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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Friday, March 19, 2010

Grocery Store Gardening: Lemongrass

Years ago, I bought a plant of lemongrass from some online vendor. It grew large in its container. I divided it and kept it indoors or in a coldframe over several winters. Then it developed some sort of rust disease on the leaves and eventually I decided not to overwinter it. I felt kind of bad about it, but not too bad, because it never really had much flavor anyway.

Then last year, I was excited to find lemongrass seeds for sale. Aha, I can have all the lemongrass I want. So, I bought them and planted them. They germinated readily and grew into large attractive plants in one season. But they didn't have much flavor.

What went wrong? I attributed the lack of flavor to the lack of a tropical climate. Well, maybe not. I probably just had the wrong species. It turns out there are two species of Cymbopogon which are commonly called lemongrass - Cymbopogon citratus and Cymbopogon flexuosus.

Cymbopogon flexuosus, or East-Indian lemongrass, is probably the one I grew from seed last year, even though it was labeled Cymbopogon citratus. Why do I believe this? Well, for one, I've learned to take that seed vendor's taxonomy with at least one grain of salt. For another, I've since learned from Joy Larkcom's excellent book, Oriental Vegetables, that

The true lemon grass very rarely flowers, so in areas where it is warm enough to grow it is propagated by dividing established clumps, replanting young portions from the outer edges. Otherwise you can plant pieces of the root. Occasionally, fresh shoots bought in ethnic markets will root if planted.

Again, aha! One of the good things about the Washington DC suburbs is the ready availability of fresh Asian fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This year I'm going to have fresh Cymbopogon citratus, courtesy of the local supermarket instead of the nursery trade.

I brought these home, peeled off the outer leaves that looked dried-up and tired (and exposing more of the stem in the process), and stuck them in a glass with a small amount of water. You see here one with fairly well-developed roots and one that's just beginning to show roots. I've got six more stems in glasses on the windowsill in various stages of root formation. I bought them at intervals over the last few weeks. If you decided to try this yourself, you may have to sort through the supermarket lemongrass display looking for pieces that have a good bit of stem attached. Sometimes you'll see them with no stem attached and then you're out of luck. If you have no market with fresh lemongrass it might also seem like you're out of luck, however Johnny's Selected Seeds will send you "bare-rooted" plants (minimum of 12), but the photo looks like "bare-stemmed" plants to me (no roots). Johnny's is wonderful vendor, but I have to tell you that my lemongrass from the grocery store cost considerably less.

I'm hoping to have some good-sized tasty clumps of lemongrass right about the time this year's chile peppers are ready. I'll let you know in August or September.

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posted by Entangled at 10:23 AM
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Monday, March 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Ta-da! Flowers!

It was a long time coming, and we could still have cold weather, even snow, but I do believe it is spring.

Blooming yesterday at Tangled Branches South were:

Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor'. Past its prime already, but still cheerful.


Crocus vernus 'Twilight'. This is only the second spring I've had these, but I'm intrigued by the color and texture. Very shiny, satiny petals of deep purple-blue. Or is it blue-purple? Whatever it is, it's unusual and interesting.


Iris reticulata 'Gordon'. The picture makes it look huge, but it's really a tiny thing. I planted some of these in the woods and some in the meadow. The ones in the meadow are doing much better than those in the woods.


Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'


Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'. These had flower buds before the big snow in February and those stems were flattened and bent, but still bloomed. The current flowers are from buds that emerged after the snow melted.

Also blooming, but unphotographed:
Narcissus 'Tête-à-Tête'
Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'

In the spring, I like to include the wild plants on the GBBD list too. I had to look this one up.

I always just called it "alder", but now I'm fairly sure it's Hazel Alder (Alnus serrulata).

The red maples are just starting to open up too.

Oh, and a weed. Hoary or Hairy Bittercress.

I'll save the Tangled Branches North list for tomorrow. Basically it contains everything in the previous post, plus some hellebores and early narcissus. If/when it ever stops raining, I'll go out and gather some hellebores for a floating hellebore portrait.

I expect to see lots of hellebores when I head over to May Dreams Gardens to view the rest of the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day posts.


Previous March Flowers: 2009(1,2), 2008, 2007, 2006

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posted by Entangled at 1:14 PM
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

First Flowers and Fragrance

Nature cut us some slack and provided two gloriously warm days this week. That's all it took for the frustrated crocus (see previous post) to burst into bloom. And it brought some of its friends with it.


I was so busy working in the garden this week that I didn't spend much time admiring the garden. To that end - and this is something I need to do more often - I brought some flowers indoors to appreciate up close. The players here are Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant' (dark purple), Crocus sieberi 'Firefly' (pale blue-purple), Crocus chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty', Iris reticulata 'Gordon', and Galanthus nivalis (the common snowdrop).

I wanted to say a few words about the scent of each of these, but then realized my descriptive skill for fragrance isn't up to the task. This is the case with most people who haven't actively educated themselves about scent. To quote from a fascinating article from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute:

The average human being, it is said, can recognize up to 10,000 separate odors. We are surrounded by odorant molecules that emanate from trees, flowers, earth, animals, food, industrial activity, bacterial decomposition, other humans. Yet when we want to describe these myriad odors, we often resort to crude analogies: something smells like a rose, like sweat, or like ammonia.

Our culture places such low value on olfaction that we have never developed a proper vocabulary for it. In A Natural History of the Senses, poet Diane Ackerman notes that it is almost impossible to explain how something smells to someone who hasn't smelled it. There are names for all the pastels in a hue, she writes—but none for the tones and tints of a smell.

So for now, let me just say that Iris reticulata 'Gordon' has a pleasant, slightly sweet scent. Same for the snowdrops, but a different pleasant, slightly sweet scent. I didn't get much fragrance from either 'Cream Beauty' or 'Firefly', but 'Ruby Giant' crocus has a pleasant, but faint scent. There. How was that? Pretty feeble? I agree. I'm going to work on it.

But you know what was the best thing I smelled this week? Fresh Air! I dried bath towels outdoors in the sun and, on the warmest day, opened the house windows wide. I think spring is really here.

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posted by Entangled at 11:52 AM
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Saturday, March 06, 2010

If Spring Won't Come to Us...

...then we will go to Spring.


Last weekend, very weary of looking at piles of dirty snow, the spouse and I headed for a 24-hour respite in Virginia Beach.

Spring isn't quite there yet either, but close. We arrived late afternoon and immediately went for a walk on the beach (in our winter coats). It was sunny, but cool and breezy.

The next day we surveyed our tourist options and chose to see the Norfolk Botanical Garden on the chance that there might be camellias blooming.

Above is one of the paths in the Hofheimer Camellia Garden. The Norfolk Botanical Garden has a collection of over 1700 camellia plants, with about 750 of them in the Hofheimer Camellia Garden. I'm no camellia expert, but it appeared to me that the C. japonica varieties were just beginning to bloom. Many blossoms looked frost-nipped. We found one plant covered in brilliant red flowers and that was an interspecific hybrid - Camellia x 'Tango'.

My little old Fuji FinePix never did a good job of capturing reds and it still doesn't. Believe me, those flowers were very red.

We didn't linger too long at the garden due to the cool and breezy weather, but stayed long enough to see most of the early spring flowers, including the daffodils at the top of this post, some hellebores, a few crocuses and snowdrops, several witch hazels, and the beautiful and fabulously-fragrant Prunus mume.

The variety here is 'Kobai', and it looks quite similar to one I loved and lost - 'Peggy Clarke'.

On the way out of the garden, we discovered a novel use for wine corks.

I have the corks, now I just have to get some agaves.

Back at home and looking at dirty piles of snow again, I noticed something green at the edge of one. I cautiously raked through it with my fingers and underneath found this.

Crocus buds! Horizontal from the weight of snow and ice, but still obeying their biological alarm clock and going forth to meet Spring.

14 Days Until the Vernal Equinox...

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posted by Entangled at 8:12 AM
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