Fleur-de-Marcella

Family PortraitOne Christmas chef-phew Wille gave me a family portrait. It is a drawing/watercolor of the Allium Family: Papa Garlic, Mama Shallot, Sister Scallion, Brother Leek, Aunt Pearl, Uncle Walla Walla, cousins Chives and Cipollini, Grandpa Bermuda and Grandma Wild Onion. It is hanging in a place of honor on the pantry door of my mother’s kitchen.

This holiday I unwrapped a gift from Wille and it was Mi Comida Latina cookbook. In an email Wille explained that the Allium print and this year’s cookbook were created by the same woman—Marcella Kriebel of Washington, D.C.

Wille explained that he met Marcella before the holidays.

“You are such a gadabout at those farmers market,” I teased.

He asked me what a “gadabout” was and corrected me—he met Alice Waters at a farmers market (and bought a cookbook that she signed and he gave to me several years ago), but not Marcella. He met Marcella at a Christmas Market.

I explained that “gadabout” was an old term for “social butterfly”.

Again, he corrected me. He was not just being social; It was business.

“Now that I am Executive Chef, networking, networking, networking, with any and all Latin American food lovers.”

I guess I need to start referring to him as my Exec-Chef-phew.

Yes, Wille is the executive chef at Ruta del Vino, a Latin American Wine Bar and Restaurant in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The menu offers dishes from Mexico to Peru and from Brazil to Argentina: Pulpo Anticucho (grilled octopus), Sudado (butternut squash soup), as well as more familiar Chile Relleno and Empanada, and 18 wines from Latin America.Mi Book

I haven’t made it down to Wille’s restaurant, but I have been flipping through Mi Comida Latina. In sub-zero wind chills it has me lusting for sun-warmed San Marzano tomatoes and the pop of fresh cilantro gathered from our herb bed.

Although I’ve never travelled south of the border, Mi Conida Latina had me traveling back in time to a Saturday afternoon when my dear friend Terese showed me how to make empanadas. Terese is a world traveller and had eaten empanadas in Argentina. When she returned from her trip, she adopted and adapted these stuffed dough pockets in her Allentown kitchen. They were the perfect grab-and-go snack for her lanky teen-age son to inhale between school and sports practice—and it worked. He is now a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Each page of Marcella’s Mi Comida Latina could be framed as artwork or devoured by an everyday cook in the kitchen.  2018 promises to be a culinary Latin American adventure.

The cookbook’s step-by-step instructions and illustrations are like travel postcards from a friend.  Stories that accompany recipes take you to a diner in San Juan to sample a sweet breakfast bread, to Oaxaca  to sip a drink from a street vendor, or to Quito to taste cassava fritters.  Marcella takes the mystery out of Latin American cheese, explains how to eat a mango without peeling or slicing open the fruit, and taught me a better way to cut an onion.  If I keep reading, I may have the courage to eat a cactus pad, expand my chili pepper repertoire, and unlock the subtleties of the Belizean spice Annatto. Laurie LynchArtwork

More on Marcella: If you would like to know more about Marcella Kriebel or buy a print or cookbook, check out her website https://marcellakriebel.com She has a new book called Comida Cubana: A Cuban Culinary Journey.

Gardening/Language Sidebar: When the kids were toddlers I had a part-time job maintaining residential gardens in the Lehigh Valley. We had one client in Orefield whose Southwestern-style home had gardens to match. I dreaded weeding amongst the Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear cactus) but never knew I could have eaten them. Don’t ask me why, but the bright red fruit of the prickly pear cactus is called a “tuna”.

Written on Slate: Or at least inscribed by Marcella in my copy of Mi Comida Latina, “Cook with love!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fleur-de-MoreTasting

Spring in Centre County. On Tuesday, the 10thof April, it seems like winter will never leave.  The snow is like icing on a cake … but with no calories.  No shovels. No salt. No plows.

Daffodil 4:10:18A yellow daffodil bends into the green foliage under a shawl of snow, hunched like an old woman.

 

 

 

Hand 4:10:18

 

My sister Lisa’s sculpture, the focal point of the pentagon garden, is a black etching above a veil of white on her rarely snowy birthday.

 

 

Free Spring 4-14-18

 

 

Saturday, April 14th, “spring has sprung” and temperatures reach the 80s.  On a bicycle ride I picked up a hanging pot resting on a FREE pile along the road.

 

 

 

No matter where you live, there is beauty around every corner. It is up to each of us to embrace our locale. And no one does it better than Clotilde Dusoulier in her new cookbook, Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes To Eat Like a Local.

I’ve only foraged through a few of the 100 but already my book is sprouting torn strips of paper marking 23 I want to try. But recipes are just the icing.  The cake of Tasting Paris is Clotilde’s description of everyday Parisian life, unlocking some of the mysteries of the City of Lights.

The first time I saw Paris was in the summer of 1971. I was a sassy 17-year-old who ordered and actually drank a “Cognac and Coke” on the train ride from Amsterdam to Paris.  Three of us graduated high school together; the fourth was my girlfriend’s kid sister, to keep us out of trouble.  We stayed in a friend of a friend’s small apartment, up three or four winding flights of stairs (horror of horrors, no elevator!).

I remember a burlap drape instead of a door to the bedroom, a teensy kitchen with a refrigerator smaller than my suitcase, and a dingy sitting room. But then, we were hardly the epitome of sophistication.

We bought our bottles of wine from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, complained to ourselves when a restaurant served Coca-Cola without ice (!), and practiced the French command for “Get away!”  (“Va-t-en!”) when guys made advances—but all I could do was giggle.  We got scolded in the Jardin des Tuileries for walking on a patch of manicured grass, and the Mona Lisa was sooooo small.

I was determined not to fall in love with Paris. That was so cliché, and I so wanted to be a rebel.

But I fell hard.  The mansard roofs on the Haussmann apartment buildings.  The Seine booksellers and barges.  Baguettes and Brie. La tour Eiffel.  The frills and thrills of Paris.

The last time I saw Paris was through the pages of Tasting Paris.  As I read Clotilde’s Welcome and Brief History of Parisian Cuisine, and each of her recipe introductions, beginning with Le Matin (Morning) and ending with Tard Dans La Nuit (Late Night), I began to understand Paris.

Apartments are small, so Parisians developed a café culture. They often socialize at outdoor cafés or wine bars, mingling over café au lait or Côtes Du Rhône. Refrigerators are petite because Parisians go to the market several times a week and cook what is fresh. Bakeries are plentiful because Parisians love their baguettes and croissants. A stale nub of this morning’s baguette is ground into breadcrumbs and sprinkled on mussels on the half-shell or poached eggs. Leftovers of a loaf of artisanal bread are tucked under a blanket of Comté and voilà, Soupe a l’oignon gratinée. Nothing is wasted.

Next time I see Paris, I’ll taste it with new eyes and a new appreciation.  Laurie Lynch

 

Fleur-de-TProlls

Cindy bubbled with enthusiasm like a fountain restarted after a long winter shutdown. She outlined Master Gardener children’s activities planned for Bellefonte, our county seat. As Cindy breezed through the season’s plans, what caught my attention was her mention of a garbage bag filled with toilet paper rolls.

“I must ask,” I emailed her the following day, “what are you doing with kids and toilet paper rolls?”

Boy, did she have an answer for me:

“1.  So far we have used them for winter bird feeders (hole punch two holes at opposite ends, coat the tube with Crisco, roll in seeds, add a cord in one set of holes and a twig in the other two holes). Hang in a tree.
2. Fold up bottom, fill with soil and seeds. Once seeds are sprouted plant the entire roll in the garden.
3. At our Family Discovery Day we provide passports so each child visits all the stations. TP rolls are split down lengthwise. A large label with the wording Garden Super Hero is attached to the roll. Children wear them on their wrists like super hero cuffs. Each child collects stamps or stickers on the cuff at each station.”

Talk about creativity in the garden classroom.

When my kids were growing up, I confessed to Cindy, I hid TP rolls in my sock drawer to make British-style “crackers” for St. Nicholas Day. The trick was to find treasures that fit into the tube, such as lip balm, wrapped Lindt Lindor truffles, etc.  Then, I covered the rolls in holiday paper and tied each end with ribbon.

Cindy, always planning ahead, said,  “You gave me a great idea for Christmas. My aunt was born in Leeds, England, and she said next year we are having traditional English feast for our family party. I could make/bring the crackers.”

It was a fun email exchange centering on toilet paper rolls, of all things. But it also dredged up recollections of little “digs” about hoarding.  When I had the shop, I could clutter the shelves with cobalt blue jugs and bottles, fleur-de-lis knickknacks, hand-stitched aprons, and call it “display” or “creating atmosphere.”  I miss that outlet.

But the hoarding remains a personality trait—some would call it a disorder—in striking contrast to my minimalist offspring.

Ever since my trip to Portugal, wine corks have been one of the focal points of my hoarding habit. There are bags of corks in the furnace room. I poke them with bamboo skewers to use them as plant markers in the MG high tunnel or make floating cork key chains and comical barbells for Christmas gifts. I’ve even used them to add lightweight drainage in the bottoms of potted plants. Plus, there is the added joy of freeing the cork of its chore of containing wine in a bottle. Wine deserves to be in a glass. My glass.

Sweet Fruit Dressing

Salads with Sweet Fruit Dressing

In the electrical room you will find a stash of Bonne Maman jam jars with cute red-and-white checkered tops. Bonne Maman preserves are a staple in our house.  My mother has an 11:30 a.m. sandwich daily—either peanut butter and jam or cream cheese and jam.  We go through a lot of jam. And I can’t stand to toss those cute jars and lids in the recycling bin.  So, I save them.  Last Christmas I filled them with sugared and spiced pecans and almonds, and handed them out as gifts to co-workers and friends. I use them year-round to store dried cranberries, Marcona almonds, crystalized ginger, or a batch of my favorite salad dressing.

Sweet Fruit Dressing

We use this dressing on salad greens topped with fruit (clementine or grapefruit sections, apples slices, pomegranate gems, avocado wedges, etc.), pistachios, and thimbles of goat cheese.

½ cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. mustard (dry)

1 tsp. celery seed

1 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. grated onion

1 cup salad oil

¼ c. red wine vinegar

Mix dry ingredients and onion.

Add oil, in small amounts, alternating with vinegar, the last addition being vinegar.  Beat with a fork.  If the mixture separates, use a rotary mixer until blended.  This can also be made in larger quantities in a food processor or blender. Makes 1½ cups.

You’ will find this salad refreshing after a day of Spring Cleaning.  Laurie Lynch

The Name Game:  Bonne-maman, by the way, is French for grandmother (and another excuse for my collection.)

More Tasting:  In an upcoming newsletter, I’ll report on my progress in Tasting Paris.

Written On Slate:  “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris

 

Fleur-de-Tasting

It was a crowded afternoon at Wegmans. Whew! We were done.

Richard guided my mom, navigating a walker these days, outside to our handicapped parking space, while I steered the shopping cart down the narrow checkout lane. I can almost hear my mother as she reads the sign above the car in her best deep Katherine Hepburn voice: “Reeeeserrrved Paaahhking”

“My God, this lane couldn’t get any narrower,” I mumbled to no one.

I removed a few packages from the upper basket and put them on the belt. Then I had to push through the entire lane, past the cashier, to get to the front of the cart, and try to squeeze it back in reverse. The woman with the next shopping cart helped me, while I put the divider between our purchases and unloaded the rest of my groceries.

The checkout clerk held up a plastic bag containing two pounds of white Belgian endive with pale yellow tips.

“What are these?”

“Endive. E-n-d-i-v-e,” I spelled out. “It’s Belgian.”

She scrolled through the register’s list of produce Eggplant Black, Eggplant Green, but no Endive. She kept going.

“There it is,” I said. It was listed as “Let French End”. “That’s it,” I told her.

“I’ve never seen …” the clerk said as she punched in the weight.

“Yes, and we took most of them.”

The woman with the cart behind me said, “I was just thinking, I’ve never seen such a variety of items.”

I laughed. “I got a new cookbook. Tasting Paris.”

Tasting ParisThere was:

Onion Red—for Quick Red Onion Pickle Oignon rouge en algre-doux, Page 19.

Marathon Bread—our weekly staple (a blend of oats, wheat, rye, fruits, vegetables, and every seed known to man) but three slices were destined for a bowl on the counter … to get stale … Making Your Own Bread Crumbs, Page 18.

Mussels Org 2lb and Herb Corriander (misspelled and actually flat-leaved parsley)—for Gratinéed Mussels with Garlic and Parsley Moules gratinées à l’ail et au persil, Pages 168-169.

Let French End—for French Endive Casserole Gratin d’endives, Pages 226-227. Oh, I miss Marina. I remember her Au Pair Grandmother making this dish for us at Christmas.

Weg Org Turkey Bac–Variations, Page 227, Endives au jambon. Turkey bacon is our go-to substitute for ham while Richard is in the household

Lemons—for Lemon Spatchcocked Chicken Poulet en crapaudine au citron, Pages 196-197.

O Mas Yung Chng Nd, WB 3-PK Cuke, WB Org Spring Mix, WB 6PK Red Pepper, Org Bl Brst Fp—Chinese noodles, cucumbers, greens, red peppers, and chicken for Richard’s favorite birthday meal, Peanut Butter Chinese Chicken. Fooled you, not from Tasting Paris

Clotilde Dusoulier, author of Tasting Paris, writes a blog named Chocolate & Zucchini, which arrives in my Inbox each month. Through her writing, I consider her a friend even though I don’t have a clue how to pronounce her name and I’ve never met her.

Her first cookbook, Chocolate & Zucchini, spent hours propped up on the windowsill next to the old iMac computer in the living room of our farmhouse at 440 Hottenstein. There, I had a view of the henhouse and the Fleur-de-Lys Farm shop entrance while I typed my first newsletters. Chocolate & Zucchini was an inspiration and gift from daughter Marina soon after she went to Belgium as an au pair in 2008 and never really returned.

Today Clotilde lives an exciting, food-filled life in Paris, with husband Maxence and sons Milan and Mika. And I’m about to begin a cooking adventure week, tasting Paris in State College, PA. Laurie Lynch

True Confessions: When I placed the order for Tasting Paris on Amazon, I intended to buy it for Marina. The book came out March 20. I bought it a week earlier, sight unseen, First-Day Ship Out. It was due to arrive in the State College post office on Wednesday. The impending fourth nor’easter of March gave me worries, but, alas, no delay.

I opened the box, took the book out of its plastic wrapper and put it under my bed. Thursday, I opened it and carefully looked at a few pages. Thursday night, well, why would Marina want Tasting Paris, I asked myself. She is tasting Ghent … and busy remodeling a townhouse. I might as well read it, then stick it in my suitcase and give it to her next time I visit. Yesterday, I decided maybe I should buy a second copy.

Grocery Goof: With all of my Tasting Paris shopping I forgot the cream cheese, or “Philadelphia” as they say in Paris, for Richard’s Italian Cream birthday cake. Today is the eve of his birthday and I have to make a quick run to the store. But when will I have the time?

Fleur-de-StinkbugPoetry

Clearly I am thinking way too much about stinkbugs. I wrote a poem about them this morning…Karen O’Mara Voytas, Guest Contributor
A CALL TO ARMS
Piling up five inches deep, ‘cross my windowsill they creep
Changing sheets I’m finding thirty, even tho I’m not that dirty
Move a picture, here are forty, pungent, taupe and kinda warty
Whether you have blue or pink rugs, chances are they’re full of stink bugs
Whack one on your neck while sleeping and you’ll wake up truly reeking.
Miracles of adaptation, they receive no adulation
Olfactory defenses, though not unknown, are not welcome in one’s home
Frustrating, odious, and repulsive, they’ve got us feeling quite convulsive
Their agricultural destruction threatens farmers’ mass production
To a pesticide injection, they respond with resurrection
And though wondrous to biology, they do a job on our psychology.
We lack an appreciation for their admirable adaptation
Classified downright ochraceous, diapausal and testaceous
Thigmotaxis brings them running, thermophilia keeps them sunning
Packing pheromones for aggregation, they use our homes for winter vacation
Like Cantonese, and me, polyphagous, they’ll eat stuff that’s quite ridiculous
And while we are on the topic, they’re negatively geotropic
Mutations so advantageous only render us pugnacious  
Who cares if they’re marmorated, they inspire only hatred.
In forty-three of the contiguous, almost every state’s pestiferous
Great America can’t cave in to an odorous invasion
Tho we’re near stink bug ground zero, we’re unrescued by a hero
In the absence of a natural predator, we cry out for an insect editor
We have seen the enemy and he is stinking: here’s an idea, if you’re thinking
If impeachment is impending, do some military spending
Show us that you are unbending, forge a legacy unending
If you want us not to hate ya, Trump, and trade wars do not faze ya
Send the stink bugs back to Asia.

Fleur-de-Stinkbug

A former co-worker of mine hit the big time. Karen Bernhard is mentioned in the March 12, 2018, issue of The New Yorker as the first U.S. entomologist to come into contact with the Asian brown marmorated stinkbug (Halyomorpha halys) in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1998 an Allentown man collected a sample of the pest and brought it into our Lehigh County Cooperative Extension Office for identification. He delivered it to the right person. Karen loves to key out insects and solve mysteries of the six-legged kind…even if it takes years.

After making the discovery, Karen often endured my office rants about Asian brown marmorated stinkbugs and their propensity for moving into the nooks and crannies of our old Berks County farmhouse. My kids grew up calling them “dinosaur bugs” and flinching every time they banged against a glowing lampshade after dark. Our stinky vacuum cleaner worked overtime sucking up the rascals.

I must admit, when I moved to State College with my mom in 2011, a dinosaur bug crawled out of a moving carton and I got a warm-and-fuzzy, nostalgic feeling. I may be the only person on the planet to react to the critter in that way.

This past week, a Kutztown friend sent a link to Karen Schultz’s article, When Twenty-Six Thousand Stinkbugs Invade Your Home. I think you will find it as fascinating as I did. Laurie Lynch

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/03/12/when-twenty-six-thousand-stinkbugs-invade-your-home

Fleur-de-S&theSAT

In New Zealand, ants do it. In Belize, wasps do it. In California and Florida, honey bees do it. In Mexico, bats do it. In Australia, hover flies do it. But in February, in Central Pennsylvania, how do you pollinate an avocado tree?

Actually, the question Irmgard asked was if I knew anyone who had successfully pollinated a single avocado tree. I could have answered “No” and left it at that but Irmgard is a bicycling and gardening buddy. Besides, I need to exercise my brain—and resources.

The question, via email, came after Irmgard read my Atrium Tales blog.

I suspect most of you have grown an avocado plant from an avocado pit. You stick three toothpicks in the pit and suspend it over a glass of water. It either roots or rots, sometimes both.

Irmgard describes herself as belonging to the “don’t throw it, grow it” school. She is most definitely not from the “grow it and forget about it” school. Her avocado tree is nearing 15 years old and for the past three years it has bloomed every February. The tree hasn’t set a single fruit.

I sent the avocado pollination question to two Master Gardening friends, Chris and Ruth, who teach a plant propagation class. They replied with links for articles and YouTube clips. In truth, there is no simple answer to the questions of sex and the single avocado tree.

Avocado Flowers

Irmgard’s Avocado Flowers

Avocados, you see, are unique to the plant world. An avocado flower opens first as a female. Then, she closes for the night. On day 2, that same flower reopens as a male. Talk about a pronoun problem.

This complex flowering system is influenced by the variety of avocado tree. The avocado family is broken into two groups: A-type and B-type. Those types have different schedules as to when they open as female, close, and then reopen as male. Ambient temperature can also affect pollination, but I’m not going there.

These details get really confusing, and chances are, if you grew an avocado tree from a pit you don’t know what variety of avocado pit you started with anyway. Then, add this highly disheartening statistic: An avocado tree has roughly a million flowers but only 1 in 1,000 flowers will actually set fruit.

So I’ve got a proposition to make. Next February, we will open the atrium to anyone who has a single, teen-age avocado tree. Bring your flowering tree for a few weeks of meeting and mingling. We can turn on the fans (for a little wind pollination). Perhaps I’ll buy a carton of ladybugs to assist with insect pollination. (I’m sure my mom would never agree to the bees, wasps, or flies–and the little brown bat that visited last year isn’t invited back). Then, we can all sit around a wait for fruit set.

Never again will I complain about the cost of a bag of avocados at Wegmans. Laurie Lynch.

Written on Slate: “It is not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process, but God who makes things grow.” –1 Corinthians 3:7

Another: “I love things that are indescribable, like the taste of an avocado or the smell of a gardenia.” –Barbra Striesand

And Another: “And perfect happiness? Man, that’s a…the pool is about 92 degrees, the Jacuzzi is about 102, and an avocado farm.” Jamie Foxx

The Last Word…by Emily Dickinson:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee,

And revery.

The revery alone will do,

If bees are few.

Fleur-de-AtriumTales

PalmWhen was the last time you dined on African violets? Or made a casserole with oxalis bulbs? (Don’t, they’re poisonous.) For the most part, my motto is: If you can’t eat it, why grow it?

Then I moved in with my mother seven years ago. Decades before that, my parents enclosed a patio and installed skylights and planting beds filled with tropicals. The atrium grew into a glorious year-round dining area. That said, I’ve never been passionate about houseplants.

The atrium once housed a 14-foot ornamental Ficus. My best memory of that tree is when my parents decorated it for Christmas with white sand dollars tied to the branches with red ribbons. It was our family’s Isle of Palm tree, the South Carolina sea island where I lived after college, and where we collected the sand dollars. My mom’s worst memory of the Ficus, not that she has many memories anymore, is when it dropped one of its hard, ornamental fruits on the head of the then-Penn State University President during a supposed-to-be elegant dinner. My mother decided the Ficus had worn out its welcome in our atrium.

She replaced it with a palm tree. The palm was well behaved in the early years. As it matured, its fronds started getting tangled in the Casablanca fans—thump, thump, thump. Out came the loppers. Now the palm fans are poking into the skylights. Are retractable skylights next or is it time for another major tree replacement?

Lower to the ground, and much lower maintenance, are my mother’s orchids. Every year for my mother’s December birthday she receives a potted orchid from her college roommate and lifetime friend, Trig. Orchids can be temperamental, but not in the atrium. The room must mimic their beloved rainforest ecosystem.

One year we gave my dad a dwarf banana tree. Imagine reaching from the breakfast table to pick a banana. The plant grew to about 2 feet and sprouted leaves swarming with weevils, aphids, mealybugs, and mites. My mom put her horticultural foot down before the plant had a chance to fruit. “It’s got to go.” It went—into the compost pile.

Since I’ve moved back I have cautiously transformed the tropical paradise into a somewhat edible jungle room.

It should be a great place to overwinter tender herbs. The pot of lemon verbena and chocolate mint was doing well until two chowhounds (a Golden Retriever and a Chocolate lab) stripped the branches bare.

Before the dogs arrived for a weekend visit, the basil “Pesto Perpetuo” proved not to be perpetual for me. It went from a multi-stemmed, green-and-white bushy culinary herb in September to three or four crispy twigs, with a dying cluster of variegated leaves on top by December. At the same time, Rosemary croaked. She never makes it much past Christmas, no matter what her breeding.

This winter the Meyer lemon is filled with teardrop white buds that burst into white stars with golden crown centers. Their fragrance in February is what heaven must smell like. Even if we never see more than one or two lemons reach maturity that small shrub is a success story. The guava tree keeps growing, dropping leaves, and leafing out again, but no flowers, no fruit. Perhaps it needs a mate.

Rhubarb

February Rhubarb

Then, there is the rhubarb. Last spring I potted up a rhubarb plant to see how it would do in a large planter. The leaves were showy and attractive. By early winter, the plant died back to the ground, as rhubarbs do. I had forgotten it, but then noticed the non-weatherproof ceramic pot sitting on the patio. I tried to move it into the garage so it wouldn’t crack, but the pot didn’t budge—frost had sealed it to the bricks. A few days later, we had a brief thaw. Time for action. I moved the pot into the atrium. Within days, I was forcing rhubarb.

Surprisingly, my February heartthrob is not an edible. It is strictly “for pretty”, starting out as the feathered foliage tail of a turkey in a florist’s Thanksgiving arrangement a few years ago. After the holiday, I placed the plant with colorful “turkey” foliage, pot and all, in one of the atrium planters.

It grew. And grew. A year or two later, I decided to renovate the planter, adding compost and aerating the soil. When I got to the mystery plant, I decided to free it from its pot and sink it into a hole in the ground.

Within days it dropped its rainbow-colored leaves. First the bottom, then, moving upward, they fell to the ground and it started looking like a Dr. Seuss umbrella tree. The few leaves that remained—drooped. Not knowing what else to do, I watered it well, whispered a few apologetic words, and resigned myself to its demise.

Wonder of wonders, it pulled out of its slump, pushed out new growth, and made an amazing recovery.

Friends came over for a Master Gardener meeting. As we gathered in the atrium, Yvonne looked at the mystery, miracle plant and said, “Oh, a croton.”

I nodded and quickly scribbled down the name. Thank goodness for houseplant-savvy friends.

Croton Foliage

Colorful Croton

After the meeting, I looked up croton. Its formal botanical name is Codiaeum variegatum, member of the Euphorbia family. Euphorbias are known to have a milky sap that drips out if you break a stem or leaf. Warning to visiting dogs: Eating croton leaves could cause indigestion…or worse. The plant is native to India and Malaysia. And, get this, according to experts it “resents root disturbance and may drop leaves.”

Our plant has reds and blacks and greens, and golds and oranges too, with striking veins of contrasting colors. It has passed the 3-foot mark, headed toward 4. In Florida, where it is an outdoor, perennial evergreen shrub, it can grow to10 feet. In February, when you need to indulge your soul in a feast of color, there is nothing like the large, leathery leaves of a tropical croton. Laurie Lynch

Exploring Plants: I recently finished a book that opened a whole new chapter to me—that of the plant craze in 1700s England. I knew a little about Philadelphia’s plant collecting John Bartram and Swede Carl Linnaeus, Father of Taxonomy, but in The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf you get to meet them as people, as well as a handful of British botanists I knew nothing about, such as Peter Collinson and Phillip Miller. These gardeners spurred the horticultural craze around the world. North American seeds and cuttings were packed into boxes and shipped from Philadelphia to London, and soon sea-going vessels were fitted out with chambers to hold pots of plants discovered in Australia, China, and South America. Even Captain Cook, Captain Bligh, and mutinous crews figure into this fascinating history.

Written on Slate: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

Feb Sunset

February’s Croton Sunset