Nisanyan Hotel, Turkey: Pack your bags!

Thank you Apartment Therapy for bringing this magical place to our attention.  It is the Nisanyan Hotel, not far from the ancient ruins at Ephesus, in Turkey.

Nisanyan House is considered one of Turkey’s finest hotels, yet it is a simple and friendly sort of place. It offers you beauty and peace, even a certain degree of elegance. The grounds are extensive, but they make you feel you own the place by yourself. No two units are quite alike. Each reflects the inspiration of the moment and the whimsy of experimentation.

It probably serves the best food within 100 miles, though you’d think it is mom and pop cooking. It has the most intricately detailed decor of any hotel in the country, yet it all feels perfectly spontaneous and casual.

Visitors often find themselves at a loss for words when describing the experience. They say things like “this is a place of spiritual awakening,” or “please, please, can we stay here forever!”

This place is on my bucket list.

Edible or Emerg?

Dinner or hospital?

These look like perfect giant button mushrooms and would make either a killer mushroom soup or a meaty addition to a stir fry.  I have never seen such pristine specimens before.

These were growing on the cleanly sawed off trunks of trees that had been cut and pushed out of the way on a path we frequent.  But, I would not even dare to take them and eat them for dinner.  I heard a story years ago of an acquaintance who was a seasoned mushroom forager and was fooled; he ended up in the hospital for several days recovering from mushroom poisoning.

After some sleuthing, I would hazard to say these were honey mushrooms, which usually grow on deciduous tree trunks and appear in clusters.  If I’m right, they are edible.  But, you know what, I’m not going to try.

Nature and artifice at the Mackenzie King Estate in Kingsmere

Years ago I worked during the summer months at the Mackenzie King Estate in Kingsmere, Quebec.  It was the best of all worlds.  We began early in the mornings (we  had to be in Chelsea for pick-up before 7 a.m.) and finished at 3.  The mornings that year were  unseasonably cool and each day I remember wearing a fleece jacket and long pants to keep out the chill.  There were three student horticulturists, of which I was one, working at this Estate, which included King’s earliest property that overlooks Kingsmere Lake and the Speakers residence, known as the ‘Farm’. 

King lived either in Kingswood (the cottage next to the lake) or Moorside (the residence he later purchased and embellished with rolling lawns and formal gardens) between 1903 and 1943, and then moved to the ‘Farm’ until his death in 1950.

The landscaping work that we undertook at Moorside included planting up the parterre with a selection of annuals that was chosen by the designers at the NCC offices.  The plantings here attempted to remain true to what Mackenzie King and his staff would have planted in the first half of the 20th century, formal in spirit and colourful in display.  Almost 20 years ago we also used the silver edging known as lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) to frame the beds; this plant was regularly clipped to prevent the yellow flowers from forming and detracting from the classic effect.

Roses were also planted around the birdbath but almost always suffered winter dieback so were straggly and never the generous bloomers everyone hoped they would be.  The annuals we used were more traditional choices, like marigolds and red salvias and I recall these beds were never as voluptuous as those I witnessed the other day where blue salvias, flossflower and a dwarf variety of orange zinnia made a striking show.  At the edges were a selection of reds and burgundy annuals including purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) and amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus). 

But I have one beef with the perennial beds:

Okay, two:

The challenge in a perennial garden, especially one in such a natural setting, is to avoid any evidence of controlled maintenance.  Staking should be an art and the gardener should attempt to make all evidence of it invisible.  This perennial border is indeed due for an over-haul, which includes perhaps a change of plantings, some rejuvenation (i.e. division and replanting) and perhaps a more adventurous display.  I think there has to be a balance struck between being a slave to historical accuracy and generating visitor excitement. 

September harvest

When I was little, the new school year meant fresh, empty Hilroy notebooks, virgin pencils and never used pens.  Each of these things meant this year, it could be different.  Everything presented to me in class, I would remember.  I would score perfect 100s in my tests.  My notebooks would have perfect penmanship (pen-wo-manship?) and there would be no crossing outs or ink splats. 

This is the way I felt about our allotment garden this spring.  A clean piece of real estate with no failures, no weeds, no damaged crops or eaten fruit.  I can dream, can’t I?

Instead, the tomatoes we planted burst forth, bending and finally taking down the stakes that held them upright, the broccoli flowered and left us behind (we did get some good harvests anyway), the sweet peas just sat there and refused to grow up their trellises and the canteloupe — where did it go?

We didn’t water and we underestimated how large the tomato plants would grow (how did they get that big?  One look at the size of some of the tomatoes and it’s clear…) and I wondered if we would ever get a perfect pepper and a watermelon big enough to actually eat???  But still, things grew — and the gardens look wild!

These beautiful peppers are called Beaver Dam, a Hungarian heirloom variety brought to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1912 by the Joe Hussli family.  I obtained them from the wonderful people at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa.  They are described as being mildly hot and I am here to tell you that this is true.  So from someone who can’t stomach spicy food, this is the perfect pepper!  I just chopped some and put it on some whole wheat fusilli pasta with stewed tomatoes (yes, ours), broccoli (yes, I grew that too!), wilted arugula (nope, but I should have) and sauteed shrimp.  Yum!

The tomatoes you see are largely the Rose variety, also from SSE, and in my opinion, one of the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.  It is an Amish heirloom and is a large, softly coloured, but very meaty fruit.  The other winner from SSE is called Black from Tula, and yes, it’s black and ugly.  But wow!  What flavour.

Some of the tomatoes grew and grew and didn’t seem to want to turn red.  So I picked some and ate them anyway.  I had forgotten that I had also planted a variety called Gold Medal and had chosen it because it was picked as the 2008 Seed Savers Exchange tomato tasting contest.  All I can say is ‘Yes.’

And this beautiful creature is a Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon, also available at Seed Savers Exchange.  Betcha didn’t think we could grow those here?  It was brought to Saskatchewan by Russian immigrants and comes to maturity in an astounding 80-85 days. 

Oh and did I mention — it has white flesh!  This fruit is 4-10 pounds at maturity and up to 10″ in diameter.  Our bigger one was only 4″ across but I harvested them anyway because their stems snaking along the ground, looking all the while like shrivelled umbilical cords, looked to me like they were wasting away into nothing.

As a consequence, I don’t believe my taste analysis is accurate.  Although these melons were juicy and fresh, they weren’t particularly sweet and reminded me of a cross between an old-fashioned watermelon and honeydew melon, before sweetness was the holy grail.  And I have to admit — like pomegranates, I find the seeds irritating.  But they are a refreshing and beautiful thing.

Stay tuned for more harvest news….

Shady yellows in the late summer

Creating a garden in the shade is, according to many, a fate only dealt to you if you have been bad in a previous life.  I used to have this opinion when our backyard was shaded by a mature plum tree, a huge oak tree, two garages and a tall cedar fence.  So when the plum tree came down in the famous ice storm of 1998, the prospect of having a sunny garden thrilled me. 

But, over time, I had amassed a collection of shade loving perennials and now in a south-facing garden with no shade they were struggling.  I quickly took a 180 degree turn and planted not one, not two, not three but six trees/shrubs – over time.  One has succumbed to squirrel damage (my lovely Acer griseum, a paperbark maple that I had purchased through the mail) — 

— so I decided to plant a golden clematis (Clematis tangutica) at its base.  I couldn’t bring myself to chop it down (and yes, it is dead :c( ) but it does make a perfect support for this clambouring climber.

The other trees (two pyramidal cedars, a golden cedar, a serviceberry and a weeping purple birch) are going strong.  I have learnt through this journey that incorporating plants with yellow foliage and flowers help brighten shady spaces.  Here are a few that I’ve planted in my garden:

This is a close-up of a Kirengeshoma palmata (Golden waxbells), with Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ to the left and a golden cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Sunkist’) in the background.   Although the gold cedar keeps its colour best in the sun, I have found a spot where it does receive a fair amount of afternoon light, keeping it, so far, with good colour.

The gorgeous golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) is a must for a shady spot.  I just planted this one and it is cascading through my Rusty Girl fencing (that, in theory, keeps Skye out of the garden) with some waxbells flower buds dangling above.

Yellow fumitory (Corydalis lutea) is an opportunist.  A delicate texture but a non-stop performer, this perennial has lovely glaucous foliage and all-season yellow blooms.  Give it a start in your shady garden and it will decide where it will spread.  Easy to remove  if it seeds where you don’t want it, this plant remains a staple in my garden.

Although my preference is for more subdued yellows in the garden, this rich golden colour of a dark-leafed Ligularia dentata is a stand-out in the late summer shade. 

What yellow plant do you grow in your shade garden?