Sunday, June 24, 2012

Friday Excursion

ItalicLast Friday I spent the bulk of the day in Madison for various functions and had a great visit with Cheryl who is the Department of Botany Administrator (UW-Madison) and also a RBG volunteer and Master Gardener. I've known Cheryl for many years and it was nice to spend some time with her last week. She gave me a tour of the Botany Building and I was amazed by the size of the herbarium. The greenhouses were also very interesting and were jammed packed with neat plants. The top photo shows some of their cacti collection and directly above, I caught the cotton (Gossypium) plant opening with the cotton fibers surrounding the seeds. The next stage in processing commercially would be the "ginning" process to separate the fibers. Cotton has obvious value as a fiber plant but also is a major oilseed crop and is processed as a protein source for animal feed. The greenhouses were really neat with a wide range of plants and it was nice to hear that school groups visit and tour as well. Cheryl mentioned that everything was inventoried and much of the plant material is used directly in the classroom. To the left are some of the MANY interesting pitcher plants that were in the aquatic greenhouse as were the Venus fly traps to the right. They sure look menacing but read a bit more about how (and why) they attract and utilize insect proteins in their diet. Cheryl then gave me a tour of their botany garden (along University Avenue) which by chance, was one I had only observed while driving by in the past and had never seen it up close. It was a neat smaller garden with a wide range of plant material including woody plants, perennials and annuals. The garden is roughly divided by monocots and dicots and the layout is quite aesthetic. I took many photos in this space including the shot of the ripening fruits of the Italian arum (Arum italicum) to the left. Those fruit clusters will turn a bright orange and look quite similar to the native Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum). To the lower right is one of the best looking specimens of the criss-cross fern (Athyrium filix-femina 'Victoriae') that I've ever seen. The cresting is quite evident as is the interesting pattern of the pinnae (leaflets). After my fun tour with Cheryl, I swung by the West Madison Agricultural Research Center (WMARC) for a couple minutes before I had to pick my younger daughter up from a nearby summer camp. The WMARC is one of my favorite trial gardens to visit as I always see a wide range of plantings (particularly annuals) that we haven't tried at RBG yet. I've heard rumors that UW-Madison may not be funding the display garden portion of this facility next year. That would be a true travesty and I hope that the situation can be rectified in some manner. Judy, former Director of the display gardens, gave the grounds staff and me a great tour a couple years ago and I never had fully realized the scope of what they are trialing, how they acquire their plants and their funding challenges (even at that time). Aside from annuals, there are a wide range of perennials, grasses, shrubs, native plants, vegetables and other goodies positioned around the gardens (free entry for the public, donation encouraged!). I'm not sure how many people visit this valuable display garden but my guess is that it is not on every gardener's "radar" yet (and it should be!). Directly above is one of the panicled hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) that they are trialing which is fast becoming one of my favorites. This is the variety 'Dharuma' which is known for being quite compact with very solid flower coverage throughout the summer. Olbrich Botanical Gardens has some very nice specimens as well and while ours are quite young right now, they should fill out nicely. Some perennials that caught my eye are the 'Grand Marshall' bee balm (Monarda didyma) to the above left and the 'Sienna Sunset' threadleaf tickseed (Coreopsis). WMARC also has a wide assortment of annuals including an All-America Selections collection and annuals for the shade as well. I like when they display a wide range of varieties of a specific type of annual. The past couple of years, I've seen some really nice Lobelia, Verbena and Calibrichoa (million bells) collections. To the left and right are some of the million bells (Calibrichoa) varieties that caught my eye. To the left is 'Coralberry Punch' and to the right is 'Callie Dark Blue'. Lots of neat plants and a fun day overall that included my "horticultural fix". After working seven Saturdays in a row, it was nice to have a two day weekend although the lack of rainfall is becoming a real concern.

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