The Smart Planters

by Mary Jane Wilkie

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.mj_planters-in-window

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 to know more about this unusual building material.


mj_erniedeliaGarden 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;
  • Rubber gloves

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,” via the Facebook group, or on the Fort Tryon Gardens website group.

The Art of Making Beauty, or the Beauty of Making Art

by Mary Jane Wilkie

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.image1

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.image2




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.image3


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:


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.