Jun 16, 2018


Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy.

The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze fennel plants in the Memorial Garden. Caterpillars soon emerge.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in the Memorial Garden

The Memorial Garden bed in summer

Apr 1, 2018


The death of a loved one, coworker or pet reminds us of our own mortality. At least temporarily, we reevaluate what is important, what is worth our time and energy.  Those departed, especially the most recent ones, are really adept at their job.  I had a fair share of loss over the past year, the most recent being the loss of my cat, Gigi. Often referred to as Mr. Gigi, that mischievous fur ball joined my family when my boys were one and three years old. He would have been seventeen years old this year. As I held his skinny, fur-covered body, still and still warm I realized I would never again get mad at him for peeing on the bathroom rug and would miss seeing him waiting on the sink for a drink of running water. He was often a pain in the ass but he was family and he knew we loved him. Mr. Gigi is gone.

This loss coincided with a time of conflict. It occurred around the time of an argument with someone I cared for; an argument that changed the course of our relationship and made me adjust my priorities. At the same time I began the dreaded task of organizing my tax returns. I love trees but paperwork, not so much. Gigi’s death also occurred during an altercation with a gardener at a community garden near my home in Harlem. Being able to grow delicious and gorgeous tomatoes requires some attention. However, many with limited skill and knowledge assume the role and title of expert and evidence of their handiwork is clear to more trained eyes. Over 27 million Americans filed their own taxes in 2017. Does that mean they are qualified accountants?

On my first garden day of the season I found that someone had already cleaned the perennial flowerbed that I planted and devoted much of my limited finances, time and energy to for the past three years. What most distressed me was the loss of the Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil' that was rescued from an old client's garden years ago. It needed much more sun than was available in that backyard and it was finally thriving in its new home in the community garden. I pampered that tall, lanky shrub with extra water and mulched it heavily each winter. On that eventful Tuesday I found the ilex severed to about one third of the height it had struggled so many years to grow to. It now showed no signs of life. The buddleia was cut within an inch of the soil and several other shrubs were cut so low that I wonder if they would ever resurface. The ground was scraped clean and bare of leaves, garbage bags of cutting were piled in a nearby corner and the rosemary bush was gone. I reached out to the persons I thought responsible. It was not easy to explain that being able to grow tomatoes from seed or potted plants or growing sunflowers is not quite the same as knowing how, when, why and if to prune a shrub or a tree and when to cutback plants. The gardener who slashed the ilex also cut back the ornamental grasses dangerously low to the soil. He called the grasses "straw".

I tried to explain that this bed should not be “cleaned” the same way the annuals in the bed of tomatoes and collard greens would and the importance of what I was tiring to achieve with maintaining this almost all-native plant garden. This garden had finally gotten the attention of monarch butterflies and had become the home and feeding place of numerous bees, wasps, praying mantis and birds. I tried to explain that every plant in the bed was paid for out of my pocket; it was not okay for a member to cut every single one of the liatris that struggled through three growing seasons and were finally standing tall. I reminded the gardener of the many times I had provided plants, vegetables, seeds and garden assistance and asked that he and other members check with me before removing flowers that were meant or monarchs. The response I received was very surprising. There were no apologies. It was clear that gardeners with longer membership felt entitled to the plants of that bed and confident of their skills yet unaware of their limited knowledge of plants.


In another garden, closer to my home, a garden caretaker lopped off limbs of the London plane trees, slashed the Japanese maple, witch hazels and dogwoods were mutilated mid- trunk. These disfigured trees and shrubs do not seem to disturb non-gardeners and this caretaker will soon be assigned to maintain the new garden proposed by a crew of architecture students. These students are not landscape architecture students, horticulturists, botanists or gardeners. However, they are proposing designs that will include paving a large portion of the garden space and the removal of mature Calgary pears and four 70’ London plane trees that sustain a population of birds that are so important to our North Harlem neighborhood.    

Over the years I have encountered many trained, skilled and expert gardeners, garden designers and horticulturist, some of whom have published books and write garden articles. These experts are aware of how much there is to learn and know in the fields. At the same time I meet many persons who know so little yet claim to be experts. I understand the zeal. Climate change, global warming and environmental awareness have made gardening and related activities timely, fashionable, hip and sexy. Getting dirt on one’s hand is admirable. Caring enough to know the importance of knowing is even more admirable.The beginning of wisdom is awareness of just how little one knows.

Each year I find bodies of cats, birds and squirrels that do not survive the winter in gardens after the snow melts. I have buried many. Like leaves and decomposed stems that are spared the misfortune of being scraped off the earth and hauled away in garbage bags, these bodies go back in the ground after they have been nourished by all the good things that spring out of it. April brings life to the garden. April also brings varying degrees of skilled and unskilled garden enthusiasts. This April as with all previous Aprils, I will file my taxes with the help of an accountant.

Jan 29, 2017

Birds and Blooms of T&T

The garden in January, February and March may not offer much in terms of color, especially when you live in a snow-covered New York City. But the garden during these months is something to look forward to, when you have deep roots in The Land of The Hummingbird. Cultural hybridity has many advantages. 

These photos of flora and birds of Trinidad and Tobago were taken at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

                                                        Beloperone guttata

Chrysothemis pulchella also grows around my parents' home in Rio Claro.

Holmskioldia sanguinea is also known as Chinese Hat. Beautiful and strange are the flowers. 

           Helconia chartacea

    Jatropha podagrica

Erythrina pallida or Wild Immortelle

Trinbagonians call this vervaine Ven-ven. My mom recommends a tea of ven-ven leaves as a blood cleanser. Hummingbirds love it.

Powder Puff Flower (Calliandra surinamensis)   


Emerald White-chested hummingbird  


White-necked Jacobin Hummingbird


This photo was taken by Tahlia, my brother Matthew's brilliant little girl.

                                                  Hummm. Yummm.


      Torch ginger (Phaeormeria magnifica)

Kohleria tubiflor


Bamboo patches cover the hillsides. This clump sits near the main entrance of Asa Wright.

Trinidad is home to vast number of pteridophytes.


         Selaginella flagellata

This heliconia is the symbol of the PNM (the People's National Movement), the political body governing Trinidad and Tobago. Humming birds love the nectar in little flowers hidden in the cups. Trinbigonians call this helconia Balisier.

Bois canot (Cecropia peltata)

The leaves of Bois canot are favored by still photographers. You can see why.

Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza)

Purple Honeycreeper  (Cyanerpes caeruleus)

Apr 19, 2016

Growing Food: The Sweet Life

Last summer marked my third season of growing plants for food. It has been many years since I started growing herbs in small window boxes but I have now graduated to growing a range of edible plants in the ground. It is remarkable how satisfying and rewarding this activity has become. I was fortunate to land a little bed in a partly shaded corner of the Robert Clinkscale Playground and Community Garden on West 146 Street in Harlem. That little plot contained a mixture of edible and ornamental plants crowded together to cover every inch of soil. I also worked with a few dedicated teens at University Heights High School in the Bronx. Vanessa, Nicolas, Nebraas, Liana and a few non-regular helpers plugged away weeding, watering and staking plants in eleven long beds. It is a beautiful garden and the group worked hard, even though most of them were preparing to head out to various colleges. We grew corn, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, peppers, peas, beans, strawberries, herbs and flowers to attract pollinators and, oh,  tomatoes. 

                                One of many regular harvests at University Heights High School.

Above are cherry tomatoes, Big German and one named Sun Lump. It is a horrible name but those little orange tomatoes have become my favorite. These are from my little plot of land on West 146 Street. Tomatoes became a regular breakfast item, especially topping toast, cream cheese and blanketed by sweet basil. Yummy! I snacked on cherry tomatoes all day long and gave away quite a bit too. Lots were pilfered by neighborhood garden surfers, some seen stuffing vegetables into the harnesses and cribs, alongside their babies.

                                                                      Sun Lump. Sweet!

At the end of July we were all squash and zucchinied out. Roasted zucchini, sauteed, grilled, baked zucchini, zucchini bread. Zucchini bugs! Yuck! So many of them.


                                                                 Aye mama! Not so sweet.

 The eggs may look attractive but when dozens of whitish-gray hatchlings appeared we had had   enough. We squashed those squash bugs, mercilessly.

Zucchini bugs do not discriminate. They may be partial to zucchini but will lay eggs on other plant foliage and suck the life out of other vegetables if zucchini are not available. They ambushed this watermelon before it was ready to be harvested and won.


                                                The garden at University Heights High School

Plump eggplants are targets for squirrels and naughty children who picked them just for the hell of it.  I managed to rescue some.

                                                             Tomatoes and Lablab purpureus

Got bushels of beans and crinkled-black leaf lacinato kale; good looking as well as delicious. Purple bean pods of Lablab are not for eating but were planted for their good looks. Their flowers are equally lovely.

                                             Praying mantises are welcome garden guests.

The teens harvested lots of cucumbers from handsome vines wrapped around their attractive bamboo supports. Cucumbers were eaten while sipping hot coffee, in one smooth motion from the vine to my mouth. There were stubby fat pickling cucumbers and juicy long bumpy cucumbers. Meanwhile, at my Harlem plot, I waited patiently for uber attractive purple cabbages to form heads, but they were sun-deprived. Very pretty though. Beets were pulled regularly and carrots were small but sweet. I smiled for a full three hours straight after pulling my first 6 inch long carrot. I was so proud.

Pesto! Pesto on crackers, on toast, pesto on spaghetti. Pesto in moqueca and in rice dishes. Can't get enough pesto and have enough dried basil to last through next summer.

With many members of the Robert Clinkscales Community Garden of southern backgrounds, there was enough collard greens growing to feed the neighborhood. Lots of ochro (or okra) for gumbo too. I dried some ochro seed for planting this year along with sunflower and dill seeds.

    Cardinal Climber, Spanish Flag and Lablab. Three flowering vines, three pollinator magnets.

The 2016 garden season has started and I can be found outside whenever I am not bent over a book, a drawing board or my laptop. It is gardening that makes my life a joy and makes all else manageable. Hope you too get some dirt under your fingernails and pop a delicious tomato off the vine and into your mouth this season.


Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...