COVID-19 Update, Site Closures, and Emergency Fundraising

We hope this message finds you, your family, and loved ones safe during this extremely difficult time.

Due to COVID-19, all Hort public and educational programs will remain closed until further notice. This includes: school-based programs, public programming at The Greenhouse Education Center at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park, workshops at seniors centers, public green-space activities, and our therapeutic horticulture program on Rikers Island.

Our main office is also closed. Everyone at The Hort has been working diligently with our partners – including nonprofits, city agencies, and state agencies – to adjust to the crisis, make the proper arrangements, and plan to resume full operations when it is safe to do so. Staff are currently working from home and available to assist you by email. Please write if you have a question and do not have a direct contact.

With that said, in the long-term not being able to provide services will jeopardize direct revenue vital to the organization’s finances. This crisis also prevents us from holding our Annual Spring Fundraising Event.

That is why your support now is absolutely crucial. During this crisis, 100% of your donation will go towards protecting the jobs of our program staff and helping us avoid layoffs. After the crisis, it will allow us to rebuild our public school and horticultural therapy programs, restoring a sense of normalcy to thousands of New Yorkers across the city.

Our staff and the communities we serve across NYC thank you in advance for your support in these turbulent times. With yo12ur participation, The Hort can continue to provide vital services and help New York heal in the months and years to come. Please visit our donation to lend us your support:


The Team at The Horticultural Society of New York

This Sun is Our Sun

George Ball is chairman of W. Atlee Burpee Company and past president of The American Horticultural Society, Washington, D.C.


Today at noon, unplug your backlit screen, stroll outdoors and take in the buoyant charm of reflected light. Afterwards, take a few minutes to reflect on the sun, the superstar powering the existence of the earth—including us, all things animate and inanimate, everything.


The Vernal Equinox is the first day of spring, the occasion par excellence for honoring the sun, and every gardener’s unofficial national holiday. From our earthbound vantage point, the equinox feels like the solar system’s yearly reboot: calibrating the seasons, hours and minutes, nights and days, the season ahead, and the circadian clocks that tell our minds and bodies what time it is.


From today forward, the sun will arc ever higher over the earth, reaching its peak on the Summer Solstice, the first day of summer. In the coming months, we can bask in the prospect of more sunlight and heat, longer days and shorter nights, and a thriving solar-powered landscape, exploding with life, color, aroma, and abundance.


NASA’s dazzling new images of the sun, taken by the Parker Solar Probe, bring us ever closer to our neighborhood star. The solar close-ups, taken from a spacecraft the size of a compact car about 4 million miles from the sun’s surface, are the closest so far. However, the luminous images of roiling gases fall short of bringing the sun back home. Instead, they remind us of the sun’s utter singularity, unfathomable heat, and daunting remoteness, just short of 93 million miles.


Back here on earth, there is something new under the sun: a humanmade sun in the making. A consortium of 35 nations is collaborating to create the first humanmade star on Planet Earth, sited on 444 acres in a small town (pop. 1,000) in southern France. Scheduled for completion in 2025, the megaproject, the most massive scientific research undertaking in history, will be the most expensive structure in the world. Think big.


The mini-mini-miniature new-fangled star (named ITER, aka International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) will allow earthling scientists to recreate the forces powering the sun and distant stars. The goal is to determine if nuclear fusion—not to be confused with nuclear fission—can safely serve as a carbon-free and inexhaustible source of energy for the world. Let’s hope so.


As of February 4th, the new star’s site incorporates a sculpture, Sans Titre, (Untitled), by American artist Christine Corday, that fuses humanity’s creative and scientific aspirations. A fully functional, nickel copper alloy, five-pound bolt, it will join uncountable others keeping the mega-station together. The untitled work, likewise unidentifiable, will be an invisible collaborator, both participant and witness to the world’s most gigantic spectacle of all time. Its humility and untitled title remind us of the nameless craftspeople who erected the megalithic structures, pyramids, cathedrals and other glories of human endeavor.


A new, humanmade sun is an inviting prospect. The original sun, one of the more than 350 billion stars in the Milky Way, has been with us a while, debuting 4.6 billion years ago. Equal in mass to 109 Earths set side by side—it cannot readily be shoehorned into a medieval village in southern France. This new, compact model is a development to be celebrated around the world.


If you wish to bring a star to your home, there’s no better place to start than a garden. Step outside to experience the sun in all its power, glory, and majesty. In your garden, you can marvel at the miracle of photosynthesis, the miraculous conjunction of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide that creates the sugars that engender plant life, and, for that matter, all life.


Your home’s solar laboratory offers a season of delectable and beauteous discoveries that you can see, touch, smell, and taste—all sponsored by the sun, our local star.

Six Plants and Flowers That Will Attract More Hummingbirds to Your Garden

Jenn Sinrich


Hummingbirds might be tiny, but they have hearty appetites and get their fill from a myriad of plant species found in gardens. In fact, it is thought that many plants, particularly the narrow and tubular varieties, have evolved over time to accommodate their long, slender bills. “Some flowers are so narrow they can only be pollinated by hummingbirds!” says Paddy Cunningham, birding expert at Bonnet House Museum & Gardens in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

If you’re looking to attract these small but wondrous birds to your garden, there are several basic elements you should include. Firstly, you must have some trees, shrubs, or vines nearby to create shelter and a sense of security, according to George Pisegna, Deputy Director and Chief of Horticulture at The Horticultural Society of New York in Manhattan. “The garden needs to have enough open space for the hummingbird to navigate from flower to flower, have brightly colored flowers (particularly red) that are tubular, and water, as hummingbirds love a gentle, continuous spray.” To help guide you cultivate your own hummingbird oasis, here are the garden plants they love best, according to our experts.

Related: The Secret to a Garden Full of Hummingbirds Is Hiding in Your Pantry


This bold and colorful flower is known for its trumpet-like shape, which comes in handy for hummingbirds as it allows them to reach the inside nectar more easily. This flower thrives in spring and fall, according to Lowe’s live nursery expert, Lester Poole, and grow best in areas that receive at least six hours of direct sunlight.


“This perennial is a cheerful plant with clover-shaped foliage and thin, airy, tubular stems,” shares Valerie Ghitelman, Vice President of Product Development and Design, “Its flowers bloom in a wide range of colors such as red, yellow, white, blue, lavender, pink, and salmon.” Hummingbirds tend to love columbines because they stick around—they’re drought resistant and don’t require much water.


You’re probably most familiar with this plant for its use in the kitchen. Its family contains mints, basil, and salvias in a tremendous array of sizes and colors. “All provide long-lasting nectar sources, and by staggering the annual forms and the perennial forms you can have season-long nectar sources,” says Poole. “Pineapple sage is a super source for hummingbirds, with large quantities of scarlet, tube-like blossoms throughout the summer and fall.”


This tubular flower comes in a variety of colors, most often yellow and purple. Because they are not likely to be grazed upon, they are left untouched for the hummingbird. “Lantanas are not only a three-toned showstopper, they’re able to survive period of limited water supply making them extremely easy to care for,” says Poole. “Lantanas are best suited for planting in warmer climates, as they grow best in hot, dry weather with a minimum of six hours of direct sun.”


Also a tubular flower, hummingbirds are attracted to the honeysuckle for their sweet nectar, as it name suggests. “Hummingbirds adore these open-mouthed florals and are even more attracted to their bright red toned petals, which flower on and off throughout the year,” says Poole. “These flowers prefer full, direct sun and grow extremely fast.”


These gorgeous bedding plants are fairly inexpensive, but can produce numerous flowers in a variety of colors and sizes for a few years, according to Cunningham. “Pentas have almost continuous blooms and can be used to edge beds in the smaller varieties or small bushes in the larger varieties,” she says. “They can also be put into pots and hanging baskets for balconies and porches to attract hummingbirds.”

nkbimages / Getty Images


GreenHouse featured in the latest NYC DOC newsletter!

Hort staff members Sarah Schluep and Eva Joly
with three correction officers that work with GreenHouse.


Check out the March/April 2019 edition of the New York City Department of Correction newsletter and read about the work we’re doing on Rikers Island! Click here and scroll to page 13 for a closer look at our GreenHouse Horticultural Therapy Program, its life-changing benefits, and why this unique program works.

GreenHouse is a nationally recognized horticultural therapy and vocational training program, serving individuals who are detained or incarcerated on Rikers Island. Participants improve social and emotional well-being and gain concrete transferable skills that reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Our horticultural therapy programs also extend beyond Rikers, serving residents of supportive housing facilities throughout New York City.

Greenhouse Newsletter | May

Upcoming Events

Spring is here, and we are celebrating with plenty of new, exciting classes at the greenhouse! Improve your garden by learning about the basics of soil health at our May garden workshop, learn how to make your own kombucha, or bring your family to a fun cooking class focusing on picnics, a fun warm-weather activity for everyone! Click here to see our full schedule

The Greenhouse & Kitchen is located at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park, 679 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10031

Plant of the month: Blue Agave

Blue agave, or Agave Americana, is native to the hot, arid regions of northern and central Mexico, and some parts of the Southwestern United States. Agave plants can reach a height of 6 to 8 feet, and can grow just as wide, making them a popular statement piece in landscaping. Agave Americana is a known as the “century plant” – some species of this succulent genus take 100 years to flower in the wild, but most flower between 10 and 15 years of age. When an agave plant reaches maturity, it produces a flower stalk that can reach up to 20 feet high and bears green and yellow flowers. Once the plant flowers, it usually dies shortly afterward. The number of years before flowering depends on the vigor of the individual plant, the richness of the soil, and the climate.

Blue agave plants are deer resistant, drought tolerant, and can easily live all year round with little maintenance in warm climates. In addition to being used in the production of sweeteners and tequila, blue agave are used to produce rope and bio-fuel.

The leaves of the blue agave have extremely sharp, long, spines at the tip, which gives it an effective defense against animal predators. However, if you want to plant this striking agave in your home, it should be planted a good distance away from where anyone, particularly pets and children, could brush up against it. Once the plant has matured and flowered, it is common to see multiple “pups” around the base of the parent plant. Once the parent plant has died, it can be removed and the pups can be transplanted to start a new life cycle.

Chicago Botanical Garden

University of Florida

Asparagus Lemon Pasta

Here’s a quick recipe for weeknights that takes advantage of the vibrant colors and bright flavors of the spring season. For freshest asparagus, select spears with the tips tightly closed. Save the woody ends of the asparagus in a plastic bag in your freezer until you have enough vegetable scraps to make a stock; use stock throughout the spring when making rich risotto or creamy asparagus soup.

Yield: 4 servings

1 ½ pounds asparagus, ends trimmed (if you bend the stalk near the bottom, it will naturally break between the woody base and the delicate, edible stalk), and   slice the asparagus on the diagonal at approximately 2-inch intervals.

1 pound farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

3 tablespoons butter

¾ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from approximately 3 large lemons)

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

½ to ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

  1. Bring about two inches of water to a boil in a large stockpot with a steamer insert. Place cleaned, trimmed 2-inch pieces of asparagus in steamer basket and cook, covered for approximately 3 minutes; asparagus should be crisp-tender. Drain asparagus and rinse under cold water to halt cooking.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat butter until melted over medium-low heat in a heavy skillet. Add cream and stir in salt, lemon zest and juice. Cover skillet and remove from heat.
  3. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package instructions until al dente. Take approximately ¼ cup of pasta water and add to sauce; drain pasta and set aside.
  4. Add pasta and asparagus to sauce and turn heat to medium, tossing and adding parsley, salt and pepper (to taste), until all is coated.
  5. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side.

Springtime Strawberry Lemonade

2 cups freshly squeezed lemon (approximately 9 large lemons)

1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups superfine sugar (you may make this by blending regular cane sugar in a food processor for a few minutes)

3 cups water at room temperature

5 cups chilled water

2 to 3 cups strawberries, cleaned and hulled then pulsed in a food processor or blender with a couple of tablespoons of water until smooth

Sprigs of lavender, mint or thyme


  1. To get the maximum amount of juice from the lemons, roll them on a hard surface before cutting in half. Slice each fruit in half and extract the juice using a juicer (manual or electric) or even your hands. If using your hands, squeeze juice over a strainer to capture any seeds.
  2. Add three (3) cups room temperature water and sugar to a pitcher with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until sugar is dissolved and water is clear, approximately 30 seconds.
  3. Add lemon juice and strawberry puree, careful to not include any lemon seeds. Add chilled water and shake, or use a large spoon to thoroughly mix. Refrigerate. Serve over ice with a sprig of lavender, mint or thyme.

Greenhouse Newsletter | April

Upcoming Events

There are a lot of exciting new classes being offered at the Greenhouse and Kitchen! Come participate in a workshop on seed starting to kick start your spring garden, learn about identifying edible foods in the wild and using them in the kitchen with Chef Noah Sheetz of Chef’s Consortium, or check out one of our upcoming fermentation series classes! Click here to see our full schedule

The Greenhouse & Kitchen is located at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park, 679 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10031

Plant of the month: Jade

Jade, or Crassula ovata, are popular houseplants worldwide due to the low level of maintenance required. Jade plants are succulents – they require very little water to thrive, and can survive in most indoor conditions. Healthy plants will live for a very long time, and can survive long periods of drought due to its ability to store water in its leaves, stems, and roots. Jade is native to South Africa, and can grow up to six feet tall.

In some parts of the world, jade plants are associated with financial luck, earning the nicknames “money plant” and “luck plant.” The jade plant is also known for its ease of propagation – plants will readily propagate with high success rates from both clippings and fallen leaves. In the wild, propagation from fallen branches is the jade plant’s primary form of reproduction. Jade plants have small pink and white flowers that bloom in the springtime, but may not appear on plants kept indoors.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Spring Frittata with Feta and Ramps

Ramps are wild, and now well-known at most farmers’ markets. They look like very skinny scallions but have a stronger, garlic-like taste. They start showing up at markets in early spring. Without ramps, substitute about half the amount in scallions, plus a small garlic clove, well minced.

Yield: 4 to 6 as an appetizer; lunch for 2-4

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • About 10 ramps, or a bunch, cleaned and chopped, including some of the green leaves (substitute spring/green onions, a few tender scapes, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6-7 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Sprinkling of chopped parsley or chives

Preheat broiler. In a medium (8-9 inch) ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron), heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the ramps and sauté until tender and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Remove to a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, add the eggs and beat lightly to blend.

Set skillet over medium heat and add enough olive oil to coat the skillet well. After a few seconds, add the egg mixture, shaking the pan a bit to make sure, it spreads out evenly, and return the sautéed vegetables to the skillet. Let cook undisturbed until you see it is starting to brown lightly at the edges, about a minute. Shake the pan to see if the frittata mixture is loose. If not, let it cook a few seconds longer. Don’t stir, just let the bottom set and even brown a bit. When the top is just starting to set (that is, it doesn’t look totally runny anymore), take the pan off the burner and stick it in a hot oven (or under the broiler, but watch it closely so it doesn’t burn). Cook another 5 minutes or so until the top begins to brown. If you don’t have an oven, you can flip it and cook the top in the skillet. The easiest way is to slide the frittata onto a plate, put another plate upside down on top, flip it all over, then slide it back into the hot pan.

To serve as an antipasto, cut into thin pie-shaped wedges and arrange on a serving platter. For a lunch dish, slide each frittata slice onto a plate and serve with a green salad.

Maple Vinaigrette with Dandelion Greens

Note: Dandelion greens can be foraged, however make sure you clean well and rinse a few times before using. Many supermarkets also carry them in the produce section. You may also substitute other greens like spinach and arugula.


  • 3 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 6 Tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons minced shallots (optional)
  • dash salt and pepper


  • 5-6 cups dandelion greens (or substitute other greens, like arugula and baby spinach)
  • Approximately 1 cup (or 1 bunch) spring radishes, thinly sliced
    2-3 scallions or green onions, sliced

Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid; shake well. Dress salad in a large bowl and serve.

Eleventh Street Arts presents Florilegium

March 22- April 25, 2019
Opening Reception: Friday, March 22, 6-9pm

Eleventh Street Arts
46-06 11th Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

Curated by Katie G. Whipple, Florilegium will feature over 30 works of painting, illustration, and sculpture, as well as botanical installations and floral designs. The works range from minuscule specimen illustrations to a six foot by twelve foot floral painting, and from traditional oil still lifes to living floral sculptures. Florilegium showcases each artist’s relationship with nature, creating an immersive sensory experience. This is a show that is meant to be experienced in person, so visitors can explore the textures of life in nature and in art.

Katie G. Whipple grew up in central Indiana painting with her mother, artist Libby Whipple. After graduating high school, Katie decided to forgo a traditional college education and moved to New York City to study academic painting at the Grand Central Atelier. She has since been the recipient of many awards, including scholarships from the Grand Central Atelier and a purchase award from the Indiana State Museum. Most notably, she received the 2013 Alma Schapiro Prize, which sent her to the American Academy in Rome to study the work of the old masters. She now works full time as a professional painter, teaches part time at the Grand Central Atelier, and lives in Queens, NY with her husband, artist Brendan Johnston, and their dog, Theo. Florilegium is Katie’s first curated show.

Jessica Tcherepnine (1938-2018)

Jessica Tcherepnine (left) with Elizabeth Scholtz, current Advisory Board member


The Board of Directors and Staff of the Horticultural Society of New York mourn the death of our dear friend and supporter Jessica Tcherepnine. Jessica was a Trustee of the Society for more than 20 years. She developed the Society’s relationship with the American Society of Botanical Artists, leading to the Annual International Exhibition with works selected from the genre’s most established artists. Under Jessica’s guidance, the Society hosted the botanical exhibition for 20 years. Jessica also shared her time and extraordinary talents compassionately with the Society’s horticultural therapy program participants incarcerated on Rikers Island, visiting several times each year even when travel became difficult for her. Jessica received the Society’s Award of Excellence in 2013. We are forever grateful to Jessica and send our condolences to her husband Peter, her family, and her friends. We miss her already.


Jared Goss, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Sara Hobel, Executive Director
The Horticultural Society of New York

Plants of the Winter Solstice

In celebration of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re highlighting winter plants that have become staples in modern holiday traditions. This interesting fact sheet was compiled by Margaret Riche, an instructor in our GreenHouse Horticultural Therapy Program on Rikers Island.

The winter solstice initiates the beginning of the coldest season, and dating back to the neolithic era, cultures have held celebrations at this time. After the solstice, the days get increasingly frigid, but the sun rises earlier and stays longer, a symbol of hope in a time of relative scarcity. The imagery of bright light has been a feature of wintertime holidays across the world, as has the hardy greenery that thrives through the frost.

In fact, many of the plants people identify with Christmas were used for winter celebrations far before the advent of Christianity. Every year we see decorated evergreen trees, mistletoe, and poinsettias, but oftentimes we never learn the origin of these plant traditions or their meanings. By exploring these beautiful plants, we take a trip through history and mythology that adds a new depth to our appreciation of winter decor!



Evergreens have been sprucing up homes during wintertime for thousands of years, pre-dating the tradition of the Christmas tree. They are ancient symbols of nature’s hardiness due to their ability to retain their leaves through the cold winter. Boughs of evergreens, especially pine, spruce, and fir, were hung in homes and were thought to bring about protection, fertility, and good luck.

Saturnalia Celebration

Early Romans decorated their temples with evergreen boughs during the celebration of Saturnalia. This holiday, which takes place from December 17th to the 23rd, honors Saturn, the god of agriculture. It is a tradition of great merry-making and gift exchanging and is a predecessor to many Christmas traditions.

The Christmas tree’s exact origins are somewhat disputed, but many aspects of the tradition can trace their beginnings to Celtic, Germanic, and Viking traditions. Celtic druids decorated evergreen trees with fruits, nuts, and coins during the onset of winter to ensure a fruitful coming year. In these ancient cultures (as in many cultures worldwide), trees (especially evergreen) were venerated as symbols of nature’s cycle of rebirth.

Queen Victoria & Prince Albert, 1840

The first evidence of decorating Christmas trees indoors belongs to Renaissance-Era artisan guilds in Northern Germany. Workers would bring in evergreen trees and decorate them with sweets to be enjoyed by apprentices and children. On the last night of holiday celebrations, revelers brought the tree into the town square to be danced around. The Christmas tree tradition then spread throughout Germany. Some homes would decorate a pyramidal pile of wood logs with evergreen boughs and lights in place of a full tree. These traditions came to America by German immigrants, but were originally seen as foreign or pagan and were condemned by American puritans. In the early 19th century, Christmas trees spread to European nobility. An image of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert has been widely credited with creating the Christmas tree craze among the more general population.




Mistletoe is a diverse order of evergreen parasitic vines that grows on several different trees throughout Europe, North America, North Africa, and Asia. Due to its ability to thrive in the winter months, mistletoe has been revered for thousands of years and has a variety of myths and traditions built up around it.

The ancient Celtic people would collect mistletoe growing on oak trees during their winter solstice ritual, with the Chief Druid climbing the oak and cutting down vines for people to hang up in their homes. They believed that mistletoe was so sacred it could not touch the ground, so it was caught in blankets as it was cut down from the tree tops. Mistletoe was believed to offer protection from evil, and was revered for its use as a medicine for epilepsy, ulcers, menstrual cramps, to increase fertility and as an antidote for poison (Native Americans also have a long tradition of using mistletoe as medicine.) In Norse mythology, mistletoe is the herb that killed and restored Baldur, son of the Goddess of love, Freya. To honor mistletoe, Freya bestows good luck and love on anyone who should walk under the plant.

The tradition of kissing beneath the mistletoe can be traced back to this Celtic association with fertility and Norse mythology. Modern tradition holds that refusing anyone a kiss beneath the mistletoe incurs bad luck, and for each kiss, a berry from the bundle must be plucked. Once all the berries are gone, the mistletoe no longer has the power to demand kisses.



Holly is a genus of evergreen trees, shrubs, and climbers. Common holly (Illex aquifolium) is the species that has become synonymous with winter, with its characteristic bright red berries and glossy leaves. Similar to a lot of the aforementioned plants, before holly was associated with Christmas, it was honored by the Celtic Druids and the ancient Romans. During the winter months, when deciduous trees lose their leaves, holly brings a splash of vibrant green and red, becoming a symbol of eternal life.

Like mistletoe, Holly was also hung as a ward of protection. It was believed by Celtic people that the undersides of their leaves were a place for faeries to find shelter and that the faeries would be kind to any homeowner who hung holly branches. To the Romans, Holly was an emblem of the agricultural god Saturn and was used as decoration during Saturnalia. Christians then continued the tradition of holly as a winter holiday decoration. Christian symbolism holds the red berries to represent Christ’s blood and the thorns to represent his crown during the crucifixion.


First Fruits

Kwanzaa, which takes place from December 21 to January 1, is a cultural holiday that celebrates African heritage. The word Kwanzaa is Swahili for “first fruits,” as this holiday takes inspiration from the many harvest celebrations of Africa.

Symbols of Kwanzaa, including a chalice and candle holder, are displayed prominently in households that honor the holiday. The first of the seven symbols of Kwanzaa is “Mazou” which means “crops.” A collection of fruits, vegetables, and nuts are placed on a traditional mat to represent the fruits of collective planning and work. Another symbol of Kwanzaa is “muhindi” which means corn, and is symbolic of the world’s children who will grow into the future. One kernel of corn is placed on the mat for each of the children in the household.



Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are indigenous to Mexico, especially Taxco del Alarcon where they flower during the winter. In Mexico, they are called Flor de Nochebuena (“Christmas Eve flower”) or Catarina.

These plants became associated with Christmas in the 16th century. Legend tells of the story of a young girl named Pepita, who was sad she could not afford to give a gift to Jesus for the Christmas celebration. She was then inspired to pick a bouquet of weeds from the side of the road. When she laid them on the altar in front of the church, they transformed into the bright red flower.

They take their English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, first US Minister to Mexico, who sent the plants to the US in 1822. The characteristic bright red bracts are often mistaken for petals, but are in fact, technically leaves. The obtain their color through a process called photoperiodism, which requires that the plant experience a period of darkness (a minimum of 12 hours for at least 5 days in a row) in order to change color. Additionally, they require bright light during the day to have a vivid color.



Amaryllis are flowering bulbs native to south and Central America and the Caribbean. They are often given as holiday gifts because they bloom around the holiday season when kept indoors. Red and white are popular colors for Christmas, but they also come in pink, purple, yellow, and orange.

The amaryllis plant gets its name from Greek Mythology, where the maiden Amaryllis was in love with the handsome young shepherd with a passion for flowers named Alteo. Unsure how to win Alteo’s heart, Amaryllis consulted the Oracle at Delphi. On the Oracle’s order, Amaryllis stood in front of Alteo’s house for 30 days piercing her heart with a golden arrow. On the last day, a flower grew from her spilled blood that helped her win the heart of her love. This story, as well as the plant’s strong upright stems have made it a symbol of determination, strength, beauty, and love.




Paperwhites are flowers in the narcissus genus that are native to the Mediterranean region and are frequently forced to bloom indoors in the winter. Unlike other species of the Narcissus family, they don’t require a chilling period to bloom, and are therefore considered easy plants to grow indoors for winter interest. They are also the most fragrant of the flowers in the narcissus genus. Their white color is evocative of winter’s snow, which is another reason for this plant’s association with winter holidays.


Christmas Cactus

Shlumbergera are a genus of 6 species of cactus native to the coastal mountains of Brazil. They are epiphytic, which means they grow on the surface of other plants, in this case trees. In the North, they are known for their ability to thrive as houseplants and for blooming around the holiday season. There are varieties that bloom in fall and winter, “Thanksgiving Cactus” and “Christmas Cactus” respectively, which often get confused and are mislabeled by sellers.




The use of mint flavoring at Christmas time is due to the ever popular candy cane, whose origins can be traced back to soothing sugar sticks used in 17th century German churches. Before pacifiers, parents would give their fussy children sugar sticks and in the 1670s, one pastor gave out these treats during Christmas services, bending them into the shape of the shepherd’s staff. These canes became popular in Christmas services all over Europe, evolving into different tastes, and eventually becoming the red and white striped mint candy canes that we know today. The colors are common Christmas colors and the peppermint flavor leaves a tingling sensation evocative of the winter’s cold.

Santa’s Second Job by George Ball 

George Ball, Chairman and CEO of the W. Atlee Burpee Co., Trustee of The Horticultural Society of New York, and past president of the American Horticultural Society in Washington D.C., wrote this ever-so-horticultural short story.  We share it with you here to spread holiday cheer and wish you a Happy New Year.

Call him Santa. Some moments ago, after measuring the behavior of the world’s children, managing construction of several hundred million toys by elves, raising and tending magic reindeer, and mapping this year’s delivery routes, he found himself wanting to knock an elf’s hat off, or set the sleigh ablaze. Even Santa gets the blues.


So many more kids these past few years, he muses. The winters getting colder, chimneys tighter than they used to be. He can adapt to just so much change. Magic goes only so far, even for Santa.


“What to do this off-season?” he ponders. As much as Santa wants the extra cash, he needs a break—and a makeover. The Southern Hemisphere’s “Christmas in July” shows have been fading away. In Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, South Africa, demographics have changed. Besides, they stole his thunder, if not comfort and joy. Brutal trip, too.


Being omniscient, Santa sees that a seed company is hiring. Seasonal work from January to May. Hmm, seeds … interesting! He trims his hair and beard, dons work apparel, summons Blitzen, flies down and presents himself. The factory is so busy, the Human Resources clerk whisks “Mr. S. Claus” through. I’m hired!


When Santa sees the colorful packets lined up for packing and shipping, his mind lights up like a Christmas tree. “So exotic, yet so oddly familiar.” He takes the mail order catalog back to his rented abode and reads it cover to cover.


Later Santa notices several familiar seeds and plants. Being a deer maven, he knows their leaves are too rough or spiny for deer’s throats. He suggests developing a new collection of deer-resistant varieties to his manager, who promotes him to oversee the Vegetable Department. Santa might not want to turn away deer, but gardeners sure do.


Santa is surprised by the “Large Carrots” section. His deer wisdom returns. “This carrot is so huge and sweet, it’s perfect for deer”, he tells the manager. “It looks orange to us but to deer, it’s gold. Plant a small plot to both satiate their carrot-lust and keep them away from your garden”. Mr. S. Claus becomes the toast of the marketing team, which incorporates his lore into the upcoming catalog.


One late April morning, after a week of shipping tomato transplants, Santa bolts awake with an aha! moment. “All these seeds and plants are gifts that, in turn, produce gifts that, in turn, keep giving even more gifts.” The gift of all gifts.


Rubbing his eyes, Santa realizes that Christmas, with its lights, colors and the abundance of the gifts he brings, is a spirited representation of spring and summer, with their dazzling sunshine, myriad hues—and abounding harvest. Christmas by other means.


In late May, at the end of the “busy season”, Santa receives a bonus for being so “good” (amusing him no end) and whistles Blitzen back down. Returning to the North Pole, they fly over flowering spring gardens where he sees pea-vine rows and green-bean fences; peonies, daisies and snapdragons in bloom. Everything comes together in an epiphany: Gardening is the source of all that is good or “nice”, and of nothing that is bad or “naughty”.


Back home, to the joy of Mrs. Claus, the elves and the reindeer, Santa begins construction on his new workshop—a greenhouse.