Get Inspired By Mimi Jorling's Garden

Mimi Jorling has been a horticulturist for over 15 years, working in residential gardens, botanical gardens, and public parks. She is currently responsible for the plantings in Chelsea Cove, Segment 5 of the Hudson River Park in New York City, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates. We chatted in the entry garden designed by Lynden B. Miller which opened to the public in 2010. Mimi holds a certificate in horticulture from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
1. Why do you garden?
I garden for therapy. I grew up in rural areas. In New York City being in - literal - contact with the earth and sky is important. I get comments from people every day, who thank me for the plantings. When they are in a garden they realize what a restorative effect it has. Making that space for other people is very rewarding. And being able to control your surroundings in a chaotic world feels good. I was freaked out about something once when I lived in Denver, so I went out and bought some marigolds and then planted them in this very strict arc! Afterwards I felt better: "OK, everything's in control..."

2. Who or what inspired you to garden?
My dad had a vegetable garden and my mom a flower garden. They did not think of themselves as gardeners but were really excited about their garden projects: "Look! The zucchini worked!"
3. What was the first plant you grew?
A peanut. We had this peanut growing kit: A plastic cup, some red yarn, and we grew a peanut plant. They sprout really easily.

4. How often do you garden?
Monday to Friday, 7am till 3.30pm. Weather has no effect on my schedule. In winter it might be 10'F out with 30 mile-per-hour winds off the Hudson, and I'm out here.

5. What is your garden's USDA zone?
New York City is in USDA Zone 6b, but this is a microclimate. It is exposed and the wind in winter off the water is very cold.

6. What size is the garden and park you take care of?
Segment 5 runs from West 22nd Street to West 28th Street and is part of the five-and-a-half mile long waterfront park between the Hudson River and the eight-lane West Side highway.

7. What plant has most disappointed you?
I don't think I've ever been disappointed by a plant!
8. What plant has made you happiest?
In this garden, the crepe myrtle. Its bark, flowers and form. It's been blooming now for six weeks. My favorite plant is echinops. I love how it glows, as though illuminated, and it's just so spiky and alive-looking.
9. What do you love about your garden right now?
The river. People forget that it is a garden element. I worked beside the river in Battery Park for seven years and I would have a hard time working in Central Park or Prospect Park. The river adds so much. You can breathe, there is movement and openness.
10. What do you feed your garden?
I use compost, but unfortunately we don't make our own. A garbage service hauls away our woody and herbaceous debris. I don't know what the difficulty is in having the truck haul it to a composting site rather than the landfill but I have met with much resistance when repeatedly suggesting that. Our compost is ordered and I apply a lot in the spring and in fall. The soil here is very sandy and water just runs straight through. I mix mulch with compost, too, to help improve the soil.
11. What would you like to grow, that you can't?
The first thing that comes to mind is a lime tree so I could make fresh limeade on demand - inspired by Haitians who make delicious limeade and also use limes in a lot of their cooking. Through the Haitian dance I began studying about 15 years ago, I have learned about Haitian culture. After the earthquake last year, I felt I had to go to Haiti and try to help the people, in whatever way I could, who have added such richness to my life through dance and music. I am currently working with a Haitian friend to build a Haitian-run school there. My contribution to the curriculum will be establishing a food garden and hopefully an ornamental garden as well. Or an ornamental food garden!
12. Food, flowers, native or ornamental?
Hm. I think that because of my experience gardening in Colorado, and two very hot summers here (I moved back to NYC last June), I'd say anything drought resistant. The more drought resistant the better. In Colorado people have lawns but the front yard of the house I still have there is amazing and is all perennials. People stop and look. It is very low maintenance and drought tolerant. I have a renter in the house and told him to at least keep the shrubs alive. I haven't seen the garden since June 2010.
13. Most inspiring garden writer, thinker, blogger, personality?
British conceptual landscape artist, Andy Goldsworthy spends time within a natural landscape before creating anything, in order to understand it. I think that is how gardens should be designed. I love the movie about his work, Rivers and Tides.
14. What plants do you dislike?
Euonymous. At the moment a creeping form (Euonymous fortunei) is affecting the crabapples - I think - and we can't access the soil to pick up diseased crabapple leaves or to fertilize the trees. It's not the euonymous' fault but I do hate euonymous.
15. Would you like more sun or more shade?
I don't mind sun but this garden is very hot with very little shade. Some of the plants used in the design are for shade: hostas, heuchera, bergenia. Because the soil is also sandy it does not retain water and they suffer and burn. I am researching drought tolerant plants, like a blue penstemon, and many are only available out West. The flower colors in the entry garden here are primary - red, yellow and blue. When I wondered why, Lynden Miller explained that she hated the huge [Chelsea Piers] building south of us, which has these colors in it, and that she used them in the design to try and disguise it!

16. Where is your favorite public garden?
It's not a garden but I love the woody area of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. It sounds corny, I know, but it is nature's garden. Being in the city, it is very refreshing. There are some big trees! There are big trees in Central Park but not within woodland. I love it.
By 66 Square Feet (Photo Credit: Marie Viljoen)

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