Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
Many fine container-grown plants are placed around the grounds at Wave Hill in summer. As well as adding structure and interest, they benefit from being outside in the fresh air, but they are all “frost-tender” plants and cannot remain outside for the winter. Thus, large or small, every one must now be returned to their indoor quarters.
Some “old friends”—plants you may have seen on visits during the warmer months—will turn up in the public display sections of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory. The large succulents find themselves back in the Cactus and Succulent House and, unsurprisingly, the tropicals end up in the Tropical House. Others, such as evergreen shrubs and palms from Mediterranean climes, might have a starring role in the Palm House, the central section of the conservatory, where an ever-changing display of tender plants is on show from November to April.
More prosaic accommodation is found behind the scenes. A purpose-built overwintering room, in the gardeners’ work area, has north-facing skylights and insulated walls and is kept at a cool 45˚F, which is perfect for those plants that would experience chilly, but not freezing, winters in their home regions. They sit quietly, packed together in the gloom, for months; perhaps dreaming of their summer vacations.
Yet more protected space is provided by a hoop house—a simple structure of curved metal supports, covered with a double layer of clear plastic sheeting. It has minimal heating, just enough to keep the inside temperature above freezing. Many of these plants have a winter blooming habit and, as their buds begin to open, they will be moved into the Palm House to add their scent and color to the floral display.
Non-winter-hardy plants from the Aquatic Garden find lodgings in the Sun Porch of Glyndor Gallery. Papyrus, sacred lotus and other warm-climate aquatics sit out the winter in their own personal ponds until spring comes and the ice has melted outside.
Once all these containers are safely tucked away, all will look cozy and neat, but do spare a thought for our gardeners at this time of year. Every plant in every pot, hanging basket, and even the bay tree in the large Versailles planter (pictured below) made its way from the Herb Garden into the overwintering room. There will be some very grateful plants, and some sore backs—including, I imagine, Nally intern Victoria Kam, shown in this last photo, hard at work in the Picnic Area in mid-October.