Wednesday, July 14, 2010

California Dreamin' I: Passionate about Passifloras

One of the reasons for my lack of posts recently was that I was in California for a couple of weeks. Every time I go to the San Francisco Bay area I fall in love with it again. Well, at least with the gardens; I'm not sure I could deal with actually living where summer temperatures average around 65! But the mild, cool climate means an incredible plant palette on hand. Of course just as people in Seattle tend to overplant Rhododendrons and Hypericums, there are certain plants in the Bay Area that everyone and his brother plants. Some - like Arabian jasmine and Brugmansias, don't bother me; I'm always happy to see and smell them. Others, like Bird-of-Paradise and Agapanthus (aka "Gas-station lilies") do get old, though some of the deep purple Agapanthus are quite nice. As for the white iris-like Neomarica (?) that is everywhere, the jury's out. It's nice but there are so many others available as well!

This time I was particularly captivated by the passion flowers (Passiflora). In Seattle we could grow P. caerulea and P. incarnata (if you dare plant them), and perhaps in a mild year you might bet Passiflora x "Incense" to overwinter. In On every errand I would make sure to take a different street in order to see as many yards as possible, and every outing seemed to turn up a new Passiflora.

The first one I ran across was "Blue Boquet" (above) on a fence by the sidewalk. The woman who grew it was rather at her wits' end with various problems in the area and was ripping everything up (almost in spite it seemed) and moving out of town. I begged some cuttings and she was more than happy to oblige. When I went back a couple days later, it had been hacked back to a stump. Which - like in the case of Clematis "Betty Corning" and so many other things in live, just goes to show, if you want it, don't dawdle!

Right around the corner (I was tipped off by the same lady), was an enormous, robust P. ligularis, also known in Hawaii as "lilikoi," or "banana passion fruit." It's one of many introduced plants that has become a serious invasive in that state, but in California it seems to be better behaved; the "bad boy" status being reserved for the rampant P. caerulea. I took several cuttings from this one as well, and noticed that it was setting abundant fruit. This is especially good news as many Passifloras need another clone to fruit, but this one is evidently self-fertile. I wish I had a reason to be in Berkeley again a couple months hence!

There was one large pink vine right down the street from my friend's house that I believe is a selection of P. manicata called "Coral Sea." It's quite common in the area. One thing I like about many of the tubular-flowerd Passifloras is that although they are robust (to put it mildly), they don't seem to throw up suckers everywhere like some of the others.

One day while heading over to a friends house down a street I'd walked several times, I saw a large fence covered with two different Passifloras that I'd missed before. Evidently the day I'd passed by it had unexpectedly gotten warm and all the flowers had closed and I hadn't noticed them from across the street. They were also quite beautiful. The brilliant red Passifloras are rather a mystery to me but I think it *might* be "Cordilia," a P. vitifolia cross. Elsewhere I took starts from another variety (but had no camera then) with less reflexed petals

On the same fence was this other very nice deep coral pink variety as well. Another P. manicata hybrid perhaps?

Normally I like to ask before taking a start of any plant but when th vine covers 10 square meters of fence space, I figure only a truly greedy or completely anal retentive person would object! And anything that crawls out onto the sidewalk is fair game as far as I'm concerned. If anyone knows for sure what these varieties are, do let me know.

As for propagation, Passifloras are generally pretty trouble-free. I've rooted them in a glass of water, but perlite or a mixture of perlite and sand is generally better. My way is to cut the stems between every other node, resulting in two-node lengths. They don't root at the nodes so it's not important that a node be in the rooting medium, but it is important that you have at least one node to sprout, two seems a safer bet. As Passifloras keep growing throughout the season, take a long cutting, which will give you a variety of ages. The general rule applies, try and get growth which is hardening off but not completely woody, and also avoid too-new growth which crushes easily between your fingers. Cut off any flower buds. I generally cut off all the leaves as well, as they only cause water loss if you have to hold them in a vase for a time before sticking the cuttings; and especially any damaged leaves (as when you've packed them in a bag and left them in a suitcase for 36 hours) will likely rot in the rooting chamber anyway. I generally get roots with no rooting hormone but a mild one won't hurt. For an easy homemade setup, I take a large commercial water bottle and cut it almost all around. I then ut about 4 inches of perlite in the bottom and wet it, but there should not be water pooled in the bottom. I close the top after sticking my cuttings, but leave the cap off the top so there is some air circulation (the cut edge also offers some ventilation) and then put it in a bright area but out of direct sunlight; even with the top open it could get dangerously hot if it got direct sun. The cuttings can take from 1 to several weeks to root, so be patient. You'll know when they have taken as you'll see vigorous new growth; but they may grow even before rooting as Passifloras seem have boundless energy.

If you live in an area where your plants can grow outdoors year-round, you can plant them directly into the soil, but keep in mind that they can be rampant, and if there is any P. caerulea or incarnata in the mix, they'll likely sucker as well. They're not as bad as kudzu, but a happy passiflora will gleefully cover whatever support it finds, and when that is full, it will find a new one. But they're forgiving and you can generally prune them back pretty severely without serious consequence.

Next - the other plants besides Passifloras!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pumpkin or Squash? (Or Marrow? Or Courgette? or Zucchini?) Cucurbitacious Linguistics!

In web sites and other writing I constantly come across questions about whether something is a "squash or a pumpkin," or references to "true pumpkins" but with little useful information to back up the lingo. So I thought I'd take a moment to clear up some of the confusion about the many different words we use to refer to all these plants.

So what's the difference between a squash and a pumpkin? Botanically, absolutely none. Huh?

There are four species of the genus Cucurbita that we commonly refer to as pumpkins and squash (Brits, we'll get to you in a moment): C. pepo, C. maxima, C. moschata and C. argyrosperma. The first two are incredibly diverse in shape, color and texture while the third tends to have bottle-shaped fruits, usually striped, with a slightly bulbous top and swollen lower portion. Think of a grossly overweight bowling pin.

The confusion comes from the fact that all these plants come from the New World, and so English originally had no word for them. The American Indians on the other hand were very familiar with them and had as many words for them as they did languages. The first Native Americans that the early English settlers came into contact with were Algonquins, who called them askutasquash. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, means "green things that may be eaten raw." The last part, =asquash, is the "edibles" part of the word, and the English shortened it to "squash." Which I suppose to an Algonquian speaker would sound like"dibles."

To the likely dismay of the Algonquins, the English stayed in the New World, and the Algonquian word fragment stuck, so Americans use the word "squash." However, the squash did not stay in the New World; it traveled back to the Old World, and to England among other places. And not having many Algonquins around to help them out, the inhabitants of Merrie Olde England had to find another word. So they likened the strange new food to something they did know, the "pumpion," which was an old word for a melon that they got from the French, who called them pompon. It eventually morphed (probably with or influenced by the diminutive/endearing ending -kin) into "pumpkin." And as more English came to America, now familiar with at least one variety of squash, they added their own new word to the mix. Most likely they had a round, orange variety, because in the US, the only thing that distinguishes what is called a pumpkin is a basically round shape, usually with vertical grooves, and an orange color. Never mind that there are white and green ones around too. These orange round(ish) pumpkins can be either C. pepo (mostly) or C. maxima (especially the giant pumpkins). For the rest of them, which were probably still less familiar to the newly arriving English, the term "squash" remained in use. This is not the case in England today, where "pumpkin" refers to a much broader range.

So what about "winter squash" and "summer squash?" Surely there must be some botanical distinction there?

Only sort of. C. pepo is a remarkably diverse species. Pretty much everything we call "summer squash," the generic term for squash that are picked while immature and includes what we call zucchini (Do we want to go there? We will.), yellow crookneck, etc., are varieties of C. pepo. But so are the orange pumpkins. And so are the vast majority of the decorative gourds, which are nothing more than pretty - but tasteless or bitter - varieties C. pepo. (The bottle/dipper gourds are of another genus altogether, Lageneria, and are old-world plants. Some of their fruits are also eaten immature; when mature they are incredibly bitter.)

Basically, the plants we call "winter squash" are the ones, regardless of species, which we allow to ripen and harden off, and which are more or less storable. Though out of the three species, C. pepo is the least storable, which is why you have to eat acorns and delicatas early, while you can keep a butternut or a hubbard around for months or even a year or more. The "summer squash" then, are simply varieties that we eat during the summer, while they're still immature. Some squash varieties can be eaten both ways, by the way.

When the members of the genus Cucurbita traveled to Europe, they didn't all go the same way. Some came directly to England, while others went through France. The French used the word courge for squash, and the immature ones were referred to as courgettes, which is what the English call them today. Only they also call them - or at least the variety C. pepo fastigata - "vegetable marrows." Which is just silly, but there is probably a perfectly logical explanation for it. Does anybody know?

Meanwhile, a similar variety that was now being grown (or had developed) in Italy returned to America with Italian immigrants. They called the squashes zucca (except for some which they called cucuzzi but just never mind) and their word for the immature ones was zucchini. These are the courgettes of England. The marrows are not as well known in the US, but they should be - though the English tend to grow them larger, they are at their best when about 8 inches long and light green, and are more flavorful than zucchini.

So in the end, the only clear distinction between all these varieties is their actual species. So now that I've confused you completely, here's a selection of some of the better known varieties of squash/courgette/pumpkin/marrow/zucchini according to species:

C. pepo
Most of these tend to have some fiber when mature, so more are eaten immature.

Most jack-o-lantern pumpkins
Acorn squash
Delicata squash
Most ornamental gourds
Spaghetti squash

C. maxima
Some of the best winter squash, many with smooth, dry flesh and little or no fiber. They tend to make better pumpkin pie than most of the ones we call "pumpkins;" commercial pumpkin pie filling is actually made from Gray Hubbard.

Hubbard squash
Giant pumpkins
Buttercup squash
Pink banana squash
Gray banana squash
Jarrahdale squash
Kabocha squash
Winter keeper squash

C. moschata
This includes some eminently edible squashes as well as several watery, stringy varieties.

Butternut squash
Futtsu squash
Long Island Cheese pumpkin
Winter crookneck, Pennsylvania Dutch crookneck
Seminole pumpkin

C. argyrosperma
These are not very popular in the US due to their stringy texture but some are not so bad if you run the cooked flesh through a food mill.


Bakarsan Bağ Olur, Bakmazsan....

...Dağ Olur! So goes the Turkish saying about gardens: "If you look after it, it becomes a garden, if you don't look after it, it becomes a 'mountain.'"

I tested the theory to its (almost) fullest this June, when I went to the US for almost four weeks. During my time away, it rained almost constantly in Istanbul, and I returned to find my garden spectacularly overgrown. Here's the sight that greeted me in the morning:

Fortunately it was not overgrown to the point where the things I wanted to grow were overwhelmed, with the possible exception of several daylily seedlings. This was bad, because in three-plus weeks, just about every grass seed that had ever been deposited in my garden took advantage of the cozy conditions and grew up to two feet tall. Still I managed to locate some of them, and i'm hoping that the ones that got ripped in the ensuing mercy-weeding only lost some leaves and will send up more.

Of course there were good things as well. The squash vines are obviously doing quite nicely, and happier now that I've pulled out the wild amaranth that they had scrambled over rather than rooting into the ground. The amaranth is one of my favorite wild greens anyway, so there will be plenty of "vlitopita" (amaranth börek) over the next couple weeks. The green one in the front is our local wild variety (there are actually two or three species); the tall red one farther back is "Hopi Red Dye," which seeds itself happily every year. A little too happily to be honest, but it's easy to pull out and provides a beautiful red accent in the flower garden.

The Lobelia cardinalis I put into the wet swampy zone in early spring is coming into beautiful bloom, and will probably continue to as long as I keep the mint at bay. Notice the healthy growth of grass, nightshade, amaranth and pigweed. I guess that will come out today...

And speaking of things red, the Korean runner beans sent to me by my gardening friend Jim Wright near Seattle, WA are growing spectacularly! They have extremely large beans, and it turns out that the "gigantes" (giant beans) popular in Greece and known as "Bombay fasulyesi" in Turkey are a white variety of the same species. I planted mine on a "teepee" a foot or two taller than myself, and I see now that it could have been much taller.

In the upper garden, the only thing worth mentioning (well...besides the 13-foot pokeweed) is the Seminole squash experiment. "Seminole" is reportedly a semi-wild variety of C. moschata which has a penchant for climbing; but accounts differ as to its actual willingness to climb. I instructed my housemate to guide it up the ropes I'd tied into the dead apricot tree, and so far it seems perfectly willing to grow skyward as long as it finds something to hold onto. The vines haven't been tied; I just provided the lines to offer them an anchor so that they can reach the branches above. If they decide to drape downward when they reach the ends of the branches, that will be fun too. Like annual English ivy on steroids.

To me, the C. moschata squashes with their enormous white-streaked leaves are beautiful plants as well, and if you have the room they offer a tropical air, especially in a smaller garden. There are already flowers on the way, which will be all the more beautiful. And not that I'd ever count chickens before they're hatched or anything (really now, can one be a gardener without a bit of pre-hatch counting?), but I can't wait to see the large-softball-sized fruits hanging down from among the branches.

Blogumun Türkçesini ihmal ettiğim için özür dilerim! Gerçekten son aylarda öyle yoğundum ki Türkçe tarafını bırakın, İngilizcesini bile ihmal ediyordum. Ve sabriniz için teşekkür ediyorum.

Üç küsur hafta Amerika'da geçirdikten sonra yağmurlu havalarda resmen fışkırmış olan bahçeme döndüm. Ve gerçekten dağ olmuş...sanki son asır boyunca topraklarında bekleyen her çim tohumu, hem yağmurlu hava hem de benim yokluğumdan faydalanıp, yarım metreye kadar büyümüş. Diğer bitkiler de büyüdüğü için büyük sorun değldi, kolay yolunur zaten, fakat yeni ektiğim ve herşeyden çok çime benzeyen minik zambak (Hemerocallis) bitkileri kesinlikle mağdur kalmışlar. Yine de birçoğunu bulabildim. Bu bahçede "en uygun olanın yaşaması" kanunu geçer zaten!

Kabak bitkileri de çok güzel büyümüştü, hele hele üstüne tırmandıkları ve dolayısıyla toprağa köklerini salmalarını engellemiş olan sirkemotlarını söktükten sonra daha da mutlu görünüyorlar. Sirkemotunu çok seviyorum, gelecek günlerde her halde bol bol gözleme ve börek yiyeceğiz!

Yabani sirkemotu ön tarafta; arkadaki kırmızı bitkiler ise Hopi Kızılderililerin törensel yemeklerini kırmızıya boyalamak için kullandıkları "Hopi Red Dye" (Kırmızı Boya) cinsi. Her tarafta (hatta fazlasıyla bile) kendiliğinden çıkıyor. Fakat çok kolay yolunur, ve koyu kırmızı yapraklar ve çiçekleriyle, çiçek bahçesine çok güzel renk veriyor.

Amerika'nın güney eyaletlerinin sulak yerlerinde yaygın olan ve ilbaharda ektiğim Lobelia cardinalis güzel açmaya başlamış. Bahçenin sulak bölgesindeki tek varlık olmaya yüz tutan naneyi biraz uzaklaştırabildikçe öyle devam eder her halde. Amerika'da böyle kırmızı renkli ama çoğu zaman kokusuz çiçekleri genelde arıkuşları tozlaştırıyor. Avrupa ve Asya'da bu kuşlar yok, arılar başarıyabilecek mi acaba?

Seattle kentinin yakınında yaşayan arkadaşım Jim Wright'in gönderdiği dev Kore ateş fasulyeleri de güzel fışkırmış. Jim beyin Kore kökenli eşi ilk tohumlarını Koreli bir çiftçiden almış, yıllardır bahçelerinde yetiştiriyorlar. Aslında bildiğimiz Bombay fasulyesinin aynı türünün bir beyaz cinsidır. Kore'de çerez olarak tüketiliyormuş. Bunları iki metrelik bir "çadır iskeleti"nin etrafına ektim; aslında üç metrelik bir tane fazla olmayacakmış!

Üst bahçeden bahsetmeye değer birşey adeta yok, Seminole kabağı deneyinden hariç. Florida eyaletinde yaşayan bir Kızılderili kabilesinin adını taşıyan Seminole balkabağı, yarı yabani bir cinstir. Bu kabak birkaç ilginç özlliğe sahiptir: 1) Meyveler, i taş gibi sert olup, sadece balta ile açılabiliyormuş, 2) tropikal bölgelerde yıllarca yaşıyormuş; bir bitki bir dönümlük toprak kaplayabiliyor, ve 3) seve seve tırmanıyormuş! Hatta günümüzde Florida denen bölgesine giren ilk Avrupalı gezginler, Seminole'lerin bu kabak cinsini, kabuğunu sıyırarak kuruttukları ağaçların etrafına ekerek yetiştirdiklerini, meyvelerin ise ağaçlardan süs gibi nehirlerin üzerinde astıklarını yazmışlar. Cinsi yetiştiren kişilerin anlattıkları değişiyor; bazılarına göre tırmanıyormuş, diğerler ise biraz tırmandığı fakat ilk fırsatta yine yere indiğini diyorlar. Belki cinsine göre değişebilir, şimdiye kadar benimkiler, filizleri tutunacak bir destek bulabilince seve seve tırmanıyormuş.

Dereye gelmeden paçaları sıvama derler de, bahçe ile uraşmak bizi biraz öyle yapmaya zorluyor bence. Dolayısıyla (nazar değmesin) gülleye benzeyen meyvelerini kurumuş kayısı ağacımızdan asılmalarını göremeyi dört gözle bekliyorum! Eğer dalların sonuna kadar uzanıp aşağıya asılmaya başlarsa yine razı olacağım. Devasa beyaz çizgili yapraklarıyla C. moschata cinsleri zaten son derece güzel bitkiler oluyor, özellikle öyle küçük bir bahçeye tam tropikal bir hava katıyorlar. Tam tropikal bir bitkidir zaten. Yetiştirdiğimiz üç kabak türünden en büyük çiçekleri bu tür açıyor ayrıca.