No vember


WHEN I WAS ABOUT 9, my uncle taught me this ditty:

No birds No bees No flowers No trees

No wonder…November.

I still find it amusing, even though it’s not true. The goldfinches are still at the thistle feeder. I saw bees burrowing in the catmint just the other day. My cimicifuga sent up about a dozen white bottle-brush flowers, and even the rhododendrons, below — which I thought didn’t bloom this year because the deer had eaten all the buds — have a few stunted magenta flowers on them, months behind schedule. The trees are still pretty leafy, and seem particularly brilliant this autumn.


Perhaps because I’m leaving? Tomorrow I’m heading to Brooklyn to start my experiment in leading a double life — the Hamptons/New York City circuit that so many take for granted, but for me is a whole new chapter.


On Monday morning I’ll be in my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, awaiting delivery of most of the furniture I put into storage a year-and-a-half ago, when I came out to live in East Hampton full-time. That was by default, as some of you may remember, when the Brooklyn place I was to have moved into around the same time I closed on this Hamptons cottage fell through at the last minute.


Above: Awesome sarcococca, male of the species

I feel like I have unfinished business back in Brooklyn. I’m getting excited about volunteering at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taking $10 yoga classes at Shambala, going to BAM more often, hearing some klezmer music, shopping at Sahadi. But most of all, having a city home again, furnished with city stuff. The orange Ligne Roset chairs, the steel and glass coffee table, the Nakashima-esque side table my son made, the inlaid 1950s Italian cabinet we bought in Tuscany and had shipped home, the 8-foot-long beige chenille sofa with cat-scratched arms. Maybe inanimate objects shouldn’t matter so much, but somehow they do. Even more than memories, I think, they’re about identity. It’s been hard sometimes, these past 18 months, to remember who I am in a new place, new house, surrounded by new (pre-owned, of course, but new to me) stuff.

November will not be boring. After settling into Brooklyn, I’m off to Maui for a week (yes, I know, too bad). I’ll be exploring the island with my daughter, who lives there. I’ve got our itinerary planned out. No modern resorts; we’ll be staying in vintage B&Bs. I’ll visit some botanic gardens and flower farms and historic houses and maybe even go to the beach. Then I’m heading down to Philly to cut a hole in a wall that should make one of the apartments in my Queen Village building much pleasanter and more livable. Thanksgiving will be upstate with lots of cousins.

It won’t be until December that I begin to figure out how this pied-a-terre thing really works.


Photos by Debre DeMers

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?


A Bed for All Seasons

Sedum in close-upONE OF MY FAVORITE FLOWER BEDS upstate is a 4’x4′ square outlined in cinderblock, with foot-high boxwoods in each corner and a concrete birdbath bought for $40 in the center. I think the term is “pocket garden.”Crocus time

Self-contained and visible from the house, this micro-garden is ever-changing and very satisfying. You can stuff all kinds of things into it: bulbs, herbs, annuals, perennials. It’s different from year to year, season to season.

Right: Early days: boxwoods in each corner, wooly thyme, crocuses in April

april1Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s gaudy. For a few years, I filled the birdbath ——————————————– —————- frequently with clean water, but the birds never seemed that excited about it. So I put a bit of soil and some pea gravel in it and planted it up with various types of sedum.

Left: Daffodils leave a whole lot of browning foliage to deal with – not the best idea in so small a space.

Below: Easy-to-grow annual cleomes (spider flowers) are a new discovery for me. Blue lobelia, an annual, is beneath. I love the delicacy of this look.

June with cleomes

Bottom: Flamboyance in August, with perennial globe thistles and annual cockscomb and marigolds, bought as starters from a local farm stand.


Mud Now, Flowers Later

Just a few more weeks: daffs and peach tree, below, bloom in April


MARCH IS MUD SEASON in the Hudson Valley, raw, wet, and long. If I lived here full-time, I’d probably have to shoot myself right about now, but for remembering what’s to come.

After gardening on this property for seven years, I know it’s not long before brown turns to green, and then to an outrageous floral extravaganza.

In the meantime, I sustain myself with pictures from prior seasons (the small ones were taken Tuesday).p10301741

If those are globe aliums, it must be May

If those are globe alliums, above, it must be May



June: catmint, ladies mantle, threadleaf coreopsis, and daylilies, above


Late summer: "Island bed" with rudbeckia, sedum autumn joy

The island bed in August, above and below, with rudbeckia, sedum, boltonia, and more168_6889p1030179


Above, Coneflowers in late summer