Friday, November 11, 2011

Of Witchhazels & Reindeer (And Larry)...

The day was cold and cloudy this morning with light frost over everything. We all worked on indoor projects early and then headed out in to the gardens for Holiday Lights Show (HLS) preparations and garden clean-up. The sun finally came out with blue skies and temperatures in the mid 40 degrees F. Overall, it was a very productive day with some great volunteer assistance as well. The two pictures above show our native witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming and while I've featured it recently on the blog, it really seemed to be peaking and the flowers show better with all the leaves having dropped. As I got closer, I noted (picture directly above) the fruiting structure (capsule) of that plant that I've never observed in the past. Interesting. The image to the right shows the fall/winter color of the Siberian or Russian cypress (Microbiota decussata). Normally green and "arborvitae-like", this evergreen (tolerates part shade) turns a neat plum coloration this time of year. This plant is typically a shorter groundcover (12"-15") although this specimen is grafted on a standard about 24" above ground level and is cascading down. To the left is the pinkish fall color of the perennial, golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Goldilocks'). This hardy plant is a vigorous, spreading groundcover but also does great as a trailer in a container or along a low wall (as seen here in the sunken garden). The golden spring and summer coloration is a nice asset but unfortunately the earwigs enjoy nibbling on it when it is in a groundcover setting.

We were fortunate to have both Shirley H. and Kay here today for garden clean-up efforts. Shirley went through the color rooms and Scottish gardens while Kay was in the gazebo garden vicinity. There are still plenty of perennials to cut back and leaves to collect. Both ladies were a whirlwind and brought back many loads of debris. We gave them both an open invitation to keep coming in until we get snow accumulation as they do such a thorough job out in the gardens! We also saw Maury, Dick P., Del and Mary W. at the Horticulture Center today. To the right is the brilliant fall color of the Coppertina ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Minda') which has a neat amber/orange leaf coloration in spring and with new growth as it emerges. We cut most of our ninebarks back severely in fall once they are established to keep them at around 5-6' tall as they "bounce" right back up to that height the next year with fresh growth and vivid coloration. We have no "green leaf" ninebarks, they're in shades of gold and maroon for foliage impact. The sequence of three pictures above shows the progression of the reindeer display that Marv and Terry prepared this morning and installed out in the French formal garden (rose garden). Normally we've just positioned the deer on the ground for interest but the fellas devised a sturdy way to get them in the air and will soon decorate them with lights. I think a conspicuous Rudolf is leading will be leading that team. The sleigh will look cool too. As the gardens look better each year, I feel the HLS does as well and this year is no exception. The layout is quite nice and next week we'll see the addition of 150+ decorated trees and lots of dangling icicle lights (250+) from the tree tops. Marv and Terry also ran some cords and worked on some other small projects. Janice juggled between some HLS work and was out collecting debris out in the gardens, particularly around the formal and terrace gardens. The last of her decorated obelisks will go out in the gardens next week. Marianne also collected leaves and garden debris but also did a nice job helping run cords in many locations around the gardens (sunken, larch area and terrace garden). These past two years, she's been an enormous help to me as I used to run most of the cords and it was a daunting task. I was outside slinging cords as well and will have no trouble finishing next week. However, once everything is plugged in, we then start the testing/tweaking portion of our HLS challenges. To the above right is the great fall color and appearance of the purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea 'Skyracer') in the arboretum. I love this wispy grass although it has no "winter stature" and will be flattened with the first heavy snow. Termed a "transparent grass", this variety has the bulk of it's foliage down low with very wispy flower stalks that don't totally obscure the view. Proper placement of these grasses can be effective as pseudo-screens or accent pieces that don't block the view entirely. To the left is the golden fall color of the yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea or Cladrastis kentukea) which has smooth, grey bark like a beech (Fagus sp.). Our specimen hasn't bloomed yet (dangling white flower clusters in spring) although there are some in Janesville that I've seen blooming. I remember enormous specimens of this tree on the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) campus that were amazing when in bloom. To the right are a couple of the fallen leaves from the Pacific Sunset hybrid maple (Acer truncatum x platanoides 'Warrenred') that is a cross between the Shantung maple (great fall color, smaller size) and Norway maple (lustrous summer leaves and superior hardiness). Introduced by the J. Frank Schmidt & Sons Nursery (Boring, OR), this smaller maple only gets 30' tall and 30' wide. I will say that not all the leaves are as nice as these but the "fall show" gets a B rating every year in my mind. Lots going on next week and the following week (prior to Thanksgiving) includes our testing time for the HLS as we "iron out the bugs" as needed. Below is a shot from beneath one of our red horse-chestnuts (Aesculus x carnea) near the sunken garden. I happened to be walking by and couldn't resist taking a photo with the morning light streaming thru the leaves. At the bottom is a shot of Larry from yesterday. He's flushing out a line (not his......our water line!)!

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