Saturday, January 30, 2010

Don't Be "Koi"

Get it? Don't be "koi"? Above is a shot from a couple of years ago of the koi (carp) in our formal garden pond. We lost many fish last winter and hope that the current population is ok. It was a shame to see some of the oldest fish that were there prior to my start at the gardens 12 years ago die. We keep tank heaters out in the pond to keep a portion of the water open. The fish pretty much hang out in what appears to be semi-dormancy until the water warms up in April and May. We've had some professional help and recommendations regarding maintaining our fish and water features as well. Appropriate food and feeding schedule for the fish is vital although our efforts are affected by those vistors that like to toss in bread, chips, cheetoes, etc. in to the water despite conspicuous signage warning against those activities! With seven water features of various sizes out in the gardens (three containing fish), we continue to improve our attention and techniques with managing these important garden features. Nice winter shot below of the gardens from about six years ago. I'll never get tired of the view across the zig-zag bridge to the arched bridge any time of year! The zig-zag bridge has always been a popular spot although we've had it raised up over 24" in the past 10 years due to rising water levels. The flood of 2008 almost made it up to the railings. Japanese myth holds that evil spirits only travel in straight lines. So, if you're being followed by evil spirits, which I frequently am, as you make your turns on the bridge, the evil spirit continues straight ahead and falls in to the water. If it was only that simple. Sweet shot at the bottom of a nice yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha 'Denver Gold') taken at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Will try this at the gardens too...

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Sweet Ride

Our new mower, above, came today and we can't wait to get it out there (in 4 months)! This mower replaces one of our 10+ year old models and will be a nice addition to our fleet. We weren't sad to see the old one go (as a trade in). There are probably about 7 acres of turf over our 20 acre property and we're fortunate to have Dr. Gredler and Little Jerry doing the bulk of the riding mowing with grounds staff doing the push mowing and weed whipping. We maintain larger turf areas for special events, outdoor weddings and such but try to minimize the chemical inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, etc.) involved in achieving "perfect" turf. We're proud of our lawns considering the foot traffic they receive! Below is a sneak peak at some of the obelisk colors for 2010 (much to the chagrin of Dr. Gredler who has been painting non-stop this month!).
Another small crew today with Dr. Gredler priming and painting, Maury priming and running out for more paint and Vern working on a revised drawing for an arbor/sitting structure. Dick H. came in to work on our utility carts and his tinkering skills are invaluable around here. We also saw Dr. Yahr today with Lynn and Sue, two of his daughters. He did a great acceptance speech yesterday for his award and received a standing ovation. Doug V. popped by as well. I've been working on spreadsheets and plant orders for spring. The cross-referencing and data entry are time consuming but well worth the time in the long run as all this advance work paves the way for Jenny to start cranking out labels in late winter. Below is our "obelisk preparation and conversion center" (Maury is way in the back)! See further below for a neat plant I can't wait to try this year.

Below is the new variegated variety of Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). This variety, 'River Mist', has bold variegation and is a real eye-catcher. The seed heads (green aging to amber) of this species are quite showy and lend themselves to the common name of this perennial, ornamental grass. The seed heads stand out nicely in a dried arrangement and "rattle" a bit when dried thoroughly. See the bottom photo for the green version with the dangling, oat-like spikelets turning brown in late summer. This native grass can reseed and we've seen "babies" around parent plants that take a little elbow-grease to remove but I would not consider this grass invasive. Topping out around 36", this grass can get marginal fall color but is also quite adaptabile to a wide range of soils and will tolerate partial sun. Ask for 'River Mist' this year at your local garden center or do some independent snooping around. Consider the value and merit of the straight species as well.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Actually Wearing A Tie

Well, I've already received dozens of "digs" regarding my tie this morning. With Dr. Yahr's event today, I thought I'd go formal/casual. While I do have a tie on, I'm also wearing jeans. That seems like a compromise for me but is always a surprise to the volunteers that see me in ultra-casual attire most of the time. Nice shot above of a golden juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Saybrook Gold') that holds nice color in winter but will be an eye-catching yellow when new growth flushes out in spring.

Another nice Grumpy crowd today but only Little Jerry braved the sub-zero windchills to go out in the gardens. Del, Dick W., Bob A., Dave, Vern and Jim worked on carpentry projects while Dr. Gredler continued to paint. Maury and Dick P. worked on some projects at the other building while Larry helped with odds and ends. We also saw Marv, Urban, Janice, Terry and Dick H. Marianne came in and continued processing seed orders and has been a huge help with getting handouts ready for my upcoming presentations. I have three presentations at the upcoming Garden Expo in Madison ( ). We're getting our booth "contents" ready to go and will have plenty of handouts for those that like to know what's going on this year (or have never visited). This event continues to get better attendance each year and is a great venue for RBG exposure.

Dave, our Executive Director, recently hauled our old computers, monitors, etc. to a place that will recycle them for a fee. I remember seeing years ago a large truck at our local dump just pouring out computers, keyboards, etc. in to the dump. Out of sight, out of mind as they say. The term for this type of garbage is E-trash. Our nation disposes of over 400 million electronic items each year with less than 20% of that being recycled. While representing only 2% of our trash in landfills, E-trash accounts for 70% of the toxic waste in those same landfills. The European Union banned E-waste from landfills in the 1990s and hold manufacturers responsible for accomodating disposal. Unfortunately, large amounts of E-wast is exported to China, India and Kenya where processing E-waste is profitable but environmental standards and worker health protection is lax. Consider donating or recycling some of your items. It may take more time and/or money but you'll hopefully sleep better. Cell phones are a topic for another time. Most of my facts above were from

Below is a shot from years ago of our Garden Expo booth. We try to make it different each year but having live plants is always a challenge as they are usually exposed to freezing temperatures before they enter the Alliant Center. We used to give out free seed packets but don't any more as it seemed that there are those that are just cruisin' for freebies and had no interest in the gardens. My favorite was the attendees that would walk by our booth multiple times, not want any information, but would load up on their seed supply for the year! At least I'm still not bitter. Well, my tie and I are headed out. (grammar?)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Tomorrow, Dr. Robert Yahr will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Forward Janesville. This is certainly an honor and while I know he's nervous about his acceptance speech, I'm sure he wont pass up the opportunity to stress the importance of supporting RBG to a VIP audience. It truly is amazing how the gardens have developed in 21 years from the initial ideas of Dr. Yahr. He remains a driving force and lends so much momentum to keeping the gardens looking good and progressively developing. Of course his lifetime achievements included U.S. Naval service and improving countless smiles as a dentist and orthodontist. Kudos to the founder of Rotary Botanical Gardens. Below is a nice photo from Tim of Dr. Yahr in action last year.

Another small but productive crowd over here today. Dr. Gredler continued with his obelisk painting and is probably tired of red paint. The good news (or bad news for him) is that I have five more "conversion colors" selected for other obelisks. Little Jerry came in to work on some indoor lights show work while Dick W. was here this afternoon helping cut reindeer antlers for Del's cutouts. Vern was here working on designing a neat new arbor sitting area that we'll install this year near the children's garden and Maury was in briefly as well. I ordered more seeds and should be done by Friday. I'm starting to move to plant orders and need to confirm herb selections for our spring plant sale (May 14-16).

So many of my orders coming in now are filled with the styrofoam peanuts which drives me crazy for many reasons (see earlier blog on stryofoam). There are biodegradable peanuts as well but I am also not a big fan of the "packing air bags". I was tickled to see Territorial Seeds sent a box with BIODEGRADABLE air cushions for packing. I found they are made by FP International ( and as their website states, I hope they are "the future of packaging" with these earth-wise options. See picture to the left. Incidentally, that same box contained some CowPots ( which will be part of our earth-friendly container display this spring. They've been around for a couple years but I've heard nothing but good things about them. See this NY Times article for some other facts. They are made with 100% renewable, composted cow manure. They break down quickly and enrich the soil, so they are very handy for direct planting out in the gardens (see picture to the right). The website has an interesting section on company history and I hope this product really catches momentum. There is no doubt that this resource is "renewable" with 98 million cows/cattle in the United States each pooping 120 lbs. of manure per day....There are some other exciting developments in utilizing manure as an energy source. See Dr. Yahr below not only leaning on a shovel but a post hole digger as well!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saw Some Lions Today

Another golden conifer above in front of the building. This is another golden falsecypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Gold Spangle') that continues to look great but is getting some good growth and may need to be relocated soon. Note the holiday lights still on this specimen. Our gang has done a great job with taking down this event. Unfortunately, they are stuck taking down lights and picking up cords that weren't put up in a thoughtful way for those that are collecting them. My cords have received some criticism as well!

Rod and I spoke at the Noon Lions Club meeting today in Janesville. We talked about the value of membership and showed some neat images of the gardens while talking about what is coming up this year. They were a nice group and the presentation seemed well-received. I've presented to them before but that was many years ago. The daisies (see to left) will be ready for interested artists very shortly. Our guys have done a nice job on this project and have actually started working on the stems and leaves that will be used to support these finished pieces in May. We'll put all 27 out in the gardens and encourage the community to enjoy these out in our garden setting. Maury and Dr. Gredler both worked on this project today with Doc moving on to more obelisk painting transition (chartreuse to red). Note his enthusiasm to the right. With his radio earphones, we like to pretend like we're talking to him until he takes them off. Volunteer abuse? Indeed.

Bill and Little Jerry were in today and worked mostly inside as it is bitter cold outside and getting worse this week. Larry worked on getting various items out and ready for our 2010 painting and we spent some time deciding on a new utility vehicle. Our recent, generous donation has allowed us to purchase a new mower and we'll continue to look for deals on utlity vehicles as well. Bob T. was in today as was Dick W. The seed orders are really pouring in this week and we received another set of biodegradable pots called DOTPots. These look like the compressed peat pots but are actually 80% wood fiber. Check out for information on these pots. They look nifty and I noticed that they had no drain holes. Checking their website, I found the following information of interest (from their website...)

It's what's NOT in the DOT Pot™ that makes it better! Unlike glued peat moss pots, biodegradable DOT Pots are made from all natural wood fibers, 80% spruce fibers and 20% peat moss and nothing else! DOT Pots contain zero glues or binders -- allowing the plant roots to grow right through the pot during a normal production cycle. The plant's growth is not impeded by the walls of the pot. This creates a vigorous, non-girdled root system that spreads out evenly and uniformly...The highly porous technology of the DOT Pots allows us to exclude one more ingredient from the DOT Pot -- drain holes. Without glue or binders, air and water flow freely through the entire container without the need for drain holes
We'll use samples for demo and will actually try some out and see how well the break down out in the environment. I also noted that the pots were stamped with FRANCE on the bottom and followed another link to additional information on the DOTpot website. See below.
The origin of the DOT Pot™dates back to France in 1962. The Fertil Company began producing biodegradable wood fiber pots in the Vosges mountain region of France to meet the needs of local growers. What they were looking for was a better way to transplant their fruit and vegetables into the growing fields. They needed a way to reduce transplant shock and save on labor costs. A biodegradable wood fiber pot was the answer.

Nice shot of 'Autumn Rain' iris (Iris germanica) from Tim that looks awesome. We'll see this baby in just over 120 days...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back To Winter

It was a mild weekend with rain and warmer temperatures. Lots of snow melted but we saw only a smattering of sunshine. It has been snowing lightly today and it looks like we'll head back in to arctic temperatures by mid-week. Above is Dr. Gredler putting primer on these plywood daisies. I've mentioned these earlier and details will be finalized regarding using these for a local art project. The final products will be mounted and displayed in the gardens this summer. More details to follow...Nice shot to the left of 'Skylands' spruce (Picea orientalis) in front of our visitors center. This specimen will be an even brighter yellow when new growth flushes out in spring. Now is a good time of year to assess your landscape for structural and color needs, both of which can be fulfilled with the appropriate use of conifers. This spruce offers a nice punch of yellow in front of our entrance when color is lacking the most. The golden mugo pine (Pinus mugo 'Aurea') to the right does the same thing although it will lose its golden winter color by early summer. Yellow, blue and myriad shades of green are easily achievable. Look out your windows for areas that could use color, screening, structure, etc.

Busy day here at the gardens with Little Jerry, Dick H., Marv and Terry out bringing in lights from the gardens. The guys are also bringing more of the temporary pines from the gardens as well. Dave, Jim, Bob A. and Vern were helped by Dick W. with carpentry projects while Del continued his reindeer creation. Urban was out pruning and Larry bounced around helping here and there as needed. We also saw Maury, Gary, Dr. Gredler and Dick P. Marianne worked on processing seeds and handouts while Janice continued her gourd/cucumber seed projects (see below).
I've been working on finishing seed orders this week and am continuing to keep ahead with preparations for various seminars and talks thru February and March. I'm not lacking for projects and find myself writing more notes to help my failing memory. A neat project that we'll be putting together in display format this year will address many of the new biodegradable and recyclable containers. Janice is securing samples of many of these containers that we hope are the "wave of the future" and will help minimize all the plastics that go in to the landfills from our current nursery pots. To the left is an "Eco-pot". This hard, almost plastic-like, material is a nice ornamental pot. The twist is that it is made of biodegradable materials and is 100% biodegradable once it enters a landfill. From one of the primary suppliers,
"Our eco pots are made from grain husks (primarily rice hulls) and natural binding agents (starch based, water soluble binders and biodegradable additives). No pollutants are used or produced at any stage of the manufacturing process. There are no wasted materials because scraps are recycled back into the production process. Only a small amount of water is used in the binding formula along with safe and environmentally friendly organic pigments. A combination of heat and pressure is used to cement the ingredients together to produce a beautiful, durable, guilt-free pot."

Much of the display will also show peat and compost-based pots that can be "planted" with their respective contents and will break down quickly. We look forward to creating this display and hope that the selections of such products become more available in the near future. Another nice shot below from today. This is a golden falsecypress (Chamaecyperis pisifera var. filifera 'Golden Mops') that really looks good all the time. Now that is a showy winter yellow!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Frantic Friday

Above we have the "Bear's" response to Grandpa from yesterdays blog. Perhaps Hayden will be the next generation of Rotary Gardens horticultural staff? Crazy day today with lots of juggling of small projects. I finished another four seed orders and continued the laborious task of putting all of our ordered annuals in to a master spreadsheet that we will use for handouts and other publications. So many of our annuals are trialing varieties that have very little information about them (hence the "trial" designation I suppose!). We like to have a comprehensive list of what we order as it allows us to better sift, sort, organize, label and locate our hundreds of varieties. Dr. Gredler was here (despite operating at 90% as he put it after his sickness yesterday) painting and priming while Vern came in to prepare some carpentry projects. Little Jerry was out in the gardens collecting lights and bringing in the temporary white pines (Pinus strobus) that we used for the lights show. These pines will eventually be chipped up on site and used for mulch out in the gardens. Maury was in for a bit and Bill took over for Jerry with an afternoon shift of work out in the gardens. Janice popped in today to talk about some of her projects; specifically our 2010 gourd collection. Below is a picture of Janice from yesterday as she worked on some of these research projects. She made me take this picture a dozen times to appropriately capture her award-winning smile...

I've not been on my recycling rants recently so thought I would bring up aluminum recycling. A previous posting mentioned one of our volunteers (Chuck) who recycles our aluminum and donates the money back to the gardens. Of course aluminum goes well beyond cans but it always amazes me to see aluminum cans out in the environment or in garbage containers. I always hand pick them out. I've read that only 50% of all aluminum cans are recycled. Unreal. See below for some very interesting aluminum factoids and please do what you can to encourage proper recycling of aluminum (and all other recyclable materials for that matter!). I feel all places of business should have appropriate containers out for such easy recycling. Most of these facts refer to aluminum cans but consider all the other items made of aluminum as well. I read just recently on a blog that "More than 80 million Hershey's Kisses are wrapped each day in foil. Placed end to end, those foil wrappers would stretch 3157 miles -- and it's all recyclable." WOW.

*Aluminum is a sustainable metal and can be recycled over and over again

*Aluminum is the only material that is endlessly recyclable

*If we recycled all of our existing aluminum, we'd never have to make more

*Making new aluminum cans from recycled cans takes 95% less energy than using virgin materials

*Recycled aluminum cans can be back on the grocery store shelves in 30-60 days

*An aluminum can out in the environment will take 400 years to break down naturally

*Every three months, Americans discard enough aluminum to rebuild every single commercial airplane in America

*The process of creating aluminum from raw bauxite ore creates significant pollution

*By doubling our annual recycling rate of aluminum, millions of tons of pollutants could be avoided

*Every minute, an average of 113,204 aluminum cans are recycled and 350,000 aluminum cans are made

*Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for 4 hours or to keep your TV on for three hours

*Tossing away one aluminum can wastes as much energy as disposing half that can's volume of gasoline

*The energy saved by recycling 1 ton of aluminum equals the amount of electricity used by a typical home in 10 years

*In 2007, 54 billion cans were recycled, saving the energy equivalent of 15 million barrels of crude oil

Recycling aluminum makes sense on so many levels so help stop the senseless disposal of a renewable resource. Talk the talk and walk the walk. Nice shot below of 'Fly Your Colors' iris (Iris germanica) from Tina.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Smiles Abound

We had a great day at the gardens today. We avoided the freezing rain that crippled much of Dane County to our north and were able to accomplish more take down of the lights show. Larry (above) wanted to pass along a message to his grandson Hayden ("Bear") who is the youngest reader of this blog to my knowledge. I wanted to catch a picture of grandpa working for Hayden but that is increasingly more difficult. I cranked out another five seed orders and was fortunate to have Marianne here to inventory and process (see left) our orders that have recently arrived. We start sorting at this point but have many more incoming orders. She took some other seeds home to work on as well. The next step is writing ID labels in pencil on various colored tags that go out with the seeds and will allow us to sort our 3,000+ flats when they come back in May. We were happy to see Kay today and recruited her to help with the labeling in the near future. Janice was here working on our gourd collection and worked with a school group this afternoon on removing lights from what were formerly arches out in the lights show. See Neil (right) and cohorts becoming aware of just what they got themselves into today! We appreciate the help.

It was a successful Grumpy day as well with Marv, Terry, Little Jerry, Larry and Dick H. out bringing in lights. Bill came in later to do the same. Dave, Jim, Bob A. and Vern have moved away from flowers (sort of) and are now making the stems and leaves for these displays. Lots of sawdust flying, including from Del (below left) with his reindeer project. Dr. Gredler was sick today but we had Maury, Bob T., Rollie and John stop by as well.

As I wind down with seed orders, I start to go thru catalogs with perennial and woody plant offerings. I'm a big fan of hostas and like to acquire new ones for the gardens (and home!) each year. I thought I would include a small article that I recently wrote for the American Hosta Society (AHS) summer publication this year. As a National Display Garden for that organization, our hosta collection is very important and we hope to add 50-100 new varieties (new to RBG) this year. This article was originally meant to inform AHS members about RBG and our hosta collections. It may be of interest to you as well. We have many spaces that could accomodate hostas and look forward to our growing collection (pun intended). Nice shot of 'Orange Titan' iris (Iris germanica) at the very bottom from Laurie.

Rotary Botanical Gardens (Janesville, WI)
By Mark Dwyer, Director of Horticulture

Founded in 1989 by Dr. Robert Yahr, a retired orthodontist, Rotary Botanical Gardens (RBG) was initially developed with assistance from the two local Rotary Clubs in Janesville, WI. These 20 acres of display gardens are situated on City of Janesville land that originally was utilized as a sand and gravel pit over 100 years ago. The Wilcox Sand & Gravel Company made hitching posts and other items at their facility and the original office building for that company continues to be part of our expanded visitor’s center and housed the original offices for early garden staff. When mining operations hit natural springs, the pits filled with water and have become a six acre pond around which the gardens are arranged. While the land and original building was used for various operations over the past century, it eventually became the property of the city and was used for fishing, a BMX bike track and also has a storage space for various items.

This 20 acre piece of real estate is bounded to the west by Lion’s Beach, a swimming beach with beach house, which was a project of the Lion’s Club back in the 1950s and to the east by Kiwanis Pond, another reclamation project of a sand and gravel pit that was a project of that service organization. The gardens are located in “service club alley” which is a small portion of a large greenbelt that is part of Janesville’s 2,500 acres of park land. Janesville’s tag line is “Wisconsin’s Park Place”.

Dedicated to international peace and friendship, the gardens developed rapidly with very little direct funding. Dr. Yahr solicited financial and in-kind support from many organizations, businesses and individuals and the gardens began to develop without any City of Janesville funds. RBG is a private, 501(c)3 non-profit entity and receives no local, state or federal funding. The original and continuing mission of RBG is “To provide horticultural education and appreciation for everyone.” It is important to note that volunteers are the most valuable asset at RBG. With a very small permanent staff, volunteers continue to be instrumental in all aspects of garden activity, including education, special events, gardening, tours, etc.

There are over 20 different gardens within RBG’s 20 acres. The first garden built was the Japanese Garden which continues to be our most popular garden and is ranked one of the top 25 in North America. Other gardens include English Cottage Garden, French Formal Garden, Italian Formal Garden, Fern & Moss Garden, Sunken Garden, Reception Garden, and so on. These garden spaces are meant to reflect a certain garden style and/or contain specific plant collections relevant to that type of garden. RBG currently has over 1000 varieties of woody plants, 3,000 varieties of perennials, and features over 100,000 annuals each year representing 800+varieties. A substantial collection of over 400,000 spring blooming bulbs starts our spring and specialty displays and trials are common every year. Many displays are transitional and RBG puts on a “new face” each year with transitions of color and design modifications.

Aside from being a National Display Garden for the American Hosta Society (more about hostas later!), we are also a National Display Garden for the American Hemerocallis Society, the Hardy Fern Foundation, All-America Selections, the American Garden Award program and Fleuroselect (Europe). We also do plant trials for Ball Seed, PanAmerican Seed and Bailey Nursery (roses) as well. The gardens have been featured on HGTV (Great American Gardens), PBS (GardenSMART) and in many national gardening magazines. The American Horticultural Society (AHS) listed RBG as one of the best (and least known) botanic gardens in the Midwest. Our plant collections continue to grow as does our commitment to promoting sound environmental practices. Our educational programs, which include the local Rock County Master Gardener program, are geared towards all age levels and we continue to improve our interpretation and labeling initiatives. RBG also is involved with many community service organizations and is currently making modifications to allow for significant horticultural therapy programs. We are currently developing a small children’s garden that will facilitate many of our expanding programs.

Well, what about hostas? We love them here at RBG and currently have over 500 varieties. RBG, while still relatively young, is fortunate to have many areas of shade and part-shade due to existing large trees such as cottonwood (
Populus deltoides) and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). When the gardens were started, many hosta donations from the local populace poured in to the gardens and were used for filler in those shady areas. In past years, we focused on identifying those that we could, remove those that we couldn’t and putting in new collections. The Wisconsin Hosta Society (WHS) has been extremely generous with donations from members over the years and has provided significant financial support of those collections. The Midwest Regional Hosta Society, along with the WHS, supplied funds in 2004 to create our Hosta Hollow garden. This small garden space is adjacent to our Fern & Moss Garden and has an overhead canopy of cottonwoods (messy!) and an understory of rare woody plants. Aside from specialty perennials and thousands of spring bulbs, this garden displays over 80 varieties of hostas and includes the complete collection from Eunice Fisher, a native WI hybridizer. Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, WI contains the only other complete Eunice Fisher collection.

Our 20 acres also includes our Woodland Walk Garden, Gazebo Garden, Color Rooms Garden and Shade Garden. All of these gardens have significant hostas, artfully combined with other perennials such as hellebores (
Helleborus sp.), lungworts (Pulmonaria), barrenworts (Epimedium), Rodger’s flower (Rodgersia) and other perennials of merit. Colorful, shade tolerant annuals also punctuate these shady spaces. Most hosta groupings have been under planted with thousands of grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) that offer their early May color in the gaps between emerging plants that later fill those voids. Three years ago we divided many of our hostas and had over 3,000 divisions available for sale. Each year we try to add 50 varieties new to the gardens and will be focusing on smaller varieties and miniatures in the immediate future. We continue to rely on donations as our grounds budget is still quite meager. Shady Oaks Nursery and Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery have been major benefactors as well.

I don’t feel qualified to list what would be our most significant varieties as I think that is a subjective decision that has nothing to due with how new a cultivar is or how expensive. My favorite varieties here at the gardens include ‘Wolverine’, ‘White Christmas’, ‘Torchlight’, ‘Inniswood’, ‘Osprey’, ‘Choo Choo Train’, ‘Majesty’, ‘Remember Me’, ‘Stained Glass’ and ‘June’. One of my favorite garden moments each spring however is seeing ‘Fire Island’ piercing the soil and offering a beacon of color. We can all wax poetic about our favorites but I’m preaching to the choir when I say that hostas are awesome and will continue to be a mainstay at Rotary Botanical Gardens in the future. While we’ll never accumulate a truly massive collection because of our size, we’ll continue to display a wide range of named varieties in a rotating collection that will extol the virtues of this stalwart perennial. RBG is proud to be a National Display Garden for the American Hosta Society since 2004 and will continue to maintain our quality collection.

For more information regarding Rotary Botanical Gardens, visit our website at or feel free to visit my daily gardening blog for RBG at Please come and visit. That’s why we’re here!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No End To Small Projects

Although I did order some more vegetable seeds today, I sunk my teeth in to all the phone calls and smaller tasks that have accumulated. I went on WCLO (Stan Milam Show) to promote the upcoming Wisconsin Public Television Garden Expo ( ). We also talked about upcoming events at the gardens. Stan has always been such a great supporter of the gardens and it's nice to promote the gardens to his audience. I had another couple of meetings but "sandwiched in" many other tasks. Vern was here to work on cutting more daisies while Dr. Gredler worked on priming those daisies that have been cut. We saw Jumbo Jim and Julie over here as well, but overall, a quiet day.

We do make orders from Thompson & Morgan annually and find their selection pretty good. They are from the UK and have been around since 1855. See for some interesting tidbits about this seed company. They have wonderful offerings but I'd like to see more new introductions from them as well. Overall, a solid catalog. The catalog to the right is from Richters (Ontario, Canada). They are celebrating "40 years of herbs!" this year and I've ordered from them for almost 15 of those years. They have an extremely extensive listing of herbs that are sometimes offered as seed, or plants, or either. Granted, the plants are small when shipped but we've ordered many harder to find herbs from Richters every spring. They also offer a wide range of herbal products in their catalog as well. Check out for more information or to get a catalog. Highly recommended as we've never had an issue or complaint regarding our orders. Nice shot of 'Emma's Laughter' iris (Iris germanica) below from Sue S.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Pile Diminishes

My pile of catalogs on the office table is getting smaller by the day! Or, maybe it just looks that way because I restack them and move them around on occasion. My seed orders are progressing well and I'm over 50% done I would estimate. I've ordered 200+ varieties of annuals thus far as well as most of our vegetable varieties for the spring plant sale. At some point, I'll select herb plants as part of our sale although we'll have our neat basils started by seed (20 or so varieties). The Janesville Area Herb Society has been a great help in recommending herbs for the sale and has also done an amazing job maintaining our herb garden (three sections) in the formal gardens since the beginning of the gardens. They have a motivated membership and have been supportive in many ways. To the above left is the 2010 catalog for Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. ( This catalog has an enormous assortment of all sorts of plants and the catalog itself is humorous and informative. We order from them every year and look forward to their new offerings annually. While we peruse mail-order catalogs of all sorts over the winter, we do obtain the vast majority of our plants locally and will always go to a local source first and foremost for a specific plant, tool, etc. Our local economy is so important to us but we certainly wont pass up the opportunity to try some new things from other venues. To the right is Bluestone Perennials ( that has some nice plants as well. Remember though, go to you local garden centers first!!!

Small crew today with Larry, Bill, Little Jerry and Urban outside bringing in lights. Dr. Gredler worked on some obelisk staining and priming of those "plywood daisies". The weather was quite nice today actually. I had some afternoon appointments but am back for our monthly board meeting. Some of our best volunteers are also on our Board of Directors which is a very good thing as they can lend a day to day perspective. Maury, Dick H. and Mike M. stopped by today as well. My goal is to have my office table clear of catalogs by the end of the month. It has to be clear so we can lay out 1000+ seed packets and start organizing them by grower. Slow time? Below is 'Pussy Cat Pink' iris (Iris germanica), a dwarf bearded iris shot by Tim in 2009.

Monday, January 18, 2010

January Is Flying By!

Yesterday (Sunday) saw some awesome hoarfrost formation around town. The shot above was taken in Madison and shows bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) coated perfectly. It was an amazing landscape although it has all been melted off since then of course. The image to the left is of my contorted white pine (Pinus strobus 'Contorta') at home. You didn't have to wander far to get a nice picture. To the right is the fruiting structure of the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). We had a great crew today. Marianne came in to work on her iris project and some other duties while Janice came is as well. Urban, Dick W., Marv, Terry, Little Jerry and Larry were out bringing in lights from the gardens. We are making lots of progress with taking down the Holiday Lights Show and will able to get back at some winter pruning in short order. It is an art form trying to organize and put away the lights in a logical fashion. The carpenters continued with their "plywood daisy" creation while Del continued on his reindeer project. Maury, Dick P. and Big John worked on replacing light bulbs/tubes at the other building and later were out figuring out where we'll extend our new fencing this year. Dr. Gredler worked on sealing pieces of future obelisks and will not run out of work any time soon. We also saw Dick H., Ed and Jumbo Jim over here too.

I've been ordering seeds for our cucumber collection and am excited to have Kelley, a master gardener, helping with much of the research. We will be displaying 20 heirloom varieties and will offer these as seed packets at our spring plant sale in May. I just read yesterday that Chinese scientists have completely mapped the cucumber genome, making it the 7th plant that has been totally "mapped". This should help with cucumber breeding and I'm guessing is quite an intense process. I did some cucumber research on my own and was interested to find out the following factoids...

*Cucumbers were thought to originate over 10,000 years ago in southern Asia and evidence exists regarding serious cultivation of cucumbers over the past 3,000 years

*Cucumbers are around 95% water

*"Cool as a cucumber" is a term we've all heard regarding being calm. However, the inside of a cucumber can be up to 20 degrees F cooler than surrounding air temperatures

*Cucumbers contain potassium, vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorous, niacin, vitamin C, and many other nutrients. They also are a good source of fiber

*more factoids to follow in the future...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Already?

This week seemed to fly by. Very small crew today with Dr. Gredler (above left) working on obelisk staining and some lights processing. Vern has been cutting out plywood "flowers" (see below) for a neat art project/event that will involve these flower cutouts being decorated by local artists, school groups or other interested parties this winter. They would then be placed out in the gardens thru the summer. Details are still forming but we always like including local art here at the gardens. The carpenters have been lamenting about the time involved with cutting out 27 of these but they seem to be enjoying the challenge. Maury stopped by as did Julie G. Bill came in for a bit to bring in lights. I've been uninterrupted all morning and have processed three more seed orders. However, I'm still looking at a table with 40+ catalogs! I like to read them all cover to cover so I don't miss any of the latest varieties, deals, garden tools, etc. We'll be spending more time in the coming weeks looking at options for a new laser engraver, label making system and we received a very generous donation that will allow us to upgrade some aging equipment. This year has started well and we hope all the good karma spreads and perpetuates as we head towards a crazy spring as usual.
I was reading an article recently that listed some predicted 2010 garden trends as determined by the Garden Media Group. I've included some of those trends below for consideration. Sometimes I think trends are started by saying that something will be a trend. Sometimes colors are mentioned too. Hearing that "orange is the in color this year" has no effect on me. Who determines that? I think the trends below seem pretty valid though... At the bottom is 'Island Pearl' (Iris germanica) taken by Tina.

*Edible gardens are in, lawns are out. There has been a 19% increase in new hobby farms around the country. Chemical inputs for turf will decrease.

*"Yard-sharing" is gaining momentum. This is the concept that sharing space, skills, resources, tools and time will be more popular in our neighborhoods.

*Slow gardening is in. Instant gratification is out. People are returning to a simpler life of cooking and gardening. Locally grown food demand is increasing as is growing plants (i.e. veggies) from seed.

*Mindfulness of resource managment and enviromental issues and impacts will increase

*Eco-boosting is in. People will seek products that work with nature, not against it.

*Multi-task gardens are in. Single-purpose gardening is out. Gardens will include more intentional, sustainable design that helps create wildlife habitats, moderate heat islands, absorb runoff, filter pollutants, etc.

*Perennials and shrubs are in. Divas are out. Consumers are looking for more easy-care, wildlife friendly, sustainable plants not those that need pampering.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Plenty O' Progress

Above is about 1% of our drop cords from the epic Holiday Lights Show takedown. Recent warm weather has allowed us to bring in more lights and displays and we had a great crew here today. We have to thaw out many items before we can process them for storage. The black crate was originally from bulb orders in past and we have around 100 of these stackable crates that really help us consolidate our event cords and lights. Marianne worked on her iris project and we had Gary here dealing with some computer issues for us. Marv, Terry and Dick W. were out again bringing in whatever was accessible from the show. Larry worked on many projects including shopping and moving snow around to make room for our winter pruning debris. Dr. Gredler continued to process lights and apply sealer to our obelisks (many of which are waiting for their 2010 paint job!). Colors are yet to be determined but those colors seen below will be entirely different. Del is working on more deer cutouts for later this year and the carpenters (Dave/Jim/Bob/Vern) were joined by Dick H. for cutting out plywood flowers for a neat art project that will occur very soon.
I continue with my seed orders with a focus on getting our vegetable seeds here so we can get them organized and sorted as needed. I've passed along a press release below that I thought was very relevant as it relates to maintaining biodiversity worldwide. At the bottom is 'Bit O' Royalty' (Iris germanica) shot by Tim.

International Year of Biodiversity:
Food Producers say that Conserving Biodiversity is a shared responsibility
Paris, France, (GreenNewswire), January 12, 2009 - Monday, January 11th, marked the launch of the International Year of Biodiversity under the theme Biodiversity is Life – Biodiversity is Our Life. It is a theme of critical interest to farmers throughout the world since biodiversity and agriculture are interdependent; both are also key elements to address climate change and food security. Conserving biodiversity is a shared responsibility of stakeholders worldwide, and farmers are willing to do their part.

The International Federation of Agricultural Producers (
IFAP) will be highlighting, throughout this year, the crucial role played by farmers to conserve ecosystems. IFAP will also be challenging national governments and the international community to put in place programs to help secure the planet’s biodiversity, while at the same time, ensuring that farmers have the necessary tools to increase food production by 70 percent by 2050 to feed a growing world population.

‘’The main issue for farmers is gaining recognition for the multiple roles that agriculture is expected to fulfil and identifying appropriate mechanisms in order to achieve them. We need to help and encourage farmers to improve their current practices, while ensuring they can sustain their families and remain competitive in the markets. These efforts all need be undertaken simultaneously, otherwise you will have food security problems or a compromised ecosystem,’’ said Ajay Vashee, IFAP President.

Farmers understand the need to protect and conserve biodiversity, and their role in doing so. At the same time, it is crucial that they maintain the economic viability of their agricultural activities. In 2010, IFAP will strive to find genuine and long-lasting approaches to better conserve and enhance biological diversity that can be implemented by farmers, and will advocate positive and constructive policy approaches to governments and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Through such practices as land set asides for wildlife and native species, conservation farming, organic farming, reforestation practices, pastoralism, rotational grazing and rehabilitation of degraded lands, farmers are contributing to the conservation and protection of biodiversity. However, this is a shared responsibility with the rest of society. All stakeholders need to participate. If these efforts are to be expanded on a global scale to reduce biodiversity degradation, appropriate funding, positive incentives for farmers such as payment for ecosystem services, training and policy implementation will be needed to achieve results,’’ concluded Vashee.

To move forward on conserving biodiversity, the world farmers’ organization advocates the following actions:

- Government policies for secure land tenure systems and adequate infrastructure that allows farmers to invest in long-term farming strategies related to biodiversity enhancement.

- Economic partnerships between developing and developed countries aimed at transferring and adapting stewardship programs, such as credit systems and extension services.

- Recognition of farmers’ indigenous knowledge of local resource management and conservation.

- Increased funding for the scientific research that underpins the development and sound understanding of how agricultural management interacts with biodiversity. Scientific knowledge and findings should be disseminated, scaled-down and be specific to the dynamics of a particular region.

- Strengthened farmers’ participation in the formulation and the implementation of research projects and rural development strategies to enhance biodiversity.

- Improved policy coordination and planning of environmental legislation affecting agricultural production. Often different government departments deal with these issues in isolation. There is also a need to increase capacity to enforce legislation in a coordinated way.

- Mainstreaming of the Agricultural Biodiversity program of work of the CBD (UN Convention on Biodiversity) with the programs of work of the other Multilateral Environment Agreements, such as the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), as well as with food security and rural development programs.

IFAP will be placing biodiversity as a policy priority in 2010. “Sustainable solutions can be found and many are already available”, said the IFAP President, “but responsibility must be shared among all stakeholders”.

IFAP is the farmers' voice at the world level, representing 600 million family farmers grouped in 120 national organizations in 80 countries. It has been advocating farmers’ interests at the international level since 1946. IFAP’s mission is to develop farmers’ capacities to influence decisions that affect them at both the domestic and international levels.