Monday, May 19, 2008

Terrace Plantings, Mountain Laurels,...

I always say you can't have enough spring in your step or your year. I can't get my head around this one; it's cool which is good, and it's wet which is sure an improvement over last spring. I thought last week would be Mountain Laurel week but it's going to be this week and next week. Wow. This is the top of an old cultivar behind the big Hamamelis vernalis in the cultivar area in Fern Valley. It is an impressive plant, large with dark red buds that open to pink flowers; there are dozens of other cultivars in that area, and hundreds of species Kalmia latifolia throughout Fern Valley.

When I was in the retail nursery business, this is a plant I always thought of as a faunal chameleon, not in the sense of being a color changing reptile, but rather an attractive living thing that was sold in large quantities and almost never lived a year after leaving the pet shop/nursery. Well, I learned, from the Fern Valley Curator, how to get ~100% survival. Plant in the fall, disturb the roots seriously/bare root the plant (always a good idea), amend the soil generously with peat moss (no substitutes) and organic nitrogen of some sort (kelp?), in a well drained area. Finally, guarantee adequate rainfall for the next year. I suspect that you could substitute adequate watering for this last element, but that admittedly makes the whole procedure more problematic. We planted about 15 and the only one that died was basically dead when we planted it. Three small plants looked bad when they went in and they were waterlogged all winter and still they look great now. You're (I'm) never too old to learn.

This is Monday so we had a group project. We planted containers and the tree boxes on the East Terrace of the Administration Building (at the Arboretum). Bradley Evans is the Horticulturist in charge of this area, a seriously fanatical plantsman, and an able and quirkily creative designer. He designed the plantings and accumulated and or grew the plant material. There is some pretty interesting stuff, beautiful, sculptural, unusual, rare...all the good adjectives. We are of the "leave no square inch of pot unplanted" school of container gardeners and I have to admit that that technique produces instantaneous beauty. I am particularly intrigued by and happy with the designs for the tree boxes. In the past we have done unstructured plantings of bananas, aroids, bold tropicals with flowering accents, in the tradition of Chanticleer. We still have those plants in containers but the tree boxes are modern textural designs with architectural elements, sculptural accents, and subtle tonal color gradations. Very cool. I can't wait for them to develop.

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