Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Pretties in the Garden: Nov. 2, 2015

Some pretties in the autumn garden: Top row, left to right: Ichi Ki Kei Jiro persimmon,
Autumn sage, more persimmon.  Bottom row, left to right: Virginia creeper in the passiflora,
American beauty berry and mums.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Persimmon Harvest

It is time to begin harvesting persimmons. My Ichi Kei Ki Jiro Asian  persimmon tree continues to pump out lots of fruit.  Unlike native American persimmons, this is a non-astringent persimmon (learn about your tree before you plant it, as there are astringent, Asian persimmons).  If you have ever eaten an underripe, American persimmon, you know what "astringency" means. The flavor is unpalatable, and I find it leaves a sticky,  persistent, plastic-like coating in my mouth and on my tongue.  Definitely unpleasant. An American persimmon is usually considered ripe when it falls off the tree, after a heavy frost or freeze.  However, unless you're vigilant and good at collecting them, they can easily spoil on the ground or animals can get to them first.  But these Asian, non-astringent persimmons are marvelous. They can be eaten while still crispy, like an apple, which is my favorite way to eat them. You could also wait until they soften and have a pudding-like texture.   They tolerate the cold and will cling on the tree, still edible,  through November or December.  I also enjoy dehydrating slices of these persimmons. They get very sugary when they are dry and make a great snack. And the skin is edible too! The fruit is totally seedless, the tree is very easy to care for.  Sound too good to be true? Nope!
Happy harvest!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Roasted Tomatoes

I am roasting my last batch of tomatoes for the 2015 garden season. I find this is the easiest way to deal with a large batch of tomatoes, also eggplant, peppers, onions, and garlic, which can be mixed in together. I put them in a 350° oven, with a little bit of salt and olive oil.  I let them roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until the skins slip off easily. Then I take them out, cool them off, and remove all the skins. The tomatoes are now ready to use in sauce, and if you have mixed them with eggplant, peppers, onions, and garlic, you can purée them all into a wonderful roasted spaghetti sauce!
Happy eating!

Friday, October 16, 2015

2015 Winter Squash

My goodness, it has been a long time since I posted. I need to rectify that!

As some of you know, I have a "thing" for winter squash. (Flash of insight: I have a "thing" for many plants!)  Winter squash is tasty, is the "go to" squash for "pumpkin" pies, is delicious in a curried squash soup and I just love them.

This year, I again grew the old standby, Waltham butternut. This tried and true heirloom is tasty, prolific and has hard stems that make it almost impossible for the squash vine borer to create havoc.  I got a dozen fruits, at least, off of one plant, and it kept pumping them out until fairly recently (too late for some of them to mature, though).  I grew three new squash this year: Gold Nugget (the small, orange one on the left); Galeux d'Eysines (called a "peanut squash) in the center and: Futsu Black (the smaller, warty ones).  None were as prolific as the Waltham, though the Gold Nugget came close.  All these squash have dry flesh, which I prefer, as I believe it tastes better and is easier to cook.  And the Galeux and Futsu are cool looking, too.   The Galeux only produced two large squash, as did the Futsu, but they were fun to grow.

There are two pests that give me the most trouble with the curcubits, the squash vine borer and the cucumber beetle (the borer kills the plant from inside the stem, the cucumber beetle spreads a wilting virus).  This year, I tried a new "barrier" method to deal with them (used this for my cucumbers too, and got a great harvest):  I kept the plants coated with Surround (trademark), a finely ground, Kaolin clay.  You mix it up in a sprayer and spray the plants.  Cucumber beetles, and the moth that lays the vine borer eggs, must not like the gritty texture, and they avoid the plants.  The downside is that Surround will wash off in a heavy rain and must be reapplied.

Oh, I got all these seeds through Pinetree Garden Seeds,Pinetree Garden Seeds

Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

More food for thought

This is a good read, and helps explain why I don't have a lawn:


What to do with okra?

I am happily growing red burgundy okra from Pinetree Garden Seeds (red okra) and I am delighted with it.  It is an attractive plant, with red-veined leaves and red pods.  Here it is growing in a pot, it is so ornamental:

It seems to be fairly easy to grow, given enough sun and space.  The pods stay tender 
even when they get a little larger than typical.  So, how to cook it?  Okra is a star in soups 
and stews, as it acts as a natural thickener.  People sometimes complain about fried okra, 
which can get a bit...er...slimy, but it is great in tomato-based dishes.

So, I sautéed garden onions (1 large, diced), garlic (2 cloves, sliced), some quartered mushrooms
(1cup), and bell peppers (1, in chunks) in olive oil (2 T).  Then I  added chopped fresh basil and 
rosemary,  some dried marjoram, the okra (2 cups, sliced into 1 inch pieces) and a quart of crushed 
tomatoes.  I let it simmer for a half hour, then served it over polenta.  Salt and pepper to taste.  
Total yum!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Saving the Monarch

An article on some plants you can use to help the declining monarch butterfly:

Passion in the Garden

I finally have established passionflower in a place my garden where it won't smother nearby plants..   A few years ago, I was walking by a beautiful passionflower vine that would soon be torn out due to construction.  So, I gathered some ripe fruit and planted it next to a fence.  This is the lovely, native passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and I have posted about it before.  Once established, it grows easily, though a very cold winter can kill off the plant.  In this case, the plant will likely have set seed to grow all over again.

See the immature, green fruit?  When ripe, it is orange, and full of gelatinous seeds.  Then, I can plant it near another fence! (I need to remove that morning glory vine that will compete with the passiflora!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Prohibited Plants

Interesting list of prohibited plants in the state of New York.  Residents cannot transport, propagate, transplant, sell, etc, these plants.  Good list of plants to avoid in Virginia, too!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Warty Baby

My Galeux d'Eysines winter squash is getting warty! OhBoyOhBoyOhBoy!

And Pintree Garden Seeds (where I purchased the seed from) says it might get like this:


Should be good eating, too!  It is supposed to grow 10-15 pounds.

Plant Diseases

Gee, this is a depressing list for a gardener:


Oh boy!  I purchased hardback garlic from the Hudson Valley Seed Library http://www.seedlibrary.org after visiting there last September.  Garlic needs to be fall planted, to establish itself before it gets cold.  This garlic was fantastic, it grew well, produced beautiful, tasty cloves.  I harvested it in June.  Garlic is ready to harvest about three weeks after the edible scapes (blooms) appear (and the scapes are edible too!).  The scapes themselves are beautiful!  See my arrangement that I drew?

Plants as Sculpture

As you might know, I am a gardener and botanical artist.  We recently visited family in New Jersey and the state has some amazing places!  One such place is Grounds for Sculpture, in Hamilton Square:  http://www.groundsforsculpture.org

It is a wonderful place, with various garden rooms and passages, all leading to sculptural surprises!  Well, a sculpture garden, to truly succeed, must place some emphasis on the sculptural contributions of its plantings/
landscaping.  Here are a few examples (in addition to the use of bamboo, of which I did not take photos):

Tree Passage or alee leading from one garden room to another:

Wisteria tunnel:

Canopied tree:

This last is a poor photo, but the weeping blue spruce is a part of the sculpture 
with its blue patina:

...and one last: a tall reed or grass, being used as a visual stand-in for corn:

There are many more examples, including lotus pools and other botanical companions!
Go visit!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, July 19, 2015


I cannot find seeds for my beloved Lavendar Touch eggplant anymore, so am trying two new varieties, Fairy Tale and Comet.   I have not tasted either yet.  However, though beautiful, Fairy Tale might prove to be a disappointment.  All my fault, I did not read fully the plant description.  These fruits are slender, but only 4-5 inches long, max! They are going to be a pain to use, especially as a member of my household does not like eggplant skin (small, tender eggplant do not have to be peeled before cooking).  Well, at least I can draw them!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Yes, I am still bragging about my greens, especially rainbow Swiss chard.  The new raised beds have produced the best, longest-lasting stand of chard I have ever grown.
How do I eat this bounty?  I love to braise it in olive oil, with garlic and onions, sometimes red bell pepper and mushrooms, too. It is an excellent substitute for spinach in quiches and Indian paneer-based dishes. I even use it,  along with kale  and lettuce, in a chopped salad, fabulous!
If you didn't plant any this spring, start some in mid-August for fall greens!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, July 5, 2015


You know how zucchini is a bit of a garden joke?  Hear stories of how people leave anonymous packages of zucchini on their neighbor's doorsteps, on a coworker's desk, or in a stranger's car?  (Of course, if you have that much, donate it to a food bank!).  I love zucchini and, until now, have never had enough.  And here is the reason:

Dehydrator Zucchini Chips

These amazing chips are crunchy, though their crisp will not last as long as commercial potato chips.  We love them!

3 medium zucchini, stem and bottom removed 
A few T's oil
1 t smoked paprika 
1 t chipotle chili powder
1 t cumin
1 t garlic powder
1 t salt OR
equivalent amount of chili powder and salt OR
whatever strikes your fancy!

Using a food processor (I used my 1/4 inch slicing blade) or mandolin, slice the zucchini.  Put it in a bowl and drizzle in 1 T of oil.  
Using your hands, gently separate the zucchini slices and rub the oil on.
Load up your food processor trays.
Mix the spices, and sprinkle it on the zucchini slices.
Dehydrate for three hours (will need more time if they are thicker than mine) and gobble 'em up!

Why do I have so much zucchini now?  First, the raised beds filled with soil, compost and mushroom compost, i.e., plant rocket fuel, created healthy growth.  And, the vine borers have been stymied, until now, by frequent applications of Surround (trademarked kaolin clay that is mixed with water, sprayed on and acts as an irritant  barrier to pests).  
Happy Gardening!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Arms Race Escalates

It is me, armed with recipes, versus....the ZUCCHINI!
Today's harvest for this family of two:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Today in the Garden: June 15, 2015

Top, left to right: tropical hibiscus, squash blossoms, castor bean plant in flower.
Middle row: butterfly weed, snow-on-the-mountain white pine, "Spider-Man" day lily.
Bottom row: a white calpogon orchid amidst the pitcher plants, "Jester" ornamental millet, 
volunteer Black-eyed Susans.
Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tonight's Salad

We have salad for dinner a couple of nights per week.  The stars of tonight's salad?
Frisée and the young leaves of amaranth, a nutrition-packed red "green!"

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Today in My Garden, June 2, 2015

A little hard to see, but this is what's blooming here today:
Left, Dracunculus vulgaris, common name Voodoo Lily or Little Dragon.  A fly-
pollinated plant, it is meat colored and smells bad (for about one day) and
I love it!  See the fly on it?
Center and right rows, left to right: Wild Aztec Tobacco (to draw, not smoke); common
Tiger lily; autumn sage, a hummingbird plant; castor bean (also grown to draw);
red hot poker (kniphofia) with old fashioned rose campion and: banana 
palms under the dogwood.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saving Butterflies? Now Save the Bees

I just posted a bit about planting milkweeds to help support monarch butterflies.  What about specialist bees?  These bees, often native, are like some butterflies, in that they need specific host plants.  Virginia has a high proportion of specialist bees.  For more information, read this:  http://vnps.org/specialist-bees-need-special-plants/

and go here for a list of plants to support these bees:  http://vnps.org/plants-for-specialist-bees/

Why support bees?  We need all the bees we can get for food production and for the very existence of many plants!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Plant Milkweed, Help the Monarchs

Last summer, I started common milkweed plants from seed and planted them in a new garden bed in the fall.  This spring, I started swamp milkweed and butterfly weed and planted those, too, all in an effort at support dwindling monarch butterflies.  Want to try this?  Here is some information:

Will post photos soon of my thriving plants.
Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Today in My Garden, May 27, 2015

Today in my garden:

Photo, clockwise from top left:
Pitcher plants in their bog; native cactus in bloom; podded peas plumping; common and swamp milkweed for Monarch butterflies and: zucchini, maligned by some, loved by me!

Cucumber Beetles and Squash Vine Borers

(Not all my garden is yet in framed, raised beds).

Cucumber beetles and squash vine borers are menaces to cucumber and squash plants.
Right now, my cucumbers are still under a floating row cover, to protect them from
cucumber beetles.  But my zucchini and squash plants are too larger to cover.  The photo
above shows two strategies: first, note the whitish color of the leaves?  This is because I
sprayed the plants with Surround (trademarked,) a fine-milked kaolin clay that is mixed 
with water and sprayed on the entire plant.  Vine borer moths, squash beetles and other bugs
seem to dislike the gritty surface, so it acts as a barrier to their egg laying.  Surround
washes off in the rain and must be reapplied.  The yellow cards hanging from stakes are 
coated with Tangle Trap, similar to the sticky gunk on fly paper.  It comes in a can with a built
in brush lid to ease application.  Cucumber beetles, which transmit wilt (and are more bother-
some to cucumbers than zucchini, but harm it too) are attracted to the color yellow, stick and die.  
When my cucumbers are uncovered, I will put some of these yellow traps in that bed, too.  I 
will monitor the traps to make sure no bees are caught, and, if they are, down will come the
Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Orchids in you garden

Here is an easy orchid you can grow in your central Virginia garden,
Bletilla striata.  I planted this about 10 years ago in a semi-shady spot in
my garden, and it has formed a pretty little colony.  I ordered the bulbs
from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, the only company from which I will buy 
bulbs (no, not a paid endorsement, they are just good!) at:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's Easy Being green!

I don't know if this is evidence of the wonderful new raised beds we built,
or the season, but these are the most amazing greens I have ever grown!

I posted the varieties earlier, just had to show you what I picked today!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pitcher Plants

Spring has sprung, summer is closing in.  My pitcher plants are showing their
exotic blooms.  These plants are fascinating at all stages of development. The
green-yellow flower is Sarracenia flava and the red is S. leucophylla.  Please search
for and read an earlier post on bog gardens for how to plant and care for these beauties!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Today In My Garden: May 17, 2015

From the top, left to right: water iris, pitcher plants, Asian mustard, cacti and succulents, landscape rose, primrose, peony, tradescantia/spiderwort, bearded iris.

Catching Up: Finis

More good reads:
A simple vegetable trellis:

Roundup fears:

Topping Trees? Stop!

Here is a brief write up on the evils of topping trees:
I will try to post a photo soon of this terrible practice....

Friday, May 15, 2015

Beautiful Greens

I think my friends all know how much I love greens.  This spring, I have grown the
most lovely and tasty salad greens ever!  Arugula, freckles lettuce, redbor kale, bright
lights Swiss chard and Bibb lettuce.  I don't know if it is this combination, good weather 
or the new raised beds I planted in, but I am delighted!  Due to renovating the garden,
however, I planted late, so these greens won't last too much longer (the arugula is already 
starting to bolt- one trick is to let it bolt, and flop down, and it will produce fresh green 
leaves in the fall).
Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Catching Up: 3

Some more good reads:

On a weird climate trend for the mid-Atlantic states …that has ended:

And, the Virginia invasive species list:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Garden Scenes

A few scenes from my garden, first week of  May, 2015:
Top left, clockwise: Flame honeysuckle (invasive, but I keep it contained); pitcher plant blooms (Sarracenia leucophylla); my pond; Golden Marguerite, a dye plant; weigela, spirea and: a cut-leaf, Japanese maple.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Catching up: 2

You all know that there are very few plants I dislike (maybe mahonia... well, and all invasives), but one tree, that is lovely in autumn, is a target of my ire: the callery (or Bradford) pear.  The wood is weak, easily splitting in an ice storm (I have written on this before), but the main reason for my dislike is this: it smells bad when in bloom, ugh!  Read (and listen) on!

Catching Up! 1

So, I am still catching up after my long trip in March.  Until I write some field trip reports, I will provide some good reads and interesting information:
First off:  On the politics of invasive species:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring, 2015

We were in the midst of a major garden renovation (building 6  planter boxes) when I left for a 17-day trip.  I have missed planting some things (spring greens, for the most part), but, this week, I planted about 50 Allstar and Honeoye strawberry plants (they still need to be mulched with straw, not hay: hay has many seed heads and sprouts like crazy)-not much to see yet:

two large bunches of red and sweet white onions (plant in loose soil, about an inch deep.  I prefer starts (bundles plants that have sprouted) to bulbs, they get going faster): :

and, my garlic weathered the winter and looks great! (Garlic needs to be planted in fall, then harvested in June):

This week, I want to plant lettuces, tat soi, kale, chard, cilantro and start, indoors, my squashes, and some oddball ornamentals....yay!
And it is almost time to spray the peaches with an organic fungicide.
Happy gardening!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Waltham Butternut

Waltham butternut, an heirloom variety, is a great winter squash and they keep in your pantry for months (if properly cured by sun exposure, outdoors, for 4-5 days after harvest). They have harder vines than most squash, so are less susceptible to squash vine borers.  I roast mine, pierced, but whole, in a 350-degree oven until soft. I scoop out the flesh for the best "pumpkin" pie ever! Start the seeds 4 weeks before your last average frost date.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wettest Place...

The peak pictured in the photo is a contender for the wettest place on earth,  Mount Waialale on Kaua'i, HI, where I am right now!  Over 400 inches of rain per year!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Plant Native Plants

While I am away at a botanical art workshop, I thought I would give you some food for thought, a article by the wonderful Doug Tallamy on planting native plants in your yard to create a "wildlife corridor" for native creatures.


Dr. Tallamy convinced me to keep what I thought of as "trash trees" in my yard, native wild cherries, to feed birds and insects, and to begin transforming my yard, as much as possible, to a home for wildlife.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


I have...er...had 27 amaryllis plants (amarylli?). Every summer, I put my amaryllis plants outdoors, where they soak up sunlight and grow strong.  Come early September, I put them in my garage, under boxes and drop cloths to block out light.   Amaryllis need this dormant time to rest to get ready to bloom again.  I bring them into the house two months later, begin watering them, and set them on a sunny windowsill.
Then this year, I pulled out the first two pots.  Hum, odd, no amaryllis bulbs there.  "Oh, well, maybe they rotted or dessicated."  But there were no bulbs in the next pot, and the next.  Or in 22 total pots!  Then, I came to a pot with a partly gnawed bulb, and 4 untouched survivors.  Rodents!  Rodents ate most of my amaryllis collection! I could see their distinctive teeth marks.

Next year, the amaryllis will rest elsewhere, or in wire cages.   I have 5 surviving plants, ordered 5 more (waiting for them to bloom) and a friend gave me this one:  The "Beth" amaryllis:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Seedling labels

I don't Like to buy things that I can easily make.  I save plastic cartons, ones that are not recyclable
in my area, and cut them into seedling tags.  Easy to do and free!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New beds

A couple of months ago, we had a very solid raised bed built for...milkweeds.  The Monarch butterfly has
greatly declined, as much of its habitat has been lost, and much of the loss involves the host plant, the milkweeds.  The Monarch caterpillar feeds on the milkweed, taking in the toxins, present in the plant, as part of its defensive arsenal.  We are planting common milkweed, butterfly weed and swamp milkweed.... And any other native milkweed we can find!  It is a necessary host plant to insure Monarch survival.  The raised bed is made from raw, untreated timbers, and should last 20 years.  As you can see in the photos, we lined the bed with garden cloth/hardware cloth to deter voles.
I will post photos as the milkweed emerges!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

I'm in Heaven!

I finally have a sunroom, and my plants are happily overwintering in it.  I have a space heater to keep the temp around 60.  On warm winter days, I might take a few plants outside for a spraying of insecticidal soap for aphids.  While checking on the plants, I noticed this Key lime tree, amazingly full of flower buds!

I can't wait for them to open and fill the air with fragrance!
Happy gardening, outdoors and in!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Handsome Plant Spells Trouble

You know the phenomena that, when you learn about something (in this case a plant), you begin to see it everywhere?   I first encountered Japanese knotweed near the home of a family member. She said it reliably grew every year and was attractive.  It took me awhile to identify the plant, I kept forgetting to do the research. Then, at a botanical garden, I learned that it was Japanese knotweed, an invasive import.  While on trips to Pennsylvania I saw it.  And again.  And again.  I saw hillsides of it, I saw it lining the highway.  It is all over the northeast US too. It seemed to be everywhere.  This plant can grow by the foot in a day and it crowds out native plants,  in Great Britain, mortgages have been denied until the homeowner eradicates it from the property.  Beware this plant!



From Wikipedia: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallopia_japonica :

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Spotted Lantern Fly

A new imported, exotic pest threat to gardeners, especially those who grow fruits 😔 and and a nasty one it is:


Saturday, February 21, 2015


Poor tree!

This poor tree was damaged in a bad storm, and 4 limbs needed to be removed.  Three were properly removed, but you see the one near the top of the photo, with the notch but out of the bottom?  It may be that this was the way that the storm damage occurred, but it also the kind of thing that can happen when you fail to make an undercut when you take down a limb.  If you do not make an undercut, you can even sometimes see a long, vertical strip of bark that tears off when the limb succumbs to gravity.  The notch taken out on the top cut may create an entry point for disease or pests, or the tree may seal it over and be ok.  So, if a storm does this, do the best you can.  But, if you are pruning, make an undercut to reduce the possibility of further damage!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Invasive Plants to Never Buy!

Just a quick post: a list of 16 invasive plants to NEVER buy (though they might look pretty!)


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Feed the Birds via a Leftover Christmas Tree

This is the third time I have put my Christmas tree, still in its stand, outside with suet cakes and bird seed bells on it to feed my garden friends.  The tree provides a perch and shelter and the birds can feast!

Happy Gardening!

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Confession: Raised Beds

I have a confession to make: I have never had formal, raised beds in my garden, just piling up the soil to create a mound into which I would plant.  But now, I have joined the Community of Gardeners who "work smarter, not harder" and am building raised beds.  Raised beds with sides have a lot of advantages: they drain better, warm up faster in spring and have fewer weeds.  You can make a good soil mix, adding compost each season, and it won't wash away in heavy downpour.

Here are three of the four my husband and I built (guided by my Dad).  They are not yet in their final spots, nor are they filled (which I intend to do with garden compost, and a mix of topsoil and mushroom compost).  Due to a vole problem, I am lining the bottoms of the frames with fine mesh hardware cloth/fencing, to deter the pests (we will flip the beds after I affix the cloth on each).  
For some instructions in building raised beds, go to:
Happy Gardening!