Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Flowering Quince

Double Take Orange Storm Flowering Quince

Double Take Orange Storm Flowering Quince

For Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, try planting Double Take Orange Storm, which is a type of quince shrub marketed by Proven Winners (Chaenomeles speciosa). It is has large, orange double flowers but no fruit. I have had mine for five years and it blooms reliably in the spring, can tolerate our Virginia heat, and can take full sun or morning sun and afternoon shade. It is supposed to be deer resistant but I do not have enough deer to testify to that. The way the flowers appear before a lot of foliage and so close to the stem make it a great cut flower for oriental type flower arrangements or for forcing earlier in the spring.

Double Take Orange Storm Quince (2)

Making Composting Easy for Working Mom in Virginia Suburbs

keeping eggshells for the compost bin

keeping eggshells for the compost bin

The trick to composting is to figure out how to make it work for you so it becomes easy. If it is easy, you will compost. This past fall, we set up a Geobin in the backyard. A Geobin is a rectangular heavy piece of plastic with holes that is folded into a cylinder and placed on the ground. Overlap part of the material, insert plastic bolts to keep its cylindrical shape, and voila! you have a compost bin.  The nice thing about the Geobin is that it makes composting in the suburbs polite – the black plastic hides the ugly rotting fruit so the neighbors can’t complain.

After we set up the Geobin, we tore up empty cardboard egg cartons and paper towel rolls and threw them in the bin to create large pockets of air at the bottom for drainage. Because it was autumn, we added lots of dried leaves and as I worked in the garden, I added soil from my own garden, usually what was still attached to plants I pulled, plus any earthworms. This introduced the necessary bacteria and small organisms to the bin to start the decomposition process. Throughout the fall and winter, the bin received plenty of water from rain and snow and there were enough air pockets between the leaves and other materials for the organisms to work.

one geobin set up with stakes to keep open

Geobin set up with stakes to keep open

From then on we added fruit and vegetable scraps as well as plant debris from the garden and even free coffee grounds from Starbucks! We have three separate areas in the kitchen to collect eggs, coffee grounds, and produce. The eggshells go into a plastic-lined small box behind the coffee maker (they don’t smell).  Once a week, we pull the bag out, crush the shells, and dump into the compost bin (plastic bag goes in the trash can). We put our coffee grounds in a plastic shoe container under the kitchen sink and once a week we dump the grounds into the compost pile. Kitchen scraps–melon rinds, banana peels, strawberry leaves, vegetable peelings, and tea bags–go in an empty cereal or cracker cardboard boxes on the kitchen floor. After we dump the produce into the compost pile, we throw away the boxes in the trash (by now, soft and wet) and start again with a new box (the cereal box could go into the compost pile but it would require tearing it up into small pieces, which runs counter to my “keep it easy” theme here).

This past weekend, about six months later, I tried to unscrew the plastic knobs to undo the Geobin so we could shovel the compost out for the garden. I realized that it was so full I couldn’t get my hand in to unscrew the knobs from the inside. It was easier to lift the plastic up which resulted in a cylindrical shape of leaves and refuse. Because I did not stir often, most of the leaves and debris stayed in place (note to self, stir more often and bolt with screw on outside). With the garden fork, we broke up the condensed mass and discovered moist, dark soil (similar in texture to bagged potting soil) in the core, complete with earthworms!  As we broke the mass down to about a foot, it became easier to stir with the fork. We put the core or composted part in the garden beds and left the rest in the corner of the backyard to continue to decompose; making sure it was only a few inches high so it was not an eyesore.

composted material in the inner core after removing bin

compost in the inner core after removing Geobin

The compost added micronutrients and microorganisms including earthworms to the garden beds. Just adding an inch of compost to garden beds in the spring is beneficial for the plants. Compost also is great for breaking up clay and improving soil texture and drainage.

I can now see the need to have two or three Geobins going at the same time. When one is ready, pull it apart and put the compost on the garden beds while at the same time dumping produce into the second or third bin. My method is simple but slow; it takes months for the large pieces to break up into small pieces. To speed up the decomposition, I could make the ingredients smaller (like cutting up the leaves), turn it often to increase the aeration, or strive for the recommended carbon-nitrogen ratio of 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by volume. Although the decomposition process is a natural process, when you do it at home, you are in charge of putting the ingredients together so you have to be aware of the amount of carbon (also called “browns”) in relation to the amount of nitrogen (also called “greens”). Brown is the dead dried plant parts that are high in carbon (in my case the autumn leaves) and green is the fresh living parts like the kitchen vegetable scraps that are high in nitrogen. There should be more carbon or brown than nitrogen or green which I am always aware of but never measure. Water and air (as in air pockets among the plant materials in the bin) are essential too. We never add meat, dairy products, diseased plants, oils/grease, bones, or pet wastes.

Some counties give away composting bins free or sell them at a minimal cost. Contact the local county extension agent or the county division responsible for solid waste services, waste management, recycling, or trash management.  I received my Geobins through a county effort to increase composting, but they can be bought online at http://www.geosystemsonline.com.

Start Seed, but Don’t Forget to Dig and Divide Perennials!

volunteer butterfly bush

volunteer butterfly bush

Early spring is the time to start your cool season vegetable and herb seeds but it also a good time to make more plants from the perennials in your garden, both edible and ornamental. This week, I literally hacked a chunk out of my sweet marjoram in my garden bed and put the chunks in the plastic containers that strawberry growers use (the plastic containers you buy in the grocery store, with the lid cut off).  I added soil from the compost bin, labeled and watered the plant, and placed it on the deck to root and recuperate. I also pulled oregano and thyme and put them in similar containers. All of these plants are about 5 years old and have grown so big they would not notice if I removed parts plus they are more likely to root in early spring with cool moist temperatures.

I also chopped up the lemon balm to create new pups, dug up baby plants from my black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), tore out extra blanket flowers while they were still small (Gaillardia), and took a few stems from the ice plant (Delosperma), a succulent groundcover. I still need to pot up chunks of the chrysanthemum while the leaves are small and near the ground, as well as the bluets (Centaurea), hardy geraniums, Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida), speedwell (Veronica surcolosa), yarrow (Achillea), aster, and creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). These perennials have been in my garden for years and tend to either spread outward or become congested inward so I have plenty to share.

marjoram slices in plastic containers

marjoram slices in plastic containers

I overturned my plastic containers of chocolate peppermint, peppermint, and spearmint that overwintered on the deck, broke up the plants into chunks, and re-potted into more containers. Mints are also easy to root in water but they are invasive and should always be grown in containers.

Usually I find a volunteer—a seedling in an unexpected place.  This year I found a butterfly bush seedling (Buddleia) in January in a patch of dirt on the concrete steps. Last week I dug it up and put it in a small container. When it is bigger and older, I will either plant in an appropriate spot or give it away to a friend. I have started new butterfly bushes, wand flowers (Gaura), and flowering tobacco plants (Nicotiana) this way. Look around your garden for volunteers and plants that can be shared with friends!

 

You Can Grow That: Walking Onions

bulbil on walking onion pulling stem down

bulbil on walking onion pulling stem down

You can grow walking onions, also called Egyptian walking onions, tree onions, winter onions, and perennial onions.  Unlike an ordinary onion plant, Allium proliferum will produce little bulbs at the top of the plant in the summer. The weight of these marble-sized bulbils will pull the stem down, enabling the bulbils to root and produce a new plant. Although walking onions seem to walk by producing new plants a few inches away, they are not invasive.

Walking onions are very hardy, perennial plants in our Virginia area. They are also “passalongs,” easy to give away to friends. I received mine from a fellow member of the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America. I was interviewing her at her Falls Church home for the Potomac Unit newsletter because she had been a member for over 25 years and had quite a lot of herbal experience. After we talked in her living room, we walked around her herb garden and she snapped off a few bulbils from an enormous tub of walking onion plants. She said when her kids were young, they used to grow them along the fence and weave the stems in and out of the holes. The tub of plants came from her original set about 30 years ago! That was five years ago and so far, my plants have thrived enough that I can now pass along plants to friends as well.

walking onion stems in March

walking onion stems in March

Walking onions prefer full sun, organic matter, and well-drained soil. They grow to 2 to 3 feet tall with hollow green stems. All parts are edible. If you cut the stems for cooking or salads, cut only a few stems at a time and don’t cut the ones that have bulbils. Stems can be eaten fresh in salad or cooked. You can cut the bulbils when they form in the summer and use them for cooking or pickling. In the fall, the entire plant can be dug up to harvest the underground bulbs. Simply divide and used some of the bulbs like you would with regular onions in the kitchen and re-plant the rest.

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Gardeners usually post articles on their blog on the fourth day of the month (fourth day, four words: #1: You; #2: Can; #3: Grow; #4: That).

Youcangrowthat

 

 

 

Peg’s Picks: April Garden Events in the Washington DC Metro Area

In addition to these April gardening events, the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week will take place from April 18 to 25 across the Commonwealth. For more information, read my article posted March 29.

Saturday April 4, 11:00 and Sunday April 5 1:00 Garden Talk: Your Edible Garden, Behnkes Nursery; free but must register; 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD; (301) 937-1100; http://www.behnkes.com

Friday, April 10, noon to 1:00 pm, Helen Yoest speaking on Plants with Benefits, U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory, 245 First Street SW, Washington DC 20024; (202) 225-833. free but must register. http://www.usbg.gov

Friday, April 10, Garden Talk: Edibles & Ornamentals, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. fee and must register. Also Saturday, April 11, 9 am to 1 pm, Grand Opening of the Garden Gate Plant Shop, Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria 22312 (703) 642-5173 http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Friday through Sunday, April 10-12, Colonial Williamsburg’s 69th Garden Symposium; (757) 565-8937, fee and must register; http://www.history.org/conted april 10-12

Saturday, April 11, 9-noon, Saturday in the Garden: Companion Planting, taught by VCE Prince William Master Gardeners Teaching Garden at Benedictine Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136, free but must register (703) 792-7747; e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org. http://www.mgpw.org

Friday, April 10, 10 to noon open to AHS members and open to the public noon to 6:00 pm, Saturday, April 11, 10 to 6 pm open to the public, American Horticultural Society’s Spring Garden Market, 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22308; (703) 768-5700; http://www.ahs.org, free but $5 parking if not an AHS member

Saturday, April 11, 10 to noon, Tomato Grafting Demonstration, $15 or $12 if FONA (Friends of the National Arboretum) member, Register at FONA site; class at the National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002; e-mail lrietkerk@fona.org or call (202) 544-8733 for more information. http://www.fona.org and http://www.usna.usda.gov

Wednesday, April 15, 7:30 to 9:00 pm, Mighty Microgreens by Wendy Kiang-Spray, Takoma Horticulture Club, 7328 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, MD; free and open to the public http://www.takomahort.org

Saturday, April 18, 10 to 6 and Sunday, April19, 10 to 5, 25th Annual Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival in Historic Downtown Leesburg, VA; (703) 777-1368; $3.00 suggested donation http://www.flowerandgarden.org

Saturday, April 18, Montgomery County Master Gardeners’ Grow It Eat It Open House 9:00 to 1:30, Agriculture History Farm Park, 18410 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD 20855; free, mc.growit@gmail.com and http://www.extension.umd.edu/growit

VCE Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia host a series of classes, free but must register (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com; http://www.mgnv.org

  • Saturday, 4/18, Square Foot Gardening, 11-12:30 Burke Branch Library, 4701 Seminary Road, Alexandria
  • Monday, 4/20, 7-8:30 pm, Ornamental Edibles in Landscapes, Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford Street, Arlington
  • Sunday, 4/26, 1-3 pm, Bees and Butterflies for Every Garden: How to Attract Pollinators to Your Home Garden, Simpson Park Gardens, E. Monroe Avenue at Simpson Park, Alexandria
  • Monday, 4/27, 7-8:30 pm, Plan, Plant and Use Herbs, Burke Branch Library
  • Monday, 4/27, 7-8:30 pm, Design Considerations for Sustainable Gardens, Fairlington Community Center

Friday, April 24, 10-1 FONA members only and 1-4 pm, open to the public. Saturday, April 25, 9-4 pm, open to the public. Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) Garden Fair and Plant Sale, National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE Washington DC 20002. http://www.fona.org and http://www.usna.usda.gov

Saturday April 25, Northern Alexandria Native Plant sale, 1701 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302; 571-232-0375; http://www.northernalexandrianativeplantsale.org

Saturday, April 25, 9-6; Sunday, April 26, 8-4 Herb and Plant Sale with garden tours on Saturday at 11 am and noon, Franciscan Monastery, 1400 Quincy Street, NE, Washington, DC 20017; free. http://www.fmgg.org.

Wednesdays in the Garden, led by Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) volunteers and VCE Master Gardeners, these gardening sessions are Wednesdays,7:00 to 8:00 pm at the Arlington Central Library, 1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington VA; (703) 228-5990, free. http://www.library.arlingtonva.us/events/garden-talks

  • 4/1: Superfoods for Health: Learn to Grow and Cook Them
  • 4/8: Spring into Gardening: Transplanting, Direct Planting, and Readiness
  • 4/15: Edible Landscaping and Fruit in the Garden
  • 4/22: Container Gardens for Edibles
  • 4/29: Water, Irrigation and Rain Barrels

Merrifield Garden Center, free lectures on weekends at Fair Oaks (FO), Gainesville (G), and Merrifield (M). http://www.merrifieldgardencenter.com

  • Saturday, April 4, 10 am FO: Amazing Container Gardens and G: Maintaining a Healthy Lawn
  • Sunday, April 5, 1 pm G: Miniature Gardens
  • Saturday, April 11, 10am G: Spring Blooming Trees & Shrubs
  • Sunday, April 12, 1 pm G: The Big World of Conifers
  • Saturday, April 18, 10 am G: Getting started with Vegetables
  • Sunday, April 19, 1 pm G: Great Annuals for your Garden
  • Saturday, April 25 1:30 pm G: Exciting perennials
  • Sunday, April 26, 1 pm G: Container Gardens with Pizzazz

Tour Homes and Gardens During the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week

Oatlands in Leesburg, photo courtesy of GCV

Oatlands in Leesburg, photo courtesy of GCV

Sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV), Historic Garden Week (HGW) is an opportunity for the public to tour almost 250 private homes and gardens and historical sites in Virginia. “Historic Garden Week has raised millions of dollars for the restoration of public gardens across Virginia,” noted HGW Chairman Alice Martin. “Tour proceeds are used to enhance Virginia’s landscape.” For 82 years, the grounds of Virginia’s most cherished historic landmarks including Mount Vernon, Monticello, and the Executive Mansion in Richmond have been restored or preserved using proceeds from this statewide house and garden tour. The beginning of HGW dates to 1927 when a flower show organized by the GCV raise $7,000 to save trees planted by Thomas Jefferson on the lawn at Monticello. A non-profit organization, the GCV is comprised of 47 member clubs and 3,400 volunteers. Proceeds from the annual HGW fund the restoration and preservation of Virginia’s historical gardens and provide graduate level research fellowships for building comprehensive and ongoing records of historic gardens and landscapes in the Commonwealth.

Old Town Alexandria, photo courtesy of GCV

Old Town Alexandria, photo courtesy of GCV

This year there will be 31 tours hosted by volunteers at local GCV member clubs. The GCV has member clubs in 6 regions: Northern Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Coastal Virginia, Capitol Region, Shenandoah Valley/Central Virginia, and Southern Virginia.  For example, in the Northern Virginia Region, there will be tours in Old Town Alexandria, Leesburg, Clifton-Fairfax Station, Warrenton, Front Royal-Warren County, and Winchester on various days between April 18 and 25.  “It’s the largest ongoing volunteer effort in the state,” said Karen Miller, HGW Director and Editor of the Guidebook. “In addition to the amazing interiors and gardens on display, the GCV volunteers will create over 2,000 spectacular floral arrangements to decorate rooms open to the public. Most of the flowers will come from their very own gardens.”

Front Royal--Warren County, photo courtesy of GCV

Front Royal–Warren County, photo courtesy of GCV

The schedule is available online at http://www.vagardenweek.org and tickets can be purchased on the day of the tour at numerous locations or in advance. Tours are held rain or shine. Properties can be visited in any order. Also available is the Guidebook, a 240-page, beautifully illustrated publication produced to support the event. The Guidebook can be downloaded, purchased online, or picked up free at designated public places. The Guidebook has descriptions of the tour sites, directions, refreshments, special activities in the area, and other places of interest which usually include historical sites that can be toured at other times of the year (for future reference). The Guidebook is a snapshot of the touring area; it lists names of the sponsoring Garden Club member organizations; area information such as Chamber of Commerce & historical societies; and advertisements from local businesses such as garden centers, antique stores, and restaurants.

For more information, e-mail at historicgardenweek@gmail.com or call (804) 644-7776. The website is http://www.vagardenweek.org. GCV has done an excellent job of providing information and photos on their web site plus they are present on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.

Saying Hi to Old Friends, a Mid-March Walk Around the Garden

I love to walk around the garden in March to see what is coming back but at the same time, I love to start new plants from seeds indoors. This week, mid March, the bright green foliage of parsley has emerged. A biennial, I harvested leaves from this parsley last year; I tend to use parsley quite a bit for meals. This year, the same plant has come back to flower and set seed. I hope to start a parsley patch that will self sow, creating more than enough for the kitchen.

parsley

parsley

The new growth on the tansy is pretty but the old growth is messy, which I will need to trim when it gets a little warmer. Last year, I used the tansy for flower arrangements. This year, I will see if there are more uses for tansy. I always try new herbs each year and a few weeks ago I started two types of fennel by seed in the house. They germinated so fast I had to pot them up and bring them outside for more light. You can’t really tell the difference now but the leafy fennel is on the left and the bulbing fennel is on the right. I have several more pots, I may have to give some away!

tansy

tansy

shallots

shallots

The slender shallots braved the snow; they were this size this last fall when I transplanted the seedlings to this bed. As the weather warms up the shallots will continue to grow and make little bulbs for cooking. Their cousin, the chesnok red hardneck garlic, was planted last fall to be harvested this summer. Their perennial cousin, the walking onion or Egyptian onion, has been thriving in the garden for years now and feel quite at home among a tulip and a hyacinth.

leaf fennel on left and bulb fennel on right

leaf fennel on left and bulb fennel on right