Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Monday, August 24, 2009

Happy birthday, blog!

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, dear blog!
Happy birthday to you!

I started blogging one year ago! What fun it has been! I have gotten to communicate with some interesting gardeners and I have learned a lot.

I started this blog with figs, and I will address a few more things about figs in this one year birthday entry. Figs are sorely underused in the mid-Atlantic landscape. They are easy, virtually pest free and produce an abundant crop, with little care (see that first entry). Mike McGrath (former editor of Organic Gardening and current host of WHYY's "You Bet Your Garden") is really down on traditional fruit trees (apples, pears, peaches, cherries) because of their great care needs. Now, I would not discourage anyone from trying these fruit trees (they give me alot of pleasure and fruit), but he is right that other fruits are much easier to care for- these include raspberries, strawberries and blueberries AND figs! So, this fall, think about planting a fig or two. They are hardy, with some winter protection the first few years in VA, and I have seen them as far north as northern New Jersey.

Oh, the photo above is a mutant fig from this season- it was delicious!

Happy gardening!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cornelian Cherry

Neat, but Messy, Tree: The Cornelian Cherry

I recently encountered an interesting tree, the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas, a type of dogwood), at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. I have not seen the tree in flower (apparently an early, yellow bloom), but in fruit it is stunning, almost startling. The fruit looks a little like a cherry, hence the name of the plant, but is more elongated (see photo). The fruit is edible, but astringent when unripe, and is only fully ripe after it falls from the tree (see that photo- it does make a mess! If you wanted to harvest this tree, you might need to use a tarp on the ground and gather daily). Some sources describe its flavor as between a cranberry and sour cherry and is used for making jam, sauces and is also used in dried form. The Cornelian cherry can be grown as a large shrub, or small tree, getting about 15 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide. It likes full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soils, but can adapt to poor, dry soil, soils of various pH, heat, and drought. It is just about pest-and disease-free, though is tempting to squirrels and birds. It is a little bit sensitive to being transplanted in the fall, so care should be taken in fall to prepare the planting hole, water adequately and protect from road salt sprays.
This will be my next tree to plant!
Happy gardening!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Potato Bin Success!

Potato Bin Success!
[Photo: potato bin under construction-I lined it with cardboard and filled it half way up with soil).

The potato bin was a success! The garden cloth/wire fencing kept the voles and moles out of the potatoes and I harvested more than I planted! Next year I will need to remember to "hill up" which I didn't do much at all this year. What this means is to plant the seed potato tubers in a shallow bed, then as the tubers sprout and grow, add more soil, peat and compost and continue to build layers. This will cause more potatoes to grow more tubers along the sprout and increase the yield.

Other updates: my veg garden is winding down, as the tomatoes are spent and are succumbing to late blight (a rough year for later blight in the north east this year, not as bad in VA I think: see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/opinion/09barber.html?emc=eta1 ) and the cucumbers and eggplants are fading...but the figs are coming in gangbusters! I had a fresh fig smoothie for breakfast- yum!
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Field trip report: Philadelphia gardens

[Caption: Bartram vegetable garden, Bartram House].
Philly Area Gardens

The New York Times recently had an article about the many gardens and arboreta in the Philadelphia area and we recently paid some of them a visit. Of course, the jewel in the crown of these gardens is Longwood Gardens (www.longwoodgardens.com) . Longwood is an over 1000 acre series of gardens purchased by Pierre S. DuPont in 1906 to preserve an historic arboretum slated to be cut for lumber. I have been to Longwood several times and have enjoyed it very much. They have some lovely display gardens, including a children’s garden, fruit and vegetable gardens, wonderful water features and fountains with fountain shows, a recently renovated greenhouse that includes a great orchid collection, dessert plants and the original glass enclosed fruit trees for the estate. One of my favorite gardens in a display garden with ideas for home ornamental gardeners. Great plants, well designed and well trended. If this graden deosn;t give you the "garden bug," no garden will! Longwood is the first stop on a trip to the Philly area and, if you only have time for one garden on the trip there, this one is it.

On our most recent trip we did not go to Longwood, wanting to explore the 45 acre Bartram’s Garden (the oldest botanical garden in the US on the Schuylkill River in SW Philly). John Bartram, a Quaker farmer, and his son William became the earliest plant collectors in the colony, from this farm purchased in 1728. He travelled north to Canada, south to Florida and west to Ohio in search of plants. The original stone home exists on site (tours on weekends) and there are flower and vegetable gardens, a native plant collection, a river walk (not a great view of industrial Philly across the river-and the garden itself is located in a poverty- stricken area) and native and imported trees.

We also happened upon the Morris Arboretum at the University of PA, which I highly recommend-more on that another time!

To read more about these area gardens go to: