The Hort’s Community Programs Recognized by AHS

Left: AHS 2019 Awardees; Right: Nick Guntli, Director of GreenTeam, with the 2019 AHS Community Greening Award


The Hort is honored to be the recipient of The American Horticultural Society (AHS) Community Greening Award!


The award is given in recognition of individuals and organizations that demonstrate the diligence and value of horticulture to creating livable communities that are greener, healthier, and more equitable.
To learn more about the other 2019 Great American Gardeners National Award Winners, check out AHS’ newsletter.
Thank you again, AHS, for the award!

Greenhouse Plant of the Month: Bloody Mary | Nepenthes ampullaria x (spectabilis x ventricosa)

The Bloody Mary is a grandiose, hybrid perennial pitcher plant with an attractive red hue. The pitcher works as a trapping mechanism for the plant as it is carnivorous and eats insects such as stink bugs, wasps, and yellow jackets. The parent species are native to tropical Malaysia, making this hybrid species well-suited for warm weather. This plant does well outdoors in full to partial sun or on brightly lit window sills. This tropical plant is also quite easy to care for since it is a fast grower and can reach a height of 18 feet!


About the Bloody Mary Plant

This plant is created from a female parent from the Nepenthes Ampullaria species and a male parent from the Nepenthes spectabilis x ventricosa species, which is also a cross breed between Nepenthes ventricosa and Nepenthes spectabilis. Nepenthes ampullaria is native to Zones 8 to 11, while the Nepenthes spectabilis x ventricosa is native to Zones 6 to 12, which allows the Bloody Mary plant to have such a wide temperature tolerance.


Stop by the Greenhouse at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park to view this thriving pitcher plant!

Greenhouse Plant of the Month: Papyrus | Cyperus Papyrus

Papyrus is a perennial sedge and aquatic flowering plant from the Cyperaceae family. The papyrus plant is native to Africa, known for its tall stature, and forms in clumps due to its rhizomorphous nature. It can grow up to an incredible 15 feet and spread up to 4 feet within standing water, boggy soils, or containers at the side of water gardens, pools, or ponds. Since these are tender plants, there needs to be careful watch of Papyrus plants in the winter as they prefer cool 60-65 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. This plant species thrives in Zones 9 to 10 and blooms from July to September. Papyrus plants need full sun to part shade while submerged in wet soil, making them relatively easy to grow if the right temperature is met. Papyrus plants make a great addition to any indoor garden or home with a warm environment!

History of Papyrus

Papyrus has a profound history of importance in ancient Egypt. Papyrus was a multifunctional plant for Egyptians as they found Papyrus could be used to make woven materials, food, and fragrances in addition to its primary use as a writing surface. Egyptians would use the stems of this plant to make paper-like writing material. The plant was cultivated and harvested heavily until it was severely depleted, but there are still small traces of Papyrus found in Egypt today. Papyrus is now cultivated as an ornamental plant.


Stop by the Greenhouse at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park to view the thriving Papyrus plant!

Greenhouse Plant of the Month: Elephant Ear | Colocasia esculenta


The elephant ear plant, or Colocasia, is a flowering plant in the Araceae family. It is native to southeastern Asian and India. It’s name is derived from the Greek work kolokasion, which Dioscorides (a Greek Botanist) meant the edible roots of both Colocasia esculenta and Nelumbo nucifera (Lotus). More obviously, the name Elephant Ear comes from its large leaves that resemble the ears of an elephant.

While the roots are edible (known as Taro) – and have been harvested for over 10,000 years – the leaves and stems are not, unless cooked or fermented first, as they contain microscopic, needle-like raphides.

The Elephant Ear plants require full sun or part shade with wet soil. They can grow anywhere from 3 to 10 feet tall with a 2 to 10 foot spread. It thrives in Zones 9-11 and can endure temperatures down to 30 degrees. They make great companions with other plants in the Araceae family or as a dramatic centerpiece in mixed containers.

Swing by the Greenhouse at Denny Farrell Riverbank State park to view the thriving elephant ear plant!

Greenhouse Plant of the Month: Meyer Lemon | Citrus x meyeri

Meyer Lemon tree is known for its beautiful, scented white blooms and large, bright yellow lemons. The fruit’s flavor is less acidic, juicier, and sweeter than a common lemon. These trees can be used ornamentally around homes or patios and can be grown as a houseplant.


History of the Meyer Lemon

Citrus x meyeri is a citrus fruit native to China. Agricultural explorer Frank Meyer, an employee of the USDA, collected a sample of the tree while on a trip to China in 1908. Botanists believe it is a hybrid of a Citrus limon (Lemon) and Citrus reticulata (mandarin orange). For nearly a hundred years it was widely unused as an ingredient and typically found as an ornamental. That changed in the late 90s when chefs, including Martha Stewart and Alice Waters, ‘rediscovered’ its flavor and uses in culinary dishes and treats.



Growing Tips

The Meyer Lemon thrives in warm climates and is fairly vigorous: when grown from seed, the tree usually fruits within four years and can yield many fruits year-round. While it performs best at temperatures around 70 degrees, it can survive brief temperatures below 40 degrees, but does not tolerate frost. Prolonged exposure to temperatures below 55F will cause them to go dormant. Meyer Lemons can grow anywhere from 6-10 feet tall with a 4-8 foot spread.

Place the container outdoors in the late spring in the full sun, clear of the last frost and protected from the wind. Bring indoors in the fall to let the tree overwinter. Meyer Lemons require moderate water in the winter with an increase needed during the summer and while producing fruit.


See the Meyer Lemon at the Greenhouse

Currently, the greenhouse’s small Meyer Lemon is producing seven fruits while the taller Meyer Lemon is showing off its bright, beautiful white blooms. You can stop by the greenhouse to see the Citrus x meyeri anytime during the scheduled hours.


Click here to see our upcoming events/workshops at the Greenhouse!

What’s growing at Rikers Island GreenHouse

Students at the GreenHouse on Rikers Island research, collaborate, and select which plants to grow in the garden. They choose delicious vegetables, useful herbs, and beautiful flowers. The harvest is different every year, but the lessons stay they same – cultivating healthier futures. Find out what’s growing this year:

Students at the juvenile facility – Sixteen & Seventeen 

Growing garlic is a true test of character.

Last November, when the garden at the juvenile facility was barely over four months old, the 16 and 17-year-old horticulture students planted cloves in deep, black grow bags. The large soil delivery had not arrived to the newly created program, so plant options were limited. The decision to plant this small crop required the utmost trust in seed garlic’s potential to produce in non-traditional circumstances.

As with all things in the garden, patience is critical. As you may know, gardeners plant seed garlic 6 to 8 weeks before the first winter frost. With such a long time between planting and harvesting, about 8 months, many students knew they would not be with the program long enough to taste their work. Despite this, they embraced their task and chose to leave something beautiful behind for those that come after – to step outside themselves as individuals, consider what it means to build community, and to think with longevity.

The students carefully made holes with their fingers in cold soil, buried them snugly, watered them in, and let them be. Throughout the winter, they covered it with a blanket of straw, cared for it, and watched it peek out of the soil. Then a new group came. These new students were thrilled to see strong green shoots in the spring and a harvest of full, hardy paper bulbs.

Cloves have now been used to make cold remedies, given to other facilities’ horticulture students to enjoy, and mixed into delicious herb cream cheese. All because of the trust, patience and investment of students eight months prior.

The main GreenHouse garden – Nineteen and Older 

Horticultural Therapists love using garden metaphors to emphasize lessons. It helps students relate to their lives, see things slightly differently, and engage with their work in the garden more meaningfully. This summer, because of the metaphor-love, students planted the “three sisters” corn, beans and squash for the first time at the GreenHouse.

Although all gardeners worked to wheelbarrow nearly 50 barrows of compost to build up and level the ground, two students took on the patch as their responsibility. They measured out fifteen 10X10 areas squares, planted four corn seeds in a cross, beans next to the corn, and three squash seeds in the center. Timing is important for the success of a “three sisters” planting.  The corn takes the longest time to harvest, yet if planted too early it can shade out the growth of beans and squash.

The “three sisters” is a traditional planting by the Native Americans in North America.  Each of the crops planted provides support for each other and a balanced diet for the gardener.  The corn is a natural trellis (supporting) for the beans to climb; the squash shades out weed growth (protecting); and the beans fix nitrogen (giving) in the soil for the benefit of all three sisters. During the season, the planting provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of recognizing and accepting each role we play in our family, work, or community.

Now, everyone looks forward to a bountiful harvest and a delicious meal together – one that connects us to the native peoples of this land.

The Herb Garden – Nineteen and Older 

The Herb Garden is one of the most popular places at GreenHouse. It features a variety of culinary, medicinal, and ornamental plants. Each plant is chosen as a group – building camaraderie and teamwork. Together, students learn the cultural importance of each plant, sow from seed, and put the harvest to good use.


Often, students do not have the opportunity to share with others. Even though a gift or a kind gesture goes a long way in a prison that can harbor tension and stress. The Herb Garden provides that opportunity: everything grown in the 28 raised beds is for the students to share.


Culinary herbs, such as rosemary, tarragon, and thyme become seasoning for meals shared to celebrate student send offs. Hot peppers transform into hot sauce or dried for seasonings. Chamomile, valerian, and wormwood, grown for their calming properties, turn into delicious tea, while lavender and mint combine for a sweet smelling sachet. Each outcome delivered to another – growing community and building trust.


Juveniles at the detention center – Sixteen & Seventeen

At a new program site for GreenHouse, adolescent students toiled to sculpt two new courtyards and a breezeway for their future garden. The site will come to include landscaped areas with annual and perennial ornamentals, as well as a full raised bed system for dwarf fruit trees, herbs and edibles. Unfortunately, the late arrival of growing soil meant they’d missed the mark for many annual vegetable crops. Not wanting to miss out, students diligently transplanted into dozens of felt grow-bags the most spirited, pungent and piquant members of the Nightshade family; the humble chili peppers.

In a carceral environment, the chili pepper is an obvious choice, especially among young people who love to challenge their peers.  Beyond that, the blandness and redundancy in daily diet is almost the exactly opposite of the varied sensory and stimulating effects delivered by a mouthful of capsaicin.

For many young students, the geography of the chili and immense pride taken in regional cultivars are a hallmark of cultural and familial identity. From Mexico to Mozambique, Jamaica to Jakarta, regional varieties are prized and praised: something to remember grandma by or to transform the lethargy of a hot, lazy summer afternoon. Hailing from culinary traditions the world over, the students have grown all the standards, from Jalapenos, Habaneros and Serranos to Bells and Sweets. Often, they will venture into the exotic with Thai Hots, Jamaican Scotch Bonnets, and the Indian Ghost Pepper (Bhut jolokia).