Sunday, January 8, 2017

Week 6 of the contest January 8, 2017

Welcome to Week 6 of the Mears Garden Picture Contest
It is winter and the holidays are over. The tree is taken down. The ornaments are put away. Tomorrow we go back to work for a full five day work week. January stretches on forever. It seems like each day is the same, the same cold. I saw a weather forecast. It said it would be much warmer than yesterday, but still cold.

Let me get right to the contest.

In last week's contest the winner was..."Unforgettable", the orchid cactus.

It was a blowout. The orchid cactus' strong showing makes it an early favorite to go all the way this year. It received 60% of the vote total, certainly giving it a top seed. However there is a lot of season left. There are some really good toe curling pictures to come.

The full voting last week was
Orchid cactus wonder 27
Iceland Poppy 7
Japanese Iris 6
Bearded Iris 5

The contest for Week 6

#1 Red Tulip (April 17, 2016)

Let us have a great big round of applause this week for the color red. In the springtime that can mean tulips.

Tulips mostly don't reliably come back every year. Part of that is hybridizing. The further they get from the original species the more apt they are to break down. Sometimes people just treat them like annuals. Some individual tulips however, for whatever reason, just come back, year after year. This red tulip is one such plant. I have a scattering of these tulips, of different colors, throughout the garden. Sometimes they bloom at the same time as the bluebells, making for great combinations.

#2 Waterlily (June 25, 2016)

We have a pond in our back yard. Some of you know the story. Our daughter Katie, when she was about twelve years old, announced that we needed a water feature in the garden. We said that we would put one in if she would dig it. So she did, proving one should never doubt the persistence of a 12 year old. She researched where to put it. She figured out that there should be a shelf around the edge and a deeper section in the middle. She figured out what the balance should be between water plants (both surface and underwater) and fish and the ever important cleaning crew, the snails. I seem to recall she even recruited some neighborhood help with the digging. So we have a pond, and waterlilies have been a fixture ever since then.

Over the years in the picture contest, waterlilies have been the heavyweights. They have been a dominant player nearly every year. They have been the winner 3 out of the 10 prior contests. They are like the Yankees in baseball or the Patriots in football. It is interesting how such a dominant team can stay good for so long, oftentimes generating not the most sympathetic audience, beyond the immediate home base.

So why do Waterlilies make such good pictures?
There is the color and the great center part.
There is the dark background with the contrasting foliage.
Drops of water always enhance any image.
You can get great reflections.

It was a good year for waterlilies, once it warmed up. (It was a very cool spring.) There were great waterlilies from early June to the end of August. Several days there were as many as three flowers blooming at once.

A few comments about waterlilies and our pond.
It is a still pond. We have no electricity. Katie thought that might be dangerous for her parents if there were to be electricity and water. She was probably right. The still pond functions by having a balance between sun and plants and fish and even the snails. These combine to control the algae and the mosquitoes. It works. I drain and clean the pond twice a year, spring and fall. The waterlilies are hardy plants. They stay out all winter. The pond freezes solid. (Actually I do not know if it freezes to its entire depth, which is about 2 feet.) This would be bad for the goldfish we have. For that reason, the fish go to a neighbors for the winter. He has a much deeper pond where they can survive. In the spring I get some fish back. Not that they are necessarily the same goldfish. There are frogs in the pond. I get them mail order from the east coast. They are quite shy and always jump into the water when anyone approaches. Getting a frog picture is difficult.

#3  Asclepias currassavica (September 4, 2016)

This is an annual milkweed that I rediscovered this year. I remember that I first saw this plant at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa. That is really a great garden to put on your central Iowa tour route. It is right there on the campus of Iowa State University.

I love the flowers of all the milkweeds. I grow the orange perennial one, sometimes called Butterfly Weed.

This one has such an incredible combination of yellow and red. It never occurred to me until now, but those are the school colors of Iowa State University in Ames.

As an annual, it does not survive the winter.
The flower shape is rather unique. I have included closeup pictures in the bonus section.

#4 The single crocus (March 25, 2016)

I find this simple single crocus to be a nice contrast to some of the over the top participants in the contest the last few weeks. I like the single bit of color amidst all that brown. It gives a real feel for the garden in the early spring. The little bit of blue is a nice touch. The blue is from the early scilla or squill I talked about a few weeks ago.

Everything needs to be in balance.
Mass plantings need to be balanced with focal point single plants.
Complicated flowers need to be balanced with the simple.
How do you feel about a solo compared to a chorus?

That is it for the contest this week. We have passed the holidays and now slog through the middle of winter. Enjoy the pictures. Vote early and often. Send me your comments.
Work on your survival skills.

Bonus Section
Here are my thoughts about this last garden year as the old year has given way to the new.

Reflections on 2016
In 2016:
I had a first bloom on a tree peony that I had grown from seed. Tree peonies are peonies that do not die down to the ground each fall. They slowly form shrubs. The buds form in the fall, so you know they are coming. I had known this flower was coming for months.

There is always something special about having a flower bloom on a plant that you have grown from seed. When it takes several years for the plant to be big enough, that increases how special the moment is.

Here was that new tree peony, blooming first on May 5, 2016.

What else happened this year?
I planted my first Japanese Maple, back by the pond.

About midway through the season, I got someone to help me in the garden. (I still have a full time job as a lawyer.) It was only five hours per week. But it was amazing how much more work got done when someone else helped (or occasionally did stuff when I was not there).
With that help and a long fall season with no frost, I was able to cross off many things on the longer term garden to-do list.
         We completely reset several beds. That involved digging everything out of the bed, down almost 18 inches. We then filled it back again with a combination of better dirt, peat, compost and manure. That got the clay out of the bed, along with the evil weed, also known as Campanula rapunculoides, or creeping bellflower.  See
         We also reset several Siberian iris beds. They should be divided every 4-5 years. These had been left alone more like 10-15 years.

In 2016 I said goodbye to a absolutely marvelous double bloodroot clump I had been growing for 7-8 years. The sequence of thawing and freezing just plain killed it. Reflections are not always of matters positive. Right below these musings, I will include a tribute to this wonderful clump.

We had a very late frost in 2016. I planted zinnias from seed the end of July. They were fresh in October and added wonderful color to the fall garden. I really do recommend starting annuals in mid summer, to have them fresh for the fall.

I obtained and planted quite a few more Iris and Epiphyllum plants in 2016.

I obtained 300-400 more bricks for the garden paths. I think every path and bed now a brick edge. I also obtained a big pile of wood chips in December. It should be all ready to make the the paths and beds all nice and new for Springtime.

The daylily Ruby Spider put on one of the betters  shows this season. I moved it into a sunnier spot in the fall of 2014. In 2015 it was mostly eaten by a deer. This year I used some deer repellant and had some luck. The bloom was wonderful. The little picture presentation of Ruby Spider is further down in this post.

It was also a great year for the gems in the garden such as the cactus from two weeks ago. I am not going to say more than that as over half the contest is in front of us.

What I am looking forward to in 2017.
I have a bud on the second tree peony I have gown from seed. (They set their buds in the fall.) I do not know if it will be the same color as the one that bloomed in 2016. When I brought back the seeds from the east coast ten years ago, I brought back seeds from several plants. Over the years I lost track of even the color of the baby tree peonies.

I planted many new Iris in 2016. I look forward to seeing whether they will bloom the first year.

Will any of the new Epiphyllums I got last year bloom in their second year? Will the biggest Epi plant I grew from seed bloom?

How will the white Virginia bluebell do in this its third spring? Will it have made any seedlings?

With continued garden help I can approach my garden to-do list more aggressively. Maybe I can actually fertilize all the plants that would like a little pick-me-up in the springtime.

I also look forward to the uncertainties of this coming garden year. In your garden, perhaps like your work or family life, you should have a mixture of the regular and the irregular. There should be the old and the new. A garden should not get to be too predictable. Then, of course, there is that whole weather thing.

So how about some regular old bonus pictures:
Here are the enlarged pictures of the ascelpias.

Here is the contestant picture.
While this is an annual, it cost rather more than I wanted to pay for an annual late in the year. So I made cuttings and brought the rest of the plant inside to see how it would do. I sometimes play with annuals that way. The cuttings rooted nicely. The original plant has been blooming most of the winter under lights in the basement. I should take the scissors to it,  to make more plants.

Here is the first enlargement.

I find the center of these flowers truly remarkable. They are so different from other flowers.

Here is a close up of the perennial orange ascelpias. It turns out that the individual flower is about the same.

Here is Ruby Spider, right down there by the curb where people and deer can see it. It bloomed these wonderfully big reddish flowers over about a two week period.

Goodbye double bloodroot.
I think I got this plant in 2009. It did not do well in 2010 so I got a replacement. It grew to the point in 2015 that I felt confident enough to transplant a piece of it. I do that with plants from time to time. Then it was gone. It just did not come up in 2016. I have left the bed where it lived alone. Maybe some little piece of it will come back this spring. I doubt it.
Here is the growth over time.






As a single flower it had few peers.

I have resolved to replace the clump if it does not come back this spring. What will be hard is being prepared to wait 5 years for it to resume its former grandeur. I may just have to find somewhere where I can get wholesale quantities.

Recipe this week- Very Brown Rice
by Julia Mears 

This week's recipe is also an artifact from the 1970s, but not from a daycare center. Rather this week I bring you Very Brown Rice from Recipes for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. She was very serious about nutrition and very serious about not eating meat. She was vegetarian on ethical principles, I think, as she believed that the production of meat used up too many resources for the amount of protein supplied. So she made and published recipes for protein-rich meals from grains and dairy and some fruits and vegetables Many of them were not so tasty, more theory than pleasure. Philip and I were very young in the 1970s and pretty theoretical ourselves about a lot of things, including food. We did, however, always believe that things should taste good. This dish is good and simple (especially if you own a pressure cooker) and also nutritious.

I started by putting 1/4 cup of salad oil (canola or blended vegetable oil, not olive oil and I think not coconut oil) in the pressure cooker. I heated it up (medium high) for about a minute and then added 2 cups of long-grain brown rice. You could use brown basmati, but I don't have any on hand. It should be long-grain, and it should be brown. I cooked and stirred the rice in the oil for 7 - 10 minutes until some of the rice looked toasted (that is, browner) and it crackled. Really; it will crackle. Then I added 2 tablespoons of butter cut into little cubes and stirred while the butter melted. Then I added 3/4 cup of rinsed-off, small dried beans. I always use a mixture of aduki beans (they are red) and mung beans (they are green) because I like how they look. Don't use bigger beans as it will throw off the cooking time. I think lentils would work for all or some of the beans. Then I added 4-1/2 cups of water, gave it a final stir and put the lid and jiggly thing on the pressure cooker. I left the heat on medium high. After the jiggly thing jiggled, I turned the heat down a bit and let it cook for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, I turned off the heat, and I left the pressure cooker on the stove. After about 10 minutes, I put the pressure cooker in the sink and ran coolish water over the pot. This finished the cooling off part so I could take off the lid. I stirred in 1-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 3/4 teaspoon of dried basil. The dried basil is my only real contribution to the recipe. Otherwise, it's pretty much Frances M. L.

She says one can cook this on the stove in a pot, using 6-1/2 cups water instead of 4-1/2. I have never done that. Certainly the cooking time would be longer, and there would be some pot checking and maybe water adding. I think it would be worth cooking it in the oven in a Dutch oven type pot at 325 or 350 degrees which would take care of the hot spot/burning problem of long cooking on a stove-top.

This is surprisingly flavorful dish, considering the small number of ingredients. We usually serve it with broccoli (nice color) and a salad (Philip makes a terrific salad), and that's supper.
If you are inclined to do so, you can have soy sauce or hot sauce on the table. Philip sometimes adds soy sauce. I eat my VBR straight up. Good reheated, and (I am told) also good cold for breakfast.

Here is the finished product, with little red and green beans being decorative and healthy at the same time.

Odds and Ends

I mentioned putting the cactus picture on a
t shirt. I had a company give me this possible design this past fall.

Daylight report:
     We are now picking up at least a minute per day. Today there will be 9 hours and 20 minutes.

Seed report:   I got my Iceland poppy seed this last weekend in Chicago. I will try to plant them any day now.

Julia knits mittens each year. In January, she sends them to the public schools in Iowa City to hand out (pardon the pun) to kids who need mittens. Here are pictures of the 56 pairs of mittens that will go out this week.

Outside of the sunshine the mittens are more subdued.

Here is a jumble of mittens. We thought maybe we could make a jigsaw puzzle out of this picture.

Or this one.

Yesterday, the sun was great. We saw at least ten eagles just driving around to the grocery stores.
After the tree was taken down today we even managed a short walk in the neighborhood. I also managed to read some of my new book. The first 80% has been a good read. Many books at that point however do not finish well.

I hope you have finished your holiday season well.
Let us all go do some good work.


Pat said...

(1) Which tree was taken down? Not the big old elm, I hope. (2) On the subject of frogs in your pond. I'll bet you get bullfrog tadpoles. Bullfrogs are very shy and won't stick around to be looked at (or photographed). If you could get green frog tadpoles, things would be different. Green frogs are open to human company. They will sit still, if you approach slowly, till you get a foot or so away. Makes for a great picture! They might even overwinter in the pond if it doesn't freeze solid. (3) Julia, you are brave to use a pressure cooker. I've never gotten one, out of fear it would blow up. But rice and beans are such a fabulous combination--delicious, plus don't they combine to make a perfect protein? Read that somewhere in a woo-woo book.

philip Mears said...

No lost tree. Just one little one added. The elm is still doing fine. In fact 2016 was a good year for trees as there were timely rains all year.
We do get bullfrog tadpoles. You can sneak up on them as they sit along the edge of the pond. The company says they overwinter. But I usually drain and clean the pond twice a year. That probably interferes with life cycles.
One year we did have some mating behavior in the spring. Several weeks later there were millions of little things.

As to the rice dish it was the protein combination that made this recipe 40 years ago.

Dave said...

This was my favorite contest of the year. If I had to pick my favorite flower, it would be the waterlily for sure. But the photograph of the red tulip is the winner for me. The composition demands attention for the tulip, and the flower delivers.

Phyllis Noble said...

I'm glad you left your tree up until today. My immigrant grandparents, in whose home I grew up, thought it was very important to continue the celebration through the feast of the three kings.

philip Mears said...

It was a good set of pictures this week. I actually voted for the crocus.

We have always decorated the tree on Christmas Eve. We used to wait and not even put up the tree until the very end. That part of the tradition has bowed to the weather several times.
We have a creche that has the three kings with it. They start out some distance away on Christmas Eve and do not join the rest of the crew until Epiphany.

Catherine Woods said...

I voted for the milkweed, asclepius curassavica, as the health and well-being of monarch butterflies are much on my mind. I love the extra photos of it this week.