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

      Wednesday, June 23, 2010


      (double click on any image to enlarge)
      If you answered Queens NYC, you would be correct. Right off the Belt Parkway, four miles from JFK Airport, enter the other world of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. We walked an easy 2 mile trail, stayed on the gravel path as was demanded, managed to see Osprey chicks on their nesting platform, and a turtle energetically covering a clutch of eggs she had deposited in the middle of a dirt road. The orange flag warned Park staff not to drive vehicles over the area. Native species of reptiles and amphibians have been introduced and there is an active terrapin nesting area set aside.Because there are not a
      lot of trees on site there
      is an nesting box pro-
      gram. I saw boxes for
      bats,Tree Swallows,
      House Wrens, Kestrals,
      and this big one for
      Barn Owls. I was imagin-
      ing an owl peeking out
      but of course, no such

      The site is a paradise for
      local birders (325
      species have been
      recorded); shore birds
      like egrets, ibis, and
      herons as well as song
      birds find shelter here.

      I was mostly having fun
      with the wild flowers.
      Although I expected Rosa rugosa, seen in both flower and fruit stages in late June, butterfly weed, honeysuckle, milkweed,this is a managed park. Yuccas spike the landscape; many are newly planted. Buddlia and coreopsis attract butterflies. Another unexpected plant was the prickly Pear Cactus. I don't normally think of it as a New York City wildflower. I learned it grows wild from MA to FL and north to MN, but I never imagined cactus juxtaposed with JFK.
      To learn more, get directions, and a schedule of guided walks and nature programs visit: the National Parks site. Take your Deep Woods Off when you visit.

      Friday, June 18, 2010

      NYC street trees...it's a jungle out there

      What is this man doing and why?

      He mumbled something about making the metal tree well cover fit, doing his job, blah blah blah. Did he know he was killing the tree? My guess is no. And if he had, what difference would it have made? Would he have said to his boss, no, I'm sorry, I can't do what you ask because it will kill the tree? Again, my guess is no.

      Further up 3rd Avenue I passed a street tree with a branch hanging by a strip of bark (a poorly driven truck? a rambunctious teen?). A traffic cop stood on the other side of the tree writing a ticket. I pointed out the damaged tree and explained it could get worse if the branch were allowed to pull off the tree, ripping the bark further. I identified myself as an arborist (a well-intentioned lie) who just happened to have a pruning saw in my bag. I offered to remove the branch to prevent more damage and fully expected to be met with a refusal. To my surprise and pleasure, the cop said, sure, go ahead. And I did.

      According to the NYC Parks Department, both the man with the axe and I are guilty of wrong doing. I don't know if it's a misdemeanor or a ticketable offense. I do know that I was helping, maybe even saving that tree, but in the eyes of the law, I shouldn't have done it. In the eyes of Mother Nature, however...

      In the fall, I plan to become a Citizen Pruner, so I won't have to worry about being punished for a good deed. Our street trees need all the help they can get.

      Sunday, June 13, 2010


      I first saw this building from The High Line, the elevated garden in the Meat-Packing district of Manhattan, and felt an immediate attraction. Turns out it houses the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, on land donated by Clement C. Moore in1819. The acreage was part of the apple orchard on his estate. The oldest building dates from 1836, with other brick and stone structures also from the 19th century. Within the E-shaped Seminary is a park-like setting called the Close, a very secret garden.The buildings encompass a full city block, from 20th to 21st St and from 10th to 9th Aves. and you can peer though the wrought iron fencing to see just a bit. The only entrance to the garden for visitors is on 21st. st near 10th. Though the brochure says visitors are welcome, you must buzz at the gate, and gain admission by leaving some ID with the receptionist, (no charge for admission or brochure). Behind those sturdy brick walls are a library and chapel whichare also worth a visit. GardenBytes suggests you go sit under the old London Plane trees, read, breathe deeply and contemplate life. It's a totally serene spot.
      The Seminary was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. As for flowers an herbs, there are some but they won't be the highlight of your visit.

      Thursday, June 10, 2010

      look out below!

      When most people think about NYC gardens they say, "Ooo, ahh, how lovely to have a spot of green in the middle of the city." Not many stop to wonder about the logistical difficulties of gardening here. It's not just about where to put what plant or what kind of mulch to use. It's how do you get the 15' tree in the 12' elevator and who's going to carry 100 cubic feet of soil through the spotless apartment, over the white carpet?

      Gardening in NYC is extreme gardening, and when it comes to trees, the work can be truly daunting. Unless, that is, you have Urban Arborists on your side.

      When my client called on Saturday, alarmed about a giant branch hanging precariously from his tree over a neighbor's glass roof, I hoped he was exaggerating. He wasn't. A 30 foot branch from an old honey locust had snapped from the tree about 50' from the ground, and was barely balanced on two branches below. The branch's diameter at its largest point was about 10". This was going to do some damage if/when it hit the ground.

      Bill Logan (from Urban Arborists) came to look at the tree on Monday and Tuesday morning his crew was on site first thing, doing their job more competently, quickly, and cleanly than I could have hoped. It's fascinating to watch this well-choreographed team work. One man throws a rope straight up in the air, 60 feet. The gesture is effortless, the rope fairly floats out of his hands. The tree is climbed, the branch is tied and chain-sawed into manageable pieces. Each piece is lowered oh so carefully to the pavement below without scraping the fence or bending a blossom.

      Two hours later and you'd never know anything had been out of place. The branch has been chipped into mulch and we all are safe from traumatic head injury by honey locust. Thanks to Urban Arborists.

      Friday, June 4, 2010


      (double click to enlarge any image)
      Regular readers of this blog know that I garden on the rooftop for my condo building in Manhattan. Last summer this roof was totally resurfaced: all vines and climbers cut down from fences, all containers moved to one end, all pavers stacked up, then everything moved to the other end of the space. There was no garden.
      In January with the re-roofing accomplished, I ordered all new fiberglass containers. By early April, with three men from the building, I had transplanted every plant into the new containers. (The bachelor buttons in the foreground volunteered for the new garden, coming in with some old soil).
      As usual, the rose 'Harison's Yellow' was the first to bloom, though I had to cut it to half it's size for the move.

      I'm not a big fan of ever-
      greens for this garden,
      because almost no one
      uses the space from
      December to March,
      and no one views the
      garden up close from
      behind a window.
      I want plants shouting
      COLOR with flower or
      foliage. Here, an Encore
      azalea though I'm not
      sure it will repeat bloom
      in NYC.

      The second rose to
      bloom was the David
      Austin English rose
      'Graham Thomas', a
      delightful choice with
      absolutely no black
      spot or mildew in this
      site. Note in front of the roses the fern-like foliage of California poppies. I sprinkled the seeds in situ in mid-March, just the way they like. My first poppy blooms were last week. The roses were all early, responding to April heat. As the first flush of blooms departed the poppies popped out.Next came the 'New Dawn' climber with perennial salvia and another sprinkle of poppy foliage in front. Poor 'New Dawn' only half the size of her '09 self.
      I love Hydrangea 'Endless Summer' because it flowers on new wood starting in May and going all summer, and doesn't have a problem with late spring frost. On the left, another variety of mop-head hydrangea 'Nikko Blue' forms buds the previous year, and frequently fails to bloom at all.
      By mid-May the annuals I've planted from seed have yet to bloom, so I buy three trays for immediate color. A new favorite is Calibrachoa, orange flowers, right front.
      By the end of May, the lavender joined the hydrangea in full bloom. This combo is actually a no-no: water loving plant in the same container with one that likes drier soil, but I force my will on them by varying the drip feeds.
      As you can see, I favor floriferous plants.

      Below, the foliage of sumac 'Tiger Eyes' is enhanced by the color of the Calibrachoa.
      Let those in the building who complained in March that the lead gray color of the containers was too dull, eat their words. It's the perfect foil for the plants.Most of the plants I started from seed have yet to bloom; the zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers cerinthe, and hollyhock will be out by the end of June. The basil, dill, and cilantro are still too small to pick. Since I have only limited windowsill space to start seeds indoors, I put some cosmos seeds in the outer row of my tomato container. Yesterday I transplanted the 6" high seedlings, scattering them around the garden.

      Wednesday, June 2, 2010

      Berry Alert!

      If you're in NYC and want to forage for a little something sweet, now's the time. Get yourself out on the streets and into the parks and start looking up...and down.

      Amelanchier berries are coming into season and they're delicious. Why more people don't appreciate their taste is incomprehensible to me. Maybe people just don't know them. (To know the Amelanchier is to love the Amelanchier.) You can't find them in stores and I've never seen Amelanchier on a menu.

      Right now, if you look up as you stroll through the city, you'll see red berries that ripen to a dark blue. Another way to spot an Amelanchier tree is to scan the ground where you walk. When berries drop to the ground they can be messy; a splotchy sidewalk is a clue to look up.

      I don't usually do this (give away my foraging locations), but as a gesture of encouragement, I'm going to tell you where you can find an Amelanchier tree with fruit almost ready to pick. Check out the park drive at CPW & 77th Street. Walk into the park about 100 feet and on the left is an Amelanchier hanging over the sidewalk. If you don't see the tree right away, look for the messy sidewalk. Yesterday the fruit wasn't quite ripe, see how red the berries are in the photo above?

      This morning, 17 floors above the park, Mark and I gathered a quart of ripe berries in a matter of minutes. The intense heat and full sun on the rooftop sped the ripening process.

      Berries are edible when they're red, but sweeter and more delicious when they're dark purple/blue. I included a few unripe berries in the middle of the colander, above, so you could see the color contrast between ripe and merely ripening. You should be able to harvest for the next week or so, depending on location. Berries are a delicious, easy place to start foraging. Come on...give it a try.

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