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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Solon shows you how.

Five years ago, Solon and I went to the local garden center to buy him a plant. He chose an African violet and the African violet thrived. It thrived a lot. We moved it to a bigger pot a few years ago, but this year Solon asked if I could help him divide it. I'm always happy to spend time with Solon AND with plants, so I jumped at the chance. Here's how we did it.

First, find two (or more) pots in which to plant your divisions. Solon liked this watering-can pot, but he wasn't sure it would work because there was no drainage hole in the bottom.

Without a hole, excess water wouldn't be able to escape, which could lead to root rot. Instead, we chose two, terra cotta, 4" pots for the two divisions.

I knocked the violet out of its pot (on newspapers, of course) and told Solon not to be shy. He easily pulled apart the two main clumps of the plant.

Next, Solon covered the drainage hole with a stone, then poured fresh potting soil into the pot.

He added more potting mix around the plant, pushing it in deep.

We thought we'd have two African violets after the division, but while we were pulling things apart, we found two mini-plants, trying their best to push up from underneath the leaves of the larger plants. These clumps didn't have many roots, so we decided to try an experiment.

We potted them up in 2" pots, then placed each one inside a zip lock bag.

Solon inflated each bag (after reminding me I should say inflate instead of blow up. Apparently blow up means something different to little boys...), creating a mini-greenhouse for each mini-violet.

In the end we had two, freshly potted, blooming African violets, and two mini-violets, which Solon has promised to send me regular reports on. He's going to open the bags once a week, check the soil moisture, water if necessary, and re-close the bags.

Solon asked what he should do if the plants outgrow their bags. I explained that if they start growing, they've established roots and they can come out of their mini-greenhouses.

Update: Six months later, Solon is the proud owner of four, floriferous African violets. Way to go, Solon!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Again, The High Line. Endlessly fascinating in every season. Join me on a trip to a hidden spot smack in the middle of Manhattan. See it before the third section, the Spur over the Hudson rail yards, is rehabbed.

to view full screen, click on arrow, then on cluster of four tears, near bottom right of video.To hear my glorious narration, make sure your sound is ON.

AFTER, on the second section, between 20th and 30th sts.


New York City has a program to plant a million new trees within its five borough's. I wonder what number I got.
The pin oak, one of the four in tree pits in front of my building, 'died' in 2009. I called the Dept. of Parks and Recreation in the fall, got a case number and a place on the waiting list. The tree was cut down 5/25/10, and two months later, sprouted shoots from the 'dead' stump, so not dead, but not a tree either.The city plants trees only in spring and fall. No action fall of '09, spring or fall of '10, or spring '11. Finally, Nov. 15, 2011 the contractor hired by the city dug up the stump, enlarged the tree pit and planted, amazingly, what I had requested, another pin oak.With new soil, several inches of dark mulch, and without a fence or curb, in one day it became the favorite peeing place of all dogs on the Upper East Side.The next morning we had warning tape in place and I planted spring bulbs provided by the Block Association. The tape will remain until new curbs and fence are installed.The new tree pit is almost twice as long as the original, adding a good 12 sq. feet of growing space for the tree roots. I'm told that the city plans to enlarge all tree wells as trees need replacing.

1.In each of two summers without the tree, summer annuals for shade like coleus and caladium grew 3-4 inches higher than the same species under the trees.(above), annuals under a pin oak.
(below), no tree.2. One youngish woman in my building asked me, the garden lady, what was new in the garden. She told me she never noticed the dead tree or that the tree was sawed off or that the tree had been replaced. Over two years of not noticing a site she walks by directly in front of her building. And I thought it was so important!

Monday, November 14, 2011

shedding evergreens

It's that time of year again.

Please don't panic.

Instead, take a deep breath, put on a long sleeved shirt, a pair of gloves, and get ready to dive into your mugo pine, topiary chamaecyparis, or arborvitae.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: just because they're called evergreens doesn't mean ALL their leaves stay EVERgreen. It's normal for evergreens to lose about 1/3 of their leaves every year, and most of the browning and shedding happens in the fall. Clients who don't expect this tend to panic, and react with cries of "My _____ is dying!"

But it isn't.

It just needs a seasonal cleanup. Which requires no fancy tools and just the smallest amount of specialized knowledge. Ready? Once you've reached both hands inside the evergreen, move them around lightly and quickly in a rubbing/fluffing motion. Work from the top down and the inside out, moving around the entire shrub or tree. Occasionally you'll run into some stubborn brown needles, reluctant to give up their position on a branch. A quick snip of the pruners shows the recalcitrant evergreen who's in charge.

A little trim and the restoration of youthful color...it's a hair appointment for your shrubbery.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Other Ellen's post last week reminds me of the value of berried plants in the fall landscape in NYC. In our winter enthusiasm to get immediate color in spring, we often give short shrift to fall interest.
Here are 5 shrubs with berry interest, planted with fall and winter in mind. Above, chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) in container on my roof garden, and below, a few clusters of the berries 'pruned' for decoration indoors. Firethorn (Pyracantha) has small white uninteresting flowers in spring but shines in autumn and throughout the winter. In small spaces, prune it as an espaliered tree in a container against a wall. Below, it appears in a built-in planter in front of a NYC townhouse.
Fall flowers/spring berries, a reverse of the usual plan.
Above, Oregon grape-holly at the Central park Zoo last Dec. 31. The flowers are followed by blue-black berries in spring, below. Note to Other Ellen: I've read that the berries are edible. True? have you tried them?If you have a larger garden, smooth sumac berries are a fall mainstay, and last all winter.
I've always coveted a Beauty Berry (Callicarpa dichotoma) for the surprising color of its fruit. Maybe 2012.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sorbus americana

Growing up I was told mountain ash berries were poisonous. I'm sure the lie wasn't intentional...my family just didn't know any better. They weren't foragers, after all. Realizing I could cook with the berries gave me the thrill of discovery, as did learning that our mountain ash is the rowan of Lord of the Rings fame. It's the little things.

Mountain ash berries (Sorbus americana) are a classic jelly fruit, tart and full of pectin. Our recent snowfall makes this the perfect time to pick them because the berries (actually pomes) sweeten after a frost. If you live somewhere warm, you can put them in the freezer for a few days to make the fruit more palatable.

Raw berries are juicy and highly astringent. They also contain parasorbic acid, which can cause indigestion, but cooking converts this to sorbic acid, which is entirely benign. The cooked fruit makes a not-too-sweet jelly, traditionally used as an accompaniment to meat, but it's also good with cheese, the sharper the better.

As a landscape tree the mountain ash is relatively short-lived, rarely making it beyond 25-30 years old. In a traditional, in-ground garden that might be an undesirable characteristic, but in containers it's perfectly alright. Even long-lived trees need periodic replacement and root pruning in a containerized growing environment. Small white flowers are very fragrant in late spring/early summer, and they attract lots of pollinators to the garden.

Two thumbs up.

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