Monday, August 25, 2014

Only in New York--A Photo Essay

On a recent visit to Manhattan I wandered around like the tourist that I am, clutching my camera to record sights and sites that native New Yorkers don't even notice as they hurry about their daily chores.  Nothing startles New Yorkers, whether it's break dancers on the subway, dog-sized rats in Central Park or naked cowboys and cowgirls in Times Square, but I, accustomed to life in a quiet New England village, kept on snapping photos and muttering, "Only in New York!"
Where else can you enjoy the sunset and dinner on your roof, 27 stories above the pavement...

....or eat on a barge in the Hudson River that never leaves the dock. (It's called The Frying Pan, at 26th Street and the Hudson.)
....or you can just have organic hamburgers delivered from the nearest Bareburger.
Granddaughter Amalia samples all the free fun in Manhattan's parks and playgrounds.  Here she is driving a train at the Little Engine Playground at Riverside Drive and West 67th Street. (And afterwards we always walk over to "Pier i"  for outdoor dining on the water.)
 She's tried fishing at the Harlem Meer in Central Park on the East Side at 109th Street. (It's all catch and release and you can rent the fishing poles and get instructions and free bait.)
And in the summer heat, nearly every playground in Manhattan has sprinklers and various kinds of water play.
On my recent visit, Amalia and I went to Art Farm at East 91st Street between York and First where  children learn about nature, animals and how to care for the planet.   Where else would you meet a giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach?
Some of the children were willing to touch the creature, but most of the adults retreated to watch from a distance.
Amalia was more eager to pet the rabbits, hens and a new little guinea pig.
Wandering around by myself, I  noticed near Times Square one of the soon-to-be illegal Elmos who harass tourists and ask for money.
I marveled at the ever-present dog walkers.  How do they keep all those dogs from fighting with each other?  Or breaking away from the pack?
And I noticed this truck delivering Cannabis Energy Drink to the local Korean Deli.  I wonder what they put in that drink?

Art is everywhere in Manhattan, and most people never even notice it.
I spied faces in the architecture
Fire escape shadows on uninhabited buildings...
Split-Rocker is a giant flower-covered sculpture by Jeff Koons which dominates Rockefeller Plaza and coincides with the blockbuster Koons show at the Whitney Museum.
Even this graffiti-covered truck, which we encountered as we drove toward the Triboro Bridge on our way home, qualifies as art in my of the many odd treasures you can find only in New York, the greatest city in the world.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Found Art In the Garden

(Please click on the photos to make them bigger.)
(I just got a notice that a company named Konspect is offering some of my photos (below)  as wallpaper for free.  I guess that's a compliment, although I belong to the old school of people who believe that photographers should be paid for their photos and writers should be paid for their writing.  But I'm no one to talk, since I spend every day photographing and writing for free!  Seeing the notice about this blog post inspired me to re-post it today, two years after it originally ran.)

Monday is Found Art Day, so yesterday I took my camera out to the garden, which has pretty much been doing its own thing this year--perennials crowded together with weeds,  plus a few new annuals, some bean plants, a couple of tomatoes.  For an ignored garden it's looking pretty good.

Many of the flowers  were planted more than forty years ago by previous owners--spectacular irises (all done now) and some lilacs that I know go back a hundred years.    The lilies of the valley and day lilies have spread all over the place and the yellow forsythia--first harbinger of spring-- has jumped from the upper garden in the front yard down to the back garden by the pool, making for a solid wall of yellow.

I decided to channel Georgia O'Keefe and look very closely at the flowers that are currently in bloom.
First here's a passionate pink petunia, next the first of the sunflowers, hosting an industrious bee.  Nasturiums are among my favorites--the tender flowers are edible and even the leaves are so elegant in design.  That last pale pink flower is on some crazy hollyhocks that come up by themselves every year.
The blue hydrangeas are a gorgeous color this year--I have a thing for blue flowers. Next is a sweet pea that returns and spreads, but has no scent.  The  ferns in the shade are so great for adding  importance to any bouquet.  And the black-eyed Susans--let them into your garden and they'll soon take over.  They look so cheerful in a rustic crock or ironstone pitcher,
First is a thistle, then a blossom from the hibiscus bush called "Rose of Sharon".  It always makes me think of the character with that name in "Grapes of Wrath."  Can you see the ant that's come to visit?  Next is a climbing vine that grows up the iron staircase bannister called, I think, black-eyed Susan vine.  Finally is a blu-ish flower that starts as a balloon shape then pops open into a star.
First is a white Cosmos, then a jazzy flower whose name I've forgotten, then a clematis that's quite different from our other clematis vines, and finally a red flower that always blossoms around the 4th of July and reminds me of fireworks. 
Even the giant weed on the left strikes me as art, because it grew out of the cracks in the 300-year-old stone wall and it's now about six feet high.  I'd never pull it out after it was clever enough to find a footing.  You can see that the blackberries--completely wild and unkill-able--are nearly ready to pick.  We pick masses of them every year to make into jam, which we give away as gifts all winter.  The tomatoes, on the other hand, are far from ready.  Every year I hope to grow one that tastes as good as Greek tomatoes, but it never happens.
I have a weakness for Victorian cast iron garden furniture.  This rustic twig-style bench was made around 1860 by the firm of Janes Beebe in New York.
At the near end of the pool is this victorian cast iron set of chairs, love seat and table--with a grapevine design.
My wooden angel of the garden gets more weathered every year.
If you look carefully around the rock garden and fish pond you find quite a few angels, fairies and small magical people and animals, most of them watching the golden fish and  bug-eyed frogs in the pond.  There's even a roaring iron lion in one corner and of course a witch's ball.  I think they also count as found art.
Finally there's this big frog--looking just like the real frogs that croak at us when we're invading what they consider their pond.  When we turn on the waterfall, the water comes from under him and runs down the rocks He's the mascot of our garden.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Gardening on the Fourteenth Floor

When daughter Eleni, her husband Emilio and their toddler Amalia moved from one apartment in their building to another, bigger one, as soon as I realized that it had a balcony, I vowed to plant things so that from the living room it would look like there was a garden outside.  Another reason for adding planters was to close off the openings under the fence around the balcony, to prevent Amalia from slipping under or pushing things off  (not that she would ever be allowed on the balcony without an adult!  The glass door to the balcony is kept double-locked.)

(This is how it looked before they moved in.)

This balcony is on the fourteenth floor, facing south and east, and the winds out there are fierce.  Now, I am in no way an expert gardener, and I had no idea how much sun different sections of the balcony would get.
Early June

In early June I assembled and drove in from Massachusetts some inexpensive planters, bags of dirt,  geraniums, pansies, Dusty Miller, New Guinea Impatiens, and some plants with multi-colored leaves that I know like being in the  shade.  I also brought two large round planters that had a Greek acacia leaf design and two small evergreen trees that look like cypresses but aren't. (Can't remember their name, but I know they grow fast.)  The whole thing was very reasonable--because I bought it all in Massachusetts,  not New York City.

At the beginning

I quickly learned a lot about balcony gardening! All the pansies I planted around the two trees promptly died.  So did some of the impatiens which were getting too much sun. ( Later I planted a dwarf sunflower in the sunniest spot.)  The Dusty Miller survived--it always does--and the geraniums did okay.

Late July, looking northeast

Late July, looking south

But the flowers that amazed me with their exuberance were the transplanted Morning Glory plants, grown from seed, that rapidly charged up the dental floss strings that I had tied to the top railings of the balcony, and then hurried across the top, growing so fast you could almost see them go.  I never thought that tender Morning Glories would withstand the harsh winds and lack of consistent sun on that balcony, but they are now draped inside and out, searching for the sunniest spots.

Even from the street below they make the balcony stand out from the rest.

I'm pleased with the results so far, but about half the plants didn't survive and I'd  appreciate advice from expert gardeners out there as to what, besides morning glories, would flourish up there on the 14th floor.  I know that everything will freeze come winter, but I'm hoping we can keep the trees alive--taking them inside if necessary.

We're certainly not the only ones in the neighborhood who are gardening high in the clouds.  Some incredible gardens with outdoor furniture and statues and large trees are visible from Eleni's apartment.  The leggy beauty above always puzzles people who are looking down from the kitchen window.  She lives on the roof of a nearby brownstones far below.  After much sleuthing, we found out that she is a work of art and the brownstone is an art gallery.  The building is called the  Waterfall Mansion because it has the largest indoor waterfall in New York--23 feet!.  And it all could be yours for only $31 million.

Here's a party they had on the roof while I was visiting New York in July (and snooping on the neighbors.)  Their garden on the roof is a little more lavish than Eleni's balcony garden, but I can use it as inspiration for what we'll be planting next year.