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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Monday, July 27, 2009


      Dear Other Ellen,
      I'll see you a New York City water tower and raise you one Empire State Building. esp
      (See O.E.'s post about water towers)

      View from The High Line in the Meat Packing District on a hazy day, 7/27/09
      (see O.E.'s post about The High line)

      Sunday, July 19, 2009


      Dewstow Gardens, Southeast Wales with seed pods of Allium 'Globemaster', thriving from frequent rain
      Poll Dorset sheep at home, St. Brides Wales

      I was off in Wales for eight glorious days, admiring the gardens, touring the Roman ruins, staying with friends, watching sheep gamboling in their yard. Meanwhile my roof garden in New York City was dying a slow death.

      While I was away someone in my building turned off the main control to the
      automatic watering system. You may think that with record rainfalls in June
      my garden would be safe from an oh-so-small watering snafu in July, but NO.
      This is the
      River Birch
      and the plum
      trees lost
      almost all of
      their leaves.
      The bachelor
      buttons, rose
      and hydrangea
      flowers have
      all died, the leaves have turned yellow and are dropping off. The potentilla looks dead.
      (See Before picture of the Harison's yellow rose on the post of March 30, '09, see After, just above)Even the cone flowers look sick.
      I want to cry.
      The good news? Succulents not on the drip system are thriving, as are the plants in self-watering containers.

      There are four ways to water a city garden:
      1.By hand with hose or watering can. But I have over 80 containers and watering each daily would take at least two hours.
      2.Self-watering containers are fine for smaller plants, but still need regular filling during dry days.
      3.Automatic drip irrigation works except when it doesn’t.
      4.Natural rainfall. See # 3 above.

      Normally, drip irrigation is the most reliable, except when there’s a power failure, someone turns off the main switch or there’s a kink or cut in a line.
      I need a backup plan i.e an observant person who will notice the signs of water deficit disorder and solve the problem. Does such a person exist in my building?

      Sunday, July 12, 2009

      photo contest: blue ribbon herbs

      Garden Bytes from the Big Apple announces our first photo contest: culinary herbs in the garden.

      Chives (Allium shoenoprasum) in a community garden in Riverside Park, NYC. I use both the flowers and the chopped leaves in omelets and the dried flowers to decorate an allium themed summer hat.

      We two Ellens are appreciative eaters and we're especially fond of cooking what we grow. We wouldn't dream of having a garden without a healthy complement of culinary herbs. But these tasty plants aren't merely edible...some of them are downright gorgeous.

      Creeping Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, prostrate group) in California. No originality here, I love rosemary on lamb.

      If you agree, and if you'd like to show us your most photogenic herbs, here's how you can enter. Post your best image to your own blog, website, or web gallery. Then, in the comment section for this post, post a link to your entry. If you're posting your image to a blog, please reference our contest with a link.

      Our talented and entirely impartial judge is Joe De Sciose. Joe is an award-winning photographer whose photographs have appeared in numerous Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith magazines and books, as well as in print media for the New York Botanical Garden and The Brooklyn Botanic Garden. From 2003 to 2008, Joe was a Senior Staff Photographer at Southern Living Magazine. He was the sole photographer for Garden Guide: New York City (The Little Bookroom, 2002) and The Flower Gardener’s Bible (Storey Books, 2003), which was awarded a Garden Globe Award in 2004 by the Garden Writers Association for Best Photography for a Garden Book.

      Nasturtium, a spicy member of the watercress family, in a half barrel with geraniums. I use nasturtium flowers and leaves for a tasty garnish on anything from cold soups to desserts.

      THE RULES:

      1) You may enter up to three photographs.
      2) Include the names for the herb(s) in your image; extra credit if you give both the botanical and common names.
      3) Write a brief caption (1 or 2 sentences) telling us your favorite way to use the herb in cooking.
      4) Points given for light, composition, and originality. We're not looking for closeups; we want to see the herb(s) in a garden setting.
      5) Remember, gardens can be indoors OR outdoors! This is NYC after all, and we don't all have outdoor gardens of our own.
      6) We're not limiting this contest to New York City gardens because we have so many readers from away, but extra points will be given to photos showing herbs in an urban setting.
      7) The contest ends at midnight on August 5, 2009.

      Indoor herb garden on my livingroom window sill: from left back row, oregano, basil, variegated sage, front row from left, tiny bush basil, and cilantro.

      We'll announce the winner in our Byte Now Column on August 12, 2009. And the lucky winner will receive a goody bag of prizes including: 'The New Book of Salvias' by Betsy Clebsch, a pair of garden gloves (women's size, sorry guys), and bypass pruners by OXO.

      ESP's images and captions (throughout this post) should give you a good idea of how to start!

      Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) at the Queens Botanical Garden, herb section. Use leaves, seeds, flowers or stems in corn bread stuffing.

      Calendula (Calendula officinalis) borders vegetable beds in George Washington's garden on a misty morning at Mt. Vernon. I use petals of calendula to garnish salads, and to color and flavor white rice.

      We plan to make this a regular feature at Garden Bytes. Hint: you might want to start photographing your photogenic pets in the garden. Meow.

      Excuse me, could I please borrow your water tower?

      In college I majored in 19th century comparative history and literature of England and France. (Practical, you say? Just wait.) It was then I first heard the phrase "borrowed scenery", a concept vaguely relevant to grand estate gardens as described by George Eliot, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc. Turns out the idea of borrowed scenery is originally Japanese, but it's just as significant in a 21st century NYC garden as it was 1000 years ago in Kyoto, or 200 years ago in the English countryside.

      People usually think of borrowed scenery as pastoral and sweeping, incorporating a distant mountain, a classic ruin, or the Potomac River (below) into the view from your garden.

      In NYC, borrowed scenery takes on a whole new meaning.

      See, I have a thing for water towers. When I first moved to NYC (many MANY years ago) I used to go up to the roof of my building at night and lie there, looking at all the water towers. They are a New York City icon, yet most of us take them for granted.

      Now that I spend most of my days on rooftops, I have plenty of opportunity to admire the various shapes and sizes of surrounding water towers, and I find they sneak up on you. At first glance you don't see any, then you spot one, then another, until you realize there were 6 or 7 in your field of vision all along. I've found 12 in this one photo, can you? (Click on the image to enlarge.)

      It's not just the water towers themselves (gray, aged wood, simple, sturdy, functional, sculptural, tall & slim, squat & fat, adding their own special geometry to the NY skyline) but how they combine with the rooftop gardens that surround them. It's the same quality that fascinates me on The High Line: industrial and urban architecture juxtaposed with living, moving, growing plants.

      Of course a rooftop garden in NYC is mighty fine to begin with, but why not follow in the steps of Capability Brown & Tachibana Toshitsuna and borrow a little scenery to make it even better! Just as you might place a shrub or put up a fence to hide an ugly pipe or HVAC unit, so can you position a tree or erect a pergola to direct the gaze toward that wooden bastion of the NYC skyline: the water tower.

      Wednesday, July 8, 2009


      A few decorative edibles from my garden decorating a rich chocolate cake: day lily buds, borage flowers, lavender, roses, bachelor buttons, mint, variegated pineapple mint, and bronze fennel.

      When we say that flowers are edible, that doesn't mean they're all equally tasty. Beautifully perfumed roses taste better than roses with little scent; sweet smelling lavenders taste better than those with a camphorous aroma. And even then, its the petals or buds that are tasty, not the stem, the recptical, or the calyx. People who have allergies shouldn't eat the stamens and the pollen parts.

      I'm particularly annoyed by pretentious chefs who decorate a plate with small orchids or other flowers straight from a tradtional florist. The grower has sprayed them within an inch of their lives.
      When they come from your own garden, that of a friend, or a trusted organic source, you have full control over what you put on your table.

      More flowers & herbs, home-grown, organic, and rinsed before using.

      New potatoes, yogurt, salt, pepper garnished with chopped chives, lavender buds, borage flowers, calendula, and perilla (shiso)

      Sponge roll with lemon sauce garnished with nasturtium flowers' Peaches and Cream' and lemon verbena leaves.
      Chocolate cake, chocolate icing, garnished with nasturtium flowers and leaves, day lily flowers, pansies, calendula, roses and borage flowers from my summer garden.
      (image © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design)
      Two sizes of coconut cakes stacked, garnished with lemon scented geranium, lavender, pansies, roses and hyssop from my fall garden. (image © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design)

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