Saturday, October 9, 2010

Behnke's Nurseries Fall Chili Cook-off: I judged again.....and afterwards I ate

Then I walked around and took some pictures. I got a couple of seed tomatoes, Yellow Stuffers. I've seen red stuffers before but not yellow. It's odd to see mums, gourds, pumpkins, and all manner of fall display when the leaves are hanging in green as green. It's always good to go back to Behnke's and see old friends and ex-coworkers.

I've been thinking abouut Oxalis since before the rains came and the little pink flowered one by the front walk started blooming again

We've have only two Oxalis, O. triangularis, from Brazil has lived in the house for as long as I can remember. It's progeny share pots with orchids and live here and there in the garden. It is hardy but never seems to do much in  the open garden here in Adelphi. And of course the small pink-flowered hardy plant in the top picture. As to its identity, I have no idea. There must be over 1,000 taxa; there are supposed to be ~800  species and catalogs list...well, lots of cultivars. The  pink one is a passalong plant; it came, unidentified, from a friend and flowers just like this whenever it's happy. Unfortunately for me, it likes a bit more soil moisture that naturally occurs at its site in summer so I see flowers spring and fall. And winter if it's mild. \

The thing that  got me thinking about Oxalis though, was the incredible success Brad has had sprinkling Rain Lilies about in his containers this year. I've been wondering if there aren't Oxalis that would function the same way. Hey whatever they did, they're almost all very low plants and wouldn't interfere with the design/structure of a mixed container. Darby, at Thanksgiving Farms, has been carrying a few including a golden-leafed selection. I though I bought one but either I didn't or it was eaten up by other plants in a container.  There are varieties that would be great little textural groundcovers with leaves of various colors and shapes and ther are varieties that flower, some almost non-stop, others sporadically.

My problem is my ignorance. A small green plant that flowered once wouldn't be a great addition to a container. Even if the flowers were large and pink or yellow or lavender... Neither would a plant that couldn't adapt from it's southern-hemisphere schedule. I need one of those 180 page Timber Press guides to Oxalis. After some searches, I discovered there are no books devoted to Oxalis. maybe it's too broad a topic, or maybe there's just nobody who knows it all. I was impressed by the selection at Telos Rare Bulb; they list 30 or 40 varieties.Maybe I just need to order a dozen or so an start experimenting.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Clappertonia ficifolia, Bolo Bolo....Check out the peculiar bundle-scars visible in the bottom picture.

This came from Florida this spring, a 15" flimsy stem in a 6" pot. Brad put it in a large container on the East Terrace of the Administration Building and it's thrived. Multiple stems between 2 and 3 feet are flowering cheerfully. Both flowers and fruit have a certain appeal. TopTropicals calls it rare. Native to Africa, it has apparently become something of a pest in parts of SE Asia.

Morning sunlight is concentrated in the flowers of Muhlenbergia capillaris....A wonderful morning, prologue to a spectacular day

The weather was perfect today. From 50F, the temperature gradually rose to almost 80 with no humidity and just enough cloud cover to be decorative. Forecasts suggest things will continue like this through the three day weekend. If you have a chance to come out to the Arboretum go for it. The orchid show is great, the gardens are idyllic, and the weather will continue to be perfect.

The seasonal containers and plantings have grown enough to realize the design intentions of their architect. There's always a bittersweet element to tropical plantings in the fall; we know that though they're reaching their peak, the end is in sight.  Like Housman's athlete though, at least they will go out in their prime. If that's any consolation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Diospyros kaki, the Japanese Persimmon, has nearly ripened it's fruit

This branch hangs in the path between the Japanese Woodland and Asian Valley sections of the Asian Collection. The fruit bang cheerfully against the roof of the Mitsubishi when I drive through them!

Joan discovered these curiously colored empty eggs this morning along the road at the bottom of Fern Valley

Okay, I took at least twenty pictures of these odd eggs (most of them at lunch when as Joan brought the leaf to the headhouse) because in the right light they truly seemed made of burnished copper. I got a lot of different effects from different lighting and  one or two of them hint at the beauty of what we saw with our eyes. Still, you really had to have been there. (You can click the individual pictures to enlarge them)

Pinus coulteri....I think it's Ed's favorite so he says he's going to drive these cones around for a week or two.

The cones of this Southern California native are huge, heavy, vicious, and very cool. Unfortunately a large specimen died this year. Today a project team cut it down, up, and hauled it away. They salvaged these wicked cones.The tree must have sensed its mortality because typically it has had only 2,3, maybe half a dozen cones per year.

National Capitol Orchid Society Fall Show and Sale this weekend (as usual)

I' stopped by the tent site and vendors were offloading orchids for this weekend's sale. The show itself will be held this year inside the Bonsai Penjing Museum, not the auditorium of the Administration Building. I hear rumors that some of the displays have been cleverly insinuated into existing displays.

My problem is that I've stopped killing orchids and don't have a bit of space. I guess I could get rid of one or two in exchange for new ones....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Haven't been in the Herb Garden for a's still got some good stuff

Castor bean used  to be one of my favorite plants and I still love it, particularly this red-leafed form. I don't grow it anymore, ricin and all, but was happy to see it today. Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha, has always been a favorite plant of mine. Anything the flowers in October is good and the color is great. As if that weren't enough, it is one of the strongest performing perennials in the Florida garden. Drought doesn't faze it a bit. Jeanette is cleaning Sorghum and suggested that the gourd may be from the "Lunch Lady" seed mix. Apparently they all have in common the fact that they're warty. This one's pear shaped and pasty too. Oh my, I'm sorry. Another Salvia and a view of the Columns out the back of the garden.

Work rolls on: the utility poles that went up earlier this week are now strung with electric lines

That will supply power to the trailers that will be our temporary quarters for the next few years.

Nathan taught a short course today on irrigation repair

After an hour or so of classroom work, we went out into the collections for demonstrations of actual repairs. I was impressed. Over the years I've replaced and repaired pieces of these systems and stumbling through the process has given me a minimal working knowledge of them. I'd assumed the same for Nate, but he must have had some serious training. His knowledge of  both practice and theory was very impressive. Now there are a dozen or so of us who should be able to replace the terminals of our irrigation systems.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Toadlily, Actaea japonica, Zingiber 'Dancing Crane': three nice plants on the path from the road to the Pagoda

Starting at the "Asian Valley" sign on Hickey Hill Road, in the corner to your right and growing around the rock, is a large colony of Toadlily, Tricyrtis x 'Miyazaki'. In my experience, it is unusual to see so many heavy sprays; Yes, the complexity of the flowers do put one in mind of an orchid but they're in the Liliaceae. It's been a good year for Toadlilies generally; the heat and a bit of late season drought have scorched and yellowed a few leaves, but the flowers are wonderful.

Continue down the path to where it meets the path coming from the GCA Circle (visible to the left), bears right, and continues to the Pagoda. Look across the trail before you head right and you'll see plants of Cimicifuga japonica. Actually I imagine it's Actaea japonica now but it's the same plant by any name. Multiple white bottle-brush racemes provide a bit of structure in the tumult that is autumn.

Continuing towards the Pagoda walk until you see three clumps of bamboo on your right. Look a bit uphill and you'll see Zingiber mioga 'Dancing Crane'. Right now it's in a good bit of sun, but this plant will grow well in reasonably light shade and provide a bit of an architectural bright spot.

The aroids look on with some trepidation as one utility pole after another sprouts in the Intro Garden

This thing is really going to happen, by which I mean the total renovation of the Administration Building at the Arboretum. It looks like there are some people who handle shovels, or cable, or operate heavy equipment that are actually going to benefit from the Stimulus Money. Hooray for us!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Osmanthus x fortunei is flowering now at the head of the trail to the Pagoda....small flowers big fragrance

Just a few feet off the road, and you'll have to smell a lot of plants to find a better fragrance. There are a good number of species of Osmanthus, but the most well known to temperate gardeners are Osmanthus heterophyllus , and O. fragrans. Now fragrans, or Sweet Olive, is not really hardy north of USDA Zone 8 so many of us know it as a houseplant. It's floral perfume is out of this world. It's one of the first plants I put into the Florida Garden and I look forward to sitting on the screen porch and breathing its scent this December. Osmanthus heterophyllus is perfectly happy here in Zone 7, it won't begin to flower for won't be long now, and while it has a very nice perfume, it can't compete with fragrans.

Fortunei is a cross between the two species and the happy result is a plant with Zone 7 hardiness and almost the fragrance of Sweet Olive. Now that's what hybridizing is all about. Like heterophyllus, it's a large upright gawky evergreen, readily pruned. I suspect those authorities who claim it can be permantly maintained at any size, but it can be pruned. I would, and do, allocate about an 8' in diameter space for it. It can be kept to this size. Because the fragrance moves nicely on fall breezes it can be sited in an out-of the way location.

Millettia sp. is flowering on my side deck railing, Hedychium 'Elizabeth' below it

Thought I might not get any flowering on the Millettia this year. It only flowers on fairly mature stems and that usually means wood from a previous season. Last winter wasn't especially cold by our standards, but a lot of this plant's growth died anyway. I'm not sure what to make of it but I like it anyway. I know two other Millettia sp. in the DC area: we have one in KO, the Korean Triangle in the Asian Collections USNA; and Ed Aldrich has one that covers 30+' ?of a fence in his garden in Alexandria Virginia. Both the other's, not mine, seem to flower heavily and freely. Ours at the Arboretum has a distinctly shrubby growth habit while Ed's and mine are enthusiastic vines. The first time I saw Ed's in flower he brought the floral fragrance to my attention; whle I found it interesting, the general consensus was that it wasn't an asset to the plant. Mine seems not to have any fragrance. I've checked all times of day both on dry and humid days....nothing. So all three would seem to be different plants, which makes some sense as there are over 150 species in the genus. It's interesting that though the genus is composed of tropical and sub-tropical species, all three of these different taxa have survived a number of winters here in USDA Zone 7.

Hedychium 'Elizabeth' is one of my favorites. The flowers are large and relatively long lasting. The fragrance is less powerful than most but also nicer than most. The only drawback for those of us who use it as a dieback perennial, is the fact that it often waits till October to flower.....actually, maybe that's a good thing and a bad thing.