Update From the Urban Jungle: Where’s Avi the Avocado Tree Now?

It’s National Avocado Day and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to write a post featuring the Vintage Kitchen’s favorite green guy – Avi the Avocado!  When I last posted about Avi, it was February. The days were cold, somewhat scattered with snow flurries and spring was struggling to get its foot in the door.  Avi was recovering from an almost fatal bout of too much tap water and too much sun. Here he was in February…

On the road to recovery!

Now we are barreling through mid-summer.  The temperatures outside are hot, humid and oven-like from morning to night. But not for Avi. He’s inside in the air conditioning, living a healthy, happy existence and growing like gangbusters. In fact, he’s growing so much that he outgrew his winter space and had to be transferred to a new perch…

Avi the Avocado mid summer 2018.

Now measuring 3’5″ inches tall, Avi grew a total of three inches in the past six months in his indoor environment. If he continues to grow at such a pace, he should be close to 4′ feet tall by his second birthday near Thanksgiving.  Isn’t it incredible to think that he was just this small seed a year and a half ago…

and now he towers over Deer Hudson like a magic bean stalk…

Avi the Avocado: Age 1 and 1/2

Still a character, Avi detests the outdoor heat and the all-day sunshine, something most avocado plants adore. But not our guy.  He immediately sags and shrivels if he’s left out on the balcony even for just a few minutes.  Instead, he much prefers the bright ambient light inside, the cooler temperature and the clamor of the Kitchen activity.

You can see from the above photo with Hudson that he hasn’t completely recovered from all his ailments yet as there are still a few minor spotting issues on some leaves, but for the most part, he’s back in good shape. After doing some experiments, testing the effects of sun strength and watering frequency, it looks like the thing that causes Avi the most trouble is the salt in the tap water.  I’ll be back to using distilled water again this weekend to see if those remaining brown spots can’t be corrected yet.

I thought Avi would be the winner in the growth spurt department as far as the other urban jungle garden plants go, but Grace the Grapefruit has been the real surprise champion of the summer season. If you have been following her progress on Instagram, you’ll know that she looked like this on March 15, 2018…

Grace, the grapefruit tree started from seed in March 2018
Almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

Today she looks this…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

In five months she grew 9″ inches! I’d like to say that Avi was an encourager in that department but he’s inside and she’s outside so clearly she’s a grower all on her accord.

And then there is Liz Lemon, whom I had forgotten to measure when she first joined the family back in June…

But she now she stands a few inches taller herself these days…

The funny thing about lemon trees is that when their new leaves emerge they are very weak. Emerging utterly exhausted, they are limpy, fragile to the touch and so droopy they look like they are in desperate need of everything – light, water, heat, shade, cool air. But after a few days of this behaviour, they firm right up, turn shades darker and develop a more rigid support system. You can see their first instincts in  Liz Lemon’s tallest section of leaves in the above photograph. But in a few days, they’ll look more like this…

All this confidence in the plant growth department has been a real source of inspiration lately. Every time I chop a vegetable or peel a fruit now, I think about all the plant possibilities. My latest batch of recent seed-starting experiments involved apricots and dates. The apricots weren’t successful – they turned moldy before having a chance to do anything exciting. But the dates, now they were a different story. I’m pleased to announce just this week our newest member of the garden emerged…

A Medjool date palm seedling! And she brought along a flower friend to join her (the green spike is the date palm).

I can now understand how Luther Burbank kept going and growing year after year. Nature  is fascinating if you take some time to really study it and see it. In November, when Avi turns two, I’ll share another update on the whole garden gang to see what sort of progress has been made. By then we’ll have a name picked out for the date palm too. In the meantime, if you are celebrating the day with guacamole or avocado toast, stuffed shells or just simple slices in a summer salad, I hope you enjoy all the lovely attributes of your avocado. Luther believed that flowers and plants made people better, happier and more helpful. “They are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul,” he believed. Exactly. Well said Luther!

If you’d like to learn how to grow your own Avi, refer this post here. If you missed the post on 20th-century botanist, Luther Burbank and the potato he made famous, catch up here.

Cheers to seeds that turn into food that turn into gardens all over again!

Luther Burbank, The Reliable Russet and Everyone’s Favorite Way to Eat A French Fry {1970’s Style}

They come with names that sound like 1970’s rock bands… Bodega Red, Arran Victory, British Queen, Golden Wonder, Bellarosa.  Or like types of prize-winning chickens… German Butterball, Champion, Adirondack Red, Tyson.  Some even sound like certain breeds of dairy cows… Shetland Black, Royal Jersey, Blue Bell, Annabelle, Cream of the Crop.

But today we are not talking about chickens or cows or headliner music. Instead,  today we are talking about potatoes. All those names previously discussed are specific types of one of the most consumed foods on the planet- the noble and nourishing potato.  With more than 5,000 varieties in the world, you might think that it would be hard for one lone potato type to stand out in his vast tuber family of brown, round, knobby eyed dirt dwellers.  But there is actually one big-time celebrity in the batch – a spotlight stealer known around the world –  a superstar of the food and restaurant scene that represents the most frequently consumed potato on the planet.

It is my pleasure to present the story of the wondersously addictive potato variety known as the Burbank Russet. Haven’t heard of it, you say? Ah, but just you wait…you’ll know it. Maybe not by backstory but definitely by bite.

On Friday, it was National French Fry Day and we celebrated with a homemade batch of Russet potato french fries in honor of the guy who created them. Meet Luther Burbank, 19th-century American botanist extraordinaire…

Luther grew up in Massachusetts in the 1850’s playing with seed balls in his mother’s garden instead of playing with sports balls in his farm neighborhood. His interest in botany from the time he was a youngster fueled his curiosity for plant cultivation, a field of study that would eventually turn into a lifelong career. Throughout his childhood and into early adulthood, Luther tinkered around with seed starting and plant breeding.  Although it was a laboriously slow process, most often times ending up in disappointment, Luther came by this area of study naturally. His mother also shared his interest in gardening and the two of them would happily spend hours working in the garden, talking about the life stages of various plants.

The plant world was a playground to Luther, something that represented creativity and freedom from set rules and rigid disciplines. He had aspirations to one day have his own farm in California where he would grow vegetables and flowers for the retail market and try his hand at growing new breeds of plant life. In his early 20’s, he started experimenting with potatoes.  But developing a new variety wasn’t as easy as you might think.  Potatoes are peculiar things. They can be regenerated in two ways – through seeds or eyes. Either method produces similar results or slightly different results in the form of mutations or sports each time off-spring are generated.  It is difficult to determine at the onslaught of a growing project how the potatoes will turn out at the end of the project. More often than not the experimentation stage for Luther in trying to cultivate a new variety was long and finicky.

If you have never seen how a potato grows, this is a good illustration. Plant above the ground and lots of potatoes nestled together below ground. Image from the 1893 L.L.May & Company Seed Catalog featuring Northern Potatoes.

But in 1873 gratification came, finally, to Luther’s ruddy, soil-covered hands. One day in his 24th year, Luther went out into the field to dig his latest sample crop, half expecting to uncover the same old story of growing the exact same plant he started out trying not to grow. But this time, something was different.  Instead of digging up an ordinary round potato, Luther pulled a tuber out of the ground that was twice as big and twice as long. It was reddish-brown in color and hefty in weight. A totally different specimen than the parent potatoes he had started this most recent batch with.  Success at last! His first genuinely original new potato had emerged.

He christened this new masterpiece the Burbank Russet and immediately sold it for $125. Was that enough money for Luther to retire early to his California dream farmhouse and garden? Not quite yet, but that’s not important to this story.  Money never mattered to Luther, only the science that stood behind it. He made a new potato and that was pretty motivating stuff to keep his heart in the game and his hands in the soil.

Luther’s Burbank Russet was an exciting and innovative new addition to the agricultural market for its time because of its size. Almost twice as large as typical potatoes of that era, it also boasted an adaptable consistency (good for baking, mashing and frying) and was more disease resistant to common blights that affected many potato crops around the world. But after it was introduced in the late 1800’s, it took some time for the Burbank Russet to catch on. The US government initially started farming it in Oregon and from there it slowly spread to neighboring states and then the region and then the rest of the country.   Eventually, it became the best-loved potato cultivator in the US.

Russet potato farmers in 1940’s Idaho.

Farmers loved it because it was easy to grow and held up well in both shipping and storage. Once it became a successful and abundant crop, the food industry got on board. Its size, consistency and cooking adaptability made it an ideal food product for both general household consumers as well as commercial food companies and restaurants.

Although the actual cooking process of making French fries – cutting strips of potatoes and frying them in fat – had been around in France and Belgium since the 1700’s, it wasn’t until a valuable American discovery was made in the 1930’s that fries started to take hold as an American food staple. This important discovery was that french fries froze well and could be reheated easily while still maintaining the same shape, taste and texture.  In the early days of refrigeration, this was exciting!  This mere fact opened up opportunities for the retail, transportation and restaurant industries as french fries could now be shipped around the country in both frozen and fresh forms.

A midcentury newspaper ad for McDonald’s french fries.

By the time hamburger stands started popping up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, french fries became a main attraction at the drive-in burger stand as well as the family dinner table.

A vintage frozen french fry ad from the 1960’s. Photo courtesy of itsjustoldpaper on Etsy.

The novelty of enjoying french fries both at home and at restaurants offered plenty of potential in the form of culinary creativity.   In mid-century America, the common condiments for them were simple… ketchup (or catsup, however you prefer!) and salt.

A 1955 advertisement for French Fries featuring Hunt’s catsup.

But by the 1970’s, these little potato favorites were garnering more international gourmet attention. Common toppings and condiment companions of the disco-era included the following…

…paprika, cracked black pepper, parmesan cheese, malt vinegar, crushed herbs, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard,  salt and a special mayonnaise/mustard mixed combo variation. In addition to frying, it also became much more commonplace, especially in the latter decades of the 20th century, to oven bake freshly cut fries. This method of cooking was believed to be a “healthier” version since it involved less oil and a  tamer cooking experience (no vats of hot fat to contend with!) as opposed to traditional deep-fry methods.

Because a lot of people tend to think it is easier to go to a fast food restaurant and buy a serving or two of fries or grab a box of frozen ones from the grocery store, we made the oven-baked variation for this post to prove how simple, quick and easy it is to take a fresh potato and turn it into a delicious hot french fry  in less than 30 minutes. This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking (1975 edition) cookbook and was a breeze to make. Literally, it took 5 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to bake,  which makes it a fast side dish for your summer burgers.

Oven “French-Fried” Potatoes (serves 1-2)

1 large russet potato (scrubbed)

1/8 cup olive oil

A generous sprinkling of sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice potatoes lengthwise into long  1/4″ sticks (you can do this by hand or by using the julienne setting on your vegetable slicer. Either way try to keep each stick as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Lay the freshly cut sticks between a couple layers of paper towels and pat dry to remove extra moisture, then spread sticks out on an ungreased baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.

Using your hands, toss the potatoes and oil together so that all sticks are coated and spread them back out in the pan as flat as possible.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and flip the fries over and  return back to the oven for an additional 8-10 minutes.  They should look something like this when they are ready…

Remove fries from the baking pan onto a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or any of your favorite spices) and serve immediately.

Inspired by the 1970’s list of approved condiments, I kept thinking while writing this post how fun it would be to have a french fry bar party where guests could pick and choose their own toppings from a wide assortment. So many flavors pair well with potatoes, so the possibilities would be endless as far as dips and dredges, sprinkles and submersibles. The one element of homemade french fries that should always remain constant though is the potato – always use russet potatoes. They are the variety of choice in almost every fast food french fry you’ll ever eat – including McDonald’s whose fries are legendary. And besides, you’ll make Luther happy,  using his version over any other!

Luther never lived to see the ultimate french fry-loving success of his humble potato breed, although he did live a fulfilling gardening life up until the time of his death in the mid-1920’s. He did acquire that dream farm in California that he always wanted…

Luther Burbank’s house as it looked in the 1920’s
Now in 2018, his house is a city park and garden that is open to the public.
Luther Burbank House and Garden, 200 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, CA

And he built a garden where invented new varieties of fruits and flowers and vegetables. We have Luther to thank for cultivating these beauties…

Clockwise from top left: The Plumcot – a mix between plums and apricots, the Fire Poppy, the July Elberta Peach, the Spineless Cactus and the Shasta Daisy

So while he never did see his potatoes bubbling up in oil at the golden arches,  he did see his lifelong passion laid out in the golden hour light of each day into night. Satisfaction was never going to be found in fame or fortune when it came to Luther Burbank. He didn’t care about either of those two things. His happiness lived deep within the dirt – a vast canvas of potential fueled by creativity and curiosity that never ceased to inspire him.

Cheers to Luther for inventing one of the most delicious potatoes in the world. And cheers to all the farmers who keep growing the russets. May they continue to add a bit of indulgence to our diets and serve as a basis for inspiration in our culinary endeavors.

Find out more about Luther and his Santa Rosa, CA garden park here.  Find the vintage Joy of Cooking cookbook in the shop here. 

If you guys have any favorite toppings or condiments that you prefer on your french fries please post them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

A Year and 91 Days: The Life and Times of Avi the Avocado

Two days before Thanksgiving, not last year, but the year before, a sandwich was made and a seed was started. The sandwich was a smashed collaboration of avocado and sauteed kale, ricotta cheese and caramelized onions which turned out great and became a repeat recipe for awhile, but the real star of the show was the seed. On that day, November 22nd, 2016 a little life began.

Reminiscent of elementary school science classes, the avocado pit (actually called a berry) from the sandwich-making endeavor got cleaned up and pierced with toothpicks. Resting on the rim of a glass while partially submerged in water, it sat there half-hovering for days and then weeks and then months.  Absolutely nothing happened.  The holiday season came and went. We celebrated New Year’s and middle month birthdays and our first snow in the ending week of January.  But in the land of the avocado, nothing was changing except regular refills of water in the glass. It was such uneventful gardening I didn’t even take photographs.

Heading into the first week of February (week 9), I thought perhaps my avocado seed was a dud and was ready to abandon the project altogether. But magically, almost as if the little seed had read my thoughts, a crack in the pit opened up one morning. Something was happening, at long last! Days later a tap root started reaching out like a diver heading towards the bottom of the sea. And then things really escalated. Every day, it grew longer and longer until little root tentacles started filling the bottom of the glass.  Satisfied with itself, it turned its attention skyward and from the center of the pit, a long slender green shoot started reaching for the stars.

Drinking about a 1/4 cup of water a day, it grew almost a 1/2″ inch every morning. When it passed 12 inches” in height and grew its first set of leaves, I named this little guy growing with such gusto, Avi, and welcomed him into the family. For most of the Spring, Avi enjoyed his glass of water while taking in the river view from his perch in the window.

As the days grew longer and the temperatures warmed, I introduced to him to the outdoors for a little bit each day. When the hot, humid temperatures of summer in the South took over, he was transferred to a new garden pot filled with potting soil and joined the summer flowers on the balcony. You might remember seeing him from last summer’s post about how to make a mini-compost bin.

There’s Avi on the bottom right corner behind the nasturtiums!

In the lazy summer sun, Avi grew and grew and grew. Towering over the other plants, he looked like a king ruling over his court.

All summer he played a long-standing game with the nasturtiums to see who could climb the furthest.

Avi was the winner! When the seasons changed and the cool rains of Autumn scattered leaves on the balcony garden, Avi welcomed the wet weather.

But when we moved in mid-Fall trouble began. His first few nights went okay. He and Indie liked to watch the city lights come on from his new spot on the new balcony…

but during the day, when the sun was warm and bright, and the birds were floating overhead, Avi started doing peculiar things. Instead of carrying on with his growth spurt, he got limpy and lethargic. A week into his new surroundings, he developed brown spots and then white spots and then crinkly skin. Thinking he was not getting enough water, I doubled up. But soon after, he looked more like a loose umbrella than a young tree. His leaves turned from a colorful shade of lime to a dull blackish green. Tragedy was looming, we both knew it. A week before his first birthday I feared Avi might be on his last legs.

Signals from a troubling time of growing pains.

I brought him inside for a few days, consulted the internet and determined that he either had too much salt built up in his roots, ( a common side-effect of using regular tap water for daily watering) or he was getting too much sun on the new patio. I rinsed his roots in distilled water and gave him a new home in a bigger pot with fresh potting soil. Then he got a new vantage point – a sunny windowsill on top of a low bookshelf.

Avi’s second perch nestled in with pig and pineapple and Hedy Hatstand.

But for two weeks he still looked terrible. So he moved again, this time to a bright corner between two big windows – a spot that gets no direct sunlight but reflects light because of the white wall paint. It also happens to be right next to the kitchen, where I could keep a close eye on him.  To my happiness, Avi flourished once again!  Day by day, his leaves moved higher and higher until they went from vertical back to horizontal. And he started growing again.

Now he’s taller than dear Hudson and happy as a clam. As it turns out, all Avi ever wanted was to be close to the kitchen and out of the sun. Who can blame him?

Back to pretty green leaves and a happy disposition once again!

Today he measures 3′ feet 2″  inches tall and he’s just achieved his longest set of leaves at 12.5″ inches in length. Some gardening experts say that Avi will never produce avocados to eat, but that doesn’t matter, I like him just for the handsome plant that he is. And it’s fun to watch him grow. I hope to see him reach a height of 8-9 feet (maybe taller!), a little indoor arboretum in the making.

If you’d like to grow your own Avi, it’s really simple. Find step by step instructions here. You just need an extra dose of patience in the beginning until the berry cracks open and growing gets underway. Other than regular watering every couple days and eventual transplanting as it grows, avocado plants are easy to care for. Many garden sites say that avocados LOVE sun, but as we learned with Avi’s growing pains, too much sun is indeed, too much, so watch closely as your plant’s personality develops and see what he or she likes best.

On November 22nd, when Avi celebrates his second birthday, we’ll check back in to see how much he has grown in the nine months between now and then.  Maybe he’ll be up to the ceiling!

In the meantime, cheers to Avi and his ability to weather the rigors of adolescence. And cheers to indoor gardening – an activity that’s in-season all year round!

Compost! An Update on the Mini Bin for the Mini Balcony

Mini Compost Bin

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Can you guess where my most unlikely place of  magical secrets was found this week?  In the dirt at the bottom of a plastic bin!

Lady Nature continues to impress and inspire. It’s been 28 days since the birth of the mini compost container and I’m happy to report that a tiny miracle has occurred. When I last wrote of this project it was the beginning… two bowls of kitchen scraps, two bowls of yard materials and one leftover 3lb. plastic container.

A few shakes, 1/4 cup of water and four weeks later we now have compost…

Well… almost! Since it has been up and down spring weather this past month with lots of rain and cooler temperatures, our compost needs maybe about another week or two of good hot sunny weather to fully break down and then it will be ready to feed the potted plants on the patio. Right now my compost looks like this…dark, moist but still a little chunky…

You’ll know when your compost is ready because you won’t be able to identify the original elements in the mixture. I can still see a little bit of egg shells and sticks in my mix, so there is still a some cooking left to be done.

If you remember from the previous post, I cut down all the elements that originally went into the compost in fairly small pieces, which helps break things down faster. I did leave some of the sticks in bigger chunks however for a little aeration but I think in my next batch they’ll get broken up into tiny pieces too.  The smaller the better in this case!

You can see the size difference in the bulk of the contents from Day 1 to Day 28 to understand just how much material was magically broken down…

The bin went from being 3/4 full to now being about 1/4 full – all entirely tended to by nature. Isn’t that amazing? The only help I offered in this month long experiment was to turn the mixture with an old camping spoon once a week which took about five seconds total. Lady Nature and her team of helpers did all the rest.

One of these helpers was a healthy batch of fruit flies (aka vinegar flies). These guys were naturally attracted to the compost bin through the air holes in the lid and made themselves at home within the first week. Tiny and fast flyers, they are tricky to photograph but the arrows point  to a few here…

Like anyone finding out about a cool new place to hang out, the fruit flies called all their friends, threw a bunch of parties and settled in for the month, which was very wonderful of them because they helped break down material too.  As the bin keeps cooking they will eventually leave when it gets too hot – a signal that the compost is ready at last. But for now they are conscientious little cleaner uppers, quiet merrymakers and very good neighbors. You’d never even know they were there. I’d take a fruit fly over a snake ANY day!

Smelling like the forest after a good, clean rain the compost mixture is earthy and rich and lies somewhere along the aromatic scale between a damp basement and a dusty book (which is what you want) not like old food or strong ammonia (which is what you don’t want).  If a particular odor smells too persistent or too strong than your bin is out of balance. But if you stick with the 50/50 method suggested in the original post then everything should be nicely evened out and pleasantly scented when it comes to kitchen and yard waste.

The forecast is scheduled to be hot and dry over the holiday weekend so that should give the bin some extra energy to breakdown the last of the chunkies. Then our compost will be ready to spread.  I’ll check back in next week with an update on the final consistency. Then it is onto batch two  and batch three and batch four and a regular routine of composting by bin and balcony.

If you missed the post on instagram, the nasturtiums started blooming this week in pretty shades of yellow and red. It’s beginning to feel a lot like like summer around here!

Cheers to finding hidden magic!

 

 

 

Save the Monarch: Plant a Milkweed!

milkweed

Last year Ms. Jeannie traveled approximately 13,000 miles via car over the course of 52 weeks. Last year the North American monarch butterfly traveled 3,000 miles via wing over the course of nine weeks. Ms. Jeannie mainly drove around her neighborhood and her city with a few side trips around the state. Butterfly flew halfway across the North American continent, traveling through at least six United States, one Canadian province, and half of Mexico.

monarch3

On average last year Ms. Jeannie traveled about 39 miles a day via car. On average last year, Butterfly traveled 47 miles per day via wing on her two and half month road trip. Ms. Jeannie’s car runs on gasoline which brought her to the fill-up station about 120 times over the course of the year. Butterfly runs on nectar which brought her to the fill-up station about eight times during the course of her journey.

monarch_nectar

Ms. Jeannie’s car is an incredible piece of machinery able to get her from here to there on a whim’s notice.  But Ms. Jeannie’s car is nothing compared to the flying machine that encapsulates the strength and stamina of a migrating monarch. Butterfly’s migration is one of nature’s most epic adventures, which is why you’ll find a photo of her pinned to Ms. Jeannie’s true adventurers board on Pinterest. That’s the place where all of history’s great travelers and outside-of-the-box thinkers congregate and where Ms. Jeannie heads when she needs a little inspiration.

A partal list of true adventurers. Clockwise from top left: Photographer Imogen Cunningham, Elizabeth Taylor, Monarch Butterfly, Explorer Tom Crean, Aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Explorer Jacques Cousteau. To visit Ms. Jeannie's board and see all the adventurers click the photo.
A partial list of true adventurers… clockwise from top left: photographer Imogen Cunningham, actress Elizabeth Taylor, epic traveler Monarch Butterfly, explorer Tom Crean, aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh and explorer Jacques Cousteau. To visit Ms. Jeannie’s board and see all the adventurers click the photo.

Along with all icons who undertake brave and unbelievable feats there is almost always a strong support system behind them.  Julia Child had her husband Paul, Jacques Cousteau had a research foundation, Anne Frank had her diary. And so it goes with butterflies. Monarch has the milkweed.

Vintage 1953 botanical print of the showy milkweed painted by Mary Vaux Walcott.
This vintage 1953 botanical print of the showy milkweed painted by Mary Vaux Walcott is availiable in Ms. Jeannie’s shop. 

Bright, beautiful and stately in size (up to 6 feet tall!), the milkweed plant is where Butterfly takes refuge. It’s the one place that not only offers a safe and idyllic spot to lay her eggs but it also offers the only source of nourishment to her babies in the form of a food when the wee ones are in the larval stage.

milkweed4

It’s the fill-up station for the winged world delicates!  There used to be billions of monarch butterflies floating around our skies, but now there are only millions. Their significant decline in numbers is due in part to the disappearance of the milkweed plant. Commercial farming and urbanization has cleared the earth in important areas along the migratory trail of the butterflies and the resting spots where they congregate making it increasingly more difficult for monarch butterflies to reach maturity.

monarch1

Not having enough milkweed plants to butterflies is like not having enough gas stations for cars. Each needs the other and each won’t operate without the help of the other.  So this is where you come in… as a cheerleader, support staffer, tribe member and all around champion of the mighty monarch you can make an immediate difference in the life of a winged wonder by planting milkweed seeds in your garden or your balcony flower pots or by scattering seeds in grass lots around your neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if you live in California, or New York, Arizona or Maine all milkweed plantings in all states help one cause. You’ll be sustaining the lives of migrating butterflies as well as assisting other pollinators that bring so much benefit to so many other creatures both in and out of the garden.

milkweed_collage2

There’s also an added bonus to being helpful. Milkweed flowers are beautiful! Available in a range of colors from red orange to pink to pale peach they are named after the milk colored latex coursing through their stems (a defense mechanism), which makes them unattractive to chewing worms.

Vintage Wildflower Guide published in 1948 by Edgar T. Wherry. Read more about this book here.
There was lots of interesting milkweed information in this vintage wildflower guide published in 1948 by Edgar T. Wherry. Read more about this book here.

Much prettier than any gas station or rest stop area for cars, these fill-up stations for butterflies have been around since the 17th century and contain over 140 different varieties. As a family they are known as Asclepias with a petal layout complexity most closely associated to that of orchids.  As one of nature’s most intricate flowers they are made up of a collection of petals on a spray of delicate stems that eventually meet in one main stalk – sort of like the flower head of Queen Anne’s Lace or a loose version of the flowering garlic bulb. Leaves also range in color depending on the variety from silver green to dark emerald.

seed pods!

When the milkweed goes to seed it forms a pod of white silky hairlike plumes that launch on a breezy day, spreading seed around the neighborhood like pin-sized snowdrops. Imagine a whole gigantic field blowing in the wind at once – it would a veritable summer storm of beauty!

Easy to grow and care for, you can find seeds for under $2.00 a pack at Botanical Interests (Ms. Jeannie’s favorite seed company) or at your local garden center. March – May are perfect times to plant Milkweed in time for fall harvest and fall migration.

Seed starting indoors!
Seed starting indoors!

If you are a travel lover like Ms. Jeannie, you’ll appreciate the need to help our fellow flying friends get to where they need to go. Road trippers need to look out for one another on the highways of life, so Ms. Jeannie hopes that you will join her this summer in the great garden challenge – Milkweed for the Monarchs! Throughout the spring and summer she’ll be keeping you updated on her butterfly garden’s progress. It would be incredible if you did too:)

To see just how exciting it is to help and host butterflies, visit Ms. Jeannie’s 2013 archives when the season of the swallowtails unfolded week by week right here on the blog.

Happy helping dear readers!

*All butterfly photos courtesy of pinterest.

 

 

 

Fernbank in Autumn: A Trip to the Rose Garden

A magical visit to the rose garden at Fernbank.
A magical visit to the rose garden at Fernbank.

The award-winning writer and gardener Sydney Eddison once said that gardens were a form of autobiography. How true! You pick your favorite plants and flowers, you prune and pluck or you let it go and grow, you decide neatly clipped and ordered or wild and whimsical, you choose colors, height, dimensions, you choose careful maintenance or natural ease. Essentially you write a love story with your landscape.

Ms. Jeannie was thinking about all this the other day when she finally (after many months of waylaid attempts) managed to visit the rose garden at Fernbank,  Atlanta’s natural history museum.

Blooms aflutter in all directions.
Blooms aflutter in all directions.

What a gorgeous marvel this site was! Named in honor of Robert L. Staton, a local gardening enthusiast,  Robert built this story of a garden in the 1980’s to not only explore his own passion of cultivating an incredible flower but also to provide an educational tool for rose enthusiasts around the world. Autobiography is right, dear readers!

 

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The Fernbank rose garden is one of only three gardens in the United States that serves as a testing ground for rose varietals in accordance with the American Rose Society, which makes it an intriguing platform for experts and novice hobbyists as well as a place of beauty for the community.

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Laid out on two sides of a big lawn joined by a paved walkway, over 1,300 rose bushes live in long raised beds, bordered by bricks and grass alleyways.  Being that it is now mid-October, Ms Jeannie didn’t know what she was in for in the bloom department. She thought she might be missing the season entirely, but was so happy to be proven wrong. At every turn there was something lovely to look at…

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Roses came in a rainbow of colors and caught the light in all sorts of dramatic ways…

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Such a visual feast for the eyes!  Stately buildings belonging to the museum and a view of the neighbor’s house next-door were tucked into the landscape and lent a fairy tale magic to the whole setting.

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Even Indie, Ms. Jeannie’s travel companion, was overwhelmed with the spectacle of it all.  Not only was this her first walk-around trip in Atlanta but it was also an exercise on how to behave in a city environment.  She was a good little pup through it all despite the enticing distractions (so many squirrels!) and the fast moving cars.  But it also was a trip not without its perils…

Dog down. Thorn in the paw!
Thorn in the paw!

Oh poor thing! Some quick attention and one freshly dug hole later…

(Oops! Sorry Fernbank!)
(Oops! Sorry Fernbank!)

and she was back on the trail again.

Rumor has it that many a marriage proposal has occurred in the garden, and Ms. Jeannie can definitely understand why.  Clearly Robert Staton was a romantic on a mission.  The garden seduces you at every chance.  From varietal signs…

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to traditional symbolism…

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petals pull at your heart from all directions.

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And now Ms. Jeannie is so thoroughly inspired to start her own assorted rose garden she can barely stop daydreaming about it all. More to come on that front soon!

In the meantime, in honor of such a magical place Ms. Jeannie is having a little sale just for her blog readers on anything floral (including all things photographed with flowers!) in her Etsy shop. Stop by and have a look here. Use coupon code FLOWERSFORALL to receive a 25% off discount.

Early Auditions!

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This week in the garden there has been a lot of activity in the creepy crawly department. As it turns out Mother Nature was holding early auditions for her haunted garden tour that she’s hosting at the end of October. Naturally you have to pick the baddest of the bad and the most wicked of the wicked, and while there were a lot (a whole yard full) of entrants who came to try out, in the end it came to four who really made an everlasting impression.  Here’s the cast of the 2014 Haunted Hollow Garden tour…

Most Haunting:

Camouflage of the most intellectual kind;)
Camouflage of the most intellectual kind;)

…goes to Melvina, a 6″ inch long praying mantis. Six inches dear readers! That’s as long as Ms. Jeannie’s hand!

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Most Scary

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…goes to Pistachio, the poisonous saddleback caterpillar who auditioned with a hot pepper plant prop. Pistachio was quite cute in all his ferocity with a costume that  looked like a cross between a scrub brush and a diseased finger.

If Frankenstein had a pet he may choose something like this!
If Frankenstein had a pet he may choose something like this!

If you come in physical contact with him Pistachio will not hesitate to sting you with his bristles – which then causes a welted rash for days. Luckily Ms. Jeannie does not know this from experience! While everything about him from his pudgy belly color to his markings makes you want to touch him – it’s his “eyes” looking at you from all directions that warn against it.

Most Creative…

He might win the award for most crafty costume!

goes to Roberto the red footed cannibalfly for his cool name and his cool conglomeration of costumes.  Roberto couldn’t decide on which bug he wanted to be for Halloween so he decided to incorporate elements from all four of his favorites for a really spooky creation…part bumblebee and part beetle with fly eyes and dragonfly wings…

there's a lot of time and energy taht when in to building this costume!
There’s a lot of time and energy that when into concepting this costume!

Roberto was sure to incorporate the best features from each bug. He even threw in some spiky hair and extra long legs for  added panache:)

And last but not least, the winner of the…

Most Creepy (but somewhat cute) category…

A family portrait!
A family portrait!

…goes to Wilomena the Wolf Spider and her four dozen back-pack babies! That’s right gang, all those little dots on her back are the kiddos. There was no holds barred when it came to Wilomena’s costume –  this year, she was involving the whole family. Nothing like bringing your 57 kids along to make an everlasting impression:)

That’s a  lot of eyes looking at you!

Wolf spiders are the only spiders that carry their kids around like this.
Wolf spiders are the only spiders that carry their kids around like this.

Here’s a close-up if you really want to see how that whole baby carriage works…

photo via pinterest
photo via pinterest

This picture gives Ms. Jeannie goosebumps every time!

Is Mother Nature holding auditions for a Haunted Hollow tour in your neck of the woods too? If so, You have to let Ms. Jeannie know who your winners are. Maybe next year the whole cast of characters can hit the road and go on a country-wide tour!