Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Non-Ascent of Uludağ! - Uludağ'a Çıkmayışım!

One of the nearby "plant paradises" that I've wanted to visit for a long time is Uludağ. One of the highest mountains in western Turkey, Uludağ is an extension of the Pontos range that stretches through the Black Sea. It rises up behind the city of Bursa, just south of the Sea of Marmara. Higher than any of the other mountains anywhere near, it has large numbers of endemic species. I'd kept getting wrapped up in things and put off my visit way too long as it will start snowing up there any time now.

Touted as "Yeşil Bursa" (Green Bursa), modern-day Bursa is not nearly as green today as it once was. When I first visited in 1982, it was still a city with whole neighborhoods of old Ottoman houses, mostly within its old bounds, overlooking a green plain filled with fields and orchards, especially the peaches for which the city is famous. Peaches are still an important crop in the area but the plain is increasingly being filled with...Bursa. Like most Anatolian cities, it has lost most of its traditional architecture to a flood of cement apartment buildings, with only a few incongruous Ottoman-era mosques and hans hinting at its former state. Luckily consciousness is changing and some city governments are now standing up to the everything-for-profit destruction of traditional architecture.

The mountain was one of many known as Olympus to the Greeks (there was a tendency to call the largest mountain in any region Olympus), and is the Olympus referred to in many plant names. This causes some confusion as to the actual origins of some plants. One such plant that I really wanted to collect seed of was Verbascum olympicum, which is commonly referred to as "Greek mullein" even though it doesn't exist anywhere in Greece. Actually, the only place in the world that it occurs naturally is Uludağ. Verbascum olympicum is similar in leaf, but whereas common mullein offers a single vertical inflorescence, V. olympicum really goes to town (where does it get all that energy in a year?) and sends up a spectactular candelabra thickly covered with yellow flowers, often with over fifty branches. Although it's commonly offered in the horticultural trade, more often than not it's mixed in with V. thapsus, the common mullein also known as Aaron's rod. A Google search for images of Verbascum olympicum will bring up all the evidence of this you need; after you filter out the inevitable 50% or so mislabled photos, you will find some that are quite convincing, others that are not so spectacular. There are actually several mullein species in Turkey and Greece with densely multi-branched inflorescences; one of the largest ones is V. speciosum which gets a good 6 feet high or more. V. olympicum is shorter but with a much broader inflorescence in its true form.

So my fellow plant freak friend Hüseyin and I took an evening ferry from Istanbul to Mudanya, then hopped on the bus that took us to Bursa, and spent the night with relatives of his there. We were a bit worried that it may have started snowing already since there had been some rain and the mountain was shrouded in fog. The morning revealed a snow-free peak, and we excitedly boarded the dolmuş that would take us to the teleferique (cable car) that would take us up to (almost) the top. There is a transfer point at a slightly lower elevation that we were sure would be worth checking out too.

When we got to the end of the dolmuş line, we asked where the teleferique was. A man showed us but said "It's probably not working though, there's a lodos. The lodos is a powerful, warm south wind that can come up during the winter. It can last several days, shut down ferry lines for days, and is almost always followed by other kinds of nasty weather. We got to the teleferique station and the sign on the door confirmed our fears: "Teleferik, hava muhalefetinden dolayı çalışmamaktadır." "The cable car is not functioning due to inclement weather." Although the mountain sheltered us from most of the wind - at times it seemed even quite still - we could see the clouds racing over the peak.

We knew we wouldn't be seeing any giant mullein but decided not to give up completely, and did the next-best thing - we decided to walk up a road that led up the north side of the mountain from near the teleferique station and see what we could find. The road led up through mixed forest of chestnut, some oak and evergreens as well. Since the road had been cut into the side of the mountain, there was also a lot of disturbed ground and rock faces, both of which offer habitats for plants that might not grow among the trees themselves. The road we were following turned out to lead to a village, Zeyniler, which was the subject of a famous old Turkish novel, Çalıkuşu, about a teacher who goes up to teach in a mountain village. As we got up to the point where the road turned and we would get our first view of the village, a car coming out stopped, and the driver warned us, "don't go into the village, the dogs will attack you." O-kaaay.... When we got to the bend, we got our first view - there in a beautiful valley ringed by mountains, was perhaps the most unremarkable village I've ever seen, quite disappointing considering that the village of Cumalıkızık, also very near Bursa, is full of beautiful old Ottoman houses. (Part of the village is visible in the picture of the mountain above.) So we were not tempted to risk dog attacks. What was remarkable on the other hand, was the wind; it was so strong that when a particular strong gust blew down from the mountain, we struggled to stay upright. We later learned that Istanbul had been hit hard as well, and the floating Karaköy boat terminal had broken free of its moorings and sunk, luckily during the night when it was closed. Among the rocks were lots of small bulbs, probably Muscari species, and a little Sedum.

There are two other mulleins that are endemic to Uludağ, one of which is also common in the horticultural trade. The common one is V. bombyciferum, and as it's always been a favorite plant of mine, I was happy to see it all over the place with plenty of seed spikes loaded with seed. Some of the selections in the trade are more densely felted than the most common wild form, but it's still a great plant. We found it growing in disturbed ground but also plastered against the rock faces. The plants growing in the rubble were more robust but the large white leaves pressed against the rock were also a special sight. The other endemic mullein is V. prusianum. It's by no means ugly, similar to V. thapsus with a single flowering stalk but with darker, thinner and more arching leaves.

One of the common plants on the rock faces was Hieracium bithynicum, a hawkweed that is very well adapted to living on rock faces, drought tolerant and covered in a thick white indumentum to help it conserve water. It reminded me of a mini-Verbascum.

Of course if you are interested in collecting seed, you don't go when things are in flower, so it's good to recognize seedpods as well. One plant I hadn't noticed while we were going up was this Campanula (bellflower) with its typical seed head; once I saw one, I started noticing it everywhere. Early summer must be quite spectacular there. It was nice to have Hüseyin along; he doesn't know Latin names but he does recognize plants, and can recognize almost anything no matter what stage it's at. Other plants we saw a lot of were various thistles, a Cerinthe species, Primulas, a semi-succulent Ajuga, Euphorbias, Stachys (tmolea?), several different Salvias, the seed heads of something that looked typically Muscari-like but maybe two feet tall, a hairy-leafed violet species, and lots of ferns. Since these were all growing at fairly low altitude, they should probably do well in the Istanbul garden as well.

A few other goodies included a very nice pale green sedum, which for some reason I didn't collect any of:

And some nice thistles, which I could appreciate in the wild but didn't really want to grow in the garden...

Uzun zamandır ziyaret etmek istediğim İstanbul'un yakınındaki bitki cennetlerinden biri, Uludağ'dır. Bölgedeki diğer dağlardan çok daha yüksek olduğundan pek çok endemik tür barındıran dağa hep "gideceğim" deyip mühtelif sebeplerden yolculuğumu erteliyordum...

Türkçenin devamı geliyor...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wild Things!

This post is more "botanical" than horticultural in nature but in a place like Turkey, which is the source of so many of the plants we love to grow in our gardens (well, not here but in other places), the two do overlap! Last week I went on a mushroom hunting trip with my housemate to Iznik, where we were joined by other friends in the area. I'll only post one mushroom photo since mushrooms aren't plants, and this was definitely not something we would be eating, but these Amanita muscaria were so beautiful I couldn't not include them!

The first evening we went to the village of Çandarlı, at an elevation of over 1000 meters. On the way up, I came across a small stand of a very nice Verbascum (mullein) which I believe is V. undulatum. A beautiful thing with its white fur and wavy margins. Unfortunately there were no seeds to be had. I did see a likely looking stalk from the car farther on but it was getting dark and...well, I missed the boat!
The house where we stayed is in a huge meadow surrounded by beech and pine forest. The Amanita was growing here, as were these crocus, which covered whole fields.
On the way down, when we stopped to take pictures and along the road was a stand of this Verbascum. The best-known mullein in the west is V. thapsus, or Aaron's rod, a rosette of felty leaves that sends up a single spike of yellow flowers. But the genus is much more varied than that, and with 75+ species, Turkey is the center of distribution for this genus. They range from small alpine species through purple-flowerd V. wiedemannianum to the huge and spectacular V. olympicum, endemic to Uludağ, with its thick gray leaves and dense candelabra composed of hundreds of flower spikes. Actually there are several species that produce these candelabras; but V. olympicum is the grandaddy of them all. Also on Uludağ is V. bombyciferum, which is also quite popular in gardens in the west; and I hope to make a trip there before the snows start to fall. All the Verbascums fascinate me, even the ugly duckligs of the genus. l love the convoluted leaves of this particular one; I haven't seen it in bloom but its inflorescence is also much-branched. I did grab seed of this one, and it seems to thrive at a variety of elevations. Others are more picky; my favorite mullein to date is V. bellum, which I saw growing on disturbed ground in the high ceder zone on Babadağ near Fethiye. Huge rosettes of leaves clothed in a deep fur of pure white make up for the fact that the flower spikes aren't the most spectacular in the world. It was not at all happy in Seattle but if I go back to Fethiye I'll definitely try it again here. In Seattle it didn't like the wet; it may also resent the heat and humidity of Istanbul but it's worth a try!
Other plants I brought for the garden included several specimens of a wild geranium that was very common on the forest floor, a Phlomis (not sure which one; it seemed to prefer shady places. We'll see in the spring!) and lots of seed of Digitalis ferruginea, which was also very common in the mountains. This Daphne was quite widespread in the next place we went, above the village of Müşküle on the south side of Iznik lake.
On the slopes of the mountain was lots of wild thyme.
Of course most of the color was not from flowers. This upright rose had lots of brilliant round hips. The villagers use the hips of another common wild rose, Rosa canina, to make a marmelade.

Bu post, bahçivanlıktan çok botanikle ilgili, fakat bahçelerimizde yetiştirdiğimiz bitkilerin (e..burada değil de başka ülkelerde öyle) öyle büyük bir kısmının anavatanı olan Türkiye’de, ikisi iyice örtüşüyor! Geçen hafta ev arkadaşımla beraber yaban mantarları toplamak için İznik’e gidip, orada yaşayan iki arkadaşla buluştuk. Mantar, bitki olmadığı için sadece bir mantar fotoğrafı ekleyeceğim. Kesinlikle yiyeceğimiz bir şey değil de, bu Amanita muscaria öyle güzeldi ki paylaşmaktan vazgeçemedim!

İlk akşamı, 1000 metre rakımındaki Çandarlı köyünde geçirdik. Yaylaya çıkarken Verbascum undulatum olduğunu düşündüğüm çok güzel bir sığırkuyruğu türü buldum. Beyaz tüyü ile dalgalı kenarlarıyla çok güzel bir bitkidir. Maalesef toplanabilecek tohum yoktu. Biraz ilerde ona benzer bir şey gördüm fakat karanlık basıyordu ve…fırsatı kaçırdım işte!
Kaldığımız ev, kayın ve çam ormanıyla kuşatılmış kocaman bir yayladaydı. Yukarıdaki Amanita gibi büsbütün yaylayı kaplayan bu sonbahar çiğdemleri de burada yetişiyordu.

Ertesi sabah inerken yolun kenarında fotoğraf çekmek için durduğumuz bir yerde bu Verbascum (sığırkuyruğu) türü de yaygındı. Batıda en çok tanınan Verbascum, V. thapsus oluyor. Keçeye benzeyen yaprakların ortasından sarı çiçeklerle dolu tek bir çiçek sapı çıkıyor. Fakat cins ondan çok daha çeşit içeriyor, ve 75 küsur türüyle Türkiye, cinsin dağılım merkezi oluyor. Küçük alpin türlerden mor çiçekli V. wiedemannianum ve yüzlerce çiçek sapından oluşmuş, kocaman bir şamdana benzen bir çiçek duruşu ve kalın gri tüylü yapraklarıyla muhteşem olan Uludağ endemeği V. olympicum’a kadar çok geniş bir yelpaze kapsıyorlar. Aslında öyle şamdanlar oluşturan birçok türü var fakat V. olympicum, bütün sığırkuyruklarının anasıdır kuşkusuz. Uludağ’a endemik olan V. bombyciferum da batıdaki bahçeler epeyce popüler bir çiçektir, karlar yağmaya başlamadan önce oraya gideceğimi umuyorum. “Çirkin ördekleri” dahil bütün Verbascum'lara hayranım. Bu türün kıvırcık yapraklarını çok seviyorum, çiçeklemesini görmedim fakat geçen yıldan kalan saplar çok dallıydı. Çok değişik rakımda bulunan bu türün tohumunu toplayabildim. Başka türler daha müşkülpesent oluyor, şimdiye kadar en sevdiğim sığırkuyruğu, Fethiye – Babadağ’ın yüksek sedir bölgesinde gördüğüm V. bellum’dur. Çiçekleri çok etkileyici olmasa da, saf beyaz derin tüyle kaplı kocaman yaprakları, çiçeklerinin eksiklikleri için telafi ediyor. Seattle’da hiç mutlu değildi fakat Fethiye’ye dönersem kesinlikle burada da denerim. Seattle’ın soğuk ıslaklığı sevmiyordu her halde, İstanbul’un sıcaklığı ile nemini de sevmeyebilir ama denemeye değer!

Bahçe için çok yaygın yetişen bir yabanıl Geranium’un (Sardunya) birkaç tanesi getirdim. Bir Phlomis türü de vardı, hangisi olduğundan emin değilim, biraz gölgeli yerler tercih ediyordu. Hem de her tarafta yetişen Digitalis ferruginea’nın tohumunu da topladım (İngilizce adı, “tilki eldiveni”dir, Türkçesini bilmiyorum). Büyük ihtimalle Daphne pontica olan bu bitki, Müşküle köyünün arkasındaki dağın tepesinde çok yaygındı.

Dağın yamaçlarında bol bol yabani kekik vardı.

Tabi ki o mevsimde rengin çoğu, çiçeklerin değildi. Bu dik yetişen yaban gülünde çok parlak al kuşburnu vardı. Yuvarlak meyveleriyle bu bitkinin, yetiştirmeyi çok istediğim Rosa eglanteria olabildiğinin çok daha sonra farkına vardım. İlkbaharda açtığı mis kokulu pembe çiçekleri yanı sıra, bu gülün diğer ilginç özelliği, güzel kokan yapraklarıdır. Özellikle yağmurlardan sonra etraflarına mis gibi bir yeşil elma kokusu saçıyor.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Going...going.... Gitti gidiyor!

...well, not quite gone, but I finally got the landlord's permission to do away with the butt-ugly storage shed at the back of the upper garden.

...e tam gitmedi de, üst bahçesinin arkasındaki dünya çirkini depoyu yok etmek için ev sahibinin iznini nihayet alabildim.

It turned out to be a double job because it is actually a shed-built-onto-a-shed; inside was a second wall and door; evidently the first structure was insufficient to hold all the junk so they added on. It is a messy, dirty job. I'm really glad I've gotten over most of my arachnophobia because the place is crawling with European house spiders, which would give me a bigger case of the willies than any tarantula ever could. Something about the big, gray bodies and outsized legs...they just seem to be filth incarnate. The scorpions seem to have retired for the winter but I'm still being careful when I pick things up.

Of all the junk in there, there were only a very few things of any value - a couple of neat old-style porcelain sinks and some interesting old iron spikes. There are also some fascinating old rusty metal machinery parts of some sort that might have decorative value in the right kind of garden. My garden is probably not the right kind, but we'll see. All that needs to be done now is haul the junk out, deal with the roof, and the rest will come down easily. It's got a cement floor, so, we have a patio! I haven't determined if it goes all the way to the railing; the building doesn't, so there is probably some planting space there.

Sonunda çifte bir iş çıktı çünkü gerçeklikte depoya eklenen bir depoymuş, içinde ikinci kapılı bir duvar vardı. Herhalde orijinal yapı, bütün çöpleri içine almak için küçükmüş, eklemişler. Çok kirli, pis bir iş. Araknofobimi çoğunlukla yendiğim için sevindim çünkü etrafı koskocaman Avrupa ev örümcekleriyle kaynıyor. Bunlar, beni herhangi bir tarantuladan çok fazla ürkütebilihyor, bu büyük gri gövdelerle biraz fazla uzun bacakları...pislik ta kendisi gibi geliyor bana. Akrepler ise kış uykularına çekilmişler galiba fakat eşyaları kaldırırken yine biraz dikkat ediyorum.

Barındırdığı çöplerin arasında gerçekten değerli olan çok az sayıda eşya var - iki tane harika eski porselen lavabo ve ilginç demir çiviler. Hem de belki uygun bir tarza sahip olan bir bahçede süs değeri olabilen birkaç çok ilginç makine parçaları var. (Benim bahçem uygun bir tarza sahip değilmiş galiba...bakarız..) Şimdi yapılması gereken, çöpleri çıkarıp çatısını halletmek, gerisi kolay. Beton döşemesi var, güzel bir oturma alanı olacak. Ta korkuluğa kadar ulaşıp ulaşmadığını daha tespit edemedim, bina oraya kadar varmıyor o yüzden büyük ihtimalle biraz toprak da olacak.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

It Was Only a Matter of Time...

I'll take a short break from garden talk to tell you about a recent development in Turkey. Night before last, I went to post an entry into my blog. Instead of the page, I got the dreaded read and white screen shown below, which means that has taken its place with the thousand-plus websites, including include Geocities, YouTube, and most recently, Worldpress, which have been blocked in Turkey.

The reason for the ban was not immediately clear but came out later - there were a few blogs that ran criticisms of a Turkish Islamic Creationist. It's very easy to get a website blocked here if you have friends in the right places especially, or if there is any perceived insult to the founder of the country. Never mind what an excellent opportunity Youtube and blogs are to promote Turkey, her culture, her music, her traditions, her touristic potential. Instead, we have just one more reason to be embarrassed.
Luckily, almost everyone knows how to get around these bans, which makes them all the more absurd... Unless the government goes the route of Iran and blocks all the proxy sites, Turks will continue to participate in the world via the internet, and I'll keep posting!
Update (November 24): The blocking of blogspot has been lifted for now, though other sites remain blocked. Responding to a question about internet censorship, the prime minister (!) said: "I can get into YouTube." I guess he uses proxy sites too...
(Türkçe yorumu yok, gerek de yok zaten, bu pencereyi çok iyi biliyoruz ya offfff...) :-P

Old House Revisited

A bit of morbid curiosity overtook me a few days back, and I decided to go see what had become of my old house. The one bit of consolation after having my house expropriated was that all the area was to be turned into a large park, and if there's anything Istanbul needs, it's more green space. This is a city where you will see people from the villages having a picnic, or just sitting, in overgrown empty lots or on the green embankments of highways, simply because they want an alternative to cement. The officials from the city were talking about people from the gardens department, and though a voice inside told me to take that with a grain of salt, there have been some good projects in Istanbul during the last few years, including honest attempts to make it a greener, more livable place. Of course as far as I was concerned, my garden was a very liveable place. And the empty lots next door were full of trees of several kinds. Not only was it a nice place for me, it was a habitate for all sorts of wildlife - birds like this shrike that visited one day, as well as protected species like martens. Not purple martins, but martens, the large ferret-like mammal. They would play (and fight viciously) at night and sometimes wake us with the strange twittering cries.

The last time I'd gone there, the surorunding area was still a wasteland and the house I lived, along with its garden, were still intact, because as private property it took longer to expropriate (the remaining areas were in the hands of religious foundations).

So I showed up that afternoon to find...this! This, apparently is the current concept of a "park" in Istanbul. I suppose people don't want kids' feet to become too accustomed to actual ground, given that they have to live on a cement substrate. Another green (if rather unkempt) habitat has been turned into a concrete expanse. Our door to the yard/garden was directly across from the old single-story house on the left. Almost all of the trees that were on the land have been removed (on the pretext that "children might climb them"). For a people that have mostly rural roots, a paradoxical attitude indeed. They did leave the one walnut tree that used to be in the mosque's garden.
As for the are where my own garden was, that was being done away just as I arrived; the workmen hauling out the rubble that was my house. The fig trees were all gone, and the next target of the bulldozer was the large black mulberry tree (in the background), which had been famous in the neighborhood for years. This area will no doubt become an extension of the concrete expanse as well. Istanbul has done some very nice park restorations, Gülhane comes to mind. But evidently where tourists are not involved, greenery just not so important.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Last Hurrah

Well, as summer winds down into autumn, I suppose I should post a picture of my upper flower garden as it is at the end of its first year. It's been another year of surprises, pleasures and disappointments as usual, but considering the rush job that it was and the stress to all the plants involved, it could have been a lot worse. Some plants, notable a beautiful sage I grew from seed brought from the island of Samos, went into exuberant growth in the spring only to succumb once the weather got hot. My attempt to start my favorite Pacific coast iris here seems to have predictably failed, though there seems to be something rather iris-like popping up where I don't remember planting any iris...still I'll let it go a while before I get my hopes up. Hosta "Sum and Substance" looks like crap, having fed several generations of fat, happy snails, but is hanging in there. The Cardiocrinums I brought are down but fine. Well, at least one of them is. And the Sarcococca confusa, or sweet box that I brought 2 years ago has flower buds on it. Other successes include two very nice Symphytums, a Buddleia japonica, several Sempervivums, Euphorbia "Emberglow," Salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue," and Verbena bonariense, which I may or may not be sorry I planted!
Autumn was always a mixed time for me as a youngster growing up in Iowa. The warm dry days and crisp cold nights gave us beautiful fall color. But I always greeted it with mixed feelings; the brilliant maples, blooming chrysanthemums and sweet scent of fallen sycamore leaves also meant the torture of having to force my feet, which had spread out over a summer spent 99% barefoot, into tight leather shoes, the "Back to School" sales (it always seemed those ads were devised for no purpose other than to rub it in), and seemingly endless months of icy winter. And I thought chrysathemums smelled awful anyway. I used to hate marigolds, but as the weather started getting nippy and they started to go ratty, I could get a little weepy even for them.

I'm not completely over this. Even though, as the following post will attest, moving to the west coast of the US and then to Istanbul has forced a bit of change to my attitudes, I still tend to see the coming of fall in terms of what favorite plants are putting out their last blooms, will soon ome to an end, or what last hopes will soon be snuffed out by an early frost. Like this bottle gourd. I bought the seeds in spring. Late spring. Okay, May. And then came home and planted them, as the weather was already starting to get pretty warm. If I'd planted them a little earlier, the roots would have gotten better established before the heat kicked in. And as they say in Greece, "If my grandma had b_ _ _ _, she'd be my grandpa." So the plants started putting out gourds way too late, and now the lower leaves have dried off; I'm hoping for just one ripe gourd before either frost or rot does the vine in. I guess I can always stir-fry it.

Many of our favorite annuals are actually tropical plants, so for them, fall is like a bad joke. I what they would think, if they could think, about the sudden change in the weather just as they're at their peak growth:"What the hell? I didn't evolve for this!" Luckily most of them manage to produce seed early enough to ensure a new generation, if I'm diligent enough to collect it. Even as curmudgeonly I can be about fall, I have to admit that for some, the seed pods are half the fun. One is Dolichos lablab, which incidently combines, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful words of botanical Latin with one of the silliest sounding. It's also known as hyacinth bean for its beautiful hot pink, fragrant flowers. But the pods are just as interesting; purple, shiny with an almost metallic glint. They'll soon fade to a most inelegant gray and shrivel to let me know the seed is ripe.

I suppose the quintessential fruit of fall in Turkey is the pomegranate, or nar in Turkish. It was an exotic fruit for me when I was growing up, and my mother still remembers being thrilled as a five year-old girl in Greece, when she lived in a house with pomegranates growing right outside her bedroom window. I'm cheating a bit as this isn't actually my pomegranate tree, it's down below in Sevil's garden. Our pomegranate flowers but generally doesn't set fruit and when it does, the fruit is inedible. I just keep it around for esthetic value. Though it would have more esthetic value if it was covered with beautiful fruit! Other fruits of autumn here include hurma (Japanese persimmon), muşmula (medlar), ayva (quince) and hünnap (Jujube). But pomegrantes are definitely queen this time of year; there are many different varieties, some with pale pink seeds and a sweet flavor, and others with deep red kernels and a delicious tartness. To taste the best ones you need to go to Antakya down south (or have friends from there), where they grow pomegranates that weigh nearly a kilo, some with kernels as large as large corn. Not only do they eat them, they boil the juice of the sour ones into a thick syrup, nar ekşisi, which is used in a variety of dishes. Ours isn't all that special, but I suppose it works as a segue into the next installment!


The dictionary defines the Turkish word sonbahar simply as "autumn," but it's an interesting word if you look a bit deeper. "Son" means "last." The standard definition of "bahar" is spring, but "last spring" sounds a little strange too. It seems the Persians looked at things a bit differently; Summer and Winter were the main seasons, and in between them were the bahars. People in temperate climates usually thing of spring as the time when nature wakes up, and fall as the season where everything drops seed and dies, or drifts into hibernation to survive the long winter. I was not much of a fall person for a long time, because in Iowa, as beautiful as the asters were agsinst the falling leaves, I knew all to well what came on its heels - several months of snow and subzero weather.

But in a Mediterranean climate or even those climates that approach the Mediterranean order of things, the "bahar" concept makes more sense. Bahars are times of respite between the gloom and cold of winter and the blazing heat of summer; times that many plants take care of. Here perhaps the most important element of fall is rain, the return of constant moisture. We do get some rain in the summer too, but it is hit or miss, and most native plants here seem to know better than to depend too heavily on it. And as the rain falls in increasing volume, the garden is once again full of action. Much of it is subtle, some is invisible. Seeds are swelling throwing up tentative shoots; bulbs are sending their roots out and will continue to do so through the winter. It's the beginning of a time of preparation. In Iowa, spring meant emerging bulbs, seeds coming up, but if we used that definition here, spring would start in October. they do, and it's called bahar. "Last" bahar.

The many seeds and bulbs that are slowly waking up with the coming of the rain and cool weather will grow slowly through the winter, sending down roots, gradually increasing, gathering strength. Then when the weather begins to warm and the bees come out, they will shoot up in a race with time; bloom, get pollinated, and with that last urgent bout of photosynthesis before the scorching summer heat comes, produce and ripen their seeds. Then they'll pull the last bit of nutrients and moisture from their fading leaves and stems, and wait out the summer safe underground.

A few of them have a different tactic. Colchicums, some crocus, and Amaryllis belladonna (affectionately known in California as "naked ladies), grow through the winter like the rest of the bulbs, but produce no flowers before the leaves die down in the spring. They wait till the end of summer to throw up their blooms. It's a clever strategy; when the seeds ripen and fall, they will either have conditions perfect for their growth, or in the case of some of the high-mountain plants, their seeds will be safely protected under a blanket of snow until spring, and watered by the constant trickle of runoff.

Obviously there are plenty of plants that, mission accomplished, are now going brown and making way for the next generation; the last fruits of the garden, persimmons and medlars, are coming into season. Indeed, some ornamentals draw more attention with their fruits than with their actual flowers. One of my favorites is Iris foetida, or "Gladwyn Stinking Iris." I always thought this name was a bit unfair, or at least exaggerated; it refers not to the flowers but to the leaves which, if crushed, smell a bit off, or to some noses, like roast beef. Compared to some of the other things I grow in the garden, Iris foetida is hardly spectacular. Its flowers emerge in late spring, and though they're hardly ugly, they're hardly worth devoting the space to a big clump of I. foetida. It's in the autumn, when color is at a premium, that the plant proves its value; the heavy green pods that have been developing all through the summer split open to reveal a bounty of brilliant orange seeds. These will hang on for at least a month or more, then either be eaten by birds or drop to the ground where many will sprout in early spring.

Of course there are plants that come into flower just now too. Besides the obvious chrysanthemums and asters (Note to myself, I need to get some asters growing here!) and the Jerusalem artichok at the top of this post, one of my favorite plants is now just starting its show: Salvia elegans, commonly known as pineapple sage. People growing this in colder climes might miss most of its show; even here I only get a month or so before the freezes make it start to look ratty, but it's definitely worth growing for the month of brilliant red blooms. I always seem to be taken by surprise; the plant looks like a big bushy mint plant for most of the summer and if it weren't for the delicious pineapple scent of the leaves, it wouldn't be much to write home about. Then suddenly one day I notice that the growing tips are pointing down, the signal that it is forming its flower buds. they elongate in a graceful droop, and finally, the red flowers shyly begin to peek from behind the green bracts. Then in a matter of days, the entire inflorescence turns straight upward and the intense red straw-like flowers open in quick succession. Each whorl is composed of several buds, and once the ends of the main stems are done, the branches join the party as well. Salvia elegans is a little tender; it goes down in a good freeze and really cold temperatures will kill the roots too, but it is easy to propagate. I usually take five or six cuttings about this time (get ones farther down with no flower buds). I just put them in water and they usually root within 10 days. They're easy to keep through the winter in a pot in a cool sunny place. Plant them in rich, moist soil (they don't like too much dryness in summer) and you'll be amazed at how fast the plants take off. If you can nurse it through the winter, you'll be rewarded even more richly; mine are as tall as my shoulder this year.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oddball Flowers

I have an admitted weak spot for the oddballs. If it catches bugs, has flowers that look like they came from some other planet, or some obnoxious-but-harmless quality, I have to grow it! This week one of my favorite oddballs is in full bloom: Stapelia hirsuta. Although the plant looks superficially cactus-like, it's actually an African member of the milkweed family, which in addition to milkweeds, also includes Ceropegia ("string of hearts"), Sodom's apple and Hoyas and Stephanotis. Though these plants look quite different, what unites them is their opposite leaves (though Stapelias have dispensed with the leaves), and five petaled flowers with a uniquely complex structure, in which insects' legs become caught in a groove in the center of the flower. The only way they can get free is to pull their foot through the groove. As they do, a pair of pollen sacs are attached to the foot. Later, they repeat the process on a receptive flower, and the pollen sacs are left behind and pollination has been achieved. If successful, the other clearly common characteristic will emerge: a seed pod that splits to release hundreds of dark teardrop-shaped seeds, are boren away on white silky parachutes.

What sets the Stapelias and their relatives apart, besides their lack of leaves, is their large to very large starfish-shaped flowers. For a couple of weeks, the buds slowly swell, balloon-like, until one day they pop open...and when they do, the second outstanding feature of Stapelia becomes apparent: they smell like rotting flesh or excrement. In the deserts of Africa where they live, flies are more in abundance than bees, so they are a good vector to take advantage of. Even the flowers' color and texture mimics a dead animal in various states of decomposition; some smell like an early stage while others smell like something that has lingered under the hot African desert sun for a week or so. This attracts carrion flies who arrive both in search of a meal and to deposit their eggs. The one in the photo here will get no meal, only frustration, because the flower will give it nothing in return for its visit. The larvae of those who are sufficiently duped to lay their eggs on the flower suffer a crueler fate - they hatch out, crawl around in search of their sustenance, and finally die of starvation.

Summer Daze, Chiggers and Figs

It's August in Istanbul....after a few delicious days of cooling rain, it's back to the heat. The annual glut of red and yellow plums, mulberries and sour cherries is finished, to be remembered in the form of preserves and syrup for those who were ambitions. For those small enough to fit under the four-o'clocks, the problem is solved. For the rest of us, it's lots of showers and cold drinks. (See the end of this post for a good one!) Chiggers are having their heyday, though most of the city's residents in their apartments are unaware of it. The ticks have received extra publicity this year, because not only are they running amok, they are carrying the extra added bonus of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever. It has been serious enough to prompt the closure of certain popular summer picnic areas. The latest death was an unfortunate village man who was bitten "down there;" his eastern morals left him so mortified that he could not bring himself to be seen by a doctor.

The city is enveloped in a misty haze that produces a climate not unlike that in a sumo wrestler's armpit. Though hot summers are nothing unusual, there are usually life-saving breezes blowing in from the seas. In August, those breezes all but disappear and all you can really do is wait it out.

The consolation prizes: The Bosphorus is at its most exquisite turquoise blue, and the figs are starting to ripen! In Seattle, you could count on getting figs only about one in three years, and then if you planted an early variety. Here there's no such problem. We have three trees in our garden. One, a truly enormous tree that perhaps fed the Ottoman hanımefendi who lived in this house, bears large honey figs with a slight brown blush when ripe and brilliant red flesh. The white part between the skin and the soft flesh inside doesn't soften like I'd like it to, and the tree is so huge that it's almost impossible to reach most of the fruit. There is another similar one near it, but with less brilliant innards; and the third produces a clearer green fruit with dark honey-colored pulp that is incredibly smooth and sweet. This year's fig jam will come from that one. With that many figs in the garden, it might seem absurd to even think about planting more, but I would love to have a good dark purple fig. There are so many fig trees in the city that all you really have to do is walk around and sample them in season, remember the one you like, then nab a branch in November after the leaves fall. Stick it in the ground, and it will be well rooted by the time spring rolls around. It will also be practically inextricable, so think before you plant!

And of course some flowers are at their peak. My next door neighbor Sevil is an archaeologist whose summers are spent working on a dig in Cappadocia. She leaves in early July, just in time to catch the fiercest heat on the Anatolian pleateau, and miss the peak of her gardening efforts. So Sevil Hoca, if you are reading, here's what's going on!

My own garden, being in its first year, is a bit more modest, and with the exception of Verbena bonariensis, which you can't kill with a stick, most things are just biding their time. Still, a few old favorites are doing their thing. One of the five plants of mullein pink (Lychnis coronaria) has been blooming on and off, and providing me with plenty of seed for future guerilla gardening efforts. Mina lobata (right) was a bit reluctant to get started this year; she really likes the heat and humidity. But better late than never seems to be the motto, and her improbably color-shifting blooms now hover above the shy-to-bloom pomegranate that is her support. Better soil would have helped too; there will be a lot of manure going in in the fall!

Down in the vegetable patch, the branching sunflowers have done nicely as well; they were planted a little late to give the maximum show, but one of them beat the odds and is nearly 9 feet tall now. Still, I know what they can do when they are well cared for, so I won't toot my horn too much this time around. The red blooms at the lower right of the photo are Amaranth "Hopi Red Dye," which has been a favorite for about 3 years now. If it gets a good early start, it can grow to five feet or so; mine are a little shorter than that but making lots of seed for next year.

One plant I'm very pleased with is the variegated, red-kerneled popcorn I got at the Northwest Perennial Alliance plant sale. It doesn't have as much pink as I'd hoped, though two plants show a bit more. But it's a fun thing to grow and there are lots of ears. I'm not sure it's ornamental enough to actually use as an...ornamental, but I might plant a few in the actual flower garden next year just for kicks. It's too small to be a support for beans, but could look nice next to a patch of red shiso.

There is also one American-style pumpkin on the way. I've never grown pumpkins before, and am wondering if it should be so orange at this this the end of the growth or will it put on more size yet? It is probably destined to be a jack-o-lantern because the local gray Adapazari squash has a better flavor than any pumpkin I've had. One correspondent near Seattle has grown them and has decided that they are the pie squash. I love growing any winter squash; the problem is what to do with all of it, especially if you like the big ones. Cutting into an Adapazarı is a bit like slaugtering a better either have lots of people to feed, or a spacious freezer. The other alternative (one sure to make you popular) is to distribute the extra to the neighbors.

Lemon-Ginger Syrup

As far as I'm concerned, there is hardly a better drink for a hot summer day. I usually eyeball this but the last time I made it, for the sake of sharing, I decided to measure.


2 largish sections of fresh ginger root
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 c water
1 1/2 c lemon juice (about 8 medium lemons if they're juicy)
grated peel of 1 lemon
4 c sugar

Garnish: cucumber slices, fresh mint

Grate the ginger finely, mix with the 1/2 c sugar and allow to macerate for half an hour. Then add 1/2 c water and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and allow to simmer 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate the zest of one lemon into a bowl, juice the lemons, strain and add. Add the lemon juice to the ginger syrup, then add the sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce, simmer a few minutes, let cool. Strain and bottle.

To serve - pour an inch or so into the bottom of a glass (depending on taste and the size of your glass), add cold water and ice. Add 10 or 12 very thin slices of cucumber and a sprig or two of fresh mint.

An alternative is to juice the cucumbers. Make sure you have small cucumbers with a non-bitter peel! Easier said than done in some areas of the world, but give it a try if you can. Cut into cubes, process to a pulp, then squeeze the pulp through a cloth. This is most convenient when making a large pitcher of the beverage. This gives more cucumber taste, and lends a beautiful shade of green to the drink, but it should be served immediatly because the color will fade in a few hours.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Seed Haul!

This post will be short on visuals, since everything mentinoed below is "future tense" until it actually grows. So I'm just throwing in a couple pictures I like. At right is a nice little vignette from the Elisabeth Miller Botanic Garden - a Japanese maple, Epimedium and Omphalodes cappadocica (thanks to Miguel for his correction!), a plant I loved and always killed in my Seattle garden. Omphalodes and water-sucking Japanese cherry roots don't mix well.

I bought a lot of seeds in Seattle, including seeds of things that I'd probably not bother with if plants were available, but they aren't available here...and I enjoy growing from seed anyway. Commercial seeds I got are:

Scarlet runner beans, blue picotee morning glory, moonflower, Mina lobata, Asclepias tuberosa, a brilliant red oriental poppy, Orange-red nasturtiums, mixed-color branching sunflowers, Lunaria annua (already common here but I never seem to come across it when it's got seed), bitter melon, white bitter melon, luffa, Monarda, white bitter gourd, miniature bottle gourd, long handle dipper gourd, indonesian bottle gourd, corsican flat gourd and bushel gourd. Will I get around to dealing with all of these this year? Probably not...because I also happened to be in town for the Northwest Perennial Alliance spring plant sale, and that's where you find some of the really interesting stuff:
Arisaema speciosum, Alcea ficifolia, Alcea rosea (pale yellow with orange-pink throat), a "big sprawlilng" sky-blue flowering geranium, Arisaema flavum, Dolichos lablab, Nicotiana mutabilis, Meconopsis cambrica (yellow, supposedly banana-scented though mine never were before), Campanula persicifolia (common as dirt but I like it), Hesperis matronalis, Salvia canariensis, Euphorbia baselicis, Euphorbia characias 'Portuguese Velvet," Salvia subpalmatinervis (!), Dierama pulcherrimum, Zea Mays "Quadricolor" (a variegated corn with red popcorn kernels - excited about that one!), Aquilegia formosa, Geranium pyrenaicum "Bill Wallis" and Lupinus Arboreus. Plus some seeds of peony species (which take about 2 years to germinate), Thalictrum delavayi, Primula poisonii and Primula pulverulenta.

There's a lot of space out there - my problem before was always "where will I put this plant?" Now I'm challenged with actually being able to think about composition, what will do well and look good next to what, how much of something to plant...! But all gardeners eventually do come up against their might be space, climate limits, money, time...mine might be the limit of work I'm realistically willing to do!

I wonder how many nurseries were opened when hopeless plant sluts decided they needed to justify their hours monetarily?

Okay, another picture just to keep things flowing. This was already in my new garden - Lonicera periclymenum, or woodbine. Usually I see Japanese honeysuckle in Istanbul (don't worry, we got that one too), so when this came into bloom I was happy to see that it was L. periclymenum, a plant I've loved for a long time. Fragrance, color, nice bunches of berries in the fall, and not nearly so aggressive as its Japanese cousin. It's situated right at the entrance of the garden so its scent serves to remind one that this is a different space, please check your laptops at the gate! (Unless you are writing about gardens...)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back Home

I could write for days on things I saw in Seattle and fill lots of space with photos...but this blog is ostensibly about gardening in Istanbul, not missing Seattle! So for those who are interested, I'll post the link to my picasaweb photos below.

The first thing I noticed when I got home was how much better my soil is here - things had really taken off! My last place had soil so poor that Verbena bonariensis was even hard to convince to grow... Salvia sclarea turkistanica was one of the few things that always performed well no matter what. Now everything is going great guns. One fun surprise - my Hermodactylus tuberosus had set seed. Also known as snakeshead iris, this iris family member has long been one of my favorite plants - what it lacks in blatant showiness it makes up for in form and just plain weirdness. The seed pods are odd as well - unlike actual iris pods, they hang down, and are open before the seeds actually ripen.

Oh...and Verbena bonariensis is doing I really want to inflict that plant upon Istanbul?

I could mention something about the wildlife here. I haven't heard martens yet but they must be around. The scorpions in my garden are different from those in my last place - they are a lot larger and nearly black. I found this one my first day working in the garden. I know it's a Euscorpius species but I don't know which one. But like the others, the large claws and small tail is a good indication that it's not a dangerous one.

I seem to have a "mystical connection" to scorpions. When I moved into my last place, I wanted to see a scorpion and searched around but no luck. So I just let it go, and the next morning one had fallen into my sink. That summer, I told the story to a friend in Greece. "I've lived on the island for 6 years and I know we have them here, but I've never seen one," she said. Two minutes later she went to the bathroom and I heard her gasp. "What is it?" I asked. There was a scorpion in her sink; the same kind, same size, same colors, as the one that had slipped into my sink. What are the odds? Since then, they've seemed to pop up on special occasions - a visit by a good friend, a fun party at the house... So when I see a scorpion, I like to think of it as a sign that that the serendipity mechanism of the universe is in good order. When I was in Seattle, I showed a friend, a professional entomologist, this picture and he told me he'd love a specimen. He told me how to put it down mercifully (death by Frigidaire) and preserve it in alcohol. So I wasn't too surprised when one came out as my housemate was hosing down the steps. But I did not like the way I felt as I put the jar into the freezer. The American Indians thanked the buffalos when they made a kill. So I'll thank the scorpion spirits and ask their will be the last one I kill!

Back to plants. One plant that was in full bloom when I got back was Campanula rupestris. This is a plant I've grown for many years. I've collected seed a couple times in Greece, where it tends to grow in the cracks in stone walls, plastering itself flat on the wall, with tightly spaced flowers. It grows well in garden soil too but when the soil is good, it has an entirely different habit - wide and rangy. It's pretty that way too but not nearly as nice as the vertical carpet. So when this one goes to seed, I'm planning to see if I can't seed it into the holes in the retaining wall behind the garden.

One common complaint about gardening here is the lack of interesting plant material on the market. On one hand it's a challenge the spurs me to grow more natives (and now that I have a laptop, I hope to be able to do more trips and keep up with my work). But sometimes I'm still just surprised at what is absent from the markets here. Certain plants are really popular here because of color (petunias, geraniums, impatiens), fragrance (jasmine, african jasmine, stocks) or both. Some plants seem to fit local tastes perfectly but have never been heard of. One of those is Nicotiana alata, or "jasmine tobacco." I'm determined to get more people growing this, and since everyone I've given it too has gone crazy over it, it should not be difficult. It's beautiful, it's fragrant, and it grows on balconies as well as any petunia. And, in Istanbul at least, it's firmly perennial. While people in much of the US are nursing along seedlings, my Nicotianas here are already in full bloom. A second-year Nicotiana can be an amazing sight - last year one came through the very mild winter unscathed, formed a steadily growing pyramid a meter and a half high, and when it finally came into bloom, there were easily several hundred blooms open on any given night. It even seeds about, though very sparingly. Not like Verbena bonariensis. I still have my doubts about that it destined to become the knapweed of Turkey, covering the roadsides in a purple haze for miles? I did see seed of it the other day in the garden center of a local Home Depot-style store, so if it does, at least it won't be my fault!
For the rest of the photos from Seattle and Arkansas (and other things that have nothing to do with anything botanical), click HERE. On the period. Or on this tilde ~ if you missed the period.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Visit to Seattle

I took a month-long break from istanbul to visit my mother in Arkansas and spend time in Seattle, the closest thing I have to "home" in the U.S. During the time I've been in Istanbul, I almost always visit Seattle in the autumn or winter, because tickets aren't cheap! This time I said "what the hell" and went in what to me is the most beautiful time of the year there, April and early May. And got an economical ticket to boot. It would have been even more economical if I hadn't missed my return flight and paid a $200 change fee...! But "sağlık olsun" as we say here - at leas we've got our health!

The first morning I woke up at the absurd hour of 5:00 a.m. and decided to takek advantage of the early morning light with a walk in Washington Park Arboretum. It was a lovely time to be there, the native trilliums were in bloom. The flowers are huge, nearly 4 inches across.

Another favorite spring plant of mine is western skunk cabbage; definitely a plant whose odor precedes it! A beautiful thing though, and definitely one of the more "exotic" looking of our Northwest natives, reminding us with its large yellow spathes that it has many relatives in the tropics, in the form of Anthurium, Amorphophallus, Dieffenbachia and Philodendron.

So you might be wondering, what was I doing when I should have been on my flight back to Istanbul? I was happily roaming the Elisabeth Miller Botanical Garden in the Highlands of North Seattle. Besides gazing at the many amazing plants thriving there, I also had a good laugh while teasing curator Richie Steffen, who had missed his flight back to Seattle when visiting Istanbul in 2001. I suppose it's good to pay off one's karma in advance.

The Miller Garden was once a private garden, planted by Elisabeth Miller, a woman who made major contributions to horticultural life in Seattle. When she died, she willed her garden to the city as a public botanical garden. Since the Highlands, where she lived, is a gated community, this brought its share of complications - visits are by appointment only. But if you are traveling to Seattle, it's well worth scheduling a visit. I guarantee you will see something you've never seen before!

The garden is home to an extensive collection of Epimediums, an exquisite Eurasian genus in the barberry family with delicate and often translucent flowers which are notoriouslly difficult to photograph directly. Though some of them also work as ground covers, most to my mind are better used as foreground specimen plants because you will want to get down and examine them close at hand.
Besides Seattle, I also spent ten days in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas. It's another amazing place botanically, and I was there in a very pleasant time, with lots of wildflowers in bloom and thankfully a minimum of ticks and no chiggers out yet. And I escaped just before the wave of pollen that is visible as a yellow haze over the landscape. In the next post I'll share some of the more notable wild plants growing there.