Big, Bigger, and Biggest take Rhode Island

Even at nearly a ton, it doesn’t take a town to raise a giant pumpkin. But it might take a town to lift one! Fresh off his record-smashing win in Massachusetts, grower Ron Wallace was back in his home state of Rhode Island recently to have a go at one-upping the benchmark set by his own 2009-pound pumpkin in September. Hundreds turned out for a bucolic romp through Frerichs Farm in the town of Warren, hopping hay rides, bopping to live music, and showing off their mighty produce while pumpkin growers from around the northeast gathered to throw their weight around.

While the mood may have been light, the subject matter was anything but.

Ron’s second contender for the crown had estimates predicting a weigh-in somewhere around 2100 pounds, which explains the forklift needed to hustle this hefty squash around. But while hopes were holding high, the plump pumpkin fell just short of the record with a final weight of 1872 pounds; it may sound like a big difference, but at their peak these pumpkins put on 35 pounds a day. Still not at all shabby, considering it’s the second-heaviest pumpkin ever grown. Ron not only maintains his rank as the Pumpkin King (don’t tell Jack Skellington) with the 2009-pound beast under his belt, but he’ll also be making his way to The New York Botanical Garden this weekend to join us for our Haunted Pumpkin Garden carving event. That’s with his Ocean State heavyweight in tow, naturally.

With Ron’s pumpkin in the mix, we’re set to kick off the Garden’s Halloween centerpiece on Friday, October 19 at Grand Central Station, where Ray Villafane and his partners in crime will make the first cuts toward creating this year’s farm-grown zombie masterpiece. The festivities then shamble to the NYBG on October 20 and 21, where the team will sculpt, hack, scoop and scrape a few of the world’s heaviest pumpkins (Ron’s included) into a horror show unlike anything you’ve ever seen. We’re nudging everyone to stop in and watch Ray’s monsters in the making–seeing is definitely believing when it comes to someone climbing inside a pumpkin to get all the seeds out. For scheduling, check out our event page.

This entry was posted
on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 at 2:37 pm and is filed under Color Report, Video.
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Botanical Behemoth

In late summer, the NYBG‘s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory becomes the home of a botanical behemoth, one of the largest leaved plants in the world. And each year, visitors find themselves caught off guard by the delightful weirdness of this tropical oddity: Victoria amazonica. Originally from the Amazon River basin, it’s long since become an iconic display in our tropical water lily pond.

Named for Britain’s Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century, the structure of the largest of water lilies is a bit like a kiddie pool (and often as big as one). Its broad, smooth leaves can stretch to nearly ten feet in diameter, forming expansive discs with sharply upturned edges that, again, make it look as though you could drop one in your backyard with a few gallons of water and a pool noodle. At maturity, their short-lived flowers can reach 15 inches across, opening white on the first evening as females, and pink on the second as males. It’s a brief display; the flowers (hopefully) attract pollinating beetles to do nature’s work, then sink below the water’s surface almost as abruptly as they emerged.

The underside of the Victoria lily pad (photo by Ivo M. Vermeulen)

Sink with the flowers and you’ll witness what I’ll call an iceberg effect–there’s more going on below than there is above. The underside of the pads are covered from one side to the next in thick structural ribs, over and between which jut hundreds of sharp spines to protect the plant from herbivorous swimmers. The cell-like design was actually the inspiration for Joseph Paxton‘s famed Crystal Palace in London, which at nearly one million square feet was the largest glass building of the 19th century.

The entire structure is connected to an underwater stalk which can snake over 20 feet down to its base. Together, these features combine to push up a leaf that can support up to 80 pounds on its own. But with an almost paper-thin leaf consistency, you’d have to spread that weight out over a large surface area to keep from turning the disc into a donut. As such, I’m going to go ahead and ask that nobody try to balance any small children on one of these lily pads–it’s been done before elsewhere, but safety first.

From the LuEsther T. Mertz Library archives

While some South American cultures have been known to roast and eat the seeds of the plant, you’re not going to find many practical uses for it beyond its ornamental qualities. That’s unless you happen to be an abnormally large frog (this being the internet, I can’t really make any assumptions). But as with the smaller species of Nymphaea, growing this plant at home isn’t as hopeless an effort as it probably looks, so don’t drain your swimming pool in desperation just yet.

William Tricker, a Kew-trained aquatic gardener of the 19th century whose plant distribution business still operates today, discovered early on that Victoria amazonica tends to grow only so large as its container allows. “Last year a few plants that were not wanted were allowed to remain in eight-inch pots,” he wrote, “where they produced flower buds and one perfect flower, and would have continued to flower had they not been removed.”

Maybe it wouldn’t look as silly on your 2013 seed list as you first thought, huh?

Of course, this Amazonian lily pad is just one in the large family known as Nymphaeaceae. Surrounding it now are dozens of other cultivars in the tropical pool, across the way from the hardy pool where the NYBG cultivates the water lilies of Monet’s Garden. August and September are the height of the season for these aquatic show-offs, so be sure to take in both displays when you stop to visit the exhibition. And, again, fight the urge to see if they’ll hold your weight–we leave the wading to our horticulturists.

Click through to see more about Monet’s water lilies and the lotuses that nearly became the focus of his art, as well as a video on the upkeep of the impressive Victoria lily pads.

Header and footer images courtesy of Amy Weiss.

This entry was posted
on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 at 11:00 am and is filed under Around the Garden, Gardens and Collections.
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Morning Eye Candy: Soft at the Edges

The daytime temperatures are finally lining up with the sunlight filtering through the new leaves on the trees. It was a figurative weight off my shoulders to leave my jacket on the coat hook this morning.

Photo by Ivo M. Vermeulen

This entry was posted
on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under Around the Garden, Photography.
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Handy Helpers: Do You Have a Friend?

A person’s home is their castle and their personal space, so many covet that feeling and don’t like prying eyes on anything outside the standard public areas. When it comes to remodeling and home maintenance, you shouldn’t take that attitude. A good friend is worth their weight in gold.

Knowledge: The coffee clutch you visit with every morning or your Twitter group of do-it-yourselfers has a variety of specialized knowledge that you can always use. John may be a mechanical engineer and can give you some ideas on how to move that concrete bench in the yard, and Steve could be a retired carpenter who knows all there is to know about flooring.

Odds are at least one friend has done whatever task you are planning and has some insights into the problems you’ll encounter and ways to shave off a few minutes. Friends are a limitless source of knowledge that can aid you in your endeavor.

Extra Pair of Hands: When my father-in-law has a big project like shingling a roof or laying some tile, he doesn’t hesitate to give friends and family a call. Doing a major project by yourself will take considerably longer than if you just had a few friends help out. One person sets the shingles, the other nails it to the roof. One person cuts the tile, another lays it and my father-in-law supervises. If lifting is involved, then it can decrease the risk of injury since you aren’t lifting it by yourself.

Never underestimate how much easier a project will go with a helping hand or two. Make sure to thank them properly. I like to provide a good lunch and drinks and maybe host a game night that everyone can come over. My wife doesn’t mind if it gets the kitchen cabinets up.

Support: It’s not easy being a handy man around the home. There are failures and disasters that creep up every time. We spend hours fixing something only to have it break again or fix one leak, only to have two more spring up in its place. Perhaps worst of all, we actually have to call a repair man. Friends will provide you a shoulder to lean on and listen to you complain about the cost of labor. Many a handy man has given up on projects out of frustration, but a few good friends can help you stick it out.

I have had many friends over the years with different skills, from professional painters and plasterers to mechanics and engineers. At one point or another, one of them has helped a project get done easier or faster or just kept me sane while I was going through it. I encourage you all to join do-it-yourselfer Twitter groups and web forums. If you don’t have any physical friends, then a few virtual ones will do.

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Home Improvement Projects: Making a New Year’s Plan

Everyone has New Year’s resolutions, and they usually involve stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising more, etc., and they are usually forgotten by February. You should make resolutions about your home, as well, since you may be there for a long time, and you need to get a plan together.

At the beginning of the year, take a good look at your home. I don’t mean going outside and making sure your roof is still on, but go room to room and take inventory of all the things that you don’t like or that need to be repaired.

It can be as simple as repairing the chip in the baby’s crib and repainting the sun room to knocking out a wall and making the bedroom bigger. Write down everything you have and then sit down and prioritize the things you need to get done.

For those of us who can be difficult to motivate for large projects, don’t populate your high priority list with the small stuff. You need to take care of everything eventually, so take on one or two big projects a year. You have a year to do them, so make the most of it.

There are those whose eyes can get bigger than their brains and populate the high priority list with major projects that can be just as bad as not doing any. Your state of mind when doing home repair is important, and if you look at your list half way through the year and only have one project of six done, then you are going to be less likely to be motivated to do more.

Your high priority list should be made up of major repairs that can lead to more damage if not taken care of, and small jobs that need to be done or else they will get worse. For example, my high priority is to get my bedroom painted, because some chips are starting to show up. I also want to fix the loose doors on some of our cabinets before they fall off.

Keep the list in a safe place, and as you finish projects, check them off the list. Try to do a few of them each month, so you can see your list dwindle every year. Keep in mind that it’s only 12 months, and not everything will be able to get done. Don’t worry; that just gives you something to put on your list for next year.

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Christmas Humor: Proper Chimney Etiquette

For those of us who have fireplaces and chimneys in our homes, we are left with an interesting conundrum every holiday season. What is proper chimney etiquette for when Santa comes climbing down? The last thing we want to do is make Old Saint Nick angry by leaving a few hot coals overnight and lighting Santa’s pants on fire. He’s no liar, after all.

Here is the proper chimney etiquette for when Saint Nick comes calling on Christmas Eve:

Needless to say, no fires. It might be nice to sit next to the fire and cuddle with the kids over hot cocoa with those little marshmallows. Unfortunately, it’s not so good for the jolly fat man. Santa Claus likes the natural fibers like cotton and reindeer fur and hasn’t quite gotten the concept fire-retardant clothing. If Santa comes down a chimney that is fully engulfed in fireplace flam age, then he’s going to go up like tinder, and you will have officially ruined Christmas for millions by roasting Santa Claus. Hopefully, he’ll notice the smoke and not even try.

Keep the chimney open. With no fire, it’s tempting to close the flue to keep the cold air out. Santa’s a big guy, and no amount of Christmas magic short of Weight Watchers is going to make it easy for him to slip down that chimney in the first place. But if you close the flue, then Santa’s going to come to a complete stop, and then what? It’s embarrassing, but the reindeer will have to throw down a rope and pull him out. Santa won’t hear the end of it for years, especially from that jerk Prancer. Pretty soon, the whole North Pole will be brimming with the gossip that Santa had to be pulled out of a chimney.

Keep the chimney free of rodents and other animals. If you don’t use your chimney regularly, then animals such as mice, bats and raccoons can make their homes in it, and that could spell disaster for Santa. Imagine this scenario: Santa goes down the chimney and meets a family of raccoons, and being the jolly man that he is, he smiles and tries to pet the little baby raccoon. (He’s Santa! It’s what he does.) Next thing you know, Santa Claus is screaming in pain because raccoons are trying to scratch his eyes out. One bite and Santa’s got hepatitis, and imagine trying to explain that one to Mrs. Claus.

Keep the little things in mind this Christmas to make it safe, not only for you and your loved ones, but also for Kris Kringle.

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Proper Leaf Cleanup

Trees are beautiful because of their leaves, but it is inevitable that leaves fall. Historically, homeowners have raked up the leaves, bagged them and thrown them out with the garbage. Now, that is no longer possible.

We need to remember that eons ago, no one raked leaves. Before people stepped in. leaves fell to the forest floor where they mixed with the twigs and were stirred up by small animals. They provided natural mulch in the winter and then broke down, enriching the soil and fertilizing the trees the rest of the year. We need to take a cue from nature and use leaves in our yards as much as possible.

Different parts of your landscape have different needs. You can use leaves all over your yard, but there are some inappropriate places to put them as well.

If you are trying to grow grass on your lawn, allowing the leaves to remain where they fall is not practical. The weight of the wet leaves can suffocate grass and moisture will build up under the leaves and cause a host of fungal diseases. If you have a mulching lawn mower, use it to cut the grass and chop the leaves at the same time. But, if you end up with more than one-fourth to three-eights inch on your lawn, it’s time to go to Plan B.

Put the bagger on your lawn mower and collect the chopped leaves and grass clippings. Then, place them around your shrubs for winterizing mulch. In the past, I didn’t like to recommend using leaves as mulch because they tended to compress and mat down, but when they’re chopped, they tend to loft up slightly. This allows air circulation and prevents them from compacting as quickly into an imperious layer that limits water and air from reaching plant roots. Chopped leaves will also biodegrade more rapidly.

If you mulch your shrubs and still have leaves left, put a four inch layer over your garden and spade it under. This will provide nutrients for next growing season. You can do the same in flowerbeds.

For areas of ground cover, don’t try to remove all leaves. Allowing some to work down into the soil will add nutrients to the soil in these beds as well. Now, don’t allow the entire tree to shed all its leaves on one bed of ground cover. The plants may suffocate and dies. For these areas, I like to use an electric or gas powered vacuum-type leaf remover and take most of the leaves from the bed without having to continually stomp through it or damage plants with a rake.

If you still have some leaves left, add them to your compost pile. Don’t forget to turn it. If you have children, you might want to leave one big pile of leaves in the yard until it really gets cold. Leaf piles, as you may remember, are great for jumping in, throwing around and just generally having a lot of fun with.

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