Monday, March 31, 2014

Volunteers Return En Masse

We had quite a crew of volunteers this morning as evidenced by the cars seen above near the Horticulture Center.  We all had to park in the adjacent field to allow space for a semi-truck/trailer to pull in and unload some shredded bark (see further below).  Below is my first Grumpy List for the year and we had plenty of guys (and gals) come in to help out.  Today was also the first day of the official return for some of our grounds crew.  Big John, Terry and Pat all started today although I've seen them over the winter months as well.  All three guys focused on collecting, hauling and processing Holiday Lights Show (HLS) displays.  Cheryl, Jenny, Cindy and Janice are all starting soon as well.  It was a great day to be outside with no shortage of work to accomplish with garden clean-up efforts and continued take down of the HLS.  Larry helped with all sorts of duties today and met with a new contractor that will be maintaining our water features this year.

All of our carts (and volunteers) went in to immediate action as seen below.  Bob, Gene, Ron W., Lloyd and Rollie all jumped in to cutting back ornamental grasses as seen below.  The third photo down shows Gene (left) and Bob (goofy backwards hat).  The guys targeted some specific areas and did a nice job tidying up.  We had two new Grumpies come in today.  The second photo down shows Emmitt (far left) and Ron (far right) who both had the pleasure of working with our veteran Grumpy, Larry H. (centered). The guys did a great job sweeping up some of the paths that still had lots of sand and debris left from the HLS event.  We look forward to our new Grumpies enjoying their experience at RBG and appreciate their valuable time.  Maury was in to run errands and Gary continued progress on labels.  Ron Y., Dave, Vern and Jim all worked on carpentry projects while Bob K. did some nice electrical improvements.  Gary B. and Dr. Gredler both did significant painting this morning.  Jenny and Dave spent a couple of hours cleaning up their assigned gardens (formal gardens and hosta hollow) and did a thorough job as usual.  Stan came in this afternoon for Japanese garden tidying and pruning and Bill O. continued processing HLS cords for storage this afternoon.  The fourth photo down shows Kay (right) and Bev who did a nice job processing labels for our plant sale vegetables.  Gary S. helped them as well.  We also saw Shawn, Dave G., Bev W. and many others today.  See further down for some other "pictures o' the day."


snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) are really starting to bloom now
winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) continue to peek up in the gazebo garden and elsewhere
our colorful containers (upside down here!) await installation in the coming weeks
our first of two large loads of shredded bark arrived this morning
Winter damage on conifers is very significant this year as a result of a brutal winter.  I've been asked many times about what to do about it.  I recommend not doing anything until we get in to mid-May.  This "browning", while stressful to the plant, may not mean that the branches and buds are dead.  Wait and see if any new growth flushes out to replace the dessicated needles and branchlets.  All hope is not lost but we will inevitably see some conifer losses this spring.  Above is our 'Skylands' Oriental spruce (Picea orientalis) showing the normal golden growth that was under the protective snow.  The rest of the plant isn't looking real good but I'm going to wait on this one too!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Foamflowers For Flowers & Foliage

It was another overcast day to start with although I didn't mind the rain yesterday.  Pre-April showers will hopefully bring both April and May flowers!  Pat came in to work on more Holiday Lights Show (HLS) duties and Dr. Gredler came in for more painting.  I think he's "chomping at the bit" to get on a lawn mower! I spent the morning working on event preparations, particularly for our Spring Plant Sale on Mother's Day Weekend. The sale, held in conjunction with our Spring Tree Sale, is on May 10th and 11th from 9 am until 4 pm at the Horticulture Center.  However, there is a pre-sale on Friday, May 9th for RBG Friends Members to shop the plant sale early with a 10% discount.  This discount extends throughout the duration of the sale.  It's important to note that the Spring Tree Sale is open to the public on Friday (9am - 4pm) while the Member's Only plant sale is occurring.  We're featuring a wide range of vegetables, herbs, shrubs, small trees and bagged mushroom compost.  Our vegetable and herb lists are on the RBG website as are descriptions of the six tree sale selections.  For any RBG volunteers reading this blog, we still need volunteer assistance during that weekend so please contact me.
My blog focus today is on foamflowers (Tiarella sp.) which are native to the woodlands of North America and portions of Asia.  Some varieties are hybrids although many are popular selections of Tiarella cordifolia.  The slightly fragrant, early blooms (May) are very showy and brighten up a partly shaded location.  Above (and the two photos below) features the popular variety 'Spring Symphony' which has a strong flowering period and does well as a massing groundcover.  Many selections of foamflower also have maroon leaf markings, highlights or perhaps a more cut-leaf contribution in the garden.  Our best specimens are in richer woodland soils with ample organic matter and supplemental watering as needed.  Partial sun/shade is ideal.  Under 15" in total height, they should be positioned for viewing and also feature semi-evergreen foliage that will usually get a decent fall color in November (see 'Brandywine' below).  Some species are clumping perennials although other selections can be more vigorous in terms of their growth rate.  Related to coral bells (Heuchera), the foamflowers have been crossed with coral bells to create "foamy bells" (xHeucherella) which are an exciting perennial for partly shaded woodland conditions as well.

'Spring Symphony'
'Spring Symphony'

late fall color of 'Brandywine'
'Lace Carpet'
blooms of 'Lace Carpet'
'Dark Star'
'Iron Butterfly'
'Sugar & Spice'
'Mystic Mist'
spring specimen in bloom at the Chicago Botanical Garden (CBG)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No-Stoop Gardening Opportunities

It was a rainy day today (at least not snow) but we had a busy day at the Horticulture Center with some activity out in the gardens.  My blog topic today is about some ways to enjoy gardening without having to stoop or get down on our knees (and then back up!).  Above is Janice's mom who has this neat planter on her back patio for instant gardening enjoyment (note the rod for hanging baskets too!).  This structure was built by a RBG volunteer with RECAPPER assistance.  I'll talk more about these structures further down in the blog.
We had a solid Grumpy morning with plenty of projects being accomplished.  Gary B., Del and Dr. Gredler all worked on painting projects while Gene continued some of his wood sealing projects.  Vern and Bob K continued work on a nice fan that will help with air circulation during our projects that involve chemical odors (painting, staining, etc.).  Dave and Jim worked on more carpentry tasks while Dick H. helped with various projects including some work on one of our trucks.  Maury ran errands and is helping with a project that will involve replacing damaged bricks in front of the Parker Education Center.   Gary S. worked on labeling duties and spent some time cleaning up the laser engraver prior to major usage in the coming weeks.  Pat and Bob C. went out in the gardens and worked on Holiday Lights Show (HLS) takedown and grass cutting respectively.  Larry and Terry worked together on myriad projects including rotating different obelisks and other structures in and out of the Horticulture Center based on their status (already painted, still needs painting, repairs needed, etc.). 
Gardening should be enjoyed by everyone.  However, some of us have (or develop) mobility limitations that make traditional gardening at ground level awkward, difficult and possibly painful.  There are many ways to "bring the garden upwards" in to a comfortable range for planting, watering, maintenance and of course, enjoyment!  Larger containers are certainly a logical option although providing gardening opportunities at "waist level" can be more involved and significant.  The planter above was made by our Grumpies and our volunteer Jordan (seen below) planted and maintained this planter as his assigned garden.  This was built at a perfect height (32") for working at waist level which was ideal for Jordan to plant and water.  There are many options and opportunities for this raised planter gardening which has the benefit of access but also has some inherent challenges as they relate to soil preparation and winter storage.  We only use these planters for annuals and vegetables as they are actively used between April and October with all the plantings and soil ultimately added to our compost pile at the end of the season.  Overwintering plants in these raised containers would be extremely challenging, particularly with a winter like the one we just experienced.  We custom mix a soil blend of 1/3 mushroom compost with 2/3 "soil-less" mix for a well-drained soil that isn't too heavy when wet.  We also add slow-release fertilizer and may apply additional fertilizer as needed throughout the summer.  Once these planters are emptied at the end of the season, we clean them up and store them dry for re-use (and new soil) the next spring.  The photos below are just some of the many non-stoop gardening opportunities that I've photographed over the years and I've included some vertical garden shots as well.  Vertical gardens also have similar challenges but allow for access at different heights and take up a minimal amount of ground space.  When I reach an age as a gardener where it's difficult to get up and down and work on my knees, I will explore these opportunities to continue to enjoy the activity of gardening and the appreciation of plants. At RBG, we continue to build and develop some of these opportunities for evaluation by our volunteers and visitors.
RBG volunteer Jordan with his garden space
RBG planter (too shallow!, go at least 12" deep!)
planter at Allen Centennial Gardens (UW-Madison)
planter at Allen Centennial Gardens (UW-Madison)


planter at Allen Centennial Gardens (UW-Madison)
small, "build-it-yourself" kit at the Garden Expo (unknown brand)
RBG planter - nice and deep and good for most veggies
rolling planter seen on RBG Home Garden Tour
simple raised trough with 5 gallon bucket planters (Rock County Farm, WI)
desk planter at Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG)
RBG desk planter (inspired by CBG planter above) - those metal planters are ultimately set flush
RBG volunteer Victoria planting desk planter seen above
multi-level raised bed at the Buehler Enabling Garden (CBG)
raised bed at the Edgerton Hospital Healing Garden (WI) - wheelchair accessible too
vertical planter at RBG (plan from CBG)
same as above with 'Brazen Brass' mustard (Brassica juncea)
neat wall planter at CBG with spring pansies (Viola) and parsley (Petroselinum)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Summer Poinsettias

Today was another chilly one with Pat being the only one to head out in the gardens.  He continues to bring back in more Holiday Lights Show (HLS) elements and spent a couple hours processing lights for storage as well.  Our Volunteer Soup Dinner went well last night with over 100 attendees.  The soup was good although most of the crowd understandably slept through my presentation on The Gardens of Vancouver!  We had a great crew of volunteer assistance today.  Below is Myrt painting one of our pyramids with pink.  Pink will be prominent in our big color scheme and the structure Myrt is painting is the first of three that will be converted from orange (our 2013 "focus color") to pink.  Gena and her granddaughter Savannah (second photo down) helped Myrt as well.  Note the ladies have matching blue sweatpants outfits which ultimately include a historical reference to the paint colors they used today (as will Myrt's hair...).  Dr. Gredler was in for more painting and we had a solid crew working on preparing our vegetable tags for the Spring Plant Sale (Mother's Day weekend!).  The third photo down shows Patrea (left) and Kay who led the charge with label processing.  They were later joined by Kaye F. and Pat R.  We also saw Gary, Ron W., Maury, Rollie and many others today as well.  The fourth photo down shows our Chestnut House volunteers working on seed sorting this afternoon with Janice.  We will be growing a melon collection this year at the Horticulture Center and are focusing on smaller melons, cantaloupes and watermelons that can be trained to grow on vertical structures.  These varieties will also be offered at the Spring Plant Sale in these seed packets.  Great job Chestnut House Team!!!
I'm a big fan of amaranths (Amaranthus sp.) in general (despite pigweed being in that group!) and always enjoy the vivid foliage of the fountain plant or summer poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor).  Also called tampala, tandalijo and callaloo, this leafy plant (native to South America) also has a long use as an edible with nutritious leaves eaten in a wide range of ways (fresh, steamed, stir fry, side dish, etc.).  This species of amaranth has long been used in Asian and African cuisine as well.  The name "Joseph's Coat" is used for the well known and long utilized variety seen below as 'Perfecta'.  This annual is easy to grow and offers wonderful foliage interest with the newest growth displaying a brighter color like the variety 'Early Splendor' seen at the top of this blog and both above and below.  The newest growth is bright pink which ages to the maroon as the plant gets taller and the newest, emerging growth continues to be the most vivid.  All of the varieties illustrated here get about 3' to 4' tall in a season and usually start waning by September.  The flowers of this plant can be seen along the stem and aren't showy as they are in the grain-type amaranths (Amaranthus sp.).  This is a true "ornamental edible" and will thrive in the full sun garden in a wide range of soils.  See some of the variability in selected varieties further below...
'Early Splendor' summer poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor)
'Perfecta' summer poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor 'Perfecta')
same as above
same as above
'Aurora' summer poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor)
same as above
'Illumination' summer poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor)
same as above
'Molten Fire' summer poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor also listed as Amaranthus gangeticus)