Monday, October 26, 2015


The chinaberry tree that I saw in Malta in the spring of 2014 made me happy. I know this tree from when I was young in Turkey. I seldom came across it back then.  I noticed two trees on a recent trip to Istanbul.  I believe chinaberry is planted sparingly perhaps due to the fact that its fruit, flowers and leaves are poisonous.

Chinaberry tree in Malta in 2014

The adult tree has a rounded crown, and commonly grows between 7–12 meters. Chinaberry is a tree that keeps its fruit from the previous season as it blooms anew. The fruit is a drupe, marble-sized, light beige at maturity.

Melia azedarach by its scientific name, chinaberry is a species of deciduous tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae and it is native to Indomalaya and Australasia Wikipedia informs us.

Indomalaya is one of the eight ecozones on our planet's land surface which extends across most of South and Southeast Asia and into the southern parts of East Asia. Australasia is a region of Oceania that comprises Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea, and neighboring islands in the Pacific Ocean. The term was coined as ‘Australasie’ in French in 1756. (

The small flowers grow in clusters and they have five pale purple or lilac petals. They are very fragrant in springtime.

The leaves are up to 50 centimeters long, alternate, long-petioled, two or three times compound (odd-pinnate); the leaflets are dark green above and lighter green below, with serrate margins.

The fruit is poisonous to humans if eaten in quantity. However, these toxins are not harmful to birds and they gorge themselves on the fruit, eventually reaching a "drunken" state. They then spread the seeds in their droppings. Chinaberry is a fun tree.

Monday, October 19, 2015


It is impossible to discuss in a few paragraphs knowledge accumulated over millenia about grapes and vines; I can only tell what I know. Back when I was small I did not know that I lived in the heartland of the grape. The climate of Turkey is ideal for growing grapes of all kinds. From the Aegean region, where my family lived, come the white seedless grapes for the best raisins. Sultaniye is the name of a village near Manisa and this is where the renowned Sultana raisins get their name from. These grapes are eaten fresh also.

In Thrace and Anatolia (the European and Asian regions of Turkey), the art of maintaining vineyards goes way back in time. The Hittites, an Anatolian people (c.1600 BC-c. 1180BC) grew grapes. When I was little everyone who had a garden even if it be handkerchief size, owned a grape vine. Vines (family Vitaceae) grew in the gardens, over the streets or above al fresco coffee houses. The vines simply grew and were used as parasols. People still grow grape vines in Turkey every opportunity they have.


“A grape is the fruit of the deciduous woody vines of the botanical genus Vitis. Most grapes come from cultivars of Vitis vinifera (common grape vine), a species of Vitis, native to the Mediterranean region, central Europe, and southwestern Asia, from Morocco and Portugal north to southern Germany and east to northern Iran. There are currently between 5000 and 10,000 varieties of Vitis vinifera grapes though only a few are of commercial significance for wine and table grape production”. (



Grapes native to Anatolia number over 1200. Fifty to sixty of these are grown commercially.

There used to be a variety of delicious grapes; tiny white ones, big round ones, long white ones called finger grapes, reddish grapes or dark purplish ones. They all had distinct tastes. Grapes all seem to taste the same these days. I hear words like blanched, hormone treated or sprayed and they don’t sound good.


                                                                                         Koruk                                            New shoots

Turkish cuisine uses unripe grapes called ‘koruk’ for a lemony flavor in dishes. As youngsters we used to eat the sour koruk and the new shoots off the vines.

Dolma-stuffed vine leaves dish comes from Ottoman times. The Turkish name dolma(k) – ‘filled’ (stuffed) is still used by all the peoples in the region formerly under Ottoman rule. Sarma(k)-‘wrapped’ is another name for the same dish.

Here is a recipe for red lentil soup with koruk:
1 c red lentils, 1 small onion diced, 2 cloves of garlic pressed, 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, or olive oil, 1 Tbsp. tomato paste, ½ cup water added, Salt and pepper to taste, 5 c water or 3 c water and 2 c broth, 1 c koruk
Description: Place lentils, water and broth, onion and garlic, olive oil, tomato paste, salt and pepper in a pot and cook on medium heat until the lentils are well cooked about 45 minutes. If you have a pressure cooker cook for 20 minutes. Beat the soup with a hand held processor and place back in the pot. If too thick add another cup of water and add the koruk, bring to boil and serve hot with baguette type bread.

Commercially grown vines raised off the ground can withstand frost more easily


                                                                                                Look who has acquired a taste for grapes

Monday, October 12, 2015

Montreal’s flower planters

Montreal is a city of flowers and greenery.

The Montreal Botanical Garden founded in 1931 is considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world due to the extent of its collections and facilities. It comprises 75 hectares of thematic gardens and greenhouses. We are told that 200 different bird species and a fox family live on the grounds. There are 22,000 types of plants, flowers and trees. With annual events such as Butterflies Go Free the garden is a popular year-round attraction for the people of Montreal. It was designated a national Historic Site of Canada in 2008.

The city of Montreal has created 76 community gardens with 6,400 allotments since 1975. These serve some 10,000 people a year, which makes the program one of the most significant in North America.

Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal (MIM), a non-profit organization was created in 1998. In association with the city’s Parks, Gardens and Green Spaces Department, its mission is to promote gardening and horticulture as both an expression of new millennium values and a vital component of the urban landscape. Mosaïcultures Internationales is an international mosaiculture competition, an exhibition of horticultural art and a chance for the representatives from parks, gardens and green spaces around the world to exchange ideas.

                          A replica of a mosaic from the museum of Gaziantep, Turkey titled Gaia was presented by Turkey in 2013

Come spring, planters with exquisite flower displays are placed all around the city. The City of Westmount in Montreal where I live is a very green place. The city promotes horticultural and environmental protection and activities. Among its 13 parks the main park (started in 1892) is beautifully landscaped and has ancient trees. A perennial plant exchange is held by the city in the spring. There is a conservatory and its greenhouses which put on shows and grow plants for exchange.

As proposed in 2010 by a member of the Horticultural Association, Westmount has replaced its traditional flower displays around the commercial district with edible herb and vegetable arrangements. What began as a pilot project with 8 street planters and 3 raised large planters has now expanded to cover 44 street planters as well as the 3 original hanging planters.

                                                   Photograph: Howcheng-Howard Cheng, flat leaved parsley flower

Parsley is one of the herbs that have been planted in Westmount planters. Parsley or Garden Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a species of Petroselinum in the family Apiaceae, native to the central Mediterranean region (southern Italy, Algeria and Tunisia), naturalized elsewhere in Europe, and widely cultivated as a herb, a spice, and a vegetable.

Parsley attracts several species of wildlife. Some swallowtail butterflies use parsley as a host plant for their larvae; their caterpillars are black and green striped with yellow dots, and will feed on parsley for two weeks before turning into butterflies. Bees and other nectar-feeding insects also visit the flowers. Birds such as the goldfinch feed on the seeds.

Parsley grows best in moist, well-drained soil, with full sun. It grows best between 22–30 °C, and usually is grown from seed.

In many countries dishes are served with fresh green chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

Flat leaf parsley

The two main groups of leaf parsley used as herbs are: The curly leaf (P. crispumcrispum group; syn. P. crispum var.crispum) and Italian, or flat leaf (P. crispum neapolitanum group; syn. P.crispum var. neapolitanum). Flat-leaved parsley has a stronger flavor.

Parsley is a source of flavonoid and antioxidants (especially luteolin), apigenin, folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin A. (


Monday, October 5, 2015


One of the greatest joys of writing about my familiar plants has been finding them again after many years and then learning interesting facts about them.

                                                           A snowball bush at Heybeliada, Istanbul, summer of 2014

With the common name snowball there is some confusion for there are other plants, some that are members of the genus Viburnum, also called snowball bush. Viburnum is a genus of about 150-175 species of shrubs and small trees in the family Adoxaceae. Most species are native throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere, with a few species extending into tropical regions of the world.

Viburnum opulus is an ornamental plant with white flowers that later produce red berries for which it has been misleadingly named European cranberry bush. This is not a cranberry plant.

I got to know and admire the cultivar Roseum, Viburnum opulus Roseum with its big white globular flower heads as a child. V. opulus Roseum is an old cultivar created in the 16th century in Europe, and it has been a cherished flower of gardeners ever since. The deciduous bush will grow up to 4m in height and in spread. It has an open structure and the outer branches hang slightly in maturity. The light green leaves are 3lobed. The shrub will turn orange-red in the fall.

The pompom-like flowers appear in profusion. They are green in color at first and in a couple of weeks turn pure white. At the season’s end they acquire a light rosy color as they fade. This gives the name of ‘Roseum’ to the bush. There is no etymological information on either viburnum or opulus.

The 8 cm diameter inflorencences of Roseum are sterile. They do not have fertile florets and the shrub does not produce berries in the fall. Roseum is sometimes sold as V. opulus Sterile.

The snowball flowers bloom around May.