Sunday, December 11, 2016

Week Two- Picture Contest- December 11,2016

Welcome to Week Two of the Mears Garden Winter Picture Contest.
Iowa City has descended into the cold. Yesterday's snow will be followed by very cold temperatures this coming week.

But we have some pictures to warm you right up.

Here is the weekly routine for this blog as we settle into the cold and dark times.
1) I will tell you about last's week voting, including who won.
2) I will present this week's contestants.
3) Bonus pictures come next.
4) Then Julia will add her recipe.
5) Finally I will close perhaps with a final picture or two.

Last week's contest-Week One

The winner last week was the red Coneflower. Red is certainly a great color. The centers on all coneflowers are good, as you will see later in the contest.

The Crocus group picture had taken an early lead. For a while in the middle of the week it was tied. Finally that last votes came in, giving the Coneflower the win. I appreciated all the comments this week. I appreciated the emails. I sort of know why I like a particular flower or picture. I do like to know what you think.

The vote totals were:

Red Coneflower 16
Crocus group 14
Daylily 4
Up against the wall little squill 4

Week Two Contestants

#1 Hosta with Bluebells (taken April 26, 2016)

This picture combines two of the garden's best features. The first is hosta, the real backbone of the garden. The variety in the picture is a  pale yellow one, maybe Platinum Tiara. (I try to know the name of my plants. I use labels and have some written records. Time takes its toll however on both. )

The second feature of course is bluebells. They form that second wave of blue that rolls through the garden in the middle of April and dominates the garden for weeks. I do not remember ever planting bluebells. They must have come from somewhere or else they were already here, like the crabapple trees. They now cover most of the back yard and a good part of the rest of the garden. Please see the bonus section for a bluebell extravaganza.

#2 The Tulip Shirley (taken May 3, 2016)
Tulips are good. This is one of our favorites. The variety is called Shirley. It has a nice name too. 
Some tulip varieties come back every year. Most of the more colorful ones do not. Several Shirleys in the garden are comebackers. 
Education alert- Tulips were the subject of perhaps the first major speculative bubble. That was in Holland in 1637. Here is the Wikipedia article:

Deer really like tulips. They do not like daffodils. Apparently the two spring flowers taste different, as they have very different chemical compositions. When you are cutting flowers to take inside, if you use something with water in it to hold them, you should not have tulips and daffodils in the same container.

#3 Yellow Dwarf Bearded Iris (taken May 7, 2016)

I love little bearded iris. They bloom in the Spring. This picture was taken on May 7. All the different Iris bloom in sequence. First there are the little reticulatas that bloom with the early spring bulbs. Then the bearded Iris bloom mostly for the month of May. After the Bearded Iris come the Siberian, Louisiana and Japanese Iris. There is one Iris or another blooming from March to July.
Within the bearded group, the plants bloom according to size. That is one of those garden facts that just makes sense. The little dwarf ones go first. They do not have as far to grow. The tall ones go last. I prefer the little ones. You never have to worry about staking the short one as they do not fall over.

Yellow is certainly a great color for flowers. You could have a real team competition just between the colors. I can certainly think of wonderful yellow, red, blue and white flowers. 

#4- Just the center of the Royal Wedding poppy (taken June 5, 2016)

        This is a closeup picture of the very center of a blooming white Oriental Poppy, called Royal Wedding. 
All the varieties of poppies are pretty wonderful. Did you know there is a blue one? It is very hard to grow. Poppies are also good subjects for garden pictures. 
         There are many types of poppies. The Oriental poppy is a favorite. It is a perennial plant. It reliably comes back every year. It is also a distant cousin to the opium poppy. 
         I once set of the drug detection machine at one of our prisons, when I went to visit a client. I was rather embarrassed. My hands were positive for opiates. I had been pulling out dried up Oriental poppy foliage that morning. They made me visit my client behind a screen.
        I was told that the prison staff, and the DOC central office, after probably having a quiet chuckle at my expense, took out the machine.

In the bonus section there are various versions of this same poppy picture.

I have sometimes worried about having closeup pictures compete with the more regular pictures. Is it unfair competition? Then again, sometimes I over-think this stuff.

There you have this week's contestants. Vote for your favorite. After that, I would appreciate it if you would take the time to tell me/all of us, why you liked the picture. You can do that by doing that comment thing at the bottom of the post. You do not have to leave your name if you wish. 

The Bonus Section

Let me start with many Bluebells pictures. They merit full screen treatment. This picture was taken on April 17, 2016.

Bluebells, or more specifically Mertensia virginica, is a wildflower that is native to eastern north America. It is commonly called Virginia Bluebells. We do find a relative in the woods of Colorado, mostly by mountain streams. The relative is taller with much smaller flowers.

There are many things to tell you about bluebells. 
The buds start out pink. You can see that in the above picture. They grow from a bulb that looks like a carrot. It can be 4-5 inches long after a number of years. The bulbs allow you to plant things around or on top of them. You will disturb them if you completely reset a bed, by digging it up, down to a foot (I liked the up down part of that sentence). We completely reset a few places in the garden this  summer. If we were careful, we wound up with a small supply of bluebell bulbs for placement in the last areas that were reset. After the plants bloom, they die back and are completely gone, usually by the end of May. The foliage is easily cleaned up without disturbing the bulbs. This is in contrast to the foliage of some bulbs which can hang around until July. Certain late daffodils come to mind.

Because the plants are tall they can crowd out certain other April flowers. I have some little trillium that do not need competition for sunshine. For that reason there are bluebell free zones in certain parts of the yard.  Any bluebell that comes up there is removed.

Here are pictures of parts of the yard during bluebell domination. They are taken from an upstairs window. These first two pictures were taken on April 18. You can see the white bluebells down in the lower right in the picture. There are more pictures of and information about that plant further down the page.

This picture was also taken April 18.
Bluebells can get to be about 15 inches high. When they are all over they can crowd out smaller plants, like little trillium. The larger hosta and such other bulbs, such as the taller tulips and daffodils, rise above the blue.

The hosta in this picture is Invincible.

Most daffodils are tall enough to co-exist with bluebells.

Bluebells, tulips and a hosta, all in one picture.

The daffodil in this picture is one of the few Mitsch daffodils in the garden. Grant Mitsch has been described as the premier American hybridizer of daffodils. He grew and sold fancy daffodils from 1941 until closing his business several years ago. I regard daffodils as expensive from a bulb company if you have to pay more than $1/each. You could buy a daffodil from Mitsch Daffodils for $25/each.
I got these bulbs from a friend.

This is hosta Sagae. Hosta is so fresh when it first appears in the Spring. It is also wonderfully big. The picture was from April 21.

This is another large hosta, Montana Aureomarginata. It is an early hosta. A note of uncertainty can occur in the April garden if there is a sudden cold spell with the temperatures going much below freezing. This can happen as the frost free date in Iowa is sometime in early May. If hosta leaves are unfurled at that point there can be leaf damage. That is happened only a few times over the 30 plus years of the garden. Not so much in the last few years. One hosta grower I know will not sell this plant because of the frequency of that frost damage.

Bluebells can easily be dug up right after they emerge in the Spring. If I get them before they are more than about 2 inches tall, they can be potted up or just moved to somewhere else in the garden. I sell some in the spring, if you can come to the garden. They are only available in early April. They cost somewhere from $2-3 each depending on how many you buy. If you want any, let me know and I will set some aside. I usually pot up about 50. 

This past spring I even planted some in hanging baskets. Sometime I go up, that being the only dimension still available. These pictures were from April 16 and April 19. The blooming hanging baskets will of course only last a few weeks at the most. But then you would have bulbs to plant several weeks later.

There can be white bluebells. I am not talking about English bluebells which are something entirely different. I am talking about a mutation that as near as I can tell, is not available in commerce. I had seen some clumps in a neighbor's yard for years. Finally in the spring of 2014 I worked up the nerve and asked him for a piece. He gave me one, and I planted it. This picture is from April 2015.

2016 was its second spring. You can see how much the clump grew in one year. This coming Spring I will be watching to see if it made any new plants from seed. As you can see in this picture, I use colored straws to mark plants in the garden. I need to make sure I do not damage them by doing something later in the year when they have long disappeared.

This puts the above picture in better prospective. Bluebells entirely disappear by June.

Here are more dwarf Siberian Iris. Some of these pictures are from years before 2016. They were beginning to thin out so I made a point to get some more. Hopefully they will bloom in 2017. All Iris need to be separated every 3-5 years. I had some beds that had not been touched for over a decade. We started tackling that project this September. I got through several beds and will continue this next fall. (That is the time to divide and reset Iris.)

Here is the poppy that appears as Contestant #4,  the Oriental Poppy Royal Wedding picture. These four pictures are just all the same photograph, just cropped so that they focus more and more on the enter of the flower.

The original picture was taken on June 5. It lets you see that green is the real color of the day.

I am actually interested in which one of these four pictures you prefer. I obviously picked the third to be in the contest.

This version makes the center seed head seem small. It is almost like a large white blanket with this...thing in the middle.

I was amazed at how sharp the focus in this picture turned out. It does look like all sorts of things. Let your imagination go. It could be a great dome surrounded by trees.

Here is that great dome, sparkly down at this tiny stage.

Now for the food part of the show.

             Potato and broccoli soup
          by Julia Mears
Here is this week's recipe, a nice warming soup of potatoes and broccoli. It is cold here now and so one's thoughts turn to soup. We make soup pretty regularly, all different kinds. This soup can be vegetarian or not, quite easily.

       We started with half of a big onion, which was chopped and came to about one cup. Then we peeled and diced potatoes, some russets and a few stray little red potatoes, which came to about 4 cups. Then a garlic clove or two (about 1 teaspoon, smushed). We melted 2 tablespoons of butter in a soup kettle (actually one of those enamel/cast iron jobs), added the onion and cooked on medium heat with a pinch of salt until they gave up. While that was going on, we cut up the broccoli into florets. You could peel and dice the stems, adding them to the soup, but we just eat them raw. 
        When the onions were close to wilted, we added the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like a bit of a kick to your soup). We stirred that around for 30 seconds or so. Then added the chopped up potatoes and broccoli and some stock. The two yogurt cartons above contained about 7 cups of turkey stock. You could use store-bought chicken stock or vegetable stock. You could use some or all water, but stock is more flavorful.

Here is the soup near the end of cooking, probably after about 30-45 minutes. The soup is done when the potatoes and broccoli are soft.

        We have a stick blender. When the vegetables were soft, I took the stick blender to it and then had a creamy potato-broccoli soup. If you like, you can thin it a bit with milk or half and half. Or more stock or water. Or not. Taste it and see if it needs more salt, which will depend in part on the liquid you used. It probably will need some salt. 
       Just before serving, we added one tablespoon of vinegar (or lemon juice), said to brighten up flavors, and I find it does. If you are a fan of spicier food, add a splash of tabasco or sriracha sauce.

        This recipe made about 8 cups of soup. Maybe a little more. I did not measure the final product. It is fine re-heated, although you may want to thin it (see above) at that point. Philip likes it cold. Sometimes for breakfast.

A few notes: 1) Use russet potatoes, at least for some of the potatoes. They break down nicely in cooking and thicken the soup. 2) The soup can be served with the vegetables in pieces. If so, it will take not quite so long to cook. The vegetable need to be all the way to soft to blend. 3) I imagine one could blend the soup in a blender, which would be messy and a bit dangerous. Or mash the vegetables with a potato masher, for a rougher texture. A stick blender is better. 4) Contemplate the verb "to stick blend", which I avoided above. Philip and I sometimes ponder the past tense of modern verbs: to overnight, to stick blend, to snowblow. 5) I used the first person plural above because Philip and I made the soup together, discussing the past tense of "to stick blend" as we cooked.

Final notes
It is cold. The winter coats are in full use, along with hats and gloves. An edge is somewhat taken from the cold because we know it will get colder. We just got a note with our utility bill, telling us we were consuming more energy than similar homes in our community. We wonder if they have noticed that this seems to happen just about this time of year or that we live in a 100 year old frame house. (Actually our electrical use goes up partially because I have grow lights in several rooms in the winter.)

I am getting my watering routine finalized for the houseplants. Those on a monthly schedule are getting their December watering this weekend. I am amazed by just how much water certain other plants require. The crotons seem to go dry and drop more leaves if they do not get watered even more frequently that weekly. This is true even though I am giving them that watering where you have the water come out the bottom.

But in the winter you think about warmer times. Maybe all you contemplate is survival. Projects can keep you busy. I just got this load of wood chips. They will refill all the garden paths. Whether that project gets done this month or in March will depend on...the weather.

The houseplant of the week is this wonderful Christmas cactus. It actually has two plants in the same pot, each with its own color.

Have a safe time out there.


Raisin said...

I voted for the yellow dwarf bearded iris because OH THE COLOR!!! It's the brightest, cheeriest choice on a snowy Sunday.

Anonymous said...

I loved the tulip, and that was my favorite until I saw the close-up of the poppy. You just gotta admire nature's architecture. And to think that perfect little minaret lurks almost unnoticed in the center of the fabulous big white poppy! ... Pat

Anna said...

I voted for the center of the poppy. It's amazing what nature creates. The center dome reminds me of velvet (very "in" this season!) and the deep purpley-red color is a pretty color for winter. Made me want to go shopping for a Christmas outfit! :)

Anonymous said...

I am casting my vote for the purple tulip. I love tulips - all the colors and varieties -- all with that wonderful tulip scent. Jane

philip Mears said...

The four comments so far are divided pretty evenly, with two poppy fans, one for the yellow iris and one for the tulip.
In the full voting so far the hosta is ahead with 10 votes, the iris 9 and the poppy 8. The tulip trails with 3.
I do think the yellow iris could be the team captain for team yellow, when we have the team competition at some point when it is warmer.

Catherine Woods said...

I chose the yellow dwarf bearded iris, in part because my response to it is visceral. I resonate with its sunny brightness, a welcome contrast to the cold, darkness outside.