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

      Showing posts with label water. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label water. Show all posts

      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!!!!!!!!!!

      Thursday, May 16, 2013


      This weeping cut-leaf Japanese maple has resided happily on my roof garden for five years. For the first time it's leafing only in some spots.
      It used to look like this...
      Now many spots are bare, some grey, dead-looking branches, some tantalizingly reddish.
       I'm sure it's because someone turned off the master water supply to the drip irrigation system last summer and I noticed it only when this tree started to shed leaves. I know I'll get grief from some building residents who think a tree is the same as a sofa; if it looks messy, throw it out.
      Any ideas on what to do for the tree ????? HELP!!!!

      Thursday, June 7, 2012


      I've been picking a crop of lettuce that self-seeded when I failed to rip out the tired plants July 2011. The lettuce went to seed, germinated and produced small leaves by Sept., then wintered over. It's a special treat to have free salads now.
      A River Birch has just turned its fall color, beautiful in October, but in June. One of my hydrangeas was also crying out "LN, LN". Investigation showed that the tap to the automatic drip system had been shut off by person or persons unknown. The tap now has full body armor and the birch has started to drop all of it's leaves. I'm hoping it will re-leaf to get it through the rest of the summer.
      One of my three Montauk daisies, usually the last perennial to bloom in my garden each October, is bursting into full bloom. It probably thinks that the pathetic season we went through in January and February was spring. After it finishes blooming I'll cut it back and hope for re-bloom in fall. Something strange is also happening in my boxes of annuals. Yes I knew my Calabrachoa had over-wintered for the first time in history, but now strange leaves are appearing both here and in the base of the flowering plum trees. My best guess is that a stealth gardener has planted pumpkin seeds. I'll leave them alone to see what happens.

      Wednesday, August 25, 2010


      If you have it, you can grow this:Portland Japanese Garden

      If you don't have water you can grow this.Northern NM

      The Santa Fe Audubon Society captures rain in great barrels to help water the gardens near the Visitor Center. Rain and melting snow falls from spouts directly into the barrels and is siphoned off from there.

      My dear friends in Santa Fe struggled for some twenty years, buckets in showers, to hand carry water to the garden. When they finally fitted the entire roof of their one story adobe home and garage with a water capture system the garden sprang to life.Santa Fe Greenhouses estimates they have one acre of roof surface and collect about 320,000 gallons of precipitation in their 38,000 gallon cistern.
      And what are we doing about water in New York City? Not much! Rain water drains from rooftops into the sewer system. 70% of the sewage system carries combined rainwater and water flushed from our toilets. When a heavy rain comes along, there is flooding at the corners where sewers are backed up. With a really heavy rain, some subway lines are flooded. We pay to process all of the water together, even that which is not raw sewage.
      Meanwhile a building such as mine is reluctant to wash the pavement with a hose or water the tree wells more than twice a week because water is too expensive.The Queens Botanical Garden demonstrates one solution above. On the green roof of their new Visitor Center, rain water is absorbed by soil and taken up by the plants that live there, helping to alleviate some of the flooding in other areas of the low lying garden.

      On The High Line in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, bog plants are grown in special containers that are watered regularly.On my roof I've grown a bowl of carniverous bog plants for kids including the ever-popular Venus fly trap.If we don't have enough water we'll be reduced to this:

      Or this:

      Saturday, August 1, 2009

      time for a drink

      You know how karma swirls in circles? You find yourself on the same block three times in one week. You run into someone twice in a single day, someone you haven't seen in months. Or...suddenly everyone is talking about drip irrigation.

      I don't take on a new client without a drip irrigation system. Most of my city gardens are in containers, and containers dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens. Water evaporates through the sides of porous containers and soil temperatures are warmer than those of in-ground gardens, which leads to quicker evaporation and transpiration. During the height of the summer heat, container gardens can need water every day, maybe several times a day, depending on the size and placement of the containers. Frankly this is way too much work for me, and it would be foolish for a client to pay me my hourly rate to stand there and water when a simple machine could do it without sweating or feeling resentful.

      Automatic irrigation is something I take for granted, but it's come to my attention that some people can't quite picture how drip irrigation works in a container garden.

      1) If you don't have a hose bib (spigot) on your terrace or back yard, hire a plumber to install one. Check with your building first to make sure this is allowed.

      2) Attach a backflow preventer and a filter to the hose bib. The backflow preventer (sometimes called an anti-siphon) keeps contaminants (fertilizer, dog pee, etc.) from travelling back into the plumbing of your apartment or home. This is required by law in most states and is generally a good idea everywhere. The filter prevents particulates from passing through the system where it might clog thin hoses and emitters. In the image below, the filter is the black, grenade shaped appendage appearing just right of the red faucet.

      3) A pressure regulator may also be necessary to reduce the water pressure running through the irrigation system. Drip irrigation systems generally operate at 20-30 psi (pounds per square inch), which is lower than the water pressure of most residences. The pressure regulator insures that great rushing streams of water don't rip apart your newly installed system.

      4) Next come the solonoid valves. You'll need a valve for each zone of your garden (the above set-up shows 3 solonoid valves). These remote control valves are opened and closed by an electric timer/controller (we'll get to that in a minute). A large terrace might need different zones for areas with varying water requirements: sunny and shady areas, small window boxes and large mixed containers. With different zones you can give your sunny, small window boxes 8 minutes of water twice a day, while giving your large, shady containers 20 minutes once a day...get it?

      5) PVC (or polyethylene) piping comes after the solonoid valves and runs around the perimeter of the terrace, attached either to the walls, or to the parapet, against which the containers are arranged.

      6) 1/4" tubing, sometimes called spaghetti tubing, is attached to the PVC piping and ends with an emitter. There are many different kinds of emitters (some pressurized, some not), all of which deliver water SLOWLY (that's why they call it DRIP irrigation) and efficiently, directly to the soil surface. In early spring the spaghettis may be visible, but once the plants grow in, you won't be able to see them.

      Go ahead, find the spaghettis in this picture.

      Can't do it, can you?

      The whole magilla is controlled by a timer (either battery operated or electric) which is wired to the solonoid valves, telling them when to open and close, controlling how often and how long the plants are watered. The timers are programmable and can be adjusted as watering needs change during the season. You can also attach a rain sensor to avoid irrigating when it's pouring, as it has done with depressing frequency this summer in NYC.

      This all probably sounds much more complicated than it really is. Truth is you can buy kits that contain most of the essential parts pre-assembled (backflow preventer, filter, pressure regulator, and valve(s)) and simple, battery operated controllers are available at big box stores. Or you can call an expert for a professional (albeit somewhat more expensive) installation. Either way, don't be put off by the initial cost. It's a lot cheaper than paying someone to water all season along, nor will you be spending oodles of $$ to replace the plants that died because you went on vacation and your neighbor didn't water properly. Automatic irrigation is also a lot more dependable (as long as the system is actually turned on, right O.E.?). Drip is efficient since no water is wasted by flinging it willy-nilly through the air (like a sprinkler does), nor will standing water collect on leaves and flowers where it may encourage fungal diseases.

      So what's stopping you? Drink up.

      Wednesday, June 10, 2009


      Stream of re-cycled graywater fascinates at the Queens Botanical Garden

      Five boroughs in New York City, four botanical gardens and I had only visited three of them until last week. It seemed a terrible schlep to Queens: two subways and a bus, and the outgoing express train not running against the morning commuter tide coming into Manhattan.

      But the story of the Queens Botanical Garden is compelling and I’m more than delighted that I ventured forth. Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the United States, with 48% of the population foreign born and people speaking 138 languages. The QBG itself is in a largely Asian neighborhood and this is a space that's heavily used by neighbors rather than by tourists. Explanatory signs throughout the garden appear in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean languages.

      This garden of 39 acres just opened the highest LEED rated (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) public building in the State of New York with its new Visitor & Administration Building, all under the leadership and vision of Exec. Director Susan Lacerte.Here are some of the attractions that go into the Platinum LEED rating and ones that you’ll see on a guided tour: solar panels on a large roof;
      Re-cycled water from sinks, drinking fountains and shower; some compostingIntensive green roof, six inches of soil with a large variety of native and low water plants.

      toilets; green roof over the large auditorium, one you can actually walk on; geothermal heating/cooling system; many building materials locally grown, manufactured, or recycled; captured rain runoff filtered by bacterial action of plant roots supplying a meandering stream graced with native plants and a fountain. AND THE BUILDING IS EXTREMELY HANDSOME AND SATISFYING. Currently under construction is a parking 'garden' with special paving to allow the capture and treatment of water from a typically impervious surface.

      The garden itself has many traditional areas including these themes: fragrance, herbs, flowering trees, wetlands, perennials, woodlands, weddings, bee keeping, composting sites. The
      rose garden is being
      transformed with new
      plantings of sustainable
      varieties that will need
      no spraying. To the
      right, white and red val-
      erian and bronze fennel
      in the herb garden.

      The children’s program
      offers a huge selection
      of classes for all grade
      levels planned by the
      amazing QBG Director
      of Education Patty
      Kleinberg. Neighbor-
      hood kids plant in
      a special garden area,
      and explore nature on
      weekends and summer

      But it’s not necessary to
      have an official chil-
      drens garden for kids
      to have fun. Give them
      some water to explore,
      a huge blue atlas cedar
      to climb and they’re
      happy. I heard a smart
      mother trying to lure a
      recalcitrant four year-
      old to “see the roses.”
      He wanted no parts of
      it until she changed her
      offer to “smell the
      roses” and they went
      off happily together.
      (Double-click on any
      image for better view.)

      For more information
      and directions go to QBC.

      Sunday, November 9, 2008

      Great Lawns

      Before President-elect Obama made his electrifying acceptance speech at midnight EST last Tuesday, John McCain made a concession speech on the ‘lush lawn’ (New York Times 11/5/08) of the land-marked Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Most viewers were hanging on McCain’s words. But because like most women I’m a great multi-tasker, I was also trying to get a glimpse of the lawn in the darkness.

      One and a half years ago DJ (Daughter Jen) and I stayed at that hotel for one night on our way to a longer visit to the Grand Canyon. With views of stately Camelback Mountain in the near distance the hotel, that calls itself “The Jewel of the Desert”, has a massive watering program to maintain the lushness in an alien climate. DJ and I were dismayed at the lawn and plant choices made by the landscaper and escaped to the Desert Botanical Garden nearby to enjoy a much more appropriate scene.

      Back in New York City, Central Park features a thirteen-acre oval carpet of Kentucky bluegrass known as The Great Lawn. The lawn was totally refurbished eleven years ago with special soil, sod, drainage pipes, irrigation lines and 250 pop-up sprinklers. In 1997 the cost estimate for maintaining the lawn was 650,000.

      Like the lawn at the Arizona Biltmore, it’s lush and well-cared for, and the scene of some major events. People go there to read, relax, and sun themselves, play softball, cricket, make out, and listen to concerts. The stage on the great lawn has played host to the likes of Pavarotti, Pope John Paul II, the NY Philharmonic, and a new Disney movie.

      Dear gardeners, do we need/want/deserve such a lawn? Does a privately owned hotel in the desert deserve it?

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