Friday, January 30, 2015

Homecoming After 22 Years

I left work early this morning to head down south to a conference (Saturday) in Robinson, IL that is hosted by the University of Illinois - Extension.  Robinson is right near the Indiana border and this event will be well attended.  I was asked to present at this annual event a year ago but had a conflict.  I'm glad to be involved although the five hour drive is daunting.  I stopped in Champaign/Urbana (Illinois) for a stretch and visited the University of Illinois Arboretum and The Japanese House gardens.  Both of these gardens were new to me and I enjoyed visiting.  I attended the University of Illinois back in 1989-1993 and have not been back on campus since graduating.  I enjoyed seeing the Student Union (above) and walked the campus which has stayed the same in some respects but also seemed to have many new buildings.  Anyway, it was a walk down memory lane and I had a good hour walk to break up the trip.  I arrived in Robinson and met many of those involved with the event tomorrow.  Fun day overall and thankfully I had perfect road conditions.  I know Pat, Larry H. and Kay were coming in today and I saw the fellas before I left.  

 Idea Garden (UofI Extension - Champaign County)
 The Japanese House gardens (above and below)

 Himalayan birch (Betula utilis)
 China Snow Peking lilac (Syringa pekinensis 'Morton')
 standing at the base of a 60' tall bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
paperbark maple (Acer griseum)
Ravenna grass (Erianthus ravennae) at 12' tall!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Busy as Bees Today

Today was super busy at the Horticulture Center with all sorts of activities occurring throughout the day.  Our lights extraction team of Larry H., Larry O., Peg, Alan and Marv B. all went out in the gardens to retrieve lights.  Pat M. continued to process lights as they came in and continued to utilize more spools brought in by Bob K.  Vern, Bob K., Jim and Dave continued work on carpentry projects (see below) and Dr. Gredler started re-staining some of our garbage bins for a fresh look.  Above (left to right) are Janice, Pat R. and Pat C. working on a project in the break room this morning.  We also had Kay and Bev in the office working on indoor tasks and Cindy was in later for another project.  Deb G. stopped by for a meeting with Bev and me and we also saw Bill O., Gary S., Rollie and many others today.  The photos below have captions and I had to include some photos at the bottom to add color and promote year #2 for our Thomas Jefferson Collection.  This garden was a huge hit last year and was the "brain child" of Janice.  Speaking of Thomas Jefferson, Peter Hatch, retired Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, will be participating in our March 21st Spring Symposium entitled Garden Inspirations: The Spice of Life.  We'll also have Kyle Cherek of the Wisconsin Foodie and yours truly.  We are now accepting registrations so check out this neat event on our website at  At the bottom are some neat shots of this collection in 2014 which will be equally awesome this year.

 Bob K. (left) and Vern
 Dave (left) and Jim
 Pat M. above with his spools
 LED lights awaiting processing
 Dr. Gredler above
Kay (left) and Bev (eyes closed..again)


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Extreme Vertical Gardening

Today was a nice sunny one with temperatures right around 32 degrees F.  Looks like they received quite a blanket of snow out East!  I heard it will be 36" deep in Boston.  While I'm not a big fan of snow removal, I sure wouldn't mind another layer out in the gardens.  Of course, that means the discouraging deer tracks will be more conspicuous!  I spent the day ordering plants and seeds although we had some nice volunteer help as well.  Pat continued to process lights inside and his system is working great for minimizing storage space.  Larry H. was out in the formal gardens collecting more lights off of the hedges.  Urban came in for some pruning and Bill O. was in later to help with some indoor projects. 

This blog has an assemblage of vertical wall plantings that I've seen over the years.  There are much larger systems on the sides of buildings and that technology continues to improve.  However, those systems are usually "soil-less" with plants rooting in to an engineered felt system with plants being nourished by nutrient solutions being flushed down through the plantings.  I don't pretend to understand all the technology behind this but check out Patrick Blanc and his work in this regard primarily in Europe.  He has a book as well and I'm amazed at the scale and scope of some of these urban systems.  The walls seen in this blog, like the one above seen at the Ball Seed Trial Gardens (West Chicago), require soil and plants root directly in to these frameworks or fabric pouches.  Above is a Woolly Pocket system although most of the other set-ups were constructed to not only handle well-drained soil (essential) and plants but the combined weight of those elements.  The proper construction, anchoring and maintenance of these structures is paramount.  See some examples further below.

 Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2012)
Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2012)
Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2013)
Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2014)
 Longwood Gardens (by conservatories) - those are bathroom doors!
same as above
 The remaining photos are all from the Buehler Enabling Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Barking Up the Right Tree

The winter months are a great time of year to appreciate some of the subtle (or not so subtle) contributions in the winter landscape.  Winter interest in our gardens is vital and may include ornamental grasses, colorful stems, ornamental fruits, colorful conifers and certainly ornamental bark.  This blog shows just a few of the many options out there for ornamental bark on woody trees which while a contributor during other months...becomes "front and center" in a winter landscape dominated by whites, browns and greys.  I should mention that some of these featured trees, like the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) seen both above and below can be touchy in terms of hardiness so be sure to research your selections for applicability in our climate and in your own landscape (soils, siting, sheltering, etc.).  Variable bark features may include descriptions like colorful, peeling/exfoliating, corky, knobby, thorned, etc. which to me, becomes a visual feature of interest and worthy of consideration.  Although some of the photos below are not taken in winter, I think you'll be able to envision the "effect" this bark would have out in the winter landscape.

We had a nice turnout of volunteers today.  Larry O. and Bill O. worked on some snow removal as well as myriad other projects including bringing in our trash bins and other elements for winter re-painting.  Larry H. and Peg L. were in again to remove lights and cords from the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) layout in the gardens.  They have done a nice job and this specific duo has spent significant time out in the snow over the last four weeks!  Pat M. continued processing lights inside and has his system down "pat" (get it?).  Cindy came in to help with some office work and our Horticultural Therapy Committee met later in the afternoon. We also saw Curt T. and some others today.  I have started ordering seeds and plants in earnest as availability becomes a serious consideration as we head in to February.

 paperbark maple (Acer griseum) at Anderson Japanese Garden (Rockford, IL)
 three-flower maple (Acer triflorum)
 three-flower maple (Acer triflorum) at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI)
three-flower maple (Acer triflorum) at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI)
river birch (Betula nigra 'Heritage')

 Renaissance Reflection paper birch (Betula papyrifera) grove at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
 paper birch (Betula papyrifera) above and below

 China Snow Peking lilac (Syringa pekinensis 'Morton') both above and below

Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii) above
 persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
 hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) both above and below

 Eye Stopper corktree (Phellodendron lavallei 'Longenecker') 
shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
 young trunk of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
 lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) above and two photos below