Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chic N

They live about half a block away. I took out my camera and they came a running toward me just to have their picture taken. Such vanity! Notice the blooming quince in the top photo? Swear I saw a rhodi in full bloom in a sunny spot in Williamsburg on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Turf Wars

Artificial turf, edged in terracotta colored brick on Cortelyou Rd.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Battery of Batteries

If your like me you've been wondering what to do with all those alkaline and rechargeable batteries that are no longer any good. I used to take them to Whole Foods, but they have since stopped taking them. I heard from a good source that they were not shipping them properly and as a result some containers were catching fire. Because it was unwieldy for them to comply with the law, they simply chose to stop the program. Sad for me and them, because the battery drop off was the only thing that would get me into the ridiculously crowded Whole Foods on Columbus Circle.

I have always been horrified by all the AA batteries I see collecting in heaps, near the drains of the subway station tracks. Take a closer look, they're dull and gray but hard to miss because of the cylindrical shape and size we all know well. This could be the worst place for people to toss their batteries. They slowly oxidize, leaking heavy metals into our waterways.

So what to do then? I bumped into David Hurd, Director of the Office of Recycling Outreach and Education at GrowNYC (formerly CENYC), last Thursday evening after work, which is the best time to get him talking about work. I asked him about the batteries. The next day he forwarded me these details:

  • It is illegal to throw rechargeable batteries in the trash (or subway tracks!)
  • You can recycle rechargables at select Greenmarket locations: the list.
  • Big box stores that sell rechargeable batteries must take them back. Use the locator!
  • The City of NY is working with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation for collection. You can join- its easy to get a drop-box near you!
  • What do they do with the batteries: see what here.
  • Ordinary alkaline batteries can be thrown in the trash: see the NYCWastele$$ site.
  • Or you can choose to recycle them at these somewhat out of reach, Dept. of Sanitation, non-commercial drop-off locations:
BRONX: Hunts Point at Farragut Street and East River.

BROOKLYN: Bay 41st Street and Gravesend Bay, south of the Belt Parkway (adjacent to the DSNY Brooklyn 11 garage).

QUEENS: College Point at 30th Avenue, between 120th and 122nd Streets.

STATEN ISLAND: Foot of Muldoon Avenue off the West Shore Expressway (440) adjacent to the DSNY Staten Island 3 garage.

MANHATTAN: DSNY garage at 605 West 30th Street, between 11th & 12th Avenue.

For even more information, see NYCWastele$$

Some more daffs are up, nodding under the cooler, gray skies.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cold Tonight

It may dip into the upper 20s early tomorrow morning. Pull in tender plants...

Free Woodchips

When I was at Making Brooklyn Bloom at the BBG a few weekends ago, I received a flyer from the group Earth Matter regarding the dispersal of free wood chip mulch to all NYC gardeners, block associations, and residents alike. I have not found this flyer online, so I took a photo of it and placed it below (click on it to read). I have not used any of these services and cannot vouch for them. However, if these resources are for real, they could be quite useful to any number of gardeners. If anybody uses this resource, please let us know about your experience.

Monday, March 22, 2010


So I am walking home from the bus stop, after my season opener urban hiker equinox edition (post soon!) and I notice these white painted 'L's on the expansion joints of a set of sidewalk sections on E 8th St. Hey I say to myself, someone's getting a tree. At least that was my interpretation.

Fast forward to an hour later. I am outside pruning the roses. I turn and notice that I too have these white painted 'L's on my sidewalk! Whoa Nellie! Not one set, but three! One in front of the front yard, one in front of the stoop, and one in front of the telephone pole garden (it's conceptual).

Now, either this is some form of urban crop-circling and my block is about to be visited by aliens (swing away Frank, swing away), or these mystery marks are the fly-by-night work of Million Trees, and we are about to take three off that large number!

Which reminds me of last weekend at BBG's Making Brooklyn Bloom, during that windy, tree-busting storm. There was a presentation (which you can see here) by Dr. Nina Bassuk of the Urban Horticulture Institute at Cornell University about a street tree planting process/product called CU-Structural Soil (it's trademarked). You can find everything you need about structural soil here.

Arrival, Making Brooklyn Bloom

I think we all see tree pits and think they're the pits for trees and us. I've seen old trees busting out of them and young trees die in them. Sidewalks are heaved up and roots have no where to go for water and nutrients. To the rescue is Dr. Bassuk's process, which is quite simple and appears rather sensible. What's in the way? Simply, it's the higher cost of sidewalk and compacted sub-grade soil removal along with the addition of new structural soil and sidewalk concrete.

In order to install trees into my sidewalk, the contractor will come with a small back-hoe. He'll jackhammer the concrete, remove enough volume of 'soil' to drop in the root ball, replace the soil, and throw in a couple of stakes to stabilize the young tree. That's it. Done.

If you go through the whole structural soil photo presentation I linked to above, I think you will be convinced that Dr. Bassuk has come up with a better way to plant street trees. They'll grow faster, be healthier, live longer, and won't heave sidewalks.

But this isn't going to happen on my sidewalk and probably not yours. So I'll have to do what I can to protect and care for my new trees and so will you. A few tips on street tree care are available from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden along with some ideas for street tree guards. Million Trees NYC has a PDF handbook covering street tree care.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whole New Year

I'm very excited about the garden this year. In fact, this is going to be a stellar year for gardening. For one thing, I've shaken off the desire to grow vegetables in my small city plot, which -sorry all, is liberating. I've got this whole new arena now to work on in the side yard with the yew tree down after the heavy snowfall. I was thinking this evening as I pruned the roses about my commitment to this garden. It's the longest I've tended one place. Over the last 20 years I relentlessly read books, worked for landscapers and Manhattan rooftop designers, and even worked at a retail nursery. But, for all that -I've never really had a garden, not for more than a year. And that's what it takes -many years, to settle in to it, know it deeply, and grow.

This evening, pruning roses, I thought about the toughness of that act. I thought about pulling out two of the roses, maybe. I remembered the sensation of working late on busy spring days. I smelled the neighbor's barbecue -so good. I heard the children playing in the street and the chatter of Shenanigans. Pruning the roses is about attention -to avoid thorns, to untangle branches, to shape or imagine shaping, and finally, to wear the garden like an article of spring clothing.

I've pruned the 'Knockout' rose hard. Should it be knocked out of the garden?

'New Dawn' will live to see another, tangled as it is with two plants: honeysuckle and clematis.

It and the clematis were spared the diesel shovel when I pulled them from their first home and plunked them in my front yard. The clematis is showing more impressive growth this year than the last three, but has never flowered in its new home. 'New Dawn', however, is built like a tank.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

As Expected, Equinox Daffs

Crocus down, Daffs up. That's 74 degrees for you...

Mignon Parmigiana

I have an Italian American mother who doesn't like much -but tomato sauce, pasta (family says macaroni for all shapes) cheese, and meat. So, no surprise I tend to cook this way. But after leaving home, you start eating other people's food and growing your taste. Unlike Ma, and whatever Batali says about real Italians liking mushy broccoli, I like broccoli sauteed firm with garlic and drizzled with a good olive oil, salt and pepper. I chose bread instead of pasta cause it was hot enough in the apartment without a steam engine going. Fairway in Red Hook (across from my wife's studio on Van Brunt) was having a crazy deal on fresh mozzarella (3.99/lb). I bought three -froze two. A can of LaValle san marzanos I had stored from some crazy deal they had on those a few months ago. Basil -garden. Fairway again, they had a deal on filet mignon (4.99/lb) in one of those wet-age bags that I do not prefer -but still a deal for this meal. I cut it up and froze some. Sliced the rest 3/8ths thick, covered it in breadcrumbs and fried it up in xv olive oil, lightly browned. Then into the dish with the sauce and cheese. Its very hard for me to cook for one, which I'm doing all summer. Fortunately I'm learning that leftovers are good. My mom always told us we needed to finish the pot(that meant the rest of the pasta) insisting we'd be hungry and this left an indelible urge to eat everything.

Dip the steak in egg. Then cover in bread crumbs.

Fry it up in the pan.

Have the sauce ready to go. This one has mushrooms.

In a dish layer the steak, sauce, and cheese. Throw some basil on top and yummy.

Return of Spring Thyme

Nice to see the thyme is returning, despite its life in a pot, exposed to the cold of winter.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Well Deserved

It's a lot of crocus photos this year, but they're well deserved after a colder and snowier than usual winter. But what's this? A now warmer than usual last few days of calendar winter! Spring comes tomorrow, but it will seem like late May, won't it.

That will probably spell the end of the crocus season and beginning of the daffodils.

Well I will send out these crocus to our friends Adrienne and Josh who had their baby boy sometime yesterday. Asa was supposed to come on March 8th, my 40th birthday incidentally, but he was waiting to be coaxed, maybe waiting for warmer weather! Congratulations friends, no finer people to bring new life to our world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Ideas

This is the side yard now, having a bit more front yard station than it did when it was hemmed in by the Yew. I am quite excited about this space now, and while my decision still stands not to grow vegetables here this year, I see how I could do so much more with the tree gone.

Instead, I am going to re-orient the pathway from its east-west axis to north-south. That means, in the photo above, you'd be looking at the path head on. I am doing this for two reasons: one is that the climbing hydrangea commands the fence on the east side and I want to let it run, and the other is that I imagine one day these telephone poles you see on the left will be gone and we can enter at the gate that is about 30 feet to the left. In the mean time, we will go over the fence as we have before, but on the south side as opposed to the east.

Speaking of the climbing hydrangea -I am concerned that it will receive too much hot summer sun now that the Yew tree is gone. Its particularly sensitive in spring when the leaves are new and the quite warm sun comes up over the neighboring buildings. I would also love for it to flower. It was enormous and flowering in its former location on 15th St. I pruned it hard, dug it up, and thoughtlessly placed it here in order to save it from the bulldozer. It survived with little grief, but it's not flowering any longer.

In the center of our modest rectangle, I will make a 20 square foot "patio" out of some recycled stone or concrete. On it will go our pots with the herbs, and maybe a bench for sipping morning coffee or evening cocktails (being hopeful). Will the hardscape discourage the neighborhood cats from treating the side yard as a poopery? One can hope. I am also hoping the reduced shade drives the tiger mosquitoes from the area, although I still believe they are breeding in the storm drain about 6 feet away. They loved the tomato plants, residing under the leaves until I rang their dinner bell.

In the front yard I was experimenting over the years with low maintenance plants and succession planting. I was eager to see if I could have one plant succeed another without killing or severely weakening the plant that it replaced. I wanted three seasons of plants and flowering and to some degree I have succeeded, learning a lot, but never enough. My point being that over in the side yard, I won't care for such things. In fact, I'm giving the planting over to my wife, she's got ideas, and I've enough trouble keeping my succession scheme in order.

Here's to reinventing spaces.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Under Seen and Over Looked

This is the tree limb that fell in Saturday night's wind storm. It's a silver maple, Acer saccharinum, and as far as maples go, this is one I like to look at -from a distance in a wind storm. Silver maple has well-cut leaves with gray undersides, grows tall quite fast, and like most trees that grow fast, has brittle wood.

Not long after it fell that night, I broke off some branches so that I could enjoy the flowers of a large tree that are so often under seen or completely over looked.

Genevieve, over at Tree Notes, says that the flowers are important food for wildlife in the late winter, when many silver maples begin to bloom. It is certainly the earliest blooming tree around my neighborhood.

The flowers hug the branch, like the do on many trees.

Almost like sea anemone.

Silkweed and the Rookery

Whitish things found in the garden clean-up.

The rook.

Milkweed seeds in the mat of leaves.

Click on the images for close-ups:

People used to use the silks of Milkweed for making threads. Of course, the plant is named for the milky sap that comes from breaks in the stem, but it could have easily been called Silkweed. These seeds came from my single Asclepias tuberosa, and after I lifted them from the ground, were easily taken by the breeze down the street.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wild Windy Weather

image courtesy

I just returned from my trip to the corner take out. A tree limb, large enough to damage two cars has fallen on J&L nursery and my landlord's fence. Two cars beneath. I left the Brooklyn Botanic Garden today, not expecting the wind to pick up quite so fiercely. Sustained gusts, truly sustained, have been frequent and I would measure at over 30 miles per hour. JFK airport has seen wind gusts up to 74 miles per hour, with sustained winds, that's sustained folks, at 40 mph!

The wind is pouring in directly from the ocean, giving it quite a run to JFK. Inland, with buildings, trees and hills, the winds should be less powerful. Although, while waiting for a bus near the botanical garden (another story, believe me!) I saw an enormous galvanized tub, maybe 5 or 6 feet in diameter fly off a 4-story rooftop! Please, if you have pots or trees, or whatever on a rooftop or veranda, please ensure that they are secure. It's a bit much out there.

Stay dry (I did not) and watch for falling objects!

The Return of Herbs

Oregano made it.

No problem for the chives.

The sage made it too, but rather unphotogenically. Rosemary and thyme?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Crocus, Color, and Catalogues

These are the Crocus tommasinianus I posted about the other day. More have come up since then, and they look better in numbers. They are very delicate, with short leaves.

The purple is more blue than red, and certainly not as pale as those in the photo at Scheepers. But, I see now that the catalog description says "pale lilac to deep reddish-purple." As an artist, I can fully attest to the different ways people will describe the same colors. If a photo is only one variation of a set of possible colors, and those other colors are described with words (or photoshop!), then one cannot be too particular, knowing the range of possible colors those descriptions could suggest. Letting it go now.

This is the C. tomassinianus 'Lilac Beauty'. I think the photo in the catalog better describes these, although they were photographed on a cloudy day or in the shade and not color-corrected, or possibly blue tinted in image processing for effect. I can forgive this because I can easily see through it, to the flower I have, simply with a blue cast in the whites and over the orange in their photo.

I bought 25 corms, but only a few of these have come up. So that may be the bigger disappointment with these. I will be moving them, anyhow, to a new location as we begin to redesign this area due to the demise of the yew tree that was here just a month ago. That's what I am really excited about - a new opportunity brought on by a heavy snowfall. No more vegetables, that was already decided. Just herbs, flowering plants, and a small patio.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March of the Crocus

The best and worst thing about crocus is their ephemeral nature. But I don't mind their two week performance, or even their quick-wilt on those too-warm days. It's the corms! Because they are small and close to the surface, the squirrels get to them and with every plant I move in spring or fall, I take a few corms. Chopped up or left on the surface, they don't have much chance to return. So, for the many that I have planted over the years, what comes up year over year are less and less crocus.

These I planted in the side yard last November. I bought C. Tommasinianus, the anti-squirrel crocus, from Scheepers. They don't look all that much like the photo in their catalog. They also don't look much like the other C. T., 'Lilac Beauty,' that I bought from them last fall. I planted both in the side yard, and some in the front- but so far not seeing the qualities I saw in the catalog photos.

The unamed stalwarts, or what's left of them, from my first spring bulb planting, fall 2004.

These too.

And this one. Very few of these left, maybe just three.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Consolation Prize

I won't hesitate to admit that an art project in the form of a garden can seem, um, just like a garden. Where is the art in a garden? One judging these things must be open to the possibility that it is there, in the details, in the signs, in the context, in the attention, in the act, in the doing, in the being, in there, wholly.

Most of the grown food was to be donated to local pantries in the Rockaways (there are several). It was only going to be in place for one year, and unlike many of the plots -it was going to be well maintained. In general, I was interested in placing this form of interacting with nature in the context of Park (capital 'P' intended). Parks for looking, parks for strolling, parks for throwing balls around -what about parks for gardening? Seems a stretch? Maybe not so much? My proposal was 8 pages long, but I won't drag it out here. You probably get it now, or don't.

On a more personal level, I found this garden to be beautiful, if a bit forlorn. Mostly it is the light, diffused by the salt haze air, washing out the green of weeds. I wanted to do something, to return with purpose, to grow a deeper connection to the place, not simply be a spectator. I wasn't certain how my formal sensibilities would alter the feeling of the place, positive or negatively. I did want to find out.

Below is the rather administrative response to my project. I never applied for a plot in the manner requested by the park (paperwork still on my desk), having sent my proposal directly to one of the head administrators, after having a conversation with her on the phone.

The consolation.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Don't Throw The Babies Out With The...

Many friends say to me that they do not get praying mantis year to year. I have had a reliable pair every year and while I was cleaning out the garden it occurred to me the possible reason why.

While I was snipping old perennial branches and disposing of them in bags (sorry, no room for composting those), I had one of those moments of pause -am I forgetting something? I was standing in front of the dead branches of the pineapple sage, Salvia elegans.

Yes, I remember! The egg case of the praying mantis is attached to the sage! I went through my branches strewed across the sidewalk and yes, there it was. The prior year the eggs were deposited on the tomato supports and I almost completely forgot about seeing this last fall on the sage.

Last fall.

I grabbed the branch, putting it in a safe spot until I was done cleaning.

I then tied it to the rose trellis and clematis vine, knowing that I wouldn't mess with this area too much. Whew, mantis free season averted! Although, the first ones came from somewhere -my guess is that they came in a potted nursery plant or as an egg case on a plant transplanted from another garden.

Spring Cleaning

The warmish weather this weekend got me fired up for cleaning out the garden. I usually leave all the dead perennial branches over the winter, then wait for the first signs of life, usually crocus, to go out and cut them down. In that time, many of the blowing leaves get caught up at the crowns of the shrubs and perennials. Although many argue the points of cleaning up before winter or after, I choose to leave these and have had little problems for it.

Because we can have a late winter cold blast, I take my chances clearing out the leafy protection the new shoots enjoy. That said, those young shoots are pretty hardy and the chances of a prolonged deep freeze are unlikely. My plot here benefits from strong all day sun (equal to October 10th or so), a protective wall to the north and a warmed sidewalk to the south. All the more amazing that my crocus are just up now, where usually they come up somewhere in February.

The only real danger comes in cleaning out too late. I am always eager to get out there as soon as it warms enough to see green shoots popping through the leaves, but life gets in the way sometimes and I get out there later than I would like. If the bulb greens and new leaves of perennials are putting on lots of new growth, I may damage them with my rake (or my hand) as I clear the leaves. I can only avoid this by getting in to clean as soon as possible.

The hardy Aconitum -last to go in fall and first up in spring.

Surprised to see these daylilies coming on strong

I cleaned out two full size trash bags, which is hard to believe. Twigs, stems, leaves and lots of trash. All in all, it was a good 3 hours of work. I left the rose pruning to "some other time." I also got to chat with some neighbors, all of whom I haven't seen since I was last in the garden.