Parlor Palms

Mrs. Wallis was known for her horticulture and gardens. There is a wonderful picture of her standing most elegantly at the entrance to her formal garden, in front of a long row of tall white lilies. While there is no picture of her standing in front of a cluster of Parlor Palms, there is no doubt that she would have had at least one or two as they were very popular and still are.

Chamaedorea elegans, more commonly known as Parlor Palm, happens to be the most popular house plant world-wide. It requires minimal care, almost to the point of neglect. In addition to adding interest and even elegance to any room and is not toxic to pets or children. What more could you ask for.

A favorite since Victorian days, the Mexican native is a slow-grower it is happy with the average home environment and temperature of 65-75 and even up to 85 degrees. Any light is acceptable except direct. Let the soil dry out before watering every 1-2 weeks and mist a couple of times a week to keep fronds dust-free and mite free. Frond tips will brown if it gets too dry or humidity is low. It will yellow when over-watered.

Primarily a houseplant, the palm is content to spend the summer under a tree and return before the first fall frost. And it has air-purifying attributes.

Always the Latest: Frostfree Hellebore

The owners of Wallis House always planted the latest, whether cultivar or type of plant. When Mrs. Wallis’ father bought the property from his uncle’s estate, he said that he was doing so to give Nannine a place to garden. And she did. Always the latest and that has been carried forth by The Garden Club of Kentucky.

Helleborus is one of the under-appreciated and planted of all of our perennials. The evergreen quietly fills garden gaps until this time of year when it blooms forth from before Christmas (H. niger) through late spring. The three types are H. niger, Christmas hellebore that ‘blooms’ in December, followed by Lenten Rose (H. orientalis) and H. x hybrid including the relatively new charming container-grown FrostKiss, which will survive extreme cold. It is a mid-late season Lenten Rose. 

Two weeks ago, buds magically appeared half-hidden among the new foliage. Each day more are appearing – pink rimmed white, deep purple, pink, green, and some speckled. The pure colors are actually bracts (modified leaves) that provide the color for the new flowers well into April. The flower is actually the yellow center.

New to these colorful winter bracts is the relatively new Frostfree hybrid. The charmingly small container-grown plant  will spread to 2’x2’ and blooms into April. Unlike other hellebores, it will bloom within the first year of planting, starting as days shorten and temperatures drop to 40-50 degrees.

In addition to year-round interest, Frostfree is minimal maintenance. Here are some tips:

  • Do not cut leaves as they are the source of new flowers.
  • Apply a slow-release fertilizer; a small amount more if flowering ceases.
  •  In the summer, water as needed but not during the heat of the day.
  • Plant in 30 percent shade, well-drained coarse, pH 5.5 soil.
  • It may be planted in spring or fall when it is actively growing but not in the summer.
  • Astilbe, brunneria, fern, hosta and lungwort are wonderful companion plants.

Frostfree hellebore source: White Flower Farm (whiteflowerfarm.com, 800-503-9624); Burpee(burpee.com, 800-888-1447).

 

Thanksgiving – The Cornucopia

Mrs. Wallis was a very gracious lady who was very involved with organizations in Paris, Lexington, and New York  She also loved sharing her gardens with both adults and children. No doubt this time of year, her dining table was filled with produce from the cutting and vegetable gardens, perhaps arranged in a cornucopia.

We owe the ancient Greeks and Romans for much of our culture from language, art, and even for many of us our traditional Thanksgiving table decorations, specifically the Cornucopia. The wicker basket derives its name from Latin [cornua (horn) and copia (plenty)] for its horn-shape filled to over-flowing with garden produce and flowers. The tradition stems from the Greek myth that Zeus, when he was an infant, broke a horn off a goat that then spilled out foods to nourish him.

As abundant as produce and flowers have been this year, it is appropriate that they should provide the centerpiece for Thanksgiving table. For those who do not have vegetable gardens, reserve a few of the vegetables that will be served on Thanksgiving and later. In place of the cornucopia, any container can be used.

Making the design can be tricky, as each piece must be secured or at least well balanced. I find it easiest to make it in place. Select your container and place it on a tray or water-proof placemat to protect the table. Collect wire, b-b-que skewers, florist stakes, and florist water picks.

Then select the produce. Choose your favorites, remembering you’re limited by the space available, and also do not use fruits or vegetables with high moisture content such as oranges or tomatoes.(too juicy unless hard green) and anything that will attract ants or other insects. Look for small pumpkins, eggplant (purple, white, etc.) corn (Indian, partially shucked yellow) gourds (all colors, sizes and skin texture), dried colorful leaves, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pomegranates.

A pumpkin or gourd stuffed in the opening of the basket provides weight to stabilize it and works an anchor for the vegetables. Place large vegetables first then fill in with smaller. For the last step, use skewers to pin grapes and other cascading fruits. Allow small produce to ‘spill’ out of the basket and on the backside as well.

If serving a buffet, place the cornucopia there.  On the dining table, you can place some of the small produce down the center, though of course, decorating is a personal thing. Do what pleases you.

 

A Garden of White

To get the greatest value from your landscape plants, they should contribute to the beauty of the yard at least three seasons of the year. To increase the yard’s usage beyond daylight hours, you can add a ‘third’ season that extends use into the evening.

Of all of the attribute of plants, it is color that gets and holds our attention. In the early to middle 1900s, English gardener Vita Sackville-West promoted planting what she called ‘grey, white and green plants’. She included in her list whites that open pink or turned a light pink as they matured and plants with variegated foliage.

White or light blooms and light or variegated foliage reflect ambient light in the nighttime garden, extending the beauty and use of the garden without adding more plants.

A full moon on white, silvery or light blooms will shine as though spotlighted. The Cornus kousa (Korean dogwood) is in full bloom backed by dark green foliage. Even with moderate light it needs no spots to show off at night. Dwarf Spirea ‘Limelight’ foliage is light green, but it is enhanced by vivid purple iris, and its deep green foliage is a perfect foil for the spirea.

Sackville’s “White Garden” balanced white with a wide variety of green, from soft mossy grey to pure green. She believed in clumps of foliage to allow the eye to focus on the whites. Among her favorites were candytuft, moon flower, calla, Thalia daffodil, and fragrant snowdrop, all of which are easily obtainable and grow well here. Also, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Clematis ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’(Springhill Nursery), Thymus ‘Silver Posie’, To achieve the same effect as  her large border plants,  add hydrangea and peonies.

A white garden does not add more work or plants, but rewards you with a spectacular evening garden, especially on a moonlit night.

In the Arboretum – Spring Comes Early

Last fall, Mrs. Wallis’s Rose Arbor was repaired and painted by garden club members as they tried to avoid the decidedly thorny canes. They didn’t always succeed but agreed that the ‘New Dawn’ rose variety, originally planted in the 1940s by Mrs. Wallis, will show off its pale pink blooms against the pure white of the arbor. New Dawn is one of the easiest and most vigorous climbing varieties. Termed rambunctious by some, it also is one of the easiest for a beginner to grow.

Spring has come early this year.

While it is early for roses, the Autumnalis cherry trees (Prunus pendula) are in full bloom announcing that spring is here. Early blooming Tulip Magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana), Star (M. stellata), and the yellow hybrids Elizabeth and Butterfly (M. acuminata and M. denudate respectively) are at their best. Butterfly announces spring with its usually late winter to early spring blooms followed by Elizabeth’s normally early to mid-spring. It is unusual for both to bloom at the same time, giving visitors a lovely show. The wildflowers are peeping up, including bloodroot and Virginia bluebells. Daffodils and tulips are in bloom scattered throughout the back gardens.

Due to the Coronavirus-19 group events many have been cancelled or postponed, but not the splendor of this spring. Take advantage of the plants in bloom and visit the Arboretum, 616 Pleasant Street in Paris KY, or take a walk around the neighborhood or Bourbon County Park, admiring what is in bloom. Enjoy nature’s beauty.

Botanical Names

The Arboretum is not just a pretty garden: it is a botanic garden that trials new and old varieties. Some flourish and so do not. They are not failures, but demonstrate that certain plants do not survive here.

Botanical Names

‘A rose is a rose is a rose’ according to author Gertrude Stein. While a rose continues to be a rose, that is not so for the botanical names of many other plants, thanks to research into DNA. Botanically, coleus is no longer Coleus blumei, nor Solenostemon scutellroides, its 2006 name change. As of 2012 it is Plectranthus scutellroides. Not to worry, coleus as we know it still is available at the nursery.

Portrait of Carl Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus

We owe official plant naming to Carl von Linne´(Linnaeus) who, in the 1700s, developed a binomial nomenclature to reduce the confusion of plant names (sometimes as long as 20 words!) or the same name given to several different plants. His Latin binominal classification was based on flower structure.

Over the centuries, plant names have changed. Since the development of DNA, botanists are busily reclassifying according to chromosomes. Reclassification has created new genera, divided others into smaller genera, and moved some plants into established genera. For example, Aster’s 600 species were divided into 11 different genera; Liliaceae keeps lilies, but lost onion; asparagus got its own genera; and autumn crocus joined colchicum in Colchicaceae.

For gardeners, the botanical name assures us that the plant we wanted is not another that has a similar or the same common or regional name. Catalogs beautifully picture their plants, but with so many looking alike, the only way you know for sure is checking the botanic name that is listed after the common or variety name.

The chrysanthemum is an example of a large genera. Ask for Chrysanthemum indicum for a florist mum, C. leucanthemum for ox-eye daisy and 24 other species, or C. ismelia for tricolor mum, its only species.

For a specific plant, use its botanical name. But if you just want to add beauty to your yard, enjoy it and don’t worry about its botanical name.

In the Arboretum: The Beauty of Bark

The Arboretum is bursting when bloom from spring through fall, but have you ever looked at the color and texture of the Arboretum in the winter? To most, the winter garden is dreary and lacking all color, but a closer look will prove otherwise. Really look at a tree’s bark. It is the tree’s outer protection layer. It also is a thing of beauty in and of itself. Each tree has its own distinctive silhouette and bark.

  • The ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) row by the pergola has the most identifiable bark accented spurs on its branches.
  • The Kentucky Coffee Tree, our Heritage Tree, is another readily recognizable one by its dark gray, fissured scaly surface and narrow ridges. Its botanical name ‘Gymnocladus dioicus’ meaning ‘naked branch’ describes it thick twig-less branches. The winter buds are minute, but not its pods, which measure 6-10 inches with 6-9 dime-sized seed.
  • The Sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis) has white bark cannot be missed even in the summer. Its lower trunk is splotchy shades of gray and tan, but the upper is smooth snowy-white that highly contrasts against the winter sky and its surrounding dark-barked neighbors. As stunning as it is, it is not a tree for small places as it can easily reach 150 feet.
  • And, Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra). The Kentucky big tree champion grows to the left of the Wallis House front drive. This species is found in most of Kentucky’s 120 counties. Its bark is noted its the shallow fissure and smooth ridges that sometimes having a striped appearance. Other oaks have a similar striping, but only the red oak stripes run the length of the trunk.

These are just a few of the wonderful winter trees in the Arboretum. Come visit on your own, or for a group tour of the Arboretum: call 859-987-6158 and leave a message. Wallis House is available to rent for special events and meetings.

In the Arboretum – November

There are so many wonderful trees in the Arboretum, sometimes it is hard to see the trees for the ‘forest’. Among the wonderful trees that you will find in the Arboretum is Diospryros virginiana, aka ‘divine fruit’. It is one that you would not readily accept If your only contact with D. virginiana, (persimmon) was tasting the astringent fruit, or stepping on the messy fruit, it would be the last tree you would want to plant. It is all how you look at it.

In the fall, its foliage of gold, yellow, orange and purple foliage, simply glows. Its winter silhouette exposes alligator bark and picturesque branches, and apricot-colored fruit that will hang on through the winter or until the wildlife eat it.

Michael A. Dirr, “Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs”, says ‘it will not win a landscape beauty contest’, however, once established the long tap root ensures it will survive the worst of conditions and it will have a long life. Severed roots will regenerate, are good soil builders, enabling the tree to adapt to drought, flood, heat, shade, and wind, though it loves rich, organic soil, plenty of moisture and full sun.

Culture is simple. Avoid planting were fruit will drop on hard surface. The dense wood, member of the ebony family, resists and survives persimmon wilt a systematic disease and twig girdling insect. Simply rake fallen branches and leaves and burned the area under the tree.

When to eat the fruit? Most consider the astringent D. virginiana(American native) must go through a freeze to be edible. Guy Sternberg, author of “Native Trees of North America”, states that it is not temperature but the length of time that causes it to sweeten.

It is a wonderful apricot-tasting fruit that is a delight as fruit, the basis of bread, pudding, preserves and brandy. Sternberg considers it as the most diverse and useful tree in the landscape. It is an excellent wildlife wood, attracts two spectacular moths Regal and Swallow-tail Luna. While the dense black core-wood has many uses (shuttles and veneer), don’t build a child’s boat – it will sink due to its density.

Autumn at the Arboretum

According to the calendar it is officially Autumn, though this year’s continuing heat shows Mother Nature is not willing to leave Summer just quite yet. From the Wallis Arboretum’s beginning in the 1850s, trees were selected for their uniqueness and their year-round beauty, so as we progress into true autumn, there will be a continuation of color throughout.

Maples, harbingers of autumn, normally are the first to show their true colors in the fall. The Arboretum maples include Black, Paperbark, Red, and Sugar; and Japanese maple “Bloodgood” and “Burgundy Lace”. The new foliage of the last is a deep red that changes color during the year and returns to deep red-purple in the fall.

Among the unique are gingkos, whose leaf imprints have been found in fossils that are 270 million years old. The lemon-yellow leaves hang on until all have turned and then drop within two to three days, leaving a bare tree surrounded by a yellow skirt on the ground.

Redbud displays a darker yellow, with the exception of “Forest Pansy” and “Oklahoma” whose leaves are deep purple.

Washington Hawthorn turns orange, scarlet, and purple each fall. Along with the  Serviceberry, which has red to orange foliage, these two native trees produces purple-black edible berries and retains through the winter for the birds to eat.

The oaks, whose botanical name “Quercus’ means ‘beautiful tree’, are  among the last to change color. The Pin Oak and the Northern Red Oak change to scarlet and ruby-red.

This is not a complete list of the Arboretum’s fall color collection of trees. Visit the Arboretum often to see the daily change of fall color. Visit on your own or for a group tour of the Arboretum: call 859-987-6158 and leave a message.

In the Arboretum: Champion Acorns

In his poem, “Trees”, Joyce Kilmer said, “Only God can create a tree…” For one of the finest old tree collections in Central Kentucky, visit the Wallis Arboretum. Many are over 100 years, including the recently declared Kentucky Champion Northern Red Oak. It is over 96 feet tall, its circumference 180 feet, measured at 4.5 feet from the ground and one of the old trees that dominate the front yard. It is one of 11 National Register of Big Trees in Kentucky.

Mrs. Wallis was known for wise choices in selection of only the best trees to plant, including the Northern Red Oak. It is the most popular of the oaks for the home landscape for its beautiful shape and spring foliage of greenish-red foliage that turns a dark red in the fall. It is also known for its rapid growth, strong wood, and resistance to fungi and insects as it contains tannic acid. It tolerates urban pollution and drought due to its deep tap root.

Oaks have been a part of our culture for centuries. Linnaeus listed red oak as only one of five of the 600 species. Oaks have been a source of ship and structure lumber, furniture, and barrels for whiskey and other spirits. Even the galls are ground for a type of manuscript ink.

This fall, Oakland Farms and The Garden Club of Kentucky are collecting the Red Oak’s acorns to propagate seedlings of the champion. Unlike many tree seeds, Red Oak’s acorns take two years to mature. It is hoped that seedlings of the champion will be available in the future.

The Nannine Clay Wallis Arboretum, 616 Pleasant Street, Paris, is open to the public year-round without charge.