Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Esther Jackson

“Worms Eat My Garbage” Turns 35

Posted in From the Library on February 1 2018, by Esther Jackson

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.


Worms Eat My GarbageWorms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System is a classic book about home composting written more than 35 years ago and now in its third edition. For this new edition, author Joanne Olszewski remains true to the style of the original author Mary Appelhof, but adds new scientific data and contemporary research about vermicomposting—or composting with worms.

Worms Eat My Garbage is an informative book that includes the most practical, accessible information about how to set up and care for a home worm bin. At just under 200 pages and written in the first person, it’s a friendly yet powerful reference resource for those who are thinking about starting a worm bin, trying to figure out how best to care for an existing bin, or just want to learn more about the practice of vermicomposting. Because the book is written in simple language and contains many helpful diagrams it is accessible to children and adults, and would also be very valuable for teachers.

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The Less is More Garden

Posted in From the Library on January 18 2018, by Esther Jackson

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.


The Less is More GardenThe Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard by Susan Morrison for Timber Press delivers what it promises—big ideas!

Very few of us have the perfect backyard or garden. In fact, most people who have outdoor spaces to garden are probably “tormented” to various extents by peculiarities of their yards. If part of the problem is related to space—too little of it, say, or an oddly-shaped plot—Morrison’s designs might be just what you need to find a solution.

Morrison’s designs are, as Steve Aitken notes in his foreword, enviable. They are tasteful, practical, and beautiful. How does she accomplish these spaces? Although site analysis is a crucial part of garden design, Morrison starts with three simple questions. What will you be doing in the garden? When will you be outside? Who will be with you? With user experience in mind, Morrison crafts spaces readers can easily imagine themselves entering.

For readers new to garden design, Morrison mostly offers inspiration. More experienced designers will be able to learn from Morrison’s designs and gain practical ideas about how to use space—not just small or oddly-shaped areas but all shapes and sizes—to best effect in a garden.

In design, constraints such as limited space often inspire creative solutions and great ideas. Morrison’s work is evidence of this premise, although I suspect she would shine in any setting.

My City Highrise Garden

Posted in From the Library on January 11 2018, by Esther Jackson

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.


My City Highrise GardenMy City Highrise Garden by Susan Brownmiller is a slim, attractive volume—a gardening book that is part memoir and part advice, very firmly set in New York City. Her highrise garden is located on the top floor of a Greenwich Village apartment building, and, chapter by chapter, readers learn about the history of the garden space and Brownmiller’s experiences as a gardener.

There is a certain brutality and unpredictability to rooftop or balcony gardening as gardeners work within a very small area and are subject to different hazards, such as high winds and the threat that their plants will drop leaves, fruit, or even full plants to the balconies and street below. Some such challenges are detailed by Brownmiller, such as when she had to remove her 20-year-old birches to renovate the garden space, or when downstairs neighbors complained about peaches falling onto their balconies. In spite of these challenges, or maybe, in part, because of them, Brownmiller’s love for her garden overlooking the Hudson is infectious. 

For those who enjoy garden journals, My City Highrise Garden is an wonderful journey and escape. For those who want to learn more about balcony gardening, check out the new balcony gardening guide from the NYBG Plant Information Office.

The Factory in a Garden

Posted in From the Library on January 5 2018, by Esther Jackson

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.


The Factory in a Garden: A History of Corporate Landscapes from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age by Helena Chance is a detailed history of gardens and greenspace in corporate culture, from real landscapes to suggested bucolic scenes used to seduce would-be employees and home consumers alike.

Chance’s book treats gardens and landscapes as designed artifacts and explores the ideologies and values that shaped their design. Chance also assesses the depiction and mediation of these spaces in photographs, illustrations, film, and text.

The Factory in a Garden is a theory-heavy book that includes information about labor history, industrialization, and, of course, garden design in Great Britain and the United States. Chapter one addresses the origin of the factory garden movement, from the early Industrial Revolution to the period between WWI and WWII. Chapter two details links between corporate landscapes and social and health reform, including urban planning and public greenspaces during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Becoming an Urban Naturalist

Posted in Adult Education on January 2 2018, by Esther Jackson

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.


Bird-watching in the Thain Family Forest
Bird-watching in the Thain Family Forest

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.

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The Language of Plants

Posted in From the Library on December 28 2017, by Esther Jackson

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.


The Language of PlantsThe Language of Plants: Science, Philosophy, Literature is a collection of essays edited by Monica Gaglioano, John C. Ryan, and Patricia Vieira published by the University of Minnesota Press.

On her website, Gaglioano writes, “This book commences a dialogue between philosophy, science, literature, and cinema dealing with plants. The aim of the edited collection is to develop a better understanding of plant life through critical awareness, conceptual rigor, and interdisciplinary thinking.” Indeed, the essays in The Language of Plants run the gamut between more scientific essays about volatile organic compounds produced by plants as a self-defense mechanism, to more humanities- and theory-based essays on the language of flowers in art and literature. 

As a whole, the collection is eclectic and thoughtful; readers of different backgrounds may be drawn to different essays, and the collection offers room for exploration between disciplines and paradigms both. For those interested in the topic of plant intelligence, The Language of Plants deserves a look.

For those based locally, the NYBG Humanities Institute (part of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library) will be hosting a symposium on Plant Intelligence on March 22, 2018, with speakers Peter Wohleben (author of The Hidden Life of Trees) and Stefano Mancuso (author of Plant Revolution). See the upcoming NYBG Adult Education Spring-Summer course catalog for more information.

Indoor Edible Garden

Posted in From the Library on December 21 2017, by Esther Jackson

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.


Indoor Edible GardenBooks from the publisher DK are some of my favorite reference resources. Their pictorial components, overall design, and wealth of information are truly a delight. When I learned about a new DK book by Zia Allaway, Indoor Edible Garden: Creative Ways to Grow Herbs, Fruit, and Vegetables in Your Home, I was very excited to check it out.

If you are only going to buy one book about indoor gardening this year, make it Indoor Edible Garden. This resource is packed full of helpful information, detailed diagrams, and creative indoor gardening projects. This book instills confidence and knowledge in beginners and inspires creativity and experimentation in the more experienced.

The book is divided into six sections: planning an indoor edible garden; herbs and edible flowers; sprouts, leaves, and roots; fruiting vegetables; fruit; and experts’ tips. One of my favorite parts of the book comes early on—a series of helpful diagrams indicating “zones” indoors where gardeners can grow vegetables based on light and temperature restrictions and requirements. One of the most challenging aspects of indoor gardening is light, and Indoor Edible Garden is a great resource for information about this crucial component.   

Within each section, projects range from simple to more complex, with the requirements for each project including supplies, time to set up the project, and ongoing maintenance of plantings clearly indicated. One of my favorites is the suggestion to grow microgreens in silicone muffin cups (pp. 84–87). This project, like so many in this book, is creative, relatively simple, and clearly communicates to home gardeners what is needed for indoor garden success.

Whether you are looking for a book for yourself, or a last-minute holiday gift for someone special, Indoor Edible Garden is sure to delight and inspire.

Landscape of Dreams

Posted in From the Library on December 19 2017, by Esther Jackson

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.


Landscape of DreamsLandscape of Dreams: The Gardens of Isabel & Julian Bannerman is an exquisite landscape architecture and landscape history book authored by the designers and published with Pimpernel Press. The forward by HRH The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) begins, “For me, [the Bannermans] are the worthy heirs of William Kent, one of the greatest and most creative of early eighteenth century ‘designers’ who, like Julian and Isabel, managed to combine the arts of architecture, landscape and interior design in one seamless, unified theme.  To do this believably, and with such original élan, is a mark of their unique contribution to society.” The anticipation after reading these words was palpable, and the book did not disappoint.

The Bannermans met in the 1980s and received their first garden commission in 1990. Their aesthetic harkens back to the Scottish art scene from which they emerged, and is also heavily influenced by classic garden literature. Landscape of Dreams is not only a lovely book filled with beautiful photos of the gardens the couple has designed, but also a window into their inspiration and processes. The first part of the book includes a history of their beginnings as designers, including literature and landscapes influential to their development.

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The Works of Joyce Sidman Come to the Mertz Library Children’s Collection

Posted in From the Library on December 15 2017, by Samantha D’Acunto

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


SongNow circulating from The LuEsther T. Mertz Library children’s collection are the exciting and imaginative works by award-winning children’s book author Joyce Sidman. I invite you to explore shapes, seasons, wildlife, plants, and soil with the lyrical poetry and whimsical illustrations by Sidman and her peers. Her most notable work The Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems, illustrated by Beckie Prange, is the winner of the Caldecott Honors and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Its riddle-like poetry encourages readers to use the images on the pages as clues.

Sidman continued to dazzle critics and readers by winning another Caldecott Honors and the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award for Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Experience the changing of the seasons with the bursts of color and the flowing verse throughout.

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December Gems from the Mertz Library

Posted in From the Library on December 7 2017, by Esther Jackson

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.


WilderThe World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books by Marta McDowell was published in October of this year. This eclectic work documents the plants chronicled in the various landscapes of Wilder’s works. With a heavy dose of historical content, many images, and a narrative that is accessible to advanced younger and seasoned readers alike, this work is a lovely gift for anyone who loves or has loved the Little House books. Readers new to botany will find McDowell’s writing clear and easy to understand, and those who enjoy travelogue writing will appreciate the personal diary entries she sprinkles throughout the text. This project is near and dear to the hearts of those in the NYBG Plant Information Office (a part of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library), as Anita Finkle-Guerrero, Leslie Coleman, and Samantha D’Acunto assisted McDowell with the identification of some of the violet species mentioned in Wilder’s works.

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