What’s not to love about a great botanical garden? Fabulous garden design, uncountable cultivars of every plant you can imagine, old trees, gorgeous hardscape, a café to supply your latte needs and the perfect spot to sit and enjoy it. Not to mention the army of gardeners who weed, water and mulch behind the scenes. Where else can you go to find a railing that is this lovely?
I must say that my favorite thing about a botanical garden is the name tags. Ever fallen in love with a flower or a tree when you’re out and about, only to be thwarted because there’s no way for you to know exactly what it is? Not so at most botanical gardens. Tags are great for picture taking too – no need for a notebook when you can shoot the flower, then capture all the relevant data.
One of the jewels of the garden world is the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. Formerly the city estate of Henry Shaw, this urban oasis boasts rose gardens, woodland gardens, a biosphere, a temperate house, a camellia house, a bird garden, a children’s garden, an herb garden, a prairie garden, a maze adults get lost in and an amazing Japanese garden. For the many years that I lived in St. Louis, I was a regular visitor. When I was working like a crazy woman, I went every Saturday morning when they waive the fee for locals. When I traded in my heels and sales career for a stroller (and soon after that a double stroller), I coughed up the money to become a member and went every chance I could get.
Every spring I would watch the garden come alive a week at a time, often with the help of the “what’s blooming now” display in the welcome center. In a little cart by the main entrance to the garden were cuttings of all the plants that were in bloom that day. In the spring and summer, of course, I didn’t need that much help as blooms filled every glance. In the winter and early spring, though, you kind of had to hunt. A camellia in the Linean House, a snowdrop in the woodland garden, some lavender in the Temperate House. I took for granted that the powers that be just happened to know what was blooming when, but clearly, they had a system. And yesterday, I discovered their system.
Eight hundred miles of interstate now prevent my weekly visit, but I find myself on their website quite often. Their Kemper Center for Home Gardening plant finder is fabulous – with thousands of plants listed alphabetically and a great search engine to help you find just what you seek. You can search by scientific name, common name and even the names of cultivars. (Thank goodness for the common name search. Am I the only one out there who can’t seem to get her head around all that latin??) There are pictures of each plant, basic data about bloom time and growth habits, noteworthy characteristics and problems it may encounter. There’s even a comment section where gardeners can rate the plant and leave notes about their experience with growing it. But here’s the cool thing I discovered yesterday as I was trying to figure out just what came in that box from the mail order place. The main page tells you Coronation Gold yarrow blooms from June to September, but if you click on the “bloom data” link, you get a page that show you exactly which weeks it was observed in bloom, which years and in which locations. So in one location in 2005, this yarrow bloomed from the second week in May through the last week in October, but in another location the same year, the blooms faded for good by the end of July.
Okay, fine. So this world renowned botanical garden has a cool website. Great. But what’s that to me? Every year I wish I had written down what was blooming in my garden the year before at the same time. Did the tulips and the lilac bloom at the same time last year? Can’t remember. Should I be freaking out because it’s September 15 and my crepe myrtle hasn’t bloomed yet? Don’t know, because I forgot to write it down. So, a new year’s resolution. (Never too late). I’ve made myself a version of this chart and I will make a weekly visit to my own garden for the purpose of tracking my blooms. All I will need is my chart and a pencil. I may be the very last gardener on earth to take this step – but it feels like one I ought to commit to. Here’s my fancy excel spreadsheet – and once I figure out the names of everything I’ve planted, I’ll be ready:
Watch out. Things are getting serious in the little garden outside Philly. Next year when you visit, there might be name tags!