Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rhus chinensis top, and a hillside planting of Rhus aromatica 'Grow-Low' and Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' on the north side of our main parking lot

Rhus is a fun genus in the Anacrdiaceae, the Cashew Family. Traditionally Poison Ivy and Poison Oak have resided in the genus, though some current classification schemes reassign them to their own genus. One of the characteristics of the family is the presence of resin passages, and many of the plants are fragrant....Fragrant Sumac for example, like the plants on the slope! It's a fairly chemically active family; the fruits of the non-poisonous Rhus are used variously around the world for seasoning. Stefan and Martin were particularly impressed with the taste of Rhus coriaria which they encountered as a seasoning for meat, throughout their Azerbaijani trip. The Rhus chinensis pictured is one of a number in China Valley; this one is about 50' to the right of the intersection of the China Valley Path and the road.

The slope planting is one more example of an improvement we've made here, a medium-sized project that took a dysfunctional eyesore and turned it into a pleasant simple planting of four native taxa. The Red-leafed plants are Itea, the yellow/orange are Fragrant Sumac. I was part of the project that ripped out the English Ivy last year but didn't get to participate in this year's planting. I do get to walk or drive by it a few times a day and it's wonderful.

Sometimes White Oaks, Quercus alba, have good fall color

Driving downhill from the Asian Collections, this one just about marks the end of the Holly Magnolia Collection and the begging of Flowering Tree Collection. Friday we had a large group of High School Students volunteer and much work was done in the Flowering Trees, Fern Valley, and Gotelli.

Tanya (our sort of new Volunteer Coordinator) is doing an incredible job supplying us with valuable volunteers. It's uplifting and disturbing at the same time to realize how much of the work in the gardens is done by volunteers. Back in the day (in most/all? public gardens) it was standard practice to cherish and cultivate your volunteers and appreciate the amount of work they did while at the same time assuming nothing. In other words, there was enough paid staff to maintain the gardens and whatever you got from volunteers was gravy......Those days are gone. If it weren't for our volunteers the gardens would be unmanageable. We;re very grateful!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kathleen Gagan of Peony's Envy and David Parks from Camellia Forest toured Asian Valley on a rainy dreary afternoon

I was in meetings much of the morning and it rained off and on all day, heavily at times, but these guys were pretty chipper and interested enough in the plants to endure the rain. David had just driven up to personally deliver Camellias et alia plante from Camellia Forest Nursery outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. If you don't know them, this is a great nursery both because they carry a wide range of choice and unusual plants, and because those plants are well grown with good root systems, and always a good value for their size.

Kathleen was here to see where we were planting her donated Peonies and to photograph them so she'd have "before" pictures to compare with the huge, lush, beautiful plants they'll have turned into in two or three years. That's a heavy burden on us, but we're up for it and will succeed. We learned that an offhand remark at a dinner party was the source the the unusual name of her company, Peony's Envy. We also learned she has an inventory of 30,000 including over 250 varieties.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Concubine's Feather, Dragon in Ink Pool, Garden Waif, Smiling in the Thickets.....give up? They're named varieties of Tree Peonies

We had a huge planting project today; it included most of the gardeners, encompassed all of the garden areas, and reduced our growing area inventory significantly and in a good way. Wow. And all I got was this one little picture. The problem was that I was going full bore all day and didn't stop to photograph anybody or anything. That's not like me.

Sonja Behnke Festerling (daughter of Albert Behnke, who was the founder of Behnke Nurseries) used to laughingly make reference to "cardboard gardens". Plant lovers (including Sonja and me!) buy plants and sometimes they go home, aren't planted, and live for some time in the boxes they came home in. I cured myself of that habit a few years ago (an intervention was involved); if it comes home, it gets planted. Still....I remember being an abuser. And that kind of thing happens even in the best families (and in public gardens). We accumulate plants that just don't make it into the ground. Maybe we dont know where to put them, maybe the site needs preparation, maybe....well, the possibilities are  endless. Somebody above us, one of the powers that be?, decided to call us out, and today was the day. Plant it, give it away to somebody who would plant it today, or compost it. Creakily and grudgingly we complied, but by the end of the day I think everybody felt better. A lot of plants too; it's more fun to live in the ground than in a pot.

The plants in the picture are tree peonies that were donated by Peony's Envy. Pretty good name for a company don't you think? They were at the FONA Plant Sale this past spring with a wonderful selection of both herbaceous and tree Peonies. They donated 40 tree peonies. Very generous.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ginkgo biloba....a lovely prehistoric tree that's reliably gold every fall

I would have a Ginkgo in one of my personal gardens if they didn't get so darned big. Either Ginkgoes per se, or a very very close relative are present in the fossil record from the Permian. That means they survived the Pernian/Triassic extinction; an event that resulted in the extinction of almost all marine fauna, a huge percentage of the insect population, and up to 3/4 of terrestrial vertebrates. Wow.

No leaves to the right, no leaves to the will note though, that there are still a few on some of the trees

With a project yesterday and a project tomorrow, we snatched today to do some serious leaf removal. Amanda, Nathan, Neal, and I blew, raked, and manipulated most of the leaves within sight of the road. That's a lot of leaves! We're not out of the woods yet (sic) but we do have the situation well in hand. Can I have one more cliche for the trifecta? I think not. Oops.

Weeding, pruning, leaf removal.....many gardening tasks are the aggregation of 100s or even 1000s of repetitive motions. Because we're always trying to get more done and we always have the same amount of time we look for ways. One good approach is to try to make our movements more efficient. Because we repeat the sam actions so many times, any given refinement in technique is multiplied a thousandfold every day. Shaving microseconds can become an obsession.

Monday, November 16, 2009

'Winter's Fire' is one of the fall blooming camellias at the USNA

We may have had better falls for Camellias than this year, but not much better and none come to mind. We had enough rain throughout the year that plants were happy and budded well. Now temperatures are cooperating. After a week of wet cool weather it seems we are to have two weeks of 60+ degree days and 40+ degree nights. Today was warm and sunny and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of flowers on the fall blooming camellias. While a few are peaking now, they will still be beautiful this weekend, and if the weather unfolds as predicted, the display ought to be seamlessly beautiful for the next two weeks. 

Most of the "Hardy fall flowering Camellias" (USDA Zone 7a/6) available in the trade were developed at the Arboretum by Dr. William Ackerman.  They were principally hybrids between Camellia oleifiera, C. sasanqua, C.hiemalis / C. vernalis. Their blooming patterns are variable depending on the weather. Typically, depending on the cultivar, flowering begins in October and continues, weather allowing, unabated through the winter holidays. Often we get a shot of cold (or two) during this period; sometimes this blasts the  fully open flowers, but when temperatures rebound buds resume opening and unless it got really cold, another spell of flowering commences. Right now there are as many flowers open as I have ever seen in this collection.

Just about everybody who ever lifts a shovel was part of the project today.....we worked in the growing area: greenhouses, lath beds, and cold frames

It's a big area and small groups worked at different aspects of the cleanup. One of the major undertakings involved using gravel to raise the level of one of our cold frames. Everybody participated in the rough grading. It's fun to have a "big" group on a project. I think we had more than a dozen people shoveling and raking there. Most projects have 5 or 6 occasionally 7.I've participated in any number of these projects but I am always pleasantly surprised at the amount of work that can be done when you get more than ten.  or twelve people working together. This whole deal; grading, putting down weed fabric, and moving the plants themselves from a polyhouse, took only a couple of hours.

Pat, Nate, Amanda, and I left the conifer cold frame project after the rough grading to clean up our own three lath house beds. We weeded, refilled holes with topsoil, raked the beds, and put down about an inch of leaf compost. I'd be proud to live in one of those beds if I was a plant. Other groups moved our potting area from one polyhouse to another, shifted plants, did general cleanup, and frankly did things I haven't learned about yet. It was a productive day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The dragon topiary is the most popular part of the Chrysanthemum exhibit in the Brookside Gardens Conservatory


After days of rain, I needed to see some cheerful plants. I like Brookside because there's always an interesting display in the conservatories and there are also always some unusual oddball plants sitting around in pots or sometimes just elements of the permanent collections that are doing their thing when you happen to visit

Yesterday the Strelitzia were flowering cheerfully against the gloomy gray of the sky. The Blue ginger, Dichorisandra thyrsiflora, actually a member of the Commelinaceae has gotten quite large and was coveredwith flowers. I first saw this plant in Hawai and would love to plant is in Florida. Unfortunately I'm pretty sureit wouldn't be happy during the 6 month dry season.

The mums were good: all shapes forms, colors, big baskets, disbuds, new varieties. Still, I liked the dragon best. There is a photograph of the same dragon as they did it in 2001; that time his head was floral, this time, that striking aggregate production. This one's better.