Thursday, July 19, 2007


I had a meeting with the Parks Department that had me out to Flushing Meadows Park in Queens today. It was the first time I had ever been so close to this phenomenal public sculpture. Of course, as a New Yorker I grew up driving by this old site of the 1964-1965 World's Fair when my parents and I would come into the city for a museum day or field trip. Not to mention I think it was in the opening credits of a standard kids show like Sesame Street, so it is forever ingrained in my brain as a classic New York City icon.
The massive stainless steel globe stands 140 feet tall and weighs 900,000 pounds, including the 100-ton tripod base. The theme of the '64/'65 World's Fair was "Peace Through Understanding" and the Unisphere was conceived and commissioned to be the main symbol of the fair. It was designed by landscape architect Gilmore D. Clark and built by the United States Steel Corporation.
It's a pretty brilliant testimonial to New York City as a place where so many worlds come together.

Friday, July 13, 2007

In Bloom This Week in NYC

Campsis radicans is commonly called trumpet creeper.
Trumpet creeper is a wonderfully vigorous climber that does very well in New York. Their glossy green compound leaves of 7-11 toothed leaflets can quickly cover whatever structure you choose to grow them on. Botanically referred to as "terminal cymes", flowers are produced in clusters at the outer-most tips of the new stems and foliage. As the bright red tubular flowers suggest, this vine is pollinated by hummingbirds. Trumpet creeper performs best planted in full sun. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil, but I have seen this plant adapt to a wide range of soil conditions. We have used this plant in a number of our GreenBranches Learning Gardens and it is always a fan favorite. Once established you can prune them back pretty freely in spring. Trumpet creeper is hardy in Zones 5-9 and can grow to 30' and beyond.
Hibiscus syriacus (cultivar unknown) is commonly called rose of Sharon.
Rose of Sharon is commonly found as an upright, rangy shrub (above), but sometimes is grown and trained into a tree form as was done with the specimen below. Rose of Sharon is an interesting shrub in that you typically find that people either love it or hate it. The deciduous branches become covered with coarsely toothed 4" leaves that are dark green. A positive characteristic is that these shrubs bloom from mid- to late-summer and the flower can be quite showy. A negative is that rose of Sharon is known to seed itself quite freely. Therefore, having one on your property, or even one nearby on your neighbors property, may very well mean that you have extra weeding responsibilities to prevent the woody seedlings from taking hold. Native from China to India these shrubs can grow to 10' tall by 6' wide, and are hardy in Zones 5-9. There are so many cultivars sold in the trade these days you can find rose of Sharon in a number of hot and cool colors. Plant them in full sun for optimal flower.

Hydrangea macrophylla (cultivar unknown) is commonly called bigleaf hydrangea. I could easily spend days talking about the many cultivars of bigleaf hydrangea. These popular deciduous shrubs are divided into two groups based on the design of their flowers: lacecaps and hortensias, often referred to as "mop heads". The Hydrangea pictured above falls into the hortensia category, with spherical flowerheads of large sterile flowers. Lacecaps are different with their flattened corymbs of flowers surrounded by a single ring of larger-petaled flowers. Lacecaps flowers are difficult to describe, but luckily I found this beautiful example at the Red Hook Senior Center where HSNY planted a garden this year.
Bigleaf hydrangeas come in different shades from pink to purple to blue. These types of hydrangeas are pH sensitive and the blossoms vary based on the level of acidity or alkaline in the soil. More acidic soil makes for bluer blossoms while alkaline soil will make your hydrangeas more pink. A common thought is that all Hydrangea macrophylla are equally sensitive to the pH in the soil, and I can say from experience that there are some cultivars that are less likely to change colors than others. If you are dead-set on having a certain color in your garden, do some research or confirm with your local garden center before buying. Native to Japan and hardy in Zones 6-9, bigleaf hydrangeas should be planted in full sun to part shade and kept well watered. Lastly, to make sure the flowers keep coming back prolifically each year do not cut off the tall stems in fall or winter. Next years flowers bloom on old wood so wait until they leaf-out the following spring and then proceed with selective pruning.
It is hard to find people in the northeast that dislike roses (Rosa spp.), especially this time of year when you come across them in so many colors and fragrances. However, people do love to talk about the dreaded black spot fungus that is so common on roses. Both of these pictures I took in my neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, just last week. Here you can see where roses are their happiest. Roses love full sun, but the other important factor often overlooked is air flow. In both of these cases, the roses were planted without too many other plants crowded around their base. In full sun, in well-drained soil kept moist or slightly dry, with their base kept clean and with adequate air circulation, you can grow successful rose bushes regardless of how green you consider your thumbs to be.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii (or possibly the cultivar 'Goldstrum') is commonly called orange coneflower. It is very similar to Rudbeckia hirta, commonly called black-eyed Susan, but the difference is that R. fulgida is more of a true perennial while R. hirta is usually deemed a biennial. Either way this is a North American native wildflower that has become very popular in urban and rural gardens alike. The three-inch flowers are produced above large clumps of upright stems with dark green foliage. Plant Rudbeckia in full sun and keep the soil moist to achieve their full three-foot potential. Do not deadhead to encourage these natives to self sow and spread themselves through your garden. Once established you can divide them every few years to ensure that they stay neat and continue to flower prolifically.
Heliopsis helianthoides is commonly called oxeye.
Oxeye is a plant I was not familiar with until working intensely with North American natives last summer and I was thrilled to find a patch of it near my home here in the city. This upright, sun loving plant grows from 4'-5' and forms clumps of foliage that are more loose in habit than that of Rudbeckia. Native to prairies, meadows, and dry woods, Heliopsis can prove to have some drought tolerance over time. As you can see the flowers are a good size and established clumps produce quite a quantity of blooms for mid- to late-summer. Overall I consider this plant to be carefree and recommend it highly.

All over Queens I find people that grow every kind of sunflower (Helianthus spp.) in their front yards. Even though sunflowers are mostly annuals for our hardiness zone, you cannot help but be presently surprised when you come across one towering over you, especially in this urban setting. I can only imagine how silly I must have looked holding my camera well over my head trying to capture this unbelievable 6'-7' flower. The final result was obviously worth it, though, as this picture continues to make me smile.
Sedum (species and cultivar unknown) is commonly called stonecrop. Most sedum are low growing succulents, members of the Crassulaceae family, and have been acknowledges for their successful role as durable greenroof plants. In addition, there are some upright forms such as the one pictured above that are a nice addition to urban gardens of all shapes and sizes. This plant, possibly the popular cultivar 'Autumn Joy', forms a nice thick clump of succulent foliage that reaches two or three feet. As you might guess being a succulent, Sedum need full sun and prefer well-drained soil, and are quite drought tolerant. The large clusters you see atop the plant in the above picture is actually the plant in bud. Soon these many buds will open to display many tiny, red, star-shaped flowers. The flowers mature from red to a more copper or bronze finish depending on cultivar and continue to be interesting well into the fall. These upright cultivars of Sedum are considered hardy in Zones 3-10.

Friday, July 6, 2007

In Bloom This Week in NYC

(Achillea 'Moonshine' outside of a school building on the Lower East Side)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium and hybrids) has proven to be an excellent perennial for urban settings. A stiff, well-branched, upright perennial, yarrow grows between 2' and 3' tall and produces striking "flat-topped" blossoms mid-summer. The flowers dry well and can be left on the stalks, which aside from ornamentation promotes the plant to self sow. There are lots of hybrid yarrow on the market so you can find them in a wide array of hot colors. Hardy from zone 3 to zone 9. Flowers best in full sun with moist soil, though I have seen the plant hold up well in dryer conditions.
Coreopsis verticillata and hybrids, or threadleaf tickseed, is a perennial I have come to love so I was thrilled to find this in a community garden on the Lower East Side.
The foliage of threadleaf tickseed is very fine, like that of the annual Cosmos. The flower is yellow however, and depending on the cultivar, can be rich and intense or light and lemony. A North American native of dry woods and open plains, this perennial does best in full sun. Even though it requires supplemental water to get established, Coreopsis can tolerate some drought over time. Deadheading the first flush of flowers can be laborious but for many varieties it will promote a second bloom in fall. This plant is comfortably hardy from zone 4 to zone 8, and grows to a nice mounded 12"-18" tall. I once planted this amidst a hillside of fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) in the country and the contrast of texture (the fine Coreopsis with the medium-coarse Rhus) and the burst of yellow color throughout I thought to be a fabulous combination.
Oakleaf hydrangea, or Hydrangea quercifolia, is not typically what most people think of or picture in their mind when they think of hydrangeas.

However, oakleaf hydrangeas are certainly a plant people in the city should know. Cinnamon colored exfoliating bark produces these large pinnately lobed leaves that are easily as big as your hands. Mid- to late-summer flowers are equally large and white in color, maturing pink. Another wonderful characteristic about this hydrangea is that it tolerates shade better than other hydrangeas. This native woody shrub can grow to 6' tall and wide and prefers moist organic soil. Cold hardy from Zone 5 to Zone 9. Not to mention, wait until fall and the red and bronze fall foliage will be sure to impress you.
You can see around town the hostas (Hosta sp. and hybrids) in bloom. Hosta are certainly reliable and durable plants for the New York area, both in the city and the country. Tolerant of deep shade to full sun, these mounding perennials are typically grown more for their foliage which can be large or small, green or blue or variegated, and any combination thereof. Hardy from Zone 3 or 4 to Zone 8 or 9, hostas fill in garden spaces quickly and can easily be divided in fall or spring to go even further. One interesting note that many may not be familiar with is that there are now a number of fragrant hostas available in the trade. Fragrant cultivars often have "sweet" or "honey" or "fragrant" in their names and are available at your local garden center. I used to not be so thrilled about these late summer spikes of flowers, but the fragrant ones I find to be a nice surprise.
Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower, is a North American native that loves full sun. With all the talk about bee populations diminishing throughout the city I love to see this plant because it does attract them quite readily. From Central Park to Thompson Square Park I have seen coneflower grown in a number of different settings. When planted in rich organic soil this perennial can grow to 3' or 4' easily and produces a plethora of ornamental purple daisy-like flowers from summer into fall. Coneflower can tolerate dry soils, but this picture taken on the water's edge in Central Park shows that they can be perfectly happy in moist conditions as well.
Here you can see why Cotinus gets it's common name, smoketree. Atop this upright woody shrub or small tree in mid-summer are produced light, airy plumes of flowers, thought to resemble clouds of smoke. Cotinus obovatus, or American smoketree, can grow upright 20' to 30' while Cotinus coggygria, or smokebush, is more of a shrub form reaching 15' tall and wide at full maturity. Either way the straight species of these woody plants has rounded or slightly obovate leaves with an attractive bluish-green color. Newer cultivars have been bred to produce red foliage and flowers and those you may see more readily in the landscape. Plant and prune many of them to add interesting structure to your garden or enjoy one as a specimen. Plant in full sun to part shade, moist to dry soil, Zones 5 to 8.
If you are driving around the country as I was last weekend then you cannot help but see all the common daylillies (Hemerocallis fulva) in bloom in gardens and roadside ditches alike. Hemerocallis has become one of the most extensively bred perennials over the last 50 years and today the color and flower variations are endless and amazing. Hardy from Zone 3 to Zone 10, the only thing you really need to know is that daylillies need full sun and well-drained soil. As the name suggests, the individual flowers only last for a day, but established clumps can get to be quite large and produce many waves of flowers. Once established these modern varieties can be quite drought tolerant. Most daylillies you will find grow to 12" or 18" but some have been bred for height and can surpass three feet or more. While the New York Botanical Garden has the largest display of Hemerocallis cultivars locally, I was presently surprised at the plantings and variation I found walking around Union Square Park.