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Noble Science

Friday, July 5th, 2013
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Dr. Michael Dirr teaching (photo by
Director of Horticulture Rodney Eason)
photo
An example of a “nobel tree” in my
front yard in Boothbay Harbor:
Acer platanoides ‘Royal Red’

Last Saturday I attended our 2013 symposium, “Trees in Your New England Garden and Landscape,” with my fellow interns and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Horticulture staff members. The symposium began with keynote speaker and renowned woody-plant expert Dr. Michael Dirr who delivered a lecture on the importance of “noble trees” and new tree introductions. He defined a noble tree as an inspiring species immense in stature, architecturally elegant, that spans generations. Dr. Dirr’s rationale for planting these trees included aesthetics, carbon dioxide sequestration, wind abatement, shade, storm water mitigation, and even their ability to discourage criminal activity.

Dirr’s fervent opinion of the importance of planting trees and consistently searching for new cultivars inspired me to better communicate the significance of plants to my peers. In college my friends playfully mocked me for choosing to study horticulture. Many of them thought my interest in plants was “nerdy” or simply a hobby only their grandmothers’ fancied. Because I’ve never been very skilled with words I was often left unable to defend my field of study, but thankfully the importance of horticulture is undeniable and I don’t need a degree in communications to articulate humanity’s need for it.

While it has always been easy for me to list the benefits of plants – providing food and oxygen, regulating the water cycle, carbon sequestration, as a derivative for medicine, and as the backbone of all habitats – the value of public gardens is more difficult to communicate. When I try to describe what botanical gardens do, I rely on four simple words – education, conservation, research and display. Botanical gardens serve their communities by cultivating community, preserving native and exotic plants, and educating the public on notable plants and sustainable horticultural practices. They provide an aesthetically pleasing environment for everyone’s enjoyment. It is suspected that institutions like Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens will be instrumental in the mitigation of the effects of climate change, and because of their placement throughout the world, they may help move species around and help ecosystems adapt to changing climates.

- Montana Williams, Pearson Horticulture Intern 

 

 

 

 

Fairy Fun!

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
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Those stairs took me forever,
but I think they add a
nice homey touch to the stump.

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One of the hardest parts about
building a fairy house is adding color!

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Those fairies sure do know
how to decorate!
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One of my favorite parts of the fairy
house is the stone design of the
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens logo!

Fairy house building has been a tradition for more than 100 years in Maine, especially on the coast and on the islands. A fairy house is a small structure that is built in the woods and is usually found at the base of a tree. They use natural materials like, twigs, driftwood, and leaves. As a general rule, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens does not allow the use of live plant material; this is to ensure that we do not harm the natural habitat around the fairy house building area.

On one of my first visits to the Gardens, I was about 14 years old, and I came with my two younger cousins. I fell in love with the Gardens and was absolutely loving being here. My cousins, on the other hand, were not. Being boys of 10 and 8, all they wanted to do was play in the woods or go home and kayak. It was only when we got to the Fairy House Village that they finally stopped complaining and became excited about being here. They were fascinated by the Fairy House Village. To be honest, it is truly something magical to behold. We all got started right away building our own fairy houses. Our first fairy house was really quite pathetic. But you can only improve from there!

Last Thursday I got the opportunity to try out my fairy house building creativity again! The morning started off with me scratching my head, having absolutely no idea where to start. There are simply too many directions you can take in building a fairy house. There is no way to compare houses because they are all unique. Every fairy house created is beautiful and brilliant in its own way.

Finally I just decided to go down to the Shoreland Trail and walk along the shore finding decorating materials. Luckily I stumbled upon an intriguing piece of driftwood that became the main feature of my fairy house. After that it was just a burst of creative energy to decorate and make the house fairy suitable. In the end, even though it took a few days to design and decorate, I think it turned out well. I tried to make mine original and represent the Gardens in the best way possible, so I did my best to design the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens logo in stones.

On July 5, we are starting what are called the Fairy Fridays. You can find more information about dates and events at Fairy Friday…And One Weekend. Be sure to keep an eye out for all the fairy houses designed by members of both the horticulture staff and volunteers. Come out and join us in all the fun of Fairy Fridays!!

- Kristin Neill, Horticulture Intern

A Bright New Entrance!

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013
All the bunchberry sod is down,
and it looks great!
Just a couple of the huge
ostrich ferns we transplanted.
The completed front entrance
this past week.
 
 The new rhododendron bed
 Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Fern’

The main entrance on Barters Island Road is one of the first impressions you get of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Sadly, it is also the most overlooked and is generally left alone. Not this week, though! Sharmon, the Gardens’ plant records coordinator and plant propagator, and I worked extremely hard  adding and rearranging to make the entrance more inviting. Next time you come to the gardens, be sure to check out all that we’ve done.

To start, we added a couple of Ilex verticillata ‘Southern Gentleman’ to fill in the gaps and help cover the weeds that are growing in the woods behind the entry.  Then we started on our main project: We transplanted a couple of Christmas ferns to the bed to make a smooth palette for the bunchberry sod. Unlike my colleagues, I did not mind working with the sod at all. The bunchberry sod was very thin and easily cut into the correct shapes needed for the bed. The only problem we had with it was that we didn’t have enough to fill the bed. To make the space look more filled out, we spread the sod out a little and filled in the gaps with sensitive ferns.

When the first side was finished, we moved to the side with the sign. This bed was filled with an assortment of ferns, assorted rhododendrons, Pulmonaria ‘Cotton Cool’, and Pulmonaria ‘Diane Clare’. We took the rhododendrons and the pulmonaria completely out of the bed. The rhododendrons were moved in the another bed that was empty and had only a telephone pole in it. We gave the pulmonaria to another horticulturalist for use in a bed elsewhere in the garden. This is just one example of how plants are used and reused from one side of the grounds to another.

After things were taken out, we started to rearrange the ferns. Our goal was not to create a completely organized bed with straight lines, but to have a more natural setting and, as Sharmon put it, “a bed of organized chaos” was the goal. We rearranged the ferns so that for the most part like ferns were near each other. Some very neat autumn ferns were added to the mix to give it a splash of color. I fell in love with autumn ferns, or Dryopteris erythrosora, after planting them. Their colors are incredibly vivid, and they will really add a pop of color to catch the eye when they grow in a little.

We decided to add a little height, and a slightly different texture, to the bed behind the autumn ferns. We had much fun digging up huge ostrich ferns, or Matteuccia struthiopteris, from the hillside behind the Cleaver Event Lawn & Garden. We transplanted quite  a few to different places all around the front entrance. By adding a few to the other side of the driveway, we could keep the theme going throughout the whole area. Keeping the theme means having the same plant or very similar plants carry over into another bed. To finish it off we added three different types of clematis to the base of the sign, then tied them to get them started on their climb. We added, Clematis ‘Matka Urszula Ledochowska’, Clematis ‘I Am Red Robin’, and Clematis ‘General Skikorski’. Two of the three have already bloomed or are just finishing now; the third, the General Skikorski, is just about to bloom. The blooms will be the classic purple and will hopefully brighten up the sign a little  bit.

While we were redoing the front, Diane Walden, a staff horticulturalist, and Director of Horticulture Rodney Eason were busy planting the Zen pots that line the two stone walls at the entrance. These pots are full of color and really do brighten up the entrance and lessen the sharpness of the straight stone walls.

 Although it may not seem like much, we put a lot of hard work into making the front entrance more cared for and inviting. The new beds are starting to fill out and will look wonderful for years to come, and the pots bring some color to the area. Surprisingly, there is still more to be done! Keep an eye out for more exciting changes at the entrance!

- Kristin Neill, Horticulture Intern

A Journey Through the Forest

Friday, June 21st, 2013
Early-morning hikes can be beautiful!
Looks can be deceiving. Here’s one of the swampy areas we trekked through.
Montana posing with one of the
fallen trees we climbed over.

This past week, fellow intern Montana and I were assigned to a task that we had heard nothing about yet. Our fellow horticulture staff members called this job “walking the deer fence.” For anyone who has been on our grounds before, you may have noticed a tall, black, mesh fence surrounding the entire property. No this is not to keep anyone inside; it is mainly meant to keep deer (and other animals) out. The first part of the fence was installed in 2005, while additional pieces were added in the following years.

Almost all of our grounds are completely surrounded by this fence now, but that doesn’t mean it’s always foolproof. Animals sometimes manage to create large holes in the fence, or a big storm may knock trees down on it and cause major damage. That’s where we come in. Our duty of “walking the deer fence” is to make sure there are no holes or damage to the fence and, if there are, to fix it.

While getting ready to head into the forest, staff horticulturist Justin Nichols asked if we had boots to wear. Unfortunately, we did not. He assured us that we would be fine, though, because it would just be a “little” swamp that we would have to walk through. After using half of a can of bug spray, we were finally ready to brave the forest and make sure all was well with the deer fence.

Our walk around the forest started off perfectly fine. It was early morning and the sunlight was shining the most beautiful light on the scenery (see picture to the right). However, we soon realized that this would be no walk through the forest, but instead a hike of epic proportions. We had to hop over creeks using slippery stones, hike up very steep inclines, and shimmy our bodies over large logs. While the terrain in Maine is truly breathtaking, it can physically can take your breath away if you hike the trails like we did!

The trek around the deer fence took about an hour and a half to walk entirely. We had been walking for just about an hour and thought the worst was behind us. That was until Montana took a step and sank knee deep into swampy waters. How could we forget the swamp! The next half hour consisted of hopping from dry spot to dry spot, praying we didn’t sink into the muck again. Unfortunately, we sank many more times before making it out of the swamp, which left us with some very wet and smelly shoes. My staff name tag is also lost somewhere in that part of the forest and, trust me, I’m in no rush to go back to find it.

While very challenging, this journey through the woods was helpful on all accounts. We fixed the minor problems with the deer fence, we both got a great workout from the hike, and we got to see a whole new side to the garden. It may not be the most glamorous job, but it’s the least we can do to keep our garden safe from those pesky deer!

- Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern

What’s gardening without a little mud?

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Rhizomes
Megan and I got absolutely filthy!
But mission accomplished, the Iris is out!

When I first started working at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, I decided early on that I would need a good pair of waterproof boots to work in. So I went out and purchased a pair of Muck boots, so far they have been wonderful, one of the best purchases ever. I never thought that I would curse the day I decided to wear these boots, but it did come.

Justin, one of the horticulturalists, asked the collective group who had waterproof shoes. Of course I had chosen to wear my waterproof boots and pants that day, so I spoke up and said I did. Megan, one of the gardeners, was the only other one with waterproof pants and boots, so we were chosen for Justin’s mission. The mission was as follows: Go to the Giles Rhododendron Garden and pull out the invasive Iris. Sounds simple, right? Wrong.

Here’s just a quick summary of the plant itself and the reasons we are evicting it from the pond. Iris pseudacorus, commonly known as yellow flag, is a fast-growing and fast-spreading invasive plant that can out-compete other wetland plants and form almost impenetrable thickets. Yellow flag spreads very quickly through both water-dispersed seeds and broken rhizomes. Rhizomes are a modified stem of a plant that is usually found underground and sends off roots from the nodes. Although the Iris is very attractive and can live in extremely wet conditions, its ability to spread its seeds so easily and quickly make it undesirable at the gardens.

The yellow flag iris does have some beneficial qualities, though. The plant is sometimes used as a form of water treatment due to its ability to take up heavy metals through the roots.

So, Megan and I went off towards the Rhody Garden thinking this task would be a breeze. All started off well. We brought our shovels down to the shore and did a little investigating to find that there were two bad clumps near us and then a couple of smaller ones on the other side of the pond. We started by attacking one of the largest clumps. Thinking it would be like taking any other plant out , we used our shovels to try and release it from the muddy foot of water it was living in. That didn’t work. We kept trying to move it and then dig some more because we thought the roots were still stuck, but it would not budge. Finally we realized that the plant was in fact not attached to the ground at all and was literally sitting on top of the mud.

We tried to pull it out and could only move it a couple inches at a time due to its unbelievable weight. Eventually we developed a system of counting to three and pulling with all our strength at the same time. We managed to get it up the hill and near the Kubota, one of the orange vehicles we use to get around and transport things. Getting this 70 lb clump of stinky, dripping, gross, muddy plant into the Kubota was the hardest part. We used every last bit of our strength to get it just to the edge. It was barely on there though and both of us had to get behind the plant and push the muddy bottom to get the plant all the way into the bed. Needless to say, that after two more experiences just like this one and pulling out what felt like several miles of rhizomes we were covered in swamp water and smelly mud. I can honestly say that I smelled like a swamp monster for two more days after this incident. Megan and I were exhausted, but very proud of our dead Iris.

- Kristin Neill, Horticulture Intern

 

 

 

Renovation and Conservation

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Fellow intern Carrington strikes a pose
next to a stack of blueberry sod

Next to a Lunaform pot, is one of our
many Polygonatum sp.

In our rose garden the other day, I
stumbled upon this beauty, Dahlia hybrid
‘Knockout’. Be sure to check it out!

If you’ve visited Coastal Maine Botanical gardens this week, you may have noticed that we’re renovating the wild blueberry beds in the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden, and let me tell you it is quite the project! The weeds have become too dense to manage so we must resort to removing the infested plantings. We’ll be laying new sod this week to restore the beds to their original beauty – and hopefully it will be weed free. CMBG values stimulating the local economy, so we’ve purchased our sod from Fred’s Wild Sod, Inc., a resident provider of high-quality native sod.

Mainers know that the lowbush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, is not only an important native species, but also a staple agricultural crop of this region. This low-input crop has adapted to the northern coast’s naturally acidic and poorly fertile soils and is able to withstand the harsh winters. Because of its importance to the economy and to the wildlife of Maine, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has planted it throughout the gardens to demonstrate how it can be incorporated into many different sites in the landscape. For additional information on wild blueberries, please consult this resource.

This week, staff horticulturist Justin Nichols recruited me to help him compile a list of all the Solomon’s seal varieties we have on the grounds. King Solomon’s seal, or Polygonatum sp., is a genus of herbaceous perennial plants with unique architectural arching stems adorned with attractive bell-like flowers. Our goal is to become a repository for the genus and therefore become officially recognized by the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC). This organization is working with many botanical gardens across the country to promote plant germplasm preservation, an important task that will help maintain a high level of biodiversity. Collections and Grounds Manager Tom Clark from Polly Hill Arboretum in Martha’s Vineyard is also helping us in this endeavor.

- Montana Williams, Pearson Horticulture Intern

Welcoming Lunaform to the Gardens!

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Hello readers!

Staff horticulturalist Justin Nichols, carefully helping to unload the new Lunaform pots.
Some of the pots were too big to carry in our arms!
This planter’s name is Siena, my personal favorite!
Each pot has a sign like this one beside it, for any and all information you might need.

As Kristin & Montana have introduced themselves in previous blog posts, allow me to do the same. My name is Carrington Flatness and I am one of the three horticulture interns for this summer. After figuring out my uncontrollable love for plants, I decided to attend Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois, where I received my associate’s degree in horticulture in 2011. One month ago, I finally received my bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Iowa State University (Go Cyclones!).

As for horticulture experience, I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different areas of the field, such as my favorite nursery/garden center near my hometown in Illinois and a marvelous public garden in Ames, Iowa.

Despite my love for the Midwest, I knew I needed to broaden my knowledge of horticulture in different areas of the country to become the best professional I can be. It seems apparent already that Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens will be a huge part of helping me achieve my goals!

Today I got the chance to work with some wonderful professionals from the Lunaform studio. Lunaform, for those of you who don’t know, is a company in Sullivan, Maine, that specializes in making beautiful concrete structures: planters, urns, fountains, etc. Our director of horticulture, Rodney Eason, decided to put me, along with Justin Nichols, a horticulture staff member, in charge of the project of unloading and placing these beautiful containers within the gardens. We were greeted at 10 a.m. by Dan Farrenkopf and Phid Lawless, the two Lunaform founders and owners who would be helping us for the day.

Justin and I quickly realized that these were no ordinary pots; they were colossal! The largest pots weighed in somewhere around 600 pounds! We couldn’t unload from the truck by hand, so we needed some extra tools on our side. We used a ball cart (typically used for big trees in the horticulture department) and the Dingo skid steer machine to carefully haul these pots to their new homes.

In honor of their 20th anniversary in business, Lunaform agreed to house these beautiful containers at the gardens all summer long and have them available to the public for purchase! Each planter has a sign next to it (shown on the last picture at right). The sign will outline the basic details of the planter and will  indicate the price of each item.

My favorite part about these signs is the Quick Response (QR) codes located at the bottom. Anyone with a smart phone can easily scan these QR codes, whcih will provide additional information about that specific planter straight to the phone. In this day and age, I think it is easily overlooked how innovative companies are being to get us the information we want. Just another reason why I have come to love Lunaform!

These pieces, with dramatic plantings by Diane Walden of the horticulture staff, will be in our garden until the Labor Day weekend. You can see the containers displayed on the Gardens’ main campus – by the Visitor Center, the Burpee Kitchen Garden, and Bosarge Family Education Center. You’ll also see planters on the wall by the main entrance. Stop by soon to check out all of them!

For additional information about Lunaform, please click here.

- Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern