Thursday, April 3, 2014

Big Bluestem For Impact

It was an overcast day with some light drizzle but not enough to thwart gardening efforts throughout the day.  Above is my best shot (morning light) ever of our prairie in early fall.  This was the best pinkish fall coloring of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) that I've photographed and the lighting was perfect.  I'll talk more about this tough native grass further below.
We had a great volunteer turnout today with Grumpy efforts both inside and out.  Lloyd and Bob C. went out for path clean-up and both Urban and Pat were also out in the gardens for pruning.  Pat also did some painting. Ron R. (new Grumpy), Emmett (new Grumpy), Larry H., Gene and Rollie worked on wrapping cords from the Holiday Lights Show (HLS).  Gary B. continued on his painting projects.  Dick H. helped with many projects and Maury ran more errands for us.  Bob K. continued with some electrical projects while Jim, Vern and Ron Y. had further progress with their carpentry projects.  Bill O. came in after lunch to help Larry and Nancy N. helped with some painting.  We also saw Pat R. and many others. 
The grounds staff also had a full day. Larry hauled our first batch of garden art projects (Adirondack chairs) off for sealing prior to installation out in the gardens.  We will be featuring 25 of these chairs, decorated by area artists, out in the gardens.  There will also be one inside for display.  Larry worked on many other projects.  Big John cut down an evergreen and spent most of his time bringing in some of the last HLS elements.  Janice took down some lights but spent time on the Thomas Jefferson Collection signage which will be significant (and educational).  Cheryl continued her tidying efforts in the color rooms garden while I had four meetings and visited one of our growers.  Below are some recent bulb shots out in the gardens (most from today).
double snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno')
winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
emerging crocus (Crocus sp.)
emerging striped squill (Puschkinia libanotica)
glory-in-the-snow (Chionodoxa sardensis)

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is also known as tall bluestem, bluejoint grass and turkeyfoot.  This native grass is ecologically important and is a vital part of the prairie ecosystem.  The RBG prairie has a healthy population of this grass which is very tolerant of a wide range of soils and because of an extensive root system, is drought tolerant and a solid candidate for erosion control plantings.  Growing 4'-6' tall, this warm season grass gets a wonderful shade of pinkish/tan in late summer in to fall (see top photo).  The stems of this grass are a bluish-purple which is quite evident in close proximity.  While fall color may vary, this grass is long-lived and can be a vital component in natural landscapes, native restorations and/or wildlife friendly combinations.  Ten years ago there were very few varietal selections of this grass but I'm seeing more and more selections for either a "more blue" summer coloration and/or a more significant red fall coloration.  Some of the different varieties can be seen below and I anticipate seeing more and more selections on an annual basis as this tough grass becomes more commonly used as a larger specimen in the full sun garden.  This is not a comprehensive collection of all the varieties as I see new ones each year.

specimen in early fall (RBG)
specimen in early winter (RBG)
'Mega Blue'
'Red October'

'Indian Warrior' (young specimen)
nice patch in mid-summer

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