By Meg A. Parsont
As hot and humid as this summer has been, I’m not ready for fall. Yet, there are certain undeniable signs in our community gardens that their end-of-summer glory is approaching: the blooms of the hydrangea bushes are mellowing into dusty mauve from their earlier blue and pink flamboyance; the purple butterfly bushes have attained their peak height of nine-plus feet and are aflutter with migrating orange-and-black monarch and yellow-and-black swallowtail butterflies; and a host of colorful dahlias are making their garden debut.
In the Lotus Garden, perched over a parking garage on West 97th Street, this week’s theme is the color yellow and various varieties of the native rudbeckia plant. Whether it’s the familiar black-eyed Susan or the spiky version, rudbeckia are the predominant flowers at this this time of year in the garden, and they are scattered throughout various plots, some growing an impressive seven-plus feet tall. You also can’t miss an enormous golden sunflower towards the center of the garden. Sunflowers typically grow to be very tall and this one towers over the center of the garden at nine feet tall.
Fun Floral fact: Origin of the Name “rudebeckia”
In the early 18th century, natural scientist Olof Rudbeck mentored a young student named Carl Linnaeus, who had come to study at Upsala University in Sweden. Years later, when Linneaus developed his system for classifying flora and fauna, he named a wildflower from America “rudbeckia” in honor of his mentor.
Another sign of late summer in our gardens is the proliferation of Japanese anemones, and these ethereal beauties can be found now in the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park and in the West Side Community Garden on 89th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. (They’ll also bloom in the Lotus Garden, although they tend to make their appearance there a bit later in the season.) These delicate pink or lavender blooms are informally known as windflowers because of the way they sway on their long stalks when a breeze blows or under the weight of a bee.
The 91st Street Garden is exploding with color right now: brilliant orange zinnias, amethyst-colored butterfly bushes, yellow and orange lantana, hot pink phlox, and pink and white dianthus (a perennial relative of the carnation), among many others. You can’t miss the yellow nine-foot-tall rudbeckia on the western edge of the rectangle, or the bright red late-blooming roses in the octagon portion of the garden.
Dahlias add a vibrant, multi-hued splash to the late-summer canvas. Look for a particularly whimsical-looking dahlia in the plot just south of the gate to the rectangle portion of the garden. With its purple petals, white inner ring, and bright yellow center, it’s not surprising to learn that it came from a mix called “Carnival Mix!”
In both the 91st Street Garden and the West Side Community Garden, which spans 89th-90th Streets between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, look for showy pink cleome (pronounced clee-OH-mee), commonly known as spider flowers because of its clusters of spidery-looking flower heads atop tall stalks. Cleome is an annual, but because it self-seeds prolifically, it can be found in a number of beds throughout both gardens.
Another stunner is the crepe myrtle, with pinky-purple flowers that have wrinkled petals that resemble crepe paper. A small subtropical tree, crepe myrtle is now able to flourish in NYC due to the warming climate.
Near the 89th Street entrance to the West Side Community Garden, the prodigious leaves of the aptly-named elephant ear plant are almost four feet tall.
Other harbingers of late summer in the garden are beds of yellow creeping zinnia, stunning displays of black-eyed Susans, and vivid fuchsia zinnias.
Come visit the gardens now, while they are in their late-summer finery!
The West Side Community Garden (89-90th Streets, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues)
Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk
Note: The West Side Community Garden conducts a compost collection on Sunday mornings from 11 am-noon outside its 90th street entrance, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. Please read their guidelines before dropping off compost.
The Lotus Garden (97th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway)
Open to the public on Sunday afternoons between 1-4 pm, from April 10-mid-November
The 91st Street Garden on the Promenade level of Riverside Park
Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk