Category Archives: Uncategorized

And Yet Some More

snow in botanical gardenFor the record, I don’t hate winter or snow; I would much rather have a cold snowy winter than a brown, gray, muddy winter. At least you can play in the snow! I like XC skiing, sledding, ice skating, building snowmen and snow forts and all that good stuff. Snow also contributes some nitrogen to the soil and protects perennials from freeze damage. And lucky me, I don’t have to do the shoveling at my house ūüôā !

But Sunday night we had about 6 inches added to the two feet or so on the ground, Yesterday a bit of rain, woke this morning to snow falling again –just got the phone call that school will be dismissed an hour early. Prediction for low of 8 F tonight. Basically, I have run out of things to say about winter. The author of “New Hampshire Garden Solutions”, a great blog about the natural world of the White Mountains, remarks on this long cold snowy winter¬† –with beautiful photos– in his post “Wintering”. Enjoy!

snow in botanical gardensnow in botanical gardens

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Featured Plant: Witch Hazel

It’s noon, and it’s 12 degrees, but it’s sunny with no wind… so I went out to the garden to look for signs of spring….crazy, I know. I stepped in a snowbank over my knees but then was able to walk on top of the two or so feet of frozen snow on the ground. I wanted to look at the ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel over by the gazebo. It has skinny little yellow flowers with a light fragrance, and like all the witch hazels, blooms very early. Today I saw just the tiniest bit of yellow peeking out from between the scales of the flower buds. That’s a good sign! From the sidewalk on Upper College Road I looked closely at the ‘Jelena’ witch hazel , another very early bloomer. It is at the same stage as ‘Arnold Promise’, with about a millimeter of orange petal showing. Our third witch hazel is the native Ozark witch hazel, with slightly smaller flowers but much more fragrance. I did not see any sign that it is waking from it’s long winter’s nap just yet.

arnold promise witch hazel

‘Arnold Promise’, Hamamelis x intermedia, March 25, 2014

Hamamelis , the genus of witch hazels, are hardy, low maintenance plants with few pest problems. Whether you think of them as small trees or large shrubs, they are a manageable size at 10 to 15 feet, with some spreading forms nearly as wide. They have smooth, rather plain brown-to-gray bark and heavily textured oval leaves, which turn mostly yellow in fall. And then there’s the reason we love them: spidery, strappy little flowers with long, crinkly petals, all along the branches, when almost nothing else is blooming.

witch hazel jelena

‘Jelena’, Hamamelis x intermedia, February 28, 2011

Hamamelis virginiana, native to eastern North America, blooms around November, and is the plant used for the witch hazel extract you can buy at your local drugstore.

Hamamelis vernalis is native to stream banks of the south-central US. It is the earliest shrub to flower in spring, and its small, yellow-red blooms open  from late February to early April, depending on the weather. It can form dense, multi-stemmed colonies  by sending out suckers. The medium green leaves turn golden yellow in fall. Our Ozark witch hazel is H. vernalis, and when it blooms it smells like springtime!

Hamamelis x intermedia are vigorous hybrid witch hazels, crosses of the Japanese and Chinese species. Blooming from late February to March, their yellow-red petals unfurl on warm days but curl up tightly during chilly nights. The fall foliage is an attractive yellow-orange. Our ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ are both H. x intermedia. They are sure signs that spring is on it’s way. Take a walk through the Botanical Gardens in the next few weeks (wear your boots) and you’ll find the earliest flowers on the witch hazel, a treat for the winter-weary and anyone ready longer, warmer days.

ozark witch hazel

H. vernalis, February 22, 2012

Some More Snow

The sun has come out in a clear, cloudless, blue sky day, after many (5?) days of mostly gray weather. It’s so cold that there is still ice on the Conservatory windows at 11 AM, but bright and warm inside. We’ve had two more snowfalls since the last post (yes, that’s Monday classes cancelled three weeks in a row, for those of you keeping track.) More snow and very cold weather predicted for the weekend, so I’ve decided warm pictures are in order for today.

pencil Euphorbia

Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Firesticks’

Brazilian Orchid

Brazilian Orchid

succulents in greenhouse

Red Echeveria and a trailing Kalanchoe

Oxalis triangularis

Oxalis triangularis

pomegranate flower

Pomegranate, Punica granatum

evolvulus flowers

Evolvulus glomeratus

Bromeliad

Fingernail Bromeliad, Neoregelia spectabilis

shrimp plants in green house

Shrimp Plant, Justicia brandegeena and Golden Shrimp Plant, Pachystachys lutea

I love the colors in the greenhouse but all I really need today is this one: “New Growth Green”.

japanese holly fern

Japanese Holly Fern, Cyrtomium falcatum

February 13 2015 026

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Snow

snow in firelane Monday night and Tuesday we got about 14-15 inches of snow. Enough for a snow day, hooray! Coffee by the woodstove, lots of shoveling and car clearing, then cross country skiing out the kitchen door and down the unplowed back roads of West Kingston. Life is good…

greenhouse and drifted snowThe Botanical Garden fared well in this storm. The snow is deeply drifted (3-4 feet) in areas, but no broken trees despite fierce winds. I have a theory that we lost so many trees in Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, and the Blizzard of 2013 that the ones left after those storms are in pretty good shape. Once again lots of rabbit trails through the garden and evidence of human visitors too. With classes cancelled two days in a row, there’s been plenty of time to play in the snow.

metasequoia trunk

snow in garden

Our water garden is under there, somewhere.

icicles on greenhouse

The warmth of the greenhouses always creates a great display of icicles.

The angle of the sunlight coming into the greenhouse yesterday afternoon was making everything glow. I grabbed the camera, and tried to capture it even though my glasses are “in the shop” (caught without a spare pair!) The orchid, which doesn’t have a label, often looks bedraggled quickly, but the blooms have been holding up for over a week. The maroon and greenish flower is Hippeastrum papilio, also known as Butterfly Amaryllis. Peeking in at the Pharmacy Greenhouse, the beautiful magenta daisy-like flower with a purple center is Osteospermum. A beautiful sunny treat for today’s “Cold Rain and Snow”.

orchid orchidorchidbegoniaHippeastrum

hippeastrumosteospermumosteospermum

Ice and Snow

Cold weather the last few weeks resulted in what I had wished for–ice on the ponds! Last Saturday we went skating on Worden’s Pond. There were skaters, walkers, and hockey players;¬† ice sailing, ice fishing, and something I’d never seen before. People on skates holding up long, curved, brightly colored wings to catch the wind. What fun! Someone with a drill called out “7.5 inches”. OK, that’s enough to feel pretty solid!

I happen to like frozen clear days in winter, just for the fun of skating. But when I woke up this morning, there was an inch of snow on the ground, and it was lovely. Everything got an outline of snow. And my suspicions that the rabbits are frolicking in the Garden at night are confirmed by their tracks everywhere.

snowclethra in snow

rabbit tracks in snow

rabbit tracks in snowrabbit tracks in snowI can’t begrudge them a game of tag, but they are hungry critters for sure! I hope that in the spring they will find other gardens to pillage. But until then, I’ll leave them to play games in the garden by moonlight.

Chilly

frosty window

Happy New Year!

“January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.”

Coldest days of the winter so far are upon us.¬† I received a gift of an indoor-outdoor thermometer which records minimum/maximum temperatures. Now when I get up 5:30 I know it really IS cold, instead of guessing! I am hoping to skate on the pond by this weekend, something that doesn’t happen every winter here in southern Rhode Island.

frost on glass in conservatory

frost on glass in conservatory

frost5 F this morning up here at the greenhouse, (0 F down at my house) but bright and sunny.¬† I love the magical, feathery frost patterns that form on the glass inside the conservatory! It’s warm and lovely in the greenhouse, especially when the sun comes out. The grafted citrus tree is blooming, and the scent of orange blossoms is in the air, mixed with the fragrance of the flowering gardenias…heavenly! Since I can only show you the flowers, you’ll have to come in and experience the sweet smells for yourself.

citrus blossoms

Citrus (Citrus limon) blossoms

citrus blossoms

citrus blossoms

Is January cold where you are?

Calliandra californica, Baja Fairy Duster

Calliandra californica, Baja Fairy Duster

Gasteria verrucosa

Wart Plant, Gasteria verrucosa.

bird of paradise

The Flock (Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae)

 

 

 

Edible Garden

dahliaHard frost came to my home garden in the wee hours of Monday morning. Here at the top of Kingston Hill, the Botanical Garden had none to speak of, but the plants are looking pretty tired. Lack of rain, deer, woodchucks, and rabbits took their toll this year! Wide swaths of Phlox and Chelone were eaten to little nubs, then eaten again. Hostas disappeared early on. Echinacea has become a wildlife delicacy. Annuals were lunch as soon as they were set out. There are a few bright spots:  Japanese Anemones (eaten and recovered), Dahlias  (near the road= not eaten), Toad Lilies (also eaten and recovered), Ornamental Peppers (untouched!), Callicarpa, and of course, beautiful fall foliage.

Toad Lily/Tricyrtisanemonedisanthus leavesstewartia

Callicarpa/Purple Beautyberry

Oh, and last but not least: Gaillardia, in the All-America Selections Display Garden. These little plants fly under the radar at the annual Plant Sale, but they can’t be beat. They are perennials blooming first year from seed (started April 1st), withstand heat, drought, animals, and insects. October 21 –still blooming! Save a garden spot for them in the spring.

Gaillardia

 

Into July

It’s been quite a while since the last post! With the weather fine and dry through most of June, we spent all our days out in the garden. Now it’s hot and humid, with a tropical storm predicted for Independence Day. It seems early for hurricanes*, but hey, I’m not a meteorologist, I’m a gardener. And so, here are pictures of the garden. Lots of color as we head into full summer!

bee balm/monarda and wild marjoram

Bee Balm (Monarda) and wild marjoram.

daylily

Daylily (Hemerocallis)

astilbe

Astilbe

Anthemis and bright orange Asclepias

More Bee Balm, one of my favorites!

More Bee Balm, one of my favorites!

Lavender (Lavandula) growing along the sidewalk to the greenhouse.

Lavender (Lavandula) growing along the sidewalk to the greenhouse.

* Hurricane Rhyme…… “June: too soon,¬† July: stand by,¬† August: upon us,¬† September: remember,¬† October: all over.”

Either a¬† “mariner’s proverb”, or a “Carribean folk saying”,¬† reportedly first published in ‚ÄúWeather Lore‚ÄĚ by R. Inwards in 1898.

 

 

 

Why We Love Rhododendrons

rhododendronAn early explorer of Narragansett Bay, Giovanni da Verrazzano, saw the islands covered with Rhododendrons and was reminded of the Mediterranean Isle of Rhodes… or so goes one of our beloved mythologies of how our little state came to be named Rhode Island. Another story says that Adrian Block, a Dutch explorer for whom Block Island is named, referred to a “red island” in Narragansett Bay, Roodt Eylant in Dutch. Either way, we love Rhododendrons.

rhododendronThere are native Rhododendrons, R. maximum, in the understory of wooded areas all over the state. Tales are told that these groves of Rhododendrons were so big in colonial times that a person could become lost in them! The Ell and Long Pond area in Hopkinton has huge Rhodies which give a hint of this possibility.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

The cultivated Rhododendrons are also very much at home in our maritime climate. They thrive here, for the most part, and are widely planted as ornamentals. Their incredible tropical flowers are a big part of the late spring/early summer landscape, and I love seeing them as we approach the longest days of the year.

rhododendronRhodies come in a wide spectrum of colors. There are probably thousands of different pinks, along with whites of every variety, and purples from light to dark and approaching blue. There are some warm tones, like the deep red ‘Francesca’, and even orange and yellow, which are not often seen around here. Sometimes Rhododendron flower buds are a different color than the open flower. All have a splotch or eye which is sometimes highly contrasting with the flower color and sometimes barely visible.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

Shallow-rooted, Rhodies like moist soil but not “wet feet”. They like a little bit of shade, being an understory plant. They will grow in full shade but flower more with some sun. They prefer acid soil, with good organic matter, and don’t like to dry out. They are mostly evergreen, with leathery long deep green leaves (although this varies from one species to another). Like other evergreens, they are susceptible to “winter kill” leaf damage when the ground is frozen. Planting in an area protected from strong winter winds helps prevent this.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

Being well adapted to our climate (zone 6-6A), many Rhodies grow fast. And what many home gardeners don’t realize is that they can be cut back hard. How hard? Down to little stumps! I love to tell bore students with the story of how my first job at East Farm was to cut down the Rhododendrons along the fence leading to the gate. I was horrified but they came back better than ever. So if they are covering the first floor windows of your house, don’t be afraid to cut back, AFTER they flower.

rhododendronThere are thousands of Rhododendron species around the world, native to environments¬† from the tropics to the Himalayas. There are a multitude of hybrids and cultivars, especially if you count Azaleas, which are Rhododendrons (that’s another post). Most likely there is one you can grow at your house! The best way to find the right Rhododendron for your climate would be to visit your local nursery or greenhouse.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks