Friday, April 3, 2009

Lysichiton camtschatcense, Asian Skunk Cabbage, is a lovely muck dweller

I came in to lunch today 15 minutes late and covered with mud; I had to actually lie down in the mud to get this picture. I tried squatting but was unable to hold the camera steady enough. Firmly planted in the muck there's no detectable camera shake in this exposure. My co-workers laughed at me, but that does happen... Symplocarpus foetidus, a relative of this white-flowered Asian species, is our Eastern Skunk Cabbage, one of my favorite plants. Hey, I love all plants and who could resist a winter-blooming warm-blooded plant?! Ours flowers much early than its Asian counterpart and actually does generate temperatures significantly warmer than the surrounding air.

There's just something about aroids. Both genera of Skunk Cabbage are allied (in an obscure subfamily) with another of my favorite plants, Golden Club, Orontium aquaticum. I don't remember first meeting Orontium, but seeing thousands of the yellow spadices rising out of the tannin black waters of the Okefenokee Swamp sunlit under an azure sky is an unforgettable sight.

'Sweet Betsy' was voted the Trillium most likely to seed around....but you didn't hear that from me

And shes beautiful. Her flowers aren't spectacular, but look at those leaves. And she's propagate; that's why this is the Trillium you are most likely to encounter in commerce. If you count wild collected possibly Trillium grandiflorum wins. Trillium cuneatum is technically a "spring ephemeral" which means that she goes dormant by May usually. Last year some clumps went on a bit longer.

Much more difficult to acquire than to cultivate, Sweet Betsy does prefer an organic loamy soil to clay but is otherwise pretty easygoing, growing happily in full deciduous shade. Soil moisture is required, but because she grows basically from February to May, supplemental watering is rarely required; we almost always get adequate rainfall up to May! She doesn't care if the soil dries out later; this clump is growing inside the drip-line of a giant Beech. Beeches are shallow rooted and notoriously difficult to grow herbaceous plants under.

Two things that make me angry

Though I am basically an optimist, I worry about creeping disfunctionality. Contracting issues are driving me crazy at two of my gardens.The huge construction project in Fern Valley has been essentially complete for months and months. There have been a couple of days of trivial "punch list" items that had to be completed....for the past three or four months and yet as we enter the heart of spring, the garden remains closed. The contractor seems to feel no pressing need, despite the state of the economy, (I assume they don't get paid until they finish) to complete the job. Likewise, we seem to feel no need to pressure them. The process that exists to protect us has stolen a spring. The Cherry trees are blooming now; I am put in mind of A. E. Housman, so seasonably appropriate, None of our lives are long enough that we have any springs to waste.

At the Beltsville Library, I am again frustrated by government contracting. There is no water in the Courtyard Garden so watering it requires dragging 300 feet of hose out of a trebly locked area, hooking it up, having the water turned on, and pulling the hose to the garden. And of course, the whole process then has to be reversed. The Friends of the Beltsville Library offered to pay for the installation of a keyed water valve in the has been almost a year with no action. I am sure that there is some plumber or contractor who could use the money from this job. It would certainly benefit the economy. The money is better off in action than in the Friend's bank action. The President is hard at work trying to make these sorts of projects happen and it is frustrating to think that our own County is not with the program.

I understand that these systems and regulations are a set of controls designed to protect us from potential abuses, but at some point the waste and indifference seem to overbalance the protection. The Halliburtons of the world will find a way to get our money anyway and I just get old faster dragging hose needlessly. I realized recently that life is a zero-sum-game in the sense that we have only a finite amount of work we can do in our lives. It seems like a waste to use it on things like dragging hose that needn't be dragged.'s good to be a gardener.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Viburnum sympodiale....this is a beautiful plant and its at its peak this week in China Valley at the USNA

These flowers are pure white unlike most Viburnums. I don't know anything about this plant and frankly, the internet has been no help nor has Dirr. I'm sure in his new edition, out this month I hear!, he will treat this species.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paulownia....we don't really like this tree running loose among our natives, but the buds are sort of attractive

Flowering Cherries at the National Arboretum (a research field)

There won't be a better weekend this year to see the Cherries at the USNA. The Magnolias are nice and Corylopsis, and Cercis, and bulbs galore, but this week belongs to the Cherries. Saturday and Sunday are both supposed to be seasonable (mid-60s) and sunny. There is a self-guided tour of the USNA Cherries; the brochure is available in the Administration Building. Every collection is wonderful this week; you can't go wrong unless you don;t go!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Acer triflorum: I swear this is the last picture! Still...look what can happen in one week

The buds were tight last week. Now we have leaves and flowers that aren't in this picture.

Cyclamen coum: we all grow hederifolia and the fanatics grow who knows what but my Mother grows coum

Almost half an inch of rain fell in Florida Saturday. I haven't given up my "rain in Florida" log; it just hasn't rained since Groundhog Day! It doesn't rain much in the winter; thats why we have all the Florida Scrub endemics. I'm going down this Saturday. I won't take the Agave geminiflora or the Michelia champaca. I will wait for summer because the rains don't come until summer, and since no one is there to water.....I have learned that even (newly planted) Agaves suffer when the temperatures are in the 80s and 90s and there is no rain for month upon month.

In my neighborhood I am accorded the respect traditionally bestowed upon the benignly mad....I'm not crazy though. It just looks that way from the outside. I walked through the garden at least every 15 minutes yesterday just looking. More than 20 times I'm sure. I wonder what the neighbors think. Our neighborhood has become entry level housing for recent Latino immigrants. I'm all for it. I like the music and the beer and the families in the house next door to us cook meat, or fish, or poultry that I can smell at least three times a day. I'd die if I ate that much but I do enjoy their frying and grilling.

I try to vary my routes (through the garden) on the theory that I am more likely to notice different things from different trajectories. I think it works. I wonder if they think I buried money and can't remember where it is? Sometimes, a good part of the way through my tour, I'll remember that I'd meant to look at some special thing so I have to quickly retrace my steps to check on it. My curiosity satisfied, I hurry back to where I'd left off and continue on my way, staring at the ground. I don't talk to myself and I don't think I give the appearance of agitation or anger. I'm usually very happy. Still....I have to wonder what they think. I'm big enough to be dangerous.....of course I'm not.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Peter puts down mulch and Max plants Pieris: they make their contribution to a functioning economy

Prunus x subhirtella 'Shidare Higan'...a few days of rain before the flowers are full out are okay but this is pushing it

Here's the thing: the plants think this is good weather. I expect even the Cherries, this one is at the National Arboretum across the road from the Administration Building on the periphery of the Herb Garden. These two trees, just a bit of a second tree to the right is visible, are monsters. Fog, mist, and darkness have muted the colors but accentuated the fantastical branch structure.

Fothergilla major 'Red Licorice'...My greed motivates me to learn something. Good for IT

I felt bad for the Native Plant vendors who had to set their displays up yesterday morning at the Arboretum. I woke up about 5:00 AM and it was pouring. I have always had astigmatism so I hate driving in the rain in the dark. I didn't have to yesterday since I was actually giving a presentation. I did feel guilty enough though, to get up at 5:00AM! Curiously, the vendors had their best day ever; the rain did let up about 7:00...still. I think what happened is that electronic communications have connected us so efficiently that enough people knew about the sale that even frankly miserable weather couldn't hurt it. Hey, I've worked that sale for 4 years and there have been bright sunny days when some of the vendors went away grumbling! But we gardeners are a covetous avaricous group and it is spring....

I bought three plants: Fothergilla major 'Red Licorice', Fothergilla gardenii 'Jane Platt' and Aristolochia macrophylla. I had not even heard of the first two cultivars; Red Licorice was selected out of the Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky for its brilliant red fall color. There is definitely variation in Fothergilla fall color; heretofor I had considered Mt. Airy, also a F major, the best selection for that trait. It's good to have another choice. Jane Platt is a weeping selection that is alleged to be a F. gardenii, the smaller of the two species. I can only imagine the garden value of this plant: a native that stays small, has fragrant flowers weeps interestingly and probably has at least good, maybe excellent, fall color. Wow! Back to my ignorance; while researching these two selections I came across at least a half-dozen more that were new to me. All these cultivars of a wonderful native plant. If I didn't know about these plants, who did? I'm not being arrogant, it's just that I am a plant geek, I love native plants, and I read incessantly so who knows about these new cultivars???? I'm guessing not very many people. We have to get those electronic commications in gear!