Saturday, March 27, 2010

Of Vegetables and Men (Part II)

I recently made a fairly long, rambling post that was purportedly about vegetables, but was really more of a sentimental reflection on childhood and loss of a sense of place.

I am sometimes annoyed when things are not what their title purports to be1.[1] Therefore, I promise you. This post is about vegetables. Well, except for that last paragraph or two. And this sentence explaining them. As I mentioned previously, I am attempting to approach my garden guided by the firm hand of Science(tm). I sent a half an hour today, measuring the height and width of my plants, hopefully as a precursor for measuring growth. Though, given my gardening skills, it is far more likely that for many, this preliminary measurement is more suited as epitaph. Fennel, we hardly knew ye.

So with out further ado, I present to you the 2010 Bower Garden line-up. (Collect 'em all.)

The Peppers




“Super Chili” pepper


“Red Beauty” (Bell pepper)


“Super” Banana Pepper


“Golden” Bell pepper



The Tomatoes


Old German” heirloom tomato


Brandywine” heirloom tomato


Patio” tomato (hybrid designed for containers. Ironically, not doing as well as the other non-container tomatoes)


Orange Oxheart” heirloom tomato

The Miscellaneous Fruits/Vegetables


Strawberries (windowbox of three plants, none of which is doing fantastically well, already)


Strawberries (single plant, doing much better than the windowbox)


Sugar Snap peas (staked, so they can climb, but so far they just seem to want to wrap their tendrils around each other.)


“Ambassador” Zuchini (which is going nuts.)

The Herbs


Sweet Basil


Rosemary (Prostrate)


Rosemary (Santa Barbera)


Carolina Jasmine (not technically an herb, but meh. I am amazed at it's blooming. Every day there are blooms all over the ground, but already new ones on the plant.)


Lavender (a rookie in my garden, but is known to do well in the hot Texas climate)


Lemon Balm (great for making teas, very tempermental in my experience...I tend to lose these pretty easily. They're supposed to be good in sun or shade, but shade seems to work better so far)


Tarragon (x2). (No, you're not missing anything. This was my “from seed” experiment. So far, no sprouts, and it has been two weeks.)


Sweet Basil (seed) – (nothing yet. Got the idea for the dual egg crate seed starter design from a website.2[2])


Spearmint (I prefer peppermint, but couldn't find it. Mint was a big winner3 [3] for last year's garden)


Chocolate Mint (I thought it was just a varietal, but it actually does smell/taste like chocolate mint)



Decorative Plants and Miscellany


Marigolds (7 pots worth, several varities..planted as a companion plant among my other containers to hopefully repel some pests)


Yucca (The tall one to the left is several years old, and is the sort that should reall be in the ground. Oh well. The small one, just visible to the right, is an offshoot of the original that was transplanted)


Aloe (my poor aloe started as a sickly $1.99 bargain bin save at the local supermarket. I nursed it back to pretty prestigious health..douhble the current size. Then we had a pretty bad hard freeze and it lost a LOT of growth. It's coming back though)


Spider Plants. (The tiny sprout of a plant in the back of the first pic is the original plant I bought in 1995 from my friend Amy Kessler. It gave birth to a legion of other plants. Unfortunately, they were all out during the hard freeze, and we lost about 75%. I cut back the original to the surface, and to my great surprise, it has started to bounce back.They're all pretty scraggly right now, coming back from the frost)


Mystery Plant! (We had gotten a hanging basket plant that I killed with neglect, even though it made several valiant combeacks. Very fleshy, tubular leaves. I have no idea what it is. Some piece of it managed to fall off and take root in a pot of dirt underneath the hanging basket, and is now doing really well. Go figure. If anyone knows what this is, let me know!)

So that's the lot of them, about 46-47 plants total. I'll post updates every couple weeks/month to show growth/death. (I wish I had measured dimensions when I first planted about 2 weeks tomatoes,etc have already grown decently. So be it.)


1My friend is a fan of the band, Minus the Bear. When he suggested some songs to listen to, I was pretty excited. However, upon listening, I was less so. If you're going to have a song called “Lemurs, man, Lemurs”, it really should have something about lemurs in it.


3i.e., it survived and bore a “harvest”.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Blossoms - antiqued version

Spring is a quick affair here in Houston. It's the narrow window between "winter" and the long humid siege of Summer/fall.[1] Before it is gone, here’s a taste of Houston in the Spring.

Spring is the time when young men’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, and such. Young men are not alone, as Spring is prime time here for both:

the birds (Mallards competing for mate[2]), and

Mallard mating

..the bees. (honeybee sp. on buttercup sp.)


And…well, pretty much everything else. Everything tries to maximize the time before the heat arrives with a vengeance.

(Crane Flies mating)

Crane Flies (?) mating

Houston is briefly pretty for a short time, like if one of Cinderella’s uglier, fatter stepsisters had manged to cram her warty foot in the slipper. We’ll take what we can get.


Azalea Festival Tour


Blossoms - antiqued version

[1] For the native New Yorker, the seasons in Houston can best be described as transitional phases of summer. What would normally be called Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer elsewhere, are more aptly described here as “Hot, Slightly Less Hot, Hot-with-Flowers, and Thermonuclear-Surface-of-the-Sun”. The scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Nazi's face melts off? That was just stock footage from a Houston beach.

[2] Flowery prose aside, this was a fairly brutal ritual from the looks of it, mostly consisting of drakes ganging up on a female who ended up spending most of her time held under the water.

Our Spring guests

My wife's parents stopped by a couple weeks ago, and spent the weekend with us. They have stayed with us several times now, and at this point we've used up about all of the easy tourist hotspots in the area, so we pondered as to where we could bring them. We would have been perfectly happy to just hang out with them at home, but as home is still just a 2 bedroom apt., the closeness of the space is a fairly potent factor in getting us all out and about.

We ended up taking them to several stops on the Azalea Festival trail. The AF trail is a spring tradition in the River Oaks [1]section of town. When the azaleas are blooming, it's supposedly pretty fantastic.[2]

We started at Bayou Bend, the home of socialite and philanthropist[3] Ima Hogg[4]. It’s a manor home and large landscaped grounds. We paid our admission fees[5], and headed on in. The grounds are awash in azaleas….when they’re blooming.

Azalea Festival Tour

Unfortunately they were not.

Nada. Maybe one or two blossoms here or there.

All I could think was, with all apologies to Ian Malcolm similar query about dinosaurs and rides, “eventually you plan to have AZALEAS at your azalea festival, right?”.

We felt very bad that we couldn’t show them the place in its full “glory”, but luckily the magnolias (?) were in bloom[6] and the grounds are still nice to see.

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

We did manage to find a FEW azaleas poking their heads out, as well as some of the odd trappings of uber-wealth.

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

We also stopped to marvel at some of the micro-changes in elevation near the bayou, topography in general being a rarity in Houston.

Azalea Festival Tour

(with some ultra-wide angle distortion…sorry Kate…)

Azalea Festival Tour

We hit a couple of the other stops on the Azalea trail, including the “Rienzi” manor home, and some private houses.

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

Azalea Festival Tour

The private houses were really kind of a bust. Not much in the way of gardens. It felt more like an exercise in “Come see how immaculate and well appointed my home is, so that I may feed on your envy”. This sign pretty much summed up the underlying tension between the society set and the rest of us trogdolytes:

Azalea Festival Tour

We ate at the legendary Hobbit Café[7], after which we spotted what seemed like a statistical oddity….a Delorean (rare in and of itself) with handicapped plates.

Hey, Doc’s getting old. He can’t sashay through time quite like he used to.


The next day we took a leisurely stroll through the park[8]. I had been discussing bird identification with Kate’s mom when nature saw fit to present me with a challenge. Across the sky suddenly flew not one, or two, but what looked to be three different raptors, all in tight formation. It turned out to be a red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and large American crow (not a raptor) all harrying each other for airspace. Seeing two of these together, especially a crow and a raptor, is common, but all three was pretty impressive.

Mixed Flight

Mixed Flight

Later on, Kate’s dad and I went for a long hike in a nearby flood control district project area, and generally messed with photographing bits of the wild.



On Sunday, we took them to the Menil gallery, one of our favorite little art places[9]. The Menil is a small collection, with a fantastic room of antiquities. Their modern/surrealist offerings[10] don’t do much for me, but it’s just a really great space. As we came up the walkway we were shocked to see what looked, very convincingly, like a small boy sitting on the roof.


As it turned out, it was just part of a special exhibition, though the boy is no less creepy zoomed in.


They also happen to feature two installations by one of my favorite Earth/Land Art[11] artists[12]. So, in full realization of the irony of making art from other people’s art, here’s my take one of the Heizer pieces.



All in all it was a great visit. We miss having family around so it’s always great when they swing into town.

[1] Personally, I'm not a big fan of River Oaks. River Oaks is the sort of place that makes Martha Stewart look downright ghetto (even pre-jail time). The Houston paper has a “Society” section, mostly to serve these people. River Oaks is the sort of place that, if it were characters in an 80’s teen movie, would be the spoiled rich camp/school that the heroic plucky band of guys- and girls-next door have to work hard to beat, and who get their comeuppance in the end. It’s an exercise in a very peculiar alchemy, turning oil into plastic-fantastic opulent manor homes, each guarded by its own perfectly coiffed southern belle stepford wife. I’m fairly sure it’s unofficial motto is “River Oaks: Let Them Eat Cake”.

[2] If one is in to such things. To me, it mostly looks like the same uber-rich enclave it always looks like, but with some flowers.

[3] It’s ironic to me that that title is reserved almost exclusively for the ultra-rich. I have known many real philanthropists who have never been called as such, and couldn’t afford to drive through River Oaks. Apparently the word means something different than I think it does. Based on the “Society” page, being a philanthropist seems to involve going to a lot of fancy parties for fashionable causes (parties to which the causes’ benefitees are rarely invited) and having your picture taken with other over-buffed pretty rich people. Personally, as wonderful as it is for part of their money (earned on the rest of our backs) to go to charity, I don’t find a lot to admire in someone who has more money than they can ever spend, sharing a little with the “little people”. It verges on being somewhat condescending, as if the solution to all our problems can only be a well financially lubricated dues ex machina descending down from their ethereal realm of oil-sodden wealth. But I digress.

[4] Yes, she really was named Ima Hogg, though the popular legend of a sister named Ura is untrue. I good naturedly asked one of the society women “docents” on the tour if they had any inkling of the unfortunate homophonic (I’m a Hog) nature of the name. They looked at me as if I was some godless heathen peasant who had just urinated in the flower pot, and coldly said that no, it was a perfectly normal name for the time, and that I was free to move along to the next room. There was an unsettling degree of hero worship going on.

[5] Which weren’t cheap, especially considering the lack of azaleas. The Azalea “Trail” is apparently paved with money.

[6] Which, blooming from stately trees, I secretly think are far superior to the overly-domesticated pastel azaleas bushes.

[7] The hobbit café is a local landmark. It really is reminiscint of a hobbit hole, and has a 70’s hobbit feel, rather than a peter Jackson hobbit feel. Regardless, this is a café that loves it some hobbits. And without a hint of irony. All the food items have Tolkein names. Every wall was strewn with hobbit related paraphernalia. One almost expected to find awkward youth playing dungeons and dragons in every corner.

[8] Well, I and my mother in law strolled. Kate and her Dad ran. A waste of perfectly good nature if you ask me.

[9] As with most of the arts in Houston, it’s the product of mega-rich folk turning their hoardings over to the public to secure their legacy. Not that collecting, that odd human fascination, is their trait alone. They just do it on a vast scale.

[10] Alternatively, one could say, they bore me to death. Call me uncultured, call me insensitive, and I’ll counter that I’m simply not afraid to tell the Emperor he’s butt naked. Abstract art can be easy to appreciate, even if it doesn’t emotionally do anything for me. But surrealist stuff, to the greater degree, tends to neither impress me intellectually or emotionally. It just seems pretentious; I don’t particularly buy the argument that the deconstruction of art is itself art. To me it’s often a fairly meaningless private game. “Clever” art rarely is. As an example, the special exhibition consisted mainly of odd arrangement of taxidermied animals, including a dead horse with INRI on a sign with it. Oh how very shocking. You get all the attention now. Zzzzzz. To me, someone like Magritte is wholly different because the art still has an art componenet. He’s still a skilled painter, even if it’s of bowler hated odd men. Dominion of Light is one of my all time faves.

[12] Michael Heizer, though they are not by far his best pieces.