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

      Showing posts with label tree pits. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label tree pits. Show all posts

      Friday, October 11, 2013


      Planting my four tree pits yesterday, I got lots of garden advice:

      Limo Driver with heavy accent to ESP: You're planting the cabbages too high. In my country where I had a big garden I had lots of fruit trees in my back yard. I know you should dig deeper.
      ESP to Limo Driver: Yes, I agree, but here on the streets of New York, the tree roots have taken over the whole plot and I can't dig down further without harming in roots. Where is your country?
      Limo Driver: Turkey... (continues description of his long-lost garden.)

      Young Man passing by: Those cabbages look good. Now is the time to plant them!
      ESP to self: That's why I'm planting them now.
      ESP to Young Man: Thanks
      Middle Aged Woman to ESP: Where did you buy those little evergreen shrubs?
      ESP to Middle-Aged Woman: I bought the kale in the flower district on 28th St. I pruned the juniper and cedar from the rooftop garden in this building, and just stuck the pieces in the ground to make them look like little shrubs. They'll look good for one to two months more if it's cooler and they get water regularly. I can replace them later if the ground isn't frozen too hard.
      M-AW: Great idea!
      ESP to Self: You can never resist an opportunity to teach, can you?
      Woman Rushing to Yoga Class: I use those cabbages in my Thanksgiving arrangements. If one is missing you'll know I took it.
      ESP smiles, says to Self: #@&*^#!

      See post just below, WHAT HAPPENED? for images of tree pits before replanting. I didn't disturb the big one that still looks good, just saved some kale to put in after the first frost wipes out the annuals. I expect to get a complaint within the next two days from someone in the building: The tree pits don't all match.
      ESP to Potential Complainer: You take care of the gardens for the next ten years, I'm done.

      Sunday, September 29, 2013


      On May 10, 2013, two of the four treewells that I plant in front of my building, each with a pin oak in the center, looking good.
      On Sept. 26, the same two treewells.
      The far one looks great, the other, pitiful. Both watered by building staff, both with the same with the same annuals planted lovingly by me in spring. What happened?
      Other Ellen and I did an analysis. Our pet theories coincided with slight variations.
      It all comes down to water.  The Great one above, is right in front of the building entrance, with a tree planted just 2 years ago, shallower roots but more soil. The soil was replaced at the time of tree-planting, less dog pee. The soil level is three inches below the concrete rim, so the treewell retains the water until it percolates downward.
      The Pitiful one is closer to the corner where the wind whips through, drying out the leaves. In the center lives a tree planted 16 years ago, in a smaller plot; established tree roots are everywhere.  Since it is further from the doorman, we surmise that more dog owners allow their dogs to pee there. But probably most important, the tree roots have heaved upward, pushing the soil level to the top of the concrete barrier. If the guy watering tries to finish quickly with a heavy flow both water and soil flood over the rim, making a big mess. He stops before this happens.
      Not enough water goes to the annuals!!!!!!!!!!

      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

      Thursday, April 25, 2013


      I  bought and planted tulip bulbs Oct.'12 then promptly forgot what I had ordered. Rather than paw through my files I waited to see what would emerge. Turns out they were a rather dull, pale yellow;  I found it hard to believe that I had chosen such an insipid color.
      But wait, after a week, the color started to turn, 'Daydreamer' Giant Darwin Hybrids in their full glory. The original color was paler than the stem on the left below; the color deepens as the flower matures giving each container a riotous look.
      I have 7 containers on my roof garden, splashy enough to attract attention.
      Purple and orange seems to be my theme this year, as the Muscari bloom in the tree pits along with pansies, daffs, and more tulips.
      And around the neighborhood in my favorite window boxes, another designer chose Ranunculus and pansies...
      and another gardener with hyacinths to enhance the front door color.
      I hope none of these get ripped out, like four plants at my bus stop, below. This building opted to plant full pots of spring bulbs already in flower, not fall bulbs whose roots might grip the soil making it harder for thieves.
      Back to my 'Daydreamer' on the roof with sumac 'Tiger Eye' waiting to leaf out.

      Friday, March 29, 2013


      Dear friend Diana from Wales U.K. writes, "Has spring arrived in New York? We (and the plants) are still freezing and the wind is from Russia!! Certainly we normally have some green shoots by now but this year is horrendous and the temperatures are still around freezing. Not so good for the garden, everything is stuck waiting for the soil to warm up."
      Yes Diana, it's spring here, even if I have to use my close-up lens to find it. Above, some early Euphorbia, the only plant in full bloom on my roof garden.
      Tulips making an appearance, though the poppy seeds I planted in this container last week are still in hiding.
      Fat leaf buds on the hydrangea,
      Fat flower buds on the quince,
      If I lie down at set my camera 6" away, I can see the buds of grape hyacinth planted last fall in tree pits in front of my building.
      Upstairs on my south-facing office windowsill, seeds of 'Super Bush' tomato, basil 'Profumo di Genova' and Portulaca 'Pastel Sundial' give me real hope for warmer weather. The basil shoots already have a strong flavor, and as I thin them in the container, I'll use the sprouts for dinner recipes.
       Since I need some immediate bloom, my corner grocery store provides me with yellow tulips to mix with some rhea eggs I've saved for years.

      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.

      Tuesday, May 8, 2012

      terrific tree pits!

      Tree pits are the quintessential NYC garden. Small, public, subject to regular abuse, and possessing the potential to delight or disgust. (We are, after all, a city of extremes.)

      Next Tuesday (from 10 am - 1 pm) I'll be teaching a class called Terrific Tree Pits at the Manhattan campus of the NYBG at 20 W 44th Street. If you're interested in learning the do-s

      (Ellen Spector Platt, both gardener & photographer)

      and don't-s

      of how to plant a tree pit, why don't you join me?

      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!

      Thursday, March 31, 2011

      NOW IN NYC

      Prune the roses. Done.
      Cut the Montauk daisies (above) back to the fresh green leaves. Done.
      Enjoy the pansies that have wintered over. Done.
      Watch the buds forming on the dwarf quince planted last spring. Done
      Admire the daffodils planted on the roof last fall. Done.
      Greet the biennial hollyhocks, planted indoors from seed last year, now reappearing in healthy green clumps. Done. I expect BIG FLOWERS this year.

      Must Do in the Next Two Days:

      Order pansies and plant them in treewells.(Here I'm vying with Other Ellen for most glamorous gardening pose.)
      Plant out chive seedlings, growing on my windowsill since early Feb.
      Nip tips of zinnia seedlings on my windowsill, planted for a demo in early Feb. and now much too big to wait for May frost date.
      Pull out last year's annuals.
      Watch for self-sown California poppies from last year's crop.Clean around the day lilies.
      Thin bachelor buttons which have self-seeded from two years ago.Cut back the cinqfoil, lavenders, hydrangea and butterfly bush.Clean out tool shed.
      Distribute homemade compost.
      Work on a new collage.Write two pages of my new book.

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