‘Earth Perfect?’ symposium to take place at UD, area gardens June 6-9

May 28, 2013 under CANR News

ApplecrossAnnette Giesecke is a professor of classics and chair of the ancient Greek and Roman studies department at the University of Delaware She also is the mastermind behind “Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia, and the Garden,” a June 6-9 symposium taking place at UD and several local horticulture venues.

It may seem unusual for a professor of classics to organize a horticulture symposium. But this isn’t a garden-variety garden conference. If you’re only looking for tips on pruning or growing the perfect tomato, you’ve come to the wrong place.

“’Earth Perfect?’ will showcase the garden as an emblem of the ideal human relation with nature,” says Giesecke. “Anybody who is interested in the importance and meaning of gardens, and the politics of gardens, will want to attend. It’s not just an event for academics and garden professionals.”

Frankly, even those of us who never stopped to think about the meaning of gardens – we just know we like them — may find the symposium worthwhile. The eclectic program includes a lecture by UD professor McKay Jenkins on the environmental and health risks of lawn chemicals. There’s a workshop on creating “night spaces” and another on designing with edible plants. You can learn about slave gardens in the antebellum South or contemporary urban vertical farms.

Keynote speakers include Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, and UD’s Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Mixed in with the lectures and workshops are special tours of Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer and the Mt. Cuba Center.

Giesecke, who has written widely about the gardens of ancient Greek and Rome, was inspired to create the symposium after co-editing a publication also called Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia and the Garden.

Sue Barton, an ornamental horticulture specialist with UD Cooperative Extension, is excited to be speaking at the symposium because she wants to get more people thinking and talking about her lecture topic — livable ecosystems as a model for suburbia.

What’s a livable ecosystem?

The easiest way to explain it is to say what it’s not – a livable ecosystem isn’t a chemically treated monoculture of turfgrass with a few non-native, invasive trees plunked down in the front yard, too far from the house to shade it in summer or serve as a windbreak in winter.

In other words, a livable ecosystem is a far cry from what many suburban yards look like today.

“The traditional home landscape contains a limited palette of plants, has large areas of regularly mowed lawn, and provides relatively few ecosystem services,” says Barton. “Forests and meadows, on the other hand, provide many ecosystem services.”

Rest assured, you don’t need to remove every blade of grass and turn your yard into a jungle to create a livable ecosystem.

Take, for example, the attractive new landscape at a home in the Applecross neighborhood off Route 100 in Greenville. It does look a bit different than the neighbors’ yards – for one thing, there’s a 6,000-square-foot meadow of native grasses. It also features a newly reforested area, adjoining an existing wooded tract.  Invasive plants have been removed and replaced by white oaks, blueberry bushes, ornamental grasses and other native species.

Grass plays a role, too, but it’s been bumped from star of the show to a member of the supporting cast.

“Turf on the property is used purposefully, for recreation areas, circulation, or as the green carpet that sets off other plantings,” says Barton.

The yard is part of a UD research project on livable ecosystems. “We want to see if replacing the typical suburban yard of mostly grass with one containing diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make landscapes more sustainable,” she says.

The Applecross property is one aspect of a multidisciplinary project involving five UD faculty members and dozens of undergraduate and grad students. Another research site is located at Winterthur, where the UD team is collecting water quality data in three streams that drain from three different landscapes – mowed lawn, meadow, and forest. They’re also collecting data on the diversity of plants, insects and birds in each of these settings.

If you won’t have a chance to hear Barton at the Earth Perfect symposium, you’ll have a second chance on June 14, at a Sustainable Landscape Tour. Sponsored by UD Cooperative Extension, the program includes a visit to the Applecross property, as well as a tour of a bio-swale and wetlands on the UD farm. Barton also will be hosting a shorter tour of the Applecross property later this season. To find out more about these Extension events, email Barton at sbarton@udel.edu.

To register for Earth Perfect or learn more at this symposium, call 831-2793 or go to this website.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Bloom season kicks into high gear for garden enthusiasts

April 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

In April, bloom season kicks into high gear in Delaware. In fact, it might be the single best month to get outside and enjoy the views at the area’s world-class gardens.

At Winterthur, the Winterhazel Walk will soon be the star of the show, reports Linda Eirhart, assistant director of horticulture for the museum, which features a 60-acre naturalistic garden in the midst of nearly 1,000 acres of land.

Delaware bloom season kicks off“The cold weather has held things back but before long the Winterhazel Walk will dazzle with its combination of soft yellow winter hazel and the warm lavender of Korean rhododendron. This is under planted with hellebores, which are still going strong,” she says.

These species are non-native but many of Winterthur’s native plants will soon be in bloom, too. Bloodroot is a sweet little perennial with pure white, cup-shaped flowers. You can find it in Azalea Woods and other wooded areas and thickets throughout the property.

Spring beauty is another little charmer, sporting white petals with stripes that vary from pale pink to bright pink. Like bloodroot, it grows in woodlands. Pay attention to weather conditions during your visit to Winterthur. If it’s warm and sunny, spring beauty will open its petals but on a cloudy day or at night the petals close up and nod downward.

Winterthur’s bluebells aren’t in bloom quite yet but the buds have appeared and will soon burst into bloom. Eirhart says that bluebell is her favorite native wildflower.

“I love the bluebell’s shades of blues and the touch of pink and purple you can get in the blossoms,” she says. “Between the color of the flower buds and the last fading flowers, there is a good length of time of color interest.”

Sue Barton also is a fan of Virginia bluebells, which grow in clusters near the creek on her property. “It’s fun to come upon a mass of bluebells while walking in the woods,” says Barton, who is ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

But it’s flowering redbuds, not bluebells, that signal that spring has sprung to Barton.

“The redbud has an extremely colorful, dark purple or pink flower and an unusual habit of flowers borne directly on the stem,” she says. “I like the ‘Forest Pansy’ cultivar because of its attractive bronze foliage.”

This small native tree grows wild in many of Delaware woodlands. As you buzz down I-95, check out the large stand of redbuds by the roadside, just south of Wilmington. For a more leisurely setting to enjoy redbud blooms, head to the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. You can find flowering redbuds there, and a whole lot more.

“In bloom, or soon to bloom, are a number of natives, including silverbells, fothergilla, serviceberry, redbud, dogwood and pawpaw,” says Claudia Bradley, nursery coordinator for the UD Botanic Gardens.

She is particularly fond of fothergilla and tends to it not only in UD’s gardens but also in her own home garden. “I always look forward to seeing the fothergilla in flower,” says Bradley. “I like its bottlebrush white flowers now and, then, in fall, its awesome red color.”

Mt. Cuba Center is another great place to check out spring blooms, especially since it’s expanding its public hours. Starting April 19, you won’t need a reservation to visit on Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (From May 3 to July 26, the gardens will stay open until 7 p.m. on Fridays.)  Guided tours will still be available by reservation on other days and times.

Chilly weather delayed some of the blooms at Mt. Cuba, just as it as at Winterthur and other area gardens. But now that it has warmed up, native spring ephemerals will soon emerge in Mt. Cuba’s woodlands, reports Jeanne Frett, a research horticulturist at the center. Look for flowering liverleaf, trout lily, bloodroot, rue-anemone, cut-leaf toothwort and Dutchman’s breeches.

Trees and shrubs also are starting to bloom at Mt. Cuba. If you’d like some April flowering shrubs in your own yard, Frett suggests American bladdernut and spicebush.

“Both of these are found locally in the woodlands and at Mt. Cuba Center,” says Frett. “They’re very appropriate choices for creating your own naturalistic gardens using locally native species.”

Spicebush is one of Delaware’s most common native shrubs. On the female plants, small clusters of yellow flowers appear now, and later develop into red fruit. American bladdernut isn’t the most beautiful April bloomer but it could be the most interesting.

“More of a curiosity than a specimen shrub, the American bladdernut has bell-shaped flowers that develop into three-lobed, inflated, brown papery capsules later in the season,” says Frett.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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UD professors gear up for study on lawns, water quality and ecosystem services

October 6, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Taking a fresh look at water quality management, a University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) research team is studying how the replacement of urban lawns with more diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make our landscapes more sustainable.

The researchers have been awarded a $595,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will be working at the Winterthur Gardens on their project.

Shreeram Inamdar, CANR associate professor of plant and soil sciences, is the principal investigator and the research team includes Doug Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; Susan Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape horticulture and design; and Joshua Duke, professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

One of the main goals of the three-year study, funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) National Integrated Water Quality program, is to try to curb water pollution at its source — preventing pollution in the first place rather than waiting to treat contaminated water before it enters waterways.

“In the past, standard water quality management has focused on intercepting dirty water before it gets into water systems,” explained Tallamy. “We’re doing the opposite — we’re trying to keep the water clean from the start.”

The researchers believe this can be accomplished by shrinking the lawn and replacing it with more diverse vegetation, thus reducing fertilizer and herbicide inputs and enabling water filtration, which will lead to less storm water runoff and cleaner water.

Diverse vegetation also is expected to provide other natural ecosystem services — such as carbon sequestration, preserving biodiversity and natural pest control — that are associated with mixed vegetation landscapes.

Inamdar noted that the ability to look at both of these aspects is a unique opportunity for the researchers. “One of the great things on this proposal is that we get to look at water quality as well as ecosystem services,” he said. “Not many projects take that view, so I think that’s a very novel approach.”

To conduct the study, the group will be comparing watersheds with different vegetation types at Winterthur.

Barton explained that the group will look at runoff from different types of watersheds at Winterthur — one site will be a mown turf field that will be managed in the manner of a residential lawn and the other will be primarily forest and meadow.

By doing this, Barton explained, “We can directly compare these two streams, which are very close to each other, under the same weather conditions. One gets the residential lawn runoff and one gets the diverse landscape runoff.”

The team has also secured a local homeowner’s landscape for the research. Bruck said the property will be “used as a test garden, and will become a demonstration garden to show these different sustainable principles and practices.”

Barton noted that public tours of the sites will eventually be offered.

Planting will begin next spring and as soon as the team gathers enough information and data, it will provide educational courses at Winterthur to disseminate key information to the public.

Tallamy said that making this information readily available is an effort to “change the status symbol. Right now, the status symbol is a big lawn and we’re trying to make it more diverse.”

This is also one of the main focuses of the Center for Managed Ecosystems, of which Tallamy is the director.

Duke’s role will be to determine how much it would cost a homeowner to manage their property in a more diverse manner, as opposed to how much it costs to simply manage a big lawn. Said Duke, “We suspect that it might not be that lawn is actually the cheapest way to manage things. It may be that it’s cheaper for an owner to manage in a more sustainable manner; they might just not realize it because it’s not the status quo.”

Undergraduate and graduate students will be involved in many aspects of the research, from helping the group gather information on water quality, ecosystem services and the economic implications to helping in the design of the more sustainable garden.

Bruck explained that students in her Basic Landscape Design course will “work through the design process to come up with demonstration plans that will be presented to the University of Delaware Botanical Gardens (UDBG) and then we’ll post the plans on our website, for educational purposes for other homeowners.”

For now, the team is gearing up for the spring and ready to get the study under way, hoping to improve water quality and change the status quo from large lawns to diverse, more sustainable ecosystems.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

Graphic courtesy Jules Bruck

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Where the wildflowers are

September 22, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Spring blooms may have their legions of fans but Sue Barton unabashedly favors the flowers of fall.

“Fall is, by far, the more interesting time in Delaware’s landscape,” says Barton, noting the juxtaposition of flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit in shades of yellow, red, orange, blue, purple, white and more.  Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, points out that the ever-changing colors make for a new and different landscape every week.

The autumnal equinox is Sept. 23 and the fall wildflower season already is shaping up to be a beauty.

“The fall wildflowers actually start around the end of August, are in abundance now, and continue through Thanksgiving, when the late-blooming asters put on final show of color,” says Barton.

Native wildflowers currently in bloom include goldenrod, tickseed, ironweed, goldentop, ladies’-tresses, some species of coneflower and asters.

One of the best places to see fall wildflowers is Mt. Cuba Center. Along the woodland paths and in the meadow you’ll find white wood aster, purple dome New England aster, golden fleece autumn goldenrod, fireworks wrinkle-leaf goldenrod, blue-stemmed goldenrod and showy goldenrod.

Other fall highlights include black-eyed Susan and two varieties of Joe-Pye weed, (Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’) and (Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’), according to Jeanne Frett, horticultural research manager of Mt. Cuba.

Plus, goldentop is abundant in the center’s meadow and ladies’-tresses dots the woods. One of Frett’s favorite fall wildflowers is Chelone, commonly known as turtlehead because the flowers are shaped a bit like a turtle’s head. The species that Frett prefers sports hot pink flowers and grows throughout Mt. Cuba’s woods.  She also likes Gentiana clausa,aka bottle gentian, which features vivid purple-blue flowers.

Winterthur Museum’s gardens also are a good place to check out colorful native wildflowers. The museum’s Quarry Garden woodlands feature asters and alumroot. Barton says that this woodland is a great place to observe the way that nature creates patterns in the landscape, such as the drifts of blooms often found under trees.

“For those plants that are dependent on distribution by birds, you’ll find a lot more plants directly under the trees or near the trees,” says Barton. “The birds distribute fewer seeds the further you get away from their nests.”

Barton enjoys looking for patterns — both natural and human-made — in the landscape. “There’s often an element of surprise, you wonder why a particular species is abundant in one spot and not another, and then you realize that the conditions are different in terms of moisture or sunlight or some other factor,” notes Barton.

“I like change in the garden and in the landscape,” she adds. “Natural patterns in the landscape provide that element of change, and so, too, do the varying colors of fall’s flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit.”

Mt. Cuba and Winterthur both offer wildflower walks. Events at Mt. Cuba include “Autumnal Wildflower Garden” tours through Oct. 2. For tour days and more information, go to www.mtcubacenter.org or call 302-239-4244.

At Winterthur, “Wednesday Garden Walks” are held each week; wildflowers can be seen on the Oct. 5 walk, titled “The Purple and Red of Sycamore Hill,” and on the Oct. 12 “Harvest-Time Hike.” For more information, go to www.winterthur.org or call 302-888-4600.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo courtesy Mt. Cuba

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Natural materials make great holiday decorations, even on a budget

December 15, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Six years ago, Americans spent almost $8 billion on holiday decorations, according to research firm Unity Marketing. That averaged out to $115 per household.

Hot trends included multiple Christmas trees in the family room, living room, foyer and beyond. Pam Danziger, president of Unity, said in 2004, “Families are spreading the holiday cheer to the bedroom too, with personal trees placed in each bedroom.”

My, how a recession changes things. Last year, the average household spent $40.75 on holiday decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.

But the size of one’s decorating budget doesn’t have much to do with the end result. Take Sue Barton’s greenery-bedecked home in Landenberg, Pa., which sports gorgeous, oversized evergreen wreaths on every door, lush evergreen magnolia in the dining room and an elegant arrangement of Carolina silverbell branches in the foyer.

These warm and welcoming decorations cost her about $5 annually — the price of florist wire, a can of spray paint and glue. Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, decorates her house with natural materials — greenery, pine cones, berries and more — that she collects in her backyard. Although Barton uses plenty of American holly and Virginia pine, she goes beyond such tried-and-true favorites and collects seed pods, native grasses and even red-twig dogwood branches to create out-of-the-ordinary decorations.

She’s been decorating this way for years and regardless of economic conditions, wouldn’t think to use store-bought wreaths. “I look forward to making decorations from the trees, shrubs and native grasses growing on my property,” says Barton. “It’s a lot of fun and a lot more relaxing than shopping for tinsel and garland.”

If you’re not the neighborhood Martha Stewart, no worries, it’s not that hard to make holiday decorations, says Barton. She creates her wreaths free-form, bending branches into shape and wiring them together. But if you’re a fumble fingers, spend the extra dollar or two on a pre-made wreath form.

If you’re stumped as to what to put on that wreath, Barton suggests a visit to Longwood, Winterthur, Hagley or one of the other holiday hot spots. For example, at Christmas in Odessa, Barton was so captivated by a pineapple decoration that she now creates a similar piece for her own home.

To make it yourself, cut a pineapple in half, scoop out the fruit, and stuff one half of the rind with newspaper. Then attach the pineapple rind to a board that has four rows of nails. Place apples on the nails and arrange magnolia leaves around the perimeter. Feel free to experiment, says Barton, and substitute oranges or another fruit for apples, and any kind of evergreen for the magnolia leaves.

Don’t compare your final product to professionally crafted creations. The point is to be inspired by the pros, says Barton, and then add your own personal touches. Besides, the local museums and gardens get a lot more help with their decorating efforts than you do.

It takes about 100 people, including staff, students and volunteers, to transform Longwood Gardens for the holiday season, says Longwood’s Patricia Evans. “In three days we transform the conservatory and decorate the trees but we start putting the outdoor lights up on the trees in September,” she says.

At Hagley, horticulturalist Renee Huber is the creative mastermind for “Christmas at Hagley.” She makes the outside decorations and oversees floral designer Chris Metzler, who decorates the inside of the 1803 du Pont ancestral home, Eleutherian Mills. Both are assisted by a team of volunteers. Most of the natural materials come from Hagley’s cutting garden and include greens, flowers, native grasses, and, new this year, cotton.

“I had never grown cotton so I gave it a try,” says Huber. “We added cotton pods to our wreaths, both inside and outside the mansion, for something totally different.”

Huber has never been afraid to try something different. One year, she made a wreath of onions — red, white and yellow varieties — interspersed with apples. It looked great but wasn’t suitable for museum conditions because it only lasted a week. “An onion wreath is a great idea for the home, as you long as it’s made shortly before the holidays,” notes Huber.

Native grasses are another natural material that she recommends for home use. Put the plumes in wreaths, table arrangements or in a vase, perhaps combined with a few sprigs of holly. “Cut off the plumes and give them a shot of hair spray so the seeds don’t scatter,” she says. “Or, depending on your decorating theme, hit them with gold or silver spray paint.”

Barton also likes to use spray paint to jazz up her natural materials. For a festive front porch, she suggests spraying osage orange balls with gold paint and arranging the balls in a container by the front door.

Article by Margo McDonough

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