Gardener’s Corner

June 21, 2023

With Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel


Here on the mountain, we’ve watched another spring emerge and drift slowly into summer. Ephemerals (plants that only last for a short time) are the stars of the spring season because they are gone usually by the time summer pushes her way in. These plants are so efficient with their lifespan: they come up, flower, and seed in a third of the time as most plants. In a way, this makes them very popular for plant lovers just to get a chance to see them. Some examples of these in our garden are Clintonia and Anemone.

In April, I attended the 2023 Joint Field Meeting with members of the Botanical Society of America Northeast Section, the Torrey Botanical Society, and the Philadelphia Botanical Club. This year’s meeting was in Western North Carolina and housed at the Lake Junaluska Conference Center. The first night included a lecture by Josh Kelly, biologist for environmental advocacy group Mountain True. It was on the overview of flora for the area and speaking to how diverse the plant inventory is for Western North Carolina. The first day was a field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Red Bank Cove, Graveyard Fields, and the Pink Beds, led by Gary Kauffman, botanist for the U.S. Forest Service. There we saw rock gnome lichen, swamp pinks, trilliums that were white variations of the normal red color, and a vertical bog with carnivorous sundews. Wow — I did not know how many different woodland plants we had in that park.

In the garden, we are now scouting for pests and diseases such as azalea leaf/bud gall. This fungus can be controlled by removing the galls before they mature and make spores. To prevent recurrence, it’s important to dispose of galls in the garbage, not on the ground. Also, we spray liquid copper fungicide on the plants before the galls can begin growing out of the buds. This fungicide is the safest one and not harmful to anything.

In the greenhouse, we’re planting seeds, some of which have been stratified by chilling for 30 to 90 days. Some species of seeds require this to germinate, and in others it can increase the germination rate. Red spruce seeds benefit from stratification, as do Jack-in-the-pulpits. We currently have 78 thriving Jack-in-the-pulpit seedlings that we’ve carefully tended in our greenhouse for two years. Now is also when we do most of our outside planting to coordinate with the rain season. This also allows plenty of time for roots to grow out into the soil, anchoring the plant before frost and freeze can heave it out of the ground. We do not plant much in late fall for that reason.

Speaking of rain, we worked with Alex Smith Garden Design over the winter to renovate one of our roads, implementing stormwater management best practices. With climate change and the increase in storm events, it is important to manage stormwater and focus on residency in the plant communities. Our water mitigation strategies are working well, resulting in less disturbance and storm cleanup, which we — and the plants — appreciate, particularly as temperatures heat up with summer rains.