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.