The last time I went to the grocery store while hungry, I left with a block of cheddar cheese, a box of ice cream sandwiches, two bunches of bananas and a family-sized bag of tortilla chips. This spring, I went to a plant nursery with no plan in mind – just browsing, I told myself – and came home with a gigantic African Milk Bush (Euphorbia trigona), a flame-colored Croton (Codiaeum variegatum), a very handsome and trendy Black Pussywillow (Salix gracilistylus “˜Melanostachys’), and a peach tree. Alas, like many Greenpointers, I live in a low-light apartment with a gravel-filled backyard. My eagerness superseded what my garden could hold: These plants were destined to die.
Fortunately, local experts are here to help organize the enthusiasm spring inspires in all green thumbs. For gardeners with limited space, Joe Ferrari of Tend Greenpoint (252 Franklin Street) suggests windowbox-style containers stuffed with annuals – plants that will not need a lot of root space to grow. A planter such as the Venetian Window Box (Tend carries the 23.5”-long model) can host a mix of five annual herbs and flowers. For cohesion in your micro-design, Joe says reds, oranges and yellows create a tropical feel, while blues, whites and light pinks give an English garden vibe. For edible gardening enthusiasts, Joe recommends culinary herbs with similar soil and watering preferences, such as rosemary, sage and thyme. “For cocktail garnishes, use lemon thyme or my favorite, lemon verbena,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to mix and match.”
Rebecca Bullene of Greenery Unlimited (91 West Street) and Greenery NYC says mid-May is the perfect time to refresh container gardens and houseplants. If potting soil feels dry and crusty or a thin white band of salt encircles the pot, Rebecca mixes in high quality growing media (look for a blend with more than just peat moss) or compost. This gives the lackluster container mix the zing it needs for spring, adding nutrients and raising the soil level (air pore space naturally compresses over time). As the daylight hours lengthen, Rebecca begins to feed her houseplants with a diluted dose of her favorite liquid fertilizer (Greenery, Unlimited stocks a Bonide 10-10-10). For full-sun loving houseplants, this is the perfect time of year to bring them outdoors. Do it in stages, Rebecca suggests, exposing them to the changes in light, temperature and wind over the course of a week to ten days, setting them outside for a few hours at a time as “plants can sunburn, too!”
For the complete beginner, Rebecca recommends resources like McGee and Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container and to plan a garden around three simple questions: what do I want to grow, how do I want to grow it, and how will I maintain it. Proper irrigation is key, Rebecca says. Dripworks offers turnkey kits to grow past hand watering with a hose into more sophisticated systems with dripline and timers. “People often think they have too much sun,” Joe says, “But really, they need to water more often.”
To explore further, take a stroll down Greenpoint’s “green mile,” Rebecca’s nickname for the plant shop-populated stretch between Ash Street and Nassau Avenue. Pop by Tend Greenpoint (252 Franklin Street), World of Flowers (971 Manhattan Avenue), Greenery Unlimited (91 West Street), Tula Plants and Design (59 Meserole Avenue), Soft Opening (197 Nassau Avenue), and horti PLAY (70 Eckford Street). Coffee shop Homecoming (107 Franklin Street) and vintage clothing store Feng Sway (86 Dobbin Street) carry limited but good selections of plants. Further afield is the new Geometry Gardens (44 Grand Street), opened by a cofounder of the defunct Sprout Home, and the granddaddy of local garden resources, Crest Hardware & Urban Garden Center (558 Metropolitan Avenue).