Friday, January 8, 2010

It snowed last night....again....this was a good one as it didn't stick to the streets. Still, I'm really not a winter guy

The sun will rise today in Washington DC at 7:27 as it has every day since December 31. After two more days it will move to 7:26 for four days, then 7:25 for two days and so on. Two weeks from now we will begin to gain a full minute in the morning every day to go with the minute that we've been adding in the evening since Monday. Eventually the days will lengthen enough and the angle of the sun will increase and spring will arrive. Information from Time and Date.Com.

As a part of my obsession with spring, I monitor the average daily high and low temperature. Curiously, after sitting on the same numbers for weeks (42 and 27F) both move up 1 degree F on February 2, Groundhog day.  This data comes from NOAA.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

MANTS 2010 Mid-Atlantic Nurserymans Trade Show

I went to MANTS today and, like last year, the booths were all full but the aisles not so much. The economy, judged by the stock market and home sales, is slowly but steadily improving. When I talked with vendors, I got guarded optimism. The general consensus was that things were okay but no one made any claims of great success. I heard again and again that staffs had been cut and big purchases delayed and that sales were returning slowly. I expect thats the way a recovery begins. It would be great if some of the construction projects funded by Stimulus Money were ready to go when spring comes. Actual jobs for working people could only be a good thing.

While we were in Florida these past few weeks, the local cable company, Bright House, was sparring with the Fox Network. Their contract ran out at midnight New Year's Eve. On New Year's Day, Florida was scheduled to play in the Sugar Bowl. Florida football is big in Florida and their senior quarterback, Tim Tebow, may possibly be the greatest college quarterback of all time. Fox played hardball though eventually relenting to allowed Floridians to see their huge game. Some time in the future they will wring a certain amount of money from Bright House. The stock market will go up based on this bit of economic growth but all that money won't add one person to the ranks of the employed. No doubt a handful of executives will have their bonuses bumped and I don't grudge them that money, but what about all those people out of work?

On a more cheerful note, I had a bizarre experience at the end of the day. I was heading back to the USNA booth to rendezvous with my carpool-mates when I noticed the palms in the picture (from Tropic Traditions). I admired them and observed that they weren't really Maryland plant material. The booth owner contradicted me and he was right. I grow a few of them myself and friends grow other. After looking at the emblem on my jacket he laughed and told me that actually the 12 foot Windmill Palm was destined for the National Arboretum. That someone had purchased his whole booth and intended to donate the giant palm to the Arboretum. Wow.
Of course it was Elmer who has his own Arboretum in western Pennsylvania.I don't know how this will play out but we ought to have a Trachycarpus in the Asian Collections.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Nathan stands triumphant over a 50' Cherry of suspect parentage

Here at the Arboretum we have a tremendous collection of Cherries. It's wonderful in the spring (that is just around the corner in two months) but a downside is that a lot of pollination goes on, and a lot of fruit develops. Birds eat the fruit, and if they can't find your car, they just deposit the seeds randomly. We all pull a lot of little Cherries every year and I expect being in such close proximity to the Prunus collection exacerbates the problem. If we miss the little seedlings they turn into trees.Tuesday and Wednesday Neal, Amanda, Nate, and I resumed our peripheral area reclamation days working on the wood edge in the Hamamelis collection. We removed truckloads of unwanted trees, shrubs, and vines including a good number of Cherries and I have to say that the view of the Witchhazel collection is much more pleasant today than it was Monday..

Bulbine natalensis in the warm polyhouse.....George and I both went in search of lsomething beautiful and alive

When you're a gardener in the temperate zones and it's winter, you have a few ways to cheer yourself up. This is the easiest one: just go to  warm greenhouse and look around. This house, which contains so many of Brad's tropicals is always a good bet. This Bulbine, a South African xerophyte, flowers dependably every winter. Sometimes the southern hemisphere plants overlay their wet/dry dormant periods over our seasons in such a way that they are dormant in winter (their summer) and flower in summer (their winter). Sometimes not; this plant insists on flowering in January, just as though it were living in South Africa. I have just begun to put Bulbines into the Florida garden where they seem to be quite successful. Yucca Do Nursery sells this one and lists it as hardy to USDA Zone 8b. That works for Florida.

Which leads me to another cheerful wintertime activity namely, planning, or any of the many incarnations of hopeful anticipation. I look forward to spring/warm weather, winter flowers, the first blooms of new perennials, the first shoots from hardy tropicals that will show me they've survived another winter. And, I look forward to planting this Bulbine beside a limestone boulder in the Florida garden. Reading catalogs, books, or magazines, surfing garden sites, even travelling to warmer places can suggest new plants for future acquisition. This form of covetousness, used as a weapon against the cold darkness of winter is a harmless foible.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vitis rotundifolia, the Muscadine grape makes wonderfully unsophisticated but delicious wine

Grapes, particularly this one, have been popping in and out of my life for the past couple of years. Lakeridge Winery is located a half an hour away from the Florida house and we make a habit of going every time we go south and buying a case of wine. They grow acres and acres of grapes and make (as I recall nearly a million bottle a year) of their own wines. In addition to the muscadines, they grow a few other varietals but with the heat and the humidity, this is the only grape that really does well. They are truly native. In the winter, you can't drive more than a mile without seeing the distinctive strings of yellow leaves (see top picture) winding through shrubs or trees, or in this case just sitting on the ground. I'm not around to see the grapes, but I drink the wines; they're sweet and fruity but not in the heavy way that some sweet wines are. They're like a delicious grape juice that's alcoholic. I make no excuses for liking them....actually I don't think it would be possible to not like them.

A couple of years ago, Joan and Amy and I collected seeds of Vitis rotundifolia, I think, in Tennessee, but maybe in northern Alabama. Then last year while touring the National Agricultural Library, I saw wonderful rendering of this, and all the other native grapes, in their Pomological Watercolor Collection. The paintings were made to be records of cultivars and species and are scientifically accurate beyond being beautiful. Now I'm thirsty. I'll have a glass of wine and finish my book.

Citrus Maxima, the Pummelo, both a tasty fruit and the primary ancestor of the Grapefruit

This is a very cool fruit. It looks like a grapefruit on the inside but it's larger, less acidic, has that cool striping on the richly fragrant rind. Native to SE Asia, Malaysia, and surrounding islands, it was championed by David Fairchild who first tasted it in 1899. Fairchild was hired to head up the Department of Plant Introduction for the USDA (my own employer) in 1910, and held the position for many years. A man of many interests, he had a lifetime fascination with tropical fruit. I remember, in the fall of 1991, collecting Davidia involucrata seeds from the grounds of the house the Fairchilds built in Chevy Chase, Maryland in the early 1900's.

Last week I visited the A.H.Whitmore Foundation Farm, a cooperative enterprise partnering US Department of Agriculture scientists and researchers with support from the Citrus Industry. It's not far from the Florida house and I was introduced to a range of unfamiliar citrus cultivars, though actually, the Pummmelo is a species. The Farm has hundred of different Citrus taxa of which I tasted a few dozen. Maybe not surprisingly some of the ones I liked the most aren't the commonest commercial varieties. Taste isn't the only factor in deciding whether to produce a fruit (or a vegetable) on a large scale so in citrus, like the temperate fruits, a little searching of smaller growers may turn up some of these uncommon delicacies.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Conradina grandiflora, Scrub rosemary....this Florida scrub endemic seems to always be flowering

It would be a nice structural evergreen if it ever went out of bloom. A very rewarding plant.

Jatropha integerrima....Spicy jatropha

Wildwood is in USDA Zone 9a, not 9b or 10. This plant is really not a 9a plant. The color, a bit washied out in this photo, is unbelievable. There are different varieties with subtly different colored flowers, but they are all crazy colorful. It flowers continuously except that it doesn't handle frost really well. I think that it'll come back from the roots, but that remains to be seen. If it does, it grows so quickly that it could be a 6'+ perennial. If not, there'll be an opening from a medium to large shrub on the se side of the garden!

Hamelia patens, Firebush, backlit by afternoon sun lights up the small bed abutting the driveway

As much despair as I feel about the political/ecological/sociological situation in Florida, it cheers me to realize that a handful of state native plants have made it into the core of landscape standards. Firebush, Hamelia patens, is one; another is Coontie, Zamia pumila, a cool cycad not quite visible at the base of the Live oak in the top picture. I planted that Firebush in October 2007. It was a out a foot tall in a 6" pot. Untroubled by drought, it has grown steadily and flowered consistently. The fall/winter color is obviously great and the orange tubular flowers are present year-round when temperatures stay above 50F or so. Hummingbirds love it and so do I. 

This past August I found a pot of Dwarf firebush at a nursery, actually at Home Depot, and since it looked like a miniature version of the H. patens. I decided to give it a try. It doesn't have the great fall color of patens, but possibly it needs a more established root system. It has more flowers on it now than its larger sibling does; I wonder if that doesn't indicate a better adaptation to local climate in patens than macrantha which is native to warmer locations farther south. The fruits are clearly distinct. The top picture is macrantha, the bottom patens.

Brazilian Pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius: a pretty plant but a dangerous harmful invasive in Florida wetlands

Imported as an ornamental in the mid 19th Century, this plant is now widespread and difficult to eradicate. It looks like a sumac and is a member of the Anacardiaceae. Until this visit, I had only seen it in disturbed wetland habitats along the highway, but this trip we took advantage of one of the only dog-beaches in Central Florida, and found a huge population of Brazilian Pepper along the 1500 foot trail to the beach. The prognosis isn't real good either; any root over 1/4" in diameter can resprout so mechanical control is out of the question and herbicide is such a tough call in a barrier island/peninsula situation.

Rhizophora mangle, Red Mangrove growing in an estuarine situation on Florida's Gulf Coase

Nice prop roots, I gotta say.

Christmas flowering Crinum...go figure!

Just got our internet back. This small flowerhead is on one of many pups surrounding the main plant. I had assumed that we had too little water to grow Crinums well. Apparently not. I am definitely going to bring a piece of 'Sangria' down later this year. The huge red vase makes a great structural accent.