Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg

Last Friday, a group of staff from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden traveled to Colonial Willamsburg to see the Christmas decorations.  At Colonial Williamsburg, they try to only decorate in the styles they would have used in the 18th-century.  On the historic Duke of Gloucester street, wreaths and swags, adorned with dried and fresh botanical material, decorated the homes and businesses.  A large team of staff members works to create these pieces, which number over 100. 
Many of the South facing buidings are decorated with dried materials.  Thiis one has wheat, orange slices, pomegranates, and straw flower.

Pine swag and wreath decorated with lotus pods, pine cones, okra pods, oranges, artichoke, straw flower
At this music shop, flutes, drum sticks, and folded fans made of sheet music accompany dried pomegranates and yarrow.
Wheat, lotus pods, artichoke, okra pods, and chinese lantern plant.
I was surprised to learn that some of the homes on this street were actually private residences, and that the homeowners get in on the fun to do their own decorations; all in the appropriate styles of course!  All of the decorations are judged and 12 blue ribbons are awarded- 6 for professionals, and 6 for amateurs. 
This homeowner depicted "The Cow Jumped Over the Moon" with cookies.
Pine cones, pomegranate, lotus pods, straw flowers, gomphrena, orange slices. 
This homeowner likes horses and has fresh apples hanging in stirrups.
Dried wheat, fresh apples, magnolia leaves, and boxwood in a horse's bridle.
At one of the taverns, clam shells and pint mugs decorated a wreath with hops and wheat.

The weaver's shop featured fabrics dyed with plant pigments.

Fresh oranges, money plant, yarrow, pine cones, and pomegranates.
The Horticulture staff got some wonderful ideas to use next year at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and we had a great day enjoying the historic town with our colleagues.
Being plant geeks, we couldn't help but notice this impressive oak.  After much debate about its ID, a Colonial Williamsburg staff member, told us it was a cross between Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata).

Vegetable Garden with bee skeps

Bell jars in the vegetable garden.
They are pretty harsh with their punishments when you misbehave in Colonial Williamsburg.  Luckily, Karen and I made it out alive!

Beth Monroe, Director of PR and Marketing, also wrote a blog post about this trip on the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Blog

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History

Wall of mounted butterfly specimens from around the world.
Although the weather is getting chilly in Richmond, VA, I want to highlight a recent trip to a warmer place.  A couple of months ago, I was down in Florida to watch the UF vs. South Carolina game (Go Gators!).  While I was there, I visited the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History.  I had heard about the exhibition because their director, Jaret Daniels, came to visit this summer as a consultant for our 6-month Butterflies LIVE! exhibition at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  Since I was traveling to Gainesville anyway, I couldn't help but take the time to see the Butterfly Rainforest in person and get some ideas for our butterfly show next summer.

The butterfly rainforest is a 6,400-square-foot screened exhibit.  Since it is exposed to typical Florida weather conditions it exhibits a more natural environment for the butterflies and sub tropical plants.  They typically have over 1,000 butterflies on display and up to 60-80 butterfly and moth species at one time.  They also have a collection of small birds.  They had great signage that explained things about butterfly lifecycles, habitat, and identification.  There were also docents present at all times to answer guest questions.
Full sheet color photos helped visitors identify the butterflies present in the exhibition.
One of my favorite parts was the area where they hung chrysalides to let the butterflies emerge. It was in a glass case that the public could view.  It is amazing that the chrysalides can be as beautiful and intricate as the butterflies themselves.
The emergence room was visible to visitors.
Chrysalides were labeled with a name and photo of the butterfly that they would become.

I was toured around by Jaret Daniels and gathered great idea to improve our exhibition next year.  I would definitely recommend visiting the Butterfly Rainforest if you are in town for a football game or just passing through Gainesville!
The museum houses thousands of pinned arthropods in addition to the live butterflies.
They have a very diverse collection of wild-collected pinned butterfly specimens.
I was surprised to meet "Albert" in the museum as well.  The University of Florida used to have live Gators as mascots.  This scull was from one of the last live mascots who died in Lake Alice in 1974.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Bridge in the Japanese Garden

In Richmond, VA, we are lucky to have another fabulous public garden in town called Maymont.  This garden was the estate of the Dooley family from 1893 to 1925.  The 100-acre property boasts a fabulous tree collection, mansion, Children's Farm, wild animal collection, Italian garden, and a 100-year old Japanese Garden which is the largest of its kind in the USA.  It is walking distance from my house and has held a special place in my heart since the first time I visited during my very first trip to Richmond.  Here are a few photos from my visit last week.
Italian Garden
Staircase from the Italian Garden
Stepping stones in the Japanese Garden
Large Japanese maple in the Japanese Garden
Bridge in the Japanese garden
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) known as the "graffiti tree'

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bathing Suit Cover-Up

I saw an adorable bathing suit cover-up on Pinterest and had to give it a try.  I used the tutorial from  the La Vie en Rose blog.  I basically followed her directions, with a few changes.  For the record, this took more than the 20 minutes that she claims, but it was probably because of the extras I added.  I wanted the top to be more secure so I crossed the braided straps in the back.  This proved to be impossible to take on and off, so I put fabric-covered buttons on the front so I can unbutton the straps to take it off.  It still isn't the easiest thing to put on and takes a bit of maneuvering, but I think it will be ok.  I also used a pink lycra/spandex material instead of using jersey.  Instead of leaving the edges raw, I serged the edges with my Aunt Cindy's fancy serger.  I stretched the fabric as I serged to make a wavy lettuce edge.  I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out.  Now its time to hit the beach!
Fabric-covered button and braided strap.
The edges were finished on a serger with a ruffled lettuce edge.
Braided straps cross in the back.
Back view.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Legacy for Big Red

In the summer of 2009, while working at the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University, I had to make a tough decision.  The campus had a huge Red Oak (Quercus rubra) specimen that was in severe decline.  Many efforts had been made to save it, but nothing was helping "Big Red."  Eventually, there was only one living limb.  It was hung over one of the classroom buildings and was cabled to a dead trunk, making it severely dangerous.  Though there was opposition from campus alumni and current students, I had to make the decision to cut it down.  Since the much-loved tree was such an icon to the campus, I wanted to honor it in a special way.
Big Red at the end of her life, hanging over Cottage Hall.
A Valley Crest arborist sawing through one of the large limbs.
Cranes were used to lift each large limb as it was cut.
Despite my smile, this was a sad day.  I'm standing on the stump for scale.

I  thought that a good way to honor the tree would be to use it as a teaching opportunity.  I had the arborists cut a 12" slice of the trunk to save for me.  Then, my dad, Jim Chapman, came up from Florida to smooth out the surface of the wood slab with a router and sander.  He volunteered his time for 40 hours to beautifu our slab.  We then used it at Temple's annual Earth Fest celebration as a teaching tool for youth.  You can read more about my dad's wood working adventures on his blog, Wooden Bees.

The finished slab was used as a teaching tool at Temple University's EarthFest.

Seeing many examples of his work at other botanical gardens and arboreta, I also called wood working artist,Tom Pleatman, from Treasured Wood.  Tom uses fallen trees to make beautiful wooden turned bowls.  Tom came out and collected large chunks of the branches as the arborists were cutting down Big Red.  He loaded them all into the trunk of his sedan, which ended up riding a lot lower when he left than we he got there!  After the wood cured for about a year, Tom turned the bowls on his lathe and sealed the bowls, eventually presenting us with 19 gorgeous pieces of art; a true legacy of Big Red!

A rough-cut bowl will rest for about a year before it is turned.

The rough bowl is then turned on a lathe.
The bowl then soaks in a solution.
A few of Tom's beautiful finished bowls.
About a month ago, I got an email from Tom saying that he had found another rough-cut bowl from Big Red curing in his shop that he had forgotten about.  Even though I had left Temple, he said that he would like to give it to me as a gift for connecting him to our project.  A week ago, I received my now treasured bowl in the mail.  I can't describe how thrilled I am with my bowl!  It is such a fantastic reminder of my three years working at the Ambler Arboretum and the wonderful plant collections that were under my care.  I'll always treasure this memento!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Victoria Waterlilies at LGBG!

Waterlily pools in front of the Conservatory.
On Friday, we got a shipment of four Victoria amazonica 'Longwood Hybrid' at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  We have great waterlily pools in front of our Conservatory which previously were a display area for hardy waterlilies.  I adore the tropical waterlily display at Longwood Gardens and I am beyond excited to be able to grow my own tropical waterlilies in Richmond!   

Currently the leaves on the young Victoria lilies are about 2 feet in diameter, but they should reach about 6 feet in diameter when full grown.  The Victoria amazonica 'Longwood Hybrid' is a cultivar that has a green upper leaf surface and bright red underside.  The edges turn up about 4-inches to form a lip which shows the bright underside of the leaf.  The Victoria waterlilies were grown by Bill Bonwell at Stony Mountain Nursery.  Bill specializes in waterlilies and other water plants.  He did a wonderful job for us and helped us install the plants in the pools.
The waterlilies were grown in large tubs that we submerged in the lily pools.

Karin Stretchko (Conservatory Horticulturist), Grace Chapman, and Bill Bonwell
The display also is showcasing different types of elephant ears (Alocasia sp.) as well as papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), variegated broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), soft rush (Juncus effusus), zebra rush (Scirpus tabernaemontani), and mosaic plant (Ludwegia sedioides).
The Victoria waerlilies will eventually fill the pools when they are full grown.

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