Our gardens tend to be arranged in three distinct categories:
Seasonal beds: These are garden beds designed to change each season, providing a growing space for plants that do not fit into other planting areas. These growing spaces allow us to arrange potted subtropical plants and provide a place for design experimentation. An example of this is the two long perennial beds facing the visitor kiosk, which constantly change throughout the year. These beds also provide a space for different annuals to be added to them each season.
CHINESE ORNAMENTAL AND EDIBLE PLANTS
Nearly one-eighth of the world’s total plant species, more than 30,000 in all, are native to China. These include thousands of species found nowhere else on earth. The large diversity of plants found in China is a result of the vast territory making up the country, with 3.5 million square miles, and a wide array of climate conditions, including shorelines, tropical and temperate forests, deserts, elevated plateaus, and snow-covered mountains. Many of the popular foods consumed in the United States, including oranges, lemons, kiwi, mulberry, persimmons, and peaches, were brought to our shores from China. Some of the species introduced in America as ornamental nursery plants, like Chinese Ironwood (Parrotia subaequalis) and Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), are now considered highly endangered. The Hortus collection focuses on the diversity of plant life from China with an emphasis on some of the lesser-known attractive ornamental woody plants like Snowbell trees (Styrax spp.) and fruiting plants like Che (Maclura tricuspidata).
The Hydrangea genus includes 50 to 75 species with over 600 named cultivars, with flowers that come in white, green, pink, light red, blue, and purple. Hydrangeas range from North to South America and are found throughout Asia including China, Japan, India, Burma, and Vietnam. Most hydrangeas are shrubs, but there are also small trees and vines. Hydrangeas produce flowers in globe shapes and flat lacy forms from early spring to late summer, occasionally reblooming in the fall. H. paniculata and H. quercifolia can grow in both partial shade and full sun with adequate moisture, while others such as H. arborescence, H. serrata, and H. macrophylla will benefit if given shade in the afternoon. The color of the flowers for H. macrophylla can be altered by soil chemistry, and soil with a pH of 5.5 or lower will produce blue-colored blossoms, while a pH of 6.5 or higher will have pink hues. Hydrangea flowers often change colors as they age and many species exhibit beautiful fall colors.
JAPANESE SHADE GARDEN
The Japanese have elevated shade gardening to an art form, borrowing many ideas from ancient Asian horticulture and refining them into a distinctive style focusing on the beauty of simple, natural elements used in elegant ways. The four main islands and 4,000 small islands that make up Japan’s geographic terrain are dominated by mountains that cover up to four-fifths of the landmass and contain some 200 volcanoes. Many of the mountains are thousands of feet high and receive rainfall throughout the year, which has created the right conditions for dense woodland forests to thrive and host an abundant array of plant life. Because of the high altitudes, many of the plants are adapted to hot humid summers followed by heavy amounts of winter snowfall, akin to the conditions in our region. The Japanese collection at Hortus focuses on the diversity of plant life from Japan that is shade-tolerant with an emphasis on lesser-known shrubs such as Corylopsis, Orixia, and Lespedeza.
Prized for their dramatic flowers, Magnolia trees are believed to be one of the earliest flowering plants, found in fossils dating back over 100 million years. Magnolias existed even before bees, so they rely on beetles for pollination. Instead of nectar, the flowers produce large quantities of pollen that the beetles use as food. The trees also produce cone-like fruits with brightly colored seeds that attract songbirds. Their magnificent tulip or star-shaped flowers can be as large as saucers when fully opened. Magnolia blooms can be pink, purple, white, yellow, burnt orange, and even green. The genus consists of about 100 species plus numerous hybrids and cultivars. One hybrid in our collection, named ‘Hattie Carthan’, was created by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and named in honor of a tree-lover who saved a rare giant southern Magnolia grandiflora from being bulldozed in Brooklyn. She devoted her life to beautifying the streets of that borough.
A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. Native plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife over thousands of years and therefore offer the most sustainable habitat for animals and insects. Though these plants thrive best in the conditions of their endemic geographic region, they can also be more tolerant of a diverse range of growing conditions such as poor-quality soils, droughts, and long cold winters. They tend to have fewer pest problems, requiring less pest management or toxic pesticides. Many rare species of birds and insects are dependent on a specific species of the host plant. For instance, the Giant Swallowtail caterpillar feeds only on members of the native Citrus family. The Hortus collection focuses on the diversity of native plants with an emphasis on lesser-known decorative and edible examples, including endangered species such as the Virginia Round Leaf Birch (Betula uber) and Alabama Snow Wreath (Neviusia alabamensis).
A desert is an environment with very low rainfall and sparse vegetation. Many distinctive plants have evolved adaptations to survive under desert conditions. For instance, plants like Yuccas grow roots that penetrate deep into the soil to reach water, whereas Cacti often grow shallow roots that absorb water and store moisture in their succulent plant fibers. They also grow outer skins that are waxy and waterproof. This bed has been built to replicate the dry conditions of the Southwestern American desert and has been constructed with four feet of gravel and stone drainage. The plants in this bed are native to Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. They have evolved to survive in extreme weather conditions such as long periods of drought and winter temperatures that drop below zero degrees. To accommodate the growing conditions of the Hudson Valley, this bed is protected in the winter by a removable greenhouse cover so that the plant roots can stay dry, which increases their cold hardiness.
A genus of 20 species related to Camellia, Stewartias can be both shrubs and trees and are usually found in Asia and the United States. Stewartia trees are deciduous and loved for their attractive white flowers that are produced in abundant quantities in late spring over two months. The most distinctive characteristic of the Stewatia genus is the bark, which can be smooth or patterned and comes in a range of colors such as ochre, bronze, cream, or veined, like polished marble. The foliage is also colorful in fall, making this a multi-season performer that is even magnificent in winter when the exposed bark is most visible against the white snow. The genus was named in 1753 after John Stuart, who served as a prime minister under George III. But due to a transcription error, the name was recorded as Stewartia.
Viburnums are among the best ornamental shrubs, offering gardeners numerous choices and hundreds of cultivars. The Viburnum genus contains about 165 to 250 species, with roughly half distributed in Asia and the balance distributed across the continents of North America, Central and South America, North Africa, and Europe. Because of their wide geographic distribution, the only characteristics that are common to all Viburnums are a drupe with a single seed and leaves oppositely arranged along the stem. These popular shrubs come in a wide variety of foliage shapes and sizes with leaves that can be smooth, shiny, crinkled, or felt-like. They produce either the snowball or lacecap flowers, which range in color from pink to white. Viburnums can be used for hedging and borders and are adaptable to many growing conditions. This group of shrubs also produces magnificent ornamental fruit displays. Berries, which can be red, blue, orange, or scarlet, mature in the late summer through fall, attracting birds and providing lasting interest through winter.