Friday, December 20, 2013

'Northwind' Switchgrass (PPA 2014 Plant of the Year)

My arms are numb after spreading a ton (literally) of sand and salt over the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) paths throughout the day.  Freezing drizzle arrived last night and I came in to a 1/2" layer of glare ice over the paths.  We had freezing drizzle most of the day as well.  Bill O. and I salted, sanded and then salted again to make the paths passable.  As I type, we made the decision to cancel the HLS tonight because of travel conditions, our icy parking lot, moisture issues for the lights and potential slippery spots.  It would be a sparsely attended night and we hope potential visitors for tonight will reschedule for one of the remaining seven nights.  We also saw Maury, Dr. Yahr (visiting from AZ for the holidays) and Del today.  Next week will be sporadic with volunteers and grounds staff and my blogs will be infrequent until after the New Year.  

I'm featuring the 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year as selected by the Perennial Plant Association (PPA). The selection this year has some Wisconsin "roots" and is 'Northwind' switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).  I'm a member of the PPA ( and since 1990, the group votes on and selects a superior perennial for recognition and promotion.  The PPA’s Perennial of the Year program is designed to showcase, each year, a perennial that is a “standout among its competitors.” These chosen plants are “suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest, and are relatively pest/disease free.”  'Northwind' switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) certainly is all of that and was discovered and introduced by Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm (near Lake Geneva, WI) in the early 1990s.  This perennial, ornamental grass is known for bluish green foliage (see above), wispy flower panicles in mid summer and a very upright, rigid habit.  Catalogs list this variety at 5-6' but we've grown it taller at RBG with ample watering.  This selection gets a nice yellow fall color and it stays extremely rigid and upright even when challenged by heavy winds and snows.  It's nice to see this grass recognized although many have enjoyed the merits of the "locally introduced" grass for many years.  Below are some seasonal shots (different specimens) in rough sequence from June until winter. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Framed Garden Views

It was a busy day around the Horticulture Center as the Grumpies worked on a wide range of projects.  Pat had work out in the gardens including more pruning and some Holiday Lights Show (HLS) tweaks.  Don't forget that the HLS resumes tonight and has nine more nights.  Urban continued pruning efforts near the Horticulture Center with a focus on all the suckering that we see annually on our crabapples (Malus).  Dr. Gredler was in for painting containers while Maury and Ron Y. did a nice job continuing our significant priming needs for our still "top secret" carpentry project(s).  Dave, Vern and Jim continued their carpentry projects.  Bill O. was in to help Larry with some projects and Janice worked on various tasks this morning.  We also saw Rollie, Ron W. and many others.  I continue to check out catalogs and am prioritizing my projects for 2014.

This blog features lots of photos that exhibit a "framed view" out in the garden.  Keep in mind that a literal "framed view" of our garden is created with every window.  However, additional "frames and windows" out in the gardens can direct the eye to additional color, a focal point, "borrowed scenery" and can certainly help encourage movement in to a new space or towards a visible destination.  The "framing" can consist of fencing, trellising, plantings and/or other hardscaping combinations.  Granted, many of these photos feature costly structures, the concept is still sound for creating a dynamic garden and helping the viewer enjoy a certain feature, vignette or garden element.  The photo above was taken from an outdoor garden room (Chanticleer in Wayne, PA) and the plants outside this opening were meant for a tropical experience with the view.  However, note that scale and depth that is provided by distant trees and scenery.  Each of the photos below also has a little description.

view at Chanticleer to two weeping Norway spruce (Picea abies 'Pendula') focal points

the ruins garden at Chanticleer (Wayne, PA) inviting you in for exploration
Swarthmore College (PA) campus
Chicago Botanic Garden - this screams "Come see what's going on in here!"
living archway (with steel trellis guide) inviting entry
framed focal point at Denver Botanic Garden from one garden to another
rock panels at the Denver Botanic Garden creating both a backdrop and open "viewing gaps"
arched trellis with golden hops vine (Humulus lupulus 'Nugget') framing entry/view at the Chicago Botanic Garden
framed view at the Toledo Botanical Garden
trellising framing view at the Chicago Botanic Garden
weeping blue spruces (Picea pungens var. glauca) being trained for an evergreen archway
living archway at the Chicago Botanical Garden framing view and a travel route
archway surrounding by hedging at Butchart Gardens (British Columbia)
rose archways at Butchart Gardens
picturesque view framed at the Dr. Sun Yet-Sen Chinese Garden (Vancouver, B.C.)
archway framing view to new garden space at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI)
interesting deception with framed mirror creating depth in the conservatory at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (Grand Rapids, MI)
borrowed scenery in England with wall opening
                          borrowed scenery in England with wall opening and sculptural focal point

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Have Outdoor Seating To Enjoy The Garden!

While some gardeners never take the time to sit down and enjoy their hard work, I certainly do (more and more often as I age!).  I appreciate the value of a well placed bench or chair out in the garden that offers not only respite but a garden experience.  That experience might include enjoying a view, appreciating fragrance, proximity to wildlife (i.e. butterflies), auditory enjoyment (i.e. water feature), etc.  Above is a bench and some Adirondack chairs in the North Point garden.  Note that this bench style and the chair colors offer interest as part of the entire garden scheme.  While the placement of comfortable seating is important, keep in mind that the features of that unit (color, style, etc.) can also be features in the garden.  I've included some examples in this blog which barely scratch the surface of this topic.  There are so many types and styles of seating, not to mention materials.  At RBG, we have over 100 benches and 10 Adirondack chairs placed around the garden for visitors to rest and enjoy the view.  Furniture can be relatively permanent if an ideal location is found.  However, movable furniture allows for grouping as needed and possible relocation to sun or shade as desired.  Every garden should have outdoor seating for enjoyment but also functionality in those spaces where we grill out, entertain, etc.  

Today was a quiet day. After removing snow yesterday, we're seeing the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) paths melting nicely with sunshine and temperatures in the low 30 degrees F.  The show resumes tomorrow night (see for more information) although the weather could be dicey with a rain/sleet combination.  We'll see what happens.  Today we had Dr. Gredler and Patrea painting containers and Gary S. putting primer on some elements of our top secret carpentry project.  Pat M. was in and went out in the gardens for some projects.  Janice was in to make some calls to confirm our "trailwalking" volunteers for the HLS.  These volunteers help patrol the paths for visitor safety (and good behavior!).  Janice also continues research on our Thomas Jefferson / Monticello garden theme for 2014.  I continue to scour seed catalogs and am getting poised for plenty of ordering at the start of 2014!  My blogging will be sporadic over the coming weeks with full time resumption on January 6th.

a simple two person bench with a great view (Schmeeckle Reserve, UW-Stevens Point)
an instant, mobile bench (we're building some!) - photo not mine (from internet)
one of our custom cedar benches built by the Grumpies
note secluded seating nook (Butchart Gardens)
an immersive experience with this seat!
who wouldn't swing on this one (also positioned for a view)
seating options as part of an outdoor entertaining area
outdoor entertaining area (Lake Geneva, WI)
outdoor entertainment with cool fireplace
private seating circle in woodland setting
360 degree potential view! (not great for group chatting though...)
a shady respite
take time to catch some rays
Adirondack chairs at RBG (unfortunately we have to chain them down...)
a painted chair can become a focal point and add color as well as any plant
movable furniture has plenty of value and is appropriate on turf
movable chairs near pond at Chanticleer (Wayne, PA)
weather resistant padding goes a long way for comfort as seen above
this is a colorful spot to observe butterflies and hummingbirds on the adjacent bee balm (Monarda)
a nice sunny spot for chatting (Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI)
Note this bench in the distance is a focal point along with the tricolor European beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Roseo-Marginata') behind the bench. This arrangement, with the informal flagstone path, encourages travel to the bench (same location below at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI).  The sedges (Carex) soften the walkway and make for a "soft approach".

The images directly above and directly below are the same location at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, WI.  Note the container between the two seats and the nice use of variegated maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) behind the seats for interest in this setting.  The approach is shaded with the seating patio in more light.  As with the images further above at Olbrich, this arrangement encourages travel to this destination.

The blue color of these seats (nicely shaded) encourages enjoyment of the view in this gravel garden (Olbrich Botanical Garden, Madison, WI)
the pillows and birdhouse offer the accent along with the furniture color
what a nice setting for cocktails near the stream!
the fountain adds some interest (and sound) as well (Chicago Botanic Garden)
tea time for two?
take time to enjoy the garden!