Friday, January 29, 2010

Annual Rare Plant Auction @ Longwood Gardens Benefits Delaware Center for Horticulture


The Delaware Center for Horticulture’s Communications Manager Wendy Scott (what a pro!) recently wrote to inform me that this year’s Rare Plant Auction will be held on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at Longwood Gardens.  Located in the beautiful Brandywine Valley, this event is one that every plant lover should attend.  And aren’t all gardeners curious about the “next big thing?” 

Just like no one wants to miss out on the latest in fashions from Paris, Milan or New York’s couture runways, so too, plant-loving enthusiasts (and that’s just about all of us!) won’t want to miss the premiere of what’s Hot in Plants for 2010. 

I’ll be there to blog about it. You should be there to enjoy the beauty of Longwood Gardens while sipping champagne (that combination alone is worth the price of admission :) )
There are options for admission (see below) with Auction newbies and the under 40-year-old tribe gaining entrance for just $100 (or dinner in New York City!)  

It is the 30th anniversary of this gala event that raises more than $100,000 each year for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. Help celebrate and mark the occasion by attending the Auction.

You can register for the Auction and purchase tickets here
Join us as we celebrate the Pearl Anniversary of the Rare Plant Auction® on Saturday, April 24, 2010. 

Buffet Dinner &Open Bar
Auction Preview for Pearl and Benefactor attendees at 5:30 p.m., Ballroom
6:30 p.m. Silent Auction and General Admission
7:00 to 7:30 p.m. Champagne Live Auction
7:30 to 9:00 p.m. Dinner
All registration levels include admittance to the General Rare Plant Auction®, and to Longwood Gardens for the day.
Pearl: $500 per person
Benefactor: $250 per person   
Subscriber: $175 per person 

Seed Pearl: $100 per person for those 40 and younger, or Auction first-timers, by pre-registration only.
Invitations will be mailed in late February. For information about the Auction, please contact Joe Matassino, Director of Development, at (302) 658-6262 ext. 103 or email him at

The monies raised go to fund the Delaware Center for Horticulture whose excellent reputation and work extends far beyond their geographic region. So know you will be supporting a superior organization with a track record of success.

The Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) is a non-profit community resource organization dedicated to promoting knowledge and appreciation of gardening, horticulture, and conservation. DCH’s two community program areas–Educational Programs and Greening Initiatives– focus on the greening of our urban environment and include educational programs for children, teens, and adults. Our work includes community gardens, public landscaping, roadside beautification, tree programs, and community events.
Mission Statement
The Delaware Center for Horticulture cultivates a greener community; inspiring appreciation and improvement of our environment through horticulture, education and conservation.
Longwood Gardens
Get to Longwood early – or spend the weekend. There’s plenty to do and see. Especially in the spring.  Glorious!
and this year’s signature program is “Making Sense: The Art and Passion of Fragrance.”   Ahhhh.

(And I love this about Longwood’s start.  Mr. duPont was a “tree hugger:” 

"In 1906, Pierre S. du Pont purchased the Pierce Arboretum to save its trees from being cut for lumber.  Over the next nearly half century, Mr. du Pont developed Longwood Garens into what it is today, a magnificent horticultural showplace." 

Thank you, sir.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Patrick Cullina's High Line Lecture Kicks Off Wave Hill Lecture Series

Wave Hill Lecture
at The New York School of Interior Design

Landscape Art & Culture Foment a Community

Wave Hill’s annual lecture series always hits the sweet spot when Director of Horticulture, Scott Canning, welcomes the audience and then like a jeweler holding precious stones, he spotlights a few, seductive plant cuttings from the garden -- chosen to illustrate what’s interesting and on display in this season.  That’s the way to thrill garden enthusiasts! 

All have a story about them, and Scott’s first plant was no exception.  An Ilex opaca, (American Holly) “Princeton Gold,” he told us Marco Polo Stufano, who at the time was just out of horticulture school at NYBG –brought the seeds with him.  The ilex is beautiful, gets to be about 35-40 feet tall and is hardy to zone 5 – and Scott allowed that if it was planted in a sheltered area – you could push the envelope and zone 6’ers could enjoy it as well.  The berries can’t be beat!
Next up in the spotlight was a charming witch hazel – “Orange Beauty” which he said just opened its confetti-like blossoms that morning. The hamamelis vernalis, “Nature’s Light” is a fragrant, tough sustainable plant that loves alkaline soils.  And the flowers come out before the leaves do!

This plant spotlight put everyone in a good mood to hear from the featured speaker, Patrick Cullina, Vice President of Horticulture and Operations for Friends of the High Line.  
According to Wikipedia, The High Line is a 1.45 mile park built on a section of the former elevated freight railroad of the West Side Line, along the lower west side of Manhattan.  The Park will eventually run from 34th Streets former freight yard near the Javits Center (and the only place where the park makes grade), through the neighborhood of Chelsea to Gansevoort Street (one block below West 12th Street) in the Meat Packing District of the West Village. (walking distance for me J)

Patrick kicked off this year’s lecture series with an artful, presentation about the sexy, most-talked about public garden to premiere in America in – well, what seems like forever. 
The first part of the High Line, opened last year in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood and is  perhaps best known for its now thriving art scene, the park occupies a precious ribbon of real estate overlooking the Hudson River.  And it also occupies a precious part of our collective soul – in no small part because of its industrial history and the role the High Line played in commerce and agriculture (moving foodstuffs and animals for slaughter) and for its sheer staying power. 

How the High Line maintained its pristine roots until like a butterfly, it morphed into an exquisite garden that is the pride of New York, is what makes this a special story.

Those of us who know Patrick, admire his keen eye for photographic composition and his presentation embraced both the “sense of place” of the garden at the High Line and the garden’s sheer beauty as only a New York top model can show off:  in still pictures and in sparkling video.  The tiny field mouse performing circus-like aerial feats and the birds darting amidst the swaying grasses were worthy of the Discovery Channel, bringing out oohs and ahhs and a few giggles for that Desperaux-like mouse J

Patrick set the stage for the horticultural perspective by first putting the High Line into context.  He opened his presentation with an old German film clip showing the fascination and beauty to be found in industrial production and technology.  He next showed an old abandoned Nabisco factory; and a page or two from Rem Koolhaas’ “Delirious New York: a Retrospective Manifesto for Manhattan” Oxford Press ( citing some of the books “architectural mutations” such as Central Park and skyscrapers.  (Koolhaas termed the city as “fantastic” – the “Rosetta Stone of the 20th century.”  I’m certain he’d extend our claim on that through the 21st century – but I’m overstepping here…

The essential question posited by Patrick is, “Do we embrace our industrial past as an architectural past?”

He showed images of a landespark in West Germany that does – even going so far as to offer “Torch Tours” at night!  He pointed out we are starting to see more of this respect for the art of the industrial past in places like Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens, New York (  where the views of the Manhattan skyline and the United Nations are “framed” by the skeletons of the industrial architecture.  And I’ll add, the soon-to-be -opened-park along the Brooklyn waterfront.  (see earlier posting).
All were impressed seeing the rooftops of Chicago’s skyscrapers planted with dazzling plant palettes.

The images underscored Patrick’s point that “It’s all about the possibilities.”

All this thoughtful background perspective was gearing the audience up for what the High Line is and what it represents in terms of art and community. 
He recalled how the garden opened to much fanfare in the spring of 2009, showing all the various news coverage; with one journalist exulting, “it compares to a day in the Alps.”   Patrick joked a bit about that.

He showed how the park has impacted the neighborhood in Chelsea including the restaurants offering High Line “Picnic Specials” or the residents who sing from their fire escape balconies to an enthralled audience gazing up from the High Line.  Some of the women performers apparently were in rent-controlled apartments and have now been asked to keep the entertainment off the balcony and so perform from inside their windows – or as Patrick described it – “it now looks like shades of Amsterdam’s famous ladies of the night!”

The High Line’s landscape architect is the famous Dutch garden designer and author, Piet Oudolf  ( who is well known for embracing a natural-looking garden (vs. a sculpted or manicured garden) and for utilizing grasses – many of them American natives.  In deflecting those critics who might find the natural, grassy look of meadows as “messy;” I loved Patrick’s comeback. He showed an image of Jackson Pollack’s adored string painting and asked rhetorically, “Why is this art?” And then putting up the image of the garden’s undulating grasses, “And not this?”  
There was a collective chuckle from the audience. Or was that a self-satisfied harrumph?

Patrick described the “poetry of meadows” and how people connect to it. At the High Line, they have adapted a concept to a condition… Even the hardscapes are designed to be part of the story, not unlike the Arts & Craft movement.  The plants that fulfill the garden design were chosen with a very thoughtful, artistic vision so that even the spent foliage is just as important.  The plants are meant to interact in the landscape – “falling for another, if you will.”   Patrick admonished not to think of plants as furniture – as in, “I’ll plant two blue tall ones along that wall and six short yellow ones in the corner….”

With a very shallow soil base, the living roof of the High Line was always a challenge.  But he allowed how nature is on their side –- it’s part of the plant’s DNA to "push" to be part of the permanent landscape structure.   The team of gardeners there work very hard to optimize the conditions for the plants survival.

 Patrick didn’t hesitate to show the variety of pollinators who were attracted to the plants from day one (not unlike people, truth be told).  Bees, spiders, birds, butterflies used their own special “Metrocard”  to get around the garden -- darting, flitting, jumping and flying.  Visitors are then treated to the nuance of what the pollinators are attracted to.  This is especially enthralling for urbanites.
It underscores the palpable energy coursing through the gardens.

Patrick’s images and narration presented the breathtaking art of nature – from the interplay of shadows to the views – back into the city – and out to the Hudson River and the Garden State beyond.  Like a color wheel, the sunrise or sunset or clouds, all spin the light to offer pinkish, bluish and gold hues that are pure magic. 
He walked the audience through the various gardens within the High Line: the Gansevoort Woodland garden with (my favorite) birch traversing through and under the Standard Hotel.


Patrick highlighted the great variety of plants in the park – pointing out each’s spectacular, showy traits so there would be no guessing as why they were chosen to accessorize the landscape.  From the Fringe Tree, sumac, Foxtail Lily, sunflowers, toad lily, asters and vines training up the fences, and the grasses – it was an exuberant tour of an all season garden.  (Examples:  prairie grass is fragrant; the Asian aster blooms a full season later than the NY aster, the glory bower vine is fragrant, the sumac is dramatic red color in fall)

Operationally, Patrick discussed the challenge of removing the snow, bringing all the plants up by crane or elevator.   On the fun side of snow – he showed a series of fantastic snowmen created by the ever-creative citizens of New York!

The High Line is looking ahead to celebrate its first anniversary this spring and will be taking stock of its first year of operation.  They’ll edit, prune, and see what stood up to the somewhat rather harsh conditions.

The High Line is a vehicle for social change, according to Patrick.  He shared his observation that the park creates an unbridled sense of community and get people more interested in plants.
And that’s a good thing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tis the Season for Garden Lectures

Tis the Season – For Garden Lectures!

I don’t know about other parts of the country – but here in New York City we are so fortunate to enjoy a very robust lecture schedule every winter.

While the gardener in us may miss being in the garden, we are nevertheless busy and happy learning more about the garden and the wonderful world of horticulture.
We also get to network and visit with our fellow gardeners and plant lovers, swapping stories, plant finds, and tips.

We are doubly blessed that the talent pool for guest speakers is so rich and deep here in Gotham.

Following is a Gardening Lecture schedule for me this year. Here’s hoping if you are in the area, that you can attend some, if not all of these events.

The New York Botanical Garden:
I am particularly looking forward to hearing Dan Pearson, who kicks off the NYBG “From the Ground Up: Gardens Re-Imagined” Lecture Series.

Dan is slated to speak January 21st . His “Into the Wild” talk will “explore recent garden projects including The Millennium Forest in Japan and a private garden in Torrechia, Italy that illustrate his interest in natural landscapes and indigenous flora.

February 18th is Year-Round Gardening with Barbara Damrosch
March 25th is Edible Estates: Full Frontal Gardening with Fritz Haeg

All lectures are 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Wave Hill Garden:

I’m excited to hear all three of the speakers in this series. My former BBG associate, Patrick Cullina will speak about the sexy and still-so-new park the High Line. Patrick is an engaging speaker and expert plantsman.

I am especially eager to attend my friend Stephen’s lecture ☺ I first met Stephen when he was an editor at House & Garden magazine. He possesses a very special purview on the world of gardens – and he is very generous in his knowledge. His blog showcases his charming world:
Here you will also see some previews of his upcoming book (I couldn’t believe it was his first), “Tomorrow’s Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening” published by Rodale Press and due out in the fall of this year.

And I admire and respect everything Dominique Browning does – from her days as editor in chief of House & Garden magazine – she had the best Letter from Editor – so warm and interesting and topical. Always seemed to hit the right note. I also look forward to her reviews in the New York Times Book Reviews:

To purchase tickets visit:

Here is the garden’s overview:
This annual winter series invites distinguished lecturers to discuss their work, providing inspiration for spring gardens. Hosted by Wave Hill's Friends of Horticulture Committee, Wave Hill's Horticultural Lectures are presented at the New York School of Interior Design, 170 East 70th Street in Manhattan, starting at 6pm.

Wednesday, January 20, Patrick Cullina, Vice President of Horticulture and Operations for Friends of the High Line, explores this recent, unique urban landscape from a horticultural perspective.

Wednesday, February 24, writer, editor and self-taught gardener Stephen Orr focuses on a new approach to landscaping, one championed by a number of designers and homeowners, that marries traditional environmental concerns with a flexibility and a sensitivity to aesthetics previously missing from green-gardening orthodoxies of the past.

Wednesday, March 17, writer, editor and consultant Dominique Browning shares musings and readings: Her third book, Slow Love, will be published in the spring of 2010.

Horticultural Society of New York:

HSNY always offers excellent lectures and events and this season is starting off with a bang, as Katherine Powis their Librarian wrote recently. I agree.

I will attend the North American Rock Garden Society Program Meeting
Lecturer Colta Ives: "The Impressionist in the Garden: The Avant-Garde 19th Century Painters As Gardeners, Strollers, & Outdoor Loungers." I am especially looking forward to the lecture on the 28th: Morocco: Courtyards and Gardens because joining me will be my garden gals: Donna Dorian (Garden Design magazine), Pat Jonas (BBG) and Zazel Loven, (Organic Gardening magazine)….

And I keen to attend a special HSNY fundraiser that is part of their Important Books & Authors Series. Tuesday, January 26th at 6 pm, my friends, Suzy Bales
Suzy will offer an exclusive, first-look at her latest book, Garden Bouquets & Beyond. For more information about the book and to reserve a copy:

This evening sounds a bit swankier than the usual talk ☺ The event is to take place at Doubles restaurant in the Sherry-Netherland hotel at 783 Fifth Avenue. The evening kicks off with cocktails (Can’t beat that as a sure fire winner!) and Light Fare. Suzy will speak to the guests starting at 7 p.m., followed by the book signing.
Promises to be elegant and informative.

HSNY Schedule:
Last evening featured: Stories from Tree Project
Hiroshi Sunairi conducted an illustrated discussion with several project participants who presented their personal documentation of their trees and shared their experiences with growing plants from hibaku seeds.

Tuesday, January 19
The Hort Library Book Club reads
The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White
Join us for a fun and thoughtful discussion. Open to the public.
6pm at The Hort Library

Thursday, January 21
Green Screen Film Series presents
Visual Acoustics, A film by Eric Bricker
Narrated by Dustin Hoffman
Visual Acoustics celebrates the life and career of Julius Shulman, the world's greatest architectural photographer, whose images brought modern architecture to the American mainstream. Shulman, who passed away this year, captured the work of nearly every major modern and progressive architect since the 1930s including Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and Frank Gehry. His images epitomized the singular beauty of Southern California's modernist movement and brought its iconic structures to the attention of the general public. This unique film is both a testament to the evolution of modern architecture and a joyful portrait of the magnetic, whip-smart gentleman who chronicled it with his unforgettable images.

Visual Acoustics won the Mercedes-Benz Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize at the Lone Star International Film Festival and Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking from the Newport Beach Film Festival.

At The Horticultural Society of New York
Doors open at 6pm; film starts promptly at 6:30pm
Refreshments served
RSVP via email
Visit the Filmmaker's website and view the trailer!

Monday, January 25
North American Rock Garden Society Program Meeting
Lecturer Colta Ives: "The Impressionist in the Garden: The Avant-Garde 19th Century Painters As Gardeners, Strollers, & Outdoor Loungers"
Colta Ives is a NARGS Manhattan Chapter Member and Curator of Department of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
6pm at The Horticultural Society of New York

Thursday, January 28
An illustrated lecture and book signing with Achva Stein
Director of the Landscape Architecture Program At City College
Presented in partnership with the New York Chapter of
The American Society of Landscape Architects

Tuesday, February 9
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes
Lecture and book signing with Maricel E. Presilla
6pm - 7:30pm at the Hort Library

For full details and to register, visit the HSNY website:

MetroHort Group:

While you must be a member to attend this group’s lectures and events – usually held at the Armory in Central Park -- you can always join! MetroHort is an association of horticultural professionals in the New York City Tri-State Region.

The first of the season’s lectures was January 7th . As host of the event, our ever-popular & successful Commissioner of New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Adrian Benepe, welcomed the attendees remarking, “Now I know what gardeners do when it’s too cold outside to garden. They come to lectures!”
The featured speaker was to have been Michael Van Valkenburgh, architect. However, he was taken ill and Matt Urbanski, lead designer on many of the firm’s public projects, gamely stepped in. He was spectacular! Witty, smart, and a very knowledgeable plant person (he and his father run a nursery in the Garden State) – he had the standing room only crowd in the palm of his hand.

His topic was:
“Plane Trees to Plain Trees - and Beyond: A Personal Horticultural Odyssey from the Cornell Hort Department to Designing Parks and Gardens in New York City”

Matt highlighted the fantastic new park being installed along the Brooklyn waterfront.  It's being built on what once were piers from ships bringing flour to New York!  Consequently, there is good soil - meaning it wasn't contaminated as food was loaded and unloaded on these terminals.
The park will also have a fabulous view of the Manhattan skyline - and the ethereal spires of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Upcoming with MetroHort:

February 10th, 2010

Time: 6:00pm

Steve Castorani – North Creek Nurseries:

Native plants play a critical role in sustaining the natural environment, while at the same time providing striking interest and beauty in our landscapes. Steve Castorani will explore the many new varieties of native plants now available or soon to be introduced through North Creek Nursery and the American Beauties Native Plant® program. 

Steve Castorani is co-founder with Dale Hendricks of North Creek Nurseries, Landenberg, PA, where he is currently the COO and CFO of this progressive nursery that specializes in perennial plant plug production with an emphasis on Eastern regional natives. In 2004, Steve co-created the American Beauties Plant® brand, a portion of whose sales benefit the National Wildlife Foundation’s wildlife habitat program. A past president of the International Plant Propagator’s Society, he was awarded the honor of Society Fellow in 2005. Steve currently serves on the Delaware Invasive Species Council developing guidelines for the implementation of an invasive species policy for the state.

Dick Lightly – Gardening on Earth: One Couple’s 46 Years on 7 Acres
Wednesday, March 10th, 2010, Time: 6:00 pm

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Avatar Taxonomy

Avatar_promo screenshot

I am still over the moon :) about the movie Avatar, mainly for the visual magic found on the Pandora -- especially the amazing, dream-like world of the Native Plants found on the planet.

Now I learn there are web sites that offer botanical listings of the Flora on Pandora.

It is Fantasy Botany!

Just like Jake, it's easy to see how fans are having difficulty separating the real from the world of avatar and Pandora...
The New York Times reported on fans that can't seem to shake the blues ^:^ after seeing the movie:

Here, for example is the data for Octoshrooms:

Biology: Octoshrooms ( style="font-family: Times-Roman;">Na'vi name: Torukspxam, meaning "great leonopteryxfungus") are large mushroom-like organisms that live on Pandora. They are bioluminescent and extremely toxic. These fungi possess a giant underground filament network that enable them to feed.

Reproduction:  To reproduce, octoshrooms release spores that germinate and grow filaments wherever they land.
Feeding: Some mycelia penetrate plant roots to absorb carbohydrates while providing the body with a greater supply of mineral nutrients. Octoshrooms are able to absorb and break down nearly everything in the soil such as chlorine, ammonia, and methane
Study: Following the 1986 Chernobyl incident on Earth, a similar fungus was discovered, but not fully understood. When scientists realized that the octoshroom used ionizing radiation as energy for growth, scientists were able to further understand the metabolism of the Chernobyl fungus. Because it is an effective antivenom, there are currently studies underway regarding the octoshroom in the pharmaceutical and bioremediation industries.
Uses: The Na'vi use the octoshroom's roots to make tea. It is a powerful antivenom effective against the sting of many venomous animals. Too much tea, however, has been proven toxic and sometimes lethal
On Earth: It is possible that octoshroom spores have stowed away on an interstellar vehicle and germinated on Earth. However, no specimens have been found and data regarding its survival in the terran atmosphere is incomplete. Some believe that an octoshroom "forest" in Nevada could help restore the entire region

And there's lots more!  Check it out.  

I love all the fervor surrounding Avatar and can only hope it gets people more interested and active in learning about plants and taking care of planet earth...and OUR native plants -- they are just as heart-stoppingly beautiful, mysterious and magical – if you just take the time to look and explore….

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Holiday Greens & Festive Food

    In what I hope is now a Holiday tradition with my fellow/former Junior League girlfriends, we ring in the holiday season the Gotham apartment.
    We enjoy a memorable evening with laughter, wine, good food, wine, family stories, wine, and well, you get the idea.

    I start the planning with the decorations, naturally.  I visit the Greenmarket for plants and natural and organic creations to fulfill my idea of creating a warm, candle-infused, magical evening of good food and  friends.

    Greenmarket at Union Square always delivers organic options. The conifers were inspiring to say the least.

    The River Garden stand where I purchase my eucalyptus -- and this year's elegant lamb's ear wreath:

    I  found charming beeswax candles shaped into angels and christmas trees -- and in gold -- perfect colors to match the kitchen!

    All the girls chip in for the food and I plan the menu with Celeste from Marquette Restaurant (, located around the corner on 12th Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place.  
    Celeste is a doll!  She makes the entire catering experience fun, easy and exciting. 
    The restaurant is so charming - I think I'm back in France when dining there - and there is art on all the walls.  Heavenly.

    Celeste too keeps a file so that she can pull up what the menu was I ordered in previous years.  

    For this party, I like to serve a hot soup  -- like fennel carrot -- or this year's no-cream cauliflower.  
    I serve the soup in fun, interesting terrines that look like squash, pumpkins, and other winter vegetables that I got from Williams Sonoma a few years ago ( and  Perfect size too.   
    I put two or three of the terrines on the buffet kitchen table and use clear glass expresso cups for soup servers - so the guests can scoop the soup into the cups and walk around while sipping the delicious soup. I find this is a very social -- and healthy and delicious - appetizer.  

    Celeste and I enjoyed a lively discussion about food possibilities. She knows  how to work with a budget too :)
    And she is most creative. For example, I had an idea for sweet potato "cupcakes." 
    Celeste and her chefs were able to deliver beyond expectations.  The "cupcake" concept or "caper" :) was not a dessert but rather a side dish or vegetable -- Just a whole lot more interesting and elegant.  Celeste and I talked about how we/she could do this. But in the end, she took the concept and as always -- just ran with it and achieved a culinary wonder!  

    We also agreed on a scallop and a crab meat creation with a roasted red pepper sauce. 
    I LOVE what she wrote and did with the salmon.  Celeste suggested  poached salmon and a Scotch salmon.  Why, I asked.  What is the difference between the two salmon??  
    It is the "look" she instructed me.  She said there is an old saying that "The eyes eat before the stomach." She said it in a much more eloquent way.... But you get the idea. Celeste explained that the two different shades of pink in the salmon is glorious and visual. 
    It made me think the seduction of the glamorous salmon, as she explained it, was indeed perfect for us! 

    We then agreed on the more, ahem, mundane items, such as the salad with endive, and the cheese platte.
    I love a goat, a brie, a stilton and especially this time of year, a cheddar.  
    Marquette also provides great baguettes for my cheese fondue that I love to serve at these kind of fetes. It's decadent (who eats cheese like this any more?); goes perfect with wine :) and from my school days and holidays in Switzerland, I embrace the social and convivial experience fondue offers.

    I also added our caviar that is, in turn, a gift from our long time friends, the DiMasi's.  They are truly amazing friends and parents ( more about that later). But I get to sing their praises every year with a select few family and friends, as we share the unbelievable good fortune of this spectacular treat.  
    And make no mistake. I LOVE caviar more than you can imagine. 

    Accordingly, we must offer great champagne to accompany the caviar. 

    And god forbid there is any left over - ha - we will carry over to the chocolate dessert.  And this year - I went with the social fondue theme and we enjoyed chocolate fondue with strawberries and dried fruit, including apricots.  

    Thank you Celeste. 
    And my Tannins.
    Glorious, glamorous, memorable evening.

    And New York cleans up from Christmas faster than anyplace I know... Too soon...
    Coming back into town after New Year's, I saw the trees on the curb for take away.  So pretty.
    But they must not realize there is a mulchfest every year the city provides to turn the trees into mulch...

    Nevertheless, the trees still look beautiful to me as they await their next chapter:

    And the First Presbyterian Church across the street (always gorgeous) is still dripping in wreaths and red  berries.

    and our foyer tree (resplendent with decorations and train tracks underneath) came down right after this was taken - and prior to Little Christmas.
    What day is that exactly?  I thought it was the 12th...


    Friday, January 8, 2010

    You Won!

    What are just about the two sweetest words in the English language? 

    “You Won.”

    The subject line on the email did indeed read, “You Won.”  As I know the sender, Irene Varig, I didn’t fret that the winning notice might’ve been some snarky come-on from a third-world mambo jambo nation offering bazzilions of dollars for a mere small $$ investment…Ha.

    No, Irene is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, she is now the East Coast head of the Garden Writer’s Association, she is the gardening columnist for Newsday, she and her talented and wise husband, Harvey, teach journalism at Stony Brook and she produces her own excellent Garden Party blog (I am a Follower).  Whew – she’s busy – and successful!

    All good. J

    When I read she had extended the deadline for the photo contest, I quick grabbed my trusty Luminex (love this camera) and took some shots to submit…  The idea for the contest is fun and smart and sustainable.  Kudos, Irene – and thank you so much!

    And special thanks, also, to Nancy Thomas, owner of “In the Garden,” Highlands, in the Garden State. (
    As I mentioned previously, Nancy and her team keep track of my annual holiday decorating greens so when I place the order, we can readily discuss.  Some of the flowers and plants that I add to the items from my garden I like to repeat from year to year. 
    At the same time, I like to make the plant ensemble sparkle with new fashions every season. 
    This year it was the hypericum berries – in the lime green and red colors that sparked both the Gotham and Garden state floral designs. 

    In the Garden just moved to a new locale in the Highlands and as much as I thought nothing could top their original space, (they had great side yards for the annuals and perennials, which is where I purchase a lot of plants for my garden design clients.)

    But when I saw the new digs ^:^, I was immediately smitten.
    I love it!  It’s bright and big and right across from the town park that hosts a variety of events, especially the Farmer’s Market.  Nancy is a graduate of The New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture (SOPH)
    SOPH’s Director, Charles Yurgalevitch, Ph.D, is a friend (smooch from your Coco, Charles!)  

    He has done an amazing job of not only raising the profile of the school and its mission to “educate motivated individuals to become horticulturists of the highest caliber” and to teach the students “about utilizing art and science to beautify our surroundings so that others may and enjoy and live a better life.”  Well said, Charles.  He also worked very hard in early in his tenure at NYBG to garner accreditation for the school – which is a boon for the students – and the school.

    Back to Green Decorating
    I picked up my green d├ęcor “wardrobe” on Friday the 18th of December in order to complete the “look book” for this year’s holiday decorations in time for a family party that night.

    All was in place when I read Irene’s blog about the Unplug contest. I emailed the images to her blog.

    And then this week and for the second time this holiday season, it does indeed appear that I truly am
    A WINNER! 
    I know, I know. There are those who will recall I just wrote that I have two kinds of luck: NO and BAD and so now probably want to shout, “You Lie.”

    But it’s true – outside of that atlas booty from the card party, there was nothing. Ever. Nada. 

    Perhaps ushering in the new decade it might be a complete course change when it comes to my luck. 
    (Just to make certain, I’m not stepping on any sidewalk cracks, nor walking under any ladders or…)

    Here is the winner’s page from Irene’s blog announcing the winners of this year’s “Unplug the Holiday’s contest:
    And the link to her terrific blog.  Sign on to become a Follower, too!)

    I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

    SATURDAY, JANUARY 02, 2010

    Thanks to everyone who entered my "Unplug the Holidays" contest this year. Here are my winners:

    First Prize to Leeann Lavin of New Jersey,
    who tweaked the holiday color scheme with lime green hypericum berries nestled among rich red roses and carnations.

     go to blog to see the images :)

    Leeann also hung her stockings on the arms of silver plant cups filled with roses, carnations and seeded eucalyptus.

    But she forgot to take pictures of the table designs she created with kumquats, Peruvian lilies and more hypericum berries surrounded with angel beeswax candles. I would have loved to have seen those.

    And the outdoor displays Leeann designed from evergreens, birch branches and pine cones gathered from her yard were buried beneath the snow. You can't get any more natural than that.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    The Glamour of Planet Pandora in the Movie, Avatar

    Avatar banner

    “I See You” is the Spirit of Avatar, the movie.


    photo credit: Kaena_25

    I say, “See this movie.”

    You must. Avatar is the top-grossing movie for a whole lot of reasons.

    Moviegoers are thrilled by the action, the special effects graphics, or for the love story:  classic and movie-sweet.  (boy, er avatar meets girl, er princess…)

    Much has been said about the incredible, groundbreaking 3-D technology.  Wowsy.  I have to admit I did love that – first time I ever saw a “film” in 3-D.  It is an incredible, sensual experience in that you really feel like you are IN the scene – a part of the story. 

    Birds and insects and otherworldly creatures seemingly whiz past you or jump out of the forest or flit, flit and float. Like the mountains!

    Because you’d literally have to have had the most serious New Year’s Eve hangover to not to know the story of Avatar, I won’t go into any explanation except to say I’ve read that it is a bit like “Dances With Wolves” - and I can agree with that.
    Bottom line is that Avatar tells a compelling story. 
    The moviemaking is the magic that makes this like no other movie adventure.

    Truth be told, we’ve seen the movie twice in two weeks… I couldn’t wait and so caught a first viewing in the Garden State and that cinema didn’t have 3-D capability L
    But on the positive side, seeing it straight-up the first time allowed us to focus on the story itself.  And it is still very much a beautiful movie – even without the 3-D technology.  

    But!  Seeing it again in the eye-popping 3-D is epic.
    Plus you get these cool-looking ray ban-styled glasses!

    Not since Wall-E have I witnessed a movie that dealt with the world of plants in such a charming and reverential way. 
    And make no mistake; Avatar the movie celebrates the World of Plants and Nature. I’d argue it goes straight to Pantheism.  This is how it should be…

    That is what intoxicated me and why I recommend seeing Avatar.  

    I was mesmerized by the lush, magical, mystical world of plants and botanical marvels – as well as fantastical animals and birds that inhabit the planet Pandora where the native Nav’vi live.  The plants glow and glitter and dance...


    I wanted those scenes to linger, to last longer. I want to live in that world… It is a fantasy come to life…

    Avatar_promo screenshot

    The Nav’vi’s possess a true reverence and spirituality in the film that is both personal and part of their shared culture.  It’s not just environmentalism or ecology that is on display, (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)  But the Nav’vi ethos impressed me as a tender love and respect.  How Princess Neytiri emotes when teaching Jake the Nav'vi traditions captures the sense of harmony they have with nature. They worship their sacred trees and plants.  This is how it should be. 

    In describing the head botanist and creator of the avatars, Grace Augustine – (how loaded with meaning is that name?), her assistant says, “She loves plants and botany more than people.”
    Works for me.

    I’ll leave the discussion of the movie’s supposed religious and political overtones to the countless blogs, tweets and discussion groups.  The technology and movie’s story line are high-octane fodder for postings about discovering and interpreting the hidden and true meanings of the action and dialogue and well, then there are the just plain-vanilla kooks…

    Rather, I want to spotlight the sheer magical, transporting world of the planet Pandora – and the world of plants…
    I couldn’t help but think this is the way I dream of our world of plants.  The movie made my magical world a visual reality.

    To the Nav’vi, Hometree, is the sacred tree.  It looks like a really, really huge banyan – and it’s said to embody their life force. 
    You're not in Kansas anymore...

    Hometree is so incredibly beautiful – I thought of it as the best tree house; lit from within and glowing… and the Nav’vi sleep in hammock-like beds suspended from the Hometree’s branches. 

    The Floating mountains are ethereal.  And seemed startlingly “normal.”

    James Cameron and his writers have incredible imaginations to dream up such captivating images that draw us in and make a place beguiling yet familiar.

    Throughout the movie, there are references to the trees on Pandora: their vast root systems, their connectedness to other trees and Mother Nature. 
    The Nav’vi from planet Pandora worship tree Goddess Eywa  - she keeps balance in their nature & their lives – she encompasses a collective energy of Pandora’s living things. 

    Goddess Eywa’s seeds are called “pure spirits.”  They are a wonder.  And appear as floating, dancing jellyfish (in a good way).  Think of maple seeds swirling to the ground with that amoeba-like helicopter whirly top and feathery, lace-like anchor – think of a teeny-tiny, poetic parasol…

    The Holiest place is the Tree of Souls.  To my way of thinking the Tree of Souls is the most glamorous-looking tree -- it is not unlike a weeping willow or weeping cherry tree. 
    The Tree of Souls profiles luminous tendrils or branches that resemble dangle earring jewelry.  The tree is the link with Nav’vi’s ancestors and they can communicate with them through their Mother – Mother Nature.

    The movie superbly portrays Jake Sulley – the movie’s protagonist, utterly transfixed by a forest’s plant population. I say it’s an epiphany that allows the story to move forward.    Here, the Helicoradian plants that look like layered nautilus shells sort of (one has to hedge with everything when describing anything in the movie as it is so unique as to defy most references).  
    Jake can’t seem to take his eyes off these incredible plant creations.  Upon his first experience in the forest on Pandora he touches one and POUF! It drops away from sight. 

    The Helicoradian

    You viscerally experience his sense of wonder.  And because his curiosity gets the best of him (which is exactly what the plant world does for most of us) Jake doesn’t walk away. He does what any of us would do – he touches another one.  POUF! And then another one and then another. Pouf, pouf, pouf.  They all retract.  Gone.  You can see the sense of gleeful wonder through his expression. Who among us has not experienced the same spellbinding excitement when seeing what Mother Nature and plants are capable of – in addition to their hypnotic beauty?  

    In another notation as part her teaching Jake the ways of the Nav’vi, Princess Neytiri tells him that everything is born twice - that energy is only borrowed and you have to give it back.  How lovely.   For us as humans to help not only deal with death, especially of a loved one …
    But also in a more simple, banal way:  Compost ^:^

    When the Nav’vi, led by Jake, prepare to defend their land from the Sky People – who are the corporate Earth people, Jake prays to Mother Nature telling her that the earth people killed their mother – there is no more green there…
    We hope this is indeed pure movie making and not a prescient cautionary   cause it sure rang true with the audience who uttered a collective muttered aha…

    Princess Neytiri tells Jake that Eywa does not take sides; she only protects the balance of life
    But she does in the end.

    Nature comes to the rescue.

    We know Plants produce oxygen – life-giving air.  It’s fitting then that the Sky People/corporate humans can’t breathe on Pandora without the benefit of an oxygen mask.  I had to wonder – because they killed all their trees and green, did they forget how to breathe? A loss of capacity?  Or were they being punished in a way?  They couldn’t enjoy the beauty of Pandora’s forest without a mask to separate them from the true spirits of the plants and trees that connect us to nature.

    Here’s to a harmonious relationship with the environment.

    In the spirit of the film’s “I see you” insight, I hope people see nature in a better, more sustainable and loving, respectful way – as part of our earth community.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    Putting the Green in Holiday Greens

    For as long as I’ve had my own home and decorated for the Christmas Holiday season, I’ve always accessorized more with plants and cuttings from the garden than with store-bought items.  I do add to this with lots and lots and lots of candles: pillars, floating candles (snowflakes, hearts) votives and specialty or handmade candles to create intriguing compositions.  For the last five years or so, I’ve used the small LED lights that I buy by the bucket!  (Online purchases once a year, keep me in candle-clover for the rest of the year, including Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Garden parties, Independence Day …)
    I usually order from:

    I put the lights in the bottom of the glass vases – concealing the pulp of the lights in the white or gold glass stones I use, depending on the look I want to achieve.
    For several years, for example, I styled the dining table with white and gold. I used Casablanca Lillies and white roses.  Also, in years past I made the living room floral table display with a composition I learned from a floral designer who taught at The New York Botanical Garden. She demonstrated this combination for a New York Times photo shoot:
    • 3 - 4 tall vases (I use cylindrical ones)
    • 2 Calla Lilly per vase (I stretch and coaxed the stems so that they arch past the next vase’s bloom – think of a wattle fence or loose "M" shape)
    • bottom of each vase is filled with water to same height, colored with red food coloring and topped by fresh, floating cranberries.
     Lovely, Dramatic and Unique.

    This year I opted for a floral red theme – with silver bells and white “snow.”
    I found red glass stones for the table vases (low, pineapple size) and the combination of the red glowing LED lights and the red roses, red carnations and Hypericum Berry, was an especially elegant, festive touch – and an especially nice match with the holiday table linens I got last year.

    And I’ve always had our Christmas stockings hang from the sterling silver cup vases filled with red roses, red carnations and seeded eucalyptus.

    My Christmas stocking was knit/hand-made by my godmother, Aunt Alice – she made them for all her nieces and nephews.  Even more special after all these years. I love it – especially that angora, snowy Santa beard.

    I made my husband’s stocking the first year we were married, as he didn’t have a childhood holiday stocking...  So naturally I had to make a special one for him. I decided on a cross-stitch design.
    I look at it now and wonder how I ever made it ^:^ 
    I remember when I was working on the “stocking” that first year while traveling to Palm Beach, the airline made me check the needlepoint scissors – which seemed oh-so-ridiculous at the time: way before pre-September 11th attacks…
    Now, I wouldn’t even think of bringing scissors, er, a weapon, on board.
    Regardless, the stocking is fun to look at and well done  J   and has now stood the test of time to become a tradition in its own right…

    As part of our Holiday home design, I can’t help putting up the paperwhites bulbs, too. I know some people find the fragrance a bit too aggressive – (I think I remember that my friend, the amazing Anne Raver, writing about that in her New York Times garden column:  )
    For me, they are so associated with the holidays...   
    It’s part of the tradition.  
    Tricky part is knowing when to plant up the bulbs so that they will be in their glory for the holiday parties for all to enjoy...  I am of the mind that two weeks before Thanksgiving works best. 
    If you have another experience, let me know?

    I studied Spanish in Mexico some years ago and consequently learned about the poinsettia tradition... Do you know of this??

    Also, my mother had some issues with the bloom time this year for her amaryllis.  I convinced her to keep the bulbs from last year and they do look like they’ll bloom – but we planted them up in what, late October and they hadn’t bloomed by the 25h …. One or two blossoms looked promising on Christmas day...

    What was especially thrilling was to see the jasmine plant boom --first-time ever for me. wow!

    Of course, I always have to order the flowers from our best Garden State florist:
    “In The Garden” located in the Highlands at their new address, 69 Waterwitch Avenue.

    Owner Nancy Thomas is not only an amazing horticultural expert, graduate of the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture

    Nancy is also a mother, and councilwomen for the town of Highlands.

    "In The Garden" sells my Garden Pendant  Collection.

    Nancy is always available – she keeps my floral design requests and past orders on file so she can better tell me the quantity of what I did from year to year.

    And she got back to me asap via text when I asked her what the name of the the cutting I got: the  Hypericum Berry.
    That’s a garden elf, no?!  Thank you, Nancy.

    And in a slight departure from the usual tree - I had this idea in my head and then saw a similar concept in a magazine or newspaper - can't remember -- but the point was to use the garden look for the tree.
    I wanted to use the garden urn from the terrace for the Christmas tree that we place in the garden room. I'll spare you the details, but the funnier part is when we purchased the tree at the benefit in town and I discovered a 8-foot blue spruce tree (the needles match the floor and...)
    So Bill says, "she wants that one.  and can you cut it in half?!"
    The guy thinks we're crazy but I get the perfect tree and lots of branch cuttings for decorating!

    This year, I also saw the call-out for holiday garden decorations from my friend, Irene Varig (  the award-winning Garden Writer and Pulitzer Prize Winner. (Irene wrote the most touching and inspirational coverage for her Newsday column following the passing of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s president, Judy Zuk.)
    I took a few digital pictures for her holiday garden decor request and submitted to Irene’s web site.

    This is the winter view of the burgeoning arbor I designed - (two years in the making...) coral bark -    uplit with solar-powered lights, fronted with red-twigged dogwood, and Lady in Red Hydrangea and red roses as border.  Brilliant in every season -- but have to love the look and design in the winter: red branches against the white snow is intoxicating.  and one's eye is still led toward the harbor beyond...

    This wreath is the creative genius of EunYoung Sebazco (  who works with Duchess Designs.  She is so incredibly talented -- landscape architect, designs and manages NYC public gardens and....!

    After focusing on our own holiday decorations, I was delighted to see family and friend’s designs when visiting.  My cousin Jeff and his wife Suzanne are talented gardeners and always have some delight to surprise all. This year, they elected to put their “winter village” around the top of the kitchen cabinets -- what a great design option...

    I think you’ll agree it is a natural-looking addition that gives the allusion it is part of the kitchen design.
    But the really exciting element for me is their outdoor container garden design surrounding the deck and hot tub.  While they both said they compose the holiday deck designs in order to claim the privacy they need in the winter (sans leaves and seasonal shrubs) so they can continue to enjoy their fabulous hot tub -- hey, no peeking, neighbors!

    Greens & Urns Accessorize the Hot Tub

    I can't help it -- I'm impressed. It's simply a stunning garden composition.  Imagine enjoying the hot tub surrounded with greens from the garden anointing the urns.
    How Glamorous!  What a stylish winter garden spa -- and all curated from the garden -- greens and conifers that add a dash of holiday winter fashion...

    Cheers, Darlings!