Thursday, February 26, 2009

A "Prison of Pink"?

The obelisk conversion continues and what a great day for it with all the rain coming down! Our snow is disappearing quickly (and too early)! I feel better with that insulating blanket of snow but what can you do? Maybe the exposure of the ground layer will create more forage for our deer that continue to "nibble in earnest" around the grounds. Dr. Gredler can be seen to the left converting our orange obelisks to pink (fuchsia kiss). We actually picked out three more colors today for the remainder of our obelisks (purple empire, vivid lime and Hubbard squash). Why be conservative with color in the garden. I say forget that color wheel!!!!
Lots of volunteers here today. Our Home Garden Tour Committee met and we had Jean organizing our reference libary. Marianne and Janice were in the office and the Grumpies kept busy with painting and carpentry. The sour weather didn't help much though.
I like to invite readers to enjoy the article below, submitted by Holly McCarthy. It's never to soon to start strategizing about your landscape and garden!
Planning and Preparing for the Gardening Season
Spring is right around the corner, which means that there is a lot to do if you are planning on having a beautiful and healthy garden this year. There is so much to do and time is of the essence, but right now is the perfect time to start preparing for your garden. What follows is a brief list of tips to help you get a jump start on your garden.

Start Planning
What are your goals with your garden this coming season? Do you want to grow vegetables or would you just like to have a nice bed of annuals to brighten up your space? You may want to do both, and that’s fine, but it will take some planning to make sure things are ready.

Depending on where you live, certain preparations will need to be made in advance. Part of your planning should include research and procurement of appropriate seeds and bulbs for germination, so that you don’t hit any snags when it comes time to plant.

Select where you would kike your garden and clean the area of all grass and weeds. This may be especially easy during the cold season, since much of the vegetation is still lying dormant. If the ground is still frozen, wait until things get a bit warmer.

One thing that can be done continually that will help your gardening goals is maintaining a compost pile. This will come in especially handy once it’s time to prepare the soil. Soil preparation is the most important preliminary aspect of gardening and care should be given to this aspect of the garden.

Your own soil, organic material (preferably compost), and clay can help you to make sure that your soil is the most optimal place for your plants. Preparation of soil is time-consuming and it would be a good idea to have your soil analyzed at a garden center so that you get the proper tools to make things better.

Once your soil is prepared, you will be ready for the planting season, which varies from region to region. You can use this time to make sure that the weeds and grasses are not returning to your cleaned plot and that you’re are going to be fully ready to plant when the time comes.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of the online school reviews. She invites your feedback at

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Enjoy An Early Spring!

Above is a nice shot of 'Goldilocks' forsythia in bloom in late April out in the gardens. This variety only gets 3' tall is is a true harbinger of spring. Imagine the beauty of these blossoms inside your home in a couple weeks. Branch forcing of early spring blooming woodies is a good way to bring color and fragrance in to the home even before the snow melts. Consider that you might be doing some winter pruning on these types of woodies (see list at the bottom) and their stems can go right inside! See the article below for some information on branch forcing and its merits! Note the Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) below which also a candidate for this process.
Early spring-blooming trees and shrubs are wonderful outdoors as they light up our landscapes in April and May and let us know that warmer temperatures are on the way. The centuries-old art of “forcing” branches of these early bloomers to flower indoors is an easy way to enjoy this color earlier and chase away the winter doldrums. This forcing, or “gentle persuasion”, can be employed on most of our earliest-blooming plant material because flower buds were set the previous year. This technique, when employed properly, can create a wonderful sequence of colorful and frequently scented blooms that become a great indoor transition to true spring in our outdoor gardens. Crabapple (Malus) is below.
One of the most important things to remember about forcing these branches is that the closer you cut these branches to the normal flowering time for that plant, the greater your chance of success. Flower buds require a certain amount of chilling (several weeks of cold temperatures) before they break their winter dormancy. Traditionally, you are safe to start cutting samples after February 1. Forsythias and pussy willows are among the easiest to force. See the Forcing List below this article to see twenty plants that will force. The time frame until bloom will vary but all can be cut this time of year. Below is 'Butterflies' magnolia.
When you are ready to head outside to cut your branch samples, pick a mild day above freezing temperatures. Remember that these plants should have already experienced a lengthy chilling period and you should be cutting them within 6-8 weeks of their normal bloom time. No need to cut all samples at once as you can stagger your collection times to expand your display “time range” inside. Using sharp, clean tools, cut 12-24” samples that have rounded, fat flower buds. Younger branches tend to have more flower buds. The branches you remove should be those that you would normally prune as this time of year affords you the ability to see the branching structure without foliage thereby helping you make appropriate removal decisions. Remember not to take too much off of a single plant. Below to the left is beautybush (Kolkwitzia sp.).
After collecting your samples, bring them inside, re-cut the base of the stems under water and keep them in fresh water in a bright area out of indirect sunlight. Either mashing the end of the stems lightly with a hammer or making a 1” vertical slit at the base of the stem will help with water uptake. Any buds or side branches beneath the water level should be removed at this time as well. Make sure that the storage temperature of your samples at this point is between 55-65 degrees F and they are away from a heat source such as a heating vent. Forcing will typically take between one to six weeks and will become apparent as buds swell and begin too open, showing the faintest color. If branches are forced at too high of a temperature, the buds will develop too fast, sacrificing the size, color and quality of the blooms as well as the duration of the display.

Throughout the forcing process, the water should be changed daily or a floral preservative can be added to the water to help control bacteria. Spray or mist these stems twice daily to avoid the buds drying out. The intent is to duplicate the cool, moist conditions of spring to encourage these stems to bloom. Re-cut the stem bases every week and when the buds begin to emerge, bring the display into the desired location. Below is the 'Toba' hawthorn (Crataegus sp.).Branches can be transferred to a more ornamental vase but make sure that it is tall enough to support the branches. Weighing down the vase with marbles will help minimize the tendency for it to tip. These branches will bloom for about the same duration as they would outside; typically 2-10 days. To lengthen the display, bring your forced branches into cooler temperatures (40-60 degrees F) just during the nights and keep the display out of direct sunlight at all times. Remember to stagger your collection of various spring blooming trees and shrubs to create wonderful color throughout the last days of winter. Dreams of spring will be encouraged by this easy process and you may have some plants in your yard that can be gently persuaded to help with your transition out of a long Wisconsin winter! Lilac (Syringa sp.) below!
Some Forcing Options
Malus (apples and crabapples)
Aesculus (horse chestnut)
Amelanchier (serviceberry)
Cercis canadensis (redbud)
Chaenomeles (quince)
Cornus mas (corneliancherry dogwood)
Crataegus (hawthorn)
Duetzia (duetzia)
Forsythia (forsythia)
Fothergilla (fothergilla)
Hamamelis vernalis (vernal witchhazel)
Kolkwitzia (beautybush)
Magnolia (magnolia)
Philadelphus (mock orange)
Prunus (cherries, plums, flowering almonds)
Pyrus (pears)
Rhododendron (rhododendron)
Salix discolor (pussy willow)
Syringa (lilac)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Obelisk Transformation

We are now repainting our obelisks to correspond to our color schemes out in the garden. Don't forget that hardscape elements (such as obelisks) out in the garden can not only personalize the space but can be design features and focal points as well. The 'Wild Iris' purple you see to the left is on the narrow obelisks that were bright yellow last year. Two coats of exterior paint and we're ready to roll. Thanks to Rose, Urban, Maury and Dr. Gredler for painting. The blue obelisks will become lime green and the orange obelisks will be bright pink! We now have a "herd" of 40 or so obelisks that go out in the garden in select locations. Some will have vines, some vegetables and some nothing at all. The word obelisk is of Greek derivation and means "diminutive pointed pillar". The official definition refers to a four-sided, tapering monolith (typically stone) that tapers to a narrow point. We sure enjoy them in the gardens although we've only converted the first eight of 30 or so that need to be repainted (see Urban and Rose to the right).

I'm running another load of seeds (see below) to one of our growers this afternoon. This grower will be starting all of our plant sale vegetables and will also start another 1000 or so flats of specialty annuals as well. We have about 98% of our seeds in with the remaining back orders on the way. I have to say that people in the "green industry" are very kind, sharing and authentic. Our relationship with our growers is a friendship first and foremost and we're fortunate to be able to utlilize their skills. I doubt we'll ever have a production greenhouse here and are comfortable relying on our three wonderful growers in the immediate area. I hope the green industry weathers the current economic turbulation as perhaps people will get back to more traditional gardening and realize the myriad benefits of gardening.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Tribute To Chard

All of the speakers at the symposium last week at Olbrich mentioned the ornamental and nutritional value of Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris). See the variety 'Ruby Red' above. Most people don't realize that chard is the same species as beet and both have edible leaves (although chard doesn't form the "beets" beneath ground). They taste a lot like spinach. Swiss chard is extremely nutritious and a one cup serving has 44% of your daily requirements of vitamin A and 18% of vitamin C (only 7 calories as well). This leaf vegetable also contains vitamin K, beta-carotene, diestary fiber, B-vitamins, vitamin E, iron, copper, folage, magnesium, manganese and zinc. Younger leaves can be harvested throughout the summer and should be stored between damp paper towels in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. They'll keep for about a week and are best utilized raw for maximum nutrients. However, there are many ways of preparing chard in the kitchen.

These plants are easy to grow from seed, whether sown directly in garden soil or started early prior to frost. I'm amazed by the range of colorful stems and textural leaves (see 'Orange Fantasia' to the left). There are many varieties out there that are selected for ornamental stem (petiole) color too. 'Bright Lights' is a nice variety with a wide range of colorful stems and is also an All-America Selections winner (see container below). Topping out at 20" inches, these durable ornamental vegetables are best suited for sunny borders and are great container components.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Nice Symposium

Above is a nice shot I took yesterday at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, WI. This is in their rose garden and it goes to show you the value of winter interest in containers (no soil, just cut elements). Well done. I was up at Olbrich to speak at the Midwest Gardening Symposium with the topic of "Ornamental Edibles". It was a well-attended event with 170+ attendees and kudos to the staff of Olbrich and Allen Centennial Gardens (particularly Ed Lyon) for arranging a nice day for all. All the speakers did a great job and I think these events are important for not only education but inspiration. My frigid walk around Olbrich confirmed why it's one of my favorite gardens. Olbrich's plant recorder (Robert Q.) took time out of his schedule to show me their impressive labeling operation (see below) as we hope to improve our labels in the future. White lettering on black labels is the way to go as the labels themselves aren't so conspicuous in the landscape. Our current labels are black text on white stickers. While effective and utilitarian, we look like a "graveyard of signs" with 5,000 of those labels out there. The conversion will be costly and time intensive, but necessary in my mind. Another nice container at Olbrich at the bottom. Note the interesting fruit that was placed in the empty container. These are the female fruits of the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) that can be quite heavy and dangerous when they fall from taller specimens in late fall. In the words of Dr. Michael Dirr (University of Georgia), the fruit is a "wide, globose syncarp of drupes covered with a mamillate rind." See for some information on this tree. On one of our staff visits to the Missouri Botanic Garden (MOBOT), which is a must-see by the way, we noted huge specimens by their maintenance facility. Their grounds staff mentioned the close calls with the fruits narrowly missing people and vehicles alike. We have the variety 'White Shield' at the gardens which is a male and wont have the fruit.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Back From The Expo

This past weekend was the Wisconsin Public Television Garden Expo. Above you can see our booth at this event (note the 9' obelisks with LED lights from our lights show!). Rotary Gardens has had a booth at this event for the past 12 years and it has always been worth our while to promote the gardens to this crowd. The attendance was great and I'm sure the weather played a role in such a successful turnout. My talks went well and we were able to hand out information to thousands of attendees. It was nice to see other gardens represented as well as lots of plant organizations and other non-profits. There are certainly many vendors as well and people seemed to be buying all sorts of interesting things. Larry did a great job of putting everything away from that event.
Nice grumpy turnout today. Marv and Terry went out to bring in more lights and displays while Jerry and Urban continued to prune. Janice and Marianne were helping out in the office with seeds, books, inventory, and myriad other projects. Dr. Gredler and Dick W. worked on processing lights and prepping garbage boxes for repainting. The carpenters continue to work on more bean towers (see below). We'll end up having 25 structures here and 25 out at the Rock County Farm. Larry and I are off to the Midwest Perennial Plant Conference (Milwaukee) tomorrow and hopefully will avoid the impending rain/sleet/snow forecasts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Our 12th Expo Begins

Nice combo above in my back yard. Foreground is Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) with golden bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Goldheart') behind. Here are some nice neighbors. When the bluebells go dormant, we fill the space with annuals. I'm leaving shortly for the Garden Expo up in Madison. I believe this is the 12th year we've attended this show, which has become increasingly more popular. Our booth used to spend more time explaining who and what we are, however, we're now giving more directions and information on what's going on as there seems to be a better awareness of our existence. There are lots of vendors at this event so it's interesting to watch people react to our booth like we're trying to "sell" them something. We are to a certain extent and I should mention that this is the first year we are actually selling physical items (obelisks) for a little revenue during our tough time of year. Regardless, this is a nice show. Last year I drove thru some horrible weather to get there, including a stint on black ice that unnerved me permanently. Weather looks good this year and hopefully there will be record attendance. If you don't like being a sardine, target Fri. night or Sunday as Saturday can become quite congested and is not for those that need space. Remember that gardens are more than just an assortment of plants. Personalize your garden space (see below....).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Not So "Daily" Blog!

Despite vowing to keep up with my daily blog here at the gardens, I've had a difficult time recently. Last week I travelled to Rochester, MN and spoke to the Shades of Green Hosta Society about Ferns and Mosses. They were a great group and very enthusiastic about plants. I hope they come to see the gardens as only a couple of their members have seen Rotary Gardens. I then went up to Amherst, WI for a presentation on Saturday to about 200 people. This topic was about foliage/texture. Another great group of plant enthusiasts (and potential visitors!). I've now been getting ready for the WI Public Television Garden EXPO in Madison this Fri. thru Sunday. We have a nice booth and I'll be giving a couple seminars. This has always been great exposure for Rotary Gardens and we look forward to 20,000 people walking by our booth.

Lots of volunteer help recently. Janice continues to work her magic getting ready for our spring plant sale by producing labels, finalizing spreadsheets and being very proactive. Kristine Z. has also been helping with these collections. Kay and Dr. Gredler have processed most of the labels and seeds (see below) and I'll head out to our growers next week with our seeds for them to subsequently incorporate in to our large spring orders. With the recent heat wave (almost a record), we've had more access out in the gardens for bringing in elements of the lights show. Larry, Jerry, Marv, Marianne, Terry, Bill, Urban and others have been keeping up with dismantling the show and bringing back lights and cords for processing. The "carpentry Grumpies" (Vern, Jim, Bob and Dave) are working on 50 bean towers (see above) that will be used to grow our heirloom runner and pole beans. These towers (10' tall) are extremely sturdy and will be anchored 2' in the ground. We will have 25 here and the Rock County Farm will have the other 25 when they replicate our veggie collection. Dick W, Dick H, Dick P, Del and Maury have also kept busy with various winter projects. Rotary Gardens is so fortunate to have not only a dedicated staff but wonderful, "energy-laden" volunteers. This might be my "weekly blog" as I'm wrapped up in projects and gone Fri-Sun.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Start Your Spring Early!?

Have you ever considered extending your season a bit? An earlier spring and later summer/fall? A cold frame (see above) is a wonderful way to start cool-season crops, acclimate vegetables and other tender plants prior to planting, extend vegetables in to fall and perhaps overwinter some tender plants thru the winter. See for information on cold frames. There are many books and internet resources that will give you information on this process. Consisting of four low walls and a glass/plastic/transparent top that can be opened are the basics. Aligning your cold frame east to west with a slanted face (1" drop for every foot of length) towards the south is preferable. Your cold frame should receive full sunlight from mid-morning thru mid-afternoon. The biggest concern with your cold frame is dealing with the wide fluctuation in temperatures. Look in to this topic for more information.

I'm working on plant lists today that will assist with labeling this spring. Dr. Gredler and Kay were peeling and preparing more plant sale labels and labeling seed packets for our growers. I'll have to run all of our seeds out to three growers next week. It will be nice to shift focus to other spring preparations (including many speaking engagements). A big warm up is expected thru the weekend. We'll see if this thaw allows us to get more of the lights show down (much of which was put out way back in October of 2008). I'm travelling and speaking thru the rest of the weeks so wont be able to post until Monday. Happy gardening preparations (mental mostly of course). Order some seeds! Sweet shot below from Dr. Owano from last years' orange/blue theme.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

All In Preparation For Spring

To the left is a 'Sunkist' arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) near our Horticulture Center. This is the best looking specimen of the three near our building. The deer have uniformly denuded the foliage of arborvitae in the garden up to about 60". It's odd to see our 10' arborvitae hedges with only 5' of growth up high. On the bright side, this will allow more air circulation in to those gardens....

Kay is here today (and yesterday) organizing labels for our spring plant sale. These labels, typed and printed by Janice, will be used to label ALL cells in our flats of vegetables for the May 15-17 sale. All the veggies (with the exception of the heirloom beans) will be started in four packs. Customers have mentioned in the past that while they don't need four of a certain variety, one or two would be nice. We let customers "break" the four packs and mix and match as needed...thus the reason for labels for each and every plant. This equates to 22,800 labels that have to be typed, printed, "ripped/peeled", organized and put in to the cells once the plants arrive. The beans are being bagged up to be sold as little packs. We will be giving surplus seeds to kids during Earth Week in April. Dr. Gredler is helping Kay and has consistently processed our seeds as they come in. We are a well-oiled machine (at least in February). Dick and Maury were around too and Larry went on a winter shopping spree for various odds and ends for our shop and vehicle repair/maintenance that will be occuring in the coming months. Kelley sent me an awesome link of interest at that may be of interest. Note the interesting snow sculpture below. Only in WI (not at RG!)......