Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

This post goes back in time a little bit to 2011, to a trip I took to Holland and Belgium.

While in Brussels, we stopped at the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, an immense network of greenhouses covering approximately 270,000 square feet at the Royal Palace of Laeken.

It was designed, in the art nouveau style out of glass and iron, by architect Alphonse Balat with the help of his student Victor Horta. Victor Horta was also one of the most important names in art nouveau architecture.

Construction of the entire complex took thirty years. The greenhouses feature around thirty pavilions, glass cupolas, and arcades that cross the site like covered streets.

The largest dome - The Winter Garden (Grand Jardin d'hiver or Grote Wintertuin) was built between 1874 and 1876. The dome was large enough to accommodate large palms, many of which date back to Leoplod II. Royal receptions were also held in the dome. 

There is a wide variety of plants inside, including huge palms, azaleas, geraniums, camellias, fuchsias and medinillas.

These greenhouses are only open for the public a few weeks out of the year (late April/early May), so be sure to check the dates. Admission is a bargain at 2.50 Euros and free for kids.

Royal Palace of Laeken
The Orangerie

Dome of The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

"Serre du Congo"

That's a big fern!

One of the corridors.
Wisteria tree

A collection of geraniums and fuchsias in this corridor

A planted corridor. The "Serre de Diane"
A collection of azaleas.
Interior of the dome of the Grand Jardin d'hiver or Grote Wintertuin
Fuchsias decorate the ceilings
Me and Medinilla magnifica

Friday, October 10, 2014

Today's Favorite Plant - Crocus sativus

Yesterday, I noticed the first flower of a group of fall blooming Crocus sativus (Saffron Crocus) was open.

The first of many flowers to open.
Crocus sativus is not the easiest Crocus to grow but the reward is harvesting its precious inner cargo makes it worth it!

It likes rich, well-drained soils and very hot summers, which is exactly what we had in 2014 in Portland. Sometimes it blooms well the first year and then sparsely the next. It doesn't force well indoors either. The bulbs are pretty easy to find at the garden center though.

I have several "patches" of Saffron Crocus that have done well. Often the flowers open, just as the rains start, which makes harvesting the stamens harder. I always pluck the stamens at first sight and dry them in a little bowl on my kitchen counter, for use later.

Time to pluck those three stamens!
As a spice, Saffron has been cultivated for more than 3,500 years.
From my little patches of bulbs, I get a small amount of Saffron spice, enough to make my favorite Indian chicken dish. It's also nice to use to infuse into vodka to make cocktails. A Lemon Drop made with home infused Saffron vodka is amazing.

A word of caution - NEVER confuse Saffron Crocus or any other autumn-blooming crocus with the similar looking, but highly poisonous Colchicums. You have to know what you've planted.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Charlotte of the Cross

It's that time of year.

The days are quickly getting shorter and I rush home everyday trying to beat the sun going down.

It's so hard to get up in darkness, go to work all day and then drive home in the dark.

The last few days, after getting home, I have sat on my back stoop in the last light, taking in the fragrance of Osmanthus fragrans (Sweet Osmanthus, 木樨). It's full of little ivory blooms and its scent is floating around my yard. The warm evenings carrying it's perfume on the wind. You never know when you will encounter a cloud of its heavenly perfume, but it stops you in your tracks.

I knew that smell in a past life. I know it's weird but while visiting the Ming Tomb in China - I knew this smell and knew I had been there before. It was a déjà vu moment. 

As I contemplate my former past life as a Chinese official, I sip a bourbon and coke and eat cheddar cheese Pringles (they had those in the Ming dynasty right?). Now and then I slip a Pringle nibble to my assistant, Yvette.

My other thoughts are of "Charlotte". 

This is also that time of year when the European Cross spiders suddenly get gigantic! Charlotte has decided to make a web between my house and the Caesalpinia gilliesii (Bird of Paradise Bush) I just put in this year. Last year's was rude and decided to die on me... The Caesalpinia, not the spider....

Charlotte's web is hard to see
I have been feeding Charlotte in the evenings, not that she needs any help. She gets a snack after my assistant Yvette gets her kibble and I feed the goldfish. But unlike opening a can of K-9 'Brats n Tots', I have to go forage in nooks and crannies for bugs.

For she (Charlotte, not Yvette) loves a good grasshopper or sometimes a beetle, that I find under the wood boards out in the veggie garden. It takes a little effort to scrounge insect appetizers. 

Tonight I couldn't find Charlotte in her web. I thought perhaps she moved on to better digs. But when I went to plant something, I discovered where she went .

I found a little bug and stuck it in her web. She got all the signals and zipped up her web for a look-see. After a little taste test and wrap-job, she decided she wanted her snack "to go" and brought it down from the web to her new hiding place under the trowel.

I hope she sticks around for awhile longer - the first frosts are surely around the corner. I will give her treats as long as I can. Hopefully next year's baby spiders will be hers. 

Something to look forward to next year. 

Is that "Circle of Life" I hear playing softly in the background?