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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The New York Botanical Garden is participating as the exclusive United States partner in the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) contest, which is run in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. (DOUBLE CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE)Open to everyone anywhere in the world, the contest is the premier competition and exhibition specializing in garden, plant, flower, and botanical photography. Winning photographs in multiple categories will receive a monetary prize, are published in an annual book, and are displayed in a public exhibition.
This year, IGPOTY will be offering a special commendation for pictures photographed at The New York Botanical Garden in honor of its 120th anniversary. The winner of that category will also receive a free one-year Membership to the Garden. To learn more and enter...There are many categories, various fees and rolling entries throughout the garden year. To submit a portfolio of 6 images, the fee is about $40 and because I'm so cheap, I'm showing some of mine here.By all means enter the contest but If you email me your fav image taken at the NYBG, I'll post it here: esp@ellenspectorplatt.com.No more than 1 from each person please.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Learn from my mistakes...please!

Ok, they weren't all my mistakes. But the red twig dogwood was. It looked great year round. It thrived. But it was a bully and before long there was no root space left in the container for anything else. And while a mass of spreading red twig dogwood might be a good thing in Central Park, in a container overlooking said park it is not necessarily welcome. What a root mass! After a half hour of digging, chopping, sawing, and rocking, the heart of the red twig lost its fight.

That was just the beginning. The arborvitae hedge had outgrown its containers as well. This was NOT my mistake, since the 15' trees predated my arrival as gardener more than 10 years ago. I tried to convince my clients to replace them with a slower growing (and more beautiful) species, but alas, they wanted more arborvitae. I tell myself that when this hedge needs replacing I will be long gone.

We started by limbing the trees and sawing off most of the main truck, leaving enough to act as a lever. Digging out the primary root ball was difficult. If we hadn't had to preserve the custom made stainless steel containers, we could have worked more quickly.

How to describe the dull thud of spade blade against unyielding root mass? Once the trees were removed, we thought it would be easy to remove the old soil. But no. There was no old soil. Instead there was a thick and intricate mat of arborvitae root.

Because our prying ability was limited (remember, we had to preserve the containers) we were reduced to sawing and chopping, sawing and chopping, removing pieces of iron-hard root mass, bit by bit. It took longer than getting the trees out, but after several hours we were triumphant. Planting the new trees in fresh soil was a piece of cake.

Many thanks to Mimi and Mark for their focused and strong work.

In containers, as in traditional gardens, you always need to consider the ultimate size of your plants, especially with woodies. Resist temptation to make the garden look established right from the start...unless your clients demand otherwise. And promise me you'll never, EVER, plant a red twig in a container!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New and Nifty @ The New York Botanical Garden

(above, Rhododendron luteum, and Phlox stolonifera 'Blue Ridge')
My new favorite garden, here or anywhere, is the Azalea garden at the NYBG. Show up early, hear birds calling deep in the forest of nearly 300 sweetgums, tulip trees, elms, oaks, dogwoods and other native trees, on 11 acres of woodland. Many of these are centuries old. Paths, benches and above all, readable labels, interpretive signs, and self guided cell phone tours help me understand this immensely varied collection of 3,000 azaleas and rhododendrons. I had never seen a spider azalea before, but the sign told me it's the rare species Rhododedron 'Koromo-shikibu' of unknown origin. Likes acidic soil in full or part shade; the leaves will turn red/orange in fall. (Double click this or any image to enlarge)I visited on May 11, just after this garden's huge Mother's Day opening celebration with free music and food. But I prefer it this way; quiet, no one around but me and 2 other photographers searching for the perfect image.The garden designers have included species that will begin to flower the first warm days in spring, peak in late April and early May, continue with those that will burst into bloom through July, and reblooming cultivars like Encore in the fall. I plan to make this garden a first stop every time I'm at the NYBG, even before checking out the herb garden and perennials. WOW what a thought!Above, Rhododendron luteum 'Bee Dazzler'
Wisely, they've decided to include woodland bulbs and perennials in huge meadows and swaths so even when the azalea riot is over, the garden will be highly enjoyable. Ferns, hellebores, epimidium, allium, lowbush blueberry, amsonia, stoksia, aster, gentians, iris, hostas, and bleeding hearts, spring bulbs are but a few of the over 70,000 planted.above, Golden Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa 'All Gold')
I was never a huge azalea fan; in Philadelphia where I grew up, every row house seemed to have a few planted by the path to the front door or just below the porch. All the same size and color, violent fuschia, though some pruned into a ball shape; no fragrance, and no variety.
This garden is precisely the opposite, immense variety, showing and telling the viewer what the world-wide range of plants can be, some for low swampy areas, some for the higher rocks, full shade, more sun. But of course this site at NYBG has some slight advantage over a row house in Philly, not only the forest but the huge outcroppings of granite deposited during the last ice age.
If you're tired of the color riot, look down and discover the Shiokianum Jack-in-the-pulpit hiding among the Japanese painted fern.The highest praise I can give a garden like this is to say that although it was just redesigned and replanted from an old azalea garden started on this site in the 1930's and 1940's, the new garden looks like it has grown here naturally. Congratulations to Todd Forrest V.P. for Horticulture and Living Collections, Jessica Arcate Schuler & Kristen M Schleiter of NYBG, Laurie Olin Partnership, Landscape architect Shavaun Towers, Sheila Brady of Oehme, Van Sweden, and a special appreciation to Maureen & Richard Chilton who gave the gift to make this possible for all of us. Go!!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

a passel of poke

May is a great month for foraging; Spring has hit its stride and wild greens are abundant.

One of my favorite wild edibles is pokeweed, a delicious, plentiful, and easy-to-identify weed. Poke grows in 40 out of the 50 states and Southerners have long appreciated poke as a food; I think it's time the rest of us followed suit.

An excellent way to identify pokeweed is to look for the remnants of last year's stalks. New shoots emerge at the base of the flattened, dried stems from the previous year. The old stems may be 4 - 6 feet tall, but edible poke should be harvested when it's 8 - 12 inches tall, preferably showing little or no red in the stem.

Poke (Phytolacca americana) is a prolific weed, most parts of which are poisonous (roots, seeds, mature stems and leaves). But the YOUNG stalks and leaves are delicious, and perfectly safe when properly prepared. Pokeweed should ALWAYS be cooked before eating. In fact, it requires boiling in several changes of water. I suggest two boils, then a final cooking in a soup, sauté, or egg dish.

Online research turns up lots of recipes for using the leaves like spinach and the stalks like asparagus. They call for cheese, bacon, and other flavor enhancers, but I suggest starting with a plainer approach. Get to know the taste of the vegetable before you mask its flavor. A simple pokeweed custard is pictured below.

When picking poke, make sure you harvest away from busy roads in an area that hasn't been sprayed by pesticides. That shouldn't be difficult, considering how widespread the weed is.

Are you feeling adventurous? Grab your pruners and a harvest bag and pick yourself a passel of poke!

Monday, May 9, 2011


Lilacs should conjure up Walt Whitman's poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"
You should be able to capture their fragrance at 50 feet. They should tumble and spill almost as high as the roof like these in Canterbury N.H.Or they can look like this: on one side of the hedge, the streaming traffic along Rte. I93 in New Hampshire, on the other side, a gas station. Since lilac is the state flower, it shows up in some unusual places.
Photo© Alan & Linda Detrick, all rights reserved, Ellen Spector Platt design.
Lilacs, unsprayed make a tasty nibble, along with edible tulip petals and strawberries hand-dipped in dark chocolate.
But all the lilacs I showed above are for people who have land, property, gardens, room.
I, like some other New Yorkers have only CONTAINERS. I'm not complaining, even though it might sound that way. I know I'm extremely lucky to have a garden here, even if it's not 'mine'.
When a few years ago I was given a dwarf lilac 'Bloomerang' by the breeder Proven Winners, I secretly scoffed and sneered. This puny thing couldn't be a REAL lilac.
Low and behold, it is. Below is one small shrub, now three years old, blooming with vigor on my rooftop. In the foreground not quite ready to bud, are self sown seedlings of the bachelor button 'Blueboy', my favorite old variety. They'll be in bloom just when the lilacs tail off. I'll keep deaheading both lilac and bachelor buttons to get a few blooms through most of the summer. Hardy to Zone 3.'Bloomerang' even smells like a lilac, but you have to get up pretty close to sniff. Now could I have one a little bluer please, Sir or Ms Proven Winners?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Swindler Cove, part two

Let me be clear: I'm not suggesting you go harvest all the edible plants from Swindler Cove! Not only would that be against the law, it would make the park less enjoyable for the rest of the world. But when OE and I were there last week, I couldn't help but notice how many of the landscape plants also had edible parts.

I'm working on a new book about ornamental plants (and common weeds) with edible parts, and thought I'd show you what a quick walk through a small park has to offer. Perhaps you can find these same plants in your own back yard.

The garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is nearing the end of its delicious stage. When the weather gets warm, its leaves will be tough and bitter. But right now...mmm...garlicky.

Ostrich fern (Matteucia struthiopteris) is just slightly past its prime, but a few weeks ago, when it looked like this:

those fiddleheads were crunchy and sweet.

Yes, that's right, Sedum. Raw leaves are succulent and fresh out of hand and in salads. Has anyone tried cooking them?

I didn't really eat the buds off the trees...but I could have!

(thanks to ESP for the above photo)

Sprinkle a few on salads, eggs, or as a general garnish. They have a mild, fresh, pea-like taste.

That's just a first, quick walk of what's out there, ready to grace your dinner plate. Periodic updates, including hostas, lilacs, and juneberries, will be forthcoming.

  © Blogger template Joy by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP