Won DeWit Garden Tools Via Fran Sorin’s #CyberBook Party!

IMG_5067I won! A few weeks ago, Fran Sorin celebrated the 10th anniversary of the publication of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots through Gardening by having a weeklong #cyberbook party. A #cyberbook party is where Fran invited eight friends who have gardening blogs. Like a party, together they described Digging Deep and that week’s special price of ninety-nine cents for the Kindle edition on their own blogs. They also hosted drawings for free gifts. By writing a comment on their sites, you entered for a chance to win one of the following: nineteen varieties of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Moo Poo Tea Variety Pack (Authentic Haven Brand Soil Conditioner), four Nature Innovations Planters, and DeWit Garden Tools Variety Pack.  According to Fran, Digging Deep was considered groundbreaking when it was originally published in 2004. It was one of the first books to use gardening as a conduit for experiencing creativity as a rich and dynamic lifetime journey. I was fortunate to win the DeWit Garden Tools — the package arrived directly from the Netherlands! Can’t wait for summer so I can use them in the garden. Thank you Fran!

Dee Nash  Red Dirt Ramblings

Helen Yoest  Gardening with Confidence

Jenny Peterson  J Peterson Garden Design

Rebecca Sweet  Harmony in the Garden

Debra Prinzing  Debra Prinzing web site

Brenda Haas  BG Garden

Jan Johnsen  Serenity in the Garden

Fran Sorin  Gardening Gone Wild and the Fran Sorin web site

Ketchup ‘n’ Fries: The Pushmi-Pullyu of the 2015 Vegetable Garden

Ketchup 'n' Fries, photo courtesy of Territorial Seed Company

Ketchup ‘n’ Fries, photo courtesy of Territorial Seed Company

When I was 10 years old, my sister and I dressed up as a pushmi-pullyu for the Halloween parade at school. We had just read The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, a fantasy adventure where Dolittle, a country physician, could speak with animals. One of the imaginary animals he encountered on his trip to Africa to save monkeys was the pushmi-pullyu, a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn. It had two heads, each one at opposite ends of its body.  My sister and I used a box as the body and connected ourselves with fabric. She looked ahead and walked forward while I looked behind and walk backwards and vice versa.

The new Ketchup ‘n’ Fries is the pushmi-pullyu of the vegetable gardening world. One side is a tomato plant, growing up, while the other is a potato plant, growing down. Although this combo was first introduced to gardeners in Great Britain last year (land of Doctor Dolittle), it is being introduced to this country for the first time in 2015, sold exclusively by Territorial Seed Company. The tomato plant is grafted onto the potato plant allowing a harvest of up to 500 red cherry tomatoes above ground and up to 4.5 pounds of white potatoes below ground, according to Territorial Seed Company. Because tomatoes and potatoes are members of the same plant family, they have the same cultural requirements of full sun and warmth. The plants are hand grafted (i.e., made to grow together physically); there is no genetic modification. Grafting is a common horticultural process, more so with fruit trees, but quickly gaining ground with veggies (grafted tomato plants have been on the market for several years). Ketchup ‘n’ Fries will be shipped in 2 ½ inch pots so it is planted outdoors after the average last frost date in early summer.

To me the real value of Ketchup ‘n’ Fries is the pushmi-pullyu factor: the “wow isn’t that cool, I want to read more” or “wow, isn’t that cool, I want to learn how to garden!” Imagine showing this oddity to school-aged children to capture their interest and to explain so many important lessons: botany (fruit versus tuber); science (plant family); health (nutritional benefits of eating vegetables); history (potato famine); chemistry (photosynthesis); math (average last frost date); and literature (Dr. Dolittle!). If my sister and I were inspired to dress up like a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn, think of the kids who could be inspired to garden by growing Ketchup ‘n’ Fries!


Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Camellia ‘Winter’s Beauty’

GreenSpringsDecember2014 054For Garden Bloggers Bloom Day I took photos of Camellia ‘Winter’s Beauty’, flowering now in mid December, in Northern Virginia. Traditionally, camellias are thought of as a southern shrub, not at all tolerant of our USDA Zone 7, Virginia winters. However, the late Dr. William L. Ackerman developed a variety of cultivars that are hardy to USDA Zone 6 while he worked at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. This particular camellia is ‘Winter’s Beauty’, part of the winter blooming Winter series of cold hardy camellias.  Although these photos were taken in mid December at Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, VA, these camellias can bloom earlier in November or later in January.  Camellias are broadleaf evergreen shrubs preferring moist, well-drained, acidic soil, and partial shade. This one can grow to about 7 to 12 feet high and 4 to 7 feet wide.GreenSpringsDecember2014 055GreenSpringsDecember2014 051

New Veggie and Flower Varieties for 2015 on National Garden Bureau Site

Butterscotch, photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

Butterscotch, photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

It is great fun to flip through seed catalogs and dream of enticing veggies and beautiful flowers for the upcoming growing season.  I usually create list after list of plants I want to grow, searching for ones I had read about in the past year or searching for qualities such as “cold hardiness,” “heat resistant,” or “attracts beneficial insects.” Because I don’t receive every catalog (there are so many), I often turn to the National Garden Bureau (NGB) website to learn of more varieties.  Founded in 1920, the NBG is an Illinois-based, non-profit organization. Its mission is to improve the quality of life and the environment through increased seeds and plants. Individual and corporate members engaged in the production and/or sale of horticultural products for home gardeners pay dues to support the NGB. The web site lists more than 70 members, retail and wholesale.

Arugula Dragon's Tongue, photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

Arugula Dragon’s Tongue, photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

Each year, the members can list their new varieties through NGB. As of this week in December 2014, there are 45 “new for 2015” vegetable varieties and 62 “new for 2015” flower varieties. For each plant there is a short description, cultural requirements, and the member organization offering the seed (although it may be wholesale in which case you would have to contact them for a retail outlet). Note that “new” means new to that company, not new to the market. For example, Arugula Dragon’s Tongue is listed as new for 2015 and is offered by Botanical Interests but it is not new to me, I have seen it in the Park Seed catalog. Butterscotch is new, it is a mini butternut winter squash developed by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The NGB also is a great way to learn about seed companies — R.H. Shumway, Totally Tomatoes, and Vermont Bean Seed were new to me so I added them plus a few more to my “seed catalogs” page/tab on my blog at http://www.pegplant.com.

Burpee's Costa Rican, a type of sweet pepper, photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

Burpee’s Costa Rican, a type of sweet pepper, photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

There are many more features on the NBG website including plants of the year. Each year they select one annual, one perennial, and one edible as plant of the year because they are popular, easy to grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile. For 2015, the plants of the year are: coleus (annual), gaillardia (perennial), and sweet peppers ( edible). Sign up to receive NBG’s e-mails and expect to hear more from them on these plants next year!

Get Your Seed Catalogs Now and Plan for Next Year!

Decemberseedcatalogs2014 001Over the Thanksgiving weekend I had the honor of being a guest on the Garden America radio show, formerly known as GardenLife. Garden America is a nationally syndicated, live talk show hosted by Sharon Asakawa, John Bagnasco, and Bryan Main. They are in San Diego but Sharon had read my blog and contacted me so we arranged for me to be called in on a Saturday morning. Sharon, John, Bryan and I talked about growing vegetables, seed catalogs, and lessons learned from my 2014 gardening season. One of the points I made was that many seed companies have produced their catalogs for the 2015 growing season and are either available now or will be in a few weeks. Most are free, full-color resources that describe common edibles and the requirements for growing them from seed. Among the catalogs, specific details such as average seed life, insect problems, and germination rates may or may not be mentioned so I suggested that people contact several companies and get a few catalogs to compare and contrast the descriptions.



Keep in mind that catalogs lists the plants in alphabetical order, but nature does not. The first lesson in edible gardening is to learn which plants prefer cool temperatures and which plants prefer warm temperatures. Re-arrange the plants in the catalogs by cool and warm (the catalog should indicate this but if not look at your other catalogs). If you had two copies of one catalog, you could cut and paste and re-arrange them. For a list of seed catalogs, check out my page/tab entitled “seed catalogs” at the top of my blog site.

spinach seedlings

spinach seedlings

The other point I made on the radio show was that many times, people new to gardening are intimidated because they think they have to dig up the sod in the backyard, build raised beds, or install an indoor lighting system. There are some plants that will grow from seed in a simple container, outside.  The containers can be used pots from plants you have already bought at the nursery or new, as long as they have drainage holes. Some herbs and veggies can be grown in pots with as little as a six-inch depth. The plants listed below will grow easily from seed started outside, using potting soil from a hardware store or nursery. They are not particular about water fluctuations nor are they heavy feeders. The cool season for us in Virginia is end of March to beginning of May, sixty degrees to low seventies. The warm season is after the average last frost, which is around Mother’s Day, low seventies to eighties.

Cool season, six-inch depth

Chives, Cilantro, Lettuce, Radishes, Scallions, and Spinach

Cool season, twelve-inch depth

Broccoli raab or rapini; Carrots, baby; Dill, Kale, Mibuna, Mizuna, Mustard, Mache, Nasturtium, Pak choi, Peas, Swiss chard, and Tatsoi



Warm season, six-inch depth

Basil, Chives, Lemon balm, Radishes, and Scallions



Warm season, twelve-inch depth

Beans, bush; Carrots, baby; Nasturtium, and Swiss chard

If some plants are listed in both cool and warm season, it is because they can tolerate both if slight adjustments are made such as cooling them down in the summer with morning sun and afternoon shade or starting new seed again throughout the gardening season. For more information on the plants, consult your seed catalog. Pick a few from this list that you are most interested in eating and order the seed packages for next year. To save on costs, find a seed buddy so you can share the seeds from each packet. You too can grow an edible garden!

You Can Grow That: Alpine Strawberries!

cucumbersbeans 037

June, white flowers nestled in leaves; alpine strawberries hanging over container

lemongrassJuly2014 058

July, ripened alpine strawberry on plant in ground

December2014 045

November, flower bud on alpine strawberry plant

December2014 053

November, new growth in center

In May I posted a short article about growing alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) from seed for the first time: Renee Shepherd’s “Heirloom Pineapple” and “Mignonette” and a package of seeds from Switzerland from a garden club member. All germinated easily under lights in spring and I transplanted the seedlings in May to several spots in the garden as well as a few large containers. Throughout the summer, the kids and I picked the small strawberries which were so cute I thought they could also be used for decorating desserts, cakes and cupcakes. I never had any problems with insects, diseases, or even birds. As of Thanksgiving week, despite nights of twenty degrees and days of thirty degrees, the alpine strawberry plants are not only doing well, they are thriving!  Although I knew they were perennials and would survive the winter, I was surprised to see new growth and even a small flower bud so late in the year. The leaves still look fine for late November — I can see why some people recommend them as border plants. You too can grow alpine strawberries; put them on your wish list for 2015! To learn more about what you can grow, read other “you can grow that” posts on the fourth of every month.Youcangrowthat

Peg’s Picks December Gardening Events in the Washington DC Metro Area

Many public gardens and historic homes are decorated for Christmas and have wreath making classes, open houses, and gift shops full of goodies. Here is just an example of “green” holiday happenings in the Washington DC metropolitan area for December.November2014 082

American Horticultural Society at River Farm

December 13 Saturday Holiday Open House from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm (mansion will be decorated for Christmas); There is a holiday tree display from December 1 through December 24, both free; 7931 E. Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22308; (703) 768-5700; http://www.ahs.org

Brookside Gardens

The Garden of Lights is cancelled for 2014 due to construction but the Conservatory Winter Display is open from 12/6 to 1/11 and the Garden Railway Exhibit is open from 11/28 to 1/11, free; 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902; (301) 962-1400; http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside/

Green Spring Gardens

Sunday, December 7, noon to 4:00 pm, Gardeners’ Holiday Open House, free but must register and pay for puppet show and trackless train ride, have a gingerbread house contest; 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312; (703) 642-5173; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/November2014 085

Hillwood Museum and Gardens

Decorated for Christmas and in December, every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, staff horticulturist Bill Johnson gives a 20-minute tour focusing on the “bones” of the winter garden; Fee and register in advance; 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20008; (202) 686-5807; http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org

Mt. Vernon Estate and Gardens

Decorated for Christmas with special activities all month long.The “Garden and Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mt. Vernon” exhibit is inside and the admission is included with the purchase of the general admission ticket;3200 Mt. Vernon Memorial highway, Mt. Vernon, VA 22121; (703) 780-2000; http://www.mountvernon.orgNovember2014 078

Oatlands Historic House and Gardens

Decorated for Christmas in 1940s style, many activities in December; Admission fee and closed on 12/24 and 12/25; 20850 Oatlands Plantation Lane, Leesburg, VA 20175; (703) 777-3174; http://www.oatlands.org

Tudor Place Historic House and Garden

The mansion is decorated for Christmas and there are many activities in December (fee). The Holidays Through History Open House is on Saturday, December 6; includes Dumbarton House, Anderson House, Woodrow Wilson House, and Tudor Place. These homes are decorated for Christmas; walk among the homes or ride a shuttle bus, free with ticket. Must register in advance, fee; 1644 31st Street, Washington, DC 20007; (202) 965-0400; http://www.tudorplace.orgNovember2014 076

U.S. Botanic Garden

Season’s Greetings Exhibit: garden railway model trains, seasonal plant displays, replicas of the capital’s landmark buildings, and one of the largest indoor decorated trees in the area. Free; 245 First Street SW, Washington DC 20024; (202) 225-8333; http://www.usbg.gov


(December is also the time for craft fairs. These photos are from the Vienna Art and Craft show sponsored by the Northern Virginia Handcrafters Guild, this Thanksgiving weekend. These orchids and the basket of fruit are clay, about two inches tall and handmade by Wanpen Yongvanichjit, Nid’s Crafts, http://nidscrafts.blogspot.com. When I was young and lived in Thailand, my mother used to buy orchids in similar crates and hang them outside on the rubber tree.)