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

Monday, November 30, 2009

shameless self-promotion

It's the time of year when people look for gift suggestions, and Shirley Bovshow at www.GardenWorldReport.com has recorded a show featuring several garden writers (including yours truly), each with a garden related gift idea.

For those of you who don't know my life's story, my first career was on Broadway. I still love to sing, and recorded a CD of (mostly) show tunes about flowers and plants. Shirley was kind enough to include my CD Green Up Time on her show and asked me to assemble a slide show to accompany the music. I collected 20 images that fit the green-up theme, then scrambled to record a video intro on Mike's cell phone! (Be kind, I need to work on my video skills.)

I hope you like the music, and if you decide it would be the perfect gift for the gardener on your list, please feel free to order from my website.

Watch live streaming video from gardenworldreport at livestream.com

Friday, November 27, 2009


Our family tradition when I was little was to take a Sunday drive in the country, leaving West Philadelphia for the rural atmosphere of Rosemont Pa, hunting for 'The Bittersweet Man'. He stood by the big curve on Montgomery Avenue, arriving in late September, selling bunches of bittersweet and Japanese lanterns. He'd remain for a few week's then disappear until the following year.
My Mother had a pottery pitcher with a shiny brown glaze that was the only container she'd ever use for the orange berries. Now I insist on cutting my own bittersweet every fall, from the roadsides in PA, NJ, NY or my favorite place, a certain backyard in Ipswich MA. Yes I know it's an invasive scourge to many people, but I'm actually doing a community service when I cut stems when the shells are bright yellow, just before the berries, open to bring indoors.
These days I often make
a simple wreath with the
stems. Here's how.
1.Cut stems in full berry,
three to four feet long.
2.Take one stem and
wrap it around itself,
tucking in the end. Now
you have the base of
the wreath. Even a six
year-old can do it with-
out help.
3.Take another stem and
weave it in and out
around the circle. Tuck
in any small branches
that jut out.
4.The trick is to harvest
the stems just before
the berries open, mid
September around New
York City, second week in October around Ipswich, and make the wreath the same day you pick the stems. That way you'll have almost no droppage of berries. Hang the wreath indoors in a spot that doesn't get brushed against, or on a door that doesn't get slammed. Prop on a shelf, or lay flat on a coffee table out of reach of the dog's tail. Lucy is very proud of her wreath, and I'm proud of mine.

I'll keep it until just after Thanksgiving on my coffee table (top of the post) then replace it with something else; but my little yellow pitcher with extra stems, sitting on a shelf in the bathroom, will stay until spring.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

This afternoon I finished putting the last of my clients' gardens to bed for the season. It finally feels like November in NYC; I hurried to beat the rain that never came.

Everyone is neatly cut back, well mulched, decked out with evergreen boughs and in some instances berries and gourds.

Perhaps it was the knowledge that my season is done that made me wax sentimental (and sigh with relief), but as I walked home through the park I saw foliage colors and juxtapositions of needles and leaves that put my work to shame.

It's all around us. At least till the first winter wind blows it away.

Happy Thanksgiving, city gardeners.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


When I hung out of my office window clutching my Canon Rebel EOS, I could grab a shot of the climbing 'New Dawn' rose draping the balcony across the street. Granted 'New Dawn' blooms for about three weeks in June, then never again that year, but the sight was so lovely it inspired me to plant my own in my all container garden on our 18th floor. I intermingled it with
a small bell-shaped
Clematis integrifolia
'Rooguchi' that used
the rose canes for its
personal trellis.(double
click on the image to
enlarge the Clematis)
Then in spring of 2009
I looked across 80th St.
with great dismay. The
owners of the terrace
garden had removed
the rose WITHOUT MY
borrowed scenery, not
just their garden. Don't
I get a say? This spring
their terrace had a few
small trees and some
splotches of crimson
that looked like geran-
FOR THAT. Isn't this a democracy? I propose that if I have to look at the garden daily and it's my only view, I should have a voice. Do you agree, or will this issue just go the way of term limits for Mayors in the city of New York?

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.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Sorrel Pesto Appetizer

This low fat appetizer is like a crustless quiche, served warm or at room temperature. The sorrel has a lemony taste, and is easy to grow as a garden perennial.

2 ½ cups nonfat cottage cheese

4 cups sorrel leaves, washed and spun dry*

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese cut in pieces

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 large eggs

2 cloves minced garlic

4 teaspoons chopped fresh basil

½ cup pine nuts

Salt and pepper to taste

*substitute a pack of frozen chopped spinach if no sorrel is available: pre-cook and drain in the same way as below. Still very good but missing that lemony zing.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Chop sorrel leaves. Drop in boiling salt water for a minute. Drain well in a strainer, squeeze out additional liquid by hand, and pat dry with a paper towel. Let cool. Drain cottage cheese in the strainer and press out excess liquid. Put all ingredients except pine nuts in food processor and blend until smooth. Then mix in pine nuts and adjust seasoning.

Bake in a buttered 9” round pan for about an hour, until lightly brown on top. Let cool. Cut in wedges. Serves 12 as an appetizer, 8 for lunch.

Garnish with small fresh sorrel leaves, cherry tomatoes both red and yellow, extra pine nuts if you have them and extra pine nuts.

Lemon Loaf Lavandula

Not all lavender has the same great flavor. Some species taste like camphor. For cooking use any variety of Lavandula angustifolia, sometimes called English lavender. If you don't grow your own and are buying dried lavender buds, make sure it's 'culinary grade' not just anything they have lying around a cosmetics chain store.

For the cake:

1/3 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

1 teaspoon dried lavender buds, or two teaspoons fresh lavender buds (off the stem, no leaves)

2 1/2 cups sifted flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-by-f-by-3-inch loaf pan. Cream the butter and sugar until soft. Add the eggs one at a time until smooth; add the rind. Pinch the lavender with your fingers to release more oils and add to the mixture. Combine flour, baking powder and salt, mixing lightly with a spoon. Add the dry ingredients and milk to the creamed mixture, alternating in two or three pours. Bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. While the cake is baking make this glaze.

For the glaze

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon dried lavender buds or one teaspoon fresh buds

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

1/4 to 1/2 cup Grand Marnier liqueur a delicious option

Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan, pinching the lavender buds with fingers before adding. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from stove.

When the cake comes out of the oven, let cool for about 10 minutes, turn out of the pan and place on a plate, right side up. Prick the top with a fork in several places and pour the glaze over the loaf letting it absorb slowly. Let the cake cool before slicing. Pass any extra glaze in a small pitcher when serving the slices.

Tangy Herb Cheese

Line a strainer or colander with rinsed cheesecloth, or if you don't have that, position several drip coffee filters inside. Spoon unflavored yogurt in the filters or cheesecloth. Place the colander on a deep dish, cover loosely with wax paper, refrigerate, and let the yogurt drain for eight hours or overnight. Put the drained yogurt in a container and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of your favorite finely chopped fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and chives. Spread on crackers, celery or cucumber slices.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

and the winner is...

Laurent Lambert of Brooklyn, NY, for the photo of Fefe channeling his inner feline.

Judge Joe De Sciose chose this image because it has "such a homey, relaxed feeling, a cat basking in the sun streaming through the window, nice composition, and a wonderful balance of light and shadow."

Joe also offers these comments and suggestions to our runners-up:

Ulla (http://goldilocksfindsmanhattan.blogspot.com), I'd love to see the cat's face. It would have been a good idea to get eye level with the cat and get shots of him/her playing around the pumpkins. Shooting while lying on your stomach for an hour after having sprinkled the pumpkins with catnip would have given you some great shots.

Tracy, you've captured a great mood and the cats look terrific (definitely NOT starving!). The photo would have been stronger if you'd cleaned up the background (the black nursery pot, the grill and lid in back of the the fire pit) so we could focus on the main features.

Sarah, I'm pretty sure that's not a real animal...it would have been more interesting (and spookier!) with a strategically placed candle or a flashlight.

Many thanks to all of you from both of us. And Laurent, please email ESP so she can get you your prizes!


By the fountain at Columbus Circle, New York City, a designer with a sense of humor plants decorative onions to reflect the globe sculpture across the street.

Giant allium bulbs are ready to plant now for next spring and summer bloom. In fall catalogs, they're usually bunched dismissively with "other bulbs" after the ever popular tulips and daffodils, an afterthought. But they have the advantage of being showy, deer and rodent resistant because of that oniony aroma, useful for container planting, and unlike daffodils and tulips, the seed heads continue to look great in the garden and in a vase long after the flower has passed. Above, seed heads in July add structure and style to a few plants of santolina.

Two or three large alliums
look like lollipops
sticking up from the
soil. Don't be stingy,
buy a dozen or more
to clump in one area
to look kinda natural.

Alliums have one
great disadvantage.
With most of the
ornamental onions
the foliage starts to
yellow or dies back
completely by the
time the flower
emerges. So place
your bulbs among
other leafy plants to
camouflage the die-
back, as shown here
in the herb garden
of the NYBG.

Although you wouldn't
know it from my im-
ages where the alliums
seem to be all purple,
they come in various
shades of lilac, pink,
white and even a true
blue and a yellow.
Be sure to check for
hardiness in your area
if you want them to last.

To the right, on The
High Line in late June
a display of astilbe in
the foreground, and
behind, foxtail lily
and drum stick allium
(A. sphaerocephalon).
Double click on this or
any image to get a
better view.

Try ornamental onions
in containers with other
plants, and the seed
heads will reward you
with their stately
presence. Full sun and
excellent drainage are
the two requirements.

I've had great success
forcing A. schubertii
on a sunny windowsill
in winter, and watching
the buds emerge and
unfold to look like giant
firecrackers. As the
foliage died back, I cut
some stems from my
boxwood shrub and
poked them gently into
the pot to provide a
complete cover-up.

Below are two arrangements with stuff I grew on my farm. The fresh arrangement includes drumstick and another small pink allium, globe thistle,
and several cone flowers, stems cut very short and stuck in wet floral foam.

The dried arrangement
is composed of stiff
necked garlic, and the
seed heads of Chinese
chives and Allium
stuck in
one of my favorite
vases. When you get
tired of the arrange-
ment, cook with the

To learn more about
growing and using
anything allium, crafts
and original recipes,
see my book, 'Garlic,
Onions & Other Alliums',
by Ellen Spector Platt,
Books, 2003.

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