Saturday, May 8, 2010

Seneca Hill Perennials is calling it quits....this was a nursery so unique it's irreplaceable

There's nowhere else to go for many of their plants. I sure am glad I got that Morea reticulata last year, and the Brunsvigia. This is yet another of those times when I regret my regular exaggeration. When I say that I want "everything" in a catalog, I don't really mean "everything". I mean that I like their inventory but maybe only really want 10% ? of it. Or something like that. Except with Seneca Hill it's more like 60%. Honestly. I've got a weakness for South African geophytes and where else in the world will I find a nursery that's assembled a large list of these plants hardy to USDA Zone 6? And all those Cyclamen. And the ridiculously choice listing of native plants, most with provenance....? Nowhere. That's the answer. At least not in this country.

I opened my email Friday morning to find this message and was depressed the rest of the day. This morning, at a Beltsville Garden Club Sale, I spoke to a few fellow fanatics and all of us had mental lists of plants that we had one day intended to buy from SH but just hadn't. It would have been wonderful to have had, say, a one month warning. I know I would have ordered 20-30 plants. Oh well. Such are the rewards of procrastination. Let this be a lesson to us. I only hope Ellen realizes what a treasure their nursery has been and how strongly so many of us felt about it.

Beltsville Library Garden is looking good after two years, but....

There are problems of proportion, the same problems of proportion that I'm facing with the Florida garden. I ought to know better; after all, this is what I do. I design gardens, and when you go from jump street, the proportions require a bit of time to align themselves. Shrubs grow faster than trees so that after a year or two the shrub elements are typically way ahead of the trees. The first impression we have of a space usually is a visceral awareness of the relationships between the visible physical masses. When the trees aren't "trees" yet, we feel that something's wrong. And it is. Time passes, and if the concept is good, the growth of shrubs tops out, and the trees continue. Groundcovers fill in, we make minor adjustments to edges and curves shifting perennials and small shrubs as required and suddenly it begins to work. That's a good time and a good feeling.

The problems in Florida and at the Library are a bit different. I inherited both understory trees  and a large Heritage Birch at the Library so it's the shrubs that have some catching up to do; that's a much quicker process and, looking at the picture, the garden doesn't look horribly out of sync. On the other hand, in Florida the trees I inherited were giant Live Oaks so the understory trees, including palms, are what I'm waiting for and that'll take a bit longer.

Although most clients respond to their installations with enthusiasm and optimism, I know that once in a while the response will be one of polite approval or even overt skepticism. These people often call back in four or five years very happy and wanting to do more. I've had two of these calls this week and it's a wonderful experience.Now I just have to make myself be patient about Florida!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not banned in Boston, but banned by my own employer

Apparently something in the Blog triggered a security alert that then banned access to 1003Gardens from all USDA computers. I'm working on finding out what it is.  I'm not sure how I feel about this but I'm assuming it's a glitch so my feelings aren't hurt.

Pogonia ophioglossoides and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (I think)

The Pogonia is in the Northern Bog, on the west side of the trail in from Crabtree Road. There are Yellow Ladies Slippers in various locations.

Early morning is often the best time to view a garden

When I got to work this morning the sun was just sneaking over the Administration Building. This entire planting is less than 3 years old. Bradley Evans and Angie, our ex superhort conceived it. Brad has been in charge of maintaining it since and it has really come into its own. Brad is now in complete charge of the plantings around the Administration Building, the parking lots, R Street entrance, the Headhouse?, and a bunch of other areas. He chooses the plants, creates the designs, oversees installation and maintenance.... He does a lot of stuff. When I was leaving tonight he was hand mowing grass at the Headhouse. Wow.

It's been a crazy spring here in Washington: we've had very hot days, very cool days, and some average days

Nothing below freezing though. Most years if you heard someone voice the words "this has been a crazy spring" you would know immediately that they were a novice gardener; every spring is crazy, but you know what though, this has been a crazy spring. I have to say though, mercurial as things have been it has been a wonderful year for gardens. I'm fanatically obsessed with weather as so many gardeners are. I have 14 weather sites bookmarked and they are visited pretty regularly. One place I haven't gone lately is to NOAA's "past weather" where you can check the normal or average high and low for every day. Because we haven't been close enough to normal to make that a useful exercise! Today, however, we're supposed to get pretty close to a high of 73F and a low of 53F.

On balance, we're several weeks ahead except in a few instances. Dogwoods, for example, were early and Azaleas started early but seem to be hanging on nicely. When we got back Monday from 9 days in Florida I think the non-permanent biomass (including new twigs) must have doubled during the time we were gone. My own garden felt claustrophobic, the Beltsville Library garden had gone from just beginning to lush, and the Arboretum looked, and felt, like early summer. It's been good weather for weeds.  Over the course of this week though, the 90 degree days dropped to 80's, now into the 70's so maybe we can get back into our normal late spring routines.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Eugenia, Terry,Tatton, and Amanda thinned the "contained" running Bamboos at the entrance to China Valley

I think it came out very well; instead of being intimidated by a bulky dense impenetrable mass that actually invaded the pathway, there's a light airy feel with intriguing glimpses of the plantings behind the Bamboo. Carole has been urging me to do this for quite some time and I have to admit I ought to have found time sooner. Better late than never I always say.

I helped after lunch and had forgotten how satisfying it was to work with that many people at a pleasant job that comes to a good finish. Terry had been gone for a while because of health issues and it was good to see her again. She seems her old self. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Asphodelus damascena flowering in its second year

I bought this from Mike Bordelon at the Beltsville Garden Club Sale last year. It seemed happy in the island bed by the street in Adelphi. Sandy soil and dry make some sense I guess for a Syrian/Turkish/Lebanese native. The silver/gray basal foliage is nice too. Mike grows modest  numbers of a variety of interesting, uncommon, or just very nice perennials and offers them twice a year at the BGC sales. There's another sale this Saturdayat 8:00 am at High Point High School (on Powder Mill Road west of I-95).

Papaver sp. from Azerbaijan

Another one of Stefan's collections flowered today near the intersection of the China Valley Path and the Road.

Lilium maculatum...the label says. That bud will open tomorrow but I sort of like the hairiness of the whole thing

 You don't see too many tomentose Lilium buds, and I missed this one last year. It's hidden along the top of China Valley next to the Pinus henryi. I didn't look it up in BG-Base because....well because I was on my way home. It does list C. Howick as the source. Sounds vaguely familiar??? I'll add some data and a picture of the open flower tomorrow.

5/7/10      Here's the flower as promised. The plant was grown from seed wild collected in Japan  Hokkaido: Hookaido Prefecture: Shimauta: Kudo district, Setana/~5, in a field by the coast at Shimauta in 1990.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cladrastis kentuckea, Yellowwood. One of the very nicest North American trees

And my favorite. Most of the time...If you drive along the road in Fern Valley you can find this tree by looking either up, down, or using your nose. The pure white racemes cascade over the road as the tree arches towards available sunlight. Fallen white flowers litter the edge of the road for at least 200 feet under the tree, and you can smell it as soon as you get close. It smells wonderful.

Several years ago I spent a little time removing vines from some giant Yellowwoods that were growing in an uncurated part of the Arboretum. They're giant trees and I found a label on one that identified it has having been planted in December 1941, a Pearl Harbor tree! I've always said that you could plant woodies here in DC all winter so long as the ground wasn't frozen. Anyway, they are flowering now; I looked from the road (at the brick bridge on Hickey Lane) and 150 feet away there was no mistaking the identity of those trees.. This is the heaviest they have flowered in the three years since I cleaned their canopies. Wow. .

Trochodendron aralioides, Chimonanthus praecox, and Livistonia sp. (this last from Florida last week)

Sometimes I like them not because they're beautiful, but because they're just wonderful to look at. The sea slug looking fruits in the middle belong to Chimonanthus praecox. This is one of a pair of plants at the beginning of the China Valley path. Eugenia and I have our doubts that they are standard C. praecox. The growth habit and the bloom time are quite distinctly different from the rest of our plants.

Syringa villosa (white flowered) and Syringa komarowii ssp. reflexa

Most of the hybrid Lilacs are finished and Syringa reticulata hasn't begun yet but we have a few species bridging the gap. These plants are in China Valley along the path.

Anchusa italica or azurea....I think. This plant isn't delicate or graceful, it's actually weedy and uncouth but those flowers are a beautiful color

I like the rosettes too. Stefan brought back seeds of this plant for the blue flowers. Who could blame him? I had assumed from the rosette that it was a biennial but the literature suggests perennial. Apparently it has weedy tendencies, but really, who would care? It's growing above the China Valley path at the top of the valley.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Myrcianthes fragrans, Simpson's Stopper

This is a wonderful plant, vase-shaped, Crape myrtelesque. Fragrant evergreen leaves cloak beautiful grayish exfoliating bark. Every fall it has orange fruits with a pleasant piquant taste. Bird love the berries and butterflies love the flowers. I only wish I had planted a larger plant 3 years ago. It was less than a foot tall when it went in; now it's right about 5 feet.

Bulbine sp. ...I've put a few Bulbines in; they take cold and drought well and flower a lot

This Bulbine apparently came through the winter unscathed though it could have just grown back quickly. I added a few succulents last summer including three different Bulbines and an Echevereia 'Topsy Turvy'. The Echeveria also came through undamaged and though it hasn't grow appreciably, I can see by many small side shoots that it's going to be a good sized clump by summer's end.

This trip I put a couple of upland columnar Cacti in the open garden. Oreocereus celsiana and Espostoa melanostele. Respectively Old-man-of-the Andes, and Peruvian Old Lady. They will likely be happy until winter and even then temperature won't be the issue with these high elevation cacti. If the soil stays dry, all will be well; otherwise I don't know. They're both small plants so, come December, I may just move them under the overhang of the screen porch to ensure they won't have wet feet. Maybe after a couple of years of growth they would stand a better chance of wintering outside. Since it's only just May I've got 7 month to think about it!

Iris x Abbeyville Red ? isn't visible in this picture, but will look great here next year

Until this week, my experience with Louisiana Iris consisted of a vague theoretical awareness that there was a hybrid complex of southern species Iris that loved/tolerated? moisture and at least superficially resembled Iris ensete cultivars. This past Monday as I wandered through Webster Flea Market, I came upon a vendor I've had a long rerm relationship with and he had twenty pots or so of spectacular Iris. I assumed they were Louisiana cultivars and, while for the most part the Florida garden is dry, there are a couple of dampish areas. One of these spots, on the low  side of the property at the end of a downspout, is populated by a mixed planting of Canna 'Phaison' (Tropicana) and Hedychium coronarium. One of the irises was a spectacular velvety tawny red that belonged next to the Canna so I bought it and planted a piece of it amongst the Cannas. Unfortunately I didn't photograph the flower right away and never got another good opportunity.

A little online research suggested to me that the Iris likely has Iris nelsonii, or Abbeyville Red in its direct line of descent. I'm looking forward to next year where I'll see either flowers on this small piece I pulled off and planted, or on the larger part of the plant that I'm bringing home to Adelphi. Win win.