A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

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.

Plant of the Week: Idesia polycarpa (Idesia)

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

One of the glories of a visit to Wave Hill in winter is the sight of our idesia trees, loaded with their orange-red berries.close-up

Native to China and southern Japan, the idesia (Idesia polycarpa) is a medium-sized tree. In summer, when both the foliage and developing berries are green, it is not especially noticeable. But once the berries have ripened and the leaves have dropped, the tree is unmissable.

It is a dioecious species, meaning that individual trees are either male or female and both are necessary in order for there to be berries—pollen from a male tree must be available to fertilize the flowers of the female. Because of this, multiple trees must be planted together, and this explains why it is seldom seen outside large estates and botanic gardens: few private yards have room for a grove of idesia!

Our trees are located just to the south of Wave Hill House, shown here first, and in the Shade Border, close to the Aquatic Garden.setting-WHHsetting-Aquaticsetting-Aquatic-2

Plant of the Week: Ilex opaca ‘Clarendon’ (American Holly cultivar)

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

Evergreens are easily overlooked in summer when they have to compete for attention against the distractions of colorful blooms and the diverse foliage of the surrounding deciduous trees and shrubs. In winter, when much of the garden is bare, they take center stage.close-up

Ilex opaca ‘Clarendon’ (a low, spreading form of American holly) is a perfect case in point. There are several fine specimens in the Shade Border and, despite their size and lustrous foliage, they merge into the shadows during the growing season but now, set against a monochrome background and illuminated by the winter sun, they stand out beautifully. In this next shot, we’re looking west towards Wave Hill House.setting

A walk through the garden at this time of year reveals just how important evergreens are to the landscape. It is no wonder that many cultures have revered them as a sign of the continuity of life in the depths of winter.

Plant of the Week: Lachenalia quadricolor (Four-color Cape Cowslip)

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

This four-color Cape cowslip (Lachenalia quadricolor) is one of the first of a succession of South African bulbs which will be on display during the winter months in our Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.the-setting

It has gray-green, mottled foliage and spikes of tubular flowers, banded in pinkish-orange and yellow and with purple tips. Altogether, it’s a very colorful plant with a fresh, spring-like character.close-up

There are more than 100 species of Cape cowslip, all native to southern Africa and related to the hyacinths. The misleading common name—a cowslip is a type of yellow-flowered primrose, and not at all related—probably arose because some species do have pale-yellow blooms.

The genus Lachenalia is named for an eighteenth-century Swiss botanist, Werner de Lachenal.