Friday, April 25, 2014

Spring in New York City - Exploring the High Line

I spent last weekend in NYC, and though there is so much to see and do there, I only had a few items on my agenda.  The High Line  which I had walked a few times before (in both summer and fall), Bryant Park (which I'd never been to), and a really great dinner out (which was accomplished at a fantastic restaurant called Alder, in the East Village).

Fortunately the weather was great;  it really felt like Spring!  The High Line was the first stop and it was crowded with people soaking up the sunshine.  This public park is built above street level, on the old freight rail line that ran through the Meatpacking District along the Lower West side of Manhattan.  This park is amazing in so many ways;  in the vantage points it offers of the city, of the way it incorporates the old rail line into the current design, and in the incredible plant palette that offers something to see at all times of the year.

Here are a few favorite picks from my visit.  Next week I'll post my pictures from Bryant Park.  (I don't have any pictures from dinner, but really, it was amazing!)

Birch trees emerging from the old railroad 
The linear park follows the rail line for 1.45 miles
Relaxing on a sunny day on built in concrete and wood benches
One of the many great places to stop and check out the view
Love the railings!
A stadium seating area looking over the street scene
Grasses and perennials emerging from the concrete bands
I love how the flowers of these Pear trees are reflected in the nearby building
Cool signage
A gorgeous Redbud showing off its spring color
Good advice
A cute little crocus emerging from stone, wood and metal
It was a great visit, and I'm glad to have seen it in early Spring.  I think whether you live in NYC or are just visiting, the High Line is a great place to soak in the city with a little dose of nature.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Forsythia. Love it or hate it?

I have a love/hate relationship with forsythia.  It's blooming right  now and I love that it signals that Spring has finally arrived in New England.

If I were honest with myself, though, I'm actually not a huge fan of the plant.  Its yellow, while bright and fresh, is also a bit garish, especially against the otherwise still brown and grey landscape.  As a plant in the residential garden, I rarely use it (unless it's a real favorite of a client's).  It is a leggy shrub that really only shows off for this brief period of time in the spring.  To control the uncontrollable habit, many people prune forsythia like a hedge, which I think just adds insult to injury.

Naturalized planting of forsythia, daffodils and Ilex glabra in North Point Park
There is, however, a particular application where I can't help but be impressed by forsythia, and that is in naturalized, mass plantings.  In a space that is large enough to have lots (and lots) of forsythia, unsheared, in their natural form, it can be quite spectacular.  Plant it on a hillside, intermixed with evergreens and bulbs whose green foliage helps tone down the highlighter yellow flowers.  It looks spectacular underplanted with yellow daffodils, which happen to bloom at the same time.

The yellow daffodils complement the forsythia and provide some greenery around the leggy shrubs

In these mass plantings, forsythia really works and is a welcome sign of Spring.  Plant it in mass, intermixed with green foliage, and you might start to love this plant…. just a bit.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Most Nutritious Fruit to Grow at Home

As a follow up to my post a few weeks ago on the most nutritious vegetables to grow at home, this week we'll explore what fruit you can grow in your home garden.

The book, Eating on the Wild Side does a great job of examining different fruits and vegetables in terms of how to select or grow varieties for optimum nutrition.

For those of us in New England, growing vegetables is a bit easier than most fruit.  It's too cold here to grow citrus or tropical fruit, but we can easily grow berries, apples, pears, stone fruit, melon and grapes.  Berries, though, are really some of the most nutritious and easiest fruit to grow at home.

A nutritional power house and a gorgeous deciduous shrub.  Blueberries are a great addition to any landscape.  You typically want to plant at least two different varieties of blueberry for the best pollination and fruit production.  Grow in Zones 3-7 in full sun to shade.

Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) grow between 3 and 6' tall.  They have beautiful white flowers in the spring followed by blue (of course) fruit.  One of the best features of these shrubs, though, is their gorgeous fall foliage.  They are native plants and pest resistant.  The only real worry are birds poaching your berries before you get to them (use a netting of cheese cloth to protect ripening fruit).

Lowbush Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) are low growing ground covers.  I have distinct memories of picking these kinds of blueberries as a kid in Nova Scotia.  Also a native shrub with the same gorgeous flowers and berries, the difference here is the low growing habit.  This plant is great for hillsides, rocky outcrops or anywhere you want a naturalized ground cover.

Blackberries and Raspberries
Also incredibly nutritious, blackberries and raspberries are a great option for the home garden because they are so perishable.  The only issue is that the canes can become a bit unruly.  You need a bit of space for this fruit, but the rewards are great.  Grow in Zones 4-8 in full sun.

A low growing fruit, these can really function like a ground cover.  Strawberries are a great addition to the home garden, in a dedicated patch or meandering around ornamental plants.  I like to use strawberries as a low edging, along pathways, so you can stop to pick some fruit as you meander.  The best part of growing strawberries at home is you can pick them when they are fully ripe (they do not ripen further after picked, which is why so many supermarket strawberries lack flavor).  Try one of the Everbearing varieties for long season production.  Grow in Zones 4-10 in full sun to part shade.

An infrequently thought of fruit for the New England home garden, grapes are actually full of nutrients and beautiful to grow.  Consider planting this deciduous woody vine where it can twine up a trellis or arbor.  Interestingly, Concord grapes are really nutritious, as are other dark skinned varieties like Autumn Royal.  Grow in Zones 5-8 in full sun.

So what about apples, pears, peaches, and cherries?  Yes, these can all be grown in the home garden here in New England, but they need a bit more maintenance and space to grow.  If you have lots of room and are able to maintain an orchard through proper pruning and care, these are wonderful trees to grow yourself.  If you have more limited space, though, the options above are a great place options for growing fruit at home.  You can even grow blueberries and strawberries in a container on your patio!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Most Nutritious Vegetables for Your Home Garden

It is officially Spring, though who would know it given the temperature and threat of snow here in New England.  I'm anxious to get outside, but the reality is I'm still doing more reading about gardening than actual gardening.

I've been pretty fascinated lately with a book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.

This part history, part "how to" book examines how we've essentially selected and engineered the flavor, nutrition and imperfection out of our food in order to make it easier to harvest, ship across country and store for days (if not weeks) on end.  Robinson researches different vegetables and fruit and reveals how that downward slide occurred.  On the bright side, though, she also explains how to navigate the grocery store or farmers market to select the most nutritious options offered, and how to prepare food to retain (or even increase) its nutritional value.

It's a fascinating read, with lots of great information.  Today, I thought I would distill this information into a "Top 5 Vegetables to Grow for Nutritional Value" list.  Next week, we'll check out fruit!  Click on any of the images or go to for more information about how to grow these veggies.

Maybe an unusual choice for the home garden, asparagus has tons of nutrition which it looses quickly after harvest.  The week (or more) that it takes to ship, display and sell these last two vegetables takes a huge toll on their nutritional value.  Asparagus are also perennial, so they'll come back year after year.

Growing broccoli requires a bit of space.  Unlike some plants that keep producing, once you cut off the head of broccoli, it's done.  In terms of nutrition, though, broccoli (like asparagus) looses an incredible amount of its nutrients quickly after harvest.  So much that if you can grow it at home you'll be getting many times the nutrients as if you bought it at the supermarket.

Leafy Greens          
These are easy to grow and don't take up much room.  Great for a raised garden bed, or you can even grow them in pots.  Choose red leaf lettuce, arugula, spinach or any bitter green.  Here's a great guide to growing salad greens.

Onion and Garlic Chives  
Lots of nutrition, easy to grow (even in pots), and beautiful!  Most members of the Allium family deter deer and other animals, so plant them near tastier plants to keep pests away.

Supermarket tomatoes are the poster child for a fruit that has had its taste, texture and nutrition breed out of it.  They are fairly easy to grow at home, fortunately, and the difference is astounding.  The smallest darkest red ones have the most lycopene.

There are so many great resources on line for vegetable gardeners, so take a look, start planning and pray for Spring!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Urban Bee Keeping - An Interview with Noah Wilson-Rich from Boston's Best Bees

I met Noah Wilson-Rich earlier this month at New England Grows and got a chance to talk to him about The Best Bees Company, an urban beekeeping and research operation he founded in Boston.  I'm really interested in bees, and quite a few of my clients share this interest, so I thought I would catch up with Noah by phone to get a few more details about his company and the work they're doing.

Noah Wilson Rich of the Best Bees Company, photo by Porter Gifford
Andrea:  I see from your website that you are a PhD behavioral ecologist.  How did you get interested in that field?

Noah:  I went to Northeastern for my undergraduate degree, and started off in the pre-med track.  I was able to take some elective courses and one particular course on sociobiology (the social behavior of animals) really interested me.  In that course I was introduced to bees.  They are highly social animals, have been around for tens of thousands of years and have a system to take care of each other and keep each other healthy.  In 2005 I started my PhD program at Tufts to study how bees stay healthy, and by 2006 we started to see evidence of Colony Collapse Disorder.  Fast forward a few years to 2010.  I finished my dissertation and wanted to keep finding ways to make bees healthier.  There was no grant money for research, so I started Best Bees (by selling beehives) as a way to fund my own research.

Andrea:  And now you have the Urban Beekeeping Lab in the South End, do you continue that research today.

Noah:  Yes, we now have 17 people working at Best Bees in three main areas:  research, beekeeping and what I call beekeeping without the bees.  People in this last group work building beehives (bees prefer to live in all natural hives, so we build ours by hand using all natural parts), and harvesting honey.  Funds from the company go to research and right now we're working on a oral vaccine for bees and products like a bee yogurt which helps bees with digestion and immune support.

A Best Bees hive in a Boston community garden 
Andrea:  I understand that bees produce honey for their own subsistence.  If you have a hive that you want to survive the winter, do you want to stop harvesting honey at some point in the season so they have enough for themselves?

Noah:  Honey is really just flower juice, so bees are producing honey anytime there are flowers in bloom.  There is a period, midsummer, when things are dry and the flower pollen isn't particularly nutritious.  There tends to be a break in honey production then, and that break really separates the early season from the late season.  With that schedule we do two harvests a year, the first in July and the second in September.  The honey itself is lighter in the first harvest (with more of a citrus flavor) and darker in the second harvest (more from wildflowers and clover).  We do leave at least half of the money in the hive at the second harvest for the bees to use over the winter.  Honey never spoils though, so it is better to leave too much in the hive and harvest it the next spring, than leave too little for the hive over the winter.

A Best Bees Company beekeeper tending a hive, photo by Douglas Levy
Andrea:  This might be a strange question, but does honey produced from urban hives taste different?

Noah:  No, it doesn't taste different, but bees in urban environments do produce a higher quantity of honey and we find that hives in the city have higher winter survival rates than hives in suburban/rural areas.  We don't really know why that is, but it is an interesting phenomenon.

Fresh honey right from the honeycomb
Andrea:  That is really fascinating!
On another topic, what would be one or two things the average homeowner should (or should not) do to support the bee population.

Noah:  The three biggest threats to bees are disease, pesticides and habitat loss.  This last one is something that anyone can help with.  If you have outdoor space, a window, roof, anything, plant a flower or spread some seeds, anything you can do to create habitat is a great thing for bees.

(Check out my post from last year, The Amazing Job of a Honeybee, for tips on how to create a bee friendly garden).

Andrea:  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me!  What else should people know about Best Bees?

Noah:  We offer free site consultations and are happy to come talk to a homeowner about our services, where to locate a hive etc.  We also are involved in a great program called Classroom Hives, where we coordinate with schools to bring observation hives into classrooms.  It's a great program aimed at providing real life learning tools to kids.

For more information check out The Best Bees Company website and Noah's recent Ted Talk on urban beekeeping.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Art Inspired Gardens - The Red Borders at Hidcote

I hade the opportunity last week to hear Glyn Jones, Garden and Countryside Manager at Hidcote Manor Garden, talk at a conference here in Boston.  Hidcote is a very famous garden in Glouchestershire England.  Created by Lawrence Johnston (an American!) the garden is known for its different outdoor rooms, perfectly pruned hedges, and arts and crafts style.  I haven't been to Hidcote, but it is now on my list of gardens to visit.

Throughout the talk Glyn presented gorgeous photos of the garden, and information on its history and restoration.  One of the topics I found most interesting was the concept behind the garden area known as the "Red Borders".

The painting Madame Suggia by Augustus John served as the inspiration for the plant design, where the folds of the cellist's dress display a spectrum of different red tones, from bright crimson to dark cherry.  When the gardeners at Hidcote planted (or now maintain) the Red Borders, they literally reference this painting when selecting plants, to keep the color palette true to the inspiration (Glyn said he keeps a copy of the photo on his iPhone for quick reference when plant shopping).

In the book Best Borders, Tony Lord describes the borders as "lying along the main axis of the garden… the Red Borders are processional, a long gallery connecting the other rooms, meant to be walked through and not a place to stop and rest.  Johnston's choice of flower color reflects this character, exhilarating, uplifting, but far from restful." I think that red, as a color in the landscape, is one of the most unusual and energizing.  From a fiery red sunset to fall foliage, it is hard not to notice this color.

Above photos of the Red Borders from Lord's book Best Borders.

What I loved about this portion of Glyn's talk was how a piece of fine art was used as inspiration for garden art.  This concept is something I wrote about in 2012 after reading the book The Artful Garden.  The author, James van Sweden,  offers examples of garden designers who have been inspired by everything from fine art, to music, to dance.  

I think it is a great approach to design, to have a clear inspiration and reference, and I definitely hope to get to England at some point to see this famous planting in person. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Wide World of Roses - Just In Time for Valentines Day

There is no more ubiquitous symbol of Valentine's Day (and romantic love) than a bouquet of red roses.  For a little history of the holiday, and the symbolism behind other well known flowers, check out my post from last year on the Language of Flowers.

This year, I wanted to look a bit closer at the rose family.  For many gardeners, roses are an intimidating group of plants.  The perception is that roses are all high maintenance.  The truth is, yes some varieties are susceptible to mildew and rust and have very specific pruning requirements, but other varieties are resistant to these problems and can offer a lot of low maintenance, long blooming color to your garden.

There are many different varieties of roses (well over 100 species in the Rosa genus).  Most roses prefer a sunny location, well drained soil and good air circulation, so if you have those conditions, great!  Another tip for healthy roses is to water them at the roots (drip irrigation is good for this) so that the foliage doesn't get wet and the risk of mildew is reduced.

Otherwise, here are a few common types you will see in the nursery and their most appropriate landscape applications.

Shrub/Hedge:  These are perfect for a border, along a fence, or in lieu of a fence (prickly roses can be a great deterrent if you want to discourage people from walking through an area).   There are many varieties of shrub or hedge roses, really it is the mature size and shape you are looking for. 'Knock Out' roses and 'Rugosa' roses (also called Beach roses because they are well adapted to seashore conditions) are both reliable and disease resistant shrubs (getting to about 4' tall).  For a hedge rose, look for one that gets as wide as it does high.  The 'Simplicity' brand is a good option.  These are all great options for the beginner gardener and/or a low maintenance landscape.      
'Knock Out' Rose 'Razzmatazz'
Rosa rugosa 'Frau Dagmar Hartopp'
Hybrid Tea:   Large flowered, fragrant roses on a single stem.  These are the classic roses you most likely see at the florist.  Great for cutting gardens, or in areas where you can enjoy the fragrance.  They are on the more high maintenance side of the rose spectrum, though, and require proper pruning to encourage airflow (and discourage disease).  If you are a more seasoned gardener, give these a try!

'Opening Night' Hybrid Tea rose from Jackson & Perkins
Floribunda:    These roses have flowers that are in the classic hybrid tea shape, but the flowers grow in clusters (i.e. several flowers on one stem).  'Floribunda' are medium maintenance because they are fairly resistant to mildew and other diseases.  Some spring pruning is recommended, but otherwise these typically fragrant roses are a good option for the back of a border or flower bed.

'Sunny Days' Floribunda Rose from Jackson & Perkins
Grandiflora:  As the name suggests, these roses are big.  They have the same classic form as the hybrid tea roses, are fragrant, and grow large, often to 5' or more.  Perfect roses for a cutting garden and the back of a border.  On the medium side of the maintenance spectrum; proper pruning is important.  

'Queen Elizabeth' Grandiflora rose
Climbing:  Just as the name says, these roses climb and twine over structures.  Great for arbors, trellises, fences or gazebos, a climbing rose can offer lots of color in a vertical or narrow space.  There is some effort to train these roses and keep them in check, but for the most part they are low maintenance.  I love the 'New Dawn' variety and so do the folks at Gardenista!

'New Dawn' climbing rose
Groundcover:   These roses are meant to cover ground, and fill in spaces.  A common brand name of ground cover rose is the "Drift" name.  They grow up to 2' tall and 3' wide and are great at tying together large beds.

'Peach Drift' Rose from Star
For more inspiration check out the StarJackson and Perkins, or David Austin websites and maybe this Valentine's Day, instead of buying a dozen cut roses, order a plant that you can add to your garden and enjoy year after year!