Thursday, September 30, 2010


Mycena corticola, possibly

unidentified, possibly an Amanita sp.

Inspired by an impromptu mushroom identification lesson from Chris and Travis, the arborists, Anne and I multitasked while working on our projects and went hunting mushrooms. It's hard to say what ended up being more fun, checking out the colony of tiny mushrooms growing on the Weeping Cherry or finding what Travis calls the Smurf Mushroom or stalking the Great Blue Heron (Ardia herodias) in the Japanese Garden. Being at Brookylyn Botanic and gardening isn't just about the plants. It's incredible how much wildlife there is here in the city and in Brooklyn. You just have to be in the right place and open your eyes. Lucky for me this year that I am somewhere special and surrounded by people with wide open eyes and curiousity and knowledge. The only problem really is that there is just so much to know and learn. You start out wanting to grow your own tomatoes and next thing you know, you need a book on identifying mushrooms.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


You really feel like you've gone somewhere else entirely when you enter the Bonsai Museum at Brooklyn Botanic. Not another planet exactly, but definitely transported. We took a tour with Julian today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


and sychronization...

The ducklings in the terminal pond have grown up so much in the last month and half. The yellow pole beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and sweet pea flower (Lathyrus odoratus) I sowed last week in our propagation class are just starting out too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When you go hiking in the rain

with the science team in the Catskills, it's hard to take pictures for fear of ruining your camera in the rain and because it's buried in a tubberware in your knapsack under your poncho and a bit awkward to get. I missed getting a shot of the beautiful bark of two native species found in the northeast on slopes like the one we climbed to Giant Ledge; Acer pensylvanicum (Moose Maple or Striped Maple) and Betula alleghaniensis (Yellow Birch). The trips in the field with science team are immersion lessons in botanical names and plants, and joke-telling on the trail. It's also just nice to spend a whole day dedicated to learning by observing plants as they are, uncultivated and in their native habitat (some, not all), and to just go for a walk in the woods up a rocky trail. Tomorrow we go back to cultivation and civilization and by that I mean, of course, probably weeding.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday night's dinner harvest

One of Joe's Rosa Eggplants. With just a little olive oil and rosemary on the grill. It's a long wait from seed to dinner plate, but worth it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Monarch caterpillar update

Milkweed seeds being taken by the wind. Plumb Beach, Brooklyn

The tale of the monarch caterpillars of Plumb Beach ends here. We checked the milkweed and found no caterpillars. We searched for a chrysalis on the underside of leaves both on the milkweed and other plants nearby but came up empty. I'm pretty sure those caterpillars picked the perfect spot to hide away while they undergo their transformation so I'm not worried about them. Just a little disappointed that I won't have a picture of their beautiful green chrysalis for my nephews. The good news though is all the milkweed seeds about to drift off in the wind, ensuring more food for next years caterpillars. Also, the Monarch butterflies were at FBGA's butterfly bushes in numbers today and visited my Verbena bonariensis. I love that plant.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What it takes to be a champion

They don't call a tree a champion just because it has beautiful gnarly bark and limbs, although that would be fine in my book, and this 98-year-old Kansas Hawthorn at Brooklyn Botanic would certainly qualify. They do call a tree a champion if it is the largest recorded of its species based on a formula that considers the height, circumference and crown spread of the tree. In New York State this Crataegus coccinoides at Brooklyn Botanic is king and though still a small tree, it is listed in the New York State Big Tree Register. Though the species is described as only growing to about 20 feet, the one behind the annual border at Brooklyn Botanic is over 30 feet tall. That's pretty impressive for a tree growing in what used to be an ash dump. I'm not sure if it's been nominated for the National Registry, but from the numbers it looks like it would beat out the current National Champion of its species growing in the Morton Arboretum in Illinois.

And that's why they call it yellowwood

It's a beautiful thing, though the circumstances for seeing it are sad. Brooklyn Botanic was mostly spared from last week's tornado, but at least one Yellowwood (Cladastris kentukea) on the Overlook was so badly damaged that it had to come down. The arborists have been hard at work both at BBG and nearby off the grounds helping the City Parks Department in dealing with the aftermath of last week's storm.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

IPM in practice

Amanda and I got a practical lesson in Integrated Pest Management today while assisting Caleb as he gets ready to plant a row of Ilex crenata as a hedge behind the annual border in the Lily Pool Terrace. These Japanese Hollies came from the nursery with some hitchhikers, a wax scale (Ceroplastes sp.). Caleb's solution was to handpick the plants before introducing them into his area and so we spent some time inspecting each small shrub for these scale insects that seemed to resemble barnacles. It reminded me a little of squashing Colorado Potato Beetle eggs and Mexican Bean Beetle larvae in my own small vegetable garden. It was a neat lesson in IPM. Because the plants were small and the insects quite large and easy to spot and remove, it seemed like the most practical way to approach the problem and hopefully prevent the insect's spread. If the insect was smaller and more entrenched, perhaps the plants would have gone back to the nursery or another method used to try and control the population.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

But it feels like fall

and it looked like it tonight at Floyd Bennett. Grass is going to seed (not sure of species, but it turns red this time of year..probably a weed) and my asters are in full bloom. It's the last full night of summer though and already the days feel so short. It was pretty dark before I left for my bike ride home around 7pm. It was a rushed trip to check on the garden. Fall crops are in and growing. Carrots, beets and broccoli are growing nicely and lettuce has already been harvested. Seeds sown for a green manure crop (peas and beans) have sprouted and so has the spinach. Tomatoes and eggplant and peppers continue to ripen, so all is good for now. We have been getting some rain so gardening feels a little easier than it did for most of the season.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's not fall yet

We have another two days of summer, but at least one tree at Brooklyn Botanic doesn't care. The Tupelo tree (Nyssa) near the children's garden is known around the garden as the harbinger of fall. It's the first tree to turn. Here it is red and yellow and amazing last week on the 15th of September.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Verbena bonariensis, pollinator magnet

The Verbena bonariensis in my bee bed at Floyd Bennett keeps going and going and going. There's no end to the bees and butterflies that visit. My nephew, the insect lover, is going to go wild for this photo which captures the probiscus dipping into the flower for food. He'll also be happy to know that we checked on the monarch caterpillars eating the milkweed near Plumb Beach. There are four still feeding on the plant as of yesterday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Resident Hawk

Well, we think of it as a resident, but as far as I know nobody's ever seen where the hawk nests. Perhaps its address is Prospect Park? Looks like the hawk's at a nest above, but it's just perched on Patrick Dougherty's sculpture. I imagine he'd be thrilled to see his art being used by our Red-Tailed Hawk. It's pretty cool that no matter how often we see the hawk or hawks at Brooklyn Botanic, we're always excited like it's the first sighting. It doesn't get old. Work stops for a minute and we watch in amazement.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

SUNY Farmingdale School of Horticulture

I imagine the horticulture students at SUNY Farmingdale are inspired while studying and working their grounds, much like we hort interns are at Brooklyn Botanic. Though only a fraction of the size, they manage to showcase a variety of design styles and plants in their different gardens.

A lush tropical garden is only a minutes walk from an old greenhouse that might inspire ideas about the view both looking in and out of windows. (These just happen to be missing glass.) There are beds to double-dig and annuals to plant and watch grow.

And of course there are trees to wonder at like the Golden Larch pictured below with one branch showing signs of fall color. Again, it seems that everywhere you go in horticulture people are excited about what they do and excited to share their knowledge with you. That's always a nice thing.

Planting Fields Arboretum

When, near the end of a whirlwind two-hour tour of Planting Fields Arboretem, the incredibly knowledgable and enthusiastic Park Manager Vincent Simeone gets really excited about a plant, you have to take notice. Edgeworthia papyrifera (Paperbush) pictured above must be spectacular in bloom and maybe worth a winter visit to witness. Maybe you'd catch some of the greenhouse Camellias to boot. Not that you'd need to look for an excuse to revisit this place even in winter. We covered a lot of ground on the field trip today, but a place so large could be explored for hours and hours.

Lespedeza thunbergii 'Spring Grove' located with the other L plants in the Synoptic Garden.

Calathea makayana (Peacock Plant)
There's always lovely architecture too at these huge old estates, once enjoyed by so few but now accessible to many, like the Tea House below.

And I haven't even gotten to some of this historic park's grand old trees in this post. Can't wait to go back again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bees, Sedum

It's always a treat to come upon any plant buzzing with bees. Today, in the afternoon, that plant was a sedum. Both in the rock garden and the rose arc border, this plant was the bee show. They like this sedum. Me too.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Got Milkweed?

Asclepias physcocarpa in the Rose Garden annual border, also known as Balloonplant, for obvious reasons once you've seen its seedpods. Another milkweed. People have been asking alot about this pretty tall plant. Native to Africa, it's both decorative and a host to the monarch butterfly. How awesome is that?

Not to be outdone, our Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was spotted tonight on a bike ride to Floyd Bennett and it was host to two species. The Large Milkweed Bug and what sure looks like a Monarch caterpillar. Thanks to Caleb Leech and, I now know exactly what that orange bug (and it's a true bug) I've been wondering about is. Onocopeltus fasciatus. Say that three times fast for kicks. Or just call it the Large Milkweed bug and be happy.

Maybe if we get lucky, we will catch the Monarch in its chrysalis. Joe and I spotted a few caterpillars on this one Milkweed plant near the bike path and will try to remember to keep our eye on the plant in the next few weeks. This last generation will fly south to Mexico to overwinter.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The beginning

and the end...

of today at Brooklyn Botanic.

The first photo is from garbage patrol, while passing through the Lily Pool Terrace catching the Taro leaves in the morning light. The last is the fruit of the Zizyphus jujuba, which we snacked on this afternoon after washing the mowers and weedwackers. My arms ache from weedwacking the stream, but all in all, it was a pretty sweet day. Tasty too.