Great Garden Plant: Baptisia

Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue’ flowers up close

Baptisia, also called false indigo, is a shrub that does well in our hot and humid summers. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the range of flower colors creating a new look for an old favorite. I myself have been taken by two top performers according to Mt. Cuba Center’s 15-page report, Baptisia for the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Mt. Cuba Center’s Trial Garden, managed by George Coombs, research horticulturist, evaluates native plants and their related cultivars. From 2012 to 2015, staff evaluated 46 selections of Baptisia including representatives from 11 different species to determine which performs best in the mid-Atlantic region. Over 60 percent of the plants tested receive 4 or 5 stars. Among those, 10 superior cultivars outperformed the rest. Fortunately for me my two recent Baptisia additions to my garden are included in the ten.

I have two Lemon Meringue and two Dutch Chocolate plants. I purchase them three years ago as small plants. Last month they were heavy with yellow or chocolate brown flowers. Although they look like shrubs, these plants are herbaceous perennials. They die back in the fall and come back in the early spring. By summer, the plants grow to their mature height of about 3 feet high and wide, each year. Mine had pea-like flowers on tall spikes, similar to lupines, in April. In the fall, the flowers produce dark brown pods that be used for dried flower arrangements. Baptisia plants are deer resistant, heat and humidity tolerant, and drought tolerant once established. These natives make great additions to the garden. I am thinking of adding more!

Lemon Meringue and Dutch Chocolate

Fringe Tree: Native Tree with Showy Spring Flowers

If you live in the Washington DC metro area, you may be seeing fringe trees blooming now — its wispy cream flowers, like an old man’s beard, swaying in the breeze. Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) are native, deciduous trees that prefer full sun to part shade and moist fertile soil. Their natural habitats are damp woodlands. Fringe trees are named after their sweetly scented flowers, comprised of 4 to 6 one-inch long straps. Although fringe trees are dioecious (male and female plants), they both flower. Some produce what are called “perfect” flowers (having both male and female parts). Therefore, female flowers and perfect flowers produce fruit that resemble dark blue olives. Fringe trees belong to the olive family and the birds love the fruit. These slow growing trees mature around 15 to 20 feet and are perfect for the home as specimen trees.


Garden Clubs and Plant Societies in the Washington DC Metro Area

There are many local garden clubs, plant societies, and horticultural organizations in the Washington DC metropolitan area, too many to list here. But here is a start for those of you who are new to the capital region or new to gardening. If you cannot find what you are looking for here, search the internet for a larger umbrella organization to inquire about the local unit or search by plant name or city for a neighborhood garden club. If you know of a local club that I missed, feel free to let me know via the comments section.

The American Horticultural Society

The American Horticultural Society is a national membership organization and its physical location is River Farm, 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA. The property was part of George Washington’s tract along the Potomac River. It is open to the public but best to call first as they also rent their space for weddings and private events. River Farm has a beautiful view to the river, gardens, a children’s garden, and a gift shop. They also have annual events such as plant sales and sometimes they have special lectures.

River Farm in Alexandria, home to the American Horticultural Society

National Garden Clubs, Inc.

The National Garden Clubs, Inc., has 50 state garden clubs that are further broken down into regional clubs and local clubs. The National Garden Clubs is headquartered at 4401 Magnolia Avenue, St. Louis, MO. In this area, the state level clubs are the Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs, headquartered at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Avenue, Richmond, VA; and the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, Inc., at 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD. The local regional unit is the National Capital Area Garden Clubs and within the National Capital Area Garden Clubs are many “neighborhood” clubs with differing meeting times so it is best to contact them for a local unit near you.

Garden Club of America

The Garden Club of America is headquartered at 14 East 60th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY. There are only a few in this Zone VI area (according to their map). There is the Garden Club of Chevy Chase, MD; and the Trowel Club and the Georgetown Garden Club in DC.

Clubs can often gain access to visit private gardens

Garden Club of Virginia

The Garden Club of Virginia is headquartered at the Kent-Valentine House, 12 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA. There are many local units across the Commonwealth so contact headquarters for one near you. The Garden Club of Virginia is famous for its annual Historic Garden Week in April when private and public gardens are open to the public for a week and the local units’ volunteers not only help to put on this event but make floral arrangements for the homes.

Local Chapters of Plant Societies

Many clubs have plant sales and are great resources for unique plants

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. These are the local chapters in order of the plant name in boldface type.

Mid-Atlantic African Violet Society and the Baltimore African Violet Club

Northern Virginia Chapter of the Azalea Society of America

Potomac Branch of the American Begonia Society

Northern Virginia Bonsai Society

Potomac Bonsai Association

Baltimore Bonsai Club

The American Boxwood Society

National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society

Camellia Society of the Potomac Valley

Old Dominion Chrysanthemum Society

Potomac Chrysanthemum Society

American Conifer Society

Maryland, Virginia and DC Daffodil Societies

National Capital Dahlia Society

National Capital Daylily society

Free State Daylily Society

Northern Virginia Daylily Society

American Fern Society

National Capital Area Chapter of the Gesneriad Society

American Gourd Society. There is a Virginia Lover’s Gourd Society

Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America

Colonial Virginia Holly society

Potomac Hosta Club

Chesapeake and Potomac Iris Society

National Capital Orchid Society

Mid-Atlantic Peony Society

Middle Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society

And Potomac Chapter

And Mason-Dixon Chapter

Potomac Valley Chapter of the Northern American Rock Garden Society

Potomac Rose Society

Arlington Rose Foundation

Local Chapters of Native Plant Societies

There is a Maryland Native Plant Society in Silver Spring and a Virginia Native Plant Society headquartered at 400 Blandy Farm Road, Unit 2, Boyce, VA. Contact them for local chapters.

Private Garden Clubs

Annapolis Horticultural Society

Bethesda Community Garden Club

Burtonsville Garden club

Beltsville Garden Club

Falls Church Garden Club

Four Seasons Garden Club

Greater Brookland Garden Club

Greenbelt Community Garden Club

Horticultural Society of Maryland

Hyattsville Horticulture Society

Sandy Spring Museum Garden Club

Silver Spring Garden Club

Takoma Horticultural Club

Friends of Organizations

The All Hallows Guild takes care of Bishops Garden at the National Cathedral in DC

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 Spring in Alexandria, VA; Friends of Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD; and the Friends of the National Arboretum. There is an organization called the All Hallows Guild of the National Cathedral, which has extensive grounds and a garden at Massachusetts & Wisconsin Avenues, NW, Washington, DC.

Historic Garden Week: Tour Private Virginian Homes and Gardens

Historic Garden Week has begun! Starting yesterday, Saturday April 27 through Saturday May 4, 2019, you can tour private and public gardens throughout the commonwealth of Virginia. Sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV), Historic Garden Week (HGW) is an annual event for the public to tour almost 200 private homes and gardens and historical sites in Virginia.

Private McLean home will be open on Tuesday, photo by Donna Moulton

A non-profit organization, the GCV is comprised of 47 member clubs. Proceeds from the annual HGW, which originated in 1927, fund the restoration and preservation of Virginia’s historical gardens and provide graduate level research fellowships for building comprehensive and ongoing records of historic gardens and landscapes in the Commonwealth. For more than 80 years, the grounds of Virginia’s most cherished historic landmarks including Mount Vernon, Monticello, and the Executive Mansion in Richmond have been restored or preserved using proceeds from this statewide house and garden tour.

Private Roanoke home open on Saturday, photo by Sharp Top Studios

This year there will be 31 tours hosted by volunteers at local GCV member clubs. The 31 tours are divided into 8 regions: Northern Virginia, Potomac, Coastal, Tidewater, Capitol, Southwest, Blue Ridge, and Foothills. This annual event is coordinated and managed by 3,300 volunteers who spend months planning in advance. Many members create beautiful floral arrangements for the homes. It is estimated that 2,200 floral arrangements will have been made for this year’s event.

Private Lynchburg residence open on Tuesday, photo by Becky Giles

The schedule is available online and tickets can be purchased on the day of the tour at numerous locations or in advance. Tours are held rain or shine. Properties can be visited in any order. Also available is the Guidebook, a 216-page, beautifully illustrated publication, which can be downloaded, purchased online, or picked up free at designated public places. The Guidebook has descriptions of the tour sites, directions, refreshments, special activities in the area, and other places of interest which usually include historical sites that can be toured at other times of the year (for future reference). The Guidebook is a snapshot of the touring area; it lists names of the sponsoring Garden Club member organizations; area information such as Chamber of Commerce & historical societies; and advertisements from local businesses such as garden centers, antique stores, and restaurants.

An example of one of the many arrangements made by volunteers, photo courtesy of GCV

Pegplant’s Post May Giveaway: Foxgloves Gardening Gloves

I have been using Foxgloves gardening gloves for years now; currently I have three pairs. They fit like surgical gloves so I am able to grasp small seedlings and wiggle my hands under the soil to pull out stringy weeds. Mine are the Originals, wrist-length and made of cotton. They are very comfortable in the summer, they do not make my hands sweaty like plastic does. Plus, I can wash the dirt out in the washing machine and hang the gloves up to dry.

Foxgloves were designed by a woman horticulturist and landscape designer/architect. She was searching for a glove that would protect her hands without impeding her sense of touch. She liked the way the old-fashioned, elbow-length silk gloves fit but knew the delicate material would not last and could not be washed. Using Supplex® nylon and Lycra® elastane, she was able to create a strong yet snug fabric. In 1999, she launched her glove business with the Foxgloves Originals. Since then she has designed different types of gloves and other gardening products.

The giveaway for the May issue of Pegplant’s Post is one pair of the Foxgloves Originals. The winner can pick the size and one of 8 muted colors. Only subscribers can enter to win the giveaway so subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post, a free gardening newsletter for the Washington DC metro area.

Edith J. Carrier Arboretum: A JMU Gem

trillium, a wildflower in the oak forest

If you are a parent of a high school senior like me and find yourself with the prospect of driving down to James Madison University, you have to visit the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. A week ago, I spent several hours walking through the wooded sanctuary, taking photos of the wildflowers and daffodils. Although it was a rainy day, the wood-chipped paths made it easy to transverse and the staff were delightful.

The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is part of James Madison University, across from the JMU Convocation Center on University Boulevard. There is so much to see now in April and there will be even more with each season. After I dropped my daughter off at the Convocation Center, I parked at the Arboretum and walked into the Frances Plecker Education Center. Serving as the visitor’s center, this very modern looking building also houses the botanical library, staff offices, and rooms for meetings, workshops, and events. It opens out to an expansive deck with a pergola and picnic tables where they also have events such as plants sales.

Frances Plecker Education Center

As I picked up the self-guided walking tour brochure, Jan Mahon, the director, entered. She was very gracious about spending time with me even though I had not made an appointment. She explained that the Arboretum’s mission statement is to inspire outdoor engagement in a woodland sanctuary. It is a public (free admission) urban garden and forested greenspace that preserves native plant species. They are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year and to celebrate they have chosen the theme “Year of the Trees.” They will have tree-related programs, wellness activities, native trees for sale, and forest bathing and sound bathing classes. She even had bookmarks made from actual trees with the tree name on the backside. I picked up Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which serves as “year-round cover and nesting space for wildlife.”

A view of Frances Plecker Education Center from across the lake

The JMU faculty can use the grounds for teaching, the local schools can bring children for field trips, and the public can either walk around on their own, take a self-guided tour, or participate in docent-led tours. Throughout the year, the Arboretum has workshops, lectures, plant sales, wildflower walks, children’s programs, volunteer opportunities and even weddings and private events.

The Arboretum is named after Edith J. Carrier, wife of JMU President Emeritus Ronald E. Carrier. However, the inspiration and vision comes from former JMU botany professor Dr. Norlyn Bodkin. In the early 1960s, Dr. Bodkin began to use the “College Woods” to teach botany to his students. In the 1970s, he advocated for an Arboretum. In the 1980s, then JMU President Carrier and the University Planning and Development Commission approved the plan and the Arboretum opened to the public in 1989. During Ronald Carrier’s presidential tenure, 1971-1999, Edith Carrier served as a hostess for visiting dignitaries and as an event planner for JMU thus the name honors her service to JMU. The Bodkin Oak-Hickory Forest, a woodland tract in the Arboretum, honors Dr. Bodkin who not only created the Arboretum but served as its first director.

bluebell buds

Covering 125 acres, the Arboretum has developed tracts near the Frances Plecker Education Center and undeveloped forested areas further away. Near the Center are small gardens or collections punctuated by educational signs. When I finished talking with Jan, I walked out of the Center toward a very large lake.

I passed the Viette Perennial Garden where purple-red peony stems and green daylily foliage were emerging. Famed horticulturist and nurseryman Andre Viette donated the perennials for this particular garden. As I headed toward the Herb Garden, the bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were just about to bloom, with clusters of tiny, pink and purple pinched buds. The Herb Garden is quite large; the plants are on short, retaining walls. A variety of herbs were coming back to life in early April. I could see purple-tinged anise hyssop leaves and valerian’s lacy green foliage. Across the way daffodils were peeping through a band of gold and red-twigged dogwoods (Cornus sericea).

yellow and red twigged dogwood with yellow daffodils peeping through

As I walked back down the path ribbons of yellow splashed across the April Walk Daffodil Garden. There must have been thousands of daffodils weaving in drifts under the leafless hardwood trees. I walked toward the wooden Pavilion and sat inside at a picnic table, taking a short break from the rain. Because of the rain, no one was outside so I had the pleasure of having the Arboretum all to myself.

ribbons of daffodils

I spent quite a lot of time in the Bodkin Oak-Hickory Forest and the Wood Wildflower Garden, taking photos of wildflowers. It was a treat to see the majestic trilliums with sessile, mottled leaves and mahogany-red flower buds. Most of the buds were not open yet but the leaves were large and gorgeous. The white blood root flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) were closed but that might have been because of the weather. There were fields of Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) creating a fern green carpet with white, pendulous flowers.

Dutchman’s breeches, up close

As I walked towards the front of the Arboretum I passed the McDonald Azalea and Rhododendron Garden and the Mid-Atlantic Chapter for the American Rhododendron Society and Native Azalea Garden. I saw a few flowers, it is too early yet, but I can imagine how beautiful this place will be in a few months. There are flowers in every season here — even a large paperbush, (Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Gold Finch’), had pendulous golden flowers left over from the winter.

The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is a must visit next time you are at JMU or even in Harrisonburg. The next time I bring my daughter to JMU, I plan to see the labyrinth, the Fern Valley, the Monarch Waystation, and the blooming azaleas, rhododendrons, and perennials. Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, 780 University Boulevard, Harrisonburg, VA 22807; (540) 568-3194.

Volunteering at Public Gardens in Washington DC

April is National Volunteer Month and this week, from April 7 to 13, is National Volunteer Week. I originally posted this article in December 2018 but in honor of National Volunteer Week/Month, I am re-posting for you to think about volunteering at one of DC’s public gardens. The Washington DC area has many opportunities for people with a passion for plants and gardening to volunteer. This article focuses on three opportunities where the entities are not non-profits, they are actually part of the federal government. Thus, they share several unique characteristics.

This article provides a broad overview and compares and contrasts three places. However, it is best to reach out to the organization that interests you for more detailed information. Opportunities to volunteer are like the tide, they ebb and flow depending on the season and annual events. To learn about additional organizations that may need volunteers, view this list of public gardens and contact them directly.

U.S. Botanic Garden

The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) was established by Congress in 1820 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the country. The USBG is comprised of the Conservatory, the National Garden, and the Bartholdi Park. It is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. It is a prime tourist attraction, open every day of the year, and within walking distance of metro stations.

“Volunteers are vital to the support of the Botanic Garden,” said Elizabeth Barton,Education Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator, who oversees about 250 volunteers. People interested in volunteering at the USBG should first complete the application form on the USBG website, which gives Elizabeth a sense of timing, availability, and interests. After she receives the application, she calls the applicant to set up a meeting with her and possibly another staff person. Applicants can apply between January and early October.

U.S. Botanic Gardens’ production greenhouses

The USBG has a public programming team and a horticultural team. Volunteers who work with the horticultural team work with the plants either inside the conservatory, outside with the gardens and grounds crew, or at the USBG production facility in Maryland (large production greenhouses). Volunteers who work with the public programming team assist with the public programs, such as lectures and children’s programs, answer questions at the visitor’s desk, manage the Discovery Carts, or serve as docents.

All volunteers attend a general volunteer orientation. Starting in 2019, all volunteers will attend an accessibility awareness training where one learns to interact with people who have special needs and disabilities. There may be further training depending on the assignment. “None of the volunteer duties require prior horticultural knowledge,” explained Elizabeth. “We work with you where you are. The horticultural team loves working with people who have horticultural experience but they also love working with people who have no horticultural experience but have enthusiasm. As long as you have the enthusiasm, we can teach you about the tasks.”

Docents obtain additional training on how to give a tour and basic botany and plant morphology. Docents focus on a particular area of the Botanic Garden to learn about those particular plants. For example, a docent who leads tours of the National Garden outside would get additional training on the National Garden before leading a tour.

Elizabeth emphasized that there is also the opportunity to explore a special interest. A volunteer can present an idea to USBG staff who will discuss it to see if the idea fits with current programming. She explained how a volunteer had an interest in conifers and thus developed a conifer Discovery Cart. (Discovery Carts are informal, pop-up educational opportunities on specific topics such as conifers, chocolate, or poinsettias.)

Volunteers need to commit to 100 hours per year, which could be a 4-hour shift every other week or 2-hour shift every week or a condensed number of weeks. It varies because some people live nearby and can easily commute to work a few hours at a time while others live further away and prefer infrequent trips and a longer day.

A well-known volunteer giving a lecture at USBG

Because USBG is part of the federal government, volunteers need to go through the background security check and fingerprinting process that is required of all feds. If you are a current or retired government employee, you would have been through this process before.

Volunteers not only benefit from helping others, they learn more about horticulture and gardening. “Volunteers learn a lot no matter what they are doing here,” said Elizabeth. “They also are able to give back to the community, that is, the USBG is a great resource to the community.”

USBG staff host two volunteer appreciation events every year for the volunteers, a holiday and a spring social event. If volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend a one day educational and appreciation event hosted by the Horticultural Consortium of the Greater Washington area (HCGWA). The HCGWA is a group of local organizations that depend upon a cadre of volunteers. Each year, one of the organizations hosts and develops the agenda and invites the volunteers from the other organizations.

Smithsonian Gardens

The Smithsonian Institution was established by an act of Congress in 1846 and is a unique public-private partnership that receives federal funds. In 1972, the Smithsonian Gardens was established to manage the Smithsonian museum grounds and is comprised of the Grounds Management Operations, the Greenhouse Nursery Operations, and the Horticulture Collections Management and Education. The outside gardens are open every day of the week and there are several nearby metro stops.

Alison Kootstra, Volunteer Program Coordinator, explained that even though they have a small volunteering program, less than 100 volunteers, they have a very high retention rate. As with the USBG, applicants need to first complete the volunteer application form on the website. Alison reviews the application and contacts the applicant to set up an in person interview. Interviews are conducted at the Smithsonian Gardens office on Maryland Avenue (next to L’Enfant Plaza metro station) or at the Suitland, Maryland, production greenhouses, depending on the location of the volunteer opportunity.

There are three different types of opportunities: grounds maintenance, greenhouse, and docents for exhibitions. Alison most frequently recruits for the grounds maintenance position where volunteers work alongside staff horticulturists in the Smithsonian gardens. Tucked among the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are 13 thematic gardens.

Volunteer at Smithsonian Gardens event
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Volunteers are asked to commit to working from April to October, one day per week. Because staff work Monday through Friday, volunteers also work during the work week and not on the weekend. Recruitment occurs every year and three to eight people are chosen to work in specific gardens. “Experience is not required,” explained Alison. “It is more important that the person has enthusiasm, the willing to learn, and the ability to follow instructions.”

The Suitland greenhouses are not open to the public so the environment may be quieter than the public gardens, which are frequented by tourists. Tasks include planting, transplanting, and taking care of orchids and tropical plants. This opportunity is less frequent because volunteers tend to stay for a long time. Again, since volunteers are working with staff who work weekdays, the opportunity is also on weekdays.  

There are opportunities for docents for exhibitions but this is less frequent, depending on the need or exhibit. Because the Smithsonian Gardens is responsible for an orchid exhibit that begins in February 2019, Alison just recruited 20 new volunteers to serve as docents. This exhibit is open every day so the opportunity to volunteer would be on the weekday or weekend and would require quite a lot of interaction with the public.

Alison ticked off the benefits of volunteering with the Smithsonian Gardens, which mirror Smithsonian employee benefits. Volunteers receive 20 percent off at Smithsonian gift shops and many of the public food eateries, access to behind the scenes tours or enrichment activities within the Smithsonian, discounts on some ticketed Smithsonian programs, and reciprocal arrangements with other museums across the country.  In addition, Alison plans an enrichment activity every other month such as a tour of another public garden or a trip to see a local museum exhibit. Like the USBG, if volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend the HCGWA event.

Volunteer in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian volunteers must also undergo the background security check and fingerprinting.They must attend an orientation and an annual security training. There may be additional training as needed for specific positions, for example, grounds staff may have more safety trainings than docents.

U.S. National Arboretum

The U.S. National Arboretum (USNA) was established in 1927 by an act of Congress. According to their mission statement on their website, the USNA enhances the economic, environmental, and aesthetic value of ornamental and landscape plants through long-term multi-disciplinary research, conservation of genetic resources, and interpretative gardens and exhibits. The USNA is administered by the U.S.Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Services. Located in Northeast DC with entrances on New York Avenue and R Street, the Arboretum is made up of 446 acres and many plant collections. There is no nearby metro stop but plenty of free parking.  

 “We get inquiries from people interested in volunteering from our website or they walk in to the Arboretum and ask if there are volunteering opportunities,” said Carole Bordelon, Supervisory Horticulturist and Acting Volunteer and Intern Coordinator. Carole asks interested applicants to complete an online form. She looks at the applicant’s interests while asking staff how many volunteers they can support, and then tries to match the two.

Volunteers cleaning seed at USNA
Photo courtesy of USNA

“We have several different types of volunteers but the majority are working outside in the gardens and assisting staff with weeding, pruning, mulching, and planting,” said Carole. “Although the Arboretum is open to the public on the weekends, the staff work during the week so the volunteer positions are only available during the work week. In addition, depending on the collection, the staff horticulturist may want a volunteer to work on a specific day.”Currently, they have about 75 volunteers that come in on a regular basis and work in the various collections. They also have a need for volunteers to work indoors on the herbarium, archives, exhibits, image database, and public programs.

“There are some volunteers who have been here a long time so there is no need for volunteers in that particular garden area but in some areas they need volunteers for the spring/summer months and not the winter. There are some volunteers who work in one collection outside and then on bad weather days, work inside on the herbarium.”

They do require 4-6 hours per week, usually 4 hours. “We set up a schedule and most of volunteers who work outside are asked to come on a specific week day,” said Carole. 

Volunteers planting in the USNA’s Fern Valley Meadow
Photo courtesy of USNA

Volunteers learn about the plants in the collection and proper techniques, but they also enjoy the ability to meet new people. The Arboretum is a tourist attraction; volunteers may interact with visitors from all over the world. In addition, the USNA staff put on an annual volunteer recognition event where they invite a guest speaker and distribute service awards. Staff arrange outreach field trips to other public gardens and volunteers are encouraged to go to the Smithsonian In-Service Days in the winter months. Similar to the other two, USNA volunteers may attend the HCGWA event. USNA volunteers must complete the background check and fingerprinting.

Friends of the National Arboretum

Although the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) is a non-profit organization, it is important to mention because FONA works in tandem with the USNA and FONA volunteers work on the Arboretum property. People interested in volunteering may find themselves at the Arboretum for one-time events or long-term projects managed through FONA.

To volunteer, applicants need to complete the online form at the FONA website. “Many of our opportunities are seasonal,” explained Melinda Peters, Volunteer Programs Manager. “For example, recruiting for volunteers for the annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale in April will start up later. Our busy time will start at the end of February and into March and that is when I will start contacting applicants.”

To help distinguish between the two, the Arboretum manages volunteers who work in the plant collections or in the Arboretum’s Administrative Building while FONA manages volunteers for annual events such as the Garden Fair and Plant Sale, summer concerts, and Full Moon Hikes and for long-term projects such as the Washington Youth Garden and the Springhouse Run restoration project.

Volunteer pruning in the Asian collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

For the past 2 years, volunteers have restored Springhouse Run which is actually two streams that run through the Arboretum and into the Anacostia River, the Springhouse Run and the Hickey Run. The stream has been restored to a more natural flow and volunteers have planted many native plants. The Washington Youth Garden helps DC’s youth learn to garden and volunteer opportunities exist from April to early November, Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The Full Moon Hikes are guided walks around the Arboretum in the evening, under a full moon,which requires volunteers to serve as tour guides. The Garden Fair and Plant Sale is an April weekend where many different types of plants are for sale to the public, either from the Arboretum’s holdings, local garden clubs, or nurseries. This is a purely volunteer-run event at the Arboretum managed through FONA.

Unlike the three federal entities mentioned above, FONA does not require a background security check and fingerprinting except for the Washington Youth Garden volunteers who have to complete a more extensive onboarding process. However, volunteers for one-time events may have to sign a liability form.

There is more flexibility in terms of hours if one volunteers through FONA. Volunteers can work on weekdays, weekends, and in the evenings, depending on the event.  Also, corporations that want to or universities that require service hours can work through FONA to complete one-time service activities such as mulching on the Arboretum grounds.

Volunteer cleaning up in USNA’s Azalea collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

As with all volunteering opportunities, the benefits are socializing, learning, and giving back to the community. “For single events, we provide snacks, tools,and training,” said Melinda. “It is safe to say that food is always involved somehow.” FONA volunteers are invited to an annual volunteer appreciation event and as with the other three entities, volunteers may attend the HCGWA if they meet the required hours. Melinda also explained that the Full Moon Hike leaders receive a stipend because they have to undergo a more rigorous training program and commit to a certain list of guidelines.

To summarize, there are many different opportunities to volunteer with these prestigious organizations, you just have to figure out which is the best match for you in terms of your time, interests, and ability. Some will require digging in the dirt while others will require public speaking. But with all, horticultural experience is not a requirement so do not hesitate if you do not have plant experience. Just show up with enthusiasm and a willing to learn and you will become connected to DC’s horticultural network!

Before You Buy That Plant, Answer Five Basic Questions

My teenage son introduced me to the phrase “talk to the hand.” Although “talk to the hand because the face ain’t listening” is clearly another way of saying be quiet (nagging mom), I, as a gardener, immediately thought of the five basic criteria for buying plants. A finger for each question! What a concept! This will make it easier for new gardeners to figure out what to buy or what to do after they have bought plants for their garden.

When shopping for plants, there are five basic questions to ask before you make a purchase. This is the very basic information you need in order to make a wise decision and to determine the best location in the garden for the optimal survival rate. Raise a finger and ask:

  • What is the plant’s environmental requirements? What is its preference for light, water, and temperature? This will tell you immediately if you have a place for it in your garden. Does it need full sun, or morning sun and afternoon shade, or shade all day? Does it need to be watered often, or can it take dry spells? Does it prefer the cool spring weather or must it be planted after the average last frost date?
  • What is its life cycle? Is it an annual, perennial, biennial, or tropical plant? In other words how much plant life will you get for your money? Many plant tags will phrase this in terms of the hardiness zone. A tag that says zone 4-9 means that it will survive our winters since we are in zone 6-7. A tag that says zone 10-11 probably means it is a tropical plant that will die with first frost.
  • What is its function in the garden? Is it going to serve as a groundcover, will it provide spring flowers, or will it have bright fall foliage?
  • What will be the ultimate size? If it only gets a foot tall, you probably have the space. If it grows into a tree, ask yourself if you have space in a few years.
  • What color is it? This is a placement issue. Know the color of the flower, fruit, and leaves in all seasons so you can plant it in a place where it won’t clash with other plants or your house.

You should have five fingers up by now. Much of this information should be on the plant tag but if there is no tag, ask nursery staff or look it up in a book or on the internet.

This isn’t to say you can ask more questions or there are not more criteria that are relevant to your area and your needs. For example, if you live in a deer infested area, you would want deer resistant plants. Make that your sixth question and look at your palm. Or you have small children who play outside in the garden and you want non-poisonous, child friendly plants you can make that your palm. But these are more specific to you and could change if you move or if your children grow up.

As the plant establishes itself and thrives in the garden, eventually you will learn additional information, such as fertilizing and pruning. These are maintenance questions. This could be the other hand, like a second tier of information. But for now, when you are considering planting peppers and peppermint together, in your garden, talk to the hand!

Pegplant’s Post April Giveaway: 21 packages of seed!

Cosmos, one of the flowers of the flower seed collection

For years I have been receiving the Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog as well as the newsletter. John Scheepers is a family-owned seed company that sells a large collection of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. They produce a beautifully illustrated free catalog with detailed information on the plant itself and the varieties. This catalog is a great resource for beginner gardeners. Their website has horticultural information, an e-cookbook, and a blog. You also can subscribe to their free newsletter featuring particular vegetables, flowers, or herbs with sowing and growing information.

Borage, from the herb seed collection

The giveaway for the Pegplant’s Post April issue is three seed collections: vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Each collection has 7 packets for a total of 21 packages of seeds valued at $65.95. Only subscribers can enter the giveaway so subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post, a free gardening newsletter for the Washington DC metro area.


Photos courtesy of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

Sow-a-Smile: Grow and Give Flowers This Summer

For years I have cut flowers from my garden and brought them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just stick the zinnias, marigolds, daisies, and cosmos in a vase and put the vase on my desk. My colleagues love them. Invariably they smile and strike up a conversation. Some ask me to bring in flowers for them; some are inspired to bring in flowers of their own.

Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Professor Emeritus with Rutgers’ Department of Psychology, has researched the impact flowers have on both men and women. In three different studies, she has proven that flowers are a positive emotional “inducer.” In the first study, flowers, when given to women, elicited the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is a genuine smile, an indicator of happiness. The corners of the mouth are raised, the cheeks are raised, and the eyes are crinkled with lines. In addition, the women in the study reported more positive moods 3 days later.

In the second study, a flower or a pen was given to men and women in an elevator to see if flowers have the same impact on men and also to see if flowers (versus pens) would decrease the social distance in an elevator and increase conversation initiation. Men showed the same pattern of smiling when receiving flowers. When the people in the elevator were given flowers, they were more likely to initiate conversation thus closing the gap between them. In a third study, flowers were given to people in senior living residences. The flowers elicited positive moods and improved episodic memory.

Her research proves what we instinctively know: flowers trigger happy emotions and affect social behavior in a positive way. To celebrate the power of flowers, Burpee has started a sow-a-smile campaign. They are giving a free packet of flower seeds with each purchase of annual flowers (seed or plants). The seed packet has easy-to-grow annuals such as baby’s breath, candytuft, scarlet flax, red corn poppy, calendula, cornflower, zinnia, sulphur cosmos, gloriosa daisy, plains coreopsis, and catchfly. Burpee is encouraging people to grow and give a bouquet, capture the recipient’s smile on camera, and share the images on their Facebook site. A brilliant idea – share the love! If you want to see the Duchenne smile on your friends, family, and colleagues, give flowers!

Photos courtesy of Burpee.