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

      Showing posts with label early spring flowers. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label early spring flowers. Show all posts

      Monday, January 4, 2010


      Viewed from across a frozen pond on an otherwise gray day, the torii (gateway) in the Japanese Garden is startling to behold. (Brooklyn Botanic Garden) Grass seed heads around the Central Park Reservoir provide refuge for birds and interest for runners.Also in Central Park at the Conservatory Garden life goes on.
      Kids in my building make snowmen on the roof garden using seedheads from blackeyed Susans for eyes and buttons, and grass stems for arms. At the Park Zoo I spy heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) which I vow to plant in my own garden this spring. In January 2008, the Japanese apricot ( Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke') blossoms bloomed near the BBG Conservatory; I didn't know whether to rejoice at this early sign of spring or cry about climate change.

      Thursday, November 12, 2009

      it's a floor polish, it's a dessert topping...

      All hail Apios americana!

      What? Never heard of it? I'm not surprised. You won't find it at a big box store; it takes a special kind of nursery to offer this plant.

      Maybe people just don't understand how to classify Apios americana (aka hopniss, aka groundnut). Is it an edible? an ornamental? A. americana is both of these and more. Without exaggeration I offer you:

      - an ornamental vine with a fragrant and lovely flower;
      - a low maintenance plant, growing approximately 10 feet in a season;
      - a perennial that grows in sun to part shade, tolerates wet and dry soils, and like most legumes, thrives in poor soils;
      - a delicious tuber; after letting the plant establish for 2 years, you can harvest a crop each fall without sacrificing performance the following year.

      I found no reference to growing Apios in containers, but decided to take a chance in a tight corner of a client's terrace. I wanted something that would mask the railing and grow well in a half day of sun. And if, perchance, I got to harvest a meal from the container at the end of the season...well, how nice for me!

      The leaves of A. americana are typically leguminous: pinnately compound with 5-7 leaflets.

      Flowers are wisteria-esque; individual blooms are pink on the outside, reddish on the inside (Georgia O'Keefe fans take note) and borne in clusters. They bloom in August/September and you'll often smell their intense perfume before you notice the flower visually.

      Tubers form inches below the soil surface and grow in chains, with the older tubers being the largest. When you cut back the vines in fall (as I did earlier this week), it's the perfect time to dig up a meal.

      In the wild this plant often colonizes rocky soils, making the tubers difficult to dig. In the cultivated soil of a back yard garden or a rooftop container, however, digging up a meals' worth of hopniss is quick and easy. I don't claim it's foraging, but it sure is fun.

      I like my hopniss roasted, but you can boil, bake, or saute them...whatever your little heart desires. The taste is nutty and dense, like a cross between a potato and a peanut.

      Whether you want to eat the tubers or merely gaze upon the lovely Apios, do me a favor. Ask for it wherever you shop for plants. Ask for it every time you go in. Ask until you wear them down. It's a tactic that works surprisingly well. In the meantime, you can find A. americana in Brooklyn at Gowanus Nursery and via mailorder from Brushwood Nursery.

      P.S. If you get the title of this post, please let me know.

      Thursday, April 9, 2009

      Opening Day

      No, I'm not talking about baseball. Although in light of OE's last post about phenology I'd like to add some urban phenological insight to this urban gardening blog: Plant violas when baseball season begins.

      It's been a busy winter: teaching, travel, flower shows, finishing off a really long book proposal (which I hope ignites a bidding war among publishers). For the last few weeks I've been itching to get back into the garden, dreaming about the fragrance of violas and their bright little faces.

      Of all the violas, my favorite is Viola tricolor (aka Johnny jump up, heartsease, wild pansy). Its smaller flower size seems more natural and less domesticated than that of the beefier pansy. Yes, it can escape, and yes, it can spread enthusiastically, but in city windowboxes this is rarely a problem. If I find a few self-seeded plants popping up between the roof tiles I consider myself lucky. Viola tricolor is a cool weather plant that does best in full to part sun. It's easy to start from seed, but I usually start with flats for an instant burst of color. In NYC, violas can look good through the end of June, depending on how hot the location is. You'll know when it's time to pull them out; flowers get smaller and plants get leggier as the temperatures warm up.

      At the other end of the viola spectrum is the burly Viola x wittrockiana (aka garden pansy). These flowers are two to four times larger than Johnny jump ups, and there are tons of colors to choose from: almost black, tangerine orange, maroon, white. They are slightly less fragrant than their petite cousins, and grow best in full to part sun, regular moisture, and cool temperatures.

      You may also find mixed flats labeled simply violas, with flowers larger than Johnny jump ups and smaller than pansies. Don't worry about the lack of a specific epithet. If you like the flowers, buy 'em; when it comes to violas you can't really go wrong. Plant them near a window where their scent can drift indoors on a warm spring day.

      Some clients choose to skip pansy season. They say it's cold outside and they won't use the terrace for another month or so. They say they don't want to plant something now that they'll just have to pull out in a few weeks. I say poppycock. You can get 4-8 weeks out of pansies if you plant them now and that's well worth the effort. Besides, what better way is there to celebrate the beginning of baseball season than by planting a crop of Violas? Go Bosox.

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