Notes From The Garden: Winter In The NCL

Guest Author: Avvah Rossi

If you visit the Naval Cemetery Landscape this weekend, it may seem quiet. You’ll hear some traffic on the greenway and city streets nearby, softened slightly by our conifer perimeters but no longer accompanied by the crunching of fall foliage or the buzz and rustle of pollinators.  Sometimes in deep winter, there’s a misconception that the plants are dead, the birds and insects are gone, and that nothing is “happening.”  

Not so! A closer examination will reveal life in its dormant states for perennials and woody plants – and even (in this warmer, snow-free winter) some cool-season plants getting an early start on spring.

In the garden, we value this season.

The meadow plants appear dull and brown, with dry seedheads, but many of the native annual seeds and bulbs that we cultivate need this time of cold stratification before they germinate or begin sending energy to emerging foliage and flower buds. Until spring cutback, we’ll allow those seedheads to stay up or senesce naturally to the ground – the extra seeds will feed seed-eating foragers and the upright stems provide a dry shelter for some pollinators. Among the muted colors of the native plants in their winter dormancy, many non-native invasive plants are easier to spot (and to manually remove) – they continue photosynthesizing in colder temperatures or remain semi-evergreen. 

The small corners of the NCL are still full of life. Smaller birds and other seed foragers are still here – they stay with us through the winter, providing another kind of necessary stratification (chemical scarification) for the seeds that pass through the acidic digestive system. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a couple of red-tailed hawks hunting smaller prey from the trees at the NCL; look up at the branches of our red maples and you may glimpse one on its favorite perch.

So when you visit us on a winter weekend, don’t assume there’s ‘nothing happening’. Instead, lean into the quiet of the resting meadow and let yourself experience the subtler wiles of the landscape in this season.

About the NCL:

The Naval Cemetery Landscape, developed by BGI and opened to the public in 2016, is an award-winning 1.7-acre contemplative memorial landscape and pollinator habitat. The NCL was designed to provide local residents and other visitors with a respite from the stresses of urban life while adding vital open space and native plant habitat to a park-starved area of Brooklyn.

About Brooklyn Greenway Initiative:

Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to the development, establishment and long-term stewardship of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway – a 26-mile protected and landscaped route for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages and abilities that, when complete, will connect Brooklyn’s storied and iconic waterfront, parks and open space, commercial and cultural corridors, and new tech and innovation hubs for 2.65 million Brooklyn residents, over 1.1 million people who work in Brooklyn, and more than 15 million annual visitors from across the City and around the world.

For more information:

NCL Instagram

BGI website


Elizagrace Madrone – Development & Communications Manager :