An Emerging Botanical Garden in Louisville, Kentucky

There is a new botanical garden being constructed in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s called Waterfront Botanical Gardens, and it is being built on top of an old landfill. The landfill was in use for several decades during the mid-1900’s and officially closed in 1973 when a new landfill site was opened. Recently, there was discussion about what to do with the old landfill site. Botanica, a group of plant lovers and devoted gardeners in Louisville, was able to work out a deal with the city to secure the 23 acre site and is currently moving forward with plans to turn it into a botanical garden.

Botanica’s vision for the garden is broad, but part of that vision includes educating the public about native flora and promoting environmental stewardship. Planning and construction are still at their early stages and there is tons of work ahead, but considering that people in Louisville have been wanting to see a botanical garden in their city for at least 30 years, watching it finally start to happen must be exciting. To celebrate the emergence of Waterfront Botanical Gardens, the Founders’ Garden was constructed and planted this spring. It is located near the site of the future botanical garden and is a small token of things to come. A picture of that garden (taken from the website) can be seen below.

I am excited to watch from afar as this new botanical garden emerges, and I hope to be able to visit someday after the garden has been constructed. To learn more about this garden and to follow its progress, visit their website: www.waterfrontgardens.org

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The Founder’s Garden at Waterfront Botanical Gardens

Louisville, Kentucky

Rock Gardens: An Introduction

Recently I helped build and plant a rock garden. It was a first for me, but something I had been wanting to do for a while. Rock gardens consist of plants that grow in rocky environments, such as rock outcrops on mountains or accumulations of rocks at the bases of cliffs or steep slopes. Rock garden plants are commonly called alpine plants – alpine refers to an environment that is very high in elevation or, in other words, in mountains above the tree line. Not all rock garden plants are native to alpine environments; however, in the rock garden community, the term “alpine” often refers to small, hardy plants that are ideal for rock gardens.

A rock garden mimics the environments of alpine plants by incorporating a mixture of large and small rocks placed in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Well-draining soil is brought in to fill the spaces between the rocks, and the plants are planted in these spaces. Rock garden plants are typically small and compact. Cushion plants (Silene acaulis, Saxifraga spp., etc.) are one example of a type of rock garden plant. Other popular rock garden plants include the following genera: Pulsatilla, Viola, SedumDaphne, DelospermaDianthus, Thymus, Primula, and Scutellaria. The list goes on. Many rock garden plants can be found at local garden centers, while others will require some searching, but there should be enough of them available to at least get you started.

A rock garden doesn’t have to mean a scattering of rocks laid out on the ground. They can also be built in raised beds or they can consist of a series of troughs or planters. Rock garden troughs are typically made of tufa or hypertufa. Tufa is a naturally occurring variety of limestone. Hypertufa is a human-made version of tufa that is composed of various aggregates cemented together.

To learn more about rock gardening and to join a community of rock gardeners, check out the North American Rock Garden Society, and stay tuned to Awkward Botany for future posts on rock gardens.

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Here is an example of a rock garden in a hypertufa trough. You can see this and more like it at Idaho Botanical Garden.

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Spring Arrives

Spring is finally arriving in the Treasure Valley. Evidence can be found at Idaho Botanical Garden.
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Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Dianne’ – Witch Hazel

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Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata – catkins on Sitka Alder

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Crocus spp.

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Dwarf Iris (photo credit: Ann DeBolt)

Assessing Your Soil

The latest issue of the magazine, Heirloom Gardener, has a great article on assessing your garden soil to be sure that it is ready for the coming growing season. The article addresses four main points that every gardener should be thinking about at the beginning of each growing season.

  1. Soil pH. This is a measure of the acidity of your soil. A pH of 7 is neutral – anything below that is acidic and anything above that is alkaline. Soil pH is important because it affects nutrient availability. The ideal soil pH for a vegetable garden (depending on what you read) is somewhere between 5.5 and 7.5 – if a soil has a pH above or below this range, certain essential plant nutrients will become less available, affecting the growth of plants in your garden and their potential yield.
  2. Soil Test. Determining your soil pH can be done by doing a simple soil test. The soil test will also let you know what nutrients are available in your soil and to what extent. Knowing the fertility of your soil will help you decide what steps to take in terms of adding organic matter and fertilizer to your soil. What amendments are needed will also be determined by what plants you are planning to grow, but having that soil test will at least give you a baseline to work from. Check with your local county extension agent for more information on how to take a soil sample and where to send it for analysis.
  3.  Soil Amendments. The spring is a good time to add amendments to your soil. The ideal thing to add is mature compost. The best soil for a productive vegetable garden is one that is loamy (referring to a mixture of sand, silt, and clay particles) and contains a large amount of organic matter. The organic matter (especially when highly decomposed) provides structure, drainage, fertility, and a flourishing microbial population to the soil. I have to emphasize “highly decomposed” because organic matter that is not well decomposed could end up being detrimental to your plants. This is because soil microbes, whose job it is to decompose organic matter, need nitrogen to do their job and can “rob” available nitrogen from nearby plants, resulting in a temporary nitrogen deficiency and stunted plant growth.
  4. Soil Drainage. The water-holding capacity of your soil is incredibly important and is something you should think about addressing in the spring. Soil that drains too quickly or not quickly enough are both scenarios that are not ideal for a vegetable garden. To test soil drainage in your garden, dig several holes that are at least 2 feet deep and fill them with water. After the holes have drained completely, fill them with water again and keep track of how long they take to drain. A rate of 1-2 inches per hour is ideal. If the test results from your garden are more or less than this standard, the soil should be amended. Adding lots of compost to the soil should address the problem whether it is slow or fast drainage.

The health (or condition) of the soil in your vegetable garden is hugely important and will have a large influence on the success and productivity of this year’s crops. So while you’re thinking about all of the things you want to grow this year, take a little time and think about the soil that they’ll be growing in. While it may not seem as interesting as the plants that will be growing in it, good soil will certainly make a huge difference in the long run.

Read the article, “Is Your Soil Ready for Spring?”, in the Spring 2013 issue of Heirloom Gardener for more detailed information.

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Photo credit: wikimedia commons

Starting Seeds Indoors: The Planning Stage

It’s February – time to start thinking seriously about this year’s garden. By now you’ve probably received multiple seed catalogs in the mail and you are already starting to think about what you want to grow this year. Now it’s time to think about starting some seeds indoors so that you’ll have some plants ready to go into the garden as soon as it warms up outside. I haven’t had the best luck with starting seeds indoors, probably mostly due to lighting and temperature issues, but hopefully this year will be different.

Something that may be helpful in the planning process is a seed starting chart, which will help you decide when to start each of your seeds. After all, you don’t want to start all your seeds at once because some plants will be ready to transplant faster than others and some plants can be placed outside earlier than others. There are several resources that offer seed starting charts. Two that come to mind are Organic Gardening and You Grow Girl. In order to successfully use these charts, you will need to know the Spring Frost-Free Date for your region. A good place to figure that out is Dave’s Garden.

Once you know what you want to plant and when to plant it, and you have your pots, growing media, lighting, and temperature issues in order, you’ll be ready to go. With dedication, determination, and a little luck, you should have a healthy batch of plants to fill your garden come spring. Happy planting!

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