Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beltsville Library: spring bulb planting

I planted bulbs at the Library this weekend: 90 blue Chinodoxa, 32 blue Hyacinths, 75 orange and yellow Darwin Tulips 'Banja Luka', 45 dwarf Narcissus 'Tete a tete', and 24 Alliums 'Purple Sensation'. All are good cultivars, none especially rare or exciting. I also planted two cultivars of Colchicum in late summer, three red Spider-lilies (Lycoris radiata), and a couple of varieties of Asiatic Lilies at the same time.

I planted the Chinodoxa in a drift, the Alliums as individuals 8" apart in three groups, and the others in clumps of 6-15. All of these, excepting the Tulips and possibly the Alliums, are long lasting bulbs that will increase in number every year. Clumps of brilliantly colored flowering bulbs are not only beautiful, but are repetetive design element that help hold the garden together.

When you plant bulbs, don't forget about their foliage! Naked-ladies are wonderful when they flower in late summer on leafless stems, and the foliage is a welcome green addition to the garden in the winter, but when it turns into brown mush as the rest of the spring garden is peaking....well, you want them where you can ignore them. Grape Hyacinth also has foliage that can distract from the plan of a garden. Yes the bulbs flower in the spring, but the foliage lasts a long time and comes up again in late summer becoming a significant visual element wherever these bulbs are planted. Daffodils foliage doesn't die gracefully. It isn't true that you have to leave it until it turns completely yellow; you can safely remove it when its lost half of its color....still that leaves a lot of time for it to look miserable while the plants around it are beautiful. I find that in highly visible areas it works to plant narcissus in clumps and limit the number of clumps. If you take 36 bulbs and space them individually,, every place you planted a bulb there will be dying foliage next spring and every subsequent year there will be more and more. Eventually a large bed can be pretty horrible looking for a good part of the spring. If you plant them in three groups of 12 or four groups of works better. Mass planting of daffodils are beautiful, but are better in areas that can be ignored when the flowers are done.

The sun is low in the sky in the afternoon on the Rubus in Fern Valley and in the morning on the Bluestem at the Beltsville Library

There's always something going on in the garden. It isn't always a bank of flowering azaleas or a bed of roses or a border full of flowering perennials, but there's always something.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Liz and Terry and I head off to deliver the Loblolly Pine needles to the Coastal Plain...Val drives the getaway car

At the bottom of Fern Valley, between the road and the fence that separates the Arboretum from Langston Golf Course, is the Coastal Plain area. The plantings are predominantly from the SE although the coastal plain extends as far north as New Jersey and along the Gulf Coast to Texas. It is one of the most interesting parts of Fern Valley; there are plants there you don't often encounter. The dominant tree species in this community are pines. We have several beautiful Longleaf Pines, Pinus palustris but they aren't large enough to shed enough needles to mulch the entire area.

Every year we collect pine needles to supplement the Longleaf's contribution. In the past we have used White Pine needles but this is a more northern pine that really doesn't occur naturally on the CP. This year we collected Loblolly Pine needles. Loblolly is an important member of the CP community so we have captured a bit of verisimilitude. And we had fun!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

All the tropical plants are in for the winter and enjoying the morning sun

Cyclamen hederifolium: dormant all summer, but it looks good now

Killing frosts at night and daytime temperatures in the mid-30s F have devastated most of the late fall-flowering plants in the garden. The large-leafed tropicals hang limp,tattered, and rotten. I spent an hour or so this morning cutting leaves off of bananas and removing most of the tops of Hedychiums. But all is not lost.

In the Washington Post today Angus Phillips in his Outdoors column quotes Bill Burton who he identifies as "the dean of outdoor writers in our region. If you have something to do tomorrow you probably won't die today." I like that quote and agree with it. I have a version more applicable to gardeners: If you have something to look forward to tomorrow and next week and the week after that and next season and so on, you'll never die. least you'll have an incentive to wake up every day. That's a good thing.

While the cold has killed off the open and partially open flowers on the camellias, the tight buds are intact and they will open when temperatures go back to a more normal 50/30 diurnal alternation. And the Darley Dale heaths are beginning to open; we don't ever get temperatures low enough to faze them. And the plants with winter color in their stems have largely attained that color: 'Sango kaku" Japanese maple, Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter's Fire', the other Cornus and Salix. The complexly variegated winter foliage of Cyclamen hederifolium braves the cold valiantly. And there are still berries. And winter leaves with color: Nandina, Mahonia, Itea, and more. Later in the season Iris unguicularis, the winter-flowering Algerian Iris will flower in those unseasonably warm interludes that we inevitably experience. Chimonanthus praecox, Wintersweet, will flower with its incredible fragrance. If you have included enough diversity and planned with all the seasons in mind you will be able to walk through your garden every day and experience the delight of finding something fresh and new even in the dead of winter.