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Excited about Echinacea

Echinacea "Sundown"

Echinacea “Sundown”

What can you find in the garden that is tall, purple, and named after a hedgehog? Echinacea, of course! Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, because of the spiny centers of the flower heads. I am sure that many are familiar with the purple coneflower because of its popularity in the Eastern United States. What makes it so special? Echinacea has become a very commonly used flower because it is so easy to grow and very tolerant of weather conditions and garden pests that we are all too familiar with here in Indiana.

Echinacea purpurea, also known as purple coneflower, is native to meadows, prairies, and woodland edges where they are able to receive the most sunlight. It is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, deer tolerant, and even tolerant of clay soil. With just those three factors it is easy to see why the use of Echinacea is so widespread. As long as your coneflowers are in a spot where they can receive full sun, you will have the benefit of their summer long bloom time usually from July until September. Pruning before flowering will delay bloom time and allow you to have fresh, new blooms later in the season. Most people like to cut back all of the dead heads at the end of the flowering season to prevent the massive amounts of reseeding. However, if you like to help feed the birds in the colder months, leaving the seed heads on the coneflowers provide plenty of seed for birds such as golden finches and juncos. Just be sure to prepare yourself for all the coneflower seedlings that will show up in the spring if you do not remove the seed heads.

Echinacea "Sundown" with bee.

Echinacea “Sundown” with bee.

Not only do coneflowers benefit the bird population in the fall, but they also aid the insect population during its flowering season. During the summer, bees and butterflies can be spotted feeding on the nectar and, in late August, you may even find soldier beetles. The soldier beetle is a beneficial insect that feeds on those pesky aphids as well as other soft-bodied insects. So be sure not to harm these particular beetles as they are causing no harm to the plant itself. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Japanese beetles. If there are signs that something is eating away at your coneflowers, it is most likely this pesky critter. Along with Japanese beetles, aphids and eriophyid mites are also problematic to these plants. Sadly insects aren’t the only force of nature that coneflowers have to contend with. Some disease problems to watch out for are powdery mildew, anthracnose, and aster yellows. But, as with any other type of plant, proper care and maintenance can help prevent your coneflowers from falling victim to these diseases.

On the much brighter and more beautiful side, the Echinacea have eight to none different species to choose from that are all tough plants which can withstand the weather conditions in the Central and Eastern United States. Echinacea is no longer just purple coneflowers, but pretty pinks, reds, oranges and whites too. Here at the IMA, you will see the first clusters of Echinacea as you walk down the mall. Walking down the sidewalk past the overlook you will notice the bright pink ‘Southern Belle’ cultivar. The Garden for Everyone has a nice section devoted to ‘Sundown’. And you can’t miss all of the coneflowers in the Four Seasons Garden. It is a beautiful summer with so many wonderful Echinacea to see.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

Towers of ‘taters!

You say poh-tay-toe and I say poh-tah-toe and, considering the fact that potatoes play a significant role in food supplies worldwide, there are lots of ways to say POTATO in dozens and dozens of languages! Researchers have found that the potato originated from South America. Its stellar ability to be stored long-term allowed it to be a perfect cargo haul for ships. Naturally, the Spanish brought it back to Europe from South America and it quickly became a staple for mariners who, in turn, introduced it to other ports around the world. Now we have French fries, gnocchi, aloo gobi, bangers and mash, tater tots, papa rellena, pierogi – this list could go on and on!

062614_garden_03Prior to commercial farming, homesteads sported their own plot of vegetable gardens and dedicated a portion of it to rows of potatoes. Today’s modern “homestead” does not typically offer the space for rows of potatoes and gardeners are getting creative with making the most of the plot they’ve got. We plugged in the creative juices here at the IMA and decided to try something new. It’s not a novel idea, nor can we take the credit of inventing the “method”, but it saves space, looks kinda shabby-chic, and gets the job done! We’re growing our potatoes this year in Tater Towers.

Our Tater Towers were constructed from repurposed tomato cages, lined with burlap. The burlap holds the soil inside the cage and yet allows moisture and air to move freely. We filled the lined towers with a foot or so of composted leaves. Why compost? Because it’s rich in nutrients, holds moisture, but is “fluffy.” Potato plants are usually started from the “eyes”, or sprouts, of another potato (called a seed potato). We dropped our seed potatoes into the towers and covered them with a slight layer of compost. As the sprouts began to develop leaves, we would add more compost.

We now have about 2 to 2.5 feet of compost in each tower and the plants have continued to grow. Potatoes will develop along the buried stems of the plant, all the while the plant above ground will continue to grow and stretch toward the sun. The Tater Towers offer a two-fold function: the lower half houses the medium for potatoes to form and the upper half confines the stems/leaves to avoid flopping and the hogging of garden space. Later in the summer, the plants will die back and we’ll dismantle the towers to hopefully find a healthy crop of taters.

Since there is more than one way to skin a potato and they’re fairly easy to grow, let’s not call this whole thing off! Find a growing method that works for your homestead (rows, boxes, grow bags, towers) and plant some spuds!

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff

 

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

 

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