GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show27
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Show #27/501

Some of the best tree and shrub varieties that we enjoy today in our home gardens are the result of years of testing in trial and demonstration gardens across the country. Many of those gardens are located at college and university campuses. The Rutgers University Gardens is one such garden. Here their gardens are divided into several large rooms. Some are quite colorful, others more subdued but all are beautiful in their own special way. In this show Garden Smart viewers receive some scholarly advice from the gardens of Rutgers University.

Bob Goodman, PhD. is Executive Dean for Agriculture and Natural Resources at Rutgers University. He also serves as Dean of Cook College, which will soon become the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers. Rutgers is the state university of New Jersey and as such is the land grant institution for the state. Rutgers has a long history. It's the 3rd of the colonial colleges that were formed in the 1700's. Today it's a comprehensive university; a member of the American Association of Universities and one of the top research universities in the nation. Rutgers is also the home of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. This show visits the beautiful Rutgers Gardens, just south of New Brunswick, which is the home campus of Rutgers. Rutgers Gardens is part of Cook College, part of Rutgers University and it's a place where they teach the value of land, plants and the ecological services that are provided by open land. They teach gardening and landscape architecture and have horticulture students, soil students and others who participate in academic activities. Any institution is only as good as its leadership, thus the Dean is delighted to introduce Bruce Crawford, the Director of the Gardens who will take us on a tour of this beautiful facility.

Bruce has only held this position for about a year, but has had a love of plants since grade school. He always wanted to help people and originally went to school to become a medical doctor. After graduating from Bucknell he came to Cook College because he found that plants may actually provide more therapy than a doctor. He's trying to make the healthy, healthier. It has worked out well and he's having fun. He loves to teach and he loves plants.

Prior to this job Bruce was with a design/build firm. He took that design background and interest in plant material and brought it here. He works with the student body trying to teach them how to incorporate plants, grass and shrubs to make a more attractive garden.

We start in the Tribute Gardens. This is the playroom and a work in progress. It will be interesting because it will have 2 large chairs which will be surrounded by a fence. The plan calls for an interesting mixture of obviously different colors, textures and patterns. The focus will be on different plants and how to combine them. This setting will be unique and will be available to both the students and public.

There are between 8 and 10 different garden rooms in these gardens, depending on how they are counted. Each has its own unique character, interest and history. Bruce's job is to take a good thing and hopefully make it better. And his impact is already being felt.

One of the most interesting gardens, according to Bruce, is the holly collection in the Holly Garden. It has been here since the 40's and 50's and was a kingpin for Elwyn Norton's research on hollies. People that now visit often say, "Wow, look at those beautiful plants." There are about 60 different cultivars in this garden. Joe is impressed with their size. In a home landscape setting one doesn't normally see hollies this big. Bruce tells us why. The American Holly is very slow growing. When buying, the homeowner looks at a rather small plant, usually in a container, they then stick it close to the corner of the building or by the front door. After a while it starts to grow and begins to consume the house. When this happens the homeowner normally cuts it down. Thus, before hollies get anywhere near this size the homeowner has already cut them down and they're gone from the landscape. American Hollies are native from central, southern New Jersey down to Florida and they hug the coastline. In the wild, hollies are normally an understory tree, found under the shade of a taller hardwood. Oftentimes, as an understory plant they get shaded out. Thus, they don't have the luxury of growing out in full sun and stay smaller.

If a holly does get too big for a home landscape location there is a technique called hatracking that will reduce the size of the plant by 1/3 to 2/3's. The timing of this is critical. If heavy pruning is done in the fall it can actually kill the plant. All heavy pruning of a holly needs to be done in March and April. Regarding hatracking, go all the way into the branch, to the point where you've actually removed beyond where there is foliage. Thus, remove 1/2 to 2/3 of the branch, what's left is a bunch of stalks and sticks with no foliage and it looks like a hatrack. Thus the name. After this it will flush out and little tufts of foliage will appear, after about 5 years the plant will fill back in, will be full, except it'll be about 1/2 the size. Before it flushes out it will look unusual. These plants all have their own personality and appearance. Bruce likens them to people. In fact he thinks this garden needs a children's garden and this would be an ideal location.

Many of these plants are covered with berries. Many homeowners assume that is an automatic thing. It is not. There are 2 general types of plants in the flowering world. There are monoecious plants which means in 1 house. This means they have both a male and female flower on the same plant. Then there are dioecious plants which means in 2 different houses. So, the homeowner must make sure they have - a. both the male and female plant and b. make sure the plant they have is female if they want fruit. Obviously the male won't have many fruits. As long as there's a male within a half mile of a female and a pollinating bee, you'll have fruit. What's often confusing is that many female plants have a male name. As an example, one of Elwyn Norton's releases is called Dan Fenton. Dan was very important in the holly industry in New Jersey and this is a tribute to him. But it's a female, so it can be confusing for homeowners when at a nursery. Oftentimes it may be early in the season and there may not be berries on it; so, it should always be labeled. The homeowner should look at the container, there should be a tag somewhere that tells whether it's a female or male plant.

One of the biggest problems with the American Holly is leaf miner. It gives a little tracing as it goes through the leaf and actually discolors the leaf causing premature leaf drop. When Elwin was breeding he was looking for plants that had thick, dark, glossy leaves that were resistant to leaf miner. If the homeowner has a holly susceptible to leaf miner and finds this disease, one must use a systemic treatment. Realize the insect is inside the leaf, not on top of the leaf. The systemic will actually get into the plant and kill the insect. But it is best to buy trees resistant to the disease because when the tree is large it requires a lot of chemicals.

Joe and Bruce next visit a predominately annuals garden. It does have a few perennials. Historically this garden was irises, all the way from the road to the back. This garden was named after Donald B. Lacey, who was an extension specialist. He looked at the iris garden and said there are only 3 weeks of color, then nothing for the rest of the year. Thus, he started planting annuals. The last Saturday of July he would have an open house, invite the public to come look at the latest, newest releases and get people excited and interested. Here they feature All American Selections, the latest releases and the most disease resistant annuals that are available in the trade. The outside gardens are perennials and were designed by one of Bruce's students in his herbaceous plant class. The student wanted to focus on different grasses, woody plants and color and how they work together. Thus, one has a yellow border, another a pink border and another is a multicolored border.

Joe notices some different or unusual plants. One is black cotton. People always look at cotton and think of clothing or think of it as ornamental. It is a tremendous plant. It come from seed, has bright red flowers which contrast with the purple foliage. The seedpods are unique because in mid October they split open and produce cotton. Extract the seed, replant it and it'll come back from seed next year. It is ornamental and as well is a conversation piece.

Ornamental Millet 'Purple Majesty' (Pennisetum glaucum) has dark purple foliage, sends up stalks all summer long then starting around mid July the initial stalk starts to ripen and the seeds become apparent on the stalk. Birds will perch or land on the flower stalk and eat the seed. It provides a lot of animation to the garden and is a wildlife food supply. As well, the vertical height of the Millet looks good with the ornamental properties of the lower growing black cotton.

One of the more interesting plants, as far as color, is an older plant that has been around for awhile. It is a canna, the cultivar, Tropical Rose. It's a 1992 introduction from the All American Selections and comes from seed. Here they plant it in May. In May it was only 6 inches tall and has grown to about 3 feet in height. It produces attractive pink flowers all summer long and is a real knockout in the garden.

In one of the perennial border gardens there is a gladiolus. It is not hardy, thus has to be lifted for the winter. Several months ago a speaker came and was talking about bulbs. She left a group of plants. Unfortunately some didn't come with a name. Since this is a botanic garden everything should be labeled. But sometimes as a gardener one just puts plants in a garden even if the name isn't known. This has an intense color, thus is included.

Next to this is a hibiscus, Copper King. It has red flowers in the fall which have been blooming for about a month. Prior to that it had a nice coppery foliage, thus even when not in flower it has a great presence.

Underneath is a sedum that's in flower. There are many low growing sedums. This one is Bertram Anderson. Unlike its predecessor Vera Jameson this is more rot resistant. If you have soil that has a lot of organic matter Vera Jameson can rot. This variety will flourish and flowers throughout the late summer into the fall.

Tom Castronova provides the weekly tip. Do you remember the legendary rock band, the Grateful Dead? If you would like to prolong the life of your flowerbeds Tom thinks you should become a deadheader. By that, he means go through your flower garden and clip out dead or spent blooms from the garden. For example, coleus is known for the beautiful and breathtaking colors in its leaves. Snip out the flower and it will prolong the color in the plant.

Joe and Bruce next visit the vegetable garden. Here there are a number of plants that are not only edible but ornamental. For example, Hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab) has been in the U.S. for over 200 years. Thomas Jefferson introduced a lot of plant material to the U.S and introduced this plant, as well. This plant until recently was normally only found in botanic gardens. Now, it's available to the trade and anyone can buy it. It has a very attractive pink to purple flowers which are edible, they are then followed by very attractive beans which are also edible. The key to harvesting these beans is to remove the string on the back of the pod. It is rather tough and leathery. Otherwise the pod is tasty. Lightly simmer it with a little oil and it tastes great. It's an easy plant to grow. Plant the seeds, it's a great climber for an arbor or trellis and it adds vertical height and interest to the vegetable garden.

Another interesting plant, Mexican green tomato (Tomatillo) is an unusual plant not commonly grown in gardens and looks different because it has a husk that grows outside the fruit. It covers the fruit. This is where green salsa comes from for Mexican food. As the husk expands, because the fruit inside grows, that's when it's ripe. Pluck it, eat it as is or put it in salsa. It's a great addition to the vegetable garden.

Bruce notes that next year they're going to double or triple the size of this garden. They're introducing an ethnic vegetable garden. They will be featuring foods from around the world.

Joe and Bruce next visit the DeBoer Evergreen Garden. It is full of evergreens. Roy DeBoer was the designer of this garden and designed it in the late 1950's. Roy DeBoer initiated the Landscape Architecture program at Cook and is a very important person in the evolution of Cook. When he designed this garden he was trying to coordinate different shapes of evergreens. Bruce thinks he did a wonderful job. This garden speaks to the point that a garden doesn't necessarily need to have flowers or foliage to work well. Here textures and shapes are emphasized. The taller shapes are positioned around the outside edge to provide framing for the garden. He then used smaller, more globose or round shapes in front which set off the texture and shapes nicely. He then used several weeping plants as focal points which allows the eye to rest upon them. They provide a feeling of comfort. There isn't much change in this garden throughout the year. Yet January can look entirely different than early fall. With just a little dusting of snow on the ground in the wintertime it sets everything off. It looks much different, yet very attractive.

In general evergreens are tough, stable plants but plants like Weeping Hemlock get an insect called the Woolly Adelgid. It has proved to be a problem in New Jersey. The south side is a prime location for it to grow and develop. Oftentimes, before one sees the insect, there will be a gray cast to the plant. It'll start to go off color, then after that there is individual yellowing on needles and branches. The telltale sign is a white cottony substance found along the stem of the needles. That's a sure sign one has Hemlock Woolly Adelgids. For a home gardener be proactive. Spray a dormant oil in late winter or very early spring and get all the trees. In a home environment trees are not normally as big as in this environment, so it can be handled. Another method is to apply a systemic insecticide. If there are questions about this problem and approach contact your county extension agent.

Joe and Bruce next visit the log cabin. It is one of the more interesting structures in the garden and is a replica log cabin, built in 1935. It is true to form except inside instead of bedrooms, it has bathrooms. It also has 2 large fireplaces inside. It is a great facility for events. It's like a main hunting cabin and overlooks the pond in back.

Eastern native plants are everywhere. One is oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quericifolia), a deciduous plant with great white flowers in the springtime. Another is Clethra (Clethra alnifolia) the pepperbush has white flowers in summer and is fragrant. Evergreen wise they have inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) as well as native Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum).

The guys take a closer look. The oakleaf hydrangea is a 4 season plant. The white panicles in the summertime turn a beautiful color of red and orange in the fall. Once the leaves drop the Exfoliating bark is evident and that interest lasts until the plant starts to leaf out again in the spring. Oftentimes the bark comes off in strips, adding more winter interest.

The clethra, common name Pepperbush, is a plant found from New Jersey south to Florida. It is usually found in wet or moist-like conditions. It grows well in the sun, providing the soil remains moist, but will do well in light shade. The seed heads resemble peppercorns and that is a reason for its name. The flower spike is usually white, sometimes pink and extremely fragrant. They're great to have in a garden by a patio. They grow to about 6 to 8 feet in height. There is a low growing plant called Hummingbird (Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird') which makes a good ground cover.

The inkberry holly is a great plant. It will grow to about 10 feet in height but is user friendly because unlike the American Holly it has smooth leaves, not thorny leaves. It has little black fruit as opposed to red fruit. They, with a little pruning, can be kept to about 4 feet in height. So, they're a great plant against a foundation.

Joe thanks Bruce for showing us this wonderful garden at Rutgers. This is a great outdoor classroom and the tour has been impressive.

Links ::

Rutgers Gardens
Radisson - Piscataway, NJ
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By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.

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