Saturday, August 8, 2009

Butterfly Garden at the Washington Youth Garden

The Washington Youth Garden is both an actual garden, and an institution that provides both education and a "Green experience" to the children of Washington DC and their families. There is a large vegetable garden where many many children have been introduced for the first time to the experience of planting, cultivating, and harvesting vegetables. Much of that garden was fenced this year to exclude deer, who like vegetables too. Running along one side and the front of the fenced garden is a huge 'Butterfly Garden". I had not been to the garden for a month or so and there weren't any butterflies, or not very many anyway then. Friday was a different story. Butterflies and goldfinches everywhere!

Atraphaxis spinosa: one of the Azerbaijani plants

Stefan's thumbnail description: "nice 3-ft. shrub, small glaucous leaves, very nice pink papery seeds." And there they are. Actually these appear to be part of the flower, perianth segments of some sort. The plants in China Valley aren't flowering; I think this is the only taxa where the container plants are outperforming the "planted" plants.

Because I had never heard of Atraphaxis, being charged with siting it in the collection motivated me to do research. It has a wide distribution, ranging from Eastern Europe to the Gobi Desert, and does, in fact, turn out to be a desert plant. I put it on a hot, sunny, fairly steep slope but the soil may be a bit moisture retentive for this particular plant. They're living and seem to be taking off now but likely won't flower this year, but hopefully in the future because it is pretty. Growing new plants is exciting!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pretty Orange-Sulfur on Clematis heracleifolia

I know this plant is gawky and completely lacking in grace but I have always been fond of it. The flowers have a deeper color than this photograph communicates and a wonderful fragrance, a grapish/kudzu sort of scent. It's a tough plant, not often troubled by the trivial vicissitudes of pests or diseases and happy in just about any soil so long as it's sited neither in full sun nor full shade. Actually, with adequate water, full sun probably works. The fragrance though, that's the thing. This is the first Alfalfa butterfly I've seen this year, but then the butterflies were late appearing this season.

The trees are still standing.....well anyway two of them are!

The tree contractor came in today and removed the two smaller trees to make way for the 125 ton crane that is now scheduled for Monday. They made short work of the Oak and Tulip tree, leaving one pole to tie the leaning Tulip tree to. There were lots of reasons for taking this photo from across the road beyond cowardice; I was staying out of the hardhat area, I was under a tree and so sheltered from the light rain, and thirdly and even more importantly, I stood against the tree trunk giving me photographs from a position I can easily relocate Monday. We'll have "before" and "after" pictures. It won't be pretty but it'll be good!

Impatiens pallida: Pale Touch-me-not....flowering now along the road in Fern Valley

The commoner orange-flowered Impatiens capensis grows everywhere in Fern Valley (and everywhere in the Washington area where there's moist soil and some amount of shade). The yellow-flowered species is less frequently encountered, though it occurs throughout the Eastern United States north of the Gulf Coast. Both species are regularly frequented by Hummingbirds and nectar loving insects that can reach down into the flower. In spite of the common name "Touch-me-not"), the sap from both species is used to counteract the effects of Poison ivy. Like the common garden flower Impatiens, when their fruits mature, they dehisce explosively sending their seeds flying. Running the length of the back terrace of Senator Rockefeller's Washington residence there was a spectacular 100'+ bed of mixed impatiens. Water can trigger this explosive dehiscence; I remember hand watering and as I moved down the bed I would hear hundreds of fruits "popping" open.

This stand of Pale Touch-me-not represents the progeny of plants grown from seed collected by ex-FV staffer Hannah Mullen, who brought back seed from West Virginia a few years back. We got no germination initially, but saved the seed tray an extra year and a few seedlings appeared. Because the plant is an annual and could potentially be cross pollinated by Jewelweed, we looked for a site without existing Jewelweed but still culturally congenial. The plants ended up alongside the road near the end of the petroswale below the Pawpaws. It must have been a good choice because here we are next year with a lush colony of Pale Touch-me-not!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Gloriosa superba, the national flower of Zimbabwe

A climbing lily...seems like overkill. These particular plants are growing outside the entrance to theAdministration Building at the Arboretum. They've been there at least 5 years, which is interesting. This is a plant that is in theory hardy only to USDA Zone 9-10. I have coveted it since I was, well for at least 45 years. It's always been listed in bulb catalogs as suitable for pot culture but its also one of those geophytes that is never, in my experience, sold at blooming size so you not only had to grow it in a pot, you had to then overwinter it above freezing. That's a lot of work and thought and attention. Still, I did it a few times. And a few times I tried deep planting, heavy mulching, and overwintering here in Zone 7, without any luck.

Dry is retrospect I suspect I could have overwintered it in the ground at my parent's house under the 2' south facing overhand. I didn't know that at the time though and now I wonder if this isn't one more plant that is hardy here now(in Zone 8b ha ha) that wasn't before. Thank you Global Warming. The plants in the picture have always benefited from being on a ~south facing wall. Moreover, they are the beneficiaries of whatever heat diffuses out of the building in the winter. Nice situation. And yet I think they are worth trying in situations that are maybe not quite that optimal. Look at them!

Falling trees continued

So far we have had luck and the weather has cooperated; the trees still stand. Cranes are due in tomorrow and Friday to remove 4! dying and declining trees including the precariously perched Tulip poplars. As a precautionary measure, today our tree company came in and roped together 4 trees in hopes that we can keep everything standing through this afternoon's forecast thunderstorms. I'm feeling good about things, though the betting at the Arboretum is split just about down the middle. A smallish (all comparisons being relative) crane will come in tomorrow and remove an Oak and a Tuliptree from just below the parking lot, making room for the big crane (it takes 3 tractor trailers to deliver it!) to come in Friday and remove the last two trees. There is talk that the big tree will be essentially lifted out whole but that's gotta be just talk; it's 100' tall at least and it's over 4 feet in diameter at its base. This I've gotta see.

The woodland will look very different, but the opening will provide an opportunity for already planted trees to explode upward. That's the way forests work; seeds germinate, small trees grow and bide their time until an opening appears in the canopy. They they take off. As unhappy as I am at the prospect of losing 4 mature trees, it will be exciting to see others allowed to realize their potential. These "adolescent" trees can grow at astounding rates. I wouldn't be surprised to see them grow 4-6' a year for the next ten or fifteen years.

It's impossible to be objective about something like this but I like to try and step back mentally and get outside my emotions. What is a huge event for us is just a blip in the life of a forest. Still, we measure things by our lifetimes. What else do we have? And these trees won't be replaced in my lifetime. Still, the Arboretum isn't all about me nor is the Japanese Woodland so we'll persevere, we'll move forward, and the young trees will get their chance.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Katydids can be either predators or vegetarians

I'm betting this one that I found on plants in the growing area is a plant-eater. Nonetheless I couldn't bring myself to kill it. I have always liked these insects both for their curiously shaped bodies with their extravagantly long antennae and their distinctive night calls. I always think of them as insects of mid and late summer and, though it seems it was spring only yesterday, I guess its time for them!

Butterflies: here at last!

When I left two weeks ago to go on vacation there weren't any butterflies, or at least very few of them. I return and it seems they have returned as well. And they're always willing to pose in a beautiful setting.

The treeboxes on the East Terrace of the Administration Building are spectacularly coming into their own

Summer vacations must be in full swing because the roads are I got to the Arboretum before 6:30 (we start at 7:00). I took the time to look closely at the containers and the treeboxes around the Administration Building. They're wonderful as usual and different from last year.

As always the forms, textures, and combinations are beautiful and thought provoking. This year the plants are tilted a bit towards the xeric without resulting in any sort of conventional "dryscape".

Brad Evans, USNA horticulturist, designed the beds (and the containers which are equally wonderful and more numerous), grew the plants, directed the planting, and is in charge of their maintenance. I tried to photograph them when they first went in but they just weren't photogenic. Hot weather, the passage of time, water, and fertilizer have combined to bring them to perfection.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Adina rubella with swallowtail: what is it about those spherical flower heads and butterflies?

There is a harmless dragon in China Valley made of Bloodgrass

If you walk down the main path through China Valley you will arrive, when you're about 1/3 of the way down, at the head of this dragon. It's a cheerful visual construct in a generally non-frivolous garden. I like it.

Bloodgrass, Imperata cylindrica is native to SE Asia and other warm regions of the world. It is, in fact, an invasive issue in Florida. It seems to be okay here, where we're signicantly colder than the Zone 10 from which it originated. The red-leafed forms are almost always what's grown horticulturally; they seem to be winter hardy, while not seeding, and provide wonderful color in sunny areas. Our dragon lies in a consistently moist part of the garden which is a bonus for the Bloodgrass though it will grow nicely in soil of average garden moisture.

Two big tuliptrees on their way down in the Asian Collections

Last Friday afternoon, I heard (I was in Florida), the Arboretum experienced a brief violent storm that apparently included some powerful windbursts. These two Tulip Trees, Liriodendron tulipifera, are about 50 feet below the parking lot for the Asian Collections. It's easy to see the crack associated with the the tree farther downhill. Towards the left foreground the cracking is visible on the second tree (which is out of the picture front left). There seems little doubt that they will fall. Their roots are doubtless intertwined and likely grafted together as well.

George Waters is using his leg as a measuring device; he'll have to come back tomorrow so we can see whether the chasm has widened. With some luck and some cooperation from the weather, we hope to be able to have the trees removed before they fall and destroy a large portion of the Japanese Woodland. We hope. Still, things happen in the garden that are beyond our control....the worst disaster provides an opportunity to start over. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes it means we can solve problems that we hadn't even been willing to acknowledge, much less approach, before. Still, we hope not to go there!

The storm also broke the top out of a large White pine across the road and knocked a couple of others over. White pines and Tuliptrees aren't especially strong though Pines have some flexibility built into their structure. Though both are components of mature forests here, typically their numbers dwindle as the years roll by and by the time the forest is 1,000 years old there are a lot more Oaks around than either of these trees. We'll still miss them.