Air Dried

“Nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit”, I muttered to myself last week as I wove around Manhattan.  My midtown hotel was practically empty and the traffic light for mid-December—a terrible season for retailers.  In the hotel bar guests stared glumly at each other, mostly Brits and Europeans.  The waitress said, “A year ago this place was packed—it’s unbelievable”.

I encountered in conversations with friends two unusual gardening-related topics in New York City:  the “roof garden” craze continues to grow non-stop; and the cut-flower market remains quite strong, despite the economy. These two trends seem a bit unusual to me. They’re nationwide—not only in New York City—especially the roof gardens.

First, I love roof gardens.  However, why do people applaud so strenuously an idea to grow a garden, not in a front or back yard, but on a roof—that is, the topside of the ceiling?  It seems like a Will Rogers story.  I have spent a long career persuading folks to plant a few steps from their backdoor.  Now it seems no effort is needed to convince society to put a garden forty feet straight up, and where few people will see it, much less know it’s there.

Another big deal these days is tropical cut flowers. Tropical cut flowers? Indeed, they travel by jet, so that arrangers can have them in a “just so” state of freshness.  Seems excessive or Kubla Khan-like to me.  Let’s see, we have to cut our carbon emissions, wear a sweater indoors, buy a hybrid car, eat only seasonal food. . .  So, what’s wrong with drying flowers from the late summer garden?  They are dried by the air in the atmosphere; I can’t think of a method more friendly to the environment.

At Burpee we offer Sunflowers, Celosia, Amaranth, Baby’s Breath, Bells of Ireland, Strawflower, Statice, Chinese Lanterns—these are as easy as, well, apple pie. Plus, they’re truly gorgeous. Might save a bit of dough. Keep the air free of turbine fumes streaming off the jets from Colombia and Thailand filled with their precious cargoes of. . . . tropical flowers. . . . ?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 at 3:37 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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41 Responses to “Air Dried”

  1. Daria said:

    New York City certainly doesn’t look like a place friendly to back yard gardens as there are so few back yards. Traditionally there is some respite in parks, but it’s nothing personal. People have gotten creative with what they have access to. This is one reason for the roof garden craze, and if you have the opportunity to take a look at the city from a good height, it is amazing how many gardens are visible, trees and all!

    The other argument for roof gardens anywhere is that they lower energy consumption by reducing heat islands and reduces water runoff into sewers.

    Of course, there are a lot of roofs that are not accessible by reasonable means for gardening, but there are huge expanses of roof tops that have simply been ignored as usable, even communal spaces. If we are going to live sustainably on this planet, we need to cultivate local social and green spaces as much as possible. I’ve even heard arguments for grocery stores growing produce on their huge, unused roofs for truly fresh, local fruits and veggies! I hope green roofs are not just a trend, but are here to stay.

  2. George said:

    Dear Daria:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. Excellent point about the desire for personal space. I agree and, like I said, in my blog, I love roof gardens. I just see very few per capita. I wish parks were more numerous. Central Park is awesome and quite extraordinary, but few see it as a gardenesque space. As to rooftop farming, I am intrigued by the idea.

  3. ellen ward said:

    at least they are gardening. we have a lot of transplants from new york here in the poconos. they may not know much about gardening,but most are willing to try.a little encouragement goes a long way

  4. George said:

    Dear Ellen:

    Thanks for the comment. Indeed, gardening is gardening wherever you can do it. I just worry about folks failing with a roof and getting the idea gardening is too difficult for them. Hope you survived the cold snap well.

  5. Norm Jacobs said:

    Seeing roof gardens as a replacement for the impermeable surfaces of civilization: buildings, sidewalks, and roadbeds makes more sense than seeing them as resembling the landscaped backyard one can enter and enjoy – likewise planted walls.

  6. George said:

    Dear Norm:

    Thanks! I’m simply a bit frustrated that backyard gardens get relatively little attention. I’ve noticed the fascinating planted wall craze. Can we agree that it’s a 90° improvement over roof gardening? Thanks again.

  7. brigitte said:

    I toltally agree. The tropical flowers are a really stupid idea tne roof garden is nice when you really use it otherwise it is a waste of water because it needs to be watered constantly.the idea to planty either wild grasses or accoring to the climat succulent plants on roofs is a great thing and does need minimum maintenance and is great for birds etc.

  8. George said:

    Dear Brigitte:

    Thanks much. The roof gardens I have heard about use “dry” plants as much as possible. Also, shorter plants to lighten the load. It would be interesting to plant a roof garden on the ground. See how birds react.

  9. Jen said:

    In 1968 when my mom started a rooftop garden (she was a little before her time) she was a transplant from out west who was thrown into a Chicago apartment out of necessity. A rooftop garden was the only way she could grow anything that wouldn’t fit on a windowsill. I have wonderful memories of picking flowers and tomatoes. That rooftop garden taught me to “bloom where your planted”. I can only imagine that others are finally starting to see the light.

  10. George said:

    Dear Jen:

    Thanks for your sweet memories of Chicago. I lived on the edge of Lincoln Park on West Webster for several years. Folks grew a few tubs on the roof, but the owner didn’t like it. He worried about security all the time. I hope things have changed for the better for everyone in that fine city.

  11. Linda Roberts said:

    Love your page , keep on . My motto is Housework Whatever,Gardening forever . Its a darn Blizzard here . The days will start getting longer . I can not wait. Linda

  12. John said:

    How many people will see a garden, much less know it’s there, isn’t the reason we plant the garden. It’s for personal satisfaction, our own little patch of Eden, an affirmation that we are indeed home. No one said gardening was logical: what’s the true cost (including water, labor, etc.) of a backyard tomato or bouquet? And for that matter, where is the New York City gardener supposed to dry her flowers, when her apartment barely has square footage for a kitchen? We can organize into communities of gardeners and share our resources, but that’s a bit of a buzzkill. Let’s not make gardening about what or where might be excessive or appropriate; let’s just be thankful anyone still cares about Eden.

  13. George said:

    Dear Linda:

    Thanks for your motto. The French come as close to following it as any culture I have found. Their house interiors are astonishingly plain—even shabby—yet their gardens are superb. Winter is indeed the beginning of spring, as of last Sunday. Brighter already. Thanks.

  14. George said:

    Dear John:

    I get your thoughtful points, believe me. I was reacting to the hype about roof gardening from several folks who don’t think so much about “ground gardening”. I was over-reacting. Also I think city-dwellers choose a life without gardens. Can’t have it both ways in my view. Eden is a bit of a dream, although a good one. I am truly thankful for it, and for your great comments.

  15. karen swaine said:

    George — roof gardens serve several purposes. (meanwhile surely you know that there are 1000s of gardens in Manhattan: in backyards and courtyards, on terraces, balconies and rooftops, and in numerous empty lots and “pocket” parks. But back to roof gardens: 1) they help cool the building 2)they eat the CO2 and give the city oxygen, 3)they are aesthetically pleasing to all with a view – and in NYC many people have views of other folks’ gardens! Amnd it is not a “craze” but a step in the right ecological direction. Smile, George, NYC is a treasure!

  16. George said:

    Dear Karen:

    Thanks for your response. I’m sure roof gardens offer many pleasures, especially the views from other rooftops and high windows. Your input is greatly appreciated. I “heart” New York, truly. Don’t I look like I’m smiling?

  17. kathy gay said:

    Roof gardens why not? Seems like a lot of people want to be connected to the earth. I do not know how they divide the roof or if it belongs to a certain tenant but it is a great thing. I would rather have a garden where I could grow my own flowers for a bouquet than pay for expensive cut flowers that often die quickly. In the winter it is flowering plants. Geraniums are great in a sunny window. In the spring, summer, and fall your catalog is their oyster.

  18. George said:

    Dear Kathy Gay:

    Thanks very much. I’m unfamiliar with the specific allocations, as you point out. I’m glad you like locally grown cut flowers. They beat tropicals by a mile, although freesias are the most romantic spring flowers in the world. However, the world possesses many romantic spring flowers. A red geranium in a clay pot is one of my favorite things. Our catalogue is an oyster—what a great thought! I’ve shared it with the staff—everyone loves it. Thanks again.

  19. Q Young said:

    I guess I’m looking at it as rooftop/terrace gardening is the only open space for some people. Not everyone has a front or backyard in NYC or most cities for that matter…and most people dont have a ‘house’. To me, any green space is a good space. Agree about the cut flowers though.

  20. George said:

    Dear Q Young:

    Thanks for your response. I distinguish roof from terrace, but overall I agree. However, if you really want a garden, join the local community garden. They are located in or near most neighborhoods in most cities. I worry about roof gardens becoming failures, either expiring through neglect or jeopardizing the roof’s integrity. We need more “how-to” publicity. Thanks again.

  21. spd said:

    In terms of Manhattan, a roof top garden is not meant to be seen from somewhere else. It is a retreat from the City – an island of calm – that is a luxury for the residents of the building who cannot have a garden outside their doors – and certainly don’t have access to flowers to dry.

  22. George said:

    Dear spd:

    Thanks for your response. You’re right—I mixed the two images up. Bummed by a trip to Manhattan. I need to visit cities more often.

  23. Morgan said:

    Roof gardens. Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but most folks in New York City don’t have yards. Now here in Nebraska, I love my whole-yard wild experimental garden, but I can think of some advantages of a roof garden (if I had a flat one…) such as, there are not too many rabbits on roofs in these parts. Dogs don’t dig holes and cat’s don’t use roofs for litterboxes. Neighborhood children would no doubt still ask repeatedly what I’m doing, but I’d have a good reason for them not to “help.” Not to sound like a local curmudgeon… really I’m not. But if I had a flat roof, I’m sure I’d be putting stuff up there too, where I could survey the neighborhood with the breeze blowing through my hair.

  24. George said:

    Dear Morgan:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You’re so right about rabbits. I suppose the many city hawks would take care of them. (Read Leonard Dubkin for urban wildlife stories.) I love your image of a rural roof garden. Were the sod houses of Nebraska, in effect, the same thing? Don’t fret the curmudgeon image. You’re in good company here.

  25. TC said:

    I’ve not researched it, but maybe I should so I can do an article on the cost of putting in a rooftop garden. You never hear anything about what it cost to be sure your roof can be a garden. And then there’s the definition: is it just containers strewn about on top of a roof, or a box planter positioned here and there, or a section of roof actually turned into a plot for gardening (this would entail things like proper support for the additional weight of soil, lining to prevent leakage, drainage, etc.) I’d like to visit a rooftop garden, and perhaps I will, I bet there’s a few in Pittsburgh.

  26. George said:

    Dear TC:

    Thanks for your excellent response. I agree you should research the subject. Pittsburgh is one of the best cities in the US. Very thoughtful comments.

  27. Linda said:

    Excellent idea about drying out the flowers. I once kept a bouquet of protea for four years that way. These are gorgeous flowers which grow well in the sands in Santa Barbara. Expensive to buy.
    Now I live in zones 8a-9b, in a national forest where the deer eat everything and the snow comes
    along. So, whenever there is a bouquet of flowers, I’ll let them be in water thru two stem-snippings and then dry them out, and then enjoy them for many months.
    Tell me, is there a way for me to grow protea or
    parrot tulips indoors?
    Linda

  28. George said:

    Dear Linda:

    Protea is one of my favorite cut flowers, and it lasts several years in perfect condition. I have a friend in Hawaii who grows them. I don’t think you can grow protea indoors but parrot tulips maybe. Not much help, sorry. You down in Phelan now? Why would anyone ever leave Santa Barbara, except at gunpoint? Just kidding. However, I do prefer Riverside, in fact. Thanks again.

  29. dabney said:

    Having an encounter with a flower is a form of making love..who would you rather make love with; fresh or dried? on the other hand, i agree with your basic stance, i am entering my tenth year living without running water. i am being inspired to focus, this up-coming gardening season, on helping people have cut flowers in their own yards.

  30. George said:

    Dear Dabney:

    Where shall I begin? It’s the running water part that threw me. I recommend zinnias to you. They’re easy to grow, inexpensive and offer a full range of colors and shades. I had a great aunt who passed away shortly after washing her hair for the first time in years, so I sympathize. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  31. Phyllis said:

    Thank-you your note regarding roof top gardens, NYC and dried flowers. Why are we are we always running and searching for the exotic(at such an expense!)when we have such wonderful home grown varieties available to us! I think I will plant the flowers you mentioned Burpee sells that are great for drying. I will put them right outside the door in my flower garden. I definitely need some advice on how to start such a garden and how to dry the flowers!It is nice to think of flowers and gardening with sleet and freezing rain just outside my window!

  32. George said:

    Dear Phyllis:

    Thanks for your response. Dried flowers are quite sensational, and even exotic looking. The Dutch make fine art with them for interior display during the long winters. I attended a show at an art gallery in Amsterdam devoted to giant wall sculptures made of dried flowers. Slight Japanese feeling, too. Dried is somehow more pleasant than a freshly cut tropical flower. They seem butchered, and resemble pagan offerings on altars. Kubla Kahn, as I said, but few agree and I understand. I’m a bit stiff and formal. Plus, there’s an enormous industry, with huge vested interests, based on tropical flowers. For tips on a cutting garden, make sure to follow seed packet instructions and grow in full sun. Don’t overwater. Watering is best when it’s consistent. Mornings every few days. But hold back. Drying involves hanging them upside down in airy garage or causeway. Thanks again.

  33. arielle said:

    I agree with you! Why fly in flowers from all over the world! We really need to get over this…

    Also, the roof garden thing… I don’t get it. Plants need a real environment to grow well, don’t they? Rooves seem to shallow. i guess the idea is that you’re keeping your house cool? Anyway, I think most REAL gardeners would prefer to have their plants in REAL soil in the REAL ground. There’s no comparison. Soil is real and alive and we can take care of it… A garden on the roof is the equivalent of a fish tank. Cute, maybe even interesting, but it’s not the ocean.

  34. George said:

    Dear Arielle:

    Thanks for the approbation. Folks should have whatever they need or want. I was reacting more to the recent over-the-top PR, but I really do like a nice roof garden. Thanks again.

  35. Jeny Sawyer said:

    Dried flowers, no matter how reminiscent of their earlier form or how beautifully they have been dried, just do not satisfy my need for the sensuality of touch and smell of fresh flowers…a bit like bringing rosemary and lemon verbena etc inside to survive long Maine winters…

    When first married, we had precarious windowsill gardens in 6″x3′ windowboxes, our only option…

  36. George said:

    Dear Jeny:

    Thanks for your input. In Holland, they frown on touching flowers, so mind if you go there. Give dried a chance. They’re more sensual than they seem at first. Maybe they need a new name. I love your herb and window box reveries. Thanks again.

  37. Aimee said:

    About your newsletters: They’re wonderful….so please have someone take a better photo of you to accompany your mind boggling, marvelous thoughts.

  38. George said:

    Dear Aimee:

    Thanks for your nice compliment. I shall replace my photo early in the new year.

  39. Rachel said:

    George, I joined your mailing list a few months back and have truly enjoyed your insite and ideas! I wish all of you at Heronswood a happy holiday season! thanx, Rachel

  40. George said:

    Dear Rachel:

    Many thanks for following our blog and all the goings on at Heronswood. Much happiness to you and yours in the holiday and New Year.

  41. Justine Miller said:

    I love making dried arrangements with my flowers, and one of my favorites is: the chartreuse-colored dried blooms of Hydrangea Annabelle, mixed with the indigo-colored seed pods of Baptisia — it’s striking!

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