Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cosmic Creations and the Cal in Recalcitrant

A cool, sunny Saturday in early spring, and my mission is clear:  transplant the corydalis before they go dormant for the rest of the season.  When they're dormant, I won't be able to see them to transplant.  If this new garden we created last fall is going to get started, now's the time to get the corydalis into it, before it disappears.

Joe and I created this garden by expanding one we already had,  extending it farther into our weed-infested lawn, which Joe was tired of mowing.  The plan involved taking the lowest-growing plants from the front of the original bed and transplanting them to the front of the new, expanded bed.

At the back, the former bed.  At the front, the new extension.  The lowest plants now have to come to the front of the new bed.
The corydalis, one of my best-loved spring bloomers, had to go now, before it disappeared.

The corydalis has stopped blooming, but at least I can still see the foliage.  That means I can still see it to transplant it.

In a shadier part of the garden, the corydalis is still blooming.  See those little pink flowers?

Until today, I'd been giving most of my attention to getting together a body of art quilts to hang in my upcoming solo show at UConn Health Center.  Many of my other spring gardening chores just didn't get done this year, like pruning the roses and blueberries.  But my quilting work, after an initial bloop, has been going along well.  Right now, I have about 18 or 19 pieces ready or almost ready to hang.  So with the corydalis about to vanish, I thought I could afford to take a day away from art quilts and give it to gardening. 

But first, before lifting the shovel, I decided to take advantage of the abundant sunlight by doing a sunprint, my first of the season.  This one's going to be cosmic, with shapes of stars leaving ghostly images on the brooding black of outer space.  The sun will be working on the sunprint while I work in the garden.

First I put Pebeo Setacolor paint (black and shimmer jet black) down on a piece of cotton. Then I placed three sizes of stars on the paint, mooshing them in with a painty sponge.

Back in the garden.  First, I have to get compost to use in the planting holes for the corydalis.  Here's my compost bin.

Right now, I'm working from the right hand bin, shoveling up the last of last year's batch of compost.

There's lots of nice rich compost in there.

I dig a wheelbarrow full, noting that there's still a lot of compost left in that bin, so that I won't have to start turning over the other bin quite yet.

The big question:  how hard is it going to be to excavate planting holes in that former weedy lawn, which since last fall has lain under a coating of newspaper topped with mulch?

The answer:  Very.  This substance,  an unexcavated stretch of dense, heavy clay soil, puts the cal in recalcitrant.  Did I mention that it was heavy?

Here's my foot, trying to force the working end of a shovel into this dense, heavy, sh*t.  This is one of the few times when I think I don't weigh enough!
Still, I manage to transplant not only the corydalis, but the lamium and the lamiastrum.  I'm glad to see that the corydalis, even though their foliage is starting to fade, have abundant bulbs at their bases.

Can you see the tiny bulbs at the base of each corydalis plant?  Thus the name:  corydalis bulbosa.  Or is it corydalis solida?  I've never been sure with this one.

Not so easy to tell from this photo, but the row of small plants along the right are the corydalis, lamiums, and lamiastrums I just transplanted to the front of the new bed.

Next will be the Japanese painted ferns and the heucheras.

After that will be the brunnera, which I can't bear to transplant while it's blooming.  And the bleeding hearts, which will bloom all summer.  I'll transplant them when I do the brunnera.

See the delicate blue flowers on this Brunnera Jack Frost?  I don't want to bring this plant to the front until it stops blooming.
See the blue of the brunnera in the back and the pink of the bleeding heart in the front?  Both those plants will take their place in the new bed, but not until the brunnera have stopped blooming.  The empty gaps at the bases of these plants show where the now-transplanted corydalis, lamium, and lamiastrums originally grew.

 Meanwhile, how about that cosmic sunprint?  It's been cooking along as I've been out here gardening.

Once I removed the stars, these ghostly images were beneath.  So cool!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Felting: The Sequel

After I took a felting class at the New Britain Museum of American Art last month, I came away with one finished project and two unfinished ones.  Today I just finished the second of the two unfinished ones, working toward the May 14 deadline for the opening of my solo show at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, CT, and trying to create as many pieces as I can to fill those five big cases.

Here are my last two felted creations:

Felted Jack O'Lantern mushrooms against a knitted background, based on a photo of the same taken at Penwood State Park, Simsbury, CT
The Farmington River Valley in fall, from Penwood State Park
I'm signed up to take another felting class with the same teacher next month, this time in Cheshire.  Now that I know that I can felt with most any natural substance, such as silk or wool, I decided to ask the woman who grooms our poodles, Danielle Genovese of Honey's Haven, to save my dogs' hair for me next time they were groomed.

That day was today.

When I handed Danielle a gallon-sized ziploc bag to use for that purpose, she looked at it and said, "Well, it's not gonna fit in there, that's for sure."

She used a trash bag and filled it this much:

But I know what I'm gonna do with it!  If Joe hadn't gone and taken our laptop to Chicago, I could show you the shots I'm going to recreate with this poodle hair.  Stand by!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring, Redux.

I studied Latin for five years, and by God, I'm gonna use it when I can.  It comes in handy when a botanical or medical vocabulary is required.

So:  Spring, Redux.  Everybody knows that redux means brought forth again, led out again.  But is that passive voice appropriate for spring?  Does nature lead spring out again, as if spring were a newborn lamb?  Or does spring burst itself out?  I think the latter.  So:  Spring Reducit:  Spring leads itself out again. (Reduco is a third conjugation verb:  reduco, reducere, reduxi, reductum.  I admit I had to look it up).

Here's what spring is leading out around here lately.

A perennial spring tradition:  hard-boiled eggs colored by actual children.   I'm sorry I didn't get a shot of the children coloring the eggs.  I was cooking Easter dinner at the time.  More on that later.

Some of the children were more skillful than others at coloring eggs, but we all know that egg dyeing is more about the process than the result.

Spring, and the linked festivals of Passover and Easter, has also brought forth family, and with family, a return to some family routines.  Here I am giving Julia a French braid on Easter morning, a routine practiced many times with her and her sisters when they were living at home:

One member of the family who gathered with the rest of us on Easter is Lucia, our youngest daughter, who is currently studying at the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.  She joined us via Skype after Easter dinner.

Here's Lucia, courtesy of Skype, and on the other end of the conversation, in the lower right hand corner, Emma Tattenbaum-Fine (Lucia's unofficially adopted sister), Leah and Julia.

Speaking of that Easter dinner, here's the menu:

Abundant appetizers contributed by the Tattenbaum-Fine family
Home-smoked turkey breast
Home-smoked salmon
Grilled zucchini
Spring vegetables with shallots and lemon
Nutted wild rice
Walnut torte with chocolate mousse

Here are a few of the recipes, and they're all redux, being oldies but goodies from many Easter dinners past:

Spring Vegetables with Shallots and Lemon 
Recipe at
Gourmet I April 1995
Yield: Serves 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
1tablespoon unsalted butter
4 shallots, cut crosswise into thin slices
1pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1pound asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into r/z-inch slices
3 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled, blanched in boiling water 1minute, and outer skins removed, or 1pound frozen Fordhook lima beans, blanched and, if desired, skinned in same manner
two 3-inch strips lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler and cut crosswise into julienne strips
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice.
In a large skillet, heat 1tablespoon oil and 1/2 tablespoon butter over moderately high heat until foam
subsides and saute shallots, stirring, until tender, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon transfer shallots to a bowl. In fat remaining in skillet, saute snap peas with salt to taste, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender and add in shallots.
In skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil and 1/2 tablespoon butter over moderately high heat until foam
subsides and saute asparagus with salt to taste, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender. Add fava or lima beans and saute, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add zest, lemon juice, snap peas and shallots, and salt and pepper to taste and saute, stirring, until just heated through.

Nutted Wild Rice
From the Silver Palate cookbook

NOTE- This recipe, as it appears in the Silver Palate, calls for raw wild rice cooked in
chicken broth. But the person who gave me the recipe said she just uses one box of Uncle
Ben's wild and long-grain rice instead, which makes it much easier. I tried the raw wild rice
way once and didn't think it was any better.
1 c raw wild rice (112 lb).
5-1/2 c defatted chicken stock or water
One box Uncle Ben's wild and long grain rice (that may not be the exact name, but it's the
one in the orange box), cooked according to package directions
1 c yellow raisins
1 c pecan halves
Grated rind of 1 large orange
1/4 c chopped fresh mint
4 scallions
1/4 c olive oil
1/3 c fresh orange juice
1 tsp salt (eliminate if using packaged rice)
freshly ground black pepper to taste (ditto)
1. If using wild rice, put in strainer and run under cold water; rinse thoroughly
2. Put rice in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Add stock or water and bring to a rapid boil.
Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered 45 minutes. After 30 minutes,
check for doneness; rice should not be too soft. Place a thin towel inside a colander and
turn rice into the colander and drain. Transfer drained rice to a bowl.
OR-if using packaged rice, prepare according to package directions and proceed to step 3
3. Add remaining ingredients to rice and toss gently. Adjust seasonings to taste. Let
mixture stand for two hours to allow flavors to develop. Serve at room temperature.

Spring also led out some of the banners I constructed for my religious congregation, the Unitarian Society of Hartford.  This one's my favorite.

I constructed this one with the help of the Sunday School children.  Each child created an image of an egg-filled nest.  I sewed the blocks together, gave the banner some borders, and laid images of branches across it.

Then there are the banners I designed, at the request of our religious education director, for an Easter processional.  I made one of the six banners myself and parents constructed the other five.  These are still paraded up the center aisle on Easter every year, and I still feel a thrill of satisfaction when I see them.

A few are showing signs of wear.  Check out the nibbled holes on the tree on the top left, for example.  Maybe I can just call the holes an artistic statement.

What else is spring bringing out? The garden, for sure.

Grape hyacinths (muscari) with  forget-me-nots (myosotis)

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia Virginica) are a spring ephemeral.
Bleeding Hearts (dicentra eximia).

These hellebores were given to me, so I don't know their official botanical name.
Brunnera Jack Frost.  What's lovelier, the flower or the leaf?

And how about this lovely little clump of corydalis bulbosa?  Or is it corydalis solida?  I'm not sure.  I dug them up on the banks of Trout Brook, where they grow in abundance.  But in the wild, they're not labeled.

Corydalis does have an English name:  fumitory.

But after putting in five years studying Latin, I'd rather go with the official botanical name.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Lesser Celandine

Who knew?

I saw these lovely yellow flowers, with their fleshy heart-shaped leaves, growing in a streamside glade on the banks of Trout Brook, here in West Hartford.

How lovely!  But, after looking in my wildflower books, and searching online,  I couldn't identify them.  I took a photo and sent it to the New England Wildflower Society.  No answer.

I dug up a few for my garden and tentatively identified them as marsh marigold, caltha palustris.  This is what marsh marigold looks like:

This is marsh marigold, caltha palustris

Somebody out there with a botanical vocabulary, help me out!  The petals aren't the same.  How do you say that in botanical?

Then today, in the Metropolitan section of the New York Times, I saw the true identification.  Writer Mariella Anzelone, tracking the progress of spring in a patch of forest on Staten Island, published a photo of the plants I saw growing by Trout Brook and identified them as the lesser celandine, ranunculus ficaria, an exotic species that emerges earlier than our native flora. 

These are the flowers I saw growing in that moist glade on the banks of Trout Brook . I could tell because the heart-shaped leaves had dark veins in their centers.  These flowers weren't in any of my wildflower books because they are an introduced invasive.  Thank you to New York Times writer Mariella Anzelone for solving a mystery that I, with my wildflower books, and the New England Wildflower Society, was unable to solve.