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

      Showing posts with label native plants. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label native plants. Show all posts

      Wednesday, November 7, 2012


      My American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) looks great both spring and fall, and though this species is nowhere near as rampant as the Chinese wisteria, it still needs some pruning. Despite blooming on new wood, NOW is when I want to prune, so now I shall because I want to make a small wreath for a Thanksgiving centerpiece. I'll have plenty of vine left to support bloom in spring.
      So I prune eight 3-4' long pieces after the leaves have dropped (or strip off leaves), and just start wrapping, using no wire or clips of any kind. Form the first strand in a rough circle or oval shape and twist the ends around the circle to hold it. Continue with all your other pieces of vine. My finished wreath is 10" in diameter, perfect for putting on a platter. Note the small seed pod, bottom left which I've left in place.
      I just pile up some fresh fruit for decoration and to be eaten but the vine wreath base will last for years. If you don't have wisteria use whatever woody vine you need/want to prune, like kiwi, honeysuckle, even clematis.
      If you form the wreath before a heavy freeze sets in, the vine will be perfectly pliable, but even if you've waited until winter, you can always soften the wood by soaking overnight in a bathtub of warm water.
       My wisteria spring 2012, and below in fall before dropping leaves.

      Friday, August 26, 2011


      The second section of the High Line opened in mid-June extending the length ten more blocks, all the way to 30th St. I was there 7:30 am today eager to explore. There are new places to run,to meditate,
      to view,and to contemplate.The cone flowers are departing and the goldenrods waiting to make their entrances.A brilliant garden designer placed coreopsis and blackeyed Susans in a site where, in the morning, the sun shines between buildings directly on them, while the surroundings are in shade.The Joe Pye and orange butterfly weed must be attracting butterflies, but I missed them.
      My favorite feature in the new section is designed by Susan Sze a startling, delicate but arresting structure on either side of the path that is partly wildlife feeder, partly bird house village, and partly an abstraction of the cityscape. My photos can't do it justice, go see for yourself.
      The last section of the High Line, the spur, running west from 30th St and curving into the Rail Yards, is still to be constructed, but you can see the path if you peek through the chain link fence.I've saved the topic of the dreaded High Line LAWN for a whole separate diatribe.

      Friday, August 19, 2011


      What does this New York City garden writer do on vacation? Visit gardens of course. Helen Dillon's garden in a residential section of Dublin, Ireland is open to the public for 5Euros a visit. Dillon is a garden writer, lecturer, TV person, and thoroughly opinionated gardener, the best kind. This is not an estate garden but a home with nice sized plots in back and front yards, all within sight of the neighbors homes. Rare and common plants are crowded in together,in soil amended with homemade compost. Ireland, an island nation, has a maritime climate with mild winters and summers, Dublin averaging 47 degrees F. in winter and 67F in summer. Above the tree poppy, (Romneya coulteri) native to southern CA and Mexico, and winner of the Royal Hort Society Award of Garden Merit. This woody sub-shrub is perennial in Dillon's garden but would not be for me here in NYC. To start from seed it requires wild fire, and The Tree of Life Nursery in Calif. lights pine needles atop planted seeds to get them to germinate.

      Examine the bright blue bachelor buttons below and double click on the image to look at the plants across the reflecting pond. Notice anything??? The bachelor buttons and many other annuals, perennials, and bulbs surrounding the pool are actually planted in unobtrusive pots, then moved around to fill in holes where certain plants have gone by. This garden is always lush. I've used the same technique in all of my gardens but never to this extent. Amazing. Below find my dear friend Dr. Diana W. from Wales amidst the pots and the flora.

      Wednesday, June 23, 2010


      (double click on any image to enlarge)
      If you answered Queens NYC, you would be correct. Right off the Belt Parkway, four miles from JFK Airport, enter the other world of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. We walked an easy 2 mile trail, stayed on the gravel path as was demanded, managed to see Osprey chicks on their nesting platform, and a turtle energetically covering a clutch of eggs she had deposited in the middle of a dirt road. The orange flag warned Park staff not to drive vehicles over the area. Native species of reptiles and amphibians have been introduced and there is an active terrapin nesting area set aside.Because there are not a
      lot of trees on site there
      is an nesting box pro-
      gram. I saw boxes for
      bats,Tree Swallows,
      House Wrens, Kestrals,
      and this big one for
      Barn Owls. I was imagin-
      ing an owl peeking out
      but of course, no such

      The site is a paradise for
      local birders (325
      species have been
      recorded); shore birds
      like egrets, ibis, and
      herons as well as song
      birds find shelter here.

      I was mostly having fun
      with the wild flowers.
      Although I expected Rosa rugosa, seen in both flower and fruit stages in late June, butterfly weed, honeysuckle, milkweed,this is a managed park. Yuccas spike the landscape; many are newly planted. Buddlia and coreopsis attract butterflies. Another unexpected plant was the prickly Pear Cactus. I don't normally think of it as a New York City wildflower. I learned it grows wild from MA to FL and north to MN, but I never imagined cactus juxtaposed with JFK.
      To learn more, get directions, and a schedule of guided walks and nature programs visit: the National Parks site. Take your Deep Woods Off when you visit.

      Wednesday, August 5, 2009


      One month after I took my first astonishing walk on The High Line, I returned with my family to view the miracle that has been wrought in the Old Meat Packing District of New York City.The Friends of the High Line and the design teams they selected have transformed an elevated section of dysfunctional railroad track built in 1930, into New York City’s newest park. I insisted that my visiting family see for themselves.

      Summer has brought a
      meadow-like effect with
      strips of native and
      non-native flowering
      perennials and grasses.
      Trees and shrubs provide
      some height. On that
      Sunday at 8:30 a.m.
      only a few runners, a
      man with his coffee and
      MacBook, and some
      quiet strollers joined us.
      As the morning pro-
      gressed, more people

      I saw the city in a new
      and secret way. As
      traffic honked below, I
      was eye level with sec-
      ond floors and roofs of
      other buildings. There
      was bird song.
      Some sumac was in fruit.
      I spied the only building
      that Architect Frank
      Gehry has designed and
      built in New York City. I
      glimpsed a large liner
      and tug on the Hudson
      River and walked around
      the top of the Chelsea
      Market. It’s all here.

      There are just enough
      glimpses of rusty track,
      wooden ties and details
      evoking memories of
      the old railroad,
      that I had the same
      frisson as I did when
      as a girl, I walked the
      forbidden Pennsy RR
      tracks two doors away
      from our home. I fantasized putting a copper penny on these tracks, and having a steam locomotive roll over it to produce a flat souvenir as I did years ago.

      On prominent display now, drifts of gay feather (Liatris spicata), not one of
      my favorite garden flowers but here buffeted by the winds, looking as if it
      belongs; three cultivars of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); blackeyed
      Susans; a lovely variety
      of Joe Pye (Eupatorium
      dubium ‘Little Joe’) that
      I grow on my roof in a
      container; the silvery
      fragrant native herb,
      Mountain Mint
      muticum); Sedum
      telephium ‘Red Cauli’; and bright red sneezeweed (Helenium x ‘Rubinzweig’).

      My girls, both plant
      lovers and gardeners
      were suitably impressed.
      My son-in-law who has
      the critical eye of one
      who does historical
      restorations for a living
      has nothing but positive
      words for those who
      saved this structure.
      And my husband, an
      avid non-gardener is
      wowed by the beauty
      and serenity of this
      special city hide-out.

      Notes of warning. I'm
      told The High line gets
      crowded weekends and
      holidays midday and

      A second section from
      W. 20th St. to W. 30th
      St. opened in June '11and an additional spur line north of 30th St.is still is awaiting redevelopment.
      Turn up the sound on your computer and click bottom right tear-drops to view the BEFORE pictures on video full screen.

      BEFORE, NYC from ellen platt on Vimeo.

      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.

      Wednesday, May 20, 2009


      (Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden)

      The Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) that I once planted near my kitchen door and trained to form an archway over the back steps, reached the roofline of the house, scrambled across the eaves, escaped up the cedar shake roof to the chimney. It ran so far that I could no longer prune it. The sensual flower panicles diminished and ultimately stopped. We sold the house.

      OK, the two events were
      not related but twenty
      years later I craved an-
      other wisteria, one that
      I swore I would keep
      under control and force
      into continuous bloom.
      For my New York City
      rooftop, I chose a selec-
      tion of the native Amer-
      ican variety W. frutes-
      ‘Amethyst Falls’.
      It grows only 15-20’ high
      rather than 28-50’ as do
      the Japanese and
      Chinese imports, but
      the flower racemes are
      somewhat shorter and
      the scent less intense.
      Three-year old American
      wisteria (photo on right)
      blooms about two weeks after the non-natives and is still mostly in bud. This plant gives my garden vertical appeal and helps to soften the steely look of the fence. Husband Ben, aka String Boy, tied it to the bars where it can twine happily. The container is 22" in diameter and includes a few lilies that bloom in summer and many October onions (Allium thunbergii) that are the last flowers to burst forth in late fall and will continue until December.

      When I want to admire the
      imported species I can
      go to the north end of
      the rose garden at the
      BBG, the Conservatory
      Garden in Central Park,
      or the terrace of the
      Cooper-Hewitt Museum
      and revel in the arches
      of wisteria or go to any
      neighborhood of brown-
      stones and see the
      twisted vines climbing
      four stories or more.
      Most grow in containers
      at street level but some
      are in-ground.

      Wisteria grows in full
      sun or part shade and
      is useful for privacy in
      some backyards pro-
      vided your fence, trellis
      or post is seriously strong. Notice in the lead photo, the pillars are made of CONCRETE. For an excellent discussion of pruning techniques see Cass Turnbull for PlantAmnesty.org.
      The fresh vines pruned from any wisteria are easy to weave into fabulous wreath bases, but that’s another story.

      The four story vine on
      the right grows in a
      2' x 6' planter at street

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