Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Metasequoias in the Mist

Today started out cold and wet. Then the warm air moved in and fog appeared.

A Little Red for the Holidays

It’s a matter of perspective…really. If the garden were full of blooming peonies, irises, roses, lilies, wisteria…., well, you wouldn’t look twice at a few straggling leaves on a straggly little shrub. No matter that they’re so red they seem to glow from inside. The thing is though, we’ve just passed the winter solstice, an event that makes me happy beyond all reason, and color is at a premium. We takes what we can get. And really those leaves are incredible. Itea is, generously, a nondescript smallish to medium shrub. True, its small flowers are fragrant but that’s a technicality. In the first place they aren’t very fragrant, maybe at a range of 1-5 inches! and in the second, it’s not that nice a smell. Not repugnant, just not something you’d go out of your way for. The longer you garden and the more you read the more you realize that while there are many wonderfully fragrant plants there are a goodly number universally described as fragrant, that will drive you to question your own olfactory facility. Itea is one of those plants, but I love it anyway, for that little surprise of color it offers at the darkest time of the year.


Hypericum patulum, is another deciduous shrub that stubbornly holds onto a handful of leaves through midwinter. There is a planting at the top of China Valley across a narrow grassy strip from the road. Sometimes the stragglers color completely like itea; that’s beautiful.  Sometimes though, they retain areas of green along with the red; that’s intriguing and beautiful. Again, it’s a gentle appeal, gainfully employing gloomy December days, however depressing, as providers of perfect settings for the delicately subtle beauty of lingering leaves.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Camellia 'Winter's Fire' ( @ this week's volunteer letter)

Good morning everybody,

I was off on Monday attending to various issues so I missed this year’s leaf team in the Asian Collections. Pat, Keegan, and Keevan must be excellent motivators (or severe taskmasters?) because the team finished the entire collection. All paths and groundcovers are bare and the leaves we’re keeping are in appropriate beds at appropriate depths flattened and anchored by yesterday’s rain. We have the usual piles along the road and a new large pile in the parking lot, but they’ll be vacuumed up next week and transported to our composing area.


The camellias continue to shine. ‘Winter’s Fire’, Dr. Ackerman’s coolest selection, sits in full bloom at the entrance to the collection across the path from the sign. It has quite large red flowers with white viral blotches. Very showy. ‘Winter’s Rose’, another Ackerman introduction, grows at its base. ‘Winter’s Rose’ is unique because of its size. The two plants growing there, near the entrance to the collection, have been in the ground almost 20 years and are barely a foot tall. What a remarkably useful plant in the garden! It ought to be more commonly available. The moles continue to rampage under the camellia paths. I don’t know what’s going on! The good news is that moles are carnivores and don’t eat plants material. The bad news is that voles adopt discarded runways using them for shelter and transportation. They do eat roots. The slight warming trend is allowing some of our mums to hang onto their flowers. While technically still in bloom, they aren’t looking real good. Maybe it’s time to give up on fall flowers for this year.


As fall departs though, winter arrives. We are seeing buds swelling on the Chimonanthus praecox. They’ll be flowering in a week or two, which is maybe a little early, but close to typical. Prunus mume  won’t be far behind. There have been years when I’ve cut both for Christmas. Across the path from the big planting of Chimonanthus in bed V, Styphnolobium japonicum ‘Gold Standard’ has grown as fast as any tree in the collections. It’s golden yellow branches are pretty impressive. The nandina have responded to your severe cut-backs with thick richly green foliage and an abundance of fruits. The Stewartia’s multicolored bark is on display now that the plants are bared for the winter. The Thujiopsis across the path again in J-8 have the same intricately patterned texture they have all year, but it jumps out now with so many visual distractions removed… Giovanna, Gracia, Betty, Terri, and I worked there in beds N-1 and N-2 last week finishing the clean-up.  That whole area is a great winter space. Sometimes I regret that those plants aren’t visible from the road but it’s a nice reward for people who do get out of their cars and walk.


There are still a few cutbacks to do. They’re mostly isolated and or late-flowering perennials. There are a handful in the Japanese woodland below the parking lot and in the camellias, a few around the pagoda, and others here and there. It’s become more a matter of walking around until you come upon them than of going to an area and working in one place. Tomorrow is supposed to be partly sunny with a high of 42F and windy: sustained winds of 15 mph with gusts, during the daytime, between 20 and 25 mph. Not a horrible day but not a great day either. I’m always excited to see you all, but if you come in, know it’s going to be quite chilly.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Diospyros kaki 'Pendula'

Cool little plant growing along the road in the Asian Collections. It began fruiting a couple of years ago but this is more than it's ever had.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fall Stuff in the Asian Collections

From the top: Idesia polycarpa, Euonymus carnosus, chrysanthemums and styrax, tricyrtis, indigofera

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fall come to the Asian Collections

Pardon my fingers (and the doorframe), I didn't have a lens hood. The yellower they get, the more the leaves on the weeping katsura smell of spun sugar!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Habeneria rhodocheila at the NCOS Show last weekend

This plant is native from South China into the Philippines but it brings back memories of another orange habeneria, Habeneria ciliaris, now more correctly, Platynanthera ciliaris, from 50 years ago. I was 12 on a family camping trip somewhere in West Virginia. I don't remember where. Hiking along a fire trail, I came upon a sizable colony fully in flower. Heady stuff for a budding naturalist! It was a piece of cake to identify in Peterson's wildflower guide. There weren't that many orange flowers. Though I've encountered it numerous time in the intervening years it still makes me smile to remember this first discovery.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Weekly letter to the volunteers in the Asian Collection at the US National Arboretum

[We have a remarkable crew of volunteers who work in the Asian Collections. Their knowledge level and experience are intimidatingly high. After 5 years, I'm continually amazed at how much work they get done. I don't want to imagine where we'd be without them. Every Wednesday I try to write them a letter letting them know where things are in the collection and what we'll be trying to do the next day. I've been writing these for a few years now. I decided to post them on the blog thinking maybe they're give some insight into the Collection.]  
Hello everyone,

Had no idea it was going to rain today and it really hasn’t rained enough to more than inconvenience anyone. It’s supposed to be dry tomorrow, partly sunny, and pleasantly warm. Good weather for gardening! Parenthetically, this is almost the perfect time to plant grass seed whether you’re reseeding a large area or just lightly overseeding stressed portions of your lawn. Temperatures are cool enough to not stress and at the same time warm enough to encourage germination and growth. We seem to be getting dribs and drabs of rain along with an occasional deeper soaking. This means we don’t have to water as much as we might have had to. The only down side is that birds are massing in huge flocks either to migrate south or to winter hereabouts. If you don’t conceal your seed with straw, or preferably  a light topsoil or leafgro application (~1/4”) it can disappear quickly!


But wait, enough about lawns and gardens, how about more about me?! Just quickly I swear. Saw Dr. Daoud this morning and my physical constraints have been removed. I am able to do the normal things that people do. No lifting extremely heavy objects, swinging mattocks, digging ditches… but usual gardening tasks including blowing and spraying are okay. That sounds good to me; it’s been years since I enjoyed swinging a mattock! The graft continues to look good. It heals from the outside in and the small area still “unattached” has trapped a pocket of fluid that is keeping my vision blurry. The doctor assures me that it is not unusual for transplants on transplants to take months to completely heal.


The Osmanthus fortunei at the junction of the road and the path to the pagoda is in full bloom. Yesterday I could smell it 30 feet away. Great smell. O. fragrans is probably flowering at the pagoda. The Gymnaster Savatieri we moved from bed J-M to the sidewalk by the women’s restroom is starting to flower. The  flowers are nice and it’s a weedy (I mean vigorous) thing, a good groundcover. We may need to move the hostas out of its path! K & K continue to work at the GCA Circle. They finished excavating the gravel bed and are adding gravel as I write. It was frightening looking last week; after K&K worked on it for a day, we’re all feeling much better about prospects for restoration. The dwarf mondo that you all planted on the other side of the circle has re-greened after the depredations of last winter and is keeping soil/mulch from washing out of the beds. Little improvements like that are wonderful. It’s easy to forget you’ve done something like that, but remember how messy those edges used to look? Now the interface between the edging bricks and the paving is sharp and clean. The big things and the little things keep adding up…


This week I’d like to concentrate on K-0 at least for the beginning of the day. We can weed out the dead nutsedge and plant the Lysimachia ‘Persian Chocolate’. There is pruning to do, and some cutbacks as well. We’ll plant the begonias,'Shaanxi White' that  are eating up a corner of one of our lath beds. I’d like some of them to go into bed C-5 in the moist area in front of the stone bench and possibly trailing down the south side of the steps a few feet. We’ll find a spot for the rest. I’m thinking maybe in Ca-2  (the bed  between the Dogwood Collection and the main Camellia path). They like soil that’s rarely dry and a bit of sun but not too much. Like B. grandis, they are beautiful when they’re happy and ugly when they’re stressed. While we’re in C-5, let’s move some more dwarf mondo from the steps below the pagoda to the steps in C-5. We made a good start at this project but there are places that still need planting. There are other miscellaneous things including de-leafing the tree peonies at the GCA Circle and in bed J-N2. I’m thinking we ought to move the Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’ from bed C-8 where it’s being shaded out to the open space in the middle of C-5. Eventually that’ll be too shady too, but not for 4-5 years.


Happy fall,








Monday, September 29, 2014

There's Some Flowers out there


 From the top: Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’; Camellia ‘Winter’s Star’; Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

They’re subtle but that’s okay. Autumn isn’t spring. Spring starts slowly then builds to a breathtaking crescendo of peonies, wisteria, iris, lilies, hydrangeas… Early autumn is calmer, richer…somber almost. After all, the year isn’t beginning, the year is winding down. The pace has slowed which is okay because it gives us time to spend looking at individual flowers, or fruits, or the occasional precocious red or gold leaf. We have time to walk out and check on whether the any of the osmanthus or elaeagnous are flowering. If they are we’ll smell them before we see the tiny flowers. It’s almost  It takes more time to examine the intricately mottled flower of the toad lily than it does to absorb the splendor of a 100 foot wisteria in full bloom. Well maybe not, still…..

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The sod is here, the sod is here!

We've been waiting for this for a long time. For the whole space to come together. While the Administration Building was being renovated, the area immediately surrounding it, including the North Court shown here, were fenced of and unavailable to us. It was difficult ot watch the weeds grow unchecked season after season. Well, we've had the space back for a couple years now and Brad's plantings  have been spectacular but the grassy area inside the "L" of the building became one of those spaces that just wasn't bad enough to get itself attended to. The grade wasn't great but it wasn't horrible, the condition of the turf was close to horrible, but when you mow green plants they turn into a lawn of sorts.....

Anyway, this year we had the opportunity to install a tent pad  of permeable pavers (for outdoor events). It went in this summer and we graded the space, installed irrigation, and this morning the  sod went down. It's already a beautiful space. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

I knew it was going to happen. Bidens aristosa is covering the Arboretum!

It is indeed a showy tickseed! If we have to be overrun, this is the way to go. Every year it turns more of the Arboretum gold in the late summer. We have acres of it now. I took these pictures a couple weeks ago (before my cornea transplant). There are sill flowers today though only hundreds of thousands, not millions. Maybe only tens of thousands. We've been watching this spread since... well since it first exploded  . It first appeared in the Fern Valley Meadow and Prairie, it's reaching into the ellipse and overtaken the triangle between the meadow and the paper birches in the National Grove of State Trees. And it's established beachheads along Springhouse Run, fields abutting Research Nurseries, and throughout the arboretum any place it finds a sunny space.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wild Collected Cornus kousa flowers fading to pink/red

This young dogwood has been growing in the Asian Collections at the USNA for about 15 years but has never looked especially vigorous. Last year (2013) that changed. The leaves took on a better color, there were more of them, and the tree didn't shed small branches as it had over the past 4-5 years. Sometimes it takes a while for a plant to acclimate to a site. Fifteen years seems like a long time, but this site, soilwise, isn't the greatest so I'm just happy that it's finally happy!

This spring it had a few more flowers than the smattering it had produced heretofore and the bracts assumed this intense color as they aged. There must be a genetic component but the question is, will it continue to do this? It's possible that the color is primarily a result of environmental conditions. We had a remarkably wet spring/early-summer last year, a very cold winter, and a late spring. We'll watch next spring to see what happens.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Flowers in the sun

Saw a lot of gardens this weekend; I loved these flowers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The year of the buttercup!

We are overrun with buttercups this year in Washington DC and environs. I often wonder what it is that accounts for explosions of a particular plant. We had quite a cold winter....but we had a very wet spring and early summer last year. Those are just what comes to mind. I'm sure the answer is different and more complex so I'll just try to enjoy the color without thiniking "weed".

Asian Collection US National Arboretum May 14

No hydrangeas flowering this year and almost no loropetalum, but it's still a beautiful place.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Primula sieboldii 'Pink Snowflake' Asian Collections USNA

This is another plant that the winter seems to have been good for. While there are a few outliers scattered through the collection, most of these primroses are planted in the perennial beds at the GCA Circle. They've been in the ground for a few years now and the clumps have increased enough so that we've been able to turn singles into groupings. The plant in the foreground was a small division of the larger clump last year.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Arisaema thunbergii ssp. urashima in the Japanese Woodland at the US National Arboretum

This is one of the earliest and the coolest of the Asian Jack-in-the -pulpits The tip of he hood narrows to that curiously extended mouse tail. Cool plant.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rhododendron 'Dorset' In Asian Valley at the US National Arboretum

and Camellia 'Anacostia' to the left farther down the trail.

Dipelta floribunda, Rosy dipelta, in China Valley

Two of these shrubs live near the bottom of China Valley where they are visited only by our more intrepid walkers. They aren't spectacular 4-season showpieces but the flowers are attractive, the plants are trouble free, with a slight pleasant fragrance to boot. This is another one of the deciduous flowering shrubs that's really too big for most of our gardens. Our plants, until last year's severe pruning were at least 12 feet across and almost as tall. If you have a one acre garden it fits, but the flowers last only for a couple weeks and, while it's not an unattractive plant, it has that gawky formless growth habit common to so many deciduous shrubs. Still, it's definitely worth a walk to the bottom of China Valley once a year. 

This individual was grown from seed wild collected in China almost 35 years ago.

Monday, April 14, 2014

/who is it? It's an Epimedium Mystery!

We have a very good collection of epimediums in the Asian Collection at the US National Arboretum. It's well labeled and supported by good records. So how did this happen? It seems to have snuck in somehow. Maybe it's a seedling, a cross-pollenated seedling. Anyway it isn't labeled, it isn't mapped, it doesn't match any of our other epimediums living or dead in our records.

It's very attractive and extremely cold resistant. This winter it was the only epimedium not to suffer any winter foliar burn.

Mangave 'Macho Mocha' Spiking in Florida Garden (thanks Bill)

Brad gave me this plant a few years ago. One of the problems with a second garden is that you miss a lot. I've never seen it flower. Someday though....

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Prunus mume 'Okitsu-akabana'

The long cold winter threw of the timing for many of the Flowering Apricots. This lovely soft pink selection is still flowering though the number of blooms seems greatly reduced.