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

      Showing posts with label green design. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label green design. Show all posts

      Thursday, March 25, 2010


      At the top of my peeve list must be neighborhood stores, garden centers, and even the vaunted Greenmarket at Union Square where vendors sell tender crops like tomatoes and basil weeks before the last frost date.(double-click on any image to enlarge) What are they thinking? Where will these plants languish before they're planted by the gardener? Surely people aren't buying for their windowsill herb garden or their indoor hydroponic farm.
      OK, I admit
      that I planted
      my pansies
      March 15th this
      year, but I
      know that a
      little frost,
      even snow
      won't hurt
      them too
      much. Plant
      your sage,
      chives and
      thyme if you
      want to, any-
      thing peren-
      nial, but the
      vendors pictured top and below are complicit in garden failure. I can only think it's a way to get a second sale when the first plant fails in the cold weather. The Channel 1 meteorologist is predicting possible frost tonight. It's still March folks. Don't sell basil yet! (above right, ESP and her pansy 'hangover')2. For a consulting project, I've been thinking a lot about failure lately, and the roll it plays in the life of the novice gardener. I used to read some of those gorgeous gardening books by famous British writers, thinking I should be able to produce a similar garden. Well, the heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer, not to mention the freezing winters, didn't exactly match a climate like Gloucestershire, England, and no publisher exactly made that clear. In fact the opposite. Gardeners from England and their publishers often imply that we could and should be doing what they do; another opportunity for failure, when a novice gardener doesn't know enough to even ask the climate questions.
      3. A third opportunity for failure is offered by garden catalogs showing macro photos of tiny blossoms without showing the flower in a larger context. A buyer purchases a plant like the one above expecting it to be loaded with 6" blossoms, then must face the reality of 1/2" blossoms. It happened to with witch hazel. I read the description, saw the huge blossoms, and was later astounded by the discrepancies with what I got: small blossom on a shrub that held over its dead leaves from fall. (see above) Whose failure is that? Certainly not the novice gardener?

      4. My fourth and last peeve (at least for now) are the plantings in the islands of upper Park Ave. I've heard that a special trust exists to support these plantings. Season after season there's a stage set of one type of flower, tulips in spring, begonias in summer for example. While I admit that the taxis and traffic lights make excellent foils for the color of the tulips, could we have some imagination please? An actual garden instead of floral theater?Now that I've confessed my current top four peeves, please write in your pet gardening peeves. You'll feel better for it.

      Below, mid spring as I like it, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 4/19/09.

      Sunday, January 24, 2010

      In your opinion...

      It's that time of year again: Flower & Garden Show Time! This works out well for us Garden Communicators in cold climates, since we're not so busy outdoors for the next few months. I can't think of a better way to spend the winter than learning about new plants and hearing garden experts speak about what they know and love. (Well maybe an extended topical vacation, but that gets expensive...)

      This year I'm giving a brand new presentation as the keynote address for the Connecticut Master Gardeners Association Symposium, in Manchester, CT: Just Because You're a Gardener Doesn't Mean You're Green! I'm excited because this is a chance to talk with experienced gardeners about making considered, careful choices on how to garden in harmony with the environment.

      As gardeners we're more aware of our natural surroundings than many people...that's what comes of being obsessed with plants and landscapes. But we can do better. This lecture focuses on simple suggestions on how to be a better gardener AND a better environmental steward, and I'd like your help.

      E.g., one of my pet peeves is how some gardeners don't understand that even organic insecticides can be harmful to the environment. Pyrethrin based sprays (made from certain Chrysanthemum species) may be organic, but they're still toxic to pollinators, fish, and birds. We all need to understand that there are alternatives to reaching for a bottle of bug spray.

      What do YOU think is important? Have you reduced the size of your lawn or started cultivating the Soil Food Web? I want to know. Please share your ideas with me, and I promise to give a public shout out to anyone whose contribution makes it into my final presentation. And of course you'll have my undying gratitude...

      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.

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