Monthly Archives: October 2012

Clean-up Time

The URI Botanical Gardens came through the storm with minimal damage. There are tree limbs down but overall we are looking much better than other parts of South County.

A few pictures of the area show just how lucky we are.

storm surge narra

tree on house high st wakefield

pole down

tree on building


(Photos 1,2,4,5 from South County Independent)



children diggingIt’s true that springtime is when most people get excited about gardening. I succumb to this as much as anyone –maybe even more so. Starting seeds and making big plans for the gardens is what spring is all about! But for digging and dividing and moving plants, there’s no time like the present. Yes, fall is THE best time to dig plants in my book. Because the weather is cooler and the days are shorter, there is rarely a danger of drought. (Cool weather is also pleasant for the gardener.) Here in coastal Rhode Island, mild fall weather allows transplants to establish good root systems before the ground freezes. The plants won’t need to be watered through the spring and summer when I am busy with a million other things. And speaking of a million other things, that’s another good reason to dig in the fall. Spring is just TOO BUSY. Seeds. Weeds. Plant Sale!

My tool of choice for this work is a solid steel spade. I used to think this spade was ridiculously heavy. But if it’s nice and sharp (I like to sharpen ALL my tools), then the weight of the spade does half the work for you.  Digging is not always easy but can be oh- so- satisfying!

steel spadeSo this week, with the help of Dr. Maynard’s PLS 350 class (Herbaceous Garden Plants),  I will be digging up much of the sunny border in the main garden. This renovation is sorely needed! It will invigorate the plants, loosen the soil, and reestablish the appearance of the garden. Plants do move themselves, into or out of the sun, over a few years, and the original design gets lost.  I’m looking forward to replanting the border so that it is accessible from the back — eliminating the need to (oh no!) step in the garden to tend the plants. Soil compaction makes it hard for water and air to reach plant roots, reducing growth and vigor, and favoring the growth of weeds.

Digging, dividing, and moving everything is a big job! The garden won’t necessarily look great this fall, but just give it a little time…by spring it will be beautiful!

new garden sign

Changing Seasons

Jack Frost visited Kingston Hill in the still hours of Saturday morning (October 13th, right around “average” first frost). It was just cold enough to end the display of dahlias, and kill off the marigolds and peppers left in the All- America Selections garden. The tropical garden up between the greenhouses is still alive and well, being in a very protected spot. But come and see it soon, because it won’t last much longer! The tropicals will need to be dug up and brought inside for the winter. Chore of the day is to continue the cutting back and cleaning up we began last week.

frost on monarda

Photo courtesy C.Cramer

Being a gardener means always having an eye on the weather. I’ve been intrigued this week with two documents shared by Carl Sawyer of the URI Agronomy Farm and Weather Station. (Kingston has been reporting temperatures to the National Weather Service since 1888 or so!) One is the first and last frost dates and number of frost free days in Kingston from 1931 to 2011. The highest number of frost free days on the list occurred in 1955 at 188 days. The lowest was in 1991 at 116 days due to a very late last frost — May  29th. A bad day for growers, as a late frost is so much more damaging than an early one.

The other is a 1948 Ag Experiment Station bulletin showing the average growing season for different parts of the state. Kingston is clearly a cold spot, showing at that time a 136 day average growing season.  East Farm, also in Kingston but at the top of the hill, shows a 167 average day growing season. The “micro climate” makes a big difference. (Update: temperature Saturday morning was 25 F “down” at Agronomy and 29 F “up” at the greenhouse.)

On our weekend trip to upstate New York to visit our college freshman, glorious autumn leaves were everywhere, about a week ahead of us here on the coast. The weather forecast is for a mostly sunny and mild week, a great time to get out and enjoy the changing seasons.

autumn leaves and berries

Featured Plant: Echeveria

echeveria runyonii

Echeveria is a large genus of succulents in the  Crassulaceae family, which has about 1,400 species in 33 genera  worldwide. Echeveria, with approximately 180 species, are native to mid to higher elevations in the Americas, with the main distribution in Mexico and central America. They are easy to grow in the greenhouse, or at home with enough light. They like very well- drained soil, and can handle neglectful watering better than overwatering. Echeverias produce offsets which can be divided from the main plant and potted up. They will root readily.

There are two amazingly beautiful Echeverias blooming in the greenhouse right now. One is the Blue Echeveria, Echeveria runyonii. It has the most incredible sunset colors. My middle son, who is not particularly interested in plants, loved this one. It’s always been one of my favorites too.

echeveria runyonii

echeveria runyoniiEcheveria was named for the Mexican botanical artist Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy in 1828 by the French botanist de Candolle,  who was very impressed with Echeverría’s drawings. Echeverría had accompanied an expedition exploring Mexico and northern Central America and had produced thousands of botanical illustrations.

The other Echeveria blooming now is called ‘Black Prince’. It was left here by a former (graduated) student and we are happy to have it. The look and feel of this one is very different than the Blue. The  bright green center leaves become darker and darker toward the outer edges of the rosette, and the flowers are red.

echeveria black princeecheveria black prince