Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's National Invasive Species Week!

[Photo: the edible, but invasive, garlic mustard that is wrecking havoc in the Shenandoah]

National Invasive Species Week is February 26 - March 3, 2012 (my first reaction was "who thinks of these things?" but my second reactions was "gotta love it!)

What is an invasive species? According to the USDA: "Invasive plants are introduced species that can thrive in areas beyond their natural range of dispersal. These plants are characteristically adaptable, aggressive, and have a high reproductive capacity. Their vigor combined with a lack of natural enemies often leads to outbreak populations." See http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/main.shtml

Invasive species are weeds, but more so. They can tolerate a range of conditions and kill other plants by smothering (through the shear bulk of their leaves, stems and roots), out growing them or through allelopathy, that is, the production of substances that limit the growth of other plants (though not an invasive, the walnut tree is a well-known, allelopathic plant, producing juglone, a chemical that inhibits growth of many other plants - look online for listing of plants not disturbed by juglone). Many common garden plants are invasive (English ivy, obedient plant, purple loosestrife, and some ornamental grasses like river oats). The VA Department of Conservation and Recreation publishes a list of invasive exotics at: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/documents/invlist.pdf

What to do? Remove invasive plants from your yard and garden and don't buy them in the first place (Remember the 11th commandment: "Know thy plants"). Help groups like The Nature Conservancy and parks and conservation groups on work days where they remove invasive plants...and...spread the word!

Happy non-invasive gardening!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Chores, Winter Blooms

I have been very busy in the garden lately. "Busy in the garden, at this time of year?" you might say. This is a perfect time of year to get many important garden chores done. I have been focusing on pruning my fruit trees (apple, peach, pear and fig) and getting all but the fig trees sprayed with an organic dormant oil to smother overwintering pests (the figs do not need it). I did another clean up of the "orchard floor," that is I raked up all remaining leaves, peach pits and twigs, again to get at overwintering pests and diseases. I also made sure all remaining "mummies" (dried, dessicated fruits that harbor fungal spores) were off of the trees and in the trash. My next set of chores involve turning and "waking up" my compost pits, cutting back any post-fruiting raspberry canes and WEEDING- this has been a terribly warm winter and the weeds have loved it. Other general garden chores at this time of year include general clean up and preparation for planting peas (which intend to do as soon as I can!)
In the meantime, think of shrubs you can plant for an early floral show next year. If you want some early blooms to chase winter woes away, here are some plants I see blooming early in the spring in central VA, and even earlier this year due to our warm weather:
Fragrant wintersweet
Daphne (very fragrant)
Flowering quince (photo above)
Hellebores (Christmas or Lenten rose)
Witch hazel

Thanks to The Washington Gardener to remind me of early spring bloomers for the mid-Atlantic states (go to:
http://washingtongardener.blogspot.com/2012/02/early-season-bloomers-for-mid-atlantic.html ) This is a lovely, free online publication and the current issue has a more complete listing.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Field Trip Reprt: Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens

On a recent trip to north central Florida, we visited a small botanical garden, the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens, in Port Orange: go to: http://www.dunlawtonsugarmillgardens.org/
It is a little gem of a tropical garden, even in the winter! The most interesting plant to me was a very old live oak tree, called the Confederate Oak (see recent blog entry on live oaks). These can be huge trees, and in the right conditions, harbor many other plants on their large, near horizontal branches, from Spanish moss, to ferns, epiphytes, orchids, bromeliads and other plants, making them a plant nursery of sorts...and stunningly beautiful. This garden, started as a sugar, rice and cotton plantation, is rich in ferns, palms, and tropical flowering plants. Another memorable feature is an old stone and concrete wall that has been converted to a fern grotto. The garden also contains the sheltered ruins of the pre-Civil War era sugar mill.
The garden is free, though they do request a donation. It is on Old Sugar Mill Road in Port Orange, right in the middle of a neighborhood. iI opens at 8AM, but call for seasonally adjusted closing hours: 386-767-1735
If you are in the area, I recommend this lovely garden!

By the way, Wikipedia, source of all knowledge, has a listing of "significant" botanic gardens and arboreta in the US at:

Happy gardening!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." Robert Frost

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." Robert Frost

Sometimes it seems that all living things tenaciously hold on to life, even in the face of pain, injury and disability. The same is often true for you and me, and for other animals and plants. Trees grip tiny pockets of soil between boulders and exploit cracks in rock (or make them crack) to anchor their roots, chopped down plants often send out that one new stem or branch, seeds can lie dormant for years, awaiting the right conditions to sprout and a tiny bit of root left in the ground can re-sprout (much to the dismay of gardeners pulling dandelions and poke weed!).

I love old trees (YES! I am a tree hugger! No surprise there), especially ones that have experienced great adversity and managed to go on. One great place to see old, contorted trees in in Colonial Williamsburg (and you can walk the public streets there for free, though I do recommend taking the formal tour at least once). There are many examples of very old trees there, including twisted yews and contorted paulownias (the princess tree- with beautiful purple flowers in spring see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulownia ).
I think the tree pictured above is a paulownia, but I can't be sure until it is in leaf and blooms. The paulownia, originally from China, is a fast-growing, and invasive tree, imported here for its lovely flowers and fine-grained wood. It forms these weird contorted shapes, as it is quite subject to injury, but keeps on growing. It is not a tree I would recommend planting, due to its invasive nature and brittleness, but it is pretty and compelling to look at!
Happy gardening!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy Groundhogs' Day 2012

Richmond Rick, my PETA-approved personal stuffed toy groundhog, did not have a shadow today, so a Richmond spring is right around the corner! Forget about Punxsatawney Phil!
Happy Gardening! (when the rain stops!)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sigh...Crape Murder

Why do people persist in so severely cutting back their crape myrtles? Though this does remove the spent seed heads and promotes some bloom, it really damages the structure of the tree. This photo is of a really egregious example. I once listened a garden call in show where the host told a female caller "keep that chain saw out of your husband's hands!" when she described this type of Crape-A-Cide or Crape Murder. Chain saws make it so easy to cut, that people get over-zealous and chop the heck out of their trees and shrubs, until there is not much left. Please, lightly prune crape myrtles, remove suckers, dead and crossed branches and let the tree form it's own, unique, artistic form.
Happy gardening!