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Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Successful perennial plantings present landscaping solutions that endure for a few years at a minimum: right plant, right place. Yarrows, peonies, echinaceas, catmint, sages and grasses of all kinds are dependable year-in, year-out, with no worries that the deer will compromise the peak of their performance with unpredictable browsing.

But what about annuals? What possibilities are there for long seasons of color that deliver a strong return on our efforts, and that the deer will dependably leave alone? Here’s a few that my wife and I have successfully grown in our East Setauket garden, which happens to be Grand Central Station for deer. These plants supply many weeks of color and character and carry the garden from July through October, and they too can be counted on as year-in, year-out solutions. These here all require plenty of sun, so if you haven’t got enough, maybe it’s time to call an arborist and remove some Norway maples, Ailanthus (tree of heaven) or black locust.

Snapdragons flower in early summer. They are charming in a vase and there are some great colors out there. They self-seed for us and occasionally overwinter. We like the taller ones; the deer don’t.

Nor do they touch cosmos or zinnias. The former are charming daisies, the embodiment of simplicity in the garden; the latter have the colors that remind me of vintage psychedelic rock posters. Buy them at the garden center or start seeds in April. We prefer the tall zinnia seed strain, Giant. Dead-head spent flowers, especially the zinnias.

We love lantana. Readily available, we have certain varieties in certain colors that we look out for. The Bandana series is upright and not trailing. They are actually perennial, woody shrubs, native in the tropics and thus not hardy. Vibrantly colored, heat and drought tolerant, aromatic, they attract hummingbirds and butterflies. 

We started years ago supplementing clients’ sunny beds with them, and we’d cut them back to about a foot in early November; dig them up and squeeze them into as small an azalea pot (broader than deep) as possible; water them in just once; leave them a day or two outside; and leave them alone to be dormant in a cold (but not freezing) garage or basement. We try to place them where there is a window, just a tiny bit of light, let them get good and dry, and water only every three or four weeks. We move them outside in May, they start growing, and by late May they are planted out again. They get larger from year to year, but we still pot them up, not without questioning our sanity, and are rewarded with lantanas a yard high and wide — a splendid filler after spring and early summer perennials are finished.

One might expect zaftig dahlias to be irresistible to deer, but astonishingly they are unmolested. My wife has become the in-house dahlia enthusiast at Bosky Garden Design, adding each year to her collection of favorites. And there are indeed so many gorgeous varieties. The best cut flowers, you can grow them just for that, or they are easily incorporated in mixed planting schemes, color combination possibilities are endless. We overwinter them, again in a cold basement, bare of soil, wrapped first in newspaper and placed in those 5-cent plastic bags with peat moss.

We love the shock of red of scarlet sage, if used wisely (i.e., segregated), but salvias of all kinds are avoided by deer. Salvia greggii is sold as an annual, but some varieties will be perennial given favorable conditions. This is a plant to look for; there is a wide range of colors, some hardier than others.

Cleome will self-seed prolifically, not until late May. Sparkler is a great seed strain that is tall and that repels deer for sure.

Last, and certainly not least, we have Verbena bonariensis, a short-lived perennial, technically, that succumbs to temperatures below 10 degrees but that self-seeds more abundantly than even cleome. For us it is a tall matrix plant that intermingles everywhere in the garden. Loved by butterflies, loathed by deer, it epitomizes and unifies the naturalistic planting style.

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

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

The sign for Patriots Hollow State Forest along Route 25A in Setauket. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

I was able to attend a meeting of the Three Village Community Trust last Thursday that addressed the complicated issue of nonnative invasive plants. Guest speaker Luke Gervase of the Long Island Invasive Species Management Area led the discussion that emphasized Patriots Hollow State Forest, the few dozen acres of woods running north and west of Route 25A in Setauket, roughly opposite Stop & Shop. Recently the trust announced that it is working toward a stewardship agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, as reported in these pages, to restore the woods, currently impenetrable with fallen and cracked trees and the bittersweet, greenbriar and multiflora rose that have seized the day.

But this is not a virgin forest. English settlers in the 17th century farmed along North Country Road and what would become 25A, and the Setalcotts likely did the same before that. 

The Fitzsimmons family started farming there in 1939, growing potatoes, and in ensuing years acquired parcels and rented the land to other farmers. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center owned 30 acres along 25A since the 1960s, which was tilled as late as 1980. In other words, this was more or less open land until the farming was discontinued. 

Immediately thereafter began the ecological succession of plants that start germinating in fallow fields. On Long Island these would have first been sun-loving perennials like asters, grasses, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), goldenrods and milkweeds, but also sun-loving woody plants like eastern red cedar, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, Rosa multiflora, sumacs (Rhus spp.), wild raspberries and blackberries (Rubus spp.). Native trees like gray birch and black cherry and exotics, like white mulberry and black locust, soon start displacing the pioneering species.

Desirable successional tree species would be hardwood natives like oaks, sassafras and black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), but 40 years later at Patriots Hollow we have, in this prime location within the Old Setauket Historic District, a vast mess of nonnative invasives like black locust, tree of heaven (Ailanthus) and Norway maple that out-competed other canopy trees like the native red maple, the caterpillar-hosting black cherry and the dignified white oak and have precluded the prosperity of understory natives like shadbush (Amelanchier), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), spicebush and American holly, not to mention the potential of an array of wonderful undergrowth perennials.

Restoring Patriots Hollow Forest to a multifunctional habitat (for birds and insects, as well as for human use with trails) by engineering species diversity through vertical layering (canopy trees, understory trees and shrubs, undergrowth perennials) and horizontal layering (woods, edge of woods, open clearing) is a daunting project. It requires a vision, human and financial resources and a coherent set of attainable goals. Cynthia Barnes, president of the board of trustees for the Three Village Community Trust, says that a task force will be meeting to draft some preliminary guidelines and ideas for restoration of this DEC property, including doing an inventory of the flora and fauna and describing the current conditions. The task force will work on hosting facilitated public planning workshops in collaboration with the DEC later this year.

Which brings me back to our speaker, Gervase of the LIISMA, who made the point that it is advised to only gradually remove nonnative invasives, else you are clearing the way for a new wave of opportunistic invasive. For example, if you cut down all the black locusts, then you will quickly get a vast inundation of fast-growing Norway maples. But this presumes there will be little or no maintenance at the site. Thousands of freshly germinated maple seedlings can annually be quickly rubbed out with a scuffle hoe, if there is an integrated management plan in place.

Nor need a rigidly dogmatic approach be adopted. Perhaps some black locusts should be left, ones that have attained to the gnarly character of old age, considering that they are “near native”; that it is not prohibitively difficult to establish understory trees, shrubs and perennials under them and that their wood is for split-rail fencing. 

I advocate for a nuanced approach that would be capable of adapting to shifting circumstances and that would be capable of improvising wise decisions midstream.

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

Arrangements of cut lilac flowers can brighten a room and fill a house with their delightful scent. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

My wife cut a large bunch of lilac flowers yesterday and stuffed them in a pewter pitcher. We inherited an old shrub when we moved to East Setauket. English ivy was growing up its gnarly stems, a young black cherry was growing right through the clump and bittersweet had twisted itself up into the crown. There were only a couple blooms the first May here — the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris — but I immediately freed it and cut out cracked branches and each year it has been more bountiful.

Lilacs are deer-proof and otherwise very tough and durable shrubs that present wonderful colors and scents to the early spring garden. Most are in bloom for the second Sunday in May, but if you plant a few different types — early, mid, and late varieties — you can have that lilac scent in your garden — and home — for four weeks. 

This week the earliest, the hyacinthiflora hybrids, may be about faded and finished. If you see a Syringa x hyacinthiflora label on a shrub in a garden center it will be a good variety: dark “Royal Purple” or reddish “Pocahontas” or “Maiden’s Blush.” Add one each year if you have the space. I planted an “Angel White” two years ago but so far it has been shy of flower.

Last year I discovered the gorgeous “Declaration,” with reddish tints in the purple, at a wholesale nursery. I gave one to mom and planted one myself. My son’s school bus driver apparently has a good eye for an unusual color so I got her one too. The common vulgaris lilac is not easily discerned from hybrids, but they flower a little later. I have my eye out for “Beauty of Moscow” (pink buds, white flowers), for “Primrose” (creamy yellow, most strongly perfumed), and for “Wonderblue,” but there are dozens of varieties, only a few of which are readily available commercially. Just avoid buying a plant merely labeled S. vulgaris, because it might be just a little too ordinary and there are so many good cultivars to seek out. My old stomping ground, the New York Botanical Garden, has an astounding collection, cataloged online. Hurry there and take notes. 

A week or so after the common lilac, the so-called Canadian lilacs flower. Bred originally in Ottawa by a Miss Preston they are hybrids labeled S. x prestoniae. “Donald Wyman” has been readily available for as long as I can remember, and maybe “Red Wine,” but that’s about all. 

Extend the lilac season with S. patula “Miss Kim” and S. meyeri “Palibin.” Known as Korean lilacs, they are both dwarfer than the old-fashioned varieties. “Miss Kim” is readily available, “Palibin” less so, though it has caught on in recent years. “Miss Kim” is a valuable addition for its flowering season well past all others, except the badly scented tree lilac. 

“Palibin” has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It doesn’t get much taller than five or six feet and it spreads broadly, rooting in. I have dug up pieces for years and planted them in clients’ gardens. It flowers profusely in light shade, doesn’t get powdery mildew, and is twiggy with small leaves.

All the other varieties must have tons of sun. Even then, they might be shy of flowering, especially when still young. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer. Very old shrubs too can disappoint with flower production, and, moreover, be overgrown eyesores. Every few years you should cut to the ground a third of the gnarliest old stems, which encourages fresh new growth, and reduces the shrubs to better scale. Do this directly after flowering, and give them lime. Or — if you burn logs in your fireplace — spread the ash around your lilacs.

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

The long, scented racemes of Japanese wisteria, W. floribunda, ‘White/Blue Eye’, trained here as a tree, appear before the vine leafs out. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Wisterias and lilacs are reliably in flower around the second Sunday in May on Long Island and, being 100 percent deerproof, make wonderful gifts for a mom who loves her garden. 

They are long-lived and durable, which is certainly an understatement regarding wisteria. When I bought my house in East Setauket there was 20 or 30 years of unchecked growth between my house and a neighbor’s that was serving as a de facto privacy barrier: Oriental bittersweet, English ivy, Russian olive and natives poison ivy and greenbrier that were choking to near death a pair of American dogwoods and a few native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin). There was wisteria too, clambering all over the dead limbs of a fallen spruce. 

My neighbor bemoaned the invasiveness of the wisteria, which was running along the ground, rooting in and climbing her Chinese dogwoods, an old beautybush (Kolkwitzia) and her giant old weeping cherry tree. I agreed that it is awfully invasive but that I would not remove it, valuing as I do the beauty and delightful scent of its flowers. I cut any vines that were not supported by the dead fallen spruce and initiated a war on the other nonnative invasives, preserving the dogwoods and clearing the way for my wife’s cut-flower/kitchen garden, and, yes, diminishing the privacy between our houses. 

Yes, wisteria is horribly invasive, but sometimes it is worth leaving to climb into weed trees or over a chain-link fence, in which case you will want to be vigilant with the secateurs and folding pruning saw. If you have a pergola, the posts and beams of which are tall enough and strong enough, and you want a vine to grow over it, then wisteria is certainly at the top of the list of options. Consider well though the commitment of maintenance, which is to climb a ladder and cut-cut-cut the endless yards of rampant new growth all summer after flowering in May.

I have been planting wisterias since I started gardening 30 years ago. One of the first mistakes I made was buying a young (two- or three-year-old), unnamed, Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). I trained it to grow as a standard (tree form), but it was years before it flowered and, when it did, the flowers appeared simultaneously with the leaves, which partially obscured the flowers. 

After 15 years of cut-cut-cut atop a step-ladder summer after summer, I asked Joe, my assistant, to cut it down. I couldn’t do it myself but I was ready with a superior replacement: a grafted tree form, Wisteria floribunda, ‘Shiro-noda’ (Snow Showers), in a 15-gallon container. For the next 10 years this was an absolute highlight of the gardening year, the very long fragrant white racemes appearing before the “tree” leafed out and with forget-me-nots and tulips below and a tree peony nearby. 

If you want to buy a wisteria, seek a named cultivar of the Chinese (W. sinensis) or Japanese (W. floribunda) variety. Unless you want to grow it up a pergola, see if you can find one trained on a single trunk. It will always need support, as the physiology of the trunk is that of a vine, needing support to climb, and not that of a self-supporting tree. Grow it as a tree and curtail its growth. If you plant a grafted wisteria, you won’t have to wait years for it to start flowering. And I very much prefer varieties that flower before leafing out.

If wisteria sounds like too much of an undertaking and commitment, there is the option of a lilac (Syringa) for mother. These are nearly carefree, of equally delightful scent and the topic of my next gardening column. 

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

By Kyrnan Harvey

Mother’s Day is still a few weeks away, giving you plenty of time to shop around for a living plant that will typically be in bloom around second Sundays in May for many years to come.  

Three woody plants readily come to mind that happen to be 100 percent deer proof, long-lived, justifiably popular and reliably in flower May 5 to 15 on Long Island: wisteria, lilac and tree peony. Choice varieties of wisteria and lilac can be found locally at garden centers, with tree peonies less likely. You can get some terrific varieties of tree peonies via mail order, and there is still time to get an order delivered by May 13 but don’t delay.

If you buy an old home with a garden, it is very likely there will be some herbaceous peonies. Durable and long-lived, they are an old-fashioned perfumed favorite for garden and vase. But these peonies die to the ground and are cut down in early fall.

A tree peony in bloom.

Tree peonies, on the other hand, are so-called not because they become trees but because they have woody stems: They are shrubs that do not get cut annually to the ground.

Originally cultivated a couple millennia ago in China for the medicinal use of the skin of its root, Paeonia suffruticosa is a conglomerate of wild species, primarily Paeonia rockii, that have been hybridized. Its sumptuous beauty was naturally celebrated early on by artists, scholars and monks, thereby attaining cultural and imperial significance and assimilation into Japanese court and temple too. In both China and Japan they came to represent wealth, status and female beauty: 

‘When the peonies bloomed,

It seemed as though there were

No flowers around them.’

– Kiitsu (as quoted at TreePeony.com)

The advent of grafting for propagation in the Edo period in Japan contributed to its spread, and breeding by famed nurseryman Lemoine in France in the 19th century and by the American A. P. Saunders in the 20th have resulted in scores of stunning varieties of color and form. 

They are expensive. You can chance upon cheap one- or two-year grafts, in two-gallon pots, labeled merely “red” or “white” or “pink” or “purple.” I avoid these, unless I catch one in flower from which to judge its vigor, and the price is not more than $30. 

Examples of tree peonies in a garden.

There is a wonderful source in northwest Connecticut called Cricket Hill Garden, which I have not visited. It has a beautiful website, dozens of varieties for sale, though some ship only for fall-planting, and White Flower Farm has always shown great judgment in the quality of its plant selection ­— they have six gorgeous varieties still available.

These will be shipped bare-root. You could pot it up for presentation. Avoid a water-logged site for planting. All peonies, herbaceous or woody, will thrive in full sun. Dappled shade is often recommended for tree peonies, and this is indeed preferable because the flowers will last longer, which is not many days by the way, even in the best circumstances. If your soil is compacted you must loosen a square yard a foot deep and, of course, amend with compost if it isn’t loamy. 

If planted in good soil in a good location your gnarly little grafted tree peony will make modest growth this year; will present one or two flowers next year; and will, in five years, become a yard high and wide, with at least a dozen fat buds, and will for many more years to come be a perennial highlight in the gardening year.

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

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

A young tree hydrangea, after late-winter pruning, collects some April snow. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Naturalized snowdrops (deerproof) have been a delightful sight for weeks, and my favorite crocus (not deerproof), the rampant self-seeding Crocus tommasinianus, has been braving the snows for a long time already. But, really, signs of spring have been scant. The beginning of the baseball season always corresponds neatly with the beginning of the gardening season. I am seeing forsythia-yellow here and there, albeit only in sunny, sheltered locations, and I just got a text that the first Little League practice is Wednesday. So I think it is fair to assume that baseball season is under way, which means there’s an awful lot of gardening work to do.

The snow has melted away and the ground is not frozen, but the low standard for “a nice day” through this past March has been 40 degrees but at least with sun and no wind. Thanks for nothing. Only last week did we begin to see the landscape trucks and trailers lumbering around, but we had started a week earlier with cutback of perennials, especially the many grasses we grow.

I do prefer to leave nature’s mulch, the leaves, un-removed through winter. But there are places were they do accumulate too much and, wet and matted, they will smother to death germinated seedlings of desirable perennials. So we do remove leaves occasionally. But the best thing a gardener could do, where feasible, is to spread a thin layer of compost over the leaf litter. Any organic mulch will do, bagged or delivered by the yard. You get the tidy, uniform look of freshly mulched beds — but without disturbing the soil ecology provided by nature’s mulch.

If you have a garden of many naturalized perennials, like I do, then mulching in April is not recommended. Biennials like forget-me-not, foxglove, black-eyed Susans, sweet rocket (Hesperis) and love-in-a-mist will have germinated the previous summer, and thus have attained enough stature to push through light leaf litter. But naturalizing perennials like columbines, hellebores and coneflowers will be smothered equally by heavy, wet accumulations of leafage — and by landscapers’ mulch. 

The easiest way to a romantically wild, not overly manicured, garden is to let desirable perennials self-seed. Let your Echinacea and Salvia and Verbena bonariensis go to seed, and then be sure not to crush and smother them in the spring and you will have that cottage garden you admire in books.

There is a lot of late-winter/early-spring pruning of woody shrubs and subshrubs to do. It confuses novice gardeners but it needn’t. Spring-flowering shrubs (lilacs, viburnums, Spiraea thunbergii and Spiraea × vanhouttei, brooms, Japanese quince, forsythia) bloom on last year’s growth and should be pruned, if necessary, after flowering. Any and all summer-flowering plants get pruned hard, now, before new growth starts. Buddleia, Caryopteris, peegee hydrangeas (H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’), Spiraea japonica varieties, rose of Sharon and, last but not least, roses. These flower on the current season’s wood and must be pruned in March or April to avoid legginess.

There are some woodys that are grown for the color of their leaves or stems. Willows, like the blue arctic willow (Salix purpurea) and Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (ubiquitous in garden centers in the last few years) and shrubby red-stem or yellow-stem dogwoods get cut hard at the end of winter.

The marginally hardy Mediterranean subshrubs (rosemary, lavender, culinary sage, Santolina) did take a beating this winter — remember the two or three near-zero nights in December? — but wait a week or two before cutting down to live wood. In the meantime, if your perennial cutback is complete and end-of-winter pruning too, there are plenty of cool-season weeds to pull, like the hairy bittercress, henbit, chickweed, shepherd’s purse and dandelion. Get ‘em before they go to seed.

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

Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde ambition’) is a welcome presence through winter. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

At the High Line, the exemplary greenway planted over the abandoned elevated railroad on the west side of Manhattan, the professional horticulturists wait until March for the “cutback” of herbaceous perennials. The dry foliage and stalks gone to seed offer shelter, food and perching possibilities to birds. Leaving them uncut through winter also protects the dormant crowns of plants from winter cold and wind.

But there is a third reason practitioners of the New Perennialist movement delay until March — along with the ecological and the horticultural, there is also the aesthetic. The art of close observation has rewarded us with appreciation of the browns of winter: the lines, the textures and the patterns, especially with the white counterpoint of snow underneath and fresh snow draping the skeletal remains.

The 19th-century Irishman William Robinson was the progenitor of the movement that steered away from formal, geometrical, Victorian bedding-out schemes and garish patterns of hothouse flowers. Through his illustrated books, “The Wild Garden” and “The English Flower Garden” (readily available in reprints); his journal, The Garden; his famous garden Gravetye Manor in Sussex; and through his friendship and collaboration with his contemporary Gertrude Jekyll, he introduced many gardening traditions that today are synonymous with “the English garden” — herbaceous borders, mixed borders (small trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, biennials and annuals grown together in informal drifts), ground covers and rock gardens.

Robinson rejected the artificial, statuary, topiary, fountains and carpet bedding and extolled the naturalistic, the wild and the untidy. His inspiration was not Italian grandeur but rather the simple cottage garden: hardy plants from around the world naturalized to blend into their surroundings. “The best kind of garden grows out of the situation, as the primrose grows out of a cool bank,” he writes in “The English Garden.”

It is an aesthetic that discovers and appreciates the subtle beauties of the natural world in all its diversity near and far. Karl Foerster (1874-1970) was a German nurseryman and writer who discovered a great many perennials, not least grasses, and elevated their status within gardening cognoscenti.

Many of these are North American natives — asters, coneflowers, goldenrods, and most importantly, grasses — but it was European plantsmen, nurserymens and philosopher-gardeners (Ernst Pagels, Mien Ruys, Rob Leopold, Henk Gerritsen, James van Sweden, Wolfgang Oehme) who in the mid-to-late 20th century introduced and popularized many dozens of plants — and the naturalistic aesthetic — that today we take for granted and that is now known as the New Perennialist movement.

And it is a Dutchman, Piet Oudolf, who today is the most acclaimed and influential plantsman and garden designer. The planting at the High Line is the embodiment of his celebrated aesthetic, and is merely one of his many public gardens revealed in a documentary that premiered last November titled “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf.” He has written numerous books but my favorite is “Oudolf Hummelo,” co-written with Noel Kingsbury. (Hummelo is his family garden in Holland started in 1982.) It is in his beautiful books (or his Instagram) that you will quickly appreciate the merits of delaying until March the cutback of perennials.

As winter drags on, I only just started to cut back the grasses to expose the pushing daffodils. I know of a gardener who uses a mower at its maximum cutting height, but I have Narcissus, Camassia, Allium and Eremurus visible already, so I use my gas-powered hedge trimmer, which makes really quick work of cutting down even the most beastly Miscanthus, and I can be careful not to step on the precocious perennials.

Nor am I in any rush to get to work on the late-winter pruning and cutback of summer-blooming shrubs like Buddleia, Caryopteris, Hydrangea paniculata and roses. I prefer to wait until late March, when any threat of arctic blast is past.

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

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 www.boskygarden.com.

Begonia

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 www.boskygarden.com.

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 kyrnanh@yahoo.com for possible inclusion in this column.

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

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