Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Genesis of The English Cottage Garden

It was another busy day with plenty of volunteers helping out at the gardens.  My "historical tribute" today is for our English cottage garden which was developed in 1990 as the upgrades for the Rath Environmental Center (directly below) were being finished.  This building was originally the Wilcox Sand & Gravel Company Office Building and had various uses between that function and dramatic re-purposing for RBG.  Originally slated for demolition, Dr. Yahr (founder of RBG) championed saving the building and using it as our first visitor's center.  This building housed our first gift shop, restrooms, office space, meeting room and ultimately a small solarium.  The English cottage garden would be developed right behind the building as the first garden to be viewed after exiting the structure and it was the first of three gardens creating the "formal garden expanse" (also including the Italian formal garden and French formal garden).  More on this garden later...
Our volunteers were numerous throughout the day.  Kay and Patrea teamed up for garden clean-up and weeding this morning as did Eva and Kathy.  All four ladies did a wonderful job.  Dr. Gredler was out aerating various garden areas this morning which is a standard activity in April (and early October).  Joe M. and Pat R. did a great job painting some of our last obelisks today and Pat C. was in for label "first aid" and inventory.  Janice worked with the Chestnut House Volunteers on repotting many of our newly arrived trial plants this afternoon. Mary, Gena and Myrt did a nice job composting a portion of the shade garden and we also saw Hal R., Bill O., Maury, Dick P., John J., Steve L. and many others today.  Jumbo Jim was also at the gardens with two RECAPPERS and they did a nice job on various tasks.
The grounds staff accomplished a wide range of tasks throughout the day.  Pat mowed, secured obelisks and did some clean-up along the east parking lot area with Cindy.  Cindy also tidied multiple areas throughout the gardens.  Jenny went on a weeding and tidying binge and did some label inventorying as well.  Cheryl was involved with tidying up the Japanese garden and other areas.  She also did some composting near the gazebo.  Terry and Big John rototilled, edged, flagged irrigation and bounced between myriad other duties.  I had a presentation this morning for the Optimist Club which went well and juggled a wide range of outdoor and indoor tasks while accommodating lots of volunteers and visitors.
One of the first developments for the English cottage garden was the installation of brick walls to surround this intimate space.  As a walled garden with an intended center portion of lawn and peripheral plantings, the intent of this garden was to expose newly arrived visitors to a variety of annuals, perennials and vegetables in mixed plantings for color and texture.  Containers would be a big part of the garden as would a wall fountain.  There is a story with all the brick (for the walls) you're seeing below and I think I'm accurate in relaying....Dr. Yahr saw a building being destroyed in Chicago that had the exact same brick (called Chicago Commons) as the Rath Environmental Center and arranged to have the brick preserved and hauled back to Janesville for immediate re-use for the English cottage garden walls.  We had the help of many volunteers for the construction of this garden as well as assistance from the Wisconsin Conservation Corps (WCC) and volunteer craftsmen from the Jobs Bank Program that General Motors was providing at the time.  The garden developed quickly and later added a copper cheese vat planter, dolphin wall fountain, more containers and additional modifications.  Enjoy the shots below and note the change in pathways from a more linear arrangement to the circular pathway. 
early brick wall construction
Harold Todd (deceased) leading the masonry projects
the start to a structure (perpendicular to the Rath Center) that would ultimately house our tools and equipment for the first 10 years of the gardens before the Horticulture Center was built
same as above
note the indentation in the center that would become the brick-faced, arched alcove seen below
note the lady fountain in the center in this later image (that structure was removed to accommodate the 2001 expansion and creation of the Parker Education Center)
more early wall work
same as above
the original gravel path layout
the gardens filling in nicely
same as above
more recent images (above and below) with circular pathway

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Volunteer Infusion

Today had no shortage of color out in the gardens and it gets better daily.  I was at ground level for the shot of this 'Mellow Yellow' hellebore above.  Our hellebores in general are looking great and some of the earliest woody plants are blooming including the vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis 'Sandra') seen directly below and the red maple (Acer rubrum) in the second photo down.  My blog title today is "spot on" as we had a wonderful turnout of volunteers and it was a great day to garden.  While the morning was a bit chilly, it warmed up nicely and was a beautiful day.  We continue to see more visitors out in the gardens and with more bulbs emerging and/or blooming daily, our spring peak should still be in early May and around the Mother's Day Weekend (which also features our Spring Plant Sale and Tree Sale!).

'Sandra' vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis)
red maple (Acer rubrum)

At one point this morning, we had twelve volunteers in action which is quite a few for a Tuesday morning.  Above are Kathy (left) and Eva who have become a great team. The ladies continued to tidy up the reception garden and were very thorough in their approach!  Kay was in for some major weeding in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden and is engaged in a battle with some of our earliest weeds in that space (trust me when I say that Kay will be victorious!).  Maury came in to run some errands and Bev D. helped with some office work.  Dr. Gredler was out in the gardens for aeration and reseeding efforts for the gazebo garden lawn. We also saw Marsha M., Tom H., Kathy H. and many others.  The photos below capture the remaining volunteers in action.

Ron K. "taking a knee" in the woodland walk garden
Mary and Roy W. on their way to compost the shade garden
Mary D. and Cheryl headed out for general weeding and tidying in the entrance garden and Japanese garden
Resa (left) and Cookie headed to their assigned garden (The North Point Garden) for composting
Mirjam (left) and Marcia tidying and composting in the English cottage garden
Urban M. pruning near the sunken garden
The grounds staff, as usual, had a busy day. Above is the white wind anemone (Anemone blanda 'Alba').  Cheryl started tidying the entrance garden and was later joined by Mary D. (see photo above).  The ladies then shifted to the Japanese garden for similar efforts.  Cindy did a nice job getting some "spring clean-up closure" in the Scottish garden and arboretum border bed.  I think this has been the most comprehensive clean-up we've had and is a result of hard work (staff and volunteers) and a cool start to the spring.  Big John installed/secured obelisks, staged compost, hauled/spread compost, mowed and did many other odds and ends.  Janice worked on the compost sale, Spring Plant Sale, cutting display, greenhouse work and preparations for repotting a couple hundred trial plants that arrived today!  Larry worked on some irrigation issues, helped load compost, took down the last of our Holiday Lights Show lights from the visitors center and kept busy with myriad tasks.  Pat was inside most of the morning with painting and obelisk preparations.  He was able to get outside for some pruning duties though!  I helped coordinate early volunteer efforts out in the gardens but continue to be involved with special events preparations with the convergence of our Spring Plant Sale and Tree Sale.  See our website for more details and enjoy other pictures from the gardens this morning (see below).
pink hyacinths (Hyacinthus) to go with our pink container
'Royal Star' magnolia (Magnolia stellata)
wind anemone (Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades')
'Pink Frost' hellebore (Helleborus hybridus)
"Nature and the garden bring out the best in our characters" on our quote bench.  Well, big clumps of daffodils (Narcissus) help too!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Full Speed Ahead

The threat of rain materialized right around the lunch hour although we had some great progress out in the gardens before the skies really darkened.  The afternoon drizzle was welcome.  The Easter weekend was quite sunny and warm and the gardens responded with more bursts of color like the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) seen above and the early 'Stresa' tulip (Tulipa) seen below.  Our daffodils (Narcissus) are really filling out nicely (see second photo down) and can be seen throughout the gardens approaching peak.  I had my camera with me all day and was able to capture many of these early bloomers and much of our volunteer efforts as well (seen further down).
The grounds staff had a busy day today.  Cindy worked on tidying multiple garden areas and moved inside when the rain arrived to plant up dahlias and accomplish some office tasks.  Larry helped with many projects including the repair of our automated gate and hauling various materials around.  Big John and Terry placed and filled more containers, secured obelisks and had some errands to run as well.  I spent a good portion of the morning outside planning some of our spring planting and collections layouts.  I'm also finalizing details for our Spring Plant Sale and Spring Tree Sale, both of which will be held over Mother's Day weekend (see our website for the details regarding both of these vital fundraisers for RBG!).
Above are Eva (left) and Shirley who started cleaning the leaves out of our streams and water features. We're hoping to have all of our water features cleaned up and flowing by the Mother's Day weekend.  We had some great painting help from Pat (surprised look below!), Gene, Gary B. and Pat M.  Ron Y., Dave and Jim worked on various projects including some work on the Adirondack chairs that are part of the Garden Art Project celebrating our 25th Anniversary.  Ron R. and Ron W. did some work on our chairs and tables out on the terrace and later helped with other clean-up efforts.  The second photo down shows Bob C. (foreground) and Lloyd removing bricks from a path in front of the Parker Education Center.  This path and two others will be redone with concrete in the coming week or so.  The guys did a nice job and got some help from others as well.  Dick H. took many loads of debris to the dump and Larry H. and Kevin C. (third photo down) worked on composting the remainder of the sunken garden.  Rollie was in to help and Maury ran more errands for us.  Dr. Gredler (fourth photo down) was out mowing and enjoying the fresh air after four months of painting in the Horticulture Center.  Bob K. helped with some electrical issues and we had many more visitors as well including Jason and Bill O.  Some other flower photos from today can be seen further below.

glory-in-the-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii 'Alba')
 hellebore (Helleborus sp.)
'Stairway to Heaven' Jacob's ladder (Polemonium reptans)
hepatica (Hepatica americana)
'Golden Lotus' hellebore (Helleborus)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Another Frantic Friday

It wasn't hard to find more signs of Spring this morning with the two hellebore (Helleborus sp.) shots above!  It was another sunny day and while it didn't get over 60 degrees F, it was pleasant working weather as we continued our spring activities both inside and out.  This time of year is a delicate balance of garden clean-up, spring event preparations, label/signage updating, water feature preparations, etc.  There is a lot going on even prior to receiving any of our new plants (which have already begun arriving!).  It's nice to see the return of more and more volunteers each week as we have a busy year ahead with the celebration of our 25th Anniversary and the annual goal and challenge of having the gardens look the best ever!  Below are some other images from today.
daffodils (Narcissus)
daffodils (Narcissus 'Jetfire')

As usual, we had a nice volunteer turnout at the gardens today.  Jessica (seen above) came in for another round of painting and took over for Bev D. (second photo down) who accomplished the first coat of pink on these repurposed containers yesterday.  Bev's a little sloppy with the paint as her shirt was yellow to start with....  Kay (directly below) was a whirlwind of garden clean-up and was actually out removing our first wave of weeds in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden.  Dr. Gredler came in for some more mowing touch-up and Rollie drove up to Madison to pick-up our latest brick order for installation tomorrow.  Pat C. came in to produce replacement labels for some of the broken ones out in the gardens that she's recently inventoried.  She is coming up with a good system for on site "first aid" to repair and replace labels.  Janice is also helping with this process.  Maury ran some errands for us and we also saw Jumbo Jim, Deb G., Joy O., Art H. and many others.

The grounds staff had myriad tasks today and everyone was able to get some fresh air.  Above are Janice (left) and Cindy potting up some of our incoming plugs.  These are the four varieties that we'll be featuring in our American Garden Award (AGA) display which allows visitors to vote on their favorite!  Janice then worked on the Spring Plant Sale (see our website for more details) which is looming (Mother's Day weekend) and we're excited about all the fun plants we'll be offering.  However, there is lots of work in the background to get a sale of this scope and caliber ready to go.  Janice also had outdoor duties and freshened up the cutting display.  Cindy moved on to more garden clean-up in select areas.  Big John and Terry worked on setting out more obelisks (see below, Terry driving...poorly).  The guys also worked on composting, spreading mulch and other duties.  Pat was in for a half day and worked primarily on painting.  This winter involved a record amount of painting and we're finally seeing the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel."  I was able to tour the gardens this morning and continue to prepare for volunteer training and our big events.  The busy season is upon us!  Further below are some other fun shots from this morning.

Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
'Pink Sunrise' grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.)
garden hyacinth (Hyacinthus sp.) - fragrant!
colorful containers in our Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden which will feature our "Pollinator's Paradise" theme using All-America Selections (AAS) winning annuals that will be perfect for bringing in the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators
I've taken this shot a hundred times and never tire of that beautiful view to the arched bridge in the distance