A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Coreopsis auriculata ‘Nana’ (Mouse-ear Tickseed cultivar)

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

The mouse-ear tickseed (Coreopsis auriculata) is native to the southeastern United States, where it is found in open woodland and pine barrens. the-plant

It blooms earlier than other species of tickseed, and is usually covered in orange-yellow flowers by late spring.close-up

‘Nana’ is a low-growing cultivar and makes a handsome ground cover, as can be seen in the Wild Garden now.the-setting

Members of the genus Coreopsis are commonly called “tickseeds” for the rather obvious reason that the seeds could indeed be mistaken for small, black ticks. The mouse-ear part of the common name refers to the small lobes at the base of each leaf, which look a little like the ears of a mouse.mouse-ears

Plant of the Week: Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium)

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

Among the many woodland-dwelling plants blooming now in our Shade Border is the native wild geranium (Geranium maculatum). Several clumps can be seen there and identified by their pale or deep-pink flowers peering over finely cut, light-green foliage.the-setting

In the wild, this species is commonly found in wooded places across much of eastern North America, and might even turn up as a welcome volunteer in gardens.the-plant

The summer bedding plant commonly called a geranium is related but is actually a separate genus (Pelargonium), and originates from South Africa. The wild geranium is grouped with other winter-hardy species, mainly from Europe and North America. By the way, if you are in the neighborhood and would like to learn more about Pelargonium species and hybrids, you might like attend our Scented Geranium Day, on July 8.

They are called “hardy geraniums” or “cranesbills” because of the bill-like shape of their seedheads, which appear shortly after flowering. Geranium comes from the ancient Greek geranos, a crane.close-up-2

Plant of the Week: Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-Summer)

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

An old favorite of rock gardens and sunny borders, snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), is well named. In late spring into early summer, its masses of white flowers could be mistaken for a lingering coda to the long and snowy winter we have just endured.close-up

It is native to the mountains of Europe and has been grown in gardens for centuries, not only for its brilliantly white flowers but also for its silvery-gray foliage, as shown in the next shot, taken in the Aquatic Garden under one of the pergolas parallel to the pond. leaves

Having a spreading habit, this perennial plant will form a lovely ground cover, easily filling a pot or a sunny patch of garden bed.

There is a distinct black-and-white theme in sections of the Flower Garden at the moment and snow-in-summer is providing the dramatic contrast to dark-flowered tulips, pansies and red-leaved lettuces. This last shot displays it beautifully at the center of the Flower Garden. Look for it in the Wild Garden, too, though there it will not be as obvious a find.


Plant of the Week: Darmera peltata (Umbrella Plant)

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

The Shade Border is home to woodland plants from many parts of the world. One of the oddest is the umbrella plant (Darmera peltata), from the cool, wooded creek-sides of the mountains of Oregon and California.

In spring, several days before any sign of foliage, clusters of pale-pink flowers pop out of the bare soil on tall stalks.the-plant

flowers-2Once the leaves do emerge, they grow up fast and unfurl into an inverted umbrella shape—hence the common name.the-leaves

They are supported by long petioles (leaf stalks), which arise directly from the ground.

If adequately supplied with water, the foliage will last all summer and can be a dramatic sight, especially when the green gives way to oranges and reds in fall.

Look for it blooming this week at the western end of the Shade Border, not far from Wave Hill House.the-setting-1

Plant of the Week: Magnolia denudata (Yulan/Lily Magnolia)

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

Wave Hill’s grandest magnolia tree is the lily magnolia or yulan (Magnolia denudata). A prodigious presence on the edge of the lawn, it stands close to the Front Gate, not far from Glyndor Gallery—the second shot here is taken from in front of Glyndor. Covered with masses of white blooms, it is very hard to miss right now.setting-1-a

setting-from-GlyndorThe flowers are lily-shaped, hence “lily magnolia”, and are pure white, with just the slightest tinge of yellow-green. There is some variation within the species and blooms of other specimens might show a touch of pink at the base.close-up

This spring has been kind to our magnolias. The exceptionally cool weather of March and April delayed their flowering long enough to avoid any damaging late frosts. The previous two years were not so favorable: mild winters hastened the development of the flower buds and then frosts struck each spring and killed the buds outright—or, maybe worse still, gave us brown, tattered-looking blossoms.

Now is the time to enjoy this beautiful tree at its finest.the-setting-1

Plant Hybridization in the Palm House: Case in Point

Horticultural Interpreter Alison Filosa works with Charles Day and the Public Programs Manager in Wave Hill’s Public Programs Department.

As I explored the plants in the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory this past winter, I came across the stunning Pelargonium sericifolium × P. oblongatum, an unusual hybrid.the-setting

It was crossed by Ernie de Marie, a former curator of the Desert Plant collection at the New York Botanical Garden. Ernie is currently a high school science teacher, and a wonderful propagator of South African bulbs and pelargoniums. He is also, not so coincidentally, good friends with our gardener Susannah Strazzera—both members of the Hudson Valley chapter of the National Association of Rock Garden Society.

Ernie de Marie studied pelargoniums for his PhD, has a Bachelor’s Degree and PhD in Horticulture from Cornell, and remains an avid grower, raising his own plants from seed. He stores his seeds in a fridge in his basement, the locus for his hybridization activity, and then grows batches of plants as required. Once they flower, he is able to start cross-pollinating. Normally, he removes the male anthers from the flowers of a plant—to avoid autogamy (self-fertilization—and then takes pollen grains from the anthers of a second plant, transferring them to the female stigmas of the first. This type of cross-fertilization is known as geitonogamy.the-plant

A unique hybrid and a beautiful plant to behold, Pelargonium sericifolium × P. oblongatum is a combination of two pelargonium species, as its name should suggest. P. sericifolium has simple, silvery-green, wedge-shaped leaves, lending the plant a silvery appearance. The leaf color, is the result of a covering of dense silvery hairs (in botanical terms, sericeus indumentum). The name P. oblongatum refers to its oblong tuber (underground part of stem). The caudex—the swollen stem—of P. oblongatum has unusually long, hairy petioles (leaf stalks), which on most species are much shorter and along with its yellow flowers make for a fascinating contrast. In the case of this hybrid, however, it is the cerise-colored flowers of one of its parents, P. sericifolium, that have been inherited.close-up

A very rewarding choice for your garden or a sunny windowsill, Pelargonium sericifolium × P. oblongatum blooms from mid-winter to mid-spring. Come and see it before the blooms finish—not too soon, I hope! Then return on Sunday, July 8, for Wave Hill’s Scented Geranium Day, a new celebration this summer.

Plant of the Week: Echium candicans ‘Variegata’ (Variegated Pride of Madeira/Star of Madeira)

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

The cool weather this past week may have put a temporary hold on spring, but only outside. Many of the plants in the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory are still blooming in abundance. Among them is the variegated pride of Madeira (Echium candicans ‘Variegata’—also known as “star of Madeira”). It is sporting tall spikes of blue flowers, tinged pink by the slightly red-stained anther filaments, the thin wire-like structures which protrude from each little flower.close-up

The non-variegated wild plant (Echium candicans) is native to the island of Madeira, where it can grow to a statuesque six feet in height. Our variegated form, with striking white edging on its foliage, tends to be smaller and, because our plants are growing in pots, they are somewhat restricted in size. Despite this, they still create quite an impression.the-plant

Artfully staged by Wave Hill gardener Susannah Strazzera, they form part of her blue-and-white themed arrangement in the middle of the Palm House, the central section of the Conservatory.the-setting

Magnificent though it is, pride of Madeira has made itself unwelcome in some parts of the world, particularly California and Australia, where it has seeded far and wide and formed invasive colonies. Given that it takes at least two years before it is mature enough to flower and produce seed, and that it is not able to survive outdoors in our winters here, we can enjoy its blooms without having to worry that it might become a problem weed.


Plant of the week: Scilla siberica (Siberian Squill)

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

The celebrated, sweeping, blue carpets at Wave Hill this time of year are usually attributed to the thousands of lesser glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sardensis) covering the hillsides. But, as is often the case in nature and gardens, the truth is a little more complicated. Scattered among these teeming hoards, you might spot the odd clump of Siberian squill (Scilla siberica).

Both are small, blue-flowering, bulbous plants in the lily family (Liliaceae), but there are differences. Most obviously, the Siberian squill modestly hangs its head—the first image here— while the glory-of-the-snow keeps its face raised, as shown in the second photo. (“Chin up, Chionodoxa” is a useful mnemonic.)


chionodoxa-close-upOther differences require closer examination. In glory-of-the-snow, the anthers—the male parts of the flower, which produce pollen—are surrounded by a “cup” composed of flattened, anther filaments. Those of the squill are presented on long, stalk-like anther filaments.

The pollen of the squill is a surprising shade of steel-blue. In fact, it is possible to identify which flowers our honeybees have been visiting by inspecting the pollen baskets on their hind legs: some of them have been returning to the hive with troves of brilliant-blue pollen from this flower. Other flowers blooming now, including glory-of-the-snow and many types of crocus, have pale-yellow to light-orange pollen.

The Siberian squill does not actually come from Siberia. It is native to southern European Russia, across the Caucasus region and into Turkey. The lesser glory-of-the-snow hails from western Turkey—hence the specific epithet of sardensis, meaning “of Sart” (the ancient city of Sardis).

You may find squill here and there in the gardens; these shots were taken along the paths in in the Herbert and Hyonja Abrons Woodland.

Raptor-ous Spring Birding!

Horticultural Interpreter Alison Filosa works with Charles Day and the rest of Wave Hill’s Public Programs Department.

Naturalist Gabriel Willow led his monthly birding walk this past Sunday with 35 adults and three children joining him. We started on an exciting note with the sighting of an immature or juvenile bald eagle, distinguishable from a mature bird by its brown and white coloring and its large, white beak. It turns yellow as it ages. A Cooper’s hawk was seen flying near the Perkins Visitor Center, along with starlings, blue jays and house finches.

Drawn to the Conifer Slope by sound of blue jays, the group experienced the rare sighting of a barred owl, native to eastern North America, in one of the conifers. Gabriel has only spotted a barred owl three times at Wave Hill in the 14 years he’s been leading our birding walks, so it was a special treat for all! Wave-Hill_Raptor-Day_credit-Joshua-Bright-for-blog

This shot by photographer Joshua Bright was taken on Wave Hill’s 2010 Raptor Day, during a demonstration by Volunteers for Wildlife.

Off the owl soon flew, leading the group to spy a red-tailed hawk, perched quietly on a tree along the Shade Border lawn.

High up over the Hudson River, off to the west, a migratory turkey vulture was spotted, its wings upswept. Also spotted over the river was a raven, possibly one of the pair that live on the George Washington Bridge,

Today was obviously a very fine day to see raptors and other migratory birds, not to speak of juncos, robins, sparrows and our local mockingbirds, and our group left enthusiastically anticipating May’s walk, scheduled for Mother’s Day.

Plant of the Week: Cornus officinalis ‘Kintoki’ (Japanese Cornel Dogwood cultivar)

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

This lovely, small tree is a cultivar of the Japanese cornel dogwood (Cornus officinalis ‘Kintoki’). Although related to our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), it is much closer in appearance to the cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) of Europe and Western Asia.the-tree-smaller

A good, all-year “performer,” it has clusters of tiny, yellow flowers in early spring, bright-red fruits that set against lustrous orange-red foliage in fall, and peeling, reddish-gray bark that looks superb in the clear light of winter.close-up

Both of the cornel dogwoods (C. officinalis & C. mas) have yellow flowers in March or early April and might be confused with the slightly later-blooming—and more lemon-yellow—forsythia (Forsythia spp.).

Our specimen of the Japanese cornel can be seen blooming this week at the Kerlin Overlook, the terrace between the Perkins Visitor Center and the Aquatic Garden. The first shot below was taken looking west towards the Hudson River, the second looking east toward our Wild Garden.setting-looking-westsetting-looking-east