Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Still Some Green Out There! (UGH)

Today was just beautiful with sunshine and temperatures in the low 40 degrees F. There wasn't as much wind so it was quite comfortable. While I've been working on desk work the past couple of weeks, I was able to get out in the gardens for an hour or so with Luis (below right) to review the last of his woody plant inventory. We looked at the woody plants around the Horticulture Center, prairie and along the north path. He's done a superb job and my next task is to go over all the spreadsheets and make sure the data is ready for our label entry process. I had my camera with me as usual and did catch some greenery (see above). Unfortunately, this is garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) which stays green late and will be one of the first green plants noticeable in March (which also accomodates early detection/eradication efforts). Although it's getting a bit chilly for herbicide applications, these plants can still be dug and removed (get that root!). However, don't consider that space clear of garlic mustard as your digging will stir up the hundreds of seeds already in the soil from previous dispersal and you'll need to target the first year "sprouts" next spring too. Be vigilant. To the upper left is the colorful but aggressive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) vine which has already dropped seed. Below are some of our tulip displays for the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) positioned near the arched bridge. This grouping looks great from across the water. We also have daffodils and other flowers down in the sunken garden. Further below are just some of our sand buckets ready for path applications as needed for the HLS. During snowy Decembers, we have to be on top of snow removal and making paths safe and ice free. I was the only grounds staff member here today but Pat came in to continue work on securing burlap around our delicious yews (Taxus sp.) out in the formal gardens. We still have some wrapping to do but should finish that by next week. Our heaviest deer browsing month is typically February but we'll get our protection efforts in order shortly as we already see evidence of deer intrusions. Maury and Dick H. came in to go pick up larger table tops for our Taste of Chocolate event this Friday. This event is sold out (200 attendees) and should be another success. I'll be around that evening to fire up the HLS for the premiere lighting after dessert. Cora and Barb T. were over to spray paint some interior, HLS decorations for the Parker Education Center although maybe they are for the Taste of Chocolate now that I think about it. Possibly double usage?

We also saw Art and Jumbo Jim at the Horticulture Center today. To the right is the late fall color of the leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum) which is just starting to turn this nice maroon. Below are the fallen leaves of the 'Saratoga' ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) which has a distinctively different shaped leaf than other ginkgo varieties with a longer leaf that is frequently indented quite dramatically. This variety did not have the clear yellow fall color though... More desk work tomorrow although I'm making progress in regards to many of our 2012 themes and projects.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Winter Blues? How About Some Summer "Blues"?

The start of winter brings on the "blues" for many people. Our gardening is on hold for the most part until late March and shorter days (and less sunlight) may even trigger symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in some of us. It's not unusual to get a little depressed over the next four months but as I've always said, hopefully your garden has colorful conifers offering form and interest as well as ornamental bark, berries and ornamental grasses. That winter "scene" out in the garden can help carry us over until spring. Regardless, the "blues" hit us all to some degree or another. As your seed catalogs roll in and that "eye candy" starts to get you thinking about next year, why not get the "summer blues" by focusing on more blue annuals out in the garden for 2012. I think blue is the most underutilized color in the garden (with white a close second). You can't go wrong with blue, whether it is a blue conifer, shrub, grass, perennial or annual. However, there are some neat summer annuals that will over vivid blue coloration for a significant period of time in the garden. At the top is amethyst flower (Browallia sp.) which we plant by the thousands in our shade garden and partly shaded locations. It blooms fine in very little light and offers a vivid blue (also comes in white). Directly below is the 'Rhythm & Blues' petunia (Petunia sp.) which also features a clean, white edge on all the flower petals. Further below is one of the many trailing or "carpet type" lobelias (Lobelia erinus). This is the variety 'Techno Hot Electric Blue' and it looks great in to early July but this species despises the summer heat and begins to fade. It is considered what is called a "cool-season annual."
Today was windy and quite chilly with temperatures around 38 degrees F all day. That wind had a bite to it and poor Larry and Bill O. toughed it out in the gardens all day. The guys spent quite a bit of time finishing some HLS preparations and also spent significant time straightening and securing some of our temporary pine trees that are like sails with all this wind moving them back and forth on their anchoring stakes. Bill also did some garden clean-up which is a never ending job any time of the year. Maury, Glenn and I met this morning to talk about our tree sale for 2012. Last year, RBG paired with the Golden "K" Kiwanis Club to help offer their annual tree sale and it was quite profitable (look for it in April!). We look forward to our joint venture again and today was a good start with some of the details. Maury, Dick H. and Rollie met and did some work at the other building with Rollie heading out later to install a new memorial brick. We also saw Pat, Mark S., Gary and some others today as well. I had some meetings and had a nice lunch with Big John and Janice. I also met with Kris and Kelli as we are formulating our plan of attack for 2012 education at RBG. Directly below are the large, dangling bells of the bellflower (Campanula medium 'Blue Improved'). We've grown this species simply as an annual although it does have some hardiness too and is considered a biennial by others. The second photo down shows the interesting shade of blue on the annual pimpernel (Anagallis 'Wildcat Orange')
Remember when considering blues that there is a very wide and subjective range of blues out there. These range from the traditional sky blues to navy blues to those blues that many would consider are more in the "purply" range of blue. Regardless of the shades of blue you use, consider the value of mass planting or grouping larger spaces with these plants. While these plants look beautiful singularly, they add more drama and impact as a grouping. Blue falls in to what would be considered a "cool" color in the garden. Cool colors also include green and maroon and help lend depth to a composition as well as a visual balance with the brighter, or "hot" colors. Hot colors include the yellow, oranges and reds that, while excellent in the garden, can be quite overwhelming if not "tamed" with some blues and/or other cool colors. There are lots of theories on color and I'm not one to preach. My only comment is to consider using more blues. Below, in sequence, are wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri 'Torrie Blue'Italic) which likes part shade, dwarf morning glory (Convolvulus tricolor 'Royal Blue Ensign') which isn't a vine but a scrambler that we used in our blue/yellow theme this year and finally, at the bottom is a beautiful shade of blue on the baby-blue-eyes (Nemophila menziesii) which is a native of the West coast and is a wonderful, cool season annual for us (looks good in May and June). What a nice shade of blue! This is a smattering of blues offered by annuals. In future blogs, I'll talk more about blues from other types of plants and we'll cover more on color in general.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Heading In To My Desk Season

With the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) essentially set up and ready to go, I'm spending more time at my desk with my winter activities. My priorities will include getting our seed orders compiled, preparing for upcoming presentations, sorting and organizing my 2011 (and some 2010!) digital photos and really getting caught up with finalizing information for our new woody plant labels. I need to go thru Luis' (our volunteer woody plant curator) thorough inventory of woody plants and review all the information so Gary is ready to produce the new labels this winter. Needless to say, there is no shortage of work and despite no snow accumulation yet, I feel like spring will be here all too soon! The top picture above shows Larry, who along with Ron W., worked on finishing our deer fence installation and moved on to wrapping our yews (Taxus sp.) with burlap. The clumps near the pergola that he is targeting in the photo have been decimated by the deer each year. Directly above are the berries of the European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) which are just waiting for relocation via "bird dispersal." It's not too late to target this thug in the garden which I talked about in detail in a blog within the past month or so. To the right is a close-up of our ornamental kale (Brassica sp.) which is looking even more vivid with the consistently cool temperatures this time of year. To the left is a close-up of the seed head of the Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). You can see how it gets it's name with that structure, which holds up fairly well throughout the winter and has a neat rattling sound.

We had a good showing of volunteers today with the Grumpies and some others trickling in throughout the day. As mentioned above, Larry H. and Ron W. worked on deer fencing and "burlapping" while Urban was out in the gardens too continuing his crabapple (Malus sp.) pruning. Dick H. and Maury as well as Rollie and Dick P. all went mobile to pick up memorial bricks from Madison, WI and Sturtevant, WI respectively. Del worked on cleaning and sharpening tools while Dave, Vern, Bob A. and Jim continued work on the oak leaf project for the 2012 art in the garden program. Gary worked on organizing his labeling information and records. Jumbo Jim and one RECAPPER came in and did some work on winterizing our roses and continued protection efforts on the yews (Taxus sp.) in the Japanese garden. Janice was in to work on some lights and we also saw Big John, Dave G. and some others today as well. The image to the right is the 'Carmen' stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) which has gone way beyond the pink summer flowers but continues to offer form and interest in the late garden. Directly below is one perennial that continues to bloom despite the weather and Mother Nature's "death punch" hasn't found it yet. This is the red scabious (Knautia macedonica) which has lots of bloom power (May thru November) and also the capacity to create lots of babies so be prepared! Regardless, these little "pincushion-like" blooms do offer color and interest very late. Larry worked on tweaking some of the elements out in the HLS today and we're running some tests on a couple areas that were touchy last Wednesday evening at our last lights testing. Larry also installed some tree signs and is finalizing our HLS needs for the final route (barricades, signs, etc.). We have accelerated all of our set-up for HLS over the years and with an early set-up start (typically early October), we aren't so rushed at the end with our troubleshooting efforts. I remember years ago being out in the snow, three days before the start of the event, trying to re-route cords and deal with power issues. With everything now ready by Thanksgiving, we also then have the ability to solicit businesses to rent the facility/HLS for holiday parties or we can promote the event for bus tours as well. I think we have three or four instances (aside from our normal HLS schedule) that will involve the lights. To the right is the bronze fall color of the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) in the Japanese garden. To the left is the seed structure of the Bush's purple coneflower or yellow coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa). Seed heads, while ideally providing food for our winter wildlife, also have an inherent beauty (and form) as well out in the landscape.

We continue to garden outside and are focused on the last of our leaf collection before the weather turns sour on us. The leaf debris generated in a garden this size is unbelievable and recent winds have created more areas for us to address before snow becomes the limiting factor. Larry and I talked about some significant winter pruning and select removals out in the gardens too. We hope to have a good crew of Grumpies help with this pruning and it's been awhile since we've gone thru the entire gardens. Other winter projects (for Larry specifically) include vehicle maintenance and a lot of equipment cleaning, repairs, etc. This may be the "down time" for us but there is very little idle time! To the right is the foliage of the 'Plum Pudding' coral bells (Heuchera sp.) that is still looking pretty good near the gazebo garden. Directly below is an interesting mosaic of fall color on the leaf of the variegated wayfaringtree viburnum (Viburnum lantana 'Variegatum'). I will say that most of the leaves on this variety aren't as cool and just turn yellow very late in the season and drop. At the bottom is the clear yellow fall color of the columbine (Aquilegia sp.).

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Good Time For Grasses & Sedges

Enjoying flowers (outside) will need take a hiatus very soon until mid-March when we see winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) and vernal witchhazels (Hamamelis vernalis) starting up as the snow melts. Remember that flowers are only part of a beautiful, four seasons garden that granted, does become more reliant on subtlety for interest as we head in to the December thru February quarter. However, ornamental grasses, sedges and other grass relatives do help carry interest late in the season. The picture of the 'Grasshopper' sedge (Carex sp.) above shows how visually interesting these plants continue to be late in the season. Although this variety may not prove winter hardy for us, it sure looItalicked good planted throughout our fern & moss garden this year. Below is the plantain-leaf sedge (Carex plantaginea) as seen on this past Wednesday, still looking good late in the season. I've observed this sedge natively in both WI and IL as well.
On Wednesday night, we had our second testing of the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) and while we only had four volunteers, Kelli and John go thru the show, it did allow me to evaluate the changes we made after our Monday evening test night. With the lights on at dusk for these tests, we see lots of traffic slowing along Palmer Drive and even some "hopefuls" that pull in to see if the show is open yet. I still have one area to tweak next week but was happy that most of the show stayed on for the entire day with minimal problems. Next Friday evening, December 2nd, is our Taste of Chocolate event which I think is going on either its fifth or sixth year as one of our more popular events. The premiere lighting of HLS has always been a part of this event and we're on track to have everything ready. To the right are two new brick pillars that our contracted masons put up Wednesday afternoon around the support frame for our new garden sign. We anticipate that the sign will come in by early January and we'll have it up and running shortly thereafter. To the left is the late season color of the golden Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'). These are just some of the "tufts" coming out of the boulder wall near the fern & moss garden.

With our calendar year winding down, we are focusing on promoting and facilitating the HLS event which should be a nice source of revenue during a time of year that would not traditionally experience much garden visitation. We're preparing our educational offerings for 2012 but still have lecture 12 of 12 coming up on December 7th. Patty Bailey of Patty's Plants Organic Garden Supply (Milton, WI) will come in and talk about Holiday Plants - Past to Present (6 pm - 8 pm, RBG members are free, all others are $5). Patty had a great crowd for her herb talk in early spring and we hope for a strong showing to finish our popular lecture series which has already brought in well over 600 adults yet this year for the previous 11 topics. To the right is the wispy (yet tall) purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea 'Transparent') which has a nice airy effect with the bulk of the grass foliage down low and the tall flower stalks elevated above. You can see how it got its name! Unfortunately this grass (variety and species for that matter) has no winter interest as it flops after even moderate snowfall. Below is the always showy prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) which offers a nice textural contribution in the garden from June until heavy snowfall. Look for those elements of interest that still exist out in your garden or be inspired to include more plants of this nature to create extended interest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Late November Garden

Today was another nice day with blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the mid 40 degrees F. It was a real skeleton crew today with various volunteers stopping in to help. Pat (above) did a nice job (here all morning) starting to wrap our yews (Taxus sp.) out in the gardens with burlap. This isn't a wind protection effort but a "deer nibbling prevention" effort. The yews above are the 'Hicksii' upright yews and two years ago they were decimated by our winter deer population. Pat and other Grumpies will hopefully finish wrapping the yews and other tasty evergreens next week as we also need to put the finishing touches on our temporary, protective deer fencing throughout the gardens. This time of year we also see other critter damage out in the gardens including some of our Holiday Lights Show (HLS) cords as seen to the right. This was probably a squirrel but we are rarely able to determine the specific culprit. We will frequently have a couple issues of critter nibbling on our cords and lights which necessitates running new cords. We've also had birds peck and remove/destroy some of the "accessible" icicle lights as they catch some sun during the day and I think the sparkle attracts the birds. In the past, we've also had deer get tangled up in our dangling icicle lights and drag them down from the trees. We now tie a little bit of blue tape about 4' off ground level on all the icicles to make the strands a bit more visible and intimidating. The wind has already blown down about eight of our icicle strands so we'd like to avoid any more losses! To the left is the fading orange to pink fall color of the three-flower maple (Acer triflorum). I showed these leaves on the blog weeks ago when they were a brilliant orange. As they have dried and are starting to drop, I thought this last phase of pinkish orange was neat. These leaves even look a bit like poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)! Other volunteers today included Janice who went out for our last shopping binge for some additional LED twinkle lights and spent some time adjusting the lights on our obelisks outside. Bill O. came in to tidy up out in the gardens this afternoon and we also saw Maury, Jean S. and some others. To the right is one of our yarrows (Achillea, unknown variety) still showing color although I think it has been freeze dried! Yarrow blooms strongly in June but keeps on flowering well past frost with scattered blossoms. Below is my favorite, "lower-statured" golden juniper. This is the 'Saybrook Gold' Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis) which does continue to widen but stays in the 2' tall range or so. We trim as needed and those trimming are nice in arrangements. The golden coloration is very consistent and this showy evergreen has always done well for us.
Above are our two HLS swan displays in the koi pond. These look great with the view from the other side. We put two "tank heaters" in opposite corners of the koi pond to keep the ice from freezing solid across this smaller pond. We leave the fish in over winter and will ultimately have that pond cleaned in spring. The heaters will allow for some open water and air exchange for the fish. The fish aren't real active and we're done feeding them for the year. They'll hang out in a large school down below and wait it out. I started the day with various indoor projects then went out and plugged in the entire show so Janice could work on the obelisks. I like to leave the show on for 6 hour periods during testing to see if there are any problems. When the HLS rolls around, we'll have the lights on roughly from 4 pm until 8 pm. Barring any challenges from rain/sleet, we don't anticipate any power problems. Today, I also put out some additional lights and replaced some questionable cords. Additionally, I string out "back up" cords on open circuits just in case I need to divert power for any reason during the show. To the above right is a close-up of the recurved, silvery (back side of the needle) needled Korean fir (Abies koreana 'Horstmann's Silberlocke'). This conifer looks great from a distance and despite the slow growth rate and high price, this is a showy, small-scale conifer for the full sun garden. Our best specimen (of our three) is in the front of the Parker Education Center. Conifers are really contributing from now thru April! To the left is the continued blooms of the 'Ozawa' ornamental onion (Allium thunbergii) in the alpine garden (photo from today). Today I also noted buds of this perennial that still hadn't opened up! Now that is one tough perennial as the frost has not slowed it down much (yet). I believe my November blogs always feature 'Ozawa' and rightfully so. To the lower right is the fall color of the little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues'). I like the mahogany/pink overtones on the stems and there are many good varieties out there with nice fall color but even more improved blue summer coloration. I took many pictures today and my November and December pictures over the years have given me a better appreciation for the subtle colorations and interest out in the late season (or fourth season) of the gardens, both at RBG and home. Below is one of the evergreen hen & chicks (Sempervivum sp.) and at the bottom, our large grouping (80 plants?) of 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) behind the seating wall in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden. This garden and five others will have new garden area signs next spring as Sarah (our consultant) and I just finished the layouts. Yay. I may blog a bit over the next four days but will get back to business on Monday for sure. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

HLS Teaser

Our first lights test for the Holiday Lights Show went quite well last night. All the photos in this blog were taken last night and we were happy to see a front page shot in our local Janesville Gazette taken by Bill Olmsted (photo from last night too). We had quite a few staff and volunteers wandering through the show at 4:30 pm to see how it looks. We saw Polly, Lori, Amanda, Marv, Marianne, Terry, Pat, Big John, John's wife Jackie (and their granddaughter), Dave E., Rollie, Gena, Dennis, Del, Janice, Jenny, Christine R. and Mary (to the right and dressed for the occasion!). Look at Rollie over her shoulder mugging for the camera! In past years, the first test night is fraught with all sorts of power issues that we frequently struggle with over the following days. We had no power problems as the new circuits that Tom C. and Dick P. installed yesterday right before the test made a huge difference. We took a roll of pink tape with us and marked areas that needed attention the following day (today). I thought the HLS looked as good as it ever has and we've had about four years in a row where I think it has been quite impressive in scale and layout. We'll test the show another night as we have to make sure everything is in working order for the premiere lighting at the Taste of Chocolate event at RBG (limited seating still available! check out our website!).

Most of the displays, like the lily-of-the-valley to the left, were made years ago by Randy M. from Brodhead, WI. Randy and his father custom made over 90 special rebar displays for us and affixed rope lighting as well. They did an amazing job and although we haven't had the funds for many new displays over the years, Randy has come in the past couple of years to repair those displays in need of attention (free of charge). Some of the displays are enormous (and heavy)! The wreath to the right is almost 10' in diameter (200 lbs.?) and shows up nicely with a dark backdrop. We stake up many of our temporary pine trees (with no decorating lights) behind these rebar displays so the colors really pop from the primary viewing angle. We've rotated the displays significantly over the years and typically don't use every one every year. About half of the displays are plant or animal themed. This "rotation" helps make for a different "feel" to the event each year. Marv and Terry positioned almost all the displays this year and again, it looks awesome. We had two gentleman from NBC15 (Madison, WI) here last night as well. Both guys took lots of footage (they were at RBG until 8 pm!) and will be creating a custom commercial for us to promote this event to their viewing audience. I followed around and took photos from some different angles. I love the arches as seen below. The second photo down is taken from the zig-zag bridge (not an approved portion of the route for the HLS though!) and the reflection of the arches and dangling icicles was really neat. Today was a productive day of HLS corrections and modifications, at least before it started to drizzle and rain this afternoon. Larry turned everything on this morning to check over some trouble areas. Marianne came in to work on replacing luminary bulbs and I believe she went thru all 2,000 around the HLS route! Larry had a long list of items to check and I think he solved most of our problems. I'll finish the remainder tomorrow. Bill O. came in to do a little garden clean-up along the HLS route as we like to keep the paths clear of debris so they are ready for snowblowers, shovels, etc. Bill went on to decorate another nine trees that we thought could use some lights. We'll have to re-stake some of the larger trees next week as they continue to lean on their stakes because of their size and consistent winds we've had over the past week or so. I believe we'll have some Grumpies around next week, particularly if the weather is still favorable. Looks like a warm Thanksgiving this year!

Today, we also saw Vern and Jim D. come in for some woodworking. Maury popped in to discuss some projects, Chuck was in to recycle our cans and we saw Tom C., Marge and some others. I was able to start going thru seed catalogs, finished a presentation for our Board meeting tonight, had a meeting and am slowly organizing my 2011 photos by category for future retrieval and usage.