An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

May 11, 2015

Briefly Back in Retail

     My work colleagues and I have lately been consumed with preparing for and running this past weekend's annual plant sale at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. We began meeting shortly after last year's sale to decide which plants to carry. Some of our offerings came from cuttings or divisions taken from the garden's collections, while others we bring in as plugs or as bare-root plants to grow on. This year edible plants were chosen as our signature plant, so we grew all kinds of fruit bearing trees and shrubs, brought in strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, and a whole lot blueberry bushes. In addition to this year's edibles, we offered, as is usual, a variety of shrubs, trees, vines, tropicals, and annuals, but what we always have the most of are perennials, and almost half of them this year were native species and cultivars.

     I took the pictures in this post (hovering over the photos will give you plant names) before we opened on Friday morning, when everything was still peaceful, and the tables were fully stocked and ready for the garden's members, who were allowed entry an hour earlier than everyone else. Looking at the line of several hundred people waiting at the gate, I knew we were going to be much busier than last year, and I was right. The first few hours were so beyond busy, with plants being snapped up in a piranha-like frenzy. Fortunately no one required stitches, but at one point an all-hands-on-deck-call was made for all garden personnel to help move guests throw the checkout line, which snaked its way through the sales floor and out the back gate. Fortunately the rest of the day, and the rest of the weekend was less frenetic.
Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna'

Salvia greggii 'Raspberry'

Nepeta 'Johanna Reed'

Coreopsis 'Jethro Tull'

Coreopsis 'Cherry Lemonade'

Dahlia 'Mystic Enchantment'

Amsonia tabernaemontana and Baptisia (2)

Allium schoenoprasum 'Rising Sun' and Salvia Rhapsody in Blue'

Agave 'Cornelius'

Verbascum 'Summer Sorbet'

Tiarella cordifolia 'Oakleaf'

Thunberia battiscombei

Rhododendron 'My Mary'

Orthosiphon stamineus

Impatiens hybrida 'Fusion Glow Yellow'

Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Goblin'

Eucomis 'Leia'

Digitalis 'Foxy Hybrids'

Bletilla striata

     Today I left work early, and will be off tomorrow trying to recover from a 60 hour work week. I also need at least one day to get all of my purchases planted, and I have no idea where they will all go.
My Haul

Here is a partial list of what followed me home:
Agave 'Cornelius'
Allium 'Millenium'
Aralia cordata 'Sun King'
Asarum maximum 'Ling Ling'
Chondrosum gracile 'Blonde Ambition'
Coreopsis 'Cosmic Eye'
Crossandra infundibuliformis 'Orange Marmalade'
Dahlia 'Mystic Enchantment'
Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame' - planted as an annual, we'll see if it does anything else
Digitalis ferruginea 'Gigantea' - Rusty Foxglove
Helleborus foetidus
Impatiens 'Fusion Glow Yellow'
Impatiens omeiana - hardy impatiens
Leonotis leonurus - Lion's Ear
Odontonema cuspidatum - Firespike
Plectranthus scutellarioides - a ruffled nearly black coleus
Salvia × 'Wendy's Wish'
Veronicastrum virginicum - Culver's Root
Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' - Elephant's Ear

April 19, 2015

A Weekend in Williamsbug

     I spent last weekend at the Williamsburg Garden Symposium. I have always wanted to attend this event, but its timing and my money never aligned. However, I was invited to speak at this year's event, and I agreed before self-doubt had a chance to step in and sway me otherwise. While I am not adverse to public speaking, and in fact do it frequently, this talk was my highest profiled gig to date, and much of that had to do with those I shared the stage with. My subject was understory trees for mid-Atlantic gardens, and judging from the comments afterwards it went well, or at least people were just being polite to say so.

     The schedule left plenty of time to explore Colonial Williamsburg, which was an easy walk from my hotel. I have always loved this place and visit several times a year, but I have never been able to see it in spring, nor early in the morning before the crowds pour in. Colonial Williamsburg has often been wrongly accused of merely being an American history stage set, but a significant number of its buildings are true restorations, and those that are true recreations have been done so fairly faithfully to what was there. This is not necessarily the case with the gardens in Colonial Williamsburg, most of which were recreated in the colonial revival style, and are a not quite accurate picture of what once was. I am OK with this though. The gardens are beautiful as they are, and most of them and the surrounding buildings have enough of a patina to convince you that you are walking back through time, even if that patina is only 80 years old and not 250.

(Warning: this is a photo-heavy post, you may want to check how much bandwidth is in your boiler before proceeding.)

Sheep Feeding

Red House, Yellow Garden (1)

Slatted Light

Tulip Garden (2)

Tulip Garden

Wellhead (1)

Colonial Garden (5)

Colonial Garden (3)

Acer Samaras

Celtis Light

Colonial Garden (8)

Gnarled (1)

Living Skeleton

Maple, Peyton Randolf House (1)

Maple, Peyton Randolf House (2)

Nicholson St.


     I am not a huge fan of extreme pruning, but I guess in a historic context it can be appropriate, and in the case of these pollarded sycamores, somewhat beautiful as well, even more so without foliage.
Pollarded Sycamore (1)

Sheep Pasture

Sheep Pasture (2)

Pollarded Sycamore (2)

     During my talk I gave more time to redbuds (Cercis canadensis) than many other trees, and fortunately the Williamsburg landscape abundantly backed me up.
Cercis canadensis (3)

Cercis canadensis (4)

Cercis canadensis (7)

Cercis canadensis (6)

Wellhead (2)

Cercis canadensis (11)

     One of my favorite trees in Williamsburg is definitely not an understory tree. The Compton oak (Quercus x comptoniae) is a hybrid between live oak (Q. virginiana) and overcup oak (Q. lyrata). This particular one is huge, and sitting underneath of it is like being in a circus tent. It was planted in 1930, but you might think it was here when Jefferson and Washington walked by.
Compton Oak (1)

Compton Oak (2)

     When you think of colonial gardens images of regimentation and symmetry might come to mind, as well as plants clipped with precision. However, even if the lines are tight, the plants are not so much so, and in Williamsburg many are allowed to flow and grow with some wildness, more or less as they please. After all, back in the day there were no string trimmers or power pruners, and sheep were the lawn mowers. I love the contrast between rigid designs and free flowing plants, and one plant that helped blur the lines was Ipheion, which has naturalized in many Williamsburg gardens.
Ipheion Lawn (2)

Ipheion Lawn

Ipheion Lawn (1)

      I ran across one plant totally unfamiliar to me. I was initially attracted to its ghostly silver green blooms, and thought I should find out what it was and how I could get some for my own garden. Then when I saw it coming up all over the place without regard, I thought twice. Asking around I found out it was Ornithogalum nutans (nodding or drooping star of Bethlehem). At our first house one of its cousins carpeted our backyard every spring, so I know what this genus is capable of.
Ornithogalum nutans

      One of the benefits of getting up early was having a chance to see some of Colonial Williamsburg's interpreters begin their day. I overheard snippets of conversation as they walked by ready to assume their roles, and I could have sworn they were speaking in character with each other.
In Character (1)

In Character (2)

     If you want to read more on Colonial Williamsburg's gardens, and the role that the colonial revival movement had in its landscape, here is a very good article on the subject.