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

      Showing posts with label Queens. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label Queens. Show all posts

      Wednesday, October 6, 2010

      Garden Guide:New York City

      all photos © Joseph DeSciose

      If you live in New York City or visit New York City, you need this book. It will help you find engaging, interesting, beautiful, novel, important, or hidden gardens in the five boroughs. The authors Nancy Berner & Susan Lowry describe details of design and history with a dollop of NYC political wrangling, that will help you enjoy each space to the fullest. The writing is far more than the didactic prose of a typical tour guide. It's worth sitting down and reading this small book even if you have no immediate plans to visit a garden.

      I bought the first edition right after it was published in 2002, to help prepare me for living in New York. The first GardenGuide:New York City offered up the hidden gems and unknown garden riches of the city as well as describing the best features of the major botanic gardens. Since then, ten important new gardens have been added as well as smaller ones. There are also must-see features in existing gardens, like the new award-winning Visitor center in the Queens Botanic Garden, with its greenroof design.

      Photographer Joseph De Sciose has captured images of the gardens that opened my eyes to what's happening, and allowed me to view gardens I thought I knew in a whole different way. How could I have missed this water canal when I went to the QBG? I'll have to go back and look.

      Joe's Eye View
      I especially love the many images shot from on high, like this of The High Line, that fabulous new(ish) restoration project in Chelsea.

      I knew the tracks of the old railroad bed were still there but the pattern of the ties stands out in a way that doesn't happen when they're right at my feet. Now when I visit, I'll have a mental picture of both views.
      Who Knew
      that in Red Hook you can visit two waterfront gardens and a Community Farm and picnic in this industrial area while viewing New York Harbor.
      My only quibble with this valuable book is the cut- size. The original publishers decided to serve up a 4" X 6" book, that could be slipped into pocket or purse and carried along. The second edition maintains that size. I want the font bigger and the photos MUCH bigger so I can fully enjoy this book at home as the delightful record of the NYC gardens that it is, then plan my outing for the day without increasing the weight of my backpack.

      Garden Guide: New York City, revised ed. by Nancy Berner & Susan Lowry, photos by Joseph De Sciose, W.W. Norton & C0 2010.

      Wednesday, August 25, 2010


      If you have it, you can grow this:Portland Japanese Garden

      If you don't have water you can grow this.Northern NM

      The Santa Fe Audubon Society captures rain in great barrels to help water the gardens near the Visitor Center. Rain and melting snow falls from spouts directly into the barrels and is siphoned off from there.

      My dear friends in Santa Fe struggled for some twenty years, buckets in showers, to hand carry water to the garden. When they finally fitted the entire roof of their one story adobe home and garage with a water capture system the garden sprang to life.Santa Fe Greenhouses estimates they have one acre of roof surface and collect about 320,000 gallons of precipitation in their 38,000 gallon cistern.
      And what are we doing about water in New York City? Not much! Rain water drains from rooftops into the sewer system. 70% of the sewage system carries combined rainwater and water flushed from our toilets. When a heavy rain comes along, there is flooding at the corners where sewers are backed up. With a really heavy rain, some subway lines are flooded. We pay to process all of the water together, even that which is not raw sewage.
      Meanwhile a building such as mine is reluctant to wash the pavement with a hose or water the tree wells more than twice a week because water is too expensive.The Queens Botanical Garden demonstrates one solution above. On the green roof of their new Visitor Center, rain water is absorbed by soil and taken up by the plants that live there, helping to alleviate some of the flooding in other areas of the low lying garden.

      On The High Line in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, bog plants are grown in special containers that are watered regularly.On my roof I've grown a bowl of carniverous bog plants for kids including the ever-popular Venus fly trap.If we don't have enough water we'll be reduced to this:

      Or this:

      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.

      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.

      Thursday, October 22, 2009


      Where to go for pumpkin fun from now until Halloween?
      Visit the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center at the Northern edge of Central Park, 110th between 5th & Lennox for their Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Sail. Kids bring their carved Jack-O'Lanterns, the volunteers add lit candles and float them out on the lake on individual wooden shingle rafts. If there's a nice breeze, they sail across they lake in a blaze of glory. Sunday. Oct. 25th 3-6PM.
      Below, ready to travel across the Harlem Meer.The Queens County Farm Museum offers a pumpkin patch and corn maze every Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 1. Kids see how pumpkins grow and can buy their favorite, some trucked in. This working farm established in 1697 on 47 acres is now within New York City Limits . The NY Times of 10/19/09 reported on school trips to the Farm Museum and quoted one kindergartner who discovered that "pumpkins have seeds inside them".

      Travel a little farther up river to Croton-on Hudson to see over four thousand carved pumpkins decorating the grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor at the annual Great Jack'OLantern Pumpkin Blaze. Spiders, dinosaurs, fish, snakes ghosts and a pumpkin construction of Henry Hudson's ship, the Blue Moon are some of the imaginative carvings.

      Below, the head of a snake.
      You must purchase advance tickets and the last day is Nov.1.

      Below, a butterfly in two halves, from the Blaze.

      I filled in bare spots in
      my four tree wells
      last year with 16 small
      pumpkins. Eight
      were still in place
      six weeks later.

      Below, New York's Mayor
      doesn't have to worry
      about his pumpkins,
      because police patrol
      the front of his home
      on E. 79th St. 24/7.

      I wish Grand Central Station still had it's Pumpkin Fest, last seen two years ago, when they exhibited giant Jack-O'Lanterns and scary giant puppets. The biggest pumpkin I saw this year was displayed at the Topsfield MA Fair, weighing in at 1471.6 lbs. grown by Bill Rodonis of NH. My favorite pumpkin is the heirloom variety 'Rouge vif d'Etamps' here grown by Jen in Canterbury NH, ready to turn into a coach for Cinderella or a savory pie, or to decorate a low stone wall.Fall decorations in my apartment include 'Jack Be Little' miniature pumpkins, dried seed heads of Sedum, pine cones, pomegranates, and an assortment of other pods. Pomanders made of Clementines with whole cloves stuck in add color and aroma to the collection. They're a great project for little kids who can't wield a knife to make a Halloween face.

      Wednesday, June 10, 2009


      Stream of re-cycled graywater fascinates at the Queens Botanical Garden

      Five boroughs in New York City, four botanical gardens and I had only visited three of them until last week. It seemed a terrible schlep to Queens: two subways and a bus, and the outgoing express train not running against the morning commuter tide coming into Manhattan.

      But the story of the Queens Botanical Garden is compelling and I’m more than delighted that I ventured forth. Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the United States, with 48% of the population foreign born and people speaking 138 languages. The QBG itself is in a largely Asian neighborhood and this is a space that's heavily used by neighbors rather than by tourists. Explanatory signs throughout the garden appear in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean languages.

      This garden of 39 acres just opened the highest LEED rated (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) public building in the State of New York with its new Visitor & Administration Building, all under the leadership and vision of Exec. Director Susan Lacerte.Here are some of the attractions that go into the Platinum LEED rating and ones that you’ll see on a guided tour: solar panels on a large roof;
      Re-cycled water from sinks, drinking fountains and shower; some compostingIntensive green roof, six inches of soil with a large variety of native and low water plants.

      toilets; green roof over the large auditorium, one you can actually walk on; geothermal heating/cooling system; many building materials locally grown, manufactured, or recycled; captured rain runoff filtered by bacterial action of plant roots supplying a meandering stream graced with native plants and a fountain. AND THE BUILDING IS EXTREMELY HANDSOME AND SATISFYING. Currently under construction is a parking 'garden' with special paving to allow the capture and treatment of water from a typically impervious surface.

      The garden itself has many traditional areas including these themes: fragrance, herbs, flowering trees, wetlands, perennials, woodlands, weddings, bee keeping, composting sites. The
      rose garden is being
      transformed with new
      plantings of sustainable
      varieties that will need
      no spraying. To the
      right, white and red val-
      erian and bronze fennel
      in the herb garden.

      The children’s program
      offers a huge selection
      of classes for all grade
      levels planned by the
      amazing QBG Director
      of Education Patty
      Kleinberg. Neighbor-
      hood kids plant in
      a special garden area,
      and explore nature on
      weekends and summer

      But it’s not necessary to
      have an official chil-
      drens garden for kids
      to have fun. Give them
      some water to explore,
      a huge blue atlas cedar
      to climb and they’re
      happy. I heard a smart
      mother trying to lure a
      recalcitrant four year-
      old to “see the roses.”
      He wanted no parts of
      it until she changed her
      offer to “smell the
      roses” and they went
      off happily together.
      (Double-click on any
      image for better view.)

      For more information
      and directions go to QBC.

      Wednesday, November 19, 2008

      It Takes a Village

      It’s called The Holiday Train Show. It opens on Nov.23 at the New York Botanical Garden and stretches until January 11, 2009 when you might be able to see it with fewer crowds. Some people can’t get enough of the garden-gauge model trains. I’m mesmerized by the replicas of New York landmarks, designed and constructed by a botanical genius, Paul Busse, and his team from Applied Imagination in Alexandria, Kentucky.

      Above, Van Cortlandt Manor, (1784) made of cedar bark, honeysuckle, willow, acorn caps, redbud pods and more. Of course take the kids, but this show fascinates adults as well; the numbers prove it and this is its 17th year.

      The 140 build-
      ings, four new
      this year, are
      made from bits
      and pieces of
      berries & bark,
      twigs & moss,
      pods & cones,
      dried flowers &
      leaves, and
      other scaven-
      ged plant
      materials. Busse said, “When I saw the black locust tree fungus, that’s all I needed to make the spiral of the Guggenheim Museum.”

      Live plant materials are part of the fantasy, adding a riot of color and texture. Where else can you find those Manhattan landmarks, the Flatiron Building, Empire State, Chrysler Building and the NY stock exchange within 4 feet of each other while trains whiz past? Viewers who know the city get a sense of discovery even before they read the explanatory signs. All boroughs are included, see the Guyon-Lake-Tyson House (1740), S.I. (below)

      and Old Stone House (1699) Brooklyn (below) made of cedar bark roof shingles, willow walls, plum bark and wood fungus. Busse also used reeds, twisted sea grass, spruce cone scales, and birch & salt cedar twigs.

      Since the train show is in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanic Garden, it’s balmy indoors, whatever the chill outside.
      For more details visit www.NYBG.org.

      Your Own Village
      After you’ve been inspired at the show, make your own village at home. Mr. Busse said that he’s done projects with kids using milk cartons as the base for the buildings. Take your kids out for a hunt in your garden, neighborhood and/or nearby park. Gather
      twigs, dried
      grasses and
      leaves, cones,
      pods, acorns
      and other good
      stuff. Here’s
      what I gather-
      ed from my garden and neighborhood, including slices of Osage oranges (see post dated 10/24/08) that I slowly dehydrated on trays in the oven. Color comes from a velvety sumac head that separates into small sections, rose hips and firethorn berries that will dry in place. I also have acorn caps, several kids of conifer pods, lambs’ear, birch bark , and sorghum that re-seeded itself from last year. Double-click on this any any other picture to get a really good view.
      1. Gather pint, quart, or half gallon milk or juice cartons. Rinse well and dry the exterior.
      2. Cut off a section of the bottom to make the size building you want. Here I’ve used one half gallon and one quart to make four buildings. The top halves have peaked ‘roofs’ and I’ve inverted the bottom halves to make flat roofs that can be tiled.
      3. Take outdoors to a protected location, put down old newspaper and spray with flat black paint. This step is important so that if some spaces remain uncovered the brand names and ads on the carton won’t show through.
      4. You can try to make a faithful rendition of your own home or a building near you, but it’s much easier and less frustrating to allow your creativity free reign. Use low temp glue, or a thick white craft glue for kids; or a hot glue gun for adults, who know how not to be burned and are ready to stick fingers too hot fingers in cold water.
      5. Add what you need from the kitchen, like cinnamon sticks, dried lentils and beans. While Busse coats his buildings with urethane (used to protect boats and to give his buildings an antique finish), you’ll probably want to display yours indoors.
      6. But first, take outdoors and spray several coats with a can of shellac for some protection. Place a grouping of buildings on a windowsill, shelf, mantle, or tray in the middle of a dining table, or under a tree. Surround with cut evergreens as you wish.

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