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

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Virginia bluebells, native dogwood, redbud in bloom, a river running in the background,
a stand of fern: wouldn't you just know that you're standing at Dykeman St. and Harlem River Drive, in that serene oasis of plants and wildlife, Swindler Cove Park?
Wander by the spread of Solomon seal, then sit yourself down to contemplate the white bleeding hearts or walk a few hundred feet to the edge of the Harlem River and watch the activity surrounding the boat house. It was completed in 2004 and floated into place. What looks serene and bucolic now was until recently an illegal dumping site, dark and dangerous until rescued by the heroic New York Restoration project founded by Bette Midler. P.S.5 adjoins this site, and part of the park plan was to incorporate a children's garden into Swindler Cove Park. Enter through arches of grape vines, admire raised beds with vegetables, an herb garden and strawberry patch and a cold frame where seedlings are being hardened off before planting.
Students from the school and from classes all over the city come to learn whence cometh their food, and to taste produce grown here.
Visit a fresh water pond, a restored wetlands, ornamental gardens. I admired containers ready for a planting of annuals, an idea ripe for home gardeners. This place not only restores the woodlands, shoreline and and wetlands, but the soul as well.
To learn more: directions, programs and visiting click here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Last month I gave a lecture on vegetable gardening in containers and in preparation for said lecture I contacted our friends at Gardeners Supply Company for an image of their very cool grow bags. Why so cool, you ask? Unlike containers made of wood or fiber glass, these grow bags fold down to nothing when the growing season is over, making storage a breeze. Plus they come in some very pretty colors.

In addition to the image I received an offer to trial a grow bag and since containers are my thing I said Yes! God! Yes! Actually, not wanting to be greedy, I humbly requested a single, tomato grow bag. Marie (@ GSC) generously offered me a potato grow bag as well.

As much as I love tomatoes, I'm EXTRA excited about the potatoes because I've never grown them before. Let the grand experiment begin!

1) Unfold groovy double layer polypropylene grow bag. It's water permeable, so excess water flows out the bottom and sides. And because the bag is porous, the roots are well aerated, which is also important.

2) Add favorite brand of potting mix: Jolly Gardener.

3) Place potatoes on top of a 3-4" layer of soil. I probably should have only used 4 seed potatoes, but I had 5 and so, you know...waste not...want potatoes.

4) Cover with another layer of soil (3-4"). Once foliage appears, I'll mound up around it, burying the lower leaves.

5) Wait patiently. It's been 4 days and nothing's showing yet. Michael reminds me that these are not instant potatoes.

Stay tuned for potato progress reports. If this goes well I see the roofs of New York City covered in grow bags...a potato in every pot...

Monday, April 18, 2011

For forty weeks is just a pile of twigs or undistinguished green leaves. But if you look closely in mid-January tiny bud balls appear. They swell through early spring and in mid-April this quince bush bursts into full bloom. It's planted on my block, not in a garden, border or container, but by itself, surrounded by a protective industrial fence, next to the driveway of a parking garage. Just one shrub with big white stones at the base, maybe to keep down weeds, hold in moisture and set off the flowers.Who planted it and why a quince? (double click on images to enlarge)
I've been highly tempted in early spring to do some surreptitious pruning myself, forcing the branches into early bloom in my living room, but so far my better self has prevailed.
Below, forced apricot branches that I BOUGHT at the Greenmarket.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hurry up!

Spring is late this year. I realize that sentence isn't technically correct because the first day of spring was still the first day of spring, just like always. But apparently the plants and temperatures in NYC haven't been looking at the calendar.

I'd like to appear all patient and serene and say, "Dude, it is what it is," (Of course it is what it is, what the h#&% else could it be!?) but this is not my way. As a compulsive planner, planter, and forager, I need to know what's coming up when!

Every year for the last several, Leda and I have made our annual Japanese knotweed harvest in Central Park this same week. We turn that knotweed into wine, soup, jam, pie, compote, or stir fry. It's a plentiful wild edible, so invasive, in fact, that we assume any park ranger we encounter will have the good sense to thank us rather than write us a ticket.

This year Gary joined us and we headed into the park to find slim pickins indeed. We wandered for a while, deciding the plants were about a week behind normal. Yes, we could have picked, but it would have taken much longer to harvest the necessary amount. And this was clandestine activity, better accomplished swiftly and under cover. So instead, we postponed, as urban hunter-gatherers can afford to do.

We sat on a sunny log in the middle of The Ramble and shared a liter of knotweed wine (it seemed appropriate) from a seltzer bottle, discussing the vagaries of Mother Nature's calendar. Gary observed that odd years seem to have later springs than even years; I'll have to go back and check my journals.



One of the great joys of foraging is picking (and eating) what's immediately available at any given moment. It's no great hardship to adjust your schedule, especially if you can still feed yourself from a well stocked pantry. But when you're trying to schedule photo shoots for a foraging book, that's a little different.

I'll chalk it up to experience and head back into the woods next week, always ready to give Mother Nature another chance. Patience, Grasshopper.

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