Tag Archives: New York

scenes from Long Island

It looks like the heat is fairly evenly distributed across the U.S. this Labor Day weekend. In between dipping into a steaming hot garden to cut back agastache, anthemis and senecio, I’m catching up on work and going through summer photos, a much cooler occupation than tangling with rampant summer growth. How different were the mild days of late June when a group of us toured Long Island, New York, which has a vibrant garden culture. I had expected Long Island’s weather to be pretty much what I’m experiencing now, hot and muggy, but it was the mildest, most deliciously cool touring weather one could hope for.

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Madoo Conservancy

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Longhouse Reserve

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A charmer in a container, Aruncus aethusifolius. Longhouse Reserve

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gesneriad in the greenhouse at Old Westbury Gardens

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Old Westbury Gardens

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Immaculately kept greenhouse at Old Westbury Gardens

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Tender exotics like Solandra maxima, the cup of gold vine, at Old Westbury Gardens.

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Tropical vireya rhododendrons

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If begonias are the next big thing in plants, Long Island definitely got the memo. Old Westbury Gardens.

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Old Westbury Gardens

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Old Westbury Gardens

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Old Westbury Gardens

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Possibly Alcantarea imperialis, a giant among bromeliads and a favorite of Roberto Burle Marx, at Old Westbury Gardens

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Long Island nurseries were bursting with tropicals which will flourish in the heat and humidity

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A jubilant celebration of the arrival of summer permeated the island

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Preparations for a midsummer’s eve party

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Rex begonia vine, Cissus discolor

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Garden of the owners of Landcraft Environments, growers who specialize in tender perennials and unusual annuals.

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Curving dry-stacked wall backed by a meadow blooming Knautia macedonia in June, Landcraft Environments

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Landcraft Environments

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Clematis integrifolia as ground cover, Landcraft Environments

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Landcraft Environments

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The entryway parterre at Landcraft Environments planted in color blocks of berberis

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The meadow in June at Landcraft Environments, with lysimachia and knautia in flower

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Landcraft Environments

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Landcraft Environments, greenhouses in the distance

consider the leaves

We have Pam at Digging to thank for hosting this monthly celebration of foliage. This month I’m focusing on some of the leaves that impressed me during recent garden travels as well as examples from the back pages of AGO. If July is exposing bare earth in the garden, that’s a pretty good sign to give some enduring foliage a little more consideration.

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Hostas and perilla in a Long Island, NY garden

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Boxwood and Japanese forest grass, hakonechloa, enclose an empty pot in a Long Island, NY garden

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Sasa veitchii against a low fence of rough-cut logs at Longhouse Reserve, Long Island, NY

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The golden creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, in a container contest at Longhouse Reserve

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Bromeliads in the conservatory at Planting Fields Arboretum

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Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

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Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

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The parterre at the home garden of the owners of Landcraft Environments, Long Island, NY

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A row of succulent-filled urns at Landcraft, Long Island, NY

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Containers filled with Oxalis vulcanicola and succulents, garden designer Rebecca Sweet’s Bay Area garden

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Dudleyas in a container in the Bay Area Testa-Vought garden designed by Bernard Trainor

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Aloe striatula, reddish trunks of Arbutus ‘Marina’ behind a low wall in the Testa-Vought garden.

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Dark-leaved ginger, Zingiber malaysianum, garden designer Dustin Gimbel’s home, Long Beach, California

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Weeping Acacia pendula, Dustin Gimbel’s garden

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Palms underplanted with mounds of mattress vine, Muehlenbeckia axillaris, Huntington Botanical Garden

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Los Gatos, California garden designed by Jarrod Baumann

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Los Gatos, California garden designed by Jarrod Baumann

suitcase plants

Any plant is potentially a suitcase plant as far as I’m concerned, but these agaves and the Euphorbia ammak would present especially prickly challenges. Though I suppose, like anything, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But TSA might be especially touchy about barbed, armed plants, and who knows what Euphorbia ammak might look like on an airport X-ray machine. The suitcase plant I’m talking about is the soft, peachy haze directly behind the potted agaves.

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The misery that is modern, economy-fare air travel still has one very persuasive advantage. And for me that is squeezing in a few plants amongst the dirty laundry at the end of a vacation. (And it’s perfectly legal: see article here.) Within hours after touching down on your local runway, suitcase plants can be unpacking their roots in your garden soil, even while you’re still clearing and popping your eardrums. For me this really brings home the marvels (and somewhat cancels out the indignities) of the Jet Age.

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Agastache ‘Summer Glow,’ purchased at a nursery on Long Island, New York, a few weeks ago, first seen at wholesaler Terra Nova’s display garden the previous year in the Pacific Northwest, now in bloom in my garden. Thank you, Jet Age. For some unknown reason, Terra Nova’s plants are rarely offered locally. Sharing cramped quarters with the agastache were a Plectranthus ‘Emerald Lace,’ Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess,’ and a couple begonias. Long Island grows the most amazing begonias, greenhouse after greenhouse of them.

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Begonias in the conservatory at Planting Fields.

All the plants stoically handled a few extra hours in the suitcase when it missed being loaded onto my plane and arrived a few hours after me. I chose to wait at the airport for the errant luggage, so Marty and I whittled down the hours having breakfast at the cafeteria on the bottom floor of the Encounter, LAX’s iconic George Jetsonish restaurant, until I was reunited with my little stowaways.

Long Island’s many, many nurseries were as seductive as any here in Southern California. All throughout the trip we puzzled over how this small spit of land could support so many upscale nurseries. As one tempting nursery after another whizzed by through the car windows, we cattily speculated whether they support enthusiastic, hands-on gardeners or the garden staff of summer homes. For the nurseries themselves, such distinctions are meaningless.

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Regiments of enormous, burlapped trees at Long Island nurseries, tens of thousands of dollars in inventory. The rope work was enthralling.

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Many of these nurseries were destinations in and of themselves.

To give my suitcase plants the best possible survival chances, I slipped them from their containers, swaddled them in sheets of newspaper (freely available in hotel lobbies), wrapped the bottoms in plastic bags I collected during the trip for this express purpose, and zipped them all up in a cheap, plastic blanket bag that the hotel provided. There was no soil spillage, no dampness issues. I always find bringing home a few plants does help even the score, if only psychologically, where economy air travel is concerned.

Ethan Hawke fondles switchgrass at the High Line

There’s an attention grabber. No, that’s not a recent tabloid headline and, yes, I am being facetious, but I find it amazing that the High Line (and switchgrass!) is casually slipped into a bit of puffery about the current goings-on of Ethan Hawke.

From the May 13, 2013, issue of The New Yorker: “Ethan Hawke traipsed the High Line with his hands in his pockets, his blue-gray eyes wide in the strong morning light…Knifing through a bed of switchgrass, he observed…”

No further explanation of what the High Line is, or what switchgrass is for that matter (panicum). It’s just assumed we’ll know — or should know.

In the land of public opinion, the High Line has been an idea in transit, moving relatively swiftly from an impossible feat to a controversial instigator of gentrification, now coasting and settling into a beloved space mentioned in articles about film stars. I’ve been a fan every step of the way. Will the High Line be the impetus for plants and landscapes to begin to share a little space in the collective cultural mind, alongside film stars and cat videos? Wouldn’t that be something? Can headlines like “Autumn crocus now in bloom at the High Line!” be far off?

I’ll always read any piece on Ethan Hawke, because of all the Chekhov plays he’s been doing, because of the Before Sunrise/Sunset movies and Gattaca, and because of the film version he made of Jack London’s White Fang, in which at 21 he costarred with the incomparable Klaus Maria Brandauer and that equally incomparable actor Jed, the wolf mix that played White Fang. The scene where Jed rescues Ethan from a mine collapse is especially riveting, as is the scene when Jed dispatches the bad guys.

But I had no idea Ethan Hawke had narrated a history of the High Line. I suppose his movie Chelsea Walls was a tipoff to his involvement in the neighborhood.

There is something so emotionally satisfying about moving through a landscape — which is why I think there’s something uniquely American about the High Line and its contribution to landscape design. Footfall after footfall expectation builds, scent and sound are stirred, memories too. Memories like walking to and from school on paths through empty fields, an interlude of intense freedom bracketed by responsibility at both departure and arrival. Even in a tiny garden like mine, moving through a landscape is embarking on a journey of discovery. Cutting a little path through the main border and scaling the plants down to knee-high at the path’s edge has been an interesting and rewarding experiment this year.

Where the bricks end is where the new path begins, maybe 8 feet in curved length. It’s really just a dog track in width now that summer growth is spilling onto it, fit for corgi-sized adventures.

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Summer gardens and parks, coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

High Line jeremiad

Some interesting Sunday reading to be found in another nuanced, contrarian view of the High Line Park in New York City. I know, not another post on the High Line! I can’t help it, I’m utterly fascinated by this subject. So many twists and turns down those old railway tracks. Jeremiah Moss, who blogs at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, had his Op-Ed on the High Line, “Disney World on the Hudson,” published in the New York Times on August 21, 2012.


Some sample paragraphs:

Not yet four years old, the High Line has already become another stop on the must-see list for out-of-towners, another chapter in the story of New York City’s transformation into Disney World. According to the park’s Web site, 3.7 million people visited the High Line in 2011, only half of them New Yorkers. It’s this overcrowding, not just of the High Line, but of the streets around it, that’s beginning to turn the tide of sentiment.”

Originally meant for running freight trains, the High Line now runs people, except where those people jam together like spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck. The park is narrow, and there are few escape routes. I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points.”

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The High Line was certainly on this out-of-towner’s must-see list when visiting New York. In fact, it was the prospect of walking the High Line Park that finally induced me to stay a few days in this astonishing city and have my first look around, a trip I had put off year after year. Just the first section was open when I visited in the autumn of 2010, and there were no stagnant pools of tourists to be avoided at that time. It was fairly empty. Who could have imagined that the High Line Park would be so successful that it would stir up some New York nativist blowback? Rezoning the surrounding Chelsea neighborhood to allow for an influx of expensive, fish-bowl high-rises adjacent to the High Line seems to be the cause of much of the animus. (“Close Quarters,” New York Times 8/1/12)

Gain a park, lose a neighborhood?


Unintended or otherwise, one of the consequences of the repurposing of the abandoned elevated railway trestle into the High Line Park has been to spur a juggernaut of gentrification, a fate the city of Los Angeles has long been praying will be visited upon its downtown. We’re finally getting a park, too, the 12-acre, much-delayed Grand Park, scaled back from pre-recession ambitions.


Los Angeles is woefully in need of public parks, found to rank 17th among major U.S. cities in public space devoted to parks. Yes, we have our public beaches, but there’s currently no Metro Rail service that runs to the beaches.

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Image from LA Times

A tale of two cities, a tale of two parks: As a park, the High Line brilliantly captures the innovative optimism and skyward character of New York, taking up no new space at the ground level, whereas Grand Park is an awkward fit around parking garages, interrupted Los Angeles-style by streets breaking it into sections, just as our freeways isolate neighborhoods. But for now it’s all we’ve got. From Christopher Hawthorne’s review in the LA Times 7/24/12:

Mostly what we’ve had is a collection of thousands upon thousands of privately owned and miniature Central Parks, one for every suburban backyard. Grand Park represents something else: an attempt, imperfect but encouraging, to chip away at the rigid infrastructure of the car-dominated city and make a private city a little more public.”

Like the newly gentrified Chelsea neighborhood surrounding the High Line, Los Angeles developers originally had big plans for the area surrounding the Grand Park:

Under the original plan, which backers said would help create a “Champs Elysees” for Los Angeles, a dramatic Frank Gehry-designed complex of high-rise towers, shops, upscale condos and a five-star hotel should have been completed by now.”

Unlike the grass-roots efforts that got the High Line Park rolling, big-money developers have always been in charge of Grand Park, and developers will always aim for the Beverly Hills jackpot.

During the height of the real estate boom, developers unveiled numerous luxury projects, believing the downtown revitalization was so strong that it could support Beverly Hills-level retailers and residences.”

Then there was that pesky 2008 recession. At least New York got the High Line out of their devil’s bargain. We did get some nice hot-pink chairs though.


And who knows? In the big picture, maybe we’re actually lucky that the recession knocked the glitz out of our park and left us with a modest, workday space instead of a tourist magnet like the High Line. I do have to warn Mr. Moss, though, that I plan to once again join the throngs of tourists clogging the High Line Park to see the completion of its subsequent phases. The High Line’s success is just another example of the price that great cities — London, Paris, Venice, New York — pay for their daring, walkable beauty.

Got Cranberries?

We stumbled into this sight, an impromptu cranberry bog, at Rockefeller Center this past October.


Who on earth could be behind such a spectacle? Exquisitely appropriate seating for the occasion in the form of picnic tables and benches running down the center of the bog, and sturdy, sensible place settings. An army of attendants. Oh, of course…

Just today I found this press release describing the ultimate meaning of this event, and perhaps the show has already aired. At the time, through signage and excited whispers, we learned that Martha Stewart was behind it all somehow but didn’t stay for her arrival. I think we were heading for onion soup at the Waldorf-Astoria and could not be deterred. Watching those cranberries slosh and swirl in the wake of assistants shod in wellies was mesmerizing, though.

If cranberries and horseradish sounds like a good idea, give Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish Recipe a try. And give thanks your dinner table isn’t sitting in a cranberry bog.