Saturday, October 31, 2009

One Tough Betty

As we all know, this time of year the focus switches to fall color, that sensational last show taking over the northeast before we close down for the winter. But I have to interject here to show off a rose that is one tough cookie. I admit roses are not as special to me as they are to many people, but when one is so reliable and relatively so easy it obviously deserves attention.

Lynden Miller is a internationally known public garden designer and I am lucky to say a good friend. A week ago or so she was giving a presentation of her new book, Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape at the Museum of the City of New York. She has transformed so many urban landscapes into precious and appreciated parts of our lives, necessary parts of our lives, and her guts and determination are brilliantly inspiring. She was showing pictures of gardens she has overseen the rescue and renovation of, including the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, certainly one of my most favorite spots in Manhattan. Lynden shared images of the garden when she began her work with the Central Park Conservancy in the early 1980's. Many of the flower beds were overgrown with weeds and you couldn't make sense of the original design, or even what was left of it. The images showed the neglect and decline over the years. And then amazingly enough, one photograph of the Burnett Fountain showed these roses. Rosa 'Betty Prior' is a modern floribunda rose, and amidst the messy green hodge-podge they lit up the bleak landscape with their perky pink single blossoms. Today the same roses are easily 30 years old or so and with regular pruning in the spring and deadheading through the summer they keep producing these amazing carmine-pink flowers until frost. That's what I call one tough Betty!

Keep in full sun in rich soil with clean surroundings and prune back hard to 10"-18" in spring. As always prune your roses above the nodes with 45-degree angled cuts so that emerging buds are all facing outward from the center of the plant. Prune anything less than pencil thickness and focus on getting as much sun into the central crown of the plant for best growth and flower.

Tree ID: Cornus florida

This is my neighbor's flowering dogwood tree, Cornus florida, photographed back in early May. Native to the northeastern US, I love these small ornamental trees in pretty much every season. The white-to-pink spring flower is pretty sensational, the "petals" of which are actually bracts. In a sheltered spot with full sun to light shade and in organic and nutrient-rich soil these trees will do well. Reference books list plenty of pest and disease issues like anthracnose can target these old beauties, but in the right spot with the right cultural care and little extra fuss I have found they can be pretty trouble free. They max out about 25'-30' tall and wide, and ultimately I think they are beautiful. Flowering dogwoods have a unique bark, alligator-like, which proves to be a helpful ID characteristic in winter. This is a specimen from my time in Massachusetts in 2006. Because of their wide range, in terms of space and hardiness, be sure to buy as local as you can for the best results.
They have a nice medium-sized leaf texture in summer and a proportionally pleasing framework to look at through winter. It's fall color comes early compared to the rest of the trees out there. Here are a couple shots of my neighbors tree again, these from mid-October.

Aquatic plants: tropical water lilies

As many of you out there in gardenland know, now is the time to get those tender tropical plants indoors for the winter. One of the great tropical plants in my summer routine which I have been meaning to write about are water lilies. Water lilies are known botanically as Nymphaea, and are found really all over the world: Australia to Asia, Africa, here in North America, and on and on.

These kinds of aquatic plants have roots that grow in soil under the water, and have to be anchored in and fertilized through the summer months when they are most active. Usually the soil is a dense clay and you top your containers with pebbles or stones, being sure to avoid covering the crown of the plant.
There are hardy species of water lilies out there that can go as cold as a Zone 3, but most of the ones you find at retailers are the tropical species and hybrids. For your all your plant buying be sure to make an effort to know the plant's cold hardiness. The USDA created a hardiness zone map that can be the most helpful when learning about plants and horticulture and especially when experimenting with tropicals in our temperate climate. It can help to show you the natural range for a plant, which then can help you figure out how to provide it with the best environment to thrive in your garden. To see what the USDA hardiness zone map looks like, and to bookmark it for yourself for the future, click here. Obviously with climate change and global warming zones are shifting and exceptions are present, but it is still an invaluable guideline as a gardener.
Most tropical Nymphaea are hardy to zones 11-12 which means they would be happily growing all the way down in southern Mexico. Tropical water lilies like a summer water temp between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit (at least!), and in order to over-winter want a winter water temp around 50 degrees. They really need exposure to full sun in order to do well, and placid water is a must. Potting and placing aquatic plants in a water feature can be really fun and easy and provide a great twist to your summer. Of course if I had/when I have a yard big enough to have a pond I would like to experiment with both the hardy species and the intriguing might-blooming tropical Nymphaea that are out there.
And mind you, these are not lotus, which are aquatic plants in the genus Nelumbo. Some people seem to confuse the two but they are really very different plants. Water lilies grow their foliage (lily pads) on the water's surface where lotus leaves sit above the water. The same goes for the flowers, with lilies much closer to the water's surface if not on it, and lotus flowers are much more upright. This is a lotus up at the New York Botanical Garden from back when I was a student in 2005. Anyway, I'm babbling.

This is a tropical day-blooming hybrid water lily. They are on their way out now, and didn't get as much sun as last year, but still strike me as being so beautiful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

morning commute, dawn, hip hop headphones

"That's it
Turn the page on the day, walk away
'Cause there's sense in what I say
I'm 45th generation Roman
But don't know 'em, or care when I'm spittin'
So return to your sitting position and listen, it's fitting
I'm miles away and they chase me
Show your face on TV, then we'll see
You can't do half, my crew laughs
At your rhubarb and custard verses"

The Streets, "Turn the Page", off the must-have album Original Pirate Material

Monday, October 26, 2009

Now that's what I call color

Aesculus parviflora is also known as a bottlebrush buckeye

Stewartia pseudocamellia is also known as a Japanese Stewartia

And here is a little Lagerstroemia indica, the common crapemyrtle, the cultivar 'Tuskegee'

fall in New York

a mature Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) above the gold fall color of Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum sp.), the spot of red is a Hydrangea still in bloom, evergreen Vinca in the foreground and lilacs (Syringa cultivars) in the background
The fall color is just beginning in the city and it is a magical time of year for New Yorkers. Above is a kind of linden tree (the genus Tilia) turning that fabulous bright yellow with it's branches dark and stately.

The main fountain at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park shows off a beautiful rainbow when seen in the right light.

Almost completely defoliated the crabapple (Malus sp.) allees are taken back to their mature bones for the coming winter.

From top to bottom: oak (Quercus sp.), crabapple (Malus sp.), Corylopsis (Corylopsis sp.)

The big oaks begin their rain of glossy leaves and acorns.

The Corylopsis again, a few days later, with the golden Polygonatum still hanging on and the rich green Epimedium and Helleborus refusing to give in to the trend.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

mum season

It's about that time of year again. The Korean chrysanthemums up at the Conservatory Garden (105th and 5th Ave.) are in bloom for the next couple weeks and you should be sure to check them out. Not at all like the "pin cushion" mums we find at the local florists, Korean mums are perhaps more of an old fashioned mum but just the same they are true perennials and fabulous. They can tolerate a cut or two during the summer, pre-August I'd say, to become nice and bushy and still put out their strong late October bloom. This pic is from last year because I keep forgetting to take my camera and get some shots on my way home from the office. But soon enough. Great fall color beginning to appear in the park, and yes, this years Korean mums once again the glorious fall show in the north end of Central Park. Take a walk and you'll be glad you did.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

morning commute mood

For those of you not versed in MTA signage the digital display on the train reads "Not In Service". sentiments exactly.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Travel notes: Colorado College Class of 1999 Reunion weekend, Colorado Springs, CO

This past weekend my 10-year college reunion allowed us the chance to blow this pop stand and head back to the mountains, to Colorado Springs, CO, home of The Colorado College. Checking the weather before our trip we read about the chance of rain and snow and low temps and packed accordingly. We arrived Friday afternoon to clouds slowly burning off the mountains and a relatively dry landscape so we thought maybe we got lucky. That night the skies clouded over again and coated the Springs in moisture. That moisture froze to ice, and stayed for the duration of the long weekend. But that didn't matter much. We were back in the glorious Rockies, at the base of Colorado's front range, and it felt good.
We wanted to be close to campus so we didn't have to rent a car. That would prove to be a smart move as Saturday alone there were way too many car accidents to count between the Springs and Denver, about an hour and a half to the north, all due to the unexpected ice storm. We stayed at the exclusive Club EL only a few blocks from my freshman year dorm. Friday night we met up with my junior and senior year roommate, Bob Pokorney, his girlfriend Jody Peterman, my other long time partner in crime McB Smith McManus, her husband John, and we decided to ease into the weekend with dinner at Phantom Canyon downtown. As we expected the food and microbrews was as excellent as we had remembered. Following that we would head over to Jack Quinn's to meet up with the rest of the class of 1999. So it wasn't until Saturday morning that I finally got to show my love around the old stomping ground. It was sensational to be on campus again and see that much of it was unchanged. The fall color was starting, the students still an interesting intellectual bunch, the natural beauty still very much there, even though covered by a heavy quilt of grey.
From my perspective as a horticulturist I was loving to see how the trees around campus had grown over the ten years.
I was thrown right back in time, remembering and visualizing the amazing classes and art installations, campus events and their leaders, fun characters, and free thinkers. It was just a shame the clouds wouldn't let up.

There were things like hardscaping changes but for the most part it was the same ol' CC we know and love. Places like Bemis Hall...
...and McGregor down on the lower portion of campus.
Of course Shove Chapel was still grand and spiritual and centering.
Shove Chapel has a side space where I was allowed to make on of my best art installations to date. It was a summer block about ancient Mesoamerican religions with David Carrasco, a genius visiting professor, and preseason for my senior project, a cultural ethnography of the history and ritual behind Los Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican Days of the Dead. For my final I created a sacred alter space. An indigenous alter of my own design intentionally perched within the societies idea of sacred and spiritual space it was an homage to how we all search for our own center of the world. I was never able to record it in any way (photo, video, etc.) which is a shame because it was a great marriage of rough elements creating formal ritual and beauty, complete with green bananas and broken radiators.

Tons of new landscaping all over campus looked great, like these grasses and shrubs where the stairs to Packard Hall used to be, one of Bob and my favorite skate sights those years ago. Today of course I preferred the sweeping plantings and big swaths of color and texture.
The courtyard at Packard Hall
It was definitely a little icy everywhere you went.
Pennisetum Popsicles anyone? (forgive me, I couldn't help the bad horticultural humor. ...humor?!?)
One of the best new additions to campus was the Cornerstone Arts Center across from Packard. I foolishly didn't get shots of the interior, but the facility and design of the space are no doubt huge and necessary improvements for the Art Department. Not to mention the venue for our Saturday cocktail hour before the classic CC Homecoming Dance on Armstrong Quad, both ridiculously fun affairs.
Of course no trip to Colorado College would be complete without a meal at Wooglin's Deli. Felis femina waiting for our breakfast sandwiches of egg, cheese, bacon, and croissant, in other words, heaven.
Then it was on to the bookstore with the ol' gang to get geared up in true Tigers fashion. ...well, that and another excuse to be totally silly and geeky with my dearest old and new friends.
GO TIGERS! Hahahahaha!!!

This is us chilling outside Worner Center, literally! Jody Peterman, Bob Pokorney ('99), McB Smith McManus ('99), John McManus, and Krissy Dunkle. And at the Saturday lunch we got to catch up with Renee Mackey ('97) and her adorable kids, Keenan (pictured here) and Sienna.

We also got to meet one of the newest and cutest of the next generation, Paul Wilson and Shea's little cutie, Otis.

L. to R.: Julia Nelson ('00), Paul Wilson ('99), Dana Stone Harris ('99), Bob Pokorney ('99), Jody Peterman, Megan McDowell ('00), and yours truly, Alex Feleppa ('99) with Renee's little Sienna Mackey there in front.
Paul and Mister Otis bundled and ready to dash to the next event.
Sunday the Springs quieted down a bit, or at least the lovely leftist little bubble I called home for four fabulous years. So we decided to take a Tejon stroll. You see, Tejon is the street that goes south to downtown C. Springs straight south from the center of CC campus. Freshman year I would take a Tejon stroll every night, a nice long walk by the mountains side to end the day and wind down before the next day's adventure.
It was the best to be able to share this weekend with my fiancee and introduce her to another part of Colorado. This Episcopalian church at the intersection of Monument I always liked.
...and it's statuary.
As you can see the plantings were still a bit frozen.

I especially loved the frozen annual Geranium.
We went on to Jose Muldoon's downtown in honor of our friend Custom who couldn't make it to the reunion this year. The margaritas were superb, the food delish, and the Broncos won in overtime. Our mini vacation was amazing. And to top it all off Pikes Peak finally decided to show it's face Monday morning before we had to head out and back to the northeast.

Well, maybe the adventure of trying to get home wasn't necessarily "amazing", what with the hydraulic leak, absense of crew, delays, missing luggage, and 15+ hours stuck inside various airports and planes. But in the end we did finally get home, safe and sound, and eager to figure out our next trip to the mountains. Hmmm, maybe honeymoon!?!?