Friday, September 30, 2011

Autumn Harvest

Although the calendar showed the first day of Autumn a week ago, this week has really featured some fall-like rains, winds, cool temperatures and leaves fluttering down. I'm a big fan of October which starts tomorrow. "Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposite miseries of summer and winter." Carol Bishop Hipps. Heavy winds hit our area last night but we had surprisingly little damage out in the gardens. Marv cleaned up the majority of the larger branches and while we had a brand new layer of twigs and leaves to collect, at least there weren't any downed trees. The top picture shows the large planting of over 50 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') that were really swaying in the breeze today along the edge of the Smelly Garden. The black and white waterfall shot is another of Kris K.'s nice photos. To the right is the showy heath aster (Aster ericoides 'First Snow') which is smothered in very small white flowers this time of year and is quite noticeable even from a distance. To the left is the flower cluster (umbel) of 'Tin Man' ornamental onion (Allium hybrida) still blooming strongly in the terrace garden. This shorter ornamental onion (15") has a long period of bloom with a nice addition of late season flower color.

We had a good crew of volunteers here today. Dr. Gredler was even here on his 87th birthday! Doc mowed and worked on our turf amongst other duties. Bill O. was in to help collect debris and we appreciate him mowing the arboretum yesterday afternoon in those heavy winds! We had plenty of rain this week and the grass is looking quite green. Thankfully we've not had to do much watering recently and are able to move on other vital gardening tasks. Kay was in today as well and did a nice job continuing her clean-up efforts near the gazebo garden and in the shade garden. Both of these areas have larger trees dropping leaves already and we'll continue to try and keep up with our collection efforts. Today was the last day for voting for the American Garden Award program which we've been involved with for the past two years. To the right is one of the seven entries this year. This is the Uchu ornamental pepper (Capsicum sp.) that has such a nice blend of cream-variegated foliage and fruits that have aged from cream to this nice orange-red. Although only 9" tall and wide, this variety (from Takii Seed) would be ideal for the container or windowbox. Directly below are two stonecrop varieties that were new to the gardens when planted last fall. Directly below is 'Plum Perfection' stonecrop (Sedum hybrida) that has maroon-tinted leaves and these showy pink flower clusters in late summer/early fall. Further below is 'Pure Joy' stonecrop (Sedum hybrida), also with darker foliage (hint of blue too) and a nice profusion of evenly spaced, star-like blossoms on wide umbels. Both of these varieties have visual interest from May thru October.

Some pictures below show the wide range of squash that Janice and her Thursday crew (below right) harvested yesterday. The diversity was amazing and it was a fun collection to observe and ultimately photograph at the end of the season. We're still debating our vegetable collection for next year but will definitely have another "Ornamental Edible & Compact Vegetable" collection somewhere out in the gardens. Our planning for next year started months ago but gets more intense as we head in to winter. To the left is the interesting striped squash (Cucurbita mixta) called 'Pipian from Tuxpan'. I think I've shown this one on a previous blog. As per Janice's description of this variety, "This Mexican variety is grown for the tasty seeds that can be eaten raw or roasted..."

Although Terry and John were off today, we had some significant gardening accomplished by Marv, Marianne and Janice. Marv loaded up our dump truck, prepared our storage area for incoming containers, touched up some of our patios with more filler sand and did a nice job purging two beds of annuals that were ready to go. Marianne worked on testing lights to start the day and moved on to her cutting display and general garden clean-up all over the gardens. Janice was also involved with lights testing (with Marianne), did some container watering and was also out collecting debris throughout the gardens. I had a brief walk around the gardens and sized up some projects for next week. Few know how much desk work has piled up for me and I made some major headway today on that pile. Much of my work right now is related to 2012 and trying to keep ahead with preparations. Directly below are the increasingly red stems of the 'Flame' willow (Salix hybrida) that has long been a staple of our west bank facing Lion's Beach. While the summer stems and leaves are green, the combination of yellow fall color along with the red stems late in the season really brings out the character in this vigorous woody plant. The stems look good all winter becoming increasingly red every week. We chop these shrubs down to 12" in March to encourage vigorous new growth and another cycle of nice autumn stem coloration. At the bottom are two of our Adirondack chairs facing the fountain. What a nice view.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cloudy, Rainy, Sunny, Windy

Today ran the gamut of all possible weather with overcast skies this morning turning in to a consistent drizzle that was later replaced with sunshine, blue skies and high winds. Directly above are two bird photos, neither taken by me. The top picture, from Santos, shows the resident red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) sailing along the entrance garden in front of a planting of yellow plume celosia (Celosia plumosa 'Fresh Look Gold'). If you look closely, the hawk has an unlucky passenger (chipmunk) in its claws.... This hawk has been sitting on our fences for the past couple of weeks and has no shortage of prey in the gardens. Directly above is an awesome shot by Kris K., our education coordinator here at RBG. She is also a talented photographer and caught a nice hummingbird shot amongst the blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue') in front of the Parker Education Center. We have seen the most hummingbird activity ever during this late summer/early fall. Glad we could be a "fly in" restaurant for these beautiful birds. Sipping nectar is "cuter" than a hawk strike but serves the same purpose I suppose...

We had a great turnout of volunteers today. Our Grumpettes included Mary (directly below), Shirley, Suzy and Doris. All the ladies were involved with tidying up and removing spent annuals. Shirley also planted a good 50 or so perennials and did a nice job weeding the Scottish highlands (alpine) garden. Kay was also here for additional clean-up, particularly in the shade garden. Bob C., Larry, Ron W., Del and Steve all worked on raking and collecting leaves and debris on paths and around the gardens. Unfortunately, the incoming winds will create a brand new clean-up challenge (and job security!). Ron B. worked on weeding along our outer fence line while Dave, Bob A., Jim and Vern worked on installing edging just outside the Japanese garden (second photo below). Maury and Dick H. helped with some repairs at the other building and Dick went on to work on some major vehicle repairs. We have some very handy people around which makes me look less inept at anything involving mechanical issues, carpentry, plumbing and electrical repairs. Bill O. and Dr. Gredler were in to mow and Hal came in to assist with raking. Dr. Yahr and Urban stopped by too. Our Thursday afternoon volunteers were also in to work with Janice. We also saw Mary W. who helped Janice with our Thursday volunteers. The class on Ornamental Grasses last night went very well. Above is Nancy N. presenting to a crowd of 63 attendees. Nancy, co-owner of the Flower Factory Nursery (Stoughton, WI), actually brought living samples of over 60 grasses for a nice "show and tell" program. There were plenty of questions and lots of interest about various grasses and their potential role in the landscape. Nancy is a great speaker and was well-received. Our last three lectures (all at the Parker Education Center from 6 pm until 8 pm) will be Bulbs (October 26), Stone in the Garden (November 16) and Holiday Plants (December 7th). See our website at http://www.rotarybotanicalgardens/ for more information and don't forget about our "very fast filling" Fall Symposium entitled Plant Appreciation (November 5th, also on the website). Directly below are two of the grasses (recent photos from RBG) that Nancy mentioned last night. Directly below is the 'Blondo' maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) which many visitors enjoy in the parking lot islands and think it is pampas grass (not hardy here). Further below are the seed heads for the Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) which look great this time of year and are also nice in both fresh and dried arrangements. The variety 'River Mist' is the variegated version of this species and one of my top 10 favorites! Directly above are some of the members of the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association (WCLA) who came yesterday by bus to visit the gardens. Of the 16 or so visitors, the vast majority had not seen the gardens. I think the group was favorably impressed as I took them on a 2 hour tour. They had lots of questions and it was nice to meet so many people interested in what we are doing at RBG. I knew one of the attendees and I like to think we have encouraged more "word of mouth" advertising for the gardens as these professionals "spread the word". To the right is another sweet shot from Kris K. of the new Japanese garden waterfall. I hope she keeps taking pictures out in the gardens! To the left are the increasingly colorful fruits of the 'Chilly Chili' ornamental hot pepper (Capsicum annuum). This variety is also grown as an edible and gets its name for having a very mild taste with minimal "heat."

Larry checked our water features which is almost a daily task with all the debris coming down which needs to be cleared out of various ponds, streams, filters, etc. Larry also spread fertilizer, push mowed, helped with some work at the visitor's center and did some pruning. Big John watered our recently dug up tropicals, push mowed, dug up more tropicals and continued cleaning up various messes here and there. Both guys helped secure our terrace umbrellas to minimize potential wind damage in that exposed location. Janice helped facilitate our Grumpettes this morning and helped tidy up the North American Garden. She also worked with our Thursday afternoon volunteers and they did a great job picking squash from the display at the Horticulture Center. Looks like we had quite a bit of squash theft as well over 50% of the squash are gone. I have to envision the stolen squash feeding a family and not perched as decoration on someone's front porch. The nerve of some people! Janice is also putting more time in to helping prepare the fall symposium as she did for the spring event as well. I worked on some budgeting for the 2012 season (never to early to start!) and had a series of morning meetings. I'm also preparing for a couple talks in October and will become "cord boy" in the coming weeks as I start running extension cords for the Holiday Lights Show. To the right is the still colorful 'Orange Fantasia' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) which doesn't mind the cool weather and has been such a stalwart garden plant for us this summer. We featured over 24 varieties and they all looked good. While peak fall color is a couple weeks away, we're seeing a pretty good start already. Directly below is the Fireball burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'Select') in our parking lot islands. We shear this variety in to a "meatball" even though it is naturally rounded. At the bottom is the start of fall color on the Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'). Note the variability in oranges, reds and maroons on adjacent leaflets! Interesting. Looking forward to my first two day weekend off in four weeks. Hope to catch up in my home garden.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sure Feels Like Autumn

Today was mostly overcast in the morning with some occasional drizzle. We've had rain over the past four days but it still is quite welcome. The sun did peak out later (with blue skies) and the temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees F. With the onset of fall colors, ornamental grasses blooming and leaves falling, the garden is still looking fairly nice this early fall. A good 75% of our annuals are still hanging in there too. Tonight is the talk on Ornamental Grasses (6 pm - 8 pm) by Nancy from The Flower Factory nursery. The top image of grasses was from Olbrich last week and shows a huge patch of perennial, 'Red Head' foxtail grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) which they've used en masse to great effect. We have specimens of this grass which I also noted was used heavily at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Nancy's talk is very timely this evening and hopefully will be well attended. The image directly above are the wispy seed heads of a clematis (Clematis tangutica) which has aptly earned a common name of "old man's beard" for this late season appearance (earlier flowers are small, yellow dangling bells). To the right is the increasingly colorful kale (Brassica oleracea 'Glamour Red') which is one of our All-America Selections display varieties. While we're tearing out neighbors to this plant, kale loves the cool days and nights and should look good until Thanksgiving (at least).

We had a tough crew here today that worked thru most of the drizzle and continued clean-up efforts in the gardens. There are still plenty of leaves, twigs and branches down and the tidying has really made the gardens look nice (tour this afternoon). The threat of high winds later in the week may create another mess and that old adage of "shoveling in a snow storm" seems appropriate but we do like to keep things looking neat and tidy on a daily basis. Volunteers included Bill O. who came in to continue his leaf/twig collection in various areas. Dr. Gredler was in to run loads to the dump, mow and tidy. We also saw Rose, Elaine, Maury, Mary W. and some other around the Horticulture Center today. We're starting to pick our squash collection which I think was a huge hit this year. We don't usually get a lot of visitors checking out the displays at the Horticulture Center but I saw quite a few examining not only the interesting squash this year but the vertical supports that were utilized to train them upwards. To the left and right are Big John, Marv and Terry who planted a Triumph elm (Ulmus x 'Morton Glossy') in the Smelly Garden this morning. The pictures aren't quite in sequence but as you can see, access involved a ball cart and note how the guys remove the burlap and wire before planting. The tree went in nicely and should grow well in that location. The North Point garden looks nice (see below) and will host the fourth? small wedding this Saturday. This space will also receive 1,000 tulips to be planted later in October for a nice spring effect in the surrounding beds.
This flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens') above is a textural, green mass from late spring thru September but really starts to become colorful this time of year with yellows, oranges and reds. Many perennials, including ornamental grasses, have interesting fall foliage coloration which is an asset for extending interest late in the season. So many plants are purchased for the brief window of flowering (which is fine) but fall color can last just as long and is a welcome splash of color before the long winter descends upon us. The plant to the right is the variegated blue mist spirea (or bluebeard) which has the Latin name Caryopteris x clandonensis. This is the variety 'Summer Sorbet' which we don't have yet at the garden. I took this shot outside the UW-Extension office in Sheboygan on Monday night and was very impressed with the clean variegation and profusion of late blooms (36" tall). Blue mist spireas are great for late season blooms and there are other variegated varieties and all gold-leaf varieties as well. We have some out in the gardens but do see some dieback and death of these with the severest of winters. They typically will die back to a couple inches above ground level (mulching recommended) and will regenerate growth once the ground warms in spring. I really like this variety and will seek it out this winter. To the left is the 'Angelina' sedum (Sedum rupestre) which is normally a chartreuse yellow in full sun and starts to get an orange tint later in the season as temperatures drop.

Marv and Terry, aside from planting the elm, worked on digging up and potting many of our valuable tropicals that we'll be hauling to a greenhouse very shortly. Although we may not get frost for awhile, the nights below 40 degrees F are quite stressful and potentially damaging to these expensive plants. The guys collected all the "popcorn" plants (Cassia didymobotrya) which were a huge hit in the Smelly Garden for their "burnt popcorn" scented blooms. It will be nice to overwinter these and get even more growth out of them next year. Marv and Terry also worked on clean-up out in the gardens. Marianne tidied up the front entrance garden and collected leaves/twigs in many locations. She also put together a very cool arrangement of grasses (below right) to decorate the room for the presentation this evening. I think she was a talented florist in a previous life as she has an "eye for arrangements." Marianne also worked on planting almost 200 columbines (Aquilegia) throughout the woodland walk garden. We get columbine donations every fall and poke them in all over the place and it is quite a display come spring... Janice tidied up the Ornamental Edible & Compact Vegetable display and collected remaining vegetables in that area as well. She moved thru three areas with the goal of collecting accumulated debris as needed. After tree planting, Big John worked on digging up our expensive elephant ears (Colocasia) and potting them up for winter greenhouse storage as well. John also collected debris, transplanted shrubs and cut back many of our larger elderberries (Sambucus). I was able to get outside before the first batch of rain and fertilize about 50% of our lawns and will do the remainder tomorrow or Friday. We have plenty of fall gardening to accomplish but will become increasingly more involved with all the duties associated with the preparation and set-up for the Holiday Lights Show. Below are one of John's elephant ear loads and Marv with a batch of the "popcorn" plants.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rain, VIPs & A Visit To Sheboygan

Today was almost entirely overcast and the rain varied from a light mist to a steady downpour. I'm still pretty happy that we've had all of this recent precipitation (almost 3") as it is quite timely as we head in to fall. Above are yours truly, Dr. Edward Hasselkus, Professor Emeritus, UW-Madison Dept. of Horticulture and Jane L., Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society member and gardener extraordinaire. Dr. H. and Jane came down from Madison to tour the gardens and we had a great chat over lunch. Jane had been to the gardens earlier in the year and we were happy to have Doc tour the gardens while I picked his brain on various plants, recommendation advice and identification issues. Dr. H. has been a strong supporter of the gardens and has an unbelievable encylopedic knowledge of woody plants that has benefited many organizations (including ours!). Dr. Hasselkus has long been associated with the Longenecker Gardens which is the woody plant collection up at the UW-Arboretum. Dr. H. has been the curator there for 45+ years I believe and has introduced many of his woody plant selections in to "the trade" from that arboretum.

With all the wind and rain, the gardens were quite messy with leaves, twigs and debris. Larry went out and cleaned up many of our water features that were cluttered with this debris and he moved on to general clean-up with our other gardeners. Unfortunately a huge cottonwood (Populus deltoides) branch dropped and damaged our cool weeping ginkgo (Gingo biloba 'Pendula') tree although it is still salvageable and will look more "windswept" with one side gone... Larry cleaned up that mess as well. Big John collected many of our hoses out in the gardens and ran out for gas. John then helped collect debris around the gardens which ended up being a full day affair for everyone. He also removed more spent annuals (impatiens before they get soggy) and some plants that had been toppled by the winds. The rain yesterday affected our Grumpy turnout so a couple guys showed up today to help out. Both Ron W. and Del were in to help tidy up the paths and collect debris. Bill O. was also in to help and Dr. Gredler was in to mow and collect leaves as well. We also saw Dr. Yahr, Little Jerry, Kris and some others over at the Horticulture Center. While it was a dismal day, there was much accomplished and we'll continue clean-up efforts tomorrow as it looks like this storm system will be moving out of the area.

Last night I spoke at the Mead Public Library in Sheboygan, WI to a group of 50 or so. The topic was Healing Gardens and it appeared to be well-received. I had lots of questions and it was an enthusiastic group. This presentation was sponsored by the local garden club and thanks to Judy and the other ladies for organizing this event. I arrived in Sheboygan an hour early (on purpose) so I could head over to the UW-Sheboygan campus and take another look at the Bookworm Gardens ( which I've seen on three previous occasions. I viewed this garden earlier this spring and was amazed at the recent developments and expanded garden space that I saw yesterday. This is a top notch children's garden with spaces/experiences that are designed around many of the more recognizeable children's stories (i.e. Jack and the Beanstalk, etc.). The plant selection is quite impressive too. I took many more photos and enjoyed the nice plantings around the UW-Extension offices in the near vicinity. Sheboygan is quite a hike (2.5 hours) from Janesville but is a neat town and we're starting to see people making the trip to RBG from this area. I'm hoping the local garden groups will charter a bus trip next year.... Below are just a few of my images from Bookworm Gardens (isn't that a cool visitor's center/office?).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Indoor Projects Abound

Dr. Gredler above asked me to include his thoughts at the time of this photo this morning. As he was counting 1,000 tulips in to bags of 20, he was thinking, "I'd rather be mowing." Of course, he was mowing about an hour later as it stopped raining and we had an opening in the clouds for a bit. There was a steady drizzle this morning that periodically became a down pour. It was a nice day to work inside and we had Jenny, a Grumpette, helping Dr. Gredler organize our tulips for planting in front of the building in a couple weeks. With the rain, most of the Grumpies didn't come in but we'll see if we can use them tomorrow morning and certainly later in the week. Dave, Bob A. and Jim worked on some indoor carpentry projects while Dick H. and Larry worked on one of our tractors. Urban was in to help Big John (to the left) peel labels though John was outside organizing items in the garage, yard and eventually was out doing some gardening. Terry and Marv helped organize the horticulture center for our upcoming lights show preparations and they moved on to gardening which included moving a large tree in to place for planting (tomorrow?). Marianne (to the right) helped tidy up the hort center too and started the long process of testing/repairing lights. She is a pro at this and talk about patience! We may start decorating as early as next week to get an early start on set-up while the weather is still tolerable. We also saw Gary S., Rollie, Bob C., Bill O. and others over at the Horticulture Center this morning. I had a meeting and finalized some projects. I'm off early to hit the road over to Sheboygan and will take time to check out the Bookworm Gardens on the UW-Sheboygan campus. This is a neat children's garden that I photographed this spring but would like to see what it looks like in fall. Below are more pictures from Chicago Botanic Garden and the photo directly below shows one of their neat vertical walls planted with dwarf snapdragons (Antirrhinum) and a perennial heath aster (Aster ericoides 'Snow Flurry'). I've seen veggies and herbs in these before but thought this one quite striking and obviously planted recently for fall effect. At the bottom are the famous drooping mums that CBG trains to accentuate these entrance planters. Really cool.