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

Thursday, June 28, 2012


The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden  of the NYBG offers not just fragrance and visual beauty, but leadership in the rose growing world. Curator Peter Kukielski teaches us about easy-to-grow roses  for the sake of the gardener and to help protect the environment. To those ends he has planted two sections of Earth-Kind™ roses, those which need NO pesticides or fungicides, no feeding, no winter protection, and no more than three supplemental waterings in a drought year.

Scientists at Texas A&M  Agriculture department developed the program to test and identify environmentally responsible plants for Texas that would grow on their on roots, not budded, in any type of soil, with eight hours of full sun and good air circulation. Depending on soil they recommend 3-6 inches of good compost and for clay soils 3 inches of expanded shale to the hole at planting. The research program tested recommended roses from many breeders and after 4 years of lab testing and 4 years of landscape testing came up with a list of  21 designated as Earth-Kind™.
The only maintenance needed is keeping  3 inches of shredded hardwood or leaf mulch on the soil, topping up once or twice a year.

Above, part of the Earth-Kind™ display at NYBG, featuring the climber 'New Dawn'. Kukielski has planted big balls of Allium cristophii  throughout the rose garden this year, a stunning addition.
But What About Us? 
cried rose growers from around the country. Would the Texas-selected roses be easy to grow in New York,  California places in between? Enter the NYBG and other sites around the country who are testing shrubs worthy of the Earth-Kind label for various climates.  The goal is regional labels you can trust, all approved and administered by the Earth-Kind team at Texas A&M.

Kudos to Kukielski and NYBG for not only planting some of the Texas-tested varieties in the rose garden now, but for maintaining a long-term research plot open to the public but behind the scenes where failures are not only tolerated but necessary. Watch for  results to come.
Below, an Earth-Kind designated rose,  one of my favorites, Rosa 'Mutabilis', The Butterfly Rose on The High Line, NYC, 6/12. To learn more...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NYBG Gardening Summer Intensive

I've taught at the NYBG for more than 10 years, but this summer we're offering something new: the very first Gardening Summer Intensive, a chance to earn a good chunk of your Gardening Certificate in a mere two weeks' time! Yours truly will be teaching the Container Gardening component: eight hours packed full of essential information for designing, planting, and growing container gardens.

Spread out over two weeks (7/16 - 7/27), students will be immersed in classes on soil science, gardening fundamentals, integrated pest management, botany, soil science, and of course, container gardening. My teaching colleagues are some of the Garden's best instructors, and I'm proud to be among them. Click here for the schedule of classes or to register on line.

The program runs from 9 - 5 weekdays, and includes several morning (i.e. when it's cool and pleasant!) garden tours with NYBG staff. At the end of two weeks, you'll be well on your way to earning a GAR certificate, which is the whole point, after all. It's a great opportunity to learn in a focused burst of education. That's why they call it an intensive.

It's not too late to enroll, although the program is filling up fast. Call 800.322.6924 (or register on line) by July 2 to reserve your space. You'll work hard, but it'll be worth it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sweet Supertunia

For years I've dissed Petunia. Sure she's pretty in a show-offy, teen age prom queen kind of way, but she doesn't age well. Without daily deadheading, Petunia fades fast. I've never used her in my own gardens or my clients' gardens, and I've tried to dissuade students from planting her, stressing her high maintenance nature.

This year, the folks at Proven Winners sent me three pots of Supertunias. (I think this is where I'm supposed to say that I received the plants as free samples and that no money was exchanged for what I'm about to say. Is that right?) I was skeptical, but the saturated, fruity color of Supertunia Watermelon Charm was more than I could resist, so I added them to a client's garden overlooking Central Park West.

(This will be a riot of color when the hardy hibiscus bloom and the mandevilla vines climb.)

In four of the coolest, wettest weeks I can remember as a gardener, each plant has tripled in size. But here's the clincher: they are not leggy and the spent blooms pretty much fade away into nothingness. Can you see a dead flower here?

How about now?

These images were taken prior to deadheading.

My main Petunia objection has always been the way the dead flowers linger on the plant accusingly, asking (with considerable attitude) why I haven't been more conscientious in my maintenance work. (Do I need that kind of pressure from a Petunia?) I try to visit this particular client once a week, but sometimes it's 10 days between maintenance calls, and I need to know that the plants I use won't look shaggy and neglected after an extra day or two.

Yes, the Supertunia flowers are smaller than straight Petunia flowers and yes, this is undoubtedly one of the reasons the spent blooms are less obvious. Is that a problem? Hardly. The rich color and abundance of bloom more than compensate for the somewhat smaller flower size.

We'll see how they fare as we head into summer. At this point I'm highly optimistic and ready to take back all those nasty things I said about the prom queen.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I've been picking a crop of lettuce that self-seeded when I failed to rip out the tired plants July 2011. The lettuce went to seed, germinated and produced small leaves by Sept., then wintered over. It's a special treat to have free salads now.
A River Birch has just turned its fall color, beautiful in October, but in June. One of my hydrangeas was also crying out "LN, LN". Investigation showed that the tap to the automatic drip system had been shut off by person or persons unknown. The tap now has full body armor and the birch has started to drop all of it's leaves. I'm hoping it will re-leaf to get it through the rest of the summer.
One of my three Montauk daisies, usually the last perennial to bloom in my garden each October, is bursting into full bloom. It probably thinks that the pathetic season we went through in January and February was spring. After it finishes blooming I'll cut it back and hope for re-bloom in fall. Something strange is also happening in my boxes of annuals. Yes I knew my Calabrachoa had over-wintered for the first time in history, but now strange leaves are appearing both here and in the base of the flowering plum trees. My best guess is that a stealth gardener has planted pumpkin seeds. I'll leave them alone to see what happens.

Friday, June 1, 2012


You've already admired the classic Italian Water Gardens, the playful dancing waters, and the stunning, ever-changing perennial beds. You've garnered ideas from the family gardens,  the veggie plots, the combinations of colorful annuals and the children's garden. It's time for a brief respite in the conservatory.
You no longer have to schlep downstairs to use the rest rooms.
Even if you have no pressing need, find the new east wing to view the living wall, no more comforting, accessible way to use the facilities. The wall is beautifully maintained, as you would expect of the Longwood  gardeners, but there are one or two places that you can peek at the structure. Unlike your living room, the wall has drainage grates beneath the plants to catch and recycle runoff. Two visitors were so enthralled with the views in the conservatory that they decided to spend their vacation there.
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square PA

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