Archive for November, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Forced Bulbs: Beauty Out of Season

Forced bulbs at The Cloisters Crocus chrysanthus Narcissus tazzetta

Above, from left to right: Forced bulbs in coldframes at The Cloisters; Crocus chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’; Narcissus tazetta ‘Inbal,’ (paperwhites) in Cuxa Cloister.

Every year, by the time February approaches I have the winter doldrums and the beauty of spring is long forgotten. The days become shorter, darker, and extremely colder. It is at this time that my senses need to be reminded why I ever decided to become a gardener. Forced spring bulbs during the winter months provide that reminder wonderfully. Just when I think there is no possible way to endure another day of winter, the first pot of forced paperwhites, Narcissus tazetta, is unveiled at The Cloisters.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Rotten-ripe: The Medlar Goes Soft

medlar fruit The medlar tree in a detail from the tapestry <em>The Unicorn is Found</em>

Left: Medlar in fruit below the west wall of Bonnefont Cloister Garden; right: a medlar tree in a detail from the tapestry The Unicorn is Found. Learn more about the Unicorn tapestries.

Well into November, long after other autumnal fruits have fallen to the ground, the small greenish-brown fruits of the medlar tree (Mespilus germanica) cling to its crooked boughs. The fruit is not harvested until the leaves fall, when the medlars can be easily plucked, although they are still too hard and acerbic to be eaten out of hand. Experts differ as to whether exposure to a few degrees of frost, which does the fruit no harm, is important to the long ripening process to come. Once gathered, the fruits are placed stem-side down in straw and stored in a cool, dark place for several weeks until they are rotten-ripe and the pulp has turned into a delicious mush—a process known as bletting. (Lee Reich, Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, 1992).  Read more »

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Nightshades

Woody nightshade in fruit and flower Mandrake in fruit Henbane flower

Above, left to right: Woody nightshade in fruit and flower; Mandrake in fruit; Henbane flower.

Among the plants associated with witchcraft in antiquity and the Middle Ages are a number of poisonous and narcotic species that are chemically related to one another, including the mandrakes (Mandragora officinarum and M. autumnalis), henbane, (Hyoscyamus niger), thorn apple (Datura metel) and deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna). All are members of the nightshade family, the Solanaceae. Read more »