POTOMAC VALLEY CHAPTER
NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY
Jim McKenney, Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
November 22 , 2008 our Annual Meeting and Members’ slide show, US Arboretum coffee at 9:30 A.M., meeting begins at 10 A.M.
January 30-February 1 2009. Eastern Winter Study Weekend, Sheraton Reston Hotel, Reston, Virginia: the registration form is included in this bulletin.
Chairman’s Message p. 1
2009 Eastern Winter Study Weekend p. 2
The expanding garden p. 2
Another look at the saffron crocuses p. 4
EWSW09 Registration Form attached
Deadline for next edition December 15, 2008
It’s not too early to pay your dues for 2009: send your check for $15 to Margo Ellis, 2417 N Taylor St., Arlington, VA 22207
The web site for EWSW09 is up and running; see it at:
Fall 2008 Chairman’s Message
The Eastern Winter Study Weekend Planning Committee has been busy since the last newsletter. By the time you read this, the website will be completed and you will be able to register online. We are very excited about the twelve speakers who have accepted our invitation. With the addition of six venders, a Members Slide/Digital Show, a Photographic Print Show, an optional Friday buffet supper, a Saturday night Awards Banquet, and a very reasonable room rate, it should prove to be an exciting and cost-effective weekend. Please register and help us publicize the meeting by e-mailing the URL (ewsw09.org/EWSW09index.htm) to your garden friends and anyone else who might be interested in attending.
The meeting on November 22 is the PVC-NARGS Annual Meeting will be brief as all officers have an additional year to go on their tenure. It is also the Members’ Slide Show. We will provide a projector for your slides and a digital projector and laptop for your PowerPoint programs. Let me know if you plan to show and if you have special projection needs.
You should be potting up things for the Silent Auction or Chapter Sale Table. The Silent Auction plants need to be things that will look good at the end of January without much protection. I have cold frame space for small plants/rooted cuttings/seedlings that also will look good at that time. I have plenty of pots and flats you can use and will bring them to the meeting.
Check this issue also for an appeal for volunteers to help with the EWSW. There are several big jobs to be filled and many supporting roles for volunteers. So be thinking about what you would be willing to do. We need all the help we can get.
2009 Eastern Winter Study Weekend
January 30-February 1 at the Reston Sheraton, near Dulles
Please contact Alice or Paul or one of the coordinators to volunteer for a job or two – we really need you !!! Find a position to fill so we can put on a really good meeting – ten of us can’t do it all.
Jobs before the event
Publicity – no coordinator yet – Get press release/information on conference out to major gardening magazines and public gardens for publication in December- January issues?
Sales – Jim McKenney coordinator – Assist in storing plants, clean pots, prepare labels – Arrange for troughs from Melwood – assist Alma Kassalaitis
Prepare booklet – no coordinator yet - assumble slide lists, speaker bios, list of responsible people, schedule (via Alice Nicolson), map of hotel, list of donors (from Linda Keenan), list of gardens to visit – assemble, have printed and collated. Much of this info is available online or from Alice, Paul, or Jim McK.
Raffle – Linda Keenan coordinator – assist Linda in getting raffle goodies – perhaps re-contact non-responders?
Goody bags – no coordinator yet – get free bags with handles for – paper probably, from a nursery or bank?
Get brochures from local gardens, metro maps. Solicit free copies of local garden magazines – Washington Gardener, American Horticulturist, other?
Solicit free bulbs from nursery remainders to put in goody bags
Silent Auction – no coordinator yet - assemble items, prepare bid sheets
Last minute printout of attendees – assist Sue Hodapp
Jobs during weekend
Sue Hodapp – Staff registration desk, assemble goody bags? – 2 Friday, 2 Saturday, maybe Sunday
Jim McKenney – PVC plant sale – transport plants, set up sale area, then vend – at least 2 Friday, Saturday, Sunday then transport unsold plants
Jim Dronenberg – Vendors – assist them as needed – setting up Friday, breaking down Sunday
Dan Weil – Assist photo registration and hanging, help judges, help get pictures back to owners at end. Since Dan is judging, he shouldn’t check in entries. We need a volunteer to check in entries.
Assist in scheduling /presenting members’ slides for Friday evening.
Anne Mazaitis, Audrey Faden, Betty Spar: Table decorations – help tote and set up Friday and Saturday evenings.
Linda Keenan – Raffle -Assist raffle setups, help peddle tickets, announcements et al.
Coordinator needed: Silent Auction – setup, monitoring, do final tabulation Sunday morning
Volunteer needed: Introduce speakers – otherwise Alice Nicolson, Paul Botting or Bob Faden?
Volunteers needed: Transport speakers from/to airport, train station etc.
The Expanding Garden
SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1Golden Raintrees (or Royal Pain Trees)
Two species of golden raintree are grown in our area, the common or panicled golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), which flowers in June and has a rough, brown furrowed bark, and the Chinese flame tree (or Chinese golden raintree or Bougainvillea golden raintree) (K. bipinnata) which flowers mainly in August and early September but may begin blooming by the end of July. It has a smooth brownish gray bark. In flower these trees are incomparable, especially the much larger K. bipinnata, which is an outstanding specimen in late summer, when a single tree may be visited by hundreds of bees at a time. The dried lantern-like fruits of both trees are also of interest and last well into the winter. In K. paniculata they turn from green to brown as they ripen whereas in some individuals of K. bipinnata they may develop a pink color at first which, if the fruits are picked at this stage, will last in dry arrangements.
Any trees this nice must have problems and they do. First and foremost, they seed prolifically and, from the number of seedlings observed, it would be easy to guess that every seed germinates. And unlike some other annoying tree seedlings, such as those of silver maples (Acer saccharinum) whose seeds all germinate within a short time of falling and thus there is a single crop per year, the seeds of golden raintrees (both species) have a hard seed coat and germination is delayed and spread out such that new seedlings keep appearing throughout the growing season. Seedlings more than two years old generally have to be dug up.
There is a difference in the maintenance and care of the two species. K. paniculata is the much hardier of the two – it is used as a street tree in the District of Columbia – and can be grown more or less anywhere in full sun. It does not require pruning. K. bipinnata, which is seldom if ever available in local nurseries, is supposed to be hardy to zone 6. It should be grown in full sun in good, well drained soil. Our plant of K. bipinnata, which was given to us as a potted seedling by the late Fred Meyer, probably was an offspring of the large tree that used to grow in the parking lot by the administration building of the National Arboretum. In its youth our tree was an incredible grower with shoots adding up to eight feet in length per year. Had we not pruned it, I’m not sure what it would have looked like other than gangly, so each spring I would cut back about two-thirds of the previous year’s growth until the tree got too large for me to manage it. But by then it had a reasonable structure. More recently the tree has also required major pruning several times: to remove branches that had grown in the wrong direction and, most recently, to take off a major limb that was seriously damaged as a result of a mysterious deep gash that appeared in it two years ago.
And there’s more. About five years ago a well known gregarious bug resembling the box elder bug appeared in our garden. I took it to the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History where I work and was informed that it was only the second record of the red-shouldered bug or golden raintree bug (Jadera haematoloma) (see image at http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/aimg69.html) from the Washington, DC area, the only other record having been another recent collection. This species is from further south and, like the box elder bug, it is very gregarious. These insects are supposed to eat the seeds of Koelreuteria, so at first we welcomed them, although we never invited them into our house which they now frequent in numbers, appearing in the bathtub and dying in light fixtures with great regularity. Whether they actually eat Koelreuteria seeds or not is moot: we never find punctured seeds and the number of seedlings has not noticeably decreased since the bugs arrived. Where we have seen the bugs amass however is on succulents. Are they only thirsty? Do they seriously affect these plants? We do not have an answer, but we are certain that they are not doing the succulents any good. A high pressure hose usually disperses them.
In the Vietnam War there was “yellow rain” which turned out to be bee droppings. As I write this (September 2) we are experiencing “golden rain” as the flowers and floral parts of K. bipinnata have begun to drop steadily. I know of no other tree in which the falling flowers are so annoying or cause so much work. They are pretty enough on the ground but they cover everything, from an entire sand bed, small plants and all, to hostas and even small shrubs. Whether they themselves are naturally sticky I don’t know, but where they don’t stick they fill in the spaces such as among the leaves of yews and the intricate branches of small rhododendrons, dwarf mountain laurels and pyracanthas. They also adhere to hundreds of spider webs that you never knew you had. Moreover the flowers don’t brush off from any surface very easily except large flat leaves. Worst of all, if the flowers are allowed to dry they can actually form mats that can kill small plants and greatly increase the work to remove them from the branches and leaves of a great variety of plants.
On balance, am I sorry that we grow the golden raintrees? I would say no. K. paniculata was specifically chosen after lengthy consideration as a shade tree for our back deck which faces south. Except for the excessive seedlings and the fact that the hardy kiwi vines (Actinidia arguta) it now shades have more or less stopped flowering and fruiting, it has done exactly what we expected. K. bipinnata, with its greater pruning needs and obnoxious “golden rain” is so spectacular in flower that for all its maintenance problems I don’t regret growing it either. If one is not in a situation where either species’ hefty output of unwanted offspring could lead to an invasion of a natural habitat, I would definitely recommend these trees.
Another look at the saffron crocuses
It’s been decades since I grew a first crop of saffron and photographed the freshly plucked styles heaped on a small white plate; I used this slide in many presentations over the years, often referring to them as the first step on a home-made paella. Thirty years ago the other members of the saffron group were little more than names in books to me. But thanks to Jane McGary’s annual surplus bulb distributions I now know first hand most of the other members of this fascinating group of crocuses. In addition to the saffron of commerce, Crocus sativus, I also now grow C. cartwrightianus, C. thomasii, C. pallasii, C. oreocreticus and C. asumaniae. I have also grown C. hadriaticus, another member of this group, but curiously all forms of this species have proven to be very hard to keep here as garden plants. Evidently they are extremely sensitive to summer wet. And I’m still waiting for C. mathewii to come into reach. That leaves only C. moabiticus I think – and that’s not likely to be attainable any time soon.
The plant we know as saffron crocus is peculiar in several respects. Let’s start with its botanical name, Crocus sativus. Although the rules of nomenclature attribute this name to Linnaeus, Linnaeus himself might be very surprised at how we use it. If it were possible to bring Linnaeus back to life, and to take him on a stroll through the late winter garden, we would probably be surprised to hear him call the purple and mauve Dutch crocuses Crocus sativus. And when we showed him a clump of that eighteenth century relic, Dutch Yellow (aka Yellow Mammoth) our surprise would get another jolt: he would call that one, too, Crocus sativus. If by chance we had a certain Romulea blooming in the garden and showed him that, he would use the same name, Crocus sativus, for that too. And finally, if we invited this Linnaeus redivivus back in the autumn to see the saffron crocuses, he would also call them Crocus sativus.
Linnaeus, in his Species Plantarum, recognized only one species in his genus Crocus. He made all of the crocuses and crocus-like plants he knew one species. His choice of specific epithet, sativus (the word means “cultivated” in Latin), is a clue: it has been said that what little Linnaeus knew about crocuses he learned under the tutelage of Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden. Linnaeus apparently knew the crocus only as a cultivated plant, thus his choice of epithet.
It was later authors who divided up the genus Crocus of Linnaeus into multiple species, and who gave us the meaning we use today.
This saffron crocus, Crocus sativus in the modern sense, is a peculiar plant. To begin with, it is, in spite of its name, not a species. It’s a triploid clone. No sexually reproducing wild crocus corresponds exactly to the cultivated saffron. Our saffron crocus is a plant of unknown origin. Most crocus specialists in the past pointed to Crocus cartwrightianus as a likely source, in some way, of our cultivated saffron crocus. Is our saffron crocus simply a triploid form of Crocus cartwrightianus? Or is it of hybrid origin? I suspect that the little known Crocus moabiticus might deserve consideration, too. Some of the most enduring and important plants in horticulture are triploid clones of hybrid origin (for instance the tiger lily and Lycoris squamigera; the common - and incidentally triploid- form of Lycoris radiata also might be of hybrid origin).
These triploid forms sometimes turn out to be tough, durable plants. Great antiquity has been attributed to both the tiger lily and saffron, but the evidence in each case is hardly impeccable. Something translators call saffron was used by the Egyptians 3500 years ago in the preparation of mummies. Saffron was said to have been known in the time of King Solomon. A saffron cult existed in ancient Crete. This makes for interesting stories, but these stories typically omit a significant aspect of saffron usage: I’ll bet that wherever they grow, the styles of all the members of the saffron group are collected and used as saffron. In fact, it’s known that in the past the styles of Crocus nudiflorus (not a member of the saffron group) were collected for this purpose. And if our Crocus sativus is derived from Crocus cartwrightianus, it seems sensible that there must have been a long history of collecting the styles of that species for use as saffron before the plant we know as saffron appeared. It is only in areas where wild saffrons of whatever species do not grow that the saffron crocus of commerce is the exclusive source of saffron.
In the photos above, you can see the bright red styles lolling fetchingly – as if to say “pluck me” - from the flowers of several species of the saffron group. In my experience, all of these are wonderfully fragrant. Crocus thomasii is very nicely scented. The flowers of Crocus oreocreticus are particularly so: they add to the basic saffron scent a pronounced element of hyacinth. I grow these in a cold frame. Cold frame culture provides two benefits: the late blooming species are more likely to successfully mature their flowers free from damage from the weather, and the all important summer drought is easily enforced. Also, there are few pleasures to match opening the cold frame on a sunny but cold, snowy winter day and being enveloped in the fragrance of various sun warmed flowers.
For more information about saffron, some of it not in agreement with what I’ve written above, see
Jim McKenney, Editor
11127 Schuylkill Road
Rockville, MD 20852