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

Monday, March 16, 2009


What’s your sign?

Not your astrological sign, silly, but your real sign? The one that informs your gardener’s soul that spring is truly here regardless of weather or date. When I’m on my knees planting pansies in the front of my abode I remember doing the job as a young girl with my Mother, then with my firstborn son ‘helping’ at 10 ½ months, and an unbroken line of springs since then. Now when I’m kneeling on the cement in front of my building in New York City, cold, impersonal strangers invariably stop to chat. They thank me for making the block look beautiful, tell me that they choose 80th St not 81st to see what I’ve planted. They worry about what will happen with the next inevitable snow or hard frost. Another teaching opportunity; the plants will survive perfectly. Young kids are intrigued by pansies because of the anthropomorphic faces and each stops to ask their grownup ' What's she doing'. I explain.

Planting will be a day this week, whenever I can grab the time and find the plants. Other Ellen often invites me to drive with her to the Long Island wholesalers to pick up some flats, but her excuses for the next two weeks include speaking at the flower show in San Francisco, and a commercial job in Florida. So what! Aren’t the pansies more important?

If I can force myself to
wait for this Saturday,
I’ll go to the Green-
market and buy four
flats, grab some water-
cress and other early greens for a fresh spring salad. If I can’t wait, I’ll go to the wholesale flower district around 28th St. or take two buses to The Plant Shed on 96th & Broadway where they carry a varied selection of annuals and herbs in season. But will they have purple and orange, my choice for this year?

Pansies are cool weather plants, droop and get straggly in summer’s heat. By July 1 when caladium or coleus in my tree pits have started to take off, it’s easy to rip out the pansies and add them to the compost bin on the roof. They've done their job. Although commercial pansy growers have tried to develop a new market for their product in fall, and they grow perfectly well then, I keep my symbols orthodox: pansies for earliest spring, pumpkins and gourds for fall. Let me not confound my growing year.

Pounding Flowers
Pansies are a perfect flower for a craft dye project, for kids or grownups. The flowers, along with many others pictured here, contain a dye that can be pounded out with a hammer or wooden mallet onto thick un-coated, absorbent paper like drawing paper. It's exactly the opposite of pressing flowers where your trying to preserve the flower and preserve the color and keep the flower. Here you're trying to force the color outward to make an imprint of the flower and discarding the flower. An advantage is that the results are instantaneous.
1.Practice with a single flower, no leaf or stem, on a piece of paper towel. Place on a hard surface like a work table.
2.Cover with another piece of paper towel, then hammer all over the flower, as gently and as evenly as possible. If you don't see color emerging, bang a little harder, keeping fingers out of the way.
3.When it seems as if you have
color all over, carefully open the
paper and inspect. Scrape off
any pieces of flower residue and
you should have a nice pansy
imprint. When you're satisfied
with the test you can make a
greeting card or a picture for
4.Cut your good paper to size. Put
paper towel below your good
paper to prevent any dye from
going through onto the table.
Then place a flower carefully,
face down. Add a sheet of
paper towel on top. Hammer
away. (Right), Early summer
harvest for pounding. Intense
colors work best. Double click
to enlarge photo.


JHopkins said...

My New Hampshire garden is at least a couple zones behind you, so I read these posts for the tease of the season to come. And to see what I should plant for you to get creative with the next time you come visit.
love from your daughter

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Full disclosure: gorgeous blooms in the basket harvested with permission from the enchanting gardens of Jen and her friend Mary in Canterbury NH last August.

Ellen Zachos said...

You've been holding out on me! That pansy pounding project would be perfect for the San Francisco first grade class I'm visiting tomorrow! Maybe it's not too late...

Ellen Spector Platt said...

For a class you'll need one hammer for ever three or four kids. When you click to enlarge photo, examine the yellow & blue pansy on the far right. Note the dye transfers from both main colors, as well as from the dark lines. On the left, find a pounding project on an old linen napkin. Kids nature groups can each pound their own square of fabric, then sew them together to form a wall hanging.

WiseAcre said...

I've put a short cut on my desktop so I don't forget this post.

Hammering flowers should be great fun for the grand kids while I personally like the idea of creating some abstract prints to frame.

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