It looks like we’ve finally moved past our persistent winter at Plant Delights, as have many of you in much of the country. Yes, we feel for those of you living in more northerly climates who still have snow and will continue having frosts into early June. Interestingly, most of our gardening friends in the UK have experienced an exceedingly warm winter, along with those in northern Florida, who were just below the southern-dipping polar vortexes this winter.
Our last spring frost at Plant Delights was March 27, and the long range forecast doesn’t show anything below freezing for the remainder of the spring season…if you put any faith in long-range weather forecasts. Actually, March 27 isn’t too far off our normal average last frost date of April 1. Like carrying an umbrella to prevent rain, we attribute the predicted lack of late spring frosts this year to the installation of permanent heaters in all of our previously unheated hosta cold frames. We were simply tired of lugging portable space heaters into the cold frames with each late spring frost and waking up several times through the night to refill the heaters with fuel.
Here at Juniper Level, we see many signs of spring in the garden…hostas popping through the ground, early arisaemas coming into flower, and toad lily foliage emerging. We had to cover a few early-emerging perennials with frost cloth once last week when our temperatures dropped to 26 degrees F, but hopefully that’s it for freezing weather until fall. We might actually have a decent magnolia bloom this year, although our largest plant of Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ tried to open the day before we dropped to 26 F, so it was seriously frost-slapped.
After our colder than recent normal winter, it’s been interesting reading social media comments from around the country. Keen gardeners seem to be divided into two distinct groups…controlling gardeners who want to be assured that all their plants will perform exactly as they have been told or as the books indicate, regardless of the vagaries of nature. These are in contrast to garden gamblers, who expect the unexpected and are always pushing the limits by trying plants that may not grow in their climate.
Controlling gardeners like predictability, which by nature is the very antithesis of gardening. It’s winters like the one we just encountered that cause the most distress for these controlling gardeners, since nature is, at best, predictably unpredictable. Controlling gardeners are the ones who always strive for perfection based on an expectation that exists in their head. These are the gardeners who believe gardening books and magazines which list plant color combinations and themes for events, which will reportedly all flower together in perfect harmony. Most folks don’t realize that what flowers together in one region and even in one year will rarely do the same in a different climate or different year.
Our current spring is a classic case where you can throw most of your garden flower combination planning efforts out the proverbial window. Here at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, most plants in the garden are currently three weeks behind our normal timing in terms of emergence and flowering. Once the weather warms, however, the timing gap, compared to normal, will shrink as plants that normally don’t overlap in bloom will flower together. This creates combinations that we wouldn’t see in milder winters, when more favorable winter temperatures allow plants that received adequate winter chilling requirements (number of hours below 45 degrees F) to go ahead and begin growing much earlier.
Like a conventional game of chance, where gamblers always lose far more times than they win, garden gamblers are used to disappointments and find that a few occasional “wins” or gardening successes gives them an emotional joy that far outweighs their disappointments…we resemble that remark. Here at JLBG we often plant-out dozens of seedlings of a marginally hardy plant in the hope that just one plant will be genetically more tolerant of low winter temperatures. For a garden gambler, few things in life compare to these successful eureka moments.
So, what’s the point? The point is to relax and enjoy gardening, remembering that nature is always in charge. Life and death in the garden are no different than life and death outside the garden. Our options are to dwell on the sadness of death or celebrate the life that passed and embrace the next life that lies ahead. Death creates wonderful new opportunities, whether we desire it or not. The death of a large tree creates opportunities for a sun garden, while the death of a plant with a large footprint presents the chance for many, new, smaller-growing plants. To not accept gardening realities is to introduce stress into our gardening life…again, the antithesis of why most of us garden. We need to cherish everything in our gardening life as a wonderful opportunity. Of all the different plants we’ve tried to grow (48,000 at this point), we’ve killed 26,000. Focusing on the plants that didn’t survive doesn’t allow the celebration of the 22,000 successes.
Realistically, both groups of gardeners mentioned above have short memories, combined with an incredible gift of rationalization. We remember after our winter of 1984/1985, almost every camellia in the region was killed to the ground. Over and over, we heard gardeners claim they would never grow camellias again and they should never be planted in our region. That lasted about two years. After a short time, we rationalized it wouldn’t get that cold again, or wondered what would happen if a plant that died was planted in a slightly different location or soil type. As gardeners, this is what keeps us going. We’re reminded of the Ben Franklin quote…”I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”
Garden curator Todd Wiegardt and the Juniper Level Botanic Garden staff have been busy cleaning up our plant damage from the winter. Agaves were particularly hard hit this winter, due to the wet cold. We lost a number of trial agaves, but our older specimens fared pretty well, although they show cosmetic damage. Now is the time of year when we cut off those dead leaves, and cut the live agaves back to green tissue. Usually by late May or June, the rapid new growth will make the plants look as good as new in most cases.
We also perform lots of perennial cutbacks now to plants like salvias. We like to wait on the perennial salvias until the danger of late freezes has passed. Woody salvias like Salvia greggii are also cut back now, so they will have time to re-flush for the spring flowering season. Ornamental grasses, liriope, and ophiopogon should also be cut back now if the old foliage shows winter damage. Waiting until the new foliage begins to emerge will find you snipping off the ends of the new growth, which isn’t optimal for the plants appearance.
We also do quite a bit of grooming now of our evergreen ferns, just before the new growth begins to emerge. These are cut now, along with any other evergreen perennials that show winter foliar damage. Several folks have asked about hellebores, and we’ll repeat our advice…we always remove all of the old foliage, just prior to the first flowers opening. This makes the plant more attractive in flower without reducing the future growth of the plant by cutting the energy-producing leaves too early in the season.
Also, after the danger of severe freezing has passed, it’s time to cut the dead fronds from palms and cycads, which we’ve just completed here at JLBG. Remember that virtually all hardy cycads will lose their fronds below 12 degrees F, but should reflush within 4 weeks after the old fronds are removed.
There are plenty of plants, however, you also shouldn’t cut back now and that list includes hydrangeas, whose flower buds are hidden from view up and down those dead-looking stems. Also, until you’re sure if a shrub or tree has died back, don’t cut. Scraping the bark is a good way to see if the stem is still green under the bark, but be careful to actually scrape below the bark to see the green tissue.
Then of course, there is the bizarre ritual of crape murder, where mindless people destroy the appearance and health of perfectly innocent crape myrtles, simply because they saw a neighbor or uneducated landscape wannabe do the same. Something is out of whack when waterboarding is illegal, but we have large numbers of recidivist crape murderers running free in area subdivisions without so much as a chainsaw ankle bracelet. Obviously, the SPCP (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants) needs better lobbyists to get this insane practice criminalized.
We’ve recently increased our social media interactions. We’re posting more frequently on our Plant Delights blog, which in turn, will also post to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. For those who don’t participate in our conversations on Facebook or other social media, you may now subscribe to our PDN blog using the subscribe button to the right of the posts on the PDN blog page. We’ve also created new boards at Pinterest for Plant Delights Nursery so if you participate in social media, follow us at Pinterest as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
We’ve created a social presence for Juniper Level Botanic Garden now that we are moving forward to obtain a 501(c)(3) designation for JLBG from the Internal Review Service. JLBG was recently recognized as a non-profit entity by the State of NC so we’re excited to be taking steps to preserve and endow the Garden for future generations. We’ve added social media options for you to follow JLBG on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter. Please check out the initial posts from JLBG and stay tuned to our progress as we move JLBG into awareness as a non-profit foundation and special destination for plant lovers and serious plant enthusiasts.
You’ll notice on the PDN website that we’ve refreshed the PDN logo (see it at the top of this email, too) and we’re also working now to completely change the format and content of the JLBG website. By June you’ll see a new JLBG website with a new look and logo.
We’ve also updated many of our email contact addresses to shorten our response time to your emails. Instead of sending all inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org, please, going forward, use the emails listed below:
- email@example.com – purchasing, ordering, and shipping inquiries
- firstname.lastname@example.org – office/accounting inquiries
- email@example.com – social media inquiries
- firstname.lastname@example.org – use of PDN and JLBG images
- email@example.com – media contacts/interviews
- firstname.lastname@example.org – employment inquiries
- email@example.com – information about growing plants you purchased from PDN
- firstname.lastname@example.org – volunteering at JLBG
- email@example.com – nursery inquiries
- firstname.lastname@example.org – speaking/lectures/teaching/symposium requests
- email@example.com – visitation and tours
We are pleased to announce that we will be hosting the summer meeting of the Southeast Palm Society at Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden on Saturday August 9, 2014.
All members and guests interested in this wonderful group of plant people may join us for the event…see the schedule below. To help us properly accommodate and provide lunch for everyone, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than July 1, 2014 to let us know if you will be attending.
Schedule: Southeast Palm Society at Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanic Garden
9:15-10:00am – History of PDN & JLBG (slide show in PDN Education Center)
10:00-11:00am – Explore Juniper Level Botanic Garden on your own
11:00-Noon – General meeting (Patio Garden)
Noon-12:45pm – Lunch at PDN, provided by PDN (must sign up in advance (Patio Garden))
12:45-1:45pm – Guided Tour of JLBG Palm Collections
2:00-3:00pm – Guided Tour of JLBG Succulent Collections
PDN and JLBG will be open to attendees from 9:00am – 4:00pm on August 9, 2014.
We recently received a note from our friend Dr. Charlie Keith of the Keith Arboretum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Dr. Keith, now 81, is looking for someone to purchase and run his amazing arboretum that contains probably the most diverse tree collection in the US. Interested parties may contact Dr. Keith through his website.
We also heard from NC Master Gardener Bob Kellam that the deadline is approaching to get your official NC Master Gardener license plate. Don’t miss this one-time opportunity. You’ll find more information here.
-tony and anita