Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Today began by meeting Maureen O'brien who was the community field manager at Brooklyn Botanics. She firstly took us to the section of the garden which has a strong emphasis on educating children about plants. The area consisted primarily of vegetables and other edible plants. 

Following this, we visited the first of two community gardens in Brooklyn. The first community garden was called 6/15 Green and was located on the corner of a block where a petrol station used to stand. Maureen herself was a member of this garden and it clearly made the area a nicer place to live. 

The second community garden named Prospect Heights had a more organised feel with communal areas at the front and a series of raised beds at the back which each belonged to a member of the garden. It also had an excellent composting facility, including an ingenious way to sieve the compost into a barrow without too much effort. 

We then headed back to the botanic garden where we were shown round by Melanie Sifton, the Deputy Director. We saw areas of the garden such as the Shakespeare Garden and the Peony Garden, all of which looked superb. 

During our tour we were lucky enough to meet Elizabeth Scholtz, the first female director of the garden. She had the first yellow flowered Magnolia named after her and has also previously received the prestigious Veitch Memorial Medal for services to horticulture. 

Brooklyn Botanic Garden was a very enjoyable experience, helped by an excellent plant collection and well maintained areas. It is a garden well worth visiting if you happen to be in the Brooklyn area and is highly recommended.

Tom King, New York, 14.05.15 

Battery Park

The last location on our whistle stop tour of the gardens of the East Coast, was Battery Park at the Southern tip of Manhattan, just West of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. This location helps the park to receive on average 6 million visitors per year.

The first thing that strikes you when you get to the park is the mass use of this much needed green space by New Yorkers and Tourists alike. The park wraps itself around the end of Manhattan Island and is a gentle transition from the hustle and bustle of the city out into open water towards Lady Liberty herself.

The park, in its current state, is the work of Piet Oudolf and was in fact his first commissioned work in the USA in the early 2000's. During our tour around the park it was explained how Oudolf's style has changed over the years from purely herbaceous perennial planting schemes, to those that also include shrubs and small trees. The planting at Battery Park has change a couple of times in the last 15-20 years, most notably due to Hurricane Sandy which affected much of the East Coast in 2012. Much of the planting along the waters edge was damaged in the flood waters, but other areas of the park were affected due to damage to the tunnels and subways that run beneath the park. Work to repair the water damage in the tunnels required the park to be excavated in places to allow access to electrical lines. 

Although a place which exhibits great horticultural standards, The Battery is also culturally significant As it is home to many memorials, including huge tablets listing the names of all the Armed Service People who were killed in the Atlantic during WW2 and the 9/11 memorial borders designed by Oudolf to be a reminder not only of those who lost their lives, but also those that survived and how a nation came together in its time of need.

New planting schemes are still being added to the park, included a native flora area which has been designed by the parks gardeners as well as the new cycle lane borders, which again were designed by Oudolf. 

All that remains to be said is a massive thank you to all the people over the last fortnight who have shown us around these beautiful gardens and too all of you for taking to time to read our blog and share in our experience.

All the best

Lawrence Wright, New York, 15/05/2015

The High Line

We visited The High Line on the same day as Central Park and between them these two parks gave an interesting snap shot of the history of public parks in New York. 

Central Park earmarked a large parcel of land in the centre of Manhatten for the purpose of civic recreation and it was an astute and foresighted move that guaranteed green space within the urban environment.

Today, such parcels of undeveloped land are inconceivable within major cities so alternative green spaces are being developed and few have attracted such attention as The High Line. 

It's story is well known but worth telling again as it's an important one: local residents fought to save the abandoned structure of an elevated freight railway line that carried goods from the port to the factories. Residents saw not only its architectural significance but also recognised the beauty of the pioneer vegetation that had settled there.  This wild garden offered relief from the city - it attracted wildlife and was a place to escape to.

The residents formed The Friends of the High Line and spent enormous amounts of time and energy campaigning and fundraising. The result of all their hard work is the park we have today - a 2 mile long green corridor with loose stylised naturalistic planting by Piet Oudulf offset against crisp and unobtrusive hard landscaping visited by over 6 million people last year. 

The pressure to develop in this area is intense and we saw evidence of this on our visit with skyscrapers sprouting up along much of the length of the park.

The park recently secured and opened a third and final section of the park to visitors. This last section showcases the natural vegetation that inspired the whole project and was a fascinating insight into the inspiration for the whole project. 

Thanks to a Tom Smarr for taking the time out to show us this amazing park. 

Robert Bradshaw, New York, 13/05/2015

Central Park

After we struggled to find the central park conservancy's office in New York, Christopher Cousino gave us a detailed presentation about the Central Parks history and walked us around.
It is interesting that the Central Park that was created in the City in the 1860's was completely run down until the 1970's. It's modern urban development started in 1980 when the Conservancy was founded. Now its a public- private partnership.

Central Park itself is a huge area of 341 ha parkland. We tried to see most of it and walked for a long time :). Here are some impressions:

The Park is completely man made. What i really liked was how they used the natural bedrock in their design. When you walk trough the garden it has several ups and downs, combined with the tree cover it makes you feel lost (on purpose) and away from the city. But as you can see you are never really far away :). 

The best part for me was the Conservatory Garden on the north end with a more formal garden design and wonderful tulip beds, a wisteria archway and fountains.

Janina Timter, Central Park, New York, 13/05/2015

New York Botanical Garden

Today we visited a place which is described as an iconic living museum -the New York Botanical Garden. The 250 acre National Historic Landmark is located in the Bronx, North of Manhattan, and is accessed easily via a train which conveniently stops outside of the public entrance. On arrival we received a brief overview of the garden, including an outline of their three main objectives - science, horticulture and art, before starting our tour. 

The garden welcomes nearly a million visitors a year, which is impressive given it's distant proximity to Central New York.

Renound for it's science faculty, we first visited the Herbarium. Director of The School of Professional Horticulture, Charles Yurgalevitch, had arranged an all encompassing itinerary for us and acted as our chaperone for the first half of the day. 

Tom Zanoni, who works in the vast herbarium at NYBG, was kind enough to discuss their collection and show us a few of their specimens. Their collection is the largest in the Western Hemisphere with over 7 million samples, and includes many type specimens. The herbarium itself was magnificent, state of the art, and was housed over four stories. 

We were then escorted to the library to meet Steve Sinon. The library has the worlds largest collection of books on botany, horticulture and landscape design all under one roof. They had a fantastic area of 'rare works' which included scores of original Darwin works, as well as a first edition of Linnaeus' Species Plantarum.

We met with some of the first year NYBG students for lunch and talked about our respective courses and institutes. NYBG have an unparalleled array of certificate courses available - from botany to horticultural therapy.

After lunch we were escorted around the Perennial Garden. It was an area which was meticulously tidy and it surprised a lot of us. 'It wouldn't look out of place at chanticleer' and 'this might be the best perennial garden we've seen this trip' were just two quotes - my photo doesn't really do it justice. It looked phenomenal, particularly when you consider the time of year. 

NYBG has recently had a native plant garden installed, blending the character of the plants with a more contemporary twist. After seeing them at Mout Cuba last week, a garden which almost perfectly imitates their natural environment outside of the wild, it was great to see them used in a more innovative, contemporary way.

50 acres of original native New York woodland exist within the confines of the garden. They have been managed in a way that ensures minimal invasion from exotics and encourages the natural recolonisation of native plants. Originally containing lots of western hemlock, they have since been struck by a wooly adelgid epidemic and have struggled since. Their now dwindling numbers are gradually being replaced by tulip trees, oaks and other native trees which have taken advantage of the vacant space. 

The garden has numerous areas of interest, including the rock garden (a personal favourite of mine - see picture) which contained genuine alpine plants and a picturesque waterfall, as well as a magnificent conservatory and a phenomenally diverse range of plants spread throughout the garden.

The azalea garden is also extremely good with the geology of the garden adding to the overall spectacle. Rocks protrude above the soil surface like mineralised icebergs and effortlessly improve the immediate landscape and everything which surrounds them. The garden design and plant selection accounts for this and it is by no means coincidental. 

They also had the most impressive garden gift shop I've ever seen and a novel tram tour service. Sadly I didn't have the time to experience it! 

It was a very memorable visit, and if you ever get the chance to go I would highly recommend it. It oozes class and is maintained to as high a standard as I've seen in any garden on our trip. That says a lot when you consider it is a 250 acre botanic garden. 

Brendan Arundel, 12.05.15

Wave Hill

Today we spent at Wave Hill, a 28 acre public garden and cultural centre.  Based in the Bronx, it has an impressive view over the Hudson River and Palisades.  Wave Hill is a valuable escape for New Yorkers to get in touch with nature and enjoy plants.

We were met at Riverdale station in the morning by Charles Day (who used to work at Wisley!).  Charles kindly lead us around Wave Hill, pointing out plants of interest and introducing us to the staff.  Things that stood out in the garden for me were the wonderfully scented wisteria, charming glasshouses packed full of plants and the first alpine area we’ve seen in America.

We also had the chance to find out more about the educational programmes Wave Hill run. These include nature based activities for young school groups, paid summer internships for teenagers to work in their forest and family art projects based around the garden.

Alison Legg, Wave Hill, New York, 11/05/2015

New York, New York

After our first brief introduction to the city yesterday, we were keen to get out and explore today. While working on the Formal Ornamental team back at Wisley, I got talking to Volunteer Mary Bussell who set us up with a visit to a roof top garden on an apartment building in Manhattan. 

Jane and Jim Dillon run the planting and maintenance of the roof garden on the 20th floor which is used by all the residence of the building. After spending only a day in the New York, it became clear that you would need somewhere private to escape the hustle of the city. 

The views from the roof were quite incredible, I don't think that any of us had prepared ourselves for that.

We spent the rest of the day being tourists and took in all the sights that you dream of in New York, it was tiring but well worth it.

Lawrence Wright, New York, 10/05/2015

Charles Cresson's Garden

Our trip to Charles Cresson's home garden was a perfect way to end the Pennsylvanian leg of our trip. 

Charles lives in the home that his grandfather built and has been working in this garden for most of his adult life, maintaining and developing the garden as a representative of early twentieth century garden style. 

His intimate knowledge of every plant in the garden including its provenance and life history is evidence of the written plant records that he has been keeping here for as long as he has gardened. 

Charles was a student at RHS Wisley in the late 1970s and we heard stories of the plants and people he knew there at the time. He was much influenced by his time in England as demonstrated by his courageous attempts to grow Camellias and Rhododendrons not normally grown in this climate - "stretching the zones" he called it. 

His garden was ablaze with colour from Azaleas mainly, but an interesting understory of herbaceous included some magnificent clumps of Cypripedium, as well as native woodland ephemerals Tiarella cordifolia, Mertensia virginica and Trilliums (T. luteum, T. grandiflora, T. erectum amongst them).

Charles was incredibly generous with his knowledge and his enthusiasm was infectious. He also made for us the best iced tea so far!

Thank you Charles! 

Robert Bradshaw, Swarthmore, Philadelphia, 09/05/2015