Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Weeds

It seems that the weeds that thrive in bad soil can be worse than some of those that thrive in good soil. Some go both ways - there is a pink lamium here that makes carpets everywhere. The local name is "ballı baba" (honey daddy) because kids like to pick the flowers and suck out the nectar. It seeds profusely and the seeds lie dormant in the soil for years, waiting for their opportunity to make a brand new green carpet. Thankfully there seem to be just a few patches of it around; it's the source of the pink haze in the picture here. The other rampant one here is a type of Arum, either A. italicum or a similar one, locally known as "nivik." It's marginally edible, but in order to be safe, the leaves must first be "fermented" over night in water mixed with flour. This process destroys the extremely irritating oxalic acid crystals that are found throughout its tissues. Without the fermentation, these could cause severe swelling and pain in the mouth. It is said to be extremely medicinal. Arum seeds have one nice feature when it comes to weediness: they only last a short time and if they don't find conditions suitable for germination they die. This means that once you clear an area of arum (which isn't that hard once you loosen the soil), you will get regrowth from the seeds from the previous fall, but get rid of those and you are more or less done with it. My kind of weed.
One plant that was truly evil in the old garden is something known here as "taftik." It has brittle red stems and tough-as-nails roots. Not only does it thrive in drought and bad soil, but produces massive amounts of seed (which are sticky). It also impoverishes the soil. Here it only grows out of a few holes in the retaining walls and doesn't seem to like the moist soil below. Fine with me.
Another plant that is rampant in the second large level but beautiful enough that it's hard to be upset about it is borage. It does seed a lot but is quite easy to pull, especially when small. The plant is important medicinally (its seeds contain an oil which kills cancerous cells in vitro) but the leaves, which have a cucumber-like flavor and smell, have been determined to have a liver toxin. They are so prickly and fuzzy that they aren't very appetizing anyway. But the flowers are free of the toxic substance, are sweet and slightly cucumber-like, and are beautiful tossed into a salad along with calendula petals. Considering that I actually introduced borage into my last garden, I'm perfectly happy to have it around. It will have to be satisfied with staying in its place though...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Moving Day

Moving a garden is not something you want to do every day. It takes a lot of planning and preparation. Luckily the season was ideal; the weather is not hot yet and we have frequent rain. As I dug all my plants up and packed them into plastic bags, the neighbor lady Meliha hanım, who is also a plant freak, was over hoping for handouts. I actually love to share plants (and gave her a blooming Paphiopedlium orchid as a goodbye present). Still, it's not much fun to be digging up your prizes and thinking where they will fit in the new place while a 72 year-old woman stands there saying "gimme one of those, why doncha?" It actually got a bit out of control later, when the landlord's wife was there and Meliha hanım came back, this time with her eye on one of the plastic garden chairs. True, they had been left by a former tenant, but a body asks. She just picked it up and started walking with it. The landlord's wife protested; her protest was met with a dismissive wave of the hand. Later I was looking for my hand trowel = gone. The old hag had nabbed it! Yer busted, Meliha. Sağlık olsun as they say here in bad situations: "let there be health." So looking on the bright side, I'm outta there, and I got my health.

Another bright side is that the main "private" area at the new place is not huge, and that means that I get a rare sort of "instant gratification." Because the last place was one large expanse that I was gradually planting over a couple of years. There were about 90 plants to move, and a much smaller place in which to plant them. And they are almost all perennial and fairly developed. So it won't be long before things start to look satisfying. Many gardening books give sample garden plans of large places completely planted. I always thought, "who has the money to plant a garden that way?!" Not me; it's always been a bit here, a bit there - amazing at how sparse a bank-breaking haul can look once you actually get it in the ground. So this is the first time I've ever had the luxury of preparing a bed and planting an entire perennial garden in one swell foop!

Eventually everything was moved. The main area of attack was an area directly across from our entrance. It is the highest part of the garden, but still quite a bit below street level, with its own large retaining wall (R). The wall was overgrown with English ivy, which has been duking it out with the world's largest Wisteria for decades. We removed it (because it's going to hold clematis and Passiflora "Coral Pink," but left it on the ugly shed and across the top of the wall. There is an old apricot tree which bears but not well; it had a large dead branch. The Wisetria had also invaded the soil; all in all we pulled out maybe 100 meters of wisteria whips which had criss-crossed the garden. It's a wild beast but still, there's nothing like the sight and scent of a really old wistria in bloom; it's worth dealing with their wanderlust.

The shed is truly ugly; like Jed Clampett's house without the good banjo music, and I'd dearly love to remove it. But the landlord is adamant about it staying. It contains lots of old rusty hunks of metal, some ventilation duct that will never be used, and scorpions. It's strangely built - it seems it was once smaller and the newer, uglier front was added later. My fantasy (besides a sudden accidental and mystrious fire)_is to secretly get rid of everything behind the front, and have it as a "secret garden." But I don't want to get kickd out of my new digs over something like that. Wisteria hides a lot of sins. So does thornless blackberry, which will also be trained over the front.

Rather than bore the world with all the pictures of digging and planting, I thought it better to just show a picture of the same space after cleaning and planting. There were lots of slabs of limestone and marble leaning up against the side, so I decided to make use of them. I sunk two pieces of the limestone into the ground and placed the largest slab of marble (which was evidently a countertop once) across the top for a table. The pieces of wood are just temporary, to keep the ininformed from accidentally crushing the children. Eventually I'll find some brick or somthing.
Here's a view back the other way. A trimming of the overgrown honesuckle revealed an old bird bath (with a hole in it) and a large urn bearing a single, sickly rose. The dog house will not stay, as the dog ran away. The shrub slightly visible at left is a pomegranate. Unfortunately it is not a good one; the pomegranates are very sour, but pomegranates are beautiful in bloom. And it will help hide the shed!

So far (this is the second day) it looks like I'm going to have a very good survival rate. Everything seems to be perking up. A few things were already in bloom. A little peach tree was being smotherd by the Wisteria; I freed it and it's now opening it's pink flowers. There is lots of borage; I love it but it can be weedy. I'll let a few of them stay next year. One relative that I really do like is Trachystemon orientalis. It grows wild throughout the Black Sea region of Turkey. I would grow it for its leaves along - large and heart shaped. It is tough as nails; it taks shade or sun, and though it grows in wet places it can take a fair amount of dryness as well. The flowers are an added bonus; they are short lived but attractive, reminiscent of shooting stars but in a clear, typically boraginaceous sky blue. Another bonus is that the plant is edible; the rhizomes are cooked in various dishes (but I find them slimy); the petioles are gathered and pickled and are one of the most popular pickles in the Eastern Black Sea region.

Back In Business!

There are times when one feels just...blessed. I have been so incredibly busy the last month or two that I hardly had time to do a proper search for housing. One day, talking with a new acquaintance with whom coincidentally I have at least 5 friends in common, I mentioned that I was losing a garden and looking for a new place. He said I had to see the place he lived in, a place with probably 4 acres, in the area of Anadolu Hisarı, up near the second Bosphorus bridge, on the Asian sides. Anadolu Hisarı has always been one of my favorite neighborhoods in Istanbul. It's very unspoiled, with old houses and narrow stone-paved streets. The quarter is centered around one of the two fortresses the Ottomans built when closing off the Bosphorus, in preparation for the capture of Constantinople.
The house was amazing; I'd seen buildings like that but had never been in one. It's a 150 year-old Ottoman mansion that has been divided into apartments. It has actually four gardens, each on a different level, separated by retaining walls. The lower two walls are somewhat visible in this picture. There is a natural spring in the next wall which flows continuously, ensuring that the lower levels are always somewhat moist; the water is collected in two large tanks and used for watering in the summer. As we walked through the various gardens, I found myself struggling not to be jealous. I didn't have to struggle very long - my friend said, "Actually, I've been looking for a housemate for a while. You can live here if you want." I wasn't sure at first, I didn't know him all that well, and the promise of a wonderful garden battled with visions of an uncomfortable living situation. But we talked about all the particulars and I decided to go for it.

The Face of Progress

This is the main area destined to be a park. Not a green park (that requires maintenance) but a brick-paved park. There are two mulberry trees, they have also now been removed. The reason: Kids might try and climb them in order to eat them. (And when they fall out on the kid-friendly cement surface they will get hurt.) My house is the red roof behind the wall. It will stay another year but I decided that it was time to leave in any case; who wants to work on a garden that is going to look like this in a year?