Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New York Spring: on the 7th floor

I still garden on one terrace - a garden I designed in 2000 when I was still new to rooftop gardening, and where I made some valuable (for me, not for the lovely owners of this terrace) mistakes: selling for instance, the teak planters in the picture - the Manhattan nursery I worked for then stocked them, so that's what I sold. Big mistake. Four years later they started to pop at the seams. Now, clients sometimes stumble upon these planters online and ask why we don't use them (they are quite cheap), and I explain that they are poorly constructed and won't make it long term; money saved now will be spent two-fold replacing them and replanting an entire container garden. Not a cheap prospect in this city. Instead, we often have planters custom-made, in workshops in LIC or New Jersey, from cedar and ipe, or metal, and they might outlive us. Anyway - we replace this lot up here one by one as they give up the ghost.

But Spring: on this 7th floor, Upper East Side terrace facing West, it arrives late. It is one of the windiest (hence most wind-chilled) terraces I know (the others all being on the Hudson), and on this particular day I was fairly unhinged after two hours of being buffeted by the reported 40mph gusts of wind. The Jamaican nanny watched in fascination and safety from inside the apartment as I bulldozed at a 45' angle up the terrace, and then shot back down again, holding boxes that turned into sails and pots that threatened to become mini scud missiles. One winter, on a layer of proverbially thin ice, I blew from one end to the other without moving my feet.

So it was an instant spring. At ground level crab apples are beginning to leaf out, prior to their buds opening. But up here they are firmly shut. Looking at the long bare climbing rose canes that I tied up or pinned (pegged) to encourage more blooms, it is very hard to believe that, come June, they will be billowing in pink petals. The old English roses were pruned back hard and soon I will feed them. There is no sign of the strawberry-pink and cream lilies buried deep beneath the catnip's small grey-blue leaves: one of the first perennials to break dormancy.

But that's the wonderful thing about seasons; each one a miracle of survival and beauty, their constant renewal an echo of our own.

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