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

Monday, June 29, 2009


For three days amid rain, wind and clouds, I joined hundreds of other lavender lovers at the PA Lavender Festival, Willow Pond Farm near Gettysburg.I was appearing in a huge dried flower hat with my Lavender book, and was fortunate to be placed under a small tent between the ice cream stand and the lunch line. No wonder I sold out of books! Visitors picked their own bunches, learned to weave lavender wands, attended lectures and demos, licked Bruster’s dark chocolate lavender cones, selected varieties to take home.
Photo © Alan & Linda Detrick, Ellen Spector Platt design


The charming Lavandula stoechas above, sometimes called Spanish, French or Italian lavender, is hardy only in Zones 8-9. In the NY area, treat it as an annual and you wont be disappointed.

If you use lavender in cooking, use a variety of Lavandula angustifolia like ‘Hidcote’ or ‘Munstead’, sometimes called English lavender. Other lavenders have a higher camphor aroma and taste which will not enhance your cooking. (see my post of 6/16/09 for ‘Hidcote’ on my roof.)

When your lavender finishes its bloom, cut off spent stems down to the first cluster of leaves to encourage re-bloom later in the season.

On the way home from the festival we stopped to see dear friends near my old Meadowlark Flower & Herb Farm. Their garden (above) had burst into lavender bloom, with L. x intermedia ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’ still in bud. Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), which I had once helped to plant, had totally filled in the bluestone path.
My parting gift to our hosts was a couple of hours of weeding in their daylily patch, as much a gift to me as to Gary & Diane.

Even if you don't grow your own Lavandula angustifolia, you can buy a pack of culinary lavender buds to make these and other treats.
LAVENDER MADELEINES (from: Lavender: How to Grow & Use the Fragrant Herb by Ellen Spector Platt, 2nd. Ed. Stackpole Books, 2009)
These miniature shell-shaped cakes are typically French; rich and delicious they’re perfect for a tea party or afternoon treat. The only requirement is a Madeleine pan, available from most any cookware source. If buying a new one I strongly suggest that you look for the non-stick variety so the little dears will just pop out when you invert the pan. Lavender adds a delectable flavor here, as it does to most any simple cake or cookie recipe. Dunk the dainty Madeleine in a cup of tea to release the perfect combination of flavors.


2 large eggs
a pinch of salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large lemon
1 cup all purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter melted
1 tablespoon dried, or two tablespoons fresh lavender buds
1/3 cup confectioners sugar

Don’t use a mixer for this recipe, beating by hand results in a lighter, more tender Madeleine.
Butter and flour the Madeleine mold.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter, add the lavender and set aside to cool.
Finely grate the lemon, yellow part only.
In a medium bowl, wisk the eggs and salt until frothy.
Add the sugar gradually, wisking as you go.
Add the lemon rind.
With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon fold in the flour.
Mix in the melted butter with lavender.
Fill shells 2/3 full with batter.
Bake on middle rack for 12 to fifteen minutes until firm and brown around the edges.
Turn out immediately on a cooling rack, then sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Makes 24 cakes. When reusing the mold for the second dozen, butter and flour again.

Friday, June 26, 2009

getting high in NYC

I am proud to be a New Yorker.

New Yorkers love to complain, and I admit, I do my share. But not this time. I am insanely grateful to the powers that be: the NYC Parks Department, the extremely talented designers, the many wealthy benefactors. What an insanely wonderful gift this park is! Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to The High Line.

A single post can't do it justice. I'd need one to extoll the landscape design (James Corner Field Operations together with Piet Oudolf), another to praise the architecture (Diller Scofidio + Renfro), several posts to cover individual plants, and I'd still want to rave about the synergistic combination of the Manhattan skyline with the planted landscape.

As an entirely inadequate introduction to the park, here's a little history.

The High Line is an elevated railroad structure built in the 1930s, running from Gansevoort Street in the meatpacking district to 34th Street, next to the Javits Center. It allowed for the movement of freight by rail without clogging street traffic, and spurs were built to enter directly into the second floors of warehouses. Abandoned since 1980, the tracks were quickly colonized by hardy volunteer plants, which inspired the naturalized planting style of The High Line park today.

South of 30th Street, The High Line is owned by the City of New York. It was donated to the city by CSX Transportation, which still owns the northern portion (30th Street to 34th Street). Although neighborhood residents organized to save the High Line from destruction in 1999, construction on the first section didn't begin until 2006.

The second section (20th to 30th Street) opened in 2011. Those of us who thought nothing could top the first installment were stunned and amazed to discover the delights of The High Line, part two. The future of the third section is tied to the development of The Hudson Rail Yards; construction should begin in 2012.

The High Line opens at 7 am, a great time to have it almost to yourself. For more details about hours, directions, and access, visit www.thehighline.org.

Everywhere you look, the juxtaposition of bricks, mortar, and steel with sweeps of prairie flowers and ornamental grasses tells you you're not in Kansas anymore.

A grove of 3-flowered maple trees (Acer triflorum) softens a corner of the elevated railway.

Drought tolerant stonecrop (Sedum telephium 'Red Cauli') and companion grasses naturalize between concrete planks, imitating the original volunteer plants that colonized the railroad tracks.

Who could resist the wooden chaises, positioned for lazy gazing across the Hudson?

I struggle to communicate the significance of this park. So do me a favor, don't take my word for it. Get down there and see it for yourself. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


(photo courtesy Paul Zorovich)
Spoiled gardeners with actual land for planting often restrict themselves in their deployment of containers: a few glazed beauties on the terrace, two rose standards flanking the front door, some pots of colorful annuals by the garage. We who garden in New York City with only hardscape, know that you can grow everything in containers.
I first met Karen Dixon after her husband Paul Zorovich bought me at a charity auction to benefit the New York Oratorio Society. I had offered my services as a Garden Coach. Karen was at that time growing an eclectic
mix of annuals and perennials, a few herbs, a tomato or two and knew at least as much as I did. I was deeply impressed by the composter on their 9th floor terrace in Inwood, the Northern tip of Manhattan. This smallish plastic tumbler was the first I had ever seen in New York City. Since that time Karen’s evolved into a big time vegetable grower with TEN self-watering EarthBoxes and assorted other containers. Karen & Paul's terrace faces northeast, where they’re completely exposed
to daylong sun and “hurricane” force drying winds.

Karen says “this year on the back forty I tried sugar snap peas, planting them by the end of March and eating them the first couple of weeks in June. Quite delicious, although most of them never made it off the terrace as Paul and I kind of harvested and ate them at the same time. Next year I will do the peas a little differently, as I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that a six and a half foot plant is going to overwhelm a four-foot trellis. Spatial relations are useful.
We are also growing hot peppers for the first time, along with our collection of sweet peppers. I have both lettuce
and spinach, and
have already eaten
my first heads of
each. Finally, I
have a tomatillo
plant; it kind of
came along free
with an order of
seedlings. (photo on
right courtesy Paul Zorovich)

I only have one, so
it won't be cross-
pollinated, unless
someone nearby is
also growing
one and a pollina-
tor visits both, I
don't think it will set fruit.
I am trying to grow plants for our friends the bees, so I’ve put in bee balm, hyssop, butterfly bush, borage, and several varieties of lilac. We have a few resident bumblebees that we call Eric and we like to keep them happy. Last year our terrace hosted a preying mantis all summer, which was fun, but I haven't seen any this year.
The downside
this year is
that after four
years garden
pests have
finally found
us. I knew
they would
and this year
I am doing
battle with
aphids and leafhoppers. I garden organically, so I am using all the non-synthetic chemical tricks at my disposal to control them. All I need now is for the DAMN SUN to shine a bit.”

The EarthBox insures that tomatoes and other thirsty plants get a constant supply of water to their roots where they like it. There’s a three-gallon reservoir of water at the bottom, then a rigid aeration screen, soil, and a fill pipe at the top so the gardener can add water as needed. A fitted black shower cap covers the soil and plants are inserted through slits in the plastic.
I was sent two EarthBoxes to trial by the company but hadn’t gotten around to planting in them when my desire for homemade compost overwhelmed me. Layering garden waste and kitchen waste on top of the aeration screen in one, I covered it all with the plastic cap. Tada! In six weeks I had gorgeous mulch for my roses, while starting to fill the second box with more waste.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Is it too much?

My favorite and bestest client has an interesting set of terraces. The north terrace can have only white flowers. Foliage of any color is fine (and in fact appreciated), but all the flowers must be white. It's a calm and serene garden, full of subtle combinations of various textures, shapes, and shades of green, used primarily for dinners al fresco and evenings in the warm summer air. A soothing and relaxing place to sit and gaze, lending itself to quiet conversation and intimate exchanges.

The south terrace, however, is meant to be a riot of color, as opposite of white as it is possible to be. It's a terrace where kids squirt each other with hoses and a large family gathers for noisy weekend breakfasts. I love working with these kinds of sweeping requests: general enough to leave me plenty of room to play, and yet specific enough so I get a feel for what my client wants.

This week was tricky weather-wise, and one morning was an especially unusual combination of bright, overcast light that brought out the most vibrant, saturated best of the colorful terrace. I was almost shocked by how rich the colors looked and I asked myself, "Is it too much?"

It wouldn't necessarily be my first choice for a garden, but how lucky am I to get to play with so many different kinds of landscapes?

What do YOU think? Would you prefer a glass of chilled white wine against the subtle glow of white flowers and gray foliage? Or does this joyous, screaming-out-loud color combo make you want to down a margarita and ambush someone with a water pistol? There are no wrong answers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


On my rooftop garden I aim to have plantings of major interest from March through December: that means interest to ME, who designs, plants and tends the garden for my condo building. In winter only the desperate smokers face the gale-force winds and frigid cold of the 18thfloor. Here’s what’s making me happy today.

One bush of blue hydrangea is coming to peak form, a Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’ that blooms on both new and old wood. The H.m.‘Nikko Blue’ that were planted before my tenure rarely flower but I hate to rip them out because the foliage is still nice. The hydrangea is backed up by some modest yellow potentilla, enhanced by the bright blue.Also starting to bloom is the lacecap hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’ whose new leaves and stems are a reddish color as advertised and whose foliage will turn deep maroon in fall.

The lavender ‘Hidcote’
is really showing off
and I picked a few
stems for pressing,
but the ‘Provence’
lavender (Lavandula x
intermedia 'Provence')
is just getting started.

The brilliant chartreuse
foliage of the Sumac
‘Tiger Eyes’ (Rhus
typhina) makes it one
of my favorite plants
now and until late fall,
especially in front of
the deep mahogony
of the cut leaf Japanese maple. In a container this sumac is beautifully controlled.

Just going off stage is the climbing rose ‘New Dawn’ that blooms here but once a year, even when I deadhead assiduously. It earns its keep by the month-long show it flashes in late May. Other roses like 'Crown Princess Margareta', 'Oso Easy Paprika', and
'Graham Thomas'
have finished their
first big bloom and
are setting new buds
for later display.
(Below, the climber
'New Dawn' trying
to escape.)And in the herb garden,
not much color but in
teresting sweet flavor
from my one specimen
of Stevia rebaudiana
that is making its debut
this year. Stevia powder
is all the rage as a
natural sweetener, and
I wanted to see what
this semi-tropical herb
would do here in NYC.
In the fall I’ll bring it in
to winter over on my

Below, Wreath design Ellen
Spector Platt , photo© Alan & Linda Detrick

If you like to dry
hydrangea for indoor
decorations DON’T
NOW. Wait until they’re
very mature. That
means that every stem
you cut will have been
on the bush for 1-2
months, feel papery
to the touch, and have
started to change color
slightly, i.e. the whites
get tinges of pink
or wine color, the blues
get tinges of green or
maroon. If you cut too
early, the petals will
shrivel as they dry. Cut
when the flowers are
mature, then you can
arrange them immed-
iately without even
hanging to dry. And don't try to dry the flower heads that have but a few petals like the lacecap varieties. You'll thank me for this tip!
(Design Ellen Spector Platt, photo© Alan & Linda Detrick)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's not too late!

Here we are in the middle of June. Have you planted anything yet? Don't panic...it's not too late to start an herb garden in a window box.

One of the advantages of growing your herbs in a window box is that they can be placed conveniently near the kitchen (outside the kitchen window, on the stoop, hanging from the back fence.) The closer and easier your herbs are to pinch, the more often you'll find yourself reaching for a fragrant leaf or two.

If you're just getting started now, buy small plants instead of seeds for an earlier harvest. Most garden centers and farmers' markets sell herbs in 4" pots. Allow each herb six inches of growing space. In other words, if you have a 24" window box, you can plant 4 herbs; a 36" window box has space for 6 herbs.

Be sure you group herbs together that require the same growing conditions. For full sun try basil, thyme, sage, dill, parsley, cilantro, or fennel. A part shade location is fine for rosemary, bay leaf, chives, or lemon verbena. (These herbs can also take full sun.)

A word of warning: If you have your heart set on oregano or mint, DO NOT include them in a window box with other herbs. Oregano and mint, while delicious, don't play well with others. They'll quickly take over any container they're planted in, so give them their own pots.

The first step is to cover the drainage holes in the bottom of your window box with pottery shards or pieces of screening or landscape cloth. This prevents soil from running out the holes. If your window box doesn't have drainage holes, now is the time to drill them: 1/2 inch holes every six inches should do the trick.

Add enough soil to the bottom of the box so that when the herbs are in place, the top of the soil will be an inch or two below the rim of the box; this helps prevent messy spill-overs when you water. Be sure to maintain the original planting level of the herbs: don't expose the roots by planting too high or cover the stem by planting too low.

Take your herbs out of their pots, or, if they're in biodegradable peat pots, peel off the top edge so whatever is left will be below the soil. If you leave the peat pot exposed to the air it will wick moisture away from the root ball, where it's needed.

Place your herbs to see how you like the arrangement, then plant, firming in the soil around the roots as you go. You want each herb's roots to make good contact with the soil. The final step is to water, which you should do thoroughly! Thoroughly means until water runs out the bottom of the window box. This run-off tells you the entire volume of soil has been saturated.

How often you have to water your window box will depend on how hot it is, how sunny it is, and how much it rains! In the middle of summer, you might need to water every day. This self-watering window box is from Gardener's Supply and the reservoir holds enough water to get you through 3-7 days, depending on the weather. It's a reliable and effective labor saving device and I recommend them to anyone who likes to take a long weekend off in the summer without worrying about who's going to water the herb garden.

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.

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