Friday, May 30, 2008

Soggy Then Sunny - The Perfect Combination

Lots of comments about this bearded iris (Iris germanica) in our English cottage garden. We've lost track of the variety but each spring I find a greater appreciation for irises in general. It will be exciting to display 500 varieties in the coming years. They will undoubtably run the gamut of colors and include some of the latest and greatest in iris breeding efforts.

Today was quite rainy this morning, then overcast, then sunny. We needed the precipitation to keep things lush and the gardens should dry out for the outdoor weddings tomorrow. Marv and Terry continued work on some limestone steps among other things. Jenny, Marianne and Janice accomplished myriad other tasks. We still have a full yard of plants to go in the ground but can't forget about the day to day "tidying" out in the gardens.

The image to the right is of the golden Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park') which was actually found as a mutation/sport at Fenway Park in Boston. I've been waiting for this vine to take hold and it's wonderful working its way up a brick wall. This is a shady corner and the chartreuse foliage helps illuminate what would be a dark, geometric corner. Check out this close-up of my 'Twisty Baby' black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia 'Twisty Baby') in bloom. The flowers of black locust are very fragrant, particularly at dusk. This tree has grown very quickly and has a contorted appearance with every branch, branchlet, stem and leaf twisted and/or curled. It's a very showy tree. For those in regions where black locust grows natively, you'll see white bloom clusters thru early June. If you haven't visited yet, you're missing the alliums!!!!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Trying To Beat The Rain

It was overcast pretty much all day with the forecast of rain tonite and tomorrow. It's drizzling right now and hopefully will be a good "soaker" thru the evening. We had a Grumpy morning and accomplished all sorts of mulching, weeding, etc. Janice and Jenny planted and tidied up some areas. Jenny's been working on keeping up with labels and Janice is continuing to organize and maintain the pepper collection. Larry and I each went on a plant "pick up" trip as well. We worked solid in anticipation of being slowed down a bit outside. Our Executive Director (Ed Lyon) will be leaving us in a couple of weeks and we'll be looking at a replacement in the future. Ed was our fourth director in 19 years and we wish him the best with his new endeavors.

The image above is of spring starflower (Ipheion uniflorum) which is a bulb that blooms in late May with six-petaled, star-shaped blooms that open during the day and close at night. The grass-like foliage smells like garlic when crushed and this plant will set seed and naturalize over the years. It's a great bulb that's actually native to Argentina but is hardy here (to zone 4). I have lots of this at home too.

The image nearby is a close-up of gas plant (Dictamnus albus) at my home with ornamental onions (Allium 'Purple Sensation') in the background. This is a slow-growing perennial that resents being moved. However, in time, it will be 3' tall and 3' wide and quite showy with dozens of these flower stalks. This plant is a member of the rue family which may have an effect on those that come in contact with it. I personally get a horrible rash (similar to poison ivy) if I touch this plant, or rue (Ruta graveolens) for that matter. Sunlight will exacerbate the rash on those that are affected. I was in severe misery for a week or so. BEWARE! I avoid getting too close but enjoy the blooms nonetheless. There is a nice white variety as well. Some maintain that putting a lighter near the flowers on a calm evening at peak bloom will produce a quick, blue flame that doesn't hurt the flower. I've tried this experiment to no avail but others have had success. Find out for yourself. Below is the start of our expansive iris collection. These are the Siberian iris, spurias and misc. hybrids that we received last year. Another 450 bearded iris will be installed in August. Next June I'll post more colorful pictures of this collection as it matures.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Bue's Return!

Above is a neat magnolia hybrid that is blooming right now. This is a cross between our native Magnolia macrophylla and Magnolia sieboldii from Asia (Japan, China, Korea). This small deciduous tree has large, tropical looking leaves and a huge, clear white blossoms in late May/early June. We're surprised it's done so well as we thought it would be a bit "touchy" in our winters.

The Bue's (Marv & Marianne) came back to work today after a month-long cruise. They are both integral members of our grounds staff and their return coincides well with the onslaught of the season so to speak. It's nice to have the team intact. Jenny has been helping out and will continue thru next week. She is a great worker and it has been nice working with her again.
Marv and Terry did a nice job installing a very large bronze sculpture of baby bears in a tree. Placed in our woodland walk, this piece will be a real eyecatcher for all that travel this path. This garden is also shaping up nicely with just a bit of planting left.

To the left is the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) in full bloom at the gardens. This small tree reaches only 20' or so in height and has glossy green, bold leaves. Smothered in blooms in late May, these trumpet-shaped flowers will also attract humminbirds.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Nice October Day

The weather was quite chilly this morning and I expected to see fall color with the cold and wind today. It wasn't unbearable, just unseasonable. The view above is thru our formal gardens with lots of ornamental onions (Allium) blooming. Once these are done and cleared out, these bed will contain our "ornamental edible" display of neat plants that not only look good, but have an edible or herbal use. This will be fun to create in a couple of weeks.

The perennial to the left is yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon 'Herman's Pride'). Not only does it have nice yellow spring flowers, it has a nice silvery patina to the leaves. This perennial thrives in part shade and can tolerate dry conditions once established. This variety is a clumper, however, be wary of the same species listed as the variety 'Variegata'. It is a vigorous groundcover with similar flowers and a different silvering of the leaves. It is a beautiful groundcover but covers lots of space quickly and is hard to contain. Speaking of groundcovers, the image to the right is of deadnettle (Lamium). There are many varieties with varying leaf colors and silvering. We're in the process of removing all of it from the gardens. It is a spreading plant that also seems to seed around a bit. I think it has a role in specific situations but more often than not, it becomes a thug. Below is a nice close up of a fairly rare woody plant. This is yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium) which is native to China. This large shrub (12-15'+) is quite upright and is covered with tubular white flowers (today) that have yellow or red centers. The foliage is fine textured and this plant tolerates full to part sun and a wide range of soils. Thought to be a bit "touchy" in our climate, our specimen has thrived.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sitting In My Garden

As I sit in my backyard, I can see this golden, cutleaf elderberry (Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold') illuminating the corner of the yard. I spent about 4 hours in the yard yesterday but that's just scratching the surface of what needs to be done. Regardless, the exhaustion of gardening work well done is rewarding. I've always envisioned having more acreage to dabble on but don't know how I would find more spare time to take care of more plants, lawn, etc.

I took my little girl on one of our weekly "adventures" this Saturday. We hiked around Governer Nelson State Park up in Madison on the north side of Lake Mendota. It was a great day and we saw lots of neat things like the native mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) in bloom and lots of wild geranium (below).

We also saw many colonies of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) as well. It was a nice adventure and we certainly like our spring walks. Tomorrow will begin the plant pickup expeditions again and we'll continue to plant and weed vigorously. We'll also have to deal with putting the plant sale "to bed" as well.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Nice Sunday Off

Aside from typing this blog tonite, which my wife considers work, I put in about 15 minutes of time today at Rotary Gardens when I turned on some automated irrigation to wet down the front of the building. We put in a lot of petunias on Saturday in front of the visitor's center so I wanted to get them some extra water today. As I type, we have lightning, thunder and imminent storms. I always hope for a nice soaker with 2" of precipitation over 8 hours or so. Tonite may be fast and furious but we'll take what we get (as if we have a choice!).

We have thousands of ornamental onions (Allium) in bloom right now at the gardens. What you see is related to common garden onions, chives, shallots, etc. Years ago we "fall planted" (October) about 50,000 of these "puff balls on a stick" for spring color. These are species/varieties that go dormant shortly after blooming although there are many alliums that grow throughout the year and bloom in summer or as late as October (Allium thunbergii 'Ozawa'). The picture above is of Allium 'Purple Sensation' which is the best value for the taller alliums. Look for it from your local garden center in September or from a reputable mail-order source (Van Engelen and Brent & Beckys Bulbs are good). We've planted over 20,000 of these and love their late May/early June contribution in the garden. Some gardeners leave them up as they dry for an architectural statement. I've even seen them spray painted for extended color thru the summer! We cut them to the ground as soon as the color of their flower "sphere" (umbel) fades. Watch out for the sap from cut stems as it will permanently stain your clothes! Although the foliage of these alliums is starting to yellow and look ragged as they bloom, perennial neighbors can obscure this foliage until its time to cut it down. The Allium above (picture taken this past Sat.) will be cut down in three weeks and overplanted with annuals. These are perennials although we're also starting to see some seedlings near the mother plants, whereas we never used to in the past. Global warming!?

Gold in the landscape is so beautiful this time of year. One of may favorite hostas (St. Elmo's Fire') is below. Note the white edge on the golden leaves. This one is a real beacon when first emerging from the soil. Below that image is the golden Norway maple (Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold'). This tree looks this color thru the year although it might lose some of the real vividness by mid-summer. However, unlike other gold leaved woody plants, it never looks sickly and is a real eye catcher from a distance. Norway maples have some issues but 'Princeton Gold' is worth its weight...get it?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Half Step Ahead...

Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are going bonkers out in the gardens! Years ago, Song Sparrow Nursery (awesome mail order nursery near here started by Roy Klehm) donated dozens of "un-named" tree peonies. These were specimens that lost their tags in the nursery and couldn't be identified and/or sold. Normally we don't like displaying plants that we can't identify to the variety level but we weren't going to pass on such a substantial donation of tree peonies. Well, five years later we have some pretty nice specimens. Remember, don't cut these down in winter! We'll have to have Roy visit some spring and "re-identify" these for us!

Today was another "combo Saturday" of plant sale and work day. Thanks to all the volunteers that helped with one (or both) of those activities. The plant sale was slower than last week but we cleared out more plants and will work on distributing the remainder to worthy causes next week. I was barely ahead of the planters today laying out plants. I had about 25 helpers and we put in 5,000 or so annuals (only 95,000 to go...) We accomplished a lot and had a beautiful morning to enjoy the gardens prior to 1,000 wedding guests decending upon the gardens for four outdoor weddings. I don't begrudge the fact that we host weddings but the gardens can be quite congested on Saturdays and parking can become quite a challenge.

To the right is a close-up of the spring foliage of a relatively new variety of Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) called 'Samurai Sword' (in our fern & moss garden). So many of the Japanese painted ferns look the same but have fancy names like 'Wildwood Twist', 'Silver Falls', 'Burgundy Lace', etc. There are some subtle differences but the overall effect (and commonality) of silvery fronds with burgundy highlights can't be beat. 'Samurai Sword' has a high proportion of burgundy and is quite noticeable. I wish we had more time to adequately evaluate our 200+ varieties of ferns... Sweet shot of barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum) foliage below. This perennial is done blooming but continues to contribute.

Friday, May 23, 2008

TGIF (Sort Of) - Another Productive Day

Above is a nice shot of yellow fairy bells (Disporum flavens) taken at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, WI last week. This perennial is from Korea and reaches 30" in height with wonderful spring blooms. Dark berries form in summer and there is a nice yellow fall color as well. This wonderful plant will form a small colony over time. We don't yet have this at Rotary Gardens but count on it for 2009!

Incidentally, in mentioning Olbrich, it's noteworthy to mention all the wonderful botanical resources in this general area. The "must sees" include Olbrich (Madison), Allen Centennial Garden (UW-Madison), UW-Arboretum & Longenecker Gardens (Madison), Foxfire Gardens (Marshfield, WI), Green Bay Botanical Gardens, Anderson Gardens (Rockford, IL), Klehm Arboretum (Rockford), Boerner Botanical Gardens (Hales Corners, WI) and many others I'm sure I'm forgetting. The Chicago area has the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden of course. All of these institutions have wonderful plant collections and a visit is worthwhile and recommended.

'Nugget' ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) to the left. It has wonderful golden, vivid spring foliage. It looks a bit beat up by late summer but is a native North American shrub that is quite durable. There are many varieties of ninebark available. 'Diabolo' is a nice maroon one but can get quite large. Go for 'Summer Wine' for a smaller version of that maroon look. 'Nugget' and 'Dart's Gold' are the most popular golden varieties. I stay away from the green version as it's not too interesting. However, recent crosses between gold and maroon varieties have created 'Coppertina' and 'Center Glow'. I'll try to post some images of these. I love ninebarks but after they get established, we cut them to 12" every winter to encourage fresh new growth.
The title of my blog today refers to the fact that Friday doesn't signal the end of the week this time of year. We got a lot done today; small crew but high productivity ratio as always. Tomorrow is another work day (we'll be planting annuals) and the plant sale continues...!!!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Exhausting & Rewarding Thursday

Sorry. This wont be much of a blog. I'm pretty tuckered out tonite. We had a full day of Grumpies, volunteers, container planting, weeding, watering and finally, the volunteer appreciation dinner. The dinner was very well-attended and just a small way of showing our appreciation for such a great group of people. Notice ornamental onion (Allium karataviense 'Ivory Queen') blooming with not only wonderful umbels (rounded flower cluster) but wide, blue foliage. Lots of Alliums blooming now.
This structure was built in about two weeks as an Eagle Scout project. Nick did a great job and some very motivated helpers were instrumental in the success of this shade structure. We'll put shade cloth over the top and this structure would be utilize to stage/store plant material that needs out of direct sun. This shade cloth provides 60% shade. There are all different "percentages" of shade cloth out there. What a great project, experience for Nick and a cool shade structure for our immediate use.
Another neat shot of mountain silverbell (Halesia monticola) below.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Spring "Shift" is Looming!

This nice mosaic of creeping veronica looks wonderful this time of year but soon will fade to a green carpet. This was taken in our alpine garden. We have some really neat plants in there but this garden has suffered recently due to flooding, un-monitored foot traffic (kids) all over the rocks and plants, and a lack of more permanent signage that doesn't disappear. We are trying to put more time in to this garden and have actually planted about 1/3 of this garden as a dwarf/miniature conifer collection. A nice grant from the American Rock Garden Society has allowed us to not only purchase plants but to label them in a tasteful fashion (see image) We just planted another 25 choice new conifers in this garden (including the one seen to the left). A portion of the collection can be seen below. We'll see how it turns out. Some of these will grow faster than others so we'll relocate them as needed. Hopefully the bunnies and other rodents wont find them delectable.

We're continuing to accumulate more annuals daily. I picked up about 400 New Guinea impatiens which we like "punctuating" throughout our part-shade gardens. We'll start planting "in earnest" this weekend. I wish we had everything here already. My analogy is that if our designs are like recipes, we don't have all the ingredients yet. Do we start cooking and add those ingredients later or wait? Well, I think we'll start where we can and really hit it hard in June. Things look pretty good but we can't take a break from weeding. I've been spraying Roundup in some larger areas in an effort to control the progeny of some of our plantings last year (amaranth, celosia, etc.). Lots of comments on the perennial forget-me-nots (Myosotis) in the Scottish garden. Blue is our deal this year!!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Weeding or Planting: What's the Priority?

It's tough this time of year out in the gardens. Although we still have time to enjoy the blooms of the mountain silverbell (Halesia monticola) from the Appalachian mountains. It does well in part shade. No doubt that we have lots of plants to put in the ground, although we've put a pretty good dent in the perennials already. However, in going thru any portion of the gardens, we run in to weeds. Weeds everywhere. The factors affecting their timely removal include time, the # of hands removing weeds, proper identification (to avoid pulling stuff that should be there) and of course, priorities. We try to do a little planting each day and some weeding. Everybody planted today. Jerry and Larry planted trees, Jenny planted irises and Janice planted some hot peppers. We had some kids from Craig H.S. come and plant most of our hot pepper collection. Whenever we plant, we ALWAYS allow enough time to water these new plants sufficiently. We always make time for watering and unfortunately, have to wear those proverbial "blinders" every day as we pass things that we should be doing...but aren't as important as what we need to do. By mid-July, we're in pretty good shape. However, we have 6 solid weeks of planting ahead of us!

Note the nice bulbs to the left. This is a substantial planting of 'Hocus Pocus' tulips and 'Purple Sensation' Allium (ornamental onion) along our terrace garden border. These are both bulbs planted in October. When we had our huge collection of tulips (500 varieties) in 2001, I'll never forget 'Hocus Pocus' as the tallest tulip at a good 36" in height. Here it's showing it's true form and looks great. Notice the cool double grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum 'Fantasy Creation') below that has a nice blue with added visual texture. This should be a neat addition to the border but will also send up late summer foliage. However, this will be obscured by surrounding seasonal plants. Busy week ahead with volunteer dinner, work day and pl
ant sale. Like they say, "What doesn't kill you....."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Remember the Bangles' song 'Manic Monday'...

It was definitely a "manic Monday" with all sorts of things going on. I spent most of my day running for plants from Ahren's Acres and Stonefield Plant Farm. We're making many trips this week to accumulate our palette of seasonal plants so we can start laying out beds. Some visitors asked today why are beds weren't planted up. I wanted to point out that not only do we still have bulbs finishing up in those beds, we have 100,000 plants representing 800 varieties and a dozed themes to pick up, sift thru, organize and plant.... I did get a nice shot of wild hyacinth above (Camassia leichtlinii 'Blue Danube') that is planted as a bulb in fall. It is native to North America and has been utilized as a food source by Native Americans (the root). We love it in damp soils in full to part sun. There are many species and varieties available out there.

Yesterday I went to a talk by Allan Armitage in Lake Geneva. Dr. Armitage has written many books on annuals and perennials and is a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia. He is an entertaining speaker but I had hoped to learn about new plants. It was a good talk but I didn't leave with too many new ideas. I thought the rock pyramid at the entrance of the Country Club (Hawks?) was pretty cool and I've seen the same thing at Northwind Perennial Farm, a nursery not far from there that incidentally helped arrange this talk by Dr. Armitage. The plant below has some weird common names. Called the pine goldenpea or spreadfruit goldbanner, this perennial (Thermopsis divaricarpa) always amazes me with it's bright, clear yellow blooms in mid spring. Hardy here, this plant is native to Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. It is quite heat tolerant and is a real "color beacon" in spring.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Productive Weekend!

Saturday was a combination of activites and although it was a bit crazy, the day went fairly smoothly. The spring plant opened at 8 am with an onslaught of tomato customers. We did very well at the sale and after the morning crunch subsided, we were out of tomatoes and everything else was selling well. We sold a lot of bagged compost as well. Coinciding with the first half of the plant sale (8am-noon), we had a planting work day with 25 people helping plant over 2,000 new perennials in the Woodland Walk garden. We completed the planting and even had time to shift to some weeding. ALSO occuring was an Eagle Scout project behind our maintenance facility (see picture). The scout (Nick) had his family, fellow scouts and other volunteers there all day putting together a two-tiered shade structure for us. We'll use this structure for storing plants that don't like direct sunlight and will be protected until they can be planted.

The influence and productivity of over 100 volunteers helping with these three activities was amazing and inspiring. I was smart enough to take my camera around Saturday for the above shots but was happy to catch two new columbines peaking. These are both varieties of native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). We love columbine in the garden and usually end up with 100s being donated every fall from nurseries that can no longer sell them (they look pretty rough around the edges a that point in the year). We have them everywhere! The yellow columbine below is actually just a yellow version of the native which is typically orange. This variety is 'Corbett' and grows 12-18". The other variety is 'Little Lanterns' which is the one foot version of the native species which is 24-30" tall. Columbine love part shade and should be in everyone's garden!

Friday, May 16, 2008

What A Nice Vivid Spring!

I think the cooler temperatures have not only preserved some early season blooms, but have helped create some vivid images. This close-up of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) by Santos McGill really shows the transition of pink buds opening to sky blue blossoms. Bluebells will go dormant in a couple of weeks and will be missed. We know they'll return though!

It amazes me how much Americans hate the dandelion and lawn weeds in general. I remember my yard being on the Rotary Gardens Home Garden Tour years ago and despite the 800 varieties of plants on our little property, most of the comments were about the dandelions and creeping Charlie in our lawn. My comment was, "My lawn is green and is a functional groundcover despite not being entirely Kentucky bluegrass." Essentially, I could care less. I wish the general populace would worry about more aggressive, invasive exotics like garlic mustard, European buckthorn, purple loosestrife, kudzu, etc. (depending on their region). Dandelions are here to stay and their "negative impact" (visual) is dwarfed by the impact that other weeds are creating. I'm not saying that dandelions should be left alone, however, when you're pulling a dozen of them out of your lawn, look at your woodland edge with 10,000 garlic mustard in bloom and prioritize your problems!
I was at Allen Centennial Gardens earlier this week (UW campus) and saw this ornamental onion (Allium karataviense) emerging from golden stonecrop (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'). This allium has wide, bluish-green foliage and will bloom shortly. The foliage combination is superior. I may be stealing this idea shortly....

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Not Enough Hours in the Day

Above is a nice photo of 'Jack Frost' false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost') in bloom. Notice the wonderful silver patina on the leaves. Once the blue flowers are done, the veination on the leaves becomes more green but the silver persists thru the growing season. 'Jack Frost' is my favorite and when placed in the part-shade garden, it becomes a nice silver "beacon" of color. This perennial is highly recommended. 'Looking Glass' is another variety with a higher proportion of silver.

Today was insane with a productive Grumpy morning, potting up new
plants, a plant run to Jenka Blossoms (for tropicals), plant sale prep by Janice and Jenny, planting by Jerry and Larry running around doing odds and ends. We're trying to get ready for the Saturday circus and just might pull it off. Unfortunately, I didn't get much time in the garden but also had six weeding volunteers that did a bang up job in the shade garden. I keep seeing the things that need to be done but part of the "spring game" is prioritizing and essentially putting the blinders on as we move brush fire to brush fire. Foamflower (Tiarella) in bloom to the right. This is a good part-shade perennial (native to North America) that needs good soil, adequate drainage and plenty of moisture. There are many varieties out there. I particularly like the thicket of blooms. Ferns are still continuing to emerge. One of my favorites is below. The 'Lady in Red' Northern lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina var. angustum forma rubellum 'Lady in Red') was a selection from the New England Wildflower Society and has very conspicuous red stems. I love this fern and plan on using it a lot. If you have the opportunity to use ferns, do it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Where Did The Day Go!?

The magic of Santos McGill is seen above. Santos seems to be at the garden daily and has taken some of the best images of the gardens that I've seen. He is great at close-ups like this golden bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Goldheart') but also has done some wonderful shots like the arched bridge as seen thru a small crabapple. He is kind to share his talent with us as we don't have (or make) as much time as we should to photograph the subtle changes in the garden.

We did three plant runs today. Larry did two plant runs to Jenka Blossoms (Lima Center, WI) to pick up tropicals and hanging baskets and I went to Stonefield Plant Farm to get the rest of the hot pepper plants (for plant sale) and various odds and ends. More trips tomorrow. Lots of plant sale prep the next two days, peppered with trips to pick up plants for the grounds. Below is a nice closeup of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) by Santos. What a nice shot!