A Cold Tree Walk

Some folks were tired of being cooped up inside. They joined me on my walk in the woods identifying different trees at Matthaei Botanical Gardeens. It was a cold day on Saturday but over 20 people signed up for my class. We spent almost 2 hours walking the trails and identified over 20 trees, shrubs and vines.

One tree that we saw often on our walk was the Tulip Tree, also called Yellow Poplar. It’s an important lumber tree particularly down south. It grows a very straight trunk and if it’s surrouned by other trees, the lower branches die and fall off early , so it has few knot-holes , thus making smooth knot-hole free boards.

We also saw lots of White Ash. Unfortunately, most of them were dead from the Emerald Ash Borer. Washtenaw County, where the Gardens is, was one of the first counties to be quarantined because of the E.A.B.. So all of our big Ash trees are dead. At the Gardens many were cut down near the trails for safety reasons. On the downed trees we could easily see the tunnels left by the borer larvae. They chewed their way through the cambium layer right under the bark. The cambium is the essential vascular system that keeps the tree alive.

We also looked on the bark for the telltale “D” shaped holes where the borer entered the tree. I hadn’t realized we had so many Ash Trees at the Gardens until they stood out as dead trees.

The death of this magnificient tree is going to make a lot of botanists and tree lovers feel very negative about globilization. (The E.A.B. was brought into our country inside wood packing cases from a foreign country.)

The group was awed by the big Poison Ivy vines that we saw. Some were almost 3 inches thick and thirty feet high, growing up some tall trees. P.I. has rootlets all along the vine that attach to the trunk of the tree. It is not a parasite because it doesn’t steal any nutrients from the tree. The short rootlets just anchor the vine to the trees so it can grow upward to the sunlight. We saw branches of the vine sticking out, which differentiates the P.I. from the Virginia Creeper vine, which also has rootlets for clinging to the bark of a tree. Poison Ivy has 3 leaflets. Virginia Creeper has 5 leafllets and is not poisonous. Did you know that a person can get the rash from P.I. even in the winter time and even from the roots in the ground. The oils that irritate us are present even when the plant is dormant.

Once I get started in the woods, I tend to want to keep on going to see what is around the next bend. But we were cold after a hour and a half, so we started on back to the building.

There are a number of good Tree identification guides that you can use. The one we like best at the Gardens is “Michigan Trees” by Barnes and Wagner. Both were professors at University of Michigan. Dr. Wagner, sadly, died a few years ago. But Barnes is still giving classes with the Community Education Program at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Bye for now, Judy

Kitty Greens

From what I gather, cats require a certain amount of “green food” in their diet to keep their digestive tract on track and their general health…umm…healthy.

Because our cat, Friskie, prefers to stay in the house most of the time, Judy suggested a while back that we grow some “greens” for her ( the cat I mean, Judy already gets lettuce from the greenhouse ).

So, several days ago I liberated one of our used greenhouse flats from the recycling pile and sowed a crop of “cat grass”.

I decided to use some left over grass seed we had saved from last year. I just filled the flat with our regular starting mix then, in half of the flat I planted a fescue variety and on the other, a bent-grass variety.

Now, about a week and a half later, the grass is about 2-3 inches high. It is very soft and tender and does look good enough to eat, especially the bent-grass. This afternoon, when we brought the flat into the house, it took Friskie all of 2 minutes to find that lucsious tray of “kitty salad” and start chowing down on it.

We plan to just leave it in the house in an out of the way spot so she can have some whenever she wants… her own fresh salad bar!!

Now, where did I put that bottle of Neuman’s Own……?

Bob

2008 Perennial of the Year

It’s taken me this long to consistently write “2007” on my checks and now we have to be concerned about 2008 ! πŸ™‚ A person has to keep up with the latest gardening news or it will pass you by. A good place to do that, my fellow gardeners, is right here on All Things Green.

The Perennial Plant Association has announced their annual πŸ˜‰ “Perennial Plant of the Year” for 2008. It is…drum roll please…. Geranium ‘ Rozanne ‘.

This wonderful plant grows in a mound shape about 2 feet high and has lavender-blue flowers that are relatively large for a Geranium. It is hardy in our area and should make a fine addition to anyone’s landscape.

I have always loved the blue-flowered Geranium varieties but am often a little disappointed about their short blossoming period . ‘Rozanne’ , however, begins blooming in June and keeps right on blooming until September, making it one of the longer blooming Geranium out there. It prefers well drained soil and full sun but will adapt to partial shade.

Keep in mind that ‘Rozanne’ is a true Geranium ( sometimes called “Cranesbill” ) and should not be confused with Pelargonium, the annual that most folks call “geranium”.

Now, before you even ask, the 2007 ” Perennial of the Year ” is a catmint ( Nepita ) called ‘Walker’s Low’….but that’s old news ;).

Bob

Growing Easter Lilies is Cool!

In one of my first posts on this blog, I mentioned something about growing Easter Lilies. At this point in time, we have about 200 Easter Lilies in the greenhouse.

As you are aware Easter Sunday occures differently on the calender every year. Some years we have an early Easter, some years a late Easter. The challenge in growing Easter Lilies is to get them to bloom on, or a day or two before Easter Sunday.

The last three weeks in the greenhouse have been pretty uncomfortable. Because the Lilies were ahead of schedule, the heat had to be turned down to 50 degrees ( plus or minus a couple of degrees ) to slow down their development. This is our seventh year of growing Easter Lilies and it is the first time I had to take such drastic measures.

On those clear sunny days we had recently, the solar gain would start to build and the temperature inside the greenhouse would rise above the prescibed levels. That caused our automatic vents to open and a blast of cold winter air would come rushing in. Anyone working inside transplanting seedlings or working on seed orders, would have to brace themselves against the cold. This opening and closing of the vents went on all day until sundown when the solar heat was no longer a factor and the temperatures stabilized.

We wore our winter coats for 3 weeks inside the greenhouse… until today. I took some measurements, made some quick calculations and decided that it was time to resume the normal Easter Lily growing temperature of 63 degrees. We were finally able to shed our coats. There was still some opening and closing of the vents but since the growing temperature was 13 degrees higher, they didn’t have to open up nearly so often.

At this point in their development our Easter Lillies range from 12 to14 inches in height. I’ll keep you posted on their progress as we make our way through Lent and on to Easter.

In the meantime Mardi Gras is on its way…laissez les bon ton roulette!!

Bob

Prognostication

I’m going to go out on a little bit of a limb here and predict the new big hit in tomatoes for this year and next. Everyone is aware of the delicious ‘Red Grape’ tomatoes that are now available everywhere, but it wasn’t that long ago when they were a relatively rare item.

A new variety is being made available to large vegetable growers as well as home gardeners, it is called ‘Tomatoberry’. It has been a featured item in the “American Vegetable Growers News”, a trade journal for farmers, among other places.

Every year many new varieties are released but few make the grade to stay around for more than a season or two, and fewer still obtain such wide acceptance as ‘Red Grape’ tomatoes.

‘Tomatoberry’ is touted to be high yeiding and have a beautiful deep red color. Its most unique characteristic however, is its strawberry shaped fruit. The flavor is of a sweet tomato and has a firm chewy texture.

This variety sounds like a winner to me. We will have to see how they perform in the garden before we can pass final judgment. The seed is available exclusively through Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We have already ordered our ‘Tomatoberry’ seeds and will be giving them a fair trial this season.

Predicting a fine gardening season for all,

Bob

Something tasty

Today is Valentine’s Day of course, and because of that, Google had a Valentine image on its seach engine site. It was a chocolate fondue covered strawberry as the second “g” in its name…very clever. One problem, Google was spelled wrong! πŸ™‚

Before I even saw the strawberry on that page, I intended to write a little about one of my favorite plants today, the Alpine Strawberry.

What I like about this plant so much is the fact that it bears its fruit all summer long. The berries are very small, just a little bigger than our wild strawberries. However, they have an intense flavor, more tart and flavorful than a standard strawberry. You don’t get a big “crop” from these plants, only a handful to eat as you are working out in the garden.

One thing I find curious about these small tasty treats is that the birds don’t eat them. I don’t know if it is because there is so much more for them to eat during the summer, or if it is something else.

We like to plant these along pathways where people walk. The low growing plant makes a nice edge to a path and they don’t send out runners like regular strawberries, so they stay put where you plant them. They also winter very well without mulching… we have some coming up in the same spot that we planted seven years ago.

They are easy and inexpensive to obtain. You can grow them from seed, just start them like a tomato or any other plant indoors. This differs from regular strawberries which are generally started in the garden from plants that were dug up by a plant supplier.

‘Alexandria’ is the variety we grow. They are available from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine. This variety often will produce fruit by late summer of its first season, then all season long after that.

Now get on over to LunaPierCook blog and see if Dave has written anything about chocolate fondue and strawberries for Valentine’s Day ! πŸ˜‰

Bob

Sort of like Valentine’s Day all summer

Being able to share the bounty of our gardens is one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening. That’s why we have a corner of the garden devoted exclusively to cut flowers. Rather than cutting flowers from our regular gardens and risking making a hole in the landscape, we do it this way. More flowers are available for cutting too.

The bulk of our cutting garden is comprised of easy to grow snapdragons (Rocket Mixed) and zinnas ( Benary Giant ). These varieties are reliable bloomers and blossom again after cutting. We also have asters ( Matsumoto ) , dahlias ( assorted varieties ) , and gladiolus . Each year we like to try to add something to the cut flower garden. Last year was the first year for Lisianthus ( tall varieties ) , they were a big hit with their rose-like blossoms.

One thing you might want to consider if you start a cutting garden is growing “filler” and “accent” material for bouquets.

For example, we like to grow Eucalyptus for its silvery stems. That’s right, Eucalyptus trees. They can be grown as an annual in our latitude.

We also make sure there is plenty of Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth) in the garden too. The small flowers can be added to an arrangement as an accent or gathered together into a larger bunch with Baby’s Breath for a striking home grown arrangement.

Baby’s Breath is often used by florists as a filler material. You can give a professional look to your arrangements by adding it to your bouquets. Keep in mind however, that Baby’s Breath only blossoms for a short period of time and has to be replanted periodicaly. We sow a few seeds every couple of weeks through the season to ensure a steady supply of this useful flower.

One of the fun parts of the cutting garden is the carnations we grow. They can be used to make your own boutonniere to wear in your lapel. Some varieties are hardy in our area and return every year as a perennial. If I remember right, ‘Sonata’ is one such variety.

Finally, don’t forget about tulips and other spring bulbs that can be planted in the fall into the cutting garden for your early bouquets. As they die back, you can plant your annuals right over the top of the bulbs and get a double crop out of your space.

So if you have the room, have some fun and add your own favorite flower to your cutting garden. You won’t have to worry about which color of flower goes with which in the garden until you put them into the vase !

Bob

Catalogs,catalogs and more catalogs

Have you gotten all your seed catalogs ? I think all mine have come in the mail. I’ve been pouring over some of them at work and got my seed orders done last week. Did them online, which is not my favorite way to do them but you get results fast. 3 of my 4 orders have come already. Ordered on Tuesday and received one company’s shipment by Monday.
I grow a lot of annuals for one of my gardens at work at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. That garden will have a Centennial Garden theme this year, so I was looking for varieties that were old, preferably from 1907 or before to showcase varieties that people would be using back then. One catalog with lots of heirloom varieities is Select Seeds. They’re online at www.selectseeds.com. It has lots of old fashoned favorites plus unusual flowers.

One variety that I ordered is Cosmos ‘Double Click’. It’s a double petaled cosmos in pink,crimson and white. Some of the flowers look very full. I think visitors will like it. I also ordered Heliotrope ‘Marine’. it has dark purple flowers with a “baby powder’ scent. Though it says it can be 2 ft tall, it’s not been much over 1 ft in my garden in the past. Probably not the right conditions for it.

One flower that’s not well known is the annual phlox. Only a foot or so tall with sprays of tubular flowers that are almost like the tall garden phlox that we’re more familiar with. A light pink variety with a dark pink eye is called ‘Brilliant’. Another one is an heirloom from before 1889 with pale yellow flowers called ‘Isabellina’. They will bloom mid-summer into September.

I’m trying Sweet Peas for the first time. From what I’ve read they won’t like our hot humid Michigan summer, but since they’re started in early,early spring I should get blooms in late spring and early summer. The seeds can be planted before the frost is out of the ground! They will need some support. One varieity is 6 ft tall. The seeds have to be nicked or soaked for 12 hours. Sweet Peas don’t like acid soil which means my gardens at work are okay but I wouldn’t be able to grow them at home in Petersburg. I’m looking forward to some fragrant beauties.

I ordered over 40 different varieities just from the Select Seeds company. In another blog I’ll tell you how I start all these seeds. It’s going to be a busy spring!

Bye for now, Judy

Half-way Point

Ground Hog’s Day has come and gone, I hope yours went well.

When I was a kid growing up in the Ida area, Ground Hog’s Day was always a big deal. This was due, in large measure, to the rural character of that part of Monroe County at that time.

Farmers who kept livestock would always take note of how much hay was in the mow and how much corn was in the grainery. February 2nd, they always said, was the half-way point between the last harvest of the previous year and the arrival of the first pasture for the upcoming spring. If more than half of their hay was left on that date, then they had enough feed to last through the rest of the winter. That whole ground hog shadow hullabaloo was there just for fun.

We as gardeners should follow those old farmer’s example. This is the perfect time to check your items in storage if you haven’t already done so. For example, today we checked our canna and dahlia roots dug last fall ( to be re-planted in the spring ) for any signs of decay. The bad ones were discarded to keep the remainder from rotting. We inspected the geraniums in the cold storage room and they looked fine. This year we also tried keeping our extra banana plants in cold storage instead of in the greenhouse since we were running out of room for them. They look pretty rough, however, I believe the growing points deep inside the trunk are dormant and just fine.

We also checked the refrigerated cooler, as it is located in the same storage building. A few red onions are beginning to sprout. That is to be expected because that variety is not a ” keeping ” variety. So we will have to use those up first. The yellow ‘Copra’ onions look as good as the day they were placed into storage. The garlic, put into storage last August, are in fine shape too.

The cooler is also the winter home to our hyacinths we will begin forcing in the greenhouse, next week. They were potted up last fall, five bulbs to a six inch pot. The tiny ‘Tete-a-tete’ dafodills looked great as well. Those of you who potted bulbs for forcing, should check the bottom of the pot to see if the roots have grown through the drainage holes. This holds true whether you keep them in a ‘fridge or outdoors. This will give you some idea how far they have progressed. Most of our hyacinths have strong healthy roots just pushing through the drainage holes. Hence, our plan to bring them into the greenhouse on Monday.

One other unexpected item came to light during our annual Ground Hog’s Day inspection, the refrigerated cooler had broked down sometime during the last couple of days. Instead of cooling the inside of the cooler, it seemed to be heating it instead! The temperature inside the cooler was 67 degrees F. The storage room where it was located was 45 degrees F. That’s how I realized something was wrong. πŸ˜‰

So you see, Ground Hog’s Day really does serve a useful purpose.

… looking forward to 6 more weeks ’til spring,

Bob

Vegetable makes national news

Every once in a while, during a rare harmonic convergence, the fashion and design industries intersect with the gardening world. Earlier this month, it happened again; the folks who decide such things, picked out the ” Color of the Year ” . This no doubt is old news to some of you, however, I just found out about it a couple of days ago.

I can hear it now, voices saying, ” where the #$X* you been?, in a cave? ” I just find it hard to keep up with current events.

So what does all of this have to do with gardening?…. everything! You see, the Color of the Year is ” Chili Pepper ” . Actually to be more accurate, its offical name is “Pantone 15-1557″.

They describe it as ” a deep, spicey red”. Leatrice Eisemen, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, was quoted as saying, ” in 2007 there is an awareness of the melding of diverse cultural influences, and ‘Chili Pepper’ is a reflection of exotic tastes both on the tongue and to the eye. At the same time, ‘Chili Pepper’ speaks to a certain level of confidence and taste. Incorporating this color into your wardrobe and living space adds drama and excitement, as it stimulates the senses. ”

It looks like to me, we can all look forward this year to seeing this color in everything from hats and shoes to easy chairs, toasters and wall paper.

This is not the first time that gardening and the fashon/design industry have collided. In 2005, the ” Color of the Year” was ” Tulip Violet “, sometimes known as ” 16-3823 “.

You my not know this about me, but I have already worn this 2007 color. It showed up on my shirt completely by accident last week after my second helping of Judy’s home made chili !

For more color fun, I suggest you visit Colorstrology.com to find out what your own personal color is. Using your birthday as a starting point, this site uses a mix of astrology and color science to come up with your color. Mine by the way is “17-4320 “, its uncanny how accurate thay are!

Not seeing red, but Adriatic Blue instead,

Bob