Posted by: lornasass | July 28, 2010

BICYCLES BUILT FOR FLOWERS

Seen on a small street in the Jericho section of Oxford, England.

Lacking a front garden, the inhabitants of this row house created one!

Posted by: lornasass | July 24, 2010

FUCHSIA ABUNDANCE

Since arriving in the UK, I have been astonished by the varieties of fuchsia that grow with abandon everywhere–in window boxes, hanging baskets, and as large shrubs.

Fuchsia have obviously found an perfect growing conditions in the UK and are so loved by gardeners here that there is a British Fuchsia Society.  One nursery in England has boldly announced the introduction of 9 new varieties in 2010 alone!

It turns out that there are actually over 100 species, the majority being native to South America.  Joseph Fuchs, the German botanist for whom these bell-like flowers are named, would have been equally astonished at the number of cultivars.

I’ve long thought of fuchsia as a favorite color, never realizing that the flower grows in so many paler, purplish, and bluer hues than the hot-pink fuchsia of my limited, flower-deprived past.

Just think how this stunning flower must have impressed gardeners during the early 18th century, a time when the British were sending fervent plantsmen-explorers around the world to gather exotic specimens.  The flower-adoring British must have been at least as astonished as I have been these past few weeks.



Posted by: lornasass | July 24, 2010

DEBO’S CHICKENS

Like so many people who have visited Chatsworth, I quickly became intrigued with Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire, who is fondly referred to by her family nickname, Debo.

She’s the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters and, though she claims to prefer chickens and sheep to books, she’s written about a dozen tomes herself and can make this reader laugh out loud.  Perhaps due to the fact that she was educated at home and had very unconventional parents, there’s something zany and fetching about the ways she sees things, and she certainly doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Debo is in her nineties and still going strong. But I digress from the title of this blog…You see what a fascinating woman she is?

We ran into some gorgeous chickens wandering freely on a recent visit to the magnificent Chatsworth, and we went crazy photographing them.  Who could help it?  They were gorgeous and didn’t run away:  they seemed used to having paparazzi around.

I’ve just finished a collection of the Duchess’ short essays called COUNTING MY CHICKENS.  Read this sample of her writing and you’ll understand why Chatsworth, despite its grandeur, feels like such a friendly place.  The Duchess had a great deal to do with restoring it and opening it to the public when her husband, Andrew Cavendish, inherited the building and grounds in the 50s.  But I digress again…

Here’s a little of what the Duchess has to say about chickens:

The behaviour of poultry is like human behaviour and it is just as predictable.  They fight, they resent newcomers, they hate wind and rain.  Some are bold and forage far fro home and some hardly bother to go out of doors…Some are neat in appearance and habit, but the Hi-Sex are sloppy and have no idea of chic…

Photo courtesy of The Sweetie



Posted by: lornasass | July 22, 2010

THE OTHER WOODSTOCK

Being a child of the 60s, the name Woodstock always evokes that grand open-air concert I regret missing.

Everyone who heard we were going to Oxford said, “You must go to Blenheim.”  (I know this sentence sounds like a non sequitur, but please keep reading.)

I disliked Blenheim almost immediately:  the conspicuous-consumption grandeur of the houses and out-buildings, the formal Italianate gardens with their tortured boxwood mazes, the classical statuary, the huge number of ropes and “keep-out” signs, the paucity of posies.  We did an obligatory stroll around the grounds and felt glad it was lunch time so we had the excuse to leave the aristocratic excesses behind.

It happens that Blenheim is literally around the corner from a village called Woodstock.  You exit the grand, foreboding gate and find yourself in a charming town built on a human scale.

The first place we encountered seemed the perfect connection to the Woodstock of nostalgic memory:  a bakeshop filled with wholegrain sourdough breads.  Oh joy.  Of course we bought some and have been enjoying it since.

We continued wandering and happened upon a tiny street that made this lapsed medievalist’s heart go pitter-pat.  It turns out that Chaucer’s brother lived in this town.  (Who knew that Chaucer had a brother?  Might he have been the town butcher, crier, or candle-stick maker?  Whatever he did, he most likely envied his brother’s great success.  He certainly chose a charming town to live in…but was it charming in the 14th century?)

Like every English town in the summer, this one was ablaze with colorful pink pansies, scarlet fuchsia, and blue lobelia in hanging baskets and window boxes, but Woodstock has a remarkable number of 5-foot tall,  elegant hollyhocks growing along in various colors along narrow lanes.

In fact, there are flowers just about everywhere you cast your eye.  It’s a special place, so I’ve gotten to go to Woodstock after all.

Better late than never…


Posted by: lornasass | July 21, 2010

RE-DISCOVERING MUESLI

When I was in the Chatsworth Farm Shop in Devonshire–a place that reminded me of the first Dean & DeLuca in NYC–a place that made a person want to buy everything so enticingly wrapped and so artistically arranged on the shelves–I spotted Chatsworth’s own branded Homemade Muesli with Honey.

Despite the fact that I was quite certain that the Duchess of Devonshire (ne Deborah Mitford) hadn’t tossed the concoction together herself, I couldn’t resist making the purchase.

This muesli is a far cry from the original muesli made simply of very thinly sliced and steamed, pressed oat grits–and it is delicious.  No ingredients are listed, but I can see that beyond the oats there are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dried coconut, bran “sticks,” sesame seeds, chopped Brazil nuts, raisins, and dried (happily unsweetened) bananas.  There are at least a half dozen different mixtures on the shelves in natural food stores and at least one type in supermarkets everywhere in Britain.

(I’m almost positive I have a recipe for muesli in one of my vegetarian cookbooks, but I can’t remember which one and I’m not at home to check.  For sure, there’s a delicious granola recipe in WHOLE GRAINS EVERY DAY, EVERY WAY.)

I like to mix the muesli with yogurt (so creamy and especially delicious here in Britain), fresh strawberries, and slices of clementine.  I mixed the mush together before remembering to taking the photo, so it’s not “food-styled” but it sure tasted good.

Makes a nice, light dinner as well as a hearty breakfast.  A highly recommended purchase the next time you’re visiting Chatsworth or your local healthfood store.

Posted by: lornasass | July 20, 2010

THE FALLOW DEER OF DYRHAM PARK

I thought I was going to Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire to see the gardens, but the deer immediately stole the show.

As soon as the great house comes into view, the deer grazing on the front lawn beckon you on for a closer look.  While the house is stately and centuries old, it’s the deer that make this vista feel like you’re on a magic carpet ride back in time.

These gorgeous creatures are obviously accustomed to having visitors in their park because they allow folks like me to come within about 10 feet (carefully avoiding deer scats) to admire and photograph them.  Maybe feeling safe around people is in their genes, since their ancestors have been in this deer park since 1620.

I remember seeing allusions to fallow deer during my PhD studies in medieval English literature, confirmed by the following entry on the British Deer Society web site (whose close-ups of the deer are better than mine!)

The extant species of fallow deer found in Britain was introduced by the Normans in the 10th century although some would suggest that the Romans attempted to introduce it here much earlier. Fallow deer were prized as ornamental species and were protected in Royal Hunting “Forests” for royal sport. During Mediaeval [stet] times many deer parks that held fallow deer were established and these and more recent park escapees have given rise to the free-living populations in Britain today.

Aren’t their antlers and markings fabulous?


Posted by: lornasass | July 19, 2010

THE CHATSWORTH VEGETABLE GARDEN

There is so much to extol about Chatsworth–the magnificent estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire–that it’s hard to know where to begin.  So I’ll go by one of my favorite life mottoes:  when in doubt, start with the vegetable garden.

When we first began strolling around the vast property, it rained cats and dogs, so we retreated to the coffee shop.  When the rain stopped and we emerged, it was about four o’clock and we pretty much had the vegetable garden to ourselves.  It was magical.

I’ve been seeing lots of borage growing in English cottage gardens.  I remember reading about it in Elizabethan recipes.  I bought some seeds and plan to grow it next summer.  Both the leaves and lovely lavender flowers are edible.  I love the fuzzy stems and sepals.

I think I’ll plant some nasturtiums too.  I’d never seen this variety with variegated leaves before.  Check out those lovely, fat chives on the left, too.

The ruby chard was so gorgeous, it was hard to think of eating it.

There were also apple and pear trees trained around arches.  Walking under one, I encountered this gorgeous raspberry bush.  Look at those variegated leaves.   Please don’t tell:  we nipped a few berries and ate them with great pleasure.  Chatsworth berries.  Memorable,  like everything else about the place.



Posted by: lornasass | July 16, 2010

LETTUCE LEAVES UP CLOSE

When I visited the Walled Garden at Scampston in North Yorkshire a few days ago, the gorgeous lettuces in the vegetable garden were huge, and some had even gone to seed.

As a result, the leaves were particularly interesting and I felt inspired to photograph them at close range.

Gorgeous foliage, huh?

Posted by: lornasass | July 16, 2010

ENGLAND HAS BAGGED TEA!

I love a good pot of strong tea in the morning, so whenever I travel and will be exchanging homes via homeexhange.com, I bring a good supply of Twinings Earl Grey loose tea. Twinings can always be counted on to perfume their tea with a goodly amount of bergamot; other brands I try don’t seem to manage that.

(I just learned by googling around that the blend was created especially made for Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, Prime Minister of England and has been around since the 1830’s–with good reason:  it’s delicious!)

When I’m in America, I’m never surprised to find a kitchen without a kettle for boiling water–though I can’t really imagine how folks manage without one.  And I don’t expect to find a China tea pot either, so I usually bring two large insulated mugs and a strainer, then steep the tea in one and pour it through the strainer into the other.  (Don’t laugh at me:  I also bring a sharp chef’s knife and a knife sharpener.   Most people seem to stock a goodly supply of very dull knives.)

But when I was coming to England, I thought my obsession with bringing loose tea was taking things too far and I just bought a small starter ziplock.  You can guess what’s coming:  in the two weeks I’ve been in the UK, I haven’t been able to find good-quality loose Earl Grey anywhere.  The Taylor’s of Harrogate brand which we bought in the shop at a National Trust site was rancid and smelled so strange we tossed it immediately.

This is a sad state of affairs.  England has gone the way of the tea bag and in all but the finest restaurants  tea is “prepared” by steeping that horrible (but convenient) invention in a small aluminum pot of water.  On supermarket shelves and even in tony shops like the farm store at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, you’ll see carefully stocked shelves of boxes containing tea bags.

And what’s the culprit?  Please see below.  Further corroborated by the appearance of a Starbuck’s within the walled city of York and an abundance of cafes with fancy espresso machines all over the land.

I am currently staying in a lovely home in Oxford that has a very well equipped kitchen.  The French press is standing proudly on the counter top in full view. I did find a China tea pot, but there is no strainer in sight.

I wonder if Browns in London is still doing a traditional high tea…



Posted by: lornasass | July 12, 2010

ROY McCANN’S THRIVING ALLOTMENT

In the middle of a sterile business park filled with automobile showrooms in a suburb of Newcastle Upon Tyne, I stumbled upon a huge garden allotment.  I wandered down the central path and saw the each of the beds was  filled with sprightly vegetables.

The folks in the north of England are very friendly and before long I found myself in the midst of a lively convesrsation with Roy McCann, who has been growing pounds and pounds of veggies in his three allotments over the past twenty years.

“I grow much more than my family can eat,” he told me, “so I end up giving a lot of food away to friends.”

“Then why do you have three plots?” I asked.

“Because I just love growing things,” said Roy.

The growing season in temperature England is nice and long.  Seeds are planted in February and vegetables are harvested at least until late October.

Roy is proudest of his leeks and has come in third place for Best in Show in the Western Allotment competition.  “The way you can tell they are healthy is when the middle leaves begin to spiral.”  They were the beautiful leeks I’d ever seen.

“Come back tomorrow and I’ll bring you some of the wife’s strawberry and blueberry jams,” he offered.

I took him up on the offer and when I was there, he insisted on digging some up new potatoes and gifting them to me.  They smelled sweet and earthy: his soil is beautiful: the “black gold” is composted horse manure mixed with hay and a large bin fronts every allotment.  Roy doesn’t use any pesticides.

“Don’t need ’em,” he told me.

While I was there, I also did a short video to give you a better idea of Roy’s beautiful garden, including the greenhouses where he grows three varieties of tomatoes.  He’ll also tell you how he feels about gardening.

Posted by: lornasass | July 12, 2010

A FENCED-IN MEADOW

I’m in Northumberland in the northeast of England at a hotel in the middle of a business park filled with sterile, modern buildings and automobile showrooms.

I came across this beautiful meadow  that was fortunately preserved in a small park across the busy road from my hotel.

Why does it make me so sad to see this little piece of wildflower meadow fenced in?

I was told the fence appeared a few years ago so cattle could be grazed in the meadow seasonally, but to me the fence is a symbol of much that has gone wrong in out world:  our priorities are all messed up and we are doing everything we can to fence in what wants to be wild.


Posted by: lornasass | July 12, 2010

ONCE A FLOWER

Soon to be picked up in the wind and become many flowers next spring.

What a glorious and abundant transformation.

Posted by: lornasass | July 7, 2010

SAMPHIRE, SEA LETTUCES, AND POSIES

A walk along the Conwy marina in North Wales a few nights ago when the tide was low proved very rewarding:  a whole world of underground vegetables and posies were revealed.

The first plant I spotted seemed to be samphire (aka sea bean), which I remember reading about in eighteenth-century English cookbooks.

Now I wish we’d gathered some and cooked it–but at the time I wasn’t positive that’s what this delicate asparagus-looking plant was.  According to a BBC television cooking site, “samphire grows mainly on tidal marshes and has a salty sea freshness and succulent texture.”  They recommend cooking it either in fresh or sea water for only a minute or two, then draining and tossing with butter. Sounds good to me.

The plant in the foreground looks like some kind of portulaca.  I’m not sure what the remaining plants pictured below are, but I suspect that most of them are edible.

Wish I could find a way to meet a local forager and gather a meal next time the tide is out.

Posted by: lornasass | July 6, 2010

PLAS NEWYDD: A TALL GARDEN IN N. WALES

A stand of Monterrey Cypresses

After only three days in N. Wales, I can already  see why visitors go ga-ga about gardens in the UK.

A temperate climate, abundant rain, and a long-standing passion for exotic plants  have resulted in gardens of jaw-dropping splendor.  It seems like just about every type of plant is willing to be friendly neighbors:  agaves in the same container as geraniums, yuccas surrounded by pansies.  And all of them looking perky and pleased.

I already feel like I may become hoarse from the “oohs,” “aahs,” and, “look at this” that are almost constantly emerging from my lips as The Sweetie and I stroll through  gardens in this fetching part of the world.

Yesterday we drove over what looked like a miniature Brooklyn Bridge to arrive on the island of Anglesey.  After about 15 more minutes (with The Sweetie gently but persistently reminding me to move more to the center of the road–I’ve already wrecked the left view mirror), we arrived at Plas Newydd.

Walking from the car park along the magnificent stand of Monterrey cypresses pictured above (planted during the 1950s, we later learned, and yes, that’s Monterrey, CA with a temperate climate similar to that of N. Wales), I got the impression that this garden was probably going to be more about trees than about flowers.  Actually, it turned out that more than anything, Plas Newydd is about landscape–and what a grand landscape it is!

The house dates back to the 18th century and many of the trees seem to be almost as old.  Lord and Lady Anglesey, whose ancestry dates back to the time of Napoleon, still live on the top floors (he’s 88!), but the extraordinary house and property are now maintained by The National Trust.

Here’s the scene that comes into view when you pass the last cypress and turn to the left:

A visitor can wander around on the vast lawns surrounding the house.  I normally hate lawns, but in this case I was totally smitten by the palate of lush green punctuated only by occasional trees, shrubs, and clumps of hydrangeas.

Today I am reflecting back on why Plas Newydd has left such a lasting impression.  Perhaps it is the seeming infinity of the views.  Perhaps it is the emphasis on height:  the tall ancestral home, the towering trees, the terraced beds, the leggy flowers.


Here’s a close-up of one of the beds.  Look up!  Look up again!  There is always something taller to see.

Posted by: lornasass | July 6, 2010

AN AMAZING INSECT IN NORTH WALES

Yes, there are two small orange insects top right, but scroll down and take a look at the black polka-dotted one that took my breath away.

I spotted this marvel of nature while walking on a dirt footpath along the marina.   Any idea what either insect or plant is?  Some kind of grasshopper?  Some kind of thistle?

Not that it matters:  beauty exists without a name.

Posted by: lornasass | July 5, 2010

WAKING UP IN N. WALES

After some serious jeg lag and the weariness resulting from a recalcitrant GPS that sent us in circles rather than west on the “wrong” side of the road from Manchester airport, The Sweetie and I opened the front curtains to the small townhouse on the marina in Conwy we found through homeexchange.com, and here’s what we saw:

View of the marina in N. Conway, Wales

Pretty nice, huh?  And it couldn’t be more different than my Manhattan rooftops–just the idea:  travel for a change of scenery out the window.

There doesn’t seem to be much activity on the marina–the boats just float there looking stately– but strollers walk by on a narrow brick walkway right in front of our large sliding-door window.  Some peek in, some don’t.  It takes a little getting used to.

After the challenge or frustration (depending upon one’s temperament) of figuring out how to decode the UK electrical system and mesh everything with transformers and adapters (not to mention figuring out how to get the gas stove turned on), we manage some coffee and started to wake up enough to venture to town.

We lucked out and got a tip from a family on foot:  “Go left at the wall and walk along the water.”  This we did and what a lovely walk it was.  Wildflowers and volunteer cultivars growing out of the stone walls on each side, with a silty beach on the left:

Then we turned a corner and WOW, the famous 14th-century castle built by Edward I, huge and in extraordinary condition.  Look at those crenelated turrets–manuscript illuminations from my academic days as a medievalist came cascading into my mind, but here was the genuine item:

After a stroll through the narrow streets of charming “downtown” Conwy and a nice dinner at the Castle restaurant, we headed home along the same path.  Suddenly, along the river banks, I saw a large mound of what looked like snow:

As I was zooming in on the mound, there was some movement and here’s what emerged:

Oh, hello.

An auspicious awakening and a good omen for a trip filled with beautiful images.

Posted by: lornasass | May 27, 2010

TURNING RUBBLE INTO A BROOKLYN FARM

The Sweetie and I were driving through the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, reluctantly following the bossy directions of the GPS who was taking us through what would commonly be called “a lousy neighborhood.”

The elevated train was rumbling above us, and I was looking around at the ramshackle collections of shops. Suddenly, among second-hand furniture and used TV stores I saw a fence and the sign:  BUSHWICK CITY FARM.  What?  In this unlikely spot?

We parked the car, walked in, and were greeted by an amiable young woman, a teenager, six chickens, and two cats.  It turns out that the amiable young woman decided–fortunately for the U.S. in general and Bushwick in particular–to emigrate from Russia.  With a slight accent, Masha Radzinsky told us that she lived in Bushwick and every time she passed the garbage heap in this deep, skinny lot, she thought about turning it into a garden.  One day she started doing just that.  Here’s a mighty example of what one person can do…

With the help of neighborhood volunteers who signed on when they saw her beginning to remove the rubble, Masha first carted off tons of debris.  Once the land was cleared, she rescued six chickens about to be slaughtered and two cats about to be put down at the neighboring shelter.   The chickens are there to eat the weeds and produce excellent compost.  The cats are there for fun. (The cats and chickens get along just fine.)

Attached to the front fence, there’s a basket of bread contributed by a neighborhood bakery for those in need.  The sign reads “Comida Gratis,”  free food.

Masha has already set up a compost bin and, while we were there, a neighbor parked her bike at the entrance to the garden and dropped off some vegetable scraps.  Others have contributed soil and plants.

There’s a raised bed at the back waiting for more soil and vegetable seedlings with the idea of giving the produce away for free.  But the garden has run out of money.  The Sweetie, being his usual generous self, opened his wallet.  But more help is needed. If you know of anyone who would like to contribute organic soil or seedlings–or some seed money or sweat equity–contact Masha at bushwickcityfarm@gmail.com. (At this point, the farm has no help from the city and no grants or other financial support.)

Below this photo of the garden, you’ll find a U-Tube clip of Masha telling us about the garden and showing us around.  You also meet one of the volunteers, Coralis Henriquez, who will tell that she loves hanging around the garden and helping out “because it’s so nice and green around here.”

Posted by: lornasass | May 26, 2010

A ROOFTOP VEGGIE FARM IN BROOKLYN

Annie Novak on Eagle Street Rooftop Farm

Last week I was privileged to spend the afternoon at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm with food colleagues.  The outing was organized by Liz Young, the indefatigable and enthusiastic president of the New York Woman’s Culinary Alliance, who just happens to lead fabulous, customized culinary tours all over the city.

After a few train changes and a short walk, I found myself at the downstairs entrance to a farm in Greenpoint Brooklyn.  Once there, we were warmly welcomed by farmer Annie Novak, who looks like she stepped out of a Botticelli painting, donned a straw hat,  and did a quick change into working clothes.

Then we climbed a few flights of stairs and had a jaw-dropping vision: rows of beautiful vegetables blowing in the breeze, clucking chickens taking dirt baths to cool off, and a multi-million-dollar view of the river and the Empire State Building.

A thriving vegetable garden on high with a magnificent view.

And then there was Annie, the kind of person who makes you feel that anything is possible.  She thinks nothing of growing vegetables on a rooftop and then– during the winter down-time–buying a one-way ticket to Bolivia to check out how Andean farmers grow 23 varieties of potatoes.  How  does she meet the farmers?  By going to the market, of course.

Annie loves to teach and she’s a natural at it.  Perhaps that’s why she founded Growing Chefs, a field-to-fork food education program for children.   It’s a proven fact:  when kids grow vegetables, they want to eat more of them!

I got to be a kid myself when I was there, and put my hands in the dirt for about three hours. I also learned a great deal about soil, compost, and the invigorating fun of being around healthy plants and happy chickens.

I also took lots of videos so you could have a virtual tour of the farm, meet Annie, and learn how to compost.

In the first clip Annie tells us how the rooftop garden came about, what heirloom vegetables she grows, and where she sources her seeds.  It was quite hot on the roof, so we stayed downstairs in the “office” for the first few minutes.

Here Annie talks about compost: how local restaurants contribute their vegetable scraps and why chicken poop is such a valuable part of the process.

Here we are in the roof garden watching Annie harvest the greens as she talks about the meaning of organic and air quality.   (We’ll be having these very greens for dinner at Anella, a restaurant a few blocks away.  It that turns out to have fantastic food.  Go!):

I ask Annie to tell us about the educational program she runs for children, Growing Chefs:

Annie talks about what to look for in a healthy plant and the economical advantage of growing from seed:

What to look for in potting soil and how to amend last year’s batch:

How to make compost based on shredded newspaper and worms!

A good way to transplant and how to keep your little plant thriving:

Posted by: lornasass | May 24, 2010

NEW YORK MOMENT

Spotted on the B train heading downtown from West 81st Street:

Posted by: lornasass | May 24, 2010

TRUCK FARM: HELP GETTING FRESH FOOD TO ALL

Last year I saw this very truck farm at The New Amsterdam market and was totally taken with the idea.  The originators of the concept, two guys named Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, are making a documentary called TRUCK FARM, about their passion for America’s urban gardening revolution and the possibility of bringing fresh, healthy, homegrown food to those without access to it.  The truck farm demonstrates how easy it is to grow good food just about any place.

It all started last spring, when Ian turned the bed of his grandad’s ’86 Dodge into a mobile farm. But what started as a home garden soon became a public art project, and hopefully will become a documentary if the guys get enough funding.

They have until June 15 to raise $15,000 in pledges through the online donations program Kickstarter.

Ian and Curt seem like great guys and I hope to meet them in person sometime soon.  They also seem indefatigable about getting the word out. For example, in honor of Earth Week, Ian and Curt set out in the Truck Farm for a 1,500-mile East Coast Tour.  In stops at more than a dozen schools, the USDA and the US Botanic Garden, they gave presentations about eating good food and growing it yourself.  Hoorah!

The tour was also the launch of the Wicked Delicate Garden Contest, a challenge judged by food activists Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Marion Nestle, to see which student group can grow food in the funniest place.

In case you haven’t guessed, the umbrella name for their enterprise is Wicked Delicate. More good news: Under a grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation, Wicked Delicate is overseeing the planning process to develop FoodCorps, a national AmeriCorps school garden and farm-to-school service program.  FoodCorps will recruit young adults for a yearlong term of paid public service in schools that face the worst of the obesity epidemic. Service members will build and tend campus gardens and help source healthy foods for cafeterias. How good is that?

Click here to keep up with all the exciting and good things that Ian and Curt are doing–or to find out where the truck farm will be parked in the next few months.

Posted by: lornasass | May 19, 2010

STONE BARNS: WHAT A PLACE!

After a disappointing stroll through the grounds of the Gothic revival mansion at Lyndhurst (the National Trust should be ashamed–not a flower in bloom), The Sweetie and I made an impromptu stop at nearby Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and boy, was I glad we did.

The courtyard and its gardens have a very English feel.

Because I hadn’t been for over two years, I was quite surprised at the changes.  The place has grown from a fine restaurant with a kitchen garden and gift shop to a working farm and thriving education center. On the sign pictured above, you’ll see all of the classes and tours they offer on an average spring Sunday.  I’d like to take them all!

There is something of beauty at every turn, but what impressed me most was the attention to detail and the desire to do the very best possible for the earth, the plants, and the animals.   According to the brochure I picked up, Stone Barns is partnering in trials to test new seeds for “vigor, flavor, disease resistance, and marketability.”  These include 25 new types of tomatoes, 3 varieties of carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, and kohlrabi.  In addition to improved taste, the goal is to create more biodiversity which in turn creates a more resilient food system.  (Needless to say, none of the seeds planted are genetically modified.)

Animal care is state-of-the art, with lots of room for the creatures to move about.  Stone Barns is also experimenting with Biochar, a pure form of carbon that can be produced from fallen trees, paper plates, and other organic matter.  Biochar has already been shown to improve crop yields when added to soil, and its use extends to substituting for charcoal on the barbecue and, with its ability to absorb carbon dioxide, may even play a significant role in the fight against global warming

I took oodles of photos and it’s difficult to choose which ones to show you.  Every place the eye falls is either gorgeous or interesting and state-of-the-art.

The pigs seem very happy.

The lettuces and many heirloom vegetables are very sprightly.

One shrub is more beautiful than the next.

Aw shucks...It's so lovely to see animals grazing freely and taking it easy.


Posted by: lornasass | May 13, 2010

POSTCARDS FROM RED HOOK

If you’re ever in the mood to find yourself transported to a forgotten little town in a beautiful setting on the northern coast of Maine but don’t have 8+ hours to drive there, take a train and bus to Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The Sweetie didn’t like Red Hook nearly as much as I did, but to me it was a magical blend of decay, mystery, swashbuckling, and found treasures.  I loved seeing the vacant lots reclaimed by nature and all kinds of volunteer perennials pushing out exuberantly from beneath chain-link fences.

I have fantasies of buying one of the little working class houses and watching the neighborhood gentrify–but I suspect I’m already too late and their prices are beyond my means.

Right on the water, Red Hook  at the moment is a kind of urban shipwreck with pockets of gentrification in the form of a nice restaurant here and an antique shop or art gallery there.  Most of the activity is concentrated along a few blocks of Van Brunt Street.

There’s lots of evidence of boats and fishing, but if you’re hungry and don’t have time to fish, there’s a huge Fairway at the end of the block.  (An Ikea is nearby, out of sight, if you suddenly find yourself needing a bookshelf.)

Fairway should be ashamed of the lousy sandwiches they sell (and flimsy white bread too), but they are betting you’ll buy them anyway because you get to eat in an outdoor cafe two steps from the water and within view of Lady Liberty, with lots of boats floating by and creaking, atmospheric piers all around.  Take a little walk and see some interesting plantings behind a condo that’s right next door, and you might see a handsome, well dressed fellow walking two pedigreed dogs to his BMW.

There’s also a branch of the Chelsea Garden center on steroids (everything in Red Hook seems huge except for the little houses) in case you find yourself needing a fig tree or Japanese maple, but the real gardener’s dream come true is Liberty Sunset Gardens, whose owner is besotted with tropical plants and has a wonderful indoor garden center right along a pier and an outdoor branch where you can buy all kinds of interesting specimens and inexpensive earthenware containers imported from Colombia for terrific prices.

There’s also a terrific children’s educational garden as part of the complex, and big plans for community activities like outdoor movies.

Indeed, around every corner in Red Hook, there’s something funky or fun to delight the eye or senses.  This Betty Boop collection is in the window of a home on Van Brunt Street:

Here’s an evocative shipwreck you’ll pass on the way to Liberty Sunset Gardens:

And a mosaic doorway celebrating life in Red Hook:

I can’t wait to go back and wander along some of the small, rocky beaches.  I’ll bet there’s sea glass and all sorts of other finds–maybe even a message in a bottle.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories