Authors Posts by Kyrnan Harvey

Kyrnan Harvey


Above, Begonia ‘Pink Minx,’ with its constant bloom of bright pink flowers and unique Angel Wing leaves, is easy to grow, making it a top contender for the title of perfect houseplant. Photo courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden

By Kyrnan Harvey

As a plantsman and gardener, I have always been more generalist than specialist. There are avid collectors of day-lilies or hostas, roses or rhododendrons, Japanese maples or dwarf conifers, snowdrops, dahlias and peonies. There are rock garden enthusiasts who have to grow every Saxifraga and Primula and Penstemon. In the U.K. and Ireland there are 630 National Plant Collections in which special-interest plant groups are identified, documented and conserved in private gardens, nurseries, local parks, botanic gardens and historic estates.

I love all these plants. Phases of zeal come and go for me, but of paramount importance to the garden designer is the creation and sustaining of harmonious environments, keyed in to the genius loci, pleasing to our senses and attractive to wildlife too — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Houseplants too can inspire passions. Cacti and succulents are ideal objects for homes with plenty of bright light but excessively dry heat. If you are not one to turn your thermostat down to 60 at night, but keep your home uniformly cozy at 72, then you can have a dozen or more different African violets featuring delightful colors on extremely compact plants. Following International Aroid Society on Instagram has been an eye-opener for me: stunning foliage in unbelievable variety. I would collect these Philodendron and Anthurium and Monstera and Alocasia if I had a large airy home or lived in the tropics.

Above, Begonia ‘Potpouri’ is the perfect houseplant for winter months, covering itself with fragrant rose-pink blooms from January to June. Photo courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden

But I must say, if I were to amass a small collection of a single plant group of houseplants, it would be begonias. There was a great bookstore back in the aughts on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg. The owner Miles kept a solitary cane begonia in a glazed Oriental jardiniere in the center display table a good distance from the storefront window. I donated an old jade plant for the window and neither it nor the begonia ever received water. When my brother was moving last summer, I adopted two cane begonias. They hadn’t been watered in months. I cut the woody stems down to a few inches; then repotted and watered the plant. A few weeks later it was gorgeous.

The wax begonias that we plant as annuals are dead easy to grow, and cane begonias (these are the old-fashioned “angel-wing” begonias, now also called “fibrous”) are nearly so. They are very resilient and tolerant of neglect. Let them dry between waterings indoors, cut the canes hard at the end of winter, and move outdoors in bright — but indirect — light from May to October. The leaves can be reddish or green and mottled or spotted in white or silver. Logee’s catalog has a couple dozen varieties, and in the summer they will outdo themselves with the most charming sprays of pendant flowers in varying shades of pink. Such dignified plants, begonias give much more than they require.

The leaves of rhizomatous begonias are even more stunning, a limitless variety of color, texture and form. More compact than cane begonias, they also will be covered in flowers. Be sure to let them dry between waterings, but then water until it reaches the saucer.

Rex begonias are a type of rhizomatous (creeping rootstocks) begonia, in the prima donna class: showboats with their psychedelic leaves but demanding more accurate watering, humidity and temperature. Even then, they go dormant in winter for two or three months. A well-grown rex is spectacular, but their flowers are inconspicuous.

Any and all houseplants should summer outdoors. Indeed, this is crucial to their prosperity. Best to resist the temptation of moving them outside too early; wait until well into May and acclimate them by moving them during a forecast of two or three mild, sunless days. I like soft rain on warm days.

Do not leave them, in the first week or two, exposed to full sun, even for a couple hours, or desiccating wind. Situate them in bright, filtered light, and you will treasure your begonias when, in October, you can cut the exuberant growth and bring them indoors.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit


By Kyrnan Harvey

I follow Logee’s Plants on Instagram and the other day photos of some of their old catalogs, a 1962-63, a damp-stained 1988-90 and a 1997, were posted. These latter sure looked familiar, oblong, tall-and-narrow, staple-bound. Logees’s greenhouses have been in existence since 1892, in northeast Connecticut, their first catalog in the 1930’s. They offered scores of different cultivars of geraniums, and of begonias,  and the old catalogs are great reference sources as well as interesting horticultural ephemera.

My mother was — and still is! — an amateur horticulturist. My architect father designed and built a house in the 70’s that was ahead of its time with open floorplan, cathedral ceiling, and a lot of glass. Plants flourished and a heated lean-to greenhouse was almost redundant. Through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s my mother was active in a L.I. chapter of Hobby Greenhouse, as well as in the garden club. She and her friend Annette grew many orchids and begonias.

Above, the dancing bones cactus, aka drunkard’s dream prefers certain locations in the house to thrive. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

I have my hands full March through November with my horticulture business, so it’s better to not accumulate many potted plants that require watering while summering outdoors. Unfortunatly I don’t heed my own advice. There is a 15-year-old Ficus benjamina ‘Variegata,’ grown as a standard (tree-form, not bushy), hugging a north-facing dining room window. In the kitchen a large drunkard’s dream (Hatiora salicornioides) cascades from open shelving, a poinsettia with white bracts recently purchased at Home Depot nestles against the espresso machine, and a pair of the very diminutive Sansevieria ‘Fernwood,’ spotted at Ikea, are on the sill with a tiny venus-flytrap.

A Stop&Shop Kalanchoe, over-summered a couple years and now large, is in full bloom on a stand in a south-facing living room window. At another drafty, albeit historically correct, window a flowering spike of a Phalaenopsis orchid, as yet unopened, is expanding.

Upstairs are a very old, dwarfed, jade plant, crammed into a square cinnabar-glazed ceramic container; my wife’s Kaffir lime tree, from Logee’s; a wild banana (Strelitzia nicolai) and an Alocasia ‘Polly’ that I bought, also at Ikea, to stage the open house for the sale of our Bushwick condo three years ago; a Sansevieria ‘Bantel’s Sensation,’ with vertically white-variegated leaves sourced at Hick’s a few years ago for a client’s wrought-iron urn; a lovely maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum) which is an offspring from mom’s defunct greenhouse; two agaves, one that is the straight-species of the century plant (Agave americana), an offset that Richie at Half Hollow Nursery gave me, and the other is A. americana ‘Mediopicta Alba,’ propagated by the legendary Mattituck plantsmen at Landcraft Environments.

Above, a vigorous fibrous begonia. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

Also upstairs is a variegated myrtle, Myrtus communis ‘Variegata.’ This is the myrtle of ancient Mediterranean lore and has aromatic leaves, but it, like my agaves, gets scale, which I spray with insecticidal soap once or twice a year. There is a bonsai ficus in the north-facing upstairs bathroom window and a rooted cutting of the common heart-leaf Philodendron cordatum, tolerant of low-light, in an antique highball of water in the bathroom below.

Likewise, a neon pothos, with chartreuse leaves, grows downward from a vase I bought on the pottery island (Ko Kret) in the Chao Phrya river in Bangkok. This has grown in just water for about a decade, presumably nourished by the minerals in the clay.

There is a poorly heated wing to our house, a converted porch, in which I stubbornly overwinter a dwarfed lemon verbena, delightfully scented in summer, woody and gnarly at 20 years, and another true myrtle, M. communis ‘Boetica,’ also inherited from mom’s collection. Rounding out the census, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 20 lantanas potted up from the garden and left dormant in the 50 degree basement.

But I still haven’t mentioned the begonias, the pictures of which in Logee’s old plant lists is what got me started today. Logee’s still mails out catalogs, now 8×10 and full-color glossy, but their website has many more rare, fruiting, and tropical plants listed.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

Chokeberry can be planted in most soil conditions including sandy soil. Stock photo

By Kyrnan Harvey

Single-digit overnight temperatures and daytime highs of 16 degrees with howling winds are as bad as it gets in winter on Long Island, unless your property is at sea level, in which case flooding makes the gardener yet more miserable. Port Jefferson locals were reminded by the Jan. 4 storm that their village was called Drowned Meadow. Elsewhere, “from swerve of shore to bend of bay,” and to varying degrees the blast of blizzard was dramatically exacerbated by saltwater flooding.

I had, for many years, such a garden on Manhasset Bay. Nor’easters and hurricanes coinciding with full moons were likely to inundate the garden, and it sure got ugly if it was a blizzard at that time of the month. The salinity of the water was resented most by rhododendrons and other broad-leaved evergreens that had no business growing there, but for the rest — the tulips and daffodils, the roses and forget-me-nots, the hydrangeas and crape myrtles and garden phlox — come May and June and hot summer, they were as happy as Larry, naturalized in their waterfront setting.

Of perhaps greater deleterious effect than the salt water from the coastal flooding was, on the one hand, the enormous deposits left in the garden — a thick layer of Phragmites seasoned with driftwood and plastic detritus, some of which I would add to my collection of ready-mades — and, on the other hand, the stripping of humus and mulch by the receding tide, leaving feeder roots exposed and begging for amelioration. In that case the gardener has no choice but to have a truckload of mulch — or better yet, compost — delivered as soon as possible. Inflate the tire of your wheelbarrow or call in a professional landscaper.

My garden on Manhasset Bay was not only right at sea level but it was entirely flat. There were many storms in which the salt water and flotsam reached into the garden some 20 or 30 feet, but there were also three or four times in 20 years that the entire acre of garden was inundated.

Of course, you could certainly leave such a plot to open lawn and the random privet and black locust. However, what if you want to garden on it, where coastal flooding is not an infrequent occurrence? What planting strategies are there?

Go with the flow and select a few native plants that are adapted to Long Island coastal and establish them in mass plantings. Use these to create a less exposed ecosystem, a cozier environment, a more distinctive sense of place and to minimize erosion. Of course, as always, there are the deer to consider, which unfortunately eliminates sumac (Rhus), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and bayberry (Myrica), all of which fit the bill of desirable LI coastal natives. These can be tried in future years.

However, in order to establish a durable and dependable infrastructure impervious to saline and cervine, let’s select chokeberry (Aronia), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) and grasses, like switchgrass and panic grass (Panicum).

There is a superb source for all these and many more in Eastport (between Moriches and Westhampton), a grower and nursery called Long Island Natives. They may have suggestions unknown to me and firsthand experience that contradicts my own.

Very rarely is there coastal flooding in spring. September through December are the months when the coincidence of heavy storm and full moon will inundate the shorelines. Thus spring is the time to plant in gardens where there is coastal flooding. Let plants have a long season to establish in the soil. If you have established beds and plants that are not known to be adapted to this condition, and they were flooded in the storm of Jan. 4, you must immediately spread at least an inch of compost or mulch.

Email your horticultural questions to for possible inclusion in this column.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

Above, the flowering quince is one member of the rose family that deer avoid. Stock photo

By Kyrnan Harvey

Previously, I have suggested a good many options for plants that possess presence in the winter landscape, that can be fully relied on not to be browsed by deer, and that can thus be employed to establish the bones of a garden.

Come spring, what flowering shrubs likewise won’t be ruined by the unpredictable predations of the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus? What can be planted, without worry, that is fully exposed to their perambulations at dawn and at dusk?

First off, let’s appreciate our native spicebush, Lindera benzoin, the swelling flower buds of which are most conspicuous in the sunlight of the first warm days of March. As true a harbinger of spring as snowdrops (truer actually, because snowdrops often open on warm days in the dead of winter), these are large shrubs that populate the understory of our woods and will seed themselves into your propitious beds and borders. Swallowtail butterfly larvae feed on their leaves, which turn bright yellow in fall, and the berries on female plants are an important food source for migratory birds. Scratch the stem or crush the leaves and you will know it’s a spicebush by the delightful scent of grapefruit.

Now let us praise forsythia, very common, and for good reason: they survive neglect, drought and shade. Their long arching stems root in, and thus spread, as their tips reach the soil. Prune them soon after flowering and leave them to themselves for the next 12 months. In other words, don’t let the landscapers buzz them in August. April 1 is when forsythia typically start flowering. In 2017 they were nearly two weeks late, as winter lasted right through March. Their ubiquity detracts from their appeal, but they should be utilized for their strong color in a still-gray landscape, for their durability in tough locations and for being … reliably deer proof.

Flowering with the forsythias are the PJM rhododendrons, precociously in shades of lavender-pink. Their leaves, mahogany-plum in winter, are aromatic when crushed and thus avoided by deer, unlike the glorious rhodies of May. I planted three in the late fall of 2015. One was promptly browsed, but not at all the last two years so I can, not without reservations, recommend them. Their shock of hot pink is surely a highlight of the year.

Grow flowering quince, Chaenomeles, in an obscure corner, in a location that is sunny but not prominent. The stunning flower colors — unusual tints of orange, watermelon-pink and peachy coral-pink — present such a jolt of pleasure that their messy tangled mass of stems can be forgiven. It will light up a forsaken location and a single cut spray will transform a room. Flowering quince (or Japanese quince, as distinguished from the quince used for jellies, Cydonia) is a classic subject for ikebana and a recurring motif in Asian art. I saw ‘Double-Take Orange’ and Double-Take Pink at Home Depot last April and ‘Cameo’ has been available at garden centers in recent years.

Lastly, for the purposes of this article on early spring flowering shrubs that are deer proof, or at least nearly so, there are the lilacs. They are all delightfully perfumed, of course. There are many varieties of the old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris and S. × hyacinthiflora), flowering around Mother’s Day and for many a Proustian madeleine to their childhoods. Less well known, but also readily available, is the later flowering, smaller-leaved, broader-than-tall, S. meyeri ‘Palibin.’ It does not get gaunt and leggy, nor is it prone to mildew. This is truly one of the 10-best flowering shrubs to include in a garden, deer or no deer.

By mid-May the bridalwreath spirea, the Koreanspice viburnum and the Warminster broom are in full bloom and are assiduously avoided by deer. But there is a long winter ahead. In the meantime, email horticultural questions to for possible inclusion in this column.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

Plant heavenly bamboo (Nandina) for deer-proof cheer all winter.

By Kyrnan Harvey

A deer tragically impaled itself last month on the spears of a metal fence — way west in Glen Cove. But perhaps fences are not the best strategy to deter the white-tailed herbivores, especially if your fencing is that ubiquitous and regrettable closed-top black aluminum or only 4 feet high.

Nandina graces a front door all winter.

The first 25 years of gardening for me were mostly further west of Glen Cove, but even in my gardens in Oyster Bay and Huntington Bay deer were then not a problem. If your backyard is enclosed all around by 6-foot stockade fencing, then you can reliably garden with a fully free hand by planting aucubas, rhododendrons and azaleas; hostas, roses and hydrangeas; and tulips, daylilies and coralbells.

But, if you are like me and see fresh deer hoof prints and droppings every day, see deer gracefully browsing at dawn or dusk once a week, and can’t plant a tree without its trunk getting destroyed by rutting bucks, what deer-proof planting strategies can you employ if you really still want to have a garden?

Let’s begin with plants that establish the structure of the garden, plantings that, when all else is bare from November through March, articulate garden spaces and dictate how we walk through the garden and that enhance and enliven the winter landscape.

Privet for screening hedges: Only semievergreen at best, but privet is 100 percent deer proof, whereas arborvitae and yew and euonymus will be heavily browsed, Japanese holly moderately. Plant privet close (12 to 18 inches apart), and in a few years it will be dense enough to obviate penetration and tall enough to prevent jumping. Add gates where desired.

Boxwood, for low hedging, rhythm and winter green, is 100 percent deer proof. Avoid the dwarf English boxwood Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ of yesteryear, beautiful as old billowing plants can be, because of boxwood blight. There are numerous other options, and I will elaborate in a future column.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a fine, dark-green leaved alternative to Japanese holly, looser, less stiff and less dense, and thus more casual than boxwood too. Deer do not touch it.

American holly (Ilex opaca) is a tree, with the spiny leaves (don’t plant it poolside!) and red berries (on female plants only). These will self-seed, even in shade, and are, unlike other large-leaved hollies like the beautiful “blue” hollies and the English and Chinese hollies, 100 percent deer proof.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ is a deer-proof broad-leaf evergreen.

Osmanthus is in the olive family but is mistaken for holly because of its spiny leaves. There is a variegated Japanese cultivar called ‘Goshiki,’ which translates as “five colors” and which has recently become readily available. It is a useful broad-leaved evergreen, the gay coloration of which (creamy- gray- and yellow-green with new leaves of pink) is not as gaudy as it sounds and thus a welcome presence to any garden setting in all seasons — and unappetizing to buck and doe alike.

Clump-forming bamboo (Fargesia) by definition does not run and is not invasive. It is much less tall but with the distinctive evergreen bamboo leaves. These will, in just a few years, present a dense, substantial, voluminous mass of deer-proof greenery.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is a member of the barberry family, unrelated to the graminaceous bamboos. Its leaves only superficially resemble them, and it bears huge trusses of bright red berries. Birds do not touch them, and they last right through the winter.

Ornamental grasses do well where there is an abundance of sun. See my first article in this space (Sept. 12, 2017). Where there is shade, the wonderful Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa does well. Granted grasses are not evergreens, but they provide winter interest, so I don’t cut them down until March.

Well now, there are actually quite a few excellent deer-proof plants for the winter garden. Why do I complain?

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

Euphorbia characias can be grown on Long Island with winter protection. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Alas, the allium are pretty well sold out, daffodils too I am afraid to report, from my mail-order sources like John Scheepers and Brent & Becky’s. However, if you still have the urge to invest some effort to procure some deer-proof color for spring, try the garden centers and the box stores. Possibly some choice varieties are still available, but be sure that they are not shriveled dry from a couple months of indoor heat.

With the leaves finally down, I make sure they are blown off the lawns. Lawn grasses thrive in cooler weather, so you don’t want to deprive them of a few weeks of prosperity with smothering damp leaf cover. Moreover, there is a modest pleasure derived from seeing your lawn all uniformly green again after gazing for weeks over the leafy litter, a refreshing counterpoint, more especially now, to the barren limbs of trees, the naked stems of deciduous shrubs and to the straw-colored ornamental grasses.

If you employ a lawn service, leaf blowers will typically trod over, through and onto eyes of Baptisia and peonies and Amsonia hubrichtii (commonly called blue star), blasting every scrap of humus and last May’s mulch out of the beds, exposing the naturalized and nestled-in forget-me-nots to killing exposure. In naturalistic and ecologically correct gardens it is preferable to leave fallen leaves in planted beds and where there is no lawn or paving. I even blow them into the beds, within reason, as nature’s natural mulch.

My diktat to clients, to pass onto their gardeners, is “Don’t blow the leaves in (else they will blow all of them in)” and “Don’t blow them out — of my plantings.” True, some leaves will be blown out by those arctic gusts into the lawns, and come spring cleanup you will have some work to do, removing leaves by hand where they have accumulated, but it beats the alternative of clodhoppers crushing the dormant crowns of coneflowers and columbines. I get many self-seeded perennials; but if you let your gardener blow out your beds, chances are they will blow out the baby with the bathwater.

Recently, my 10-year-old RedMax blower, a lightweight, handheld, gas-powered tool, developed carburetor issues. Rather than spend the money to have it fixed (or not), I bought a new Stihl, available at Ar-Jon Outdoor Power Equipment on Comsewogue Road in East Setauket. Very light, good power, $140.

While landscapers use the much heavier and noisier backpack blower, the Stihl is perfect for the homeowner, as indispensable to the lady gardener as to the lazy teen. If you have under a half-dozen oak trees, this is all you need. Gardeners should prefer control over leaf removal. If you have an incipient woodland garden, for example, blow all the leaves into it; they will prevent weed seeds from germinating and in two years will be earthworm-loving humus. Or blow them under the arching stems of the forsythia and into the hydrangeas.

Leaf mold is a most excellent compost. You could pile all your leaves in a hidden, out-of-the-way corner and start a large compost pile with which to annually amend your organic kitchen garden.

I have had, in a protected corner of a client’s garden, a Euphorbia characias. A common sight in sophisticated English gardens, it is an evergreen spurge native to the Mediterranean and thus not very hardy here. A year and a half ago I scattered its seeds in my home garden. Last spring they started germinating, albeit in an exposed location. The deer haven’t touched them because of the sticky sap. And this past month I have blown leaves into them, providing much needed insulation.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

A clump of wild onions is an easy target in the gardener’s off-season.

By Kyrnan Harvey

In the avid gardener’s off-season, from Thanksgiving through February, if the temperatures are above 40 and the ground is not frozen, nor too waterlogged, I like to layer-up and head outside to pull up onions.

Wild onion (Allium vineale), or wild garlic, disfigures beds and lawns, more especially at the end of winter before the landscape begins to green up. The bluish-green grasslike leaves emerge in fall and remain in view all winter, the more so when our lawns lose their verdure with the cold temps and our beds are bereft of show. An old clump can be a foot tall, growing from a tight-knit congregation of a hundred bulbs.

The forged-steel hand fork is the best weeding tool.

I use a hand fork, similar to a trowel, but with three tines instead of a blade, and I am not talking about the three-tined hand cultivator. This is a tool few gardeners seem to use, or even know, but along with the steel-shafted spade and the Felco bypass secateurs is one of the indispensables. Many years ago it was easy to find forged steel ones (the defunct Smith & Hawken), in which the tines did not get bent out of alignment in tree-rooty soil. Avoid these cheap ones. There is one from Holland (DeWit Forged Hand Fork) that costs 20 bucks.

This tool is ideal for lifting out small plants — or a clump of bulbs — and teasing out the roots from the soil. Obviously, if you pull up weeds without their roots, they will surely grow back, often with increased vengeance. Nor do you want to remove too much soil with the roots, else your five-gallon bucket will get heavy real quick. And don’t dump that bucket in your compost, the bulbs won’t rot.

In the case of wild onions, you must remove from the soil the miniature onion bulbs themselves. There is another, similar, bulbous weed called star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). Their leaves have a white midrib, and they lack the bluish tint — and, most obviously, the odor — of onions. Not native to North America, they have pretty flowers and an evocative common name, but they seed themselves everywhere and have become a major nuisance where once they were planted as an ornamental.

Bulbs — the lovely tulips and daffs and bluebells, as well as their weedy relatives — go dormant in summer, their leaves browning and melting into the soil. Many a time have I dug into soil to plant a shrub or perennials and have had the blade of my spade slice through daffodil or hyacinth bulbs.

Wild onions emerge in a newly graveled patio.

If you are digging in midsummer, colonizing a frontier of the garden, you might unearth a hidden clump of wild onion, or star of Bethlehem, now dormant without leaves visible. In this case you will, in effect, be dividing a compact clump of bulbs and “splintering it into a thousand pieces.”

Later, in fall, each of these bulbs will send up their monocotyledonous leaves in a now-wider area of your planting bed. Weeds are visual noise in an otherwise harmonious garden setting, an irritant to a conscientious green thumb because experience dictates that they will only increase exponentially. A window of opportunity to remove onions and Ornithogalum and other cool-season weeds presents itself in the balmier days of the long months of winter.

To reward yourself, if you have already gotten started on this meditative chore, or to incentivize yourself if you haven’t, order 25-50 deer-proof Allium ‘Gladiator’ to plant willy-nilly in and among your established — and, er, weed-free — plantings (provided they get enough sun). More on this next time.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

The white petals of Large-Cupped N. 'Roulette' are a perfect foil for the orange and yellow frilled corona.

By Kyrnan Harvey

No need to panic, there’s plenty of time to order bulbs. True, some varieties might be sold out, but the importers ship through December and bulbs can be planted as long as the ground isn’t frozen. I have, in the past, gotten away with planting after New Year’s.

Above, fragrant Narcissus ‘Kedron’ (jonquilla class) naturalized with other daffodils and myrtle


I once had a garden with soil on the sandy side, enriched in the early years with wood-chip mulch, which eventually decomposes into humus. Here many kinds of tulips were naturalized. They need good drainage, and no excessive irrigation, in the summer months when they are dormant, or else they will rot. If I had planted five of one variety in 1998, by 2008 bulbs had increased with offsets that were flowering size. Tulips growing informally through forget-me-nots and among many other spring flowers and shrubs — as opposed to a stiffly formal throwaway mass display planting — are incomparably charming. But they are said to be caviar to deer.

Daffodils though are 100 percent deer proof. Nor do squirrels dig for them as they do for tulips. I like to plant them in a similar style: many different varieties, each segregated from other varieties. I don’t like daffodil “mixes” — five or 10 bulbs, spaced a few inches apart, randomly arranged (meaning asymmetrically, nongeometrically). In two or three years these bulbs will have a dozen or more flowers. Daffodils increase and naturalize far more reliably than tulips.

There are many more varieties of Narcissus than will be seen at Home Depot or a garden center. Thirty years ago, when I was employed as a gardener at Mrs. Whitney’s Manhasset estate, we participated in a flower show at Macy’s Herald Square. The head gardener, my boss, presented an instructional display with examples from each of the 13 divisions of daffodils, as established by the Royal Horticultural Society: trumpets, large-cupped and small-cupped N. triandrus, N. jonquilla, N. poeticus and so on.

Above, the charming Narcissus jonquilla ‘Kokopelli’

You can find, via numerous stateside bulb importers (Brent & Becky’s, John Scheepers, White Flower Farm), splendid cultivars from any and all of these classes. Moreover, within each division, there are many variations of form and diversity of color: white perianth (the petals) with yellow or orange or pink corona (the cup, or trumpet); yellow perianth/orange cup; white perianth/white cup. The rims of the cups can have different colors too and the cups and petals can have various forms.

It is easy to fill your garden with many different long-lived daffodils, each of which has its own distinctive charm and all of which, when viewed collectively in the vernal garden, harmonize with their compadres. You can do better than merely more ‘Mount Hood’ and ‘King Alfred.’ Many are delightfully scented, which is not, by the way, the cloying odor of the florists’ tender paperwhite narcissus. If you plant a dozen varieties this year, in five years you will be able to fill vases with bountiful, perfumed bouquets.

Daffodils tolerate full sun and part shade. The pink-cupped ones prefer the latter because it preserves their color. Deep shade and water-logged soil must be avoided. Cut the spent flowers but the leaves must be left uncut, unbent, and unbraided for weeks after flowering is finished. Finding companion perennials that disguise this unsightly phase of the growth cycle — and that won’t be chowed by deer! — is a finer aspect of horticulture best left to another day.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

Japanese maple seedlings in a woodland setting have the best fall colors. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

“It’s fall, right?” my 7-year-old just asked. And I was like, “Um, yeah?” Notwithstanding a few weeks of unseasonably balmy, if not muggy, days, it is October and the first noticeable autumnal tints are seen in the American dogwoods that grow along the margins of the Laurel Ridge-Setauket Woods Nature Preserve on Belle Mead Road.

You needn’t be a gardener — nor ferry up to New England — to enjoy the weeks of glorious colors in the maples and the oaks in random woods and suburban roads: the yellow Norway maple, the red-orange of sugar and red maples, the russet-reds of the oaks.

There are many kinds of shrubs too, of course, that present fall color. These typically color up best in sunnier locations, but the native spicebush (Lindera benzoin), ubiquitous in our woods because the deer leave them alone, are beginning to yellow even in heavy shade. Last Saturday I was driving on Mt. Grey and West Meadow roads in Old Field, where homes are nestled into our native oak woods. Naturalized in the understory are the native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, and planted rhododendrons that had grown massive before the deer population exploded.

If you live under a high canopy of oak trees, but want some great fall color, Japanese maples are a superb understory tree: They prefer some shade and will color up well despite it. Japanese maples are not limited to the popular weeping lacy trees. They are primarily Acer palmatum, but they also refer to Acer japonicum and Acer shirasawanum.

Japanese maple seedlings flourish in a woodland setting. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

The grafted cut-leaf Japanese maple is justifiably popular but not inexpensive. These are propagated vegetatively, i.e., not by seed; they are called cultivated varieties (cultivars, in the trade), meaning they have specific genes; and they are identical to one another in leaf shape, size and color and also in rate of growth and habit, by which is meant the shape of the crown, whether pyramidal, weeping or columnar.

The spectacular cut-leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum), red-leafed or green, is better used singly, as a specimen. Mature tress will get to be 15 feet in diameter, so do not make the common mistake of planting it too close to your driveway or front path or up close to your house. It is always a shame to have to restrict with pruning the natural form of these.

If you have the opportunity to plant a grove of Japanese maples, maybe for screening or to start a woodland garden, then the most expedient way would be to find a source of random Acer palmatum seedlings. Young trees, cheap. Don’t overly favor the showy red-leaved ones; select if you can a mix of green and red. In Joe’s garden, a client, there were three or four mature Japanese maples. We had many dozens of seedlings, offspring from the mother trees, growing out of the compost of years of leaf-blowing.

Many years ago Joe and I potted up a few of the younger ones, from 3 to 7 years old, and on a sunny Saturday morning in late October loaded them into the 8-foot bed of my ’68 Chevy. We parked on 5th Avenue in Park Slope in Brooklyn and presented a sidewalk sale. They were gorgeous in their variety of fall reds, oranges and even yellows. Fifteen years later and there are many dozens more seedlings, I just can’t bring myself to pull them up and throw them in the compost pile.

True, the deer will nip them as long as they can reach the branches. It is worth the effort to spritz a little deer repellent, especially in April, May, and June, for the first couple years until the branches are up and out of their reach. There is a blight on them, a soil-borne fungus called Verticillium wilt, that causes branches to die. Cut them back to the trunk. Sometimes the whole tree dies. If you have a dozen or more trees, as I recommend, and they are seeding themselves around, then it’s easy-come-easy-go. You don’t have to mourn the loss of a tree if there are many more healthy ones about.

It’s okay to start with unnamed seedlings of Acer palmatum. They are always gorgeous, leafing out in spring with their iconic leaves, or changing color in fall, they are never out of scale in the garden and comport well with companion shrubs and perennials. You could order a dozen and supplement them with a few choice named cultivars that you gradually collect at the garden center or through mail-order sources; or you could start right off with the choice varieties.

It would be preferable to have some of these splendid cultivars because some of their offspring seedlings will carry their desirable traits. Japanese maples are prolific self-sowers, so you might want to plant two or three of the great, well-known varieties: Invest in a few large trees, sourced at a nursery. Have them planted in locations that establish the structure and articulate the paths of a new woodland garden, underplant them with perennials and start looking out for seedlings next year!

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

Cerise mum, second year.

By Kyrnan Harvey

This year the deer have left our chrysanthemums alone. So far. This is our third year in the Three Villages, and the assumption originally was that aromatic plants are passed over by the white-tailed browsers. Wishful thinking.


Old-fashioned Korean mums naturalized

Last year, the mums were left alone all summer, until the buds formed on the flower stems, which apparently are a delicacy for discerning deer in the know. This year, we sprayed deer repellent once on the cerise mum near the driveway entrance but none on the ‘Dark Bronze Daisy’ or the unnamed Home Depot orange mum. And who knew? These latter two are a square yard untouched and flowering beautifully for a month already and the cerise one is just now popping.

This morning, while pulling up unwanted goldenrod volunteers, I became reacquainted with a gorgeous white one, very tall and promising in bud now, that I had plucked last year from the florist shelves at the market.

As a garden designer favoring naturalistic plantings, I generally eschew the seasonal mum installations. But I do love the colors; who doesn’t? There are many varieties grown, often two apparently identical colors are actually merely similar colors, subtly different varieties. Usually you will find a small label with a cultivar name on it, like ‘Plumberry Purple’ or ‘Flamingo Pineapple’. Every year one or two colors at Home Depot or Stop&Shop or my myriad wholesale sources catches my fancy. I am often asked “Are they perennial?” “How do you know which ones will come back next year?”

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’

In years past I would answer that the “old-fashioned” single ones, formerly called Korean mums and rarely seen in garden centers, are reliably hardy and perennial. There is a charming single pale apricot must-have called ‘Sheffield Pink’ that is absolutely perennial and that flowers very late. But I am now convinced that the brilliantly colored doubles will naturalize too and need not be regarded as throwaways. I buy just one piece (as the nurserymen say) and find a suitable location for that color.

I cannot account for the gustatory vagaries or the culinary whimsies of our graceful quadripeds, but here is how to get “dem” mums to survive the winter and to increase in girth. Don’t plant them too late and don’t let them dry out.

Don’t buy a pot in September for your front door, neglect to water it three straight sunny 75 degree days, and then not plant it outside until Thanksgiving.

Typically chrysanthemums are root-bound in those green plastic pots. Root-bound means they dry out quickly and watering can’t penetrate the density of roots. The good independent garden centers have staff that know how and how often to water them to keep them from drying out — not so at the box stores. There is a point of no return, if left unwatered for too long. Haven’t we all seen inventories of mums fried and roasting at the edge of the parking lot, wilted to a crisp? It’s okay to decorate the porch for a couple weeks, but put saucers under them and if they’re in the sun err on the side of too much water.

Chrysanthemum ‘Dark Bronze Daisy’ third year

Another common pitfall is to assume that once it is planted and you have thoroughly drenched it, you are done. Not necessarily the case, never more so than the past few weeks when it has been unseasonably warm and it hasn’t rained. We did a large mum installation at a client’s temple for the holidays. No automatic irrigation, and we watered by hose two times a week for a couple weeks. Checked in after a long weekend and sure enough a few of the 70 were wilting. Even where there is automatic irrigation, hand water if there are no good soakings from mother nature.

When planting out your mums, they will want, like most daisies, a sunny spot if your intention is for them to perennialize. Also needed is good, loose soil that’s been dug free of tree roots and soil compaction. Water in well at planting and as necessary for a few weeks, so that they will root in to their new soil. This is the key; this is what determines whether they survive through to next year: Are they established in the garden well before the hard frosts of January? I usually leave the unsightly spent flowers uncut until March. My sense is that these provide insulation from winds to the basal foliage, visible even in a flowering plant, upon which the plants’ future depends.

Of course, you can still plant mums with no expectation that they will provide perennial pleasures. You still have to keep them watered, but you can cram them into crummy builders’ fill under oak trees — as we did at the temple — and do it again next year. But it is really delightful and gratifying to see drifts of sprays of that superb color year in, year out. They actually are carefree and drought tolerant once established. And if the deer one year take a fancy to that color? You’ll live, and next year you will enjoy the show more.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey