Saturday, July 12, 2008

Maypop....Passiflor incarnata, a native Passionflower

There are dozens and dozens of species of Paassionflower, and less than a handful are hardy north of the tropics. This one is; it's unusual when the temperate sibling isn't outshone by its tropical relatives, but this is obviously a spectacular flower. And it's hardy in Zone 7 and vigorous; in fact if it has a fault it is that it is too "enthusiastic", it tends to take over. But look at it! Can you have too much of a good thing. And it produces edible egg-sized fruits (you eat the seeds), but be certain to wait till they're ripe. These flowers are on a Fern Valley Plant right on the road across from the Coastal Plain. Actually, these flowers and the associated foliage is spread out on asphalt.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The three surveyors are on point....The question is: where are the points?

This is a view out through the Meadow, with the Prairie to the right, towards the Capitol Columns (invisible in the distance). If you walk towards the camera on the path, you are entering Fern Valley via the new Main Entrance.

Stefan, John, and I plotted points to allow us to map the new pathway, the adjacent trees, and the forest edge. Due to some problems with the coordinate system we may have to do it over again, but hey, we're good at it now and what took a bit over two hours I bet we can do in One. Anyway, we needed an accurate plot so that we can finalize a footprint for the "Sunny Cultivar Bed" and begin killing the existing vegetation so that we won't have horrible weed problems when we do plant the garden.

Sanguisorba canadensis....Canadian Burnet

The foliage on this plant is fantastic; the odd serrations on the compound leaflets create a great textural effect even when they aren't catching dewdrops. This Burnet is native to Eastern North America from Labrador south just nudging into Georgia. It likes water and is found in wet meadows and bogs, more commonly in the cooler parts of this range. The foliage is reminiscent of the Honeybushes, Melianthus spp., a genus of South African plants grown throughout the world for their foliage. You can see this plant in the smaller Fern Valley Bog on the left side of the main trail before you reach the Tool Shed. If you click on this picture you will get a better view of the curious Orthopteran.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Aesculus parvifolia....Bottlebrush Buckeye

This is the inflorescence of Bottlebrush Buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, a very nice native shrub, it measures up as a landscape plant against any summer flowering shrub. It's deciduous with the typical palmately compound leaves of an Aesculus and grows to about 10-12 feet high with a diameter a bit larger than that. It will grow nicely and flower in light conditions ranging from full sun to mostly shade. Once established, it is reasonably tolerant of drought. It does pick up the odd fungal disease, but they are rarely fatal, more usually resulting in premature defoliation. Next year's flowers are normally unaffected. It has typical Horse-Chestnut seeds minus the spikes, a good percentage of them germinate providing you with the odd plant for your own use or for distribution.

This is a plant that I first encountered in large estate gardens, it was commonly used to provide some interest and summer color along the midground of a vista viewed from the summer terrace or porch. Lately it has become commonly available in the trade. You can see nice specimens along the roadside in Fern Valley, or on the road outside the Dogwood Collection.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rutting Amidst the Ruins: Japanese Beetles Cavort Lasciviously Amidst the Destruction They Have Wrought

These are the first Japanese Beetles of the season for me and look, they're already getting busy. They have apparently been hard at work (table?) in the Bioretention Basin where we worked today, all three Fern Valley staff and two volunteers. We planted some new plants and removed some weeds and enjoyed a cool overcast morning with a bit of a breeze.We planted, experimentally, Crinum americanum that may or may not be hardy. It seems clear that there are some selections that can survive in Zone 7, we are in the city though the heat island effect is less pronounced here than in other places, and well, it's just getting warmer. So we think we have a chance. Brad produced the healthy divisions from plants that have, for years, travelled back and forth between the Administration Building Pool in season, and a heated greenhouse in winter. This Crinum is native to the SE US, likes moisture, and has a cool, spidery, fragrant flowers.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's a Beautiful Garden, and George, Mary says you're the Godfather of the plants

I love going to Takoma Park to do garden designs; I am almost always on the same page as the client. And sometimes I really get lucky like I did with this garden just inside the Dstrict of Columbia. I designed the back, reworked the side, and worked with Mary, Karen, and the Guys to add some elements in front. It has been three years now and the garden was one of the stars of the 2008 Takoma Park House and Garden Tour. It would be disingenuous not to admit that this was a pleasant garden when I first saw it. I observe somewhat immodestly that it would be equally unfair not to observe that it is a magical place now. Mary works at it and Max, Peter, and Karen are there a few times a year. And it did rain a lot this year, so its a joint effort.

There are no deer, and there are some wonderfully sunny areas, but there is also deep shade and voracious tree roots invade the planting in a few places. It is, I guess, a garden focused more on the summer than other seasons, but there are some special plants that bloom in the spring; one deep purple intensely fragrant lilac arches over the driveway across from the stairs to the back deck. For fragrance later in the season we added a hardy Gardenia beneath it, that has flourished. In the bottom picture you can see an amazing stand of monarda. When it has finished its second flowering, it will be cut to a foot or so to regrow and a Hibiscus 'Lord Baltimore' will take over the space. Roses, Viburnums, Camellias, Hydrangeas, Cercis and other woodies provide structure and color.

The sunniest bed is along the driveway beside the house; there are roses. one is visible through the front planting in the top picture, and a number of sun perennials including some cool daylilies and some Gerber Daisies that survive the winter in this site. Tucked amongst them are divisions of a Calla that was originally planted by George Waters, (Conifers and Dogwoods Gardener at the Arboretum). Across the driveway in a sunbaked strip of soil are Rosemary and Lavender and some Dahlias that also survive outside.

The porch off the back of the house is bedecked with containers of annuals, all sizes of pot and all sizes of plants. I can't imagine how much time it must take to water, prune, and deadhead them. I can say that I have never seen them when they weren't perfectly maintained. I guess Mary is a little bit fanatical like so many of us are. But hey, that's a good thing!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Shortia seeds are germinating, including the McDowell County seeds....We will be introducing new germplasm into the world of cultivated Shortia

Look at that! Four seedling in just a fraction of a seed tray. We are getting germination from the first planted seeds. Let's summarize this project to date. Shortia is an attractive, see bottom photo, wildflower native to a few localized sites in the Southeast. It is not easily grown from seed, technically the seed is recalcitrant. It has an interesting story; it was discovered, collected (without a flower!), forgotten, rediscovered, in Europe, as an herbarium specimen, named from the specimen (still with no flower), finally rediscovered in the wild much later, then largely destroyed by the creation of a Lake built to supply hydroelectric power. Wow! All of the plants in cultivation, the trade, and in Public Gardens are descendants of plants from basically one area.

Joan Feely, Curator of Native Plant Collections at the US National Arboretum, spurred into action by losing most of a previously healthy colony of Shortia to disease, decided to go after fresh seed. After doing research, she realized that the source of all cultivated material was just the one area so we determined to go after seeds from more than one location. Earlier this year three of us traveled to South Carolina and North Carolina; the timing was good, we arrived as the seed was maturing, and collected good quantities from multiple locations. We planted seed shortly after our return.

There are a number of upsides to this project; one, we are introducing new germplasm from a new location; two, we are submitting samples to the main Federal Seed Bank in Ft. Collins, Colorado where the seed will be analyzed, studied, and stored at sub-zero temperatures (under all protocols so far known, the seed has essentially no shelf life); and three, we are doing a number of controlled trials to help understand the germination process, making seed propagation a more reasonable technique. If Ft. Collins succeeds in maintaining viable seed over a long period of time that would be an incredible advance for a very vulnerable species. Now we are beginning to see significant germination including those seeds from the McDowell County, disjunct population. It is very exciting!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Botanizing with Dogs....The River Road Shale Barren Meets River Road

My brother-in-law Larry Anderson, past president of the Chevy Chase Chapter of Izaak Walton League of America, has been urging me to come up to their property along River Road in Montgomery County to see a Shale Barren. Well today was the day. A "Shale Barren" is a plant community that grows on shale. Because shale doesn't hold water particularly well, and many barrens, face west,so they absorb a good deal of afternoon heat, conditions are hostile for plants; there are some species that can tolerate it though, including a number of "Shale Barren Endemics", plants found only on Shale Barrens.

Before exploring the Barren, we toured the property which is a fascinating place. Members are restoring the original log homestead, which dates to the early 19th Century, and includes a two story house, a Springhouse at the edge of a pond near the house, and a solid log outbuilding adjacent to the house. Other interesting projects include a plantation of Castanea pumila, the Dwarf Chinquapin which is a smaller relative of the American Chestnut whose seeds are a good source of food for many mammals and birds.

Armed with the species list from a May 7 Field Trip with Cris Fleming, Dwight Johnson, and Kristen Johnson of the Maryland Native Plant Society, and escorted by two energetic retrievers, we spent a couple of hours exploring the area. The Shale is exposed along the road and we saw a number of interesting species without leaving the pavement; Ruellia sp., Senecio obovatus, Arabis lyrata, Aquilegia canadensis, Achillea, Antennaria sp Houstonia sp. (upright! much like a species we saw throughout our Shortia trip), and a huge Celtis. This is really the only sunny area and unfortunately Montgomery County could not be dissuaded from mowing it so we missed some of the taxa seen in May. Izaak Walton officials are communicating with the County and trying to have mowing eliminated from this site. I hope they succeed because strictly speaking, the sunny (mown) area is the classic shale barren. Where the woods overgrow, the more typical mesic species gain a competitive edge over the Shale Barren Flora.

Farther up the hill we saw, in the woods, Hedeoma, Antennaria plantaginifolia, a number of Celtis, lots of Carya tomentosa,Hieraceum venosum, Silene caroliniana and a lot of other interesting plants. We saw a large wide-spreading colony of a quite broad leafed carex that I did not identify, but will return to; it was just beginning to flower. It was a very interesting trip, and I will surely go back. We can only applaud the Izaak Walton League for championing the preservation and protection of this rare and unusual community.