Friday, January 29, 2016

Fragrant Abelia

It was clear and cold today.  For those that religiously read this blog (and why wouldn't you?), I've been sick most of the week so missed a couple days.  I'll try to make up for it and today will share a nice fragrant shrub that should be blooming in about 100 days from today!  Big John worked on more Holiday Light Show (HLS) related tasks and Vern and Jim were in for some carpentry.  Urban came in for some pruning and Janice had some research to accomplish.  We also saw Dennis, Gena, Gary, Bill O. and a couple of others.  I'm playing "catch up" but my primary focus is seed ordering at this point.

The first lecture on Sensational Shrubbery went well last night (given by me).  We had a nice turnout of 47 attendees and I strongly promoted the fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) seen in all of these photos.  Do check out the remaining ten lectures that are given monthly through November.  They are very reasonably priced at $3 for RBG Members and $5 for non-members.  Well back to talking about this tough shrub which is native to Eastern Asia.  We've had three of these abelias doing well near the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden for the past seven years of so.  Hardy to zone 4, this abelia has established well and bursts forth in May with these very fragrant flower clusters that perfume the surrounding area.  I would say this is my favorite fragrant plant and the flowers will last a good three weeks in to early June.  Blooming on old wood, any pruning should be done immediately after flowering but keep in mind that the natural form of this shrub is arching and a bit informal (see further below).  Ultimately, this shrub (full sun or part shade) will get 6' tall and 6' wide at maturity.  The flowers attract butterflies and this shrub is also resistant to deer nibbling.  While the flowers are the primary interest in spring, the fall color is always exceptional with bright orange being prominent at peak.  There is a selection called Sweet Emotion out on the market which is essentially the same as the straight species but might get folks to try out this very fragrant selection as it becomes more readily available.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

'Dragon's Breath' Celosia

It was a nice sunny day outside and the recent 1" layer of ice/snow was melting down here and there.  Both Big John and Larry headed out in the gardens to retrieve lights.  John had some indoor projects as well.  Ron P. was in to repair lights and Jim and Vern were working on a carpentry project.  Urban headed out in the gardens for some pruning.  I had a series of meetings and continue to put spring orders together.  We had a nice Volunteer Social event last night with about 80 volunteers in attendance for soup and my presentation on Great Dixter which I visited last fall over in England.  We'll have two more of these Volunteer Socials on February 24th and March 31st respectively (5 pm - 7 pm).  These are great ways to stay connected with the gardens and hear what's coming up for the year.  No RSVP required!

I had heard a lot of buzz last year about this 'Dragon's Breath' celosia (Celosia argentea plumosa) and was able to view it at three different trial gardens last year.  We grow a lot of different celosias each year including some with dark foliage and/or red flower plumes.  'Dragon's Breath' at 24" tall is quite showy with elongated, burgundy/green foliage and pinkish red flower spikes.  Note the difference in the intensity of foliage coloration in the first four shots (some degree of light shade) and the last four that were in full sun.  This is a later blooming variety but is also heat and drought tolerant like other celosias.  This plant also doesn't mind humidity.  We'll be trying it this year and look forward to including the impact of 'Dragon's Breath' celosia in some of our sunny garden beds.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bee Balm for Pollinators

Today was actually quite pleasant with sunshine and temperatures ultimately getting above freezing.  Looks like we may have some sleet/snow later this afternoon but I'm not upset that we missed all the snow that they received out East.  My brother and his family received 24" of snow in Scotch Plains, NJ and my two nephews and three nieces are enjoying a snow day or two!  We had an excellent turnout today with Big John organizing everyone's efforts.  Alan headed out in the gardens to collect lights.  Inside, we had Marv, Terry, Bob C. and Dick H. all processing lights for storage.  John was going through more donations and Ron P. continued repairing those lights in need of his expert attention.  Dr. Gredler was in for painting and Gene put sealant on one of the newly sanded benches.  Dave, Vern and Jim all worked on multiple carpentry projects.  Janice was in to prepare materials for our first (of three) Volunteer Social evenings tomorrow night (Tuesday, January 26th, 5 pm, show up!).  Urban was outside pruning and continues to make headway throughout the gardens.  Gary worked on a new sign and we saw many others.

Whenever I do presentations on pollinators or scent in the garden, I show images of perennial bee balm (Monarda sp.).  Bee balm, a member of the mint family, is known for vibrant summer blooms and fragrant foliage.  The flowers are extremely popular with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  There are some great varieties out there that explore the color range of red, pink, violet and white (and many shades in between!).  Many of the cultivated varieties (Monarda didyma) include taller varieties around 3-4' while compact selections hover around 1-2' in height.  Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is also extremely valuable for wildlife and is quite ornamental as well.  Bee balms do spread but really aren't overly aggressive.  They aren't hard to divide with a sharp spade in the spring either.  Moisture in the summer is important and air circulation around the plant becomes important as powdery mildew is a frequent problem (even on the "mildew resistant" varieties).  After the blooms are fading, we'll typically cut the plants down to the ground in mid-summer to remove older foliage and encourage a fresh new plant to emerge and fill out.  There is no end to the combinations you can create in the full sun or part sun garden with bee balm and these photos represent a very small fraction of the varieties that have become available over the years.

 bee balm (Monarda didyma 'Jacob Kline') above and below

 bee balm (Monarda didyma 'Pardon My Pink') internet photo
 bee balm (Monarda didyma 'Purple Rooster') Introduced from our local Flower Factory Nursery!

 bee balm (Monarda didyma 'Grand Marshall') above and two below

 bee balm (Monarda didyma 'Petite Delight')
wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
 bee balm in composition with globe thistle (Echinops)
 bee balm in composition
bee balm in composition (Boerner Botanic Garden, Hales Corners, WI)
bee balm providing winter interest (Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Green Petunias

Recent weather hasn't been quite so cold and has allowed for staff and volunteers to get out in to the gardens for collecting lights from the Holiday Light Show (HLS).  John processed more lights inside and was later joined by Urban.  Peg came in and collected lights out in the gardens from a couple of different locations.  The Janesville Fire Department was at the gardens today for their open ice rescue training which our pond accommodated nicely for them.  We also saw Gary, Rollie, Bill O. and a couple of others.  Marsha and Mirjam, our volunteers in the English cottage garden, also stopped by to talk about our 2016 plans for that space.  I continue to peck away at seed orders and need to get pretty serious about it next week with minimal distractions I hope!

Many of my presentations this year include showing newer petunia varieties that have a hint of green in them.  Green highlights in petunias is not brand new and became noteworthy a couple years ago with the variety 'Pretty Much Picasso' (seen further below) which is a pink petunia with green edge.  Efforts have been made to breed a green petunia and the unnamed selection above is the closest I've seen yet.  This is an experimental variety that I photographed this summer and further below you can see some varieties that are "sort of green" or hint a a lime coloration.  I'm personally excited about the thought of more green in petunia or even totally green varieties.  Why not!  However, I like varieties like the one directly below for use in baskets and containers where they can be viewed up close.  Beauty is subjective so many may not like green in their petunias (or even petunias at all) but I wanted to share some of the varieties that continue to "lean" in the green direction.  

Petunia 'Cascadias Pitaya'
 Petunia 'Picasso in Blue'
 Petunia 'Picasso in Burgundy'
 Petunia 'Surprise Green Tambourine' 
Petunia 'Crazytunia Kermit Rose'
 Petunia 'Debonair Lime Green'
 Petunia 'Kermit Piggy'
 Petunia 'Lime Light'
Petunia 'Sophistica Lime Bicolor'
 Petunia 'Crazytunia Twilight Lime'
 Petunia (experimental)
 Petunia 'Sophista Lime Green'
 Petunia 'Surfina Lime'
 Petunia 'Debonair Lime Green' (second photo)
Petunia 'Pretty Much Picasso'