Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Frozen Produce Seeks Respect: Nutrients and Convenience Found Within

No-Longer-Frozen Dessert: Embrace frozen fruits' soft texture
by preparing in a compote, says Floyd Cardoz,
executive chef at New York's North End Grill.
Photo by F. Martin Ramin, WSJ.
By Sarah Nassauer
WSJ, 12/31/2013

In winter's depths, family cooks often finds themselves facing a produce dilemma: Buy "fresh" produce out of season, which may have spent days or weeks getting to the local supermarket, or begrudgingly turn to the freezer aisle to find a bag of frosty peas, broccoli or blueberries.
Frozen produce is convenient, and often it is nutritionally comparable to fresh produce. But it has an image problem. Often, "there is a perception that if you are using a frozen vegetable you have taken a shortcut and you are not trying to help your family," says Kate Gallager, research and development manager for Green Giant, a big producer of frozen produce and a unit of General Mills Inc.                     
Frozen food companies are going on the offensive, aiming to make products that look better, taste better and offer enough convenience to overcome frozen-food phobia.

Hoping for a crisper outcome, Green Giant is considering products that advise consumers to ditch the microwave in favor of a skillet, Ms. Gallager says. Earlier this year, Birds Eye introduced Recipe Ready frozen vegetables, pre-cut mixes for specific dishes like sliced peppers and onions for fajitas and chopped carrots, onions and celery for chili, soup or stew. The company hopes focusing on timesaving products will win over busy parents, says Mark Schiller, president at Birds Eye Frozen Division, owned by Pinnacle Foods Group But rather than focus on the frozen-versus-fresh question, he says, "we have much more upside as a company and as an industry just getting people to eat more vegetables." 
Texture is a hurdle for some would-be consumers of frozen produce. The water in fruits and vegetables expands during freezing and breaks plant cells, which can create a mushy texture in some varieties, Green Giant's Ms. Gallager says.

The A-List: Fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin A
may increase in carrots that are cooked or processed.
Photo by F. Martin Ramin, WSJ.
Frozen vegetables offer many practical virtues: There is year-round variety, and they are easy to cook with and usually inexpensive. Floyd Cardoz, executive chef and partner at North End Grill in New York, owned by Union Square Hospitality Group, says when cooking at home in winter he often turns to frozen peas, spinach and berries. "There are only so many onions and pumpkins and potatoes that you can feed your kids," he says. The restaurant, with a seasonal menu, doesn't serve frozen vegetables, he says.

Corn is especially good frozen and perfect with cheese for a kid-friendly dish, he says. For cooking frozen peas, beans and other vegetables, he recommends adding them to a skillet on medium-high heat with olive oil or another fat, perhaps garlic and about 2 tablespoons of water, then covering until heated through and the moisture has evaporated. The veggies stay firm without overcooking, he says. Embrace frozen fruit's soft texture to make a compote or pie filling, he says.

Boosted partly by the rise of home juicing and smoothies, frozen fruit sales are growing even as sales of frozen vegetables and frozen meals are flat. Some 90% of people say they bought frozen vegetables at least once in the past year, according to a Nielsen Homescan survey in June.

Soon after they are picked, vegetables destined for freezing get a quick blast of hot water or steam—known as blanching, which zaps some nutrients but also stops browning and loss of nutrients after freezing. The biggest losses during this step are of water-soluble vitamins like C and B. Then the vegetables are quickly frozen, locking in most nutrients for long-term storage.
At a typical supermarket, frozen produce may be as vitamin-rich as fresh. Fruits and vegetables often travel days or weeks before hitting stores, then sit in the display and a home refrigerator before being eaten. Nutrients escape all the while, a process speeded up by exposure to heat, light and oxygen.
"Yes, fresh can be best but there are other factors involved," such as storage temperature and how produce is eventually cooked, says Joy Rickman Pieper, a nutritional biologist and author of a 2007 literature review comparing the nutritional content of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.
The review, published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture and funded by the Canned Food Alliance, found that fresh and frozen—and in fewer cases canned—can be nutritionally equal, depending on how crops were stored and processed.

The FDA has long maintained that frozen vegetables and fruit are nutritionally similar to raw. The USDA dietary guidelines don't draw nutritional distinctions between fresh, frozen and canned produce except to advise consumers to avoid foods with added salt or sugar. Canned food is generally cooked before canning, resulting in a loss of some nutrients.

The Frozen Food Foundation has over the past four years funded three studies comparing the nutritional content of fresh and frozen produce. In one study, at the University of Georgia, researchers measured nutrients in fresh produce on the day it was purchased from a supermarket and after it had spent five days in a refrigerator; they also measured nutrients in a frozen version. The study, led by associate professor Ronald Pegg, found frozen produce was as nutritious overall as fresh produce and, in some cases, more nutritious than produce that had been refrigerated at home for five days.
True Color: Blanching spinach before freezing preserves
the appealing green color but may remove some nutrients.
Photo by F. Martin Ramin/WSJ.
Frozen broccoli, strawberries and green peas all had more vitamin C than the refrigerated samples. Frozen spinach, however, had less vitamin C than the fresh or the refrigerated samples. This may be because spinach, when chopped, has a large surface area and more vitamin C can leach out during the blanching step, Dr. Pegg wrote in the paper.

Some studies have found some fat-soluble nutrients actually seem to increase in fruits and vegetables when cooked, frozen and canned. Vitamins A and E, and carotenoids like lycopene are thought to be released from their cell structure when cooked, making it possible for researchers to detect more of them during tests, says Diane Barrett, a food biochemist at the University of California, Davis, who is currently working on a second study funded by the Frozen Food Foundation.

To highlight "minimal processing" of its new Lean Cuisine Honestly Good frozen meals, Nestle SA combined vegetables in bright colors that people "can actually see," says Catherine Maas, consumer insights director for prepared foods at Nestlé USA, mixing, say, yellow summer squash with snap peas.

Since 2012, Nestlé, whose frozen brands also include Stouffer's and Hot Pockets, has been taking bloggers, dietitians and lobbyists on tours of its frozen-meal production plants, hoping to show them that its frozen foods aren't really any different "than what you do when you make a lot of lasagna and freeze some and reheat it later," Ms. Maas says.
Con Agra Foods Inc. uses only florets of broccoli that are about 1¾-inch long in its P.F. Chang's frozen beef with broccoli dish. They are big enough to feel as if you chopped them yourself, says Christine Hall, vice president of research, quality and innovation for frozen and grocery. The broccoli must be bright green and can't have "any visible ice," she says.

Yet after a review of its Healthy Choice recipes earlier in 2013, ConAgra made sure most vegetables are served with sauce, not au naturel, Ms. Hall says.

"People say they want vegetables, but what they really want is vegetables covered in sauce," she says.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Poinsettia Project Wraps Up Durham VA in Christmas Tribute

The Heritage Garden Club wrapped poinsettias around the Chapel of the Durham VA Hospital the Wednesday before Thanksgiving concluding their fundraising tribute to honored veterans of Durham Garden Council members. A memorial service for honored veterans was held on Tuesday Dec 3.
This is the 4th year the Heritage GC has spearheaded the holiday project for the veterans!

Members of the Heritage Garden.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pining for Nature: Canadian Artist Adapted for Holiday Vase

THE INSPIRATION: F.H. Varley's 1921 painting
 'Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay'
National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa.  
By Lindsey Taylor, Floral Designer
WSJ, Dec. 19, 2013

When its time for holiday decorating, I manifest a curious split personality. On the one hand, my usual restraint goes out the window and, magpie-like, I gravitate toward anything that sparkles. On the other, I feel the need to incorporate the raw and natural, which probably stems from my Canadian upbringing—all the winter days I spent slogging through deep snow and staring down harsh winds.

Reflecting on my homeland, I think of the Group of Seven painters—household names north of the border—who honored and interpreted the Canadian landscape so beautifully in the '20s and early '30s. I turned to a work by a founding member, Frederick Horsman Varley (1881-1969), known for his moving, often moody canvases, as inspiration for December's flower arrangement.  

To evoke the clash of the elements in F.H. Varley's 1921 painting
 'Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay' in a tamer, Noel-friendly form,
mix pine branches with white snowberry, moonlight scotch broom
and blue thistle. Astier de Villatte Vase, $306,  John Derian Company,
 212-677-3917. Photo by Stephen Johnson for The Wall Street Journal,
Styling by Lindsey Taylor.
His painting "Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay" (1921)—a lonely, wind-swept pine on rocky shores with icy water kicking up behind—seemed an ideal jumping-off point to express the glitter-free side of my holiday sensibility. I knew I wanted to create an arrangement that could tower over a New Year's brunch buffet table with the majesty of Mr. Varley's tree.
I started with a tall, handmade pedestal vessel from Astier de Villatte, whose glossy white glazes always feel so wintry, like a fresh layer of snow. Then I lined the container with plastic wrap to protect it from scratches, and fit a ball of chicken wire inside. The wire kept cuttings of gestural pine standing tall and supported the wispy, cascading plants I used to fill out the arrangement. To capture the hues of the painting's choppy waters, I chose pale moonlight scotch broom and branches of white snowberry with hits of blue thistle.

This is generally a long-lasting arrangement, but as the broom and snowberries fade, replace them or sub in other white flowers like narcissus or jasmine. Change the water weekly and the pine will stay with you for weeks. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Musings from the Fall Garden: Californian Reflects Role as NC Gardener

By Barbara Goodman
Durham Co. Master Gardener

As our decorative chrysanthemums fade and seasonal pansy plantings begin to take hold, what brings enduring beauty to our fall landscape? Autumn leaf colors, to be sure, but these are now falling and opening up the canopy to more sun. I continue to be surprised each fall when I turn to see the bright white blooms of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ standing tall along my front sidewalk. It always strikes me as too cold for such a delicate beauty, but there it is! Then I glance around in the front and side yards to find buds bursting on some of my individual Camellia “finds.” Two I purchased from Duke Gardens more than 10 years ago were no more than 8” tall when I bought them. They’ve held on bravely, finally adapting to my hard clay soil and then thriving with regular application of rich organic mulch for protection. Alas, their tags are long lost, as my gardening in those early years was more about nourishing the spirit after a stressful workweek than carefully documenting my efforts.

Dwarf Camellia‘Dwarf Shi-Shi’. Photo by B. Goodman.
We added a really stellar Camellia a few years ago that has a low growing, dense habit, covered with dark rose-pink double blooms at this time of year. It is a dwarf cultivar related to the C. sasanqua ‘Shishigashira’, called ‘Dwarf Shi-Shi’ by some. It likes acidic soil, adapts to sun or shade (east facing on our wooded lot), likes moisture but we have not given them any extra water once established. We bought these in gallon size and planted in multiples, so they have filled in beautifully.

Other happy surprises as I stroll the chilly garden are the racemes atop Mahonia bealei, just beginning to show their bright yellow winter blooms. I see berries on the hollies and the Nandinas, the latter with both red (N. domestica) and cream white (N. domestica‘Alba’). And there, propped against the wooden pergola is the tough old climbing aster (Aster carolinianus) that happily tolerates my haphazard pruning efforts, rewarding me with a bevy of light lavender-pink blooms throughout each fall season.

Blooming Mahonia bealei. Photo by B. Goodman. 
Not to be forgotten are the wonderful deciduous shrubs and trees whose interesting shapes are emerging as the leaves fall. Stay tuned for a walk in the winter garden to see what surprises we find.

Gardening and the Weather

Are gardeners ever satisfied with the weather? I fear not —at least I never seem to be. I constantly view myself as a mother hen clucking over—and coddling — her chicks, which in this case consists of the plants in my garden.

With the awakening of the plants in late February and early March, I typically go into a planting frenzy. There is no need to explain to me that it is far more beneficial to do the heavy planting in the fall as I get what must be a hormonal urge to plant in the spring. Then I worry, as spring weather is fickle here. April can be very hot and very cold: I can remember when the heat hit 90° and when we had the temperature fall to 26° on April 22, far past our last frost date of April 15. Newly planted plants prefer some time to get settled in before the heat begins, and while many young perennials can handle temperatures in the 20°s, tender perennials typically will not. Nancy Goodwin once commented to me that spring can be a very cruel season—and I couldn’t agree with her more.

The summer heat takes a toll on our plants and I feel for them because there is so little respite from the heat except for possibly a refreshing rain. But we don’t typically receive refreshing rains here in the Piedmont: we either get thunderstorms that drench us for twenty minutes or we get torrents that cascade down the sewer lines. Usually we complain about not getting enough rain. Here in Chapel Hill, OWASA doubles its rates, making watering an expensive activity. However, this summer we actually received too much rain, giving me something else weather-wise to complain about. All this excess rain was especially tough, even on the roses planted in my well-draining soil.

The first half of fall tends to be my most uncomplaining part of the year when it comes to the weather. Typically we have some rain, the cooler night temperatures cause the plants—especially the roses—to relax and it’s fun working in the garden without fear of heatstroke. I planted (in a fit of dementia) twenty-two roses in September and they were happy, really happy, which in turn made me happy.

However, fall has a cloud hanging over it and it is this: when will we experience the first frost? This year it was a bit earlier than in the past and certainly a lot colder when it hit. Usually our first frost hovers in the 30°-31° area, giving our plants a chance to adapt; however this year it hit with a vengeance hitting the scale at 24° in a matter of hours. The roses had had almost seven weeks to develop their roots and were fine but my MIC citrus needs kinder, gentler treatment and had a burnt top. Now I cover it when the night temperatures fall to the mid-20°s, but I wonder what I’ll do when it becomes the size of a camellia.

November is a respite from the garden, one I badly need. Two weeks without gardening makes sense to me, but then I get an itch to garden and the weather—what else? —it refuses to cooperate. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dank, and it gets light later and later in the morning. I’m not a midday gardener, I’m a morning gardener. Yes, I should be flexible but I have 73 years of habit behind me. December might give me a couple of good gardening days as we can get those lovely crisp winter days with blue skies. The huge tetrapanax leaves have fallen, leaves that are too big to be raked. The chickweed is coming in with a vengeance, reminding me how many invisible seeds my soil contains. There are gardening chores to complete, and sometimes the weather will cooperate, thereby erasing what is my almost permanent grumpiness.

It is when I go out to California that I realize I am destined to complain about the weather. You see, the weather in Marin County, right outside of San Francisco, is absolutely perfect. Everyone lives outdoors. Temperatures fall in the evening so sleeping with open windows is blissful. Temperatures rise to the 80°s during the day. It is one of three places in the world that has a Mediterranean climate. However, as far as I can determine, most Californians don’t seem to garden. There are three reasons for this: Californians have a lot of public land but there is little private land so most housing plots consist of small parcels of land. Without land it is hard to garden. Then there is the matter of rain: California only gets rain in the winter so everyone has an automatic watering system. It is the only place where I have ever been that people can safely schedule outdoor weddings, knowing it won’t rain. The last reason is that lovely plants seemingly grow all by themselves in Marin. Why bother to garden when the plants do all the work?

So, I’m back looking at my acre of garden, thinking February is right around the corner. In February the plants slowly start to awaken, the temperatures rise so that it’s fun to be outside even in the morning, the sky is blue, the sun rises earlier and earlier, and I don’t have to worry about the rain—too much too little—yet. I have narrowed down my complaining about the weather: I do enjoy February and March, along with a couple of weeks in the early fall.

Friday, December 13, 2013

2014 Briggs Community Garden Educational Learning Series Open for Registration

The Briggs Community Garden educational learning series is now open for registration. The program series was created in collaboration with the Durham Master Gardeners' Speakers Bureau, Durham County Cooperative Extension & Briggs Community Garden. The first half of the 2014 scheduled sessions is as follows:
  • January 11:  Seed Starting Workshop - EMG Sara Smith
  • February 15:  Cool Season Vegetables (Spring & Fall Crops) - EMG Faye McNaull
  • March 15: Insect Management - Horticulture Agent - Michelle Wallace 
  • April 26:  NC Sweet Potatoes: From Bed to Table - EMG Leanna Murphy
  • May 17: Summer Southern Favorites: Tomatoes & Okra - EMG Charles Murphy
  • June 14: Crawlin' Cucurbits: Gourds, Squashes, Pumpkins - Horticulture Agent - Michelle Wallace
Programs are open to the public, youth, families, novice and advanced gardeners. Events are designed to be 30-45 minutes in length. Programs will be held 10-11 a.m. at the Durham County Cooperative Extension Building located at 721 Foster Street, Durham, NC 27701. All events are free, but require pre-registration.   

Please register with: Pana Jones, 919-560-0525, prjones2@ncsu.edu.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winterizing Your House Plants

Meyer lemon (Citrus × meyeri) plants survive
 Piedmont winters better indoors.
By Randy Fulk
NC Extension Master Gardener

As temperatures cool and frost approaches, it is time to bring houseplants indoors for winter. Most houseplants are of tropical origin and can suffer damage at temperatures well above freezing. Many houseplants can sustain damage at temperatures below 45°F, while some can be damaged when temperatures fall below 50°F. This is a good rule to follow: Whenever nighttime temperatures begin to fall below 50°F, it is time to bring your houseplants indoors.

Most houseplants perform best if they are allowed to gradually acclimate to their new indoor environment. Otherwise they are likely to lose lots of leaves within a few days of being moved indoors. While this is usually not life threatening, it does set the plants back by a few weeks. Avoid excessive leaf loss by making the change less traumatic. If outdoor plants have been in a high light environment, place them in a similar environment indoors: near south-facing windows or under plant lights on a timer. Be sure to clean windows to allow maximum light penetration.

Prior to bringing plants indoors, inspect leaves and stems for insects and diseases and treat appropriately. Soaking the pots in lukewarm water for about 15 minutes can force some insects out of the soil. This is also a good time to re-pot, if necessary. To determine what size container is needed, measure the height of the plant and divide by two. This should be the diameter of the pot used for the plant.

To keep plants healthy during winter, do not overwater. Allow the surface of the potting soil to become dry to the touch between waterings. Most houseplants require very little to no fertilizer over winter because this is a time of reduced growth. Giving plants just the bare essentials over winter is the best approach.

Vanderbilt Mansion and Others Decorate for the Holidays

TREE'S COMPANY: A poinsettia arrangement at the Breakers
mansion. Photo by Bob O'Connor.
Gilded Age titans of industry may have built their fantastical "cottages" in Newport, R.I., for summer socializing, but winter there can be just as magical. 

While some local attractions are closed, three of the city's most storied mansions—the Breakers, the Elms and Marble House—don lavish holiday trimmings and host special events. Properties like these are pretty much what Christmas decorations were made for.

On a recent Saturday night, the Breakers, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895, served cider and spiked egg nog while an a cappella group in Victorian costume serenaded visitors. In the two-story Great Hall, poinsettias were arranged in a tree that reached toward the gold acorns on the ceiling, symbols of the Vanderbilt family. Other rooms displayed traditional trees, along with gatherings of lilies, carnations and candles. Decadent gingerbread houses, all likenesses of local mansions, were on show in the servants' kitchens.

To see a slideshow of more mansions decorated, visit: http://goo.gl/QePWlF
—Jennifer S. Forsyth, WSJ

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NCSU scientists enlist public's help in protecting Christmas trees

Wooly adelgid and infestation.
Adapted from NC State Magazine, Spring 2013, author Angela Spivey. 2013 Annual Report with research study outcomes to follow.

The dark greens of Christmas trees fleck with lights have long been a symbol of the holiday season. But we don’t see what could have been living on those trees when they were in the wild—wooly adeglids (pronounced “uh-del-jids”). These tiny insects threaten Fraser firs, the most popular Christmas tree in the United States, and hemlocks, which prevent erosion and serve as a source of lumber.

Though the insects are too small to be seen, they leave tell-tale white, wooly masses on the trunks or branches of a Fraser fir or on the needles of hemlocks. The wooly masses are the sacs that protect the insects’ eggs. During the spring of 2013, scientists at NC State University asked the public to report when they saw signs of infestation on trees in the wilderness and to send pictures and notes about the trees to scientists behind the Tiny Terrors Project, led by NC State entomology professor emeritus Fred Hain. “Tiny Terrors is an effort to add more eyes in the woods,” he said.

The Tiny Terrors Project was put together by the Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests, a group of scientists up and down the East Coast who banded together to fight adelgids, restore the population of Fraser firs and hemlocks, and breed resistant trees for the Christmas tree and ornamentals industry. Hain co-founded and leads this group of scientists.

“The ideal solution is to find trees in nature that already have reesistance and then propagate those trees,” Hain said. An alternative would be to find a gene that confers resistance to adelglids and then genetically engineer trees to contain that gene. If scientists can find trees in North Carolina that are infected but not dying, they’ll take cuttings from them, root them, then test the offspring to find out if it is indeed resistant to adelgids.

Hemlock wooly adelgids have devastated the NC hemlock population. The pests don’t kill young Fraser firs, but affect their quality as Christmas trees because the wood of young infested trees hardens and loses its ability to transport water to the foliage. The trees may drop needles more easily and lose their “atypical dominance”—the tree's top tip where the Christmas star or angel is perched. The pest can also kill older trees that serve as seed stock for Christmas growers, and controlling it requires expense hand spraying of pesticides.

The adelglid originated in Japan, but the pest was transported to the US from Europe in the early 20th century, most likely on nursery stock, according to the US Department of Agriculture. North American trees had not yet evolved to live with the pest so the effect was devastating.

2013 Annual Report (full report-http://www.threatenedforests.org/Annual%20Report.php)

Artificial infestation of Fraser firs in the lab.
"Screening for adelgid resistance in Fraser fir began in spring 2012, with 30 genotypes from the NC Premium Fraser Fir Seed Cooperative and 6 genotypes of survivors previously collected from natural stands in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Genotypes were grafted onto Fraser fir rootstock in spring 2012, and artificial infestation initiated in May 2013. However, during the infestation process (indoors), the trees began exhibiting signs of stress. Electrical conductivity tests suggested a buildup of salts had resulted in fertilizer burn. Efforts were immediately undertaken to flush the accumulated salts to remedy the problem, but we were unsuccessful, and the entire test was lost. We will repeat the screening test in spring 2014, which is the earliest the genotypes can be grafted again.

…In our BWA screening trial in 2013, we had difficulty locating a sufficient number of trees in suitable state of infestation, prompting us to explore ways to ensure a reliable supply of adelgids in the future for fir and hemlock screening. As a result, we plan to start maintaining a population of hemlock wooly adelgid at the Mountain Research Station using the large seedlings surplus to our immediate needs, as well as any trees we can obtain from growers unable to market stock they would otherwise be forced to discard. We are also trying to develop methods to successfully rear adelgids in a lab, ensuring a uniform, reliable supply for testing. Economic difficulties in both the Christmas tree and ornamental nursery industries have led to unpredictable commercial supplies of the trees we need, so we are planning to propagate trees internally to supply our future anticipated needs, reducing our reliance on outside growers.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Connoisseur Plants Program for JC Raulston Arboretum Members

Styrax japonicus 'Emerald Pagoda'

Connoisseur Plants are rare new plants or hard to find old favorites, and they are part of the annual membership drive to benefit the Arboretum's many fine programs and its day-to-day operational expenses. These wonderful plants are sent to those who join the Friends of JC Raulston Arboretum at the Sponsor, Patron, Founder, Benefactor, or Philanthropist levels.

Membership Level and Connoisseur Plants Given

  • Sponsor ($300) – 3 Connoisseur Plants
  • Patron ($600) – 6 Connoisseur Plants
  • Founder ($1,250) – 9 Connoisseur Plants
  • Benefactor ($2,500) – 12 Connoisseur Plants
  • Philanthropist ($5,000) – 18 Connoisseur Plants
  • Other membership levels (Individual, and Family/Dual) can be upgraded higher membership levels to receive Connoisseur Plants.
Join or renew your membership online. Membership payments must be received by December 31, 2013, to be eligible for plant distributed in March 2014. Qualifying members should expect their Connoisseur Plant catalogs in the mail in January 2014.

Connoisseur Plants Availability Lists

Note the years below are the years in which the plants are earned. They're chosen and distributed in the following year.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tryon Palace Kicks Off the Holidays with 'Seasons of Delight'

Candlelight Masquerade in the gardens.
Tryon Palace of New Bern, NC, is kicking off the holidays with "Seasons of Delight" tours from now through Jan. 5.  
Come see the changing drama of the four seasons inside and out of this North Carolina historical site. The Governor's Palace will be decorated sheaves of wheat, the abundance of fall's fruits, branches rimed in hoarfrost, and a spring fantasia set to the décor of our grand masquerade ball. Fresh fruits and greens will adorn the exteriors of the historic buildings, with unique wreaths hinting at the lives of their former occupants, and the North Carolina History Center ushers in the 21st century with the grandeur of two 12-foot fir trees. 
Then come back on Dec. 14 and 21 for "A Candlelight Masquerade." Tickets are available online, at the ticket desk (529 South Front Street, New Bern) and by phone at 252-639-3524. 

Seasons of Delight: Nov. 29, 2013  to Jan. 5, 2014

Crafting Christmas Ornament Workshop: Dec. 7

Candlelight Masquerade: Dec. 14 and 21

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Calendar of Triangle Gardening Programs

Pinecones make for easy winter table décor.
NC Botanical Gardens
Location: 100 Old Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC.

No horticultural programs or workshops are scheduled this month.
JC Raulston Arboretum
Location: Ruby C. McSwain Education Center, JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, NC.

Poinsettia Open House
Dec. 8, 1–5 p.m.
NC State Floriculture is part of a national poinsettia program that tests poinsettia cultivars to determine which ones are best for consumers and for producers. You will have a chance to see these cultivars yourself and vote for your favorites. Approximately one hundred different cultivars of poinsettias—including numerous new experimental cultivars—will be on display. Stop by to see the famous 9' tall poinsettia tree. Enjoy poinsettia gardens and decorated poinsettias. Help us decide which poinsettias are North Carolina's favorites by voting for your favorite poinsettias.
Music:  Listen to Christmas carols from around the world played by the Joy Recorder Ensemble while viewing the poinsettias. They'll begin at 1:00 PM and play through 5:00 PM with three 15 minute breaks. Musical instruments include recorders plus a hand drum, tambourine, and a glockenspiel. Members include Carrie Joy Bylina (director), Ruey Li, Jean Lin, Jean Bernard Luc, Chia-Fei Wang, and Kuy-may Wu.
Cost: Free.
Registration: Advance registration is not available.
Location: Ruby C. McSwain Education Center at the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Questions: Please call (919) 513-7005 for more information about this event.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St Durham, NC 27708.
http://gardens.duke.edu/events.  Please call 919-668-1707 to register.

Holiday Celebration at the Gardens
Dec. 8, 12-3 p.m.
Winter holiday traditions happen all over the world. Join us for winter holiday fun with holiday tree displays that feature Duke Gardens and winter craft creations you and your children can make. These include: a peanut butter bird feeder; Diwali (Hindu festival of light) rangoli patterns; paper dreidels; Chinese New Year lanterns; drawing a Kwanzaa family tree, and more. Free. No registration required. Parking fees apply after 1 p.m. Information: 919-668-1707.

Holiday Greenery
Dec. 8, 1- 3 p.m.
Make your own fragrant holiday display and bring nature indoors. Horticulturists Michelle Rawlins and Beth Hall will each create several evergreen swags or mantelpieces to demonstrate tips and techniques for turning greenery, colorful stems, berries and pods into scented holiday displays for your home. Each participant will then produce his or her own holiday swag to hang on a door or display on a mantle or table.
All plant materials and ribbon will be supplied. Please bring a pair of hand pruners and any embellishments you would like to include. Location: Duke Gardens greenhouse classroom. Participant limit: 20. $65; $55 Gardens members & Duke students/staff. Information/registration: 919-668-1707.

Your Winter Holiday Table
Dec. 14, 2-4 p.m.
Bring home a beautiful and unique table arrangement of fragrant evergreens and bright berries, with flowers to set it all off. Local florist Neil Mendenhall and Duke Gardens superintendent Harry Jenkins will combine collected material with cut flowers and greenery to help you create your own fresh holiday display to use at home or as a hostess gift. They will also review how to extend the life of the arrangement by replacing flowers.
All materials and container included in fee. Location: Duke Gardens greenhouse classroom. Participant limit: 15. $65; $55 Gardens members & Duke students/staff. Information/registration: 919-668-1707.

Durham Garden Forum
Meetings are held at Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Tuesday Evenings from 6:30-8 p.m.
Membership is $25 for the year (which runs April – March) or each lecture is $10. No preregistration is required. Contact information is durham.gardenforum@gmail.com.

The Garden in Winter
Dec. 10, 6:30-8 p.m.
Learn about design strategies for the winter garden with Jan Little of Duke Gardens. An informal group, the Durham Garden Forum meets once a month to enrich its members' gardening knowledge and skill. Presented in partnership with N.C. Cooperative Extension's Durham County Center. $10; free for Forum members.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wild Turkey on the Rocks? Ecosystems of Southeast Impact Numbers

Meleagris gallopavo.The reintroduction of America's beloved
holiday fowl has been one of conservation's great triumphs--
but now some populations are plummeting. What's going on?
Photograph by Andrew Zuckerman.
By T. Edward Nickens
Audubon Magazine, November-December 2013
The scene is a staple of American holiday traditions, a verity founded during the birth pangs of the nation. The place: Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. The year: 1621. In countless illustrations of what is considered that first Thanksgiving feast, tables groan with the harvest of field and forest while black-clad Pilgrims and leather-clad Wampanoag natives encircle the centerpiece dish--a perfectly browned wild turkey. While there's no question that a harvest meal was held in Plymouth Colony, there's no direct evidence that a turkey made the menu. The one surviving document that mentions the formative feast suggests that the big bird on the table--or birds, considering that the gathering drew 140 or more--was likely goose or duck. Just prior to the fete, wrote Plymouth leader Edward Winslow, the colony governor "sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoyce together after we had gathered the fruit of our labours."

Kathleen Wall, a culinary expert at Plimoth Plantation, the Massachusetts living history museum, provides some insight. "When Englishmen referred to 'fowling,' they are generally talking about waterfowl. Winslow specifically mentions deer, so we know there was venison on the table. And earlier, the governor wrote that turkeys were plentiful that year." After that oblique reference, however, the turkey track goes cold. "As far as that first harvest meal," Wall allows, "we simply can't say there was turkey."

These days that's not the only mystery surrounding Meleagris gallopavo. The reintroduction of the wild turkey to North America is frequently touted as the greatest wildlife conservation success story of the last century. Heavily hunted since the earliest days of European occupation, pushed out of huge swaths of its range by logging and land clearing, wild turkey populations reached a nadir in the early 1930s, with a continental population of about 30,000 birds. Today, after a massive trap-and-transfer effort that has spanned a quarter-century, about 7 million wild turkeys strut, gobble, and yelp from every state where they are native, and then some. "This was a monumental, continent-wide effort," says Tom Hughes, assistant vice president of conservation programs for the National Wild Turkey Federation. "There aren't many stories as inspiring in the history of wildlife conservation."

See full article, http://goo.gl/vVy2gc.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Counterpoin(settia): Break Out of the Poinsettia Rut for Holiday Florals

WSJ, Nov. 22, 2013

When the holidays sneak up on you, with all their attendant stress, it's tempting to take the easy way out. Ordering gift cards for everyone. Grabbing a quart of supermarket eggnog. Buying a few no-brainer poinsettias in their blandly cheery foil and plopping them in the usual spots. But the nagging sense that you didn't muster much originality can just add to your anxiety. So I try to resist the path of least resistance, at least when it comes to living things. It doesn't take much extra effort to overcome predictability, and it leaves me feeling strangely peaceful.

To be clear, I have nothing against poinsettias, the humble genus native to Mexico. As with most botanical clichés, it's not so much the plant that's tired as how people use them. My primary advice: Get rid of the foil and pop the plastic container into another vessel. It could be an urn you bring in from the garden, a silver ice bucket or a Chinese decorative pot. I like clustering a group of mini poinsettias—one of the happy consequences of extensive breeding—on a table in Ben Wolff's Milton Pots or Footed Herb Pots ( grdnbklyn.com ). For a more organic approach, try wrapping the plastic pot in burlap. And don't assume that supermarket poinsettias are the only options: It's possible to find the plant at garden centers in unusual colors like apricot, salmon or variegated pink and cream.

But the poinsettia isn't the only plant that looks good this time of year and evokes a sense of the holidays. When searching out alternatives, I focus on flowers that are currently at their peak—e.g., those of tropical origin—and somehow seasonal in hue. I tend to stick to white and shades of pink and red. In the depths of winter, scent is a bonus. After all, a seasonal tableau is about bringing nature indoors, despite the odds.
One of my favorites is the florist cyclamen (3, 9)—which often shows up in Home Depots, garden centers and florists soon after Thanksgiving—a softer, shyer alternative to the in-your-face poinsettia. Their butterfly-like flowers are either quite petite or larger (up to 1.5 inches) and range in color from snowy white to soft pink to deep crimson. Their sweet, intricately marked heart-shaped leaves add to their appeal. Water cyclamens carefully. Too much and they wilt; too little and they dry up—so wait until the soil is dry to the touch and make sure it's draining well.

Then there are the easy "forced bulbs," such as amaryllises (6, 12) and paperwhites (8), that you nurture into bloom; both make great hostess gifts. You can either mail-order bulbs online (try whiteflowerfarm.com or brentandbeckysbulbs.com ) and pot up your own, or buy ready-made kits at garden centers or big-box hardware stores. The resplendent amaryllis comes in many varieties, from spidery striped blooms ('Lima' or 'La Paz') to elegant white trumpets with green throats ('Evergreen' or 'Trentino'), to name a couple. For paperwhites—which stand tall like a host of particularly attentive angels—I look for the newer varieties like 'Galilee', 'Inbal' or 'Nir.' Their scent is less off-puttingly intense than some of their breed. Like amaryllises, paperwhites look great in groupings, planted in terra-cotta pots and dressed with moss. Unlike poinsettias, which are static, both plants continually grow and change, sending up shoots and edging their way into bloom.

Though winter is the peak bloom time for orchids (4, 10), this flower is often perceived as too refined to be jolly, and overlooked in favor of the more assertively festive poinsettia. But if your taste leans toward the modern, a white Phalaenopsis (moth) orchid is an elegant indulgence. I find a pink orchid refreshing, too. And, of course, orchids last months longer than any cut flowers. Find them at the suppliers mentioned above, and (incredibly affordably) at IKEA. Keep them out of direct light and water once a week.
Though merely green, topiaries can be lovely. I like to line a mantle with myrtle (5) that's been whimsically shaped into small trees or balls ( shopterrain.com ). And one of my favorite moves is to group little cypress trees (7) in a window box indoors or out. You end up with a miniature forest that's Christmassy but not over the top. Look for the variety called 'Lemon' which has a citrus scent ( shopterrain.com ).

I'm also a fan of Christmas cactus (1), a tough houseplant that can live on little water and light and which blooms in the winter, hence its name. Nestled into a pretty pot with its cascading flowers spilling over the edge of a foyer table, it welcomes your dinner guests when you're too preoccupied with cooking to do much more than mumble "Hello." If you can't find a Christmas cactus at the grocery store or Home Depot, try eBay, which offers an almost implausibly wide variety.

Finally, two plants that are normally seen outdoors—and too low to the ground to be fully appreciated: I recently noticed that farmers' markets and florists were offering small potted heathers (2), with their sprigs of vibrant magenta, and Lenten rose or hellebore Niger (13, pre-bloom), whose subtle beauty will impress your gardener friends. It's rare to see these hardy plants up-close when they're flowering. And if the ground in your area hasn't frozen, you can plant them in the garden to grow on once the hectic season's done.

Gardens + Art: NC Botanical Gardens presents "Sculpture in the Garden"

Don't forget to visit the NC Botanical Gardens exhibit on thru Dec. 8.
Every fall the North Carolina Botanical Garden hosts an outdoor exhibition of exciting sculptures by North Carolina artists. This year, for the 25th anniversary of this dynamic exhibition, we have 44 pieces of outstanding art framed by our fall garden landscapes. Twenty-eight artists, 9 of whom are new to the show, were chosen to bring in their artwork that has been delighting visitors. Be sure to visit several times over the more than two-months-long exhibition! Read an article about the show in the Daily Tar Heel.

The juror for the 2013 invitational sculpture show was Steve Litt, art and architecture critic from The Plain Dealer (and formerly of the Raleigh News & Observer). Awards were announced at the festive opening reception on September 20th:

Best in Show Award—Mark Hewitt's Polka Vase, above left
People's Choice Award—Stan Harmon's Dionaea Muscipula Arboresque, above right
Merit Awards: Joseph Gargasz's Amulets 1 - 10 and Craig Usher's Crushed Up Wave (see link to photos, below)

View the sculptures and artists' statements HERE.
Purchase sculptures HERE.
There is no admission fee for visiting Sculpture in the Garden or any part of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Please come and enjoy a self-guided tour anytime now through December 8.