From the Director’s Desk: Thoughts of a Weed Puller

Dr. C. Craig Tisher

A key to the successful operation of the Wilmot Botanical Gardens is the conduct of routine maintenance including chores such as mowing, weeding, trimming or replacing dead plants and shrubs and keeping our irrigation system in operation. Occasionally, larger projects requiring a totally different skill set present themselves. One such project has involved repair of our pergola just east of the conference center. This structure constructed of western red cedar was purchased as a kit about 10 years ago and was erected by carpenters from the health science center. Despite routine maintenance including power washing and painting, the structure suffered areas of wood rot and infestations of carpenter ants finally rendering the pergola unstable. An outside contractor inspected the pergola but didn’t wish to undertake repair and recommended it be replaced.  Lacking the resources and looking for a challenge, we elected to initiate extensive repairs inhouse in late 2021. I am pleased to report that our efforts have been successful and we expect to derive another 10 years of service from this structure. The long-range goal is to eventually replace the pergola with one constructed of fiberglass which will be much more resistant to the elements and insects!

Figure 1

Fueled by our success with the pergola, we decided to tackle a second major project, repair of the bridge over the drainage ditch just east of the community lawn. This structure that has served us well was built by the university grounds crew about 12 years ago. With time the 6-foot-wide bridge deck began to experience wood rot to the extent it was no longer deemed safe. Steve Pritchett, our grounds superintendent and I began repair about 6 weeks ago. In addition to the need to replace the decking, we encountered considerable damage to the supporting substructure which also required repair (see Fig. 1).  The project is now complete (see Fig. 2) except for staining of the deck which will be undertaken shortly.

Figure 2

We have continued to add to the collection of camellias that can be found in the gardens. Shortly after the Christmas holiday we acquired a group of fifteen camellias, 15 gallon in size, from County Line Nursery in Byron, Georgia. These camellias in addition to seven smaller cultivars acquired from Loch Laurel Nursery in Valdosta, Georgia were planted early this year. Sixteen of the 23 are completely new to our gardens.

It is that time of year for us to begin to gear up for our annual spring plant sale, our 6th, to be held on Friday, April 8th and Saturday, April 9th. The opportunity to participate in the pre-order component of the sale began on March 1st and will end at 5:00 p.m. on March 31st. Offerings in the pre-sale component include two types of agapanthus, two varieties of butterfly bushes, hydrangeas, Empress of China dogwood, three varieties of native rhododendron, red chocolate loropetalum, anise, a large variety of Encore azaleas, several varieties of more traditional one-gallon and three-gallon azaleas and two varieties of fragrant tea olives.

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Recently, we became aware that the “Hippocratic” tree, a plane tree or sycamore that was planted as a seedling in 1969 in front of Shands Hospital, was experiencing poor growth and chlorosis. The tree was obtained originally at UF as a seedling in 1969 from the Greek Isle of Kos through the minister of Agriculture of Greece. Our research revealed that Dr. Carl Whitcomb, a faculty member in the ornamental horticulture department, had the responsibility to care for six seedlings after their arrival. Subsequently he selected the best of the six and oversaw its planting at the current location. After recent consultation with Dr. Whitcomb, who is now located in Stillwater, Oklahoma, we initiated a special fertilization program to provide the tree with micronutrients including the sulfate forms of iron, copper, magnesium and zinc plus boron and molybdenum, all contained in the commercial fertilizer, Micromax.  Holes 2 inches in diameter and 10 inches deep were augured around the base of the tree as far out as the drip line. Each was loaded with ½ lb. of Micromax followed by ½ lb. of 90% granular sulfur and topped off with a slow release fertilizer. We anticipate that the pH of the surrounding soil will be lowered, thus increasing the availability of the micronutrients to the root system. If the treatment is successful we should see a positive impact during the next growing season. We are also using the same techniques to improve growth and combat chlorosis in several camellias at our gardens.

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Finally, I wish to call your attention to a very lovely camellia, Sawada’s Mahogany, that is blooming currently in the gardens. In the way of background, it is a japonica cultivar that is listed on the Atlantic Coast Camellia Society camellia library website as a chance seedling developed by Koseku Sawada of Mobile, Alabama. It first bloomed in 1971, but was not registered with the American Camellia Society until 2008. It is unclear how our specimen was obtained and when it was planted in the Wilmot Botanical Gardens. From the accompanying photographs it can be appreciated that the bloom is dark red in color and has an abundance of white and red petaloids. Although the bloom is described as peony in form and medium to large in size, in our experience the configuration of the bloom is much more intricate and described more accurately in the ICR link as having an anemone to peony form.  The accompanying photographs demonstrate the development of a typical bloom. The evolution of the bloom appears to occur in the following sequence. As depicted in figures 3 and 4, the bloom begins with a single layer of 5 to 7 dark red petals forming a base that supports a cluster of red and white petaloids intermingled with immature stamens. This gives an overall anemone shape to the flower. As the bloom matures a second layer of 5 to 7 petals evolves from its center and above the cluster of petaloids (see Figs. 5 and 6). In later stages the stamens become more prominent as their bright yellow color contrasts sharply with the dark red petals. When fully developed the bloom is composed of two rows of dark red petals separated by a prominent layer of petaloids (see Figs. 7 and 8).  We encourage you to visit the gardens to view all of the mid to late blooming camellias and especially to view Sawada’s Mahogany.

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C. Craig Tisher, M.D.
Director, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine