Monday, June 30, 2008

No Monday Blues Around Here!

I can't tell you the variety names of any of these hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) above. The original plants were freebies that we planted in fall many years ago. This "colony" has become one of the best groupings of hollyhocks that I've witnessed. These pictures are from today and really show the impact that these stately biennials (two years from seed to bloom) have in the garden. The original plants were a mix of old-fashioned "singles". It should be mentioned that hollyhocks can be prolific reseeders and you may see babies in the garden the following year. Ultimately it's up to you to decide if it's getting weedy. It's getting weedy in my yard at home. Consider staking these as needed. Towards the end of summer, the leaves can look a bit ragged as they are nibbled on by many creatures. Regardless, this old-fashioned plant has not only a long history, but a solid future in the garden.
Today was another great Monday with motivated Grumpies and a host of other volunteers. The big curve ball is that we're having our main parking lot resurfaced as well as a good portion of Palmer Drive (our entrance road). This created some major parking issues but everyone persevered. We had some planting help both staff and volunteers as we really push hard to finish. Larry went and picked up our last ordered load of plants although we'll head out Wed. to pick up some freebies (which are always timely fillers). The image to the left is of those blue pvc pillars along our larch wall planting. The grass is blue lyme grass (Elymus arenarius) which I may have mentioned in previous posts. The metallic blue sheen of this grass is great but in open grown soil, this hardy perennial will spread very vigorously and in difficult to contain. This border should be interesting as it fills in throughout the summer. Unfortunately, once we take a "breather" after finishing up our planting, it will be time to start dealing with the after effects of our flooding (going on 9 weeks now). It's tough to surmise or predict the issues that we'll have to contend with once the water recedes. Time will tell. See shot below....

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Short Week Coming With Lots To Do

Above is the arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) in full bloom at Boerner Botanical Garden (Hales Corners, WI). This is the variety 'Northern Burgundy' or 'Morton' (developed at the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL). The rose in the picture above is the 'Knock Out' rose, developed and introduced (1988) by former Boerner Botanical Garden director and rose hybridizer, William Radler. He's since introduced many more low-maintenance rose selections that are available. The viburnum above will soon form clusters of blue berries and will also get a nice, reddish/orange fall color.

With the Fourth of July coming up this Friday, we'll have four solid days to finish our plantings (I hope). Most of our largest areas are planted but we're now filling in smaller areas and putting the final touches on the areas that receive seasonal planting. Some consistent rain last night was timely and that soaking should help thru the week that looks to have cooler temperatures.

Another great perennial for damp, part shade is below. This bigleaf ligularia (Ligularia dentata 'Britt Marie Crawford') has deep maroon, large, tropical leaves with burgundy undersides. In mid to late summer, orange/yellow daisies bloom above the foliage. This species in native to mountain meadows and forest clearings in Japan and China. However, this variety was selected in Australia as a darker-leaved version of the popular variety 'Othello'. This plant benefits from compost and enriched soil. The trick in not letting this plant dry out.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Northwind Perennial Farm

Another little mini-blog here. Yesterday, on our way home from Milwaukee, we stopped at Northwind Perennial Farm, just north of Lake Geneva, WI. We almost didn't go in when we saw hundreds of cars parked up and down the road and saw a sign for an antique fair (at the nursery) as well. We braved the crowds (and LONG walk from where we parked) and had a great time. The nursery has many beautiful display gardens like the one above that not only gives the visitors planting ideas but also some notion of maintenance expectations. There is an equally nice shade garden as well. Their planted container arrangements are also second to none. My daughter enjoyed the water gardens and the resident toads, frogs, tadpoles and painted turtle. There are many wonderful plants and antiques normally available at Northwind but vendors (including food) were set up as well. We walked away with some great plants and I always recommend this nursery to others. You can easily make a half-day of it walking around the nursery, barns and display gardens. Roy Diblick (co-owner of the nursery) and all of the talented staff have done a great job and if you ever have the opportunity to attend a tour or talk that Roy is giving, do it! Some other images of the nursery and its denizens are below.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Boerner Botanical Gardens

Back from my mini-vacation and already taking flack for blogging. I'll make it brief. Our intent in visiting Milwaukee this past week was to visit The Domes (from their website - three beehive-shaped (not geodesic) glass domes, 140 feet in diameter at the base and 85 feet high, offering 15,000 square feet of growing space for plant display. Each dome has a distinct climate and exhibits plants in a naturalistic setting. These are the arid, tropical and floral display domes.) Anyway, it's closed for renovation until September. We decided to head south to Hales Corners (south of Milwaukee) and enjoyed Boerner Botanical Gardens. We've visited every year and appreciate their plant displays and dedication in the face of severe financial cutbacks over the past decade or so. They're still planting annuals there and I do recommend a visit if you are in the neighborhood. They do a lot of things right, including roses, seen below.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Snuck This One In!

Another nice, durable, low-maintenance rose is 'Nearly Wild'. This floribunda gets about 2' tall and 3' wide and looks great when mass planted. We have 25 of them together in a full sun area, on a slope, in poor soils. They do wonderfully and actually have a slight fragrance. I have one at home and I only wish they were a bit taller.

I'm sneaking this blog in as we prepare for a mini-vacation. The combination of impending thundershowers, high gas prices, rampant mosquito population and a slight case of general malaise have contributed to some altered plans but still looking forward to a "breather" before next week's planting crunch continues. Larry, Marv, Terry, Jerry, Janice and Marianne have things well in hand I'm sure.

The image to the right is of the Korean bellflower (Campanula takesimana). We started with about eight and now have a couple hundred if you catch my drift. Descriptions of this perennial include the beautiful white/light pink, dangling blooms but also use the words "colonizing groundcover". Ironically, our rabbits nibble down most of our other campanula species but leave this one alone to bloom and reseed at will. We'll keep some but will need to "cull the herd" annually.

The Grumpies below are starting to work on building a storage shed outside of our visitors center. When the Parker Education Center was built five years ago, we found out quickly that we were lacking in storage space for tables, chairs, gift shop stock, etc. This shed will help alleviate that pressure. Dick P., Dick H., Vern, Rollie, Maury and Rod have things well in hand. Dave, Jim and Bob will assist I'm sure. In the bottom photo, note the bold texture of umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) with its huge, tropical looking leaves. Native to the Appalachians, this tree is hardy here but wont get much over 15-20' tall. We have three of these in partly shaded areas to provide bold texture.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Light At The End of The Tunnel? Perhaps.

Our 'Seafoam' roses are in full bloom. This sprawling rose is 2' tall and 4' wide and has an "arching habit". It is definitely a strong, reliable bloomer although it can take up a lot of "real estate". We had ten planters today (volunteers) and swept thru another 1,500 annuals or so. Tuesdays are a little light for grounds staff but our volunteers again made it a highly productive day. The yard is emptying out and we should be on track to have seasonal plants finished in the next two weeks. We start picking up some "freebies" from generous, area nurseries and will use those to fill any gaps immediately and we always stockpile back-ups to be utilized as needed.
Again with the yellows and blues! Of course. The grass in the foreground in one of my favorites. The blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens 'Sapphire') has wonderful form and a nice shade of blue. It doesn't get over 24" or so in height but does prefer full sun. This grass is considered a "cool season" grass as it emerges early in spring and prefers the cooler months for the most active growth. If you get in to ornamental grasses to any degree, do a bit of research on the differences between cool and warm season grasses. Rick Darke wrote some wonderful books on ornamental grasses that are a must have (look for the one by John Greenlee too). The perennial behind it is the golden meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria 'Aurea') that while blooming white, is mainly use for foliage. This combination works well.

To the right is one of the last of our "puff balls on a stick". The giant ornamental onion (Allium giganteum) blooms at 3-4' in height with a very substantial, tight flower sphere (umbel). This is fall-planted as a bulb and is perennial to zone 4. This is a good candidate to leave up in the garden even after the color fades to an amber/brown. The stem will be rigid for weeks or months and you can even spray paint the blooms as an architectural element. I've seen it done quite effectively. This is one of the latest blooming alliums that will go dormant shortly after blooming. See below. Despite the flooding in our "wishing well" garden, we're going to keep planting space as the flooding goes down (hopefully soon).

By the way, always patronize your local garden center first. While the "box stores" may carry some quality items at a reasonable price, it is our duty to support the local growers, garden centers, "ma and pa" establishments, etc. Service at these places is frequently better and worth a couple more cents.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Well-Oiled Machine

Note the beautiful combination of blue blooms over golden foliage on this spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana 'Blue and Gold', also called 'Sweet Kate'). We have clumps of this around our sunken garden used in repetition. I'm tired of most other spiderworts as they have seeded around the gardens quite prolifically. However, I wont soon be sick of this variety.

As usual on Mondays, we had lots of volunteers. The Grumpies showed up en force and we had some additional planting/weeding help from five female volunteers. Take a look at Terry, Bill and Ron to the left. These guys look ready for rain but in reality were bringing back our rowboat after their "retrieval expedition" involving a small bridge from our Japanese garden that drifted away in the floodwaters...Always interesting.

All the grounds crew kept busy and Monday went off without a hitch. We're ironically hoping for a bit of rain as some of our new plantings are looking thirsty. The type of watering we're doing is not ideal for establishing durable plants. Shallow watering on a frequent basis pampers the plants and really tells them that they don't have to develop deep roots because they'll get water often. We prefer to accomplish deep watering on a more infrequent basis. This encourages plants to send roots deeper in their quest for moisture as the soil dries from the top down. Unfortunately, we have to respond to immediate signs of moisture problems and often fall in to a pattern of this "shallow watering". Make your plants work for that moisture and they'll be more established and drought-tolerant in the long run. The image to the right is of the lower portion of our "wishing well garden". Those are white petunias under 6" water from the pond near Lion's Beach. Now (hopefully) begins the slow and steady draining off of our flooded garden spaces. We have been seasonally assaulted this year. Note the neat containers below with hints of our seasonal theme. The image below is in another part of the garden but creates that blue/orange combo with blue fescue (Festuca sp.) and an orange coleus mixture (Solenostemon).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Not Really A Post

Too tired to post tonite. Long day and fading fast. Picture above is of most of our Grumpies, including Dr. Yahr in the front center. There are a couple of guys missing but enough can't be said about the enthusiasm, support and downright productivity of this group. This picture also includes the top of Ed Lyon's (recent, former RG Executive Director) head as he also takes a picture of this handsome group. I'll see many of these guys tomorrow. In 10 hours to be exact. More later although I'm on a mini-vacation this W-F and wont be posting. Hopefully the floods are receding....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday Respite (For Me)

Lots of questions about this perennial blooming in the gardens right now. This is the rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) that has very narrow flower spires with dangling, tubular bells. Foxgloves fall in to that "grey area" of perennial/biennial. We continually plant foxgloves so we're assured of their contribution that year or the following. Perhaps they'll reseed or maybe not. We like to encourage the "grove" and do the same with hollyhocks (Alcea rosea).
Check out the yellow meadow rue (Thalictrum flavum ssp. glaucum) to the left. This European perennial can take full sun or part shade and enjoys damp but well-drained soil. It can achieve heights close to 5' tall when the yellow flower clusters emerge above textural, blue foliage. This may require staking but is certainly an eye catcher in June.

I can't comment on what happened today at Rotary Gardens as I stayed away and caught up on chores. It rained lightly overnight in to early this morning. Although it looked pretty damp, it was a timely rain as it was sunny the rest of the day. I imagine Janice kept the volunteers busy and everybody had a productive day. Next week will be more crunch time for planting. Our grouping of containers in the English cottage garden relies heavily on texture and will fill in nicely over the coming months, forming a mass of texture and color. Individual containers lose their definition as everything blends.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Closure To A Productive Week

You can't go wrong with wax begonias (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum) as seen in this shot today. This is one of the Varsity series with pink flowers and bronze foliage. We mass plant them 9" apart in huge drifts around the garden. They can take sun or shade but really prefer part sun. With a little fertilizer every three weeks, we get a nice carpet of non-stop flower power until frost. We planted another 5,000 or so annuals today with help from Art, Shirley, Kay, Barb, Dr. Yahr, Marv, Janice and Marianne. Terry planted some perennials and did a lot of fertilizing. Despite possible rain this weekend, we had to water many areas which seems contrary considering how damp it has been lately. However, consider that these shallow planted annuals are in the soil zone (top) that dries out first so we're running sprinklers to water that top layer (above saturated soil). That's the nature of the business as our flood waters hopefully have peaked now. We'll see! About 15% of the garden is under water right now.

Marianne has been organizing our annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus) collection this past week and was told we'd be planting it Monday. Well, we did it today and it looks great. Marianne and Janice spaced out all 170 or so varieties and with the help of Art and Kay, planted eight of each variety for this display. These plants are in what are termed our "demonstration squiggles". These three, large, sinuous beds have been home to many collections and this might be one of our more exciting to date. A collection of this scope starts the previous November with the scouring of seed catalogs from around the world to find as many varieties as possible. Ball Seed Company donated some brand new varieties as well. We then have a local grower start the seeds while we prepare labels and interpretation. The process is fairly involved but once they're in the ground, they'll do fine. Also called Madagascar periwinkle, this annual has a long history as an herbal medication (too long to mention here) and Western medicine is embracing research regarding the potential of this plant in the treatment of many illnesses and disorders. Do a little research and you'll find that not only is this a top notch bedding plant for sunny locations, it has proven potential in both Eastern and Western medicinal approaches. This collection should peak in early August.
Larry planted all of our bananas this week as well. To the left is the red Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii') from Ethiopia. We grow it for the foliage as it will rarely form fruit (not tasty) for us; although it has done so inside from time to time when we're storing it over the winter. Regardless, in our hot WI summers with adequate water and fertilizer, we can get these to grow another 5-7 feet in additional height. Remember that these are not woody plants at all and are 90% water. New growth continues to spiral out of the center and we trim the lower leaves when they get "ratty" (optional). The curve ball is that these are only out for four months of the year here in WI and we have to find space for our 20+ bananas for that remaining eight months. We're looking forward to some impressive growth but still need the soil to keep heating up!

For a hardy yet tropical look, check out this variegated Southern catalpa (Catalpa bignoniodies 'Variegata) that I photographed today. The leaves are mostly yellow with green mottling. The bummer is that the leaves are totally green by mid summer. Catalpas are blooming around town with their huge, orchid like flower clusters. We like varieties with interesting foliage like this one and the golden variety. The close-up is of wet leaves as I had to avoid a sprinkler to get the shot. Janice, Larry, Jerry and Bill will lead the Saturday crew (planting) tomorrow. We'll see if I can stay away...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Expectations Exceded Yet Again

My favorite petunia is pictured above. 'Merlin Blue Morn' is an award winner from All-America Selections (AAS) and Fleuroselect (Europe). I love the purple blue petals fading to the white center. I have used hundreds of this variety every year and wont get tired of its appeal. With our blue and orange theme this year, we're using lots of petunias. Below is the variety 'Daddy Blue Vein' that is also a favorite of mine. I'd love to do a petunia collection some year although we would never have the room to grow every variety. I don't think petunias will ever be ubiquitous and the value of such a stalwart annual in a sunny location can't be understated. The concern now is the amount of rainfall and overly damp soil that these petunias are attempting to tolerate. I would say that 25% of our petunias have rotted already. We were replacing some today and are lucky to have a back up supply for this purpose. The "cotton" produced by our numerous cottonwoods tends to stick and collect around all of our plantings and after it rains, this creates a damp blanket around the plant, thereby making it harder to dry out. I think this is why the petunias are suffering. Hungry rabbits and woodchucks also take their toll of course.The Grumpies accomplished myriad tasks today. Geesje and Glenna did a great job weeding and clearing areas for planting. Ron, Sandy, Shirley, Linda (& her two kids), Sue, Kelley, Don, Thelma, Jim and four female RECAP inmates from the Rock County Jail helped plant today. Despite a record pace with our seasonal planting, we wont be done for another 3 weeks or so. It seems late but the reality is #1, we're limited by the number of hands planting and #2, those plants put in late really peak in late August in to September. Essentially, it's still worth our time. In addition, we do rely on donations that don't come in until after the 4th of July.

I worked near our main parking lot and the Parker Education Center (our visitors' center) today and observed a lot of confusion as to how to enter the gardens. We are admission by donation and are trying to route all visitors to enter and exit the gardens via the building. Many attempt to bypass this obvious entry for various reasons. Some truly don't know where to enter the gardens and we need to improve our signage. However, some that perceive that there is a fee, go thru great efforts to enter the gardens by climbing thru gates, over fences, thru flower beds, etc. These are not isolated incidents and I'm not exaggerating. I saw it many times over today. It always amazes me how Rotary Gardens is taken for granted (not by everyone) with misconceptions that we're a City (tax) supported venue. Most visitors do not donate which is unfortunate as we struggle annually just to bring in our operating income. I could go on about reductions in grounds that are borderline crippling....but back to some flowers.
Another foxtail lily (Eremurus sp.) of unknown variety/species (maybe bungei) that is stealing the show with it's color and stature. We ran out three loads of flowers like this today. Probably three tomorrow...come on down soon if you're within planting range!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Business As Usual

Note the images above. The bad and the good are represented. The rose garden is starting to peak. We now have our most severe flooding to date and about 1/3 of the Japanese garden is flooded and 1/2 the alpine garden. Many of our lower paths are under water and we continue to block paths as the water rises. Warnings indicate that the Rock River (which affects our pond) may rise thru Sat. With possible rain this weekend, it could be a while before we dry out. Aside from keeping visitors away from the flooding, there is nothing more we can do until the water recedes. What a nightmare. Our thoughts go out to those that are considerably more unfortunate.

More of the same juggling today. While planting is our priority, we also need to figure in watering needs and of course, perpetual weeding. The grounds staff kept busy today with watering, fertilizing, general tidying, etc. Marv, Marianne, Terry and Jerry didn't lack for gardening chores today! Our awesome volunteers came in and kept our momentum going. Vern, Stacy, Mary, Don, Pearl, Don #2 and Thelma accomplished significant planting. Kay, Bev, Chris and Bob were a whirlwind of weeding and clearing of bulb foliage. We usually have a "team" work ahead of the planters and clear areas. The beauty of our bulb collection (400,000 bulbs representing 1,000 varieties) has a liability that includes removing foliage in a timely (but not premature) manner. We are currently cutting down daffodil foliage as it yellows and typically don't wait until they totally "brown out" in July. Regardless, I get a knot in my stomach when I see our spring crop of cottonwood seedlings everywhere. Ugh! While not a huge fan of herbicides, they had value today as I sprayed 10 gallons of RoundUp around the gardens to deal with weed carpets that we'll never be able to address before they reseed.

The blue globe onion (Allium azureum or Allium caeruleum) is in full bloom right now. It is about 24" high with beautiful, sky blue spheres (1.5-2" in diameter). Planted as a bulb in fall, we like to mass this species in clusters of 10 to 25 bulbs. It typically blooms between mid June and early July. It combines well with all sorts of plants. See below where it is blooming with red scabious (Knautia macedonica) which incidentally is one of my favorite perennials because of its long bloom period. It (Knautia) does need neighbors to support the floppy stems but what a strong bloomer. It can reseed though. And speaking of reseeding, the only drawback to the blue globe allium mentioned above is the fact that is also reseeds, sometimes prolifically. We'll actually remove the blooms as they fade to avoid most of the seed set. It's a subjective decision to plant this, you decide. We have about 10,000 blooming right now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tangential Tuesday

Today included lots of plantings by volunteers. Don and Thelma worked on planting their area with seasonals and I had Kay and Heidi clearing another area for planting later this week. Elaine, Leslie, Dr. Yahr and Vern all worked at planting other areas I had laid out. Marianne continues to sort our annual vinca collection for planting next week and Jenny has been awesome about keeping up with labeling. I think we finally streamlined our process for getting metal labels out to our seasonals shortly after planting. In past years, we've been very retroactive in getting labels out and sometimes don't even get to it. Up above is a beautiful new blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata 'Amber Wheels') that has frilly yellow petals and a dark, amber-red center. This blanket flower reaches over 30" tall and continues to bloom thru the summer.

Today was tangential because I had various meetings and other duties that took me out of the gardens. These other activities were essential but it's tough to walk away (for even a short time) from all the work that still has to be done. One of the meetings involved planning for our 20th Anniversary next year and deciding on what we'll be doing to celebrate and promote the gardens. Lots of good ideas came out of that meeting.

I caught a nice image of the foliage of the tricolor beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Roseo-marginata') that has such a vivid maroon leaf with very conspicuous pink margins. Drawbacks are that they are fairly expensive and slow growing but what a wonderful tree for foliage. I've seen three large (40' tall) specimens of this including one at Great America, north of Chicago. This theme park has one near their white water rafting ride (the loading area to get in the raft). It is quite impressive. Our specimen is about 12' tall but beautiful. I'll be six foot under when this finally fills out but I hope our progeny enjoys it. Spot them in an area where they receive afternoon shade so the leaf margins don't burn. We also protect this specimen from winter winds. Truly one of a kind for a woody plant. See our Japanese garden waterfall below.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Marvelous (Albeit Cool) Monday

The 'Polar Joy' tree rose above snuck up on me today. I hadn't noticed it blooming yet and was smitten by the violet pink blooms, elevated 4' above ground level. Developed by Bailey Nurseries and part of our rose evaluations, 'Polar Joy' is very hardy and unlike other tree roses that are grafted, this is the same rose from root to flowers. Our Easy Elegance series from Bailey has bounced back very well despite severe winter injury. 'Funny Face' is to the left and many others are in full bloom too. We're continuing to do evaluations and planted quite a few 'Home Run' roses (not part of this evaluation) to fill some of the gaps. It's nice to have a low maintenance rose collection and it currently falls in line with the amount of attention we can actually dedicate to it; minimal.

It was quite cool this morning with everyone starting the day wearing flannel or sweatshirts. It was one of those days that was hot when the sun was out and cold when it was cloudy. Regardless, we had a great Grumpy work day as always and had about 10 members of the Janesville Noon Rotary club come help plant in the afternoon. We put lots of plants in the ground and hope to continue unimpeded with our momentum on a daily basis.

Check out our 'Henry Kelsey' climbing rose with semi-double, slightly fragrant red blooms. The long arching canes of this shrub rose (introduced in 1981) are easily trained and secured on a pillar, post, trellis or fence. The primary flush of blooms is in June with some scattered blooms thru summer. Regardless, we always appreciate this ultra-hardy climber this time of year. Squeezing one more plant in....I like this annual stonecrop (Sedum 'Lemon Coral') which has a spiky, layered look of chartreuse topped with yellow blooms. This looks to be a good groundcover or in the case illustrated below, a superior edger/spiller for a container.