Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Japanese Painted Fern - Like Michinoku Cloth

Michinoku no
Shinobu moji-zuri
  Tare yue ni
Midare-some nishi
Ware naranaku ni.

AH! why does love distract my thoughts,
  Disordering my will!
I'm like the pattern on the cloth
  Of Michinoku hill,—
  All in confusion still.

-Kawara no Sadaijin (822 - 895)

Shinobu mojizuri is an ancient dyeing process, probably originating from Michinoku region in Japan, in which plants are pressed and rubbed into silk cloth creating an intricate pattern. The poet's simile expresses well the indelible, painful impression that love makes on the heart.

It occurs to me that the intricate pattern and shades of Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) must resemble a Michinoku print. Emerging fronds are metallic gray with reddish to bluish blush. Mature fronds hold their color well and contrast nicely with the emerging ones. This fern forms very attractive clumps from 12 inches to 18 inches in height, and as wide.

For its beauty and adaptability, the fern was named Perennial Plant of the Year winner for 2004 by the Perennial Plant Association. Many gardeners find it irresistable.

Japanese Painted Fern goes dormant in winter, nevertheless it is reliably cold hardy in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. It performs best in partial shade to full shade, however, coloration is best in light shade. Some gardeners report success planting in full sun, but growers in hot climates should definitely provide adequate shade. Slightly moist soil is essential, though care must be taken to avoid over-watering. Japanese Painted Fern doesn't like soggy soil. Recommended pH is 6.1 to 7.5.

You'll be pleased to know that Japanese Painted Fern has no serious insect or disease problems, and it's deer resistant.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Small plants may be planted closer together. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the ferns into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Shade gardeners will love Japanese Painted Ferns. Of course, they should be included in Japanese gardens and in fern collections. Their beauty is irresistible.

Here is another English translation of Kawara no Sadaijin's poem, number 14 of A Hundred Verses from Old Japan (The Hyakunin-isshu), tr. by William N. Porter, [1909].

Like the printed leaves of ferns
On Michinoku cloth,
Who has imposed on me
This affliction, but you.
But I can’t resist it.
-Kawara no Sadaijin (822 - 895)



Learn more about Kawara no Sadaijin, or return to Ferns at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, August 29, 2011

FAQ: How can I grow trumpet creeper vine, without it growing on the house?

I want to grow trumpet creeper, but don't want it climbing on the house. Do you have any suggestions?

Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) is a useful vine with many admirable characteristics. It is a native plant, grows quickly, controls erosion, is insect and disease resistant, produces stunning flowers and attracts hummingbirds. But it can be a nuisance when grown on the house.

Aerial roots that help it climb can stick to the building and cause damage. The sheer weight of a mature vine can cause structural problems. Humidity that builds up under the vine can damage the walls. I recommend you grow it as a standard tree form. Choose a site where you can view it and enjoy the hummingbirds. Build a durable support. A steel pole with welded steel arms at the top and set in concrete isn't out of the question. Plant the vine next to the support. Attach it to the support with plastic tape. When the vine reaches the top of the support, pinch out the tip of the vine to stimulate lateral growth along the trunk, but retain only the young vines emerging from the top. Within two or three years, you will have a small tree that is easily maintained by occasional pruning.

This same method can be used for growing wisteria.

Return to Campsis at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Drivin' Me To Milledgeville, or Day Of The Locusts at Lockerly Arboretum


From the time I was a little argumentative kid, my mother used to protest, "You're driving me to Milledgeville!"  That was a common expression of mothers in Georgia. Milledgeville was the home of Central State Hospital, opened in 1842 as Georgia’s first public psychiatric hospital. The saying wasn't meant to derogate patients; if we didn't have family there, at least we knew someone who knew someone there. It's just that no one wanted to go for more than a brief cordial visit. Being driven to Milledgeville meant something more serious. John Quattlebaum (another native Savannahian) and I waxed nostalgic about our mothers' sayings as he steered us toward Lockerly Arboretum in Milledgeville.

When we stepped out of the pickup, we thought it was unfortunate that some factory was situated so nearby to disturb the tranquility. The sound was like severe tinnitus in both ears, or the ambient background noise of a Kurosawa movie turned up loud. It could drive one crazy.

The Lockerly Arboretum is situated on the site of an old plantation formerly known as Rose Hill. It was so named because of an abundance of Cherokee roses that grew there. After the property changed hands a few times, a house fire and rebuilding, it was purchased by Mr. Edward J. Grassmann of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Grassman renovated the house, landscaped the property and operated it as a guest house for corporate visitors of the American Industrial Clay Company. He established the Lockerly Arboretum Foundation in 1965 "to provide outstanding ecological, horticultural and historical education in order to promote preservation and stewardship of the environment."

The English China Clays company bought the house later. The interest in clay was due to generous natural deposits of kaolin in the area. In 1998, the house was obtained by the Arboretum Foundation and opened to the public.

The arboretum consists of fifty acres with woodland, pond and various plant collections joined by nature trails and drives. Plant collections include azaleas and rhododendrons, maples, viburnum, conifers, aquatics and bog plants. Its location, straddling two climate zones, enhances the plant diversity. Lockerly is home to two of Georgia's Champion Trees: Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) and Small-leaf Viburnum (V. obovatum).

Following a map provided, we began with the woodland nature trail. It sounded as though the factory was just behind a hill. We immediately noted the proliferation of native and non-native species such as Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrosticoides), Japanese Marlberry (Ardisia japonica) and East Indian Holly fern (Arachniodes simplicior). Other personal favorites included Wild Gingers (Hexastylis arifolia and H. shuttleworthii), Variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'), Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and Devil's Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa). We visited in early summer, so most of the rhododendrons were past bloom, but some rhododendron flowers were lingering along with a few spider azaleas. One of the highlights for me was finding a Yellow Passionflower (Passiflora lutea), a vine native to the eastern and southern U.S., but somewhat uncommon.

As we walked deeper into the forest, it seemed that the sound of the factory was before, behind and on both sides. It dawned on us that we were hearing cicadas (sometimes called "locusts"), and, sure enough, cicada shells were everywhere. Naturally, Bob Dylan's Day Of The Locusts came to mind.

And the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill
Oh, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
Oh, the locusts sang their high whinning trill
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me.

It was a high whinning trill, but not a sweet melody. Maddening, perhaps. The rest of our visit was accompanied by locusts.

Before we had walked far, my camera batteries gave up the ghost. So, many of the photographs featured here were taken by John Quattlebaum with his trusty Nikon.

Unfortunately, the pond was nearly empty of water, but boggy enough for Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), Elephant Ears (Colocasia spp.), Japanese Iris (I. ensata), and Jewel Weed (Impatiens capensis). If filled, the pond might have been home for some native waterfowl.

Though not extensive, the Maple Collection included some decent representatives along with a sizable Acer palmatum dissectum. Though not a maple, a Chinese Parasol tree (Firmiana simplex) drew our attention.

The Viburnum Collection lacked bloom, and some shrubs needed attention. The Conifer Collection is small, but included some of my favorites such as Cryptomeria japonica 'Knaptonensis', C. japonica 'Globosa Nana', Chamaecypris obtusa 'Crippsi', C. pisifera, and Deodar cedars (Cedrus deodora).

With the cicadas still ringing in our ears, I was in the mood to visit Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's Milledgeville home. O'Connor was another native Savannahian that I admire. But the afternoon was wearing, and we needed to get back to Statesboro. We'll save Andalusia for another day.

The Lockerly Arboretum grounds are open Monday through Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It's closed on Sundays. Lockerly Hall may or may not be open for a walk-through when you visit. Guided tours are conducted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays.


View Larger Map

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Hunting Galium, Waldmeister, Woodruff

I asked Kyle Hancock, professor of music at Georgia Southern University, opera principal (standing), baritone, and friend, whether he could tell me anything about Johann (II) Strauss's operetta, Waldmeister. Actually, the libretto was written by Gustav Davis. Strauss composed the music. Kyle could not, having never performed or studied it. Perhaps with the libretto in hand I could study it myself. So he gave me the phone number of Glendower Jones, a very knowledgeable music purveyor he knows, but Mr. Jones had never seen the libretto during his many years of purveying. Even if I had it, I would barely know what to do with it, since I struggle with German. I know that's right because I finally found a copy of the Waldmeister libretto online, and reading it was too laborious. I should have paid a little attention in college during German 101.

My search was motivated by the desire to learn as much as I could about the herb, Galium (pronounced GAL-ee-um) and particularly the species odoratum (odor-AY-tum). It's a short, shade-loving perennial that is native to forests in Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.  Galium refers to "milk" and odoratum means "fragrant". Sometimes the botanical name Asperula (pronounced as-PAIR-uh-luh, meaning "rough") is used. Galium is also known as Waldmeister (Woodmaster), Sweet Woodruff, Sweet-scented Bedstraw, Our Lady's Bedstraw, Our Lady's Lace, Curd-Wort and Quinsy-Wort. Of course, I wanted to know why the plant was given all those names. But, to begin, I thought that by studying the libretto, I should better understand how the herb took root in German culture. The best I could find was a synopsis of Waldmeister at Boosey and Hawkes. In short, it's a little longer than this:

A happy hunting party of woodsmen, a beautiful opera singer and her boyfriend are caught in the forest during a rain storm. They find shelter in a millhouse and change their clothes. Chief forester Tymoleon surprises them, intending to teach them manners. But the boyfriend learns that Tymoleon has fallen in love with fair Freda, the daughter of the very person that tipped him off to the woodsmen, et alia in the millhouse. Everyone knows somehow that Tymoleon is a womanizer, and is not right for Freda. They plot to teach him a lesson. After a crazy engagement ceremony, celebrated with a wild lime-blossom tea, everything goes topsy-turvy. Nobody ends up with the one they came with, and "the mystery of the ‘black woodruff’ is unexpectedly disclosed."

Sounds like a typical comic opera. It titillated audiences in the 1890s as the prospect does now. But, of course, that raised more questions for me than it answered. What was in the lime-blossom tea? What was the mystery of the black woodruff? Is there a play on words with "woodmaster" and "woodruff?" Is the Waldmeister a ruffian? Is the Waldmeister Tymoleon, the herb, something or someone else? Here again, if I could read German without a dictionary, I might figure it out.

I've read that Johannes Brahms, a friend of Strauss, admired the operetta. But, alas, his endorsement wasn't enough. Waldmeister is rarely performed nowadays. The Waldmeister Overture is about all you'll hear.



I did find a couple of recordings of Die ganze Nacht durchschwärmt.



Laying aside my search for meaning in the operetta, I turned to "Woodruff." Recalling that I once knew a man named Woodruff, I decided to ferret-out its origin, and soon learned that the surname, Woodruff, is derived from "wood-reeve", the keeper of a forest and its denizens. AHA! So this says something about the plant, the operetta, and might hold a key to both.

On to the Bedstraw appellation. I don't know whether the name, Sweetscented Bedstraw, preceded Our Lady's Bedstraw, or if it was the other way around. At any rate, Galium was certainly used as bedstraw because of its fragrance. Of course, the pleasant fragrance was much needed in a house before the advent of modern conveniences and hygiene. I can barely imagine how badly homes must have smelled in medieval times when animals lived in or under the house, chamber pots were kept under the bed, floors might have been carpeted with rushes and matted with years of grime, food scraps, excrement and spit.

Galium was called Our Lady's Bedstraw because of a common practice among many Christian communities to associate some places, things and their attributes to Christian themes. It was a teaching aid to surround themselves, young and old, with reminders of their faith. Legend had it that the Blessed Virgin Mary used the plant as bedding for herself and The Christ Child on Christmas Night. I suppose Galium was called Our Lady's Lace because of the many small white flowers.

As I mentioned before, Galium refers to "milk", and I learned that one of the species, because of some chemical property, was used to curdle milk in the process of cheese-making. Thus it was sometimes called Curd-Wort.

With the possible exception of Curd-wort, Quinsy-Wort may be the least poetic of its names. Quinsy is a disease of the throat that can afflict teens and young adults. It resembles tonsillitis, but has much more serious consequences...sometimes fatal. Thankfully, it is rare. But Galium was once used to treat it.

Arguably, the most popular use for Galium odoratum is as an essential ingredient in Maywine (Mai Wein). Maywine is available commercially. The basic recipe involves soaking the crushed herb and fruit in white Rhine table wine. I don't know how long it takes, and I've never tasted it. But I understand that the flavor is one of new-mown hay. I like the smell of new-mown hay, but I don't know that I'd want to drink it. The flavor is said to be bitter. It must be an acquired taste. In Germany, woodruff is also added to smoking tobacco, beer, and to foods from meats to desserts.

It surprised me to learn that an active property in Galium (the one that imparts aroma and taste) is coumarin. Coumarin is also found in other plants, and in some natural flavoring agents. By a process involving fermentation, coumarin can be rendered very toxic and used as an effective rat poison. By the way, the same is used as an anti-coagulant for the treatment of coronary diseases. Have you ever walked through a field of new-mown hay and enjoyed the fragrance? If the dust didn't set you to sneezing, it was the coumarin you smelled.

Given the ingenuity of Davis and Strauss, I expect that there are all kinds of allusions to the names and properties of Galium in their Waldmeister operetta. In fact, their composition might explain everything, but I don't know because I didn't pay attention in German 101!

Galium odoratum grows 12 inches to 20 inches tall. Dark green leaves are simple, lance-shaped, smooth, and arranged in whorls around the stem. Small white flowers are borne above it in late spring or early summer. It prefers slightly moist soil that is high in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. It's hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 8.

There are many good reasons to include it in your garden. Galium tends to colonize an area (perhaps that's where the name, Woodmaster, comes from), so it makes a fine ground cover in shade where many other plants won't grow. Collectors of medicinal plants will want it represented in their landscapes. It's perfect for the shady spot in your herb or fragrance garden. Marian gardens and those with musical themes wouldn't be complete without it.

To prepare your shade garden for Galium, take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Adjust the pH and nutrient levels according to instructions. Don't bother tilling unless the soil is compacted, which is unlikely with humusy soils. If tilling is required, cultivate to a depth of 12 inches. Add peat and compost if necessary. Water the young plants in their pots, remove from them from the pots, and space them 12 inches to 18 inches apart. Insert them into the soil with the top of the root ball at the same level as the native soil. Water again. Apply mulch, but not more than 3 inches deep.

There is something restful and peaceful about a shaded garden, as James Whitcomb Riley expressed so well.

Out at Woodruff Place--afar
From the city's glare and jar,
With the leafy trees, instead
Of the awnings, overhead;
With the shadows cool and sweet,
For the fever of the street;
With the silence, like a prayer,
Breathing round us everywhere.

Gracious anchorage, at last,
From the billows of the vast
Tide of life that comes and goes,
Whence and where nobody knows--
Moving, like a skeptic's thought,
Out of nowhere into naught.
Touch and tame us with thy grace,
Placid calm of Woodruff Place!

Weave a wreath of beechen leaves
For the brow that throbs and grieves
O'er the ledger, bloody-lined,
'Neath the sun-struck window-blind!
Send the breath of woodland bloom
Through the sick man's prison room,
Till his old farm-home shall swim
Sweet in mind to hearten him!

Out at Woodruff Place the Muse
Dips her sandal in the dews,
Sacredly as night and dawn
Baptize lilied grove and lawn:
Woody path, or paven way--
She doth haunt them night and day,--
Sun or moonlight through the trees,
To her eyes, are melodies.

Swinging lanterns, twinkling clear
Through night-scenes, are songs to her--
Tinted lilts and choiring hues,
Blent with children's glad halloos;
Then belated lays that fade
Into midnight's serenade--
Vine-like words and zithern-strings
Twined through ali her slumberings.

Blessed be each hearthstone set
Neighboring the violet!
Blessed every rooftree prayed
Over by the beech's shade!
Blessed doorway, opening where
We may look on Nature--there
Hand to hand and face to face--
Storied realm, or Woodruff Place.
-June At Woodruff
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Federal DOT regulators proposal to require farm tractor drivers to have commercial drivers licenses has been withdrawn

I posted a blog article on 12 August about Washington Regulators Stirring Up More Trouble For Farmers. I had learned about it that day by reading an online news article. I contacted my U.S. Senators and Congressman to protest. A staffer from Congressman Barrow's (GA) office called me yesterday to say that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, under the U.S. DOT, had withdrawn its proposal in the face of massive protests.

No thanks to me, for the proposal had been withdrawn on 10 August. Read the General Notice: Regulatory Guidance: Applicability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to Operators of Certain Farm Vehicles and Off-Road Agricultural Equipment.

I thank the staffer from Mr. Barrow's office for taking the time to call, and the many who protested the absurd proposal since it was submitted for public comment. If you'd like to keep track of what your federal regulators are up to, visit Regulations.gov and stay informed. (Be warned, a little time spent reading government regulations may cause your eyes to roll back in your head and you to slide comatose under your desk.)

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Burgeoning Increase In Farmers Markets

According to results released this month in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2011 National Farmers Market Directory, more than 1000 new Farmers Markets have opened across the country since the 2010 Market Directory was released. That is an impressive increase of 17% in one year. Some states enjoyed an increase of more than 30%. Certainly, with the economy continuing in its stagnation, people are looking for ways to save on their grocery bill. Farmers Markets allow us to do that by cutting out one or two middle-men, and sometimes we get to buy directly from the local farmer!

For more information, read the USDA News Release, or search for Farmers Markets in your area.

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Frequently asked questions about muscadine grapes.

As some of my blog readers may know, I own a muscadine grape vineyard. I've also produced three Youtube videos about how to prune muscadine vines, so I get a lot of questions on the subject from viewers. Here is one.

I recently discovered a muscadine vine at the edge of the woods around my yard. The vine is growing as high as 15 feet into the trees. I can't see much fruit, maybe 3 or 4 grapes so far. Should I try to cut it back this fall or in the spring? If so, how much should I prune from it? There's also a lot of vines in the back of my house in the trees as high as 20 or 30 ft .I don't see any grapes on them. Are they needed for the others to produce? Thank you so much for any information you can give me.

Some muscadines are perfect-flowered, meaning that they have both male and female flower parts. Therefore they pollinate themselves and produce fruit. Other muscadines are pistillate, meaning that they only have female flower parts. They require the pollen from a perfect-flowered variety to produce fruit.

If a vine has only a few flowers, it could be that it is pistillate and a pollinator is not near enough to share much pollen. Or it could mean that the vine is perfect-flowered, but growing in too much shade. Vines growing in shade don't produce as much fruit.

If a vine bears no fruit, it is probably pistillate and needs a pollinator.

I doubt that pruning would help much because the vine should be grown on a trellis. In addition, it probably isn't getting much sun since it is growing at the edge of the woods.

If you like the characteristics of the fruit, I recommend that you attempt to reproduce the vine through layering. Here is an article that explains how to layer muscadine vines. Later you can plant the young ones further out in the yard on a trellis where they can get some sun.

Unless you wish to clear the woods, I'd leave alone the ones growing in the trees. You may discover later that they will begin to produce fruit.Even if they don't produce fruit, I like the ones growing in the woods because the yellow foliage looks like golden garlands draped in the trees during fall.

To view my Youtube videos about pruning muscadines, click on the following links:







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Results of Community Poll Ending 16 August, 2011

Our community poll at goGardenNow.com ending 16 August asked the question, "Do you prefer to plant your vegetable garden in raised beds or traditional rows?"

70% of respondents answered, "Raised beds."
30% answered, "Traditional rows."

I recall the days when vegetable gardening in raised beds was a novelty. But beginning in the 1950s, books and articles were published that began to change things. The first I remember seeing was Ruth Stout's How to have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening, published in 1955. Gardening Without Work followed in 1963, and The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the year-round mulch method in 1973. Ruth was also published in Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine by Rodale Press. Various of my family members either owned the books or subscribed to the magazine.


(By the way, Ruth was the sister of Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe detective novels. Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe have their own followers!)

Two other influential books were Getting the Most from Your Garden: Using Advanced Intensive Gardening Techniques by the editors of Organic Gardening Magazine (1980) and Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew (1981), both from Rodale Press.

From those classics, ordinary people began to learn that they could produce their own food even in the city by making the best use of small plots. What was a rare practice has become more common than gardening in traditional rows. You might say that what was new has become the tradition.

Our current community poll asks the question, "How much more are you willing to spend for organic foods?" You'll find the poll in the right-hand side-bar of most pages. One exciting thought is that by growing your own, you many not need to spend ANY more for organic foods.

Respond to the current goGardenNow community poll, or return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, August 15, 2011

FAQ: Any solutions for getting rid of nutgrass and Bermuda grass?

I had some Bermuda grass in my yard, and my neighbor has some along one of my property lines.  I completely covered my front yard with landscape fabric, punched holes for plants, and added mulch on top.  Now I have Bermuda and “nut” grass popping through along side some plants and along one property line.  Will Lirope spicata crowd out the Bermuda?  Any other solutions for getting rid of “nut grass” and Bermuda?

Lirope spicata is an aggressive ground cover, but it isn't aggressive enough to eliminate Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) and nutgrass (Cyperus spp.). I suggest you use chemical controls. Image® is effective for nutgrass control. Ornamec®, Grass-B-Gon®, Grass Beater®, Poast®, and Envoy® are effective for control of Bermuda grass. Check the labels to determine whether the chemicals can be used over your particular ornamental plants.

When using lawn and garden chemicals, always follow label instructions.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Washington Regulators Stirring Up More Trouble For Farmers

Washington regulators are stirring up more trouble for farmers. The Gazette Virginian posted this article today.

"The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is a part of DOT, wants to adopt standards that would reclassify all farm vehicles and implements as Commercial Motor Vehicles, officials said. Likewise, the proposal, if adopted, would require all farmers and everyone on the farm who operates any of the equipment to obtain a CDL, they added." Read the entire article here.

Leave it to federal regulators from Washington, DC to try to ram another stick through our spokes. To call this proposal "absurd" is putting it mildly. If you wish to register your opposition, contact your senators and contact your congressman.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

If you've been using Imprelis herbicide, read this.


If you've been using Imprelis herbicide and have seen problems with your conifers, read this article about Imprelis and DuPont.

Rutgers Gardens


Just off of U.S. Hwy 1 driving along Ryders Lane in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I was following my Google Map directions looking for the entrance to the Rutgers Gardens. I was expecting something like a large banner, wall or gate, so I missed it. I asked directions, and was told to turn around. "It's back there somewhere," the store clerk said with a wave of the arm. Driving slowly, I found a little sign about 5"x 7" along a chain link fence beside an obscure exit onto Log Cabin Road. Here was the entrance to the famed Rutgers Gardens. Follow me to see what grows behind the highway guard rail.

The Gardens, located on the campus of Rutgers University, were established in 1927 as several horticultural collections in garden settings where plants were grown for research and trial. The first I passed, literally behind the guard rail, was an impressive collection of American hollies that I've often read about, said to be the largest such collection in the world.

According to Rutgers web site, "The future of the Rutgers Gardens is the development of designed gardens. Landscape architects, design professionals, and home owners will be able to see and learn different methods of combining plants that will provide four seasons of color, texture and form." A visit is not a stuffy, academic exercise, but an inspiring experience. You'll leave with ideas that you can use in your own landscape.

The Gardens are quite extensive, covering 50 acres, so it could take some time to enjoy them at a leisurely pace. In addition, the size demands some kind of map to guide the visitor along. I didn't find one, though an unassuming kiosk displays a map and legend. So I took a photograph of it and followed as best I could.

After parking (my car was the only one in the lot), I strolled around a portion of the Holly Collection. It's amazing how much diversity there is in habit, leaf and fruit among the American species of the genus, Ilex. Did you know that there are yellow-fruited varieties? I used to grow them, and may once again. One of my favorite hollies in my personal collection is Ilex opaca 'Maryland Spreader', a slow-growing, mounding variety.

Directly across the drive is a large open area surrounded by the Shrub Garden. Unfortunately, bloom season was over. But even in August a landscaper or home gardener could get a good idea of the size they might expect from various mature shrubs. That would be a valuable education in itself, for a vast majority of landscape shrubs seem to be planted without regard to that important consideration.

Similarly, the Shade Tree Collection should provide valuable lessons to gardeners. Not only size, but shape, canopy density, leaf form and bark texture are worth studying.

Cutting back through the Shrub Garden, I headed for the Lacey Harrison Display Garden which features All-American Selections of vegetables and flowers.


This garden was named for an Extension Specialist in home Horticulture who was involved in designing a demonstration garden of annual plants for the home landscape. Interns and volunteers plant and maintain the delightful display. A student working among the vegetables was eager to answer questions. Having noticed that the beds seemed to be arranged with companionable plants, I inquired. He said it was true. However, these were not only experimental beds, but displays which were the results of research. Even folklore was carefully studied. Typical combinations included tomatoes and basil, and the "three sisters" (corn, beans and squash). Side-by-side vegetable comparisons were "in progress." Of course, tomato trials were among them. You might recall that Rutgers introduced a tomato by that name back in 1934. For many years it was a standard beside which other tomatoes were judged.

The Roy H. De Boer Evergreen Garden is adjacent to the Harrison Display Garden. Roy DeBoer was the former Chairman of the Landscape Architecture Department at Cook College who designed the garden. Plants are grouped around a sunken lawn, creating a delightful vista from a vantage point at the Quimby Water Conservation Garden. A magnificent Sargent's Weeping Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis 'Sargentii') stands out among the collection.

Water conservation is an important topic nowadays. A visitor will get a lot of good ideas on what and how to plant to minimize water use from the Quimby Garden. The practice is called xeriscaping. You can learn more about it from my blog articles on xeriscaping and drought-tolerant plants. A nearby succulent garden also provides good examples for gardeners to adapt.

Across Log Cabin Road from the Quimby Garden, a few smaller "garden rooms" can be found. The tool shed serves as a focal center. These Tribute Gardens are sponsored by persons or corporations to honor the accomplishments and contributions of others. You would enjoy the individual expressions represented. Some are whimsical; all are delightful. Climb up into an oversize Adirondack chair and feel like a kid again!

Gardeners interested in ornamental grasses will find many to inspire them.

Rain gardens are becoming popular as effective methods of trapping available water and minimizing runoff. My blog article about rain gardens explains in greater detail. While rain gardens are considered to be attractive, low-maintenance additions to the landscape, it is also true that they can eventually become unsightly. The Rutgers Rain Garden was designed to demonstrate ways that rain gardens can be maintained more attractively with less work. Because rain gardens are meant to trap runoff from impermeable surfaces such as roofs, driveways and roads, they are usually located near those structures. This rain garden was designed to pipe water from collection areas, run through attractive water features and little waterfalls to the bog garden. Appropriate plants complete the design. A sign explains the rain garden concept. You can also read more about it at Rutgers Rain Garden page. You'll find an article about bog gardens and plants in my blog.

The Rhododendron Garden and Bamboo Garden have attracted visitors for many years. The former was established in the 1930 to accommodate plants of similar environmental needs in a plant community.


Unfortunately, my visit wasn't in spring when many of them would be in bloom. The Bamboo Garden was established in the 1950s to provide shelter for honey bees. As some bamboos spread by extensive underground rhizomes, they can be invasive. Just so has the Bamboo Garden grown. But it has also become a magical place to walk among what feels like a bit of the tropics in New Jersey.

I was so enchanted with the nearby Ornamental Tree Garden that I photographed nearly every one. There are magnificent specimens of extraordinary size and beauty. Check out these photos of American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), American Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica), the rare India Guassiawood (Picrassima guassioides), Winterberry Euonymus (Euonymus bungeana), Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera), Mountain Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera var. monticola), Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), Lavalle Cork Tree (Phellodendron amurense var. lavallei), Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Burgundy Lace'), and Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa). As you know, ornamental trees are especially appropriate for the residential landscape, but they can grow much larger than one expects. Keep that in mind, especially if you intend to stay in one home for a long time.

This brief article barely begins to explore so many interesting aspects of The Rutgers Gardens. You really should see it for yourself. It's open to the public from 8:30am until dusk year around. Though no admission fee is charged, it is not funded by tax revenue. Rutgers Gardens depends upon friends for support.
I've included links to more photographs below to entice you.

Cornus kousa in fruit and leaf. Water fountain in pebble garden. All-America Selections Garden panorama. Another All-America Selections Garden panorama. All-America Selections Vegetable garden panorama. Another photograph of the Vegetable Garden. Attractive container garden.

Read other articles about public and private gardens.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

FAQ: The leaves on my 5-year old maple tree are turning brown around the edges. What's causing it? Is there anything I can do? Do you think it will live?

I expect that your tree is suffering from drought and heat. There's been a lot of that going around this year. Maples are not particularly drought tolerant, especially young ones. You need to water it, and you need to do it right. One option is to rig up a drip irrigation system around the base of the tree. Ask for instructions at your local garden center or check the internet. Most drip irrigation manufacturers provide instruction pamphlets.

The irrigation line should be placed on the ground around the tree just inside the drip line. That's where the feeder roots are. The drip line is under the outer branches. Watering close to the trunk won't help. There are no feeder roots there. Irrigate long enough for the water to soak deeply into the ground. Three or four hours the first day is not too long. The soil should be kept moist, not soggy.

Another option is to place the end of your garden hose on the ground just inside the drip line and let it drip slowly for one or two hours. Then move it to another place around the tree and let it drip some more.  Keep doing it until you've watered entirely. Again, the soil should be kept moist, not soggy.

A third option is to install a drip irrigation bag on your tree. There are several brands. Treegator is the original. These are placed around the trunk of the young tree and filled with water. The water is gravity fed slowly into the root ball. If the tree is too large and the drip line too far from the trunk, drip irrigation bags won't do the job.

Will it survive? I don't know. That depends on how much the tree has suffered. It might survive through this season but croak the next, or even the next. In addition, drought stress can weaken trees to the point that they succumb to other afflictions.

As I've often heard said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Watering a little during dry spells when the tree is healthy is better than watering a lot when it's suffering. But we usually don't think of it until symptoms begin to appear. That's the way we are about a lot of things, isn't it?

Readers of this blog post are invited to share their own solutions. You can share your ideas by clicking the "Post a comment" link below. Let us hear from you!

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