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

      Thursday, December 31, 2009

      I am not happy.

      The fence construction I mentioned in my last post began yesterday. The workers took great care protecting the inside of the house. They laid down paper in the hallway, moved furniture out of the way, and didn't leave a mark. Apparently their attention to detail ended at the door to the back yard.

      The flags I planted to mark the perennials were bent and stepped on. I spoke with contractor Jim (Blue Line Construction).

      Me: I'm not happy about this. Look where your guys are standing.

      Him: You may have to move this tree (a Cercis canadensis) in the spring. We had to dig pretty close to the root ball. We dug up a lot of roots.

      Me: Wow. I wish you'd told me about this; I would have moved the tree.

      Him: It'll be fine.

      Me: And you know this because...

      Him: I've dug a lot of post holes in a lot of gardens.

      Me: It may be fine or it may not be fine.

      Him: Whether it is or it isn't, it's not in MY contract.

      At that point I went to speak with the facilities manager (who hired the contractor). Of course what Jim said was 100% true. But how much better would it have been if he'd said, "I'm not sure if the tree will make it or not but I was as careful as I could be and I've done a lot of this kind of work and I really hope it will be ok."

      The facts remain the same, but the difference is enormous. Whether the tree comes back or not, his lousy attitude means I'll do my best to make sure he's never hired by any of my clients again.

      Monday, December 21, 2009


      all photos©Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design.

      A firm believer in the value of lazy gardening, I prune conifers only as I need them for decoration or for mulch. As I cut for wreath, garland or mantelpiece, I shape the shrub thereby skipping the step of dragging trimmings on the compost pile. Here I've combined fresh greens with home-made snowmen for a winter theme.
      What You NeedTo make the snow men you'll need tube socks (a pack from a street vendor provide more than enough), uncooked rice (buy the cheapest kind), rubber bands, orange pipe cleaners, small cones, fabric glue or hot glue gun, assorted buttons and narrow ribbons.What You Do
      Pour the rice into the sock, leaving about four inches empty at the top. Close and secure with a rubber band. Turn down the cuff to hide the rubber band, forming a little hat. Tie a piece of ribbon at the neck and another one at the waist.
      Glue a cone at the top of the hat, small buttons for eyes and down the front. Cut a piece of pipe cleaner, poke it into the sock and glue in place.
      To make different size snowmen, cut off part of the top before filling.Start decorating the mantel with greens. To make greens stay fresh much longer, fill some containers with wet floral foam and stick in the stems. Add other large cones, pieces of bark and bare twigs, whatever you can come up with.

      Monday, December 14, 2009

      just when you thought it was over...

      Remember a few weeks ago I posted that all my gardens were neatly put to bed for the winter?

      I foolishly thought my outdoor work was done for the season, but just found out that a client is replacing her fence next week. Which means someone (me) had to cut the woody vines (Hydrangea petiolaris, Schizophragma hydrangeoides) off the fence, transplant six shrubs that might be in the way, and mark any perennials whose crowns would be damaged by heavy work boots trodding upon them. Fortunately the ground wasn't frozen on Monday morning. I feel lucky to have sneaked in under the weather wire.

      The thought of construction workers stamping through the garden makes me nervous. Even though the perennials have been cut back for the winter, their crowns and roots are still vulnerable to soil compaction damage. I'll never forget being reprimanded by Brent Heath (in the nicest way possible) that just because I couldn't see a plant where I was stepping, didn't mean there wasn't something sensitive just beneath the soil surface.

      Admittedly, the fence is in bad shape, not to mention encroaching into our garden by 6-8 inches. I'm sure the construction will be worthwhile from an aesthetic p.o.v., not to mention the extra square footage, but still, I worry.

      Fingers crossed.


      Herein a totally biased judging of my seven favorite roofs. There is but one highly opinionated judge, ESP. Six roofs are listed in no particular order but the winner of the Big Apple Roof Award is last.

      Above, Ann K. shows year after year how you can grow gorgeous roses in containers on an East-facing balcony and back them up with a few small trees, like this coral bark maple.

      Walking The High Line, Manhattan's newest and most fabulous park, allows roof peepers like me to admire this installation by Robert Isabell, the late floral designer.

      Another view from The High Line makes me wonder why none of these rooftop gardeners have invited me over for tea and to admire their gardens.

      I went for the milkshake; I stayed to admire the roof of the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Still don't know if it was planted or just grew. Just part of my work day.

      Central Park and the New York City skyline facing South, as seen from the Metropolitan Museum roof garden. The view often outshines the artwork being displayed on the roof.

      The Philadelphia Water Dept. installed this display of a greenroof at the Philadelphia Flower Show to inspire rooftop plantings that minimize water run-off. They offered lots of handouts to help gardeners do the same. Yes, I know, Philadelphia is not New York but I told you I was the only judge for the Roof Awards, and I'm from Philadelphia and love the Flower Show and what the Water Company did here.

      And the grand winner of the Big Apple Roof Award 2009 is the greenroof at the visitors center at the Queens Botanical Garden. It has a great variety of plants, a small weather station, and a path to lead you through the garden. It's just one of the features that helped this building receive a platinum LEED award for ecological construction.

      Wednesday, December 9, 2009

      not so frosty

      Hey you!

      That's right, you, Begonia! Have you looked at a calendar lately? It's freakin' December, ok?

      And you, Impatiens?

      No one likes a show-off. Just give it a rest.

      Used to be annuals in NYC had quit blooming by Thanksgiving, but over the last few years the frost date keeps getting later. Truth is, we've already had a frost (or two), but with all the micro climates in the City, I'm still coming across clumps of annuals that haven't gotten the seasonal memo. Amazing. But there's no such thing as global warming.

      Now, on a serious note...take a look at these Actaea.

      I planted them five years ago in a brownstone backyard on the Upper East Side. I thought they were Actaea simplex, which usually blooms in September. Every year they produce buds and every year the buds just sit there through October and November, eventually turning brown in the cold. This year I thought about digging them up; in a small garden, plants need to deliver or else.

      However, perhaps because of our lack of frostiness the flowers had enough time to bloom this year. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles. Or perhaps they sensed the imminent threat of compost-ation.

      So here's where I need your help: please tell me, what species of Actaea blooms in December?

      Monday, December 7, 2009


      ©Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design

      I used to enjoy my roof garden. It looked liked this (above), and this (below)and this.Now it looks like this.
      Five bad men came with two jacks on wheels.
      They moved all 80 containers to one edge of the roof.Now this is what I have.On the far left above, the
      coral bark Japanese
      maple that I had care-
      fully positioned in front
      of a north-facing brick
      wall is totally exposed to
      the elements. The drip
      irrigation system has
      been shut down since
      early September. Will
      the maple ever look like
      this again? (right) Will
      my other cut leaf Jap-
      anese maple survive?
      Or the roses, which
      I had to cut down by
      more than 2/3rds? How
      will the hydrangea
      make it depending
      solely on rain?

      The cause of the up-
      heaval was leaks from
      the gutters of the roof
      into apartments below.
      NO, not caused by the
      garden but by shoddy
      materials in the origin-
      al construction ten
      years ago. Wouldn't
      you know that the
      roofing company is no
      longer in business? So
      it's remove the iron
      fence, redo the gut-
      ters, paint the fence,
      repave the roof and
      while we're at it,
      check and repoint
      loose bricks on the
      side of the building,
      using 'my' garden as
      the staging area for

      Some shrubs are
      already dead but I'll
      spare you the
      pictures. Some of the long wooden containers that have lasted for over ten years might disintegrate during their final move back into their rightful positions.
      But gardeners are optimistic and the sight of several roses in bloom the day after Thanksgiving was thrilling. Here's the ever ready, willing, and able 'Knock- out' trying to cheer me up. Just wait 'til next year.

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