Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Shakespeare in the Arb Awakens Caretaker's Inner Poet

Hark! Yon Workday Report. 

Nichols Arboretum caretaker Stevia Morawski reveals that after watching Shakespeare in the Arb twice a week for an entire month her workday reports start to veer toward the poetical. In honor of Shakespeare in the Arb, and with suggestions from intern Jared Aslakson, this is Stevia's versiful version of last weekend's dame's rocket pull:

We drove through fields, to farmhouse red, where grass and milkweed lay,
We peeked o'er green, our eyes did see our seeding, flowery prey

Three strong we were, with volunteers, caretakers madeth five,
Our valiant goal, to leave no Dame, nor Rocket there alive

The poison ivy stopped us not, e'er luscious did it grow, 
We’d wash, we knew with sweet Tecnu before a rash could show

We strained, we pulled, we braved the rain, for all our selfless toil
The raspberries, with prickled leaves, didst lay our plans to foil.

Though strong we were, young buccaneers, tough botanists of Ann Arbor,
We could not broach the brambled wall, where Dames Rocket was harbored.

The noontime came and Summer's orb encroached upon its peak
Grinning with our leafy loot for havoc we did wreak 
Yet working past the noontime was a task we would not deign
With bounty bagged, we drove our truck to gardens once again.

Stevia Morawski
Dame's rocket.jpg
To be or not to be: dame's rocket

Jared Aslakson

Monday, June 8, 2015

What I Learned at the American Peony Society Judging

University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum student summer intern Zhenzhen Zhang enjoyed the rare opportunity to observe the peony cut flower judging sessions at the American Peony Society annual meeting in Louisville last May 2015. Zhenzhen recounts her experiences at the show.

My name is Zhenzhen Zhang and this summer (2015) I’m working as an intern in the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden. I have an undergraduate degree in ornamental horticulture and I’m now pursuing a Master of Landscape Architecture in the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment.

My undergraduate background has given me some knowledge of peonies. Moreover, peonies, especially the tree peony, originated in China.

Dr. David Michener, the curator at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, invited me to the American Peony Society meeting this May. While there I had the rare opportunity to observe the peony judging process. It was an honor to be an observer of the judging and it provided me a lot of insight into the world of the peony as a cut flower in the U.S.

The grand champion—or “Queen of the Show”—at the APS convention was the variety ‘Salmon Dream’. This variety, pictured below, had a clean coral color and perfect symmetry.

Grand Champion - "Queen of the Show"
So what made this peony the Queen of the Show? Judging of cut peonies depends on several criteria. Before we talk about those criteria, let’s review the six peony bloom forms.

First is the single form. Singles in cultivation may have up to 15 petals (wild form 5 petals), with a saucer shape, pollen-bearing stamens, and functional carpels.
Single form peony

Next is Japanese form. Diagnostic of the Japanese form are staminodes—rudimentary or sterile stamens that do not produce pollen, which means there are transformed stamens in which that original is still recognizable.

Japanese form peony

The third is the anemone form. The stamen transformation has progressed to the point where all visible evidence of stamen origin, except for its yellow color, has disappeared.
Anemone form peony

The next is the bomb form. This form looks like a ball sitting on a plate.

The semi-double form has prominent stamens and a bulking of petalage (one of the segments of the corolla of a flower), an increased number of guard petals, or a guard petals structure which adds visual bulk to the flower.

The last one is double form, in which all stamens and carpels are transformed into petals.

We need to know these forms because they are the basis for classifying peonies. If the exhibitor places his or her peony in the wrong group—for instance mistaking a semi-double for a single—no matter how perfect the peony is, the flower loses any opportunity for an award.

Bomb form peony
Another factor in peony classification is its group---Lactiflora, Hybrid, Suffruticosa, Lutea; Moreover, the color is also considered in the classification, such as white, pink, and red.

Double form peony
Now to the peony judging. What do judges look for?

1. Form
The perfection of form is the most important to the judging process. This means petals must be uniform and symmetrical; Japanese and singles should be properly placed; doubles should have petals symmetrically arranged with edges re-curved with a rosebud center.

Semi-double form peony
Poor form will look ‘relaxed’ or drooping, and sometimes the stamens and staminodes are not firmly held. Cupped varieties should not be cupped to hide the center. Guard petals may have notching and uneven length.

2. Color
The color should be clear, clean, and fresh. Multi-colors should be harmonious. The texture of petals should be silken, with a velvet or satiny sheen.
Symmetrical, uniform.

3. Condition and Grooming
Flowers should be in fully mature and peak condition; fallen pollen indicates they are past prime. Judges also watch for bruised petals and dark spots; there should be no side buds.

Judging only considers the condition of the flower at the moment of judging, and does not take into consideration whether the flower would bloom nicely the following day, or whether it bloomed perfectly the day before.

Exhibitors came from all over the United States. Peonies from warmer climates  bloom earlier, while peonies from colder climates may bloom later. In order to make their own peonies show well at the judging, exhibitors employed methods to keep or force peonies to open. Delivery is also a time when peonies might be damaged. So attaining the best form, shape, and condition is challenging. What’s seen at the judging represents an entire year of preparation. They all deserve a reward!

Drooping petals
You can see some flowers in 
this white group are not pure 
white, so they are not good ones

A sample of Carol Adelman's peonies. Carol is owner
of Adelman's Peony Gardens in Oregon.
Examples of peonies belonging to another exhibitor.

The right one is not mature, so not blooming well.

Zhenzhen Zhang, from China, recently completed her first year in the Master of Landscape Architecture in the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment. She is working as an intern in the horticulture department, in particular in the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden. Zhenzhen is interested in ecological design and development. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Satsuki Azalea Bonsai in Bloom at Matthaei

A renowned Ohio collector brings his blooming bonsai azaleas to the Bonsai & Penjing Garden at Matthaei

Update: From May 28 - June 5, 2016, Matthaei-Nichols will display a collection of blooming satsuki azalea from renowned Ohio collector Melvyn Goldstein. 

Dr. Goldstein is a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. As a scholar on Tibet, its politics, culture and language, Dr. Goldstein developed his love of bonsai and began his own collection after seeing them on a trip to China in the 1980s. After he was introduced to azalea bonsai in 2001, Dr. Goldstein began his study of satsuki, attending courses in California and making trips to Japan to select azaleas. We asked Dr. Goldstein to share some of his thoughts on bonsai and the satsuki azalea he tends.


Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum: What kind of plants are in the exhibit?
Melvyn Goldstein: These are satsuki azalea (Rhododendron indicum). They’re one of the most popular and prized species used for bonsai in Japan and have been so there for at least 400 years. There are more than 3,000 varieties of satsuki azaleas that vary in the color of their flowers and their leaf size and shape.

Pictured: A selection of satsuki bonsai azaleas from Melvyn Goldstein's collection.

MBG: Where are the plants from, and what does “satsuki” mean?
Goldstein: All the azaleas in my collection were imported from Japan, mostly by me. The name satsuki means “5th month” because satsuki flowers are usually at their peak bloom during the last week in May and the first week in June, which is the fifth month in the lunar calendar. This is when the major satsuki bonsai competitions occur in Tokyo and Kanuma, Japan.

MBG: What makes satsuki bonsai special?
Goldstein: Satsuki bonsai are popular in Japan (and now worldwide) because not only do they exhibit an amazing range of beautiful flowers—sometimes for nearly a month—but they can also be trained to have elegant shapes. Some varieties, including ones in this exhibit, have flowers of one color, but most have different color flowers on the same tree, and many flowers are themselves multi-colored. Also, as evergreens, their striking shapes can be appreciated all year long.

MBG: You’re a U-M alumnus. Can you fill us in a bit on that background?
Goldstein: I received a BA in history in 1959 and an MA in 1960 in Russian history from the University of Michigan specializing in Russia and Mongolia. My life changed in 1960 when my advisor, Professor Andre Lobanov-Rostovsky, arranged for me to study Mongolian with a famous Russian √©migr√© at the University of Washington. However the year I arrived in Seattle was the year after the Dalai Lama had fled from Tibet after a failed uprising. This was followed by the Chinese implementing socialist reforms including dismantling of the entire monastic system. As a consequence, the Rockefeller Foundation started a program to train new scholars in the West to study Tibet in order to preserve its cultural, historical, and religious traditions by funding seven new Tibetan Studies Centers in seven countries including the US, where the center was given to the U. of Washington. So at the same time that I arrived to start studying Mongolian, six Tibetans arrived from exile in India to teach the Tibetan language and help in research.

MBG: What sparked your interest in this particular azalea?
Goldstein: My passion for satsuki traces back to my years at the University of Michigan and my subsequent coursework and travel. Satsuki azalea, or “satsky” as they are often called, is an outgrowth of this. When China opened its doors to the outside world, I was able to get permission to start fieldwork in Tibet and came into contact with my first "bonsai" in the gardens of the hotels I stayed at in Beijing and Chengdu in Sichuan. This led me to want to raise bonsai myself, so I started studying it here and began to import bonsai from China. On one of my shopping ventures I saw a tree I hadn't previously encountered and learned that it was an azalea that had just been collected in the mountains and that it had beautiful flowers. It’s generally thought that this azalea is at least 100 years old. I brought it home to Ohio in 2001 and still have it in my collection. I enjoyed that tree so much that I started to study satsuki azalea bonsai cultivation with a Japanese master who came three times a year to teach a course on Satsuki in Sacramento. And I began to develop my own collection by buying some of the trees he brought for us to work with, and by making trips to Japan to select my own trees since satsuki azalea are widely available there and exquisite. I now have a collection of about 40 Satsuki.