Category Archives: pollinators in the garden

Golden Butterflies

On walks along the Hudson, I’ve come across lots of interesting plants, some intentionally placed, most not. There is a certain section just past the former sanitation building where Riverside Park South starts. This little stretch is for some reason woebegone in contrast to the more well-cared-for trees, grasses, and seasonal garden beds a few steps away. The stone pavers are always popping up and half broken here. The river washes up the rocks, splashing the thin soil with a brine that many plants would find intolerable. The weedy things that tend to grow here are chickory, mullein, lamb’s quarters, golden rod, dandelions, and wild asters, but a few days ago none of these plants were yet visible. I did, however, spot some shrubbery that took my breath away.

Against the gray backdrop of the river and sky, golden butterflies fluttered. There is plenty of official outdoor artwork in the park, some of which I am very fond. This, however, was the work of a mystery artist—or sprite. Someone had to do this careful wiring after dark or in the very early morning. And the butterflies themselves were made of trimmed feathers, skillfully joined and spray painted with gold paint. A flock of tourists came by just as I was taking one last picture. “Shhh,” I said, “don’t scare them away.” They immediately took out their smartphones.






HK Gardener Goes Downtown

Follow the Hudson River bike path all the way south through the series of parks and gardens that make up the Battery Park City Parks and the reward is a small circular garden rich in plant and animal life. I found myself there one recent morning and couldn’t leave. I’d almost forgotten that I had my camera in my backpack and was grateful for the chance to capture a little of this stunning array of foliage and flowers filtered through the soft morning atmosphere. These days I really want to know how a garden bed is put together in a way that works aesthetically and environmentally. Here’s a garden that to my mind succeeds in both.

Circular garden

Datura and nicotiana flowers.


Foliage and flowers, highs and lows, shade to full sun, spills and spills…


Drifts of Japanese anemone intermixed with Russian sage against a blue-green-gray cloud of variegated ornamental grass.


The wildlife.


The other side of anemone patch has a completely different look to offer.


White hibiscus and nicotiana—beautifully timed blooms.


The pond at the center of the circular garden.


More wildlife.


The sunny side of the circle.


A Pollinator Garden

I have a vitex growing in my garden plot, and it’s just starting to bloom. This morning the clusters of tiny purple flowers were waving up and down with the shifting weights of bees and other visitors.

Bees at work.

A honey bee and a bumble bee share the vitex.

Nearby the yellow fennel and rue flowers were mobbed, and a Painted Lady was flirting with the Queen Anne’s Lace.

Lady and Queen.

Painted Lady visits Queen Anne’s Lace.

“Ah, a pollinator garden,” I announced to my buzzing, whirring companions. Without giving it too much thought, I had cultivated landing pads and tube-shaped flowers and the corresponding creatures had arrived. And the tomatoes were producing.

Last year my perfectly healthy plants grew lots of dark green leaves, a few blossoms, and about three tomatoes. At the preschool garden we grew six or so leafy tomato plants and harvested one little tomato. So what was going on? It wasn’t until late winter, when I had started to think about new plants, that it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen many bumble bees last summer at the community garden and none at the preschool garden. Bumble bees, it turns out, are the key to pollinating tomatoes. That hum of theirs vibrates the flowers, loosening the pollen which is hidden inside the flowers’ anthers instead of being more freely available in sticky clumps outside the anthers that pollinators can easily bump into. The pollen in this case is the bee treat (well, more than a treat: protein) since the flowers of tomatoes, eggplants, and blueberries, among others, don’t contain nectar.

Tomatoes growing.

Tomatoes on the way.

Gardeners in the know have been sonicating their tomato plants with electric toothbrushes and other devices when bumble bees haven’t been available (if that sounds risqué just remember we are talking about pollination after all). I’ll try that when I face this problem again. But of course, I’d rather have a garden full of bumble bees. Last year’s lack of pollinators in my particular garden spaces could have been due to lots of location-specific disruptions, the biggest being the nonstop construction in Hell’s Kitchen. Still there’s no denying that pollinators of all kinds are under siege everywhere from the direct and indirect impacts of global warming/climate change. Scientific literature talks about bees maturing too early for the plants they pollinate and parasites getting the upper hand because of higher temperatures.

We got lucky this year. (Did it have to do with the very cold snowy winter here in the New York City area?) But last year was a warning that trickled down to the gardeners of the tiniest garden plots.