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

      Showing posts with label tropicals. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label tropicals. Show all posts

      Thursday, March 8, 2012


      Just when I think I know almost everything about gardening in Manhattan, I find out I don't.
      On the roof of Milbank Hall, at the northern end of the Barnard College campus, 116th & Broadway, sits the Arthur Ross Greenhouse. It was built for students and teachers in the Biology department, for research and demonstration. AND it's open to the public free of charge on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3pm. If you go, you'll get an informative guided tour from either the greenhouse coordinator Krystyna Bucharowski, or one of her student assistants. It's great for the visitor to get all questions answered and great for the plant collection that visitors don't get a chance to pinch a vanilla pod in passing.Above, pods ripening on the vanilla bean vine (Vanilla fragrans) that reaches almost to the top of the greenhouse.
      The main section of the greenhouse contains the tropicals. I saw many varieties new to me, like this great white bird of paradise (Streletzia augusta); I've only ever seen the orange one in the florist trade.The greenhouse hosts tours from schools in the neighborhood, and of course kids are fascinated by the food plants, like sugar cane, coffee bean and vanilla. But they also gravitate toward plants that DO something, like the sensitive plant whose leaves curl up at a touch, or the carniverous pitcher plant (Nepenthes alata) that collects water and insects in its vessels and 'eats' them.
      I was waiting to go to the Arthur Ross Greenhouse 'til the dead of winter this year, when I most crave the sight and smell of plants, but winter never happened, so instead I went with LRK, one of my BFF who is a Barnard Alum, and visiting from the North. An excellent Judge of people and
      their crimes, but no judge of plants, she was concerned that this Ruscus had bugs, until Ms. Bucharowski assured us they were only the flower buds, and what looks like leaf is really the stem.Above, plants that require a dry atmosphere have a room of their own, as do plants for special research.

      So go to learn, go with your kids, grand kids, or BFF's. To arrange a group tour or to make sure the greenhouse isn't closed for school break, contact Kbucharo@barnard.edu, 212-854-5897.

      Sunday, September 11, 2011


      I came off the E train at Port Authority en route to a midtown lunch. Let's face it, it's not one of the more scenic parts of our fair city, so you'll appreciate my surprise at finding this on 40th Street.

      Even though I was already late, I had to stop and take a few shots...to show my appreciation. When I looked to see which midtown business had injected a little bit of tropical beauty into this otherwise dingy block...


      I'm pretty much speechless.

      It's like being married for 23 years and finding out your husband can still surprise you. Fantastic.

      Wednesday, August 3, 2011

      Where am I?

      Some of you may know that I'm just back from Alaska. Thanks to O.E. for carrying both her weight and mine while I was away.

      After a week of playing catch up on the terraces and in the greenhouses, I found myself walking in midtown this morning, when all of a sudden I was magically transported to a tropical paradise.

      Where was I?

      a walled Moroccan garden?

      a Moorish palace in Spain?

      a Victorian glasshouse?

      I could tell you, but it's more fun (for me) if you guess.
      A few hints:

      I wasn't the only one enchanted by this not-so-secret garden.

      Where was I?

      Tuesday, January 12, 2010


      Enough of the cold. Let's talk about warm gardens in NYC.
      When the outside temperature was in the teens, I had the pleasure of exploring the vertical gardens at the new David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. While classical music provided the sound track, I could snack at 'wichcraft cafe, use the WiFi service, admire a huge wall tapestry, or buy same-day discount tickets for LC performances including South Pacific. Currently, the Atrium is offering free live concerts on Thursday evenings. (Be careful; the box office is closed on Mondays though the Atrium stays open).

      I could also watch the floor to ceiling fountain, and even better, discover the patterns in the two vertical walls of plants, each 21' high by 34' wide planted with over two thousand tropicals.
      These grow under natural
      light from above, and
      warm artificial lights
      that bathe the gardens.
      Plants grow in felt
      pouches with no soil,
      just water and fertilizer
      provided by drip at
      intervals throughout
      the day.

      One of my first posts to this blog was about an outdoor vertical garden on E. 86th St. It looked great until building scaffolding went up blocking the light. It's been over a year now. The construction is still there; those plants are DEAD.

      There are a few bare patches on the Atrium walls at Lincoln Center, a great way to see the mechanics of planting, but I hope someone's paying attention to the constant needs of the plants and will keep the garden in
      the great shape it deserves.

      Sunday, May 10, 2009

      bigger than a bread box (barely)

      Do you fear the tropical plant? If your answer is yes I won't hold it against you. You're probably just uninformed. The fact is that LOTS of our easiest, most popular garden annuals are tropical plants. In their native habitats they live for years, but since they're not frost-hardy, they work as annuals in our temperate gardens.

      Coleus? Impatiens? Caladium? All tropicals. You've been growing them for years and never even knew...

      There are also plenty of tropical plants we use as houseplants.

      That's right. Tropicals.

      New York City in summer offers a pretty close approximation of the tropics: hot and humid. So why not take advantage of that, and use a combination of tropicals to plant a container garden? By incorporating traditional houseplants into your outdoor display you do yourself several favors:

      1) You'll be expanding your plant palette and insuring that YOUR window box doesn't look like everybody else's.
      2) You'll be able to start out with bigger, beefier plants than you would if you were drawing only from traditional annuals. It's a lot easier and less expensive to find a 3 foot tall dracaena to use as a centerpiece than it is to buy a 3 foot tall fuchsia standard.
      3) You can bring your favorite plants indoors before frost hits and enjoy them all winter long.

      I do this every year for a client who has three planter boxes on a second floor balcony. Each box is 4 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 1 foot deep. The location gets NO direct sun, so I choose shade plants that deliver most of their color via foliage, not flowers. I've found the mini-impatiens (in this case Firefly Blush Pink) bloom better in low light than many other impatiens.

      The boxes look full right from the start and all sorts of surprises emerge over the growing season. Did you notice the rex begonia vine in the background?

      No? You will when it's 15 feet of glorious purple, silver, and green foliage crawling all over the railing.

      We can't all get away someplace lush and tropical for vacation, but if you've got a few containers, you can create a vacation landscape in your own back yard.

      Tuesday, January 20, 2009

      Is this winter?

      Everyone in NYC knows it's been cold lately. Pipe-shattering, side-walk icing, nose-hair freezing cold.

      So imagine my delight when after trudging uphill, through snow that quickly overwhelmed my woefully inadequate suede shoes, I opened the door to my client's greenhouse and found:

      The misters were spraying, the air was humid and moist, and just for a moment I was transported to a kinder, gentler place. I call that place Riverdale.

      Sadly I didn't have my camera with me...only a cell phone, but I did what I could to convey the lush tropical beauty I found in the middle of the Bronx. The Phalanopsis orchids are blooming like crazy, along with a fragrant Dendrobium 'Aussie Chip' and a highly scented Zygopetalum.

      I stripped down to my undershirt (hey, no one else was there!) and got to work pruning, deadheading, and watering. It was well below freezing outside, but warm enough in the greenhouse to work up a sweat.

      No tropical vacation for me this year, but an hour or so in the greenhouse, peeking out from underneath the Australian tree fern, goes a long way toward relieving that New York City stress.

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