Friday, February 26, 2010

The Japanese Garden Transformation

The Japanese garden was the first garden created at Rotary Botanical Gardens back in 1989-1990. Petranek Brothers Landscaping (Dave, Wayne and Scott) originally designed and created the garden with Dr. Yahr's input. This garden space continues to be very popular and is consistently ranked one of our visitors most favorite. The Roth Journal of Japanese Gardening ranked this garden one of the top 25 Japanese gardens in North America. Anderson Gardens down in Rockford, IL has been ranked #1 for many years. Definitely worth a visit. Little Jerry, Karen, Jim, Dr. Neeno and others do a nice job taking care of this garden. The floods in 2008 caused some major damage to paths, trees, etc. but we're getting back to normal now. Increased mulching, an irrigation system and interpretive signs have been the latest additions to this maturing garden.

Not many volunteers today although we had Kay peeling labels (see bottom photo) and Janice working on her projects. Magda popped in to talk about her area and Marv and Marianne came in to drop off some supplies and pick up a projects. Maury, Rod and Dick P. were over here as well. I finished another presentation and continue to work on plant ordering for spring. March will be quite busy I'm sure!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Partial Seed Delivery Accomplished

I delivered about 50% of our seeds this morning to one of our growers. They'll start some of our herbs, about 200 varieties of annuals and will also start our globe amaranth (Gomphrena sp.) collection. Above is a picture of a globe amaranth collection at the West Madison Agricultural Station last year. Our collection will have 58 varieties of this popular bedding plant. This annual is great in fresh or dried arrangements. We are very fortunate to have cutting edge growers that feel challenged by new material and are supportive of our efforts to promote new/interesting plant material. Below is my favorite globe amaranth (Gomphrena haageana 'Strawberry Fields') that will be a big part of our red theme this year too.
Awesome turnout today with Marv and Terry working on various projects including figuring out how to utilize our "culvert planters" to best effect. Marianne worked on office projects while Larry continued to work on vehicle maintenance. Urban and Little Jerry did some pruning and Bill came in later this afternoon to help Jerry as well. We try to get all our significant pruning done by late March and are on track to deal with most of our target trees and shrubs. Vern, Bob A., Jim and Dave continued on their arch for the new arbor structure and Dick H. helped out as needed and went with Larry on a buying spree (motor oil, filters and other essentials). Rose was here to start painting our culvert planters and we're lucky to have her around as she is quite artistic and has great attention to detail. Many of you read these blogs and obviously don't know all these people that I mentioned but I can't say enough about not only the value of their contribution but the dedication and commitment they have to RBG.

I worked on some details today for our impending iris display (late May/early June) and the National Peony Society meeting here during that same time. Mark your calendars as spring is going to be colorful and fun around here and I think we're all ready for it! American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) fruit below that the birds will get shortly. Don't forget to feed the birds and better yet if you can provide seed and nectar sources in your garden with plants. Gardening for wildlife (not deer or woodchucks) can be quite rewarding.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Sunken Garden Transformation

The sunken garden began as a BMX bike track back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The top photos show some of the structures that were on site and we still have many adults mention how either they or their kids used to bike down here in the past. The track was in a depression which lent itself to the sunken garden itself. Other pictures above show much of the soil work that was involved with creating the garden and surrounding berms while dealing with existing trees. Those early photos show the original arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Techny') hedge that surrounded the garden. These 105 evergreens are what have become deer fodder in recent years. The Parker family funded this garden and it is a very popular spot for wedding, special events and other uses. There are a wide range of plants positioned informally here but the pool, fountain, archway (to the reception garden) and a sculpture lend some formality to this popular space as well. Due to the surrounding cottonwoods (Populus deltoides), this garden continues to get shadier although will receive plenty of light at mid-day.

Small crew today with Bill working on picking up pruning debris and Kay and Heidi peeling more labels. Janice came in this afternoon to keep producing labels and signs for the spring sale and we saw Urban, Rose, Jenny, Dave, Greg, Angie and Mike over here as well. I'm finishing up some presentations and plant orders this week and will be on seed delivery rounds in the morning.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Before & After

Above is a shot of the beginnings of the reception garden back in the early 1990s (designed by Dennis Buettner of Milwaukee). Note the archway in the background. This was the archway to the original Parker Pen Company world headquarters, located here in Janesville. This piece is on permanent loan from the Rock County Historical Society. For an interesting look at Parker Pen history, check out This garden is very formal in arrangement and above you see all the precast pieces that were used to create the center planter while the stacks of lannon stone became the surrounding walls with caps. The current ground surface of this garden is asphalt which gets darn hot in summer. At some point we'll go to another surface I imagine. Other neat features of this garden include the druid sculpture (seen in past posts and in the picture below) and the color theme; always blue, white and silver. See some "after" shots below... The day started out with some snow and ice with many of the streets and highways quite slippery. After the sun came out, it was quite pleasant and we had a good turnout of helpers today. Kay and Heidi worked on separating and organizing vegetable labels for the sale while Janice worked on her various projects as well. Kay and Heidi are a great team and we look forward to their joined efforts out in the gardens too. Maury was in to do some painting and both Urban and Bill helped Little Jerry with pruning trees in our main parking lot. Gary worked on installing our new printer (very nice). This is the time of year that Larry is servicing all our vehicles before they are used more often this spring. We also saw Dick H., Dave and some new members of our Board over here today. Nice shot to the left of more ornamental bark. River birches (Betula nigra) may be fairly common but they sure are noticeable during the winter with their exfoliating bark. This is 'Heritage' in our Japanese garden (left). To the right is the exfoliating bark of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum 'Shawnee Brave') from The Morton Arboretum last week. While interesting bark may never be the primary reason for purchasing a woody plant, it should certainly be a consideration. At the bottom is a photo of Mike presenting at the Garden Expo on pruning. He does a nice job. I'm not sure why the local insomniac groups all congregate at his presentations to catch some quick "shut-eye". Look at the guy in the back right! :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Nice Winter Day

The shot above is from the Japanese garden today. Little Jerry and I toured the gardens looking for more pruning projects. We had 1-2" of wet snow last night but I think we missed the bulk of the storm that stayed south of us. The gardens looked beautiful but I really got a feeling for the browsing damage that has occurred thus far this winter. The deer have certainly been nibbling and have really targeted the yews (Taxus sp.) this year (see below) after we excluded them from our Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) with fencing. We had another nice volunteer turnout today with Marianne coming in to help finalize our seeds for the growers. We'll finish our seed work this Wednesday and everything will go out to the growers this week. Janice was here working on myriad tasks related to the spring plant sale, reference library, volunteer activities, etc. Jerry and Bill worked out in the gardens while Larry worked on projects at the Horticulture Center. Dave, Vern, Bob A. and Jim continue to work on the large arbor structure and are trying to finalize their large arch. Terry, Marv, Dick H., Maury and Chuck were all in too. Gary was here working on setting up our new printer and others came and went thru the day. Feels like spring is just around the corner! Are you perusing your seed catalogs and thinking about growing some of your own food? "Edible Gardening" has seen a huge increase over the past couple of years as has the awareness of where our food actually comes from. When I do talks on ornamental edibles, I target some of the main reasons for taking the plunge in to growing more of your own food. Convenience, cost savings and safety issues are just some of the reasons. Where does our food really come from and what inputs were involved iwth its production, processing, shipping and presentation? See below for some other interesting factsThe Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) conducted a survey last year regarding vegetable gardening trends. They determined that the trends will continue and increase in 2010 and indicated that over 7.7 million households were new to edible gardening in 2009. The primary reason for becoming engaged in this activity was to supplement the household food supply. Overall, over 41 million households grew a vegetable garden in 2009. What a great trend and opportunity to address the "disconnect" with our children that think vegetables just come from a store in a can or bag. See below for some other examples of deer damage. This is not at RBG but in Janesville. It's sure not hard to tell their "eating range" although more snow will equal more reach!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Seeing Some Raised Eyebrows...

The culverts above at the Horticulture Center have generated some recent interest after they were picked up and delivered by the Grumpies. The larger sections (24" diameter) are 10' in height while the smaller culverts (18" diameter) are 6' in height. The definition of a culvert is "a transverse drain or waterway of masonry, metal or other material under a road, railroad, canal, etc..." Our definition is different. We look at these culverts as "an opportunity for vertical, upright planters that will be interesting focal points and conversation pieces". Come see what happens to these this spring. I enjoyed my trip to the Chicago area on Wednesday and Thursday. My younger daughter and I visited my parents and were able to swing by The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. I had a nice talk with some of their grounds and collections managers and was able to take many pictures. What a great place to visit. My daughter enjoyed the children's garden with grandpa while I took pictures of ornamental bark, berries, winter containers, grasses, etc. To the left is a nice shot of the ornamental bark of the Gingerbread maple (Acer griseum x nikoense 'Ginzam') that might do ok here. The bark really stood out to me as did the blocky bark of persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) to the right. I doubt most people notice ornamental bark unless it is extremely bright (i.e. red-stemmed dogwoods) but it really is neat to see the variations in bark color, patterns, texture, etc. Arboretums are great places to visit and examine the variable winter interest of woody plants. Conifers come in to their own glory as well. My favorite arboretums include The Morton Arboretum, Holden Arboretum (west of Cleveland), The Arnold Arboretum (Boston) and the UW-Arboretum (Longenecker Gardens). I'd love to see the J.C. Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC) in the near future as well. As always, I hope to visit at least 10 new botanic gardens/arboreta this year for ideas and inspiration. Finding the time is the tough part!Above is a sample of what Marianne has been doing with our seeds. The color coded labels have meaning as well. All those red ID labels will be inserted in those plant flats that, when returned, will go to our entrance garden. We hope to have all our seeds organized and distributed by next Thursday and will then move to preparations for other plantings and label creation. Janice is plugging away at plant sale needs and we had Kay here today to work on peeling and separating some of our 20,000+ vegetable labels by variety for the sale. Dr. Gredler and Dick W. worked on painting today and we saw both Urban and Rose finished their painting project as well. Janice was here for a bit and we saw Vern, Nancy, John, Dick P., Dick H., Maury and Bill here too. I'm working on more ordering, sponsorship solicitations for special events and am heading in to crunch time for preparing for looming presentations. February hasn't been leisurely but at least the pace will be full speed when spring hits. Nice shots below from the Morton Arboretum of winter containers and some interesting root sculptures. See www.mortonarb/press-room/steelroots/16364.html for more information on these interesting sculptures.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Recharging Until Friday

Hi all. Off until Friday. I'm heading to see my parents in the Chicago area and taking my younger daughter with me. We hope to check out the Morton Arboretum ( while in the area which really is one of the premiere arboretums in the country and has plenty of winter interest as well. I grew up in that area and went there often as a kid. Should be fun. Spent the day with Janice at the Midwest Perennial Conference in Pewaukee, WI (near Milwaukee). This is a fun and educational event held annually and sponsored by W. & E. Radtke Nursery and Shady Acres Nursery. They do a great job organizing this event and it is always a great time to network. Larry was supposed to go but was quite ill so Janice went as his replacement. Richard Hawke from the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) did a nice job talking about some of the perennials that he recommends based on his trials over the past 20 years. CBG is a must see garden as our Richard's trials. He's given our grounds staff very cordial tours over the past couple of years. Ed Lyon, our former Executive Director, gave two presentations and they were very well received. He certainly promoted the gardens as many of his images were from RBG. A marketing guy gave some good information on internet marketing and Neil Diboll from Prairie Nursery ( gave an awesome presentation on tough, native perennials as well. Great day but ready to take a break before full speed hits again. Below is a variegated sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus 'Eskimo Sunset') that Ed showed today in his talk. Unfortunately, it didn't make it at the gardens and we all are questioning hardiness. The lesson here is that before you purchase the eye candy, do some research and see if the plant of interest has an "establishment history" in your area. We all like to experiment and "push the envelope" but it can sure get expensive!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another Successful Garden Expo

The Garden Expo was this past weekend and kudos to Wisconsin Public Television for running another great event. The logistics have to be incredible. Our booth can be seen above (note the colorful obelisks). We had very steady traffic and interest as the crowds ebbed and flowed. Saturday was extremely busy and it will be interesting to see what the final attendance numbers are for this event. Our booth, while simple and lacking in live plants, received many compliments. In the past, we've dabbled with more elaborate booth space with live plants, forced bulbs, etc. but feel that we are there to promote the gardens and there are some inherent issues with utilizing live plants for the display. Our canvas photos, curtesy of John Paul (Milton, WI), really gave a great representation of the garden for those that have not yet visited. We gave out thousands of our calendar of events for the year and both Mike and my talks were well attended. The weather has been nice recently and sunlight has started to melt away some of the ice and snow. Of course February can be a tough month for winter weather (it is snowing as I type...)

Today was another well-attended day with many volunteers coming in to work. Marianne worked on seeds while Janice worked on her 20,000+ vegetable labels for our spring sale. Marv and Terry unpacked and put away all of our Garden Expo items while Little Jerry was out pruning. Urban worked outside with Jerry for a bit but also helped Rose with pvc pillar painting. Dr. Gredler and Maury painted obelisks while Dick W. and Del continued with reindeer. Dave, Jim, Bob and Vern worked on carpentry projects and we also saw Dick H, Chuck, Bev, Deb and others came in as well. Our Home Garden Tour committee met and I had a nice lunch with Doreen Howard, a prominent garden writer that lives in the area.
My plant of interest today is an annual grass that I have been promoting in my talks recently. This elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum 'Prince') seen above will become enormous over the course of our summer, reaching heights well over 6-7' tall. This species is native to Africa and because of its quick growth rate, is being examined for biofuel potential. This variety, or the smaller version of 'Princess' (4-5' tall), offers a maroon appearance and textural contribution. Plant in full sun for the best coloration and consider the potential in containers as well. The image above is only in mid-summer and 'Prince' will get taller until cooler weather hits in late September. Despite it being "just an annual", consider the merits and potential of a 6'+ tall, maroon grass in the landscape! As a side note, I've been looking in to an organization called Slow Food USA ( that really looks neat. From their website: "Slow Food USA seeks to create dramatic and lasting change in the food system. We reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. We seek to inspire a tranformation in food policy, production practices and market forces so that they ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat." Sounds pretty good to me. There are many chapters around the country. USA Today said "Slow Food aims to be everything fast food is not...."