A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

In the Garden Now: Early to Bed, Early to Rise

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.

Paisley Bed

Glorious displays of colorful tulips don’t happen at short notice. Planning begins in late summer and, although the Paisley Bed might seem bare right now, it is fully planted and ready for next spring—as the sign below indicates.image-2

The bulbs have to be ordered early enough so that they are delivered well before the onset of winter. Once they have arrived, and the plants from the summer display have been cleared from the bed—the annual plants taken to the compost heap and the tender perennials returned to the greenhouses—the soil is dug over and the bulbs are laid out, following a plan.image-3

The regular pattern creates an impressive effect, but a daunting prospect for the gardeners because the next stage is planting. A total of 850 were planted by our John Nally Interns this year.image-4

Tulip varieties—or more correctly, cultivars (cultivated varieties)—are classified into groups. Factors that define these groups include bloom time, stem height, flower shape (cupped or flared open), pointed or rounded petals and whether the flowers are single or double. This helps when planning and ordering for complex plantings. Coloration depends upon the exact cultivar and there are several hundred available in the trade.

The cultivars chosen this year, in approximate order of bloom time, are ‘Christmas Dream’ (single early group), ‘Barcelona’ (Triumph group), ‘Princess Irene’ (Triumph group), ‘Tom Pouce’ (Triumph group), ‘Design Impression’ (Darwin hybrid group), ‘Menton’ (single late group) and ‘Roi du Midi’ (single late group). The colors range from soft pinks, through fuchsia and carmine to bright yellows, and the result will be a slow-motion firework display of subtle, and deliberately not-so-subtle, color combinations as they unfold and mutate through the month of May.Paisley Bed

Pine branches are placed over the soil surface for the winter. Although they act as insulation, they are not for warmth—bulbs don’t generate their own heat—but they do help to slow down rapid freezes and any quick thaws that might occur during the winter months. Bulbs do best if the soil remains evenly cool.image-6

Tiny, blue-flowered violets (Viola) are also planned for spring. Trays of Viola Sorbet® True Blue are sheltering in the cold frames until the first thaw in March (or sooner, if the winter is kind), when they will be planted in the same bed. They will provide some much needed color early in the season before the tulips take over.

The Paisley Bed gets its name from the shape of its outline, which is very similar to the motif seen in the Paisley pattern. It is an example of a seasonal bedding scheme, meaning that the display changes from season to season. The spring display is followed by a warm-season planting, often featuring colorful tropical plants and flowering annuals, planted to a design based on a whimsical theme.

In the Gardens Now: Colorful Willow and Dogwood Stems

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.

top-picMulti-stemmed willows and dogwoods are a colorful feature of the winter landscape at Wave Hill. They are especially striking when arranged in contrasting groups—as this planting bed in the image above demonstrates.

This treatment for garden purposes most likely arose from the European tradition of producing willow “withies”—long, pliable sticks, which grow in response to being cut back to a stump. Also called osiers, these shoots are harvested every year and used in basketry and for binding other materials, such as thatching of roofs. Withy beds, with their masses of upswept shoots, create an interesting effect, one that is easily recreated in a garden.number-two-image

Ornamental selections of the most colorful willows have been made by gardeners and nurseries over many years. One of the finest is the coral bark willow (Salix alba ‘Chermesina’—also known as ‘Britzensis’—shown above). With masses of tall, reddish-orange shoots, it emanates a warming glow. The cool, lavender-gray stems of the sandbar willow (Salix irrorata—below) stand out in complete contrast, while the dry winter foliage of the nearby oriental spicebush (Lindera angustifolia) provides a lovely, pinkish-tan background.third-image

Two other willows, Salix sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and Salix sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’, brighten up spots elsewhere in the garden with their jaunty, orange-pink stems. ‘Midwinter Fire’, shown below on the left, has a spreading, suckering habit, providing an even row of stems that extends for several yards along one side of Wave Hill’s Lower Lawn. ‘Winter Flame’, shown below on the right, grows in tighter clumps and can be seen on the terraced beds of the Kerlin Overlook.two-salix

Certain dogwoods can be used in a similar way to the willows but they are a little less vigorous and are not pruned as severely. Older stems are cut out to promote new shoots but much of the younger growth is retained.Grounds

Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ (yellowtwig dogwood—shown above) is a variegated cultivar of redosier dogwood, a shrub native to eastern North America. It has creamy-edged leaves and clusters of white flowers in spring. Once the foliage falls away in fall, the stems show up an almost luminous greenish-yellow.

The Siberian dogwood has red stems and those of the cultivar Cornus alba ‘Westonbirt’ (below) are an intense carmine. They look spectacular here when set against a blanket of snow. This selection was made at Westonbirt, the UK’s National Arboretum in Gloucestershire.sixth-image

Just before they are cut back in spring, the willows will reveal one more treat for us. The silky puffs of the male catkins—pussy willows—will open in March. Until then, we’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the varied hues of the winter display.

In the Garden Now: Evergreens in the Wild Garden

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.

first-imageEvergreens can easily be overlooked in summer but now, with deciduous trees bare and the rest of the plant life going dormant, they become the mainstay of the winter landscape at Wave Hill, particularly in the Wild Garden.Grounds

This view of the hillside above the Perkins Visitor Center reveals a cozy landscape, filled with a great variety of evergreens. In the foreground, compact mounds of different varieties of boxwood anchor the entrance to the Herb Garden, while the Wild Garden beyond abounds with conifers and broad-leaved evergreens, both large and small.third-image

Tall conifers, such as selections of hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cvs.) and of native red cedar (Juniperus virginiana cvs.) offer structure and protection to what otherwise would be a very exposed slope. Low-spreading junipers, boxwoods and dwarf forms of spruce, pine and yew do exactly the same, but on a smaller scale.Wild Garden

Even the rustic gazebo is nestled among evergreens. It is flanked by Japanese yews (Taxus cuspidata), clipped into whimsical cloud shapes, and a Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora) stands sentinel by the entrance, its branches extending above the roof.Wild Garden

Nearby is a Highclere holly (Ilex ×altaclerensis) with wide, shiny leaves that contrast with the narrower foliage of the conifers.

Between the Wild Garden and the Aquatic Garden is a weeping Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’). It is trained along a section of the pergola and its cascading branches hang in a silver-green curtain, discreetly separating the two areas.sisth-image

With their huge diversity of size and habit and their variety of color, from dark olive through blue-green to almost white, evergreens provide interest for our visitors—and shelter for our birdlife—through the entire winter.

In the Garden Now: Fruits and Berries

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

As the autumn leaves tire and drop from the scene, our attention turns to the colorful fruits and berries found on many of the trees and shrubs at Wave Hill. They are equally as attractive as the flowers of summer and they extend the season of interest for many weeks into winter.

Close to the Perkins Visitor Center, bright-red viburnum berries, such as those of the linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum) and the tea viburnum (V. setigerum), shown the first shot here, stand out against the yellowing foliage, and they can remain for long after the branches have become bare.better-viburnum

Across the roadway from the viburnum, the purple fruit of the aptly-named beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’), shown in the next shot,  elicits much interest and is deservedly the subject of many photo opportunities.better-beautyberry

Elsewhere, cotoneasters, such as Cotoneaster franchetii, display bright-orange berries for month.better-cotoneaster

All this colorful attention-seeking is really just advertising. Berries are saying to the wildlife “come and eat me.” Plants have evolved many ways to disperse their seeds. Some have adaptations which allow them to drift on air or water or, perhaps, catch a ride by hooking themselves onto an animal’s fur, but a common strategy is to surround the seed with an enticing edible package—a fruit or berry. This juicy flesh is digested but the seed will survive and likely find itself deposited some distance from its parent plant. A win for the plant and a satisfactory meal for the creature lucky enough to eat it.Snow Covered Grounds

Indeed, one of our crabapple trees, Malus toringoides, the last shot here, had been displaying a fine crop of tiny, orange-red apples until very recently, but a flock of cedar waxwings swept through and gorged themselves on the decorative fruits. Any they dropped were soon collected by attentive American robins, patrolling the ground below.better-malus

Cedar waxwings also love the berries of the red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which, although called berries, are actually small, fused cones. While we are splitting hairs, note that the red cedar is not a true cedar (Cedrus spp.) but, as its botanical name suggests, a species of juniper. All that aside, the waxwings invariably return here one day during the winter to feast on the berries of the many junipers in our Wild Garden.

No one begrudges the birds their berries. Gardeners and visitors alike love to see them. And after all, what are these fruits for if not to be eaten by our avian friends as winter descends?

In the Garden Now: Plant Migrations

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

PergolaMany 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.


plant-pair-1Some “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.storage-entrance

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.heavyplastic

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.Sun_Porch

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. Plant-pair-2

In the Garden Now –Kate French Terrace Plantings

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Summer’s Last Blast
The summer pleasures of outdoor dining can often extend into early fall and the Kate French Terrace at Wave Hill House, an extension of The Café, is a great spot to enjoy lunch or cup of coffee al fresco, while admiring the surrounding planting beds, filled as they are with exotic botanical life.central-portion

After the early bulbs finished their blaze of glory in spring, Wave Hill Gardener Shane Pritchett installed a warm-season display of tropical plants in June. With a full summer’s growth, they now provide a dramatic backdrop and appreciate these last few weeks of mild weather just as much as do the patrons of The Café.1-central-right

Groups of tall annual plants, such as giant lambsquarters (Chenopodium giganteum) and magenta-plumed wheat celosia (Celosia argentea ‘Cramer’s Amazon’), are interspersed with colorful foliage plants. Dusky, pinkish-red Mexican shrubby spurge (Euphorbia cotinifolia) and dark, glossy-red Pseuderanthemum carruthersii var. atropurpureum contrast beautifully with the chartreuse of an ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas Sweet Caroline Bewitched GREEN WITH ENVY™).

Sometimes, contrast and drama can be seen in a single plant. The foliage of an ornamental cotton (Gossypium herbaceum ‘Albe Red Variegated’), olive-green with splashes of pink, cream and dark red, looks as though it might have been a bystander during an explosion at a paint factory. Remarkably unstained are its pure white cotton balls, just beginning to open.2_pics_of_cotton

Potted succulents, arranged in groups, add structure and interest. Long leaf sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) has slender, slightly curving leaves, arranged in the shape of a perfect starburst. Dyckia ‘Burgundy Ice’, a small bromeliad, has tight rosettes of narrow, reddish-brown foliage, edged with white spines. Cactus-like spurges (Euphorbia avasmontana and E. horrida) evoke the deserts of southern Africa.sotol_and_dyckia

3-spurgeAt the northern end of the terrace, a lofty canna (Canna × ehemanii) dangles rose-pink flowers from the tips of its arching stems. Nearby is the intriguing Mussaenda frondos, a large, white bract hanging under each cluster of its small, bright-orange blooms. Appropriately, given the proximity of The Café, it is a member of the same botanical family as coffee (Rubiaceae).

Shane is keeping an eye on nighttime temperatures. Once they start to dip much below 50˚F, he will start to move the more tender plants indoors. Some will remain for as long as there is no frost but all will be cleared by the end of fall, when bulbs will be planted in the empty beds, and thoughts will turn to next spring.

In the Garden Now: Aquatic and Monocot Gardens in August

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Neatly clipped hedges and century-old stone pergolas frame set the background for the Monocot and Aquatic gardens. This formal arrangement creates a pleasing rectangular symmetry, softened by the abundant foliage of the plantings. 8fe6f056-0dfc-4cea-ab66-e66f112df730

The pond at the center features towering cattails and papyrus plants, along with blooming water lilies, sacred lotuses and cannas. Schools of goldfish patrol the water while squadrons of damselflies flit around in the air above.


The Monocot Garden—an array of plants that share certain characteristics, such as strap-like leaves and a single seed-leaf at germination—is filled with luxuriant tropical plants, such as elephant ears, bananas and palms. Hardy perennials, including lilies, variegated giant reed and tall, feathery grasses complete the scene.b684a0dd-33b8-45d3-b2b8-de7bcb861288

Late summer is when all this reaches its peak and close inspection is recommended, however, on a hot afternoon it is perhaps best viewed while comfortably seated in one of the benches in the shade of the vine-clad pergola.

In the Garden Now: The Flower Garden

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

The design of Wave Hill’s Flower Garden takes its inspiration from the Arts and Crafts gardening style, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the main principles of this style is the considered use of color and, in this garden, each of the eight planting beds has its own color palette: one is full of dark reds, enlivened here and there with spots of yellow or orange, other beds are silver and blue, or plum-hued, apricot, yellow and pink and chartreuse with white. The overall structure is clear form this first shot, taken from above, though an eye-level view is necessary to see the color palate of each bed.


Planted containers, situated at various points around the garden during the warmer months, continue this concept, and this year the combination of choice is yellow and blue. Positioned right at the garden’s center is a masterful assembly of plants in a fine, Ali Baba-style earthenware container. It has all the elements expected of a combination container planting: a “thriller,” some “fillers” and a “spiller.”

A dramatic giant elephant ear (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Solid Gold’ – sometimes listed as ’Lutea’) is obviously the thriller. Its large, upright, glossy leaves are held up by golden yellow petioles (leaf stalks). It will continue to expand through the rest of the summer.76537359-f4d0-4c9d-838e-b25cfbe716ec

Adding interest at the middle of the arrangement are two, blue-themed plants, the “fillers”: a Brazilian dwarf morning glory (Evolvulus glomeratus ‘Blue Daze’)—related to the rue morning glory—and a type of spiderwort (Tradescantia pallida ‘Blue Sue’), with lovely, blue-gray (glaucous) foliage.e414353f-e9dc-42d0-b02b-78dcb40a4ae3

Dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’) completes the arrangement with stings of silvery foliage spilling down the sides of the container. Not accidentally, the container stands at the center of a roundel of blue-gray flagstones.6642b0eb-6624-475e-ba4b-6bb79e9b997c

Look for this and other yellow and blue-themed containers in the Flower Garden over the next few weeks.

In the Garden Now: Everything’s Coming Up Paisley

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Wave Hill’s Paisley Bed is an example of seasonal bedding—that is, a decorative planting scheme intended to last only a few months. It is a form of gardening which was very popular during the Victorian era and plantings of this type would have been seen in municipal parks, private estates and even modest private gardens.

Over the years, Wave Hill’s interpretation of this style of gardening has demonstrated many whimsical and amusing themes. “Wave Hillton” (2011) featured a plant-surrounded patio, complete with outdoor furniture, “upholstered” with hundreds of tiny succulents. “Front Yard/Backyard” (2014) showed off a vivid selection of colorful annual flowers in the front with an orderly garden of vegetables in the back, the two separated by a picket fence.

This year features a return to Victorian formality with compact knots of plants in an exuberant pattern. Colorful cultivars of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides UNDER THE SEA® series), the first photo below, are arranged in miniature paisley shapes—mimicking the form of the entire bed—with coppery-golden blooms of marigold (Tagetes ‘Strawberry Blonde’) and pink puffs of globe amaranth (Amaranthus globosa cvs.) providing decorative infill between them. Larger, exotic specimens, such as the cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) and the fearsome-looking prickly umbrella plant (Wercklea ferox), the second photo below, add structure and drama and are very much in keeping with the style.e80e694a-46cf-4a9e-9264-3702779956cc

732f795a-08a5-4947-b1d7-5e226688ab29The paisley name comes from the town of Paisley in Scotland, which was a center of textile production in the 19th century, a time when this pattern was all the rage in Europe and North America. The teardrop motif originated in ancient Persia and is thought to represent a spray of flowers, combined with a cypress tree. The design is common across Central and South Asia and was introduced to the West via the silk trade.


In the Garden Now: Deep Burgundy and Pure White

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

A Wild Garden has a “planted by nature” appearance. It is an informal style of gardening but one which involves thoughtful design and management. Arising from the Art and Crafts Movement in the latter part of the 19th century, the concept of the Wild Garden was popularized by William Robinson, an Irish gardener and writer who worked in England for most of his life.80dc6f26-d382-44d6-a959-63f448651845

Set in its hillside landscape, Wave Hill’s Wild Garden perfectly demonstrates this style of gardening. Rustic paths meander between irregular beds, each one filled with a fascinating range of plants. Evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs provide perfect conditions for shade-loving plants while more open areas keep the sun-lovers happy. Some of the beds are home to low-growing plants while others are filled with much taller species.

Plants are allowed a certain amount of freedom to spread themselves around and, with the right management, attractive effects result. One example is a particularly striking color combination seen along both sides of one of the paths right now: deep burgundy reds, set against pure white, are softened here and there with accents of pink and purple.

The dark-red foliage of red shiso (Perilla frutescens ‘Atropurpurea’) provides the burgundy backdrop, while the delicate, white leaf edges of snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) show up as pure as the snow for which the plant is named.


Both are self-sowing annual plants—meaning that they grow, flower and produce seed all within one year. Seeds germinate the following spring and the process is repeated. A little goes a long way and our gardeners—Gelene Scarborough, assisted by Christopher Bivens—artfully instill some discipline early on in the growing season. Tiny seedlings have to be identified and thinned so that just the right number of plants remain to achieve the result we see now, but without swamping the whole area with too many of one type. Indeed, shiso can be a very aggressive spreader and needs close supervision.

Also in the dark-red category is Korean angelica (Angelica gigas), a member of the parsley family (Apiaceae), with domed umbels of a superb, red-purple hue.8ef91765-3bf1-4aaa-9441-abcea3e5b89d

Accent colors are provided by some tall perennial plants. The pinks are courtesy of New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae cvs.) and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)—shown behind the splashes of purple and white in the foreground of this last shot—while two ironweeds (Vernonia baldwinii and V. noveboracensis) and a bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii) supply the purples. Some of these have spread themselves over the years, too, with volunteer seedlings being allowed to establish in suitable places.9c1080ad-367e-4e7d-8d04-f08f02a9805a