Friday, October 23, 2015

(Italian) Weekend Walkabout: The Italian Hawk-Moth

Ah, Macroglossum stellatarum, how elusive and mysterious are your ways!


In Italy, skulking about with my camera while my hosts played golf,  I saw a very strange critter flitting through a patch of one of my favorite, exuberant flowers, Lantana! It hovered briefly over a flower and used a long proboscis, or was it a beak, to drink the nectar, then sped on:
Italian Hawk Moth with Lantana, MRobb, 2015
I love hummingbirds and thought, "Could it be? Hummingbird? Or alien life form taking botanical samples?"  Turns out it was actually the Italian Hawk Moth. Who knew? Here's another, clearer, shot from Wikipedia:
Italian Hawk Moth, Wikipedia
They are often mistaken by New World types like me for hummingbirds. Oh, and to make it even more confusing, they actually hum! I heard it hum, it's true. Not Sibelius or anything, but still. Is that weird or what? But what good fortune to meet such a charmingly deceptive creature. Have a wonderful gardening weekend!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Glorious Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller

I call it the Heller Garden, and as it's full of British tourists (garden fanatics like me) this time of year, I'll continue to use the English name.

On my recent trip to Lago di Garda, Italy, I was accidentally sent to the most beautiful small garden I've ever seen. I'd been planning to visit the University of Milan's herbalist garden, because I'm an herbalist-in-training, so that made sense. My friends had no idea there even was such a garden so they took me to the garden they knew about, the Heller Garden, and left me there for the morning. Best mistake ever!
Heller Garden, Rodin Pond, MRobb, XPro, 2015
The Heller Garden was originally the house and garden of Napoleon's dentist, but was bought and completely revamped by Austrian artist Andre Heller in 1988. Mr. Heller brings in works by all sorts of artists, famous and not, and places their works throughout the garden, which is crisscrossed by walking paths, grottoes, bridges and ponds, and lots of other surprises. Here's the Poet's Pond:
Here's an inviting bench in the bamboo forest:
I was delighted to see that both orchids and Tillandsias are featured in the garden. Can you spot the Tillandsia xerographica, and the Spanish Moss?

And can you spot the blogger??
I'll be showing a few more scenes from this delightful place in the next few weeks. If you are ever at Lago di Garda, be sure to visit the garden. I'd recommend going right when it opens, as the light is perfect at that time, and it's not full of people yet!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Weekend Walkabout: Chihuly at Fairchild Tropical Gardens

I have two favorite gardens in the whole world: the Heller Botanical Garden at Lago di Garda, Italy, and the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, Florida. I am working on a series of the Heller Gardens now, and you'll see them soon. For this weekend, I thought I'd post a few photos of works by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and his studio that are featured at Fairchild, a wonderful combination of beauty by humans and beauty by nature!

Fairchild and Chihuly, Infrared, MRobb, 2014
They also have the most fun and whimsical Halloween displays at Fairchild:
A Coconut Spider, yikes!
I am happy to say that Tillies, particularly Spanish Moss, are included:
Mossy Ghosties, Fairchild Tropical Gardens

Coconut Husk Beastie, Fairchild Gardens
Have a wonderful weekend in the garden!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cacti and Succulents Endangered

I was sad to read that quite a few species of cacti and succulents, many of which I've featured on this blog, are endangered because of habitat loss, climate change, and poaching.
Ah, Babytoes!
Los Tres Amigos

Lithops Younglings
You can read about it here:

Always buy plants and seeds from reputable dealers who care about the plants and the environments they evolved in. Make sure they have the correct CITES certificates for what they sell. That way, our grandchildren can enjoy these beautiful plants, too. Happy gardening, and join me in feeling grateful for our wonderful cacti and succulents!
More Lithops

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Fried Squash Blossoms

During my recent trip to Italy, I saw something colorful and interesting in the veggie section of the town's supermarket: vivid orange and green squash blossoms! I asked, "How does anyone except a rabbit or horse eat those??" Chef Riccardo answered my question with a marvelous recipe for Fried Squash Blossom appetizers.
You'll need:
About 20 zucchini blossoms
Olive Oil
a small jar of anchovies

and a thin batter made from:

about a cup of finely milled white flour (00)
about 2/3 cup of carbonated mineral water, very cold
One whole egg
One tablespoon olive oil
a pinch of salt
Beat all ingredients together and keep chilled.

The secret to light and fluffy fried blossoms is the carbonated, chilled water. Once you've blended the batter ingredients, keep that batter cold.

Remove the stems and all tough, green parts from the blossoms.
Open each flower on one side so it can lie flat. Then put one anchovy in the center of each flower and roll them up. Yes, anchovies, I know, I don't usually care for them either, but trust me, they are delicious prepared this way!

Now that you have a series of "squash blossom burritos", you can dip them gently in the chilled batter and fry them on medium heat in olive oil in a frying pan, just a minute or two on each side:

Transfer the fried blossoms onto paper towels to drain, then serve and eat! Absolutely delicious. Thank you, Chef Riccardo!
Squash Blossom Appetizers by Chef Riccardo, 2015