Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam

Flower and the view across the canal,
Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam
In addition to the lovely parks dotted around Amsterdam, there is a delightful little botanical garden, the Hortus Botanicus. As we were visiting in March, there wasn't much blooming in the outdoor parts of the garden, save an explosion of snowdrops and crocuses, but the greenhouses were great. It was also a great opportunity to get out of the cold and heat ourselves up.

An assortment of palms & cycads

One of the houses, the Palm House, held a large variety of cycads.  Cycads are an amazing and ancient plant that go back to the time of the dinosaurs.  The Hortus Botanicus is part of a breeding program to try to preserve cycad diversity.  If I had a greenhouse, I'd definitely put in a potted cycad - they really look Jurassic.

Processed foods and their veggies

Also in the Palm House was this adorable educational setup. They had cans and bags of various foodstuffs with the fruits and veggies they are made of growing out of them!  A potato plant grew out of a bag of potato chips; a strawberry grew out of a can of strawberry yogurt; a tomato grew out of a tin of tomato sauce.  It's a shame that so few kids have the opportunity to get out into the garden or farm and see what their food is made of.  I think this display is a great way to bring that information into an indoor setting that can reach a lot of kids (and adults).

Bumble-bee-striped butterfly

Flying Dutchmen butterflies

Lacey-winged butterfly

The Hortus Botanicus was my first experience with a butterfly house. The concept sounds very Victorian to me (I imagine white-moustached explorers with pith hats and butterfly nets) but I'm glad I visited.  The butterfly house is a long greenhouse planted with all the plants their butterfly collection need to eat and breed.  Each variety of butterfly has a particular food that it prefers, as well as a particular plant that it lays its' eggs on.  They also had a case with samples of various cocoons. The highlight was standing still while bright orange butterflies (Flying Dutchmen) flitted about our heads; truly awesome.

Flowering succlent

Spanish moss and tilandsias

Something with Seussian flowers that lacked an ID tag...

All in all, the Hortus Botanicus is tiny and very pleasant.  Even in winter there were plenty of things blooming in the greenhouses and the pathways between and around the greenhouses are very nice.  Outside there is also a lovely herb and medicine garden and a meditation pathway.  We only spent a couple hours there on this trip, but I'm sure one could easily spend half a day when the flowers really start to arrive in the spring.  And really, who wouldn't love a butterfly house?

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Magical Moment of City Wildlife

Earlier this month we took a trip to Amsterdam to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  It was the first time either of us had been there and it was wonderful. I had no idea how amazing all the architecture is or how neat all the canals are. Another thing I didn't know about Amsterdam was how many lovely parks they have tucked all over the city.

One day, while taking a stroll through Sarphatipark, we found a nice park bench to relax on and rest our tired feet.  Not long after we sat down, we were buzzed by a grey heron.  We said, "Wow, that bird just flew right over our heads!"  A couple minutes later, whoosh, the bird flew back over our heads again, this time carrying a stick. Upon closer inspection, another heron was waiting in a tree next to a massive nest.  The tree was on a little island in the park with a nice growth of brambles at the base. It looked like a prime spot for a nest.

We continued to sit on the bench as the heron flew back and forth from the nest to a stand of trees to collect sticks.  Each turn at the nest required about five minutes of maneuvering sticks just so, before he or she would be satisfied and head out for another stick.  It was completely captivating to watch this display of pure wildlife in the middle of Amsterdam.  We stayed watching the building dance until we could bear the cold no longer.  But before we left, I managed to snap a few photos that captured the magic of this moment of city wildlife.

Grey heron building his or her nest
Sarphatipark, Amsterdam
March, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What We Plan To Grow

Turned soil, waiting for planting

As I mentioned last week, the peas are already in the ground. In addition to planting out the peas, we have planted our tomato and broccoli seeds.  We are growing Tumbling Tom tomato and Santee F1 Purple Sprouting broccoli.  They both need to start off in the greenhouse before they can enter the garden.  The rest of the veggies we plan to grow can't be planted yet.

Next month we will be adding Rainbow Chard (known as "Leaf Beet" here), spinach, kale and arugula (a.k.a. rocket) to the garden.  In May we will plant out our zucchini (a.k.a. courgette) and in July we will plant Claytonia, a waxy leaf that is apparently quite tasty.  We are also planning to grow potatoes in grow bags.  The potatoes are currently at the home of a fellow gardener "chitting".  Chitting is the act of letting the potatoes sprout eyes; these will be the vines once they go in the ground.

I suspect we will also add some other veg to the mix as we hit our stride, but to sum up, these are the vegetables we plan to grow in the WeeKG this year:

Sugar Snap Peas
Purple Sprouting Broccoli (Santee F1)
Tumbling Tom Tomato
Rainbow Chard
Lacinato Kale
Black Beauty Zucchini

So how about you?  What are you planning to grow in 2012?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

GBBD March 2012

Welcome to March in Glasgow! As expected, the bulbs are continuing their show.  It is a veritable feast of daffodils right now and they are just gorgeous.  In fact, I intend to write an entire post dedicated to them soon as they have completely taken over the Botanic Gardens. 

In addition, I spied the first tulips of the season a few days ago!  I absolutely adore tulips (just like crocuses and snowdrops and daffodils... apparently I adore bulbs) and these delicate tulips, coral-red and tinged with yellow, are quite lovely.


Also, in our lane (lane=alley) there is a lovely group of Euphorbia! I didn't realize that Euphorbia had such a wide climatic range; I think of them as being Mediterranean.  I am quite pleased to see that they thrive here.  Maybe I can convince the downstairs neighbor to let me put a wee Euphorbia in the "front yard." I've always been partial to Euphorbia characias wolfenii.


I also spied some hyacinths in the wild! I've grown so accustomed to seeing them in little planters that I was surprised when I saw this little wee blue one along the side of the lane.  It is very cute and a nice dash of blue to replace the crocuses that have mostly faded now.


In addition to the daffodils, the Botanic Garden is also home to some spectacular rhododendrons. They are just starting to bloom and should be even more impressive in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, this pink one below is doing an excellent job of broadening the floral color palette of March.


Last but not least, there is this shrub covered in bright yellow pom-poms! I have no idea what it is but the flowers are really spectacular.  They look like tiny dahlias on a chartreuse green stem. In a couple days, the one pictured below should be completely covered in flowers and I will be sure to snap a picture of it!

Yellow pom-poms of some sort

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Planting Peas

There they are, in all their black and white glory: PEAS!  Last weekend my plotters and I got together determined to do something other than turn soil.  Here in Glasgow most things can't go into the ground just yet; April will be a much more active month.  Nevertheless, it is time to start planting peas.

We selected sugar snap peas and we planted two small rows of them.  We plan to practice succession planting and plant a few rows every couple weeks.  That way we hope to stagger the harvest so that we're not innundated with all our peas at once.  Also, there is plenty of space between the rows to tuck in a few shallow-rooted greens like arugula.

Peas are a nice seed to start with.  They are large (the same size as peas because peas are the seed- did that make sense?) and so it's easy to space them out along the row.  You plant the peas at a spacing of around 2 inches at a depth of about half an inch.  We made depressions in the soil, then each of the four of us planted half a row.  I found it kind of adorable how democratic we were- no one wanted to monopolize the planting.  I think that bodes well for our future work together.

So how about you?  Do you have any seeds going into the ground, or are you waiting for warmer weather?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Parsnip & Apple

Second Woodlands Harvest!
back row: trowels and parsnips
front row: kale tops and spring onions

In my last post, I mentioned that my fellow plotters and I have gotten our beds ready for planting. I did not mention that prepping the beds also included harvesting! The photo is the haul the four of us split- a serious bunch of parsnips, a few spring onions each, and the tops of some sad kale plants! We all felt quite spoiled as none of us had planted these lovely veggies.

The parsnips were the first thing on my target list- I've never grown them before and I love their flavor. All root vegetables do well with roasting, but I wanted something a little different for these parsnips.  I decided to mix them with another fall/winter favorite- apples. I had made a leek-apple-parsnip soup before (delicious!) but I hadn't tried roasting the parsnip and apple together. I found a recipe from Martha Stewart as my starting point and winged it from there.

I must say, I am quite pleased with the results. In fact, a friend who came to dinner admitted halfway through the meal that she didn't like roast parsnips but was really enjoying these! It's always nice to have a confession turn into a compliment.  If you are looking for something a little different to serve alongside roast chicken or roast lamb (or anything, really), give these sweet and savory parsnips a try!

Roast Parsnips and Apples
Serves 4
modified from Martha Stewart

2 lbs parsnips
2-3 Gala apples or similar
1 Tbl olive oil
sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Peel and chop the parsnips into bite-sized chunks. Core and chop the apple into similar bite-sized chunks (I left the skin on for more texture and to help the apples retain their shape).

3. Put parsnips and apples into a roasting pan. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle generously with sea salt, and add a dash of cinnamon. You want this to taste ever-so-slightly-reminiscent of apple pie so easy on the cinnamon.

4. Pop into the oven and roast, turning occasionally, for about 35-45 minutes. Stab parsnips with a fork to check for doneness. Serve and enjoy!
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