Saturday, July 31, 2010

California Re-Cap (Part 1 of 2)

The images directly above were taken at The Huntington ( which houses a libary, art collections and a botanic garden. On Thursday (July 22) of last week, our conference met out at The Huntington for the day, having seminars, tours, a reception and dinner. The scale/scope of this institution is impressive and mind boggling. The staff was very cordial and everyone had a great time. I, of course, was most interested in the botanic garden portion of this place and enjoyed the children's garden, Chinese garden, Japanese garden and particularly the cacti/succulent garden. I was able to meander for about two hours and took most of my pictures at this garden. Their budget must be substantial as the gardens were enormous and very well maintained. Around each corner was a new garden experience and while I didn't recognize the majority of the plants, I felt that the layout and design were quite well done and it was by far, my favorite garden of the trip. After our dinner, with the sun setting, I started thru the cacti garden while on the way back to the bus. I'm glad I did as I was mesmerized by the scale of this space and enjoyed the variations in form and color of a plant group that I know next to nothing about. Overall, a neat experience and a must-see for anyone in the LA area. I didn't get to see the library, art collections or conservatory which I imagine would add to the visitor experience immensely. To the left, right and below are some shots of the cacti garden. My seminar at The Huntington revolved around the recruitment and retention of volunteers which I felt had lots of applicability to our situation at RBG. What was interesting was the sheer number of staff that they have to operate that institution with many permanent staff in the volunteer coordination positions. In fact, they had one staff member that dealt specifically with high school volunteers.On Friday (July 23rd) there were field trips around the LA area. I was on the bus that visited public gardens. Other buses visited nature centers, school gardens and other destinations but I was interested in seeing both the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens and Descanso Gardens. We arrived late at the Arboretum ( so had less than 1 hr. to explore. We met two of their educators (one of which who had friends in Janesville, WI!) and I was struck by their enthusiasm despite horrible budget cutbacks for their facility over the last couple of years. We had a nice tram tour of the arboretum and heard much of the history. There was an old stylish house that we saw in the distance and the tour guide mentioned that it was the house seen in the opening scenes of Fantasy Island so many years ago. We all noticed the peacock population around the grounds and feral parrots were everywhere (after having been released many years ago during a nearby pet store fire).
It was interesting to see that they re-process all branches and tree debris into woodchips for on-site use. They had a huge yard area where they had stockpiled debris for later grinding and usage. When we took our tram ride around the grounds, we noted a large amphitheater with surrounding turf that had many tables and chairs. Our tour guide mentioned that the Los Angeles Philharmonic played there every two weeks and it was always a packed crowd. The entire setting was lovely but you could start to see the effect that a minimized budget was having. Our next stop was Descanso Gardens ( where we had another hour to explore. I was bummed as they kept us in large groups and I have a feeling we didn't get to see very much overall. It was a lovely garden though with many camellias and other plants that we could never grow. Our tour guide mentioned how often the garden is used for commercials, tv shows and movies for its tropical setting. The picture below was in their entrance garden. One of their grounds staff was a WI native from Lake Geneva.
Apparently many years ago, Descanso had a decision to become a state-funded botanic garden or a non-profit that would have to raise their own funding. They became a non-profit and apparently have thrived. I truly wish that I would have had an entire day to explore this neat garden but we were still behind and were in and out of there in less than an hour. Ugh! The image to the left is a vertical, succulent planter (a style that I also saw at the LA Arboretum). Packed with moss and/or some other growing material, the succuslets are placed thru chicken wire and eventually fill out. My guess is that these are grown horizontally until they fill out and are then secured vertically and watered as needed from the top of the structure or lightly misted as needed. To the right is the mansion of E. Manchester Boddy, the founder of the gardens and both a publisher and former owner of the Los Angeles Daily News. In 1953, Mr. Boddy sold the estate and land to Los Angeles County and the gardens were formed. We didn't get to see the house but at 12,000 sq. ft., it was quite large for its time when built in 1937. Not having more time at Descanso was one of few regrets from this entire experience.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cloudy But Delightful

The picture above of the Parker Education Center was taken yesterday as today had very little blue in the sky. We had gray clouds overhead all day with a 40% chance of showers. We did get a light sprinkle in the afternoon but continued our watering efforts to help augment Mother Nature's unpredictable schedule. We had very few volunteers today but the grounds staff did a nice job out in the gardens as Fridays usually include lots of watering and getting the gardens tidy for outdoor weddings. I spent most of the day sorting thru our iris photos with the intent of selecting a good shot of each of those varieties that we'll be offering at our August 28th sale. We had talented volunteer photographers take over 4,000 pictures these past two springs and I'm sifting and sorting as time allows. A picture such as those seen here ('Crackling Caldera' to the left and 'Night Mood' to the right) will be attached to each bin so customers know exactly what they'll be getting. It's tough to pick the "best" picture of each variety as there are so many qualified candidates! Both of these photos were from Tina B. Below is another shot of our formal annual sections. Note the large papyrus (Cyperus papyrus 'King Tut') surrounding the central obelisks. We have this plant around the gardens and always accomodate for its height (72"+) and its thirsty nature. Beneath that shot is one of our Fleuroselect award-winning (2005) petunias ('Dolcissima Flambe') which while subtle in coloration, is not short in impact. Terry hit the ground running today with pushmowing as we thought it might rain at any point in the day. Bill O. was here to mow the arboretum and did a very nice job. Terry then moved on to fertilizing and watering for the remainder of the day. Janice did her pushmowing and planted some "filler annuals" in the gazebo garden. We have the last remnants of some donated seasonals that we use to fill in spaces where plants have died, been nibbled or are just plain gone for some reason or another. Marv did a nice job removing overgrown perennials from an area and composted the space for later planting next week. He ran irrigation all day and was the maestro at moving around sprinklers. Marianne tidied up some container displays, watered, weeded and did her cutting display as well. No one ran out of work today. We saw Mary H. out weeding her area and Dr. Gredler was here too (mowing, etc.). We also saw Maury, Big John, Bill and Dave T. today. To the left is our copper cheese vat planter with a hodge podge of annuals around a center obelisk. To the right is a close-up of a very interesting plant called ribbon bush (Homalocladium platycladum) that is part of that container planting as well. The jointed stems are quite interesting and textural. This plant is also called centipede plant and my favorite name, tapeworm plant. Native to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, this plant is quite shade tolerant and the blooms are small and incidental. I had never grown ribbon bush so put it in some interesting test locations where it looks funky. We have it in three hanging baskets where it has grown 24" or so and is irregularly floppy and not as sightly as it is in beds or containers. Regardless, it is certainly a conversation piece. Not long ago I showed a close-up of Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch') with bright, deep orange blooms on a tall, 72"+ plant. Below is a bloom close-up of 'Yellow Torch'. Shouldn't be long before the butterflies find this beauty. In our gourd collection this morning, I noticed the most exquisite blooms on the 'Polo' gourd (Trichosanthes anguina). See below. This is a snake-type gourd that is edible (quite nutritious) when young but can be used for crafts later when it toughens up. There have been many traditional herbal uses for this plant and it is a common vegetable in east Africa and tropical Asia. Cool blooms.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Fine Summer Day

Above is our entrance garden "slope composition" that is our largest annual bed and certainly represents our maroon and red theme quite well. I think the upright culvert planters look great and the large elephant grasses (Pennisetum purpureum 'Prince') will continue to become bigger centerpieces in those culverts with each passing week. Our weeding crew of Mary, her granddaughter Shayla, Suzy, Margaret, Glenna and Marilyn (also seen below) did a nice job weeding and deadheading this large area. Donna D. takes care of this big space for the most part but appreciates some additional help when the weeds gain a foothold. The weather was perfect today and everyone enjoyed being outside.We had a small crew today with both Larry and Little Jerry off and just Janice and me here for most of the day. Janice did a nice job getting our volunteers going out in the gardens and worked on lots of watering early so we wouldn't run out of time later in the day. I kept irrigation zones running and worked on projects related to our looming iris sale. Aside from the "Grumpettes" mentioned above, we had a small turnout of Grumpies that did a nice job out in the gardens. Roger helped the carpenters (Vern, Dave, Bob A. and Jim) with assembling obelisks while Charlie and Dick H. worked on regraveling pathways. Bob T. worked on air edging and continues to do a very nice job defining our beds and creating a sharp look. Dr. Gredler came in this afternoon to run loads of debris to the dump and worked on some of his turf areas. We also saw Dr. Yahr, Bill F., Bill O., Jim J., Neil, Lisa I. and both Mary and Kathy (who helped weed in the late morning). Last night Kristine and Mary did a nice job weeding and we continue to make progress around the gardenItalics. To the left are some of our pergola planters with a simple arrangement. The centerpieces are 'Fireworks' fountain grass (Pennisetum 'Fireworks') with the neat trailing aluminum plant (Dichondra argentea 'Silver Falls') that really adds a nice "spilling over" touch to these containers. To the right is a close-up of this tough, annual trailer and groundcover. It will be interesting to see how far the aluminum plant cascades to the ground. We keep fertilizing it in the hopes that it will eventually touch the ground. Below are our resurrection lilies (Lycoris squamigera) blooming in full force (normally a mid-August bloomer). They really are quite exquisite when you get close and usually blend well with surrounding plants as they gain height on leafless flower stalks (the foliage comes up in spring, photosynthesizes, then goes dormant). Further down is my favorite dark-leaved canna. This is 'Australia' and is the darkest foliaged canna and has nice deep red flowers. This clump looks pretty good but others have been decimated by Japanese beetles that like to nibble on both foliage and flowers.
Jim Stute from UW-Extension came to the gardens and sowed a cover crop display for us. After lifting the irises in mid-July from the thirteen long beds near the arboretum, Marv tilled them up and prepared them for "something else". Our intent is to display thirteen different cover crops (green manure) and will install interpretive signs for each type in the next two weeks. We look at this display as both functional and educational. Jim brought down his seeding machine and it will be neat to have this display and utilize what would otherwise be a space devoid of color, interest and educational content. I'm looking forward to seeing how this turns out and we appreciate Jim's involvement. To the left is a popular grain amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus 'Hot Biscuits') that we have repeated throughout our annual beds near the main building. This variety was a Fleuroselect award winner and really has some nice impact (4-5' tall) with those amber flower clusters. I like amaranths in general and the "grain-types" are still popular for a high protein grain that is processed for use in breads, cereal, etc. To the right and further below is the white garden phlox (Phlox paniculata 'David') that was the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2002 (selected by the Perennial Plant Association, for its superior flower color and disease resistance. I like 'David' and it offers a wonderful mass of white in the mid-summer garden. White in the garden should be evident year-round, whether with flowers and/or foliage. The gourds are coming! At the bottom is one of our first bushel gourds. We'll see how big it gets.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Weeding Progress! (Still Need Help...)

Above is the start of a pumpkin (Cucurbita sp.). I think all squash blossoms are beautiful but very fleeting. They are edible by the way and the one above is a volunteer in my front yard and is taking up more square footage as I type. We've been not only enjoying seeing (and eating) the cucumbers over at the Horticulture Center but the gourds are starting to form now too. The support structures were just perfect for both types of plants but the combination of heat, sunlight and plenty of recent rain has made these plants explode in to action overnight. We had some scattered showers today but not much substance to them. We actually kept up with some irrigation to make sure some of our areas don't dry out and thereby become increasingly more difficult to keep wet. The shot to the left is of the aluminum plant (Dichondra argentea 'Silver Falls') cascading over one of our shorter red, PVC pillars out in the entrance garden. This is the look we wanted with the entire pillar eventually becoming silver. The taller "pillar planters" have a ways to go but hopefully will get there by the end of August. Our annual beds are really peaking as seen to the right. We're continually weeding these spaces and are deadheading as needed to extend color thru the rest of the summer in to early fall. Below is another shot taken today in front of the building. I think the maroon/red theme has been wildly successful and we've had lots of positive comments regarding the appearance. Marianne does a dynamite job of keeping our "front door garden" looking nice and tidy all the time and this image is a true testament to the value of ornamental ANNUAL grasses (purple fountain grass, 'Fireworks' fountain grass and purple elephant grass). Marv worked on rototilling, edging, running irrigation, etc. today and was very productive (as usual). Big John worked on digging out some plants, watering, fertilizing and weeding today. He and Marv were in charge this morning as Marianne, Jenny, Terry and I all went down to Beloit, WI to visit our irises in storage (see below). They look great and are nice and healthy. We paired up and inventoried all the varieties (name and quantity) so Jenny can then make the appropriate labels for the iris sale coming up on August 28th. Our inventory only took an hour or so and Jenny and Marianne compiled our overall list once we returned. Terry shifted to pruning, watering and weeding while Marianne also did a lot of weeding as well as working on a new cut flower display. I worked on odds and ends and really need to finalize pictures for our iris sale and will continue to get ready for impending tasks like getting our laser engraver functional and preparing for the fall plant sale.Volunteers were again a big help out in the gardens today. We saw Donna D. out weeding the entrance garden and Jumbo Jim and Mary W. brought in three RECAPPERS to help out in the gardens. They did a nice job weeding and were extremely helpful with all of their tasks. Dr. Gredler was here to mow, work on obelisks and tidy up some edging projects. We also saw Dr. Yahr and Bill was here doing some nice clean-up work throughout the gardens. With Kay and Shirley on vacation, our weeds are again feeling more confident and are peaking out. Woe upon them when our weeders return! We are looking in to implementing more aggressive volunteer recruitment to really help maintain the gardens beyond the spring planting window. It would be nice to to have an additional dozen sets of hands out in the gardens daily but we haven't reached that level yet but hopefully soon! The shot to the left is the lemon bergamot (Monarda citriodora) that looks great in full sun with those lavender/pink flower whorls (fragrant foliage too). To the right is one of our culvert planters in front of the education center and the hope is that visitors not only enjoy this unorthodox approach but see it for an artistic element as well. Directly below is another shot of our annual beds just east of the Vistor's Center and the bottom photo was taken along our shoreline just west of the alpine garden. This edge will be developed with stabilizing rocks, plantings and other features. Unfortunately, recent rains have flooded the pond and our installers will at least get a feel for what "high water" might constitute. The water to the right (in that bottommost picture) between the silt fence rows was where they were going to install the rocks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Back To The Furnace

Today was another hot and sunny day but with all the precipitation from last week, plants are really hitting stride now (including the weeds unfortunately). Nice shot above of the Adirondak chairs in our wishing well garden. I think these are the most used seats out in the gardens and offer a nice view of that space as well as the pond. I'm still catching up with various projects and we continue to focus our weeding efforts around the gardens to keep up with the onslaught. Below are the formal annual sections that while not having as much "punch" as they've had in the past (in terms of bright coloration), they have a nice pastel look with lavender, chartreuse and some burgundy. The painted obelisks are certainly nice punctuation.

The tree shown below is the Amur maackia (Maackia amurensis) that is finally blooming after seven years out in the garden! We planted this specimen as a small stick and I've looked every summer for blooms. I've been waiting for this and am pleased with the flower showing on this tough tree. This vigorous species has no insect or disease problems and has interesting foliage. Closely related to yellowwood (Cladrastis) this tree was also named after Russian naturalist (Richard Maack). This tree has been specifically recommended as a smaller stature (20'-30') urban tolerant street tree and the summer flowers are another added benefit of this ornamental (introduced in 1864, native to Manchuria and Korea). Fall color is a muted yellow and very understated. Oh well. It's nice to watch these things grow out in the gardens and perhaps we'll see more of this tree in appropriate urban settings.
Larry and John did their pushmowing today and moved on to watering duties as it got quite hot. Janice was here and worked on spreading SLUGGO around our hostas and other gardening tasks. Mary D. came to help weed and we saw Peg and her grandson, Luke, out weeding in the English Cottage Garden. I left early to get ready for a presentation in Chilton, WI (2.25 hours away). It was a great group and a new audience to promote the gardens to during my talk. When I booked this talk last year, I thought it was in local Clinton, WI and later found out that my travel distance was a bit longer than I thought. Oh well. To the right is the wispy, annual switchgrass (Pennisetum elegans 'Frosted Explosion') that is common in cut arrangements. I like the transparent appearance and texture. Below is the wonderful silver Swedish ivy (Plectranthus argentatus) that has soft silvery leaves on a mounded plant that will be almost 3' wide and 3' tall by the end of the summer. I have always felt that white is understated in most gardens and the foliage of this annual is a fitting touch to any sunny border, container or planting bed. Another neat cucumber variety below. 'Crystal Apple' is best eaten young and fresh and was introduced from New Zealand in 1930.