Friday, August 14, 2009

After I finished blowing the paths for the weekend, I chased butterflies around this Buddleia

I remember this plant from 1991. It used to seed around and still does. Buddleia is a problem plant in some places due to this tendency to spread by seed. It sure does pull the butterflies in!

Fern Valley Trail Project: we did this part ourselves

By which I mean again, not me, but the ASRT's. The massive contracted Bridge/Trail work that took place over the past couple of years addressed particular sections of the trails that were determined to need work. FV staff decided that this section needed attention.

On Wednesday, the project participants dug small footers laid a short wall (on the right hand, downhill, side, and built up the trail covering a lot of exposed roots that were tripping hazards, and generally improving the walkability (ouch) of the trail. That's especially important since many of the plants that we've collected over the past two years will end up in this section including the Shortia. I was struck yesterday by how similar this area is to the sites in North and South Carolina from which we collected the Shortia seed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Helianthus decapetalus...and look, this one has 10 petals!

They don't all have 10 petals but they all have somewhere around 10. This particular plant has been growing in my garden for two years; I grew it from seed that I collected from the plants that grow along Hickey Run where it crosses Valley Road at Beech Spring Pond. I liked those plants, but really only grew it so I could identify it at my leisure. It was clearly a Helianthus and I remember being fairly comfortable with my identification. I think it had to do with the "eared" leaves. Or something. Oftentimes I can work and work at an identification and still not be certain. It feels when you get one.

The plant itself is nice enough; it's a medium sized Helianthus, 5-6' but it seems to attract more bees than any other sunflower Of course that's an anecdotal observation and entirely subjective, but every evening the one plant will have swarms of bees. It was like that last year too. Who knows?

David Kidwell-Slak cheerfully emasculating Crape Myrtle flowers

Driving past the Crape Myrtle nursery, I noticed David intently concentrating on a Crape Myrtle hung with a lot of bags (containing controlled crosses). David is a shrub researcher at the Arboretum. Apparently because of the recent (pre-today) hot weather, the flowers are popping at an unprecedented rate. David told me he could spend all day emasculating. Well, we can't have unwanted pollen contaminating our controlled crosses. Still....

We're, by which I mean the Shrub Research element of the FNPRU (Floral and Nursery Plant Research Unit), is still working on Crape Myrtles. They are among our most popular introductions. More than half of the Crape Myrtles sold at retail in the US are USNA releases. Pretty impressive; actually it's a bit higher than that but I don't remember quite how much higher. Gotta go water the Library no time for research.

The Nursery that David is facing is an interesting place as it contains many very mature specimens including a number of the "original plants" for some well known cultivars. I heard a rumor that next year we may have a Crape Myrtle event with tours, talks, etc. If we do it would be worth attending!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Carole Bordelon, Asian Collections Curator (and superhort) did a video interview for Voice of American today

Fortunately Amanda and I spent part of the morning grooming and blowing the trails.

We don't know how it'll be aired in this country, but they assured Carole that it would get a lot of play in China. The four person crew was mobile and flexible so they covered a lot of ground. I'm looking forward to seeing it!

Cypella aquatilis...I found this in the greenhouse among Brad's (Intro Garden's) Plants

It's a cool irid native to Brazil in, to quote the Pacific Bulb Society,"...areas periodically inundated." Telos Rare Bulbs, also of California, observes that it requires moisture to perform well but flowers for a long period in the summer when it is happy. The flowers are beautiful and remind me of various South African irids which prefer dry conditions. This looks like a fun plant that would grow sitting in a saucer of water on deck or terrace.

Tetrapanax papyrifera and Fatoua villosa with Neal for scale

The Mulberry weed in the bottom picture is the largest that I've ever seen. Once in a while in Fern Valley we would come upon a neglected patch with the occasional two to three foot plant. We didn't get these to the checking station for an official reckoning, but if they aren't five feet tall, they don't miss by more than an inch or so.

Rice Paper Plant (rice paper is manufactured from the pith of this plant), Tetrapanax papyrifera, is only supposed to be root hardy to USDA Zone 8b, but this plant has lived in China Valley for a few years, and last year survived a legitimate Zone 7 winter. A tree in it's native habitat, even as a dieback shrub it's impressive here. The larger leaves very nearly three feet across and the plant itself is seven feet tall by the second week in August. I'm often asked to include a "tropical look" in garden designs and if I had a source for this plant I'd use it a lot. Plant Delights has it in the catalogue but they're sold out. Our plant suckers outrageously so that if you get it established, you will have a ready source of new plants. Like many large-leafed tropicals, it grows like the wind during hot weather.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hot week in Washington

Everyone is dragging a bit this week. We've had the hottest temperatures of the summer. I did the weather this morning and the thermometer claimed 100F as Monday's high temperature. I have my doubts, but that's what it said so I went with it. It was at least in the high 90s as it was today. We are past what is theoretically the hottest part of the summer. The average high temperature has dropped two degrees and the average low one. Within the week they will both drop another degree each. August only seems hotter than July!

The debilitating effects of heat seem to be cumulative within the year. My brain has turned to mush and won't be truly sharp again until sometime in October! It still functions, but at a much slower pace!

As someone who's getting a bit older; I remember when there was no air-conditioning in private homes. I can vividly recall sleepless nights focused on the window screen hoping for a breeze or a thunderstorm. And sweaty sheets, not in the good way, that sometimes drove me onto the hardwood floor where, if it was less comfortable, at least it carried the illusion of being cooler. Anyway in 6 weeks or so we'll begin to have a few brisk clear days between cool nights and summer will be done.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides with butterfly...or vice versa?

I don't know why, but these dark swallowtails seem to be especially attracted to the Leadwort. Moreover, they move more quickly on this plant than they do on the others: harder to photograph, hence the graininess here. Still they look good together!

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is just one glaring exception to the rule decreeing that there are no true blue flowers (that we can grow?). Its easy; the primary maintenance involved keeping it in check lest it take over entire beds. It flowers for a long time and has excellent red fall color. And butterflies like it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Let the sun shine in (to) the Japanese Woodland....all four trees are gone unfortunately but efficiently

It was simple actually. Just bring in a 125 ton crane (the additional two tractor trailers carried counterweights), set up the crane, send a climber up to attach a strap to the tree from the crane, drop said climber 20-50' (delicately), make the cut, lift the cut piece out of the collection to be either chipped or loaded for removal to our holding area in the Brickyard, and start all over again. Notice in the 4th picture how the "grapple" on the hauling truck could feed large branches into the chipper or load them into the stake body area behind the mechanism.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Khimaira Farm...this is a garden I have been waiting 10? years to see

I don't have anyone to blame but myself; all I had to do was drive to Luray. Khimaira Farm is the product of my nephew Josh's wife's family, especially his mother-in-law. I've heard about it from it's inception; every time I saw Corina, she updated us on how the garden was coming along, what plants they had, what strategies for overwintering tender bulbs, corns, tubers, etc. I knew it had to be good because this past winter Josh and Corina got the word that there were only two dates left this year for their own wedding and that they had better choose one! Well, they were married yesterday, I feel good about it, and I have a good history of predicting success!

And I finally saw the gardens. Didn't get an official tour; I guess it was a bad day for that! There are several acres under cultivation, adjoining the pre-Civil War family home (and functioning goat farm). Beds and beds were lushly planted with perennials, annuals, bulbs, corms, and tuber. Flowering shrubs, trees, and vines add dimensionality. Throughout there were abundant seats, benches, swings, gazebos, porches,

There have been, and are, restaurants in the Washington area that used/use wonderful gardens as part of their allure. I remember our family occasionally going to the Peter Pan Restaurant on 355 north of Gaithersburg. Not only did they have a pleasant garden, they had peacocks, and peahens I'm sure. La Ferme in Chevy Chase has nice plantings, but nothing on this scale! I always wondered if it weren't possible to do some sort of combination Bed and Breakfast, horticultural education, gardening training/whatever. I don't have the energy but I'm excited to see this garden working and I'll contribute a few new plants next year.