Monday, December 28, 2015

Sombrero Coneflowers (Echinacea)

Some winter weather arrived today in the form of snow/sleet/freezing rain along with some wind.  I'm glad it missed the Holiday Light Show (HLS) last night which again saw strong crowds on a nice evening.  We have two more nights of the HLS on January 2nd and 3rd and are pleased that the event has gone so well despite having to cancel two nights due to weather (rain!).   Big John and Larry H. were here this morning.  Larry went out to work on some HLS elements and Bill O. was in as well to empty the garbage cans along the HLS route.  Dick H. and Bill also worked on one of our trucks and Maury F. was in for some errands.  We also saw Carrie and Janice.  It was a quiet day at the Horticulture Center which was just perfect for me to switch gears to 2016.

It's difficult to keep up with all the varieties of coneflowers (Echinacea sp.) and hybrids that have been introduced over the last 15 years or so.  It has been nice to see such a great range of colors become available for the consumer but who can really keep up?  They all look beautiful in the gardening catalogs but the "proof is in the pudding" as they say.  I commit to an Echinacea variety once I've seen its performance in the ground which should reveal not only true color but stature in terms of "stem strength".  I rarely order a variety based on a photo of the flower.  I feel many of the new varieties, while beautiful, lack the stem strength to support the flowers and become a floppy mess that requires staking.  My concern about flower color also revolves around how flowers "age" on the plant.  Do they maintain a nice degree of the original shade (white, orange, yellow, purple, red, etc.) or do the older flowers look unsightly and detract from the overall appearance of the plant (despite vivid new blooms)?  I have been VERY smitten with the Sombrero series which has the best features of strong stems and excellent coloration throughout the bloom period.  Above and directly below is Echinacea Sombrero Flamenco Orange ('Balsomenco') which is my current favorite of the series of eight selections.  Most of these are in the 24"-30" range and are great for wildlife as well.  Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and their hybrids that include this parentage are not long-lived perennials.  It's important to note this fact and understand that getting 2-3 years out these plants is typical and should be considered when they are purchased.  I feel they are certainly worth the "real estate", particularly this Sombrero Series.

 Echinacea Sombrero Lemon Yellow ('Balsomemy')
 Echinacea Sombrero Adobe Orange ('Balsomador')

 Echinacea Sombrero Sandy Yellow ('Balsomselo') - above and two below

 Echinacea Sombrero Baja Burgundy ('Balsombabur')
Echinacea Sombrero Blanco ('Balsomblanc')
Echinacea Sombrero Salsa Red ('Balsomsed')
 Echinacea Sombrero Hot Coral ('Balsomcor') both above and below

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Begonias for Baskets

We had another strong showing at the Holiday Light Show (HLS) last night.  The event has gone very well and while many folks (including me!) prefer some snow on the ground, the show continues to be spectacular and well received.  See for more information on the schedule, purchasing tickets and possible weather related cancellations.  Don't forget the four evenings after Christmas for the HLS!  We had a small crew at the Horticulture Center this morning. Bill O. was in early to empty the garbage cans along the HLS routed and tidied up the reception garden after two nights of Santa's reindeer visiting.  Ron P. came in to repair lights while Dr. Gredler did some painting.  Dick H. was in as well.  I'm shifting to 2016 seed ordering over these coming weeks and will have some "homework" over the holidays!

Over the past five or six years I've noticed an increased pace in the breeding of trailing begonias for the part sun and particularly, the full sun basket.  We've tried many varieties here and have been amazed at the amount of flowers, dark-foliage varieties and overall impact of these selections.  This past summer I visited many trial gardens and saw the continued focus on exciting new selections for maximum flower power in a basket.  Begonias are NOT drought tolerant so in the full sun setting you see many of these varieties situated in is certainly brutal.  Consider the small soil volume in a basket as well and the implications for plants drying out quickly.  Well-drained soil, supplemental fertilization and ample moisture will all be the keys to success with these selections.  Hummingbirds love begonias in baskets by the way!  Enjoy this assortment which is only a small fraction of what I saw!  Above and directly below is the variety 'Unstoppable Upright Fire' which isn't so much a "trailer" as it is a "filler"!  Look at the dark foliage though...

 Begonia 'Unstoppable Upright Fire'
 Begonia 'Little Lava'
 Begonia 'Marshmallow'
 Begonia 'Million Kisses Elegance'
Begonia 'Unbelievable Ms. Montreal'
 Begonia 'Bossa Nova Pure White'
Begonia 'Bossa Nova Red'
 Begonia 'Bossa Nova Salmon Shades'
Begonia 'Bossa Nova Rose Shades' 
 Begonia 'Bossa Nova Yellow'
 Begonia 'Bossa Nova White'
Begonia 'Bossa Nova Orange Shades' 
 Begonia 'San Francisco'
 Begonia 'Waterfall Encanto Red'
Begonia 'Waterfall Encanto Orange'
 Begonia 'Beauvilia White'
Begonia 'Beauvilia Red'

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What is a Digiplexis?

The Holiday Light Show (HLS) went well last night despite the day being damp and the evening being very humid with light mist.  The crowd of 2,300 seemed to enjoy the HLS and with six remaining nights, we hope to see continued strong attendance.  See for more details on this event including options for pre-purchasing tickets for this event which is highly recommended!  The show will continue after Christmas for four additional nights (Dec. 26, Dec. 27, Jan. 2 and Jan. 3).  Larry H. was in for some odds and ends out in the show while Bill O. came in to collect garbage.  I continue to work on 2016 preparations and am just starting to get in to the seed catalogs.

I saw my first Digiplexis in 2013 at a trial garden.  It was the variety 'Illumination Flame' which is pictured above and in the three photos directly below this text.  This hybrid plant is the cross between a foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and Canary Island foxglove (Isoplexis canariensis).  The early breeding work was done by Charles Vann, a plant breeder from the company Thompson & Morgan.  After this plant won the Best New Plant Award at the Royal Horticultural Society Show in 2012, it exploded on to the scene and continues to be popular.  Many others are now breeding selections.  The genetics of the parents continue to be in dispute but in essence, are very closely related. Technically, the genus for this plant should read xDigiplexis although some vendors continue to use Digitalis hybrida...Regardless, these plants are very distinctive in their appearance and impact!

It is important to note that these hybrids are only hardy to zone 7 so we use them as a long-blooming annual in Northern climates.  The plants are sterile so they continue to bloom as they wont put energy in to seed production.  Reaching heights around 36" and a width of 18", these are excellent in the full sun border.  They will tolerate part shade but full sun in moist, well-drained soils is ideal.  Once they start blooming, they simply keep going.  We provided supplemental fertilizing every three weeks which they seemed to enjoy.  Last year we planted 300 or so of the 'Illumination Flame' variety and they were spectacular for four months.  We've only grown this variety at RBG thus far but the Illumination series also includes 'Raspberry' (pictured at the bottom of this blog).  The remainder of the photos were taken at various trial gardens.  The variety 'Berry Canary' from Walters Gardens is nice as well with a beautiful shade of pinkish purple (the photo of 'Berry Canary' below is from the internet..not mine).  The Foxlight Series (Rose Ivory and Ruby Glow) are also quite nice although they are consistently called a hybrid Digitalis.  See further below for these neat selections.  Whether they are grown as an annual or a perennial in warmer climates, these hybrids are worth the real estate they inhabit.  They also attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Keep an eye out over the coming years for more introductions and selections from this exciting new addition to your planting palette.

 'Illumination Flame'
  'Illumination Flame'
  'Illumination Flame'
'Berry Canary' (not my image...from the internet)
Foxlight Ruby Glow ('Takforugl')
Foxlight Ruby Glow ('Takforugl')
Foxlight Ruby Glow ('Takforugl')
Foxlight Ruby Glow ('Takforugl')
Foxlight Rose Ivory ('Takforoiv')
Foxlight Rose Ivory ('Takforoiv')
'Illumination Raspberry'

Monday, December 21, 2015

Alpine Garden History

We had a solid turnout at the Holiday Light Show (HLS) over this past weekend with almost 8,000 folks coming over the last two evenings.  Today is a bit rainy but we'll run the show tonight as the rain will move on shortly.  If you're coming over the next three nights (Dec. 21-23), wear boots as the paths will be a bit messy.  See for more information on the remaining nights of the HLS including details on our bus shuttle service and options for purchasing tickets in advance (highly recommended).  Today was quiet around the gardens.  Big John, Terry and Janice all stopped by and Larry H. was out in the gardens working on a couple of small adjustments to the HLS this morning.  Dave, Vern and Jim worked on carpentry projects at the Horticulture Center while Dr. Gredler did some painting.  Dick H. was in for some work as was Gary.  We also saw Maury, Lloyd, Bobby K. and a couple of others this morning.

I forgot my promise of a historical Friday blog last week so here it is!  Our alpine garden was constructed back in 1992 or so after the formal gardens were being finished and the pergola erected and set in place.  This shoreline area (see above and below) lent itself to some raised berms, lots of rocks and then the addition of plants that are adapted to the tougher soils found in upper elevations around the world.  Construction took a couple of years and consideration had to be given to fluctuating water levels.  The fountain seen in many of these photos is 'Dancing Waters' which was centered off the formal gardens and can be seen on a central axis through the entire formal gardens looking north.  The alpine garden peaks with color in late April and early May and has a wide range of plantings for year-long interest.  In 2008, we added an area of dwarf and miniature conifers which adds interest as well.  The WI/IL Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) has been very active with maintaining this space and we've received grants over the years from NARGS for more plants and signage. Enjoy the progression seen below....

Directly above and below are more current photos of the alpine garden