Friday, March 29, 2013

Calibrachoas For Consideration

It's nice to see the temperatures warm up and the snow continue to melt.  In order to get my "color fix" today, I've located and included many of my photographs of the annual million bells (Calibrachoa) that are heavily promoted and are becoming more common in our garden centers and summer gardens.  Above is the variety 'Lemon Slice' which will be extremely popular this year.  Sometimes called "trailing petunia", these natives of South America are related to petunias but have some genetic differences.  There is significant breeding and development with this genus and seemingly dozens of new varieties available each year.  Compared to the standard petunia, the flowers are smaller on million bells (1" - 1.5" diameter) and there are both single and double forms (see some double varieties at the bottom of this blog).  Plant heights are dependent on variety but most are between 6" and 10".  However, some varieties have mounded forms while other are more trailing and appropriate for low walls, hanging baskets or other container edges.  When I visited many plant trials last summer, I couldn't believe the number of selections for this increasingly popular annual that does equally well in the container, hanging basket and bedding scheme.  Most of the photos here were taken over the heat of the past two summers.  We've grown many varieties over the years with most being in containers and baskets.  We do find that supplemental fertilization and a bit of extra iron (Fe) for green foliage keeps these performing well throughout the entire summer.  Pampering of Million Bells is vital for their best performance and "color longevity."   All too often, I see failing specimens by mid-summer with yellowing foliage and reduced blooms.  Keep them happy with the additional fertilization, well-drained soils, adequate watering and as much sun as possible.  We'll be using many of the orange varieties (like the one below) in our big orange theme this year.

'MiniFamous iGen Orange'

It was relatively quiet today at the Horticulture Center.  My early excitement involved our aggressive coffee machine that didn't stop providing water flow and created quite a mess.  It was repaired quickly but the mess was challenging to tackle.  Regardless, I spent the rest of the day getting ready for the start of the grounds staff next week as we'll have our little "Orientation Monday" next week which will include our two "newbies".  Cindy B. and Larry G. should be nice additions to the team and neither is a stranger to gardening/landscaping or hard work.  I hope Mother Nature cooperates more this summer with an occasional soaking rain but we're prepared for anything including the sprinkler and hose routine that has become all too common.

Volunteers today included Pat M. who is converting our Spring Tree Sale signs which we'll get up very soon.  This is our third annual tree sale that we do in partnership with the Blackhawk Golden "K" Kiwanis Club here in town.  Originally scheduled to be held on April 19th, 20th and 21st, the sale is located at the Horticulture Center from 8 am - 3 pm daily.  UPDATE! - The sale may be rescheduled because of a delay with digging the trees up north in the frozen tundra.  More info soon!!!  We'll have seven selections of 2-3 year old, bare-root "transplants" for $1.85 each plus tax.  Orders of 50 or more total trees get 10% off.  See our website for more details.  Rose and Urban worked on staining benches and Dr. Gredler finished one of his painting projects.  We also saw Dick H., Maury, Glenn D. and some others today.  The identification for each variety seen below is underneath the image.

'Million Bells Cosmos Pink'
'Superbells Apricot Punch'
'Superbells Scarlet'
'Superbells Dreamsicle'
'Superbells Saffron'
'Miss Lilac'
'Cherry Star'
'Superbells Apricot Punch' (at my house)
'Callie Dark Blue'
'Noa Banana'
'Noa Peach'
'Noa Black Purple Improved'
'Celebration Peach Cobbler'
'Kimono Blue Dragon'
'Kimono Tokyo Sunset'
'Lindura Yellow'
'MiniFamous Double Amethyst'
'MiniFamous Rose Chai'

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Signs Of Wildlife

I had a nice brisk walk around the garden this morning as Cindy and I went out to size up some perennial grass cutting in the gardens which she started right away.  I caught the arched bridge nicely this morning (above) and while it was chilly, we're seeing daytime high temperatures increasing each day and that snow is getting thinner too!  I did a presentation at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI) last night on Sweet Scents in the Garden and had a nice crowd.  As I walked in to Olbrich last night, I caught this wildlife shot directly below.  Look further down for a fierce badger and some bears that were part of their indoor display that was recently dismantled for the season.  I thought these were neat too although the badger scared me a bit.  I had hoped to catch some early bulbs blooming up at Olbrich but they are still iced down pretty well like we are here at RBG.  Today I worked on getting ready for next week and am finalizing some spring presentations that are looming on the calendar.

Aside from the all the deer poop and deer browsing (like on the spruce below), we see other evidence of animals including thousands of goose footprints as seen above.  Browsing damage was moderate this winter as we saw the deer take the initiative to eat through and tear off some of our burlap wrappings and mesh netting.  When you're hungry, you're hungry.  I thought this shot above was cute as it looks like a couple strolling together through the gardens (looking for anything to peck at and consume....).  It will be nice to have the snow melt down and see more bulbs emerging which I'm sure will happen quickly over the coming month.  

We had a nice turnout of volunteers this morning.  Cindy can be seen above cutting grasses in the North point garden.  Dick W. and Bob C. went out to help cut grasses back (where they weren't still buried by snow and ice) while Urban and Pat went out to do some more pruning and collected/hauled branches from Urban's pruning escapades yesterday.  Pat C. came in to process more perennial labels for our incoming orders while the sanding quartet of Jim, Dave, Gene and Ron Y. kept busy working on our benches.  I think there are only seven left so there is light at the end of the tunnel for these guys.  Rose spent some time sealing benches and Dr. Gredler continued painting some of our last obelisks to be touched up for placement back out in the gardens very soon.  We also saw Chuck, Maury, Steve S., Bob B. and many others.  Directly below are our PVC pipe planters that will be part of our All-America Selections (AAS) Display Garden this year.  This space was the Ornamental Edible & Compact Vegetable Collection in 2012 but that collection will shift closer to the Parker Education Center this year.  This AAS display will have a strong historical component and we've again entered the AAS Landscape Design Contest which allows our display to be judged with other AAS display entries at gardens with similar attendance (100,000+ visitors).  This was the contest we won last year and we plan on "retaining the crown" to be blunt!

The bench quote two photos down (one of my favorites) reads:
"We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."  Aldo Leopold

At the bottom is the frosty, dried fruiting structure of our showy sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua).  This structure is officially called a syncarp of dehiscent capsules which everyone probably knows anyway.  When I was at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), the main quad was lined with these sweetgums that replaced all the American elms (Ulmus americana) that were removed due to Dutch Elm Disease.  There were so many of these spiky capsules around and frequent battles were fought with these projectiles.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gorgeous Goatsbeards

This blog is a tribute to the perennial goatsbeard (sometimes spelled goat's beard). Also called bride's feather, this perennial is native to moist woodlands in the Northern Hemisphere and has a long use in our gardens.  There are also some historical herbal uses of this plant as well.  The photo above shows the standard goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) in our sunken garden where it thrives in damp soils and in quite a bit of sunlight.  This member of the rose (Rosaceae) family is often relegated to shady locations which isn't ideal.  Part shade is perfect while full sun is acceptable with amply moist soils.  The species just mentioned will get 4-5' easily and blooms typically in June.  The flower plumes do age to a brown which I think is still showy while some of the shorter species and hybrids will bloom later in to the summer.  I consider the foliage textural and further below you'll see the cutleaf goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus 'Kneiffii') which has almost ferny foliage and the same "floral impact".  Goatsbeards that don't receive enough moisture will have quick foliage decline and may even go dormant early.  Fall color of the foliage is usually a muted yellow although some other selections (below) of a little more interest in that regard.

Aruncus dioicus at RBG just starting to bloom
Aruncus dioicus at Olbrich Botanical Garden (Madison, WI)
Aruncus dioicus 'Kneiffii'
Aruncus dioicus 'Kneiffii' (foliage below)

It was a quiet day at the gardens.  Urban went out to do some more pruning and has been cleaning out the interior of some large spruce (Picea) trees with dead branches.  He does a thorough job and created some very quick piles of debris.  Dr. Gredler came in for some of our last winter painting and we also saw Bev, Paul T., Lori, Mary W., Janice, Maury and some others today.  Geesje and her great niece stopped by too.  It's nice to see more snow melting out in the gardens and with some warmer weather and rain this weekend, hopefully we'll get a good crack at spring clean-up efforts next week when the grounds staff is back in action.

Below are some of the smaller goatsbeard options.  I really like the dwarf Korean goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius) seen below.  At only 12" tall, this option is great to edge a pathway or in the front of a partly shaded border.  As with all goatsbeards, moisture is vital and without adequate moisture, this species will show serious foliage decline and go dormant quickly or suffer more serious damage.  Our best specimens at RBG are in very rich, organic soils with supplemental irrigation and mulch.  Consider root competition with larger woody plants and keep these plants happy.  The fine-textured foliage of this species is quite interesting too and gets an orange/red in the fall.  Further below are some nice hybrid goatsbeards that are in the mid-height (24"-30") range.  I like 'Misty Lace' and am new to 'Guinea Fowl'.  This year we'll try 'Horatio' which tops out at 40" tall and is the hybrid between A. dioicus and A. aethusifolius.  

Aruncus aethusifolius
Aruncus aethusifolius
Aruncus aethusifolius foliage
Aruncus aethusifolius in late September
Aruncus hybrida 'Misty Lace'
Aruncus hybrida 'Misty Lace'
Aruncus hybrida 'Guinea Fowl'

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Fights Back!

I was able to get outside a bit today and it was nice to see the snow melting down with these warmer daytime temperatures.  Urban and I did two "tours" to identify the last of our winter pruning needs.  Signs of a "true spring" are becoming more evident and it was nice to see more bulbs peaking out like the winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) above and the snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) below.  I can't explain the science behind it but every year I'm amazed how the growth of the earliest emerging plants generates just enough heat to melt snow back so these early bloomers can emerge and bloom.  The Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) generates enough heat (thermogenesis) to keep snow and frost away from the very early blooms which I'm sure are just starting.  What an interesting phenomenon.  The second photo down is the pheasant's eye (Adonis amurensis 'Fukujukai') finally opening up.  Oddly enough, my first photo of this perennial starting to bloom was on February 1st last year!  

We had some nice volunteer help today both inside and outside.  Rose (below) continued work on re-staining our teak benches.  She does a nice job and has been helping Vern over these past couple of weeks.  Urban and Pat went out to do more pruning and haul back debris.  Bill O. also helped tidy up out in the gardens and hauled back the last of our messy brush piles.  Dr. Gredler was in for some repainting efforts.  We also saw Terry, Maury and many others.  Bev D. and Deb G. came in to talk about the Garden Art Project as we've already had seven sun projects returned and they look neat!   Larry worked on vehicle and equipment maintenance in preparation for our quick spring start next week when we get back out in the gardens in earnest.  He and Bill also brought back any Holiday Lights Show displays that have thawed out and could be loaded up and hauled back.  I spent most of the day bouncing between event preparations like the Compost Sale, Spring Plant Sale, Home Garden Tour, etc.  These are all on our website so mark them down on your calendars!

I've been reviewing some of our incoming spring orders and was happily reminded about a healthy supply of 'Diamond Head' elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) coming to the gardens in May.  I first saw this variety out in New York in the fall of 2010.  Note the two shots directly below taken at the New York Botanical Garden (a must see) and the Central Park Conservatory Gardens (very nice).  I thought that the chocolate brown coloration was unique and we've been growing it ever since.  This variety comes out of the Royal Hawaiian series developed by Dr. John Cho of the University of Hawaii.  While there are many very nice, almost black varieties like 'Black Magic', 'Black Coral' and 'Black Runner', this variety has that "brownish tinge" and lends itself to many uses.  Note our use of this selection in containers further below.  I'll have 50 of these to play with and am now wishing I had another 50....

'Diamond Head' at New York Botanical Garden
'Diamond Head' in Central Park (NY)
'Diamond Head' at RBG (above and below)

The photo directly below shows our full room of attendees at the Spring Symposium this past Saturday.  We've had nothing but positive comments about this event with many past, veteran attendees saying it was the best one yet.  This is very telling as we've had this quality symposium, started by Mike M., for 10 years now!  The bottom image was shared by Marcia M. that features the front of the Parker Education Center in a "pencil sketch" format from stitched photographs.  Pretty cool!

Below from Marsha M.