23 August 2014

Long Day At Longwood

This gardener of over a decade has never been to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, or to the other nearby gardener ports of call. Longwood Gardens was on the list of staycation day trips assigned to any weekend with nothing else planned.

The battle plan was to attack on Saturday in August. The weather was to be glorious. The route was arranged, camera batteries charged, and walking clothes readied. Then it rained Friday evening and the meteorologists changed their tune to Saturday showers. Dark overcast skies ready to burst open greeted Saturday morning so the trip was off.

After plans were cancelled, the sun then came out, and rain on the radar map evaporated. I flew into the car and peeled out at the last minute, calculating an arrival time before lunch.

The woods were the first stop. Towering mature trees filtered light down to open glades with peaceful water.

The property was owned by the Pierce family as a farm, with the owners planting specimen tress on a section of the grounds through the 1800s. It was called Pierce's Park, but the Pierce family wanted to sell the property, and a lumber company had a deal to buy the property partly because of the great trees.

The bench beckons for a rest in the woods. But, there is an entire botanical garden to explore.

Pierre duPont, industrialist head of the duPont Compny, was an amateur gardener as most in his famous family. He was appalled that the lumber company was planning to harvest the trees in Pierce's Park, so he purchased the lumber company, then obtained the property and made it his summer home.

The water tower at the edge of the woods.

Pierre duPont laid out and planted gardens on the property, built a spectacular conservatory greenhouse, collected more specimens, built an outdoor theater, and installed grand fountains. He entertained, sponsored theater performances, and kept the park open to the public.

This is the new meadow, still filling in, reminding me of an Andrew Wyeth painting.

The property was set up in a well-funded Longwood Foundation for the preservation of the gardens and for improvement of horticulture. After his death in 1954, the foundation undertook expansion and education. Today, Longwood Gardens and the estate cover 1,077 acres (4.2 km2) and employ over 1000. The newest addition is the 86 acre (0.3 km2) meadow garden demonstrating ecological design with wetlands and open native habitat.

One of the trial gardens - this one of dahlias and daylily cultivars being tried (in the background.)

The main conservatory greenhouse.

I always admire little design details that are unexpected and delight the senses.

The 'white' garden in one of the 'green'houses.

One inside the orchid house. I was impressed by the shape and color. No name.

I like the color combination of the ground plantings.

Yellow and one of those plantings.

One of many in the water pond garden outside the greenhouses. The fact that this was Egyptian reminded me of a reference in the movie The Ten Commandments.

The white garden with dusty miller, nicotiana, oak leaf hydrangea, lily, cleome, lisianthus.

Yellow garden (and the orange garden peeking behind) with lily, canna, rudbeckia, lisianthus, dahlia, hibiscus.

Very happy oak leaf hydrangea, not only in specimen size, but in flower size.

I was not a big fan of coleus, but am coming around to liking them, and this one helps a lot. No name.

This trip was a shot of ambition in an otherwise dull month where gardening chores are not fun but chores. Other destinations near Longwood Gardens that I must include on the bucket list are Winterthur and Nemours Mansion and Gardens , Alfred duPont's pad.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, zinnia, echinacea, cleome, marigold, mini glad, rudbeckia, hydrangea, nicotiana
  • Harvested: many peppers & tomatoes, 1 zucchini

15 August 2014

August 2014 Bloom Day

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
What's blooming in the garden on the 15th of the month

Rather than the same ol' same ol' let's present some of the newer items rearing their heads this year. I will throw in a few items that have not been here a while, too. I even put the photos on the X-Large setting for this posting. Today it's about the pictures -- not the story.

The Irish Eyes are smiling. This rudbeckia "Irish Eyes" with the green centers was planted from seed twice in the past two years, but this was the first year anything survived and bloomed. They are growing but blooming sparsely. Let's see if they stick around for next year.

Yes, these are the actual colors. Seed for these mini zinnias were almost tossed out. They were free from the winter seed swap and found in my goodie bag, but I am not fond of mixed colors of anything. I threw the seeds down, and these min-zins popped up. Maybe it's time to reevaluate mixed colors -- I kind of like them.

Aren't you glad? These mini glad corms, (note "mini") were picked up at the winter seed swap, too. The bag was labeled 'orange mini-glads.' I never heard of mini glads. Well, the first one bloomed at 6-inches in height (15 cm), but does it look orange? I am waiting on the others.
The blue never stops ... as long as you deadhead. Bachelor buttons were grown once in the past, but they gave out when the summer heat turned on. These were an experiment to see if they could be kept going into summer. The answer is "Yes," but it is increasingly difficult to deadhead because of the number of blooms.

I grew these last year in a less hospitable spot. This year, they are thriving in a new location. This cultivar known as "Pinca," has squared off type petals which forced me to break open the wallet. The petals start out pastel yellow, turn deep pink, and than fade to very light pink.

And for the first time in its 8-year history, the unknown daylily is reblooming here in August. Is this a weird summer (to go with the weird winter) or what?

Go ahead and visit other garden bloggers' bloom days at the blog May Dreams Gardens.

06 August 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Chinese Ixia

Belacamda Lily was Belamcanda chinensis until about a year ago. Then botanists started playing with the names of some plants due to newfound genetic knowledge, and presto. The name changed to Iris domestica. Could its leaves actually resemble the irs family?

The seeds hopped into my goodie bag at the annual Seed Swap in February 2012. Here we go again with another free plant from the seed swap or from a neighbor. During the first year, they were sown indoors and transplanted, producing one flower stalk that summer. The next year, (last summer) the plant came back half-heartedly, but did not bloom.

Seeds were also sent to Thomas Jefferson in 1807. He planted them in a Monticello flower garden, and referred to them as 'Chinese Ixia.' Today they are found naturalized around the grounds at Monticello.

This is not a lily but it is from China, central Asia, and India. It was used in some Chinese medicine, but analysis shows it to be mildly toxic. Recent tests on mice indicate a possible benefit in fighting prostate cancers - at least in mice.

My plant from last summer came around this year after surviving the harsh winter. I also planted a few seeds remaining from the 2012 seed swap batch. One germinated and survived without receiving much attention. The two healthy plants started blooming a week ago, so they bloom in their first year.

I was smart to place them right up front along the walk where they can be seen. Even though tall at 2-feet (60 cm) they can be lost visually if not in your face. The seed pods upon opening reveal seed clusters resembling blackberries, giving it the nickname 'blackberry lily.' My remaining seeds will be planted, along with any new seed from these plants, in hopes of creating a clump for next year.

For The Record:
  • Light clay soil with organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No disease although suspected iris borer attack

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, mexican zinnia, zinnia, cleome, sunflowers, phlox, rudbeckia, echinacea, hosta
  • Harvested: 12 peppers, 6 tomatoes

28 July 2014

Leisurely Blue

Balloon bud in the lower left
A friend offered a share of a balloon flower plant from her front garden. The balloon flower did not excite me much, but I needed filler material for the recently-created, clay-packed side yard garden along new platform steps to the back yard and deck.

Five years have passed, and the plant is finally beginning to spread a little. This year it sent up a short, second stalk. And, the flowers are more numerous, forming small clusters. The rude rudbeckia and brute baptisia have invaded the side yard garden, and are elbowing out the balloon flower and a few others that make this garden home.

Platycodon gradiflorus is a perennial, native to eastern Asia and Japan, and generally grows in climate zones 3-8 in the U.S. Flower buds resemble balloons, or paper lanterns if you are in Japan. It likes full sun and tolerates partial shade, where you will find mine. Cultivars are available in white and pink, and in dwarf sizes.

Several sources state that because of its root system, it does not take kindly to being moved. If it is transplanted, it takes a year or two to recover. This is probably why my plant begin its first few years in its new home with only a few blossoms no larger than a quarter.

It is most likely stepped on when doing spring gardening chores, since it leisurely emerges after winter and is located in a perfect spot for a foot to balance on. I would like to move it, but after learning about the transplanting issues, may try to improve it in situ. I like it, but I need several more to form a clump to give it some presence among its neighbors.

The blue flowers are over 2 inches inches across (5 cm) and plants can grow up to 3-feet in height (1m). This five-year old is (maybe) 24-inches (60 cm). My friend's plant tends to take a bow, but in my garden it stays upright, probably depending on the surround rudbeckia and iris to maintain its posture.

Other facts surprised me. It supposed to rebloom if deadheaded, so I need to give this a try. Taller plants should be staked, and cutting stems back in May could help keep the plant shorter and therefore upright. They make good cut flowers, but with only one lonely stalk here, cutting would eliminate the plant in the garden! They are not invasive -- did you hear that rudbeckia?

For The Record:
  • Average clay soil on a sloping site
  • Partial sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Very slow growth / spreading
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, mexican zinnia, zinnia, rudbeckia, bellacamda, cleome, rose campion, sunflower, coneflower, phlox
  • Harvested: 14 tomatoes, 15 peppers, 16 onions

18 July 2014

Daylilies And Shakespeare

Annuals in the shade
It's been about three years since I visited the Cutler Botanical Garden back in my hometown, Binghamton NY. My first visit saw a vegetable garden and a generous balance of perennials, annuals, and a few specimen trees. The second time, however, was different. Flood waters of the Chenango River had just receded, and any plants not washed away were encrusted with mud. It has recovered since then.

Most botanical gardens, I believe, have a specialty or focus that distinguishes them from others and gives them a unique personality. I found something on my recent visit to Cutler that I did not see in previous visits: daylilies and Shakespeare. The picture quality is courtesy of my iPad2's crappy camera and a harsh, direct sun kinda day.

My favorite millet / Get those herbs out of the shade!
The garden is small and set on 3.5 acres (1.5 hectare.) It consists of a few meandering trails through a mostly turf-covered area, with a vegetable garden, herb garden, perennial, and annual beds laid out around the paths. A rose garden with path leads to a central gazebo, framed throughout with lots of annuals. LOTS and lots of annuals. I prefer perennials, but luscious, unique annuals pique my interest, too.

The vegetable and herb gardens were typical. The herb garden, surprisingly, was mostly in light shade. In fact, annual beds planted with sun-lovers were also in shade. The herb garden was part of the 'Shakespeare Trail.' The trail has about two dozen plants, identified by sign, that are cited in the writer's works. The plant and associated passages were listed in a brochure.

Here did she fall a tear; here in this place,
I'll set a bank of rue, our herb of grace"

--King Richard

I was also very fond of the Daylilies collection. My estimate is that about 60 daylily varieties were on display in their own area. A few varieties were shouting out to me, reminding me that I still wanted a red daylily for my own patch. The blooms with the green throats were really enticing.

These unnamed beauties caught my camera lens.

And my favorite unknown ... if anyone has a clue ...

The next day required a trip to Apalachin to help pick out plants for family and browse the W & W Nursery. The entrance was graced by a few dead tree trunks carved into sculpture. I picked up Cherokee Star daylily. No green throats, (well, maybe a little) but quite vibrant on muscular stems. And, it was a discounted price due to the 'Daylily Days' sale.

On the way out of the gate, a wagon cart o' plants beckoned with "Find Me A Home - $3 each." Who could resist a cart full of orphans, and why didn't I see this on the way in? Probably because I was too excited with anticipation at entering the nursery.

Through the dried-out pots I found a hydrangea arborescens "Invincibelle Spirit" still clinging to life. I had just spied a large, fragrant, healthy $60 specimen blooming in the nursery. I scarfed up the orphan and giddily deposited $3 in the 'honor system' coffee jug on the wagon's edge. Today, the 1-foot tall (30 cm) hydrangea is beginning a new life and starting to bloom with tiny clusters, as if to say, "thank you for my new home."
My new Cherokee Star

05 July 2014

Fibonocci Coneflowers

Fibanocci patterns are found in the seeds of a sunflower head, and in the head of a coneflower. My sunflowers are not yet blooming, so come on and admire the coneflowers.

OK, it's time for your math class. Leonardo Pisano Fibonocci was an 11th century mathematician who brought the Arabic numbers we use today to the merchant world to replace the cumbersome Roman numerals. He also pondered (mathematically speaking) the successive reproductive growth of rabbit populations. (Only a mathematician...) He applied an old Indian Hindu numbering sequence to develop a formula calculating the count over time. The Hindu sequence is what we (our Western-centric society) now call the Fibonocci sequence. The sequence adds the previous two numbers in a series to arrive at the next one: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34...

But nature had already discovered this and was using it in all sorts of ways. The mathematical logarithmic spiral of a nautilus shell, the branching of certain trees, and the spiral seed arrangements of sunflowers and coneflowers all use this sequence or a formulation of it.

According to Innovation Factory, the image is a "Yellow Chamomile head showing the arrangement in 21 (blue) and 13 (aqua) spirals. Such arrangements involving consecutive Fibonacci numbers appear in a wide variety of plants. Plants produce their leaves and seeds from a growth tip that spirals around the plant or center of the seed head as it goes -- the most efficient way to pack seeds into the seed head... You get the closely packed Fibonacci spirals of seeds, with the number of clockwise and anticlockwise spirals at any point on the seed head a pair of successive Fibonacci numbers." Sure enough, my coneflower has 13 spirals in one direction, and 21 in the other.

Writing of coneflowers (Echinacea), I offer some observations on the three types in my garden: native Echinacea purpurea, Sundown of the Big Sky series, and Coconut Lime. The original echinacea purpurea are the most drough-tolerant, but the flower petals can droop, leaving a large prominent seed head. Bumblebees love them, and so do the goldfinches who perch on top and chow down. They are taller than the others with the largest flowers and largest seed cones -- making it easy for the finches to fly in for a snack.

The flowers can vary in their color intensity for no apparent reason -- some being a dark purple-pink, while others are light pink. They do have a distinct fragrance. Speaking of rabbits multiplying, they also easily seed themselves in my habitat.

Sundown, part of the Big Sky series, is what happens when breeders get involved. This coneflower puts out a riot of blooms early, then dies out before summer ends. The blooms start out with an beautiful orange color then fade in a few days into an dirty washed-out salmon. Deadheading does not seem to help the plant continue into the summer, as foliage turns a dark bronze like it has given up making chlorophyll. The plant goes ugly on me and slowly melts away until next year. The internet is full of stories of disappointments on this one.

Coconut Lime, another plant breeder introduction, looks different than the others. The blooms start out with petals and centers looking like the native, but the centers begin to increase into larger pompoms. The blooms last a long time, but bees never touch them. I suspect the thick pompoms prevent them from getting to the pollen, or the pollen is not to their liking. Height is much shorter than the other two coneflowers at about 16-inches (40 cm.)

For The Record:
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer on the Sundown
  • Some early season pests eat bloom petals & leaves

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: coneflowers, liatris, rudbeckia, daisy, monarda,
     echinops, phlox, daylilies, bachelor button, zinnia, hydrangea
  • Harvested: 20 onions, green beans

26 June 2014

History of Annabelle Hydrangea

Almost everyone has seen or has grown the Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). So, I wanted to present something interesting for my featured plant - something most people do not know -- like "who was Annabelle?"

Obtained three years ago as a wee baby from the landscape architect friends, it was planted on the shady side of the back yard fence. I was filling in the areas along the fence. Having no plan or consideration, I take contributions of anything that grows. Normally my gardener's brain works backwards to most logical thinking: first get a plant, then find a place for it.

Our story begins in 1910 when Harriet Kirkpatrick was out horeseback riding along a wooded trail in the country outside Anna, Illinois. First, here's some interesting background on the family. Kirkpatrick Pottery was known for utilitarian and ceremonial presentation pottery (mostly ceramic pigs) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The family was wealthy so its could participate in activities like horseback riding. Pottery manufacturing was located where the clay and railroads were, and geologists reported that some of the finest clay was found in and around Anna, Illinois. Today the Kirkpatrick's Anna Pottery pieces have found their way to museums and collectors.

So wealthy Harriet was galloping through the woods, and noticed a wild hydrangea with large, more robust snowball-like blooms than the others. She summoned her sister-in-law Amy. "Have you ever seen a wild Hydrangea with snowball blooms?" So what would you do?

As we would have done, they scarfed it up and planted it in their garden. And also as we would have done, they proudly shared it with their neighbors and friends around town. 50 years later and growing 20 miles away (32 km) in an Urbana Illinois garden, it was brought to the attention of J.C. McDaniel, famous plantsman and professor of horticulture. Two years later after some nursery propagation and further investigation, it was introduced to the world. He first wanted to register the hydrangea as "Ballerina" (are ballerinas big and rotund?) but a name was selected to honor the belles of Anna who discovered it.

Its size and flower heads command attention and anchor one part of the back yard. Like dogwoods, the 'flowers' are actually flower bracts, which is probably why they last so long. I wrote this during the morning after an evening rain, and it reminded me of a known issue with Annabelle -- the tendency of the extra large heads to droop over, especially after collecting water.

Mother Nature did her own plant breeding to produce this hydrangea, easy to grow, large long lasting blooms, with few pests.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with gypsum
    & organic amendments
  • Mostly shade with morning sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: daisies, hydrangea,
    poppies, rudbeckia, echinacea,
    daylilies, bachelor buttons,
    hostas, cosmos
  • Harvested: green beans

31 May 2014

Cage Fightin' Strawberry

I bought strawberries at the grocery store. They were, well, strawberries. I picked my second pair of strawberries from the garden this week. They were phenomenal.

I scooped up the plant at our plant swap two years ago from a neighbor that was giving up on growing strawberries. "Too may critters and not enough rewards," was his answer. During the first year, the handful of berries produced went straight to bellies of squirrels, birds, and slugs, most while still an unripe white. The berries cropped up, off and on, throughout the year, although never as abundantly as in spring.

This year, the gloves gave off. I fashioned a small cage to keep the varmints out, and to date it is working. The top of a tomato cage is wrapped in bird netting, producing a netted top hat that is easily lifted to get inside. Squirrels can still reach into the berries if needed, but I believe they have not discovered the plant this year. If they show up in the ring, I will just build a bigger cage.

The berries were not large. For the taste test, I chomped into a mega-sized store-bought berry from California just before the home grown ones. The store-bought were fine. My home-grown berries taste 'noisy' -- screaming wild and strong. If only the berries were more plentiful and larger I would be singing, too. Even a small number of strawberries taste good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

For The Record:
  • Decent well-drained soil on a slope
  • Full sun, leaf mulch
  • Light amount of nitrogen fertilizer
  • Yellowing of lower leaves, squirrels and birds eat fruit

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: salvia, echinacea, coreopsis
  • Harvested: strawberries, spinach