Gardening

If Caran Markson could make the world green, cover it in manicured sets of pollinating flowers and sweet smelling herbs, she would. 

Hearing her talk about planting and gardening, the possibilities seem endless. If she had unlimited hours in the day, she would pick up every spare piece of litter on the road from Port Jeff to Montauk, she would kneel in the medians along Route 25A with cars flashing past on either side and weed the curbs of their overgrown stalks and giant vegetation. If she was the queen of gardening, there would be a pocket park on every corner of every publicly accessed street in Suffolk County, or even wider, all of New York state. If she was the monarch of the pollinating flowers, there would be a gardener for every county, town and village, and she would lead her army from the front.

PJ Village Gardener Caran Markson transplants and weeds near the Village Center June 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

To hear her speak, one may truly believe the world could be green from one end to the other, if only there were more people with mindsets like hers. 

“A gardener’s work is never done,” Markson said. “Turn around after you’ve done something, and if you don’t enjoy it or see the progress you’ve made, then you’ve got to go do something else.”

But alas, she can only control what goes on in Port Jefferson village, and there’s more than enough there to keep her occupied. Since she started six years ago, she has turned from one of two seasonal part-time village gardeners to the lone full-time caretaker of the village’s many pocket parks. She’s out nearly every day of the week, most of the time beginning the job at 6 a.m. She’s out on the weekends too. She’s out in the blazing sun and the drizzling rain. In normal times, she would open the basketball court and Rocketship Park and take out the trash. She still walks all around the village and picks up litter, every single discarded wrapper and cigarette butt. To her, strewn garbage is public enemy number 1. 

“Because I’m a nut, and I’m an absolute anal person as far as litter is concerned,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful everyone throws everything on the ground.”

In autumn, she keeps the parks clear of debris. In the winter, she’s out shoveling snow. She has worked with the Long Island Explorium to construct three rain gardens at Village Hall, the Village Center and the Department of Public Works building, the last called the Whale’s Tail for its unique shape. She works an area of 3 square miles, from the country club to downtown and uptown to the village limits near the train station. 

At 61, with a wiry frame, Markson is like a coiled spring as she attacks green spots in the village such as the gardens next to Harborfront Park and in the center of the roundabout next to the Village Center. Three years ago, she described it as “a bunch of weeds, and a bunch of overgrown looking bushes.” The village parks department helped remove the old shrub, and Markson replanted it with many native plants like Sweet Joe-Pye weed and tall asters. Though she said some thought the plantings seemed sparse, now the area is full to bursting with color once her plants grew out. Among mistakes novice gardeners often make, the biggest are forgetting the importance of maintenance and not recognizing that plants will grow out to occupy more of the space they’re in. 

It’s been much the same for Markson as she’s grown to fit her role. Her family is from Port Jeff, and both her parents and children attended Port Jefferson School District. Her mother was the one to originally teach her about horticulture. She quit being an oral surgeon’s assistant to take care of her terminally ill mother. Once she passed, Markson came back to Port Jeff to “reinvent myself.” Her children are in their 40s, and the plants dotting the village have become her babies.

Mayor Margot Garant said the gardener has an annual budget of around $15,000, but that Markson “does magic with it,” making it stretch by accepting donations from Port Jeff and neighboring communities and by replanting from denser areas of the village to parts that need more. The village gardener and mayor also thanked Kunz Greenhouses in Port Jefferson Station for working with them to provide many of the flowers and greenery all across the village.

The family-owned Kunz Greenhouses has been around for close to 60 years and has been working with the village for nearly four decades. Carolyn Zambraski, who along with her brother is the second generation of greenhouse owners, said she often works with Markson, offering suggestions of native plants and ideas for different planting beds. Driving around the area, the greenhouse owner said the village gardener’s work has made a noticeable improvement in Port Jeff.

“It’s certainly getting better,” she said. “The anchor is a great example, as that was really an eyesore with evergreens and rocks a few years back. The village is going in the right direction.”

Port Jefferson also put up the money for Markson to go through her Master Gardener program with the Cornell Cooperative Extension. She received her certificate of completing 85 hours of training July 25.

“She cares 1,000 percent — her whole heart is in it,” Garant said of Markson. “I find her to be an exemplary employee with an old-fashioned work ethic you can’t just get anywhere.”

As much as she does, Markson isn’t stopping. She has an idea to create a children’s garden in a small patch of grass next to Rocketship Park, adding she is working with Port Jeff’s grant writer Nicole Christian to get some type of funding for such a project. She imagines it as a place where young people can walk through and learn about nature and planting. 

She also wants to work with school-aged children to create small gardens next to the downspouts at Village Hall, where she says there are erosion issues.

Beyond that, though, her ambition stretches past what might be humanly possible. She wishes there were more like her on the town, county and state level who paid as much attention to beautification, to make every stretch of road, street, parking lot, park as perfect as can be. 

“Beautification is so important,” she said. “Everything should look beautiful.”

Above, the Vanderbilt Mansion Terrace Garden and quatrefoil fountain with Northport Bay in the background. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum
Transformed gardens on view through September

Eleven local nurseries and garden designers, plus the Museum’s corps of volunteer gardeners are taking part in the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s third annual Gardeners Showcase.

They redesigned and transformed garden areas, planted new perennials, annuals, shrubs, and trees  — and enhanced the beauty and ambience of William K. Vanderbilt II’s Eagle’s Nest mansion and estate, home of the Museum. The stunning results are on view through September. For now the Vanderbilt has reopened its grounds only – not its buildings – to visitors on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

All visitors are asked to wear a mask when unable to maintain 6-feet distancing from others.

“We are grateful for the enthusiastic response of local landscaping and gardening professionals who have volunteered their talents to beautify the historic estate,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt.

“These floral artisans, as well as our own veteran corps of accomplished volunteer gardeners, have invested their time, labor, and resources. Their enhancements will be enjoyed by thousands of summer visitors,” she added.

Jim Munson, the Museum’s operations supervisor, who created the event, said, “We thought the pandemic might prevent this year’s showcase,” he said. “However, thanks to the undying support and incredible talents of these designers, the showcase has become a reality.

“Many of the gardeners have been affected financially and personally by this health crisis, yet here they all are, once again selflessly giving their time, donations and incredible talents to the Vanderbilt to make it a better place for all. Simply sitting on a bench, listening to the birds and taking in the beauty of the gardens is an absolute gift,” he said.

Participating designers, identified by signage at showcase sites, are: Carlstrom Landscapes, Inc. (Terrace Pool); Centerport Garden Club (Rose Garden), de Groot Designs, Inc. (front entrance); Designs by Nelson (saltwater pool and balcony planters); Flowers by Friends (Sun Dial Garden and Saltwater Pool); Gro-Girl Horticultural Therapy (Sensory Garden); Haven on Earth Garden Design (Planetarium Garden); Mossy Pine Garden & Landscape Design (Clover Leaf Garden); Pal-O-Mine Equestrian J-STEP Program (Sensory Garden); Trimarchi Landscaping & Design (Courtyard Gardens), Tropic Al (Bell Tower/Bridge Garden); Vanderbilt Volunteer Gardeners (Memorial Garden, Columns Garden, Tent Gardens & Vegetable Garden).

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. The admission fee to tour the grounds is $14 per carload, members are free. Tickets are available online only. No tickets will be sold at the gate. Visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org to order.

Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci and Councilman Ed Smyth joined Andrew Steinmueller, President of ARS Landscape & Design, the first business to “adopt” and beautify two pieces of public property under the Adopt-a-Corner community beautification program, for a special unveiling of the installations at the southwest entrance to Heckscher Park in Huntington on June 24.

ARS Landscape & Design planted their first Adopt-a-Corner installation at the Prime Avenue entrance to the park in September of 2019 and added a second installation at the Main Street and Prime Avenue corner entrance to the park, maintaining both installations throughout the year. 

A box of complimentary wildflower seed packets was installed by the landscape company at the second installation, from which visitors to the park can take a complimentary seed packet. A second box of seed packets will be installed next to the first installation on the western Prime Avenue entrance to the park within the week.

Businesses, organizations and residents can adopt, beautify and maintain a select piece of public property approved by the Town of Huntington for one year, with the option to renew for a second year. 

Supervisor Lupinacci sponsored the Town Board resolution creating the Adopt-a-Corner program in October 2018 after Andre Sorrentino, the Town’s Director of General Services, approached him with the idea to involve the greater Huntington community in beautification projects across the town.

“Adopt-a-Corner is quality of life initiative, that offers a creative outlet for residents, business owners and organizations to display their pride in the Huntington community, while helping beautify our town at no cost to our taxpayers,” explained Supervisor Lupinacci. “Thank you to ARS Landscape & Design for these inaugural Adopt-a-Corner installations and for the seed packets they are giving away.”

“I am the prime beneficiary of this Adopt-a-Corner installation because my office is located across the street,” stated Councilman Smyth. “I see this beautiful corner every day. I encourage everyone to make the town look its best by adopting a corner. The resident or business which adopts a corner may put place a small plaque with their name or dedicate the corner in honor of someone.” 

“Over these past few months, we have been faced with a pandemic that forced us all inside and gave us all a feeling of uncertainty. Audrey Hepburn once said ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,’ I hope that by planting these gardens, I can spread a little joy and hope for what tomorrow may bring,” added Steinmueller.

Pictured in photo, from left, Councilman Smyth; Andre Sorrentino; Supervisor Lupinacci; Andrew Steinmueller (holding Addison Steinmueller); Bonnie Steinmueller (holding Ashton Steinmueller); Liz Steinmueller; and Joseph Digicomo. To apply to adopt a corner, visit www.huntingtonny.gov.

Photos courtesy of the Town of Huntington

By John L. Turner

Insight as to the value placed on a wild plant by past generations can be gained by how many common names it’s been given. Typically, a plant with the minimum of just one name has it as a means by which to recognize it and to distinguish the plant from other species. A plant with a number of names, though, suggests a species of greater significance, value, and utility, and such is the case with Shadbush, a common understory shrub or small tree which grows in Long Island’s deciduous forests.

The Shadbush blooms in late April to early May (top photo) and produces edible fruit in late spring to early summer (above). Stock photos

This attractive tree goes by a few names: Shadbush, Shadblow, Serviceberry, and Juneberry. The reference to shad stems from more ancient knowledge of recognizing patterns of nature. Many years ago shad, a species of river herring, was significantly more abundant than today and the spring shad runs up major rivers to reach their spawning grounds was an important event for many people, providing an ample supply of cheap protein. 

Perhaps it was the shad fisherman, or maybe others, but they noticed this tree blossomed at the time the shad were on the move. The five-petaled white blossoms meant migrating shad, hence the connection made permanent by the common name of Shadbush.

The white blossoms of the Shadbush in late April through early May also provided another signal — that winter was done, the ground has thawed, and the dead could receive burial service with caskets sometimes adorned with sprigs of the Serviceberry blossoms.

If the flowers are pollinated, berries form in late spring to early summer, giving rise to the last of its common names — Juneberry. The berrylike fruit is delicious and relished by numerous wildlife, including many birds. Us humans like them too and often turn the fruit into pies, jellies and jams. Technically, the fruit is known as a pome, as are apples, and this isn’t surprising since both apples and Shadbush are members of the Rose family.

The genus name Amelanchier is a french word first used to describe the species.

Four species of Shadbush occur on Long Island, with three of the species found in rich but well drained soils  and one on the eastern end located on sandier, more droughty soils. They range from being a modest multi-stemmed shrub just a few feet tall to a tree 20 to 30 feet high. In forest settings, given its smaller stature, Shadbush grows under taller oaks, black birch, and hickories and, where common, produces scattered “blossom clouds” of white beneath these taller trees. It has attractive smooth grey bark and its leaves are small and oval with toothed margins. Come autumn the foliage turn orange/red, adding a nice splash of color to the forest.

Whatever you wish to call it Shadbush has so much going for it — from its rich folklore, to pretty flowers, attractive bark, and tasty fruit — that I hope you make its acquaintance and perhaps try a berry or two.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

From left, Callie Brennan, Kristin and Barry Fortunato
Kristin and Barney Fortunato. Photo from WMHO

Fort Salonga residents Kristin and Barney Fortunato (pictured on right) have joined the ranks of many helping to make a difference in the lives of all the health care warriors on the COVID-19 front lines.

Maintaining a massive backyard garden that neighbors and friends lovingly call the “Fortunato Farm” is one of their passions. Kristin, a teacher in the Huntington School District and Barney, in construction management, originally started the garden as just a hobby. Over the years, it grew into a large-scale project that continued to expand growing produce, plants and beyond.  They now have 16 raised garden beds with 700 square feet of growing space. All produce is grown from seed using organic growing practices.

Kristin and Barney Fortunato. Photo from WMHO

This year they had an amazing bounty and wanted to share not only with family and friends but also those healthcare workers in need. They organized a huge plant sale and raised almost $700, all of which was donated to their friends Callie and Tim Brennan, owners of Crazy Beans Restaurant in the Stony Brook Village Center. This donation helped Callie (pictured in top photo on the left) and Tim in their ongoing efforts to create and deliver even more lunches to those dedicated Stony Brook Hospital workers.

“I love gardening. I love the feeling of my hands in the dirt, the ability to provide healthy food to my family and friends and community. I was able to both share my passion for gardening and healthy living with the community, while doing good and giving back to front line workers in the hospital. It was a win – win,” said Kristen.

For information on making your own donation to Stony Brook eateries, call the Ward Melville Heritage Organization at 631-751-2244.

By David Luces 

For Susan Orifici, head of graphic, archival and special projects at the Village Center in Port Jefferson, a walk along the water at Harborfront Park inspired a plan to spread positivity in the community during these uncertain times. 

“I saw the rocks on the shore and I thought of the idea of doing something creative with them; something that would be perfect for families and children who come to the park,” she said. 

The idea culminated into what she calls the “Be Kind Movement,” where individuals can come up to a table in front of the Village Center, pick out a rock, take it home and paint a message of hope, kindness or a fun design. Once they are done painting his of her rock, Orifici said they can place their rock in the designated “Kindness Garden” located behind the Long Island Explorium at the Children’s Park off East Broadway. 

Orifici also suggested that individuals use permanent markers or acrylic paint when designing their rock as these will last longer out in the elements. 

The graphic artist said the table and sign in front of the building is there 24/7. “We try to have it up everyday,” she said. “If it’s too windy or if it’s raining we take it down for the time being.”

In a short time, community members have embraced the movement, with almost  two dozen decorated rocks placed in the kindness garden so far. 

“I couldn’t be happier with the feedback we’ve been getting; everybody loves the idea,” Orifici said. “I wanted to connect with others during these times and  provide a ray of hope.”

Orifici, who is currently working with five other employees inside the Village Center, said it can be lonely sometimes as there’s only so much they can do at the moment but seeing the progress of the kindness garden has been uplifting. 

“It feels great seeing people stop by the table and taking a rock home with them,” she said.  

While the Village Center remains closed to the public, Orifici said she hopes once restrictions are lessened by the state they will be given the go-ahead to conduct a soft-opening of the center followed by an official reopening. 

With the ongoing success of the kindness garden, Orifici said she hasn’t thought about expansion yet but mentioned that participants could start placing rocks in the flower beds around Harborfront Park. 

She is thankful for the support so far. 

“Port Jeff is a tight community. We understand how they feel during this time, we miss them here [at the Village Center],” she said. “We hope they continue to be strong and keep being creative.”

Photos courtesy of Sue Orifici

The seed starter kit, above, is a wonderful educational tool (plants in photo not included). Photo by Sam Benner

By Melissa Arnold

There’s nothing quite like spring in full bloom — the weather’s finally breaking, flowers are popping up everywhere, and it’s easy to get the kids outside for some fresh air and sunshine, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, most of the area’s most beloved spring locales are closed, their events canceled indefinitely until cases of COVID-19 have declined to safer levels. Without their usual income, many small businesses are struggling to pay the bills and must find creative new ways to keep the lights on.

Among them are Benner’s Farm in Setauket, well known in the community for its seasonal festivals and educational opportunities for both children and adults. With in-person field trips and large gatherings impossible, they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.

“Normally this time of year would have class after class coming in to see the farm and our new animals,” said owner Bob Benner. “We’ve had births of lambs, goat kids, chicks and bunnies, but no one can visit them — there are no workshops or Mommy and Me events, no birthday parties …. there’s literally nothing. So we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’”

At Easter time, with 20,000 candy-filled eggs ready to go, Bob awoke in the middle of the night with an idea: What if they sold 50-egg boxes for families to have their own hunts at home? By the time the holiday arrived, they’d sold 100 boxes. Encouraged, the Benners sought to continue the momentum.

Next came an online store, with t-shirts and maple products for sale at www.bennersfarm.com, and a GoFundMe campaign which raised more than $6,000 to keep staff paid and animals fed.

Now they’ve created a “My First Garden Learning Kit” geared toward children containing everything you need to grow a dozen different flowers and plants. The kits include planters, potting soil, a template to sort and examine seeds, plant markers, and an instruction booklet with pictures and information about each plant at various stages of growth.

Both Bob and his wife Jean have spent decades working as teachers in addition to running the farm. Jean said that they work hard to approach every project with an educational focus, trying to see each aspect as a child would.

“We purposely chose seeds that are all different sizes and shapes, mature at different times, and are not too tiny so that kids can handle them,” she explained. “The seeds we’ve chosen are all meant to be interesting and recognizable. Marigold seeds look like tiny paintbrushes; calendula seeds resemble tiny worms.” 

The seed starter kits went on sale at the end of April. Within two days, they’d sold 70 kits and were ordering more boxes to fill. So far, so good. 

“It’s been successful especially because people are telling their friends and family. We’ve had orders come in from other places around the country, too,” said Jean.

The Benner family moved to Setauket from Northport in the late 1970s. Their eldest son, Ben, said that his earliest memories involved being dressed in overalls and driven to see the badly overgrown property. The area was first farmed in the 1750s, and the Benners revitalized it using books on homesteading as a guide. What was originally meant to be a hobby for Bob and Jean slowly evolved into something much more.

“This is our life here, and it’s so strange to see the farm empty,” Ben said. “We miss the energy of the kids, getting to see people every day, hosting our programs. This is all we want to do.”

While the Benners have no idea what the future holds or what events they’ll be able to host next, they know that the success of the farm rests in continuing local support and encouraging a love for nature in children.

“As a society, we’ve lost a certain amount of knowledge and appreciation for nature. Kids that grew up in previous generations would be out working in farms and gardens, and that doesn’t happen much around here anymore,” Ben said. “I think it’s such an important thing to learn about the process of how plants grow, and it’s a lot of fun to go out and pick your food, knowing where it comes from and knowing you did it yourself. We want to spark that interest in as many kids as possible.

Seeds included in the garden kit:

Calendulas

Sunflowers

Zinnias

Marigolds

Green squash (zucchini)

Purple bush beans

Peas

Corn

Beets

Swiss chard

Radishes

Tomatoes

Each kit costs $25. They can be picked up from Benner’s Farm at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket. Call ahead to arrange an in-person, contactless pickup. Prepayments using a credit or debit card are preferred, but arrangements can be made for cash payment. Online orders placed at www.bennersfarm.com are $35 each and will be sent out within 24 hours. For the latest information about the farm, to make purchases or donations, call 631-689-8172 or visit their website.

 

Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes
By Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I feel very strongly in the sort of planning that I do, that you feel the changes all the time.  It is a changing beauty: from beauty into beauty.” Piet Oudolf

In the introduction of Gardens of the High Line, Richard Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the Highline, addresses the issues that confronted the creators of the gardens. Is the goal to preserve the natural wildness of the vegetation or to recreate entirely? The final decision was to find something in between, that both honors the desire to conserve but also understands the value of change. 

Matt Johnson’s Untitled (Swan) was crafted from one of the High Line’s original steel rails

What resulted was both native and introduced flora:  “[a] multi-season garden of perennials, where the skeletons of plants have as much a part in the landscape as new growth … the wilderness in the city, the art museum on a train track. Like the park itself, the gardens hover between beauty and decay.”  

The High Line gardens are a true reflection of New York City. It is a place of growth and loss, romance and introspection; elements that are fixed and others that are constantly transforming. And, amazingly, it is where these aspects can co-exist.

The book’s prose is as elegant and eloquent as its imagery. It gives multi-leveled insight to not only the creation of the space but the more esoteric motivations beneath. It takes the reader through the history of the High Line and its roots in industry. It discusses its changing identity and evolution and, finally, its reinvention. 

There is also a detailed exploration of wild gardens, citing historical sources, and how untamed growth often transforms ruins. It explains the art that inspires and the craft that designs — and, most importantly — the alchemy that joins the two. This is not your average gardening book.

“Though it’s unlikely there will ever be another place quite like the High Line, it offers a wealth of insights and approaches worthy of emulation in gardens large or small, public or private. Authentic in spirit and execution, the High Line’s gardens offer a journey that is intriguing, unpredictable, imperfect, and, above all, transformative.”

After the introductory analyses, the book begins at the southernmost end of the High Line, at the Gansevoort Woodland, the area that is Gansevoort Street through Little West 12th Street. The route continues north, each section highlighting a different area: Washington Grasslands, Hudson River Overlook, etc., going all the way up to the Rail Yards, ending at West 34th Street.  

Ultimately, the glory of this book is the hundreds of photos by Rick Darke to be seen and savored. The photography is vivid, an explosion of color and texture. The chapters offer dozens of photos that span a range of viewpoints, showing the change of seasons, both extreme and subtle. Each turn of the page reveals the gardens in some different perspective, no two alike, but allowing the viewer to see the similarities as well as the contrasts. The book shows both an unbridled and an organized environment through the prism of the world as nature’s art gallery.

A compass plant frames the view west across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

In the end, the authors see the book’s goal as one that will “serve as a beautiful memory of a great place, as guide to the infinite opportunities it presents to practice the art of observation and as an inspiration to all who, publicly or privately, seek to elevate the nature of modern landscapes.” They have succeeded in a work that honors artistry and insight with deep understanding, celebrated through hundreds of dazzling and breathtaking images.

Published by Timber Press, Gardens of the High Line: Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes is available online at www.timberpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

‘Life throws challenges and every challenge comes with rainbows and lights to conquer it.’

― Amit Ray

WELCOME SPRING!

Photographer Mimi Hodges of Sound Beach ventured out in her backyard on March 15 to capture images of these beautiful flowers, “reasons for joy,” and which she now shares with you as we welcome spring to our neck of the woods.

Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport will host its third annual Gardeners Showcase during spring and summer 2020. The museum invites local nurseries and garden designers to show off their skills and creativity in one of the gardens that grace the 43-acre waterfront estate, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Spots are still available for this year’s showcase, and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants, in return for their effort and contribution, will receive:

 • Signage that identifies their business, at each garden showcase site. This signage will be viewed by the more than 100,000 anticipated Vanderbilt visitors during the spring, summer and fall.

  Recognition on the Vanderbilt website and publicity on its social-media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).

• Publicity through news releases sent to regional media.

• A one-year Associate Membership to the Vanderbilt Museum.

 To secure a spot in this year’s Gardeners Showcase, or to obtain more information, please contact Jim Munson, the Vanderbilt Museum’s operations supervisor, at 631-379-2237 or at [email protected]