Monthly Archives: May 2015



Andrew’s Honey – Union Street Farmers’ Market

The forecast for Saturday 25th April is cold but sunny.  I am up at the 30th Street access to the High Line for its opening at 7am.


On the High Line at 7am

On the way there is the occasional tantalising glimpse of what might be to come:

IMG_3941 (1)

Kris Martin, Altar, 2014, seen from the street

The 30th Street access brings you to the most newly planted section of this mile and a quarter stretch of public garden created from a disused section of freight railway line suspended between Chelsea and the Meatpacking District on Manhattan’s West Side

Initially, the High Line impresses as a thoughtful, well designed, technically demanding piece of landscape architecture – the leading landscape architectural practice was James Corner Field Operations 


IMG_9798–  but the planting, masterminded by Piet Oudolf, and the dynamic, intuitive way the whole project interacts with the surrounding buildings, soon begins to take your breath away.

At this very early point in a New York spring, it is the range and sheer quantity of the trees that I find most extraordinary. The visitor’s proximity to these trees, planted in shallow soil in exposed conditions, is exhilarating. You are right there, walking through an intimate forest:

road sunlit stripApproaching a young forest of silver birch

One minute you are catching a cheery rainbow-painted building through bud-laden branches:

IMG_3887 (2)

A rainbow-painted building viewed through branches of a cercis tree in shadow

The next, the nearest buildings are lost behind a haze of catkins:

view thru silver birchNeighbouring buildings disappearing behind a haze of silver birch catkins

This great proximity slows you down so that you can really look at the unfolding neat bronze leaves and white flowers of an Amelanchier:

amelanchier plusAmelanchier laevis

Or try to work out the tree from which these magnificent pale yellow-green hands of leaves are unfurling:

more unfurling

IMG_9827The leaves of either Magnolia macrophylla or Magnolia tripelta (too early for even the Friends of the High Line to be sure!) so close you can watch them unfurl before your eyes

You have time to appreciate the impact of a burst of dazzling pink against great swathes of regimented brick:

IMG_3879 (2)

Cercis canadensis at full throttle (the extensive High Line plant list numbers four varieties )

I love this almost schmaltzy coming together of pink and white blossom, sky blue and glass:
cercis amel and blue love pic cercis amelCercis canadensis and Amelanchier against blue sky and blue glass

And I enjoy the muscly, richly toned silhouettes of Rhus typhina – Stag’s Head Sumach – against the milky aqua glass and telling typography of the Giorgio Armani building.

georgio armaniRhus typhina buds against an office window

On the other side of the walkway, the same russety buds and outspread branches confidently frame the muddy waters of the Hudson below, and the proudly fluttering U.S. flag beyond.

IMG_9861Rhus Typhina branches on the High Line framing a U.S. flag

There is a constant intuitive awareness of the way the planting and architecture will relate. I like the simplicity and pallor of these silver birches against a chapel facade:

IMG_3909 (1)

Silver birch against a chapel

And the way the lovely apple-blossom-coloured ornamental quince,  Chaenomeles ‘Toyo-Nishiki’, is gently repeated along the walk-way to form soft mounds against which a bench looks settled or a naked barrier more clothed:

chaenomels close upPG chaenomelsChaenomeles ‘Toyo-Nishigi’giving the bench a settled feel

The shadows of trees and shrubs against the walls beyond the High Line are extraordinary too:

shadow more shadowShadows of trees and plants, the High Line

At other points, where there is mostly only the promise of things to come at ground level,  there are simple bulb plantings which are intuitive and spot on. There is an exhilarating intensity to the yolk-yellow Narcissus ‘Hawera’ which are planted in daringly dense clumps under the shimmering new leaves of silver birch to make an impact on this high open rail road:

IMG_9868 IMG_9871

close up narcissus

 Dense clumps of Narcissus ‘Hawera’ lighting up the old railway track of the High Line

I look around me one last time (before descending to eat an almighty blueberry pancake breakfast, obviously) and wish myself back as soon as possible to see this wonderful strip of wooded city later in the season:

silver birch amelanchier skyscraper thru trees

The amazingly wooded High Line, April 25, 2015

On to The Union Square Farmers Market to visit Andrew Cote who sells the honey he harvests from beehives all over the city. I have been sent here by artist Judi Harvest  who took me to her wonderful Honey Bee Garden on Murano, Venice which I wrote about in my post of October 2013 .

IMG_3954 (2)

Buckets of Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus for sale at Union Square Farmers’ Market

IMG_3957rainbow honey

Andrew Cote’s honey stand at Union Square Farmers’ Market

Andrew is a passionate and pioneering beekeeper who takes care of beehives all over New York, including several sited – such as the hives on the rooftop garden of Judi Harvest’s studio – near the pollen rich High Line. He sells this delicious, locally produced honey in Farmers’ Markets in the city (the stall was teeming and we buy a bag full of honey and honeycomb) and travels the world with the organisation Bees Without Borders teaching beekeeping as a way to help alleviate poverty.  Andrew tells us that there are possible problems ahead with retaining permission to hang on to these brilliantly positioned rooftop hives.  If anyone can campaign successfully to keep them, I am sure it will be him.


The passionate Andrew Cote with his High Line, Brooklyn and special ‘Whipped’ honeys

In the afternoon we arrange to meet our son at Ground Zero.  I don’t know quite why a visit here had not been on our original itinerary –  maybe we casually believed we had a pretty good idea what to expect. We are so glad that our plans changed. We leave the 9/11 Memorial grounds moved, educated and powerfully reminded.

poolOne of the two ‘Reflecting Absence’ pools at Ground Zero designed by Michael Arad with landscape architect Peter Walker

The atmosphere on the site when we arrive is gentle, thoughtful, bustling – just a little light family-group-photography, but mostly people are quiet from the impact of the unbearably elegant, cavernous pools that mark the footprints of the Twin Towers.  These large, open ‘voids’ are fed with relentless sheets of water which head down further into the darker, recessed pools at their centre.  The memorial plaza was designed by Michael Arad in conjunction with landscape architect Peter Walker, the winning entry of an international design competition with 5201 submissions.  Around the edge of each pool, grouped together to represent the floor of the building where the victims died, the names of the people who lost their lives are beautifully engraved.  Almost immediately, in clear, finely chiselled script, we find the name of a close friend’s brother. He had been working in one of the towers and when he died he left behind the most loving family including a young wife and three very young children. I had not expected to be so tremendously saddened.

Looking again across the South Pool I am entranced by a stately, blossoming, almost ghostly tree amidst the sea of young swamp white oaks (Quercus bicolor) that have been selected for their toughness, durability and rich autumn colour.

Our son, Llewelyn, who had been into the impressive 9/11 Memorial Museum told us the extrordinary story of The Survivor Tree.

The tree, a Callery Pear, (Pyrus calleryana), had been discovered in the devastation at Ground Zero a few weeks after the terror attacks.  It was severely damaged, with broken roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and cared for by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

11survivor tree rehab

The Survivor Tree being nurtured back to health by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation – photograph from the 9/11 Memorial website

It was returned to the Memorial in 2010 with new, young limbs growing from gnarled stumps.

survivor tree back in

The Survivor Tree being lowered back into position at Ground Zero – photograph from the 9/11 Memorial website

The tree has become a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth and is often the focus for gatherings of remembrance.

Osurvivor tree obamaPresident Obama at a service of remembrance next to The Survivor Tree – photograph from the 9/11 Memorial website

I felt a little ashamed that I did not know about this remarkable tree before I came to New York.  Looking back at the photographs I took during my trip, I wonder if this ethereal iPhone image of The Survivor Tree is not in fact the photograph which I will remember for the longest time:

survovor tree

The Survivor Tree, 9/11 Memorial


THE A-Z OF A SPRING WEEKEND IN MANHATTAN shadow cericis arainbowCercis canadensis in silhouette against a rainbow painted building – a view from the High Line

IMG_3791Ready for scones and raspberry jam, looking onto Abbie Zabar’s rooftop garden

IMG_0271Non – in Brooklyn – the freezing wind overwhelming the lure of the Japanese Cherry trees in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I have just returned from probably the last truly chilly spring weekend in New York. The temperatures this week are in the high 20’s, but ten days ago the skies were still a cold, hard blue (or grey) and there was a gasp of surprise that trees, especially, were getting on with their spring unfolding against all odds in this extended winter.

love pic cercis amelCercis canadensis and Amelanchier, wonderful companionson the High Line

But Spring was relentlessly trying to make itself felt. In Central Park, magnolias and azaleas presented sudden ballgown sweeps of pink against the familiar buildings towering at the park edges:

central park azalaeacentral magnoliaAzaleas (above) and magnolia trees in Central Park

Walking the streets – which often felt tougher and grittier than I remember – the wonderful, free-limbed Gingko trees were lighting up the darkest redbrick with brilliant, fresh green leaves. Individual branches caught the light like a streak of liquid metal.

IMG_3939Ginko trees in a Manhattan street

gingko like goldGinko leaves catching the light 

Our first morning began at the wonderful Frick Collection.  I have always loved the pale, formal elegance of the three dome-pruned, 1930’s planted, magnolias in the Fifth Avenue Garden, a flurry of restrained pale pink against the extensive grey of the museum and simple topiary planting below. It is rare to prune magnolias – you are generally advised not to do so unless you have to – but these trees have become distinguished sculptural shapes and look great all through the year, especially wonderful when covered in snow.

mags oneMagnolias, Fifth Avenue Garden, Frick Collection – images courtesy of the vivacious NYC blog, Tales of a Madcap Heiress


Magnolia in snow – image from The Frick Collection archive

After our happy pilgrimage to Piero della Francesca, Vermeer and Holbein we wandered down to the Seaport area on our way to Brooklyn. We made a beeline for Emily Thompson Flowers on Beekman Street who has a reputation for creating extraordinary floral decorations.


IMG_3673Emily Thompson Flowers, Beekman Street, New York

Emily is an accomplished sculptress, trained at the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA who has become know for exquisite, unconventional flower arrangements which aim to combine ‘the uncultivated organic world and the delicacy of classical ornamental design’.  The girls taking a lunch break in the shop were incredibly welcoming and invited us to look around.   The colour palette in the studio was vibrant yet subtle – burnt oranges, pale pinks, dusky mauves. I loved the delicacy of garden plants such as hellebores and fritillaries – graceful plants which usually stay firmly in the border and are not generally used as cutting flowers. There was an atmosphere of rich potential everywhere you looked: in the intriguing selection of foliage plants, the towering shelves of tarnished brass vessels, the hanging rows of black and natural candles and the collection of natural props such as wasps nests.

Now back in the UK I look back at this palette and think how wonderful it would be to design a planting scheme using the same balance of brilliant and muted shades as a starting point …


IMG_3654 IMG_3651

IMG_3672IMG_3656IMG_3669The exquisite palette at Emily Thompson Flowers candles etc IMG_3657 IMG_3658Towering shelves of vases and candles at Emily Thompson Flowers IMG_3671 orchidsBrilliant foliage against geometric floor tiles and a silver tray at Emily Thompson Flowers

In the evening, after Evensong at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue where our son, Llewelyn is singing with the wonderful choir, we went to our new favourite Italian restaurant, Il Buco on Bond Street, just off The Bowery.IMG_3631

How did they know that ‘roasted gnocchi with morels and English peas’ would be my new favourite supper and that placing a gorgeous vase of blown peach coloured peonies on our table would make me smile from the moment I arrived?IMG_3965 (2)

The further advantage of the relaxed and delicious Il Buco is that there is a relaxed and delicious sister deli/restaurant Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria in the next street. Obviously this means that each day in the city can begin with a perfect breakfast of fresh orange juice, imaginative homemade bread, ‘red-eye coffee’, and homemade ricotta with olive oil:bucoIMG_3972

IMG_3638Our daily breakfast at Il Buco Alimentari&Vineria

On our second morning I head up to The Cloisters  – an extraordinary museum of medieval art, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, situated way up on 190th Street in Fort Tryon Park which overlooks the Hudson River.  As you emerge from the subway it is disorientating to be in Northern Manhattan, but to feel so far away from the hub of the city:

HUDSONView of the Hudson River as you emerge from 190th Street Subway Station

CLOISTER TOWERView of The Cloisters through early spring trees at Fort Tryon Park

It takes me a while to get my head around the very premise of this museum which is a dazzling collection of important cloisters, chapels, stained glass, sculptures and tapestries, mostly French, mostly from the 12th to 15th Centuries, which are incorporated into a single purpose built museum funded by John D Rockerfeller and which opened to the public in 1938.  But I am soon wooed by the staggering beauty of the collection and by the feeling that everything is so well loved and so intelligently cared for.

I head first for the Cuxa Cloister – a salmon pink marble cloister from the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa near Perpignan, France, dating from around 1130-1140.



IMG_3715The Cuxa Cloister, The Cloisters Museum, New York

The monastery was sacked in the 17th Century and had fallen into ruin by the 19th Century.  As reconstructed here, it is about a quarter of its original size, but the proportions remain the same and additional stone required for the reconstruction was painstakingly sourced from the original quarry. It is bizarre to find yourself peering through stone arches at a twelfth century stone fountain having been on the A train from Columbus Circus only moments before – but I am quickly enjoying the intriguing early spring planting in the beds under the four expertly pollarded crab apple trees. I am enchanted by the tall spires of Fritillaria persica – both the greenish white form and the very dark bruised purple form.   NARCISSUS FRITILLARIAFritillaria persica alba and Narcissus poeticus in the Cuxa Cloister


Two forms of Fritillaria Persica with Narcissus poeticus above and a small white Narcissus  – possibly ‘Jenny’ or ‘Thalia’ – below

They look rare and elegant amongst sheaves of neat white Narcissus  –  and the jewel-like mood is extended by flashes of sharp pink from low-growing species tulips (for example Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’) and touches of delicate rose from pink muscari. This is a satisfying and contemporary interpretation of planting inspired by medieval treatises, herbals and works of art. It would be exciting to try out a similar scheme at home: Fritillaria ‘Ivory Bells, an excellent new selection of the greenish white flowered form, and Fritillaria persica ‘Adiyaman’, with dusky purple flowers, are available from Broadleigh Bulbs, and Kevock Garden Plants offers ‘Ivory Bells’ and Fritillaria persica ‘Midnight Bells’. Both nurseries offer the pale pink grape hyacinth, Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’.


Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’ with white Narcisssus in the Cuxa Cloister

I drink in the endless gorgeous candelabra, perfect orange trees in terracotta pots and the vaulted halls of exquisite stained glass until I have to stop and linger again in front of the Unicorn Tapestries – a series of seven beautiful and complex story-telling tapestries from the South Netherlands (1495 -1505) woven in fine wool and silk with silver and gilded threads.


IMG_9782 IMG_3687Potted orange tree and medieval candelabra, The Cloisters Museum

The iconic ‘Unicorn in Captivity’ may have been created as a single image and is rich in imagery of love, fertility and marriage:

UNICORNThe Unicorn in Captivity part of The Unicorn Tapestries, The Cloisters Museum

The unicorn sits under a tree laden symbolically with ripe pomegranates, and the tapestry is wonderfully and intensely decorated throughout with delicate, mostly botanically accurate, representations of flowering plants offering layers of symbolism on the theme of love and sex. Of the 101 plants featured, 80% have been identified by the New York Botanical Society.

IMG_3750The sweet smelling white stock – Mathiola incana – symbolising love and purity

IMG_3751The Madonna Lily – Lilium candicum – with its symbolism of purity and the Virgin birth

IMG_3753The blue of the  Iris – often associated with the blue of the Virgin Mary

In the next room, I fall completely for a single, earlier – 1400-1415 – South Netherlandish tapestry, ‘The Falcon’s Bath’.

IMG_3758Here courtly figures are persuading a trained falcon to take a bath against a richly clothed rose trellis and a perky flowering turf bench. It is the vibrant, celebratory, highly stylised traditional ‘millefleurs’ background that draws me in.  Such strong shapes, sureness of touch and wonderful use of colour – milky pastel pinks and oranges against an inky blue-green:



IMG_3761IMG_3766Details of ‘The Falcon’s Bath’ tapestry, The Cloisters Museum – at the bottom my favourite detail complete with excellent red stockinged foot

And so I tear myself away from the 15th Century and rattle back on the A train and then up to the fourteenth floor of an Upper East Side apartment block to meet artist, writer, designer and gardener, Abbie Zabar, and find out about the passionate way she gardens on a tiny Penthouse rooftop.  It was Abbie who had warmly recommended The Cloisters to me.  I had not met her before but we had corresponded via The Dahlia Papers and she had very kindly invited me to visit. I knew (not least when she announced that her great friend, Chris, CEO of a major not for profit organisation, was managing to find time to make me her ‘special scones’ !) that the visit would be a brilliant treat.

From the moment I emerge and step directly into her rooftop garden, the collection of olive oil jars which house a refreshingly free-growing collection of boxwood, create a sense of shelter and intimacy away from the blasting wind and industrial feel of the roof tops beyond:

ZABAR OLIVE POTSOlive oil jars with a collection of boxwood, Abbie Zabar’s garden, New York

IMG_3844Looking beyond the intimate grouping of wooden bench, boxwood and terracotta

The elegant apartment paved with smooth limestone flags and discreet, perfectly proportioned cupboards, is orientated always to the rooftop terrace at its perimeter. From the neatest stainless steel kitchen – where lemon verbena tea is simmering away in the covetable vintage pyrex coffee pots she has been collecting for years – a single slim window frames the now famous hawthorn terrace ( see New York Times feature) and an 18th Century gilded Italian mirror above her caramel leather sofa holds an image of the terrace which greets you as soon as you arrive:

IMG_3841Lemon verbena tea in vintage Pyrex coffee pots ZABAR KITCHEN VIEWAbbie Zabar’s roof terrace framed by the kitchen window


The terrace is tiny, but Abbie – who has written books about container gardening, topiary and is a herb and alpine plant specialist – had the brave idea 12 years ago to plant three hawthorn trees (Crataegus pyracantha) in containers to see if she could harness their long season and fantastic toughness to create a natural shade canopy fourteen floors up in a position which is battered by wind and harsh winter conditions and then overwhelmed by sun and heat in the summer. The project is a continued labour of love – Abbie, who as a matter of extreme good fortune ‘loves to prune ‘, is a petite woman of a certain age, but she gets up on a seven foot ladder with goggles and protective clothing throughout the winter to remove the staggeringly long thorns from the trees. She has just repotted them into newly made oak Versailles tubs –  which took serious man power and the risk of a slightly slower start to the season, as the trees adjust to their new homes.

IMG_9932Thorns collected from Abbie Zabar’s Crataegus pyracantha

ZABAR HAWTHORNZABAR CHIMNEYThe winter framework of Abbie’s hawthorn trees against sky and chimneys

Abbie loves the trees for the shape of their leaves, their flowers, their vibrant orange berries and rich autumn colour, and most of all she loves them for the shelter they provide once the temperatures begin to rise which allows her to enjoy being outside despite the heat and to grow a host of other plants in the gentler climate the trees create at their base. The new oak containers and the immaculate trellis (which includes a cunning sliding trellis section to screen a working area of hose pipe and garden tools) are all painted in an excellent demure milky brown which will be a perfect foil for the rich greens and reds to come:


IMGZABAR TABLEVersailles tub and trellis painted in the same demure milky brown – with the beginning of a summer collection of pots.

Abbie is a passionate and inspiring collector of beautifully made objects. As well as 1950’s Murano glass and rare Shaker baskets, she has collected these ‘Jailbird’ nesting boxes made by prisoners in the 30’s and has arranged them in a soaring pattern on her dusky brick wall:

ZABAR BIRD HOUSE‘Jailbird’ nesting boxes, Abbie Zabar’s roof top garden

Abbie’s spirited approach to making the most of every possible opportunity to garden in this limited and often hostile space is uplifting. Away from the main terrace, at the end of a skinny external passageway between terrace wall and the interior solarium, I am led to a specialist rock garden – a tiny dynamic city of terracotta and stone containing an expertly nurtured collection of low-growing alpine plants. I love the way the pots hold their own against the sky scrapers beyond.

IMG_3813 IMG_3818


IMG_3814Abbie Zabar’s brilliant roof-top Alpine rock garden

Here she nurtures rather battered young olive and fig trees with impressive faith:

OLIVE TREES Two young olive trees hoping to make it through

And yet the Boston Ivy beginning to make its presence felt against the brick suggests that this is a garden which will blow your breath away for its lushness – and sheer audacity – in a couple of months time:

IMG_3831Boston Ivy beginning to make its presence felt

I am taken along a further black painted passage, passing two elegant green-painted wooden benches, hooked up efficiently ship-cabin style, on the way:


Vintage wooden benches, folded away and hooked up ship-cabin style

Here, in the toughest, darkest section of rooftop is a background of dark paint, mirrors, green glass pebbles and softening elements of terracotta and wood ready to be clothed in green as the summer progresses:



IMG_3824Abbie Zabar’s rooftop garden, continued

Buffeted by the wind we are relieved to get back inside where Abbie serves me a quite wonderful feast of the scones, homemade jam and cream delivered to her, wrapped in a cloth  – for me! – earlier that morning:

IMG_3839 (4)

Chris’s special half moon scones IMG_3791 Abbie’s hand monogrammed napkins – she sources antique napkins to embroider in the annual ‘Christmas rummage sale’ at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue.

There is too much to talk about, but we manage to cover the beautifully, solid orchid pots in fine Italian terracotta she has just designed for Seibert and Rice. I naturally bought one to bring home in my hand luggage. The orchid pots are reviewed in detail on Matt Mattus in his excellent blog GROWING WITH PLANTS.


abbie4Abbie Zabar’s Seibert and Rice Orchid Pot photographed by Matt Mattus

Abbie also told me about her exhibition which begins in June 2015: Abbie Zabar: Ten Years of Flowers at Wave Hill, the public garden and cultural centre just outside the City. This is a woman who managed to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every week for ten years to make an unbroken record of the famously extravagant floral arrangements in its entrance hall …


A taste of Abbie Zabar’s works on paper or board for her Wave Hill Exhibition, Summer 2015.

I wish I could be back in New York for the exhibition and to revisit this garden when it has fully sprung to life. Instead I go on my way back to street level and down to the Lower East Side.

That evening we discover the serene underground Japanese restaurant, Kyo Ya.  I am charmed and calmed by the wooden interior with beautiful iron screens, the opportunity to taste different ‘Spring sake’ from tiny pottery vessels, and completely delicious food.

IMG_3867Elegant, geometric iron screens at Kyo Ya

Each slice of pressed sushi with marinaded mackerel was decorated with tiny flowers and delicate piles of wasabi or pickled ginger:

IMG_3866 (2)

Pressed sushi of marinaded mackerel with flowers at Kyo Ya

We sit against a perfect screen of almost luminous Honesty (lunaria annua) seed heads pressed within panes of glass.

IMG_3861 (3)Glass screen with honesty seed heads, Kyo Ya Japanese Restaurant

Part II of An English Gardener in New York, From the High Line to Ground Zero, to follow shortly.