Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Should Vertical Be Your Thing...

March 28 – May 23, 2009
Opening: Saturday, March 28, 6-8pm
at Exit Underground


A project of SEA (Social Environmental Aesthetics) , Vertical Gardens is an exhibition of architectural models, renderings, drawings, photographs and ephemera that depict or imagine a vertical farm, urban garden or green roof. It features over 20 projects, both imaginary and real, by artists and architects that envision solutions for building greener urban environments. The past decade has seen a greater emergence of green roofs and vertical gardens created by artists, designers, architects and urban gardeners to combat the lack of flora in the city. Buildings around the world — from the MusĂ©e du Quai Branly in Paris, to the Queens Botanical Garden in New York — have embraced green walls or roofs for all their economical, environmental, and aesthetic values. Vertical farms and gardens are also being envisioned as new ways to feed local and organic foods to city dwellers. Largely based on the principles of hydroponics, vertical gardens would also be mostly self-sustaining because they would capture large amounts of natural sunlight and water, and could use wind as an energy source. In a country where cities are suffocated by high rises, cement and industrial materials, where can green space exist? As this exhibition demonstrates, one possible answer is “up.”These and other urban parks and gardens provide areas for socialization and recreation; a location for a city farm or community land-trust; an outlet through which hundreds of people can learn about farming and agriculture; and the addition of much needed plant and animal life to the otherwise concrete jungle.

Abruzzo Bodziak Architects; ATOPIA; Bob Bingham and Claire Hoch; Patrick Blanc; Bohn & Viljoen Architects; Dickson Despommier; Evo Design with Mica Gross; Todd Haiman; Haus-Rucker-Inc.; Edmundo Ortega and Dianne Rohrer; Claude Boullevraye de Passillé; Oda Projesi; Rael San Fratello Architects (Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael); Naomi Reis; Roomservices (Evren Uzer and Otto Von Busch); SITE (Denise MC Lee, Sara Stracey and James Wines)
Also featuring photographic documentation of existing buildings containing vertical farms, gardens or green roofs, including those by Hundertwasser; Renzo Piano with Chong Partners and Stantec; Emilio Ambasz & Associates; Humpert Wolnitzek; Chad Oppenheim Architecture and Design; Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, Downs/Archambault & Partners, LMN Architects; Scandinavian Green Roof Institute; Conservation Design Forum of Chicago and Atelier Dreieitl of Germany; Enrique Browne and Borja Huidobro with Ricardo Judson and Rodrigo Iturriaga; and others.

Papo Colo, Jeanette Ingberman, Herb Tam and Lauren Rosati

2day/earthday -A FREE two-day event celebrating Earth Day 2009.

What To Do With Extra Plants or Rumble in the Tree Pits

I seem to always pick plants for the garden that spread all over. Self seeders, stoloniferous plants, runners running every which way. Oenothera, Chrysanthemum Koreanum, Eupatorium, perennial sunflower, seaside solidago, alchillea -garden and field varietiesasters.

What to do with these spreading plants. I started putting them in the new tree pits across the street. There is a dirt strip there full of grasses and amaranth and other unidentified weeds. So I put my spreaders in the new tree pits and we'll see what wins out.  

Hopefully not the dog walkers. While planting, I found three plastic bags filled with dog shit and tied up -left in the tree pit. Why go through all the trouble of bagging your dog's business and then throw it on the sidewalk? 

Anyhow, I don't water these guys in the garden, so my hope is they'll take root over there and spread.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Whats Up in the Garden

The daffodils (aka narcissus, jonquils, etc.) I planted when I first began the front garden. I've not tended to the daffs well, often I've accidently chopped them up when moving perennials. There was a moment when I schooled myself in all the different "divisions" of daffodils. But alas, I don't even remember what kind I have any more. On the left I feel pretty confident is a Double or Division 4, with pale apricot center and white outer petals. On the right, the pendant and fuschia-like form makes me think its a Division 5, Triandus.

The greens are coming up. I can thank the rain for helping out. I think plants prefer rain.

As for the broccoli, its coming along. The planter is nothing to look at, but I generally don't grow food with aesthetics in mind. You don't see them here, but the peas are doing okay as well, although they haven't grown as fast as the did in the warmth of the house. I wonder about inoculation, whether the seeds were innoculated, whether its a commercial scheme to get us to worry into buying more product, or whether there really is enough of the right organisms in my compost to fix the nitrogen for the peas. Either way I'm going with last night's brief thunderstorm as helping out in the matter.

My Soil Test

Today I sent in my garden soil to be tested at the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College.

I am sending in two samples. Sample A is from the side garden and is a mix of 6 different locations within the same area, dug about 10 inches down. Sample B is from the vegetable planters. The bags are Ziploc -great advertising strategy. I sealed them up, typed a sheet with the tests I want done, and put it into the box for mailing.

You can get these boxes (and envelopes) for free from the post office. Don't forget to type up a sheet with the tests you want completed and a check. Tests I'm getting done: Standard Nutrient and Toxic Metals Analysis, Soluble Salts, Organic Matter Content, and for the side garden only -Soil Texture Analysis. This last test I could do well on my own with a jar of water and soil added, but I thought I should try out all the tests ESAC offers.

If you want your soil tested, click on the link SOIL TESTING SERVICE at right.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Perennial Division How-To Updated With Photos

Yup, finally added some photos, with more to come as season's divisions get done.
Click on the HOW-TO PERENNIAL DIVISION on the right.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Green Roofs and Other Dreams

After reading on the subway today a rather pessimistic article in the New Yorker "Talk of the Town" about the state of environmental affairs in the well-heeled, industrialized world in a good and bad economy and watching the NOVA special on the dissapearing ice caps and glaciers last night, I see how bad we need the dreamers of the world. A little post on green roof possibilities in Green Perspectives perked me up as I imagined these spaces as sanctuary for birds and other wildlife.

Actually Gardened Yesterday

I actually did some real gardening yesterday. I felt I should go to the studio before work, but as I stood outside trying to remember what plant was where in my overcrowded space, I took out the shovel and started moving things around. I divided a fat aster, I moved the maximillion sunflowers to the farthest corner near the stoop. I moved the boltonia closer to that corner as well. I moved the geranium "johnson's blue" to the front of the bed along with the heuchera which was smothered by the sheffield pink mums (boy they spread). I pulled out some yarrow 'cause that is always growing fat. I had extra of this and the aster, so I had to find a place to put them. I placed some yarrow in a tree pit of one of our new trees across the street. We'll see how it fares. I moved extra sunflower to the far end of the side garden, and I planted the aster and more yarrow in between some long unmoved telephone poles. It felt good to dig. And I knew there'd be some rain on the way (today, hopefully). Only sadness is that my cold-frame is blocking the sun of some bulbs popping up. The daffs are about ready to bloom.

Neighborhood Resistance Tactics

Our neighbors regularly lay active mines throughout the neighborhood. Its part of our defense system. If you step on one, you'll know it immediately, boom -you've paid the ultimate price.

Thats right, its fresh and its ripe.

Our neighbors plant mines along the "planting" strips next to your parked car.

And this? This is what we call the Tank-Buster. Hope you got armor.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Should They or Shouldn't They

Veronica is blooming well and maybe I'm the only fool who actually invited her to the party. I found Persian Veronica (Speedwell) in an athletic field in Red Hook, growing at an bland time of the year and picked her up and brought her home. Weeds only in name.

And look at this, yep -you know what it is! Its the "doesn't over-winter around here" Salvia Elegans. And this winter was pretty cold compared to the last several. We didn't have that warm January we've had so frequently. I think the reason it survived, beyond all the micro-climate stuff provided by my building, was the fact that I planted it last spring, giving it much time to sink deep roots. My previous attempt was autumn planted and failed.

NYC Resources

This list of resources used to be listed in the side bar. It now resides here.

  • GROWNYC (Greenmarket, recycling, city gardening)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Volcanoes Matter to Gardeners

The year without a summer is the famous summerless year. I am familiar with it because of art historical speculation that J.M.W. Turner's paintings were influenced by the unusually colorful sunsets of that year. But why should a gardener care if we don't live 2 thousand miles from the nearest volcano?

The volcano at Redoubt Mt. in Alaska is blowing its top these days, and it will have little affect on our climate say the experts, but tropical volcanoes have much greater consequences. Check out this brief, but scientific post by Jeff Masters, meteorologist.

We're talking snow storms in June and ice floes in August here. A far away volcano could do in your tomatoes!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Is It?

I can name most street trees in NYC, but this one is allusive. It was planted late last fall on my block. Lower down the trunk, the sap-colored bark is peeling. Its not a young Plane, is it? Some "Million Trees" trees are labeled, the trees we got are not and I think came from Parks.

Anybody know?

What I've Needed All Along

I discovered a couple of blogs through a chain of blog looking that we all know. So thanks to a somewhat bombastic comment left on Garden Rant that sent me looking at said bombast's blog which held these two blog gems:

a couple samples:
The fantasmic topiary of Pearl Fryar
Wang Tingna's Gardens of the Hall Encircled by Jade

a couple samples:
View of Delft
The West Lake of Hangzhou

Garden History Girl also has another site called GOOD CHURCH DESIGN.
Both her blogs are delightfully filled with so much good stuff.

Angling the Pews
It feels better just looking at the angled pews, and so much easier to enter and exit.

Better Parking
I never really thought about this usage, church P-lots are used less than 30 hours a week at max capacity. Makes for a perfect grass paver installation.

I've added these to my blog follow list.

Macy's Flower Show or Not

I saw an advertisement for the Macy's Flower Show at Herald Square. The dates are April 5th through April 19th. I totally forgot about this event, and cannot really remember its depth or breadth. On Macy's flowershow website, however, the information is for last year's show. No mention at all of their current "Dream in Color."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Should Be Called Spring Joy

First official day of spring, yes. I think this Sedum, "Autumn Joy" could just as well be called "Spring Joy." It looks wonderfully succulent, icy and warm at the same time.

Yesterday evening, as I covered my peas because of threatening frost (clear night), a neighbor from down the block stopped and gave me my first ever NYC gardener to gardener "poo-poo." I was poo-pooed for putting my peas in as early as I did. I enjoyed it, actually -the gardener to gardener exchange, the confidence, the wink.

She said she was surprised at how early I had put my peas in. I said, well they were getting large in the cold frame and you know they'll be fine, but better safe than sorry after all, putting on the plastic. She said, yeah, they'll be fine with the plastic and, well it'll look good as always. Then mentioned her tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers will be hanging upside down this year to keep them from the chickens. I said, keep me posted on that!

I don't think there's another house quite like hers in all of Brooklyn. The house is set back all the way, so that its 90% front yard. The wood-framed house is maybe 500 square feet. Its cute as hell with its traditional roof line and nice garden. And chickens!

How To Make an $8 Loaf of Bread or Alice Waters' March on Washington

I left a comment on Garden Rant yesterday about Alice Waters on 60 minutes. My facetiousness aside, I had a serious point or two. One was about the "Victory Garden" thing.

It is time those in the media stop calling a vegetable garden a "Victory garden." That's it really. Why are they recalling WWII wartime vegetable planting?

The U.S. government (and U.K) asked its citizens to produce some of their own food to make up for shortfalls affecting the agricultural industry supply during the war. Eleanor Roosevelt had one planted at the White House. There were complaints from the Ag industry, but by and large, the effort was popular and successful.

Much of this gardening ceased after the war. I'm sure the Ag business did what it could to promote this change through lobbying and advertising. Not growing some of our own food has been a 20th century invention, at least for most of us. Lifestyle changes, yes, but also the promotion of leisure and solid-state (copyright!) landscapes created a vision of wealth and prosperity that used to have the cornucopia, wheat bundles, dead fish and fowl, and grape vines as its symbol.

It does seem that little motivates people more than the desire to attain or to mirror wealth and prosperity. What the local food movement, Alice Waters, organic movement (still a movement?), etc. has done is create a new conception of wealth and prosperity that is as old as they come. Some people don't like it because it calls into question many of the hard-earned symbols of their prosperity, and requires a different set of skills and knowledge, some long-forgotten cultural memory.

But let's remember that people have always grown vegetables for their sustenance. Poor and rich alike have grown, or had their gardener's grow, their own vegetables. Late day immigrants to big cities grow their own in buckets on concrete. Its economical and provides them with the vegetables they need for their culture's recipes.

So I wonder if our culture is forcing the "V" for victory instead of vegetable because there is a sense of cultural warfare -a largely middle, upper-middle class warfare. What is middle class? What do we aspire to? Are we golf-playing, micro-waving, lawn mowing, backyard pool party lounging with cocktails middle class or are we vegetable growing, every meal cooking, CSA joining, garden party with a glass of local wine middle class?

This is not a battle I am having and I believe this to be true of many of us. Of course, these activities are not exclusive of each other, but I can't quite shake the feeling that this middle-class identity war is what's going on. Thoughts?

Brooklyn Food Conference

I'd like to call your attention to an event that's happening right here in Brooklyn, NYC. Its called the Brooklyn Food Conference. Registration is free, and its all about growing food in the city, sustainability, farmers' markets, local agriculture, CSAs, healthy eating, restaurants that use local produce, farming in the region, and a lot more. Again, registration is free, so sign up at their website above. The conference is on Saturday, May 2nd in Park Slope.

Brooklyn Food Conference Logo

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Garden Soil Testing

For any questions regarding the ESAC soil testing service, click on the link below. I have used this soil-testing service, and you can see how I put my sample together here and the results of my tests here. For other thoughts on lead in our soils, read this post and that post. See my page above for other testing services.
Brooklyn College Environmental Sciences Analytical Center SOIL TESTING SERVICE.
Any Questions:

Contact: Dr. Joshua Cheng
Phone: (718) 951-5000 ext. 2647
Fax: (718) 951-4753
Email: zcheng@brooklyn.cuny.edu
Brooklyn College Environmental Sciences Analytical Center
2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11210

Phyto Photo Philia

Tomato and basil seedlings inside the cold-frame.

When they sprouted, I was away in Philadelphia. It was a really warm weekend and I had plastic wrap draped over their seed beds. In 36 hours these guys were pale, leggy and curved under the plastic. My response was to get these guys out into the cold-frame as soon as possible. The bright light, occasional sunshine, and cooler night temperature kept stem length in check. They also started to develop their first set of leaves and stouter stems.

Now their stems are purpling and growing the fine hairs of maturity.

So far no sprouting of the arugula, or greens mixes. Its only been a couple of days.

Training the snap peas

I have broccoli starts in a variety of places, including these two: a perennial pot and wooden planter.

Last, but certainly not least, the over-wintered spinach. Looking good, but soon to be outnumbered by the sprouts of this spring's spinach.


A band of rain is on its way. I love the rain scented air on a mild day. I went outside and the drizzle had already begun. This is good, because it really has been dry. This month we've had about 3/4 inch of rain and normally we'd be near 2 1/2 inches. Let's hope this is not a sign of the season to come.

Image Courtesy of Wunderground.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Oh warm sunny day on my spring break, there's little time and so much to do with you!

Garden's planted, watered. Only rose pruning left to do and this year I'm pruning hard!

Off to work in the studio then.

Drink later?

G&T please.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Few Words

Saturday I planted the broccoli into their planter. I had extra, so I put some in a couple of perennial pots. I also planted the asian mix, the arugula, and the mesclun mix seeds in all the extra planters I had available. I put 2 inch mesh on top of every planter to keep squirrels from digging. The tomatoes are in the cold-frame, toughening up, getting fuzzy, purplish stems. 

So all the early season, cool weather veggies are in the ground.

On another note, I finally saw the News12 Brooklyn story about the man who got tazered outside my window.  They have a video where me and my neighbor are interviewed, but you might need some plugin to watch it.  I found out from my upstairs neighbor that he was apparently from the methadone clinic down the block that is advertised as a medical office. On the video you can see the man in front of my building and pacing, but surrounded by cops. Then they tazer him. They're not using the word tazer anymore, its like Kleenex for tissues. They're calling it a conducted energy device. Thats a mouth-full. Anyhow, News 12 used some of my posted photos in their story, for whatever its worth.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Really Should Be Working

broccoli, tomatoes, basil

When did any day become solely about mundane gardening and posting?

Today I took out the watering can. That's it then, the official beginning. A new neighbor who saw me about asked if I was planning the garden. Planning?, I questioned smugly, I've already started. Peas right there, they survived the freeze last night and a ground assault by squirrels! Oh, who do I think I am?

I planted new pea seeds into the planters today since I learned they can be grown on top of one another. Also, squirrels! So on goes the mesh.

I planted spinach seeds in the spinach planter where some spinach has over-wintered.

The broccoli that I over-wintered is starting to get stout-stemmed.

And should I want to destroy something this year, it'd be this Yew tree that puts shade on the vegetable garden. The veggies need more sun, particularly in March and September. I secretly hoped the snow would weigh this guy down to his demise.

Compromise? Landlord, please take those dead trees we call telephone poles out of the front yard and I can put the veggies there, grow enough for the neighbors to share. Then the Yew will be a welcome shade giver to an area re-designated for perennials!

Sorry, webiworld, crocus on the march!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mutterings on the Mutter (thats mooter to you ter)

One of the side trips of our 36 hours in Philadelphia was a return to the Mutter Museum, part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. It is a small and gruesome display of medical maladies and oddities collected over the years. As was the case for me and my wife, the blown glass display cases and low lighting, not to mention the subject, leads the visitor towards feeling a little woozy. I was interested to go for a second time because they had a small exhibit on the effects of lead on humans throughout history.

I use lead white paint in the studio, but not so much that I should worry about it. However, I was interested to read about painters and makers of paint back in the day who became ill due to their exposure to lead. One symptom of their disease was limp wrists, leading me to speculate on the origin of the phrase "limp-wristed artist." There was also a section on the association of lead with Saturn and melancholia. This in mind, I read Goya's painting anew -this time it is melancholy devouring his offspring, melancholy destroying what it created.

As the exhibition winds down it crosses into lead as a poison and then its use as a pesticide. What? Yep, pesticide. Funny, so often you hear that pesticides were a product of WWI or WWII chemical industries. But previous generations were looking for pesticides of their own and lead was brewed into lead arsenate for their purpose. Apparently, we in the good ol' U S of A have used lead arsenate as late as 1988. Lead makes for a great pesticide partly because it sticks real good to the leaves, just as lead-based paints stick real good to the trim. As mentioned in a previous post, lead stays put in the soil and is taken up by leafy greens more than fruiting bodies.

A final display shows Mexican candy (lead sweetener???) and mentions that lead arsenate is still used in Mexico as a pesticide (but where else???). One thing I never understand is why all those kids are eating lead paint chips. I had no idea that lead mixed with acetic acid (lead acetate) created a sweet tasting substance. Anything sweet is good to a kid. But the adults, they even used it in wine!!! And skin creams, but that's another story.

By the way, as a painter I use the white pigment titanium dioxide more than the lead or zinc whites. This titanium pigment ends up in skin creams too, but also food products like cream cheese, mozzarella, and other must-be-super-white foods.

Recently I received a comment on my Bio page from a professor , Dr. Joshua (Zhongqi) Cheng, Director of the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at CUNY Brooklyn. In our brief exchange, he expressed interest in getting the word out about his lab.

In a subsequent email, Dr. Cheng told me:

"My lab can analyze heavy metals for all kinds of samples (soil, plants, vegetables, sediments, etc.). Another lab I associate with can do hydrocarbons. The price for heavy metals are $10-20 per sample, depending on the number of samples."

These are exceptional prices for these services and done locally, supporting Brooklyn College employees. For those of us who garden in front and back yards with questionable histories, like the storage of CCA and Creosote treated telephone poles for instance, this can help create some peace of mind. I have asked Dr. Cheng for a list of lab services and pricing. If he agrees, I will add this info to the RESOURCES listing. I plan on sending him some samples of my soil soon.

Cloud Cover

Its late, I left work and what does the Columbus Circle CNN super screen say, oh its 37 degrees F. Hmm, seems kind of cloudy up there. Now Brooklyn, off the subway, hmm... I can see that its cloudy now. Doesn't feel that cold. Wind not much to complain about. Moon barely visible behind nature's row cover. I think its gonna be alright. 

Oh, hell. I got some plastic, just lay it over the peas. So thats what I did. But I think the clouds are staying and my intuition says no deep freeze. But I did pull in the tomato seedlings from the cold-frame. They've been living outside through the day and I pull em in at night if its going to freeze. They're toughening up this way, after their super growth spurt this past weekend on the warm windowsill.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Please Don't Freeze The Peas

Will it really freeze to 25 degrees F tomorrow night? Will the Sugar Ann Snap Peas hold up to this despicable, lone, one night, monstrous temperature drop? Shall I protect them with plastic sheets or leave them be? Oh, peas, you cause me such pains before I've even eaten you!

Oh, yes, I see the quince buds a swellin at the north end of Cadman Plaza Park. And the winter jasmine's pre-forsythia yellow blooming too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Flower Wower

Before it is so long passed that it simply doesn't matter anymore, I thought I would get a few words in about my first ever trip to a flower show, this being the Philadelphia Flower Show, 2009. First, I must say that my wife and I had a nice time and we enjoyed seeing many of the flowers and plants. I enjoyed seeing the native plant displays, one of which mimicked a forest except that it was totally in bloom with white flowers. We also enjoyed our overnight in Philly, an easy town to get around and much to see on our two days that reached 70 degrees.

Of course, the flower show is a ritual celebration of winter's end and the coming of spring. However, when I thought, well that's not an interesting display or design, I had to remind myself, oh yeah, that's because its about getting all these flowers to bloom for this display, out of season and indoors. That is what it is about, folks. A brief note to the flower show policy wonks: don't allow boxwood in the displays anymore -it smells like urine, everywhere, all the time. Yuck.

Upon entry we encountered amongst the throngs of people a display of orchids, front and center (orchids somehow do prove one's horticultural bona fides, no?). Apparently these potted plants had been judged, and unaware of the criteria as I was, I had little understanding of good from best.

Beautiful as they were, many orchids struck me as similar to the spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park 1. I could almost hear them spitting, "phhhlaaaaahh!"

Just across the way was this monster. Oh, boy -have you put the kids to bed?

The show had many specimens, ordinary and unusual. In the bulbs category, I found these:
Crocus Chrysanthus, "Goldilocks". I like how the blades of green become part of the floral display. Take that ordinary spring crocus!

There were many displays. This years "theme" was Italia or something like that, so Italian-inspired garden displays took up about a third of the floor space. There was even a display with opera singing going on. The largest display, photo below showing maybe a third of the entire display, was fully realized with tall flowering trees, shrubs and perennials.

Of course, this being Italy and all, there were many displays with fountains, like this one where a man is spitting on a babe.

Some displays stood out by simply not following the theme, like this Irish fantasy:

I enjoy the displays that create a convincing illusion of the real the same way that I enjoy the dioramas at the Natural History Museum.

This display of a landscape at night won a prize for best outdoor lighting design. May I ask, is this possible? I think it was the only display concentrating on outdoor lighting. The colors changed: blue, purple, green, red, yellow, blue, purple, green, red, yellow, blue...

There were displays that were simply in a category all their own, like this one. Daffs in glass bottles, over fluorescent lighting.

Some were informative and dry, like this one revealing the "how we do it" of rooftop sedum.
Get yours today!

The Italian-themed displays briefly gave way to the fashion-themed. Maybe the most photographed display of all, the floral fashion shoe collection.

Lord help us, but this tree attracted a lot of attention. Was it dead, then painted? Killed, then painted? Colorful as it was, I just didn't see the attraction. I think the entire display, which had forced bulbs, cactus and succulents, and evergreen shrubs won a prize for most unusual design concept.

Maybe its because I had never been to a flower show, or maybe its my overcritical nature, or is it the art-school arrogance, or maybe my NYC snobbery, or my unwillingness to simply let go, or could it be my fear of death, but I do not see myself returning to the Philadelphia Flower Show for awhile.

Thanks to Ellen Spector Platt at Garden Bytes for awarding me these tickets. Despite my critique, I enjoyed the chance to get out of town and see the show (and on my birthday no less).