Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Queen of Mystery

At Mars’ behest I have created an archipelago of Queen Anne’s Lace islands in the grassy sections of our yard this summer.  It actually looks much more orderly than you might think.  We’re not just turning over our property to the weeds.  But we are giving some of the members of the Daucus carota family the opportunity to display their white lacey umbels in a non-competitive showroom.
We both are actually quite fond of – possibly even enamored with – the wild carrot, aka bishop’s lace among other aliases, which has repeatedly insinuated into virtually every part of our modest landscape for at least as long as we have lived in it – surprising us every year with its ingenuity for finding new locations in which to flourish.
But Mars and I are still not as enthusiastic as Theresa Roach Melia, whose paper “APlant Study: Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) parsley family Umbelliferae” I came upon while casting about the Internet for more information on the plant.  The article was “submitted for the 2010 FES [Flower Essence Society] Practitioner Certification Program. This plant study incorporates observations as set forth in "The Twelve Windows of Plant Perception."
I have an interest in folklore, and particularly the folklore of plants, which sometimes can tell you things about a flower’s horticulture.  E.g. in a recent post I mentioned what I learned about the negative reaction that our hollyhocks seem to have to excess water from the Polish legend of Malvina.
Now I am not quite sure that Theresa Roach Melia’s “imaginative perception” of “This Flower Queen” falls into that category – but to me it is both a both poetic and a spot-on description of the flower’s earthly behavior.  Here are some excerpts
“Her colors of face, hair, gown, aura are predominantly radiant white, with blushes of pink, light green, light yellow…punctuated by the mysterious presence of deep purple in an unpredictable pattern that offers life, touched by deep purple moments of infertility.
“She wishes to be known by human beings and so she appears in great flower communities wherever human community abounds. She accompanies human communities throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Her physical needs are minimal; she thrives in harsh dry infertile conditions.
“Her earthly flowers nod and wave with the slightest breeze. Air is where her strength, grace and power abound
“She is a great Angelic Queen and her angel servants are found in the flower faces of her radiant umbels, nodding in the breeze, a companion alongside human beings.
"Water appears minimal in her expression; she utilizes it so well, that she appears to barely need any.
"This Flower Queen offers sacred geometry, interconnectedness, pathways to use in our approach toward the infinite; and the same pathways lead back to the exquisite structure of her reassuringly commonplace presence in our lives in the airy warmth of summertime, here on earth, in the Northern Hemisphere.
"She is a radiant white Queen of mystery in service to us all."
This year seems like a particularly good year for the plant in and around our central Connecticut town.  Many of the fields in our town’s Preserved Open Space (former farmland) are covered in white lace gently swaying in the light breeze – as are several smaller areas at our local public golf course.
And especially in our yard, where any unusually large number of them have appeared amongst the fescue.  Having more of a tolerance for disorder and overcrowding than Mars I have historically been more willing to put up with large numbers of them – even though wrenching the pale colored root from the ground is one of gardening most cathartic activities.  So Mars’ totally unexpected idea to allow pockets of them to flourish through out the lawn was a surprising suggestion that I eagerly adapted. 
I have discovered over the years that eagerly adapting surprising suggestions from your own Queen of Mystery – if you are lucky enough to have one – is generally a good idea.  And makes life much more interesting.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Transplanting Your Roots

One of the things that Mars and I like the most about New Mexico – our ultimate retirement location – is that it is not Connecticut.  Now by that I DO NOT mean the whining and griping about taxes-taxes-taxes and spendthrift stare government spending trope –  “I had a good job, lived in a nice house in a great town, our kids had great educations, great community – it is time to retire, this place sucks, I’m leaving!”  We actually still like it here.

What we do mean is that the whole look and feel of New Mexico is so different – the natural light, the colors, the landscape, the food, the art, the people.   It “spoke to us” the first time that we went there 24 years ago, and its call has just gotten louder every year since.  Santa Fe, New Mexico calls itself “The City Different”.  And at this our point in lives, different is good.

But we’re not going to totally start from scratch when we relocate out there.  Some of the things that currently give us joy and comfort in Wethersfield Connecticut are coming with us.

Like for example, our garden – or part of it anyway. What I am thinking of is blending together several of the flora that actually belong in the “Land of Enchantment [and Not Much Rain]” with some of the perennial plants that have become mainstays or recent faves in our New England yard, most of which were chosen for being native to this area.   

And, if that part of my plan fails – or maybe in addition to it– I might like to include plants that were discovered by, and named after one of our town’s many historical notables.  Fortunately all of the plants in this third category are indigenous to the land we are going to, and not the one from which we are coming – which at least partially explains why no one in our village seems to have them or even know anything about them.

The NM native plants will obviously be the easy part – help from our gardening daughter-in-law and son who live in Santa Fe plus suggestions from local nurseries will handle that part of the equation.

The replication of part of our current backyard in the dry, barren environment might be a little trickier.  Some, like our Wethersfield hollyhocks whose seeds came originally from our d-in-l’s Santa Fe garden, should be easy.  Likewise our “Maximillian” Sunflowers from the same source.   

Others like the Hosta that we have spread along several of our border gardens; Brown-eyed Susan, Coneflowers, and Daisies (Mars’ favorites); False Dragonhead (which I was told by its original grower was a Cardinal Plant); Bee Balm; and, our most-recent, most-liked plants – Gooseneck loosestrife and Teasel may not be so straight forward.

At least one online New Mexican nursery/landscaper features Susans, and Coneflowers.  But their Hosta comes with the caveat “does best in partial shade to full shade”, which may prove to be a bigger challenge out west where stately shadow producing Elm and Oak trees do not exactly litter the landscape.  When our own shade producers in Wethersfield bit the dust we were quickly left with a Hosta bed that looked more like Frito Taco Chips than flowers.  Not the southwestern look we would be hoping for.

As for the sun-lovers, according to, New Mexicans refer to their local species of Bee Balm  (Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia) “as Oregano de la Sierra, or Oregano of the Mountain.”  New England varieties apparently have sweet flowers while the NM strain has a “hot and spicy bite” – something desert southwest bees have adapted to, and we spice-wimp easterners will probably evolve to also.  Or starve.

Monarda is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family.  So is False Dragonhead.  That gives me hope that I will continue to see that pinkish, "snapdragon-like" flowers adding color to the tan New Mexico backdrop.


Several daisies including Oxeye, Blackfoot and Tidytips are listed among the wildflowers in the website.  And New Mexico State University classifies the Oxeye as a “Class A Noxious Weed” – so the problem with Daisies, like with False Dragonheads, may be not in growing them but in containing their growth – which is something I am used to with the many invasive plants that we have encouraged to share our current yard with us.


Speaking of which – Gooseneck loosestrife is described as “ not native to North America but has adapted well to most zones in the United States… an extremely tolerant plant whose only complaint is dry soil.” ( “Plants establish easily in a rain garden and perform best in moist to wet soils. They don’t tolerate extreme heat or soils that stay dry for extended periods. In cooler climates plants perform well in full sun locations, while they’ll prefer some afternoon shade in southern regions.” ( This may become our special project, along with…

…Teasel, which according to NMSU is a Class B species [noxious weed]…limited to portions of the state. In areas with severe infestations, management should be designed to contain the infestation and stop any further spread.”

I fear that the Gooseneck loosestrife, whose purple cousin is a Class A weed felon, and Teasel may not be available at my friendly neighborhood NM nursery and both may require ingenuity and perhaps even illegality to get them into our Santa Fe backyard.  And then the loosestrife would probably get up and leave in search of “moist to wet soils”.  That’s what these invasive plants do if you don’t keep your eyes on them.


Then there’s option 3 – plants identified and named after former Wethersfield resident Charles Wight, born here in October 29, 1811, and graduated from Yale as a Phi Beta Kappa in 1835.  For the next 30 years Wright lived and worked in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, teaching and surveying the boundary between the United States and Mexico – and discovering and documenting plants.  He then began 11 years of botanical exploration in Cuba in 1856 – dying in Wethersfield in 1885, of a heart ailment dating back to his years in the Caribbean island nation.  

Several plants including Datura wrightii, the genus Carlowrightia (wrightworts), and Wrights fishhook – a grey flycatcher bird (Empidonax wrightii) – a snake, Wrights dwarf boa – and one elementary school were all named in his honor.  Other than the educational institution, none of these flora or fauna can be found in or near his former hometown.


I have long been attracted to the charms of the Datura flower having first seen varieties of it on Mars and my trip to the Mediterranean Island of Malta in 1997 where the plant grows wild on the main archipelago and its companion island Gozo.  Then Mars and I came across a garden of night-blooming Datura, at a beachside condo on Emerald Isle, North Carolina – south of the Outer Banks (SOBX on your bumper sticker).  We also have come across a diurnal-blooming type of the flower in our walks around our daughter-in-law and son’s Santa Fe neighborhood.

Its presence in all of our favorite places, the way it looks, and its reputation for creating mystical clarity as well as causing painful deaths makes it almost fatally attractive to me – like a femme fatale in a noir mystery.  Plus with the hometown connection – I just gotta have it, no matter what.

Datura wrightii grows throughout the Verde Valley and other areas of Arizona between 1,000 and 7,000 feet elevation.  And, according to a “Flickr” posting, “A huge plant, covered with a dozen big white blossoms, was growing on the curb beside Cerrillos Road, inches from the maddening Santa Fe traffic.”

I think we will be able to get one.  And possibly other Charles Wright non-Wethersfield-Wethersfield plants also.

It makes it easier to plant your roots in a new location if you can bring a little of your own history with you.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

This is What Mars and I Saw Last Night

“The name "buck moon" is one of three names given to the moon in North America in July because it arrives during the time when male deer, called "bucks," are beginning to grow their antlers. Other names include the "hay moon," when farmers are beginning to store their hay, and "thunder moon," for the number of thunderstorms that occur at this time, as the [Farmer’s] Almanac noted.” (

Fireflies flicker

amid floral silhouettes

under a Buck Moon.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Having A Fruitful Discussion

As I mentioned in an earlier post – this year in Mars' and my garden is the “Year of Teasel and Hollyhocks” – and now it turns out, to my dismay, Rose of Sharon.  I came across the latter this past weekend when I thought I would grab a quick half hour of easy pruning prior to heading off on one of the Walking Tours at a local historic rural cemetery. 

My intended task was to quickly prune back the overgrowth from two sets of bushes that demarcate the pathway to our compost bin along the south boundary of our property.  The branches of the shrubs had grown long enough to create a green, leafy turnstile that I had to push my way through on my evening foray to add to the fenced-in pile of decaying yard and kitchen waste.  It was annoying enough to be scolded each eventide by the family of catbirds that nest in my nearby arborvitae.  But the thwack of the whip-like branches on the backs of my bare legs as I retreated after quickly tossing the collection of lettuce leaves (or whatever) onto the slow-cooking heap was, unlike the silencing the meowing avians, easily solvable with a few minutes of lopping.
The compost bin itself is a hexagonal corral of wood slats, about three feet high and six feet across, with a front gate held in place by an L-shaped metal rod that inserts into the unhinged end of the front gate, and sticks into the ground.  No compost, as far as we know, has ever escaped.
We have lived here since 1977, and have had the container for at least twenty-five of those years after purchasing it from what was, at the time, my favorite garden catalogue to read, and perhaps order from, “Gardens Alive!”.  (I was particularly fond of their descriptions and pictures of nematodes and other such beneficial predators.)  Over the years ivy has totally enveloped the bin making it no longer possible to open the door but giving it an all-natural look that would make the folks at “Gardens Alive!” quite pleased.  This apparent lockout is not a problem for me since, being 6’ 5” I have always turned and removed the compost from above anyway.  Plus the green vines blend in rally nicely with the increasingly woodsy background.
Which brings me to the Rose of Sharon – one of the principal things that are adding to the forestation. 
The compost bin is adjacent to what used to be our shade garden but now has become, by default, a sun garden due to the unplanned and unfortunate demise of the tall, noble trees that had previously provided the shadowy cover.  In addition to the frying of the shade-loving plants that had previously occupied the space, another surprising consequence of the explosion of sunlight was the emergence of several flora which Mars and I had no idea had roots in that area – Flowering Crab and Pokeweed for example. 
And Rose of Sharon, which I now have to learn something about.
I have found that reading the folklore associated with a plant can sometimes teach you something about its horticulture.  For example, our hollyhocks, whose seeds we imported from the high desert region of New Mexico, seem to react badly to an abundance of warm weather Connecticut precipitation.  I figured this was probably due to its arid place of origin – but folk tales tell a slightly different story.     

Hollyhock (mallow family Malvaceae) “…in Polish is called MALWA. There is a legend that it’s favorite plant of ferries and forest flying creatures. There is also a legend that once a girl name Malvina wanted to place some flower on the grave of her loved boy that died tragically. The only flowers she could find was these. She cried a lot by the grave and her tears was falling to the flowers causing them to close. Now when ever it’s raining this plant will close its flower to protect from rain. And many time it will loose flowers after one small rain, because flowers are very delicate. Some of the type of this plans will also close their flower by rolling them in to trumpet shape tube for night.”

And Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), which we grow and it does okay but not great, has a backstory that is intertwined with that of Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), a flower that we do not plant.  Apparently, according to an old English poem by John Gay, the former would do much, much better if we also had the latter.

"All in the downs the fleet was moored, banners waving in the wind. When Black-eyed Susan came aboard, and eyed the burly men. 'Tell me ye sailors, tell me true, if my Sweet William sails with you.'’
So, what of the Rose of Sharon?   According to, "’Sharon’ means ‘Fruitful’ a word that Torah associates with good pasturage for sheep.”   There apparently are more mentions of the plant in both the Old and New Testaments such as within the Song of Solomon  – "I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”  But “fruitful” was more than enough to tell me all that I need to know about our newly arrived Hibiscus syriacus.
Prior to the passing of the shade, and the rising of the sun on that part of our yard we had zero/zip/zilch Rose of Sharon.  This time, when I went out to clear my path to the compost bin, I was immediately confronted by two of the bushes – one at each side of the container.  The tree on the right was slightly taller than me, and looked to be within minutes of blossoming.  I had been watching it for a couple of years and liked both its location and its look.   

The leftmost one was less fecund and half the height – but much taller and fuller than I had recalled (if I even remembered it) – and was already beginning to block access to my compostable matter dumping site. Its trunk was thicker than my hand clippers could handle so I retrieved my Japanese pruning saw and hacked it down.  While picking up that felled shrub I noticed another six inch tall R of S; then another; and another… a whole forest of pint-sized products of (presumably) the progenitor I had just admired and whose life I had once again pardoned.
And each time I bent over to snip off one of the little intruders I noticed at least two more.  It was either an arithmetic progression or a geometric one.  I once knew and cared about the difference between these two mathematical concepts, but now all I cared about was losing control of my property, or at least this section of it, to this invasive “fruitful” Hibiscus.  So I spent the next ten or so minutes bent over in a u-shaped posture snipping off the invasive semi-triangular serrated leaf holders until I was satisfied that, for the moment, my immediate surroundings were clear of them.
A small skirmish won.  But the more that I think about the fable of Rose of Sharon, I more I can foresee a long term conflict of near Biblical proportions.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thriving Outside of Your Comfort Zone

For the past several years I have been researching and authoring articles for my local historical society.  Wethersfield is Connecticut’s oldest town with one of the state’s largest historical districts and loads of interesting stories about its past from 1634 to yesterday – and yet in character it is just another small, quiet, New England bedroom community. 

The other day I was thinking about the pieces that I have enjoyed composing the most.  And I quickly came up with three of them – all about former town residents.  In no particular order they concerned (1) Francesco (Frank) Lentini, a three-legged man who lived up the street in my neighborhood in the 1920s and was a world-famous sideshow performer (”freak”) traveling the world as “The Great Lentini”; (2) William Watson Andrews, a 19th century founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church: which considered itself the one true church; believed other Christian religion were evil; and was considered blasphemous by mainstream Christianity – yet, he was a prominent town citizen, and an active preacher at Wethersfield's Congregational Church while simultaneously publicly evangelising for his own church; and (3) Benjamin Lee Whorf, who was both an eminent American Linguist who popularized the widespread belief that the Eskimos have an unusually large number of words for snow, and was also, at the same time, a renowned Fire Prevention Engineer in the insurance industry.

Then about a week later our Prickly Pear Cactus blossomed several bright yellow flowers.

 Coincidence, or fodder for a personal essay?  I’ll go with the latter.

 For the past several years, since personal circumstances have prevented us from moving to New Mexico (our ultimate retirement destination), we have done what we can to New Mexicanize our immediate surroundings.  Images of the Virgin of Guadalupe appear throughout our house.  Our family room wall is covered with southwestern arts and crafts – prominent among them the “Santos” of Taos based Santera, Lydia Garcia as well as various “ex votos”.  Prints of New Mexican artists such as R.C.Gorman and Pablita Velarde hang in various rooms.  And hand carved Zuni stone fetishes live atop the hope chest mesa in our living room.

Outdoors we have imported hollyhock seeds and “Maximillian” Sunflowers from our daughter-in-law and son’s yard in Santa Fe, NM.  The latter proved much harder to smuggle x-country, but we did it. 

Hollyhocks are the floral symbol of the Town of Taos, NM and appear in abundance up against the brown adobe casitas in that town and throughout the northern part of the “Land of Enchantment”.  To complicate the transplanting of hollyhocks, the flowers are biannual meaning they come to life every other annum.  After several years of trial and error, and on one occasion way too much rain, they now appear in roughly the same spot, per their prescribed internal schedule. 

The Maximillians, on the other hand, are a normal perennial – and much more reliable – that also can withstand poor soils and intense heat, and each growing season it churns out large yellow flowers from midsummer onwards.  And tall.  Like really, really, tall.  Like cut them back in June, and in September they are still eight feet high tall.  No problemo with these southwester imports.

What we really wanted however out in our yard was a New Mexican cactus – which to us means a Prickly Pear, Opuntia genus (Family Cactaceae).  This is something that to us anyway is not smuggle-able.  A couple of years back we went to the Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society’s Annual Show and Sale in nearby Waterbury, CT hoping to find some examples of the this southwest succulent – preferably without sharp spines (there are such things) and suitable for the Connecticut climate.  Nada.

Ironically however, the next month my Men’s Garden Club had our annual plant sale and one of the members (to our surprise) showed up with a bunch of potted little prickly pear cacti, which it seems he had growing in a little garden in his own back yard a mile or so away from our own domicile. These definitely had spines.   But that is the way it is according to “Like other cactus, most prickly pears and chollas have large spines -- actually modified leaves -- growing from tubercles -- small, wart-like projections -- on their stems. But members of the Opuntia genus are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from the pads. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.”


Mars and I of course bought one – carefully brought it home – carefully planted it in a blue “freeze-proof” pot (purchased for this purpose) – and placed it in a prominent spot towards the front of what we call our ‘sun garden” (formerly our shade garden until Dutch Elm disease and winter storms eliminated its solar immunity).

That was 2014.  Now two years (and two outdoor winters) later we have our first, yellow, cactus flowers.  The potted cactus also dropped one of its paddles, which seems to have successfully attached itself to our CT soil – so now perhaps our own cactus garden is beginning.

According to its creator, the USDA, the  “Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.”

Our brightly flowering Prickly Pear is somehow thriving far away from its designated zone of comfort.  As did Francesco Lentini, William Watson Andrews, and Benjamin Lee Whorf – who each pursued a life’s work that should have placed them outside the mainstream of the orthodox Protestant, corporate-centric, classic New England bedroom town in which they also thrived.

Which of course is why the Zone Map is only a guide.  And why, to me anyway, the exceptions to that yardstick always blossom with so much more brilliance than the rest of the pack that are just doing what they are supposed to be doing, where they are supposed to be doing it.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Why Do We Like It Here? History, Art – and Recreation!

I submitted the following essay to our local paper's "Living Here" op-ed section, but it was not selected for publication – the very reason that blogs were invented.

“The Father of America” slept in Wethersfield within, what is now, one of our state’s largest historic district.  The artwork of the “Father of American Painting” hangs at world-class museums in New Britain and Hartford.  One of the great things about living here in Central Connecticut is being in such close contact with so much history and art.

But there is even more.  Just recently my wife Marsha and I discovered that we have been taking divots out of the combined handiwork of the “Father of the Hartford Park System” (the Rev. Dr. Francis Goodwin), and the “Father of American Landscape Architecture” (Frederick Law Olmstead).  We play at Goodwin Park Golf Course in Hartford – 27 holes of grass, trees, sand and water in the middle of an urban public park

Now this may not mean much to more serious golfers who willingly travel great distances and pay big bucks to strike the little white ball on courses architected by names such as Robert Trent Jones and Donald Ross  – but to those of us for whom a morning on the links is literally a walk in the park, this Olmsted connection is a really big deal.

A walking and biking trail separates Marsha and me from a softball diamond, public swimming pool, picnic and play area, and a basketball court.  The aromas of barbecues and the rhythms of Salsa, Rock and Rap music – as well as the sights and sounds of joggers, dog walkers, arguing couples, people fishing, plus the occasional fox or deer are as much a part of “Goodie’s” ambiance as are the azaleas at Augusta National, site of the Masters Tournament.

But golf was not a part of the original plan.  Goodwin was built between August 1894 and November 1895, along with Pope, Elizabeth, Riverside and Keney Parks, during the so-called “rain of parks” – spearheaded by the Rev. Dr. Francis Goodwin.  In 1930 Connecticut’s capitol city was said to have the largest number of park-acres per capita in America.

At Goodwin, the landscape firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot created, in their words  “a grand meadow framed by tree plantations with individual trees and small clusters within the meadow space, and a small water feature.”

Evidently there also was enough empty grass area for a number of local clergy to go to the park and informally hit a few golf balls around.  And, like when the first players hit pebbles on the sand dunes and rabbit runs of Scotland, this too became the impetus for one of the first public golf courses in this country.  A formal nine-hole layout was opened in 1907, with another nine added five years later.  In 1922 a group of golfers petitioned the city of Hartford to charge for playing so that "better attention might be given to the course."  A fee of ten cents for nine holes was established.

In retirement we have learned about public art and public history – much of it local.  Artwork is more than just paintings on a museum wall, and there is a lot more to the past than dates, wars, and presidents.   There is also the story of how the places that we see and use every day came to be – and of people like Francis Goodwin and Frederick Law Olmsted who believed that service to human needs, and not simply the creation of decoration, should underlie all true art.

Being surrounded by so much history and art is reason enough for us to live in Connecticut.  Being able to literally step inside of it is even better.  Something I will keep in mind when, with loud music and other joyful noises echoing in the background, I look out at wind-blown trees in the undulating meadow and prepare for my next shot.

History, art – and recreation.  How good is this!

Thursday, July 07, 2016

A Cabbage Conundrum

Bok Choy and Kohlrabi
Are somehow related.

Came in our CSA –
completely elated!

To make some folks eat them
they must be sedated

Now, how to prepare them
is being debated.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

An Ode to Kohlrabi

No one writes poems about kohlrabi
That cabbage with roots which are all knobby
Not poets who garden for a hobby
Nor politico-vegans who lobby
It will never be hot like wasabi
I think kale fans are just too darn snobby!