FAQ: Where do you get your plants?

[First in what I hope will be a series of Frequently Asked Questions, FAQs. If you have any questions for me, I invite you to leave a comment, or ping me on Twitter.]

Question: Where do you get your plants?

Answer (short)

I specialize in gardening with native plants. I get my plants from a variety of sources, including mail-order nurseries, local and regional nurseries, annual plant sales, and neighborhood plant exchanges. My Native Plants page has a list of Retail Sources of Native Plants in and around New York City, extending to New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

Grasses and Sedges at Rarefind Nursery in Jackson, New Jersey
Grasses and Sedges, Rarefind Nursery

Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson, NY
Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson, NY

Answer (longer)

I’ve been gardening in New York City for over three decades, since 1981 or thereabouts in the East Village, since 1992 in Brooklyn. Each garden provided its own challenges, and lessons. The plants I seek out, and where I get them, has changed a lot over time.

The first 20 years: Shade, Concrete, and Invasives

The first garden, in the East Village, was surrounded by adjacent buildings and overtopped by two large Ailanthus altissima trees (the “tree that grew in Brooklyn”). There I learned, by necessity, about gardening in shade. Garden , in Park Slope, was nearly all concrete; there I learned to garden in containers. Garden , also in Park Slope, had been somewhat neglected; weeds and invasive plants, including Fallopia japonica, Japanese Knotweed, were the lessons there.

I’ve always included native plants in my gardens. In the East Village garden, I planted a small wildflower area that was, perhaps, my favorite spot. I added a small wildflower plot to the 3rd garden, as well. Out of necessity, most of these were cultivars, the only “native plants” commercially available at the time. I divided many of them and brought them to my current garden.

The 4th Garden

This Spring will be 10 years since we closed on our current home, and I started work on my fourth garden in New York City. Here the lessons have been about rehabilitation, and healing the land, if only in my small pocket of it.

The backyard was the initial focus of my efforts. My goal here was to recreate a shady woodland garden, populated with native woodland plants. Four years in, it was my design subject for the Urban Garden Design class I took at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Final rendering, backyard garden design

10 years ago, the backyard was a wasteland of dust and scraggly grass, shaded by multiple Norway maples.
Backyard, view away from garage, May 2005

The first month, I removed four trees from this small space. Over time, the remaining three trees failed and had to be removed. After 10 years, I’m still working on building up the soil to meet the needs of more specialized woodland plants. But I’ve been largely successful in rehabilitating this space.
The shrub border, pre-transplant, November 2014

Similarly, the front yard was, at best, barren: lawn and a few canonical evergreen shrubs.
Front Garden, April 2005

Our house was built in 1900. In keeping with the historical nature of our home, and the neighborhood, initially I focused on heirloom plants in the front garden.
The Front Garden

As my knowledge of and experience with gardening with native plants grew, I expanded the scope of their planting to include all areas around the house. The loss of our neighbor’s street tree a few years ago to Hurricane Irene opened up – literally – the opportunity to grow more sun-loving species in the front yard. I started taking out the front lawn two years ago, gradually replacing it with a mixed wildflower meadow. The original lawn has been reduced to a less than a third of its original extent.
Morning Glory: The Front Garden this morning

Most recently, I’ve narrowed my plant acquisitions further. My most treasured plants in my gardens are local ecotypes, those that have been propagated – responsibly – from local wild populations. There are two regional plant sales where these are available, both organized by regional preservation groups: the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. These are currently my preferred sources for plants.
I have arrived! LINPI Plant Sale

It’s my hope that more retail sources for local ecotypes will become available to urban gardeners. I recommend that gardeners who want to explore gardening with native plants choose straight species, not cultivars, from local growers, who are more likely to be growing plants propagated originally from local stock.

Related Content

Tags: Nurseries, Sources, Native Plants

Flickr photo sets:
The Front Garden
The Backyard

Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson, NY
Rarefind Nursery, Jackson, NJ


Long Island Native Plant Initiative (LINPI) Plant Sale
Pinelands Preservation Alliance Plant Sale

Dare we Dream of Spring? Happy Imbolc (Groundhog Day) 2011

Update 2011-02-02: Flatbush Fluffy didn’t see his shadow this morning. He did see his reflection in the sheet of ice that covers everything. Not sure what that means.

The snow in the backyard – undisturbed by shoveling, snowblowers, drifts, and pedestrian traffic, save for a few small, furry quadrupeds – is above my knees, about two feet. As I write this on the eve of the last day of January 2011, there is yet another Winter Storm Watch in effect, the billionth this Winter.

For the first day of February, the National Weather Service predicts snow, snow and sleet, freezing rain, sleet and snow, ice, freezing rain, snow and sleet, snow, then freezing rain, in that order. That’s just Tuesday. It continues into Wednesday, Groundhog Day, with much the same result. The sole consolation is that come Imbolc morn, Flatbush Fluffy, the resident Marmota monax, will not see his shadow. Dare we dream of Spring?

Flatbush Fluffy

The groundhog, Marmota monax, also known as a woodchuck, groundhog, or whistlepig, is the largest species of marmot in the world.

Groundhog Day, celebrated on February 2, has its roots in an ancient Celtic celebration called Imbolog [Wikipedia: Imbolc]. The date is one of the four cross-quarter days of the year, the midpoints between the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstice.
NOBLE Web: Groundhog Day

The other cross-quarter days are Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain, associated with All Hallow’s eve, Halloween. The quarter days are the equinoxes and solstices, dates I also like to observe on this blog. The cross-quarter days fall between the quarter days. At the Spring equinox, day-length is at its mid-point, but the rate of change in day-length is near its peak. At Imbolc, day-length acceleration is near its peak; we are rushing toward Spring and Summer.

This is my fifth annual Groundhog Day post.This May will be the fifth anniversary of this blog. I am grateful for all the grace and privileges that have allowed me to continue doing this, and grateful for all my readers, friends, and community this endeavor has brought me over the years.

Regardless of the weather.

Related posts



Wikipedia: Imbolc

Sustainability Guidelines for NYC Parks

Panorama, Frozen Lullwater at Prospect Park at Sunset
Panorama, Frozen Lullwater at Sunset, Prospect Park

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks) recently released new sustainability guidelines for the design and maintenance of NYC’s green spaces, High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC:

High Performance Landscape Guidelines is the first document of its kind in the nation: a comprehensive, municipal design primer for sustainable parks and open space. The product of a unique partnership between the Parks Department and the Design Trust, a nonprofit organization that helped create sustainable guidelines for NYC buildings, High Performance Landscape Guidelines covers every aspect of creating sustainable parks, from design to construction to maintenance, and feature many best practices for managing soil, water, and vegetation resources.
Press Release, January 6, 2011

The Guidelines, running over 270 pages, cover site assessment; design, construction and maintenance; and soils, water and vegetation. the final section of the manual includes several case studies, including two of Brooklyn’s Parks: Calvert Vaux and Canarsie Parks.

Climate change is identified as a major factor, if not the single most important consideration, for the guidelines:

Climate change threatens the stability and longevity of New York City’s infrastructure, buildings, and parks; it also compromises the health and safety of the city’s population. Unless the growth of greenhouse gas emissions is curbed and reversed, experts predict that climate change will result in significant sea level rise, increased storm intensity and frequency, and increased temperatures.

Two factors will exacerbate the impacts of climate change in New York City: the urban heat island effect and the city’s overburdened stormwater infrastructure.

– Climate Change and 21st Century Parks, Part 1, Guidelines


Related Content

Sustainable Gardening


High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC, available as PDF (273 pages)
Parks Press Release: A New Year Launches A New Era In Great Park Design, 2011-01-06

Mulchfest 2011: Recycle Those Trees!

The giant tree shredder in action at last year’s Mulchfest at Park Circle in Prospect Park.
Park Circle Mulchfest 2010

It’s tree recycling season in New York City. Residents can have their trees recycled into mulch for the City’s parks and gardens. Note that, although recycling pickup is still suspended after the post-Christmas blizzard, you can leave trees curbside for recycling pickup.

  • Remove all lights, ornaments, tinsel and tree-stands from your tree.
  • Leave your tree unwrapped. Don’t put it in a plastic bag.
  • Leave trees curbside starting Monday, January 3 for recycling pickup, OR
  • Bring your tree 10am-2pm Saturday, January 8th or Sunday, January 9th to one of 70 locations citywide.

Residents can also pick up free mulch at designated chipping locations.

Brooklyn Locations

This year’s Mulchfest locations for Brooklyn are almost the same as last year’s. Those marked with an asterisk (*) are on-site chipping locations.


Location Address
The Amazing Garden* Columbia Street at Carroll Street Chipping
Cobble Hill Park* Verandah Place & Clinton Street Chipping
Coffey Park Dwight Street & Verona Street Drop-off only
Fort Greene Park* Washington Pk. & Willoughby Avenue Chipping
Green-Wood Cemetery 25th Street & 4th Avenue Drop-off only
Hattie Carthan Garden* Across from Von King Park: Lafayette Avenue & Clifton Place Chipping
Lincoln Terrace Park Buffalo Avenue between East New York Avenue & Eastern Parkway Drop-off only
Maria Hernandez Park Knickerbocker Avenue & Suydam Street Drop-off only
Marine Park* Avenue U & East 33rd Street Chipping
McCarren Park* Driggs Avenue & Lorimer Street Chipping
McGolrick Park Monitor Street & Driggs Avenue Drop-off only
Owl’s Head Park* Colonial Road & 68th Street Chipping
Prospect Heights Community Garden 252-256 St. Marks Avenue Drop-off only
Prospect Park* Third Street at Prospect Park West Chipping
Prospect Park Circle* Parkside Avenue & Prospect Park Southwest Chipping
Sunset Park 44th Street & 6th Avenue Drop-off only


View Brooklyn MulchFest 2011 in a larger map


Related Content

Mulchfest posts:


Mulchfest, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation
Partnerships for Parks
Prospect Park Alliance

Central Park Rabies Outbreak

This month, 23 raccoons in and around Central Park have tested positive for rabies. In addition, 11 animals tested positive during December 2009, bringing the two-month total to 34.

Animal Rabies in Central Park, 12/1/2009-1/29/2010, NYC DOH

In contrast, from 2003-2008, only one raccoon tested positive in Manhattan. In 2008, only 19 animals tested positive for all of New York City.

This increase may be the result of increased surveillance by the Health Department:

With the identification of three raccoons with rabies in Manhattan’s Central Park in recent months – two during the past week – the Health Department is cautioning New Yorkers to stay away from raccoons, skunks, bats, stray dogs and cats and other wild animals that can carry rabies. The recent cluster of findings suggests that rabies is being transmitted among raccoons in the park. The Health Department is increasing surveillance efforts to determine the extent of the problem.
– Press Release, 2009-12-07

Historically, raccoons are by far the most commonly reported animal, comprising about 3/4 of reports from 1992-2008. Raccoons are nocturnal, and should be active only at night. Anyone observing a raccoon active during the daytime, or any animal that appears disoriented, placid, or aggressive, should call 311 immediately to report the location. Animal attacks should be reported to 911.

Related Content

Rabies reminder from NYC DOH, 2009-07-21
Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures, 2008-07-08
Meta: Rabies More Popular Than Sex, 2007-03-07
News: Raccoon Tests Positive for Rabies in Manhattan, 2007-02-28


Animals Testing Positive for Rabies in New York City in 2010, year to date
Health Department Cautions New Yorkers to Avoid Wild Animals and Vaccinate Pets against Rabies, NYC DOH Pres Release, 2009-12-07
Rabies, Communicable Diseases, NYC DOH

Mulchfest 2010: NYC Recycles Trees

Updated 2009-01-05: Added a map of Brooklyn Mulchfest locations.

Park Circle Mulchfest 2009
Park Circle Mulchfest 2009

It’s tree recycling season in New York City. Residents can have their trees recycled into mulch for the City’s parks and gardens:

  • Remove all lights, ornaments, tinsel and tree-stands from your tree.
  • Leave your tree unwrapped. Don’t put it in a plastic bag.
  • Leave trees curbside from Monday, January 4, through Friday, January 15, for recycling pickup, OR
  • Bring your tree 10am-2pm Saturday, January 9th or Sunday, January 10th to one of over 80 locations citywide.

Residents can also pick up free mulch at designated chipping locations. Volunteers from Sustainable Flatbush, including your host, will be helping out at the Park Circle location of Prospect Park.


View Brooklyn MulchFest 2010 in a larger map

In addition, Brooklyn residents are invited to drop off their Christmas trees at Green-Wood Cemetery for mulching, daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Jan. 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Master composters from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden will be on hand to discuss the benefits of using wood-chip mulch. Free wood chips will be available in exchange for those who bring their trees. Sponsored by the Green-Wood Cemetery and Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Green-Wood Cemetery, Fifth Avenue, at 25th Street, Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, (718) 768-7300; free.


Related Content

Mulchfest posts


Parks: MulchFest

Parks Press Release, 2010-01-11t

The End of “Gowanus Lounge”

This morning I discovered that the domain for Gowanus Lounge had been appropriated by a commercial site. I learned this afternoon that the domain had been sold.

Gowanus Lounge had been the project of founder Robert Guskind, who died (too soon) in March of 2009. Archived content from Gowanus Lounge is now available at a new, “memorial” domain, bobguskind.com.

I’ll be updating my links to the old Gowanus Lounge site to the new domain in his name. It saddens me to have to do this, but I must, since Bob’s work is no longer available at the original domain. It’s clear to me that the new proprietor of the domain expects to garner hits through links to Bob’s old work. I refuse to support that.

How to find links

Two Google keywords let you find links from a specific domain to another:

finds links to the specified domain
limits the search to links from the specified domain

So, to find links from my blog to the old Gowanus Lounge domain, I searched this in Google:

link:gowanuslounge.com site:flatbushgardener.blogspot.com



Robert “Bob” Guskind Memorial Site
Much Ado About the Gowanus Lounge, That Greenpoint Blog, 2010-01-03

13th Annual Plant-O-Rama

2009.02.05: Added link to Ann Raver’s report.

This morning I attended part of the Metro Hort Group‘s (MHG) 13th Annual Plant-O-Rama at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Exhibitors in the Palm House at BBG at the beginning of lunch break. It got much more crowded than this.
Plant-O-Rama 2009

This was my first time attending a horticultural trade show, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. I attended as a member of the general public, interested in becoming, but not yet, a horticultural professional. I wanted to see what local resources might be available to the retail consumer. And I certainly was interested in the speakers.

I got to see Dan Hinkley, founder of the former Heronswood Nursery, and Dr. Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum, speak about newly discovered, and newly appreciated, plants coming into the horticultural pipeline.

[Begin rant]

I did not get to see Ken Druse speak. Only when I returned from lunch for his 1pm lecture was I told I could not re-enter without a “green ticket.” My admission fee did not cover the whole day, it only covered the morning. This restriction was not published anywhere, and I was not informed of this when I registered in the morning and they took my money from me. Sort of like paying for a double feature and being told to leave when the first movie finishes. So I left.

Plant-O-Rama 2009

I feel like a victim of Plant-O-Rama’s success. They were disorganized, and no-one had correct information, or any information. Volunteers were dropped into their places with no orientation. They seemed overwhelmed by the numbers attending, and clearly have outgrown the space at BBG. In future years, MHG should not return there; instead, they should find a larger venue, such as the New York Botanical Garden. And MHG needs to get their act together, regardless of the venue. Their bait-and-switch admission policy is inexcusable for an “association of … professionals.”

[End rant]

In the morning, I tried some live micro-blogging (“tweeting” via Twitter) of my attendance. It would have been more fun if there were more of us doing it. Here are some highlights of my tweets from Dan Hinkley’s presentation:

  • His recipe for Bald Eagle (just kidding!)
  • “It’s about the foliage.”
  • “It’s taken me 25 years to ‘get’ grasses.”
  • Actinidia is cat crack.

Dan focussed on the discovery of new plants in the wild and their introduction to horticulture. Also interesting to me was the perspectives he’s gained from moving from a largely shaded location to a sunny, south-facing sloping overlooking Puget Sound (Hardiness Zone 8b, most of the time). It’s there he’s developed his new-found appreciation of grasses, now that he’s been able to grow them and see them thrive in the conditions they require.

My first garden in New York City was a shaded backyard of a tenement building. It’s there that I eventually learned to appreciate the pleasures of foliage form, texture and color, without the “distraction of flowers” as Hinkley put it during his talk. Our gardens teach us, and with each new garden we add something to our appreciation of plants.

From a very different perspective, Michael Dosmann spoke of the legacy of the Arnold Arboretum, and some of the things we are still learning about seemingly familiar genera, such as Malus, Forsythia, Syringa, and Hydrangea. “Ecotype is King” might have been a subtitle for his talk. The natural origins of plants embeds itself in their genetic material, and the significance of that may takes years, or decades, to reveal itself through horticultural experience.


Plant-O-Rama 2009

Between speakers there was a brief coffee break. I went to the Rotunda of BBG’s Lab & Admin building to visit the catalog tables and browse the used gardening books on sale.

Plant-O-Rama 2009

Catalogs make me giddy, and greedy, with abundance. I will never grow all these things. But knowing they’re out there, and that there are so many people passionate about the plants they grow, makes me feel good.

Just a few of the catalogs on display. Most of these were display copies only. There were many more catalogs for the taking at other tables.
Plant-O-Rama 2009


The Palm House was packed with exhibitors. Here’s just a sampling of what, and who, was there. Some of these interested me because of specific projects I have in mind. Others just caught my eye.

Seeds of native plants on display from the Greenbelt Native Plant Center. I have a few plants of local ecotypes propagated by them.
Plant-O-Rama 2009

Hamptons Grass & Bamboo. I really want a Fargesia for the shady, northern side of the house, perhaps alongside a rain garden.
Hamptons Grass & Bamboo

Glover Perennials. A local grower, I’m familiar with them from buying their plants retail at places such as Gowanus Nursery.
Glover Perennials

Couple of glam shots.

Black Meadow Orchids
Black Meadow Orchids

Otto Keil Florists. The mother plant looked to me like a Sempervivum, but I’ve never seen a flower like this on one of them.
Otto Keil Florists

Related Content

#plantorama Twitter stream
Flickr photo set


Metro Hort Group (MHG)
Plant-O-Rama (on BBG Web site)
Brooklyn Botanic Garden

New This Year: The Tried and True, Ann Raver, New York Times, 2009.02.04

Save the Baltic Street Community Garden in Park Slope

Tomorrow night, Thursday, January 22, is an important meeting at MS 821, 4004 4th Avenue, btw 39th & 40th Streets, 7-9 p.m. This meeting is for the general public and concerned parties to share information and opinions about the proposed new school bldg at PS 133 where the Baltic St Garden is located.
– email, Julie Claire, Baltic Street Garden

You may not know the Baltic Street Garden [GMAP] by name, but many of us have travelled past it at high speed. Here’s an exterior view, from 4th Avenue and Baltic Street.
Baltic Street Community Garden

During the summer, the huge, two-story tall and wide, brilliant orange-flowering Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans, is its own 50mph garden (a garden that can be seen while driving past it at 50mph).
Baltic Street Community Garden

This garden was on the first 2008 Green With Envy tour, organized by the Brooklyn Community Gardeners Coalition (BCGC). At last Saturday’s BCGC meeting, we learned that the Garden is threatened by plans to build a new school on the site. Several plots have already been destroyed without warning by drilling equipment for soil sampling to determine the precise location of a new school building.

The Baltic Street Garden was a pioneer garden in Park Slope. According to Jon Crow, co-chair of BCGC:

This was the pioneer garden in Park Slope, originally located on the site where the Key Food now stands [on 5th Avenue]. I believe the garden was recreated around 1980 in its current location.

This garden predated and inspired the creation of many other gardens in the area. This is not just an active, thriving garden. It’s part of the history of the community gardening movement in Park Slope and Brooklyn.

Baltic Street Community Garden

It is a public meeting open to all, and we will probably have a chance to speak. [Rosemary Stuart, superintendent of District 15] was not sure exactly how it would be run, but the Board of Ed will be there along with the School Construction Authority, and anyone else who would like to attend. Please come if at all possible, so we can show them we care about preserving our present garden or creating a new garden space within the new school design.

There may or may not be a sign in sheet for people who wish to speak. I plan on speaking for sure, and if you would like to, look for a speaker sign in sheet at the entrance.

Baltic Street Community Garden

Related Content

Baltic Street Community Garden, Park Slope, Green With Envy Tour, I.6
My Flickr photo set of this garden

Winter Wonderland

The south side of Albemarle Road looking east from Rugby Road around 10am this morning.
Albemarle Road, south side, looking east from Rugby Road

After shoveling and de-icing the steps and sidewalk this morning, I walked over to the landmarked Prospect Park South Historic District for the photo op. I’m glad I did. I was rewarded with these beautiful, snowy images.

I concentrated on Albemarle Road as part of my research into the history of its design and documentation of the current landscape for my Urban Garden Design class at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Somebody has to do it.

Looking toward the northwest corner of Albemarle and Rugby Roads
Albemarle and Rugby Roads, Northwest corner

Albemarle Road, South side, looking west from Buckingham Road. Behind the chain link fence on the left lies the Flatbush CommUNITY Garden.
Albemarle Road, South side, looking west from Buckingham Road


The border of Prospect Park South is delineated by these brick posts surmounted with concrete planters. The street labels have been replaced at least once, having been weathered to near-illegibility from a century of exposure. The monogram is “PPS”: Prospect Park South.
Gatepost, Beverly and Westminster Roads

Some of Brooklyn’s famous parrots were flocked high up in the top of this snowy American Elm tree on Albemarle Road. There are three parrots in this cropped image. If I were to produce an invasive species calendar, this would be a good image for it.
Brooklyn Parrots in Snowy American Elm

Oak Leaves
Oak Leaves

Holly, Flatbush Malls, Albemarle Road

Branches, Flatbush Malls, Albemarle Road
Branches, Flatbush Malls, Albemarle Road

Lantern, 131 Buckingham Road, “The Japanese House”
Lantern, 131 Buckingham Road


1203 Albemarle Road
1203 Albemarle Road

1305 Albemarle Road
1305 Albemarle Road

1406 Albemarle Road / 135 Rugby Road, Prospect Park South, Flatbush, Brooklyn
135 Rugby Road / 1406 Albemarle Road
1406 Albemarle Road / 135 Rugby Road

1505 Albemarle Road
1505 Albemarle Road

1510 Albemarle Road
1510 Albemarle Road

143 Buckingham Road
143 Buckingham Road

131 Buckingham Road
131 Buckingham Road

Related Content

Flickr photo set