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


      Sunday, September 27, 2009

      ROSES & CHOCOLATE LEAVES FROM A CITY GARDEN

      Where have all the flowers gone? On a birthday cake, most everyone.
      In New York City roses will be blooming for another month or more. Take advantage.

      Take any dessert, homemade or from a bakery, and add fabulous touches like chocolate rose leaves and edible flowers and herbs. Growing roses organically in my all-container roof-top garden, I have materials at my fingertips from May to November.
      Visitors Annabelle & Lucy decorated this cake for Annabelle's 8th birthday. We made the cake and icing together. I picked the materials with them to make sure we chose only edibles. The girls made the chocolate leaves and placed them and all the flowers on the cake.
      In addition to the chocolate leaves we used roses and rose petals, calendula petals, pansies, small marigolds, borage flowers, lavender, rose geranium leaves, and mint leaves.
      What You Need
      4 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate
      15 leaves from a rose bush or other non-poisonous shrub. The leaves should be dark green, leathery, mature leaves not the lighter green new leaves.
      Look for medium sized leaves with nice thick veins. Keep a little stem on the each leaf. This will be your handle.
      butter knife
      Wax paper and paper towels
      Tray
      Dinner knife

      What You DoRinse the leaves quickly and pat them totally dry with a paper towel.
      Unwrap the chocolate break or chop into pieces and melt it in a microwaveable bowl on high for one minute. Stir and if not fully melted return for 30 seconds more. Let the chocolate cool off for one minute. Never get water drops anywhere near melting chocolate.
      Put a piece of wax paper on the bottom of the tray.
      Turn the leaves bottom side up, so the veins of the leaves stand out more. Hold the leaf at the stem end.
      Dip butter knife in the melted chocolate and cover the bottom side only with chocolate. Don’t cover the sides or the stem at all. When you finish coating each leaf put it on the tray, chocolate side up and let it chill in the refrigerator for an hour or more.When the chocolate is firm, turn over a leaf, grab the stem and peel the green leaf back back. Use a clean knife in the other hand to steady the leaf as you're peeling.
      IMPORTANT TIPS: Make the coat of chocolate about 1/8 of an inch thick or more. If it’s too thin the chocolate will crack when you try to peel off the leaf. Handle the chocolate leaf with a knife as you place it on the cake. Heat from fingers will quickly melt the chocolate. Place on the cake, good side up, the impression of the veins showing.The proud birthday girl with "the most beautiful cake I ever saw".

      Tuesday, September 22, 2009

      Don't panic...it's normal!

      I write this as a community service. For all you garden owners who are panicking about the brown interior leaves on your arborvitae (Thuja plicata) and for all you gardeners, whose clients are panicking about the brown interior leaves on your arborvitae: "Don't panic, it's normal!"

      Just because a tree is evergreen doesn't mean all its leaves will stay green for ever. Arborvitae can lose almost 1/3 of their interior leaves every year, usually in fall. The official name for this dread condition: needle drop!

      There, don't you feel better now that you know what it's called? (I know I do.) And what I really hope is that now you know it's a normal part of the growth process for this tree (as long as it's the interior needles, not the growing tips!), you won't
      1) call me at all hours of the day or night, asking me to come over and look at your trees RIGHT AWAY!!!
      2) send me multiple emails swearing your trees are dying
      3) rip down the morning glories I planted at the base of your arborvitae which have finally climbed all the way up and now look really cool, because you think the tiny annual vine is choking your 15 foot tall evergreen tree. Because it isn't.


      Think of this as the molting season for arborvitae. It'll all be over in a few weeks, so pour yourself a drink and give your gardener a break. Believe me, she cares about those trees as much as you do and if there's something wrong, she promises to let you know.

      (me, the dedicated gardener, inspecting trees in inclement weather wearing a sporty garbage bag rain coat and tenegui bandana)

      Tuesday, September 15, 2009

      TREEWELL JUDGING

      People outside of New York don't know what I'm talking about when I tout plans for my 'treepits' or 'treewells', that critical part of the city landscape that the street tree calls home. Sometimes it's the only garden that you have, even if it's only 3' X 4'. The trees struggle to survive amidst the concrete, the bricks and the dog pee. There is shade under the trees, compacted soil, a constant supply of cigarette butts.
      Many designers think the way to go is impatiens, one color or mixed, and it's true they brighten the scene. But a little imagination please!
      OK, the angel wing begonias are not unusual but the shape of the leaf and the lushness of the planting makes these more than banal.
      The edging of liriope with its little pink flowers is perennial here, so provides a nice border for the wax begoinas.
      More begonias, and horrible red shredded bark mulch. Other Ellen likes this style treewell because they've built a little raised planter so as to not interfere with the tree roots. I hate the jagged metal edges atop the stone. A tush preventative is so unfriendly!


      Pleasant, with
      different color coleus.
      The bark of the syca-
      more tree the and the
      texture of the picket
      surrounds caught my
      eye. How kind of the
      driver of the red car
      to chose a spot where
      it enhances the
      color of the plantings

      Below, one of my own
      four treewells that I
      change seasonally. I use
      bare hands to dig in the
      loose soil so I can feel
      the tree roots and leave
      them undisturbed.
      I strive for a garden look
      with several species and varieties and try to never repeat myself. Here the Non-Stop tuberous begonias that started the season on an equal footing with the caladium, became overpowered by late summer and are hiding under the large leaves of the 'White Queen'. Double click on image to see all.
      Critical note for caladium, wait until the soil warms up in spring before planting ( in NYC mid to late May) as they won't tolerate cold soil. I know my treewells got pedestrian approval because six plants were lifted within weeks of my putting them in. I picture the colorful leaves enjoying some other yard. The thief is forgiven if he cares for them properly and doesn't give them too much sun.
      Thanks to Brent & Beck's Bulbs who sent me some of the caladium bulbs to try.

      Above, another lovely mix. The ivy stays perennially and the annuals change with the seasons in a Westside treewell.

      To the right, my favorite
      planting of this summer.
      Lots of personality.
      No cliches here.
      But I'm not so enamored
      of the grid of fishing line
      strung across the
      surround. Is this to keep
      pigeons and dogs out or
      to make it harder to
      steal the plants with one
      tug? Other Ellen, what's
      the big guy?

      Tell me (show me) your fav?

      Sunday, September 13, 2009

      You say tomato, I say tomaccio!

      It has not been a good year for tomatoes in this part of the country.

      Even my container-grown plants in PA, unaffected by late blight, petered out in the cool and the damp. Our CSA, usually a reliable source of tomato bounty, notified its members at the end of July that they had removed and destroyed their entire crop, per advice of the local Coop Extension agent. So while the wet weather produced a bumper crop of edible mushrooms (for which I am extremely grateful), I'm left feeling like it wasn't really summer.

      How can it be summer without tomatoes? No ratatouille, no caprese salads, no cherry tomatoes popped into the mouth like candy on the way home from the farmers' market. And when you do find a few at a farm stand, they're not the warm, ripe-to-bursting kind of tomato you expect to find in September. Instead, they're less than fully red, picked a little too soon in hopes of avoiding blight or to satisfy the demand of a clientele that can't accept a summer sans tomatoes.

      And yet...high above the streets of New York City are a few healthy tomato plants, added to a client's garden at the last minute because he wanted to try something edible this year. Tomato plants sent gratis to this grateful garden writer in hopes that I might tout the new variety, due to arrive on the U.S. market next year. Tomato plants that gave me the only truly sun-ripened fruit I've had all summer. Thank you, Tomaccio!

      Tomaccio is a cherry tomato, bred in Israel to be the sweetest of all cherry tomatoes. (Not having done a side-by-side-by-side comparison, I cannot comment on this claim.) It has also been bred for drying, and its sweetness is supposed to be intensified when dry. The skin is thicker than the skin of your average cherry tomato, which bugged me a little (just a little!) when I ate them fresh. Almost immediately I forgot that petty criticism, so grateful was I for the taste of fresh, ripe tomato.

      In fact, it's the thick skin that's supposed to allow Tomaccio to dry on the vine, turning into sort of a tomato raisin. Normal, thin-skinned tomatoes will rot on the vine if left too long.

      My clients were away for the month of August, peak harvest season for Tomaccio. I nibbled on a few, and decided to leave the rest to vine-dry, putting Tomaccio to the test. The day before my clients' return I went to do a final garden clean-up and I was stunned to find every tomato gone! Had the painters eaten them for lunch? Had beefy New York pigeons flown away clutching the fruit in their talons? No, Maria, the conscientious housekeeper had picked them all, thinking they were going bad. Fortunately she saved them to show me, and I brought them home to dry in the oven. Tomaccio's press release says to dry them for 3 hours at 100 degrees F. I put my gas oven on Low, and in 4 hours had mini "sun"-dried tomatoes. Once dry, the skin is no longer noticeably thick, and the taste is sweet and tomato-y.

      In the meantime, more Tomaccio continues to redden on the vine, and I look forward to a few sun-ripened nibbles as I garden through the fall.

      Wednesday, September 9, 2009

      DOWN THE GARDEN PATH

      Lavender path in Bath, England

      In winter ’09 I was a judge in the Garden Writers Association competition for best garden book of the year. The judges assessed dozens of books; the grand prize will be announced in three weeks.

      I just finished reading my favorite garden book of the decade, maybe even of all time. It was written in 1932 so doesn’t qualify for this year's Garden Writer's award. The book is “Down the Garden Path” by Beverley Nichols.

      I suppose every American and British gardener has enjoyed this book for years, but I came to it only last week, ultimately seduced by the exalted praise in the Timber Press catalog. I know never to believe a person trying to sell me something, and yet when I was desperate for a summer read, my library came up with an old edition, one of 32 editions that have been in print since first publication. No colored pictures, no “how-to’s”, just delicious adventures in gardening.
      Dyffrn Garden, Wales

      Nichols is not an expert, but a reporter/playwright/novelist who is in the full flush of garden discovery. He is peevish, his humor acerbic, his prejudices on full display. He’s a misogynist, and yet I can ignore this trait that would enrage me in a contemporary writer. "Down the Garden Path" is a book by a writer with a man-servant and a gardener, so it relates to another time and class, yet the author's discoveries are eternal.
      His chapter on gardening in London speaks to the problems and joys of all Big City gardeners.
      Treat yourself.
      Magnolia in home garden below street level , Bath England

      Friday, September 4, 2009

      It's not about the plants.

      My father is not a gardener. (My mother is a very good one.) He's not the slightest bit interested in plants, gardens, or parks. But he loves everything about New York City, so I thought we might hazard a visit to The High Line.

      Dad can't walk as fast or as far as he used to. But he has a deep and abiding love for NYC dating from his time at NYU Law School. When I told him that The High Line was the newest "must-see", he was game. I mapped out an abbreviated tour, taking advantage of the 16th Street elevators, and planning a mere 4 block walk.

      As soon as we got up there, Dad wanted more. It had nothing to do with the plants...he loved the view of the city, the unique perspective on the skyline and street life that The High Line delivers. The open views of the Hudson River, the unobstructed panorama including cutting edge architecture and neighborhood details.

      And for a committed people-watcher, The High Line is a gift. We stopped to talk to park rangers, watched a dance team practice a new routine, and admired gardeners weeding and watering. Dad had questions for them all.

      So even if you're not a gardener or a nature person, get yourself down to The High Line. For anyone who loves the city, it's an important place, with a new perspective. It's not just about the plants.

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