Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Easy to Love

Tatsoi: Easy to Love

Above is a photo of some of the last of my tatsoi (Brassica rapa or B. narinosa, common name spinach mustard), right from the garden. I sowed the seed in early March. Maybe it is just the season, but it has been incredibly easy to grow, the seed germinated quickly, it grew fast, and had few pests. I bought the seed on a whim, but will be looking for more for fall planting. As readers of this blog know, I have a love affair with greens. I love their tastes, they are versatile in the kitchen and are generally easy to grow. I will use this tonight in an Asian-inspired stir fry along with some garden broccoli.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


They call them strawberries for a reason!

My strawberry bed was about 8-9 years old and the berry plants really failed this year. I do not know if it was due to the freezing and thawing this winter that pushed their crowns out of the ground (which did happen- lots of dry, dead crowns) or if it was vole damage, tired soil, or poor care on my part. But, whatever the cause, I (read "my husband") had to completely dig the two strawberry beds and replant them (I did the replanting, the easy part), so we will have few strawberries this year (except for scattered ones from the front flower beds). In the past, I planted them into holes in landscape fabric, but I am getting further away from landscape fabric as I garden more. It blocks the transfer of humus (large, organic particles) which the soil needs to thrive and encourages voles (they love to tunnel under it and use it to line their nests). So I planted strawberries the old-fashioned way, into the amended soil (added compost and organic fertilizer), mulched with straw (you know the difference between straw and hay, right? Straw is the second cutting of hay and therefore has no or few seed heads to sprout in your garden. So don't get hay, unless you want to grow it). Of course, my idiot dog, Bob, who is a master at getting into the garden, but often cannot figure out how to get out, immediately dug in one strawberry bed (no plants lost, I discovered to it soon enough). So, not too many strawberries this year... and, no, this is not the best time to transplant them, but hope springs eternal for next season.Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 23, 2010


"Love in the Mist"
How could ignore that cute common name for Nigella damascena? N. damascena is pretty little white, pink, lavender or blue-flowered annual with an interesting, feathery flower and leafy bracts that forms a cool seed pod (see above). Nigella self-sows easily, but is also easy to remove and eradicate if you decide you do not like it or want it where it has self-sowed. In fall, I take the dry seed heads and just tip them over and scatter the seeds where I want them to grow. The seed pod is also used in dried flower arrangements. So easy and pretty! (Another common name is "Devil in the Bush!"- but not for me!)(P.S. this is not the same Nigella with seeds used in cooking).
Happy Gardening!

Friday, May 21, 2010

upside down plants?

(Photo Erich Schlegel for the NY Times)

The New York Times has an article on growing tomatoes upside down. I tried it last year, but did have much luck, but may try it again this year. Go to:


Happy gardening!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ancient Mulberry at Ginter Gardens

Those of you who have been to Ginter Gardens in Richmond, VA, know this tree. It is an old mulberry, at the Childrens Garden- go and pay your respects this venerable life form!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

So, am I crazy????

OK, maybe this container gardening thing has gotten out of hand (and these pix aren't half of them). But I always have a rationale (or rationalization). Peppers seem to do best for me in pots. I had too many seed potatoes (yes, those are potatoes in pots, top photo). Some are non-hardy in my zone. Herbs are right at the back door when they are in pots. Some things look pretty in pots. I can control the soil better. I like pots?
Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thank You, Neighbor!

Passalong Plants

Passalong plants

There is a fine, old tradition of passalong plants, that is, friends, family and neighbors giving you divisions or cutting of their plants. The iris pictured above was given to me by a neighbor with whom I often chat while on my daily walk. I had been admiring his light purple iris for years, and had never been able to find a good match for it. I asked him to save some for me if ever he divided them and, voila, he gave me three bags full that very year (and I shared some with friends)...and he threw in some dark purple iris as a bonus!
I have a few rules with passalong plants:
1. Look the plants over and discard any that show signs of disease or insect infestation (like iris borers, they leave an oozy trail in the rhizome-my neighbor's rhizomes were clean, but for extra insurance you can soak the rhizomes in a 10% bleach and water solution for an hour).
2. Know before you plant- I wish I had realized how invasive obedient plant can be before I planted a division from a friend- now it's rip it out all season long. Also, some plants should be certified disease-free, and your neighbor cannot do that for you (cane fruits, gooseberries/currants and potatoes come to mind)(and that brings up another related point-in some states certain plants are illegal, example, currants and gooseberries, because they harbor and transmit white pine disease- another reason to know before you plant).
3. And my own personal rule- accept everything you are offered (within reason)- if you reject it, people won't offer again. You can always give a (healthy, non-invasive) plant away or discard unhealthy, invasive ones!
(another lagniappe from my garden below)Happy gardening!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


A Lagniappe ("a lil' somethin' extra" in Cajun): An arisaema, or Jack-in-the-Pulpit from Shenandoah National Park on 5/8/10. This plant, related to arums (see my lagniappe on Arum italica) has an interesting trait- it can change sexes from Jack to Jill! It begins life as a male, a Jack, then, after it gathers strength over a few seasons and stores it in the root system, it changes sex, to a Jill, so it can reproduce and produce a spike of seeds. After that heroic effort, it is back to Jack.
Happy wildflowering?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

SNP Wildflower Weekend

This is probably a ridiculous over-generalization, but I am fond of ridiculous over-generalizations. There are two kind of people I find I really enjoy- librarians and park rangers. Both are very helpful and are probably selected for their knowledge and their people skills. Librarians have helped me develop a love of reading and have gotten me through college, grad school and several personal projects. The park rangers I have met have always been enthusiastic, friendly and helpful.

This past weekend we spent a day (May 8, 2010) at Shenandoah National Park, mostly on Skyline Drive attending one day of their Wildflower Weekend. It was, surprisingly, a sparsely attend event (maybe that was due to the early morning black clouds and the high winds…oh, and it was pretty chilly, compared to my piedmont home). There were several hikes and events to chose from, and I went on an easy hike on the AT called “Cultural Connections” where two park rangers shared what they knew about various native and naturalized plants and their traditional uses. Though I knew a lot already about some of the plants, it was fun to be introduced to plants I had only read about and with which I was unfamiliar. And fun to be with like-minded people interested in plants.

So, here are some of them: yellow mustard or rocket, a relative of arugula (I saw the early leaves a month ago and thought it was arugula):

rag wort, a pretty yellow or yellow-orange flower on a spike:

cranesbill, or wild geranium:

a lovely, leafy false hellebore (looks more like a giant Solomon’s seal to me):

and one of my favorites, the may apple or may pop (the flower and later fruit hides under a large, umbrella-like leaf):

And here is a nasty naturalized plant, garlic mustard. Garlic mustard was brought over by Colonists and was used as a mustard substitute, in “sallets” and as a pot herb. Unfortunately, it is invasive and allelopathic (produces a chemical that inhibits growth of all other plants nearby, as do other plants like walnuts). SNP has 'save the meadow days' in which volunteers are needed to hand pull garlic mustard (and they can give you garlic mustard pesto recipes!).

Another sad botanical sight was this exotic, invasive Japanese grass that is choking areas of woodland and must be dealt with.

During one of the hikes I overheard one ranger mention that there might be some yellow lady’s slipper orchids at a certain mile marker. On the way out of the park, we stopped and parked near that mile marker and carefully trudged through the woods. My husband must have had his “wildflowers eyes” on, because he spotted it well before I did and found a second. This endangered, federally- and state-protected plant is beautiful and I had only seen the pink versions before. Please, if you see one, make sure you tread carefully to not crush small ones and never pick it or dig it up (there is a significant fine). Just enjoy looking at it, take pictures or draw it! If you picked the flower, it would not last long and, if you dug the plant, it would most likely die- orchids need highly specific conditions to grow. Let it grow and perhaps reproduce in its best environment- where you found it.

I did a second activity, a journaling workshop. An earlier session had a number of people, but I and another woman had the ranger to ourselves. He was friendly and did some fun basic exercises in observing an environment and individual flowers and drawing them. No skills necessary. Simple drawings are a way to enhance your journal and your memories of travel of other events. So look for this event next May, though you can take a meadow walk at Big Meadows at SNP all through the spring and summer and learn a lot about the connections between plants and animals.

Happy gardening! And wildflower watching! Check for ticks!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

...and the winner is....

This season I tried two methods of starting sweet potato slips, suspending whole sweet potatoes in water versus planting a sweet potato in a flat on a heat mat. The winner is...the flat method! As you can see above, this is the current state of growth using that method, versus one tiny slip from the ones in water (no pix of those because I planted them in pots to get them to do something!) So, in future seasons I will use this method or some of the other "in soil" methods suggests by readers.
Also, see how nice your lettuce can be in you properly space the plants? (Dope slap to self). For years, I broadcast seed in a bed and got lots of lovely baby greens, but wanted to get some larger heads, so I transplanted stragglers into rows and had great success!
Happy gardening!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

time to thin fruit trees

Time to thin fruit trees

Listen to my pod cast for Friday, May 7th on thinning of fruit on fruit trees (I try not to duplicate topics on blog and pod cast, but this time I had pictures).
To recap: to prevent:
1. too many, small fruits (all that later processing for less gain) and
2. cracking and snapping branches from too much weight from ripening fruit,
you need to thin off immature fruit to about one fruit for 6 to 8 inches of branch. I know it is hard to do, but do it you must! Above and below are some befores and afters (not great pix, but you get the idea. BTW the white stuff on the trees is Surround, an organic, kayolin clay spray that deters most pests on fruits)....
Happy gardening!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rethinking mahonia? Maybeeee

I recently posted a blog entry about "just not getting it" in regard to some plants or practices and complained I never saw a mahonia (Oregon grape) I liked and that many specimens look scraggly and have sharp leaves. Well, today at Norfolk Botanical garden was one that was...well, OK, I will grudgingly admit- photo above.
Happy gardening!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Lagniappe: Arum italica

A delicate, spathed, fleeting (ephemeral) blossom, Arum italica is lovely- it blooms in April/May here in zone 7, has neat, heavily veined leaves and produces a cool green to red berry spike in fall!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

High School Plant Sales

It is early May in central VA, so must be time for area school plant sales! For those near Richmond, VA, the Atlee High School (Mechanicsville) 2010 spring plant sale is today through Saturday (photo above), and the Hanover High School spring plant sale starts tomorrow, May 6 through Saturday. Good plants, good prices, good causes! If you live too far away from here to travel, check out your local school web sites for similar sales from their horticulture programs!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Soup Trifecta

I recently posted two soup recipes, inspired by garden produce (sorrel soup and carrots 'n peas soup), so here is the last in this spring soup trio (a recipe I whipped up! Very yummy). It is great with freshly harvested, home-grown asparagus, but you can use farmers' market or store bought:

Creamy Asparagus soup
2 T butter, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I like Baby Bella)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 t dried marjoram
2 white potatoes, peeled, sliced thin
About 1 bunch asparagus, washed, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 quart stock (I used homemade vegetable stock, but can use chicken).
1/2 c. sour cream (low or non-fat OK, can substitute yogurt or buttermilk in a pinch)
1 t grated lemon zest

Melt 1 T butter in a sauce pan, the other T of butter in a Dutch oven or stock pot. Saute and caramelize the onions in one, mushrooms in another (crowding one pan with both will cause the vegetables to steam or stew and not caramelize, and you will not get their full flavor) sprinkling both with salt to sweat them a bit. When the onions are light brown and sweet tasting (20 minutes on low to medium heat) and the mushrooms are browned and soft (same) you can put them in the Dutch oven. Add the black pepper to taste and marjoram and cook on medium for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, asparagus and stock and simmer for 30 minutes, lid on, until the potatoes and asparagus are soft. Take off heat, let cool and puree in blender or food processor (to speed this up, I use a large slotted spoon to remove the solids, cool them on a plate, the puree those, leaving the hot liquid in the Dutch oven).

Return puree to pot and warm it up if it has cooled a lot. When warm enough to eat, add sour cream and lemon zest. Serve with a salad from your garden and some home made bread, if you have it (I made pita bread).

Happy eating, one of the great pleasures of happy gardening!