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


  1. What an admirable project! Also, you are going in with eyes fully open to all the things that could go wrong. May I add two plants to your perennial list? Very tough characters (under trees, dry soil, root competition etc), adored by pollinators, spread/self-seed. Don't know about hummingbirds as we don't have them in Europe. I am speaking of Geranium phaeum (I can send seeds from my garden this autumn) and Symphytum (caucasicum, Hidcote blue/pink). Symphytum is also self-mulching and the dead leaves increase fertility for other plants. Good luck, I'd love to read updates as the year goes on!

    1. Both are lovely plants. I'm going to try and source fully grown plants to establish the sense of a garden asap, both for instant-ish gratification and to dissuade dogs and humans from venturing into the beds. It's rough out there!

  2. Does Amazon sell any of this stuff? If you make a wish list where people can buy an item or two, I expect they would. (I would, anyway!) Or maybe a local nursery that has a website and the ability to keep track of what you want.

    1. Hi Leslie - Amazon may, but it's not my favorite source for plants (too many unknowns, in terms of quality). A local nursery is already helping, hopefully. And I love the idea of making a gift-a-plant option, online. I just feel uncomfortable asking people to commit when I really can't guarantee the outcome. But I will keep you posted, and thank you!

  3. If you have a way for your subscribers to help out moneywise, please post. And keep us up to date on this lovely park that needs a name. A small suggestion for protecting the beds after planting is chicken wire laid flat and mulched over to discourage dogs, rodents and plant thieves.

    1. Thank you so much, Carol. There is actually a TON of mulch, as I discovered yesterday when planting the alliums. Eight inches deep in some places. Possibly applied to suppress weeds.

  4. Wishing you the best of luck with your pocket park!

  5. Good luck - your readers will be hanging on the progress reports!

  6. Hi Marie, here's what is happening in Toronto. Peter Ewins (there's a conversation under 'Media') is very inspirational about small neighbourhood parks. North American Native Plant Society might help?

  7. Do you know about this source of plants (alas too late for some species)?

    1. That's an interesting resource, thank you, Susan.

  8. I'm good for a contribution. Love the idea of ordering for you at a local (to you) nursery. Or, I'll send good old cash. Just let me know what you figure our.

    This is a wonderful project and will make a lovely park. You go, Girl!

    1. Thank you, Win! I'll give it a think. There may be a perennial or shrub with your name on it.


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