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A TRIP TO BUTCHART GARDENS INFORMS, INSPIRES.

Byline: Joshua Siskin

The gardener who wishes to become wise visits botanical gardens. In botanical gardens, plants are given room to grow to their maximum size. The typical residential garden is over-groomed and over-pruned and so it is impossible to determine what the potential of many species, including most shrubs and trees, actually is.

You also learn about the potential of what you thought were shy and delicate indoor plants when you see them growing into massive vines and imposing trees in the botanical garden.

In botanical gardens, plants are also growing in the right amount of sun or shade. Plants you thought were shade-loving are suddenly seen splashed with an abundance of sun and you are left scratching your head, but enlightened nevertheless. You also see plants growing in combinations that you never would have considered before and come away with refreshing garden design ideas.

Recently I had the good fortune to visit the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. This garden is on the ``must see'' and ``once-in-a-lifetime'' lists of plant enthusiasts worldwide. Imagine acre upon acre of brilliantly blooming annual flowers and you can begin to appreciate the uniqueness of Butchart Gardens.

Botanical gardens are mostly noted for their trees, shrubs, roses and special collections. Flowering annuals are confined to a few beds around the entrance. At Butchart Gardens, the concept of the botanical garden is stood on its head with flowering annuals taking center stage.

The Butchart Gardens are planted twice a year. In October, hundreds of thousands of bulbs are dug into the ground and in June a similar number of small-size, not-yet-blooming annuals are installed. As a visitor in early August, I was the beneficiary of the June planting.

How do they keep this display going all summer? It turns out they keep it going by doing nothing except to water every other day. The only fertilizer the plants enjoy is what is mixed into the soil at the time of planting.

The fertilizer used at Butchart Gardens is perhaps the oldest packaged product of its kind, having been first manufactured in 1926. Milorganite, an abbreviation for Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen, is nothing more than activated sludge from the sewage system of the city of Milwaukee.

The chemical analysis of Milorganite is relatively low, with only 6.75 percent nitrogen, 2.56 percent phosphorus, and 0.46 percent potassium. Moreover, since the fertilizer is organic it is released slowly, making it virtually impossible to burn plants or lawns. In addition major fertilizer elements, the other 13 elements required by plants are present in Milorganite, including 5.3 percent iron. Iron is an especially important element for fertilization in Los Angeles, since our alkaline soil may tie up and prevent root uptake of most of the iron that is present in the ground. Milorganite is occasionally seen at local nurseries. Locate a supplier in your area through www.milorganite.com.

The roses at Butchart Gardens are also fertilized once a year, just before spring bud break, based exclusively on soil analysis. This past spring, which followed a dry winter, called for a fertilizer high in potassium but low in nitrogen.

At Butchart Gardens, both impatiens and begonias are planted in the sun, the latter mixed with coreopsis, geranium and verbena, whereas fuchsias are relegated to partial shade. I was always under the impression that fuchsias were more sun-loving than impatiens and begonias, but the garden displays at Butchart Gardens seem to prove otherwise.

TIP OF THE WEEK: The Butchart Gardens' most significant take-home lesson for garden designers is that if you want annual flowers to be shown to their full advantage, plant masses of them. Also, two or three different flowers massed together bring out the best in one another.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 1, 2001
Words:624
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