Peg’s Picks of December 2015 Gardening Events in the Washington DC Metro Area

Peg’s Picks of December 2015 Gardening Events in Washington DC Metro Area

The public gardens, nurseries, and historic homes are decorated for Christmas. Many have wreath making classes, open houses, and gift shops full of goodies. Here is a short list of December gardening events in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Don’t forget to look at tabs “Nurseries” and “Public Gardens” for more places to contact.

American Horticultural Society at River Farm, December 12 Saturday Holiday Open House from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm (mansion will be decorated for Christmas), free and open to the public. 7931 E. Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22308; (703) 768-5700.

Annapolis Horticultural Society, December 2, Wednesday, lecture, Paul Westervelt will speak on “Perennials for Multiple Seasons” at the St. Anne’s Parish Hall, 199 Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, MD; free and open to the public.

Brookside Gardens, The Garden of Lights, a winter walk-through holiday light display, is open from November 27 through January 3, hours and fee vary by day/time, check the web site or call (301) 962-1453. Other events and workshops are at Brookside Gardens in December, including a Tuesday, December 1, road trip to Maymont and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to check out their holiday decorations. Must register and pay in advance for this “Richmond Holiday Adventure.” 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902; (301) 962-1400.

Green Spring Gardens, on Sunday, December 6, Gardeners’ Holiday Open House is from noon to 4:00 pm, free but must register and pay for puppet show and trackless train ride. 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312; (703) 642-5173.

Hillwood Museum and Gardens is decorated for Christmas and 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 for the Winter Garden tour. 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20008; (202) 686-5807.

Homestead Gardens has a bus trip to Longwood Gardens to see their holiday light extravaganza on Tuesday, December 8, fee and must register in advance. 743 West Central Avenue, Davidsonville, Md 20135; (410) 798-5000.

Horticultural Society of Maryland, lecture on Tuesday, December 8, at 7:30 pm. “Beautiful evergreens for the garden and holiday cuttings” with David Thompson of Foxborough Nursery. Before and after the lecture author Kathy Hudson will sign her book, “On Walnut Hill: The Evolution of a Garden.” Lecture is free for members and $10 for non-members. Vollmer Center Auditorium, Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209; (410) 821-5561 or

U.S. Botanic Garden has its annual holiday exhibit in the conservatory from November 26 through January 3, free and open to the public.  The conservatory boasts a tropical paradise; one of the largest indoor decorated trees in Washington, DC; a showcase of poinsettias; and a miniature train display. Also, there will be a Pollination Station where one can see oversized flowers, bees, and butterflies in this year’s scenic wonderland. Landmarks such as the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument, all made from plants, will be on display in the Garden Court. Check the website for times. 245 First Street SW, Washington DC 20024; (202) 225-8333.

And speaking of the U.S. Botanic Garden, just around the corner is the 6-week, Landscape for Life gardening course developed by the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Garden. Learn how to transform home landscapes and public places into healthy refuges that benefit birds, pollinators, and other wildlife including the community and the Chesapeake Bay. Classes are Tuesday mornings 10:00 am to 12:30, January 12 through February 16, (snow date February 23), at the Crossroads United Methodist Church, 43454 Crossroads Drive, Ashburn, VA. Fee, $60, and must register, for more information e-mail

Free Gardening Handouts from Virginia Cooperative Extension Website

L_HORT-76-JPGAs a garden communicator I am always collecting information for use with my own garden, for other gardeners, and even for future articles. A reliable source of local gardening information is the Virginia State Cooperative Extension office, located at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg. The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) website has scores of handouts on gardening–everything from annuals to vegetables to trees and shrubs. Most are short, black and white, pdf files that one can download quickly but some are small, full color publications such as “Fooling Mother Nature: Forcing Flower Bulbs for Indoor Bloom.” Written by George Graine, a local VCE Master Gardener, reviewed by Holly Scoggins, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Horticulture, and produced by Lindsey Nelson, Communication Project Coordinator at VT’s Department of Horticulture, this 10-page handout is very easy to read with several color photos of bulbs and charts that provide additional information. In fact, Publication HORT-76NP is so well written that it won a Silver Award of Achievement from the Garden Writers Association’s Media Awards Program this year.

All of the VCE gardening publications are designed for home gardeners but they are science-based and reviewed by horticulturists or experts in the field. All are available for public use and can be re-printed without further permission, providing the use includes credit to the author/photographer and to the VCE, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University. Simply put, these publications can be copied and distributed at garden clubs and nurseries, for seed/bulb fund raisers, for teachers and children who have school-based gardens, and for people who have community garden plots. They are great resources for writing articles and even stimulating ideas for future articles. Check out every season for timely information!

Peg’s Picks: November Gardening Events in Washington DC Metro Area

pumpkins on a bench Dumbarton OaksNovember is a transition time in our area, outside gardening activity diminishes but the number of inside holiday displays increase as well as speaking events.

5, Thursday, Plant NoVA Natives Campaign Community Leader training, held at the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, 3040 Williams Drive, Suite 200, Fairfax, VA 22031, 7:00 to 8:45 pm, for more information contact Corey Miles at or visit This is a free training (but must register in advance) for existing and new volunteers with gardening, landscaping or naturalist experience who would like to help promote the use of native plants in the residential landscape. Will learn how to: reach local companies, identify and recruit new volunteers, successfully communicate the Plant Northern Virginia Natives message, make presentations to community groups, and influence the local retail market to make purchasing native plants easy and fun.

10, Tuesday, Claudia West, author of Planting in a Post-Wild World (with Thomas Rainer) will be speaking on Stunning Plant Communities that Stand the Test of Time at 7:30 pm. Free to Horticultural Society of Maryland members, non-members $10. Hosted by the Maryland Horticulture Society at the Vollmer Center Auditorium, Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209; (410) 821-5561. (410) 821-5561 or

14, Saturday, Designing the Sustainable Landscape, 9:00 am to noon. Fairlington Community Center, 3308 Stafford Street, Arlington, VA 22206; (703) 228-6414. Free and open to public but must register.

Forrest Pritchard, author of Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm (I have read this book; very good story), has just recently published Growing Tomorrow: Behind the Scenes with 18 Extraordinary Sustainable Farmers Who Are Changing the Way We Eat (can’t wait to read his new book). According to his web site,, Forrest will be at the following locations in the month of November to promote his new book. He owns Smith Meadows in Berryville, VA, where he sells meat, eggs, and pasta directly and through Farmers Markets.

  • 10, Kramerbooks in Washington DC, 7 pm
  • 15, Dupont Circle Farmers Market signing with Kramerbooks in DC
  • 17, National Press Club, 5:30 to 8:30 pm
  • 18, Arlington Central Library with One More Page Books, 7:00 pm
  • 21, Arlington Courthouse Farmers Market, 8:00 am to noon
  • 24, Busboys and Poets, Takoma Park, MD 7:00 pm

From November 26 through January 3, the U.S. Botanic Garden will have a holiday exhibit in the conservatory, free and open to the public.  The conservatory boasts a tropical paradise; one of the largest indoor decorated trees in Washington, DC; a showcase of poinsettias; and a miniature train display. Also, there will be a Pollination Station where one can see oversized flowers, bees, and butterflies in this year’s scenic wonderland. Landmarks such as the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument, all made from plants, will be on display in the Garden Court. Check the website for times,

Happy Halloween and Don’t Forget to Save those Pumpkin Seeds!

desktop pumpkinThis past spring I noticed a small gourd-like plant in my garden that I did not plant on purpose. Curious, I left it and watched to see what it would become in the fall. Sure enough it grew to be a small pumpkin, probably from the compost pile or a bird. Not a particularly pretty one, but a unique, homegrown fall decoration for my office. In October, I cut it and put it on my desk next to the glass pumpkin jar, full of candy.

My kids are too old now to carve the large pumpkins for Halloween but last week my daughter had to purchase one to carve in her high school arts class. I did the initial gutting at home and as I pulled out the seeds, I noticed how plump and healthy they looked—too good to throw away. I decided to save a few to plant next year. They won’t produce a pumpkin as large and as fine as my daughter’s pumpkin, no doubt it was a cultivar bred for Halloween, but they will produce some type of a pumpkin that I can bring to work, just like the small one I found in the garden. I don’t know why I never thought of it before but I can grow my own desktop pumpkins just as easily as growing squash or melons in the garden. So I washed and set aside a handful of the seeds and roasted the rest for us to enjoy snacking on that evening.  Next year I will have my own homegrown desktop pumpkins!pumpkin seeds

Now Is The Time For All Gardeners To Plant Spring Blooming Bulbs!




Now is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs! Chances are you will see a wide variety of bulbs at your local garden center but how to choose?

For those of you who are troubled by deer and rodents, try daffodils (Narcissus), snowflakes (Leucojum), and snowdrops (Galanthus). Members of the Amaryllis family, these bulbs contain a bitter poisonous chemical that mammals will not eat. In our Washington DC area, these are the easiest to grow: they are tough plants that will bloom year after year, untouched by deer and squirrels. Other bulbs that deer don’t favor (but may take an interest if food is scarce) are species of Fritillaria, blue squill (Scilla), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), starflower (Ipheion), winter aconite (Eranthis), and camassia (Camassia).



Tulips are beautiful and popular: flowers are deer candy and bulbs are squirrel food. Tulips have a reputation for being short lived and misplaced but one trick to prolong their life is to buy hybrid Darwin tulips and plant them about10 inches deep, deeper than recommended, to ensure adequate insulation and protection from squirrels. Still, deer have been known to nosh on the flowers at night, leaving green stalks and frustrated gardeners in the morning.

Another factor to consider is the sunlight and soil moisture. Most bulbs need to be planted in a well-drained area with full sun. There are “woodsy” types that tolerate some shade and moist soil such as snowdrops, winter aconite, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides), squill, and glory of the snow. Usually the smaller bulbs can tolerate the shade under a deciduous tree in early spring before the tree leafs out.

Cost is also a factor. You want the bulb to be as big (for its particular type) as possible so don’t settle for bargain basement deals, get high quality, healthy bulbs. That being said, spring blooming bulbs always look better in groups or masses so count on buying a bunch of high quality, healthy bulbs, not just one.



Larger bulbs need more space between them than small bulbs so allow about 5 inches between large bulbs and two to three inches between smaller bulbs. The rule of thumb is to plant down 2 to 3 times the width of the bulb so if a bulb is 2 inches wide, plant so the base of bulb is 4-6 inches below the soil line (with the exception of the Darwin tulips as mentioned above).  With something like a daffodil, which has a tear drop shape, it is easy to find the nose which is planted upward. Look for a smaller pointier top and a wider base to figure out which end is up but if you can’t tell at all, plant it sideways and it will sort itself out.

Once you have bought your bulbs, simply dig, drop, and cover with soil. After planting, water well. In our area, the best time to plant is October and November, when the soil temperature is cooler but not frozen. The roots need time to get established before the soil freezes. It is possible to plant later but not after the soil has frozen and the later one plants, the less likely the plant will become established enough to withstand winter.  There is no need to fertilize but keep track of what you planted where you planted so you don’t accidently dig them up in the spring when you start to plant the cool season annuals such as pansies.

You Can Grow That: Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil

lemon basilEvery summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large pots on the deck and in the vegetable garden. Throughout the summer I harvest the leaves and use them fresh in fruit salad; with seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes; as garnishes for drinks, desserts, and salad; and in syrups and vinegar dressings. My family particularly likes using the fresh leaves for tilapia and other white fish fillets. We layer a few stems on aluminum foil on a broiler pan, then layer the fish fillets on top, drizzled with butter and chopped scallions or bread crumbs, and broil until the fish is cooked. The leaves turn black, which is fine because you can throw them away before you serve the dish but they leave the fish infused with a unique smoked lemon flavor. We also like to make syrups by boiling 1 cup of sugar, ½ cup water, and about ½ cup of leaves in a small saucepan for a few minutes. After straining out and removing the leaves, we let the syrup cool and then drizzle the sweet lemon liquid over fresh fruit or cold drinks like lemonade and ice tea.

Mrs. Burns lemon basil is an heirloom cultivar of a sweet basil and yes, there really was a Mrs. Burns who introduced the plant in 1939 in New Mexico. This particular cultivar is different than “lemon basil,” the lemon flavor is supposed to be more intense and the leaves are supposed to be larger than lemon basil. Certainly the leaves are lighter, smoother, and more pointed than sweet basil.

In addition to its culinary use, Mrs. Burns lemon basil attracts birds after the plant has flowered and set seeds. I deliberately do not harvest some of my plants to have a stand of tall flower stalks with whorls of seeds by summer’s end. Yellow finches in particular love to eat the seeds off the stalks. Then in October, before the first frost, I cut the stalks and put them upside down in a large paper bag. Later, while watching Downtown Abbey in January, I pull the stalks out of the bag and extract the remaining seeds to plant in May. It’s a full circle but then so is gardening.

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). Click on the logo below to read more posts.


Peg’s Picks October Gardening Events in Washington DC Metro Area

check out the new structures at Green Spring Gardens

check out the new structures at Green Spring Gardens

3, Saturday, Under the Arbor: Chile Pepper Day, 1:00 to 4:00 pm, National Herb Garden, presented by members of the Mid-Atlantic Units of the Herb Society of America, free and no registration required. U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002.

3, Saturday, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Urban Agriculture Symposium, 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. This is an opportunity to meet local and regional government representatives to learn how the growing interest in urban agriculture is being accommodated in space-challenged cities. Learn about community gardens, small space gardening, growing microgreens and mushrooms, faith-based community gardening, urban permaculture and more. Fairlington Community Center, 3801 S. Stafford Street, Arlington, VA. Sponsored by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, VCE, AFAC, VSU, George Mason University, and The Garden Whisperer. Fee and must register. Call (703) 228-6414; e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com

3 and 4, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 am, Your Edible Garden: Preparing your Vegetable Garden for Winter with Carol Allen, free but must register. Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD, (301) 937-1100.

4, Sunday, Fruit Trees and Pruning Strategies Workshop, 1-4 pm, by Ecologia owner Michael Judd, at Judd Homestead, Frederick MD. For more information contact $50 and must register (limit 25 people).

6, Tuesday, Fall Composting Workshop, 7:00 to 8:30 pm, Fairlington Community Center, 3801 S. Stafford Street, Arlington, VA. Sponsored by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, free but registration required. Call (703) 228-6414; e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com

7, Wednesday, Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes and Teaming with Nutrients will speak from 7:00 to 8:30 pm about soil and microbes. Free. Arlington Central Library Auditorium. 1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington VA; (703) 228-5990.

10, Saturday, Meadows Farm Nursery will host Pink Day events over the Columbus Day weekend with main events being held on Saturday, October 10. Each Meadows Farm location will host their own event so call in advance to see what is scheduled; for example, the Manassas store will have vendors, entertainment and food while the 7 Corners location will have a silent auction. Proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. (703) 327-3940.

17, Saturday, opening day of the National Building Museum’s exhibit “The New American Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden,” running until May 1, 2016. In collaboration with the Cultural Landscape Foundation, the NBM exhibit will chronicle the careers of and influence of Oehme and van Sweden, who revolutionized landscape architecture with the creation of the New American Garden, featuring large swaths of ornamental grass and perennials that celebrate the seasonal splendor of the American meadow. Check NBM’s web site for hours and admission, there is a fee to enter the museum. National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Washington DC 20001, (202) 272-2448.

24, Saturday, Lecture: Creating a Forest Garden, by Lincoln Smith, founder of Forested, 10:30 am to noon, free but must register. U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington DC (202) 225-8333.

24, Saturday, Wild About Mushrooms, 1-3:30 pm, by Ecologia owner Michael Judd, at Yellow Springs at Judd Homestead, Frederick MD. For more information contact $65 and must register (more details and directions will be given once registered).

27, Tuesday, 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Lecture: A Plantsman’s Favorites: Exciting, Long Blooming Perennials. Visitor Center Auditorium, National Arboretum. Jimi Blake is a noted Irish horticulturist, teacher, and plantsman who began his career as head gardener of the historic Airfield Garden in Dundrum County, Dublin. Eventually, he secured twenty acres for his own collection. Hunting Brook Gardens is Blake’s boldly idiosyncratic creation and is considered Ireland’s most innovative landscape. Fee: $12 ($10 FONA) and registration required. U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002.

Green Spring Gardens always has events but highlights include The Continuous Garden Symposium, on October 3, Saturday, 8:00 am to noon. The symposium introduces people to low-maintenance shrubs, lovely perennials and container gardens that inject beauty and carry the garden through the year. Learn how to use color and focal points to draw the eye through the garden, how to use containers to manage problem areas and get a recipe for winning plant combinations for a beautiful, four-season garden. Fee and must register. Also at Green Spring Gardens (check their web site for possible fees and registration):

  • 16, Friday, GardenTalk: Gardening with Deer, 1:30 to 2:30 pm, presented by Northern Virginia Master Gardeners
  • 17, Saturday, Best of the Eco-Friendly Fall Garden, 10:00 to 11:00 am. Educational walk of the gardens with Green Springs staff.
  • 24, Saturday, Regionally Adapted Plants, 11:00 to noon, presented by Washington Gardener magazine owner/editor, Kathy Jentz
  • 24, Saturday, Fall Garden Highlights Tour, 9:30 to 10:30 am, presented by Green Springs staff

Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312. (703) 642-5173.

Merrifield Nursery has free classes and workshops every Saturday in October at their three locations. In addition, they have a sunrise tour at the Fair Oaks store on Sunday, October 4, 7:00 am for a special behind-the-scenes tour before the garden center opens to learn what is blooming and what is exiting at the garden center. Must register for the free garden tour. All other Saturday workshops are free, do not have to register, and start at 10:00 am.

  • 3, Saturday: Merrifield, Creating Real Curb Appeal; Fair Oaks, Gardening with Native Plants; Gainesville, Bulbs 101
  • 10, Saturday: M, Designing Gardens with Color; FO, Dazzling Displays of Bulbs; G, Living fences
  • 17, Saturday: M, Native plants for wildlife and pollinators; FO, Drainage Solutions; G, Trees and Shrubs for Fall and Winter Interest
  • 24, Saturday: M, Trends in urban gardening; FO, Four Season Gardening; G, Prune Like a Pro, Part 1
  • 31, Saturday: M, Gardening in Deer Country; FO, Halloween Fun Just for Kids; G, Prune Like a Pro, Part 2

Ladew Topiary Gardens has announced its Fall Lecture Series, which are on Thursday mornings in October, starting at 10:30 am. $25 for Ladew members and $30 for non-members. To register, call Rachel at (410) 557-9570 or e-mail at Ladew Topiary Gardens, 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, MD 21111.

  • 1: New and Underused Perennials to Expand your Palette with Ruth Rogers Clausen
  • 8: Coherent Design versus Obsessive Collecting with John Gwynne
  • 15: Windowsill Art by Nancy Ross Hugo
  • 22: Stonecrop Gardens: A Hudson Highlands Gem with Caroline Burgess
  • 29: Thomas Jefferson: Gardener with Peter Hatch