Mosaic workshop

On Sunday September 24, Barbara taught the second workshop for making mosaic stepping stones. Below, you can see what we set out to make.

Stepping stone from the first workshop.

The colorful tiles on this stepping stone are shards from flawed ceramic plates and bowls that Barbara and other potters from our garden had discarded. After Barbara moved her studio, we got several buckets full of these rejects, which are nevertheless very beautiful.

The first step to make a mosaic stepping stone is to break the ceramics up into smaller pieces.

Tanking a hammer to the ceramics. This is weirdly satisfying.

Next comes the assembly of the mosaic. As molds, we used plastic containers that fruit and salads are being sold in. The colorful tiles go on the bottom of the mold, which is then filled with fine cement. Of course, the pattern has to be upside down, which is difficult to do without perfect memory. Therefore, we first assembled the mosaic on a piece of paper cut to the shape of the mold and used school glue to stick a second sheet of paper on top of the tiles. Once the glue had hardened, we could turn the mosaic over and place it upside down into the mold.

Making the mosaic.

After we had assembled 12 mosaics, it was time to mix the cement and scoop it into the molds.

Adding the cement. The backs of the mosaic tiles are visible in the plastic molds.

The cement had to be tamped down carefully to fill all spaces between the tiles. Then it was time to wait and let the cement set.

I got curious and un-molded some of our new stepping stones the next day. Below is how they looked after I had peeled off the paper that was glued onto the surface of the tiles. Pretty neat, right?

The finished product. The right stone features shards of Barbara’s signature two-layered ceramics inspired by stained-glass windows.


Some of the plants in our garden grow exactly where we want them to, for instance those that we plant into pots.

Pots on the patio in summer 2014 (photo by Hubert Steed)

However, others grow best (or even only) where they want to. We call them volunteers. The most reliable volunteers are hollyhocks and the annual delphinium Consolida ajacis. Both self-seed readily. Hollyhock seedlings seems seem to prefer narrow cracks and the poorest soil. This is how these plants appears right at the fence or in the path. What conditions the delphiniums like is still a mystery. A small plant appeared last year in the part-shade under our apple tree. This year, an entire family of delphiniums germinated there.

Annual delphiniums Consolida ajacis and hollyhocks, here peeking through the fence, are reliable volunteers (photo on the right by Hubert Steed).

Some of our volunteers choose dangerous spots. A pretty sunflower grew outside of the fence. Soon after its flower opened, some passerby picked it; apparently, the temptation was just too great. Growing between the gravel of the main path is not especially safe either. A little petunia tries this right now. It is still doing fine, but someone may step on it any day.

A sunflower dared to grow on the outside of the garden.

The volunteer petunia in the path

A fertile (pun intended) source of many volunteers is compost. Tomato and pepper seeds, as well as seeds of melons and pumpkins survive the composting process mostly unharmed. Thus, we will find seedlings of these plants soon after we spread compost into our flower beds and pots.

A tomato came up in a planter on the patio. The plant on the left appeared “suddenly”. We don’t know whether it is a melon or a pumpkin. We decided to let it grow to find out.

Talking about volunteers: We are also looking for volunteer gardeners who can help us with some of the work in the garden!

The fireflies are here

For a short time at the end of June, the cool yellow-green light-flashes of fireflies can be seen after dusk and and the onset of darkness. Our garden is a good place to spot them. In the evening, they hover over the plants or sit near the ground. The most common species in our city has the scientific name Photinus pyralis. As you can see on the photo below, fireflies are not flies at all, but beetles, complete with sturdy elytra that protect the wings when the firefly is not in the air.

A firefly ready to take flight.

The cool thing (literally) about fireflies is that they can produce light. This is done by a chemical process during which the protein luciferin reacts with the enzyme luciferase. Both chemicals are stored in an organ on their belly that is fittingly called the lantern.

Why the glow? Fireflies use light to find a mate. Males flash a signal during flight and wait for a female on the ground to respond with her flash. The sequence and color of the light tells them that they belong to the same species. Males and females keep doing this until they find each other and mate. The life of adult fire flies is short: they don’t even bother to eat and die after the females have laid their eggs.

All of this happens only at the beginning of summer. The rest of the year, the new generation of fireflies lives as carnivorous, flightless larvae near the ground. In winter, these larvae burrow into the soil and pupate. When metamorphosis is completed the following June, adult beetles emerge and begin their light show.

I made a little movie starring fireflies from our garden:

If you want to see these natural fireworks for yourself, look near bushes and trees at around 8pm. I am sure the fireflies are there.

Herbs and veggies flower, too

When thinking of herbs and vegetables , we usually don’t think flowers (stuffed squash blossoms, artichokes and broccoli excluded). In fact, farmers harvest greens before the plants put on flowers, or they wait until the bees have done their job and harvest the fruit or seeds, like tomatoes or beans.

But we are not farmers. In our garden, one can find quite a few herbs and vegetable in flower. At a close look, they are really pretty:

From top left: The delicate flowers of horse radish have a lovely scent of honey, Few people see asparagus flowers, we usually eat these inflorescences when they just come out of the ground. Cilantro flowers will eventually produce coriander seeds. Celery flowers profusely in our garden and it also readily self-seeds; little celery plants are found everywhere.

From top left: the yellow flowers of lovage. Chive flowers are pretty enough for a bouquet; bees love them, too. Kale flowers have also been a great nectar source for our bees. Garlic flowers are harvested by farmers in the region and sold for an exorbitant price as “garlic scapes”.

Of course, here and elsewhere, some herbs are grown not only for their aroma but also for their pretty flowers.

Sage and rue. Here, rue is grown mostly as ornamental plant, but its leaves are part of Mediterranean and African spice mixes.

Off-topic but really pretty: Lavender is actually farmed for its aromatic flowers.

Party with VIP

Last week was our annual garden party. This year, we had two special guests who came with a very special gift: We welcomed Councilwoman Margaret Chin and her Chief of Staff Vincent Fang. Councilwoman Chin announced that her office had budgeted $250,000 for the Parks Department to replace the old fence around our garden with a new one. A new fence!! At this moment, our decade-long dream came true.

Margaret Chin announces that we will get a new fence. Sara and Jeffrey are listening (Photo: Tequila Minsky)

Gardeners applauding

Currently, our garden is surrounded by a chainlink fence, similar to the ones that enclose construction sites or empty lots. We had been dreaming of a nice iron rod fence, like those around many other parks and gardens. But alas, such a pretty fence was always way beyond our small budget.

Our fence and the nice fence at the Sheridan Square Garden

Therefore, Jeffrey applied this year for a grant from the discretionary fund of Margaret Chin’s district to cover the cost for a new fence. This fund is distributed to projects that improve a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. To our great delight, Jeffrey’s application was successful. We are very grateful for the fantastic work Jeff put into convincing our elected officials that we are worthy of this investment!

Vincent and Jeffrey

It will likely take several months until the work can begin. We are hoping that we will have our new fence next spring. But this exciting news was celebrated right away.

Happy gardeners  celebrate the wonderful news (Photo: Tequila Minsky)

Bluegrass by Toni and Jeff (Photo: Tequila Minsky)

We thank Councilwoman Margaret Chin and the first District of the New York City Council very much for this generous gift.

We had a modest gift for Councilwoman Chin, too: a jar of our “Queen Fiorella” honey. (Foto: Tequila Minsky)

Happy Chappy