As my wife and I strolled through the Botanical Garden I pointed out one thing and another to her, a plant’s name or some horticultural curiosity, and to my astonishment, she usually replied with skepticism. I often claim to have planted one of everything in my garden, and of course this isn’t nearly true, but I’ve planted far more than my share, and though my memory is spotty or worse, I hope to have a better eye for plants than most.
I will admit to occasionally “fleshing out” a story (for the sake of entertaining my wife only), and I suppose this is the root of her disturbing lack of faith. The plants at the botanical garden are well marked, though some tags were buried deep into shrubby growth that was visited by too many ornery looking bees to risk with my recent penchant for being stung. It is not remarkable that I did not know every plant (above), and often we could not find a tag without stepping too deeply into the planting beds, so some beauties remain a mystery.
A few plants were not marked at all, such as a China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata, below) planted off a side trail of the International garden that was not identified, and located where only a few curious types would venture to see it close up.
Cunninghamia is in the family of the southeastern native bald cypress, and though a fine evergreen it is not commonly found in commerce or in gardens. Earlier in this spring I planted a dwarf sort in my garden since I do not have space for the larger tree. The dwarf is likely to be too large eventually, but it’s such a wee little fellow that I’ll probably be dead and gone. Or perhaps if it grows more quickly than I suspect I’ll transplant it and give something else the heave ho.
My wife seemed quite disinterested in my discovery of this splendid evergreen, and so most plants that I pointed out were flowering, or were plants from our garden. She was interested in the small leafed ficus that clung tightly to a brick wall, and a hops vine (Humulus lupulus, above) that climbed an iron arch, but otherwise we stuck to bloomers, and these were plentiful on this hot, humid August afternoon.
A few days earlier we had run across a giant leafed castor bean on the University of Georgia campus, and the one in the Physic garden (Ricinus communis, above) would hardly be worth mentioning if not for the red seed pods. Castor beans are crushed for the manufacture of castor oil, and also used in concentration for the toxin ricin, but the seeds are unlikely candidates for sampling by children because of the sharp spines.
Part of the botanical garden’s mission is research, and my wife and I took a few moments to do some small and unimportant research by comparing the number of butterflies on a pink flowered butterfly bush (probably Buddleia davidii ‘Pink Delight’, above) with a nearby lantana (Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff, below).
The lantana clearly had many more butterflies, as well as bees, hornets, and various other flying critters. A curator shopped by to see what the devil these two idiots (Well, really just one idiot. My wife has better judgment than to stray too near this number of bees.) were doing with their noses inches from swarming insects, and he agreed, but excused that the butterfly bush was slightly past its peak. I’ll allow some margin for error that he might be correct, but there is never a time in the heat of summer when the lantana is not at peak bloom, so it is the better plant for attracting butterflies. ‘Miss Huff’ is more shrub than the typical prostrate lantanas sold as annual summer bedding, and it is claimed to be winter hardy enough for my Virginia garden. Now, I’m encouraged to find a space for this colorful shrub.
My wife was enthralled by a Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’, above) planted only a few feet from the lantana, yet unbothered by insects of any type. The tubular petals are distinctive, unlike other coneflowers, and the flowers are abundant. I think this one is likely to find its way into my garden also.
There is so much more to cover, but it’s time to get back to my own garden. Despite the heat and lack of rain there are a few bloomers that deserve mention, though the list is much shorter than at this superb botanical garden.