A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Hamamelis ×intermedia ‘Primavera’ (Witch Hazel cultivar)

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

Hamamelis ×intermedia ‘Primavera’ is one of the last of the winter-flowering witch hazels to bloom at Wave Hill. In fact, in most years it justifies the cultivar name—primavera is the word for spring in several languages.

In common with all witch hazels, each flower is formed of four, long and narrow petals which, in this case, are primrose-yellow and emerge from a glossy, dark-red calyx (the scales of the flower bud).close-up

Located close to the front door of Wave Hill House, it will be hard to miss this week, especially on a sunny day when its sweet scent wafts in the air.setting

Plant of the Week: Watsonia vanderspuyiae (Watsonia species)

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

Watsonia vanderspuyiae has dramatic, sword-shaped foliage and tall spikes of deep-red flowers. A member of the iris family (Iridaceae), Watsonia vanderspuyiae is native to the Northern and Western Cape of South Africa, where it grows during the rainy winter months and flowers in spring. It dies back before the long, dry summers but persists as a large underground corm—a swollen storage structure at the base of the stem.close-up

Our specimen, raised from seed six years ago, is now blooming for the first time. Look for it in the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.setting

The genus, Watsonia, is named for William Watson, the English scientist who introduced the ideas of Carl Linnaeus to Britain in the 18th century. The specific epithet, vanderspuyiae, commemorates Mrs. M. van der Spuy, the person who supplied the specimen for botanical description.

Plant of the Week: Dioscorea elephantipes (Elephant’s Foot)

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

Wave Hill’s Cactus and Succulent House, which occupies the right-hand wing of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, contains some decidedly weird-looking plants. One of the most bizarre is the elephant’s foot (Dioscorea elephantipes), a type of yam from southern Africa. In its natural habitat, rain only falls during the winter months and this plant has adopted a drought-deciduous strategy to survive the hot, dry periods.

The caudex (the swollen base of the stem) serves as a reservoir of moisture and nutrients, protected by a woody, and very knobby, coating. Leafy shoots emerge in fall and last through the winter but they go completely dormant before the warm weather begins.close-up

Over the next few weeks, our plant will start to drop their foliage and give the appearance that they are dying. In fact, they are just doing what comes naturally and will persist as curious sculptural displays until fresh shoots arise again next September.

In the meantime, look for it on the left at the very back of the Cactus and Succulent House, as shown here.setting

Plant of the Week: Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite)

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

Despite threats of snow and freezing temperatures, some early-blooming plants start to wake up during the second half of February.the-plant

The cheerful winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is emerging now in the Gold Border and in odd spots in both the Wild Garden and the Flower Garden, showing off lustrous, yellow flowers and unfurling its glossy, green foliage. In this next shot, it is blooming here and there—barely visible at this distance—to the left of the path leading through the Gold Border.setting

Native to southern Europe, but hardy enough to naturalize here in our cool, temperate climate, winter aconite pops up reliably every year in late winter―even pushing its way up through frozen snow.close-up

Featured on this blog in 2016, winter aconite’s appearance generates excitement among visitors and staff every year and is always worthy of another mention.

Plant of the Week: Viola ‘Conte di Brazza’ (Parma Violet cultivar)

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

A visit to the T.H. Everett Alpine House on a sunny day this week will be rewarded by a waft of delicious perfume. Its source is this white, double-flowered cultivar of Parma violet.close-up

Bouquets of aromatic blooms were at a peak of popularity in the late nineteenth century, when ‘Conte di Brazza’ was raised, but Parma violets, in their more usual blue form, date to 1500s southern Italy. Later, they were introduced to Parma, in northern Italy, and acquired their vernacular name as they were distributed across Europe.the-plant

‘Conte di Brazza’ is named for the Italian-born explorer, Count Pietro di Brazza (1852–1905), who popularized this selection in Italy.

In the foreground of this last shot of the Alpine House, the topmost tip of the plant can be seen at the front of the open window. Alpine House gardener Susannah Strazzera moved it forwards, the better to admire it when you stop by.the-setting

Plant of the Week: Hesperantha vaginata (Harlequin Evening Flower)

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

These striking, yellow and brown blooms belong to the harlequin evening flower (Hesperantha vaginata), a member of the iris family (Iridaceae).

Native to a high plateau in the southwest of South Africa, it grows and flowers during the cool, moist winters and is dormant during the hot, dry summers—a habit it shares with many South African bulbs. The genus name Hesperantha translates from the Greek as “evening flower” for the simple reason that the flowers of most members of this genus open in the afternoon or evening.close-up

close-up-2On a sunny day, the harlequin evening flower is open by noon and can be seen this week on a windowsill in the Palm House, the middle section of the Marco Stufano Conservatory. Look for it to the right of the entrance to the Cactus & Succulent House.  setting-closer


Plant of the Week: Lapeirousia silenoides (Lapeirousia species)

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

Among the many colorful flowering South African bulbs one of the most jewel-like is Lapeirousia silenoides. It is a tiny plant, barely 4 inches high, but it produces a succession of gorgeous, delicately-marked magenta blooms.close-up

Native to Namaqualand, an especially dry area of northwestern South Africa, it grows and flowers during brief rainy spells in winter and then quickly dies back to the root and spends the rest of the year as a dormant corm—a fibrous swelling that functions like a bulb. This behavior enables it to survive many months of extreme heat and drought.

If you visit our Palm House now, be sure to look closely at the clustered displays on the window sills just outside, and to the left of the entrance to, the Cactus & Succulent House. You might just spot this tiny wonder among them.the-setting

Faces of Wave Hill: Helen Stein

Wave Hill profiled longtime Member Helen Stein for our #FacesofWaveHill social media series and discovered that her life deserves a fuller telling. Helen has been visiting Wave Hill since the late 1980s, was a volunteer gardener and is now a member of Wave Hill’s Vista Society, a program for planned estate giving.

preview-lightbox-IMG_6359Helen Stein began her career in early childhood education after receiving a master’s degree from Cornell, and then moved to California to teach and direct a preschool. “The San Francisco school was idyllic as it was located in the back of a canyon and we hiked daily, played in a creek and learned about the plants that grew there, using them for food if we could, and to make dyes. But I yearned for more intellectual stimulation and better working conditions, so after 15 years in early childhood, I went to graduate school in Clinical Psychology.”

Helen discovered Wave Hill when she moved to Riverdale in 1988. Of her first impression she says, “I thought the view was unbelievable, and just to be able to sit in these chairs and look out, and I loved the houses, I loved the gardens, there wasn’t anything I didn’t love. I was an immediate fan.” She spent countless hours sitting in one or another iconic Wave Hill chair, writing her dissertation on a laptop computer.Grounds

Then, in 1993, Helen was off to Kansas, where she completed a post-doctoral fellowship and spent 10 years working at the Menninger Clinic. She struggled to raise fruits, vegetables and flowers in an extreme climate. When Menninger relocated to Houston in 2003, Helen returned to New York City, worked mostly in private practice and started to volunteer at Wave Hill for a number of years. At 73, she has decided to retire and is closing her psychotherapy practice. She plans to travel and volunteer with the New Sanctuary Coalition, which offers person-to-person support to immigrants facing detentions and deportations.

Wave Hill has added meaning and solace to Helen’s New York City life. Her mother died in 1992 and left a provision in her will that her family give away 10 percent of her mother’s estate. Helen said, “I had a discussion with my siblings about what we would do with it. Maybe should we donate it to places she had already given, and I said, no, we should each pick something that really speaks to us and I picked Wave Hill. I had taken my mom here and she just loved it.” That was how Helen met former Executive Director Kate French. At the time, Wave Hill was in the process of creating their first, fully accessible bathroom. “So we helped out,” Helen explained, “and it was very apt because [my mother] was quite handicapped, she was in a wheelchair the last few years of her life. It seemed like a very appropriate thing and then Kate and I hit it off and she has become a very important person in my life.”

When the bathroom was completed, Helen brought her father to Wave Hill, who was also in a wheelchair. She said, “He had a traumatic brain injury and Tony, who used to work here, he took that wheelchair everywhere.Visitors

“It was a gorgeous day in May or June, my father said, ‘Oh, this is the most beautiful place on earth.’ And he had traveled all over the world so that was a high compliment.” When Helen’s father died, the family again made a generous donation to Wave Hill. She commented, “You know we always felt we were proud of the gifts. I learned a lot about making judgments about where to give money.”

Helen volunteered for close to five years as a gardener and used to come every Friday. “[Wave Hill Gardener] John Emanuel was here then and he believed in everyone sharing the labor. In the winter I had to wash pots more than I was happy washing, but I weeded, I planted, I deadheaded, you know. I did all kinds of things and became very good friends with the gardeners.”

One of Helen’s favorite spots is the Wild Garden. “One time during the period when I was here a lot, I came with a friend. And it was snowing, and we went to that little gazebo and we were just sitting there watching the snow, you know so peaceful, and then somebody came and said we’re closing because of the snow, and very reluctantly we left. That’s a moment that will always stay in my mind. I always fantasized about staying overnight—camping out.”Wild Garden

Helen also has a vivid memory of bringing her great nephew, Mateo, to Wave Hill. She explains he is dyslexic and has other learning disabilities. “He loves nature and the environment. He was so absorbed, and then he was dissecting an owl pellet and there was another grandfather there, a doctor with his grandson, and he looked at Mateo and said, ‘You could be the next Charles Darwin,’ because his concentration was so intense. It was just wonderful to see this kid loving learning and with so much concentration.”

Wave Hill has mattered to Helen over the years and at different stages of her life. “You know I come here and my heart is full. I walked in today and I just looked at the river and I couldn’t believe how magnificent the view was.”IMG_6384-(1)

Plant of the Week: Aloe mcloughlinii (Mcloughlin’s Aloe)

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

There are many aloes—more than 500 species—and most of them are native to eastern and southern Africa. They vary in size and habit but they all have a rosette of stiffly-angular foliage and produce a cluster of waxy flowers, often on a tall spike.close-up-blooms

Mcloughlin’s aloe (Aloe mcloughlinii) is native to Ethiopia and Djibouti and not common in cultivation. It is a small plant with handsome, dark-green foliage, flecked with creamy dashes.close-up-striations

Its blooms, held high on a slender stem, can be seen now in our Cactus and Succulent House, the right-hand wing of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory. the-plant

the-settingThey are a soft, dusky pink, very close to “Living Coral,” Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year—how very fashion-forward!

Plant of the Week: Tetradenia riparia (Iboza)

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

This aromatic plant is one of the gardeners’ favorites and is worthy of being featured again. It made its first appearance on the blog in January 2017.

A pleasant spicy scent hangs in the air of the Palm House this time of year and its origin is not immediately obvious. settingOnly when accidentally brushed does the culprit reveal itself. It is iboza (Tetradenia riparia), a shrub native to much of eastern Africa, from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, to Ethiopia.the-plant

In winter, it is covered in spikes of tiny white flowers and, when a mass of them are spotted from a distance, they can look like a fine mist. In fact, one of its common names is misty plume-bush.close-up-2close-up

Iboza is the Zulu name for this plant and, apparently, it refers to its aromatic properties.