Saturday, December 5, 2009

The tropical plantings are hanging in there on the 5th of December

The silly variegated ginger is barely hardy in the Florida garden but looks great one week into December just a bit north of Washington, DC. Go figure. We're sitting on an Ephemeral milestone; on the last day of November the sun set at 4:47 pm, the next day, December 1, we lost another minute of daylight in the evening. The sun set at 4:46. The good news is that after sitting on that number for almost two weeks, it will change to 4:47 so we've seen the earliest sunset. Of course the bad news is that sunrise will continue to move in the wrong direction until the last day of this month when it will rise at 7:27am. Again, that number will sit unchanged for almost two weeks until it starts to drop and they days will be growing at both ends. I can hardly wait.

Curiously, we have already seen our latest sunrise this year. On October 31,the sun rose at 7:34 am. The onset of daylight savings time, the next day, moved it to 6:36 am and it's been steadily getting later though, as noted early, it will stop at 7:27.

I took the picture this morning about 9:00 am. It ws raining and the rain turned to snow shortly thereafter. Now at 1:00, there's nearly an inch of snow on grassy surfaces, cars, plants, etc. Nothing has accumulated on the streets or sidewalks probably because it is above freezing and has been, excepting the odd hour or two) for....well since last winter.

Poinsettia growing house at Behnke Nurseries (and this is a tiny house half empty!)

This will be the last year the Behnke's grows Poinsettias; they've sold their growing facilities. I'm saddened by that news, but happy to hear they will continue to operate their retail facilities. Behnke's really grew Poinsettias well, actually, they grew all the seasonal crops exceptionally well. Their annuals were always good dependable plants and because they produced them, they were able to include, every year, some interesting, obscure, unusual selections that you wouldn't see anywhere else locally.

There was a time not so long ago when Behnke's Poinsettias were head and shoulders above the rest; now they're just heads above the best. Behnke's quality hasn't slipped, but the rest of the world has made strides. One of the wonderful things about the explosion of communications technology is that it means anybody can find out how to grow a perfect Poinsettia (or do countless other things well). Experience still counts and Behnke plants are still at the top, but the chain stores that used to be filled with "Charley Brown" plants now stock fairly passable material. 

I used to love the growing houses during the month before Christmas. Acres of Poinsettias: red , white, pink, striped, variegated spread out in huge blocks of color.  It was a sight to behold. For a few weeks at the beginning of December, every available body delivered them. Twenty or so drivers and helpers arrived before 5:00 am and milled around in sleepy confusion until the growing staff pointed us at trucks and directed us to the blocks of plants we would be loading and delivering that day. Getting up at 3:00 in the morning wasn't fun, and often it was cold outside, but seeing those acres of plants under artificial lights like some odd oasis of tropical splendor in the midst of a cold, dark, somnolent world was quite an experience, one that I feel privileged to have participated in.

I expect change is inevitable, and with so many people jobless and losing their homes and retirement equity it seems almost self-indulgent to be this unhappy about Poinsettias, but a little bit of something I valued is passing out of the world.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Itea virginica...Virginia Sweetspire below the Administration Building Parking Lot

I have to thank Brad for siting these plants here. They are backlit every afternoon  and they are a pleasure to see. Itea is an undemanding, fast growing, disease resistant, pest free native. Plant it between the setting sun and someplace you are in the evenings in the fall and winter. It will be $20 well spent.

Now that we've hired Amanda as an ASRT, shes free to pursue her Zoological interests

You will notice that the three women in the picture all have their heads down. Betty and Terri, (volunteers) and Amanda, soon to be the new China Valley ASRT were doing cutbacks and cleaning up today and Amanda hit the zoological jackpot, spotting bot the egg-laying praying mantis, and the quarter-sized Snapping? Turtle. That's one cute turtle.

We did a good bit of work, timing our leaf removal to coincide with the leaf pickup truck. Almost all the leaves are down now and all the views of the collection visible from the road are clean and attractive and the rest are coming along.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rhododendron kaempferi 'Dorsett' December bloomers continued

Encore Azaleas didn't invent reblooming.. These plants were in the Central Valley when I was in the Asian Collection the first time (coming on 20 years).  I think it's safe to assume the plants are mature and they're about 10 feet tall which is what kaempferi does and more upright than spreading, also typical. The picture captures the flower color pretty well, maybe no ones favorite but pleasant enough and this time of year we're kind of in the beggars can't be choosers situation. The flowers will keep dribbling out all winter as temperatures allow; If it's over 45 F there will be flowers. Rhododendron kaempferi is a fairly cold hardy Azalea ranging up to USDA Zone 5 and I suspect the winter flowering is phenomenon limited to the southern end of its range. Luckily for us, Zone 7 is the southern end.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reblooming Iris are having their best year in....well in a while ('Autumn Bugler' , on the bottom, and an unknown variety)

From a gardener's standpoint it's been a good fall here in Washington. Plenty of moisture, mixed with a reasonable number of sunny days. Temperatures have dipped below freezing twice, once almost a month ago and the past two nights. But only a few degrees; we haven't yet had a hard frost. The fall Camellias are unmatched, lots of Roses still have flowers, the Ericas are slipping into flower, late Mums are still good. And the Iris.

If you look at a catalogue of Tall Bearded Iris, anywhere from half to almost all of the listed varieties are reblooming. Not all of them reflower reliably this far north, but this year they did. I enjoy the reblooming varieties immensely. I use Iris, as architectural design elements, not bedded, so the flowers are sort of gravy. Only frost stops the fall flowering once it's begun; I always feel sad about the inevitably blasted buds that mrk our first hard frost, but hey, they'll be flowering again in 5 months. To encourage reflowering, and this is true of just about any perennial that reblooms, a bit of fertilizer after the first flush, and adequate water will help ensure that second set of flowers. When choosing Iris, I've found that if you read the labels or descriptions, it's easy to figure out which rebloom the most reliably.

Monday, November 30, 2009

If they only ate brown stuff, it wouldn't be so bad

I looked closely and I have no idea what this cute little fellow is eating, but he and his relations have the potential to damage our collections either by eating the plants outright or by scraping them with their antlers. Fortunately, the Arboretum is fenced and we have only a few deer living on our 440+ acres.

Twenty years ago there was a long list of plants deer didn't eat. As their population density has increased, most of those plants have fallen away and now we're left with the Berberidaceae and the Ranunculaceae. Nandinas, Mahonias, and Barberries (many of which ought not to be planted becuse of their invasive potential)  provide a range of shrubs, many with good winter interest. The Buttercup family contains a lot of wonderful perennials including Columbines, Hellebores, Monkshoods, and Delphiniums and also Clematis. So there are some plants left. I have heard stories though, of deer nibbling the new growth of Nandinas.

Max and Peter were on a job a few weeks ago in a quite civilized part of upper NW Washington and a buck the "size of a cow" walked under the arbor, into the garden, and approached them to a distance of about six feet.  Twice. They're young men and I wonder if our hormones are similar enough that they were reacting to potential rivals?

Okay, no excuses! I want that hoop house covered this afternoon

Well, mybe not this afternoon. These are valuable Crape Myrtles that can't be removed until their propagations are securely established. Then maybe we can cover the house again.

Senecio crassissimus from Madagascar

So many incredible succulents come from Madagascar and Bismarkia too! ....endemism and all. According to Pat Lynch though, all the exports aren't wonderful.