Persimmons (not growing) on a branch


Take a Moment for Forethought

Luscious photos now splash pages of mail-order catalogs, the web, and plant tags at local nurseries. It’s hard to remain rational about planting this time of year, and more so the colder the last winter’s climate.

What I’m suggesting is to give plantings some forethought and, rather than looking for either ornamental or edible trees and shrubs, considering plants that fulfill both functions. That is, trees and shrubs that earn their keep year-‘round with leaves that remain lush and verdant all summer, then light up with fall color, and, of course, bear fruit, and perhaps unfold with eye-catching blossoms in spring.

Persimmons ripening

Persimmons ripening

Lots of trees and shrubs fill this bill, but here I’d like to restrict consideration to fruits that I would pop into my mouth right out in the garden; doctoring up as jam or in a pie is not obligatory.  Read more

Winter view from indoors


Forming Relationships

This may sound crazy but even this far north, winter isn’t a bad time to admire the garden. With leaves and flowers a memory of the past season and a hope for the coming season, the garden is reduced to its bare bones. Not that the wintry scene need be dull or bleak. Good bones give structure to the landscape, knitting it together in some places, dividing it up in others, framing vistas, and providing firm footing for the eyes (figuratively) and feet (literally). Even now.

Three-dimensional forms are what give structure to a landscape. A house usually is the most obvious mass jutting up into space on a property. Too often it’s the only structural element, feebly tied to the landscape with some gumdrop-shaped junipers or yews standing, as if guarding, the foundation.

Winter view from indoorsI have effected a relationship between my yard and my house by building a grape arbor out from the rear wall, then enclosing the ground beneath this arbor with a brick terrace (my house is also brick) edged with a low hedge of potentilla. Similarly, the stone wall supporting what previous were slopes at the front and side of my house flow into the landscape with a contiguous stone wall sweeping out across the yard. Read more

Fruit in hand and on stem


Sweet, Juicy, & Tolerant

Nanking cherries (Prunus tomentosa) are now at their peak of perfection, sweet and sprightly flavored, brilliant red in color, still firm, and, as usual, abundant. Nanking cherries are very juicy and not stingy to release the juice. Straight up, it’s the most refreshing juice imaginable.Picking Nanking cherries

You’ve never heard of Nanking cherries? Understandable since they are an uncommon fruit. (And warranted a whole chapter in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, now out of print but in the works for updating and expanding.) As the name tells you, they are native to China, more generally to the cold, semi-arid regions of Asia. This provenance tells you something about the toughness of the plant, where it weathers winter temperatures below minus 20 degrees F. and summer temperatures as high as 110 degrees F. Read more

Wisteria flowers


Shoots vs. Flowers

Around this time of year, few plants are as dramatically beautiful as a well-grown wisteria, whose chains of lavender flowers drip like little waterfalls from the branches. I’ve always wanted one, and now I have one. Wisteria flowersBut I’ll keep in mind a common complaint people have with wisteria: The frustration when a wisteria plant is all shoots and no flowers!

This problem has some causes and some solutions. The common complaint can often be traced to something as simple as a poor plant or a poor site. Perhaps Read more

Heath bed from NE


A Little History

Walking down the path alongside my home first thing this morning, I looked to my right and was wowed. What I saw warranted bragging rights. Flowers in red, pink, white, and a touch of purple against a backdrop of varying shades of green leaves, some sparkling with reflected light, others mat, holding onto any reflections. Heart-shaped leaves, lance-shaped leaves, and compound leaves livened the backdrop. All of it set off against the solid backdrop of the red brick wall.Heath bed from NE

Although I chose and planted all that I admired, not too much credit for it was mine. This was no carefully planned design laid out on paper with squiggly shapes representing plants and their locations, each shape labeled with plant names and varieties, perhaps even a note to flower colors.

Twenty plus years ago, the site was a strip of sloping lawn on the east and north sides of my home. Imagining myself one day slipping while mowing with my foot sliding beneath the mower that birthed a plan for building a rock wall at the base of the slope which would be backfilled with soil. No more slope and no more mowing.

The Heath Family Stays Together for a Reason

And so was borne my “heath bed,” a bed of various plants in the Heath Family, Ericaceae. Grouping such plants together was not just a botanical plaything; it had function. Read more


What and Why?

The Month of May has ended, as has “No Mow May.” If you’ve never heard of “No Mow May,” it’s the rallying cry of a movement that began in the UK, suggesting that all of us who nurture greenswards abandon our efforts for the month of May. In so doing, habitat and food, in the form of early blooming wildflowers such as dandelions, clover, creeping Charlie, and violets, would become more available to early season pollinating insects.No Mow May lawn

Let’s dive deeper into what “No Mow May” accomplishes, whether this movement has any drawbacks, and, finally, possible alternatives.

A lawn is typically a monoculture, or nearly so. Not mowing during this month when heat and rainfall spur rapid plant growth encourages more diversity, which makes environments more resilient.

Gasoline-powered mowers spew out great quantities of carbon dioxide and pollutants. Over the course of a year, one such machine pollutes the same amount as 43 new cars, each driven 12,000 miles! And all that noise. Not to also mention toxic pollutants entering the environment (13 billion pounds per year from lawns) and our collective lawns thirst for copious amount of water.

“No Mow May” puts a hold on all these environmental affronts, at least for the month.

Does It Fill The Bill?

Take a closer look at what this deliberate neglect has fostered. Peer at a no mow lawn, perhaps yours, and you’ll see some of the aforementioned wildflowers. Wait, though. Plants such as dandelion and creeping Charlie, are not native. Creeping Charlie beneath treesAnd dandelion, for one, can negatively impact animals and even other plants. Its pollen is nutritionally poor for bees, low in valine, isoleucine, leucine and arginine, all essential amino acids for honey bees. Problem is that bees can become faithful to one plant, so might fail to sufficiently pollinate other plants or ignore more nutritious pollen sources if they get started on dandelions. And dandelion’s allelopathic pollen inhibits seed development of some other plants.

Leaving the mower parked in the garage or barn for May will, of course, change the appearance of your lawn, a look that has been part of our collective aesthetic from the past. Local ordinances might even prohibit “No Mow May.”

Despite certain drawbacks, mown lawn is functional, providing a soft, inviting surface for lounging, for playing, for picnicking, and other civilized activities.

Monet's "Luncheon on the Grass"

Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass”

Tall grass is not nearly so inviting, especially as mice and other rodents feel more secure from predators scampering beneath the cover of long grass. Ticks enjoy such habitat, and are carried around by the mice, increasing threat of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Okay, so it’s the end of the month and you’re ready to mow. It’s not going to be easy to plow through all that vegetation. And all those clumps of grass clippings? You’ll probably have to rake them up so the lawn doesn’t get smothered.

The grass itself isn’t going to fair well with the drastic end-of-the-month pruning. Grasses are healthiest if blades are cut back by no more than one-third their length. So two mowings may be in order to bring grass down to mown height. If you wait a few days between mowings , then clippings from the first cut have time to dry out, so you may be able to forgo having to rake them up.

When all is said and done, does one month of not mowing an established lawn really encourage a burst of wildflowers or other biological changes? Probably not. The “No Mow May” lawns that I see look mostly just like unmown grass.close up of No Mow May lawn


Probably the easiest way to get the best of both worlds, or at least some of both worlds, would be with “One Mow May”  or “Less Mow May” rather than “No Mow May.”

Or, replace part of the lawn with a garden, perhaps a wildflower garden, or even just areas with groundcovers rather than lawn.

My top alternative to “No Mow May” is what I’ve called Lawn Nouveau, an idea I had years ago that reflected my lack of time and enthusiasm for mowing the lawn. Here’s an adaptation of Lawn Nouveau, as I described it in the mowing chapter — yes, mowing is a type of pruning — of my book The Pruning Book (available here, signed, or from the usual sources):

The low grass is just like any other lawn, and kept that way with a lawnmower. Other portions are allowed to grow, and are mowed infrequently –- one to three times a year, depending on the desired look. Mowings from the tall grass portions must be raked up after mowing or else they’d leave unsightly clumps and smother regrowth, but they are good material for mulch or compost.Wildflowers in Lawn Nouveau tall grass

A crisp boundary between tall and low grass keeps everything neat and avoids the appearance of an unmown lawn. Tall and short grass can help define areas. Rather than straight edges and 90° corners, curves in bold sweeps can carry you along, then pull you forward and push you backward, as you look upon them. Avenues of low grass cut into the tall grass invite exploration, and, like the broad sweeps, can be altered throughout the season.Meadow view

The “tall grass” becomes more than just grass as other plant species gradually elbow their way in. Which ones gain foothold depends on the weather and frequency of mowing. Goldenrod in meadowAn attractive mix of Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, chicory, and red clover might mingle with the grasses in a dry, sunny area, with ferns, sedges, and buttercups mixing with the grasses in a wetter portion.Meadow withh monarda

I now have a one-and-a half acre meadow which, along with some lawn around my home, constitutes Lawn Nouveau here. No need for large property, though; my original property was 3/4 acre, and that’s where Lawn Nouveau began way back when.Small Lawn Nouveau

In Praise of the (Austrian) Scythe

My preferred implement for mowing the tall grass is a scythe. Not the so-called American type scythe, with a curved handle and stamped blade, which is put to best use decorating the wall of a barn. I use a so-called Austrian type scythe (purchased from, which usually has a straight handle and is lightweight with a razor sharp, hammered-thin blade.

Much of my one acre meadow gets a once-a-year mowing with my tractor, but you’ll still find me out there early summer mornings with my scythe. Lee scythingIt’s a joy to step out in the dewy coolness and swing my scythe, the only sounds being that of birds singing and the scythe blade whooshing through the turgid, green stalks of meadow plants.

(For a short scything video, see


Etymological Wanderings

Sure, I’ve been dropping seeds into mini-furrows in some seed flats, and prunings are starting to litter the ground outdoors. But there’s a lot of nongardening activity going on here. What better time to ponder etymology? (Etymology, not entomology, the latter of which is the study of insects; aphids, mealybugs and whiteflies, all of which will be crawling around soon enough.) What exactly do we mean when we talk about a “garden” or “gardening?”

Garden(?) in Italy

Garden(?) in Italy

The word “gardening” is pretty much synonymous with “horticulture,” which comes from the Latin hortus meaning a garden, and cultura, to culture. According to Webster, horticulture is the “art or science of cultivating fruits, flowers, and vegetables.” The word “horticulture” was given official recognition in The New World of English Words in 1678 by E. Phillips, although though the Latin form, horticultura, first appeared as the title of a treatise of 1631. 

Horticulture, then, is about growing fruits, flowers, and vegetables; nothing is said about cultivating a field of cotton or wheat. These latter crops are in the ken of agronomy, from the Latin root ager meaning field. Once again quoting Webster, agronomy is the “science or art of crop production; the management of farm land.” Horticultural crops are more intensively cultivated than farm crops — and more apt to be threatened by neglect.

In fact, “gardening” and “horticulture” are not exactly synonymous. Horticulture is usually associated with growing plants for a livelihood, and is broken down into pomology (fruits), olericulture (vegetables), floriculture (flowers) and landscaping. Gardening usually implies something more homey and intimate.

Gardyne Styles

Over the centuries, the word “garden” has been penned in many spellings. A chronicler of the 13th century wrote “gardynes,” in the next century Chaucer wrote the word a bit differently: “Yif me a plante of thilke blessed tre And in my gardyn planted it shall be.” We see yet another spelling early in the sixteenth century: “My lord you have very good strawberries at your gardayne in Holberne.” Finally, by the time of Shakespeare, we have: “Ile fetch a turne about the Garden.” Here, “garden” at least, is spelt [sic] the moderne [sic] way.

The root of the word “garden” comes from the Old English geard, meaning fence, enclosure, or courtyard, and the Old Saxon gyrdan, meaning to enclose or gird.

Walled garden, with wall capturing heat for espliered peaches

Walled garden

These words are closely related to our modern words “yard,” “girth,” and “guard.” Medieval gardens were physically enclosed. My vegetable garden is too, but mostly as protection against rabbits that love my peas and beans, not against knights practicing their jousting or wild pigs roaming the fields. The medieval garden was against the house and protected by a high wall, or, perhaps a wattle fence.Fenced garden

Over the centuries, “garden” and “gardening” have come to mean more than the fenced medieval garden. The archetypal Persian garden is dominated by refreshing pools or fountains of water. In the Italian garden, we find trees and shrubs, and stone stairways, balustrades, and porticos.

Classic Italian garden

Classic Italian garden

Grand parterres characterize the French style of gardening.

Parterres in French garden

Parterres in French garden

About a hundred years ago, the increasingly grand style of gardening fell from favor as an Englishwoman, Gertrude Jekyll, came forward to laud and design gardens that emulated intimate, colorful, and informal cottage gardens. She wrote that the ” . . . first purpose of a garden is to give happiness and repose of mind, which is more often enjoyed in the contemplation of the homely border . . . than in any of the great gardens where the flowers lose their identity, and with it their hold on the human heart.”Cottage garden

And Today . . . ?

What does “garden” and “gardening” mean today? A few tomato and marigold plants, separated from the dwelling by an expanse of lawn? A woodland glen of ferns and bleeding hearts? More recently, “forest gardens” have incorporated edible plants in forest-ish settings.

A forest garden?

A forest garden?

How about a knot garden of herbs within a white picket fence — in the medieval style, one might say?

The World Was My Garden, the title of the book by early 20th century plant explorer and botanist David Fairchild offers another perspective on “garden.” (I’ll change the “was” to “is,” though.) I’m not sure where my garden ends and whatever else grows within my property boundaries begins.

What's the boundary of this garden?

What’s the boundary of this garden?

I pick strawberries in my vegetable garden and grow Caucasian mountain spinach among my gooseberries. Grapevines clamber on the arbor over my terrace, and a stewartia tree, mountain laurels, and lowbush blueberries snuggle near the east side of my home. 

And why stop at property boundaries?

Mountains "in" this garden

Mountains “in” this garden

Buildings as part of this garden, NYC HIghline

A row of eighty foot tall pine trees peer over the tops of my pear trees from the far end of my neighbor’s property two houses away to the north.Pines at neighbor's house To the south my meadow ends at a sweep of another neighbor’s field, the more frequently mown grass of which undulate like waves in summer sunshine in contrast to the more upright asters, fleabanes, goldenrods, and monardas that stand upright among the grasses in my meadow. View of meadow, October

Further extending the boundary are gardens revisited in my memory and those I have yet to see.

My boundless garden

My boundless garden


Calamity Avoidance

A horticultural calamity averted. Again. Deb was snipping some leaves from our potted rosemary “tree” for salad dressing and said she noticed that the plant looked a little wilty. I was skeptical. Rosemary leaves are so narrow and stiff that they hardly broadcast their thirst. Still, quite a few rosemary plants have succumbed to winter drought here.Potted rosemary tree in winter

I checked the plant and, in fact, the leaves did look a bit wilty. The probe of my sort-of-accurate electronic moisture tester (which I nonetheless highly recommend) confirmed Deb’s diagnosis. The soil was very dry but, luckily, not to the point of killing the plant.

Allow me to digress . . . Soil scientists represent soil moisture levels with four descriptors. Right after a thorough watering, a soil is “saturated,” with all pores filled with water. Saturation is not desirable in the long term because roots need to “breathe” to do their work of drawing in nutrients and water, which is why plants exhibit the same symptoms from either dry or sodden soil.

Without additional water, gravity begins to pull water down and out of the larger pores of a saturated soil. Once gravity has pulled all the water it can from a soil, the soil is at “field capacity,” much to the pleasure of resident plants. At this point, large pores are filled with air yet some water, which is available for plants, is retained within smaller pores and clinging to soil particles.

Roots continue to slurp more and more water from the soil, but with increasing difficulty because water within even smaller pores and clinging even closer to soil particles is increasingly tightly held there by capillary attraction. Although the soil has moisture, it’s mostly inaccessible to plants. “Wilting point” has been reached.

Eventually, the only moisture left in the soil is that held very tightly in the very smallest pores and pressed tight against soil particles. That’s “permanent wilting point” from which, as the name implies, there’s no turning back. The plant will die.

The actual amount of water in a soil at any of these stages depends on the range of particle sizes in the soil. Clay soils have tiny particles, with tiny spaces between them, so have more water at wilting and permanent wilting point than do sandy soils, with their large particles and large pores.

Soil water vs. particle size

At or near field capacity, sands have more air and less water than clays.

Where were we? Oh, my rosemary plant. I’m figuring it was just teetering on the edge of wilting point. Needless to say, I watered both my rosemary “trees.”

(For a lot more about soil water and how to make the best of it, see my book The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden.)

Dry Air, Moist (Enough) Soil

You’d think — I once did — that rosemary, because in the wild it billows down dry hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean, would be resistant to drought. It does tolerate dry air. But those wild plants’ roots are in the ground where they can forage far and wide for moisture; not so in a pot.

Also, my rosemary plants are coddled with relatively consistent warmth in winter and a potting mix rich in nutrients. Couple this with low light conditions, even near a south-facing window, and you get very succulent growth. I don’t know what rosemary plants growing on a Grecian hillside are doing now, but my plants are growing like gangbusters. All that succulent growth transpires lots of water, and is very susceptible to drought.

Rosemary, half survived

Left half of this rosemary expired last summer

Once my plants go outdoors in summer, their leaves mature and toughen and growth is less succulent. They do still need sufficient moisture, so I have drip tubes on a timer quenching their thirst (and that of other plants). Except, that is, when the timer’s battery needs replacing and I don’t notice it. That was last summer. The plants were not at the permanent wilting point but a number of branches, which I pruned off, dried up, dead.

In Praise of Potted Rosemary

All this is not to frown upon growing rosemary where it can’t survive winters outdoors. On the contrary, I consider rosemary to be the finest herb for indoor growing. Flavorwise, it packs a powerful punch, unlike chives, for example, a plant that needs to be practically decimated if you really want to flavor something with it. Merely brushing against my rosemary plant releases an aromatic, piney cloud.

Rosemary is also a very attractive houseplant whether grown as a scraggly shrub reminiscent of the wild plants in their native haunts, trained as dense cones, or — as are my plants — as miniature trees. The leaves retain a healthy, verdant look, unlike those of basil, which look sickly and out of their element in dry, relatively dark and cool homes in winter.

Rosemary also rarely suffers from any insect or disease problem.

And finally, properly cared for, rosemary is perennial so can provide aroma, flavor, and beauty   for many, many years.

But you and I do need to pay close attention to watering.

standard bay, rosemary, citrus

Rosemary, with its compatriots, bay and citrus, in summer


Cold Enough for Balsam Fir?

Ah, to sit by the fire on a cold winter’s eve. The fire’s warmth suffuses me with somnolence and drives into the air a resinous, woodsy aroma from my fresh cut balsam fir branches draped about the room or steaming on the woodstove. 

Balsam fir

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) would be an oddity amongst my plants. Here in the colder part of Zone 5, blackberries and some of my grapes have been pushed to their northern limits. Balsam fir would be unique in being a plant pushed to its southern limit. Most of my plants require well-drained soils. Balsam fir grows in well-drained soil, but it also will grow in swampy land, even very acidic (pH 5.0-6.0), swampy land

Balsam fir is native from northern New England to the tundra and mountaintops further south. I live in lowland. In those cold, moist locales where they are native, the trees grow slowly to become dense, pyramidal spires 50 feet tall with dark, shiny green, flattened needles. (Flattened needles are one way to distinguish firs from spruces, Picea species, which have rounded needles.)

Long ago I realized that it might be just too hot here in summer to grow balsam fir. Numerous books that I consulted warned about the futility of trying to grow balsam fir where it’s not native. Excessive heat would cause the needles to fall prematurely, leaving the tree, after a few decades, thinned out and unkempt. The prognosis for successful growing of balsam fir here seemed slim.

Looking Elsewhere for Balsam

So I looked into getting my balsamy aromas elsewhere. Many plants yield “true” balsam, an aroma based on resins or oleoresins containing benzoic acid, cinnamic acid, or both. It’s too cold here, though, to grow most plants with this true balsam aroma: Balsam of Peru and Balsam of Tolu, from Myroxylon pereirae and M. balsamum, respectively, both trees of Central America; and liquid storax, a balsam from Liquidambar orientalis, a tree of Asia Minor, or from the Javanese plant Altingia excelsa.

One plant that is hardy here and does yield true balsam is sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), which yields a balsam known as liquidambar, or copal, balsam. One problem with sweetgum is that it’s not an evergreen, so would not fill the bill for aromatic, winter greenery. A very pretty tree, though.

Sweetgum leaves & gumballs

Sweetgum leaves & gumballs

I emphasized “true” balsam above because there are other balsams that are something less than “true,” which means they lack both benzoic and cinnamic acids. Balsam fir, whose balsam goes under the names of Canada balsam or Canada turpentine, does not yield a true balsam. Two other less-than-true balsams are Balm of Gilead (Mecca balsam), from the Middle Eastern plant Commiphora opobalsamum, and Gurjun balsam, from Indian species of Dipterocarpus. Here, cold would snuff out the life of either of these two plants.

The question of winter survival is a moot point for annual plants, and there are two annuals with “balsam” in their name. One of these is garden balsam, Impatiens balsamina, a relative of impatiens. I’ve occasionally grown this very pretty, old-fashioned annual, but don’t recall any woody, resinous odor.

Garden balsam

Garden balsam

Another balsam is balsam apple, Momordia balsamina, a vining cucumber relative which produces gherkin-shaped, yellowish red “apples.” I’ve never grown balsam apple, but doubt it has the desired aroma. None of its relatives that I have met — winter squashes, summer squashes, gourds, pumpkins, and luffas — have any odor of balsam.

I Give Balsam Fir a Try Anyway

So where did this leave me for my balsamy winter greenery? Eighty years ago I could have just gone out and bought a Christmas tree. Balsam fir was the most popular Christmas tree until the 1930s. Then, its general popularity was superseded by Scotch pine, which grows faster and holds its needles better.

Almost 30 years ago, the poor prognosis notwithstanding, I went ahead and planted a few foot-high balsam fir seedlings in a partly shaded rear portion of my yard. The soil there is rich and perfectly drained.

My 30-year-old balsam fir

My 30-year-old balsam fir

Trees took well to their new home. Unfortunately, our puppy Stick liked to play with the trees, not to their benefit. Fortunately, one tree escaped his antics. That tree is still alive, actually more than alive. I can cut all the aromatic branches I want from this robust, now 36.4 foot high tree!


Why and How to Build

I’ve got to learn to look up more, you know, the way tourists do; natives generally fix their gazes straight ahead to a destination or downwards, in thought. I am reminded of this when a visitor (a “tourist” in this context) walks up my front path, smiles, and tells me, “I like your green roof.” So then I (the “native” in this context) look up and join in the appreciation.Two cats on my green roof

My green roof was born about twenty years ago. After fumbling too many times with packages or keys in the rain at the front door, the time had come build protection from the elements. Rather than cover just the area around the door, this cover would extend over a small patio. And rather than just shingle the roof, why not make it a planted roof, a “green roof?”

So my friend Bill and I built a sturdy, shallowly sloped roof supported on three corners by the walls of my house, and by an 8 x 8 white oak post in its fourth corner.Roof, ledger up The roof had enough slope so plants could be seen from the path, yet not so steep that a hard rain would wash the soil away.Roof completed

To keep the wooden structure dry, it was covered with EPDM roofing material and flashed with copper. A two-inch high lip of copper flashing along the low edge keeps plants and soil from sliding down off the roof. To prevent water from puddling at this lower end, I drilled holes and soldered short lengths of copper tubing at intervals into the lip, figuring that excess water would stream decoratively from each tube during rains. Roof drains(It streamed, but not so decoratively, because some tubes kept getting clogged and the bottom edge of the roof was not exactly horizontal so the flow burden was taken up by only a few tubes.)

How and What to Plant

Next was the gardening part of the roof. To keep the weight down, for low fertility to suppress weeds, and for good moisture retention I made a planting mix of equal parts peat moss and calcined montmorillonite clay (often sold as kitty litter).

The root environment on the roof was going to be harsh for plants. Only a two-inch depth of root run. And, in contrast to the moderated temperatures within soil out in open ground, roots on this shallow roof would experience mad swings in temperature that would closely mirror that of the air. And even though peat moss sucks up and holds moisture, there’s not much peat moss moisture to draw from in 2 inches of rooting.

The plant choice, given the conditions, became obvious: some kind of hardy, succulent plant. I chose hens-and-chicks. After filling enough 24 x 10 inch planting trays with the planting mix, I plugged in hens-and-chicks plants every 4 inches in each direction. Hens-and-chicks in traysAll this planting took place almost a year before the roof was readied for the plants, important so the hen-and-chicks could make enough “chicks” to spread and pretty much cover the planting trays, which otherwise would have left too much planting mix exposed to washing from rainfall.

Up the trays eventually went on sloping roof, laid down like tiles on a tile floor. Everything looked very neat and trim.Green roof, early on

Nature Collaborates

Despite very little intervention from me, the years have brought some changes to that green roof. This was not a garden area that I ever planned to weed, and I stuck to my plan. I figured that a green roof with a weed-free planting mix, sheltered on two sides by walls, and eight to ten feet off the ground would not harbor weeds.

I was wrong. Some weeds have moved in. Well, not weeds per se, because a “weed” is plant in the wrong place, and the roof is welcome to pretty much any plant.

Gazing up on my roof now, I see, in addition to the original hens-and-chicks, plenty of foxtail grass, quite decorative through the year with green shoots in spring and tawny, fuzzy foxtails in fall and winter. Also a single cedar tree about two feet high.Roof with weeds
More weeds on roof

I had a hand in introducing another sedum, Angelina. This sedum has borne small, yellow flowers and, just as decorative, its fleshy leaves turn a deep red color in winter. Angelina started out as a single plant I set in a nearby stone wall; over time a few plants of it appeared up on the roof. Angelina on roof

Angelina floweringShe looked good up there, especially when draped over the front lip. She also multiplied rapidly both on the wall and on the roof. To further encourage her, I grab bunches wherever in excess on the wall and toss them up on the roof to root.

One year I also planted oats left over from cover cropping in the vegetable garden. Oats’ extensive roots would be good to further knit together the rooting mix and lessen chances of rain washing it down. Planting involved nothing more than grabbing handfuls of oat seed, tossing them up on the roof, then waiting for rain.

Writing about my green roof has encouraged me to more frequently look up at it. It does bring a smile. Is that because there’s something anomalous about an aerial garden?

Brooklyn Grange

Urban farm high in the sky at Brooklyn Grange