The current warm weather has gardeners itching to get out onto the fire escape or out into the backyard. From Sumatra to Norway, the blossoming of plants is triggered by environmental cues that, until recently, have been relatively constant. Across the temperate climes average annual temperatures continue to creep up the mercury, bringing earlier springs, and earlier spring flowers.
In England, dedicated naturalists have been recording the breaking of spring buds since the 1700s. Released by Britain’s Royal Society of Biological Sciences, a 250 year index shows the flowering dates of 405 species and demonstrates the impact of climate change on growth. The current index shows that for every 1C rise, bud burst occurred five days earlier.
On the U.S. side, Project BudBurst monitors the timing of phenological plant events (such as leafing, blooming and fruiting) by collecting data from citizen scientists across the country. The data they collect will help scientists understand how the alteration of to the climate will affect things like bird and insect diversity, pollination, and our own food production. The red maple and other ultra-early spring bloomers are the most doggedly watched by BudBurst’s team. Other ubiquitous, easy-to-identify plants such as common yarrow and trout lily open the study up to anyone – like maybe you?
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When we were making the first issue of Wilder, Kate Sennert, the editor of Wilder, and I got in a conversation about sex and plants. Sure, there are plants that grow in very erotic formations naturally. There is also an entire genre of artists almost anthropomorphizing plants like Japanese photographer Araki Nobuyoshi’s work. Here, artists are pointing big huge arrows, jumping up and down and shining bright lights on the unfolding petals of a lily or a rose.
We were looking for a mash up of these two takes – plants that were shot in all their natural glory to expose the full breadth of emotion.Kate went looking for plants at their sexiest. She then sent those images to myself and the Art Director Monica Nelson. I just found the entire folder on external hard drive and am still blow away by some of the great, sexy plant imagery she dug up (pun guiltily intended).
Hit the FS button in the right hand corner of the image to enjoy them full screen.
When the driest places in the country drink in the annual spring rains, the result is kaleidoscopic.
Across the US, February and March are the months of the desert bloom, when long awaited rains coax flowers from the seemingly barren earth. Barrel,beavertail, hedgehog and cholla cactus erupt in pink, yellow, and palest white. Creosotebush, ocotillo, fiddleneck and lupine burst out yellow, orange, and brightest blue. And all across the landscape a thin veneer of green is showing- a fleeting and colorful reminder
that life thrives in even the most ‘barren’ of places.
“This made me realize I haven’t gone outside in nature in a really long time. I want to go now.”
It’s so easy to forget to go outside OUTSIDE when you live in the city. Don’t forget okay?
In late September, I moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood that came with an garden overrun with Morning Glories (pictured above). It was wild chaos, and like all chaos it was beautiful. Except that, buried underneath that green umbrella, I found several plants on their last leg cut off from light, air, water. My first task was a serious clear out that ended with me surrounded by bags and bags of the fighting Morning Glories.
Now, we are well into February, which has been downright balmy in New York. The few bulbs I got down in October and some other unknown surprises from tenants-past are already responding to those few degrees of warmth by pushing their way up through the soil.
I’ve spent the winter with my other hobbies of video games and comic books, but I’m looking forward to replacing the former with long hours out in the backyard.
I literally can’t wait to see what else lies beneath as the weeks continue into spring. Yes, we’re just over 20 days out, but I’m jumping out of my seat with anticipation!
“Somehow these E. woodii survived the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs, got through five different ice ages, learned to live with bigger, newer trees, conifers, leaf bearers, then a profusion of fruiting and flowering plants, got pushed into smaller, then even smaller spaces until there were merely tens of thousands, then thousands, then hundreds and then, perhaps, just this one.”
Read this today. Truly great story by RadioLab’s Robert Krulwich.
The orchid has long been a flower of fanatical popularity: they’re colorful, suggestive, and tantalizingly diverse. In Victorian England, where orchid collecting first reached the frenzied heights of obsession, the resulting condition was known as ‘orchidelirium’. The wealthy constructed specialized greenhouses, and hired teams of botanists to comb the globe for the rarest, most magnificent specimens. Orchid hunters faced a whole manner of tribulations on their quest: some were eaten by cannibals, others by tigers, and a particularly unlucky few were murdered by competing collectors.
The precious cargo they came back with wasn’t always beautiful, either. Bulbophyllum phalenopsis, for example, reeks of rotten flesh, and the blossom of Drakaea lividia, commonly known as the warty hammer orchid, looks like a lump of blackened, hairy earwax. Borneo’s Grammatophyllum orchids resemble a swirl of alien tentacles, and can weigh half a ton. More than a couple of collectors met their ends crushed beneath the orchid while trying to remove it from the rainforest canopy.
There are 20,000 named species of orchids in the world, and together they make up one of the largest and most highly evolved families in the flowering plants. For those wanting to feast on the orchid’s voluminous diversity sans flesh eating tribesman, the New York Botanical Garden’s orchid show opens March 3rd, while Longwood Garden in Pennsylvannia holds one through March 25th. For one of the largest orchid shows in the USA, check out San Francisco’s Pacific Orchid Expo. It’s just around the corner on February 25th.
The rapid growth of cities and shift from agrarian to factory based production, left post-industrial England in a sort of frenzy for all things green. For many Brits the relationship to the natural world had changed from the tangible to the imaginary and nostalgic. However, aided with the newly invented Wardian Case (a sort of precursor to the modern terrarium) an entirely new class of botanical exotica, such as the then highly fashionably fern, could be collected and shipped to England, for those who could afford them.
The case is named after British botanist Nathaniel Ward who personally has 25,000 specimens of herbs in his house and on its grounds. He discovered the plants were being killed by London’s air pollution consisting of heavy coal smoke. Pay homage to Ward. Without him, Chinese teas, delicious coffees from Yemen and rubber plants from South America would never have made it around the world.
A roomy windowsill? A south facing ledge? Throw in some soil and the right plants, and you’ve got what it takes to start your own urban garden. To begin, measure the amount of direct sunlight your spot gets. It might be tempting to fill your space with edibles, but most herbs and vegetables need at least six hours of sun to flourish. Select durable containers that maximize space and won’t rot, like ceramic troughs or oblong planters, and fill with a good potting mix like Fafard ®. Make sure the planters’ drainage remains unobstructed by placing a piece of broken crockery, or a stone, into each of the holes before filling with earth. Soil should be tamped down into place to prevent later compaction and sinking.
A garden grown from seed works best as a jubilant tangle. Sow seeds in spring, after the danger of frost has passed, and barely cover with soil. Nasturtiums and lettuce are good edible selections for the usual, part-shade fire escape garden. Purple ageratum paired with pale lavatera give height and structure to the display.
For the lucky gardener with ample sunlight, salvia is the word! Salvias come in every shade of blue, red and pink, are tireless bloomers, easy to grow from seed and highly drought resistant. Potted plants require dedicated daily watering, so cut down on your work time by pairing salvias with tenacious succulents that you may keep nestled indoors like aloe, stonecrop and hen and chicks.
Image shot by Winona Barton-Ballentine
Architecture-student-turned-artist Macoto Murayama has applied computer graphics programs and techniques to illustrate, in the anatomy of flowers. In addition to working on his art, he holds a part time job at a flower shop, running deliveries and assisting with production, design, and photography.
From The Scientist: “Murayama completed his BA in spatial design at Miyagi University and a post-graduate degree in media expression at the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences (IAMAS). In addition to working on his art, he holds a part time job at a flower shop, running deliveries and assisting with production, design, and photography.
“The reason I am working at the flower shop is that I cannot support myself only with my art works, which is a negative side, but I can also see how people who deal with flowers and plants, think about them, how they perceive them, which is a positive side,” Murayama says. “I am sure that in the future this experience will come to live in my thinking and my works.”
Common Ground Farm in Beacon, New York, is one of a handful of farms catching onto the four season farming craze. The raising of a 3,000 square foot greenhouse has allowed the farm to grow arugula, kale, radishes and lettuce in the midst of frigid winter weather. The trick to this farmy magic is not additional light, but rather what we crave in February, too: Warmth. Even Maine, America’s northern-most state, has the same amount of sunlight in winter as the south of France. Common Ground’s poly tunnel greenhouse raises the inside temperature just enough to prevent freezing of the plants’ tender leaves. According to winter farming guru Eliot Coleman, a single layer of plastic sheeting is like transporting your garden 500 miles south. Add another layer, and you’re in Florida.
Common Ground Farm recently started offering year round distribution of Lewis Waites farm produce which includes their own organic beef, and pork and duck, chicken and dairy products from other local farms. So you can enjoy that locally raised winter kale with locally raised beef short rib, too.
Aaron Woo is the chef and owner of behind Natural Selection, a small farm-to-table restaurant in Portland, Ore. The menu offers an entirely vegetarian select along with some vegan dishes for good measure. Aaron is our featured chef in the Winter issue of Wilder Quarterly. Read an excerpt from is conversation with Jonah Campbell and get Woo’s recipe for a Sunchoke & Parmesan Salad.
No one, in their coverage of Natural Selection, seems able to resist the “vegetarian restaurant that’s not a vegetarian restaurant” angle. Can you tell us about that?
We try our best not to bill ourselves as a vegetarian restaurant. We try to put out there, to the public, that we serve really awesome food that’s local and sustainable, farm-to-table style and it just happens to be vegetarian. I know a lot of people who will flat out say, “I’m not into vegetarian food,” and I’ll say, “Well, why not? You eat vegetables, right?” And they’re like, “Yeaaahhhh … But nah.” I think there’s this image of vegetarian restaurants in the ’80s and ’90s, that it’s hippies and granola, and rainbows and unicorns on the walls. So, people come in and say, “Wow, it looks like a real restaurant!” and we go, “Yeah, actually, it is a real restaurant.”
People definitely have prejudices against vegetarian food. In some cases rightly so, because in the history of what could be called “American vegetarian food” there have been moments when simplicity has been mistaken for banality. Or, worse—blandness.
But you personally are not a vegetarian. How would you say your history as a meat-eater, or your roots in omnivory, frame your cooking at Natural Selection?
One of the things I’ve learned as a chef is that when you take that piece of meat or fish or protein off the plate, you have to put a lot more thought into everything else you prepare. We joke about how, if you added a piece of protein to this plate of vegetables that we do, it’d be amazing; it’d be ground breaking. Probably 60—70 percent of our customer base is not vegetarian, but people say, “They serve really good food, period.” Our most vocal advocates are hardcore vegans and hardcore meat eaters. It’s always, “I’m not vegetarian, but that was amazing. I didn’t miss the meat.”
Get Aaron’s recipe for the salad pictured left after the jump and see the full article in the winter issue.
Images shot by Carlie Armstrong
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