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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coleus; A Plant to Brighten Up Shaded Gardens

Last year, I began interning on campus with the University of Maryland Arboretum/Horticultural Services and was assigned to random locations on campus. In these locations I would either help maintain plants, by watering or weeding, or manage plants, by putting them into the campus plant inventory. For the primary amount of time during the summer, I worked with inputting woody plants into the plant inventory database (which can be accessed under the Arboretum and Botanical Garden folder in the layers tab).

However, for a short period of time, I was assigned to work with Jeff Weiser, horticulturalist, and his crew at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. While there I completed various tasks including watering, feeding, weeding and pruning of plants in and around the center. One of the tasks I quickly grew to like was the maintenance of several raised planter beds in front of the center.

Planter beds at the main entrance to Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

These plant beds contained three different plants; Amur maple, sweet potato vines, and coleus. On a routine basis, I would go to this location and water the plants or prune the flowers off of the coleus in order to keep uniformity. The reason I enjoyed this task so much was due to the coleus which I was taking care of. I've always been a fan of shade gardens and cooling off from the summer heat under a large shade tree, but one problem I've always run into is finding something with nice bright vibrant colors that can tolerate the shade which I so love.

When I discovered coleus, I couldn't have been more excited. Coleus, known by the scientific name of Solenostemon scutellarioides, is a partial shade to full shade tropical plant commonly used in this area as a summer annual. It's greatest feature is the diverse variety of colors and shapes of the leaves in different cultivars which have been bred over the years. Coleus can vary in color from deep red and green to bright yellow and orange.

Coleus 'Kingswood Torch' behind 'Margarita' sweet potato vine
Coleus 'Pineapple'
'Kingswood Torch' Coleus, the plant that I was working with, is one of the new cultivars of coleus that can withstand sun and prefers full sun-partial shade. The beautiful pink, red and green foliage in the planters provided a nice colorful view for people sitting on the nearby benches. The coleus also benefits from being placed under the Amur maple, as they can tolerate shade.While the sweet potato vine, Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita,' flowing over the edge of the planter, benefits from being placed near the edge, as it needs a lot of sun.
Amur maple, 'Kingswood Torch' coleus and 'Margarita' sweet potato vine

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ah, Glorious Winter!

Tawes Hall is on the left and the Benjamin Building is on the right in this view of Tawes Plaza during a snow storm on Monday, March 3, 2014.  It is not often that we see such a pristine snow without footprints on our campus.

The first snow of the season is often a magical event for many, especially for those that grew up in tropical areas of the world and are experiencing their first winter storm.  This frozen water coming down in tiny, unique, beautiful flakes is absolutely amazing!  Even for the many of us that have grown up and lived for many years in temperate zones where that snow is common, there is still often something magical about the transformative experience of that first blanket of purest white snow as it settles over the landscape and covers everything in sight.  There is something exhilarating about that first snow that is captured well in this video by Vitas Bumac, the famous Russian counter tenor singer.  In the video, check out that amazing evergreen coniferous Russian forest that the superhighway cuts through in the distant background.

View of Tawes Plaza on Monday, March 3, 2014 with the Art / Sociology Building in the background and Tawes Hall on the right.

View of Tawes Plaza on Monday, March 3, 2014 with the Art / Sociology Building in the background and Tawes Hall on the right.

However, as winter progresses and you are buffeted by storm after unending storm such as in this extreme winter, the magic goes out the window for many of us and the reality of winter hazards sets in.  By March, we are weary of dealing with those winter hazards and we are more than ready for spring.  The phrase 'ah, glorious winter' becomes a phrase that is viewed with suspicion or sarcasm.  Except of course for those few truly hardcore snow bunnies, like my friend Dr. Laura Deeter from The Ohio State University, that post their excitement of impending snow storms and then their disappointment when the snowstorm does not reach the weather forecaster's prediction.  There is nothing as exhilarating as being able to teach a Woody Plant Material Lab when there is heavy snow cover on the ground in the invigorating cold of an Ohio winter.  While the rest of us might not be quite as excited about deep snow as Dr. Deeter, plant materials selected for their winter beauty do give us a good reason to go outdoors in the winter, as viewing nature at its best, does seem to lift ones spirit.

'Fire Power' Heavenly Bamboo has lost far more leaves this winter than they have in previous winters as the minimum temperatures this winter have been much lower than in the previous winters.  Picture taken on March 3, 2014.

'Alta' Columnar Southern Magnolia covered with snow on March 3, 2014.

The brick walls enclosing a space behind the Benjamin Building make a great feature in this winter scene with Knight Hall in the background.  Picture taken during a snow storm on Monday, March 3, 2014.

Daffodils and Siberian Squill are starting to emerge through the snow between the bench and the boxwood hedge in this picture of the Benjamin Building courtyard garden taken during a snow storm on Monday, March 3, 2014.

Leatherleaf Mahonia leaves are weighted down with snow in this picture taken on Monday, March 3, 2014 after a snowstorm.

A light winter snow emphasizes the textural difference in this planting of semi-evergreen Creeping Raspberries and Broom Sedge that has been recently cut back in preparation for the emergence of new growth in the late spring.  Picture taken at the Architecture Building on Monday, February 10, 2014.

Steam billows up behind the plume like seed heads of  'Pumila' Fountain Grass on Tawes Plaza on Monday, February 10, 2014.

Native Broom Sedge is the coppery colored grass that has stood up so nicely this winter in spite of repeated snows this winter in this planting of native plants that was inspired by North American prairies.  This pyramid shaped sculpture and plantings are located near the Architecture Building.  Picture taken on Monday, February 10, 2014.

Close up view of Broom Sedge.  Picture taken on Monday, February 10, 2014.

The intensely red colored fruit of 'Winter Red' Winterberry Hollies contrast nicely with white snow.  While we enjoy the fruit for their beauty in late winter, fruit eating birds such as Northern Nightingales and Cedar Waxwings enjoy them for a late winter snack when food is scarce.  Picture taken on Monday, February 10, 2014 east of the Architecture Building on Mayer Mall.

'Cato' Dwarf Redtwig Dogwood available under the trademarked name Artic Sun has a color change on the twigs similar to the change in color on a flame.  This planting is located to the northwest of the north wing of Van Munching Hall.  Picture taken on Monday, February 10, 2014.

The above two pictures show the dried fruits of 'Donald Wyman' Crabapple, one of the most consistently highly rated crabapples for disease resistance.  It is also one of the most beautiful crabapples in my opinion.  Pictures taken on Monday, February 10, 2014 just west of the Architecture Building.

Those tantalizing views of spring shown on warm days between late winter or early spring snowstorms by the early blooms of Witch Hazels, Crocus, Siberian Squill and Snowdrops serve to give us a small taste of the real spring soon to come.  For some of us, that is not soon enough!  Having to use snow plows to clear the baseball field for practice in March just isn't right.  Spring break in less than two weeks will be warmly embraced!

'Lilac Beauty' Tommasini's Crocus is starting to poke its flowers up through the Variegated Liriope groundcover in a planting in the Benjamin Building courtyard garden on February 24, 2014 on a warm day between snow storms. 

An unknown cultivar of Witch Hazel, located near Rudy's Cafe at Van Munching Hall, was blooming on a warm afternoon on February 24, 2014.  These tiny flowers have a very slight fragrance.  The dried seed pods visible in this picture, when mature, can eject their seeds with such explosive force that the sound is sometimes mistaken for a gun shot. 

This unknown cultivar of Witch Hazel located in the northeast corner of the Van Munching Hall courtyard was blooming on a warm afternoon on February 24, 2014.  The fragrance of this unknown cultivar is outstanding!

This last picture taken yesterday, March 4, 2014 shows the flower of an 'Intrigue' Canna growing in the research greenhouses on campus.  The pastel reddish orange flowers contrast nicely with the grayish purple flower stalk and the mostly maroon attractive foliage.  It was a welcome sight to see this colorful flower after operating a skid steer loader two days this week to remove snow.
We are looking forward to trying these 'Intrigue' Cannas in a number of locations on campus this summer to see if that they may have good cold hardiness for us in protected locations on campus as the rhizomes are about about 6-8 inches deep in good soils which is deeper than most that I have seen.  'Intrigue' has good rust resistance and is so vigorous that it may be able to tolerate future potential virus infections better than less vigorous cultivars.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

California Dreamin!

The large, bold, red leaves of 'Siam Ruby' Banana rise above a sea of 'Shenandoah' Switch Grass like the sails on a tall ship.  These Bananas were grown this spring in the research greenhouses from small tissue culture plants received in late March.  They are located in a planting bed along the front lawn at Oakland Hall.  Picture taken on August 28, 2013

This past February, Ken Ingram, one of our horticulture teachers on campus mentioned to me the possibility of allowing us (the University of Maryland Arboretum and Botanical Garden) to use some of the greenhouse bench space that he had access to for the laboratory training of his greenhouse and herbaceous plant materials classes.  As we do not have a greenhouse of our own, Ken immediately had my full attention and had unknowingly started a thought process in my brain that I will refer to as 'California Dreamin.'

While I have never had the opportunity to visit California, it is easy for a horticulturist to pick up on and notice the unusual and often lush tropical and subtropical plant materials in Facebook posts to plant groups by California gardeners or in the pictures taken in or movies filmed in southern and coastal California.  What, that movie actually had actors?  It is difficult for a plant nerd like myself not to lust after these tropical and subtropical beauties and experience plant envy, especially during the cold days of January and February in Maryland!

California Dreamin has been part of the American experience for a far longer time than when John and Michelle Phillips first created their popular hit with that name. There was a gold rush among many other dreams of striking it rich in the exotic state of California; however, for many inhabitants of the southern Great Plains (Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas) of the United States, in the 1930's during the Dust Bowl years, making it to California represented hope, the hope of survival and the hope of escaping a miserable situation. PBS created an excellent special feature on the American Experience called 'Surviving the Dust Bowl' that documents this sad time. The concept of California Dreamin has meant different things to many people over the years.  However, those different dreams had one thing in common, they created excitement about new possibilities!

While growing up many years ago in Kansas, a state located in the heartland of the United States, I became very familiar with California Dreamin, as it was a wonderful tune that our talented high school band instructor, Mr. Michael Salaway, a native of another exotic state named New Jersey, located on the opposite coast from California, picked out for us to play.  This song expresses the creators, John and Michelle Phillips, longing for the warmth of California during a cold winter according to Wikipedia.  At our tiny school, Gridley Rural High School, since combined into Southern Coffey County High School, about 3/4 of the students were enrolled in the combined junior high and senior high school band.  Fortunately, we got to play this song a lot as many of us including myself needed a lot of practise.  I was not a talented musician, but I enjoyed playing anyway, especially the trombone part for 'California Dreamin.'  I can still hum my favorite portion of the trombone part some 36 years later.  It isn't very often that trombone players get to play the melody, let alone such a wonderful melody as in this tune.  While the voice version is nice, I like the big band version even better.  Could not find the same version on You Tube that we played in band; however, this version by the OGO Big Band has some outstanding trombone playing as well as a great flute solo that create a magical experience for me.

My hope was that the use of the greenhouse space would allow us to do something different, to use some plants that we might not ordinarily have access to that might provide a magical moment or experience for people that work on or visit our campus.  When you create landscapes with magical moments, they are uplifting to the human spirit.  To me, a magical moment might be seeing the large, boldly textured and colored leaves of 'Siam Ruby' Bananas rising above a sea of 'Shenandoah' Switch Grass.  Or someone smelling the wonderful fragrance of 'Zephirine Droughin' Rose, 'Summer Nocturne' Crinum Lily or Common Jasmine.  Or someone seeing a tiny iridescent green ruby-throated hummingbird for the first time, hovering in midair and feeding on the incredible intense blue flowers of 'Blue Ensign' Anise-Scented Sage or Salvia, before it disappears in a flash.  Many spectacular Salvias are not commonly used in our area because that they are annuals in our climate and do not bloom until late summer or early fall.  It is very hard for a greenhouse or nursery to sell plants that are not in bloom when the customer buys them in the spring.  Color sells!  Magical moments are not just about the use of unique plant materials, they are also about carefully placing plants and other materials together in a way that a landscape sings and is uplifting.  Thank you Ann Petrone!  Some people refer to uplifting landscapes as sacred places.


The above three pictures are of Common Jasmine (Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum).  These plants were installed on Tawes Plaza and Southwest of Tawes Hall on a trellis/screen built to hide electrical utility boxes.  Common Jasmine has a wonderful fragrance very early in the morning that quickly fades as the day progresses.  It bloomed continually until heavy frosts arrived in early November.

Many people plant out tropical and subtropical plants for the summer in the colder temperate zones.  Usually the plants die come winter in colder temperates zones, unless special precautions are taken.  These precautions may include cutting back to the ground after frost kills the tops and applying an extra thick layer of mulch to insulate the rhizomes or crown area from the winter cold.  Some plants do well in an unheated basement over the winter as long as it stays cool (40-50 degrees F), but does not freeze.  Many plants can be simply dug up from the garden and placed in a cool basement without a need for potting them up.  Very little to no watering is usually best for most of these plants when that they are dormant in a basement.  Some can be cut back before placing in a basement and others it is better not to cut back.  A few lucky gardeners may have a greenhouse to overwinter tropical plants.  However, often insect pests can be a big problem when overwintering plants in a greenhouse.  Some tropical and subtropical plants such as Crinum Lilies do not reach their full potential for flowering and/or beauty in one year from tissue culture or small mail order plants.  Crinum Lilies may not bloom at all the first year from tiny mail order plants like those that we purchased.  However, the size and number of shoots did increase dramatically.  We will need to overwinter them in a greenhouse before we get a good return on investment in blooms from them.

No, I was not content to limit my vision of California Dreamin to tropical and subtropical plants, I expanded my vision to include some hardy and marginally hardy plants that were not available from our local vendors.  I wanted to trial some plants that I felt had good ornamental potential.  Plants such as Hardy Ground Orchid (Bletilla ochracea and Bletilla striata), 'Pink China' elephant Ear (Colocasia 'Pink China'), Carolina Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Japanese or Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo), 'Thai Black' Banana (Musa 'Thai Black'), 'Mekong Giant' Hardy Banana (Musa xishuangbannaensi), Hardy Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis tuberosa), 'Belinda's Dream' Rose, 'Carefree Beauty' Rose, 'Ducher' Rose, 'Zephirine Drouhin' Rose, Arizona Blue Sage, Blue Turkish Sage and Romanian Sage.

The above two pictures of 'Pink China' Elephant Ear (Colocasia 'Pink China') were taken on August 28, 2013. 'Pink China' is not a large Elephant Ear; however, our source claims that it is the most cold hardy Elephant Ear and should come back next year for us with protective mulching over the winter.  We will find out next summer if that it lives up to this claim.  'Pink China' seems to quickly send out runners that develope into new plants, so these widely spaced plants may be a solid mass at the end of next summer.   These plants are in a planting bed along the front lawn at Oakland Hall.

'Carefree Beauty' is a rose that I have been wanting to try for a number of years.  It is a rose that is very highly rated by a number of different rose society's located in some of our nations harshest climates where that it is difficult to grow many plants.  'Carefree Beauty' is one of a number of lovely and very cold hardy roses bred by the late Dr. Griffith Buck, a plant breeder at Iowa State University.  This website maintained by Iowa State University has a listing with pictures of a number of the Buck Roses.  Disease resistance was built in to Dr. Buck's breeding program as he did not have the budget to spray the plants in his program.  Those roses that were disease prone died and were no longer a part of the breeding program.  Dr. Buck was breeding and growing disease resistant roses, long before that the concept occurred to others.  A horticulture friend from the Kansas City area has tried a number of the Buck roses and gave them a thumbs up as being great, durable roses. 

So far, the 'Carefree Beauty' Roses that we received by mail order and grew in the Research Greenhouses and then planted out on campus have far out performed a highly touted English Rose that I attempted to grow years ago and a couple of over publicized Flower Carpet roses that we removed from the Benjamin Garden because of their poor performance.  My disappointment in the over rated English Rose was so great that I never grew roses for many years after that until I saw how amazing that the Knock Out series of roses were.  'Carefree Beauty' is one of the parents of the original 'Knock Out' Rose.  The pink color of the 'Carefree Beauty' Roses contrasts beautifully with the electric blue color of 'Blue Ensign' Anise-Scented Sage or Salvia planted in the Benjamin Courtyard Garden.

The above two photos are of 'Carefree Beauty' Rose (Rosa x 'Carefree Beauty'). 'Carefree Beauty has a noticeable, attractive fragrance. 'Carefree Beauty' Roses are located in a front foundation planting at the Tawes Hall. Picture taken on August 27, 2013.

My 'California Dreamin' started to become a reality when that administrators approved the mail order purchase of the plants that I had selected.  Ken Ingram helped my pot up newly arrived mail order plants during sping break while others were in Florida or some other exotic location.  Someone else has always grown the plants that I have used over the years, rather than me being the greenhouse grower, so I received quite an education this spring.  Luckily, Ken and the talented folks at the Research Greenhouses helped me along the way.  It was a great learning experience that provided some unusual plants for us to trial.  I am still learning about these plants and hope to be able to share more information about them in the future.  It won't be until next Spring that I will know if that the plants that are supposed to be winter hardy, turn out to be winter hardy as we were told etc.

Below is a scene that is far more exciting to a plant nerd like myself than when I was a kid opening presents at a family gathering.  This was the largest of three different orders that we placed.  It was also the most carefully wrapped.  No damage in transit with this order!  Clear plastic tape was used everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.  It took longer to extricate the plants from all of this packing than that it took to replant them into larger pots.     

Carolina Jasmine or Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) came with a single bloom!
'Double Purple' Angel's Trumpet (Datura fastuosa 'Douple Purple' or Datura metel 'Double Purple')

The above two pictures are of 'Zephirine Drouhin' Rose (Rosa x 'Zephirine Drouhin').  I knew that I was going to love this rose as soon as I unwrapped it and the wonderful scent escaped.  It seems to have a slight clean citrus scent rather than the heavy scent of other fragrant roses.  The lack of thorns is another big plus.

Unpacked plants ready to go into the greenhouse to be planted in larger size pots over the next few days.


The above three pictures of 'Cypress Gardens' White Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia x 'Cypress Gardens') were taken on August 28, 2013.  The flowers quickly change to white once that they have opened and last for about 2-3 days.


The above four pictures are of 'Thai Black' Bananas (Musa 'Thai Black') that are located in the small courtyard on the east side of the Architecture Building.  This is supposed to be a hardy banana for us .  These pictures were taken on August 6, 2013.

Red Abyssinian Banana (Ensete maurelii) planted northwest of the West Chapel on August 19, 2013.

'Zebrina' Blood Banana (Musa acuminata 'Zebrina') planted northwest of the West Chapel on August 19, 2013.

'Blue Ensign' Salvia or Sage (Salvia guaranitica 'Blue Ensign') in the Benjamin Building courtyard garden on August 27, 2013
Blue Taro or Elephant Ear (Xanthosoma violaceum) in a front foundation planting at Tawes Hall on August 27, 2013

Japanese Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo) in a front foundation planting at Tawes Hall on August 27, 2013.
This is what we hope that our clump of Japanese Hardy Bananas (Musa basjoo) at Tawes Hall will look like at the end of their third summer.  It will take about three years to reach the size of this beautiful clump of Japanese Hardy Bananas at the Hahn Horticulture Garden on the campus of Virginia Tech.  They have the potential to get even larger with a few additional years.  Unfortunately, our growing season is too short for them to bear fruit.  The small Elephant Ear plants at the base of the Bananas are 'Pink China,' the same cultivar that we grew in the greenhouse this spring that is located in one of the front lawn plantings at Oakland Hall.  Picture taken on August 23, 2013.

Carolina Jasmine and Common Jasmine in the back of the pickup truck waiting to be planted on July 16, 2013.

Newly installed Carolina Jasmine and Common Jasmine planted on a trellis southwest of Tawes Hall on July 16, 2013.  Existing 'Dropmore Scarlet' Honeysuckle vines were cut back to just a few inches.

Common Jasmine (Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum)  Common Jasmine has a wonderful fragrance first thing in the morning.  It is planted by the front door to many residences in India because of its fragrance.  Most years we are expecting this plant to die back to the ground, but come back like a perennial from the crown or roots and still bloom in late summer.  One of the things that I have learned about Common Jasmine is that the new growth is very brittle and breaks off easily when you try to bend it to weave it into the wire trellis.  The 'Amethyst Falls' Wisteria, Carolina Jasmine and 'Dropmore Scarlet' Honeysuckle that are also planted on this trellis have proven to be much more flexible   Picture taken on August 27, 2013

Carolina Jasmine or Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is on the right.  This plant can survive a right angled crimped stem and still keep on growing past the point of the crimp, I am not sure that I know of any other plant that can do that.  'Dropmore Scarlet' Honeysuckle is the vine on the left with the rounded leaves.  Picture taken on August 27, 2013

'Java White' Copper Plant (Acalypha wilkesiana 'Java White') on July 16, 2013.  While not winter hardy for us, I have seen Acalypa wilkesiana in the Miami, Florida area get to be 15 feet by 15 feet.  They are very tolerant of South Florida's dry, almost desert like 6 months during the winter as well as the high pH in Miami-Dade County.  Unfortunately, they seem to be very susceptible to mealybugs in the greenhouse for us.

Hardy Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis tuberosa)  This one is supposed to be hardy for us!  It has certainly done well for us during this recent dry spell this year.  Picture taken on August 28, 2013.


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UMD Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Wye Oak Building, #428

University of Maryland

College Park, MD 20742-7215

Phone: 301-405-3320

Fax: 301-314-9943

Butterfly feeding on the nectar of Russian Sage blossoms

UMD Arboretum and Botanical Garden

The University of Maryland, the state’s flagship campus, is located in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The American Association of Public Gardens, by designating the university as an arboretum and botanical garden in 2008, recognized former President C.D. Mote, Jr.’s commitment to becoming a green campus. Maryland is also the first university in the state to be honored as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

The Campus inventory of over 8,000 trees, garden plantings and nearly 400 acres of undeveloped urban forest is a beautiful reminder of Maryland’s history and a harbinger of Maryland’s future. The university looks at the campus’ green space as a major resource for its educational, research and service missions.

Hornbake Plaza

Hornbake Plaza
Honeylocust fall foliage color

Tawes Plaza

Tawes Plaza
Kim's Knee High Purple Coneflower, Russian Sage, White Out Rose and Dwarf Pampas Grass are featured in this planting.