CUH Update – March 2011: Ramping up

March 21st, 2011 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Narcissus in Soest Garden

We all await the arrival of the most promising time of year as the garden slowly wakes up and showcases it early season splendor. March is when bulbs burst into bloom, spring ephemerals shyly shine and the winter shrubs are putting forth yet another splendid show of unrivaled color and, in most cases, outstanding fragrance.

Trillium chloropetalum in Bed 7 of the Soest Garden

Azara microphylla in full bloom scenting the Fragrance Garden with its chocolate/vanilla perfume.

It’s all  such a great distraction from  the financial woes and the economic downturn we’re all facing. Recent news of budget cuts and even threats to potentially eliminate the Arboretum from the University have caused us to be a little more on edge. Here’s a link to an article written by Valerie Easton on her blog about this situation. It’s really quite unsettling and as a gardener here, while we’re suppose to worry about a very busy spring season ahead, we’re all wondering if we’ll even have jobs come July. We’ve basically been learning to work with what little resources we’ve got and simply trying to stay motivated to get as much work done as possible.

Edmonds Community College students enjoy the sunshine as they install container plantings in the Soest Garden

Stepping back from our multiple tasks and looking out into the landscape, we’re simply in awe. This time of year has the potential to bring out the joy of what makes our profession so wonderful and unique. Bring out the sun and spirits are high!

We had the pleasure of hosting a group from Edmonds Community College’s Horticulture Department who dressed up some containers here at the Center for Urban Horticulture. In collaboration with garden designer, Wendy Welch and her fabulous container gardening class, we were treated with sunshine and an opportunity to see these young garden artists at work as they implement one of their designs as a series for our containers in the Soest Garden.

Here’s a note from Wendy about her student’s work:

“For their final project of the winter quarter Horticulture students from EDCC’s Container Gardening class designed and planted three containers in the courtyard at CUH. The long list of requirements for their designs included, a strong “winter picture”, at least one main element that is attractive year round, and at least two years of viability as a combination. All 22 students presented designs and then voted on the one they felt was the strongest. Jill Nunemaker’s design with Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’, Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’, warm-colored cultivars of Heuchera and trailing Kininikinnick, won the vote by a landslide. Next years class will evaluated the success of these pots over time, as can all of you.”

Jill Nunemaker with her design, which includes a striking vine maple Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire'

Seattle Garden Club also took part in a work party as members helped out in planting, transplanting and mulching within the Fragrance Garden. The site is now home to a few new plants with a few more still to come as we define the space a little more and more summer color will be more obvious with several perennials included this spring.

March is also the time we start to focus on WEEDS!!!! The gradual rise in temperatures and increased day length means the prolific germination of weed seeds that have been resting all winter. In a valiant effort in reducing our use and need for chemicals, we’ve been experimenting with various treatments such as torching (basically burning a plant with a flame) and a horticultural grade vinegar. We’ve seen signs of effectiveness, but we just need a few clearer and sunnier days to really see it take effect.

Anything we can do now to get on top of the big push of spring is crucial. With two gardeners left to oversee CUH grounds, it’ll be more challenging than ever, but everyone seems to be having patience and accepting the fact that some areas aren’t tended to right away, but for the most part, the gardens are looking great and visitors have been so pleased and enchanted by it all!

Chin up!

Riz

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CUH Update – February 2011: Show Time

February 22nd, 2011 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Apologies for the delay in getting an update posted. We’ve had several little projects we’re trying to complete and we are getting numerous volunteer applications, which we have been going through and contacting interested individuals who are interested in helping us out in grounds.

Late winter brings with it a lot of planting and transplanting projects and our major one so far this year has been the relocation of an established specimen of Edgeworthia crysantha from the McVay courtyard to a new location just north of the Miller Library.

Transplanted Edgeworthia in a bed just North of the Merrill Hall

Like its close relative, Daphne, Edgeworthia resents being moved around and the fact that it’s also recovering from the hard freeze of last November with just a few buds remaining to open, we did our best to get the largest rootball possible and replanted it immediately into its new location. Cross your fingers!

With more severe winter cold predicted to come our way again, we are keeping our eye out on a few plants that could suffer. Obviously, Edgeworthia is on that list along with the two large Osmanthus we have in the Fragrance Garden. Our poor Daphne bholua doesn’t deserve another hit; this poor plant hasn’t flowered for us in three winters.


Then there are the Azara microphylla, which are just starting to flower that could be hit with cold and the remaining buds zapped and our massive Cordyline australis on the south side of Issacson Hall is already a sorry looking site. So, basically, anything spectacularly fragrant is being monitored.  Hehe

Our first accessioned plant for 2011 has been planted here at CUH in a large Chinese container donated by a special donor that once held a beautiful cascading Japanese maple, but when it became too troublesome to keep up the watering and the foliage would crisp up in the summer sun, we had to replace it.

Detail of the fierce branches of Citrus ‘Flying Dragon’

The maple has moved into a new home in the Woodland Garden over at Washington Park Arboretum and, for awhile, the pot was empty until it was decided that we would seek out a specimen of Poncirus (Citrus) trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’, a hardy citrus, to fill that void. Bloom River Nursery down in Oregon was able to provide us with a standardized specimen that’s been trained for ten years. It now graces the pot with its exquisite and somewhat sinister looking branches. It is highly unusual and will definitely be a conversation piece. Now we have to determine an under-planting so it doesn’t look so bare below.

Spring is definitely in the air when the sun decides to show itself and bulbs begin to bulge out of the ground and bloom their little heads of. Our annual show of yellow, cheerful, daffodils are just days away.

But for a real show, the 2011 Northwest Flower and Garden Show is finally here and UWBG has a most unusual booth this year thanks to our friends at Agua Verde Café and Paddle Club.

Rey Lopez generously donated a kayak for our display with one end cut off so it would stand and then it was planted up to make it look as if it had traveled to both sides of UWBG. Native flora and accessioned plants represented the Arboretum while more natives , including red-twig dogwoods and cattails complete with a “blue-tube” represent Foster Island and UBNA, while more exotic garden plants represented CUH.

Planted kayak that’s been through Lake Washington having collected materials from UWBG along the way

February is flying by so quickly with many activities taking place. The next few weeks should be spectacular (barring any serious cold snaps that will do certain plans in).

Cheers,

R

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CUH Update – December 2010: Overcoming November’s Cold Spell

December 15th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Several weeks after an unusual early snow and cold snap, the grounds at CUH have looked like a bomb was detonated and we’re just now cleaning up the aftermath. OK, it wasn’t that bad, but the clean-up continues as the holiday season is well underway and we’re doing our best to keep things clean and presentable to our many guest this time of year.

Having the snow was actually quite a sight as it emphasizes the strength of the structure, or so called “bones” of a landscape, so beautifully.


Here you can see some of the changes made to the Fragrance Garden this past year as we thinned out a few plants and transplanted several specimens to allow more room for certain species to really thrive.

Nolina nelsonii in the McVay Courtyard

Always the stand-out in every season is our stunning Nolina from Mexico. Dusted in pure white powder, it withstands the cold and remains such an iconic plant in a garden that will undergo a slight facelift as we reconfigure some of the plantings and add some for floral interests come spring.

Container composition up against Issacson Hall.

Even the effective composition of an evergreen container is emphasized by winter’s snow. During the growing season, this Osmanthus heterophyllus, flanked by a prostrate Podocarpus, Heuchera ‘Purple Petticoats’ and a maidenhair fern. In the shade for the majority of the day, it isn’t all that exciting. But as the snow arrives, it instantly becomes a sight to behold.

Helleborus argutifolius 'Silver Lace'

The same could be said of this fairly new selection of Helleborus argutifolius called ‘Silver Lace’. It’s been a plant that not many people really take note of unless it’s paired with a contrasting color or texture in the garden, but the added snow creates a most unusual and beautiful effect.

Phlomis ruselliana seedheads

With so much clean up, cutting back and dead-heading to do in the fall, you just can’t quite get to everything, but once the weather doesn’t cooperate to allow you to finish your work, the resulting image in the landscape can be quite enchanting. This Jerusalem Sage was never cut back after blooming, but capped in a light dusting of snow, it is truly elegant.

NOW, COMES THE HARSH REALITY OF IT ALL:

Persicaria in the Soest Garden

“Overcooked spinach” is what one visitor said to describe the mess a cold spell can bring. A task that I meant to do a few weeks back suddenly rises up on the priority to-do list.

Cold damaged Daphne bholua

For the third year in a row, our poor Daphne bholua has, once again, suffered from an early frost and cold damage. This species typically begins blooming around Christmas time for us, but the past few winters have been so unforgiving, we just pray that it recovers and is allowed to branch out and flower again next year.

Cold Damaged Edgeworthia chrysantha

A relative of the Daphne is the beloved Chinese Paper Bush or Edgeworthia. Each winter, since it was planted, the cold seems to damage the buds as they form so very few flowers are produced. Ideally, the plant would have formed its buds over the summer and into autumn, the foliage yellows and drops and by then, the plant is prepared for the onset of cold temperatures and the buds continue to develop and flower beginning in early February or so. The problem has been: the foliage never fully yellows so the plant isn’t allowed to go into a proper dormancy before the cold sets in; therefore, the buds are further damaged. Seeing these fuzzy undeveloped buds that still look plump and firm gives us hope that they’ll mature properly, but the fact that it isn’t even officially winter yet worries me.

There’s a lot to see and observe at CUH right now, but one of the highlights is a exciting brand new plant (you didn’t think I’d end this report on a sad note, did you?) we’ve acquired as a container specimen for Merrill Hall Commons. Though being advertised as hardy and suited for our mild Seattle climate, this relative of a fairly common houseplant has been the talk of plant aficionados around as the grower who was introducing it accidentally “leaked” a few specimens to local nurseries and we managed to secure one prior to its wide distribution. This is the stunning and elegant Taiwanese Umbrella Tree botanically known as Schefflera taiwaniana.

Schefflera taiwaniana

Like any new and exciting plant we acquire for our collections, I like to think of each one as a gift to the public: our visitors who come near and far to enjoy the surroundings and admire the work we do here at CUH.

I want to dedicate this Schefflera to you all and hope you have a chance to see it here or acquire it for your own garden in the near future.

On behalf of UWBG and the entire grounds staff here at CUH, I want to wish you all a warm and happy holidays and an exciting new year!

Cheers,

Riz Reyes
Soest Perennial Display Gardener
UW Botanic Gardens – Center for Urban Horticulture

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November 2010 Plant Profile: Osmanthus fragrans v. aurantiacus

November 14th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

In the three years I’ve expected it bite the dust, this plant has survived our winters and we’ve enjoyed the fruity scent from this form of Sweet Olive every autumn. Osmanthus fragrans is a popular shrub/small tree in the warmer regions of the United states (USDA Zone 8 +) and in China, where it is highly revered and its scented autumn blossoms are used to scent and flavor tea. This orange flowered form aurantiacus is not as common in the United States and it’s also not known to be as hardy. So, it was surprising to me that our two large specimens in the Fragrance Garden are thriving. Perhaps the fact that we started with large specimens, are enclosed by other plantings and are against a southwest facing wall contributes to their success OR I’ve even began to wonder if this isn’t aurantiacus, but a selected named cultivar of O. fragrans that is truly hardy and well worth propagating to see if it’s something we can recommend to gardeners in the Puget Sound region. We can grow straight O. fragrans, but it really requires a protected location and benefits from the radiated heat from a nearby building or paved surfaces. Instead, I’ve recommended gardeners seek out a cross known as Osmanthus x fortunei to plant in their gardens. It is very much like O. fragrans, but with broader, darker green leaves and larger, more profuse flowers with the same apricot-like scent. You can read more about it here. For now, just follow your nose during your next visit to CUH and admire this plant in person.

Common Name: Sweet Olive
Location: Fragrance Garden
Family: Oleaceae
Origin: China
Height: 12-20ft.
Spread: 4-6ft.
Bloom Time: Late October throughout November.
Bloom Type/Color: Axillary flowers arranged fairly densely throughout plant.
Straight species is a creamy yellow, but this a rare orange form and supposedly not hardy selection of this species.
Water/Soil: Well drained, moderately moist.

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July 2010 Plant Profile: Cornus elliptica

July 8th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Taxonomically confusing and undecisive, but I am so enamored by this small tree from China.

We have this stunning specimen growing here at CUH (within the Fragrance Garden, though it’s not fragrant at all) and, each June-July, I stare in amazement at the glossy evergreen foliage blushed in deep red and bronze with a smattering of star-like bracts that cover almost the entire tree from top to bottom.

Cornus elliptica habit

Cornus elliptica in flower

Cornus elliptica

This tree has been referred to as:

Cornus angustata
Cornus capitata
C. capitata ssp. angustata
C. capitata var. angustata
Cornus kousa v. angustata (this is how we currently have it labeled)
C. kousa v. angustifolia
Cornus elliptica
Dendrobenthamia angustata

Potential graduate work to sort all this out? Oh you betcha!

Now, there’s a plant in commerce called ‘Elsbry’ trademarked EMPRESS OF CHINA. that was selected by John Elsley. While available at a few nurseries here in Seattle, he’s worried that we might not have the heat in the summer to get this plant blooming here in the Puget Sound area, but with our evergreen dogwood at UWBG, perhaps that’s the one that we should be propagating and distributing to gardeners here.

Come see this gorgeous tree in person soon as the bracts could fall in a matter of days with the heat wave we’re experiencing!

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CUH Update May 2010

May 7th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

May is always an abundance of activity in the garden. Whether April’s on and off showers played much of a role in how many plants are blooming right now, each year we’re overwhelmed with the work as temperatures begin to warm up and just about everything calls our attention; people make requests for things (they ask more questions and are more curious and observant about a lot of things like the endless weeds we’ve been trying to stay on top of) and even the plans themselves demand that they get the cutting back, pinching, top-dress of compost and irrigation they require in order to perform their best. It’s an ongoing challenge and with three part time gardeners overseeing all of CUH Grounds and the Union Bay Natural Area, we truly try our best with the time and resources we have.

The Fragrance Garden in early May 2010

Amidst the chaos of choking weeds and a flurry of events and activities that occur at this time of year, the gardens and the plants themselves somehow manage to put on a tremendous show and visitors are constantly delighted by it all. With our recent changes and game of “musical plants”, the Fragrance Garden is looking fuller and far better defined. It still has a ways to go and a few minor planting schemes have yet to be implemented, but for the most part, plants are more appropriately placed and most everything is thriving very well. The Soest Garden next door continues to be the signature piece of CUH Grounds with its beautiful borders and captivating selection of plants. Bed 7 has got to be the most exciting bed as a jewel box packed with treasures. Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ is absolutely at its peak as are the dramatic stems of Disporum ‘Night Heron’ that seems to draw a lot of attention. We are also expecting the blossoming of a rare variety of the Giant Himalayan Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum v. yunnanese).

Bed 7 of the Soest Garden in early May 2010

Here is some eye-candy that should prompt a visit to CUH very soon because in a few weeks, they’ll be gone:

Tulipa batalinii 'Bright Gem'. A charmingly true and perennial tulip

Bergenia 'Bressingham White'. Lovely evergreen foliage and a nice floral showing in early spring.

Anemone Vestal

Anemone nemorosa 'Vestal' growing in the dry shade bed of the Soest Garden

The McVay Courtyard is in dire need of attention and direction as it needs to move forward with the next phase of its evolution. Phormium has had the toughest time the last two winters and I’m beginning to question their status as a perennial plant for the Northwest. Many people have begun to write it off as an evergreen perennial and simply treat it as an annual or a container subject. Even if phormiums die back down, they are fully capable of returning, but it takes a full growing season to actually get a substantial specimen and at that point, winter has returned. There are many potential substitutions and ideas for replacement. So, stay tuned and find out what takes place in the next few months.

With a few weeks delay, we are still preparing for the arrival of a set of new introductions from Bloom of Bressingham. The beds themselves are really coming along with many cultivars under evaluation in full bloom for people to see. I would very much like to get a set of volunteers to help with these evaluations and perhaps help maintain the beds as well. If this sounds at all interesting to you, please contact David Zuckerman, our horticultural grounds supervisor at dzman@u.washington.edu. If you’d like to learn more about what would be involved in evaluating and maintaining “BLOOMS”, please feel free to email me: rhr2382@uw.edu. I will post our report on 2009 plants next week and, hopefully, the new plants will have arrived by then!

Well, the weeds are calling and the lawn is SCREAMING to be mowed and edged. I hope the two classes and meeting in Isaacson Hall and conference in NHS don’t mind the noise too much. The two weddings and 3 outdoor workshops this weekend will thank them.

Cheers,

Riz

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CUH Update April 2010

April 1st, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

April 2010

It’s finally beginning to feel like spring. Yes, we have our occasional bouts of cool temperatures that threaten the tender young growth steadily coming to the fore, but in true spring fashion, plants flaunt the floral frenzy that this season is known for. A new wave of spring flowering bulbs can be admired and adored here at CUH as they fill the air with their potent perfume. A mass of daffodils and fawn lilies take center-stage in the Fragrance Garden and the Daphnes are still going at it strong as they aren’t only blooming, but also pushing new vegetative growth for more blooms next season!

Nearby NHS Hall, we have a lovely, but often overlooked relative of the kiwi fruit, Akebia quinata ‘Alba’, that is so elegant and deliciously scented, no one really notices it. It is a vigorous deciduous vine (in very mild winters it can be semi-evergreen), but it is easily manageable.

In our efforts to promote and encourage research and education, a section of CUH grounds has been designated for a test plot we’ve referred to as the “Climate Change Garden”. Spear-headed by Prof. Soo-Hyung Kim, his graduate students and CUH grounds staff have begun to install beds that will feature genetically identical species selected for their biological responsiveness to temperature. Read more about it here.

Things are picking up momentum as I type so I’m eager to get outside and get on top of our cutting back and dive into some serious weeding. If we have a break in the weather, the Soest lawn is crying out for another haircut!

Ornamental grasses have begun to push their new growth so it’s time to get most of them cut back to allow them to develop. As always, we use our hedge trimmers to shear the grasses down to make the job go more quickly. Those trimmers are then put to use on the hedges themselves as our stunning Osmanthus delavayi also gets a haircut following their wonderfully scented white blooms.

April is also the month we turn on our irrigation system. In the next couple of weeks, the irrigation crew from UW Campus will meet with our irrigation specialist, Annie Billota, to check that heads are working properly and we cover the areas we need to be watered. We then set the frequency and just tweak it during the season as needed.

It is an absolutely great time to visit CUH as there’s so much to see, smell and admire. As many gardeners begin to brainstorm for their landscapes this year, our gardens are a wealth of ideas and fascinating plants!

Riz

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CUH Update March 2010: “Wow! Things are early!”

March 5th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

“It’s crazy!”, a visitor commented as I carefully weeded around emerging tulips and blooming lungworts busting out blooms and color we didn’t come to expect until later this month. It kind of has been crazy, but I told her to just enjoy and soak it all in.

I’m a bit irritated that I’m in the office writing this update when it’s bright and remarkably warm outside. haha. But it’s important that I get the word out to encourage EVERYONE to visit the Center for Urban Horticulture this month. So many of our winter blooming treasures are still present while a surge of spring bloomers are coming up WEEKS ahead of their usual bloom times.

The Magnolias (M. ‘Leonard Messel’) are in full peak bloom as are the daffodils in the Soest Garden. Our plant pick-of-the-month is a gorgeous kaufmanniana species tulip called ‘Ancilla’, also in the Soest (Bed 6). Of course, we have to keep in eye out for those plants just coming up that present themselves as a buffet to pesky snails and slugs that can dessimate a stand of plants. We use the safe and environmentally friendly slug bait called “Sluggo” to keep them at bay.

The Fragrance Garden is getting a bit of a makeover as we play “musical plants” and redesign the beds for a more cohesive appearance and to ensure that plants are appropriately placed for best growth. Come see the changes and watch this garden continue to evolve as you savor the wonderful aromas this landscape exudes. Right now, the daphnes take center stage and the vanilla/white chocolate scent of Azara microphylla is absolutely mouth-watering as it drifts in the warm spring air.

We have a new large specimen that has just recently been installed in the west entry of CUH. A mature Carpenteria californica was transplanted from the Aboretum and founds its new home here at CUH. It is somewhat gangly in appearance, but we hope it establishes well for us to prune it later on so it can continue to thrive. Carpenteria californica is a native of California, obviously, and it is an evergreen shrub with clouds of single white flowers that almost resemble species roses that bloom in early summer. It also has exquisite exfoliating bark and it is quite drought tolerant once established.

Our famous grove of Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) is in full, bright-yellow bloom and seems to slow traffic along NE 41st. Street! Soon these will leaf out and charge the whole character of the landscape!

Please drop by soon as the spring show is well underway. I’d hate for you all to miss it!

Riz

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