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

      Friday, February 25, 2011

      Solitary Celebration

      There are times when you feel like you're the only person in the world. It doesn't happen often in NYC, but last week, on Monday morning, I ventured across the park. I tell my clients that plants take no holidays. Yes, it was Presidents' Day, but what is that to a Ming Aralia?

      So I trudged across the park, through slush, over ice, and tended the orchids and the herbs and the jasmine. Peered out the front window and down into the park.

      Then bundled up two Cattleya orchids that had finished blooming and tucked them inside my coat for the walk back home. The furnace that is my metabolism kept them warm until we reached the east side.

      One last smile, thanks to a Central Park snow sculptor.

      No, not that one...this one:

      Saturday, February 19, 2011


      On Park Avenue New York City, from 67th Street to 57th St. roses are in full bloom since January.So are the bugs...and thorns.Artist Will Ryman constructed his rose garden from stainless steel, fiberglass, marine paint and brass.They'll remain in place through May according to the NYC Parks Dept.
      Just wondering, what will happen to the tulips beneath which are always planted in fall and burst into bloom in May?Did someone plan the colors of the tulips this year to compliment the roses?Thirty eight roses ranging from three to twenty five feet tall.Yet I'm more attracted to the bugs, both beneficial...and maybe not so much.Sixty fallen petals, can be used as chairs, though the day I took these images, temperature 26F, wind chill minus a thousand, not too many wanted to lounge around. I wished I would have shot in the snow. I went to this exhibit merely to report but came away a believer, just as I had scoffed about The Gates in Central Park before I got involved in the fun. For sheer playfulness, The Roses is a winner.

      Tuesday, February 15, 2011

      Tomorrow's Garden

      This is a beautiful book. One look and I was excited to read it. The photographs are lovely and eclectic, the layout is modern and appealing, the binding is sleek and satisfying to hold. But overall, I can't recommend it.

      Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad book. Stephen Orr is a good writer, and as an aesthetic object, the book gets an A+. But it's not the book I expected and if I'd paid hard earned money for it, I'd be taking it back to Barnes & Noble or sending it back to Amazon.

      To be absolutely clear, I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher. I think there's an unwritten understanding among reviewers that if you don't like a book you just don't review it. But is that fair? Fair to the readers, I mean? I think not.

      As I looked at my notes, it dawned on me why I was so disappointed: the book doesn't live up to its PR. The promo sent out by Rodale says that the gardens in this book aren't oversize or over the top; it promises gardening instructions, tips, and demonstrations. The Amazon blurb says the book presents gardens in 14 American cities that are scaled back and simplified.

      What planet do these people live on? Maybe on the planet of Oh-My-God-I-Have-So-Much-Money-I-Blow-My-Nose-With-It, these gardens would be considered scaled back and simple. But it's time for a reality check. Do you own a building in NYC where you can plant a bi-level garden, part intensive green roof and part kitchen garden? Or perhaps you own a manse on Nantucket, gracefully located between the harbor and an obligingly scenic salt marsh. No? Too bad.

      There are a few normal-ish gardens (a backyard in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, some community gardens), but the overall tone of the gardens featured here is ritzy, expensive, and professionally designed. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It just isn't as advertised.

      Which brings me to point # 2: 14 American cities. Yes. Well. Um. Technically I suppose it's true. But 8 of those cities are in two clusters in CA, where the climate doesn't even remotely resemble that of most of the U.S. Can you grow staghorn fern on your back fence? Me neither. But they can in LA and Venice. Maybe even in Ojai. The Bay Area is also well-represented: SanFran, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Napa. If you live there, you may indeed find some inspiration in the photos and plant lists.

      I could go on about the fact that there's no index, the print is surprisingly small (10 pt?), and the captions (admittedly, in a more normal size print) are in pale green ink. But now I just sound petty. And I do have some positive comments. Stephen's writing really is very good. He keeps you interested even through descriptions of things most people will never have in their gardens. (If I ever install a gabion, I'll have to eat my hat.) The photography is top notch, and I got a few tidbits of solid info from the book, mostly relating to gravel. Seriously.

      I did not know (and I am glad to now know) that pea gravel is not a renewable resource. It's strip mined! Also, in one of the very few how-to sections of the book, Stephen gives good instructions on how to lay down gravel. I'm not obsessed with gravel, but I DO like a good how-to.

      Bottom line: the book isn't bad, but don't believe the PR. If you're looking for beautiful images of fancy, designer gardens, this might be an inspiring book for you. But if you're looking for practical information on how to make your own garden more at one with your surroundings and more environmentally friendly, this is probably not your best bet.

      None of this is the author's fault! Which is why I feel bad about not being able to write a more positive review. So here's a suggestion for any publicists reading this: Do right by your authors and offer an accurate description of what the book REALLY is. He/she has worked hard and shouldn't have to suffer through tepid reviews just because a surly reader didn't get what she expected.

      Friday, February 11, 2011


      (Bainbridge Island, WA)
      Save the dates. The Garden Conservancy has released its 2011 calendar of when you can visit clusters of private gardens all over the U.S. This extraordinary treat comes to you for just $5 per garden visit, plus a modest cost for the directory with maps and locations. The funds are used to preserve and protect fabulous gardens that have been deeded to the Conservancy.
      stroll garden, Eastern PA
      The pictures here are from my own private garden visits around the country, NOT on Conservancy tours that I know of, but give you a range of what you might see: formal and informal, grand houses or not, historic sites. The only thing the gardens have in common is 'amazing'.Drehersville PA
      Plan ahead so you don't miss Open Days wherever you live. Thirteen counties in NY state, 7 in NJ and 6 in CN are part of the program. In all 17 states have tours, from California to Maine, starting in late March to December.
      (Santa Fe, NM)
      I went behind the castle walls in Dallas Texas. Yes, it's a private home. Not at all what I expected of Texas.Santa Fe NM
      Who knows what garden lies behind these adobe walls. Only a private garden tour will tell you.
      A personal favorite, my 'own' garden, NYC.

      Sunday, February 6, 2011

      the antidote to a New York City winter

      gray slush
      cancelled flights
      frozen nose hairs
      life in general

      It's the perfect time of year for an NYC garden writer to immerse herself in the saturated colors and scintillating perfumes of the tropics...especially if she's working on a new orchid book. So I thought I'd share a few blooms with you, all of which are currently lighting up my life at clients' greenhouses in the Bronx. I realize photos aren't quite as thrilling actually caressing the soft petals, breathing in the scent, and tasting the nectar (yes, I do that) of these beauties, but I hope their jewel tones offer up a much-needed contrast with the gray snow that surrounds us. And the crazy names ought to be good for a laugh.

      Brassolaeliacattleya Haadyai Delight 'Bang Prom Gold' x Blc. Krull's Lemonade

      Laeliacattleya Tropical Pointer 'Cheetah'

      Potinara Little Toshie 'Mini Flares'

      Brassocattleya Maikai 'Lea' x Cattleya Triumph #2

      Laeliacattleya Hawaiian Blue Sky 'Chelsea' Lc. Mini Purple var. coerulea

      Dendrobium Aussie Chip

      Brassolaileocattleya Orange Show 'Cloud Forest'

      Cattleya walkeriana

      Tolumnia Red Berry

      a phal/antelope type Dendrobium

      For those of you who can't escape to the beauty and calm of a private greenhouse, don't forget, the NYBG orchid show starts on March 5 and runs through April 25. Put it on your calendar.

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