Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Todd Forrest

Spring Mania

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on April 9 2019, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of a magnoliaSeasoned tree lovers often experience a bit of anxiety during unseasonably warm winter weather. Extended thaws in January and February can cause the fuzzy gray buds of the magnolias to swell in anticipation of the bloom, elevating the risk of frost damage should cold spells show up later on. Nothing is so disheartening as magnolia flowers turned to ugly brown mush by a surprise spring freeze.

Sometimes things do work out, however. There were brief warm spells this winter, but there were also long periods of deep cold and the magnolia buds didn’t really get moving until March. The weather warmed gradually from March into April, and we are now entering the beginning of one of the most dazzling horticultural spectacles of the year.

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At Amy Goldman’s Farm, a Plethora of Pepos

Posted in Learning Experiences on October 31 2016, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is NYBG’s Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections. He leads all horticulture programs and activities across the Garden’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark landscape, including 50 gardens and plant collections outside and under glass, the old-growth Thain Family Forest, and living exhibitions in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.


Amy Goldman's FarmFor 47 years, 4 months, and 20 days, I just didn’t know enough about pepos. “What’s a pepo?” you might ask. Pepo is the botanical term for the fruit of plants in the Cucurbitaceae (gourd family). Sure, I knew a little about pumpkins, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. I had eaten Hubbard, acorn, and delicata squash grown, harvested, roasted, and slathered in butter by my brother-in-law, a gourmand who farms in coastal Maine. I even knew that the luffa defoliators my fresh-faced friends swear by are made from the dried fibrous flesh of a gourd relative native to Africa.

The little I thought I knew about pepos could never have prepared me for the bounty of beauty I encountered when I made the journey, with a group of NYBG trustees and staff members, to NYBG Board Member Amy Goldman Fowler’s farm in the Hudson Valley one glorious October day. Amy has raised the art and science of growing vegetables to a level unimaginable to those of us who tinker in backyard plots. With the discipline of a research scientist and the passion of an artist, Amy grows a bewildering selection of melons, squash, pumpkins, and gourds (not to mention tomatoes and peppers and who knows what else) on her farm each year.

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Larry Lederman’s Lens: Verdant Retreats

Posted in Photography on August 15 2016, by Todd Forrest

Larry Lederman‘s lens takes you to the Garden when you can’t be there and previews what to see when you can. Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections, provides a prologue to this new collaborative blog series with NYBG’s Horticulturists.


Larry Lederman's LensIf you are fortunate enough to visit NYBG on a weekday morning after the sun has risen but before the shadows have lengthened, you may bump into Larry Lederman standing with his camera and tripod in some far corner of the landscape. For more than 15 years, Larry, a retired attorney and member of the Garden’s Board of Advisors, has traveled from his home in Westchester County to photograph the Garden in all seasons. Over that time, he has amassed a catalog of images that reveal the beauty and complexity of our plants, gardens, and exhibitions in a way that only someone both intimately familiar with the Garden and uniquely talented could.

Larry’s photographs brought the pages of two recent books about NYBG to life. He spent countless hours walking through the Garden’s 250 acres to produce hundreds of photographs for The New York Botanical Garden (Abrams, 2016) and Magnificent Trees of The New York Botanical Garden (Monacelli, 2012). Larry has also exhibited his photographs of the Garden in the Arthur and Janet Ross Gallery and generously provided images for many other publications and projects.

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Fashionably Late: Spring Flowers and Foliage are on the Way!

Posted in Around the Garden on April 8 2015, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the NYBG’s Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections. He leads all horticulture programs and activities across the Garden’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark landscape, including 50 gardens and plant collections outside and under glass, the old-growth Thain Family Forest, and living exhibitions in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.


The Rock Garden in early spring
The Rock Garden in early spring

Everyone in our area is well aware that climatologists have determined that this winter brought some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in New York. The professional horticulturists who care for The New York Botanical Garden don’t need official weather data to confirm our suspicions that spring is coming later this year than it has in recent memory. All we need to do is walk through the Botanical Garden to see what our magnolias, daffodils, then flowering cherries and other spring-flowering favorites are doing at the moment. Gardeners’ (and plants’) internal clocks are set according to plant phenology—the timing of natural events such as flowering, fruiting, and leafing out—and all indications are that spring is overdue.

As staff members of one of the world’s great scientific and educational institutions, we have access to a suite of resources we can use to confirm (or deny) our suspicions. Since 2002 Volunteer Citizen Scientists have walked regularly through the Botanical Garden and noted carefully if certain plants are flowering, fruiting, leafing out, or dropping their leaves. The data from these “phenology walks” tell us that on average over the past decade, our native red maple, which is one of the most common street trees in New York and my favorite harbinger of spring, has been in peak flower around the middle of March. As of today, the flowers on the red maples in our Native Plant Garden and Thain Family Forest are just starting to open.

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Autumn’s Arboreal Bounty at The New York Botanical Garden

Posted in Horticulture on November 17 2014, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the NYBG’s Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections. He leads all horticulture programs and activities across the Garden’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark landscape, including 50 gardens and plant collections outside and under glass, the old-growth Thain Family Forest, and living exhibitions in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.


Azalea GardenApproximately thirty thousand trees add shade and scale to the Garden, including thousands of mature oaks, maples, sweet-gums, beeches, birches, tulip-trees, black-gums, and other deciduous beauties in the Native Plant Garden, Azalea Garden, and dotted across the hills and dales of our historic landscape. All of these wonderful shade trees make fall at the Garden a heart-breakingly beautiful mosaic of yellow, orange, burgundy, scarlet, and brown, particularly when late October and early November days are bright and nights are crisp but not freezing.

All of these wonderful shade trees also make the annual ritual of fall leaf pick-up a Herculean task for Garden horticulturists, who take up rakes, blowers, mowers, vacuums, and any other tool they can think of and spend the better part of three months each year in an elaborately choreographed leaf gathering and transporting dance across the Garden’s 250 acres. If all goes as planned, leaf pick-up begins in early October and is mostly finished before winter’s first substantial snowfall.

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Beautiful Beard-tongues

Posted in Horticulture on June 20 2014, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the NYBG’s Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections. He leads all horticulture programs and activities across the Garden’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark landscape, including 50 gardens and plant collections outside and under glass, the old-growth Thain Family Forest, and living exhibitions in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.


The flowers of Penstemon cobaea var. purpurea are much larger than those of the other beard-tongues in the Native Plant Garden
The flowers of Penstemon cobaea var. purpurea are much larger than those of the other beard-tongues in the Native Plant Garden.

I am batty for beard-tongues. No, I don’t mean the furry-mouthed feeling that people with actual social lives get after long nights of too many cocktails, I mean the more than 250 species of Penstemon, a genus of perennials and biennials native to North America from the Maine woods to the alpine meadows of Idaho and the deserts of California. With tall clusters of flowers as beautiful as their common name is ugly (the moniker beard-tongue refers to tufts of hair that emerge from the sterile fifth stamen of certain species), beard-tongues carry late spring in the Native Plant Garden.

The most common beard-tongue in cultivation is Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, selected in 1983 by Dr. Dale Lindgren of the University of Nebraska for its maroon leaves, long-lasting inflorescences of white flowers, and extreme hardiness (it thrives in Nebraska!). We planted ‘Husker Red’ in the Native Border, where its flowers bridge the gap between the peaks of mid-spring and mid-summer bloom, and its foliage adds a dash of welcome color throughout the growing season.

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Waiting for Hydrangeas

Posted in Horticulture on May 30 2014, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the NYBG’s Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections. He leads all horticulture programs and activities across the Garden’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark landscape, including 50 gardens and plant collections outside and under glass, the old-growth Thain Family Forest, and living exhibitions in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.


Cutting back hydrangeas
Frost-killed hydrangea stems should be pruned back to live wood.

On April 16 at 6 a.m., the Garden’s weather station reported a low temperature of 30.2°F. The freezing temperatures were accompanied by about a half inch of icy slush that coated the greening turf and accumulated in the chalices formed by the opening flowers of saucer magnolias, which had just emerged after a string of warm April days that, I hoped, signaled the end of our seemingly interminable winter. Needless to say, the Garden’s venerable saucer magnolias did not have their best spring.

For many, memories of that hard April frost will be erased by this week’s temperatures—approaching 90°F as I write—and the reappearance of seersucker suits in midtown. Those of us who love plants will be reminded of April 16 every time we see an old-fashioned Hydrangea macrophylla over the next few months. With the exception of remontant (re-blooming) varieties such as Endless Summer® (more on these later), Hydrangea macrophylla flower from buds formed during the previous growing season. Dormant through the long winter, these buds began to swell as temperatures finally rose in early April, only to be zapped by the hard mid-April frost.

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An Unsung Harbinger of Spring

Posted in Horticulture on March 28 2014, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the NYBG’s Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections. He leads all horticulture programs and activities across the Garden’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark landscape, including 50 gardens and plant collections outside and under glass, the old-growth Thain Family Forest, and living exhibitions in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.


Acer rubrumFor most people who anxiously await the end of winter, spring begins when the first brassy bulbs emerge from just-thawed soil. Not for me. While I am as enthusiastic about the appearance of snowdrops, crocuses, reticulate irises, and glories-of-the-snow as your average winter-weary garden watcher, what really warms my heart are early spring flowers that don’t make the evening news—those of our native red maples (Acer rubrum).

As March transmogrifies from lion into lamb, I look skyward hoping to catch a glimpse of the flowers of red maple as they peek out of disintegrating winter buds. At a distance, a red maple tree in full bloom is a tangle of gray limbs enveloped in a carmine haze. The individual flowers are quite small, but a mature tree can produce hundreds of thousands of five-flowered clusters, which together create the most ethereal of all spring spectacles.

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Storm Damage Assessment from The New York Botanical Garden

Posted in Around the Garden on October 31 2012, by Todd Forrest

In the aftermath of this week’s storm, people have been asking about the status of The New York Botanical Garden‘s living collections. We wanted to update you on the damage inflicted by the storm at the Botanical Garden.

A very large tree in the Azalea Garden

A very large tree in the Azalea Garden
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Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to trees, fences, small structures, signs, and one building across the 250 acres of The New York Botanical Garden.  While we are still assessing the damage, initial surveys reveal that over 100 native trees in the Forest and throughout the landscape, including some of our ancient and most magnificent oaks, were destroyed.  Hundreds of mature pines, spruces, and firs in the Ross Conifer Arboretum and Benenson Ornamental Conifers and other irreplaceable collections of trees across the Garden were damaged.  Over the next few days, curators and arborists will carefully inspect trees across the landscape for broken and damaged limbs and other substantial damage not immediately apparent after the storm.

Staff members of the Garden’s Operations and Horticulture Divisions began clean-up efforts even before the storm had moved inland.  Their initial efforts focused on the clearing of roads and the removal of downed trees from buildings and structures.  Certain areas of the Garden, including the Forest, the Azalea Garden, the Ross Arboretum, and the Benenson Ornamental Conifers will remain closed until the damage in these areas can be fully assessed and paths and roadways cleared.

While Sandy’s fierce winds have altered the tree canopy that lends singular grace and beauty to our historic landscape, we are working hard to re-establish the calm beauty that makes the Garden an oasis for all New Yorkers, particularly during trying times.  Many sections of the Garden, including the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, will re-open to the public on Thursday, November 1.

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