Over the years, I’ve often given tours of the High Line to NYBG Members as part of our Membership tour programs. In fact, I’ve already given several this year and have more planned for August and October. And as I lead the groups through this unique space, we discuss architecture, ecology, design, and garden-worthy plants. Perennials in particular are always a hot topic.
I often warn the participants against some of the more rambunctious perennials, as they tend to have a thuggish habit. Instead, I recommend many of the other outstanding selections that you can find in the planting scheme created by Piet Oudolf, the High Line’s designer. The perennials planted there are chosen for their durability. Growing in 18 inches of porous soil atop abandoned railroad tracks that stand 30 feet above the ground, these plants are regularly exposed to intense urban heat, sunlight, and heavy winds—they have to be tough.
Piet Oudolf’s naturalistic planting style fits in superbly with the unstructured urban environment. He designed the High Line with plant communities in mind, using primarily native, resilient, and ‘low-maintenance’ plants that provide great diversity, seasonal change, and height and color variation.
The word “thyme” is derived from two possible Greek sources. One term means “to fumigate”—in ancient Greece, thyme was burnt at temples as incense, owing to its nice balsam odor. The other possible source is an association with courage. This association lasted from ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, when women gave knights gifts embroidered or decorated with thyme to inspire bravery.
These days, thyme—with its aromatic oils–is usually associated with invigoration. It is an asset in any landscape and makes a wonderful woody ground cover or a lawn alternative, as it is now commonly known. The diminutive pale pink or lavender flowers are a magnet for bees and help them to produce a wonderful honey. A large industry exists for extracting the herb’s essential oils. These oils are primarily distilled in the South of France, where the arid climate suits the plant’s Mediterranean temperament perfectly.
Some varieties of thyme have their place in the kitchen while others are more suited for the landscape. The most popular thyme is English thyme (Thymus vulgaris). English thyme is not native to England—the Romans introduced the herb—but the Brits took it on as their own. It has the strong, distinctive flavor that we most associate with the herb today.
Influenced by our culinary experiences, many of us likely think of basil (Ocimum basilicum) as originating in Italy. However, you might be surprised to find that this popular culinary herb is actually endemic to India, where it then spread to Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Basil is simple to sow from seed, and a cheap and easy way to include delicious diversity into your garden. We often combine several different types of basil together for an attractive display in the herb garden, vegetable garden, and sometimes a mixed border. But because basil is sensitive to frost, it is important to wait until the weather has warmed before it’s placed outdoors.
By Jen Stengle (Cornell Cooperative Extension, Putnam County), Linda Rohleder (New York / New Jersey Trail Conference), and Jessica Schuler (NYBG).
You might have noticed them crawling in your curtains, or buzzing around your house lamps; alarming numbers of brown marmorated stinks bugs settled down for winter this year. These alien invaders are just one of many invasive species that have taken hold in the Hudson Valley. Perhaps you have noticed Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) in a park or have seen viburnums eaten to shreds by Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni). These invasive plants and insects are just the ones we see. There are many others we don’t notice, clinging to the bottom of boats, hiding beneath the bark of trees, nestled in firewood, or attaching themselves to clothes or shoes—as in the case of seeds.
Much of the charm of the Conservatory’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden display comes from a glorious assortment of upright annuals. These make tall, statuesque, and often bold additions to any seasonal border. But while we often associate height in both perennial and annual borders with spires that guide your eyes upward—and there are certainly plenty of spires in this Groundbreakers display—what delighted me was the variety of other forms that gave height to the border.
One striking example was the monster-sized umbels of false Queen Anne’s lace, Ammi visnaga ‘Green Mist’. This opulent annual sports large Queen Anne’s lace flowers above ferny foliage. It grows to four feet tall and will create an impressive show whether placed in the middle or back of an annual border. It attracts beneficial insects into your garden and also makes a spectacular cut flower.
The roses in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden demanded a lot of patience this year, but it was well worth the reward. The harsh winter resulted in severe die back for many of the hybrid teas and floribundas, so we cut them back hard in the spring and gave them a jolt of nitrogen-rich fertilizer to get them going.
The cool spring had the roses growing at a slow and steady pace and they sat in bud throughout the month of May, waiting for warmth. Generally, our roses start to open around the third week in May and peak bloom spans from the end of May into the first few weeks of June. This year the old-fashion garden roses were pretty much on schedule but our repeat-bloomers were a good two to three weeks behind.
The warm weather finally arrived, and it was certainly worth the wait. To call the roses resplendent would be an understatement. I drove by late last week and my view from the top of the hill was a mosaic of colors as vibrant as an Andean textile.
The name oregano is derived from the Greek oros (meaning mountain) and ganos (meaning joy). The literal translation means “mountain of happiness,” since it covers hillsides in the Mediterranean and smothers them with beautiful fragrance and flowers. For our purposes, that translation still applies, as oregano is a fundamental herb that provides as much flavorful happiness as it does beauty or aroma.
Greek and Roman brides and grooms used to be crowned with laurels made of oregano. It is a popular herb in Mediterranean countries and widely grown in the south of France, where it finds a prominent place in various regional cuisines.
On a more practical level, oregano is an herb that retains its flavor well when dried. For a quick primer on drying herbs, it is important to harvest your herbs mid-morning, once the dew has a chance to dry off, but before they are wilted by the hot afternoon sun. Inspect the herbs and remove any damaged or diseased foliage.
When I was a kid, I used to collect buckeyes or horse chestnuts, shine them and keep them in my pocket for good luck. The large, shiny nuts were a perfect treasure for a kid, and there is a centuries-old tradition that a buckeye in your pocket is a sign that good luck is on its way. The nickname “buckeye” comes from the Native Americans who thought the nut resembled a deer’s eye. My mother went to college in Ohio and my grandparents were from western Pennsylvania, so the common name buckeye was used in my household instead of horse chestnut.
Horse chestnuts are delightful in autumn, when the large nuts litter the ground beneath the trees after the prickly, globe-like husks split open to reveal the treasure inside. Equally intoxicating are the statuesque flowers of the horse chestnut in spring. These great spires of red, pink, or white flowers appear in late spring and liven up the landscape.
Spring gallops at such a steady pace, I barely have a chance to pause and soak in the sights before the vernal onslaught has passed me by. I often like to capture these colorful, ephemeral moments in writing.
This year, one of my favorite fleeting moments was the eastern redbud ‘Pauline Lily’. The redbuds stay in bloom for several weeks from April into May, lighting up the woodland understory with their cheerful color.
While the majority of the eastern redbuds produce an abundance of pea-like flowers that are either the characteristic purple-pink color or the occasional pure white variety, ‘Pauline Lily’ has demure ballerina-pink blooms. The buds start off as salmon-pink and open to a divine pale cream. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the flowers are edible and they can be plucked off of the tree (your own tree, of course) and tossed into a salad or frozen in an ice cube tray to add a festive touch to your drinks.
I always think of herbs in terms of their flavor blast—they transform even the most mundane dinners into gourmet meals. Last summer while our Wild Medicine exhibition was taking place, I took a step further and began exploring their curative properties. I spent that summer investigating eclectic herbal shops in NYC, perusing collections of neatly alphabetized glass jars filled with every dried herb and spice imaginable. My primary tools of investigation were my nose and taste buds, and most of the herbs became teas once I got them home.
I learned that thyme settles the stomach and is a good remedy for coughs; marjoram can aid against sinking moods and benefit a good night’s sleep; peppermint will aid digestion and fight headaches and stuffy noses; sage helps against sore throats and gums; and tarragon is good for toothaches. Some say the ever-popular basil can even bring relief to arthritis sufferers.
This year I delved a little deeper into herbal health benefits. I began my investigation with thyme, since I was familiar with its active ingredient—thymol—not in a medicinal context, but as an effective ingredient in most pest repellants (deer and rabbits).