Immigrants Welcomed

Sad to See This One Leave, ‘Til Next Year

“So sad,” to quote our current president (not a president known, so far at least, for his eloquence). But I’m not sliding over into political commentary. I use to that pithy quote in reference to the fleeting glory of Rose d’Ipsahan.

A little background: Rose d’Ipsahan was given to me many years ago by a local herbalist under the name of Rose de Rescht, which it soon became evident it was not. Rose d'Ipsahan in vaseDescriptions of Rose de Rescht tell how it blossoms repeatedly through the season; not my rose. I finally honed down my rose’s identity from among the choices suggested by a number of rose experts based on photos and descriptions I had sent them.

Under any name, Rose d’Ipsahan would be my favorite rose. Without any sort of protection, it’s never suffered any damage from winter cold. Insect and disease pests do it little or no harm. And rather than intimidating thorns, the stems are covered by more user-friendly prickles.

The best part of Rose d’Ipsahan is its blossoms, a loosely packed head of soft, pink petals that are attractive from the time the opening bud shows its first hint of pink until the head fully expands. Rose d'Ipsahan blossomAnd the fragrance! Intense, and my favorite of all roses. Rose d’Ipsahan is a variety of Damask rose and has the classic fragrance of that category of rose.

This rose was discovered in a garden in the ancient city of Esphahan (sometimes written as Ispahan, Sepahan, Esfahan or Hispahan) in Iran, making its way to Europe from Persia sometime in the early 19th century. Interesting that a rose claiming as home a part of the world with very hot summers, mild winters, and a year ‘round very dry climate does so well in my garden. And elsewhere; this is a cosmopolitan plant.

Why, the “So sad?” Because Rose d’Ipsahan blossoms only once a season. Then again, it does have a relatively long season — for a Damask rose. I’m thinking of making some new plants to plant near the east or north wall of my home where spring’s later arrival would delay the onset — and finish — of blossoming a few days after my plants in the sun. Rose d’Ipsahan also tolerates some shade. 

A Wild Italian

Another immigrant in my garden is arugula. Not your run-of-the-mill arugula (Eruca sativa), but a different species, this one usually known as Italian or wild arugula (Eruca selvatica). Italian arugula has a peppery flavor similar to common arugula, to me a little less sharp.

Italian arugula has it over common arugula in two ways. First of all,I think it’s prettier, with deeply lobed rather than mostly rounded leaves. Italian arugulaMore important, Italian arugula tolerates heat better. As my rows of common arugula are sending up seed stalks, the Italian arugula just keeps pumping out new leaves.

The native home of arugulas, common and Italian, is the Mediterranean, where their flavors have been enjoyed since Roman times. Perhaps more than just for their flavor. In his poem Moretum, Virgil has the line “et Venerem revocans eruca morantem  which translates to “and the rocket, which revives drowsy Venus’ [sexual desire].” Perhaps that’s why it was forbidden to grow arugula in monastery gardens in the Middle Ages.

It’s also been suggested that the reason arugula is often mixed with lettuce in a salad is to counteract arugula’s effect; lettuce contains the chemical lactucarium, a non-narcotic sedative and analgesic, structurally similar to opium. Lactucarium isn’t nearly as strong as opium, to say the least, because studies have shown none of the alleged effects from “lettuce opium,’ as the lettuce compound has been called. (I didn’t come across any studies confirming or denying the effects of arugula beyond good taste.)

Glad to Have These Immigrants

So there you have it, two immigrant plants well worth growing. I’m glad I welcomed them into my garden, and suggest you do so also.


 Onions & More, Late But They’ll Be Fine

   I missed my deadline by four days, sowing onion seeds on February 5th rather than the planned February 1st. That date isn’t fixed in stone but the important thing is to plant onions early.
    Onions are photoperiod sensitive, that is, they respond to daylength (actually, night length, but researchers originally thought the response was to light rather than darkness, so the phrase “daylength sensitive” stuck). Once days get long enough, sometime in June, leaf formation comes screeching to a halt and the plants put their energies into making bulbs. The more leaves before that begins, the bigger the bulbs.
    Plants from seeds sown outdoors — towards the end of March — won’t have as many leaves as plants given a jump start indoors. I like big bulbs; hence the early February sowing.

Fresh Seeds & Mini-furrows in a Plastic Tub

    First step on my way to onion-dom is to get fresh seeds. Onion seeds are relatively short lived and I want to give the plants plenty of time to grow. I don’t risk delays from poor germination and replanting of old seed.Onion seeds being sown in mini-furrows in pan of potting soil.
    Seeds get sown in a miniature “field:” A plastic tub 18 inches by 12 inches, with drainage holes drilled in its bottom and filled 4 inches deep with potting soil. Some weed seeds are unavoidably lurking in the garden soil and compost in my homemade potting mix, so I top the potting mix with a one inch depth of a weed free, 1:1 mix of peat moss and perlite.
    The edge of a board pressed into the firmed soil mix in the tub makes furrows, 6 of them equally spaced and about 1/2 inch deep within the tub. Into each furrow go onion seeds, sprinkled at the rate of about 7 seeds per inch. Once the furrows are closed in over the seeds, I water thoroughly and, to avoid washing away seeds, gently.
    Covered with a clear pane of glass and warmed to 70 to 75° F, the seeds should appear as grassy sprouts above the soil mix within a couple of weeks. From then on, my goal is to keep the plants happy with abundant light and water as needed. They get a haircut, their leaves snipped down to 4 inches, whenever they get too floppy. The compost and alfalfa meal in the potting mix should provide sufficient nourishment to the seedlings until they are ready for the great outdoors. That deadline is April 15th, weather permitting.

Other Cool Temperature Seeds Join the Party

    Onions won’t be alone on the seedling bench in the greenhouse. I’m also now sowing seeds of celery, celeriac, and leek. All, like onion, need a long period of growth before they’re ready for outdoors.

Onion seedlings, up and growing.

Onion seedlings, up and growing.

   These seeds get sown in furrows in small seed flats from which the seedlings, once they have two leaves, are gingerly lifted and cozied into waiting holes poked into the potting mix filling seed trays with individual cells. Little growing space is needed because a single seed flat can be home to a few kinds of seeds and the celled trays in which the seedlings grow until planted outdoors can house about two dozen plants in a square foot.
    I’m sowing lettuce in a similar manner. In contrast to celery and company, lettuce grows quickly. It’s needed to fill in gaps opened up from winter harvests of kale, lettuce, mâche, claytonia, celery, and parsley in the greenhouse, and should be ready to eat in April.

Nature & Nurture & the Spiciness of Onions

    Last year’s onions were abundant, large, sweet, and juicy. Anticipating their not keeping well, we ate them quickly, pulling the last ones from their hanging braid in the basement sometime in November. These were so-called European-type onions, varieties such as Ailsa Craig and Sweet Spanish.
    Next year we should have fresh onions for soups and stews on into winter because I’m growing some American-types, New York Early and Copra. American-type onions are actually sweeter than European-type onions, but their sweetness is masked by their increased pungency. That pungency comes from sulfur compounds, which are vaporized during cooking. Those sulfur compounds are also what help these onions keep longer.

Stored onions, in basement

Stored onions, in basement

    Soil enters the picture when it comes to onion flavor and storability. Sulfur is an essential plant nutrient and the more sulfur in the soil, within limits, the more sulfur in the onions. Sulfur is a key component of organic matter, so my compost-rich soil (with a whopping 15% organic matter) should have plenty of sulfur.
    Still, I’m thinking about spreading sulfur, the same pelletized sulfur I use to maintain soil acidity beneath my blueberry bushes, on half my onion beds to see if flavor or storagability are noticeably affected.