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

Friday, May 28, 2010

Clinton Community Gardens

I was a few minutes early for my hair cut last week. Lucky for me, The Colour Box is across the street from the Clinton Community Gardens, which could not have been more beautiful. Sadly, no one was working in the garden at the time, so I had to take all my photos from outside the fence. So full of bloom...it felt like an impossibly perfect garden moment.

The juxtaposition of soft rose petal and
hard metal fence gets me every time.

If you live in the neighborhood, between 34th and 59th Streets, 8th Avenue and the Hudson, you're eligible for a key to the front garden. Bring proof of address (driver's license, Con Ed bill, library card) and $10 (for the key) on Tuesdays between 6 & 7 pm or Saturdays between 11 am & noon.

There's a waiting list for rear garden plots, where members grow edibles and ornamentals. Visitors are allowed into the front garden when a key holder is present...and if they abide by the rules!

Next time you're strolling down 48th Street (between 9th & 10th), peek through the fence. If you see someone hard at work ask them to let you in. If I saw this much from the sidewalk, just imagine what treasures await within.

Monday, May 24, 2010


All images were taken at the Peggy Rockefeller rose garden at the NYBG. Double click on any image to enlarge.

If you you're lucky enough to live in, or visit New York City, you have a fabulous opportunity to learn about growing roses sustainably and meet world renowned rose experts who will tell and show you how. On Sat. June 12th the Great Rosarians of the World-East conference will be held at the NYBotanical garden; on Sun. June 13th the conference moves to the Queens Botanical Garden.
(above, standard floribunda 'Brilliant Pink Iceberg' and hybrid tea 'Folklore')

The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the NYBG will be honored with the Rose Garden Hall of Fame award and its Curator, Peter Kukeilski will be part of a panel discussing sustainability.
David Austin, hybridizer of delightful English roses like 'Pat Austin' below, will be presented with the Great Rosarian of the World award.Following the daylong lectures and panel discussions, enjoy a reception in the rose garden with a jazz trio Parlor Entertainment.

The Sunday program in Queens includes a tour of the rose garden with Curator Karl McCoy. Karl will highlight his installation of more than 30 hybrid teas that he's testing for sustainability.
Click here to learn all the details and to register at NYBG and/or at Queens. I'LL SEE YOU THERE.
above, the climber 'Dortmund' at the NYBG.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

a beautiful box of bounteous bloom

One of the benefits of being a garden writer (aside from the incredibly lucrative work in publishing) is that I occasionally receive free plants from growers. Sending live plants by mail isn't easy, but some companies do it better than others. And while I'm not usually one to look a gift horse in the mouth, there are times when no free plants is better than some free plants.

The plants below arrived from a vendor (who shall not be named!) last month.

The three Coreopsis on the bottom were DOA. The Dicentra on the top layer was iffy but I planted it anyway. Didn't last a week. To be fair, the Euphorbia and the Dianthus are doing well.

Last year the same vendor sent similarly packaged plants which arrived in similar condition. When I called to suggest that more care was required, they claimed I was the first person who had ever complained. Either most people are too polite to complain about free gifts, or the vendor was a big fat liar. I mean, severely mistaken.

In sharp contrast to the shoddy shipping of those perennial plants is the box of exquisitely shipped shrubs I received yesterday from Proven Winners & White Flower Farm.

The packing was a thing of beauty: each plant individually wrapped to prevent soil spillage, supported with sturdy cardboard to prevent breaking stems and twigs, and padded to prevent movement within the box. The eight shrubs were in pristine shape. Not a torn leaf or a bent twig, no roots exposed or soil spilled.

These plants are full of potential, with every chance of flourishing and flowering: the landscape rose Candy Oh Vivid Red, and three different ornamental quinces: Double Take Scarlet Storm, Pink Storm, and Orange Storm. (I know, I know, the names are crazy.) I received two of each and will trial them both in containers and in the ground.

The extra cost of preparing and shipping these plants was money well spent. Not only because they arrived intact and vigorous, but also because it gives me confidence in the grower to see the care they took with their plants. The less careful, unnamed vendor not only pissed me off by treating their plants so poorly, but also because they didn't change their shipping practices despite being informed of a serious problem. Why would I have confidence in a grower like that?

Kudos to both Proven Winners and White Flower Farm for getting these flowering shrubs off to an excellent start. I'll try to do my job as well as you did yours.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I don't install or maintain gardens for other people, but I do coach home owners who want help with design, plant selection, and horticultural considerations in and around New York City. These are people who want to garden themselves or who want to offer new ideas to the person who currently maintains their garden.
I do on-site teaching, with lots of ideas, questions and answers thrown around. Being a Garden Coach is a little like my first career as a Psychologist; I start with the personal interview to determine what the client wants and needs. I help the client see old views in new ways.

In looking back over images of some local jobs, I notice two great themes: containers and height.
It's not enough to have a fence separating you from your neighbors. The containers need to be big enough to support plants that can climb, cling, or otherwise reach the sky. This 'New Dawn' rose
(above) may not bloom
all summer and surely
won't offer complete
privacy, but it will make
you feel as if you're in
an enclosed space. Or
achieve height with a
standard, a tree,
grasses, bamboo.

The owners of the two
homes below stood in
doorways, looked out-
ward and asked me
what to do in their
gardens. I encouraged
them to first look
backward to their entry-
ways and select all-year-
round containers with
plants tall and large
enough to stand up to
the solidity of the home.If I were clever enough I could now go into Photoshop and superimpose the right containers on the original image. Alas.... I am not.

This terrace gardener fell to the temptation that has also afflicted me from time to time: too many, too small pots. There's a very easy cure. Bigger pots, fewer pots, consolidate, and at the same time make more walking/sitting room on a terrace with limited space.
You say this is totally obvious? Maybe, but we get so used to our surroundings that some times we need to be brought short by some outside expert. Think hair stylist, interior designer, makeover specialist.

A condo owner with this fabulous naked space in Chelsea felt some concern about the metal corrugated walls surrounding the stairs, fans, AC. I saw the wall as perfectly capturing the feel of other rooftops, water towers and odd structures. Containerized bamboo photographed on the street just three blocks from the condo looks like one of many possible solutions to soften, but not hide the wall.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

wild about wild onions

I have nothing against garlic. I like garlic. But I ADORE onions, and wild onions (Allium canadense) are my favorites. The taste is strong and kind of combines onion and garlic (to my refined palate) so it's a much loved ingredient in my kitchen. This year I'm determined to harvest enough wild onion to get through the entire year; yesterday I picked and dried the first of several batches.

Wild onion is considered a weed by most people, along with its cousin, wild garlic (Allium vineale). Wild onion has blue-gray, solid stems that grow to about 18" tall. All parts of the plant have a distinctively onion-y smell, so there's no chance of poisoning yourself with a similar-looking plant, as long as you have a sense of smell.

(photo courtesy of Purdue University)

Wild onion is easy to harvest. Bulbs are usually single, shallow rooted, and pull out of the ground easily, leaving only the smallest hole behind. (Wild garlic tends to grow in clumps that have a more desperate grip on the surrounding soil.)

Because wild onion bulbs usually grow singly, they are relatively easy to clean. A brief rinse is all it takes. (Wild garlic tends to have numerous small bulbs that hold soil tightly between each bulblet. )

Now is the perfect time to harvest wild onion, before the plant sends up a stalk that produces flowers and bulblets (which shatter and propagate themselves). Producing the stalk draws on energy stored in the bulb and decreases its size.

What are the ethics of foraging a crop that results in the death of said crop? Any time the edible part of a plant is the root or bulb, you're not leaving anything behind to regrow for next year when you harvest. Of course you wouldn't do it on private property without asking, and in general, wild onion is considered a pest plant...plenty of people spend considerable time and money trying to eradicate it from lawns and fields. I don't know how the City of New York feels about it, and I'm not sure I WANT to know, since ignorance is bliss (although no excuse in a court of law). But I'd be interested in your opinions...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Sunday at 9:30 a.m. I ran through the amazing hallways of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and up the last flight of stairs to savor in solitude the new exhibit created by twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn. Of course there were three guards, one guide and the security chief, but I was almost alone for about ten minutes. The construction is made of some 5000 bamboo poles secured by miles of nylon rock climbing ropes in varying colors and thicknesses. Three different species of bamboo grown in Georgia and South Carolina are part of the form. A team of rock climbers installed the first section rising 30 feet off the roof, overlooking the greenery of Central Park and the skyline of Central Park South. They lashed the culms together in a seemingly haphazard way, though I'm told that there is a grand plan with drawings and everything. Visitors will witness the evolving incarnations of Big BambĂș as it is augmented throughout the spring, summer, ultimately reaching 50 feet high and wide. (above, more poles for the next phase)
After agreeing to a long
list of conditions and
registering in advance,
visitors can stride with
a guide up through the
heights of the structure.
The guide's talk drifted
down to the terrace
below as I admired one
of my favorite parts of
the roof garden, the
old wisteria vines,
now in full bloom amidst
the bamboo stanchions.

The Met web site says that the exhibition shows the "cresting wave that bridges realms of sculpture, architecture, and performance. Set against Central Park and its urban backdrop, Big BambĂș will suggest the complexity and energy of an ever-changing living organism".

My fascination stems from the plant itself, this quickly renewable resource now used in flooring, table ware, and even fabrics. In China, scaffolding is made of bamboo because it's strong, cheap and readily available.
Bamboo is also colorful and beautiful and excellent as a living screen. I'm growing black bamboo in containers on my rooftop. Some clematis dropped in (apparently from seed blown from a neighboring container, and are now climbing up the culms. But more about that another day.

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