Sunday, August 24, 2008


I am finally starting to reap the harvest of my vegetable experiment. Sure, I will do some things different next year -less cherry tomato, no San Marzano, smaller or no cucumber. Its looking pretty shabby in there, but the German Striped is starting to produce, and it seems the blossom-end rot is all gone from the Brandywine.

But I have already yielded about four pounds of green beans from this little planter.

The basil and Flat-leaf Parsley have done very well, but the Cilantro was a wash.

August Bloom

Its August. The floral display of June long gone, yet so many flowers still in bloom. I think I like this rougher looking garden more than the formal elegance of June. I have many plants blooming now and again many more that are about to bloom. Some for the first time, others on their second or third flush. Here's what we got going:

The Yarrows

The Roses

The Asters

Russian Sage and Phlox

Sedum and Hollyhock

Echinacea and even Spirea


These are the first two German Striped tomatoes of the season from my garden. I had some at my friend's last night. It has the internal coloring almost of a peach and is mild, yet tangy.

I was too lustful to photograph the first Pink Brandywine of the season before I sliced it up and ate some. Oh, it was good. Sweet, mild, and unique flavor that I didn't have a mind for characterizing while I devoured it. Maybe next time.

Two mornings ago I spotted a neighbor eyeing these red beauties. I shook him out of his red-fruit induced fog when I said good morning. He told me that I'd better pick 'em or else. I was late for work so I had to leave them to chance and the people's will.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Plastic Deer Becoming More Brazen

What's this all about? When you got 'em, you can't stand 'em. When you don't, you wish you had 'em? I photographed this plastic deer on a lawn on Staten Island, NYC. Is it not unlike any other landscape device that teases out our hidden desire to be one with nature, or less noble maybe, simply to represent a piece of the country life?

I guess, drawing from what J.B. Jackson states so well about lawn ornamentation, it is about owning (and displaying) what you have been willing to let go in one's quest for a better life.

"One of the more oblique ways of repudiating the notion that the garden or front yard could be a place of work is the casual display (as ornaments) of obsolete farm equipment: a plow, a wagon, even an old-fashioned hand-operated lawn mower. All make the point that work is out of date."

J.B. Jackson,
A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time, pg. 132

Tractor lawn ornament

You can't quite put a deer carcass on your lawn, although maybe its skull and bones. The plastic lawn deer reminds us of another time, perhaps, when that very landscape was flush with deer and the homeowner may have been out hunting as he was then driven by necessity. The lawn deer has its function which is to remind the community, like a souvenir of our past, and to consecrate our modern self-image.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where's The Fruit?!

A neighbor passed by the other day and asked, "Where's the fruit?" Well, I planted low producing, late maturity tomatoes, but I've had some cukes, greenbeans (on my second flush) and even a carrot or two. The cherry tomatoes, despite their dismally diseased state, keep producing.

Pickling Cucumbers and German Striped tomatoes

Carrots and cherry tomatoes

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Plan B: Greenbelt Nature Center

Because the Native Plant Demonstration Garden was closed, I decided to head for the fairly new Greenbelt Nature Center. To get there from the S44 Travis Avenue stop, I walked up East on Travis about 300 yards or so and picked up the S61 toward St. George.
I take this about a mile (I could've walked) to Rockland Ave. I got off the bus and realized that where I needed to go is without sidewalks and the traffic heavy, constant, and not at all used to pedestrians. Plus, there's no shoulders on the road. Way to welcome your park visitors, S.I. To boot, there were no signs for the Nature Center from the direction I was coming. I knew I needed to walk east, but didn't like that feeling of uneasiness as I travel in traffic to an unknown place. Staten Island is largely a car owner's borough. It is designed around this. After the brief, but hairy, walk I arrived at the well-groomed Nature Center.

I ate lunch, used the rather clean, un-NYC Parks-like bathroom, and looked around the center. The place is definitely built around children and I might add there were virtually no adults without children (there was a child's birthday party going on). There was information about the local fauna and flora, including an Asian Longhorn Beetle display.
The Asian Longhorn Beetle Display
The park trails were empty, almost eerily so. It was a rather nice summer weekend and no one was taking a hike. Maybe everyone wanted the beach or something?

Patches of fern are found trail-side.
The woods reminded me somewhat of the woods I grew up with, but with stands of hardwoods that didn't grow in Suffolk County. There was the smooth, gray bark of the Beech tree, the similarly smooth gray of young Tulip Poplars, mighty large Maples, stands of Oaks, and Sassafras too. Sassafras grew in the woods around my childhood home and some leaves emit a strong lemon scent when you tear them. No worries Parks, this Sassafras I left alone.

Bark of the Beech tree and Sassafras leaves
There were patches of ferns amongst the trees, glacial erratic boulders with moss, and grass along the trail.

Glacial erratics in the trail bed and a mystery grass
The trails were familiar in the way that they never seem to give in to the plants, hard and easily traveled with sneakers. Less mosquitoes than I would have expected as well, really very little bugging me. There was, however, a good dose of poison ivy along the trail -so beware.

Poison Ivy growing up a trail-side tree.
The trails I walked seemed great for mountain biking, but this is either not allowed or contentious in the Greenbelt system (or all NYC parks?) for the obvious reasons of slow moving hikers/fast moving bikers, trail erosion, and forest degradation. Some mountain bikers are working to change this, but until then, keep the bikes at home.

Erosion along the blue trail
After a round on parts of the blue, white, and red trails (how patriotic), I decided to head for the bus, rain was on its way. By the time I traversed the shoulder-less road back to the bus stop, it was raining lightly. In 5 minutes I picked up the S61 -a straight shot to St. George and its ferry terminal where I just made the 3pm ferry.

On the way back I got a good look at those Olafur Eliasson waterfalls.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Our NYC Parks, Staten Island Native Plant Demonstration Garden

I started my day bright and early to make the trek, finally, to the Native Plant Demonstration Garden in Staten Island's Greenbelt Park System. For me, getting to the Greenbelt is a journey comprised of the F train to the R train, the R to South Ferry, pick up the Staten Island Ferry, at St. George, take the S62 bus to Richmond Ave., and then transfer to the S44. Take this to Travis and, finally, I am there. I got to the ferry at 10:45 am, took the 11am ferry, arriving at St. George at 11:25am, just in time to pick up the S62 at 11:30am. The bus trip took 45 minutes from the ferry terminal.
S62 via Victory Blvd., St. George Terminal

S44 at Richmond Ave. and Victory Blvd.

What you see when you get of at Travis stop (Draper Pl.)

All said, it was really no big deal. I was surprised at how many tourists were riding the ferry back and forth. One told me it was because it was free. I assume it is also for the view of the Statue of Liberty (everyone was on the west side of the ferry). So the bus was empty at the terminal and I scoped out the neighborhoods of Victory Blvd. while making my way to the garden.

So it was with enormous disappointment that I arrived at the Native Plant Demonstration Garden only to find it poorly marked and apparently closed.

CLOSED! I travel all this way on a sunny summer weekend and the Native Plant Demonstration Garden is CLOSED! With no explanation! NO NOTHIN. Finally I find this sign on a house that appears to be a part of the park.

Can you read the handwritten closed sign? Apparently this is the entrance, locked gate says it all.

Frustrated, I walk down Travis about 100 feet or so and I see the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge Parks sign. But I think it looks a little seedy (please allow me this) as there is an SUV parked in the drive and a man loitering about. Makes me think this is not the place to be, maybe he's got a meeting or something.

Poorly maintained entrance to the W.T. Davis Wildlife Refuge. Creepy guy loitering.

So, I am annoyed that I traveled so far but had little to show for it.
Some thoughts, then for NYC Parks:

I feel as if these two Staten Island NYC Parks locations have the aura of an afterthought. They do not feel tied in to the infrastructure of the city. A significant entrance that welcomes visitors would help. Why not tie the W.T. Davis Wildlife Refuge to the Native Plant Demonstration Garden so NYers do not have to walk down a side street and enter the creepy entrance. Is the wildlife of NYC not connected deeply to its native plants?
I will add that NYC Parks, if it wants to encourage visitors to the Native Plant Demonstration Garden, might consider opening on weekends in summer. A NYer automatically figures all NYC Parks to be public and open on weekends in summer. Come on! Especially, especially, if Parks wants to encourage visitors from all boroughs to learn about and plant NYC natives.

I offer you their press release:

Visitors to the new Demonstration Garden encounter 275 different species of native plants, including black-eyed Susan, bee-balm, native azaleas, and goldenrod, arranged in four different theme gardens and two greenhouses. Each garden features native plants in a different simulated native environment. A cottage garden presents foliage around a house, a butterfly garden attracts seasonal insect visitors, a vegetable garden is filled with green and edible treats, and a colonial garden displays an assortment of plants that might have looked familiar to early American settlers. Two new gardens - a meadow garden and a streamside garden - will be constructed soon. These gardens give visitors an opportunity to learn about the benefits associated with these plants, and how to best cultivate and nurture this native foliage in their own home and community gardens.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Is Our Skin Like a Garden?

I received a very unusual email recently. An edited transcript is below:


I am a consultant working on a project on behalf of Colgate Corporation. We are looking for an expert who can give a brief and informal talk to a small group of senior-level executives from Colgate Corporation on the topic of plant and vegetative life as it relates to the health of the world.

The following is a brief explanation of our project:
I am coordinating a one-day brainstorming session for a group of Colgate Corporation executives. The theme of the session is "outside in" perspectives on innovation and we are exploring six macro trends that are currently influencing our world, one of which is the leveraging of the science of nature. We are particularly interested in the human skin, and in how plants' relationship to the earth may mimic/serve as a metaphor for understanding the importance of skin to the overall health of the body. To that end, we would like someone speak to our group of 4-6 executives on this topic for about 45 minutes, with time for Q&A afterward.

We are located in midtown, but would ideally like to travel to another nearby location ( Plant nursery/garden/park) that would add value to the topic , and conduct the talk there.
I am very appreciative of any help you can offer me, or any other resources or avenues you might suggest I try.

Thanks very much.


Creative Specialist | Arbor Strategy Group

My Reply:

Dear Joanna,

Well this is an unusual request. I believe you are located in Chicago, while I am in New York. But a few thoughts:

The most important thing to the garden is its soil. Without soil health, you lack garden health. In this sense, I suppose you could locate metaphor for skin health equaling body health. But we are more than the sum of our well-functioning organs. Skin acts up when our minds act up. Many skin problems are sourced in psychological dis-ease.

My sense of it is that our relationship to nature has become pathological. I would hope that to explore this is not to seek marketing and product strategies. These products and strategies emphasize and exploit our pathology. We have not come up with a cosmological order that compels us to feel at ease with our natural being, our natural beginning. The Epic of Gilgamesh or even the Expulsion from the Garden tells this story, however distorted by literal assessment of these narratives.

When we garden, I believe we yearn for that primary activity that connects us to the earth, that genetic foundation that compels us to scour for food in the soil and shrubs. But remember, the garden is artifice, a re-creation of that former life when our pathologies were scarce.

The earth is more than the sum of soil and plants. However, if I must, I would suppose that the soil is the skin, the plants the biological activity on our skin. Fungi, parasites, bacteria, etc. exist in the soil and on the skin. The air and moisture, the sun light all affecting the garden and the soil, affecting the life on our skin and our body. Some people use products to control the weeds and pests. Some people have wild gardens and some people have lifeless lawns. So what if our skin grows a garden?

Tell me what Colgate has to say about the garden of our skin. Should it be wild? Should it be a lawn? Should it be paved over with concrete? How do we know the benefits or negatives of something we cannot fully understand?

I hope you do not mind, but I will post this to my blog. Good luck. Any questions, send me an email at

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Blossom End Rot

Unfortunately, my tomato experiment is not without its troubles. I expected a certain amount of it, but mainly too little sunlight after July and the possibility of drought. I've grown tomatoes successfully before, but never in pots. And I was away for two weeks and worried about the consequences of absentee high-maintenance gardening.

Fortunately, NYC had several thunderstorms while I was away, and it has been that kind of summer- weekly thunderstorm rains. My tomato plants had been watered by the heavy rains from these storms, but while I was away- the plants grew enormously! The leaves shed most of the water that fell on them. Normally this wouldn't be anything to think about, but since my tomatoes are in planter boxes, the surface area of soil is quite small compared to the leaves. So the planters received little of the rain.

Although they had grown enormously while I was away, the tomatoes didn't receive nearly as much water as they had been getting before. To mitigate this, the plants sent fine roots through the planter box bottom to tap the water in the soil beneath. Despite this, my Brandywine tomato plant succumbed to blossom end rot. I've grown tomatoes that have suffered this before and its always such a disappointment when you first see those dark spots under your tomatoes.

Blossom end rot is a symptom of a calcium deficiency in the plant brought on by low water uptake or a calcium deficiency in the soil. In my case, I believe it was brought on by the lack of watering while I was away. My potting soil is mainly seafood compost, rich in calcium (but then maybe salts too, which could limit calcium uptake), so I 90% ruled that out.

These are two Brandywine tomatoes picked because they succumbed to blossom end rot. As you can see, the tomatoes look fine on top.

This photo shows the same tomatoes, but flipped over. The blossom end, has been rotting, turning black in the process. The tomatoes that succumb to this often prematurely ripen.

I threw these tomatoes into the compost heap. Immediately I began watering more thoroughly. I also added some complete organic fertilizer that has calcium (although I still don't believe its a deficiency of fertility in the soil). Finally, I added a home-made slow release watering system made from a 1.5 liter soda bottle. After I filled it with water, I cut a pinhole in the cap and on the bottom. Then I turned it upside down and inserted it in the soil of the tomato planter.

The water lasts about 2 to 3 days. If I continue to get new blossom end rot, then I will know that it is a soil calcium problem, not a water issue. So far, the few tomatoes on the plant have not succumbed. A few weeks will tell.