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

      Showing posts with label how-to. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label how-to. Show all posts

      Tuesday, May 26, 2009

      HAY THERE!

      My goal was to create an inexpensive garden play space for children where I could also try hay-bale gardening. Actually straw bales meant for animal bedding are better than hay; straw is all stem and with no grain seed, at least in theory, and straw bales are cheaper.
      What I got was an architecture competition. Using 20 bales, my son, son-in-law, daughter, step-grandson-in-law and I vied for designing the best space. The three little girls didn’t care about the form, they climbed, scrambled, chased and hid no matter what the features, but they were particularly intrigued by the designs that included windows.When the party
      disbanded for
      the day, I re-
      formed bales
      into my own
      favorite, then
      planted the
      top with low-
      growing sedums
      and semper-
      vivums. First I
      added about an inch of good garden soil to the tops of the bales, inserted the roots in the soil and watered them in. The plants were left to their own devices from then on, making it through the cold New Hampshire winter in Zone 4.This spring the plants are still growing strong and the girls now older and wiser will be coming back to play. The idea is that as the hay disintegrates, it turns into compost that will feed the plants. When the whole thing falls apart, the bales will be used for mulch between the rows of Jen’s fabulous veggie/cutting garden.

      Note: If you’re
      the kind who
      worries that
      the child might
      fall off, don’t
      try this at
      home and
      don’t try it
      with toddlers
      who might not
      be able to
      withstand the
      slippage of a hay-bale. Above, the house last winter.

      On the right, the house this spring: sedums and semps still viable.

      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.

      Monday, December 8, 2008

      Time to Prune Your Evergreens

      wreath photos©Alan & Linda Detrick, design Ellen Spector Platt, cookies Judy Benson

      Advice is pretty unanimous among experts at University Extension Services in colder regions. “Prune in late March or early April before new growth begins. Light pruning may also be done in late June or early July. Avoid pruning evergreen shrubs in the fall. Fall pruned evergreens are more susceptible to winter injury.” (Iowa State Extension Service)

      I’m not trained as a horticulturalist but as a farmer who learned the hard way. I sold distinctive evergreen wreaths at my
      Meadow Lark Flower &
      Herb Farm, all greens
      coming from judicious
      pruning in mid to late
      November. We pruned
      more if we sold more.
      Even in zone 5 in NE
      Pennsylvania, I never
      had shrub damage.
      Here in New York City, I
      still prune as I need the
      materials. This year it’s
      for a few centerpieces
      and the tree pits in
      front of my building.

      1. Trim some ever-
      greens,and some ivy.
      Try for a variety of
      greens and golds,
      some needle and broad leaf branches and some ivy. Cut each stem from an inconspicuous spot, shaping the shrub as you harvest the materials you need. Buy to fill in where necessary.
      2. Stand materials in a bucket of tepid water overnight.
      3. Stand short branches in tree pits. They’ll look as if you planted dwarf evergreens.
      4. To make a long-lasting wreath for a centerpiece, buy a ring of flower foam like Oasis. It comes with a plastic bottom that protects your table. Soak in a sink filled with water for fifteen minutes, drain carefully and dry the bottom. Add greens around the exterior first, then the top, and don’t forget smaller pieces on the interior so no foam is visible.
      5. Here master
      baker Judy
      Benson con-
      tributes ginger-
      bread cookies
      baked on lolly-
      pop sticks to
      add extra in-
      terest to the
      6. Depending
      on the temperature of the room, the wreath will look great for a month or more if you take it to the sink, and carefully add water every three or four days, wiping the bottom each time. If you choose to hang the wreath, hold upright over the sink first, as more water will drain out.

      Wednesday, November 19, 2008

      It Takes a Village

      It’s called The Holiday Train Show. It opens on Nov.23 at the New York Botanical Garden and stretches until January 11, 2009 when you might be able to see it with fewer crowds. Some people can’t get enough of the garden-gauge model trains. I’m mesmerized by the replicas of New York landmarks, designed and constructed by a botanical genius, Paul Busse, and his team from Applied Imagination in Alexandria, Kentucky.

      Above, Van Cortlandt Manor, (1784) made of cedar bark, honeysuckle, willow, acorn caps, redbud pods and more. Of course take the kids, but this show fascinates adults as well; the numbers prove it and this is its 17th year.

      The 140 build-
      ings, four new
      this year, are
      made from bits
      and pieces of
      berries & bark,
      twigs & moss,
      pods & cones,
      dried flowers &
      leaves, and
      other scaven-
      ged plant
      materials. Busse said, “When I saw the black locust tree fungus, that’s all I needed to make the spiral of the Guggenheim Museum.”

      Live plant materials are part of the fantasy, adding a riot of color and texture. Where else can you find those Manhattan landmarks, the Flatiron Building, Empire State, Chrysler Building and the NY stock exchange within 4 feet of each other while trains whiz past? Viewers who know the city get a sense of discovery even before they read the explanatory signs. All boroughs are included, see the Guyon-Lake-Tyson House (1740), S.I. (below)

      and Old Stone House (1699) Brooklyn (below) made of cedar bark roof shingles, willow walls, plum bark and wood fungus. Busse also used reeds, twisted sea grass, spruce cone scales, and birch & salt cedar twigs.

      Since the train show is in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanic Garden, it’s balmy indoors, whatever the chill outside.
      For more details visit www.NYBG.org.

      Your Own Village
      After you’ve been inspired at the show, make your own village at home. Mr. Busse said that he’s done projects with kids using milk cartons as the base for the buildings. Take your kids out for a hunt in your garden, neighborhood and/or nearby park. Gather
      twigs, dried
      grasses and
      leaves, cones,
      pods, acorns
      and other good
      stuff. Here’s
      what I gather-
      ed from my garden and neighborhood, including slices of Osage oranges (see post dated 10/24/08) that I slowly dehydrated on trays in the oven. Color comes from a velvety sumac head that separates into small sections, rose hips and firethorn berries that will dry in place. I also have acorn caps, several kids of conifer pods, lambs’ear, birch bark , and sorghum that re-seeded itself from last year. Double-click on this any any other picture to get a really good view.
      1. Gather pint, quart, or half gallon milk or juice cartons. Rinse well and dry the exterior.
      2. Cut off a section of the bottom to make the size building you want. Here I’ve used one half gallon and one quart to make four buildings. The top halves have peaked ‘roofs’ and I’ve inverted the bottom halves to make flat roofs that can be tiled.
      3. Take outdoors to a protected location, put down old newspaper and spray with flat black paint. This step is important so that if some spaces remain uncovered the brand names and ads on the carton won’t show through.
      4. You can try to make a faithful rendition of your own home or a building near you, but it’s much easier and less frustrating to allow your creativity free reign. Use low temp glue, or a thick white craft glue for kids; or a hot glue gun for adults, who know how not to be burned and are ready to stick fingers too hot fingers in cold water.
      5. Add what you need from the kitchen, like cinnamon sticks, dried lentils and beans. While Busse coats his buildings with urethane (used to protect boats and to give his buildings an antique finish), you’ll probably want to display yours indoors.
      6. But first, take outdoors and spray several coats with a can of shellac for some protection. Place a grouping of buildings on a windowsill, shelf, mantle, or tray in the middle of a dining table, or under a tree. Surround with cut evergreens as you wish.

      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.

      Friday, October 24, 2008

      Oh Those Osage Oranges

      Ellen Zachos forages for food like Ginkgo nuts: I forage for natural materials to decorate my home. This time of year some of my favorite finds are baseball-sized chartreuse ‘brains’, the fruit of the Osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera). They fall to the ground, sometimes cracking, exposing the milky flesh and seeds to squirrels. But often they remain whole and are perfect for me.

      I have no Osage orange trees in my neighborhood but my friend Lois scouts the crop in Riverside Park where she walks daily, and favors me with regular reports. When the time is ripe I go early in the morning before the efficient park employees have raked up the debris, and look around for whole, unblemished fruit hiding in the grass, then schlep them home. After rinsing and drying I store in the fridge until I get enough for a nice display.

      Creating the Design: How To

      Start with a clear glass or wire bowl and start piling up the Osage oranges, biggest on the bottom and any black spots hiding toward the inside. Work up toward a pyramid shape. Intersperse with other foraged seedpods, cones, or nuts: here sweet gum balls, horse chestnuts. Locust pods rest on the table. If you have extra fruit, place them on shot glasses around the central bowl.
      You can save the oranges in a cool place to mix with other materials for Thanksgiving or Christmas displays. I often slice the fruit and dehydrate in the oven to make beautiful decorations for a holiday bird feeder tree, but more about that in December.

      The Search

      Not typically used as street trees in New York City since a falling fruit might literally ‘brain’ you, Osage orange trees find a home in many of the larger city parks. I’m not going to pinpoint my favorite trees, because I’m selfish. But search in parks near you from mid October through late November and ask a park employee. Even if the worker doesn’t know the tree by name, there’s no missing that messy fruit.

      More About the Tree

      It’s an American native, sometimes called hedge apple and can reach 60’ tall. The bark has a dark orangey tinge and I find that easier to spot than identifying the leaves when I’m on the prowl. The wood is tough, not prone to rot and excellent for making bows. They used to be planted in hedgerows on farms in the mid west. The tree bible by Michael A. Dirr (Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs) says that the tree withstands “wetness, dryness, wind, extreme heat and will grow where few other plants will”, just don’t think of it for your garden.

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