We live in a colorful world filled with plants, animals, and objects that are brightly colored or, in some cases, patterned, or even singular in color. As humans we often think that the rest of the world sees itself and its surroundings in the same way that we do. But nothing could be further than the truth.
As a teenager I had a wonderful friend, John, who was the first person I knew who was colorblind. Not just color insensitive, as many are, but truly and completely unable to perceive any color at all. His experience of the world was totally opposite to mine, as I am one of the lucky or in some ways unlucky people who perceive way more color than most people do. His daily view of things was more like that of a rabbit, who see in shades of darkness and light and contrast.
Learning more about how he saw the world and experienced paintings, gardens and simple things like traffic lights began my interest in color and how we can manipulate our surroundings based on adding or subtracting colors from a situation.
The animals who live among us and in our gardens perceive color in many different ways, and they interact with the plants we grow depending on what they see and how they see and interpret light.
All eyes use reflected light to create images that are the basis of sight. As humans, we have sight that can determine the shape, size and special relationship of objects, and we have sight that is color-based.
The same is true for animals. Birds have keen color sight that helps them with foraging for food, identifying prey and recognizing others of their species. Many scientists have been astonished to discover that some birds may not be able to see all the colors of their own plumage, while other birds can see more than enough colors to find and attract a mate.
Birds see more colors than humans as they are able to use ultraviolet (UV) light due to having four types of cones in their retinas – in contrast to humans who have three types of cones. Different species of birds have more or fewer cone cells in their retinas and thus different ability to see colors. The ability to determine subtle differences in shades of colors is an evolving ability in birds and thought to be something that aids in adapting to change in environment and availability of food sources.
Marine mammals, owl monkey, Australian sea lion, achromat primates
Most terrestrial non-primate mammals, color blind primates
Most primates, especially great apes (such as humans), marsupials, some insects (such as honeybees)
Most reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects, rarely humans
Some insects (specific species of butterflies), some birds (pigeons for instance)
The UV reflection from the waxy surface of fruits and berries makes them stand out from the green of foliage – and birds are better able to find them. Red berries are seen best and will be eaten first, so also growing some plants that produce orange or yellow fruit will extend the feeding season.
Many insects also reflect UV light, making them more attractive to birds as a food source. Certain bird eggs reflect UV light and help birds to identify their own eggs and reject those put in the nest by other birds. Many flowers have nectar guides that reflect UV light. These marking are visible to bees and butterflies allowing them to easily find the nectar at the center of the flower.
Deer have poor color vision limited to short (blue) and middle (green) wave lengths of color. They may have some UV sensitivity but not much compared to birds. Foxes do not see green and have little ability to see blue, red or yellow. So, these animals are not using color in the garden to find or choose what they eat!
Understanding which animals use color to find and choose food can help us in identifying plants to put into our gardens, and plants to leave out. It also can put to rest myths like deer choosing red tulips over yellow daffodils -because they are making a choice based on taste and smell, not sight.
This article profiles an urban lot that was transformed into an oasis for body, mind and soul as well as for wildlife. This lot belongs to a local Master Gardener and illustrates how much privacy, beauty and biodiversity can be created with thoughtful design and considered plant choices. We’ll review the design principles employed in this yard and then take a look at the ecological needs fulfilled through the design and its implementation.
First and foremost, this design provides privacy and the sense that the space is an outdoor room. The lot is 50′ wide and faces southeast. The edges of the property are bordered by deciduous and evergreen trees. The tall Norway Spruce provides a strong anchor for the southern border and creates a shade garden for almost half of the yard, while the mature deciduous trees provide both frame and boundary for the property. Given that this garden is in shade much of the time, plant textures are emphasized in throughout the space. Since the plants are in groups instead of individual plants, the various textures become harmonious and interesting rather than chaotic to the eye. The repetition of plants by massing gives the design a simplicity that helps quiet the mind and gives one an opportunity to linger in areas and simply enjoy the beauty of a plant’s texture and color.
The central planter provides the main focal point of the yard and is the only place where we find a traditional lawn. The repetition of red in the plants helps to unify the yard and gives the focal point additional structure. The use of evergreen boxwoods around the base of the container ensures that the focal point will be held even in winter when the planter is moved indoors and allowed to go dormant.
The lawn around the focal point draws the eye to the back of the circle where a stone path peeks between the low shrubs and groundcovers. The curving shape of the path gives the landscape a sense of movement and entices one into the farther spaces. The copper birdbath provides another focal point that draws the viewer’s eye and invites the viewer to another part of the garden that is more private. The red pole, which supports an unseen, yet occupied birdhouse, gives us a hint that there is more to that part of the garden than we can see and provides a touch of mystery.
The yard evokes a feeling of balance with the shrubs softening the borders of the property and the understory trees filling the gaps between the shrub layer and the canopy of the deciduous trees. The varying heights of the plants provide visual interest and contribute to the feeling of privacy that is created in such a small space. The repetition of color throughout the garden contributes to the sense of balance, with the yellow-greens contrasting with the darker greens, yet not competing with them.
Seasonal interest was also a major consideration in the design of this space. There is year-round interest provided by many elements of the garden. The plants were chosen not only for their texture, but for their bloom times and flower colors as well. There is a continuous supply of flowers in the garden throughout the spring and summer and into fall. The changing color of the leaves of the trees and shrubs during the autumn supplies the visual interest that flowers provided the rest of the season. In the winter, the evergreens take center stage, furnishing a stark contrast to the more delicate structures of the deciduous plants.
Overall this garden creation has a feeling of unity, where all of the parts work together to create a coherent whole. The massing provides a rhythm that is relaxing and the multiple textures provide interest within that rhythm. The reiteration of certain colors also unifies the space by visually connecting different areas of the property.
Looking at the yard from an ecological point of view, the property provides all the layers of a forest garden: tall tree layer, low tree layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer and, of course, the root layer. The tall tree layer consists of both deciduous and evergreen trees. These trees provide food in the form of seeds and shelter within their branches to birds and squirrels. The leaves of the deciduous trees also supply an important habitat for insects, including butterflies and moths, providing spaces to lay eggs and food for growing larvae.
Since the garden was designed to be in continuous bloom for more than half the year, it can be considered an insectary. There are various flower shapes throughout the garden, providing food for many different types of insects. Some insects prefer umbelliferous flowers, while others prefer flowers with central florets like asters. The diversity of flower shapes and bloom times helps ensure that beneficial insects will have a continuous food supply and will help keep invasive and/or problem insects at manageable populations.
As we have spent much of this issue discussing soil and the soil food web, we need to look at our garden through that lens. In addition to providing mulch and habitat for overwintering insects, fallen leaves contribute to the soil structure and organic matter content in the soil. These photos were taken in spring and we can see how full and lush the vegetation is early in the season. This verdure is due not only to the care of the gardener, but more so to the health of the soil where these plants are growing. The soil food web is very dynamic in an environment like this and the result is the beauty that we see in these photos. May you be inspired to use these design principles and nourish your ecosystem to build a beautiful garden of your own.
Even though there are almost 400 species of native bees in New York, these bees usually zoom right under our radar. They work and nest on our property yet are often unrecognized and unnoticed (let alone understood) as the crucial pollinators of our flowers and food crops. Most natives are not aggressive and sting only if provoked. Unfortunately, they often get mistaken for bellicose wasps or hornets and, sadly, are obliterated.
Bees evolved from insect-devouring wasps 100 million years ago. Bees are wasps that went vegetarian. They evolved away from hunting insects to bee species adapted for efficiently gathering more nutritious pollen to feed their larvae.
Three-fourths of our native Orange County bees are ground-nesters that dig tunnels or take over beetle or mouse burrows. The rest nest above ground in straw-like stems, twigs, stonewalls, or in hollowed-out deadwood. Most of them are solitary – meaning the queens build, gather, provision, and care for their nests all alone. Males often look like a smaller version of their queens.
Bumblebees – Bombus
Closely related to foreign honeybees, these charismatic bees have an iconic stocky, round shape and small wings that defy the aerodynamics of lift and drag. The distinctive flat shiny spot on female’s back legs is surrounded by hairs to form a pollen basket. They use this basket to transport pollen wetted with nectar, but, unlike the honeybee, they never stockpile it. Bumblebees live in ground dwellings, not hives, and are distinguishable by their waist-less anatomy covered in black and yellow hair, especially on the abdomen. Queens make their nests in animal tunnels or tussock grasses. A queen will travel up to a mile for pollen to feed her young, usually referred to as her brood. The more flowers available for pollen, the larger her brood. Colonies last only one season – compelling swift, and prodigious pollen collection, 15 times that of the honey bee. Males leave the nest and do not normally return, spending their time feeding on nectar and trying to mate.
Bumblebees are flower generalists and are the preeminent pollinators of tomatoes. To do this, they clutch the tomato flower and vibrate their abdomen to shake out the pollen found inside.
These strong bees dig deep ground-nests leaving volcano-shaped mounds in sand, clay, grass or under fallen leaves. Often their nests are aggregated and are easily spotted when females are orientating themselves to the “door” of their nest by flying in larger and larger figure eights around it. Males can also be seen swarming around the complex, but instead of orientating themselves, they are looking for an opportunity to mate. Although one hole leads to many underground “apartments”, each queen lives separately with her brood. The communities’ females exhibit an orderly morning exodus one at a time.
Our most numerous native bees, miner bees fly only from late April to July. They emerge to the surface at around 40 – 50 °F to absorb the sun’s warming rays, and take of flying when temperatures reach 50 – 60 °F. They fly fast and are valued for pollinating early morning flowers that bloom before honey bees wake up.
Carpenter Bees – Xylocopa virginica
Common in Orange County, carpenter bees are the largest of our native bees. Females resemble bumblebees – only they are larger and have a hairless shiny black abdomen. Males’ faces are yellow while females’ faces are black. They are named “carpenter bees” because they cut precise round galleries for nests inside sound, undecayed soft wood. They avoid wood covered with paint or bark and have been known to cut their galleries in fence posts, wooden benches and houses leaving what some would consider unsightly holes and stains. Males are attracted to sudden movements and conspicuously hover closely to people or in front of nests. They also engage in aggressive territorial battles for mating opportunities, but fortunately for us males cannot sting. Females can sting, but only do so when molested. Adults emerge during the summer and fall and can live for up to three years. Females will sometimes cohabitate with their daughters and, unlike most native bees, carpenter bees will reuse old nests. Carpenter bees are beneficial and important pollinators, especially of open-faced flowers.
New York’s several species of Mason bees choose above ground nesting sites in preexisting cavities such as twigs, hollow stems, and beetle burrows. Child and pet-friendly Mason bees are far too busy to be aggressive. They only sting as a last resort, and the venom they release is very mild. If you’re allergic to honeybees, this solitary, docile pollinating rock star is easy to keep and a great alternative. They cross-pollinate a wide variety of trees and plants instead of focusing on stripping pollen and nectar from one location. You can help protect them in winter by leaving standing hollow-stemmed plants.
Leaf Cutter Bees
The female leaf cutter bee makes small circular cuts in living or dried leaves or petals. She curls them up to carry back and line her nest. Attracting these gentle yet vigorous pollinators requires growing plants with thin-walled leaves, such as roses, hostas, peas, and lilacs. Because they build their nests near one another and are 15 times more valuable as pollinators than honey bees, they aid farms and gardens where lots of bees are needed. Unlike carpenter bees, solitary leaf cutter bees cause no damage to structures, because they lay their eggs in existing holes.
They are more round, cigar- or submarine-shaped than other bees and carry collected pollen on their abdomen. Distinguishable from honeybees, they have no brown/yellow stripes on their abdomen.
Sweat bees make up for their minute size with their incredible numbers and are among the most abundant and commonly seen bees in North America. They are attracted to the proteins, moisture and salt on sweaty arms, legs, and necks. Don’t swat! Females will sting if brushed against or agitated, and they will release pheromones attracting more bees.
Up to twenty-four solitary females dig deep burrows in banks or on flat or sloping soil – they then share the entrance into the nest. They are most active in late spring and summer. Sweat bees have short tongues which makes it difficult for them to extract nectar from deep flowers. For this reason, they are attracted to open-face flowers.
FYI – Wasps
Although wasps are usually considered pests, adult wasps are considered beneficial since they capture insects for their developing larvae. They also feed on sweet nectar (and can annoy picnics in late summer by scavenging on human food).
Some of the more common wasps found in our area are yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps. Yellow jackets usually build their nests in the ground or in voids found in buildings. Their colonies last only one season and nests are not reused. Bald-faced hornets are actually not true wasps, but a type of yellow jacket. They are large black and white wasps that make the grayish papery, pear-shaped hives (mistakenly illustrated as Winnie the Pooh’s “honey bee hive”) found hanging from trees or shrubs. Bald-face hornets also do not reuse their nests. Like the bald-faced hornets, paper wasps also make papery nests, but their nests have open combs.
Just remember that wasps are considered beneficial, so unless their nests are in an undesirable place, they should be left alone. One way to dissuade wasps from nesting near your home is to use an imitation wasp nest. (These can be crocheted or purchased.) As visual creatures, when they see another “wasp” nest in the area they assume it’s another competitor and do not build there.
It’s clear that bees are good for our gardens and as long as our gardens provide reliable pollen and nectar sources, our gardens are good for the bees. Unfortunately our native bees are in decline due to loss of habitat, residual pesticides in their food sources, pathogens, mites and diseases. Our first step in helping them is understanding them and their ways. Protect their livelihood by proliferating their only food source – flowers – which renew and sustain them year-after year. Here are a few other things that you can do to help protect the bees:
plant flowers in swaths
remember that although modified, doubled-petaled cultivars are ascetically pleasing to the eye, they have less nectar than native cultivars of the same flower
choose diverse flowers, preferably natives species
intersperse decorative flowers among vegetables
allow some of your herbs bolt, producing flowers
minimize your use of neonicotinoid pesticides which move systemically through the plant into plant pollen and nectar and can weaken bees’ immune systems.
More flowers = Higher bee numbers!
In the bargain, humans get free pollinating labor assuring healthy vegetation and reliable fresh foods – and we get to revel in Nature’s door-prize of life – the magnificent, ravishing, inestimable flower.
Explore the Alpine Garden and its varieties of succulents, spruces, perennials and grasses, surrounded by rock formations and waterways. If you take time to look around at all the different colors and textures, you will notice a very delicate plant known as the crown anemone or Spanish marigold (Anemone coronaria).
The crown anemone’s dark-centered flowers can be found in an array of colors from purple-blue, red, pink or white. They are a perfect addition to rock gardens, flower bed, and containers. They do well in full sun, but will tolerate light shade in very hot areas. Soil preference is sandy loam. Crown anemones are propagated by underground storage structures called corms, which are similar to a bulbs and tubers. Corms can be planted after the danger of frost, which is usually early May here in Orange County New York. For continuous bloom throughout the summer, they should be planted every two or three weeks. (Note: The small corms should be soaked for several hours before planting). For those people who garden in containers, you can create a stunning display by combining crown anemones with tulips and grape hyacinths.
The Asian Maple Garden
One of the numerous attractions in the Asian Maple Garden is the intersectional Itoh Peony ‘Morning Lilac’. This stunning flower was created by crossing a tree peony with the more common herbaceous peony. Intersectional peonies have strong, short woody stems and large flowers like a tree peony, but die down to the ground in winter like an herbaceous peony. These plants prefers a neutral to alkaline soil pH, and need good drainage. Autumn is the best time for planting peonies.
The Nellie Mazur Perennial Garden
The Nellie Mazur Perennial Garden is a lovely mix of shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Recently added is to this garden is a magnificent piece of Agrisculpture made by collaging (welding) found vintage and antique metal with new steel to create an entirely new form. The piece is entitled “REMEMBER Agrisculpture: Seed Plates – Lovingly Rethought” is a 40 square-foot steel piece made from antique seed planter plates and gears. It was commissioned by the arboretum to honor the late Farmer Mazur and his passion for seed distribution.
The Remembrance Walkway and Garden
The Remembrance Walkway and Garden “honor[s] those who lost their lives and those whose lives have been altered by the tragic events of the September 11 attack on America”. The September 11th Memorial features a stunning rotating granite sculpture of the earth surrounded by bronze plaques with the names of the 44 Orange County residents who perished that day. A ceremony is held every year on September 11 to honor those that we lost.
The Raised Garden Beds
The Raised Garden Beds developed in 2002 are situated throughout the Arboretum and are home to a spectacular seasonal display of annual and perennial companion plantings. Every year visitors anticipate the arrival of the colorful spring display of numerous tulip varieties found throughout the grounds. The plants for the raised beds are grown in the arboretum’s Kosuga Greenhouse. This greenhouse houses 28,000 plants which includes plants for the raised beds as well as plants for the Arboretum’s annual plant sale. The purchase of new plants is made possible through the generosity of the Friends of the Arboretum and the patrons of the arboretum’s annual events.
Two of the plants that are highlighted in the raised garden bed for their uniqueness are cardoon and cotton. Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), also known as the artichoke thistle or globe artichoke, is an herbaceous perennial in the aster family and is hardy in zones 7-10. Unfortunately, Orange County New York is found in zones 5 and 6, so here it usually can only be grown as an annual. This plant requires full sun in a sheltered location with fertile, well-drained soil. The plant reaches 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide and is an architectural splendor. Its large, thistle-like flowers are quite ornamental. The violet-purple flowers are produced in a heavily spined capitulum (head). Choose companion plants that contrast with the blue to silver color of the foliage such as annuals with blue, purple or burgundy flowers.
The second plant highlighted in the raised garden beds is the cotton plant (Gossypiumhirsutum). The hibisicus-like bloom is initially white in color and later turns pink. The flowers stay on the plant for a few weeks, before they wither and fall leaving behind seedpods known as bolls. Fibers inside the boll continue to develop until the boll bursts open exposing white fluffy cotton. This annual grows three to five feet tall and prefers full sun and moist soil.
During the warmer months, a bronze statue of Pan, the god of woods, fields and flocks is surrounded by running water. The Rill was a developed by John and Connie Vanderberg in 2005 and the Pan sculpture was donated by Ruth Ottaway.
The Al Durland Memorial Pond
Surrounded by grass and woodlands, the Al Durland Memorial Pond, is a peaceful aquatic sanctuary. One can enjoy its beauty and serenity on the large deck that runs along one of its sides.
The Apiary is buzzing with bee activity this time of year. Our new beekeeper is starting classes for beginner beekeepers.
The Apiary is also a favorite site for the elementary school students visiting the arboretum with their classes to participate in the Garden Exploration with Master Garden (GEM) program. During the bee portion of this program, the students learn about the three different types of bees found within a hive – queen, worker and drone bees. They also learn all about honey production and the important role bees play in our environment. The arboretum sells its honey at their Holiday Boutique that is open from the end of November until the end of December.
The Veteran’s Garden
The Veteran’s Garden at the Arboretum is dedicated to our Veterans of the past, present and future and hosts a yearly ceremony to honor our Veterans.
The Ceremony Garden
The Ceremony Garden is a large open field surrounded by a beautiful rose garden, raised garden beds, and towering trees. This popular venue is available for rental through the Orange County Parks Department.
The Children’s Garden
The Children’s Garden was designed to get children outside and give them an opportunity to connect with nature. The Children’s Garden is both beautiful and educational. It hosts a myriad of children’s events throughout the year from backyard bird feeding to a its annual Fairy Festival.
When looking forward and making plans for showcasing summer’s wild and lively colors, consider adding the versatile annual showstopper Celosia. A member of the Amaranthaceae family, the flower is reminiscent of its cousin, the Amaranth plant, and its more common ornamental variety, “Love Lies Bleeding.”
Celosia comes in assorted colors, shapes, and sizes. There are three common types: plume, cockscomb, and wheat. Their names well describe the shape of each flower.
The plume celosia’s flowers top off the plant with large poofs of color which resemble a flame. The name ‘celosia’ is actually derived from the Greek word ‘kelos,’ which means ‘burned.’ Like a flame, they come in reds, yellows, and oranges. You can plant a border garden in one favorite color, or add all the colors together in a mix guaranteed to make you smile. The plant will continue to flower from June through to the first frost, and simple deadheading will suffice to keep the rainbow aglow.
The cockscomb celosia has a dome shape with curving lines which, not surprisingly, look like the red crest on the head of a rooster. The traditional red-colored flower is used throughout Mexico with the Mexican marigold (Tagetes erecta) in Day of the Dead celebrations. Cockscomb celosias can also be bright yellow. As with the plume celosia, flowering can be extended for months by regular deadheading.
Wheat celosia is slightly more subdued in color than the other two types. The flower is shaped like a spike of wheat, and tends toward shades of pink or white, although there are now some varieties in darker red-purple shades. As an ornamental, its straight, erect height, between 3 and 5 feet tall, makes the wheat celosia a striking addition to any flower garden.
Here are a few more reasons to consider celosias for your summer 2019 garden:
They make good container flowers, especially in an alkaline soil mix. If you are looking for a new “thrill” for your containers’ “fill, thrill, and spill” mix, consider adding some celosias for color or height.
Celosias are an easy-care flower. For best results, plant them in full sun; they do like heat. As a tropical plant, they are known to tolerate drought, but keeping them moist (not wet) is best. Usually watering 3 or 4 times per week in well-drained soil is ideal.
All of the celosias will attract bees and other pollinators. Consider planting some near, or mixed in with, your vegetable garden or orchard to help with pollination.
The leaves, stems, and little flowers are all edible! In parts of Africa, Indonesia, and India, the leaves (especially the tender new leaves) are a green staple. They are a source of protein, Vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. They are said to have a flavor much like spinach, and a texture like basil. Before the plant flowers, the tender leaves would be a healthy addition for any recipe that includes spinach as an ingredient. It is best to boil the leaves first and toss out the resulting blackish water, as it reportedly contains nitrates and oxalates; then you can use the still-green leaves in your scrambled eggs, soups, or stews. Most recipes add onions, garlic, hot peppers, or even peanut butter to perk up the flavor of the mild celosia leaves.
Since the celosia leaves are best used when tender before flowering, and most store-bought celosias already have flowers, you may want to start your own plants from seeds. If starting indoors, plant 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Cover the tiny seeds lightly (with only 1/8 inch of soil). Keep moist and warm. Germination takes 10 to 15 days. Transplant to your prepared garden bed when the soil is warm. When plants are 4 to 6 inches tall, thin them. You can throw the pulled plants into the cooking pot. Alternatively, you can plant seed directly into the garden when the garden soil is warm. Cover the newly planted seeds with straw to keep moist and prevent washing away in case of heavy rains. Remove the straw once plants emerge.
All types of celosia make beautiful cut flowers and colorful long-lasting dried flowers. To dry, cut flowers when at their peak, remove side leaves to prevent mildew, and hang the flowers upside down in a dark, dry place for several weeks.
Remember to place newspaper underneath the drying plants to catch the seeds that will fall from the flowers once they are dry. Save these seeds for your 2020 celosia garden and be sure to share with your friends!