Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side, But What Happens to the Trees?

Can you say, Verticillium Wilt? (And why should we care about it?)

I daresay most of us don’t have a clue what Verticillium Wilt is, nor how to pronounce it, never mind why we should even think about it; no less care enough to be mindful about this plant disease.

But you know I’m gonna be that garden designer and horticulturist who will explain why, why, why, this rather seemingly obscure disease needs some reckoning.

I pursued the ahem, “root” cause of the Wilt and didn’t just look for a treatment (as elusive as that is), and at the same time, my curiosity fueled my next steps. I researched, discovered, theorized, and then test-drove my assumptions with a soil expert.

I believe we can all learn from this case study of a Duchess Designs’ client story issue. And we can learn oh-so-much learn from the brilliance of the renowned soil expert, George Lozefski, who is the Field and Education Outreach Coordinator at the Urban Soils Institute, and who also is a School of Professional Horticulture instructor at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).

See, while I’m getting a wee bit ahead of myself, it helps to understand that ever since a wonderful new client this season asked the Duchess team to work for him and his family, the old maple tree in the front yard that was recognized and beloved by generations was a paramount concern. He told me his daughter loved to climb in the tree -- he shared a photo of her taking one last climb up into the limbs’ embrace (just like I did as a kid, I’d sit in the crotch of my favorite backyard tree and read.)

Client's sweet, tree hugger daughter enjoying a last climb in the tree. (I drew the heart on her face to protect her privacy)

And while me and my Duchess Team were prepping for the removal of the tree,
Duchess team, Julie & Darin relocating perennials as part of tree removal prep

a young man stopped to say he’d grown up in the house and loved climbing the maple tree all through his childhood. Oh, the fun... The shade for the house, the beauty of this old soul…

When I was first was called in to scope out the property for the gardening and horticulture work, the owner, Bob, and together we walked the yard and ended the tour at the tree. He asked, “Is it dead?” It broke my heart to point out that with no leaves (and it was early summer) that yes, regrettably, the tree was dead. Initially I was convinced that the tree was damaged and compromised by the heavy machinery that was on-property during the home’s renovation. Most folks don’t realize that repeated, sustained construction driving around a tree’s roots leads to compaction from those trucks, tractors, or equipment within the root zone that compresses the trees’ pores and cuts off oxygen. I’ve seen this happen with pool or patio installations. Then there is the issue of paint, cement, or siding plaster rinsed out over roots… There’s no end of the environmental damage that can occur during a home renovation or construction.

My research reinforced the fact that, of course, roots are one of the most vital parts of the tree. “The roots are responsible for nutrient, oxygen and water uptake and anchoring the tree in the soil. In addition, energy rich chemicals are stored in the roots. Trees draw on these energy reserves to get them through emergencies like drought, defoliation, insect attack or construction damage.”

So the root and compaction was the first of the 0ne-Two punch. Or the One-Two-Three punch-fest! I figured the tree might’ve been compromised from the equipment but I also thought that the strong tree could have been able to bounce back. Moreover, this kind of construction damage can take years to manifest itself. That’s why homeowners usually will blame the tree’s death to something else and unrelated. So what took advantage of this beloved tree?

Soon, I was connecting the dots.

Suburban Soils
While everyone, including me, couldn’t help but admire the client’s country-club green, thick lawn, I also know that it takes a lot of chemicals to achieve that emerald carpet. A lot. Further, this lawn was not laid in with sod but rather with the Power Seeding method. There is also the Hydro Seeding, Slice Seeding, and Overseeding.

One company I found online even recommends that “In the same way that a farmer plows and turns over a field every year, your lawn needs to have the soil conditions enhanced through aeration.” While part of that is true in terms of aerating the soil;

suffice to note that all this power blowing of the seeds into the soil, also helps destroy the soil structure, George Lozefski explained to me later.

This lawn seeding approach helped fuel the disruption of the symbiosis between the soil and the tree. George pointed out that blowing in seeds most likely helps destroy the soil structure. “There is a very thin layer of turf to topsoil layer that fungus and bacteria can infiltrate,” said.

Here, I’ll flash forward to the day the arborists came to take down the grand dame, maple tree.

Bob’s daughter asked if we could save some trunk pieces for her - she would later create a memorable homage from the two handsome pieces I selected for her. What a lovely garden sprite she is.

On that auspicious day, the skilled arborists worked their artful craft. Soon, all that remained was the stump that they then began to grind.

But before they could finish that, the cutting away revealed something. The owner of the tree company called me over.

He wanted me to see what he was seeing.

There was something visibly brown in the tree trunk. There was no getting around it. We could readily see it was Verticillium Wilt.

Afterwards, I began my research on the Wilt in earnest. I wanted to understand what environmental elements could triangulate at such a deadly crossroads.

Or as Mary Ellen Salyan wrote in her paper on soil-borne pathogens for the Master Gardener’s WSU/Skagit Co. Extension Office, Washington: “In order for (soil) disease to exist and thrive, the exact environmental conditions, in concert with a host and a pathogen, must be present simultaneously.”

I learned that the fungus can be transmitted to garden soil infected from a few sources. Once the fungus is in one location, it can be easily spread in the soil via tilling, digging, and moving soil around in any other way, and by water and wind.

Remember all that power seeding and hydro seeding and slice seeding jettisoning grass seeds into the newly aerated / disturbed soil? That act sets up the soil for problems. Then, lawn care companies use nitrogen-rich fertilizer on the lawns. Undoubtedly, nitrogen gives a powerful growing boost, making the grass grow quickly and become a deeper green.

Even some starter fertilizers contain two parts of nitrogen and one part of phosphorus and potassium. The N-P-K rating many lawn-care companies recommend for grass typically is: Big - Small - Small. They say grass needs a lot of Nitrogen and a little bit of the other stuff. That’s the essence of what some recommend: 21-3-3! That’s a lot of nitrogen! Wow.

All that nitrogen, coupled with the soil disturbance - and the power of irrigation - excess moisture and soil pH are catalysts for these pathogens to thrive - creates a kind of witches brew that is detrimental to soil health.

Further alarming is that our ever-increasing warmer winters here in the Northeast allows pathogens to survive.

While it’s true that nitrogen does indeed turbo-charge the plant’s green and growth, George explained to me that the nitrogen also stimulates the growth so much that it can in turn, weaken cell walls ~ a plant’s stems or walls can collapse, further exposing the plant to pathogens. It’s a kind of horticulture death spiral. George also pointed out - alarmingly, I might add, that Nitrogen that is so key in fertilizers is used in the production of explosives (!). Further, he said that excessive plant growth can cause problems with yields in commercial agriculture. “A good soil is a delicate balance and our job is to maintain that equilibrium,” he added. And it’s so easy to establish and maintain this balance. George explained that soil is the fabric of health improving water and air quality. Don’t disturb the delicate balance… At the same time, he said there is no “Easy Button.” It does take work but at the end of the day, there’s really no other choice.

“There is no less of a concern when George points out that most folks want to hit the “easy button” when it comes to maintaining good soil health. “Weeding is work,” he says. Tell me. Me and the Duchess Designs team weed more than ever. :( The mow, blow and go guys spread the invasive “lawn” weeds on their mowers, blow into the ornamental and edible garden beds. And don’t get me started on the invasive vines that creep, crawl, take over, and overwhelm homeowners to the point where they bring us in to mindfully weed out. Yes, it takes work but you can just spray your way to garden health. There’s just no excuse for poor land management, George says.

The Link from the Soil to the Tree

In a nutshell, Verticillium Wilt is a “serious fungal disease that causes injury or death to many plants. It is a disease of the xylem, or water-conducting tissues, in the plant of more than 300 plants, including woody ornamentals, most noticeably elms, magnolias, maples, redbud, and viburnums. Caused by the soil-borne pathogens Verticillium dahliae and V. albo-atrum, these wilts are prevalent throughout the tropical and temperate regions of the world. They exist in the soil primarily as mycelia that infect belowground plant tissue.”

Soil borne pathogens - whether pesticides or herbicides - are an overapplication of chemicals, explained George. “Soil-borne pathogens prefer to live within the soil, causing root disease.”


Symptoms of Verticillium Wilt vary somewhat in different host species and also within species due to varying environmental conditions. These might include sudden wilting of small branches, yellowing of foliage, stunting of growth and premature defoliation. Vascular tissue appears as a dark ring in cross sections or pin-point dark spots.

Life Cycle

Verticillium species are opportunistic fungi that persist in the soil as saprophytes. The organism overwinters as mycelia or microsclerotia, a dark, condensed mass of mycelium that collectively acts as a propagule, which germinates under favorable conditions. Infection begins in the root area where the resting hyphae of Verticillium germinate and penetrate feeder roots. The fungus also can enter wounds in the root area. The disease spreads within the plant by mycelium or spores called microconidia that travel in xylem vessels to other parts of the plant. Where the spores lodge, new hyphae grow and increase the infection. The infected plant tissue becomes necrotic (dead) because the vascular tissue is clogged with mycelium, conidia and by-products of fungal metabolism. It’s like having mushrooms block the plant tissue! As a result water flow is restricted and the plant wilts. In the plant, the fungus moves upwards and plugs the vascular system of the plant that is responsible for transporting water. It’s the plugging of the vascular system that causes the typical wilt, and eventually leads to plant death.
The necrotic tissue is what causes the dark streaks that are symptomatic of this Wilt disease.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

1. Sanitation. Remove affected annuals and perennials or prune damaged areas of trees and shrubs. Pruning disease-damaged branches and foliage plus increasing the vigor of trees and shrubs may help to keep symptoms checked. Be sure to sterilize pruners between cuts.

2. Plant resistant or tolerant species. This is the best way to manage this disease. The fungus can remain dormant in the soil for a decade or more in the form of resting structures called microsclerotia, which survive drought and cold. When a potential host is planted near the microsclerotia, the roots of that plant stimulate the microsclerotia to germinate and produce spores. They attack.In areas that are irrigated, the disease can more readily spread.

While not an environmental requirement for the fungus, stressed plants, often brought on by environmental changes, are easier to attack than healthy plants, so any conditions that will stress the plant but not directly harm it, the Verticillium sees its opportunity and moves in.Treatment

While it’s generally understood that the Wilt is not treatable and fungicides are not generally effective or practical. You can apply a commercial fertilizer that is low in nitrogen, high in phosphorus to help counter balance all that rich, rich, nitrogen that’s been applied. You can also look to solarization; utilizing the sun to help burn out the fungus. You can also plantgroups of plants that are resistant to Verticillium Wilt including, gymnosperms, monocots, members of the rose family, oaks, dogwoods, willows, rhododendrons, azaleas, and others.George noted that the biggest environmental impact of pathogens - the overapplication of chemicals, is the toxicity level in water. The pathogens deplete oxygen levels; kills algae and fish; Phosphorus gets into the groundwater and damages oh-so-much. Eventually, that ecosystem is eventually destroyed.

I’m stepping up onto the soapbox now!
We need balance! Please practice conservation and sustainability. We need to utilize more of our native plants and create a native biodiversity to help fend off the soil borne pathogens.

Good gardening and horticulture is a mix of science and art. Artful lawn care is a mix of science and horticulture. Just think of all the elements in the yard and/or garden as part of the whole cloth - not a list of separate items managed as vertical silos. Further, because our suburban and estate gardens are not islands - distinct from the neighborhood, George shared with me a working example of the perils of not practicing good home maintenance. “Say there are two estates or homes (for those of us on the more modest scale!) on the same side of the street, one kind of below the other,” George said as he laid out the scenario. The homeowner on the down side is practicing good regenerative farming or gardening, using non-invasive plants but then the homeowner on the up side is practicing environmental pollution, i.e. overapplication of chemicals, downstream water toxicity and more. Further, he adds, too often the chemicals are applied in huge quantities. So you can readily understand the result - the good homeowner suffers because of the other…

What to do about Establishing and Nurturing Good Soil:

Take a baseline soil test. If there’s no evident problems, George suggests repeating the soil tests every couple of years to determine the quality of the soil. For edible and for turf, you want to calculate how much lime and nitrogen is present. You can send the soil sample to your local land-grant universities including Rutgers, Cornell, or UMass here in the Northeast US. Others can call and ask your local universities.

Curiously, there is no test available for pathogens… I see opportunity here for someone to come up with such a test. I’m hoping that George’s Urban Soils Institute might come up with such a test. And one for plant tissue testing, while they’re at it! In the meantime, he recommends that if you are growing edibles to do so in raised beds.

“Whether it’s your backyard or the forest, it’s a huge problem,” claims George when discussing the big picture of good soil management and not practising regenerative gardening. Lack of a plan and its execution exacerbates or accelerates the problems. I advocate that in suburbia, homeowners need to be more mindful of their gardens and landscapes. I recognize that the aggressive approach of chemical treatments appeals to the short term or “easy button” that George characterized. However, in the bigger picture, long-term solutions are indeed the recognized better land management. And if one doesn’t practice this for the environment, please consider your family, and pets.

The decimation of the soil due to improper watering and chemical over-application leads the plants to become like an addict ~ dependent on these false nutrients. George points out that it’s so very beneficial and truly easy (no easy button needed) to add compost to the lawn to add beneficial fungi to the soil. It’s a natural fertilizer. “Healthy soil takes care of itself,” George reminds us. When I noted that most of my garden design clients probably wouldn’t want to have compost on their lawns, he suggested to add the compost at the end of the autumn season so that not only is it what I suspect he meant as an unobtrusive season but also the winter rains will help store those good nutrients for the spring.

In my own garden talks I advocate for “leaving the leaves” in the autumn. Why every leaf has to be blown off a lawn and out of the garden beds is a mystery at its funniest and a downright shame at its reality. There is just no need to sanitize a garden or lawn like this. Leaves are a free and natural mulch. And the critters that are part of that healthy ecosystem will be forever grateful.

George recommends that when it comes to fertilizer, look to organic nutrients including different forms of organic materials including bone, fish, and blood meal - they are not synthetics and it’s better for the environment, he added.

I further suggest as most horticulturists do, to limit or abbreviate the amount of lawn space. Ask your mow, blow, & go guys to aim the blow out into the lawn vs. the garden beds. Further, ask them to use a mulching mower so that no clippings get spread into the ornamental or edible beds.

Soil is the fabric of health, George reiterated. Think of it as a mantra… Just like our own human guts, we need to have to have the appropriate microbial balance. Get the good fungi!

What to watch that will bring home the magical world of good, non-chemical microbial fungi in your soil? George recommends the Mycorrhiza miracle of Fantastic Fungi. If you think the internet is cool, check out this network of plant organisms that naturally benefits us. Here is the link to the magical film's trailer. 

And there are two transormative tree books that I highly recommend: The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben 
and The Overstory, by Richard Powers. 

Thank you, George. I so appreciate you accommodating my many questions linking the soil to the lawn to the tree to the garden. I learned so much from you already! We will all look forward to the Urban Soils Institute’s (USI) Virtual Symposium this October. According to the organization, USI is a holistic access point to education, exposure, experiences, research, resources, people, collaborations, connections, and relationship building, uniting in soils. Very exciting. I suggested to George that we all become Soil Ambassadors!

I sincerely hope that this garden case study can serve as a cautionary tale. It’s a true- life horticultural story that highlights the need to take all factors of a property into account. It teaches us how all elements of a property are indeed connected. The plants are not just tools for privacy ~ although they are masters at concealing. It’s not that the plants are there just for beauty ~ although they provide unparalleled glamour. It’s more about thinking of the plants and yard/property, as part of an ecosystem that extends from your yard to your neighborhood, and beyond. It’s a thinking person’s endeavour. You can do it.

And the glamour of the good fungi? Wow. Dazzling.

* The resources I used for this feature are in quotes and are a result of my extensive online search. Where not cited in the text, I have aggregated the content to make what might be an esoteric or obscure topic more readable and pertinent to you and your gardening professionals. Sources include: The Morton Arboretum, The Missouri Botanical Garden, Garden Tech, and Iowa State University. * The top-rate arborists are Hufnagel Tree Service - I’ve worked with them for many years. Trusted, certified arborists. Thank you, Mike.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

How to Create Glamorous, Garden-to-Glass At-Home Cocktails, Plus Recipes

Duchess Martini 

It was a crazy time.  The speed with which the Corona virus swooped into our lives -- our world -- was a force
force that seemed part tsunami, part disbelief, part denial. 

It was a weekend that cleaved our world. 

Let me turn the page back. 

At the end of the first week/beginning of the second week in March, we’d returned from our annual winter holiday ~ aka our beach book reading sojourn at our place in Aruba. Me and my husband Bill left our Gotham apartment March 12th to go to our country house as we do every weekend ~ not giving a second thought that we wouldn’t be returning to New York City on the following Monday.  

We were oh-so-innocent…

We all were. 

I just read a fashion feature in the New York Times magazine, “Sweatpants Forever,” that cites March 12 as the day when panic about coronavirus took hold. 

Honestly, we never panicked. Not that day, especially. However, there was a creeping, rising recognition that this was a real thing that would take its toll and would need to be confronted.  

As the next two days unfolded, we had to address Mother’s upcoming trip.  My 95-year old Mother Virgina was scheduled to travel to meet her sister from Florida at a mutual friend’s in South Carolina. There was much abuzz about her pending trip among my siblings. Up until that Sunday, I held fast to the notion that she is healthy; life’s full of risk (and I’m of the opinion that grown children too often try to manage aging parents from a safety-only standpoint robbing life of its inherent exposure to liability…).  I also opined that she’d miss some adventure. But then Sunday turned into Monday. And by then it was all too obvious. 

Coronavirus was reality. Bill and I felt a civic duty and a personal responsibility to do what our governors were asking/ordering. We simply could not do otherwise. It would risk Mother’s well being. We couldn’t take chances. It was sheltering in place for all of us. Mother stayed in - seeing no one but me and Bill.  We suited up with gloves and masks when we visited, initially wiping bags, door knobs, and more. It was a challenge in terms of getting groceries. Bill was the knight in shining armour/warrior who braved the crazy world of the food store for us and Mother. I went once with him in the early days, and got cursed at in high hyena screams about wearing a mask, from a woman, no less!  I asked the manager’s office to please set some ground rules for the customers, in light of the fact that courtesy seemed to have gone the way of embroidered denim. (I’m not saying it was me, wink/wink, but now there are markings on the floor for safe distancing, an In and Out door, and no one allowed in without a face mask.) Ahhhh… some decency. Order. 

Truth be told, we live in a kind of paradise, so the stay-at-home life was not onerous. 

We have our gardens to tend to and enjoy.  We have the usual care of a home; tasks that in the past we just never had the time to address.  I had my garden clients; it was spring, after all. So there was the seasonal horticultural spring clean up; new plantings.  In addition, with more folks staying at home, there was a greater need for our services for ever more clients. 

That said, I did very much miss - and still do - the breadth of culture and art I so enjoy in town… Along with all the energy of our pulsing streetscapes, restaurants, and greenmarkets…

It felt lonely and isolating to be missing all that inspired maelstrom of talent and exchange of ideas.


Just two weeks into the sheltering in place, I had the creative idea to host a virtual Covid Cocktail Party every Saturday at 5 pm -- the universal start of Happy Hour. 

On social media, I queried friends and family as to which platform they preferred: Instagram or Facebook Live. 

The survey said, Facebook Live.

So away we went. The first Covid Cocktail party was March 28th and it was really done on the fly. Very impromptu. I can’t believe I even wore the same Calvin Klein dress two weeks in a row! Those first weeks, I was usually racing back from helping at Mother’s, not really planning more than making a drink and reading a bit from my Art of the Garnish book and sharing a few stories, observations, and thanking our first responders. I looked a bit rangy.  One of my girlfriends left a Comment afterwards, “Nice but could use some rehearsal. Ha!”   I didn’t inculcate the advice until the third episode in the series.  But in the beginning, it was fun. Authentic. And sincere. 

This is all that I wrote as the first invite:Cheers to my first “Covid Cocktail Party.” We all need a little distraction, community & stories. Cheers to us. I’m gonna shake up a Duchess Martini ~ from my Art of the Garnish book.

I figured it only natural that I should start with my signature cocktail: The Duchess Martini. 

Here’s the Duchess martini recipe as seen in the book. 


There was good feedback.  A good audience size.  Plenty of viewers and friends and family showed up!  50 that first time. I thought that was affirmation. 

Over time we had tech issues, sound quality (one Covid Cocktail party had to be deleted entirely post event) but we overcame. I got a microphone.  The invitations got better - showcasing the drinks I was going to make.  I went from one drink per Happy Hour to two. 

The audience grew from 50 to just shy of 5,000 - on the Facebook Live Saturday Art of the Garnish Cocktail parties alone. 

I began to create the floral fantasy for the shows, going out every Saturday in my pink Wellies to see what was blooming and then arrange the blossoms on the barscape and pick a few petals for the garnish. Extolling the luxury of “drinking with the seasons.”  

Plus, I figured it was a great way to showcase the Art of the Garnish book. Of course we had to cancel the book parties and readings that had been scheduled; but the flip side (always looking for the silver lining) is that I surmised more folks would want to create a delicious, glamorous cocktail party --at home -- using the recipes from my book.  I read that liquor sales increased by more than 30% in the first month of coronavirus. Gave a whole new meaning to Happy Hour! 

This is what I posted on Instagram following the first Live event:Things I’m doing during corona crisis: “hosted” my 1st #covidcocktailhour party - you can view on Garden_Glamour FB page (link in bio); #puzzles I got for Mother - we love it - trending 🙌 & @mobituary @cbssundaymorning feature confirmed that. Thank you. @billl2720 cooking up the best #homegrown healthy #food Last nite: Lemon, chicken with capers. Be well. Be safe. Enjoy the #artofthegarnish #cocktail party. #garnish #cocktailsofinstagram #drinks #martini @vermouthdolin @itsnotjustcocktails @livvodka

It’s like a time capsule… 

I found this admittedly dim photo of me with my Duchess Martini that I came across while looking for the Duchess Martini recipe from the book. Nevertheless, I wanted to share it.  Dark becomes me! Ha. Plus, it was from a happy time: dinner with friends - can you remember that?! We were dining at the world-class and ground-breaking restaurant wd~50 that molecular gastronomy chef Wylie Dufresne owned. I also reviewed the restaurant for my Examiner Food and Drink column. Remember restaurant reviews?  Chef Wylie now owns Du’s Donuts. Delicious. Over the years I’d see chef Wylie with frequency at various industry events where he was the celebrity chef. Miss that kind of magical encournter. 

Week two of the Covid Cocktail Party.  

Everything was still simple.  

I see I did a quick Facebook or Instagram invite:

Tonight at 5 ET/Gotham time - will be my second #CovidCocktailParty Celebrating the #ArtoftheGarnish & #cocktailculture See you at #HappyHour on Facebook Live 🍸✨🍹🥃

No photo description available.

Image may contain: food

Ha!  Again, no rehearsal. Just went with it. 

I made the creamy, minty, chocolaty Verdant Green Jangala.  It was a remix of the favorite, Grasshopper - with a different twist.  Here’s the page from the Art of the Garnish book.

What didn’t make it into the book was the background to the drink and the barscape composition that I can share with you here:

Verdant Green Jangala 

A remix on a jungle-green Grasshopper that’s refreshingly minty,  and as bewitching and beguiling as nature’s world of plants. Oh, and Jangala is Sanskrit for jungle. A nod to the green of the drink and its link to the world of plants. 


1 jigger green creme de menthe 

1 jigger white creme de cocoa or white chocolate syrup - homemade is best

1 jigger milk (or cream, or cream of coconut)

3-5 shakes of Fee Brothers chocolate bitters 


Mix all in shaker - with ice

Pour into ornamental stemmed cordial, liqueur or sherry glasses, straight up.  


Key lime basket brimming with mango pieces.  

Key Limes are tiny (1-2 inches); the size allows the basket to perch on the glass rim with a cut on the bottom.  Or place a toothpick in the underside of the basket and perch a la a beach umbrella so that the basket rests on the rim with support.  To create the garnish, use a paring knife to cut out first one side, then the other, leaving the middle strip as a “handle”  You can scallop or cut notches on the edges of the “basket” if you choose.  Use a serrated melon baller to hollow out the key lime pulp. Cut up pieces of colorful, soft tropical fruit -- mango or papaya -- and fill the basket.  You can also fill a dollop of red pomegranate seeds.   

Cocktail Composition

Arrange plants -  think herbals, spice plants, and small fruit “trees” as an homage to this nature setting. Potted rosemary, lime, or any kind of mint plant - there’s apple mint, pineapple mint, and more!  Continue the green theme with lime-green coasters, cocktail napkins and green snacks.  I paired the chocolate green Pocky sticks in a glass for easy snacking - plus there’s a matching chocolate taste.  Animal crackers add to the whimsical jungle theme. 

For added jungle ambiance, lay out the smart technology tuned to nature videos.  Here I used two phones and an IPad, each with its own nature show.  The jungle sounds of birds singing, cascading waterfalls, and jungle cats (peering at the animal cracker still life!) is a cocktail party conversation starter and a unique, personalized cocktail composition component that can be readily adapted to any number of party themes. Engage your guests - ask them to provide a favorite video and add to the composition.  

The smart technology adds to an Oscar party with vintage films playing out, or athletic events with YouTube heroes, or opera stars performing for a cocktail themed Madame Butterfly party…

Video Here: 

All the links to the Live Facebook Videos are available at Garden_Glamour.  Please visit and subscribe.

I was - and am - deeply indebted to my family and friends for the support of the Art of the Garnish Covid Cocktail Series. And your patience!  The early events were simple. An experiment. Raw. But sincere. And fun.  Hey, as I wrote then, “It’s my first pandemic. Be kind!” 

I’ll share the thinking behind the next series of Art of the Garnish covid cocktail parties - putting into context the times we lived through.  Mercifully. I’ll also share the recipes and the seasonal garden-to-glass garnishes.  

Don’t forget, all spirits and liquors come from plants.

And remember, the best ingredient is love.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Summer at Rockefeller Center® Offers Free Public Art, New Outdoor Dining Experiences, & the Romance of Gotham Gardens~Styled for the Corona Era

Rockefeller Center Art & Dining Redesigned for Social Distancing

I was delighted to discover some happy news from the folks at Rockefeller Center and am thrilled to share the good news with you. Lord knows we need more good news…
This summer, Rockefeller Center is presenting a number of exclusive outdoor dining, art, and retail experiences, as well as newly added seating throughout Rockefeller Plaza. Corresponding to New York City’s phased reopening, all of Rockefeller Center’s summer activations are outdoors and do not require tickets, ensuring New Yorkers can enjoy festive seasonal offerings while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

As a garden designer and writer who is equally fascinated by garden history, I like to share nuggets of garden history that folks may not be aware of. In the case of Rockefeller Center, did you know that the land now occupied by Rockefeller Center was once the location of the Elgin Botanic Garden, the first botanical garden in New York State and one of the earliest in the United States? Well, it is. The garden was established by Dr. David Hosack in 1801 and is often referred to as a forerunner of The New York Botanical Garden. (At one time, I was asked to interview at Rockefeller Center to head up the communications strategy for what was then the effort to create an art-focused branding outreach. Story for another time! But I did my research.) So I hope you can see, as a garden lover, and Gotham citizen, I naturally have a love of this special NYC space.

“Rockefeller Center is known for its beloved public spaces, especially its plazas and gardens, and we are thrilled to make them available this summer to our tenants and to New Yorkers in new and unexpected ways. Even while adapting to these changing times in our City, Rockefeller Center can continue to be a favorite destination for culture, commerce, and community,” said EB Kelly, Tishman Speyer Managing Director who oversees Rockefeller Center. “Along with our incredible partners, we have created a summer program consisting of multiple public art installations, pop-up food and retail options, and of course those special ‘surprise and delight’ moments that can only occur at Rockefeller Center. Where else could you enjoy a delicious bite under the watchful eye of a masked Prometheus?”

In the era of corona, what could be better than masking up to look at the golden masked icon of Rockefeller Center?!

Public Art
Continuing its tradition of displaying free, public art, Rockefeller Center is presenting three major installations this summer:

The Flag Project
The Flag Project is a public art initiative that gave New Yorkers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design the iconic flags that will be flown from all 193 flagpoles surrounding the Rink at Rockefeller Center. The public was invited to submit their own artworks celebrating New York City – its diverse culture, vibrant energy, strength, and resiliency. The winning submissions have been produced as 8-foot by 5-foot flags and will be flown together as a temporary exhibition.

In addition to the general public, a handful of artists and notable New Yorkers will design flags as part of the temporary exhibition. Participating artists include Jeff Koons, Marina Abramović , Christian Siriano, Sarah Sze, Steve Powers, KAWS, Laurie Anderson, Hank Willis Thomas, Carmen Herrera, Jenny Holzer, Shantell Martin, Sanford Biggers, and Faith Ringgold.

The Flag Project will be on display from August 1-16, 2020.

Featured Flag Project Artist ~ Jordan Grace Robinson is in Good Company:
Jordan Grace Robinson, artist, textile designer, and poetry author who hails from Red Bank in the Garden State, is a very special emerging artist who will also be featured in the Flag Project. 

I have been enchanted and perhaps a bit bewitched by Jordan ever since a chance meeting a few years ago. What happened was this: NJ Monthly Magazine was scheduled to do the photo shoot for a feature about my gardens, hostess style, and my soon-to-be-released book, Art of the Garnish. With the photo session date looming for the next day and I still hadn’t received my designer dresses (one preferred and one for a back up!), I scooted to the local Ann Taylor to find something. Anything. And there was my fashion goddess guide, Jordan, confident and composed, who had me magazine worthy in no time. I knew this woman was going places. And boy has she journeyed to artful success! With fine art, fashion design, poetry - all wreathed in kindness, goodness, and mindful talent.

So it was not altogether a surprise when I learned Jordan’s flag art was selected to be displayed in this illustrious public art display.

When I received the news release from Rockefeller Center, I sprang into action, asking if Jordan would honor me and Garden Glamour readers with a preview of her award-winning art flag that premieres today as part of the Flag Project exhibition. This is a close-up of Jordan’s award-winning submission:
Photo of award-winning Flag aka "Like Flowers We'll Bloom Again" courtesy of Jordan 
Jordan created both the abstract painting and the floral illustration intentionally for the contest.

Here are the two distinct and arresting art pieces that she rendered in paint markers and acrylic:
Jordan's whimsical signature floral bouquet, Photo courtesy of Jordan  
The Impasto paint technique depict the energy of NYC: Photo courtesy of Jordan 
The story art behind the visual art is equally compelling. In her words (to borrow a phrase from the New York Times) Jordan shares the way a true artist thinks deeply about every element of the art; she tells us about her artful, mindful evolution from inspiration to concept to winning art.

My Winning Design Submission's Design Process:
My art varies from abstract to a playful illustration style so I wanted to depict a blend of the two to fully represent who I am as an artist and depict my love for NYC. The abstract portion of the design is a scanned image of a 12” x 12” acrylic painting I created. The colors I chose are inspired by the rich tapestry of colors found throughout the city. The almost frenzied brushstrokes and elements of Impasto techniques were intentional. I wanted to depict the hustle and bustle in the city that never sleeps. The long portion of greenery was to represent the city's parks.

The whimsical floral bouquet illustration is a scanned image of one of my signature floral illustrations created with paint markers. I wanted to feature flowers in a vase to represent how, "we're all this together". In Covid-19 times and beyond. I love to have conversations with people about their perception(s) of art so in my work I love to have an element of varied symbolism.

Someone may see the drooping flowers in the vase as literal flowers waiting to grow stronger, while someone else may see them as symbols for us humans dealing with struggles and wanting to "pick their heads up", and may view the two flowers standing upright as pillars of regrowth. To share my perception, I like to view them as dancing and flourishing in sunlight! Trying to find joy in dark times.

Jordan added, “To quote my written submission in correspondence with my design entry, “I reminisced about memories from my childhood years living in Hanover Square and Christmas Eves when visiting family in Brooklyn Heights ( always bringing them a dozen cookies from Court Pastry Shop) YUM!! I was also inspired by the city's industrial landscape, the hustle and bustle of people walking around the city, and natural greenery and florals found throughout NYC. From floral stands to Central Park. The deep hue of brownstones was my inspiration for the color of the "NYC" type. The "N" structure was to pay homage to The Twin Towers. The flowers symbolize how NYC will always thrive and come back stronger each year-- to bloom even more vibrant than the year before! "

Jordan noted, “If I was able to give my flag a name, it would be, "Like Flowers, We'll Bloom Again." It would share the name of my poetry book I wrote at the beginning of the covid pandemic.”

I love the story behind the art. Jordan’s detail is so moving and emotional - honoring the people we lost in the Twin Towers and celebrating what those iconic buildings meant to us citizens of Gotham; to our skyline; our parks and gardens. To our world-class energy. (As I tell my friends, we’ll get our NYC mojo back very soon…) And of course, Jordan’s story includes family memories of food and special holidays.

Applause, Applause, Jordan!

When Jordan’s poetry books were first published, I noted on my weekly Art of the Garnish, Garden_Glamour Facebook Live cocktail party events and of course, ordered my own copies from Amazon. You can purchase from Jordan’s artiste website (see above link in her name).
The artist, Jordan Grace Robinson. Photo Courtesy of Jordan 
Back to Rockefeller Center and the other myriad art installations there now.

Art in Focus
Rockefeller Center and Art Production Fund are presenting a site-specific public art presentation by Brooklyn-based ceramics artist Ryan Flores as part of their Art in Focus partnership. Art in Focus displays artwork in prominent and unexpected, public outdoor locations throughout the Rockefeller Center campus.

Flores’ presentation, “Low Lifes: An Upside Down Love Letter,” continues Flores’ exploration of material seduction and its connection to the viewer through the use of ceramic objects. The show takes on a process that is evident in both art history and our contemporary consumer culture creating an excess or grandiosity around everyday objects.

“Low Lifes: An Upside Down Love Letter” is currently on display at Rockefeller Center.

Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center
Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center returns for its second iteration as a special exhibition of site-specific works by renowned international artists. Usually held in the spring as part of the wider programming of Frieze New York, Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center was postponed and readapted this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Presented in partnership with Tishman Speyer, the major public art initiative places significant sculptural works by leading artists in open, public locations throughout Rockefeller Plaza.

Curated by Brett Littman, the second edition is inspired by the site’s and the city’s natural materials of earth, rock, and plants, and by the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the original date when Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center was scheduled to debut. Artists Ghada Amer, Beatriz Cortez, Andy Goldsworthy, Lena Henke, Camille Henrot and Thaddeus Mosley have responded to that inspiration, with Amer, Cortez, Goldsworthy, Henke, and Mosley creating major new site-specific works.

Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center will be on display from September 1 – October 2, 2020.

Summer Dining
I have so many fond memories of dining at Rockefeller Center with friends and business associates - it’s so glamorous and quintessential New York. Here's what you can expect this year: 
Summer at The Rink:
Filled with oversized tables and greenery, Summer at The Rink includes new pop-up dining options featuring decadent summer bites, grab-and-go meals, seasonal desserts, and refreshing specialty drinks. Restaurants include:
· Rainbow Room: a selection of gourmet salads, wraps, sandwiches, bowls, desserts, and nonalcoholic beverages (Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on The Rink).
· Alidoro: a variety of hot and cold sandwiches and salads (Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on The Rink.)
· Makina Cafe Truck: a sampling of Ethiopian and Eritrean lunch options (Monday-Friday, 11:00 a.m. – 6 :00 p.m. in the North Plaza)
· Other Half: the Brooklyn-based brewery offers a selection of its 100+ beers (Thursday-Saturday, 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. on the South Esplanade).

Joining the new additions with outdoor offerings are:
· City Winery: a variety of reds, whites, and rosés, beers from Montauk Brewing Company, and a Mediterranean-inspired menu of charcuterie, cheeses, and burrata (seven days a week, 1:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. in the North Plaza)
· Ben & Jerry’s: a selection of popular ice cream favorites (seven days a week, 12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. on The Rink)
· Limani: an assortment of Greek-Mediterranean offerings from the restaurant’s seafood-focused menu (Monday-Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., and Sunday, 3:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. in the North Plaza)
· Del Frisco’s Grille: the chophouse offers a selection of steak, seafood, sandwiches, and cocktails from its main menu (seven days a week, 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. in the North Plaza).

Seriously. This is "hats in the air" incredible.  The variety of food and drink at their multiple, iconic outdoor offerings and the safety precautions are to be applauded.  Please do luxuriate in the experience - especially while the weather is good to us. 

The Vend
Rock Center says, "
The Vend, is a novel retail experience in the form of customized vending machines offering solutions for life’s unexpected emergencies through differentiated products from around the world, expands to new locations throughout Rockefeller Center.... The Vend presents an exciting and easy way for customers to access a variety of products quickly, designed to surprise customers with unique versions of everyday products Developed by Tishman Speyer and debuting at Rockefeller Center last year, The Vend features new products such as a selection of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and wipes, as well as unique food and beverage options carefully curated from different parts of the world, as well as sundries and PPE (masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and wipes)."

And we can all use more of these safety tools when emerging from our corona cocoons. Enjoy the art. Embrace the artists’ works. And our beloved, cultured, New York City. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Gardentopia: A Garden Design Book Shows How to Create an Outdoor Space Brimming with Joy & Serenity

 Gardentopia: Design Basics for Creating Beautiful Outdoor Spaces by [Jan Johnsen] 
For those who’ve been following me, you’ve “heard” me say often that “good garden design tells a story.” The book, Gardentopia, tells many a good garden story. The garden design guide is brimming with successful designs. Perhaps more poignantly, or perhaps more to the point, is that today, more than ever, we have come to recognize the importance of being in nature, nesting at home in our gardens…

If there is any silver lining to this coronavirus for those lucky and blessed enough to have a yard and property to shelter-in-place at, is that most everyone wants to create a garden retreat; to create their own arcadian hideaway.

But how to go about it is the speed bump.

Jan Johnsen’s book, Gardentopia was released last year and I think it is even more salient now. And I’m not just saying that to assuage my guilt about not writing the book review until now. It’s true I was sent a review copy of the book when it was first published and for no good reason (or for many working reasons!) I am just now sharing the good garden design news found in Gardentopia…

Seriously, the hard cover, large-format book is a tome (283 pages) chock-a-block with colorful photos - some with thumbnail captions that describe the story or detail about the image (not just the usual lusty garden display) - that showcase the plants -- there’s an entire chapter; more than 40 pages devoted to the “Plants and Planting” that Jan characterizes as “everyone’s favorite part of the garden. There are four other chapters showcasing the elements of Jan’s good garden design:

  • Garden Design and Artful Accents ~ this is the garden’s framework, according to Jan

  • Walls, Patios, Walks, and Steps ~ these are the bones of the outdoor space

  • Theme Gardens ~ here’s where creativity and whimsy make a garden special
  • Color in the Garden ~ Jan cites the impact of color and celebrates its potency and how to use it

Be assured that the sheer breadth of Gardentopia’s contents is well, breath-taking. If you never purchased another garden design book, you’d be just fine. This book is that comprehensive.

While It’s often said the devil's in the details; the original phrase was "God is in the details,” meaning that you needed to ensure that everything you did was done truthfully. Here, Jan’s masterful garden stories are abundant in their authenticity because they are based on her true to life experience and client examples and deliver on the finer elements without getting ahem, “into the weeds” or losing focus. Like her garden design guidelines or principles she advocates, it’s all about the balance...

As you know, I too, am a professional garden designer as well as a writer and author. I review many garden and plant-related books and in the days BC (before corona), I attended a plethora of garden design and horticulture lectures in New York City: most of them produced by the New York Botanical Garden and Metrohort. This is my wheelhouse to say the least. So trust me when I say what sets Jan’s book apart especially, is the way she talks to us in the book. This is no crunchy, esoteric guide for the garden elite. Although they too will delight in the sage advice found on every page of Gardentopia. While Jan quotes the venerable landscape designers including Isamu Noguchi, Frederick Law Olmstead, Geoffrey Jellico, among others, she leaves no doubt she is talking to us - the garden and flower lover. The homeowner. The novitiate.

Reading the book feels like you’re sharing a cup of tea or a glass of wine with Jan, while talking about your garden dreams and goals and she is gently, expertly, guiding you.

Jan surely knows her way around gardens and writing. If you are not familiar already with her and her garden design pedigree, she is “one of the most popular writers on” according to its publisher, Jim Peterson. Jan has successfully managed her own Westchester, New York based firm, Johnsen Landscape & Pool for nearly 35 years. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including This Old House and Horticulture Magazine. She was awarded the 2019 Award of Distinction by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD).

Gardentopia is published by Countryman Press and joins her other books, Heaven is a Garden (St Lynn's Press, 2014) and The Spirit of Stone (St Lynn's Press, 2017).

I know Jan from my days working at NYBG as well as the rather intimate clan of garden and horticulture enthusiasts based in Gotham. Jan is kind. She is generous. And those traits, along with her esteemed talent, makes this the perfect book to guide you garden designs. Even if your garden is more aspirational you will nonetheless enjoy curling up with Gardentopia

Along with all the tips - and there are nearly 140 of them - Jan’s Gardentopia, she reveals what the garden “power spot” is; the principle of the three depths; the utilization of the ancient Japanese design technique of miegakure or “hide and seek” which embraces the design of “partially screening a view or section of a garden to create the illusion of distance,” and why that’s important to good garden design - (in contrast to a rather banal exterior looks borrowed from interior design - that of the open space where all is revealed or seen in one expansive view. In good garden design, we much prefer the mystery and romance of leading you through the garden that enhances the connection to nature and it’s mysteries.

Moreover, Gardentopia provides practical, hands-on, experienced advice on how to achieve effects and results.

Honestly, this is a book to be experienced. It somewhat challenges a neat review. You, like me, will, return to it again and again. For inspiration. For instruction and guidance. For dreaming…

Thank you, Jan.

(All photos courtesy of Gardentopia/The Countryman Press)