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Get growing: Bus trip to New York Botanical Garden offers view of splendid salvias

Frost has devastated most of the flowers in the Pioneer Valley so it was a delight to take a bus trip south to the New York Botanical Garden last Saturday and see plants in bloom.

The aim of the trip was to see the Monet Exhibition, open since May but closing last Sunday, but I wish we had gone earlier in the season. Monet’s signature roses were mostly gone, especially those draped over dramatic arches. A few nasturtiums still flowered but were fading and even the water lilies were past their prime. Still it was lovely to see how the Enid Haupt Conservatory display area was transformed into a miniature Giverny.

And, oh, the salvias! They were at their peak. I’m referring to the tender annual salvias which seem to be taking the garden world by storm. There are so many hybrids available in reds, pinks, whites, purples and gorgeous blue. Don’t confuse these with Salvia splendens, the so-called gas station plant, with its fire-engine red short flowers. The blue salvias which I love have long arching stems with graceful spires of flowers in a range of blues. Of course, cobalt is my favorite along with sky blue. But I had never seen such an array of bicolored blue and white or purple and white hybrids. It was so frustrating that few of them had labels. A staff worker in the conservatory explained that they were changing the plants so often that they couldn’t keep up with the signs.

There were half a dozen gorgeous varieties in the conservatory and at least another half dozen different ones outside in the perennial garden. Since Saturday I have spent hours on the Internet trying to figure out which varieties I might have seen. Evidently a lot of them are hybrids of the Mexican sage, S. leucantha, which by nature has purple and white florets. One variety, which may have been ‘Purple Velvet’, actually looked as if the flowers were made of velvet, commented one person on the trip. I reached out and felt the flowers. “They feel like velvet, too,” I said. Another one may have been ‘Phyllis Fancy’ which was introduced in California.

Massing plants together always makes a better impact and that was very evident in the NYBG displays. I planted two S. guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ plants together this year but two really isn’t enough to make a “wow” show. There must have been a dozen plants together in most of the New York gardens.

While I tend to prefer the blue salvias, in one of the “paint box” planters near the water lilies was a dramatic yet delicate red and white one which may have been ‘Hot Lips’ or ‘Dancing Dolls’. It was labeled but I forgot to write it down.

The Monet exhibition has finished and now the NYBG will have its annual Japanese chrysanthemum display. A friend went a few years ago and gave me the catalog which made it look fantastic.

Some people on the trip assumed that the roses would have gone by in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, but a few of us suspected there would be plenty in bloom and we were certainly right. There were thousands of flowers on hundreds of plants. The ‘Knock Out’ series was in full bloom as expected but there were so many others. I gravitated toward those with white or yellow flowers. ‘Julia Child’ is a gorgeous yellow and ‘April Moon’ has white flowers with a yellow throat. ‘April Moon’ is a Griffith Buck rose, hardy to zone 4. Now if I just had room to plant some roses…While we finish planting bulbs for spring, we are also putting our gardens to bed. But indoors in places like the NYBG, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston or Smith College and Mount Holyoke College greenhouses, there is plenty to see. And don’t forget Durfee Conservatory at the University of Massachusetts which has a wonderful display of tropical plants. We can still enjoy flowers even in winter.

SMITH CHRYSANTHEMUMS: The annual Smith College Chrysanthemum Show opens Nov. 3 in Lyman Plant House. An opening lecture by Arthur Haines who wrote “Flora Novae Angliae,” a botanical guide to New England flowers, will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Carroll Room of the Campus Center. A reception follows in the plant house with a sneak peak at the mum show. The New England Wild Flower Society published the new book just a year ago. Haines will explain the history of the mammoth project and share his stories about his research and writing. The chrysanthemum show is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Nov. 18. There are special evening hours on Fridays, Nov. 9 and 16, from 6 to 8 p.m.

BOTANICAL PRINTING: Foliage prints, created by applying ink directly to leaves and imprinting on paper, by Leonore Alaniz are on display in the Lyman Plant House at Smith College. A reception for “Botanical Printing: Artful Collaborations on Paper and Cloth” is Nov. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. and a workshop is offered on Nov. 10. The exhibition continues through Feb. 10, 2013. The reception is open to the public free of charge. The workshop is $60, members of the Smith College Botanic Garden, $50. It is limited to 12 participants and registration is required. Call 585-2742 to reserve a space. The Nov. 10 workshop is 9 a.m. to noon. A second workshop the following day will be scheduled if interest warrants.

SEED EXCHANGE: The Hilltown Seed Exchange will be held Nov. 17 at the Cummington Community House from 1 to 4:30 p.m. There will be workshops and a question and answer session. A donation of $5 to $10 is suggested. For more information, visit hilltownseeds.wordpress.org or contact Michael Alterman at 358-6919.

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