Explore the Landscape

During your visit to Little Island, these are some of the big ideas I had in mind while designing the landscape. One was to be sure the plants would be resilient to the many forces of nature, now and in the future. The majority of [all] the plants are native and selected to create habitat for pollinators and bird species. Another design consideration was to choose plants that offer year-round character, so each time you come, the colors and textures evolve in response to the seasons. The best way to appreciate the garden is by walking through it – become immersed or see the plants against the gorgeous backdrops of the river or skyline. Call it a choreography of seasonal delight.

Signe Nielsen, MNLA, Little Island’s Landscape Architect

Spring is a lively season in the park for landscaping. We have over 66,000 bulbs that start blooming in March, making for a vibrant show of daffodils, tulips, crocuses, and more. You’ll want to catch some of our spring blooming trees like the vibrant purple flowers of the Eastern redbud, the drooping white plumes of the Chinese fringe tree, and the white and pink blossoms of the Akebono cherry tree. As plants and flowers “spring” back to growth, the garden is fresh and green with a light, emergent feel.

The horticulture team continues the spring cutback that started in late winter, cutting back leftover fall and winter plants to make room for spring bulbs. Gardeners add fresh mulch, reducing weeds and stabilizing soil moisture and temperature. Early lawn renovation takes place this season as well, as the team seeds the lawns to prepare for the upcoming season of park programming and recreation.

In this hottest season of the year, spring bulbs fade away while large ornamental grasses sprout up throughout the park. Warm season grasses like silver grass, little bluestem, and pink muhly grass thrive in hot temperatures and are dramatic additions to the landscape this season. Throughout the park, a processional bloom means that you’ll notice new blossoms every week, with the pale pastels of spring transitioning to brighter, more intense colors as the summer progresses.

To ensure our landscape survives the heat, gardeners will do supplemental watering of perennials, trees, and shrubs. The lawns are also now open for use this season, meaning a significant increase in foot traffic on our grassy slopes. Gardeners begin mid-season lawn renovation to help maintain the longevity of the grass. Like everything else in our landscaping, our lawns are living things that need to be taken care of!

You’ll notice a lot of change during Autumn on Little Island, as plants and trees change colors before going dormant—nature’s way of going to sleep until the Spring. During this key phase in the plant life cycle, you’ll be able to appreciate the textures and structure of our perennial plantings.

Come get your fall foliage fix with browns, rusts, and gold textures on our branches, and catch the still-blooming sweeps of asters and goldenrods throughout the park. Straw-colored ornamental grasses grace our gardens while our maples, dogwoods, and honey locust trees boast their vibrant red and pink colors. Many of the flowers from this past year may have faded, but their seed heads, berries, and stems will persist throughout the Fall and into Winter.

Our Head of Horticulture Orrin Sheehan loves Fall most of all, with its colorful changes and slowdown of growth. Orrin and his team have many tasks to accomplish this time of year, such as perennial and bulb planting and our end-of-season lawn renovation.

Enjoy the serenity of the snowy landscape over the Hudson during winter at Little Island. The majority of plants and trees lay dormant this season, making it the perfect spot for a peaceful getaway. Stroll through the park’s winding hills and paths to see how snow and ice play with the leftover structural branches and forms from the fall.

Evergreens remain the highlight in the winter months, retaining their green sprigs through the chilliest of days. Along with our evergreens, many plants have berries or bright-colored bark or twigs to catch your eye during winter. Our juniper and pine trees are semi-dormant, dropping some of their older needles to make room for new ones. In the Southwest Overlook, the stately Shumard Oaks hold their leaves all season long, turning a brown shade and blending with the park’s surrounding sheet pile walls and boulders.

Little Island’s gardening team spends this season going through a photo inventory of plants, as part of an overall assessment to determine the bloom list for the following spring. Late winter is also when the spring cutback starts, as plants left over from the fall and winter are trimmed to make room for the new bulbs to come, thus ensuring a blooming spring season!

Our Audio Tour

Little Island’s landscape architect Signe Nielsen, founding principal of MNLA, narrates this 40-minute audio tour of Little Island. Learn about the visionary design and thought process behind every plant, leaf, and rock placement in our 2.4 acre oasis.

Signe’s audio tour takes you behind each bend and curve of Little Island’s landscape, illuminating the planting principles and collaborative process behind the park’s design. Start the tour at the Esplanade before entering the park, and enjoy the journey!