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.

June 28, 2009

Friday at Busch Gardens

Here are a few scenes from Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Unlike last year, we nearly had the park to ourselves (tough economy?).

Finally, a short video of our second favorite ride in the park, the Griffon (our fav is Apollo's Chariot). An overhead harness holds you in place on one of 3 rows of seats that remind me of of pews in a twisted church. You slowly climb to the top reclined with your fellow congregants, and I think this is the worst part, the anticipation, after that there is no time to think. The video will show you the rest.

June 26, 2009

Ant Man

"The city is under martial law until we eradicate them!"

Wednesday started off like any other day until we received the memo from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). It seems that nearly all of the cities and counties that make up the Hampton Roads region have been put under a fire ant quarantine. According to the memo, the number of fire ant mounds treated (free of charge) by VDACS has increased from a yearly average of 33 , to 642 in the last six months of 2008. A shocking figure, but are the ants on the march, or is there greater public awareness, maybe some of each. The quarantine restricts the movement of such items as nursery stock, sod, soil, mulch and even mud-caked construction equipment. You are not allowed to send any of these items out of the quarantine area unless it has been certified to be free from fire ants. In my opinion all of this was unfortunately dumped onto affected businesses without many details on how one gets certified. It had me wondering if we were going to have to ask for ID's to make sure we did not sell plants to people outside the quarantine, or would there be roadblocks at the county line to check for contraband begonias and azaleas. I put a call in to the local VDACS office to get clarification, the poor lady who answered the phone said she had been inundated with calls, but no one had provided her with information, and she would have someone else call me.

Not long after I finished reading the memo, the phone rang and WTKR TV was on the phone wanting to know if they could come out to get my thoughts. I did not want to sound like an idiot, especially on TV, so I got a quick on-line education on the critters to add to what I already knew. There was no interview, I just had to stand there and spout ant facts for the evening news. After the cameraman left, the phone rang again. This time it was the Daily Press asking me to answer ant questions and wanting to know what affect this would have on our business. I spoke at length with the reporter, and she must have liked what she heard, because she decided to come out to the store with a photographer. Later that day a gentleman from VDACS returned my call, and apparently retail garden centers that do not grow or ship product will likely not be affected. Even so I asked if they would come out and give us an fire-ant-free clean bill of health. We also decided to get more fire ant bait onto the shelves, as VDACS will no longer treat fire ant mounds in the quarantine area. As expected this story was airing on all of the TV stations that evening, thankfully it was not as sensationalized as I had expected.

On Thursday it was an "above-the-fold" story in the Virginian Pilot, complete with little ants surrounding the headline. Later that morning The Smithfield Times (The Pulse of the Counties) called me for yet more questions. Of course now all of this ant news and any other news story has been pushed well aside for Michael Jackson news (I am sure a certain governor in South Carolina is not in mourning tonight). Even though I was never a big Michael Jackson fan, I am sorry he is gone, but now I have that Alien Ant Farm cover of Smooth Criminal stuck in the folds of my convoluted brain.

I guess I am becoming Ant-Man.

June 24, 2009

Coloring Out of the Lines

While I don't presume to speak for anyone but myself, I think a lot of people keep their lives compartmentalized. I myself have my work circle, my family, our friends, the people I see at various associations and lately the people I have gotten to know on-line. When any of these spheres collide it can sometimes seem awkward. It has to do with context, as in it is hard to imagine people out of the normal context that you associate them in. More surreal still is meeting people you only know electronically through the Internet, wondering if your mental image of them will match reality.

That said, it was such a pleasure and not at all awkward to meet Helen, Janet and Racquel on Monday. We had our own mini version of Garden Blogger's Spring Fling on the second day of summer. Only no one had to take a plane or rent a hotel room, then again there was no sea of salvia to roam through and no Cloud Gate - but there was a chance to get to know people (albeit too briefly) who I hope I will see again soon.

June 21, 2009

Life Happens When You're Not Looking

Of late I have been fascinated by how persistent some plants can be. There is a junkyard near the house that has a beautiful example of the invasive Paulownia tomentosa growing among rusted and burned out cars. Surrounding the junk yard is a chain-link fence that has vicious coils of razor wire on top, and this is where you can see a stunning specimen of Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) in full bloom this week. For some reason I take comfort when I see plants push through the asphalt or pop up from cracks in the sidewalk. Maybe it is hopeful that in spite of all the things we have done to muck up the environment, somethings still thrive. Or perhaps I have been watching too many episodes of the History Channel's Life After People.

I spoke last year in a post here about our compost pile at work. It is where we dump dead plants, clippings, branches, raked debris, etc. Each year I am amazed at what comes up from a pile of presumably dead things. Earlier this week I doused myself with DEET and took a stroll through the pile to see what early summer had to offer.

Perhaps the most prolific plant growing on the pile is Verbena bonariensis, which is also known as Verbena-on-a-Stick. I tried to get a picture of the bright yellow Goldfinches feasting on the purple flowers, but was suffering from camera limitations. I like how you can see one of our abandoned cube trucks in the background of this first shot.

Here the Verbena is competing for the camera's attention with the other major player on the pile, Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), which does not seem very particular as to where it comes up.

Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)
This is one of those short lived Rudbeckias, maybe 'Indian Summer' or something like it.
Does anyone know the name of this little wildflower?
Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)
Castor Bean (Ricin commonis)

Blooming soon, a large patch of unknown Daisies (Leucanthemum sp.).
This Clematis is likely Clematis x jackmanii and in the words of the man on the cart from scene 2 of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "I'm not dead yet!" .
Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) - without the razor wire.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Inside the gates we sell several hundred varieties of Hemerocallis, many are expensive, many are bargain priced, but the beauty of these outside the gate are free.
Some plants are notorious for their invasiveness and earn a spot on the Least Wanted List. Such is the case of the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), which we have not sold in 10 years. I remember driving through New England some time ago and being awed by the beauty of this plant covering acres of ground, but that was before I knew how persistent some plants can be.

June 15, 2009

Bloom Day: Brought to You by the Letter "H"

"H" is for Hemerocallis...
which is the perennial species most in flower in my garden for this June Bloom Day. I have lost count of how many different varieties I have and most of their names are lost to me as well. I just enjoy what comes up.

"H" is for Historical...
as in this is not the historical Yorktown Onion that I thought I was planting, rather it is Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum). However, I am OK with that as my son has already told me he wants to eat it, and technically it is in his garden.
"H" is for Hemo...
as in the Greek word root for blood, as in Blood Flower, one of the common names for this tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). It is a great butterfly (and aphid) attractor which we carry at work in an inexpensive cell-pack for $1.38, so I bought 3. I have grown them now for three years, and last year I was disappointed that they all came out yellow. But if you look for foliage that has a tinge of bronze to it, the flowers will come out two-toned. "H" is for Honey Bees...
who have been enjoying the Black and Blue Salvia (Salvia gauranitica 'Black and Blue').
"H" is for Heady...
which describes the fragrance coming from the August Beauty Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides 'August Beauty'). When is someone going to come up with a cake that tastes as good as this plant smells? "H" is for Hell Strip...
which is where the next two plants not only survive, but thrive. Hell Strips are the little patches of soil between the sidewalk and the street where plants are subjected to lots of heat from the pavement. The first picture is Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and the second is Malva sylvestris 'Zebrina'. Both of these came up from seed I did not plant, in fact the Malva comes up in nearly any crevice or crack in the sidewalk. Anything willing to grow under such conditions - I just let be.

"H" is for Hate...
as in I hated waiting 10 years for this Clivia miniata to bloom. "H" is also for Hate Speech which is what you do when you use the common name for this plant, Kaffir Lily. Kaffir is a racially abusive term to describe Africans. It originated from the Arabic word kafir, which means heathen or non-believer, but eventually became a more offensive term in the mouths of Europeans. Who knew that using common plant names could be so politically incorrect? I'll stick to Clivia. "H" is for Hazy, Hot and Humid...
which describes our typical summer weather. This is fortunate for one of my newest plants, Rudbeckia maxima. According to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, this plant likes hot humid weather, I am not sure about the hazy part."H" is for Hydrangea...
which are competing for my attentions with the Hemerocallis.

Finally, "H" is for our Hostess...
who happens to be Carol at May Dreams Gardens, and who I would like to thank for coordinating all these crazy gardeners, myself included.

June 5, 2009

High Geraniums

Several years ago at the garden center, I overheard two elderly sisters speaking with each other. One appeared to be more of a gardener than the other and was explaining the difference between "high geraniums" and "low geraniums".

"High geraniums are shrubs. You remember momma had blue ones growin' in the shade out by the shed in the back yard".

"Low geraniums are red and orange and you gotta bring 'em in fo' the winter".

She may have had the names confused, but at least she knew where they should be grown. My own "high geraniums" are just coming into full bloom this week.

Hydrangea macrophylla var. serrata 'Kiyosumi'
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mariesii Variegata'
The next four are two different varieties from the Halo Series, but unfortunately I did not know which two they were when I planted them. All of the varieties in this series have petals with a white "halo".

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Glory Blue'

I did not plant this one, it just sort of appeared and it's name is unknown.
Hydrangea macrophylla var. serrata 'Blue Bird'
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Sun Goddess'
I also have planted a couple of "low geraniums" which I will be sure to bring in before the winter. This is Pelargonium x hortorum 'Indian Dunes' and ...
... Pelargonium x hortorum 'Mrs. Pollack'.