Saturday, August 29, 2009

shady hostas

currently shaded on the Manassas deck rescued old hostas
for the yellowish "August Moon" hosta a darker green pot

for the tallest simple green hosta a tall dark pot

a single blue hosta in a blue ceramic pot

my miniature hostas grouped in a low pot: blue"Mouse Ears", yellow-green edges "Cracker Crumbs" & "Stiletto"

red cut leaf Japanese maple in a pot now next to a hosta beds.

For years now, I have loved hostas, a shade loving perennial plant, round like a medallion, it comes in many shades of green emerging right after the narcissus fade. Hosta is a native plant to north eastern Asia, brought to the west from Japan's shade gardens in the 19th century. I learned that cultivating a hosta bed is pretty nearly perfect for it's ease. We have several here in our building's garden. The following hosta in Latin has a link to the Wikipedia page on hosta for more history and general information. Hosta plantaginea

When I was a kid we used to call hostas plantation lilies which is a misnomer for a common name outdated now plantain lily, it has nothing to do with 'plantations' but being dyslexic I couldn't remember the distinction. Those old hostas had scrawny leaves and sparse flowers on tall stems that were not very pretty late in summer and didn't have a scent. Hence as a kid I didn't like them or understand why people planted them in their gardens. Since then hostas have more variety and hostas even have their own American Hosta Society.

I remember first being seriously curious about hostas back in 1988 when I used to see them as I walked around the Palisades along the MacArthur Blvd. in north west Washington DC where many arts and crafts style homes had huge blue leaf hostas. They were growing as foundation plantings that didn't seem to need any attention and some had short full white blossoms. Years later I moved into a house with a tiny garden 3'x 14' that wasn't getting more than a couple hours of very early morning sun and I began studying what I could grow in that dark space. Hostas and ferns and the colorful annual inpatients and caladiums in addition to cut leaf Japanese maple were some of the best plants for shade in that garden. I have had several gardens since then moving my hosta collection with me in pots to new homes. Since I was so excited about my hostas I once planted a nice hosta and hydrangea garden for my mother in Manassas but the air conditioner replacement crew and a hemlock tree have pretty much laid that bed to waste. We rescued a lot of the hostas from the air conditioner replacement guys in 2006 by potting them up. In Manassas there wasn't another shady bed to move them to and I left them in temporary pots for her to tend. Hostas grow well in ceramic pots rarely harmed by winter freezing. Earlier this summer I got an idea when I saw a big glazed blue pot at one of the garden centers. I thought that a mix of three or more hostas in a pot would be a nice arrangement that might work for the ones that were still looking for a permanent home in the Manassas temporary pots. I got one pot and found that a single blue hosta was all we could get in it leaving a little room for it grow larger. That led me to think of my miniature hostas at home in this type of pot and I tired it this summer in my back yard. They are the round blue leaf "Mouse Ears", yellow-green with dark green edges "Cracker Crumbs" & dark green with white edges "Stiletto" none of those are bigger than a cantaloupe. In Manassas I plan to plant the trio of big hostas in much the same way using the two new pots to add to the low blue one planted earlier this summer. This will be a handsome arrangement and easier to care for since they aren't hit with hot sunshine in the summer on the shaded deck and are easily watered. More could be added later if I find time to dig up some of mine and divide them this fall or early next spring.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

orange, best served chilled in August

gazpacho chilled in a ceramic tureen

heirloom yellow and red tomatoes

One of my favorite soups in the summer is home made gazpacho. A cold tomato soup, that I had first in East Hampton, NY in 1975. I was a driver for a Broadway producer named Myron Sanft; 40 years my senior and very gay with his big round tortoise rimmed glasses. I was hired to drive Mr. Sanft, to the Hamptons while his partner was doing summer stock theater in New Hampshire. Myron didn't like driving and living alone so I was his driver and companion all that summer. When we were in East Hampton we went to beach in the mornings then shopping for fresh foods in town arriving home before the heat of the day arrived. His cozy single story, three bedroom bungalow was on the bay side of long island tucked in the shady bay side woods, it was always very comfortable during the heat of the day. I spent afternoons swinging in his huge rope hammock reading and writing letters or walking down by the bay. Guests came almost every week from the hot noisy city to enjoy Myron's beach house and I was there to help entertain them as well as help out with some of the chores of entertaining. I learned some new ways to prepare food that summer. Myron had very distinct tastes and ideas about fresh food ingredients hence he insisted on daily shopping trips. I learned to stuff and grill whole fresh caught fish, something I had never eaten before. My first experience with gazpacho came when some of Myron's friends who lived in Spain came to visit for a whole week. I have forgotten their names but the husband stayed home alone one day to make us this special meal while we swam and sunned on the beach. He told me it was a cold tomato soup, I thought to myself," oh boy, that doesn't sound like much of a meal with no meats" but I politely keep my thoughts to myself. Later when we returned from our full day on the beach I became a total gazpacho devotee. His mysterious cold soup was GREAT and I at 19 asked endless questions about the process he used to prepare this meal I thought was so very delicious. Now looking back it seems to me most of the preparation was carefully cutting all the various garnishing ingredients and chilling the strained tomato juice and pulp (seeds and skins mysteriously vanished). He gave us bowls and let us add our own garnish to suit our preferences, as he said they do in Spain, of green peppers, cucumbers, toasted croutons, green onions and freshly ground black pepper.
Recently, I came across four very different gazpacho recipes in Martha Stewart Living magazine and decided that I wanted to try the yellow/orange gazpacho with boiled egg and crouton garnish instead of the recommended Serrano ham. On my birthday last week I used a few pounds of yellow heirloom tomatoes and a single red tomato and grated them down with seedless cucumber and a clove of fresh garlic, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper into the lovely home made gazpacho. Keith had a dozen organic farm eggs with orange yokes I boiled to garnish the soup for my birthday dinner. He made us a great delicacy of bison marinated charcoal grilled flank steak and provided my favorite frangipane pear/almond tart for my fifty fourth birthday.
I made this yellow-orange gazpacho again this week to take back out to share with Mom because I took her Living magazine for the recipe and we decided it tastes a little better when a little less chilled if you are inside with air conditioning rather than on a steamy East Hampton veranda. These pictures are in our tiny kitchen posed with a couple of spare tomatoes in my favorite hand made ceramic soup tureen before I set it aside to chill.
All these years later, when nearly everyone has heard of and tasted some sort of gazpacho, I know that it is a great treat when made authentically with the freshest local ingredients thanks to my first experience with Myron Sanft's house guest who spent an entire day preparing my original gazpacho dinner. I also found out back then he had time while the soup's ingredients chilled to read the NY Times cover to cover in the shade on that relaxing in the tied rope hammock so it couldn't have been too difficult.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

blogs, china and cool August blues

sweet smelling helliotrope

refreshing blue fuji morning glories

clematis flower with maiden hair fern

unique blue clematis flower

blue balloon flower

August is typically a very charged month for me and I wish we could have seen the Perseid Meteor showers this week. DC had clouds, rain and of course, way too much urban light pollution but they are saying it was a unusually big show for those with the right viewing conditions.
Surfing around Twitter I discovered an English artist's work that just blew me away it is so inspiring. Her name is Esther Coombs and she draws with a china paint marker on old "unloved" china and pottery. Esther combines her great black line drawing and good design eye to make charming new things out of old everyday items which give them swiftly add new life. I want to share some of her work with you and the best way is to send you over to one of her Internet homes. She has a web page, blog, Etsy shop, and a flickr photo page. Click on any of those links to go see a little of what I am dreaming about.
I liked her collaboration with a poet to do a cup and saucer image illustrating a short pros fiction which she displays on her blog about women traveling on trains. It is at once modern and hip but using old stuff has added to that environmentally friendly practice of recycling and reusing.
Last night at the Brookland Area Writers and Artist's poetry reading an artist military mother came and asked for donations to an art/poetry show exhibiting collaborating poets and artists to raise money for military families at the area military hospitals. Her laureled poet son asked to be remembered this way before he died on a mission in Iraq. This show is at Lorton the former prison "work house" south of Washington DC in Virginia that is developing into an artist studios and performance space. While she was telling her story I couldn't help thinking about Esther Coomb's story of her a son in the garden shed from her blog and how she used a drawing of her garden shed on a jug to tell why it had significance to her, more than met the eye. Read the short story and see the pot on this post by Esther. After I discovered Esther's work I went out in the garden and took photos with the intention of drawing some of my plants to see if I could do what Esther does. So far not much has come of out of that exercise but some pretty blue flower shots. We have a lovely garden full of color even now in the deep summer which has been cooler than normal but still pretty stuffy up in the second floor apartment under a black tar roof. My next favorite color beside orange is the color opposite orange on the color wheel blue. I find purple and orange work nicely together as a book color combo. I am working steadily binding books with the lower temperatures but mostly in the mornings.

This weekend I am going for a treat to take a day long refresher workshop at Pyramid Atlantic Studios in Silver Spring, Md. on how to use the cold metal type presses. The cold metal letters have to be set in the press facing backwards always a challenge for a dyslexic like me and always worth the effort. I am looking forward to this day of working in the print shop again. I hope to do some more printing of poems in collaboration with my poet friends from Brookland.

Friday, August 7, 2009

hibiscus kopper king

For mother's birthday back in July we went shopping for plants at a new nursery in Gainesville, VA called Merrifield Garden Center which is the third in a family owned series of great nurseries. We found the perennial winter hardy hibiscus was what she wanted most and after looking around a while we found a bunch. We chose the Kopper King Hibiscus because of it's reddish green leaves and pink flowers. None had any flowers but the description was pretty good. This week on my first visit since we planted the birthday hibiscus it was in bloom and had grown almost a foot taller! Nine inches across these huge flowers or 23 centimeters is I think the biggest flower I have ever seen. I took Mom back to that nursery this week and we nearly melted from the heat so we didn't stay long. I found a Ironweed in full flower that I wanted for my garden in the city. It is a wild flower that I discovered for the first time in the little strip of wild grass behind the house in Manassas in what used to be a cow pasture some years ago. I loved the tall plant with it's dark rich purple blooms and found it in a field guide. Now also available at Merrifield Garden Center with many other native wild flowers. See my flickr. pages for those pictures.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

another book is done!

I always feel so happy and proud when I finish a sewing up a new book. I think Keith caught that in these smiling pictures.
Poor guy has to deal with this out burst of excitement every time I finish one. I usually bring them in to show him at his desk but yesterday he happened to come out to the studio porch where he picked up my camera and shot these.... Working with your hands is so rewarding.
Other news: Now I am thinking about taking a one day workshop in Letter Press Printing at Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Spring, Maryland on Saturday August 15th. I discovered the workshop on facebook at the Pyramid Atlantic fan page.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August begins

wine red with tiny yellow tips coleus
fish net stockings they named this coleus
golden tips with a rusty red core color coleus
coleus magenta and green with saw tooth edges
The books and a set of cover boards, cut end papers and book cloth and a big glue brush.
Here are the completed pocket sized books in bright orange, midnight blue, milk chocolate brown, dark green, expresso brown, purple, golden satin, red/black Japanese wave print, rusty orange with a label to match the end pages printed by an Italian paper maker in Florence in this display.

I have completed 13 pocket sized books and one large journal book with several more in line for completion. I am enjoying seeing so many finished books in my stack. It is very satisfying to see my work begin to make a shelf full of journals for people to fill with ideas and sketches and what ever they like to do with a blank page. However the porch is getting warmer now and sweating is unavoidable. I just have been more careful and stick to working in the morning hours.
I also am really enjoying the coleus this year in our garden. We have been having just enough rain and the shade on the north side of our yard seems to be making these drought sensitive plants happy. We have always admired the big pots full of coleus down town at the Smithsonian's various gardens around the national mall. This year Keith picked up a couple and set them in a bare spot by the hostas and the mary rose. They took off in June with all that early summer rain and we added more middle of July which are doing pretty well. I guess we will plan to take some cuttings to keep over winter in vases of water because they are annuals for our climate. Other flowers not pictured here are the purple hyacinth bean vine which has finally started to flower, and the blue and white edged furry leafed Fuji morning glory. I am going to post more on my flickr garden pictures page.