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

      Showing posts with label containers. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label containers. 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.

      Thursday, May 16, 2013


      This weeping cut-leaf Japanese maple has resided happily on my roof garden for five years. For the first time it's leafing only in some spots.
      It used to look like this...
      Now many spots are bare, some grey, dead-looking branches, some tantalizingly reddish.
       I'm sure it's because someone turned off the master water supply to the drip irrigation system last summer and I noticed it only when this tree started to shed leaves. I know I'll get grief from some building residents who think a tree is the same as a sofa; if it looks messy, throw it out.
      Any ideas on what to do for the tree ????? HELP!!!!

      Thursday, May 9, 2013


      If you live, work or drive on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, you already have a love/hate relationship with the 2nd Ave. Subway. Groundbreaking for the project started six years ago; the completion date keeps moving back, as residents and businesses contend with noise, dirt, dislocation and customers who stay away in droves.
      As we walked down Second last Sat. morning taking the torturous path around construction walls, I was charmed by this sight.
      Firenze, making the best of a bad situation, is growing a garden on the chain-link construction fence, just on the other side of the sidewalk in front of their restaurant. The entrance itself is flanked by larger, showy containers of annuals.
      The next evening found me at a table for two enjoying a delightful chicken with artichokes in saffron sauce with impeccably fresh vegetables while my BFF devoured a pasta special. Reasonable prices, attentive service, interesting menu choices, noise level that actually allows you to hold a conversation, charming atmosphere, all are worthy of a second visit. I went originally because of the flowers, but will return for the food. 1594 2nd Ave between 82nd & 83rd.
      All praise to Manuel Caisaguano, the owner of Firenze who designed and planted this urban garden.
      But note that between my first view on Sat. morning (three pictures avove this) and my visit the following eve, the top row of plants were changed from dwarf conifers to more annuals. I'll have to solve this mystery.

      Thursday, April 25, 2013


      I  bought and planted tulip bulbs Oct.'12 then promptly forgot what I had ordered. Rather than paw through my files I waited to see what would emerge. Turns out they were a rather dull, pale yellow;  I found it hard to believe that I had chosen such an insipid color.
      But wait, after a week, the color started to turn, 'Daydreamer' Giant Darwin Hybrids in their full glory. The original color was paler than the stem on the left below; the color deepens as the flower matures giving each container a riotous look.
      I have 7 containers on my roof garden, splashy enough to attract attention.
      Purple and orange seems to be my theme this year, as the Muscari bloom in the tree pits along with pansies, daffs, and more tulips.
      And around the neighborhood in my favorite window boxes, another designer chose Ranunculus and pansies...
      and another gardener with hyacinths to enhance the front door color.
      I hope none of these get ripped out, like four plants at my bus stop, below. This building opted to plant full pots of spring bulbs already in flower, not fall bulbs whose roots might grip the soil making it harder for thieves.
      Back to my 'Daydreamer' on the roof with sumac 'Tiger Eye' waiting to leaf out.

      Friday, April 5, 2013


      Pieris japonica, a.k.a, Japanese andromeda, or lily-of-the-valley bush. I needed a pair of shrubs to flank the entrance to my condo building. Dead-set against the boredom of yet another upright conifer I decided on Pieris. My heart was set on P.j. 'Mountain Fire', but I have no car, and when I need big trees or shrubs it's a struggle to find the varieties I want.
             One call to my friend Linda Yang, former garden columnist of the NYTimes, led me to this beautiful Pieris 'Dorothy Wyckoff'. Linda works part time at the Chelsea Garden Center in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, there to answer customer questions and make informed suggestions. As she was extolling the virtues of this Dorothy, I was madly googling images on the web.
      I persuaded a condo board member and husband with car to drive out with me and view the plants.
               Chelsea manager Rose Di Costanzo couldn't have been more helpful in holding the plants in my name and answering all questions. As our committee of three were delighted with the shrubs she had them packed carefully for travel, branches wrapped up with tape to prevent breakage, then bagged to protect the car from dirt. Who cares if I'm crushed into the backseat along with the plants?
               While I was at Chelsea, of course I HAD to buy 4 flats of well-tended pansies for the treepits in front of the building, along with a roll of landscape cloth and Holly-tone acidic organic fertilizer for the shrubs.
      In it's new home, the Pieris sits happily in its cast stone container, in a lightly shaded area. Within 40 mniutes of planting, the doorman logged two complaints from residents, both about water leaking from the bottom of the pot, possibly staining the sidewalk.

      Was one of these the person who complained that I shouldn't plant roses on the roof because her child might get stuck by a thorn? Or maybe it was the one who told me that all of the flowers on the roof garden were attracting bees and her child might get stung. It's a good thing two small springs broke off during planting and I could console myself with a lovely miniature display in my living room.
      Chelsea Garden Center Brooklyn has a sister center in Manhattan as well. Visit http://chelseagardencenter.com

      Friday, March 29, 2013


      Dear friend Diana from Wales U.K. writes, "Has spring arrived in New York? We (and the plants) are still freezing and the wind is from Russia!! Certainly we normally have some green shoots by now but this year is horrendous and the temperatures are still around freezing. Not so good for the garden, everything is stuck waiting for the soil to warm up."
      Yes Diana, it's spring here, even if I have to use my close-up lens to find it. Above, some early Euphorbia, the only plant in full bloom on my roof garden.
      Tulips making an appearance, though the poppy seeds I planted in this container last week are still in hiding.
      Fat leaf buds on the hydrangea,
      Fat flower buds on the quince,
      If I lie down at set my camera 6" away, I can see the buds of grape hyacinth planted last fall in tree pits in front of my building.
      Upstairs on my south-facing office windowsill, seeds of 'Super Bush' tomato, basil 'Profumo di Genova' and Portulaca 'Pastel Sundial' give me real hope for warmer weather. The basil shoots already have a strong flavor, and as I thin them in the container, I'll use the sprouts for dinner recipes.
       Since I need some immediate bloom, my corner grocery store provides me with yellow tulips to mix with some rhea eggs I've saved for years.

      Saturday, October 13, 2012


      What's wrong with this tree?   Nine years ago I planted two in 30" pots, both flowering purple plums, with regular drip irrigation.  Buffeted by winds on the 18th floor roof garden, one lists badly, the tips on both have many bare branches, bloom is now about 80% less than four years ago, and they are generally unattractive.
      Replace or replant? I chose the latter for now, a potential savings of about $500.
      First I drastically pruned the tops with my Fiskars long-handled pruner, my all-time fav gardening tool. Then, a better idea, since the trees were coming out of their pots anyway, I waited a bit to complete the top pruning job. Two strong men from the building staff provided the muscle and a crucial tool, an electric Sawzall. Because these containers have an interior lip the tree can't just be loosened and pulled out. One man loosened some soil with a spade,
      the other ran the saw blade down in the dirt about three inches from the lip,
      then with the muscle in four strong arms and two strong backs laid the tree on
      an old canvas.  I could complete my pruning job easily, cutting both the top of the tree and some of the roots, trying to release other of the roots from the compacted ball.
      A little new soil, less than half a bag and the tree is comfortably back in place, about1/3 smaller than it was before. As a woman of a certain age, notice that I saved the easy jobs for myself.
      And yes I do realize that there are uneven spaces and some unattractive cut off sticks, but always an optimist, I'm thinking that the new spring leaves will hide all that. Time will tell.

      Monday, September 10, 2012


      Regular readers may remember that last fall, the city contractor finally (18 month delay) planted a new pin oak in front of my building, almost doubling the size of the planting pit.
      The tree languished with a full compliment of brown leaves until May, when in desperation, it finally made up it's mind to leaf out, as it's three old companions had done six weeks previously.
      Building residents were getting restless, would accost me on sidewalk or elevators asking me if the new tree had died. I advised patience, and to support my optimism, planted caladium bulbs in my roasting pan on a south-facing window.

      Notice that the pan is foil-lined and obviously has no drainage holes, but I was VERY careful not to over-water. When the outdoor soil had fully warmed in late May I planted a dozen caladium 'Kathleen', surrounding each tree trunk, just before the block association guys put in the coleus.
      It now looks like this.
      The caladium are barely visible, the plantings have a true tropical feel and there were enough coleus to dig a few last week, leaving no bare spots. I  put the mature coleus in two new planters until next spring when I do the official planting.

      Tuesday, July 31, 2012

      moving day

      Who wouldn't want to have their own terrace? You'd sit there, perched above the Avenues, gazing down on the matchbox taxis with a cool glass of Pinot Grigio on a hot summer night. Sigh.

      But just so you know...it's not all white wine and spectacular views. Most buildings have clauses written into their shareholder agreements that stipulate the building can access your terrace at will, to fix a leak, to build a scaffold, to make a little extra scratch by skimming a percentage off the top of unnecessary construction. That last one isn't in the building rules, but you better believe it happens.

      And when it does, it's the terrace owner's obligation to prepare the terrace for occupation.

      Large trees must be moved, furniture stored, irrigation interrupted and re-laid. It can be hair-raising, especially if old containers are involved. Old containers that might have rotted underneath. No way to know till you lift it, at which point the weeping cherry may or may not push through the rotted wood, leaving you with a naked root ball and no place to put it.

      Fortunately, that was not the case this morning. Well-prepared terrace owners, a helpful building staff, and me (basically pointing and saying, move this here, move that there). It all went as smooth as silk. Sigh.

      Wednesday, June 20, 2012

      NYBG Gardening Summer Intensive

      I've taught at the NYBG for more than 10 years, but this summer we're offering something new: the very first Gardening Summer Intensive, a chance to earn a good chunk of your Gardening Certificate in a mere two weeks' time! Yours truly will be teaching the Container Gardening component: eight hours packed full of essential information for designing, planting, and growing container gardens.

      Spread out over two weeks (7/16 - 7/27), students will be immersed in classes on soil science, gardening fundamentals, integrated pest management, botany, soil science, and of course, container gardening. My teaching colleagues are some of the Garden's best instructors, and I'm proud to be among them. Click here for the schedule of classes or to register on line.

      The program runs from 9 - 5 weekdays, and includes several morning (i.e. when it's cool and pleasant!) garden tours with NYBG staff. At the end of two weeks, you'll be well on your way to earning a GAR certificate, which is the whole point, after all. It's a great opportunity to learn in a focused burst of education. That's why they call it an intensive.

      It's not too late to enroll, although the program is filling up fast. Call 800.322.6924 (or register on line) by July 2 to reserve your space. You'll work hard, but it'll be worth it.

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