Apparently some groundhog saw his shadow today. I don't have too much faith in this Punxsutawney Phil creature but if winter continues like this it really wouldn't be that bad, would it? My little ivy is certainly enjoying itself. Look at the little baby leaves!
I realize that ivy grows pretty much anywhere but it's encouraging on the second day of February to see a little new growth. Yes! That's what happens soon! Even if the groundhog said otherwise. While we're on this subject, does anyone else get nervous that they'll wake up on the day after Groundhog Day and everything will be eerily the same and it'll be just like Groundhog Day the movie? Except this time it's real life and there's no Bill Murray or Andie MacDowell and you actually do have to live one day over and over? It's a legitimate fear, I think.
Ivy's pretty great, though. It's always green and grows in the shade, it can grow up things or on the ground, and if it grows someplace you don't want it, you can just gently lift its little (strong!) feet and put it where you want it to go. The only thing I do to mine is to coax it up the fence and away from the tree. So easy! For a lovely article about ivy, I suggest this.
But ivy isn't the only thing growing - this little one is getting bigger and bigger:
Feverfew! It looks like a weed because it pretty much is, but I did get some pretty white flowers out of it last fall. There used to be sunflowers in this pot and this makes me miss them. I'm definitely growing sunflowers this year because they're so HUGE. I love being dwarfed by my plants.
And soon it will be time to start planting seeds! Groundhog, even if you are right about six more weeks of winter it doesn't matter to me since I can start growing things inside my nice warm house.
Today I thought I'd go in a bit of a different direction: history! I've been looking through a book about the history of botany and I thought I'd share a bit. This book is called Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution: A Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670 and is by Agnes Arber. The first edition is from 1912 but I have the second edition which is from 1953. Ms. Arber covers lots of different things in this book, from Aristotelian botany to how the herbal was used all over Europe to the history of plant description and classification. Since I don't want to bore you to death, I thought I'd just show you some of the pictures because it's pretty uncanny how good and accurate most of them are.
First off, an herbal is a book explaining the uses and descriptions of plants. Many of these focused on plants that were used for medicinal purposes but later they moved more towards classification. The Greeks wrote the first herbals (that we know of) but starting in the 15th century, as all that knowledge was being re-discovered during this time called the Renaissance, Europeans picked up on it too, with expanded herbals and even early plant classification. The later drawings ("later" being the 17th century) are meticulous and sometimes include animals that often live near the plants. They also usually draw not only the plant but also the roots and sometimes the nearby habitat.
The earlier drawings often include details from a well-known story or myth about a certain plant. Take the narcissus, for example:
Now this doesn't necessarily look like the narcissus flower, but the point here is clearly to illustrate the myth of Narcissus -- you know, the guy who can't stop staring at his reflection and eventually dies (of...starvation? I was never too clear on that one.) But I just love the fact that someone thought narcissus should have little Narcissuses (?) growing out of each flower. In 1491. Because...obviously.
It's also interesting to see how the pictures evolved over time. Here's a water lily from 1499:
And here's a water lily from 1585:
I think it's pretty amazing how much more detailed the one from 1585 is in comparison with the one that's less than a hundred years older. But the earlier one definitely gets the shape of the flowers and the leaves right; I'm thinking especially the shape of the leaves, which to me are obviously water lilies. The later illustration retains that familiar leaf shape but adds more detail.
But the really interesting ones are the ones that are super accurate. Here's a strawberry plant:
It totally looks like a strawberry! Right down to the fuzzy stems and serrated leaves. And here's a potato:
I like this one because whoever drew it knew to include both the plant and the roots with the potatoes. And if you've ever dug potatoes out of the ground you probably know that that's basically what the roots look like. And of course the flowers and leaves are highly and accurately detailed.
Check out this giant iris!
It's towering over that bird! Just kidding. I assume realism (in size, not details) was not this artist's main concern (as Ms. Arber so delicately puts it, "the want of realism") but the addition of the water bird shows that irises grow in moist areas like riverbeds and ponds. Pretty smart.
The classifications are also interesting, and I couldn't resist including this one:
These are all grouped together because they are scorpion-like in appearance. And they really do look like scorpion tails to me. Not my first thought but maybe this person really liked drawing scorpions and finally had an excuse to draw one.
Lastly I'll leave you with one more, and it's one of my favorites:
I can't really describe this better than Ms. Arber herself: "The picture of a lime-tree, in which birds of unusual aspect are perching..." (page 201). Unusual aspect indeed! She goes on to note that if the leaves, trunk and grass were actually to scale with the man-birds we would lose a lot of important detail. But I like to think that the man-birds are actually that big. Terrifying! Although from their expressions (especially the one in the middle) I have to assume they are very mild-mannered creatures.
I hope my little foray into botanical history wasn't too boring. Hey, at least you got some man-birds out of it.
To make sure that I'm not doing anything illegally, here's the full citation for the book, where all these pictures and quotes come from: Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution: A Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670 by Agnes Arber, M.A., D.Sc., F.R.S., F.L.S. Second edition, rewritten and enlarged. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1953.
Yet another flower that blooms before most others. I'm going to try to plant some crocus bulbs and see what happens - you're supposed to plant bulbs in the fall. But last year I planted some in January and most of them grew beautifully and added some nice spring color. I often forget about crocuses (I have some sort of idea in my head that I used to hate them as a child but I can't for the life of me figure out why) but now I think they are pretty and are much more than just Easter flowers. And they're where saffron comes from! So I think if you grew enough crocuses you could harvest their stigmas (three per flower according to wikipedia) and dry them and have saffron! But please no one do that without checking a few other sources since there could definitely be important details that I've missed and I don't want anyone poisoning themselves by eating crocuses.
2. Moving on! I don't often pick up Grid but I actually think it's not a bad magazine and it's definitely good for keeping abreast of environmental/gardening goings on. And here's what I saw today: a workshop this weekend on gardening on your roof! I've always been curious about gardening on roofs - we have a flat section of roof that would be great for a garden. Unfortunately, the roof is leaky and since I do not own my house I'm reluctant to do something that could cause the whole roof to fall in, but it's definitely an idea I've stored away for the future. As the above link points out, green roofs are really good for lots of things, from rain runoff to temperature control for both your house and the surrounding area. Win win! I'm not going to this but I'd thought I'd share in case anyone is interested. Do let me know if you go!
3. Lastly, I'm having a bit of trouble and am wondering if anyone could help. That reads like I'm about to say something very personal and slightly embarrassing, but actually this is about my CSA. Ha! I signed up for the Greensgrow winter CSA which started back in December. I really like it! I went in on a Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA share (with three other people) when I lived in West Philly about five years ago but even though I was only getting a quarter of a share each week I still struggled to eat all those veggies. But it was also awesome because it forced me to eat weird vegetables that I wouldn't have tried on my own and definitely made me eat healthier. The Greensgrow CSA is every two weeks and comes with milk in a returnable glass bottle (YES), a different cheese every time and a choice of dairy (Pequea Farms yogurt, which is easily the most delicious yogurt I've ever tasted, a dozen eggs, butter or tofu.) I've tried to eat everything each time but I'm failing. Last Saturday we got acorn squash, onions, carrots, kale, beets and more that I can't think of right now. We roasted the squash and sauteed the kale with garlic and onions and ate some carrots with hummus and have yet to do anything with the beets and the rest of it. When I looked at the languishing veggies this morning, the carrots were shriveled into little orange witch fingers (you know what I mean?) I'm doing this with my boyfriend so it's two of us eating and it's still hard. Does anyone have any tips? I seem to end up getting home from work starving and staring at some root vegetables that I'd have to roast for an hour and end up eating something like tortilla chips instead. We're going to try planning some meals (something we both loathe but maybe this will be some sort of good lesson or something) and also picking up things like bread and meat to make more complete meals. I should note that Greensgrow has a meat option but with my previous CSA experience I assumed it would be pounds and pounds of meat and I don't even like meat that much. Turns out its a very reasonable amount of meat...next time. So...any tips? Other than "be less lazy" cause I already know I have to do that.
Happy 2012! Now that it seems that winter has finally arrived I am looking for ways to add some life and color to my little empty (of plants) back yard. Luckily I have the ivy left over from a previous tenant growing around the tree and up the back fence to at least provide some green during the winter. But I want color! If I can't surround myself with millions of tomato plants (slight exaggeration) then I at least want something to brighten it up out there a bit.
I know there are lots of plants that can handle winter outside but the majority are green (hello, evergreens) and while I love the color green with all my heart I just need something a little brighter in these dark months*. Enter: witch hazel!
Witch hazel is pretty cool. It has leaves, but like other deciduous plants they fall off in the winter. Then the bare branches produce yellow (or orange or red) flowers, meaning that they flower when every other deciduous plant just looks dead. Plus they're bright and weird-looking which is instantly a plus in my book.
There are different kinds of witch hazel, all in the genus hamamelis. My knowledge of witch hazel is not that extensive but there are varieties of the plant that have originated in the United States, Japan and China. This one is hamamelis virginiana, one of the species that originated in the US:
Anyway, I'm not showing you my own photos because, well, I don't have any witch hazel. Yet. I'd like to plan a trip to this nursery in New Jersey because they have lots of different witch hazel cultivars.
I don't see too much witch hazel around Philly but it grows wild in the woods. I remember seeing some in the Wissahickon one February or March a few years back. Something about those bright, weird flowers really gets me. Someday -- someday! -- I'll have a witch hazel to call my own.
*This is how dedicated I am to the color green: Once, about 6 or 7 years ago, I was flying back to college and was at a newsstand looking for trashy magazines to read on the flight. One fashion magazine caught my eye (I think it was InStyle?) because it was the "green issue." Now this was before the word "green" became synonymous with "eco-friendly" so I eagerly grabbed the magazine, imagining pages upon pages of green clothes. This is a fashion magazine, right? Well, yeah - imagine my disappointment when I opened it up on the plane and found that it was in fact about recycling and there were absolutely zero pictures of green clothing.