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

Sunday, October 31, 2010


One of my first posts on this blog was about vertical gardens, highlighting the yoga studio I frequently passed on E. 86th St. When the scaffolding went up over the entire facade a few months later, I knew the garden would die, but never considered the aftermath.My walking pattern changed; I hadn't been near the site for over a year, then this is what I saw last week. In place of the vertical garden, a billboard of grass. Well, it is low maintenance.
Concerned, I ran over to another vertical garden that I had photographed a year ago at the Atrium in Lincoln Center. A few big brown patches where plants had died and not been replaced, some ferns under stress, brown-tipped, areas where there was rapid growth, leaves trying to grab more light. Anybody who has ever wielded a trowel knows that there's no such thing as a maintenance free garden, unless you favor the look of plastic boxwood, glued in place, below. (double click on this or any image to see its full glory.) Is this some designers idea of a green building?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Autumn in New York

Technically, Other Ellen may be right, but today didn't feel like the end of anything. With temperatures in the 60's, I worked up a sweat deadheading roses, removing spent daylily foliage, and sweeping up autumn leaves. A glorious and colorful day in several vibrant gardens:

Thursday, October 21, 2010


By late October the end is near for blooms in my garden. The last two perennials to peak are aster (Aster laevis 'Bluebird') above and Montauk daisies (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) below. When I bought the asters mail-order from Bluestone Perennials this spring, the size of the plants fooled me into thinking I'd have flowers when my 7 year-old granddaughter graduated from high school. Wrong once again. Plants grown and shipped in pots less than 2.5" turned into this by October, despite the root competition.
(Double click on any image to enlarge.)
Annual black-eyed Susan vines (Thunbergia alata) still wiggle their way among the asters, daisies and wisteria but soon will be blackened by frost.Even Some Roses
The rose 'Home Run' sent to me by Proven Winners is proving to bloom more prolifically late in the season than it's parent 'Knock Out' but has no better aroma or taste.
The Winter to Come
Mine is a three season garden, as the 18th story roof in winter attracts only smokers out for a few quick puffs, no doubt discarding their butts on the pavers. I have zero interest in rewarding them with some special winter show-off. They'll have to content themselves with bare branches, a few evergreens and my favorite skyline view.

Tell me what's starring in your garden right now?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Silverberry Spicebush Bread

As temperatures drop and autumn moves steadily forward, we tend to think the growing season is over. Ah, but there are still a few forage-able crops for the adventurous eater and cook to make the most of. Sweet autumn olive (Eleagnus angustifolia) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin) are ripe and ready for picking right now. Both are widely available throughout the five boroughs.

Sweet autumn olive (aka silverberry) is considered an invasive plant in many parts of the country. It fruits (and therefore seeds) prolifically, and lots of those seeds make it to the ground, hence its reproductive success.

The fruit is about the size of a large blueberry, oval, and pinky-silver. A large-ish seed makes it a poor choice for a trail side snack, but the taste is tart and fresh and the color of the pulp is striking.

I've used it for jelly and wine, but this year I wanted to try something different.

Spicebush is a dioeceious plant, meaning male and female flowers are on separate plants, like most hollies. It's an excellent ornamental shrub, growing to be 5-15 feet tall, with delicate yellow flowers in early spring

and bright yellow fall foliage. Females produce red berries, slightly larger than barberries,

which, to my mouth, have a taste that resembles allspice and nutmeg combined. Berries can be either frozen or dried, then ground in a spice grinder as needed. It's good with both sweet and savory and combines well with pears and apples, pork and chicken.

I based my experiment on a persimmon bread recipe from Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Fieldguide and Cookbook, modified to fit what I had on hand.

Silverberry Spice Bush Bread

-Cream 1 stick softened butter with 3/4 c. sugar and 1 egg. Set aside.
-Combine 2 c. flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 & 1/2 tsp. ground spicebush berry, then blend dry ingredients into butter mixture.
-Add 1 c. silverberry pulp (run the berries through a food mill w/a medium disc) and 1 tsp. vanilla and mix thoroughly. The batter will be stiff.
-Spoon batter into a greased, 9 x 5 loaf pan and let it sit 20 minutes.
-Bake at 375 F for 50 minutes or till a toothpick comes out clean.
-Remove from pan and let cool on a rack.

(check out the fantastic color!)

I think it's most delicious when lightly toasted and buttered: moist, spicy, and slightly sweet.

P.S. Because silverberry is considered invasive in this area, picking the berries is actually a public service. Every berry you pick is one more seed that won't reach the ground. As for the spicebush berries, well I can't offer a similar rationalization, but if you feel funny foraging, you can order the spice from Integration Acres, under Appalachian Allspice.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grow, Cook, Eat

If there's one thing I like more than gardening, it's eating. And if you can eat what you grow, well, that's extra special double plus good. That's why the Edible Garden extravaganza at the NYBG floats my boat.

All summer long, celebrity chefs have been serving up fresh recipes, focused on home grown produce. This Sunday at 1pm, chef Todd English makes a special appearance; he'll give a demonstration and share suggestions for cooking with local, seasonal produce. Admission is $20 for Adults, $18 for 
Students/Seniors, and $8 for Children 2–12. NYBG members and 
Children under 2 can attend for free. For more details, click here.

And while we're on the subject of edible gardening...let's think outside the cold frame. Most people consider their kitchen gardens and their ornamental gardens to be two different things, but it ain't necessarily so. As someone who often has to make magic (both edible and ornamental) in small spaces, I aim for a Blended Garden.

What is a Blended Garden, you ask? It's a garden where plants do double duty: everything must be both beautiful AND delicious. Yes, it's a lot to ask, but I have no patience for slackers. Maybe you've grown wild ginger for its beautiful leaves or Juneberry for its early spring flowers and didn't realize these plants could feed your body as well as the gardener's soul. They can, and they do.

Interested? A new book by Nan Chase shows you how to get started. And just your luck, Nan will be doing a reading and signing at the NYBG this Saturday from 3-4 pm.

In Eat Your Yard! Nan suggests plants and herbs to beautify and satisfy; she also provides recipes to help you make the most of her recommendations. Blueberries, prickly pear, quince, citrus, and chestnuts are just a few of the edible plants pretty enough for anyone's garden.

If all this makes you hungry, head to the NYBG this weekend. You can visit with Nan or get recipe tips from Todd English. Either way, you're in for a tasty treat.

Monday, October 11, 2010


By the end of September, my central feature was looking bedraggled and in need of a color punch to ride out the season. I bought a few pumpkins and prepared to 'plant' them in the empty spaces. Invariably when I work on the roof garden, whatever kids are playing there offer to help. I use this time for surreptitious garden teaching. While I wire some miniatures to dangle from the chair back, these twins find the perfect way to display some others.image © B.B. Platt
I was inspired by the pumpkin house in the annual display at the Dallas Arboretum but thought I didn't need a complete structure because buildings surround our roof. In the Dallas Arburetum just by lining a path, they acheive a magical transformation of an annual garden.Back in the city, I make another still life of pumpkins, sunflower seed heads and stuff, inspired by the black-leafed Loropetalum I brought home from a conference. I know it won't winter over in this Zone, so why not have fun with it? In this garden, I don't expect small hands to re-do my masterpiece.image © Alan & Linda Detrick, all rights reserved

The New York City Mayor shouldn't have to worry about the pumpkins in front of his home, with the security cameras focused on them and police presence as well.
See pumpkin fun at the New York Botanical Garden and the Queens Botanical Garden.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Garden Guide:New York City

all photos © Joseph DeSciose

If you live in New York City or visit New York City, you need this book. It will help you find engaging, interesting, beautiful, novel, important, or hidden gardens in the five boroughs. The authors Nancy Berner & Susan Lowry describe details of design and history with a dollop of NYC political wrangling, that will help you enjoy each space to the fullest. The writing is far more than the didactic prose of a typical tour guide. It's worth sitting down and reading this small book even if you have no immediate plans to visit a garden.

I bought the first edition right after it was published in 2002, to help prepare me for living in New York. The first GardenGuide:New York City offered up the hidden gems and unknown garden riches of the city as well as describing the best features of the major botanic gardens. Since then, ten important new gardens have been added as well as smaller ones. There are also must-see features in existing gardens, like the new award-winning Visitor center in the Queens Botanic Garden, with its greenroof design.

Photographer Joseph De Sciose has captured images of the gardens that opened my eyes to what's happening, and allowed me to view gardens I thought I knew in a whole different way. How could I have missed this water canal when I went to the QBG? I'll have to go back and look.

Joe's Eye View
I especially love the many images shot from on high, like this of The High Line, that fabulous new(ish) restoration project in Chelsea.

I knew the tracks of the old railroad bed were still there but the pattern of the ties stands out in a way that doesn't happen when they're right at my feet. Now when I visit, I'll have a mental picture of both views.
Who Knew
that in Red Hook you can visit two waterfront gardens and a Community Farm and picnic in this industrial area while viewing New York Harbor.
My only quibble with this valuable book is the cut- size. The original publishers decided to serve up a 4" X 6" book, that could be slipped into pocket or purse and carried along. The second edition maintains that size. I want the font bigger and the photos MUCH bigger so I can fully enjoy this book at home as the delightful record of the NYC gardens that it is, then plan my outing for the day without increasing the weight of my backpack.

Garden Guide: New York City, revised ed. by Nancy Berner & Susan Lowry, photos by Joseph De Sciose, W.W. Norton & C0 2010.

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