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 🙂