Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Not Too Early To Think About 2014 Veggies

Today was quite chilly outside with a windchill of about 5 degrees F this morning.  We shifted our Grumpy day from tomorrow (Thanksgiving) to today but understandably didn't see many of the guys.  I cracked open my first catalogs including Stokes ( seen above and Pinetree Garden Seeds ( seen below.  Most catalogs that offer both vegetables and flowers start with the veggies first which I always find both exciting and daunting!  I literally read every catalog cover to cover.  There are so many selections to choose from and it makes me wish I had the space to grow and sample everything!  As our catalogs start to arrive, it's not too early to get out the highlighter and mark some of your favorites and some new ones to try (both veggies and flowers).  Perhaps you've not grown your own veggies (ever) or haven't explored new selections in a while.  It is amazing how much variety is out there including the most modern hybrids, old heirlooms, varieties from other countries, etc.  The produce section of any grocery store carries less than 1% of the overall vegetable varieties available to you as seed.  Consider involving your family and particularly youngsters in the selection process.  Connecting our youth to growing their own vegetables can have educational value that includes an environmental focus, soils, water resources, perhaps organic approaches, nutrition and fun!  I would have to rank my seed catalog explorations as one of my favorite "career tasks" and my younger daughter (now 13) still helps pick seed packets every spring for our home garden and will likely do the same with her children and grandchildren!  The carrots, tomatoes and peppers that she has grown continue to be the "best she has ever had!"  

It was business as usual today despite the pending holiday weekend.  Above are Dr. Gredler and Patrea painting/re-painting some of our garden elements for next year.  Many of these containers will go in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden and be part of the second year of our "Pollinator's Paradise" theme.  We like the idea that these are re-purposed containers and a nice use of plastic that will outlive all of us (and the next 50 generations...).  Pat M. was the tough guy today and went out in the gardens to continue wrapping yews (Taxus) with burlap.  With the colder weather, the deer have already been in the gardens foraging and we're frantically trying to protect some of their favorite snacks (arborvitae, yews, small pines, etc.).  Maury brought in some supplies and we also saw Gary S., Dick H. and Dick P.  Chuck S. came in to check on recycling needs and Janice worked on some projects for 2014 as well.  It was a quiet day but I was able to focus on next year.  Directly below is Big John finishing his last day (for 2013) yesterday.  He's holding all of his "task maps" from the year and with mixed emotions (mostly joy I think) and tears (probably joyful too), he recycled them before he left.  John will help run the Holiday Lights Show (see our website for dates and times) with both Larry and me as well.  We had a nice pre-Thanksgiving lunch and I was also able to see Jenny, Cheryl, Cindy, Vern, Kris, Terry and Kay.

We're only a couple months from seeing displays like the one above in most garden centers and stores.  It's lots of fun to explore these opportunities as well although I feel catalogs give more information on specific vegetable varieties including some fun historical facts.  While we grow veggies at home (primarily in containers) we've always tried new varieties and are exploring cooler season opportunities as well both in spring and fall to extend the season.  At RBG, we also like to vary our vegetable and herb offerings at the Spring Plant Sale (May 10th and 11th, 2014, pre-sale for RBG members on May 9th!).  We'll again have a wide range of offerings with a strong focus on heirloom varieties.

I recently read an article entitled "Why Home-Grown Food is More Nutritious" by Shelley Stonebrook in the magazine Heirloom Gardener (an awesome quarterly magazine, see  It was a wonderful article and brought up some very valid points about the produce we're purchasing from the grocery store.  She mentions that modern vegetable breeding focuses on high yields, rapid growth and "shipability" which frequently does not consider nutrient content.  Bigger fruits are more watery and less nutrient dense.  She goes on to say "In a large-scale agricultural setting, plant roots don't have to work very hard or grow very deep."  These pampered roots are small and tend to create "nutrient weak" produce.    She also points out that many fruits and vegetables don't reach maximum nutrient potential until they are ripe.  Much of our produce is picked unripe for shipping and maturation around the time of purchase or slightly later.  This equates again to nutrient poor produce.  She mentions a study showing that apples and apricots picked before ripening had no vitamin C but those same fruits left to maturation (before picking) had high levels of vitamin C.  Declining nutrient values in the fruits and vegetables that we purchase is a huge concern that can be thwarted by growing our own food!  Below are some examples of produce accumulated and/or growing at RBG in the past and we're happy to have been able to donate thousands of pounds of this produce to area food banks over the past 12 years.  Let this "eye candy" inspire you to take a close look at your catalogs and take more control of what you eat!  Edibles can be ornamental, nutritious and incorporated throughout our landscapes.

cherry tomatoes (Lycopersicon) - great for kids of all ages!
cucumbers galore (Cucumus sativus)
eggplants (Solanum melongena) - an acquired taste but highly nutritious (annual)
pumpkins (donated to RBG for education programs)
my hodge podge from home (colorful, delectable and affordable!)
'Bright Lights' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) - annual
'Chilly Chili' hot pepper (Capsicum annuum) - annual (minimal "heat")
two neat new quote benches that will be installed out in the gardens next spring

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Staunch RBG Supporter Passes On

RBG staff and volunteers were saddened to hear the news of John Anderson passing away this past Saturday  (seen above at the Holiday Lights Show last December with his wife Joanne).  John and Joanne have been involved at RBG since the founding of the gardens and John has served as interim Executive Director twice at RBG and has been on the Board of Directors in many capacities (Board Chair, Emeritus position, many committees, etc.).  Joanne of course is also very involved as well.  John and Joanne actively support many organizations in the area and we have long been fortunate for their support and involvement at RBG.  John and Joanne, until recently, had also maintained a garden area at RBG for many years (formal perennial garden) and while Joanne is the gardener in the family, John took directions well!  I remember nervously waiting for my job interview over 15.5 years ago and John came over and chatted with me before the inquisition started.  I'll never forget that interaction and how nice it was to meet him for the first time.  What a truly wonderful, kind person, a true gentleman, philanthropist and so much more  He will be sorely missed by many.

We had the skeleton crew in today but finished quite a few projects.  Larry (above) is seen here getting the chains on our Grasshopper for traction as this unit is converted from lawn mowing duties to our large snowblower.  Larry also worked on myriad other organizational projects in and around the Horticulture Center.  Big John was in for his last official day although he'll also help with a couple nights of the Holiday Lights Show (HLS).  John helped process more containers for painting and worked with Larry on shifting various items around the shop to make more room for activities like those seen below.  Dr. Gredler is repainting our "pedestal/urn" containers and his extended roller has become quite handy as  you can see!  Doc worked on painting for a good portion of the morning.  Pat M. is the only one who went out in the gardens and he's doing a great job of covering yews (Taxus) in the Japanese garden with burlap to thwart the deer.  Bill O. was in to help as was Dick H.  Vern came in for some carpentry projects as well.  Ron W. also popped by to track down some memorial bench information.  I'm working on various projects, all related to 2014!  Further below are some nice ornamental bark shots to inspire you to observe this feature as it becomes more prevalent during the winter season.

paperbark maple (Acer griseum)
shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
China Snow Pekin lilac (Syringa pekinensis 'Morton')
Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii)
'Whitespire Sr.' birch (Betula populifolia)
Amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense)
persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana)
bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Don't forget to take a look at this exciting 2014  trip under the "EVENTS" tab at

Monday, November 25, 2013


The Taste of Chocolate (TOC) event on Saturday night went every well and had a full crowd (sold out) around 250 attendees.  I turned on the lights later in the evening and those that braved the cold weather seemed to enjoy the show. The photos both above and directly below are from Marsha M. (thanks Marsha!) and were taken early last week during the test evenings.  Because of a windchill near 10 degrees F on Saturday night, I didn't bring my camera but was very impressed with the appearance of the show after all of our testing and tweaking throughout the week.  Everything looked nice and we hope all the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) attendees in December enjoy it as much as the TOC crowd.  The second photo down shows the evening appearance of one of three identical displays along Palmer Drive.  The third photo down shows this display during the day.  This is a "re-purposed" umbrella frame from our old terrace garden furniture that Pat prepared to which John and Terry affixed some blue LED lights.  What a neat "before and after" comparison and excellent re-use of some elements we just had lying around.  We still have five unused frames will modify for next year...

We had some cold winds today and about 1" of fluffy snow accumulated in this area.  This affected our volunteer turnout although we did have some help both outside and inside.  Above is Gene cleaning off some of these short plastic tubes that were donated to us from Stoughton Trailer.  Some of these tubes, the byproduct of their shipping processes, were used last year for planters (the painted ones) but we plan on painting and using all of them in 2014.  Below is Dr. Gredler starting to repaint our PVC "pedestal/urn" combinations.  He's hidden in the back painting the first four of fifteen units.  These are nice set in the ground and offer a nice elevate planter.  We have top secret plans for these in 2014....  Vern, Dave, Jim and Ron Y. all worked on carpentry projects including assembling the planters below for planting.  Maury and Dick P. worked on some projects at the Parker Education Center and Maury also ran some errands for us.  Julie, Head of Grounds, from the Agrace facility up in Fitchburg, WI came down to chat with Janice and me about our volunteer coordination.  We had a great chat.  Our Horticultural Therapy Committee met this morning as well and attendees included Mary W., Darcie O., Cindy B., Karen B., Art H., Elaine W., Janice P. and me.  Bill O. helped shovel outside and worked on some other projects.  We also saw Rollie and a few others today.

This is one of my "transition" weeks which involves separation from the HLS and some other fall tasks with a renewed focus on 2014 preparations.  Above is just one of about 30 catalogs that have since arrived over the past weeks and are teasing and tempting me to pick them up.  I'll start our seed selection process and ordering in earnest over the coming weeks and have plenty of other planning to accomplish.  I do enjoy the winter months for these preparations but we'll keep an eye on the HLS, path clearing and winter gardening duties as well (primarily pruning).  Big John worked on some tweaks to the HLS based on my observations on Saturday night.  Both he and Larry did some work out in the gardens and also helped clear snow from the main building walk ways.  Larry also had some indoor projects to accomplish.  Janice was in for our meeting with Julie and worked on some other odds and ends.  Below are some other recent images from the gardens.  Colorful conifers will start to steal the show and many get more intense winter coloration as well.

'Gold Coin' Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
'KBN Gold' Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
handy orchard ladders for lights set-up and near future pruning out in the gardens

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Friday With Finality (For 2013!)

Today provides some closure to the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) set-up in that it is as ready as it will ever be for this year!  We're done with lights, cords, tweaking, etc. and are prepared for the premiere lighting tomorrow night at the Taste of Chocolate event (sold out!).  It's hard to believe that this entire process of set-up starts back in September with lights testing on rainy days.  While the set-up is significant, we remind people that the event is only complete after we bring the last cord or set of lights in for storage (usually in March!).  For the grounds staff and our garden volunteers, this is a 5-6 month event if you consider the start of the set-up process to the end of packing everything away for storage.  Above is a nice shot of the south entrance to the Japanese garden.  We're excited that the HLS will flow through this area and feature more lights and some never before seen views back to the rest of the HLS across the pond.  We hope to have a strong showing for this vital fundraising event.  Below are some other images from today.

'Scarlet Pavement' shrub rose (Rosa) freeze dried but colorful! - woody shrub
late burgundy color on the Ruby Ribbons switchgrass (Panicum virgatum 'RR1') - perennial
colorful fruits of the American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) - woody shrub
'Citronelle' coral bells (Heuchera) - perennial

The little bit of snow we had this cold morning didn't thwart volunteer help at the Horticulture Center and out in the gardens.  Pat M.(above) is finishing construction of his fourth storage unit (seen to the left) that will be used to efficiently organize our half gallon milk jug luminaries (2,000) during the HLS "off season".  This arrangement will help save time, space and preparation time next October when they come back out for immediate use.  Dr. Gredler was the first to start our repainting of garden elements today (see below).  We spend many winter months painting containers, tubes, obelisks and other items for the following year.  These pedestal/urn units will be used again in the "Pollinator's Paradise" theme in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden.  We'll have additional volunteer help with this vast project over these colder months.  Jenny and Janice both came in to do various projects in the Horticulture Center.  Gary was in to produce a sign and Bill O. went out to collect more leaves from the gardens.  We also saw Maury and a couple others too!

Today also provides some 2013 "finality" for Terry and Cindy who finish their grounds obligations for the season.  Larry continues throughout the winter and Big John will help occasionally over the coming month.  Jenny, Cheryl, Pat, Janice, Terry and Cindy all did a great job and we had a super year out in the gardens which will be tough (but not impossible) to top next year!  This marks a solid transition for me from 2013 obligations like the HLS to a shift for planning/ordering for 2014 garden goals.  I do enjoy the winter months but they seem to get "shorter" every year in terms of having enough time to get ready.  Cindy was out gardening today with a focus on tidying in front of the Parker Education Center.  She also helped prepare directional signs for the HLS.  Big John and Terry did our last HLS adjustments and did a lot of organizing around the Horticulture Center.  I hooked up my last lights this morning and am getting poised for 2014 preparations.  Below are some other images from today.  Directly above is a leaf of the 'Molly Bush' coral bells (Heuchera) with a touch of snow this morning.  

Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) - perennial
'Grasshopper' sedge (Carex hybrida) - perennial
'Chief Joseph' golden lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) - conifer
'Thunderbird' foamy bells (xHeucherella) - perennial
we continue to put protective netting ("deer thwarting") on the yews (Taxus) throughout the Japanese garden
massive goose launch from the pond this morning
lion sculpture (one of two) by the observation pier