Seasonal

Central-America-Monarchs-Photo-2-butterfly

Last summer was a bit depressing because I believe I saw one monarch butterfly. As the summer wore on, everyone started noticing that the monarchs had decided not to come to the nectaring party here along the eastern United States. We laid out the buffet but no one showed up for dinner. Because of habitat destruction, climate change, and removal of milkweeds with herbicides, the number of monarch butterflies have been drastically reduced. In response to the noticeable absence of monarch butterflies, many gardeners and butterfly lovers have been asking what they can do to help.

A group from the University of Kansas called Monarch Watch have developed a monitoring and habitat development program to bring back the desired population of monarch butterflies. Anyone can apply to have their garden become a certified “Monarch Waystation” through Monarch Watch. The waystations will provide the food and nectar that the monarchs need to make the migration from Mexico up through the United States and back again. After explaining this process at work, one of my co-workers asked, “how much does a monarch weigh?” No, these are WAY-stations, not WEIGH-stations.

Asclepias curassavica

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens went through the application process of becoming a certified monarch waystation and we received our notification last week that we had passed the test! There is a ratio of nectar and food plants to garden area that has to be met in order to be considered a certified site. Our entire horticulture team spent the winter looking for which plants would provide the best plants for not only the monarchs but all pollinators. This is because our educational theme for the summer is on pollinators. We put a lot of effort on attracting the monarchs so we could become a waystation. In order to meet this certification, we are planting a ton of milkweed in the garden beds. Specifically, Asclepias curassavica in our containers and annual plantings. Asclepias curassavica is a tropical milkweed, originating from the American tropics. It will not be cold-hardy for us here in Maine so we will not plant it out until the soil warms, probably after Memorial Day. Monarch butterflies love Asclepias curassavica as a nectar source for adults and as a food source for the caterpillars. In our Bosarge Family Education Center and in our behind-the-scenes greenhouse, we are building growth chambers where we will also raise monarchs caterpillars with a veritable Asclepias curassavica salad bar. Once the caterpillars pupate, we will release the monarchs into the gardens for all to see and enjoy.

I cannot wait to see the garden this summer, ablaze with the oranges, yellows and reds of the milkweeds and the fluttering wings of the monarchs. It will be wonderful to see these butterflies back into the gardens and I hope the combined efforts of all of us working to bring their numbers back will pay off this summer and in the years to come.

Do you have an area of your garden devoted to butterflies? Are you adding any milkweeds this year to aid in the migration of the monarchs?

-Rodney

Images: Natural Habitat Photo Tours, Derek Ramsey and Chanticleer Gardens

Mortgage Lifter Mobile

Have you noticed that vegetable gardening is hip again? I love this trend that Americans of all ages are experimenting with growing their own food. Whether their vegetables and fruit are being grown to supplement food from the grocery store or if the intent is to eat mostly from the garden, vegetable gardening (and horticulture) is having its day in the sun. Some may argue that this is not true ornamental gardening while I will counter, “Hello! This is what we have been waiting for!” Grow your own is climbing in popularity as the next generation of gardeners wants to see where their food comes from.

Mortgage_Lifter_2005

One of the vegetables that I love (or is it a fruit?) is Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato. Almost every American loves a fresh tomato from the garden in the middle of summer. Better yet, make that tomato an heirloom tomato. Have you ever grown and eaten an heirloom variety? People talk about how it tastes differently and they are correct. In our Pennsylvania vegetable garden, we grew Brandywine tomatoes which were fabulous. The flavors are deep and intense because the fruit have not been overbred for size instead of taste. The Mortgage Lifter tomato is one popular heirloom that combines a big, meaty plant with good taste. The entire story of this tomato can be found here. The notion that one guy, Radiator Charlie, can turn a hobby into a breeding program that pays his mortgage is a remarkable story.

Learning Garden

With the popularity of vegetable gardening and farm to table eating growing exponentially, the more plants with wonderful stories like this tomato, the better. Even here on the coast of Maine, where small cherry and plum tomatoes do better because of their shorter maturity time, we are going to try growing the Mortgage Lifters this summer. They have an 80 day maturity period so we should be able to produce a few substantial fruits. Along with the ripe, plump, Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, one of our friends raises hogs so maybe we can get a few packs of locally raised bacon. Combine with this some of my wife’s homemade bread and I am already dreaming of late summer, farm to table, Mortgage Lifter BLT sandwiches.

What do you think of the vegetable gardening and farm to table movement? Do you think it will still be a big movement in 5 or 10 years? More specifically, what are some of your favorite tomato varieties?

-Rodney

Images: William Cullina, Rutgers, Mobile Botanical Gardens

This weekend was something we have been waiting on for a while. After a pipe broke in our ceiling in January, we have been living in a nearby summer cottage while our downstairs was being renovated. For two months, we lived in someone else’s home. We are extremely thankful that we had somewhere else to go but still, it was a bit unnerving to know that a continuous stream of contractors came in and out of our home each day. We are back into our home and it is better than ever. We have the most wonderful contractor who renovated the downstairs into the home we have always wanted.

Saturday was moving back in day and boy, was it beautiful! We had temperatures in the low 50′s with sunshine here along the Maine coast. It has been months since the air was so warm. This teaser for spring had everyone out, excited to know that longer, warmer days are in our future.

Clematis Roguchi Easton

Then, today, a friend sent me a picture from New Orleans. They wanted to know if I knew a flowering vine they had found on a fence near their winter home. Ok, several things to rub in this cold winter: 1) winter home in New Orleans and 2) they already have flowering vines! The flower looks like a gorgeous clematis. Now, if mother nature could get back to business up here in Maine, we could have some flowering vines before, say, September.

Seeing this picture of a clematis reminded me of a striking and unusual clematis that we grow in our Alfond Children’s Garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. Growing on an arched trellis is Clematis ‘Roguchi.’ During my first summer at CMBG, I had several guests pull me by the arm and show me the puckered, bluish-purple flowers and ask “what is it?” Without fail, when I told them it was a clematis, they would respond, “No!” The nodding, bell-like flowers are a deep purple. Since we have a fairy village at CMBG, I like to imagine that these are the skirts that the fairy ladies wear to their summer, formal events.

clematisroguchi

Clematis ‘Roguchi’ is a hybrid of C. integrifolia and C. durandii. The growth habit is that of a perennial, dying back to the ground each winter. Once spring comes, Roguchi clematis twines out of the soil to reach a height of 4-6′ by autumn. In Maine, our plants start to flower in mid-summer, just as most of our guests start to visit. We have our plants growing in full sun in rich soil amended with compost.

Here’s to spring! Here’s to the changing of seasons and getting back to the business of life and gardening. I optimistically know that all of this melting snow and rain is going to provide ample moisture to give us a summer full of clematis flowers. Are you growing clematis in your garden?

-Rodney

Images: Val Easton, Portland Monthly Magazine

snowdrops by Henry Bush via www.studiogblog.com

If you live along the east coast of the United States and especially in New England, you are probably ready for spring. As I type, it is a balmy 12 degrees outside. Thankfully, we have had a few weeks without snow and with enough sunlight to begin melting the snow. We even began mulching and adding compost to the plant beds in search of something to do outside in the garden. The ground is still solidly frozen. I know because I went around with a pickax yesterday in search of any spot of softened ground. Unfortunately, the soil is tightly intertwined with ice crystals and does not want to awake from its winter slumber. As I posted on my Instagram yesterday, spring, it is time to get your butt out of bed! We need you!

snowdrops via www.studiogblog.com

We do have a few spots where the snow has melted and the soil has warmed enough for the delightful little snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, to emerge and flower. I know a lot of folks consider the witchhazels the first plants to flower but I consider that status as an asterisk. Yes, witchhazels are pretty but snowdrops give us that broader petaled flower that we so much need after a long winter. Once a few clumps were spotted as flowering, most of our staff at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden took off to see them. There is another patch near our home in East Boothbay that always flowers before anyone else’s. I knew that it had come into flower when friends and neighbors started posting pictures of the clumps in flower on Facebook.

Snowdrops en masse

Growing up in North Carolina, I never truly understood the appeal of Galanthus. Because of the mild winter, we always had so many other things to look forward to seeing including camellias. Now that we live in the sub-tundra (depending upon the year), having the little Galanthus waiting for us as soon as the snow melts is a needed welcome. When we lived in North Carolina, I even attended an hour long talk detailing all 19 species of Galanthus and their native habitats. It was interesting and the speaker was fantastic but again, the market was not there with so many other plants outside in flower. This year, if I was a bulb farmer, I would be snapping pictures of snowdrops all over the landscape as well as images of just how brutal this winter has been. Then this fall when everyone is pulling together their bulb orders, I would blast images reminding us of how bad everything was and how welcome the little flowers were.

If you are new to growing snowdrops, plant your bulbs in the fall as the ground starts to cool and before the soil freezes. You can purchase Galanthus bulbs from many different mail-order sources. Be sure to plant the bulbs in an area that is moist yet well drained. Along the edge of a pathway or in a rock garden are ideal spots as they are small plants. If you really want them to flower early, pick a south-facing, warm spot to plant the bulbs. Then smile in the spring when the clumps of white flowers melt away the memories of the white stuff that coated the garden all winter.

-Rodney

Images: Henry Bush at Flickr CC – 2.0  SnowdropInfo. Vancouver Sun

Again, blame it on this long, drawn-out, cold and snowy winter but I am really digging into certain groups of plants and wanting to add more and more of them to the garden. One genus that we already have in abundance at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is Epimedium. The more I study and look at Epimedium, the more I find to love. This rather large genus has 54 different species distributed around Asia, Europe and Northern Africa. It is in the barberry family but please do not let that make you think that you will see thousands of Epimedium seedlings around your garden like you would with a barberry. The seeds on Epimedium are small and slow to germinate. Epimediums slowly spread by way of stolons, with some species spreading faster than others. Do not expect the rapid spread of a bamboo, these plants, also called barrenwort or bishop’s cap, are slow to multiply. The best way to propagate the barrenworts is through division in late summer after flowering.

epimedium acuminatum night mistress-DS6_0603

If you want to divide your plants, dig them after they flower and divide the clump using sharp, bonsai shears. Once you have new divisions, cut the leaves back by one-third to encourage new root growth. More details about cultivation, species, and propagation can be found in this article by Tony Avent.

Exactly what is the draw to Epimediums? I would have to say it is the combination of drought and shade tolerance, deer-resistance, evergreen foliage in warmer climates, and dainty flowers that from a distance, resemble some orchids. Yes, they are deer resistant! Which is a good thing because I would hate to see what would happen if deer developed a taste for the plants. One of the other common names is horny goat weed. You can actually buy horny goat weed in the supplement aisle of your local, fancy health food supermarket. Legend has it that a Chinese species of Epimedium was growing in an area where a goatherder was allowing his flock to graze. After browsing on a patch of epimedium, the goats suddenly became more “active,” if you know what I mean. The plants contain icariin, which acts in a similar fashion to the active ingredient in Viagra. Since this is a family show, I am going to stop this analysis right here and again say that I am glad that deer do not like the plants.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Circe'DS5_7722

Getting back to gardening, the flowers are spectacular. Even though they are small, usually no larger than a couple of inches in diameter, when planted en masse, the flowers make a tremendous impact in the garden. Flower colors range from white to yellow and violet, with many bi-colored flowers. A mass planting of barrenwort gives off an almost misty appearance because the flowering stalks are extremely fine, resembling stiff wires. The flowers dangle above the coarse foliage, with the foliage serving as the perfect back drop to the flowers. The foliage is the perfect complement, coming in different shades of green, with some plants having tinges of red or even some dark purple colored cultivars. One of my favorite species, Epimedium wushanense, has protruding “spines” from each of its leaves. A particular cultivar, ‘Sandy Claws’ has really pronounced “spines” and dark chocolate leaves in the spring. I have written about the species before and now am falling in love with the entire genus.

Barrenworts are still gaining in popularity as a plant to add to the garden. They are slow but steady. If you have a spot where few other flowering plants will grow, give one of the Epimedium a shot this spring.

-Rodney

Images: William Cullina

Cafe au Lait Dahlia Floret Flowers

I am probably late to the party, but a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across ‘Café au Lait’ dahlia. Have you grown this cultivar before? Holy cow! The colors are exquisite. The best way to describe them is like… a café au lait. I take my coffee black but my wife, Carrie, has to have a bit of milk and a spot of cream in her coffee. The color of coffee with milk and cream is dreamy. I remember as a kid seeing my parents’ coffee and thinking that it must taste like a caramel square. After one sip, I realized otherwise, although I did like to dip vanilla wafers into their coffee.

There is something about that soft, caramel color that draws us into thinking about sweet smells, gingerbread, and now this magnificent dahlia. Everywhere I read about this plant, people rave about it. The center color of this dinnerplate dahlia can range from the a fore to mentioned cafe au lait into shades of tawny peach. Towards the outer parts of the petals, the flowers transform into a near white. Over the course of the summer, these plants can reach a height of nearly 4 feet in height. As summer heats up, these gargantuan flowers are borne on long stalks. This combination of color, large flower, and long stalk makes Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’ a hit for floral designers. The lovely Floret Flower Farm blog has a wonderful post on harvesting these beauties as cut flowers.

Dahlia Cafe au Lait Stanford

As with most dahlias, do not plant the tubers until June when the soil really warms, making sure to lift the tubers again in the fall before frost. If you live in warmer parts of the country, say USDA zones 8 and higher, then you are probably ok leaving dahlias in the ground. During the winter, store the tubers in a cool, dry spot, being sure they do not freeze or get too wet.

Admittedly, I am starting to go through a dahlia craze phase. These beauties produce enormous flowers in late summer into fall which serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the wicked winter we are inching our way from. I am dreaming of walking past our Café au Lait dahlias with a cup of coffee from our local coffee shop. A slight fog wrestles with the sun in a yen and yang morning, while the dahlia blossoms stand erect, like a victory flag. We have conquered winter and our victory is summer! What better way to celebrate than with a gigantic dahlia flower. I plan on cutting the blossoms and scattering jars of them among the garden’s buildings at CMBG for all to revel and enjoy.

-Rodney

Images: Floret Flower Farm, Stanford

I am deep in the throes of a design maelstrom. New planting designs are flying at me from every direction like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz.

Entry walk 2014

Front entrance walk redesign to our visitor center – done.

Northern bed along our Great Lawn – done.

Rainbow Terrace in the Alfond Children’s Garden – done.

Once the designs are done, then comes the time to measure the planting bed shapes (thank goodness for those two semesters of college calculus!) and source the plants to fill out the designs. Our theme this summer at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is about pollinators and pollinator plants. I am on the docket to teach a course on butterfly garden design at CMBG in August so I thought that this year’s designs would be a great laboratory for the session. Thinking along the lines of butterflies and hummingbirds, most of our plants will be reds, yellows, and oranges. Agastache, Salvia, and Asclepias are just a few of the pollinator attractors scheduled for our summer planting palette. After specifying over 2,000 new and unusual plants for these pollinator planting plans, I came across one last area in the gardens that needed some new ideas. Read the full post