Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Tree Sale Finale

I'm at work unofficially today to check on the last day of the tree sale. The shot above of the arched bridge from the gazebo garden was taken yesterday. The tree sale was in good hands with Marianne supervising (she now has the nickname "The Rattlesnake", which is a term of endearment) and plenty of volunteers assisting (Carol, Nancy, Alice, Sue and Lily). Maury, Pat, Gordy and some Golden "K" guys were also assisting. Janice came in to relieve Marianne while Larry, Bill and Dr. Gredler were out in the gardens mowing and tidying up. There may be Prom photos today as one of the high schools (Parker?) has it scheduled tonight. No rain, yet. Directly below is the young growth of my favorite variegated Jacob's ladder (Polemonium reptans 'Touch of Class') and beneath that, 'Pinot Gris' coral bells (Heuchera) with nice, pastel orange new growth.

Included here are some additional pictures of the butterfly art projects around the gardens. They really look great. The tragedy is that so many have wonderful art on the back sides as well and it was impossible to position them all so they could be viewed from both sides. The other reality is that we had to use three stakes to support these out in the gardens which detracts a bit from artwork on the back. Some of these butterflies have heavy beads, glassware, stained glass, etc. and our concern was wind breaking off the fairly thin wings. Wingless butterflies might be a bit macabre out in the gardens so the anchoring I think was both essential and warranted. There are three butterflies that we'll have to display inside or somewhere "out of the elements" as the materials used to decorate them would be immediately compromised by rain. We'll figure it out next week and Sue M. will create the brochure for this display. All the butterflies are in areas that will be shortly filled with emerging (or planted) flowers and will blend nicely in to the flower arrangements in which they have been placed. Directly below are a couple (of the 5,000) wind anemones (Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades') that we planted last fall in front of the Parker Education Center. They are peaking as I type. This was to give that hint of our blue and yellow theme. Once these begin to fade (next week), 5,000 yellow tulips of three different shades will take over and are timed fairly well for Mother's Day weekend. At the bottom is the golden (spring) foliage of the 'Blue Sunrise' perennial geranium (Geranium hybrida). This perennial will have nice blue flowers in a couple weeks that go nicely with the yellow foliage that ultimately turns green by mid-summer.

Friday, April 29, 2011

An Entirely "Bear-able" Day

Kris K. mentioned the robin's nest she saw on our bear sculpture in the woodland walk garden. I got a nice shot today of mama robin "eyeballing" me as I went by this morning (look closely above). That bear is looking quite protective as well! To the left is a nice angled shot of the gazebo. The roof of that structure has an "antique look" with ample moss although we're hoping to raise funds yet this year to get new roofing materials for this iconic structure. It was great weather today and it quickly warmed from 37 degrees F to 67 degrees F by the end of the day. The first day of our extended tree sale went very well and we think we sold another 1,000 trees or so. Marianne and Janice took turns keeping an eye on the sale and we appreciate Maury being around as well as additional Golden "K" fellas and our volunteer Alice. Thanks Alice for working all day! Our Executive Director, Kelli, was on the radio today and promoted lots of upcoming events and opportunities at RBG, including the tree sale. Despite less pleasant weather tomorrow, we're hoping for another great sale day (8 am - 2 pm) and closure on this fundraiser. To the right are the early blooms of the native merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) in the gazebo garden. With the daffodils (Narcissus) at peak, it wasn't hard to get a nice backlit shot of one this morning (see below). We've planted tens of thousands of daffodils over the years at RBG and don't regret it at all (despite the messy foliage that takes forever to go dormant!). Further below is the beautiful bloom of 'Jane Platt' magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt') near the sunken garden. Many of our magnolia blossoms have a bit of frost "tinge" (appearing brown) but these clear white blooms avoided damage. It was a busy day out in the gardens and we saw plenty of visitors enjoying the beautiful day outside. Our first order of business today was to haul out all our tender plants that we thankfully brought inside last night. As I was scraping frost of my windshield this morning, which is not unsual for April, I also felt better about the big "shift" of the plants to safety. We collectively moved almost everything back out as it looks like night time lows will be in the 40s for a bit which isn't ideal but shouldn't kill anything outright. Big John moved on to an area between the Japanese garden and fern/moss garden where he's scraping off old woodchips to compost an area that has never been amended in the past. He also ran out some signs, watered and did his pushmowing rounds. Terry also mowed and worked with Marv on putting up obelisks, composting, etc. Marv also did a nice job preparing an area for reseeding and did some gravel work too. Marianne and Janice were out weeding and Marianne also did another nice job refreshing the cutting display (lower right). To the immediate right is the snake's head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) starting to bloom. You can see how it gets its common name and those "checkers" become more prominent shortly (as the blooms open in to "bells") and give credence to the other common names of checkered fritillary, chess flower and guinea-hen flower. I spent almost the entire day outside which was a surprise to my coworkers who thought I had become permanently attached to my desk. I secured signs for the butterfly art project and took notes that will lead to a map that will guide visitors to the various entries. It was nice to explore the gardens too and I managed to take 200 pictures and come up with many more projects and immediate needs. With the gardens developing quickly, it wont be long until we feel overwhelmed with juggling weeding, mulching, planting, mowing, etc. I also took advantage of the sun and heat to spray herbicide over the sunken garden bricks which play host to 1000s of weeds that come up early in those warm cracks. We try to minimize herbicide use at the gardens and do primarily manual control. However, situations in our brick paths and bluestone patios necessitate some chemical assistance as manual control would be impossible. Below is a shot of the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden this afternoon. The bulbs are really looking good and this is the space that will be our "Smelly Garden" this year with over 200 varieties of scented plants. Directly beneath is the clean and showy foliage of 'Jack Frost' false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost') in the shade garden.
Next week we will be preparing for the spring plant sale in earnest. The spring sale used to involve some plant divisions from the gardens (daylilies, hostas, etc.) and odds and ends. About seven years ago, we started offering heirloom tomato plants and the sale has "snowballed" in to a sizeable sale that will include over 100 varieties of vegetable plants (heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, compact vegetable selections), 80 varieties of herbs, seeds from our squash collection and over 60 varieties of perennials. We'll also sell bagged compost, compost tea and worm castings. I'm excited about the "plant your own container" component of this sale which will allow customers to plant their own containers (or one purchased from RBG) with selections from the sale. We'll offer help and look forward to providing this service. We're marketing this sale heavily and we hope it does well as it is a vital fundraiser to give the gardens a financial "boost" this time of year. Nice shot of one of the butterflies to the right. We've positioned the butterflies throughout the gardens (thanks to Marv and Terry for mounting all of them!) and they look great. The materials (mainly beads) on three of them are coming off but Deb G. is working to restore them. To the left is a sample of the totally biodegradable SoilWrap pot (paper) from Ball Seed Company. I saw an article on these pots and contacted them for samples which they sent promptly. Janice will include these with her biodegradable container display. Ball Seed has been so supportive of us with seed trialing, sample plugs, etc. and we look forward to our RBG Members Only bus tour to their trial gardens (West Chicago, IL) on August 4th this year (check out our website!). To the right and below is Janice planting more ornamental mustard (Brassica juncea 'Brazen Brass') in the vertical wall planter (yesterday). She worked on some different ways of inserting the plants and we'll convert this planter to more heat tolerant plants in June. I tried to get the "before" picture (below) taken without Janice but she kept edging in for the "Vanna White Pose". I'll post a picture of this in a month and hopefully it will be a "wall of maroon"!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day Two Of Steady Drizzle

With the persistent drizzle throughout the day, indoor (or sheltered) work was on the agenda. Up above are Dick P. and Pat sorting and bagging more trees in anticipation of our extended tree sale (Friday and Saturday, 8 am - 2 pm, all trees $1.25, 10% discount for 50+ trees). They were bundling trees in groups of 5, 10 and 25 to expedite the sales as customers arrive. We actually sold quite a few trees today to those that couldn't make it over the weekend. At least this cool weather is keeping the trees fresh and preserved. I must have had 20 calls today regarding the trees. We are hoping to clear out a couple more thousand trees and finish this fundraiser in time for preparations for the next event on the calendar; spring plant sale (May 13,14,15). The picture directly above includes Janice (far left) with our Thursday volunteer team. They did a nice job potting up small plant plugs that were sent to us from Ball Seed. These are new varieties for 2012 that we'll feature out in the gardens this summer. Nice shot to the right of the "pagoda" in the Japanese garden. This was installed years ago in memory of Tom McKaig, one of our Grumpies and an awesome caretaker for that garden. His wife Karen continues on with that tradition.

Big John and Larry were the only staff that braved the elements for most of the day. To the above left is the lower quarter of Larry after string trimming damp grass most of the day. He also finalized repairs on the sunken fountain and that water feature is up and running smoothly. Big John cut back some purple smokebushes (Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple') that will rebound with vivid, fresh growth (although they will lose the flowers). We rejuvenate them like this every couple of years. John also spread both compost and shredded bark and had time to help set-up for the big Bower City Garden Club luncheon that had 240 attendees today. I recall last year when our 5,000 tulips in front of the building were three weeks early and were peaking for this annual event. No such luck this year but at least Mother's Day visitors will catch them before they fade! Janice worked on potting up elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta), lilies (Lilium) and other plant plugs. She also worked on other projects and with her volunteers. Jenny was in to prepare annual labels which is a great rainy day project. With more varieties of annuals than ever this year, this is a sizeable undertaking. To the left is a nice shot across our raked gravel "sea" in the Japanese garden to the observation pier in the distance. This shot was from yesterday as I actually didn't leave the Horticulture Center today (delicate constitution). To the right is the ornamental bark of the striped bark maple (Acer hybrida 'White Tigress'). We have three specimens of this woody plant and while there is some debate as to its parentage (most likely a hybrid), I like it for the cool bark, neat leaves and clear yellow fall color. This is another nice smaller scaled maple. Below is the emerging chartreuse foliage of the golden willow (Salix x sachalinensis 'Golden Sunshine') that will get a brighter yellow very shortly with some sun and warmth. We'll be cutting this one back severely in a couple of years to keep it a manageable size.
Aside from John and Larry getting out in the gardens, the only other activity was some work on the lower pool (future) for the Japanese garden. Our contractors are trying to pump out the "excavation" so they can lay down a liner and continue progress on that water feature. Once the lower pool is complete, they'll be working their way upslope with the culmination being the waterfall reconstruction. It will be exciting to see this complete and the weather has really been frustrating with bringing progress to a screeching halt. I heard today that this April (for us) has been the 17th coldest on record and perhaps the wettest on record!? Nice shot to the left of an unfurling tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) in our Hosta Hollow garden. Of course the peak time for these peonies is the 9.3 days of glorious bloom in May but don't miss the progression to that point. To the right is one of our shoreline weeping willows (Salix) showing some nice reflection on the pond.

The Grumpies were again very productive with Dave, Vern, Bob and Jim continuing on bench creation while some of the guys braved the elements. Bob C. and Dick H. did some mulching while Ron and Del emptied out a large shed that we're going to relocate. Maury was here to get the guys going on tree processing and worked on some other projects. Roger helped process old labels while Pat bounced between projects as well. Tom C. did some electrical projects for us and we also saw Kris, Kelli, Barb, Mandy and many others. For a rainy day, it was pretty busy and we're looking forward to a sunny respite tomorrow. As seen below, we have some business to take care of shortly....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Drizzling....Sums It Up

Above is a shot of many of our wonderful youth education volunteers going thru a training this afternoon for our upcoming "Plants Program". There was a training this morning but the weather was a steady drizzle until lunch time. Kris Koch, our new Education Coordinator, is fourth from the right. I can't say enough about all of these volunteers and special thanks to Mary (third from the left) and Bev (fourth from the left) for all their hard work keeping this program organized and on track. Nice shot to the right of the fragrant blooms of the zen magnolia (Magnolia zenii) in our Hosta Hollow garden. While this looks like any magnolia, I've been waiting for years to see blooms on this woody plant. I believe we planted it as a little stick almost 10 years ago and now, at about 10' tall, it's showing some nice flowers. This magnolia is not only very rare, both in its native China and in cultivation, but is only marginally hardy here. Glad it caught my eye for a quick photo.

Despite the steady drizzle, all of us donned our rain coats and headed out in to the gardens. Marv, Terry, Marianne, Big John, Larry and I were all on duty and we made the best of the day. The first order of business was to plant almost all of our containers with a neat ornamental mustard (Brassica juncea) called 'Brazen Brass' which was featured in a previous blog. We used to have the budget to plant our containers with an early display (pansies, etc.) which would later be transitioned in early June. Times have been tight but we were able to secure a couple hundred of these mustards that I had custom grown for us after seeing them last spring at the Chicago Botanic Garden. They are a cool season plant and the leaves are edible and add a tangy zip to any salad (I think Big John tried it and said it wasn't bad). John, Marv, Terry and Marianne all planted containers this morning and John added many along our lower larch wall. These will really look dynamite by Mother's Day and it will be nice to re-establish early container interest and impact again at RBG before we start even planting our summer annuals. Nice shot to the left of the emerging needles of the weeping European larch (Larix decidua 'Pendula'). Big John also worked on digging out some invasive chives while Marv and Terry installed more butterflies and did a nice job removing large, crumbling rocks from the entrance garden and getting some others in place. Marianne did her cutting display and also continues "swapping out" the new daylily labels. Larry's day was absorbed in the sunken garden getting that water feature up and running and he's also working on modifying our compressors for our pond aerators. He also took the time (thankfully) to bring in our tender plants due to the potential 37 degrees F we may receive tonight. I fertilized most of our lawns, had some meetings and worked with Luis (to the right) on verifying woody plants in the Japanese Garden. Luis is doing a remarkable job of essentially reinventorying all the woody plants in the garden which is no small task. We also saw Mary W., Paul T., Bill, Art and our new fundraising/special events co-worker, Amanda. The big news is that Kay has returned and the weeds rightfully trembled as she headed out in to the shade garden. Needless to say, it wasn't pretty... Below is another shot of the early, dark foliage of 'Britt Marie Crawford' ligularia (Ligularia dentata). Maples have cool flowers too; even boxelders (Acer negundo)! Further below are the dangling flowers of our golden boxelder (Acer negundo 'Kelley's Gold') We've had plenty of calls regarding our extended tree sale which will be held this Friday and Saturday from 8 am - 2 pm. We are still in need of volunteers on both days and are struggling to get volunteers for our spring plant sale on May 13, 14 and 15. Our spring sale typically has over 100 slots to fill and we'll be focusing on this very intensely over the next week. There are no shortage of tasks coming up and once the spring plant sale is over, we'll really focus on all of our spring planting. It usually takes between 6 and 8 weeks to get all of our planting completed and that includes the five, sequential work days that we have on Saturday mornings (8 am - noon) over the last two Saturdays in May and the first three in June. We've had up to 50 people planting at one time and we sure get plenty in the ground if we're organized and ready to roll. To the right are the emerging fiddleheads of the maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) which is probably my favorite native fern. Below are some recent shots during our days of April showers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Showers

Above is one of our ferns "unfurling" in the fern & moss garden. There are signs of fresh growth everywhere. Unfortunately, that includes the weeds which I'm sure enjoyed the full day of rain. We had 15 minutes of sunshine and wide variability in precipitation. Despite being inside all day, we accomplished plenty of projects. Janice went out briefly to record some plant label notes but was chased inside by more rain. Janice worked on some research and helped pot up some new annuals (see to the right) that were sent by Ball Seed and will be part of our trials/evaluations. Big John helped pot up these plants but also spent some significant time processing more trees (see to the left) for our extended tree sale. We're advertising heavily for the extended sale on April 29th and 30th (8 am - 2 pm each day) and trees (3,500 remaining) are all $1.25 each (marked down from $1,75). John also went on a record gas run (a record expense $ that is, UGH!!!). Larry did a nice job consolidating and hauling out many of our plants and organizing the yard (between raindrops) to be prepared for our upcoming spring plant sale (see our website). We ultimately lack space this time of year. We're still looking for volunteers to help with this busy weekend (May 13,14,15) and look forward to another successful fundraiser. Jenny worked on entering more label info for the new engraver and created labels (the "old-fashioned" kind) for our new annuals that arrived today. We do try to have labels with the plants as they head out in to the gardens to be planted but sometimes it's easier said than done! Thanks to Jenny for being so proactive and organized. We had a photographer (Terry) here today taking some shots for one of the local papers (Messenger). We missed the rain and I took the shot of our picturesque arched bridge below. Maury was here for a bit working on some projects and is helping organize our extended tree sale this weekend. We also saw Mary W., Deb G., Sue T., Hal and Bill here today. With chances of rain thru the rest of the week, we are prepared for more indoor projects but really (and obviously!) prefer to be outside. April rains are fine but let's break it up with some sunshine and temperatures in the upper 60 degrees F!

I worked on myriad projects and continue to be involved with education, fundraising and volunteer duties but we all wear many hats around here. Last night the Janesville City Council proclaimed May 6th as "Rotary Botanical Gardens Day". This coincides (no coincidence) with National Public Gardens Day which is promoted as a partnership between the American Public Garden Association (APGA) and Better Homes & Gardens. There are other sponsors as well but the intent is to essentially promote and stress the value of public gardens in our society. 128 public gardens, including RBG, are offering free admittance with a pass that can be downloaded from the BH&G website. It was nice to see that Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Boerner Botanical Gardens and Green Bay Botanical Gardens are also part of this program. Our Executive Director, Kelli, did a nice job getting us involved and we hope to see a nice influx of visitors next Friday, May 6th, to enjoy the gardens. Nice shot to the left of one of the white hyacinths (Hyacinthus) and tulips (Tulipa) to the right that were photographed during the very brief interlude of sunshine we received today. Pop question. What do 300 'Brazen Brass' mustards (Brassica juncea) look like? See below. Come to the gardens soon to see their use. The bottom photo is an awesome example (local) of a bulb lawn that I photograph every spring. Look at all those goodies just a bit past peak. Most people don't consider tulips (Tulipa) or small daffodils (Narcissus) as part of their "bulb lawn palette" but they sure work. The trick is timing the mowing which may necessitate a weed whippin' prior to mowing if the grass really gets going. The bulb foliage should be left as long as possible.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Sunny Respite (For Now)

Today was a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine. The showers waited until early this evening to come thru which allowed a full day out in the gardens. Tomorrow may be a different story. Above is one of the hybrid magnolias we have starting to bloom. I'm not remembering the variety off hand but we have about 30 fairly nice magnolia varieties including some of the yellow varieties like 'Butterflies', 'Elizabeth', 'Yellow Lantern', 'Yellow Bird', 'Solar Flair', etc. The yellow varieties will bloom later but we're seeing many others starting to open. Last week we were talking about how well our transplanted clubmosses from Marv last year had established in our moss "island". We were speculating about their rooting structures and today Marv brought back a sample (seen below) and it confirmed the masses of shallow roots on this interesting primitive plant. It was another busy day at the gardens and I would say we're close to being in "full swing" for the spring. I was able to do another comprehensive tour and checked on our two big projects. To the left is our Japanese garden stream that should be renovated in the next couple of weeks. Recent rains have understandably slowed down that project but we did see more progress with the bluestone patio in the North Point garden today. Winifred and Mary Q. were back to help weed out in the color rooms garden. Karen, another volunteer, popped in to say she'll be back very soon and it's nice to have more hands out in the garden as our gardening needs become more apparent and timely (mulching, composting, weed control, etc.). Karen M., our Japanese garden volunteer, checked in a well and had some neat ideas on pruning in that garden. Geesje brought in more goodies and we appreciate seeing her weekly. It was another full grumpy contingent with Dick P., Dick H., Ron W., Ron and Rollie all helping with getting our terrace furniture all hauled back out and set in place. The guys brought back our big fountain from storage and will get it cleaned up before setting it out in the pond next week. Nice shot to the right of the white grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides 'Album') that always looks so nice and is a "clean white". Pat watered the remainder of our tree sale trees and moved on to other projects. We have about 3,500 of the 10,000 trees left and will be extending the sale thru next Saturday, April 30th (8 am - 2 pm) and all trees are now $1.25 each. Still plenty left. Bob T. continued working on air edging and most of the guys shifted to some major composting shortly after the furniture set-up. Maury worked on many projects including cleaning, prepping and starting up our lady fountain (see below). Maury does a nice job keeping up with our smaller water features and is a much appreciated asset for the gardens in general. Further below is Bob C. who was spreading shredded bark with Del in the rose area behind the formal gardens pergola. Jim, Bob A. and Vern worked on the new 8' cedar benches (for the North Point garden) and were sizing up more Japanese garden fence repairs. Gary was in to create and mount more new labels for immediate use and is moving on to preparing the fern labels and entering in our woodland walk perennials.
Big John did a nice job composting one of our front beds and helped load some of the carts this morning. Marv and Terry did some more work on the butterflies, hauled some Earth Day items back and really kept busy with a wide variety of projects. They're also preparing for a new project that involves installing some shorter rock walls. Marianne did a nice job going thru the details of the tree sale and had time to get outside for clean-up, her cutting display, setting out daylily labels and dispersing close to 200 lbs. of worm poop (castings) throughout our fern & moss garden. Larry unpacked two huge pallets of plants and spent time repairing a broken pump, clearing out the yard for the upcoming spring plant sale (May 14 & 15, presale in the 13th for RBG members) and unloaded 300 'Brazen Brass' mustard (Brassica juncea) that we'll use as a cool season green (actually dark maroon) for spring container interest. Janice continued her weeding in the formal gardens which involves removing a couple thousand ornamental onion (Allium) seedlings that have become problematic. She also attended our Horticulture Therapy Commitee with Mike M., Kelli, Joan, Victoria, Karen, Darcie and me. We also saw Little Jerry and his daughter and were able to meet the new special events coordinator/fund development staff member, Amanda. She started today and we welcome her to the RBG family. Nice shot to the left of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) near our zig-zag bridge. To the right is the 'Mt. Hood' grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) with that "dusting of snow" on the "peak." Below are just a few of the tens of thousands of daffodils (Narcissus) blooming around the gardens. This time of year reminds me of that little snowball on a hill that continues to get larger and gain momentum as it hurtles downslope. This time of year is a juggling act of gardening, plant arrivals, labeling and special events preparations. Our spring plant sale is looming and will start exactly two weeks from this Friday. We'll actually have some plants arriving as early as next week. The challenge with our vegetables and herbs is that they are all arriving after being pampered in warm greenhouses. With any threat of cold temperatures in the coming weeks, we are obliged to move plants inside at night. This would be easier if we didn't have to displace and account for all of our garden vehicles and other "obstacles" that need to be moved or relocated. The combination of the extended tree sale, our spring plant sale, two May evening presentations and the quick segway in to five sequential Saturday planting work days makes for a busy spring. There really shouldn't be any surprises but our successes are directly related to our volunteer commitments which are always so welcome and vital. To the left is another Japanese primrose (Primula sp.) and to the right is the almost black, emerging foliage of the dark-leaved senecio (Ligularia dentata 'Britt Marie Crawford'). The foliage will be more of a maroon/green later on but this is a nice perennial for a tropical texture and nice yellow daisies in early summer. Lots of water required for both perennials shown here. Directly below are some of our remaining tree sale offerings (arborvitae, Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce, Black Hills spruce) still available and the beautiful cardinal at the bottom.