Former BBG Herbarium property for sale

Want to build next to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens? This might be your one and only chance.
- Development Site Adjacent to Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Hits Market, Terrance Cullen, Commercial Observer, 2015-09-10
More like building on the grave of BBG's science and research mission. This is not just "walking distance from the Botanic Gardens;" it's owned by BBG. The property in question is the former site of Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Herbarium, known as BKL.
The 22,000-square-foot plot at 111 Montgomery Street in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn is hitting the market for a potential developer looking to likely build condominiums.
According to the NYC Department of Buildings, the property is 109-111 Montgomery Street. BBG quietly announced almost a year ago that they would be "disposing" of:
... BBG’s building at 109 Montgomery Street, which has foundation problems and is not cost effective to repair.

The disposition is expected to generate significant revenue ...
- BBG Announces Disposition of Montgomery Street Building, 2014-10-24
Indeed. The Observer article gives "an asking price in the mid-$40 million."

BBG's October announcement made no mention of the herbarium. In their "Freedom is Slavery" double-speak, they claim the sale as "he first step in reintroducing a science research program at the Garden." "Reintroducing" because BBG removed science from their mission in September 2013, with no announcement, just a month after firing their remaining science staff,

BBG planned to transfer the herbarium - again, without announcement - out of state, either to the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT) or the Smithsonian. This would have been a disaster for the natural history and cultural heritage of New York state. It was only through last-minute, behind-the-scenes advocacy and intervention in March of this year that the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) instead accepted the contents on loan. That move was completed in April.

In June of this year, BBG sold the property to the holding company, 109 Montgomery LLC, for $24.5 million.

According to the president of the brokerage handling the sale of the herbarium property, “There’s a real need for families moving into Brooklyn to buy apartments within the $1 to $2 million range.” But no room for science, at any price.

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Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Slash and Burn "Campaign for the 21st Century", 2013-08-23
Brooklyn Botanic Garden removes science from its mission, 2014-01-20



Bombus fervidus, golden northern bumblebee, yellow bumblebee

Sunday, while cutting up edited plants into my compost tumbler, I caught sight of something unusual out of the corner of my eye. It turned out to be Bombus fervidus, golden northern bumblebee, or simply, the yellow bumblebee.
Bombus fervidus, golden northern bumblebee, on Vernonia noveboracensis, New York ironweed, in my garden, August 2015

This is at least the 21st bee species I've found in my garden. And this brings to 20, or more, the number of new insect species I've identified in my garden this year alone.

Bombus fervidus, golden northern bumblebee

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Flickr photo set
All my bee photo albums


BugGuide: Bombus fervidus, Golden Northern Bumble Bee
Discover Life: Bombus fervidus
Encyclopedia of Life: Bombus fervidus


Garden Insect Species Records 2015

2015-09-19: Added Homeosoma, observed 10 days ago and just identified, bringing the total to 23.
2015-09-13: Two more Hymenoptera species identified from the last weekend in August: Bombus fervidus, golden northern bumblebee, and Gnamptopelta osidianator, an Ichneumon wasp. And a new Diptera species identified today: Hermetia illucens. That brings the number of species to 22.
2015-07-12: Added two I'd forgotten about: Orius insidiosus, and Anthrenus verbasci. That brings the number of species to 19.

These are the insect species I've discovered or identified in my garden for the first time this year.

Hymenoptera - Bees

  • Bombus fervidus, golden northern bumblebee, yellow bumblebee, 2015-08-30
  • Ceratina calcarata, spurred ceratina, small carpenter bee
  • Cerceris, two different species, not identified down to species.
  • Nomada, cuckoo bee
  • Osmia pumila, mason bee
  • Stelis louisae, Megachilid bee, cleptoparasite of Megachile campanuelae and perhaps related bees

    Stelis louisae (ID correction welcomed) on Heliopsis helianthoides, smooth oxeye, false sunflower, in the front garden, July 2015


Pyrrhalta viburni, viburnum leaf beetle (VLB)

Pyrrhalta viburni, the viburnum leaf beetle, or VLB for short, is native to Europe. It was first discovered in North America barely two decades ago, in Maine in 1994. Both larvae and adults eat leaves. Our native Viburnum species are extremely vulnerable; they aren't adapted to this species of leaf beetle. With ample food supply, and no native predators to control its spread, VLB has rapidly expanded its range since.
The viburnum leaf beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni (Paykull), is an invasive, non-native beetle that first appeared in New York along Lake Ontario in 1996, and has steadily spread across the state and down the Hudson Valley. It is a voracious eater that can defoliate viburnum shrubs entirely. Plants may die after two or three years of heavy infestation, particularly when larvae strip plants after hatching out in spring followed by heavy adult feeding later in summer.
- Viburnum leaf beetle invading NYC?, Cornell Horticulture Blog, May 2009
It's been in New York City less than a decade. In Brooklyn, I first observed the damage on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in May 2012. Last year, I found it in Prospect Park; by May, arrowwoods there were shredded.
Pyrrhalta viburni, Viburnum leaf beetle, on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, May 2014


What I'm About

Notice anything different about me? Until a few minutes ago, the by-line at the header of this blog read:
Adventures in Neo-Victorian, Wild, Shade, Organic and Native Plant Gardening, Garden Design, and Garden Restoration.
It now reads:
Urban Gardening with Native Plants
This better communicates the focus of my interests and expertise than the "anything goes" byline it replaces.

How I got here

We bought our house and garden 10 years ago. I started this blog 9 years ago.

The byline I just replaced reflected the experimental approach I was taking to having so much space to play with. Heirloom plants in the front yard, which might have been available to the original gardener of our home. Shade gardening because what urban gardener doesn't have to deal with shade somewhere? Wild, because something has to be left uncultivated. And always organic gardening.

I've gardened with native plants since my first garden in the East Village. Each of the 4 gardens I've worked on in New York City has incorporated native plants. When we bought our house 10 years ago, I had pretty much a blank slate to work with. I quickly decided that the backyard would be a woodland garden, populated with ephemerals, ferns, and others plants native to the forests of northeastern North America.


Native Plant Acquisitions: LINPI 2015 Plant Sale

Saturday, June 13 was the last open day in 2015 for the Long Island Native Plant Initiative (LINPI) Plant Sale. I picked up another 13 species to add to my list, which has already grown this Spring to over 200 species of plants native to eastern North America. We'll see how many of them survive my, um "gardening."

As with all the plants available through LINPI, all are local ecotypes propagated by NYC Parks' Greenbelt Native Plant Center from wild populations on Long Island and Staten Island. It so happens all these species are also native to New York City.


(or Asclepiadaceae, depending on taxonomy)

Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed
I bought a 6-pack of these from the LINPI Plant sale two years ago. They are blooming now. I bought a flat (6 x 6-packs = 36 plants) this time. I want to have larger groups of them in several sunny areas to see where they thrive.


Eupatorium hyssopifolium, hyssop-leaved throughwort, hyssop-leaved boneset

Eupatorium perfoliatum, common boneset, boneset thoroughwort
This species is only found in wetlands (Wetland indicator status OBL/"obligate"), so I'm planting this in and around the garage, for runoff, and planters, where it will benefit from overflow from watering.

Eupatorium serotinum, late-flowering thoroughwort
This was listed incorrectly as Eutrochium serotinum on LINPI's web site. This is the odd one out for nativity, which is challenged by some, e.g.: NEWFS.

Solidago nemoralis, gray goldenrod
One of the shade-tolerant goldenrods, I bought a flat of these to plant them all around the house as an experiment to see where/how they fare from sun to shade.

Solidago speciosa, showy goldenrod


Vaccinum macrocarpon, cranberry
This is one of the species available on-site at the plant sale that wasn't listed on LINPI's web site. I already have two of these, one in each bog planter. I bought a 6-pack as an intentional duplicate. I planted 4 in the two bog planters I have. I need to fill in these planters so the squirrels won't keep digging them out. As an experiment, I planted the other two nearby, alongside the garage, where they'll get runoff from the roof and gutter downspout.


Chamaecrista fasciculata, prairie senna, partridge pea, partridge sensitive-pea
Lespedeza hirta
Lespedeza virginica


Hibiscus moscheutos, swamp rosemallow
Another obligate wetland species, I planted this by the side of the garage to benefit from runoff from the roof, and to server as a backdrop for this mixed shrub-perennial bed.


Panicum virgatum, switchgrass
Sorghastrum nutans, indian grass
Tridens flavus, purple top


Rosa carolina, Carolina rose


Cephalanthus occidentalis, buttonbush

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Other blog posts about my native plant garden


Long Island Native Plant Initiative (LINPI) Plant Sale


Ripley, 2000-2015

Our Ripley died with us around 1:30 this morning.

It's still the middle of the night. We had an 8am appointment with the vet for an ultrasound exam to find out what was going on. Instead, I'll be taking his body in for cremation.

I need to try to get at least a few more hours sleep. I needed to write something first.

We adopted him when he was almost 8 years old.


Native New Yorkers: My Garden's NYC-Native Plant Checklist

This is a checklist of just the plant species native to New York City I'm growing in my garden. I'm posting this for the benefit of anyone attending the NYC Wildflower Week tour of my garden, Friday, May 15, from 1-3pm. It may also be of interest to those who attended Tuesday night's meeting of the Long Island Botanical Society. I only had time during that talk - Place, Purpose, Plants: Urban Gardening with Native Plants - to highlight a handful of plants I'm growing.

Visitors are also going to get to witness a rare treat: "My little bees", Colletes thoracicus, are actively nest-building in the garden right now. Most years, they would be finished by now, not to seen until April of the next year. If we're lucky, we will also get to see the Nomada sp. cuckoo bees I just noticed in my garden for the first time this year.


Place, Purpose, Plants: Urban Gardening with Native Plants

At last night's meeting of the Long Island Botanical Society, I spoke about my experiences gardening with native plants in an urban setting. These slides accompanied my talk.

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All my blog posts about My Garden
Other Native Plants blog posts, resources, and references
My insect photography on Flickr


Bennington, J Bret, 2003. New Observations on the Glacial Geomorphology of Long Island from a digital elevation model (DEM) (PDF). Long Island Geologists Conference, Stony Brook, New York, April 2003.


Garden Deeper

I had a visceral (in a good way) reaction to Adrian Higgins' writeup of a visit, with Claudia West, to Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve.

I think I'll adopt "ecological horticulturist" to describe my own approach to gardening. Whether you specializing in gardening with native plants, like me, or prefer to grow plants from around the world, studying their native habitats is, in my experience, the best way to learn how to grow them in a garden.

That doesn't mean you have to recreate the conditions exactly. In many cases, this is impossible, anyway But the native Aquilegia canadensis, eastern red columbine, growing out of my front steps thrives there; this location recreates some aspects of the face of a limestone cliff where I saw, decades ago, a huge colony of them in full bloom.
Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine, growing out of my front steps, April 2012

This is why I'm trying to go on more botanical walks and hikes. Like many, if not most, gardeners, I've never seen most of the plants I grow in the wild. I visited Hempstead Plains for the first time in August 2013.
Hempstead Plains

That inspired me last year to remove most of the remaining lawn in the front yard and approach it as a meadow, instead.
The Front Garden, before de-lawning, June 2014Weeding is Meditation: Removing the old "lawn" for the new short-grass "meadow" in the front yardFinal grading for the new front yard short-grass meadowThe berm, planted. Took 45 minutes, >2/min, including some rework for overly loose and linear spacing.

Schizachyrium scoparium, little bluestem (grass), in my front garden, November 2014

Rain gardens and rock gardens are both examples of creating gardens to grow plants requiring specific conditions, and to meet human needs. But we don't need to go to so much trouble. For all the "problem areas" in our gardens, there are plants that want nearly exactly those conditions. We need only think like a plant to see these as opportunities, and embrace the habitats waiting to emerge.

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What you can learn from a walk through the woods (with Claudia West), Adrian Higgins, Washington Post Home & Garden


Native Plant Profile: Adlumia fungosa, allegheny vine, climbing fumitory

A species new to me that I picked up at yesterday's plant sale for the Manhattan Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (MCNARGS). Since I don't know anything about it, I researched it to figure out what it wants and find a place for it in my garden.

Adlumia fungosa, climbing fumitory, scrambling into Clethra in the backyard in July 2015

Adlumia fungosa is a biennial vine in the Fumariaceae, the fumewort family, or Papaveraceae, poppy family, depending on the accepted taxonomy. It can grow up to 12 feet in length by scrambling over other plants and rocks in the moist, wooded slopes it requires. Common names include allegheny vine, climbing fumitory, and mountain fringe.

Its primary native range is New England and northeastern United States. Following the mountains, its range extends as far south and west as Tennessee and North Carolina. It's also found in scattered counties as far west as Minnesota and Iowa.

Biota of North America Program (BONAP) floristic synthesis county-level distribution map for Adlumia fungosa. In this map, yellow and light green highlights counties where specimens have been recorded. Dark green shows state-/province-level nativity.

Although not native to New York City, it is native to adjacent and nearby counties in NY, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The New York Flora Association (NYFA) Atlas lists its endangered/threatened status as as S4: Apparently secure in New York State. Other sources, including the New England Wildflower Society (NEWFS), list it as threatened or endangered throughout its range.

I'm going to try this plant on the north side of my garage. That area is consistently moist from runoff from the garage roof. There's no slope there, but it's densely planted with shrubs and perennials, so this plant should have lots to scramble over. If it's really happy, there's also the nearby arbor.

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Pine Barrens Soil Horizons

Yesterday, I transplanted a small piece of Carex pensylvanica, Pennsylvania sedge, from my sister's property in Ocean County, New Jersey. This species is common on her property.

She lives in the pinelands of New Jersey. The canopy is pine and oak. The duff layer - the natural "mulch" of dead plant material deposited on top of the soil - is composed of mostly pine needles, with some oak leaves.

Here's a view of the clump I extracted.


April 2015: Native Plants Planting Plan

2015-04-26 Update: Finally finished planting everything.

Took me most of the day to figure out where all of the 63 plants I received this week are going. Better late then never.

Bog Planters

Plant in the bog planters. I've only seen Iris versicolor, but never grown it. The other species are new to me.
  • Geum rivale, water avens
  • Iris prismatica, slender blue flag
  • Iris versicolor, blue flag
  • Mimulus alatus, winged monkey-flower
  • Mimulus ringens, square-stemmed monkey-flower


This Season's Schedule

Lots of native plant events from April to June which I hope to attend. And I'll be speaking, hosting, or tabling at three of them.

Me in my front yard last year, hosting a NYC Wildflower Week Pollinator Safari during Pollinator Week 2014. Photo: Alan Riback.


Invasive Plant Profile: Chelidonium majus, Celandine, Greater Celandine

Revised 2015-02-23: This was one of my earliest blog posts, first published in June 2006. I've overhauled it to 1) meet my current technical standards, and 2) improve the content based on the latest available information.

Chelidonium majus, Celandine or Greater Celandine, is a biennial (blooming the second year) herbaceous plant in the Papaveraceae, the Poppy family. It is native to Eurasia. It's the only species in the genus.

It's invasive outside its native range, and widespread across eastern North America. It emerges early in the Spring, before our native wildflowers emerge, and grows quickly to about 2 feet. That's one of the clues to identification. It's also one of the reasons why it's so disruptive. The rapid early growth crowds and shades out native Spring ephemerals.

An Elegy for Biophilia

I was moved to write this by a short missive from Reverend Billy:
When I go to pray, which is sometimes difficult being so without any god, I think of that time in my life, because the natural world was overwhelming the god that my family insisted was all-powerful and all-knowing. Creation was overwhelming the Creator and it came in the form of undulating prairie grasses.

I was raised in temperate and tropical suburbia. Even in those landscapes, the woods in the backyard, or the palmetto swamp at the end of the road or the canal, drew me to them. They were my expanse. Yet, compared to what existed before the forests were razed and the swamps drained, the landscapes of my childhood were impoverished.

The shifting baseline degrades further. More than half the world now lives in cities, with less ready access to nature than ever before in the history of our species. Biodiversity is an environmental justice issue.

I've chosen to live my adult live in a city. Even here, those childhood experiences guide me. I garden because it connects me to nature, it nourishes me. The beauty I invite is not of my making, but larger, deeper, and older than I can comprehend.

I believe it everyone's right to have that connection for themselves. Not only a right, but necessary. Not only for our own health, but to have some hope for the future health of our planet.

That hope, however impoverished, is what keeps me going.


Pollinator Gardens, for Schools and Others

I got a query from a reader:
I’m working on a school garden project and we’d like to develop a pollinator garden in several raised beds. Can you recommend some native plants that we should have in our garden? Ideally we’d like to have some perennials and maybe a few anchor bushes. Are there any flowers that we might be able to start inside this spring then transplant? Also, because the students will be observing the pollinators, butterfly attracting plants are preferable to the teachers.
Whole books have been written on this topic, but here are some quick thoughts and references for further research.


World Wetlands Day

Not only is it Imbolc, aka Groundhog Day (Flatbush Fluffy did NOT see his shadow today. You're welcome.), it's also World Wetlands Day. After seeing some of the photos shared by others on Twitter, I thought I would share my Flickr photo albums of some memorable wetlands I've had the privilege of visiting.

Cattus Island Park, Toms River, Ocean County, New Jersey

Cranberry Bog Preserve, Riverhead, Suffolk County, New York

The Hudson River, Riparius, Adirondacks, New York

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FAQ: Where do you get your plants?

[First in what I hope will be a series of Frequently Asked Questions, FAQs. If you have any questions for me, I invite you to leave a comment, or ping me on Twitter.]

Question: Where do you get your plants?

Answer (short)

I specialize in gardening with native plants. I get my plants from a variety of sources, including mail-order nurseries, local and regional nurseries, annual plant sales, and neighborhood plant exchanges. My Native Plants page has a list of Retail Sources of Native Plants in and around New York City, extending to New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

Grasses and Sedges at Rarefind Nursery in Jackson, New Jersey
Grasses and Sedges, Rarefind Nursery

Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson, NY
Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson, NY

Answer (longer)

I've been gardening in New York City for over three decades, since 1981 or thereabouts in the East Village, since 1992 in Brooklyn. Each garden provided its own challenges, and lessons. The plants I seek out, and where I get them, has changed a lot over time.

The first 20 years: Shade, Concrete, and Invasives

The first garden, in the East Village, was surrounded by adjacent buildings and overtopped by two large Ailanthus altissima trees (the "tree that grew in Brooklyn"). There I learned, by necessity, about gardening in shade. Garden #2, in Park Slope, was nearly all concrete; there I learned to garden in containers. Garden #3, also in Park Slope, had been somewhat neglected; weeds and invasive plants, including Fallopia japonica, Japanese Knotweed, were the lessons there.

I've always included native plants in my gardens. In the East Village garden, I planted a small wildflower area that was, perhaps, my favorite spot. I added a small wildflower plot to the 3rd garden, as well. Out of necessity, most of these were cultivars, the only "native plants" commercially available at the time. I divided many of them and brought them to my current garden.

The 4th Garden

This Spring will be 10 years since we closed on our current home, and I started work on my fourth garden in New York City. Here the lessons have been about rehabilitation, and healing the land, if only in my small pocket of it.

The backyard was the initial focus of my efforts. My goal here was to recreate a shady woodland garden, populated with native woodland plants. Four years in, it was my design subject for the Urban Garden Design class I took at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Final rendering, backyard garden design

10 years ago, the backyard was a wasteland of dust and scraggly grass, shaded by multiple Norway maples.
Backyard, view away from garage, May 2005

The first month, I removed four trees from this small space. Over time, the remaining three trees failed and had to be removed. After 10 years, I'm still working on building up the soil to meet the needs of more specialized woodland plants. But I've been largely successful in rehabilitating this space.
The shrub border, pre-transplant, November 2014

Similarly, the front yard was, at best, barren: lawn and a few canonical evergreen shrubs.
Front Garden, April 2005

Our house was built in 1900. In keeping with the historical nature of our home, and the neighborhood, initially I focused on heirloom plants in the front garden.
The Front Garden

As my knowledge of and experience with gardening with native plants grew, I expanded the scope of their planting to include all areas around the house. The loss of our neighbor's street tree a few years ago to Hurricane Irene opened up - literally - the opportunity to grow more sun-loving species in the front yard. I started taking out the front lawn two years ago, gradually replacing it with a mixed wildflower meadow. The original lawn has been reduced to a less than a third of its original extent.
Morning Glory: The Front Garden this morning

Most recently, I've narrowed my plant acquisitions further. My most treasured plants in my gardens are local ecotypes, those that have been propagated - responsibly - from local wild populations. There are two regional plant sales where these are available, both organized by regional preservation groups: the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. These are currently my preferred sources for plants.
I have arrived! LINPI Plant Sale

It's my hope that more retail sources for local ecotypes will become available to urban gardeners. I recommend that gardeners who want to explore gardening with native plants choose straight species, not cultivars, from local growers, who are more likely to be growing plants propagated originally from local stock.

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Tags: Nurseries, Sources, Native Plants

Flickr photo sets:
The Front Garden
The Backyard

Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson, NY
Rarefind Nursery, Jackson, NJ


Long Island Native Plant Initiative (LINPI) Plant Sale
Pinelands Preservation Alliance Plant Sale


The Sun stands still

This season's solstice occurs at 11:03 UTC, 6:03 Eastern Time. It's winter in the northern hemipshere, summer in the southern.

Illumination of Earth by Sun at the southern solstice.
Etymology: Latin solstitium (sol "sun" + stitium, from sistere "to stand still")
The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, its apparent movement north or south comes to a standstill.
- Solstice, Wikipedia
It's clearly winter here. The past few days the high temperature has hovered around freezing, and skies have been overcast. Gray, cold days. There seems to be little light in the world at large, these days. Sometimes it's enough to just hold out for warmer, greener days.

A Single Candle

Dona nobis pacem / Let there be peace

This page has a little MIDI file which bangs out the tune so you can follow the score.

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2010: From Dark to Dark: Eclipse-Solstice Astro Combo
2009: Standing Still, Looking Ahead
2008: Stand Still / Dona Nobis Pacem
2007: Solstice (the sun stands still)


Wikipedia: Solstice