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

      Showing posts with label lavender. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label lavender. Show all posts

      Friday, June 4, 2010


      (double click to enlarge any image)
      Regular readers of this blog know that I garden on the rooftop for my condo building in Manhattan. Last summer this roof was totally resurfaced: all vines and climbers cut down from fences, all containers moved to one end, all pavers stacked up, then everything moved to the other end of the space. There was no garden.
      In January with the re-roofing accomplished, I ordered all new fiberglass containers. By early April, with three men from the building, I had transplanted every plant into the new containers. (The bachelor buttons in the foreground volunteered for the new garden, coming in with some old soil).
      As usual, the rose 'Harison's Yellow' was the first to bloom, though I had to cut it to half it's size for the move.

      I'm not a big fan of ever-
      greens for this garden,
      because almost no one
      uses the space from
      December to March,
      and no one views the
      garden up close from
      behind a window.
      I want plants shouting
      COLOR with flower or
      foliage. Here, an Encore
      azalea though I'm not
      sure it will repeat bloom
      in NYC.

      The second rose to
      bloom was the David
      Austin English rose
      'Graham Thomas', a
      delightful choice with
      absolutely no black
      spot or mildew in this
      site. Note in front of the roses the fern-like foliage of California poppies. I sprinkled the seeds in situ in mid-March, just the way they like. My first poppy blooms were last week. The roses were all early, responding to April heat. As the first flush of blooms departed the poppies popped out.Next came the 'New Dawn' climber with perennial salvia and another sprinkle of poppy foliage in front. Poor 'New Dawn' only half the size of her '09 self.
      I love Hydrangea 'Endless Summer' because it flowers on new wood starting in May and going all summer, and doesn't have a problem with late spring frost. On the left, another variety of mop-head hydrangea 'Nikko Blue' forms buds the previous year, and frequently fails to bloom at all.
      By mid-May the annuals I've planted from seed have yet to bloom, so I buy three trays for immediate color. A new favorite is Calibrachoa, orange flowers, right front.
      By the end of May, the lavender joined the hydrangea in full bloom. This combo is actually a no-no: water loving plant in the same container with one that likes drier soil, but I force my will on them by varying the drip feeds.
      As you can see, I favor floriferous plants.

      Below, the foliage of sumac 'Tiger Eyes' is enhanced by the color of the Calibrachoa.
      Let those in the building who complained in March that the lead gray color of the containers was too dull, eat their words. It's the perfect foil for the plants.Most of the plants I started from seed have yet to bloom; the zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers cerinthe, and hollyhock will be out by the end of June. The basil, dill, and cilantro are still too small to pick. Since I have only limited windowsill space to start seeds indoors, I put some cosmos seeds in the outer row of my tomato container. Yesterday I transplanted the 6" high seedlings, scattering them around the garden.

      Sunday, November 8, 2009


      Sorrel Pesto Appetizer

      This low fat appetizer is like a crustless quiche, served warm or at room temperature. The sorrel has a lemony taste, and is easy to grow as a garden perennial.

      2 ½ cups nonfat cottage cheese

      4 cups sorrel leaves, washed and spun dry*

      8 ounces low-fat cream cheese cut in pieces

      1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

      2 large eggs

      2 cloves minced garlic

      4 teaspoons chopped fresh basil

      ½ cup pine nuts

      Salt and pepper to taste

      *substitute a pack of frozen chopped spinach if no sorrel is available: pre-cook and drain in the same way as below. Still very good but missing that lemony zing.

      Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Chop sorrel leaves. Drop in boiling salt water for a minute. Drain well in a strainer, squeeze out additional liquid by hand, and pat dry with a paper towel. Let cool. Drain cottage cheese in the strainer and press out excess liquid. Put all ingredients except pine nuts in food processor and blend until smooth. Then mix in pine nuts and adjust seasoning.

      Bake in a buttered 9” round pan for about an hour, until lightly brown on top. Let cool. Cut in wedges. Serves 12 as an appetizer, 8 for lunch.

      Garnish with small fresh sorrel leaves, cherry tomatoes both red and yellow, extra pine nuts if you have them and extra pine nuts.

      Lemon Loaf Lavandula

      Not all lavender has the same great flavor. Some species taste like camphor. For cooking use any variety of Lavandula angustifolia, sometimes called English lavender. If you don't grow your own and are buying dried lavender buds, make sure it's 'culinary grade' not just anything they have lying around a cosmetics chain store.

      For the cake:

      1/3 cup butter

      1 cup sugar

      2 eggs

      1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

      1 teaspoon dried lavender buds, or two teaspoons fresh lavender buds (off the stem, no leaves)

      2 1/2 cups sifted flour

      1 tablespoon baking powder

      1/2 teaspoon salt

      1 cup milk

      Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-by-f-by-3-inch loaf pan. Cream the butter and sugar until soft. Add the eggs one at a time until smooth; add the rind. Pinch the lavender with your fingers to release more oils and add to the mixture. Combine flour, baking powder and salt, mixing lightly with a spoon. Add the dry ingredients and milk to the creamed mixture, alternating in two or three pours. Bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. While the cake is baking make this glaze.

      For the glaze

      1/2 cup sugar

      1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

      1/2 teaspoon dried lavender buds or one teaspoon fresh buds

      1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

      1/4 to 1/2 cup Grand Marnier liqueur a delicious option

      Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan, pinching the lavender buds with fingers before adding. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from stove.

      When the cake comes out of the oven, let cool for about 10 minutes, turn out of the pan and place on a plate, right side up. Prick the top with a fork in several places and pour the glaze over the loaf letting it absorb slowly. Let the cake cool before slicing. Pass any extra glaze in a small pitcher when serving the slices.

      Tangy Herb Cheese

      Line a strainer or colander with rinsed cheesecloth, or if you don't have that, position several drip coffee filters inside. Spoon unflavored yogurt in the filters or cheesecloth. Place the colander on a deep dish, cover loosely with wax paper, refrigerate, and let the yogurt drain for eight hours or overnight. Put the drained yogurt in a container and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of your favorite finely chopped fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and chives. Spread on crackers, celery or cucumber slices.

      Wednesday, September 9, 2009


      Lavender path in Bath, England

      In winter ’09 I was a judge in the Garden Writers Association competition for best garden book of the year. The judges assessed dozens of books; the grand prize will be announced in three weeks.

      I just finished reading my favorite garden book of the decade, maybe even of all time. It was written in 1932 so doesn’t qualify for this year's Garden Writer's award. The book is “Down the Garden Path” by Beverley Nichols.

      I suppose every American and British gardener has enjoyed this book for years, but I came to it only last week, ultimately seduced by the exalted praise in the Timber Press catalog. I know never to believe a person trying to sell me something, and yet when I was desperate for a summer read, my library came up with an old edition, one of 32 editions that have been in print since first publication. No colored pictures, no “how-to’s”, just delicious adventures in gardening.
      Dyffrn Garden, Wales

      Nichols is not an expert, but a reporter/playwright/novelist who is in the full flush of garden discovery. He is peevish, his humor acerbic, his prejudices on full display. He’s a misogynist, and yet I can ignore this trait that would enrage me in a contemporary writer. "Down the Garden Path" is a book by a writer with a man-servant and a gardener, so it relates to another time and class, yet the author's discoveries are eternal.
      His chapter on gardening in London speaks to the problems and joys of all Big City gardeners.
      Treat yourself.
      Magnolia in home garden below street level , Bath England

      Wednesday, July 8, 2009


      A few decorative edibles from my garden decorating a rich chocolate cake: day lily buds, borage flowers, lavender, roses, bachelor buttons, mint, variegated pineapple mint, and bronze fennel.

      When we say that flowers are edible, that doesn't mean they're all equally tasty. Beautifully perfumed roses taste better than roses with little scent; sweet smelling lavenders taste better than those with a camphorous aroma. And even then, its the petals or buds that are tasty, not the stem, the recptical, or the calyx. People who have allergies shouldn't eat the stamens and the pollen parts.

      I'm particularly annoyed by pretentious chefs who decorate a plate with small orchids or other flowers straight from a tradtional florist. The grower has sprayed them within an inch of their lives.
      When they come from your own garden, that of a friend, or a trusted organic source, you have full control over what you put on your table.

      More flowers & herbs, home-grown, organic, and rinsed before using.

      New potatoes, yogurt, salt, pepper garnished with chopped chives, lavender buds, borage flowers, calendula, and perilla (shiso)

      Sponge roll with lemon sauce garnished with nasturtium flowers' Peaches and Cream' and lemon verbena leaves.
      Chocolate cake, chocolate icing, garnished with nasturtium flowers and leaves, day lily flowers, pansies, calendula, roses and borage flowers from my summer garden.
      (image © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design)
      Two sizes of coconut cakes stacked, garnished with lemon scented geranium, lavender, pansies, roses and hyssop from my fall garden. (image © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design)

      Monday, June 29, 2009


      For three days amid rain, wind and clouds, I joined hundreds of other lavender lovers at the PA Lavender Festival, Willow Pond Farm near Gettysburg.I was appearing in a huge dried flower hat with my Lavender book, and was fortunate to be placed under a small tent between the ice cream stand and the lunch line. No wonder I sold out of books! Visitors picked their own bunches, learned to weave lavender wands, attended lectures and demos, licked Bruster’s dark chocolate lavender cones, selected varieties to take home.
      Photo © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design


      The charming Lavandula stoechas above, sometimes called Spanish, French or Italian lavender, is hardy only in Zones 8-9. In the NY area, treat it as an annual and you wont be disappointed.

      If you use lavender in cooking, use a variety of Lavandula angustifolia like ‘Hidcote’ or ‘Munstead’, sometimes called English lavender. Other lavenders have a higher camphor aroma and taste which will not enhance your cooking. (see my post of 6/16/09 for ‘Hidcote’ on my roof.)

      When your lavender finishes its bloom, cut off spent stems down to the first cluster of leaves to encourage re-bloom later in the season.

      On the way home from the festival we stopped to see dear friends near my old Meadowlark Flower & Herb Farm. Their garden (above) had burst into lavender bloom, with L. x intermedia ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’ still in bud. Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), which I had once helped to plant, had totally filled in the bluestone path.
      My parting gift to our hosts was a couple of hours of weeding in their daylily patch, as much a gift to me as to Gary & Diane.

      Even if you don't grow your own Lavandula angustifolia, you can buy a pack of culinary lavender buds to make these and other treats.
      LAVENDER MADELEINES (from: Lavender: How to Grow & Use the Fragrant Herb by Ellen Spector Platt, 2nd. Ed. Stackpole Books, 2009)
      These miniature shell-shaped cakes are typically French; rich and delicious they’re perfect for a tea party or afternoon treat. The only requirement is a Madeleine pan, available from most any cookware source. If buying a new one I strongly suggest that you look for the non-stick variety so the little dears will just pop out when you invert the pan. Lavender adds a delectable flavor here, as it does to most any simple cake or cookie recipe. Dunk the dainty Madeleine in a cup of tea to release the perfect combination of flavors.


      2 large eggs
      a pinch of salt
      ½ cup granulated sugar
      1 large lemon
      1 cup all purpose flour
      1 stick unsalted butter melted
      1 tablespoon dried, or two tablespoons fresh lavender buds
      1/3 cup confectioners sugar

      Don’t use a mixer for this recipe, beating by hand results in a lighter, more tender Madeleine.
      Butter and flour the Madeleine mold.
      Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
      Melt the butter, add the lavender and set aside to cool.
      Finely grate the lemon, yellow part only.
      In a medium bowl, wisk the eggs and salt until frothy.
      Add the sugar gradually, wisking as you go.
      Add the lemon rind.
      With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon fold in the flour.
      Mix in the melted butter with lavender.
      Fill shells 2/3 full with batter.
      Bake on middle rack for 12 to fifteen minutes until firm and brown around the edges.
      Turn out immediately on a cooling rack, then sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

      Makes 24 cakes. When reusing the mold for the second dozen, butter and flour again.

      Tuesday, June 16, 2009


      On my rooftop garden I aim to have plantings of major interest from March through December: that means interest to ME, who designs, plants and tends the garden for my condo building. In winter only the desperate smokers face the gale-force winds and frigid cold of the 18thfloor. Here’s what’s making me happy today.

      One bush of blue hydrangea is coming to peak form, a Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’ that blooms on both new and old wood. The H.m.‘Nikko Blue’ that were planted before my tenure rarely flower but I hate to rip them out because the foliage is still nice. The hydrangea is backed up by some modest yellow potentilla, enhanced by the bright blue.Also starting to bloom is the lacecap hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’ whose new leaves and stems are a reddish color as advertised and whose foliage will turn deep maroon in fall.

      The lavender ‘Hidcote’
      is really showing off
      and I picked a few
      stems for pressing,
      but the ‘Provence’
      lavender (Lavandula x
      intermedia 'Provence')
      is just getting started.

      The brilliant chartreuse
      foliage of the Sumac
      ‘Tiger Eyes’ (Rhus
      typhina) makes it one
      of my favorite plants
      now and until late fall,
      especially in front of
      the deep mahogony
      of the cut leaf Japanese maple. In a container this sumac is beautifully controlled.

      Just going off stage is the climbing rose ‘New Dawn’ that blooms here but once a year, even when I deadhead assiduously. It earns its keep by the month-long show it flashes in late May. Other roses like 'Crown Princess Margareta', 'Oso Easy Paprika', and
      'Graham Thomas'
      have finished their
      first big bloom and
      are setting new buds
      for later display.
      (Below, the climber
      'New Dawn' trying
      to escape.)And in the herb garden,
      not much color but in
      teresting sweet flavor
      from my one specimen
      of Stevia rebaudiana
      that is making its debut
      this year. Stevia powder
      is all the rage as a
      natural sweetener, and
      I wanted to see what
      this semi-tropical herb
      would do here in NYC.
      In the fall I’ll bring it in
      to winter over on my

      Below, Wreath design Ellen
      Spector Platt , photo© Alan & Linda Detrick

      If you like to dry
      hydrangea for indoor
      decorations DON’T
      NOW. Wait until they’re
      very mature. That
      means that every stem
      you cut will have been
      on the bush for 1-2
      months, feel papery
      to the touch, and have
      started to change color
      slightly, i.e. the whites
      get tinges of pink
      or wine color, the blues
      get tinges of green or
      maroon. If you cut too
      early, the petals will
      shrivel as they dry. Cut
      when the flowers are
      mature, then you can
      arrange them immed-
      iately without even
      hanging to dry. And don't try to dry the flower heads that have but a few petals like the lacecap varieties. You'll thank me for this tip!
      (Design Ellen Spector Platt, photo© Alan & Linda Detrick)

      Wednesday, March 25, 2009


      (above, my faithful houseplant, Stapelia gigantea with fly pollinator)
      Winter seems endless in New York City, and to keep my fingernails properly dirty when I have no gardening chores, I’ve made a few wintertime propagation experiments. First I dug up, re-potted, and brought indoors the tender lavender ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’. I also took four, five-inch cuttings from the mother plant, stripped the bottoms of leaves, dipped them in a rooting hormone and stuck them in a soil-less mix. Mother and daughters stayed on my office windowsill through winter ‘08, grew and bloomed summer '08 in my rooftop garden.(above , lavender cuttings on left, lavender mother plant far right, in green bottle, Ming Aralia cutting)

      House Plant Dividend
      At the same time I took a cutting from the five foot Ming Aralia that resides in a corner of my living room. The cutting, about eight inches long, stood in a bottle of water for three months; when fully rooted I potted it in it’s own container. The baby is promised to Diane and Gary the next time they come for a visit. (She had the chutzpah to ask for it.)
      The mother plant was a cast-off, offered by a family in my building who was selling their apartment. Their realtor laid down the law. Get rid of that thing because it takes up too much space and makes the living room look minuscule. The offer was made with full disclosure; the plant looked like it was dying and maybe the building “Plant Lady” could resurrect it. I did, merely by deep watering once a week.(above, Ming Aralia mother and daughter)

      Got Spit?
      My Stapelia gigantea (Carrion Plant) was getting long and ungainly, so three weeks ago, I whacked a piece off,
      let the end heal for a week, while
      warning Ben not to throw it in the
      garbage.This succulent would
      probably root perfectly well in
      potting soil without any special
      treatment, but a friend who seeks
      out heritage roses in unusual
      places swears by the rooting
      properties of saliva. She says she
      carefully puts the end of a rose
      cutting in her mouth and slathers
      it with spit before placing it in
      potting mix. Talk about organic,
      free, and ever-handy, I couldn’t
      resist the spit treatment. Since I
      don’t know the taste and health-
      fulness of the plant, I spit in my
      hand and rolled the end of the cutting in it. I’ll spare you the sight of that, but I experienced the smug feeling that comes from getting away with something. Of course there’s no control group so the fact that the cutting is doing fine is absolutely no proof of the efficacy of the spit treatment.

      A perfect project for a kid’s science experiment, does spit encourage rooting and in which plants? What enzymes or growth hormones are in saliva that would encourage rooting? Anyone out there have any knowledge or a reference? Best answer gets the cutting in a hand thrown stoneware pot; see mother plant in bud above, then in bloom below.

      Thursday, January 22, 2009


      Lavender grows in containers or in the garden (above, my Manhattan rooftop).

      It’s a tasty
      culinary herb,
      has a delight-
      ful aroma
      which some say
      reduces stress.
      One plant pro-
      duces enough
      buds for a full
      year of home baking.

      It’s excellent as a cut flower,
      both fresh and dried.(Right,
      lavender spiral topiary
      with dried larkspur, globe
      thistle, et al). Select hardy or
      tender species with flower
      power from deepest
      purple, lilac, pink and white.
      I'll be starting two new
      varieties from Garden Seeds on my
      windowsill in early March.
      Plants will probably bloom
      the first season from seed.

      Doesn’t that sound like the
      perfect plant for New York?
      Granted it needs full sun,
      but to balance that one re-
      striction, it repels deer
      should you have any on your
      balcony, fire escape, roof-
      top, or Brooklyn backyard,
      and it’s a perfect perennial
      for an organic gardener
      because it needs no spray
      and little fertilizer.

      Learn all about it in the
      NEW edition of my lavender
      book, hot off the presses,
      'Lavender:How to Grow &
      Use the Fragrant Herb', 2nd
      ed. Stackpole Books 2009.
      Purchase signed copy at my
      website or unsigned from
      your favorite bookseller.

      Visit one of the lavender fairs and festivals described in the book, a treat for both gardeners and non-gardeners who will appreciate the tastes, music and aromas of an agricultural party. No need to go to Provence to see the real thing, try the US and Canada and you’ll be amazed.

      ( above, Purple Haze Lavender Farm, Sequim WA, below, two of my favorite gardeners in a lavender patch)

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