There's undeniable wildness in the energy of spring. The birds are courting, the flowers are beckoning and the bees are burrowing to tuck into reservoirs of nectar. Makes one want to jump in, no? Well, we may not have the equipment for drinking from flowers, but we can certainly indulge in their petals. Cross our hearts, there's no mealtime occurrence that can make one feel quite so perfectly, cleanly untamed as eating flowers, and many of the ones emerging now are safely consumable! Read on to discover 5 edible spring flowers you may want to pop into salad or atop a cake this spring season.
**Before we get started, remember that you should never ingest flowers that have been treated with fungicide or pesticide. This means that for the most part you should not ingest flowers that have come from florists, garden centers or nurseries, and you should not eat flowers that you pick on the side of the road. If you are unsure about whether or not a flower has been treated with chemicals, do not eat it. Your best bet is to grow edible, organic blossoms yourself or find some at a local farmer's market.**
1. Violas, vIOLETS & pansies (Viola spp.)
Some of the first flowers we see (they abound in spring containers), the hardiness and friendly "faces" of pansies and violas make them favorites for brightening up cool weather spring gardens. Violets are also prolific reproducers (often treated like weeds) and they love to pop up in the lawn. Look out your window, you may see some!
Flavor: Sweet, perfumed
Notable Recipe: Pansy Shortbread Cookies
2. tULIPS (Tulipa spp.)
Tulips are one of the joys of spring, with their elegant stem, upright habit and graceful blossom. Eat only the petals and discard the stamens. Some are allergic to tulips, so if contact with the flower causes a rash or numbness, don't put it in your mouth (generally a good rule for anything that causes a rash or numbness). However, for those who are lucky not to be allergic, organic tulip petals can be used as a garnish or in salads.
Flavor: Ranging - vegetal, like sweet lettuce, sometimes with a peppery endnote
Notable Recipe: Goat's Cheese Dip in Tulip Petals
3. Eastern rEDbUD (Cercis Canadensis)
Redbuds are trees that make you feel bad for forgetting about them all year long. In the spring, their pink-purple blossoms coat the branches so that they look positively electric and seem to vibrate with color. Fascinatingly, the redbud is actually a member of the Leguminosae, or Pea family. Don't believe us? Just wait until you taste the blossoms. Be patient and wait past the bud stage, but don't nod off! It's best to eat the flowers when they're freshly opened.
Flavor: Pea-like, pleasantly sour aftertaste
Notable Recipe: Redbud Syrup
4. LILACS (Syringa spp.)
Like the Eastern Redbud, the Lilac is another tree of an unexpected lineage: it is part of Oleaceae, the Olive family! Lilac is one of the most highly anticipated scents of spring. The fragrant purple flower towers are olfactory powerhouses, with an intoxicating aroma that carries a significant distance. Their flavor is also strong, and can leave a feeling of astringency (drying out) in the mouth, so small portions are the best way to go.
Flavor: Lemony with floral pungent overtones, bitter
Notable recipe: Raw Lilac Cheesecake (dairy free)
5. aPPLE bLOSSOMS (Malus pumila)
Apple blossoms are beautiful for their modest form and their gentle fade from sweet pink bud to white-petaled blossom. Eat these in moderation as they contain amygdalin, a compound that degrades into hydrogen cyanide when metabolized. Lucky for us, the body can detoxify cyanide in small doses - a process your body has likely already performed if you have ever eaten an apple seed or two. Amygdalin is also found in the pits of apricots, peaches and plums.
Flavor: Delicate and floral
Notable Recipe: Apple Blossom Jelly
Forage on, bold forager! And if none of the above recipes are appealing, remember that you can always just make crystallized sugar flowers out of any bloom you like (here's a vegan version).
Do you have any experiences eating edible flowers? Has this post inspired a foray into flower-based cuisine? Let us know in the comments!
Hi, I'm Jade! I'm Niche's social media and communications director, as well as the owner of a jade plant that has grown quite gangly over the years. I've had my jade for about five years now, and in the various places it lived over this time, it never got the light it truly deserved. As a result, it grew quite leggy as it wandered in search of light.
Now it lives happily in a sunny window with all of its light needs met, and with the arrival of spring's longer days, this little plant has been going gangbusters with new growth. Seeing as the long limbs were already growing in all directions and would only increase in heaviness, I could not allow the insanity to go on any longer. It was time for a trim (and a DIY blog post!).
What You Will Need:
- Bypass pruners or a sharp knife
- Rubbing alcohol (hydrogen peroxide works too)
- Cotton balls
- A clean plate for holding cuttings (if you wish to propagate them)
- Your jade plant
***Prune jade in spring or summer. The season of active growth will allow the wounds to heal more quickly and the plant to recover more easily.***
how to prune jade:
1. Disinfect your shears or sharp knife by dousing a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and rubbing all surfaces of the blade. This ensures that you will not transfer to the plant any disease or bacteria that might be hiding unseen on the blade.
2. Assess your jade plant to decide how you want to prune it. You want to go into this thing eyes first. Are there any problems you wish to solve with your jade? What are your aesthetic goals? Imagine how you would like it to look.
When you trim a branch, the plant will die back to the next node (those brown rings where the leaves & branches grow from) before growing two new branches from that node. Scope out places that you want your plant to be thicker. If you see spots where you'd like the branch to split into two, consider them as potential places to make your cuts.
Looking at my jade plant, I could see several main branches that were all quite long and growing away from each other and upwards, leaving a sad and empty void in the middle. My jade had become a scraggly bowl. Before moving forward, I decided on my #jadegoals:
3. Make your cuts to just above a node or a lateral branch/leaf. If you cut below the node, you may leave a large segment to die slowly that would not only put the plant through undue stress, but also increase the chances of disease and rot. In the same interest, if you are pruning off an entire branch, make sure that your cut is flush against the main branch.
4. Pinch off the tips of new growth if you want to encourage the branch to fork off into two new branches.
5. Save your trimmings! Jade are extremely easy to propagate from branches or leaves and they make easy and wonderful gifts for family and friends! Allow the wet wounds of the trimmings to dry and callous fully (leave them alone for a couple of days in a cool, dark spot). Once they are calloused over, you can plant them directly into succulent soil (store-bought or DIY). You may choose to dust the ends with some low-intensity rooting hormone, but this step is not necessary at all.
As you can see, I pruned my jade relatively thoroughly. Jade plants are tolerant of hard prunings because they are succulents. You could chop your jade down to nothing but a stem (something you would only do if saving it from disease or damage) and it could still survive and grow back if it had an established root system. That said, a safe rule is never to prune more than 30%. I expect that my jade will bounce back without a hitch, though it may take some patience.
For now, it is back to gentleness and a TLC regimen of bright light and watering when the soil gets dry to lightly moist. No fertilizer, as the plant needs to recuperate from the pruning first and I don't want to overwhelm it.
Thanks for joining me in pruning my namesake! I am so excited to see how it will look in a few months when it has recovered with some new growth. As always, comments are invited in the comment section below. Ciao!
The hanging nasturtiums are now on exhibit at the Isabella Stewart Gardner. If you haven't made it to see these enchanting cascading orange blossoms, then waste no time and get your butt over there! The installation is as brief as it is stunning.
The hanging of nasturtiums is a continuation of an annual tradition begun by Isabella Stewart Gardener. Historically, she hung the plants in celebration of the museum's opening on the week preceding Easter. While patrons can now visit the galleries year round, the arrival of the orange blossoms remains a raucous ushering-in of the beginning of spring.
Aside from being beautiful, nasturtiums and their foliage are also edible! A colorful addition to any salad, the flowers surprise the palate with their peppery taste. They are also high in the vitamins A, C, and D, making them popular plate-dressers for home gardeners and chefs alike. If you happen to make the trip to see the display, be sure to stop by the museum's Café G, which always develops special menu items incorporating the vibrant florets.
The plants are cultivated from seeds sown at the end of summer. Throughout the winter, they are nurtured vigilantly in the Gardner greenhouse to coax the vines reaching an impressive 25 feet in length.
Fun Facts About NASTURTIUMS
• The word nasturtium is derived from two Latin words, nasus, meaning 'nose' and tortus, meaning 'twisted or tortured'. Now, we think this seems a bit harsh, but presumably the name refers to the flower's surprising peppery smell (and taste!).
• On the other hand, the genus name, Tropaeolum, comes from the Greek word tropaion meaning "trophy," said to be derived from some nasturtium's shield-shaped leaves and helmet-shaped florets.
• Nasturtiums grown in gardens today descend primarily from two species native to Peru. These are Tropaeolum minus (lightly scented orange-yellow flowers with dark red spots on the petals) and Tropaeolum majus (dark orange flowers and more rounded leaves). The Gardner's nasturtiums are T. majus.
• According to Feng Shui, nasturtiums may be planted to harmonize the energies between buildings and land.
• The flowers are super for beginning gardeners and inhospitable gardens. Easily grown from seed, they do wonderfully in poor soil and will sprout 7-10 days after planting. Plant them in the spring in sandy soil to enjoy their blossoms in the summer. Fertilize scantly, as over-feeding can cause more foliage and fewer flowers. Regular watering and deadheading will encourage more blooms.
• During World War II, the seeds were used as a substitute for pepper!
• Nasturtiums are garden warriors and make amazing companion plants for deterring pests! Plant them to ward away aphids, whiteflies, cucumber beetles and other pests from roses, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages and other plants.
Learn More About the Gardner's Nasturtium Display:
For more fascinating info on the Gardner's nasturtiums, visit Boston Magazine to see an amazing step-by-step exposé of the painstaking process for hanging the nasturtiums. WBUR also did a wonderful piece with more personal insights from Stan Kozak, the Gardner's chief horticulturalist. Hop over to the The Patriot Ledger for an inside look at the Gardner's greenhouse in Hingham (complete with gorgeous photographs!).
Edible Flowers: A Global History (2O16) by Constance L. Kirker and Mary Newman
Mythical Flower Stories (2005) by Marylin Reed
In last week's blog post, we were encouraging plant parents to give their plants some fertilizer as we have now crossed over the threshold into the season of active plant growth.
Easy enough, right? Follow the package instructions, make the magic potion, administer and voila! Happy plant!
As you have probably guessed, there's a teensy bit more to it than that. Here we've put together some advice on how to fertilize so that you can be a more attentive plant parent.
1. Fertilize when your plants are actively producing new growth
Alright, you've probably heard this one! But a common thread you will see throughout this list is avoidance of over-fertilization! In this endeavor, it's important to make sure your plant is a) wanting to use the nutrients you're giving it and b) prepared to absorb them. These conditions change throughout the annual cycle! As a rule, it's a good idea not to fertilize during late autumn and winter, when light levels are low. Plants are not growing and will not use the nutrients, leading to root-damaging build up.
2. Introduce Fertilizer slowly in the spring and taper out in the fall
When you want to start giving your plants their vitamins, take it slow and try to do it gradually. Start the spring season off by diluting the fertilizer significantly more than the label directions suggests, and increase the concentration little by little with each feeding until you reach the concentration of fertilizer you would like to use during peak growing season (we suggest always diluting down a little bit from the package instructions, and never exceed the concentrations suggested). Conversely, try decreasing the strength of your fertilizer as the days get shorter in the fall.
3. Make sure that the soil is moist before fertilizing
A plant that is thirsty may take up more nutrients than they can use before their tissues are adequately hydrated. This over-inundation with salts could destroy the plant tissues. Keep in mind that severely dried out soil may even become hydrophobic! Give your plants a drink and thoroughly soak the soil. This will hydrate the plant and prepare them to soak up the minerals in the fertilizer.
4. Know Your Plant's N-P-K Needs
Fertilizers are used to provide plants with the three prevailing macronutrients. These are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). Look at any fertilizer label and seek out three hyphenated numbers - these will tell you the ratio of Nitrogen to Phosphorus to Potassium: the N-P-K ratio or fertilizer analysis. Most houseplants are easily fed with a balanced houseplant food, which will reflect even nutrient-levels in their N-P-K ratio, such as 10-10-10, 6-5-6, 8-7-6, and so on. Some will like a high phosphorous houseplant food (useful for flowering houseplants) or a high-nitrogen plant food (useful for foliage plants), but balanced fertilizers are called all-purpose plant foods for good reason, and these are usually your best bet for feeding your plants.
5. FLUSH OUT EXCESS SALTS
Typically, plants will not take up every last bit of fertilizer, and the leftover salts may build up. You may actually see the white deposits on the soil, pot or on the plant itself. This happens particularly in the top inch or so of soil, as water evaporates more quickly from this area, leaving behind the accumulated salts. As we have already mentioned, these salts can be harmful to the plant and may destroy its root tissues, thereby interfering with the plant's ability to take up nutrients and water. You can flush the plant of these salts by double watering - or thoroughly drenching the plant multiple times, allowing excess water to drain for 30 minutes between drenchings.
1. Fertilize If the Plant is adjusting to a new place
As strong as the desire is to see your plant grow wildly and with abandon in a new space, don't fertilize plants that are recently purchased or or recently moved. The task of adjusting to new conditions can be a stressful ordeal for a plant (just like it is for humans!). It's hard enough to transition without the additional pressure of producing new growth. Give your plant a rest, and give it the water it needs to adjust and reach a settled stasis. When you see that the plant is healthy and ready to grow, then you can fertilize.
2. Fertilize soon after repotting in fertilizer-rich soil
Most potting soils actually include some starter fertilizer, so it's best to allow plants to use up these nutrients before giving them additional food. About six weeks is a good estimate of how long to wait before they will have adequately depleted the soil, but several factors will influence the rate at which the plants deplete the fertilizer in their soil, including light, temperature, frequency of watering, size of root mass and overall growth rate.
3. substitute FERTILIZER FOR Correct Growing Conditions (enough water, light)
Don't fertilize at the first sign of plant weakness. It's easy to panic and to want a quick fix when your plants look like they're struggling, but it's better to take a moment to observe their growing conditions and listen to their needs. If your plant is looking wilted, discolored or anemic, ask yourself, is your plant getting the right amount of light? The right amount of water? Is it in a breezy hallway with fluctuating temperatures? Does it have adequate drainage in its pot? There are many possible factors that you should rule out before giving your plant the juice. Do a quick google search to find out what your plant's ideal growing conditions are. Fertilizing will not bring a plant hungry for light back to life, and instead may in fact be the nail in the coffin.
More is not better! If you've gotten this far in the list, you understand that this is very important. Remember that fertilizer is not a life-or-death situation. Plants get their energy from light, not fertilizer. The elements that plants absolutely need to survive are oxygen, hydrogen and carbon - all of which are provided from air and water. Over-feeding will lead to root burn and weaker plant longevity.
All told, there is so much fascinating science behind about plant nutrient absorption and the function of fertilizers, so keep an eye out for future in-depth posts on fertilizing! In the meantime, we hope this is a helpful handful of hints for those of you who are thinking of giving your plants a nutrient boost.
Was there anything we missed? Anything you'd like to know more about fertilizers? Have you lost a beloved plant to root burn? Let us know in the comments!
Goodbye Winter! The time for rumination, reflection and hibernation has passed. Now we begin wakefulness. Feathers are bristling at the quicksilver energy that sneaks up every year - that palpable vernal frenzy of budding, blooming and bursting. Spring spring spring spring SPRING! It's finally here.
Well, pretty much. Frankly, it's been a soggy foggy old week here in Boston, with little to be seen of the sun. Nevertheless, the crocuses and hellebores have been dutifully raising their sleepy heads & waving the flags of spring's arrival about our ankles. Plants everywhere are emerging from dormancy and revving their engines for growing.
With this period of new growth come some seasonal shifts in plant care! Here's a quick list of things you can do to help your plants in this exciting time of growth:
1. Re-Pot or Pot Up
After their long winter nap, your plants are likely to want to strrretch their stems and petioles! And, in tandem, their roots. If your plant's pot is becoming too snug to accommodate spring root growth, it may be time to "pot up," or transplant to a larger pot. If you think your plant still has ample wiggle space in their pot, then a larger pot may not be necessary, but it is still a good idea to give your plants a fresh batch of soil to give them the nutrient boost they need to produce growth that is healthy and strong.
2. Feed Your Plants
Now is the perfect time to give your plants a boost to fuel their new growth. A word to the wise: over-fertilizing can cause root burn and harm your plants, so it is a good rule of thumb to dilute fertilizers down from the recommended dosage on the package instructions. For those in the Boston area, we carry Neptune's Harvest fertilizers in our shops. Companies also sell worm castings, which, despite being what they are, have no smell. You can also use your own organic material, like compost, as long as it is fully decomposed.
3. Prune, trim, primp!
Let's be honest, we can look a little shaggy coming out of the winter season. The same applies for plants! Now is a good time to prune plants that are gangly. The new growth will come and your plant will not be wasting energy feeding that extraneous appendage.
Many of the plants we keep indoors are tropicals that have a tough time adjusting to the rhythms and temperatures of winter. They show their stress by dropping leaves, yellowing, browning, wilting and so on. Now is a good time to trim dead or dying material.
Keep in mind, however, that any green you see is chlorophyll working hard to turn sunlight into sugars that fuel the plant and give it strength. If your plant has a browning leaf that is still mostly green, it may be good to exercise a little forgiveness when deciding whether or not to give it the snip.
4. Re-Position Based on Plant Needs
The earth's tilt has shifted! This means more hours of sunlight at more direct angles, which means more intense light and heat. Consider each of your plants' individual needs and be willing to do the plant shuffle! Plants that were perfectly happy near the window in the winter may now be in jeopardy of being scorched by the sun. And as always, keep temperature changes in mind. Jog your memory by looking up your plants' temperature needs online, and shift them around in your home accordingly.
5. Water More Frequently
More hours of sunlight means more heat, so your plants' soil may begin to dry out more quickly than usual after watering. This does not mean it's time to go into watering overdrive! The days are only gradually getting longer, and waterlogged soil spells death for any plant. However, it is time to start paying a little closer attention to when your plants need water. Stick your finger in the soil. When the soil is too dry for your plant's needs, give it a drink. If the soil is not in need of any water, check tomorrow or the next day.
6. Spring Cleaning! Wipe Those Leaves Down
This step is not merely aesthetic: dust blocks out vital sunlight and keeps leaves from performing respiration. Your plants are moving into growing and will be so much happier and healthier if they can fuel up and breathe without obstacle. Make it easier on them by giving them a little sponge bath sans soap. Gently wiping with a damp paper towel or washcloth to both sides of the leaf will do the trick. And remember, the real bonus here is that it's an incredible way to form an emotional bond with your plants (full support over here).
And with that, we wish you an exciting and fun season of new growth! Be sure to share any comments or questions you may have in the comment section below.
We love airplants for their diversity in form, their ease of maintenance and their total versatility. They can live anywhere! And their strange and beautiful twisting, twining, exploring leaves enhance any structure that holds them. One of the most beautiful and satisfying ways we have found to keep airplants is to plant them in an aerium.
Aeriums are glass containers that house Tillandsia (airplants). They are like terrariums, but have no need for soil. Aeriums are, in fact, quite functional places for airplants to live, so if you are looking for a beautiful way to showcase and house your Tillandsia, an aerium might be the perfect thing! In this blog post, we'll give a brief overview of aeriums and how they function.
But First, A Bit About Tillandsia in Nature...
Tillandsia are native to the more equatorial regions of the Americas in the forests, mountains and deserts. Most Tillandsia are epiphytes, which means they don't root down in soil, but instead use their roots to anchor themselves to other living structures
It is important to note that Tillandsia are not parasitic and do not leech nutrients from their host plants. They use trees for structure and support, but neither aid nor detract from the tree's health. Airplants use their leaves to absorb nutrients and water from the air. Rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter - all of these are absorbed through the surface of Tillandsia leaves, aided by small hair-like structures called trichomes.
tHE eLEMENTS OF AN Aerium
GLASS: The glass housing of an Aerium allows light in while diffusing it slightly. It also functions as a tiny greenhouse, keeping the plant warm and forming a humid space during watering. Airplants will absorb the water as it evaporates. Any glass container will do, as long as it has an opening large enough to easily maneuver the airplant. You may want to remove the airplant periodically for dunking or soaking, depending on your watering preference and the needs of your Tillandsia.
MOSS & WOOD: These do a good job of taking in a little water in the vicinity of your Tillandsia without becoming too soggy. Dried mosses keep their color and don't require watering, and wood can add a lovely contrasting form, color and texture.
SAND: With no need for soil, sand and rocks will do the trick! Sand and rocks open up a realm of possibility for color, texture, and fineness. They also provide a simple supporting ground without absorbing too much moisture. Airplants must be able to dry out and do not do well sitting in water.
CARE: Aerium care is simple! Place it in an area where it will get bright filtered light (direct light will burn the leaves). Misting inside the aerium is a good method of watering, as the humid environment will allow the airplant to absorb water from the air. Keep an eye on it, as you will want to make sure the airplant is able to dry out within 4 hours of misting. You may also choose to dunk or soak your Tillandsia, but you will want to make sure it has the chance to dry out completely before returning it to your aerium. As always, with hot and dry environments, your Tillandsia will need more thorough or frequent watering, while in a cool or humid environment, less will be necessary. Comfortable room humidity is perfectly suitable.
If you're wondering how to bring an airplant into your living space, consider an aerium. A perfect balance of elaborate wildness and elegant containment, they are living works of art. We could all use a little more of that creative energy in our lives, don't you think?
At Niche, we create custom terrariums and aeriums, and you can always find one ready to move out the door in our shops. However, if you're looking for a chance to design and put together your own (take it from us, it's a lot of fun!), you may want to take a look at our upcoming workshop at The Street in Chestnut Hill! Click the button below for more details and to sign up.
The aerium photography for this post was done by Mandy Lancia, co-founder of With/Another, a Chicago company founded with the mission of highlighting and building community between creative women. Visit their website to learn more.
Saint Patrick's Day is coming up, which means we're about to see a lot of people running to and fro wearing green garments, eating green donuts & drinking green beer. We're all about greenery over here, but our interest skews away from food coloring and more towards the chlorophyll side of things.
In that spirit, we'd like to shed some light on another major symbol of Saint Paddy and the Irish culture that he represents: that four-leafed bringer of luck, the Trifolium! Also known as the clover. But... wait a second, what is that?
What Is the Irish Shamrock?
The word shamrock comes from the Irish word seamróg, which means "little clover." There has been a lot of hemming and hawing throughout history about what species of plant holds the true title of Irish shamrock, and there is still no unanimous consensus. However, two separate botanical surveys of Ireland - one by Nathaniel Colgan from 1893 and one by E. Charles Nelson from 1988 - indicated that 85-91% of the Irish population considered the shamrock to be a member of the Trifolium genus - a clover. Be it yellow, white or red.
Considering this, it may come as a surprise that a majority of the imagery for Saint Patrick's Day and Irish culture contains no Trifolium leaf at all, but an Oxalis leaf! Species of the Oxalis genus are often confused for clover, and vice versa, since their leaves share the attribute of having three leaflets.
So, how do you tell Oxalis and Trifolium apart? We guarantee that once you know, you'll never mix them up! And we've decided to make it easy. Here is a side-by-side comparison:
Well, there you have it! We hope you have some fun identifying Oxalis & Trifolium on Saint Paddy's Day. And if you're drowning any shamrocks, stay safe out there!
Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia Of Medicinal Plants. New York, NY: DK, 1996. Print.
Meletis, Chris D. Natural Health Magazine Complete Guide to Safe Herbs. New York: DK, 2002. Print.
Weiner, Michael A. Earth Medicine--earth Food: Plant Remedies, Drugs, and Natural Foods of the North American Indians. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1991. Print.
Yesterday was International Women's Day, and here at Niche, most of us are women. Today we are asking, what does it mean to be a woman who engages in the field of plant knowledge, plant care and plant service?
To do this, we're reflecting upon our lineage and remembering trailblazing women who, at least as far back as the 17th century, escaped the cloister of the garden and set out into the wild world to study and record plants and their processes. Here we present to you a list of five women who made significant contributions to the field of botanical science through botanical illustration:
1. Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)
Maria Sibylla Merian was a Swiss naturalist and artist who was one of the first naturalists to have studied insects. After 20 years of marriage, Merian left her husband and embraced celibacy, moving with her mother and two daughters to join a religious sect called the Labadists in the Netherlands. Over her life, she would spend years traveling and sketching the plant life, animals and insects of Surinam, work which would eventually culminate in an illustrated book entitled Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. She documented and illustrated the life cycles of 186 insect species, some of which had been previously unknown. Through her work, she observed a process of metamorphosis that contradicted ideas of her time about how insects developed.
2. eLIZABETH bLACKWELL (1707-1758)
Elizabeth Blackwell turned to botanical illustration to get her husband out of jail. Alexander Blackwell seemed to be drawn to dodgy business practices, forcing the two of them to flee to London to escape punishment for his sham physician's practice. In London, he became a publisher without taking up the four years of training and landed himself in debtors prison when he was unable to pay the fines he accrued as a result. Looking for a way to pay off her husband's fines, Elizabeth Blackwell saw a need for a physician's reference book that would not only document the medicinal qualities of plants and herbs, but also include illustrations so that it could be used to identify the plants. She called her book A Curious Herbal, and was able to get her husband out of prison with the profits. Hers was the first herbal ever to exist in England.
3. Marianne North (1830-1890)
Marianne North was born to an affluent family that backed her pursuits of singing and painting as acceptable hobbies for a young lady. She developed a love for exotic plants during visits to the Palm House at Kew, which was built by family friend & Director of Kew, Sir William Hooker. North's father left a significant inheritance, which she shared with no spouse as she recoiled at the thought of marriage, thinking that it turned women into 'a sort of upper servant’. Aided by her family's political connections, she travelled the world on her own, painting plants and flowers. She over 900 species of plants, producing a whopping 833 paintings from 17 countries in 14 years. In her final years of life wrote an autobiography entitled Recollection and Further Recollection of a Happy Life: being the Autobiography of Marianne North.
4. Anne Pratt (1806-1893)
As a child, Anne Pratt suffered from poor health and would pass the hours drawing while her siblings played outside - practice that would prove to make her into one of the best known botanical illustrators of the Victorian age. She brought botanical appreciation and knowledge to the masses, writing and illustrating twenty books on botany aimed primarily at a popular audience. However, although her illustrations were beautiful, accurate and widely enjoyed, Pratt still could not escape criticism for her lack of formal training. Famously, art historian Wilfred Blunt wrote that her illustrations "owe a good deal to the artists...who redrew them on stone." As Blunt offered nothing to back up this claim, the baselessness of his accusation is now widely acknowledged.
5. Margaret Mee (1909-1988)
In her early life, Margaret Mee was passionate about political issues and the fight against fascism. She was a union activist with her first husband and she worked as a machinist and a draughtswoman during the second World War. She began drawing and painting the plants of Brazil when she moved there with her second husband. During her canoe trips on the Amazon to paint the exotic flora of the Brazilian jungles, Mee witnessed firsthand the damage caused to the fragile environment by mining and deforestation. As a result, Mee became one of the first vocal conservationists, raising her voice to advocate for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest habitat.
More FEmale Botanical Illustrators:
Henrietta Maria Moriarty
Miss Sarah Anne Drake
Jane Webb Loudon
Berthe Hoola van Nooten
Lady Arabella Roupell
Anna Maria Hussey
introducing: the Dwarf Pomegranate
If you have visited us at Niche in the past week, you may have noticed some sweet little shrubs winking at you with their vibrant blossoms of a blood-orange hue or beckoning with their developing fruit. These are Dwarf Pomegranate plants, botanical name Punica granatum var. nana.
winter & spring: PUNICA GRANATUM in mythology
This past week in Boston, we felt the brush of Spring as temperatures climbed above the 70º mark, but are now reluctantly retreating to our parkas as the the mercury drops gradually back down to the freezing point. As we seem to have one foot in Winter and one in Spring, it's fitting to feature these members of the Punica genus, whose fruit are linked with this transition in Greek and Roman mythology.
According to the myth, Hades (god of the Underworld) abducted Persephone. Upon her arrival in the Underworld, Persephone refused all food and drink, knowing that if she consumed anything that she would be eternally trapped in the nether realm. Meanwhile, Persephone's mother Demeter (goddess of the harvest) was so grief-stricken that the earth grew cold, crops ceased to produce and world plunged into a state of famine. Eventually, Hades reluctantly agreed to return Persephone to her mother, but before their departure, he offered her a ripe, red pomegranate. Persephone ate six seeds, binding her to return to the Underworld for six months out of the year. Thus, every year, when Persephone descends to Hades' domain, Demeter enters a state of depression, causing the period of plant dormancy we know as winter. Six months later, when Persephone returns to the world above, so too do the flowering meadows and green growths of Spring.
ABOUT PUNICA GRANATUM
P. granatum is native to the area of Iran and is now found widely throughout the Mediterranean and around the world in comparable climates. A defining characteristic of the fruit is its thick protective shell, which is hard to digest, making it more likely that the seeds will pass directly through an animal's digestive tract and be deposited back into the environment unharmed to produce a new plant. P. granatum's limbs are peppered with thorns, an adaptation developed to prevent opportunistic animalia from clambering to the ends of the branches to eat the fruit before maturation. Members of P. granatum also have an impressive lifespan, with some trees surviving for over 200 years in the right conditions.
The pomegranate is abundant in antioxidants, which are thought to help reduce the risk of certain diseases, earning it the title of "superfruit" (it's pertinent to note, however, that the Dwarf Pomegranate fruits may be less appealing to eat, as they are very seedy and not as sweet). The pomegranate has been long believed to have anti-aging properties, and recent research suggests that pomegranate arils may contain a molecule that enables muscle cells to protect themselves against aging when it interacts with certain gut microbes. The arils are used to make juice and grenadine (grenadine is french for pomegranate!), while the rinds have been used traditionally to make dye.
caring for your dwarf pomegranate
P. granatum var. nana thrives in semi-arid climates, and thus requires well-draining soil. The fruit is edible, but small, full of seeds and not as sweet as the pomegranates you may be used to seeing at the grocery store. It is best to consider it ornamental, and it may be planted anywhere that it will get enough light and warmth to survive. United States Department of Agriculture has classified it as a plant suited for Zones 7-11.
Origin: Iran, Northern India, Mediterranean
Height: Up to 4' in height and width
Light: Bright light to full sun
Soil: Well draining
Water: Keep soil evenly moist during growing months (summer) and sparingly in the winter. Keep moderately damp. Drought tolerant, but won't survive wet conditions.
Fertilizing: You may choose to use tree fertilizer with ratio 10-10-10 diluted by half in the beginning and middle of the growing season. No more often than every two weeks. No feeding in winter.
Humidity: Average room humidity
Temperature: 60-75º F / 16-24º C
Pruning: Prune late winter, removing dead/damaged and suckers. They are excellent plants for bonsai.
Repotting: Repot when roots have filled the pot. Repot in mid-spring when buds are forming.
So, you've come to the great, bustling city of Boston to continue your education. You're all set up in your dorm and have taken the obligatory trips to Trader Joe's and IKEA and finally you're feeling like a true adult. What else could possibly be missing?
Plants. A plant is the answer you're looking for.
Adding some vegetation and good vibes to that dorm room will make your new space feel just like home in no time at all.
We've compiled a list of easy-to-care for plants that are great even for first-time plant parents. And yes, we did factor in care for all those last minute trips home, holidays and spring breakers.
Snake Plant (Mother-In-Law's Tongue) Sansevieria
The quintessential easy-to-care-for plant is one of our favorites for dorm life. Yes, they can survive in little to no natural light. Yes, you can go on winter break and come back to it still thriving. And yes, snake plants come in a variety of different colors, patterns and sizes to fit your fancy. The dwarf variety is perfect for a window sill or a desk, while the taller variety looks amazing in the corner of a room, or on a res-life bookshelf. Water weekly to promote growth, but make sure the soil dries out in between waterings.
ZZ Plant Zamioculcas zamiifolia
If you're feeling super lush and love all different shades of green, the ZZ is for you. These plants can thrive in low light and only need to be watered sparingly. The ZZ can survive long periods of draught, but will grow at a more rapid pace with regular watering. They're as resilient as they are attractive. As they grow, they become a great space filler and will certainly become an eye catcher in any room.
Fleshy, flashy and easy to care for if you have adequate bright light, succulents are fun additions to a desk or window sill. They require bright indirect light for most of the day and a good watering every 7-12 days.
If you got lucky and have landed a dorm room with tons of light, these babies are for you. There are so many different varieties that you're bound to find one that you love. And they're super easy to care for. Water once every two weeks and you're solid. Just mind the spines!
If you decide to really go the distance, terrariums are a hip, funky accessory for any room. They can be potted with any plant you'd like, just mind the light and care instructions for each plant. Succulents and cacti go well together, while tropical and air plants are humidity lovers and thrive together. You can pick out a pre-planted terrarium here in the shop or take on a DIY project in the funkiest container you can find.
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