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

      Showing posts with label kids. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label kids. Show all posts

      Saturday, February 4, 2012


      Back, back, back in the day, every florist sold dish gardens to give as gifts, a miniature garden in a bowl with three or more small house plants crammed together with a cheap ceramic figurine.
      The plant choices where never well thought out, each having different sun/shade and water requirements. Within a month one plant usually took over and the others died. I HATED dish gardens as a kid.
      But I was enchanted by the Terrarium Exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in the Steinhardt Conservatory Gallery through Feb. 26. Though they reminded me of dish gardens, they were both simpler and more sophisticated. Many are planted in lidded glass, but some in open containers, even fish tanks.Designed by Jennifer Williams, a staff designer for the BBG, each seemed like a private world to inhabit, and one made for city apartments.click on the sign above to enlarge for reading.
      We need all the help with survival we can get.On seeing this exhibit, I thought that any kid I know would beg to plant a terrarium for his own, and I yearned to have my granddaughters with me.

      Shall we dance? Just a little moss with branches and bracken.
      For more information visit the bbg blog.

      Thursday, January 19, 2012

      Mud Pies & Other Recipes

      I've always loved books. Books were my favorite presents growing up, and as an adult I occasionally buy children's books for myself. It's like catching up with an old friend.

      So imagine my delight when Sara surprised me with Mud Pies and Other Recipes, by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad. Published in 1961, it is self-described as a cookbook for dolls, and it's true, the recipes aren't intended for human consumption. I was fascinated by this book as a child, convinced that if I followed the instructions precisely, I'd end up with something wonderful. Which I did. Although I couldn't eat it.

      No matter. As I thumb through this reprint (thanks to the folks at The New York Review's Childrens Collection for bringing it back into print), I wonder, "Is this where it all began?"

      The gardening, the foraging, the cooking? Maybe the spark was lit by the recipe for Marigold Madness, lo these many years.

      Thursday, April 28, 2011


      Virginia bluebells, native dogwood, redbud in bloom, a river running in the background,
      a stand of fern: wouldn't you just know that you're standing at Dykeman St. and Harlem River Drive, in that serene oasis of plants and wildlife, Swindler Cove Park?
      Wander by the spread of Solomon seal, then sit yourself down to contemplate the white bleeding hearts or walk a few hundred feet to the edge of the Harlem River and watch the activity surrounding the boat house. It was completed in 2004 and floated into place. What looks serene and bucolic now was until recently an illegal dumping site, dark and dangerous until rescued by the heroic New York Restoration project founded by Bette Midler. P.S.5 adjoins this site, and part of the park plan was to incorporate a children's garden into Swindler Cove Park. Enter through arches of grape vines, admire raised beds with vegetables, an herb garden and strawberry patch and a cold frame where seedlings are being hardened off before planting.
      Students from the school and from classes all over the city come to learn whence cometh their food, and to taste produce grown here.
      Visit a fresh water pond, a restored wetlands, ornamental gardens. I admired containers ready for a planting of annuals, an idea ripe for home gardeners. This place not only restores the woodlands, shoreline and and wetlands, but the soul as well.
      To learn more: directions, programs and visiting click here.

      Wednesday, August 25, 2010


      If you have it, you can grow this:Portland Japanese Garden

      If you don't have water you can grow this.Northern NM

      The Santa Fe Audubon Society captures rain in great barrels to help water the gardens near the Visitor Center. Rain and melting snow falls from spouts directly into the barrels and is siphoned off from there.

      My dear friends in Santa Fe struggled for some twenty years, buckets in showers, to hand carry water to the garden. When they finally fitted the entire roof of their one story adobe home and garage with a water capture system the garden sprang to life.Santa Fe Greenhouses estimates they have one acre of roof surface and collect about 320,000 gallons of precipitation in their 38,000 gallon cistern.
      And what are we doing about water in New York City? Not much! Rain water drains from rooftops into the sewer system. 70% of the sewage system carries combined rainwater and water flushed from our toilets. When a heavy rain comes along, there is flooding at the corners where sewers are backed up. With a really heavy rain, some subway lines are flooded. We pay to process all of the water together, even that which is not raw sewage.
      Meanwhile a building such as mine is reluctant to wash the pavement with a hose or water the tree wells more than twice a week because water is too expensive.The Queens Botanical Garden demonstrates one solution above. On the green roof of their new Visitor Center, rain water is absorbed by soil and taken up by the plants that live there, helping to alleviate some of the flooding in other areas of the low lying garden.

      On The High Line in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, bog plants are grown in special containers that are watered regularly.On my roof I've grown a bowl of carniverous bog plants for kids including the ever-popular Venus fly trap.If we don't have enough water we'll be reduced to this:

      Or this:

      Thursday, January 28, 2010


      Paper bush at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
      I often take children on treasure hunts through garden or woods. We search for what's in season, what's unusual, cool, or beautiful. We admire, photograph, sketch or gather, depending on where we are. We make fairy houses and other wondrous crafts with pods, cones, dropped leaves and petals.

      January 26th at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I was on my own, no child in tow. In the 'dead' of winter I wanted to find what was most alive and most appealing outdoors. Here are some treasures I discovered in just a tiny part of the BBG, on the walk from the #2 train to a meeting in the auditorium.

      Of course, Snowdrops. Not so unusual in January but a very pleasing reminder that spring is coming. Also a big container of pansies at the entrance on Eastern Parkway. A stand of green stinking hellebores mixed with the copper of faded fern stems, and sprays of hardy Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) displaying their yellow flowers. (below)Buds
      I swear I've never seen Paper bush before (Edgeworthia chrysantha, top image) but this shrub gathered a crowd of admirers, all gardening professionals. The "American Hort. Society Encyclopedia of Plants" shows pictures of this species with yellow flowers. So these must be the buds.
      Fattening up too are the buds of the Star Magnolia, one of the first to bloom in spring. Their flowers are often blackened by late frost so never a favorite in my own gardens.
      Last Fall's fruit still looking attractive are yellow and red-berried hollies.
      A little wrinkled but still vibrant are the fruits of a flowering crab (Malus 'Sugar Time')

      What looked like an
      evergreen Magnolia
      was spark-
      ling in the sun. (I didn't
      dare hop over the fence
      to check the ID tag).

      The variegated leaves of
      the Kumazasa bamboo
      (Sasa veitchii) below,
      while not in peak con-
      dition, served their
      architectural function
      around the viewing
      platform of the Japan-
      ese Hill and Pond

      Without the distraction of flowers, I found lots of bark treasures, in particular two varieties of Crape-myrtle. The bark is so smooth it seems like a sanding machine has just completed its work.Whenever I'm in a special garden I'm looking for stuff that I can plant at home. One of the great treasures found on this hunt is a stand of Black Bamboo (Phyllostchys nigra), so called because of the shiny black stems of the mature plant. I actually do use it on my roof garden in a 30" pot. It's very successful for its conditions but will never compare to this magnificent specimen. Note how it's planted at the BBG isolated by a swath of driveway. Someone must have measured the longest possible root creep and decided it's safe.

      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.

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