Monday, March 30, 2015

The Drunken Botanist

One of my favorite parts of the day is listening to books in the car on the way to work. I just recently finished reading an incredibly well researched book by Amy Stewart. For all you botany nerds, for anyone who enjoys the craft of cocktails, and for those of you who enjoy the history of how we use plants - well this book is for you.  Written by New York Times best-selling author Amy Stewart, this book is about the botanical origins of the things we drink - alcoholic things we drink. First, she goes into great detail about which plants have been cultivated, for what drinks and by whom. In part two, she talks about how these ingredients are combined with other botanical flavorings and this is where it really got interesting. Herbs and spices like licorice, gentian, juniper and wormwood, and fruits such as citrus, figs, currants add their flavor so so many cordials and liqueurs. Trees like Angostura, Birch and Sugar Maple and nuts like the almond, hazelnut and walnut all add subtle flavors to the things we drink. Learning about all the small family cordial makers and craft distilleries that often have been making the liqueurs for generations was fascinating.

Caution though, this book may lead to this.....

After listening to this all week, I had to find something interesting to drink on Saturday in our local Bow Street Market. Something rare maybe, hand crafted, and wild. I knew I like herbal tasting gins. Then I saw this on the shelf! The Botanist! How could I resist!? A wild foraged gin made on the island of Islay (pronounced I-You-Wah in Gaelic!?) on the Inner Hebrides of Scotland! Having been to that part of the world when I was 20, I imagined (and waxed nostalgic for) island people who speak Scottish Gaelic, roaming the windy moors to gather the wild herbs on the cliffs, the caw of seagull rookeries below, the lonely lakes where wild brown trout live....this is before I even had any!
Such a beautifully made product, needed to be accompanied by a equally hand crafted tonic and so I picked up some Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water with real quinine and ginger. Less sweet than a regular tonic, these pure ingredients put the finishing touch to a Saturday night. Special indeed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Witch-hazels in Bloom!

With spring taking its time to get here this year, I was overjoyed to see the witch-hazels blooming at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this week! Even though you can't see the ground, these trees know spring is coming. As some of you know, I just started a new job at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and so I will have access to many great photo opportunities in the future! As Interpretation and Exhibits Coordinator I have already learned so much and look forward to working on art exhibits, wayfinding and other interpretation. I feel honored to be part of such a great team!

Here is the Hamamelis × intermedia 'Pallida' witch-hazel in bloom on the path to the Visitor's Center.  This small tree was used by the Native Americans (usually Hamamelis virginiana) and early settlers to make an astringent. Used on sores and wounds, it is still commercially available today. I can remember that distinctive smell of the witchhazel we had in the bathroom medicine cabinet as a kid, and using it on my adolescent skin. It is an anti-oxident as well and has been used to help psoriasis and eczema.

At the Gardens, it is only three and a half weeks until the Visitor's Center is open and we are very busy getting everything ready. Hope to see you all after April 15th as we have an amazing line up of art shows, workshops and lectures, shop goodies and great food.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Redpolls and Robins

Laura Erickson, MN, Saks-Zim Bog, January 2009

Signs that the season is changing can be seen at the feeder. Only at this time of year do I get Common Redpolls in huge groups. You don't have to be looking out the window to know they are there as they announce their presence with their clatterous calls. Busy and frenetic! They are actually on their way home to the most northern regions of Canada. They are small like sparrows but have heavily striped side markings and a bright red cap. Unmistakeable! The males will show a bit a red on the breast. 

Bill McMullen, ON, Clarence-Rockland, March 2011

Females might fool you into thinking they are a sparrow, but then you see the bright red head and yellow finch beak. On their way back to the arctic tundra and boreal forests, they are only passing through looking for birch catkins and weed seeds. Your thistle or nyjer seed will be perfect for them. Click here to hear their call.
Garth McElroy/VIREO
Robins also have been passing through. These Robins seem a bit different though. Their bellies are much brighter and the white part of their bellies also is brighter white. Apparently sometimes Robins do not migrate far and can overwinter here in Maine, but this large group at the feeder seemed to be on the move. I hope the fruit and seeds will be plentiful for them along the way.
What interesting birds have you seen at the feeder lately?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Naples Botanical Garden

 As promised, I will show you the beautiful Naples Botanical Garden. Unfortunately though, these are pictures from several years ago. Our flight ended up being cancelled and we couldn't rebook because of the weather. Oh well, I can still show you the warm weather beauty of this garden.

Winding paths take you through the many themed gardens. 

On your way to the Children's Garden, you can step inside the Pfeffer-Beach Butterfly House. This is an enclosed structure where visitors can can step inside and see butterflies hatching from pupa almost everyday of the week.The Chrysalid House is nearby many plants that provide sustenance for the newly transformed.

 Plantings in the Butterfly Garden like this Lion's Ear (Leonotis Nepitifolia) attract it's inhabitants.

The Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children's Garden has lots of annuals that attract bees and butterflies. Buildings and fences are on a small scale.

Mina Lobata growing on an arbor attracts a bumble bee to its pollen.

The path to the Brazilian Garden winds up a small hill. Dramatic in color and texture, the stroll has a festive flair.

The distinctive feature is the water garden filled with giant water-lilies and lotus. I just read that a simple way to tell the difference between a lotus and waterlily. Waterlilies flowers and leaves float on the surface of the water, and lotuses rise above the surface of the water.

It takes a second to realize that they must have painted the pool in a dark paint. You can't see into the water, but only see the reflections. A dramatic effect with the brilliant colors of the lilies and lotuses contrasted against the brilliant blue sky!

Next you travel over to The  Kapnick Caribbean Garden. A turquoise island house is back drop to a naturalized landscape. But Caribbean botanical history is mostly about the people who stopped there. Very quickly after Christopher Columbus saw this part of the world, it transformed. I recommend the book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann for a detailed account of this momentous biological event.

 Then the path takes you back through to the Asian Garden. Fruiting palms are gorgeous along the path in February.

Back at the beginning, bananas flower and fruit. This northerner has Gauguinian (as in Paul Gauguin) dreams of living off the fruits of the land in paradise. Quickly though I remember how that worked out for him and realize, I will just have to admire this for brief visits from time to time.