Brian P. Sullivan is the Vivian and Edward Merrin Vice President for Glasshouses and Landscape at The New York Botanical Garden.
When the Garden closed temporarily to the public and most employees in mid-March, spring was already underway, with no intention of pausing like the world outside our gates. NYBG’s Horticulture team, deemed essential workers from the beginning, likewise did not pause in their care for our landmark landscape and living collections. However, no one had any idea what to expect. “When the Garden first closed, it was surreal being here without the public,” observed Assistant Gardener Michael Lum of the Arboretum and Grounds crew, which never skipped a beat in maintaining the Garden’s 250 acres.
While we were missing some human members of our community in the Garden, Botanical Garden Aide Jessica Kaplan was doing her part to ensure that our plant communities were well populated and thriving. She was delighted to be able to participate in a project with her Outdoor Gardens colleagues to add more than 300 perennials to the Native Plant Garden. She pointed out the red cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, a planting of which the gardeners maintain along the wooden walkway off the main entry. “This is such a popular attraction in the garden. We wanted to make sure it was beautiful when the public returns.” The Outdoor Gardens crew was also busy planting a variety of seasonal displays and summer plantings in the many display gardens, including the Entrances, Visitor Center, and Perennial Garden. These colorful plantings will flower all summer, intensifying into fall.
From large strokes to small, the Horticulture team has been actively gardening and caring for the landscape in all its forms. Assistant Gardener Sean Tarantino, who normally works in the Chilton Azalea Garden, spent time weeding—by hand—the delicate carpets of sedum that cover the rock outcrops in the Steinhardt Maple Collection. “I’ve been pulling these tiny weeds in the sedum. Seeing the place so quiet and focusing on these fine details has given me a new perspective on the Garden. But I miss seeing the regular visitors, whom I’ve come to know.”
Not only did the work continue outdoors, but also under glass in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and the Nolen Greenhouses. Spring is always a busy time in the glasshouses with crops to grow and collections to water, fertilize, and prune. Last month, Foreman Rob Berner carefully balanced himself as he hung a piece of bark mounted with tillandsias or air plants. These plants, which were temporarily removed to accommodate a display for this year’s Orchid Show, are now back on the curved wall in the Conservatory’s bright and arid Desert Gallery. This unprecedented closure has given the gardeners an unusual opportunity to work on horticultural displays and maintain collections. Among these tasks was a harder than typical pruning of the ever-growing tropical vines in the Aquatic Gallery, which is difficult to do when they are always on display. Glasshouse staff recently divided the giant papyrus, Cyperus papyrus, saving the divisions to plant outdoors in the Courtyard Tropical Pool, where they will thrive in the summer sun and heat. Taking advantage of this time to rejuvenate some of the plantings was welcome, but Rob noted, “We miss our visitors. The Garden feels empty without them.”
Just as New York has moved past pause and shifted into forward, spring has yielded to summer in the Garden. The Horticulture staff are excited to share the fruits of their essential work during the past four months. As Michael reminded me as he took a break from mowing the grass, “I really look forward to interacting with the public again. It is so rewarding: that makes my day.”
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