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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


People outside of New York don't know what I'm talking about when I tout plans for my 'treepits' or 'treewells', that critical part of the city landscape that the street tree calls home. Sometimes it's the only garden that you have, even if it's only 3' X 4'. The trees struggle to survive amidst the concrete, the bricks and the dog pee. There is shade under the trees, compacted soil, a constant supply of cigarette butts.
Many designers think the way to go is impatiens, one color or mixed, and it's true they brighten the scene. But a little imagination please!
OK, the angel wing begonias are not unusual but the shape of the leaf and the lushness of the planting makes these more than banal.
The edging of liriope with its little pink flowers is perennial here, so provides a nice border for the wax begoinas.
More begonias, and horrible red shredded bark mulch. Other Ellen likes this style treewell because they've built a little raised planter so as to not interfere with the tree roots. I hate the jagged metal edges atop the stone. A tush preventative is so unfriendly!

Pleasant, with
different color coleus.
The bark of the syca-
more tree the and the
texture of the picket
surrounds caught my
eye. How kind of the
driver of the red car
to chose a spot where
it enhances the
color of the plantings

Below, one of my own
four treewells that I
change seasonally. I use
bare hands to dig in the
loose soil so I can feel
the tree roots and leave
them undisturbed.
I strive for a garden look
with several species and varieties and try to never repeat myself. Here the Non-Stop tuberous begonias that started the season on an equal footing with the caladium, became overpowered by late summer and are hiding under the large leaves of the 'White Queen'. Double click on image to see all.
Critical note for caladium, wait until the soil warms up in spring before planting ( in NYC mid to late May) as they won't tolerate cold soil. I know my treewells got pedestrian approval because six plants were lifted within weeks of my putting them in. I picture the colorful leaves enjoying some other yard. The thief is forgiven if he cares for them properly and doesn't give them too much sun.
Thanks to Brent & Beck's Bulbs who sent me some of the caladium bulbs to try.

Above, another lovely mix. The ivy stays perennially and the annuals change with the seasons in a Westside treewell.

To the right, my favorite
planting of this summer.
Lots of personality.
No cliches here.
But I'm not so enamored
of the grid of fishing line
strung across the
surround. Is this to keep
pigeons and dogs out or
to make it harder to
steal the plants with one
tug? Other Ellen, what's
the big guy?

Tell me (show me) your fav?


Georgia said...

I love gardens in street tree spaces from individual tree wells to parkways. I don't have recent photos from my new city but here are some links from my blog and the blogs of others.

Here's a Slate article on the practice: http://www.slate.com/id/2189470/ which I found at Katydid on the Street (http://katydidonthestreet.blogspot.com/2008/04/spring-has-sprung-and-i-have-been.html).

There you used to be photos for viewing in this NYT article - http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/21/garden/city-gardener-a-colorful-carpet-to-protect-street-trees.html.

About tree guards but the photos do show plantings in the bed area: http://localecologist.blogspot.com/2009/01/tree-walk-multi-use-tree-guards.html.

From Berkeley, my former home city, Walking Berkeley's entry about parking strip gardens: http://walkingberkeley.wordpress.com/2006/06/30/front-yard-and-parking-strip-gardens/.

Ellen Zachos said...

Probably an Alocasia, maybe a Colocasia. I'd have to see it in person...the two species can look very similar. Like the Caladium, it's a tender tuber and can be overwintered in a dormant state at about 40-45 degrees F.

Let me just clarify that I don't think those brick tree pits are beautiful, but I appreciate that someone built a shelf to protect the tree roots, not only from people digging among them, but also from the extra soil that some people pile on top of the roots so they can plant there. Adding 6 inches of soil to a tree pit changes the planting depth of the tree, which can lead to slow decline (and eventual you-know-what). Those street trees have it hard enough!

esmith said...

If a tree in my Greenpoint neighborhood is languishing in a tree well under close-packed earth and dog urine, is there anything I can do to help it?

Cheval Force Opp said...

Nothing makes me smile more that a surprise of plants in the city. Great to see them!

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Elizabeth, Does the tree have any sort of surround? Before doing anything to improve the soil, I think you need to stop some of the encroachment.There are Dog-away sprays, not harmful to pets, but you need to keep applying after each rain, so not too efficient.esp

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Cheval, It's obvious that it's too long since you've been in our beautiful city. You better get yourself up here soon and see how many gardens we actually have. esp

Fern @ Life on the Balcony said...

You're more forgiving than I. I wouldn't forgive the plant thief unless they replaced the stolen plants with something equally interesting.

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Yes Fern,I'm usually not so complacent either; my forgiveness this time may come from the fact that I'm not paying for the plants directly, my building is, and my share is is only 1ooth. But the day a passerby allowed her dog to pee on plants I had in trays getting ready to put in place, I rose up in a rage and demanded she pay compensation, following her down the street to harass her. Not a pretty sight!

esmith said...

The trees are in squares of soil--if you can call it that. No surrounds, and right on the level of the street. It's amazing they have leaves!

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Elizabeth, I think some sort of surround/little fence is a first step in trying to keep humans and pets from just tramping through. Then 1-2 inches of compost spread over the soil, not more, so you don't suffocate the tree roots. Repeat compost spring and late summer.

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