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. ....”