Saturday, June 28, 2008

I like to think Julia Moir Messervy would like my Caves

It can't be our Neanderthal heritage because , of course we are descendants of a parallel lineage, but there is something about looking out at the world, or my garden, from a cave, or at least someplace cavelike. Julie Moir Messervy is a much decorated garden designer whose work I often admire and who has authored or co-authored a prodigious number of books, many also awarded. Though they are all interesting, The Inward Garden Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning 1995, is a remarkable work.

JMM, correctly (I think) assuming that gardens are, ideally, personal places, explores the idea that elements from our journey through life can be woven into our garden and that certain special configuations, "achetypal spaces", can evoke feelings from our past that may in turn stabilize and strengthen us in the now and the future. One of these spaces is "the cave"; it must resonate in my life because the Adelphi garden has not one but two caves! Her other, I am grasping for an informative phrase here, "primal archetypal spaces" are; the cape, the sea, the sky, the mountain, the island, and the sheltered harbour. Actually, the Adelphi garden has all of these spaces. What can it mean!!

I am sure it relates to how much I love the book. I realize, on re-reading this post that I haven't come close to expressing how much I love and admire it. It is without doubt the most important work on Garden Design, well...ever. Of course it isn't a field full of seminal works (Pardon me Ms. Jeckyll and Mr Robinson), but really, where did this book come from? I've read her other books, most of them, and this is so far beyond them it seems to existin a space of its own. I realize that I am a person who tends to hyperbole, and the down side to that is its hard to get your attention when I really want to lavish praise; like the boy who cried wolf. But if I have your attention now. The ideas in this book are tremendously important. It is easy, well relatively easy, to combine elements in a garden in aesthetically pleasing combinations. To imbue meaning and significance to a space is another story.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Yucca inflorescence 6/26....last post, I swear, I think

There she is in all her glory! Cool effect, the milky sky blending into the white background of this page. I planned that....of course I didn't. But I'm not a guy to look a serendipitous horse in the mouth. The inflorescence ended up approaching 4' in height. I photographed an individual floret and posted it somewhere in the column of pictures to the right. The stalk has achieved a nice fat diameter (>1.5") and I look forward to its bleak silhouette in the winter.

When I'm writing, or reading, or watching television...when I'm home, I walk through the garden at least 2 times an hour. I have been watching for pollinators. Yuccas are pollinated exclusively, or nearly exclusively, by moths of the family Prodoxidae, the Yucca-moth family. It is a case of very specific co-evolution; see this cool page for pictures and specifics, The Yucca and Its Moth. Since moths are nocturnal I have been looking at night, but nothing so far.

Actually, I haven't discovered yet if the resident yucca months that pollinate our local Yucca filamentosa will pollinate Y. rostrata. There have been existing Y. filamentosa in the bed under this plant for at least 15 years and they set seed so we shall see. I will attempt a little manual pollination in any case.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spirea alba is another underutilized wonderful native plant

Wow! Look at this plant; it's great and not only for its own qualities. It is calmly beautiful, tough, tolerates wet feet but will do well under average or even dry garden conditions; I like it also because so many different kinds of insects find it attractive. I am not kidding, if you can spend 10 minutes watching this plant when its flowering, you will see some unusual fauna. If you have a digital camera with a macro setting you will be able to astound your friends!

Reviewing the offerings of Spireas at local Garden Centers, I find, almost exclusively Asian species and their selections. While many of these are excellent plants, that doesn't mean we have to sell our own native species short! I don't want to beat this "Native Thing" to death; I still plant non-natives (there are lists of this year's purchases somewhere in that right-hand column).

I sometimes worry that the Native versus non-Native dispute is becoming so polarized that it is difficult to come down in the middle. Perhaps it an inevitable sign of the times. That is too bad if it means that we are sacrificing the chance of using great plants. Don;t let this one go by the wayside! Track it down at a Native Nursery, on-line, or in the Natives section of a larger Nursery. Behnke Nurseries has gone to great lengths to make available good native plants. They have also gone a ways towards removing the most dangerously invasive thugs from their general inventory. Props and kudos where deserved.

Mulching Trees

It appears that trees don''t perform optimally in turf . Go figure (of course they do live naturally in forests). Mulched areas around trees then, while pleasant to look at, are primarily about the health of the tree. The International Society of Arboriculture recommends that trees in turf be mulched in donut form, the mulch extending, not from the trunk, but from a circles~2' out from the trunk, all the way to the dripline! Wow. I like that. More to the point trees like it. And since we have such a huge supply of homemade mulch available, all we have to do is apply labor. Ha Ha.

Wednesday's group project was in the Flowering Tree Collection and we worked on Tree Circles. Using glyphosate (an herbicide), we killed weeds in existing circles and expanded the diameter of others. I hope we get back to mulch where we sprayed. Thursday we (Matt, Cody. John, and I) mulched tree circles in the National Grove of State Trees. Moving the mulch from the Brickyard, essentially all the way to the other side of the Arboretum is the most time consuming aspect of the project. We dumped and ran and dumped and ran and then spread the piles over the tree circles. Over the past several years, the tree circles in the Grove have grown tremendously. The trees clearly are happier and while it would be impossible to positively assign cause and effect, you have to think....

A few notes: Mulch to a depth of 2-4"; keep the mulch away from the trunks of the trees; if you use herbicide to control weeds in the circles, don't spray root suckers from your tree!; If you are treating old neglected circles, you will find that they will have become a haven for weeds. When y;ou are controlling these weeds go out into the turf and attack that "halo" of weeds outside the circle. Otherwise they will just seed backwards into the mulched area. Enjoy your trees.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We are doing some loose experimental trials with our abundance of Shortia seed

Because we were able to collect such a great number of seeds and because the available information on growing Shortia from seed is so sparse, we decided to apply some varied treatments to groups of our seeds, we set up an experiment.
Shortia seed is technically, recalcitrant which means that it is short-lived and difficult to germinate. Anything we learn will be information added to essentially a vacuum!

We are varying the medium, the location (and by doing so, the watering), and we are doing a leachate treatment. One group is in the shaded tent you can see pictured to the right, another group is under mist in the Propagation House, and the last group is in a Forest Location. Each group includes seed trays with seeds in either our "Shortia Mix" or that mix with leaf mould added. Additionally, there are trays under the tent that will be regularly watered with leachate from w Shortia plants we purchased in North Carolina.

The complexities of germination and growth are only slowly being unraveled for all plants; about Shortia we know next to nothing. We do know that in some instances with some plants there are exudates from roots or even soil fungi that are helpful, if not essential, to the germination or growth of those particular species. In the picture, John, the Fern Valley Summer Intern, is building a device that will suspend the two pots of Shortia over that 5 gallon bucket and allow us to contain the water that leaches through their pots when they are irrigated. Thats what we are applying to a group of seed trays in hopes that it will positively affect germination or growth!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It can't be....I can't be that odd man who grows the bananas...Aghhhhh!!!

As long as I can remember there has always been a yard full of bananas. The bananas were there every year and since everybody knew they were tropical, what was the story? Along Forest Glen Road by Holy Cross Hospital in the late 60's and early 70's bananas grew along the street front, In Bowie on 197 on a big hill just a bit off of Route 50, in the 80's there were the bananas and a tractor! One garden in Lanham in the 90's so overflowed with bananas and chenille plants and generosity that they spilled over for blocks on every side.

Now I am that man. But I'm not exactly. I don't have to dig mine every fall and trundle them into the basement in trash bags for the winter. Musa basjoo is completely hardy here. It makes big clumps, grows to about 15' high and occasionally fruits after a particularly warm winter allows the trunk to survive the cold. More usually the plants die almost to the ground but still grow to over 10' in one growing season. It produces offset freely usually after its first year in the ground.

The offsets are the problem. It is such a handsome boldly textured plant almost noble in the simplicity of its line. And it seems so right here in our subtropical summers. It is too tempting to move the offsets around. I can't help myself.

This year I have decided to take a chance and put another banana into the ground to winter over. Musella lasiocarpa,The Chinese Yellow Banana, is a beautiful smaller plant that at some point produces odd "Little Shop of Horrors" flowers. It is supposed to be hardy here and there is a plant in "China Valley" at the Arboretum that has been there for at least 5 years. I have had this plant for three years, moving it in and out every year. It produced such a number of offsets that I divided this year. I gaveaway most of the divisions, reserved one for Florida and one to winter over inside, and planted the Mother plant in the garden undeer Yucca rostrata. We shall see.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It turns out I wasn't better, but I am guardedly confident tonight....

Okay, I know this isn't a great picture...but it was a great rainbow. To have a rainbow you have to have rain and we still have rain and its almost July. Actually, its so close to July that if it didn't rain till then I think just about everything would be okay. I hope this isn't too direct a challenge to the gods/Gods?; and now they don't feel obliged to dry out the rest of the summer. Its a good thing I am too insignificant to warrant divine intervention.

Still, it seems odd that this is also the first day I have seen any number of fireflies. Sitting in my chair at the big window, reading an odd poem by Adrienne Rich, they just seemed to appear; first I saw one then another then more than a dozen then more than that. I have always been impressed by and interested in insects; it goes along with being interested in plants. Today at work I noticed that Kelley, the Dogwood Intern, seemed to be getting into the insect world. They are fascinating. I have known, still know, a number of entomologists. None of them ever want to talk about the yearly appearances/timing of particular populations. I know some years I don't see many butterflies till late spring or early summer and other years they seem to come months earlier. Fireflies also seem to vary in the timing of their numbers. Intuitively, that is in the absence of scientific background or knowledge, I would have though that a warm winter like we just experienced would have allowed for the survival of more adults and resulted in earlier higher populations, but of course some counterintuitive situation has occurred. I don't care; I just love the lighting-bugs.