HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Road Trip: Belfleurken

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Photo (c) K V Salisbury

Colorful Azaleas are the primary product at Belfleurken

Depending on where you are maybe not so much a road trip as a flight or sail. Belfleurken is an azalea grower in Belgium. Their primary market is Europe so we do not see many of their azaleas here in the US. We were there a bit early for the Mother’s Day rush on greenhouse grown potted azaleas so while there were many plants in production, not too many flowers were to be found.

Photo (c) K V Salisbury & HORTravels

Just some of the 5 acres of azaleas under glass.

This family business is known for the one-million azaleas grown each year in state-of-the-art greenhouses and their self-watering flower pots. In some way it was nice not to be distracted by 5 acres of Azalea flowers under glass giving a chance to notice the other features of this greenhouse facility. Because the greenhouses were not full, we could see the inner-workings of the facility and for a greenhouse nut like me – this was heaven.

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“Hortisculpture”

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Frog at Morris Arboretum

“American Bull” by Lorraine Vail at the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia PA

While I tend to find the fall colors of the native trees and shrubs here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region something I cannot live without and something that makes me endlessly happy and at peace, others see the changing colors as the sure sign that winter is coming. They can’t enjoy the autumn display because all of those falling leaves depressingly morph into falling snowflakes as they watch them twirl down from the canopy.

As fall proceeds into its second month some lament the end of the growing season, putting away gloves and cleaning tools. Seed catalogs and garden magazines are piled up next to the couch for winter reading. People start to prepare for winter hibernation.

When it is time to sculpt pumpkins, people tend to think less about gardens and gardening as the changing of seasons leads us to think less about watering and weeds and more about turkey stuffing and present wrapping.

Turkey at Gray Towers Milford, PA

Turkey at Grey Towers Milford, PA

But for those of us who enjoy the seasons, who want to explore wherever and whenever, I encourage fall and winter visits to gardens. Perhaps you have a friend or loved one who isn’t so much into gardening but likes to get outside. Drag them to a public garden or museum with outdoor sculptures. You as a gardener, or plant admirer, or nature admirer will find sculptures that will fill the gardening void in the fall and winter months. Some of my favorites from my horticulture travels are here.

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Fiction-ish

The demure Scarlet Pimpernel

The demure Scarlet Pimpernel

Around here it is summer and the Scarlet Pimpernels (Anagallis arvensis) are blooming. To many the Scarlet Pimpernel is a novel set in the time of the French Revolution. To me the Scarlet Pimpernel is a sweet little orange flower that occurs in lawns and some have the nerve to call a weed.

The petite scarlet pimpernel is an European native that made its way here as an ornamental. Dainty orange flowers with red centers dot the square-stemmed plant in summer. Found in disturbed sites and waste areas, this plant thrives in poor soils. First named by English Botanist Richard Salisbury (No relation that I have found…yet – but I mean there MUST be right?) this annual is also known as Poor Man’s Weatherglass because of its tendency to close its flowers at the “approach of foul weather” (Manual of Cultivated Plants, L.H.Bailey 1949). The Reader’s Digest Field Guide to Wildflowers also notes that this botanical barometer closes at dusk, fails to open in gloomy weather and responds to rising humidity by closing its flowers.

Summer is also the time of book lists for beach reading. While I don’t generally go to the beach and read, I will have to add The Scarlet Pimpernel to my “to be read pile” (why is it that that pile never shrinks?) simply because it is named after a plant, not because it has anything to do with plants. There are some books out there I have come across and found even more enjoyable than I expected because of their unanticipated horticultural content.

As you may remember from previous posts, I am a Stephen King fan. When I was much younger my face was always stuck squarely in a Stephen King novel. At some point, as I grew older and picked my head up long enough to realize there are other authors and other genres out there, and as I became more and more interested in learning about the natural world around me, I decided to vary my reading selections. I decided I would read one non-fiction book for each fiction book I read. Naturally, I began my non-fiction reading with Stephen King’s On WritingThis memoir/guide to writing drew me into the non-fiction world and I am hooked. I used to think reading non-fiction was the equivalent of reading a textbook for fun, and really…textbooks for fun?

Scarlet Pimpernel Flower

Scarlet Pimpernel Flower

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Caterpillary

Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) flowers in Spring. Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College PA

Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) flowers in Spring. Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College PA

Everywhere I go people are sneezing.  Spring seemed to happen all at once and the pollen from everything is coating cars, pavement and, apparently, nostrils in a dusky green film.  Funny how people lament the late start to spring wondering where all the flowers are and then almost as soon as they show their cheerful colors people are wishing the blooms banished from the face of the earth.

It is true in the earliest weeks of spring there can be a lull in blooms. It is the time when the crystal magic of winter has passed but the jewel tones of spring haven’t yet exploded onto the scene. People are desperate for something that shows life will go on. This is when it is important to get out and look for the details. Once you start looking closer you start to notice the beauty in the subtle details of leaves emerging and of flowers that don’t need any extra attention.

Of course by now that lull has passed. Virginia bluebells, violets, trilliums and marsh marigolds are all but screaming their presence in their showy way. Plants with catkins remain quiet and subtle, letting the showoffs attract the pollinators – who needs them?! And until the pollen starts blowing in the wind no one notices them.

Catkins are wind-pollinated flowers. Catkins have emerged on the oak trees around here right now and many many people experience nostril distress with all this pollen floating in the air. Just like Ragweed, these flowers aren’t showy. They don’t need to be. They can reproduce every time the wind blows (I think I know some people like that…) Showy flowers are showy because they need to attract pollinators. Catkins are strictly functional, unless you are desperately looking for signs of spring and then they become quite lovely in their unique caterpillary way.

White Oak (Quercus alba) catkins and newly emerging leaves.

White Oak (Quercus alba) catkins and newly emerging leaves.

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A Unique Relationship

Snow and Lichens in Tuscarora State Park PA

Snow and Lichens cover a boulder in Tuscarora State Park, PA

Seems as though spring is taking a bit longer to sprung. As I write this temperatures are dipping into the twenties. Though the tried and true late winter/early spring bloomers are slowly and cautiously making  an appearance there is still barely a sign of green bud or yellow flower around.

This is when I get antsy. Snow is gone, well, almost, snowboards have been packed away and the gardening tools have emerged. But the ground is still frozen and the soggy soil means I can’t even plant my peas yet. What is a plant person to do, sit and twiddle my thumbs until it Spring actually arrives?

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Don’t Worry…Mother Nature’s Got This

Tightly curled in protection, the leaves of Rhodendron exhibit the 'droop and curl' of thermonasty. This allows the shrub to survive winter winds and light. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, PA

Tightly curled in protection, the leaves of Rhodendron exhibit the ‘droop and curl’ of thermonasty. This allows the shrub to survive winter winds and light. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, PA

Whether you watch TV, listen to radio or just venture into any retail establishment you are well aware of the many elixirs, potions and formulas available to cure all sorts of ills both real and perceived. The same is true in the plant world. Any garden center you visit will have shelf upon shelf of chemicals, organics, salves, sprays, drenches, repellents, amendments and the like.

One that I have never understood is the use of Wilt-Pruf and other anti-dessicants on plants in the landscape. Sure, I sold it to folks as a young garden center employee without any knowledge of the way plants work, but were I in the same position today I would tell the friendly garden center shopper to save their money. Mother Nature’s got this…

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Road Trip: Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg Florida

All things vintage strike my fancy and this garden had me at its sign:

The Retro Sign of Sunken Gardens  - St. Petersburg, Florida

The Retro Sign of Sunken Gardens – St. Petersburg, Florida

I am thinking of this small gem today as I keep the wood stove burning and the thermometer doesn’t get out of the single digits. Sunken Gardens has been around since 1935 when George Turner Sr. opened his 6 acre property to the public to show off his walled gardens for $0.25 a person. Starting out as a place with a sink hole and a shallow lake, Mr. Turner turned this land into a rich area to grow fruits and vegetable by installing a tile drainage system. He was a plumber by vocation and horticulturist by avocation, Turner’s gardening transitioned from the fruits and vegetables he sold at his road-side stand to exotic flowers and tropical plants.  Turner maintained the gardens, eventually leaving them open year round and amassing a flock of flamingos numbering in the hundreds. Turner’s sons purchased the property from their father and the garden became world famous. Celebrities visited and beauty contests were held there. The gardens went through many changes, a large gift shop (at one time the largest in the world), walk-through aviary, religious exhibits. Due to the construction of a nearby interstate and the creation of large theme parks, this garden, like many others, experienced a decline in audience and an increase in operational expenses that led a discussion concerning closing the gardens. The City of St. Petersburg now owns the attraction. Since 1999 the Parks Department has been operating and maintaing this oasis with great help from an army of volunteers. Right behind this sign is a strip mall and bustling 4th Street. You must enter, and leave (of course) through the gift shop. Modest, I’m sure, compared to the mega-shop of its past, this shop featured locally made and horticulture themed gifts for all ages and budgets. When you park in the lot, you have no idea what’s in store for you. The garden is walled, and even at my height, I couldn’t sneak a peak to see what was inside.

A Tropical View in the Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg, FL

A Tropical View in the Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg, FL

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