Space and Atwater

I’ve just finished a blog post for the Turf Battle competition that I thought readers of this blog may find interesting, as it pertains to landscape design, the Middlebury landscape in particular. In Space, I wrote about the hierarchy of outdoor spaces on campus, and how the master plan for Middlebury sees our outdoor spaces. I found it fascinating to research, as most of my landscape design courses I took never focused on such large and lofty areas such as these. It’s a quick read, hope you enjoy it.

Putty Knives

A couple of storms ago, I caught myself absentmindedly sticking our most important snow fighting tool into my pocket, and it occurred to me I’d left it out of the list of techniques and equipment I’ve written about in the past. Yes, for some storms, the most important tool in our kit seems to be the lowly putty knife. I prefer an inch and half blade myself.

I was introduced to this my first winter at Middlebury, during the Valentine’s day storm of 2007. The roads were impassable- I’d tried with a friend in a four wheel drive truck, and we’d turned around and went back to the college to spend the night. This was no ordinary storm, but a a blizzard, so strong we couldn’t keep up with it, either by shovel, tractor, or plow. The most important work of the night remained, though, so we broke into teams of two or three, shovels and putty knives in hand, and trudged from building to building, closing doors.

A plumber told me Middlebury has 110 buildings. I asked him how many exterior doors were on campus, and got a look like I’d lost my mind. Fire codes dictate at least two per building, and some many, many more, so let’s say there is 500. Most of these buildings are heated centrally with steam, from the Service Building. The operators in there work wonders, 24/7, heating the entire campus. Ever had snow block your main door at your house, preventing it from closing? Even if you don’t notice immediately, I bet you quickly figure it out as the draft quickly goes through the house. Some storms seem block doors better than others. Now imagine if even a couple of doors on campus are like that. The magicians in the heating plant notice. Now imagine those storms where even 10% of the doors are stuck part way open. The steam can’t compete,alarms in the plant go off, and precious steam and heat literally goes out the door.

So we go out, putty knives in hand, cleaning door thresholds, making sure the door is re-sealed against the building. The knives scrape the snow from the threshold, and from the underside of the door. It builds up against the door frame as well. If you’re really unfortunate, or in the right storm, hot air from the building is melting the snow in the way, and it re-freezes to rock hard ice.

We’ll gladly do the shoveling, plowing, and salting. Save us some time, though, and close the door behind you. What, did you grow up in a barn? Snow stuck in the threshold? Grab a knife from the dining hall if you have to, I won’t tell Aunt Des.

A New Tree Map

Admittedly, the campus tree map posted on this site can be a little overwhelming, and almost too large to be useful. Google Earth is a wonderful program, but not everyone had access to it. Ben Meader, a digital media tutor from this past summer, toured the campus with me one day, and we picked the 99 must see trees on campus. This represents one of nearly every variety of tree on campus. He then took pictures, and put them all into a Google Maps file, viewable from any web browser, no Google Earth required. The link is also available on the campus tree map page. Enjoy!

Snow Days

Luther Tenny (Facilities Snow Guru, and master of the Snow Plan) keeps much better track of snow storms than I. The weather station down at the track records liquid precipitation year round, thanks to a small heater melting snow in the rain guage. This has recorded .91″ so far in January, compared to 1.35″ to date last year. In December, 1.92″ of precip. fell, as compared to 1.5″ in 2009. The difference this winter seems to be frequency.

Luther reports 11 snow events so far this year, a snow event being one all of facilities needs to respond to. An average winter contains 18 snow events in total. He also states 19 of the last 20 days in January has seen some snow, and 24 of the 31 days in December.

I never got around to posting this, but here’s a great satellite picture of the nor’easter that hit us on January 12. I’ve lost the name of the site it came from, but I remember it’s from the National Weather Service. We’re in a break from snow now, as the bottom seems to be dropping out of the thermometer. Some of the coldest arctic air we’ve seen in 2-3 years is plunging south, so stay warm.

Middlebury Landscape History

Over on the Turf Battle Atwater Landscape Contest Blog, I just posted a short new piece readers of this blog might find interesting. I was fooling around in ArcGIS one day, when I came across some historical aerial photographs of the town of Middlebury, including areas of the campus. I exported 3 pictures from the map of the Atwater section of campus, from 2006, 1974, and 1942. I like seeing the differences in canopy cover from year to year, and am amazed how young some “old” trees we have on the north end of campus actually are. Expect more pictures like this soon-this is really cool stuff.

The Return of the Vandal(s)

We are not alone, for better or for worse.

The Burlington Free Press on Sunday wrote an excellent article entitled “Taking it out on Trees: Vandals go out on a Limb“. In it, Joel Baird writes of the problems with vandals in Burlington, and a student in my old dorm at UVM who spoke up. He called me as well, after reading of our travails here at Middlebury on the blog. He writes-

“Parsons said he believes a strategy of engaging more students in their landscape likely will pay higher dividends than highlighting the acts of a few misguided vandals. “If you publicize it too much,” he said, “you risk getting more of it.”

I also enjoyed the comment section, where someone under the psuedonem Caberg posted a comment that got deleted (wished I’d read that one!) then re-posts and says

Huh? All I did was point out the ridiculousness of Tim Parsons’ personification of trees and the acts of “violence” against them: “This is an act of rage, of violence, well beyond wanton destruction of property, senseless passing violence against an animate object incapable of screaming or defending itself”

I’m all for punishing these vandals and I love trees and naute, but let’s not get carried away here. Trees are not people. Suggesting otherwise ust makes you look like a fool.

Heehee. Yeah, I’m a little foolish. I can live with that.

So I thought I was done, finished writing, whining, wailing, lamenting a priviliged student’s acts every weekend, stopping count at 10 weekends in a row. On to writing about happier things. Then Friday night, another branch on my favorite Katsura tree on campus.

Katsura in Front of Carr Hall

And it begins anew.

Not exactly Gardening News

In the spirit of Tim Spear’s blog post “Not Exactly Administrative News: 10 great albums of 2010“, I thought I’d write about what’s been captivating me sonically for the last year.

Maybe a brief explanation would be in order first. I don’t listen to music much, mainly All Things Considered (and some of them even talked about) on the way back and forth from work. I do run, though, with an iPod Nano (read a great explanation of the system at the Middlebury Trailrunner), so to distract myself from the fact that I’m running I play loud obnoxious Alt-Rock. It’s probably a midlife crisis thing. Most of my inspiration comes from WEQX out of Manchester, one of many good radio stations near us (also see WMUD and WRMC). I’ll listen to music once in a while when working, or when the news isn’t on. (Like the Old Chapel Road annual planting? Brought to you by the last album I bought: The Pierces- 13 Tales of Love and Revenge) I hear a song I like, I download it from iTunes, and presto. So the list won’t be best albums, as I mostly buy songs. And I have no idea if they came out in 2010 or not, but that’s when I bought ’em.

99 Problems-Hugo. Banjo is like bluegrass in general; a little bit goes a long ways. This remake of a hiphop song has the perfect amount of bluegrass funk. One of my kids likes the song cause she’s got one of those Middlebury Quidditch shirts that says “I’ve got 99 problems and a snitch ain’t one”.

Percussion Gun-White Rabbits. It’s all about the drums sometimes, and this one is much better than the other song I’ve been hearing a lot, Kick Drum Heart.

Crystallized- The xx. I’m not sure if this is a love song or not. It’s a heck of a duet, though, with almost contrasting harmony miraculously sounding good, almost great together.

Blue Blood Blues-The Dead Weather. I’m a sucker for Jack White-he’s good in everything he does. Dirty, nasty, old fashioned rock here.

The Ghost Inside-Broken Bells. Most listeners would probably recognize their first popular song, The High Road, but this one’s better. Half of this group was in The Shins, so that’ s probably why I subconsciously liked it.

Oh My God-Mark Ronson featuring Lily Allen. iTunes says this came out in 2007, but I’m including it on my 2010 list because I still run to it quite a bit. Take a good song, add some killer brass riffs, and presto, instant classic.

Dog Days are Over-Florence and the Machine. This song was starting to get WAY overplayed, until I saw a YouTube video of a baby in a car seat loving it. Now I can almost hear it constantly.

Cobrastyle-Robyn. This one came out in 2005, but I just heard it this year. I had been running to the origninal, by the Teddybears, and that’s good too, but this is a great cover.

Latest Heartbreak-22-20’s. Remember above about the drums? Same comments here.

Ruby-Kaiser Chiefs. This is the first song on one of my running mixes-it’s swift kick in the keister when you’re not in the mood to run. The Kaiser Chiefs also did the original to the Lily Allen song above, but she did it better.

You Got Me-The Crash Kings. Grungy.

Dominos-The Big Pink. Another good starting song.

Help I’m Alive-Metric. Unfortunatly, much of my running takes place at 5 in the morning, and this song is great in a super-creepy-in-the-dark sort of way. The first time my kids heard this song they thought she was singing”Help I’m alive, my heart keeps beating like a hamburger”

Kids-MGMT. I bought this one for my kids, ironically. Good beat.

Battleflag-Lo Fidelity Allstars. This is an older song, I think late 90’s. More electronica dance than anything else, but good running pace.

Handlebars-Flobots. Rap is definitely where my mid-life crisis shows through, but this is a rap song with plucked violin and trombone, so there.

Cupid’s Chokehold/ Breakfast in America-Gym Class Heroes. I’m really showing my age when I admit I’m a sucker for a good Supertramp remix, aren’t I?

Airstream Driver-Gomez. I’ve saved one of the best for last. Well done.

That’s enough I guess. What am I missing?

Annual Review

Regular blog readers (all four of you or so) probably don’t realize I can read about you as well. Through the wonders of an add-in on the blog called Blog Stats, I can see not only how many people are reading pages on this blog, but what pages they are hitting. It can be kinda funny.

I can use the information almost like a forecast. My post a year or two ago on Forecasting a Nor’easter tends to get many page views as a storm comes up the coast-it’s one of the only places where you can look up exactly what that “benchmark” is the forecasters are always mentioning. Similary, do a web search on Pagoda Dogwood, and Google will probably lead you here.

It can be humbling, though. Some of my favorite posts have been the least popular, showing the lowest number of page views. Like Black Eyed Susan-one of my favorite plants, and favorite posts. Next to no one read that. Or Plants of a Mis-Spent Youth-the secret I barely want to tell anyone about how I’m filling Middlebury with unusual plants. My very least popular posts, though, have been on Annuals.

We don’t plant a lot of annuals at Middlebury-it’s a space and time thing. It’s best to plant annuals at the end of May and beginning of June, when our department is busy with Commencement and reunion. And with 200 acres, where would we stop? But we do have a couple of prime locations where annuals really brighten an otherwise boring area, and they’re fun to plant. In the past I’ve written about what we planted, thinking that plant geeks like me care, and would want to read about them. Well, site stats say they don’t.

So I skipped it this year. Our normal plantings on Old Chapel Road and the front of Johnson were as popular as always, based on comments from people walking past, but I never posted about what they were. Unlike my own garden, where I sure as hell wished I’d kept track of all the names of the daylilies I’ve planted, I do keep careful track of what we plant at Camp Midd, and naturally I watch carefully. So this year, I thought I’d actually review what we planted, and how well they grew.

North end of Old Chapel Road

I was in the retail garden center business long enough to see so many plants come and go I couldn’t even keep track of them. Gardeners are trained well to plant something new, something exciting. My new role as campus horticulturist requires consistency. I need to know that what I’m spending our budget on is going to work, is going to grow and flower for reunion, language school in the summer, and last through fall family weekend in September. But the plant geek in me likes new things, so clearly I’ve been well trained. And don’t forget the marketing in greenhouses-plants are bred now to look good in little pots and six packs very early, so they sell well. And nobody writes or reviews how well they grow once they’re out of they’re coddled existence.

(Side note: Greenhouses are not a coddled existence, but it is a good phrase anyways. During my first experiecence with commercial greenhouse production I couldn’t believe how harsh the greenhouse magician treated the plants. In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to water. The worst thing to do to a greenhouse is to water it. Most plants in greenhouses die from fungus and rot, the pestilence of over-watering. My boss would smile upon casting his gaze at a greenhouse full of plants just starting to wilt. You can fix that with water. You can’t fix a root rot so easily.)

I have some old faithful plants I put into the annual plantings every year here. Mostly yellow and gold. The official Middlebury color is a very dark blue, which make it easy for a color wheel challenged horticulturist to play off of that with bright yellows and golds of summer flowers. My wife wanted to paint our house a dark blue, and brought the bloom of the Tiger Lily that came planted in front of our house down to the paint store to pick the right shade-she’s taught me more about color than four years of Plant and Soil Science at UVM ever did. Sadly, there is no Middlebury Dark Blue flower, at least none I know. That’s why the Middlebury College sign across from Admissions gets yellow and gold flowers. (including Black Eyed Susan, you did read that post, right?)

This year, at the end of Old Chapel Road, by the stone pillars, I went with some standbys, and some new flowers. Most impressive this year were the Diascias, ordinarily a finicky flower. I tend to think fo them like a pansy, better in the cool springs and falls, not so great in the heat of the summer. This one a banner year, though, with a pink Darla Appleblossom from Goldfisch blooming all summer long next to the road

Diascia 'Darla Appleblossom'

and a great Darla Orange Diascia from Goldfisch in the front north side.

Diascia 'Darla Orange'

Something everyone should plant more of is an annual with a terrible name, Scaevola. Proven Winners is trying to give it the rather bland common name of Fan Flower, so I guess that’s better than the latin. I used to love selling this plant in a hanging basket, as it’s as nearly foolproof . I’ve seen this plant go into full wilt, hanging over the sides of the pot looking for the compost bin, but with a quick drink of water covered in full blooms in 3 days. Mostly seen in a pale-ish blue, this year I used a really pretty white, and I never drove past and saw this plant out of blooms.

Scaevola 'Whirlwind White'

A flower I always fall in love with in the greenhouse, and a good contrast to Middlebury blue is Marguerite Daisy. Not a great choice for annual beds, though, at least not for us. Many annuals cycle-blooms like mad for several weeks, then next to none while it sets seed (or thinks it does, as most hybrids probably don’t anymore). In a container, or in the hands of someone with more time on their hands than I, this plant will do well, as snipping off dead flowers keeps it blooming well. I like the Vanilla Butterfly cultivar from Proven Winters, in a nice pale yellow. It also comes in a gaudier bright yellow, and a pale pink that only looks good for 3 days in the greenhouse, and then never again.  Here’s the Vanilla Butterfly on a good week. Look at the picture above of the Middlebury College sign for a bad week. Look hard, it’s in there.

Argyranthemum 'Vanilla Butterfly'

Speaking of falling in love in the greenhouse, every year for the last several I’ve been planting Angelonia, Angelonia angustifolia. I fall for the Proven Winners ‘Angelface Blue’, even though they don’t trust us with the latin, and are calling it Summer Snapdragon. This is beautiful in a little 4″ pot, all upright and full of dark blue, almost purple blooms. It does sort of look like a snapdragon, with a couple of bloom spikes sticking up across the greenhouse bench. They get planted, and promptly fall over on the ground, staying there for several weeks until the base of the plant sends reinforcements. I’ll probably keep planting it, though, as there is nothing like a summer romance.

Angelonia 'Angelface Blue'

There were two dissapointments in the bed this year, one of which I should have known better. Osteospermum (latin and common name this time) is another of those very popular spring greenhouse flowers, and it’s been getting the royal treatment from hybridizers ever since. The problem is that they are like a pansy, only worse, gone mad, only blooming in the spring and fall, and going on vacation in the heat of the summer. We planted a Proven Winner called Lemon Symphony, in a nice pale yellow with a purple (!) eye. It was so sad looking at picture time in late August, I didn’t even take its picture.

Another plant that does not work in a planting bed turned out to be a foliage plant, Pseuderanthemum ‘Black Varnish’. Great cultivar name, as the thick glossy leaves are a dark, almost black red. This would be a great plant in a container as a focal point, standing tall in the background. Massed together in a outdoor bed, with no side shoots, it just looked a little silly. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Maybe if I’d pinched the tops of the plants off in early July to promote branching they might have filled out some.

Pseuderanthemum 'Black Varnish'

Not dissapointing, but not thrilling, was a Calibrachoa called ‘Noa Yellow’. The common name is Million Bells, for many tiny petunia shaped flowers that cover the annual, but Million Bells may be a Proven Winner trademarked name. Some of the Calibrachoas grow like crazy, while some never really grow much after their greenhouse sojurn. ‘Noa Yellow’ ran the middle course, blooming well, but never really expanding out into the garden to fill space. Chalk it up to another plant for containers.

Calibrachoa 'Noa Yellow'

South side of the bed

Sustainable Landscaping

While doing a post on the Sustainable Sites Initiative for the Atwater Landscape contest blog Turf Battle I’d remembered I also wanted to write about a homeowner version of this document called Landscape for Life. I first read about this project at the wonderful Garden Rant blog, then immediately went to read the document. I’d been following the work of the Sustainable Sites inititive for a while, and am over-joyed to see a less ‘industrial’ application.

Like the Sustainable Sites website, the Landscape for Life website is a great resource in an of itself, but the true reading is found in the large document, available for download. Highly recommended  winter reading for your inner gardener.