HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Road Trip! South Haven Michigan

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Lichens on a Michigan Forest  Floor

Lichens (Cladonia spp)on a Michigan Forest Floor

August 26th was Women’s Equality Day.  The articles and news stories highlighting this day and the reason for it got me thinking back to a road trip we took a few years ago. We decided we would head out to Michigan.

When Tree Boy* and I decided we would spend our summer vacation on a Road Trip to Michigan, most people couldn’t understand why we would go to Michigan. We were asked multiple times if we had relatives there, as if that must be a prerequisite for trekking way out there.

To be honest, we had a lofty goal – to kayak in each of the Great Lakes. The way we travel makes some anxious. No plans, no reservations, no place to be at a certain time. We just go and see where we end up. We may investigate a place or two that looks interesting to us, write it down so we don’t forget and if we happen to end up there, well, great! If not, well, that’s okay too.  For us part of the adventure is not knowing what we’ll see or where we’ll end up.  Has this meant sleeping alongside the highway, no access to state parks on busy weekends, sure! Has this meant we stumble upon things we may not have seen during a well-planned, each- minute-perfectly-scheduled-vacation – absolutely!

As we point our van towards Lake Michigan, imagine my surprise as I examine the map – yep, a paper map – difficult to get the big picture on a small screen – and notice a little green mark with the label LH Bailey Museum. There’s only one LH Bailey I know of. The “Father of American Horticulture” Liberty Hyde Bailey. How could a Horticulturist and a Landscape Designer NOT investigate?

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Yellow Late-Summer Blooms

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Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Moving to a new state, even just across one big river, can lead to interesting new discoveries.  Two horticultural discoveries have intrigued me since I have moved here. These are two late summer blooming flowers I was unfamiliar with until I started exploring the natural areas around the place I now call home.

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Sumac

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Smooth Sumac Fruit (c) Kathleen V Salisbury

The fruit cluster, or Bob, of Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) along a Rail Trail in Southeastern PA

 

My dad looks at me dubiously over the dining room table all decked out for Thanksgiving. I recognize the look, because I have inherited it. If I feel someone is feeding me a line of crap you can read it all over my face, and that is what I am seeing here, across the table. Why the look? I have just told my dad the contents of the flower arrangement nestled among the good china, newly shined silver and gold rimmed wine glasses. I have always loved to go outside and gather what’s interesting from the yard to create seasonally representative flower arrangements. I enjoy doing this anytime but always create something for the big holidays. To me, it is fun to explore the yard in a different way, looking at plants and their parts as components of a floral design instead of a landscape design or plant community.

My dad has every right to be a little doubtful about this creation. My penchant for bringing nature onto the holiday table has certainly resulted in our fair share of spiders, caterpillars, moths and other insects venturing out from their botanical hiding place and onto the crystal butter dish.  This is not lost on him. Family and friends at these dinners have always taken these visitors with good humor, laughing as, red-faced, I capture the critter and release it back into the wild. This late afternoon, the guests have not yet arrived, the table is still being set and I just placed an offending flower arrangement in the center of the table.

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Textures

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Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Of course a garden is more than flowers. There’s weeds and bugs too! The nice thing about gardening in this region – the mid-atlantic – is that we can create a garden that has flowers blooming nearly 12 months of the year. Sure those late fall and winter flowers may not be the showstopper the Hibiscus pictured above is, but they are flowers nonetheless. Summer is the time when flowers abound, annuals like impatiens, begonias and marigolds brighten up gardens throughout the warmer months, only succumbing when the first frost hits, turning them into mushy piles of petals. For those of us more inclined towards the perennial persuasion of plants, having blooms throughout the growing season means developing a diversity in the garden that ensures multiple seasons of blooms. It is not as simple as planting rows of impatiens we know will keep blooming through the summer. We have to plan a sequence of flowering to ensure something’s in bloom whenever we gaze into the garden. I love this challenge. When I worked in an urban educational garden, I challenged myself to create a garden with 4 seasons of blooms. Not just four seasons of interest, which we had, but I wanted visitors to see flowers in the city whenever they visited. Through careful selection and combination of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs flowers could be found 12 months of the year, much to my delight and to the delight of the visitors.

But there’s so much more to a garden than flowers. I always tell my students while flowers may be present for just a short time, foliage is there a lot longer and you should always consider the foliage when you are planning to add a plant to the garden. When considering interest in the garden and bloom times, don’t forget about the foliage!

This was cemented in my brain after a trip to Costa Rica. I had never been there before and it was pre-google (& pre-digital camera – 23 rolls of film later!). I was expecting orchids dripping off the trees, practically slapping me in the face everywhere I went. I expected carpets of tropical flowers lining every road and trail. What I didn’t expect was green. Lots of green, everywhere green and not many flowers to speak of (well, at least compared to what my vivid imagination conjured). During a canopy tour, I peered over the swinging bridge railing into the top of the rain forest and noticed how different all the green was. There were countless shades of green and the textures ranged from the coarse Monstera speciosa or Swiss Cheese Plant to the lacy Tree Fern. It was fantastically beautiful. From then on I had an appreciation for how beautiful and interesting foliage can be.

Costa Rica from above

Costa Rica from above

My recent visit to the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College really solidified for me what one can do in a garden by simply taking a considered look at foliage.

Scott Arboretum

Just a small portion of the Terry Shane Teaching Garden at Scott Arboretum

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