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

Thursday, September 30, 2010


ESP with just a few of her purchases at River Garden Flower Farm stand, North end of the Union Sq. Greenmarket, New York City. Photo courtesy B.B. Platt.

Not just drawn to the fruits and vegetables, I'm pulled as if by magnets to the flowers of the farmers market.
Not so long ago I was the proud owner and chief weeder of working farm. In addition to the rows of flowers & herbs I raised for drying in my barn, I grew
fresh cuts, partly so I could bring them by armloads into my home.
© Alan & Lind Detrick, all rights reserved)

Now living in New York City I go to any greenmarket for my lilacs, peonies, sunflowers et al. In fall when Other Ellen is busy preserving her fruit harvest, making wines and jams, I'm preserving flowers for the fall and winter seasons. At the River Garden stand on the last Sat. in August I had a choice of cockscomb in jewel box colors, globe amaranth, blue salvia, mixed grasses, ageratum, amaranthus, and double sunflowers. All I need is a place to hang them that is WARM DARK & DRY. For everything you've ever wanted to know about drying flowers see my first book Flower Crafts.

Don't Tell
My favorite is a secret spot in my building that is locked and dark most of the time, and about 110 degrees. Fleshy flowers like cockscomb will dry in four days in that setting, smaller flowers even faster.Flowers shrink somewhat and lose the vividness of color as they dry but I know this and account for it by purchasing enough flowers to make a full arrangement and flowers that have a strong color to start with.
Here are a few of the arrangements I made: Grasses, feather celosia with tansy picked wild from the back of Dave & Linda's house in MA. Grasses in a Japanese bamboo container hanging on my living room wall. Cockscomb, tansy and grasses in the bathroom.
Sorghum under a photo by Jen Platt Hopkins.
At the Santa Fe Farmers Market I was enchanted by these chains of double marigolds. Double click on the image to read the lovely sign.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Some people collect 17th century French porcelain; I collect farmers markets. Whatever country I visit, whatever state or town, if there's a farmer's market, it's at the top of my must-see list. Even if I'm staying in a hotel room far from home without a fridge, I find something to purchase. Last week in Dallas TX it was ripe heirloom tomatoes that I could snack on out of hand between symposium sessions.
In late summer in the US every market seems to offer sunflowers, tomatoes and peppers. While I love those, when I travel I seek products that are characteristic of that area, products that I may not see in my NYC Greenmarket.

In Canterbury NH, pop. 2297, the market is under individual tents in Town Center, between the Town Library and the Town Hall. Here I can replenish my stash of Jill's delectable maple sugar candies. The Saturday market in Concord is sited next to the gold-domed State Capitol. It seems like a perfect statement: New Hampshire supports its farmers. We bought sweet corn for dinner and I reinforced the message of the Worm Lady who was trying to convince skeptics that worm composting was easy to do.In Santa Fe NM the market is in the old railroad yards, complete with quintet playing country & western.I saw both hot and sweet peppers roasting in front of a gas flame, in a cage hand-cranked by the farmer, and hot pepper powder in bags large enough to last a week or two.

In Raleigh NC, both yams and peanuts seemed right at home. while kids on a field trip tasted testing the fresh apple cider. Last week in the sheds of the Dallas Farmers market, I was somewhat startled to see a stand that sold only Texas Longhorn beef bones, slow roasted for dogs, advertised at 1/2 the calories of regular beef, 80% less fat, and 30% less cholesterol....What a Wonderful Town
Back in New York City in my favorite market at Union Square I was searching for true NYC flavor. By 8:15 am when I arrived, the chefs in their white coats, trailing disciples with baskets and hand carts, had already departed with their selections.

Then I spied it, the Lower Eastside Ecology Center Compost stand. New Yorkers bring their garbage, dump it in containers; the ecology center makes the compost, then bags it for resale at the market. Garbage! It made me proud to be a New Yorker.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

late-breaking news on my favorite legume

Just when you thought (ok, I thought) it couldn't get any better... Apios americana makes me love it even more. "How is that possible?" you ask. One word: beans.

I was startled yesterday, pleasantly of course, to find a handful of beans on the hopniss vine at a client's terrace. It looks like each flower cluster produces only one bean. Is that a pollination issue or a question of how much fruit the vine can support? I've had the plant there for three years and harvested tubers on several occasions, but this is the first year I've found beans. The vine doesn't usually produce beans this far north, although friends in NC report large annual harvests.

What to do? What to do?

The first time I taste a new wild edible, I like to prepare it in a relatively plain way, no sauces, minimal seasoning. Since I didn't have enough for a meal, I decided to make an amuse bouche, sauteing the beans in olive oil with just a little (really, only a little) garlic, and some S&P. Ok, and a little summer savory.

The taste was delicious but the texture left a little something to be desired. The two smallest beans were tender, but the outer shells of the larger beans were too fibrous to be pleasantly chewable. Still, the taste was so good that I'll go back and look for more. Maybe a preliminary blanching would soften up the outer bean. Suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Part of Jen Platt Hopkins 2010 garlic crop drying in her shed.

May I brag?
Daughter Jen has won a blue ribbon for the second year at the New Hampshire State Fair for her "Plate of Garlic". Each entrant must offer five (and only five) bulbs on a paper plate for the judging. Jen's garlic is both sweet an pungent, though the judges work only from appearance, not taste! Jen harvesting garlic in her garden surrounded by deer fence.

Jen grows vegetables, herbs and cut flowers in her Zone 4, Canterbury NH garden. It's a place where I weed for hours on end, surrounded by her lovelies and their delicious scents, away from my daily air of Manhattan. She grows stiff-neck garlic ( Allium sativum ophioscorodon, short name ophio, or top-set garlic) This species sends up a hard flower stalk that makes a tight loop at the top of the stem in some varieties, then forms a capsule at the tip holding tiny bulbils. The bulbils, about the size of a grain of wheat can be saved and planted. They take three years in the ground before they are big enough to dig for home use.

Stiff or soft?
Stiff-neck garlic is thought to be tastier than soft-neck varieties (Allium sativum), though it doesn't store as well, only 3-6 months so doesn't appear in your supermarket. The stiff-necked is also thought to be medicinally much more potent. The soft-neck garlic doesn't tolerate cold well and is usually restricted to southern gardens; but a few varieties have been adapted to colder regions. Its used for garlic braids because the stems are soft.

Just wait til next year
A superb characteristic of garlic is that the grower can set aside a small portion of the crop each year (called 'seed garlic') for next year's planting. Jen keeps big blemish-free bulbs for her 'seeds', harvesting in July, then planting in mid to late October after a light frost. After pulling from the ground bulbs are cleaned, then hung in an airy, dark place to dry. Before planting, cloves are carefully separated from the stem, but NOT peeled. Each bulb will produce 6-8 large cloves. Tiny cloves are used in cooking and not replanted.
Jen's first garlic came from a nearby farm, now defunct, and she's been saving her own seed garden for seven years. Friends Mary & Paul down the dirt road in Canterbury grow fruits and vegetables for their daily use. Mary stores her seed garlic by threading it through the slats of a wooden crate. (below)
To Eat or Admire?
Not only did Jen win first prize for her 'Plate of Garlic' but in 2008 she also won a blue ribbon in the category: "Dried Herbs, decorative", with a swag of stiff-neck garlic, calendula, sumac seed heads and chive flowers.It's the-same-but-different from the stiff-neck garlic swag that I created for my book 'Garlic, Onions & Other Alliums', by Ellen Spector Platt, Stackpole Books, 2003. Mine included three varieties of hot peppers, bay leaf, and sage, the idea being to use whatever herbs you have at hand with the stiff stems of the garlic providing the structure, and everything else being wrapped in bunches with wire to the garlic. What's the garlic equivalent of 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree'?
To learn all about garlic and other alliums, see my book, above.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

seasonal identity disorder, or, premature fall foliage

I'm a schvitzer. I don't perspire delicately. If it's over 70 degrees, I sweat. Profusely. Making everyone around me almost as uncomfortable as I am. I once had a client from L.A. who would jet in to NYC every month, cool (in every sense of the word) and schvitz-free in his expensive suit, even in the middle of August. He was fascinated by my sweatiness. I felt uncouth just looking at him.

But at least I CAN sweat. What can a poor tree do? When it's too hot to garden, it's tough on our container trees. They have comparatively little soil to insulate their roots, and the unrelenting sun beats on their container walls day after day after day, heating up not only the soil surface, but warming the rootball from all sides. When it's 90 degrees on the rooftops I'm not the only one who's suffering.

Last month I started noticing a pattern, primarily among the container trees growing in full sun. The leaves were starting to change color. A lot of gardeners have noticed flowers blooming early this year, but it was the red leaves on the viburnum and the ripening holly berries that made me sit up and take notice. Fall foliage in August!? Does that mean bare branches in September?

My shady gardens (and by my, I mean my clients') are pretty much normal, but the container plants in full sun are ahead of the calendar. I suspect it's the hellishly high temperatures, of both soil and air. Schvitzing is a cooling mechanism that helps my body deal with the heat. But when a tree's roots get overheated and nighttime temperatures offer little respite, what's a tree to do? Drop a few leaves, I guess.

Of course I'm just speculating. But I like to think that years of field experience combined with some solid book learning has given me the tools to figure this out. To that end, I'd like to expand my data set. Have any of you noticed a similar trend? Can you contribute to my theory?

On Friday, we two Ellens depart for the annual Garden Writers symposium in Dallas. (Talk about schvitzing...who thought Dallas in September was a good idea?) I plan to survey as many GWs as possible about this problem, and I'll also be looking for suggestions on TLC for heat stressed container trees. It's not their fault they can't sweat.

Friday, September 3, 2010


The dwarf Joe Pye weed (above, left) seemed perfect for my garden. Especially after I brought home a trial pot of it from a Garden Writers Symposium in '06. This new variety 'Little Joe' (Eupatorium dubium) was supposed to grow only 3-4' tall, unlike it's cousin the native Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) that grows up to 10' high. I plunked it in the only empty pot I had and in spring surrounded it with lettuce seeds. It did what it was supposed to do, starting in late summer and blooming into fall and looked great for three years, fast becoming one of my favorite container plants.
When I transplanted everything into new pots early March '10 , the 'Little Joe' wasn't yet showing leaves and I forgot to look for it. After all the pots were replanted, it was among the missing. It must have gone out with the other old roots and dried stems. Onward and upward, and I'll buy a new one some other time.
In the Garden
Sure, if you have pond and a few acres, the native Joe Pye is ideal for the back of the border.I used to gather armfuls of flower stems for drying just as they were coming into bloom. The delicate mauve blossoms were a perfect filler for any dried arrangement. Double click on the image above to view another favorite, Angelica gigas in front of the Joe Pye.
Around Town
I see 'Little Joe' in many of the NYC parks. My favorite sighting is on The High Line where it's one of the late summer points of flower interest.Back on my Roof
By late July this summer,
I noticed some familiar
looking, heavily veined
and textured leaves.
There, by a juniper,
crowding my new dwarf
nandina and quince, is
the old 'Little Joe'. Still
don't know if the roots
got thrown in this pot
or seeds had distributed
themselves and
naturalized here, but
I'm grateful to see a
favorite, and still with
its following, a crowd
of butterflies, somehow
realizing that there
was tempting nectar
on the 18th floor of
my building.

Joe Pye weed is famous for attracting swallowtails and monarchs, but here on the Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York City, painted ladies are flitting all over my 'Little Joe'.Herbal Use
Eupatoriums have a long history of medicinal use by the Chinese and American Indians, with the Joe Pye weed especially useful for its rhizomes. In the "New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses", Deni Brown ed. cites uses "internally for kidney and urinary disorders, including stones, cystitis...prostate problems...painful menstruation, or history of miscarriage and difficult labor", Eupatoriums also have immune-stimulant and anti-cancer properties but can be toxic. Definitely not just a pretty face.

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