Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I had a litlle extra fun in the yard and garden this weekend. What do you do when: a road crew chops down a stand of bamboo and your spouse trims the monster wisteria? You make a trellis for your volunteer passion flower vines! I made a simple tripod shape, wound and wove some pruned wisteria about it in three layers (for the middle and bottom "loops", I made two wreathes, one smaller than the other, put them one the tripod and tied them into place) and voila! A trellis for the wayward passiflora!
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yellow Jackets: Not a pollinator

Yellow jackets are a type of wasp and are not pollinators (they eat fruits, flower nectar, and tree sap and chew up meat to feed to their larvae). These yellow and black wasps are mistaken for bees, which they are decidedly not. They nest in the ground and can be a nuisance, not to mention a menace, if they sting. Last night, my son ran over a yellow jacket nest with the lawn mower and was rewarded with a few nasty stings (they can sting more than once, unlike bees). My solution, that I have done in the past, is wait for the wasps to subside and, at dusk, pour a pot full of boiling water right down the entrance hole (not hard to find if you look for it during the day- you will see wasps entering and leaving- make sure to mark the spot or remember it). One time I needed to apply a second pot of boiling water the next day. Be careful, don't trip while carrying that pot in the dim light (I did once- ouch! My poor foot). As for my son, a thick paste of meat tenderizer applied to the bite marks did the trick.
Be careful out there! Happy gardening!
For a video of a yellow jacket stinging a human (ICK), go to (no endorsement intended):

National Pollinator's Week 2011

[photo of bee on salvia by SRV]

Thanks to Betsy Franz for the reminder that this is National Pollinator's Week: see: http://www.pollinator.org/pollinator_week_2011.htm

What have you planted for your pollinators lately?

Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Evergreen Dogwood

Mid- to late June and a dogwood is still flowering in central, piedmont Virginia? I really like dogwoods (though, full disclosure, I seldom meet a plant I do not like). I also like the idea of having an extended bloom time of dogwoods and was lucky to receive as a gift this evergreen dogwood, Cornus capitata. This is not a native dogwood, which bloom here in April to May, but is an Asian import. The 4- and sometimes 6-petaled flowers have pointed ends like all Asian dogwoods that I know of and are resistant to anthracnose, a scourge of the native varieties. They are also more resistant to native bugs (though this has a down side- poor native bugs don't get to feed on yet another plant). It is "evergreen", that is the leaves do persist, though this is not its finest feature- the leaves look a bit ratty as the winter progresses and do fall off in spring. This tree takes very little care, and I did nothing special when I planted it (other than cross my fingers!) It is nice to have a pretty dogwood bloom later in the spring and I recommend it!
Happy gardening!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thanks to Betsy at Metro DC lawn and Garden Blog for her link to the online guide to native plants. Her blog entry is at:


The portal to the guide itself is at:


Happy native gardening!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More robins....

I don't like to suggest that animals are not intelligent. I think animals are as intelligent as they need to be, for the most part, and are smart enough to make the optimal use of the ecological niche in which they reside (the exception might be man: we are too darn smart in some areas, but not so intelligent in others). However, we have had a series of robin pairs (or maybe the same couple for a few years) who have nested in what seem to me to be bad places: the precarious light fixture over our frequently opened garage was one I documented last spring. Then, a pair nested in the crotch of our apple tree- this might seem a good location, except the crotch of the tree was about two and a half feet from the ground, pretty well open and easily accessible by our dog, who did indeed "access" it. This year, these little babies pictured above, are on on a branch of that same apple tree, at chest height, right at the entrance to our vegetable garden: this branch is way too easy to crash in to while going into the garden (yes, we have to bow under the tree as we enter) and is in another high, foot-traffic area.

Then I got to thinking, maybe they aren't so dumb after all: we did stop using the garage last spring until the babies fledged, and now I am climbing over the fence at a different entry point to avoid that branch. Hum, who has the upper hand here? Who is smarter?

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beans and Bunnies

Last year I harvest few beans, after some voracious bunnies (cute, but pests) mowed them down in a few evenings, despite fencing and a dog who chases them. So this year I am trying granular rabbit repellent and so far, so good. The first day I spread it on the perimeter of the bean bed, I noted no further damage to the beans and I have kept it up to good effect. This is a "natural" repellent, consisting of garlic, chilies, "putrefied egg whites" and other stinky things. Do not buy this and keep it in an enclosed car on a hot day, even unopened!
Happy gardening!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Phig Grows in Philly

I always thought figs were difficult to grow even in central VA, and was surprised years ago when I saw them at Monticello. I then learned that people went through great lengths to grow them up north, using elaborate methods to shield them from cold, from building temporary winter structures for them to actually tipping the plants over into the soil over winter! My figs have been very easy to grow and care for (see my very first entry on this blog). Two weekends ago we went to Philadelphia (an underrated city- I enjoyed it very much) and stayed in the Italian Market District (great food). First, I visited Bartram's Garden again and saw the fig they have growing there-the first time I saw it two years ago, I was astonished it grew so well so far north. And then, on this trip, I saw what is in the photo above: two huge fig trees growing against a building near the Italian Market. Italian and Greek immigrants brought figs to the US in great numbers and I suspect one of them brought these. The plants are in a sheltered location, get protection and radiant heat from the brick building and look quiet happy, with huge figs on them already! Unfortunately, one photo we neglected to take was a volunteer fig growing out of a crack in the pavement. Indeed, on the visit to Philly, I saw several such figs, entwined in fences, next to other trees or growing where no one would plant them. I think figs are tougher than their reputation and I highly recommend them!
One more note: Edible landscaping in Afton , VA has many varieties of figs, including the most cold tolerant, the Chicago fig.
Happy gardening!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Finishing the pond landscaping

As you may know, I was given a water garden for my 50th birthday (though I dithered about installing it until after my 51st!). I was happy with the pond itself, but disappointed that the company that installed it left it essentially unfinished at the back and one side. I got no satisfaction from them (except an 'offer' for me to pay another $1000 to finish it) so I decided to do this myself. For my last birthday, I got a pallet of matching landscape rocks ($360 on sale + $45 delivery) and read up on installing a dry set rock wall. I only needed a low one (they cannot be too tall or are subject to toppling). I built the wall you see above. The first step was to lay the line I wanted the wall to go- you can use a string or a hose to make the curve. This step is especially important if you are building a wall in a straight line, which I was not doing. Then, remove the grass and roots at the edge, making sure to not dig far into the soil (you want the subsoil as undisturbed as possible, or your wall may settle). You also want to level this area lengthwise, but allow it to tip inward slightly, so the rocks will lean back a little onto the bed itself, not outwards. Then it becomes a big puzzle- putting flat, heavy rocks on the bottom, overlapping rocks as you go, wedging smaller rocks in to stop wobbling, and finding the most pleasing arrangement of the rocks you have. It was a lot of fun, not too difficult, as as the plants grow in, it will look lovely!
Happy gardening!