Philadelphia Flower Show in Five Weeks!!

2015FSposterNow is the time to book your trip and buy your tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show, the nation’s largest and longest running flower show in North America. This year, the theme is “Celebrate the Movies.” From Saturday, February 28, through Sunday, March 8, the Flower Show will “Celebrate the Movies” with the world’s great floral and garden designers taking inspiration from the world’s great cinema. All proceeds from the Flower Show will support the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and its acclaimed urban greening programs including City Harvest.

The Flower Show is held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch Street, but you don’t have to drive there by yourself. In the Washington DC metropolitan area, there are several coach bus trips that make it easy to access the show. Coach bus companies offer trips, and many nurseries, garden clubs, Master Gardener groups, public gardens, and park systems offer day trips to the Convention Center. Green Spring Gardens, Brookside Gardens, and Greenstreet Gardens offer bus trips, contact them directly for more information. The Washington Gardener magazine offers two trips on different days: one from Behnkes Nursery in Maryland and one from Silver Spring. Check out the various venues for date/time of departure, meeting locations, and prices which could include admission ticket, food, or entertainment. This is a walk-till-you-drop event: wear tennis shoes and bring your camera!

Philadelphia Flower Show

Green Spring Gardens

Brookside Gardens

Greenstreet Gardens

Washington Gardener magazine

Please Vote for Pegplant!

GBC-15-HOF-bannerMy blog has been nominated for a “Best New Blog” award at the upcoming Garden Bloggers Conference. Please vote for; deadline is February 6, 2015. The Garden Bloggers Conference, in case you want to go, is being held at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead, Atlanta, GA, on February 25-27. Sounds like a great place to learn more about blogging and to meet fellow bloggers. Thanks for voting!

GMO or GE Seeds? What’s the Difference?

GMOI love seed catalogs. Reading them is an easy, simple way to learn about growing plants and new plants. I grow many of my edibles from seed; it’s fun, economical, and rewarding. But I am not willing to pay extra for the “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” claim I see on almost every catalog now. Even more importantly, seed catalogs should make it clear that they are offering non-GE seed, which isn’t even available to the home gardeners anyway so they are not really “offering” any more than the next seed catalog.

GMO stands for “Genetically Modified Organism.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a GMO is “an organism produced through genetic modification.” Genetically modified organisms can occur naturally or can be created by people through traditional breeding methods. For example, some plants will produce variegated leaves on their own, a desirable characteristic. Or some people will breed a plant in their backyard for a particular trait. The Mortgage Lifter tomato, an heirloom, was created when a person choose plants that had large tomatoes and bred them together to make even larger tomatoes.  The resulting plant was so good, he was able to sell the seedlings and pay off his mortgage. Many of the “new” plants for the year are bred by companies for particular characteristics, for example, most of the new flowering annuals are bred for particular flower colors.  The newest petunia flower color was created by modifying genetics from parent petunias to create a hybrid that produced a particular new shade of pink.

GE stands for “Genetically Engineered,” i.e., an organism that was produced through genetic engineering. According to the USDA, genetic engineering is the “manipulation of an organism’s genes by introducing, eliminating, or re-arranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA.” New plants are produced by combining the DNA of a plant with something else that is not related and/or is not sexually compatible. These combinations would not normally occur in nature. For example, corn seed modified with a soil bacterium to protect the corn from corn borers or soybean that is herbicide resistant. These are human creations that can only occur by scientists, in labs, with special equipment. In our country, this is done with agricultural crops, not the seed or plants that home gardeners use.

Technically, the USDA definition of GMO is broad enough to include GE. What many people object to are GE crops; they are concerned about safety and long term effects. There are no safety concerns with genetically modified organisms so it is unfortunate that many seed catalogs use the term GMO when they mean to say GE. Seed catalogs should be clear:  they are not selling GE seeds; they are selling GMO seeds if they are selling hybrids, including open pollinated hybrids. In many of my catalogs, on one page it says “GMO free” and “we never sell genetically modified seed” yet on the subsequent pages it says “a decade in the breeding,” or “hybrid”, or “the result of a lifetime of fine breeding.” Breeding means you are working with genetics to create a desirable trait so you have genetically modified the organism but this does not mean you have created something dangerous and unsafe. It means they used traditional, horticultural practices, not recombinant DNA of a plant and a non plant.

Another point: grafted plants, such as grafted tomatoes and grafted apple trees are not GMO or GE. They are the union, a physical union, between two plants. It is a simple process of placing a wounded or the open wounds of two plant parts together and letting the tissues heal so that the cells fuse together. This is a very old horticultural practice that is done manually. A grafted plant takes advantage of what the root stock, the ground part, has to offer (maybe resistance to nematodes) and what the top or scion has to offer (delicious fruit). Even the new Ketchup ‘n’ Fries, a grafted union of a tomato and a potato plant, is not a GMO or a GE. But more on grafted vegetables in a future article, stay tuned!

The following graphic was created by The Chas. C. Hart Seed Co.,

GE Free Semantics


Native Tree and Shrub Seedling Sale for Virginia Residents



The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD) has an annual native tree and shrub seedling sale, making low-cost native shrub and tree seedlings available to Northern Virginia residents. Seedling packages go on sale each year in January and are available for pickup in early May. Trees and shrubs help cleanse water, prevent soil erosion, provide habitat, cool our climate and clean our air. This year’s seedling sale features shrubs and trees from the Plant NOVA Natives guide and campaign, a regional effort to promote native plants. For more information and to download a copy of the guide, see For more information on the NVSWCD shrub and tree seedling sale, including photos and descriptions of the plants, see

The 2015 Shrub and Small Tree Package features 10 seedlings for $16.95. The Tree Package includes 6 seedlings sold for $11.95. A full, nonrefundable payment must accompany your order by Monday, April 22, or until supplies run out. You will receive a confirmation receipt and a map to the pickup site (in central Fairfax County). Orders may be picked up on Friday, May 1, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., or Saturday, May 2, 9:00 a.m.-noon.  NVSWCD will start to accept orders for the seedling sale starting mid-January 2015.

Shrub and small tree package includes two seedlings from each of the following plants (photos are my own):

River Birch

River Birch

  • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
  • Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum)
  • Eastern red bud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Red chokeberry (Photinia pyrifolia)
  • Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Tree package includes two seedlings from each of the following plants:

  • River birch (Betula nigra)
  • Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
  • Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)

Dozen Items to Consider Before Gardening at Your New Home

English ivy

Invasive English Ivy

Recently, a friend of mine and his wife purchased their first home in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Although he is not a gardener, his wife enjoys cooking and could not wait to have a home so she could have the space for a culinary garden. Because it is winter, my housewarming gift was a promise to deliver a dozen herbs and vegetables next year when the weather warms up. I like to grow them from seed and always have enough to share. The other part of my housewarming gift was this: a dozen items to consider before digging up the lawn and installing garden beds.

Sunlight: Throughout the year, watch the sun move across the sky; know what parts of the garden are in full sun, or receive morning sun and afternoon shade, or receive winter sun under a deciduous tree.

Drainage: Watch the way the water runs (or not) on your property when it rains. Find the outside spigots and the main water shut off valve. Get a hose that is long enough to reach the garden beds and get a sprinkler, a watering wand, and watering can. In the winter, look at how fast the snow melts, possible salt damage patterns, and if the neighborhood kids sled in your backyard.

Existing Plants: Identify the plants/shrubs/trees that currently exist on the property and learn if they are annuals, perennials, conifers, or deciduous shrubs and trees. Likewise, know the difference between a weed and a great perennial that is coming up in the spring. Know whether you have invasive English ivy or poison ivy.

“Know whether you have invasive English ivy or poison ivy.”

Wind Patterns: Find out if you have shelter from winds or how storms may affect your property. Look for dry air from the dryer vent and increased air circulation from the AC unit.

Soil: Get a soil test of the area where you intend to plant by contacting the local extension office for bags and laboratories. Typically, soil in this area has a high level of clay and soil around a house may be compacted. For more information, check out the “Soil Tests” tab/page at

Family Needs: Determine the style & color of the house and the style of garden you want. List needs such as a place to entertain adults, a place for kids to play, and/or a vegetable garden. Watch the foot traffic that your family favors. Sometimes the developer does not do this justice and you need to re-align the paths and sidewalk. Also, look for ways to soften the lines, it is best to create curves and soften the developer’s harsh angles.

Resources: Visit the public gardens and nurseries during the four seasons. Find out the best prices and sources for plants, mulch, tools, etc. Find out if there is a local gardening club to join, check out the local gardening books from the library, read the gardening columnist in the newspaper, and/or subscribe to the local gardening magazine. Identify the local extension agent and, if interested, find out about the Master Gardener program. All of this can be found at under the tabs/pages.

“Visit the public gardens and nurseries during the four seasons.”

Existing Animals: Watch your property at different times of the day to see if there are deer, foxes, rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. Deer and rabbits present challenges for gardeners but sometimes dogs and cats are helpful in scaring away the deer and rabbits. Determine if existing fencing is yours or neighbors and if tall enough to keep out animals such as deer. If fencing is needed, contact the local extension agent for suggestions on recommended heights.

Lawn: Identify the type of grass you have, some are dormant in the winter. Find out if the previous owners used a service and what type of chemicals/fertilizer they applied to the grass. Decide if you will be cutting the grass or hiring a service because if it is a service, the staff may not be able to distinguish a weed from a great perennial plant. Determine how much lawn you want to keep and how much to dig up and create beds for gardens/vegetables. Determine if there are exposed tree roots to trip up little kids or slopes that can be filled to level out the land.

Records: Keep records of what you buy and where you buy it so you know where you can get the best deals. Take photos throughout the year. Know your homeowner association rules. If you plant, keep records of what you plant; if you fertilize, keep records of what you fertilized, with what type of fertilizer and when. Measure the property, create a map, make copies and overlay water flow, sunlight, plants, etc.

“From now you, you will be watching the weather!”

Tools: Make an inventory of tools that either came with the house or that will have to be purchased, including the tool shed to house them. Determine if the hose is long enough to water the plants, if there is a trowel, shovel, sprinkler, etc. Sometimes it is best to spend the first year searching for the best deal on tools, accessories, and containers while getting to know the layout of your yard before planting in the ground.

Weather: Learn your USDA Plant Hardiness zone, which would be zone 6 or 7 in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Learn last and first average frost dates, which are usually Mother’s Day and Halloween. Download a weather app on your phone or buy an outside thermometer. From now you, you will be watching the weather!

Snowdrops – You Can Grow That!

snowdrops (2)Snowdrops, small, winter/spring blooming bulbs, are easy to grow. After planting the bulbs in the fall, in masses or drifts for the best effect, you will be rewarded with small, white bells in the midst of winter. Here in Virginia, snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) bloom in January and February, sometimes in snow, sometimes in a carpet of brown leaves under trees (Galanthus means “milk white flowers” and nivalis means “snow”). Hardy to USDA Zone 3-7, they prefer cool weather and are not fazed by deer although squirrels may take it upon themselves to relocate a few bulbs. By late spring, the green, straplike leaves die back and the bulb are dormant during the summer.

Snowdrops seem so simple, so humble, more like servants to queen daffodils and stately tulips. But in Great Britain, they enjoy a cult status. Fashionable as early as the Victorian era, snowdrops have been bred extensively, currently yielding about 1500 cultivars abroad. The differences may be obvious to slight, only galanthophiles would be able to appreciate the distinction. Here in this country, most nurseries do not offer a wide variety. If you are a galanthophile, you probably already know that one of the few American resources for snowdrop cultivars is Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, Carolyn Walker’s nursery in Pennsylvania.

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners to encourage others to grow plants and garden by posting about plants on the fourth of the month. Read about other articles at

PBS Show: The Queen’s Garden, January 11

I am a serious Downton Abbey fan; love the era and anything related to England. I can’t wait for Season V to start this Sunday, January 4, on PBS. But I am equally interested in another PBS show premiering after the second episode of Downton Abbey. The Queen’s Garden will be on PBS on Sunday, January 11, 10:00 EST. Below is a short description and link from the PBS web site. To all of you gardeners, this promises to be as great as Downton Abbey!!

Using cutting-edge natural history film-making methods, this film explores and captures the garden from every angle to offer viewers a rare, rich and intimate insight into a 39 acre oasis in the center of London (equivalent to 30 American football fields). The techniques used include aerial photography, time-lapse, thermal imaging and remotely-operated motion-sensitive cameras positioned around the garden that will capture animal activity when no one is around.

We will witness the striking transformation as each season brings different sights, sounds, smells and visitors to the garden. Surprises, delights, and unusual and unexpected discoveries abound as wildlife and plantlife are filmed in all their forms, both commonplace and rare, both by day and by night. And we will discover how the garden is used inside the Palace: from the mulberries that are used by the royal kitchens to cook dishes for the Queen to the foliage collected from the garden to decorate the Palace at Christmas.

And the expertise, organization, craft and graft required to meet the challenge of maintaining a garden fit for a Queen is shown as senior garden staff share their approach and unique trade secrets — such as the use of the invaluable ‘arisings’ (Buckingham Palace argot for fertilizer from the Royal stables).

Over the year spent at the garden, The Queen’s Garden yields stories and spectacles rarely heard or seen beyond its secure walls. Royal historian Dr. Lucy Worsley describes the garden’s origins as part of a much bigger hunting ground for Henry VIII and its evolution to its present day dimensions via its role as a playground for the Queen and Princess Margaret during their childhood. And the Royal Family’s attachment to the garden is brought to life with rare archival footage.

From its wildest corners, where it functions as one of the most important havens for wildlife in London to its role as the sumptuous venue for an 8,000 strong Royal Garden Party, The Queen’s Garden will offer viewers privileged access and a unique perspective into a special place.