Friday, January 30, 2009

Doom & Gloom (& A Neat Plant)

How about some pink mulla mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus 'Joey') in your landscape? This plant, native to Australia, is one of the hot new annuals for this year. I took these pictures at the Ball Seed Display Garden (West Chicago, IL) this past summer and was impressed by the flower power of this mid-height (24"), drought tolerant plant. We saw this plant used in many ways, including in containers, and plan on using lots of it in our pink themes this year. The warning from the Ball Seed folks was not to over-irrigate it as it doesn't like overly damp soils (which makes sense I suppose as an Australian plant). Regardless, look for this in seed catalogs and perhaps at nurseries.

I read an article yesterday based on scientific studies that says that even if we stopped all carbon-based emissions today, we would still have increasing global temperatures for the next 1000 years. Many of the negative effects of this temperature increase are commonly known (rising ocean levels, habitat loss, etc.) but another interesting topic that is directly related to this "snowball effect" is the role that these increased global temperatures are having on the permafrost in far northern climates. See if you really want to be bummed out. Regardless of the various reasons and theories related to how this situation has developed, the reality will have immediate impact on future generations. I hope humans can get over their selfish differences and address this situation in short order. Weightlifting in WI below....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

#@%*! Deer Damage

Today is a nice sunny, winter day. It's been nice to not have to deal with snow removal (at work or home) for the past week or so. There's still plenty of snow out in the gardens which has added another 12-15" of "reach" for our resident herd of starving deer. I took a tour of the gardens with Jerry today and the damage is significant, particularly to our Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis). Interesting that the Western arborvitae (Thuja plicata) is advertised as deer proof or deer resistant. That apparently doesn't hold true when starvation is a reality for these deer. They've decimated (and redecimated) many plant specimens despite our barriers and repellants. Not much we can do at this point though. Nice to see Jim H. and Janice today as well.

I took the picture above this morning. Dr. Gredler and Bill have been organizing these seeds and preparing labels for our growers. They also are bagging up extra vegetable seeds that we'll give to kids during Earth Week in April. It's nice to be able to order and buy prepackaged seed of just about anything. However, the art of seed collecting (particularly vegetables) seems to be a lost art. The reason heirloom varieties still exist is due to the diligence of amateur seed collectors that liked what they grew and wanted to perpetuate the variety. The Seed Savers Exchange ( has been instrumental in not only preserving our heritage but promoting the continued utilization and perpetuation of these varieties. Pop quiz. What has 2 billion seeds representing 4.5 million samples and has the nickname of "The Doomsday Vault"? The answer is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. I've been reading about this facility (completed in 2007) that is preserving seeds with the intent of protecting seed biodiversity because of the potential effects on the world food supply because of global disasters (weather, wars, etc.). Read more about this interesting facility below or see See the bottom photo for a neat view of an annual bed that Olbrich (Madison, WI) did a couple years ago. Nice use of dark basil in a swirling composition.

The world's seed collections are vulnerable to a wide range of threats - civil strife, war, natural catastrophes, and more routinely but no less damagingly, poor management, lack of adequate funding, and equipment failures. Unique varieties of our most important crops are lost whenever any such disaster strikes, and therefore securing duplicates of all collections in a global facility provides an insurance policy for the world’s food supply.The seed vault is an answer to a call from the international community to provide the best possible assurance of safety for the world’s crop diversity, and in fact the idea for such a facility dates back to the 1980s. However, it was only with the coming into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, and an agreed international legal framework for conserving and accessing crop diversity, that the seed vault became a practical possibility. The vault is being dug into a mountainside near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Construction is due to be completed in September 2007. Svalbard is a group of islands nearly a thousand kilometres north of mainland Norway. Remote by any standards, Svalbard’s airport is in fact the northernmost point in the world to be serviced by scheduled flights – usually one a day. For nearly four months a year the islands are enveloped in total darkness. It is here that the Norwegian government has built the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, to provide this ultimate safety net for the world’s seeds. Permafrost and thick rock will ensure that even without electricity, the samples will remain frozen. The vault’s construction has been funded by the Norwegian government as a service to the world community. The Global Crop Diversity Trust considers the vault an essential component of a rational and secure global system for conserving the diversity of all our crops. The Trust is therefore committed to supporting ongoing operational costs, and is assisting developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting their representative seeds to the Arctic.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday of Trials and Tribulations

Nice pink petunia above ('Vista Bubblegum') from last year. We'll be using lots of pink this year! As I type, Dr. Gredler and Bill are going thru seeds and writing color-coded nursery labels for each packet depending on the collection in which they will be grouped. This process is very laborious but worthwhile. For instance, seeds of the petunia above will be coded with pink labels so we can pull all flats for our "pink collection" as they arrive as small plants (usually showing no color at that point anyway). The frustrations include keeping seeds organized but also dealing with backorders and "crop failures" (need to be reordered). The guys are doing a nice job despite some minor setbacks. We're also bagging up small packs of heirloom runner bean and pole bean seeds as they arrive. Our carpentry grumpies are building some neat, custom vining structures for these climbers and we wanted to offer seeds of these beans at our plant sale alongside the plant "starts" of the other veggies and basil. Maury, Dick H, Dick P., Gary and Jerry all helped out today as well. Larry continues to organize "post holiday lights show" processing and storage.

I was reading about the "100 Mile Diet" that encourages eating locally grown food and focusing on patronizing local growers. It's an interesting (albeit sometimes difficult) process that while not necessarily convenient, has many benefits. See for some interesting benefits. This concept goes hand in hand with my word for the week. Locavore was developed three years ago in San Francisco (already in the Oxford Dictionary!) and refers to those that eat local food. See for the official definition and perhaps be inspired to try more of this in 2009. The benefits to you and the environment are myriad, pronounced and hopefully inspire a contagious reaction!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Joy of Seeds

Above is Dr. Gredler sorting some seeds last winter. I could have taken this same shot today as both he and Marianne started going thru our first seed orders. They are verifying complete orders, backorders and separating seeds by collection. We then will hand write color-coded labels for the collections so when the plants come back in flats, we can pull aside and separate all the yellow-tagged, orange-tagged, pink, red, etc. This allows us to quickly group our new plants as our priority quickly becomes planting, not organizing at that point. I will take our organized seeds to our three growers in three weeks or so.

I took my 9 year old daughter on some errands this weekend and of course she was immediately drawn to the colorful seed racks. My wife and I have allowed her a small garden space that she can maintain in the back yard although she picked out enough seed to cover an acre. I just stood back as she picked out all sorts of neat things. She'll start some seeds inside and will sow many outside with her mother this spring. Her enthusiasm, thus far, extends to seed selection, planting and watering. We can't get her excited about weed pulling but that is an "acquired taste". I'm so glad we have volunteers and staff like Kay, Geesje, Glenna, Marianne, etc. that seem to become more energized after they pull their first 100 lbs. of weeds!

Nice image to the left of some eggplants from the 2007 collection. Not everyone enjoys eating eggplant but few can contest the beauty and variability of the fruits. I just finished reading the previously "blog-mentioned" Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn by Fritz Haeg. What an inspiring read. I'd like to share some of the interesting (proven) factoids that he included at the end of the book. These relate to not only to the lawn but agriculture as well. These facts should motivate us to get more involved with "locally grown" edibles, perhaps in our own yards (like the tasty nasturtium below!).

"Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops"

"Between 1985 and 2000, the price of fresh fruit and vegetables Americans consume increased almost 40 percent."

"The produce in the average American dinner is trucked 1,500 miles to reach our plates and contains ingredients from at least five countries outside of the United States."

"Although five thousand different species of plants have been used as food by humans, the majority of the worlds' population is now fed by less than twenty plant species."

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's Friday Again!?

I look forward to Fridays as much as the next person but this week sure went fast. Warmer temperatures this week melted off some snow and ice but we're headed back in to frigid temperatures this weekend. With heavy snow loads and ice covering the garden and many woody plants, we get questions on how we deal with excessive snow/ice that is bending or compromising the plants. The answer is that we do nothing. When you see your evergreens bending under snow loads, it can be even more damaging to try and remove that snow. In most cases, the plants will adjust as the snow/ice slowly melts off and the plant "bends" back in to shape. We've had issues of heavy snow in March creating more permanent problems but overall, we just leave things alone. If you do try to remove snow from a bent limb/branch, gently nudge from underneath to dislodge the material, not from above which might create more weight on an already compromised limb. We will use twine or rope in late fall to wind branches together on upright conifers so the snow loads don't "splay" them open and create breakage and an unsightly specimen.
It was another ghost town around here today. Dick H., Maury and Dr. Gredler all stopped by and I had a meeting. I've been left alone (which is nice) and have made great progress with seed ordering. I ordered from three of our international vendors (Chiltern, B&T World Seeds and eseeds) to order specialty items that aren't domestically available. It's nice to deal with convenient online ordering which converts euros to U.S. dollars. I think I've ordered seeds from about 30 vendors thus far and should finish next week. Most garden centers already have their 2009 seeds in so consider a weekend visit to get something new and exciting. Perhaps even pick up some easy to grow seeds (nasturtiums, marigolds, veggies, etc.) for your kids, neighbor kids, grandkids, etc. Pass along the experience of growing something from seed out in the garden. This is fast becoming a neglected task for this upcoming generation. A very interesting read is Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I think every parent that uses computer games and/or TV to occupy the majority of their child's time should be forced to read this! Enjoy Carrol's tulip shot below for the promise of spring!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wall Plantings - 2009

Years ago we had a lannon stone wall build to create a nice planting area along one of our paths. We've since done many color combinations (see pink, blue and yellow examples) and themes (scented plants, etc.). It's a neat linear space that was build to be "all accessible" and is a nice opportunity for an extended border (140 feet long, average width of 6'). This year we will move our "ornamental edible" collection along this space. The intent is to showcase beautiful plants and combinations like in previous years. However, all of these plants will have an edible, culinary or utilitarian use. Come visit and see what we come up with this year. We should have over 50 neat varieties of these "ornamental edibles." We hope visitors will appreciate that these edible gardens can be beautiful and don't have to be relegated to straight rows in the back yard.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lawns Evoke Yawns

Did you know that there are over 50 million acres of lawns in the United States and 80% of U.S. households have a private lawn? It takes over $40 billion dollars per year to maintain these lawns and while the argument can be made that these expenses help the economy, they also help promote some dangerous and ecologically unsound practices in many instances. Consider the increased use of insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers and all the pollution from lawn equipment used to maintain these green patches. These "lawn inputs" also affect soils, stormwater runoff, water consumption, plant diversity, energy use, air quality and can also adversely affect local wildlife. I recommend The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession by Virginia Scott Jenkins for interesting facts regarding lawns and their role in our lives.

At Rotary Gardens, roughly 6 of our 20 acres are maintained turf. We're contributing to many of the problems as listed above. However, our intent in maintaining lawns is for functional use for events. We are continually assessing our practices and continue to adjust our programs and policies (informal and formal) to minimize any negative environmental impacts. I have a small lawn at home but my entire front yard is garden (no turf). See below for an older picture. It's amazing how we're looked at as "freaks" in our neighborhood with plantings all the way to the curb. Looking down our street, there are nothing but lawns (most poorly kept anyway). Turf (that looks healthy) requires inputs. I should mention that there are some nice organic approaches (compost teas, etc.) that while beneficial to our lawns, don't have such a negative impact as synthetic fertilizers that are frequently overapplied anyway.
I'm currently reading Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn by Fritz Haeg and it is truly an inspiration as it creates a dialogue regarding more appropriate uses of our personal landscapes. Our front yard above also includes vegetables and herbs that we utilize. The use of vegetables and other culinary/utilitarian plants does not have to be relegated to a separate (frequently linear) space. Many of these plants are also ornamental and fit right in to our landscapes. Mr. Haeg will be speaking up at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI) on February 19th along with other speakers (including me). The topic is Incredible, Edible Gardens. See for information if you are interested. We are actually developing an entire garden space to "ornamental edibles" this year (we also did it in 2008, see bottom photo). Perhaps 2009 is the year that you scale back on the green carpet and develop some low-maintenance, organically maintained, beautiful garden spaces that are aesthetic and productive!!!???? (eggplants below)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A "Tribute to Obelisks"

With our carpenter volunteers building more obelisks (vining structures like the yellow ones seen above) it's tough to imagine that we never used these garden elements until about 5 years ago. I saw a picture in a gardening magazine and asked it the Grumpies could build one. Well, of course they could so I asked for four 6' tall obelisks. Since, then, we've made 4', 6', 7' and 9' versions of these obelisks with some variability in the design. The guys have a great system (see to the left) and do a top notch job. We currently put out about 30 obelisks throughout the gardens and they serve not only as a functional support for vines or climbers but as an architectural piece or focal point in many instances. Gardening is not a two-dimensional endeavor and any opportunity to add height variability or interest in welcome and effective in the garden. As seen in past postings, many of our obelisks are painted various colors to match our color theme. Some obelisks never have a "partner vine" and are used simply as an outdoor garden element. Many of our obelisks get winter duty as well and are decorated with lights for our Holiday Lights show. Remember that it's the personal touch in the garden that makes it special. It goes well beyond plants.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A "Mild" Monday

We've had a break from the really cold weather and had a nice Grumpy turnout this morning. Above is Dr. Gredler putting preservative on pieces of our obelisks. Marv, Urban and Jerry went out to pick up lights and haul back some of our temporary trees that we used for decorations during the holiday show. The carpenters and other Grumpies kept busy inside with myriad projects. Larry went out and put more deer repellant out around the gardens. This brand (DeerVik) is a smelly paste that we smear in select areas. Larry looked a little "green" after sniffing this stuff all morning. I hope it keeps the deer away as they have done significant damage already and are understandably famished.
Last year we had a huge collection of hot peppers (232 varieties) that included many ornamental ones like 'Ignite' above and those that had dark purple or variegated foliage. We also grew some of the more commonly know culinary varieties like jalapeno, habanero, scotch bonnet, etc. This year our minimal collection of 25 varieties will also include 'Bhut Jolokia' (also called 'Naga Jolokia') which is said to be the hottest pepper in the world (Guinness Book of World Records). We ordered this variety (originally from India) from the Chili Pepper Institute (New Mexico State University) which is a great resource for information regarding hot peppers. Hot peppers are loosely ranked in "heat" by a measure called Scoville units. Read for more information on this scale and see a neat comparison of heat based on pepper varieties. I can't even eat a jalapeno let alone a variety that is 10 times hotter. Kristine and Janice will be our spokeswomen again for the merits of hot peppers in the ornamental and culinary garden. Perhaps they'll lead the taste testing.... The promise of spring below...tulips (in 15 weeks or so!).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Appreciate Your Postal Carriers!

The shot above of our visitors center was taken yesterday afternoon and my bare fingers were in pain in less than 10 seconds. I believe its even colder today. Those poor mail carriers! I'm not sure how many layers it would take to not feel the bite of these temperatures. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." I don't see anything about dangerous temperatures there!?

Not much action around here. I'm working on my largest seed order which includes not only vegetables but most of the seed for our "bulk annuals." These are the ones that we'll have multiple flats grown for use for mass planting or repetitive use around the gardens. Each seed variety we order goes thru the process of catalog location, pricing, quantity decisions, ordering, securing the seed, having the seed started, pick up the plants, hauling, planting, labeling, care (watering/fertilizing/etc.), eventual removal and composting. It's a long cycle but the value of seasonals here, despite the expense and time involved, can't be overstated. We've grown over 6,000 varieties of annuals in the past 10 years and continue to go back to those "tried and true" varieties. Of course we like to "dabble" as well!

I can't believe the number of people that not only don't compost but still say, "I've always meant to compost but....". Perhaps this is your year. There are many resources (including online) that will not only describe the benefits of creating and utilizing your own compost but will take you thru the various processes and mechanisms (most very easy) for home composting; even on a small scale. As per the EPA, "compost has been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and can promote higher yields of agricultural crops." See below for an image of a typical home composting system and the picture at the bottom is our huge compost pile at Rotary Gardens. It's "steaming" right now as I type and thanks to Marv for keeping it turned, processed and available for use around Rotary Gardens. Look in to it! It's not new or difficult technology! This is your year for a compost bin/pile.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Collections Ordering

I spent a good portion of the frigid morning ordering the seed version of the gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta 'Autumn Colors') seen above. One of our collections is of annual Rudbeckia this summer. We've located close to 50 varieties and will have a nice display. See 'Indian Summer' below to the left and 'Radiance' at the bottom of the posting. The challenge is finding seed sources, the best seed price, appropriate seed quantity and then getting the order placed and then dealing with coding them for the greenhouses. We distribute seeds to our growers in 4-6 weeks so need to have everything ready to go. I'm excited about this collection and while I'm mentally not ready for spring, it will be nice to see this collection planted and eventually "peak". I've enlisted the help of some of our Master Gardeners and volunteers to help with digital photography around the gardens this year. We'll target our collections, displays and of course, any cool shots that can be shared. I'm trying to build our "digital photo library" for future use in presentations and promotions.

Bitter cold today and throughout much of the Midwest and Northeast. The Grumpies worked on carpentry projects and other indoor activities today. We still have plenty of lights, cords, etc. to bring collect, bring back and process (see below to the right) but the snow, cold and the fact that we're burned out handling these items since October have created a short lapse in our motivation in that regard!

January really isn't a slow time around here despite the lack of visitation in the outdoor gardens. It takes months to prepare for spring and we're in the process of implementing admissions-based entry here at the gardens. There are quite a few hurdles to contend with and we're trying to be proactive and prepared for the spring onslaught of visitors. Spring will be here soon enough....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Two nice pictures here from Carrol. Today was sunny but very cold with the threat of extreme wind chill temperatures tomorrow. These temps wont be good for plants or outdoor animals. The local deer population is getting hungry and the damage is becoming more evident daily despite some protective measures we took back in fall. Dr. Gredler and Dick W. came in to put sealant on some of our obelisk pieces before they are assembled. Otherwise, it's just been me pouring through catalogs. It's interesting to note that some of the smaller, organic and/or heirloom catalogs also include a lot of information regarding GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the danger that biotechnology may cause specifically to crop diversity. I would encourage anyone to read and perhaps an article regarding the role that Monsanto is playing in this controversy I feel there is a lot of cause for concern and the debates will continue to get more fiery in coming years. Another topic of interest may be the loss of biodiversity in Iraqi agriculture as a result of some of the same issues. See

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Amazing Amaranths

I've been recently working on a presentation for a symposium up at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI) on February 19th. The symposium is on Incredible, Edible Gardens and my topic is "Ornamental Edibles". The image to the left shows zinnias and 'Golden Giant' amaranth (Amaranthus) that is an edible plant for it's young leaves and grain production. It's been interesting compiling images of ornamental plants that you can eat and I've been more and more impressed with amaranth as a great garden plant and "edible opportunity." 'Golden Giant' will get over 7' tall and has impressive flower plumes. Other amaranths include the "summer poinsettias" or Joseph Coat leaf amaranths (Amaranthus tricolor) that have edible leaves and beautiful leaf coloration. There are many varieties including 'Early Splendor' to the right. Amaranths love our WI summers although it's important to note that pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) is in this group as well! See the article below for more information on this neat group of annuals and incorporate some in to your sunny garden this year! Note the 'Fat Spike' amaranth at the bottom!

Another really cold day. Janice, Larry and I have been inside working on various projects. Jean is working in our reference libary and we've had various volunteers come and go throughout the day.

Are you interested in a plant with an ornamental impact that is also good for your diet? Amaranths (Amaranthus sp.), while not new to horticulture, have found there way into both ornamental and vegetable gardens throughout the world. The popularity of these plants in the United States has soared in recent years and with the sheer variety of amaranths available, you may find one that suits both your eye and your stomach. Thriving in hot summers and being easy to grow from seed are two more wonderful attributes of these garden stalwarts.

There are over 60 species of amaranth, many of which are considered weedy (including the notorious pigweed). However, many species are very ornamental and less invasive. Gardeners may be familiar with love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus). This old-fashioned garden annual with its great height and trailing pink or green flower clusters is always an eye-catcher. With over 400 varieties, amaranth has a wide range of value as both a food crop and ornamental plant.

Amaranths have been an important part of civilization for over 8,000 years. Amaranth was eaten by hunter-gatherers in both North and South America before the domestication of agriculture. Grown as both a grain plant and a leaf vegetable, amaranths were utilized by the Mayans and were the principle grain crop of the Aztecs between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago. Frequently called “Grain of the Aztecs”, these plants were domesticated along with maize, beans and gourds. Grain amaranth was frequently interplanted amongst other crops and harvested at the end of the growing season. Ancient Peruvian cultures planted a border of amaranth around fields to protect the principle crop against wind, animals and thieves.

The principle grain species include hypochondriacus, cruentus and caudatus. Sown in late May and harvested after frost, over 1000 lbs. of grain can be collected per acre from these amaranths. The primary leaf species include tricolor, dubius, lividus, and cruentus. Depending on the culture, young leaves can be cooked, steamed, blanched, stir-fried or baked. Asian cuisine utilizes many of the highly nutritious leaf amaranths (Amaranthus tricolor).

Amaranth grain is very high in fiber and low in saturated fats. The grain has more protein than corn and when ground, is utilized in breads, noodles, pancakes, cereals, granola, cookies, and other flour-based products. The grain can be popped like popcorn or flaked like oatmeal. Popped seeds are eaten in Mexico and Peru where they are mixed with molasses for a snack. In Peru, the seeds are also fermented to make beer and in India, to make candy. Amaranths were also planted on primitive kitchen compost piles and utilized in the diet for both leaf and seed.

The youngest leaves of amaranth are the most edible although some species are better tasting than others. In fact, young leaves can be harvested off of grain amaranths and the seed collected later in the year. Amaranthus tricolor has been used in China for over 400 years. Also called ‘Chinese spinach”, the leaves are thought to have a better taste than spinach, are high in protein and have significant levels of vitamins C and A, potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium. In Mexico and Peru, amaranth leaves are boiled and fried. Dye from the red amaranth leaves has many historical and present day uses.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Crunch of Catalogs

I'm staring at over 60 catalogs that I need to go thru and assemble orders in the next couple of weeks. I go thru each of these as they arrive and mark/denote new or interesting items. The second time I go thru them (now), I put together the orders based not only on what we'd like to order but what we can afford. In many cases, we'll cross reference the cost of the same variety of seeds from different vendors and go with the lowest. Saving pennies will become more important for all non-profits in the coming years I'm sure.
It's amazing how much shipping has increased for many of these catalogs. Remember to consider factors such as shipping, substitution policies, warranties and anything relevant to securing plants thru the mail. We do quite a bit of mail-ordering of items that can't be found locally but will have to scale back this year, particularly on woody plants.

Good Grumpy turnout today. Some guys went out to bring in lights. Marv, Terry and Jerry came in to help out and we continue to takedown and process our lights show. We are careful to pack everything away in an organized fashion to save time this fall when we drag everything out again. The carpentry grumpies are working on making more obelisks (vining structures) for sale at future events. These are the same structures we use throughout the gardens and will frequently paint them colors based on the theme (color) of the area. The three horizontal levels can be seen below. They're elevated for the application of a sealant.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Snow End In Sight (Get It?)

Another snowy day today. Thus far (1 pm) we've received 6" of fluff but it's still coming down. Snow removal is obviously not as vital for us now as it was during the lights show but we still have to deal with it eventually. Dr. Gredler blew off some of the paths and our parking lot while Bill and I shoveled around the visitor's center. We'll have to keep the paths clear though so we can access the lights show for takedown. The images on this blog are just some of the items we're beginning to process at the Horticulture Center.
It's been a skeleton crew today but those tend to be my most productive days. My priority is ordering seeds right now. Most of the seed catalogs have arrived and we've been pouring over them. We have no production facilities (greenhouses) for starting our seeds but we do have arrangements with four area greenhouses to start anything we provide as seed. We probably have 3,000 flats of specialty items grown each year. These relationships are absolutely wonderful and we appreciate the willingness of these people to help us out with such unique items each year. Once we get in all of our seed, we organize it based on grower and collection. Essentially, when we pick up the plants in May, they are organized and ready to go out to be planted. We've really "streamlined" this process and the first step is finalizing the orders.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is Spring Here Yet?

Nice image above from Carrol, one of our volunteers. This is last winter I believe and one of the best shots I've seen of our arched bridge. The flooding this past spring covered the lower 2/3 of the bridge which will necessitate some repairs and an inspection by an engineer. This bridge is the most photographed spot in the gardens and we sure would like to extend its longevity. Another nice shot of Carrol's is below (4 months after the one above!).
I remember walking towards this bridge for photographs after my wedding in August of 1999. We didn't have our wedding at the gardens but definitely wanted some pictures there. As the wedding party progressed through the Japanese Garden towards the bridge, I saw some wild, ill-supervised kids running thru the Japanese Garden and made to intercept the culprits. My wife, in her beautiful dress, grasped my tuxedoed (is that a word?) arm with a grip of steel and whispered like Dirty Harry, "Not today.....not today." We then took our pictures on the bridge.
The bridge spans a 60' distance and was the brain child of our founder, Dr. Robert Yahr. This bridge style (and color) are meant to create a nice reflection as well. Some of the materials used to build this bridge were found on site when the gardens were first started. The supports are old light poles and the arched supports consist of 8 laminated beams from the old sewage plant in Janesville. When the bridge was lowered on to the concrete abutments, there was only a 1/4" margin for error. No problems though as Rotary Gardens had the help of David Knoerr, the retired civil engineer from the City of Janesville helping. That bridge will be going on 20 years old pretty soon and will undoubtably need some attention. It sure is a nice feature though.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Be Hip By Considering Hips

Jeff Epping, Director of Horticulture at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI), sent me some nice shots of rose hips for one of my upcoming presentations. Above are the hips of the redleaf rose (Rosa glauca). Olbrich is a "must visit" botanical garden with many wonderful displays and plants (including many roses!). Not only are rose hips (the aggregate fruit of the rose plant, consisting of several dry fruitlets enclosed by the enlarged, fleshy, usually red floral cup) ornamental, they are edible and good for you. High in vitamin C (more than oranges) and containing vitamins D, E, essential fatty acids and antioxidant bioflavinoids, rose hips are good for the heart and managing blood pressure. There are many recipes for using rose hips in teas, jam, jelly, wine, syrup, etc. Native Americans utilized hips as a winter food as they kept well once dried and provided nutrients during winters. Those with WWII victory gardens were encouraged to grow roses for their hips as well. Look in to it and consider more than the ornamental value of these fruits. Remember to share some with wildlife too though! Rosa rugosa hips are to the left.

Slow day around the gardens today. Urban and Jerry are bringing in lights while Larry and Bill process them. Dr. Gredler is painting our trash boxes and Dick H. is working on some equipment. Janice and I are in the office. Janice is putting together our vegetable seed orders which will include 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 25 varieties of heirloom bell peppers, 25 varieties of hot peppers, 25 varieties of heirloom pole/runner beans and 25 varieties of basil. We will offer all of these for sale as plants (seeds for the beans) during the third weekend in May. Our list should be on the Rotary Gardens website by February. I'm bouncing between projects as time and motivation allow. Hips of the native Rosa virginiana are seen below. Thanks to Jeff again for the shots!