Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Spring's best trees

Umbrella magnolia are in bloom.

Historic Green-Wood Cemetery is an accredited arboretum and home to some of the oldest and most beautiful trees in New York City. Our proximity to this beautiful, huge green space was not something we appreciated when we signed the lease on our current apartment. We lucked out. Although Prospect Park is also very close by, Green-Wood's tranquility is quite different. It is quiet, clean, and its grass is the best for lying upside-down on.

I wrote about (some of) Green-Wood's trees in spring for Gardenista. 


June 16th, Alley Pond Park Walk

Monday, May 9, 2022

Pine honey that isn't...honey

I wrote a story about making pine cone jam for Gardenista, and included my updated recipe for the delicious, useful, intriguing stuff. In my research that spring of 2019, when I first began playing with the jam-making, I learned that the cooking-syrup for the cones is sometimes sold as "pine honey"- it's often not honey, of course. But it is very, very good. I have two small jars of it and I eke the stuff out. (The cones above are the babies from an old Himalayan pine in the neighborhood. When mature they are very, very long.) 

It can take a couple of years for a female cone to mature from its sappy baby-form to the dry woody, quintessential pine cone we know, so you'll often see different stages of cones on one tree at a given time. The male cones are much softer and produce pollen, before withering and dropping off (...).

These hand pies for a forage-picnic were filled with a mixture of black currants, juniper, and pine cone honey. The candy-like cone was a garnish that baked into a toffee-like treat.

That's a jar of the honey (the cooking-syrup) strained and bottled. I warm a tablespoonful to add to the lightweight batter for madeleines, and I drop a very small, jammed cone into each madeleine as a surprise when you bit into them.

And then... thanks to the diversity of New York City's population and the stores that cater to their appetites and soul foods, I found pine cone jam, ready-made, on a shelf! This was last year.  The supermarket is Gala International, trending very Eastern European and Russian. (I have foraged happily there before for interesting things like fresh purslane, frozen black currants and red currants, and am mesmerized by their preserves, which are basically all the things I actually forage!).

Baby pines cones are ready to collect now, depending on the species that grows near you. The jam and the honey are food and medicine, and I find them wildly useful.

See the whole piece on Gardenista.


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Maine in May

Maine in May is a beautiful escape, for the city-dweller who loves plants. You'll find my story on Gardenista. With a bonus of lilac honey.

Can you identify the flowers above?


My next NYBG Forage Class is 12 May

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Enter the crabapples

Sometimes, it's good to lie upside down on the soft, violet-stippled grass of a cemetery and stare up at crabapple blossoms.  We are lucky to have Historic Green-Wood almost on our doorstep.


Spring Walks and Picnics 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

How to Help South African Flood Victims

Photo: Rogan Ward, Reuters

To help victims of the unprecedented floods in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, you can donate to Gift of the Givers Foundation

For non-South African donors, my suggestion is a donation of R300, which is a fraction over $20. If you can give more, please do. Fresh water, shelter, and food are desperately needed.

The number of deaths is rising and is at 443 at the time of writing. Most victims were shack dwellers - people living in the informal and flimsy, foundationless shelters that characterize most of South Africa's city-fringes. 

If you use Facebook, you can also donate to Charlize Theron's Africa Outreach Project, which has set up a fund exclusively for the Kwa-Zulu Natal relief efforts.


Saturday, April 16, 2022

Empty windows

Nothing much to see here, really (or is there...?) but this view of the street means that spring has been declared.  The citrus trees have moved out to the terrace. 

The blue suitcase is one of several that will stash winter sweaters and mittens and scarves once they have all been washed and cedar-balled. And the boxy thing on the windowsill is a fancy noise machine that we bought at our last place, when unpredictable neighbors threatened our slumber. It makes very good cricket sounds, wave sounds, rain sounds. And other, esoteric sounds. Now, the machine is a helpful option for warmer nights when a souped-up, drive-by car, tweaked to backfire like gunshots cruises the blocks at random. The day of the subway shooting? Not a great day to hear that damn car.

Fat floor pillows will move in, now, the suitcase will move out, and the bay window will be a place for humans to spread out, lie on their backs, and look at the ceiling. It's remarkably therapeutic.

On Gardenista, you can see how our terrace wakes up, as the bedroom empties out.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Street Spring

While I never park our car beneath one (because we love her) I am very grateful to see the callery pears in bloom in the neighborhood.  

Their blossoms are a delightful froth, but the trees topple or drop limbs with little warning. They are described in arborist's terms as being weak-crotched. The trees have also become significantly invasive beyond their cosmopolitan habitats.

Speaking of weak crotches and super-invaders, if you are wondering what else you can do to support Ukraine against the invasion by Putin, look to your wallets: not for donations (assuming you have made those), but for withholding. The New York Times recently published a list of companies doing business with Russia, and it is depressing. In some cases, you can easily boycott their products. I have a guilty soft spot for Hellmann's mayonnaise, for instance, and I am hard-wired to eat Marmite. Both are manufactured by Unilever, one of those conscienceless mega-entities. 

Mayo is easy to make and miso is a good stand-in for Marmite.

It reminds me of the brands I grew up eating and sipping, as a white child in apartheid South Africa. Marmite, again, was one of them. So was Coca Cola (it was an occasional treat, but I loved it). Pepsi, on the other hand, withdrew. 

Capitalism is capitalism, but as a consumer you carry some weight. Throw it around.


Find me on Instagram


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Artichokes - flowers, or food?


These beautiful, meaty artichokes were grown by Ocean Mist Farms

In my story about artichokes for Gardenista I wonder whether it is more rewarding to grow the giant thistles for food or for flowers. There is also a very delicious recipe for the roasted buds, with hot butter. 

Another good way to eat them is very simple. I stir a vinaigrette together and then divide it between the cleaned, cooked hearts. (Leftover dressing lasts well in the fridge.)

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Larger pinch of sugar
1 Tablespoon finely chopped red onion
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, salt and sugar and stir well. Add the chopped onions and leave to for 30 minutes. Just before serving beat in the olive  oil with a fork. Pour into cooked, cleaned artichoke hearts for dipping.


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Bloodroot in bloom

One of the most fleeting of spring's ephemeral wildflowers is bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, native to the eastern US and Canada. If you catch them early you will find each delicate stalk furled within its leaf. They are exquisite. 

This patch is growing in the woods of Prospect Park, near another that had been stomped by humans or the off-leash dogs that sometimes race through.

(I have become a student of people-with-dogs during the pandemic. The combination tells very interesting stories, most of which the humans are unaware of - the dogs, on the other hand, know. The few folks who let their dogs off-leash in these woods do a lot of ostentatious shouting. And most of the dogs seem frantic. Both human and dog require a very special sort of attention, that neither is getting, apparently. Does one need qualifications to be a dog shrink? Perhaps I can just set up a booth on the sidewalk. But for the migrating birds like woodcock that sometimes rest on this urban forest floor, my brains simmers and steams.) 

Plant bloodroot if you can, and then get on all fours to enjoy the flowers in early spring. They like the shade of deciduous trees, because, like us, they enjoy spring sunlight.


Book a Wild Walk

Monday, March 28, 2022

#18thStreetPollinators - nothing to see, here

I feel like a cat who has just covered up a smelly thing in their litterbox and has dusted off their paws and wants nothing more to do with it. What, that? That wasn't me?! 

But here goes.

Two Wednesdays ago I ignored all the things I should have been doing and went to my friend Hannah's house in Park Slope to dig up plants. She was moving, packing up, and going on a big adventure, and had invited me to take anything in her garden (above) that might appeal to me. I was thrilled, and told her about the park on 18th Street and the plants it needed, and she said I was welcome to them. (For the backstory, visit these links for the #18thStreetPollinator garden, Parts One and Two.)

If only I could undo it.

Hannah lent me her garden clogs. It was muddy. I dug while a cardinal sang.

Very little had emerged, yet, but investigative digging revealed three intriguing mystery plants from a Brooklyn Botanic Garden sale. They had succulent white roots and were making lipstick-pink shoots. I found and dug up the dormant rootstocks of Japanese anemones and astilbe, which were carefully arranged in milk crates that Hannah gave me. The hostas of summer could not be located in mid-March. One crate was devoted to ferns. As I worked a procession of people from a Buy Nothing group perused some stellar free stuff in the apartment. 

As nearby church bells rang noon I pruned back unruly raspberry canes and dug them up with chunks of earth attached to their roots. A loose-limbed and very prickly rambling rose followed. Hannah said its flowers were white. I imagined them in bloom in early summer, and raspberries making fruit for visitors to the park. 

Along with plants donated by the Gowanus Nursery and by Alyse, a neighbor and Instagram friend, this collection would actually create a sense of structure for the plantless park around the corner from where we live. Flowers for pollinators and people. 

When everything was ready I fetched and double-parked the car Brooklyn-style, loaded up, and drove the plants to 18th Street. (Sorry about the plastic trash bags, but that rose really was very prickly.)

At the park I planted the liatris, iris, and lily bulbs that I bought a few days before. I tried not to disturb the alliums that had set the whole thing in motion, and which had already rooted. I placed, and planted, the rest. (My tools were a newly-acquired Fiskars spade and trowel; my terrace-gardening is minimalist: just a fierce Japanese hori, essentially useless in the deep, wood chip mulch, here.) 

The white rose - with a clematis at it feet - and raspberries were planted in the sunniest corner (above) closest to the roaring, exhaust-smelly Fort Hamilton Parkway. Lilies, liatris, alliums, fescues were hidden here, too. I intended planting icy-yellow sunflowers once our last frost-date was a memory (anyone need fancy sunflower seeds)? 

I was done just after 5pm. Tired and sore but pleased. I could see it all in my late May mind's eye. Now the space had shape, albeit incognito until warmer weather. An ideal time to plant, and a solid, essential day of rain to follow.

The next day, around Thursday, noon, I walked by to see how it was all doing in the promised rain. 

I noticed some black trash bags on the sidewalk. Then I saw an unusually deep depression where some of the liatris bulbs had been planted. Something was missing.

I walked quickly into the space and saw at once that Hannah's rose was gone. So were the raspberry canes. The clematis, the astilbe. The 'Eden' rose donated by my friend Michele, from the Gowanus Nursery. All the Heuchera nurtured by Alyse.


But the #18thStreetPollinators sign was still there. 

I felt hollow. I looked at the row of houses facing the park. What had they seen?

At home I refunded the three kind people who had donated money (the Donate button had only gone live the day before). 

The next day I wrote to the plant donors. It was the only time I cried. And since then I have tried not to think about it at all. 

So what happened? 

Either: Someone had been watching. And moved in immediately. Or: The NYC Parks Department came by - either scheduled or due to a complaint -  and the workers removed every well-considered plant. This is the most likely scenario. (Except...the bulbs?)

I knew I was guerilla gardening, and I knew it was a risk. That was why I had the sign made. So anyone could go online with the hashtag to find out more. Fingers crossed. Stupid fingers.

So what now? 

It's simple. I quit. Whoever did it, whether through the vandalism of indifference, or through malice, or greed, won.  

Trying to define what flattened me, it is a combination of the destroyed potential, and quite simply, the plants. Just ripped out. I am at a loss.

I know why I did this: to make a beautiful space in a barren piece of land - a wasted, precious park. And, as Russia was invading Ukraine, this seemed a positive thing and a way to channel my own sense of helplessness. But I feel very stupid, and so very bad for the givers of plants. 

As an epitaph, here is what was planted. Possibly some of the bulbs made it.

 Gowanus Nursery:

1 'Eden' rose
2 Hypericum (St. John's-wort)
4 asters
6 fescues (still there, in disguise)
2 yellowroot (these were actually still there, invisible?)

Neighbor Alyse:

Lots of Heuchera
3 Phlox (woodland, I think)
2 hardy geraniums
1 mountain mint
1 sedum-ish perennial


About 14 New York ferns 
2 Christmas ferns
6 Japanese anemones
8-ish Astilbe
3 mystery plants just beginning to produce bright pink shoots
1 rambling white rose
1 clematis
10-ish raspberries 


8 Lilium henryi
30 Alliums
40 Dutch Iris
60 Liatris 

Thank you. And I am sorry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022


Park B255O has a name. 

The #18thStreetPollinators sign I ordered arrived from Etsy and was planted with the first plants on Friday, March 11th. It provides a succinct explanation for curious onlookers. The goal of the garden? To transform neglected park into a calm botanical oasis for humans and a feeding-stop for New York City pollinators.

If you would like to make a contribution there is a Donate button in the left side bar. 

I was hoping to have an 18thStreetPollinators Instagram account established quickly for passersby wanting to find out more, but a vexing glitch at Instagram's end has stalled it, for now. Very frustrating (because of the time it wasted). Hence the update, here.

I spent two hours planting, but only after spending around 45 minutes shifting massive layers of large-chip mulch to reach the soil. I imagine it was dumped so thickly to suppress weeds. I do remember a very lush patch of chickweed here, last spring. There was also evidence of mallow (long, living tap roots) and dock. The only living things under the trees. Also plenty of earthworms! Which will help with drainage.

My first stop was plant-collection: They may not look impressive right now but it's still pre-spring and this collection is dormant. Gowanus Nursery's Michele Palladino kindly donated plants she had to remove from one of the gardens she tends. An Eden rose, Hypericum, fescues, and asters. Alyse, an Instagram friend, donated lots of Heuchera, as well as phlox, geraniums, mountain mint and a hyssop. I am so grateful.

The NYC Parks sign at least designates this a city park, but there has been no response yet to my emails asking about official stewardship. 

While I worked, four people arrived to sit on the benches. One threw my work bag off before settling down. They were three adults who were developmentally impaired, and their minder, who apologized about the bag, and promptly fell asleep (he snored). They just sat, not able to engage, apparently, and made noises from time to time while I dug. I hoped my activity was at least more interesting than what must be their usual sitting-session.

Michele also gave me two yellow root plants - Xanthoriza simplicissima. I had never seen it before and it solved a forgotten plant ID question for me. It makes fascinating sprays of burgundy flowers, which I have seen in the woodlands in Central Park.

I concentrated on one long bed, planting the asters near some of the allium bulbs I buried a few weeks ago, along with the fescues, the rambling rose, mountain mint and a stray Echinacea. Because they are more or less invisible to anyone who is not a gardener I do worry about stomping, but also feel that they are less attractive to plant thieves than something that looks perfect. The faster I can get plants in, the more established the park may look and the more the threat-level drops. 

Three neighborhood friends are interested in helping out and I think this is the germ on an idea: Walk-by gardening. Dead-heading, weeding, spontaneous, co-operative, decentralized, and intuitive. 

I'll mention again what the NYC Parks and Recreation Department receives in funding: Less than 1% of New York City's annual budget. Most parks and gardens languish for lack of maintenance. It's the ongoing care that sees the least investment. 


Plant walk and picnic
18 March 2022

Saturday, March 12, 2022

It's lemon season!

It's that time, again: Meyer lemon season (indoors, and on the West Coast) coinciding with juniper pollen season. The juniper is foraged, and it is Juniperus virginiana, known commonly - and confusingly - as eastern red cedar. A cedar it ain't.

The pictured ferment is an outtake from my recent citrus piece for Gardenista (So You Grew a Lemon: Now What?). I have so many ways to use these precious indoor-grown lemons (or limes or makruts) that I ran out of space. And ferments take space to explain. So simple to make, so lengthy to write a How To. The trick is just to start. And then unfamiliarity gives way to wonder.

For this ferment I picked a handful of pollen-laden juniper (the needles and pollen are very aromatic), scrubbed 5 Meyer lemons and sliced them, popped those into a large, 6-cup Mason jar, added 2 cups of sugar and topped with water. Shook it all up to dissolve the sugar, then loosened the lid. After that it's a daily stir, to introduce even more air. After a few days it begins to fizz. That's the fermentation. I leave it another day or two and then strain, bottle, and keep in the fridge. It is divine in drinks - alcoholic or non - and requires dilution. I use maybe an ounce (about 2 tablespoons) at a time. 

It also works very well as an addition to a pan sauce (this is a very pan-saucy house). If I've seared-then-braised whole duck legs, for instance, a quarter cup poured into the pan halfway through makes them syrupy and delicious, with the slight bitterness and resin of the zest and juniper keeping things from being cloying.

But read the story. Lots more ideas, there. (If I had to pick just one, it would be the yuja-cha.)


Spring Walks and Picnics

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Pine Cones for Jam - A Walk in the Dunes

Pinesploration and #cookforukraine
Fort Tilden
19 March 2022
12pm - 2.30pm

Join me to celebrate the end of winter. We are exploring the early-early spring landscape of the dunes and backroads of this former nuclear missile site (yes, very on-topic) to meet the young pine cones appearing on Japanese black pine and native pitch pine. We will learn how to use them and our forage picnic will feature pine cone jam and syrup.

We will also discover the earliest mugwort leaves, as well as fragrant juniper, and the disguised branches of overwintering edibles like bayberry, beach plum, autumn olive, rose and...well, a lot more
. Maybe even some Nanking cherry blossom. There is an escaped population, here.

Our meet-up spot is at the Rockaway Artist Alliance Studio 6 & 7 Galleries at Fort Tilden. That's a 5 - 10 minute walk from the Q35 bus stop at Marine Pkwy/Rockaway Point Blvd VI. (If you look at  Google maps you'll see the stop at the end of the Marine Parkway Bridge.) You can catch the bus from above the 2/5 Brooklyn College Flatbush Avenue subway stop.

Note: Non-permitted cars may not park at Fort Tilden after March 15th (you can chance it, but...). So if you are driving, apply now for a fishing permit for Jamaica Bay that allows parking here for fisherpersons. The (highly coveted) annual permit is $55 and once it is bought online you go in person to the Ryan Visitor Center at Floyd Bennett Field to pick up the decal for your car (you have until April 30th to purchase these, via the Gateway National Recreation Area.)

All tickets sales will be donated to UNICEF UK's Cook for Ukraine Fundraiser.


More Walks

Monday, February 28, 2022

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, frozen

I walked through Prospect Park after our recent ice storm, and it was so beautiful that I kept on going. Just on its other side is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, in a narrow wedge of land between Flatbush and Washington Avenues.

Geese graised on the frosted grass.

Southern magnolias stood petrified.

Persian ironwood buds held their breath.

Pussy willow laughed.

Crocuses cried. But pulled themselves together.

Winterberry glittered.

                                               (It comes in yellow, too.)

And the witch hazels let down their hair. 

 They were made for this.