Temperatures near 60 degrees F today made it feel like spring around the gardens. In fact, it actually "smelled" like spring (if you know what I mean?) which was enhanced by the recent light rain we've had over the past couple of days. We're going to take advantage of the nice weather this week and see how much more gardening we can accomplish before the snow flies. In touring the gardens today, I noticed the 'Joseph Lemper' Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) just starting to bloom nicely in the woodland walk garden (top photo). This hellebore species, along with the bearsfoot hellebore (Helleborus foetidus), is normally one of the earliest to bloom for us although we typically don't see these white flowers until March! This variety was new for us so I did a bit more research to find that it is a clonal variety from Germany that is known for being more upright with larger flowers that start earlier than the standard species. This is the first time our "Christmas Rose" hellebore will be blooming at Christmas and I'm sure the recent heat wave has been a factor. Directly above is the showy bark of the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) that really shows red highlights after a rain. Directly below are the dried (but persistent) leaves of the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)
We had some nice volunteer help today. Cindy (directly below) was here early and headed right out to prune back shrubs around the horticulture center. In this photo, she's cutting back a 'Royal Purple' smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) that will respond next year with a nice flush of new growth and deep maroon leaves. Unfortunately the flowers are lost because of the trimming which we only do every two or three years. Cindy then went on to plant a couple hundred daffodils (Narcissus) and tulips (Tulipa) that were very recently donated. She also moved on to garden clean-up and we look forward to having her here later in the week too. Eugene and Dick H. went out in the gardens with gravel and smoothed over many of the paths with depressions, washouts and/or potholes. Del came in to continue work on his reindeer cutouts and Gary continued to create more perennial labels based on his most recent forays in to the garden looking for labels that we still need to "swap out" with our new format. Dave T., Jim and Bob A. (second photo down) worked on various carpentry projects. In this photo, Bob is re-staining a bench although I didn't have the heart to tell him we really wanted it painted green... Maury came in to run some errands and we also saw many others today as well. Tom C. was in around lunch to help with some electrical issues while Urban came in to put another coat of paint on our PVC planters for 2013.
We're still down to a skeleton crew for grounds with just Larry, Big John (done tomorrow) and me. However, we still see Pat, Janice, Marv, Marianne and Terry as volunteers. Jenny will be back in action after the new year to start on 2013 annual labels as well. John worked on installing more protective deer fencing and processed another bulb donation that we received today. John also worked on testing and organizing a bunch of donated lights (both old and new) for the Holiday Lights Show (HLS). While we wont use these this year, it's worth our time to test, repair and store these donations. John also worked on various odds and ends. Larry helped get more lighting on some signs in the HLS and worked with Tom C. on an electrical project. Larry, like John, worked on myriad other projects as well. I spent the morning working on a new emerald ash borer (EAB) brochure that we're creating as part of our DNR Urban Forestry grant for 2012. I also had various odds and ends to accomplish and hope to get in to the seed catalogs tomorrow.
Directly below is the vivid late season color of the 'Karmina' perennial geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense) which is a nice feature as everything else fades to tan and brown! The next photo down is the late fall color of the Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) which I think looks outstanding. This grass will stay erect during light snows but wont withstand the heavier, wet snows. When selecting ornamental grasses, "winter rigidity" will vary greatly. The third photo down shows the perennial, tall moor grass (Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinacea 'Skyracer') that has nice summer form, a showy yellow fall color, but no winter toughness. In fact, this clump of moor grasses hasn't even seen snow and is already flattening out. Know your grasses and all their features. The third photo down features the showy green stems of the Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) which I feel is a nice winter feature. At the bottom, a gnome.