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 25, 2015

Summer Color II

     We had another snow last night, but apparently it was just a light appetizer. Tonight we are predicted to get the worst snowfall of the season with up to 8" of the heavy and wet variety. The schools were closed today and will not open tomorrow either. The city has already decided it will be closed too, with only emergency services in operation. I realize that we don't have it as bad as Boston does, but I am sick of this. Right now I should be seeing daffodils, hellebores and camellias opening. Maybe if I keep posting pictures from this past summer the nasty weather might somehow be pushed away, or at the very least looking at the computer might keep me from looking outside.

     As my last post ended, we were on the steps of the Administration Building. Let's go inside, through the rotunda, and out the backdoor to the fountain garden where we have two beds: one is very sunny, the other not so much. I was pleased with the shade side and how well the variegated ginger (Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'), blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), Duranta erecta 'Cuban Gold', and the vinca 'Cora Punch' (Catharanthus roseus 'Cora Punch') all worked together.
Administration Fountain (1)

Administration Fountain (2)

     On the sunny side of the fountain I was less pleased, probably because I think we had too many players in the design. Simpler would have been better. Ironically the starting point for our plan, a shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana 'Fruit Cocktail'), was quickly engulfed by the other plants in the bed and nearly disappeared. We repeated the 'Cora Punch' vinca and the Duranta, but added Lantana 'Bandana Lemon Zest', Salvia farinacea (I think the cultivar was 'Evolution'), bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), and a variegated rubber tree (Ficus elastica 'Ruby').
Administration Fountain (3)

Administration Fountain (4)

     In the Circle Garden a different shrimp plant (Pachystachys lutea) was the inspiration for this garden, only this species was able to hold its own. To go with its golden yellow and white color, I also wanted to see different shades of blue. We included Evolvulus 'Blue Daze', bog sage (Salvia uliginosa), more blue plumbago, macho fern (Nephrolepis biserrata 'Macho'), Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', and on the trellises we grew black eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata). We also used Impatiens 'Sonic White', which is a New Guinea type. We have just about completely given up on using the once more common Impatiens walleriana because of downy mildew.
Circle Garden (3)

Circle Garden (1)

Circle Garden (2)

Circle Garden Planters (1)

     In the Baker Perennial Garden annuals are planted on either side of the fountain's channels. These very long, narrow beds almost beg to have a vertical element repeated regularly throughout. To fill this role we used Cordyline 'Red Sensation' planted with 'Mojito' elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta 'Mojito'), Zinnia 'Zahara Double Cherry' and 'Double Fire', and Cuphea (I think it was 'Flamenco Samba').
Channel Beds, Baker Perennial Garden

Channel Beds, Baker Perennial Garden (4)

Channel Beds, Baker Perennial Garden (6)

     A couple of years ago I was surprised to learn there was an ornamental peanut (Arachis pointoi) being touted in Florida as a lawn replacement. Native to Brazil, it can take heat, and once summer became serious, the plant really took off. We planted the culitvar 'Golden Glory' at the entrance to our Tropical Garden, and I was hoping that its small yellow flowers would have been a bit more numerous. However, given its vigor and attractive foliage, it will be worth using again. The species is listed as hardy to zone 9, so we took cuttings at the end of the season to overwinter in a hothouse, but we also left a few in the ground to test for root hardiness.
Arachis pointoi 'Golden Glory' (2)

Arachis pointoi 'Golden Glory' (1)

Top of the Tropics (3)

Top of the Tropics (1)

     I have one more set of summer color photos I want to share with you, and maybe after that I can get back to more seasonal posts with some hints of the spring to come. If you don't find your own self snowed in, perhaps you will consider joining my Winter Walk-Off 2015, which is open to all bloggers.

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.)

February 19, 2015

Winter Walk-Off 2015

     Happy, happy, joy, joy! Winter will be over, at least officially, in just one month. Here at A Tidewater Gardener we celebrate the occasion with a Winter Walk-Off meme, and this year will mark five years. For those of you who aren't familiar with my little challenge, this is a way to encourage all bloggers to rise from the couch, cast off that musty Afghan, grab a camera, and get out of the house to show the rest of us what their part of the planet looks like.

As always, the rules are simple, the rules are flexible:

  • On your own two feet, leave the house, and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home (if you want to drive to your walk destination that's OK too). Your post does not have to be about gardening or a travelogue (though I do like both), unless you want it to be. Maybe instead you will find some unusual patterns, interesting shadows, signs of spring, a favorite restaurant or shop, questionable landscaping, or local eyesores. Whatever, just keep your eyes and mind open, be creative, and have fun, but don't show anything from your own garden.
  • Post your own Winter Walk-Off on your blog, and link it back to this post. Also, please leave me a link and comment here when your post is up. If you have recently written something similar, you are welcome to recycle.
  • I will keep the challenge open until midnight on March 19th, the last day of winter (or summer for those of you below the equator, who are welcome to join in).
  • Everyone who participates will have a chance to win one of two prizes, and a totally disinterested teenager will randomly draw the winning names. One lucky participant will win something very special (at least it's special to me), a fossil of Chesapecten jeffersonius, which is over 4 million years old. This is the state fossil of Virginia, honoring both the Chesapeake Bay and Thomas Jefferson. The not-as-lucky winner will receive a small framed print of some subject of my choosing, and if the winner doesn't like the image, then I hope they like the frame. I will contact each winner, and mail the prizes after the Walk-Off is over. 

  • I hope these guidelines are simple enough for you to consider joining in, because the more, the merrier.


         Now on to my own Winter Walk-Off, which is actually my second this year. My first took place this past Saturday in Willoughby Spit, a little beachfront community precariously built on a large sandbar here in Norfolk. However, the wind was bitter cold, and between that, and my two unruly dogs, it was not the best photo expedition. Regardless, I was prepared to share those photos with you, when low and behold, we got a snow day on Tuesday. So I took advantage of the better photo ops, and bundled up for a walk down to the river. Along the way I was distracted by the bark on this crapemyrtle (probably Lagerstroemia x  'Natchez').
    Rhode Island Circle (1)

         I saw two things on my walk I have never seen here before: snowboards on a local car's roof rack, and the Lafayette River nearly frozen from one side to the other.

    Newport (1)

    In Remembrance

    Come on in, the water's fine

    Lafayette (1)

    No Fishing or Crabbing

         My favorite kayak launch was concealed by a treacherously thick coat of ice and snow, but as much as I look forward to my next trip, it was not quite paddling-friendly weather.
    Mayflower Steps

        Rounding the corner, I followed the shoreline of Knitting Mill Creek. The foolhardy might be tempted to cross the ice; this body of water was frozen from one side to the other. Some are frightened by bears, others by heights. Me, I am afraid of falling through ice.
    Knitting Mill Creek (3)

    Knitting Mill Creek (5)

    Knitting Mill Creek (8)

    Knitting Mill Creek (4)

    Knitting Mill Creek (11)

    Knitting Mill Creek (14)

         There are several live oaks (Quercus virginiana) planted along the shore. With light reflecting up from the snow at their feet, the normally dark interiors of their crowns had a bit of a glow.
    Live Oak

    Live Oak (3)

    Live Oak (2)

    Live Oak (1)

         During a misguided period, the city discouraged live oak plantings (thankfully no longer), and for a time London planes (Platanus × acerifolia) were planted along the water. I like two things about these trees: their bark, and their shadows cast on Tuesday's snow.
    Sycamore Shadow

    Sycamore Shadows (2)

         There has been much talk in the gardening blogosphere about learning to appreciate what each season has to offer. With this in mind, I do hope you will make the best of your given circumstances, and join in my Winter Walk-Off this year. As for me, and as much as these wintry scenes might be lovely, I'm beyond ready for warmer weather.
    Thinking of July in February