Randalls Island Park Alliance

Archive for the ‘General Plants’ Category

Eye of the Storm

In General Plants, New Ideas and Expansions on November 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

By Phyllis Odessey

We didn’t know what to expect.  How many trees would be lost?  Would the gardens survive?  Would saltwater destroy the plants?  What would be required for restoration?

We garden on an island and that has many advantages.  We can walk to the mainland of Manhattan; we have beautiful views of the New York skyline; from the island we can see the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan.

Most of the time, Randall’s Island seems like the most unique place to work:  in the middle of the city and simultaneously surrounded by nature.  BUT, a hurricane poses challenges to gardening on an island.

On Wednesday, we drove around and accessed the situation.  “It’s not that bad.”
The river washed over these plants; it’s hard to tell.  They have ‘bounced’ back…holding their shape and color.  The Water’s Edge Garden is one of the most beloved places on Randall’s Island.  It is the access pathway from the 104 st. bridge to Icahn Stadium and the many of the fields on the island.  It is the regular walking and biking path for many New Yorkers.  It has survived.

There are trees down, branches small and large in the garden and debris covering plants from water washing over the garden, but we are hard at work, making progress.  We hope to open the pathway to visitors on Monday.

As Majora Carter said “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”  I remembered these words as I walked around Randall’s Island after Hurricane Sandy.  My first thoughts:  what we can change, improve and how can we create more beauty.


Bee Nice

In Ask a Gardener, General Plants on October 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

By Merryl Spence

Photo: Merryl & Poppies, Native Garden, Randall’s Island, 2012

As a gardener I love bees. Heck, as a human being I love bees. Bees are a vital part of our everyday garden activities and life as the human race knows it. Bees make our food world and plant world go round. Really they do. If these pollinators ceased to exist, whole communities could collapse. A few basic bee tidbits if you will:

* Its estimated that bees pollinate a third of the food we eat, at a value of $15 billion per year. Yup, yup. http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572

* Bee venom has  been found to have medicinal properties, used for treating arthritis, multiple sclerosis and even fibromyalgia, and more recently to treat sexual dysfunction, cancer, epilepsy and depression. Oh yeah. http://www.apitherapy.org/

* The honeybee hive is perennial. Although quite inactive during the winter, the honeybee survives the winter months by clustering for warmth. By self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees maintain 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the winter cluster (regardless of the outside temperature).  I’ve often wondered what they do in winter and here’s my answer. So cool.

I recently watched the documentary about disappearing bees, Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? The film examines the global bee crisis through the eyes of beekeepers, scientists, farmers and philosophers. Wild and managed honeybee populations have been in decline for the last 30 years, according to the USDA. But in 2006 beekeepers began reporting 30 to 90 percent losses in their bee colonies, and the term colony collapse disorder became synonymous with the mysterious disappearance of bees around the world. While the reason isn’t fully understood, possible causes include pathogens, viruses, pesticides, environmental change-related stress, malnutrition and migratory beekeeping.

There’s not a solution for colony collapse disorder or even an exact scientific understanding of whats happening to bees as of yet. BUT,  there are several IMPORTANT things you can do to help (check out the link below). In the meantime take care of our fuzzy winged friends. We need them to survive and right about now they really need us.


A Garden Alive

In General Plants, Randall's Island on September 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm

By Dianne Crary

A garden is a wonderful place to see and discover bugs, insects and birds.  On Randall’s Island there is an impressive variety to find.  It is always fun to hear the screams of horror/delight and astonishment as children in The Learning Garden encounter their first grub, worm or beetle.  It is an important gardening experience for them to find out that soil is a living medium and that the insects help to loosen up the soil by their tunneling which then allows air and water to reach the plants roots. Their droppings and dead bodies also provide nutrients for the plants.

During the springtime it was wonderful to listen to a mockingbird singing for hours at the Waterfront Garden against the backdrop of waves lapping the shoreline.  The diversity of a mockingbird’s song is very impressive. One duck laid her eggs among the Alchemilla  mollis (lady’s mantle) leaves and she was hard to see among them.  If you got close to her nest, she would fly up which was always startling.

Bees, bumblebees and other insects are constantly busy gathering nectar and pollen from the flowers, and a large diversity of pollinators is always found on Pycanthemum (bee balm). While the gardeners deadhead various blooms, the insects just move off to another flower intent on their job.

Butterflies are beautiful and the diversity of their colors and markings are amazing.  Whether it is the Monarch butterfly, which is attracted to the Buddleja davidii (butterfly bush), or another species they are all graceful in their movements.

Sometimes, though, one is surprised to come upon an insect due to its ability to camouflage itself.  The praying mantis is hard to detect among the green stems of bushes because it just looks like another stem.  The female is such a delicate insect, which belies its carnivorous behavior.

These various creatures, and many more, make a garden alive and vibrant.  A good garden provides areas of sun and shade, different types of foliage and flower heads, different heights of plantings, and a variety of blooms from early spring to late fall. This type of garden will attract beneficial insects that keep a garden healthy by maintaining the level of unwanted pests in check. Come and discover your favorite insect.

What To Wear To The Electric Zoo

In General Plants, New Ideas and Expansions on August 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm

By Phyllis Odessey

Aimee Boden, Executive Director of Randall’s Island Park Alliance is my boss and she has an eye for detail.

In an email a couple of days ago, Aimee asked us to create a planting at the flagpole, which greets visitors to The Electric Zoo Festival.  This festival begins on Friday, August 31 through Sunday September 2.

The Electric Zoo is known for all genres of electronic music, bringing international DGs and live acts from multiple countries.  We’ve been watching as the preparations for the festival have come together.  Bright colors are de rigeur.

What does this have to do with gardening?

When you are planning to create containers for an event, one of the primary considerations is the color palette.  We had intended to fill the flagpole “containers,” which are 12 ft. across with mums.  But when we went to the nursery, the mums had little color, which is great if you using them two weeks from today, but not so good for this coming weekend.   We looked around, put our thinking caps on, asked the owner of nursery for some suggestions and put together the following.

Cup of Joe, Cup of Lavender

In General Plants, New Ideas and Expansions on July 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm

People claim it can:
put you to sleep
calm your nerves
act as an antiseptic
soothe insect bites
flavor culinary dishes
decorate cakes once candied
infuse tea
add fragrance


By Phyllis Odessey
The lavender on Randall’s is abundant.  Every year we dry as much as we can.  In 2012 we are making lavender sachets.  Aeong Aee Boo of the Horticulture Crew has taught our crew how to make the traditional french lavender sachet.  She says its easy.  I say it’s a lot of work.

Eunyoung Sebazco has come up with a lavender sachet that the kids in The Learning Garden can make in 20 minutes.  We want to share it with you.

Take an ordinary coffee fitler.  Fill the filter with lavender that has been dried.  Pour the lavender seeds into the coffee filer.  Tie it with ribbon.
We used a rubber stamp on the outside of the coffee filter to personalize the sachet  If you have any suggestions or refinements, we would love to hear from you.

contact:  phyllis.odessey@parks.nyc.gov

Harvesting Seed

In Ask a Gardener, General Plants on July 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm

by Kaity Cheng

There are several beds of Salvia nemorosa (woodland sage) in our waterfront garden. Clusters of this flower can also be found at the Hellgate Wildflower Meadow. It is an attractive plant that is easy to grow and propagate, with the result that it has been passed around by gardeners for many years. Its fragrant flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Salvia nemorosa grows in clumps, bearing flowers of blue and purple gradations.

As spring rolls into summer, the perennial blooms follow each other in waves. Salvia nemorosa bloomed in May, painting purple swaths along the waterfront. Even as the flowers senesce, clumps of Salvia nemorosa continued to provide color, until the purple yields to brown.  After the flowers are spent, it is good to cut back woodland sage. Cutting back induces a second, less showy bloom in the fall. We also cut back the woodland sage so that we can harvest their seeds.

I began cutting back the flowers on a hot Sunday afternoon. I gazed at the bed of woodland sage, which appeared quite long for a lone gardener. With pruners, I held clusters of stems together and snipped them at their base. I piled these flower stems into a cardboard box, and stored them in a dry room in our tool cottage.

Salvia nemorosa

Eunyoung had stressed the importance of dry conditions for storing the flowers. The following week, Jean, Jeong Aee, Dianne, and I completed the spent flower stem harvest. We used a combination of pruners and shears, the former being neater, the latter being more satisfying! We scoured the island for used brown boxes. Diving into a dumpster turned up one usable box. The Sportime Tennis Center turned out to be the most reliable box provider, with a retail store that receives daily shipments. Still, we had not uncovered enough boxes to store all the woodland sage. Some of the sage ended up in our trusty rubber buckets, and some were stored in some of our gray plastic storage bins.

The following day, as we began to strip off the leaves, we noticed how wet the flowers felt. There was also a smell. Ants had found the plants and apparently liked them. So this was a good lesson in plant storage. Plastic and rubber lack porosity and any organic matter stored inside will get soggy. Even in a dry cardboard box, if the plants are packed in too tightly, there is no way for air to circulate. Our method of stuffing as much as we could into our already scarce bins did not allow for  proper evaporation and ventilation.

Much of what we had meant to save had to be thrown out. Mold had gathered and spread around the damp stems. We foraged for a few more boxes, and divided the salvaged stems and stored them loosely and spaciously in the boxes.

JeongAee salvages for healthy stems

We are now well prepared for the next time we harvest plants for seed. We know we’ll need a good supply of dry boxes. If we harvest the flowers directly into the boxes, we’ll be less likely to harvest more than we can store. Although I had the urge to save everything we were cutting, this urge often leads to unexpected waste! Had we harvested half the amount and composted the rest, we would not have had the mold issue. The risk of mold is lower if leaves are stripped off immediately, as they carry moisture. In our Salvia nemorosa harvest, we left the leaves on, thinking the salvia stripping would be a good activity for the heat wave looming before us.
In spite of our losses, it was well worth our time to save seed from this year’s crop of woodland sage. The life force of those dead-headed clusters continues in the seeds that were harvested, and will persist after those seeds are spread somewhere else.

One look around the Hellgate Wildflower Meadow illustrates the value of saving seed.  The seeds of native perennials were broadcast across the meadow. Unlike at the waterfront, where Salvia nemorosa blooms in defined swaths along the water’s edge, the Salvia nemorosa at Hellgate are scattered in clumps, designed not by pen and paper but by the forces of sun, wind, rain, and soil. Salvia nemorosa thrive in the lottery of the seed broadcast.

Like Fat Candles

In General Plants on May 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm

  By Dianne Crary

We’ve planting new tress on and off the past month on Randalls.   I’ve noticed there are many beautiful old trees on the island.

On the way down to ball field 70,  I was arrested by the sight of a mature horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) in full bloom on the left side of the road.  This tree must be at least 70 feet tall with a rounded canopy. It dominates the area with its beauty.

The light green compound leaves* with seven leaflets radiating from a single point give a fluffy look to the tree.  However, it is the flowers that stand out at this time of year that catches the eye.  The flower heads are borne upright on sturdy stems and the panicles* of flowers can be up to 12 inches long.  They look like fat candles sticking up in the air and can be seen from quite a distance.

Yet each individual flower on the panicle is very delicate and has 4-5 undulating, white petals with a yellow blotch at the base that will eventually turn red.  The long stamen with their reddish anthers adds another spot of color.  Unlike the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) the chestnuts from this tree are not edible.

If you coming to the Flow.12 celebration on the island, you will pass this chestnut on your way to Michael Johnson’s piece.

“The ordinary chestnut can beget a sickly and reluctant laugh, but it takes a horse chestnut to fetch the gorgeous big horse-laugh”
Mark Twain

*compound leaf has a fully subdivided blade, each leaflet of the blade separated along a main or secondary vein.

*panicle is a compound raceme, a loose, much-branched indeterminate inflorescence with pedicellate flowers(and fruit) attached along the secondary branches; in other words , a branched cluster of flowers in which the branches are racemes.

From Wikipedia.