Saturday, July 19, 2008

If the summers are going to be like this, we might as well grow tropicals....And they're never invasive!

Can't help myself, I love tropical plants, there's just something about them! I write about plants every day but not so often about tropicals. A whole different set of adjectives describes these plants: luxuriant, lush, exuberant (when we use this word about our own plants it's usually a euphemism for invasive), riotous, sinuous . Some adjectives which normally have a negative connotation become positive when applied to tropical plantings: rank, heavy, redolent, earthy. I want to use the word curvaceous, but I know that that will put me in dangerous territory; but the curves are sinuous, the colors are opulent, the growth is lush. I am pretty sure I know why Georgia O'Keefe loved the flowers she loved. And hey, step outside! We have the weather for it.

It is curious to me that for years public gardens have been adding tropicals to their seasonal planting: Alocasias, Colocasias, Xanthosomas, Bananas, Amorphophallus, and all its odd allies, and a host of others, but this doesn't seem to have penetrated the garden center industry. Merrifield Gardens is the only place I know that stocks any kind of variety of tropical plants. They don't really have what I would call a good assortment,but they do have some. What everybody has is Colocasia 'Black Magic', Alocasia 'Amazonica', Elephant-ear bulbs, and maybe a variegated Brugmansia. To me this is the "Mr.Jones" school of tropicals. Old Bob Dylan reference, "You know something's happening but you don't know what it is...".

Just about every Hedychium is root hardy here in Zone 7. Papayas, the quintessential tropical foliage plant can be flowered from seed if you have a greenhouse, well most of us don't, but if the garden centers would give us plants in May or June, we could get them pretty big, probably with flowers and fruit by frost. And Brugmansias, two of my friends have kept "Charles Grimaldi', one of the best selections for fragrance and continuity of bloom, alive in the ground, for years. If you don't want to do that, it'll flower profusely in one season from a small plant and it's easily kept dormant inside through the winter. There is that wonderful red-leafed tropical Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella...Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Oleander. It's hard for me to stop listing! Just one more plant, Bananas; hardy 'Basjoo', tender but incredibly beautiful Abyssinian Red Banana, and a whole range of new introductions, some hardy some not but even those are easily overwintered.

And you know what, these are fast growing, inexpensively produced plants that are already grown in Florida. There ought to be a good profit margin even allowing for freight. It must be far more profitable, for example, than bringing in California "patio plants" which are expensive to buy, because they're from California, and expensive to ship because its farther away. So let's get on the ball and sell the plants I want. Does that sound selfish?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The National Arboretum is a Legitimate, no, an Excellent Summer Garden Destination

This is a new thing! We have always been magical in the spring with Azaleas, Cherries, Magnolias, Crabapples, the Asian Collections, The Native Plant Collections, and sundry miscellaneous plantings. Fall color has always been spectacular, but summer has not been our season. We have always had the Crape Myrtles, but they are not especially "user friendly" since most of them are in research beds. Lynn Batdorf's daylily collection has always been an attraction. The Herb Garden could be counted on for interesting plantings, but when I woke up in the summer and felt like spending half a day in a garden, the Arboretum never made my list.

Well, that has changed and really the lion's share of the credit has to go to one person, Bradley Evans. Mr. Evans has been the horticulturist charged with installing and maintaining the plantings around the Administration building for, I guess two to three years. Over that period he has introduced spectacular containers, exciting plantings in the beds, increased the diversity and quality of the water plants in the pool, and provided containers for the Friendship Garden. He worked with former Supervisory Horticulturist Angela Palmer; together they redesigned existing beds around the Administration Building and created a number of new mixed borders. I look forward to the seasonal beds and the containers as summer approaches. I meet new plants every year and I don't often see plants I haven't met before.

Dumbarton Oaks has wonderful roses and great spaces, the regional public gardens (Brookside, Meadowlark, Green Springs, et alia ) are very nice but honestly, If you're a plant person, if you are interested in new plants or innovative design ideas, or if you just want to see beautiful plantings, the Arboretum has moved to the top of the summer list in Washington.

I call him Sparky, he calls me "Big Guy".....Polyphemus moth caterpillar

This is one big caterpillar and it metamorphoses into one big moth. The polyphemus moth has a wingspan of 5.5 to 6 inches and has two sets of "eyespots", one smallish set on the forewings and a large set on the hindwings. The larvae eat the leaves of many species of trees and shrubs but likely do not serious damage because there are so few of them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yes, I admit it, that is a 'Knockout' rose at the front of this bed and this picture wasn't taken today. Mea culpa!

Hey this is an old picture (December 2007) because I am not there to take a new picture, but I will be Saturday next . I fly out of BWI, I mean Thurgood Marshall, next Saturday at some ungodly early hour that will put me in Tampa before 9:00. I will see my plants!!!!!!!!!!!!

Karen drove down with a friend today and I got a preliminary report this evening. Apparently just about everything is alive. I had learned previously, that only plants able to withstand a prolonged drought have any chance here without regular irrigation. What just sunk in to me is that you don't plant in April, you plant in June or July. How counterintuitive is that!? Well, it makes sense. The rain comes in the summer. Still a lot of things lived; the Petrea, the Dychoriste, all of the SW and Australian plants, and even the Bismarckia, though it now has one large leaf instead of 5 small ones. But it's alive! I made Karen walk around in the dark in the rain and answer questions. I felt like Stefan. It's going to be like Christmas morning. One plant I am excited about is a Globba that was planted last August and hasn't been seen since. (picture to right). I hear it has 15 stems all flowering. I knew it was a ginger that could go drought dormant but Wow! I am psyched!

Parenthetically, I don't really post old pictures. Very rarely. I carry my camera all day every day, the world is full of wonders, and technology has gone so far beyond what I could ever have foreseen....I will be excited to see the Florida garden.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Arboretum Gothic

We reversed the players here so you wouldn't confuse today's photograph with the original painting by Grant Wood. I confess we staged this photograph; well, we were working at the Capitol Columns on that same old planting again and it was getting a bit boring. Apparently we're in good company because Grant Wood staged the original, using his sister and his dentist to set the mood for the Gothic Architecture of the house. I am not certain how to characterize the architecture of our columns; the Capitol was neo-Classical, but the columns by themselves, I don't know.

The plantings, which you will remember from months ago (ha ha), are the natives Schizachyrium scoparium, Amsonia hubrechtii, and the annual South African grass Melinus nerviglumis 'Pink Crystals'. Well all is pretty good right now, but like the path to true love, the saga of this planting did not run smoothly. First it got cold and wet after we planted and the Pink Crystals (generously a Zone 8) didn't like it and sulked for a good while. Then the pre-emergent herbicides we had applied to prevent the otherwise inevitable weed growth actually stalled the growth of a percentage of the Little Bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium. Things are getting better though; the Amsonia has moved steadily forward and, with the onset of summer, Pink Crystals has come into its own. We are dealing with the Schizachyrium by pulling the affected plants, growing them on, and planting them when their roots are long enough to extend through the herbicide "barrier". It looks great now with a new coat of mulch and will only get better next year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yes, there are a few marigolds in there, but pay attention to the Gazanias!

The problem with most window boxes is that it's hard to maintain plants in such a small amount of soil. While the more elegant solution is to use larger boxes, that's not always possible. Over the years I have found this plant, Gazania, to be one of the best; it flowers all summer without any lulls, it's cheery, and it never needs water more frequently than every 3-4 days despite being in a 6" window box. Petunias are beautiful but most cycle their bloom, many require occasional cutting back, and they eventually outgrow bigger containers than a 6" window box. Portuaca sounds like a good solution but somehow comes up short: many flower only on sunny days, and all of them seem to eventually resent the aging of the soil that takes place over even one season. Perhaps this latter complaint could be addressed by increasing drainage though my few attempts have been less than successful. The is a native plant, that is, native to South Africa. Oh well, its not hardy here, so we're okay for now but the way things are going climatewise, I expect we might have to worry sometime soon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Have a beautiful garden and help maintain germplasm resources by using open pollenated native plants like this Phlox Paniculata

After working near this phlox for the past week or so, I finally realized that it was one of the plants that Joan and Hannah and I collected in Pennsylvania in September 2006. We collected seeds, planted them, bumped the seedlings up until they reaches 1 qt. pots, and then we planted them out in various locations. I just forgot we, I mean I, had put some here.

Phlox paniculata
, or common garden phlox is one of the heavy-lifters of the summer perennial border Dozens of cultivars are available, but I like the straight species because it is as close to immune to powdery mildew as it is possible to be. One of the techniques for finding "different" plants from a large seedling population is to concentrate on the weakest, least typical individuals. While this is a good way to find odd individuals, it is also a fairly good way to find weakness and susceptibility to diseases and pests or cold or drought..... Come look at this plant; it is in the cultivar area inside Fern Valley near the Echinacea selections. There is not a bit of powdery mildew on it and surely it is worthy of any perennial border.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Man of the Earth sure has nice flowers....Ipomoea pandurata

Okay, I know I’ve had a small picture of this plant up for a while, but you can’t appreciate the tissuey texture of the petals in a small picture. So click on this one! If you love flowers, have a bit of space, and can tolerate a certain amount of disorder in your garden, you may have been waiting for this native vine and you just didn’t know it. Not woody, but herbaceous, the stems can still reach lengths of…well 20’ or so and usually grow along the ground though, on flowering, the ends sometimes turn up a foot or two. Siting is important! If there is a downside to this plant it clearly is the amount of space you need to grow it.

The common names are interesting; “Wild Potato Vine”, obviously because it’s a vine and grows from a tuber. “Man of the Earth”, you’re on your own here, though I would observe that the elongate underground organ gets quite large (≤20” long) , and heavy; according to multiple sources, old tubers can approach 30 pounds. Perhaps “Elephant of the Earth”… Never mind. You can see it flowering now in the Fern Valley Meadow just outside the construction area, and even if you’re not going to grow it, it’s well worth looking at.