Have you noticed a change in our landscape? The year of scaffolding is over and what was desolate is now flourishing. And it’s not finished. The few areas remaining will soon be planted. Ailing plants will be replaced and healthy ones will be happier, knowing that we care about them. The garden committee and board have worked hard to make this a reality, and some residents have covered the cost of new plants. Other residents are offering to pay for new shrubs and trees.
We hear compliments from people exiting the subway, even those not living in Fort Tryon Gardens, which attests to our positive impact on the neighborhood. I’m toldthat for every dollar spent on “curbside appeal,” property values increase by fifty percent, which is not a bad ROI.
Residents now have two opportunities. The first is playing in the dirt with the garden committee when we prune, weed, and plant. Watch for announcements on our Facebook page.
The second is to take advantage of compost, which will be supplied by the New York City Sanitation Department at a time that will be announced (stay tuned). Your house plants will love you. But a word of caution: compost is not potting soil but rather fertilizer. Just a spoonful of compost makes a plant feel real good (just like a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down).
Meanwhile, make sure you leave your own compost in the brown bins available in the garbage areas of each building. The bins are available at all times, and the porters put them outside for pickup around 4 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon, to be returned to the garbage area by 8 a.m. the following day.
NOTE: please refrain from putting anything PLASTIC in the bins. This sabotages the system.
P.S. We hope you didn’t miss the abundant nectarines in the tree on our 192 nd Street side. We expect to have figs next year.
Mary Jane Wilkie. Thanks to Ernie DeLia for the photos.
Now that it’s spring, many of us are more conscious of the need to brush our pet, to
remove hair that will end up on the furniture or clothes. Rather than dispose of
their hair in the garbage, however, you can make it available to birds that frequent
our courtyards. They will gladly use it to build nests, and the time is right.
Just gather the hair in a specific place, and next time you exit your building, leave it
on the grass or any bushes you can reach. It won’t be there long, so no one need be
concerned about unsightly bunches of animal fur in the courtyard.
As I approached the building, it was there,
on the threshold, wedged (by its own efforts)
between the door and the door jamb.
A small bird, brown/gray like many,
(or I would not have seen it).
Not knowing what to do,
I opened the door and
it flew—or rather fluttered—
into the building,
quickly finding the place
where the elevator door meets its frame,
wedging itself in,
always on the ground.
With a scarf,
I picked it up and took it outside,
laying it on the grass.
By then, it had died, so
I covered it with
the leaves of the ground cover
that shares space with the grass.
Only later did I realize that
when we die,
we want to be enfolded,
protected on as many sides as possible.
You may have noticed the planters outside some entrances to Fort Tryon buildings and wondered about their origin. As a test, our hard-working, dedicated Garden Committee created them and filled them with dried foliage last fall. The test has been successful, and we residents will soon have the opportunity to join the Committee in making more.
The planters are made of papercrete, being a mixture of soggy, shredded newspaper, cement, sand, and gravel. Papercrete was patented in 1928, revived in the 1980s, and now re-revived at Fort Tryon Gardens. Its advantages are low cost and high performance. Visit http://www.papercrete.com to know more about this unusual building material.
Garden Committee member Ernie DeLia is the prime mover in this project. To learn more, several of us joined him recently to make planters. You need:
Shredded newsprint (this is the main ingredient; two Sunday New York Times are sufficient for a 1×1 ft. square pot)
Rubber or plastic molds (of any shape), e.g., mop bucket, dishpan, container of some brands of kitty litter, large bleach bottle
Cement, sand, gravel
Water for mixing + mineral or vegetable oil to line the molds;
First you let the shredded newsprint soak in water for two days. Then you add the cement, sand, gravel, and mix it by hand (or using Ernie’s giant egg-beater, which is an attachment to his power drill). When the mixture is the right consistency, you press it to the walls of the pre-oiled mold, about 1 inch thick. The action is similar to pressing dough into a pie pan (taking only slightly more exertion).
Once the planter is the height you want, you let it dry for about two weeks. Then you coax it out of its mold, and leave it to dry completely (about a month). The planter is then ready, and is sturdy, holding up well in inclement weather. If you are interested in making and adopting a papercrete planter for your entrance, contact the Garden Committee by e-mail at “gardens at forttryongardens.org,” via the Facebook group, or on the Fort Tryon Gardens website group.
Who hasn’t had issues with laundry? You walk into the laundry room and find:
Detergent spilled on top of a machine
Clothes left in the machine after washing or drying is complete
Someone is using the cart when you need it, and isn’t in a rush to finish
We may not all agree on how to proceed in these cases, so here are suggestions for what good neighbors do routinely, and what we can to when our neighbors are less than considerate.
Detergent spilled on top of a machine: If YOU spill it, wipe it up. We have been promised wipes for our laundry rooms, and perhaps by the time you read this, they will be there. If they are not, let one of your board members know, and please, take the time to bring paper towels from your own apartment to clean up. If others haven’t cleaned up their spills: shame on them! Just because they didn’t doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.
Clothes left in a washer or dryer after completing the cycle: Everyone has multiple timing devices, so use whatever will get you to the laundry when your cycle is complete. If a neighbor has failed to remove clothes, don’t be shy about removing them from the machine, placing them gently in either the cart or on the table to await their owner.
Someone is using the cart when you need it, and isn’t in a rush to finish: There isn’t much you can do besides stand by, hoping your neighbor will observe and be a good neighbor. You might strike up a conversation so that, even if it takes more time than you planned, you have a sense of the other person. Knowing your neighbors is the best way to foster cooperation and a sense of community.
And has it ever happened that you’re in the elevator with your dirty laundry, and a neighbor gets on the elevator, armed with dirty laundry? From the looks of things, the machines might not accommodate both of you. What can you do? I have engaged in “negotiation” in these instances, which means having a conversation about priorities and flexibility. It’s an opportunity to get better acquainted, and you may make a friend. By the way, our residents who work on Broadway often do laundry on Mondays, when not engaged with a show. I try to avoid washing on Mondays for that reason.
Some of the laundry rooms have a “book exchange.” If yours doesn’t, you might consider starting one. The laundry is our most accessible common area in Fort Tryon Gardens, a potential meeting place, an opportunity to get acquainted, to learn about your neighbors. Friendliness is your best ally in the war on dirty laundry.
The next to the last day of September, I was walking in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights from the Heather Garden, and just before I got to Sir William’s Dog Run, my eye caught a movement high up in the northern red oak tree. Warblers! Knowing it’s migration time for insect and nectar eating birds – ie. warblers, flickers, kinglets, hummingbirds – I never leave home without my trusty, light-weight, pocket binoculars. Let me tell you, it is challenging keeping your binoculared eyes on moving warblers. The balletic pattern of one of the warblers foraging in the oak tree made me think REDSTART! These tiny birds, black and red male, gray and yellow females, flash their tails and dive up and down, in and out, gleaning insects from the leaves. It was a lovely female redstart fanning her bright yellow tail and flitting, butterfly-like, from leaf to leaf.
There was another warbler with a different type of motion. Catching up to him with my eyes, I see it is a male northern parula warbler; gorgeous little fellow with olive shoulders and back, blue-gray head, bright yellow belly turning orange up by his neck with a black necklace. What a find!
The next afternoon I met Kellye Rosenberg leading a tour for New York City Audubon. We met at the saltmarsh of Inwood Hill Park, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island, right next to the shipping canal that connects the Harlem River with the Hudson River at Spuyten Duyvil. So much to see there. The week before, birding with my friend Elizabeth White-Pultz of the Inwood Birders group, we saw a marsh wren and a pair of common yellow-throat warblers hanging out in the marsh grass, flowering goldenrod and asters. Columbia University has their boathouse there with a new kayak dock used by the rowing crews and the public. Columbia has housed their boats up there since the late 1920s. Across the Harlem River you can see a giant blue and white letter C painted in 1952 by Robert Prendergrast, Columbia medical student and coxswain of the rowing crew, painted on the massive Fordham gneiss outcropping. From the marsh we walked up into the verdant hills of the park and after we entered the deeply forested paths we found black-throated blue warblers male and female redstarts, northern flickers, and a white-breasted nuthatch.
Fall migration happens more slowly than spring migration, when literally hundreds of millions of birds take the aerial route known as the Atlantic flyway from their winter feeding grounds in South and Central America to their northern breeding grounds in the middle Atlantic states, New England and Canada. Flying over New York City, they drop down in huge numbers in our parks to feed and rest, and sometimes stay, nest and raise their young until it is time to make their journey south in order to find food throughout the winter. And so it is that birds leave our area, not because it is too cold in winter – after all they are covered in a layer of down, just like our down coats that keep us warm and cozy in January, February and March. But they cannot find the food they need: insects and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, small mammals. In addition to watching migrating warblers and other song birds, during fall migration you can join groups looking at migrating hawks, eagles, and owls; egrets, herons and shorebirds. And from the far north come our wintering birds that are able to survive the cold months in New York City. Small flocks of tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and black-capped chickadees descend on our wooded parks. And in autumn and winter we make way for ducks, geese and swans! Wood ducks, northern shovelers, hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks, snow geese, brandt geese and mute swans flock to our wetlands to find food when their summer territories freeze over. They are not alone. More and more we are seeing bald eagles along our coast in winter.
And of course we have our year-round birds who are able to find seed, nuts, and dried fruit even in winter: blue jays, house sparrows, crows, starlings, pigeons, cardinals, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, mallard ducks and Canada geese. And let us not forget our birds of prey that are here all year: red-tailed hawks, cooper hawks, sharp shinned hawks, peregrine falcons, American kestrels, great horned owls, saw-whet owls, and screech owls. New York City, as it turns out, is a birding haven throughout the seasons. So take a walk with or without binoculars and you will start to see our lovely and interesting feathered neighbors.
This past week, cast and crew from “Limitless,” a TV adaptation of the 2011 feature film of the same name starring Bradley Cooper, were in Fort Tryon Park filming several scenes for an upcoming episode of the show.
On September 1, a dozen or so actors dressed in military fatigues and marching in formation could be seen running through the small tunnel located down the hill from the Fort Tryon dog park leading to the walkway to the Cloisters. Crew gear and equipment was set up near the Cloisters lawn. Jake McDorman, who stars in the show as Brian Sinclair, was also seen filming several scenes throughout the park.
Limitless centers around Sinclair, a man who takes the experimental drug NZT, which allows him to access 100 percent of his mental capability. He then is coerced into using his enhanced abilities to solve crimes with the FBI. Cooper, who will make several cameo appearances throughout the season, serves as an Executive Producer.
We hear them throughout the day, their high-pitched, keening, keeeeeeearr, over and over again, calling for their parents to feed them a pigeon, a rat, a squirrel. Lucky us to have three gorgeous juvenile red-tail hawks: Buteo jamaicensis: Buteo: a kind of hawk; jamaicensis: the island of Jamaica where specimens were given their scientific name. Their huge nest sits on the fire escape of the top floor of a building high on a hill, just east, above and behind Broadway and the tasty and fun Buddha Beer Bar. Throughout May we watched the parents carry food to the nestlings and now here they are – outside our window!
There are more than 40 known pairs of breeding red tails throughout the five boroughs. Pale Male, the Fifth Avenue hawk has successfully raised his young this spring with his fifth mate after the previous four died from rat poisoning.
Our largest hawk, the red tail is dark brown above, has a white chest with brown streaks and a horizontal rufous band across the tail. The juvenile’s tail is vertically banded with brown and they have pale yellow eyes that mature to dark brown. Red tails can be more than 2 feet long with a wingspan of over 5 feet.
These beautiful birds of prey mate for life, but feeding on poisoned pigeons or rats shortens their lives. When this occurs the spouse will immediately find another mate. Red tails are typically shy of humans, but not in New York City, where these hawks nest on apartment buildings and hunt, roost, and fly near New Yorkers in parks and on city streets.
They build their nests both in trees and on ledges of apartment buildings, churches, hotels and skyscrapers. These nests are huge: close to 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet high, constructed with large deciduous branches and lined with fresh green sprigs in early spring. Both parents build the nest, but the female spends more time arranging the bowl, where she lays 2 -3 brown or red speckled white eggs. The male provides most of the food for the family. Fledglings stay close to the parents and may even come back to the nest at night. Parents continue to provide food for the nestlings up to two months after fledging, which is why we hear them, still begging for food.
Red tails are carnivores, feeding on rodents, pigeons, doves, and other songbirds. When you hear crows and blue jays or see a flock of pigeons flying, look for this large hawk. Nearby birds, even tiny sparrows will “mob” it by attacking as a group to drive it away from their nests.
By early autumn our three babies will venture away from the neighborhood and find a territory of their own and next year we should have more of these huge and beautiful babies learning to hunt and survive in our city.
A preacher was walking by a farmer’s field and stopped to admire it. “Mighty pretty field you got, Farmer Brown.” “Thank you, pastor.” “Isn’t it wonderful what God and man can do working together!” “Yep, but you should have seen it when God had it by himself!”
Here at Fort Tryon Gardens, we live in a permanent art exhibit, for gardens are living art. Our grounds are an oasis, refreshing us from time spent amid concrete buildings and sidewalks. Being in the presence of growing things has a positive impact on our mental health, offering respite from the daily pressures of life.
Just as a stunning piece of music requires practice to deliver its effect, a garden requires diligence and constant attention if it is to be a beautiful sight to passersby. Fortunately, we have residents with the energy, dedication, and expertise needed to tackle the challenge offered by our green spaces. Its sections are varied as to soil, sunlight, and exposure to the elements. The newly formed Garden Committee is swinging into action, however, to better use the skills of our paid landscaping company, and to maximize opportunities to grow flowers, and even vegetables!
Good design principles help make a garden attractive year-round. One of the committee members says that she envisions the space as it is in winter, how it will look before it lives into the “easier” seasons. Many are the factors to consider. Beds may be dry or irrigated, rocks may be close to the surface, soil may be more or less acidic. Skillful handling of these variables make it possible to achieve a sense of harmony and unity in the garden. The committee’s work will start with a soil analysis, to determine which plants would flourish most easily in the individual sections.
Garden designers think about its every section from all angles: what the viewer sees when walking alongside and what the eye captures when the viewer looks at a space dead on. A given plant may offer one color in spring and a different color in autumn. The arrangement of plants determines whether the foliage contrast is esthetically pleasing. Certain plants are good companions for one another, and others are not. Similar to what happens when you replace a piece of furniture in your living room, the presence or absence of a given plant creates a change in the total picture.
PLANS AND POSSIBILITIES
Through the Garden Committee’s efforts, it will be possible for us—if we choose—to have a community garden. These jointly-tended areas depend on healthy interaction among the members, and the effort can bring residents together under a shared vision. The advantages are many: growing something you can include in your evening meal, interaction with neighbors, a sense of community that many of us long for in New York City. A committee member said, “You can go to the garden and people know you.” But it needs a solid plan, such as a garden divided into individual plots, whose keepers must be diligent in caring for their space (lest their forfeit their plot). As any gardener will tell you, “constant” means “daily,” and “care” means attention to every component in a space. It’s exciting to put something in the ground and watch it grow. A committee member said, “It works a part of my brain that enjoys color and shape.”
The project welcomes those who are ready to join the effort. The committee urges Fort Tryon residents: “Join us! Get your hands dirty!” The garden committee is brand new, and nothing firm has been decided. Below are the members. To attend their next meeting or involve yourself in other ways, here’s the contact: Gardens@forttryongardens.org
Ernie DiLia: Ernie works for Cardiology and is an administrator in the Department of Medicine, Mt. Sinai/Roosevelt Hospital. Since childhood, he has mowed lawns, grown herbs and peppers, and at one time had a plot on the Fort Tryon premises. He is currently enrolled in a landscape-architecture program offered by the New York Botanical Garden.
Gina Mennella: A former teacher in the city, Gina has lived at Fort Tryon Gardens for almost five years. With her two children (a toddler and a newborn), she is a full-time mother. She finds spare moments, however, to volunteer in local gardens.
Stanton Nash: New to Fort Tryon, Stanton is an actor, having performed at theaters in New York City and around the country. He has quickly become involved in the garden effort, and can’t wait to cook what he has grown on our premises. When closing on his apartment, he inquired about the potential for gardening, as this is something he has always longed for in New York.
Laura Smith: Laura is a professional gardener, currently on staff at the Central Park Conservancy. She has tended luxury gardens in Boston and New York, but she says that she prefers to share her skills with everyone. Fort Tryon gives her the opportunity to do that, and she brings significant technical expertise to the effort.
Levi Waldron: Levi is a professor of biostatistics at Hunter College. He grew up in a family of avid gardeners, and says that it has been part of his consciousness since childhood. His favorite thing is to pick something from a plant and eat it.