Tag Archives: Heather Garden

Ronda M. Brands, Garden Designer, Horticulturist, Fabulous New York Woman

A trout lily makes an early spring appearance.

A trout lily makes an early spring appearance.


April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain



Ronda Brands, Garden Designer and Horticulturist, might argue that T.S. Eliot wasn’t much of a gardener.  Her April garden tour in Fort Tryon Park attracted a crowd of New Yorkers eager to share the first signs of spring.

Ronda Brands leads a tour in the Heather Garden during early spring.

Ronda Brands leads a tour in the Heather Garden during early spring.

Ronda’s tour focused on the three acres of Fort Tryon Park known as the Heather Garden. This swathe of garden is planted over 500 varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs, including dozens of varieties of heaths and heathers that combine to form a sweep of changing colors and textures in each season.  During early spring, the blooming heaths are a signature plant of the Heather Garden.  They put on a show of waves of pink and white in partnership with the vivid purples and yellows of early spring bulbs.  It’s a signal that a happy change has arrived to bring New Yorkers out of both their apartments and the winter doldrums, and into New York City’s most beautiful park.

Heaths (Erica species and cultivars), usually flower from mid-winter to early spring.  These are followed by heathers (Calluna vulgaris cultivars), which take over in mid-summer. Working over the years with the  Northeast Heather Society, the gardeners and designers have carefully selected plants have been planted to provide year-round interest of blooms and foliage color in the garden.  Both heaths and heathers are evergreens, with foliage of green, yellow and red that might turn silver, copper, red or even chocolate during winter months.  The seasonal change is a particular joy for Ronda, who was called to the Garden by the Fort Tryon Trust in 2009 as design partner to Lynden B. Miller, New York City’s icon of public garden design, to reinvigorate the Garden and develop a plan for sustaining it for the long term.

The shrub Andromeda (Pieris Japonica) has foliage that changes color throughout the year. In early spring, the dark green foliage appears with long, dangling clusters or white flowers.

The shrub Andromeda (Pieris Japonica) has foliage that changes color throughout the year. In early spring, the dark green foliage appears with long, dangling clusters of white flowers.

Lynden Miller and Ronda Brands, fabulous New York women, created a fabulous design for a fabulous garden.  They decided to edit the garden carefully to preserve the spirit of the original plan by the Olmsted Brothers, whose father was the designer of Central Park. They also decided to capitalize on its romantic and rustic feel, taking full advantage of the sloped, rocky topography.  Their design features an overarching feel with carefully selected vignettes of plants punctuating the cohesive rivers of perennials.

An outcropping of rocks adds dramatic interest to the Heather Garden.

An outcropping of rocks adds dramatic interest to the Heather Garden.



The park is located on a ridge near the highest point on Manhattan.  The area was known as Chquaesgeck by the local Lenape tribe, and was called Lange Bergh (Long Hill) by Dutch settlers.  Visitors enjoy sweeping views of the Hudson River.  These stretches of water are repeated in the rivers of plants that give the garden both unity and movement.   Plants, foliage, structures and shape move the eye through space.

Twitter called the park “The Happiest Spot in Manhattan,”  yet it remains one of Manhattan’s best kept secrets.  At 67 acres,  Fort Tryon Park offers tranquility and calm in a tapestry of plants and flowers over 200 feet above the Hudson River.  It is the city’s largest public garden and is a city, state and national landmark.  Local resident Gabe Kirchheimer has photographed every flower in the park and produced Fort Tryon Park Flowers his own independent and amazing web site of what he calls “The Flower Capital of Manhattan. ” The photographer organizes the flowers by season using over 1,000 photographs.

The garden requires a significant amount of skilled maintenance, provided by Parks Department gardeners.  Each week, a legion of fabulous New York women (and men!) from the neighborhood come together to work as volunteers in the garden.  Speaking of the long flower beds, Ronda says (with great admiration and affection):  The volunteers weed, and weed, and weed from one end of the bed to the other.  When they reach the end, they return to the beginning and start weeding again.”  Fabulous New York women (and men)!

Fort Tryon Park Trust offers free tours of the Heather Garden on the first Sunday of every month.  The Trust raises endowment to help support the park and its year-round horticultural maintenance and offers more than 300 free programs annually, including environmental education programs for children.



NYC’s Most Naturally Sexy Women



Naturalist Lesie Day leads a winter tour in Fort Tryon Park, recently voted the City’s most tranquil spot.

The cast of characters in the natural world of New York City includes islands, rivers, swamps and forests as well as Leslie Day, Ph.D.  A naturalist whose passion is the nature of the City, Dr. Day earned a doctorate in science education from Columbia University and worked for decades as a science teacher in the City.


A resident of the 79th Street Boat Basin for almost 40 years and now retired from teaching, Dr. Day continues to educate New Yorkers about the natural world that is the City.  She is now devoted to writing books and leading nature walks throughout the City’s five boroughs.

Dr. Day’s recent tour of Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan included a cast of New York City female protagonists that are waiting for spring to return before revealing their star creations to the City.

These included the yucca plant that Dr. Day reveals is a perennial shrub with a very specialized, pollination system.  Pollinated uniquely by yucca moths, the insect purposefully transfers the pollen from the (male) stamens of one plant to the (female) stigma of another by rolling the pollen into a ball and carrying it under her chin to make her deposit, a sort of New York-style schlep, creating a strange and wonderful courtship and consummation, insect-style.


A yucca growing on a rocky outcrop in Fort Tryon Park.

At the same time, the moth lays an egg in the flower.  The moth larva feeds on some of the developing seeds.  But it leaves enough seed to perpetuate the yucca.  Nice work, ladies.  We’ll see you in the spring.

Dr. Day also pointed out a walnut-sized egg mass belonging to a praying mantis.  Clinging to a branch, and visible due to the lack of foliage during the winter, the insects deposit eggs in insulated sacs.  Awaiting the return of spring, the eggs spend the winter safely inside.

Masters of camouflage, the insects are hard to spot during warmer months.  Seeing the egg sac was a chance to get up close and personal with the ladies, who have a fearsome reputation in the world of animal sex – that of biting off the heads of their mates.


Praying mantis eggs in an insulated egg sac or “oothecae” await the warm weather before hatching.

Dr. Day began the tour with a walk through the renowned Heather Garden.  Here, various species of heather made a delightful display, showing their colors through the white snow on the ground.


This little lady, with a necklace of heather and a hydrangea hat, charmed us all as Dr. Day described the the origins of the gardens, the various species under cultivation and the pleasures that await the coming of warmer weather.  It seemed evident to us all that she understood the romance of the Heather Garden and the romantic actions of flora and fauna around her.


A little snow lady adorned in her winter best lady greets visitors in the Heather Garden.

With Valentines’ Day just around the corner, we wanted to make sure everything was all lined up.  So, we’re sharing this final video from Hudson Heights resident and sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, to make absolutely sure.


Leslie Day is the author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City, Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City, and Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City.