Thursday, August 28, 2008

40% off Everything at Behnke's for Labor Day Weekend and 60% off annuals

Behnke's is a large Nursery/Garden Center in Beltsville Maryland. I worked there for years, as did my wife and many of my long-time friends. They have the best selection of perennials in the Washington area. So of course I had to go. And there was Alice, hard at work moving plants from place to place. Alice volunteers in Fern Valley on Wednesdays and has worked at Behnke's for some time. If you find yourself there, with questions about perennials she knows her stuff.

Fall is actually the best season for planting most woody plants and perennials. The most problematic time for new plants is the first summer. Without an established root system they are not in a good position to withstand heat and drought stress. Planted in the fall, they may have a few months before winter in which they can grow roots out into the soil outside their root ball. Next spring they will likely have 3 or 4 more months of adequate moisture before summer sets in. On the other hand, if you, or I (because I do it) go to the Garden Center on a nice weekend in May and come home and plant, summer will arrive in a month and it could set in the next week!

I purchased two perennial Chrysanthemums for the Library courtyards (varieties 'Scheffield' and 'Venus'). They used to be Chrysanthemum rubellum cvs.then they became Dendranthemum rubellum. Then a reversion took place and I confess I don't know what they are anymore but they are nice plants. I see new cultivars of these mums every year. I like them because they are completely hardy, don't require any disbudding, don't flower until October, flower profusely for a long period of time, and hold their single daisies on reasonably long peduncles giving the whole plant the appearance of a large boquet of flowers. They would be wonderful at any season, but in October.....Wow!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My kind of variegation....Weird that is

Somewhat hypocritically, I claim not to especially like variegated plants, but I am a sucker for this variegation. The leaf partially pictured here is from a Xanthosoma selection. What is striking in the picture becomes almost overwhelming when you confront an entire plant. The leaves approach, or surpass, 2' in length.

Another plant that exhibit this typpe of variegation Hedera colchica 'Dentata variegata', which is not so spectacular as Hedera canariensis 'Gloire de Marengo' but is a good bit hardier. It is also not as vigorous as Hedera helix, English Ivy, so all I do is head it back every couple of years and it stays confined under my front steps only creeping out enough to show off its new foliage.

Fern Valley is cultivating a form of Helianthus occidentalis, the Western Sunflower, that exhibits this variegation. It seems to be getting atronger as the plants age. Some of the new shoots that have just appeared are almost totally yellow. I don't know what we'll do with it. License it to Tony Avent probably. Just joking.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ipomoea alba: Moonflower....6" Fragrant Nightblooming

I still maintain that this is the only indispensable annual. Inconstant in many regards, I am unwavering on this point. Ask me my favorite plant and I'll tell you I don't have one and then list half a dozen. Ask me the next day. I'll still tell you I don't have one and I'll list a different 6 plants or 5 or 7...But moonflowers are different. I don't even know why. It would be hard to imagine summer nights without them. Large and white and fragrant, they attract light and moths; their perfume is light but not daintily floral, almost spicy with a bite. And the big bonus: the flowers open so quickly you can watch them. Pour a glass of wine and position yourself in view of the plant as dusk settles. Drink and wait. Be careful though, the flowers open so quickly that if you have to run inside for a refill, you could miss the whole thing. If that happens repeat the process the next day but bring the bottle outside with you.

They're slow developing often not producing flowers until well into July. I expect that's my own fault. If I started seeds early I could get them out early....But I usually don't and maybe the anticipation is part of the experience. The vines grow rapidly once they are established; I grow one in a pot beside the front door and after it has done its job of covering the trellis and hiding the electric meter, just for fun it races another 10' to the top of the second floor windows. The literature suggests that it can grow to near 100' in the tropics.

Moonflower is native to the American tropics and has naturalized in parts of Florida. It is tempting to plant it in the Florida garden, but it is considered a noxious week in Hawaii and though Wildwood is not Hawaii, I think I'll just keep growing it as an annual.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Honeybees, Chainsaws, et alia

The subjects of both of these pictures are higher in the air than they appear. Nycholas Hansen is pruning, his feet at least 10' in the air and the giant bees nest is 7 or 8 times that high. We couldn't figure out any reasonable way to get the honey down! It is difficult to grasp the scale of the honeybees' nest from this picture, but no one would stand beside it. Just joking. It appeared to be a bit over 3' high and half that wide. There must be a lot of honey.

This Monday's project was in The Gotelli Collection. My part involved chainsawing dead trees and limbs and hauling them away. The other part involved pruning in various places high and low.

I haven't been in Gotelli since the last project, tsk tsk, and since we were working near the small pond with the wonderful Taxodium knees, I took a look at the colony of Leitneria. Corkwood is, someone said, the second lightest (least dense) wood in the world. I am guessing balsa wood might be lighter. It is a plant of southern wetlands and more a curiosity than a beauty, but its okay looking and its "lightness" is very cool. We (Fern Valley) just received plants ex Ron Lance (superb SE botanist) via Kevin Conrad, the curator of the Woody Landscape Plant Germplasm Repository at the South Farm Campus in Beltsville.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Papayas: flowering in the Youth Garden

Okay, here's the proof; papayas can be flowered from seed in the Washington area. Click on the picture to better see the flowers. Specifically in the Washington Youth Garden at the USNA. As to whether they can harvest ripe fruits....possibly not. The papayas in containers on the East Terrace of the Administration building had not flowered at my last check and they are bigger than my own container plants. Nonetheless all are performing excellently as bold foliage elements.

The Youth Garden plants have definitely been treated right; they are growing in a the ground in what looks to be a raised bed/berm of either pure compost or heavily enriched organic soil. I suspect they can grow fast enough to use any amount of water they get and they certainly aren't deprived! In the tropics the rule of thumb for fruiting is 5-8 months. We don't really have that much tropical weather here in DC, but it will be exciting to see how far the fruit can get.