Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good night to bulbs and moomins

Lily-flowered tulip bulbs ready to be planted into a brown-glazed pot.
Planting bulbs in containers and pots is one of my favorite things to do in the garden. It is almost impossible to fail if you start with a new bag of fresh, juicy bulbs, and they make me feel so rich when I admire their rounded forms within the golden skins: such a concentrated promise of expected beauty. In Saltsjöbaden I used to cover the pots with sheets of moss and leave them outside; they seemed to survive every year despite the cold. Once I even arranged beautiful, glazed ceramic eggs on the top of the moss, which looked wonderful until they were hacked to pieces by crows eager to eat up the contents...
This year, I planted only three pots: one with greenish-white lily flowered tulips, one with white, fragrant Narcissus 'Thalia' and one with Fritillaria meleagris. Nostalgic choices, as I grew all of these in my garden in Saltsjöbaden... but I thought that I could do with some old friends here.

Nothing up yet for a couple of months... but where can I find (or buy) some moss?
Otherwise, instead of getting to bed in late November like bulbs and Moomins do and sleeping soundly until the rays of sun get warmer again, I am getting ready for a trip to Saltsjöbaden and Turku. Despite the cold and dark season, I really look forward to meeting our families and friends, celebrating the opening of the Christmas season in the medieval town of Turku (I can almost smell the gingerbread and mulled wine from here...) and even doing some very interesting garden related research there. I'll be back in early December, hopefully full of new inspiration and with some good photos from the wintery Scandinavia. Until then, have a great Thanksgiving, Första Advent or whatever else you might be celebrating!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Charlie's still retired, happily

Even if it has nothing to do with gardening, I just felt like posting this picture today as it is 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunited. I happened to land in Berlin on November 9th 1989 to study European Union Law, a 10 day course that I had booked almost a year earlier. From the plane, I watched the masses of people forcing their way from the surrounding East to West Berlin, some pushing their Trabants and bicycles in front of them. It looked like an enormous, circular migration of brown ants, all heading to the same point in the middle. Obviously, EU law lost its importance and we spent the whole week on the streets, experiencing first hand as history was in the making. One of the highlights was to see Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Germany, opened; I took the picture above that evening.
Being in Berlin when the Wall came down was an extremely strong but at the same time very strange experience. I almost felt like a voyeur, being there and seeing all the violent emotions that I as an outsider impossibly could completely share, only imagine. Everybody was talking to complete strangers; a lady in her 60's with dyed hair and make-up running down her cheeks told about a relative who had died while trying to escape to the West. A young Russian soldier with a bleak, tired face and empty eyes kept repeating that just a couple of days before, he wouldn't have hesitated to shoot us standing where we were at the moment. But the feeling of joy was almost overwhelming as we knew that a new period in the history of Europe had begun. We danced with the Russian and East German soldiers and climbed up on the wall with the people at the Brandenburg Gate. I feel lucky to have experienced those days in Berlin, and as I haven 't been back there ever since, I still think of the city crowded with an ocean of people, singing, crying and celebrating the fact that miracles really do happen, every now and then.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sunset Gardens in Menlo Park

A flowing connection between the indoor and outdoor areas.

Sitting here, looking at my garden through the pouring rain, I remembered that I forgot to write about one of the gardens we visited in California last August. The pictures of Sunset Gardens in Menlo Park, some 15 miles South from San Francisco, were just what I needed to feel a bit warmer in this chilly, grey weather. This is a corporate garden and home of the the Sunset Magazine, a lifestyle publication for the West from California to British Columbia. This magazine started actually as a promotional tool in 1898 to spur travellers to visit the West, and the name came from the Sunset Limited, a train that still runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The Sunset Magazine is practically unknown to people outside the area (well, at least for us from Europe), but here in the "West" it has a great following with over 6 million readers who are interested about where to travel, what to eat and so on. A bit middle aged, yes, but still quite a nice read... and a good travel guide for these areas. (Am I sounding too promotional? Well, no-one is actually paying me for this.)

From the patio to the garden.

Agave stricta in the Southwest desert garden.
The Sunset Gardens is quite a celebration of the American style of the mid-1900's. The house was designed by Cliff May, who has been called the father of the California ranch-style home. The gardens were designed by Thomas Church, whose achievements within garden design do not need any further presentations, but they were renovated in 2000, so only trees and shrubs remain from the original design. The indoor and outdoor areas merge here effortlessly together and allow a continuous flow of vistas to be enjoyed both from the house and in the garden.

Central Californian parts of the garden.

On the way to the Northwest...

A winding path takes the visitor through the garden and its five different areas designated to the different climate zones of the Western North America. For example, there is an area of desert vegetation suited to arid conditions, another area dedicated to central Californian growing conditions, complete with huge coast redwoods and pines and area with plants suited for the wet and cold winters of the Pacific Northwest. Amazingly, they all seem to thrive here, even if some of them clearly are outside their most preferred growing areas. There is also an editorial test garden for the magazine's photo shoots, cooking articles and other projects; it was a strange experience to see many of the pots and other props from the pages of the Sunset Magazine neatly tucked together in this small area on the backside of the house.

The editorial test garden.

Thriving artichokes in the kitchen garden.

I wanted to visit the Sunset Gardens as my garden guide book advertised it as "one of Church's best preserved gardens". Obviously, this is not completely true any more, but I still found the visit very much worthwhile. A very friendly receptionist took time to show the building to us, and told us about the history (the framed first page from the Sunset Magazine that was published directly after the earth quake of 1906 was especially memorable). I also enjoyed seeing such an pleasant environment for working, as the building still houses the staff of the Sunset Magazine. The gardens are a great testament to American design from the middle of last century, which sadly now are all too often torn down and replaced with something more "up-to-date". Even if not private and on a large scale, these gardens are an inspiration to many builders and designers even today.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pehr Kalm about pumpkins in colonial North America

Excited by the discovery of Pehr Kalm's experimental gardens in Sipsalo, I have been reading his North American travel journal from 1748 to 1751 with great interest and joy. I bought this book as a reprint of the 1770 English edition. As today is Halloween, the greatest pumpkin orgy of the year in North America, I thought it could be interesting to share some of Pehr Kalm's notes on these vegetables. This is what he wrote down in Montreal on September 19th, 1749:
'Pumpkins, of several long, oblong, round, flat or compressed, crook-necked, small, etc. are planted in all the English and French colonies. In Canada they fill the chief part of the farmers' kitchen gardens, though the onions are close second. Each farmer in the English plantations has a large field planted with pumpkins, and the Germans, Swedes, Dutch and other Europeans settled in their colonies plant them. They constitute a considerable part of the Indian food; however, the natives plant more squashes than common pumpkins. They declare that they had the latter long before the Europeans discovered America, which seems to be confirmed by the accounts of the first Europeans that came into these parts.'
'Pumpkins are prepared for eating in various ways. The Indians boil them whole, or roast them in ashes and eat them, or sell them thus prepared in the town; and they have, indeed, a very fine flavor when roasted. The French and English slice them and put the slices before the fire to roast; when they are done they generally put sugar on the pulp. Another way of roasting them is to cut them through the middle, take out all the seeds, put the halves together again and roast them in an oven. When they are quite done, some butter is put in while they are warm, which being imbibed to the pulp renders it very palatable.'
'The Indians, in order to preserve the pumpkins for a very long time, cut them in long slices which they fasten or twist together and dry either in the sun or by the fire in a room. When they are thus dried, they will keep for years, and when boiled they taste very well. Sometimes they do not take the time to boil the pumpkin, but eat it dry with dried beef or other meat; and I own they are eatable in that state, and very welcome to a hungry stomach.'
Have a great Halloween weekend, with or without pumpkins. Maybe it is time to try one of the recipes Kalm noted down?
Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) was a naturalist, explorer, agricultural economist and priest from Finland, who studied with Carl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus) in Uppsala, Sweden. He traveled in Sweden, Finland, Russia (1742–1745) and later to North America (1748–1751), visiting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec. Kalm wrote a journal of his travels to North America, 'En resa til Nord America', which was published already during his lifetime in four different languages.
Picture from Glasgow University Emblem website: a print from 1621 with a gourd climbing up a pine, representing "transitory success".