Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rooftop garden plants

Waiting at the entrance of Atlantic Nurseries for me, in Dix Hills, was this beautiful little weeping hemlock: Tsuga canadensis "Bennet's Weeper". I wanted to incorporate a couple into the Tribeca terrace's garden, as we need some low-growing plants in places, and I also always need to remind myself about evergreens.

Like putting candy and chips at the check-out counter, the clever staff at Atlantic put out plants that look exceptionally good Now, and that makes for impulse buys. Of course the danger is that one snaps up everything that looks good in mid September and forgets about April - August, and all the well thought-out plans one has made.

This is Viburnum dilatatum 'Michael Dodge'. 11/11/09: Oh dear. Invasive in the Northeast.

Three of the yellow-berried viburnums are waiting for pick-up in two weeks. Later, one of the salespeople, Sonia, drove me around after I'd looked at everything and we pulled all the plants I'd chosen, loaded them onto several little trucks and carted them to a holding area.

Ha. Below is another V. dilatatum, this time "Cardinal Candy". I think I'll call and have some added to the list. I'm still missing a few things. Then Sonia told me about a sale on V. plicatum tomentosum "Mariessii", one of my favourite viburnums, with its typically horizontal branch structure, and we picked one of those up, too. It was a beautiful, full shrub, but I must remember that they get big, and place it appropriately. Some of its leaves were already beginning to tun a heavy burgundy-red.

So I had already chosen four plants that I had not planned on, but this site is good (I think) for viburnums: shade until very late morning, because of walls to the east and south, and then shade again from early afternoon, high walls on the west. They are a rewarding shrub because of their spring flowers, of course, in addition to fall colour and berries, and I still picked up a V. x burkwoodi "Mohawk" - this was on the plan! It has a wonderful scent from its pink-budded, snowball clusters of white-when-open flowers in mid-spring.

I wanted some camellias, not a plant I use too often at all, but because of the three-walled site, I'm gambling that there is enough protection for them. They are evergreen, an added bonus, and I chose two white flowered, late fall blooming ones, C. "Winter Snowman" and a pink, C. "Pink Icicle", early spring blooming. Half of the garden is very much visible year-round, through glass sliding doors and a window, at garden level, and the rest is looked down on from a floor above, so I'm aiming for as much year-round interest as possible.

The original idea for the garden had been more minimalist, which I based on some architectural decisions, but the owners decided they wanted a more gardeny garden -an unusual choice, sometimes, in New York, and one I was very happy to accommodate, since I love plants so much.

Below, the Camelia "Winter Snowman" with buds already in place.

Wow. I'd seen a few of these, an upright and a rounded form, in the tree section, and then started to read labels, which said 'related to daphne' - which hooked me - and later I looked it up in Dirr, in the nursery's office. Edgeworthia papyrifera. Blooms in March, tiny yellow, fragrant flowers - very fragrant. How unusual. Considered marginally hardy* here. But then crape myrtle were marginally hardy until recently. Now we use them on exposed rooftops! The climate's a-changing and so are our plant palettes.

* 9/18/09: but the most recent print edition of Fine Gardening lists it as hardy to Zone 6. Online, howsomever, they say Zones 8-10. And why do they never credit their photographs?

I bought two. Plant collector's delight. I may have to protect it in winter, just in case

Cornus kousa "Wolf Eyes"...a variegated dogwood. Snapped it up.

The fruit. Which I ate. Like ripe papaya. Skin not nice. Spat out. Compost.

There was a tree I saw later, when the camera was back in the car. I reserved one: Franklinia alatamaha. I saw the white, anemone-like flower and thought stewartia. But it starts to bloom in September. Extraordinary. Used to be an eastern seaboard native, now thought to be extinct in the wild.

And then , after more travels and getting a bit lost on the way to find some birches, we pulled over to look at the sea and had our car picnic. By then rain was falling and wind beating.

Saucisson, baguette and cheese from Stinky, on Smith Street.

Elderflower fizz.

Triple cream, salted French butter. Vince thought it was cheese and started to chew on a chunk before he realized...

Even the postman was having a picnic. And two cormorants, one of whom caught a fish, and five cygnets plus parent, and many gulls.

Good day.


  1. Wow - what a bounty! Can't help being envious of large beautiful instant plants - hope you realise how lucky you are! Not the little 12cm buchus one can get here (to the client: "promise - this is better in the raging s-easter than bigger plants - it will grow...." (like slowly, next year!).
    I went to visit the garden at Leeuwenhof today. Sad, distressing (bare soil everywhere), embarrassing & exciting, full of potential - quite a mixed bag of feelings - still tring to digest it all.

  2. Not even 0800 and already I've been down Memory Lane, taken an interesting side road to New Delights, back-tracked to confirm that the dogwood fruits are what we called(as kids) "tree strawberries,"
    stopped for a delicious picnic and finally returned via the Memory Lane loop road.

    PS Is that a variegated Ilex in the top photo?

  3. Well, when butter comes wrapped in fancy paper in the shape of a brie with a sticker on top, one tends to forget all carefulness... Oh well. It was damn good butter. 'Reminded me of how I used to generously sprinkle salt on my buttered tartines as a kid before dipping them into hot chocolate...

  4. beautiful plants, and yummy picnic! the varigated cornus kousa is very pretty.

  5. ya can dress him up...but, be careful where you take him...hahah.... sounds a bit like me... my husband says he keeps me around for comic relief....

  6. thanks for the plant mini-encyclopedia. i will definitely refer to it when i get my own garden.

    as for what's on top of bread, butter, cheese, does it matter much? they both have many virtues.

  7. What extraordinary plants. It is really fascinating to see how you make your design choices and also to learn about these amazing specimens. Thanks!

  8. Marijke - ja, one forgets about instant. I clearly remember working at the nursery in the early days and goggling at the instant perennials, in flower. I almost looked down my nose at them, because I was so used to my mom growing everything from seed, in trays, then setting out, then waiting. Or buying seedlings from nurseries...That seemed more proper. I thought, These Americans have to have everything Big, and Now!

    Kyk hoe lyk ek nou...

    Dinah, is it possible that your tree strawberries were in fact tree strawberries? Arbutus? There was one on my street, growing up, which I ignored, as I think we were told it was poisonous...I'm sorry about it now, as it's too cold here for them. I saw lots in Vancouver and nibbled few. They were mushily nice.

    Can't remember if that was an ilex...

    Beence - I should make you some hot chocolate for breakfast...

    Paula - I hope I don't regret the little seemed good and light for a dark spot.

    BV - the cat is pretty good for comic relief, too.

    Donna - you're welcome! It's just funny to see someone's face change as they realize that the hunk of cheese in their mouth is pure butter. Even for the butter-hugging Frenchie it was a bit much!

    Opera glass - your name intrigues...

  9. Oh that's my kind of lunch. I can feel the part french blood inside me pumping.

    Wait...dogwood fruits...tree strawberries? I'm confused. Those things kind of remind me of lychees. Do you peel and eat them like a lychee? Is there a pit inside?

  10. Where do you get elderflower spritzer? I'd love to try some.


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