Plant NoVA Natives Campaign’s Free Guide

nativeplantsfornovaMy family and I had a great time at Green Spring Garden’s Plant Sale this past weekend. It seemed there were many more vendors than in the past. There were so many plants to choose from, as well as a baked goods sale and representatives from several local garden clubs. One interesting gem of information that I wanted to pass on is a new guide called Native Plants for Northern Virginia. Volunteers of the Plant NoVA Natives Campaign were selling the guide for $5.00 but the four-color guide can be downloaded from the Plant NoVA Natives Campaign website free (

Published in March 2015, this 48-page guide lists plants native to Northern Virginia (residents of the greater Washington DC area also can benefit from this guide). The guide was not meant to be comprehensive but rather a showcase of natives that are attractive, easy for home gardeners to acquire and grow, and beneficial to wildlife and the environment. The guide is organized by the type of plant: perennials (forbs); grasses, sedges, and rushes; ferns; vines; shrubs; and trees. For each plant there is a photo, cultural requirements, size and shape, and the insects, birds, or wildlife that benefit from the plant. The guide also lists native plants that would do well in particular situations such as wet or dry places, additional resources on native plants, native plant demonstration gardens, and invasive plants.

The Plant NoVA Natives Campaign is a partnership of the organizations listed below. Its goal is to promote the use of these plants in the urban and suburban landscapes in Northern Virginia for their social, cultural, and economic benefits, and to increase the availability of Northern Virginia native plants in retail nurseries throughout the region. For homeowners and gardeners interested in native plants or new to Virginia, this guide is a great introduction and a useful compendium of local resources.

  • Audubon Society of Northern Virginia
  • Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy
  • Mason Sustainability Institute
  • Nature by Design
  • Northern Virginia Regional Commission (lead organization)
  • Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Potowmack Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society
  • Prince William Wildflower Society Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society
  • Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Virginia Department of Forestry
  • Virginia Master Gardeners
  • Virginia Master Naturalists

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Columbine

columbine in my garden

columbine with spurs in my garden

Spring is the time for columbine. These hardy perennials are well known for their spurred petals but there are many varieties without spurs or with double petals. In fact, there are 60-70 species in the genus Aquilegia and many more hybrids featuring all types of petal colors and petal combinations.

double petals with no spurs at public park

double petals with no spurs at public park

In my Northern Virginia garden, I have a 7-year-old stand of columbine growing on the east side of the house where my garden hose is connected (but not tightly) so the plants receive morning sun, afternoon shade, and moisture from the water that leaks out of the spigot. Although columbine self-sows, it is easy to collect the seeds in the fall to give to others as gifts or to create new stands in other places. Columbine blooms in April and May resulting in seed capsules that dry on the flower stalks in late summer. By fall, some of these brown capsules have burst, releasing seed, but there are enough that you can cut the flower stalk into a paper bag to save the seed. By fall, the leaves die down and in the following March and April, the pretty scalloped leaves emerge again. A hummingbird favorite, columbine is an easy, low maintenance plant to grow and my Garden Bloggers Bloom Day selection for May.

columbine at public park, probably A. canadensis

columbine with spurs at public park, probably A. canadensis

Easy to Grow Heirloom Lettuce: Flashy Trout Back

Flashy Trout Back lettuce

Flashy Trout Back lettuce

I am growing Flashy Trout Back lettuce for the first time and I love the way the leaves are emerging with wine-colored speckles. Makes it easy to distinguish from spring weeds. Flashy Trout Back is an heirloom European lettuce dating back to the 1700s. Known as “Forellenschuss’ or trout speckles, the leaves are supposed to look like the back of trout fish. The wine-colored spots against the bright green leaves add color in my garden, where for now they receive full sun but cool spring temperatures. In the summer, I will grow lettuce in the backyard where the delicate leaves will receive dappled sun or shade from the tall summer vegetables. Lettuce likes rich soil, cool weather, a regular supply of moisture, and here in Northern Virginia, full sun in the spring and afternoon shade in the summer. We can sow seeds outdoors as early as mid to late March, and continue to sow every couple of weeks until the heat of the summer kicks in. Lettuce seed can germinate at temperatures as low as 40 but best at 75 and poorly at 80-85 degrees F.

Flashy Trout Back is a romaine (also known as cos) type of lettuce, considered the most nutritious of the different types of lettuce, followed by loose leaf, which is a non-heading type that comes in various shades of green or red. Third in nutrition is bibb or butterhead, a heading lettuce with looser and darker green leaves than iceburg, and fourth is crisphead, a tight heading type with light green leaves (e.g., iceburg). Romaine has a stiff, vertical shape that is great for wraps, fajitas, sandwiches, and, if cut up, salads.

red loose leaf lettuce

red loose leaf lettuce

In the lettuce world, the Holy Grail is a lettuce that tolerates the heat in the summer and resists bolting which is why you may find terms such as “heat-resistant” and/or “slow-bolting” in catalogs and on seed packets. Bolting is when the lettuce starts to flower. In other words, the plant stops putting energy in to leaves and starts to send up a flower stalk in order to flower, set seed, and die. This occurs with increased temperatures and day length. Resistance to bolting is highest with loose leaf lettuce, followed by romaine, bibb (butterhead), and crisphead. If you want to continue to grow lettuce in the summer, you need to look for heat resistant, slow-bolting types and provide continued moisture and shade.

mix of lettuce leaves in large bowl for dinner salad

mix of lettuce leaves in large bowl for dinner salad

Always harvest lettuce in the early morning, when the leaves are full of water and the glucose content is highest.  Also, the outer leaves of leaf lettuce contain higher levels of calcium so harvest the outer leaves first on the Romaine and the loose leaf types. Know that lettuce tends to get small bugs like aphids so after you cut the leaves, wash them and let them soak in a large bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes, and then use a salad spinner.



Radish time, in salad or as a dip!

radish 'Splendor'

radish ‘Splendor’

Last night I harvested a few Burpee ‘Splendor’ radishes for a salad and realized it was May already, time to sow more seeds before it gets too hot. ‘Splendor’ is a typical small, red radish suitable for containers. In late March, I simply sprinkled seeds in a large, 12-inch wide/deep plastic container on the deck and lightly covered them so they were ½ inch deep. Later I thinned to allow 2 inches wide for the root to grow. I did not worry about cool evenings or frost, I knew they could take it. Spring radishes germinate fast, you can harvest in 3 to 4 weeks. Although this packet was old, it was dated 2012, the seeds germinated well. I pulled the ones with large red shoulders, cut the roots and leaves off, wash, and chop for a salad. I have heard that the green leaves can be cooked but I have not tried that yet. I can sow radish seeds again in May but when the temperatures stay in the mid sixties, it is time to stop as radishes do not appreciate the heat. In my family, we eat raw radishes in salads, but I also serve a great radish dip for company that tastes better than it sounds. Years ago, a friend served a dip with crackers that I assumed was a shrimp dip—it was so good!  At the end of the evening, I asked for the recipe and learned it was made with radishes, no shrimp at all! This is how she made it:  Mix together 8 ounces softened cream cheese; 8-12 radishes, minced by hand; and one or two minced garlic cloves. Add a bit of lemon juice–just enough to create the consistency you like for dip–and then add chopped dill or parsley to taste. Pair with crackers.

My book review has been published in The Gardening Products Review

A month ago I wrote a review of Thomas Leo Ogren’s The Allergy-Fighting Garden for The Gardening Products Review. Editor Monica Hemingway just informed me that she published my book review, check out I had read his books before and his system of rating plants based on their ability to produce pollen. I was especially interested as I have family members with severe reactions to pollen, to the point that spring time pollen triggers asthma. Right now everything here in Northern Virginia is coated with the yellow dust, irritating people’s eyes and making them congested. Ogren’s The Allergy-Fighting Garden is a must read for folks suffering from allergies and asthma who would like to re-design their property to reduce the amount of pollen.

You Can Grow That: Dill!

dill flowerDill is easy to grow from seed; I just throw a few seed in a large plastic container on my deck in late March. I don’t worry about frost or cold nights but I do make sure the top of the soil is moist until I see the leaves come through the soil and then I water a little less often. Here in Northern Virginia, we seem to have plenty of rain or snow in March so the seeds do not dry out. Now, when the garden soil is warmer, I will gently lift the seedlings out with a trowel and plant in the garden bed in full sun.

Dill is an annual, but it may re-seed in the garden. Dill foliage, also called dill weed, can be used fresh or dried. Although dill weed’s claim to fame is pickles, we tend to use fresh leaves in the summer for egg dishes, fish, tomato salads, cucumber salads, cooked carrots, fresh veggie dishes and even dill butter. In the winter, we use the dried dill for canned veggies, egg dishes, and tuna salad.  It is easy to dry the foliage, just wash and let dry flat on paper towels for a few weeks, then store in a glass jar.dill

Dill tends to flower quickly in the summer so it is best to sow seed several times to ensure a continuous supply of dill weed. By summer, I simply sow seed directly into the garden bed, making sure the seeds do not dry out.  The flowers are actually beneficial to the garden, they attract the good bugs. However, once the plants flower, they set seed and the plant itself starts to put energy into the seed and not the foliage. It is easy to save the seed because they are all in one structure called an umbel. When the seeds are brown, simply cut the stalk to the umbel into a large paper bag. Let dry for a few weeks, then put the umbel on a plate or in a large bowl and rub the seeds off. Store seeds in a glass jar and either use them in the kitchen or plant them next year. Seeds can be used in baking, breads, or crackers, but I have not tried this personally yet (that will be this winter’s project).

dill (2)

So much has been written about this old herb, one can easily search for information on the internet or in herb books. My favorite dill booklet is Dilly Bits, published by the Herb Society of America, copyright by the HSA, see the link below. It is a compilation of HSA members’ experiences with dill across the country.

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. To read more posts, visit

Peg’s Picks May Gardening Events for Washington DC Metro Area

May is the time for plant sales, home and garden tours, and festivals. So many that this is only a sample but enough to give you the feeling that the gardening season has begun!

1, Friday and 2, Saturday, starts at 10 am the 76th Annual Flower Mart sponsored by the Washington National Cathedral’s All Hallows Guild. This year’s festival celebrates Asia, free admission, rain or shine. National Cathedral, 3101 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20016;

2, Saturday, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, Ladew’s 7th Annual Garden Festival, fee required. 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, MD 21111; (410) 557-9570;

2, 11:00 am on Saturday and on Sunday May 3, 1:00 pm, Garden Talk: Your Edible Garden: Choosing the right summer crops, growing in raised beds and containers, and uses for manure tea, taught by Carol Allen. Also, on May 31, Sunday, noon, Carol will discuss Growing Herbs in Containers and at 2:00 pm, she will discuss Growing a Kitchen Herb Garden. Free and do not have to register, Behnkes Nursery, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD 20705; (301) 937-1100;

2, Saturday 10:30 am to noon, Composting & Vermicomposting workshop, hosted by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, Burke Branch Library, 4701 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA 22304; (703) 228-6414, e-mail, free but must register.

2, Saturday, 8:00 am to noon, London Town and Gardens Spring Plant Sale, 839 Londontown Road, Edgewater, MD 21037; (410) 222-1919.

3, Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 pm 42nd Annual Takoma Park House and Garden Tour, fee and rain or shine.

3, Sunday through 30, Saturday, Annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage. Headquarters is at 6200 N. Charles Street, Baltimore MD 21212; (410) 821-6933.  Must buy tickets, see web site for schedule to tour home and gardens in St. Mary’s, Dorchester, Anne Arundel, and Washington Counties and Baltimore City.

3, Saturday, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Glencarlyn Library Community Garden Plant Sale, 300 S. Kensington Street, Arlington, VA 22204. Northern Virginia Master Gardeners available for garden-related questions. (703) 671-5310.

5, Tuesday, 11:00 am to noon, “Seed packets and plant labels” (free seeds), Simpson Park Demonstration Gardens, 420 E. Monroe Street, Alexandria, VA, by the YMCA. On the first Tuesday of the month, VCE Master Gardeners of Arlington and Alexandria will be at the Simpson Park to answer questions and feature a monthly highlight.

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.

  • May 6:             Garden structures and vertical gardening
  • May 13:           Gardening with and for kids
  • May 20:           No room? No problem. Growing food in small spaces
  • May 27:           Critter control–mammals, worms, slugs, etc.

8, Friday, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, Garden Fest in the Smithsonian Enid A. Haupt Garden (behind the Castle), family friendly event highlighting each of the Smithsonian Gardens and connecting people to plants through engaging hands on activities and educational demonstrations. This year will celebrate National Public Gardens Day with an array of activities focused on the importance of pollinators.

9, Saturday, 9:00 am to noon, Good Guys and Bad Guys (bugs in the garden) and Plant Sale, Saturdays in the Garden series, taught by Prince William Master Gardeners at the teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Rd, Bristow, VA 20136. Free but must register. (703) 792-7747; e-mail:

9, Saturday, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, Eco Savvy Gardening Symposium: Evolving Gardens, (was originally scheduled in February), Green Springs, fee and must register by May 2. 4603 Green Spring Rd, Alexandria, VA 22312; (703) 642-5173

9, Saturday, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm Silver Spring Garden Club’s GardenMart,74th Annual Plant Sale, at the Historic Silver Spring Train Station parking lot, 8100 Georgia Avenue, rain or shine, cash or check only

9, Saturday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, 87th Georgetown Garden Tour, headquarters is at Christ Church 31st and O streets, NW, Washington DC, presented by the Georgetown Garden Club, tickets required, e-mail  sidenote: see website for new book called “Gardens of Georgetown: Exploring Urban Treasures,” text by Edith Schafer, photography by Jenny Gorman.

14, Thursday, 7:00 am to 1:00 pm, Bethesda Community Garden Club Plant Sale at the Bethesda Women’s Farm Market, 7155 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD

16, Saturday, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.  Combined event celebrating Endangered Species Day and Herb Day, representatives from the Herb Society of America and organizations working with threatened and endangered species will be available, free, no registration required. U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20001; (202) 225-8333;

16, Saturday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, Green Spring’s Spring Garden Day, the Big Plant Sale. 4603 Green Spring Rd, Alexandria, VA 22312; (703) 642-5173

16, Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Sandy Spring Museum Garden club’s Garden Tour of Sandy Spring Maryland, (301) 774-0022. Tickets required.

23, Saturday, 9:30 am to 3:00 pm, Baltimore Herb Festival, $7 for adults, children 12 and younger are free and parking is free. Leakin Park, 1920 Eagle Drive, Baltimore, MD 21207; rain or shine.

30, Saturday, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, Under the Arbor: Garden Classics, Lavender and Roses (in the National Herb Garden). Discover more about these plants; view the National Arboretum’s collections; and learn how to make soap with these herbs. Presented by the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America. Free, no registration required (202) 245-2726, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20003;