Friday, October 29, 2010

Sunny & Productive

Today, while beginning as the coldest morning we've had yet this fall, turned in to a gorgeous day. Above is a nice shot of our southern Japanese garden entrance (shot taken from within the Japanese garden) and directly above is a portion of the moss island in the fern & moss garden featuring clubmosses transplanted by Marv. We were talking today about the moss island that Marv and Janice replanted this summer and are looking forward to it becoming more established. We joked about how prehistoric it looked and thought little plastic dinosaurs would complete the scene. While everything was frosty this morning, the sun started warming everything up quickly and we jumped right in to our Friday tasks. Friday activities in May thru early October are frequently dictated by where and when we have weddings that weekend. It's nice not to have that stress as we were able to do a nice mix of gardening and holiday lights show preparation around the grounds and everybody was able to "mix it up" and enjoy the day. To the left is the clear gold fall color of the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) that is very fetching. When a ginkgo gets to this color, you have a day or so before the leaves drop. Ginkgos are good about dropping all their leaves at once. In last night's blog, I mentioned the long history of the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). Look a bit further in to the history of the ginkgo and you'll see that it existed 270 million years ago, even before the Jurassic period! To the right is a shot taken in the fern & moss garden, where I was running electrical cords this morning. Directly below is the subtle pink fall color of the golden Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'). Further below is a shot of the completed arbor structure that our Grumpies (primarily Dave T., Jim D., Bob A. and Vern B.) constructed out on "the point." They finished it this past Monday and it looks awesome. After spending so much time this past winter on the arches (a major woodworking project), the total structure went up fairly quickly for the guys and it scoffed at the 60 mph wind gusts this past Tuesday and Wednesday. Marv and Terry heeled in our surplus plants for planting next spring and spent the majority of the day putting up lights displays around the gardens. Marianne and Janice spent the morning repairing lights, decorating obelisks and collecting/organizing the leftover plant sale bulbs for planting next week. Both ladies went out in the afternoon to cut back perennials, yank annuals and collect leaves/debris. It was the perfect temperature to be outside gardening (50 degrees F). I finished some presentations and other desk work but was able to run my first 1,000 feet of cords. The time has come though. I have to really get in to the cord running next week in anticipation of getting the remainder of the show up in the next two weeks. Dr. Gredler was here mowing and running loads of debris to the dump. Kay and Robin worked in the North American and Sunken gardens respectively, removing annuals, cutting perennials and gathering leaves. Robin left early as she was ill but both ladies created a sizeable dent in our daily plant removal operations. Mary W. and Jean S. were here today and utilized six RECAPPERS to plant 1,000 daffodils (Narcissus) in a nearby park. We also saw Gary, Hal and others. To the left is the yellowing fall color of the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). This happens to be the dwarf, rounded variety called 'Heronswood Globe'. Katsura trees are really neat and tough as nails. To the right is the foliage of the dwarf golden bald cypress (Taxodium distichum 'Peve Yellow') in the alpine garden. Its summer foliage is also yellow but as a deciduous conifer, this specimen will drop needles shortly. Both this variety and 'Peve Minaret' (narrow, dwarf and green) have a nice, tight look, albeit a bit variable and irregular. Below are some of our latest blooms in the garden from the common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and the "burnt mustard" fall color of the 'Spring Grove' magnolia (Magnolia sp.).

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf's a flower." Albert Camus (Nobel Prize for literature in 1957).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fantastic Fall Colors

Today still had some winds but significantly less than the past two days. It was chilly but that's not too unusual for late October. Above is a shot of the south entrance in to the Japanese garden. We have lots of leaves and debris to clean up after the heavy winds but surprisingly, there was very little damage and no trees down. I hear that Green Bay, WI got it pretty bad but thankfully we were spared. Our Thursday crew of Larry, Janice, Little Jerry and I were all here as were many volunteers. My intent was to go mobile with cords today but I had some very time sensitive projects to finish but did manage to get a comprehensive walk out in the gardens where the fall colors are still looking great. I was scouting out some thoughts on cord layouts (which is a true art form) and continued to see some interesting things out in the garden. Larry worked on more lights and helped get the volunteers organized. Larry and Big John took a field trip to a residence that donated some fish to the gardens. The catch was that guys had to get them out of the pond which they did after draining it down. Janice worked on lights repair, obelisk decorating and got our "Grumpettes" in motion. Little Jerry was out pruning and collecting debris. Nice shot below of burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'Nordine') with the expected pink/red fall color. The next image down touts the superior fall color of the Korean maple (Acer pseudosieboldianum) of which we have two specimens. While they color up late in October, they are vivid every year. We had a smaller crew of Grumpies today but Pat, Del, Bob C., Rollie and Urban all went out to clear annuals from some of our remaining beds. With predicted overnight lows in the mid 20 degrees F, we try to get a jump on this last minute clearing before things get mushy and less fun to tear out. The fellas did a great job clearing three large areas but for some reason, shied away from the plant to the left. Note the ornamental fruits (1/2" in diameter, toxic!) that are green turning to orange and the intimidating thorns. This is an annual (perennial in warmer climates) called purple spine, purple devil or perhaps more appropriately, "malevolence." This member of the nightshade family is from South America and we've grown it as a novelty the past couple of years. From 3" plants installed in May, this annual will top 8' in one growing season. We'll need some thick gloves for removing this grove of thorny resistance. Dick P. and Tom C. worked on more power repairs and light replacements while Bob A., Jim and Dave T. continued with some carpentry projects. The guys have finished the new structure which looks dynamite and will keep busy with a list of "to do" projects throughout the winter. Dr. Gredler continued his runs to the dump and we also saw Maury, Sue M. and Mary W. brought down three RECAPPERS to clean up the herb gardens. Robin and Suzy wreaked havoc in the sunken garden as we need to remove annuals and cut back perennials to make room for lights displays. To the above right is the fall color for yet another deciduous conifer on the grounds. This is the amber fall color of the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). Dawn redwoods once blanketed a good portion of the Northern hemisphere millions of years ago and were thought to be extinct until a small population of 1,000 or so trees was found in 1941 in remote China (Sichuan). The story of the discovery is quite interesting. Check out for an interesting summation of how this tree was "re-discovered" and introduced back in to cultivation. Below is the fall color of our Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) which is marginal for our area but is nestled in a protected spot in our Japanese garden. Larger stewartia specimens have dynamite bark and the blooms of this tree (unseen yet on this specimen) are intriguing as well. Further below is the brilliant red fall color of another "marginal" woody plant for our climate. This is the redvein enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus 'Red Bells'). This specimen has been growing, slowly but surely and is in acidic soil with our rhododendrons.
I've always been surprised at how much our visitation dips at the end of October. Granted that the weather can always be questionable but this October has been quite mild. We've focused on extending the interest out in the gardens on both ends of the spectrum; early spring all the way thru fall in to winter. I am pleasantly surprised to see visitors this late in the season and I see the merit in enjoying the late season garden. With our ornamental grasses, fall color, ornamental bark, berries, etc. the gardens look great. When I do talks on landscaping, I emphasize that any landscape should have 12 months of interest. To the left is the fall color of the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) and never underestimate the impact of fall color on many of our garden perennials. While hostas will be mush tomorrow, the fall color (to the right), while variable, can be a strong gold. Below is the rusty orange fall color of the three-flower maple (Acer triflorum) that is one of the best features of this neat, small-scaled maple.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Have You Planted Your Bulbs Yet?

Above is the only shot from today on the blog. It's a nice shot of the progressive fall color of the fullmoon maple (Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'). This is the smallest specimen of three that we have situated in the Japanese garden and fern & moss garden. The fall color will range from yellows to oranges and eventually go to a vivid red; in fact, one of our best fall colors in the garden. I was away from the gardens most of the day with a three hour presentation to the Kenosha (WI) County Master Gardeners in Bristol, WI. They were a friendly bunch and my presentation on sensory plants and therapeutic gardens went well (thanks to Barb for having me over!). I then had two other meetings that filled out the day. The gardens were in very good hands with Larry, Marv, Marianne, Terry, Big John and Janice. I left a "Master List" of projects that included a mix of gardening, lights set-up and some indoor work so everyone could get out of the crazy wind. I did see Dr. Gredler, Robin, Mary (with two RECAPPERS) and am sure there were many others that stopped by throughout the day. Right before I left, Marianne mentioned that our 2,000 backordered grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) arrived today. We'll plant the rest of our "ordered" bulbs this week with the plant sale leftovers going in the ground next week. When I do bulb talks, I always mention the interesting factoid that roughly 50% of the bulbs purchased for the home garden are never planted! Many of us, myself included, are guilty of forgetting and later realizing around New Years Day that we didn't plant those bulbs sitting out in the garage. My blog title is meant to get you inspired to plant your bulbs but also start sniffing around for some good deals on late season bulbs. If you can still dig a hole (and you can for quite some time), put in some bulbs and reap the beautiful rewards next spring. It is time well spent. If you have deer problems, consider daffodils (Narcissus) or ornamental onions (Allium) as seen directly below.
We will typically order our bulbs in a bulk by the thousands. We then count them out in to smaller groupings that will be planted as clusters out in the gardens. We consider this the "bouquet effect" with nice groupings that have more impact and are easier to plant in one large hole as opposed to many small ones. The mesh bags below are something that we save from year to year and as I left today, Marianne was bagging up the grape hyacinths in bags of 25 for planting very soon. Further below is a sample of a larger hole that we would use for tulips, daffodils or alliums. We typically cluster these larger bulbs in groups of 20 or 25 which will dictate a 6-8" deep hole with roughly a 20" diameter. We always sprinkle Milorganite ( fertilizer in the bottom of the hole and over the top of the bulbs once the soil is placed back in the hole. The reason for this is twofold, we want to lightly fertilize the bulbs but this fertilizer also has a persistent odor that helps detract rodents (squirrels, chipmunks, etc.) from pawing thru your newly disturbed soil and locating potentially tasty bulbs. Directly below is a recent bulb planting of yellow tulips and wild hyacinths (Camassia leichtlinii 'Blue Danube') in one of our three center patio planters. Sue (lower left) and Bev (headless) planted these bulbs tightly (Oct. 9th work day) and the composition will be dynamite in spring. We also followed the Milorganite rule on this space and look forward to the final effect. Further below is a sample of what our tulips ('Sky High Scarlet) looked like this past spring with a similar planting approach and spacing the previous October (2009). We replant these circles every year to kick off our color scheme for the entrance garden. We love our bulbs (over 400,000) at RBG and visitors will time visits to catch peak tulips (mid-May) and alliums (late May/early June). Of course the weather is a huge factor and all of our bulbs were three weeks early this year. Below are some historic bulb images from RBG that don't exist anymore. Back in 2001, we planted 25,000 tulips representing 500 varieties (clumps of 50) and called the collection "Tulip Time". It was fantastic and the spring was relatively cool, thereby extending the show. We still have people coming back asking about the tulips. We left that collection in for two years but it began to peter out as excessive summer irrigation for the annuals that filled the spot later in the year began to rot out and affect the tulips. It was a fun collection that we hope to replicate if we ever have the funds....The bottom photo shows hyacinths planted to form our garden symbol at the time. Marv and Jim W. planted this and we had high hopes. However, the bulbs were so close (based on MY directions) that they collectively shoved the soil up and created a mess with variable bloom effect. To be honest, it looked better like this before they grew. I learned a lesson with hyacinths that spring. Anyway, get out there and plant/buy some bulbs! ALWAYS PATRONIZE YOUR LOCAL GARDEN CENTER FIRST!!! I become "cord boy" tomorrow and start the epic duty of running six miles of extension cords.. (is the enthusiasm evident?).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

As Windy As They Predicted

"A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too have known autumn too long." E. E. Cummings. Well, this quote sums up today although I would disagree with knowing autumn too long as we need a couple more weeks of warm autumn days to get thru our Holiday Lights Show preparations. This is one of the few times that I am not using pictures solely from the same day I blog. The weather was wicked today with rain coming in sideways and significant gusts. We've had no trees down in the gardens but plenty of branches and debris. Other areas near us received more damage but it sounds like we'll have another day of these strong winds on Wednesday. Our steel maintenance building has been creaking and groaning all day. Nice shot above of the spotty fall color of the fullmoon maple (Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon') which caught my eye due to the interesting autumn speckling. Below is the Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) that has formed its beautiful seed heads that are quite fetching (and nice in a dried arrangement). Despite seeing seedlings of this grass over the past couple of seasons, we enjoy the durability and interest provided by this ornamental grass. Look for 'River Mist' too, the variegated form of this grass.Everyone braved the winds today except me. Granted, no one lasted very long out there but Little Jerry went out to collect debris and prune while Big John and Larry brought in some of our culvert pipe planters. John and Larry worked on myriad projects here and there too. Janice and John also worked on lights repair and Janice put lights on more obelisks. Larry continued to test and repair more displays and will put some up tomorrow, wind permitting. I spent the day in a meeting and finalized my slide list and presentation for tomorrow. I replicate this presentation three more times so it's nice to have it completed. Dr. Gredler was here to haul debris to the dump but didn't get out on his mower (rare)! We also saw Maury, Dick H., Chuck, Bill O. and Mike. The weather was simply brutal and the weather warnings were right on this time. What is a bit disconcerting is that they're comparing this wind storm to the one in 1998 which created a swath of destruction throughout Janesville. The 1998 storm knocked over our pergola and some trees out in the gardens. The new pergola (steel beam reinforced) should withstand a tornado but a worry about many of our larger trees (cottonwoods, hackberries, etc.). Nice shot to the left of cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) blooming in the reception garden with such picturesque blooms. To the right is the clear yellow fall color of the vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis 'Sandra') which will next show yellow with early April blossoms in 2011. Below is the start of chartreusy fall color for the Lavender Twist weeping redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Covey') that is in a nice position along our pond. Much of our volunteer work over the past couple of weeks has involved hauling back seasonals that we're removing from various areas and accomplishing various fall activities. We do plant over 100,000 annuals each year and after five months of watering, fertilizing and nurturing, we tear out plants that have increased in size quite dramatically, some over 100x! All of this biomass results in hundreds of trips with our carts, hauling back debris and dozens of trips by Dr. Gredler running debris to the dump. Much of our waste does go in to our large compost pile, maintained by Marv. We have a good system and have fallen in to some predictable patterns, keeping in mind that the weather is always a factor. Aside from our lights preparations, we still have to plant some tulips, wild hyacinth (Camassia leichtlinii 'Blue Danube') and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) that have been backordered. Next week we'll pilfer what is left of our plant sale bulbs that have been for sale in the gift shop. We usually plant these leftovers in November and they certainly add to the spring experience out in the gardens. Years ago, when our budget accomodated more bulbs, we were planting over 100,000 bulbs each fall. I hope we can return to that rate in the future as there are so many neat spring bulbs that I'd like to try at the gardens. To the left is Big John getting chauffeured around the gardens so he can conserve energy for break time. :) To the right is Bob C. hauling one of many loads on Monday, keeping up with our piles. Below is a plant that I'll be promoting tomorrow in my talk as a wonderful "tactile" plant and one that we include in the gardens every year. This is the wooly sage (Salvia argentea) that while hardy to zone 5, rarely overwinters for us (doesn't like winter wetness) and we simply plant it as an annual. Look for the variety 'Hobbit's Foot' that has bigger leaves and supposedly more fuzz. Great plant for kids to enjoy too. At the bottom is more Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis) of an unknown variety (maybe 'Helga Reich'?). Ornamental grasses are said to add movement to the garden. That is certainly the case today and tomorrow!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Closure & Refocusing

Above is a clump of tuber oat grass (Arrhenatherum bulbosum 'Variegatum') perking up in our woodland walk area. As a "cool season" grass, this showy little clump looks great in spring and in fall. Summers can be tough on this grass and if not given adequate moisture, it might go dormant. I love the strong variegation and this grass tops out at 18" tall or so. The spring-like weather has encouraged a new flush of growth. We like to use groupings of this grass in partly shaded areas to offer texture and "illumination". Today was our closure for the Halloween Walk, which ran very smoothly and a big "hats off" to Spotlight on Kids (Becky in particular) who runs a nice program and is such an important organization for our local youth. Our refocusing involves really sinking our teeth in to the Holiday Lights Show preparations. While many of us have been working on this event already, we'll all shift the majority of our time towards this event as we have about a month to put it up and the weather could be a friend or just as easily, a foe. Despite having removed over 75% of our annuals, we're still seeing some nice color here as a heavy frost has yet to occur. To the left is the colorful 'Magenta Sunset' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) that looks quite vivid in the cooler temperatures and autumn light. I'll always be sold on Swiss chard as an ornamental although I'm still neutral on this plant in my diet. To the right is the 'Mesa Yellow' blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) still blooming strong in our All-America Selections garden. This short-lived perennial, is easily grown from seed and this variety is the first commercial yellow from seed. 'Mesa Yellow' is also an award winner from All-America Selections and Fleuroselect. Also hanging in there in the same garden space are most of the pinks (Dianthus sp.) including 'Melody Pink' (Dianthus hybrida) below that is simply exquisite in terms of bloom color and architecture. It was another crazy Monday with plenty of staff and volunteers. Marv and Terry worked the entire day on the Holiday Lights Show and do by far the most set-up work for the event. Marianne was a trooper and tested/repaired lights all day to keep up with the demand for various colors. Our policy is to test everything in advance before it goes outside so we can avoid corrective measures after the lights are up. This annual project is monotonous but both Marianne and Janice do a darn nice job. Janice was here to help Marianne and also decorated obelisks. Larry worked primarily on taking down Halloween Walk remnants and will shift to dealing with shutting down our water features later in the week. Little Jerry was out pruning woody plants, cutting back hostas and tidying up in Hosta Hollow and Fern & Moss Garden. I spent most of my time finishing my presentation for Wednesday (Sensory Plants). We have had superior fall colors this year with the extended autumn. To the left is Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) clamoring up our archway between the sunken and reception gardens. Despite the vigor of this vine, I do enjoy the fall color and appreciate the contribution of this vine when it is controlled and encouraged (not left to its own devices!). To the right (and below) is the amber fall color of the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). This deciduous conifer goes from yellow needles to this burnt orange and is quite beautiful this time of year. We are expecting 50+ mph winds tomorrow which will take lots of leaves/needles off of trees but we've certainly enjoyed fall thus far around RBG. Don't bother trying to rake tomorrow if you are in this neck of the woods.
Robin and Mary went out to clear off the terrace garden annuals and did a nice job. Robin is going to school at Blackhawk Technical College and her hours over the past two weeks are part of an internship. She's been a great worker and we hope to see her beyond her internship commitment! The Grumpies did another nice job taking down Halloween Walk pumpkins, tents, etc. and also hauled our terrace furniture to winter storage, hauled back debris and dug out our culvert planters for a new coat of paint (and location) for next year. Some of the guys worked on carpentry jobs while others worked on electrical needs. We saw Ron W., Ron B., Bill, Urban, Maury, Dick P., Dick H., Pat, Bob C., Bob A., Dave T., Jim, Tom, Del, Dr. Gredler, Rollie and Big John. Needless to say, much was accomplished and we look forward to a very busy next couple of weeks! Marv radioed me earlier today that there were some turkeys out on our north path. See below. There were seven dark and two white turkeys. Our little 20 acres has seen lots of wildlife over the years but hopefully the hungry winter deer will be less abundant.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thankfully Some Rain

It looks like we'll have some steady drizzle over the next three days. The garden sure needs it but the last night of the Halloween Walk (tonight) sure could use a break between 6 pm and 9 pm! The picture above sums up our reality for the next 3.5 weeks as we get the lights show up and ready to go. The grounds staff will test all the lights and get over 90% of this show set-up very shortly. I snuck in to work this morning and have run in to Larry, Bill, Dr. Gredler and Maury thus far who are plugging away at hauling away debris from yesterday and getting more lights tested. A nice 3" soaking rain over the next three days would be very welcome!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pictures Are Worth A Thousand Words

Crazy day and not much time to type. In summary, great grounds staff efforts, 70 volunteers today, Halloween Walk, holiday lights set-up, VIPs (Ed Lyon, Bill Cullina) and nice weather. Picture 1 is the fall color of the three-flower maple (Acer triflorum), Picture 2 is the hottest pepper in the world (oddly enough, no takers for a snack...), Picture 3 are Jim and Bob A. (heading towards Picture 8...), Picture 4 and 5 are of the Oakhill Christian high school volunteers (always fun to work with twice per year), Picture 6 and 7 are of the Jackson Elementary School Action Club volunteers (all 44) that helped this afternoon, Picture 8 is the continued progress on the new structure by Jim, Dave, Bob A., Vern and Maury, Picture 9 shows Becky, Janice, Marianne, and Nancy with the results of their wreath-making class (taught by Becky), Picture 10 is another white Jack O' lantern that is part of the Halloween walk (night two of three). Thanks to Marv and Terry for really tearing in to the lights set-up and thanks to Marianne and Janice for helping our volunteers today. Great work too by Kay and Robin. Fun