Ask the Clark Gardener

Dear Fellow Gardeners:

July 22, 2013. We weren’t stronger than the storm.

Our neighboring state of New Jersey has a catchy TV advertisement trying to lure vacationers to the shore this summer. It includes a jingle about being “stronger than the storm” and concludes with a lighthouse keeper sending a beacon of light with this message onto the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

The 12 acres of Clark Garden certainly weren’t stronger than Sandy and the follow up nor’easter of last fall. We were smacked, walloped, twisted, crushed, torn, mutilated, and broken to pieces. It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that the last major stumps of the downed trees inhibiting garden access were finally cleared. We’ve finally been able to re-open our longest foot bridge that crosses one of our ponds and borders our bog garden as the path to it is no longer obstructed. One of our smaller walking trails is still closed, waiting for additional clean up. Stumps that don’t block paths still stand out here and there in garden beds. There are incongruously cleared areas where trees used to be, and sunny areas that used to be shady.

As part of our restoration efforts for Clark Garden, we set a goal to plant at least 40 new trees by the end of 2013 to replace approximately that many lost. The Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden Corporation and its Auxiliary launched “Project 40” to raise money for the Clark Garden restoration effort. The success of “Project 40” has been our beacon, leading us forward to replace that which was lost and challenging us to make significant progress this year. Well, by my count, as of today, we’ve already planted 36 new trees and 51 new shrubs with a good part of 2013 still ahead!

For those that contributed to “Project 40,” and for the merely curious, I thought that I would give you an overview of some of the plantings we’ve made. But just don’t read about our new plantings, come in person and see them…

We’ve added five cultivars to our growing collection of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) – ‘Ruslyn in the Pink,’ ‘First Ghost,’ ‘Peaches and Cream,’ ‘Caperci’s Dwarf,’ and ‘Beni hime.’ These were intermixed with more mature Japanese maples, so that this area of the garden should be ablaze with fall color. In the same section of the garden, we also planted a Shirasawa’s Maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’) with its beautifully lobed leaves and dramatic fall color.

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Autumn Moon

Three new river birch trees (Betula nigra ‘Little King’) grace the Middle Pond. Though young, their peeling whitish bark already draws interest.

Betula nigra; 'Little King'

Complementary to the climbing hydrangea over the gift shop entrance, the hydrangea garden now includes a variegated leaved climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris ‘Miranda‘). Its branches are already creeping along the ground towards a nearby tree. Upon reaching the tree, I suspect it will quickly take off up the trunk.

Hydrangea anomala petiolaris; 'Miranda'

The ginkgo tree is one of the oldest trees (evolution wise) still in existence. It has grown on earth for at least 150 million years. While we have had ginkgo specimens in Clark Garden before, we now have a dwarf version, Ginkgo biloba ‘Witch’s Broom.’

Ginkgo biloba; 'Witches Broom'

The story goes that the Franklinia alatamaha tree was last seen in the wild in 1790 and that all existing such trees descend from the domesticated collection of a few specimens of botanist John Bartram. Clark’s oldest specimen suffered severe damage in the storms and, while blooming well this year, has a doubtful future. To assure that Clark maintains this beautiful and treasured tree in its collection, we obtained some additional specimens in prior years. We added to this collection with another specimen this year and planted it in a separate area from the others, not only to enjoy in another section of the garden but to spread the risk if another major storm were to occur.

Franklinia alatamaha

One of the highlights of spring is to be enveloped with the fragrance of the lilacs in the garden. We enhanced the existing collection in the garden by adding a Japanese tree lilac, Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk.’

Syringa reticulata; 'Ivory Silk'

Clark’s grove of American Beech trees, just inside the I. U. Willets Road fence line, also took a significant hit from the storms. A few years ago, upon learning that their roots could be harmed by foot traffic, we routed a walking path away from these trees by installing a log barrier to such traffic. Still, these massive trees seemed indestructible. But one was shockingly upended by Sandy and others needed to have what used to be massive swooping limbs cut back. To begin to fill the resulting gaping space, we have planted a variety of European Beech trees, Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor,’ Fagus sylvatica ‘Cockleshell,’ and Fagus sylvatica ‘Purple Dawycki.’ The ‘Purple Dawycki’ cultivar is pictured below.

Fagus sylvatica; 'Purple Dawycki'

One tree that has been missing from Clark Garden is the Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera). Not anymore. We have three. This tree is dioecious, meaning each specimen is either male or female. We planted one known male specimen and two “wild” specimens. We are hoping that at least one of the “wild” specimens will be a wild female so that we can grow the rather large, green wrinkled, ball shaped fruit. We also set these trees back from any walking paths to avoid anyone inadvertently getting bopped in the head from the fruit.

Maclura pomifera; Osage-orange

Blueberry bushes, of course, are desirable for their tasty fruit. However, the foliage of these bushes also provides beautiful red fall color, and multi-season interest. We have a small collection of blueberry bushes near Clark’s apiary, but there is one variety that we planted this year that I’m finding particularly interesting. Vaccinium ‘Top Hat’ is a very dwarf Blueberry bush, only one to two feet tall at maturity. We used it as a border plant for the blueberry bed. It is supposed to get medium sized fruits and needs no pollinator. We’ll see what happens next year. In the meantime, the bushes are so dwarf that I’ve nearly weeded some of them out a few times.

Vaccinium; 'Top Hat'

Between death of some of our bee colonies last year, and our last remaining hive taking a direct hit from a tree during Sandy, we went into last winter with no live bee colonies in our apiary. Thanks to the efforts of our beekeepers Rich and Helen, we now have four active hives in our apiary.


I’ve just touched on some of the restorative and enhancement plantings made possible by “Project 40.” I hope that it encourages you to visit Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden, Inc. to follow our efforts as these and the rest of the “Project 40” plantings mature.

While not specifically under the “Project 40” umbrella, there have been other recent contributions to enhance Clark Garden.

As a memorial, one family donated a large weeping willow tree to the garden (Salix babylonica). This tree already looks right at home by the Upper Pond.

Salix babylonica; 'Weeping Willow'

The children of North Side School in East Williston wanted to contribute to Clark’s recovery. Thanks to their contributions, Clark Garden was able to plant the very unusual Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). This tree has spiny, pointed stiff leaves and wants you to shout “OUCH” just looking at it!

Araucaria araucana; 'Monkey Puzzle tree'

Palms in Albertson? Kokoma Trading Co. thought Clark Garden should have some that could spend the winter outdoors and donated a couple. We’ve planted a Dwarf palmetto palm (Sabal minor) and a Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei). Maybe I’ll actually be able to tell my friends that I spent next winter under the palms…

Sabal minor; 'Dwarf Palmetto'

Trachycarpus fortunei; 'Windmill palm'

And, just a reminder, if you have a comment, horticultural question, or general question about Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden, Inc., remember to send them to me at

The Clark Gardener

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