Friday, July 26, 2013

When the Oriental Lilies Rule!

Chinese Trumpet Lily, Golden Splendor

As retirees, Rick and I travel in the early spring and fall when prices are lower and crowds are thinner. Another great advantage of this: I don’t miss my beloved lilies.

True, a short trip like our trip to Chicago over 4th of July weekend can mean that we miss peak blooming period. We caught a glimpse of the Chinese Trumpet Lily, Golden Splendor, just emerging the day we left and when we returned 6 days later it was on its way out. Although we missed peak bloom, we did see it and did smell that intoxicating fragrance.

The tall Orientals begin the first weeks of July. First comes the amazing hybrid of Oriental Lilies and Chinese Trumpet, known as Orienpets. Their fragrance is weaker than the Orientals but their flowers are the largest and most spectacular of all.

Orienpet lily, Conca d'Oro

What I love most of all are the mid-July orientals with their musky fragrance I can’t get enough of.

Stargazer Lily

Casa Blanca Lily

I’m sure that Casa Blanca is the lily DH Lawrence had in mind when in Sons and Lovers he described a pregnant Mrs. Morel pushed out of her house after an ugly fight with her husband:

She became aware of something about her. With an effort she roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness. The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight. and the air was charged with their perfume, as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed on her fingers by moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. Then she drank a deep draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy.

Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing- pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.

When I first read Lawrence I wasn't a gardener and didn't pay much attention to the way Lawrence often used his characters’ reactions to flowers and trees as a way of probing their emotional states. But when I re-read Sons and Lovers years later, after I became hooked on gardening, I appreciated this dimension of Lawrence. And I was convinced that the lily described in this passage this was Casa Blanca—or more likely an earlier less hybridized version.

When the Orientals fade in late July/early August, the heirloom species lilies emerge. The first-- usually in the last week of July-- is Black Beauty. It has the tremendous virtue of being disease free and able to bloom in deep shade, but unfortunately has little fragrance. You just can’t have it all in one flower!

Black beauty

So the lily season is coming to an end, but there are two more to look forward to in mid-August: lilium speciosum album and lilium speciosum rubrum. They are nowhere near as tough and reliable as Black Beauty but they are fragrant—-although not that powerful musky fragrance that made Ms. Morel swoon.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chicago is a great restaurant town!

Chicago is a great restaurant town! Frontera Grill (Zagats 27) is surely one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country. Rick and I have made 5 trips to Chicago together and there are two must-do’s for us—a visit to Chicago’s Art Institute and to Frontera Grill. This time we went for brunch and it is rightly considered the best brunch in Chicago. Rick and I spent a leisurely morning sipping Oaxacan hot chocolate at Frontera Grill’s outdoor dining area. It was hard to force myself to go back to the conference.

Some other restaurant recommendations:

Chez Moi No Zagat’s rating but voted one of the best new restaurants in Chicago. It’s the only French restaurant I’ve ever been to with large portions. The food was wonderful [and reasonably priced for Chicago] but the service was incredibly slow. We were with a group of old friends and didn’t mind hanging out and running up a bar bill, but I wouldn’t recommend Chez Moi for anyone who didn’t have the time for a long wait.

Riccardo Trattoria (Zagats 28). If you want reasonably good food at an affordable price as well as prompt service, I‘d recommend Riccardo Trattoria. I don’t agree with its Zagat’s rating--I’d give it about a 23 or24 tops , but then I live in a city of great Italian restaurants and my standards are high.

Shanghai Terrace Generally considered the best Chinese restaurants in Chicago, it also has one of the best locations—a roof top restaurant where you are surrounded by the towers of some of Chicago’s most spectacular skyscrapers. We were afraid it might be like the Philly area’s high-end Chinese restaurant, Susanna Foo, with its minuscule portions at sky-high prices. But this was Chicago, the city of large portions and we did not go hungry.

Arun (Zagat’s 27) This one is for lovers of Thai food. It requires a long trek to an outlying neighborhood and its fixed price menu is a lot more than we usually like to spend, but the food is fantastic—by far the best Thai food we’ve ever had or are likely to have. Rick and I were there 24 years ago and we both remember it as having exceptional food with presentations that were works of art. Our faulty memories in this case did not fail us. The food and the presentations were every bit as good as we remembered. I was about to bite into a carrot and Rick stopped me to say, “look at it before you eat it.” The carrot was sculpted into an extraordinarily beautiful representation of a butterfly. Food as a work of art may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for lovers of Thai food, it as an experience not to be missed!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer in Chicago

Rick and I went to the national NOW conference in Chicago over the 4th of July weekend. We decided to spend a few extra days and make a mini-vacation out of it. We were afraid that Chicago in July would be hellishly hot, but we lucked out and got weather in the low ‘80’s with a welcome lakeshore breeze.

I was at the conference primarily to do a presentation on “Documenting our History” and to promote my book,Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982. The lure of Chicago drew me away from the conference more than I had intended. When I was a NOW chapter president, I felt obligated to go to all the plenary sessions and to as many workshops as I could fit in. Now I’m perfectly comfortable opting for a visit to Chicago’s fabulous Art Institute rather than conference workshops.

Chicago (at least downtown Chicago) is filled with gorgeous municipal plantings—whoever does these plantings is a horticultural genius.

Then there is the architecture. I first learned to appreciate modernist architecture when I went to Chicago in 1989 with Rick, who knows a great deal about architecture and served as my tour guide to Chicago. Unlike NYC where the skyscrapers are all jammed together, in Chicago the buildings have space around them and you can see the outline of each building silhouetted against the sky.

Restaurant recommendations in the next post!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Here come the lilies!

The official start of summer means my garden is filled with lilies. That includes the much despised orange daylilies which grow by roadsides. I have more than I can use, but I can’t give them away. Most people view them as little better than weeds. But there’s nothing more beautiful than a huge mass of orange daylilies. I’m sure if they were rare and hard to grow they would be considered beautiful and be highly prized.

Next come the regal lilies. The most beautiful of all is lilium regal album which has the most astonishing fragrance. I realize this sounds strange, but the best way I can describe it is a sweet lily fragrance mixed with a peppery scent.

Then the Asiatic lilies. They have large, showy flowers but unfortunately no fragrance. I've found that the yellow Asiatics are most likely to return year after year.

The hyper-hybridized Asiatic lilies which come in spectacular colors like Landini, a deep burgundy, bloom for one year and disappear. It's so beautiful,I succumb to the temptation to buy new bulbs every year.

Then the hybridized daylilies with gorgeous flowers in a wide range of colors and sometimes with a little bit of fragrance. One of my favorites, a re-bloomer Rosy Returns:

Then the first of the Orientals-a miniature oriental, Mona Lisa. Its musky oriental lily fragrance is far from miniature and it has the advantage of not needing to be staked.
I can never keep up with staking lilies in July when the tall orientals rule!

More lily photos to come.