Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Gardens and Collections

John’s Tree

Posted in Gardens and Collections on December 4 2012, by Matt Newman

Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG‘s Gardener for Public Education.

I spend a lot of my time working with John Egenes in the Native Plant Garden. John is the gardener in charge of the area and his discerning eye doesn’t miss an inch of the vast new landscape.

I recently discovered that one of his passions is native trees. One day, during the height of fall foliage, he rattled off some of his favorite trees while pointing out the merits of both foliage and form. One of them–the pignut hickory (Carya glabra)–is situated just outside the Rock Garden, close to the rear service entrance.

The pignut hickory is a close relative to the famous pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis), responsible for your holiday pecan pie. But unlike the pecan, the nuts that the pignut provides are not so palatable. In fact, the name “pignut” is derived from the fact that the nuts are only suitable for swine. In nature, these are a valuable food source for many woodland creatures such as black bears, raccoons, squirrels, blue jays, foxes, rodents, and deer.

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Good Old Days

Posted in Gardens and Collections on November 20 2012, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG’s Gardener for Public Education.

Sassafras albidum

When I was a kid, there was an old-fashioned candy store in a nearby town. The counter was lined with glass containers full of candy canes in every flavor you could possibly imagine, along with curiosities that have become harder to find as the years have passed. Original birch beer, black cherry soda, and old-fashioned root beer were a few of the “unusual” drinks available in this candy store, full of reminders that our diet was once intimately connected with the land and its bounty.

As I strolled through the Forest in The New York Botanical Garden, I found a woodland area full of ingredients from the past. At the edge of the Forest are many stately black cherries (Prunus serotina). These trees reach 50 to 60 feet tall, making them hard to miss. In the spring, the flowers are a haven for hungry bees, and in the fall, the black cherries are covered with edible–if bitter–fruit. These are generally used as flavoring for soda, liqueurs, and preserves.

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Mum Madness: Vote for Your Favorite New NYBG Mum!

Posted in Gardening Tips, Gardens and Collections on October 26 2012, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG’s Gardener for Public Education.

Korean mums were first hybridized (bred) in Connecticut in the 1930s by a nurseryman named Alex Cummings. He was working on hybridizing cold-hardy varieties that would flourish in New England temperatures. A tall plant–a wild species he mistakenly identified as Chrysanthemum coreanum–fell into his hands and the results were the lavish Korean mums you see planted today in both our Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden and the Home Gardening Center.

The chrysanthemum that Cummings was working with turned out to be Chrysanthemum sibiricum, a wild mum with white-pink daisies, vigorous growth, and good branching. This species is also native to Korea, so the popular name of “Korean mum” is correct. Korean hybrids tend to be four feet tall with spectacular, daisy-like flowers that come in a wide range of colors, from pale yellow and dusty pink to burnt-orange and fiery red.

At The New York Botanical Garden, we have a selection program for the Korean mums. Each year we grow a wide variety of Korean mums in a kaleidoscope of colors. In the Perennial Garden, we group them as separate colors–a selection of red mums in the hot room, pink in the cool room–paired beautifully with fall shrubs and perennials to create vibrant autumnal displays.

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Botanical Behemoth

Posted in Around the Garden, Gardens and Collections on August 14 2012, by Matt Newman

In late summer, the NYBG‘s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory becomes the home of a botanical behemoth, one of the largest leaved plants in the world. And each year, visitors find themselves caught off guard by the delightful weirdness of this tropical oddity: Victoria amazonica. Originally from the Amazon River basin, it’s long since become an iconic display in our tropical water lily pond.

Named for Britain’s Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century, the structure of the largest of water lilies is a bit like a kiddie pool (and often as big as one). Its broad, smooth leaves can stretch to nearly ten feet in diameter, forming expansive discs with sharply upturned edges that, again, make it look as though you could drop one in your backyard with a few gallons of water and a pool noodle. At maturity, their short-lived flowers can reach 15 inches across, opening white on the first evening as females, and pink on the second as males. It’s a brief display; the flowers (hopefully) attract pollinating beetles to do nature’s work, then sink below the water’s surface almost as abruptly as they emerged.

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Plant Profiles: Unusual Annuals Continued…

Posted in Gardening Tips, Gardens and Collections on July 31 2012, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG‘s Gardener for Public Education.

Dusty Miller (Centaurea cineraria)

Sometimes the ordinary can look extraordinary just by making a few changes. This is the case with dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria) in the Home Gardening Center. In one of the beds we have ‘Gloucester White’ growing alongside Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ and Petunia Supertunia® ‘Vista Silverberry’. This is how you would expect to see it in a display–partnered in a nice color combination with other annuals.

In an adjacent bed, however, we have done something different. The same dusty miller, ‘Gloucester White’, has been grown into a standard. The two specimens that you see are between four and five years old. Dusty miller is a vigorous grower and forms a woody stem fairly quickly, making it an ideal candidate for a standard.

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Plant Profile: Unusual Annuals in the Home Gardening Center

Posted in Gardening Tips, Gardens and Collections on July 24 2012, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG‘s Gardener for Public Education.

As you walk through the Home Gardening Center and peer into the Trial Beds, you will see some unusual sights this year. The Trial Beds are well represented with plants from a number of exotic places such as New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Africa, and Thailand.

When you enter the Garden, the first bed is a riotous collection of oranges, chartreuse, and gold. One of the centerpieces of this display is a plant that is indigenous to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Flag bush, or Buddha’s lamp (Mussaenda frondosa), is a tender shrub. In this region it will grow to look more like a large perennial than a shrub, reaching about three or more feet in one season. It has large white poinsettia-like bracts and small, bright orange flowers. You can place the flag bush in full sun or partial shade. It likes rich, well-drained soil, so remember to amend your soil with organic matter such as compost before you plant.

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Rarities: The Catalpa of Benenson

Posted in Around the Garden, Gardens and Collections on July 16 2012, by Matt Newman

Back in the peaceful reaches of the Benenson Ornamental Conifers, there’s a question to be asked. Is there stock to be put in rarity, and does pairing that quality with beauty somehow amplify the “value” of what we’re looking at? I’m not about to try and delineate the boundaries of taste and worth; we work to preserve the future of plants, and that’s all there is to it. But there’s one species in mind that’s worth looking into.

Catalpa fargesii manages that unique combination of scarcity and beauty. A Chinese native found in regions such as Guangxi, Hunan, and Sichuan, even in its homeland it’s considered extremely rare in the wild, only “discovered” by Western dendrologists early in the 20th century. In the Western world, where few specimens have propagated in Europe or North America, it’s rarer still. Here in the U.S., for example, there are only two recorded Chinese catalpa trees of this kind. The Arnold Arboretum at Harvard has one, accessioned in 1914; The New York Botanical Garden is home to the other. In this case, “exclusive” is not a word to be tossed around lightly.

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Monet’s Water Lilies: Inspiration Meets Obsession

Posted in Gardens and Collections, Monet's Garden on July 5 2012, by Matt Newman

You could call our spotlight on the lotus blossoms an opening act. The true marquee headliners of Monet’s Garden–the prima donnas of our current collection–are without a doubt their nearby neighbors, the water lilies. There is no other flower in the landscape of spring, summer, or fall that so thoroughly represents the oeuvre of master Impressionist Claude Monet.

In the closing years of his life, the genus Nymphaea would come to define Monet’s obsession. He pulled dozens and dozens of scenes from that iconic spot by Giverny’s Japanese bridge, bringing concept to canvas with a verve few painters could match, then or now. Today, his water lily series stands as the ostensible height of his contribution to the history of art.

“It took me time to understand my water lilies,” Monet once wrote. “I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them.”

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Poolside with the Lotus

Posted in Around the Garden, Gardens and Collections on July 4 2012, by Matt Newman

It’s warm but brilliant around the Water Lily Pools. Only shy a few deck chairs and some daiquiris, really. Ivo and I wandered over to the Conservatory the other day to figure out what the Garden’s horticulturists were getting themselves into, only to find everyone up to their waists in the pond. He immediately jumped into a pair of chest-high waders and joined the group–even if it meant swimming for them, Ivo had to have macro shots of the freshly-planted tropical water lilies. Just as I did, I suspect some of those gathered around the pool must have felt the slightest twinge of jealousy.

Meanwhile, I puttered toward the lotus blossoms.

Like I mentioned on Twitter, the scope of these mythic flowers isn’t something you can reconcile until you see them up close. A few of the Nelumbo nucifera blooms easily near the size of my head when in full splay! They stand there like planets in rings, petals spreading every which way in gradients of rosy color. Others, yet to open, point straight up in cones of spiraled pinks. Still others have already come and gone, leaving fresh seed pods behind. Through this cycle, with every point in the arc visible at once, I can see why the lotus is such an important symbol in followings like Buddhism and Hinduism. I’d have to write a tome to cover even a hint of its many spiritual meanings, from purity, to detachment, to the cycle of life itself.

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Be Kind to the Earth

Posted in Gardens and Collections on June 12 2012, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG’s Gardener for Public Education.

Last week we discussed disease resistant roses. This week we will continue along the same vein with a discussion of Earth-Kind® roses.

The concept of Earth-Kind® roses began in Texas in the late 1990s, when a professor at Texas A&M was asked for recommendations on roses that were attractive and low-maintenance. The professor realized that no systematic study had been done in this area and set about creating the Earth-Kind® trials.

The creators of the program set up strict protocols that could be followed all around the country. The goal of the program was to eliminate the use of fertilizer, reduce the use of insecticides and fungicides by 98%, eliminate annual pruning and deadheading and reduce supplemental irrigation by at least 70%.

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