Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter blooms

Winter Blossoms
I go a little crazy at Christmas...well, winter really. Not to do with the holidays, because I never do much shopping, I mostly make gifts. No, I go crazy in the winter because nothing is blooming, the garden is quiet and static and I cannot get my hands into the soil. One thing that helps is to have some blooms in the house, and I don't mean cut flowers. Every fall for the past 5 years, I have purchased between 25 to 50 paperwhite narcissus bulbs. They are not expensive (don't buy them in a paperwhite kit, a pricey way to go) they are easy to start and quick to bloom. I often plant them in a vase, half filled with gravel and water, with their ends in the water (do not submerge them). Place them near or in a sunny window and voila, in two weeks, they will grow and bloom. I buy so many, because I like to start a few every week to insure months of bloom. Paperwhites are also very fragrant. It is comforting to see and smell flowers in bloom. If you haven't tried starting narcissus, give it a go! The same with amaryllis, which, unlike narcissus, can be summered outdoors and brought back into bloom for a few successive winters.

About 4 years ago, my students gave me this hibiscus. Though the plant loses leaves when brought indoors in the fall, it reliably puts out a bloom or two (sometimes more) each month it is indoors. It is a relatively care free plant- it needs food, water and sunlight outdoors in the summer and just minimal care when inside.

So, if the winter gets you down, try these cheering plants! And remember, the solstice has passed, so days are getting longer now!

Happy Solstice and happy gardening!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Favorite "Garden" Gift

I have written in the past about favorite garden gifts. Well, this doesn't really qualify as a garden gift, but....My dear friends know that my interest in gardening is partly due to an intense interest in food. I started cooking as a teen and have not stopped. My mom was always willing to let us try new fruits and produce- this was in the 70's when some "exotic" fruits were beginning to hit markets in the Northeast. I remember my first kiwi and carambola (star fruit). But more importantly, I remember the revelation of a home-grown tomato when I was a small child. It is a cliche to say it, but this was a near-spiritual experience that set me "going down the garden path" for life. Even back then, I was a foodie.

A dear friend has given me this 1934 Metropolitan Life booklet on nutrition. This was during the Great Depression, so it has some helpful advice on purchasing food. But what is so interesting is the different philosophy and food advice from today. though I can see the threads of current-day "nutritionism" as per the food writer Michael Pollan (the misguided focus on individual nutrients versus whole foods and a balanced diet). The book was written prior to the obesity epidemic of the last 20 years, and emphasizes getting adequate intake, not tips on reducing intake. The most amusing recommendation in the booklet is that everyone should take between 2 to 4 teaspoons of cod liver oil per day! Ugh! 1934 nutrition supplement advice!

That's all for now...happy gardening!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Friday Lagniappe

So far, the waterfall is keeping an open-water area in my pond- don't want it to freeze solid, because that may distort the sides of the pond. I have put some pots of boiling water on top of the ice to melt through and the pond heater (with above 45 degree shut off) is coming soon. But the ice is very pretty outside my kitchen window! And the birds are enjoying their water source!
Enjoy the snow! Happy gardening if you can!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mid-Week Lagniappe: Door Swag

Door Swag
A little lagniappe for you ("something extra" in Cajun). Every early December for the past 10 or more years, I have gone outside with my pruners and created a simple door swag (actually, is this a swag? Or a bunch of greens? It's not a wreathe) for the holidays. All you need are some greens, some string and some recycled holiday ribbons and...voila...a holiday decoration! This year I used a base of eucalyptus, some holly, some box wood and a pine bough with two opposite pine cones. I laid them all out on the ground, tied them together with a loop in back for hanging and covered the string with ornamental ribbon. It is pretty, imperfect like me, but especially meaningful, as it all comes from my yard. It was also free and will be recycled in January.
Happy gardening!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Not Poison, but a Problem

English Ivy: Pretty Menace

English Ivy is a ubiquitous landscape plant- you see it everywhere...and, unfortunately, it is growing everywhere. I can see why people use English Ivy- it is sturdy, hardy, can take a lot of abuse, attractive, and is great at stabilizing slopes. An ivy-covered brick wall, for example, is very pretty. In my early gardening days, I used it to stabilize a sloped front yard and it did the trick. But English Ivy can be an invasive plant and has taken over some forested areas in the northeast and in other places in the US. The problem occurs when English Ivy begins to climb, which signals the plant to flower and produce seeds. Birds eat the seed and scatter it, along with their "personal fertilizer," often from a tree limb, with the seed falling at the base of the tree- another perfect environment to create climbing ivy. The big worry is that, over time, ivy climbing on a tree can smother the tree, killing it, especially if it is a small or medium-sized tree, like a crape myrtle (see photo above). If you see this happening on your tree, it's time to cut the ivy down at the base and remove it from the tree (the particular ivy in the photo has already set seed, and needs to come down). So, if you must have English ivy, use it as a ground cover and do not let it climb. Better yet, make another choice. The Southern Gardener's Book of Lists (see book review in this blog) states that English Ivy is one of the "ground covers that can quickly get out of control," along with honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, bamboos, creeping Jenny, Boston ivy, and Bishop's Weed, and a few others. Green and Gold, creeping thyme, prostrate juniper, euonymous and euphorbia might be better choices.
Happy gardening!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Acer color

I love this Japanese maple. I planted it 4 or 5 years ago in a large ceramic pot I got on a super sale at a discount home store and it is thriving. Beautiful chartreuse green in spring, blazing in fall. I love all Japanese maples, but this one I love deeply and I wish my brain were not stuffed to overflowing with plant names so I could drag the variety name of this one out of the old gray matter (I used to be able to). My "last resort memory back up," also known as the metal label in the pot, rusted away and broke off. It is somewhere in the mulch and dogwood leaf duff on the ground near the pot. And it is probably illegible anyway. The original plastic tab that came with the maple has faded away. I failed to record the name in my garden journal (can you say New Year's Resolution anyone?) and might have a tag or tab somewhere in the dreaded garden pocket-binder. Or not. I am too intimidated to open the binder up. Things fall out and make a mess. I tried that memory trick that has worked in the past- the one where I tell myself I will remember the name when I wake up. Falling asleep, I visualized remembering the name, and even dreamt about it too. All I remembered when I woke up at 4 AM is that I am behind at work. (Is it bad to behind at work when you schedule most of your work yourself?). I also tried the trick my mom taught me, go through the alphabet letter by letter until a letter pops up at you and gives you a word that is similar to the name. It's worked like a charm in the past. But I think this variety name is in Japanese and I don't know Japanese words, except that phonetic Cherry Tree song we learned in 3rd grade and "ohio," which doesn't count as it is also a United State word. So, it is a beautiful Japanese maple. Nameless forever?
Happy gardening!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I think pomegranates are no marvels in the kitchen- they are seedy, hard to process, and a lot to deal with for the home cook. Though touted for their health benefits, I simply cannot believe they are any better for us than any variety of whole foods. But pomegranates simply shine in the Virginia and southern garden. I first saw a pomegranate in flower at Norfolk Botanical Gardens (see top photo) and was smitten. I read that my zone (7b) was not quite warm enough for pomegranates to thrive. Then I went to Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA and purchased a "Nana" dwarf pomegranate that I have in a pot, though I do intend to plant it in the ground. It is supposed to be hardy in my zone. For two years I have have vibrant red blooms, the brightest red in the garden and, this year, it set a tiny fruit, which I enjoyed for its ornamental value (bottom photo). Pretty in flower, pretty in fruit...I recommend it!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Put Up" Soup: Tomato, Veg and Chick Pea Soup

Here is one simple soup you can make to use some veggies/produce you put up (in this case, four home grown items: canned tomatoes, frozen shredded zucchini, dried herbs and dry-stored onions).

Tomato and Chick-Pea Soup

1 large can (drained) or 2 cups home-cooked* chick peas, pureed in food processor or blender
1 t olive oil
1 t butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 t marjoram
1 T rubbed sage (dried sage that is rubbed between your fingers)
ground black pepper
1 qt tomato puree or stewed tomatoes, pureed.
1 c shredded yellow or green zucchini
vegetable or chicken stock, or broth.
Parmesan, to serve

Melt butter in olive oil in heavy pot. When warm, add onions and a pinch of salt. Saute until onions are caramelized and golden brown. Add dried herbs and pepper and saute another minute to release flavors. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Serve with a topping of Parmesan cheese...and homemade bread, of course.

Additions/substitutions can include shredded carrots, potatoes, turnips, celery, celery seed, thyme, parsnips, peas (at the end), cooked pasta or rice....

* It is easy to home cook beans: soak beans overnight or while you are at work, drain. Place in a heavy Dutch over and add water to cover (add a bay leaf if you like). Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, put a lid on it and winder back to it in a hour. They should be perfectly cooked.

Happy eating!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winter squash

An excellent article on winter squash, including varieties, hand-pollination and seed saving and cooking is in the New York Times at:


Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Happy Serendipity

I impulsively purchased this pink, daisy-flowered mum a few years ago at Sneed's Nursery in Richmond, VA. I did not need a mum, nor did I have a spot for it (I have a rule I try not to break- don't buy a plant until a place has been prepared for it). But it was pretty and on sale. I planted it in an area that gets only dappled sunlight, despite the full sun label, because it was the only spot I had. The plant has thrived and spread and makes gorgeous, long-lasting cut flowers.

I would not recommend placing a plant in an area that the label suggests is not best for its growth, but I will occasionally take a risk, if it is a low-cost one. Plant labels give incomplete information at best, as this one did. And I got lucky!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grow Your Own, and Dry 'em

I greatly prefer natural dried flowers, leaves, seed pods, grasses, pine cones, etc., to any of the artificial ones, even silk. Last fall, I hosted Thanksgiving and had lovely arrangements of dried flowers at the table, on the mantle and around the house. Some I dried myself- marigolds keep their deep color when they dry, and I also dried river oats (this is an invasive plant, so be careful if you plant it) and other grasses, roadside rye and buckwheat, and grape vines. A kind friend gave me some lotus seed pods. I also found some discarded plants that had lovely seed heads for drying and collected those as well (yes, I took them from a trash pile). But I had to purchase some dried flowers to round out the arrangements, so, this spring, I decided to try my hand at growing my own.

First off, I grew gomphrena or globe amaranth (top photo)- it was an easy seed to start and transplant. If we hadn't had such a hot a dry season, I expect it would have taken off, but I got sufficient quantities to use for dried arrangements from a few plants. I also grew out the seeds from the trash-picked plant (if you know the name, fill me in!) which grew like gangbusters (second photo).
Next season I will expand my drying flowers group and will report back!
Happy Gardening!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Banana Flowers In Virginia

I previously wrote an entry on my love affair with banana plants ("Goin' bananas"), how I take them indoors to my attic every winter, and bring them back out again in the spring. Well, I purchased two new banana plants at a plant sale at Norfolk Botanical gardens this spring, a mystery variety, and voila! One is in flower (above) and I am anticipating enjoying that flower in my house for several months! Bananas are a large, herbaceous plant, similar to a large stalk of grass. They usually live for two years, flowering and dying in their second year, then sending up a "daughter" shoot (not really a daughter, as it is a genetic clone of the "mother" plant). I expect that this flower will not produce fruit, and, if it does, it will not be edible...but what fun!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Sage Tale

Sages for the Ages
As far as I can tell, there are two kind of sages (salvias)- ornamental and culinary. Culinary sage has broader, thicker, crinkly leaves in comparison to ornamental sages, but it is pretty in its own right when it sends up its bluish-purple flower spike (the flowers are pretty enough for the table). Culinary sage is often used in poultry seasoning mixes and Italian dishes (I make a wicked good sage, chickpea and tomato soup). I grows almost like a weed, though can become woody over the years.

Ornamental sages are not edible and do not taste good- to humans. But their flowers produce nectar that attracts hummingbirds. I have many ornamental sages right outside my front door and have frequent hummingbird sightings in season (April 15 to beginning of October) as a result. Ornamental sages are hardy in this area, though they do get woody after a few years and need trimming to get vigorous growth and sometimes need to be replaced. They are relatively care-free in my zone: no pests or diseases (so far) seem to bother them. They are also relatively easy to propagate from cuttings. I cut an 8 inch stem and strip the leaves off the bottom half. I wrap it in a damp paper towel, place it in a glass and put it on a windowsill. I make sure the paper stays moist and I usually have a rooted cutting in 2-3 weeks.

I have two favorite ornamental sages- pineapple sage and autumn sage, pictured above, but I have also grown a lovely sage, "Black and Blue", as an annual, and other "experimental" pink and yellow sages, as annuals, that I purchased at botanical garden sales.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Doggie Dangers in the Garden

Doggie Dangers Lurking in the Garden (and a completely gratuitous video of my dog responding to the clarinet and a photo).

A recent visit to the vet reminded me of the various dangers that exist for some dogs and cats in the garden. The vet had a flyer in his office called "Garden Toxins" and showed some problems for dogs (and cats) in your garden. Fall bulbs are one of these and, because we are getting into fall bulb planting season, I thought I'd write a little about this and about other potential garden hazards for your pet.
First off, I believe that the pet of an organic gardener can get into less trouble in the garden, as there are no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides (though there are some potentially harmful organic ones) and chemical fertilizers present. Second, most dogs and cats don't do a great deal of munching in the garden, though some do (in my experience, dogs and cats are more likely to much on small rodents and birds than on plants). If you have a dog that loves to eat things it found outdoors, you do need exercise some caution. Luckily, many poisons are just not palatable to dogs and cats and they are just not interested in them. In addition, many harmful plants cause vomiting and diarrhea or other short-lived symptoms, though there are some very bad things out there!
OK, so here are some cautions. Many organic fertilizers contain blood and bone meal (slaughterhouse byproducts-charming) and some dogs (include Bob Bob The Idiot Dog) find them irresistible. Bob will dig up newly planted veggies to get at this stuff. While generally not harmful in itself, these meals can be mixed with other products that are not so good for your dog.
Fall-planted bulbs- hyacinth, daffodil, tulips and autumn crocus- can be dangerous if your dog consumes them. Hyacinths and tulips can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea and drooling; daffodils can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and respiratory and heart rate problems; autumn crocus, the worst of the bunch, can cause severe vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage and can send your dog into shock. So, when you are planting these bulbs, do not leave them out where your pet can get hold of them and eat them and monitor your recently planted bulb beds for digging. Throw any bad bulbs away in the trash or compost them where your pet cannot reach.
For you southern gardeners, a small amount of oleander can kill a pet-or a child. The toxins leach out from the flowers and plant and even a few seeds can kill. It causes severe vomiting, abnormal heart rate, shock and weakness, leading to death. If you suspect your pet has eaten oleander call a animal poison control center or your 24 hour vet immediately! If you have a pet or small child, it might be best to rid your yard of this lovely, but dangerous, plant. Another southern plant that is a problem with similar symptoms (and also severe liver failure) is the sago palm.
Asiatic lilies are highly toxic to cats, and cause severe kidney failure. Azalea can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and death as well (I have never seen a dog show the slightest interest in azalea, but...)
The petpoisonhelpline.com has a complete list of pet poisons. They have a call in line (I remember being surprised that there was a $35 charge for a pet poison center call, but you need to pay for this professional advice). Some universities have pet poison information. It might be useful to keep the number handy, just in case.
[One last note- some people poison mice, moles and voles to get them out of the yard and garden. This can be a big problem if your dog, like mine, loves to snack on furry critters- they will ingest these deadly poisons too and might die. Also, poisons are surprisingly ineffective on voles and moles. Dogs who dig their tunnels, like mine, may encounter the poison. Not to mention cats, and birds of prey who may pick up a dying rodent and consume it].
Happy and safe gardening!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Colony Collapse Solved?

The cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (what's been killing the bees) may have been determined: a virus and a fungus working together to damage the bee's ability to digest food. As you know, bees are essential to gardening and our very lives- we would not have many fruits, vegetables or grains, nor would we have many plant seeds, without them! The New York Times has a great article on this at:


See my entry on pollinators for what you can do to help the bees!
Happy gardening!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stinky Invaders

A Big Stink

[Image: David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQThis image is Image Number 1460048 at Invasive.org, a source for images of invasive and exotic species operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine program.]

We have yet another invasive, exotic pest to worry about, i.e. the brown, marmorated stink bug (pictured above). This insect, native to Asia, was accidentally imported to the east coast in 1998 and joins about 200 species of native stink bugs. They get their name from their charming habit of emitting a nasty odor when disturbed. So why should you care about them? For two reasons: 1. their numbers are exploding on the east coast (they have too few predators here, though praying mantids and some birds have been seen eating them) to the point where they are damaging large numbers of fruit and vegetable crops, reducing yield (they pierce the fruits and veggies, suck and the juice and start them rotting) and 2. They want to move in. With you. Into your house. For the winter.

So, a few things. If they do move into your house, don't crush them. Ick... unless you love the scent of stink bug. Don't spray pesticides indoors- you're organic, right? Besides, it won't stop other stink bugs from coming in and how much pesticide can you live with? The best remedy to keep them outdoors is to caulk up any cracks or crevices in your home where they can get in. If some do get in, vacuum them up and toss away the bag (because it will smell too).

The garden is another story. Encouraging birds and setting out praying mantis eggs cases may be effective organic controls (and these are good controls for other bugs). However, this invasion is so recent that little research has been done and the experts don't yet know what to recommend. Cleaning up overwintering sites might help (like removing leaves and dead plant matter), but this reduces beneficial bugs too.

Happy gardening?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Iris Division

Divide To Conquer

If you love bearded iris like I do, you know that, after a few years, they produce fewer and fewer blooms, and may stop blooming altogether. When this happens, it means that the iris has formed a large clump of rhizomes and they need to be divided. Dividing the rhizomes “freshens” the plant, so that it will produce flowers next year and give you several more years of lovely blooms. Digging up the rhizomes also gives you a chance to inspect the rhizomes, removing any that are rotting, diseased or infested with bugs.

Dividing bearded iris is fairly easy. I use a digging fork and push the times of the fork down and a bit toward the rhizome clump (you might need to do this from one to three different angles or sides of the rhizome clump). If you have your irises planted correctly, the rhizomes basically lay atop the soil and are held in place by roots growing from the rhizome. Once you have the clump dug up, inspect it and remove any diseased, rotted or infested sections and with a sharp knife. Then, cut the rhizome clump up into several sections- you will see when you look at the clump where the cuts make the most sense (at the “necks” or thinner parts where the newer rhizomes join the old rhizome). Some people dip the cut rhizome into a 10% bleach solution, claiming it reduces fungal rot, but I never do.

Cut back the foliage to about 2 inches (this is to prevent the plant from toppling over when you replant it and to stop the natural die off of the leaf, which is unsightly). Take each section and plant as you did when you got your first rhizome, with the rhizome atop the soil, roots under the soil. I often take some 1 to 2 foot sticks outside with me when I do this task to help prop the plants upright until the new roots get to grow and anchor the plant into the soil. Water in, check to make sure the soil still covers the roots, but not the rhizomes, and water sparingly over the next few weeks.

One unrelated note: I recently started a full time job that I love and one that is intellectually stimulating, even though it has nothing to do with gardening! I am committed to continuing my gardening (though my fall garden looks a little sad right now, with less attention and this current drought) and to continuing this garden blog, one of the great pleasures of my life!

Happy gardening!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

Yesterday the 23rd was the Autumnal Equinox! Happy fall! (and let's hope we get some true fall temperatures and rain soon!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another Local Garden Blog

Diggin' In is a local garden blog written by Kathy Van Mullekom who gardens on an acre in York County, VA. Check out her most recent (and timely, at least for my husband who recently got over his rash!) blog entry on poison ivy (and the rest of her blog) at


Happy gardening!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

For your consideration


Now that we are at the end of summer, and entering the fall tree-planting season, I want to present a tree for your consideration. Before I do that, I want to 'fess up to a deficit in my botanical knowledge, and that is trees. I do not know much about many trees, though I recently realized that the ones I do know about are ones that have conspicuous or very fragrant flowers (magnolia, flowering dogwood, red bud, tulip tree, crape myrtle). I discovered the linden several years ago in new Jersey. I was going for a walk and there was this lovely fragrance wafting down the street (as opposed to some ideas we might have about New Jersey aromas, but I shouldn't diss my home state with a cheap joke). I finally realized it was coming from this great tree, which I later discovered was a linden.

Linden is one of three names for the tree genus Tilia (commonly known as lime and basswood). Several of the common names for species within the Tilia genus have linden in their names. They include: American linden, a common name for Tilia americana, little-leaf linden, a common name for T. cordata and silver linden, a common name for T. tomentosa.

The linden is a lovely tree. It is a great landscaping tree, or specimen tree, forms a pleasing shape and is highly attractive to pollinators (bees and butterflies)(remember, we need to help our pollinators as much as we can, for, without them, we would have precious little food to eat!). And then there is the scent- very intoxicating, like a cross between honeysuckle or magnolia, and the fragrance fills the air around the tree when in bloom. It is a great shade tree and the T. americana, native to North America, can grow pretty tall, 60 to 100 feet. Japanese beetles and some caterpillars will attack it, but I have never seen this to be much of a problem in Virginia (you might want to check with your ag extension agent on this). The flowers were traditionally used in cough syrups (though I am NOT recommending this, just passing on the info) and are considered edible when young.

So, consider the linden!

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


We are again in a near-drought and many communities in Central VA and the region are asking for voluntary water restrictions, and perhaps some are mandatory. The best defense against drought (other than rain!) is good soil, one that is high in organic matter, and mulch. The best mulch is compost, and that is also the best organic matter to mix into your soil. You can also mulch with aged grass clippings (too new and they might burn your plants as they break down), pine straw or shredded leaves. Water at the root zone, either using a soaker hose or watering spike (the kind you stick in the ground with an attached a soda bottle that has its end cut off ). Also, hold off fertilizing- that causes plants to grow and growing plants need more water. And remember to do your rain dance!
Happy gardening...I hope!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lewis Ginter Fall Plant Sale 2010

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond is having their fall plant sale this coming weekend:

(No admission required for Plant Sale; regular admission to enter the Garden)

"The Fall Plant Sale features vendors selling plants ranging from well-known favorites to rare exotics. Bring your carts and wagons! Presented by Garden volunteers."
  • Friday, September 17, 2010, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 18, 2010, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

For more information, go to:
Happy gardening!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

5th Annual GoGreen VA Festival: 9//11/2010

GO GREEN Virginia!

I went to the 5th annual GoGreen Virginia festival today. Though it was a small festival, it will hopefully grow to fill the space behind the Science Museum of Virginia on Broad Street in Richmond http://www.smv.org/mapanddirections.html As you may know the SMV is in the former train station and the train platforms are still behind the museum- this is where the festival was held. The site offered a nice flat concrete surface for tables and displays and overhead awnings for shade- very nice.
One of the pleasures of going to a festival like this is meeting people who are enthusiastic about a specific area of interest. I had conversations about LEED (green) building certification, fire blight in pears, the difficulties posed by this hot and dry season for gardeners, herbs and something new to me: the Virginia Certified Master Naturalist Program (www.virginiamasternaturalist.org). The latter certifies interested individuals to be "volunteer educators, citizen scientists and stewards" of Virginia lands. Set up like the Master Gardener program, it requires 48 hours in the classroom and 40 hours of volunteer service. The website lists chapters that are forming in Virginia.
Another favorite discovery was the "How to Kill a Tree" poster from the arborists' association.
I had to laugh aloud at it- it is so true! Mulching up the sides of the tree, planting too near the house, topping the tree, failing to remove support wires until they cut and girdle the tree, using herbicides too near the tree, mower cuts on the bark...all are typical, and harmful, practices that I see all too often. If you have a tree, learn about the proper care to have years of shade and beauty! (I feel another blog entry coming on!)

The festival also had nurseries, garden design firms, plant vendors and other types of vendors you find at plant sales- garden hats, recycled garden tools and the like. Organizers thoughtfully included kids' activities (paint a flower pot, planting seeds and extracting DNA from a strawberry) and several booths where you could ask garden questions (like the extension service booth).

As I wrote at the start, the festival was small, but I hope it grows.

Happy gardening! And GoGreen Virginia...and the east coast...and the US!

Friday, September 10, 2010

No-till Gardening: The Use of News

The New York Times has an excellent article called "Fending off Weeds with Newsprint" at:


I have written on this topic too (see index for "bed" or "no till"- the entry is called "EASY garden bed preparation"). There are lots of benefits to not tilling or tilling only minimally....

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Excellent Blog

There is an excellent blog, Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog, and the most recent entry is on a rain barrel workshop (timely, considering we are inching toward drought again) in Richmond, this coming Monday. It is described, at:


I get so much local, Richmond-area info from this blog, the author covers important topics and gives great sources and ideas.

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

5th Annual GoGreen VA Festival: 9//11/2010

Photo credit: S. Vrana

The 5th Annual GoGreen Virginia Garden Festival is this Saturday!
I know what I am going to be doing...

GoGreen Festival
Science Museum of Virginia
2500 W, Broad St
Richmond VA
Directions at http://www.smv.org/mapanddirections.html
Saturday, Sept. 11, 9AM to 4PM
Admission: $3
From the event brochure at http://www.virginiagardening.com/Garden%20Festival/2010%20Festival/vgicgf10poster.pdf

• Choice shrubs, perennials, house plants & fall color for sale
• Green Living education, exhibits and tours
• Garden design, gardening products, and landscape services
• Live radio broadcast ‘In the Garden’ with Andre Viette 9-11 a.m.
• ‘Ask the Experts’ your fall lawn and garden questions
• Kids ‘Go Green’ activities, Food, Music, Crafts, and Fun all day !

Stop by if you are in the area! See you there! Look for a report on this blog...
Happy gardening!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Meyer Lemon

I purchased a Meyer lemon plant about a year ago (and A Kaffir lime last fall, both from Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA) and it did well outside all summer. In the fall, I brought it inside and put it in my heated attic under regular florescent lights and it bloomed beautifully. I wanted fruit, and, knowing there were no pollinators in the house (I hope!) I hand pollinated it (basically take a flower, strip off the petals and brush the pollen-bearing anthers against all the other flowers' pistils). The above fruits are the result!

So far the Meyer lemon has been fairly easy to care for. It needs winter protection indoors, of course, and I fertilized with with citrus tabs. The plant needs regular watering, but not too much, and some artificial light. The only pest I have had is whiteflies, easily taken care of with Safer's insecticidal soap. The plant rewarded me with fragrant blossoms in winter, when nothing else (save forced amaryllis and narcissus) is blooming.

So far, I recommend this outdoor/indoor plant. Happy gardening!

Saturday, August 28, 2010



In the fall I planted 2 "Ison" muscadine vines that I purchased at Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA. Muscadines, Vitus rotundifolia, are a native grape, adapted to the warm and humid conditions of the south. Unlike European wine or table grapes, they are not fussy and require far fewer winter chilling hours. Ison produces deep purple fruit: green-colored muscadines are called scuppernongs. It usually takes 3 years for most muscadines to go into full production, though I am getting a small amount of fruit this year. Muscadines are a vigorous vine, and they need occasional pruning and trellising-mine are growing (and beautifying) a chain link fence. Like most native grapes, the flavor is described as "foxy"- it is unusual and some say it is an acquired taste (but I acquired it right away and I'm a Jersey girl!) and it is seeded. The fruit can be made into wine, juice, jelly and preserves, or you can simply leave them for the birds! I make a one-crust pie with them as follows:

Apple-Muscadine Pie

1 pie crust
2 pie apples, sliced
2 c. muscadines, sliced in half and seeded.
3/4 c sugar or to taste
2 T minute tapioca as a thickener (optional)
pat of butter
1 t lemon juice

Line pie pan with crust- you can "blind bake" it if you like (bake it empty at 350 for 20 mins). I like to roll my pie crust out to a square and lay each corner over the filling to make a pattern on the top of the pie (not necessary) (I call this a "handkerchief crust."). In a separate bowl mix apples slices, muscadines, sugar, tapioca and lemon juice and let it sit 15 mins. Preheat over to 350. Add to pie crust, fold corners over to partially cover the top, and put the pat of butter in the center. Bake at 350 for 40 min or until bubbling and crust is browned. Variation: add some cranberries in fall for a different and interesting taste!

Happy gardening ! And eating!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Good season, bad season

If I were to evaluate the 2010 summer growing season, my evaluation would not be favorable. With a record number of days over 90, and a substantial number of days over 100, it was a pretty miserable summer to be a gardener. I got to the point where I would get up at 5AM to get outside before the heat hit, but, even then, it sometimes got uncomfortable really fast. The intense heat fried tomato pollen, stunted the growth of plants that looked lush and were tall last year and reduced fruit and vegetable production substantially. The heat "burnt" my raspberries, killed my fennel and strawberries and my acanthus did not bloom. Then the rain stopped too. And resumed again 2 weeks ago, almost too late to make a difference for summer crops, except to help my squash rot and mildew spread.

A few things did do well. Unfortunately one was weeds (and poison ivy which loves the heat). I know I am an obsessed gardener, but the weeds got away from me and now I have to do massive catch up (or pull out). A few rules about pulling weeds (if you are in a spot where you cannot hoe and have to hand pull):
1. Do not weed in dry soil. Wait until after a rain, if you can, or after watering. Weed roots in damp soil come out much more easily than ones in dry soil.
2. Start at a edge and work your way in. If there is a clearly defied edge from landscape edging or bricks, start at the end, not in the center of the weedy mass. You will loosen soil progressively as you go....unless
3. You have some tall, shallowly rooted weeds in a more central area (like fox tail). These come out easily and loosen the soil to make pulling up weeds like wiregrass easier.
4. Try to weed before the plant sets seeds. Some weeds set thousands of seeds!
5. Once you finish an area, try to mulch with something like wet newspaper and grass clippings or leaves to reduce resprouting and to kill off stragglers.

Some weeds are very sturdy and need repeated pulling. The little "nut" on the root of a nut sedge is capable of sprouting a few hundred to a thousand times. Wire grass can resprout from a tiny bit of root. Pokeweed and dandelion need to be dug up- they send down a deep taproot that, once broken off, can form multiple sprouts (like the multi-headed hydra from Greek mythology). Many weed seeds can remain viable in the ground for years, waiting for their moment in the sun.
It can be a bit daunting, but repeated weeding over time can make a difference- and without those nasty herbicides!
Happy gardening! And weeding!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book Review: Season Extending......

Book reviews: Smittle, D. and Richerson, S.A. (2010). "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Year-Round Gardening" New York: Alpha, Penguin Books AND
Coleman, E. (2009) "Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses." White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

It is getting hot hot hot- time to garden early in the day, and sit in the shade and read garden books in the afternoon, while sipping tea or lemonade. And, a great time to think of the cool autumn planting season that is coming. So, to those ends, some reading ideas, after my editorial comment:

I do not like books with titles ending in the words "...for dummies" nor books that start with "The Complete Idiot's Guide..." It was funny the first time I saw such a title, when it was specific to computer software or perhaps algebra. It is very unfunny, however, to see such titles as "Breast Cancer for Dummies" or "Multiple Sclerosis for Dummies" or "The Complete Idiots Guide to Jesus" (however, I must say, if not for my principled stance against such titles, I might almost approve of "The Complete Idiots Guide to Werewolves"). I am not an idiot nor a dummy and I do not believe most readers are. We are learners, and learners are pretty darn smart people.

Yet, this is a book that is in the latter "idiots" series that I picked up at the library. Despite the offensive name, it is a pretty good book on extending the garden season. The book is a basic garden primer too- you cannot do a good job at extending the season if you cannot garden well during the regular growing season in the first place. The authors discuss soil, compost, fertilizing, seed starting, etc, along with cloches, row covers and tunnels, cold frames and greenhouses...and they do a pretty good job of it. It is a good first step into gardening and season extending.

However, if you want more info or want to try gardening on a grander scale, Eliot Coleman has done a better job with this subject in the "Four Season Harvest" and "Winter Harvest Handbook" (I don't have a photo). He is co-owner, with Barbara Damrosch (author of "The Garden Primer" an excellent garden book) of a farm in Maine and commercially farms on a near year-round basis. If he can do it in Maine, we can do it in Virginia! He gives good advice on tools, portable greenhouses and plant selections and it is written in a clear way.

So get on that hammock, get out a good book and happy garden reading!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Plunging in!

My pond.
I have taken the plunge...for my 50th birthday (last year) I asked for a pond or water garden with waterfall, though I wanted to arrange for it myself. I had started to dig the pond, oh, 8 or 9 years ago, but my then young son took it over for a bunker or fort to use in play. I guess that finally the weedy mess of an area got to me and 11 days ago, I had a pond installed. The top photo is the most recent incarnation, after I started adding some plants (water lettuce, water hyacinth, water palm, purple pickerel, star grass, lobelia cardinalis and l. syphilitica) but the other photos show the transformation. The first or second night a frog moved in and 10 days later we had tadpoles! The pond is about 14 ft long and 4 ft wide, almost 2 ft deep, and the waterfall adds about 4 feet in length.

There are several types of plants to have in a water garden. Floating plants help shade the garden and prevent algae growth (e.g. the water lettuce and hyacinth). Then there are marginals: these are the plants at the sides of the pond that are on a shelf higher than the full depth of the pond, at about 9 inches from the surface (these are the rest of the plants I mentioned by name above). But a pond also needs some oxygenating plants, which are not the beauty queens of the the pond, but hang below the surface and help keep the water clear. I need to find some oxygenators either at a garden center or on line. A few people have asked if I am going to have water lilies, but they need a still water situation, so, no, not in this pond. Same with fish, probably not, they need specific care, conditions and plants, plus they would eat the tadpoles!

This is opening up a whole new type of gardening for me and is a lot of fun. So, instead of looking longingly at the water plants on display at a garden center, I can have them in my garden! (And this will, hopefully, stop me from killing lobelia because I just can't find a wet enough spot for it in my flower beds!)

The pond is incomplete and obviously needs further landscaping. You know the old saying that, if you paint one room in your house, the rest of the house looks shabby? That is now true for my back yard. The pond is lovely (though needs retaining walls at the back and side and some more plantings), but the rest of the back yard looks bad in comparison (of course, I knew it was shabby, but did not care before). So, now I have plans for some large potted trees at the back, for a bog garden to the left and behind the waterfall, for a stone path in front of the pond. And we really need a new deck, and it should incorporate the pond view in its design, right?

I took the plunge all right!

Happy gardening!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Recipe: Veggie poached eggs

Recipe: Veggie Poached Eggs
Casting around for a breakfast idea that uses garden produce (and was not an omelet-omelets are not my best dish), I came up with this one- you an be flexible about amounts and types of veggies, as long as you include some tomatoes for sauce:

1 T olive oil
1 onion, diced.
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 zucchini ,cubed
I red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1-2 large tomatoes, chopped (can be canned, stewed)
10 large basil leaves, chopped
Sprig of Mexican oregano leaves, chopped
3 -4 eggs (from a local farmer if you can!)
salt and pepper to taste

In a shallow saute pan, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until caramelized. Add peppers and saute about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and saute another 5. Add rest of ingredients EXCEPT EGGS and put a lid on the pan, keep on medium heat and cook until zucchini is soft and tomatoes "saucy." Make small wells in the pan, one for each egg and crack an egg into each well. Put the lid back on and poach in the vegetable juices for 3-5 minutes, or less or more depending on how well you like your eggs poached (I like mine with ever-so-slightly firmed yolks). I served it with toast and soysage- YUM!
Other ideas- add cumin and cilantro, use eggplant, add corn scraped off the cob!
Happy garden eating!
(And Happy 28th anniversary to my beloved!)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grow Your Own

As if we needed more reasons to Grow Our Own Food: Eric Schlosser wrote a great editorial on food safety and the Food Safety Modernization Act for the New York Times at:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Botany of Wilting 101

The Botany of Wilting 101
OK, this is not really a primer on the process of wilting (when a plant loses so much water its cells start to shrink, the cell walls collapse, the plant tries to close up its stomatae, those openings to the air around it, but cannot do so completely and continues to lose moisture to the dry air). You can see by the thermometer photo above, taken moments ago, that it is almost 105 here. In the shade on my porch. It is impossible to work outdoors in these conditions and my poor garden is miserable. Yields are down (for example, tomato pollen fries and dies when it hits the mid to upper 80's, so the plant cannot set new fruit), plants are looking tired and dusty and I am back to watering, dragging soaker hoses and sprinklers around at night so I can easily start them going in the wee hours of the morning. I have been getting up at 4 or 5 AM, turning on the sprinkler to water one of my four distinct veggie/fruit garden areas, taking my morning walk (all or part in the dark-at least I get to watch the cool bats fly around in my neighborhood at that hour!), then trying to do a few essential tasks before I wilt (every day-water the potted plants). A few plants just love the heat! Unfortunately, one of them is poison ivy and I have the rash to prove it. But, heh...heh...heh...even the crab grass is wilting!
I am about to go out and do a rain dance....
Happy gardening...if you can! Hoping for rain and cooler weather...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CVOG review!

Check out a brief review of this garden blog at the very cool Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog
Happy gardening!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Field Trip Report: Mt. Vernon

Field Trip: Mt. Vernon
This is sort of a field trip report-after all, summer is the time to travel and see historic gardens (right?). I am a fan of historic gardens and Mt. Vernon is no exception. Yes, I enjoy the house tours and museums (even if the tour guides and exhibits paint a picture of Washington or Jefferson or the "BMOH" [Big Man of History] and his family that is impossibly perfect), but I go to these places to see the gardens, really. I enjoy the colonial garden aesthetic (or, at least, the modern conceptualization of the colonial garden aesthetic) and I like to see what plants were around and in use at the time (though there is guesswork involved, as I suggested in my entry on the Cloisters). I have learned a lot from touring these gardens:for example, Jefferson's love of experimentation transferred to his garden and that Washington was a frugal gardener who was interested in protecting the soil (hence he gave up tobacco growing). I learned about candelabra espalier:
and living cordon fencing:
both of which I first saw at Mount Vernon. But I also learned that these historic gardens have gardeners and garden volunteers to pluck each offending weed and prune each little new apple sprout into the proper espalier shape, and far more resources (money, time, historical research, hands) than the average gardener has to spend on his or her garden. So, while I admire these gardens at a distance, and maybe envy them a little, I realize that what I am able to do is what is possible for one gardener, with occasional help from family. I can try to incorporate some design ideas from the Colonial (or other) eras, but they must be elements easy to maintain on my scale.
Oh, by the way, like artichokes? They are pretty!
Happy gardening!