UD horticulturalists see understated attractions of winter landscape

January 26, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The lyrics of “California Dreamin'” by John and Michelle Phillips are well known and appropriate for the season: “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”

Although many yearn to flee the First State during the long slog of winter, not everyone is dreaming of California. For every Delaware gardener poring over seed catalogs and wishing for spring, there’s another gardener like John Frett who’s outside every day enjoying the landscape, regardless of the weather.

Frett, the director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG), loves winter and spends time in his yard or the botanic gardens every day, all year long.

“I grew up in Chicago and lived in Maine for three years,” says Frett. “Delaware doesn’t know what cold weather is.”

Beyond a hearty constitution for the cold, Frett has an appreciation for the understated attractions of the winter landscape.

“The structure of the trees, shrubs and woody plants are more evident in winter when there are fewer things competing for your attention,” says Frett.

At the 15-acre UD Botanic Gardens, the leaves are long gone (evergreens excepted) so it’s easy to see that trees come in all shapes and sizes. There are columnar, round, conical, broad-spreading, upright-spreading, weeping and elliptical trees in the gardens. And a wide range of texture is now revealed, from the peel-away bark of the paperbark maple to the ridged and furrowed bark of the tulip poplar.

But it’s not just a lack of competing attractions that makes the winter landscape visually arresting for Andrew Olson, public landscape manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. He points out that the weaker winter sun casts a different light on things.

“The lower angle of the sun in the winter really highlights grasses and garden structures,” says Olson. “Even the silhouettes of trees ‘pop’ in the waning afternoon light. A garden or natural landscape that may seem brown and bleak can be spectacular as the sun rises or sets.”

Carrie Murphy, New Castle County horticulture agent for UD Cooperative Extension, notes that a landscape’s backbone is completely revealed in winter. “Everything is completely naked and the landscape’s overall shape and structure becomes a focal point.”

“I also appreciate how sounds move through a winter landscape — everything is much more audible — the whipping winds, rustling leaves and movements of wildlife,” she says.

Eileen Boyle looks for the small details in the landscape. “While the perennials sleep off the winter and the bulbs wait their turn, I am enjoying the daily show of the ferns, mosses and other little plants that are last to go dormant,” says Boyle, a horticulturalist at Hagley Museum and Gardens.

Fellow Hagley horticulturalist Renee Huber says that she appreciates the structure of beech and sycamore trees in winter.

“I always enjoy the sycamore trees against the Brandywine this time of year; they’re like gentle giants with white and gray blotched bark,” says Huber.

Sue Barton, UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture, likes the sycamore in winter, too. Other favorites include river birch, winterberry holly and the Emerald Sentinel variety of Eastern red cedar, which has vivid blue fruit.

Bob Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, admits that he doesn’t much like winter. However, he does appreciate the architecture of trees now, especially when they’re outlined by a wet snow.  He particularly enjoys sweet gum, tulip poplar and deciduous hollies.

If the winter landscape looks enticing — that is, until you read the forecast and hear the winds howl — Olson has just two words of advice: “get outside.”

“Put on some layers and get out there,” he says. “You will be so glad you did.”

Here are some of the things to see in the late-January landscape:

• At the Delaware Center for Horticulture’s gardens, which are free and open to the public, a bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’) gets lots of attention this time of year because of its intensely colored red and orange stems. Also look for the black pussy willow, which is beginning to display purplish black catkins. The Kentucky coffee tree, paperbark maple and river birch also look great this time of year, says Olson.

• Evergreen fans will want to check out the UD Botanic Gardens, which has a large collection of both conifer and broad-leaf evergreens. Native species include the loblolly pine and American holly. And you’ll find many other hollies — the UDBG features 50-plus varieties and is a test arboretum for the American Holly Society.

• At Hagley Museum and Gardens, snowdrops are in bloom in front of the Hagley residences and skunk cabbage is blooming in the woods and by the river. Boyle notes that the bright orange rose hips on old-fashioned antique variety roses provide perching and food for local birds.  Hagley arborist Richard Pratt loves Hagley’s osage orange in wintertime. “It stands like a large bronze sculpture with its deeply furrowed copper-colored bark on its majestic trunk and its crown spreading high and wide into the sky,” says Pratt.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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UDBG January Events

January 4, 2012 under CANR News, Events

January isn’t a great time to garden but it is a fantastic time to learn about it. Come join the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens this month for the following events:

“Small Flowering Shrubs” Lecture Series & Lab by UDBG Director and Professor John Frett
Lectures: Wed., Jan. 11, 18, & 25, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Lab: Sat., Jan. 21, 9 – 11 am
Members: $25 per lecture and the lab
Nonmembers: $30 per lecture and the lab

This three-lecture survey of small flowering shrubs will present cultural and landscape characteristics for a variety of evergreen and deciduous plants. The lab will view live plants and discuss more fully their characteristics.

Registration and pre-payment required. Lab is free if registered for all 3 classes. Credit cards will be accepted for this series.  Please indicate your payment method when registering.  If credit, we will contact you for card information. 

“Gardening in Small Spaces” Lecture by Horticulturist, Writer, and Artist Eva Monheim
Tues., Jan. 17, 7 pm
Members: $5     Nonmembers: $10

The trend towards smaller garden spaces does not necessarily translate to a smaller palette of plants and design ideas. Explore the potential for a closer bond with plants and people through inspirational design and creative use of plant materials. Eva will help you to think about developing or tweaking your own special retreat.

UDBG Book Exchange
Book Drop-off:  Mon. – Fri., Jan. 9-13, 9 am – 3 pm in 112 Worrilow Hall
Book Exchange: Tue., Jan. 17, 5 – 7 pm and Wed., Jan. 18, 11 am – 1 pm and 5 – 6:30 pm in the Townsend Hall Commons
Free. All are welcome.

Are you clearing your bookshelves to make way for new acquisitions? Bring us your gently used horticulture, landscape design, soils, etc. books and alternative media. You’ll receive credit toward selecting ‘new’ media at the Friends’ Book Exchange. For more information, contact Caroline Golt at cgolt@udel.edu.

For additional information on the courses and book exchange visit the UDBG website.   To register for classes, please email botanicgardens@udel.edu or phone 302-831-2531. Send payment to: UDBG, 152 Townsend Hall, University of DE, Newark DE 19716  

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Sept. 20: UDBG Friends meeting, lecture

September 14, 2011 under CANR News

On Tuesday, September 20th at 7pm the UD Botanic Gardens will host its Friends’ meeting and a lecture by Gary Smith.  Smith’s lecture is entitled “Unleashing Creativity in the Native Garden.”

Designers solve problems; artists raise questions. Step beyond “solutions” in garden design and find delight in a world where there are more questions than answers. After exploring a visual vocabulary of shapes, patterns, and processes, we’ll look at artists’ techniques for observing and recording it all. You’ll learn how to unleash the artist within yourself, making meaningful gardens that express the relationship between local sense of place and your own creative spirit. Artist, Landscape Architect, and UD Alum Gary Smith celebrates connections between people and plants, combining art and horticulture to explore ecological design and artistic abstraction. Current projects include the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Winterthur. Gary was an Associate Professor of Landscape Design at the University of Delaware from 1989-98.

Location: Townsend Hall Commons
UDBG Friends: FREE; Nonmembers: $10
Registration requested. To register: Email botanicgardens@udel.edu or call 302-831-2531.

Need a gift for that special someone?  Gary’s new book, From Art to Landscape will be available for purchase at $27.95, a 30% discount. Gary will sign copies following the lecture.

We’re sorry, but no credit cards will be accepted for the evening’s event.

Fall’s a Great Time to Plant!  Take advantage of the weather.  We will be open for business in the plant sale area from 5-6:30pm.

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Sept. 14: Plant Sale

September 12, 2011 under CANR News

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens has extended its fall plant sale.  The sale, held this past weekend, has added Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to its hours.  It is open to the University community and the general public.

The sale, which features groundcovers and a host of fabulous fall bloomers, will be held in the production area across from the Fischer Greenhouse, behind Townsend Hall on UD’sCollege of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus.

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Sept. 8-10: UDBG Plant Sale

September 9, 2011 under CANR News

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardenswill hold its annual fall plant sale, featuring groundcovers and a host of fabulous fall bloomers, from Sept. 8-10.

The sale will be held in the production area across from the Fischer Greenhouse, behind Townsend Hall on UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus.

UDBG Friends can enjoy a members-only day at the sale on Thursday, Sept. 8, from 4-7 p.m. To enjoy this and other benefits, visit the UDBG website.

Hours for the general public are Friday, Sept. 9, from 4-7 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 10, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens are open year around to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll. The gardens contribute to an understanding of the changing relationships between plants and people through education, research, extension and community support so as to instill an appreciation of plants in the landscape and the natural environment.

This article was originally posted online on UDaily.

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Sept. 6: Great Groundcovers

August 22, 2011 under CANR News, Events

Homeowners tired of fighting English ivy are invited to join Chanticleer’s Dan Benarcik as he presents “Great Groundcovers—Abundant Options” on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m., in the Townsend Hall Commons on the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus.

The talk is sponsored by the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) and the cost is $5 for UDBG Friends members and $10 for nonmembers. Reserve a place by calling 302-831-2531 or email BotanicGardens@udel.edu.

Benarcik offers aesthetically pleasing, regionally appropriate and culturally-suited options as alternatives to English ivy, Japanese pachysandra and liriope. Both native and responsible non-natives will be featured in the illustrated lecture that may have some replacing lawn areas with some low maintenance options.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens are open year around to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll. The gardens contribute to an understanding of the changing relationships between plants and people through education, research, extension and community support so as to instill an appreciation of plants in the landscape and the natural environment.

 

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UD Botanic Gardens announces events

August 2, 2011 under CANR News

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) has announced several late summer, early fall events to include classes, lectures, and the annual fall plant sale.

Programs include:
Dyeing with Indigo and Other Garden Plants: Saturday, August 13
Great Groundcovers–Abundant Options: Tuesday, September 6
Fall Plant Sale: September 8-10
Unleashing Creativity in the Native Garden with Award Winning Landscape Architect and Artist Gary Smith: Tuesday, September 20

For more information please visit the UDBG website (www.ag.udel.edu/udbg) and click on the Events & Education tab.

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Enchanting Butterflies

July 18, 2011 under CANR News

Sheila Vincent may be the only person in Delaware who gets paid to catch butterflies. Every summer day, Vincent heads out with a net and collects butterflies, caterpillars and larvae to stock Ashland Nature Center’s Butterfly House.

As group program coordinator for the Delaware Nature Center, Vincent spends the bulk of her time teaching natural history programs and only about 15 minutes with her butterfly net. “I really look forward to butterfly catching. It’s a bit of peace and quiet during hectic workdays,” she says.

Last season was a “spectacular butterfly season,” according to Vincent and this summer looks to be shaping up to be a good one, too.

“Most years, butterflies are abundant in Delaware from June through August,” says Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “Mid-July to mid-August is typically the peak of activity.”

But bad weather or insufficient food sources can be game changers. Two years ago, the butterfly season was lackluster because of too many cool, rainy days. Other times, host plants may not be well developed.

Delaware is a good place for butterfly watching. There are about 120 species of resident breeding butterflies in the state. Some entomologists make a distinction between butterflies and skippers – in which case, there are 70 species of butterflies and 50 of skippers. Named for their rapid flight pattern, skippers have small, angular wings and bodies that are proportionately larger than true butterflies, says Kunkel. There’s even a skipper known as the Delaware skipper because it was first spotted here.

But speedy skippers aren’t good for teaching purposes. Monarchs are Vincent’s go-to butterfly for nature programs, especially when she’s working with kids. Monarchs are fairly slow, abundant and easily recognizable. Her own personal favorites include the pipevine swallowtail, a relatively rare species that has orange spots and iridescent blue wings. Vincent also appreciates what she calls the “somber beauty” of the mourning cloak butterfly, which is dark brown with yellow borders around the wings and a row of blue spots.

The black swallowtail butterfly, which has distinctive yellow and bright-blue markings, tops Kunkel’s list of favorites. His wife grows herbs on their deck and always plants dill or fennel, which attract black swallowtails and their caterpillars. Kunkel also likes the Eastern-tailed blue. The males are usually light blue and the females a charcoal color but some varieties are pink or purple.

When Kunkel was a boy, he saw scores of Eastern-tailed blues in his yard every summer. That’s because his parents weren’t perturbed by a bit of clover in the their lawn.

“The caterpillars of Eastern-tailed blues feed on clover,” says Kunkel. “If you eradicate every piece of clover in your yard, I guarantee you won’t see any Eastern-tailed blues.”

Kunkel says he’s a “lawn guy,” who loves a carpet of green, but he’s happy to let clover or wild strawberries coexist with turf. He also can handle a little leaf damage on ornamental plants for the sake of the butterflies.

“Don’t get overly excited about caterpillars on your plants,” he says. “Yes, they’ll munch on some leaves but if you want butterflies, you’ve got to have host plants for the larvae, too.”

Vincent has incorporated plenty of host plants for caterpillars, as well as food plants for butterflies, into her New Castle yard. Her perennials include butterfly weed, milkweed, phlox, asters and goldenrod.  She also plants parsley and fennel in the ornamental beds to attract black swallowtails.

If your yard isn’t lepidoptera friendly just yet, there are other places to spot butterflies. To see the largest number, as well as the most species, choose a sunny, open location – like a meadow or field – that features plant diversity. Vincent recommends the meadow at Ashland Nature Center, Middle Run Natural Area, and White Clay and Brandywine Creek state parks.

Kunkel suggests the UD Botanic Gardens, which opened its Lepidoptera Trail in 2009. This self-guided interpretative trail showcases trees, shrubs, wildflowers and native grasses that provide food for butterflies and moths during both the caterpillar and adult stages. Right now, the Trail is abundant with butterflies.

Special events

• Open House in the Native Plant Teaching and Demonstration Garden will be held Monday night, July 18. Join Kunkel for a plant, pest and beneficial insect walk. Get your questions answered about butterflies, caterpillars and other insects. New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, Newark. 6-8 p.m. For more information, call 831-COOP or email cjmurphy@udel.edu.

• A Mid-Summer Night’s Stroll through the Gardens will be held Wednesday, July 20. Watch butterflies feast on natives on the Lepidoptera Trail and enjoy all the mid-summer blooms in the UD Botanic Gardens. Live steel drum music and light refreshments. 4-6:30 p.m. Reserve a spot by contacting Donna Kelsch, 831-2531 or botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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A Mid-Summer Night’s Stroll

June 13, 2011 under CANR News, Events

Be inspired and enjoy a Mid-Summer Night’s Stroll during the height of summer bloom in the UD Botanic Gardens on Wednesday, July 20, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Check out the next “must have” plant in the Trial Garden, watch the butterflies feast on native plants along the Lepidoptera Trail, and see the Herbaceous Garden awash in the colors of summer. This free event features staff on hand to answer questions, light refreshments, music by the Royal Palm Steel Band, and the opportunity to purchase plants found blooming in the Herbaceous Garden. Cash and checks only please. Join us in the Herbaceous Garden behind Townsend Hall on the UD’s South Campus. Reservations requested. Contact Donna Kelsch at (302) 831-2531, email botanicgardens@udel.edu or visit our website, http://ag.udel.edu/udbg.

View this article on UDaily by clicking here.

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Botanic Gardens tour highlights flowering magnolias

March 23, 2011 under CANR News, Events

Magnolias will be featured on the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens tour and at the annual plant sale.

When John Frett leads a guided walk of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens on March 31, he’s hoping to point out a few early blooming magnolias. More likely, though, he’ll head to the greenhouse to show off magnolias in flower.

Non-native magnolias typically start blooming in Delaware in April while the native varieties wait until May.

With plenty of other March blooms to enjoy — winterhazel, forsythia, hellebores and some dogwoods — why the rush to spot magnolias?

The walk is a spring tradition that highlights plants available at the UD Botanic Gardens Plant Sale. Along with winterhazel, magnolias will be a featured plant of this year’s sale, which is open to the public April 29-30.

Almost everyone loves magnolias. Frett, the director of the UD Botanic Gardens, is no exception. However, he’s reluctant to single out a best-loved cultivar or species. “It’s like picking a favorite child, they’re all fabulous,” says Frett.

Magnolias vary widely. The 80 or so recognized species include trees and shrubs; deciduous plants and evergreens; cold-hardy varieties that do well in Maine and others that flourish in the tropics. About the only thing they have in common are the distinctive, tulip-shaped flowers. And most — but not all — are highly fragrant.

Under Frett’s leadership, the magnolia collection at the UD Botanic Gardens has been expanded to 100 taxa of magnolia, with some 125 magnolias in all.

“The UDBG’s fantastic collection of magnolias includes a nice variety of native and non-native species and cultivars,” says Sue Barton, Cooperative Extension’s ornamental horticulture specialist.

Magnolias are widely scattered throughout the UD gardens but large groupings can be found between Townsend and Worrilow Halls, south of Townsend, and also north of UD’s outdoor pool.

In assembling the collection, Frett looked for a progression of flowering, from the earliest species, in April, to varieties that are still going strong in June. He also included rich and unusual colors, found in the hybrid varieties. In addition to characteristic pink or white petals, magnolia blooms can be light to medium purple, deep purple that is almost red, and yellow.

Barton has one of the yellow varieties in her backyard. “I bought the ‘Elizabeth’ cultivar from the UDBG sale a number of years ago because my older daughter is named Elizabeth,” she explains. “This tree will be covered with yellow flowers in about a month.”

Despite its name, “Elizabeth” isn’t Barton’s favorite backyard magnolia. That distinction goes to the native sweetbay magnolias growing near her patio. “They’re multi-stemmed so they help enclose the patio but you can still view through them so they don’t make it claustrophobic,” she says.

Carrie Murphy, the Extension horticulture agent for New Castle County, says the sweetbay is the top pick for most Delaware gardeners. “Including me,” she adds.

“The sweetbay magnolia is by far one of my favorite plants — it has beautiful late spring and early summer blooms and is lightly fragrant.”

But what Murphy really likes about the sweetbay isn’t apparent at first glance. “I love the underside of the foliage — when the wind blows and rustles the leaves, the silver underside of the leaves becomes visible and it’s absolutely gorgeous,” she says.

Several sweetbays have been added to the Master Garden Demonstration garden at the county Extension office in Newark. At the demo garden, home gardeners often ask for recommendations for small flowering trees and sweetbay nicely fits the bill. It prefers moist soil and some shade and even works well in wet sites. But it’s also adaptable to drier conditions, says Murphy.

Three cultivars of sweetbay will be available at the plant sale: “Mardi Gras,” with a butter-yellow variegated leaf; “Perry Paige,” a new dwarf variety only five to eight feet tall; and “Green Shadow,” a selection that Frett describes as “nearly an evergreen.”

Two other native magnolias will be sold, Magnolia macrophylla “Big Leaf Magnolia,” featuring huge leaves with a tropical feel and Magnolia pyramidata “Pyramid Magnolia,” which is considered rare. Also available will be three hybrids from native species, including two that originated from a cross with the native cucumber tree.

Guided walk

March 31: An hour-and-a-half walk through the UD Botanic Gardens, focusing on plant sale selections. 4 p.m. $5. Call 302-831-2531 or email [kelsch@udel.edu] to register. Maximum 35 people.

UDBG plant sale

Public sale hours are 3-7 p.m., April 29; 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 30. For more information, call 302-831-2531 or go to the UDBG website.

Article by Margo McDonough
Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be read online on UDaily by clicking here.

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