William and Henriette Suhr’s garden, Rocky Hills, contained extensive plant collections including a grove of magnolias and unique specimens unavailable in the nursery trade. Beginning in the 1950s, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden operated a field research station at the Kitchawan Reserve in Ossining, NY. Located just a few miles from Rocky Hills, the reserve contained a two-acre magnolia field and greenhouses, where the now-famous ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia was developed and later patented.
In 1990, Henriette heard that Kitchawan Reserve was closing and that some of the specimens from the collection needed to be relocated. She adopted sixteen magnolias, which continue to flourish at Rocky Hills as part of the magnolia collection. In a filmed interview at the garden in June , Scot Medbury, executive director of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a longtime friend of Henriette, provided the inside story of the Kitchawan magnolias. The magnolias are only one part of Rocky Hills’ horticultural treasures, as Henriette also planted dozens of varieties of rhododendrons, azaleas, tree peonies, irises, lilacs, ferns, and blue conifers.
Excerpted from the December 2018 issue of the Garden Conservancy News