Monday, February 28, 2022

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, frozen

I walked through Prospect Park after our recent ice storm, and it was so beautiful that I kept on going. Just on its other side is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, in a narrow wedge of land between Flatbush and Washington Avenues.

Geese graised on the frosted grass.

Southern magnolias stood petrified.

Persian ironwood buds held their breath.

Pussy willow laughed.

Crocuses cried. But pulled themselves together.

Winterberry glittered.

                                               (It comes in yellow, too.)

And the witch hazels let down their hair. 

 They were made for this.


Friday, February 25, 2022

Iced in Brooklyn

In the morning, when we woke, the world was wrapped in ice. I decided to go out, and see. One's childhood still flows in adult veins. And I was a child in a city whose winters brought occasional, glittering freezes, helped by a garden hose left to sprinkle in a crabapple tree, overnight (whose idea was that?). When we moved, we didn't see frost again. And even though I have lived in the US longer than I lived in South Africa, that sense of awe at snow, ice, and icicles (especially), is as fresh as it ever was.

I walked through nearby Prospect Park. It was so beautiful that I continued to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but that will be its own post.

I think a Viburnum, possibly prunifolium (black haw). This shrub has slipped under my ID radar.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas, native to Crimea,  and southern Europe; it doesn't know borders and has no soldiers)

Rose hips (Rosa multiflora)

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

                    Sweetgum, liquidamber (Liquidamber styraciflua)                                                 

Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Hm, wasn't paying attention. Possibly a dogwood. And Traffic lightus.

A maple, maybe red. Acer rubrum.

Dogwood (Cornus...I think kousa)


Serviceberry. Sarvisberry. Shad. Shadblow. Saskataoon. Juneberry, beloved.
(Amelanchier spp.)

Pine, white (Pinus strobus). Prone to snapping, on days like this. 



Sunday, February 20, 2022

b255o? - I see you

There is an empty park a few blocks from where we live. Its beds have been bare for as long as I have known it (just over three years). It has benches, but it is barren. 

It could be a place where pollinators and people feel good. Some bee-watching and butterfly therapy. Maybe a hummingbird or two.

It is a fact of never-ending wonder that New York City's mayoral budget allocates less - less - than 1% to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. It's closer to 0.5%. And it's not just about plants and greening: the department oversees sports facilities, playgrounds, tarmac stretches of basketball courts, community centers, lifeguard training. The list is endless. Plants come last.

Pandemic budget cuts have left everyone deeply backlogged and worse-off than before. Nobody has time, staff, or money. Yet where did everyone go, flee to, during the last two years? The parks. For classes, for exercise, for meetings, for work, for birthdays, for school, for everything.

Parks are green jewels in this populous city's crown. Privately-funded conservancies shoulder the burden of keeping iconic spaces like Central Park and Prospect Park (and so very many more) in working order. But small, incidental parks like the one in my hood fall between the weedy cracks unless someone takes a keen personal interest in them. 

I discovered (that sounds quick, it was a meandering process) that this little park has an identity, but no name: it is b255o. It is a "sitting park". There's just not a lot of incentive to sit here. The fresh layer of wood chips may have been spread during its last inspection (December 2nd, if one looks it up). While I have approached the parks department and a stewardship program to see how we can formally initiate the procedure of adopting a park it will be a long time (I think) before I hear back. I did this all over ten years ago in Manhattan for a much larger, locked space; and that shuttered park is now an open, thriving space, but times change. It will take longer for the un-greased wheels to begin turning, in 2022.  

So we're going guerilla. For now.

I'm holding my nose and jumping in. Which means I ordered 30 Allium bulbs and a sign to explain what's going on. Hoping it will attract some (welcome) attention and discourage dog owners from letting dogs in the beds. Making a commitment helps motivate myself, too. Two friends-through-my-walks have already offered their labor.  

Now we just need, well, plants.

The demands on city plantings are high. They range from drought, to compacted or poorly draining soil, to pollution (dog pee and poop, salt, heavy metals), to theft by humans who want the plants for themselves, to old-fashioned stomping and crushing. So plant choices matter, and after that fingers must be crossed once they are in the ground.

The plants must tough enough for the climate, obviously (USDA Zone 7b). That's the easy part. But they must also be resilient enough to be able to grow without more than the occasional presence of a gardener, and especially, no supplemental watering: new plantings are vulnerable. So I expect setbacks and some teeth-gnashing.

As I think out loud here are some wish list plants that will hold up and become self-sufficient. Most are North American natives, but some are not. I'm thinking seasonal interest, benefits for pollinators and birds, and even some edible plants (in case someone is in desperate need of fennel fronds for their fish stew). 

The space now is sunny, but in summer will be a mix of high, dappled shade, thanks to the plane trees nearby. The corner above will have direct sun. The choices below will evolve and will be influenced by what is available where, and when - these will hopefully be donations. Holler if you have some spare shrubs lying about. 

B2550 Pollinator Garden


2 Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp) - question mark; early flowers, midsummer fruit, vivid fall color

3  Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) - spring flowers, late summer fruit, beautiful fall color

3 Clethra/sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) - late summer flowers, scented, butterfly magnet

3  Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) - mid spring flowers, vivid autumn leaves

3  Oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) - early summer flowers are a bee magnet, flowers persist through early fall, beautiful bronzing leaf color through fall

3 Rosa but what form and cultivar? - 'Knockout' is the municipal standard but the barren flowers provide nothing for bees


30 Alliums (ornamental, no-name brand) - tall, striking, disliked by squirrels, bee-magnets; acquired!

10 Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora) - early fall flowers, pollinator-magnet, edible leaves and flowers

10 Bronze fennel - tall, gorgeous foliage, flowers for pollinators, leaves for butterfly larvae, self-seeding

10 Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) - early spring flowers, bees love em. Native (I have babies that will make babies)

6 Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) - long-blooming, bee-favorite, scented foliage

3 Milkweed - (Asclepias - not sure what species, yet) pollinator magnets, lovely flowers, showy seed heads

6 Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) - sculptural, makes many babies, sequesters heavy metals

6 Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) - early summer flowers, attractive seed heads, disliked by pests

6 Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum) - fragrant, edible leaves, pollinator magnet-flowers in summer

12 Violets - spring optimism, fragrance, weed-smothering, self seeding


Jewelweed  (native Impatiens capensis) - attractive to hummingbirds, bumblebees, self seeds

Nicotiana (N. sylvestris) - statuesque, scented, attractive to hummingbirds

Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) - people-pleaser, purely to make neighborhood Latinex cooks and eaters smile

Perilla/shiso/sesame leaf (Perilla frutescens) - self seeds (too freely), tall, striking, fragrant and edible leaves, drought tolerant, appealing to everyone


My Spring Classes at the NYBG

Friday, February 18, 2022

Jaftha's Flower Farm

Recently I wrote about Jaftha's Flower Farm, for Gardenista. There is a lot more to it than pretty flowers. I visited the farm in Cape Town in December and January, when its fields were bright with dahlias, cornflowers, the first sunflowers, and sweet William. Here are some pictures that I didn't use for the article.

I gleaned this dinner-plate sized dahlia from between the rows, where a gardener was deadheading. And yes, dahlias are in fact edible!


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Into the snow

We have had heavier snowfalls in New York City, but the most recent one was exceptionally beautiful. It frosted every branch on every tree and shrub, catching delicately on any extended and horizontal surface. So of course we went to the beach. The Frenchman to run, me to walk and explore and take pictures.

This drive-by photo was snapped as we passed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. To think that once, long ago, both my parents cruised beneath it, the massive Queen Mary 2 barely fitting in (I included that link because the ship's website shows exactly that perspective), on her maiden voyage. They stayed in SoHo and we ate out and explored and walked and it all seems impossible, now.

The edges of Brooklyn looked like a fairytale as we were about to cross a channel of Jamaica Bay onto the narrowest, sandiest, least diverse portion of Queens. Breezy Point is a conundrum, waiting to be solved. But that's another story.

And Fort Tilden, at last. Part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. These back roads behind the beach are one of my favorite places to walk, in any season. 

The sense of emptiness is emphasized by the deserted tar roads, remnants of the military base here that tended nuclear warheads. Cold War days. And we don't seem to have progressed, much.

The thickets include native trees and shrubs like black cherry, serviceberry, sumac, bayberry, eastern red cedar, and pitch pine, as well as privet, those Nanking cherries that we only captured in full fruit last year, and strangling tangles of honeysuckle, bittersweet, and multiflora rose.

The snow on sandy, colder-than-tar paths showed footprints of earlier adventurers. I saw two people. The other 8.8 million were elsewhere.

And the dunes above the beach. Grasses and hedges of beach plum and bayberry. Somewhere on the low tide beach the Frenchman was running. 

Grasses still upright and not a snowy owl to be seen. (But you can spot some gorgeous Long Island owls on the Frenchman's site.)

Back in Imbaleki (our electric VW; she replaced the beloved Ntini, the little gray golf), the little enigmatic church beside the soccer fields. 


Prepare to Forage and Plant

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Oyster mushrooms, year-round

I wrote about oyster mushrooms for Martha Stewart Living. Did you know...they are carnivorous! Yup. And they are being made into vegan bacon, too. And they decompose just about...anything.

If you are not a regular mushroom hunter it may surprise you to learn that winter can offer choice edible mushrooms. In a thaw between freezes, oyster mushrooms may appear. These are in nearby Prospect Park. They always grow on dead or living (but wounded) trees, and here they are fruiting from a mostly-decomposed log, so they look as though they are growing on the ground.

And of course, oysters are now easily available at supermarkets (or are they, where you live?). 


Don't wake the lilacs


Clearly, this is not now. This is then. May, when nights are stretching the day all the way into bright June. Lilacs gathered from an abandoned homestead in the Catskills. A gin and tonic with lime leaves and strawberries. 

I must show this picture to our bedroom citrus flock, and whisper, "Two, more, months." This last stretch indoors is always the most problematic. The Meyer lemon has aphids on its flowers. That's a first. The black pepper vine (that turns out not to be a black pepper vine, but a betel, despite being sold as such by the grower) produced a mealy bug, which must have friends. The galangal has spider mite, and will be showered again, today. The yuzu has dropped some leaves but has a dozen fat buds.

For now the stone table on the terrace is the meeting-place only of mockingbirds, who come to eat fruit salad there every cold morning. A small dish of chopped fruit. This morning it was tiny cubes of apple and three raspberries. 

We may meet these lilacs again, in a green season. Now, they are covered in ice in the field in the old mountains, and fast asleep.