Monday, March 31, 2008

No Surprise - A Soggy Start

Today was pretty damp at the gardens. We had intermittent rain showers all day although there were some gaps that allowed staff and volunteers to get outside and continue spring clean up efforts. The nearby image is of a redbud (Cercis canadensis) from last year. We're about 4 weeks from this but are looking forward to seeing spring blooms and emerging foliage (for sure!). However, we're still cutting down ornamental grasses, cleaning up paths and even collecting the remnants of our Winter Wonderland Walk that were frozen out in the gardens. The grounds staff started today for the year. Jerry started a month ago but today we added Marv, Marianne, Janice and Terry. Jenny will be with us for 5 weeks this year as well. Despite the rain, we accomplished a lot of projects and kept busy indoors as needed. After a nice lunch, we had our annual meeting to lay out the year. It should be an exciting year with lots on "the proverbial plate" for everyone. Despite budgetary limitations, it's always been our goal to improve the gardens each year and I think 2008 will not be an exception. A wet spring will create other challenges but we have a fairly rigid timeframe for completing certain tasks (i.e. planting, fertilizing, etc.). It's really amazing the number of things that we have to consider at this time of year; irrigation, water features, equipment maintenance, labels, supplies, etc. I prefer worrying about plants but that's really only a portion of what goes on around the gardens. We're looking forward to volunteers coming back to help out and have some workdays coming up very soon. This image of our reception garden (blue and white themed) last year shows the final results of a volunteer workday in which the Noon Rotary Club came out to plant that entire garden. We are truly fortunate to have such wonderful volunteers. Unfortunately, we have about 50% of what we truly need for volunteer assitance that will allow us to develop in to the next caliber of botanic garden. We will continue to recruit and retain volunteers as best we can and certainly do appreciate the support of so many wonderful people.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

April Showers Bring May Flowers (& Flooding)

With our pond continuing to rise over our lowest paths and above our shoreline retaining walls, we have lots of concerns about erosion and other challenges that will result when spring rains contribute to the problem. The gardens will take the rain although the heavy snows have melted down and are providing lots of ground moisture. Our moss garden has been getting greener with each passing day. Our little moss island has really filled in over the years. I get asked what species of moss we display and have to be honest that I have no idea. We skimmed moss patches up from around the gardens when the Fern & Moss Garden was created back in 2003. We did order some moss from out east somewhere and it never really took hold. It's interesting to note that WI has over 400 species of native moss. Moss gardens, while having a long history in Japan, are catching on here. Moss is a great groundcover and has been around for 400 million years; so it's doing something right! Moss will actively photosynthesize year round if given sunlight. That's why you'll see green moss throughout the winter and particularly in early spring.
We had a great spring symposium on Saturday. This is the fifth one that Mike Maddox (UW Hort Educator / Rotary Gardens) organized and it went very well. Enjoyed all the speakers and the event seemed very well received by the 125+ participants. It was nice to do a talk on shrubs and I hope to expand that presentation in the future and we find more shrubs that perform well for us. Bagged compost sale starting next Saturday (April 5) with a plant sale looming (May 17).
We're going to be developing a neat collection of Echinacea (coneflower) over the next two years. Purple coneflowers have many varieties and there are now many crosses and hybrids with exciting blooms and/or foliage. We feel some may be over-rated but regardless, we hope this collection of 100+ varieties will be of value for our assessments and for the visitor.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Last Snow? Beautiful though...

Came in to work to yet another dusting of snow. It was not necessarily unexpected although it was nice that it was beautiful and very photogenic. It would have been a better dusting for Christmas than early spring. Regardless, it melted off quickly and the gardens immediately looked more spring-like. We had the police visit this morning due to a burglar alarm (errant). The officers were real nice and still sympathetic over the horrible vandalism in 2006. That incident will be long-remembered in Janesville.

We're in the process of creating planting beds for an iris collection that will be arriving this summer. The American Iris Society will be having their national meeting in Madison in 2010. That June, we will have over 600 attendees of this conference come and see the extensive iris collection that we will receive this summer. There are other sites as well. The irises, many new and/or not available in "the trade" are sent to us from hybridizers and growers around the country. These 500 varieties will require two years to establish and we're excited about being involved in this opportunity. It's also nice to have avid plantspeople visit the gardens and see what we're all about.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Walking in Winter Wonderland (in March)!"

We've had flurries all day. Not much accumulation and it wont last long. However, it looks really nice up in the trees and blanketing the landscape. The bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) to the left wont look like this for a month or so but it's always nice to see this stalwart perennial announce mid-Spring. We couldn't do much in the garden today but are poised and ready to tackle our spring clean up duties next week. Most Rotary Gardens visitors don't know that we have a "skeleton crew" for paid grounds staff. There are only two of us that are year-round and I add six more seasonals in April. The seasonals are awesome gardeners and do a wonderful (albeit often underappreciated) job out in the gardens. Looking forward to having the same crew back and jumping right in. We have a great gang of volunteers that are starting to trickle back in. Our reliable "Grumpies" have been working thru the winter on carpentry projects, painting, sealing benches, pruning, etc. These retired gentlemen (with the occasional lady) bring lots of talent and motivation to our volunteer corps. It's important to mention that we have volunteers in all facets of the organization, from gardening, to tour guides, gift shop workers, educators, etc. The past, present and future of Rotary Gardens is directly related to our volunteers. That can never be overstated.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not Too Early to Get Out in the Garden!

It was a nice day spent out in the gardens. I spent most of the morning walking thru the entire garden. Spring clean-up is happening in earnest and it's nice to start planning for another great year. I was disappointed by the significant deer damage but understand that they had a rough winter too. Our arborvitaes (Thuja occidentalis) wont take another year of browsing real well; we'll have to really bulk up on repellants and barriers. Interesting that 10 years ago, Rotary Gardens had almost no deer damage in the winter. Now, we are the smorgasbord of the greenbelt in which we are situated. Interesting to note that the Western arborvitae (Thuja plicata) lived up to the reputation of being deer proof in our area. No nibbling (although when will our deer acquire a "taste" for this plant?! A matter of time I suppose...). It was nice to observe emerging bulbs and really appreciate the importance of conifers in the landscape. The enclosed shot is of the weeping Alaskan cedar [Chamaecyparis (Xanthocyparis) nootkatensis 'Pendula']. Winter is a great time to assess "deficiencies in interest" out in the landscape. Look for areas that a interesting conifer with color and/or form will be a focal point or perhaps ornamental grasses will provide that fourth season of interest as well.

The pond level at the gardens (old sand and gravel pit) is at a record high right now. Our lowest paths in the Japanese and alpine gardens are flooded and our shoreline retaining walls are collapsing as the rising water undermines the supporting gravel. We're very worried about "April showers" as 4" of rain will equate to serious flooding as the gardens and surrounding slopes drain in to this pond. Ultimately, aside from evaporation, this spring-fed pond drains off to a local creek and eventually the Rock River. High river levels have left our pond with no where to drain. This will be a significant problem very shortly.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ahhhh...Another Sign!

Despite morning temperatures around 20 degrees, a nice warm day close to 50 degrees gave another whiff of spring. Interesting that 50 degrees is t-shirt weather in March (in Wisconsin) but quilted flannels and jackets in October! We all want those warm days to arrive and by July, we might be longing for the cooler months of late summer. It is truly wonderful to live in a climate with four distinct seasons. Unfortunately, some of the seasons (like spring) seem to be all too fleeting. Unfortunately we had a tough winter but in 20 years, we'll all be referring to "that winter" of 2007-08. Wandering the gardens today, I noticed both snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and Danford irises (Iris danfordiae). These bulbs (planted in October) are timed perfectly with winter aconites (see previous post) and truly are the first blooms we see at ground level. The vernal witchhazels (Hamamelis vernalis) are blooming as well but we don't have too many sizeable specimens at the gardens. Keep checking to see spring updates as it will go fast and furious very soon, particularly after we get those freakish 75 degree days. Speaking of which, one year ago, it was 75 degrees here in Janesville! We'll take what we can get and roll with the punches.

Great time of year to cut back ornamental grasses, trim back old perennial growth, prune and otherwise prep for the impending spring.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Is Spring Really Here?

One of the most welcome harbingers of spring is the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). Blooming in mid to late March, this buttercup relative offers a wonderful yellow bloom before most plants have even thought of emerging. Plant winter aconites as a bulb the previous October. Plant them in large masses and they will multiply and form colonies over the years. Although only 4" in height, they'll peek thru snow and you'll see our earliest bees visiting these beauties. These are wonderful in the "shade" garden as they will bloom and go dormant before overhead leaves emerge and cast shade.
It's hard to believe that we're only a couple months from a nice sunny, hot summer and a view like this (formal gardens). After our record snows and pronounced winter doldrums, we are all ready for real spring that should come all too soon. The indications of spring were here before the actual date arrived. However, late snows might have confused some but not those of us that see the daily signs of the garden awakening.