Wednesday, April 29, 2009

raining crabapple blossoms

The beautiful springtime raining of the crabapple blossoms in the Conservatory Garden, Central Park. Video Credit: Sally Emery (Thanks for sharing Sally!!!)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Go to the Conservatory Garden...

the crabapples (Malus floribunda) have popped and are in full bloom
the combination of color and form is truly sensational
and in the north (French) garden the tulips are opening nicely


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday on the turntable

It's hot out today. Upper 80's and not a cloud in the sky, practically summer. And yet it's spring. In time I hope more people realize that global warming is not to be taken so literally. These unexpected temperature fluctuations, the greater frequency and intensity of storms across the country and around the world, and the decline of species, both flora and fauna, unable to adapt to this environment set to hyper-drive, that's the real deal right there. From a certain standpoint this is actually kind of scary, this weather today. But at the same time people are loving it. Heck, I'm loving it. A pair of hand-me-downs just got converted to cut-offs. We have the place wide open and on the turntable I'm listening to the sweet Hawaiian sounds of Alfred Apaka. Soon we are going to head over to Steinway and check out the street fair. Ah, what a world.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

water your street trees

I'm up early, listening to Judee Sill's first album, sipping coffee, and watering street trees. The one on my block has been holding up okay since it was planted last year. When it was planted they installed a Tree Gator and filled it with water. And then a while passed and I began filling the bag with water before hot summer days using empty juice containers filled up at the kitchen sink. To this date my technology has only advanced as far as a brown bucket that I can fill up in the tub which I still have to haul outside and down to the tree. But that's fine if it takes me a little time, I know there's no such thing as a free lunch. Secretly I hope that I will find some other early risers and help educate them about the importance of watering their street trees. Via my old job I was a member on the advisory council for the Million Trees NYC initiative so I do want the mission and the trees to survive. Their benefits to the city we probably don't even entirely know, but we know they improve quality of life mentally and physically in a major way and are therefore a total necessity.

Young trees like the 3"+ caliper trees being planted around New York City will require a lot of water in the next few years to establish their roots and get situated in their new environment. Water needs can vary depending on the species of tree, of course, but in general these youngsters need about 25 gallons a week, over a steady and spaced time period. Unfortunately this is something that most people in the city don't know about. I was on bucket #3 on the first tree when a woman stopped while walking her two black dogs. She said it was nice that I was watering the tree and I nicely spewed a few digestible facts her way. She was appreciative, we nodded and smiled at each other in conclusion, and she and the dogs continued on.

Between tree number one and tree number two I was emptying gardening tools out of the car and scoping out the laundromat (which is really where I should be right now), walking back behind a couple. The woman asked the man if they were ever going to remove "those bags". I didn't realize that most people have no idea what a Tree Gator bag is.
I had to chime in. "Hopefully not, people should put water in them during the summer to help the trees live", I began. I put down my bucket of soils and sand and lopers to show them the little drip emitters protected in the bottom folds of the bag. I explained that in the two years in a new spot supplemental water is a must for trees to survive and I showed them where you fill it at the top and how easy and helpful a device it is. The guy in the Hawaiian shirt asked the right question, "so we should fill these with water?" "Absolutely", I replied, "we should all chip in and educate each other." Spring and fall trees are the most active so making sure the roots stay hydrated and aerated is important. Of course in summer when we have long dry spells the trees will benefit from a drink as well. I could tell they were at capacity for this little impromptu arboriculture lesson. We wished each other a good day and went our separate ways. I smiled to myself. By 8:11am I've already got three people on board. A good start to the day.
So the moral of the story is simple. If you have a new street tree near you help keep it watered this summer and next, and learn to care for it in the years to come. If you have neighbors here in the city educate them about the importance of street trees. They will improve your life. If you want to learn more about Million Trees NYC and the benefits of tree canopy coverage in our urban jungle go to

Now I really better get back to that laundry. eh. Thanks to the foxy Felis Femina for letting me upload these images on her computer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

notes from around town: Conservatory Garden

I don't know this particular cultivar but it is an example of a daffodil with exceptional fragrance, something not all daffodils are bred to have.

Up in Harlem one of the best kept secrets in Manhattan, the Conservatory Garden, is literally exploding with color and fragrance and amazing flora. Upload capabilities here at arborboy are still extremely limited so this is just a taste. If you are going to get out this weekend you should seriously consider checking out the Conservatory Garden.
The saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana) in the English garden (above) are starting to fade fast now but the crabapple allees (over head) are budding up and will be opening white and pink in the next couple weeks.
There are multiple varieties of daffodils (Narcissus), and tulips (Tulipa), edged with grape hyacinth (Muscari) and other smaller bulbs.
Tulipa 'Queen of Night' (dark purple), 'West Point' (yellow), and 'Ballerina' (red) are among many of the tulip varieties planted.
Whether a plant afficionado or not these gardens are a real treat to the senses, and a photographers dream come true.
To get to the Conservatory Garden take a 6 local train to 103rd, walk north to 105th, then turn and keep walking west until you hit Central Park and the Vanderbuilt Gate. Be sure to check out all three gardens, including the Italianate and French gardens (not pictured) as well as the English garden (above).

Get out there and enjoy this amazing weekend!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting Green: Step 1, don't be a dumbass!

Are you kidding me?!?!? A plastic bag full of plastic water bottles, welcome to my hatred incarnate.

I've been meaning to write for a while about trash. Yes, that's right, trash. Because we all make it, but it's one of those things that we try not to think about. I find that oddly captivating. As an anthropologist at heart I'm one of those wierdos for whom trash is a great exploration into one's tendencies, nature, intention. Archaeology is a brilliant branch of anthropology, but you could also say that it is ultimately the art of studying peoples trash. As a public horticulturist trash is part of my every day. I start every day cleaning up other peoples trash in order to get the garden I maintian back to the way I left it the day before. Some days I will have to spend hours cleaning trash, all simply because someone else chose not to think. And it makes me a total crazy person. Would I prefer to be spending my days doing more horticulture and less grabbing of trash? ...of course.

So let's talk plastics. The plastic bag has become the 21st Century urban tumbleweed.
Everyone gives you a bag. But no one thinks about the bag. It's trash, you don't think about it, until you are walking down the street and you have to pass by someone else's trash and it annoys you. And it should annoy you because someone else's nonthinking is lessening your quality of life. But just because we live in a disposable society where negligence is king doesn't mean it has to be that way. You can avoid the plastic bag, and help educate people how they can too. We can promote thinking and try and ensure that we don't lose our quality of life. If you have accepted a plastic bag that you have since realized you have no use for and it is now in the trash then this clearly applies to you. I am condemning your actions, no question, but I'm not the type to just do that and walk away. To constructively criticize you have to always present some other options or alternatives, and I intend to do that.

I go to the gym to try and de-stress after long days but I leave as enraged, or more(!), than when I arrived. I do some free weights, exercise ball, ab torture, and then move on to cardio. And for thirty minutes I then have to stare at an entire room of plastic water bottles. I feel surrounded by people that don't know how to think, and I go mad. "How can you all be so stupid?" I wonder. I really really don't understand why people will spend money on water and trash this way. You do not know if that water is regulated or tested. At least I don't. If it is I would actually love to know. I know my tap water is regulated and checked and some of the safest water to drink. And it is relatively free and I don't have to make trash in order to drink it and stay hydrated. Oh, well I always recycle my water bottles! Yeah, I have heard that. I probably said it myself. But none of us can deny that we have been forced to throw plastic water bottles in the trash on a number of occasions. Even the Metro paper today made it perfectly clear that less than 5% of plastic is recycled. They went on to talk about how a plastic bottle takes 450 years to photodegrade, and even then they are still plastic, never to biodegrade. So your recycling is not a valid excuse, sorry. You've seen the Nalgene add, right? Thirty minutes on a treadmill...forever in a landfill. Well, if that's you, and you know it is, then you have to admit that you are making trash that is ruining the quality of life for yourself and those around you. So please, stop trying to ruin others peoples lives and do something about it. Trust me, you will feel better when you do. Just say no to bottled water.

We, my fiancee and I, have discovered two kinds of reusable bags that we love. The first ones we started using are called Eco-Bags. (don't worry, links are below) They are cloth mesh bags and you can wad them up so they are basically the size of your fist. I admit they are a little big to carry in your pocket, but they are great for running errands around town, and really excellent for trips to the grocery, produce stand, and farmers market. The mesh somehow allows you to fill them up a lot.

More recently we were given Baggu Bags, and these are reusable bags that honestly everyone should have. They are nylon bags and come in a flat stuff-sack that is only a few inches by a few inches. You can always keep a Baggu Bag in your pocket or purse or bag and it will definitely come in handy when avoiding the infamous plastic bag. Baggu bags are cheap, and come in a ton of colors, and hold up very well. Seriously, everyone should keep one of these in their pockets. It's a no-braner, but yet you will be thinking! Ahhhhaaa!

Nalgene makes a whole line of water bottles that I have been standing behind for years. I got my love one down at Paragon Sports for $10 or so. Somewhere near you or on the internet is an outdoor store that sells water bottles. You can buy a case of plastic water bottles these days for about $5. I can't tell you how much better of a deal the reusable water bottle is. I have one at work and at home I have another option called a Klean Kanteen, a metal water bottle. Not only will you save money in the long run, you will be "thinking globally, and acting locally". Hey, it's a cheesy phrase, I know, but it is still our responsibility.

You've thought, good job, so now treat yourself. Buy yourself and your loved ones a few little gifts that will help out not only you, but everyone around you. Have a great Earth day, every day!

Monday, April 20, 2009

cocktail time tunes

Enjoy a pretty tune with your cocktail time this evening, courtesy of The Fleetwoods.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

in bloom

Pachysandra terminalis, the thuggish introduced, evergreen groundcover actually has a sweet smelling flower in spring most people don't know about, but then again, they are only a few inches tall.

If you are curious to know what is in bloom around New York City these days here is a quick list of some of the obvious guys. I apologize I do not have many pictures to accompany, as the USB ports on the mothership are still inactive thus cutting off access to my archives and digi-cam. You will find some tree pics below thanks to the few old files I was able to find.


Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells)
A North American native to 2' x 2' for part shade in good rich soil, the big 6-8" oval leaves and nodding clusters of purple-blue flowers seem quintessentially spring to many east-coasters. I don't know if they are considered an ephemeral but they fade fast after flower so be sure to plant other late perennials with them.

Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart)
I was thrilled to find a bleeding heart in bloom on a woodland slope in Central Park. Usually I do not find them much bigger than a couple feet, but these Asian natives can do really well in a moist soil in sun or part-sun. Along the long arched peduncle (flower stem) form a line of delicate little red and white flowers that actually resemble a small heart bleeding from its base. I imagine Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's breeches) and Dicentra formosa (wild bleeding heart), two native forms of Dicentra, are probably also doing their thing right about now.

Vinca minor (creeping myrtle)
Not necessarily my favorite being a Eurasian native evergreen groundcover that can become quick thuggish and invasive, but I have to admit that the delicate purple periwinkle flowers of this plant are having a stellar year. The long strands of small, glossy green leaves only stand a few inches tall, as well as the flowers, but boy can they spread, easily to 10' or more. All I can say is "control, control, control".

Epimedium sp. (barrenwort)
Among a clump of miniature daffodils I found a couple perplexed. Next to the little daffs was a big grouping of a kind of Epimedium, possibly Epimedium x youngianum or Epimedium x perralchicum. I showed how the little flower spikes of tiny, delicate white-yellow flowers were coming from the same plant with the interesting heart-shaped and bronze-edged foliage. The whole plant was only standing about 10" tall, thus my leaning is even more towards Epimedium x youngianum. I recommended to the couple that they become more familiar with Epimedium as I have seen a few great write-ups about them recently. This plant looked great on the woodland slope and I told the couple to come back in the fall and check it's fall color as Epimedium can be excellent edging perennials throughout many seasons.

Pulmonaria (lungwort)
These clump-forming perennials in the borage family put out a great little blue flower atop their green or green-white foliage to commemorate the arrival of spring much like the bluebells. A great plant for a sunny perennial border with humus-rich soil I see most people walk right by them but I like to crouch down and inspect their fuzzy little clusters of blue-purple flowers.

Tulipa sp. (tulip)
Yup, well, the daffodils (Narcissus) have been doing their thing for a while now and getting their attention so it's about time for the tulips to start showing up on the scene. Tulipa saxatilis is a great short tulip that still delivers a big show, as well as the little cup-shaped species tulips that I love more than any of the uber-cultivated divisions that only last a couple years.

Other minor bulbs like the Scilla, Chionodoxa, and Puschkinia and still out but now on the fade.


Forsythia x intermedia (border forsythia)
Well, winter has certainly passed, and we've quickly forgotten about the softness of witchhazel (Hamamelis) and Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) in the face of that bright yellow sensation, forsythia! Not necessarily a top choice of mine but I can't help but smile at how it aids in spring fever among urbanites and tourists alike, quickly taking out their cameras and clicking away with abandon. Yeah, they will get to about 7' wide and 15' tall and all you really need to know is that, like with all your favorite flowers, don't prune until after they do their thing in spring. But then, Hell, cut them back any way you want, you're probably never going to kill it as long as it gets some sun.

Spiraea thunbergii (Thunberg spirea)
In the Conservatory Garden in Central Park there are many hedges of Spiraea thunbergii and they are covered with a sea of tiny white flowers making them a real eye-catcher. In the woodland slope a few are left to their natural habit and look like an explosion of white fireworks among the Corylopsis who's nodding yellow-green flowers are fading. They can stand about 7' x 7' at maturity in full sun and decent soil. I never used to appreciate spirea but they are definitely growing on me, and very easily this time of year.

And finally let's move on to a few trees:

Pyrus calleryana (Callery pear)
Everyone has been wanting to know what the white street trees are that popped all over the city last week. Yeah, they are called Callery pears, an ornamental spring bloomer that does not produce any substantial fruit. From an arborist standpoint they are a nightmare tree with their opposite branching and included bark and tendencies to be structurally unsafe. However, I have been pleased to see newer plantings are specimens that have been raised by proper growers who know how to train them to have more of a spaced branching habit. One woman asked how she could tell a pear from a white-blooming cherry, which is a valid question since they are both members of the rose family and ultimately their small flowers can be similar. Callery pears will have little clusters of white blossoms, much like a miniature bouquet, usually with some foliage emerged behind them. Ornamental cherry trees that are also in bloom right now will often be blooming right on the their dark stems and you will not see any foliage yet, or very little. The second part, and the real trick, is to look at the overall habit and the bark. Where a Callery pear can be more upright like a candelabra and most branches will emerge from one central point on the trunk the cherries are more spiky and spreading and the bak of young trees is smooth and covered with lenticels.

Prunus sp. (ornamental flower cherry)
I am not going to bother getting into species and cultivars and specifics. If it is in bloom now, in the park or in some back yards, with white, pink, or hot pink flowers that individually are only about an 1/2" to 1" wide then I would guess it is probably one of our beloved spring cherry trees. The cherries are what is out now, as I said blooming on stems without foliage, and yes, we are a good few weeks behind DC since we are a zone colder. The trees that are putting out foliage now and then will flower in a couple weeks, those are crabapples (Malus sp.). Look at the bark of cherries and see if you see the branches with smooth bark and horizontal little marks on them. The horizontal growths are called lenticels, and help the tree with respiration and gas exchange, and they can be a quick and easy ID characteristic as you begin to build your botanical vocabulary.

Magnolia x soulangiana (saucer magnolia)
These are the big flowering street trees or park trees that have pink buds opening to big white petals, easily a few inches wide when open. There are a few in Central Park that are a hundred years old or more and their quirky mature forms have a character that make them so unique. Like a big old cherry or crabapple they might have more of a spreading habit. They will grow to 20'-25' tall and wide, classifying them as a great medium-sized tree for the city landscape. When you stand underneath to get a picture of it's gray branches and massive flowers see if you can smell the sweet but almost musky scent of the flowers. Oh, and for you people that think a magnolia and a tulip tree are the same, they are not, especially up here in the northeast. (Remember, you will always be better to default to botanical latin when IDing). A tulip tree is a native that grows straight as an arrow to 75-100' tall in woodlands and blooms a combo of green, orange, and yellow, botanically known as Liriodendron tulipifera, a different beast entirely, trust me!

Magnolia stellata (star magnolia)
Once you figure out what a saucer magnolia is then you will want to know what the other tree is, the one that is all white and has a big flower that is similar but with more petals that are thinner and more spidery. Star magnolias still have a flower that is a good 4-5" wide, but you will see it has a lot more petals to it. With their sweet fragrance and pure white flowers that glow in the landscape the star magnolias have been out for a few weeks now and might be beginning to fade. If you wanted a beautiful medium-sized specimen in your back yard off the porch you would find the smell to be damn near intoxicating, or so I think. Some of the cultivars, like 'Centennial', have a more conical shape, but I think I prefer the straight species which to me seems more fragrant. Hey, either way, a great tree.

So get out there and take a walk already and discover these guys for yourself! And comment or email me with anything else you find out and about this week. Cheers, -aef

(afterthoughts include Brunnera macrophylla, Rhododendron 'P.J.M.', Acer rubrum,etc...)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weed ID: Ranunculus ficaria

Ranunculus ficaria is known as the common buttercup or lesser celandine. These annoying little weeds come from temperate Eurasia and North Africa and come up as a spring ephemeral so you can miss them. If you see them get them now before they flower their little solitary yellow flowers and disappear.
An invasive perennial weed Ranunculus ficaria has heart-shaped leaves and smooth leaf margins (edges). The leaves might have a little white mottling in them, and are only an inch or so in diameter.
They grow in clumps anywhere from 1" to a few square feet. They are shallow-rooted and spread thanks to tons of little bulbs and bulblets. The bulbs are a very helpful ID characteristic in the spring garden.
Because of how many bulblets the plant can make remove the plant in its entirety and try not to shake them. Put them right into plastic bags in the garbage, do not add to your compost pile!

Weed ID: Alliaria petiolata

Alliaria petiolata is better known as garlic mustard, a terrible invasive biennial. It is a member of the mustard family, Brassicaceae, and is edible. Some of my cute conservation friends like to make garlic mustard pesto. I find the greens to be a bit too bitter by the time I finally get them out of the garden.
The basal rosette of foliage wth pronouned venation and toothed foliage is what you are looking for. They will flower spring and summer, and set seed very quickly, so you want to get them out now before they have a chance.
You will find them to have fibrous roots and a big tap root so be sure to use a weeding knife that is at least 6" long and try and get every part of the plant out of the ground.
Black bag these weeds and garbage them, do not add them to your compost pile!

By the way these might also look a tiny bit like the Viola weed that is out right now, actually the Viola could almost look like a cross of the garlic mustard and lesser celandine (if that was possible), with its little heart-shaped leaves and serrated leaf margins, and little solitary viola flowers white and purple. Go ahead and get rid of them while you are at it. Sorry I don't have a pic of the Viola specifically but if you look at the first three pics above there is a little viola in the lower left-hand corner.

Friday, April 17, 2009

excuses nothing, it's about quality of life

One of the trees you might be seeing around NYC in bloom is a saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) a fabulous medium-sized tree with these big, showy blossoms in spring and great form the older they get.

I admit entirely that I am, in fact, a total plant geek. My friends and I will make each other laugh, joking in botanical latin and morphological terminology that doesn't make sense to most people. For example if you have ever come across a 16' dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica') and had to chuckle to yourself, "yeah, that's a real dwarf!", then you know what I'm talking about, and I am happy to tell you you are a plant geek like me. And if you don't get it at all then definitely don't worry because ultimately it wasn't very funny to begin with. I guess it does kind of border on plant snobbiness though, doesn't it? And well, I guess I really am a plant snob too. But, for the same reason I devoted my career at this point to public horticulture I also started this blog because I want to help people get to know plant better. For thousands of years philosophers and scientists alike have seen how the presence of plants and horticulture betters humans quality of life. And who doesn't want a better quality of life. So you have a brown thumb, so did I once. It's like anything else in life, you work at it, you learn, you get better at it, your life is richer because you are using your mind and not letting it go to mush. You've killed a lot of plants? Yeah, well, bet I've killed more! You want to race? I wish I could convey to more people that you have to stop thinking about plants as they relate to you and think about them as plants, as part of nature, as part of a science with tons and tons of variables. This could dissuade the budding gardener, I understand that, but it can also make someone a damn smarter gardener really quickly. Because much of it is common sense, and over time just a deeper vocabulary and plant palette. Like painting a room good horticulture is a lot of prep followed by a few quick and smart swipes of the wrist. It is spring and it is amazing outside and you've got spring fever. That is awesome! So do I! Let's capitalize on it, let's get growing. But first, treat yourself to a bit of common sense. Think about your site and what you want to grow, then see if you can find plants suitable to the space. Do your homework. Just because a store has been selling tomato plants doesn't necessarily mean it is the right time to place them out in your gardens. Because you are excited to prune your trees doesn't mean they are excited to be pruned, especially this time of year when they have allocated all (ALL!) of their finite energy reserves towards leafing out, and NOT callusing tons of new cuts. Just because it is a tree and blooming and it is spring, that doesn't mean it's a cherry blossom! Just because it is a shrub and it is yellow and it is spring, that doesn't mean its a forsythia! Well, ok, it probably is a forsythia, but anyway...

The world of horticulture is vast and amazing and there are so many great plants out there to know and appreciate, so don't cheat yourself. And as i have said before, if you have a question about a plant or how to care for it, I would be glad to help you. If you want help IDing something, I would be happy to give it a shot. As a formally trained horticulurist with 10 years of experience we do know a thing or two, us plant geeks.

Email any photos or questions to and have a fabulous spring!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

waking up, day off, turntable

"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way..."
-Pink Floyd (1973)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

morning commute, Harlem, blues, water tower

"Bright lights, big city
Gone to my baby's head.

Bright lights, big city
Gone to my baby's head.

I tried to tell the woman
But she don't believe a word I said..."
-Jimmy Reed