Friday, November 30, 2007

Notes from Around Town: NYBG and Winter Interest

The other day I was invited up to the New York Botanical Garden for a meeting and luncheon. I joined a number of other green organizations, land trusts, city and state departments, and representatives from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and New York Botanical Garden to discuss the importance of community gardens, our role in their success, and what needs to be done in the future to ensure their longevity. As a 105-year-old nonprofit here in Manhattan, HSNY is an organization that provides all the same offerings as the larger botanical gardens: educational resources including classes and a library, research and statistics based on our exemplary outreach programs, horticultural phone and email support, consultation services, numerous events throughout the calendar year, horticultural services, and experienced horticultural staff who train and educate communities throughout New York City. This year we are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of both the Riker’s Island Greenhouse program and the community-based GreenBranches program, two of our exemplary outreach programs that prove that horticulture improves the quality of life for a wide range of local communities. Our GreenTeam, graduates of the Riker’s Greenhouse, have worked closely with other social service organizations and the land trusts providing horticultural services, workshops, and horticultural therapy in community gardens throughout all of the boroughs. We enjoy sharing with other green groups our experiences to help aide with the communal goal of successful, sustainable greening of our city. And it was a fabulous meeting of the minds. I can say without hesitation that I am thrilled to be a horticulturist living and working in the city during these times of necessary and beneficial change.

But, of course, I couldn't leave without getting out and taking some pictures of the trees and shrubs I love so much this time of year. Everyone else was headed to the conservatory to get a tour of the Holiday Train Show, but I snuck away and reunited with some of my old friends. This time of year some people have the nerve to say nothing is happening in the garden, and I must say that absolutely boggles my mind. It is true that many leaves have fallen and many herbaceous plants have died back already, but there is still so much interesting fruit-set and seed, bark, and forms in the landscape.
Malus ‘Red Jade’ is a weeping form of a flowering crabapple, a member of the rose family, Rosaceae. The white flowers that bloomed in spring have led to the glossy red fruit that hang off the dark, pendulous branches. This specimen is mature, spanning 15’ wide and almost as tall. I love the combination of the dark, textural bark and the red fruit, which the birds love as well. Even here in some shade the fruit-set suggests that the tree put out a decent amount of flowers.
Newer cultivars of flowering crabapples are now being bred for even greater fruit set in the fall,not to mention variations in color. Here is a young Malus ‘Sugar Tyme’ and below it, with the yellow-orange fruit, is Malus transitoria ‘Golden Raindrops’. Then there is Callicarpa japonica, or Japanese beauty berry. A deciduous shrub, beauty berry loses its simple, toothed leaves in fall, leaving at the nodes these clusters of purple fruit. The shrub, which typically reaches about 6’ tall and wide, has an upright arching habit that might not be interesting enough for some. However, the 2” clusters of unique purple berries that cover the shrub this time of year certainly make up for its rather ordinary form. Planted amidst a woody border, the contrast of colors this time of year would be sensational.
Rhus typhina is called staghorn sumac. A North American native, found from Georgia up to Quebec, staghorn sumac is a very durable shrub with its open habit and large compound leaves. This cultivar, ‘Laniciata’, has very deeply divided leaflets that almost look fern-like and have great fall color. Here all that is left is the hairy crimson fruit atop the bare branches which will remain through winter.
While we are on the topic of North American natives, here are two shots (above and below) of an Ilex opaca, or American holly. With their large, pyramidal habit that reaches taller and wider than most hollies in the northeast landscape, it is a beautiful staple for fall.

Ilex verticillata, commonly called winterberry, is yet another native Ilex for our region. As you can see this member of the holly genus is deciduous, but who needs leaves when you have the stems so covered with bright red fruit through the fall and winter. I have had the most success with this plant when placing it in full sun in an area that stays moist on a regular basis. Certainly for the best fruit-set you are going to want to provide these upright shrubs with as much sun as possible. Some references say that winterberry can tolerate dryer soils as well, but I'm still testing those hypotheses.
I have talked about redosier dogwood in the past, botanically known as Cornus sericea, and here it is in front of a stand of tall grasses. The bare red stems in fall have great character on their own, especially when combined with more natural colors and hues like these tall grasses behind them.

While we are on the topic of combinations, here are a few that caught my eye and I wanted to share them with you.
In the background is bluestar (Amsonia hubrechtii) and in front a small globe blue spruce (Picea pungens 'Glauca Globosa'). The Amsonia is past its prime, but imagine a soft, glowing yellow in contrast to the striking blue of the spruce. All over the garden the blue spruce were stunning.
Or how about the dried blossoms of a Hydrangea with a more typical green conifer far behind? All through the summer people can forget that green foliage is a color in itself, but the fall and winter is a great time for evergreens to shine.
Here a kind of pine is wedged between a large Euonymus shrub in the foreground and a huge Taxodium in the background. The rest of the year it is hidden but this time it looked so full and rich and vibrant.

Of course, in the fall you do not want to forget about viburnums. Most of us know viburnums because of their spring flowers and fragrance, but plenty of species remain interesting well into the fall. This is Viburnum setigerum, commonly called a tea viburnum. The russet fall color and clusters of hanging red fruit makes this one of the most popular viburnums for this time of year. This upright, multi-stem shrub is a slow grower, but give it time and you will end up with a specimen that stands a good 6'-8' tall and nearly as wide.
Lastly, I had to take a picture of the Choctaw crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia x indica 'Choctaw'). Those of you who know me well know how I am infatuated with these trees, and yet again I say, "well, why not!?" I've talked about the upright habit of these small-to-medium trees and their exfoliating bark. I've mentioned the late summer flower than can range from soft pink to brilliant magenta. And here I am, underneath the almost black clusters of dry fruit that sit at the outermost tips of the branches. Combined with the cinnamon bark and against the amazing blue of the fall sky, now that's a form in nature I'll appreciate all winter long.

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