Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nifty Ninebarks

I like ninebarks (Physocarpus opulifolius). We use many varieties around the gardens primarily for their colorful foliage although flower interest and fall color can also be assets worthy of additional consideration.  Above is the Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Monlo') at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI).  These images shows the real form of two mature ninebarks which is quite open and arching.  When in full bloom, this selection is almost cascading.  All too often, I see ninebarks cut back in to hedges or spheres and they never achieve their full "potential of form" in the landscape.  Considered "coarse textured" by many, I think their informality is an asset as is the colorful foliage.  That being said, it's vital to accommodate the mature size of your selection.  A member of the Rosaceae family, common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is native to a good portion of eastern North America and gets its name from the peeling, flaky bark (marginally ornamental).  This is one tough shrub although powdery mildews on the foliage have been a problem in recent years but can be addressed as needed.  I'll chat more about these super shrubs further along in the blog.

We had another productive Thursday both inside and out.  Urban was out pruning all morning and Larry went out for additional snow removal after we received a light dusting over night.  My trip to and from Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI) last night was smooth and my presentation on The Moonlit Garden went well.  Dr. Gredler (directly below) continued his re-sealing efforts on these redwood bench tops which we use for our plant sales.  Dick H. (second photo down) continues to cut and bend 3/4" wide strap aluminum for our plant stakes.  He processes three heights that we use throughout the gardens.  Pat (third photo down) really painted himself in to a tight spot this morning!  He's touching up his corner supports for our giant obelisk (formerly the tower of power in the lights show) and came back in the afternoon for some carpentry work.  Dave (fourth photo down), Jim and Gene all worked on sanding benches.  Vern was in to stain some benches and we also saw both Bill O.'s, Mary W. and many others. Janice worked on more plant sale research and Gary worked on data entry for more signs and troubleshooting some tweaks we need on our laser engraver.  Jenny E. popped in and true to form, has most of the annual labels entered and ready to go.  I had a meeting and bounced between multiple projects.

Back to ninebarks.  Above are some close-ups of the ninebark flower clusters (Diabolo and Summer Wine respectively) which are quite showy but only last about 2-3 weeks or so.  However, the flowers later transition to colorful follicle clusters (fruiting structures) as seen directly below.  Fall color may come later in the season but is particularly an asset on the maroon-foliage forms that turn a brilliant crimson.  Yellow foliage varieties are simply yellow with green foliage selections turning chartreuse.  There have been many new varieties offered over the past couple of years including smaller maroon varieties for the home scale.  If you can't fit Diabolo in the yard at 10' tall, why not go for Summer Wine ('Seward'), Lady In Red ('Tuilad') or 'Ruby Spice' at 5-6' tall or now Little Devil ('Donna May') at 3' tall?  The golden varieties ('Dart's Gold', 'Nugget', 'Morning Star' and Lemon Candy ('Podaras 3') are nice as well, particularly with the brightest of golden growth in early spring.  The crossing of maroon varieties with golden varieties has created some nice "orangey" forms like Coppertina ('Mindia') and Amber Jubilee ('Jefam') although the best orange shades are in spring with some foliage darkening towards maroon in the heat of the summer. We actually have been cutting most of our ninebarks back severely every early winter to encourage new growth the following year.  Cutting ninebarks to 6" will result in 4-5' of fresh growth in spring and this rejuvenation would also be effective for larger, overgrown specimens. Some of my favorite selections are included below but there are many nice varieties worthy of consideration.  There are some green-leaved varieties but their only interest is with the blooms (my opinion).  Select ninebarks for colorful foliage and specific size.  Not pictured below, consider also looking for 'Morning Star' (chartreuse), Amber Jubilee ('Jefam'), Lemon Candy ('Podaras 3') and 'Center Glow'.  These all have nice features worthy of research and consideration.  

Diabolo ('Monlo') follicle clusters
Diabolo ('Monlo') fall color
Summer Wine ('Seward')
'Nugget' at the Morton Arboretum
'Nugget' at the Morton Arboretum
'Dart's Gold'
Coppertina ('Mindia')
Coppertina ('Mindia') at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Coppertina ('Mindia') fall color
Lady In Red ('Tuilad') spring growth
Lady In Red ('Tuilad')
Lady In Red ('Tuilad') fall color
'Ruby Spice'
'Ruby Spice'
Little Devil ('Donna May')
Little Devil ('Donna May')

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sensational Solenostemon (Cool Coleus)

We had about 5" of fresh snow overnight which was fairly easy to clear off this morning.  With temperatures reaching the upper 30 degrees F today, the roads are melting off nicely.  My trip up to Madison tonight to speak at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (The Moonlit Garden) should be smooth.  The photo above is from this morning and shows our newly painted obelisks ready to go out in the gardens in a month or so.  All of our painted obelisks have been processed and have their 2013 colors!  Dick H. did a nice job plowing the Horticulture Center parking lot and Bill O. did some touch-up around the gardens including behind the Parker Education Center and the Horticulture Center yard.  Dr. Gredler continued putting wood sealer on some of our last items to be addressed (plant benches).  We'll soon shift our primary efforts to working on the remainder of our garden benches (sanding and stain).  We're all coughing and sneezing up fine sawdust but the benches look great.  Below (left to right) are Pat R., Cindy B. and Kay J. all working on peeling labels in the office this morning.  These are the individual labels for the Spring Plant Sale (May 11th and 12th) vegetables and there is a lot of peeling to accomplish.  I'm still blushing after all the interesting "girl talk" that I was exposed to in the office this morning.  My therapist should get me through it though (hopefully)...

I spent the morning finalizing some of the plant order listings that will be converted to new labels very shortly.  we like to match up our labels as the plants arrive.  Jenny E. has started entering the annuals for our sticker labels and Gary will start on the perennials tomorrow.  We can't make the new woody plant labels until we know where they are going to be planted.  These all receive an accession code # that is ultimately linked to the garden area and our database.  I have another retreat this afternoon which should be of value.  I continue to make some plant orders and will haul all of our sorted seeds to our growers next week.  We're fortunate to have such supportive growers that don't mind trying something new.  As I walk in with my boxes of seed each year (and the boxes keep getting bigger!), they must wonder what crazy selections I've brought with me this year!  We have some growers starting coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) for us (from plugs) so we pick them up as good-sized plants (4" pots) after Mother's Day.  I love coleus and we use lots of it in the gardens.  My travels last year exposed me to many interesting varieties and the fourteen below (identified under the image) are just a smattering of those that I photographed.  They are wonderful components in the mixed border and container.  Keep in mind that there are different forms for leaf size, pattern and many have a different color on the underside of the leaf.  We grow many in full sun but are sure to plant them in rich soils and keep the water and fertilizer coming.  We don't let them bloom and will pinch off any of those little blue flower spires when we see them.  We want the foliage and have rarely been disappointed.  I think we'll have about 30 varieties out in the gardens this year.  The names are becoming more creative each year too!

'Pink Pomegranate'
'Under the Sea - Lion Fish'
'Pink Ruffles'
'Ruby Jewels'
'ColorBlaze Marooned'
'Honey Crisp'
'Gnash Rambler'
'Pineapple Splash'
'Roaring Fire'

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Calm Before The Storm

Have you ever wondered what a 20' tall, yellow obelisk looks like on its side?  Well, see above.  This was the original "tower of power" from the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) which has been "re-processed", modified, painted and now reinforced by Pat (seen directly above along the side of the structure).  Note the gaps on the upper and bottom portions of the obelisk in the photo above.  These gaps will allow kids and flexible adults a means to go under this structure later this spring and summer.  The carpenters did a great job building this obelisk and Pat has done an excellent job reinforcing it.  Securing and stabilizing it out in the gardens will also be a priority.  Dr. Gredler was here all morning and continues to re-seal many of our cedar and redwood structures.  Urban, directly below, braved the high winds out in the gardens which are part of the advanced front of snow on the way for this evening.  I don't mind more moisture but wouldn't mind a shoveling break either.  Urban can be seen below doing more winter pruning which he started back in October.  He has a nice eye for structure and here is working on a dwarf bald cypress (Taxodium sp.) in the entrance garden.  Janice came in for more plant sale research and is doing a top notch job of preparing vegetable descriptions and signs for the Spring Plant Sale (May 11th and 12th, 9 am - 4 pm, RBG Members pre-sale on May 10th!).  We'll have the vegetable and herb lists on our website in the coming week or two.  Pat C. (second photo down) came in to help start the production of 15,000 labels that will be used to identify vegetable selections at the sale.  She's the quickest learner I've run across in many years and does a great job at any task we throw at her (except buying lunch).  We also saw Cindy B., Bill O. and many others throughout the day.  The third photo down shows the foliage of the 'Skylands' golden Oriental spruce (Picea orientalis) in front of the building.  This wasn't too far from Urban and has grown very well in the sheltered nook of the building where it doesn't get full afternoon sun or Northwesterly winds which would burn the needles.

I ordered more plants today and had fun going through the last of my remaining catalogs.  Despite my longing for spring weather, I wish I had another month of winter preparation time.  The grounds staff starts back on April 1 and it will be nice to get the gardens in shape.  The rest of the year is full speed ahead until December although some decent summer rains would be helpful this year.  I still have a couple more presentations in various locations this winter and will be at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI) tomorrow night to present on The Moonlit Garden.  This is a fun topic and something that has always been of interest to me.  Enjoying the garden by moonlight is truly a blast if you don't have "light pollution" from other sources and have the inclination to be out after dusk.  Of course, whites and silvers in the evening garden take on a "new glow" and increased importance with moonlight and become real focal points.  This type of garden also includes fragrant plants, many of which open up at night and/or are their most "potent" in the evening hours.  Many of the fragrant plants I'm including in this presentation were annuals that we've had in our Smelly Garden theme (Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden) for the past two years.  I don't have a good photo of the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) vine, which is also a great candidate.  Some of my other favorites are included below (all annuals) and they are potent evening contributors for sweet scent.  There are also perennials and woody plants appropriate for the moonlit garden.  Flower identification is listed below the image.

evening stock (Matthiola longipetala subsp. bicornis)
longtube four o'clock (Mirabilis longiflora) with basil (Ocimum)
night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis 'Midnight Candy')
flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Amazing Amaranths

Despite a warmer day in the mid 30 degrees F, I didn't trek out in the gardens today.  It looks like we have more snow coming tomorrow and Wednesday and we're happy for the moisture regardless of the format!  I'm organizing seeds for our various growers and am not surprised that I include more and more amaranths (Amaranthus sp.) each  year.  This annual has a wide versatility in the sunny border for either showy flowers or those that have ornamental foliage.  Frequently called a "cosmopolitan genus", amaranths have a long history as a vegetable (edible leaves and grain) in the Aztec culture and have been grown for over 9,000 years in Central and South America.  The word Amaranth has Greek origins translating to "unfading flower."  Above is the variety 'Dreadlocks' (Amaranthus caudatus) which has some distinctive flowers and also inlcludes the old-fashioned love-lies-bleeding seen directly below.  In 2002 we had large amaranth collection of 80+ types and it was nice to see the variability in height, flower color, foliage, etc.  Keep in mind that pigweed (Amaranthus sp.) is a common weed and drops plenty of seed.  The grain amaranths are heavily promoted as a nutritious pseudo-grain with lots of protein and other benefits.  Your local health food store will sell amaranth seed, flower, cereal, cookies, etc.  Do some more research on this interesting genus (70 or so species).   Some other nice amaranths are identified further below.  

We had plenty of activity at the Horticulture Center today. Pat continued on his project of stabilizing and painting the lower portion of the giant obelisk.  Dr. Gredler continued with another layer of stain on the wood obelisks.  Ron Y., Gene, Jim D., Dave T. and Vern all worked on sanding and re-staining benches and the progress has been significant.  Urban headed out in the gardens for some pruning while Larry went out to bring in some remaining Holiday Lights Show (HLS) lights, etc. from near the main building.  We also saw Karen M., Stan and Jumbo Jim for a meeting.  Gary worked some more on labels with Dick H. getting ahead with cutting and bending more aluminum stakes for plant signs.  Bill O. was in later to help Larry and we saw some others as well.  I worked on a wide range of preparations and had a couple of meetings as well including with our Horticultural Therapy Committee members this afternoon.

Amaranthus caudatus
Amaranthus cruentus 'Hot Biscuits'
Amaranthus cruentus 'Green Tower'
Amaranthus hybrida 'Hopi Red Dye'
Amaranthus cruentus 'Red Cathedral Superior'
Amaranthus caudatus 'Fat Spike'

Directly above is a leaf amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor), otherwise known as fountain plant or Joseph's coat by others.  The common name of summer poinsettia is also very appropriate.  Above is the variety 'Perfecta' which is the standard Joseph's coat that has long been offered in most seed catalogs (easy to grow).  Note that the youngest growth, emerging from the center, has the brightest coloration and is targeted as a source of greens for direct consumption (tastes like spinach) or incorporation in to a stir fry or other recipe.  Flowers on the leaf amaranths are along the stems and are not showy. The impact is with the new foliage offering vivid coloration on a 36"+ tall plant.  Some additional, exciting varieties are found below (identification under the image).  Keep in mind that these leaf amaranths look good in to early September but will "peter out" before the end of September.

Amaranthus tricolor 'Aurora'
Amaranthus tricolor 'Illumination'
Amaranthus tricolor 'Early Splendor' (below too)