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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Spring dream: With early blooms, Botanica will open on Sundays ahead of schedule

‘It’s way beyond anything I’ve ever seen before,’ landscape supervisor says of early flowers as Botanica opens for Sundays ahead of schedule.

By Annie Calovich
The Wichita Eagle

It’s now officially spring. We have that much to anchor us.

The boisterous early blooming of magnolias, tulips, apricot trees, redbuds and whitebuds and who knows what else otherwise has me untethered and feeling dangerously close to tilting off the edge of the earth.

Driving down the 300 block of North Fountain Street to check out Judy Lewis’ Easter basket of a yard one rainy afternoon this week was to be showered with an otherworldly snow of white pear blossoms perfectly riding the raindrops.

When the sun peeked out on rare occasions between wall-to-wall rainfalls, I became a serial weeder.

It feels so good to be outside!

The spring has come so fast and furious to Botanica – even the late tulips are already out, and some early ones are already finished – that it will be open this Sunday. The previous plan had been to open on Sundays for the growing season starting April 1. But Botanica’s no April Fool. Sunday hours will be 1 to 5 p.m.

“It’s way beyond anything I’ve ever seen before,” Pat McKernan, Botanica’s landscape supervisor, tells me. Last weekend he watched the number of flowers in the gardens double in two days’ time. Some of the daffodils and magnolias are already done blooming. “Everything growing thinks it’s the middle of April or the first of May.

“There’s lots of gorgeous stuff. The hardy orange tree next to the greenhouse was immaculate (Wednesday). It had so many flowers, and it was so bright. If one of those three hardy orange trees make an orange, we’re going to have a lot of oranges.”

Whoa. Oranges? Could we become California? Am I dizzy from the possibility, or is it just allergies from all the pollen in the air?

Pat still doesn’t believe we’re out of the woods from the winter we never had. I called the National Weather Service to see if there was any inkling of a frost down our spring road. Mick McGuire told me he didn’t see one. Our last frost was March 10. Mick glanced down the roll of previous last-frost dates and off the bat couldn’t see an earlier one.

“This is pretty unusual,” he said, realizing the possibility of a record.

Pat has a longer memory than many of us, probably because the garden is his living, and he knows the April heartbreaks when anyone could swear it wouldn’t turn cold again and it did. Mick pointed out that we have had May frosts.

But Pat faces garden beds where spent tulips already are calling to be replaced. What to do? He doesn’t want to plant annuals yet. He goes back and forth between awe over the early spring and fear of a returning winter.

“I still think we’re going to get kicked in the teeth,” he said. “We’ve got peonies that are 15 inches and rudbeckia in the children’s garden that are over a foot high. If it gets nasty, we’re in trouble. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. After three inches of rain and three days of 70-degree weather, it’s going to go crazy.”

So, what to do in our own gardens? We must go back and forth, too, between a landscape currently two to three weeks ahead of schedule and fear of a late frost. Extension agent Bob Neier says to go ahead and plant ahead of schedule if you like, but be aware that you may have to throw a cover over things if the unthinkable happens. Or you may have to replant. At any rate, wait until the soil dries out to a crumbly state before working in it.

It will help spring fever to come together with fellow gardeners next Saturday (March 31) at the master gardeners’ annual celebration of trees. The Tree Fest will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Extension Center at 21st and Ridge Road. Not only will we learn about trees, but we can ask questions of master gardeners, buy trees, visit with tree-pruning companies, get our hand tools sharpened for a small fee, hear a talk by Robin Macy and watch a documentary about her Bartlett Arboretum, and see composting demonstrations. Oh, and eat pancakes and sausage. I should have listed that first, right?

Here are some other mileposts to keep in mind the next three weekends that might help keep us on schedule even if nature has us off-kilter:

•  Opening of Denning’s Greenhouse for the season, March 31.

•  Opening of the Kansas Grown Farmers Market in the Extension Center parking lot, April 7.

•  Art at the Arb, Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine, April 14 and 15.

But first: Time to get out to Botanica.

“Find your spring,” Pat said, finally coming down on the side of what was in front of him.

Follow-up on growing grass

A follow-up to last week’s column on growing grass: Danny Linnebur of Valley Feed & Seed says that he’ll have as much buffalo grass seed for sale this year as he did last year. And it won’t be priced that much higher, and it certainly won’t be nearly as expensive as buffalo sod. Look for buffalo seed around the first week of April.

Danny also pointed out that fescue and buffalo share the same penchant for weeds if they’re treated incorrectly. He recommends keeping weeds down in buffalo by applying Barricade in the spring and the fall.

For people who have a bit of shade to contend with, Valley Feed carries a Valley Premium Shade Blend of fescue. Fescue lawns can be seeded into April.

Tree Fest

Here’s the schedule of tours and seminars for Tree Fest on March 31 at the Extension Center. Activities will be indoors unless noted, as the master gardeners’ demonstration garden is being reconstructed. They’re hoping to get into it to plant in May.

•  Choosing Plants Adapted to Wacky Weather, by extension agent Bob Neier, 8 a.m.

•  Showing of the documentary “Uncommon Ground” about Bartlett Arboretum and a talk by arboretum owner Robin Macy, 9 a.m.

•  Fruit Trees for Small Spaces, by extension agent Rebecca McMahon, 10 a.m.

•  Coffee & Compost Hour and composting with worms, also 10 a.m.

•  Tree Planting Demonstration on the grounds, of a balled-and-burlapped tree and a bare-root tree, 10:30 a.m.

•  Beyond Pruning 101, by Josh Murray of Ryan Lawn & Tree, 11 a.m.

•  Walking Tour of Riparian Woodland Nature Trail, 11:30 a.m.

•  Right Tree & Shrub Selections for South-Central Kansas plus a tree walk on the grounds, by Cathy Brady of Brady Nursery, noon.

Participants can also walk through the Sedgwick County Extension Arboretum on the grounds on their own to learn about trees adapted to central Kansas. There will be face painting for children, and Project Beauty will have seedlings of its tree of the year, Chinese pistache (one of those aforementioned plants adapted to wacky weather), for sale for $7.

Tool sharpening will be available for a small fee; you may want to leave your hand tools with the sharpener while you shop around.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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