Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe: Mystery Plant

My husband says that I am a "punk botanical illustrator" in that I like to draw weedy, spiky, weird, twisted, mean and poisonous plants from disturbed, waste areas (roadsides, ditches, RR tracks, and post-industrial sites.  Boy what fun we have on hikes!).  In honor of that lovely accolade, anyone want to guess what plants this is?  May the best gardener or naturalist win! Hint: this is a great plant to represent Halloween!

Happy gardening!

UPDATE: This plant is a datura, also known as Jamestown Weed, Jimsonweed or cow sick. It is a poisonous plant, producing hallucinations before death.  Ranchers have to watch out for it to prevent their animals from feeding on it, hence the name "cow sick."  Georgia O'Keeffee famously painted it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: The Roots of My Obsession

                                                           [Photo from Amazon.com]

Cooper, Thomas C. The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden.  Timber Press

(I was given a tablet computer and it is changing the way I read books.  I got this book as an e-book and, though I am not completely satisfied with the process (and miss holding a real book in my hands) it has been overall an acceptable media.) 

I tend to dislike collections of essays, feeling they were not written spontaneously, but contracted out and assembled for a purpose: to sell a book. Other times, I feel like I am reading something out of context, taken from another, longer essay, and it feels disconnected as I go from essay to essay. I know this criticism is probably unfair, but that is how I feel.  Anyway, I am enjoying some of the essays in this book, especially those of gardeners with whom I am familiar.  I wanted to share with you a few quotes that I liked, found amusing or provocative:

Cooper, p. 9 (e-version) "I was raised on a strain of gardening that combined the minor virtues of engineering, math, Cold War chemistry and internal combustion.  My parents were a part of the victory garden generation....those who had some land (and) naturally grew food and flowers as part of their genetic makeup, not as an exercise in outdoor decorating."

Tony Avent (p. 21, e-version) "I wasn't very popular in high school., where an interest in plants was not something for a guy to admit in public..."

Rosalind Creasy (p. 40 e) "I've also learned that a two-year-old can single out the the ripe cherry tomatoes even though her mother is stymied."

William Cullina (p. 50 e) "Fall is a blend of melancholy, quiet celebration, and anticipation, mixed with a slight, fluttering anxiety.  I am sad to see the chlorophyll drain from the garden...I can also feel already feel the excitement building for next spring."

and one more, just because I share this weirdness:

Page Dickey (p. 62e) "I love to weed.  I realize this is not a universal sentiment, even among gardeners.  But every spring I am reminded how utterly happy I am on all fours, inching along the garden beds, pulling out the culprits, scratching the earth with my three-pronged weeder, enjoying the results as I look behind at my progress."

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wenesday Lagniappe: Gardener's Glossary


Have you ever heard of a plant described as a tetrapoid? This means it is an organism with twice the number of normal genes.  Tetraploid plants can be more vigorous, with larger blooms. They can be created by using colchicine, a derivative of the autumn crocus, to double the chromosomes, or can occur spontaneously.  Commercial daylilies are often tetraploids (44 instead of 22 chromosomes).
Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ichi Ki Kei Jiro Persimmon

About 4 or 5 years ago, I bought this dwarf Asian persimmon, Ichi Ki Kei Jiro, from Edible Landscaping in Afton VA http://ediblelandscaping.com/ , a truly great nursery with interesting plants.  This persimmon grows to about 8 feet tall, needing about 10 feet around it to in a circle.  Asian persimmons are "non-astringent." If you have ever eaten an unripe American persimmon (that is, just about any time before it falls to the ground), you know the awful "mouth feel" this gives you: you mouth feels puckery and sticky or tacky, very unpleasant.  It takes awhile to get this sensation out of your mouth.  Asian persimmons do not have this quality.  This variety is ready to eat when it is deep orange in color, but is still firm. I harvested the first one last week (there are a dozen on the tree).  I peeled it and found a lovely, cantaloupe-colored, seedless flesh.  It was crisp, like an apple, and a perfect sweetness-not overly sugary or cloying, but very pleasant.  It is my new favorite, and is an easy-to-grow tree.  I have had no trouble with this tree at all, a few minor pests that might chew a leaf hole here or there, but that is about it.  I can imagine eating all them sliced like an apple and think they would be delightful in salads, maybe with some sharp cheese. I really recommend it!
Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe: Saving Cilantro

My sister-in-law once told me that she just could not keep cilantro around, that by the time she got to use it, the leaves had turned yellow or black and slimy.  Cilantro is pretty fragile and does not last long in the crisper. Ideally, you should use it up about 2-3 days after you harvest it (or buy it). I have a huge, beautiful crop of cilantro this fall and here is what I do:  I wash it and let it air dry, or gently pat it dry. Then I freeze it in usable amounts in a double freezer bag.  When I need some, I take it out of the freezer, use scissors to snip off what I want into the dish, then return the rest to the freezer. No waste and it lasts for months!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Well my August-planted arugula (this time the wild type, Rucola selvatica) is ready to eat and, boy, is it beautiful. It tastes great too: spicy, a little nutty, very unique. I usually plant a more modern variety of arugula, thinking the leaves will be wider and there will be more to eat, but I am delighted with how this wild type has performed this year.  Arugula likes full sun (though in summer, a little afternoon shade is OK), and well-draining, rich soil (most plants do).  It germinates in 7 to 14 days and is ready for harvest in about 35 days.  Pretty easy to grow!
There is still time to get yours in the ground, especially if you can provide it with some simple winter cover, like hoops (bent metal coat hangers can do in a pinch) covered in clear plastic sheeting, should we get a hard freeze.
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday lagniappe: Garderners' Glossary

Cladode:  Green, scale-shaped tissue on a flattened stem or branch that performs photosynthesis in the place of leaves.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Coastal Plants

Occasionally I get an email or comment asking me for plants for specific areas.  Central Virginia (piedmont and plains east of the fall line) is my beat. Coastal plants are not my specialty, but I had an interesting question about lower-growing shade plants in a long, narrow bed in the coastal eastern shore. So I did some research

First, let's "chat" about the type of websites I find trustworthy and one sites about which I feel unsure.   My first choice is to go to non-profit or governmental organizations, like the USDA, Ag Extension services, state environmental or natural resources departments; university web pages; associations for specific plants, like wildflowers or native plants and: master gardener and master naturalist programs.  Though you can quibble about this, I do feel these types of sites are the best bet for objective, unbiased advice.  Commercial sites can also provide information about plants and conditions, but caveat emptor. These sites have a vested interest in selling you plants.  Reputable nurseries want you to be happy with the plants you buy to encourage repeat business.  Others might not be so scrupulous.  There are a few plant nurseries (mail order and local) I implicitly trust, due to past excellent service and product.  Ask around, get recommendations, and read reviews. Keep track of the orders you get from these nurseries: the condition of the plants (root bound, healthy looking, smaller than expected) and how that plant does.  Read between the lines of plant descriptions ("vigorous" can mean invasive, "delicate" can mean it will most likely die) and pay attention to the symbols used to indicate growth, habit, soil and setting.

So what advice did I give my friend? First, I told her that she has four conditions to deal with: shade, a narrow bed, bed bordered by concrete and coastal conditions.  I suggested she contact the ag extension master gardener or mater naturalist program for her region.  Then, I suggested she investigate these plants:
hostas, begonias, and huecheras (these come in neat foliage colors, yellow-lime to green to red to maroon, lovely shaped leaves) and all recommended for coastal shade gardens.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe: Pollinator Magic

Gotta' love them pollinators: at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.  No pollinators, no food.