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

Sunday, September 29, 2013


On May 10, 2013, two of the four treewells that I plant in front of my building, each with a pin oak in the center, looking good.
On Sept. 26, the same two treewells.
The far one looks great, the other, pitiful. Both watered by building staff, both with the same with the same annuals planted lovingly by me in spring. What happened?
Other Ellen and I did an analysis. Our pet theories coincided with slight variations.
It all comes down to water.  The Great one above, is right in front of the building entrance, with a tree planted just 2 years ago, shallower roots but more soil. The soil was replaced at the time of tree-planting, less dog pee. The soil level is three inches below the concrete rim, so the treewell retains the water until it percolates downward.
The Pitiful one is closer to the corner where the wind whips through, drying out the leaves. In the center lives a tree planted 16 years ago, in a smaller plot; established tree roots are everywhere.  Since it is further from the doorman, we surmise that more dog owners allow their dogs to pee there. But probably most important, the tree roots have heaved upward, pushing the soil level to the top of the concrete barrier. If the guy watering tries to finish quickly with a heavy flow both water and soil flood over the rim, making a big mess. He stops before this happens.
Not enough water goes to the annuals!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 20, 2013


On a magnificent last day of summer 2013, I accompanied our house guests to the New York Botanical Garden specifically to see the new Native Plant Garden just opened. Too late for the glory of spring ephemerals and too early for trees burnished by autumn, I wasn't expecting much color, but was wrong thinking the garden would be all grasses. Passing by  the native border we were greeted by a display of several varieties of American asters, fall perennials and winterberry,
Then along the boardwalk promenade, stands of Lobelia cardenalis, and Lobelia siphilitica at the end of their bloom cycles. The highbush blueberries were just starting to turn.
In the 3 1/2 acre garden, the terrain changes from woodland to wetland to wet meadow, dry meadow, groves of trees, and glades, home for over 400 species and cultivars of native plants.
The NYBG definition of 'native plants' is fluid and somewhat confusing, in that the explanatory booklet cites "native plants of Northeastern North America" yet the stunning display of pitcher plants includes Sarracenia  x areolta, labeled Alabama and Mississippi.
 Is that hardy here? I have no idea and no one there to ask.
Among the trees, shrubs, ferns, and grasses, I was delighted to see this Eastern prickly-pear (Opuntia humifusa)  growing in the crevice of a rock as if it had sprung up naturally and been there from birth. A brilliant placement.
A discordant note which displeased us gardeners three, was the design of the central water feature. The geometrical, hard-edged structure seemed to us completely out of place in this native plant garden.
And yes, I can understand that the designer might have wanted to prove that native plants can fit into even a contemporary garden but instead demonstrated the opposite.
I'm afraid that this photo doesn't prove my point either as I'm conditioned to compose shots which eliminate discordant notes. See what I mean at the NYBG's own photo. Or better yet, go see and judge for yourself.

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