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.

February 21, 2015

Summer Color I

     Given all the white and all the cold of my last post, and given the fact that many of you might have been experiencing much the same thing just outside your own doors, I thought I would share some more colorful photos from a warmer time. These are all shots of the annual display beds taken last summer at the Norfolk Botanical Garden where I work. My team is responsible for their design, planting, and maintenance, and it takes a lot of collaboration to pull off. It is hard work, but we do get help, and I think it is one of the best parts of my job.

     Let's start at the front entrance. Much of the landscaping here is permanent, but there are several beds left for us to fill with annuals. Since these are drive-by beds, we try to keep things bold and eye-catching. Our starting point was three large concrete bowl planters, each filled with an enormous variegated false agave (Furcraea foetida 'Variegata'), and with a mix of Portulaca grandiflora from the Pizzazz series spilling over the sides. From there we went with plants we knew would do well for us.
Front Entrance (1)

Front Entrance (8)

Front Entrance (2)

Front Entrance

      Next stop is the Toll Booth where the planting is a little more sedate. Wax leaf begonias are very dependable plants, but kind of boring, and kind of everywhere, sort of like white bread. When I read about a new series called Big (Begonia benariensis BIG™ Rose with Bronze Leaf), I knew I wanted to try them. They are not the tight little bun of tiny flowers that older varieties are, but are loose and open with larger flowers. I also wanted to make use of some spectacular Persian palm maxi elephant ears (Alocasia x calidora 'Persian Palm Maxi') we had in the nursery. We also planted white Cleome, some Sanseveria. and a coleus variety I was initially excited about, but that got quickly lost among the other plants.
Toll Booth (1)

Toll Booth (2)

Toll Booth (4)

     For the front of the visitor's center we went back to bold colors, where the design started with a bromeliad species, Aechmea blanchetiana. This plant is green in the shade, but move it into full sun and the orange flows out. I saw this plant paired with Setcreasea pallida at Fairchild Gardens in Florida and wanted to see a repeat. One of our favorite zinnias was added (Zinnia marylandica 'Zahara Double Fire'), along with Colocasia 'Coffee Cups'. a purple Angelonia, and the ever-vigorous Margarita sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita'). One of our surprises this past summer was Crossandra infundibuliformis 'Orange Marmalade'. For a dainty looking plant, it was a tough bloom machine.
Baker Hall Front Entrance(1)

Baker Hall Front Entrance(4)

Baker Hall Front Entrance(6)

Baker Hall Front Entrance(7)

     One of the results I was most happy with took its inspiration from two sources: the color of the surrounding patio tiles, and a combination of Agave americana and invasive blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius) I saw at Longwood two years ago (yes, I am a liberal "borrower"). We also added Redhead coleus (Solenostemon hybrida 'Redhead'), and a dark purple petunia. Blending all these plants together is Diamond Frost Euphorbia, which we use a lot of at the gardens as it is one of the hardest working annuals in show business.
Administration Building Entrance (3)

Administration Building Entrance (2)

Administration Building Entrance (1)

     Next week I will show some more of our handiwork. In the meanwhile I need to head to the grocery store before the roads refreeze; I'm getting dangerously low on beer.

(Just a reminder that Winter Walk-Off 2015 has started and runs until March 19th. I am looking forward to your contribution.)

23 comments:

  1. Love it Les and a nice reprieve from the current snow storm. So much to learn from their creative use and combination of plants. The purple and orange really resonate.

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    1. I know it turns some people's stomach, but I'm a huge fan of purple and orange together in the garden.

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  2. You work at a botanical garden? Lucky you! That area by the steps with the potted plants, including the 'Redheaded' Coleus, is fabulous. I might have to "borrow" some of those ideas, too!

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    1. Yes, I am lucky, and you are welcome to borrow.

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  3. Color! Such a pleasure to see, as I am surrounded by a vista of white and brown. That 'Redhead' coleus is a stunner!

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    1. Jason, not only is 'Redhead' a stunner, it was vigorous, yet well-behaved.

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  4. We were certainly impressed with the gardens, bursting with color even in early October. The planters on the bridge were especially gorgeous. And of course the roses! Anyone who travels near Norfolk should treat themselves to a visit.

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    1. Thanks Lynn! We had such a good time putting those bridge planters together.

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  5. Stunning encouragement to make early plans. Thank you.

    Purple and Chartreuse and Pale Yellow and all shades of Orange -- a recipe I borrowed from Val Easton for a front garden to wow passersby at 55 mph. I'll be adding Aechmea to my mix.

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    1. Jean, we do plan early, but you never know how things are going to do until you get the plants in the ground. Fortunately we tend to plant fairly thickly and if something doesn't perform well, there are others to pick up the slack.

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  6. These gardens are beautiful Les and you are so fortunate to be a part of them. These photos are a welcome sight on this cold winters day!

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    1. Lee, I am glad I could brighten your day.

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  7. Gorgeous! There's a foot of snow outside and I'm in need of a shot of color. My daughter attends college near your area and I need to stop by the Botanic Gardens when it's warmer and I'm down for a visit. I've always ignored Diamond Frost but need to give it a second look since you recommend it so highly. :o)

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    1. Casa M., if you do come to the gardens, have the front desk give me a call. I am usually there most weekdays. When Diamond Frost first came out I couldn't see what all the fuss was about, until I saw what it does for its neighbors.

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  8. Absolutely gorgeous series of photos.

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  9. I almost had to put on my sunglasses! What color! Your designs and blending of colors and shapes are first-class. Bravo!

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    1. Annie, thank you for the high praise.

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  10. The fountain with the surrounding planting scene is excellent. Colocasia 'Coffee Cups towering over purple-orange combo: Awesome.

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    1. I like that photo too Chavliness. I like how the shape of the redwood in the distance is mimicked by the fountain.

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  11. Haha, being dangerously low on beer around my place is an emergency. Forget the power, forget the roads, just bring the beer and they all prepare for it. I hope the storm is not too bad for you. Love the annual beds. So you design them all then you and your team plant them? Do you also propagate the flowers in the hothouses all winter long? Or do you buy wholesale? I am not so familiar with how botanical gardens work. I guess I just never much gave it a thought. I know Opryland propagates all of their greenery in their greenhouses. A big job too.

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    1. Tina our process starts with a couple of brainstorming sessions where we toss around themes, designs, colors, combinations, etc.. We all keep files of things we like and plants we want to try. We narrow things down and present rough designs to my boss so he can weigh in and make suggestions. Once the designs are finalized I start sourcing plants. Many of the tropical plants we use are kept in our nursery and hothouses. We have an on-the-ball propagator, and I meet with her to go over the plants, and together we decide what can be done by cuttings or divisions, by seed, by mail-order plugs, or what I should buy at local nurseries. I buy very little already finished plants from wholesalers, and I'd say the majority are grown from seeds or plugs, I order the seeds to arrive around the first of the year, and the plugs come in March. We usually target a plant date of mid-May. We repeat the process in October and plant cool season crops.

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