Gardeners take note: The Cobble Hill Tree Fund is getting ready to host its annual plant sale next month. There will be perennials and plenty of annuals for both sun and shade, as well as herbs and vegetables.

Hanging baskets will also be available (hint: Mother’s Day is the weekend after the sale). And there will be a plant identification game for kids. (more…)

making brooklyn bloom rebecca bullene

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is hosting its 34th annual “Making Brooklyn Bloom” conference tomorrow, where urban farmers and gardeners can learn all about setting up and cultivating a successful community garden. Workshops and breakout sessions will cover topics like community composting, edible flowers, decontaminating soil for urban gardens, caring for street trees and city partnerships. There will also be exhibits from local gardening organizations, a guided walking tour of the gardens and a workshop on building indoor terrariums. Check-in begins at 10 am and the conference runs until 4 pm. Take a look at the full schedule over on BBG’s website.

Photo by Rebecca Bullene for Brooklyn Botanic Garden

February 2015 - 2

It may seem like spring will never come, what with the puddles of ice under parked cars, and the banks of dirty snow lining the sidewalks, but if you look at the fuzzy buds on the trees growing fatter by the week, you know winter is almost done. Already you can see the dark pink buds of the eastern redbud trees if you look closely. Four or five weeks from now, we’ll enjoy the yellow blooms of daffodils and forsythias, and in two months, it will be time to replant tomato seedlings.

So, as odd as it may seem after weeks of below-freezing temperatures and yet more snow yesterday, this is the perfect time to start new things from seeds! Instead of starting indoors, having to remember to keep everything moist at all times, which can be a challenge in a typical dry and hot New York apartment, I am inviting you to put everything outside in recycled homemade “greenhouses” and let nature take its course.

You can start vegetables, herbs, salads or flowers, or mix and match as you wish. I use empty plastic gallon jugs I had initially bought to prepare for Hurricane Sandy, but other clear plastic food containers (juice or milk, for example) work. (more…)

November 2014 - 1

Cold weather is approaching fast! Next week, we might get our first real frost, and snow that actually stays with us for a while.

Assuming you followed my advice last month and weeded, cleared most spent flowers, and mowed your grass one last time, there shouldn’t be too much left on your plate. If not, this coming weekend provides one last opportunity before the promised first snow next week. It’s time to cut the last of the basil and mint, or bring it inside with the houseplants that summered on the patio or terrace.

If you have any planters made out of terra-cotta, any tropical plants, dahlia or caladium, this is it! Time to dig it out from the ground and store it inside. Then you can make sure to turn off the outdoor faucet valve in the basement, and remove or disconnect any timer, manifold and hose outside. With so little left to do in your backyard, we can bring a little bit of love to the street trees.

For the past two years, I have watched this acacia grow out of the root ball of one of the million trees planted by the city. At first, it was pretty small, maybe three or four feet. By now, it is almost as tall as the Gingko the city planted in that bed. Technically, you don’t need a license to weed street tree beds, but that thing is as large as the tree, and I really don’t have time to get arrested (falsely) for destroying city property. So I decided to go legit and get the Citizen Pruner license, so I could take a loper to the interloper.

We have almost a million new trees in the city, and maybe one of them is your block.  They can all use a little bit of love. Ten things you can do to help a street tree: (more…)

Pink tulips

As the nights get cooler and the leaves start to turn, you might be thinking that gardening season is over, but au contraire, mon frère! Fall may be the best time of the year to garden, as you can do almost anything: move trees and shrubs, divide perennials, install bulbs, and be almost assured of success. Even if the hurricane season won’t deliver much rain, the shorter days and lower temperature make watering and weeding a cinch, compared to what needs to be done in the spring. (more…)

The dream

The dream

There is something deeply satisfying about a lush, emerald green lawn. It’s soft underfoot, evokes childhood memories of running in forbidden park expanses, or rolling down hills hoping no bees will sting you.

I can’t ignore the strength of the emotional appeal, when so much of my work is tied to how people feel about their surroundings.

But! Having a lawn in the city requires an amount of commitment equal to parking your car in the street: a weekly mental calendar of choreographed moves, timed precisely; the fortitude to deal with the inevitable dents and fines; and the willingness to pay for and fix every mistake and bit of forgetfulness. And just like a car that sleeps in the street, you will have to accept a certain level of imperfection, or you can drive yourself crazy. (more…)


The block of Macon Street between Ralph and Howard avenues has won the Greenest Block in Brooklyn award. Competition for this honor is fierce every year, with hundreds of block associations all over Brooklyn participating.

The block of Bainbridge Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Stuyvesant Avenue in Bed Stuy and the block of East 25th Street between Clarendon Road and Avenue D in Flatbush tied for second place.

Lincoln Road between Bedford and Rogers Avenues in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Sterling Place between Flatbush and 7th Avenues in Park Slope tied for third place. For more information on the contest, check out the website of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

On Macon Street, we noticed a huge variety of plants and unusual plant combinations. Click through to the jump to see a few more snaps of Macon Street. (more…)

tree care

If you want to help make Greenpoint and Williamsburg a little greener, you can plant and take care of trees with the Human Impacts Institute every Tuesday through the beginning of September. Volunteers clean up, aerate and mulch tree beds, as well as plant bulbs in tree bed soil. For the month of August, green thumbs can meet up at P.S. 31, located at 75 Meserole Avenue (at the corner of Lorimer Street) every Tuesday morning from 10 am to noon. The one exception will be next Tuesday, when “Tree Care Tuesday” will take place in the evening from 5 pm to 7 pm. Check out the institute’s calendar for more details. Participants should RSVP by emailing or calling (917) 727 9761.

Photo via Human Impacts Institute

Brownstoner July Column pictures

Whether you just bought a house that was sitting empty for months (or years) or have concentrated on the inside, giving the outside (maybe) a little bit of love once a year, there will come a time when you step out, look at your yard and get somewhat consterned. Bald spots, weed lots, crazy vines, muddy puddles may seem like plant problems, but they are often caused by poor hardscape choices that make maintenance a difficult and lengthy, sometimes impossible, chore.

The first step is to assess recurring issues: Does it leak into your basement every time it rains heavily? Do the plants in that one corner look sickly and die, year after year? Do you never use the steps of a path but rather cut across a planted area, tracking mud in the house? Does weeding take entire weekends that merge into Sisyphean labor? These are all design problems.


About a year ago, we had modest plans to complete our already pretty well established garden with a few shrubs, but one thing led to another and we ended up replanting most of it. We had been looking for peonies and maybe some hydrangeas to fill in a few holes but could never find what we wanted in the quantities we needed. (more…)

Inviting summer backyard

When people call me for help in their backyard, they often ask if they have enough sun to grow a lawn, tomatoes or a plum tree, and where would be the best placement for a grill, patio or ping pong table.  Each person has his or her own list, often borne out of a desire to re-create a particularly fond memory of a garden or a lovely smell, taste or feeling. I must disagree with Tolstoy, who famously wrote that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  It is exactly the reverse in Brooklyn backyards.  Happiness is linked to unique, personal memories; unhappiness is all about the mosquitoes.

If you feel the mosquitoes have gotten worse, faster and more clever, you are right.  The old native house mosquitoes (dark, slow, loud) have been supplanted by zebra mosquitoes (also called tiger, Asian or forest mosquitoes.)  These newcomers are stealthier and much harder to control.  The city still calls on everyone not to leave standing water, and while that is excellent advice for swamp mosquitoes, it doesn’t really slow down zebra mosquito reproduction, as the females lay eggs in any damp environment, such as as shady, moist underbrush, not just in standing water.

Another notable difference is that female zebra mosquitoes don’t try to make one blood meal before laying eggs; instead, they make multiple small snacks.  So you may have six bites from one mosquito; worse, that mosquito might have taken blood from a bird, your dog, your neighbor’s cat and then you in short order, which explains why they are excellent vectors for contagious diseases for humans and animals.  Finally, zebra mosquitoes are active during the day.  They detect mammals through their breath and scent.

I am not telling you all this to ruin your 4th of July plans, but because knowing your enemy, you can attempt to defeat it.

1. Controlling standing water is not nearly enough.  You also must clear any permanent damp spot; any area that will remain moist for three days or more can support mosquito breeding.
2. I am of two minds about the CO2 traps.  (more…)

hoop house

If you’re involved with a community garden or happen to have a sizable backyard, you might want to learn how to build a hoophouse, a simple, low-cost type of greenhouse. Citizens Committee for New York City is hosting a hands-on workshop next weekend in East New York that will lead participants through the basics of building one.

Hoophouses can be made of wood, metal or plastic and will help extend the growing season of plants by protecting them year round. The workshop takes place Saturday, June 28, from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm at an as-yet-undisclosed location in East New York. To RSVP and find out more, head over to Citizens Committee and download the flyer.

Photo via Little House on the Urban Prairie