September’s Gardening Soundtrack
Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager. She is responsible for the curation of The Lionel Goldfrank III Computerized Catalog of the Living Collections. She manages nomenclature standards and the plant labels for all exhibitions, gardens, and collections, while coordinating with staff, scientists, students and the public on all garden related plant information.
I recently became the Plant Records Manager here at NYBG, and when I was offered the position I thought I would be spinning plant records as a DJ at the Orchid Dinner and the Conservatory Ball. Just kidding! However, while I was fully prepared to take on the massive task of keeping tabs on the Garden’s living collections, I still secretly harbor a desire to play plant records—that is to say, to play records (or CDs, or MP3s, or whatever is en vogue now) about plants.
There’s so much good music out there about plants! Sure, there are tons of vague ditties about generic flowers (blue flowers, red flowers, wild flowers, where flowers have gone, and not getting flowers anymore) but I get particularly excited about songs that allow me to “botanize” because they’re about specific plants. Songs about plants that grow here at The New York Botanical Garden are even better.
I especially enjoy Robert Plant because of his excellent surname, but also because he was the front man for Led Zeppelin. His 1993 solo album Fate of Nations features the lesser known song “29 Palms.” Although the song is named for a small California town, that town is named for plants in the Arecaceae family that grow there. If you’re not traveling to 29 Palms any time soon, you can stop by the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory to see the many beautiful palms in the Palm Dome and other parts of this magnificent glasshouse (and there are way more than 29 of them). Palms are some of our oldest plants and, despite popular belief, are not actually trees!
Although they sound melancholy in the ballad “Sunflowers” by Low, the perennial woodland sunflower Helianthus divaricatus growing at the Native Plant Garden is sure to brighten any day. Both drought tolerant and deer resistant, this happy yellow face will bring birds and butterflies to your garden. Agreeing with Low, I think they are “sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet.”
As with many a plant record, Radiohead draws a metaphor between love and flowers in “Lotus Flower.” You might experience a similar passion for Nelumbo nucifera. Floating as if by magic in the pools behind the Conservatory, the giant flowers of this aquatic plant have their roots in the soil at the bottom of the pool. The dried seed heads are popular in flower arrangements and many parts of the plant are even edible. You can find them “swimming” along with our friendly koi.
Nepeta is a “kitty cat drug” in Shonen Knife’s catchy tune “Catnip Dream” and can cause some felines to act in a silly manner. There are no cats here, but Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ in the Perennial Garden is a favorite of bees and you will frequently find them buzzed out on this fragrant mint.
However, if you left your earbuds at home, there is plenty of auditory pleasure to be experienced throughout the Garden from the plants themselves. For instance, the papery swish of Hakonachloa macra (Hakone or Japanese forest grass) offers a satisfying sound as you brush past it. You can hear these in the Perennial Garden, Home Gardening Center, and Azalea Garden. Likewise, Lindera benzoin (northern spicebush) provides a natural soundtrack as persistent leaves rustle in the wind throughout the fall and winter. Listen to them in the Thain Family Forest, the Native Plant Garden, and other areas. Whether your horticultural soundtrack is natural or not, the Garden’s living collections enthrall all the senses!