Friday, July 1, 2011

Lilium leucanthum fragrant form from Chen Yi Nursery, China

A beautiful and pleasantly fragrant lily. Chen Yi has been shipping rare and intriguing plants from China for....well a number of years. I guess if I were to quibble, I'd say there could be more flair on the trumpet but this is a very nice lily. I like it in part because if it's unsupported, or supported low, the stems arch and the buds and flowers seem to be asking you to approach.

You never know what you'll find in the garden....

I don't know if this was a bored child amusing themselves or some sort of ritual creation. It is pretty cool. When I was in Fern Valley we occasionally found fertility offerings at the hollow base of a tree. The world's a funny place and as individuals, there's lots we don't understand.

Research Scientists don't usually do manual labor

After all, they get to design the experiments. Matt has to get his props; he's carrying the load.

I'm a little, maybe a lot, remiss in this post. After all, these scorched earth rectangles have been popping up around the Arboretum for more than a month. They are the beginnings of a research project conceived and executed, note the photo, by Dr. (I presume) Matthew Greenstone, a research scientist at ARS. There are twinned plots in various locations around the Arboretum. They will be planted with a sort of standard palette of landscape plants: trees, shrubs, perennials (I think), and turf. Of each set, one will contain all native plants, the other non-natives. As they years pass the relationships between insects/arthropods? and the respective plantings will be explored. Hypotheses will be tested. Conclusions may be drawn. I'm psyched.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

In our temporary quarters, the Herbarium processing area is right behind my desk

Mostly on Tuesdays, but sometimes on Thursdays, volunteers process dried specimens. I enjoy listening to them. Today on my way in at the end of the day Carol stopped me to show off some cool California Oaks they were mounting. I remember the process from school, and one summer that I spent collecting specimens for the University of Maryland herbarium. Sometimes they turn out like works of art, other times like rudely mashed plant pieces. These Oaks have mostly small leaves and so make great specimens. I always enjoy seeing them post gluing with the variety of aluminum weights holding them in place.

Amanda Shutte....outstanding in her field

Carole's field actually. This was really her last day.

Rubus henryi var. bambusarum and Rubus setchuenensis: intriguing but scary!

Hey, I like blackberries as much as the next guy.....say in a cobbler or on vanilla ice cream. I like some in the garden, but they are scary. They tend to be "vigorous" plants, growing rapidly and often spreading by rhizomes to create colonies. Maybe those are good qualities in a garden plant if well sited, bu terrifying in weeds.

We've got a lot of Rubus calycinoides syn. pentalobus in the Asian Collection and I have a small patch of it at home; it's an attractive very vigorous groundcover for hot sunny areas. Setchuenensis looks a lot like calycinoides but the leaves are big, really big, like 7 inches long instead of an inch and a half. I'm not a big taxonomy geek but I looked around a bit; I think I saw a synonym: Rubus calycinoies macrophylla. That makes sense to me. An acquaintance of Scott's sent these and they're quite attractive. I read though that they mature over 12 feet tall so that's a bit intimidating. We put our three plants in the cut flower bed to keep an eye on them. I'm psyched!

Pat Lynch donated the Rubus henryi var. bambusarum. Its supposed to become a scrambling climber and it clearly has a bamboo like appearance. I like it too. It's reminiscent of Viburnum henryi ?!? and Metapanax delavayi, both attractive textural plants. The literature suggests that it can scramble to 20 feet so maybe this is another one to keep our eyes on. Oh, well. I guess Rubus will be Rubus.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Carole made Peach Cake and Texas Sheet Cake for Amanda's send off: tomorrow is her last day

She seems to have gotten Amanda's attention.

I know that I tend to superlatives but Amanda is really a great gardener....and a great person. She started two and a half years ago as an intern; when her internship was up we hired her as a term ASRT, Agricultural Science Research Technician and she moved into the position of China Valley Gardener. Hard working, conscientious, enthusiastic, self-starting, assiduous, creative, curious, realistic....It's hard to say enough good things about Amanda. Of course I'm going to try though.

If you give most people a plant and a site, some very high percentage, almost all, of them, will put the plant in a wrong place. Inches count; I've dug many a plant post initial planting to move it one foot. Amanda unfailingly gets it right. Or at least she does what I would have done, or something that, once seen, I have to admit is good. I don't mean to be offensive when I say I was surprised she had this ability. It's an uncommon skill. Siting is a difficult problem; you have to consider ultimate sizes of all the plants, light, shade, drainage...,many many things. And it's a basic prerequisite to being able to design. I hope she continues to garden either professionally or personally. I would love to see her 20 years from now with all that experience.

I'm not good at grass ID, but it sure is pretty

We found this on the floodplain growing inside the Salix chaenoemeliodes by the river. I guess that makes them weeds. I'm glad they were there though.

Rosa roxburgii...I'm a "hip" man when it comes to roses

This one has some serious albeit prickly hips.

We decided to show no mercy to Amanda on her last full day so we did a little project on the floodplain below China Valley. This is an area that contains a good number of wild collected plants and doesn't get the level of maintenance that it deserves. The last time we did any major work there was almost two years ago. Amanda wanders down once in a while and Nate sprayed once after that project turned out not to be in such bad shape as we feared; we sort of knew this because we do walk there once in a while, but Carole and I are both good at visualizing worst case scenarios and Amanda is such a perfectionist that she really though it was a disaster today. Me, I was overjoyed at the state of things. Still, I had to crawl under this rose to uproot some Ampelopsis vines. No problem for the dedicated and the intrepid.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

USNA Herb Garden....I walked through the Herb Garden this afternoon

We missed GrayC, the Herb Garden curator, at the FONA/NBF luncheon; she had volunteers today and ate lunch with them. She missed some wonderful sandwiches and seriously decadent desserts. Every year FONA and the NBF (National Bonsai Foundation) host a lunch for Arboretum employees, a good chance to talk with people who might technically be co-workers but with whom you rarely interact. And mix with FONA board members and such.

I had an opportunity to speak with Johann Klodzen, NBF Director, always an agreeable experience. Among other things, we discussed seasonality and the weather. When we're around our own kind, that is, other gardener, weather is not just small talk, but serious business. It's been one week since the first day of summer; that means, of course, that the days are getting shorter. Not so's you'd notice though; we've lost a total of 81 seconds in 7 days. Damn Science anyway; an intellectual awareness that things (the day length) are going in the wrong direction is so easily translated into a visceral unease. It's the same thing that drops Fall out of the "best season" spot into a weak second place to spring. Still though the seeds of winter are the product of earliest spring. I suppose I ought to learn to embrace all the seasons. I'm just not a winter guy!

Summer's been kind of funny this year. We've had a good number of days right around 100F and humid, but then we've had more where the temps stayed in the mid to low 80's and the humidity was low. We, the humans that is, favor the latter, most of the plants seem happier at high temperatures if they can also have high humidity. Today hot and humid, tomorrow cooler and drier. Three weeks from now the average temperatures will begin to drop. It seems like August is the hottest month, but it's really the third week of July. Right now as I write this it's raining hard....real hard. I think it rained today on the Florida garden; it looks like we matched the rainfall for May and June today! Finally.

Anyway, thinking about GrayC, I stopped at the Herb Garden on the way in at the end of the day and walked about for a bit admiring things. She popped up just as I was leaving the rose garden and volunteered that she particularly enjoyed watching sparrows eat Japanese bettles. I had to agree that that was a pleasant and a satisfying sight.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lilium lancifolium and Hemerocallis fulva invite you into China Valley

Neither of these plants gets much respect, they're too common and too easy, still they invite you into the garden. Best case scenario: they're pleasantly attractive. Worst case: the Tiger Lilys are virus carriers and the Tawny Daylilys are invasive. ???

Epimedium in the morning

One of the good things about going to work at 6:30 is that you're in the garden early. I don't know if this is dew, rain (it was raining when I got to the Arboretum), or irrigation water. Our cycle runs from late Sunday night to early Monday morning so it was likely all of the above. It was lovely though with the sun slicing under the trees and catching the droplets.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beltsville Library Garden: where are the hummingbirds? Campsis grandiflora 'Morning Calm' and Monarda fistulosa

And the bees; where are the bees. These two plants are normally magnets for hummingbirds and insects of all sorts. There just seems to be something that just doesn't work for insects and birds here. A robin nested here earlier this year but I've yet to see a hummingbird and butterflies are scarce. l expect that if I added water it would help but then there would be mosquitos to worry about. Bt I guess.

Beltsville Library Garden: Musa 'Baajoo', Canna 'Pretoria', and Justicia carnea

(the small mound of foliage to the right of the banana against the wall is the Justicia)

I took this picture just to show the three "tropical", or near tropical plants that overwintered in this USDA Zone 7 courtyard. Looking at it though, I realize that it displays one of the interesting effects in this garden: the cool shadows! Because the walls are pale and the axis of the garden runs, more or less, north=south, there are wonderful shadows in the morning and again in the afternoon. Several of the plants were chosen because they produce interesting shadows and the Cotinus, back (left) is one of them. On the opposite wall, that is west facing, is a nice dissected elderberry. I won't be back to see those shadows this afternoon, but since I occasionally water on my way home from the Arboretum, I do see them.

Musa 'Basjoo' is completely hardy here, even in the open garden, so in this sheltered space I expect it to be very impressive next year and onward. 'Pretoria' is a canna that's usually hardy here in the Washington DC area, however this past winter, for some reason, they all seem to have died. Except this one!. Plants I've watched for upwards of 10 years seem to have died.I don't really know why but hardiness is a complex issue so I'm not going to worry about it! The real surprise is that Justicia carnea has survived three winters outdoors; a shrub in it's native environs, for us at the Library it's a die-back shrub, in effect a perennial. I've know the plant forever it seems; I remember growing it in my early teens. I never thought about its hardiness; you don't usually think about the hardiness of houseplants. I''m fairly certain that I recall seeing it as a Zone 9 or 10, so I was a little surprised to see that the literature now often rates it Zone 8. I guess maybe an enclosed courtyard in Zone 7b isn't such a stretch after all.