Happy Halloween!

Yesterday I received the electronic newsletter from Hudson Valley Seed Library in New York with an image of several snapdragon seed pods as their “Happy Halloween” message. When dried, the seed pods resemble skulls, a perfect Halloween image. Naturally, I then cut my snapdragon stalks in my garden and brought them into the kitchen to see if I too had skulls. Sure enough, the dried seed pods look just like skulls with their hollowed out eyes and mouths.

snapdragon seed pods

How is this useful you ask? Halloween potpourri! Just imagine the orange of dried calendula petals, the black of large seeds or beans, and several dried skulls in a glass pumpkin. Or put the mixture in a small basket and glue more skulls to the basket’s handle with a hot glue gun.

closeup of snapdragon seed pods

Happy Halloween!!

Peg’s Picks November Gardening Events Washington DC Area

As the gardening season ends, look to botanical or public gardens for classes and workshops. These organizations have other events as well; I just picked a few “edibles.”

Saturday, November 1, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm, Inviting Native Pollinators, Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA; (703) 642-5173; Fee required; must register; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Saturday, November 8, 1:00 – 4:00 pm, Homeowner Rain Garden Workshop, Green Spring Gardens; Fee required; must register; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Saturday, November 8, 1:30 – 2:30 pm, Fun with Winter Containers, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, VA 22182; (703) 255-3631, Free with paid admission to garden, http://www.nvrpa.org/park/meadowlark_botanical_gardens

Saturday, November 8, 10:30 to noon, Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter, Fairlington Community Center and Park, 3308 South Stafford Street, Arlington, VA; (703) 228-6414; presented by Northern Virginia Master Gardeners, Free but must register, http://www.mgnv.org

Wednesday, November 12, noon to 1:30, Cooking demonstration: Winter Greens (Brookside has a series of cooking demonstrations; I thought this would be helpful because gardeners often don’t know what to do with their winter greens once they have grown them), Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902; (301) 962-1400; Fee required and must register, http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside

persimmon tree in neighbor's yard  Virginia

persimmon tree in neighbor’s yard

 

Glowee: Glow-in-the-Dark Houseplant

When my kids were young, we caught fireflies in the summer. As the sun descended, the lawn glittered and we madly rushed about capturing as many as we could by hand. I truly believe that gardening organically led to our bounty of fireflies; I never applied any chemicals to the lawn. When the sunlight diminished our plastic containers were so full they were blinking. The kids put the containers on their nightstands to serve as nightlights but after they fell asleep, I retrieved the containers and released the fireflies back into the yard. The memories of these magical “firefly” nightlights has my kids, now teenagers, excited about trying Glowee, “Glow-in-the-Dark Plant That Light the Night.” The first glow-in-the-dark houseplant, Glowee is a snake plant (Sansevieria) whose long, green leaves glow after being exposed to light.

The Glowee snake plants are grown in 4-inch wide pots by Costa Farms, a Florida-based, wholesale producer of indoor and outdoor tropical plants, houseplants, bedding plants, annuals, and perennials. Glowee will be available for sale at Home Depot stores in Florida in October and at Home Depot stores across the country by the end of November. Currently, they are available in Canada at WalMart.

Although they make perfect kid gifts, (what a great Christmas present!) adults will find them useful in many ways. They are perfect for:

  • Reminding people what time it is. For coworkers or bosses who work too much, they will see the glow as the sun sets, reminding them to knock it off and go home.
  • Serving as outdoor landscape light fixtures. Simply pot them up in large containers along the walkway to the front door during the warm months; the rain won’t wash off the “glow.”
  • Illuminating your summer parties. Place a few on the deck, on your patio table, or in the windows to add a romantic glow during your party after the sun sets.
  • Serving as a “get well” gift that offers more. Imagine giving these as get well gifts to people who are in the hospital, home bound, or bed bound. The glow would put a smile on their face!
  • Holiday gift giving time. Give one for Valentine’s Day with a small, heart-shaped, mylar balloon attached and a card that reads “you really make me glow.”
  • Decorating for Halloween. Although Glowee will be introduced after Halloween, they will be available for Halloween next year. Put these glow in the dark houseplants in haunted houses or use as centerpieces for Halloween parties!

When I asked how they glowed, Justin Hancock, Consumer Marketing and Digital Specialist, Costa Farms, explained that it is propriety information but he assured me that the plants are not toxic and are not genetically modified. The Glowee plants will glow with different intensity and for varying amounts of time based on the brightness, duration, and type of light to which they are exposed. He said the more or longer the light exposure, the better and longer the glow. Justin explained that his own Glowee plant at home is in a west-facing window, gets direct sun, and glows for 3 to 4 hours after the sun sets. There is a stronger, longer lasting glow with direct sunlight while fluorescent lights work better than incandescent lights in rooms without windows. The leaves of Glowee should retain the glowing capability for years. New growth will not have this capability; however, this particular species is so slow growing there will be very little new growth. Snake plants in general are popular, low maintenance houseplants.

photo of Glowee courtesy of Costa Farms, left image in daylight, right image in dark to illustrate glow

Glowee photo courtesy of Costa Farms. Left image in daylight; right image at night.

 

Cool Season Edibles: Expand Your Horizons by Planting Seeds

mustard

mustard

Last year at this time, I was furloughed due to the government shutdown. On a happy note, I had plenty of time to work in the garden and visited several well-known garden centers in Northern Virginia and one in Maryland to peruse their selection of cool season edibles. I was surprised to see a very narrow selection: plastic packs of broccoli, kale, and lettuce; one type of an onion; one type of soft neck garlic; and in one place, one plastic bag of hard neck garlic. To their credit there were raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry bushes in large plastic containers, usually at a reduced price. But even that selection was not representative; there are many other fruit bushes and brambles that do well in this area.

Many people are interested in eating healthy and growing their own food so I find it perplexing that garden centers don’t capitalize on this in the fall like they do in the spring and summer. Growing vegetables is the same, it’s just different vegetables. Several of my spring plants like spinach are grown again in the fall. In fact, I often use the same package of seeds. But then, most of my plants are started from seed. If you want to learn more about what is really possible, if you want to expand your choices of edibles, try growing your plants from seeds. Find companies that sell seed, ask for catalogs, and order a few seed packages of cool season edibles.

While you may see a few broccoli and kale transplants in the garden centers, you will find many types of broccoli and kale not to mention brussel sprouts, red and green lettuces, spinach, mustards (like a lettuce but peppery), mache, chard, endive, arugula, turnips, broccoli raab, cilantro, and dill from companies such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Seed Savers Exchange, and Territorial Seed Company. If you look at their web site or their catalogs, you will find that within each of these types of plants, there are many varieties, some more cold tolerant than others.

mache

mache

Don’t forget the “Asian” or “oriental” greens which tolerate light frosts here in my Zone 7 garden. Some of these are sold by the aforementioned companies while Kitazawa Seed Company sells 20 varieties of Chinese cabbage, 20 varieties of mustard, over a dozen varieties of pak choi, and different varieties of tatsoi, mizuna, and edible chrysanthemum greens.

pak choi

pak choi

mizuna

mizuna

Although these are not harvested and eaten in the fall, I would be remiss if I did not mention the wide variety that exists in the Allium family. Like I said, I only found one onion, one soft neck, and one hard neck garlic in the garden centers. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has about 7 of each type of garlic, plus elephant, Asiatic, and turban garlic. They offer Egyptian walking onions, white multiplier onions, yellow potato onions, and shallots. Small bulbs like these are easy to plant:  dig, drop, and cover! Seed Savers Exchange and Territorial Seed Company sell many different types of garlic and shallots and Territorial Seed Company also offers multiplier and walking onions.

These are only a few of the companies that sell these types of seeds and bulbs, and this based on 2014 catalogs I have at home now. I have no doubt that other companies sell cool season edibles; this was just to provide a snapshot of what is possible to grow in the fall in the Mid-Atlantic area. Don’t assume that what you see in your garden center is all there is to grow. The world is full of possibilities!!

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Zinnia linearis

Septemberingarden2014 078Yellow and white zinnias are blooming for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, October 15. This particular type, Zinnia linearis, produces many daisy shaped flowers about an inch wide on a foot tall, bushy plant. I grew these from one-year-old seed – I just scattered the seed into the bed in the summer and have been rewarded with flowers ever since in my Zone 7 Virginia garden. Zinnias are annuals that attract the garden friendlies such as butterflies and can be cut for flower arrangements. Best of all, Zinnia linearis is not prone to powdery mildew (which is rampant on my more well-known Zinnia elegans). Sometimes, you will find this species sold as Zinnia angustifolia or narrow leaved zinnia. Try this type of zinnia for abundant flowers and no leaf diseases!

October In My Garden – A Weekly Report

Japanese anemones

Japanese anemones

October is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities. In anticipation of frost, I threw away the eggplants (they don’t fruit anymore) and the remaining cucumber plants, but left the peppers and Swiss chard in the ground.

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roselle

My zinnias and Japanese anemones are still blooming, the yellow mums are happy with the purple asters (a great color combination), and (finally!) the roselle is blooming (see my September 13 post).

mums & asters

mums & asters

Plants are starting to change color, my favorite hydrangea, oak leaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), has a few red leaves. The panicles of tan and bone flowers are fragile dry but still very pretty (makes great cut flowers for vases that cannot hold water). However, my Annabelles (Hydrangea arborescens) have turned on me; their round flower heads are so black I cut them off and threw them away. The stems will get it in March next year to keep their shape.

oakleaf hydrangea

oakleaf hydrangea

Fall is a great time to get rid of the plants that are just getting out of hand. A few years ago I would have praised balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) as a great kid plant. Just before the petals open, the purple flowers inflate and my kids would pop them like bubble wrap.  A perennial, balloon flower emerges every year and grows to about 2-3 feet tall with arching stems.  In the fall, the leaves turn gold and the large seed pods disperse across the garden. Now, years later, I guess my garden has reached the point of significant mass of seeds, I can see small balloon flower plants all across the front garden, taking up space and creating havoc.  I ruthlessly cut the original plants back to prevent any more seeding and pulled out all the small, baby plants I could find. If you see a plant getting too aggressive, don’t be afraid to cut it back or pull it out.

balloon flower

balloon flower

Fall is also a great time for bean stew and I throw whatever greens I have into the crockpot. This time, I added Swiss chard (leaving a few leaves on the plants so the plants can still photosynthesis and grow) plus dried rosemary and thyme. For another dinner, I harvested the spinach, a cool weather green, and the red peppers to cook with chicken in a skillet.

Fall also is the time to lift and divide perennials. The previous owner had planted purple flowering, bearded irises and when we first moved here, I had divided them to the point that I had enough to fill the two front beds. Every April, a mass of purple would color the house for a few weeks but then for the rest of the summer, the green leaves would just sit there. Sure, they provided a green background for the front garden but now that I want more space for edibles, I decided to re-design the two beds. I cut the iris foliage back to 6 inches, pulled the rhizomes out, cut off the old & diseased parts, and gave the rhizomes to staff at the kids’ school, friends, and coworkers. I re-planted a few irises and I will lift and divide the yarrow (Achillea), red hot poker (Kniphofia), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) from other beds to add color. In the spring, I will plant herbs and vegetables. Because the beds look a little empty now, the kids and I went to Grist Mill Park in Alexandria, Virginia, to fill bags with wood mulch to cover the beds. In Fairfax County, you can help yourself to free wood mulch year round at certain parks.  Later, as the county picks up the autumn leaves, you can get free leaf mulch, which is good for increasing organic matter. Since we don’t have a truck, we double bagged the Fiskars Kangaroo garden bag with 45 gallon plastic bags (get them at the hardware store). Wood mulch is heavy, we could only fill the bags half full but the leaf mulch should be much lighter, which we will get in November. November is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities . . .Septemberingarden2014 091

Dwarf Iris: You Can Grow That!

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Harmony

Grow dwarf irises for early spring color! These irises are only 4-5 inches tall and bloom solitary flowers in early March in my zone 7 Virginia garden. Also known as netted iris, Iris reticulata are very small bulbs, covered with a fibrous netting. There are many cultivars; flower colors range from light to dark blue or light to dark purple. Preferring full sun and well-drained soil, they thrive in rock gardens, on steps and terraces, in containers, and can even be forced to bloom indoors in pots. The flowers can be cut for small desk top vases, bringing early spring cheer to the office or home. Now is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs – visit your local garden center to get these small ones or order from a nursery that specializes in bulbs. Buy at least a handful and plant with roots pointing down, spike pointing up, about three inches deep and three inches apart. Hardy to zone 5, they die back in the summer and come back in the spring every year. In my garden, ‘J.S. Dijt’ and ‘Harmony’ have thrived for 6 years with no pests or diseases. You can grow that!

J.S. Dijt

J.S. Dijt

Youcangrowthat