My Landscape Ramblings

My Landscape Ramblings - by David Sanders

Did you ever think how a bit of land shows the character of the owner?
                                                         - Laura Ingalls Wilder  1867 – 1957

At a NYBG lecture this past winter the speaker said that if you go out to the garden for a minute and come back an hour and a half later you know you’re a gardener.

Robin Williams once said “spring is nature's way of saying, ‘let's party!’”

When I asked a homeowner recently why he wants to cut down the last small patch of woodlands that is not lawn on his 2-acre property he curiously responded “I pay my taxes”. 

I’m still struck that people have huge silent lawns and rows of sheared evergreen meatballs around their house that look the same 365 days a year.  Their properties are a virtual desert with not a songbird, butterfly, or dragonfly in sight.   When I realize that they just don’t know any better I wonder how I could reach them.   When I meet them I learn that I cannot reach them.      

Yet ignorance can be bliss.  I used to see the leafing out of the woods in spring as an almost intoxicating experience, starting as an ephemeral whispering after the long days of winter then inexorably growing in volume.  As in fall, while waiting for the peak experience watching the leaves, I relearn anew that there really is no peak but rather a passing visual mosaic that includes many peaks.  

But now I know that the green leafing out in our New England woods in spring is actually a visual map of invasives.   Our native shrubs and trees know that late April is too early to unfurl its leaves in New England because a killer frost can still set in.  The green you see in the woods at about 2-3 feet tall is usually Japanese Barberry, one of the great destroyers of native woodland habitats.    At 5-10 feet the fresh green is winged Euonymus, more commonly known as burning bush, another habitat destroyer.  You can still buy both at most nursery outlets.  To their credit, Oliver’s in Fairfield will not sell any invasive plant. 

As I drive through our highways in Fairfield and Westchester counties I see huge swaths of forests smothered by Oriental Bittersweet vines yet to leaf out and looking like a scourge from a science fiction film.  Along the highway it often looks as if most surviving trees are in the process of being lassoed and prepped to be brought down by this insidious vine.
Any homeowner who has the interest or inclination to go ahead and cut down any burning bush, barberry, oriental bittersweet or multiflora rose on your property here is your official un-official permission to go out there and do it.  (Check for ticks afterwards.)   I get tremendous pleasure from removing this blight on our land to allow natives to grow back in their places.

Then there is the omnipresent evidence of deer on our woodlands.  The maximum carrying capacity of woodlands is 10 deer per square mile.  It is said that Lower Fairfield County has between 60 and 120 deer per square mile.  There are no more sweeps of wildflowers left in the woods.  However you can find a beautiful native forest in the middle of Manhattan at a 39-acre woodland called The Rambles in Central Park.   This little gem across the street from the Museum of Natural History has been rehabilitated in a native woodland.

Yesterday I was asked are there any interesting parks to visit in Manhattan other than Central Park which is “too cliché.”   Central Park is not and never has been cliché.  It is one of the most magnificent and famous urban parks in the world.  And it is more wonderful today than it has been in the last 60 years after undergoing renovation and restoration by the Central Park Conservancy for the past 30 years.  The park is beautifully landscaped with creatively designed beds flowering throughout.  It is filled with tourists enjoying its beauty and hearing English spoken is the exception rather than the rule. 

However a most special park opened last year that is so successful and unique that the entire area around it has become the hottest neighborhood in Manhattan.  The park used to be an abandoned commercial elevated railway that was destined for demolition.  People in the neighborhood noticed that numerous species of native grasses had become established and thought about saving the “el”.  This evolved in a neighborhood coalition working for the past quarter century to preserve it and turn it into a park.  It features native plants and the design included collaboration with world-renowned designer Piet Oudolf.  Check it out on the internet to get your bearings.  It is mostly above 10th avenue and between 12th and 29th streets.  There are 4 or 5 locations where stairs provide access.  Once you ascend to the top the city noise melts away and an unparalleled experience awaits you; A native garden 25 feet in the air in the middle of Manhattan.  

David Sanders is the founder of Gardens by Design ( in Wilton.  David is a Certified Landscape Designer from the NY Botanical Gardens, an accredited Organic Land care Professional by NOFA, and has a B.S. in Environmental Management from the University of Wisconsin, and.  David can be reached at


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