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

Dividing Ornamental Grasses

As we approach the Second Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap, I’m hoping to post some tips on how to divide perennials to bring to the event. Now is the time to do it, as foliage has just emerged, plants are actively growing, and most will recover quickly from any perceived insult of being lifted out of the ground and ripped into pieces.

I have to do with this with perennials in my gardens, so I’ll use them as examples. Today I divided one of my larger grasses.

This is a three-year old clump of Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’, a cultivar of our native switchgrass I ordered from Plant Delights in Spring of 2008. Two weeks ago, I cut back all the dead foliage from last year, leaving the stubble you see here. The clump is roughly a foot in diameter. This is ready to be divided.
How to divide an ornamental grass

One way to divide is to slice into the plant while it’s still in the ground with a garden spade, taking out slices as if it were a cake. I’ll use that technique on some of my Hemerocallis, Daylilies. Today, I chose to lift the entire clump out of the ground to separate it using two garden forks. This also made it easier to photograph to demonstrate the technique.

Clumping grasses like Panicum often have deep roots, contributing to their general drought-tolerance. To keep enough of the roots, first cut straight down with a deep-bladed garden spade, all around the perimeter of the clump.
How to divide an ornamental grass

With the perimeter cut, slice beneath the clump to sever the deeper roots. This took a bit of work until I was able to loosen the clump and fork it out of the ground.
How to divide an ornamental grass

Here’s the intact clump, viewed from the side and from above, set on a tarp for division. Note how deep and dense the roots are, even after severing them with the spade.
How to divide an ornamental grassHow to divide an ornamental grass

Next take two garden forks. (If you don’t have two forks you could divide the clump with the garden spade at this point.) Place the heads back-to-back, with the handles slightly offset from each other, and drive them down their full length into the center of clump. Note that both heads go straight down, and the handles are splayed out from each other. That provides the leverage you need to separate the clump.
How to divide an ornamental grassHow to divide an ornamental grass

Keeping the tops of the fork heads against each other as a pivot, push the handles toward each other. You’re using the forks as levers to spread and break apart the clump. Push from both sides. If that’s awkward, try standing with one fork toward you, the other away, then push the closer fork away while pulling the further fork toward you. Watch your fingers! When the clump gives, it will release quickly, bringing the handles – and your knuckles – together. Gloves help! Once it gives, simply tease the two halves apart to complete the separation.
How to divide an ornamental grassHow to divide an ornamental grass

It looks like mitosis!

With a large clump like this, I repeated the same process on each of the two halves. I was then able to break apart the four quarters into smaller pieces by hand, giving me a dozen generously sized clumps to replant in my garden and share at the Plant Swap. Some of them will also go to the new native plant gardens for the Flatbush Reform Church communal garden, another project of Sustainable Flatbush.
How to divide an ornamental grass



Related Content

Second Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap
Flickr photo set
Other How-to posts

Second Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap

Do you have extra seed-starts? Leftovers from dividing perennials? No place for that shrub you just dug out? Bring them to the Second Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap on Saturday, April 16. No plants? No problem: everyone can bring home a plant, even if you have none of your own to swap. And it’s a great way to meet other local gardeners, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.

Plant Swap 2011

Sponsored by Sustainable Flatbush and the Flatbush Food Coop, the First Annual was, coincidentally, just last year. It was a great success, especially for an inaugural event: we distributed over 330 plants. Let’s see if we can distribute even more this year!

When: Saturday, April 16, noon to 3pm
Where: Flatbush Food Coop, 1415 Cortelyou Road, at Marlborough Road


Related Content

The First Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap, 2010


Flatbush Plant Swap, April 16th, Sustainable Flatbush
Flatbush Food Coop

NYC Wildflower Week, 5/1-5/9

The Native Flora Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, May 2009. This was the first garden constructed after BBG was established on the site of a municipal ash dump 100 years ago, and the first public garden devoted to native plants. Next Wednesday’s tour of this garden with Uli Lorimer, curator of BBG’s Native Flora Garden and an instructor in their Certificate in Horticulture program, is one of over 45 FREE events in all – available during NYC Wildflower Week.
Native Flora Garden

NYC Wildflower Week kicks off Saturday 5/1. This is the third year for the event, and it’s bigger and better than ever. There are events all over the city, including tours of locations otherwise closed to the public. I’m looking forward to visiting, for the first time, the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island, “the only municipal native plant nursery in the country.”

You can get all the details at the official, extensive, NYCWW Web site, or at the Parks Department event page:

From Friday, May 1, to Saturday, May 9, we’re celebrating the hundreds of native flowers, trees, shrubs and grasses in the Big Apple. Take advantage of the spring weather, and come out for a week of environmental learning, with free activities, walks, and talks galore.

I’m proud that this year, for the first time, I’ve been invited to participate in an official capacity. This Saturday morning, May 1, I’ll be on-hand at the information booth at Union Square to help answer questions and provide information about native plants.

A male Agapostemon, Green Metallic Bee, on a native perennial Helianthus, Sunflower, in my backyard native plant garden. Native plants provide vital habitat – food, forage, and shelter – for this and the rest of the more than 250 of bees native to NYC.
Agapostemon sp., Metallic Green Bee, Jade Bee

What can you do to help preserve NYC’s native plants?

Take a walk.
Head outdoors with a field guide and a friend to learn about the botanical jewels in your neck of the woods. Preservation comes to those places that are loved by people.

Ride with the masses.
Whenever possible, take mass transit. Let your legislators know how you travel. New roadways promote sprawl and destroy and degrade habitat. If this money were instead used to bolster mass transit, we could conserve oil, preserve biodiversity and decrease sprawl.

No picking.
Removing native plants from the wild depletes natural populations. Never take plants from parks or other open spaces. An exemption – if a site were slated for development, then the plants should be rescued and moved to another site, but ONLY if you were absolutely certain that the plants would otherwise be destroyed.

Be civically active.
Development is the cause of native plant destruction. Make note of open space slated for a strip mall or housing complex or active recreation area (because even settings like ball fields and golf courses eat up natural habitats). Attend community board meetings. Voice your dissent. Open space allows for passive recreation, like plant hunting, birding and hiking. Such activities nurture the naturalist in all of us.

Preserve open space.
Work to save our natural areas. Become a member of a local land trust or conservancy devoted to preserving open space and natural resources. If one doesn’t exist, consider starting your own.

Join a botanical society.
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut all have native plant societies. These groups lead tours through local fields and forests and always welcome new plant people. See our Resources page to learn more.

Compost with care.
Most homeowners believe it is environmentally responsible to pile lawn refuse (grass clippings, leaves, twigs) in adjacent open areas. Don’t. By dumping garden waste in woods or at property edge, you may be inadvertently overwhelming critical habitat for plants and animals!

Lay off the herbicide.
Is it really that important to have a “weed free” yard? The struggle for pristine green carpet (aka lawn) is a struggle against nature itself. Herbicides kill the native plants on and around your property. Instead, keep turf to a minimum, and maximize color, richness and beauty with native plant gardens.

Legal protection for plants.
New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut all have something in common – none of these states have laws safeguarding native flora. Moreover, they have no legal protections for rare plants. An undeveloped lot chuck-full of uncommon and unique vegetation is not legally viewed as special. This site is just as likely to be built upon as a lot full of crummy weeds. This happens even at the Federal level, where most of the money from the Endangered Species Act goes towards animal protection. Let your legislators know that your flora should have rights. Flower power!

Why Wildflowers?, NYC Wildflower Week

Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens, BBG Native Flora Garden, May 2009
Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens

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Native Plants


NYC Wildflower Week

Web site
Facebook Fan Page
Twitter stream


Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Greenbelt Native Plant Center
Torrey Botanical Society

The Plight of NYC’s Native Flora

Local ecotypes – propagated from local sources by the Staten Island Greenbelt – for sale by Oak Grove Farms (now Nature’s Healing Farm) at the Union Square Greenmarket during the first annual NYC Wildflower Week in 2008. I bought one of each; two years later, all are thriving in my backyard native plant garden.
Native Plants at Oak Grove Farms

Earlier this week, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden issued a press release summarizing findings from 20 years of research through their New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF). The results are not surprising, but disheartening nevertheless:

At least 50 varieties of native plants are locally extinct or nearing elimination, say project scientists. Nuttall’s mudflower (Micranthemum micranthemoides), last collected from the region in 1918, is likely extinct throughout its former range. Scarlet Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), pennywort (Obolaria virginica), sidebells wintergreen (Orthilia secunda), and sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) are among the wildflower species to have seriously declined in the region. Black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) is locally extinct, without a trace of a population remaining today in the New York City metropolitan area.
– Some Plants Native to NYC Area Have Become Locally Extinct As New Flora Has Moved In, Finds Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Press Release, 2010-04-05

The story has been widely covered in blogs and other media, including New York Times Science. I’ve included the complete press release below for reference.

I first wrote about NYMF in June of 2006, shortly after I launched this blog, four years ago next month. I’ve written about native plants countless times (see: , ). I have a lifelong interest in the nature around me, especially that which is right around me, where I live. Learning about and understanding the ecosystems where I live is part of finding my place in the world. I come to feel this connection deeply. Without it, my life is impoverished, and I am lost.

The greatest threat to native plants, and the ecosystems they support, is habitat loss. The second is competition and displacement, and further habitat loss, from invasive species, whether they be insects, infectious organisms, or other plants. Roughly half of invasive plant species were deliberately introduced, through agriculture, for civil engineering purposes such as erosion control, and for horticultural purposes.

Some plants native to the region, like Britton’s violet (Viola brittoniana), are now rare in their natural habitats but thrive when brought into cultivation in the metropolitan area. Some non-native cultivated plants, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), can escape from cultivated landscapes and overrun natural areas, where they thrive and spread, crowding out more fragile plants.

Choices we make as gardeners affect the future of regional and local biodiversity. I’ve chosen to gradually transform the dust bowl that was our backyard when we moved into our home in the Spring of 2005:

Backyard, view away from garage

into a native plant garden:

After transplant
Wildflowers near the Gardener's Nook
Native Shrubs and Wildflowers

I’ve been rewarded with visits from dozens of other natives: bees and other pollinators, birds, even raccoons and opposums. (I still long for some native reptiles!) Although our local biodiversity is threatened, it is far from lost. If only we create a home for it, it can still find us.

The place name “Flatbush” originates with the old Dutch “vlacke bos”: the wooded plain. As I continue the transformation of this garden – this guided succession from dusty, barren wasteland to a small patch of forest – I am reconnecting with the genius loci, the spirit of the place. In this process, my spirit also finds a place, a home, in the woods I recreate.

Press Release

Brooklyn, NY — Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) announces findings from the most comprehensive study of plant biodiversity ever undertaken in the metropolitan New York area.

New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF) data, gathered over the course of the last 20 years, provide the first hard evidence of how native species are faring—and how non-native species are spreading—in counties within a 50-mile radius of New York City. The area of study includes all of Long Island, southeastern New York State, northern New Jersey, and Fairfield County, Connecticut.

While much of the botanical science community concentrates on researching and tracking the threats to biodiversity in the tropics, scientists at BBG have chosen to undertake an unprecedented study of their own region.

At least 50 varieties of native plants are locally extinct or nearing elimination, say project scientists. Nuttall’s mudflower (Micranthemum micranthemoides), last collected from the region in 1918, is likely extinct throughout its former range. Scarlet Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), pennywort (Obolaria virginica), sidebells wintergreen (Orthilia secunda), and sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) are among the wildflower species to have seriously declined in the region. Black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) is locally extinct, without a trace of a population remaining today in the New York City metropolitan area.

“In many areas, the snapshot this report provides is startlingly different from the printed maps, plant manuals, and landscape shots of just 40 years ago,” says Dr. Gerry Moore, director of Science at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and coordinator of the New York Metropolitan Flora Project. “A number of invasive species introduced from distant areas that have climates similar to ours—such as parts of Asia, Europe, and the southeastern United States—are newly thriving in the New York City area. For example, camphor weed, native to the southern United States, is common in Brooklyn now; however, at the time of the Garden’s founding a century ago, it was considered to be quite rare.”

Offering a precise map of as many as 3,000 plant species, the NYMF project findings are vital reference points for those involved in environmental efforts like conserving rare plants, planning parks and greenways, repairing degraded habitats, and designing home gardens.

Although agencies and municipalities may wish to restore native species to particular habitats, the NYMF findings suggest that some native species can no longer survive in their native region. “How do you, say, restore the flora original to a coastline, when you know that the sea level is rising each year?” asks Dr. Moore.

Some plants native to the region, like Britton’s violet (Viola brittoniana), are now rare in their natural habitats but thrive when brought into cultivation in the metropolitan area. Some non-native cultivated plants, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), can escape from cultivated landscapes and overrun natural areas, where they thrive and spread, crowding out more fragile plants. Efforts are now underway to better recognize and manage for invasive plant species, which can be particularly disruptive when introduced to a new habitat due to the absence of the insects, diseases, and animals that naturally keep its population in check in its native region.

Dr. Moore notes that changes to plant biodiversity also affect insect and animal life, as well as other aspects of the local ecosystem.

The mapping phase of the NYMF project is now concluding, and steps are underway to create manuals in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service.

“The NYMF project is a model, not only for gathering data over time, but for applying that data in a precise and visually-oriented way,” says Scot Medbury, president of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, who notes that data from the research project will be shared with Federal and State governments, as well as the New York Flora Atlas, published in partnership with the state’s Biodiversity Research Institute. “Studying the vegetation changes in highly populated areas is critical to understanding the future of biodiversity in our rapidly urbanizing world,” Medbury notes.

The study of native plants has long been a core mission at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which celebrates its centennial this year. In BBG’s early years, botanist Norman Taylor intensively studied local flora by walking nearly 2,000 miles over Long Island, mapping locations of plant families. Taylor then published a book on flora of the region, providing as clear a picture as was possible at the time of the state of native flora.

Today, many new plants are present in the area. Some have been intentionally cultivated, while others have moved here inadvertently: brought in with soil, animals or people. “NYMF has identified entire plant communities that would have been unknown to Norman Taylor and his colleagues a hundred years ago,” says Medbury.


Related Content

Local ecotypes available from Oak Grove Farms, 2008-05-11
Growing a Native Plant Garden in a Flatbush Backyard, 2007-08-06
Web Resource: New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF), 2006-06-02


Some Plants Native to NYC Area Have Become Locally Extinct As New Flora Has Moved In, Press Release, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2010-04-05

Go Native, BBG

Staten Island Greenbelt
Nature’s Healing Farm (previously Oak Grove Farms)
NYC Wildflower Week
Natural Resources Group, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation
Torrey Botanical Society

After a 20-Year Mapping Effort, Hoping to Save Dozens of Native Plants, New York Times, 2010-04-02

The Fallen

The Fallen

Due to circumstance and inclination, my three decades of urban gardening have been devoted to mostly ornamental private gardens. I have dabbled in the occasional strawberry jar potted up with herbs (successful) and sweet corn in container (wretched). Nevertheless, most of my experience is with perennials and bulbs.

I label my plants. Rather, I label where I plant them. This is most helpful in the off seasons, to dissuade me from scanning some patch of deceivingly barren soil and imagining all the new plants I could acquire to populate it.

In the first garden, in the East Village, I carefully labeled all the little bulbs and plants with plastic labels. The white plastic contrasted strongly with the dark earth. This led one visitor to describe it as a “plant cemetery.”

I’ve since graduated to aluminum labels. They are durable, erasable and reusable. Perhaps most important, less conspicuous. I’ve also gotten into the habit of scribing the provenance onto the back of the label: the year, and usually also the source from which I purchased the plant.

Nevertheless, they sometimes still serve as markers for those plants that have passed on. This is so common that gardeners have a euphemism for it: “adventurous.” I am an adventurous gardener, in that I will plant things I’ve never grown before, perhaps never ever heard of before reading about it or spying it in some nursery and “rescuing” it.

Here then is a sampling of The Fallen, transcribed from markers I’ve found in different stashes, collecting dust with years-old seed packets, rusting pruners, and forgotten catalogs.

  • Adiantum pedatum, Maidenhair Fern, Gowanus Nursery, Spring 2008
  • Alchemilla epipsila, Shady Oaks, Summer 1996
  • Aquilegia, Columbine, Shepherd’s Seeds, Spring 1994
  • Ascepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, Southern Exposure Nursery, July 2007
  • Begonia grandis alba, Shady Oaks, Summer 1996
  • Crocus ‘Skyline’, Scheepers, Fall 1998
  • Crocus ‘Taplow Ruby’, Fall 1994
  • Delphinium, Blackmore & Langdon Strain, 1993
  • Gentiana dahurica, Shady Oaks, Summer 1996
  • Hosta nigrescens, Carroll Gardens, July 2003
  • Iris siberica ‘Blue Moon’, Nicoll’s, Fall 1994
  • Iris siberica ‘Butter & Sugar’, White Flower Farm, Spring 1998
  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, 1993

The Fallen

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NYC Garden #1, The East Village, the 1980s: The Shade Garden

Study Guide for BBG Plant ID Class

Clerodendrum bungei Steud., Rose Glory Bower
Clerodendrum bungei

This Wednesday I take the final for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Herbaceous Landscape Plant Identification class. [Spelling counts! So please let me know of any typos.] Thursday, I start Urban Garden Maintenance, the last of the eight classes I need for my Certificate in Urban Horticulture from BBG. I started the program in Winter 2008. This is the home stretch; I can’t believe I’m almost done with it.

Unlike the “woodies” class, I already knew most of the plants introduced in the class over the past five weeks. Either I’ve grown them myself sometime over my 30 years of gardening in NYC, or I’ve researched and studied them. However, there have been several, such as the interesting Clerodendrum above, which I’ve never even heard of, or never knew the names of.

This post is the index to my photographic study guide. Plant names are listed by week, in alphabetical order by botanical name within each week. Botanical names are given, corrected for typos, as they were introduced in the class; that’s what we’ll be tested on for the final this Wednesday evening. Plant names are linked to my Flickr Set, where I have one. You can also browse my Flickr Collection for this class, where all the plants are listed by botanical name.

Week 1, 2009.07.22

Callirhoe involucrata, Purple Poppy-Mallow
Callirhoe involucrata, Poppy Mallow


Omitted (these will not be included on the final):

  • Aquilegia canadensis, Columbine. This grows as a Spring ephemeral in our region; none were available to observe at this late date.
  • Geranium macrorrhizum, Bigroot Geranium. Omitted primarily for time constraints; also, it was out of bloom by this time of the year. Too bad, since it’s a handsome plant, and there are lots of them around the grounds of BBG.

Week 2, 2009-07-29

We got 11 plants this week to make up for being two short the previous week.

Week 3, 2009-08-05

Week 4, 2009-08-12

This was the only themed week of the class, consisting solely of grasses, ferns and fern allies.

Pennisetum alopecuroides, Fountain Grass
Pennisetum alopecuroides, Fountain Grass

Week 5, 2009-08-19

The last class before the in-class final.

Angelica gigas, Purple Angelica
Angelica gigas

Endangered Plants in New York State

In observance of Endangered Species Day, here is a list of just some of the plants listed as endangered in New York state. Note that plants endangered in one state may not be listed in another.

  • Aconitum noveboracense, Northern wild Monkshood
  • Agalinis acuta, sandplain Gerardia
  • Amaranthus pumilus, seabeach Amaranth
  • Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum, Hart’s-tongue fern
  • Helonias bullata swamp Pink
  • Isotria medeoloides,small whorled Pogonia
  • Platanthera leucophaea, eastern prairie fringed Orchid
  • Schwalbea americana, American Chaffseed
  • Scirpus ancistrochaetus, Northeastern Bulrush
  • Sedum integrifolium ssp. leedyi, Leedy’s roseroot
  • Solidago houghtonii, Houghton’s goldenrod


Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State:

The Native Flora Garden

See also The Osborne Garden and The Bluebell Wood.

For the past four years I’ve been cultivating my backyard native plant garden. I’ve been adding compost and mulching with leaves and shredded Christmas trees, as much as I can get of all of it. I’m not yet able to grow The Precious (below), but I’m learning in Soil Management class that what I’ve been doing is just what’s needed to develop the humusy, woodland soil it requires. Someday, I’ll have some in my garden (obtained, of course, only from a conservation-oriented source such as the Vermont Ladyslipper Company). Meanwhile I can enjoy them in BBG’s Native Flora Garden.

Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens, Yellow Lady-Slipper
Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens

I find the native Lady-Slipper orchids achingly beautiful. They seem more to float than to be held up by their slender stems. Maybe they would seem less fantastic if they were more common, spreading like dandelions, and less specialized in their environmental requirements. Maybe, but not by much.

There are other beauties in bloom right now. The early Spring wildflowers have been replaced by the regime of those which bloom in late Spring, and even early Summer. Geranium maculatum is one example of something I associate more with Summer than Spring. It is, in some settings I’ve seen, a common wildflower. But I covet it for my own garden nonetheless.

Geranium maculatum
Geranium maculatum
Geranium maculatum

Some of the Spring ephemerals are already entering senescence. Here’s Dicentra cucullaria Dutchman’s Breeches, as it appeared Tuesday afternoon in one part of the Garden. Contrast that with how it appeared just three weeks ago in a different location.

Dicentra cucullaria, Tuesday afternoon
Ephemerizing Dicentra cucullaria

Dicentra cucullaria, three weeks earlier
Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman's Breeches

Spring ephemeral describes a life habit of perennial woodland wildflowers which develop aerial parts (i.e. stems, leaves, and flowers) of the plant early each spring and then quickly bloom, go to seed and then quickly die back to its underground parts (i.e. roots, rhizomes, and bulbs) for the remainder of the year. This strategy is very common in herbaceous communities of deciduous forests as it allows small herbaceous plants to take advantage of the high amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor prior to the leaf-out of woody plants.
Wikipedia: Ephemeral plant

It’s interesting that Wikipedia lists Dicentra eximia among the Spring ephemerals. It’s still going strong at BBG. My experience is that it blooms for months, and lasts at least through the summer, barring drought. This is one of the things that makes it an excellent performer in the garden.

Tuesday afternoon, near the Bog habitat
Dicentra eximia

Interspersed with Dodecathon meadia in the Serpentine Rock habitat
Serpentine Rock Area

Three weeks ago
Dicentra eximia, Eastern Bleeding-Heart

The march of the Rhododendron in the Osborne Garden continues into the Native Flora Garden, more evidence that early Summer is replacing late Spring.

Native Flora Garden

Rhododendron prinophyllum, Rosebud Azalea
Rhododendron prinophyllum

Rhododendron periclymenoides, Pinkster Azalea
Rhododendron periclymenoides, Pinkster Azalea

Two purple beauties from the Pine Barrens habitat, something which I would only be able to recreate in container in my garden.

Viola brittoniana, Coast Violet
Viola brittoniana, Coast Violet

Lupinus perennis, Sundial Lupine
Lupinus perennis, Sundial Lupine


Related Content

Native Flora Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2009-04-27
Native Flora Garden, BBG, 2008-04-18

Photos from Tuesday (Flickr photo set)
All my photos (Flickr collection)

More on native plants

Wildflower Week in NYC, 5/1 through 5/9, 2009-04-29
Growing a Native Plant Garden in a Flatbush Backyard, 2007-08-06
Resources: Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, 2007-05-22
Native Plant profile: Dicentra eximia, Bleeding-heart, 2006-05-22
Notes from a visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Late July 2005


Native Flora Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Wildflowers in a Flatbush Backyard

Last week was NYC Wildflower Week. Appropriately, here are some wildflowers blooming over the past week in my backyard native plant garden.

Wildflowers blooming near the gardener’s nook in my backyard for last May’s Garden Blogging Bloom Day.
Part of the Native Plant Garden

  • Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Columbine
  • Chrysogonum virginianum ‘Allen Bush’, Green-and-Gold
  • Dicentra eximia ‘Aurora’, White-flowering Eastern Bleeding-Heart, Turkey Corn
  • Iris cristata, Crested Iris
  • Phlox stolonifera
  • Viola striata
  • Zizia aurea, Golden Alexanders
  • Brunnera macrophylla, Large-leaf Brunnera, Siberian Bugloss

Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine

Somehow, I have no photos of this from my garden in Flickr. Yet it’s been a favorite of mine for decades.

Native range is eastern North America. Widespread in New York state. Native to all five boroughs of NYC.

Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine, 2006-05-31


Chrysogonum virginianum ‘Allen Bush’, Green-and-Gold

Chrysogonum virginianum

A great groundcover for partial shade. Several cultivars are available. To my eye, all vary only slightly from the species, though I haven’t grown them side-by-side.

Individual flowers look like shaggy sunflowers.

Chrysogonum virginianum

Native range is Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States. Native to only one New York upstate county. Not native to NYC.


Dicentra eximia ‘Aurora’, Eastern Bleeding-Heart, Turkey Corn

Dicentra eximia 'Aurora'

A white-flowering cultivar of the native Eastern Bleeding Heart. Not every white-flowering form of a plant is successful. This is one that is equally lovely as the species, bringing its own graces to the structure of the inflorescence and individual flowers. Also a good choice for the shady white garden.

This plant is maybe three years old now. Not only has the original plant spread in size each year, this Spring I’ve noticed little seedlings cropping up around the mother plant. I’ll be curious to see how these develop, and what the flower color wil be in the children.

Dicentra eximia, Bleeding-heart, 2006-05-22
Dicentra eximia, Eastern bleeding-heart (Flickr photo set)


Iris cristata, Crested Iris

Iris cristata

Really beautiful, if a bit of a finicky grower. It seems to be at its best when grown on a slight slope with ample mulch. The stems trail through the mulch, the fans oriented down-slope. Sulks during the summer. Needs consistent moisture during the hot summer months and good drainage during the winter or it will disappear. Where it’s happy, it makes a great groundcover.

Native to Mid-Atlantic and interior Eastern United States, but not New York.


Phlox stolonifera, Creeping Phlox

Phlox stolonifera

One of the best wildflower ground covers you can grow in the garden. In the trade, you’re more likely to find cultivars selected for flower color – such as ‘Bruce’s White’ and ‘Sherwood Purple’ – rather than the unqualified species. They all seem equally fine to me. (Mine is also a cultivar, but its name escapes me at the moment.) The flowers are usually fragrant, reminiscent of grape jelly.

Native range is most of Eastern United States, but only found in two upstate New York counties, not NYC.


Viola striata, Pale Violet, Striped Cream Violet

Viola striata

The “oldest” plant in this post, this population came from my second city garden on 5th Street in Park Slope. The original plants were given to me 8-10 years ago by a gay couple who lived across the street. They have a beautiful shady backyard garden growing many wildflowers collected from their home in upstate New York.

Native to Eastern North America. Native to several counties in New York, but not NYC.


Zizia aurea, Golden Alexanders

Zizea aurea

This plant is a recent discovery for me. I had never heard of it before picking it up from Gowanus Nursery last Spring. Now I see it all over the place, and it’s a fine groundcover. You can’t see it in this photo, but the foliage is also handsome.

Native to NYC, but not Brooklyn.


Brunnera macrophylla, Large-leaf Brunnera, Siberian Bugloss

Brunnera macrophylla

Okay, Brunnera is not a native wildflower on this continent – it’s native range is Eastern Europe – but it is blooming in the backyard and it’s so pretty I had to take a picture of it. This plant is a refugee from the sideyard of Frank, a neighbor, professional gardener and fellow garden blogger at New York City Garden.



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Growing a Native Plant Garden in a Flatbush Backyard, August 6, 2007