Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Fun Night Followed By A Productive Day

Last night was Patty Bailey's (from Patty's Plants in Milton) presentation on "Herb Gardening". As you can see by the picture above, we had a full house. I counted 94 attendees which was a great turnout although not surprising for such a popular topic. Patty did a great job as expected and there were lots of questions and comments from the group which included some members from the Janesville Area Herb Society. See Patty to the right. This was the third installment of our monthly lecture series and we've been very pleased with the attendance and positive response from the community. The next couple of topics should be equally well-received (check out our website for details). Historically we've not had a lot of winter/early spring educational offerings so it's nice to build up some enthusiasm for these topics and gardening in general. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I certainly take advantage of the "captive audience" and promote memberships, events, the gardens and all sorts of good things coming up. Of course, our very own Janice Peterson will be presenting on "Heirlooms, Hybrids and History" next Thursday from 7 pm until 8 pm. To the left is Marianne (note the "bunny ears" compliments of her husband) modeling beside a container. This is the container (faux terra cotta, plastic) that we'll offer for our May 18th "Container Planting Workshop" facilitated by Becky Nickel. Participants can also bring their own container of equivalent size (and save $10 off the class fee). The nice perk of this workshop is the ability to pick from our holding yard which will have a vast array of cool plants for the container. Check out the website for details on this workshop and the others (scarf dyeing, rose care and still spots left for the April 9th mosaic birdhouse class!). There was a lot of activity at the gardens today although I was "chair-ridden" most of the time. To the right is Marianne working on our first 100 of 300 caladiums that came in yesterday. We get them early, pot them up and keep them warm. By the time we plant them in early June, they have some nice growth. A greenhouse would help but they don't need much light and are happy enough in our Horticulture Center at this point. We'll do the remainder (see below) on Monday as it looks to be a damp day. We had a nice healthy turnout of Grumpies today with lots accomplished. Vern, Dave, Bob and Jim continued work on new cedar benches and will be shifting to rebuilding portions of our Japanese garden fence so they are poised and ready to replace the earlier removed fence once the waterfall reconstruction is complete. Bob C. and Bob T. continued spreading shredded bark around the main parking lot and Gary and Ron W. hauled out and secured all but a few of our garden benches. This is a monumental task but these guys came up with a good tracking system and we'll be updating our records regarding bench locations shortly. It's a sad commentary that we have to anchor and secure our benches but that is a reality as they sometimes "walk away." Dick H. hauled debris to the dump and helped with some other projects. Pat continued work on his signs and helped Maury with some projects. Janice was here to work with her volunteer group who also brought in their awesome butterfly too (see bottom photo). Bill O. was here to sweep up various gardens and we also saw Chuck, George (delivered worm castings), Kelli, Tom and many others. More butterflies have been fluttering in to the gardens as seen in this posting. We have almost half of the 34 projects and hope to have the remainder by early next week at the latest. The creativity speaks for itself and I think we'll get a very positive response from our visitors regarding these unique additions to the gardens. We had two landscape firms here today doing some work out in the gardens. DWG continues to prepare the area for our future bluestone patio (North Point garden) and we hope to see significant progress over the coming week or so. Nature's Touch was here to clean our koi pond which is a very involved process. In past years, Larry (with some help) would take care of this but it is a huge project that involves removing fish, collecting gunk, pressure washing, etc. We're happy to have someone else doing it to free up our time out in the gardens and Nature's Touch will shortly move to the big Japanese garden project. I'm off most of tomorrow to catch a "breather" before a quickened pace begins anew next week with the start of the seasonal grounds staff (sans Marianne who will be off to SC and Pat who doesn't start officially until May) and lots of looming projects.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More Butterflies Sighted!

The butterflies keep flittering in to the gardens this week with our April 1st deadline for final submission coming up very soon! The three beautiful butterflies pictured here arrived over the past two days although we are still expecting over 20 more to come in by Friday (hopefully). The artwork on all the submissions (both sides!) has been stellar thus far and I'm already looking forward to seeing these out in the gardens. Once these butterflies are returned and seal-coated, they will be placed in various locations around the gardens with small signs indicating information on that particular piece of art (title, artist, sponsor, materials, etc.). This is very similar to last year and it's nice to showcase these pieces out in the gardens. All butterflies will be on display by Mother's Day (May 8th).

Today was yet another crazy day with activity out in the gardens, meetings and many things on the "to do" list. I was out in the gardens briefly to talk with Urban about cutting back some roses and checked on the progress of the North Point patio project. We had a nice productive meeting (Kris, Kelli, Barb, Bev D., Deb, Virginia, Mary D., Dale and Bev F.) regarding our Earth Day activities on April 22 and 23. We're going to have lots of things going on and are looking forward to family involvement here at the gardens on those days (free admission). I'm still working on some final orders for supplies and plants and should have that done shortly. The MATC students (a different batch from Monday) were here with Darcie and Deb to continue their accessibility assessments out in the gardens. We appreciate their help and their salary of donuts and coffee was quite affordable! Nice foliage shot to the left of the dwarf, golden Nordman fir (Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader') that looks great year round. Crocus (Crocus sp.), as yet unmolested by squirrels and other rodents, continue to brighten the gardens as well (to the right).

Larry worked on quite a bit of pruning today and helped unpack and inventory some of our garden supplies. Little Jerry was in all day and did a great job pruning and cleaning up debris in the Japanese garden. We appreciate his help, particularly this time of year as we tidy up around the gardens. Pat was in to work on his signs and Dr. Gredler was "tractor-bound" all day as he "rolled" our lawns to settle down any heaves, bumps or rodent tunnels. This task helps minimize a lot of jostling on the mowers later in the season over uneven ground. Gary continued label production and we actually have gone thru our first 500 smaller labels (mainly ferns and daylilies) and our next label order is on the way. The next step is adhering these signs to their aluminum support stakes with industrial tape. We also saw Bob T., Maury, Big John and Janice was in to work with the MATC students.Tonight is the "Herb Gardening" talk by Patty Bailey and we expect a nice, healthy attendance for this popular topic. Janice will talk about "Heirlooms, Hybrids and History" on April 7th (7 pm - 8 pm) which should also be a neat talk. The next lectures are "Perennial Division" by Becky Nickel on April 20th (6 pm - 8 pm) and "Perennial Favorites" by Dr. Frank Greer on May 25th (6 pm - 8 pm) respectively. These should all be fun and educational. Above is a shot of our bagged, blended mushroom compost all ready to be sold this Saturday, April 2nd (8 am - noon) at our Horticulture Center. This bagged compost sale will also occur every Saturday (same time) thru May. This is a wonderful product which we use out in the gardens annually. 1.5 cubic ft. bags (40-50 lbs.) will be $5.50 + tax although RBG Friends Members receive 10% off. We'll also be offering worm tea and worm castings, both of which encourage healthy growth and provide beneficial micro-organisms in your garden. I'll blog about these soon as they are new for us to offer although we are going to utilize both at RBG this year as well. In fact, I have 1,000 lbs. of worm castings (poop) coming tomorrow! More signs of spring can be seen to the left with ornamental onions (Allium 'Globemaster') sending up pink-tinted foliage and the bright winter color of 'Hillside Winter Gold' white pine (Pinus strobus) looking like a beacon from the distance. These needles will "green up" by summer but sure look sharp thru the winter and early spring. Below is the unfurling of the 'Sandra' vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) blooms that are enjoying the subtle increases in heat each day this week.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Enjoyable Spring Stroll

I was able to get out in the gardens for a nice length of time today and while the gardens are still fairly dormant, there are signs of life here and there. The nice green moss clump seen above is in the fern & moss garden. Moss loves this weather and is greening up nicely. I was sizing up our two big construction projects this year; the North Point garden installation and the Japanese garden waterfall/rebuild project. This Japanese garden project has been something we've wanted to do for almost a decade and it will be nice to restore this water feature to its original grandeur. Some guys (DWG Landscaping) were already here starting to excavate at the North Point garden for the future bluestone patio. This garden will include all sorts of neat things and we hope to complete our installation of plants, irrigation and turf before June if possible. There has already been interest in using this site for small weddings...! We hope to see significant progress on both projects over the next four weeks or so and will assist as needed. Today, I had some meetings, met with our irrigation guy and finished some other projects that have been on the "hot plate" for awhile. I feel very distanced from the gardens as I've been doing so much work from my little office corner over the past four months and rarely see sunshine. This has all been vital work (education, ordering, plant records, etc.) but I need to reconnect quickly with our garden needs as our volunteers are trickling back and the bulk of the grounds staff starts back to work next week. Above and to the left are some of Marv's clubmosses that still look good on our moss island and more winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) to the right in the hosta hollow garden. Below is the Christmas rose (Hellborus niger) in bloom in the white color room garden. I show this plant every year as I'm always happy to see the early, clear white blooms. Dr. Gredler was in to continue his debris clean-up with the mower. He's going over most of our lawns, collecting leaves and debris from last year. The gardens are becoming tidier and tidier each day. Pat was in to continue his sign conversions and is doing a darn nice job on getting four huge signs completed to help promote our tree sale (April 22 and 23, check the website!). Dick H. continued repairs on one of our trucks and Urban popped in to talk strategy as it relates to rose cutting and removal activities tomorrow. Gary was in to run more perennial signs and we're now, after printing out our fern labels, moving on to the daylily collection. Jenny came in to print off our thousands of annual sticker labels that we'll use in our old-fashioned aluminum stake format. Ultimately our new laser engraver will create these labels too but it's not realistic for this year. Gary and Steve (our consultant) fixed our "bug" with the engraver and all seems well. We had a nice group lunch today and also saw Marv, Marianne, Janice, Big John and Terry. At the Horticulture Center, we also saw Ray, Mary W., Dave, Dean, Chris and many others. Larry was off today but we'll see him tomorrow. Our obelisks (above left) await final placement in the coming weeks and to the right is a hellebore (Helleborus hybridus) starting to bloom in the gazebo garden. Below is one of the many ducks that are joined by many geese in the gardens this time of year. Nesting season for the geese can get touchy with the occasional scuffle with visitors. Oh well. More winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) below.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Back To Business

While the symposium was a lot of fun and we did spend some time today wrapping up some of the details, I had to shift gears to some other activities that have been on the "back burner" for far to long. Nice shot above and to the lower left of a pinish/red blooming vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis 'Kohanke Red') that we obtained from Song Sparrow Nursery ( Out in the garden, this species would be blooming in about three to four weeks but has an early start inside our Horticulture Center. I love the confetti-like blooms of all witchhazels and while I've seen the variable yellow and yellow/orange vernal witchhazels, this is the prettiest pink/red I've observed. This specimen, when placed out in the gardens, will be located near something light (white or yellow) that will make those blooms really pop. Song Sparrow Nursery donated some nice plants for our silent auction this past weekend and the funds from that auction will be used to support the gardens directly. It was a busy day today. I worked on catching up with coding bills and ordering more of our spring supplies. We had a semi-truck delivery of potting soil and other gardening stuff. The lift gate didn't work on the truck so thanks to Larry, Big John, Bob C. and the driver, they got everything off in good order. Larry worked more on some vehicles and as usual, bounced between projects. Vern, Dave and Bob A. continued on their bench creation while Ron W., Del and Bob C. spread shredded bark over the parking lot islands. Gary was in working on labels and spent some time cleaning up the laser engraver unit. We were both surprised at how dirty that machine can get with particulate debris. Mandy (our rookie labeler) came in to type in more labels (daylilies) and Jenny was on the other computer printing out our old-fashioned sticker labels for our annuals this year. Marv and Terry hauled out garbage and recycling bins and will be taking out containers later in the week. Marianne helped in the office with post-symposium work and preparing other handouts. Maury was around running errands and we also saw Dick H, Little Jerry, Kelli, Big John, Jean and many others. It was certainly a busy day. Darcie (member of our Horticulture Therapy committee) brought her college students (MATC-Madison) down to the gardens today and 12 of them went thru the gardens this morning to accomplish an accessibility study about our paths, ramps, etc. Janice helped welcome and orient the group after she drove over on a borrowed scooter (thanks Victoria!) that was one of two the students could use in their study along with our two "loaner" wheelchairs. Janice's "parade wave" was dusted off (see to the right) and used to perfect effect as she departed the Horticulture Center at 3a blinding mph. Below is butterfly eight and the ninth just came in today. We'll continue to haul them off to be sealed and hopefully we'll see most by the end of the week as the deadline for return is actually this Friday, April 1.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Rousing Success

Our spring symposium went very well yesterday. I asked for a group photo of our 185 attendees and got some nice smiles as seen above. Thanks to Janice, Marianne, Polly, Lori, Joy, Kelly, Peggy, Big John, Kris, Sue and so many others that helped out as well. Our Board members, Steve, Tom and John, were on hand to sell memberships and the Janesville Area Herb Society was also represented and was selling some goodies as well. Jeff's talk on small scale trees was very nice and well-received. He always uses two screens so we set-up a large rental screen after Larry, Gary, Mike (a symposium attendee) and myself scratched our heads over how to assemble the screen itself! Doreen's talk on heirloom vegetables for containers included stunning photography (as expected) and I think inspired many to grow their own veggies in containers this year. Ed's talk on stunning plants was top notch and included lots of awesome images. I saw quite a few new plants that I wasn't familiar with and jotted those down for future consideration. My talk on "Design Tips for the Smaller Garden" went well (I thought) but verged on being to long to finish out the day. With the day starting at 7 am, when it gets around 4 pm, people are "squirrely". During all of our breaks and prior to introductions of the speakers, I took the time to mention our upcoming events, opportunities and also promoted the fall symposium (Nov. 5). We had about a dozen people sign up as Friends members and also had close to 30 sign up for the fall symposium already! The entire day went well and we received lots of favorable evaluations. The only issue/travesty was the fact that the last 30 people in line for lunch (myself included) were left with very slim pickings as apparently some others (a select few) that went earlier in line, bulked up on extra sandwiches and 3-5 bowls of soups (we had four kinds). We were presenting a wide menu of sandwiches, wraps and soups and when I got there, there were limited sandwiches (only egg salad left) and no soup. We should have had more than enough food and I did say something after lunch about this as apparently some attendees were observed wrapping up their extra sandwiches and taking them out to the car (quite a few people actually....). I feel horrible for those at the end of the line but we'll just make sure we are more proactive with asking everyone to be conservative in the lines until everyone is served. Oh well, you learn from these things. We'll wrap up this event next week and check out the evaluations. The silent auction went well too although I'm not sure what the final income ($) was at the end. Nice shots here of Danford iris (Iris danfordiae) in front of the Parker Education Center (taken this morning).

Friday, March 25, 2011

Poised...After A Fun Evening

We're poised and ready for tomorrow. Above is our multi-purpose room, nicely arranged by Big John (except for that crooked chair, eight back and three in from the right...)., that is ready for our 180 symposium attendees tomorrow morning. It was a crazy day of preparations today and I'm thankful for all the assistance and team effort. Polly has done a nice job preparing the set-up for this event and she and Lori will take care of the food tomorrow. Marianne came in this morning and was helpful all day. She helped prepare some handouts for me this morning prior to going over the the Parker Education Center to lay out our silent auction items, organize lanyards alphabetically (see to the right) and myriad other tasks. She also helped tonight (more on that shortly). Nice shot to the left incidentally of the winter color for 'Angelina' creeping stonecrop (Sedum rupestre). Normally chartreuse in summer, this stalwart perennial has a nice orange color in fall, extending all the way until spring.

Janice ran out to pick up a rental screen for tomorrow and also helped with the "Meet & Greet" tonight. Dick W. came in this morning to continue his woodchipping quest and Pat continued his painting conversion on our tree sale signs. Gary was also in to work on some laser engraver improvements and tweaks and I saw Jean, Cora, Janet and Barb at our Home Garden Tour (July 23rd this year!) committee meeting. Marianne and I went over to Basics Cooperative to set up for our "Meet & Greet" and some staff later took the speakers out to dinner and we all converged on Basics at 6 pm. Thanks to Joy, Marianne and Gary for setting up and greeting attendees. I did a head count and we had 40 people there to enjoy some snacks, beverages and a neat presentation by Doreen Howard on "Heirloom Vegetables." She showed some veggies I had never seen let alone grown or eaten. Nice presentation and both Ed Lyon and Jeff Epping (two other speakers for tomorrow) were there to chit chat with the group too. It should be a fun day and it was nice to see the weather forecast is cold but sunny and not the originally predicted slushy rain/sleet combo that would make travel challenging. Butterfly seven of thirty-four is seen below.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Well-Oiled Machine...

Today started out quite chilly but became slightly less chilly and at least sunny! This would qualify as one of the busier days I've had in recent years as there were many things occuring at once and we had a full crew in the Horticulture Center working on a multitude of projects. To the left is the first of the Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) peeking out a bit early although with another warm-up, we'll see thousands of these offering their nice blue blips of color around the gardens.

Larry worked on all sorts of projects including trying to repair a power steering issue with one of our vehicles. We're thankful for Larry, Dick H. and so many others that are handy with these sorts of things as we don't have much of a budget for repairs and these guys have saved us so much time and money with their repairs. Dick W. was a "whirlwind of woodchipping" and began mulching our western slope off the main building. I hope this helps keep the weeds down as this is one of our summer "hot spots" for weeds. Urban went out to prune roses and Bill came in to collect debris and tidy up the paths that were looking a bit rough after all of the heavy rains. Vern, Dave and Bob A. continued working on new cedar benches for our future North Point Garden (to be installed yet this spring). See their efficient set-up below.The office area was abuzz with many coming and goings. Janice worked on producing lanyards and had help from Dr. Gredler (to the right) and Marianne (to the left) for getting the assembled and organized. Marianne also pulled together supplies for our "Meet & Greet" Friday night, worked on handouts and helped prepare descriptions for our neat silent auction items. Gary was in to work on more labels and things are going well although we've run in to an odd glitch that we're looking in to. Maury ran some much appreciated errands for me and we are thankful his willingness to help with so many things. Dave G. was here along with a semi-load of shredded bark that came very early. Unfortunately the mulch was frozen in the truck and the driver had to leave the load frozen in the box for a later thaw and unloading. We also saw Ron & Randy (UofI Extension), Neil, Kris (our new Education Coordinator), Mary Kay, Jumbo Jim, Ron W., Art, and Kelli brought over James Otterstein, the Economic Development Manager for Rock County, whom she was meeting with that morning. James gave us a nice update on some recent bouts of good economic news for our county. Directly below is Dick H. who was replacing the ignition assembly on one of our trucks. At the bottom is Pat converting some of the Golden K's tree sale signs to reflect the new dates for this year (April 22 and 23). Check out our website ( for details regarding this sale if you want some affordable evergreen, 2-3 year old transplants (4 choices!).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Looming Symposium

Above are our colorful cucumber supports laying on end although they would work fine just like this too (spaced out a bit of course)! Dr. Gredler and Pat did a nice job painting these and while their color contribution lessens as the cucumbers engulf them, they should be eyecatching thru the spring at least. Below are our "Leaning Pyramids of RBG" that will find a nice location very shortly....and be part of our 2011 yellow and blue theme. They will have vines with yellow foliage climbing up them during the course of the summer so we'll see these blue pyramids turn to yellow (in theory...). The sky blue culvert pipes in the far distance are another story.
Today was quite busy and we saw many faces over at the Horticulture Center. Larry worked some more on equipment and he and Bill organized some items out in the yard. Dr. Gredler was in briefly and we also had visits from Jason, Mary W., Bev, Urban, Judy, Dick H., Dave G. and Maury. Gary and Jenny were here working on labels all afternoon and were training our "newbie" label technician, Mandy. Janice was in to start making the name cutouts for our symposium lanyards and will finish that project tomorrow with Marianne. I had a productive meeting with Sue, our marketing guru, regarding upcoming programs, events, etc. and we came up with some good plans for timely promotions. Below is the first of our large loads of shredded bark that has arrived (to the right, compost to the left). It's currently damp and heavy but will go in to use yet this month in all liklihood.
I haven't mentioned my recent travels. I was in Pardeeville, WI on Monday night to speak to their local garden club ("Fantastic Foliage") and had a very nice time. Pardeville is known as the "City of Lakes" and is situated nicely around some nice bodies of water. I was told that Pardeville is also known for a summer watermelon festival that includes a seed spitting contest. I could be a real competitor... Last night I was at Olbrich up in Madison talking about "Durable Groundcovers". I had another nice crowd and we had some great discussions and heard about some interesting personal experiences regarding some of the groundcovers I was showing. The bikes above were at Olbrich as was the neat windmill element featured at the bottom. It was pouring rain when I arrived (early) and I had previous delusions about going thru the gardens quickly as there was still some light outside. The vistors center was decorated with orchids (above left) and they were selling cinerarias (to the right) in a wide range of colors. The blues are always impressive and would be my favorite. Tomorrow will be more preparation for the symposium this Saturday. For those in driving distance, there is still room for the Friday night "Meet & Greet" held at BASICS in Janesville (6 pm - 8 pm) that will feature all sorts of snacks and a nice talk by Doreen Howard on heirloom vegetables. Contact me at (608) 754-1779 if interested. We also have room for our April 9th mosaic birdhouse workshop....