Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to everyone!  While it will be a chilly evening for trick or treating, at least it isn't raining!  My younger daughter is 12 years old and has informed us that she isn't interested in "trick or treating."  I think I went a lot longer than that!  I was put in the Halloween "spirit" this morning when I saw Sandy (above) in her pumpkin suit preparing for the youth education program which actually uses pumpkins as seen in that same photo.  To the left is Renee and to the right, Suzy.  We have such great education volunteers and the work they are doing is so important to our mission of providing horticultural education and appreciation for everyone.  Today was the last day of this program and we saw some school buses arrive and the kids seemed to be enjoying the program (and gardens).  The morning was brisk but the sun came out quickly and we had nice blue skies for the entire day.  Directly below is the dried flower of the 'Annabelle' smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens).  While the white flowers are long gone, the dried flower heads still offer visual interest and texture in the late season landscape.  The next photo down features some of the neat fall color of the 'Winterthur' smooth witherod viburnum (Viburnum nudum) in the fern & moss garden.  The leaves turned pink in early October and became darker thru the month.  This is a neat viburnum and one of the best for a deep red fall color.

The grounds staff had a great day out in the gardens.  While it was chilly this morning, everyone was layered and adjusted as the day began to warm up slightly.  Directly below is Marianne running lights between the milk jug luminaries.  There are close to 2,000 of these half-gallon milk jugs that will have C7 lights in them for the Holiday Lights Show (HLS).  If you look at the picture below, you see some green "nubs" between the jugs.  These are rubber covers that we use to seal off two sockets between jugs.  So, we're only using one of every three lights on these strands but the spacing is nice.  These luminaries guide visitors thru the entire HLS and Marianne is our veteran for getting these ready to go.  Marianne also finished putting lights on the last of the elevated urn planters (with help from John).  These should end up looking great.  The next photo down shows Pat emptying out our large urn planter near the pergola.  Pat also push mowed, decorated an obelisk and helped excavate along the path that is being widened just east of the English cottage garden.  Big John also helped with the excavation project but also secured many obelisks, helped Marianne, cut back spireas and did some additional gardening.  Marv and Terry were 100% HLS set up today. The guys put out many displays and are securing them in nice spots.  They also hauled out and placed some of our new displays which will look great.  I ran some cords today but am a bit under the weather and caught up on some desk work too.

We had a nice turnout of volunteers today as well.  Urban (directly below) spent time on the first of many crabapples (Malus sp.) that need an annual "de-suckering" this time of year.  Urban has always helped with this process and other pruning duties and we'll see him doing this work all winter.  Kay (next photo down) continued her attack on the annuals on the front slope of the entrance garden.  She had a productive morning and was later joined by Myrt and Gena in that same area.  We should finish clearing that huge space by early next week.  Ron K. continued collecting leaves from the woodland walk garden and accumulated a huge pile that would entice any kid to jump right in!  Dr. Gredler was in for mowing and leaf collection duties and Dick H. came in to run some loads of debris to the dump.  Mary F-P. and Denise, our new Funds Development Director, came over to touch base and make sure everyone was introduced.  We also saw Maury, Betsy and some others. 

As I go thru different garden areas running cords for the HLS, I'm glad to have my camera to capture late season interest in the garden.  Granted, the massive, flowing beds of annuals are gone and color is muted compared to both spring and summer.  However, the late season and winter garden should also have their interest (albeit more subtle) as well.  My topic for the fall symposium, The Winter Garden, this Saturday is actually "Landscape Design for Winter Interest" where I'll share some tips on how to maximize the appearance of the winter garden with color and texture.  Directly below is the 'Bubble Gum' lungwort (Pulmonaria sp.) that will maintain this foliage spotting/coloration until December.  This variety also has nice pink flowers in late April / early May.  Lungworts are tough as nails and are good for those tricky "dry shade" areas as well.  The next photo down is a shot of the fern & moss garden this morning.  While we've cut back most of the ferns, the moss island is still offering lots of greenery.  At the bottom is our digital sign this morning (which read 33 degrees F at 8 am!).  Note the Market Mingle that is occuring this Friday evening at the Parker Education Center.  This "always popular" event includes vendors with local foods, local crafts, specialty items from the vendors that supply Cottage Gallery Gifts (RBG gift shop) and a cash bar.  See our website for more information on this event.  P.S.  In that bottom image, look closely at the culvert pipe planters.  Marv and Terry put bright blue LED lights on those pipes that will really glow at night!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Chilly, Breezy Day

There was more frost on the grass this morning and the day didn't warm much over the mid 40 degrees F range.  A moderate wind also kept things chilly but of course, we didn't let that slow us down out in the gardens.  With the dark morning, we typically start on some indoor projects and eventually everyone trickles outside for Holiday Lights Show (HLS) duties or continued gardening efforts.  The top picture shows the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) submitting to the wind and we saw plenty of seeds floating around the prairie restoration area where this photo was taken today.  With a finite number of days left for HLS set-up, we're really spending some quality time getting up lights, displays and ultimately I'll be trying to get out most of the cords (see above) so our network is ready to go and we just have to plug everything in as it is set-up. 

The grounds staff had plenty of layers on as there was a conspicuous wind chill factor out there!  Directly above is Pat cutting back one of many ninebarks (Physocarpus opulifolius) along the east border.  These established shrubs are cut back severely every fall to about 4" or so and they "poof" back up to a manageable 5' or so with fresh, new growth.  He did a nice job tidying up that section after putting lights on the last three of our obelisks. Pat also cleared out some of our last remaining containers.  Janice processed some new lights inside and worked on some other projects before heading out to the gardens to decorate with lights and to do some garden clean up in select locations.  Larry helped L.P. Tree Service get started on putting lights on the Parker Education Center which is made easier by their bucket truck.  The L.P. guys will be back later to put dangling lights up in the trees throughout the gardens.  Larry also helped trench in some cords, worked with Tom C., helped with some other projects and helped consolidate some of our HLS supplies back at the Horticulture Center.   Big John secured many decorated obelisks out in the gardens and put lights on some hedges as well.  He also worked on a wide range of gardening projects.  I ran cords most of the morning and spent the afternoon in a meeting and finally finishing my handout for the symposium (The Winter Garden) for this Saturday, November 3rd.  Directly below is the traditionally later fall coloration of the fragrant snowball viburnum (Viburnum x carlcephalum) in the English cottage garden.  The fall color is only secondary to the showy flower clusters in spring that release a sweet fragrance over a vast area.  The next photo down shows the yellow fall color on the large, subtropical-looking leaves of the 'Sunflower' pawpaw (Asimina triloba) which we haven't seen bloom or form fruit (yet).  Note the shadowing on the leaves from the adjacent fence.

We had some very committed volunteers that came in to work in the chilly weather today.  Dr. Gredler (directly below) was on the mower most of the day doing some of the last mowing for the season (here in the sunken garden).  The shredder/hopper attachment allows us to mow up, shred and collect the leaves and grass which we then use as a mulch on other beds.  We'll probably do our last mowing next week to finish the season.  Kay came in to brave the wind out in the entrance garden.  She did a nice job tearing out more annuals and I saw her go by with a heaping cartload of debris many times this morning.  The second photo down shows Dick H. (left) and Dick P. (red hat) up slope from the gazebo garden where they installed a fence extension which should help better enclose the gardens.  The guys also fixed the two fence sections that were damaged recently.  Maury was in to work on various projects, help with the fence and run out for gas.  Tom C. came in to work on some electrical problems at the Horticulture Center and we appreciate his expertise.  Jumbo Jim, along with three RECAPPERS, did clean-up in the Japanese garden and alpine garden.  We also saw Mary W., Glenna and some others.  Three photos down is one of the school groups coming through the gardens with Barb C.  At the bottom are the blooms of the common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) looking festive and the colorful fruit of the Golden Raindrops crabapple (Malus 'Schmidtcutleaf') respectively. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

An Offensive Start To The Day

As I was coming to work today in the pitch dark, I noticed some damage to our frontage fence along Palmer Drive.  I always look along that fence in the morning because two winters ago, we had two incidents of deer getting caught and hung up on the fence.  The damage seen above was significant with two fence panels and two posts being destroyed.  John found part of the vehicle's head light and while we hope no one was hurt, it seemed like an odd angle to hit the fence and we'll never know the story of what happened.  Of course no one has come forward to claim doing the damage.  The second photo up shows one of four obelisks (with lights) that John hauled out for the Holiday Lights Show (HLS).  All the grounds staff had HLS duties today and continue to progress at a great pace for getting everything squared away in the next three weeks.  Directly above is the glossy 'Blackout' coral bells (Heuchera) that I think is one of the darkest for foliage.  Another nice, dark variety is 'Obsidian'.  Directly below is a shot from underneath one of our European beeches (Fagus sylvatica).  This is the variety 'Riversii' which has summer leaves that are a glossy, deep maroon.  This fall color is characteristic of most beeches (Fagus sp.) and is always a nice, rich gold.

We had the mother lode of volunteers today.  Kathy and Tom H. came to help put plastic on two of our donated greenhouses (from Kathy and Tom).  We greatly appreciate their generosity and with their help today, we were able to totally cover the remaining two (of three) houses.  Directly below are some of the guys that helped with this project.  They included Dave T., Vern, Jim, Bob A., Rollie, Maury, Dick H. and Dick P.   Larry H. and Eugene went out to collect leaves and had no trouble filling their cart many times over this morning.  Bob C. went out to help with the excavation efforts for the newly widened brick path.  The second photo down shows Ron Y. (left) and Ron W. unloading some of many RBG benches that they hauled back for winter touch-up (sanding, restaining, repair, etc.).  We have a lot of benches but the guys have a good sytem for keeping track of where they should be returned in the spring.  The next photo down shows Mary and Roy W. in the shade garden where they collected more leaves and debris and then installed some spring blooming bulbs (daffodils and crocuses).  Pat and Urban were out cutting back roses (Rosa) after Pat decorated an obelisk with lights. Stan spent time in the Japanese garden tidying up and Dr. Gredler was out mowing.  Doc trained Del on mower operation and Del put his training right in to action.  The fourth photo down shows Pat and Gary working on producing new plant labels for the garden.  Gary is training Pat on the entire process and she certainly is a quick study.  Mary (RBG Executive Director) came over to introduce Denise, our new funds development director.  We welcome her to the staff and look forward to her involvment here.  We also saw Mary W. and many others today.

The grounds crew focused mostly on HLS preparations.  Larry started putting lights on the main building and we'll shortly have LP Tree Service here with their bucket trucks to help finish the building decorations and to string up our "dangling icicle lights."  Big John worked on setting up HLS displays, mowed and spent some time cutting back perennials near the North point garden.  Marianne continued work on securing dangling lights to our urn planters and shifted to luminary preparations later.  Marv and Terry hauled back some containers for winter storage, sorted/hauled brick for our path project and worked on securing HLS displays.  I was outside briefly but hardly stretched out cords.  I spent time on some other projects including finalizing my presentation for the symposium (The Winter Garden) this Saturday, November 3rd.  Directly below is the late season fall color of the compact Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum') near the gazebo garden.  The next shot down shows the yellowing fall color on the Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight') in the woodland walk garden.  This woody vine has looked great all year and we have this selection growing up the trunks of many of the larger trees in that garden space.  The third photo down is a testament as to why this perennials is called blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis).  This variety had gorgeous, spotted orange flowers in mid-summer but the fruit display is top notch (in a dried arrangement too).  At the bottom is one of the two greenhouses that the gang finished up this morning.  Thanks again Tom & Kathy!

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Day Of Lights, Cords & Gardening

It was a brisk start to the day but the sun came out quickly (as expected) and we had a typical October day which was just beautiful.  Everyone jumped right in to Holiday Lights Show (HLS) work and we all spent most of the day focusing on preparations for this event.  We promote that we have 300,000 lights as part of this event and I think that is a conservative estimate.  The set-up (and take down) of the HLS is monumental and while we have been testing and repairing lights for over six weeks now, Marv and Terry have been out putting up lights since the beginning of October.  The top photo shows one of our cherub statues in the formal gardens that I've used to unceremoniously dangle a cord for future connection.  I try to elevate cords out of the moisture and this irreverent approach is simply prudent!  The second photo above shows the beautiful reflection across the pond of one of our weeping willows (Salix alba 'Tristis') this morning.  Look closely in the reflection where two ducks were eyeballing me as I took this photo from our observation pier.  Directly above is the superior fall color of the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) near the arboretum.  The leaves that get the most sun are either red or maroon with the interior coloration being orange and yellow.  Few deciduous trees will rival this motley assortment of great colors that the sweetgum provides in fall.  I remember huge specimens of this tree on the University of Illinois campus and the fall color display will always be memorable.  Despite the "ticklings" of light frost, there are still some perennials blooming out in the gardens.  Directly below is a bloom of the 'Dark Beauty' toadlily (Tricyrtis formosana) still limping along in the gazebo garden.  Some of the colder evenings next week should finish these blooms off but it has been a good run!  The next photo down shows the colorful foliage of two garden sage (Salvia officinalis) cultivars.  The purple is 'Purpurascens' while the variegated form in the back is 'Aurea'.  Both of these are zone 5 perennials and will occasionally overwinter fine.  Their foliage contribution throughout the growing season is nice and they are both truly "ornamental edibles."  Rose hips anyone?  The third photo down shows the bright and glossy rose hips of the 'Dortmund' rose (Rosa) which is one of the best for hip production.  These remain colorful throughout the winter although they start fading after the New Year arrives.

We had some awesome volunteer assistance today.  Dr. Gredler was here for a good portion of the day mowing the last of our turf and continuing with his leaf collection.  We have a shredder/hopper attached to his mower and as he mows up and shreds the leaves, his collected debris is then placed on beds as mulch.  It's an efficient system although he has to empty the hopper quite often as he mows the areas with heavy leaf accumulation.  Kay (directly below) did a nice job taking a dent out of the entrance garden slope.  She has such a nice smile (even when her eyes are closed).  This huge area still has some color but we need to get the annuals cleared out so we can continue to decorate for HLS and it's a lot easier to remove plants now before they get mushy.  Ron K. (next photo down) spent the morning in his assigned garden; the woodland walk.  Ron continued to cut back perennials and collect leaves.  He has a huge area and has remarkably kept up with everything during a very tough year.  Cindy (third photo down) was here all morning as well and did a superb job tidying up the shade garden.  She had a large section to tackle and did a very thorough job.  Cindy is a new volunteer and a Rock Prairie Master Gardener.  We enjoy having her around and hope to see more of her in the near and imminent future.  We also saw Maury, Vern, Margaret and many others today. 

We had almost a full crew today (sans Larry and Jenny).  Marv and Terry strung twinkle lights on some of our largest hedges which is truly an art form that they have perfected.  The guys do a great job of putting them on evenly so they will also withstand the winds and snow as well.  They also figured out a nice way to decorate our culvert pipes and worked on some other HLS duties.  Pat spent the entire morning decorating more obelisks and does a great job after being trained by our obelisk decorating veteran, Janice.  Janice also decorated some obelisks but additionally worked on gardening as well as potting up some plants for our upcoming fall symposium (The Winter Garden) on November 3rd.  It's not too late to register!  Check out our website at for more information on this and other upcoming events.  On November 2nd, there is a Market Mingle that may of interest (see website also).  Marianne hauled out and placed a vast number of our half-gallon milk jug luminaries along paths that will ultimately illuminate the HLS route for visitors.  She has a good system and will continue these efforts next week.  Big John decorated (with lights) our three huge "pyramid" structures in the entrance garden.  He also put up HLS displays, hauled debris and bounced between some projects.  I ran cords all morning and probably slung out a good mile or so of cordage.  I've got a good jump on this task and Larry has been helping as well.  We had a great day and look forward to continued gardening and HLS progress next week!  Directly below is the fall color of the Prairie Flame shining sumac (Rhus copallina var. latifolia 'Morton') which was released out of the Chicagoland Grows Inc. program.  We have five of these behind the big waterfall in the Japanese garden and the fall color is top notch.  The second photo down shows the fruit set of one of our crabapples (Malus sp.).  This variety is listed as 'Harvest Gold' which I think is incorrect.  It may be 'Golden Hornet'.  Regardless the fruit set is impressive and ornamental.  At the bottom is the still ornamental dinosaur kale (Brassica oleracea 'Lacinato') that we have throughout the entrance garden. That leaf color and texture is quite showy.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Going In Circles?

My blog title today didn't refer to anything else but Larry (above) mowing the English cottage garden this morning.  He had to stop a couple of times due to dizziness. :)  With the recent warmth, the turf has continued to grow and we'll be mowing at least one more time (if not more).  There are some significantly cooler temperatures arriving shortly and we'll have some very cold mornings in short order.  We thought we might have a "rain out" today but the morning was warm and pleasant.  It was overcast in the afternoon and while it looked like rain, there was nothing as of my typing of this blog.  I wouldn't mind some more rain for the sake of the gardens but I hope we have a clear day tomorrow for more Holiday Lights Show (HLS) preparations.  Directly below is some neat fall color on some of our Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) in the English cottage garden.  In some areas, it's totally red already.  However, this rustic patina looked neat and I couldn't pass up a photograph.  The next photo down captures the peak fall color of the American smokebush/smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) along Palmer Drive.  I featured this fall color in the blog earlier but should have waited until today to catch this great shot.  The third photo down shows the reddening fall color of the Royal Raindrops crabapple (Malus 'JFS-KW5') which is normally maroon-leaved in the summer.  I like this crabapple and we've seen very little disease issues with this variety.

We had a solid turnout of volunteers today.  Grumpies and Grumpettes were both well-represented.  Dick P. (below) worked with Rollie on memorial brick installation.  Dr. Gredler was around for his mowing rounds and Gary worked with Pat C. on preparing more plant labels (perennials and woodies) for the gardens.  Gary will be training Pat on our laser engraver and programs for creating the labels.  We look forward to her continued assistance with this, and many other projects.  Two photos down is Vern working on securing one of the donated greenhouses.  He, Dave T. and Bob A. also worked on some carpentry projects that include the creation of a 20' tall obelisk for 2013!  The third photo down shows Ron (left) and Bob C. excavating topsoil from the edges of a path that is currently being widened.  They did a nice job and kept ahead of the brick layers fairly well.  Eugene and Del removed plants from the entrance garden and Dick H. ran loads to the dump and is working on replacing the brake lines on one of our pick-up trucks.  Four photos down are Suzy (left) and Marilyn, two of our Grumpettes (Women Weed Warriors), in the reception garden where they worked with Janice removing annuals from the entire gardens. They were later joined by Sue, Amy and Amy's daughter, Meghan.  Ron and Bev came in for day #2 of arch decoration for the HLS.  Hal and Doris were in to tidy up their garden space and we also saw Maury who ran many errands for us this morning.  Bill O. was in this afternoon to collect debris out in the gardens and the Chestnut House volunteers worked with Janice on processing HLS lights and organizing seeds for next year.  We also saw Julie G., Kris K., Mary F.P. and others. 

The grounds staff took full advantage of the dry day and we all worked on HLS duties and some gardening as well.  Big John put lights on trees, installed decorated obelisks, candy cane displays and other HLS elements.  John also removed and hauled off some good-sized loads of annuals from the entrance garden slope as he was making room to get to some other elements that will be decorated for the HLS.  He finished the day removing annuals from the Smelly Garden.  Janice worked with the ladies in the reception garden this morning and decorated many obelisks around the gardens with lights.  She also worked with the Chestnut House volunteers this afternoon.  Larry, aside from his mowing duties mentioned above, helped run cords, ran out to pick up a donation and put out more arches for Ron and Bev to decorate.  Pat was also in (as a volunteer) and worked on mowing and plant removal.  I ran more cords this morning, had a meeting and am finally finishing my presentation for the fall symposium (The Winter Garden) on November 3rd.  Check out for more information on this event as there is still time to register!  Directly below are the showy red stems of the 'Flame' hybrid willow (Salix hybrida).  The stems were green all year and the transition to this red starts in September.  The leaves are turning yellow and will drop soon.  However, those fiery red stems offer interest all winter and have their best coloration in the winter.  The next photo down (staged of course!) shows the white backing and yellow front (fall color) of the 'Fialaspire' white poplar (Populus alba) in the arboretum.  It's interesting seeing all the leaves on the ground from this tree with 50% of them appearing this brilliant white and looking like white leaves.  That white backing is consistent all year.  The bottom photo shows some of our moss in the fern & moss garden looking lush due to the cooler temperatures and recent rains.