From a post about exhibition photography and plants on the Walker Art Center blog:
“One aspect of my position as a photographer here at the Walker is to document the exhibitions. This has been an ongoing process dating back to the beginning of the Walker Art Center. While reviewing images of past exhibitions, I began to notice something now absent in the galleries, potted plants.”
Spring has come early this year, and the insects are beginning to catch up. Wafting from tree to tree I spied a Mourning Cloak butterfly today, the earliest butterfly to appear each spring. Mourning Cloaks more commonly feed on tree sap, but will occasionally do their pollination duty and seek out nectar sources from flowers. Oddly enough, Mourning Cloaks are an overwintering species, spending the cold season tucked away in the crevices of old logs, or lodged beneath the protected eaves of a building. As the name suggests, the butterfly’s wings are mostly dark, and somber colored- but the insect gets around. You should be able to find one of your own virtually anywhere in the USA. Look for adults and their spiny, red and black caterpillars on willows (Salix), elm (Ulmus), and birch (Betula).
In the winter issue, Wilder visited two farms – one in upstate New York and the other, Cala Farms, in the heart of Wisconsin. The photographer, Cameron Wittig, captured these farmers in a series of outstanding images. Since we couldn’t print them all, Adrian Shirk, Wilder Quarterly’s assistant editor, spoke to Cameron about his work, Wisconsin and his impressions of Cala Farms.
Cameron Wittig was born and raised in Milwaukee, and when Wilder Quarterly assigned him to shoot Cala Farms in Northwestern Wisconsin, Wittig had been itching to take an excursion anyway. That region in particular has dominated the geography of this photographer’s imagination for as long as he can remember. “I regularly drive across the state,” Wittig says. “From St. Paul, I take 35W, and try to get out of the city as fast as I can… Entering into Wisconsin is like coming upon a very quiet, old stranger, who, when she finally speaks, uses very few words but is able to say a lot.”
Cala Farms is situated in the small agrarian community of Turtle Lake, which hugs the Eastern border of Lake Superior. “The Minnesota side of the lake has a lot of development,” Wittig says. “It’s kind of the Cancun of the Midwest. But the Wisconsin side has very little development, and I think they like it that way… There isn’t the same presence of money, and I think residents appreciate that it‘s stayed that way.” Corn, sugar beets, and soy control much of the area’s farming economy, though more and more Minneapolis restaurants and vendors are patronizing smaller farms like the Calas’, as the interest increases for locally sourced food.
The town of Turtle Lake is just under two square miles, populated by approximately 2,000 citizens, and is fiscally bound by its cash crops and a single casino. When Wittig set out that afternoon, it was bright and cold, and the ground was covered in a crust of snow. The Green Bay Packers were still undefeated. “It was more silent than usual. There were no cars out. You got the sense that something important was going on. I just kept driving. I had the roads to myself because everyone was at home watching the football game.”
Rodrigo and Juan Carlos of Cala Farms were very welcoming to Wittig. The two cousins immigrated from Mexico City to the US just four years before, and with the help of Minnesota’s Big River Farms’ training program were able to get organic certification in 2009. “I liked them a lot. I think they’re very smart, and ambitious,” Wittig said, referring to the Calas. “They came to Minnesota to work on farms, and ended up buying a piece of land that’s surrounded by much bigger, established farms. They’re growing organic because they understand there’s a demand for that. While I was visiting with them, Rodrigo told me a story about a neighbor he’d spoken to recently. The man was approached by developers, and he stressed to Rodrigo that he did not want to sell it for that purpose, but he didn’t expand much after that. I don’t know what Rodrigo was thinking, but this is the sort of territory he has to navigate, pitting himself against casino or condo developers, befriending his neighbors as a Latino immigrant.”
During his tour around the farm — which was largely dormant for the deep freeze of the Midwest winter — Wittig walked the perimeter of the property, around their greenhouses and tilled land. “Some of the old structures on the property were in disuse, not in good condition. The silo, and the farm house. Those were there when the Calas got the land, and they haven’t decided what to do with them yet.” One striking photo features a pile of summer melon husks, half submerged in the snow. Another shows rows and rows of dark, leafy greens pushing through the frost. “I believe that was a cover crop,” Wittig says. “Maybe spinach. They’ll let it decompose, and it’ll make the soil nutritive for the next season without having to use chemicals.”
When Wittig was packing up to leave, he felt somewhat empty-handed, like there was still so much he couldn’t grasp about the life of the farm, the lives of these farmers. “I was reminded of a time when I went to the delta of Mississippi on assignment, shortly after Katrina. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out what was going on, really, or how to really get in on the action, anything important. And I met a film maker who’d been working in the area for ten years. He said, ‘Stop trying to understand what it’s all about — the only way you’d get it is if you’d lived here you’re whole life.”
He eventually decided he wasn’t empty handed after all. “I now knew these two guys — and I really liked them. And they’re possibly going to struggle more than the average farmer in the area. They both stressed that they were very, very cold in Wisconsin, and they told me a little about their family in Mexico… As I drove through Turtle Lake that evening, taking Highway 8, I’d see people on the street or idling in their cars at a stop sign and I’d wonder, do they know them? Are they friends of theirs?” Wittig ended up hightailing it to Deluth, the freshwater port on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, where he checked into an old motel. He went through the day’s photos. “I kept thinking of the last thing Rodrigo said to me. He said something funny about Mexico. He wanted me to know that Mexico had a bad reputation for being dangerous, but that it’s not actually a dangerous place — and that I should know that if I ever wanted to go.”
So the story goes that Narcissus, a beautiful Greek youth, became so entranced by his own reflection, that he drowned in the pool he used as a mirror. Daffodils- fragile, ephemeral, wonderfully scented- sprang up where he had knelt.
Since then the Daffodil has spawned poetry, songs, and spread across the world. It goes by many names, like ‘easter bell’, ‘jonquil’, and ‘daffadowndilly’, and represents many different things. In China, it is a symbol of the new year. In Wales it is the flower of the nation’s patron saint, David. But everywhere it blooms it brings an irrefutable message: spring has finally sprung.
If there’s a plant that all nativists and shade gardeners covet, it’s got to be Trillium cuneatum. Commonly known as sweet betsy, bloody butcher, or, my favorite, toadshade, its names are apt tributes to the plant’s perfect blood-red, six petaled flower, and its preference for wet, dappled shade. Many Trillium species can take up to seven years to bloom when grown from seed, which accounts for their often exorbitant pricing at nurseries and in catalogues. Like most gardeners, I guiltily crave instant gratification, and that’s why sweet betsy is best. Give it a whirl in any damp, shaded area. And if you’re in the southeast, you’re in luck. That’s betsy’s favorite place to be. For those of you with the full sun garden, go plant spotting in your local woods in April/May. The bloody butcher’s cousins are just as lovely and in the northern states, are a relatively common sight.
Stevie Nicks being the very fabulously, witchy woman she is.
Pictured: rose (Rosa)
Good gardeners treat plants like what they are: living, growing, changeable things. Where we got the notion that plants are like green machines, performing and behaving in predictable and consistent ways, I have no idea. Plants have likes and dislikes. Plants get sick. Plants get hungry. And sometimes they’re not. But as we slough off that last bit of winter and dive into spring, plants are most definitely feeling needy. They want light. They want water. They want food. Most of all, they want to grow. So help them, with proper fertilization.
Mistake number one of the beginner houseplant gardener is never feeding your plants. Many houseplants can stay in the same pot, in the same soil, for years on end and do just fine, but most of those kinds of plants are desert plants, accustomed to torture and riding out the hard times. Mistake number two of the beginner houseplant gardener is feeding too often. On the back of every Miracle Gro container it’s written- ‘feed once weekly’. THAT’S WRONG! Plants cannot grow bigger, and bigger and bigger ad infinitum. You feed them too much and they will give up the ghost. Symptoms of overfeeding include curled, brown edged leaves and a ring of white crust around the soil’s edge.
In order to accurately assess when your plant is ready for food, listen to it. Look at it. Is it sprouting out new growth? Is it flagging, looking wan? In spring, your houseplants will respond to extended daylight, despite being kept indoors. The new flush of growth that occurs at this time of year should be bolstered by the first administering of fertilizer. But, if no new growth appears as the days lengthen and warm, feed to help your plant strengthen up. As the season progresses, you can listen to Miracle Gro. More or less. Fertilize as necessary bi-weekly until the end of the season, re-potting your plant if it is getting too big for its container. And then give your plants a rest. They’ll be getting sleepy.
Image by Clara Pregitzer
Liam Neeson looking marvelous.
Pictured: gerbera daisy (Gerbera)
In my Brooklyn backyard, there are two things taking place – lots of early blooming and lots of worrying. I’m terrified of a cold snap – a breeze of cool weather that will have the daffodils and crocus’ wilting on their stems. More importantly, I shudder to think of what one 40 degree day might do my cheerfully blooming Japanese Kerria (pictured above) shrub. This is the first plant I ever got into the ground and well, kept alive three years ago. Despite being an incredibly easy plant to grow, I’m always so surprised when the yellow blooms reappear each spring. I almost feel grateful that the plant’s thin arching stems have weathered another brutal New York winter. After all that anticipation, relief, joy, I’d hate to have these tissue thing yellow flowers disappear so early in the season.
New growers and city growers – the Japanese Kerria (japonica kerria) is for you, as it loves the shade. With that shocking LSD-yellow color, it’s also just a stunner against the back drop of a city’s greys and browns.
Juan Gris was one of the pioneers of Cubism and is also, the subject of today’s Google doodle. Generally, there’s no reason to comment on a Google doodle, but in this case, it’s worth illuminating Gris’ painting above titled, “Flowers.”
The SFMOMA website is home to a short, but interesting video video featuring curator Janet Bishop discussing Gris’s contribution to art and his patronage by the great literary lady, Gertrude Stein, through the lens of this single work, “Flowers.” Enjoy.
Ok, so the tomato isn’t so perilous. But its cousins certainly are. Closely related to the bright red symbol of summer are deadly night shade (Atropa belladonna), jimson weed (Datura stramonium), and angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia). And all three have relationships to us humans just as powerful the tomato’s.
Take a look at deadly night shade’s latin name, for example. Atropa is for Atropine, a naturally occurring alkaloid, which lowers muscle activity. Belladonna is for the beautiful ladies that used this substance to dilate their pupils making them doe-eyed, and irresistable.
Jimson weed’s uses are a touch more sinister. Although the plant has been smoked for many years, mainly for religious purposes across Southeast Asia and North America, fatal overdoses are alarmingly common. Also known as Jamestown weed, Datura stramonium was so named when several British soldiers were drugged with it by a clutch the colony’s rebellious citizens. Earlier in Britain the seeds were known as ‘knock out drops’, a kind of early rohypnol.
And the uses of angel’s trumpet are just as dark. Popular with shamans, the plant is still consumed in South America to open portals to the spirit world, aiding medicine men in their communication with the undead. Hundreds of years ago Andean tribesmen ingested the seeds prior to marching to their sacrificial death, so they would not fear what lay ahead.
Lucky for us the tomato is just so nice.
Barry Underwood’s surrealistic photographs have got my attention. From his artist statement:
“I approach my photographic work with a theatrical sensibility, much like a cinematographer or set designer would. By reading the landscape and altering the vista through lights and photographic effects, I transform everyday scenes into unique images.”
Plantasia LP (1976) is the final LP in the career of exotica/psychedelic Moog composer Mort Garson. Tracks include “Symphony for a Spider Plant”, “Ode to an African Violet”, “Concerto for Philodendron and Pothos”, “Swingin’ Spathiphyllums”, “Mellow Mood for Maidenhair” and “Music to Soothe the Savage Snake Plant”.
From the record sleeve:
“Full, warm, beautiful mood music especially composed to aid in the growing of your plants.”
“It has been proven beyond any doubt that harmonic sound waves affect the growth, flowering and seed yield of plants.” — Dr. T. C. Singh, Department of Botany, Annamalai University (India)
Submitted by Marc Alt
Necessity is the mother of invention. And with more and more city dwellers taking an interest in growing their own food, numerous ideas have emerged to conquer the limited space that plagues urban green thumbs. Enter, the potato barrel. It’s the spud’s version of a city skyscraper. Plant your taters down deep in an old whiskey barrel (Or a bucket. Or a garbage can. Or a stack of old tires) and flip the container over at season’s end to harvest. The barrel minimizes space, mess, and time spent growing and preparing your crop. An excerpt from Scott Meyer’s ‘The City Homesteader’ explains how to make your own here.
Image shot by Sandy Austin
Nancy Sinatra’s spring flowers are a fitting post to pair with the 70 degree weather in New York today.
Pictured: chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum)
Gone are the days of the tight lipped topiary. The wafty, free form personality of an unkempt hedge is where it’s at. Hedges provide all kinds of benefits to the garden, besides being beautiful: they create habitat for birds and pollinators, they prevent erosion and anchor soil, and they block out all kinds of unwanted things, like prying eyes and wind and driving snow. What’s more, the hedgerow is gloriously amiable, and undemanding. In William Robinson‘s book, the Wild Garden, he discusses the rampant beauty of the untamed hedge, illustrating both it’s practicality and natural appeal:
‘we live in mechanical days, when many think that among the blessing and fine discoveries of the age is that of making a gridiron fence! and so we see some of the fairest landscapes disfigured by a network of iron fencing…’
So when it comes times for you to consider the limits to your garden, let your imagination run a little wild. For California, think manzanita (Arctostaphylos) and ceanothus. For Florida and the rest of the deep south try lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) and bottlebrush tree (callistemon). For all of you up there in the North, Juneberry ( Amelanchier) is a sure bet, as is the fruitful beach plum (Prunus maritima)
The British empire lives on in the jam-packed closets of London’s Kew Gardens Herbarium. Carefully pressed, mounted, and stashed away are some 7 million specimens from all over the world. Not least of all is a 4,000 year old olive branch from King Tut’s tomb. Other gems include specimens from Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, and a collection made by (the) Doctor Livingstone, which is accompanied by his handwriting, still blotchy from the african rainforest’s daily deluge, 150 years ago.
Marvels of all kinds abound in the herbaria’s hallways- it is also known to be one of the best sources of historical letters and books documenting the trials, tribulations, and quiet glories early plant hunters faced. Prominent among the archives is a giant tome written and illustrated by Carl Linneas himself. Brilliantly and delicately drawn, the botanist’s attention to detail and great love of the plants that shaped his career is plain to see.
Recently, Kew began an ambitious project to attempt to repatriate these specimens, and send them back to the native lands they were unceremoniously plucked from years ago: detailed photos of the pressed plants are being uploaded to a database which will be accessible to scientists everywhere. What? You thought the actual olive branch would go back to Egypt? Not likely.
I’ve never been much of an eater. From day one, I was against almost all foods my mother put in front me. Fast forward to my early twenties where my palate had gone from picky to unsophisticated. This all began to change when I met my husband. He designs, builds, and/or owns (all depending on the day) restaurants and bars. One of those locations comes with an amazing chef named Tyler Kord. Master of the food mash-up, he’s got me appreciating things like kimchi, Mongolian tofu, fried broccoli, and combinations that normally make a scaredy-cat eater like me blanche.
I’ve come to appreciate good food because of this precise combination of growing and cooking, so I decided it was a high time I learned how to you know, actually, cook. To that end, I’ve started cooking my way through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food With 1,000 Photos. Wordy title there, but it also sums up the 496-page book perfectly. I’ve learned how to quarter apples, build flavor, skin fish and run through lessons about mincing, cutting nuts and splitting a whole chicken. The book is full of detailed instructions, photos, instructions and variations. Perfect for the beginning cook. I can’t recommended enough for you other first timers.
Bittman, a journalist and former editor of Cook’s, is a passionate whole foods and home cooking advocate. Check out his recent spin on NPR for more.
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