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

Friday, November 26, 2010


There's no trick to buying a great gift if you have a hefty budget: a meaningful, practical and original book like "Edible Landscaping" by Rosalind Creasy; the perfect tool for your favorite gardener, like Fiskars long handle tree pruner; one of the composters from Gardener's Supply Co. But let's think long and hard about a great garden gift that costs nothing but ingenuity.

A favorite gift on the receiving end came some years ago when Ben & I first moved to our farm. Our family had decided that for our holiday gifts that year, it would have to be something you made, had in your possession already, or an IOU for a future service. I was about to start my new garden. Son Mike & daughter-in-law Em gave me a treasure map with clues. The whole party accompanied me to track down the gift secreted in the bottom of the barn: 5 big bags of well rotted horse manure.

If you have no horse manure some other ideas.
1.Do you have any compost you can share with a New Yorker who has treasured houseplants? Wrap and label it prettily, give it your brand name/logo, and you've given a treasure.
2. Take a cutting from a favorite houseplant, root it, plant it in one of those many extra pots you have, washed to be impeccably clean. Add a plant name, a little story about the plant, care instructions, and voila!3. Make a holiday wreath from greens that you prune from the garden. Add some natural decorations like cones, pods or bark, natural or sprayed gold or copper. Give in early December so your recipient can enjoy it for a long time.
4. A nicely printed gift certificate for several hours of weeding/and or pruning to a person who hates those chores. Or if you live close by, a visit or two of plant or garden care while the giftee goes on vacation.5. A favorite gift to give was a session of garden coaching, presented to a young couple, non-gardeners who had just moved into their first home. I gave them a gift certificate listing my services: two hours of on-site garden design, plant suggestions and gardening instruction.
6.What's your best idea for a no-cost garden gift? Betsy, are you reading? I hope you've been saving those tasty dried petals for me from your apothecary rose. I need them for a dessert I want to try.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Encore! Encore!

Umm, Ellen, something's wrong with our azaleas.

Most people think of azaleas as spring bloomers, and traditional azaleas certainly are. So when my client saw the azaleas in bloom in her garden in November (!!!), naturally she thought something was wrong. What she didn't know was that I'd planted Encore Azaleas: the exception to the spring-blooming rule.

Originally advertised as hardy to zone 7, Encore Azaleas weren't considered suitable for most parts of the greater NYC area. But three years ago, at a Garden Writers' symposium, I was offered a few free plants to try and asked to give feedback on their performance. Even though they weren't guaranteed to thrive in zone 6 I figured it was worth a try, and hey, they were free!

The first year I got no autumn bloom, and the second I saw only a few fall flowers. But this year...the encore burst forth! General wisdom for this part of the country says perennials take three years to really get established; perhaps the same can be said for flowering shrubs. In containers and in the ground, the Encore Azaleas have hit their stride.

There are 24 different varieties of Encore Azaleas, but only 10 are rated hardy for zone 6. Still, there's a wide selection of colors to choose from. They're not demanding plants. Mine (well, my client's) get very little coddling: irrigation and perhaps one feeding per growing season. The plant by the sidewalk is subject to all kinds of abuse: both human and canine.

I often hesitate to extol the virtues of a plant that's been given to me by a grower, lest someone think I have been bribed or unduly influenced. But I'm truly impressed by the performance of the Encore Azaleas and recommend them without hesitation. I'd even pay money for them.

This azalea is not in jail. It's thriving in a sidewalk container garden on East 61st Street, despite being subject to all sorts of canine depredations.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Rosa 'Crown Princess Margareta' in my container garden, a David Austin climbing rose in her first year.

On my roof garden, I demand roses that need no spraying, that can tolerate neglect, and will winter-over with no wrapping or other extraordinary measures. I want roses that match my romantic ideal, many-petaled and fragrant. The David Austin's English roses that I've tried meet these criteria.

I want the same characteristics in cut roses, so when I volunteered to help with the centerpieces at the District Rose Convention of the American Rose Society I approached David Austin Rose LTD. for 36 of their finest peach and cream cut roses. Instead they sent me 48 and told me to keep the extras. They were gorgeous and fragrant. What's a girl to do?'Patience' in cream, 'Juliet' in pale peach.
They were shipped overnight from the grower in California, packed to perfection in cellophane, newspaper, frozen packets of coolant and moist foam around the cut stems. The roses were timed to arrive in the open bud stage two days before the event, needing to be recut underwater and to stand in deep tepid water to rehydrate .

Confession #1

Rather than use my regular bucket for this conditioning, I felt I deserved a treat, so stood them in my livingroom in vases, until we made the actual centerpieces.I knew I'd need short stems in the centerpieces so I cut some to condition and kept them in my office to admire.Two that I had broken by accident, I plunked individually in tiny copper pots, and used three other stems in glass candle holders. I had fragrant roses all over my home, albeit most on borrowed time. The impromptu greens are snippets from a large house plant.Diane Grinnell and I made the centerpieces in the corner of the banquet room, away from prying eyes. When completed, the table centerpieces were greatly admired by the enthusiastic members of the Rose Society. Members couldn't believe how different the roses looked from the typical cheap grocery store roses.Confession #2
The Japanese maple foliage was 'pruned' from the tree on my roof. Regular readers know that I save my pruning tasks for when I need branches for some design project. Other elements:real pumpkin cleaned of seeds and pulp, a piece of moist floral foam stuffed in a baggie holding a little extra water, a few more stems purchased that day at the Greenmarket at Union Sq. All stems cut short and stuff in the foam.
Confession #3
Regular readers also know that I hang flowers to dry deep in the basement of my building, behind a locked door with a sign that says no admittance, staff only. There it's hot and dark, and roses will dry in three days.
I also dry flowers by burying them in silica gel, a sandy desiccant that holds the shape of the dried rose. Back at home, this is what I did with a few of the roses I could keep for myself; there's still a tiny whiff of fragrance.Readers with deep pockets who want fabulous roses for a special occasion (or because they deserve it), contact David Austin Limited online or by phone at 800-328-8893, or check the back of the DA catalog, USA 2010 edition. If fragrance is important, make sure your selection mentions fragrance.
Below, risking life and limb for her blog partner, Ellen Z. climbs to hang a bunch of David Austin cut roses from the ceiling sprinkler of our hotel room at the Garden Writer's Symposium in Dallas. I hoped they'd have time to dry fully before they had to be stowed in my bag for the plane. Alas, despite the warmth at ceiling height, they were fit only for potpourri by the time they arrived home in The Big Apple.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Contest: Now it's your turn.

We spend a lot of time here at GardenBytes telling you about our favorite parks and gardens in and around NYC...now it's your turn.

It's another contest, but this one's a little different: no photos...only words! We want to hear about your favorite gardens & parks in New York City...in 75 words or less. (We didn't say it was going to be easy.) All suggestions must be in the 5 boros and accessible by public transportation; you get extra points for little known spots. Or little known spots within well known spots, e.g. that corner of the Ramble where the masses of dogtooth violets grow. Tell us why it's special and why you love it; we want to share.

And now for the moment you've all been waiting for: the prize! It's a $25 gift card to Macy's. (I know, right?) This is thanks to Lauren @ Everywhere Media in Atlanta, GA. Apparently you don't have to be from NYC to appreciate NYC.

The judges for this contest are yours truly (the two Ellens) and the deadline is Saturday, 11/27. Please post your entries in our comments section. We'll announce the winner about a week later.

We can't wait to see where you take us!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Have you ever been to...

Do you even know where it is?

If you're from around here you can probably guess it's in Inwood, at the very tip of Manhattan. There are several entrances conveniently located near several subway stops, but if you get off at the 215 St. stop (1 train) you can have a tasty lunch at the nearby Indian Road Cafe. The pulled pork sandwich was delicious and a bottle of pear cider put me over the top. Clear, crisp, cold...cliched? Who cares; it was the perfect beverage for a chilly, sunny fall day.

One of the things I love most about NYC is how many different parts there are that make up the whole. Does this look like Manhattan?

The correct answer is no, except, of course, that it's also yes.

Inwood Hill Park includes playing fields, wooded trails,

scenic overlooks,

tidal flats,

and even a Nature Center with clean bathrooms! Seriously people, what more could you want? Oh, and a stone marker commemorating the spot where Peter Minuit made the infamous deal with the Lenape Indians. I'm not sure that's something to celebrate, but I guess it's history.

New York City parks provide that priceless juxtaposition of industrial with natural that never ceases to delight me.

My spider sense tells me there are still a few weeks of beautiful foliage ahead of us in NYC, unless the weather changes drastically. So get yourself outside, maybe to someplace you've been meaning to visit in all the XX years you've lived here but darn it you just never seem to find the time.

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