Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Garden Photo of the Day - Red Gomphrena, Strawflower

Red Gomphrena - Strawflower - Photo by Laura McKillop

 Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)

This strawflower is one of my favorite flowers. 

It is an annual plant from Central America that features rounded flowers that look like clover flowers although they are more stately and long lasting. 

It comes in  a variety of colors such as purple, red, white, pink, and lavender. 

It looks great with other plants or by itself. 

It is a tough survivor in the heat and a good flower  for drying. It comes in short and tall forms.  
The tall varieties can grow to  2 feet  tall and 1 foot wide. 

Gomphrena is a profuse bloomer and goes on all summer into the fall. Like I said, it is  a great plant!


'Buddy Purple' Gomphrena with Jack Frost Brunnera  - photo by Jan Johnsen

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Last Section of NYC's High Line is Open!

High Line, NYC

Big news: In New York City, the High Line at the Rail Yards - the third and northernmost section of the park - is now open to the  public!

 New York’s extraordinary elevated public space now extends nearly 1.5 miles from Gansevoort Street to West 34th. You can experience the city from a different perspective as the High Line takes a big swing west toward the Hudson River around old railroad  yards

Piet Oudolf plantings

In this last and final section of the park to open, part of the old rail line that was abandoned years ago is left intact.
from this and that blog 
The landscape planting plan was done by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf who left the rusted tracks filled with Queen Anne's lace, chokecherry, milkweed -which is just what you'd expect to find in an abandoned lot. 

In addition,  there are benches and picnic tables, a spacious plaza and a place where children can explore. It was designed by James Corner Field Operations (with Diller Scofidio & Renfro). 

from This and That blog 

In 1934 the High Line was opened as a way to allow freight trains to carry goods overhead from 34th Street to a terminal at Spring Street. 

The last train ran in 1980 and the tracks were being prepared for demolition when Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident and railroad enthusiast, challenged demolition efforts in court.

photo by Joel Sternfeld - High Line abandoned 

In 1999, Friends of the High Line was founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the High Line neighborhood. They  advocated for the High Line’s reuse as a public open space. In 2009,  Section 1 (Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street) opened to the public. 

High Line phase 1 

And now in 2014, the third and northernmost section of the park, the High Line at the Rail Yards, is open, 80 years after it was originally built. Yay for 'adaptive reuse'!    My only complaint is that they don't label the plants and some of us go crazy trying to identify them (me)...

For more photos click here.

Last section is open 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

October Evenings - Outdoor Lighting Ideas for You


 October is upon us and the nights are getting darker.

So put on an extra layer and place some outdoor lights in your backyard and enjoy the last gasps of outdoor living. Early evening in the garden can be a magical experience in the fall if you add small lights here and there.

The other night I had some guests come for an outdoor dinner. I placed many flickering tea light candles (battery operated) in small glass holders and set them all around the area. 

Tall and low, the effect was dazzling. I placed them atop a low wall and on low tables. I would have had some hanging from low tree limbs but I didn't have the right lights. 

Now that there are tea light candles that are battery operated there are so many things you can do! This one has a a built-in timer that turns them off automatically (click on caption for a link) :

tea light battery candle

These are the ones I used below - flickering lights that you must turn off yourself. (These are great in jack o' lanterns as well)

flickering tea lights with battery 

I place them in small glass holders for a warm white light in a dark fall evening. 

A great idea is to place flickering tea candles in a hanging tea light holder and hang from tree limbs.  The effect is so lovely! :

Hanging tea light holder

You can even connect these for a chain of lights hanging down:

connected tea light holders of different sizes

And if you want to be colorful then try the multi-colored battery operated tea lights.

 There is so much you can do with light - especially in the autumn.

Colorful tea lights - battery operated 

If you want to add some sparkle - place the tea lights on small thin mirror bases. These will reflect light back in a subtle manner. Below are 3" round ones but you can get them larger.

3" diameter mirror bases for tea lights or candles

And for even more fun try a submersible or waterproof tea light

These LED lights are reusable and perfect for any water filled containers. They are great lights for placing in centerpieces. Can be used in or out of water.

The lights  shown here change into 7 rainbow colors. You can get solid colors as well. Each light uses two CR-2032 batteries (included) and lasts approx. 48 hours.

multi-color submersible tea light

Here is the link to additional batteries. Buy at the same time!

There are also an incredible variety of string lights out there. Too many to describe. But some interesting ones are the 25 foot cord of clear bulbs shown here. The light is clear and pure.

Hang them under an umbrella, in trees, around decks and more. 

outdoor string lights - clear bulbs 

string light  - bulbs 

Other options abound - Consider the following candle lights for your house and garden:

Rechargeable candle and holders

use everywhere, shake to turn off

And here are some non-rechargeable ones that I like. Frostfire - Remote controlled.  Uses AAA batteries. All sizes. They look yellow here but are not. 3" diameter.

Frostfire Candles

Then there is the solar charged outdoor lantern. 

You can hang it or place on a flat surface. Recharges with the sun! Very nice - and a great gift as well.

solar lantern

solar lantern can hang too

And lastly, consider LED Japanese Paper Lanterns

It is the safe and modern version of the ancient Japanese paper lantern that uses LED lighting to create a soft glow.  

THESE ARE NOT WEATHERPROOF ...but they look so neat I had to share.

LED Japanese Lanterns - lovely effect

Perfect for an autumn evening.....

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Upcoming Talk at the Wonderful Bartow Pell Mansion Museum

Bartow Pell Mansion 

 On Tuesday, Sept 23, 7:30 pm -  I will be giving a Powerpoint talk based on my book, 'Heaven is a Garden' at Bartow Pell Mansion Museum.  Please join us!

It the only grand 19th century 'country house' still in existence on Pelham Bay and is an important link to the history of New York City.  

Reception and book signing follows.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 7:30 p.m.  895 Shore Road, Pelham Bay Park Bronx, NY.

The wonderful formal terraced garden behind the house is a delight. 

Bartow Pell Gardens

And the old trees are memorable.

tree at Bartow Pell Mansion

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

'Sukkah' - An Ephemeral Hut with a View to the Stars

sukkahs on buildings

When I was a kid I lived for a few years in Borough Park, Brooklyn. 

Every autumn I would see little sheds attached to the residential buildings, sometimes as much as several stories above the sidewalk.

Adorned with leaves or branches, these were festive huts that my Jewish neighbors would eat their meals in for a week....

I went home to our small apartment and announced that I wanted to build a luck.

brooklyn sukkah

The Jewish 'sukkah' is Biblical in origin. It is an ephemeral, elemental shelter, erected for one week each fall, in which it is customary to share meals, entertain, sleep, and rejoice.

The sukkah's function is to commemorate the temporary structures that the Israelites dwelled in during their exodus from Egypt, but the function is also to express universal ideas of transience and permanence  in architecture. 

click here for source

The sukkah .....calls on us to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, to reconnect with an agricultural past, and to take a moment to dwell on--and dwell in--impermanence." ~

The  building is one that is both new and ancient, timely and timeless, mobile and stable, open and enclosed.   There are certain design rules for a sukkah:
  • The structure must be temporary
  •  have at least two and a half walls
  •  be big enough to contain a table
  •  and have a roof made of shade-providing organic materials through which one can see the stars. 

click here for source of this 

In Encinitas, California there was a 2014 competition that called on designers to re-imagine this ancient phenomenon and propose radical ideas for building sukkahs in a contemporary vein. 

click here for info 

Here are the 3 can help build these on October 5 at The Ranch. 

Tension Release Sukkah

Rob Quigley, AIA, judge said of this sukkah:  “There is something magical about this space. It gives a quality of depth that provokes thought and makes you want to visit over and over again. The structure is contained and disciplined, yet fluid, organic and free. 

Varone sukkah

From the designers: “The seven sides of this sukkah structure represent the seven days of the week and the seven year cycle. Once inside the Sukkah, one’s awareness of the outside world is diminished. The base of the Sukkah structure tapers inwards to harvest one’s thoughts, wishes and concerns. The top tapers outwards to release them to the sky.”

3 petals sukkah

From Jessica Lee Vences, judge: “The use of three petals is very symbolic because the number three is significant in spirituality. The lightness of the structure contributes to the temporary feeling of the Sukkah. Humbleness of the materials, waterproof cardboard tubes, goes back to the original shelter in using what they had available.”

If you would like to help build these three in Encinitas go here: Sukkah Build 2014

sukkah build california

Friday, September 12, 2014

Free, Clean Water for Plants in Hot, Dry Regions

In ancient times people collected dew water from lamb fleece. Over night the dew would collect on the fleece and this would be wringed into a container.

Lanolin, a waxy ester, came out of the fleece and mixed with the dew water. It protects skin with a thin coating so when people washed their face with that dew water they had what people called "a dewy complexion".

Tal Ya Water Collectors

The same idea can be used for plants...Collect dew water over night and give it to plants. Lets do this in California where they need water badly for the crops that feed the US.

The Tal Ya tray is an aluminum composite  tray that responds to shifts in temperature between night and day. When a change of 12 degrees C  (21 degrees F)  occurs, dew forms on the tray surfaces and this condensation is funneled straight to the plant and its roots. 

tal ya dew collector and tree 

Since water from dew is 'distilled' water this alleviates the problem of salinity in the soil caused by irrigation. The trays also protect crops from frost during late and early season in the north. Go to the Tal Ya  BLOG for more info on this great idea.