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

Friday, August 26, 2011


The second section of the High Line opened in mid-June extending the length ten more blocks, all the way to 30th St. I was there 7:30 am today eager to explore. There are new places to run,to meditate,
to view,and to contemplate.The cone flowers are departing and the goldenrods waiting to make their entrances.A brilliant garden designer placed coreopsis and blackeyed Susans in a site where, in the morning, the sun shines between buildings directly on them, while the surroundings are in shade.The Joe Pye and orange butterfly weed must be attracting butterflies, but I missed them.
My favorite feature in the new section is designed by Susan Sze a startling, delicate but arresting structure on either side of the path that is partly wildlife feeder, partly bird house village, and partly an abstraction of the cityscape. My photos can't do it justice, go see for yourself.
The last section of the High Line, the spur, running west from 30th St and curving into the Rail Yards, is still to be constructed, but you can see the path if you peek through the chain link fence.I've saved the topic of the dreaded High Line LAWN for a whole separate diatribe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

a small thing

I don't usually do small jobs, but when I got an email from my old acting teacher I didn't think twice. If you're lucky, you have one or two teachers in your life who truly make a difference. I've had two and Richard was one of them.

Richard has a terrace but no irrigation and no desire to install a watering system. He didn't want a full blown garden, just a few boxes to block the view from across the street into his bedroom window. (Can you blame him?) I won't usually do a job without irrigation, but I'd do anything for Richard and I told him so.

He wanted ornamental grasses, which sounded perfect for his full sun location. Once established, they'd be pretty drought tolerant, but getting them through the first season was the challenge. Friend and colleague Sara suggested using the rain-mat from Kinsman as a liner.

The woven fiber mat contains water retaining polymers which absorb and retain moisture, releasing it to roots slowly, over time. These are potassium-based, rain-gel granules, not sodium based polymers. (There is some concern that sodium based polymers may result in root burn.) The bulk roll is 16 feet long and 22 inches wide, which was almost exactly how much I needed to line two, 22-inch cubes.

I cut the mat to fit the sides and bottom of the containers, then taped them in place with painter's tape. The tape doesn't have to hold for long, just long enough for me to plant the container. Once the potting mix is added, it holds the mat in place. I also cut holes in the bottom layer to match up with the drainage holes in the container.

We chose Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' and I underplanted each grass with portulaca, another drought tolerant, sun & heat loving container plant.

For the record, I paid full price for this product. It's easier to give something a bad review if you don't feel beholden. I needn't have worried. I planted the grasses at the beginning of July, then promptly left town for two weeks, during which time NYC experienced a brutal heat wave. When I got back, I called Richard to see how everything had come through, and he had good news: no drought stress on the grasses and he'd had to cut back the portulaca, it had grown so well.

The moral of this story is that if you just want a few containers and can't install an irrigation system in your outdoor space, you aren't limited to cacti and succulents. With drought tolerant plants, and a little extra life support, good things are possible.

Friday, August 19, 2011


What does this New York City garden writer do on vacation? Visit gardens of course. Helen Dillon's garden in a residential section of Dublin, Ireland is open to the public for 5Euros a visit. Dillon is a garden writer, lecturer, TV person, and thoroughly opinionated gardener, the best kind. This is not an estate garden but a home with nice sized plots in back and front yards, all within sight of the neighbors homes. Rare and common plants are crowded in together,in soil amended with homemade compost. Ireland, an island nation, has a maritime climate with mild winters and summers, Dublin averaging 47 degrees F. in winter and 67F in summer. Above the tree poppy, (Romneya coulteri) native to southern CA and Mexico, and winner of the Royal Hort Society Award of Garden Merit. This woody sub-shrub is perennial in Dillon's garden but would not be for me here in NYC. To start from seed it requires wild fire, and The Tree of Life Nursery in Calif. lights pine needles atop planted seeds to get them to germinate.

Examine the bright blue bachelor buttons below and double click on the image to look at the plants across the reflecting pond. Notice anything??? The bachelor buttons and many other annuals, perennials, and bulbs surrounding the pool are actually planted in unobtrusive pots, then moved around to fill in holes where certain plants have gone by. This garden is always lush. I've used the same technique in all of my gardens but never to this extent. Amazing. Below find my dear friend Dr. Diana W. from Wales amidst the pots and the flora.

Monday, August 15, 2011

two blocks in Brooklyn

I wasn't looking for it. I got off the C train and walked up Washington Street en route to a Brooklyn play date. When what to my wondering eyes did appear...

House after house, yard after yard, impressed me with plant choice and container combinations. And talk about making the most of a small space!

It wasn't all good.

You know how I feel about red mulch.

I know they're doing good work (it's a soup kitchen) but really...plastic daffodils?

But some of it was great!

This sign explained some of the horticultural dedication. Perhaps the community garden vibe overflows out and onto the sidewalks of Washington Avenue. Whatever the reason, I was impressed and delighted. Go Brooklyn.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

potato update

I could have waited a little longer, but curiosity got the best of me.

Following directions, I mounded soil around the potato plants several times as they grew, until the potting mix was within an inch of the top of the container. All told, I added 6 - 8 inches of soil over the first 6 weeks of growing. I only stopped because the container was full.

I waited. I don't usually wish for leaves to turn yellow, but since that's the visual cue for potato readiness...these yellow leaves made me very happy! I tugged on the first yellow stem and was dismayed to find a few, fingernail-sized tubers attached to the roots. Surely this wasn't my entire crop. Yet each subsequent stem yielded the same, measly harvest.

Not willing to accept failure, I stuck my hands into the soil and rooted around up to my elbows. Eureka! First one, then another, then another. So I learned something: potatoes are heavy enough to break away from the roots when you pull on the stem. Did you know that? It may seem obvious to you, but to us first-time-potato growers, it was not.

So there you have it: potatoes from a container. It couldn't be easier (well it could, but it's still pretty easy) and it took up very little space, making it an excellent crop for small city gardens. at all. If I had a little more room, I might keep the container as is and re-use the potting mix next year. Since I don't, I'll dump the mix, fold up the grow bag, and store it away till next spring.

Handy, useful product (thanks, Gardeners Supply) & home grown potatoes. Two thumbs up!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where am I?

Some of you may know that I'm just back from Alaska. Thanks to O.E. for carrying both her weight and mine while I was away.

After a week of playing catch up on the terraces and in the greenhouses, I found myself walking in midtown this morning, when all of a sudden I was magically transported to a tropical paradise.

Where was I?

a walled Moroccan garden?

a Moorish palace in Spain?

a Victorian glasshouse?

I could tell you, but it's more fun (for me) if you guess.
A few hints:

I wasn't the only one enchanted by this not-so-secret garden.

Where was I?

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