Update 2014-11-23:

  • Completed Step #4 today, nearly injuring myself in the exertion. Did I mention that established grasses have deep and extensive roots?
  • Also completed Step #5, replacing the Panicum.
  • Added Step #9. I’d overlooked this shrub, and need to find a place where it can be featured, while still kept in bounds with the garden. I think where the Aronia once stood, a transplant I did in the Spring of this year.

Update 2014-11-10:

  • I’m taking photos as the work progresses. See Before and After below.
  • Reordered based on the progress I’m making. Because the Rhododendron is shallow-rooted, I decided to leave that until the last weekend before Thanksgiving, when I’ll visit my sister and deliver her plants.

It’s a long weekend for me. The weather favors gardening.

I’ve got seven shrubs – and one or two mature perennials – to plant, transplant, and move out. Here’s the plan.

  1. I’m moving Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’ moving from the backyard, by the Gardener’s Nook, to the front-yard. In the winter this will look great against the red brick of the front porch.
  2. Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ moves from being lost beneath the Viburnum and Amelanchier to the nook, to highlight its foliage.
  3. A now-gigantic Hydrangea also came with the house. I’m moving that, as well, to my sister’s. It has to be cut back hard, so we’ll see if it survives.
  4. Next to the driveway, a large specimen of Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ flops and blocks passage. I’m moving that to replace the Hydrangea. That spot needs height, and it can flop a little without getting out of hand. A second, smaller specimen of the Panicum is also going to my sister, to replace an ornamental grass she had in the front yard that died on her.
  5. I purchased Prunus maritima, beach plum, at this Spring’s Pinelands Preservation Alliance Native Plant Sale. This will replace the Panicum in the bed along the driveway. This will be easy to prune upright to prevent any obstruction.
  6. I purchased Rosa virginiana from Catksill Native Nursery four years ago. I’ve been growing it in container, and it’s never been happy about it; it’s never bloomed. I’m planting that in the bed next to the new location of the Panicum. It’s going in beneath a window, which I hope will dissuade burglars.

    Catskill Native Nursery
    Panorama: Catskill Native Nursery

  7. A no-name white-flowering Rhododendron came with the house. This has grown wild and rangy, and it’s large leaves are out of scale with the backyard, which is “only” 30’x30′. That’s large for an urban garden, but small for a large-leaved rhodie. I’ll move this to the woods of my sister’s place in New Jersey.
  8. I purchased a Kalmia, mountain laurel, also from the Pinelands Alliance Plant Sale and still in container. This will go where the Rhododendron is. Its finer leaf texture better fits the scale of the backyard than the rhodie.
  9. Somewhere still I need to find a place for Rhododendron periclymenoides, also purchased at the Pinelands sale. Since I saw this on a NYC Wildflwoer Week hike through Staten Island’s High Rock Park, I knew it would work beautifully in my garden. Just not quite sure where yet …

Before and After

The Gardener’s Nook, before transplant
The Gardener's Nook, pre-shrub transplant, November 2014

The Gardener’s Nook, after transplant
Fothergilla 'Mount Airy' newly planted in the Gardener's Nook, November 2014

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Flickr photo set


Viburnum dentatum, Arrowwood

When we moved to our new home in Flatbush four years ago, my garden moved with me. Rather, the plants from my garden. All were planted hurriedly, with the intent of moving them “later in the season.” In some cases, “later” has become four years later. Case in point: Viburnum dentatum, Southern Arrowwood. (Some botanists recognize a separate species, V. recognitum, Northern Arrowwood, for variants with smooth twigs.)

Viburnum dentatum, before transplant

Very handsome, but not what I thought I had acquired. This individual was supposed to be V. dentatum ‘Christom’ (Blue Muffin®), a dwarf cultivar reaching 4-5 feet in height and 3-4 feet in breadth. (The species is highly variable, height can range from 3 feet up to a maximum of 15 feet.) It’s now over 6-1/2 feet high and has extended across the narrow concrete path at its feet. So I can be forgiven some poor planning on my part that the plant has far exceeded its expected bounds.

I needed to move it from this location because it was blocking the path. However, in this location it was doing an excellent job of screening some “necessaries”: cans and bins for garbage, recycling, and composting. And that suggested I could solve two problems at once by transplanting it to the backyard to screen the gardener’s nook from the street.

Folks walking by on the sidewalk get a straight view into this corner of the backyard. I want this to be an intimate, sheltered location.
View to gardener's corner

When I did the garden design for my backyard, I doubled the depth of the bed along the north edge of the property, visible on the left of the photo above and the plan below.
Final rendering, backyard garden design

Earlier this season, I executed that part of the plan. On the right, the gardener’s nook is located where the deck will extend to accommodate a bench, as shown on the upper left of the plan above.
Gardener's corner

I transplanted the Viburnum to roughly the location indicated by the shrub marked “L” in the plan. I had specified Lindera benzoin, which I don’t have, for that location, but the Arrowwood should do as well there. You can see that it does a great job of screening the view, even though it hasn’t fully leafed out yet. During the summer, the nook will now be completely shielded from the street.
View to gardener's corner, after transplant

It also dramatically changes the character of the space. Compare these before and after shots. The backyard now has a sense of enclosure it didn’t have before, even within the parts of the backyard that are not visible from the street. This validates a key strategy of the design: enclosing the space with shrubs to create the feeling of being in a woodland garden.

Before transplant, lateral view

After transplant

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Viburnum dentatum

Connecticut Botanical Society

V. dentatum ‘Christom’


Woodland Garden Design Plant List

Over the weekend, my Twitter stream reflected the progress I was making on my final class project for the Urban Garden Design class with Nigel Rollings at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Despite battling a wicked head hold and racking cough, I put the finishing touches on my design late Monday night.

A cultivar of Lonicera sempervirens, the native Trumpet Honeysuckle, growing on a metal arbor at the entrance to my backyard. The specific epithet “sempervirens” refers to the evergreen, or nearly so in my Zone 7a/6b garden, foliage.
Lonicera sempervirens

In last night’s class we each presented our designs. There was a lot of warmth, humor, and enthusiasm among the class. Not to mention wine (though not for me). The night ran late, so there wasn’t time for close inspection of all the designs.

Some of my fellow students wanted more information about my plant selections. Here is the plant list, without further explanation for now, that I used in my design. Most of these are shrubs. Many of these I’ve collected over the past several years, and some are now several feet high and wide. Many, but not all, are species native to New York City. The most precious to me are those that have been propagated from NYC-local ecotypes.

This is just a candidate list, not a final one. As I mentioned in last night’s class, I’m not satisfied with the planting plan. I would like a couple more evergreen plants; I’d really like an Ilex opaca, but the native form gets too large for my site. There are many plants in this list that provide winter interest, in bark, form, berries, and so on, including some that are semi-evergreen. I want to place more vines in the design, and I already have some ideas for where to do that. And I didn’t spend much time specifying perennials. There’s still plenty of room for them in this design; there are at least a hundred to select from, and I just ran out of time to specify and draw them all.


  • Sassafras albidum, Sassafras. This would become the focal point of the garden; the design “rotates” around it. This will be a canopy tree, providing primary shade to the house and garden.
  • Amelanchier arborea, Common or Downy Serviceberry. This is an understory tree from the Rosaceae, the Rose Family, tolerant of the shade the Sassafras will provide. In my design, its placement will also grant it direct afternoon sun from the West during the summer months, which should help in fruit-set. It’s a “replacement” for the old apple tree that grew on the other side of the fence on my neighbor’s property, which they had to take down last winter. I miss that tree; it was a bird magnet. This tree is a better selection, better placed, and with fewer maintenance issues.
    All Amelanchier species, commonly known as Serviceberries, are desireable landscape trees and shrubs and provide food for wildlife, especially birds. Alternatives to A. arborea are A. canadensis, Canada or Shadblow Serviceberry, or Shadbush, or A. laevis, Allegheny or Smooth Serviceberry, which is recommended for its human-edible fruit.
  • Prunus variety. This is an existing tree, the only one remaining from the eight trees that were in the backyard when we bought the property four years ago. It’s healthy, and adds some interest to every season, so I’m happy to keep it as long as it does well. But my design doesn’t depend on it, so when the time comes and it needs to go, the design will remain whole.

Geothlypis trichas, Common Yellowthroat, one of the avian visitors to my neighbor’s apple tree which I hope will be enticed to return by the Serviceberry.
Common Yellowthroat in Apple Tree


  • Lonicera sempervirens cultivar (existing), Trumpet Honeysuckle. Semi-evergreen, twining vine. Flowers best and grows densest with full sun. Grows well, just less vigorously, in partial shade. Mine is visited by hummingbirds every year, but they always seem disappointed by it; it’s not the Hummingbird magnet I hoped it would be. I suspect I would need a local ecotype, one adapted to the phenology of hummingbird migration through this area, to attract hummingbirds well.
  • Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virgina Creeper. deciduous vine, climbs by holdfasts to any vertical surface; can also grow as a groundcover. A native alternative to P. tricuspidata, Boston Ivy. Deciduous. Brilliant red color in the fall. Fruit are an important food source for birds.
  • Vitis labrusca, Fox Grape. Deciduous vine, climbs by tendrils. One of several native grape species, this is the source of the Concord Grape.

I also have an existing small-leaved Aristolochia, Pipevine, but I couldn’t place it yet in the new design. I want to add more vines, including the big-leaved Pipevine; I just need to think more about their placement and function.


  • Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissimum’ (existing)
  • Clethra alnifolia ‘September Beauty’ (existing)
  • Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’ (existing)
  • Ilex verticillata cultivars, male and female (existing)
  • Juniperus horizontalis
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Minuet’ (existing)
  • Lindera benzoin
  • Myrica pensylvanica
  • Prunus maritima
  • Rhododendron viscosum NYC-local ecotype (existing)
  • Rosa carolina (or R. virginiana)

Several shrubs I already have did not make it into this design. I’ve collected them over the years without a plan, based more on their availability and opportunity to acquire them than anything else. Unless I leave no space for people, there simply isn’t enough room for all of them in my 30’x30′ backyard, which is already quite expansive by NYC, even Brooklyn, standards. That gives me some flexibility in the planting plan, as my first choice is to go with plants I already have, but some will eventually have to live on somewhere else.


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Growing a native plant garden in a Flatbush backyard, 2007-08-06


Ilex verticillata, Wiinterberry (Flickr photo set)
Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet Honeysuckle (Flickr photo set)

Flickr photo set of my backyard

Forsythia Day today at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I’ll be leaving for BBG shortly. We’ve got rain coming today, so I want to get there as early as possible. They open at 10am on weekends.

There are a couple of things I want to see and do for today’s visit.

Today, all members receive a free Forsythia × intermedia ‘Goldilocks’. I generally loathe Forsythia; they have no garden value other than their one week of bloom. But I don’t even have a single one on my property, and I can afford one in the developing mixed border on the south side of the house. I can always dig it up and give it away.

The other Forsythia Day events are an awards ceremony and a reception in the afternoon. I don’t think I’ll stick around for any of that, even if it’s not raining by then. Awards are interesting for the recipients and the organizers, otherwise boring as hell to everyone else.

I’m also going to pick up my signature plants. I got my confirmation letter in the mail last week. Today I’ll pick up Cotinus coggygria “Golden Spirit” and Heptacodium miconioides. Both would be suitable for the mixed border.

Today I really want to see the Rock Garden. Spring should be the peak season for this, and BBG’s Plants in Bloom page confirms that there will be lots of bulb and Hellebore action there. I also ahve never managed to catch Daffodil Hill in peak bloom. Today should be perfect.

If time permits, I also want to check out the Native Flora Garden, just to see what’s going on there.

Of course, there will be a large photo post from my visit. So check back later!