Thursday, July 14, 2011

Metro Hort’s Chelsea Cove Garden Tour with Lynden Miller and Peter Kelly

It was a blistering hot day in Gotham, the thermostat pushing triple digits. 
But garden lovers are intrepid. Besides, Chelsea Cove in Hudson River Park hugs the waterway, offering cooling breezes that kiss the sinuous walkways and magnificent gardens.  

Perfect for a tour with fellow garden enthusiasts despite the equatorial inferno just beyond 23rd Street and the West Side Highway.  

Wearing sun-shielding hats and tank tops, wielding parasols and umbrellas, nearly 50 Metro Hort members gathered like exotic birds gliding back to the flock, in pairs or solo, pockets of conversation floating like languid bubbles until eventually, a large group formed where Lynden and Metro Hort’s super-organized Sabine Stezenbach and her associate the pretty as a rare orchid and gardening presence, Hanna Packer, were seated under one of several umbrellas.  

There, members signed in, drank some much needed water, shared garden chat while eagerly waiting for the start of the discussion prior to the tour.  So many said they’d never been to the Park; it was such a nice surprise.  All agreed an added benefit of Metro Hort is it gets one out into new, undiscovered neighborhoods!  

Chelsea Cove is Pier 62 and along with Piers 63 and 64, forms the largest contiguous green space in Hudson River Park.  The piers here extend out into the water. The public gardens are located adjacent to the popular Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment complex to the south.  

The gardens were constructed in 2009, given a year-long soft opening allowing the plants and grounds to be monitored, officially opening in 2010.  The display gardens are still so new and our hosts generously shared the tribulations experienced by all gardens exposed to extreme weather, high visitation and lack of resources for horticultural maintenance.

Before too long, Sabine welcomed Metro Hort members as “true gardeners,” introduced Lynden Miller, landscape designer extraordinaire commenting, “New York horticulture without Lynden is unthinkable” and Peter Kelly, Project Manager in Design and Construction for the Hudson River Park Trust before handing the portable microphone over to the Peter.   
(I must add that Lynden has long been my landscape design idol. She is a cultural icon and a garden treasure.  There should be a park and a Lynden Miller award added to the Mayor’s annual Cultural Awards.)

Me & my idol, Lynden

Lynden (L) introducing Madeline
Metro Hort attendees benefited from an extended overview and discussion while “waiting” for Madeline Wils, president of the Hudson River Park Trust 

and Mark Boddewyn, landscape architect and vice president of design and construction at his own firm, who first worked with Lynden at Wagner Park in Battery Park City.

We learned so many interesting factoids, historical notes, and inside horticulture scoops! 

Did you know Pier 62 has the biggest piles along the Hudson?  The piles are 300 feet deep to reach bedrock vs. “just” 100 feet in TriBeCa?  Or now that Riverkeeper has cleaned up the Hudson, wildlife has returned, of course, but that means the worms have come back making the case for concrete piers?   At great expense. 
photo rendering of styrofoam base
Most curious is construction of the berms and the skateboard park.  They were carved into different shapes from a Styrofoam base – to aid in strength and drainage -- and then covered with a very sandy, lightweight soil depth of merely two and half feet.  
The Park practices Green Watering – the irrigation and storm water recycles and drains to the Hudson River.

Lynden explained she designed section 5, which extends from 26th Street to Gansevoort, Pier 54, from where the Lusitania sailed.  They plan to keep the heritage ironwork and historical significance there.  Thoughtful design.

Lynden and Peter shared a key design element at Chelsea Cove was the concept of gardens as “pass through” – a gateway to the water and great lawns that punctuate the park.   

Lynden worked with award-winning landscape architect, Michael Van Valkenburgh, hoping to “bleed” some of the design bed plantings into his native, Capability Brown-styled landscape.  Van Valkenburgh’s firm used Kentucky Coffee, black locust, crabapple and cherry trees, and green grass to achieve a woody, natural look.  

Lynden noted several challenges: at present, there is no shade, so she requested the patio umbrellas. 
And in developing the color scheme, she had to recognize Chelsea Piers’ imposing influence of red, white and blue looming over the gardens.  (The Good To Go Organics red, red food truck is a welcome treat though J Jordon offered summertime lemonade that hit the spot.  and @gtorganics) 

But she used it. 

Red Knockout Roses; 

Nepeta, backed by Knockout Roses with Natchez Crape Myrtle 

red Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii and box that appear to go over and under each other in ribbons of color,            

Ribbons of Color

Hibiscus 'Aphrodite' Deep Purple blossoms
Japanese Blood grasses Imperata cylindricawhite Natchez crepe myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica, deep purple Hibiscus ‘Aphrodite’  and waves of Amsonia hubrichtii Blue Star used as hedge; sedums, Nepeta/Catmint, “Walkers Low” and Salvia ‘Blue Hill’ she refers to as College because it blooms blue in time for graduation, and following a summer haircut, it blooms again in time for student orientation in the fall.  Lovely bright Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ smiles throughout the beds. 

Lynden positively rhapsodizes about her use of Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia.  “I wouldn’t do a garden without them,” Lynden states with utmost fidelity.  “They make other plants look good” she adds.  
Oakleaf Hydrangea is a signature plant used in all her designs. 

As is Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding.’ She adores dark purple. But alas, the Heuchera is not doing well in this garden much to her distress due to a weevil. She is quick to point out the heuchera is doing marvelous up in Fort Tyron Park!
Not to be undone, Lynden solicited the hort group for replacement suggestions and there ensued a lively exchange of plant design ideas, with Lynden asking, “Is someone writing all this down?”
She also adores Euphorbia.  “As soon as you get to a good euphorbia – especially Euphorbia robbiae in a garden, you know that’s me,” she jokingly claims.

Known for her exuberant plantings and luscious garden beds that delight the senses with color, texture, movement and a keen eye for winter beauty. 
Her attention to decorative tree bark, winter color, evergreens in all colors especially the Montgomery Blue Spruce, picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ along with plant forms that hold the snow or form winter patterns all make her gardens a work of art that beckon and delight even in what I refer to as the ‘other” garden season.  There is so much beauty in the garden in winter if we just know what to look for and take the time to see.  (The beautiful book, “A Garden In Winter,” by author and gardener Suzy Bales, is a good place to start.)  

Lynden designed raised concrete beds, providing lots and lots of seating, allowing people to feel engaged with the garden and plants.  An added benefit of the raised beds prevents park goers from walking or trampling through the garden beds. 

The stone walkways – that need to be 40’ wide to allow for fire trucks -- are concrete pavers made by Hannover Designs. The Honey Locust trees are already providing a good screening between the beds and the skateboard area and fencing.

Lynden enthusiastically admits she always over-plants a garden, citing Russell Paige’s admonishment to “always plant a little too close, otherwise the plants will sulk.” 
How adorable is that?  Good advice too. I follow this rule but will now quote Lynden and Paige.  Good company to be in…

Some problems cited by both have been the Sky Pencils—dead after two plantings (replaced by guarantee), spider mite on the persacaris, but they are coming back after thinning out in some spots and dodgy watering, most likely caused by a combination of the height of the sprinkler heads and the size of the berms. 

We broke up into three groups to tour the garden beds.  Peter, Lynden and Mimi, a special gardener with the Hudson River Park Trust– who also was recruiting for Gardening help Volunteers.  If you are interested, please contact The Hudson River Park Trust.)

The three led the Metro Hort members throughout the gardens, pointing out the variety of plants, telling their stories.  Gardeners love to learn why the plant was included, how it is faring, and to see the plant combinations. 

It's Official! Photo captures Lynden's divine, enlightened garden magic!  Here she is pointing out great spot for the Lady's Mantle.
Indefatigable Sabine Stezenbach helping garden tour

The garden tour was a sensory delight.  
Don’t miss these gardens.  The combination of landscape design, water views and historical interest makes the exploration and discovery a fascinating experience that will change with every visit.  

Small group of friends working out to music in a "hidden" glen
To see the Park being enjoyed by so many citizens is sheer joy. 

Plants are transporting.  

Many of the Metro Hort members retreated to the nearby Frying Pan boat cum restaurant for refreshments and what else? More garden talk!
Want to learn more about joining Metro Hort?  It is a professional association.  Contact our wonderful organization:

Me thanking Sabine before the group heads off for cool cocktails

 Be sure to have Lynden Miller's book on your book shelf or coffee table!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's Gettin' Hot in Here: Summer-Like Temperature Rocks the Spring Garden

From Seed to Salad in a New York Minute
Does Climate Change Impact the Dinner Plate?

With the August heat withering just-planted annuals in the northeast, gardeners can be forgiven for mistaking Memorial Weekend with Independence Day holiday.  
In fact, it was just a little more than month or so ago when the seed catalogs were enticing us to dream of the soon to be sunnier days ahead with glamorous, runway horticulture stars of the season.

I perused the Renee’s Seeds
list like the Bergdorf catalog. 
The offerings would make blush.
Colors! Texture! Taste! Style!
Plus Renee’s Seeds are the real deal – Not genetically treated or modified.
I was undeniably difficult to select from the exciting variety of seed offerings. 
The seed packets’ art design alone is enough to send Rodarte-induced bliss.  

By and large, I followed my classic, modern design theme:  edible landscape plants. Accessorized by more than a few stunning ornamental beauties.  Like any hopeless romantic, I want all dates, er, my plant selections, to do at least double duty: i.e. look good and offer an intoxicating fragrance, or turn up the volume with texture and aural tones or light up the garden with soft soothing color or bold, luscious tones and patterns.  Never mind all that effort is to attract the pollinators. 
Garden-lovers are smitten. 
We believe it’s all about, me, me, me!

The day the chosen seed packets arrived in the mail the initial feeling was not unlike waiting for a first kiss.  Oh the anticipation…
I tenderly, eagerly, took out each artful packet, and like a museum patron, admired the botanical art image adorning the front of the packet.
The Two Color Fiesta Mexican Tomatillos – Heirloom, Purple and Toma Verde Green, feature a yellow blossom, two violet-centered tomatoes and a green one on a tender vine, for example. 
Another must-have was the Heirloom Watermelon Radishes. I first tasted these adorable, preppy-looking pink and green beauties last year at the Union Square Greenmarket.  So I didn’t hesitate when I saw the Renee’s Gardens featured seeds complete with still-life cover art. 
All the Renee’s Garden seed packets are floating in front of a greenish white garden gate with the tag line, “Set a table in the garden” – Renee Shepherd quote at the bottom.

I set the seed individual Renee’s Garden seed packets out in some kind of order: a fashion stylist laying out the design and look.

I also Love, love the Kitazawa Seed Company (
The quality of their products is supreme and the seed packets are works of art too.    

And who couldn't love Comstock Seeds? 

Next up was the seed preparation. Their spa-like makeover prior to the main event. Placed in cow pots, the seeds are rooted into the manure cups, lined up under the grow lights like beach queen hopefuls in their tanning beds.  

When Garden Supply Company ( couldn’t meet the demand for their grow lights, we ordered from  (
In fact, the HTG grow-light turned out to be less expensive and a success.  
The seeds nestled in their cow pots, under the light where they stayed for a month or two getting gorgeous and healthy.  Did I say “spa?” J

Meanwhile, we prepared the planting beds like ladies in waiting getting ready for the noble visit.
We amended the compost with manure. Raked the garden – no turning.  We are following the advice of Barbara Damarosch, garden expert, garden columnist for the Washington Post: “A Cook’s Garden, ( and author of many books, including “The Garden Primer.”

I attended a lecture at the New York Botanical Garden last year where Barbara spoke her garden work with her esteemed husband and fellow garden expert, Eliot Coleman.  Together they have joined forces to produce garden books that have earned the status of “bible” garden guide or teacher, including “Four Season Farm,”  (  
Both she and Eliot recommend as little disturbance of the soil as possible. 
So, OK, no double digging or turning the soil.
We couldn’t help rototilling a tad and putting Alaskan fish oil on the garden.  Perhaps when our soil is as lush and rich as Barbara’s and Eliot’s, we can mitigate the need to turn and amend.  Until such time, we are investing in the soil quality.

At the same time, the peas went in first, perfectly timed with the Ides of March.  Right before St. Patrick’s Day, the peas were placed near the lattice border and under the tuteurs patiently waiting for the peas’ tendril embrace. 
Then it snowed! 
“A-Peasingly Perfect! 

I wish most garden lovers would embrace the late winter and early spring for all its nuanced glory.  Think Cherry blossoms, magnolias. Plant more spring bulbs that can offer a succession of colorful bloom times.

However, most garden lovers wait impatiently for the weather to warm enough to plant.
I always advise waiting until Mother’s Day is past.  
After that, I say the Mother to celebrate is Mother Nature!

Soon enough, the potatoes and leeks and onions went in layers into big container pots.
The Greek oregano was peeking through the soil from last year.  The asparagus was waving its feathery, frothy plumes and dazzling with a few, Mont Blanc-pen-thin spears.

Shortly thereafter the cow pots with green shoots were placed in the garden according to the potager design.  The shisito peppers, tomatoes, kale, tomatillas, cilantro, peppers (hello, salsa!), spinach, eggplant, basil, parsley, radishes, zucchini and Rainbow carrots to start (Red, White, Purple, Yellow & Orange from the Seed of the Month Club, ( a gift from family: Jenny & Brian!  This is a perfect gift, FYI for anyone who loves fresh food and gardens). 
The grow cages went on the young tomato plants. 

We gaze lovingly at the grids leafing out, the birds’ frequent pit stops, and curse the baby groundhog that managed to scale the fence and eat all the broccoli before we could shoo him away. 
The last thing we’re sure we saw was his Olympian pole-vaulting sprint out of the garden.  He seemed to have a number pinned to his back… hmmm.  J

Mainly, we waited for the miracle of Mother Nature.

But all too soon, it’s really, really hot!  We need to supplement the watering.  Wasn’t it just so cool that we were wearing coats in early May??
Like Animal Kingdom coming from behind in the Kentucky Derby race of the roses, the heat of August is pressing upon us, roses are bursting out, the yarrow is in full color on the west side of the garden and the Labor Day heat breaks through Memorial weekend by more than a few lengths.

It’s salad time all too soon. 

Delicious, succulent and fresh.  But a little too soon for my taste.

Happy Spring, Darlings! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tablescapes as Garden Fantasy

The Horticultural Society of New York (HSNY) Hosted its Annual Floral Design Showcase, Tuesday, April 12th.  According to HSNY, the event was previously known as Flowers & Design.  This year, the event will “reprise the spirit of The Hort’s famous and historic New York Flower Show.”   

What’s your table wearing this season? 
If those stalwart-looking candlesticks are bearing up too much like last century Buckingham Palace guards or that bowl of fruit plopped in the middle of the table is so ho hum/too van Gogh-ish – you could gasp with awe and inspiration upon entering the Horticultural Society of New York’s (HSNY) appointed landscape showroom held at 583 Park Avenue for a private viewing and a one-night benefit.

Now this is taking tablescape design up a notch or three.  

There were 30 table designs featuring the Who’s Who of floral design in New York City.   

All were asked to interpret the HSNY 2011 theme of Fire & Ice.  
At first look, the room featured a lot more red for Fire than any Ice-looking creations. 
Hmmm.  What does that say about the heart-throbbing New York floral designers?

In fact, decidedly taking the contrarian approach was Riverdale floral and event designer, Diane Wagner: who earned an award for her creation. The judges cited her accomplished “Delicate Harmony.”

Looking as cool and serene as her glacial garden tabletop, Diane explained she chose to do “ice” as she accurately figured most of the entrants would work with a fire composition.  (I must remember to ask Diane her thoughts about the lottery or the stock market…)
In any event, her instincts served her well.
She chose a blue-colored theme, explaining it gave more depth to the table.  
I especially liked how she combined a low vase floral design with an elevated one. 
I could readily embrace the pragmatism of talking over the low-look flowers while admiring the soaring floral design above.

Wagner said she does mostly weddings and uses a lot of flowers. 
She described how she also incorporates other intriguing plant material.  She gave a few examples citing a recent vegan bride, in particular. 
“I used a selection of asparagus, thistle, mushroom, and artichoke in the floral design and tablescape.” Sounded deliciously decadent and very creative.

The Answer to What Came First: The Chicken or the Egg

The most amazing story of the show: an it-could-only-happen-in-New York City-kind of story. And understandably a topic of conversation since then, is that of the tablescape creator of the English, hunt-looking table design with its pheasant napkin rings that would make Ralph Lauren rather pea green with envy.
I was attracted to the table by it’s stellar design, no doubt, and also by the fact that I could see myself setting such a table – as opposed to the more fanciful, red-carpet, over the top designs that punctuated the room.

A woman came up to me asking what I write and I explain I blog and write books about gardens and food. She almost claps with delight and tells me this is just perfect as she has a story about both.

Well, in no short order I discovered a most fascinating tale.

Without knowing who the tablescape designer was, I found myself talking to a most eager, energetic and attractive woman.  It turned out she was the designer.
She launched into her story behind the table’s creative composition explaining that she’d gotten to the show by way of a fan letter to the dinnerware china artist, Lynn Chase, ( renowned for her wildlife tableware designs.  Chase also founded the Lynn Chase Wildlife Foundation dedicated to preserving wildlife and the environment. 
Later, I think that part about the path to the show via the fan letter might have been perhaps somewhat sweetly disingenuous yet convincingly self-effacing. 

I was looking somewhat confused at that point; so the designer went on to explain that she was the “Egg Lady.”  
I hadn’t yet taken in the egg art on the table.
It was only my second table stop after HSNY’s George Pisegna’s icy tabletop design. One of four George created.  

The attractive Egg Lady rose to new heights of curiosity in my estimation. 
She points to the egg place card holders and picked up an original egg design, proceeding to tell me what an egg decorator is and how she came to this art.  

“Do you have a moment?” she asked politely before proceeding.

“I was in a very bad car accident in 1993, “ she said.  “I was looking for something I could do (presumably while convalescing). “I took a correspondence course in egg art design that was not unlike TV’s Bob Rose.” She paused.  “Do you know who Bob Rose is?” observing my blank stare.  
Never mind, we mentally agreed. 
She said it took her more than a year just to learn to use a dentist’s drill to cut the fragile top of the egg to better create her designs.

It was then I delightedly discovered she had ample access to an egg inventory for rendering her egg art.  
Her husband was none other than Frank Perdue!  

She grinned with delight as she said with a well-practiced dramatic flair, “So.  We can surely answer the question of ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg.’  It was the chicken!” she pronounced gleefully.

A widow now, Mitzi Perdue moved to New York City after Frank died.  “There’s so much to do here, “ she said rapturously.  So where she’d made up to 30 or so egg art creations that sit like jewels in her home display case, she now makes one or two.

There were a variety of egg art designs on the table I observed. 
There was a fold-out one that featured trees.  

Mitzi explained that she and Frank often took walks and Frank loved trees.  I couldn’t help but say, “Yeah for Frank for loving trees.  We need more of them. I love trees too.” 
She shows off the hand-painted trees on the egg art’s fold out screens.  
I ask if she ever took watercolor classes. I did and can appreciate her talent. Turns out she just has the gift, no training.

Returning to the egg art, Mitzi was now holding a Faberge-looking diorama.   

I commented how we live somewhat cater-corner to the Forbes building downtown and would often take out of town guests to see Malcolm Forbes’ distinguished Faberge collection and before I can say more, she says, “My cousin Astrid married Kippie Forbes!” 
(I wanted to tell her that I’d often received those ad-marketing invitations from Kip to join the magazine staff on the Highlander yacht.  Maybe we can talk about this when we go for tea soon.)
But what I do say is, “This is getting creepy,” referring to all the coincidences and things we have in common! 
Without missing a beat she says, “You mean creepy in a funny way, right?”
“Right.”   J

I am so loving my new friend..

Back to the table design, I’m now a bit confused about the china connection…

“Do you have another moment?” she asked with utter courtesy. 
By this point, I was now completely smitten and gave myself over to Mitzi even though I had planned to skate through the exhibit. I found I was rather nailed to the spot.

“One year when Frank I attended Wimbledon,” Mitzi began.  “We’d pass a lovely shop there that displayed this china in the window.”  She recalled how every day she would comment on the china’s superlative design and secretly hoped she might somehow buy a few place settings. To no avail. Frank didn’t acknowledge her object of desire.
On the last evening there, they were going to dinner.  At a restaurant that was right next door to the shop. Curious, she thought. The shop was closed. Her heart sank. 
Suddenly, Frank took her by the arm and said, “Look, the shop is glowing.”  She turned to see the shop was lit from within.  A butler of sorts was holding a silver tray studded with a candelabra, a bottle of champagne and three glasses.  (At this point, I might’ve thought I’d had too much champagne during the day and my eyes were deceiving me.  But this is not my story…) 
Frank said, “Let’s go in.”  Turns out, it was the owner as butler.  Frank had made arrangements for the shop to stay open for Mitzi.  The merchant asks if there’s anything she’d like, and she says haltingly, “Umm yes.  The dinnerware.” She’s asked how many she’d like.  She says she didn’t want to appear greedy so she politely asked for four place settings whereupon Frank turns to the shop owner and says, “My wife would like a dozen place settings, please.”
Mitzi still looks incredulous. 
I ask if Frank was always such a love bug.  She demurs, saying he did indeed often do sweet things like this…
I love that.

This is the story she sent to Lynn Chase as the fan letter just a few weeks ago. It is indeed a great story made all the better as it brought them together for the HSNY Tablescape exhibit. What a team. and

I hate to leave this cheerful, happy woman and her world of design.  We exchange business cards and I tell her I will let her know when I post the story. She smiles with welcoming warmth and says we will be Friends on Facebook where she’ll link the story and will Tweet about it too. 
Twitter and Tweet from Mrs. Perdue the chicken and egg lady?! 
You know how the next sentence went. Tweet, tweet.

Floral Designers

Back to the magic of the show. There were plenty of fantasy worlds to explore.

I especially respected the work of #27 GreenHouse, HSNY Rikers Island designers.
Their dragon-topped red design was well done and thoughtful. 

Flowers by Daye, #8, received a Certificate of Award for mixed greens event design.  It was a bold contrast and elevated heights.

I especially loved the table design by HSNY George Pisegna, #30.  It was cited by the judges for seasonal creativity.  The cool blue eggs were striking next to the seasonal flowers.  George was explaining to the TV camera how he wanted to use a lot of materials one would find at home to create the tablescape, such as the cake stands and floral blue stones.  

The Plant Fantasies Incorporated, #6, was an exuberant look.  

I liked the little ice candles and French tulips on #5, Laura Clare, Floral Design & Event D├ęcor,  

Rod Winterrowd Inc, #9,  was a refreshing tartan look that supported a topical narrative:  Elizabeth Taylor – with Richard Burton – at their Gstaad retreat. It was all snow bunnyish -- skis gracing the tabletop’s snow-dipped conifer, postcards as place cards.

Chestnuts in the Tuileries, #16 won a certificate award. It boasted lavish textures to create a perfectly frothy setting.  

Rebecca Cole’s GROWs was a rustic looking ice-themed design.  She used wire cages filled with logs topped by covered cushion seating.  Two white tables on either end of a center, birdbath fountain filled with candles, burlap and red-twigged dogwood stems.  The tables were abundant with white and purple-eyed anemones.  

Fleurs Bella, #3, deservedly earned a certificate award for Most Distinctive Horticulture.  The table was swathed with a rich variety of orchids, swirling up the tree that anchored the table.  

 and the napkin rings were spectacular were a floral spark. 

I didn’t really like the design that much for #23, Douglas Koch Designs Ltd, but I did appreciate the concept of using a fire pot or Sterno cooking fuel in a tabletop design. 
A different execution would have worked better for me and I made a note to try this in a future home design, along with candles.

I did love the orange and pink colors and use of lots and lots of floral displays in the Moroccan themed #25, Plant Fantasies Incorporated. Beautiful.  

And the classic Renny & Reed, #21, was glorious and elegant.

Jerry Rose Floral & Event Design was a standout too.  
Some years ago I wrote a feature piece about Jerry Rose for the now defunct magazine, MAR, that I will resurrect and post, given this inspiration. 

Like Cinderella, I scooted out just as the HSNY was announcing the close of the show.  Earnest preparations were on for the evening’s cocktail benefit fund-raiser.
What a glamorous setting for the evening ahead …