Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Early Herbicide Opportunity

What a nice day today. It was a bit windy but the warmth allowed me to spray herbicide on some of our earliest weeds that also have a headstart. I targeted our brick paths, patios and other garden features that are impossible to hand weed. With all the heat, the weeds are sprouting quickly and in some colder, wetter springs, I can't do this until late April. We'll take advantage of the weather for sure! This is the earliest I've sprayed herbicide but it should "take" nicely. I carried my camera around with me and shot the 'Jetfire' daffodils (Narcissus) above in the sunken garden as I walked by this morning. I saw many visitors today out in the gardens enjoying the weather and I noticed even more plants in bloom around the gardens. The image below is of the Lenten Rose (Helleborus niger) on the tail end of its bloom period. This plant was in an earlier blog when the flower tepals (not petals) were white but have now turned a pastel pink.We had lots of help today. Jumbo Jim brought down four RECAPPERS, two of which can be seen below. These guys worked on cleaning debris out of the Japanese garden, digging holes and the two fellas below dug out all the rock/plants in this cylinder spillway. This was a monumental task but the intent is to reseal the interior of this feature to minimize future mortar issues (that were just addressed on the exterior). Kay (see further below) was out tidying up as was Bill. The gardens look so much better than two weeks ago and that is thanks to our dedicated volunteers. The grounds staff starts back next week although Little Jerry started already. Looking forward to having the gang back (Marv, Marianne, Terry, Janice and Jenny) with the addition of Big John. The entire grounds staff has been volunteering thru the winter and spring as well. There was a lot of activity at the Horticulture Center today with deliveries of cannas and other packages. Dr. Gredler worked on his lawns and Marianne was here to continue her alpine garden (Scottish alpine too) relabeling project. Marv came in this morning to repair sideboards on one of the vehicles and we also saw Julie, Vern, Dave and some others. Janice worked on her moss island with some pre-emergent weed control and was continuing work on an epic project; our memorial tree listings. There is still lots of catching up to do with various databases. With over 400 memorial trees out in the gardens, we continue to track information on these plants so they can be located and identified as needed in an efficient manner. More blooms to the left starting on the Corneliancherry dogwood (Cornus mas 'Golden Glory') in the Scottish garden. This small tree is one of the first to bloom and will become a "haze of yellow" for a week or so but is a tough, reliable tree with glossy, insect/disease resistant foliage and edible fruits late in the season. Below is the start of the wind anemone (Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades') in the Scottish garden. I am a huge fan of these bulbs as they have such large flowers for such a short plant (fall planted bulb). More decorated daisies are arriving daily. The bottom daisy is titled, "Fanciful Feathered Friends & Flowers" and was painted by five individuals in an art class taught by Pat Tobin at the Janesville Senior Center. We're increasingly impressed with the quality and originality of these unique pieces of art and look forward to displaying them out in the garden (by early May).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bountiful Blooms

With warming temperatures this week, the snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) will finish up a bit early but I caught a sweet shot yesterday (above) that really confirms the common name with that "dangling drop" appearance (albeit minus the snow). I would plant tens of thousands of these each year if we had the funds to do so. We are now starting to segway in to the next wave of early bloomers with Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) below leading the charge. This is one of the more common bulbs used in a bulb lawn. I love the electric blue blossoms but understand that this plant will drop lots of seeds and you'll have a "haze" of juvenille foliage from the babies (particularly in rich garden soil) until they mature to a blooming age in a couple of years. I don't mind it as this plant goes dormant regardless by early June. Here at the gardens, we've used a plug aerator in the fall on certain lawns and then pushed squill bulbs in to the holes after a bit of hole widening. One of my favorite spring bulbs that I've admittedly taken for granted (due to its consistent performance and perennialization) is Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sp.). This bulb, native to western Turkey, is typically shorter than 9" and really has a lot of flower power. Below is 'Pink Giant' (Chionodoxa luciliae) which is one of my favorites. I've seen many minor bulbs dwindle in vigor over the years for various reasons but have seed this bulb just get more established in sturdy clumps. Underneath 'Pink Giant' is 'Blue Giant' amongst the striped squill (Puschkinia libanotica) although the picture is from last year. Don't pass up buying a couple hundred of these this fall. Also look for the species sardensis and forbesii. Easy to plant and easy to enjoy. Satisfaction guaranteed. Today was moderately busy despite a chilly morning. Kay and Mary came in to do some tidying up and weeding in the English cottage garden and North American garden. If I had a dozen Marys a dozen Kays, weeds would never be an issue. Little Jerry continued pruning conifers in front of the building and is trying to "scale back" some junipers. Larry and Bill worked on removing some tree stumps and hazard trees along the north path. Bill also hauled back all sorts of debris. Dick H., Dick P. and Big John (left to right below) came in to continue digging around the sculpture area. With a great start yesterday (with Ron), these fellas could be professional grave diggers. However, their digging has revealed more issues with this wall so we're considering our course of action and how much $ will be involved. What you can't see is these guys were sitting on the wall leaning on shovels until I went to take the picture! We also saw Dave, Jean, Deb and Del today. Beautiful daisies continue to arrive daily at the gardens and we look forward to placing these original 27 pieces of art out in the gardens. At the bottom is one that we were all impressed with when it came in yesterday. Created by Angel and Lavonne, this daisy looks just as good on the back as it does the front. Note the mirror in the center. This entry also wins the award for overall weight too! Nice work ladies.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Spring Explosion

Above is a nice shot of our observation platform this morning. With weather looking so favorable this week, our volunteers were out in force and turns around every path revealed botanical treasures peaking out here and there (see emerging peonies below and to the left). We are just finishing up our cutting back of ornamental grasses which is quite timely as our "cold season" grasses like feather reed grass (Calamagrostis), fescue (Festuca), blue oat grass (Helictotrichon), etc. are actively growing (preferring cooler seasonal temperatures for active growth) and can be damaged or set back with too late of a haircut, The "warm season" grasses like Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus), switchgrass (Panicum), Indian grass (Sorghastrum) wont even emerge for awhile (preferring warmer soil and air temperatures for active growth) but it's time to tidy up regardless. When selecting and purchasing ornamental perennial grasses, knowing whether they are a cool or warm season grass will help dictate their preferred division time and maintenance. Urban and Bob C. continued on the grasses today while Charlie did a nice job tidying up with Del and Dick K. on paths and other surfaces. Marv and Terry did a nice job muscling out our largest containers in the garden while both Little Jerry and Larry worked on myriad projects as they arose. Jerry removed our burlap winter protection from select specimens in the Japanese garden and we were happy with how everything looked. Larry started the morning at 6:15 by unloading 900 bags of compost (with our end loader of course) and we're ready for the bagged compost sale starting this weekend (9am-noon). The carpenters continued their work and started to mount our first five "Petal Your Way Thru Garden" projects (see to the right). Dick H. worked on repairing our compressor and other odd jobs. Dr. Gredler did some mowing and turf work in select lawns. Ron W. and Big John drew the short straws today and shoveled many cubic yards of soil away from our 'Dialogue' sculpture sitting area that needs some new brick work. They get an extra gold star for their efforts. Marianne and Jenny worked on labels today and we also saw Janice, Polly, Dave, Bev, Chuck, Lois and many others over at the horticulture center as well. The Janesville Parks Department burned our prairie this morning and most of it caught fairly well.

See below for some neat flowers that while lacking the pizzaz of some of the showier spring blooms, are surely harbingers of spring as well. Below are the male catkins of the European filbert (Corylus avellana) dangling downwards (the female flower is inconspicuous). The top picture is the golden filbert 'Aurea' (not that you can tell yet!) and the lower picture is from the contorted filbert 'Contorta' which is quite consipicuous and evidently all contorted filberts originated from one plant found in an English hedgerow in the mid 1800s. Filberts are members of the birch family (Betulaceae) along with alders, hornbeams and hop-hornbeams. We don't expect nuts anytime soon but do enjoy these hardy deciduous plants in the garden.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Telltale Signs

What a great weekend. More signs of spring seem to appear each day. Above is the striped squill (Puschkinia libanotica) in full bloom this morning. This fall planted bulb, is only 6" tall and from a distance, looks like a white Siberian squill (Scilla siberica 'Alba'). However, if you look closely, each flower petal has a light blue stripe. These bulbs are "a dime a dozen" so plant them in large groupings and you only need to plant the 1" tall bulbs 3" down. This bulb usually blooms in early April but is a smidge early due to the weather. Native to the Caucasus region and Asia, this bulb has also been called Russian "snowdrops". Speaking of the weather, it looks like a warm week that will really get buds swelling and perennials emerging. See below for the start of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) emerging from the soil with purplish leaves. The blue flowers of this native ephemeral are still a couple weeks away though.It was nice to have Friday off and Saturday I was involved with Mike's annual symposium at RBG. Dr. R. Bruce Allison from Madison ( started the day with an engaging discussion regarding some neat new tools being used to detect decay in trees. Dr. Allison mentioned some current research and some interesting case studies that seemed very well received. Dr. Allison has a national reputation and has authored many books as well as training materials. Guy Sternberg, owner and operator of Starhill Forest Arboretum (Petersburg, IL), then presented the group with a "reality check" regarding global warming issues, implications and consequences that were backed with scientific data. He then talked about some neat woody plants, most of which I had never heard of but will be looking for in the near future. Look up Guy on Wikepedia for more information about his extensive background which also included authoring some books. Look for more information on Starhill Forest Arboretum ( as it is an amazing place that I was fortunate to visit over 5 years ago. There is a neat section on the website with pictures of gigantic trees from around the world, although many from the Midwest too. Lunch was great and one of the few that I've been to on the lecture circuit this spring that accomodated vegetarians nicely. After lunch, Phil Pelliterri from the UW-Madison entomology department talked about various critters out in the garden and how various populations have changed over time. He is very concerned about Japanese beetles and the Emerald Ash borer (as are many of us) and his insights are always valuable. I finished the day with a talk on energy-efficient landscape design. Mike ran another nice event and Song Sparrow Nursery kindly supplied silent auction items and a free peony for everyone. Janice's biodegradable pot display was also quite popular and she was recognized for her significant efforts. See display below.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Improving My Juggling Skills

Well, the moss (picture above from yesterday) sure is enjoying the weather and can be seen above in the 'sporophyte stage' of reproduction. Like ferns, mosses are very primitive (400 million year history) and reproduce by spores. This patch is growing on a rock and is able to do so as moss doesn't have true roots. Mosses have rhizoids, which allow it them to adhere to surfaces. That's why you see moss on rocks, logs and other surfaces that might be impermeable to roots. George Schenk wrote a great book on moss gardening (look for it) and we continue to develop our moss garden here. See below for some unbelievable shots of Dale's moss garden in Waukesha, WI. I call Dale "Mr. Moss" as his garden would inspire anyone to encourage (not discourage) moss in the shade garden. His 1 acre garden is unbelievable and I use these images (from 2009) in all of my talks on moss gardening. Today was a juggling act with a Grumpy day, lots of volunteers, meetings, irrigation guys and pop-in visits . While the weather was cool and overcast, Bob C., Dick H. and Charlie cut back our 'Flame' willows (Salix sp.) as we like to keep them short and the new growth will pop up 5-8' this year. This is one of the varieties that gets reddish stems in winter (see Bob C. to the left with a load) and are a great slope stabilizer on the west end of the gardens overlooking the beach. Marianne worked on labels and she and Janice brainstormed on preparations for our spring plant sale. Thank goodness for their well-organized approach to these events and all that is involved for set-up, running the event and take down. Janice also had two of her youth volunteers here today as well. Marv and Terry worked on various projects and Larry bounced around as well. Little Jerry and Urban continued pruning and Bill was here most of the day cutting back the remainder of our ornamental grasses and hauling loads of debris. The carpenters kept busy (Bob A., Jim and Dave). Dr. Gredler ran more loads to the dump and continued to aerate some of our tougher lawns. The gardens seem to be "greening" more each day. John and Ron finished taking down the deer fencing (see below) and I'm happy with the protection that it offered our arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) hedges. The deer still found munchies but were denied their traditional fare this year. We also saw Dave, Larry S., Jean, Janet, Barb and Mike over here today. I'll be off tomorrow so next post will be on Monday. See below for one of my favorite perennials just emerging (first shot from yesterday) and what it will become in a couple short months. Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is one of the toughest perennials I know and is so tolerant of a wide range of soils and lighting conditions. Some consider it fairly "basic" but I like the chartreusy flowers in late June and appreciate its value as an "edger" as seen at the bottom (Olbrich Botanical Gardens). If you've ever grown this plant or observed it after a rain, water beads up nicely on the leaves. Early alchemists thought this the purest form of water and used it in their quests to turn base metals in to gold. We will actually shear this plant back severely in mid-summer for a fresh flush of foliage. The flowers are nice in a vase too...Utilitarian? Yes? Ubiquitous? Never!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More Signs of Spring

Our little cherub statue above (shot taken by Bill Olmsted) appears to be looking ahead (from the formal gardens) to a nice spring and despite an overcast day, plants continue to emerge and bloom. The garden clean-up thus far is right on track and we hope to have everything nice and tidy by early April. Jenny was here to work on labels and Dr. Gredler worked on aerating some lawns and hauling debris to the dump. Larry worked on various projects and brought in the last of our Holiday Lights Show displays. We also saw Vern, Dave, Chuck and Deb over here today. I met with some Madison Iris Society members today to talk about some of the details regarding their national convention bus tours coming to the gardens in early June. With the American Peony Society also meeting at the gardens that weekend, it should be a bottleneck of plant geeks that we hope really explores (and appreciates) the garden. We're looking forward to both events. Our new John Deere Gator has become our most popular vehicle as evidenced by Bill's frequent use. The vehicle (below) has been used for hauling all sorts of loads and the "add on" sidewalls were from our other Gator and fit perfectly to allow for more volume of material. Speaking about iris....below is 'Spice it Up', another bearded iris (Iris germanica) in our collection. Peak bloom = approximately 70 days from now!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Bright & Productive Day

The snowdrop (Galanthus sp.) masses down in the hosta hollow garden and fern & moss garden are looking great today (as seen above). I had a nice stroll and noted a new wave of blooms from additional bulbs in those sunny spots. See the winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) blooming up thru a variegated sedge (Carex 'Evergold'?) in the fern & moss garden (to the left). Some of the bulbs in our lawns are starting to poke thru and should bloom in a week or so. However, I did my dog walk yesterday (with younger daughter) by Pat and Tom's home to see how their "bulb lawn" was looking. See below for some neat crocus clumps. Last year I showed the tulips emerging from their turf (in a couple of weeks) but I'm surprised more people don't include the earliest bulbs in their lawns as they are going dormant about the time you are ready to mow for the first time. The Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) will be blooming in various yards very soon and always looks neat too. Look in to having your own bulb lawn in the future. Lots of activity today. We had 160 cubic yards of shredded bark delivered today and will immediately start mulching select areas over the coming weeks. We were worried about the semi-truck getting stuck in our muddy yard but encountered few problems. The guys from Evergreen Irrigation (Rockford) were up to get our system up and running as well. They check all zones and irrigation heads for repair so we're ready to roll with irrigation. Larry then troubleshoots as needed throughout the year. Marianne was here to work on fern labels for a bit and Janice finished up working on her biodegradable container display. Bill cut more grasses and hauled debris all day while Little Jerry continued to prune in the shade garden and worked on resetting rock for a damaged wall. Larry bounced between bark deliveries and the irrigation guys and kept busy while we were fortunate to have Kay out continuing to attack those early weeds (see to the right in front of a weed patch that has now ceased to exist). We also saw John, Greg, Dean and Dave over here as well. The gardens are truly coming alive. The bottom picture, while appearing like emerging daffodil (Narcissus) foliage, is actually the early foliage of the resurrection lily (Lycoris squamigera). This foliage is beautiful as it emerges but like daffodil foliage, you have to leave it up until it goes dormant in late June. The flowers (seen in the bottommost photo) then emerge in mid-August on 30" tall, white stems with no foliage. Hence the name!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Email Dependency

I missed the last couple of blogs as my entire internet access was down for the past couple days. It is amazing how dependent you become on email communication and internet access. I've spent a good portion of the day catching up! I'm also finishing a presentation (for Saturday) and am getting our incoming plant labels organized for Jenny. Of course my woes haven't affected the white crocus (Crocus sp.) above and many of our other earliest bulbs. The favorite flower I've seen was spotted last Thurs. (see below) and is our first plywood flower back for our "Petal Thru the Garden" community art display. A group of young adults and teenage youth worked on this and it looks great. This is made with colored popcorn kernels and other seeds! It will be exciting to have all 27 flowers back in the next couple of weeks so we can have them ready to be placed in the gardens before Mother's Day. Today was a nice sunny day and our snowy weekend was pretty tame to be honest. We had some minor snow and ice over Friday night in to Saturday morning but everything was melted off quickly and Sunday was similar to today, although still cooler than last week. Marianne worked on her fern labels while Marv and Terry started hauling out our containers. Big John, Del and Ron W. started bringing in our snow fence deer barriers and we'll continue that project thru the week. Little Jerry and Urban did some pruning while Larry worked on various projects that are related to work occuring here later in the week (compost and bark deliveries and irrigation start up). Ron B., a returning Grumpy, popped in and will re-join the crew shortly and Bill was in later to keep cutting down ornamental grasses. Dr. Gredler finished sealing the very last of the obelisks for the year and Dick H. worked on some truck repairs/improvements. For the carpenters, it was more arch work as usual. The hellebores (Helleborus orientalis) are blooming! See below for a shot I took (from sidewalk level on my side) at Dave W.'s house near my neighborhood. Our hellebores at RBG are hitting stride but are not in as warm of a location as they are at Dave's house. Love this long-lived perennial! Wish I could type more but am finishing the game of catching up!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Enjoy It While It Lasts!

The crocuses (Crocus sp.)are blooming quite well, at least those that haven't been nibbled down! I love crocus but I don't promote them a lot as we've had so much deer and rabbit nibbling on them in the past that they fall in to that "delicacy catagory." Another awesome day outside (sunny and 63 degrees F) although we'll be back to normal this weekend it appears. We had a wonderful turn out today with some veteran Grumpies returning for some gardening action. Ron and Del finished clearing evergreen boughs off of the rose garden and moved on to other clean-up duties. Bob C. and Big John worked on pulling out fence posts (used as supports for displays/trees from the holiday lights show) and brought back many displays as well. Marv and Terry put up some obelisks out in the gardens (lavender painted) that will combine nicely with emerging bulbs in the vicinity. Little Jerry worked on pruning while Larry staked a tree and accomplished various odds and ends. Dr. Gredler continues with his dump trips and had some truck improvements by Dick H. today. The carpenters continued with their arches and Kay came in to continue on her weeding quest. Marianne continued on her fern labels while Janice came in to work on her projects and with her youth volunteer group doing some raking and clean-up. Nice shot of another spring-blooming witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) to the left. I prefer the yellow bloomers as they "pop" more in the landscape and many might walk by the "orangey-red" bloomers and not see the blooms. Not sure which variety this is to be honest (maybe 'Diane'?). This hybrid is a zone 5 plant but sure can take a lot of shade. It's always fun to do the late winter walk and see what's poking its head out this time of year. Many of the sedges (Carex sp.) are emerging, including the plantain-leaf sedge (Carex plantaginea) to the right. That foliage is from last year and will be replaced by fresh growth. However, if you look closely, the inflorescences are starting to shoot up from the center. Below is my green beer from last night. I picked up this Central Waters beer up in Amherst (where it is brewed) weeks ago after my presentation and it is delicious. My younger daughter is not shy about the liberal use of food coloring (see the Irish soda bread at the bottom).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Being from the O'Dwyer clan, I grew up with the corned beef and cabbage thing but after going vegan, we do potatoes, veggie Irish hash (special recipe) and green beer tonight. Although I couldn't supply a true four-leaf clover, I've included water shamrock (Marsilea quadrifolia) seen above in our fern & moss garden a couple years ago. This plant is actually a fern! Considering that this native European plant was introduced in New England in 1862 and has shown aggressive tendencies (banned in Connecticut), I'm glad to say that it already died here as it is marginally hardy. This plant will thrive in damp environments, shallow water and is used in aquariums too. It did create quite a thicket for awhile here though but is an appropriate image for today! Nice image below from today of the vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis 'Sandra') starting to unfurl its confetti-like, fragrant blossoms. This large, understory shrub/small tree is native to MO, AK, LA, OK and parts of TX. Only hardy to zone 5, this plant has done well for us and will have variable fall color (mostly yellow). This is our first woody to bloom although the Corneliancherry dogwoods (Cornus mas) aren't too far away from blooming... Another awesome day today with plenty of help. Bill worked all day cutting down grasses and hauling back debris. Dr. Gredler kept stride with many trips to the dump and is slowly (but surely) getting thru our winter debris pile. Little Jerry came in to do some pruning and clean-up and Kay came in to work her weeding "kung fu" on what I think is cress. Some of these earliest weeds bloom and drop seed before we get them in mid-April. Kay's efforts today (and tomorrow) will be extremely beneficial (and quite noticeable). Jumbo Jim brought three RECAPPERS and they did a great job cleaning up debris and broken branches in the Japanese garden. It's amazing how many loads of debris they hauled out of there. We also saw Julie, Vern, Dave and Dick H. (working on dump truck) over here today as well. The masons finished retucking our koi pond but I think we'll be doing some "interior work" on this water feature so potential leakage doesn't ruin their efforts. The newest member of our fleet can be seen below and it has already been put in to service. This 4x4 John Deere Gator is top notch and solid. We anticipate many long years of service and got a great deal from our local dealer (although I never hope we have to say, "Boy, I'm glad this thing had roll bars!"). It is important to note that our small budget can't accomodate purchases like this but we were fortunate to have some kind benefactors that helped us out (with a new mower too, seen in a previous posting). Note below the Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) starting to bloom next to that warm rock. Unfortunately, it looks like 2-5" of snow this weekend to get everyone back to reality. My reality tonight includes getting in to this "Irish" cookie (bottom photo) that my daughter picked out. Just like what they used to eat "on the old sod".