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


      Wednesday, June 29, 2011

      No words needed

      I think these photos say it all, but what the hell, I'll give you a few captions.

      Auer's handled the rigging and craning. They did a great job.
      Trees are lashed to dollies so they can be rolled once inside the apartment.

      Burlap and plastic protect the tree trunk
      where the rigging rope might damage it.

      Each one weighs 700 lbs. and is 14 - 16 feet tall.


      Getting it up the last flight was the hardest part. Seven very strong, very determined men heaved and pulled it up a wicked steep ramp (below). If I spoke Polish I would have thanked them appropriately.
      Fortunately my pantomime is pretty fluent.



      I cut away the burlap and wire cages.

      Thank you Marie and Vince (above), and Mimi (below, in red).


      Wednesday, June 22, 2011

      FINALLY IN BLOOM

      Hollyhock (Alcea rosea 'Apricot-Peach Parfait').
      I planted the seeds on my south facing windowsill early April 2010, along with some morning glories and Pride of Gibraltar (Cerinthe major). Later transplanted to containers on my roof garden, the other annuals bloomed last year and died with the frost. The hollyhock grew big bold leaves but sent up no flower stalks; these are biennials. By spring 2011 the hollyhock leaves had reappeared, and flower stalks soon shot up, bursting into bloom this week. The last time I had hollyhocks, they grew by the doorway of my 1850's peg-and beam-barn. Now They grow in containers overlooking 80th St. with skyscrapers and water towers in the background. It's definitely more of a thrill in New York City, because hollyhocks BELONG by a barn and in New York, I dare say they're unusual.
      I often get seeds from when I want something special, because they have a huge selection of flower, herb and veggie seeds, they're reliable, and the packet contains double the amount of information as most other companies. I'm also seduced by the artwork. Because I'm a writer Renee's usually sends me free seeds, but so do most other seed companies. The online-catalog tells me that if I cut these stalks down near the soil when they finish blooming, the roots will send up new flower spikes in September. You can bet I'm going to do this, then let the last growth go to seed and hope I'm lucky for next year. Note that the wind has blown the stalks on a slant but I prefer not to stake. I like the more natural look.



      Monday, June 20, 2011

      what's ripe this week?



      Pyramus and Thisbe lived in ancient Babylonia. Their houses shared a wall, and being neighbors, Pyramus and Thisbe knew each other from around the neighborhood. Despite the fact that their parents were enemies (or perhaps because), they fell in love.

      From the moment the young lovers declared their intentions, they were forbidden to see each other. They could only communicate by speaking through a crack in the wall that joined their houses. Secretly, Pyramus and Thisbe arranged to meet at midnight, by a spring at the foot of a white mulberry tree outside the city.

      Thisbe arrived first, and as she waited, a lion came to drink from the spring. The lion was fresh from the kill, covered with blood. Thisbe ran away, and unnoticed, her veil fell to the ground. The lion picked up the veil in its bloody jaws, then dropped it to drink, and moved on.


      When Pyramus arrived, he saw the bloody veil and the lion’s footprints and jumped to the worst possible conclusion. He blamed himself for Thisbe’s death, grabbed his sword, and plunged it into his heart. His blood flew high into the air, onto the mulberry fruit, turning it from white to red. More blood flowed into the earth and was taken up by the roots of the tree, turning the remainder of the berries red.

      Soon, Thisbe circled back to the tree. She wondered if she was in the right place, because the berries had changed color, from white to red. When she saw Pyramus, she grabbed his sword, plunged it into her own heart, and with her dying breath swore they would be buried together and that the mulberry tree would henceforth bear red fruit as a tribute to their ill-fated love.

      It’s a messy, bloody story and mulberries are a messy fruit. It’s not unusual to recognize a mulberry by the splattered fruit covering the ground under the tree. When I see a splotchy sidewalk like this, my heart skips a beat. Why? Because smushed berries on the sidewalk below mean tasty berries up above.


      There are several different kinds of mulberries: black, white, and red. All mulberry fruit start out white. Ripe red mulberries are almost black. Confused? Don’t let that keep you from picking. A mulberry is ripe when it falls off the tree at the slightest touch, no matter what color it is. If you have to tug it off the branch, it’s not ready.


      Mulberry fruit look a little like blackberries, but slimmer and smaller. The easiest and fastest way to gather fruit is to spread a sheet or tarp under a tree and shake the branches. But since most of my mulberries come from public parks, I resort to a slower method. I pick with a rolling motion, barely pulling on the fruit. Gently turn the fruit between two fingers; if it doesn’t come off with the slightest pressure, I leave it for next time. You can harvest mulberries for 3-4 weeks, since the fruit doesn’t ripen all at once.


      Red mulberries (Morus rubra) are native to the eastern U.S. White mulberries (Morus alba) were brought here from China as food for silkworms; the worms failed but the tree remains. Some people consider the white mulberry invasive, but when a tree is as generous and delicious as this one, I cut it a little slack. White mulberry trees may have different shaped leaves on the same tree, which is pretty unusual in the tree world. The black mulberry (Morus nigra) is European; in the U.S. it’s hardy only to zone 7.

      As often happens when I forage in the city, people stop and watch. They want to ask what I’m doing, but they feel a little shy. (That’s how I know they’re tourists. New Yorkers either don’t care or aren’t shy.) I usually offer the spectators a few berries, but only the bravest accept. Do they seriously think I’d poison them on the streets of New York City? Do I look crazy?

      I don’t mind when they refuse. It means more berries for me.

      Mulberry Pudding
      -Two cups mulberry pulp, liquified in a blender (Any type of mulberry is fine, but the red mulberries make a deeply colored pudding that looks as rich as it tastes.)
      -Three Tbs. instant tapioca
      -1/3 cup sugar
      Combine the above ingredients and let them sit for five minutes.
      In a saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil that can’t be stirred down, then remove from the heat and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
      Pour into serving bowls. This pudding can be served warm or cold, whichever you prefer. Try it with a little whipped cream and a few whole mulberries on top.

      Friday, June 10, 2011

      ULTIMATE RECYCLING

      (above, one pack of bachelor button 'Blue Boy' sown in 2006)
      Here in NYC of course we recycle paper, plastic, metal, the usual stuff: garbage to the compost, good clothing to one of the many worthy thrift shops, books to the library for their sale. But the ultimate form of recycling happens on my roof top with little help from me.
      Annuals that I've started from seed, resow themselves for the following year: Among the herbs, new dill, cilantro, calendula, viola and bronze fennel will sometimes emerge even in the same growing season. The flowers are well represented by bachelor buttons from the mother plants at top that show up here, and here
      and here.as do portulaca, California poppies, spider plant (Cleome), and cosmos. I got a particular thrill this year when, in the space occupied by the only hydrangea that died over the winter, emerged a plethora of cosmos seedlings, enough to dig a few and plant in other in other bare spots around the garden. I've had second and third generations of larkspur and love-in a mist (Nigella damascene) as well.
      Returning
      Perennials also blow their seeds around the garden. Clematis found a home in the pot of black bamboo and in spring climb so rampantly that they cover the bamboo. Goldenrod, and blackeyed Susans are not weeds to me as they move from pot to pot on the wings of a slight breeze. I'm actually thrilled when I spy something in a new location and try to plot the path of the wind. I love to see seedlings pop up between pavers though I suspect it may not be the best for the roof membrane.This year I'm coddling two tiny seedlings that might be scions of my coral bark Japanese maple. (above) If they prove to be so, I'll buy new big containers and settle them in for a lifetime above 3rd. Avenue.
      The Dilemma
      Deadheading usually spurs the growth of both annuals and perennials. It's a task I thoroughly enjoy, the kind of mindless garden activity that's both productive and relaxing. My new spectacular lupines come with the instructions to cut off spent flower stems before the seedpods form. But if I do, they won't be able to seed themselves, as lupine are prone to do. Bigger, stronger mother plant, or potential babies? That is the question.

      Tuesday, June 7, 2011

      It's June...


      and that can only mean one thing. Actually, it can mean about a million things, but today it means Juneberries.

      Depending on where you live (and where you forage) you might find them ripe right this minute. Or you might wait till next week. Either way, Juneberries are easy to harvest in quantity and can be enjoyed in many and various ways:

      -straight off the tree (juicy and sweet but not too sweet)
      -in jam, jellies, pies, or any way you might use a blueberry
      -in wine (shh...I'm drinking it as I type)

      The Juneberries (Amelanchier canadensis) in Brooklyn Bridge Park are ripe and ready now, but the trees I have staked out in Manhattan (in Central Park and on a few terraces) still need several days to achieve perfection.

      As Marie and I picked yesterday afternoon in BBP, we dodged the park rangers in their electric carts. Not sure whether they would have ticketed us or not, but why take a chance? In the PA State Forests, you're allowed to remove a gallon of berries or nuts per person per day. Alas, I know of no such rule in NYC. Anyone?

      A man and two women stopped to ask if what we were picking was edible. I resisted the temptation to pop a berry in my mouth while saying, "No, they are highly poisonous." Instead I stopped them from picking red berries (the berries ripen to purple-blue) and offered them each a berry from my bag.


      Further north, under the Manhattan Bridge, the Amelanchier looked to be a different species (maybe alnifolia) and they tasted like dirt. Which just goes to show you...taste before you harvest.


      This was my first visit to the section of park south of the BB (Pier 1 opened about a year ago) and it is worth a visit . Whoever designed it has my respect. Lots of native, lots of edibles:

      Daylily buds at the perfect stage for pickling or eating like green beans.

      Blueberries should be ripe in a few weeks.

      Bayberry leaf (Myrica pennsylvanica) was perfect for harvesting.

      If anyone asks, just say you're pruning, not picking. Potato Potahto.

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