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

      Showing posts with label decoration. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label decoration. Show all posts

      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. 

      Monday, October 11, 2010


      By the end of September, my central feature was looking bedraggled and in need of a color punch to ride out the season. I bought a few pumpkins and prepared to 'plant' them in the empty spaces. Invariably when I work on the roof garden, whatever kids are playing there offer to help. I use this time for surreptitious garden teaching. While I wire some miniatures to dangle from the chair back, these twins find the perfect way to display some others.image © B.B. Platt
      I was inspired by the pumpkin house in the annual display at the Dallas Arboretum but thought I didn't need a complete structure because buildings surround our roof. In the Dallas Arburetum just by lining a path, they acheive a magical transformation of an annual garden.Back in the city, I make another still life of pumpkins, sunflower seed heads and stuff, inspired by the black-leafed Loropetalum I brought home from a conference. I know it won't winter over in this Zone, so why not have fun with it? In this garden, I don't expect small hands to re-do my masterpiece.image © Alan & Linda Detrick, all rights reserved

      The New York City Mayor shouldn't have to worry about the pumpkins in front of his home, with the security cameras focused on them and police presence as well.
      See pumpkin fun at the New York Botanical Garden and the Queens Botanical Garden.

      Monday, December 21, 2009


      all photos©Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design.

      A firm believer in the value of lazy gardening, I prune conifers only as I need them for decoration or for mulch. As I cut for wreath, garland or mantelpiece, I shape the shrub thereby skipping the step of dragging trimmings on the compost pile. Here I've combined fresh greens with home-made snowmen for a winter theme.
      What You NeedTo make the snow men you'll need tube socks (a pack from a street vendor provide more than enough), uncooked rice (buy the cheapest kind), rubber bands, orange pipe cleaners, small cones, fabric glue or hot glue gun, assorted buttons and narrow ribbons.What You Do
      Pour the rice into the sock, leaving about four inches empty at the top. Close and secure with a rubber band. Turn down the cuff to hide the rubber band, forming a little hat. Tie a piece of ribbon at the neck and another one at the waist.
      Glue a cone at the top of the hat, small buttons for eyes and down the front. Cut a piece of pipe cleaner, poke it into the sock and glue in place.
      To make different size snowmen, cut off part of the top before filling.Start decorating the mantel with greens. To make greens stay fresh much longer, fill some containers with wet floral foam and stick in the stems. Add other large cones, pieces of bark and bare twigs, whatever you can come up with.

      Friday, November 27, 2009


      Our family tradition when I was little was to take a Sunday drive in the country, leaving West Philadelphia for the rural atmosphere of Rosemont Pa, hunting for 'The Bittersweet Man'. He stood by the big curve on Montgomery Avenue, arriving in late September, selling bunches of bittersweet and Japanese lanterns. He'd remain for a few week's then disappear until the following year.
      My Mother had a pottery pitcher with a shiny brown glaze that was the only container she'd ever use for the orange berries. Now I insist on cutting my own bittersweet every fall, from the roadsides in PA, NJ, NY or my favorite place, a certain backyard in Ipswich MA. Yes I know it's an invasive scourge to many people, but I'm actually doing a community service when I cut stems when the shells are bright yellow, just before the berries, open to bring indoors.
      These days I often make
      a simple wreath with the
      stems. Here's how.
      1.Cut stems in full berry,
      three to four feet long.
      2.Take one stem and
      wrap it around itself,
      tucking in the end. Now
      you have the base of
      the wreath. Even a six
      year-old can do it with-
      out help.
      3.Take another stem and
      weave it in and out
      around the circle. Tuck
      in any small branches
      that jut out.
      4.The trick is to harvest
      the stems just before
      the berries open, mid
      September around New
      York City, second week in October around Ipswich, and make the wreath the same day you pick the stems. That way you'll have almost no droppage of berries. Hang the wreath indoors in a spot that doesn't get brushed against, or on a door that doesn't get slammed. Prop on a shelf, or lay flat on a coffee table out of reach of the dog's tail. Lucy is very proud of her wreath, and I'm proud of mine.

      I'll keep it until just after Thanksgiving on my coffee table (top of the post) then replace it with something else; but my little yellow pitcher with extra stems, sitting on a shelf in the bathroom, will stay until spring.

      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.

      Sunday, September 27, 2009


      Where have all the flowers gone? On a birthday cake, most everyone.
      In New York City roses will be blooming for another month or more. Take advantage.

      Take any dessert, homemade or from a bakery, and add fabulous touches like chocolate rose leaves and edible flowers and herbs. Growing roses organically in my all-container roof-top garden, I have materials at my fingertips from May to November.
      Visitors Annabelle & Lucy decorated this cake for Annabelle's 8th birthday. We made the cake and icing together. I picked the materials with them to make sure we chose only edibles. The girls made the chocolate leaves and placed them and all the flowers on the cake.
      In addition to the chocolate leaves we used roses and rose petals, calendula petals, pansies, small marigolds, borage flowers, lavender, rose geranium leaves, and mint leaves.
      What You Need
      4 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate
      15 leaves from a rose bush or other non-poisonous shrub. The leaves should be dark green, leathery, mature leaves not the lighter green new leaves.
      Look for medium sized leaves with nice thick veins. Keep a little stem on the each leaf. This will be your handle.
      butter knife
      Wax paper and paper towels
      Dinner knife

      What You DoRinse the leaves quickly and pat them totally dry with a paper towel.
      Unwrap the chocolate break or chop into pieces and melt it in a microwaveable bowl on high for one minute. Stir and if not fully melted return for 30 seconds more. Let the chocolate cool off for one minute. Never get water drops anywhere near melting chocolate.
      Put a piece of wax paper on the bottom of the tray.
      Turn the leaves bottom side up, so the veins of the leaves stand out more. Hold the leaf at the stem end.
      Dip butter knife in the melted chocolate and cover the bottom side only with chocolate. Don’t cover the sides or the stem at all. When you finish coating each leaf put it on the tray, chocolate side up and let it chill in the refrigerator for an hour or more.When the chocolate is firm, turn over a leaf, grab the stem and peel the green leaf back back. Use a clean knife in the other hand to steady the leaf as you're peeling.
      IMPORTANT TIPS: Make the coat of chocolate about 1/8 of an inch thick or more. If it’s too thin the chocolate will crack when you try to peel off the leaf. Handle the chocolate leaf with a knife as you place it on the cake. Heat from fingers will quickly melt the chocolate. Place on the cake, good side up, the impression of the veins showing.The proud birthday girl with "the most beautiful cake I ever saw".

      Wednesday, July 8, 2009


      A few decorative edibles from my garden decorating a rich chocolate cake: day lily buds, borage flowers, lavender, roses, bachelor buttons, mint, variegated pineapple mint, and bronze fennel.

      When we say that flowers are edible, that doesn't mean they're all equally tasty. Beautifully perfumed roses taste better than roses with little scent; sweet smelling lavenders taste better than those with a camphorous aroma. And even then, its the petals or buds that are tasty, not the stem, the recptical, or the calyx. People who have allergies shouldn't eat the stamens and the pollen parts.

      I'm particularly annoyed by pretentious chefs who decorate a plate with small orchids or other flowers straight from a tradtional florist. The grower has sprayed them within an inch of their lives.
      When they come from your own garden, that of a friend, or a trusted organic source, you have full control over what you put on your table.

      More flowers & herbs, home-grown, organic, and rinsed before using.

      New potatoes, yogurt, salt, pepper garnished with chopped chives, lavender buds, borage flowers, calendula, and perilla (shiso)

      Sponge roll with lemon sauce garnished with nasturtium flowers' Peaches and Cream' and lemon verbena leaves.
      Chocolate cake, chocolate icing, garnished with nasturtium flowers and leaves, day lily flowers, pansies, calendula, roses and borage flowers from my summer garden.
      (image © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design)
      Two sizes of coconut cakes stacked, garnished with lemon scented geranium, lavender, pansies, roses and hyssop from my fall garden. (image © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design)

      Tuesday, June 16, 2009


      On my rooftop garden I aim to have plantings of major interest from March through December: that means interest to ME, who designs, plants and tends the garden for my condo building. In winter only the desperate smokers face the gale-force winds and frigid cold of the 18thfloor. Here’s what’s making me happy today.

      One bush of blue hydrangea is coming to peak form, a Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’ that blooms on both new and old wood. The H.m.‘Nikko Blue’ that were planted before my tenure rarely flower but I hate to rip them out because the foliage is still nice. The hydrangea is backed up by some modest yellow potentilla, enhanced by the bright blue.Also starting to bloom is the lacecap hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’ whose new leaves and stems are a reddish color as advertised and whose foliage will turn deep maroon in fall.

      The lavender ‘Hidcote’
      is really showing off
      and I picked a few
      stems for pressing,
      but the ‘Provence’
      lavender (Lavandula x
      intermedia 'Provence')
      is just getting started.

      The brilliant chartreuse
      foliage of the Sumac
      ‘Tiger Eyes’ (Rhus
      typhina) makes it one
      of my favorite plants
      now and until late fall,
      especially in front of
      the deep mahogony
      of the cut leaf Japanese maple. In a container this sumac is beautifully controlled.

      Just going off stage is the climbing rose ‘New Dawn’ that blooms here but once a year, even when I deadhead assiduously. It earns its keep by the month-long show it flashes in late May. Other roses like 'Crown Princess Margareta', 'Oso Easy Paprika', and
      'Graham Thomas'
      have finished their
      first big bloom and
      are setting new buds
      for later display.
      (Below, the climber
      'New Dawn' trying
      to escape.)And in the herb garden,
      not much color but in
      teresting sweet flavor
      from my one specimen
      of Stevia rebaudiana
      that is making its debut
      this year. Stevia powder
      is all the rage as a
      natural sweetener, and
      I wanted to see what
      this semi-tropical herb
      would do here in NYC.
      In the fall I’ll bring it in
      to winter over on my

      Below, Wreath design Ellen
      Spector Platt , photo© Alan & Linda Detrick

      If you like to dry
      hydrangea for indoor
      decorations DON’T
      NOW. Wait until they’re
      very mature. That
      means that every stem
      you cut will have been
      on the bush for 1-2
      months, feel papery
      to the touch, and have
      started to change color
      slightly, i.e. the whites
      get tinges of pink
      or wine color, the blues
      get tinges of green or
      maroon. If you cut too
      early, the petals will
      shrivel as they dry. Cut
      when the flowers are
      mature, then you can
      arrange them immed-
      iately without even
      hanging to dry. And don't try to dry the flower heads that have but a few petals like the lacecap varieties. You'll thank me for this tip!
      (Design Ellen Spector Platt, photo© Alan & Linda Detrick)

      Wednesday, March 4, 2009


      All photos except second from top ©Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design.
      I saw pansy flats for sale at my corner store last week. Tulip bulbs peek up through the snow in my tree pits. Hellebores in my roof garden display full bud. The Philadelphia Flower show is in glorious bloom, an easy Amtrak ride from New York City through Sunday 3/8/09.

      Since 1829, now the larg-
      est indoor flower show on
      the planet, over 250,000
      people walk their feet off
      through the 33 acres of
      concrete flooring admir-
      ing all manner of gar-
      dens, arrangements,
      plant competitions and
      educational exhibits.
      There is some immutable
      law that every visitor
      must go home with a
      plant, pack of seeds,
      book, vase, tool or shed.
      Nothing seems as popular
      as pussy willow. Visitors
      to the show create pedestrian hazards as they manipulate long bunches through the crowded aisles of the Market Place.

      I’ve often been poked by someone
      else's pussy willow, and may have
      done some inadvertent poking of
      my own, until one year I rooted
      the fresh stems and grew three
      of my own shrubs, then had
      enough to cut and sell at my
      booth in the Market Place along
      with my dried flowers and herbs.

      Here are some other things you
      can do with the pussy willow you
      buy fresh at NYC greenmarkets.

      When stems are very fresh
      coil each one and lay it inside
      a glass pitcher, building up
      the construction. Three or four
      stems will probably fill the
      container and the willow will
      dry in place. Buds of yellow
      mimosa just starting open
      will also dry as they lay.

      Find a group of similar bottles in different sizes and put one stem of either regular or contorted pussy willow in each bottle without water. (below) The display will last until you get bored by it.

      Make a pussy willow wreath on a metal wreath frame, cutting larger stems into pieces about eight inches in length. Use the finished wreath as part of a table centerpiece with sprigs of mimosa which will dry in place and various size eggs, both dyed and natural.

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