In a city known for its expanses of steel and concrete, despite that giant expanse of parkland at its center, it can be easy to forget the importance that greenery plays in the life of New Yorkers. For many co-op and condo residents, the flowers, shrubs, grasses and trees that surround their buildings, fill their courtyards and spill gently from their balconies soften the edges of urban living and bring colorful life to a sometimes monochromatic landscape.
The selection, planting and care of those oases of green can be a significant undertaking, one that requires a solid understanding of what plants and flowers will thrive in an urban environment and avoiding those that simply will not.
“At times, plants can be selected with emotion (i.e., I like the way a plant looks) rather than with practicality which takes into consideration the site conditions and environmental conditions such as light, weather, water and foot traffic,” said Victoria Shapiro of Blondie’s Treehouse Inc., in an email interview. “The public space of the city can be a harsh environment for plants,” says Shapiro, whose company located in Mamaroneck provides landscaping and plant care services to the metro New York area.
Some of those dangers include air pollution, trampling, storm water run-off, pets burrowing and relieving themselves in or near the plantings. This winter’s massive snows may pose another problem for plants this coming spring as well. “A lot of buildings will use rock salt and not the environmentally safe salt,” says Iris Kaplow, the president of New York City-based Iris Kaplow Landscapes. That salt can kill greenery.
Kaplow and Shapiro both agree that a lack of maintenance can also leave urban plants vulnerable. In a hectic world, it is easy for building staff to forget the plants or flowers until they begin to wilt or show signs of sickness. And by then it might be too late to save them. Before planting, it’s important to know “water requirements and have building personnel who can meet that challenge,” says David Protell of Chelsea Garden Center Inc., in New York. “Some plants need watering twice a day. Others can handle more arid conditions. Building personnel need to know what they’re doing.” Without that proper plan of care, even the most well designed garden can suffer.