Gardener’s Corner — Spring 2024

April 19, 2024

With Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel

Spring has sprung and we are buzzing around the garden trying to keep pace with Mother Nature. Preening and caretaking is important for our garden beds so we can access the health of the soil and therefore the plants. We are removing dead foliage and branches and providing space for new life to emerge. Planting and mulching are a perennial task because gardening is dynamic and ever changing.

With warm temperatures come blooms, and I know it’s not long until every plant begins counting down the days until flowering. The first pollen grains (microgametophytes), likely red maple, have emerged. Pollen is often microscopic, and its purpose is fertilizing the female part of the flower to produce another plant by seeds. The study of pollination is palynology and is used in forensics, archaeology, and paleontology. When you look at many pollen types under a microscope, you can see why they are irritating to our sinuses. Many are shaped like spheres with spines. This helps them adhere to surfaces and hitch a ride.

We have also tested soil pH in beds and turf and added Sta-Green fast-acting lime where necessary. Fast-acting lime is five times stronger, so we have fewer bags to buy and put out. The pH level determines whether plants can absorb nutrients and chemicals and influences growth and color. Our soil constantly wants to be acidic because of the geology underneath, so we have to lime regularly.

The labyrinth grasses are ready to be burned. We do this to reduce the amount of debris we have to remove, and we think it creates a plant less prone to collapse. The other plants in the wildflower labyrinth or forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) cannot be burned without some damage, so we cut them down by hand.

We are treating the hemlocks with systemic insecticides to control/prevent hemlock wooly adelgids. Other pests we are encountering are four-legged. The armadillo is expanding its range northward and is now on the mountain damaging our turf as it forages the soil for grubs and worms. Mole Max is granular form of castor oil that not only deters vole and mole activity, but also works on armadillos and we hope groundhogs as well.

Lastly but always consistently, we are addressing water mitigation due to the increase of storm events from climate change. Last year we noticed a significant issue of runoff in our Vaseyi azalea collection. Throughout winter and into spring, we have been scouting the area during storms to determine the cause or source(s). Unfortunately, road cuts have caused this part of our Core Park to degrade over the past 20 years. We will address the runoff by implementing a green infrastructure design.

Every day in the garden from now through the summer is like jazz for all five senses, a scramble that wakes us from a trance and provides a way back in time to our essence. We look forward joyfully to the gifts of another beautiful growing season.