Peg’s Picks October Gardening Events Washington DC Area

Oudraat-Brown Residence in Washington DC Photo by Roger Foley

Oudraat-Brown Residence in Washington DC
Photo by Roger Foley

October is the time for harvest festivals and pumpkin patches. Check the “public gardens” and “nurseries” tabs on my blog for events; I have only listed a few “edible” ones below. That being said, there is one annual event that isn’t covered in those lists. This year, on Saturday, October 18, the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program will share four private, DC and MD gardens with the public, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission to each garden is $7, no reservations required. The Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in New York, introduced the Open Days program in 1995 as a means of introducing the public to gardening, providing easy access to outstanding examples of design and horticultural practice, and proving that exceptional American gardens are still being created. The Open Days program is America’s only national private garden-visiting program and is made possible by volunteers. Private gardens are open to the public across the country throughout the year. The proceeds from the Open Day program support the national preservation work of the Garden Conservancy. Visitors may begin the self-guided tour at either one of these locations:

Macleish Garden, 3525 Springland Lane, NW, Washington DC

Meandering walks, vistas, and garden rooms distinctly different from each other, offering surprises of color and texture throughout

Underwood Property, 4002 Underwood Street, Chevy Chase, MD

Garden and house support each other through the use of rainfall, natural ventilation and drainage, and solar and geothermal energy, with rooftop vegetable gardens, gabion walls, green roofs, rain gardens, and native plants

Directions will be provided to these locations in DC.

Oudraat-Brown Residence: a playful, non-traditional garden of bold colors, a curving “ribbon wall,” a cantilevered deck, repeating rounded boxwood and hawthorn trees, and perennials that spill over and soften the edges of the walkways.

Rauser Garden: a Japanese inspired woodland garden featuring fall highlights of nandina, camellias, and beautyberry, a fishpond and waterfall, pebble paths, and a hidden Zen garden

For more detailed directions and descriptions of these gardens, visit http://www.opendaysprogram.org. To learn more about the Garden Conservancy, visit http://www.gardenconservancy.org.

Other gardening events in October

Friday, October 17, U.S. Botanic Garden, noon to 1:00 pm, “What Science Says about GMO Food,” lecture by Beth Burrous, biochemist and USBG volunteer, free but must register. 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC (202) 225-8333 (general) and (202) 225-1116 (to register for events). http://usbg.gov

Saturday, October 11, U.S. National Arboretum, “Under the Arbor” is a series of informal, drop in demonstrations on an herb or herb related topic, presented by members of Mid Atlantic Units of the Herb Society of America. In October the topic is Chile Peppers, 1:00 to 4:00, National Herb Garden, free. 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002 (202) 245-2726. http://www.usna.usda.gov

Saturday & Sunday, October 18 & 19, Loudoun’s 2014 Fall Farm Tour. A free, self-guided tour of privately owned farms (about 21 farms & wineries in Loudoun County). Visit farm animals, gather eggs, pick pumpkins and apples, and enjoy many family oriented activities. Visit the web site for more information and for a brochure with a map of the farms and description of activities; Sponsored by Loudoun Virginia Economic Development. http://www.loudounfarms.org

 

Seed: To Save or Not To Save, That Is the Question

In my garden, I save seeds from certain plants every year and for others, I leave the seed for the birds. Seed saving is a great idea but whether or not you should save the seed depends on the plant.

dried seed pods on Hibiscus 'Lil' Kim'

dried seed pods on Hibiscus ‘Lil’ Kim’

If you are interested in saving the seed, ask yourself this: will you get the same plant as before? The first thing you need to find out is whether or not your plant is a hybrid or an open-pollinated plant. A hybrid is a plant that comes from the controlled cross breeding of two distinct species or cultivars. This is done intentionally to capture a desired trait such as flower color or disease resistance. If you saved the seed from this hybrid, the next generation will not look like your original plant. It will exhibit some of its parents’ (or even previous generations’) characteristics so you won’t retain the desired traits. For example, in September my Hibiscus syriacus ‘Lil’ Kim’ has interesting seed pods that look really easy to cut off, dry, and save. But this plant was deliberately created as a dwarf form of the species Hibiscus syriacus, commonly known as Rose of Sharon, a shrubby plant about 5 feet tall. If I planted the seeds next year, I would get a Hibiscus plant, that is one with hibiscus-like characteristics, but it may be small, medium, or large, with white, pink or lavender flowers.

If you have an open pollinated plant, the seed will produce the same plant as before with most flowers and herbs. There are exceptions in the vegetable world. There are some vegetables that self-pollinate such as tomatoes and beans so the seed retains the original characteristics. However, there are some vegetables that are pollinated by insects willing to travel to your neighbor’s garden to cross pollinate your neighbor’s vegetables with your vegetables. Peas, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, and squash are examples of vegetables that are cross-pollinated so the resulting seed may produce plants that do not have the same or desired traits as before. After you have decided whether saving the seed will result in the plant you want, consider these criteria:

1. Do you have enough of the plant or want more?

This spring I planted love-in-a-mist seeds (Nigella damascena), which I bought from the Green Spring Gardens gift shop in Alexandria, VA. Green Spring Gardens has stands of these small lavender-blue flowers that produce very interesting seed pods, perfect for dried flower arrangements. My seed only produced a few plants but fortunately, they flowered and produced seed. I want the seeds to disperse and germinate in the garden next year in the same place to get more plants (hopefully a stand of them just like at Green Spring Gardens). I could do this manually by saving seeds and planting next year or I could just let nature do it for me. I left the seed pods in the garden.

love-in-a-mist at Green Spring Gardens

love-in-a-mist at Green Spring Gardens

On the other hand, I have a few columbine plants, Aquilegia columbine, growing in one place.  I would like for them to grow in other places on the property so I cut the seed pods and put them in a paper bag. Later, when they were bone dry, I pulled the pods apart and put the tiny, glossy black seeds in a glass jar.

dried seed pods and seed from columbine

dried seed pods and seed from columbine

2. Is the seed useful in the kitchen?

I always grow plenty of dill and cilantro, some of which I harvest the leaves for cooking, some of which I leave alone and let the plants flower and “go to seed.” When the seed heads are brown, I cut them and let them drop into a paper bag and let dry some more. The dill seed is great for breads and rolls, the cilantro seed, which is known as coriander, is great for cookies and fruit salads. Sometimes, I use the seed for the garden the next year, just depends on how much baking is done in the winter.

dried dill seed head, in vase on napkin

dried dill seed head, in vase on napkin

3. Do you find it easier to save seed or just buy again next year?

The corollary being, how much time do you have? There are two basic methods for saving seed: dry and wet. With most of my herbs and flowers, I use the dry method because the seed themselves are in a dried pod so it is simple to cut the pods and put it in a paper bag. After a few weeks, when very dry, I put them on a plate, separate seed from the pod, and put the seed in a glass jar with a label. With pulpy, fleshy vegetables, I use the wet method. Parts of the fruit, such as tomatoes, are cut up or mashed and put in a jar with water. After days, depending on the plant, you eventually extract the seeds from the pulp and lay on a paper towel to dry.  The exact process depends on the vegetable. For detailed information on how to save seed (and for buying open pollinated seed), check out the Seed Savers Exchange (under the “Education” tab) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (under the “Growing Guides” tab).

4. Do you want to attract birds or create winter interest?

If you want to feed the birds or try to achieve some architectural interest in the garden in the winter, you have to leave the seeds on the plants. I grow a lot of lemon basil because I use some plants for cooking while leaving others in the garden to flower and set seed. In late summer through fall, the yellow finches land on the swaying seed stalks and peck at the seeds. I also leave the coneflower (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) plants alone. After they flower, they have stiff seed stalks and prominent seed heads that add interest in the winter and provide food for birds.

lemon basil plants gone to seed

lemon basil plants gone to seed

This September, my rue plant (Ruta graveolens) produced interesting seed heads far above the foliage. Rue is a well known herb but I use it as a landscape plant. Its gray, green foliage provides a lot of color and texture, it is drought resistant and seems to repel deer and critters, and it provides yellow flowers in the summer for me to cut and place in vases for the office. I was torn between harvesting the seed for more rue plants next year or leaving the seed heads for winter interest when I read that rue is a great companion plant for alpine strawberries (which I just grew this year) and for raspberries (which I also planted in my garden). Off with her head!

rue seed heads

rue seed heads

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant

For Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, September 2014, I am posting photos of my obedient plants blooming in my Virginia garden (Physostegia virginiana). I actually think of Thomas Jefferson when my obedient plants  bloom in the fall. He grew these Native American perennials at Monticello which I learned when a friend pulled a clump from her garden for me to plant in my garden.  In four years, the original plant has thrived and spread via rhizomes (underground stems) but only a few feet in the same garden bed. Not too much but just enough to provide extra plants to share and abundant flowers to cut for the office while leaving enough in the garden for color. My plants are in a garden strip that is partially under a crab apple tree and partially in full sun, both seem to be fine for this drought resistant, deer-resistant perennial.

The flowers, similar to snapdragons, attract butterflies and hummingbirds. If you twist the individual flowers back and forth, they stay in the new position for some time, hence the name “obedient.” Ever the scientist, I tried this and it worked but you have to wonder, how did the first person discover this and what was he or she doing fiddling with the flowers?

Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant

Still, I like obedient plant, its tall structure provide a wash of pink in the fall, when you least expect it. The flower stalks are great for cutting and putting in vases at the office, along with purple asters. I prefer the pink flowering variety, but there are obedient plants with white flowers (‘Alba’) and even green and white variegated leaves (‘Variegata’).  If you read about obedient plants, you may notice the caveat about spreading but in my garden it is not invasive at all. In the spring, the emerging stems are easy to identify, they are square (a mint family characteristics) and green with chocolate brown, vertical strips. Being shallow-rooted, I can easily pull unwanted plants if I have to but could just as easily share with my gardening club. If unwanted growth is a concern, try ‘Miss Manners’ (white flowers) or ‘Pink Manners’ (pink flowers), both of which are known to maintain a clumping habit.

Landscape Edible: Growing Hibiscus for Tea

Hibiscus sabdariffa in August in container

Hibiscus sabdariffa (or roselle) in August

Fall is beginning to show its face: the nights are cool, the days are short, and stores are stocked with Halloween candy. Two of my tomato plants, Abraham Lincoln and Rutgers, are downright ugly. The leaves are brown and yellow and the large, green tomatoes sit there, defiantly, not bothering to ripen for me. I wait for them to change color, I even offer to take one that has a hint of red, but no, they never seem to change.  I am torn between pulling the plants out in anger and disgust (but I raised them from seed!) or keeping them there in hopes I will get just a few more tomatoes before frost takes over. Stupice, however, is much nicer. The plant is green, the small tomatoes keep appearing, and the older ones turn red every day.

Fall also marks the end of the vigorous lemon cucumber plant; we laid it to rest about two weeks ago. The eggplants never really took off so that was not as heart wrenching. The peppers are finally coming into their full glory with yellow and red pendulous fruit. The pole beans just keep producing beans. Nothing seems to deter them, not even when a critter munched on some leaves.

My real stressor now is a plant new to my garden: Hibiscus sabdariffa, commonly known as roselle or Florida cranberry. For a month now, I have been anxiously watching my plants, waiting for a hint of a flower bud. Because they are tropical plants, they grow like annuals in my Zone 7 Virginia garden. In other words, they are “terminal,” their days are numbered.

The flowers are supposed to be yellow, about 3 inches across, and more like okra or cotton in shape, not like those large tropical hibiscus flowers you see in Florida. Lasting one day, the flowers withdraw into the calyx to form a seed pod.  As the seed matures, the red calyx, which was originally at the base of the flower, grows to cover the seed pod. It is this red covering, the calyx that is harvested for tea, jams, and jellies. Rich in anthocyanin, the red calyxes serve as a natural food color and are responsible for the “zing” in Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger tea. I grew them because I had read that I could make my own herbal tea so I had started my plants from seed in the beginning of the year.  Later I learned that it is a true landscape edible – the leaves can be cooked, maybe with a chicken stir fry, to add a citrus/tangy flavor.

The plant itself is pretty, about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide, with maple like leaves. I grew mine in large plastic containers and if I had known, I would have added flowering annuals at the base to complement the red and green colors in the stems and leaves. Because mine were in containers in full sun, I had to make sure they received enough water all summer long. I had grown ornamental hibiscus plants before and knew they had “healthy appetites” so I had mixed fertilizer in the soil before I planted the seedlings.

By August, I had not seen any flowers and I was anxiously watching the calendar. I did some research and discovered that the flowering is initiated by short days, i.e., autumn. Sure enough, in the beginning of September I saw small buds, almost too small to capture by the camera. I read that I need to harvest the pods while the calyxes are still tender and juicy, about 10 days after the flowers appear. The seed pods have to be harvested, cut off the plant, and the calyxes have to be taken apart and dried.

Hibiscus flower buds in September, note red on stems and buds

Hibiscus flower buds in September

I also learned that Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, only a few hours south, has a variety called Thai Red Roselle that will start blooming earlier in the summer to ensure plenty of calyxes before frost. Needless to say, that went on my 2015 wish list! I will continue to keep vigilance. In November, surely after our first frost has occurred, I will let you know how these plants perform plus I will list a quick summary of successes/lessons learned from my 2014 season.

Learn More About Gardening – Join a Garden Club!

There are many local garden clubs, societies, and organizations in the Washington DC metropolitan area. When summer ends and school starts, it seems that many garden clubs get back into business again, ready to have meetings and host great events! Because we have so many organizations it is hard to list them all here but to find a club near you, it is best to go to a larger umbrella organization to inquire about the local unit, or search on the internet by plant name or city (for a neighborhood garden club), or visit related sites such as public gardens. See the other pages (tabs) on my blog for local public gardens and nurseries; they also can serve as resources for finding local clubs.

The American Horticultural Society is a national membership organization but its physical location is called River Farm, 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA  22308, (703) 768-5700 or 1-800-777-7931; http://www.ahs.org. The property is open to the public (call first); they have beautiful gardens, a children’s garden, and picnic benches (is on the Potomac River). The web site lists plant societies including native plant societies, clubs, and organizations. http://ahs.org/gardening-resources/societies-clubs-organizations.

The blog section of the web site for Behnkes Nurseries, in Beltsville, MD, lists Maryland garden clubs such as the Beltsville Garden Club, Silver Spring Garden Club, Takoma Horticulture Club, Brookland Garden Club, Burtonsville Garden Club, and Four Seasons Garden Club. There also is an Annapolis Horticultural Society, Hyattsville Horticultural Society, and a Maryland Horticultural Society. http://blog.behnkes.com.

The National Garden Clubs, Inc., is at 4401 Magnolia Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110; (314) 776-7574; http://www.gardenclub.org.  There are 50 State Garden Clubs and the National Capital Area Club and hundreds of member garden clubs. In this area, the state level clubs are: Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs, headquarters is at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Avenue, Richmond, VA 23228; (804) 262-9887; http://www.virginiagardenclubs.org. Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, Inc., is at 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209; (410) 396-4842; http://www.fgcofmd.org.  National Capital Area Garden Clubs is at the Arbor House, U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002; (202) 399-5958; http://www.ncagardenclubs.org. Contact them for a local unit near you.

The Garden Club of America is headquartered at 14 East 60th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10022; (212) 753-8287; http://www.gcamerica.org. Membership is by invitation only but contact the headquarters to see if there is a club near you.

The Garden Club of Virginia sponsors the annual Historic Garden Week in Virginia in April. Their headquarters is at the Kent-Valentine House, 12 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA 23219; (804) 643-4137; http://www.gcvirginia.org

There probably is a native plant society in every state. In this area there is the Maryland Native Plant Society, which has a Washington DC chapter, and the Virginia Native Plant Society. Contact the Maryland Native Plant Society via P.O. Box 4877, Silver Spring, MD  20914; http://mdflora.org. Contact the Virginia Native Plant Society via 400 Blandy Farm Road, Unit 2, Boyce, VA 22620; (540) 837-1600; http://www.vnps.org.

There probably is an association for every type of plant and most have local chapters. Search the internet for the plant and related association or call your local public garden or extension office. The American Horticultural Society has a list of plant societies that you can contact to identify the local unit. For example, in our area we have the:

  • Camellia Society of Potomac Valley
  • National Capital Dahlia Society
  • National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society
  • National Capital Daylily Club
  • Brookside Gardens Chapter of the Azalea Society of America
  • Mason-Dixon Chapter (MD) & the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society
  • Arlington Rose Foundation
  • Maryland Daffodil Society and the Washington Daffodil Society

There are opportunities to volunteer at public gardens, which is like being a member of a garden club. For example, there is a Friends of Green Springs in Alexandria, VA; Friends of Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD; and the Friends of the National Arboretum. There is a similar organization called the All Hallows Guild of the Washington National Cathedral, which has extensive grounds and a garden. The Cathedral is located at Massachusetts & Wisconsin Avenues, NW, Washington, DC 20016; (202) 537-2937; http://www.cathedral.org/ahg.

Variegated Sage – You Can Grow That!

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

Most people know about sage, it’s that dry, gray, crumbly herb you use when you make stuffing for Thanksgiving stuffing. True enough, the plant is an herb but it also adds beauty in the garden. Re-think culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) as a landscape edible: drought tolerant, pest resistant, and full season interest! Sage plants grow like small woody shrubs, up to a few feet tall, and their leaves remain all year long in my zone 7, Virginia garden. Sage plants are usually grown for the leaves, but the summer brings small, purple flowers, attracting pollinators for the rest of the garden. Both the leaves as well as the flower spikes can be cut for flower arrangements. Leaves can be solid green, variegated with cream or yellow, gray, gray/green, blue/gray, purple, or tricolor (pink, green, and white leaves). As the year progresses, the tone of the color seems to change with some cultivars – this one in the photo seems to change from light green/yellow variegated to a gray/cream color by September. No matter what the color, all the leaves are edible. You can pick leaves when you need them without altering the shape or you can take a branch from the back and strip and dry the leaves for cooking or tea. Sage plants prefer full sun and well drained soil on the dryer side, think Mediterranean. Although you can start the species from seed, check out the many cultivars that are available now for the full spectrum of foliage interest. You can grow sage as a small shrub for your landscape!

variegated sage in September, changing from light green to gray

variegated sage in September, changing from light green to gray

variegated sage in April with light new growth

variegated sage in April with light new growth

 

Youcangrowthat

Peg’s Picks September Gardening Events Washington DC Area

fallgardenAug2014 018Wow! So many events in September, from plant sales to harvest festivals! Below are Peg’s Picks for local events related to edible gardening except for one big event at Monticello, which I described at the end — it is on my bucket list!

Wednesdays, September 3, 10, 17, 24, Arlington Central Library hosts the “Garden Talks” series of free presentations every Wednesday evening from 7:00 to 9:00 pm starting mid-March through end of October. The website lists the topics and provides gardening resources for gardeners in the area. 1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington VA; (703) 228-5990. http://www.library.arlingtonva.us/events/garden-talks/

Thursdays, September 4, 11, 18, 25, Food in the Garden: Waterways & Foodways: 1814-2014. Four different presentations on Thursday evenings in September starting at 6:00 pm in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History, Washington DC. Register, fee. http://americanhistory.si.edu/events/food-garden

Saturday, September 6, Weeds, Soil Health and Cover Crops, 9:00 am to noon, “Saturdays in the Garden” at the Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery, presentations are given by VCE Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers. 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136. Free but must register (703) 792-7747. E-mail: master-gardener@pwcgov.org; http://pwcgov.org/grow

Saturday, September 6 & Sunday, September 7, Managing the 4 P’s: Pollinators, Parasites, Predators and Pests, Saturday, September 6, 2:00 to 4:00 pm and Sunday, September 7, 2:00 to 4:00 pm. (presentation given twice).U.S. Botanic Garden, presentation in the Conservatory classroom. Free but must register. 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington DC (202) 225-8333 (general) & (202) 225-1116 (to register for events). http://usbg.gov

Tuesday, September 9, Composting Yard and Kitchen Waste, 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Presented by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia. Walter Reed Community Center, 2909 16th Street South, Arlington. Free but must register (703) 228-0949. E-mail: mkot@arlingtonva.us. http://mgnv.org

Saturday, September 13, Fall Garden Day & Plant Sale at Green Spring, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA (703) 642-5173. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/events.htm

Saturday, September 13, Friends of Brookside Gardens annual plant sale, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Brookside Gardens Service Hill, follow signs on Glenallen Avenue, Wheaton, MD. call for more information (301) 962-1435. http://www.friendsofbrooksidegardens.org.

Saturday, September 27, “Living Garden Spaces,” Green Spring Gardens’ Garden Symposium, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA (703) 642-5173. Learn about native plants, attracting native beneficial insects, and managing the unwanted wildlife in your garden. Co-sponsored by the Virginia Native Plant Society and Washington Gardener magazine. Must register by 9/19 and fee. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/gsg-symposium.htm

8th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival, September 12-13, at Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

The 8th Annual Heritage Festival is presented by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello in partnership with the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Thomas Jefferson is often called America’s “founding foodie”. He championed vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation, and sustainable agriculture. Each year the Heritage Harvest Festival honors Jefferson’s legacy with this fun, affordable, family-oriented, educational event promoting gardening, sustainability, local food, and the preservation of heritage plants. Participants enjoy tastings, workshops, hands on demonstrations, interpretive walks, and a variety of garden tours and exhibits. Friday and Saturday offer more than 100 programs and workshops, 90 vendors and exhibitors, and sample food from local farms and restaurants. On Friday evening, Aaron Keefer, the culinary gardener of The French Laundry, will offer the keynote speech and there will be a Chefs’ Harvest Dinner on Montalto, Jefferson’s high mountain overlooking Monticello. This year an additional pre-festival program on edible landscaping will be held at Montalto on Thursday, September 11. For more information, including ticket information, see http://www.heritageharvestfestival.com

Jefferson's Monticello, copyright Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, photography by Robert Llewellyn

Jefferson’s Monticello, copyright Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, photography by Robert Llewellyn