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

      Showing posts with label shade. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label shade. Show all posts

      Monday, July 1, 2013


      When the Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus hit nurseries last year, most stopped offering the ubiquitous common impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), which would only shrivel and die soon after planting. The virus, spread by thrips, has caused a huge financial loss to plant industry.
      I was curious to see what NYC gardeners would substitute given the shady sites and color and budget considerations. No better way to investigate than in NYC treepits. Above, a common replacement choice, begonias, green and white caladium, and New Guinea impatiens, not affected by the virus.
      Caladium again, fewer begonias, perennial ivy at the edges and a small strappy-leaved brake fern (Pteris) as a contrast to the huge elephant ears.
      Above, mostly coleus with a few caladium,  New Guinea impatiens and small boxwood shrubs.
      Mostly green and white with splotches of pink, the white shines in the shade.

      The Bromeliad flowers are just beginning to shoot up, and even these few should be a dramatic presence with the mundane begonias.
      Maidenhair fern, boxwood, coleus and the variegated tropical plant Stromanthe sanguinea.
      Above, my favorite so far this season. The purple Persian shield (Strobilanthes) a perfect foil for the smaller verbena.
      Thanks to Other Ellen for the tropical I.D.s

      Friday, April 5, 2013


      Pieris japonica, a.k.a, Japanese andromeda, or lily-of-the-valley bush. I needed a pair of shrubs to flank the entrance to my condo building. Dead-set against the boredom of yet another upright conifer I decided on Pieris. My heart was set on P.j. 'Mountain Fire', but I have no car, and when I need big trees or shrubs it's a struggle to find the varieties I want.
             One call to my friend Linda Yang, former garden columnist of the NYTimes, led me to this beautiful Pieris 'Dorothy Wyckoff'. Linda works part time at the Chelsea Garden Center in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, there to answer customer questions and make informed suggestions. As she was extolling the virtues of this Dorothy, I was madly googling images on the web.
      I persuaded a condo board member and husband with car to drive out with me and view the plants.
               Chelsea manager Rose Di Costanzo couldn't have been more helpful in holding the plants in my name and answering all questions. As our committee of three were delighted with the shrubs she had them packed carefully for travel, branches wrapped up with tape to prevent breakage, then bagged to protect the car from dirt. Who cares if I'm crushed into the backseat along with the plants?
               While I was at Chelsea, of course I HAD to buy 4 flats of well-tended pansies for the treepits in front of the building, along with a roll of landscape cloth and Holly-tone acidic organic fertilizer for the shrubs.
      In it's new home, the Pieris sits happily in its cast stone container, in a lightly shaded area. Within 40 mniutes of planting, the doorman logged two complaints from residents, both about water leaking from the bottom of the pot, possibly staining the sidewalk.

      Was one of these the person who complained that I shouldn't plant roses on the roof because her child might get stuck by a thorn? Or maybe it was the one who told me that all of the flowers on the roof garden were attracting bees and her child might get stung. It's a good thing two small springs broke off during planting and I could console myself with a lovely miniature display in my living room.
      Chelsea Garden Center Brooklyn has a sister center in Manhattan as well. Visit http://chelseagardencenter.com

      Monday, September 10, 2012


      Regular readers may remember that last fall, the city contractor finally (18 month delay) planted a new pin oak in front of my building, almost doubling the size of the planting pit.
      The tree languished with a full compliment of brown leaves until May, when in desperation, it finally made up it's mind to leaf out, as it's three old companions had done six weeks previously.
      Building residents were getting restless, would accost me on sidewalk or elevators asking me if the new tree had died. I advised patience, and to support my optimism, planted caladium bulbs in my roasting pan on a south-facing window.

      Notice that the pan is foil-lined and obviously has no drainage holes, but I was VERY careful not to over-water. When the outdoor soil had fully warmed in late May I planted a dozen caladium 'Kathleen', surrounding each tree trunk, just before the block association guys put in the coleus.
      It now looks like this.
      The caladium are barely visible, the plantings have a true tropical feel and there were enough coleus to dig a few last week, leaving no bare spots. I  put the mature coleus in two new planters until next spring when I do the official planting.

      Thursday, November 17, 2011


      New York City has a program to plant a million new trees within its five borough's. I wonder what number I got.
      The pin oak, one of the four in tree pits in front of my building, 'died' in 2009. I called the Dept. of Parks and Recreation in the fall, got a case number and a place on the waiting list. The tree was cut down 5/25/10, and two months later, sprouted shoots from the 'dead' stump, so not dead, but not a tree either.The city plants trees only in spring and fall. No action fall of '09, spring or fall of '10, or spring '11. Finally, Nov. 15, 2011 the contractor hired by the city dug up the stump, enlarged the tree pit and planted, amazingly, what I had requested, another pin oak.With new soil, several inches of dark mulch, and without a fence or curb, in one day it became the favorite peeing place of all dogs on the Upper East Side.The next morning we had warning tape in place and I planted spring bulbs provided by the Block Association. The tape will remain until new curbs and fence are installed.The new tree pit is almost twice as long as the original, adding a good 12 sq. feet of growing space for the tree roots. I'm told that the city plans to enlarge all tree wells as trees need replacing.

      1.In each of two summers without the tree, summer annuals for shade like coleus and caladium grew 3-4 inches higher than the same species under the trees.(above), annuals under a pin oak.
      (below), no tree.2. One youngish woman in my building asked me, the garden lady, what was new in the garden. She told me she never noticed the dead tree or that the tree was sawed off or that the tree had been replaced. Over two years of not noticing a site she walks by directly in front of her building. And I thought it was so important!

      Saturday, July 31, 2010


      Double click to enlarge the image above.
      6:30 a.m. Thursday I strolled down my block, garden gloves in my pocket, looking for coleus flowers to nip. My local block association wanted to plant coleus and petunias in every treewell this year, and I volunteered for the nipping job during the growing season. At the end of the block, a nice pair of men's shoes rested among the coleus. This tree was in front of the laundry/dry cleaners. No one walking their dog or leaving for work seemed concerned.The shoes were gone by the next day.
      Writers Needed
      What's the New York story?
      I beg you to comment, three sentences or less, and tell our eagerly awaiting blog readers the backstory. For those who have trouble adding comments (you know who you are), email them to me and I'll add them to the post.

      Additional Facts1.At the other end of the block, one of the treewells that I planted (now sans tree) is growing well without a pair of black shoes.2. Directly across the street from the black-shoe -treewell, next to a RightAide, the rats have taken over the territory.3.Where someone has cared enough to water the plants in front of their building the coleus looks as it was meant to.
      4. Where no one has watered during one of the hottest, driest July's on record, the plants look like this.
      5. Of course I HATE to brag, but.....mine.

      Tuesday, September 15, 2009


      People outside of New York don't know what I'm talking about when I tout plans for my 'treepits' or 'treewells', that critical part of the city landscape that the street tree calls home. Sometimes it's the only garden that you have, even if it's only 3' X 4'. The trees struggle to survive amidst the concrete, the bricks and the dog pee. There is shade under the trees, compacted soil, a constant supply of cigarette butts.
      Many designers think the way to go is impatiens, one color or mixed, and it's true they brighten the scene. But a little imagination please!
      OK, the angel wing begonias are not unusual but the shape of the leaf and the lushness of the planting makes these more than banal.
      The edging of liriope with its little pink flowers is perennial here, so provides a nice border for the wax begoinas.
      More begonias, and horrible red shredded bark mulch. Other Ellen likes this style treewell because they've built a little raised planter so as to not interfere with the tree roots. I hate the jagged metal edges atop the stone. A tush preventative is so unfriendly!

      Pleasant, with
      different color coleus.
      The bark of the syca-
      more tree the and the
      texture of the picket
      surrounds caught my
      eye. How kind of the
      driver of the red car
      to chose a spot where
      it enhances the
      color of the plantings

      Below, one of my own
      four treewells that I
      change seasonally. I use
      bare hands to dig in the
      loose soil so I can feel
      the tree roots and leave
      them undisturbed.
      I strive for a garden look
      with several species and varieties and try to never repeat myself. Here the Non-Stop tuberous begonias that started the season on an equal footing with the caladium, became overpowered by late summer and are hiding under the large leaves of the 'White Queen'. Double click on image to see all.
      Critical note for caladium, wait until the soil warms up in spring before planting ( in NYC mid to late May) as they won't tolerate cold soil. I know my treewells got pedestrian approval because six plants were lifted within weeks of my putting them in. I picture the colorful leaves enjoying some other yard. The thief is forgiven if he cares for them properly and doesn't give them too much sun.
      Thanks to Brent & Beck's Bulbs who sent me some of the caladium bulbs to try.

      Above, another lovely mix. The ivy stays perennially and the annuals change with the seasons in a Westside treewell.

      To the right, my favorite
      planting of this summer.
      Lots of personality.
      No cliches here.
      But I'm not so enamored
      of the grid of fishing line
      strung across the
      surround. Is this to keep
      pigeons and dogs out or
      to make it harder to
      steal the plants with one
      tug? Other Ellen, what's
      the big guy?

      Tell me (show me) your fav?

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