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

Fall Vegetable Gardening

This past July, popular seed companies announced that it was time to start the fall vegetable garden but I dismissed it as it was high summer and I was rolling in red tomatoes and yellow peppers. Now, as the tomato plants begin to yellow and the peppers turn red, I am focusing my attention on cool season veggies in hopes of reliving the greens I enjoyed this past spring. I did not plan for it though, it caught me by surprised. August is a time for harvesting and processing the summer bounty while at the same time planting another round of seeds for the fall/winter/spring edibles, depending on what you plant and if you can extend the season with covers. I was fortunate enough to have seed left over from the spring and planted pak choi, sugar snap peas, lettuce, scallions, spinach, and carrots both in the garden bed and in containers.

spinach seedlings

spinach seedlings in a basket

Last weekend I attended a 90-minute presentation called “Fall Vegetable Gardening,” where Libby Good, a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, expanded the concept of fall vegetable gardening to include planting crops to harvest before frost or that can overwinter, planting cover crops to add nitrogen, extending the season with cold frames or row covers, garden clean up, and overall getting ready for the next year. Libby explained that planting in the fall has advantages: the soil is workable, the air temperatures can be cooler with less direct sun, the moisture levels can be higher, and there can be fewer insects and weeds. “Most fall veggies don’t rely on pollinators and are high in nutrition,” she said.

sugar snap pea seedling

sugar snap pea seedling

Libby also explained that if you are starting seed or buying transplants you have to first determine your frost date, which Libby says is around Halloween in the Northern Virginia area. Then you have to work backwards to determine when to plant the seed or transplant. But the difference between fall and spring planting is the “Short Day” factor, which usually is not addressed on a seed packet. If you are going to plant seed, you have to add 2 weeks to the numbers on the seed packet to allow for the cooler night temperatures and the shorter day lengths. According to her handout, if you want to sow spinach seeds for a fall harvest (i.e., before first frost), you have to add the 7 to 10 days for germination, 35 days to reach maturation, and 14 days for the Short Day factor for a total of 56 to 59 days. Therefore, the latest you can sow seeds is the beginning of September. The length of time would be shorter if you bought transplants from a nursery.

pak choi seedlings

pak choi seedlings

Another factor to keep in mind is the plant’s tolerance for cold temperatures, for example, beets, cauliflower, chard, Chinese cabbage, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, peas, and rutabagas can survive light frosts. Broccoli, broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, collards, kale, radishes, spinach, and turnips can survive heavy frosts. Chicories, garlic, kale, leeks, multiplier onions, spinach, and shallots can stay in the ground over winter.

carrots in a fabric bag

carrots in a fabric bag

You can extend the season, which means to be able to harvest after frost, by protecting the plants from low temperatures with row covers, cold frames, hoop houses, and greenhouses. Libby has been gardening for many years and uses both row covers and cold frames to extend her harvest. She passed around her own row cover, made out of a synthetic fabric that allows light and water through and provides several degrees of protection. She also showed photos of her cold frames which she made with discarded windows. By growing greens in a cold frame she was able to harvest lettuce in February.

“Fall Vegetable Gardening” was free, courtesy of the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, and will be offered again on Thursday, September 4, at Fairlington Community Center, 7:00 to 8:30 pm; and Saturday, September 20, 10:30 to noon at the Barrett Branch Library. Call (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com to register in advance. http://www.mgnv.org

Master Gardener Classes Starting in Northern Virginia

The Master Gardener program is a great way to learn more about gardening, meet new friends, and get involved in civic projects. Conducted throughout the United States, the program usually is managed on a county level through state/county extension agents. Interested gardeners receive a manual and horticultural training from horticulturists and experts in the field. In return, they volunteer to assist the community with a variety of activities such as staffing plant clinic booths, answering phones, teaching, gardening in community areas, helping youth or elderly with gardening, etc. The program was initiated as a means of extending horticultural and pest management expertise of the state extension office to the general public. Usually the fee is the cost of the manual and a promise to volunteer and continue with education for a fixed number of hours annually. Becoming a Master Gardener is like joining a gardening club with many extended learning opportunities.

In Virginia, the Virginia Tech University manages the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) program which has extension agents at every county. The extension agent manages the county Master Gardener program. The following is just a quick snapshot of five Master Gardener programs in Northern Virginia to give you an idea; there are similar Master Gardener programs in Maryland and Washington DC. Among these five programs, the application deadlines, times/days programs are offered, cost, and the commitment in terms of hours vary so contact them directly for more detailed information. For example, if you work full time and can only attend evening classes you may find a program that offers evening classes and does not limit registration to county residents. Or some programs have one class a week instead of two thus extending the education over a longer time but making it more manageable.

In Fairfax County, there are two Master Gardener programs because so many people are interested. Green Spring, part of the Fairfax County park system, manages a Master Gardener program that requires a commitment of 100 hours in the first year. The classroom training is held at Green Spring in September and ends in November, usually two three-hour classes per week. Afterward, a 50 hour internship is required (volunteer work). After the first year, the Master Gardener status is maintained by remaining active in the program as a volunteer for 20 hours per year and participating in 8 hours of continuing education in horticulture. The orientation meeting is held in May and applicants are interviewed in the summer. The deadline to apply was this past June 2014 but if you are interested in learning more contact Pamela Smith, Community Horticultural Program Coordinator, (703) 642-0128, pamela.smith2@fairfaxcounty.gov; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/gsg-mastergardeners.htm

The other Fairfax Master Gardener program has classes at Merrifield Nursery at Fair Oaks. The classes are January through March, one day a week for 3 hours, during the day or during the evening. To become a certified Master Gardener, one has to complete 30 hours of classroom education per year for 3 years, and 24 hours of community service per year for 3 years. Once a person becomes a certified Master Gardener, he/she has to complete 8 hours of continuing education each year and 24 hours of volunteer work each year. The deadline for enrollment is September 8. There will be an open house on September 10 at Merrifield, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, to learn more about the program and obtain applications (free but register in advance just so they can get a head count). For more information contact Maryellen Leister, (703) 821-1146, meleister@aol.com; http://fairfaxmga.org

In Arlington County, classes start in the beginning of September, Tuesdays, from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm, and last 12 weeks. Classes are held at the Fairlington Community Center in Arlington and other local garden venues. There is no application deadline and acceptances into the program are determined by mid-August. Residents of Alexandria City and Arlington receive preference and all training and internship hours must be completed in the Arlington/Alexandria area. After 75 hours of classroom training, the trainees must complete a 60-hour internship to hone their skills in core Master Gardener educational projects within one year of training. Once the classroom program, internship, and student project are completed participants become certified Master Gardeners. To maintain certification, they must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours and attend 8 hours of continuing education programs every year. For more information, contact the VCE Master Gardener Horticulture Help Desk at (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com; http://mgnv.org/about/become-a-master-gardener/

In Loudoun County, the process starts in the fall but the classes start in February 2015. The Master Gardener program requires 60 hours of classroom education and 75 hours of the internship. The classes are held at the Extension office at 30 Catoctin Circle in Leesburg. Certified Master Gardeners must complete 25 volunteer hours and 8 hours of continuing education. This program has an early bird special where if you apply by November 15 you get a discounted tuition fee. Their application form online has quite a lot of information and there is an open house on November 6, 7:00 pm, at the Loudoun County Extension office, 30-B Catoctin Circle, SE, Leesburg. Call (703) 777-0373 or (703) 857-4575 for more information or e-mail at loudounmg@vt.edu; http://loudouncountymastergardeners.org

In Prince William County, 70 hours of classroom education and 50 hours of internship are required. To remain a Certified Master Gardener you must volunteer 20 hours per year and complete 8 hours of continuing education each year. There is an orientation on Monday, August 25, 6:30 to 8:30 pm in room 202A&B, Development Services Building 5, County Complex Drive, Prince William; and another orientation on Wednesday, August 27, 6:30 to 8:30pm, McCoy Conference Room, Sudley North Government Building, 7987 Ashton Avenue, Manassas. Must register for the orientation by calling (703) 792-7747 or e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org; http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/Master-Gardeners.aspx