By Meg A. Parsont
The relentless rain of this past week has given way to sparkling blue skies and despite the slightly chilly temperatures, flowers in our local community gardens are still flourishing. Vibrant fuchsia and amethyst asters, in particular, are putting on quite a show in the Lotus Garden on West 97th Street, the West Side Community Garden on 89 – 90th Streets between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, and the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. The pollinators love them and at a time when other flowers may be on their way out, they provide a gorgeous blast of color.
In the Lotus Garden, purples and pinks are the dominant colors right now. In addition to the aster bushes, you can’t miss the stunning seven-foot-tall magenta dinner plate dahlia in the center of the garden, with blooms that measure seven inches in diameter.
Across from the dahlia, look for the pink turtlehead (Chelone obliqua), a native wildflower named for the resemblance of its hooded blooms to the head of a turtle or tortoise. According to Greek mythology, when a nymph named Chelone disrespectfully chose not to attend the marriage of Zeus and Hera, Hermes descended from Mt. Olympus, destroyed her home, and transformed her into a turtle or tortoise who had to carry her home on her back. Hence the genus name Chelone.
The whimsically named Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis,’ with its lavender tubular flowers rising out of glossy deep green foliage, greets visitors to the garden in a planter at the head of the stairs and in several plots throughout the garden.
The West Side Community Garden is also brimming with flowers in various hues of pink and purple. Along the path leading to the 90th Street entrance, several semi-tropical Ti plants are nestled among coleus and hostas, their brilliantly-colored fuchsia stems and foliage the perfect complement to the hot-pink on the coleus leaves.
On that same path, the deep purple salvia Victoria has dainty blooms that are much smaller than the flowers of the red salvia, planted nearby.
Near the 89th Street entrance (to the left of the aptly named elephant ear plants, as you’re facing into the garden) look for the pale purple flowers of the great blue lobelia, a native perennial that is irresistible to bees.
In the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park, there’s a surprising variety of flowers still going strong. Visitors to the garden will see roses in shades of red and peach, hot-pink cleome (especially along the railing on the east side of the Octagon), a late-blooming white clematis, and bright yellow brown-eyed Susans.
If you stay still and are patient, you might be rewarded by the sight of a goldfinch coming to feast on the seeds of the six-foot-tall rudbeckia by the gate to the rectangle!
In the southern end of the rectangle, also look for a remarkable swath of crimson dahlias and the purple jewel-like clusters of the American beautyberry, a native shrub.
Plot tenders in our community gardens are preparing for the colder months ahead, tending their compost, cleaning their tools, and doing other housekeeping. Some choose to cut back their plants, others prefer to leave healthy plant debris over the winter to help insulate their plot and bulbs. Perennials like sedum, allium, and ornamental grasses add lovely visual interest even in the heart of winter.
Fall is also the time for planting bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.). As Judy Robinson, president of the West Side Community Garden explains, bulbs need a cold period of 12-16 weeks in order to bloom. In the case of tulips, this most likely goes back to their roots in the cold climate of Central Asia, where they were originally grown.
The West Side Community Garden invites the public to join them in the garden on November 12-13, from 11 am-3 pm to help plant bulbs for next spring. Be sure to wear clothes that can get a little dirty!
Plan a visit:
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, perched over a parking garage). Open to the public on Sunday afternoons between 1-4 pm until November 6.
The 91st Street Garden on the Promenade level of Riverside Park. Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk.