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

      Wednesday, December 29, 2010

      yes, yes, it's a lot of snow

      But really people, it's December, it's the northeast, it's not like it's a TOTAL surprise!

      I walked through the Park to get to work today. Outdoor gardens may be sleeping but indoor plants still need care.

      I saw kids sliding down hills, pedi-cabs slipping and sliding, and pedestrians refusing to relinquish the road. Some sidewalks weren't shoveled and many were treacherous; I, too, stuck to the streets. Still, I know Manhattan is lucky compared to our sister boroughs.

      I'm pretty sure there's a motorcycle under there.

      Eight months out of the year I curse the expense of the parking garage. Not today.

      I'd like to say this is a mouse or a vole, but let's face it, it's probably a young rat. A hungry young rat whose food is covered with snow.

      Pretty picture to take your mind off the rat.

      Here's wishing everyone speedy melting, easy digging out from under, and Happy New Year!

      Monday, December 20, 2010


      My first boyfriend, age 10, went with me to empty lots to help me cut 'free' flowers to bring home. I loved him.
      Last week when the SunflowerGuy.com offered me a free bouquet of my choice in exchange for a review, I jumped. I've grown about 20 varieties of sunflowers from seed; used them for seed snacks, for drying, for cut arrangements and in the garden. Can you tell I love them?

      SunflowerGuy says that through their parent company Dos Gringos, they are the largest grower of ornamental sunflowers in the world; I'm the smallest, so it's a match.
      The overnight flower delivery from SunflowerGuy came on the date requested, in an ingenious shipping box that included a simple, tasteful container and the stems wrapped in rubber bands to keep the bouquet intact. See above.I followed all of the instructions for removing and discarding the wet flower foam that kept flowers healthy during shipping, cutting the bottom of the stems, adding the cut flower food. I smiled even without the instructions at the cleverness of the packaging and the cheery sunflowers within. Then I spied the red-painted seeded eucalyptus. The online catalog had said nothing about painted flowers. ugh! It was probably because the red pepperberry was still green and some designer thought the red element was necessary. Not for me.
      One Makes Four
      While many people, if not most, love an arrangement that is complete, fun for me is doing my own. In fact most florist designed arrangements have enough flowers & foliage for 4-6 arrangements, so I always divide them up and scatter them around the apartment, even the bathroom.
      Having fresh flowers wherever I turn is a wondrous thing. When you scroll to the bottom of the post you'll see how I handled the dreaded painted eucalyptus.The five sunflowers went in a collection of glass vases made from recycled soda bottles, one or two stems to a vase. How easy is that? The good looking container that came with the arrangement will not languish but will become part of my varied collection of useful vases.The St. John's wart and a tiny bit of pepper berry went in two small bud vases on a bathroom shelf.These three stems lean gracefully in a contemporary vase in the living room. They look like they'll last well beyond the guaranteed 8 days.In the tree wells in front on my building (this one where the dead tree was chopped down) I lay fresh greens, with additional prunings from the roof garden, including some stems of aronia berries, dried sorghum seed heads and the red painted eucalyptus that even I have to admit doesn't look half bad there. I hope The Sunflowerguy approves.
      As I write this post I'm on my seventh day and all flowers are still in excellent condition. If you need an overnight flower delivery, especially for sunflowers I think you'll be well satisfied.

      Wednesday, December 15, 2010

      Baby, it's cold outside.

      Yeah, yeah, it's cold. Everytime someone complains to me about the weather I remind them that I'm the one who works outdoors. That's a conversation stopper. Because I do this for a living, I know how to bundle up. Layers galore. And this year I have a secret weapon: a truffle.

      "What's that?" you ask. It's short for butt ruffle and it keeps one particular part of the body nice and toasty.

      Bending over, mulching someone's back yard garden, rear end pointed up in the air, unprotected by your jacket? Wear a truffle.

      Reaching above your head, attaching evergreen garlands to doorways and railings, creating an exposure gap between jackets and pants? You need a truffle.

      Maybe just walking around NYC where the wind has no mercy? A truffle is good for what ails you.

      Knitting is a popular sport these days, but it isn't one of mine. Fortunately, friend Sara (creator of the truffle and fellow gardener) knows me well enough to choose the perfect wool for yours truly: green, brown, and no itchy wool!

      Half shawl, half wrap-around skirt, the truffle is a gardener's dream. I expect to wear it daily between now and next April.

      There are still 10 days till Christmas. Get out your knitting needles and make your favorite gardener happy. Keep her butt warm!

      Thursday, December 9, 2010


      In spring my view looks like this. Fall 2010 it looked like this, with a firethorn in berry, and small trees and vines sporting their autumn colors.It's my borrowed scenery, the view from my office, living room and bedroom windows. I love to see how the across-the-street gardeners are progressing. I know not their names, but their smoking and coffee drinking habits as they emerge onto their terraces in early morning.
      An avid reader of Garden Bytes, BBP, alerted me. Although I was well aware when the scaffolding went up, when the cranes and ladders arrived on the 18th floor terraces across the street, I didn't connect all that to losing my borrowed scenery. But as BBP pointed out, all the plants were gone.I go away for one day and all the plants and containers on the 16th floor are missing; the crew is now working to clear the terrace on #17.Down, down, down in a cart on a flimsy pulley ......... to the dumpster below. So you fans of dumpster diving, who knows what garden treasures you'll find if you can just wiggle under the tarp that covers the dumpster at night. (double click on image above to see some of the treasures you're missing)SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE GARDEN PROBLEMS?
      Today four men in hoodies are ripping out decking and repairing leaks on the terrace, then will re-surface. Come spring will I have new borrowed scenery to enjoy? Is the co-op owner responsible for totally redoing the garden on the terrace?

      Sunday, December 5, 2010


      What does this look like to you?

      I call it a win-win-win situation!

      For those of you who are wondering why I'm so excited about a pile of dirty tubers, I refer you to an earlier post in which I waxed rhapsodic about Apios americana (aka hopniss). I promised I'd write about the harvest when the time was right, and that time is now.

      So why is harvesting the tubers a win-win-win situation?

      1) The plant/client wins because harvesting a percentage of the tubers makes room for vigorous new growth next year. (Remember, this plant is a fast grower and its tubers can fill a container in no time.)

      2) I win because I get to eat them.

      3) You win, because I've got extras and I want to give them away!

      The vines grew like crazy this summer, so I wasn't surprised to find the container (48" x 12" x 18") chock full of tubers when I did my clean up last week. Hopniss tubers grow in underground chains, radiating out from the bottom of the plant. Harvesting approximately 30% of the tubers in fall leaves plenty to support next year's plant growth and at the same time provides you with some excellent and unusual eating.

      Apios americana is a favorite wild edible among foragers, but it's only recently crossed over into the ornamental market. In the wild it can be hard to dig, since it often favors rocky soils and river banks. In a cultivated garden, Apios fairly explodes with gratitude, climbing 20-30 feet in a single season and producing a bumper crop of deliciousness.

      The tubers look a little more appetizing after a good bath, don't you think? I'll peel the larger ones, but most of the year-old hopniss can be eaten with the skins on. This year they're destined for goose fat, S&P and that's it. The taste of hopniss is so superb, like a nutty potato, I don't mask it with sauces or heavy spicing. Goose fat compliments their fluffy texture wonderfully.

      But enough about me...what about you? Well, some of the tubers I harvested are too small to eat, but plenty big enough to plant.

      Bury each tuber three times as deep as it is tall and you're in business. (If you can keep the squirrels away, that is.) If anyone's interested, please let me know and I'll make arrangements to get you a few. First come, first serve. And don't worry, you don't HAVE to eat them. Feel free to just revel in their heady scent come next August.

      Friday, November 26, 2010


      There's no trick to buying a great gift if you have a hefty budget: a meaningful, practical and original book like "Edible Landscaping" by Rosalind Creasy; the perfect tool for your favorite gardener, like Fiskars long handle tree pruner; one of the composters from Gardener's Supply Co. But let's think long and hard about a great garden gift that costs nothing but ingenuity.

      A favorite gift on the receiving end came some years ago when Ben & I first moved to our farm. Our family had decided that for our holiday gifts that year, it would have to be something you made, had in your possession already, or an IOU for a future service. I was about to start my new garden. Son Mike & daughter-in-law Em gave me a treasure map with clues. The whole party accompanied me to track down the gift secreted in the bottom of the barn: 5 big bags of well rotted horse manure.

      If you have no horse manure some other ideas.
      1.Do you have any compost you can share with a New Yorker who has treasured houseplants? Wrap and label it prettily, give it your brand name/logo, and you've given a treasure.
      2. Take a cutting from a favorite houseplant, root it, plant it in one of those many extra pots you have, washed to be impeccably clean. Add a plant name, a little story about the plant, care instructions, and voila!3. Make a holiday wreath from greens that you prune from the garden. Add some natural decorations like cones, pods or bark, natural or sprayed gold or copper. Give in early December so your recipient can enjoy it for a long time.
      4. A nicely printed gift certificate for several hours of weeding/and or pruning to a person who hates those chores. Or if you live close by, a visit or two of plant or garden care while the giftee goes on vacation.5. A favorite gift to give was a session of garden coaching, presented to a young couple, non-gardeners who had just moved into their first home. I gave them a gift certificate listing my services: two hours of on-site garden design, plant suggestions and gardening instruction.
      6.What's your best idea for a no-cost garden gift? Betsy, are you reading? I hope you've been saving those tasty dried petals for me from your apothecary rose. I need them for a dessert I want to try.

      Saturday, November 20, 2010

      Encore! Encore!

      Umm, Ellen, something's wrong with our azaleas.

      Most people think of azaleas as spring bloomers, and traditional azaleas certainly are. So when my client saw the azaleas in bloom in her garden in November (!!!), naturally she thought something was wrong. What she didn't know was that I'd planted Encore Azaleas: the exception to the spring-blooming rule.

      Originally advertised as hardy to zone 7, Encore Azaleas weren't considered suitable for most parts of the greater NYC area. But three years ago, at a Garden Writers' symposium, I was offered a few free plants to try and asked to give feedback on their performance. Even though they weren't guaranteed to thrive in zone 6 I figured it was worth a try, and hey, they were free!

      The first year I got no autumn bloom, and the second I saw only a few fall flowers. But this year...the encore burst forth! General wisdom for this part of the country says perennials take three years to really get established; perhaps the same can be said for flowering shrubs. In containers and in the ground, the Encore Azaleas have hit their stride.

      There are 24 different varieties of Encore Azaleas, but only 10 are rated hardy for zone 6. Still, there's a wide selection of colors to choose from. They're not demanding plants. Mine (well, my client's) get very little coddling: irrigation and perhaps one feeding per growing season. The plant by the sidewalk is subject to all kinds of abuse: both human and canine.

      I often hesitate to extol the virtues of a plant that's been given to me by a grower, lest someone think I have been bribed or unduly influenced. But I'm truly impressed by the performance of the Encore Azaleas and recommend them without hesitation. I'd even pay money for them.

      This azalea is not in jail. It's thriving in a sidewalk container garden on East 61st Street, despite being subject to all sorts of canine depredations.

      Sunday, November 14, 2010


      Rosa 'Crown Princess Margareta' in my container garden, a David Austin climbing rose in her first year.

      On my roof garden, I demand roses that need no spraying, that can tolerate neglect, and will winter-over with no wrapping or other extraordinary measures. I want roses that match my romantic ideal, many-petaled and fragrant. The David Austin's English roses that I've tried meet these criteria.

      I want the same characteristics in cut roses, so when I volunteered to help with the centerpieces at the District Rose Convention of the American Rose Society I approached David Austin Rose LTD. for 36 of their finest peach and cream cut roses. Instead they sent me 48 and told me to keep the extras. They were gorgeous and fragrant. What's a girl to do?'Patience' in cream, 'Juliet' in pale peach.
      They were shipped overnight from the grower in California, packed to perfection in cellophane, newspaper, frozen packets of coolant and moist foam around the cut stems. The roses were timed to arrive in the open bud stage two days before the event, needing to be recut underwater and to stand in deep tepid water to rehydrate .

      Confession #1

      Rather than use my regular bucket for this conditioning, I felt I deserved a treat, so stood them in my livingroom in vases, until we made the actual centerpieces.I knew I'd need short stems in the centerpieces so I cut some to condition and kept them in my office to admire.Two that I had broken by accident, I plunked individually in tiny copper pots, and used three other stems in glass candle holders. I had fragrant roses all over my home, albeit most on borrowed time. The impromptu greens are snippets from a large house plant.Diane Grinnell and I made the centerpieces in the corner of the banquet room, away from prying eyes. When completed, the table centerpieces were greatly admired by the enthusiastic members of the Rose Society. Members couldn't believe how different the roses looked from the typical cheap grocery store roses.Confession #2
      The Japanese maple foliage was 'pruned' from the tree on my roof. Regular readers know that I save my pruning tasks for when I need branches for some design project. Other elements:real pumpkin cleaned of seeds and pulp, a piece of moist floral foam stuffed in a baggie holding a little extra water, a few more stems purchased that day at the Greenmarket at Union Sq. All stems cut short and stuff in the foam.
      Confession #3
      Regular readers also know that I hang flowers to dry deep in the basement of my building, behind a locked door with a sign that says no admittance, staff only. There it's hot and dark, and roses will dry in three days.
      I also dry flowers by burying them in silica gel, a sandy desiccant that holds the shape of the dried rose. Back at home, this is what I did with a few of the roses I could keep for myself; there's still a tiny whiff of fragrance.Readers with deep pockets who want fabulous roses for a special occasion (or because they deserve it), contact David Austin Limited online or by phone at 800-328-8893, or check the back of the DA catalog, USA 2010 edition. If fragrance is important, make sure your selection mentions fragrance.
      Below, risking life and limb for her blog partner, Ellen Z. climbs to hang a bunch of David Austin cut roses from the ceiling sprinkler of our hotel room at the Garden Writer's Symposium in Dallas. I hoped they'd have time to dry fully before they had to be stowed in my bag for the plane. Alas, despite the warmth at ceiling height, they were fit only for potpourri by the time they arrived home in The Big Apple.

      Wednesday, November 10, 2010

      Contest: Now it's your turn.

      We spend a lot of time here at GardenBytes telling you about our favorite parks and gardens in and around NYC...now it's your turn.

      It's another contest, but this one's a little different: no photos...only words! We want to hear about your favorite gardens & parks in New York City...in 75 words or less. (We didn't say it was going to be easy.) All suggestions must be in the 5 boros and accessible by public transportation; you get extra points for little known spots. Or little known spots within well known spots, e.g. that corner of the Ramble where the masses of dogtooth violets grow. Tell us why it's special and why you love it; we want to share.

      And now for the moment you've all been waiting for: the prize! It's a $25 gift card to Macy's. (I know, right?) This is thanks to Lauren @ Everywhere Media in Atlanta, GA. Apparently you don't have to be from NYC to appreciate NYC.

      The judges for this contest are yours truly (the two Ellens) and the deadline is Saturday, 11/27. Please post your entries in our comments section. We'll announce the winner about a week later.

      We can't wait to see where you take us!

      Saturday, November 6, 2010

      Have you ever been to...

      Do you even know where it is?

      If you're from around here you can probably guess it's in Inwood, at the very tip of Manhattan. There are several entrances conveniently located near several subway stops, but if you get off at the 215 St. stop (1 train) you can have a tasty lunch at the nearby Indian Road Cafe. The pulled pork sandwich was delicious and a bottle of pear cider put me over the top. Clear, crisp, cold...cliched? Who cares; it was the perfect beverage for a chilly, sunny fall day.

      One of the things I love most about NYC is how many different parts there are that make up the whole. Does this look like Manhattan?

      The correct answer is no, except, of course, that it's also yes.

      Inwood Hill Park includes playing fields, wooded trails,

      scenic overlooks,

      tidal flats,

      and even a Nature Center with clean bathrooms! Seriously people, what more could you want? Oh, and a stone marker commemorating the spot where Peter Minuit made the infamous deal with the Lenape Indians. I'm not sure that's something to celebrate, but I guess it's history.

      New York City parks provide that priceless juxtaposition of industrial with natural that never ceases to delight me.

      My spider sense tells me there are still a few weeks of beautiful foliage ahead of us in NYC, unless the weather changes drastically. So get yourself outside, maybe to someplace you've been meaning to visit in all the XX years you've lived here but darn it you just never seem to find the time.

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