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10 Questions with Cathy Deutsch, Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill

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10 Questions with Cathy Deutsch, Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill

July 14, 2023

Cathy Deutsch never expected to be a gardener. “I stumbled upon fine gardening almost by accident at Wave Hill,” said the Riverdale, NY, garden’s fourth director of horticulture and first woman to hold the role. “I had some fuzzy notion I wanted to be a landscape architect and made my way up from the train to what I thought was a lecture hall in Riverdale for a symposium on historic landscape preservation in America,” says Deutsch, who admits to being so green back then that she was misspelling “hydrangea” as “HIGHdrangia.”

The glorious wild garden at Wave Hill in summer. It&#8\2\17;s the highest point in the garden; you can see the Hudson River in the distance. Photograph by Cathy Deutsch.
Above: The glorious wild garden at Wave Hill in summer. It’s the highest point in the garden; you can see the Hudson River in the distance. Photograph by Cathy Deutsch.

Inspired by the majesty of Wave Hill and determined to follow her dream, she kept returning until Marco Polo Stufano, the garden’s renowned founding director of horticulture, finally agreed to let her volunteer. “I asked him where I should begin, because there was so much to learn,” she recalled. “Marco said, start with the plants you love; then he told me to go to New York Botanical Garden [NYBG].”

Wave Hill&#8\2\17;s director of horticulture, Cathy Deutsch. Photograph by Hillarie O’Toole.
Above: Wave Hill’s director of horticulture, Cathy Deutsch. Photograph by Hillarie O’Toole.

Deutsch took his advice, and graduated from the NYBG’s prestigious School of Professional Horticulture. She then completed two internships at Wave Hill, secured her first real job in horticulture as an arborist in Central Park, and held several horticulture roles in New York and New Jersey. Today, she’s responsible for 28 acres of gardens and woodlands at the very place that inspired her career more than two decades ago. Below, she shares some of her favorite things for the garden. 

The gardening tool you can’t live without? 

 Above: Okatsune \104 Pruners are sharp and durable, \$3\1 on Amazon.
Above: Okatsune 104 Pruners are sharp and durable, $31 on Amazon.

My bypass pruners go everywhere with me except my carry-on. I was reared using Felco #2 but about 10 years ago my friend Tony Bielaczyc introduced me to a Japanese version, Okatsune (I like the largest size, 104). Not only do they produce a distinct and satisfying sound with each cut, they are more durable and, miraculously, remain sharp enough to effortlessly lop wood and deadhead violas, despite pruning soil-coated roots in between. I very seldom sharpen but frequently sterilize.

 Above: Made from metal and hardwood, Toysmith&#8\2\17;s Big Kid Garden Tools are just what Cathy needs on her impromptu early morning gardening. \$40, exit\15.com
Above: Made from metal and hardwood, Toysmith’s Big Kid Garden Tools are just what Cathy needs on her impromptu early morning gardening. $40, exit15.com

Other tools I find surprisingly handy are my daughter’s set of garden tools by Toysmith. When surveying the garden early morning with my jammies and coffee, I invariably start grooming, weeding, and transplanting. Her little tools, in the corner of the patio, are just the thing I need for spontaneous, slippered gardening. Do not be fooled by imposters!

Most dog-eared gardening book?

 Photo: Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, by Thomas Christopher, with photos by Ngoc Minh Ngo, (Timber Press, \20\19); \$40.
Photo: Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, by Thomas Christopher, with photos by Ngoc Minh Ngo, (Timber Press, 2019); $40.

Right now, it’s probably Nature into Art, the book by Thomas Christopher, about Wave Hill, because I’m still trying to understand all the nuance and complexity of the collections. Otherwise, The Education of a Gardener, by Russell Page. A classic.

Favorite garden book for inspiration?

The Greater Perfection, by Frank Cabot about his garden Les Quatre Vents. 

Splurge-worthy plant?

Endemic to Japan, Eranthus pinnatifida is one of the winter aconites. Photograph by Alpsdake.
Above: Endemic to Japan, Eranthus pinnatifida is one of the winter aconites. Photograph by Alpsdake.

Adonis amurensis ‘Chichibu beni’ and Eranthus pinnatifida.

Favorite native plant? 

The Sourwood tree is an understory tree native to the North and Southeastern U.S. Photograph by David J. Stang.
Above: The Sourwood tree is an understory tree native to the North and Southeastern U.S. Photograph by David J. Stang.

For Eastern North American natives, I’ll go with Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood). It’s one of those all-season providers for me.  I love the vertical fissures on the grey-brown bark that disclose its orange, inner bark. The leaves emerge glossy in spring, and the flowers bloom mid- to late-summer when most other garden plants are on hiatus. The best part though is that the inflorescence persists as tawny seed against the brilliant red tones of fall leaves. It is so eye-catching and impressionable.

Favorite seed source? 

At Wave Hill, the one place every gardener will order from is Chiltern Seeds. They have a dizzying selection, and many are not commonly available in the US. But receiving an order is complicated and requires determination (and an import permit). We also participate in several seed exchanges, including the Hardy Plant Society and the North American Rock Garden Society. It is satisfying to share seed that is locally collected and encouraging to know that it was successfully grown by another garden enthusiast. The germination and growing descriptions are usually written by the donor and include colorful advice for a positive outcome.

Go-to pots for houseplants? 

Above: Ben Wolff throws his one-of-a-kind pots by hand in Connecticut.

I use a mix of old Italian terracotta that I pick up at tag sales, combined with Ben Wolff brown, grey, and white pots that I have been steadily collecting for years.

Favorite garden refuge? 

Deutsch&#8\2\17;s daughter Arden at the trailhead at Archer Vly a few years ago. Photograph by Cathy Deutsch.
Above: Deutsch’s daughter Arden at the trailhead at Archer Vly a few years ago. Photograph by Cathy Deutsch.

Archer Vly, a NYS DEC conservation easement on the Adirondack border, might not technically be a garden, but it certainly feels like one to me. It’s a place that allows me to fully relax and marvel at plants without expectation or judgement. My brother lives nearby and I go hiking there about 8-10 times a year. (It is about 20 minutes north of Saratoga Springs.) It is native garden inspiration to the max: Plantanthera orbiculata (round leaved orchid) en masse; Cornus canadensis (creeping dogwood) on a mossy boulder, in full sun with Vaccinium angustifolium (lowbush blueberry) and Aronia melanocarpa (black chokecherry); Gentiana linearis (narrow-leaved gentian), to name a few. I always spot something new with each visit and appreciate being able to observe the morphology of the plants without human intervention.

Best garden rule? 

I’ve always gotten great advice from my predecessors and mentors, so these pearls are from them: Marco Polo Stufano says, “A plant is not like your grandmother…if you aren’t happy with it, just get rid of it.”

And Louis Bauer, when we worked together at Greenwood Gardens would say, “Annual containers have to be planted by July 4th!” It’s the perfect balance of giving yourself enough time to complete the task and giving the plants enough time to put on a show.

Most pressing issue facing gardeners today? 

I think we all realize that for a “green industry” we are culpable for our part in this climate crisis, and we need to confront the use of plastics, toxic chemicals, and fuel in horticulture and agriculture. Many small companies don’t have the means to alter their production model in order to mitigate the deleterious impact on global health. Changing course can seem insurmountable, so I am interested in exploring ways to make this attainable. At Wave Hill, everything we do is on a very small scale, and, even here, it is a costly process to convert an operation to function sustainably. 

Another pressing issue is what to do with our poor beeches and elms. Beech Leaf Nematode is ravaging our native beech populations and will likely alter the composition of our woodlands. [Author note: Dutch Elm disease has destroyed many of the elms in North America since it was first discovered in the early 20th century.] 

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Frequently asked questions

Who is Cathy Deutsch?

Cathy Deutsch is the Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center located in the Bronx, New York. She oversees all aspects of Wave Hill's horticultural program.

What is Wave Hill?

Wave Hill is a public garden and cultural center that spans 28 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River. It features gardens, greenhouses, woodlands, and a variety of outdoor spaces for visitors to explore and enjoy.

What does the Director of Horticulture do?

As the Director of Horticulture, Cathy Deutsch is responsible for planning, designing, and maintaining the gardens at Wave Hill. She oversees a team of horticulturists and gardeners, manages the plant collection, and organizes educational programs and events related to horticulture.

What are Cathy Deutsch's qualifications?

Cathy Deutsch has a strong background in horticulture and garden design. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture from Cornell University and has over 20 years of experience working in public gardens and arboreta.

What kind of plants can be found at Wave Hill?

Wave Hill boasts a diverse collection of plants, including perennials, shrubs, and trees. The gardens feature a mix of native and exotic species, with an emphasis on plants that thrive in the Northeastern climate. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of flowers, foliage, and seasonal displays throughout the year.

Can visitors participate in horticultural programs at Wave Hill?

Yes, Wave Hill offers various horticultural programs and workshops for visitors of all ages. These programs cover topics such as gardening, plant care, and landscape design. Some programs require pre-registration, while others are drop-in sessions.

What other amenities are available at Wave Hill?

In addition to the gardens, Wave Hill features a gift shop, a café, and an art gallery. Visitors can purchase plants, garden accessories, and unique gifts at the shop, enjoy refreshments at the café, and explore the rotating art exhibitions in the gallery.

Is there an admission fee to enter Wave Hill?

Yes, there is an admission fee to enter Wave Hill. However, they offer free admission on select days and times. It is recommended to check their website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information regarding admission fees and discounts.

What are the visiting hours at Wave Hill?

Wave Hill is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM. They are closed on Mondays and major holidays. It is advisable to check their website for any additional closures or changes in visiting hours.

Is Wave Hill accessible to individuals with disabilities?

Yes, Wave Hill strives to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The gardens, galleries, and restrooms are wheelchair accessible, and they provide designated parking spaces for visitors with disabilities. Additionally, they offer wheelchairs available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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