Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mini-Heat Wave On The Way

Tomorrow and Friday will be reminiscent of our hot July weather this year with temperatures in the mid 90 degrees F. With incoming plant sale plants, we're keeping up with watering both in the gardens and in the yard. The top picture is the 'Disco Orange' marigold (Tagetes patula) with the remnants of last night's drizzle on the petals. We have a small garden space, including these marigolds, dedicated to orange and it has attracted quite a bit of attention this year. Directly above is Marianne's cart in the North American garden. She filled this cart many times with her purging of the annual beds (spent annuals and weeds). The cooler nights are a subtle reminder of the looming autumn weather and frost in around six weeks or so. Our intent is to keep everything looking good until that hard frost signals the end of the growing season. While it takes 7-8 weeks to plant all of our annuals, it takes a good week or two to remove them all as well; lots more biomass to contend with from the removals! To the right is the golden tall tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris 'Lightning Flash'). The blooms, just starting, are a nice clear yellow and about 2" in diameter. The really cool thing about this coreopsis is that it has yellow foliage (chartreusy in summer) and gets 3-5' tall. Consider staking this floppy giant but enjoy the yellow contribution of this variety in both foliage and flower. To the left is one of my "top 10" favorite coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) varieties called 'Religious Radish'. This specimen is part of our maroon and red border along the lower path near the pond. I like the pinkish/red borders on each leaf and this is a variety that gets quite large and doesn't mind full sun with adequate moisture.

Our productive grounds staff continues to keep up the nice appearance of the gardens. Aside from her purging of annuals and weeds this morning, Marianne tidied up many areas, did her cutting display and also worked on more plant sale preparations. Yesterday, a visitor mentioned how much she enjoyed the cutting display and the "artistic" arrangement of the samples. While many botanic gardens have similar cutting displays of "What's In Bloom?", few have as many samples (12) that are refreshed/changed three days each week. Marianne has a good system and needs no help finding cool samples. Marv and Terry worked on pruning, path repair, edging clean-up, container watering and did a nice job organizing the "back yard" for our incoming mum arrivals. We have 400 of the 2400 mums that we'll be selling at the looming plant sale (see for more information). Big John edged around the koi pond plantings, watered, excavated/replaced soil, dug out weedy, woody plants in the Scottish garden and did some other odds and ends. Pat continued his weeding attack in the reception garden, ran for cardboard flats (for the plant sale) with Maury, cleared the weeds/seedlings from all the arboretum tree circles (a huge job) and did some pruning as well. I was out in the gardens for a bit but spent most of the day getting the information ready for our six new garden area signs. I'm also preparing nice information signs for the woody plants that we'll be selling at the fall plant sale (a nice selection, including specialty conifers). Nice shot to the right looking upstream to the new waterfall in the Japanese garden. Below is the dwarf lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina 'Minutissimum') which is only 12" tall and about 15" wide. I like this small clumping fern along shady pathways and this fern would fall in to my "top 10" list for favorite ferns as well. Directly above are the fruits of the gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa). You don't see the berries for very long as the birds and squirrels love them. We only had a few volunteers today but they were as productive as always. Dr. Gredler did some mowing and turf repair and is beginning his aeration rounds and reseeding some of the thinner turf areas. Ultimately, all the lawns will get this treatment before October. It's hard to verbalize how much the appearance and health of the turf has improved over the past decade here at the gardens despite the increased foot traffic! Doc is truly our "Superintendent of Sod." Kay was in to continue her work in the shade garden and later moved to the North American Garden to assist Marianne with the task of weeding and removing tired annuals. So many plants will go the distance until frost but we'll remove any annuals that aren't looking their best this late in the season. Maury came in to go pick up cardboard flats from a local grocery store. We stockpile about 2,000 of these for the sale and Maury has been our "go to" guy for getting these the last couple of years. We also saw Mary W., Dr. Yahr, Todd and some others today. The day was nice and warm although we'll get back in to the irrigation mode tomorrow as the light rain we had last night wasn't much of a soaker. To the right is the Ma Chii' structure in the fern & moss garden. To the left are two of the four hanging baskets in the Scottish garden. Those trailing begonias (Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire') are very showy and are packed with flowers all season. I've become a big fan of these types of begonias and we also use them to trail over walls as well. To the right is a combination of red plume celosia (Celosia plumosa 'Fresh Look Red') and the silver mugwort (Artemisia hybrida 'Powis Castle') intermingling with that celosia. Every year I order lots of this artemisia to use as textural filler. I've said it many times over that I feel that white/silver is often overlooked in the garden. Many gardeners focus on the "hot" colors like yellows and reds and frequently forget about "cool" colors like blues and maroons. White is really a unifying color, or "icing" on the proverbial cake, for making a complete combination; whether that combination is in a long border or a small container, sun or shade. White flowers are effective but totally silver-foliaged plants have huge impact! While I don't know the exact variety names of these begonias below, I thought I'd share them regardless. These are trailing out of the hanging baskets under the back porch in the English cottage garden. Wow do they look nice!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cloudy & Decidedly Pleasant

There are so many blooms out in the gardens right now that I had no trouble taking lots of digital photos. It has been cool and overcast all day with perfect lighting for photography. The neat blooms above are the 'Moonlight' marigold (Tagetes) in our marigold (Tagetes) collection, the crested blue gentian (Gentiana septemfida) in the alpine garden and directly above is the yellow Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia 'Yellow Torch') standing 6' tall in our entrance garden. Today was quite crowded at the gardens with UW-Rock County having a staff retreat in the Parker Education Center and lots of visitors and even a tour. With our extended color out in the gardens, it's still an engaging stroll with lots to enjoy. I saw many UW-Rock County staff enjoying the gardens during break and lunch (including my wife). To the right is a variegated Japanese Joe-pye weed in our English cottage garden just starting to open with pink flower clusters held above very showy foliage. This is a new plant to the gardens and seems to be in a happy spot. To the left is one of the 34 butterflies that have attracted so much attention around the gardens this summer. This display will end on Tuesday when we take all the butterflies down and prepare them for the auction to be held on September 11th from 1 pm - 3 pm at the Parker Education Center. All proceeds from this auction benefit the continued support, operation and improvement of RBG.

Today was light on volunteers but we had some good ones. Kay (seen below in the shade garden) filled a couple cartloads of weeds and other debris from the shade garden and our seed trialing area. She is quite methodical and very patient when dealing with challenging areas. We appreciate every minute she volunteers at the gardens. Dr. Gredler was in to mow, aerate some lawns and also worked on turf repair and other projects. Bill O. was in to mow the arboretum and helped tidy up in the fern & moss garden and Japanese garden. We also saw Maury, Layton and some others. To the right is the Sweet Fragrance Easy Elegance shrub rose (Rosa 'BAInce') that is part of our trialing program in the rose garden. This variety is from Bailey Nursery (MN). What a neat color although I thought the fragrance was minimal. Speaking of fragrance, the flower photo below the shot of Kay is of the 'Black Knight' annual scabiosa (Scabiosa atropurpurea) which is a near black color. This fragrant annual, also known as annual pincushion flower, is scattered throughout the Smelly Garden and really shows near "light-foliaged" neighbors.We had a good crew out in the gardens. Larry kept the irrigation going in areas that looked to be the driest. We don't want to saturate everything this time of year with such cool evenings but we will be vigilant regarding watering needs. Larry also ran out to pick up our repaired chainsaw, organized hoses for the plant sale and watered all the containers. Big John push mowed and moved on to lots of watering, including our yard and the 400 newly arrived mums. He also helped purge some dead shrubs and dug up some undesireables from the sunken garden. Pat also push mowed and continued his composting job in the Japanese garden that he started as a Grumpy yesterday. Pat also smoothed out some gravel and worked on weeding out a tough area. I contacted all our plant sale vendors to schedule deliveries and confirm incoming plants. We will have everything here by next Wednesday although the arduous task of pricing everything will begin immediately. We aren't just selling plants as we also offer compost, obelisks (6') and tools. While perennials are our focus, we'll also have some quality shrubs, roses, bulbs, pansies, kale, etc. The sale is quite diverse and I hope people come to shop in droves! To the right is a variegated fuchsia (Fuchsia triphylla 'Firecracker') that we plant every year and it gets equal attention from visitors and hummingbirds alike. That subtle variegation is quite interesting and this variety is also a very strong bloomer. To the left are the large (2" wide) and eyecatching blooms of the alpine St. John's wort (Hypericum fragilis) that is just starting to bloom in our alpine garden. I love the blooms on all St. Johns worts and find this genus one of the least demanding. The interesting foliage to the right is from the variegated papyrus (Cyperus alternifolius 'Variegatus') that does well in garden beds with adequate moisture and the water garden. The variegation is variable but tends to be quite strong and interesting to observe. We've used this variety in bedding schemes as well as containers and actually will use over six varieties of papyrus around the gardens for various purposes. Directly below is the neat foliage of the 'Soldier' beet (Beta vulgaris) that we've displayed in clumping masses throughout the reception garden. The foliage is not only ornamental but edible as well. Beet greens are tastiest when young. Look at the bottom photo and you can see the huge beets that have formed already. These, while edible, would have been tastier if dug up a couple weeks ago. Regardless, beets and Swiss chard (very closely related) are considered true "ornamental edibles". The following quote is totally plagarized. "Beets are highly nutritious and cardiovascular health friendly root vegetables. Certain unique pigment antioxidants present in this plant have found to offer protection against coronary artery disease and stroke, lower cholesterol levels in the body and have anti-aging effects."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Calm Before The Storm

I think I've used the same blog title in the past and it probably was in reference to the same time of year when we're getting close to our crazy plant sale preparation time. Although our sale doesn't officially start for 11 days (September 9th for the Members Only Presale, 9 am - 5 pm), we'll see the start of plants arriving this week and early next week. With this being our 13th Annual Fall Plant Sale, I think we have some good systems and protocols in place for getting ready and Marianne seems ready to go (Amen). The image at the top is another summer poinsettia or fountain plant (Amaranthus tricolor) called 'Illumination'. The brightest growth is always eyecatching and this leaf amaranth species is also edible (tastes like spinach). Directly above are the leaves of one of our ornamental shamrocks (Oxalis hybrida 'Charmed Velvet') with dew this morning. This annual looks great along our partly-shaded borders and has small, white flowers as well. To the right is a nice image of the arched bridge this morning as seen from the North path. The water is a little low which can be seen by the bottom of those four support posts just above the waterline. To the left is another hyssop (Agastache cana 'Purple Pygmy') in full bloom in the scented garden. The foliage is scented on this plant but the flowers (edible) are really attracting bees, pollinators and other insects.

We had another great day of solid volunteerism with the Grumpies and other volunteers. Del and Dennis went out to take down the tents from Sunday and later joined Ron, Larry, Dick and Maury with the task of setting up our plant sale tents and moving tables around the yard to be set-up for looming deliveries. Bob C. and Dick K. worked on skimming paths of older gravel and freshening up the paths. Pat and Urban worked on scraping up old pine needles and debris in the upper portion of the Japanese garden and started to spread a nice layer of compost in a space (with many hostas) that hadn't been composted in many years. Gary, Rollie, Maury and Dick P. helped Marv and Terry plant two large 'New Horizon' elm trees (Ulmus hybrida) across the pond from the new North Point garden. Janesville City Parks gave us the go ahead to install five trees over there (that we will maintain) and these will look great from the distance and start to screen an unsightly view of the parking area for the National Guard Armory. The guys bounced between many different projects. Dr. Gredler was here to mow and work on some lawn repair projects. Dave, Jim and Bob A. continued their work on re-installing the Japanese garden fence (see Dave and Bob below). We also saw Harold T. and his daughter, Mary Q. (weeding), Kris, Kelly, Lori, Bill O., Janice, Deb, Bev, Fred, Rose and many others. Congressman Paul Ryan was the speaker today for the Rotary Club meeting at the visitor's center. To the above right is the amber flower plume of a neat grain amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) called 'Hot Biscuits'. Directly above is mountain spurge or annual snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata 'Kilimanjaro'). The actual flowers are very small and most of the color is created by the yellow and green bracts that surround the flower. This annual can reach almost 4' tall and really looks great at dusk as well. The grounds staff kept busy as usual with myriad tasks. After Marv and Terry planted trees with the Grumpies, they moved on to watering, gravel work and some other tasks. Big John was in to spread compost in a newly cleared bed that will be planted next spring. He also replaced some path gravel and worked on watering all our containers. Marianne tidied/weeded in many areas, worked on her cutting display, watered and is making the transition (mental and physical) to our primary plant sale organizational expert. Larry ran irrigation most of the day to keep up with moisture levels around the gardens. With days in the upper 70 degrees F and nights in the 50 degrees F, we're cutting back on watering. However, it looks like Thursday will be a "scorcher." Larry spent most of his day weedwhipping around the gardens. I was a "desk jockey" the majority of the day with plant sale preparations and looming presentations calling my name. To the right is the colorful foliage of a new foamy bells (Heucherella hybrida) called 'Brass Lantern'. This foliage is quite orangey in spring but fades to this, still interesting color, later in summer. To the left is a neat bloodleaf (Iresine hybrida) called 'Cherry Delight'. Placed in this chartreuse border, the maroon/red really pops, particularly with some fortuitous backlighting! This variety is hard to find but packs a 30" tall punch in full sun (needs plenty of water!). To the lower right is a bloom close-up of a neat perennial gaura (Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink') in our English cottage garden. Gauras are universally floppy but long-blooming perennials and will bloom from July until Frost. They benefit from "rigid" neighboring plants that will help support their wavy and floppy stems. We occasionally lose some over the severest of winters but I love the bloom shape, profusion of blooms and the amazing number of pollinators that zero in on this plant all the way until frost. We have a white-blooming gaura mass planting in the parking lot that receives no attention and it has thrived for years. With the squash being such a hit this past weekend at the 6th Annual Garden Festival (great job Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association, particularly Deb, Fred, Bev and Jim!), I thought I'd feature some additional neat ones. Directly below is one of the squash/pumpkins that I think looks awesome. Native to Australia and named after a town in New Zealand, the Jarrahdale winter squash (Cucurbita maxima) has beautiful blue-grey skin with heavy ribbing. This squash is used in pies and has a delicious, orange flesh. Imagine this one as a Jack-O-Lantern! Janice sure picked out some neat ones this year. At the bottom is a shot of the Eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch') blossom in the gardens. Thanks to Santos, our volunteer photographer, for this one (and so many others!).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

6th Annual Garden Festival

The 6th Annual Garden Festival looked to be another successful event and it was nice to see so many people enjoying not only this event but the gardens as well. Kudos to the RPMGA for another neat community event. Larry was around the gardens this morning doing his regular pre-wedding duties, running irrigation and watering. I came in the afternoon with my daughter and we walked thru the Garden Festival. It was very nicely organized and I saw many volunteers that I know. Thanks to Tina B. for all the photos included here from today. I hope this event continues to grow in the future and bring even more families to the gardens.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Squash Pickin'

Another perfect weather day with blue skies and 80 degrees F. We're still irrigating and watering but have taken it "down a notch" as the evenings are cooler and the beds are still retaining sufficient moisture from the rain this past weekend. The picture at the top is an assortment of squash (Cucurbita sp.) from our collection at the Horticulture Center. Janice picked and labeled these today so they're ready to be used for the Garden Festival tomorrow (11 am - 4 pm near the East end of the gardens). I was amazed by all the colors and shapes of these squash and while some (still on the vine) will continue to get better coloration, this assortment is quite impressive. Some of these will ultimately be quite large. I'm trying to get Janice to make squash soup from each variety so we can taste the differences too! To the upper left is 'Red Kuri' and 'Blue Ballet' to the lower left. To the right are the seed heads of the variegated Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium 'River Mist'). This perennial grass is known for the seedheads (normally emerging green and aging to brown) but I never suspected that this new variety would have seedheads that also have the cream and green represented on the foliage. That looks neat although I suspect they'll age to a brown eventually. The seedheads are nice in dried arrangements and "rattle" lightly with a breeze once mature.

Today was another day with plenty of activity for both staff and volunteers. Marianne weeded and tidied up the entrance garden and another portion of the formal gardens. She also did her cutting display, watered and had some other odds and ends to accomplish. Big John was in this morning to pushmow, run irrigation, water and fertilize out in the gardens. We're winding down with fertilizing and have essentially finished fertilizing our annuals and containers as of today. I'll see John tonight as the RBG team (John, Ron, Mark, Tony and I) will be participating in the Walk-A-Mile In Her Shoes event for the YWCA. This event is meant to raise awareness and funds for the YWCA's efforts to help women and children affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. Our RBG team is proud to be involved. Janice pushmowed, worked with squash and tidied up the Ornamental Edible & Compact Vegetable area which is also maintained diligently by volunteer Tom K. Marv ran irrigation and set-up sprinklers in the driest areas to get them thru the weekend. He also did a nice job cleaning up our inner yard prior to the plant sale and smoothed the gravel out nicely after relocating non-essential materials. I sprayed some herbicide and spent the morning putting together information for our six newest garden area signs (photos and text) that will be designed by our consultant, Sarah. The picture to the above right is in the North American garden and these are a smattering of both All-America Selections (AAS) winners and Fleuroselect (Europe) winners. Ironically, not 12' from this spot, I noticed a lady way up in this bed today yanking seedheads off of plants and putting them in sandwich bags while her elderly mother and another lady watched. I explained that they couldn't collect seeds or any plant material at the gardens and ended up in a semi-heated argument with the grandma regarding that policy. Her point was that the plants are going to seed and why would we waste the seed and not let visitors collect it? I responded that we have 100,000 visitors and wouldn't it be silly to allow everyone to collect seeds, etc. at their leisure with the assumption that they wouldn't damage planting beds, the plants themselves and that they understand the timing of seed collection. I was stupified by these actions to be honest and it's not the first time I've seen it here either. We used to allow leaf collecting here until the kids (mostly their parents) would come in and strip leaves off trees, break branchlets off of evergreens, etc... What value is there to a leaf collection when you take them from trees with ID signs? Directly below are the "soon to open" buds of the yellow waxybells (Kirengeshoma palmata) which are also known for their huge, maple-like leaves that offer texture in the partly shaded garden.
Directly above are some of the 'Mini-Bell' bell peppers (Capsicum) continuing to ripen. What's neat is that these mature peppers are the size of a ping pong ball. This plant/variety has done very well for us in containers and is highly productive. However, using these for stuffed peppers might be a stretch! Part of the tasting tomorrow will include heirloom tomatoes, peppers, etc. and promises to be a fun day for the entire family. Although it wont be part of the tasting tomorrow, to the right is the perennial sea kale (Crambe maritima) in the Scottish garden and in our Ornamental Edible sections. The leaves are edible on this hardy perennial as are the stalks and flowers. To the left is the foliage of my favorite ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree. This is 'Saratoga' which is known for deeply incised, drooping leaf fans (6" long). These leaves are noticeably different from other ginkgo varieties although the fall color is the same clear yellow.

We had some great volunteer help today. Alfredo and Marissa came in to volunteer and I had them in the daylily (Hemerocallis) collection deadheading spent bloom stalks and weeding between the plants. We kept them on the move as various irrigation zones turned on in close proximity but they did a nice job and we hope to see them next week too. Dr. Gredler was in to do his mowing rounds prior to the weekend. Bill O. was also in to mow and finish the arboretum. We like to have everything mown on Friday to have a clean look for the potential (and hopeful) surge of weekend visitors. Saturday is a free visitation day at RBG. Kay did a nice job weeding thru the shade garden which needed to be touched up. She's also starting to collect the cottonwood (Populus deltoides) leaves that are drifting to the ground daily. It's a task we can't wait on as there are so many leaves that frequent collection is warranted. Jumbo Jim was here with two RECAPPERS to meet Fred G. and run out to pick-up items for the Garden Festival. All those guys will be around tomorrow to help set-up, facilitate and dismantle the event. The weather looks good! We also saw Mark S., Marv, Betty and some others over here. To the right are the variegated fruits on a variegated hot pepper (Capsicum annuum) called 'Sparkler'. I've featured this variety before for both fruit and foliage and I think it has the strongest variegation of the hot peppers with some leaves being almost white. I'll leave the pepper taste test to someone else though! Directly below is Hosta 'Cathedral Windows' with such a beautiful leaf pattern and coloration. At the bottom is a shot that Gary S. shared with me of the North Point garden from across the pond.