Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Poison Ivy Control: Podcast Update

On my podcast this week, the organic way to control poison ivy. On itunes at VirginiaOrganic Gardener or at my pod bean host:


Happy gardening!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall Flowers

I looked out my window and wondered if there was anything nice I could put in a vase on the kitchen table. Nothing was apparent from the window, but, knowing that I have found nice plant materials even in winter, I searched around and this is what I came up with. I used to feel intimidated about flower arranging, having never taken a class or looked at a book on the subject. But informal arranging is fun- it you have impossible "Martha" standards or want arrangements suited to a formal setting, like a luxury hotel, you are out of luck. But if you want a charming, informal arrangement of homegrown flowers and plants for you and your family to enjoy, it is not so difficult. Oh, and look past the flowers to the trees-I used crab apples, rose of Sharon and and beautyberry stems in this vase.
Happy gardening!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Fall!

Happy Autumnal Equinox and welcome fall! Let the fall garden season begin!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

National Public Lands Day is Saturday, September 24

National Public Lands Day is Saturday, September 24. Have a few hours to help clean up a park? Go to


to find a site, like Rockwood Park in the Richmond area.

Rockwood Park
3401 Courthouse Rd.
Richmond, Virginia 23236
Kristi Orcutt
Contact Email:
(804) 310-7964
Chesterfield County Parks & Recreation
: trash pickup along trails and streams, native wildflower meadow planting, weed pulling in established wildlife gardens, stream bank erosion mediation installment, bluebird nest box trail installation.

Happy nature "gardening!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kid in a Candy Shop: Tuesday Lagniappe

There are three times I get that feeling of being a "kid in a candy shop" and I think they are co-equal in creating this feeling:
1. When I am in an actual candy shop, especially one that has really excellent chocolates;
2. When I am in a top-notch art supply store surrounded by all that paper, canvas and colors and
3. When I am in a plant nursery.
Well OK, there are four:
4. When a plant I have waited for does what I have been waiting for it to do.
Well, there are probably more than that, as I am lucky to have this feeling often!
I planted a passionflower (Passiflora icarnata) a year ago. I built a beautiful trellis for it, out of bamboo and dried vines, in June. I watched it grow and twine...and produce sterile flower buds, one after another, after a dozen....and today, September 19, 2011, a half dozen, beautiful, large, awe-inspiring flowers erupted from it.
Passionflowers are...er...one of my passions. The flower was said to represent the Passion of the Christ, not earthly passions (though it inspires those too). Look at the photo and see if you can identify the Christ on the cross, the crown of thorns and the whips used on Christ. See the Wikipedia entry for more details at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passiflora on this fascinating flower and its culture and history.
For me the passionflower is lovely, exotic and pleasurable....though take heed, once you have it, it will spread....
Happy, passionate gardening!

Virginia Go Green Festival 2011

The Virginia Go Green Festival is this Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, VA. Plant vendors will be there, along with interesting displays from various "green" organizations in VA. You will be able to purchase lunch, and there will be activities for kids. I went last year and it was fun and this year promises to be bigger. There is a $3 admission, kids are free. For more information, go to:


Happy gardening!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Last eggplant harvest?

It is starting to feel like autumn around here, with lows in the 50's (and 40's!) and highs in the 60's. I went out yesterday and picked all the green tomatoes on the vines, save ones that were cracked or damaged. Why? Well, I have not had much luck with tomatoes ripening on the vine in September (maybe you have) and the plants are looking bad- tired, spent, diseased and it is time for them to go. I will ripen the tomatoes inside- they will never develop the transcendent taste of a tomato ripened on the vine and still warm from the sun, but they will do for cooking. I also make fried green tomatoes as a treat and use them in sandwiches and as topping 0n homemade pizza (really, it is very good). And here is my recipe:
Fried Green Tomatoes
2 or 3 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup cornmeal or so
1/2 t salt
good sized grating of black pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
2-3 t oil

Heat oil in skillet, until hot, not smoking. Mix cornmeal, salt, pepper and garlic powder and put on a plate. Dip each slice of tomato into egg, then in cornmeal mixture. Fry till golden each side, about 3-4 minutes a side (depending on pan heat-tomatoes should sizzle lightly when you add them to the pan). Remove and drain on a folded paper towel.

Fried green tomato pizza: top pizza crust with red/tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella (variation: cheddar) and fried green tomatoes. Bake as usual. YUM

But what does that have to do with the eggplant photo? This is today's harvest of eggplants, the last, except for many a few baby ones. I have been asked what can you do with eggplants to preserve them? There are eggplant spread and pickle recipes, but I think the easiest thing to do is to roast them for 40 minutes or until soft, in a 375 degree oven. Simply slice them in half, lay them cut side down on an oiled baking dish, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. The resulting roasted flesh is scraped from the skins (though some just keep them intact) and frozen to use in baba ganooj or, my favorite Indian dish, bhaigan barta. You can also make a sauce of sauteed onions, garlic, herbs, tomatoes and roasted eggplant for pasta, pizza or rice. Another yum! Raw eggplant does not freeze well-you can dehydrate it raw to add to soups and stews, but I find the result less than satisfactory.

Listen to my podcast on "putting the summer garden to bed" on itunes or at: http://virginiaorganicgardener.podbean.com/

Happy gardening! And eating!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chimney Swifts and Nature

Gardening has made me a better observer of nature. Walking in the dusk, I observe the birds settling down and the bats revving up for a night of hunting. A neighbor once asked me what I was looking at. She has lived in the area for 30 years and didn't know we even had bats. She was delighted to see them when I pointed them out. In the spring dawn, the deer and fawns are out, dining on our collective "deer salad bars," also known as suburban gardens. From my bedroom window, I can look down on the porch roof and sometimes see the green tree frog that likes to inhabit the area near the downspout. Tadpoles swim in the overflow buckets from my rain barrel.

The first autumn we were in this house, when my son was 4 and a half, near to Halloween, I went outside on the back deck. I looked up at the house and my eye was caught by motion about the chimney. There was this great wheeling mass of...bats?...birds? 20 feet or so above the top of the chimney. They formed a huge, moving circle with the chimney at the center and, every minute or so, one of the birds, I realized (later learning they were chimney swifts) would peel off and dive right into the chimney. My son came out and I held him in my arms, and we both watched the birds, smiling, amazed at their acrobatics and precision. My husband joined us, and we stood together, our son in my arms, my husband's arms around my shoulder in the deepening dusk, until the last bird went into the chimney.

That fall we had the chimney cleaned out, a cap put on and the swifts never visited us again. They find hollow trees or chimneys to roost in as they migrate in the fall and will revisit sites if they are still available. One recent evening, at dinner, we looked out the window and saw another flock of swifts wheeling above a house or tree (not sure) behind us, near a street parallel to ours and I was reminded of that first visit of the chimney swifts 11 years ago. My son is now a teenager, a tall, muscle-bound and charming young man, but I felt that little boy in my arms again as the birds searched for shelter for the night.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Use it or lose it?

I was talking to a delightful fellow student in a botanical illustration class I am taking. This senior woman is one of these "energizer bunny" types that I seem to often meet. She has limitations, but she keeps on going, trying, moving forward. I told her a quote I attributed to my father (I am not completely sure I heard it from him, but I like it): "The less you try to do, the less you can do." A simple statement, but profoundly important to me. I have some physical limitations (bad back, arthritis, achy knees) and emotional ones too (timidity about certain things, though my friends are surprised when I divulge this!). I have trouble digging or turning over soil from a standing position so I either do it in short bursts between other tasks, or I do it from a seated position-looks silly, but gets the job done (and I rarely mind looking silly!). Same with my compost pits- I sit to turn them and empty them. My 86 year old father sits on a low stool to weed, even with surgical pins in his spine. My dear Rosemary gardened in pots until her last spring. As you age into gardening, try to keep doing as much as you can, try new things (within reason), because once you stop, you might never get back to it.
Happy gardening!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fairy Rings, Those Magic Things

Walking through our neighborhood, my son noticed this "fairy ring" and pointed it out to me. After hurricane Irene, I've noticed more mushrooms popping up in the area. A mushroom is simply the fruiting body of a larger, underground organism (I don't say "plant," because mushrooms are part of a fungus, which are genetically closer to animals than to plants). This underground organism is far larger than just the fruiting body. It is a fungal mycelium existing below the soil. Fairy rings, broad circles of mushrooms, can create circles of dead grass or circles of a deeper, darker green grass, in a suburban lawn. This is because some mycelia produce plant growth hormones causing rapid growth of grass. Under other conditions, the mycelia can coat the grass roots, killing it. Over time, a fairy ring can expand, some creating double rings or other shapes, often starting at a place where a tree once stood, and the stump remains below ground.

Fairy rings are highly resistant to chemical and other controls. Aerating the soil and replanting the grass might work, though the large mycelium may thwart your efforts. Keeping the soil saturated for 4 to 6 weeks can also help, but this in in itself can kill the grass and any trees or shrubs in or near the area (like the one in this photo above, just outside the ring). It may be that the very best thing you can do is enjoy the pretty sight (I find fairy rings very pretty) wait it out and see what happens over time.

Happy gardening!