When kids can’t get along, parents know it’s time to divide them. The same goes for perennials that won’t make room for other plants in the garden. And daylilies are one of the biggest offenders; quickly crowding out other, smaller species with their big, drooping foliage. But don’t despair. Just follow the simple steps below and you’ll have things back under control in a jiffy. Continue reading →
Growing up in Delaware, I had never seen anything like it. We crossed a bridge over a burbling stream, clambered up a copper-toned hill and there it was: Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring. Alone on a wooden walkway, I inhaled the warm, earth-scented vapors that glided across the turquoise water. Otherworldly? Yes. But, surprisingly even here, in this stunning but inhospitable place, there was life and things were growing.
KALEIDOSCOPE EYES – PANIC! AT YELLOWSTONE
First described in 1871 by the Hayden Expedition, the Grand Prismatic Spring is the third largest hot spring in the United States. Veiled in steam, it bubbles like a bathtub, offering a glimpse now and then into its churning caldron. The deep blue pool is impressive, but more surprising still are the tentacles of golden yellow, burnt orange and metallic green that fan outwards from the roiling waters. Seemingly not of this earth, they carve kaleidoscopic paths across the scorched soil.
Grand Prismatic Spring from new overlook trail
Upon seeing the spring for the first time, Ferdinand Hayden (the leader of the Expedition) wrote:
Nothing ever conceived by human art could equal the peculiar vividness and delicacy of color of these remarkable prismatic springs.
It’s enough to make your head spin.
ABOUT YELLOWSTONE’S HOT SPRINGS
Of the many different kinds of hot springs at Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is one and Grand Prismatic Spring is another. Both result from groundwater that has been heated by molten magma and risen to the surface. In the case of Old Faithful, however, the hot water encounters blockages on its way up. This produces the famous geyser’s explosive eruption of steam.
The Grand Prismatic Spring, however, encounters no blockages, instead rising to the surface through cracks in the earth’s crust. This allows for a continual flow of water that rises, cools and falls back, only to rise again. As a result, the vapors stay close to the earth, roiling slowly around the molten rock.
A glimpse into the turquoise depths of the spring
GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING IS YELLOWSTONE’S LARGEST
Pouring almost 500 gallons of scalding water per minute into nearby Firehole River, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest and most brilliant-colored of Yellowstone’s many hot springs. The high temperature of the spring (estimated at around 160 degrees F) is responsible for the steam that hovers 24/7 above the crater.
Due to this cycle of heating, cooling and re-heating, the spring has developed rings of varying temperatures. The hottest water, which is located in the center, is too extreme for living things. However, as the water spreads outwards, it gradually cools, allowing for conditions more amenable to life to develop.
Bands of color at Grand Prismatic Spring
Happily, the viewing boardwalk provides safe passage for humans atop the smoldering landscape. And there is good cause for concern. Along the way, signs warn against the dangers of straying, citing stories of how people have been scalded, children killed and family pets sucked into the vortex. Indeed, even standing too close to the spring can cause intense burns.
The viewing boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring
So how can life exist in such harsh conditions? The answer lies in the prismatic colors. Each of these stunning hues harbors billions of colorful microorganisms that live in the spring’s runoff channels. These ‘extremophiles’ (so named for their ability to live in conditions that were once thought too hot to host life) are not only surviving, but thriving, happily assembled in thick, microbial mats.
MINIATURE MICROBIAL FORESTS
Microbial mats may not sound all that interesting until you consider that each of these burgeoning communities is in fact a miniature ecosystem functioning much like a forest. There’s a ‘canopy’ of microbes performing photosynthesis. And, there’s an ‘understory’ of organisms playing the crucial role of decomposition and recycling of nutrients back to the canopy.
The rainbow of colors that the mats produce depends on the temperature of the water. In the summer, the mats tend towards brown, orange or red and in the winter they gravitate towards dark green.
Microbial mats radiating outwards from Grand Prismatic Spring
WHAT ACCOUNTS FOR THE YELLOW/ORANGE COLOR
Cynobacteria, marine bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis, are one common organism found growing by the Grand Prismatic Spring. In the world’s oceans, cynobacteria occupy an important position at the bottom of the food web. At Yellowstone, however, they have had to make some ecological adjustments. These are evidenced in the distinctive yellow/orange color of the spring’s outer ring.
Yellowstone’s extreme temperatures, high altitude sun and lack of shade can quickly overwhelm the photosynthetic process. But, a certain strain of cynobacteria has learned to survive the heat by adjusting its ratio of chlorophyll to carotenoids. During the hottest months, rather than staying green, they employ carotenoids as shields. This results in their summertime yellow/orange color.
Close-up of some of the microbial communities
As you move further from the spring, more and more lifeforms can be found. Cynobacteria are joined by other strains whose combined colors read as orange. Finally, as the temperature cools, the communities of bacteria at the furthest points produce the darkest color, a molten shade of coppery-brown.
View of spring from bridge
Hard to believe these mini orange and brown ‘forests’ are existing right under our noses. Life is pretty amazing.
One of the perks of being a master gardener is all the great lectures you get to attend. And today’s talk following the board meeting was no exception. It happened to coincide with the very moment I was asking myself “What’s going on with my lavender?” Here was professional grower, Sophia Watkins, ready to answer all my questions.
ABOUT SOLEADO LAVENDER FARM
Watkins runs a family-owned, sustainable farm called Soleado Lavender Farm. Located in Dickerson, Maryland, it is the largest of its kind in the state. Watkins grew up on the 286-acre property, 26 acres of which are now dedicated solely to the growing of lavender.
Soleado Lavender Farm
The family prides itself on its long history of organic farming, a practice Watkins’ father adopted back in the 1960s. During that time, the farm grew primarily a mix of soybeans and grains. For a child, it was a great way to grow up. So later, when Watkins and her fiancé took over the farm, they knew they wanted to continue the tradition.
“Our goal was about preservation even more than about gardening,” she said. “We wanted to protect these special parts of Maryland and keep them alive for not only our own child but for everybody else’s children as well.”
Why choose lavender? The couple was looking for a sustainable perennial that deer wouldn’t eat and one from which they could make products for sale. Lavender fit the bill — not only for its drought-tolerance, but also for its many decorative and culinary uses. As the farm grew in popularity, the couple added bees for pollination. And today, the farm boasts nine hives with over 40,000 bees in each, all producing lavender honey.
In recognition of Watkins’ fiancé’s Latin American roots, they named their farm Soleado, signifying sunny or ‘baking in the sun.’ As it happened, in their first year of operation, Watkins says they found themselves ‘dying in the heat’ as they got things established. Consequently, Soleado took on a new shade of meaning.
TOP TIPS FOR GROWING LAVENDER
At Soleado Lavender Farm, all of the plants are grown from cuttings, a practice most nurseries have adopted due to the lower germination rate of seeds. Watkins harvests both soft and hardwood cuttings in summer, strips all but two or three leaves at the top then dips them in a root hormone to encourage propagation. Not surprisingly, her top choice for root hormone is honey.
So as to give the roots plenty of space to develop, Watkins then plants her cuttings in a ‘bulky’ growing medium composed of Leafgro and perlite. Later, she transfers them to 2” plastic pots.
Once potted, the cuttings spend up to 8 weeks in partial shade or in the greenhouse (under shade cloths) until substantial roots begin to appear. In due course, the new plants are moved to the field. Watkins noted that if the cuttings are planted outside first, the process usually goes faster.
THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER
According to Watkins, three is the magic number of years it takes for a good-sized plant to develop. After that, it may continue to grow for another four. What happens around year seven, I asked? If taken care of properly, lavender can live for anywhere between ten and twenty years. And incredibly, some historical properties boast plants that are over 80.
A great combo, hydrangea and lavender
Regardless of age, once established, lavender is a sun-loving plant. This explains why no variety can tolerate shade and still produce flowers. Once the flowers are harvested, Watkins sprays the plants’ roots with fish emulsion for fertilizer. “We need to fortify them after they’ve put all that energy into blooming, “ she said.
GROWING LAVENDER IS A LOT ABOUT THE CUT
There is much conflicting information about when and how to cut back lavender. Watkins freely admits that her method might not suit everyone, but at Soleado Lavender Farm, they prune their plants two to four times a year. She shears her crop like sheep, cutting back all new growth each time the plants flower. This process begins almost as soon as the cuttings are transplanted.
Cutting back encourages new growth
Cutting back not only encourages new, dense growth, but also helps mitigate lavender’s annoying tendency to open up in the middle. It also improves the overall looks of the plant and enables it to better survive the winter. Further, it redirects energy into developing strong roots, which according to Watkins, results in a thicker, healthier plant.
At Soleado Lavender Farm, however, they never prune anything thicker than a pencil. And they avoid old wood. Watkins does NOT recommend cutting back old woody stems. If you absolutely must, she said to trim them back just to where the first bunch of leaves start on the bush.
They stop all cutting by the end of October.
SHREDDED MULCH: LAVENDER IS NOT A FAN
Along with lots of sun, lavender prefers to stay dry. Ironically, once of the main threats to its survival comes in the form of mulch. According to Watkins, shredded mulch is the biggest offender. Since it often harbors mold spores, this kind of material can spell death for lavender.
“What seems to really kill them is the mold spores that come in on shredded mulch,” said Watkins. “Given the amount of humidity we have (in Maryland), it’s really important to stick with a dry medium.”
If you’re using shredded mulch in the rest of your garden, Watkins advises keeping it at least one to two feet away from your lavender. At the farm, they use crushed bluestone instead (that they harvest from their driveway.) Other great options include white gravel and seashells, both of which have the added benefit of reflecting light back onto the plant.
White gravel mulch
WINTERING TIPS FOR GROWING LAVENDER
Many of us have lost lavender plants over the winter. However, Watkins said, “Getting your plants through the winter does not have to do with size or age, even little seedlings can make it through the winter. A temperature of anything above 0 degrees Fahrenheit is OK.”
So what can we do to prepare for the colder months? The most important thing, according to Watkins, is to keep plants trimmed and thick. The thickness (or thatchiness) is what keeps the snow and ice out of the plants. (Although snow doesn’t seem to be as bad for lavender as ice.)
In short, it’s a matter of creating a plants that have a good smooth cut on them so they become their own insulation.
Recently, a new lavender introduction called “Phenomenal” is showing amazing cold hardiness, retaining its leaves all through the winter.
NO SIGNIFICANT PESTS OR DISEASES
Not only are its water needs low, but lavender also is resistant to most pests and diseases. Watkins says occasionally she’ll observe spittlebugs on her plants, but that’s about it. The main concern is lavender’s super susceptibility to mold spores caused by humidity. As I noted above, the best thing you can do for mold is to practice prevention.
Another great plus to growing lavender is that deer hate it, although Watkins observed that “Sometimes they’ll pull the young plants out of the ground, ‘Just because.”’
Soleado Lavender Farm grows a mix of English, French and Spanish lavender varieties. They’re always experimenting with new strains and each year discover clear standouts. These days, Watkins is loving the “rabbit ear petals” on the flower tops of Spanish lavender.
Wildflower meadow at Cedar Breaks National Monument
Just a stone’s throw away from Utah’s Bryce Canyon, there’s a scenic byway that cuts a 50-mile route across a series of breathtaking plateaus. Known as the Patchwork Parkway, it provides access to the Dixie National Forest and Cedar Breaks National Monument. In July, this stunning wilderness area takes on an added dimension: its meadows and slopes are painted with wildflowers. Continue reading →
As a child, I was always drawn to shady nooks. In my mind, a deep green space spoke of mystery with its long shadows and dappled play of light. This fascination has continued into my adulthood. Only now, these same sensations inspire my designs, particularly when it comes to creating a shade garden. Continue reading →
If you haven’t been to Denver, you may think Cheesman sounds like a strange place for a world-class garden. But, the old-line neighborhood plays host to one of the best ones I’ve toured in decades. No matter the season, the Denver Botanic Gardens is sure to wow. And impress me it did, with its grand spaces showcasing plants from all over the world. Continue reading →
High on a hilltop in Orange, Virginia, there’s an historic property that will leave you speechless. Known as Mount Sharon, it occupies the second highest point in the county. The magnificent estate is seldom open to the public. So recently when my club received an invitation to tour the gardens, I could hardly wait to go. Continue reading →
A suburban meadow can free you from tiresome yard work
These days, many of us are searching for alternatives to conventional lawn and garden care, a chore that has become increasingly dependent on time and maintenance as well as pesticides and other poisons. Luckily, there’s a solution to the problem. Sustainable and chemical-free, it’s called the suburban meadow garden. Continue reading →
There’s something about the color orange that really appeals to the senses. Not nearly as aggressive as red, it nonetheless calls attention to itself in a cool, refreshing sort of way. So I was happy to hear that recently, an orange-flowering species received a perennial plant’s highest honor. In late November 2016, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) was named 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year. Continue reading →
In painting, black is the deepest hue. It gives structure to a composition by creating the illusion of depth and drawing the eye. And in the garden, black (or almost black) flowers attract attention, too, while creating dramatic contrast with other colors. I often include black plants in my designs just to pump up the volume. Continue reading →