Herbaria (July 20, 2012)

The theme for this week is fruit. Fruit as a plant part as opposed to fruits such as strawberries and bananas, although you’ll notice some of those, too. It seems that fruit — some edible and some not — is forming in every corner of the garden. Flower diversity is still high, it’s just that many of the flowers are there in the service of forming fruit and are not there to be pretty in their own right.

The Scorched Earth. This is also the first week that marked significant loss and suffering as a result of the intense heat and drought we are experiencing. There are going to be some significant holes in the garden by the time the summer is out. I don’t think I am going to have extra ‘Hahms Gelbe Topftomate’ seeds as a result. I inexplicably gave all of my seedlings away but one and that one was in a pot that was cooked during this week’s heat emergency. Drat. The plant went from green and lush to yellow within the span of a single day. It is holding on and could recover if things stay as cooled off as they are now. It’s amazing what one bad day can bring. It’s a good lesson and reminder in how much we should respect our farmers who are at the mercy of whatever insanity the season brings. Amazingly, all of my other tomatoes are perfectly fine.

From Left to Right:

Top Row: 1. White Gayfeather (Liatris spicata ‘Alba’) My friend Barry, a friend who inspires many of my non-edible gardening experiments, has the purple form in his front garden. Observing how much monarch butterflies are drawn to it inspired me to add both purple and a white flowered plants to my own garden last year. My purple plant is blooming now too but it is in a less sunny spot and is only about half the size while the white is front and center in the sunniest part of the garden. It is unbelievably large and has been teeming with pollinators and yes, even some monarchs since the flowers started to open last week. White is a particularly eye-catching color in the garden and this one is definitely the current highlight. 2. Black Currant (Ribes nigrum) It’s only the plant’s second year in my garden and I’ve had a nice little harvest from it so far. Enough to make up a small batch of Creme de Cassis for next year’s Kir Royales. I almost put my recipe in our new booklet, Drinking the Summer Garden, but alas I had to cut it for space. 3. Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) Like last year, my sunchoke crop is threatening to win the title of Monster Plant 2012. A few smaller plants have sprung up along the edges and those plants are now flowering at a height that we can actually enjoy them. The rest are pushing 2 stories again and have not begun to flower.

Middle Row: 4. ‘Thai Red’ Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) Last year I attempted to grow roselle to harvest with no luck. My plants thrived and grew very large but they did not produce flowers (only tiny buds) before the frost swooped in and killed them. This year I started my plants from a package of seed that I bought in Thailand. The first bud formed several weeks ago. Here it is with a leaf. Enough for one shot-sized glass of sorrel perhaps? Ha! Here’s hoping that there are more. 5. Eggplant ‘Turkish Orange’ Aren’t they gorgeous? I started this unusual eggplant variety from seed very early and it is now heavy with fruit, with more on the way. I am not an eggplant fan as they make my mouth itch, but I still grow them now and again for the experience and because I will admit that they are beautiful plants. Leekfixer, a food growing contact on Twitter, suggested harvesting and using them early, before they take on too much orange colour. I have done just that and plan to cook and even taste them myself. Taking one for the team. I am planning to allow the rest to fully mature so I can harvest and save the seed.

6. Breadbox Poppy (Papaver somniferum) seedheads The flowers are done and now we are enjoying their beautiful, sculptural seedheads. Some have matured and dried already and I have clipped them off to harvest the seed for future poppyseed and zucchini loafs.

Bottom Row: 7. Dwarf Asiatic Lily ‘Tiny Padhye’ Oh dear. These bulbs showed up in my P.O. Box late in the spring and heck if I could remember where they are from. I feel especially bad about this since I really love them! I had no idea at the time of planting, but these are a dwarf variety that was created especially for containers. I put mine in the ground, in a section that is populated by burgundy foliage and flowers. 8. Cosmos bipinnatus These cosmos seeded themselves from a crop that I planted last year. The squirrels dug up their tags so by the time they were in bloom I could no longer identify whether they were ‘Rose Bon Bon’, ‘Double Click’, or ‘Dancing Petticoats.’ And a year later, I still can’t. 9. Hardneck Garlic They are early this year and very nicely sized. I no longer know what they are as they are all progeny of a range of hardneck varieties that go back several years. I gave some to my neighbour. I hope she will plant some (she asked how) and help to carry them on.


Herbaria F.A.Q

What is this?

An herbarium is a collection of plant specimens. Herbaria is the plural form. A collection of collections.

Every week, until I can no longer find anything living to fill up the boxes, I am photographing and posting a collection of flowers, leaves, stems, and other plant parts that are in my garden. This is an experiment in celebrating diversity and I hope it will allow me to focus more closely on the beauty that is inherent in the different parts of each plant. It also serves as a visual file of the seasons and a record of my garden, my gardening practice, and the plants that I choose to grow.

Why doesn’t this start at the beginning of the calendar year or garden season?

I would have preferred starting this project at either of those times, but alas, that is now how things worked out. The idea for this project came to me rather spontaneously one May morning as I sat pondering how I could best use a stack of nine wooden, pint-sized fruit boxes that I had recently purchased at the flea market. I have a thing for wooden boxes and I love to display little collections of cherished items within them. These nine little boxes begged to be kept together as a display — it didn’t take long before the idea came to mind: little boxes within a box, framed within weeks and months of boxes. Within the hour I had worked out the logistics of the project and was photographing my first box. That was May 16, 2012.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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