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.

July 1, 2009

Hampton Roads AREC

I went to a meeting today in Virginia Beach at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) for more information on the fire ant quarantine. There were state and federal representatives there to clarify what the quarantine entails (I kept wanting to hear them use the cliche "We're from the government, and we are here to help"). I will not bore you with the details, but things at the garden center will not be terribly different than they were before the quarantine. The same can not be said for other interests, especially for the wholesale growers we buy from.

After the meeting I was able to wander around the grounds and through the gardens. Hampton Roads AREC is a little piece of Virginia Tech in the flatlands, and I think its original function was mostly agricultural, but now as this area has paved over and built houses on its farmland, the focus is more on horticulture. There are several themed demonstration gardens, a great arboretum with many unusual trees, an All American Selection test garden for annuals, rain gardens, buffer zone gardens and others. One of the coolest things they have, especially for a tree hugger, is a utility line arboretum where they show just how many trees can be grown below the typical power line.

Here are a couple of the annuals being trialed in the All American Selections display gardens. The first is Zinnia 'Zowie Yellow Flame'...
... next is Rudbeckia 'Denver Daisy'
... and Dahlia 'Goldalia Scarlet'.
The next shots are from the demonstration gardens and the arboretum. I am not sure what lily this is, but I have noticed that it has been a good year for Oriental and Asiatic Lilies in area gardens, and I know I need to have some next year.
The Crape Myrtles are still a week or two away from peak bloom. This is Lagerstroemia x 'Choctaw'.
Gordonia or Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lisianthus) is one of our most unusual native trees.
This Crinum was full of blooms with many buds still rising waiting to open.
They had several clumps of Canna x 'Bengal Tiger'.Echinacea was also everywhere, but I was not complaining.
This is either Milletia reticulata or M. taiwanensis. It was one of the few tags I did not see. Does anyone know what the difference is? Its common name is Evergreen Wisteria, but it is not a Wisteria and for us it is hardy, but not evergreen. I saw a catalog call it Summer Wisteria, which is a little better.
Here is Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) an Artichoke cousin.
I have always wanted to try Sea Holly (Eryngium amethystinum). I like the stems as much as the flower heads.
More blue with the Blue Lyme Grass (Elymus arenarius).
Finally, the arboretum is home to some truly exotic species that do well in this area. This is Yucca rostrata and this particular specimen must have been 12' tall.
The Research Station is open to the public and welcomes visitors. It is in a very busy part of Virginia Beach and millions of people drive by it every year without knowing what a great treasure it is.


  1. Les, It sounds like a great garden to see. I wonder who trials plants in nashville...I've never noticed any at our local botanical garden.

    It would be a beautiful neighborhood if the cities didn't have to butcher trees beneath power lines! Or if the power lines were underground!


  2. Those are some amazing looking plants. I really like that dahlia and the rudbeckia. Next year I'm going to have zinnias somewhere if it kills me. I've got a spot in mind. I've always wanted to try sea holly too.

  3. Great photos Les. I have been wanting to get out to the AREC for some time now. Your photo's and post have inspired me to get out there soon. Thanks, David.

  4. I always enjoy getting out there when I can. I wish we could grow gordonia up here in Williamsburg.

  5. Great photos Les. I keep meaning to go over to the AREC. I don't know the Gordonia...will have to look it up and read more. I really like the punch of the Denver Daisy. Nice selection of a variety of blooms and foliage.

  6. I like that Rudbeckia. I haven't heard of Milletia before but it's lovely.

  7. Milletia looks like reticulata and is flowering in my garden right now...what a beautiful set of images. Looks like you had fun for sure!

  8. Great looking new plants, can't wait to see how the trials on them do. I'm intriqued by the Sea Holly too, I'll have to find a spot for it in the garden. :) Happy 4th of July Les.

  9. How neat to visit trial gardens. I like that Denver Daisy. They have come out with such neat rudebeckias the last few years. I hope the fire ant quarantine works. I know it is a hardship on the growers and nurserymen alike, but does help a bit. Take care and have a safe and happy 4th!

  10. Gail,
    I don't know if you have a trial garden nearby or not. I do know they have them all over the country to try the plants in differing climates.

    The zinnia has been out for a couple of years. We have sold them at work and tried them in our display garden. They have been good performers and are very showy.

    That is high praise coming from a photographer such as yourself.

    I did not bother looking up the zones on Gordonia, I guess it is an 8 if you can't grow it in Williamsburg.

    Thanks for the comments. I liked the 'Denver Daisy' also and seems appropriate for my upcoming road trip.

    The Milletia blooms in the summer with wine red/purple flowers that smell just like sweet grape soda. It climbs like wisteria, but is better behaved.

    Thanks for the ID. Anytime I get to go out and wander among gardens is fun.

    The Sea Holly is supposed to self seed in climates that it likes. I am not sure that describes here. I hope you had a good holiday as well.

    We have been on the look out and treating fire ants for years here. The quarantine is more like throwing your hands up in the air and giving up. I think they are just trying to keep them in this corner of the state and to step up to the plate before the Feds do.


  11. Great group of plants, but I really love the idea of a demonstration of trees to put beneath power lines. What really annoys me is when the city plants maples and things that by definition are inappropriate beneath the lines. It's a very common problem here.

  12. Cardooooons!

    Your posts make my heart race. So inspiring. I also love reading your playlist. :)

    C'mon over to C'ville anytime!

  13. Driving to the beach in Florida, I always coveted the Gordonia growing wild in the wet spots in the pine woods. Even driving by the flowers are showy.

    Now a power line demonstration garden is a great idea. The utility companies would need to require their tree crews to see it so they could ID the trees though. Up here they just chop and kill long before they reach the lines. A peach tree was half chopped before someone thought better of it.

  14. Linda,
    When I first heard of this 'Utility Arboretum" I could only come up with maybe 10 trees. They had close to 50-60 to look at, and some of them were quite unusual.

    I got the idea for my playlist from you!

    At least they chop your plants. Around here they send a big tanker truck full of glyphosphate.


  15. Hi Les, that is a fine resource for your locality. Hope lots of people are aware of it. As for the fire ants, my daughter Semi, who lives in Knoxville has those devils in her gardens. I am positive they came in with the shrubs that were planted by the builders, it is a new development. The fire ant population has not come this far north into our zone as yet on their own, but their existence in her gardens is great cause for alarm and dismay. What is done cannot be undone, that we know of. I am careful when digging plants from her garden to bring an hour south to mine that there are no ants or eggs. Hope your area can stay ahead of the game.

  16. Fire ants, ugh, are simply awful. I enjoyed going with you on your stroll after the meeting though. Beautiful flowers, and unique too.~~Dee

  17. My fav, the Sea Holly--love that plant! Beautiful pics and so glad you don't have to do too much for the ant invasion. I'm not ready for all that itch and pain associated with them.

    Helen's write up about Smithfield's Nursery is wonderful. You have a gorgeous place--congrats.

  18. Is Cardoon similar to prairie thistle? Mabe I'll go google it. Then google myself.

  19. I've always admired the loblolly bay - but I don't believe I've seen one (or at least realized what I was seeing!).

    Your images are just beautiful - do you grow crinums? (I think I saw one here recently?) Next Saturday I'm driving three plus hours to visit the folks from Lushlife Nurseries who are having a little crinum party. I can't wait!

    I'm sorry to hear about the fire ants. Interestingly, I have far fewer problems with them in my garden now than I used to. When I first moved onto this one acre, there wasn't much planted - and now there is quite a bit of diversity. I think that's helped. I don't miss the sick pleasure I'd get when I pour a pot of boiling water on one of their hills...