Poinsettia – the Christmas Eve Flower

As a native of south Florida, I grew up surrounded by poinsettias that GREW IN THE GROUND!! Amazing!!! I never really appreciated that until I moved farther north where poinsettias were bought in pots during the Christmas season and carefully nurtured indoors.

I have two very distinct memories of poinsettias from my childhood, other than just taking them for granted. While we were living in West Palm Beach, Florida, we had a hedge, separating our house from the one next door, of tall white hibiscus with a thick row of what we called “fireball” poinsettias in front. It was evidently breathtaking. Strangers, probably tourists, would stop in front of the house and question us about the poinsettias. They had never seen anything like it!

My second memory of poinsettias was helping my mother make fresh-cut poinsettia arrangements for our home, church and friends. She would send me out early in the morning to cut the poinsettias (from the hedge), burn the cut stems with a match to seal them off and stop the flow of the “milk”, then submerge them in water for several hours. We had a large wash tub that we would fill with water and then weight the poinsettias down in the water with a brick or rock. The poinsettias supposedly soaked up the water through their leaves which kept them fresh indefinitely.

As an adult, I had the privilege of studying Spanish in a language school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I learned there that the “poinsettia” was not a “poinsettia” at all but a Nochebuena-or Christmas Eve flower. That name seems so much more appropriate to me since the flower blooms during the Christmas season and after. After inquiring, it seems that the Nochebuena is native to Cuernavaca and was cultivated by the Aztecs. Since the Aztecs preceded the Spanish in Mexico, their name for the flower-cuetlaxochitl-should probably be considered to be its “official” name. But the conquering Spanish immediately renamed everything in Spanish, including the “poinsettia”. I must admit that for me, at least, it is much easier to say Nochebuena than Cuetlaxochitl.

Then, in the 1820’s, along came the first United States Ambassador to Mexico-a man by the name of Joel Roberts Poinsett. He was enchanted by the beautiful shrub with large red flowers. He decided to introduce the flower to the United States by bringing cuttings back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Rather than bringing the Spanish name of Nochebuena back with him, he allowed his “discovery” of the plant to be the basis for William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, to name the plant Poinsettia in his honor.

So, as you and your family enjoy the presence of poinsettias in your Christmas d├ęcor, just remember that the plant is actually the Nochebuena-the Christmas Eve flower. Perhaps the Nochebuena will help all of us remember the true focus of Christmas-the birth of the Christ child on Christmas Eve.

Spanish Saffron

Saffron is one of the natural world’s most precious commodities. The value of this spice which comes from the stigmas of the dried flower saffron crocus is almost equal its weight in gold. The labor required to produce the product and its sensitivity to growing conditions are other reasons for saffron’s high value.

Although the plant’s origins are heavily debated, one of the more popular theories is that it came from Asia Minor, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. The Moors brought the spice with them during the Spanish invasion, which accounts for its abundance in the region. Spanish saffron, grown in a high plateau known as La Mancha, accounts for over 70% of the of the world’s production. Other areas of high-production include India, China, and other southward-sloping Asian countries.

Every year, for a brief period in October, the crocus flowers open up – meaning they’re ready for harvesting. By the next day, the Spanish countryside is awash in a beautiful purple carpet of saffron flowers. However, the beauty cannot be admired for long; the blooming period only lasts for a short two weeks. During this time, farmers work around the clock (even in day and night shifts!) to collect as many flower-stigmas as they can. Harvesting is a very difficult endeavor; farmers must pick the delicate, minute stigmas by hand which requires long, back-injuring hours. To yield one pound of quality saffron, 50.000 – 75,000 flowers must be picked, or the size of a standard soccer field! This certainly accounts for much of its value.

After harvest time, the farmers separate the reddish stigma and roast them on a sieve – this produces the saffron we use for food preparation, fabric coloring and medicinal purposes. In the town of Consuegra, the Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafran celebrates the end of harvesting season. Every year at the end of October, music and dancing fill the streets to celebrate a successful season. Azafran is the Spanish word for saffron.

Although saffron is grown in all parts of the world, Spanish saffron is renowned as the highest-quality. There are subtle differences between spices, but a professional is quick to detect the intense flavor and color brilliance of saffron that comes from Spain. Flowers grown on La Mancha produce the highest-grade possible.

Saffron is known for its bitter, hay-like taste – which sounds distasteful, but it’s actually quite the treat for mature palates. The spice is found in many cheeses, meat dishes and liquors; in Spain it’s commonly used as a condiment for rice. The Spanish dish paella, which combines rice, tomatoes and fish, also relies on saffron to give it the signature taste.

When buying Spanish saffron, it’s best to purchase the individual, dry stems. Many stores will offer the spice in the form of a powder, which is cheaper and relatively easier to find. However, powders are often cut with different ingredients, which make the saffron impure. Quality saffron should be kept in a cool, dry compartment, which will keep it fresh for 2-3 years.

New Backyard Landscaping Ideas – Create a Spanish Style Vertical Garden

Dare to be different with some fresh backyard landscaping ideas. You have laid the stone for the patio, you have thought about the lawn and flowerbeds, you have decided where to put the hot tub (if you are lucky enough to have a hot tub). These are ground level backyard landscaping ideas. How about some backyard landscaping ideas that rise above the ground and reach for the sky? Dare to be different and create a wonderful Mediterranean hanging garden and make the most of your vertical space.

A vertical garden will really make your backyard landscaping ideas come to life. Now you can look at a blank wall as if you are an artist about to create a work of art. The blank wall is your blank canvas you will transform into a beautiful living picture of pots and flowering plants that can change into a riot of colour all year round.

Spanish style flower pot holders are available that are specially designed to carry plastic or terracotta pots or even wicker work conical baskets. They are a brilliant for backyard garden ideas because they are strong being made of mild steel and last for years. Not only that, these pot holders are available in different sizes so you can use your existing pots to create a wonderful pattern. These flowerpot holders will add a new dimension to your backyard landscaping ideas. Just add geraniums or trailing fuchsias or any summer bedding plant suitable for use in hanging baskets or window boxes or flowerpots. In the winter you can introduce pansies, ornamental cabbages, ferns and evergreens to brighten up the garden and keep your backyard landscaping ideas looking great.

For a moment imagine you are enjoying a alfresco meal and a glass of soft fruity glass of wine surrounded by flowers creating that feeling of an extra outside room to the house, knowing that this was one of the best backyard landscaping ideas because the transformation was so easy to do and looking so lovely. Cheers!