Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Continuous Container Gardens

I recently read Continuous Container Gardens (Townsend, S.B. & Robbins, R., 2010. Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA). The authors of this book take the approach that container gardens or plantings should be continually changed throughout the season to promote interest year round and keep them looking fresh. They discuss suitable containers, and how the container should complement the plants (no tall, skinny plants in tall, skinny containers) and how the container can set the mood for the planting (rustic, historic, elegant, humorous)(me, I go for humorous, hands down). The authors usually have planting schemes that involve what they call a "backbone" plant, that is, generally a perennial that will be a permanent resident of the pot, except for occasional re-potting, such as an evergreen, columnar shrub, Japanese maple or corkscrew willow. The pot is then planted with companion plants that may cover he surface of the soil, trail out of the pot or add a vertical accent. Consideration is given to color, leaf size/shape/texture, hardiness, seasonality, bark color and texture, suitability for pot culture, etc. They add other elements as well- ornaments for holidays, evergreen branches for seasonal displays, small statuary, etc.

One interesting list from is must have plants for container growing: sedums, mosses, golden creeping Jenny, sweet woodruff, false nettle, oxalis, bugleweed, heathers and heaths, heuchera and herbs, especially thyme and sage. I think this is a pretty good list of accent plants, to which I might add rosemary and ornamental peppers. They have some recommendation for pretty edible plants that include kale and Swiss chard along with small flowers and ornamental cabbage.

This is a nice book, with nice photos and nice ideas, but it does seem like a lot of work to re-plant, modify or decorate your outdoor posts several times a year. But if you only do this for a few, strategically placed pots, I think it is a lovely idea (specially when the containers are potted up with edibles!)
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New USDA Plant Hardiness/Zone Map

The USDA has published a new plant hardiness/zone map at:


Here is Virginia:Some zones have changed. It looks like zone 7b has moved further to the east (from VA Beach toward Richmond).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Continuing to Document My Garden

Strawberry plants are lovely as ornamentals, especially in the winter, when they produce bright red leaves (see the photo on my Christmas Day entry). I have them scattered in my ornamental flower beds and they provide a welcome bit of winter color (and tasty fruit in May!). They have proven to be very easy to care for in this slightly shaded setting. In my effort to continue to document my garden, I decided to draw this strawberry plant in colored pencil. A wonderful winter hobby for the gardener!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fruit Trees

Though rewarding, fruit trees can be a lot of work, especially for the organic gardener. If you have, or want, apple, pear, peach, plum, or cherry trees, know that they have to be pruned every year in order to be productive, and to keep them in bounds for applications of organic sprays and for ease of picking. If you are unable or unwilling to do this (or pay someone to do it), grow easier fruits, of which there are many: strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants (where allowed), blueberries and even figs (which though fruit trees, do not exactly fit the prune-every-year rule). After pruning, fruit trees need applications of dormant/horticultural oil and various organic pesticides and fungicides. Above is a photo of me (January, 2012) in the apple tree we inherited (unpruned) when we moved in. I have since added three peach trees and two pears (among many other plants). Though my husband does the major work with my assistance, I did get up in the tree this year to prune (and did not fall out of it, like I did two years ago-ouch!). We took off a bunch of water spouts (new, totally vertical growth that will be unproductive) and a few large limbs we could not easily reach to pick fruit. I had done the major pruning earlier on the much smaller pear trees and the peach trees remain to be pruned severely and soon. We also do need to prune the figs- they respond well to pruning and are finally getting too tall to easily pick.

If you don't have fruit trees and are considering getting some, think about the work load. It can be fun, but it is work. And, if you do have fruit trees, get out there and do that annual pruning! To motivate yourself, remember the peach, fig, cherry and plum preserves, pies, fresh and dried fruit and the like!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Live Oak Trees

I recently visited family in Florida. Though the state is very developed, I do enjoy the flora there. Most people probably associate Florida with palm trees, but there is nothing more majestic than an old, southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) which also grows in other regions of the deep south. These huge trees develop horizontal branches that become host to all sorts of other plants, including ferns, lichens, and mosses. I tried to upload a video of a 200 year old Confederate live oak at Dunlawton Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens in Port Orange, FL but I could not, so the above photos are still shots we got of another tree in South Carolina:

The Dunlawton garden is lovely, and unexpected, right in the middle of a neighborhood. It has a nice collection of palms, a Florida hammock trail, lovely gingers and orchids, among other sub-tropical plants. It is free and open to the public, but they ask for donations. It is the former home of the Dunlawton sugar mill, the curated ruins of which are on site.
For more info on this garden, visit:


Happy New Year! Happy gardening!