UD Students Explore Brazil

In January, I led a UD study abroad program in Brazil.  I took fourteen students and a TA to the Amazon for a week and then to Rio de Janeiro for the remaining two and a half weeks of January.  It was a great opportunity to learn about environmental issues in Brazil and the wonderful gardens of Roberto Burle Marx and other great Brazilian landscape architects.  The fourteen students came from all over the University, but several were landscape architecture and wildlife conservation majors from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Most of the remaining students were environmental studies majors or science majors with concern for the environment.

Our first stop at Uacari Lodge was in the Mamiraua Reserve about one hour via motor boat from the town of Tefe on the Amazon River (or Solimoes at that location).  The Reserve showed students a wonderful community model.  Two naturalists, as well as local guides and support employees who rotated from the communities within the reserve staffed the floating lodge.  Ecotourism dollars from the lodge provided employment for local community members and proceeds were used to buy items like a new motor so the community boat could reach a city hospital more quickly in emergencies.  Students loved seeing plants and animals of the Amazon, especially, pink river dolphins (botos) and caiman swimming near our lodge.  We discussed the importance of saving the Amazon ecosystem and all the valuable plants and animals that reside there, but also how important it is to allow native peoples to make a living and prosper.

In Rio de Janeiro, we had the opportunity to visit several gardens designed by Roberto Burle Marx, including his home or sitio, which includes acres of spectacular tropical plantings and several fascinating buildings reconstructed on site.  Burle Marx is the landscape architect credited with beginning the native plant movement in landscape architecture.  He spent several teenage years in Germany and became enamored with the tropical plants he found in hothouses in the 30’s.  When he returned to Brazil, he realized those plants were Brazilian native species and began to create colorful mosaic landscape designs with those tropical plants.

Burle Marx used those native plants, not in naturalistic designs, but in painterly sweeps that create artwork on the landscape.  We visited Tacaruna just north of Petropolis.  This garden includes broad sweeps of colorful plants (the flowing “female” side of the landscape) and a checkerboard of different grass species (the orderly “male” side of the landscape). The roof garden on the Brazilian Re-Insurance Institute (Instituto de Resseguros do Brasil “IRB”) was recently renovated by BurleMarx, Escritorio de Paisagismo, the landscape firm  owned by Burle Marx and his partner Haruyoshi Ono, now run by Isabela Ono.  Burle Marx brought gardens to the tops of buildings long before it became fashionable throughout the world.

We also visited Inhotim, a public garden featuring modern art in galleries and landscape settings.  Art from many of the Brazilian artists (Helio Oiticica, Clido Meireles, Vik Muniz and more) students researched for a study abroad presentation was displayed throughout the garden.  Students said “It was fun to see “my” artist’s work in a garden setting”.

Penisula is a development in Barra da Tijuca built on highly disturbed land surrouding an inland lake.  It was designed by Fernando Chacel and includes three important zones – mangrove swamps to cleanse the water provide biodiversity; restinga zone to protect the mangroves; and the park zone providing spaces for people to enjoy. This reconstruction was made possible through Brazilian laws requiring re-establishment of mangroves around bodies of water prior to development.

Students also enjoyed the wonderful people and culture of Brazil.  If you want to learn more about this program, visit the student blog  (http://sites.udel.edu/explorebrazil/).  For more information about Study Abroad programs at UD, visit http://www1.udel.edu/global/studyabroad/.

If you want to learn more about horticulture in Delaware, follow my instagram (sbartonhort)

Floating lodge in Mamiraua Reserve on the Amazon.

Restinga planting between mangrove swamp and park at Peninsula development.

Students learning about the turtle rescue project from a local guide.

Relaxing on the boat after a forest excursion.


Student, Cate Medlock, sketching in Roberto Burle Marx’s garden.

The roof garden on the Brazilian Re-Insurance Institute (Instituto de Resseguros do Brasil “IRB”) was recently renovated by BurleMarx, Escritorio de Paisagismo.

Students exploring the rooftop garden.

Sweeps of colorful annuals at Burle Marx designed, Tacaruna.

The checkerboard pattern is made with two different species of grass.

Students sketching a cool outdoor sculpture at Inhotim.

Delaware Attacks Ecological Extinction

The current extinction rate is possibly 100 times great than normal and humans are definitely responsible. So what are we doing about it? Stephanie Hansen, a Delaware State Senator got the state senate to convene a task force to address this issue in Delaware.  The Task Force began in July with a presentation from UD’s Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, both books that address the loss of species diversity and possible solutions. The Task Force submitted recommendations to the Governor, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House on December 1, 2017. There were 19 members representing a wide variety of stakeholders including state senators and representatives, County administrators, DNREC, DDA, Delaware Association of Realtors, DE Farm Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Home Builders Association and a number of environmental organizations on the Task Force. I represented the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association.

The Task Force findings include seven major areas:

  1. Education – The public has an important role in the prevention of extinction of local species and education is key to understanding.
  2. Incentivize Private Landowners – Incentives taking the form of money, public recognition and ease of permitting encourage the removal of invasive species and their replacement with native species as well as the replacement of non-native species with native species.
  3. Government Leads by Example – Government facilities should be landscaped and managed with native species.
  4. Legislation Affecting Development – Policy changes may be necessary at the state and local level.
  5. Funding Open Space Program at Statutory Level – The Open Space Program provides opportunities to stem the loss of native species.
  6. Legislation to Prohibit the Sale of Invasive Species – The sale of invasive species is an important factor contributing to the loss of native species in Delaware.
  7. Deer Management – The proliferation of deer is an important factor contributing to the loss of native species in Delaware.

Education is by far the highest priority, with 22 individual recommendations including developing curricula for school children; promoting demonstration gardens; providing public presentation; encouraging landscape contractors to remove, manage and control invasive plants and replant with native species; and promoting the Delaware Livable Lawns Program.

There are recommendations to create incentives for reducing lawn area and replacing it with native plants.  Pollinator and other insect habitat gardens are encouraged.

All Delaware state facilities should set the example by reducing lawn and replacing it with native or pollinator plants and revising land management practices to be more pollinator friendly. DelDOT should take the opportunity for roadside right of way to provide habitat and reduce mowing.

A significant recommendation is to make the sale of invasive plants illegal in Delaware with an appropriate phase-out period, Invasive plants are defined as those on the Delaware Invasive Species Council plant list, which must be reviewed and amended.

The final recommendation is the formation of a Delaware Native Species Commission by the General Assembly to implement the 78 recommendations of the Task Force and report back to the General Assembly.

While there is a long way to go before implementation, this is good news for Delawareans and especially the nursery and landscape industry.  By moving away from mowed lawn, we create opportunities for the nursery and landscape professionals. Anyone can ride on the back of a lawn mower, but skilled professionals will be required to plant and manage landscapes. Industry members have called for a “leveling of the playing field” for a while now when it comes to a few key invasive plants still bought and sold in the trade. Once they are illegal to sell, we will be in step with other Northeastern states who are reducing the introduction of these plants that destroy natural areas. I hope Delaware’s legislature takes the Task Force recommendations seriously and starts the implementation process to save Delaware’s remaining wildlife and all the ecosystem services it provides to us, like clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and much-needed human engagement in the landscape.

Callery pears are one of the species that might be banned from sale in Delaware. This tree has choked our roadsides and while it has attractive white flowers, it supports no native insects and chokes out important native species like serviceberry and black gum that should be populating Delaware’s forest edges.

New Park for Newark?

I recently had a meeting with Tom Zaleski and Joe Spadafino to talk about meadow management in Newark parks.  They are doing a great job of allowing some areas to become meadows and even letting a few park areas, where appropriate, return to forest.  During the meeting, I found out about an exciting new proposed park.  The site of the Rodney dorm complex is slated to be sold to the City of Newark, if a referendum passes next April.  If you live in the City of Newark, you will have an opportunity to vote on this referendum.

The plans included tearing down the existing Rodney dormitories.  Then as early as 2019, construction will start on a new park.  The park includes a large pond designed to handle significant storm water from several Newark neighborhoods with flooding problems.  It will also have a fishing pier and observation deck.  Wetlands will be planted along pond edges and a rain garden handles water at the northeast end of the park. Several floating wetlands are included to help with water quality.  I am excited to see the floating wetlands used in a pond.  I have seen them proposed on projects, but never implemented.  When Gary Smith included small floating wetlands in a project at the New England Wildflower Center, a female duck took up residence on one island and comes back every year to raise a new brood—so fun for staff and visitors to watch!

The proposed park will include some lawn areas but it will also include woodlands and meadows.  There are plans to naturalize bulbs in the meadow and provide a walking trail through the meadow to a natural play area with seating and small pavilions.  The play area will encourage creative play.  It will not be your typical playground with swings and a sliding board.  There is even an outdoor classroom with amphitheater seating in another section of the park.

Parking areas will be available for cars and bikes and there are plenty of trails providing access throughout. This is just the type of resource Newark needs to get kids outdoors and allow everyone to interact with natural areas and planned garden spaces.

Most importantly, get out and vote next April, so you can have a say in the resources available to you in Newark.

Interpretive panels

Fishing pier



Meadows are Happening

I have been writing about turning excessive expanses of lawn into meadows for a few years now and I’m excited to say it is happening.  Last year, I met with Bonnie and Alan Robb.  They had a large lawn and after reading my columns and a few other sources promoting meadows, sought advice on whether they could turn their lawn into a meadow.  They had so many good questions, such as “after killing the current grass, should we leave the clippings or remove them because they might contain crabgrass seeds?” and “should we mow the meadow three times during the first summer to remove weeds as was recommended in a NY Times article?” and “what is the best time to plant?” and “should we irrigate?”.

I suggested they mow twice; the first time collecting the crabgrass seeds and the second time mow close to the ground and leave the clippings as a mulch. I do think mowing a new meadow three times during the first year is a good strategy to help control weeds.  The best time to plant warm season grasses is early May, when the soil has warmed up enough for good germination.  Since the grasses thrive during the summer months, they will continue to grow, unlike our cool season lawn grasses that go dormant during many dry summers.  The irrigation question was trickier because it depends on the rainfall we receive.  This past summer, we had plenty of rain and no irrigation was necessary.  The Robbs seeded 15,000 square feet of lawn to a meadow mixture in late spring after killing the existing turf, cutting it back closely, using a core aerator to open up the soil for good seed/soil contact and then letting our spring and summer rain water in their seed.  I just received another email in October with a photo of their blooming meadow.  They love the blooming black-eyed Susans and plan to add another section next year!

I also consulted with the landscape committee at the Village of Fox Meadow.  They have acres of shared open space in their community and most of it is meadow, forest or bioretention area.  They were having the meadow cut routinely three times per year, which included a fall cut, as specified by their county management plan.  This meant the meadow was mowed in late September when it was at its peak. We worked with the county to get this recommendation changed and they are enjoying goldenrods and warm season grasses this fall.  They have several new areas soon to be planted with meadow seed to increase the flowers at the edges of their meadow. I recently spoke to 40 plus interested homeowners about the importance of including natural spaces like their meadow in the suburban landscape.  The group was excited about the role they are playing in helping pollinators, supporting wildlife, increasing ground water recharge, cleaning our water and cleansing the air we breathe.

The Cartmel community, a part of the Kendal at Longwood’s suite of independent and assisted living communities in Kennett Square also recently sponsored a talk about converting lawn to other types of vegetation (including meadows) to provide the ecosystem services we all need to live and thrive.  Cartmel has a large meadow area and the landscape committee is hoping to convert several more mowed areas to meadow in the coming year.

Even my good friends who live in suburban Newark have converted their back lawn to a meadow.  I am still trying to get them to mow a path through the meadow so they can more easily access their beehives.  But, needless to say, the bees love the meadow and have much more opportunity to forage than when the back yard was mowed lawn.

Why don’t you join the cause?  Take that large lawn you mow every week and turn it into a beautiful meadow whose grasses sway in the breeze and whose yellow flowers lift their faces to the sun.

Bonnie and Alan Robb’s 6-month old meadow.

Forcing Bulbs for February Color

October is the time of year to begin potting your favorite spring bulbs to prepare them for winter flowering.  I usually forget to talk about forcing bulbs in the fall and only remember in December or January, when I am anxious for some sunny flower color.  If you forget to start your forcing now, you are relegated to use bulbs like paperwhites and Soleil d’Or, daffodils that do not need a cold treatment.  However, this year I remembered!  So, you can buy tulips, any type of daffodil, hyacinths, crocus, scilla, grape hyacinths or any other bulb sold for fall planting and spring bloom.  Most garden centers are carrying those bulbs for outdoor planting, but you can also force them to bloom early indoors and bring some color to your winter windowsill.

Begin by potting the bulbs in clean, sterile clay or plastic pots. Do not bury the bulbs; leave the “noses” of the bulbs exposed. The soil should be a mixture of good garden loam (three parts), peat moss (two parts), and sand (one part). You can also use a commercial soil-less mix, but be careful the medium doesn’t stay too wet.  Don’t worry about soil fertility or feeding bulbs because they have enough stored food to flower one time.

Plant the bulbs close together in the pot. Usually 6 tulip bulbs, 3 hyacinths, 6 daffodils, or 15 crocus, will fit into a 6-inch pot. Place the flat side of the tulip bulb next to the rim of the pot since the largest leaf will always emerge and grow on that side, producing a more desirable looking pot.  Fill the pot loosely with soil.  Don’t press the bulbs into the soil. Allow 1/4-inch of space at the top of the pot so it can be watered easily. Water immediately upon planting, and never allow the soil to become dry.

Bulbs require a cold temperature treatment of 35– 48 degrees F for about 12–13 weeks, but this varies by bulb (see chart below). This cold treatment can be provided by either in a cold frame, an unheated attic or cellar, or even your refrigerator’s vegetable section. In the refrigerator, the pots should be covered with plastic bags that have had a few breathing holes punched in them. With cold frames, cover pots with deep mulch for insulation. Do not allow the bulbs to freeze.

Bulb Chill time Time to bloom after chilling
Crocus 8-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Daffodil 2-3 weeks 2-3 weeks
Grape hyacinth 8-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Hyacinth 12-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Iris 13-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Paperwhite daffodil None 3-5 weeks
Snowdrops 15 weeks 2 weeks
Tulip 10-16 weeks 2-3 weeks

When you bring bulbs indoors, a temperature of 50–60 degrees F is preferred for the first week or until the shoots and leaves begin to expand. Then, they can be moved to warmer locations such as the living room. Avoid direct sunlight. Once the bulbs are blooming, move the pots to a cool location each night. The cooler temperatures will prolong the life of the flowers. Small pots of crocus can even be placed in your refrigerator overnight. Discard tulips, narcissus, crocus, and hyacinths after flowering as they normally are “spent” and are not likely to ever flower satisfactorily again.

Hyacinths, crocus, and narcissus also can be forced in water. Special clear, glass vases are made for hyacinths or crocus. Place the bulb in the upper portion, water in the lower portion. Keep the vase in a cool, dark room (preferably under 50 degrees F) for four to eight weeks until the root system has developed and the top elongates. At this point place it in a bright window, where the plant soon will blossom.

Fall is for Lawns

Why does everyone think about his or her lawn in the spring?  In fact, the best time to work on your lawn is the fall.  Grass plants put resources into top growth—the stuff we need to mow—in the spring, so if you fertilize your lawn in the spring, you are pushing leaves to grow taller and faster and increasing the need to mow.  Grass plants put resources into root and tiller growth in the fall.  Fall fertilization promotes deep, healthy root systems and encourages grass to spread by tillers.  If you use a fertilizer that includes at least 35% slowly available nitrogen, you can apply two pounds of actual nitrogen or 20 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer on your lawn once in the fall, between late August and early October.  If you use a fertilizer with quick release nitrogen, you should split the application, applying one pound in the early fall (late August – September) and one pound in mid-late fall (October – November).  Splitting the application ensures fertilizer uptake by the grass plants and prevents leaching of nitrogen into our water system.

Delaware Livable Lawns is a program initiated by the Delaware Department of Transportation to educate people and provide incentives for healthy lawn care that protects our environment.  The Environmental Protection Agency considers stormwater runoff from yards, streets, parking lots, and other areas to be one of the most significant sources of contamination in our country’s waters.  The Delaware Livable Lawns Program certifies lawn care providers who follow a set of best management practices for lawn care.  If you have a professional manage your lawn, why not hire a Certified Livable Lawn Provider to ensure your lawn is cared for in an environmentally sound way. Certified lawn care companies are listed at https://www.delawarelivablelawns.org/certified-businesses.  We are looking for more lawn care companies to join the program.  If your lawn care provider is not on this list, ask him or her to become certified.

If you care for your own lawn, you can still have a Livable Lawn.  Go to the website (https://www.delawarelivablelawns.org/for-homeowners) and read the eight requirements for a Livable Lawn.  They includeTest your soil every 3 years.

  1. Apply nitrogen based in the guidelines in the fertilizer chart (recommended above).
  2. Avoid phosphorus fertilization if soil tests show high levels in the soil.
  3. Do not apply fertilizer between June 16 and August 14 or December 7 and February 15.
  4. Keep fertilizer and grass clippings off sidewalks, driveways, streets and storm drains.
  5. Do not apply fertilizer within 15 feet of waterways.
  6. Record the pounds of nutrients applied and dates on which you applied fertilizer.
  7. Watch the Livable Lawns Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j41z5xueghU&feature=youtu.be)

Once you agree to these requirements and send in your application, you will receive a free soil test kit.  At the end of the fall following your application, complete and send in your reporting sheet.  Then, you will receive a free $50 gift certificate to purchase native plants for your home at participating garden centers.  What a deal, plus your lawn will look great!

The other major lawn care activity in the fall is re-seeding or over-seeding.  It is best to reseed cool season grass (the kind in our lawns) in the fall because grass seed needs warm soil to germinate.  Soils are warm in August and September. Once the grass has germinated, it needs cool temperatures to grow.  Newly established or renovated lawns can grow into the fall when temperatures cool and days shorten.  Spring, the time most people think about seeding their lawns, is just the opposite.  The soil is cool in early spring, and air temperatures continue to rise into late spring and early summer when grass is trying to become established.  In addition, many summer annual weeds crop up in late spring to compete with newly establishing grass.  There are many fewer winter annual weeds causing problems for young grass plants in a fall seeding.

If you have ever read my Delaware Gardener column before, you probably know I am a proponent of less lawn.  Plant lawn where it is useful—as pathways, gathering spaces or  sports areas—and turn the rest of your yard into something more productive for the environment, like a landscape bed filled with native plants, meadow or forest.  If everyone joins in, we can provide the ecosystem services we need (clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration, pollination, human engagement and more) to live happy, healthy lives.

Visit the Delaware Livable Lawns website (https://www.delawarelivablelawns.org) to learn more about healthy lawn care to keep our water clean and our environment thriving.

This beautifully managed lawn provides a pleasant gathering space at this North Wilmington home.