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IMA’s Greenhouse: Home to hidden beauties

Spending the week in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse has definitely been exciting! There are so many different plants here and, within just four days, I was introduced to so many more than I usually am in a week! Getting to work with such a variety is a great experience and, just looking around, I could tell there was quite a collection. My favorite would have to be the section set aside for the orchid collection. These orchids are currently found in the greenhouse, but are placed around the Lilly House during certain times of the year.

There are a handful of orchids for sale in another room, but most of the orchids are just there for guests to admire. They have quite a range! And I could not even find many tags for them to know exactly what kinds are all present, but I took pictures of some of my favorites. Two common groups of orchids include the Phalaenopsis orchids and the Oncidium orchids.

070314_greenhouse_09Besides all of the orchids, one definitely cannot pass up looking at the succulents and houseplants! This alone kept me occupied on breaks as I kept discovering more and more unique plants. Just today, I discovered the Pink Pineapple (Ananas lucidus). It has a fruit on it for the first time during its 12 years at the greenhouse. It takes multiple years before it is ready to fruit and, I was told, rarely produces pups. (‘Pups’ is a term used for some of the baby plants, or offshoots, that the mother plant produces.) But watch out, do not eat the fruit of this plant as it does not have much juice or edible flesh. And the taste is quite bland.

The Pink Pineapple is native to northern South America and is hardy to Zones 10-15. This means it does not do well outside here but can be used as a houseplant. The plant has slender, red-bronze leaves that will eventually allow the plant to reach a mature height and width of 2 to 3 feet. It likes well-drained loams or sandy soils that are either acidic or neutral. The leaves will turn green if the plant does not receive partial to full sun. Purple-white flowers on a stalk will give way to the pink fruits. These stalks occur in the rosettes of the leaves, which will then die after it fruits. The plant is mainly used here in containers indoors, but can be used in tropical borders and containers outside where it is warm enough.

Besides the orchids and the Pink Pineapple, try to spot these other plants at the greenhouse!!

And last of all, do not forget to take a look around at the bonsai, the gift shop within the greenhouse, and our selection of annuals and perennials in addition to our orchids, succulents, and houseplants.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

Lilies in bloom

Now that it is officially summertime, I can begin to look forward to seeing all of the colorful combinations of lilies. From 12 inches tall to 7 feet tall, lilies know how to steal the show. More than 80 species provide a variety of colors, heights, and bloom times to choose from. Whether they bloom at the beginning of the summer to welcome you to warm weather, or late fall to say farewell until warm weather returns the next year. With so many different species and hybrids, the North American Lily Society has developed eight divisions to help classify them based on parentage, as well as the position and shape of the flower. The different divisions of hybrids are as follows: Asiatic, Martagon, Candidum, American, Longiflorum, Trumpet and Aurelian, Oriental, and Miscellaneous. I want to focus more on the Asiatic and Oriental lilies because they are the more popular hybrids.

Looking around the grounds at the IMA or anywhere else that you may be visiting, you will notice that the most commonly used lilies are Asiatic Hybrids and Oriental Hybrids. Asiatic lilies are one of the earliest to bloom as well as easy to grow. They can grow in almost any soil type just as long as there is no excess moisture that would cause the bulb to rot or acquire a disease. Orientals need a soil that is high in organic material as well as a low pH. Oriental lilies are easily distinguished from the Asiatic hybrids because they are taller, have larger flowers that are more fragrant as well as having wider leaves. Asiatics and Orientals are more popular because they are less susceptible to acquiring a number of troublesome diseases.

Since the beginning of their cultivation, lilies have acquired fungal diseases, basal rots and viruses that distort the plant. What I find interesting about the lilies is that, in medieval times, the bulbs were used for medicinal purposes. Lily bulbs were used to try to cure, or at least diminish the affects of ulcers, scurvy, dropsy and corns. Although using the bulbs for medicines sounds like a good idea, I would prefer to keep them in the ground so I can see and smell the lilies they produce.

When it comes time to choosing which type of lily to grow in your garden or to put in a centerpiece at a wedding, it is best to see and smell them in person before making a decision. Some lilies have a very strong scent, and some have no scent at all. When choosing for the garden, height and color have to be taken into account as well as scent. Though for some, scent may be an afterthought if their garden is already filled with plenty of sweet fragrances. Having lilies indoors is the tricky part for some. When hosting a wedding reception or any other gathering where lilies are in the centerpiece, it may be a wise decision to choose one with little to no scent. It all depends on personal preference. Some really like the fragrance lilies give off while others may despise it. Whatever your preference, it is always an enjoyable experience seeing these large and brightly colorful flowers throughout the gardens. To start off your garden tour at the IMA, stop in to the Garden for Everyone to see the tall yellow Orienpets (combination of the Oriental with the Trumpet and Aurelian hybrids), Lilium ‘Yelloween’, as well as the shorter Orienpets, Lilium ‘Algarve’. As you continue your tour it would be hard to miss any other outstanding lilies.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

Fragrant Sumac

Photo by Audra Franz Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Photo by Audra Franz
Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Fragrant sumac serves as a good groundcover, spreading both outwards and upwards, and providing great fall color to any area. This groundcover can also grow into a small shrub, spreading to 6 to 10 feet in width and 2 to 6 feet in height. This can happen in a variety of places as the plant likes a variety of light; just do not place it in a full shade location. It will also do well in a variety of soils although it prefers well-drained soils. The best soil type for great fall color is dry and poor (sandy and/or rocky). Fragrant Sumac is hardy to Zone 3 and is native to the eastern United States as well as some of the southern states. All of these characteristics make Rhus aromatica a great plant for naturalized areas, informal hedges, stabilizing embankments, and poor soil sites.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) consists of leaves of three that are smaller than those of poison ivy. The two plants are closely related yet the fragrant sumac is not poisonous. The trifoliate leaves are up to 3 inches in length and are toothed. Fall color consists of reds, purples, and oranges. Regardless of whether you get to enjoy the fall color, crush the leaves and/or stems to release the strong spicy scent of the plant, giving it its name, fragrant sumac. Galls can be spotted on the leaves sometimes, but there is usually no major concern for insects or pests to the fragrant sumac.

Flowers usually occur in March and April, with there being both male and female flowers. The male catkins are one inch long and begin to form in late summer, lasting at least into winter. (They can be seen in the photo below, alongside the berries). The female flowers consist of the typical small flower buds. Both the male and female flowers can be found on the same plant (monoecious) or be on different plants (dioecious). Hairy red drupes (berries) will begin to show in late summer, forming in clusters. Wildlife is attracted to these drupes. Also, a tea has been made from these fruits, which some say tastes like lemonade.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Besides tea, the plant has been used by humans for centuries. At one point, the root was used in a medicine to help treat diarrhea, as well as the bark and drupes in medicinal items. Poultices were created from both the bark and the leaves. Tanning of leather involved tannin from the leaves and bark. This tannin was also used for dyes.

Next time you visit the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, be sure to make a stop at the Park of the Laments to see just how well the Rhus aromatica is filling in the space. Crush the leaves to catch its strong aromatic scent. And notice how this species of plant is in a tough spot. There really is no shade for it and it is on a sloping incline. Also, it is surrounded by gabion baskets, meaning less area for roots to spread as the soil is in a contained area. Water will drain easily from the rocks and will not be held in except what the soil catches, making for a well-drained site.

Photo by Audra Franz.

Photo by Audra Franz.

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

Astilbe: Brightening up the shade garden

Why is it that every time I think of shade gardens, the first plant that comes to my mind is a hosta? Could it be that everyone just really loves the large foliage, and the many different cultivars to choose from? I personally find it difficult to think of many plants that will add BRIGHT colors to the shade garden to liven the place up. Yes, the flowers of the hosta can be very beautiful, but I want something bigger and bolder. Looking around the gardens on a cloudy day, the astilbes are what really catch my attention in the shade gardens.

061314_astilbe_01Astilbe, also known as False Spirea, is a moisture loving shade plant. Astilbes prefer to have organic rich soils (as does everyone else) with plenty of shade. Having soils with higher clay content isn’t all bad since it can hold a little extra moisture for our astilbe friends. However, be sure to keep an eye out for those hot dry summer days. One of the most common issues with astilbes is dryness. I’m sure many noticed during the 2013 summer drought that the astilbes had brown margins on the leaves, or even whole leaves that withered up and died prematurely. Having an ample amount of moisture is essential to having healthy astilbes. Other than the inability to tolerate drought, there are few insects and diseases that really affect astilbes.

What makes the astilbe such a special plant to use in the shade garden? The large plume-like flowers are what really distinguish the astilbe from other shade plants. Long slender stems rise up from the mound of finely toothed leaves to show off large colorful flowers. With the many different cultivars you could have a simple white or cream colored flower to a brilliantly bright pink or red flower. Depending on the cultivar, there are astilbes that flower as early as late spring, and there are others that flower late summer.

061314_astilbe_02As summer progresses into fall, the flowers will start to fade. The dried up flower panicles give a little extra texture and interest to the garden. If keeping the flower panicles attached isn’t something you are particularly fond of, they can be cut off and the foliage of the astilbe will make a decent groundcover. Some cultivars may even have a reddish tint to the foliage so there is still a little extra color to be displayed. If you are like me and have difficulties keeping rabbits and deer from chewing your hostas down to nothing, the astilbe is a great addition to any shade garden.

Some great examples of beautiful astilbes can be found all over the IMA grounds. The border gardens have beautiful plantings of astilbe ‘Amethyst’ as well as A. x rosea ‘Peach Blossom’. The formal garden is home to a few A. x arensii ‘Erica’. There are also quite a few astilbes that are right next to the parking lot across from the Garden for Everyone. These are most certainly not the only astilbes that can be found on the grounds, so feel free to explore and find some more.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

The Real Deal

Baptisia is often called false indigo. I fail to see how remembering false indigo is easier than remembering baptisia (and I don’t care if you pronounce it bap-tees-ee-a, bapteesha, or bap-tis-ee-a). I suppose one could say calling baptisia false indigo ties it back to its historical use as a substitute for true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) that was THE dye for blue fabric until synthetic dyes took over. You will also find baptisia listed as wild indigo sometimes.

Traditionally, we have used Baptisia australis as an ornamental. Its deep blue flowers and tough-as-nails disposition have earned it a place in gardens for a long, long time. Occasionally you might find one of the white flowered species, on rare occasions the bright yellow B. sphaerocarpa.

Two factors have changed how often these plants are used today, which is much more often than in the past. One is the increased interest in native plants. All baptisias are North American natives with four native to Indiana. Many gardeners want more natives in their landscapes and the baptisias provide beautiful tough plants for this. This beauty comes not only from the flowers but also from the attractive disease and insect free foliage and seed pods which turn dark gray/black when they ripen. The larger types act as shrubs in the landscape until late fall/early winter.

The other factor that has increased the use of baptisias is the hybridizing work done by multiple plant breeders. The first commonly available hybrid was ‘Purple Smoke’, a cross of B. australis and B. alba. This was just a chance seedling in the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Probably the second available hybrid was ‘Carolina Moonlight’, a yellow flowered plant from the same cross. Both cultivars present their flowers well above the foliage increasing their ornamental value.

It was not long before breeders saw the potential of this genus and work to create more hybrids went into overdrive. Dr. Jim Ault and the Chicago Botanic Garden introduced the PRAIRIEBLUES™ series and Walters Gardens introduced the DECADENCE® series by Hans Hansen a few years later. Both of these series involve multiple baptisia species. I should say the two I mention are not the only people working on baptisias. They do have the most hybrids on the market and the most readily available currently.

So many hybrid cultivars are available now but I can still remember when we first ordered ‘Purple Smoke’ for the Formal Garden. The plants were so small and cost so much it was like one almost felt guilty buying them. They were well worth the investment. Few perennials will give you so many months of ornamental value for so many years.

I also want to mention Baptisia sphaerocarpa ‘Screamin’ Yellow’ even though we don’t have it here at the IMA (though it and many of these may be available for purchase at our Greenhouse).This is a smaller plant than some of the hybrids but I love the name and the bright yellow flowers. The seedpods in this species turn tan and are round (sphaero – round/spherical, carpa – fruit). The cultivar is supposed to bloom heavier than the species.

Sources often say do not disturb baptisia once established, however my personal experience suggests you can dig and divide without too much worry. Admittedly I dealt with plain B. australis but that plant was dug then sat outside for a week or two before I got around to dividing it. I made a lot of plants from the mother-clump and all did fine. I would definitely do dividing in fall or early spring (don’t leave the plant laying around like I did) with my preference being spring as soon as you see shoots poking through the soil.

Below are some photos of our baptisias blooming in the Gardens right now.  As you can see there is nothing false about them. They’re the real deal.

 

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

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