Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fern Valley viewing platforms have been open for a week

Please accept my apologies for the image quality; try squinting! I was in a hurry.

Accessibility provided much of the impetus for the Fern Valley trail reconstruction project; we wanted as much of the Collection as possible to be accessible to as many people as possible. After much consideration, it was decided that it just wasn't feasible to install accessible trails along the stream itself. Two viewing platforms allow visual access to a large percentage of the streamside area. This is one of those platforms. Behind the camera the trail enters the shady cultivar area. The steps coming off the far side of the platform lead down to the main FV trail along the stream.

While Fern Valley is a created area, a very successful attempt was made at recreating natural ecosystems. Wildlife has appreciated this and we have been rewarded with many species of birds. Every year Barred Owls raise owlets?, migrating warblers pulse through, and we see Woodcocks. A good way to see wildlife is to stay in one place motionless for as long as you can; normal forest activities reconvene! On a crowded weekend this strategy may not work, but if you have half an hour on a weekday morning, there's a good chance you will see something interesting.

Hypericum longistylum: these flowers, and there are 100s, are well over 1" across!

You can't miss these plants overhanging the path near the bottom of China Valley; there are hundreds and hundreds of flowers on shrubs ~4' high and spreading. The erect buds, like seried candles, are nice too on yet another attractive, interesting, relatively unknown Chinese Plant.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Neillia sinensis: its been flowering for a month or so and it's growing on me!

I remember this plant from my previous tenure in China Valley. It didn't flower much, presumably the plants were too young. Horrible soil and full sun destroyed the appearance of the plants in summer; the leaves yellowed and browned with areas of dieback here and there. A number of years later, the soil is a bit better, there's some shade from maturing trees, and they Neillias are attractive.

They are working now for sure, no diseases, and they're Rosaceous, arching stems to ~5', suckers madly. Good cover for a large area. It would take, does take, serious maintenance to restrict the spread.'s lovely.

Rhododendron cumberlandense: the later orange flowering native Azaleas aren't fragrant but the color is just....well, it is.

Illicium floridanum, there's a nice native Illicium flowering in Fern Valley on the Coastal Plain

Yesterday I posted a peachy pink Illicium from China, Illicium lanceolatum, today I found a native flowering along the fence with the extreme SE natives. Curiously it is a bit later than the specimens inside Fern Valley proper, along the stream. They are all finished and I don't know what that means but I am happy to be able to show a native counterpart to the Asian Illicium. This one is also shade tolerant and deer resistant!

Magnolia officinalis, a Chinese Magnolia....frontlit back and backlit front

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I take this picture at least two days a week 32 weeks a year!'s the road leading out of Fern Valley and down towards Beech Sring Pond

This isn't a particularly good example but it is the one I took this morning. It's a difficult exposure because the sky and the distant trees are so bright but the foreground is dark. It would take a lot of time to do it right and I rarely spend more than a minute or so on any picture....there's just something about this view.

Roads, a lot of roads, used to look like this with overhanging trees and vegetation invading the travel space: Georgia Avenue north of Glenmont, Central Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue...and on and on. Now they're frightening 4-6-8 lane monstrosities, no doubt much safer than those narrow, winding, overgrown roads I recall so fondly. I remember many years ago, when I was younger, automobile rides were recreational activities. It's really no fun anymore: all business. I suppose it would be an unconscionable waste of fuel to drive for the pleasure of it even if it were possible! Still, there's something wonderful and exciting about a road.

I like exploring the flora of roadcuts. Roadcuts are those areas exposed when a road dips below grade. Sometimes they are constructed, artifacts of grading. Sometimes, on roads that began life unpaved, they are the residue of long term erosion, natural downcutting. Because they are usually steep they are always well drained which allows for the growth of a slightly different flora than what's present on the adjacent flatlands. I saw one of my favorite plants, Pitiopsis graminifolia on roadcuts from here to Alabama last year on collecting trips. And a Houstonia that I never identified to species.

Illicium lanceolatum: another obscure plant, but possibly one with promise

Reviewing the literature, I keep seeing this flower referred to as rose pink. I don't have the greatest eyes, but this flower is orange(Google images will confirm this). Smallish, pendulous, and not fragrant there is nevertheless something appealing about them. That they are produced by a shade tolerant evergreen that is very unappealing to deer and hardy in USDA Zones 7-9 makes them even more intriguing.

Our plant is about 12' high with a similar spread. The leaves are thick, glossy, dark green, and lanceolate. It would be an attractive shrub without any flowers. A quick search didn't reveal any sources, but we bought this plant so a potential supply exists in nurseries patiently? awaiting demand.

Paeonea 'Buddha's Lotus Seat'....Those super names just keep on coming

Like the Peonies keep on blooming. This is a spectacular flower and I discretely eavesdropped on visitors commenting to that effect all day. Actually it is a larger and nicer version of a Peony in the Adelphi garden called 'Karen Gray'. {15 minute hiatus} When I am working inside, I take regular short walks through the garden. I have noted only today's and yesterday's for reasons that are and will become obvious.

We have the Peony 'Karen Gray' because it was the gift of a client of mine who knew Karen's (my wife) name. The plant has languished on the least maintained spot on the property for, probably 12 years; I was vaguely aware that a Peony had appeared in a bed that I had dedicated to Natives and Hardy Tropicals. Lo and Behold! all I had to do was take the picture, write the paragraph, and the first flower appears on this new Peony. Of course it's the, unbeknownst to me transplanted,'Karen Gray'.....The world is an odd place.

Rain on the Florida Garden, or "Be careful what you wish for!"

I do keep that list of measured rainfall at the Airport near the Florida Garden. Between April 14 and May 15 we had a quarter of an inch of rain. Temperatures reached the low 90sF many of those days. That equals stress for plants, especially the ones planted the first week of April! It wasn't a surprise though, this is a typical weather pattern.

I think I may have prayed too much because we are working on 10" for the last four days and heavy rain is forecast for tonight. The upside is that this will recharge the local lakes, and they need it. The potential downside is that our house may be flooded. I guess time will tell!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fern Valley Wet Meadow is already providing enjoyment!

The children are captivated by frogs, but what catches my eye is the Rice Cutgrass, Leersia oryzoides in the foreground. Leersia is an extremely valuable plant for wildlife; it provides both habitat and nutrition. We, the Tuesday Fern Valley volunteers and I, planted these last summer, then it got very dry, and they didn't look great. They look very good now.

The issue this growing season will be the inevitable appearance of Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum. An Asian invasive, it is very similar in appearance to Rice Cutgrass; the easiest distinguising character is a light glossy stripe that runs down the midrib of Stiltgrass but is absent from Leersia. Deer move the seeds on their hooves so it's only a matter of time. Then we'll have to weed.

Spittlebugs: it's easy to see why we call them spittlebugs and they are true bugs, but that stuff comes out the other end so they're really....

Well, I don't know what they are but they begin to be noticeable this time of year. There are over 50 species in the US that feed on a wide variety of plants. This is Pine Spittlebug, likely Aphrophora parallella and it's feeding on Pinus taiwanensis. Spittlebugs are sucking insects and oddly, suck from Xylem not Phloem. Xylem is much much less rich in nutrients than Phloem so more "juice" must be consumed. Maybe that's why they excrete so extensively and creatively.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kalmia latifolia is coming into flower: the species grows all through FV, there are lots of cultivars in the shady cultivar area

Mountain Laurel is just a spectacular native shrub, and conveniently comes into bloom as much of the early color fades from native plant gardens.

Vernicia fordii, the Tungoil Tree

We're doing a bit of spring planting this week in the Asian Collections; among other things I planted this interesting arboreal member of the Euphorbiaceae. I'm not very optimistic about its chances of surviving even a benign Zone 7 winter. Initial forays into the literature suggest that it's hardy to about USDA Zone 9. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. {15 minute hiatus for more research!} Actually, I just looked in Krussmann and he has it (in its old genus Aleurites) as USDA Zone 6 !?!? That feels like a mistake but hey it looks great with the sun shining through it!

For many years the tree has been cultivated in China for the oil extracted from its nuts. In modern times it has been exported to other areas around the world with suitable climates (not Zone 6, more likely Zone 9 and up). It is actually a listed invasive plant in Florida so maybe we don't want ours to survive! But seriously, if it manages to survive the winters here, its vigor would very likely be reduced to the point where it would not be a problem.

Though removed from the genus Aleurites, it retains a close kinship to the Kikui nut tree, Aleurites moluccanus, which is itself an interesting plant and the state tree of Hawaii. As I write this I sit more or less underneat a Kukui nut necklace I brouch back from Hawaii: the large wooden seeds are threaded onto a string. They are pretty hefty nuts; 18 of them make a good sized string.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rosa setipoda x Hemslyana....lovely delicate flowers on a fairly coarse thorny shrub

We're in the third week of May and it is rose season. The early bloomers are finishing up but still have presence, excepting Rosa primula, and the mid and late season taxa are spectacular. Some Peonies still hang on, as do some species Iris and the tall bearded Germans are just peaking. Spectacular goings on in the garden!

Schisandra lancifolia: the buds open into wonderfully orange flowers

Nowadays orange is far more acceptable as a flower color than it was 20 years ago. Over the years, I have encountered many clients who wouldn't have orange in their garden. But not so much recently. And you know what? There's always been an exception and it's always been that, that, the Tawny Daylily, Hemerocallis fulva. Go figure! I like orange and I like pretty nearly every plant, but I don't have a lot of use for that Daylily. It is cool to encounter it in the wilderness marking the site of some long vanished homestead; shivers down your spine cool, but I don't think I've ever put one in a design. First of all their foliage is messy, unattractively yellowing prematurely. And the flower color...not so hot. I do have an oscillating clump (its gets to a certain size then I shrink it!) of the double form 'Kwanso' that is an heirloom plant from my maternal grandmother. That's a sentimental thing; the plant isn't especially nice.

Odontosoria chinensis: Chinese Creeping Fern

A beautiful lacy thrice-cut fern!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


What did Billy Bob Thornton say in Bad Santa as he began the slow and tortuous process of redeeming his humanity? ~"I think I'm making progress, I beat up some kids today."......I think I'm making real progress in the gardens, I killed at least half a million plants last week. I'm hoping that most of them were weeds. I killed mostly Garlic Mustard, Dandelions, and Rumex acetosella at home. The main problem at the Library is Bindweed, but there are also Thistles, Apocynum, and a variety of minor weeds. China Valley presented the most interesting diversity. While there are plenty of weed weeds, most of what I was killing were seedlings of accessioned plants.

Thick carpets of tiny seedlings cover the ground under Buxus, Philaelphus, Impatiens arguta, actually under many of my charges. We can be grateful that so many of our cultivated ornamentals are functionally sterile (often because they are the products of such complex hybridization that their chromosome numbers preclude sexual reproduction). And some plants don't seed if they're all alone; there's that few that are dioecious, and a handful that can't cross without a genetically different partner.

I know Bad Santa is a horrible movie, actually it's a pretty good movie that's horrible, but I love it. I guess there's something wrong with my sense of humor, but every December I watch it and every time I laugh till I cry. I don't understand how this movie worked at the box office. I mean there aren't that many people with as odd a sense of humor as I have I think.....I hope. I picture couples looking at each other and one of them says, "it can't be that bad, it's a Christmas movie.".......Miscalculation.

Beltsville Library Courtyard Sunday May 17

It was a very Library weekend! The Hedychium have both come back, but the Musella seems not to have; I know of 5 others that didn't make it this winter. Everything else seems to be in good shape. I dug out a lot of Hostas, Thistles, and Dogbane. All in all though, the weeds aren't too bad.