Monday, June 29, 2009

Rose, Hibiscus, and Water Lilies

Worked in the rose/hibiscus house in the morning, water lilies in the afternoon. Lots of questions come from the visitors while we're in the pools. They want to know how deep the water is (although I don't really look 7 feet tall, and the water is clearly at my waist...), why the water is dyed, how often we get in there, what i'm doing (usually just cleaning up old leaves and flowers), etc. It's nice to talk to people, though, I really enjoy that part.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Water Lilies

I think it's a pretty tough call, to pick a favorite workplace between the water lilies/hibiscus/rose house and the orchids... I worked the majority of the past week with Tim and Ed, and I gained an enormous amount of knowledge about plants I've never grown before. The hibiscus are beautiful plants, they are so successful with them here at Longwood. I love the gorgeous cultivar, "Dark Night." Ed tests the soil pH once a week, because hibiscus are pH sensitive, and they also have the soil lab tested frequently. Hibiscus flowers are short-lived, only blooming a few days at best, and they're open at night as well. I want to learn more about the roses, and I will have a lot of opportunity to ask questions about roses next week when we do a huge pruning job on them. Each summer they are forced into dormancy, so as to not detract attention from the outdoor roses. It also gets really hot in that house during the summer. The roses currently have a huge aphid problem (some cultivars much worse than others...I wonder what the factor is that sets them apart.), but it's not worth treating them with anything more than a blast of water now because the cutback is coming up soon. They are quite beautiful, though, and very fragrant. Tim told me that Pierre du Pont built the rose house so that he would have a year-round supply of cut flowers, as he did so much entertaining.
The water lilies are so much fun! First of all, they're so beautiful and exotic, it's quite easy to love working on them. Also, I love working with plants and talking to people (instead of being cooped up in a greenhouse), and the water lily pools are a huge attraction in the conservatory. People are constantly asking questions when we're in the pools, and they are facinated by the work we're doing. The tropical lilies sit up higher above the water, have more fragrant blooms, and have more intense colors than the hardy lilies. The hardy lilies are beautiful as well, but I notice they have smaller (but more numerous) leaves than the tropicals. The lily bud comes up from the crown of the plant and opens with a lovely perfume and nectar in the well of the flower. This attracts a bee, beetle, or other bug, which falls into the well to get the nectar. In such a fuss for the insect to get out, the pollen from the anthers gets knocked into the liquid. The next time that the flower opens, the nectar has drained somewhat, causing the pollen to come into contact with the stigmatic portion of the flower, where pollination can occur. The flowers can be classified easily as "first day," "second day," "third" or "fourth-day flowers," based upon the position of the anthers and petals, the presence of nectar, and it's height in the water. The expired blooms retreat back underwater after the fourth day. One of our jobs in the pools is to remove old flowers, and this is an easy task because they give themselves away with a squeeze. If water comes out of the tip of the closed flower, it has already bloomed. The small leaves of the lilies are removed just as suckers are taken off to focus growth on larger leaves and flowers.
I have learned also about the lotus plant, especially about the "nano-technology" of the leaves. Water immediately beads up on the leaf surface and rolls off. The lotus is propagated at Longwood yearly by the tubers that are produced. Also, never cut the stem of the lotus leaf under the water: the "air tubes" in the stem can become flooded with water, and will eventually drown the plant. The bogs contain a lot of interesting plants like water lettuce, water hyacinth, parrot's feather plant, taro, canna, and ruellia.
I am very interested in the research that is performed here at Longwood on the giant water platters, Victoria. They grow in the Amazon and S. America, and a very special hybrid was created here (originally by Patrick). The cross is between V. crusiana and V. amazonica. So beautiful! They have vicious spines on the leaves and petioles, to protect themselves from nibblers, and the leaves can grow up to 8 feet in diameter! They can hold up to 125 lbs!!! with the support of plywood or other such material to distribute the weight. The leaves come up to the surface in their full-grown size, so right now (at the beginning of their "season," they were planted in May) the small leaves are being removed. The nocturnal blooms are only 2-nightflowers: the first night, they are white and smell of pineapple, and the female portion of the flower is dominant. The second night, the bloom is pink-red and the male portion is dominant. Ed says that this is to ensure that inbreeding and inferior mutations are avoided. Cross-pollination occurs because the male and female organs are not functioning on the same plant at the same time. Amazing!
Below is a picture of Ed, Tim, Gavin, and me moving the huge Victorias to the nursery pond. This involved removing them from the tanks in the greenhouse, carefully wrapping them in paper and cloth to keep them hydrated, moving them by cart to the truck, then unloading them into the water. This was a very careful operation since the leaves and petioles do not support themselves upward like a non-aquatic plant. It was very fun! The waders are great, they make me fearless to jump right in--literally! :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday note

I have been remiss in blogging lately, because I've been slacking or nothing extremely notable happened. I worked with Lee on Wednesday, then did more curatorial work in the afternoon.
Here's a few notes on my recent activities:
Went to the Reading Terminal Market for a Philly cheesesteak at Carmen's, had dim sum in Chinatown, went to Baltimore, made s'mores in the firepit with friends.
Began the weekly plant walk with Randi (she's an awesome European lady who knows so much about plants).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Emily Goes to Washington (and More Orchids)

Last week, I worked some more with Lee and Marie and the orchids, which I am still enjoying. I find myself constantly becoming distracted with the amazing cattleyas and paphs, all of them! I am learning more about issues that orchids have, like scale, mealy, and viral infections. Sterile tools and single-use blades (as well as single-use gloves when re-potting) prevent the spread of a few viruses that are rampant in the orchids. It causes some splotching and blackening of the leaves eventually. I made a slew of accession tags, which is a long (but really enjoyable) process in curatorial. I think I might really enjoy curatorial work after spending some time in the office with Kristina, Erika, and Nick. I made a total of 300+ accession tags for the orchids last week, just to prevent it from being such a heavy burden. Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants, so naturally the taxonomic classification is crazy! So many complicated naming rules... But the tags come out nice and shiny. :)

Thursday's field trip was fun, but very wet. It rained on and off the entire day, including the 3 hours of driving each way. We went to Hillwood, which is the estate of Marjorie Merrwether Post, and had a nice tour of the gardens there. The gardens there seemed like lots of separate little areas quilted together. There were a few creative buildings like the Russian country house (Dasha?), and some greenhouses. The Japanese-style garden was probably my favorite, with a bird statue theme throughout. Lots of bridges and pretty, dainty plants throughout. I liked that many areas of the gardens were created for entertainment, like the putting greens, for example. I enjoyed walking through the property; the gardens were not astonishingly elaborate, but very comfortable and beautiful. We also mosied around the mansion, which is elaborate and amazing like all the others.
We then went to the National Conservatory, which was very pretty, but we sped through there quite quickly. We also toured the production greenhouses for the conservatory, which was nice, but after working at Longwood, I have to admit, it takes a bit more to impress me. ;)

My new favorite plant is ginko biloba! There are huge, incredible ginkos here at Longwood. They are such beautiful trees, so perfect. I learned that they are dieceous, and that the fruits on the female are SO smelly, like rancid butter or cheese. One day I'll get a male.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Orchid work

Helped Marie and Lee change out all the Spathaphyllums in the orchid display (100 of them!), then did some repotting and dividing with Marie. I learned that paphs like a little pearlite in the mix, too.
We divided an Oncidium (I took one home--a 'greenslip' signed by a gardener allows you to take home surplus material) after lunch, then I returned to the curatorial work. I actually got much faster from yesterday, and finished 9 pages--the remainder of the 14 pages--of the dogtags. Whew! It was time to go home after all that... :)

Monday, June 15, 2009


Another orchid display change, some tidying. I discovered a favorite orchid: Maxillaria, it smells like coconut! I went to work with Kristina and Erica (the intern there) in Curatorial. We had 14 pages (227 labels) of dogtags that needed to be made for the orchids, so Lee volunteer me to make them. Orchid nomenclature is very complicated! There is seemingly endless list of different orchid genus, let alone species! Each accession number had to be checked to match the name, then the file pulled from the database, then I had to edit what the tag ould read to fit only 5 lines, then I could print them and check each one for accuracy. Very long process. Only finished 5 pages.
Grilled under the trees in the evening with many people on the row.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Quick Catch-up

I've worked two weeks now at Longwood, in several different areas and with many gardeners. I have spent a good deal of time in the main conservatory with Karl and Lauren, where I quickly caught on to the methods of bed changes, the naming of many new plants, ornamental display indoors, and lots of fuschias! I learned that fuschias are very messy though they are beautiful, and that they wilt for one of two reasons: under- and over-watering...
Last Wednesday, I felt very accomplished with Hudson and Ginny. We divided a bed of orange clivias (Clivia miniata) in the Pierre DuPont house that hadn't been thinned since 1990! It was a crazy root orgy in there, and we removed all the plants, added more media, cleaned off all the mealy-bugs, and replanted them by half. Added ivy. Looks great!
More recently, I have been working with Lee and Marie in the orchid display. I love the orchids. There are over 9,000 plants in the orchid collection, and amidst all those beautiful blooms, leaves, spikes, and shoots there is order! They keep excellent record of the number of each species and cultivar, and when it was last repotted, etc. I learned how to repot an orchid properly, something I was somewhat uncomfortable with before I began. I'll be working with Lee and Marie next week. :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Orchids with Lee

Worked with Lee and the orchids today, and found that there are many differences between Marie's methods and Lee's... But we did the display, some repotting, and at the end of the day, she showed me how the Disa's (from a certain mountainous region in S. Africa) are crossed. Apparently, no other garden grows these beautiful orchids, because they are difficult. Marie told me that I would have to go to the UK to find them under glass elsewhere. The Disa uniflora is grown from seed at Longwood, which is amazing. With a pencil, you carefully remove the hidden anther from the flower, and attach it to the sticky stigma on the "mother" flower. Unpollenated flowers on the same plant are removed to allow all of the energy to be put into producing the desired seed. After hand-pollinating, the seeds will develop in about a month (hopefully). They are germinated in sphagnum moss in a tray of water (very moist). Careful records are kept and labels are used everywhere to keep track of parentage. The reason we cross them ourselves is to get the cool "splashed" colors on pinks and oranges, and to carry on the unusual shades. Beautiful!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conservatory "Field Trip"

Helped in the Main in the morning (watering, cleanup, pruning bouganvillia), then lunch. Ran home for my hardhat, because the "field trip" consisted of the tunnels of the conservatory. Safety is a huge emphasis at Longwood. The first part of the experience was learning about the irrigation system basics and plumbing. then we took a walk through the east end with Lorrie to learn about the plants and growing techniques there (structure, lawn, palms, bamboo). The Wood's Cycad (Encephalartos woodii, native to S. Africa) is easily the most unique plant in the gardens! It's really old, and is one of 90 left in the world! All of them are male, too, which proves to be a problem for reproduction. Then we toured the tunnels of the conservatory, where all the controls and plumbing is located. It was very interesting to see the back-stage, so to speak.
Ali and I went to Philly for pho--yum! We lost track of time in the Asian market, and arrived late to class...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Much-Anticipated Orchid Day!

Orchid Day with Marie! Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the orchid display is changed. Over 200 orchids are rotated in and out of the spots in the display. The first thing to do in the morning is to visit each orchid greenhouse (cool, warm, moderate temperature), and find the best blooming orchids. We take them to a work area and tidy them up, stake them, and give them labels. The most awesome thing about working with orchids (besides the fact that they are absolutely stunning) is the organizational system. There are over 9,000 plants that are all labeled and accessioned! To keep track of each of them and maintain the collection is amazing. If a plant needs repotting, an accession label, to be divided, or cared for, this work is done when it's taken back to the potting shed off the display. This way, the orchids rotate through somewhat regularly (on about a yearly basis). I learned how to repot orchids (space, medium, water, tissue cleanup/removal), and about the different mixes. General mix includes ~2/3 medium douglas fir bar, 1/3 charcoal, and fine bark to fill in the spaces. This is rinsed thouroughly and drained, so that the orchids don't have to be watered-in after potting (avoid infection). I learned about many different orchids (stanopeas, miltonias, dendrobiums, disas, gongoras, etc), and where new growth will occur (on a monopodial or sympodial grower), and how the cultivars are notated. Marie is quite the enthusiast (and president of the Orchid Society around here).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I worked with Ginny and Hudson again today, finishing up yesterday's project. I learned that applying milk to clivias and orchids will make them shiny for displays. We worked with Andrew after lunch on the grapes some more. The light penetration is so much greater now that they're pruned! You don't want the offshoots from the nodes on the side-branches. They must be tied to wires, and only extend 2 wires away from the main vine (about 4 feet). Back when Mr. Du Pont was directing the gardens, the fruit clusters were pruned so that there was not a neighboring grape within 3/4 inches away, to ensure large fruit size.
Andrew let me clean up the tomatoes (indeterminant varieties), because I've worked so much on tomatoes in the past. This was fun, I love these plants! Then we worked on tying the figs, keeping them in the espallier form. There's lots of attention to detail, and preserving a perfect specimen is the goal here.
The last hour was spent cleaning up the bay laurel shrubs.
Rainy again today! Lots of rain lately.

Monday, June 8, 2009

more conservatory fun

Hudson and I were assigned to help Ginny (love her) separate clivias in the Pierce-Du Pont house, which was fun! We dug up the whole knotted overgrown mess (not done since 1990!), divided the mass, fetched med-mix from the soil/compost yard, and replaced them by about half. The med-mix was chosen for the clivia because they like a coarse, well-draining soil. This project overflowed into the afternoon, after putting some ivy in to cover the edges.
I helped Andrew in the the fruit house where there are grapes, nectarines (Pierre's and my favorite fruit), figs, citrus, melons, tomatoes, and more. I learned how to prune the grape vines with pole pruners, and tie them, which was hot but fun work.
I strolled through the library after work, it has a lot of really great books! I found a mushroom book of PA (Kennett Square is the mushroom capital of the world! I love fungi.), as well as one on edible plants of the world.
I walked back through the conservatory for fun, I love the fern passage (especially the tassel fern, the lasagna fern, staghorns, and maiden's har fern). I smelled lots of Stanhopea orchids.
I went to the mexican ice cream place in Kennett Square with a friend, and they have amazing sweet corn ice cream with chili powder! yum.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Woke slightly late, read some, caught up with family on the phone, and sat in the chairs on the patio of the Terrace overlooking the lawn for a while. Nice relaxing weekend.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More Rain!

Today was a slower day. It rained a lot, and my tendonitis wrist was hurting me, so they gave me light (read: slightly boring) duties. I helped Kat snip back ivy the entire length of the acacia passage on both sides, which can be pretty painful on your knees after a while. I removed oxalis (death to oxalis!!!) from the Orangery after lunch, deadheaded, and did whatever I could to pass the time. It was so mellow and rainy.
After work I went with Ali, Hudson, and Olivia to Philly Chinatown for wonton noodle soup and peking duck with choy. It was so good. We found a bubble tea place in Little Saigon for dessert, then returned to Longwood.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Worked in the morning in the main with more bed changes, then went to Nemour's Gardens in the afternoon on the field trip. I love the Thursday field trips, I find them to be very interesting, I get to see the area (free of charge) and it breaks up the week a little bit.
The Nemour's mansion was beautiful, very elaborate. It was built by Alfred Du Pont (Pierre's brother), and is now a museum. It was rainy, but we toured the gardens and fountains anyway. The gold leafing was everywhere! I thought the French-style gardens were beautiful, but i really disliked the urns with geraniums and an agave in them. We saw old pictures of the place, though, and they are only maintaining the historical look--sure enough, that's what was in the urns years ago.
Attended session 3 of class, it's enjoyable. I'm not studying, but I'm still learning about the plants.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More bed changes...

Changed out a large bed to Caladiums, Impatiens, and Lantana standards. Lantana is used so widely back in AZ, because it's so heat and salt tolerant. But grown here at Longwood as standards, it's very pretty.
I planted a bunch of fuschias, but I didn't plan well enough for the space. I had to remove some, and replant them with Lauren's assistance. Practice, I suppose, will make this easier.
Visited Terrain and Chads Ford Nurseries with Stephen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


-Watered fucias and beds, cleaned up
-Helped put in 2 large (25 gal?) pots with palms into the Orangery.
-Worked with an old lady named Mary to put in tons of pink petunias. Karl expects they'll only be there 3 weeks. The rotation of annual plants in the Main Cons. gets just a little bit tiresome. I think I enjoy a little more permanent plantings. But all the old plant material gets composted! It's awesome. The Terrace uses a lot of compostable materials (cups, plasticware, napkins and plates), too.
-Learned about the many ways Longwood propagates cannas (cuttings, seed, divisions, tissue culture). Planted 'Ermine' today.
-I really enjoy watering fucias on the Exhibition Hall floor/fern floor, because people always want to ask you about the water and how much fun it looks. It is fun. :)
-Huge rainstorm today, finished before 3:30, though.
I am very excited for my next day at Longwood! It's very exciting, everyone is so friendly and knowledgable. I'm having a great time!

Monday, June 1, 2009

First Day of Work!

I arrived at the potting shed at 7 am, and met Lauren and Karl. I have heard many things about Karl, that he's a plant encyclopedia, and a 'stickler' for nametags and botanical names, so I tried to get off on the right foot. Lauren is very nice. I began in the petunia beds in the Main Conservatory, deadheading and pruning the leggy ones. Then I rearranged and refreshed the terrariums in the music room. I watered the fuschias in the fern floor.
A skill I learned today was how to water huge hanging baskets, like the fuschias. A wand attachment with a tip to shoot the water in a strong stream allows us to aim the water in an arc up to the center of the basket.
I also skimmed the lotus fountain of debris, and picked up after the falling fuschia flowers (constant...).
It was a great day! I recognized and visited with many people, and felt very at home. Tomorrow we're doing some bed changes!