Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Gardeners Do in Winter: Part 3

We go on vacation.

In our case, it was Old San Juan, Puerto Rico for some sun, heat, and maybe a fruity drink with an umbrella in it.  We aren't beach people.  We're museum, gallery, historic sites, funky shop people.  And botanic gardens.  It isn't a trip without a garden included.  My husband is very patient and understanding about this.  I am patient and understanding about climbing around old forts with tons of stairs in 85 degrees and 100% humidity.  It's a good marriage.

So, off we go to the botanic garden of the University of Puerto Rico armed with a backpack filled with water, cameras, and Deep Woods Off wipes.  I've never been to Puerto Rico before, they might have huge jungle bugs, you never know.  At any rate, no bug repellent required and we only saw a handful of people.  The gardens are a fair piece out of town proper and being university property, are pretty limited in services.  For example, both the Visitor Center and the cafe were closed.  In fact, we're still not sure if the cafe is ever in operation as it seems to be converted into a daycare center.  Oh, well.  I was here for plants.

And there were plants!  None of them really labeled, but heck, it's warm, and there are flowers and palm trees.  I must say my regular trips to the conservatories came in handy as I could at least recognize some things.  We also met some very lively turtles, ducks, egrets, lizards, and a couple of very large iguanas.  The fauna rather outshown the flora. 

Norfolk pine (Araucaria heterophylla) when left to grow in its appropriate climate.

Isn't it lovely?

Huge bamboo stands dotted everywhere.

Bamboo graffiti

That humble clump of tall grass in the distance is sugar cane here at the Bacardi distillery.  It was all in the interest of research, honest.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Delicious Indecision

We finally did it.  The Dr. Seuss spruce is gone.  Well, almost gone.  When we bought the house, we inherited a Colorado spruce (Picea pungens) planted strategically between us and the neighbors for privacy.  Unfortunately it is directly under power lines and it wanted to be a 60 foot tree.  The poor thing has been topped by ComEd many times so it was pretty much as wide as it was high.  It looked ridiculous.  Yet, it was winter roosting for birds and a great screen between us and our very nice neighbors.  They had a company out recently do so some pruning and the foreman and I made a deal.  So, no more spruce.

This leads to a rather lovely bit of indecision - what to plant in its place.  We love our neighbors, but we don't exactly want to wave at each other through our respective kitchen windows.  Whatever goes in will need to top out at 15 feet tall, be relatively narrow to fit between driveways, handle full sun and pretty alkaline soil, and be dense enough to screen.  Working at a nursery means I have tons and tons of ideas.  I have a soft spot for junipers.  I like their texture and the berries feed the birds.  I'm growing attached to Western arborvitae (Thuja plicata) because it has a more feathery texture and maybe even Techny arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Techny') because I like its purply winter color.  Then there are columnar trees and shrubs.  So many possibilities!! 

What are some of your favorite screening plants?

No more spruce!  Almost 30 feet of space to fill.

The remains of the dearly departed.