Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Meet Ellen Zachos: Container Gardening Guru at NYBG

Posted in Adult Education, Gardening Tips, Learning Experiences, People on June 22 2012, by Joyce Newman

Last Days to Sign Up for Gardening Summer Intensives, Classes Start July 16

As a former Broadway performer, professional garden photographer, and writer, Ellen Zachos is a very talented NYBG instructor whose container gardening class comes alive with gorgeous slides and dynamic presentations.

Ellen’s career as a gardener began when she got her very first plant–rather than a bouquet–as an opening-night gift, after performing in a Florida dinner theater production of Fiddler on the Roof.

“It was a Spathyphyllum, an ordinary peace lily,” she says, “but to me it was wonderful. I was intrigued, and I had never grown anything. My desire for knowledge just took over. My apartment filled with houseplants and books.”  

She went on to study Commercial Horticulture and Ethnobotany at NYBG. After receiving her certifications, she authored several gardening books and founded Acme Plant Stuff in 1997, a company that designs, installs, and maintains both interior and exterior gardens.

Ellen’s container gardening class–offered in July and in August–is full of practical advice for beginners as well as experienced students. For example, she suggests that if you’re using a really large, potentially heavy container, like a whiskey barrel, you don’t have to fill it up completely with potting soil.

She explains, “As long as you’re planting annuals that only need six to eight inches of root space, you can ‘recycle’ your leftover plastic milk cartons or soda bottles, placing them in the bottom of the container to take up space. Then you only have to fill up the remaining portion with soil mix. This not only makes a large container much lighter and easier to move around, but it could save you some money by using less soil.”

David Austen roses on Soho rooftop terrace in New York City

With another piece of advice, Ellen cautions: “It’s really important for you to think about what plants you’re putting together in the same container. They need to have the same cultural needs. So you should plant shade-loving plants with other shade plants, and the same goes for plants that want to be dry, or those that need full sun.”

If you have a lot of containers on a porch or terrace, Ellen says you really should think about using drip irrigation, and you don’t need to spend a lot on professional installation. There are drip irrigation kits you can buy off the shelf.

In her summer intensive class, you’ll also learn about choosing containers and which plants will thrive in them, how to handle harsh growing conditions, planning and maintenance schedules, and the perils of urban gardening.

Ellen’s orchid expertise recently resurfaced in her 2011 book on Orchid Gardening for Better Homes and Gardens. Her newest project is a book about plants that look good and taste great. It’s due out in February 2013 and tackles the subject of wild foods, foraging, and the edible parts of ornamental plants. You can read about her adventures in city gardening at her blogs, Garden Bytes from the Big Apple and Down and Dirty Gardening.

Sign up for Summer Intensives. Registration for the 2012 Horticultural Therapy Summer Intensive Classes is still open, offering students the opportunity to fulfill–in just a few weeks–many of the hours required for a certificate. Courses begin July 9!

To register, or for more information, visit our Adult Education site or call 800-322-NYBG (x6924).

Photo of Ellen Zachos by Adam Mastoon.
Photo of David Austen roses by Ellen Zachos.