Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dr. Marc Cathey....Looking through the memorial Franklinia you can see the space for the memorial bench, but the real memorial is the Capitol Columns

Tomorrow, Sunday November 23, there will be a ceremony at the USNA dedicating a bench and a tree (Franklinia alatamaha) in memory of one of only five directorys the Arboretum has ever had. Cliche alert!! When Dr. Marc Cathey died this October, American horticulture lost a true giant. I'm sorry, but it's true...He was a real scientist whose work on photoperiodicity and temperature and their relation to floral initiation was and is important and relevant. And that isn't true of all scientific research. Sartorially resplendent his standard attire was an immaculately tailored suit with matching silk tie and handkerchief in some outrageously brilliant hue; purple was his favorite color. If it can be said of any straight man, he was truly flamboyant.

And a remarkable showman. He gave hundreds of lectures to a wide range of audiences. They were innovative in technique, engaging, and occasionally mesmerizing. Actually I always had a hard time not imagining him as a magician or one of those evangelical preachers that captivate the unruly multitudes.

When I began working at the Arboretum in 1990, Marc was the director. He held this position for 10 years from 1981-1991, and this is the part of his career that is of most interest to me. The Arboretum is a part of the Agricultural Research Service and for years research was not only its primary mission (which it still is) but really its only mission. The Arboretum was basically a research site with wonderful plants that were worth searching out. Today the Arboretum is a creditable and improving public garden. I am happy that this transition is occurring and I am aware that we owe a great debt to Dr. Cathey. His scientific credibility provided him with the influence and the power to make a public garden where the administering agency had not particulary wanted a garden. I do have to admit that he never had a lot of use for me; I'm sure I didn't impress him with my dress or grooming and we certainly didn't talk at any length, but I am grateful to him for what he did and will remember him fondly.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cotinus 'Grace': just about the last spectacular color this fall!

It was cold today: 20 MPH sustained winds from the Northwest combined with temperatures in the mid 30s F made for an unpleasant afternoon on the Bobcat. Temperatures are expected to stay in the 20s at night for the next week or so. This is January weather not November weather, but the silver lining is that those winter-flowering plants that require just a bit of vernalization are getting it so that when things warm up in December, as they almost always do, they will flower. Among others, Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, one of the most wonderfully fragrant plant in cultivation will likely be flowering by Christmas.

The plants in the picture are Cotinus x 'Grace' which is a hybrid between two Smoketrees: the native Cotinus obovatus and its Asian counterpart Cotinus coggygria. These individuals are growing along the Flowering Tree Walk at the National Arboretum just below the Herb Garden. (the golden hollies Ilex x attenuata 'Sunny Fosters' are visible in the background) Grace is a great plant; the new leaves are intriguingly colored in various warm hues that mature to a nice bluish purple, typical frothy smoketree flowers follow in late spring and the fall foliage is obviously wonderful. This is a tough plant that likes full sun, prefers good drainage, and doesn't need or want a lot of water in the summer. It is a good choice for a small tree as an accent in the lawn.