Monday, March 7, 2011

The jewel is in the lotus...

Until a couple of years ago I'd never attempted growing lotus. I'd always assumed that anything so incredibly beautiful and exotic had to be likewise incredibly difficult to propagate. I was so wrong! The truth is, once you have an established plant it's quite invasive. It is an easy plant to grow and the results can be stunning.
In this day of "Internet anything" there are plenty of growers who will send you lotus root or perhaps you know a local nursery where you can pop in and buy the plants but growing lotus from a single seed is a lovely experience and a great way to teach kids the miracle of plant reproduction. Since the plant begins its journey in water it's easy to see very clearly the development of the roots, stem and first tender leaves.
Lotus seeds are inexpensive and available through many specialty seed companies on the web.
Each seed has an extremely hard covering that must be penetrated in order to expose the endosperm inside. This isn't as easy as it sounds! Use medium grit sandpaper or a sturdy file being careful to sand only until the white endosperm is visible. This can take a few minutes.
After sanding, place the seed in a clear plastic cup with about two ounces of water. Sit this in a secure place out of direct sunlight. Empty and refill every day. The seed will begin to swell and after five or six days will produce roots and a very delicate leaf stem. You may now place the cup in bright light. Be very careful at this point when changing the water so as not to damage the young plant. Once a leaf has unfurled you may then transplant your lotus into a bucket of mud. I suggest garden dirt as potting mix is too light. Place your plant in about five inches of dirt and begin slowly filling your container with water until the leaf floats at the top; usually four to six inches. As the plant continues to grow, the leaves will grow much larger and their stems will push them up and out of the container.
At the end of the first season your lotus will die completely back into the mud from whence it came. Protect it from freezing and in the spring move the well developed roots to a much larger container because now your lotus will grow very quickly. Sprinkle a handful of fertilizer such as 10-10-10 over the container and keep at least six inches of water above the soil at all times. You can use an organic fertilizer but these plants are heavy feeders.
 The flower stem may reach anywhere from five to seven feet before producing a single bud. They are amazingly sturdy and don't require staking. After the flower fades leave the resulting pod to continue to swell and produce seeds. Once the seed pods begin to harden you can harvest them and continue drying for use next year. With as many as a dozen or more seeds now you're ready to go into production. The roots can also be divided for faster results. Good luck!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chipped, stained and cracked...

I once had a woman come into my small studio-workshop and ask if she might have a look at the few things I offered for sale. Something about the chambray shirt with up-turned collar, pearls and oyster watch that made me a bit wary but I figured I could take her. She made a bee-line for a large Welsh dresser where I'd displayed a substantial collection of simple white ironstone. These were pieces that I'd gathered from estate sales, flea markets, thrift stores and curbside bins over a period of maybe fifteen years and, I thought, made a pretty impressive display. The plates, sugar bowls and pitchers were patterns I'd rarely seen and haven't seen since. Some of the great platters were almost three feet across. She leaned forward raising the reading glasses that hung on a gold chain just below her pearls and began an intense scrutiny of my humble collection. I left her to it. For a good ten minutes I listened to her groan and sigh before she suddenly straightened up and glared at me as if waiting for an apology or at least some sort of explanation. " Is this all the ironstone you have?" she asked. I said it was and asked if she was interested in any of the pieces. " I don't think so." she said and explained that she only bought perfect pieces and that the only pieces I had that weren't discolored or stained were chipped. I honestly can't remember what I said next, as a matter of fact, I think I blacked out for a few seconds because the next thing I remember was the south end of a Volvo station wagon burning rubber in the parking lot.
I am, I'll admit, a chipped, stained and cracked kind of guy. I don't know why but I tend to be drawn to the broken and distressed. My stock pile of furnishings reads like the proverbial three-legged dog and if I'm guilty of anything it's of seeing the value of past service or a glint of life still left in something that makes discarding it unthinkable. I can only imagine the number of hands that have lifted a two hundred year old plate for the first time or for the last; the many faces that have stared into the depths of a sugar bowl in good times and in bad. The imperfections are to me signs of a life well lived and well deserving of both respect and admiration: badges of honor like the lines on a face of one who's spent more years laughing than looking into a mirror. Perhaps the explanation is simply the fact that most of us are chipped, stained or cracked but are still deserving of our place at the table.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An open door...

Growing up, except for the occasional stray, we never really had pets as such. Of course living in the country we were always exposed to cows, chickens and pigs, but even kids learned early not to form long-term attachments to any of those. At one point I did attempt caring for rabbits in a pen my dad and I built by the wash house. They were a very happy couple and I was totally fascinated but soon after discovering that the intended end-result was dredging in flour and frying in lard I set the whole lot of them out in a field of mustard greens one day and never looked back.
The next time the life of an innocent was left in my hands was the day years later when my best friend and I rented a barely habitable hundred year old farm house in rural North Carolina. We'd convinced the owner that in return for very cheap rent we would carefully restore the property. Foolish man. Anyway, a mutual friend thought it would be great fun to give us a goat as a housewarming gift. Not knowing any better we tethered the young billy to a post by the kitchen door and left for what turned out to be an all night celebration in Greensboro. To our horror, when we returned home we found the goat dead; tangled in its tether. We knew it was just a tragic accident but our friend insisted that the goat had taken one look at its new surroundings and did the only honorable thing and hanged himself.
The point is I guess I'd never really had time for or the need for anything that couldn't feed, bathe or take itself for a purgative walk. Today I can't imagine life without Ralph, Alice, Sister Martha Delaney, Norton, Trixie and Pitch; not to mention the occasional family of opossums, flying squirrels, raccoons and barn owls. They have inexplicably enriched my life and the door is now always open.

Commence...

I'd mentioned that I'd had the great good fortune or perhaps just dumb luck to have visited some wonderful country homes in the States and abroad. I've learned that a house in the country doesn't really have to be in the country at all but is more an attitude or state of mind than an actual location. I've seen pea-sized appartments in Manhatten that so comfortably mirrored their southern transplant's heritage and confidence that you'd swear there were tobacco fields just off the terrace... and seventeen floors down! Once on a visit to Manila I stayed the night in a Spanish colonial country home so far from the city that it was easy to imagine myself in another age and yet the formal atmosphere and over-the-top display of Spanish and Chinese antiquities made the villa feel more like a museum installation than a place to kick my boots off. A house in the country definitely has more to do with where the inhabitants are in their own lives than where the structure actually sits.
My house in the country isn't in the country at all. Of course it was in the country when it was built sometime around 1940. This part of Savannah was known for its dairy farms and so my address on Dutchtown Road. Even after the dairies vanished the couple who lived here managed a small strawberry farm. Eventually though, progress made them an offer they couldn't refuse and they sold their little place in the country. I'd always imagined it was so they could buy another little place in the country but the same encroaching civilization that drove them out brought me here.Ironically, I dare say the prospects of future encroachment will be the reason for me to look for another place, as in this stage of my life location isn't as great a concern as is privacy. For that reason alone I suppose this journal will be more about my passions and the search for another house in the country than about this particular one.  Where am I in my own life? Certainly not where I was ten or even five years ago and with any luck, the clinging vines that I once mistook for roots won't slow me down.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Forcing Branches to Bloom Indoors

A new adventure!

Sharing my country home in this way is a decidedly new adventure for me. In the months to come I'd like to share with you vignettes of my gardens, my home, friends, pets, collections, recipes and guilty pleasures. I'm hoping to inspire and to be inspired!
Ken Power

 


The jewel is in the lotus...

The jewel is in the lotus...

maturing seed pods...

Sister Martha Delaney in the Lady Banks

A corner of my studio...

"Moses in the bulrushes" was worth a few more years on the shelf...

"Moses in the bulrushes" was worth a few more years on the shelf...

Chipped, stained and cracked...

Chipped, stained and cracked...
I couldn't walk away from the "bottomless bowl"...

The kitchen garden...

The kitchen garden...
New construction will eliminate the kitchen garden that's been such a joy for me and a family of fat opossums.

Norton came to me as a screaming orphan at about 3 weeks old and was adopted on the spot by my hound Alice...

Sister Martha Delaney came to me as an orphan at about 3 weeks old and showed an aptitude for climbing from the very beginning...