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

      Showing posts with label vines. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label vines. Show all posts

      Tuesday, August 19, 2014


      The front entrance to my new apartment building in Exeter NH was flanked by an arbor with 10 huge climbing hydrangea vines, about 20 years old. Gorgeous in full bloom, a home for nesting birds all year, it was welcoming even in winter when the strong trunks had a presence.
      Then management in its wisdom decided to redo the entrance to improve drainage, and some landscape architect decided the vines must go.
      What's a devastated artist to do except make a collage? Fortunately I had taken many photos of the arbor in both winter and spring, even pressed a few of the leaves and cut some seed heads when I knew it would disappear forever.
       I printed out my best images on  thin, matte, photo paper; then cut out elements from about 20 images and laid some out on a board the way I thought they should go. Notice stone wall on the bottom right.
      Then I changed things; one big image that was on the left is now on the right. I also reversed the stone wall...
      and glued small bits of real shale scavenged from the construction site to the image of the wall. Parts of the arbor appear in likely places, as do a few pressed leaves.
      The wall is almost complete and lo, a flock of birds have returned, singing near the top of the arbor, on bits of dried hydrangea umbels. (click on image to enlarge)
      Am I finished? Knowing when to stop is always an art in itself. Maybe I am, or....

      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.

      Sunday, December 5, 2010


      What does this look like to you?

      I call it a win-win-win situation!

      For those of you who are wondering why I'm so excited about a pile of dirty tubers, I refer you to an earlier post in which I waxed rhapsodic about Apios americana (aka hopniss). I promised I'd write about the harvest when the time was right, and that time is now.

      So why is harvesting the tubers a win-win-win situation?

      1) The plant/client wins because harvesting a percentage of the tubers makes room for vigorous new growth next year. (Remember, this plant is a fast grower and its tubers can fill a container in no time.)

      2) I win because I get to eat them.

      3) You win, because I've got extras and I want to give them away!

      The vines grew like crazy this summer, so I wasn't surprised to find the container (48" x 12" x 18") chock full of tubers when I did my clean up last week. Hopniss tubers grow in underground chains, radiating out from the bottom of the plant. Harvesting approximately 30% of the tubers in fall leaves plenty to support next year's plant growth and at the same time provides you with some excellent and unusual eating.

      Apios americana is a favorite wild edible among foragers, but it's only recently crossed over into the ornamental market. In the wild it can be hard to dig, since it often favors rocky soils and river banks. In a cultivated garden, Apios fairly explodes with gratitude, climbing 20-30 feet in a single season and producing a bumper crop of deliciousness.

      The tubers look a little more appetizing after a good bath, don't you think? I'll peel the larger ones, but most of the year-old hopniss can be eaten with the skins on. This year they're destined for goose fat, S&P and that's it. The taste of hopniss is so superb, like a nutty potato, I don't mask it with sauces or heavy spicing. Goose fat compliments their fluffy texture wonderfully.

      But enough about me...what about you? Well, some of the tubers I harvested are too small to eat, but plenty big enough to plant.

      Bury each tuber three times as deep as it is tall and you're in business. (If you can keep the squirrels away, that is.) If anyone's interested, please let me know and I'll make arrangements to get you a few. First come, first serve. And don't worry, you don't HAVE to eat them. Feel free to just revel in their heady scent come next August.

      Tuesday, August 31, 2010

      The Apios americana are in bloom again...

      (and yes, I'm quoting Stage Door)

      Every year I forget they're coming. Every year I'm surprised by their fragrance. Every year I ask myself, "Why don't more people grow this plant?!"

      Seriously, I don't understand it. I can only imagine no one knows about it because anyone who saw it, smelled it, tasted it ONCE, would be enraptured, addicted, hooked!

      Apios americana (aka hopniss) is an athletic vine that grows best in full sun. In NYC it blooms profusely in late August (i.e. NOW), with a heavy perfume that will not be ignored. I wouldn't want to wear it (I don't wear perfume) but I sure love to smell it in the garden. Its leaves resemble those of wisteria (medium green, pinnate) and its flowers are not dissimilar, although the round, fragrant clusters are smaller than those of wisteria and bi-colored: red and pink.

      The edible part of this plant is the tuber. It's too early to harvest them now; wait till after the first frost. And delicious as the tubers are (and they ARE delicious), today I want to convince you of Apios's ornamental value.

      This is a trouble free plant, requiring almost no work from the gardener. In the ground it will take as much space as you give it, but it's equally happy in a container, and therefore well suited to NYC rooftops. It's not a demure plant; give it a large container of its own, then get out of the way. I'd estimate 20-25 feet of growth in a single growing season. That's enough to fully mask an unattractive railing or make an impressive statement against a bamboo fence. The vines remain thin and green, never becoming woody like wisteria, so it's easy to cut them back to the ground each year (and dig up a few tubers for supper...oh wait! I wasn't going to talk about that.) All you have to do is keep twining it in the direction you want it to go.

      What are you waiting for?

      Thursday, November 12, 2009

      it's a floor polish, it's a dessert topping...

      All hail Apios americana!

      What? Never heard of it? I'm not surprised. You won't find it at a big box store; it takes a special kind of nursery to offer this plant.

      Maybe people just don't understand how to classify Apios americana (aka hopniss, aka groundnut). Is it an edible? an ornamental? A. americana is both of these and more. Without exaggeration I offer you:

      - an ornamental vine with a fragrant and lovely flower;
      - a low maintenance plant, growing approximately 10 feet in a season;
      - a perennial that grows in sun to part shade, tolerates wet and dry soils, and like most legumes, thrives in poor soils;
      - a delicious tuber; after letting the plant establish for 2 years, you can harvest a crop each fall without sacrificing performance the following year.

      I found no reference to growing Apios in containers, but decided to take a chance in a tight corner of a client's terrace. I wanted something that would mask the railing and grow well in a half day of sun. And if, perchance, I got to harvest a meal from the container at the end of the season...well, how nice for me!

      The leaves of A. americana are typically leguminous: pinnately compound with 5-7 leaflets.

      Flowers are wisteria-esque; individual blooms are pink on the outside, reddish on the inside (Georgia O'Keefe fans take note) and borne in clusters. They bloom in August/September and you'll often smell their intense perfume before you notice the flower visually.

      Tubers form inches below the soil surface and grow in chains, with the older tubers being the largest. When you cut back the vines in fall (as I did earlier this week), it's the perfect time to dig up a meal.

      In the wild this plant often colonizes rocky soils, making the tubers difficult to dig. In the cultivated soil of a back yard garden or a rooftop container, however, digging up a meals' worth of hopniss is quick and easy. I don't claim it's foraging, but it sure is fun.

      I like my hopniss roasted, but you can boil, bake, or saute them...whatever your little heart desires. The taste is nutty and dense, like a cross between a potato and a peanut.

      Whether you want to eat the tubers or merely gaze upon the lovely Apios, do me a favor. Ask for it wherever you shop for plants. Ask for it every time you go in. Ask until you wear them down. It's a tactic that works surprisingly well. In the meantime, you can find A. americana in Brooklyn at Gowanus Nursery and via mailorder from Brushwood Nursery.

      P.S. If you get the title of this post, please let me know.

      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

      Friday, December 5, 2008

      Gorilla Gardening

      New York building superintendents don't like it when you make holes in their buildings. They are SUPER-sensitive that way.

      So what do you do when you want to train a vine up a wall? Pergolas and trellises need to be attached to the facade (requiring the dreaded "piercing of the building membrane"), and free-standing trellises (their bases planted in containers) aren't sturdy enough for woody perennial vines.

      I'm going to share my ingenious solution with you here. It's an excellent way to attach vines like Hydrangea petiolaris (climbing hydrangea) to buildings WITHOUT making holes in the facade or damaging the vine's stems. Can you say "Gorilla Glue"?

      Actually you need both Gorilla Glue AND Gorilla Tape. First, prep a bunch of tape strips, 3 inches long and 1/4 inch wide. You can tear Gorilla Tape pretty easily with your fingers.

      Next, apply glue to the portion of stem you want to attach to the building, about 1-2" long.

      Press the glued stem against the wall and hold it in place as you tape the stem to the building immediately above and below the glued section. The tape looks funky, but it's temporary. Once the glue has hardened (about 24 hours) you can remove the tape.

      Gorilla glue poufs up, so you don't need to use much. If it's visible, creeping out from underneath the stem, don't worry. The extruding glue wears away with time (and a little bad weather) and next year's foliage will help mask any glue that remains after the winter.

      The glue bond holds for years, so it's a win-win-win situation.
      1) You're happy (the vine is attached);
      2) The vine is happy (its stem is undamaged); and
      3) Your super is happy (no holes in the building).

      Tis the season.

      Special thanks to Other Ellen for the photographs that involve my hands. She braved the wind and cold to help shoot this project!

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