Thursday, July 31, 2008

Playing Hooky

Today we took a field trip to the Chicago area and visited the Ball Seed Company Trial Gardens and Chicago Botanic Garden. Some of the evaluations at Ball Seed can be seen above. Susan, Jason and Sam gave us a great tour of the grounds. WOW! is an understatement. I took 350 pictures there in 2 hours. It was just Janice, Larry, Terry and me for this trip. Jerry was back holding down the fort. Marv and Marianne couldn't make it due to a death in the family. Regardless, it was a fun trip but I'm pretty sure I developed heat exhaustion today. I had water but the high humidy and super hot day beat me down quickly. I started getting cold and clammy and had waves of nausea. Aside from all of that, it was a pretty nice day! I have so many great shots of their wonderful display garden. I enjoyed seeing the dwarf goldenrod (Solidago hybrida 'Sweety' with its light yellow flower sprays and compact height at 14". What a neat place and we caught most of the garden at peak, just 6 days after their big field day. Good timing on our part I would say.We then traveled over to the Chicago Botanic Garden and were given a great tour by Richard Hawke of the trial gardens that he manages. We saw all sorts of neat plants, including many I had never even heard of before. Richard was a great guide and is so enthusiastic about plants. He showed us the purple coneflower (Echinacea) collection and described the past efforts of breeding and promoting varieties of Echinacea by the Chicago Botanic Garden. What a great day! It will take a while to sort my pictures (and re-hydrate), but today was time wells spent!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Tropical Heat Wave

What a beautiful shot of a mallow (Lavatera trimestris) that is a Fleuroselect (Europe), award-winning annual. This variety, 'Twins Hot Pink' tops out around 24" and is a strong summer bloomer (related to hibiscus). The flowers are almost 3" across. Unfortunately the foliage and stems are "uber-tasty" to bunnies and woodchucks. You're looking at the best of the bunch.

The weather was hot and sticky today. Our tropicals loved it but we all wilted a bit. There was some serious watering going on today. Marv is the maestro of moving sprinklers around and I believe every grounds person did some sort of supplemental watering. There is a chance of rain tonite and I'm requesting a slow soaking with 2" of precipitation. Not likely though....

Alliant Energy had a big regional meeting today at our visitor's center and the Alliant employees then split in to smaller volunteer groups in the afternoon to help around the community. I had seventeen volunteers that helped spread woodchips in some hard to reach areas. It was the old-fashioned chain gang as we fell in to a great system/routine of passing buckets of mulch around. We must have spread 30 cubic yards of chips in 2 hours. It was hot work but I think we all appreciated the team effort and I certainly appreciated the volunteer commitment from Alliant. They have done some other nice things for us in the past. Note the All-American Selections garden peaking in the above photo. Lots of color and some neat award-winning varieties.

The gardens are really looking good if you'll accept a biased opinion. We still have weeds, flooding problems and other issues but I'm proud of the grounds staff and myriad volunteers that have really made this year a success. Comments from visitors seem quite favorable and we're looking forward to the remainder of summer and the transition in to fall. I was surprised today when our first bearded irises arrived for our iris collection. This is the beginning of the deluge of 450+ varieties that will arrive in the next four weeks or so. We'll have to plant them promptly and label the accurately. Should be fun though!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Boy, It Was A Muggy One Today!

Today was more like July than many of the previous days. We had both the heat and humidity today. It continues to be ironic that we run so much irrigation and do so much watering when some of our gardens are still flooded. Of course we need to water as needed and are committed to keeping plants adequately watered as needed. Our "blue wall" planting is starting to fill out (see above). We've had some mixed reactions to our blue PVC planters but for the most part, everyone is curious about these planters. They only have 18" of soil in them that already has slow-release fertilizer incorporated in to it. We secured 4" pots inside the tubes to keep the soil from settling downwards. In the image below, the grass in the tubes is blue lyme grass (Elymus arenarius). This grass has a beautiful metallic, sky-blue sheen. However, although it is a hardy perennial, it is extremely vigorous and considered invasive by many. We use it as an annual. The silver plant with large leaves is a wooly sage (Salvia argentea) that is planted primarily for its soft texture. Needless to say, we have to water these tubes almost every day.One of my favorite foliage annuals can be seen below. This is an annual hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) called 'Haight Ashbury'. This tropical has maroon leaves with irregular pink splashes and streaks. This plant will get 3-5' tall and prefers full sun and plenty of moisture. Rarely blooming in our short growing season, the showy, maple-like leaves offer color and a nice backdrop for other plants.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Holding Pattern?

The gardens are really starting to fill in and mature. The front of our building is looking colorful and has benefited from the frequent attention of Marianne. It's been fairy dry recently so we've been involved with significant watering and are directing most volunteers in to weeding duties. August will be much of the same. This "holding pattern" gets broken up closer to September when our plant sale begins to loom. The Grumpies did lots of shredded bark mulching today and continued to work on our future shed.

With next year being our 20th Anniversary, we're trying to come up with some ideas regarding how to celebrate/recognize this significant event. I'm sure we'll do something cool out in the gardens and I can already hint about some cool spring and summer displays. It seems like our 10th Anniversary was just yesterday! At that event, we served the biggest cake ever served in Janesville. I'm not sure we'll have cake but I hope the community will support both the past accomplishments and future endeavors of Rotary Gardens. 'Masquerade' hot pepper below.
I took lots of shots today. I have do a presentation in October about container gardening so took many pictures of our developing containers. Below is the copper cheese vat with lots of color in a shady location. The picture beneath that is of our English cottage garden collection. I'm very happy with both arrangements.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Saturday Adventure

On Saturday, my wife, daughter and a family friend traveled up to Madison, WI and enjoyed both the farmer's market and a trip to Olbrich Botanical Garden (seen above). They are a top notch garden and have a very talented grounds staff. Ironically, the grounds staff was at Rotary Gardens the day before! We all took many pictures. I'm normally accused by my wife as "working" when I visit other gardens because I take so many pictures but she was just a guilty. I visit Olbrich three to four times per year and always get some great ideas. They are roughly the same size as we are and although they have more paid grounds staff than we do, I would speculate that we have more garden volunteers. Regardless, I highly recommend a visit to Olbrich. Madison is a pretty neat town with lots to do.

Check out this neat dwarf morning glory (annual) that was used to stunning effect. Dwarf morning glory (Convolvulus tricolor) is in the bindweed family although this plant is a rambling groundcover and under 12" in height. The variety below is 'Blue Ensign' and few plants can match this vivid blue! Look for it in seed catalogs this winter! They also used one of my favorite vines in a container (seen at the bottom). This is firecracker vine or Spanish flag (Mina lobata) and the blooms emerge red and age to orange, yellow, then white. The bloom clusters look like little flames and I've grown this vine 30' up the side of my house. Here , it is used to weave thru a cluster of containers.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Frivolity

This shrub rose caught my eye today. This is 'Sweet Fragrance' and it is one of the roses in our collection from Bailey Nursery (MN). This low-maintenance shrub rose (Easy Elegance Series) has hybrid tea-like blooms and a wonderful fragrance from blooms that have hints of coral pink, apricot and yellow. Mature height and width is between 3 and 4 feet tall. I wouldn't consider our rose collection to be spectacular yet but we're trying. It's a young collection that has dealt with a severe winter, monumental spring rains and now, Japanese beetles. Ugh. This variety really stood out though! Scent from a low-maintenance shrub rose? Sign me up!

There really wasn't much frivolity today but we had a great team that included the volunteers; Kay, Rolando, Dr. Gredler, Don, Thelma, Karen and Ellie. Fridays for the grounds staff can be pretty exhausting as we continue to water, yank weeds, plant, mow and prepare specific gardens for weekend weddings. The gang was kept hopping and I'm glad we still watered. It was overcast and it seemed like rain was looming. We always water even if it looks stormy as we've been "burnt" waiting for vital rain that never quite materializes. The grounds staff and interns from Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI) stopped by this afternoon for a tour. What a great group of people and Olbrich is a must-see botanic garden with lots of cool plants and garden features (including a conservatory). Good work Jeff, Samara, Mark, Christian, Sam and gang! Neat lily pads in our Koi Pond. The fish remind me of my cats at home. As soon as they see you, they think food is involved. A concerned visitor suggested that our fish were being underfed. He gave us a suggestion for some good fish food and we took his advice regarding a more aggressive feeding schedule. This visitor has plenty of experience with fish and we're very open to suggestions and constructive criticism. We have many water features and both plants and creatures associated with them. These garden elements need as much (or frequently more) attention than traditional plants and cannot be neglected. We're still learning too.

Below is another neat Helen's flower (Helenium autumnale) called 'Double Trouble'. This is the first double sneezeweed with a nice double row of lemon yellow petals and a green center that ages to yellow. This is a medium height perennial at 30" and falls in line with many of the mid-summer blooming Heleniums. I would plant these in larger groupings as it seems to be a "narrow" perennial. Showy though!!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Perfect Weather, Again? (In July?)

What a beautiful day. It was a cool morning again and never seemed to get too hot. We had another wonderful day of progress out in the gardens. I've added the picture above as many people are asking (daily!) what this is. This is a variety of the native cutleaf coneflower or rudbeckia (Rudbeckia laciniata). This variety, 'Golden Glow', will get up to 7' tall and has an impressive, double yellow blossom. It does spread and form a colony so be wary. It also goes by the old variety name of 'Hortensia'. It's very hardy and a real beacon in the landscape. Not far from this plant is another neat, yellow-blooming perennial. Look at the showy clusters of this 'Golden Baby' goldenrod (Solidago hybrida). This hybrid stays around 20" and has solid flower power for over 4 weeks. Look behind the goldenrod and you'll see the 'Golden Glow' rudbeckia.The Grumpies were active today and many of the guys really sunk their teeth in to working on our new storage shed. We had a wonderful "Break on the Terrace' arranged by our volunteer coordinator Julie. She had refreshments set out and both the weather and setting were perfect. See pictures below. Tonite is our 'Twilight Tour' and the weather has been pleasant. I couldn't make it to the gardens tonite but am sure visitors enjoyed the setting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Perfect Weather!?

The weather today was delightful. It felt like a September morning with unseasonably cool temperatures in the upper 50s. It warmed up to 80 or so and there was a slight breeze. It was a bit hot in direct sun but overall, quite nice for a late July day. I took this picture of our prairie today. Lots of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) peaking in this space. We are constantly fighting weeds in this garden (mainly in spring) and the City of Janesville burns this 1/3 acre prairie every couple of years. I'm not sure the general public appreciates the native plants in this garden but we'll continue to improve this large garden space as time and money allows.

Marv, Marianne, Terry and Jerry (all grounds staff) worked hard today and much was accomplished. We had Mary today as our primary weeder although I put out plants for Kelley and her family to plant this evening. We try to accommodate all volunteer schedules and will set out plants and tools for those that work "after hours" or at times when the Horticulture Center is not open. I hope to have some volunteer weeders this Saturday to keep up with the merciless onslaught of weeds (watch out sunken garden, you're next!...).
The rains have been good for our coleus (Solenostemon scutelleroides). Check out this beautiful variety called (and it's a mouthful)...'Giant Exhibition Rustic Red With Yellow Edge'. It's part of our orange and blue theme this year. We fertilize our coleus every three weeks and will deadhead any blooms that appear. Our interest is in the foliage (obviously). If they get too big, cut them back severely and fertilize. The Japanese beetles haven't nibbled much on these either (yet!).

I'm always mesmerized by ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) leaves and it's truly amazing that dinosaurs were looking (and eating?) the same leaves 270 million years ago. Ginkgos (multiple species) were found around a wide range of the planet and were thought to be extinct until the late 1600s when it was found in Japan. There are many neat varieties including variegated leaf patterns. I like 'Chi Chi' below and my favorite is 'Saratoga'.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Plenty O'Progress Today

Check out this sneezeweed or Helen's flower (Helenium autumnale 'Mardi Gras'). This is an early blooming variety of this perennial that tops out around 36" in height. There are other Helen's flower varieties that bloom in September. 'Mardi Gras' is a favorite for the multi-colored orange, yellow and red blooms. Note the pronounced flower center with petals arching downwards. This plant may need some staking but all sunny gardens or borders should include Helenium!

Today was one of our most productive days. The efficient grounds crew was all over the place. Larry and I went to a local garden center (box store variety) and accepted some wonderful donations that would have been tossed out that day. We may use some of these and/or will offer them to Rotary Gardens' volunteers. We're almost "planted" but can always use some extras and backups. These come in handy for quick color, timely replacements or volunteer bribery. Weeds were quivering in fear (at least in our Color Rooms garden) as Shirley, Kay, Geesje, Heidi and Judy worked their way methodically and stoically thru a nightmare. They collectively pulled out weeds that would form a pile the size of a VW bug. Very impressive. Mary and Roy worked their weeding kung fu in the shade garden and Christine came later to finish the assault. I was very pleased with the team effort today. I was able to spray RoundUp thru some of our worst areas and am starting to make plans for our September plant sale (Sept. 6-14 with a presale for volunteers/members on the 5th).

Above and to the right is our copper cheese vat planter with Oxalis 'Molten Lava', caladium and golden silver fleece vine (Fallopia aubertii 'Lemon Lace') which we use as an annual but is a tender perennial (not as vigorous as the straight species....which is "uber-vigorous"!). Note the perfect (unplanned) match of chartreuse with the obelisk paint color and the vine!

To the left is 'Golden Rocket' snapdragon (Antirhinnum) that is an All-America Selection and has wonderful heat tolerance. This snapdragon tops out over 24" and glows at dusk. The entire 'Rocket' series deserves consideration in the garden.

If you are interested in a sturdy, hardy perennial for part sun that likes damp soils, look in to meadowrues (Thalictrum sp.) in general. Meadowrues can take more sun but resent drying out. My favorite by far is 'Lavender Mist' meadowrue (Thalictrum rochebrunianum 'Lavender Mist') that achieves monumental heights from 6-9 feet tall and has dark purple stems and umbels of small lavender blooms with yellow centers. This is a long-blooming perennial. See the images below and realize you're not seeing the entire scale of the plant. Ours rarely need staking and we've grown them over 10' tall on occasion. The foliage is ornamental in my estimation as well. Remember Thalictrum when you visit the nurseries (local garden centers first!!!).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Into The Trenches

Our annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus) collection is starting to fill in nicely. Marianne did a nice job of laying these out and babying them along. They will really hit stride with some hot and dry weather. This collection will be one of our best and I feel has a lot of merit in promoting this durable seasonal plant. The title of this posting refers to our shift from planting to some serious weeding. I walked every square foot of the gardens today (after being on vacation last week) and was both awed and discouraged at the same time. While most of our displays are really starting to peak, the flooding issues and rampant weeds tend to put a damper on things. We'll be directing our best weeders into weed warfare this month.
Note the variegated dwarf corn (Zea mays 'Tiger Cub') to the left. The seeds are from Parks and I've grown this at home as well. What a cool foliage pattern. We realize the raccoons will get the ears but this foliage annual (actually a grass) will only get 4' tall and looks great until late September. This corn is positioned in our "Ornamental Edibles" beds and was planted as seed in early June.

The Grumpies continue to do great work (no surprise) and are wrapped up with building a new storage shed outside of our visitors center to help alleviate some of our storage issues that were created with the construction of that building years ago. I envision our August work to involve lots of clean-up and repairs from the the flooding (assuming that we get back to normal water levels!!!).

I took plenty of pictures today and was smitten with this dwarf, striped papyrus (Cyperus albostriatus 'Variegatus') also called variegated umbrella plant. It looks great in this container mixed with DragonWing begonias. Both thrive with plenty of water. Speaking of containers, our assortment in the English Cottage garden are starting to fill out (see below). We have our annual 'Twilight Tour' this Thursday evening and hope to have good weather and lots of visitors coming thru the gardens to see how the gardens are looking. This is always a fun event and we hope to encourage the community to come enjoy Rotary Gardens.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Muggy Weekend

The image above is from Saturday. Despite morning rains, we still had five people come in for our Saturday workday. They worked with Janice and did an amazing amount of weeding. We're now in "the shift" from planting (essentially done) to weeding. It was very muggy this entire weekend and we had more rain overnight Saturday. Today was beastly outside but the heat is sure moving the plants along (including weeds!). I gave a tour to the Naperville (IL) Garden Club and they seemed to enjoy it. Many of their members had not been to the gardens so it's always nice to tour the gardens with new visitors. Last night was our annual Dinner Dance and I heard that it went very well. This week will involve lots more work and catchup weeding. Check out the cool variegation on this hot pepper plant (variety is 'Hot Purple'). Here's a plant with great foliage and ornamental fruit. We're going to have some real neat ones out of this collection of 232 varieties. On the bottom is 'Little Rocket' ligularia. This plant needs part shade and plenty of water. What a strong summer bloomer though and smaller than the more common ligularia 'The Rocket'.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Trying To Get Back In The Swing

Lots has happened since I last blogged. I spoke at the Midwest Regional Master Gardeners conference in Milwaukee today. I spoke on 'Plants for the Senses" and thought the conference was both well attended and well organized. Last Saturday was our Home Garden Tour and was very successful. We had over 400 attendees view our seven wonderful garden locations. Thank yous to the gardeners that offered their gardens for the walk and all the volunteers that helped make this day seamless and special.
Above was my scenery the past week. My wife, youngest daughter and I went camping at Pattison State Park in far Northwest WI (just south of Duluth, MN). This is Little Manitou Falls. The largest waterfall in WI is in this park. We had a blast but it's now time to "readjust" and get back to business. Saturday work day tomorrow and we'll be focusing on weeds. Incidentally, while randomly driving around Duluth, MN last Wednesday, we discovered the Leif Erickson Park and Rose Garden overlooking Lake Superior. It was awesome. Very well cared for and the roses were dynamite. What a special bonus and I couldn't be accused of secretly selecting that location to get my "plant fix". Worth a visit! 'Royal Bonica' rose on the bottom.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

See You In A Week

Cool basket in our Scottish Garden with begonias and creeping golden Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Goldilocks'). Lots more rain Thurs. and Fri. night. Our sunken garden lawn and gazebo garden lawn were flooded to the point where we had to contact our Saturday wedding rentals to come up with alternate arrangements. What a nightmare! Going camping with the family and not back until next weekend. Happy Gardening to all!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Minor Celebration - Plenty of Work Ahead Though

Note the astilbe above (Astilbe chinensis 'Visions') that is blooming strongly in our sunken garden. Astilbes are mainstays of the moist, part shade garden. There are quite a few species and varieties but the Chinese (Chinensis) astilbes tend to be more sun tolerant and drought tolerant. However, all astilbes prefer adequately moist soils and thrive in those locations. 'Visions' is compact at 15" in height and is a great variety. The clump above has been there for over 8 years.

Marv, Marianne, Terry and Laura (volunteer) planted our last big area for seasonals. This last, sizeable berm contains Ball Seed and PanAmerican Seed introductions. These plants are past, present and future varieties from these companies. It's neat to display some up and coming varieties. We have an arrangement with Ball Seed to evaluate these varieties and send along our observations. We're proud to be one of very few non-academic institutions that is part of this program/arrangement. Roy, Don, Thelma, Karen, Jan and three Marys all came to help out in the gardens today. I gave a presentation to the Golden Kiwanis club today that seemed well received. We always hope our presentations encourage more visitation and/or donations!!!
Above is a shot of our bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) in full bloom. This large shrub can get up to 12' tall and continues to get wider, almost to 20'. It forms impressive colonies but it's important to consider how big it will actually get at maturity. Actually, the plant above was from a little piece that we dug out from another specimen over 7 years ago. The upright blooms are very showy and I've seen superior specimens at The Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL) and the Missouri Botanic Garden (St. Louis). Below is black snakeroot or fairy candles (Cimicifuga racemosa now Actaea racemosa). This plant, like astilbe above, likes damp soil and will tolerate full sun (as seen below) with adequate moisture. It also will do well in part sun. The foliage gets to about 36" but when the "fairy candles" bloom, the entire plant can be up to 7'! Very impressive, upright bloomer but may need staking. The blooms are a bit stinky too. I'm off tomorrow so perhaps no post until Friday. This is my 100th posting too!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I Like The Color Tangerine

This 'Durango Tangerine' marigold (Tagetes) is working very well in our orange and blue themed areas. Marigolds are very durable although they do benefit from being pinched back and having spent blooms removed. We've not dabbled in marigolds very much but this variety was recommended by Susan from Ball Seed Company once she heard about our orange and blue theme. It literally glows. See it below as a major component of our entrance garden. The orange "blobs" in the distance are clumps of this marigold. This area is filling out nicely. We had our normal skeleton crew today (Larry, Janice and myself) minus Jerry who is off on vacation. Janice, Kay and Heidi were a mobile "weed wrecking crew" and were able to even do some planting. That darn purslane is on our "Most Wanted" list for sure. Laura, a new volunteer, did a great job weeding as well. Dr. Gredler and Bill rounded out the crew. We were happy to get a nice 2" rain last night as we always (albeit rarely) enjoy a day where we don't have to worry about any watering.

Enjoying plants and horticulture is not always about flower power. This morning I caught this image of moisture beading up on lady's mantle (Alchemilla sp.). This perennial gets chartreuse flowers in early summer and is tolerant of a wide range of soils. The latin name means "plant of the alchemists". Imagine in medieval times, alchemists diligently collecting these moisture droplets, which look very much like mercury (quicksilver). These droplets were considered a component in creating the Philosopher's Stone. This legendary substance (Philosopher's Stone) was thought to be able to turn inexpensive metals to gold. In addition, it was the elixir of life and could convey immortality. Today, I just thought, It was nice to slow down and appreciate this subtle look in the garden (although don't expect any poems about it!).