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

Monday, March 26, 2012

on tenterhooks

Oh sure.

You look good now.

Now, after a week of warm weather and gentle breezes, you're all puffed up, fluffed out, ready to burst wide open and strut your stuff.

But how will you feel tomorrow? Tattered? Mushy? Spent? After the hard freeze and gusty winds they're predicting for tonight. Which, btw, is as it should be in late March in NYC.

I fear for the crops of crabapples,


and Juneberries.

Without flowers there can be no fruit.

Put on your parkas, all you flowering trees. I'll check on you in the morning.

Friday, March 23, 2012


(click on photo to enlarge)
Two weeks ago I planted seeds in my rooftop containers for cool weather crops; sweet peas, love-in-a-mist, and wasabi arugula. I pruned and fed my roses, cut down my old perennial leaves and tidied up the garden.
My next activity was to design this garden collage, using my own photos of butterflies, moths and insects; pressed mexican sage, hydrangea and sumac leaves from my garden; pressed ginko leaves from the tree at my cross-town bus stop, and handdrawn ginko leaves on clear acrylic, all on a background of handmade paper. (and no, wise guy, I didn't make my own paper).
While most of the elements are completely glued down, some butterfly wings rise up a bit as if in flight.
I hope someone loves it and wants to buy it and give it a good home but until that happens it has a good home right in my living room where I can see it every day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


The theme of the Philadelphia International Flower Show which took place last week was Hawaii:Islands of Aloha. I expected a plethora of orchid plants and cut tropicals, and although Robertson's Florist* of Chestnut Hill is one of my all time favorite florists (see part of their award-winning display above) I soon became dissatisfied and grumpy. Even at 3:30 pm, usually a slower time at the show, I couldn't get anywhere near the major exhibits without using my super sharp elbows and climbing over strollers. It's a little hard to stay grumpy however when you're faced with the creativity of folks like Patti Kelly of The Gardeners of Rose Valley. The judges awarded her a blue ribbon for "A superior interpretation of a royal headdress using all fresh plant material".
Below, the plant material is less important than the stunning cupboard which I NEED to sort my ever-expanding collage supplies. The Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators not only put on their own display, they gave lessons to anyone willing to try. For many years the plants entered by Mrs. Samuel M.V. Hamilton and her greenhouse gardeners have enchanted visitors to this show. This Nopalxochia phyllanthoides 'Deutsche Kaiserin' (cactus family) stopped traffic. Walking and gawking has made me tired and thirsty. I Think I'll drop in here.
*When my husband was drafted and sent to the Viet Nam war leaving me with 3 small children and a job in Philadelphia, he arranged with Robertson's Florist to send me a small fresh flower arrangement every two months while he was away. Roberstson's sent me fabulous designs, totally true to their commission and I'll always be grateful to them and him for thinking of it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Just when I think I know almost everything about gardening in Manhattan, I find out I don't.
On the roof of Milbank Hall, at the northern end of the Barnard College campus, 116th & Broadway, sits the Arthur Ross Greenhouse. It was built for students and teachers in the Biology department, for research and demonstration. AND it's open to the public free of charge on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3pm. If you go, you'll get an informative guided tour from either the greenhouse coordinator Krystyna Bucharowski, or one of her student assistants. It's great for the visitor to get all questions answered and great for the plant collection that visitors don't get a chance to pinch a vanilla pod in passing.Above, pods ripening on the vanilla bean vine (Vanilla fragrans) that reaches almost to the top of the greenhouse.
The main section of the greenhouse contains the tropicals. I saw many varieties new to me, like this great white bird of paradise (Streletzia augusta); I've only ever seen the orange one in the florist trade.The greenhouse hosts tours from schools in the neighborhood, and of course kids are fascinated by the food plants, like sugar cane, coffee bean and vanilla. But they also gravitate toward plants that DO something, like the sensitive plant whose leaves curl up at a touch, or the carniverous pitcher plant (Nepenthes alata) that collects water and insects in its vessels and 'eats' them.
I was waiting to go to the Arthur Ross Greenhouse 'til the dead of winter this year, when I most crave the sight and smell of plants, but winter never happened, so instead I went with LRK, one of my BFF who is a Barnard Alum, and visiting from the North. An excellent Judge of people and
their crimes, but no judge of plants, she was concerned that this Ruscus had bugs, until Ms. Bucharowski assured us they were only the flower buds, and what looks like leaf is really the stem.Above, plants that require a dry atmosphere have a room of their own, as do plants for special research.

So go to learn, go with your kids, grand kids, or BFF's. To arrange a group tour or to make sure the greenhouse isn't closed for school break, contact Kbucharo@barnard.edu, 212-854-5897.

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