A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Allium ‘Ambassador’ (Ornamental Onion)

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

Alliums come in many shapes and sizes—including edible crops, such as garlic, onion and leek—but the impressive ornamental Allium ‘Ambassador’, one might say is an excellent representative of the genus.

Growing from a bulb, the new foliage appears in early spring and the flower stalk (called a “scape”) shoots up to four feet high in late May, just as the leaves start to shrivel. Sitting on top are its six-inch-round, sphere-shaped clusters of purple flowers.


The bulbs will persist from year to year but may need lifting and dividing in the fall to prevent overcrowding.


‘Ambassador’ can be seen in various spots on the grounds at Wave Hill. It is shown here just outside the Flower Garden.


Plant of the Week: Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage)

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

The Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) is a native of the warm lands of the eastern Mediterranean but survives the cold winters here in the Northeast provided it has some shelter. Ours is situated in a sunny spot, with the protection of the stone wall of the Tropical House just behind it.


It is an evergreen shrub with grayish-green foliage. Indeed, the underside of each leaf is entirely silver-grey―not unlike the related culinary sage (Salvia officinalis).

All the plants along this narrow planting border on the western side of the greenhouses have been chosen for their silver or gray appearance, partly because such plants usually thrive in hot, sunny places and also because their coloration helps to the grey and white structure of the greenhouses meld with the landscape.


Jerusalem sage’s bright, golden-yellow blooms are clustered in tight whorls and they are putting on a fine display this week.



Plant of the Week: Eremurus himalaicus (Foxtail Lily)

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

The Wild Garden this week is graced by the stately blooms of the foxtail lily. Its tall flower spikes arise out the strap-like green foliage and seem to appear in a matter of a few days.


There are many species of Eremurus; most produce flowers in shades of orange, pink or yellow. Those of Eremurus himalaicus, the Himalayan foxtail lily, are a pure, elegant white.


The plant’s tiny, individual flowers are arranged evenly around the central stalk, and they open in succession from bottom to top, almost like a neon light show—in slow motion.


Project Alpine House

Louis Bauer is Wave Hill’s Director of Horticulture.

Wave Hill’s Alpine House gives visitors the opportunity to view our collection of beautiful alpine plants up close. The house and adjacent terrace were built in 1983 by Wave Hill’s Friends of Horticulture Committee to honor Thomas H. Everett, eminent horticulturist and early supporter of Wave Hill. Below is an early shot of the house under construction.

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The Alpine House had been specially designed to moderate temperature extremes, and be energy-efficient—a move that was cutting-edge in its time—with removable window and roof panels. But a lot has happened in the 30+ years since the house was built. And if you have been a regular visitor to this part of the garden, then you may be aware that the panels have suffered from the elements. Thus the philanthropic opportunity at our annual Gardeners’ Party in the fall of 2014 was to support renovations to the house. Thanks to the enthusiasm generated that evening and the ongoing support of so many who love Wave Hill, together with a generous grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, we were finally able to begin planning the renovation last year.

By May of last year, Frank Perrone, Director of Facilities and Capital Projects, and I were  meeting with the contractor for the renovations, the Weatherworks Company, and Andrew Berman, a Wave Hill Board Member and principal of Andrew Berman Architect PLLC, who provided in-kind support for the design. Bill Withers of Weatherworks is in the left foreground of this next photo as Frank, on the left, and I listen intently.  The renovation and restoration are taking place on the foundations of an older greenhouse foundation, complicating planning and execution.


By August, our gardeners were busy constructing a home-away-from-home for the less hardy plants that live in the Alpine House.

Mid-AugustYou can see it in this next shot, behind the Conservatory, near the Herb Garden.


As fall approached, we were confident about specific improvements. Most obvious to visitors would be a new aluminum structure, which was to be erected for the roof and the sides of the building. By late October, when this next shot was taken, the contractors had begun to remove the existing panels.



The windows were to be double-hung in front, but not, as before, at an angle. We expect that will eliminate the dripping that visitors have experienced when they peer into the Alpine House, as well as the layer of ice that would form at the base of the wall.



The end walls were also replaced.


The next shot was taken as the year was drawing to a close and we awaited the last step, overhauling the inside back wall of the house—with stucco providing a clean backdrop to the alpine collection—and rerouting electrical and plumbing.

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And then, finally, the collection returned to its home.




In the shot above, note the new window on the east end of the house, which is matched on the west end. The final shot here shows one of the advantages of the new dutch door: Leaning in allows for a sweeping view of the collection.





Plant of the Week: Disporum cantoniense ‘Night Heron’ (Canton Fairy Bells cultivar)

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

The Shade Border in May is filled with masses of brightly colored blooms, all set against the green backdrop of fresh spring foliage.

Look more closely, though, and you might spot some plants with a much darker appearance. One of them is this elegant selection of the Canton fairy bells (Disporum cantoniense ‘Night Heron’). Slender, purple-brown stems grow to four or five feet high and the tips, weighed down by clusters of small, creamy-green flowers, arch gracefully over the surrounding plantings.


It is standing tall in the right foreground of this next shot, taken looking east towards Wave Hill House along the Shade Border walk.


The foliage coloration is at its most intense in spring; by late summer it will have turned to an olive-green. The flowers, which are just now beginning to open, are at their showiest in late May to early June, and are followed by attractive black berries.


As the name suggests, Disporum cantoniense is native to southern China and to neighboring parts of Southeast Asia.

Plant of the Week: Cryptanthus fosterianus ‘Elaine’ (Earth Star cultivar)

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

Wave Hill’s Tropical House, the left-hand arm of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, contains many decorative plants, and one of the most striking is Cryptanthus fosterianus ‘Elaine,’ a member of the bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae). It is in a couple of spots in the Tropical House and is not hard to find: each leaf has a dark-brown, purple center, a broad edging of bright pink and a mesmerizing overlay of chalky-white zigzag stripes.


Cryptanthus fosterianus is one of more than fifty species of Cryptanthus (earth stars), all of which are native to Brazil. The cultivar ‘Elaine’ is a selection of C. fosterianus made at a nursery in Florida in the 1970s.

The common name for Cryptanthus is earth star, which is appropriate not only because of its star-like shape, but because it does indeed grow in the ground—not necessarily the usual behavior for all species of bromeliad. Many are epiphytic, that is, they grow on trees. Those species that grow in soil are called terrestrial. The pineapple (Ananas comosus) is another example of a terrestrial bromeliad.

This first shot is taken from the eastern end of the Tropical House, near the entrance.

looking-westIt may be easier to identify in this second shot, taken from the other end, looking back toward the Palm House. Here it is in the foreground left, at the very corner of the table bed.


Plant of the Week: Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’ (Robin’s Plantain cultivar)

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

Under the linden tree in front of Wave Hill House are several patches of this excellent native ground cover plant.



In the wild, Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is found over much of eastern North America. Often seen in rocky, wooded places, it is equally at home in fields and along roadsides. Its small, daisy-like flowers are mostly white.


This selection, ‘Lynnhaven,’ has a dense coating of tiny hairs over the foliage, giving the plant a slightly gray appearance, while the flowers, which are opening now on tall fuzzy stalks, are larger and have a slight hint of lilac.


Completely happy in both poor and dry soils, it can also tolerate full sun or part shade and moisture. It spreads by underground stolons (shoot-like roots) and quickly forms a weed-suppressing, thick mat—a far more attractive ground cover than a load of mulch!

Plant of the Week: Boophone disticha (Oxbane)

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

Over the last few months, we have seen a succession of glorious South African bulbs blooming under glass at Wave Hill. The last of these, and largest, is the oxbane (Boophone disticha), in flower this week.


Native to much of southern Africa, it is an impressive plant but one that should be treated with respect. Both the common name and genus name (Boophone—“ox-killer,” in Ancient Greek) are clues: the bulb contains a potent poison, presumably sufficient to bring down an ox!

A cluster of small, shimmering, crimson-pink flowers rises on a stalk in early spring. It is reminiscent of one of the larger ornamental onions (Allium spp.), which is not surprising, given that it is in the same botanical family: Amaryllidaceae.


After blooming, the seed head develops into a twiggy, star-burst structure which, if left to its own devices, would eventually detach and roll across the landscape, distributing its seed as it is blown by the wind.

The leaves will emerge very soon and by summer will have grown into a distinctive fan arrangement, similar to a peacock tail.


It is perched just outside the Cactus and Succulent House on one of the sills in the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.

Plant of the Week: Magnolia ×soulangeana ‘Lennei’ (Saucer Magnolia cultivar)

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

The severe cold spell in March—which followed an extraordinarily warm February—damaged the swelling buds of many of our spring-flowering magnolias. The result has been a rather scattershot display this month.

This old cultivar of the saucer magnolia (Magnolia ×soulangeana ‘Lennei’) is one of the last to bloom and, perhaps because of this, seems to have escaped the worst of the frost injury. Its purple-pink flowers are opening now.




You will find ours blooming as you come up the pathway leading from the Herb Garden up to the Aquatic Garden and the Shade Border beyond.


the-treeThe saucer magnolia is a hybrid between the Yulan magnolia (Magnolia denudata) and the lily magnolia (M. liliiflora), raised by the Chevalier Étienne Soulange-Bodin, in Fromont, France, in 1826. The selection ‘Lennei’ was made in Italy about 20 years later.

The Chevalier had been a cavalry officer in Napoleon’s army and is reported to have said, after the Battle of Waterloo, that “It would have been better for both parties that they stayed at home to grow their cabbages.” He devoted his retirement to horticulture.

Plant of the Week: Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Alba’ (Glory-of-the-Snow cultivar)

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

Wave Hill is renowned for its carpets of blue glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sardensis) each spring. The display has been quite a spectacle over the past few weeks, but not all glories-of-the-snow are blue.


This winsome little beauty is a white-flowered cultivar of the greater-glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Alba’). It flowers a few weeks little later than C. sardensis and is slightly larger—hence “greater”-glory-of-the-snow—but it is still small, growing to barely six inches high.


There are patches to be found in various places at Wave Hill, such as under the hornbeam hedge, just to the east of the Aquatic Garden.

Both species are native to the mountains of western Turkey, where they often come into bloom just as the snows of winter are receding.