Plant Talk

Inside The New York Botanical Garden

What’s Beautiful Now: Into Autumn

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on October 16 2017, by Matt Newman

Hints of fall abound in the Garden—if you know where to look. Hit the Forest trails this week for the first of the changing leaves in NYC, with reds, oranges, and yellows beginning to peek through the canopy. In the Native Plant Garden you’ll find ferns and meadow perennials snagging the spotlight, while dahlias, decorative grasses, and asters paint our other collections. Head below for more highlights this week!

Tree of the Week: Nyssa sylvatica 'Wildfire'

Tree of the Week: <em>Nyssa sylvatica</em> 'Wildfire'
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The Living Forest

Posted in From the Library on October 12 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of The Living ForestThe Living Forest: A Visual Journey into the Heart of the Woods is a new book from Timber Press written by Joan Maloof with photography by Robert Llewellyn.  Living Forest is another in the line of more ecology-minded books from this popular publisher of gardening and garden design books.

First and foremost, The Living Forest is a beautiful book. Llewellyn, as some keen readers might recall, is the photographic mind behind the extremely appealing series Seeing Trees, Seeing Flowers, and Seeing Seeds, which I reviewed for Plant Talk earlier this year. As is the case in the Seeing series, Llewellyn’s photographs are detailed, brilliant, and immersive. With a mix of subjects including flora and fauna, shot both close-up and in landscape views, Llewellyn’s work and Maloof’s words evoke the forest on every page. My personal favorite photo is a landscape shot of beech trees (possibly Fagus grandifolia) in late autumn. Love for the woods knows no season, but, for me, autumn is the time that I like best. Llewellyn simply and eloquently captured one of my favorite forest scenes and all of the emotions such a scene inspires.

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The Wild World of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Posted in History, People, Shop/Book Reviews on October 3 2017, by Joyce Newman

Joyce H. Newman is an environmental journalist and teacher. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of Mcdowell coverMost of us know Laura Ingalls Wilder as the author of The Little House series. But now a wonderful new book by NYBG instructor and garden historian Marta McDowell reveals little-known facts about Wilder’s other life—as a settler, farmer, and gardener.

In The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired The Little House Books (Timber Press, $27.95), McDowell creates an intimate, colorful, and witty portrait of the writer who cherished her gardens and whose gardening life was shaped by the prairie lands that have largely disappeared today. (McDowell is also the author of Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, and All the Presidents’ Gardens.)

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Wilder’s birth. Her life began in 1867 in a Wisconsin log cabin, a frontier baby whose pioneer parents had cleared a forest to make a farm—“the quintessential American beginning,” says McDowell. McDowell traces Wilder’s upbringing and adulthood in the first part of the book—several chapters follow her from Wisconsin, to Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, and other places where Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane (her prairie rose), ultimately lived.

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Fiesta de Flores at NYBG

Posted in Programs and Events on September 28 2017, by Elizabeth Figueroa

Fiesta de FloresOn Wednesday, September 20, 2017, we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with Fiesta de Flores, a festival at the Botanical Garden’s Stone Mill commemorating the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The program entailed Rose Garden Tours, food and beverage tasting, live art, artisans, musical entertainment, and a Bomba dance ensemble.

One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation by Aaron Bouska, Vice President of Government and Community Relations, of the Public Service Award to New York City Councilmember Annabel Palma. The moment recognized and commemorated her dedicated service to the people and institutions of the Bronx and her leadership of the Bronx Delegation of the New York City Council.

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Revitalizing the Garden of Youth

Posted in Horticulture on September 26 2017, by Ursula Chanse

Ursula Chanse is the Director of Bronx Green-Up and Community Horticulture and Project Director for NYC Compost Project hosted by The New York Botanical Garden. For more information about these programs and upcoming workshops and events, please visit Bronx Green-Up.


Photo: Ryan Struck

This past June, Bronx Green-Up, the Botanical Garden’s community gardening program since 1988, led a major transformation in the Crotona neighborhood of the Bronx. In partnership with In Good Company (an alliance of like-minded companies founded by Clif Bar), La Familia Verde, and the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, the Garden of Youth underwent a much-needed revitalization.

This was Bronx Green-Up’s sixth In Good Company collaboration and past projects have included creating a rain garden at Brook Park, a chicken coop at Taqwa Community Farm, and a complete renovation of the Neighborhood Advisory Community Garden.

A newly released video—which you can watch below—tells the story of our exciting week and highlights the hard work, determination, and commitment of volunteers, staff, and community members to transform this corner lot into a flourishing garden.

Channeling Your Inner Child: Exploring Nature with Children’s Book Author Phyllis Root

Posted in From the Library on September 21 2017, by Samantha D’Acunto

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


Plant a Pocket PrairieIt was earlier this year we received Anywhere Farm into the LuEsther T. Mertz library children’s circulating collection and instantly visitors and staff alike fell for Phyllis Root. Roots writing style is both familiar and refreshing. Collaborations with illustrators like Betsy Bowen bring to life Root’s rhythmic narrative of life, nature, and the unknown. Root and Bowen effortlessly capture the whimsical curiosities of child exploration, using imagery and language to invite the reader to discover the wonders of the environments around them. In the two titles featured below, the readers are asked to explore areas that often are over looked: a prairie and a bog.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root / Illustrated by Betsy Bowen

If you look beyond the tall grasses of the prairie, you will reveal a unique and endangered ecosystem. In Plant a Pocket of Prairie readers explore beyond the grasses to reveal the flora and fauna that once covered 40 percent of the United States. Sprinkled throughout the pages you will find delicate watercolors capturing snapshots of prairie landscape. Root and Bowen work together to introduce the reader to specific plant and animal species that are endangered, threatened, and extinct. Bursts of butterfly weed, silky asters, and big prairie sunflowers appear as the pages advance. Bison, American goldfinches, and monarch butterflies peak through the foliage. The race to restore the prairie is up to each one of us, and we can help if we plant a pocket prairie! But how? Root instructs readers to find the native prairie elements of your region and plant them wherever you can, both large and small spaces. We’ll never be able to bring back the species we lost but in planting a small pocket prairie we can support the species that remain.

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Darwin’s Backyard

Posted in From the Library on September 20 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of Darwin's BackyardDarwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory is an interesting hybrid of a book. Author James T. Costa has written extensively on both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, and he brings his years of research to bear in Darwin’s Backyard.

The scope of Darwin’s Backyard is strictly relegated to documenting and explaining Darwin’s experimentation process and many of his experiments that might be conducted at home. At times, the narrative and pacing seems similar to Andrea Wulf’s 2015 book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World.  Wulf and Costa write not only about the scientist at the center of their novels, but also about the scientific community within which each scholar developed and interacted. Thus, in addition to documenting Darwin’s activities, Costa writes of his relationship with other scientists of the time, including Sir Charles Lyell.

Among other work, Lyell popularized the ideas of James Hutton whose geological theories were foundational to the way that we currently think about the earth and its processes. Hutton’s theory of Uniformitarianism, a theory which Lyell and Darwin discussed, is the idea that “Earth’s geologic processes acted in the same manner and with essentially the same intensity in the past as they do in the present and that such uniformity is sufficient to account for all geologic change.” This theory is also applicable in a broader sense across the sciences as a foundational idea that basic processes today are likely to have been similar or identical in the past, i.e., that we can use modern observations and ideas to understand past patterns, unless, of course, there is evidence that the processes themselves have changed.

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Designing with Succulents

Posted in From the Library on September 18 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of Designing with SucculentsAs I browsed Designing with Succulents, recently published in its revised second edition by Debra Lee Baldwin for Timber Press, I attracted some attention. “I love succulents,” multiple co-workers informed me, looking longingly at Baldwin’s book. After encouraging them to check out the library’s copy, I went back to my reading for this review. I have to agree with my coworkers. I love succulents! I love caring for my small houseplant collection as well as seeing ambitious and riotous garden designs and plantings that feature these plants. 

Succulents are appealing for many reasons including their bright, bold colors, use in low-water landscapes, and relatively low-maintenance as both house and garden plants. In her new book, Baldwin scintillates those who are already succulent enthusiasts and inspires those who have dreamed about growing succulents but haven’t yet taken the plunge.

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The Life of a Labeler

Posted in Horticulture on September 13 2017, by Kristine Paulus

Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager and Becky Thorp is the Senior Plant Recorder. They are responsible for maintaining the records of the Garden’s living collections.


Lush green lawns, majestic trees, and artfully designed flower gardens may be the first thing visitors notice when they arrive at NYBG, but as a botanical garden, our mission goes well beyond the creation of a beatiful landscape. For 125 years, NYBG has served as a cultural and educational institution where anyone can learn about horticulture and botany. One of the simplest and most effective ways we carry out this part of our mission is through the documentation, tracking, and labeling of plants. Just as visitors to an art museum learn to tell a Titian from a Twombly by reading display labels next to each work, botanical garden-goers learn to differentiate a tulip from a trillium by looking at plant labels.

Various plant labels from NYBG's history.

Every aspect of labeling the garden’s tens of thousands of plants, including research, database work, production, and placement of labels in the landscape, is managed by the Plant Records Department.

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