Today was a nice sunny one with temperatures right around 32 degrees F.  Looks like they received quite a blanket of snow out East!  I heard it will be 36″ deep in Boston.  While I’m not a big fan of snow removal, I sure wouldn’t mind another layer out in the gardens.  Of course, that means the discouraging deer tracks will be more conspicuous!  I spent the day ordering plants and seeds although we had some nice volunteer help as well.  Pat continued to process lights inside and his system is working great for minimizing storage space.  Larry H. was out in the formal gardens collecting more lights off of the hedges.  Urban came in for some pruning and Bill O. was in later to help with some indoor projects.

This blog has an assemblage of vertical wall plantings that I’ve seen over the years.  There are much larger systems on the sides of buildings and that technology continues to improve.  However, those systems are usually “soil-less” with plants rooting in to an engineered felt system with plants being nourished by nutrient solutions being flushed down through the plantings.  I don’t pretend to understand all the technology behind this but check out Patrick Blanc and his work in this regard primarily in Europe.  He has a book as well and I’m amazed at the scale and scope of some of these urban systems.  The walls seen in this blog, like the one above seen at the Ball Seed Trial Gardens (West Chicago), require soil and plants root directly in to these frameworks or fabric pouches.  Above is a Woolly Pocket system although most of the other set-ups were constructed to not only handle well-drained soil (essential) and plants but the combined weight of those elements.  The proper construction, anchoring and maintenance of these structures is paramount.  See some examples further below.

 Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2012)
Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2012)
Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2013)
Ball Seed Trial Gardens (2014)
 Longwood Gardens (by conservatories) – those are bathroom doors!
same as above
 The remaining photos are all from the Buehler Enabling Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden




The winter months are a great time of year to appreciate some of the subtle (or not so subtle) contributions in the winter landscape.  Winter interest in our gardens is vital and may include ornamental grasses, colorful stems, ornamental fruits, colorful conifers and certainly ornamental bark.  This blog shows just a few of the many options out there for ornamental bark on woody trees which while a contributor during other months…becomes “front and center” in a winter landscape dominated by whites, browns and greys.  I should mention that some of these featured trees, like the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) seen both above and below can be touchy in terms of hardiness so be sure to research your selections for applicability in our climate and in your own landscape (soils, siting, sheltering, etc.).  Variable bark features may include descriptions like colorful, peeling/exfoliating, corky, knobby, thorned, etc. which to me, becomes a visual feature of interest and worthy of consideration.  Although some of the photos below are not taken in winter, I think you’ll be able to envision the “effect” this bark would have out in the winter landscape.

We had a nice turnout of volunteers today.  Larry O. and Bill O. worked on some snow removal as well as myriad other projects including bringing in our trash bins and other elements for winter re-painting.  Larry H. and Peg L. were in again to remove lights and cords from the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) layout in the gardens.  They have done a nice job and this specific duo has spent significant time out in the snow over the last four weeks!  Pat M. continued processing lights inside and has his system down “pat” (get it?).  Cindy came in to help with some office work and our Horticultural Therapy Committee met later in the afternoon. We also saw Curt T. and some others today.  I have started ordering seeds and plants in earnest as availability becomes a serious consideration as we head in to February.

 paperbark maple (Acer griseum) at Anderson Japanese Garden (Rockford, IL)
 three-flower maple (Acer triflorum)
 three-flower maple (Acer triflorum) at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI)
three-flower maple (Acer triflorum) at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison, WI)
river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’)


 Renaissance Reflection paper birch (Betula papyrifera) grove at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
 paper birch (Betula papyrifera) above and below


 China Snow Peking lilac (Syringa pekinensis ‘Morton’) both above and below


Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii) above
 persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
 hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) both above and below


 Eye Stopper corktree (Phellodendron lavallei ‘Longenecker’)
shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
 young trunk of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
 lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) above and two photos below
We had an impressive showing of volunteers this morning despite the snow showers.  We missed some accumulation yesterday but will probably end up with an inch or so throughout the day.  The East coast is sure going to get it bad!  Our mobile retrieval crew of Larry H., Larry O. and Peg L. went out to get more lights and cords and inside, Pat, Del, Dr. Gredler, Larry, Marv and others helped process lights and cords as well.  Del also helped tidy up the Horticulture Center and Dr. Gredler helped prepare handouts for one of my presentations.  It was nice to see Kay this morning as she came in to also help prepare handouts for the looming Garden Expo (  Organized by Wisconsin Public Television, this fun and educational event continues to get better every year and we’ll likely see over 20,000 people pass our booth over the three days of the event in February.  Check out the website for information on vendors, educational opportunities, etc.  We are selling advance tickets at RBG if anyone is interested.  Ron Y., Dave, Jim, Vern, Dick H. and Bob K. continued on some carpentry projects and we also saw Dave K., Gary, Kathy P., Dr. Yahr, Rollie, Bev D., Bill O. (#1), Bill O. (#2) and many others today.   Janice continued work on her research as well and I continue to chip away at duties, tasks as well as our spring ordering.
This blog is dedicated to the lovely Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) which we should see in about three months or so (hopefully!).  We have this hardy, native perennial scattered throughout our woodland walk garden and I always enjoy seeing the transition from the lacy foliage emerging in early April, to blooms starting in late April and ultimately the mature blooms as seen above.  You can see how these plants get their name and they look best naturalized in a partly shaded woodland situation with rich, moist, humus laden soils.  This graceful, early spring bloomer features the unique blooms on leafless stalks and while the double-spurred flowers are certainly small, they are definitely showy.  Avoid dry soils when planting this perennial and look forward to the exciting spring contribution that this plant provides before going dormant and disappearing by early July.




 early foliage
 early foliage
 early foliage
blooms just emerging (progress seen below…)






It was nice to get back in the office today although I certainly enjoyed the previous two days at the 2015 Garden Center Symposium / Midwest Perennial Conference in Waukesha, WI.  I hope my presentations were well-received and my shameless promotion of the gardens should hopefully inspire some future visitors and supporters!  I spent the day catching up on seed orders, presentation preparations and general desk work as winter is certainly not a slow time around here.  We had some great volunteer help today as well.  Pat M. was in to process more lights from the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) for storage and both Urban and Dr. Gredler continued to wrap up and store more of our thousands of drop cords.  Vern was in for some carpentry work and made some timely supply runs.  Dr. Yahr stopped by for a nice visit and we also saw Shirley C., Mary W., Kathy P., Chuck S., Dave T., Dorothy T. and some others.

I’ll never tire of promoting the ornamental calico plant (Alternanthera sp.) as they are excellent for adding foliage appeal to the full sun or part sun garden, border or container.  Alternanthera is a seasonal for us and is not winter hardy.  There are some very neat ones out there like ‘Red Carpet’ seen above.  The flowers of Alternanthera (sometimes called Joseph’s coat or creeping copperleaf) are unexciting but the variability in foliage coloration is well represented in this blog.  There are different species and hybrids and it’s important to consider the form and height of calico plant species/varieties as some are tight clumpers and others have irregular or trailing habits that might be more appropriate in compositions or containers.  Do more research on those of interest but realize they are another colorful tool in your design toolbox!

Alternanthera ‘Little Ruby’ (above and below)


 Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’
 Alternanthera ‘Brazilian Red Hots’
Alternanthera ‘Brazilian Red Hots’
Alternanthera ‘Brazilian Red Hots’
 Alternanthera ‘Brazilian Red Hots’
 Alternanthera ‘Red Threads’ (above and below with caladiums)


Alternanthera ‘Burgundy Threadleaf’
 Alternanthera reinickii (with light frost)
Alternanthera reinickii
Alternanthera ‘True Yellow’
 Alternanthera ‘Sommelier Chardonnay’
 Alternanthera ‘Gold Thread’ (above and below in full sun)


 Alternanthera ‘Sommelier Pinot Gris’
 Alternanthera ‘Raspberry Rum’ (sideways photo, sorry!)
 Alternanthera ‘Mai Tai’
Alternanthera ‘Crème de Menthe’
 Alternanthera ‘Party Time’ (above and below)


“GO” get some Alternantheras!
Today was overcast with some light snow/drizzle although we still had a nice turnout of volunteers.  I’m presenting both tomorrow and Thursday at the 2015 Garden Center Symposium/Midwest Perennial Conference near Milwaukee and look forward to networking as well as the presentations.  Janice was in to continue work on her Spring Plant Sale vegetable research.  Mark down Mother’s Day weekend (May 9th and 10th) for the sale although RBG Members can come to the pre-sale on Friday, May 8th and receive their 10% discount throughout the entire weekend.  Pat M. and Bill O. were inside processing lights and cords respectively.  We have a steady supply of Holiday Lights Show (HLS) elements coming back to the building and today, both Peg L. and Larry H. were out continuing to collect more lights and cords from various locations.  With snow possible later this week, we’ll try to collect what we can before the snow covers everything up.  Dr. Gredler came in to work on wrapping up cords as well. I caught up on various office duties and continue to juggle various tasks.  I’ll start ordering seeds in earnest this Friday and throughout next week.
All but one of the photos in this blog are of the ‘Sun King’ Japanese spikenard (Aralia cordata) which caught my eye about four years ago when it was introduced.  This hardy perennial can get 4′-6′ tall with a 3′ width in time.  Our specimens have been gaining size slowly but their impact was immediate.  Located in a partly shaded location in our gazebo garden (with ample water), we were rewarded immediately with bright gold, spring foliage coloration, chartreuse-gold summer color and this year, we saw some blooms.  The blooms, seen below, are “satellite-like” flower clusters that ultimately form berries. The second photo down is from the regular green-leaf Japanese spikenard (Aralia cordata) which also gets quite large!  Of course, the fruiting would be identical to ‘Sun King’.  This perennial has a “bright” future in our shade gardens!  The photo above shows a clump of five of these perennials at the Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL).


fruiting on Japanese spikenard (Aralia cordata) – green leaf form
spring foliage
 spring foliage
spring foliage
 summer foliage
summer foliage