Planting Fields in March

I took a quick trip out to Long Island NY last weekend and since it was just me in the car it was a very brief back and forth before the decision was made to sneak in a garden visit.  Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, NY was the choice.

florist cineraria pericallis bedding

I didn’t know florist cineraria (apparently called pericallis these days) would be hardy enough to go outside already, but they were and they looked great in front of the annex building to the main greenhouses.  Dark centered daisies are a favorite of mine btw.  

I used to work ten minutes from this NY historical state park and obviously because of the greenhouses, plant collections, hundreds of acres of open land, plus a manor house, you know it was a favorite pitstop along the way to and from work, but I had already been visiting for a few years before that.  Over the years the visits have settled in to follow a traditional path, and that path nearly always begins in the main greenhouse.

planting fields main greenhouse

The Main Greenhouse at Planting Fields.  

What shows up in the main greenhouse depends on the season or the year.  Sometimes the beds are filled with delphinium or foxgloves, poinsettias, chrysanthemum, orchids… wherever the mood of the planting staff has gone.  This March it was overwhelmingly tropical.

planting fields main greenhouse

When you follow the outer path your way is completely enclosed by tropical shrubs, palms, trees… oranges overhang and starfruit grow alongside bunches of bananas.  I believe in this photo we are looking up into a Bismarck palm. 

Radiating off the Main Greenhouse are several grow houses which back in the day served to supply the estate’s cut flower supply.

planting fields orchids phalaenopsis

Several greenhouses are devoted to orchids.  On this bench part of the phalaenopsis collection was still putting on their late winter show.

Back a few years ago, more of the greenhouses were accessible but today there are still at least six of the side greenhouses open for visitors, and you can always find plenty to see.

planting fields cactus

Agave are always cool.  Not so much fun to touch, but to see them growing in someone else’s warm, dry greenhouse just as we’re breaking out of winter… 🙂  

planting fields cactus

There’s always something special in the cactus house.

I seem to remember one of the greenhouses being a fern house.  Imagine my surprise when these bright, tropical rhododendron greeted me through the next doorway instead.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

A few vireya rhododendrons in peak bloom.

Vireya rhododendron represent a section of rhododendron which hail from the tropics of Southeast Asia.  As you can see, out of the couple hundred species there have been quite a few exceptionally showy selections and hybrids.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

Just a touch of golden yellow.  It’s so bright it almost overwhelms the smaller species to the right.  Also, in case you’re wondering, my nose detected no scent although some say they’re remarkably fragrant.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

The spring sunshine made everything even better, but notice the mossy root ball behind those extravagantly ruffled ivory flowers.  Many vireya are epiphytes, and grow up amongst the branches of the tropical canopy.   

Sorry but I thought the vireyas were exceptional 😉   Next on the agenda was a short stroll over to the camellia house.

planting fields camellia house

Side view of the Planting Fields Camellia House.  This used to be shaded and blocked by massive beech and pines, but disease and storms can take a toll.

The camellia house (1917) shelters the largest collection under glass in the Northeast.  I believe I once read that Mr. Coe got a really good deal on a bunch of imported camellias and only later discovered that they likely wouldn’t be hardy in his new garden.  Build a new glasshouse was the solution!  In any case, this year I managed to catch the tail end of the show.

planting fields camellia house

Camellia ‘Captain Rawes’.  A small arching tree which used to be matched by another equally large tree on the other side of the walk.  I wonder how long its partner has been missing, they were always my favorites. 

Here’s a little 1996 NY Times article on the camellia house.

planting fields clivia

Although many of the camellia were over, the clivia were coming on strong.

The camellia house is another place which comes and goes.  Some years it’s a thicket of bloom and bush, other years it’s recovering from the occasional massive pruning these big plants need.  I guess this year was somewhere in between, still excellent of course.

planting fields camellia house

Southerners would probably pass right by this one, but here in the cold north these huge flowers made me smile.  Plus the brickwork and greenhouse doors aren’t all that shabby either.

A brief run through the grounds was the next requirement.

planting fields pool

The mixed perennial borders surrounding the pool were still 100% sure spring had not yet arrived.

William Coe built Coe Hall as a residence, but his botanical collections and interest in horticulture had this former gold coast estate donated as a school of horticulture, and then preserved as an arboretum.  As such it’s filled with interesting things, and whether you’re just strolling or looking for specific plant goodies you can’t go wrong on a beautifully sunny March morning.

planting fields coe estate

Coe Hall beyond the branches of one of the remaining mature beech trees.  

I tried to get a quick visit in with all my favorites.  The giant sequoia trees were looking sad, as it appears fungus has finally caught up with them, but I was happy to see the odd monkey puzzle trees were still up to their usual monkey business.

planting fields monkey puzzle tree

Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) in the sheltered high shade of the North rhododendron garden.  

The monkey puzzle is an exceptionally curious thing, and ranks as one of those living fossil trees which still keep chugging along as if the dinosaurs were still around to graze them.  Nowadays they’re confined to the Southern tip of South America but eons ago ranged across continents.

planting fields monkey puzzle tree

Spiny, sharp, and a puzzle for any monkey to climb, Araucaria araucana is not for everyone.  The foliage is cool though, and individual leaves can stay on the plant for decades.  Trees over 1,000 years old are not unknown.  

How can people not get excited about plants?  Beats me…

planting fields snowdrops

Of course I still found plenty of late season snowdrops.

So that was last weekend.  Maybe you can guess that in the week since I’ve been busy and/or lazy again, and if that’s a bad thing well at least on the good side it spares you from much of the rest of our snowdrop season.  It was an ok year in case you’re curious.  Too much wind, a lot of temperature ups and downs, and last year’s monsoons seemed to have been too much for many of the plantings, but hopefully the snowdrops which did come up  will be enough to last until next year.

We’ll see.  Have a great week regardless 🙂

23 comments on “Planting Fields in March

  1. March Picker says:

    That glorious greenhouse has me drooling!

  2. AWESOME POST and GREAT PHOTOS! It would be nice to have a back yard like the topical greenhouse. Maybe a back yard under glass. 🙂 The Monkey Puzzle Tree is very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pauline says:

    What a fantastic visit, so pleased you found lots of your favourites still there.A wonderful variety of plants to keep a gardener happy over the winter months.

    • bittster says:

      I can just imagine a warm, sunny January breakfast in the greenhouse. That would go miles in wiping out the winter gloom!
      It’s amazing to see how even a mature garden changes so much over the years.

  4. Christina says:

    The Clivia made me smile as I’ve just been given two wonderful pots of them. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

    • bittster says:

      I returned from the visit and shamefully looked at my own neglected clivia. For a plant which is supposed to thrive on abuse I’m afraid I still give it more than it can handle…. but of course I accepted a seed pod off a yellow plant, and just noticed last week that the seeds are sprouting. Just 8 more years to go before I see a bloom on that one!

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    How nice it would be to have something like this to visit often. They have a wide variety of plants and greenhouses to visit during winter. Thanks for taking us along.

  6. Beautiful vireyas! It’s rare to see a good collection of those guys on the east coast. I love them, but they don’t love NC summers. I have tried many, but they tend to collapse after a few years. I’m now down to four hybrids that seem to be bulletproof.

    To my nose, the brightly colored species/hybrids tend not to be fragrant, but the white/pink tubular onces often are. The better to attract moths, I would suppose.

    • bittster says:

      I thought maybe the whites would put out more fragrance in the afternoon, as it was I caught the mid-morning and there wasn’t a bit of scent for me to pick up on.
      Oddly enough when I was at a witch hazel talk in February, the presenter offered up the flowers of a vireya and mentioned what an underrated pant they were. He said his was doing just fine as a houseplant…
      Your name came to mind as I was walking through the orchids. I’m sure you could have found a few things of interest even if the collection did seem sparser than in previous years.

  7. Chloris says:

    So you had a nice time then. Don’t you think a glasshouse like that is just what we need? I love those Vireyas, I wonder if they are difficult to look after.

    • bittster says:

      A small vireya might be just the thing for your new (yet already quite full) greenhouse. Someone told me they’re quite easy.
      Yes I do think we all need greenhouses!

  8. Eliza Waters says:

    Enjoyable tour, so important to get a good plant fix every now and then. It’s a pity that they have lost a few mature trees, but I guess that happens no matter where you live.
    Best wishes for the season ahead, Frank. I’m so ready for it!

    • bittster says:

      Yes, we all need our plant fix!
      The season should really be rumbling back to life now and I bet you’re glad. It must have been hard coming back to all the cold and gray after living the superbloom for a few days!

  9. I grew up on Long Island and I can remember visits to the Planting Fields, but I haven’t been back there in over 40 years. So thanks much for sharing this. I love the monkey puzzle tree, I don’t remember that from when I was a kid, though maybe I just didn’t notice.

  10. Cathy says:

    Those greenhouses are a good way of dispelling winter blues and getting a dose of colour! Nice that you could get back there and thanks for sharing!

  11. I love that monkey puzzle tree. What a great specimen to have in one’s garden. And snowdrops, too! What more does one need. And you are so right: How can people not get excited about plants.

    • bittster says:

      Snowdrops and monkey puzzles, now there’s a planting bed idea!
      You would have been amazed by how stiff and sharp the foliage is. Also I hear the cones are monstrous and an actual danger for anyone caught below.

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