Sunday, December 27, 2009


This weekend, we've been lucky enough to get out of the city and visit friends in Woodstock, NY. We've been enjoying tromps in the snow next to a frozen reservoir and watching the mist on the Catskill Mountains in the morning and the red sunset in the afternoon.

My friend is collecting wood branches to make a raised bed for growing vegetables in spring that will provide an extra level of protection against the groundhogs. He's also planning to create a sound buffer against the road by planting native shrubs in between the existing trees. I recommended he use Kalmia latifolia, Ilex glabra, Ilex verticillata, and Ilex opaca, all attractive native shrubs that can be easily found in the woods surrounding the property. When we went for a walk we saw small trees heavy with red berries, creeping winterberry, and kalmias throughout the woods.

The pristine quality of the water and all the forests in Woodstock reminds me of the source of New York City's drinking water. NYC and NY State have both worked together to keep the land surrounding the Catskill reservoirs undeveloped and free of industrial activity in order to maintain clean unfiltered water. Now, NYC and the State have a disagreement over the extraction of Natural Gas in NYC's drinking watershed. The system of extraction of natural gas is called "Fracking". According to NPR the issue is like this:

"Environmentalists and the natural gas industry are getting ready for a battle in Congress over something known as "hydraulic fracturing." "Fracking," as the industry calls it, involves injecting a million gallons or more of water and chemicals deep underground to pry out gas that's locked away in tight spaces. Environmentalists want the federal government to regulate the practice because, in some cases, fracking may be harming nearby water wells. The industry says regulation should be left up to the states."

Companies practicing fracking don't have to report what chemicals they're injecting into the ground and are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. After decades of protecting the land and the water in our watershed it could become seriously compromised by lobbyists such as the Independent Petroleum Association of America and pioneers of hydraulic fracturing like Halliburton. Of course the leaders of those organizations probably only drink bottled water.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Beauty of Virgin Snow in the City

The Alive Mobile standing out in the snow.
When snow falls on this city it's as if everything is clean and white, covered in a beautiful blanket. It gently reminds us of nature, as it forces us to cancel alternate side parking (yeah!) schools to close (yeah!) and trains, subways and cars to stop running (not so yeah! if you have to get somewhere- but not bad if you just want to go sledding in the street). I enjoy the way colors and textures stand out against the white background. I see things differently when they're surrounded by a crisp white, and everything seems special and new. But by the end of the week everything is dirty slush, oh well. Here are some images when it first snowed a week ago.

Some images of the snow in our backyard and the brittle stems and seed heads that still remain.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fire Escape Forest

This is a great privacy screen using evergreen dwarf conifers, native wildflowers, bulbs, sedum, and several other ground covers. Making the most of little space - this provides a garden right in front of your window that will also attract birds and butterflies! So lovely.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To Superfund or not to Superfund

It's hard to understand why the Mayor's office is against Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal from potentially receiving Superfund status. I've lived in Greenpoint, close to Newtown Creek, for eight years and have been somewhat involved in the movement to clean up that place and make the polluters (Exxon and friends) pay for the mess they made. The Greenpoint Community and the non-profit Riverkeeper have worked hard to raise awareness about the pollution levels in the creek and in the ground beneath us. After so much hard work, finally Newtown Creek is being considered for the most rigorous environmental clean up process there is in this country. Bloomberg, doesn't want the Superfund program implemented, but says that through a collaborative effort with the EPA, the city will be in charge of the clean up. After attending a meeting this evening where his office spoke to the community about the issue, I'm still confused about why they don't want the Superfund.

What I could understand is that the Mayor's office doesn't want EPA running the show. And while it considers cleaning up water pollution important, it doesn't want it to impede development and business growth in the area. It's true that the Mayor has a city to run and many issues at hand, so he needs to look at how the Superfund will effect everyone. Having a Superfund site in your backyard reduces property value, increases business insurance, can slow down or terminate development projects, and they are a very slow process. To clean up Newtown Creek, the EPA estimates about 16 years, most of that time will be spent on research. So the Superfund process isn't flawless, and perhaps the city will have to make sacrifices in order to have cleaner water. But surely the Mayor should remember from the controversy over Congestion Pricing, that even if the right decision has problems it's still the right decision. What may be bothering Bloomberg most is the idea of someone else calling the shots.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Good Times

Last week I took at class at Sprout, where they have free monthly green-thumb classes. Last week's class covered how to make a holiday wreath and seasonal bouquet. It was a blast! We listened to a mix of oldies, early 90's chick rock, and classic hip-hop while we weaved our bits of juniper and pine into our wreathes. The class was laid back, straight-forward, and small - so when i needed help with my floral arrangement I was given great advice and a lot of attention.
Total blast. Below are pics of my finished wreath and Christmas bouquet. :)

Sign up here to find out about upcoming classes!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Evergreens We Love

It's actually freezing now and it slushed on the weekend, so we're in winter. Every year it comes as a shock how cold 32 degrees is. I think plants feel the same shock, except they react to winter with greater wisdom than humans; they go dormant for a few months. Many perennials look as if they're "dying" in fall/winter but they're just going into dormancy and will shoot back up in the spring. So if you're looking around for flowering lush green plants right now, you're not going to find many. You might be feeling bad for gardeners, since all of our beloved plants are just reduced to roots below the surface of the ground, but it just gives us something to look forward to and adds an element of suspense to gardening. But there are some lovely evergreens around to keep us company. Here are some native evergreens that you might spot in Central Park or Inwood or in many of the other wilds spots and gardens in the city.
Three Ilexs:

Ilex o
paca, American Holly is a sharped leaved Holly decorated with red berries that birds love. You'll see it as a shrub but it can grow to be a very tall tree (over 80'). It's a very festive winter tree.

Although Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, is not evergreen, it's loaded with red berries so there's not much to complain about. This is another shrub birds love and it's heavily used in Christmas decorations.

Ilex glabra, Inkberry
doesn't have bright red berries, but does have wonderful green foliage and a lovely shape. It's beautiful in the wild and is commonly used in landscaping as a hedge. Use it instead of Privet!

So enough about plants, I'm looking forward to attending a few good Christmas Parties in the next couple of weeks. And besides partying I may do something useful. You can too! Here is relevant information to our NYC environment and how politicians are changing it:

The New York City Council has scheduled a stated meeting for Wednesday,
December 9 and one of the year's most important pieces of environmental
legislation is expected to come up for a vote.
The Greener, Greater Buildings
Plan would dramatically reduce our energy consumption and create green
jobs -- a win-win for the economy and for the environment.

Please ask your elected officials to act now and dramatically shrink the Big
Apple's carbon footprint!

Take Action Here:

The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009
Excerpts from this press release is from the sponsors of a new bill in Congress -- proposed federal legislation that would be focused entirely on "green infrastructure".


December 3, 2009


Dan Weber (Edwards)
(202) 225-8699
Jim Hubbard (Carnahan)
(202) 225-2671
Tim Mulvey (Driehaus)
(202) 225-2216

Reps. Edwards, Carnahan, Driehaus Introduce ‘Green’ Water Infrastructure Bill That Will Create Jobs, Reduce Costs

Washington, D.C. – Representatives Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), and Steve Driehaus (D-OH) today introduced the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009. Green Infrastructure is a stormwater management technique that preserves the natural hydrology of an area to help reduce stormwater runoff from hard surfaces.

Green infrastructure techniques rely on natural systems to absorb and filter stormwater in a way that relies on soil and plant life to remove toxins and recharge ground water supplies. Implementing green infrastructure provides numerous benefits, which include enhancing water resources, protecting the environment, reducing the urban heat island effect, increasing community health, creating green jobs, and saving money through reduced capitol costs.

“Access to clean water is a necessity and must be protected to ensure the future prosperity and well-being of the United States,” said Rep. Edwards. “A growing threat to water quality throughout the U.S. is due to polluted stormwater runoff from highly urbanized areas flowing into surface waters without being treated. .... If we do not begin to address this problem, water quality gains made over the last forty years will be lost. Green infrastructure is a proven method that can help address this challenge. The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009 is an innovative, environmental and economically cost-effective approach to manage storm water flows and improve water quality throughout the nation. ....”


Monday, November 30, 2009

Copenhagen :( or ):

The UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)has just released an update which says that no matter what we do at this point we've committed the planet to 1.4°C warming by 2100. However, if we don't cut emissions quickly and drastically (25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020) we will commit the planet to 4.3°C [or approx. 7.74 deg. F] warming by 2100.

I don't think I need to go into the types of changes that would occur if the planet warmed 8 F degrees. Despite how corrupt the system is, the politics, the corporations, the money, it still amazes me that our leaders are so paralyzed when it comes to climate change. So many times we, people and our leaders, have made drastic and courageous changes in politics, culture, the environment, human rights, food, peace, democracy, etc... And yet with climate change we're like a deer in headlights, unable to move forward out of the way of danger.

I am trying to brace myself for an event in Denmark that should be monumental but could actually be very lame. Copenhagen should be the start of a fundamental change in the way we live. It should be the change we've all wanted and voted for. It should be the event that our grandkids will be proud to learn about. I hope it will be an event that lets our eyes adjust to the light in time to see the other side of the road--before the car comes crashing into us.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Shopping is fun.

I remember living in the Czech Republic almost ten years ago and no one was shopping. There were lots of other fun things to do, like drinking, and going to concerts, but there was something essential missing from Prague's city streets. When I visited Paris during that same time, I felt the streets buzzing with activity, people going in and out of different stores, a variety of everything-fashion, cheese, avante garde furniture, whatever-tons of stuff we don't need. Now Czech people shop a lot at H&M, Tesco, McDonalds, and Starbucks :(

So, my feelings towards shopping is mixed. Shopping has serious consequences for the world. As an environmentalist, consumerism is one of the great evils. There are many other reasons to be wary of shopping fever, it costs a lot of $, $ we probably don't have. If you visit Reverend Billy's great website, you can enlighten yourself about the sins of shopping.

But what if you shop responsibly? For example, I recently turned 30 (hooray!!) and received my own seltzer maker from my parents. This may not sound that exciting, but I love bubbles but hate bottles, so this is a perfect gift and it reduces the amount of plastic in our waste stream. I also received a coffee maker from my husband, so that I would stop spending all of our money on stupidly expensive cappuccinos and using tons of coffee cups a day (although you should use your own mug). There are tons of gifts like these that you can buy at Green Depot located on Bowery and Prince. It's a great store. You can also check out Tree Hugger's Holiday Gift Guide for more ideas. Of course none of these stores or websites will have the best gift, and that's the gift you make yourself for someone you love.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey: a Wild History

A a living species of large birds in the genus Meleagris. One species, Meleagris gallopavo, commonly known as the Wild Turkey, is native to the forests of North America.

The domestic turkey is a descendant of the Wild Turkey and features prominently in the menu of the Canadian and U.S. holidays of Thanksgiving and that of Christmas in many countries.


While the domestic turkeys currently fill our supermarket aisles, the Meleagris gallopavo is roaming the North American Jungles much as he was three hundred years ago. As opposed to our domesticated Turk., Wild Turkeys can fly up to 100 yards to avoid predators. Nonetheless, Turkeys find it hard to avoid habitat destruction, so in the early 20th Century they fell on the brink of extinction. But our Turk. is a comeback kid! In the 1960s restoration programs and research by state agencies lead to the Wild Turkey once again having healthy populations in almost every state in this country.

Wild Turkeys forage on the ground in flocks, occasionally flying onto the limbs of shrubs and small trees. Acorns, beechnuts, cherries, and ash seeds are primary food sources. Seeds, berries, grasses, sedges and insects are important summer foods. In winter turkeys feed on sensitive fern fertile stalks and persistent fruits such as Winterberry, rose hips, and dried apples.

And now for some random events where you can drink and think:

The Horticultural Society has some great lectures and events coming up:

Friday, December 4
Ken Smith: Landscape Architect
Lecture, book signing & reception

December 9 - February 12, 2010
Hiroshi Sunari
Leur Existence - Tree Project

Thursday, December 10
Succulent Wreath
Design Workshop


Tuesday, December 15
Hort Library Book Club:
Farm City by Novella Carpenter !




find out more: Audubon Society

LANDMARK WEST! presents:

A way to rethink stormwater and energy solutions

Energy Efficiency and Existing Buildings

Friday, December 4th, 2009


Check out website for more info

Some good Holiday Appeals if you can give:

Support CENYC this Holiday Season - and find out where to get the best turkeys!

See you post turkey fatigue!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Vote for Wildflower Week NYC!

Wildflower Week is one of the best events to hit NYC. It always has beautiful tours and educational programs and has a really fun opening party! So to help them get the support they need-vote for them to get a community grant: If you’d like to participate, register here:
Vote here (give all 3 of your votes): Thank you!

In case you didn't know why wildflowers are so amazing-here are some things to think about:
Using native plants is crucial in habitat restoration, they're drought and disease tolerant, require little maintenance once established, attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and beneficial insects, help restore biodiversity, help stabilize and restore soil, and finally Native plants serve vital functions in filtering pollution in the air and water.

This diagram illustrates how much deeper the roots of native plants reach in comparison to many non-natives. Can we have native plants in the urban environment? Yes! Just take a look at

The Highline as an example of a wildly popular and beautiful public park. Most of the species used in The Highline are native North American grasses.

Don't Miss the SBNYC Holiday Party!
If You're a Member of Metrohort, come to their Holiday Potluck and learn how to turn

Herbs into Weeds: Medieval
Medicinals Naturalized in New York State

Stay tuned!

Sewers at Capacity, Waste Poisons Waterways

In 1849, NYC was ahead of the curve, installing an extensive sewer system with pipes made with hand laid bricks and tiles. Now more than 150 years later we use those same pipes to treat the sewage of a city 8 million strong and growing. Today's front page article in the NY Times discusses the problems of treating NYC's sewage during wet weather. It amazes me how few people know where our waste water goes and the consequences of our lack of infrastructure. Due to our overflows, NYC spills 27 billion gallons of raw untreated waste every year into our waterways, causing damage to aquatic ecosystems, endangering our own health, and violating The Clean Water Act of 1972.

An outdated sewer system and a rapidly expanding city are two of the main reasons why we are causing so much water pollution. But it's also the way we have chosen to construct our cities; choosing concrete as the material streets, buildings, parking lots, walls, and roofs are made from creates a surge of water runoff each time it rains. If cities would reduce their Concrete Footprint we would be closer to solving this problem. Permeable Pavement, Green Roofs, Trees, Parks, Bioswales, and Rain Barrels are all part of the solution. NYC needs to support these solutions by making them affordable and mandatory. It will also be supporting an industry that could provide thousands of jobs while greatly improving the environment.

To read the whole NY Times article click here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

more pix of fall

Highlights in my garden now are the river birch, the Sumac, and the seed heads of the Black Cohosh.

November's Indian Summer

This past week has been lovely weather despite the rain-last night it was almost balmy. I'm sure this won't last long, but while it does, all the more opportunity to go outdoors and admire the changing colors. Prospect Park is truly a blaze with colors right now, and my own garden isn't too bad either. One tree I have appreciated this fall for it's bold red and palmate leaves, is the native Sumac pictures here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our green roof sample is a great way to show people the basic layers involved in a green roof installation. Its looking lovely today as the cooler temperatures kick in and the sedum changes color...

(click through for larger img)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Those lovely pink clusters are Armeria maritima, one of my favorites! We use them in our planters quite often.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green Roof In Fall

Our green roof in the East Village is a patchwork of changing colors. The Alpine Strawberry is tinged with red, white fall blooming Crocuses are in bloom, Little Bluestem is red, and butterfly weed is yellow and orange.

Halloween Weekend in Nature

These pictures are from a trip to Warwick, NY where my mother created a large scale rock garden. The fall colors are incredible! For some the transition to winter is a depressing one, but to see the process gives me great joy. The colors now are rich and subtle: there are auburns, crimsons and yellows that you can't see in the summer. And the colors are all the more vivid in front of a gray sky.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In Praise of Fall

Fall is a wonderful time to explore NYC’s parks and natural areas. In Redhook’s Ikea park the grasses catch the light.

We recently planted Little Bluestem in window boxes that we bolted onto a roof's parapet. Tall grasses can make elegant and natural looking screens that sway in the breeze.