Friday, July 30, 2010

Brookside Gardens and more on the storm...

View from the Japanese Tea House

A few weeks ago, we had an unusually mild summer day, perfect for an impromptu visit to one of my favorite places, Brookside Gardens. I did not plan to take photos, but there were too many pretty scenes to leave unphotographed.

When my 5 year old saw the border in the photo above, she exclaimed, "Mom!! Sister's pie!!!", recalling the rhubarb pie we baked for her older sister's birthday last year. Have you ever seen an edible border like this??!!

Funny story about the photo above. When I saw this lovey-dovey couple, hand in hand, chatting away, I remembered RoseBelle's post about an older couple which reminded her of a Debeers commercial. I watched this couple in adoration, admiring how they had so much to talk about after what appeared to be a good lifetime together. They sat on this bench near us and when we finished with our little rest and walked past them, the woman was on the phone. I overheard her talking about how she and her dad were taking a nice walk at Brookside Gardens!

Do you remember the sniper shootings maybe...7-8 years ago that happened in the DC area? They were targeting innocent people pumping gas or cleaning cars at gas stations? That was right in my neighborhood. I was teaching at the time (the uncle of one of our students was shot and killed by the snipers). We were in lockdown for weeks. Our entire area was freaking out. Quite a few people I knew would literally run from our cars to our homes. The memorial above speaks to this time.

Photos from the Children's Garden below...

I wasn't quite sure what the dark red plumes above were - larger and showier than astilbe, but certainly smaller than ornamental amaranth. The gardener said it was amaranth grown in pots. This is what accounts for the smaller than typical size. She indicated that this might not have been her intention, but a good tip for someone like me who loves amaranth but hasn't the space for it - stunting growth on purpose.

Above and below: I love the shapes, textures, heights, and all the interesting things going on in the Children's Garden. This is totally done right. You could explore this area for hours and make all kinds of pretend.

I am beginning to really take advantage of this beautiful garden. I've posted before on another visit, and also on the landscape photography workshop I took. I love that Brookside Gardens offers beautiful seasonal interest, a greenhouse full of interesting specimens, special exhibits, and children and adult programs. Their Wings of Fancy butterfly show is also an annual event my kids look forward to. We can do the whole thing in a day, or spend the whole day on one thing. Best of all, it's nearby and free. Any of these spots near you?


After composing this post, I received an email from Brookside Gardens updating the serious damage the recent storm had on the gardens. Brookside will probably leave one of the many fallen trees so that visitors can peek into and learn about the underground structure of a giant tree like this one below that ripped up the boardwalk on its way down...

Photo via Brookside Gardens Facebook fan page

Near the end of the message from Brookside:

...While it won't be long before we clean up every broken limb, the long-term effect of this storm will be felt for decades by way of the holes in our tree canopy. While we mourn the loss of our trees, we look forward to the opportunity their loss provides. You gardeners all know that insatiable desire to add new plants to your gardens - you feel it every time you stop at your local garden center, or visit a public garden and find a cool plant you've never seen before..


In my last post, I detailed some of the fun the girls and I had indoors during
the exciting, very brief, and fairly unpredicted storm, but it actually killed
several people in our area, including a neighbor who was the president of our
civic association, an environmental activist and from what I knew, an all-around
amazing guy. Carl was with seven local families near their community garden
plot. They were having a picnic celebrating their second harvest and also to
thank Carl for his leadership in attaining the land and creating the garden.
Carl rode his bike everywhere, including the 2 miles to the picnic. He used a
push mower and helped lead our neighborhood attain a more effective recycling and less
wasteful trash service. He was killed by lightening during the storm.

*I'm purposely not using Carl's full name because I want any searches to direct people to articles written solely about him.


On a lighter note, if that is possible after this fairly depressing post, I am off to a magical land of Spanish Moss and Angel Oaks. Photos will probably follow, as will the opportunity to do the regular blog reading that I have missed so much!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Storm's a-brewing

If this doesn't make you ache for a rain barrel, I don't know what will! Within the first few minutes of a very severe (yet brief) thunderstorm, the rain barrel was completely full. If we have a dry week, this volume will keep my vegetables watered. You would not have wanted to be caught outside during this very short storm we just had!

Edited to add the photo below: 20 minutes after the storm started, the sun's rays beat down upon us once again (we had another 100+degree day today). Out and about, the storm appears to have been more serious than I thought!

Below, the 12-year old bracing herself with her skateboarding helmet during the thunder and power outage. After she realized I was taking pictures, she began running around avoiding my camera. Maybe because she still had that nasal strip on her nose that we were playing with earlier in the day. Maybe because she was frantically busy preparing a "disaster pack" (canned food, her favorite stuffed animal, her cell phone, etc.).

Here she is, running upstairs to avoid the camera because she's not too old to pack her favorite things during a scary thunderstorm, but too old to want any physical record of it! Too precious.

Here's the 5 year old, not too embarrassed to show us what she put in her disaster pack. She's wrapped in Nana's blanket (which prevents bad dreams), and in her box - a wind-up flashlight, 2 cheese sticks, a juice box, and a picture she'd just drawn. What else would one possibly need?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Got a match?

...neither do I. But I do have these cute little matchbooks containing seeds. I wish I could say I came up with this ridiculously creative gem myself, but I followed the guru herself (or at least her team of gurus), Martha. Here are directions if you'd like to make these adorable seed packets, originally intended to be wedding favors.

Readers who responded to my giveaway last week (now closed) will receive their packages in the mail soon!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Growing, buying, cooking Chinese long bean

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. This is how you'll spot Chinese long beans at the market. These ridiculously long beans are cut into short lengths before cooking.

This relative of the cow pea is also known as the yardlong bean. Though it's possible for these green beans to reach a yard long, they should be harvested when they're tender and just about 12 inches. You get a big bang for your buck with these beans. They're such vigorous growers in the heat of the summer that they may require daily harvesting/checking. Long beans grow in pairs and dangle down interestingly from the plant, making the harvesting easy (and probably fun for kids too!). The vining plants should have a trellis or some other sort of structure to climb and will happily grow to about 10 feet in length. In milder zones, a string to climb might be sufficient, while in a warmer area, a sturdier trellis is necessary.


Chinese cooks tend to stir fry these beans and prefer them to a Western green bean because they're sturdier and hold up to stronger sauces and the high heats of a wok. In restaurants, they're often deep fried in oil first - till they just begin to wrinkle up, then drained, and finally stir fried. The frying in the first step helps to preserve the sweetness and bright color of the bean. The recipe below is a typical long bean stir fry. My kids, who detest anything not a broccoli (go figure), LOVE Chinese long beans cooked this way. In fact, I'm usually looking at a near empty plate by the time dinner is ready since the kids come in stealthily snatching beans while the rest of dinner is being prepared. I'll allow this, since they're actually eating something green, but I just need to find out where they're wiping their hands!

***Though I'll still give a general idea, I'm no longer giving exact measurements for ingredients in my recipes unless it's truly important. Much of Chinese cooking is based on experience and personal taste, so getting out the measuring cups and spoons and freaking out about 1/8th of a teaspoon here and there is a waste of time and effort.***

Chinese Long Beans with Garlic and Dried Olive (serves 4 as a side dish)

About 4 Chinese dried olives*, chopped
About 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 large handfuls of Chinese long beans, cut into 2-3 inch lengths
Soy sauce to taste
Small pinch of sugar (optional)

Stir fry beans in oil in a hot wok until slightly wrinkled. Add olives and garlic. Continue to stir fry until garlic begins to turn golden. Add a drizzle of soy sauce and a pinch of sugar (if desired...a tiny pinch of sugar often balances the dish in Chinese cooking). Stir and serve.

*Chinese dried olives are available at specialty markets and at most Asian supermarkets. They're a bit different from a Mediterranean olive in that they're almost like a preserved plum - a touch tart. Beans are delicious fried with just garlic, but if you can find the olives, they'll make the dish.

But wait! There's more!!! Act now and I'll send you a few seeds just for being a valued reader!!! See my last post for details!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

1st blogiversary giveaway!

Chinese wax gourd seeds. The melons develop a waxy coating when fully mature, hence the name. These are also called winter melons, are not sweet, and are typically used in soups.

In celebration of a year of my gardening ramblings and of the people who humor me by actually reading about them, I'm giving away seeds. I'm really humbled and thankful for the people who visit this silly little blog. I've loved meeting fellow bloggers this past year! I could go on about all the meaningful ways in which my life has been affected since I've created this blog exactly one year ago, but then I'd be taking up the space in which I could be discussing this seed giveaway!

Daikon radish seeds. These end up looking like gigantic white carrots and taste much milder than your typical radish. If you have dim sum this weekend, you might want to try the delicious savory radish cakes.

As a small token of appreciation, I'm going to send the first 25 people who e-mail me their names and addresses to wkspray at gmail dot com a sampling of seeds in super cute seed packets I made (I'll post on this later on). Here are the terms: though I've listed the variety of what I have below, I get to choose about 8-10 little seed packets for you. If there's something you really want, I MAY be able to accommodate, based on my limited supply. Just let me know. Also, when I say little seed packet, I mean little seed packet. Don't expect enough to fill your garden next year. Think of it as a sampling of trial sized seed packets.

Chinese long bean seeds - these plants grow on vines. The beans grow by twos and reach ridiculous lengths - they're also known as yard-long beans. They should be picked young and tender though. They are tremendous stir fried!

I know some people do not need/want seeds - if this is you and you've reached this point in this post, please know how much I appreciate you! It's kept me shamelessly posting for 12 months and counting!


All seeds are organic. Most are heirloom. Some are saved by me or my father. Some are purchased. Most are saved for this year. Some are from last year but still have good germination rates.

Chinese wax gourd
Asian sweet melon (like a small honeydew melon)
Daikon radish
Chinese long bean
Thai eggplant
Luffa gourd (angled)
Luffa gourd (smooth - can be eaten or left to dry for sponges)
Malabar spinach (Chinese vining spinach)
Flowers: Russian mammoth sunflower, cleome, salvia, gomphrena, marigold
Broccoli: early purple sprouting, green calabrese sprouting
Peppers: sweet banana, Thai burapa, sweet red,
Charentais melon (a small sweet orange melon)
Imperial star artichoke, marketmore 76 cukes, butternut squash, tomatillo verde
Selection of herbs: cilantro, giant of Italy parsley, Genovese basil, fine verde basil,
Selection of lettuces: lettuce mix, Swiss chard rainbow lights, mache

Thursday, July 15, 2010

GBBD - July 2010

Wow, is it July already? Lilies confirm yes. Visit May Dreams Gardens to see what others have blooming on this month's Bloom Day. Don't forget to come back here - first ever GIVEAWAY to be announced very soon!!!

My 5-year old said the orange lily looked like a pumpkin squeezing out weenies. I hope I didn't just ruin it for you - but isn't it so true?
From a bargain bag of daylilies used to dot the slope in my backyard. These were all planted in slightly amended clay (virtually brick!) and rocks in mostly shade and after a few years, are finally starting to thrive.

The peach-colored sibling of the pardancanda above.

A very reliable and very pretty shrub rose.

The trifecta for every long-blooming perennial garden - echinacea, moonbeam coreopsis, and Russian sage.

Echinops - ehhh...comme ci comme ca.

Verbena - I love it!

Finally, clematis crystal falls - currently reblooming and color-changing...

I hope your flower garden is full of color, life and constant reblooms and free of rust, mildew and Japanese beetles.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Serious harvest, funny carrots

Yesterday it was 104 degrees in DC. Today, it was predicted to reach at least 100 again. This was why I decided to do some morning gardening. Despite the insect horrors that I posted about the other day, I can't be kept out of the garden. I told myself to stop being such a freaking baby about it and decided that should I happen to meet my nemesis in the garden, I would meet it with nerves of steel (anyway, the de-hornwormer-for-hire sleeps in until noon these days, so I was on my own). I'm happy to report that I did not find any additional hornworms today, though one of my gorgeous Japanese black trifeles was eaten in half.

I found the carrot bed had to be cleaned up. The goal each year is to sow seeds generously and thin later. Each year, I forget this task. The thing is, I've never been successful with carrots. This short post from last year shows what I typically "harvest". The carrots this season are in my "magic garden" where everything grows - and grow they did. I never got around to thinning them and then decided they'd probably produce nothing edible since they'd be too crowded. I left them for dead. I don't know what my problem is - perhaps it's a lack of confidence - maybe in myself - maybe in my little garden. When I actually dug up my garlic the other day, there were bulbs. And when I pulled the carrots today...there were carrots! I'm pleased enough to be comfortable with calling this a harvest (even without the quotes around it).

In addition, I may have grown some real winners as well!


Most Ambitious Carrot

Suicidal Carrot

Carrot Most Likely to Get Around (in the literal sense)

Size is just a matter of perception...

Freddie Krueger!

This one has birthed children

OK, in all seriousness, thin your carrots!!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The great outdoors (is testing my resolve)

Despite the heat wave, things are plugging along in the vegetable garden. Here, the Japanese black trifele tomatoes are getting ready to ripen. Don't they have a beautiful shape?

But precious tomato plant has been relegated to sticks!

If you don't know me, know this: I have a certain "respect" for insects - I see their place in the scheme of things. But the fact is, I hate them - and here's what I'll admit: it's because I'm scared. Of all garden insects, I've been most scared of tomato hornworms ever since I saw one covered in parasitic wasps on a website a few years ago. I've been so scared and disgusted by them that I think I've written several posts about them by now. Today, as I was up close inspecting the damage to my tomato plant, I ended up face to face with the dreaded tomato hornworm for the first time in real life... I identified it immediately. What I didn't expect was how big it would be in real life. I screamed. I ran. I got my daughter.

She read over my shoulder as I researched on the web. You would not believe the manipulation of this smart little kid. Knowing her dad is out of town, "Mom, I'll get rid of it for $5. Otherwise, it will stay in your garden and eat all your tomato plants". I readily paid. She removed the hornworm but then had the nerve to chase after me with the bucket. Luckily, I'm smarter and as I ran into the house, I threatened to lock her out.

Apparently, where there is frass there are hornworms. I also have a 5 year old so I'm all for cutesy names for poop, but look at the size of it! In my opinion, it's absolutely abnormal for any insect to have poop of this size. This is no frass. This is a full blown bowel movement. We found another hornworm, so the bill went up to $10. My skin was crawling so my inspection may not have been too thorough, but hopefully that was it.

And just to give me more of a fright since I was already freaked out, this guy was guarding the back door. I almost had a heart attack going back for this photo (I hope you appreciate it!).

In an additional test of my resolve...
When I remember, I wear pants and a hoodie in the garden to keep from being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I've recently written about my problem with this. So as I type this, the mosquito bites on my neck, thumb knuckle, and little toe are itching the hell out of me (I'm going to start going out in a beekeeper's suit). Also, my right butt cheek is hurting because guess what? I got stung by a bee at the pool yesterday.
A funny thing I'm thinking of now - my 5 year old could tell her own bug story. This morning, I heard a little scream just before she ran over to me and grabbed onto my legs. Pointing to a little moth on the wall, she said, "I thought that was a heart sticker so I tried to get it but it was a moth!"

Just so I don't have nightmares, I'll end with a nicer image - the pretty blooms of hairy vetch, saving the space for garlic to be planted in October.
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