Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seed Savers Exchange visit

I figured while I was in Iowa (for the International Master Gardener Conference) I should visit Seed Savers Exchange, an organization I hold in high regard. This idea of proximity only makes sense in the context of my drive through large portions of the Midwest, because it took me about 6 1/2 hours, including short stops, to drive from Council Bluffs to Spillville, where I had a B&B booked. Then the next day I drove fifteen minutes or so further on to north of Decorah, where SSE has their farm.

SSE promotes and practices the saving of history: heirloom vegetables, flowers, fruits, animals, and whatever else comes their way. The organization is actually spread throughout the country and the world, and I could have visited it by finding one of my most local Seed Exchange members, someone who's listed in SSE's annual directory of seed savers offering heritage seed for sale. Or I suppose really SSE is as close as my own garden, since I've bought seeds from them and grown them out. I am a member of SSE, but I don't list seeds - generally I only save enough to give out locally. Members get the big directory (as opposed to the smaller publicly-available catalog, which has quite enough in it for most people really) and discounts on merchandise.

Anyway, local is important, but a national headquarters has a vibe, so I went. Aside from the snazzy visitor's center, SSE HQ is a working farm, with seed preservation gardens tucked away in corners for less contamination by foreign pollens. I didn't get to those gardens on this visit (some of the trails were out, due to summer flooding), but I did manage quite a hike after seeing the demonstration and trial gardens close to the parking area. Photos below.

View of Diversity Garden and buildings
Sorghum in trial garden
Spectacular cleome
Diane's Garden, with sun effect
View through Diane's Garden to barn
Ducks and geese
Heirloom cattle
The cattle (Ancient White Park, described here) were very curious about me as I walked a 3 3/4 mile loop around their pasture. It was good to stretch my legs a bit before driving the rest of the day (all the way to Indiana, yikes).

I've been home almost two days now - it's good to be back and not driving so much! Not much gardening in sight immediately as we've just had a big rain front go through and it looks like a hurricane will be passing by this weekend, but at least the plants are finally getting watered? It never rains but it pours, yup.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Missouri Botanical Garden

Several days ago I went to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. (I've since spent the weekend in Kansas City and am now in Omaha, NE, but have finally managed to get around to updating.) I was looking forward to the visit a lot, since the garden has a stellar reputation and I'd used their online educational resources many times, and it did not disappoint.

Here are some photos I took, which cover but a few of the many places in the garden.

The garden has Victorian origins, and I like how they honor that in various places throughout with formal and informal beds in outrageous colors. This is near the entrance, but there's a whole Victorian District that I probably only took one photo of.

Cute little cactus.

Entrance to the rose garden (one of the rose gardens). That's a glass sculpture in yellow.

More glass inside the big tropical conservatory. I took a similar photo at the Lewis Ginter garden in Richmond. It's a thing, I guess.

There's a whole separate temperate conservatory, which is where they put the plants they wish would live outside in the winter but which just don't.

In the big WONDERFUL home demonstration garden area, an accessible garden plan.

Part of the vegetable garden in the same area: okra and Malabar spinach, cornering the market in mucilaginous textures.

I was just amused that the aggressive annual vines covered up the educational composting sign. Whoops!

View across the lake. The Japanese garden is along its edges.

George Washington Carver has his own garden, through which he is forever striding.

View of the hedge maze from the observation tower (which I went up first to figure out the pattern so I wouldn't make wrong turns).

Part of the herb garden: big recipe cards. This is a great idea which I may steal for the demo garden.

My homie Linnaeus.

Other things I really liked: the big children's garden, with plenty of room for running around, a treehouse playground, a cave, and lots of educational tidbits snuck in; and the little snippets of experimentation within all the lush beauty, detail and careful maintenance. There were quite a few signs basically informing the visitor "We don't know for sure if this will work (with the climate, soil, or other circumstances) but hey, let's give it a try!"

Absolute must-see when you're in the St. Louis area.

Friday, September 18, 2015

University of Kentucky Arboretum

I was in Lexington, KY a couple of days ago (part of my Midwest Adventure that will culminate in attendance at the International Master Gardener Conference; I'm tweeting the journey @ericahsmith) and since it was a lovely day I decided to spend time at the University of Kentucky Arboretum. (Incidentally, Lexington is a place where I imagine visitors from the British Isles doing a lot of double-takes, since there are big UK signs everywhere. But I digress.)

The Arboretum is free to visit and is a good place for a walk or a jog, which is what I saw a lot of people doing; I may have been the only one there looking at plants. But the loop path around it is actually a botanical journey called the Walk Across Kentucky, documenting in plant life the various regions of the state: Bluegrass, Knobs, Pennyrile, Appalachian Plateau, Cumberland Mountains, Shawnee Hills, Mississippi Embayment. You can stay on the paved path or take side paths to explore. There's also a wooded area (in which they are suffering an invasion of Euonymus fortunei or winter creeper, and trying to battle it). It takes an hour or two to do the whole thing.

This is not a polished or meticulously labeled exhibit, but an out-in-the-open reproduction of nature. There are interpretive signs on entering a new area:

This particular sign mentions, among other plants, cane or American bamboo (Arundinaria gigantea) which I really knew nothing about, so it was fun to walk through a canebrake:

I didn't get very good photos for the most part, since it was a sunny day, but here's a section of Pennyrile wildflowers:

And a nice view:

There are more traditional garden areas as well - nothing out of the ordinary (though I didn't go into the children's garden) but a nicely landscaped home demonstration garden, a vegetable garden in which MGs give lessons, and a large rose garden:

The sculpture in the middle is a memorial to the dead of Flight 5191 (accident at Bluegrass Airport in 2006).

Good place to visit if you're in the area and want to get a sense of what grows in the state. Probably useful if you're traveling to the regions it represents, too - alas, this trip I never got much off Route 64.

Friday, September 11, 2015

New beginnings and food forest visions

Oops! Haven't posted here at Rogue Eggplant in a good long while - even on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, since for the last couple of months the 15th hasn't worked out for me (same will be true this month).

Also, our summer has been taken up by a much-too-lengthy porch and deck construction project - lovely results, and I hope it will finally be over with the last electrical work tomorrow, but it's limited the amount of gardening that I could do in the immediate vicinity, in the areas taken over by piles of construction materials and stuff moved out of the way, and really in most of the yard during the time that the workers were there. Plus, a wet early summer has been followed by a horribly hot and dry later summer, and I was ill for a while, so aside from watering and a bit of weeding... I just haven't done much except in the community garden (which has been producing quite well). Therefore, not much to write about, and the yard is a mess.

However, the end of the summer (and a bit of cooler weather) has brought some new inspiration. I've barely dared to look at the Way Back in recent months - here it is, not looking too awful since I'd just mowed it:

but ALL of that grassy area is now Japanese stilt grass (an aggressive invader and not desirable as lawn). I think if we keep it mowed, we may be able to stop it spreading, since it's an annual that spreads by seed. (It's now in all the forest areas around here, where there was little or no ground cover before. And it grows equally well in sun.) If we wish, we could treat in the spring with pre-emergent herbicide, and then seed later with better grass and hope it takes.

Anyway, since my attitude toward lawn is usually "it's green, who cares," that's a minor issue compared with the condition of the former vegetable garden. Its sorry history: after a long period of increasing groundhog incursions, we put up a really good fence to keep out all critters including deer, and expanded the garden in the process - which would have been great if a) I'd been energetic about developing the expanded area in the first year; b) we didn't have such an incredible weed seed reservoir, rootstocks of elderberry and pokeweed, and fertile soil; c) we'd realized that the trees nearest the garden were getting tall enough to shade it. I gave it up for vegetables when the shade got too much, moved those operations to the community garden, and started planting fruit - but then couldn't keep up with the weeds. I have actually cleared weeds inside half to two-thirds of the fenced area three times this year, and it's still a horrible mess. Here's the worst part:

It would have been a possible project, if I'd had more time, energy, and mulch, but it's just a frustrating mess. And, poking around yet again yanking weeds and pulling morning glory off the fence, I came to the sudden realization that the fence is the problem.

Well, not the only problem, obviously - but it has become its own weed zone, with intractable roots and lots of nooks in between the three layers of fencing for seeds to germinate and grow. It also makes movement of plant materials, people, and hoses difficult - there's a water source inside the fence, but right now I can't get the hose attached to it outside the fence to water trees and so forth. And now that I'm not growing vegetables in there, I really don't need the fence as much, since individual fruit plants can be temporarily fenced until they're big enough to withstand deer browsing, and a deer fence doesn't keep out birds and squirrels anyway. (It also isn't keeping the groundhogs out at the moment, and I don't have the energy to figure out one more time where they're getting in.)

So: I'm taking it down over the course of this fall. (Actually I'm hoping that my able assistants will do this while I'm away the next couple of weeks, but we'll see. They have other projects, of which more later.) I've already put small fences around some of the plants that will be exposed as a result:

And my long-term goal for this whole Way Back area is to apply some permaculture principles to it, turning it into a combination of food forest and native plant garden. This means that, for example, I can let the damn elderberry grow in most of the areas it wants to, because I won't have to think "no elderberry inside the fence." I can try to maintain the existing black raspberry plantation, but if it ends up going wild I'll just learn to prune it with a weed whacker. I'll plant things that can take some shade under the trees that are already in place, and will put in some additional small trees and shrubs, plus perennials and ground covers, both food-bearing and non-. There will be a lot of experimentation to see what our animal friends snack on and how I can urge them away - some interesting hints in this book - and probably some heartbreak as plants are eaten or otherwise fail. I don't think it'll be easy, but it can't be harder than it has been.

Also cheering: in the middle of the weedy and neglected "fruit patch," even though some plants are doing poorly, others are thriving, especially the currants:

(Especially once I'd pulled the morning glory off them.) They really do like the shady conditions I have them in, and seem to like the soil. So definitely planting more of those (I hope they don't all get munched by deer). And the red and yellow raspberries didn't actually die, at least not most of them, and with the rethinking I now have a perfect place for the poor little fig tree that's been dragged around from pot to spot-now-under-new-deck to pot again. I'll wrap it up this winter and cross my fingers it survives, but it does have sun and a windbreak and room to grow now, so there's hope.

Many updates to come, with any luck.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The many colors of June

The June landscape is less riotous than that of April and May, but I've still got a near-rainbow of flowers to report for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

I don't see any red out there, but there's orange:

Coreopsis 'Creme Caramel'
And also the orange ditch lilies peeking out behind the blueberries:

Speaking of which, let's jump ahead to blue, and away from flowers for the moment:

Mm, blueberry season.

Other daylilies besides Hemerocallis fulva are beginning to bloom, though it'll be another week before they're plentiful. (I note, looking back at previous Bloom Days, that the same was true last year, but in 2012 there were lots of daylilies in mid-June. (No post in June 2013.)) Anyway, here's one (I don't have the name; think I grew it from seed in a mix):

More yellow in St. John's Wort:

And in the low-growing sedums in this shot of the front bed:

Accompanied by blue brodiaea (or perhaps triteleia), some thyme in the back of the tall sedum, and a pink annual dianthus.

Let's abandon the rainbow and move on into the whites:

An early-blooming hosta
And clary sage, edging over into pink
And there's quite a lot of pink:

Spiraea japonica, having survived yet another transplant



Rose campion
I used to have a lot more of the last - it's probably been weeded out too severely.

Finally, the purple-blues (no one ever agrees on those colors):

Stokes' aster

The lavender's in my community garden plot - look how huge it's grown. It's one of a half dozen plants there, all of which I grew from seed. Not sure what I'll do with that much lavender, but it's nice to have, and brings all the bees.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Blooms on a cool day in May

We're having a break from the heat, so it's lovely to go out and look at the flowers. Happy GBBD!

If you want to see what bloomed in the interim between April 15 and now, check out posts here and here. (Including pawpaws!) And here's what's blooming today:

Golden alexanders, Zizia aurea

Honesty, Lunaria annua

First orange poppy, visible for a hundred feet or so

One of the many celandine poppies, with bleeding hearts

A lone allium (guess I need to plant these again)

Unless you count this, but it's now called Nectaroscordum siculum

Still have a few bells of Virginia bluebells!

Sweet woodruff, almost done

Viburnum 'Winterthur' about to bloom

Purple ninebark, same

Red buckeye - documented this before, and in focus too, but can't help posting again

Bridal wreath spirea

Maple-leaf viburnum


Amsonia hubrichtii

Geranium maculatum
A nice selection, and I didn't even get the columbines and the mock orange. We'll see what June brings!