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

      Showing posts with label berries. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label berries. Show all posts

      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.

      Tuesday, November 8, 2011


      Other Ellen's post last week reminds me of the value of berried plants in the fall landscape in NYC. In our winter enthusiasm to get immediate color in spring, we often give short shrift to fall interest.
      Here are 5 shrubs with berry interest, planted with fall and winter in mind. Above, chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) in container on my roof garden, and below, a few clusters of the berries 'pruned' for decoration indoors. Firethorn (Pyracantha) has small white uninteresting flowers in spring but shines in autumn and throughout the winter. In small spaces, prune it as an espaliered tree in a container against a wall. Below, it appears in a built-in planter in front of a NYC townhouse.
      Fall flowers/spring berries, a reverse of the usual plan.
      Above, Oregon grape-holly at the Central park Zoo last Dec. 31. The flowers are followed by blue-black berries in spring, below. Note to Other Ellen: I've read that the berries are edible. True? have you tried them?If you have a larger garden, smooth sumac berries are a fall mainstay, and last all winter.
      I've always coveted a Beauty Berry (Callicarpa dichotoma) for the surprising color of its fruit. Maybe 2012.

      Friday, November 4, 2011

      Sorbus americana

      Growing up I was told mountain ash berries were poisonous. I'm sure the lie wasn't intentional...my family just didn't know any better. They weren't foragers, after all. Realizing I could cook with the berries gave me the thrill of discovery, as did learning that our mountain ash is the rowan of Lord of the Rings fame. It's the little things.

      Mountain ash berries (Sorbus americana) are a classic jelly fruit, tart and full of pectin. Our recent snowfall makes this the perfect time to pick them because the berries (actually pomes) sweeten after a frost. If you live somewhere warm, you can put them in the freezer for a few days to make the fruit more palatable.

      Raw berries are juicy and highly astringent. They also contain parasorbic acid, which can cause indigestion, but cooking converts this to sorbic acid, which is entirely benign. The cooked fruit makes a not-too-sweet jelly, traditionally used as an accompaniment to meat, but it's also good with cheese, the sharper the better.

      As a landscape tree the mountain ash is relatively short-lived, rarely making it beyond 25-30 years old. In a traditional, in-ground garden that might be an undesirable characteristic, but in containers it's perfectly alright. Even long-lived trees need periodic replacement and root pruning in a containerized growing environment. Small white flowers are very fragrant in late spring/early summer, and they attract lots of pollinators to the garden.

      Two thumbs up.

      Wednesday, June 2, 2010

      Berry Alert!

      If you're in NYC and want to forage for a little something sweet, now's the time. Get yourself out on the streets and into the parks and start looking up...and down.

      Amelanchier berries are coming into season and they're delicious. Why more people don't appreciate their taste is incomprehensible to me. Maybe people just don't know them. (To know the Amelanchier is to love the Amelanchier.) You can't find them in stores and I've never seen Amelanchier on a menu.

      Right now, if you look up as you stroll through the city, you'll see red berries that ripen to a dark blue. Another way to spot an Amelanchier tree is to scan the ground where you walk. When berries drop to the ground they can be messy; a splotchy sidewalk is a clue to look up.

      I don't usually do this (give away my foraging locations), but as a gesture of encouragement, I'm going to tell you where you can find an Amelanchier tree with fruit almost ready to pick. Check out the park drive at CPW & 77th Street. Walk into the park about 100 feet and on the left is an Amelanchier hanging over the sidewalk. If you don't see the tree right away, look for the messy sidewalk. Yesterday the fruit wasn't quite ripe, see how red the berries are in the photo above?

      This morning, 17 floors above the park, Mark and I gathered a quart of ripe berries in a matter of minutes. The intense heat and full sun on the rooftop sped the ripening process.

      Berries are edible when they're red, but sweeter and more delicious when they're dark purple/blue. I included a few unripe berries in the middle of the colander, above, so you could see the color contrast between ripe and merely ripening. You should be able to harvest for the next week or so, depending on location. Berries are a delicious, easy place to start foraging. Come on...give it a try.

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