Friday, February 27, 2015

Vertical Planters

It was another cold day although the blue sky and sunshine made it feel warmer than the -9 degrees F we had this morning (wind chill).  At the time of typing this blog (morning), I haven't seen any volunteers yet.  We had a great week and look forward to a warm up next week although snow seems likely this Sunday. Regardless, we'll roll with it as best we can.  I continued work on the Spring Plant Sale (Mother's Day weekend!).  We'll have more details soon and our vegetable and herb listings should be on our website very soon.  I also am preparing for our Bagged Compost Sale (starts on Saturdays in April from 8 am until 12 noon).  A new twist this year will be the offering of pansies and pansy hanging baskets as part of the compost sale and the plant sale.  I'm finishing seed orders by next week but still have plenty of ordering to finish in March.  I have another presentation tomorrow to a good sized group in Illinois ("Vertical Gardening" and "Ideas to Refresh The Landscape") and the lecture circuit continues to be on the horizon.  I'm a shameless promoter of the gardens to these captive audiences as I continue to talk about RBG history, collections, programs, events and share lots of eye candy photos of the gardens to encourage people to see the fun things we're doing here!  Bill O. just popped in for some indoor work and Jenny stopped by to pick up the start of the thousands of labels she makes every winter for our seasonal plants.
This blog has a collection of some of the many vertical planters I've photographed over the years.  With space limitations, challenging soils or simply the desire to maximize growing space, these vertical options may be of interest.  They all have their merits and challenges and ultimately, the soil preparation, drainage requirements and plant selection (maintenance too of course!) are vital for success in these systems.  Note that some are fairly "stationary" (like the tiered metal planters seen above at the Ball Seed Trial Gardens in West Chicago, IL) while others can be rolled and moved.  Keep in mind soil volume and depth for some of these selections as it's ideal to have 12"-14" of soil minimally for most vegetables.  The selection of compact vegetable varieties or short "vine-length" crops (squash, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.) may be warranted.  Oddly enough, we'll have many of these compact selections at the aforementioned Spring Plant Sale!


 repurposed pallet planters (2 on end at RBG) - above and below

 fabric pocket system (Ball Seed Trial Gardens) - West Chicago, IL
 wall planters at the Chicago Botanic Garden (above and below)

 planter at Vander Veer Botanical Park (Davenport, IA)
 planter at the Rock County Farm
indoor systems with internal watering (above and below)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Seasonals for Fragrance

It was another cold day but we had a great turnout of volunteers at the Horticulture Center.  Larry H. went out in the gardens to bring in more lights and Pat M. continued to process lights for storage.  Larry O. was both inside and outside and Bill O. helped out with myriad projects this morning and afternoon.  Dr. Gredler worked on more painting and Dick H. had some projects after plowing the 1" of fresh snow off of our parking lot.  Dave, Jim, Vern, Bob K. and Ron Y. continued progress on the garden art projects.  Marv continued to clean up our indoor tropicals and Gary worked on some office equipment inventories.  Kay finished processing our most recent seed order although the last couple orders should arrive next week.  We also saw Bev D., Dr. Yahr, Cindy B., Rollie, Polly and many others today.

As we prepare for our "Smelly Garden" theme in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden this year, I'm ordering seeds and plants of many fragrant annual selections.  Above is the "lady of the night" (Brunfelsia gigantea) which has an unbelievably sweet fragrance.  Scent in the garden is such a wonderful addition and is frequently not considered or appreciated for its value!  While there are certainly trees, shrubs and hardy perennials that offer scent (particularly emitted scent!), the blooming (and thereby scent) "window" can be quite narrow. Relying on seasonals and tropical plants with strong summer scent will help with the continuation of olfactory appeal in your landscape.  Included here are just a smattering of the many varieties that can offer some nice smells in your landscape.  Keep in mind that fragrant plants are loosely grouped in to two categories; those that emit a scent in the air and those that need to be touched (tactile engagement) to enjoy the scent (basil, thyme, etc.).  All of these are "emitters" with the exception of the popcorn plant below which should be rubbed to release the scent.  We'll have well over 150 varieties of fragrant perennials and annuals in our Smelly Garden this year!

chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) - true to it's name!
 popcorn cassia (Cassia didymobotrya) - smells like buttered popcorn!
 sweet sultan (Centaurea imperialis 'Imperial Bride White') - sweet!
criss-cross plant (Cladanthus arabicus)
 angel's trumpet (Brugmansia sp.)
 angel's trumpet (Datura meteloides 'Evening Fragrance')
 fragrant carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus 'Grenadin King of Black')
 heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens 'Alba') - vanilla!
heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) - some blue selections are not fragrant so check!
night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis) - sweet night bloomer

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis)

An entirely underused perennial is the wood betony (Stachys officinalis) which really is a tough and durable plant with plenty of visual appeal.  The variety 'Hummelo' can be seen above and below and is one of the most popular varietal selections out on the market (sometimes sold as Stachys monieri).  See further below for my favorite: 'Pink Cotton Candy'!  Native to grasslands in both Europe and Asia, this plant can tolerate average, well-drained soils and is drought tolerant once established.  Don't plant this species in overly damp soils though.  Most varieties will reach a height of 15"-18" in a season and the bloom period extends almost two months in the summer with scattered blooms late in the season.  A wide range of bees and butterflies will visit wood betony in bloom.  This perennial prefers full sun (best) or part shade and also features wrinkled leaves rarely affected by insects or diseases.  We first planted this perennial in our Scottish garden where it has thrived in part shade.  These "bottlebrush" like blossoms (mostly shades of pink and purple) make this plant appear more like a salvia than the close relative of wood betony; lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina).  This is also a great plant for combining with other neighbors!

Today was a bit warmer than yesterday although the cold spell will return shortly.  Tonight we have our Volunteer Soup Dinner which is a fun event we started many years ago.  We typically have two or three of these over the winter months to connect our volunteers, talk about what's happening out in the gardens and we also will potentially recruit some new volunteers as well.  Our Volunteer Committee has done a nice job putting this event together.  I'll do a presentation that will include some highlights of trip to Denver last summer for the American Public Garden Association Conference where I also saw some neat gardens.  Larry O. worked on various indoor projects today while Larry H. went out in the gardens to retrieve lights.  Bob K. continues to do a nice job rearranging the carpentry area at the Horticulture Center for maximum room.  Vern popped in for some carpentry work and helped Bob K.  Kay was in for more seed processing as we get ready to distribute seeds to our growers soon. We also saw Big John, Terry, Bev D., Dr. Gredler and many others today.

 Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo'
spring foliage clumps of Stachys officinalis
 Stachys officinalis 'Pink Cotton Candy'
Stachys officinalis 'Pink Cotton Candy'

Stachys officinalis 'Pink Cotton Candy'
 Stachys officinalis 'Pink Cotton Candy'
 Stachys officinalis 'Pink Cotton Candy'
 Stachys officinalis 'Pink Cotton Candy'
 Stachys officinalis 'Purple' (above and below)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Garden Sages

Today was painfully frigid with temperatures well below 0 degrees F.  We didn't have any activity out in the gardens but the Horticulture Center saw a lot of volunteers and related action.  In the office, Gary worked on labels, Janice worked on the Spring Plant Sale (Mother's Day weekend) and Kay processed seeds and prepared labels for our growers.  Cindy B. was in later to help with processing incoming seed orders.  Pat processed lights from the Holiday Lights Show for storage while Dr. Gredler did some more painting.  Vern, Dave, Jim, Ron Y., Dick H. and Bob K. all worked on our carpentry projects with very evident progress.  Del was in to help tidy up and Larry and Bill had many tasks as well.  Maury was back and running errands for us and we also saw Rollie, Big John, Mark S., Mary W., Shirley C. and many others.
The "blog focus" today is on garden sages (Salvia officinalis) which are true "ornamental edibles" with culinary use (seasoning) and certainly foliar beauty.  The image at the top is a hodge podge of the varieties 'Aurea', 'Purpurascens' and 'Tricolor' although they are also featured further below.  Salvia officinalis is listed as a zone 5 perennial for hardiness and while we have seen it come back after milder winters with ample snow cover, we typically plant it as an annual for instant impact.  The silver forms (including the "straight species") are showy, particularly in the evening garden.  In our summers, all of these selections will usually get 15"-18" in height and you wont see blooms.  The foliage is dynamite and we use them as bedding plants with plant groupings or as specimens in borders or containers.  We'll have all three of these at the Mother's Day weekend Spring Plant Sale which also features a wide range of vegetables, herbs, perennials, shrubs, etc. 
Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten'
 Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten'
 Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten'
Salvia officinalis 'Sage of Bath'
 Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens'
  Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens'
 Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor'
Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor'

 Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor' with Salvia officinalis 'Aurea'
 Salvia officinalis 'Aurea'
 Salvia officinalis 'Aurea' with Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens'
 Salvia officinalis 'Iceterina'
 A showy container of foliage with (left to right), 'Tricolor', 'Aurea' and 'Purpurascens'