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

      Showing posts with label shrubs. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label shrubs. Show all posts

      Tuesday, August 13, 2013


      The Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) are in bloom all over New York City, just when most flowering trees and shrubs have lost their color and green foliage abounds. (above, the Conservatory Garden and below near the Boat House, both in Central Park)...
       by the side of the General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, masquerading as a lilac...
      and welcoming us to the New Leaf Cafe, Fort Tryon Park, Upper Manhattan.
      I started my gardening life in Zones 5 and 6 and considered Crape myrtles as plants only for Southern Climes;now realize I must have one, two or three for 'my' NYC rooftop.
      Flowers range in color from white to red, pink, coral, purple and all shades in between. 

      I've just seen pictures of a potentially interesting new introduction with 'black' leaves, 'Black Diamond' t.m.. growing only 10-12 feet tall and 8' wide for smaller garden spaces. This cultivar is being introduced in five flower color choices. Hope to see it live at the Garden Writers symposium in Quebec starting this week.
      Crape myrtles look great in winter as well as summer, with incredably smooth but exfoliating bark, seen here in two specimen trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
      My last Crape myrtle sighting, just yesterday, on a terrace at the Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle, and me on the 31st floor of a nearby building caught without my telephoto lens. Look carefully for a splash of pink in the terrace garden.

      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

      Tuesday, November 8, 2011


      Other Ellen's post last week reminds me of the value of berried plants in the fall landscape in NYC. In our winter enthusiasm to get immediate color in spring, we often give short shrift to fall interest.
      Here are 5 shrubs with berry interest, planted with fall and winter in mind. Above, chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) in container on my roof garden, and below, a few clusters of the berries 'pruned' for decoration indoors. Firethorn (Pyracantha) has small white uninteresting flowers in spring but shines in autumn and throughout the winter. In small spaces, prune it as an espaliered tree in a container against a wall. Below, it appears in a built-in planter in front of a NYC townhouse.
      Fall flowers/spring berries, a reverse of the usual plan.
      Above, Oregon grape-holly at the Central park Zoo last Dec. 31. The flowers are followed by blue-black berries in spring, below. Note to Other Ellen: I've read that the berries are edible. True? have you tried them?If you have a larger garden, smooth sumac berries are a fall mainstay, and last all winter.
      I've always coveted a Beauty Berry (Callicarpa dichotoma) for the surprising color of its fruit. Maybe 2012.

      Wednesday, May 18, 2011

      New and Nifty @ The New York Botanical Garden

      (above, Rhododendron luteum, and Phlox stolonifera 'Blue Ridge')
      My new favorite garden, here or anywhere, is the Azalea garden at the NYBG. Show up early, hear birds calling deep in the forest of nearly 300 sweetgums, tulip trees, elms, oaks, dogwoods and other native trees, on 11 acres of woodland. Many of these are centuries old. Paths, benches and above all, readable labels, interpretive signs, and self guided cell phone tours help me understand this immensely varied collection of 3,000 azaleas and rhododendrons. I had never seen a spider azalea before, but the sign told me it's the rare species Rhododedron 'Koromo-shikibu' of unknown origin. Likes acidic soil in full or part shade; the leaves will turn red/orange in fall. (Double click this or any image to enlarge)I visited on May 11, just after this garden's huge Mother's Day opening celebration with free music and food. But I prefer it this way; quiet, no one around but me and 2 other photographers searching for the perfect image.The garden designers have included species that will begin to flower the first warm days in spring, peak in late April and early May, continue with those that will burst into bloom through July, and reblooming cultivars like Encore in the fall. I plan to make this garden a first stop every time I'm at the NYBG, even before checking out the herb garden and perennials. WOW what a thought!Above, Rhododendron luteum 'Bee Dazzler'
      Wisely, they've decided to include woodland bulbs and perennials in huge meadows and swaths so even when the azalea riot is over, the garden will be highly enjoyable. Ferns, hellebores, epimidium, allium, lowbush blueberry, amsonia, stoksia, aster, gentians, iris, hostas, and bleeding hearts, spring bulbs are but a few of the over 70,000 planted.above, Golden Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa 'All Gold')
      I was never a huge azalea fan; in Philadelphia where I grew up, every row house seemed to have a few planted by the path to the front door or just below the porch. All the same size and color, violent fuschia, though some pruned into a ball shape; no fragrance, and no variety.
      This garden is precisely the opposite, immense variety, showing and telling the viewer what the world-wide range of plants can be, some for low swampy areas, some for the higher rocks, full shade, more sun. But of course this site at NYBG has some slight advantage over a row house in Philly, not only the forest but the huge outcroppings of granite deposited during the last ice age.
      If you're tired of the color riot, look down and discover the Shiokianum Jack-in-the-pulpit hiding among the Japanese painted fern.The highest praise I can give a garden like this is to say that although it was just redesigned and replanted from an old azalea garden started on this site in the 1930's and 1940's, the new garden looks like it has grown here naturally. Congratulations to Todd Forrest V.P. for Horticulture and Living Collections, Jessica Arcate Schuler & Kristen M Schleiter of NYBG, Laurie Olin Partnership, Landscape architect Shavaun Towers, Sheila Brady of Oehme, Van Sweden, and a special appreciation to Maureen & Richard Chilton who gave the gift to make this possible for all of us. Go!!!

      Monday, April 18, 2011

      For forty weeks is just a pile of twigs or undistinguished green leaves. But if you look closely in mid-January tiny bud balls appear. They swell through early spring and in mid-April this quince bush bursts into full bloom. It's planted on my block, not in a garden, border or container, but by itself, surrounded by a protective industrial fence, next to the driveway of a parking garage. Just one shrub with big white stones at the base, maybe to keep down weeds, hold in moisture and set off the flowers.Who planted it and why a quince? (double click on images to enlarge)
      I've been highly tempted in early spring to do some surreptitious pruning myself, forcing the branches into early bloom in my living room, but so far my better self has prevailed.
      Below, forced apricot branches that I BOUGHT at the Greenmarket.

      Saturday, November 20, 2010

      Encore! Encore!

      Umm, Ellen, something's wrong with our azaleas.

      Most people think of azaleas as spring bloomers, and traditional azaleas certainly are. So when my client saw the azaleas in bloom in her garden in November (!!!), naturally she thought something was wrong. What she didn't know was that I'd planted Encore Azaleas: the exception to the spring-blooming rule.

      Originally advertised as hardy to zone 7, Encore Azaleas weren't considered suitable for most parts of the greater NYC area. But three years ago, at a Garden Writers' symposium, I was offered a few free plants to try and asked to give feedback on their performance. Even though they weren't guaranteed to thrive in zone 6 I figured it was worth a try, and hey, they were free!

      The first year I got no autumn bloom, and the second I saw only a few fall flowers. But this year...the encore burst forth! General wisdom for this part of the country says perennials take three years to really get established; perhaps the same can be said for flowering shrubs. In containers and in the ground, the Encore Azaleas have hit their stride.

      There are 24 different varieties of Encore Azaleas, but only 10 are rated hardy for zone 6. Still, there's a wide selection of colors to choose from. They're not demanding plants. Mine (well, my client's) get very little coddling: irrigation and perhaps one feeding per growing season. The plant by the sidewalk is subject to all kinds of abuse: both human and canine.

      I often hesitate to extol the virtues of a plant that's been given to me by a grower, lest someone think I have been bribed or unduly influenced. But I'm truly impressed by the performance of the Encore Azaleas and recommend them without hesitation. I'd even pay money for them.

      This azalea is not in jail. It's thriving in a sidewalk container garden on East 61st Street, despite being subject to all sorts of canine depredations.

      Saturday, April 10, 2010


      Washington DC seems to own the US brand on cherry blossom festivals but I'm enamored of the cherry trees that grow in Brooklyn. Having gone to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden last year about this time, I wasn't planning to go again so soon, yet daughter Jen was in town, escaping from the still-winter of New Hampshire. We agreed BBG was a must-see. There's always something new, or a different way of viewing a favorite scene. Alan Rokach, noted garden photographer and my first photo teacher, says that when you think you've shot a subject in the best way possible, there's always another way. (double click on the photo above to enlarge).
      Ben, Jen & I arrived early last Saturday morning joining a small group waiting to take advantage of the relative serenity. By the time we left at 1pm the crowd of viewers had intensified. This group of young people were gazing at the koi in the pond below. Another favorite stopping off place was the log crammed with basking turtles across the pond, near the bridge.At Magnolia Plaza in
      front of the main
      building, the deep
      magenta Magnolia
      'Vulcan' drew all
      eyes. Every group
      of family or
      friends had at
      least one camera:
      our group of three
      had three, and we
      all took shots of
      'Vulcan' This one
      is courtesy of Ben.

      The cherry blos-
      som story will
      continue to unfold
      for the next few
      weeks, as differ-
      ent varieties
      come into bloom.
      It's worth a trip to see the spectacular Cherry Esplanade of Prunus 'Kazan' first planted in 1921. The yellow Magnolias 'Elizabeth' is also on its way to full bloom. If you're like me, beware the crowds on the official festival, May 1&2. If you love to people watch, by all means go then.

      The Paper Bush that attracted attention on my post of 1/28/2010 was in full bloom this trip. When I first laid eyes on it in January the big buds looked like popcorn puffs. Now the flowers are more like powder puffs. Looking great from January through April is a hard trick in any New York City garden. Though my hort encyclopedia lists this Edgeworthia as hardy in Zones 8-10, it sure looks like a NYC winner to me.

      Tuesday, March 9, 2010

      You know it's hard out there for a tree (or a shrub)

      A week of 50 degree weather has New Yorkers talking about spring, but I say they're tempting fate. Or at least pushing their luck with Mother Nature. It's still 11 days till spring officially begins, and it's not unusual for April storms to dump a load of snow just when we've let down our guard. It's often these late storms that bring the heaviest snows, and those can do the most damage to trees and shrubs.

      So what can you do?

      First, anytime there's a build-up (6 inches or more) of snow on a tree or shrub, go outside and shake it off. Six inches of heavy, wet snow can split a shrub or tree open. It may break the crown of the plant, splitting the woody stems, or it may simply bend the branches out of shape. Even the latter can severely disfigure a tree or shrub and require pruning or cabling to resume its original shape. Evergreens suffer most from this kind of damage since their foliage helps catch and hold the snow.

      Deciduous trees are vulnerable, too. Acute branch angles are weaker than branch angles of 90 degrees. Tree branches are strong, but as a general rule damage occurs when the weight of snow or ice exceeds 40 times the weight of the branch itself. (No, I don't expect you to go outside and weigh the snow.) Some pre-snow, preventative pruning to remove highly acute branch angles (less than 45 degrees) will strengthen the overall structure of your tree and leave it less vulnerable to this kind of damage.

      And finally, shallow-rooted trees can be pulled over by the weight of wet snow. This isn't something you can treat retroactively, but by making sure your trees are well and deeply watered, you'll encourage the development of deep roots that provide adequate anchorage. Twenty inches of wet snow was more than the shallow roots of this poor conifer could handle. Pulled those roots rights out of the ground. It hurts just to look at it.

      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)

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