24 April 2009

Flower Friday

It's very faint, but if you look off to the left, there's a rainbow!
Father Hugo shrub rose (Rosa hugonis)
Earlier in the week Ed invited a few of us students to go with him to collect Winter Aconite seed from a nearby estate (the whole field is Aconite, in case you were wondering!).Here's one already dehiscing. The seed we collected will be dried and sown in areas at Longwood where Aconite is already growing, but the population could use a boost. Supposedly it takes 5 - 7 years to get a blooming plant from seed!
Early morning in the Idea Garden
Tulips still going strong in the Idea Garden
Springtime garden visitors

And the Lilacs are in bloom (wish I could blog the scent to you!)

17 April 2009

Garden Day

April at Longwood means Garden Day for us students (then again, isn't every day Garden Day at Longwood!?). One of the program requirements during our time here is that we each keep a garden. Vegetable crops are required and market crops assigned, and a certain part of our bit of earth must be ornamentals. Warm weather teasers had us chomping at the bit to get our hands dirty but the first scheduled Garden Day was rained out. It was rescehduled but we were warned that it ALWAYS snows on Garden Day. We didn't believe it so on April 7 we all convened at the field which was soon to become PG-B Garden Central, eager and ready to garden. First on the agenda, a quick run through of the equipment: Tractor 101, Roto-Tiller for Beginners, Ride-on-Mower Know How, and Don't-forget-to-gas-up-the-equipment-before-Show-N-Tell. So there we were, all set to get our hands in the soil and let me tell you, if we didn't believe it would actually snow on Garden Day, Mistress Nature let us know who's boss by turning a cold shoulder on our fun!

Still, we stuck it out while our instructor Harold and Farmer Nate tilled the field. Each plot measures 15' x 50' with an 18" maintenance path on either side. They run roughly north to south longways so our veg beds can be laid out roughly east to west. Two-thirds of the plot is for veg, the rest will be ornamental. Now, to a person who's never really grown veggies before, let alone tried to be a small-scale farmer, 525 sq ft seems like a lot of space. We're talking Acreage! And when I found out how many onion plants I have to grow for my market crop assignment, well, let's just say that every person within a 50-mile radius of me better love onions! This is some serious veg growing here!

This is what the field looked like before we descended. With each new class a field is tilled and prepared for gardening. When the class graduates and leaves Longwood (sniff), the field is cleared, sowed with a cover crop, and allowed to rest for a few years. The same process is applied with each successive class until the rotation comes back to the first field when it is again tilled and gardened. And so the cycle continues... Our instructor Harold demonstrates the fine art of tilling.
Greg checks his work...

And Emma gives a thumb of approval... But Gavin is a little more critical...

To determine who got which plot, Harold had us draw plant labels (you didn’t think we’d resort to the predictable use of straws here, did you?) then we all traded back and forth until we each had the plot we wanted. My address is PG-B Forest, Plot 8, The Row, Longwood Gardens. I'm neighbors with friends Suzanne to the west and Greg to the east.

Here's my bit of earth (you can just see the large plant labels to the right and left marking the paths on either side)

One of the coolest things about our gardens are these welded metal forms that had been used in the Christmas display in the Nectarine House. They stand roughly 8' tall and are maybe 4' wide, and look like the espaliered trees they were meant to emulate. When decorated with flowery Christmas lights and attached to the espalier frames in the conservatory, they really did the trick. After Christmas they were taken down and stored in the hort garage, where I was sent one rainy day to remove the lights. They were so cool, I started to Ask Questions. It's a dangerous thing, Asking Questions. Sometimes you get an answer you don't like. Sometimes you get an answer you don't want to hear and the hopes that inspired the Question are dashed on the rocky shoals of Despair. In this case, neither happened and I found myself in possession of eight such frames which would see new life as the coolest trellises (trelli?) in our gardens. Emma and I had to go dumpster diving for the last two and made such a racket that the shop guys came to see what we were up to. When we told them what we were looking for, one of them said, "Oh, THOSE frames!" and they both dove in and started slinging scrap metal like it was made of Styrofoam, finally uncovering our treasure. Mission accomplished, we delivered them to the Row and announced the find. Shannon clapped and said, "It'll be our own little PG-B forest!"

Fast forward through many rainy days, wild temperature fluctuations, veggie hunting, and design revisions. My humble little plot began to take shape one afternoon when the Easter Lilies were being removed from the Conservatory and the ones I brought home needed to go in the ground. Right. Now. Fast forward again through the confusion and frustration of locating the Alliums (‘onions’ for the botanically challenged) transplants that are one of my required market crops, finally placing my “tree”, and getting the onions planted. I decided that instead of capitulating to the tendency to make things as difficult as possible, I would for once in life make them easy. I released the dreams of tidy raised beds of lettuce and basil, woven willow hurdles hugging tomatoes, rustic benches tickled with lavender and rusted arches dripping with snap peas. Instead I am the proud owner of a bare plot perforated with bamboo markers delineating paths and simple grade-level beds. Oh, and 50 onion transplants!

The next step will be to mulch the paths, lavish compost on the beds, plant the cool season crops, and sow my Summer Squash seeds (another required market crop). I’ve also been scavenging bulbs as they come out of the display beds and was delighted by the gift of several dozen basil seedlings from PG Alum Adam, with whom I’ve been working in the Idea Garden. Today in a fit of optimism I bought sunflower and lavender seeds from the gift shop. I’ve never grown lavender from seed, so stay tuned for the results!

11 April 2009

Spring Goeth All In White (and Yellow, and Red, and Blue, and Purple...)

Spring has sprung! Quite rapidly, too. I can't figure out where the time goes but when you're living, studying, and working in a place like Longwood, it's easy for it speed on by. It seems as if things are changing daily and if you stop to blink, you risk missing something amazing!

Academics are over, now let the fun begin!

With classes more or less over, we've been turned out into the gardens for work rotations. In a way, I miss some of the classes - our Principles of Horticulture class in particular. It was taught by our fearless leader, Jeff, who is a wealth of knowledge about all things horticultural and a true planstman. He was very patient with me each week as I asked about various plants to grow here.

"Hey, Jeff, can we grow Sparaxis here?"
"Jeff, can we grow Geranium maderense here?"
"Hi Jeff, can we grow Phormium here?"
"Uh, no."
"OK, Jeff, what about Salvia?"

We had lots of fun in his class and I hope he enjoyed teaching us as much as we enjoyed learning from him. He even took us to the lab at the college where he works and let us play with microscopes and pollen. We hunted Prothallus in the Conservatory, conducted growth regulator experiments on a crop of Chrysanthemums, learned all about propagation (a fancy term for "the birds and the bees"), coaxed flowers into showing us their - ahem - sexual parts (if you're under 18, please stop reading here and go find a comic book or something), and had more than a few laughs in class and during the outdoor portion of the final (trust me when I say you had to have been there).

Our fearless leader, Obi-Wan Jabco

Playing with pollen

Shhhhh! Be very, very quiet! We're hunting Prothallus!

Jeff bags one.

Our mum crop (looks like some of them are thirsty!)

Demonstrating the fine art of disbudding

After the mum experiment was complete, we had to make room in the student greenhouse for the Sr. class to sow their crops, so some of the mums were tossed onto the compost heap.


Now that we're out in the gardens, we get to see just how quickly things take place and all the magic that goes on behind the scenes to make Longwood the world-class display garden that it is. I'm assigned to Outdoor Display in the Center Section, which encompasses - you guessed it - the central portion of the garden, from the Visitor's Center to the DuPont House, and from Pierce's Woods to the Open Air Theatre (a map of the grounds can be found here). Quite a bit of territory, and lots to do, but it's not all work and no play. There are fun times, too, and who on earth could complain about going to work every morning in such a beautiful place!?

The first week was hell as my body adjusted to this foreign thing called "labor" but now that I can make it up the stairs without crawling, it's much better. I even got to spend a few days working in the Conservatory when they needed extra hands.

It's been amazing to be able to watch the season change from winter to spring, and see the subtle differences as the willows blush chartreuse, the woods take on a rosy cast as the Red Maples come into flower, the Magnolia soulangianas are a riot of whites and pinkish-lavenders, and the Cherry trees at the end of the Flower Garden Walk seemed to fluff out overnight. The tulips are popping, the Narcissus and Forsythias are jousting to see who will claim the title of Sunniest Bloom, the Syberian Squill are romping with the Chionodoxa in the Oak Knoll and the morning chorus is a symphony of Robins, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, and who knows what else I haven't been able to identify yet. Spring is here in a big way!

The Exhibition Hall in March, with Orchid Extravaganza in full swing.

Tulipa linifolia in the Mediterranean Garden

Spring in the Conservatory also means the arrival of the rare and ephemeral Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopsis 'Lingholm'. These are purchased as rooted cuttings and shipped from Alaska, then put in the freezer as soon as they arrive in October. Then they're brought out to the greenhouse and grown on until they're ready to make their entrance in the Orangery in March.

Woodland Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica) grown here at Longwood.

The blooms of Aloe capitata

Ipheion uniflorum 'Wisley Blue'

Longwood also has a native wildflower meadow. It isn't much to look at in winter, but it was treated to a prescribed burn a few weeks ago and since we've had a couple of good rain showers since, it's already greened up and ready to go. Stay tuned for a season-by-season photo study of the meadow!

Pierce's Woods gets into spring with sweeps of Winter Aconite and purple Crocus. In Greek and Roman mythology, Medea tried to kill Theseus by putting aconite in his wine to poison him.

This is for you, Mom!

I met this little guy working in the Conservatory one day. We decided he was an IPM employee and let him hang out.

One of my favorites, Geranium maderense (no, it won't grow outside here!)

Balled and burlapped Dogwoods, waiting to be potted up

And the final product, underplanted with a succession of pink and white Tulips

Cushman training turns interesting

I went to the Carriage Shed for mulch one day and found one of the guys head-first in the pile...

...then I remembered it was April Fool's Day!

Last week I experienced that cultural and culinary delight that is the Philly Cheesesteak with a group of plant geeks who were entourage to Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter, who came over for a speaking engagement. We went to the home of the cheeseteak, Pat's - a South Philly fixture since 1930!

There are rules for ordering!?

I obeyed the rules because I didn't want to make a misteak!

The Entourage

April saw the end of Orchid Extravaganza and the beginning of Spring Blooms displays. There was a frenzy of activity in the Conservatory as the controversial Orchid Mobile was dismantled

We had to hoist these metal frames...

...onto these super heavy wenches...

...and hang these huge Hydrangea baskets

A few finishing touches with the Easter Lily boxes and Viola! Spring officially arrives in the Exhibition Hall!

Meanwhile, my buddy and I planted these Osteospermum 'Silver Spark' in the Orangery. People loved them so much, I didn't have the heart to tell them they're used as freeway daisies in LA!

Spring sees an assortment of critters emerging to forage. Notice these strange tree-dwellers

Let's stop and admire the Pansies. See how far they go? See how many there are?

I deadheaded them. Every. Single. One.
Alone! Till my fingers bled! Feel free to admire them a bit longer...

Just waiting for the water to come on in the Square Fountain Garden.

Tulips popping in the Flower Garden Walk

And a few Hyacinth

The Daffodils aren't about to be outdone

To keep the deer from snacking on the bulbs, we erect an electrified fence every night. Too bad it doesn't keep out the squirrels and rabbits!

Meet Izzy. Izzy supervises all the work done in the Flower Garden Walk and Theatre Gardens.

Sometimes he falls asleep on the job

Or pretends to watch from behind the Fescue

And if you don't do something that meets his expectations - like filling his kibble dish - he will use your leg as a scratching post (good thing I wore the double front jeans that day!)

A Weeping Cherry with a Red Maple is a beautiful sight!

Winter Aconite

The Idea Garden

Happy Spring, Everybody!!!