Monday, January 31, 2011

Where the Flowers of Summer Are

This January, a jar. Well, some of them at least. Echinacea and Chamomile dried for tea and calendula, the 2010 volunteer of the year (in my garden at least), for Joe to add to a hand cream. We don't have any fresh blooms right now, but there is some color in the cabinet and a dried bouquet of lavender to remind us of spring and summer blooms in the garden at Floyd Bennett.

Dried lavender bouquet in window

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Stuck in the Middle with You

Snow pea bloom in the sun at Floyd Bennett Garden, Brooklyn

Late November bloom on a snow pea, Floyd Bennett field

It's been two months since the last blooming snow pea caught some rays in my garden plot and it's another two months until there will be a chance to plant them again. I grow them in the spring and the fall, both for eating and as a nitrogen fixer to turn under. But last year, I got some seeds from Yakov and Ayala that produced such pretty pink and purple flowers that I had to grow one vine for decoration alone. We're not quite halfway through winter, but it feels like a halfway mark of some sort.

Snow Pea vines reaching for the sky.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Seeds in Pretty Packages

Paeonia obovata seed heads

Paeonia obovata seed heads, Chanticleer Garden in July 2010

It's the time of year to think about seeds so why not think about some of the pretty packages they come in? This year I'll be trying out some vegetable seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Library in really pretty packages that I got at The Horticultural Society of New York. They're pretty cool, but their real test will be in the tasting. The truth is you really can't beat plants when it comes to packaging seeds with style. Two plants that pack them with style are the Japanese Woodland Peony at Chanticleer pleasure garden above and the night-blooming Moonflower Vine below in Brooklyn Botanic's rose garden.

Ipomea alba

Ipomea alba (Moonflower vine), Cranford Rose Garden, Brooklyn Botanic, September 2010

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow and the City

Snowman in Prospect Park, Brooklyn

There are a lot of different ways to think about snow and the city. You could spend some time thinking about the cost of snow removal, not only in terms of dollars and manpower spent, but also in terms of damage to infrastructure and the tonnage of salt laid down on sidewalks and roads. A city as large and as manufactured an environment as this one is simply not equipped to function in accordance with the whims or precipitations of mother nature.

Luckily I'm not a city planner, so I can look at snow in the city another way. The best place to look at it this afternoon for me was in Prospect Park, which was crowded like a weekend in spring or summer. The kids were out of school and sledding, snowboarding and of course, building snowmen. It hadn't really occurred to me until this afternoon that there's something really special about snowmen. But there is something really lovely about the idea of their creation from what's laying about nearby and also in their ephemeral quality. They aren't built to last, but they aren't garbage either. They're these temporary sculptures, built by ordinary people and kids alike (and in New York City, no doubt, even artists) celebrating what's really just a bit of weather in a season of the year. There's something hopeful and beautiful and fun in that, just like there is always something hopeful and beautiful and fun in any walk in the city in fresh snow. Tomorrow we can start thinking about the snow as dirty slush piles that won't go away.

Snowman posts aren't about gardens, but the snowman pictured here is made of the stuff of them.

Snowman leaf button

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

They Had Me at Apios americana

Apios americana flowering at Native Flora Garden, Brooklyn Botanic

Apios americana in flower, Native Flora Garden, Brooklyn Botanic

Any day is a good day to get excited about a plant, but it isn't every day that you get excited about a plant that's native, has beautiful fragrant flowers and is a wild edible to boot. So I''ll never forget the afternoon that Uli picked a flower off the American groundnut vine (Apios americana) growing in the Native Flora Garden at Brooklyn Botanic garden and intoduced me to this plant via a sweet-smelling whiff. Though my garden plot at Floyd Bennett was full, my immediate thoughts were on ways to introduce it in some way to the garden, maybe in a lasagna bed or container or in the Wildlife area.

Then yesterday, when crashing a Garden Writer's Association meetup at Metrohort's annual Plantorama event at Brooklyn Botanic, I had the good fortune to listen to the two garden writers named Ellen, who among other their many horticultural talents and pursuits (teaching, writing, gardening, foraging, preserving harvests, cooking and on and on), collaborate on a local gardening blog, Garden Bytes from the Big Apple. How sweet to find among their wild foods posts, pictures of some harvested groundnuts and preferred cooking advice. Now that is something to really get excited about.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hellebores, Inside and Out

Hellebores in December along Washington Avenue, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Inside Brooklyn Botanic's Palm House today at the Metrohort PlantO'Rama event, there were blooming Hellebores galore. For purchase and for admiring. Outside, beneath this winter's snow, I imagine the plants are still waiting. I couldn't help but wonder about the ones in the garden Jennifer tends along Washington Avenue. In early December, in the last days before it turned bitterly cold, they looked like they were just itching to bloom. It's hard not to think about blooms with a pile full of new garden catalogs to thumb through and images of all the specimens from the speakers' slideshows dancing in your head. But it's still going to be at least two months before it's even time to sow peas outside in the garden down at Floyd Bennett this year. It feels like it's going to be a long wait this snowy winter. Hope I get to see those Hellebores along Washington Avenue pictured here blooming before then. The ones today were so lovely.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Signs of New Life

Rhododendron buds and curling leaves in winter cold

Despite the bitter cold which is causing the Rhodendron leaves above to curl in defense right now, signs of new life abound this winter in New York City. Beneath the snowcap, new buds await warmer temperatures. Even through these coldest of days and nights, new life is emerging.

Enkianthus perulatas buds in January, The New York Botanical Garden

Enkianthus perulatas buds, The New York Botanical Garden

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Got Bark

Paperbark maple in winter, The New York Botanical Garden

Fantastic bark on a beautiful Paperbark Maple, The New York Botanical Garden

Winter might be a great time to appreciate bark, especially on a tree with such rich color and texture like the Paperbark Maple at The New York Botanical garden above, but it doesn't have to be winter for the bark of a fantastic tree to catch your eye. The bark of the American Persimmon and the Katsuratree are beautiful on any given day. I can't remember ever passing by those two trees at Brooklyn Botanic without admiring their stunning bark.

Bark of American persimmon, Native Flora Garden, Brooklyn Botanic

American Persimmon in Brooklyn Botanic's Native Flora Garden

Katsuratree bark, Brooklyn Botanic

Katsuratree, outside of Japanese Garden, Brooklyn Botanic

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Love at First Sight

Astrantia major and poppy seedhead, 615 Green, Brooklyn NY

Astrantia major and poppy seedheads in Susan's garden

First times are special. There's nothing quite like that moment when you see a flower for the first time and you fall in love with it. One of the flowers that I fell in love with last year is Astrantia major, as seen above in Susan's garden at 615 Green in early June 2010. This fantastic flower is captured quite spectactularly on a visit to Battery Park Conservancy gardens by Marie Viljoen on her blog 66 Square Feet . The lovely papery bracts of the Astrantia remind me (in coloring at least) of the bracts of the Acanthus hungaricus we studied in the Perennial border at Brooklyn Botanic last year. It's a cold winter's day and I'm thinking about plants I can't wait to meet again.

Acanthus hungaricus, Perennial Border, Brooklyn Botanic

Acanthus hungaricus, Bear's Breeches, in the Perennial border at Brooklyn Botanic

Friday, January 21, 2011

Old Stomping Grounds

Magnolia Plaza, Brooklyn Botanic in snow
They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but I felt like I was pretty happy to see an old familiar as I stomped through the snow at Brooklyn Botanic today. Maybe this is an expression that relates only to people and not plants or places and especially not to gardens. Could one ever feel contempt for trees as graceful as the Magnolias or for a formal plaza full of them? And I wonder how many times one would have to walk the path at the Japanese Garden to really know it enough to be even a little miffed or bored with it.

Snowy path in Japanese Garden at Brooklyn Botanic

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Days

Dogwood buds in winter, New York Botanical Garden

Buds of Cornus florida, our beautiful native dogwood

are just better than other days. The light is just a little brighter and somehow softer at the same time and everything feels magical. It doesn't hurt to be somewhere majestic too. Today I attended a lecture at the New York Botanical Garden with Susan and Anne. We listened to talks about the city's ecological past and possible future, and learned something about how landscape architects think about plants and how people's experiences are shaped by them in public spaces. And then we went outside briefly on the meticulous grounds at the New York Botanical Garden and were knocked out by some of the amazing specimens around us. They are species we know, like the Dogwood and the Pieris japonica, but it kind of seemed like these plants wanted to reintroduce themselves to us and remind us of their fabulousness. It's a pretty good time of year to really look at these two plants. It's hard to believe they will ever be more beautiful than they were today, but they will.

Pieris japonica red flower buds in winter, New York Botanical Garden
Pieris japonica flower buds

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Little Bit of Color in Winter

Viburnum bud in winter, Prospect Park

In Prospect Park. A Viburnum above. Some were overeager for spring and bloomed in late fall/early winter 2010. This one looks like it's showing evidence of both pre and post bloom. And the remains of the inflorescence of the witchhazels below, which bloomed at their regularly scheduled time. In the richness of spring and summer, these little splashes of color would be totally overlooked. But right now in the winter, they are downright awe-inspiring.

Orange Witchhazel flower remains, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Yellow Witchhazel flower remains in winter

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cup Full of Flowers

Dried chamomile flowers

The only flowers to be had on a cold rainy day in January. Chamomile. A cup full of Brooklyn summer 2010.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tulip Fever

Tulip Tree samaras left on tree in winter, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Liriodendron tulipifera in winter in Prospect Park. The remaining samaras above and the winter silhouette below. According to my New York City Trees book, loggers now use the Tulip Tree to make door and window frames and plywood veneer among other things. According to Peterson's Field Guide of Medicinal Plants, Native Americans chewed the green bark as an aphrodisiac and stimulant. But a tea was made from the bark too for assisting with a case of the pinworms. It's a pretty fantastic looking tree too in any season.

Winter Silhouette Tulip Tree, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pine Needles in the Park

One way to begin identifiying pines is to count how many needles there are in a bunch. A walk in Prospect Park today provided that opportunity with some fallen needles conveniently located in the snow underfoot. (Of course, they can just as easily be counted on the branches of the trees in winter, unlike decidious trees.) But bark and habit and other identifiers need to be looked at too. According to Prospect Park's website, there are 150 species of tree in the park. I wonder how many of those are conifers? Probably enough to learn a bit more about the Pines this winter on walks in the park. Above, the needles of the Eastern White Pine. Below, what I think are Red Pine needles. Bundles of two are tougher.

Sunset report: Today's sunset was pretty good. Fairly clear skies. Bonus for checking out the sunset on the roof tonight? A hawk sighting. Perhaps one of the denizens of Prospect Park. The picture is terrible. The moment was not.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dark Days

Lavender flowers dried hanging on corkboard

It's a good thing that winter isn't going to last as long as the dried lavender on the corkboard above. I'd have to change the name of this blog to Inside Now and Stir Crazy, or Waiting for the Sun to Set After 5:00pm. We're getting close though (to an after 5pm sunset, not to spring). Tonight's sunset was at 4:53pm and totally without fanfare. It was such a winter's grey cloudy sky that the sunset almost seemed imaginary. When this lavender was blooming last year in mid to late May, I took the photo below in the evening after work. There was enough light left then to do a 20 mile (roundtrip) bike ride down to the community garden and enough light for the digital camera to take a somewhat clear photo at 7:45pm.

Dried herbs and flowers are all that's left of the vegetable garden now. We ate the last Eggplant Parmigiana already.

Lavender flowers at Floyd Bennett Garden, Brooklyn

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On Two Brooklyn Waterfronts in Winter

Ring-billed gulls, Jamaica Bay
Ring-billed Gulls in two winter stages (perhaps?), Jamaica Bay, Floyd Bennett Field

I'm no birder, but the spillover from learning to identify plants continues. Cornell's Lab of Ornithology website was my goto in attempting to name the birds above. The fruit of the Sumac below is a familiar sight from bike rides down to the garden at Floyd Bennett, where both Staghorn and Smooth Sumac grow, seemingly wild by the roadside. Here the fruit is near the East River at Brooklyn Bridge Park, perhaps planted, perhaps a volunteer or pioneer. One of these days, perhaps we will make lemonade from the berries in summer.

Smooth Sumac berries, Brooklyn Bridge Park

Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra (methinks) fruit by the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Snow on branches, Brooklyn Botanic
An afternoon walk again at Brooklyn Botanic. One of the best parts of visiting this botanic garden, beyond the beautiful landscape, are the handy identification tags on the trees and herbaceous plants. If you're learning about horticulture or botany or just interested in knowing more about your favorite trees, this is almost incalculably important. Knowing what you are looking at isn't something to be taken for granted, particularly in the world of plants. What you learn and observe in a botanic garden or arboretum can be brought back out to the great big world of unlabeled trees and plants and with any luck, applied. Today, Brooklyn Botanic's grounds were beautiful covered with snow and the canopy outlined in white, like in the picture above. But I mostly found myself studying the loveliness of the European Hornbeam's winter buds and the early leaves on a few lilacs.
New growth on lilac in winter, Brooklyn Botanic
A foreshadowing of spring with some green on Syringa vulgaris 'Emile Gentil'
Winter buds of Carpinus betulus at Brooklyn Botanic
Winter buds of Carpinus betulus (European Hornbeam) in the Osborne

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Three Grasses of Fall

Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' in fall at High Line

Brilliant color of Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' at the High Line in late October

The grasses of fall were a riot of textures and colors, in both foliage and seed, and something spectacular to witness at both Brooklyn Botanic and the High Line. This post is an excuse to be reminded of them and the richness of the season that just passed and also a reminder to learn more about grasses in 2011. (Also, I was without my camera today so had to go into the archives for photo material.) Below are two grasses from fall 2010 at Brooklyn Botanic: A Hakonechloa variety in the Japanese Garden, stunning in late November, and a Miscanthus from the lovely Discovery Garden for children.

Hakoneachloa in Autumn at Brooklyn Botanic Japanese Garden

Hakonechloa in the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden, Brooklyn Botanic, Fall 2010

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' in the morning at the Discovery Garden

Monday, January 10, 2011

Garlic chives, three seasons

Bee on garlic chive flower

Rocco's garlic chives at Floyd Bennett Garden in late August

Bee on garlic chive flower, Fragrance Garden, Brooklyn Botanic

Allium tuberosum in the Fragrance Garden, Brooklyn Botanic in early September

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) in late summer are bee magnets at both Floyd Bennett Garden Association and at Brooklyn Botanic. There's not much not to like about this plant. Delicious both to people and pollinators, with multi-season interest, it's still hanging around in early January in Brookyln amidst the snow and the cold and looking pretty fabulous.

Garlic chive flower going to seed in fall

Above, a gift from my neighbor Jill who was dividing hers. The allium flowers are going to seed in late October in my garden plot. Below, outside a garden plot at Floyd Bennett in early January, the seedheads and plant as they remain in winter.

Flower/seedhead of garlic chives in early January

Friday, January 7, 2011

Verbena bonariensis in January

Poking out of my garden plot. It keeps going and going and going.

Corylopsis, Winter Hazel

Corylopsis in winter, Brooklyn Botanic

It's not quite the time for Winter Hazel to shine at Brooklyn Botanic, despite its common name. I happen to think its pretty in any season, especially its buds and its form right now in winter. To catch the different Corylopsis in bloom at Brooklyn Botanic in late winter and early spring is pretty lucky in my book and apparently in Robin Lane Fox's book, too. In this gardening expert's recent book, "Thoughtful Gardening" he says, "Corylopsis is happy in North America and is nowhere better than in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York...". Nowhere better. I caught the buds of just one of the garden's Corylopsis specimens not long before sunset yesterday on a walk with Anne, and we reminisced about how stunning the blooms were in the first weeks our internship last year.

Corylopsis, Winter hazel buds in low light, winter, Brooklyn Botanic