Friday, December 23, 2011

Beech Spring Pond two days before Christmas

It rained hard last night, almost an inch. We could have had 8 inches of snow. Except that it's too warm. 50+F today and 60 yesterday. There was no traffic to speak of this morning so I got to the Arboretum early and spent half an hour cruising and looking. The air was clear and the sun lit things with that curious sideways light reserved for the ends of winter days. The trees on the far (west) side of Beech Spring Pond accepted the light gracefully.

This was my last day in the gardens for over two weeks; that's sad in a way but they'll be here when I come back. Anyway I paid particular attention today.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rohea japonica, the Japanese Sacred Lily in China Valley by the steps in bed C-5

This is our "large berried" form. The fruit is, I would guess, half again the size of typical Rhodea fruit. This planting is showing off its fruit nicely this year because the volunteers divided them severely and rearranged them artistically. Before they were divided the foliage was so thick that the berried only peeked out here and there. At least this year though, they're all hanging out!

December 22 in the Asian Collections

And there's that darned Spirea thungergii 'Ogon'. It would be special even if it weren't framed by the Five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora. Part of the large weeping Katsura are visible in the right background.

Asplenium ceterach

It's out of the greenhouse and in the collection. I love this fern; click here to read my previous ravings about it! It's not immediately apparent from the photograph, but it's now growing in a vertical wall.

First sunrise after the winter Solstice

The days are getting longer now, 1 second today, and in three months if I stand at this same place at sunrise, basically facing east, I'll see the sun rising through the Capitol Columns. It will have moved that far to the north.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I've been walking through the collection this week internalizing. I'll be away for two weeks and I want to crystallize it in my mind so it (my mind) can work while I garden in the south.

This bank of St. John's wort grows at the top of China Valley close to where the turf reaches down to the paved path. Like most other Hypericums, it'll lose most or all of its leaves before winter's end but it's a nice touch of color now. It has those orangy reds that pop up her and there in retained winter foliage. Nandinas, mahonias, itea...maybe not colors you'd want to emphasize in the spring or the summer, but welcome nonetheless in late December.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spirea thunbergi 'Ogon' ('Mellow Yellow')....still colorful, and it's almost Christmas

Spireas aren't my favorite plants; they're....they're...utilitarian. No, that's not fair. They're dependable, many of them have interestingly colored foliage, the flowers are pleasant enough. Many of the various cultivars reflower if sheared after their first flowering. Some of the x bumalda types have red, yellow, orange foliage though it normally viridesces to some degree. I guess it's chemistry. They just don't do it for me.

I love this one though, and not just because it's flashy. The wispy foliage gives the plant a "light" feeliing unlike it's stockier cousins. The white flowers on naked branches appearing just as winter turns to spring are so small they'd be overlooked any later in the season. But they're a pleasant harbinger of spring. The foliage emerges yellow and stays that color through the season, only reverting to green in quite shady locations. The fall color isn't always this bright; often there isn't so much red in the mix but it's dependably a rich yellow and when it gets this amazing color and holds it to January, well, that's a bonus.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Look at those 10 dollar Phalaenopsis

Holiday shopping today, finishing up....ha ha. Anyway, I went to Ikea to buy one of those tall narrow galvanized florist's containers that they had last year. Of course this year their galvanized containers were a different shape. Oh well. I did find these Moth orchids. They were all in great shape and there were some wild selections. They weren't named but hey, for ten dollars....

Friday, December 16, 2011

I love Salvia splendens in all its incarnations

This one is spending the winter in Greenhouse 7 and it'll throw flowers all winter long. Many salvias flower perfectly nicely during the short days of winter so you see them as components of seasonal displays in cool winter conservatorys.

Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki' dried capsules

It was odd to encounter this large clump of Toadlily with its arms extended and fruit ascending. We've been patting ourselves on the back for the efficiency with which we put the garden to bed for winter but maybe there's a price to be paid for our meticulous maintenance. Maybe we cut back plants here and there that still have something to offer. It does feel good to have everything tidied up for the new year. And I did still find one nice clump of Tricyrtis to admire....

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Look it's a mad scientist

No, it's David Kidwell-Slak transplanting germinated Box huckleberries , Gaylussacia brachycera. And showing me some impressively vigorous rhizomes. He's discovered that the most efficient way go germinate the seeds is in liquid. He actually puts the seed into the small jars, monitors them, and upon germination, transplants the small seedlings to cell packs. They prefer to start under the surface and push into the air so this is a somewhat complex procedure. Apparently germination is the weak link in the life cycle of this uncommon relict species.

It's a great plant, a beautiful evergreen ericacious subshrub whose foliage colors up for the winter. Growing in dry shade, it's native to the mid-Atlantic from Pennsylvania to Virgina and west to Kentucky and Tennessee. Not at all common, it occurs in, what had been thought to be, clonal colonies. I remember almost sensationalist articles from many years ago that estimated the ages of some of those colonies as up to or even over 10,000 years. Because these clones don't reproduce sexually each colony is essentially one plant making them among the oldest living "plants". The story even made it into newspapers and popular magazines. David isn't sure of those dates; apparently they were calculated by measuring the growth of the plant and extrapolating to the size of the colony. In the top picture he's showing me rhizomes, only a few years old, which could produce large colonies without the passage of thousands of years. The Arboretum has samples of plants from many stations and Margaret Pooler has co-authored an article on the clonal fidelity of these colonies. It turns out that all the colonies aren't composed of a single clone but sexual reproduction does seem to be minimal.

It's interesting, but I'm more a gardener than a scientist so I'm excited at the prospect of a garden worthy selection of two. Evergreen groundcovers for dry shade are at a premium so it'd be great to have this as an addition to the palette. Plus, for those of us in the mid=Atlantic, it'd be a native plant.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sarcococca hookeriana (maybe).....a particularly nice accession

Look at those leaves!

I like the shorter Sarcococcas, Himalayan Sweet box, much more in theory than I do in the garden. They seem like such a perfect groundcover: a short dark green evergreen sub-shrub with fragrant flowers in the late winter or early spring. The problem is that most plantings have significant areas that are bleached, chlorotic, or yellowed for whatever reason. I must have passed this bed a thousand times and never paid enough attention to it to see that it's much nicer than your average Sarcococca. And different: the leaves that live on red/maroon twigs are darker, longer, narrower, glossier, and unmarred by any hint of yellow. It would be wonderful if this was a genetic trait but this planting is our sole representation of accession 66751 so maybe it's just growing in a perfect location. And it is growing in a very good location with shade, drainage, and adequate water.

It was wild collected in Shaanxi, China in 1996 by Kevin Conrad et alii including Rick Lewandowski. The collection notes hint at what I've come to believe are the optimum growing conditions, "Dense shade on a well drained ledge; 70% NE slope; humusy loam, deep organic surface layer;" In other words, rich organic soil and perfect drainage in deep shade....Aha!

Today I took a flat full of cuttings (it's in the boxwood family and the whole family roots....well, really easily) so we can try them in different sites and see how well it does. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Epimedium stellulatum winter foliage

LinkWe'll come through sometime in February and cut this back along with all the other evergreen epimediums but for now it's an interesting textural element: punctuation in the winter garden. The spiny serrations are very cool. It'll be covered with a cloud of white flowers next spring, but I think I like the foliage best. It's possible, more or less, to divide epimediums into clumping and spreading; some spread vigorously by rhizomes and so serve well as groundcovers while others spread very slowly remaining in irregular clumps for years and years. The difference is a matter of degree; some clumpers seem to never spread and, on the other end of the spectrum, some of the spreaders rapidly and inexorably take over the bed they're planted in. Because the flowers are so complexly beautiful, almost orchid-like, I'm sure many a gardener has daintily placed one of the spreading plants in a mixed woodland planting only to find that as the years have passed it has overcome its less aggressive neighbors. I'm sure I'm not he only one!

The evergreen epimediums are great foliar accents in the winter. We have drifts of pachysandra, liriope, ophiopogon, rohdea, et alia in the collection that, along with the evergreen shrubs, provide the form for the winter garden but it's fun to have accents. Epimedium lishihchenii is another large-leafed Chinese species (leaflets to 5" long) that's fun in the winter with its leaf undersurfaces a pale violet.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Trachelospermum difforme....well, Joan Feely cleaning seeds that will someday produce

Climbing Dogbane: the first time I knew there was a native trachelospermum was when Joan cam back from a collecting trip this fall talking about it. She found it in Mississippi in the Delta National Forest. The vine is deciduous unlike it's Asian siblings and the fruits are quite distinctive.

I know Trachelospermum jasminoides, Confederate Jasmine; an evergreen groundcover, it's ubiquitous in planted landscapes in the SE. It will climb if there's something to climb on or just sprawl otherwise. Trachelospermum asiaticum is also evergreen, also a groundcover with fragrant flowers, it's not so widespread as jasminoides, there are a number of variegated cultivars of asiaticum. Both are Asian. I didn't find a lot of information about difforme; it's apparently a widespread but uncommon resident from Maryland south to Florida, west to Texas, and north through the Midwest approaching Michigan. I found multiple references to the flowers being strongly fragrant so I look forward to them. It may be a few years, but it's good to have things to look forward to.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chimonanthus praecox, Wintersweet

Sunny and warm today but there was a big wind. I lowered the wind chimes for the season. The notes were clear but, in place of the pleasantly calming tones of the summer, was a crashing cacophony as though a cadre of super vampires were preparing to drain a nunnery while the cavalry frantically fought their way over a mountain and through a raging torrent; they had to come down. Hangng below a pulley on aircraft cable, they weigh around 40 pounds, so I just undo the cable from the huge screw-eye on the tree and they lower themselves to the ground where they live for the balance of winter and most of early spring. Usually. This year the tree grew around the cable so I had to chisel a bit of bark away. I sprinkled some sulfur powder on the wound though I don't think I even hit the cambium. It's oddly quiet now but I'll get used to it.

This is about as early as I've seen this Chimonanthus flowering heavily. We've had some cool weather but only a few nights dipped below freezing and then not much below. It must not need much vernalization. The wind was so strong that the fragrance from hundreds of flowers was barely detectable but when I brought a couple shoots into the house...It's a wonderful smell.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gardenis x 'Kleim's Hardy' with Orange fruit

I guess if you live where Gardenias are dependably hardy, seeing your plants covered with these interesting orange fruits is not anything to get excited about, but I don't. So I got pretty psyched today to see dozens of fruit on each of our 3' tall plants. I must not have been paying attention because I don't remember ever seeing fruit on a gardenia in the Asian Collections where we have a handful of hardy selections, on my own plant that I've had for at least 25 years, in a conservatory, or....anywhere. And they're pretty; orange is a fine color for late fall.

Though we do have a lot of plants, they've all been in the ground less than five years. It'll be interesting to see whether fruiting will be a regular event or this is an uncommon result of particular weather patterns. We did have an odd year weatherwise. Just yesterday, Wednesday, we set the record for daily precipitation in December, 3.4".

Okay, maybe being a small engine mechanic isn't the best part of the job....

But you've got to do what you've got to do. This is our number two string-trimmer, and it was blowing blue smoke this morning so I changed the gas; too much oil in the mix is a likely cause of that symptom. Not this time though. Some rainy, cold, or snowy day I'll check the sparkplug to see if it's fouled; odds on, that's the problem. Today I just let Nathan do all the work, er trimming. Thursday is our volunteer day and we had five volunteers to help us with the final perennial cut-backs. Nathan managed to stay ahead of them, just barely, so we didn't miss trimmer number two. Today we did mostly big drifts: anemones in China Valley, bloodgrass, and iris. It was cool and maybe not as windy as I thought it would be. We just about finished the cutbacks so next week we're going to do some pruning: watersprouts, suckers, and clearly inappropriate branches. We've never had the luxury of doing this with volunteers and it's going to make a big difference in the general appearance of the Collection. I'm psyched again!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Brookside Gardens Holiday Lights....nice flowers

Best case, today was dreary.....worst case, miserable

I got up this morning just before 5:00 am and went downstairs to the kitchen. Before I could even make a pot of coffee, the damned rain woke me up. We have almost 2" now (~8:00 pm) and it's suppose to turn to snow later tonight before ending before dawn. Sunny, breezy, and cool tomorrow.

After working inside all day editing, moving, and labeling pictures, I headed out to walk the collection and see if I could find anything cheerful outside. Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red' on the hill below Kingman Overlook fruited heavily this year. I'm not certain whether the effect is cheering but it made me feel better. I enjoy driving past the Tropical Bonsai Greenhouse on dark days when the lights are on. It always seems so...private and inviting.

There is good news on this darkness issue though; sunset, 4:46 pm EST, is as early as it gets. This time next week it'll set at 4:47 and things'll just get better from there. At least at the end of the day. Sunrise, 7:15 am EST today, is another story. It 'll not only continue to move later through the solstice, but won't reach it's nadir, 7:27 pm EST, until New Year's Eve. And it won't budge a minute for a week and a half. Oh steps.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Philadelphus incanus....sort of a candle in the wind

We have dozens of Philadelphus and they're all defoliated, all brown, all except this one shoot on this one plant. It is December. We had our first hard frost last night, well, our first heavy frost. We only dipped a few degrees below freezing but it had been warm and almost humid Thursday so the frost was impressive. The Mock Orange flower was open yesterday and seems unscathed though I bet another degree or two would have toasted the open flower.

Rogue flowering shoots happen with some frequency. If you've been gardening for a while, or even just paying attention you've seen them. Azaleas, even non-fall bloomers throw the odd flower out of season. Once in a while a mop head hydrangea will flower on new growth. I guess the triggering mechanisms aren't infallible. Anyway, when it happens, it's fun.

On a related blooming note, I don't see anything premature happening on any of the Prunus mume, but the Chimonanthus praecox are showing color. They normally flower before the first of the year, but not always in the beginning of December. Nate blew the parking lot and the nw end of the collections and I did the other end. The garden is beautiful thanks to the weather and yesterday's cleanup. And there are things going on: still odd bits of fall foliage color including the red leaves carpeting the ground under the Euonymus carnosus grove. One of the trees in the grove is still holding a good bit of foliage too. Colorful fruit are scattered about: purple Callicarpa dichotoma, red Nandinas here and there, the yellow-fruited Stranvaesia davidiana in the Japanese Woodland has at least quadrupled over the past three years and now a respectable plant, and dozens of others. The Camellia collection is bursting with color, but there are dozens of camellias scattered through the collections; I think I prefer the individuals to the collection which is somewhat overwhelming. The carpet of fallen leaves set off the evergreen trees, shrubs, and particularly the groundcovers. Counterintuitive though it may seem, it's going to be a great week for the Asian Collections.

Hamamelis leaf outside the Headhouse

It's just a special leaf. I wonder if the fact that the petiole was partly broken had to do with the curious coloration. It has been a good fall for odd leaves!

Fruit of Polygonatum cirrhifolium

Curious, almost beaked.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Camellia 'Yuletide'

I think. I couldn't locate the label. It's just to the right of the restrooms in the Asian Collections. There aren't many fall bloomers with color this deep. In the trade that is. We do have a planting of Korean Camellia japonica near our tool shed that flowers with the typical red of the species but in the fall.

The weather continues to be wonderful. We had 6 volunteers today: Julie, Nancy, Betty, Terry, Eugenia, and, our newest addition, Angela. We got a lot done. Nathan weed whipped perennials and the rest of us raked them onto tarps, loaded them onto the Mitsubishi, and drove them to the "Green Waste" pile. Plus we picked up fallen twigs and branches and pruned as we went. We did a total of 6 loads and finished the bulk of the "cut-backs" for the year. After all these years, I'm still impressed by the amount of work that gets done when you have so many hands.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis'

It's December, or it will be in a couple hours, and we've barely been below freezing. This is the time of year when I usually enter the "denial" stage. Maybe winter will pass over us; maybe we'll get into the high 40's or the 50's F every day and the sun will shine. No snow, no ice, no roaring dry cold winds out of the west. I can remember winter's when German Iris flowered in January in hot spots in the city. And a clump of wax begonias survived on the south side of the house only to succumb to cool wet weather in March. And snapdragons flowered in a planter at the Beltsville Post Office all winter. Of all things. Spring'll start the second week of February for sure, maybe the first.....

It never happens that way though. And it's always okay. Winter's kind of fun in it's own way. We usually get the animals flea and tick free before it warms up. Fires are nice. Frost, even snow, is beautiful. To see the dendritic filigree of branches against the sky or, heaven help us, snow is worth a bit of cold. And it's good to see the garden clear of the rambunctious sprawl of summer. Good for perspective. And pruning. I enjoy pruning, playing at omnipotence, deciding what direction a plant will take for the rest of its life. They're more manageable than children. I like that. And then to watch it grow, develop, fulfill its promise. As the years pass by, spring seems to come more quickly and go the same. So I guess I'll just try to embrace winter and whatever comes with it.

Still, when I come around the bend from Beechspring Pond headed up to the Asian Collections and see these cherries blanketed with pink flowers warmed in the early sun it is understandable that my thoughts might turn to spring.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fargesia robusta 'Green Screen' and Fatsia japonica 'Spider's Web'

It did start out warm, calm, and sunny this morning, but by the time I got this far into the collection the wind had picked up, the skies clouded over, and scattered raindrops were falling. This is a beautiful combination, the clumping bamboo and the variegated Fatsia. The white flowers just make it better.

The Canola is flowering in the Power Plants exhibit

Don't they know it's almost December? But you know those mustards; they like it on the cool side. I was a little surprised when I drove by it this morning, but it was 63F and sunny. I guess the plants must have interpreted the cleanup by the leaf team yesterday as a sign they were supposed to do something.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vandas are flowering in the Tropical House

Brad mentioned this plant at lunch and I stopped by on my way out to the collection to resume blowing leaves. This is an orchid I've never attempted; they need a lot of light.

The fall flowering Camellias are putting on an impressive show at the US National Arboretum

My how they've grown. The plants and the planting are both nearing what I remember from before those two deadly winters of the late 1970's. Most of the plants in the collection now could survive that degree of cold though it seems as though, what with Global Warming, they may never have to. The oldest have only been in the ground twenty years or so but some have grown rapidly. A good number are as tall or taller than I am and clearly there are a lot of flowers. I even found a red and white bicolor today but the light wasn't good enough for a picture. In general the fall bloomers have smaller flowers than the C japonica cultivars that bloom in spring. And there's less variety in the flowers in the fall; most are light to medium pink or white, but there are a few with deeper color. Still, it's an experience to wander through an acre of these plants at the end of November.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unidentified Pansy in a container outside the front door

It's been a good season for pansies; for a month or so our highs have been mostly around 60F and our lows around 40F. We've been a few degrees below freezing on a few occasions but that doesn't bother pansies. Looking at the 10 day forecast, it seems like we may keep this pattern into early December.

Frangula (Rhamnus) caroliniana. I like this plant

It's a SE US native, either a large shrub or a small tree, typically growing to about 15 feet tall. The textural effect of the glossy leaves with deeply incised parallel veins is an interesting contrast to the more usual understory plants here in USDA Zone 7. As a plus, they linger well into fall or even early winter. The red drupes are attractive in season; apparently birds love them and move the plant around in their travels. In fact, Mike Dirr is less than enthusiastic about the value of Rhamnus in the landscape, I'm sure in no small part due to its tendency to seed about. I'll keep an eye on it here, but we're hundreds of miles further north and with luck it won;t be weedy. Even so, I'd prefer it to the woody Loniceras that have taken over so much of the wild understory hereabouts.