Radisson - Piscataway, NJ
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
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
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
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
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.
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By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
So many perennials have faded, lost their verve, stopped blooming. Enter the coneflower! In the opinion of Dan, the author, of this article Terra Nova has created, in form and function, the best coneflowers on earth. To learn more click here for an informative article.
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