A Greater Garden
By Samantha Richardson
Step inside an urban oasis, situated in the heart of Newark, NJ, to leave the sounds of busy city life behind, the honking car horns and rumbling trucks, to be replaced by sounds of serenity. Listen to the mating songs sung by migrating birds, the buzzing of mason bees gathering cherry blossom pollen, and of course the laughter of children exploring the maze of daffodils and tulips rising up throughout the gardens.
At Greater Newark Conservancy we connect the community back to nature by providing an engaging and educational space, created by our themed gardens and 3.5 acres of urban farm.
As Horticulturist, I manage the greenhouse and gardens featured at our Prudential Outdoor Learning Center, a garden open for the public to ask questions and enhance their gardening techniques. Having studied environmental planning and design, as well as plant science, my knowledge is put to work curating our multiple plant collections, ranging from carnivorous bog plants to native woodland species to pollinator-specific habitat.
In our Zone 7 climate, lovely light pink and white saucer magnolia flowers are fading and cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) no longer have pollinators hungrily visiting. With huge buds ready to burst, Eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are taking center stage, their unique cauliflorus nature dazzling the landscape. The word cauliflory derives from Latin, translating to “stem flower”, and references the production of flowers on woody stems and trunks. Bright purple flowers pop against the bare branches before heart shaped leaves begin to appear. The cultivar 'Forest Pansy' sports deep, velvet purple leaves that bring even more attention to this Eastern North America native woodland understory tree.
As a garden is ever-changing, in the twelve years since the site was planted, many additions and removals have been made, each providing its own new twist to the garden - how boring it would be to see the same thing year after year! However, similar to the childhood game of telephone, little changes along the way often result in a big impact by the end.
Over time, some features of the garden have drifted from their intent, leading us to reevaluate our design this year. Join us on our journey as we renovate some of our themed gardens to inspire visiting gardeners. Maybe you will decide it is time for a renovation of your garden as well!
Some words hereFixing up our herb garden will be the first project. Currently we have two beds, 4’ x 24’ and 2.5’ x 22’, that have hosted a random assortment of herbs over the years. Most recently, the smaller bed hosted a few large elderberry shrubs, which we dug and replanted in the woodland garden, with many rue and oregano plants covering the remaining space. The larger bed contains woody herbs such as lavender and sage as well as a large grouping of spring bulbs. We will be replanting the bulbs in another area of the garden and creating a symmetrical herb-only design.
With the help of volunteers, on Earth Day we will begin preparing the beds and installing some herbs that have been growing on in our greenhouse. Check out the progress we’ve made next month!
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