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

      Showing posts with label NYC skyline. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label NYC skyline. Show all posts

      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.

      Thursday, March 8, 2012


      Just when I think I know almost everything about gardening in Manhattan, I find out I don't.
      On the roof of Milbank Hall, at the northern end of the Barnard College campus, 116th & Broadway, sits the Arthur Ross Greenhouse. It was built for students and teachers in the Biology department, for research and demonstration. AND it's open to the public free of charge on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3pm. If you go, you'll get an informative guided tour from either the greenhouse coordinator Krystyna Bucharowski, or one of her student assistants. It's great for the visitor to get all questions answered and great for the plant collection that visitors don't get a chance to pinch a vanilla pod in passing.Above, pods ripening on the vanilla bean vine (Vanilla fragrans) that reaches almost to the top of the greenhouse.
      The main section of the greenhouse contains the tropicals. I saw many varieties new to me, like this great white bird of paradise (Streletzia augusta); I've only ever seen the orange one in the florist trade.The greenhouse hosts tours from schools in the neighborhood, and of course kids are fascinated by the food plants, like sugar cane, coffee bean and vanilla. But they also gravitate toward plants that DO something, like the sensitive plant whose leaves curl up at a touch, or the carniverous pitcher plant (Nepenthes alata) that collects water and insects in its vessels and 'eats' them.
      I was waiting to go to the Arthur Ross Greenhouse 'til the dead of winter this year, when I most crave the sight and smell of plants, but winter never happened, so instead I went with LRK, one of my BFF who is a Barnard Alum, and visiting from the North. An excellent Judge of people and
      their crimes, but no judge of plants, she was concerned that this Ruscus had bugs, until Ms. Bucharowski assured us they were only the flower buds, and what looks like leaf is really the stem.Above, plants that require a dry atmosphere have a room of their own, as do plants for special research.

      So go to learn, go with your kids, grand kids, or BFF's. To arrange a group tour or to make sure the greenhouse isn't closed for school break, contact Kbucharo@barnard.edu, 212-854-5897.

      Wednesday, May 5, 2010


      Sunday at 9:30 a.m. I ran through the amazing hallways of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and up the last flight of stairs to savor in solitude the new exhibit created by twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn. Of course there were three guards, one guide and the security chief, but I was almost alone for about ten minutes. The construction is made of some 5000 bamboo poles secured by miles of nylon rock climbing ropes in varying colors and thicknesses. Three different species of bamboo grown in Georgia and South Carolina are part of the form. A team of rock climbers installed the first section rising 30 feet off the roof, overlooking the greenery of Central Park and the skyline of Central Park South. They lashed the culms together in a seemingly haphazard way, though I'm told that there is a grand plan with drawings and everything. Visitors will witness the evolving incarnations of Big Bambú as it is augmented throughout the spring, summer, ultimately reaching 50 feet high and wide. (above, more poles for the next phase)
      After agreeing to a long
      list of conditions and
      registering in advance,
      visitors can stride with
      a guide up through the
      heights of the structure.
      The guide's talk drifted
      down to the terrace
      below as I admired one
      of my favorite parts of
      the roof garden, the
      old wisteria vines,
      now in full bloom amidst
      the bamboo stanchions.

      The Met web site says that the exhibition shows the "cresting wave that bridges realms of sculpture, architecture, and performance. Set against Central Park and its urban backdrop, Big Bambú will suggest the complexity and energy of an ever-changing living organism".

      My fascination stems from the plant itself, this quickly renewable resource now used in flooring, table ware, and even fabrics. In China, scaffolding is made of bamboo because it's strong, cheap and readily available.
      Bamboo is also colorful and beautiful and excellent as a living screen. I'm growing black bamboo in containers on my rooftop. Some clematis dropped in (apparently from seed blown from a neighboring container, and are now climbing up the culms. But more about that another day.

      Monday, December 14, 2009


      Herein a totally biased judging of my seven favorite roofs. There is but one highly opinionated judge, ESP. Six roofs are listed in no particular order but the winner of the Big Apple Roof Award is last.

      Above, Ann K. shows year after year how you can grow gorgeous roses in containers on an East-facing balcony and back them up with a few small trees, like this coral bark maple.

      Walking The High Line, Manhattan's newest and most fabulous park, allows roof peepers like me to admire this installation by Robert Isabell, the late floral designer.

      Another view from The High Line makes me wonder why none of these rooftop gardeners have invited me over for tea and to admire their gardens.

      I went for the milkshake; I stayed to admire the roof of the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Still don't know if it was planted or just grew. Just part of my work day.

      Central Park and the New York City skyline facing South, as seen from the Metropolitan Museum roof garden. The view often outshines the artwork being displayed on the roof.

      The Philadelphia Water Dept. installed this display of a greenroof at the Philadelphia Flower Show to inspire rooftop plantings that minimize water run-off. They offered lots of handouts to help gardeners do the same. Yes, I know, Philadelphia is not New York but I told you I was the only judge for the Roof Awards, and I'm from Philadelphia and love the Flower Show and what the Water Company did here.

      And the grand winner of the Big Apple Roof Award 2009 is the greenroof at the visitors center at the Queens Botanical Garden. It has a great variety of plants, a small weather station, and a path to lead you through the garden. It's just one of the features that helped this building receive a platinum LEED award for ecological construction.

      Friday, September 4, 2009

      It's not about the plants.

      My father is not a gardener. (My mother is a very good one.) He's not the slightest bit interested in plants, gardens, or parks. But he loves everything about New York City, so I thought we might hazard a visit to The High Line.

      Dad can't walk as fast or as far as he used to. But he has a deep and abiding love for NYC dating from his time at NYU Law School. When I told him that The High Line was the newest "must-see", he was game. I mapped out an abbreviated tour, taking advantage of the 16th Street elevators, and planning a mere 4 block walk.

      As soon as we got up there, Dad wanted more. It had nothing to do with the plants...he loved the view of the city, the unique perspective on the skyline and street life that The High Line delivers. The open views of the Hudson River, the unobstructed panorama including cutting edge architecture and neighborhood details.

      And for a committed people-watcher, The High Line is a gift. We stopped to talk to park rangers, watched a dance team practice a new routine, and admired gardeners weeding and watering. Dad had questions for them all.

      So even if you're not a gardener or a nature person, get yourself down to The High Line. For anyone who loves the city, it's an important place, with a new perspective. It's not just about the plants.

      Monday, July 27, 2009


      Dear Other Ellen,
      I'll see you a New York City water tower and raise you one Empire State Building. esp
      (See O.E.'s post about water towers)

      View from The High Line in the Meat Packing District on a hazy day, 7/27/09
      (see O.E.'s post about The High line)

      Sunday, July 12, 2009

      Excuse me, could I please borrow your water tower?

      In college I majored in 19th century comparative history and literature of England and France. (Practical, you say? Just wait.) It was then I first heard the phrase "borrowed scenery", a concept vaguely relevant to grand estate gardens as described by George Eliot, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc. Turns out the idea of borrowed scenery is originally Japanese, but it's just as significant in a 21st century NYC garden as it was 1000 years ago in Kyoto, or 200 years ago in the English countryside.

      People usually think of borrowed scenery as pastoral and sweeping, incorporating a distant mountain, a classic ruin, or the Potomac River (below) into the view from your garden.

      In NYC, borrowed scenery takes on a whole new meaning.

      See, I have a thing for water towers. When I first moved to NYC (many MANY years ago) I used to go up to the roof of my building at night and lie there, looking at all the water towers. They are a New York City icon, yet most of us take them for granted.

      Now that I spend most of my days on rooftops, I have plenty of opportunity to admire the various shapes and sizes of surrounding water towers, and I find they sneak up on you. At first glance you don't see any, then you spot one, then another, until you realize there were 6 or 7 in your field of vision all along. I've found 12 in this one photo, can you? (Click on the image to enlarge.)

      It's not just the water towers themselves (gray, aged wood, simple, sturdy, functional, sculptural, tall & slim, squat & fat, adding their own special geometry to the NY skyline) but how they combine with the rooftop gardens that surround them. It's the same quality that fascinates me on The High Line: industrial and urban architecture juxtaposed with living, moving, growing plants.

      Of course a rooftop garden in NYC is mighty fine to begin with, but why not follow in the steps of Capability Brown & Tachibana Toshitsuna and borrow a little scenery to make it even better! Just as you might place a shrub or put up a fence to hide an ugly pipe or HVAC unit, so can you position a tree or erect a pergola to direct the gaze toward that wooden bastion of the NYC skyline: the water tower.

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