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

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Double click to enlarge the image above.
6:30 a.m. Thursday I strolled down my block, garden gloves in my pocket, looking for coleus flowers to nip. My local block association wanted to plant coleus and petunias in every treewell this year, and I volunteered for the nipping job during the growing season. At the end of the block, a nice pair of men's shoes rested among the coleus. This tree was in front of the laundry/dry cleaners. No one walking their dog or leaving for work seemed concerned.The shoes were gone by the next day.
Writers Needed
What's the New York story?
I beg you to comment, three sentences or less, and tell our eagerly awaiting blog readers the backstory. For those who have trouble adding comments (you know who you are), email them to me and I'll add them to the post.

Additional Facts1.At the other end of the block, one of the treewells that I planted (now sans tree) is growing well without a pair of black shoes.2. Directly across the street from the black-shoe -treewell, next to a RightAide, the rats have taken over the territory.3.Where someone has cared enough to water the plants in front of their building the coleus looks as it was meant to.
4. Where no one has watered during one of the hottest, driest July's on record, the plants look like this.
5. Of course I HATE to brag, but.....mine.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Somewhere in my wanderings last year I acquired a free pack of 'Giant Double' Mixed Zinnias seeds, offered by the Home Gardening Seed Association. Who even knew there was such an association, but the flowers they list as easiest to grow from seed are Cosmos, Sunflowers and Zinnias. To that list I'd add among the annuals, Marigolds, Cornflowers, Larkspur, Calendula, and Cock's comb; and among the perennials, Globe thistle, Yarrow, Lavender, and Globe centaurea.
Starting late March my office windowsill was filled with seed starts, some old favorites like the Zinnias and some new ones like Cerinthe and a biennial hollyhock. Also new for me were recycled containers: a pineapple juice carton with the side cut off, several cardboard egg crates, and the plastic pots that came with my spring pansies.
I used to buy trays with plastic liners each winter, but no more. I do however use new, sterile seed starting soil-less mix. After careful watering, turning the trays daily to capture the light, feeding with an organic liquid fertilizer, and nipping the growing tips of the Zinnias, by early May the seedlings were ready to go outside for hardening off in a sheltered location behind two huge pots. The egg cartons were holding, up but dried out quickly, wicking moisture away from roots. At this stage I watered from the bottom, wondering if my nice jelly-roll pan would ever be usable again.
I planted California poppies (here with Cinquefoil), Bachelor buttons, and Calendula directly where they were to grow since they like to get a cool weather start (late March). A little later, the bush morning glory seeds went in among some roses and by July 1 they were in full bloom, just when the poppies and Bachelor buttons were going to seed. This true blue variety, a gift from Renee's Garden seeds, is Covolvulus tricolor 'Royal Ensign'I'm not as impatient for cosmos, so I strewed some seeds at the base of tomato starts. When the seedlings looked strong and healthy, I distributed them into flower containers around the roof

Above, more Zinnias grown in egg cartons. It's amazing what a bang you can get from half a pack of seeds. I'm saving the other half for next year. And below, more poppies from Renee's. Look carefully to see the long thin seed pods. I'm hoping the seeds will distribute themselves all over my garden and bloom in glory next year.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


This post is especially for our readers with iPhones and iPads. Not because we want to play favorites, but because we've come across a new app that deserves your attention: GardenSpaceNYC: Manhattan.

GardenSpace NYC: Manhattan is an interactive field guide to the gardens of Manhattan created by Kate Belski and Will Pollard (owners of Green Sky Designs, a garden design/installation business in NYC). For 7 months Kate and Will biked all over Manhattan, combing the streets and investigating aerial photos, locating green spaces. The hardest part of the process was defining their criteria for what to include in the app: what makes one space a worthy garden and another an unremarkable patch of green? Kate and Will looked for human involvement. Was the garden regularly tended and visited by people? Was there a true connection in the garden between people and nature or was it just a bunch of pretty flowers?

GardenSpace NYC offers photographs, a brief history, and a description of each featured garden as well as information about access and facilities at each site. You can browse gardens by neighborhood or let the maps function show you which gardens are closest to your current location. Early for your dentist appointment? Use GardenSpace to find a nearby green spot and chill out before that root canal.

Whether you're a tourist or a New Yorker with time to spare (is this an oxymoron?), GardenSpace will introduce you to neighborhood community gardens, out of the way green spaces, and exceptional public gardens throughout Manhattan. A few of the highlights include the Jefferson Market Garden, the Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park, and the Morris Jumel Mansion. Never heard of them? Get the details (and inspiration) from GardenSpace.

At $1.99 it's a hell of a deal and a great way to discover some of the lesser known garden gems in The Big Apple.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


So it wasn't an ocean voyage; it was one free ferry ride from the tip of Manhattan across New York Harbor to Governors Island. Embarking from the historic Battery Maritime Building (above), we sailed under the helicopters, next to the mammoth Staten Island Ferry and within sight of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. (Free ferries also from Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and by Water Taxi for a fee.) A federal military installation since the Revolutionary War, in 2001 half of Governors Island was designated a National Historic Site and in 2003 the other half turned over to NYC for parkland, recreation, and the arts.

Below, newly restored Commanding Officers Quarters built in 1843, open to the public, now used for exhibits and events. My ostensible reason for going was to visit the organic farm established by Added Value, a Brooklyn non-profit supporting urban agriculture, but we first stopped to admire the view of steamy lower Manhattan from the shade of the Island.At Picnic Point, a lone farmer works 40 hours a week to tend both flower and vegetable crops in raised beds with drip irrigation. Island-made compost for the farm is supplied by the Earth Matter Compost Learning Center directly across the road. The farmer hopes to have produce available for sale at a farm stand later in the summer, but some plants like the squash and celery here were still waiting to go in on July 2. Behind the crops, overlooking the harbor are half units of shipping containers, each open on two sides, housing a picnic table and benches for family groups. When you double click to enlarge the image below, note that some clever designer has added large wheels to one end of each bench, to enable visitors to move and park them in the best positions.Ride a rental bike (one hour free on Fridays), play free miniature golf with each hole designed by a different artist, hear a free concert on some summer weekends, walk around the island and capture your favorite view of a favorite lady (also free), take a free tram ride for a guided tour with unlimited on-off privileges, fly a kite, enter one of the historic buildings and see the work of artists in residence, learn about the military history and visit a fort, walk out on a pier into the East River, and if you get too exhausted from all of this playing, refresh yourself with some of the best homemade cart food you'll find in the city. Carts are scattered all over the 110 acres of public open space. Here's what Fauzia had to offer the day we were there.
You may not find any mango-pineapple lemonade left because Gary H. drank three. I saw him.

Learn more.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

nasty little buggers

I know. It's not very Zen of me. Live and let live, right?

Wrong! There are pulsating swarms of aphids sucking the life blood out of my (not really mine) blue atlas cedar and they have to stop!

I'm embarrassed I didn't notice sooner. Last week I discovered a sticky patch on the terrace floor and wondered what it was.

A quick glance upward told the story: the sticky stuff was honeydew, a way too pleasant sounding euphimism for aphid poop. Piercing/sucking insects like aphids, adelgids, scale, and mealybug excrete a sticky substance as they feed on plants. Ants often farm the insects, collecting the honeydew and bringing it back to their nests for food. Yummm.

Several branches of the tree are covered in a thick jacket of aphids with a happy trail of ants scurrying up and down over the backs of the insects, whisking away the honeydew as fast as the aphids can poop it out. Except for the occasional drop that falls on the floor, giving away the nasty buggers' location.

Aphids are prodigious procreators, and they do it even faster in hot weather. They can bear live young or lay eggs, and don't require males to reproduce...that's some system. Unfortunately, it's too hot to spray this week, so until the weather cools I'll physically remove them and hope for the best. I vacillate between being totally grossed out by scraping this many insects off the tree and taking pleasure in killing the sap-suckers. I am proud of neither response.

It's unusual for aphids to feed on the bark of a cedar like this. Usually they go for tender, new growth, like orchid buds or new deciduous leaves. Still, there's no excuse for not noticing this problem before it got so extreme. The prancing ants should have been a dead give-away. Aphid removal patrol sounds like an appropriate punishment for yours truly.

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