Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is it here? - Geldi Mi?

Is what here? Spring of course, what else could a gardener be waiting for, the return of the snails? (As if they ever went anywhere...)

Of course I'm quite aware that many who might be reading this live in places like Minnesota, so for them, even the question is absurd. I did my time too; I grew up in Iowa and remember the agony on my North Carolina-born mother's face when my grandmother in Charlotte would call around this time, and with mock surprise in her voice, say (Imagine a thick old-style southern accent here) "Oh, there's still snow on the ground there? Here the jonquils are in bloom, and the camellia's almost through, and the tulips are comin' up..." Later it would be the ripening figs (what my mom would do for a ripe fig in Iowa!).

But it's payback time (karma is so fickle, isn't it?) because I live in a mild zone now, so y'all can go eat your hearts out. My tulips are up, and yours aren't!

Well...actually they are up but they won't bloom this year because they've divided.

But my first snowdrops did bloom this year. The funny thing is, I have no idea where they came from. There are lots of wild ones around, including one that's endemic to the Istanbul area. I suspect mine may have come in with some primroses I brought from Belgrade forest last year. Wherever they came from, they're doing well and I hope they'll multiply.

The first calendula is also in bloom; there will be many more of those. An odd and somewhat useless fact: Here, they call calendulas "nergis," which means "narcissus." I don't know why; perhaps it's because they're both yellow (usually) and both come up in early spring, and someone got confused, and it stuck...? Some garden snobs might think of it as "pedestrian," but I love it for its timing if nothing else. I'm also going to try and get the local wild one going in the wilder areas of the garden.

Another old standby, and a plant that I've grown infinitely more appreciative of since coming here is Geranium macrorrhizum.

The Bulgarians know it as "zdravets," and use it in a variety of ways that are supposed to be very, very good for you. One website provides this bit of herbal knowledge:
Zdravets essential oil has antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-allergic, astringent and capillary strengthening qualities. It lowers the blood pressure in hypertension sufferers, due to its flavonoid content. It can also lower the level of blood sugar in diabetics. In addition, zdravets oil can relieve menopause symptoms, stimulate the blood vessels and relieve insomnia and fatigue. Used on the skin, zdravets oil is helpful against itching, skin lesions, furuncles and hemorrhoids.
I'll remember that if I ever find myself with a furuncle. I probably wouldn't joke about it if I knew what a furuncle was; I certainly know better than to joke about hemerrhoids. Personally I find the smell a bit off-putting, not as bad as "Stinking Robert" (G. robertianum) but close. My newfound appreciation of it has nothing to do with its health-giving properties, but with its sheer hardiness. The plant that spawned the one in the picture is growing in an incredibly crowded pot, where it's undoubtedly thrived for years and years. Each year it produces a profusion of bloom, and though I doubt there's much of anything resembling soil left in that pot, it hardly flags even in the hottest of weather. To list it as one of the first flowers of spring is almost misleading, because the truth is that it never quite stopped! It does produce a full flush of bloom when the weather warms a bit, but from fall until the weather really gets hot, it always throws out a few flowers here and there. I really should get myself some of the other varieties of it.

Besides finding out what did or did not survive the winter, spring is also when you get an idea of how far your invasive species have progressed! Here we have white yarrow (Achillea millefolium) happily sending up new sprouts a couple of feet from where it was originally planted. Honestly I don't know why I chose the white one, but I did and it's here to stay. Unless, of course, it is outcompeted by Verbena bonariensis, a plant of which is coming up at the right. V. bonariensis is a funny thing, it can be rampant but never has been for me; in my Seattle garden I never even managed to get it to grow even though some friends were tearing it, and their hair, out in handfuls trying to contain it. Here I get four or five seedlings a year; I can deal with that.

I also got some surprises this year. Right at the entrance of the upper garden is a clump of Iris foetidissima, a plant I've always loved for its brilliant red seeds in the fall. In Seattle it used to always seed around, but though the plant here was an old one, i never found a seedling. I suspect that's because the area around it was never cleared; this spring a poke around the base revealed lots of seedlings coming up. My friend Ayfer gets first dibs, the rest are up for grabs!

Another pleasant surprise was that the "Matucana" sweet peas I grew last year managed to ripen and scatter some seed before I was able to collect it, and they came up in the fall. I was a bit worried that they might get zapped in the cold snap, but they've obviously come through it just fine. This prompted me to go ahead and sow some more out there in the same area. If you want a really, REALLY fragrant sweet pea, this one to grow; it's purportedly the closest to the wild species which grows in Sicily. I grew it together with "Cupani," a lighter bicolor pink, which was also incredibly fragrant, a few of these brought in the house produced enough scent to be noticeable all the way across the living room. This year I'm trying several more; sweet peas are another plant that I never had much luck with in Seattle but grow well here.

The final "eat your heart out" picture is this - the first flowering stalk of the freesias that came two years ago from the garden of my friend Peggy in Berkely, CA. They were a perfect "gardenwarming" present. In California (and I suspect, here as well) they can get to be a bit weedy, but there could be worse weeds. Especially if you're one of those poor souls who live in Minnesota. (On the other hand, you get to grow brilliant rhubarb, and great peonies.) Now in Turkey they believe in the nazar, or evil eye, which means that coveting something is believed to be injurious to the object of the covetousness. I used to think it was silly. Then I watched a beautiful stand of Kalanchoe growing in a shop, which I'd stand and admire every time I'd go by it, become decimated by fungus. Obviously it was all my fault. ;) So by encouraging all this eating out of hearts, I might easily provoke a case of nazar, and come out one morning to find all of my freesias cut down by snails, or my snowdrops dug up by cats and replaced by...well, you know what cats leave you when they get to digging! It will be y'all's fault as well if I do!


Andria Post Ergun said...

I am a gardener & blogger back in the US (Boston.) My husband is Turkish, so Istanbul has become a second home. It is great to follow your blog!
Andria Post Ergun

KGG said...

found your blog some time ago but now it has much more meaning for me as i just moved to a house with 200 sq meters of backyard, north facing, surrounded by some high concrete walls. need some advice! in particular thinking of doing some raised beds but not sure of difference between funda toprak, torf, and what gubreli toprak really means - is it just dirt with fertilizer added? is it compost (or is funda toprak compost?). my turkish alas is not good enough. i need to order some amendments and have found sources for peat (or cocopeat) and vermiculite, but i'm stuck on the dirt issue. i know i'm getting a late start but want to try anyway. sorry to post this in the comment space but i didn't see a way to send this via any other means. thanks!

Sazji said...

@Andria - Thanks for writing, do you come to Istanbul a lot?

@KGG - First, where are you gardening, are you in Istanbul? There are various kinds of soil around the city but generally it tends to be pretty clayey (they call it "yağlı", or "oily") and needs lightening up. I've never come across "funda toprak." Funda is heather, so maybe it's peat? Torf is the word that is usually used for peat (sphagnum peat) but it also gets used for potting soil. Gübreli toprak is regular soil with composted manure added. If you're doing raised beds and you have the money to pay for it, gübreli toprak is great, but it's a bit pricey. If you're planting directly into the ground I'd enrich it with straight manure (make sure it's composted manure, which they call "yanmış hayvan gübresi." Some might use the word "tezek" too but that refers more to fresh manure. Not much use for vermiculite in the garden; it's okay for starting some sorts of seeds but it tends to compact quickly. People are this way and that about adding peat to the soil; it's more or less mined and mining it destroys peat bogs. It can help lighten up soil but it can also resist water when it dries out completely, making the water run off instead of soaking in. It's good to mix with gübreli toprak if you're growing things in pots - half and half or a bit more peat so that things don't get too compacted. It's not really too late; just wait until you can pick up a handful of dirt and crumble it before you start digging; if it holds together in a mud clod, then digging it will just compact it. Put a good layer of manure over it and dig it in well. You can also do "green manure" if you find comfrey or borage around. Another good source is the "semt pazarı," the neighborhood markets! A couple of years ago there were a couple in the neighborhood, and I'd bring back a big garbage bag of artichoke leaves (the stuff they cut off), as well as cabbage and cauliflower leaves. Lots of green matter to be had if you're willing to ask for it!

KGG said...

hi, i just sent you back a LONG reply and then realized it was a no-reply message via the blog. would you mind sending your e-mail to me so i can send you my reply rather than posting it? mine is if you prefer not, no problem.

bilge said...

ben size türkçe yazacağım kusura bakmayın ingilizcem zayıf benimde bahçem var devamlı onunla uğraşıyorum..iyiki varmış diyorum yoğun iş temposundan sonra toprakla uğraşmak terapi oluyor ..sevgi ve dostlukla...