National Arboretum Funding Crisis

Azalea ‘Darkness’ (Glenn Dale)

Image by treegrow via Flickr

There’s trouble brewing at the United States National Arboretum in Washington DC.  The nation’s only federally funded arboretum is facing a funding crisis and plans call for the fall 2011 removal of up to 10,000 undocumented azaleas as well as some perennials and boxwood around the 446-acres of gardens.

According to Kathy Jentz of Washington Gardener blog, the arboretum’s interim director Dr. Ramon Jordan spelled out the facts about the loss of private funding for two gardener positions translating to 30% of the actual gardeners who are needed to catalog and move plant collections to save what they can. Outrage over the plans for the removal of azaleas, boxwood and perennials is being heard all over the internet.

As a guest blogger on Washington Gardener blog site, Don Hyatt, noted azalea expert, breeder and grower, expressed a powerful argument against the removal of azaleas . Garden Rant’s Susan Harris addressed the subject, inviting supporters to link to a Azalea Cause facebook site or Save the Azalea site where emails of senators and congressmen are listed. Today, in the Washington Post, a column by Adrian Higgins summed up the fury of azalea lovers.

Each spring, more than 100,000 visitors from the US and elsewhere flock to the hillside of azalea blooms, color grouped for maximum impact and splendor. Lets hope that renewed quest for funding will save the gardens before the time runs out.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Power of the People

Tea fields of Kericho

Tea fields of Kericho

In 2007, the Lipton Tea company announced its pledge to harvest tea leaves using only sustainable farming methods. The company joined forces with Rainforest Alliance, an organization dedicated to biodiversity, protecting wildlife habitats, conservation of water and soil, and the well-being of workers. The Lipton Tea estate in Kericho, Kenya, was the first estate to be certified by the Rainforest Alliance in 2007 as a model of sustainability. By 2015, Lipton pledges that all of its tea leaves around the world will come from sustainable farming and ethical systems.

For the past 55 years, Lipton’s largest teabag production facility in the U.S. has been located in Suffolk VA.  The company imports tea from 25 countries and makes 6-billion tea bags a year. In 2008, the company began an environmental campaign of their own. Plant manager Ted Narozny revealed that this was an employee driven quest for local company sustainability. Over 70 ideas poured forth leading to a gold medal award in 2009 from the governor of Virginia in cooperation with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, DuPont Corporation and Dominion Virginia.

Suffolk’s Lipton plant has been declared a Zero Landfill facility, no easy feat in this day and age. 70% of the company’s waste products is recycled or reused, 22% is composted and the final eight percent is reused. A bonus for the company’s efforts, they estimate their achievements have saved the facility a whopping $100,000 a year… which they reinvested in more energy savings in the building.

At the Garden Club of Virginia’s 52nd Annual Conservation Forum this month, Ted Narozny accepted for the Lipton facility, the club’s Elizabeth Cabell Dugdale Award for Meritorious Achievement in Conservation.  A conservation award first presented by club in 1974, it is presented to an organization, industry or an individual who is not a GCV member for outstanding work in conservation. As I listened to Mr. Narozny praise the employees of his company for their commitment to reducing the facility’s environmental impact, I was inspired by the resourcefulness and the might that individuals who join forces can generate. They’ve led Suffolk’s facility to produce the greenest tea of all.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

We Took Our Chances…

We headed north to visit two of our children for the Thanksgiving holiday where we took our chances with weather in New Hampshire. Temperatures hovered around 70 degrees in Virginia when we left for the airport and temperatures greeted us at close to 30 degrees in New England. For three idyllic days we bundled up and enjoyed the brisk weather of the mountains in the Lake District.

Beautiful conifers and pines dot the landscape but there was not much left on decidious trees and shrubs except gorgeous berries.

The most glorious berry seen in this little village on Lake Meredith is the winterberry (Ilex verticillata) found in every home landscape, a multitude of foundation plantings, growing on the side of the roads and in the woodlands, on mountainsides, and used in decorations for fall, Thanksgiving and for Christmas.

Our luck with blue skies ran out this morning when we awoke to freezing rain then snow.  No more walks today but it is a winter wonderland… the red winterberries and a light snow and glistening ice. For us today is not Black Friday, it is Icy Friday.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Race Against Time

There is nothing more beautiful in the spring landscape than an azalea, a member of the genus Rhododendron. Fifteen azalea species are native to the eastern part of our country and gardeners are becoming more appreciative and knowledgeable about them. Whether white, pink, red or orange or any combination of these colors, the native azaleas are said to be the most fragrant of all azaleas. These natives grow naturally in woodland settings beneath tall hardwood or pine trees where the sun is filtered and the soil is acidic.

In Gloucester, we feel fortunate to have fellow resident, George McLellan, a landscape designer who values the native azalea. He is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and chairman of the Species Study Group. He knows his azaleas well, as he does everything else in the world of gardening including native plants, trees, bulbs, perennials, the uncommon, the rare and newest hybrids. He also knows his birds and is a regular on our birding walks where, if asked, will take time to share horticultural knowledge along the way.

Last week George also shared an azalea success story. Recently, on a tiny postage stamp plot of undeveloped land in Gloucester surrounded by a sea of man-made surfaces and buildings, a sign went up announcing the construction of a new fast food restaurant. George and fellow ARS member, Jim Brant, with no time to waste, took shovels to the tiny woodland site to save a native azalea.

Growing under the pines were Pinxter Azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides), a wild azalea found from Massachusetts to Georgia and Alabama. The name Pinxter is the Dutch word for Pentecost, named thus by the colonists because it bloomed on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. It can grow to 6-8 feet tall with clusters of long-tubed pink to white flowers with a wonderful sweet fragrance. George and Jim were able to save some azaleas before dozers leveled the land, paved and built the restaurant in record time.

Protected in New York state, the species is obviously not safe from harm in Virginia. The azalea is certainly fortunate to have friends in need.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Predator vs Prey

Here is a little quiz for you. Is this a good bug or bad bug?

It’s quite possible that you’ve never spotted this well-camouflaged bug called a Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) in your garden, one of the largest of the assassin bugs. It is fairly common in the eastern part of the country, a slow-moving member of the Hemiptera (half wings) order of True Bugs that includes stink bugs for one.  The adult pictured is resting on the outside of our screened porch. A semicircular structure appearing much like a cogwheel on the thorax gives the Wheel Bug its nickname. No one knows the function of this armor-like wheel but it is thought to add protection from predators.

The answer is:  this is a GOOD BUG for the garden but it comes with a caution.

All True Bugs have long straw-like mouthpieces that fold up beneath their body that most insect pests use to suck up juices in plants. Not so with the Wheel Bug or other assassin bugs in this order.  Their mouthparts are used to suck the body juices of other insects. In the photo  above, the Wheel Bug’s mouth is visible as a red tube beneath its long head. It waits in ambush to prey upon caterpillars, aphids, Japanese beetles, sawflies, stink bugs and other pests of the garden. It plunges the tube into an insect, injecting an enzyme and within seconds, the prey’s organs have been dissolved. It then sucks out all fluids much like a spider does. A little gruesome sounding, yes?

juvenile Wheel Bug- Wikipedia photo

It is an especially beneficial bug in the garden and should be ignored when seen around the yard. Don’t run and fetch a pesticide.  Maybe you’ll see one this fall as numbers of Wheel Bugs have increased, perhaps due to the proliferation of its pest cousin, the stink bug. Where there is an abundance of a pest, we are lucky that Mother Nature supplies us with an effective predator.

A word of caution: do not handle the Wheel Bug. It is a benign insect and seeks out quiet, hidden spots, however it is not particular where it will stick its sharp tube when it feels threatened. And due to the enzyme, it is a painful poke.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Midas Touch

Whether the day begins overcast or not, golden sunbeams have flooded our bedroom each morning for the past week. Two male ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba) dominate the small pond garden just feet from our window and their fan-shaped leaves take on an luminous golden glow, a fall color second to none. We have watched for weeks as the bright green leaves began their fall journey turning faintly yellow at the tips, green slowly fading, and being replaced by more and more yellow. Many leaf-peepers and shutterbugs are awed by lemony ginkgo tree in fall landscapes, remarking that the color is too short-lived, the leaves all dropping within 24 hours. But we have developed a relationship with our ginkgos, watching the fall arrive slowly, reaching a crescendo of color lasting almost a week before it paints the ground, deck and pond in melted butter within a couple of days. Click photos to enlarge.

Another name for the ginkgo, this living fossil unchanged for 150 million years, is the Maidenhair tree,  some believe a name given to describe the parallel veins that fan outward like a maiden’s hair, but the resemblance to the pinnae of the Adiantum capillus-veneris or Maidenhair fern in fact gives the tree this nickname.  The species name, biloba, describes the split in the middle of the leaf, hence two-lobed.

Our two males command this area of the landscape, giving us essential shade in the summer and glorious color in the fall… but we cannot forget our smaller female ginkgo that continues to produce her pungent fleshy seeds each fall in another area of the yard. We allow these abundant seeds to germinate and the small trees we dig and share with anyone who expresses a desire to grow a living fossil, sex undetermined for 20 – 30 years. Today, cultivars like ‘Autumn Gold’  are created through grafting, splicing the cuttings from males on rootstock grown from seed.  And sadly, the tree is red-listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of Threatened Species due to the preference for the male ginkgo trees in the landscape.

If you live near me in Gloucester VA, I’d love to save a baby for your garden. Plant it away from public areas, especially sidewalks, just in case in 30 years, ‘he’ turns out to be a ‘she.’

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

We could all use a ‘Soft Caress’

Mahonia eurybracteata, ‘Soft Touch’ mahonia

At a garden show a year ago I finally put my hands on a plant that I had only read about: ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia (Mahonia eurybracteata), a new introduction marketed through Novalis’ Plants That Work.  The leaves of this plant were nothing like the spiny holly-like leaves on the mahonia that grows in my garden. This plant really was soft. The leaves were long and graceful, looking a bit like bamboo.  I knew then that I would eventually own one.

There are around 70 species of mahonia plants around the world, with North America’s native Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium) being one that we know well.  Named after Bernard McMahon (1775-1816), a horticulturist and one of two men selected by Thomas Jefferson to receive and grow these Pacific Northwest seeds from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Mahonia aquifolium, Oregon Grape Holly. Click photo.

Last week I finally stumbled upon a young ‘Soft Caress’ in glorious bloom at a nearby nursery and I snatched it up.  It’s tucked into a more shaded spot in the garden, close enough to the house that the lemony yellow racemes of blooms will be visible from a window. Later in the winter, bluish berries should replace the blooms. I expect ‘Soft Caress’ to be a relatively fast growing evergreen, reaching about 4-feet in height and I’m certain it will continue to give interest and structure to this zone 7 garden throughout the winter months.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Smashing Pumpkins

Is your Halloween pumpkin still sitting on your front porch looking a little tired and droopy or sagging a bit?  Are you thinking about throwing it away and buying a fresh one for Thanksgiving? Don’t throw that old pumpkin in the trash. Compost it. Mixed with leaves and grass and other composting materials, it’ll soon disappear and enrich the earth with nutrients.  If you don’t have a compost, start one. Easy instructions are here. If you’d like to find a community compost where you can give your pumpkin a home, call your city and ask.  Also, many garden businesses have composts and are happy to take pumpkins off your hands. Pictured below is the compost at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs where smashing pumpkins is a community sport.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

My Friend’s Pear Tree

My friend alerted me to a horticultural phenomena in her yard that she insisted that I must see. There was, she said, an ornamental pear tree in full bloom and in full fruit.  Impossible, I thought. It’s fall. It’s 46 degrees. “Just come,” she said.  I stopped by her property on a morning when no one was at home. I traipsed across the lawn, kicking up the fall leaves, venturing down toward the river bank in a lower section of the yard. Tucked into a protected corner of the yard at the end of a line of trees and vegetation was a vision of springtime. There it was in all its glory….  an ornamental pear in a profusion of blossoms and covered with a gazillion fruit. Dazzling. Heavenly. Stunning.

She and a multitude of horticulturist friends and master gardeners have declared the tree a Cleveland pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Cleveland Select’), in the same family as the Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), yet smaller, studier and a more profuse bloomer.  All I could do was stand there and stare. It was so out of place with trees around it, leaves ablaze in shades of fall… red, orange, yellow and brown. These white blossoms, kissed with pink, looked all wrong. I know it’s not uncommon to have a few flowers out of season but this was a rare sight for me.

When I heard a rustling inside the tree, I peered inside to see what might be sampling the fruit. My friend’s resident mockingbird dwells within and was not shy about letting me know who owns this tree.

The blossoms of the tree were being enjoyed by a swarm of bees, flies and other insects including this end of the season, tired looking Buckeye butterfly.

Thank you, Felicity, for alerting me to a vision of springtime in the season of pumpkins and fall colors!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Phragmites: not all bad?

Phragmites australis vom Vorjahr

Image via Wikipedia

You can’t call phragmites an ugly plant. Standing tall, sometimes 13 ft. tall at full maturity, swaying in the breezes with its large wispy seed heads, it is a handsome plant. It is the common reed, a perennial grass that spreads by rhizomes and seeds and is quickly invading fresh and brackish waters and salt water marshes and steadily advancing across America. We have heard it called nasty, invasive and obnoxious and we cut it back, we burn it, we poison it… but is it all bad?

Yesterday I was privileged to hear a presentation by Carl Hershner, Director, Center for Coastal Resources Management and an Associate Professor of Marine Science at Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Dr. Hershner spoke to the Garden Club of Virginia on shoreline erosion and management plans for shoreline stability in this era of global warming and rising waters.

Mentioned in his presentation was phragmites. Truth be told, it is a scary plant. It does invade and it does establish monocultures that displace native plants and it does trap sediment, eventually replacing water with sediment. But it’s not all bad, he says.

Roots prevent the erosional forces of water and Dr. Hershner reported that the root system of phragmites has been more effective than spartina for preventing soil erosion in some areas he has visited. Phragmities has an extensive root system that grows deep below the rhizomes. Whether you do hate or you accept it, Phragmites is here to stay. If you plan to take steps to eradicate it from an area, you should include plans for replacing the erosion control function that phragmites currently provides.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Almost Wordless Wednesday

With my neighborhood art friends, I just completed a project with tile and ceramic. Some neighbors chose to tile tables. I chose to decorate the bowl of a birdbath with broken pieces of ceramic plates, marbles, rocks and bits of tile. After 48 hours, my little creation was dry enough to position in a sunny garden border where, within minutes, the resident mockingbird claimed ownership.  Of course, the new birdbath was on the fringe of his patrolled territory between the Foster’s holly and the 8′ tall knock out roses.  Now, instead of flying from shrub to tree and back, he perches on the edge of his private spa where he is KING.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Woolly Bully…

Click for closeup view

I spied this autumn colored caterpillar making its way across the the pine needles and miniature thyme yesterday.  At first glance I thought it might be our most common banded woolly bear without the black bands encircling both ends, the size of which is said to predict a mild or severe winter. But it was not a banded woolly bear.

There are many species in the “woolly bear” or “woolly worm” family with the characteristic thick bristles that cover the caterpillar’s body. I am undecided which of two woolly bears our orange caterpillar is. Caterpillars can be tricky to identify because of their color variations but I believe this little visitor is either a salt marsh caterpillar, the larva of a Acrea moth (Estigmene acrea) or a yellow bear, the larva of a Virginian tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica).

Click to see a white Virginia tiger moth up close

The Yellow Bear is a fairly common Virginia tiger moth larva that is seen in the fall of the year as it crosses roads and paths seeking a spot for hibernation. The color of the yellow bear can vary from yellow to orange to almost black. The salt marsh caterpillar is common in our area and, in numbers, can be a pest in our vegetable gardens. None are invading our vegetables though. Both larvae develop into lovely and similar tiger moths. I gently picked the caterpillar up (carefully as the bristles can be irritating) and as characteristic of all woolly bears, it immediately curled into a tight ball as a protective measure. I reached down and allowed it to roll from my palm and it quickly made its way over and under the fall leaf litter.

During the summer months, I will often keep a light burning for a couple of hours at night to attract and study a wide variety of moths and insects that settle on the porch wall. The tiger moths are steady visitors, especially the Virginia Tiger Moth with its fuzzy white thorax and its fringed edges on the wings that open to reveal splashes of orange on the abdomen. Because I see so many of the moths at night, I’m leaning toward my visiting woolly bear being a yellow bear caterpillar, however, I’m hoping for a positive ID from someone out there.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester