Tagged with "Insects"
Photo courtesy of Nick and Christina Martin.
“Mother nature is the ultimate landscape designer. We’re just her helpers,” says Emilia deMauro, who, along with her sister Anna, runs the East Hampton, NY, landscape-design firm deMauro + deMauro. Their approach to design is imbued with a sense of community and responsibility to preserve the beauty of the native environment.
The sisters grew up shuttling between the rolling hills of rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, where their artist dad lived, and the farm fields and overgrown thickets of the east end of Long Island, where their mother was farming and gardening. “Both of those landscapes play a huge part in our designs,” says Anna, who studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. “There’s something so beautiful in the wildness. We're constantly pulling from those memories.”
They found kindred spirits in clients architect Nick Martin and his wife Christina. The couple believed strongly in “pivoting away from green lawns that require chemicals and continual labor, and, most important, that strip our community of habitat for creatures big and small,” says Christina. They hired the sisters to design the landscape outside of Martin Architects, Nick’s new Bridgehampton office on the Montauk highway. A busy thoroughfare, situated just past a gas station and across from a bank, didn’t deter them from achieving their joint vision: a self-sufficient oasis, lush with native plants and alive with birds, butterflies, and wildlife, that looks beautiful year-round.
The property was neglected when the Martins bought it. “To transform the space, we removed the asphalt driveway, regraded the land because the pitch was so bad, with the goal that it wouldn’t need irrigation,” says Nick. He also tried to reuse as many materials as possible.
For the front-yard meadow, which is 90% native, the deMauros handpicked every single plant. They had roughly plotted out a matrix on paper in the office before “throwing it all up in the air come planting time,” says Anna with a laugh of their instinctual process. “Something happens when you lay out a garden,” adds Emilia. “There’s a little chaos and unknown in nature and that’s where the fun happens. You can’t be too rigid.”
While the garden is not even a year old, it already has become an attraction for wildlife and humans alike. The Martins have spotted an uncommon Henry's Elfin butterfly and specialized native bees like Colletes banksi. “The meadow has become a haven for insects and bird, all sharing space,” says Christina, who is also studying biodynamic gardening. It’s also attracted people, including Perfect Earth Project founder Edwina von Gal, who recently was compelled to step on the brakes while driving by to find out more. She’s not the only one. “We have friends stopping by to ask about our plant lists,” says Christina. “That’s the whole idea. We want to share our garden and inspire as many people as possible because the more people who do this, the better.”
The deMauros are encouraged that aesthetics are shifting. “People want to do the right thing,” says Emilia. She and her sister have seen how frustrated people are with the time, money, and effort to keep green lawns and clipped hedges. “It’s important to have these conversations. No one needs a ‘perfect’ lawn. We want to show people that they can have habitat on their property and it can be beautiful.”
Anna and Emilia planted a loose allée of native single stem Magnolia virginiana ‘Green Shadow’ trees, leading to a wood sculpture. “This space was intended to have a slightly more formal feeling from the front of the property with fewer plantings and more stone dust,” says Emilia. Photo courtesy of Nick and Christina Martin.
For the hardscape, the sisters used stone dust for the driveway and paths. It’s water permeable, acts as a mulch, and is “beautiful at all times but especially in winter when the garden has an open and serene feeling to it,” says Emilia. A Magnolia virginiana ‘Sweet Thing’ tree anchors one end of the path, which is flanked by asters, narrowleaf mountain mint, prairie dropseed grass, and three kinds of Carex. Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.
For the meadow in the front of the property, the deMauros devised an interspecies matrix planting. They densely planted small perennials (grasses such as prairie dropseed and wavy hair grass and flowering species including slender blue iris, gray goldenrod, and white heath asters) approximately 12- to 18-inches apart to help with weed suppression and water conservation. “We are always considering plants that match each other, such as sun/shade patterns, seasonal interest/growth patterns, succession bloom, site conditions,” says Anna. Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.
In front of the property is an old footpath that has been worn away by people walking along it over the years. “We wanted to honor it, so we covered it with stone dust with the hope that people will continue to use it daily and enjoy the insects and birds, and just the plain old beauty of the garden,” says Christina. Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.
The whole office came out to plant the meadow together. “We wanted everyone to have a part in the garden and I was amazed at how much fun everyone was having putting their hands in the dirt,” says Christina. “It was a bonding experience.” Photo courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.
Nick wanted to use a series of rocks to create something sculptural, but “we realized that the most sculptural way of using them was to leave them as if ‘they fell off the truck.’ They formed a grouping as a gathering space hinging the composition of the grade to the structure” he says. “We modified the layout, added succulents, and nature did the rest." Photo by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro.
The meadow is striking covered in snow. They don’t cut back the meadow in fall but keep the stems and seedheads intact for wildlife. After returning from a family vacation to Sweden, the sisters came back with an even greater appreciation for nature au naturel. “Less is more. See the beauty in leaving things be,” says Anna. Photo by Jake Lear, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro
This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on January 25, 2024.
This is part of a series with Gardenista , which ran on December 14, 2023.
[Top] The Brown-belted bumblebee is native to much of the U.S. It gets its name from its thin reddish-brown “belt.” Photo Credit: Steven Mlodinow
It’s winter. The trees are bare, the ground is (hopefully) covered in fallen leaves, and the palette of the landscape is muted. While it might look barren, there is a whole world living just out of sight. “Native bees might not be buzzing now,” says Sarah Kornbluth, a field associate in Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. “But they are all around us, hibernating in soil, stems, cavities, standing dead vegetation, and leaf litter, ready to emerge next spring.” There are more than 3600 described species of native bees in North America, from large fuzzy bumblebees to tiny metallic green gems, some sporting masks and others flaunting their extra-long antennae, living in forests, deserts, tundra, meadows—basically anywhere there are flowers. While they might not get as much attention as, say, monarch butterflies, they are vital pollinators to our ecosystem and food web. They are also in trouble. Native bees are struggling due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and competition and disease from non-native honeybees. [To learn more about how honeybees compete with native bees, read this piece from Xerces Society.] At The Battery in downtown Manhattan, the garden team is working hard to support them. They removed their honeybee hives and are incorporating more pollinator-friendly native plants into the gardens, says Jennifer Bishop, zone gardener at The Battery. They’re also about to embark on a pollinator survey with Kornbluth.
“The Battery's been interested in learning a lot more about all of the organisms that use the garden besides humans to incorporate into their education programs and landscaping management practices,” says Kornbluth. “I'm very interested in knowing which bees are living where, what they need, and how we can provide for them. When you look at a bee community, you can learn a lot about what resources are available because you can see what specialist bees are thriving where. Are there bees that prefer soil nesting or cavity nesting? What nesting habitats are being provided here? What flowers do they prefer? What is the community telling us about what the habitat is rich in or poor in?” Kornbluth and team started with a preliminary study of native bees at The Battery this year and will launch a full survey in 2024.
The team surveys the population by observing and collecting species with nets and by setting passive traps. The traps, which they call bee bowls, are plastic cups painted fluorescent yellow or blue, or white. These colors mimic the color of the nectar guides that flowers use to lure pollinators to visit. The cups are filled with soapy water to trap the insects. “We then collect, pin, and identify each species and will make observations of species we can identify without killing,” says Kornbluth. They will also post photographs of bees on iNaturalist for identification.
“The priority in gardening is no longer just about mastering an aesthetic,” says Bishop. “There is a shift toward being more mindful and ethical. We need to embrace the natural systems that we've just forgotten about.” Here’s what you can do at home.
Grow native plants in your garden.
Native insects coevolved with native plants. They’re part of an intricate food web system. For most organisms, non-native plants are like “plastic fruit in a fruit bowl,” says Kornbluth. “It may look good, but they won’t be able to eat it.” While nectar-eating insects are able to enjoy the sugary, calorie-rich nectar from a wide range of flowers, “pollen, which bees need to feed their young, is more likely to come from the local native species that they have been coevolving with them for many thousands of years,” says Kornbluth. At Perfect Earth Project, we advocate for at least two-thirds native plants in your garden.
Don’t use pesticides.
Even organic ones. Pesticides (and that includes insecticides, herbicides, fungicides) don’t discriminate and will kill all insects—not just the ones you’re targeting. When selecting plants at the nursery, ask to make sure they haven’t been treated with pesticides of any kind, especially neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide that is absorbed by the entire plant rendering every part poisonous to pollinators.
The Battery leaves the stems intact over winter where they provide homes for insects and structural beauty all season. Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Battery.
Provide Nesting Spots
Native bees nest in the ground and in stems and wood piles. “It’s important to remember that the standing dead vegetation you see is full of bees,” says Kornbluth. Try not to cut back stems when flowers are done blooming, but leave them for the bees. If you’re concerned about how that’s going to look, visit The Battery, says Bishop, and see how pretty it is all winter long. “Embracing a plant’s complete life cycle—from seedlings in spring to seed head or grass mound in winter—is a Piet Oudolf trademark,” says Bishop of the visionary Dutch landscape designer who created the garden’s master plan. “At The Battery we continue to display the array of forms and textures a plant possesses. By not deadheading we allow the life cycle to stay on display and integrate into design year-round. And this decay becomes abundant living matter and nest material for pollinators.” It’s also beautiful. “I love the aesthetic: the decay, structure, and different textures of every plant—they each have their own kind of personality,” says Bishop. But if you must cut some stems back, Kornbluth advises to leave last year’s stems as high as you can. While you’re at it, leave the leaves. In addition to feeding the soil, fallen leaves provide insulation for ground-nesters, like bumblebees and mining bees, as well as other hibernating organisms. “It prevents the surface of the earth from getting too cold, which impacts their survival over the winter,” says Kornbluth.
Look and Learn
“Do a small insect safari at home,” suggests Kornbluth. Bishop has been doing this in her own backyard in Westchester New York and happily admits the glee she feels when finding new species in her garden. “Give yourself the opportunity to be meditative and peaceful,” says Kornbluth. See who's coming to eat. What do you notice about them? Do you see one with full pollen baskets (indentations on a bee’s rear legs that are covered in stiff hairs that trap pollen)? What plants are they visiting? When are they appearing? Share what you find on iNaturalist. “The whole process is very eye-opening, engaging, and connecting.” You’ll be amazed at what you discover. “Pollinators are often a very good indicator of ecosystem health because of their connectedness with plants,” says Kornbluth. “Plus, they’re adorable.”
Let’s meet some native bees:
Photos by Jennifer Bishop, unless otherwise indicated.
Photo Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab
Common Eastern Bumblebee
Bumblebees are social, living in colonies. Kornbluth describes their life cycle like this: The queen overwinters, hibernating in her hidey-hole or hibernaculum, an underground spot like an abandoned mouse burrow that she had chosen the previous spring after mating. Then she comes out in the spring and starts to collect pollen and lay eggs. As her daughter workers become larvae, she feeds them, they pupate and become adult workers. Then they take over a lot of the jobs. She lays more eggs. The queen has all summer to build her nest until she produces new queens in late summer or early fall. Then she dies and the cycle continues. A closeup of a queen, Bombus impatiens.
ABOVE is a female Eastern Bumblebee with full pollen baskets. “We think that bumbles are great to include because they are some of the easiest native bees to spot and learn about,” says Kornbluth.
These tiny bees are solitary, nesting in twigs and stems. Since they’re so small, they prefer small flowers, even “ones we might not really notice, like those found in an alternative lawn” says Kornbluth, and because of their size, they can go deep inside flowers to get nectar. Not particularly hairy, they don’t carry pollen on their bodies, like other bees, but carry it in their “’crop,’ the upper part of the digestive tract.” It doesn’t get digested but is regurgitated when the bee gets back to the nest. “Many species of bees use their crop to carry nectar or water, but the masked bees also use it for carrying pollen,” notes Kornbluth. This masked bee was spotted foraging on snakeroot in Bishop’s garden. “It’s a super rigorous perennial with firework white flowers,” says Bishop, who cautions that it can spread vigorously.
Only females have pollen baskets, as you can see on this fuzzy Brown-belted Bumblebee. Kornbluth explains how you can identify them: “A female Brown-belted bumblebee has 5 visible stripes (or segments) on its abdomen. The first stripe (closest to the thorax) has yellow hairs, the second stripe has a patch of yellow to brown hairs in the middle and black hairs on the sides. Stripes three, four, and five have black hairs and are hard to tell apart.” These large ground-nesters can be found in prairies, meadows, and fields where they reuse abandoned burrows or cavities.
Photo Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab
Green Sweat Bee
Sweat bees are small, docile, and great pollinators. They are also attracted to salt. Some are even attracted to mammal sweat. “People often mistake bright green sweat bees for flies,” says Kornbluth. One way to distinguish between the two is to look at their eyes. “Fly eyes take up more than 75% of a fly's head, while bee and wasp eyes take up less than 50%,” she says. “You'll be surprised how visible insect's eyes are once you're looking for them!”
Male Longhorn bees feature very long antennae. These bees are specialists of Asteraceae, and especially love sunflowers. Look for them buzzing about in July and August.
The pollen basket of the female Longhorn bee sits on much of its hind leg. It’s composed of dense hair to help trap pollen as it flies from flower to flower.
This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on October 20, 2023.
Photo: A detail of a planting in the Bosque garden, designed by Piet Oudolf. Oudolf created a horticultural master plan for The Battery in 2004. Rich with texture, color, and fragrance, the gardens are filled with perennial and native plants designed to be enjoyed year round.
For two decades, The Battery has been a model for public parks and sustainable horticulture in New York City and beyond, proving that what we work toward at Perfect Earth Project is possible—and beautiful: You can plant drop-dead gorgeous landscapes for biodiversity. You can care for these perennial gardens, which are designed by a world-renowned designer, without any toxic chemicals—and do it for decades. You can create and plant a playground to handle floods from ever-frequent storms. You can nurture old-growth trees. You can grow an organic farm right in the middle of downtown Manhattan and use it to teach and feed people. You can do all of this while welcoming millions of people 365 days of the year—for free.
The powerhouse behind The Battery is Warrie Price, the founder of the nonprofit Battery Conservancy, which “designs, builds, maintains, and activates” the park. It doesn’t surprise me at all when autocorrect changes “Warrie” to “warrior.” She’s been a beloved and fierce advocate for conservation and sustainable horticulture for decades. “I think we have done an extraordinary project that began so small, but then really took off because how can you not want to keep making things beautiful?” she says. “At The Battery Conservancy, we like to say we’re ‘devoted to wow.’”
Price shares her thoughts about The Battery.
How did The Battery Conservancy begin? How did this park come to be the beloved place it is today?
I was asked by Betsy Barlow Rogers to create a nonprofit for The Battery. The park had a master plan created by landscape architect Philip Winslow, who sadly died before the project could begin. But Betsy said make sure you’re in accord with it, because if you can't visualize, if you can't be excited to implement it, then it’s going nowhere. The master plan is the skeleton of the park, the guidelines. But there was no horticulture, no horticulturist on the team at the time, no playground, no bikeway, no urban farm. Still, it provided the guidelines, and we review it every time we make a change in the park. After reviewing and embracing the master plan, I created The Battery Conservancy. We started with the promenade. We hired Piet Oudolf, who was not well known here at the time. He created a master horticultural plan. I think his genius is bringing the natural world into this romantic environment. In 2003, Piet first designed the Garden of Remembrance after 9/11 to honor those we lost, those who made it home safe that day, and those who would come later. It was created by private funding and a whole lot of volunteer hands. We’ve been able to enjoy them for 20 years, but they’re now about to go through reconstruction with the changes to the park. [Oudolf’s other contributions include the Bosque gardens, woodland plantings, and the bikeway.]
I think from the beginning, I wanted to make the park its own destination, not just a passageway. It was important to me personally because of its rich heritage.
What do you need for a successful garden?
When you’re planning a garden, whatever type it is, you need two things to ensure its success: authenticity and a program for how you’re going to use it. First, you have to be authentic to the landscape. Take the time to understand the history of the land, its topography, geography, and soil. Then, the second thing you need is a program, visualize how you’re going to use the space. If you don't have a program, if you haven't visualized how you want to be there, enjoy it and be a part of it, you're going to have a failed garden.
Why are public parks and gardens important to city life?
Beauty never stops healing the soul, and gardens are beautiful: green gardens, multi-color gardens—all plant life. Also, public parks and gardens in cities are unexpected, so they're cherished. They get people to stop because there is always something of interest happening, especially in a perennial garden. When you come to The Battery every week, you'll see the gardens change and evolve.
Our goal at The Battery is to enhance life mentally and physically. When you physically walk through the gardens, you interchange with nature. Mentally there’s a quiet sense of what beauty does to get your mind concentrating on something. That's an additive to good health and a good feeling versus dealing with the stress and the problems that surround you in a very urban setting.
Why was it important to be toxic-free from the start?
I learned a lot about conservation from Mrs. Johnson. [Price was college roommates with Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson (or Mrs. Johnson as she called her), and lived at the White House for a time. She helped Lady Bird Johnson found the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX, where she is also a founding director.] When we started the Battery Conservancy, I always thought, no pesticides, no herbicides. We’re small. We can afford to pull our weeds ourselves. We can think of other ways instead of chemicals. For example, we’ll use integrated pest management like beneficial nematodes instead of toxic sprays. Nature has remedies if you’re knowledgeable. We worked with Rutgers to pick the best turf blend for the lawn we do have. We love our nitrogen producing clover in the lawn. The parks department found our perennial gardens to be much more economical than cutting hedges and mowing lawns all the time. We have a slogan: plant our parks. We want to set a standard for both public park design and maintenance. The gardens here are the essence of what the park is.
Thanks to the efforts of Warrie Price and The Battery Conservancy, cracked and barren blacktop was transformed into a perennial haven planted for biodiversity and beauty—and always taken care of without toxic chemicals.
What are you doing for biodiversity?
We’ve been working with Audubon NYC and now have more birds in the park than ever before. We leave seed heads during the winter and have planted different types of ornamental grasses and habitat. We’re a destination for migratory birds. They're so beautiful, and they bring such life. We're also a Monarch Waystation [A habitat designated by Monarchs International that supports migration and reproduction of Monarch butterflies]. We’ve planted milkweed. They also feed on Agastache and other flowers as they make their way south. We’re feeding them along the way.
We have also decided to support our native bees as much as possible. We will no longer be hosting European honeybee hives in the park because we know our native bees need uninterrupted space for themselves. Bees are great communicators of life. They give hope when you see their populations increasing.
We want everyone to “leave the leaves'' instead of throwing them away. They fertilize the lawn and become habitat for insects during the winter. And then of course, we’re toxic-free. We cultivate everything—our urban farm, forest farm, all the gardens, lawn maintenance—without chemicals and always have. We can all be conservationists.
What are the challenges of having a public park during climate change?
The evolution of The Battery is always about change. We have to adapt to the garden’s needs—and those needs change. I would say every 20 years the needs must be re-evaluated and adapted. We certainly see this now.
For a thousand years, there has been the relationship of landscape to water. As I mentioned earlier, we’re about to go through some changes. The promenade is being totally rebuilt. It will be elevated six feet to handle rising sea waters from climate change. There will still be the Gardens of Remembrance, they’ll just be different. They will be more like embankment gardens because everything will be raised up high and you'll walk up to the promenade versus down to it the way you do now. We hope the project will be completed by 2026.
We recently completed a playscape, which was designed after Hurricane Sandy, to flood and recover. Instead of ignoring this flood prone area, we reimagined it for play. We want to be a model for waterfront flood prone areas all over the world. Come talk to us about creating bioswales and reserve tanks under climbing structures and climbing mounds. Ask us about designing with salt-tolerant plants that like wet soil. A couple of weeks ago when we had a deluge of rain from a storm, the playscape didn’t flood. We don’t want municipalities to leave these areas dormant. We've learned a lot. We're now able to share that knowledge with others.
For so long this park was all about water gazing, to paraphrase Melville, and now it's a landscape about learning. It's a landscape to impart so much knowledge through our gardens, through our biodiversity, through our birds, through our bees. They’re all telling great stories. I think about the evolution of how we are today, how our “learning landscape” has evolved through our programing. This transformation, these 30 years of designing and rebuilding, we now have this transformed landscape of 25 acres, and gardens and horticulture—no pesticides, no herbicides have been a huge part. We continually say no to things that were very much part of traditional park management.
Do you have a favorite time in the garden?
I love the beginning of the morning. The light is so magnificent because it reflects off the waters. But then the sunsets are fabulous, especially now. I also adore being by the fountain in the middle of a warm day. I watch all the children playing surrounded by plants—the coolness of the shade and the refreshing water sprays. I’m happiest when I see the way people interact with the garden—especially the children. I think, you know, it worked. The people make the programs come alive. We’re free to the public and open 365 days of the year, 24 hours of the day. And the impact is so much bigger than just us. It's so much bigger than downtown. It's so much bigger than any other park. Gardens are beautiful. You can never underestimate the power of beauty on mental and physical health.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The densely planted gardens are magical in fall.
Photos: Courtesy of The Battery Conservancy
This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on August 24, 2023.
Photo: Edwina von Gal doesn’t throw away anything from her garden. Clippings go into compost and any branches that fall or break from storms get turned into habitat piles that are embedded throughout her property on Eastern Long Island. She and her team love the process of knitting branches together to build this nest. “It’s meditative,” she says.
With all the recent storms and severe weather happening, it feels like we’re besieged with debris from trees and shrubs. Instead hauling it to the landfill, where it will just add to methane pollution, make something beautiful and beneficial out of it. In fact, keeping garden debris, or biomass (organic matter like branches, stems, and leaves), on your property is one of the principles of nature-based gardening we introduced in last month’s column with Perfect Earth Project. Brush piles offer protection to birds, like wrens, thrushes, and warblers, and other wildlife, like amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. Leaf litter becomes homes for insects. And when biomass decomposes, it feeds your soil—for free!
There are artful ways to display biomass in your garden. Take a cue from Edwina von Gal, founder of Perfect Earth Project, who constructs striking sculptures out of debris gathered from her yard on Eastern Long Island. She’s woven branches through tree trunks, built walls out of logs, and knitted sticks together to create large nests. “Tailor the style of your habitat pile to the style of your garden,” she says. If your garden is tightly managed, create something more deliberate, recommends von Gal. On the other hand, if you have a meadow or loosely planted beds, like von Gal has in her garden, you can be freer in your construction.
At Chanticleer garden in Wayne, PA, assistant horticulturist Chris Fehlhaber constructs a habitat pile each year after the meadow is cut back in early spring. (He waits as long as possible to cut back the meadow with a scythe to allow for overwintering insects to emerge.) To craft the stack, Fehlhaber drives a wood stake in the ground and builds around it so that it’s sturdy and strong. “I start by creating a level base and then work around the pole in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation to ensure there is plenty of overlap for strength, stability, and balance,” he says. He continues the process until all the material is used. “Then, I gather woody debris from the previous year and ‘top’ the stack with it, arranging the branches on top to create a well-balanced dome, which helps weigh the top down and sit it neatly around the pole.”
“Songbirds, insects, toads, and snakes have all been observed utilizing the stacks for shelter,” says Fehlhaber. He’s spied goldfinches using them to feed on seedheads in the meadow during fall and winter and to hide from predators, like red-tailed hawks. “The coarse nature of the stacks means there are many niches for birds and wildlife,” he says.
Channel your inner Andy Goldsworthy or Maren Hassinger (see her inspiring exhibit at LongHouse Reserve, made from branches gathered on the property), and create art from nature. “Think of every fallen branch you find or invasive shrub you cut down, as a new opportunity,” says von Gal. “Be creative and have fun.”
[Photos by Melissa Ozawa]
Stack logs from fallen or diseased trees you removed to create walls or screens in your garden. They also provide habitat for native bees, chipmunks, and snakes. “Yes, you really do need snakes,” says von Gal. “They eat voles and other small critters, like white-footed mice, a primary vector of Lyme disease.” Here, a border of cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) thrives behind the wall.
Instead of discarding the branches of non-native California privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) she removed, von Gal wove them into the trunks of native Eastern red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana).
This beautiful nest of pinecones, needles, and branches will breakdown over time, feeding the soil.
Several years ago when I was at Chanticleer, the dreamy garden in Wayne, PA, I fell for this simple habitat pile tucked away in the meadow. Chris Fehlhaber builds each stack around a center post. As the stack settles, gaps form around the post. “Bumblebees use this gap to gain access to the interior of the stack, which is likely relatively well-sheltered and dry, to make their nests,” he says.
Photo: Chris Fehlhaber
At Chanticleer, this habitat pile sits among spring-bloomers. “Today, the stacks are part of what I call a carbon positive approach to maintenance as no fossil fuels are used, ever, only gardener power,” says Chris Fehlhaber, who makes the stacks every spring.
Photo by Chris Fehlhaber
In winter, Chanticleer’s graphic habitat stacks become snow-covered sculpture
We’re pleased to welcome The Green-Wood Cemetery as the latest partner in our Pathways to PRFCT program, a network of diverse public gardens and parks managed for health and well-being, beauty, biodiversity, and sustainability.
Located on 478 acres in Brooklyn, NY, this National Historic Landmark is a sanctuary in the city—for both humans and wildlife. Under a canopy of more than 8,000 trees, the cemetery is a resting place for luminaries such as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, journalist and politician Horace Greeley, and the first Black woman doctor in New York, Susan Smith McKinney Steward. It’s also a cherished oasis of peace and beauty for New Yorkers and visitors alike, and thanks to a dedicated team of horticulturists, who are working to create a climate-resilient landscape, it’s a haven for birds and other wildlife, too. Birdwatchers flock there during spring and fall migrations.
As the horticulture team adapts to our changing environment, they’ve adopted four initiatives focused on trees, invasive insects, meadows, and grasses:
Green-Wood’s collection of trees showcases an array of native oaks, hickories, American beech, tulip, sweetgum, and sassafras trees (including one of the oldest and largest in New York state). To help protect these “veterans,” some of the oldest in Brooklyn, Green-Wood practices retrenchment pruning, which mimics a tree’s tendency to reduce its canopy as it matures. They are also diversifying their native tree population, and planting hundreds of bare-root trees, which tend to be stronger and healthier, more energy efficient, and easier to plant.
To further protect their trees, Green-Wood has joined forces with the US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, and New York State Department of Environmental Protection to identify and track invasive insects. The collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service led to a discovery of a new beetle species in 2019. The same genus as the emerald ash borer, this beetle feeds on stressed beech trees and trees of the Rosaceae family. Through their invasive insect scouting program they are taking steps to help safeguard our urban forests.
They are also actively converting acres of traditional lawn into native meadows, which provide food, shelter, and breeding ground for wildlife. Last year, they teamed up again with Larry Weaner and Associates (the firm has designed other meadows at the cemetery) to create more than an acre of “experimental memorial meadows.” Divided into six sections, each one is seeded with a different mixture of native grasses and wildflowers. The horticultural team will closely monitor the new expanse, collecting data on the life cycles of each plant species, the number and variety of weeds that appear, and note the overall aesthetic to “identify plant species and their combinations that thrive with minimal maintenance and do not obstruct the monuments.”
Climate change heavily impacts urban environments, causing higher temperatures, frequent extreme rainfalls, and longer periods of drought. As a result, the growing season for turfgrass is longer, which means more mowing, while invasive warm-season grasses are rapidly spreading. Working with experts in sustainable grassland management and turf at Cornell University, Green-Wood is incorporating new seed mixes with slower-growing and drought-tolerant varieties, adjusting the frequency and height of mowing, and reducing soil disturbance.
We look forward to following Green-Woods progress and learning from these and other initiatives.
Green-wood’s urban grassland initiative focuses on 403 acres of turfgrass. Photo by Art Presson. Top Photo by Stacy Lock.