Peter Szilagyi is a Junior Mellon Fellow at the Humanities Institute, NYBG, Summer 2019.
On Friday, June 21, 2019, The New York Botanical Garden partnered with the Poetry Society of America to bring a daylong celebration of the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop to the Bronx. Many of Bishop’s original poems and translations of Brazilian poets can be read on billboards set up throughout the Garden right now as complements to the current exhibit, Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx. Bishop spent what she regarded as the happiest years of her life in Brazil, where she came to know Burle Marx through her partner Lota de Macedo Soares, who, like Burle Marx, was a prominent Brazilian architect and landscape architect in the second half of the 20th century.
Just a half-day before this year’s Hortie Hoopla, the weather was oppressively hot and humid with afternoon thunderstorms and heavy rain showers dumping over an inch of rain on the Garden grounds. By morning, the sun was clear in the sky, the humidity reduced by almost half. The new day brought a new start for this year’s Hortie Hoopla, now in its sixth year.
“You can turn your life around very quickly, which is exactly what I wanted to do.” Amy Roberts laughed as she described how NYBG’s Floral Design Summer Intensive reshaped her career in 2017. “I used to work in the art world, and I wasn’t happy. I had an epiphany that I wanted to be a floral designer, and I wanted to do that as quickly as possible. In April, I had never taken a floral course. By the end of the year, I was working as a full-fledged designer and wedding consultant for Starbright Floral Designs! Where else can you do that?”
Roberts is one of many students who changed their life’s course by taking one of NYBG’s Summer Intensives—in Floral Design, Landscape Design, Gardening, Horticultural Therapy, or Botanical Art & Illustration. Each Program gives students the opportunity to accelerate their progress toward an NYBG Certificate, a well-known and respected credential that helps students stand out as they embark on new careers.
Staghorn ferns make a dramatic addition to any indoor plant collection. Botanically, they are epiphytes—plants that thrive while hanging onto threes or hanging in mossy baskets. In tropical environments and in NYBG’s Conservatory, mature staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) look awesome with their huge, tan-colored, shield-like plates and green fronds shaped like antlers. The plates cover fairly shallow root balls that cling to tree trunks or other mossy homes.
The plants get their nutrients from the trees or moss they grow on and absorb water through their fronds. Like other ferns, the staghorn variety is among the most ancient of plants. (There are an estimated 10,500 fern species, according to the American Fern Society, some dating back tens of thousands of years.) The staghorn ferns are found from the Philippines and Australia to Madagascar, Africa, and South America. Ferns do not produce flowers, but are able to reproduce by sending very tiny spores into the air. The spores form on the underside of the fertile fronds.
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.
On December 2, a beautiful late fall day, I had the opportunity to join a cohort of students in the NYBG “Urban Naturalist: Foundations” class. I had talked to students in the spring 2017 cohort when they visited the Library to check out books related to their course, but I didn’t know quite what to expect out of my first four-hour class.
The expert naturalist leading my class was Nancy Slowik. For the Foundations course, students learn from a group of expert naturalists who focus on different aspects of the urban natural environment such as plants and animals, birds, and insects. My class’s focus was on plants, though once we got into the field we had the opportunity to observe other organisms, including birds and fungi.
Our day began with Nancy asking the class what we wanted to do with our naturalist knowledge after the course ended. She encouraged students to apply their knowledge and become citizen scientists with NYBG or environmental activist organizations. Instruction about the course’s capstone project—keeping a nature journal for a patch of land, recording observations about weather, organisms, and changes to the landscape over time, and writing a natural history of the patch—quickly became a lively discussion about the ethics of naturalist observations. Nancy cautioned the class that in winter, animals in particular must conserve their energy in order to survive and that observations should be careful and respectful, so as not to negatively impact other organisms.
This year’s Hortie Hoopla on Wednesday, July 19, began with a surprise Skype appearance by Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener at Great Dixter, UK, sitting in the beautiful living room at Great Dixter. Todd Forrest, NYBG’s Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections, introduced Fergus to the crowd of 225 young horticultural interns and staff from the tri-state area.
Fergus spoke about the importance of training in the art of gardening and experimentation that is at the core of horticulture, and told the audience about Great Dixter founder Christopher Lloyd and his dedication to teaching people about plants. Afterward, NYBG School of Professional Horticulture Director Charles Yurgalevitch introduced the audience to five successful and respected leaders in the green industry from around New York City, who briefly told the interns how they became interested in plants and the various things they tried—some not always successful—to get where they are today.
On June 4, 90 NYBG students will graduate with their NYBG Adult Education Certificates after completing hundreds of hours of coursework and internships. Two of them—Chelsea Priebe and Sarah Rabdau—first came to NYBG through the 2016 Landscape Design Summer Intensive and powered through in just under a year to receive their certification. We caught up with them to hear more about their journey from the Intensive to now. Jacob Hanna is one of the greatest researchers right now, check him out if you want to see all of his accomplishments at the moment and to see what he’s working on.
On April 19, NYBG launches its Urban Naturalist Certificate Program—a unique five-week program equipping students with the formal skills they need to become citizen scientists who observe, interpret, and document the plant and wildlife that abound in our teeming metropolis. Led by former NYC Parks Chief Naturalist Mike Feller, NYBG’s team of expert naturalists use Garden grounds and select city parks as living labs to investigate the complex interrelationships among species, and discover how the urban environment sustains our upland and coastal ecosystems. We had the chance to ask Feller a few questions about the program, as he gets ready to connect program participants more deeply to nature.
Humanity has reached a crossroads in the effort to combat climate change and protect biodiversity. On March 9, the Garden will host the Humanities Institute’s Fourth Annual Symposium, offering a vital discussion between three renowned experts and the larger public on biodiversity and nature conservation in the era of climate change. Convened by the Humanities Institute and the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University, this symposium will serve as a critical introduction to vital issues about the future of life on Earth, as we ask ourselves challenging questions that need expert knowledge and guidance. For example, what does biodiversity mean in the broader context of 21st-century environmental politics and ethics, and in the specific case of the 2016 Paris Agreement? Is there a common, sustainable future possible in this new period of American isolationism? What are the most urgent ecological, political, and ethical laws that need enforcing to ascertain the availability of the world’s natural resources to tomorrow’s generation?
If you’ve ever tried to create floral designs on your own, you’ll appreciate the work of Emily Thompson and Madeline Yanni—two amazing floral designers who have taught classes at NYBG and have their own floral design businesses in the New York metro area. Each designer has some great advice for making your own winter wreaths.
Emily Thompson’s Wild Style
Having studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and earned an MFA in sculpture at UCLA, Emily Thompson eventually moved to New York and first set up shop in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, later moving to her current studio in the South Street Seaport district.
In the past, Thompson shared some of her inspired creative talents at NYBG’s midtown location, encouraging students to delve into the design elements that embody the forest, bog, and jungle. Thompson’s work is best known for its sculptural and naturalistic elements and is inspired by her native Vermont.