Oct 31, 2015

Casa Azul

Azul is the Spanish word for blue, which I expected to see lots of. However, I was a bit surprised to find that La Casa Azul was painted in a deep ultramarine blue rather than a brighter, more cheerful blue like cerulean or turquoise or even cobalt blue. It felt at times a weighty blue. El Greco would have approved. Nevertheless, if it is an actual reproduction of the color Frida and Diego chose for their home together, that blue is the perfect blue.

The much anticipated exhibit highlighting the garden, art and life of Frida Kahlo opened at the New York Botanical Gardens in May. As part of the presentation there were some very beautiful Mexican influenced pieces of jewelry, wares, woven items and other tchotchkes in the gift shop and even a display of traditional weaving done on site. A taco truck sat near the Moshulu entrance of the gardens and Mexican treats and drinks could be found in both cafeterias. There were also dance performances and live music by Trios Ellas and Villalobos


The library showcases paintings on paper and canvas including Frida's famous self portrait with hummingbird and twig necklace. Photographs of Casa Azul abound along with historical information of the life, times and areas surrounding this famous habitat located in Coyoacán, near Mexico City.

                                                     California poppies and cactus

You can't help but love California poppies, sunflowers and marigolds after viewing the display at the Conservatory and many garden designers may be inspired to add blue to their palette of garden furniture and planters.



Some of my favorite plant combinations were the container plantings in the outdoor water garden areas of the conservatory.

                                                                   Succulent succulents

                                                      Poppies in The Fence of Cactus

One may view the rich colors of yellow, terracotta and contrasting deep blue as reflective of the Mexican sun, wide open skies and also the colors of warmth, festivity, passion, pain and sadness, all of which were much a part of Frida's life and her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera.

The exhibit has changed a bit over the past months while remaining the same; always a glimpse into the life of an icon. I bet there are lots of Fridas on this Halloween night. Your last chance to see the show is nearing. It closes tomorrow, on November 1, Dia de los Muertos or The Day of the Dead. 

Oct 12, 2015

For the love of Sun and Bees


Bees absolutely love sunflowers. Dozens of happy bees feasted on the many I planted with the help of neighborhood kids in the Memorial Garden bed at Robert Clinkscale Playground and  Community Garden  on West 146th Street in Harlem. We grew Mammoth, Garisol Radiance Hybrid, Garisol Sunshine,  Italian White and Tithonia rotundifolia. Various species of bees just went crazy. Bzzzzzzzz, yummmhumm, bzzzzmmmmmm! Sometimes bees would become so dusted in pollen that they looked like soft brownish-yellow blobs hovering across the flowers. Some bees even followed the cut flowers I took out of the garden.

I tell children and adults who are unreasonably afraid of bees that bees are interested in pollen and nectar, not in humans, regardless of how attractive or nice smelling we may be. So unless you are doing something totally stupid like flailing and aggressively disturbing their feeding or messing with their hive, bees usually will leave you alone.

                                                              Be calm and let the bees be.

Sunflowers or Helianthus are in the family Asteraceae or Compositae. The family includes, aster,  daisy, echinachea, coreopsis and dahlia with each flower head containing numerous tiny flowers. Each flower advertises that it already been visited by a bee by loosing its brilliance.

A brown or brownish flower lets a bee will know to focus its adoring eyes elsewhere and pollinate other flowers. Each tiny flower in this round mass of pollen-covered goodness will produce a sunflower seed. If allowed to fall to the ground, that seed may grow into a sturdy plant with flowers to feed a generation of bees in the following year.

Sunflower seeds come from sunflowers. I say this simply because I was surprised  to find that many people do not know this seemingly-obvious fact.

                                                                   Tightly-packed seeds

No flower represents summer better than sunflowers with their cheerful brilliant yellow and contrasting brown faces, following the direction of the sun as the day progresses. Vincent van Gogh recognized the beauty of sunflowers and do did Frida Kahlo. Sunflowers are native to North America and a few are native to South America, like Tithonia. They are easy to grow from seed which make growing them a big hit with children. Sunflowers are not fussy about soil conditions but would do best in deep well-draining soil and they need at least six hours of sunlight to flower well.

Butterflies like Tithonia or Mexican sunflowers almost as much as the bees do. I often notice       butterflies and bees feasting on the same flower head.

Tithonia is very attractive and adds a bright orange color to the garden. Plants are multi-branching and flower prolifically until fall.

Italian White is really a creamy yellow sunflower. The plant is about 5' tall and is a multi-branch   form, producing many elegant flowers.

It is best to leave the flower heads to completely dry on the plants. The seeds mature well that way but they may also fall to the ground or get eaten. I hang some to dry indoors and leave the rest to the birds and squirrels. I have collected enough sunflower seeds to never ever buy another packet again and still have some to eat.

Email me at veronicatsanddogwood to send a self-addressed and stamped envelope if you would like me to send you some in the mail.

Some sunflowers like Mammoth grow to be more than ten feet tall. I like the shorter ones better as they are more in proportion to the size of the bed. Next year I will probably plant Tithonia, Italian White and shorter varieties of multi stem sunflowers.

Sunflower seeds make a healthy snack. They are also used to make oils. Since bees play such a huge role in keeping humans fed and sunflowers keep bees, birds, squirrels and humans fed, spread the happiness around by planting at least one variety of sunflowers somewhere every year.

Thank you bees! You are very welcome too. The pleasure is all yours and mine.


Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...