Martha Stewart, Me, and a Drunken Beauty

I’ve  just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York City, gratefully abandoning the car after four hours of driving in torrential down bursts, to make an equally whirlwind tour of my vegetable garden – that is, before I was driven indoors by more rain.

Despite the almost continual deluges we’ve had recently, the garden seems to be doing very well . The tomatoes are growing by leaps and bounds (due in large part to all those wheelbarrows full of compost and manure I laboriously hauled into the new garden); the squash and pumpkins are straining at the cloth enclosures that protect them from the vine borers; the beans are beginning to climb their poles.

All’s seemingly well in the vegetable world – for the  moment. (Gardening gods take note, I am thy humble servant…)

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We are not amused: Martha Stewart awaiting audio rescue at the New York Botanical Garden Conservatory Stage

As for my trip, I had been invited down to the City to speak at the Edible Gardens Symposium at the New York Botanical Garden. I, along with garden gurus Martha Stewart, Amy Goldman, and Rosalind Creasy gave talks on the various aspects of gardening for the table. My lecture was entitled The New American Victory Garden  – Eating Better for Less.  Rosalind gave a fascinating presentation on what makes heirloom vegetable and flower varieties worthwhile – and worth saving. Amy expanded on her new book, the Heirloom Tomato, From Garden to Table, elucidating the intricacies of growing, harvesting and enjoying the hundreds of enticing heirloom varieties now available to home gardeners. And Martha spoke on, well, being Martha:  a not so brief plug of her show & magazine; a fledgling print attempt entitled Body and Soul; plus her newly installed herb garden at the New York Botanical Garden – Martha’s branding now supplanting the previous donor’s, society matron Nancy Bryan Luce.

Sic transit gloria nominis.

And yes, should you ask: Martha in person is precisely like Martha on TV. Intelligent, witty, funny, informative, occasionally self-deprecating, and far less occasionally… imperial. During her presentation, the wireless microphone system malfunctioned badly,  despite the many well intentioned sound checks I had painfully experienced earlier that morning during my own book signing at an adjacent venue. After a frustrating minute or so of crackles, whistles and howls, Martha was reduced to glowering balefully at the cowering technicians. “Inexcusable, guys” she uttered between clenched teeth, while we in the front row silently mouthed thanks to whatever gods we each prayed to that Martha’s punishing glare wasn’t directed at us. Fortunately for speaker, audience and hapless soundman alike, audio was ultimately restored, and the successful production of Martha’s herbal cocktails, including a gin concoction modestly dubbed the “Martha-tini,” seemed to soothe ruffled feathers.

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We are highly amused: bees taking delight in Papaver 'Lauren's Grape'

For me, the true queen of the show was one of the most spectacular poppies I have ever seen: Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape.’ I’m rarely bowled over by a plant, but this flower was almost…drinkable. (Perhaps I was still under the hypnotic influence of Martha’s cocktails – purely vicarious, of course, as unlike the principal, we never got a sample.) Nor was I the only one carried away by the glaucous foliage and wine-dark blossoms of this drunken beauty. The honey bees were simply intoxicated by the flowers, to the extent that I, as a beekeeper, have never witnessed before. This cultivar, named after the indefatigable author Lauren Springer (of Undaunted Gardener fame) is truly one of the great beauties of the garden –  one that I fully intend to incorporate into my landscape next spring.

The Edible Garden, by the way, runs through the summer at the New York Botanic, with another festival weekend in September, and is well worth checking out.

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