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Perennial Garden

Martha Stewart Living Television

The New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, New York, was founded by botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton in 1891. Among the largest and most popular botanical gardens in the world, the New York Botanical Garden receives more than half a million visitors each year.

Martha visits with Sarah Price, manager of the Display Gardens at the New York Botanical Garden, for a tour of the Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden. Despite its name, this beautiful garden actually demonstrates a mixed-border design, including not only perennials but shrubs, bulbs, biennials, and annuals. The garden was conceived by New York City public-garden designer Lynden B. Miller, who used the idea of "hot" and "cool" plantings to develop the vivid color palette (yellows, reds, pinks, and oranges for "hot"; blues, lavenders, and whites for "cool"). The designer also considered the shape and form of the flowers and foliage to create striking contrasts. Beautiful grasses such as zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus') and blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) complete the composition.

Good staking is invisible, according to Sarah, who demonstrates some of her staking techniques for Martha. Using branches saved from last year's pruning, she lifts a reclining 'Johnson's Blue' geranium and inserts a branch underneath, letting the geranium rest on the branch for support. The branches have many twigs still attached, which create a fan shape radiating out from the strong main stem. Sarah repeats the process across the entire crown of the plant, "fluffing" the geranium into place over the supporting branches. It is important to be careful where you insert the branches when using this technique: You don't want to gouge root masses when sticking the branches into the ground. As a final step, Sarah snips off any visible branch twigs, leaving the geranium in an upright position without obvious staking.

For taller, single-stemmed, top-heavy plants like Verbascum, Sarah prefers to use a slender, green bamboo stake. The size and color of the bamboo help conceal it. Again being careful not to damage the roots, Sarah tucks in a piece of bamboo, slightly at an angle, supporting the plant in the fork of the main stem. She trims off the end of the bamboo below a leaf to hide the stake.

Martha and Sarah continue to work with these techniques throughout the garden, giving the plants beautiful upright appearances without marring the look of the garden with stakes.

To learn more about the New York Botanical Garden, visit

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