Saturday, October 3, 2009

Behnke's Nurseries in Beltsville....Chile Cookoff

Fall is a fun season at a Garden Center. The displays are extravagant and speak somehow to our visceral vegetable memories of abundance and harvest. And our childhood memories of Halloween. Mums are a curious ritual. We pull out perfectly good annuals that would have, in most cases outlasted the chrysanthemums we replace them with, and a few weeks late the mums are bouquets gone bad. It's possible to deadhead mums, but who does that? Winter is coming; perhaps the mum's deaths are symbolic. Oh well, we still put in a few mums every year.

Ornamental Kale and Cabbages are beautiful and occasionally stay beautiful well into the winter.

I was one of a large panel of judges who sampled 15 different chiles and offered up our subjective ratings. I liked them all, but was glad I had brought double bandannas.

Some days you just want to go out in the garden and look at the flowers

Gazinia, Pelargonium, Gazinia, Rosa

Mandevilla x 'Ruby Star' and other plants on the back deck

Someday this space will no doubt be an enclosed sunroom; whether we do it or those who follow? Who knows. Now it's a great place to grow sunny annuals, tropicals, or to summer out orchids.

This morning was one of those days that make all the work worthwhile. It wasn't raining which was good. It had rained .25 inches...also good. Sixty degrees F seemed like a perfect temperature and the early morning sun inflamed flowers and refracted through the remnants of rain. A good morning.

Red Mandevillas are suddenly available everywhere. There are a handful of selections and I'm not qualified to judge which is best; I know that this one is 'Ruby Star'. It came up from Florida this past April and has covered a 4 foot trellis and made forays into an adjacent Crape Myrtle. At this point I'll probably just let it grow.

I keep two geraniums over the winter, these two. I don't know the names of either one but they're obviously beautiful. I know there's a strain of thought that says the old fashioned scarlet ones are the only Geraniums to grow, but I like these. The pink pots once held Knockout roses that went into one of Karen and the boy's landscape jobs. They help tie the deck to the multitudes of pink flamingos in the garden. That's either good or bad? The mermaid, a gift from my sister, is cast iron and was not posed for this picture. That's where she lives summer and winter. I have a smaller flatter version that can open bottles; she was useful last night at Octoberfest festivities. I have it on good authority that there's also a 5 foot version that must be quite weighty.

Sansevieria grandis and some Philodendron cultivar live happily on the back rail. They are shaded by a large market umbrella and so never get any direct sunlight. The Sansevieria, of course, requires almost no care and not much water. The Philodendron, which has been around for 15 years or so, gets top-dressed with the discarded orchid mix from culled orchids. That sounds cruel, but orchids accumulate and when their numbers get too high, the level of care they get plummets and they all suffer. Once in a while one or two have to go.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gentiana isn't impossible to grow gentians in Zone 7, you just have to choose carefully

These plant are blooming in Fern Valley under the boardwalk (ha ha) beside the pond.

Nandina domestica 'Orihime'

Conventional wisdom maintains that the only form of Nandina that fruits is the species (Nandina domestica) and occasionally the selection compacta. Well this is an odd looking plant, possibly not for everyone, but that is definitely fruit. Actually I like the plant but have never noticed it fruit before.

This particular individual is near the entrance to China Valley from the road. We have a few more including a grouping in the bed below the road where the hose is coiled.

I walked through Fern Valley this afternoon and there's a lot going on!

I hadn't spent much time in Fern Valley for the last few weeks and fall is such an enticing season. There's a lot going on and not all of it is fruit though there are some cool ones. You have to love Actaea pachypoda, Doll's Eyes with its spooky white fruit. Wahoo, Strawberry bush (descriptive), Hearts a bustin', Euonymus americanus is another curiously beautiful fruit. Chelone, Turtlehead flowers for a good period from late summer through fall. Wet soil and partial shade is okay.

Walk the trails and you'll see much more including Eupatorium rugosum, a pleasant white-flowered perennial, Solidage caesea, Wreath Goldenrod, a shade tolerant Goldenrod and aa refined plant by Goldenrod standards, a wide variety of Asters, and the first tints of fall foliage color.

Seriously big's like a flying mouse!

Brad showed me this guy. He's close to three inches long....this is one seriously hairy animal. And look at that eye!?! Damn.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'

Tardiva because it flowers later in the season than the species; it's tardy. This is a rangy coarse plant that's nonetheless a great addition to the late season garden. The sterile florets on the acutely conical paniculate inflorescences (sorry about that, but it's accurate) begin white and are gradually suffused by rose pink. I remember growing a cultivar called 'Pink Diamonds', but the generic 'Tardiva' gets as much color as the plant really needs.

This would be a great plant for nurseries if more people shopped for plants in the late summer or fall. It grows like the wind, flowers on new growth, tolerates much abuse in its watering, and isn't especially susceptible to pests or diseases. Superplant. For a few years my role at Behnke's included technical oversight of the woody plant production facilities. They had a pretty good idea what they were doing, but I enjoyed walking around and looking at the plants. I always marveled at the quantity and quality of Hydrangea paniculata produced including 'Tardive'.

We had our own issues this year with this particular plant. (You can see it halfway down the large stairway across the road from the huge weeping Katsura) It had gotten a bit out of control and we cut it back hard and removed a large number of root suckers. This treatment normally induces an explosion of watersprouts that grow 3-4 feet, produce large panicles of weighty flowers, that cause the branches to sag giving the whole plant a strange appearance. We wanted to avoid this so Amanda nipped the most vigorous shoots several times inducing growth in many lateral buds, and so dispersing the repressed energy of the plant into so many shoots that none of them grew to more than a foot or so. It turned out to have been a good strategy rigorously enforced by Amanda and the plant is spectacular right now.

Chamerion of Stefan's plants from Azerbaijan

That's a beautiful flower and if you look closely you can see the slender elongated cylindrical seed capsule, that is apparently not a siliqua. If it were, we'd be looking at a member of the Mustard Family and this is Onagraceous. Or so they say. I'm no taxonomist; I would have looked in the Brassicaceae (the Mustard Family). But wait...look closely at that stigma.

Anyway, the plant itself is lovely; you can see the slender silver/gray leaves. It's about a foot in diameter and not that tall but the seed was only collected a year ago. Maybe it'll get bigger next year. I'll collect the seed so we can try again if it doesn't make it through this winter. I hear it's supposed to be one of the coldest in recent memory. I hope this guy makes it; it's a lovely little plant.

Tricyrtis hirta, the Toad Lily...sometimes you have to stop looking at the forest and look at the individual trees

Toad Lilies are one of those plants that always make me question basic assumptions of garden design. If we can sit down and stare at an individual flower that has this much poise, this much beauty, this much presence, then why do we even need gardens? And why must they be harmonious, balanced,.... Is is some kind of fractal thing? Maybe so. Then the same beauty we admire in a plant and a garden would exist at a higher level. I know galaxies are beautiful, I looked at a picture of one this morning. And if we go small, what then? Cells definitely are beautiful, and organelles, and I'm sure so too are molecules and atoms.

No, I haven't been drinking, just thinking. Don't worry about it anyway, just look at the picture!

Carina Pillar and Jets....Astronomy Photo of the Day

The last Space Shuttle trip involved a massive renewal of the instrumentation on the Hubble Space Telescope. The new images are unbelievable! If you haven't yet, at least once, check out the Astronomy Picture of the Day. It's one of the few sites I look at every day.

Rostrinucula dependens...a fun late summer plant

This plant is along the path near the bottom of China Valley. It's another useful late summer plant in the mint family. A dieback shrub, ours is almost four feet tall now. I didn't know it till this year and until the pendant racemes happened, it looked a lot, superficially, like a Butterfly bush. I vividly remember the hundreds of seedling growing in about a 5 foot circle this spring so I have to think it's a plant nurserymen would love....except they're usually afraid of anything that doesn't flower before the end of June.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I love receiving new plants!.The Asian Collections got a big shipment of plant from Plant Delights and I got a smaller one from Seneca Hill Perennials

Its exciting! Among the plants we received today was Coniogramme emeiensis Marbled Leaf Form, Hemiboea subcapitata, and Eupatorium fortunei 'Pink Frost'. The first is a beautiful variegated fern, the second a USDA Zone 6 gesneriad, and the last a variegated Eupatorium. (The plants in the background are mostlyFern Valley's from the collecting trips of the last few years. There are pretty exciting plants there too.

From Seneca Hill, for my private gardens I got Morea reticulata, a South African irid with yellow flowers and curiously reticulate foliage that ought to be hardy in the sand in Zone 7. And Tritonia disticha, a pink SA geophyte that surely is. And Brunsvigia radulosa, a SA amaryllidaceous type bulb with huge flower trusses of good sized flowers. It came with the admonition, "Growing these to blooming size will require patience and skill." out of two? And an Agave parryi to replace one I lost after many years. And Albuca shawii, a sort of yellow SA snowdrop that wants the wet summers and dry winters of the Florida garden. And a small Clematis texensis for Adelphi. Good plants.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I think the universe is on the side of positive reinforcement; Amanda, Neal, and I were repaid for our prodigous labors (it's Tuesday and we, as promised, continued our cleanup of peripheral areas) today by the appearance of Walking Sticks. Amanda found two in about a five minute period. And agreeably held them for photographs. It's usually easy to get some tentative identification of unusual insects by combining field guides and internet research. I know this is a walking stick and it has 6 legs. The other one had 4 legs though whether this was genetic or environmental I don't know. They are most likely Northern Walking Sticks, but I say that with absolutely no confidence. It doesn't really matter; they are very cool.

Isn't it odd how some insects are distinctly creepy and untouchable while others, for most of us this includes mantids and walking sticks, seem okay to handle. Cricket populations have exploded over the summer; we begin to hear the odd individuals that have found their way into buildings. I know most of the world considers crickets good luck; some cultures keep them temporarily as pets. To me they are creepy and I am not happy that this time of year, any rearrangement of foliage touching the ground is likely to reveal some number of crickets. Oddly, superficial research did reveal that walking sticks have become trendy pets? I don't get it, though one of my most vivid memories of the Invertebrate House at the National Zoo is that of a floor to ceiling cage with hundreds of large (>5") walking sticks aimlessly? rambling over leafy branches.

Flowering Echeveria what a combination of symmetry and color with those incredible curves

I have loved and collected succulents since I was 12. That is now more than 45 years. For a while I was seduced by rarity, but you know what? Sometimes the simplest commonest plants are unbeatable. I bought this at a garden center this spring because the rosette was so lovely; it will probably go to the Florida Garden but I'm glad it's here now.

Smartweed caterpillar, Acronicta oblinita....Joan's volunteers showed me these caterpillars below the bridge in the Fern Valley Wet Meadow

For break today, I stopped to see how planting was progressing with the FV Sunny Cultivar Area; things were moving along nicely. Kathryn had participated in the past Sunday's butterfly survey where they had noted the presence of these lovely caterpillars.

They indeed were on Smartweed, Polygonum pennsylvanicum. Wow, a native Polygonum with cool caterpillars to boot. The first time I saw this caterpillar was in Alabama last year and since then I've seen them anumber of timest, but never more than 1 or 2 at a time; there are probably dozens here! Kathryn showed me at least one dozen today, and I expect they'll be there for a few days. From the road, walk down into the Fern Valley Meadow. Turn left at the bridge and look below the railings at the vegetation below. They're easy to spot!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fern Valley Sunny Cultivar Bed is taking shape...Joan was transferring design to terrain today

This project has been slow developing; I did the design more than a year ago, but there is a good aspect to this. Letting the plot lie fallow has allowed us herbicidally kill the weeds, wait for more germination, kill them again.... The weed seed bank has to have been significantly depleted. I think tilling happened somewhere in there so that we could bring up buried seeds, allow them to germinate, and then poison them. Should make weeding much less of a chore when the bed is planted.

It ought to be a fun bed. Sunny cultivars are generally heat-loving, summer -lowering Often boldly colored good sized plants. None of that dainty subtlety of the woodland ephemerals. Some of these will top 8 feet in height.

The Entrance to China Valley gets one of the new Asian Collections Map Boxes

We got two new boxes for our new map/brochures; this one and another at the parking lot. Now we'll have to remember to keep them stocked. I was fairly mediocre at that in Fern Valley but I'm willing to try.

Remember the summer of 2004? Remember Pandamania?....I found one!

This is one of those 1,000 other gardens in the title of the Blog, not that I would claim ownership, or more than a tiny bit of authorship. Its a great garden on a sort of standard sized suburban lot. It's easy to see a love of texture and color both in flowers and foliage. I like the way the Panda sits smugly amongst both "Bear" and "Heavenly" bamboo. The "Black Magic" Colocasia is about as large as I have ever seen. I don't suppose it could have overwintered in the ground? I think the Rosemary was my contribution, but Ann has done much of this design on her own. Where my plants didn't work, she found something that did and when the beds I designed were filled she added more beds and more plants.

This garden is in the Woodmore community, just inside the Beltway between Colesville Road and University Boulevard in Maryland. It's one of a number of communities where I just seem to get along with everybody on lots of levels. I've done a number of designs there and many of my friends with horticultural bents live here. I was in the area Sunday and decided to drop by unannounced. Nobody home; they lead busy lives. The garden was beautiful as you can see.