Friday, October 30, 2009

A Total Rain Out

The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow...and that's what we did today! Plenty of drizzle of varying degrees of vigor. Marianne and Kay settled down for lights testing and repair (see above) as did Terry, Marv, Dr. Gredler and Janice. Urban came in to do some pruning outside and accomplished some progress but this afternoon was too damp. Dr. Gredler was out collecting leaves as Little Jerry and I did a "drive-thru" of the gardens to scope out his next pruning projects. We all ran for cover eventually. See below to the left for Janice and Dr. Gredler decorating an obelisk. Not the flat cart at the base which allows Doc to spin the obelisk as Janice applies the lights. Works well but can contribute to some motion sickness issues! Terry can be seen to the right engaged in the tedious activity of lights repair. Think about testing and repairing your 10 strands of lights for the tree and multiply that by 3,000 to get an idea of the process behind getting the show ready to go. Great day to be inside though. I was able to categorize many of my digital photos, work on presentations and other miscellaneous tasks. Even perennials going dormant, see wild ginger (Asarum canadense) below, have their own beauty. Note the water urn (Japanese garden) at the bottom with various leaves and plenty of visual appeal. Happy Halloween! Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter. ~Carol Bishop Hipps

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Preparations Continue In Earnest

Although overcast today, the temperatures were mild and we all received plenty of fresh air. Above is a nice shot of the woodland walk today; looking thru Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) to the Autumn glow of the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). Overhanging this vignette is a red oak (Quercus rubra) with deep maroon color right now. I took my camera around as I strung over 1500' of extension cords (not a record). I kept taking pictures and found so many interesting plants that haven't succumbed to the winter warnings and repeated frosts. I was lucky to take a fuzzy picture of a fox (below) trotting thru the gardens today with no interest in us as he/she seemed to have a destination in mind!

Little Jerry worked on cutting back shrubs like elderberry, spirea, etc. today and brought back many loads of debris. Marianne hauled out a good portion of our milk jug luminaries for the light show and later worked on testing and repairing lights. We use over 2,000 half gallon milk jugs to line the paths for the lights show. C7 bulbs will illuminate these and it is an art form figuring out the best way to lay these out and get power out there. Marv and Terry spent most of the day hauling soil/compost to fill in the new shoreline bed in the wishing well garden. This is timely as we still have bulbs to plant along this border after Marv rototills it up next week. We'll finish our bulb planting by the end of next week (hopefully). It's not too late by the way! As long as you can dig a hole, get those bulbs in the ground and look around for some great discounts on spring-blooming bulbs. Dr. Gredler was here to mow and collect/shred leaves. Jumbo Jim brought three RECAPPERS down and they did a great job collecting leaves and perennial debris from the Japanese garden (nice shot to the right of that garden today). Kay spent a productive four hours in the color rooms collecting debris and cutting back perennials. She brought back some pretty impressive loads.

To the above left is a shot of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) in bloom today. Saffron has been used as a seasoning/herb for over 3,000 years although it takes about 75,000 of these blooms to create 1 lb. of saffron (worth about $1,000). That means our three saffron crocuses can produce about 4 cents of saffron each year (fundraiser?). Again, this is a marginal bulb for us but to see blooms around Halloween is pretty neat. Foilage also becomes so important this time of year (aside from fall color). Note the sedge (Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance') below that will have foliage interest well in to winter. Always plant "clumping" sedges and be wary of those that spread quickly. 'Ice Dance' is a slow spreader and will create a manageable colony.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Gloomy Start and Sunny Ending

This morning was extremely foggy (see above) but the gardens still had an interesting beauty. The fog held on until after 10 am but we were rewarded with clear blue skies and a mild day. Colors became quite vivid as evidenced by the brighter red fall color of the 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) seen to the left in the Japanese garden. To the lower right are some sugar maples (Acer saccharum) in the foggy woodland walk garden. Fall color is quite variable for sugar maples.

Janice and Marianne (volunteering today) worked on lights testing and repair this morning which is a daily chore this time of year. Janice went on to decorate obelisks out in the gardens while Larry continued to test and sort our larger displays from the garage. Vern came in for a bit and we saw Dr. Yahr before he left for Arizona. Dr. Gredler was out collecting, mowing, shredding leaves out in the gardens and we were fortunate to have Bill for more debris clean-up. We become more dependent on volunteers for fall clean-up as the garden staff gets absorbed in getting the lights show up during the milder weeks of October and early November.

Unfortunately we don't see many visitors this time of year although there is still plenty to look at out in the gardens. There were a couple people meandering around but we wont see many souls in November. The premise of the original Holiday Lights Show (Winter Wonderland Walk) was to bring in visitors during the winter to enjoy the garden. Of course, this event is also a vital fundraiser that is dependent on sponsorships and attendance. We've never had a perfect December for this event with 2" of light snow and evening temperatures around 25 degrees F. We usually have some rain or -20 degrees F windchill. I hope we avoid the extremes this year! Nice shot below of the leathery fall leaves of the chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) near our woodland walk. This adaptabile oak was named Urban Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists. Fall color ranges from yellow to orange to this leathery brown. Looks good to me. The bottom photo is of my "ride" this time of year....

Monday, October 26, 2009

94% Humidity

The weather was beautiful over the weekend with plenty of sunshine and some mild temperatures. Today started where Friday left off; rain and drizzle. It is sticky out there but we had a good group out there working thru the day. Nice shot to the left of the fall color of the fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis). I'm surprised more nurseries don't carry this shrub as it has fragrant blooms, nice fall color and forms a nice rounded shrub at 5' tall and 5' wide. To the right is the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) with some nice fall color. Not sure what variety but they should be selected for the best fall color.

Grumpies worked on hauling mums, cutting back perennials, planting shrubs, collecting debris, filling luminaries, carpentry projects and many odd jobs. Thanks to Maury, Rollie, Del, Mike, Bob A., Ron, Roger, Gary, Dr. Gredler, Dr. Yahr, John, Dave, Jim, Vern, Bob C., Charlie, Urban and Doug. We also saw Rose and had Mary here helping Marianne and Janice with lights. Terry and Marv toughed it out and put out lights displays in the drizzle and emptied some of the last of our larger containers of soil and mums. Larry and John planted yews and Larry helped some irrigation guys (Evergreen Irrigation, Rockford) get started on our new garden. Larry continued to test displays thru the afternoon as Janice and Marianne continued their repair miracles on our aging light strands. The image below (taken last week) is of the fruiting structure of the seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides), which is actually a large shrub that blooms white very late in the season (late Sept. / early Oct.). The structure below is a capsule with sepals that turns rose-purple and adds another three weeks of interest to this already interesting plant. I would recommend this large shrub (native to China) many times over for its great characteristics, low-maintenance and adaptability.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Perpetual Drizzle

It has not stopped drizzling all day. I'm glad for the soaking rain as it will be good for our woody plants to satiate their thirst before the ground freezes. However, we didn't get out in the gardens at all today. Marv, Terry, Janice and Dr. Gredler (seen above) worked on preparing and repairing our lights for the upcoming Holiday Lights show. This certainly wasn't a lost day as these tasks were vital regardless of the weather. We'll continue to wrap more obelisks with lights as seen to the left as these elements, while important during the growing season, also accomplish double duty as design elements for the lights show. I was off most of yesterday but the weather was also not real friendly for getting out in to the gardens although Suzy toughed it out and hopefully has dried out by now. I caught up on budget preparations for next year and other desk work. Many maples are peaking now. To the right is one of the Freeman maples (Acer x freemanii) at the Horticulture Center which combines the quick growth of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) with the harder wood and beautiful fall color of the red maple (Acer rubrum). These are tough trees but are becoming fairly common. It will be nice to have two days off in a row and perhaps I can dodge the drizzle and get some of my own home gardening done this weekend. Nice shot below of the 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) in fall. The maroon summer leaves get a more vivid reddish fall color and we have three large specimens in our Japanese garden.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Compressed Indian Summer

We were prepared for a rainy day inside but were rewarded with 70 degrees F and sunshine after the skies cleared around 10 am. Nice shot above of the fullmoon maple (Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium') which always amazes me. We have a sequence of three thru the Japanese garden and fern & moss garden. They are truly beacons. Last year, my photos showed these trees a brilliant red but this orange suits me fine. This color will darken to a red very shortly. I also caught the true Autumn crocus (Crocus sativus) in bloom today to the left. You would see this in either white or a lavender color. Not extremely showy or particularly hardy in our climate but any flower I can photograph in late October is interesting to me. Ornamental grasses are also starting to take center stage and we get lots of questions about our "pampas grass" around the parking lot. These large groupings are actually Japanese silver grass or maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) and the variety to the right is called 'Blondo', one of my favorites.

Little Jerry was out in the gardens all day pruning, organizing our "satellite shed' and tidying up. Dr. Gredler worked on lawn repair and collecting leaves around the gardens. Marv, Kay, Marianne and Terry worked on preparing, testing, purchasing, repairing and organizing the lights for our Holiday Lights Show. This wouldn't have been as agonizing if the weather was rainy as the gang had to look out on the sunny day as we worked on essential and timely preparations. We also saw Dr. Yahr and Vern. I caught up on desk work and am working on some orders for next year already. Next week I'll have my cart o' cords out to start our network of power around the gardens. Nice shots below of the South Japanese garden entrance and the bottom shot shows the Ma Chii' structure (Japanese resting structure) in the distance with that same maple seen in the top photo.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


We spent an overcast day continuing to remove annuals and cut down perennials. Our planting, with the exception of a couple thousand bulbs, is done for the year. Normally we would leave some perennials up for winter interest but we have so many holiday displays for our lights show and cords, it's easier to cut back these plants and navigate across more open spaces. The image above (taken yesterday) exhibits the nice fall color of a burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in full sun and also attests to its durability under heavy pruning to keep that tight mound. Marv and Terry shear this shrub (and many others) twice per year and I love the form. We leave many woody plants in their natural forms but those heavily pruned specimens add drama to the landscape as the shapes "pop out" visually. Some of the fall colors are really starting to peak with moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum) to the above left and three-flowered maple (Acer triflorum) to the right. The smaller maples have some nice color and are looking good in the Japanese garden. I'll have some pictures soon of those with the bright red fall color (almost at peak).

Kay, Heidi and Barb came it today to work in both the English cottage garden and sunken garden. They targeted any remaining annual removal and continued to cut down perennials and tidy up. Janice worked with the ladies and kept busy with gardening tasks and even worked on some lights for the Holiday Lights show. Bill helped Dr. Gredler level an area with topsoil and continued with leaf collection along the paths. Little Jerry is still pruning in the Japanese garden and Larry worked primarily on planting yews and installing silt fence today. We also saw Dr. Yahr, Jumbo Jim, Maury and Vern. I've been at my desk catching up on presentations, billing and other items in my various "to do" stacks. This job could easily be 100% desk work but I'm determined to avert that possiblity. The two shots below really show the appeal of the Japanese garden this time of year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Nice Start To The Week

The weather today has been wonderful. The Grumpies (Bill and Ed above) have been busy with taking down the Halloween Walk and starting to really clear out the reception and sunken gardens. We're actually cutting back perennials in some areas as we need to open up space for lights displays as well. Janice did a nice job of coordinating the work in those gardens. We had a great turnout today and other projects included planting yews (in the wishing well garden), tidying up and Dick H. and Maury teamed up to put some rounded nuts on the new sculpture. Our volunteer contingent included Rose, Urban, Mary, Bev, Ron W., Doug, John, Charlie, Bill, Ed, Ron, Bob A., Bob T., Dr. Yahr, Dr. Gredler, Maury, Terry, Roger, Del, Jim and Mike. Sorry to any I missed!
Marv and Terry brought back more containers, lights from the Halloween Walk and will start putting up lights in earnest. Terry did some push mowing and Janice will finish. We're getting close to the last mowing in the next week or two unless it really warms up. Dr. Gredler has finished aerating the lawns and I'll finish up our fall fertilizing program yet this week. Marianne helped bring in lights from the Halloween Walk and has been working on tidying up her iris beds (see behind the guys in the top photo). Little Jerry has been in the Japanese garden and Jenny came in to continue her work on the daylily donation labels. The walnut bench (below) that Grumpy carpenters built looks great and they'll have enough lumber to build one more. The wood for these benches came from a black walnut (Juglans nigra) tree that Dr. Yahr had removed a long time ago.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Awesome Work Day

We had an awesome work day this morning with Janice, Larry and I getting everything organized. Marianne came in too to work on the irises and had some help later in the morning. We had 18 adult volunteers, 6 teenagers and 6 kids and accomplished all sorts of projects. We planted 3500 tulips, 500 daffodils and removed annuals from two large garden areas. I wont be able to name everyone but needless to say, we were quite pleased with the quantity and quality of work as well as the attention to clean-up detail. See some other picture highlights below!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sun and Smiles!

Nice shot above of one of the entrances in to the Japanese garden. The day, while overcast at first, brightened up and was delightfully sunny. We had another uber-productive day with lots of volunteers here and great work by the grounds crew. Janice worked with a motivated group of a dozen or so teenagers and their teacher (Kath) from Oakhill Christian School and they removed spent annuals for over four hours (see below for the convoy...). They did a great job. Marianne was the only one motivated to work on any lights and did a nice job testing and prepping lights for our hanging icicles. See her set-up below as well.
Kay was here and did a nice job cutting back hostas, collecting debris and tidying up the Hosta Hollow. She is so thorough which is wonderful trait for fall clean-up! Rose and Urban were here and Rose has been painting some containers for next year (to the left) and will be accomplishing plenty of painting projects over the winter. Dr. Gredler ran many loads to the dump and accomplished his Friday mowing routine. Marv and Terry hauled back containers, spread straw, tidied up for our last outdoor wedding of the season and cut back 50-60 spireas (below right). Three guys from J.P. Cullen came over today and did a nice job installing a new archway/sculpture (see the bottommost picture). This is a nice feature and entranceway in to this new garden space.

While the Halloween Walk was a bit damp last night, there was some marginal attendance. Tonight and tomorrow night will be quite busy and the recently improved weather should help significantly. We've had some compliments on our container arrangements for this event (see below).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Darn Damp

It has been drizzling all day. While we didn't appreciate it, the moss on top of our observation deck structure sure did (I was up there securing a light for the Halloween Walk). We spent the entire morning working on preparations for the Halloween Walk which may or may not start tonight depending on the weather. John and Charlie ran the pumpkins out and spaced them along the walk. Gary, Ron W., Roger and Ron put up our three 10'x20' tents quickly and efficiently and anchored them well. The guys also tidied up around the gazebo garden area, hauled out tables, chairs, garbage cans, etc. and had time to straighten the pumpkins and put up a sign for the event. Ed and Suzy worked on removing plants while Del, Urban, Bob and Jim all worked on carpentry and other odds and ends. Dick P. and Dick H. hauled in our fountain and processed it for storage while Maury was our troubleshooter and "gopher" today. Dr. Gredler hauled debris to the dump, mowed and processed old plant labels. Jenny was here most of the day continuing to work on labeling of the daylilies. Little Jerry tidied up and planted a rhododendron while Larry did a great job helping with a multitude of preparations for the Halloween Walk. It was a great "team effort" today and nobody balked at working in the rain to get our tasks done. The Cushman below is just a fraction of what we're hauling out of the gardens daily now. Annuals take a lot of time and effort but are certainly worth it in my mind. The bottom image shows a cranesbill-type geranium (Geranium wlassovianum) getting some nice fall color right now. Fall color is not just for woody plants folks!