PVC Bulletin January 2006






Potomac Valley Chapter

North American Rock Garden Society



Volume 8, Number 1


January  2006



This bulletin is a bimonthly publication of the Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS

Jim  McKenney, Editor jimmckenney@starpower.net 301-770-1867




Calendar,  2006  

January 7, Carlo Balistrieri, formerly Curator of the T.H. Everett Rock Garden at the NY Botanical Garden, now of The Gardens at Turtle Point, Tuxedo Park, NY.  9:30 A.M USBG Conservatory.  Note: this event was announced in error for 10 A.M. in the paper version of the PVC Bulletin


January 27-29, Eastern Study Weekend sponsored by the Manhattan Chapter, NARGS. Speakers include Beryl Bland, Peter Bland, John Lonsdale, Rick Lupp, Robert Rolfe and Abbie Zabar.  


 February 11 Brookside Gardens, 9:30A.M-1 P.M.

John Scott, founder of the Rockland Botanical Garden in Berks Co., PA.and a student of Dr. Wherry. Feast for the East, an account of the tour he led in June with the Hardy Fern Foundation and the British Pteridological Society.


March 3-5, Western Study Weekend, Rounding the Rim, Plants From the Pacific Rim, Sydney-by-the-Sea (near Victoria, BC), Hosted by VIRAGS;



March TBD, but Betty has two things in mind


April 1, place TBA  Marion Jarvie from the Ontario Chapter NARGS, Rock Garden Goodies.



Next Deadline February 15, 2006



Annual Meeting, Elections, and Membersí Slide Show,

 At our November 12  Annual Meeting the following slate of officers was unanimously elected:

Alma Kasulaitis - President

Paul Botting - Vice President

Margot Ellis - Treasurer

Sandra Carlson - Secretary

Sue Hodapp - Parliamentarian



Dixie Hougen's annual report of plants reported to be blooming on New Year's Day will be posted to this web site in early January and printed in the March PVC paper Bulletin. Be sure to let her know if you have something in bloom. If there is a digital camera handy, photograph it, and we'll post the image on this web site.

Early December was unseasonably cold, and as a result some late bloomers are much later than usual. Here are some images of plants in bloom in the editor's garden on December 27, 2005.

Crocus goulimyi, a bit weather beaten

Crocus hermoneus

Crocus longiflorus

Crocus ochroleucus

Oddly, some ordinarily early bloomers such as Crocus imperati and C. laevigatus have yet to appear. Nor is there any sign of action in two clumps of Iris unguicularis from different sources. Nor are the sometimes winter-blooming members of the Narcissus bulbocodium group blooming here. And Colchicum kesselringii is also in advanced bud. In a cold frame, sweet violets are blooming, as are some Sternbergia which have been in bloom for over a month.

Butcher's Broom and Alexandrian Laurel

If you're the sort of gardener who prizes plants rich in lore and long-grown in gardens, then you'll want to know about butcher's broom, Ruscus aculeatus, and Alexandrian laurel, DanaŽ   racemosa. In the garden they give the impression of being low shrubs. But they are not woody. In fact, they are Asparagus relatives, in the broad old-fashioned sense lily family plants. Nor are their affinities the only surprising thing about them. What appear to be leaves in these plants are in fact modified branches.

 Butcher's broom forms a low huddled mass of spiny, unpleasantly hard greenery sometimes spangled during the winter with bright red marble-sized fruits. The plant has a wide range in southern Europe (including England) eastward to the Black Sea. Whenever I think about this plant, Reginald Farrer's description of the New Zealand Hebe comes to mind: " repellent leathern bushes with hard dead-looking foliage often of a metallic cast-iron look, or else with no apparent leaves at all..." And they are spine tipped in the butcher's broom; that is bad enough in the living plant and even less pleasant in the dry dead branches. The true leaves are tiny and appear briefly on the equally tiny stems which produce the flowers. These minute flowering stems arise from the middle of the seeming leaf; and if both male and female plants are in bloom, result in handsome red fruit. A cultivar known as 'Weller's'  produces both male and female flowers. Butcher's broom is fully root hardy here in the Washington, D.C. area, but a severe winter will kill the above ground parts of the plant. Be sure to wear gloves when cutting out the dead growth. Use it as you would a choice dwarf barberry, and admire it from a distance. I've never seen this plant in a local nursery, but I have seen the dried foliage, typically sprayed silver or gold, in commercial holiday decorations. There are other species of Ruscus, including one, R. hypoglossum, which ranges northward up into Austria and the former Czechoslovakia and so should be hardy in local gardens.

DanaŽ   racemosa shares the hard quality of butcher's broom, but lacks the unpleasant qualities. And it's a much bigger plant: there is a fine clump at Brookside which produces stems over three feet high and thus forms a hemispherical mound which occupies well over a square yard of area. The greenery has a shiny, lacquered surface and is very handsome in the garden. I suspect that many more people have seen this plant than know what it is: the greenery is still a familiar decoration in some meat case windows in local up-scale grocery stores. On the rare occasions when you encounter someone who knows what this plant is, it's name is likely to be pronounced "danny", although historically the name is a three syllable word (and thus the dieresis).  DanaŽ has the reputation of being one of those plants which gets off to a very slow start. You'll search long and hard for a nursery source for this plant. I grew mine from seed, and I have passed seed on to a nurserywoman friend who has no illusions about getting rich quickly on DanaŽ.

Both of these are in fruit now, and each big red fruit yields one or two large seeds. The seeds germinate in hypogeal fashion; that is, the root appears first and there is no cotyledon above ground. The first stem may not appear until the second spring, so these are plants which require patience. During the first several years, not much will happen. Place them with the long term in mind, as you would a choice seedling peony, Dictamnus, or hellebore. They are ideal companions for other plants of winter interest such as Arum italicum and Helleborus foetidus and boxwood.                                Editor                     

DanaŽ racemosa in fruit

Ruscus aculeatus in fruit

Ruscus aculeatus showing the flower buds arising from the middle of the leaf-like flattened stem.