you should get something of a slide show. Since the contestants this week included both squill and crocuses, I will talk a little bit about the the progression of little bulbs in the early spring garden. 

Gardens can be all about progressions. One season leads to the next. Something ends. Something begins, taking its place. If everything stayed the same, that could be boring. If everything stayed the same, there would not be room for what comes next.
This is particularly true for little spring bulbs.

As could be expected the snow drop really does come first. This picture was taken on January 30, 2016. Some years it is even earlier than that. Look at the melted snow around the snow drop (even the little one in the foreground). I am struck by the fact that plants must have a temperature. (How would you measure it? With a tiny thermometer?) One mostly does not think about that. I have no idea what the temperature would be. This little snowdrop plant apparently melts the snow around it. Science has always been a mystery to us.

This picture was taken on February 20, 2016. I always find it remarkable how snowdrops can survive the snow and the cold. It is like they have antifreeze in their veins. Do plants have veins? Maybe not. We marvel at plants like kale where the foliage will apparently remain viable even after temperatures down to 10 degrees. In the late fall, the zinnias and the impatiens and the coleus just turn black and collapse. I think snowdrops will not turn black even when the temperatures get down in the minus numbers.

This picture was also taken on February 20, 2016. Not long after the snowdrops show up the winter aconite, a/k/a eranthis, arrive. This little yellow flowering bulb is just so blooming on a cold sunny day, perhaps in the place where the snow has melted away.
In this particular picture you can see the little squill seeds. Those are all those things looking like bean sprouts, where you actually see the seed and ...the sprout.

Here we are, a week later, on February 27. I love the brown background. This picture is another story picture. You can see this lonely little yellow flower in the bleak world.

By March 5, 2016 the yellow flowers were spreading. This is the time of year when I ask myself why I do not just buy these little yellow bulbs by the 500's and plant them everywhere.

Here is a clump of the aconite, fully open, soaking in that sunshine on March 6.

If you look closely at this March 11 big picture below, you can see the multiple generations of the aconite. The littlest ones are not yet big enough to flower.

About that time the crocuses started. This picture was taken on March 8. These early ones are also tommasinianias, but a different variety. They spread as do all these spring bulbs. Two days later was the date when I took the pictures of crocus contestant #3 and the squill contestant #1.

So what about the first blanket of blue?
The squill blanket first appears at the southeast corner of the house. That is both sheltered from the wind and gets the most sun. Most gardens do have micro climates. When there has been a snow cover, this is particularly the case in our yard. This is March 17.
This part of the yard can be as much as two weeks ahead of parts of the front yard, on the north side of the house.

This is March 29.

What is neat is that there will be another blue blanket within the next month. I will show and tell you about that, next week.

Let me show you more crocuses. All these are before April. If you click on a picture you should get to something like a slide show for all the pictures that week on the blog.

That is it for the bonus pictures for the week.


Here is Julia's recipe for the week.

Spinach and rice casserole. 

I am sticking with spinach this week, with a recipe this is both vegetable and starch: 

First, I put on some rice to cook. I have lots of kinds of rice (basmati, brown long grain, brown short grain, jasmine, sometimes green or purple, arborio and sushi), but my go-to rice for most uses is medium grain rice. Just plain old grocery store rice. I put 1 cup of rice with 2 cups of water; brought it to a boil; turned it down to low and let it soak up the water. It takes about 20 minutes to cook rice. This ratio makes 3 cups of cooked rice.

Then I cooked 1/2 of a 1 pound bag of frozen chopped spinach. You could also use one of those frozen spinach blocks, which are 10 oz., I think, and then your dish will be a bit more spinachy. Cook the spinach until it is thawed out; no need to go past that point. Then I drained it in a sieve. I drained it well, using a wooden spoon to compact it and get a drier final product.

Then I diced a bit of onion, about 1/3 cup. I melted 2 tablespoons of butter in the now-empty spinach cooking pot, and I added the onions, which I cooked for a few minutes. Then I added 2 tablespoons of flour and a pinch of salt and a bit of pepper (I forgot to measure), and I let that cook for a minute or two. Then I added 1 cup of milk and whisked vigorously to prevent any lumps that might be inclined to form. I stirred the white sauce (for that is what it was) until it came to a boil and then lowered the heat and cooked it for about 2 more minutes.

That is a picture of the onions in the butter phase.
Next, I mixed in the nicely drained spinach and the 3 cups of rice. I added another pinch of salt and another pinch of pepper and about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. It is hard to measure freshly grated nutmeg, and actually there is such a thing as too much freshly grated nutmeg so watch it. 

Then I put the mixture in an attractive serving dish, covered it, put it in a 250 degree oven and waited for the fish to get done. Just before serving, I stirred in 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and that's it. Very tasty, kind of pretty. 

That's it from me this week. Take care of yourselves. It's getting cold out there in more ways than one.

Odds and Ends

Amusing story: We went to the Reha greenhouse last weekend. They have a great selection of succulents including cactus. (I am not sure exactly what is a succulent.)

Julia and Maggie were walking ahead of me and were in a different part of the greenhouse. I found this wonderful little cactus, that would not cost much. I picked it up to go show Julia and Maggie. It turned out that Julia had already picked out and was carrying the very same little cactus. Here it is, looking much like a Navajo pot my mother has.

Daylight- It should be no surprise that as a gardener trying to get through the winter, I pay attention to the amount of daylight. In Iowa City this next week we will lose 5 minutes of daylight? All of that time comes off the morning. Sunset is stuck at 4:35. Sunrise is later and later each day.

What keeps us going: Something that is going to bloom soon. This is as true for the winter as it is during the outside time of year. This week I noticed that one of my clivia plants is setting a bud. It will bloom in maybe a month. I guess coming inside triggered some natural response to warmer weather. In this picture you can see the seed pods from this summer's bloom.

Several of the Jade plants inside have begin to bloom.It is not a plant wide bloom.It is just 6-8 stems with these lovely little flowers. The plants do have to be rather big for that to happen.

This Christmas cactus has burst into bloom in the last few days.

I mentioned earlier that my garden space is now completely full of plants. It has been for a long time. This overview of the backyard from 2004 gives you some idea. What grass you see in the picture is now gone. I have some grass still in the front yard. I came close to taking it out this year but did not.

I want to close with this last picture. Remember the little squill "at the gates", contestant #1? Well, this is not that same squill, nor is it the same gate. And it is actually a pulmonaria, which blooms blue about the same time. But if you use your imagination you can think that the squill has completely overcome whatever was in the dark, and is now going after the wall.

I hope you have enjoyed this first week of the winter picture contest. Tell your friends. Be sure to vote.
Some of the very flowers in the pictures this week will be back and blooming in reality in a little over 3 months from now. 
We are having our first snow this morning. Like so many things we will get through this.


Callie Weston said...

Can't help reading your blog as a metaphor for life. Sometimes, yes, what keeps us going is watching something that is about to bloom. Or, as in my case now, seeing the green leaves of last year's poinsettia slowly turn red as I put it in the dark for 12 to 16 hours and then bring it into the light!

Anonymous said...

I chose the coneflower purely for that brilliant coral red. Nature does colors pretty well!

philip Mears said...

There can be so many magical moments. There is the moment when things finally bloom. Watching the bloom is easy. There were all those nurturing moments when you coaxed the plant along, to get to that final bloom. That sometimes takes the work and the patience.
Of course there is also planting the seed and having the plant finally emerge.

Anonymous said...

Loved the color of the coneflower and the drama of the daylily!