High Line Part II


Photo: Iwan Baan, 2011

LAST WEEK, another 10-block section of the High Line, the ongoing re-invention of an unused elevated railroad line through Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, opened to the public. The innovative park now stretches all the way to West 30th Street from Gansevoort in the West Village (you can enter at either end, or at an approximate halfway point at West 18th Street). The whole ambitious project has been more than a decade in the making.


Before the renovation. Photo: Joel Stern, 2000

The park, landscaped by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf with a naturalistic feel that recalls the original industrial use of the line and even the great era of American railroads, became instantly popular with strollers, picnickers, and sunset-watchers. I’m looking forward to seeing this new spur; meanwhile, Garden Design magazine has published some great pictures on its website.

Below, a 1934 photo of the High Line when it was still in use as an industrial rail line between wharves and warehouses


Go here to see the rest of Garden Design‘s photos. To read my own post about the High Line from my first visit there, go here.

My Byline Gets a Workout


The new Brooklyn Bridge Park, Garden Design Nov/Dec 2010. Photo: Julienne Schaer

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, writing for garden and interiors magazines. When I first started, in pre-computer days, I hated it; I suffered terrible anxiety and writer’s block, brought on by wanting so badly to be brilliant. Until I got an article written and delivered, I went entire weekends without leaving the house, or even changing out of my pajamas.


Date palm allee, Garden Design Nov/Dec 2010. Photo: Robin Hill

It’s a whole lot easier now that I’ve realized brilliance isn’t necessary — just good interviewing and reporting skills, a general understanding of the subject matter at hand, clarity and hopefully a bit of sparkle in the writing.

Below: Central Park West apartment by D’Aquino Monaco, New York Spaces Nov. 2010. Photo: Peter Murdock


This month, I have five articles in print: two in the new issue of Garden Design — “Down by the Riverside,” about the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, top, and the cover story, “Inspired Italy,” a South Florida garden by Sanchez & Maddux, influenced by classical European tradition; two in Hamptons Cottages & Gardens holiday issue, out Nov. 24; and one in New York Spaces, an over-the-top, avant garde interior by D’Aquino Monaco, above.

Alex Porter 2370

House in Amagansett by architect Alex Porter, Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, Holiday 2010. Photo: Tim Street-Porter

Burnin’ up the newsstands!

Garden Realities


SO, FROM THE FLORAL EXTRAVAGANZA OF RANCHO LA PUERTA to the bare dirt of my own garden-to-be in Springs, N.Y., above. It’s a tough transition, but I’m doing my best.

I spent yesterday afternoon moving things around. Early spring is the best time of year to do that for most perennials, before things get too far along and you’re dealing with floppy greenery.

My focus is on creating some curb appeal, so when I drive up to my house, I say “Wow!” instead of “Oy!” I’m slowly filling in the planting beds I carved out from the former driveway. Last fall, I sculpted the shapes I wanted with piles of oak leaves. In late winter, I had a truckload of topsoil (and a bit of compost – not nearly enough) delivered and spread by Whitmore’s Nursery. More recently, I schlepped and spread  an additional twenty-two 40-lb. bags of purchased compost myself.


Getting there…

I’m trying to create viable planting areas out of  completely useless, compacted soil. What’s alarming is I’ve seen exactly one worm so far this spring (worms being a sign of soil fertility). But when I dig down to plant, the soil looks reasonably rich and properly crumbly, at least on the surface and a few inches below. There are a still a lot of un-decomposed oak leaves, but I leave them in place to continue their cycle of decay.

This being tax month, I am trying to do what I can without spending a cent. That means, first of all, moving green things from the rear of the property to the front, and over the next few weeks, begging perennial divisions from gardening friends and relatives.

Here’s what I transplanted yesterday from back to front:

  • 5 Korean boxwoods bought last spring at Home Depot. I adore boxwoods – they’re tidy, evergreen, and deer-proof. These are small — just 1′ tall and 1′ wide, eventually to double in size. Can never have enough boxwoods.
  • In addition to a wonderful glade of foot-tall ferns in the backyard, there were two existing clumps of another, taller type. I dug up one longstanding clump of these three-footers — easier said than done, as the clump was a couple feet across, with several starting-to-unfurl fronds and a thick mass of roots — and sawed it into five sections. I transplated them around my small front deck and watered them in well with a fish emulsion fertilizer — for no particular reason, except that’s what I had in the cupboard.
  • Six astilbes that had been stuck in the back for temporary holding

Along with the half-price perennials I bought at Spielberg’s in East Hampton (I can’t say they’ve taken off yet, but they’re settling in) — including five each of lady’s mantle, blue ‘May Night’ salvia, an ornamental grass, some white creeping phlox, three ligularia — well, there’s still a whole lot of bare dirt, below. But I remember how quickly my garden at Dean Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, came together once things got growing (“from nil to abundance in two seasons,” as my own blog post put it), and that gives me hope.


…but still quite a ways to go

My color scheme? Blue, purple, yellow, white, for the most part. This partly of necessity, as orange and red flowers seem to be mainly sun-lovers, and while it’s pretty bright around here at the moment, I expect things to become considerably shadier once the surrounding trees leaf out.

Note: I’ve been contributing blog posts to Garden Design magazine’s website. They mostly link back to this blog, so it’s all rather circular, but if you’d like to take a look, go here (there’s other stuff on the site besides my blog posts).

White is a Color


OH BOY, I’m all over the Internet today. Remarkable, not having left the house in two days, to feel so widely published, and instantaneously, too.

Two pictures of my snow-logged backyard, taken yesterday at the height of the blizzard, are up on Curbed Hamptons, the real estate website focused on the high end of the spectrum (“Most Expensive Summer Rentals,” for instance. I don’t know a soul who could afford them.)

And I have another guest post on Garden Design magazine’s website, a version of yesterday’s post about terrariums.


To understand my excitement, you have to know that, over the course of my long print journalism career, it has sometimes taken TWO YEARS for a story I’ve written to be finally published.

I heard Loudon Wainwright on NPR today talking about his father, who was a writer for LIFE magazine, and why he himself chose not to become a writer: “It seemed hard, boring, and above all, lonely.” Spot on! I would add sedentary and not particularly good for one’s mental health. Music is far more joyful.

But this Internet thing has eliminated the terrible sense of isolation. And even some of the “hard” part, since the ephemeral nature of the medium diminishes the pressure to sweat and struggle over each word (maybe it shouldn’t, but it does).

Back to the snow. A few days ago, gazing out at my backyard, I was musing a statement made by landscape designer Piet Oudolf ,“Brown is a color.” What he meant was, embrace the dying phase of plants, and skip that pesky fall clean-up in favor of leaving dried perennials and grasses standing through the winter. I didn’t have any to leave this year, not having been here long enough to plant them; all I had was the brown of dirt and fallen oak leaves.


So today, I’m reveling in white. It’s worth staying in another day to watch the long shadows creep across the snow, and the birds flit around the back porch, pecking away at my seed bell and suet.

SPAIN – Day 5: Tale of Two Cities


DAY 5 BEGAN in sunny Seville, with a walk along the Guadalqivir River, past the 200-year-old bull ring, below, to Triana, a working-class neighborhood that is home to several ceramics places I had read about in guidebooks and (you’d think I’d know by now) was looking forward to checking out.

Was disappointed to find the pottery mediocre in the extreme. Nothing worth buying; all very commercial. The tiled buildings housing the old factories are better than the wares they’re turning out.


I did a quick circuit of shops I’d visited the day before to pick up items for my Budget Travel shopping story, including a great find in the Santa Cruz quarter called Populart, which sells terra cotta urns and 19th century tiles salvaged from demolished local buildings.

Then back to Seville’s Santa Justa Station, below, for the 3-hour train ride to Granada through fields of olive trees, toward the looming Sierra Nevada mountains.


We arrived in Granada after dark and taxi’d to Plaza de Carmen, where we found ourselves a grown-up restaurant (as opposed to a flourescently lit tapas bar, though I like those too) where the salad was gorgeous (white asparagus, olives, mango, among other things), enormous, and very satisfying. They’re big on ham here in Andalusia, which I don’t eat, so I’ve been making do with eggs, potato, tuna, anchovies, machego cheese, and salads, which is fine with me.

Here’s my travel partner Irvina (at left, below) and me in an even more grown-up restaurant a couple of nights ago at the grand Hotel Alfonso XIII, built for Seville’s 1929 World’s Fair.


Our hotel for two nights is a converted convent on Granada’s main drag, Gran Via Colon, with high coffered wooden ceilings, brick walls, arched windows, Euromod decor, and very fine breakfasts. The concierge sent us to a very cool tapas bar, below, with a faded 1930s mural above the bar, a collection of old bottles in the window, and noisy college students (Granada’s university has 60,000 of them) all in black, smoking up a storm.

One more thing: I’m guest blogging for Garden Design magazine’s website; my first post for them, which I filed from Seville yesterday, is here, if you want to take a look.