Nova’s Ark Project

While driving up Millstone Road in Water Mill to the Hamptons Show House, I was astonished to catch a glimpse of large-scale sculptures in a meadow. A stop at this site, Nova’s Ark Project, was the real event of the day.


Almost  everyone knows about Storm King, but this 95-acre sculpture park, even more accessible, could be one of New York’s best-kept secrets. Nova’s Ark Project, I’ve learned, was the labor of love of Nova Mihai Popa, a Romanian-born artist who died in 2009. Nova, a successful painter, muralist and sculptor in Romania, came to America and pursue artistic freedom. He found it here in Water Mill, where he created and sited his monumental works among fields, horses, sheep and barns. The website lists public visiting hours, the days and times Nova’s Ark is open for tours for a $10 admission fee, but the other afternoon the gate was wide open and we were able to drive in, park, walk around and take pictures for a magical hour just before sunset. No one else was there.


NovasArk15_11 NovasArk15_10 NovasArk15_09 NovasArk15_08 NovasArk15_07 NovasArk15_06 NovasArk15_04 NovasArk15_03 NovasArk15_02 NovasArk15_01Dig-It-Blog, more than a personal diary of my own garden through the seasons and the years, is way to record my travels and, I hope, introduce readers to places I’ve discovered and love. In that category are attempts to reveal venues in the Hamptons that are free or low-cost and open to the public. To that end, my posts “Garden Visits in the Hamptons”  and “More Gardens in the Hamptons: Where the Signs Say “Welcome’” are perennially popular. I especially hope that today’s post will inspire you to take a drive out Route 27 (not on a Friday afternoon) and explore the treasures that are waiting for you right out in the open, not hidden behind tall hedges and locked gates.


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Cocktails, Anyone?

I didn’t love the 2015 Hamptons Designer Show House as much as usual. Usually, the rooms beckon me: sit down, sink into the sofa, stay awhile, get inspired, enjoy the view, covet the pool house, relax. This year, walking through the rooms, I had an uncomfortable feeling. For a while, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Too much glitz? Too many rooms that felt like they were for the same purpose, for the same shallow people. And then it became apparent: this is a house for people who like to drink. People who mix and sip cocktails from morning to night, cocktails in every room.


Cocktails, indoors and outdoors.


Cocktails, upstairs and downstairs.

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It looks like the other guests ($35 per person, to benefit Southampton Hospital) polished off the cocktail peanuts. But they apparently didn’t touch the liquor. Or the Lucite ice cubes. I left, envisioning the house after a wild weekend: puddles of booze on the floor, filled ash trays, broken glass, broken promises. One more shot (with my phone) and I’m outta here.

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A Tall Tale

In Canadian and American folklore, Paul Bunyan is a mythical, superhuman lumberjack. He could out-chop, out0-saw, out-talk, out-roll a log, and climb a tree faster than any other man at any other logging camp.

When a friend recommended Chris Niemiec of Paul Bunyan’s Tree Service, in Ardsley, NY, to work on my alarmingly out-of control willow, maple, and oak trees, I didn’t think much of the company name. Another tall tale? But when Chris and his crew started working—amazingly, only a few days after I called—I realized that the name couldn’t be more apt. Chris, who’s been taking care of many of Westchester County, NY’s trees, for 25 years, really knows what he’s doing. Five hours after his three-man crew arrived, all the dead wood was gone—New York trees have really suffered from cold winters and and a hot dry summer—and the trees were pruned, shaped and much healthier looking.




A huge amount of debris was cleaned up. That day, I learned a lot about how to take care of our trees. A little fertilizer and some deep-root watering will keep them happy.


These guys made me happy.

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A Visit to the Connecticut College Arboretum

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This place is deceptive. It’s advertised as a native plant garden, and you expect to see unusual, colorful plants. At first you think that there’s nothing much here. Then you look closely, and among the dappled light and shade, small treasures announce themselves.

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And then the view opens up to large vistas where families are playing, people are walking their dogs and picnicking.

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Close up study of the trees reveals some interesting and rare specimens, including weeping pines and collections of deciduous azaleas.

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CT Arboretum_20150719_0385

Like so many off-the-beaten track places, there’s a wealth of beauty and knowledge to discover at the Connecticut College Arboretum, New London. A fine place to spend a summer afternoon.

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A Friend at Hampton Court

Garden Club of Irvington horticulture co-chair Renee Shamosh is traveling in England and France. A few days ago, she visited the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, in East Molesey, Surrey, about 30 minutes south of London. Renee sends her greetings and the following photos of the gold-medal-winning exhibits. Who says the British have no sense of humor?

England Table



Wild Rover

Best Rose Exhibit

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Frida’s Casa Es Su Casa

CasaAzulPhoto taken a few years ago with iPhone 1 at Casa Azul, Coyoacán, México, DF.

NYBG Frida2Photo taken the other day with iPhone5 at the Frida show at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY.Cactus PyramidIf you love succulents and containers, don’t miss this show.

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”Blue” Entry Wins Blue Ribbon

Part of the joy of being a member of a garden club is growing plants and creating mixed plantings for horticulture competitions. With Renee Shamosh, I’m a horticulture co-chair of the Garden Club of Irvington-on-Hudson, NY (GCI), which in turn is a member of the Garden Club of America (GCA). Every year, the GCA hosts an annual meeting in a different U.S. city, where delegates attend workshops and visit local botanical gardens. A highlight of the meeting is the flower show, a competition of displays of flower arrangements, potted plants, and cut stems that are judged by horticultural experts.

Ready to GoThis year’s annual meeting was held in Rochester, NY from May 16-18, and the theme was “Kaleidoscope.” Every garden club in New York State was required to design and enter a container planting with a specific color scheme — either yellow-orange, pink-red, or blue-purple — presented in a 14-inch terra-cotta-colored pot filled with plants owned for club members for no less than three months, i.e, no going to the garden center and buying perfect plants a few days before the show.

BuildingItGCI chose blue-purple. Beginning last fall, Renee and I approached the competition as a club project, with members rooting cuttings and planting bulbs. Over the last few weeks, all of us combed our gardens for blue-flowering plants. The harsh winter and late spring added to the challenge.

The planting was designed by Renee, Donghai Zhen, and me. Thirteen club members grew and contributed plants including amsonia, blue chalk fingers, Cape primrose, comfrey, dwarf blue cypress, evolvulus, forget-me-nots, phlox, streptocarpus, ‘super blue’ pericallis, and wood hyacinths. Club president Susan Weisenberg contributed the bearded irises, the centerpiece of the arrangement.

In Rochester, NY, horticulture co-chair Renee Shamosh and former club president Anne Myers with the winning entry

In Rochester, NY, horticulture co-chair Renee Shamosh and former club president Anne Myers with the winning entry

The judges awarded our entry a first-place blue ribbon as well as the Rosie Jones Horticulture Award for: “An entry of exceptional visual appeal that reflects the spirit of growing with joy and enthusiasm and inspires others to propagate, grow, show and share horticulture.”

The entry was accompanied by a “key card,” which lists the botanical and common names of the plants and indicating their relative position in the container.

GCI BlueContainerKeyCard

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A Walk Down the Road

There are still patches of snow on our lawn. Yesterday, I woke up to a fresh coating of white all over everything. Around here, in the New York City suburbs, everybody wants to know when winter will be over. Many have escaped to warmer climates for spring break. Our spring break was a few weeks ago, in Northern California. We rented an AirBNB house in Sebastopol, a town about 50 miles north of San Francisco. As I recover from my strained muscles from shoveling snow, I’ve been enjoying browse images from a morning walk.

Spring had  arrived and everything was bursting into bloom. The woman who owns the house keeps chickens, and it seems everyone on the road has farm animals—and/or a vineyard. I learned that llamas like to eat apple cores and peels.

Sebastopol House

Spring  Road-Vineyard



Farm Animals


And then it was on to a day at the beach at Bodega Bay, watching the Pacific break over the rocks, and a picnic.

What is surprising about all these scenes is that California is in the midst of the drought crisis. California looked green driving all the way to Los Angeles. I’ve seen it much browner  along Highway 101. Today, Governor Jerry Brown imposed water restrictions on homeowners and farms and other businesses. We shall see what the summer and fall, the growing and harvest seasons, bring.

Pray for rain. Lots of it.


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It’s Spring! (in Northern California)

The snow is falling again in the Northeast, and I look out at the fading light in my garden, which is two colors: the gray of the tree trunks and branches and the white of the snow.

In San Francisco, however, though the air is chilly, spring is popping out all over. Last week, I spent a peaceful afternoon in the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. Besides the California poppies, every kind of spring-flowering tree and bulb is in bloom. The Garden is divided into collections, including the Southeast Asian Cloud Forest, Moon Viewing Garden, and Garden of Fragrance (aah, jasmines!) I loved the giant succulents, vines, and tropicals, and the little wildflowers peeking out. Here are a few of my favorite shots:



Passion Vine


At the garden shop, I was particularly taken with this mountain lilac or Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ for sale for $9. The tag said: “20 ft height and width, upright habit, very fast grower, sun, tolerates any soil; low-no water; hardy to 14-20 degrees F, 20-25-year life, light-med blue flowers 6″ spikes.” So what’s not to love about this plant? Must look for it here in Westchester nurseries. Oh-oh, tag also says: “Deer love new growth; do not plant in high deer areas; no fertilizing, soil disturbance, soil amendments. In other words, leave it to be happy in the California deserts.


Monterey Cypress

Monterey Cypress




VW Bus

Another genus and species (almost) native to California. This VW bus is the home office of a cartoonist who outfitted it with computer, sound systen, wi-fi. He parks it around San Francisco and enjoys the view while he works and sends emails.


Posted in Horticulture, Nurseries and Garden Centers, Public Gardens, Travel-California, What's Blooming Now | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Julia Child’s Kitchen

On a recent visit to Washington, DC, there was nothing I wanted to do more than visit Julia’s kitchen at the new Smithsonian National Museum of American History on the Capitol Mall.

The museum has the vibe of the office building it once was, but Julia’s home kitchen is authentically Cambridge, Massachusetts circa 1970s. It contains the tools and equipment from the time Julia began working on her first cookbook through to 2001, when she donated it and all its accouterments to the Smithsonian Institution.

Visitors are greeted with videos of Julia’s famous PBS series, “The French Chef” — even though some critics liked to proclaim that she was neither French nor a chef. Okay, more accurately, Julia Child (1912-2004) was The American Author and Cook Who Brought French Cooking—I would even say Good Cooking—to America.


Julia on TV

TV Chefs

And there’s a wall of images of other TV chefs. Look, there’s the Galloping Gourmet and Mario with Martha Stewart. Oh, well.

Of the kitchen itself, I was a little disappointed that visitors can’t walk inside. But even through the plexiglas walls, it was a delight to see and experience. It was real and made for cooking, not for show. No granite countertops, no open plan with center island and all the other bells and whistles people want to today. Just good, solid, sturdy appliances and the kind of pots and pans and utensils you can really cook with.






I learned to cook by cooking my way through Julia’s books, and was happy to see that she had the same beat-up, food-stained cookbooks as I. You can be entertained by watching cooking shows on TV, and you can learn to cook by following her long, detailed recipes—which actually make new or difficult things easy.


Here are some of my favorite pages, with helpful illustrations from “Mastering The Art of French Cooking.”

3 Julia Asparagus 3 Julia Mushroom 1

A few years after I moved to New York and (temporarily) felt disillusioned with the graphic design business, I wrote Julia a letter and asked her if she needed an assistant. She wrote a lovely note, thanking me and advising me to “plunge right into all the food opportunities in New York.” I so wish I’d saved that letter. I would frame it and treasure it… or maybe I would donate it to the Smithsonian.

After Julia’s kitchen, there’s a whole food floor of American-food-themed exhibits with everything from TV dinners to BBQ aprons, and then floors of fascinating Americana including various First Ladies’ inauguration gowns.

Too bad the food in the cafeteria is so dismal. They didn’t learn anything from Julia, even how to master the art of the tuna sandwich.

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Kiku at The New York Botanical Garden

An Immortal’s Elixir Chrysanthemum dew:
Lift it up.
Take a big sip
And you will be immortal
Not aging, not dying!

–displayed on the Botanical Garden’s Poetry Walk

Kiku LogoKiku means chrysanthemum in Japanese, I’ve learned, and this is chrysanthemum-viewing season in Japan, where the flowers are trained, staked, and composed with mathematical precision. I and other members were  privileged to learn this on Friday morning from New York Botanical Garden president Gregory Long, who introduced the current exhibition in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory: “Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden.”

I didn’t check out what was the exhibit was about beforeheand, and naively arrived at expecting spare environments of raked sand, rocks, bonsai, bamboo, Buddha statuary, and koi ponds. I was in for a surprise. So were many other guests who toured this remarkable, unusual exhibit.

Ozukuri Kiku Rows

Every blossom is staked to stand perfectly straight—the flower heads resting upon little wire racks—and to play its part in a carefully engineered, geometric composition.

The exhibit was designed by Francisca Coelho, the Garden’s VP for Glasshouses and Exhibitions. She and other staff members traveled to Japan to learn about the art. She was assisted by Kiku expert Yukie Kurashina, who oversaw the training of the flowers.

Francisca Coelho Francisca Coelho, above, explained to guests how a single stem is trained to produce hundreds of blossoms in an Ozukuri, a dome-shaped array, which is grown in a specially built wooden container. “The plants are cultivated from tiny cuttings,” she said, “pinched back, tied to frames, and nurtured for more than a year to form arrays of blooms in traditional forms like domes and cones.”


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BambooThe New York Botanical Garden is hosting a number of  Japan-themed events—talks, poetry, a pop-up restaurant, and a bonsai demonstration—related to the exhibit, which closes on October 26.

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A Chinese Garden in a New York Backyard

Dongkai Zhen in her Irvington gardenAt the end of May, I took my daughter-in-law, Yan Zhang Miller, to see the garden of the newest member of the Garden Club of Irvington, Dongkai Zhen.

Dongkai, left, has lived Westchester County, New York, for 24 years. She and her husband, Dr. Jiyi Wang, are pathologists who work in hospital labs. They’ve raised two children here, Kate, a resident at Stanford University Medical Center, and Kevin, a student at Brandeis University. Their hobby is organic vegetable gardening. But it’s way more than a hobby. It’s a way of life.

My daughter-in-law was born and raised in a rural area of the People’s Republic of China before her family moved to Beijing. Now she and my son Alex live in San Francisco, where she volunteers two days a week at the botanical garden in Golden Gate Park. As soon as Yan stepped into Dongkai’s garden, she said, “A real Chinese garden! For eating. Not for decoration.”

Every year, Dongkai and Jiyi build structures from tree branches on which to grow tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and squash. In beds under the structures, they plant their favorite herbs and greens. Here is the garden at the beginning of the summer with its structures, trellises, and supports in place:

spring structure2

Spring tructure1

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Spring Tomato Net

Most of the plants were grown from seeds and seedlings purchased in Flushing, Queens.

spring pots 1

Here is the garden two weeks ago:

Full Structure

And close-ups of some of the most prized specimens:

Bottle gourd. In rural China, they really get hollowed out and used as bottle, Dongkai says

Bottle gourd. In rural China, they do get hollowed out and used as bottles, Dongkai says

Hot peppers —apsicum annuum ‘Kung Pao’

Hot peppers —apsicum annuum ‘Kung Pao’

Cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes

Bitter gourd or balsam pear

Bitter gourd or balsam pear

Chinese cucumber — Dongkai says it has thin skin, no seeds, and delicious, crunchy texture

Chinese cucumber — Dongkai says it has thin skin, no seeds, and delicious, crunchy texture

White-skinned eggplant

White-skinned eggplant

Amaranth, a Chinese vegetable like spinach

Amaranth, a Chinese vegetable like spinach

Wild yam, which has medicinal uses

Wild yam, which has medicinal uses

I’m ready to learn how to cook with these vegetables. Aren’t you? Next spring, let’s go to Flushing, Queens, to buy seeds and seedlings. And have lunch at one of Dongkai and Jiyi’s favorite restaurants.

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Along the Road

Her name is Bernadette, and she’s been living in the same light green ranch house, around the corner from our rabbinical house in Norwich, CT, for more than 50 years. When she’s not tending her own garden, she’s beautifying the rock garden along the road.

After two hours or more heading northeast on I-95, this strip of rock garden is what always welcomes us to the neighborhood. Ahh, we’re here!

NorwichRoad 1

I’ve been watching this roadside garden for three years, and this is the first time I stopped to speak with Bernadette. She didn’t want her picture taken, but was happy to tell me about how the petunias and pink ice plants (oscularia deltoides) and moonbeam coreopsis bloom year after year. “I only planted here once,” she said proudly. “Everything self-seeds.”

Norwich Road2

And, she pointed out, she also takes care of the strip across the street. Here it is, on Sunday, in early fall. I’ll be checking in and posting photos of this extraordinary example of civic pride all year ’round.


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A Family Farm in the Hamptons

When you think of the Hamptons, do you think of boldface names, private jets, multi-million-dollar mansions, and parties you’re not invited to? Think again. Off Route 27, there’s a whole ’nother side of the Hamptons. Drive slowly and you’ll see signs like this, on Old Country Road in Westhampton.


Five dollars? Really? From another angle the handpainted signage is even more enticing.


The roadside table is on the honor system, with a cash box, and the flowers really are five dollars for a big, colorful bunch. The tomatoes are five dollars for a big bag. And they are great.



After making a big hit with my hostess gift of a bunch of zinnias, I biked over the next day and met the owners, Dermit and Carol Corcoran of Corcoran Farm. “My grandfather worked the same land, where he grew beans and hay for the horses and cows,” says Carol. “The plot where the zinnias grow used to be the pasture, so the soil was really rich. We were the first organic farm in the region and the first CSA in New York State. Everybody thought we were crazy.” Dermit moved east from Brooklyn to farm with Carol, and together they’ve built this 10-1/2-acre farm and raised four children.




They graciously took me behind the scenes to see the greenhouses and flats with seedlings. “The plot has new deer fencing,“ Carol pointed out. “For the first time this year, the local deer seem to be enjoying zinnias.” She practically apologized for the size of the zinnias. “After a very cold winter and late start, they finally bloomed and were like dinner plates the other day. The biggest ones have all been picked and sold.” And, Dermit noted, “No chemical fertilizers or insecticides have ever touched this soil.”

This labor of love that starts in early mornings and goes through the evening yields—in addition to the zinnias and tomatoes—peppers, onions, eggplant, herbs, and several other varieties of flowers. Can a family make a living with a small farm like this? Yes, says Carol. “We don’t just sell from the roadside table. We sell at local farmers markets and to restaurateurs who want the freshest organic local produce.”


Carol Corcoran

A daughter is about to be married, and Carol is growing flowers for the bouquets. Guests will be wowed. The five-dollar bunch I bought more than a week ago still looks perfect on the table on our deck. Julius and I will be back tomorrow morning for more—on the way to another beautiful mid-week in Westhampton.


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Hamptons Designer Show House 2014

This year’s Hampton Designer Show House seems like its made for a huge extended family that entertains lots of guests. There are so many comfortable, inviting sitting areas that, say, you had a book in one hand and a drink in the other, it would be difficult to decide where to sit down. My first choice, after some consideration, is the covered porch, decorated in hot pink and red, by Anne Tarasoff Interiors.

1 Covered Porch

Seen from the outside, it was even more inviting, withe the curtains blowing in the breeze. And I’m partial to decorating with New Yorker cover art from The Cartoon Bank.

2 PinkPorch

The pool looks delicious. The pool surround was designed by India Hicks, with furniture and accessories sourced only from Frontgate, a catalog and online resource.

3 PoolHouse

The lines of the pool are reflected in the architecture of the pool house terrace, designed by Caleb Anderson.

4 Pool

The pool house, designed by  Bakes and Kropp, is the space most visitors seem to want to move right into. With comfy furniture, a kitchenette, and ample storage space, it’s all a single person might need for a happy summer at the beach.

Mr. Anderson created a white garden, hanging from the pergola.

5 Hanging Plants

There is a different kind of plant environment on the space called the rear landing, designed by Allison Hennessy.

6 RearLanding

Back inside the house, the kitchen is where most visitors seem to gather. Chris Ciuffo, son of the owner of Ciuffo Cabinetry—a fourth-generation Long Island company—takes the time to demonstrate and explain all the details, including the materials, finishes—three coats of Italian lacquer on the cabinets—appliances, and hardware. Ciuffo Cabinetry is also responsible for the laundry room and all cabinetry in the house’s eight bathrooms and numerous closets.

7 Kitchen

The dining room, which is set for a dinner party 24 at three square tables, decorated by Mecox Design Services, features a provocative piece of beach/pool artwork.

8 Dining Room

It’s unlike me to like something feminine and a little fussy. But my favorite upstairs space is this charming bedroom by Gil Walsh. Deemed “a tribute to Betty Sherrill,” this room with its yellow walls and multiplicity of patterns and trims, seems a perfect spot for everyone from a pre-teenage girl to a grandma.

9 Bedroom V

And on the lower level, near the game room, theater and rec room, a taste of the future of art: an ever-changing electronic painting.

10 Electronic Picture

The 2014 Hampton Designer Showhouse is open every day from 11 am to 5 pm through Monday, September 1 at 408 Pauls Lane, Bridgehampton. Admission is $35, which benefits Southampton Hospital.

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Streetscapes of San Miguel


Let’s say you’re visiting San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a few days or a week. On a typical morning, you might have breakfast in your hotel’s patio or rooftop garden and enjoy a view like this.




When you’re ready for a walk into town, you’ll start down one of the steep cobblestone streets.



You’ll be constantly tempted to step inside little shops selling handicrafts, clothing, pottery, blown glass, furniture, paintings and sculpture. But don’t forget to look up, where other kinds of visual art might surprise you.


Soon, the Gothic spires of the city’s main church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, will peek above the flat-roofed streetscape.


The closer you get, the more magical the church seems, like a vision from a science-fiction movie.


You’ll turn the corner and meet the flower-sellers.


And then you will be in town, with restaurants, bars, galleries, shops, mix of old and new culture.


In the center is El Jardín, where you can pretend you’re a character in Seurat’s 1885 painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

San Miguel_12Jardin

And, if you’re really lucky, like we were, you’ll be a spectator at Los Locos parade, where everyone in San Miguel dresses up and goes crazy.

San Miguel _13 Locos

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Desertscapes of Guanajuato, Mexico

1 CharcoHeartCharco del Ingenio Botanical Garden, located in the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, contains many surprises, including a heart-shaped cactus paddle that might be the ideal valentine to send to someone who’s giving you a hard time.

We spent a morning there last week, exploring and photographing the desertscapes and plants: the life-size inspiration for our garden club’s trough gardens.

2 Charco

3 Charco2

I hope they are inspiration to anyone considering ripping out lawn and installing a xeriscape of water-conserving desert plants and rocks.

One of the highlights of the Charco del Ingenio (pool of inventiveness) is its glass Conservatory of Mexican plants. A sign at the entrance instructs visitors to speak in very quiet voices.

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4 Charco3

These desertscapes invited a closer look:

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These plants grow all over San Miguel, in window boxes and in walled and rooftop gardens. One of the most impressive rock gardens is in the community where we stayed, a few blocks from Parque Juarez:

11 Villas del Parque

These succulents grow in colorful pots on the patio of our host:

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We spent our last day at Mineral de Pozos, a formerly abandoned silver mining town that is being renovated as a tourist destination, with museums, hotels and shops:

7 PozosOverall

We enjoyed lunch in Pozos at the restaurant at Posada de las Minas hotel and spa, among these surroundings:

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9 Pozos3

8 Pozos2

Coming soon: posts on streetscapes and rooftops of San Miguel and the amazing Los Locos parade.

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Sabores San Miguel


Last weekend, leafy Parque Juárez, just a few blocks from where we were staying, was the site of a three-day food festival, Sabores San Miguel. Hundreds of people gathered under a tent erected on the basketball court to savor wines, mezcal, and small plates made by the best chefs and restaurateurs in San Miguel de Allende. And to listen and dance to live music by some great bands.





TacosMy lunch. A picadillo taco and a taco that contained a small masa creation stuffed with cheese and topped with mole sauce.



RosewoodChefs2Cooking demonstrations went on every afternoon. Here, two chefs from San Miguel’s Rosewood Hotel make “Ceviche de Camarones con Agua Negra” —  shrimp ceviche wrapped in thin slices of watermelon and garnished with a delicate ancho chile sauce. The chef at right is flaming large corn tortillas from Oaxaca.


Rosewood_CevicheThe finished dish. I loved the unusual, thin, crispy, charred tortillas, asked and was able to take the ones not used for this demo home and serve them at our dinner party that evening (which was enjoyed outdoors as music from the park wafted over the trees).

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It’s Not Tough To Be a Trough Gardener

I  joined fellow members of the Garden Club of Irvington on a recent visit to Oliver Nursery in Fairfield, CT, where we got an expert demonstration on how to plant troughs.

Although “trough” is one of the weirder one-syllable words in the English language — shouldn’t it be spelled tr-aw-ff ? — troughs are not tough to put together, we learned, and can endure many years as garden focal points. Like miniature landscapes, they feature an array of compatible tiny elements — usually succulents, evergreens, or other rock garden plants — arranged with small rocks and top-dressed with fine gravel.

Our club is preparing and entering a trough garden to compete in the Zone III Garden Club of America flower show presented by Three Harbors Garden Club in Woodbury, NY, which will be open to the public free of charge June 9 and 10.

The competition rules are as follows: “A collection of three or more shade-loving perennials exhibited in a trough 12″ or less made of hypertufa, cement, or a natural material. Minimum of six months ownership. (That means the plants must be grown in your own garden; you can’t run out and buy and plant them a day or two before the show.) Several of us grow shade-loving perennials, and we met last week at my friend Renee Shamosh’s garden to plant the trough. Here are step-by-step instructions:

1. First, prepare the trough and the soil, which must be free-draining. Recommended is a layer of fine gravel topped by planting mix with a generous amount of Perlite added. This is Renee’s 12″ cement trough:

1 EmptyTrough

2. Next, line up all the plants you’re considering. Four of us brought our offerings of small rooted offshoots of tiarella, astilbe, heuchera, sweet woodruff, miniature hosta, and ferns.

2 Plants

3. Start arranging plants the trough, moving them around until it looks like a natural miniature landscape with a pleasing blend of leaf shapes, colors, and textures.

3 Arrangingfrom Above

4. Get in there to make sure the roots are planted. Proper tools are a tiny shovel and nimble fingers. The small scissors are used to trim any brown edges or errant stems.

4 Arrange with Hands

5. Rinse the arrangement off with a gentle shower from a garden hose, touch up (we used clumps of moss), and admire. Let the plants settle in a protected location.

5 finished trough

Renee had already made this beautiful, larger cement trough with succulents from Oliver Nurseries, now marked with botanical names, and top dressed with fine gravel.


I used small molded plaster containers and Mexican pottery containers. When working with Semperivum tectorum (hens and chicks), I learned at Oliver, the  “chicks” can be gently removed from the “hen” and planted separately. Thus, one $6.98 plant, most of which is in the “tree-trunk” planter at left, yielded babies for three other planters. Next, a trip to the pet supply or aquarium store to buy the mini-gravel for top dressing..


Lots more information is available from the North American Rock Garden Society.

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A Visit to the Philadelphia Flower Show

1 Frames

The theme of this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show, which runs through Sunday, is ARTiculture. Art museums, including the Guggenheim, the Getty, and the Smithsonian, have teamed up to produce spectacular exhibits.

2 Pool

The show is crowded, commercial, expensive ($32 per ticket + parking) and wonderful. There’s snow on the ground in Philadelphia, but landscape and floral designers have brought spring—and all seasons—inside in a series of showy displays. Above, the “ARTiculture Garden” at the show entrance.

3 Competition

The competition section features entries from local horticulturists and garden club members.

4 Chamaecyparis

I was most enthralled by the succulents and the evergreens.

5 MrsAnderson

One of the most touching displays is the collection of blue ribbons won by Mrs. Samuel M. V. Hamilton, described as “one of the most prolific and passionate participants in the Flower Show’s horticulture classes… a fierce competitor who eagerly sought new challenges.” Mrs. Hamilton retired from competition this year, but “generously offered to display some of her favorite specimens,” including her topiaries, flowering trees, orchids, and clivias, which surround her awards.

6 EuphorbiaEsculenta

Current prize-winning plants include this Euphorbia Esculenta (above) and Hart’s Tongue Fern (below).

7 CurlyFern

8 Niche

In the floral design section of the competition, themes are expressed in niches the size of department-store windows.

9 Shopping

And (after watching a few live demonstrations and taking a breath) there is, of course, shopping. The Marketplace consists of twelve aisles of vendors selling fresh plants and flowers, garden furniture, decor, seeds, pottery, jewelry, antiques, vases. Judging by what people are carrying around, a bunch of pussy willows at $3.95 is one of the most popular purchases.

I couldn’t go home without a few wonderful things to plant, and after some deliberation, chose three ferns from Wedgewood Gardens in Glen Mills, PA. A future prize winner in the making?

10 WedgewoodGardens

Then, dinner at Vedge Restaurant on Locust Street. On Saturday, Chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby will be demonstrating their unique vegan recipes in the show’s “Garden to Kitchen” studio.

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