Sunday, March 5, 2017

Week 14- March 5, 2017

March has arrived. In many ways winter is over. The sun comes up well before seven in the morning. There is time to do work in the garden after work in the afternoon. There never really was much snow in Iowa City this winter. While we have had cold spells in the last month, it seems like they only last a few day. Daytime temperatures above 60 are showing up with frequency, and in sequence.

The garden is waking up. The ice is gone from the pond. The ground is no longer frozen. There are bees. There are bees because there are blooming flowers. There are snowdrops and winter aconite. The crocuses have begun. It is the time of year when every trip around the garden reveals something new. There is the early columbine foliage. I found the first allium to emerge. Then there was the second allium, and the first crown imperial fritillaria. There are so many things that I can forget some. (We usually say that number is about 3, when it comes to remembering things to get at the grocery store.) Tuesday, before the hail, we saw the first little blue squill.

In last week's contest to select the first of the finalists, it was a blowout. Unforgettable received a higher percentage of votes, 70%, than any contestant I can remember.
Here was your winner.

What a remarkable picture.
The complete voting was

Unforgettable   39
Candy Lily       6
Waterlily          6
Poppy closeup 4

This week's contest

In this week's contest we will choose the next finalist. Here are the four contestants you picked. They cover the color spectrum. There is a yellow, a red, a white, and purple polka dotted. There is good representation from the different times of the year. There is a June, a July, a September, and a November.
What a difficult decision you have.

#1 The yellow coneflower (June 21, 2016) (Week 3)

Coneflowers are good. All the hybrid coneflowers are good. Out of the 48 pictures in the contest this winter there were actually 4 coneflowers. Two made the second round. I see a trend.
They can be a little pricy. But for the price I could imagine a bed with nothing but coneflowers. Think about all red and yellow coneflowers. About 10-15 each. Wow. While the original purple ones spread, I have yet to see that with the hybrids. There may be something about critical mass. I must think about seeds as I go forward into the future.

Did you know that certain new hybrids are patented? I assume there are no seeds available for those plants.

#2 The toad lily (September 17, 2016) (Week 11)

Polka dots. Great name. Late in the season. What a winning combination.
This spring I will try to pot up some little plants. Several varieties do get bigger over time. Sometimes there is just so much to do in the spring.

#3 Night Blooming Cereus (July 28, 2016) (Week 7)

Wow. The flower that no one saw. It blooms for one night. It really is mostly finished by morning. Please find the blog post from January 15, 2017 for more pictures from of this marvelous plant. As I mentioned in that post, I have taken to trimming the plant in the fall. (I now trim many of my orchid cacti.) Trimming keeps the plant from being lopsided and gives me cuttings. (The NBC, unlike other orchid cacti, sends out long narrow shoots that can be 3-4 feet long.) I then rooted those cuttings in water. I have many roots at this point. I will pot them up when the weather is warmer and the resultant plant can stay outside.

#4 The big Red Zinnia (November 5, 2016)

Red in November. Remarkable. And there is that yellow crown in the center. I have collected seed and will start them in the ground in late April. Last year I learned that there was no point in starting them in pots. I may hold back on some of the seed until July. There really was something special by having new plants in the fall. (Sometimes the foliage can get rather worn after months in the garden.)

There you have 4 quite competitive pictures this week. Vote away. Winter is almost over.

Bonus pictures
Since you have already seen bonus pictures with each contestant I thought I would show you some of my orchids from this last year. I have maybe 25 orchids at this point. Some live under lights in the basement. Some adorn a lightstand at the office. Some live on the kitchen windowsill. They all go outside in the summer.
There is a marvelous array of colors and types of plants. They also regularly bloom at different times of the year.

It is truly remarkable how big the orchid family is. How different the flowers can be.

Recipe for the week
by Julia Mears 

I am very fond of puddings and custards: rice pudding, coconut custard, chocolate pudding, bread pudding. All good. I am in particular fond of firnee, which is a milk pudding thickened by rice flour and flavored with cardamon. We first encountered it in an Afghan restaurant in the Twin Cities and have had it since in Afghan restaurants in other places as well. Maybe it is the Afghani national dessert. I don't know. We spent some time looking for a recipe, in our pre-Google days, and we found one in Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

Philip made this for me recently when we were having Mousakka and Greek salad for dinner, kind of a middle east menu.

Philip started with about 1/2 cup of white rice flour. He mixed the rice flour with about 1/4 cup milk to make a paste (no lumps, please). Then he put 2 cups of milk (we use whole milk, as part of our campaign to eat foods made of food; I would imagine 2% would work, but not skim) in the saucier, mixed in about 1/4 teaspoon of cardamon powder and 1/4 cup of regular white sugar and heated the mixture up on medium until the mixture just reached the boiling point. Then he took it off the heat and whisked in the rice flour paste (again, working to avoid lumps). Then he returned it to the heat and simmered for about 15 minutes. Maybe 20 minutes. At the end of the simmering, the pudding should have thickened some. Not batter-thick, but thicker than the mixture was before.

That's it. Ladle the mixture into 4 little bowls and chill well. Serve cold. If you are in a position to get unsalted pistachio nuts, chop up a couple of tablespoons and sprinkle them on top. It's lovely.

Odds and Ends

We are off to Chicago for the weekend. It is to be a nice warm weekend. I will miss the aconite bloom this weekend. The flowers open when the sun is out. They should be peeking in the next ten days or so. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by. Wander around and see this early bright yellow spring bloom. One can understand why Beverley Nichols, the British garden writer from nearly 100 years ago, wrote that you just get these little flowers by the thousands.


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