Hammond Field Day, awesome/ finalized program for the prairie-oriented LNPS conference, Feb 5-7, 2016

“Nature is an open book for those who care to read. Each grass-covered hillside is a page on which is written the history of the past, conditions of the present, and the predictions of the future.” – John Ernest Weaver

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above, below, my November 2001 planting in Pearl River County, Mississippi done with seed from the ancient Frey prairie relict, which used to be located five miles directly south of Eunice, Louisiana on an old discontinued rail bed. The seeding at the farm was an experiment that worked, these photos taken Tuesday. The old Frey prairie site, until recently, one of the most floriferous patches of ground in the state. The farmer, who for twenty five years let us dig prairie sod for restorations there, decided the prairie would be better upside down so he plowed it under for an addition to his adjacent rice field. Yikes.

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The beauty of the Frey planting at my farm is in all its subtlety.  What was once an over-grazed cow-field has transformed into a delightfully intricate reflection of Frey by simply adding seed, now, rare genetics.

…the joy of prairie lies in its subtlety. Suzanne Winckler (2004, Prairie: A North American Guide, University of Iowa Press

 

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above, a view of a field at the farm that was never seeded and only managed with prescribed fire, since 1997. Incredibly diverse vegetation has developed here over the last 18 years by just burning. click to enlarge the images..

LSU Horticultural Field Day – Hammond Station – Thursday was the bomb!

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Horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings, LSU, discusses the research-demonstration gardens with the nursery industry group at Hammond Thursday. Many of these gardens are now all-native, with plants grown by Dr. Yan Chen and her staff, from seed collected, provided to the station by yours truly, in 2013.

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There are many very long, eight feet wide garden beds clearly labeled and filled with hundreds of plants of Narrow Leafed Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Splitbeard Bluestem, Indian grass, Switch grass, Tridens grass, Love grass, and Side Oats Gramma grass. Dr. Yan is interested in the conservation value and overall functionality of the grasses. She spoke about their beauty and of their horticultural qualities. She spoke of their connection to “the sense of place”. There are also gardens of some of the better horticultural species of prairie and Pine herbaceous flowering plants , too.

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above, Dr. Yan Chen discusses the attributes of native prairie grasses. Behind Dr. Yan, you can see the bright red of the knockout Roses in the Natives and Popular Plant Care and Maintenance Gardens. These are gardens demonstrating native companion plants for the Red Knockout Rose and common annual Vinca.

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Little Bluestem grass is a knock-out.

Actually, the Little Blue is laying over here more than it would in a poor soil without irrigation. We talked about cutting these back just before bloom in order that they stay more erect. Prairie grasses are used to the worst soil and are adaptable to super-low moisture, and low nutrient soils

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Large yellow flowers of Hibiscus aculeatus, Pineland Hibiscus bloom after being cut back in the summer after their first flowers went to fruit.

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Dr. Yan has cut the flower heads of the Texas Coneflower, Rudbeckia nitida var. Texana, twice this year, at late April and June, harvesting lots of seed and creating a chance for the plants to re-bloom, which they have. So by manipulation, you can get three flushes of flowers. Normally they would bloom just once.

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above, the Care and Maintenance gardens in June, with Rudbeckia nidita at peak flower, Indian grass in glaucus foliage. (photos by Yan Chen)

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above, among other horticultural delights at the field day was this Celosia, a non-native, yes, but a great bee plant. There is value in pollinators that aren’t native. see the celosia-bee video below…

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Purely for horticulture’s sake, the very striking nine foot tall dark purple colored grass Black Stockings Fountain Grass, Pennisetum trispecific. Grasses are swell.

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coefficient of conservatism determines what species are endemic to a particular habitat and how each species is placed in terms of rarity in the habitat.

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with prairie landscapes, the extended period of flowering and the diversity-variation of species carries pollinators through the entire growing season.

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these two above pages are only two of a total of five pages of phenology for the Coastal Prairie of La., The Cajun Prairie.

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Indian grass seed from the Cajun Prairie was used to grow six inch plugs, for the extra-steep slope at Repentance Park, Baton Rouge. Horticultural uses of natives has great potential for industry expansion, enhancement. the Picture sent to my freind Joe James, with Reed-Hilderbrand Architects, who helped design the Park. Someone with City gov’t sent him the image with this note, “With a hectic week of development and activity downtown, I was walking by and just had to pause at Repentance Park. There is something wonderfully beautiful about the Indian Grass in the fall. Check it out!”

backing fires, black lines and head fires, oh, my!

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above, the burn plan before I burned with Kurt Kotteman of Kotteman Tree and Forestry Service Monday. He and his crew let me, el gringo, help. It was the largest burn I have been involved with. What an exciting fire it was. We started at ten and got done at about 6, a long day. I got to throw some head fire once we got the southern portion protected, blacked-in. Head fires are exhilarating in this scale and the ferocity, compared to backing fires, especially when you have Inkberry en mass is impressive. Large patches of the colonizing Inkberry Holly, Ilex glabra and Big Inkberry Holly, Ilex coreacea, grow along with fine fuel grasses in Pine prairie habitat. The leaves of both black-berried Gallberries contain a waxy coating that is highly flammable. With a head fire and some wind, these masses of shrubbery go up in red flaming leaps of twenty feet or higher. Leapin’ lizards!!!! the dotted line is a line Kurt used as a safe line, due to its high moisture and low, very little, fuel load.

this on-the-fly video shows the immediate result of laying down a continuous fifty foot line of flame in a Gallbery patch with with a five mph wind behind it, and seeing the immediate reaction. Its tough getting through the Gallberry patches especially when you have fire on your tail and you get wrapped up in a greenbriar (smilax)! Yeee-Ouch, already!!

Baygall, Hammock, Bay head, all synonymous.

:  red bay
2
:  a tract of swampy land; especially  :  a low-lying tract of boggy or spongy land in the southern U.S. usually overgrown with the inkberry and with bay trees
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Baygalls are cool. There are loaded with evergreen shrubs and trees. Ilex coreacea, foreground on left, is a beautiful plant. The only place I’ve ever seen it for sale was through Woodlanders, Aiken, SC. But it should be more available. Dark green waxy leaves, with plants that form colonies, tight thickets.
I once asked famous Texas natives landscape designer and nurseryman Will Fleming of Hempstead, Tx., why he like Ilex coreacea and he said “Because its pretty.”.
Wow. pretty good reason.
In the baygall along with coreacea, you’ll find Red Bay (Persea), Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana), Southern Magnolia, Ilex glabra, Lyonia lucida, Itea virginica, Smilax, Cepalanthus occidentalis, Pinus palustrus (Long Leaf Pine), Pinus taeda, Black Gum, Taxodium ascendens, sphagnum, chasmanthium, wax Myrtle, odorless wax Myrtle, Cinnamon fern, Mitchellia repens, with a cyrilla thrown in every now and then. In east Louisiana Baygalls, you might see the rare Clethra alnifolia. In the western-most Louisiana baygalls you may find the rare Rudbeckia scabrifolia, Rough Coneflower, which is nearly identical to La. Coastal Tallgrass prairie’s R. Nitida, but is specific only to baygalls.
The shaded Baygalls transition into pitcher plant bogs, which are open and sunny and grass dominant. Baygalls have very little vegetation on the ground. Soils are sandy and are generally wet with occasional seeps, springs that can be tiny or very substantial. Fires generally blow through the grassy pitcher plant bogs and stop dead at Baygalls, with fuel levels low, and moisture levels high.
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thickets of black-berried holly cover an area of a Baygall, in St Tammany Parish, Louisiana click to enlarge
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The adjacent, grassy, pitcher plant bog in the distance, shining in the sun.
Gaillardia aestivalis, butterfly magnet 
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speaking of high horticulture, on of the highlighted plants LSU is touting is the Mesa Gailardia. A good plant, I’m sure. This’n above, is a variant species, an east Texan, Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri, found in very small populations in ten counties including Newton, which is on the state line with Loosiana. hmmm. These are variations of the white, the normal color of this subspecies. These surely have some horticultural promise. and they are all exceptional butterfly/ nectar plants. The bestest!
Gailardia aestivalis is yellow centered and maroon wine petaled in Loosiana with some populations having the subspecies flavovirens, an all yellow.
Prairie Event – February 5-7th 2016, Alexandria area, Loosiana, for more info, check in with Louisiana Native Plant Society after the middle of this month, when this program in its entirety, will be posted. Whodat!

8:30-9:00 Dr. Charles Allen – Prairie Garden Dynamics – Natural Changes Through the Years

9:00-9:30 Larry Allain –  Prairie Conservation and the Fate of Native Pollinators

9:30-10:00 Jim Foret – How to Solve All of the World’s Problems Using Prairie

10:00-10:15 Break

10:15-10:45 Dr. Malcolm Vidrine –  The Cajun Prairie Gardens and the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice – Flowering Phenology as it Relates to Natural Landscaping, Pollinators and Just Plain ‘Knock Your Eyes Out’ Beauty!

10:45-11:15 Beth Erwin – What I Have Learned About Hydrology and Prairies in Northeast Louisiana

11:15-11:45 Jessie Johnson – Briarwood’s Wildflower Meadow and How it Came into Being Because of Hungry Voles

11:45-12:30 Lunch

12:30-1:15 Business meeting (begins mid-way through lunch, in lunch room)

1:30-2:30 Jim Willis – Wildlife Habitat Federation – Bringing Back the B’s–Restoring Native Habitat in the Coastal Prairie

Larry Allain, Botanist, USGS National Wetlands Center, Lafayette, La

Charles Allen, Botanist, Fort Polk, Louisiana, Environmental, Colorado State University
Beth Erwin, Curator, Kalorama Nature Preserve, Collinston, La
Jim Foret, Horticulture, University of Louisiana, Lafayette
Jessie Johnson, Curator, Caroline Dorman Nature Preserve, Saline, La
Malcolm Vidrine, Biologist, Louisiana State University, Eunice
Jim Willis, Co-founder/ President, Wildlife Habitat Federation-Jim Willis Consultants, LLC, Cat Springs, Tx
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LSU AgCenter Station/Bot Garden, Hammond, getting down and dirty with native prairie horticulture

Some really serious horticulture work has been done with these genetics since that time.

I made time to visit with Dr. Yan and Dr. Allen Owings recently. I brought with me, the crop of Side Oats Gramma grass that I grew since June when I made a road side dig in Cameron Parish. I dug enough off the road edge to make about seventy nice and full, quart sized containers. Most of these I loaded into the pick-up and brought to the Station on Tuesday.

Dr. Yan says some of the Side Oats will go into what she calls her “Care and Maintenance” beds, which are demonstration gardens planted with one of the most popular of garden plants, the everblooming Rose, the Knockout Rose. The idea is to demonstrate how folks can use native prairie plants with the most common, everyday garden plants, so that one day local-genetic prairie plants, the ecological wonders that they are, will become more popular and more available for you and me.

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above, the site of my collection of the rare-gene-pool population of Side Oats Gramma grass, south and west of Vinton, Louisiana, a stone’s throw from the Gulf and the Sabine. A very special thanks to Partyin’ fool Bubba (Bubbette) for throwing out his or her Miller Light beer litter so I can demonstrate to you how very short the Gramma actually is. I stuck my machete in the ground, center, (see?), and the grass was about a foot tall in foliage with nice, typical, nearly-invisible flowering inflorescenses. To get some, you might have to beat out the spray guys. Last year I showed up to dig and the whole strip was nuked brown. This year I got em!

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the Grassmobile is going to market!! This eco-type of Side Oats has great potential for horticultural heights in Louisiana.

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above, this is the area where some of the native prairie stuff is at the Research Station, the three north-south oriented at the bottom left are grasses and forbs and three longer, east-west oriented garden beds on the bottom right of the screen are the Care and Maintenance gardens        click photo to enlarge it….

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Indian grass, Switch grass, left, and Cajun Prairie Rudbeckias, on the right, at the demo gardens at the Hammond AgCenter Station Research and Botanical Garden, Hammond Louisiana

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Rudbeckia grandiflora (foreground) and Rudbeckia nidita (in back), in full fruit

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Dr. Yan’s Care and Maintenance gardens, with Rosey-Red Knock-out Roses, Indian grass (far left), Little Bluestem grass, annual Periwinkle, Rudbeckia nidita, and Canada Germander. and some nicely clipped turf grass surrounding each of the gardens.

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Little Bluestem, in foreground, above white creeping Vinca, the black seed heads of Rudbeckia Nidita, visible in the distance. Shock-red of Knock-out Rose.

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These above, are photos provided by Dr. Yan, taken in June after the Rudbeckia nidita had been cut back after blooming in April. She told me she would be cutting them back again, harvesting the seed and looking for yet another re-bloom in October. Great thing about nidita is it is an evergreen, a winter green for the garden, like her big sister Rudbeckia maxima, but with rich green leaves instead of blue. Maxima is a very popular garden plant in the states and in Europe and has been for a long time. Nidita (texana), grandiflora and the very late blooming subtomentosa, I think, all deserve as much fame and fanfare.

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above, nice crop of Split Beard Bluestem coming on in one of the Station greenhouses.

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limited but in my opinion, very significant progress with Narrow Leafed Bluestem. Dr. Yan says they are a bit difficult to grow 😦  .

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above Joey Quibideaux, right, and his co-worker shifting-up the Split Beard Bluestem plants to 3 quart size pots, from four inch. Go Hammond!!!

below is a very unentertaining video of silphiums I found on I-55 on the way back from Jackson Monday, probably integrifolium. yea.

this guy on video, below, is totally wack!

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/2015/08/08/minutes-king-suburban-jungle-southfield-michigan/31344029/

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the MD Anderson-Mays Center and Steve n’ Jake pocket prairies

Pocket prairie is a term used for describing small prairie gardens.  By small, I mean postage stamp size to a few or more acres in size. You can find pocket prairies all over the place. Two really good ones that I saw this week are the M.D. Anderson, Mays Center prairie garden in the Medical Complex area in east Houston and the Steve and Jake Pollinator Habitat Garden at University of Louisiana Lafayette.

Both of these were planted just a couple of years ago. Both are stellar examples of backyard habitats in high profile locations.

The two-acre Mays Center garden is located in the heart of a huge complex of medical centers and is a natural area where not much else is natural. Dominant in native grasses but full of colorful flowering prairie plants, the gardens are a quiet area for contemplation. Its an outdoor park with a focus on native grassland vegetation of the Houston region.

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From above, the prairie areas are in darker green color, mostly to the left of this googleearth image.

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nice lines are made, with turgrass meeting prairie

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a couple of interpretive signs speak of the flora, fauna, and historical content.

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the Mays gardens were controlled burned last year

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American Bachelor Button is a fun plant to play with. It is easy from seed as a winter annual and it very showy and very fragrant (above). They close up in the afternoon (left) and open in the morning time (right). click to enlarge

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a wallow was created to quench wildlife’s thirsts.

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a nice Carex sedge, maybe an esculentus, odoratus relative

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Yellow Indian grass beginning to flower

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The Texas Blue Bell and Button Snakeroot were planted throughout. I understand that the seed for planting this prairie came the recent grass-roots-acquired-preserve; the Deer Park Prairie. Jaime Gonzales, who worked on this project via the Katy Prairie Conservancy and the Coastal Prairie Partnership, also help to spearhead the purchase of Deer Park. Deer Park is a wonderful prairie remnant that was slated for destruction, construction. The People took action and raised the money to purchase Deer Park and prevented its demise. What a happy story.

The Steve and Jake Garden at the University of Louisiana,  Lafayette, is a great contrast to the Mays Center garden. It is one that people all around the region can emulate, right in their own front yard.

The Steve and Jake Garden is at the northwest entrance to Hamilton Hall on the UL Lafayette campus. From what Professor Jim Foret told me, Steve Nevitt and Jake Delahousseye got seed and grew plants and planted them all in the two areas on each side of the walkway leading into the doorway area. came out nice, guys. Did ya’ll have some help? I hope they’ll comment here.

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Maestro Jim Foret stands in front of the Steve n’ Jake garden at Hamilton Hall, ULL, Lafayette.

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opposite the garden is an Oak that Maestro Jim’s Daddy planted back in 1952. Cule.

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looking west at sprawling Eastern Gamma grass reaching out to touch passers by.

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There’s a really classy brick edge that’s really wide wrapping around the garden edge. Behind is a bench-like architectural structure, which edges the backside very nicely.

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a cacophony (dat’s a lot, ya’ll) of floral color, including the erect, beautifully blue leaves of Yellow Indian grass (above, right).

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click on this photo to enlarge it, above

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Hibiscus large and small

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and Sunflowers…

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a large Mamou plant has an island unto itself

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and then we took the State prairiemobile to see the State highway planting demonstration plot for Department of Transportation along highway 90. Ryan Duhon, with DOT has been diligently spraying and prepping the site. Jim and Ryan were able to get a plan together a year or so ago for planting a cool prairie near the large Live Oak that was saved by DOT from destruction, Mr. Al, the Live Oak Tree. Al looked great and so did the prep work so far! another pocket prairie, to be seeded in November.

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Highway 90 east of New Iberia, Louisiana (the Berry) will be the new home of a demo Cajun Prairie, near the famous but modest Mr. Al, the Live Oak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crosby and Kisatchie Bog-Baygall trips, May 16th/Lipkin Hill Botanical Area-Old River WMA trip a near-complete success!!

Dr. Wayne Morris will lead a group of wild plant enthusiasts on a field trip to the Crosby Hillside bog and to the Steep Hollow natural area. As far as I know, this is the first trip Crosby has offered the trip to the Steep Hollow site, a place I have wanted to see for many years. Should be a great day, with many folks filling the pews. Be a part of this fun and informative field day. Turn off the computer and TV and get some nature in, ya’ll.

25th Annual Bog and Baygalls Field Trips with Dr. Charles Allen

For 25 years, folks have been meeting for the Bogs and Baygalls event in Kisatchie National Forest. For the last 15 years, this event has been based at the home of Charles and Sue Allen, who live on a property that joins Kisatchie, with the Ouskachitto River in their backyard.

Charles has worked for many years building and managing gardens focused on butterfly attraction. Charles is one of the the leading authorities on Bogs and Baygalls and he has been involved in this fun weekend of events since its started with the help of the late Robert Murray.

I haven’t decided which of these bog events I will attend, but I’m sure they will both be well attended and will be fun-filled days.

Old River WMA Lipkin Hill Botanical Area trip was a success!

We met for the annual field trip at my prairie seed farm Saturday. It was a light crowd, smaller than usual but we were also getting predictions of 60% rain for the day. As it turned out, we finished the four hour event with perfect weather, just as the rain began to come down.

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You know you’re getting close to Lipkin Hill when you start seeing the Indian Pinks,  Spigelia marilandica,in the leaf litter, above, and Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia.

We missed the Native Camellia, Stewartia malacodendron, in flower, by a day, or maybe a couple of days. Two years ago, when we made the trip last, we were a single day late, finding only clusters of stamens on the plants, and petals of the spent flowers on the ground. A rain had come the night before and beaten the flowers off.

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a tight bud of Native Camellia, a giant at fifteen feet tall and wide. The only blooms that occur are way up high where the branches reach for precious sunlight. A thick canopy of old growth trees covers this north facing slope of this River bluff

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above, a baby Stewartia, a foot or so tall, may be as old as twenty or forty years.

I have been going to Lipkin Hill since 1983. The Stewartias look the same as the first time I saw them. These are ancient plants. My good friend, Dorothy “Dot” Burge, who lived only 500 yards from Lipkin hill since 1945, said that they have stayed the same since she first saw the in the late 1940’s. No telling how old these plants are.

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above, an old Magnolia grandiflora with old native Vitus, muscadine vine, lovingly attached.  Rick and his wife Susan were, at one point, only thirty or so feet away and I could barely make them out, the woods are so dense there.

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above, here everything reaches upwardly. Rick Webb found the prize du jour, the Pyramid Magnolia in bloom. Here he bends the branch over for this photo of heaven right here on Earth. The flower’s about a foot across in size.

To get to Lipkin Hill, we walked a mile or so into the woods until suddenly the trail drops dramatically off the bluff, into the Pearl backwater.

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above, looking west into the beautiful Pearl River backwater, standing on the old logging rail spur bed that was cut into the slope, you see a fine second growth of buttressed Cypress-Tupelo-Water Hickory bottomland forest. In summer, when the floodwaters recede, the backwater ground plain fills becomes a mud-flat filled with White Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias perennis, and Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis.

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Looking up the trunk of one of the many fifty foot tall Cowcumber Magnolia trees, Magnolia Macrophylla, that fill this west-facing slope of Lipkin. Susan Webb pointed out giant flower petals on the ground that had fallen from the sun filled tops of the Cowcumbers.

Photos of the Week

Coreopsis nudata, found in only one Parish in Louisiana, St. Tammany, on a highway in the south part of the parish, in a pine flat.

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This Coreopsis is an obligate wetland species, not common in the landscape, especially here at the very western edge of its distribution range. click to enlarge photos.

 

 

deep south, mississippi boggin’

Digging in on a plant rescue in an old Pineywoods bog last week, I got to enjoy spring where most people don’t, up to my boot-ankles in water, sloshing around in a slurpy pine flat, since it had been raining on and off for the past two weeks. I recall doing bog transplantings/ rescues just a stone’s throw away from this spot, back in the late 1990’s for Crosby’s bog exhibit areas, with Bob Brsuszek and a bunch of other Crosby regulars. There was a Wal-Mart store proposed for that property and we volunteers were allowed to save and preserve many thousands of plants and clumps of precious soil from imminent and certain death. I dug and moved these recent plant rescues to my seed farm-pine restoration, just ten miles north from here.

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Pearl River County Mississippi pitcher plant rescue site, set for fill and construction-mitigation soon.

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click on the photo to see this old-old, leafless, and very sculptural Nyssa biflora, many years old (maybe ancient).

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a new species of Aristida for me (shown against my glove). A five footer, Charles Allen says its likely A. palustrus.

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Sunbonnets, Chaptalia tomentosa, were scattered across the floor of the landscape. Late february is for Sunbonnets in the bog. Very nice, indeed.

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The red of Aronia arbutifolia berries, still holding fruit this late, after winter is done.

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above: The red of a Hypericum leaf, colored-up, and colorful.

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In this native garden, ten miles north of Picayune; my friend Jim’s bog progressess. It was turfgrass lawn when he and I started turning it into a bog meadow in 1999. There’s a carpet of fluffy sphagnum moss covering the ground very beautifully through much of the garden area now; a wonderful achievement, I would say. Jim has nurtured this ground on his own, patiently caring for new plants he has to introduced through the years. He calls it gardening.

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Jim Sones of Carriere, Mississippi with his bog woodland friend, Cyrilla recemosa

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above: the bark of Cyrilla is often pinkish on old specimens, this one being much older than I, I am sure.

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My friend Charlotte Seidenberg’s recent photo of a frog inside a pitcher plant tube, in her garden. She was wondering how the plant will eat if the frog is taking its dinner! Charlotte is the author of The New Orleans Garden and The Wildlife Garden: Planning Backyard Habitats, both excellent reference sources for gardeners in the southeast U.S. -click on it to enlarge. She too, has nurtured a meadow garden that we both built.

Below is a ten-second youtube video, a brief glimpse of one of our three different controlled burns done in portions of the 20+ acre Pine Flat Bog exhibit at Mississippi State University’s Crosby Arboretum, Picayune, in Feb. 2015. You can easily see why we called it “controlled”. Fire can be managed if you’re starting with a good plan of action and then follow through with it. click the link below. but don’t try this at home, kids. 🙂

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Male cone of Long Leaf pine, Pinus palustrus. Long Leaf is the Queen of the Southeastern coastal plain forest. photo courtesy of Dr. Charles M. Allen. click on these to enlarge them -they’re beautiful works of art.

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palustrus, meaning swampy or marshy.

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The new book by Professor Robert Brzuszek, Landscape Architecture, Mississippi State University, hot off the press. Bob was the Senior Curator for the Arboretum from about 1988 to 2000.

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One of the many giants of horticulture that I am glad to say I had the great pleasure to meet an speak with on a few occasions. J.C. Rauston; an amazing horticultural force he was.

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Dr. Sidney McDaniel is one of the major scientific contributors/collaborators of the Arboretum. He studied and documented the flora of the Crosby Properties. His brilliance helped launch the Arbo into Earth-orbit.

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the early conceptual design by Dr. Blake for Crosby

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Dr. Blake’s graphic of the existing hydrologic zones at the Crosby. The bog-savanna areas are to the right in yellow, green and white. click to enlarge. Notice the grid built onto the design. Each corner of the grid is marked permanently by a foot-long, one inch diameter brass rod hammered into the ground. This system is used regularly by Crosby staff, researchers, and University students in following changes, patterns in the landscape vegetation.

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above: The Crosby Master Plan, by Dr. Ed Blake

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Ed’s sketch of pine bog herbs, at Crosby.

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Dr. Ed Blake was a friend of the planet Earth and he is sorely missed.

*Crosby book images published with permission from Mississippi State University and my friend and fellow-polack, the author, Robert F. Brzuszek

 

 

 

 

horticulture-worthy strains of native grasses for Gulf-influenced landscapes

One of the best things to happen to me in my working career is to have been influenced by a bunch of keen plant people who appreciated and promoted genetic diversity. This influence has helped me see the plants in the landscape with a more discerning eye.

By having the gift of spending time in natural areas, I’ve come across some noteworthy strains of plants that I believe have horticultural promise. Some are genetically unique individuals like you and I and some are entire populations of a single species in a particular location, noticeably different than the typical. Some are just normal, run-of-the-mill.

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Pioneering prairie ecologist Dr. Charles Allen and myself at Chapapeela Sports Park last Sunday in Hammond, Louisiana, checking out for the first time, the lushness of frosted-awesome prairie seeded two years ago in November. Without Charles and his side-kick Dr. Mac Vidrine (and other concerned Biologists), this, and other fabulous prairie gardens around the Gulf Coast region could not have been conceived. photo by Jeff McMillian

Here are a few Central Gulf Coastal plains species and strains worth mentioning:

Switch grass– Switch grass is highly variable in the landscape. Often, when you see lots of it, you’ll see short and tall, upright and rounded, narrow-leafed and wide bladed, blue-leaved and green-leaved. You’ll see variations in color and texture in inflorescence (flower), too. I have a nice dwarf one in my garden that grows about three feet tall in fruit. cule. the old timey selection, Heavy Metal, has been a commonly available cultivar (genetic anomaly) in the hort trade since the mid-1990’s. Northwind, a selection from up above the Mason-Dixon, is an upright and tall form that stays at attention, like a soldier. Cloud Nine is another I’ve grown for many years, getting my first plant from Niche Gardens in the late 1990’s. Its a big sucker, nine ft tall (Get it?) about that wide, too. Dallas Blue I’ve had for several years now and its of course its blue foliaged and decent in that it doesn’t flop and kind of rounded in form and medium texture. A decent plant. I think the perfect Switch for gardens is a fat-fat leaved one about three feet tall and wide, but I haven’t come across it yet. Gail Barton of Meridian Mississippi found a killer selection of Switch on Highway 45 south of Brooksville, Mississippi a few years ago. It is a beautiful grass, a beautiful plant. Its steely blue foliage with a large form about five feet, in inflorescence and a nice fine textured effect when in fruit. The cool thing about Switch grass is you can do large areas from seed really easily. We offer a mix of Switch seed from populations in the Cajun Tallgrass Prairie of Southwest Louisiana. In two years time, you can produce acres of Switch in robust, nearly mature stands.

Little Bluestem grass is said to be (or used to be) the most common sun-loving grass in in uplands(out of the wet) in East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It is a high-conservative species, worthy more ornamental use. Northern climate American are and have been selecting for this plant for many years and because of that, people are using them and making economic benefits in horticulture and commerce. We down here in the South are contemplating the matter still. This is an vertically inclined plant plant, its prolific and the beauty of it is more obvious in numbers. You wouldn’t plant a single Bluestem plant in a garden. You’d plant twenty or forty at a time, for effect. There’s strength in numbers, you know. You use Little Bluestem en masse as a element in the landscape. I prairie ecology, little Bluestem is a climax species, providing copies amounts of plants that proliferate in the landscape and when managed well, become a sod. Foliage and stem characteristics are where Little Blue got its name; Blue stems with red nodes and sometimes, the blue color is absent and shades of green dominate a stand. Sometimes the blue color is so intense it looks silver colored. In November, after first frost, Little Blue turns Little Red, and late in winter turns Little Tan. The functional value though is where Little Blue captures its niche. It provides ecological services abound. An interesting note is that Little Bluestem, below I-10 in the Cajun Prairie is associated with facultative wetland species. Normally it is considered a non’-wet loving plant but obviously genetics have adapted to wet ecotones.

Broomsedge/ Virginia Bluestem – since Little Bluestem has been so devastated, Broomsedge (not a sedge at all) is now probably the most common sun-loving upland grass in Louisiana. Its an early succession plant, moved out (in a restoration) by late succession species, Little Blue, typically. However, Broomsedge has some relevance as far as landscaping and horticulture is concerned. It can be managed in perpetuity if done with some skill. It has a most colorful presence in the landscape in the winter; an unusual reddish tan colored foliage, different than Little Blue, and of a slightly different texture. Its easily distinguished by its flattened stem nodes.

Split Beard Bluestem –Split Beard is very similar in habit and form to Little Blue until it blooms and fruits. When in fruit, the trained eye can pick it out of a line-up from a couple of hundred feet way. On I-20, if you happen to catch it in fruit before the mowers come, it creates a cottony, visually-dazzling landscape, whipped by the wind of the semi trucks. The fruit persists for a month or two. A cool, cool plant for horticulture and wildlife.

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above: Split Beard Bluestem in fruit and in the field. click on photo to enlarge

Dwarf Elliots Bluestem -Elliot’s Blue is rarely, if ever, dwarf, but there is a stand of a dwarf strain that I have been closely monitoring for two seasons, now, at a restoration in Louisiana that has horticultural promise for the Gulf coastal plain since most of our Bluestem species get really tall, especially in a garden soil with no root-space competition. An interesting thing is that when you see either Split Beard or Elliot’s, you generally see the other in close proximity. Elliot’s Blue has a similar habit to Little Blue until it blooms and fruits. Its really obvious when the fruit is on board. Fruits are wrapped in an elongated three inch sheath, something quasi-similar to a jack-in-the-pulpit arrangement. A very distinctive identifiable trait. No Bluestems look like it. The dwarf strain is obviously different than typical, and everything else around it is of normal height and form. This is obviously a strain that comes true from seed, hence the size of the stand (presently about 30 x 50 feet).

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above: Elliot’s Bluestem in fruit, and the dwarf stand, about two feet tall.

Dwarf Indian grass -Indian grass is a great prairie garden plant. It is a runner of sorts, but politely so. Again, like with most native grasses planted in a garden situation with loose soil and no root competition, the height and width can double or more, compared to the normal competitive-prairie size. In the competitive world of the prairie, Indian is polite and docile, and only grows a tuft of grass about a foot or so high, with nearly invisible floral stems to six feet, topped with highly attractive and colorful infloresnces. Yellow Indian grass is the common name for this plant since the flower heads are bright and yellowy, robust and unusually large considering the stem diameter. Indian is highly variable genetically with a variety of genetic strains coming from a handful of seed. Often there are steely blue colorations of foliage and differing leaf forms and sizes.

Dr. Susan Barton, U of Delaware (http://canr.udel.edu/faculty/barton-susan/) has made some wonderful discoveries conduction planting experiments with Indian grass. She told me about how she preps the planting area by spraying herbicide repeatedly and then mixes Indian grass seed with saw dust. Then lays the sawdust-seed mix across the ground an inch thick and voila! Instant Indian grass prairie!!!!!

Dwarf Indian in my seed field -years ago, a friend, Gail Baron (yard flower.com), gave me a few cups of Indian grass with origin, as I recall, from somewhere in Mississippi. I planted it out and it has proven to be a particularly dwarf strain. Nice.

Love grass (there are many species) – Love grass should be a good marketable plant just because of its name. It is a very short-statured grass, much wider than its one foot height. Work should be done on this plant simply because it has such a short overall height. And it comes up readily from seed.

Three Awn grass -Aristidas are feathery, fine textured and rather attractive native grasses that create puffs of color and texture in the landscape. Some come up readily from seed. These are relative to the Wire grass, Aristida strict, so common and dominant in Florida and Georgia pine lands but absent from west Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Generally dwarf in size, most often, about a foot high, wispy and vertical; moved by the slightest breeze. Purty. The best one for horticulture is A. purpurascens.

Narrow Leaf Bluestem – a most promising garden plant and lawn substitute, Schizachyrium tenerum has a short and rounded form with needly-thin leaves, growing about a foot high and 30 inches wide. Its distribution range is a fairly small area, the central  Gulf coast, mainly, with some disjunct populations, east, in eastern Georgia and North Carolina and west to Corpus Christi, Texas. Narrow Leaf Blue is unique in that it is one of the species in the Coastal Prairie of Louisiana (Cajun Prairie) that separates the Tall grass prairie of the midwest from the Tallgrass prairies of the Gulf Coast region. It has something to do with the Gulf influenced coastal pine lands intergrading with the Tallgrass prairie. Its a true Southerner.

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above: Distribution range of Schiz ten

Pineland Dropseed, Sporobolus junceus -what a beautiful and very useful grass this plant is! A favorite of mine. It graced my prairie seed catalogue cover years ago. Prairie Dropseed casts a wide net horticulturally for the potential it has for use in gardens, home and urban prairie landscapes and especially for the no-mow or low-mow native lawn. This plant is so petite, a tiny thing, that gets about six or eight inches in height and maybe a little less wide. The inflorescences are erect barely visible, they’re so thin and fine in texture. Very interesting. Its a clumping tuft with fine textured foliage and is delightful to find en masse in the wild. Am presently working on plantings of it for demonstrations for the last couple of years.

Brownseed Paspalum -Brownseed is a great early succession nurse crop for strarting a prairie garden since it comes on early in dominance and stays until competition moves it out to a lesser roll in the prairie landscape. A good wildlife plant but not much on the eyes. Most folks would say it looks like Bahia grass but it is quite different, actually. Much thinner inflorescences and fruit clusters. Its another Gulf coastal species mostly, with reach into northern area outside the coastal plain. Adaptable from Texas to the Carolinas.

Side Oats Gramma (or Side Oats Grammaw grass)– Boutaloua curtipendula isn’t supposed to be in Louisiana but Botanist Chris Reid showed me a killer naturally occurring stand last year in Cameron Parish, a stone’s throw from the Gulf. He and another expert told me that that is an anomaly and that that stand is probably something that came from seed sowed for forage. I dunno. However, its growing like a weed in the Louisiana coastal Parish of Cameron! That’s big news folks. Big potential there in that genetic strain. I went to collect some seed and or plants last year and it had just been nuked by the Highway dept. or county road crews. Bummer, dude. This species (and for us, this strain) has incredible potential for low-mow, no-mow lawns and is a great garden plant. The closest place to find it naturally near us, other than in Cameron Parish stand is in the Black Belt prairie region where it is not common at all, rare. These Black Belt genetics have potential for trial also, in heavier, higher Ph soils like New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Eastern Gamma –is a big, big plant. Its a large textured, pale green leaved, rounded plant with flower spikes that radiate outwardly and above the foliage in all directions, from the center. An ancient relative of the corn plant, if you suck on the seed a bit, you’ll see it even tastes like corn. Voted a better plant for bio-fuel than Switch because of its higher sugar content, its also an ornamental plant of note. It can be grown easily from seed but is not as fast as say, Switch grass. But in three years time, you can easily grow several acres by seed and save tons of plant costs while creating large swaths of grassy landscape. Super good fire generator and an excellent wildlife food and cover plant. Also, ook into the use of its far-southern first cousin Florida Gamma grass, rare in the wild but common now via conservation, on highways and shopping mall parking lots in south Florida, Miami area. Cool beans. I have a nice stand of about fifty maturing plants in my home garden here in Covington, trying it out. It seems to be tough as its cousin for me so far.

Go! Micro-Prairies!!!!!

 

 

A Will Flemming Garden, proof that everything’s bigger in Texas!

Friday I was in Houston with Professor Wes Michaels and a curious group of LSU Landscape Architecture soon-to-be-graduates, we ducked in to see a garden designed and planted by Will Flemming, horticulturist, garden designer, nurseryman, awesome human being. Of course we were treated to many horticultural delicacies throughout the visit. Will fills his gardens full of beautiful and useful plants that are not the typical run-of-the-mill garden variety. There is not much bare area left when he’s finished planting.

I have been a big fan of Will and his work since my first trip to Brenham, Texas in 1993 where we were introduced to each other and first talked plants while standing in one of his creations: a particularly lush ground rock garden. Will is not only famous for his plants and plantings but also his rock work.

Will distinguishes between landscaping and gardening. He says one is not the same as the other. And to understand this one must see Willie’s gardens. And many of them. Each one is so uniquely different. Willie Flemming loves collecting, growing, using, and nurturing extraordinarily significant plants.

Willie gardens!!!!!

I consider myself a fairly well versed plantsman but people like Will, I am simply in awe of. Yet there is absolutely not a pretentious bone in his body.

He is not only very willing to share his knowledge, he shares his plants.  …and his gardens. He and I have been sharing plants for some years. Some of my long-time, favorite pass-a-long plants originated from him.

So many times over the last twenty years he has dropped what he was doing to let me into his world, to see his gardens, so that I could experience them. After all, most of what Willie does is behind the gate of a private garden. Each time I’ve visited his handiwork, a burst of horticultural energy has been tranferred, like an IV into the blood of my veins. It is so inspiring to see and study the work of the masters. I feel really lucky to have been able to bring the class to see his work. A treat it certainly was.

Willie’s client wanted to design a garden at a rental property they owned just next door. So Will took advantage of mature Chinese Privet growing on the fence line between the two properties and after rounding off the top, carved out an opening, making it the entrance “doorway” into the garden.

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Wes Michaels, as he steps into a Will Flemming Rabbit Hole.

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Landscape Architect Alex Ochoa steps up to enter the Garden

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Landscape Architect Keely Rizzato checking out the hand-carved entrance ceiling

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above: once through the entrance doorway, you’re hit with a forceful wave a foliage and effect that will stop you in your horticultural tracks.

The garden is arranged as a small terrace, a level, open surface adjacent to the back of the house, with a fairly steep slope that drops twenty feet into one of the dry drainage channels of White Oak Bayou. Large Basswood trees shade the slope from the south and the bayou channel has an otherwise volunteer canopy with oaks and cypress. There is only water running  in the channel in big rain events but sometimes the water backs up and the water goes upslope toward the terrace, Will informed us. Hackett stone was used for the walkways and for the steps leading down the slope. Flemming built a dry creek-bed “sedge lawn” that is designed to stabilize the hillside base when water runs and channels down the slope face.

Much of the planting is done for function as well as beauty. Its wonderful stuff. Lots of different plants, and gardens everywhere except for where the paths cut through it. Will focused on using plants that stabilized the slope and they are obviously working well. He masterfully uses cool natives and heirloom plants to build gardens that are beautifully arranged plant collections.

Will brought us here to show us his use of the sedge meadow, since our class focused on designing and building Urban Meadows.

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I only met the cat casually, didn’t get a name, as he / she was walking through the cushiony bed of Leavenworth’s sedge, Carex leveanworthii. Bronze Fennel and Bee Balm in the background, just prior to bloom.

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above: The sunny part of the garden. On the right, St Joseph’s lily in foreground, the spikes of Manfreda variegata, sedge and Cardoon in background.

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the bold grey leaves of Cardoon, Cynara cardunculus are ultra-velvety soft-to-the-touch.

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a really tightly compact Sedum Will told me was native to the Czeckoslovakia region of Europe(didn’t get the species name), with the fat-strapped leaves of Manfreda x Agave ‘Macho Mocha’, aka Mangave, a cross between Manfreda and Agave, a Yucca-do Nursery introduction.

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St Joseph’s lily in red, the green of salvia on the right and a dwarf, blue form of Eastern Gamma grass (a Flemming introduction) in full inflorescence.

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Leavenworth Sedge is cool stuff, folks. Get you some!

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Lindhiemer Muhly grass, Muhlembergia lindhiemeri arches over a path. This grass does exceptionally well in gardens here in Louisiana and I’ve never seen a seedling, so not invasive yet.

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“the silver form”, Will said, of Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens at the far end of the gardens, as compared to the “blue form” which he said, is more common in the nursery trade. Eyelash Leafed Salvia, Salvia blepharophylla is on left foreground as a ground cover with Inland River Oats, Chasmanthium latifolia on the far side of the Saw Palmetto, punctuated at-top with Crinum and Leavenworth’s Sedge.

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stone paths lead the way in the garden, with Rain Lily hybrid Zepharanthes “Labuffarosea” (a super duper garden plant for Louisiana), occasionally lining the edge

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Stone craftsmanship by the Flemmer!

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the delicacy of Prairie Phlox merges with the rigidness of natural stone.

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Prairie Phlox in the foreground, Bear Grass, Nolina budding-up for flowerand Meadow Rue, Thalictrum just beyond.

 

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steps leading down to the base camp

 

A trademark plant of Will would be the old world Cardoon Cynara cardunculus. These are herbaceous with velvety silver leaves. They were huge.

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Mottled Tuberose, Manfreda variegata flower stalks just before blossom, lunging upwardly, reflecting the verticality of the building’s architecture. Mottled Tuberose is an excellent garden ground cover for us in Louisiana for shade or sun, adaptable to most garden soils.

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Saw Palmetto, River Oats, and Spiderwort all work hard to keep erosion from occurring.

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Wes Chats with Will at the summit

 

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Will Flemming exits the garden through the Privet doorway.

What’s taking Garden Design magazine so long to find this guy?

LSU Hilltop Arbo tours Crosby, Hammond Station, and Meadowmakers Farm

The Hilltop Arboretum will be hosting a tour of three significant gardens in southeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi(both sides of the Pearl River) on Thursday, April 10. It promises to be a fun and informative event. Hope you can be in that number!

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above: Pitcher Plant flowers Sarracenia alata

Click on the link below for details.

http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/hilltop/spring-garden-road-tour/

Hammond Station worker-bees make good!

While we were enduring our three back-to-back polar vortexes, the worker-bees at The LSU  Hammond Research Station were indoors, being very productive.

I stopped by yesterday for the second time this week to get a further update on progress with prairie and savanna seed activities at the station. Tuesday I met with Dr. Yan Chen, Joey Quibideaux, and Gina Hebert. We talked some more about the seed inventory and we discussed specifics for the planting projects.

Yesterday I met with Gina again, and we finally got a chance to go into the lab where they are doing their first real experiment, sowing Cajun Prairie and Louisiana Long Leaf pine herbaceous savanna species in order to get a feel for seed viability.

That was more than great! I was so impressed with the effort they have made to clean the seed that I’ve provided for them. They have obviously been really busy and taking their work very seriously since they have bags and bags of the most beautifully clean wild-seed that I have seen.

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Their refrigerator is full. We were searching for some seed that had been in unmarked bags, trying to ID the “ones that got away”. It is pretty tedious work collecting individual species a-la-wild-collect, so I missed marking a few bags. This(photo above) is one unmistakable species that was unmarked, Narrow-Leaf Bluestem (Schizachirium tenerum), one that holds so much promise for Gulf coastal horticulture: a beautiful, dwarf-sized native grass, much-needed in the ornamental nursery trade.

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One of four or five cleaning stations in the labmanned by the seed cleaning crew. This is a mix of Little Bluestem and Virginia Bluestem collected for native grass demonstration plots.

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Seed, some starting to germinate in agar.  (click photo to enlarge)

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Cool stuff.

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blazing stars, bottom left, and a couple of milkweeds #3 and #11

Next on the agenda is sowing seed in seed trays. They’ll also be doing some cold stratification on a good portion of seed and will eventually sow that into seed trays, as well. They’ve got some good plans and are making steady progress.

The intention is to grow the plants and will use them in demonstration beds for display and for future propagation purposes. Eventually, the seed from these plants will be offered to nurseries interested in growing some for commercial availability.

Special thanks goes to the worker-bees, Gina Hebert, Ashley Edwards, Richard Vander Muellen, JJ Gulley, Vincent Noil, Laura Giacone, and Master Gardener Voluneer, Carolyn DeRouen for their very productive work! But also, thanks, so much to Dr. Regina Bracey, Dr. Allen Owings, Dr. Yan Chen for their interest in working with these precious prairie plant species.

whooty hoot, ya’ll!!!

🙂

……