Sunday, July 31, 2011

Milwaukee & Back

On Friday, I went to Milwaukee with the intent of meeting an old friend (from High School and college) for the Brewers/Astros night game (see above). I went to Milwaukee early to get some time at Boerner Botanical Gardens in Hales Corners, WI. The gardens looked good and it was nice to see that they received some rain as well. It was about 95 degrees F and quite oppressive. However, I did get thru the gardens and took some nice shots (as seen below).

Friday, July 29, 2011

Finally, Some Blue Sky!

It's nice to have a sunny day and not have to worry about watering! The ground is nice and damp and should be good for awhile now. Of course the dampness has also encouraged plenty of mushrooms in beds and turf but they have a beauty all their own (see to the right, unknown mushroom). The top picture is our copper cheese vat planting in the English cottage garden and all the rain has really helped those three golden elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta 'Elena') in the center get some size. Directly above are some of the annuals in the sunken garden and that very dark grass in the center is eyecatching. Called elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum), that variety is 'Vertigo' which I think is the darkest of the elephant grasses and stays under 4' tall. Some of the other varieties like 'Prince' and 'Princess', though also neat and showy, get a lot taller. Speaking of dark plants, to the left is the Lancelot Velvet Mocha coleus (Solenstemon scutellarioides) which has a very unique chocolate maroon finish.

We had a nice volunteer turnout today. Dr. Gredler was in to do his usual Friday mowing (as was Bill). This is one of the lighter weekends for outdoor weddings with only one in the sunken garden tomorrow. We tidy up the entire gardens though as we know, weekends are prime time for visitation regardless of weddings or other events. Kay came in to do some weeding in the front sign berm and in the peony collection along Palmer Drive. We both agreed that the recent soaking has made it easier to pull weeds but will undoubtably also encourage the next batch to germinate! We appreciate Kay's help and will see her next week for more weeding and planting. Margo came in to accomplish some weeding near the North Point garden and down in to the Smelly Garden. I saw some monster weeds out there this morning and promised that she would have a rewarding weeding endeavor. Hal and Doris were in to weed and tidy up their area (corner sculpture area) and we also saw Dr. Yahr, Maury and others. We had a wrap up meeting for the Home Garden Tour (attended by Amanda, Janet, Jean, Cora, Barb, Bill and me) and are already talking about 2012 plans. The squash collection is growing by leaps and bounds with this recent rain. To the right is a specimen doing quite well on the pillar and below is a blossom of the 'Cushaw White' variety. These blooms were easily 8" wide!
Directly above is a bloom of the 'Prairie Sun' gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) that is known for the green center and interesting petals that are lemon yellow at the tips and butter gold on the interior. This is a good plant with plenty of flower power and tops out at about 3' tall. The annuals out in the gardens continue to look really good and the marigold (Tagetes) collection is looking outstanding. I can't believe that some of the varieties are over 4' tall right now! To the right is 'Soldier' beet (Beta vulgaris) with lemon bergamot (Monarda citriodora) in the back. This foliage/flower combo works well and is repeated throughout the reception garden.

Terry pushmowed, weeded the North Point garden, checked some containers for watering, cleared up some edging, tidied up, etc. He had a long check list and went right down the list. Big John also did weeding, watering and prepared a portion of the North Point garden for our future chairs that will be installed out there next week. Janice did the cutting display, pushmowed and worked quite a bit on weeding as well. Next week Terry and Pat are on vacation so we'll have a real "skeleton crew." This would be of more concern if we hadn't had all the rain as we'd be spread thin with just watering. Now we can focus on more weeding and try to keep up with the next wave of infiltrators. To the left is a nice clumping of the summer poinsettia or fountain plant (Amaranthus tricolor 'Early Splendor') that has such foliage impact. The foliage is edible on this plant (and all the other associated varieties with different foliage). I've mentioned it before that this plant peaks right now and goes downhill quickly in late August, never looking this nice until frost. What a great example of the impact that foliage can have though! To the right is another neat foliage plant called silver spurflower (Plectranthus argentatus). This annual will get almost three feet tall and wide and has nice, clean silver foliage that works well in containers, borders and in any combination. I've planted this plant every year I've gardened and appreciate what it has to offer.

As I was pulling some weeds in the Smelly Garden this morning, I noted more fragrant blooms looking (and smelling) nice. Directly below is the common madia (Madia elegans) which is native to California and some other far West states. This annual has pineapple-scented blooms (1.5" wide) and leaves. Look closely at the flower petals as they separate in to more segments at the tips. Very interesting. The bottom picture is the chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) (native to TX) which really does smell like chocolate (if you get real close). This plant is supposedly perennial for us but has never overwintered. We do plant it as a fragrant annual though. Look at the "petal detal" on this one too! A little 'V' on the ends. It's all in the details.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

More Of The Same

Today was another rainy day for the most part with some gaps between the showers. The sun made a brief appearance here and there although it was dark clouds most of the day. I had today off but came in to touch base with the grounds staff and Grumpies. Nice shot above demonstrating Bill O.'s pruning abilities on some weigelas (Weigela florida) near one of our entry signs. Weigelas have a looser form usually but shearing is effective in making them fill out (if you like the "meatball look"!). Bill did these to keep the sign visible. Below is the 'Savannah Supreme' plantain lily (Hosta) in the gazebo garden with neat, variable streaking in the leaves. Larry, Janice and Big John were in early today although John hasn't been feeling the best and headed home early as it was a downpour this morning. Janice worked on running new labels out and some other projects. Larry had a list of things to do that didn't include irrigation! Before I left, I saw Jim, Bob A., Dave and Vern and also saw Dennis working on paths. The carpenters did a great job on their bridge (see directly below) near the new waterfall in the Japanese garden and will finish it up next week if the weather cooperates. Suzy came in to weed but I'm not sure how long she stayed with the showers. I work a half-day tomorrow then am heading to Milwaukee. I'm going to try to get to Boerner Botanical Gardens if time allows and see how things are going there. This rain, while unfortunately causing severe floods in other areas, is most welcome at RBG and this soaker will be long-appreciated as we head in to a potentially dry August. Unfortunately the "skeeterz" will respond to this moisture too...
Further below, I'm using some photographs from yesterday that were taken in the Ornamental Edible / Compact Vegetable display. The top picture is the 'Britton' beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens). I've grown many different perillas in the past but this one looks the neatest to me. Already at 3' tall, this herb has green textured leaves with maroon undersides. Cultivated in the Far East, the leaves of this mint family herb can be used young in salads and have a mildly sweet flavor. The leaves, when rubbed, smell like a basil/mint combination (not bad...not good...interesting). Further below are more compact tomato plants (Lycopersicon esculentum). Althought the fruit hasn't ripened on either of these ('Totem' at the top and 'Red Robin', ummm, at the bottom), the plants themselves are about basketball sized and very suitable in a container where staking would not be necessary. As determinate varieties (and all our compact tomatoes are determinates), they produce all their tomatoes at one time (and are naturally more compact) as opposed to producing on sprawling vines throughout the summer (termed indeterminate). It's been fun to experiment with some of these including that 'Micro-Tom' variety I featured in the blog yesterday. I'll try to blog tomorrow if possible but will certainly catch up this weekend. Check out our website at for upcoming opportunities!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Drenching Deluge

For the most part, it was a damp, rainy day. We (Terry, Pat and I) came in early to beat the heat and ran for cover when the lightning, thunder and pounding rain arrived. It was quite cool this morning too. We had just enough time to bring in some soil, plants and containers for an indoor project that the guys took care of quickly. The top image is a close-up of the flowers and orange new foliage growth of the fuchsia (Fuchsia hybrida 'Autumnale') in the large, copper cheese vat planter in the English cottage garden. The hummingbirds will hopefully track this one down. Directly above are some of the many labels that have been produced and mounted recently by Gary, Ariel, Rita and Mandy. Our label production has exceeded my expectations and our limiting factors now relate to materials as we need more aluminum for stakes yet again! Our original plan was to re-label all of the woody plants first but we found this would take more research time and we're still trying to devise an anchoring system to keep the labels securely in the ground. Our current aluminum labels get bent, knocked out of place and even pulled out by visitors (photographers, etc.). We want to make sure that at least the woody plant labels have additional anchoring. I envision working on these over the winter. However, we have been inventorying perennials in various areas and producing the "new and improved" replacement labels. This has gone very well and we've almost inventoried every garden area. The picture to the above right is of Malabar (or vine) spinach (Basella rubra) working up a support in our Ornamental Edible / Compact Vegetable (OECV) display. That blue support will be buried beneath this vigorous vine (edible leaves) in a couple of weeks. I was out in the OECV quite a bit today as Dan and Kathy (further below with camera) from the Janesville Gazette were down to take photographs and get details for a future story on the intent and value of this collection. To the left is the bright petiole (stem) color of the 'Flamingo Pink' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris). I've mentioned it before but we are featuring over 20 varieties of Swiss chard in the OECV collection this year. To the right and directly below is our 'Micro-Tom' tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) which has been touted by many as the smallest tomato plant in the world. Note the pencil used for scale! These plants are softball-sized and would be great in a windowbox or small container. Think about those huge, flopping tomato plants and all the staking involved! I believe we have five compact tomato varieties in this collection as well as compact eggplants, dwarf herbs, etc. While the sun peaked out briefly, we had periodic rain all day. I'm thankful for this as hopefully this rainfall will really soak in and make for a better late summer out in the gardens with less irrigation. Mother Nature offers the ideal irrigation (unless it's a monsoon). It looks like we'll have another three sequential days with the possibility of rain. Where was all of this a month ago when we had six people watering all day!? I caught up on all manner of projects today and was glad for the office time. Terry and Pat worked collectively on weeding (where access wasn't too muddy!), path repair, pruning and various small tasks. Dr. Gredler was in to do some brief mowing but the drizzle discouraged him quickly. We also saw Maury with supplies, Art, Layton, Tina, Dick H., Deb., Bev, Al, etc. Further below are some additional photos from my visit today to the OECV display. To the right is the variegated hot pepper (Capsicum annuum 'Sparkler') and to the left is the foliage of the perennial bloody dock (Rumex sanguineus ssp. sanguineus). To the right is another Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) called 'Ruby Red'. Some of the best Swiss chard I've seen grown, even if it's never cut for eating, is in medium to large containers. It offers bold texture, color and plenty of interest.

As we head in to August, we'll continue our watering and weeding tasks but will be finishing our planting of perennials and woody plants. The renovated English cottage garden is about 50% planted and we'll finish by Friday (weather permitting). We'll also use August to "polish off" the remaining tasks and clean-up for both the North Point garden and the Japanese garden. We had two tours today that really enjoyed the garden and while we say that we are at "peak color", we make all efforts to extend interest well in to fall. Next Thursday is our "Members Only" bus trip to the Ball Seed Display Gardens (West Chicago, IL) and Cantigny Park (gardens and museums). This should be lots of fun. That evening (August 4th) at 7 pm is also the last of the Rock Prairie Master Gardener Lecture Series. The topic, presented by the Janesville Area Herb Society is on Horseradish. Horseradish has been proclaimed the herb of the year by the International Herb Association. Directly below is a cucumber blossom and the cool shot at the bottom (not from today!) was from Tina B., my ace photographer who is also photographing all the marigold (Tagetes) collection.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Sultry Summer Day

Today was fairly hot but still nothing like last week. There was plenty of sunshine and I noted quite a few visitors including a small group brought in by Dennis and Gena, two of our volunteers. There was also a small tour that we hope enjoyed flower beds like that directly above with plenty of impatiens. The top picture is one of our daylilies (Hemerocallis) in the gardens. This is the variety 'Chicago Fire'. The variety of flower color out in the garden is amazing and we've had many favorable comments today. The flower to the right is the annual cup flower (Nierembergia hippomanica 'Purple Robe') that is an All-America Selections (AAS) winner. I like this annual but it doesn't "go the distance" until frost but is good thru August at least. To the left is Magda working in her berm near the front entrance garden. Her past career as a florist has made her an amazing asset at the gardens and we appreciate her help and always the help of dedicated volunteers. Mary H. was in to work in her area and brought her daughter to help out as well. Kay was in to work in some major weeding in the entrance garden and along the Palmer Drive slope that was inundated with all manner of weeds. I think she'll be back for a repeat performance tomorrow even though we hit her with irrigation today. Bev was out in the gardens checking over our butterfly art projects and Little Jerry came in to mow the arboretum and some other select areas. Dr. Gredler was also in to mow and Bill O. came in to help plant in the English cottage garden. We saw Chuck S. giving the tour out in the gardens and also saw Ariel, Maury and others as well. To the right is a combination of 'Freckles' coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) and 'TigerEye Gold' gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia). As seen below, work continues on the second level of the waterfall and the progress looks good. The three lower spillways are flowing well and the guys are stacking the back layer of rock for a wide "sheet flow" coming down to the first level. This is not a rebuild of the original waterfall but a bigger and better system with more impact and appeal. We always discourage inappropriate public displays of affection (PDAs) out in the garden but it's hard to keep these garden visitors out (second picture down). The beetles, though not as numerous yet as last year (knock on wood), are evident in many locations. We had our normal Tuesday work crew and with Big John back from vacation, we hit the ground running early today. Pat worked on mowing, weeding, major planting (in the Smelly Garden and English cottage garden) and some watering. Pat spent a good portion of time planting annuals and perennials in our re-vamped English cottage garden and we'll probably get him back there tomorrow to finish. Larry ran irrigation all day and did what we call a "comprehensive weedwhip" where he goes around EVERY bed, border, edging, etc. and really tidies up well. Larry also helped plant later in the day. Big John started with pushmowing and shifted over to planting shrubs and perennials around the lower pool of the new water feature in the Japanese garden. John later fertilized our containers and did some other watering. Janice was in to do the cutting display, tidy up some vegetable/edible collections, etc. She kept busy and did a great job with that cutting display. To the right is one of my favorite gloriosia daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) appropriately called 'Cherry Brandy'. We have this variety in the reception garden and elsewhere. With all the recent heat, our tropicals are really growing well including all of our elephant ears (Colocasia sp. and Alocasia sp.). To the left is the almost black leaf of 'Diamond Head' elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta). After seeing this variety at the New York Botanic Garden and Central Park Conservatory Gardens last year, I really wanted this variety and it's starting to get some nice size finally. Another nice variety of Colocasia esculenta is 'Mojito' which can be seen to the right. The irregular spotting and sploching is quite showy as these mature. Our Wisconsin summers seem to be ideal for tropicals like these to really get some size as long as they are provided with good soil, plenty of water and occasional fertilizer. The elephant ears would also be happy on the shallow shelf of a larger pond or waterfeature. Directly below is another cool, new blanket flower (Gaillardia hybrida 'Punch Bowl') that has such nice pink overtones and should be a perennial for a couple of years. Blanket flowers aren't notoriously long-lived but are nice components in any sunny garden. At the bottom is our entrance garden slope looking pretty sharp with the yellow/blue combination.