Friday, April 18, 2008

Mt. Cuba Center Trillium Symposium

Trilliums are exploding in the horticultural world. There are more species and more selections available in larger quantities every year. Difficult to propagate they have traditionally been in short supply in the Nursery Trade. This week the Fern Valley staff is attending a three day symposium on trilliums sponsored by The Mt. Cuba Center. Mt Cuba is indisputably (a strong but accurate word) the finest native plant garden extant.

Mt. Cuba has a well established program of growing Trilliums in a nursery, specifically the lathe house you see in the picture! This tour stop was a quick short-course in seed production given by Jeanne Frett, a research horticulturist at Mt. Cuba Center (pictured pointing informitively at Trillium seedlings). In addition to other responsibilities she is in charge of Trillium production at Mt. Cuba, was the coordinator for this symposium, and authored a remarkable reference on Trilliums, Trilliums at Mt. Cuba Center: A Visitors Guide that is available at Mt. Cuba Center, and will soon be for sale on-line.

Horticulture is a bit faddish, not in a bad way. The explosive growth of interest in Trilliiums reminds me of Hellebores 25 years ago. But Trilliums are nicer; many of the species themselves are choice plants without too much manipulation! But still...both are woodland plants, both with nice but not spectacular flowers , both have taxa with beautiful foliage, both low, both started out with almost no presence in the "market" (nursery/garden center)and exploded...I could go on but don't worry I'm not going to. Anyway, like most gardeners, I love Trilliums; they are the quintessential North American wilflower. It couldn't have happened to a better taxa!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mt. Cuba has some spectacular plants

Fred Case, mentioned offhandedly, in his presentation that his garden contains 44 selections of double Trilium grandiflorum. That is an overwhelming statistic. This double Bloodroot at Mt. Cuba is an overwhelming sight.

Because they have a large auditorium, Winterthur hosted the lecturers. Offered as an alternate session, was the chance to wander the grounds at Mt. Cuba for an afternoon with docents and gardeners stationed throughout the gardens answering questions and volunteering to us specimens we could easily have overlooked. What an opportunity. The temperature pushed up past 80 F as if some omnipotent conspirator was forcing flower buds open just for us. Well...maybe not, but it was wonderful.

Helonias bullata,the Swamp Pink,with its curious banksian inflorescence combining pink petals and blue anthers, was flowering around the pond. Numerous Trilliums had opened and more were budded. We saw rare beauties like Shortia and Epigaea, double-flowered and variegated forms of a variety of native wildflowers, and dozens of taxa curious and beautiful. One of my favorite plants, Fraser's Sedge, Cymophyllus fraserianus, was flowering. Theres just something about the flower. I changed camera batteries twice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Acres of Lilacs in Washington! Who knew? This picture 4/16/2008

Guess what a couple of acres of Lilacs flowering at the same time smell like? If you can't guess, I can't describe it. I can say that on a warm day with the wind blowing a little bit, the perfume suffuses Fern Valley (just beyond the tall trees in the background). This amazing collection of plants is not a public display, but a research field that consists of the taxa assembled for use as germplasm, and selected results of experimental crosses. Visitors aren't actively encouraged, but the area is open and if you don't pick the flowers, and obey all the other rules you are welcome to walk through. (One of the most important rules is no parking on the grass. It may seem counterintuitive, but park on the road at the side of the road!) This is a visit you ought to make at least once! Most of the classic Lilac cultivars are happier farther north than here; summer heat, humidity and heavy soils combine to create an inhospitable climate In fact, I feel like I have a good grasp of how most things horticultural work, and I can't explain the existence of these plants; there is no other equivalent collection this far south.

Research is the primary mission of the National Arboretum and The National Arboretum is the primary institution for tree and shrub breeding in the United States. Although better know for its Crape Myrtle introductions, the Arboretum has released 3 lilac cultivars, 'Betsy Ross', 'Declaration', and 'Old Glory.' While 'Declaration' is better suited to a cooler climate, the other two do well in this area. Other lilacs that do well in the heat of USDA Zone 7 are 'Donald Wyman' and 'Miss Canada', Preston hybrids, or 'Pocahontas' (Syringa x hyacinthiflora), the easiest to grow fragrant purple lilac. If you do want to grow the traditional hybrids, it helps to have good soil, full sun, don't overwater (this may at least partially explain our wonderful plants), and prune out the oldest canes if (realistically, when) they become invaded by borers. The "off", by which I mean the least trafficked, back corner of your house, if it has enough sun, is a traditional site for a Lilac. You can look at it when it is nice and ignore it when it is defoliated by powdery mildew.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring sneaks in during my absence (Shortia 4/15/2008 4:00 PM)

Going away for a week in April seemed like insanity but turned out to be an interesting experience. Its a bit like being an uncle; when you don't see them every day, wow! Driving south (on April 4) spring advanced in a time-lapse sort of way. Here in Washington, the Magnolias and Cherries were flowering and the Redbuds were coming into bloom. By the time we got into North Carolina, Dogwoods were fully open, Redbuds had just about reached their peak season, and Carolina Jasmine was everywhere. Farther south, we reached Azaleas in their prime, and then in southern Georgia and north Florida, past their prime. By the time we got to Wildwood, daytime temperatures were in the mid to upper-eighties and there weren't even brown petals on Azaleas. Still, it seemed to make some sense. Reversing our course a week later we started in summer, drove through the stages of spring and were met with temperatures in the upper 30s at home. That's weird.

A Fern Valley resident that sneaked into flower while I was away, was Shortia galacifolia, one of those plants that comes with a story. A beautiful wildflower of the Southern Appalachians, it was discovered by the French botanist Andre Michaux in South Carolina in 1788. He brought an herbarium specimen (sans flowers) back to Paris where it was ignored until the famous American botanist Asa Gray (of Gray's Botany) discovered it in 1839. Without locating the plant he named it (still sans flowers) Shortia for an American botanist and galacifolia for its resemblance to another Southern Appalachian plant Galax. Gray named the plant without ever locating a population or seeing an entire plant. In fact there is no record of its being sighted again until 1877. Now it is known from multiple stations and while not an exceedingly rare plant it is undeniably beautiful and certainly not common.

We have some fine specimens of Shortia in Fern Valley, but our biggest colony is in decline due to a complex of problems. We (the Fern Valley staff) are going on a collecting trip the last week of May to reinvigorate our germplasm. More later.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Loot headed North

This assemblage is the collection of plants that we amassed to bring back to Maryland. Look at that giant agapanthus on the right in back. Its a 3 gallon pot and the plant has 4 spikes, each one over 3' tall. $12.00! Flea Market. Its probably just a generic blue but still... It will grow it on the deck this spring and summer and return to Wildwood later this summer! If thats legal. There is no problem bringing plants from Florida to Maryland but the other direction is a no-no.

Another interesting plant is the 3-gallon cut back papaya. At th Arboretum we have been discussing the feasibility of flowering and fruiting this from seed in one year; with this head start, we definitely ought to be able to get fruit well along, if not completely ripened. A few of the plants are just perennials we needed for friends or acquaintances. Oenothera speciosa and Salvia gregii (A cultivar I forgot) will surely be available here, but these were right in front of us and hey... In front in the middle is Leonotus leonuris, a great bedding plant/tropical sub-shrub that will be 3' tall and covered with orange flowers for Halloween. I used to be able to buy this at the FONA (Friends of the National Arboretum) Garden Fair at the Arboretum, but their offerings of late are less adventurous than they once were. Still, they will have a wide selection of wonderful plants and its a great experience and it supports the Arboretum. April 25,26,27.

Unfortunately, I failed to obtain any of my target natives, either for the Florida garden, or for Fern Valley. No Asimina obovata, no Carphephorus odoratissima, or C. paniculatus, no Befaria or Erythrina. No Nolina brittoniana, Scrub Pennyroyal, Red mulberry, or xeric Hypericums. And no Ensete glaucum, sorry Ed. Still that leaves something to shoot for and I have feelers out. That red plant in back is a Hibiscus acetosella, a tropical plant that will go into a container, as will the variegated Talinum paniculatum in the front on the right. Last but not least is the big bag of Spanish Moss, Tillandia usneoides, that I harvested from the Live Oaks in our yard. It will go on the Live Oaks in the National Grove of State Trees, at the Arboretum; Live Oak is the State Tree of Georgia. I have kept Spanish Moss alive over mild winters, no matter what, It'll be fun this summer!

Goodbye to Florida Garden

Every time you watch the sun go down on a garden, you know that the next time you see it, it won't be the same. Usually its only a little bit different: new flowers open, new fragrances, the partial unfurling of buds. Maybe it rains, maybe it snows, maybe there is horrible wind damage. I won't see this garden tomorrow; it will be four months! It'll have changed significantly. There will be weeds. But there will be good growth too. It was already hot this time, days in the upper 80s, but by July it will be far hotter and more humid with higher nighttime temperatures.

It will be exciting to see how the Proteas do. We were only there a week but it was warm and things moved along a bit. Often when you observe a newly planted plant you can see fairly quickly whether conditions agree with it or not. The new leaves forming either flow seamlessly from the existing growth or they show stress by being misshapen, off color, or too small. The Proteas look good so far though it has only been a week. Of course in Florida the life of plants is measured in "dog years" every week equals at least 3 weeks in a more temperate climate.

One of the underrated functions of Gardens is their ability to keep us anticipating; we know good things re coming and looking forward to them can keep us motivated. Even the simplest garden has spring bulbs, or azaleas, a cherry tree, or lilacs, or summer bedding plants, crape myrtles, or fall color; every garden has some exciting recurring features. In a complex garden it can be overwhelming; the cavalcade of spring in our diverse Maryland garden leaves me light-headed. But it is good to have things to look forward too; it keeps us pointed in the right direction! The thought of seeing Adelphi and Fern Valley after being gone for a whole week in the Spring is enough to carry me through the long ride north!??!, but I'm also anticipating a return to Florida in the summer.