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November on Governors Island: Horticulture Highlight


Governors Island welcomes visitors from spring through fall with a bounty of beautiful foliage. The abundant plant life across the Island’s historic district and rolling parkland provides a naturalistic escape from the city. This green oasis thrives thanks to the efforts of the Island’s Horticulture team, whose responsibilities continue all year long to maintain the Island’s plant life and, in the off-season, prepare it for the following year.

GI Horticulture team planting bulbs in Liggett Terrace

GI gardeners’ duties involve a variety of efforts that begin in November, like introducing thousands of new plants across the landscape. Flower beds receive new bulbs including tulips, daffodils, and ornamental alliums planted by hand that will bloom beautifully next season. At the Hills, gardeners use the technique of broadcasting seeds (scattering them over an area) rather than planting them individually to spread more plants over more terrain that can be difficult to traverse on foot. These plantings are timed based on the specific needs of the species in question; many seeds require a period of cold before germination can occur. For areas that are not being actively planted in November, gardeners spend this time planning future plantings to complete before the Island reopens.

Asters add color and help combat invasive species in Hammock Grove

The Horticulture team creates strategic plans for which plants to use in which areas, with biodiversity, aesthetics and the health of the ecosystem in mind. Many varieties are chosen for their ability to combat unwanted invasive species, like the winter rye planted on the Hills. Winter rye will germinate late this fall, and will already be established in April, hopefully early enough to outcompete invasive mugwort, which tends to stifle other plant life in its area. Similarly, Hammock Grove will receive white wood aster, already found in the Island’s historic district, which thrives in shaded areas and will claim the space under a thickening tree canopy, preventing weeds from getting established, while producing delightful flowers. All new plants on the Island are chosen with their abilities to stand up to the often-harsh Harbor environment and to support the health of the ecosystem in mind, with many species selected for their capacity to support animal life.

Established plants in Nolan Park receive care and pruning in the fall and winter

Established plants need plenty of attention this time of year, too. Some are dug up, divided, and transplanted to other planting beds or locations like the Island’s nursery for winter care before being planted out in the spring. Fallen leaves are added to plant beds for nutrients and to help prevent weed growth. Major housekeeping projects also begin in November, like tool maintenance, planning and ordering supplies, and professional development and continuing education for gardeners including staff exchanges with other parks and public spaces in the New York area. Once the trees have lost their last leaves, winter pruning will begin, contributing to their continued health and growth for years to come.

From November to April, the Horticulture team’s hands are full keeping the Island’s plants and landscapes healthy and ready to thrive once spring comes around again. While most visitors to GI don’t witness this work themselves, they enjoy its benefits during the Island’s public season. In the future, visitors will be able to appreciate the fruits of the Horticulture team’s labors every day of the year. Keeping Governors Island green is a year-round job, after all.