Friday, May 23, 2008

Hey, it rained in Wildwood Florida and more is forecast!

Since we left in April after planting, oh, maybe 500$ of new plant material, it has rained once .22". That was 3 weeks ago. Today we got at least 1/4" and heavy rains are forecast for tonight and tomorrow. The radar shows them as spotty, but anything would be good. All of the plants that have gone in over the last year are xerophytes, but they aren't all established, and may be susceptible to prolonged drought now.

This is more or less how it looked when we left. The spiky pink plant in the middle is Phormium 'Pink Stripe' and the scraggly green to the left of it is what would be a thick clump of Butterfly Ginger given adequate water. I am guessing after 2 months of inadequate water it looks pretty sad. But it isn't dead, its dehydrated. Just add water.

I picked up my new glasses in Costco tonight, and just across from the optical counter was a display of remote cameras. We are considering installing a few cameras to be able to watch the garden on line. Then I need to engineer away to operate to irrigation zones remotely. That way I could go on line, scan the gardens, and water accordingly. I think its doable.

In the Grove: Lovely Catalpa/ Herbicidal Musings

Killing should be less depressing. It's funny that often the most wonderful days will elicit feeling of melancholy instead of elation. Today was a near perfect day. Warmer than it has been for weeks, but not hot. No rain just mostly blue sky with a few interesting clouds. Steady breezes, not the 30 mph winds of yesterday. Because those gales had abated, I was able to spray herbicide. Friday is a "Grove Day", one of the days that I work in the National Grove of State Trees.

Gardens teach us important things about time, and patience, and planning. Plants aren't furniture; sometimes we have to wait for them. If you want a mature Stewartia, you will likely have to plant a small tree and wait 20 years. If you want a mature shade tree, it can take your lifetime. Even a swath of groundcover can take 5 years. All these parallel growth processes going on in the same garden! Annuals are appealing for more reasons than just their flowers. To get it all aligned is complicated, but Nature is forgiving and even when its not quite perfect its still wonderful.

Deconstruction is not always a simple or rapid act either. We are working to recover areas here at the Arboretum that have gone out of cultivation. Like every garden, we don't have as much money or labor as we would like, and we try to steal hours here and there to work on these overgrown spaces. One of the targets I sprayed today was ~200' of Japanese Honeysuckle along Rhododendron Road. The Honeysuckle was flowering lushly and fragrantly. It was happy because I had, last year, removed a number of Callery Pears that had seeded in and were overgrowing the road. The new sun was just what the Honeysuckle wanted. With the Honeysuckle killed, I'll be able to come in and kill the Poison Ivy underneath, then the Amur Honeysuckles, then replant the space with native plants. Except I won't; my time in the Grove is limited. The job is a non-renewable 4-year term position that ends in November, so today's killing is bittersweet (I did actually spray some bittersweet too, but its harder to kill). I won't be back to finish the process.

Behnkes is a Nursery so it's Relevant


I entered the mall and there they were, Mother standing behind the pram. Happy. Proud.
I knew they couldn't have just appeared there.
She had to have buckled him into the safety seat, then, driven, parked,
Taken out the stroller, unfolded it, freed him from the straps,
Bundled him into the pram, and pushed him inside.
But I saw her only as they must have just arrived.
I sensed the tiniest hesitation, doubt even.
I remember the baby and the stroller, and the poignant uncertainty.
I remember my heart in a twist.

I don't remember the day or month it happened, even the season, but I do remember she wore a coat.
Maybe a London Fog, maybe not.
We were tangential acquaintances.
I knew her casually, an officemate for a couple of years, actually.
She, an enabler of my boss, he a tyrant, who didn't really need enabling.
I held no grudges. I said the right things, but all babies look alike to me.
Later when they lock onto your eyes, I am unfailingly smitten.

It’s frightening how much you can see in a two-second glance:
Strength, weakness, pride, uncertainty in compound balance.
I couldn't see the stubborn tenacity that I would, in future so admire,
But like the hidden mass of an iceberg it kept her on course,
Stable in foreign territory, till the congratulatory masses arrived.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Good place to visit....Great wedding venue

The glory of the dogwood collection is the sweep and scale of the place. Undeniably the individual plants are nice; this Cornus kousa, is spectacular, so is the variegated Cornus mas to the left. So are dozens, hundreds? more specimens. Still, the feature that defines this area and explains its appeal is the mown lawn that stretches more than 300 feet from the circle at the top of the collection to the circular pool and fountain at the far end. Shade trees irregularly line the sides , occasionally arching into the opening. The dogwoods, small trees and large shrubs, fit under them and on island beds in the turf. The collection has the appeal of a loosely but regularly maintained estate of the late19th or early 20th century.

Sometimes I wonder about myself....When I first heard that the Dogwood Collection was one of the locations that the Arboretum was making available for weddings (National Arboretum Wedding Ceremonies and Receptions), it didn't occur to me that the Kousa Dogwoods, like the big one in the picture, would be flowering at just about the perfect time for spring weddings. I have a wonderful native Flowering Dogwood and a wonderful son who has a birthday on May 6. I know that at least 8 years out of ten the dogwood has begun to drop brown bracts by the 6th. But Cornus kousa is a different story. They have been nice for at more than a week and have another week or so to go, especially in this cool weather.

After the latest reorganization, Joan Feely has curatorial responsibilities, and George Waters is the gardener/ASRT. George has been working to add tasteful color through the balance of the growing season. I know he has planted Oakleaf Hydrangeas, Bottlebrush Buckeyes, bulbs, and things I don't even know about. George is a perfectionist, the most scrupulous gardener here, and he has been cleaning the edges and tweaking the turf and the plantings. Actually, thats why Jeanna and I were there today, to help George lay some sod pieces where seed didn't take. Today it was more a privilege than an assignment, and if we hadn't had to go we probably would have missed the season!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Antique Roses in the Herb Garden

May is a bit overwhelming in the garden; there is so much going on its hard to know where to go. The Peonies in the Boxwood collection survived the rains of the past few weeks and are still wonderful, though possibly slightly past their peak. The non-fragrant yellow/orange native Rhododendrons are beginning to flower now, as are the evergreen Rhododendrons. Roses, though are the real stars of late May and June. Over the past few years, we have done mass plantings of a number of different "Landscape" or "Shrub" roses in various places around the Arboretum. This is a useful group of plants that has come into its own of late. Though generally lacking fragrance, they are extremely resistant to the fungi, that typically plague roses, so for $20 or $30 at a nursery, or even a Home Depot type store, you can buy a relatively carefree shrub that flowers all summer. There are masses of these roses flanking the New York Avenue gate, around the front of the Administration Building, and outside the Morrison Garden.

The best roses though, are the old-fashioned roses, and the best place to see them at the Arboretum, and one of the best places in the area, is the Herb Garden. The fragrances will overwhelm you! We have been reworking the plantings over the past several years. Stefan has directed pruning, some resiting, and general care, so that what had always been one of the nicer displays here, is even better. The next week or two will be the peak, though there will be something going on throughout the growing season. The weather has been fairly rose friendly over the past year. The drought that aversely affected our gardens last summer was probably good for the roses, as was the past warm winter. The cool spring is a plus and the rain has been a positive thing so far, though it could turn into too much of a good thing.

Planting Theme Gardens in the Herb Garden

Wednesday, another group project day. The gardeners and some of the new interns were in the Herb Garden. We put down a bit of compost and then planted the Theme Gardens. I spent a lot of the day in the Native American Garden. Spectacular stand of Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis. GrayC, of course, is fretting about the overall condition of the garden and really, it was wonderful before we did the project, and is even better now. For many of us, this is our favorite place to work outside of our base collection so it was a pleasant day. I am always amazed at how many different herbs are contained in the Theme Gardens. And the signage is good, so it's always a learning experience.

People are forever asking ,"what is your favorite flower?" I think most of us, excepting the true fanatics, I mean enthusiasts, don't really have one, but whenever I see see the Horned Poppy, Glaucium flavum, I remember that it is my favorite. Hey, I am fickle about plants, so the next day I a new favorite. This is a cool plant though, with dissected, icy, glaucous foliage arranged in architectural rosettes. The flower form is typical oof the poppy family, the color is wonderful too, shades of yellow to gold, not uniform, but varying through the petals, then followed by spectacular horn shaped fruits. It is a biennial, but seems to colonize good sites, which are actually bad sites; it likes sand, and tolerates salt! Another very nice yellow-flowered plant with silvery foliage is visible in this picture, Phlomis fruticosa, Jerusalem Sage. It is a Mediterranean sub-shrub, with whorled flowers. It is one of those plants that can be short-lived without good drainage, but can live for a long time in the right site.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Liriodendron tulipifera....Yellow Poplar or Tulip Tree

This is a Tuliptree flower. It is big,nearly 3 inches in diameter, colorful, and well, fun. It's a typical magnolia type flower with thick petals, numerous stamens, and many carpels arranged spirally on an elongated central axis. This is considered to be a "primitive" type of flower, because it is large and relatively simple. Unlike most of the rest of the Magnoliaceae which are beetle pollinated, Tuliptrees are pollinated by bees. The fruits, winged samaras, are obnoxious by virtue of a sharp point that makes them painful to barefeet. Since they don't fall usually till quite late in the year, often November or even later, it often doesn't matter because cold weather has already put shoes on our feet.

Tuliptrees are basically creatures of secondary forests. Their seeds don't germinate well in the deep shade of a mature forest. Once started though, they grow rapidly and quickly approach and pass 100' in height. I have several times been introduced to trees that were 2+ feet in diameter by the person who planted them. In less than 25 years in this Adelphi house, a Tuliptree in the back of the garden has grown from about 40' to more than twice that. They quickly take over the "recovering forest areas" at the Arboretum both because of the prolific numbers in which they germinate, and their rapid growth. Historically, Oaks, have eventually replaced them in very old forests because they have more staying power in terms of fire and disease resistance, and also because they are better able to germinate in heavy shade.Two states, Indiana and Kentucky, have chosen Liriodendron as their state tree.

If you have gardened in a yard with a Tuliptree, you know that the roots are pleasantly fragrant.
An unpleasant consequence of development is the isolation of small bits of forest at the edges of new lots in new developments. Tuliptrees that grew up in the middle of a forest are among the least able of all trees to deal with suddenly being "free standing." They do die and or blow down, but they usually leave seedlings and, while few trees enjoy growing in the open, seedlings that develop in full sun usually become acceptable lawn trees.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Terrace Plantings, Mountain Laurels,...

I always say you can't have enough spring in your step or your year. I can't get my head around this one; it's cool which is good, and it's wet which is sure an improvement over last spring. I thought last week would be Mountain Laurel week but it's going to be this week and next week. Wow. This is the top of an old cultivar behind the big Hamamelis vernalis in the cultivar area in Fern Valley. It is an impressive plant, large with dark red buds that open to pink flowers; there are dozens of other cultivars in that area, and hundreds of species Kalmia latifolia throughout Fern Valley.

When I was in the retail nursery business, this is a plant I always thought of as a faunal chameleon, not in the sense of being a color changing reptile, but rather an attractive living thing that was sold in large quantities and almost never lived a year after leaving the pet shop/nursery. Well, I learned, from the Fern Valley Curator, how to get ~100% survival. Plant in the fall, disturb the roots seriously/bare root the plant (always a good idea), amend the soil generously with peat moss (no substitutes) and organic nitrogen of some sort (kelp?), in a well drained area. Finally, guarantee adequate rainfall for the next year. I suspect that you could substitute adequate watering for this last element, but that admittedly makes the whole procedure more problematic. We planted about 15 and the only one that died was basically dead when we planted it. Three small plants looked bad when they went in and they were waterlogged all winter and still they look great now. You're (I'm) never too old to learn.

This is Monday so we had a group project. We planted containers and the tree boxes on the East Terrace of the Administration Building (at the Arboretum). Bradley Evans is the Horticulturist in charge of this area, a seriously fanatical plantsman, and an able and quirkily creative designer. He designed the plantings and accumulated and or grew the plant material. There is some pretty interesting stuff, beautiful, sculptural, unusual, rare...all the good adjectives. We are of the "leave no square inch of pot unplanted" school of container gardeners and I have to admit that that technique produces instantaneous beauty. I am particularly intrigued by and happy with the designs for the tree boxes. In the past we have done unstructured plantings of bananas, aroids, bold tropicals with flowering accents, in the tradition of Chanticleer. We still have those plants in containers but the tree boxes are modern textural designs with architectural elements, sculptural accents, and subtle tonal color gradations. Very cool. I can't wait for them to develop.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Temporary quarters In the Living Room

We had an exciting Saturday night/Sunday morning. Maxwell, my 22 year old son, as though he doesn't have enough medical challenges, passed a kidney stone in the small hours. He reports that the pain is pretty much as advertised, 10+ on a scale of 10. We had no idea what the problem was until we went to the emergency room at Holy Cross. After a CT scan, several doses of morphine, a prescription for Oxycontin (and the consumption of several of these), and the passing of the stone, things settled back to normal.

It seemed best that Max not landscape today, so his brother Pete, obligingly did twice as much work for monetary considerations and Max and I spent the day together. I had to finish up a design today, so I moved a small drafting table into the living room and worked there. Luckily it was overcast most of the day so I was able to see the screen of my laptop and access photographs of the clients' garden. Its a pleasant place to work; I can see lots of birds; wrens are nesting in a terra-cotta globe hanging from the soffit just out of the picture , hummingbirds visited their feeder all day, again just out of the picture. The flamingos, visible in the background, were well behaved, barely moved in fact. The base of a Psychopsis orchid is visible on the shelf behind the laptop; it has a flower on top of its perennial flower scape.

It was a fun design; for a medium-sized lot in North Hills, Md. (in the NW corner of Sligo Creek Parkway and Colesville Road). The clients have already planted a number of edible native woody plants, so we'll add a few pawpaws and such. They were interested in a "little bit different" selection of plants; that's always good. They visited public gardens including the Zoo and the Arboretum and came up with a list of plants that they liked including Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon', which is of course a great plant and Rhapidophyllum histrix, the native Needle Palm, and some others equally interesting which makes my work even more enjoyable.
It all has to fit around a very nice addition with enough glass to bring the outside inside.

Max started out groggy and uncommunicative, but as the day wore on he came around to the point where he seems perfectly fine now at 6:00. He did miss the Baltimore (oops Northern) Oriole I saw about 11:00. The house next to ours has an 80' tall cherry and every year the Orioles come. I can see the red fruits from my chair and every once in a while the brilliant orange and black male, or the more sedately colored female. Its a good place to work.