Posts Tagged ‘NYC Rooftop Gardens’

Is it possible to grow a successful garden without really trying? The science of horticulture is intricate and complex. Do you wonder if your soil acidity  is optimal for  nutrient uptake through plant roots? Are your light levels in balance with available moisture levels in the soil? Are you experiencing nutrient deficiency, pests, fungal diseases, bacteria, viruses or problems with plant hardiness?

Trial Garden at Longwood Gardens

All of these things can  weigh you down and blind you from what gardening is really about. The key to a successful garden is simple: enjoy it. That’s it. That’s all it takes. It doesn’t matter if a portion of your Arborvitae hedge doesn’t make it through the winter or if the new type of Caladium didn’t like your shade garden. It’s all about trial and error. Gardening is about learning step by step. The beauty of the seasons (at least for us here in zone 6) is that we get to try something new each season.

Trial Garden Structure and Sunflower at Longwood Gardens

Each time we experience a planting triumph in the garden, we become more intimately attached to that understanding, and thus connected to the garden experience as a whole. As a gardener of 15 years, I assure you that the enjoyment I get from my garden is just as  much about the “failures” as it is the “positives.” As for the science of it all, that’s why we have professional horticulturists.



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I was captivated when I read about the world’s largest cruise ship and how it has  a horticulturist on staff. With close to 100 plants species on board, this novel idea is taking gardening to the next level. Though I have yet to experience this park for myself, the images from Royal Caribbean’s website show a very manicured, well designed oasis on this 16 deck beast.

"Central Park" on the Allure Cruise Ship

"Central Park" at Night


 The funny thing about this floating garden on the Allure cruise ship is that it has  a lot of similarities to courtyard gardens built in New York City. The 505 development right here in Hell’s Kitchen has a comparable courtyard completely surrounded by buildings with balconies facing the garden. The important thing to consider in a courtyard design like this is to develop a sense of height within the structure of the landscape. Pergolas, trellises, fencing and other features (both evident in the Allure Cruise Ship and The 505) help stretch the garden vertically so you don’t have the feeling of being enclosed in a canyon.

The Modern Courtyard of the 505 in Hell's Kitchen

 Read the fascinating article in the NYT by Toni Schlesinger:

Check out more pictures of the Allure cruise ship:

Visit the 505 condo website for more images of this new Hell’s Kitchen residence:


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My family loves to migrate to Sarasota, Florida over the winter months. I too have made this journey many times. Besides the pristine white beaches, seemingly endless new construction and island hopping  to keep you occupied, one of my favorite gardens lies right in the heart of Sarasota. The Marie Selby Botanic gardens is truly a gem and is well worth a visit. Created by Marie Selby herself, the now 14 acre grounds capture her love for gardening.

Path through the Mangrove Trees

Breathtaking Banyan trees dotted around the property have orchids placed cleverly among the branches to heighten the drama of the gardens. Spanish moss in the overhead canopy takes you back to a bygone era with a simple wisp of the breeze. The formal gardens and central lawn somehow connect seamlessly to the surrounding naturalized clumps of Mangrove trees and packs of seagulls resting in the adjacent beaches.

The Giant Orchid Sculpture at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

 The glass conservatories are home to an array of unusual orchid species. With a focus on epiphytic plants, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has a wealth of articles and research dedicated to orchids, bromeliads and a host of tropical plants. Their website is an excellent resource for tropical plant care and culture. Visit them here: 

A Fringed Cattleya Orchid inside the Glass Houses at Marie Selby

  Marie Selby was tied to the oil industry through her father as well as her husband. The successful Selby Oil and Gas Company merged with the Texas Company halfway through the 20th century to form what we now know as Texaco. Marie and her husband, William, were very influential residents in the Sarasota community. For a more complete history, read about them here: . I wonder what her response would have been to the oil spill of 2010!


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My mother has a winter ritual of getting lost in a pile of seed catalogues. It can be very enticing to see all of the new cultivars of our favorite flowers grown to perfection under the careful watch of a team of horticulturists. I love looking through these too, but the difference between the plant pictured in the catalog and the one growing in your garden can be like night and day. Just be careful not to drool too much over that new flower hue or leaf size you see in the picture. In any case, check out this new cultivar: Heuchera ‘Green Spice.’ It has a striking green and silver leaf with contrasting red veins.

Heuchera 'Green Spice'

Check out the plants available at the Burpee and Proven Winners websites. There is always a thrill in experimenting with a horticultural oddity. Remember, that the more breeding and cultivation a plant goes through, the more susceptible it is to pests and disease.


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The recent New York Times article  featuring Piet Oudolf’s philosophy on winter gardens was an interesting read.  Titled “A Landscape In Winter Dying Heroically,” the well written article by Sally McGrane captures his values and beliefs for what is important in Garden Design. Oudolf likes to give the idea of nature as opposed to trying to replicate it. Regarding winter gardens Oudolf feels “The skeletons of the plants are for me as important as the flowers” (NY Times) and likes to leave the brown and decaying plant material in place to give interest through the season. Cleverly, Oudolf comments on dying plant materials “You accept death. You don’t take the plants out, because they still look good. And brown is also a color” (NY Times).

On a design level I completely agree with Oudolf’s planting designs. The only catch to this idea is that brown perennials and leaves on small rooftop gardens with a limited amount of planting area don’t have the same effect as rolling hillsides of grasses in the breeze in the country. The question is, can we appreciate dead vegetation and make this work in a small urban garden?

Yes we can, and here’s how:

1. Pick one plant that you really love and repeat it in. Instead of 5 completely different plants, use that same species in clumps or in several key places in your garden. This will help draw your eye and lead you through the landscape. In fall and winter, this will help make things look more intentional as opposed to looking like you forgot to cut something back.

2. When you pull out the summer annuals, replace them with something for fall. Did you know that if you leave ornamental Kale (Brassica oleracea) in the ground over winter it will send up whispy stems of delightful little yellow flowers in the spring? We get so used to yanking things out of the garden when we are “supposed” to and forget that plants might have something more to offer us.

3. Pick an accessory. I know it’s not engrained in our mentality that brown is a nice color to see in the garden, but it is part of the seasonal cycle. I agree with Oudolf that the life and death cycle we encounter in the garden is a beautiful and reflective thing. So let the garden do what it does best. In the meantime, pick out a colorful accessory to help accentuate your winter garden. It can be as simple as a colorful metal frame chair, a piece of pottery or a sculpture. If you want to take it to the next level, pull the colors out of the dead vegetation for inspiration for your accessories. Look closely and you will find all kinds of hues of blues, purples and rusty reds.

 Read the full NY Times Article:

Visit Oudolf’s Website:


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Simplicity and usability make this side chair a winner. I walked past a showroom right here on 10th Avenue with this chair in the window. I immediately fell in love with it. The jury is out right now as to whether or not they can be used outdoors, but I love the clean simple design, the small scale of the piece  and  the hand-made feel. The company is Hendzel and Hunt and their website is:  The chair is the Kirkland Chair and it’s made from reclaimed floorboards….pretty smart if you asked me.


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Watch the newest episode of The Erb Garden as we explore rhythm another element of design you can apply to your own landscape. Rhythm isn’t only in the latest Justin Bieber hit, it is all around us. Learn how to use the techniques of repetition, alternation, inversion and gradation in your own garden!


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