Container Culture


THERE’S REALLY NOTHING you can’t grow in containers, provided the container is big enough — trees, shrubs, grasses, bulbs, perennials, annuals.

So, if you happen to have a 4,600 square foot rooftop terrace like the one above and below, atop a factory converted to living lofts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — come September, you can have your own prairie meadow, ablaze with golden rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans).

Rebecca Cole, the garden designer, created the look of natural landscaping, with metal cubes containing birch trees and grasses, ‘carpets’ of sedum, and lots of annual color. She carefully planned the placement of containers to break up the vast space into functional areas, and considered the view from indoors.



On the Greenwich Village terrace, below, also by Rebecca Cole, a Japanese maple thrives, along with a lush array of evergreens and perennials, many with chartreuse foliage.



Now for something a little more attainable. First, a couple of humble containers from my own past, and what made me happy about them:

The yellow-tipped hosta in a terra cotta pot, below at left, couldn’t be easier or more reliable. The five orange lilies at right were a free bonus with a plant order. They were stuck in a clay pot and forgotten, except for the few weeks each summer when they would reappear, vigor undiminished.


The perennial dianthus (mini-carnations), below, from a farmers market, were a complete surprise. How well they bloomed had, I think, something to do with the piece of salvaged mirror I placed along the wall behind them. A south-facing wall to begin with, the extra reflected light seemed to enhance and prolong their bloom, which lasted for many weeks.


Another bargain in a pot, below: coleus and impatiens stuck in a shady, bare space among hostas, ferns, and hydrangeas for instant, portable color.


If there’s one good rule for successful annual containers, it might be ‘Stuff it all in there.’ The urn below, created by landscape designer Mary-Liz Campbell at the entrance to her home in Westchester County, has at least five different plants, including cannas, Japanese blood grass, variegated ivy, and sweet potato vine.


Two important things to do with container plantings: feed and water. A lot. Nutrients in containers get used up quickly.

Last, an unpretentious little grouping, seen last spring on an Amsterdam doorstep. Not much to it, really — it’s mostly just one plant per pot — but doesn’t it make you want to go plant up some containers and stick them on your front steps?


Bulb Planting Ideas for a Rainy Day

THIS is what’s going on in Holland’s Keukenhof gardens as we speak. The 79-acre Keukenhof, an hour south of Amsterdam, may be the world’s most spectacular trade show — an annual explosion of 7 million flowering bulbs showcasing the offerings of Dutch bulb suppliers.

The cheery floral galaxy lasts this year until May 21. Keukenhof is open to the public, and draws 3/4 million visitors from around the world. If you can’t make it this year, check out my pictures taken last April, below. (Feel free to lift them – they make great screen savers!)





Amsterdam Fairy Tale


Ever wonder what it’s like to live under the steep, sloping eaves of a 17th century house in the heart of Amsterdam?  It’s a lot of stairs, let me tell you.  But once you’re up there, you’re in a storybook.  You expect Peter Pan to land on the window sill at any moment (well, that would be London, but anyway….)img_7789_2

Take a peek into my friend Ruth’s apartment in the Bejignhof, an enclosed courtyard originally built as a sanctuary for a Catholic sisterhood. The houses are still reserved for occupancy by single women (male visitors allowed, not to worry).

The place is small but airy, on the building’s top two floors.  She uses the lower (below top) as living/kitchen/office, and the upper (below bottom) as a bedroom.


The Bejignhof’s stunning houses are mostly from the 1600s, but they also include Amsterdam’s oldest surviving house, Het Houten Huis, from around 1420 (right). The Bejignhof is actually one of Amsterdam’s top tourist attractionsbegijnhof_het_houten_huis; the courtyard is open daily from 9-1.

Ruth, a classical musician who hosts an eclectic, rockin’ Sunday-morning internet radio show, Meeting Point at 8:30AM Eastern time, is an American who’s lived in the Dutch capital for many years (you can access both the show and the chat room at

img_7790_2Yes, she knows how lucky she is.

The rise & fall & rise & fall of Amsterdam real estate


YESTERDAY’S Amsterdam post on casaCARA got me thinking about an article, “This Very, Very Old House,” that ran in The New York Times magazine in March 2006, analyzing boom/bust cycles in Amsterdam real estate over four centuries.

When the piece was published, it was an open question as to whether our own real-estate bubble would burst. Now that it has, going back for a re-read is helpful, especially for the calming effect such a long view has on our current preoccupations: Will prices go up again? Will they go down further? How much further down will they go?

The article’s author, Russell Shorto (who wrote The Island at the Center of the World, about New York’s Dutch origins), focused on a single house, built in 1625 by a carpenter named Pieter Fransz — “an elegant red brick step-gable with sandstone bands….and cross-framed windows” on Amsterdam’s still-prime Herengracht (‘Gentleman’s Canal’) — and on the work of Piet Eichholtz, a real-estate finance professor at the Netherlands’ Maastricht University.

The townhouses that line Amsterdam’s canals are every bit as desirable today as when they were built in the 1600s. Nearly 400 years of sales records provide a unique perspective on the ups and downs of an urban property market — a much, much longer view than most real-estate market research, which goes back maybe 20 years. Continue reading

Dutch Treat

View of 17th century facades and rooftops from a top floor apartment in Amsterdam’s Begijnhof.  More to follow!