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Monday, May 18, 2015

Thinking "West": A Prairie-Themed Garden

Last summer, as I was working around campus with Sam Bahr, horticulturalist for the University of Maryland, I was shown various different gardens and landscapes around campus, varying in size and theme. We checked out different landscapes from Architecture and Van Munching, to Mayer Mall and Prince Frederick Hall. Along these walks, we discussed the different plants installed in landscapes as well as the concepts behind them.


My favorite garden we viewed was a very simple, yet incredibly naturalistic garden, a small planting bed behind Architecture. This garden, which is situated around a pyramid-like art piece, is intended to be prairie-themed with plants that are either native or "nativars," native plants which have been enhanced or changed in one way or another. Sam Bahr, the designer of the garden, is originally from eastern Kansas. He intended for this garden to mimic the tall grass prairies and grasslands that he was familiar with as he grew up.

In the bed, there is a mixture of prairie grass and different flowers. The grass, which was originally purple love grass, is now broom-sedge. The garden is intended to consist of a minimum of 70% grasses, and the remainder forbs. The forbs include aromatic aster(Aster oblongifolius), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), lyre-leaf sage (Salvia lyrata), smallhead blazing star (Liatris microcephala), New York ironweed(Vernonia noveboracensis), gaura(Gaura lindheimeri), narrow-leaved sundrops(Oenothera fruticosa) and whorled coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata).
Gaura blooming in early June

This landscape instantly captured my heart for a multitude of reasons. Prior to even working in this garden, I noticed the way the planter didn't have any true "pattern" to how it was designed and I enjoyed this. As an urban forestry major, I enjoy naturalistic settings. When I am in a landscape, I enjoy having it be more organic and sporadic rather than being in patterns and straight lines, as that isn't how nature works. In this garden, even with the small space and architectural structure in the center, the plants themselves don't feel like they are being manipulated in one way or another to look "human made."

When I learned that Bahr had intended to make the garden to resemble the native prairies of his youth, it only made the planting that much more significant. While most planters are designed with the "thoughts" of the designer in mind, this planter went a bit further. Instead of simply putting out solely his "personal design preferences" Bahr designed the garden to be something that many people in this part of the US haven't had the opportunity to experience. It was designed with home in mind and the planting itself intends to show passersby the beauty that is the West.

Then, once I began helping maintain the planting, I actually found the maintenance not only easy, but in fact enjoyable (which is something I never thought I'd say about "weeding" and "pruning"). While there weren't a whole lot of "weeds" in the planter, as the grasses mostly shaded them out, there were hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little seedlings from the other plants in the garden. What we were doing in the garden was not necessarily clearing out all the seedlings, but picking and choosing which ones we believed should stay and go. I found this quite enjoyable as it felt like a form of art and not even work itself.

This planter, in addition to having deep sentimental value, also has multi-season features. While not much happens in the early spring, as the seasons begin to warm up, the different plants in this garden flower in varying colors and times. The lyre-leaf sage, one of the first plants to flower, has soft purple flowers. It flowers in Mid-May, as it is blooming now, and then develops lots of seeds which the goldfinches love to eat later in the season.

Picture of lyre-leaf sage in bloom May 15
After the sage, each of the other plants bloom in turn. The purple coneflower is one of the first to start blooming; however, it is quickly succeeded by the white gaura flowers, and the vibrant yellow flowers of common sundrop. The gaura will continue to bloom all through the summer into the fall, which is when the blazing star begin to bloom.


When the weather begins to cool, the blazing star and aromatic aster bloom. These continue to bloom well past when the other plants have started to go dormant and add bright color contrast to the fall color of the broomsedge.

Even after everything has gone dormant, the garden still holds interest for people passing by as the broomsedge will stay somewhat upright even after snow collects on the flower heads. This adds a combination of simultaneous fall and winter color. 

In addition to this garden having multi-season interest, it is also low maintenance and ecologically beneficial. Due to the native plants in the garden, native birds, such as goldfinches, will utilize the seeds produced by the plants and not only disperse the seeds within the planting , but also spread the plants outside of the garden. The garden is also great habitat for other native plants. Just the other week, when looking over the garden, there was a new plant, a species of milkweed growing in the garden.
Milkweed plant 5/15
This garden helps attract wildlife and people alike. It includes multi-season interest and benefits wildlife in the area, two thing that I find very important. These drought tolerant plants only need water when first installed, and afterwards hardly ever need to be watered. The plants bring a new type of landscape to campus and show that a landscape can be both beautiful and low maintenance. 

While I won't be able to enjoy the garden for much longer, as I will be graduating this Friday, May 22, I hope that others will be able to see this beautiful landscape grow and evolve in the years to come. 

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.

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Contact Information

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

umdarboretumandbotanicalgarden@yahoo.com








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.