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

      Showing posts with label hidden treasures. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label hidden treasures. Show all posts

      Saturday, January 10, 2009


      Living wall, green wall, vertical garden, Le Mur Vegetal: they’re all names for a new type of garden design rapidly gaining respect. Pioneered by Patrick Blanc in Paris in 1994 vertical gardens are popping up on fa?ades when there's no other room to plant. Green walls are akin to greenroofs, but run vertically, often in a place where passers by can admire them, sometimes on an interior wall.

      The structure requires plastic sheeting, a metal frame, and fibrous materials
      to hold the roots in place. There is no soil. Plants are watered from the top
      with a carefully metered solution of water and nutrients. This mix trickles
      down; excess is captured in a trough at the bottom, then returned to the top
      to reuse. Interior green walls need special lighting as well.

      Eager to see an example and
      not ready to spring for a trip
      to Paris where I could see at
      least six gardens designed by
      Blanc, I hoofed it to E. 86th St.,
      between 3rd and 2nd Ave. in
      Manhattan. My eye was
      temporarily distracted by a
      fruit stand at curbside. I walk-
      ed right by the garden, which
      reaches from the second to
      third floors above the Pure
      Yoga Studio. If you look only
      in the storefronts, or at the
      strawberries on the cart,
      you’ll miss it.

      On this heavily commercial block, the garden makes an aesthetic statement, and a small contribution to reducing air pollution spewed out by trucks and the crosstown bus. I took some pictures but decided to wait until spring to write about it, tracking the stability of the garden through two more seasons.

      Alas, on my visit last week
      'scaffolding scourge' had over-
      taken the garden. By law,
      facades of New York City build-
      ings over six stories must be inspected “periodically”. Once a company comes to inspect and make repairs, the scaffolding remains FOREVER. The plants were totally shielded from sunlight except for a small band above the construction. They looked ratty,if not dead.

      So beware if you hope to install
      a vertical garden: check out your
      building’s plans before you start,
      or try this small scale version of
      a green wall in any limited space.
      (As seen at the New York Botanic
      Garden Home Gardening section).

      Thursday, November 13, 2008

      Blooming Grasses

      My gardening season starts on Christmas day, when the tradition on my farm has been to light the fireplace, brew a pot of tea, and surround myself with spring catalogs that have been poring in. I start with a sharp pencil, Post-its for marking pages, lists of seeds and plants, and fantasies of what my garden could look like. My tradition continues on New Year’s Day. While the other half of my family celebrates with college bowl games, I try on old and new plant favorites on my wish list.

      My visions are vivid for spring and summer, much less so for fall and winter. I do my major garden center buys between April and June, and am seduced by plants not on my list because they’re coming in to season. If I got to a nursery more often in fall I‘d have more grasses in my garden because they’d scream ‘Take me home.’

      During fall and winter many grasses show off best. Majesty of structure, movement with the breeze, whispering sounds, a backdrop of crimson and gold trees or a dusting of snow, are some of the reasons to plant grasses. In Mid-November the sun streaming through blooming grasses in the Conservatory Garden is one of the highlights of the display. (top center)
      The Conservatory Garden is a largely hidden treasure on 105th and 5th in Central Park.

      On the right, noted garden photographer Alan Detrick captures light playing off the grasses in one of my fall displays. (©Alan & Linda Detrick)

      New York City gardeners find that that grasses are perfect for containers and many like sea oats, golden variegated Hakonechloa,and Japanese blood grass do well in light shade. Use grasses like the tough Giant Reed (Arundo donax) for screening as well as aesthetics. Remember that the annual spring shearing will leave you temporarily exposed. On the right, my rooftop garden in September with Pennisetum grass, black-eyed Susans, and the lovely Joe-Pye variety, Eupatorium 'Little Joe' (Double-click to enlarge photo.)

      Cut a few stems of any grass from your garden when the plant is coming into bloom and stand them in an attractive container. They’ll dry in place and give you an elegant but inexpensive display all winter. If you don’t have any of your own, look in vacant lots for weed grasses like green foxtail, that looks fantastic dried. Pick in the green stage, late summer to early fall so the seeds won’t drop all over your floor as the bloom dries.

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