Friday, April 9, 2010

Young visitors tour Fern Valley

I encountered a larger group of energetic inquisitive children on my way out from viewing the fallen beeches. They provided a comforting counterpoint to the carnage in the valley.

Azerbaijani Wallflower blooms for the first time in China Valley

Species to be determined, but it seems like a nice little plant and took the hot summer last year and a legitimate Zone 7 winter. This one is located above the China Valley trail before it turns downhill towards the Pagoda.

Acer palmatum 'Butterfly' has produced some enormous green leaves

I've had all kinds of problems with this plant, not this actual plant, but the cultivar 'Butterfly' over the years but never reversion. It burns in too much sun, or if it feels ill used for some other reason, It often seems to lose terminal buds and become twiggy, congested, and graceless. I actually like the contrast between the giant green leaves and the tiny variegated ones, though I will remove them (the reversions) next week.

When I moved to Asian Valley I must admit I was a bit uncomfortable finding this plant in such a prominent position at the Pagoda, but when I tentatively voiced that opinion to people more knowledgable about Japanese Maples than I am, George and Pat for example, I was reassured that if well sited and well tended, 'Butterfly' can be a beautiful plant. The problem is that all the Acer palmatum cultivars can suffer from leaf scorch. It's more a problem on newly planted specimens that don't have a root system sufficient to supply water quickly enough to offset transpiration deficits. Because they are so frequently used as specimens in the middle of a lawn (full sun) this is a problem many new gardeners encounter. After a period of time two things happen: the root system spreads, establishing itself and develops the ability to supply water when needed and The canopy of the plant grows to a size where it actually shades its own roots. Odd concept, like propelling a canoe without paddles just lunging and pausing...anyway it does get much better over time. The light variegation of our cultivar works against it in two ways: less chlorophyll means less sugar production so this plant doesn't have the vigor it would have if it were covered with those huge green leaves, and any browning is more visible.

Several people have suggested I visit the large plant at Brookside to see a perfectly grown 'Butterfly'. I've seen this plant dozens of times but never examined it closely till last year. It is nice. I think ours is sited well and expect good things from it but those sudden 90 degree days have already scorched the leaves a bit, as they have those of the Cornus controversa Variegata directly across from it.

Tulips and Grape Hyacinths flowering in the Bulb Ribbon at the Capitol Columns

Here's the payoff for the work done January 20th and look, I told you the bulbs would be fine without any extraordinary treatment. Jack Eden, god rest his soul, used to have this complicated procedure to be followed if you failed to plant your bulbs by Thanksgiving. It involved trashcans in the garage, massive quantities of soil, lime, chemicals, geometrical layering, and a strictly detailed regimen of care. Do it my way, it's cheaper and easier. Just plant the bulbs.

Anyway, it looks nice doesn't it? It is our homage to Jacqueline van der Kloet.

Two trees go down overnight in Fern Valley

The cold front that rolled through last night dropping temperatures about 35 degrees, brough some winds with it. Fern Valley took a big hit, losing two large Beech trees in the Valley proper. The first tree had a hole in it, you can see the rotten part in both pictures, and it snapped there. The second tree was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Removing them will be complicated and take a long time. Leaving them is really not an option because they would eventually end up in the stream.
Someone had picked up this shield-shaped piece and laid it on the trunk of the first tree. I showed the picture to GrayC and she immediately recognized the tattoos. Trees die; we expect them to. Still, it's sad to see two giants down.

Michael got to play with the Kubota backhoe attachment yesterday.....he made a nice hole

All streams begin somewhere. (Don't you love analytical sentences?) Anyway the Fern Valley stream receives much of it's water from old terra cotta drains laid before records were filed. Once in a while we come across one; occasionally they break and a sinkhole situation develops. This is the excavation of one of those holes. Gravel, filter cloth, and backfill, we hope, will allow the water to diffuse into the ground and find its way the 200 feet or so to the stream in the old-fashioned way. No one wants a point source stream!

I hope he was careful because if he injures that massive Quercus acutissima............Joan'll likely put him up for a large cash award. It's a beautiful but Asian Oak essentially abutting Fern Valley. I spent considerable time during my stay in Fern Valley removing the hundreds of seedling that it produced.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I don't walk through Fern Valley for three days and everything flowers!

If you enter from the back, that is from the parking lot by the Youth Garden, you'll see the shrubby Prunus maritima flowering on the left side and prostrate Phlox subulata across the trail. Walk a bit farther in and theres much more Phlox, both pink and white on the island in the middle of the trail. There's a pretty Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis in the front of the picture. Another hundred feet or so and you pass a trianglular island where a trail comes in from the left. Right now it's full of flowers Trout Lilies, Erythronium americanum, and leafy Mayapples, Podophyllum peltatum.
Take the right turn just past the island and you're in the "shady cultivars". This beautiful Halesia is down the middle trail.

Dozens of taxa are flowering; I would have photographed more, but I had to get home sometime. Native azaleas are just starting; there's an orange Rhododendron austrinum, flowering midway down the parking lot, and various other species inside the collection. Aesculus pavia, the Red Buckeye is a standout across the road from the parking lot. There's another Aesculus I didn't even know existed , Aesculus sylvestris, on the brink of flowering in the shady cultivar area. I found Joan nearby putting out display labels on new plants.

Carole Bordelon is giving a tour of the Camellia Collection this Saturday at 2:00

So all the Asian staff (except Pat) and the volunteers worked in the Camellia Collection today. Even Carole found a few hours to get out of the office; you can see her in the left foreground of the bottom picture. We pruned, deadheaded, raked, straightened labels, and generally spruced things up. In the garden, tours serve the same function that dinner parties do for the home. Namely, they motivate us to do serious cleaning, to get things in order. We'd had big plans for pruning Camellias this winter, and then the snow fell; Ironically, it prevented us from getting into the collection to do the pruning we had planned and at the same time broke, bent, and split plants willy-nilly generating tons more work. Aghhh....

It was a good winter for Camellias, excepting, of course, the two blizzards. There was plentiful soil moisture and temperatures were never low enough, long enough to injure buds, so when it warmed up a few weeks back, the flowers were spectacular. The recent string of 90 degree days has rushed many flowers through their cycles, but there is still an abundance of beautiful blooms. 

You're supposed to register for the tour and please do if you intend coming, but if you neglect to and find yourself in the parking lot of the Asian Collections Saturday at 2:00, I bet you can follow along.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cotinus doesn't have to be purple to be beautiful

Yesterday we were over 90F, Monday we hit it on the nose and today we're well on our way

The average high temps on these dates are 63, 63, and 64! It's a miracle there are any tulips left that aren't opened flat. After some rain on Thursday temperatures are expected to drop  significantly; highs in the low 60's lows in the 40's. Such is spring.

The good news is that the heat will nudge the Lilacs, so that this should be a good weekend for them and next week as well. We have a good sized nursery with 100s of mature lilacs. It's located along the backside of Fern Valley and fronts on the road across from the Capitol Columns. This is a research nursery, and public visitation is not actively encouraged (except by me), but if you show common courtesy and don't pick the flowers, there's no harm to walking through. It is an incredible spectacle, one that anyone who loves liliacs ought to see at least once.

Narcissus 'Actaea'.....a Division 9 Poeticus type

Pheasant Eye is a beautiful daffodil and fragrant. I like the pure white of the perianth; the smallish red-edged golden corona doesn't sound like graceful counterpoint, but seems to work. It's a vigorous and prolific cultivar, but aren't they all?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ceercis canadensis, our Redbud!

See, I have this gut feeling that it's better to plant native than nonnative plants. I love many Asian plants, grow Australian, South Aftican, and South American plants in the garden in Florida, but I can't help but feel that if you can choose a native, it's the right thing to do. The snag that into is that so many Asian plants so far outshine their North American versions that I almost descent into defensiveness....Well. Our Redbud trumps the Asian Redbuds. In the Asian Collections we have lots of Asian species, selections, hybrids. They're all nice; I love pretty nearly alll plants, but this is the nicest one.

Fern Valley is getting automatic irrigation.....and that's a good thing.....on balance

Most of the collections already have this irrigation; Now it's time for Fern Valley to get theirs.  The contractors have begun and wouldn't you have thought that there'd be more plumbing and less wiring? It just goes to show how little I know. I guess it's all about control. There will be a lot of hand digging to minimize the generally invasive nature of the installation.. Having the system in place will largely eliminate the morning and evening rituals of moving rainbirds, oscillators, and hoses. I remember feeling like that was sometimes almost all I did during the summer and in fact two hours in the am and an hour or so in the afternoon was pretty standard. Occasionally if it seemed necessary one or the other of us would slip in on the weekends to get a few more hours water in a few more places. 

I have been a long time skeptic as to the efficiency/utility of automatic watering but this one is mighty sophisticated, taking into account vegetation types, soil types , slopes, accumulated moisture, rainfall, temperature, humidity.....really more factors than I know and it does seem to be able to do at least as good a job as we did before. I expect Joan has been awaiting this with a combination of anticipation and dread. I'm the optimist though, I know everything will be fine and result in a net plus.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Rosa primula, our earliest Rose

Stefan has expressed some doubt as to the purity of this plant (taxonomically speaking). Something about it's healthy size and lack of foliar perfume. Still, it is pretty and early (it beat last year by almost two weeks)!

Camellia yuhsienensis has a wonderful fragrance and these oddly contorted petals

Still ignorant; after more than a year in the collection I am finding plants I know nothing about. I like this one though I won't pretend to know anything about it. Our plant is new and smallish. It does have a strong pleasant fragrance.

A view into the Asian Collections from the road. The GCA circle almost makes it into the left side of the picture and the orange flowering shrub is my favorite Azalea 'Dorsett'

There is an element of hyper 3-dimensionality that appears in woodland gardens just before the forest completely leafs out. It's possible to see places now that we won't be able to see in another week and there's definition there that didn't exist before buds swelled, flowers opened, or mouse-ear leaves appeared. Those adornments specific to each shrub and tree, are not only beautiful, but demarcate their size shape and position in a way that doesn't happen in the winter when views tend to be confusions of bare branches or in the summer when amorphous green anarchy reigns

There's a curious symmetry to the year; fall foliage colors and fruit mimic this effect to a lesser degree.The mass of foliage, beautiful though it may be, still limits our sight-lines, but there is definition that didn't exist in the summer. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I needed specimen rocks for a design so that was a good excuse to go to Country Nursery in Burtonsville

There are a number of businesses that carry quantities of flagstones, wallstones, and palletized boulders; in the Washington area there's only one place, I know of,  that still lets you select individual stones and buy them by the pound. Country Nursery in Burtonsville is one of those old fashioned nurseries that retails plants, has a florist shop, designs and installs gardens, and sells firewood.

Their rocks are the best. They have some real curiosities like the orange gypsum with large inclusions of mica (second picture). I didn't get a good picture of the green serpentine but they had one piece 6 x 3 x 2 feet! I like rocks anyway so of course I have dozens of theirs. My sons gave me three nice ones for Christmas!
I love digging around in these older nurseries. They often have, as CN does, a smallish greenhouse attached to the hardgood/checkout area. They're always packed with odds and ends of interesting plants. I found this spectacular Vriesea; The bracts are...well, you can see the color, and it'd just started flowering so I expect a few months out of it. Like all bromeliads, the mother plant dies when the flowering stalk is finished. Some time before this, small pups appear around the base and these can be separated from the mother and planted. This genus is one that it is possible to flower in a sunny window.

Ellen is older than I am and not so big but she can move her weight in Crape Myrtles!

I spent some time this weekend assembling ingredients for the installation of a design I did, I think, four years ago. I always say "better late than never." Anyway, there were some large Crape Myrtles in the design and because they really aren't in season right now, I went to my "go to" Crape Myrtle source. Fehr's Nursery and Garden Center is a pleasant medium sized business in Burtonsville Maryland. I like them because they stock Crape Myrtles all year round. Ellen was the only employee when we were there this morning; she insisted on being part of moving the 9' 15 Gallon plants. I dug them out of the beds they had rooted in to and she rolled them to the truck. Well, I think she only rolled one, but I was impressed.