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

      Thursday, December 19, 2013


      I made the wreath from fresh greens from New Hampshire (see blog post just below) and now want to add more natural decorations. I raid my stash, buried in a large plastic box in my NYC closet: okra pods and Devil's claw pods (aka cow catcher pods, unicorn plant pods) I grew on my flower and herb farm, still perfect after 15years; locust tree pods found on the streets of Manhattan; stiff neck garlic stems from Jen's NH garden, sorghum seed heads grown on my rooftop in NYC, one stray lotus pod and a dried papaya slice from god-knows-where; a couple of pine cones.
      Materials which are completely dry will last for years, can be removed and saved as you would glass tree ornaments.
      I tuck many of these elements among the green branches of the wreath as it lays on the table, along with a few small mandarin oranges from the market that add a zap of color. Notice a new candle in the center, lower and more subtle. Will I impress my book group coming for supper tonight to discuss Lowland?

      Tuesday, December 10, 2013


      Greens and lichen from the woods of New Hampshire, schlepped to New York City after a Thanksgiving visit to Jen & Mark Hopkins in Canterbury. Jen and I cut arbivitae, pine, spruce, fir and princess pine from her back forty. I wrap short cuttings onto a sturdy 12" frame with thin wire, aiming for a wild look.
      Back in my Manhattan living room, I invert a low green bowl on my glass coffee table
       and lay the wreath over the bowl. Don't tell me how uneven it is. I like it that way.
      After placement, I insert a few loose cones, lichen and pieces of thin birch bark among the greens.
      Sure you can add a big fat candle to the center, keeping it well away from the greens, but next week I'll show you my favorite design. 

      Thursday, November 14, 2013


      The gift wrap, a recycled plastic bag, dead leaves and brown paper bags inside.
      But since the gift was from noted author/artist/storied NYC gardener Abbie Zabar, maybe something else of more interest.
      Inside the plastic, nine individually wrapped strawberry plants, roots carefully shielded, each plant with a rubberband to secure it until planting. Ever thoughtful, Abbie choose one plant (top left) with a berry still attached so I could see what I had to look forward to.
      The reverse side of the label had the variety name, 'Mara des Bois' which I could further investigate. Full sun, plant with crown at soil level, excellent drainage, like all other strawberries; info courtesy of Mr. Google.
      Abbie explained that the plants were divisions of her own and the leaves from her roof garden to use as mulch. I thought back over all of the divisions I've given over the years and I blush with shame at my carelessness.
      Nine plants, happily ensconced in a self-watering container await next spring.
      But I have one MAJOR problem. How can I let them fully ripen and still get a taste before the hordes of kids who live in the building scarf them. They have as much right to pick from the communal garden as I, but me, me, me I quietly scream.

      Friday, November 1, 2013


      photo courtesy of Jen P. Hopkins
      Jen and I push our way off the 23 Crosstown bus and stroll down 10th Ave, on our way to an art gallery and then The High Line. Cars are honking, sirens are blaring and behind a white picket fence we spy this scene.
      I laugh out loud at the incongruity of largest swath of lawn in Chelsea with grazing sheep. Getty Station a new public art program just opened its inaugural show, Sheep Station by the late Francois-Xavier Lalanne, featuring 25 of his epoxy stone and bronze 'Moutons'. I'm assured by a gallery attendant that there are two kinds of sod, Kentucky blue grass and another kind that he can't remember and I can't identify.
      This was an actual filling station, much as I remember it, in a commercial neighborhood now with rolling hills and lolling sheep.
      The pleasure of walking anywhere in this city is stumbling across the surreal, and in this area, The High Line is responsible for a renaissance.

      Friday, October 11, 2013


      Planting my four tree pits yesterday, I got lots of garden advice:

      Limo Driver with heavy accent to ESP: You're planting the cabbages too high. In my country where I had a big garden I had lots of fruit trees in my back yard. I know you should dig deeper.
      ESP to Limo Driver: Yes, I agree, but here on the streets of New York, the tree roots have taken over the whole plot and I can't dig down further without harming in roots. Where is your country?
      Limo Driver: Turkey... (continues description of his long-lost garden.)

      Young Man passing by: Those cabbages look good. Now is the time to plant them!
      ESP to self: That's why I'm planting them now.
      ESP to Young Man: Thanks
      Middle Aged Woman to ESP: Where did you buy those little evergreen shrubs?
      ESP to Middle-Aged Woman: I bought the kale in the flower district on 28th St. I pruned the juniper and cedar from the rooftop garden in this building, and just stuck the pieces in the ground to make them look like little shrubs. They'll look good for one to two months more if it's cooler and they get water regularly. I can replace them later if the ground isn't frozen too hard.
      M-AW: Great idea!
      ESP to Self: You can never resist an opportunity to teach, can you?
      Woman Rushing to Yoga Class: I use those cabbages in my Thanksgiving arrangements. If one is missing you'll know I took it.
      ESP smiles, says to Self: #@&*^#!

      See post just below, WHAT HAPPENED? for images of tree pits before replanting. I didn't disturb the big one that still looks good, just saved some kale to put in after the first frost wipes out the annuals. I expect to get a complaint within the next two days from someone in the building: The tree pits don't all match.
      ESP to Potential Complainer: You take care of the gardens for the next ten years, I'm done.

      Sunday, September 29, 2013


      On May 10, 2013, two of the four treewells that I plant in front of my building, each with a pin oak in the center, looking good.
      On Sept. 26, the same two treewells.
      The far one looks great, the other, pitiful. Both watered by building staff, both with the same with the same annuals planted lovingly by me in spring. What happened?
      Other Ellen and I did an analysis. Our pet theories coincided with slight variations.
      It all comes down to water.  The Great one above, is right in front of the building entrance, with a tree planted just 2 years ago, shallower roots but more soil. The soil was replaced at the time of tree-planting, less dog pee. The soil level is three inches below the concrete rim, so the treewell retains the water until it percolates downward.
      The Pitiful one is closer to the corner where the wind whips through, drying out the leaves. In the center lives a tree planted 16 years ago, in a smaller plot; established tree roots are everywhere.  Since it is further from the doorman, we surmise that more dog owners allow their dogs to pee there. But probably most important, the tree roots have heaved upward, pushing the soil level to the top of the concrete barrier. If the guy watering tries to finish quickly with a heavy flow both water and soil flood over the rim, making a big mess. He stops before this happens.
      Not enough water goes to the annuals!!!!!!!!!!

      Friday, September 20, 2013


      On a magnificent last day of summer 2013, I accompanied our house guests to the New York Botanical Garden specifically to see the new Native Plant Garden just opened. Too late for the glory of spring ephemerals and too early for trees burnished by autumn, I wasn't expecting much color, but was wrong thinking the garden would be all grasses. Passing by  the native border we were greeted by a display of several varieties of American asters, fall perennials and winterberry,
      Then along the boardwalk promenade, stands of Lobelia cardenalis, and Lobelia siphilitica at the end of their bloom cycles. The highbush blueberries were just starting to turn.
      In the 3 1/2 acre garden, the terrain changes from woodland to wetland to wet meadow, dry meadow, groves of trees, and glades, home for over 400 species and cultivars of native plants.
      The NYBG definition of 'native plants' is fluid and somewhat confusing, in that the explanatory booklet cites "native plants of Northeastern North America" yet the stunning display of pitcher plants includes Sarracenia  x areolta, labeled Alabama and Mississippi.
       Is that hardy here? I have no idea and no one there to ask.
      Among the trees, shrubs, ferns, and grasses, I was delighted to see this Eastern prickly-pear (Opuntia humifusa)  growing in the crevice of a rock as if it had sprung up naturally and been there from birth. A brilliant placement.
      A discordant note which displeased us gardeners three, was the design of the central water feature. The geometrical, hard-edged structure seemed to us completely out of place in this native plant garden.
      And yes, I can understand that the designer might have wanted to prove that native plants can fit into even a contemporary garden but instead demonstrated the opposite.
      I'm afraid that this photo doesn't prove my point either as I'm conditioned to compose shots which eliminate discordant notes. See what I mean at the NYBG's own photo. Or better yet, go see and judge for yourself.

      Friday, August 23, 2013


      Join me on Sunday Oct. 6 from 10-1:30 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where I'll be teaching a collage workshop titled 'Branching Out'.
      The class description reads as follows:
      Whether you choose to create a forest, a copse, or a single tree, each student will make a collage to take home. Found natural materials like bark, twigs, pressed leaves, and specialty papers and photos will allow for individual expression. The starting point for your collage could be abstract or realistic: a tree of life, a favorite tree you climbed as a child, or a collection of trees here at the Garden.

      To learn details about registering, go to https://classes.bbg.org/CourseStatus.awp?&course=13FAEARTBOC

      The collage at the top is made of two images of tree bark, crape myrtle @ the BBG and allspice (Pimenta dioica) @ the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, plus bark peeled from a river birch on my roof, white birch from VT, and sycamore bark from a street tree on E. 80th St., NYC. It's 9" x 9"on paper.

      This collage will be exhibited next month at the Alaska Pacific University's ConocoPhillips Gallery, Anchorage in a drawing show with a botanical theme. I can hear the multitudes roar, YOU CALL THIS A DRAWING? Well, turns out that artists have a lot of leeway, so yes, the writing on the bark qualifies.

      Tuesday, August 13, 2013


      The Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) are in bloom all over New York City, just when most flowering trees and shrubs have lost their color and green foliage abounds. (above, the Conservatory Garden and below near the Boat House, both in Central Park)...
       by the side of the General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, masquerading as a lilac...
      and welcoming us to the New Leaf Cafe, Fort Tryon Park, Upper Manhattan.
      I started my gardening life in Zones 5 and 6 and considered Crape myrtles as plants only for Southern Climes;now realize I must have one, two or three for 'my' NYC rooftop.
      Flowers range in color from white to red, pink, coral, purple and all shades in between. 

      I've just seen pictures of a potentially interesting new introduction with 'black' leaves, 'Black Diamond' t.m.. growing only 10-12 feet tall and 8' wide for smaller garden spaces. This cultivar is being introduced in five flower color choices. Hope to see it live at the Garden Writers symposium in Quebec starting this week.
      Crape myrtles look great in winter as well as summer, with incredably smooth but exfoliating bark, seen here in two specimen trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
      My last Crape myrtle sighting, just yesterday, on a terrace at the Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle, and me on the 31st floor of a nearby building caught without my telephoto lens. Look carefully for a splash of pink in the terrace garden.

      Wednesday, July 31, 2013


      My beautiful 'Super Bush' tomatoes, perfect for container growing on my 18th story roof garden, are under attack. Find the culprit in the image above.
      Started from seed (at left) on my windowsill in late March
      I planted out 10 healthy and happy seedlings in May. By the middle of July they looked perfect:sturdy, bushy, full dark green foliage. But the day before I left for a trip to NH, I was stunned to see this...
      leaves stripped on many plants, big chunks bitten out of green tomatoes. The culprits were busy at work. Look carefully upper left quadrant of image to see the four-inch long caterpillar. I felt like crying, but instead, hand picked these green giants from plants, capturing four. I discarded them, making sure that they didn't host the white eggs of the parasitic wasp that can be a boon to the garden.
      Above, two of the critters with noticeable red horns on the back.
      Does this mean that they're really tobacco horned worms eating my tomatoes, rather than tomato horned worms that have black 'horns'?
      Although initially devastated to loose my crop, I soon became enthralled by the notion that a moth found the garden and knew to lay eggs on the 18th floor of a building on 80th St. in NYC. Tomatoes aren't a common crop in this garden. How and why did she ever find her way here?
      My entire crop wasn't hit because I had spread out the plants to containers in different areas.
      Garden writer and photographer extraordinaire Julie McIntosh from the Arnold Arboretum Seed Herbarium Image Project was visiting for breakfast and taking the roof tour.
      Julie, why are you laughing at the first of my crop?

      Monday, July 15, 2013


      Above, 'Summer Splash Marigolds' with lantana on my 18th story roof garden.
      It's not yet mid-July but the Marigolds I started on my condo windowsill at the end of March are in full bloom. The color in the garden against the cold grey pavers and steely containers makes me happy. I was even happier when I saw a bee buzzing around them, and I'm trying to remain patient until my first butterfly sighting.
      One pack of seeds, only $2.79 from Renee's garden seeds* has given me 20 plants to spread around in multiple containers, and I have about 3/4 of the seed pack left. They'll probably still be viable next year if I store them in a cool, dry spot. The lantana cost me about $18 for a tray of 12 small plants at wholesale. Compare for cost, but that's only one reason to plant seed. You get a vast array of varieties and color choices and the genuine thrill of starting new life.

      I start seeds in commercial kits made for the job,
      In juice or milk cartons,
      cardboard egg cartons, and yes, even recycled plastic flower pots, that I've cleaned impeccably before reusing.
      Regular GardenBytes reader BFF Nana sent me an email with this news:
      "There was an article in today’s Boston Globe West section about the Concord (Mass.) Library that 'lends' packets of vegetable seeds and patrons give back from their harvest.  Cute idea! You 'borrow' seeds at the beginning of the season and bring back more at the end."
      Yet another great way of to share your garden, (see blog post below this.)
      My 'Summer Splash' marigolds are a cross between African and French types, (Tagetes patula x erecta) very bushy without pruning. Renee has kindly offered to send a complimentary pack of these marigolds to the first four Gardenbytes readers who email me with your name and address.

      *As a garden writer, I get free seeds from most seed companies upon request. I particularly love Renee's because of the varieties offered and the huge about of information on the seed pack . 

      Monday, July 8, 2013


      Gardeners are generous people. We're delighted to share divisions of favorite perennials or seedlings we've grown too many of. Eudora Welty honored the custom of pass-along plants in her famous novel, Delta Wedding
      I used to host a day on my farm every spring called 'Plant Swap in the Barn', where customers where invited to bring five divisions in pots, (no mints please) and a covered dish for lunch. Everyone went home happy with precious new choices.
      Now gardening in NYC I'm thrilled to be on the receiving end but I'm finding it harder to find the space to cram in the gifts I get.
      Above, irises from Ellen Zachos, about five years old, planted with a rose 'Harison's Yellow'.
      This rose was itself a gift from rose expert Stephen Scanniello, President of the Heritage Rose Society. When I got this, it was but a cutting in a four inch pot.
      When Anne Kugel heard that I was looking for Montauk daisies, she promptly dug and divided some from her own NYC terrace containers, and gave me three clumps. Their bright white flowers are one of the last to burst into bloom in my fall garden.
      Last summer Linda Yang schlepped a huge mound of northern sea oats to my door. I managed to
      stuff it in an already full container. It's preparing to bloom right now and by fall should look like this...
      What gifts!!!

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