Monday, September 24, 2012

Now You See It

Thanks to our earlier encounter:

Pokeweed's everywhere
now that we know it exists.
That’s how our eyes work.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Let It Be

It started as a joke – influenced by a little laziness.  A volunteer “flower” (more likely a weed – a real one – not one of those cutesy “just plants growing in the wrong place” type of weed but an invasive, unwanted, ugly invader) appeared in the midst of my border-defining arborvitae.
 I could hear the voice of Paul McCartney singing in my head:
      “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
      There will be an answer, let it be.”
So I did. 
 It had the large, floppy, green leaves of perhaps a skunk cabbage (not desirable but okay) or perhaps (in my dreams) rhubarb.  I could already taste the bittersweet sauce to be harvested. 
 It was neither.
It grew taller and taller – each level like the one below with three or four long-stemmed, elephant eared leaves.  Walkers passing by our property stopped to talk and express if not admiration at least curiosity.  At around eight feet tall, golf ball-sized, purple hued thistles showed up at the ends of the branches.
And small animals in our hometown began to disappear.
Initially I didn’t make the connection.  Then I remembered the movie “Little Shop of Horrors” about Seymour a hapless florist shop worker who raises a plant (“Audrey II) that starts out sweet and innocent but quickly morphs into a genormous carnivore that feeds on human flesh and blood.
Marsha and I don’t have any pets in the normal sense of the word – but we do feel a certain responsibility for the birds, squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks that pass through our habitat.  I took a rough count and thought that the population looked a little depleted.
It seemed a little silly but then again, why take any chances?  It is almost autumn, and we have already gotten more enjoyment this year out of the thistle than from any of our planned plantings.  It’s all horticulturally downhill from here.
I armed myself with my Japanese pruning saw and waded into the surrounding cedar brush.  There was a brief struggle and I thought that I heard a plaintive moan as I severed the two-inch stalk from its firmly imbedded root.  My tee shirt was littered with prickly balls, including two that found their way onto the inside and poked into my flesh as I bent down to dismember my fallen foe.
As I stood over my opponent’s corpse I felt a wave of pride and relief.   Then I remembered the ending of the movie wherein Audrey II is similarly destroyed.  (Actually it was immolated, but our town doesn’t allow such things.)  The camera focuses on a distant part of Seymour’s lawn where a miniature Audrey III with a big S.E.G. is popping up through the soil.
 I probably should do something about that remaining root.   On the other hand some of the neighborhood cats can be really annoying.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

One man's weed is another man's treasure!

Okay.  So the second major success of my 2012 gardening season turns out to be another weed.  This is not a good sign for an avocational plantsman.  I don’t have a “day job” to not quit.
You may or may not remember my first horticultural triumph of the year – the man-eatingthistle that appeared amidst the arborvitae that fringe the south end of our property.  Truthfully the major attraction of that plant was its ever-increasing growth pattern – morphing in just a few months from a midget wrestler to Andre the Giant.  The blue, Velcro-like spheres at the end of its branches just made it that much weirder.
 But now there is an even more glamorous and deadlier looking volunteer in the former shade garden at the other end of the same southern border.  (That flowerbed was previously in heavy shade (25 hours/day) but now is unrelenting sun due to the removal of the four trees that prevented any form of radiation penetrating the area.)  Knowing how little I knew about what I was looking at I quickly photographed it and sent it out to my circle of fellow amateur hoers and growers for identification and advice.

The answers flew in faster than weeds sprouting in fertile soil.  “Pokeweed”,  “Pokeweed”, “Pokeweed”, and one “Bad stuff.  Gets huge and can take over an area.”
One of these early responders went on to say, “At Bram and Monica's [our son and daughter-in-law’s] wedding reception, the very creative flower arranger used pokeweed, with those beautiful purple berries, plus some other stuff, including something that reminded me a little of lunaria, altho it was different and someone mentioned that it was an invasive weed. Gorgeous arrangements.
“And there is one house in my neighborhood with a tall shrub of pokeweed that is beautiful -- I think the gardener in that family must have arborized the plant.
“One man's weed is another man's treasure!”
And another wrote, “I think the birds drop the seeds because it pops up everywhere.”
Now that I knew what my mystery plant was called I could look on the internet for more info.  It was all there – except for the part about the wedding flower arrangement – and much more.
In the southern United States, for example, Pokeweed is a commonly eaten “green”.
“This recipe [from] is a must for anyone using pokeweed. It makes the plant safe and delicious.
"8 cups young pokeweed leaves and stems of plants up to 8 inches tall, collected only in springtime, and without any pieces of the toxic taproot, coarsely-chopped

      1 large pot of rapidly boiling water
      1 medium pot of rapidly boiling water, 2 tbs. olive oil, 4 cloves garlic, chopped, 1/4 cup wine vinegar, 2 tsp. tamari soy sauce
      1. Boil the pokeweed in the medium pot of rapidly boiling water 1 minute over high heat.
      2. Drain in a colander.
      3. Return the pokeweed to pot with more boiling water from the large pot and boil another minute.
      4. Drain and change the water again, and boil another 15 minutes
      5. Drain again, pressing the pokeweed against the colander with a slotted spoon to press out as much water as possible.
      6. Meanwhile, if desired, gently sauté the garlic in olive oil 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned, and stir the oil, garlic, tamari, and vinegar into the cooked, drained pokeweed greens.
      Note: Omit the last step if you’re planning to use the pokeweed in another recipe with different seasonings.
      Serve hot.
      Makes 2-2/3 cups”
This recipe mentions “young” leaves.  Other references talk about using the leave ONLY when they are colored green.  Purple hued ones apparently can kill you.  As can the berries – wherever they fall on the color wheel.
Another web site debated the merits of letting the plant grow versus ripping any traces of it out of the ground as soon as it appeared.  The argument seemed evenly divided between the pros (mostly eaters of the weed) and cons (who truthfully did sound a little alarmist).  A few of those in favor of letting the plant propagate also mentioned its aesthetic charms.  None of those on the destruction side did.
 Mars and I are going to keep it and see what happens next year.  We certainly don’t want a Pokeweed forest – but we definitely would like the look of a few of the globose buried bushes in our landscape.
Sadly none of the wedding photos that we have perused captured the ornamental Pokeweed.  So, maybe we’ll drop off a cutting or two with our favorite local florist to see what she could do with them.  We also have another enterprise in town (“Edible Arrangements”) that combines the idea of fruit baskets with designs inspired by the floral business. We definitely will not bring them any.

After the publication of this piece I received an email from one of my circle of growers and hoers asking if I remembered a song called "Polk Salad Annie" recorded by Tony Joe White.  I did not.  But here is a video.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Don't Tread On My Parking Space

This morning, in our health club's garage, we parked across from a very, scary vehicle.

 Maroon kid-ferry
yellow, coiled snake decal –
Tea Party Volvo.