Monday, December 21, 2009

Nightmare Fodder

Here you go. :) I'm actually "off" today but came in to let the Grumpies in to the Horticulture Center. I brought my extended family to the lights show last night and it looked great. These heads above gave me the creeps. We're selling the conductor hats out of the gift shop although I wonder how many others think these are creepy. I overheard lots of positive comments about the lights show last night and our first six nights (of seventeen) have gone well. Recent weather has been nice and some of our minor issues out in the show have been addressed. Not much blogging until Jan. Keep an eye out for critter nibbling in your garden! The deer are starting to do some munching here at the gardens but damage has been minimal thus far.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Junk Mail

Above is a picture of just some of the catalogs I am starting to peruse. As we get our seed and plant orders together this time of year, one of my favorite activities is going thru the "eye candy" in these catalogs. I have to say though that aside from the "desireable" catalogs that I utilize, I receive a large portion of junk mail as it seems I'm on many mailing lists. It is amazing how quickly we fill up our paper recyling bins here with junk mail that is frequently not even opened (and was never solicited in the first place....). Below are some junk mail facts that I thought were very interesting. These were researched from and I would encourage you to view these sites and others like them as their intent is to wage the war against junk mail and help preserve the environment. Many non-profit organizations (like and Green Dimes) offer the service of trying to minimize your junk mail. Consider addressing this issue personally and perhaps seek assistance as needed. The facts below are sobering....
*105 billion pieces of junk mail are sent each year (6.5 million tons of paper)
*Each household receives an average of 850 pieces of junk mail each year
*1/3 of all mail delivered is junk mail
*44% of junk mail goes in to landfills unopened
*By 2010, 50% of the solid mass in landfills will be paper products, including junk mail
*Annual junk mail requires 100 million trees for paper production
*The manufacture of junk mail releases more greenhouse gas emissions annually than 9,372,000 average passenger cars emit

Check out the site to see some other emission equivalents as they relate to junk mail production. Granted, sometimes this type of mail has value but what's interesting is that a response rate of less than .25% (one quarter of one percent) is acceptable for these bulk mailings! Recycling is obviously warranted for these items but the actual production, mailing and even recycling process all have enviromental impacts as well. Ironically, some of the mail that Rotary Gardens sends out may fall in to the category of "junk" for some people but we do our best to target our mailings appropriately. Stewardship of our earth has so many avenues but it seems that junk mail is an obvious concern that has enormous environmental implications....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2010 Perennial Plant Of The Year

The Perennial Plant Association has selected Baptisia australis as the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year. Commonly called blue false indigo, this native perennial is an exceptional perennial that grows across a wide range of hardiness zones and is very adaptable. Easily grown in well-drained soils, this plant is drought tolerant once established. Preferring full sun, this slow-growing perennial will reach full size (3-4' tall and 3-4' wide) in 3-5 years and rarely needs division. Newly emerging shoots produce violet-blue, "lupine-like" flowers in spring. This plant blooms for a long period of time and the greyish blue foliage is interesting as well. The seed pods dry to black late in the season and were used as rattles in earlier times and are popular in flower arrangements. Native Americans used this Baptisia as a dye plant as well. This plant also has no serious insect or disease problems and is seldom bothered by deer.

Both of the pictures were taken in my home garden although we have many Baptisias at Rotary Botanical Gardens. There are many exciting breeding efforts occuring right now and the merit of Baptisia in the full sun garden is very apparent. Dr. Jim Ault is doing lots of work at the Chicago Botanic Garden as is Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery. There are plenty of exciting species and hybrids out on the market now. Look for yellows, whites, light blues and color combos. Account for the space these sturdy plants will eventually encompass but sit back and enjoy a low-maintenance, long-lived perennial once it is established. Below is a selected variety of Baptisia hybrid called 'Purple Smoke' which is one of my favorites (found at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Back To Drizzle

Nice shot above from Santos. Well, that 14" of snow from last week is now about 6" of slush. It started drizzling last night and has continued throughout the day. It was freezing rain a bit north and lots of accidents have been reported. We had some minor issues with the Holiday Lights Show last night as excess moisture is the bane of our power grid out in the gardens. I was able to keep about 80% of the show going but had some major issues that should be resolved with colder temperatures. Although, ice then becomes a factor out in the gardens. I'm not a big fan of driving on ice and was glad to stay local today. I worked on seed orders for 2010 and preparations for various presentations.
We had a great turnout today with Larry, Bill and Maury removing the large mulberry that was blocking our access road. This tree was questionable in terms of responsibility so we just took care of it. Larry and Bill also cleaned up more branches and Bill worked on re-securing our sagging deer fence around our tasty arborvitae hedges. Little Jerry and Urban worked on more pruning out in the gardens and we had Dr. Gredler, Del, Bob, Jim, Dave and Vern all working on inside projects. Dick H. was here to do some snow plowing and worked on our lawnmower (saving us lots of $!). We also saw Deb, Janice and Jumbo Jim for awhile too. I'll be "burning up" my vacation days so the twelve of you that read this blog will see sporadic postings thru Dec.!!! Come see the Holiday Lights Show! Three days down, fourteen to go! More recent snow damage below. This is Janice's Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) at home. These trees are notorious for splitting and this storm affected many.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Blue Skies

Above is a shot taken today in the Japanese garden. It was sunny with blue skies but still quite cold. I spent a couple hours sanding/salting the paths in preparation for our Holiday Lights Show this evening. I hope we have a nice crowd despite the cooler temperatures. Stan Milam (WCLO Radio) had me on his show this morning to promote the event and we always appreciate Stan's support of what we're doing at the gardens throughout the year. Working my way around the gardens, I did notice more damage with broken limbs here and there. Below is another shot in the Japanese garden of white pine (Pinus strobus) branches that couldn't take that recent wet snow load. This is what we call "Mother Nature's pruning"! We'll clean up the gardens next week when we have a gap between light show evenings.
Dr. Gredler came in today to clear snow from our yard near the horticulture center. We maintain access to all our shed and buildings during the winter and he created quite a pile of snow! I saw Dick H. and Christine D. today although they were here for non-RG business. Good to see volunteers though it is quite a change from summer to winter in terms of seeing the "crew". Below are some images of indoor projects that are occurring at the Horticulture Center. There is quite a bit of activity and much of it is anticipation of 2010 already. Note the color-themed garbage can and the new bench that the carpenters made. The stack of cut lumber will become cucumber trellises for our heirloom cucumber collection.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Beauty And The Beast

The bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) near the Horticulture Center (above) sure looked good this morning as did much of the gardens with all the snow clinging on the branches. However, this same snow created major challenges for us this morning. The snow, while wet and heavy yesterday, became frozen, creating many broken limbs and branches. We saw some large limbs down out in the gardens and will deal with them later. A mulberry tree actually fell across the access road to the Horticulture Center and many of us parked a distance away and walked in until Dick H. could plow a new "road" for access to the Horticulture Center. The downed tree was tangles in electrical lines so we stayed away and many of spent the morning doing snow removal. Sounds like many were without power and I really hope all the bent over trees and shrubs bounce back as the snow melts. We were fortunate to have Larry and Bill on snowblowers and Ron, Dick H., Marv, John and myself shoveling. We came to the quick conclusion that we should have cleared paths yesterday as we were dealing with a stubborn frozen layer on top of the snow that was challenging to relocate. Regardless, lots of good help today. Dr. Gredler and Maury worked on painting and the carpenters (Bob, Vern, Dave and Jim) finished a bench and continued with creating our cucumber supports for 2010. My blog postings will be more sporadic thru the rest of the month as I take vacation time and contend with the lights show.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Snow Day

I'm typing this blog from home tonight. The weather forecasters were right on with the prediction of 12-14" of snow. I spent four hours this morning trying to clear all the snow on my driveway, walks, etc. so I could get to the gardens for snow removal. This snow was as heavy as it can get! I was sad to see plenty of broken branches, limbs and "burdened" evergreens with heavy snow loads today. I hope plants recover well. Larry had a tougher time and as we talked thru the morning, his road hadn't even been plowed. We decided not to risk injury or worse to head in the the gardens and I spent the day working from home. We'll tackle snow removal thru the Holiday Lights Show route tomorrow. Dropping temperatures may create a tough situation but hopefully we'll have some volunteer assistance in the morning with some heavy duty shoveling. Dick H. usually plows our Horticulture Center lot and was hard pressed to finish his other locations this morning so got to it later in the day. It's doubtful we would have been able to get to the Horticulture Center as the City will plow along the front of our access road, leaving a 3-4' mound of snow that will stop any vehicle without a plow. Regardless, we'll get the paths ready for the lights show and are happy to have a couple days to catch up.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snow On The Way

We had a bit of snow overnight but it looks like the bulk of the snowfall will arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday. This is perfect timing for our Holiday Lights Show (opens for the public on Friday) as we'll be able to clear the snow and get the paths ready to go. The show looks twice as good with snow on the ground but I hope we get 3" as opposed to 12"! The shot above (taken by Luis O., a RBG volunteer) is from last Friday when the lights show was lit up for the Taste of Chocolate attendees. I had very few problems and if the weather stays chilly (no rain or significant melting), the show should run well this upcoming weekend. Below are some additional shots from Luis.
Busy day around here today with carpentry Grumpies (Dave, Jim, Vern and Bob A.) putting together another nice custom cedar bench while Del continued to process more deer cutouts for the gift shop to sell. Bill worked on clean-up and placing pine boughs around our rose collection. Little Jerry and Urban worked on pruning crabapple suckers and were both up on ladders most of the morning. Dr. Gredler worked on running debris to the dump and resealing some benches for next year. Dick H. and Bob T. checked over our riding mower for impending repairs and Larry did more work for the upcoming lights show this Friday. Lots of good volunteers around although we may be forced inside with the looming weather (with the exception of snow removal!). If you are in the area, please consider coming to the lights show and/or "spreading the word". These blog pictures are just a taste of the winter wonderland out there. See for dates and times for this vital fundraising event. It's fun and the train display is ready to go!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Winter Wonderland?

Considering it was about 60 degrees three weeks ago, we were thrust back in to winter weather with flurries yesterday and overnight. Only a dusting stuck around here but it was enough that we cleared paths and salted and sanded as needed. With the premiere lighting of the Holiday Lights Show tonight as part of the Taste of Chocolate, we don't want any accidents! Above are shots of Becky conducting a winter container class at the horticulture center yesterday. She did a nice job with the help of Nancy and I hope the partipants didn't mind all the activity (and noise) over here as there were Grumpies, meetings and other activities occuring, making it a very busy Thursday. Below is a shot of some of the elements the ladies used in their containers. While some botanic gardens shift to winter arrangements of grasses, branches, etc. in their containers, we don't as we have very few visitors in winter, limited funds and like to bring our containers back to the maintenance facility for emptying and cleaning before their use next spring.

I took a good portion of yesterday off but saw our carpenters hard at work finishing a garden bench and starting to prepare cucumber frames/supports for our collection next year. Maury and Dr. Gredler did some painting while Del worked on getting more deer cutouts prepared for our gift shop. It was very busy so I'm sure I'm missing mentioning everyone. Larry kept everyone moving around and Little Jerry was here to do more pruning and is our resident tool sharpener. Now is a good time to clean, oil and sharpen tools for next year. Below is an aesthetic display of Felco #5 hand pruners that Jerry prepared (the display too!) for the container class yesterday.

Today was fairly quiet. I did some path salting then shifted to catalog perusing and presentation preparation. Bill came in and took care of checking the rest of the paths and getting the walk ready to go for tonight. Dick H and his brother were here working on truck repair while Dr. Gredler sanded and stained a bench. We also saw Maury and Barb briefly. I'll leave early and come back to fire up the lights show. Part of my duties tonight will include really checking over the show to address any needs next week before the "official" opening on December 11. Below is a shot of the English cottage garden from last year and we again hope this event will be well received considering the amount of time involved with set-up, facilitation and take down.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chills On The Way

Despite the impending chill (and possible rain tonight), this plantain-leaf sedge (Carex plantaginea) was still looking good in the shade garden. Native to eastern North America, the roots of this sedge was used by Native Americans were used for snakebites and it was thought that carrying a root of this plant would help prevent snake bites. This sedge has the widest leaf blade of all the sedges that we have out in the gardens and has done very well over the years. As I always mention with sedges (Carex sp.), watch out for the spreading or "running" sedges and when catalogs or plant tags indicate "Vigorous!" for a sedge (or any plant for that matter), look out! Another nice bench quote down below.
Another light day of staff and volunteers with Larry off today. Little Jerry came in to prune and Jumbo Jim joined him later in the day. The guys shifted to putting up burlap screens around some of our more "winter sensitive" woody plants in the Japanese garden. Dr. Gredler was here for more painting and dump runs while Janice came in to discuss some upcoming plans for 2010. Due to possible rain thru tomorrow, Dick W. came in and finished some woodchip mulching along our roadside (Palmer Drive) plantings and did a nice job. We also saw Bob T. and Dick H. briefly. I worked on more presentations and went thru two more seed catalogs; HPS and Johnny's. We're in the process of deciding on general collections and will be more specific when we start ordering in early January. December will be busy and we hope there wont be any issues with the lights show to contend with as the month progresses. Looks like the weather will settle in to its "winter mode" so with that thought, enjoy some past summer shots below...The bottom image shows our favorite thing to see in the gardens... ....volunteers and smiles. Get the kids involved!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Last "Warm" Day?

Despite the page turn on the calender to December, I caught this primrose (Primula 'Chic in Red') in full bloom along the shoreline of our woodland walk. This is a warmer spot than most out in the garden. Note the new foliage growth too. I think this poor fella thinks it's late April and is waking up again with all the mild weather. Oh well. We'll enjoy the color regardless of any calendar indications. Nice shot below of bugleweed (Ajuga 'Black Scallop') that offers some interest in the shade garden until buried by snow. Bugleweed is definitely a "carpeting" perennial that spreads and should be placed accordingly. However, it is also very durable as a groundcover and the nice blue, early spring blooms are of merit as well. We have a dozen or so varieties around the gardens and have rarely regretted planting it.
Today was a light crew with Larry finishing up touches outside for the lights show and Little Jerry pruning crabapples and other woody plants around the gardens. Marianne came in and did a great job cleaning and organizing the office at the horticulture center. It is amazing how much dust settles over here and knowing Marianne, she got it all. Dr. Gredler came in to do some painting on our bike rack (see below) and the reason for the red paint is so it will match our color scheme in the area that it will be placed in 2010. We simply couldn't have blue again! Dick H. came in for awhile to repair a mirror on one of our trucks but otherwise, a nice day for me to bury my nose in seed catalogs and start preparing for my spring talks (18 and counting). If you're looking for gift ideas for your children or grandchildren, the bench quote at the bottom seems like a very valid gift (and decidedly more important than an XBOX or Playstation......). Note the author.