I was out in the woodland area of our soon-to-open Native Plant Garden and found myself overwhelmed by the beauty of all the different species of trillium we have planted there. Trilliums bloom in early spring, taking advantage of the time on the forest floor before the trees grow leaves and cast shade upon them. Trilliums, much as their name might suggest operate in threes: three leaves, three sepals, and three petals. The leaves are arranged in whorls wrapping around the stem from a single point. The result is a graceful zygomatic symmetry. Triullums are undoubtedly one of the most showy and elegant trichotomous woodland native plants.
There are two types of trillium, sessile and pedunculate. The flowers of sessile trilliums rest on the leaves without a flower stalk while pedunculate trillium flowers are elevated by a stalk. Sessile trillium tend to have mottled leaves that are spotted with silver or maroon coloring while pedunculate trillium have green foliage. Trilliums are slow to grow on their knobby rhizomes, but will slowly spread and form a nice clump, though it may take up to seven years before they flower if you plant them from seed. But, the pay-off is that once a clump is established in your garden it will live for decades.
This weekend brings a beautiful event to the Garden, the Garden Sculpture and Antiques Fair: 1750-2013! Vendors and artists from across the country and across the Atlantic are gathered together under the Conservatory Tent with a gorgeous range of functional and artistic decoration for your garden, patio, solarium, and home. In addition, enjoy complimentary wine tasting with the Naked Grape 12-5 p.m. each day as well as special tours and demonstrations.
Wares range from incredible contemporary kinetic sculpture, to tiny colonial lanterns, giant sprouting shallots, Majolica kittens, Grecian urns, mossy otters, and everything in between. The star of the show, however, seems to be a beautiful set of chairs featuring a peacock-motif that were once owned by the woman whose name graces our stately Conservatory, Enid A. Haupt. If your mother is a gardener with impeccable taste, the Garden Sculpture and Antiques Fair: 1750-2013 might just be the perfect place to pickup an unforgettable Mother’s Day present!
As if that weren’t enough, the Garden is just glorious right now. Cherry blossoms, daffodils, tulips, and a very special rhododendron are stopping people in their tracks across our 250-acres. There’s a palpable sense of happiness and ease wherever you go, with incredible scents wafting on the air, and smiles everywhere. And as if that weren’t enough, the lilacs seem set to pop at any moment! Just the thought of lilacs in this springtime sunshine makes me shoulders feel less tense.
Of the many spring ephemerals cropping up in the Garden, the plant known as “spring beauty” in the genus Claytonia is one that can be seen without taking a walk through the woods. It is commonly found at the edge of woodlands, or along mowed roadsides. Like many spring ephemerals spring beauty flowers close at night and remain closed on overcast days. This tendency, combined with the plant’s grass-like leaves, make it easy to miss spring beauty if you do not look closely.
The beauty of spring beauty is best enjoyed by looking closely at the flowers with a hand lens. This allows you to appreciate the delicate pink lines that lead insect visitors to the source of nectar at the base of each petal. Insects–among them small bees, flies, and wasps–are further guided to the nectaries by a bright yellow spot; they are attracted by both nectar and pollen. The tiny flowers do not produce enough nectar to warrant a visit by the large queen bumblebees that fly in early spring, but small bees drink their fill and pack their pollen baskets with the anthers‘ creamy white pollen. The anthers themselves are pink and open before the female reproductive parts, thus helping to promote cross-pollination.
Studying plants in the field is the best way to acquire knowledge about them. Unfortunately, when a specialist does not live where the plants grow, it is difficult to study them in situ. In this modern age, the availability of digital photography and the internet makes it possible for local botanists to collect and photograph plants, then send the data and images to specialists. Although I prefer to see plants in their natural environments, new technology yields information that I could never have collected on my own!
One of my collaborators is Alex Popovkin, a Russian-born editor who works remotely from his small cabin in rural Bahia, Brazil. Alex has been passionate about plants since kindergarten, where he made daily observations of the development of a potted nasturtium planted by his teacher. He also observed the house plants his father cultivated on window sills in their St. Petersburg home. As a high school student in the early ’60s, Alex cared for tropical plants, and among other tasks penciled their Latin names on wooden labels at the Botanic Garden of the University of St. Petersburg as part of his work-study curriculum. His first botany mentor there was Dmitri Zalessky, the garden’s director at the time.