Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cucurbita spp. cvs. ....huge Pumpkin field at Butler's Orchards

This is a big Pumpkin Patch. I'm guessing 30 acres or more. A friend was playing bluegrass at Butler's Orchard's Pumpkin Festival. I haven't been there for many many years; there are some new features, some things have changed, and some are still the same. We have pictures of Max and Pete standing inside a painted plywood witch are over 15 years old and there she was still a photo-op. I guess it's a good thing that at least some children have a concept of where pumpkins and apples come from.

Ustilago maydis...Corn Smut

The corn maze, maize maze?, was an interesting ramble, but much of the corn was infected with this disgusting fungus.

I did some cursory research and I have to quote the Wikipedia entry that notes in a certain populations of native Mexican-Americans, "It is considered a delicacy, even being preserved and sold for a higher price than corn. For culinary use, the galls are harvested while still immature — fully mature galls are dry and almost entirely spore-filled. The immature galls, gathered two to three weeks after an ear of corn is infected, still retain moisture and, when cooked, have a flavor described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy." I don't doubt that the flavor is mushroom-like. I'd give it a shot, but lacking this information earlier today, I opened only the largest galls which were all filled with dry black spores. Maybe next year.

Young shows us the kusamono she created in real time for Fox 5 Live

You can see the clip here You can see the entire display, Autumn Arts of Nature, at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the Arboretum. Kusamono, literally "grass thing", are arrangements of one or more living plants. The containers are chosen to be appropriate for and complementary to the plantings.

The examples in our show are beguiling in their simplicity but clearly the product of a remarkably skilled designer. Grace, balance, the juxtaposition of contrapunctal plant forms, the use of color....they are enchanting.

I have always been fascinated by and drawn to plant communities in stressful locations: steep roadcuts, cliffs, rock faces or walls, sand dunes, dolomite barrens.... Part of that feeling is no doubt motivated by admiration for their perseverance and persistence, but another part is an appreciation of that beauty born of adversity. Difficult conditions often isolate and dwarf plants which seems to have the curious effect of exposing their essential forms. Many of Young's Kusamono are strikingly similar to tufts of vegetation I have seen growing in these inhospitable environs. It seems that Young, using some personal alembic, adds the essence of a plant or two or three to an appropriate vessel thereby turning base material into gold.

My, how I do go on!

Rosa (China) 'Cramoisi Superieur'

This is another nice China Rose (1832), one of the many that Stefan planted in China Valley a few years back. I find myself wanting to say the same things about it that I do about many of the others. It's tough, the foliage is clean after a long humid hot summer, it's obviously re-flowering, and it has a pleasant fragrance.

This one is special for a few reasons; the rich texture of the petals, the silvery reverse, and a different but pleasing fragrance. I read that this rose is sometimes called 'the old Bermuda Red Rose', and has naturalized widely throughout the island. This particular plant will need another year or two to come into it's own, but you can see it off the right hand side of the path 3/4 of the way down China Valley.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I don't know who this guy is but he landed on my clipboard while I was making notes for Betty and Eugenia

He was sort of menacing looking but he wasn't aggressive. I was making notes for our Thursday volunteers; they roll through tasks so quickly, I find it sort of a challenge to keep them busy. They have very good gardening skills and this is the second week in a row that they have taken a section of China Valley from mildly out of control to wonderfully groomed. It took me two trips to dispose of the debris they generated. Then Eugenia shared the residue of her snack with me. I've never had "sweet anchovies" before but they had an intriguing and enjoyable flavor.

Tricyrtis macrantha, yellow toad lily

The campanulate flower structure doesn't shout "Tricyrtis", but the leaves are unmistakable and peering down into the flower you see those distinctive stigmas. This is a very cool plant. We have a small colony in the Asian Collections; from the parking lot, start at the brochure box and take the left-hand path down the hill. On your right, about 100' down the trail, there is a group of Pieris. Below and in front of them is the Yellow Toadlily.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall cleanup all across the Arboretum

What a cheerful bunch, and it isn't just because they're going to lunch. They were pretty perky every time I drove by them. Joan tells me that they pulled 3 trucks full of Stiltgrass. Stiltgrass is an annual invasive weed. Almost all of its seeds germinate every year so there isn't any appreciable seed bank. Removing it from an area at this time of year means no seeds, or at least very few seeds, and that translates into nowhere near as much Stiltgrass in this area next year.

Americorps is a National Service Organization whose members perform a range of services including Environmental Cleanup. That's what this crew did today. When I first returned to the Arboretum in 2004, I heard legendary stories of the remarkable stamina and accomplishments of a prior Americorps group. I don't know if these guys can wear Tyvek Suits for 8 hours at 95 F, but they sure did pull some Stiltgrass.
The "full day" project this week was on the New York Avenue slope along the north edge of the Gotelli Collection (or the south side of New York Avenue). Its a steep slope, too steep for mowing and not really part of the Gotelli Collection. Parts of it have not been tamed in the memory of current employees. Well....the slope is being addressed in its entirety now. Group projects, new equipment, herbicide, and a firm resolve have all combined to make the slope as presentable as it has been, well, in a long time. Carol is a regular Gotelli volunteer; she pitched in. Pat removed masses of English Ivy and Japanese Honeysuckle. Michael ran a walk-behind bushhog, and I don't what everybody else did, but it looks good.
And of course Asian Collections had our own mini-project. Amanda, Nate, Neal, and I continued our crusade to cleanse the area between the Hamamelis Collection, the Asian tool shed, and Hickey Hill Road. We removed many Viburnums, much Osmanthus, some Tetradium, and cut English Ivy off a number of trees. At some point during the day I realized that the conifers, many of which are Chamaecyparis species or selections, are planted on a grid. The whole areas is an overgrown nursery turned plantation. A quick look at Google Earth makes this pretty obvious. Hey, it only took me two days working there to notice it. I guess I didn't see the plantation for the trees.

I spent most of the day polesawing dead limbs from Conifers along the edge of this planting. That's whats in the Mitsubishi below. They looked pretty hideous from the road. At one point the dead branches were encased in Smilax. It's not perfect yet, but it looks much better. And the trunks of the Chamaecyparis are visible with wonderful reddish peeling bark. We'll be back next Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The mums are coming to the Bonsai Museum, the Asian Collections, and....other places

Amanda, Young, and Chris Carley grew another crop of disbud mums this year. There are new varieties plus favorites from the past. The flowers are just beginning to open now; the plants will be on display in containers mostly over the next month+.

Brighamia insignis, the 'Olulu' flowers in Polyhouse 6

Olulu is an endangered Hawaiian endemic whose natural populations feel well below 100 plants towards the end of the last Century. Bradley Evans, Introductory Gardens Horticulturist, bought this plant from a cool vendor at the Philadelphia Flower Show three or four years ago. I saw the same plants, admired them, then, put off by the price walked away. Brad bought it and donated it to the Arboretum. We all do some of this but Brad is the King of donations.

Ululu is a tropical caudiciform member of the Campanulaceae (and an endemic), I like those technical references! It's a curious plant with the appearance of an inverted turnip with a tuft of leaves at the top. Gawky and graceless, but the flowers are nice. The popular press took a fleeting interest in this plant a few years back; I recall seeing, in several places, a picture botanists roped off on a cliff face over the ocean, inspecting plants in situ.

I remember seeing this plant on Maui in a cultivated garden of native plants, and thinking it looked a lot like Cissus tuberosa, that I had had for many years, but the deciduous Cissus was topped seasonally by twining vines while the Olulu sported a perennial rosette of semi-succulent leaves.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Diospyros virginiana...our native persimmon

If "consistency is the Hobgoblin of small minds (Emerson, Churchill, et alia) I think we have to concede that texture is the Bugbane of this beautiful native fruit. The bloom is, well....they seem to glow from within, and the flavor, so long as the fruit is truly ripe is pleasant and uniquely nuanced. Still there's that issue of consistency or texture. Not good. Tradition suggests that frost is required to ripen the fruits, breaking down the astringent tannins. Actually, the fruits will ripen themselves without freezing. Two summers ago extreme late summer heat ripened most of the persimmons in August. Still, despite wonderful flavor, the fruit feels, in the mouth, as though it had rotted.

When persimmons are cooked with they are usually used to flavor something baked, a bread or a cake. I don't know. They are one of the fruits that I enjoy tasting for a few weeks once a year but one that might get old if it were available year round. Maybe I'm just fickle.

The trees are dioecious and have incredible blocky bark. Though they seem to tolerate pretty much any conditions, when you find stands of them in the wild, they are often growing in fairly moist to wet conditions. We have a good number of trees at the Arboretum; at the parking lot for Beech Spring Pond, one tree overhangs the end of the lot and there's another across the street about 50 feet. There are a couple of mature trees around the parking lot in the National Grove of State Trees.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Illicium lanceolatum fruit in China Valley....we saw a few out of season flowers on it too

Salvia x 'Ultra Violet' is a remarkable colored plant

A few of us came in Sunday morning to go on Richard Olsen's impromptu tour for Sean Hogan who flew in from the west coast Saturday night to speak in the Friends of the National Arboretum Distinguished Lecture Series. Sean is the owner of Cistus Nursery, an accomplisihed horticulturist, plant collector, and designer. His talk wasn't until 2:00, so a few of us toured the Asian Collections. Cistus Nursery is one of those nurseries whose catalogue incites me to a covetous frenzy. And it's just a black and white list with brief interesting descriptions. It was fun comparing our relative climates and how differently the same plants perform on our respective sites.

A little group who arrived early, including me, walked through the Herb Garden where we saw among other things, this insane colored Salvia hybrid. It was selected by Lauren Springer Ogden, designer and plantswoman par excellence, and Scott Ogden, her husband, a great plantsman and the author of one of my favorite books, Garden Bulbs for the South. The plant apparently appeared in their garden; they think likely it is a cross between Salvia greggii and Salvia lycoides. Its a vigorous large plant and today it was covered with these flowers that are, if anything, more colorful than I have captured them.

Though the Herb Garden was wonderful in its entirety, the Salvias, the Peppers, and the new Rose Garden were particularly nice.

Buddleia colvellei, from the Himalayas is considered to be the beauty of the genus

This plant is in flower at the top of China Valley about 15' off the road at the north end of the top bed. Because it reputedly flowers on old growth and isn't really hardy here, this may be your last chance to see these flowers. These buds then would have formed last year and survived the winter because we kept it in a polyhouse that we don't quite allow to freeze, essentially giving it a Zone 8 winter.

I expect I'll cage it later this year with leaves and see if we can bring some woody growth through the winter. We do have our occasional Zone 8 winters so there's reason for hope.