Friday, May 30, 2008

Umbrella Magnolia.....Magnolia tripetala

Tell me again why they call it the Umbrella Magnolia, oh right. This is a wild plant to stand underneath. The leaves are almost 2 feet long, so the "umbrella" is 4 feet across. Magnolia tripetala is Native to rich moist forests on the slopes of the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The literature, universally describes it as "widespread but uncommon." This plant is in Fern Valley inside the Loop Trail in the Cultivar Area. If you come in the main trail, turn right at the shed taking the little spur, then make an immediate left and look to your right. You will circle the plant because you are on a loop trail. It is most easily seen from the far side (3/4 of the way around the loop). There are no flowers this year but the foliage is incredible. The record tree iis ~50' tall and this one is maybe 10-12'.

The horticultural literature also suggests that it is difficult to use in a garden setting because of its bold texture/large leaves. I would not swear to this, but I seem to be able to trace that idea back to Mike Dirr, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. I certainly don't want to debate the Dean of Woody Plants in North America, (I'm outgunned!), but yes this plant does have character and while it might not either look or perform well sitting in the middle of a grass lawn, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be an incredible addition to many landscapes. Hey, that's what design is about....putting plants in the right places.

The Fern Valley Staff takes it on the road again; Sunday morning we head for the area surrounding Ashville, N.C.. We will be there most of next week, primarily collecting seed of Shortia glacifolia, or Oconee Bells. We will be in North and South Carolina on some wonderful sites. There will be camping involved, so hopefully we will all still be on speaking terms next weekend....just kidding, we're all looking forward to spending time outside in an area so rich in botanical resources. Maybe we will see Magnolia tripetala in the wild; it's like a Brown Pelican in Ocean City, they may not be common, but if they're there, we probably won't miss them.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Globes and Killing...Sustainability and Remediation

We just got this cool globe from the US Botanic Garden, it is the "Green Globe", one of a series of more than 40 globes that are part of an exhibit focused on sustainability: One Planet--Ours!. In case the scale isn''t immediately apparent, this is a big globe. We anticipated its arrival with some trepidation, both because of its weight and size and the fact that it had to fit through the double doors in the background. All went well. I guess! Anyway there it is. We were gifted with this particular globe to reinforce our own exhibit, Power Plants, that will be a walking display of different plants that are potential alternate energy sources. The exhibit is in development now and will officially open June 21 between the Herb Garden and the Friendship Garden.

Today, in our continuing effort to control invasives in non-curated areas, I spent a bit over half the day spraying Triclopyr on woody plants in the wet meadow above Beech Spring Pond. Where the grass is tall and away from tree circles, things are pretty good, but under the trees it is another story; English Ivy, Oriental Bittersweet, Porcelain Berry, Japanese Honeysuckle, Bush Honeysuckle, Callery Pears, Tree-of-Heaven, all invasive aliens, are the major culprits. We control a few natives too, so that the meadow may remain a meadow and not turn into a forest, mainly Black Walnut and Blackberry. I worry sometimes that I am desensitizing any healthy qualms that I may have about broadscale applications of herbicides, but they just work so darn well. Absent dozens of additional employees, they help us keep our heads above water. When all is said and done, I feel good about today. I expect that I killed more than half of the plants we don't want in that meadow, and weakened more. The thing is that I was only able to work on that area because of the generosity of the Fern Valley Curator, who lost 5 hour of labor in her collection but did a good thing for the community. These plants are not called invasive for nothing; if no one gets back within the year, we lose all the gains we have made over the last several years. But I expect someone will get back!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Penstemon digitalis inside the Entrance to Fern Valley

This plant, actually a selection of this species (Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red') was perennial plant of the year in 1996. If you were in Fern Valley this week, or last week, or if you show up next week, you saw or will see this display around the entrance, with looser stands along the roadside with assorted individuals popping up in suitable adjacent areas. Pretty nice. The plant makes a sturdy rosette of evergreen leaves (in the winter they are bright red on 'Husker Red') from which the flowering stems grow in late spring/early summer. The fruit that follow the flowers are effective as well as attractive, hence the steady colonization.

One of the common names for P. digitalis, is Talus sloper Penstemon, an appellation whose origin I have never quite understood. While the literature does suggest that the plant is a bit fussy about drainage, I have not found that to be the case; actually it seems to prefer a bit of moisture, thriving in low areas in Fern Valley and languishing in Adelphi where the sand dries out in the summer. Okay, it does need a little water, but its not especially demanding, and I have never seen it attacked by any insects or ravaged by any disease. It likes full sun but tolerates somewhat less. The literature suggests that bad drainage can lead to root rot, but this is a plant I have known well for a long time and I have never seen it rot.

At lunch some of us were discussing this penstemon and I wondered aloud why it seemed to be so unappreciated. One line of thought suggested that maybe the flower scapes were too tall. It is a short plant (the rosettes ~1') with tall flower stalks; they can be over 4' tall. Hey, sometimes thats good; it works for Black Cohosh. I suppose it is an issue if you buy a plant expecting it to grow to a foot and a half and it tops four feet! Still, dependable, carefree, long-lived, free flowering perennials that can be cut for floral arrangements don't grow on trees.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Large snapper laying eggs on the Flowering Tree Walk

This fairly large female snapping-turtle laid eggs today under a magnolia just a few feet off the Bonsai parking area. She didn't seem to be shy, actually she was frightening as I lay on the ground a foot away from her jaws. If you enlarge the picture by clicking on it, you will be able to see her evil reptilian eye. Of course not evil but prehistoric; definitely unsettling. Jeanna describes living in a barn room and developing a working relationship with a wolf spider. As improbable as that seems it seems a lot more likely than developing a rapport with this monster. It isn't difficult to imagine her inhaling goslings or ducklings.

When my two boys were small, about 5 and 7 I think, they took a butterfly net to the small stream at the bottom of our block. They were looking for mudpuppies or hellbenders, large, peculiar, fringed, jellylike salamanders. Well they didn't find any salamanders, but an hour or so later they came trudging proudly up the hill, the butterfly net straining under the weight of a medium-sized snapping turtle. Scary. These reptiles can snap a broomstick with their bite and their necks are deceptively long. It was a cool day in early spring and that combined with a natural fear of being bitter by anything and a large dose of luck, kept their digits intact.

We have a good population of turtles here at the Arboretum. On a warm day in spring, summer, or fall, you can see sliders in Beech Spring Pond. Box turtles are not as visible, but they turn up regularly, some of them quite large. Someone, Rocky?, accidentally dug up a nest of hatching box turtles a couple of years ago, we reburied the nest and headed the hatchlings away from the road. We try to move at a slower pace here inside the Arboretum than the rest of the Metro area, at least when we are driving, so we're probably a relatively hospitable place for turtles to live, but they aren't quick, smart, or fast, and they are hit by cars regularly. It seems to me that there were a lot more turtles when I was a young boy, or maybe I was just closer to the ground, and so more able to see them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Dawn Rose against shade

The traditional way to get a dark background in the garden is to plant a row of evergreens, and that's okay sometimes, though, if light shines on the evergreens they lose their "darkness" and if they have glossy leaves, they can even sparkle distractingly. And maybe you don't want to dedicate space to foils!

It isn't always possible, but sometimes you can position flowers so that the sun lights them up while the background is shaded. Large flowers, like this rose explode against a shady background. Smaller flowers, Salvia gregii and Verbena bonariensis have worked well for me, sparkle like jewels. I have found that the easiest flowers to integrate into this arrangement are lilies because they hold large blooms up in the air where the sunlight can easily find them. All you need to do is figure out where the shade is.

The Garden in Adelphi is linear on a North/South axis with large green woody plants at the back (South) end. The sun continually lights up the mid-ground of the garden and the large woodies in the back provide a shady background all day so its pretty easy for me. But there are many other ways to achieve this effect; you just have to pay a lot of attention to your individual garden. In the front of the Adelphi garden there is a yew hedge running N/S along the east side of the garden. The sun gradually rising over it lights up the perennials in the garden while still leaving the base of the hedge cloaked in shade. So sometimes, I guess, you can use evergreens and shade.