Volunteering at Washington 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!

Poinsettia Pointers: Before and After the Holidays

Odds are you have a poinsettia in your home for the holidays. In the United States, poinsettias are grown in greenhouses and programmed to bloom in time for Christmas. Try to emulate the bright light and balmy 70 degrees the greenhouse has to offer in your home so your poinsettia will survive the holidays. Keep the soil moist but don’t let the roots sit in water. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. If it is in that decorative foil, either remove foil or cut bottom out of foil so excess water drains out.

After the holidays, grow it as if it were a houseplant. With luck, you may be able to see colored bracts (the “flowers”) again next year. Keep the plant in bright light and 70 degree temperature. In the spring, cut the stems back about half the length. Keep indoors or put outdoors in the warm summer months. Apply a houseplant fertilizer and make sure the plant does not dry out. In June, transfer into a slightly bigger pot. In September bring the plant back indoors. To induce flowering, give the plant bright light each day and fourteen hours of uninterrupted dark each night beginning in early October (as in cover with a box or put in a closet). Keep the soil moist but stop fertilizing. The color should form on the bracts in six to eight weeks.

Parsley: A Landscape Edible

parsley

parsley in January 2016

Parsley is one of those easy to grow landscape edibles that adds beauty to your garden and flavor to your cooking.

Here in Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground in the winter.

Parsley is a biennial, it produces foliage the first year and flowers the second year. I have set aside a small area in the ground I call the parsley patch. There are enough plants so that some are in the first year (when I want to harvest foliage for the kitchen) and some are in the second year (when I want them to flower, develop seed, and drop the seed to the ground to create new plants for next year). Just for extra luck, I also scatter seeds every spring. This way I can harvest fresh parsley year round.

Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. My plants are in the ground but parsley can be grown in containers and window boxes for the summer. I grow flat leaf or Italian parsley, which is best for culinary purposes. There is a curly leaf type that is best used as a garnish.

curly parsley in summer

To harvest parsley, cut outer, older leaves at the base, leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.  Cut with scissors (don’t pull) and put in a large bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes (to wash the foliage and drown any bugs). Pat dry and cut the leaves and stems into small pieces with scissors or a knife.

I use parsley for my bean stew, roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes, pasta, and salads. I have used leaves for garnish for holiday dinners and plates of fruit. In addition to its flavor, parsley has high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, plus a high level of chlorophyll that freshens your breath!

Season’s Greenings Exhibit at Washington DC’s U.S. Botanic Garden

Check out the U.S. Botanic Garden’s holiday season exhibit, Season’s Greenings: All Aboard. Season’s Greenings showcases historic railroad stations across the country including three Maryland stations (Ellicott City, Viaduct Hotel, and Point of Rocks) and DC’s own Union Station. Each year, the U.S. Botanic Garden staff and Applied Imagination of Alexandria, Kentucky, collaborate to create a theme and then to build the plant-based sculptures based on that theme. All the train stations are made of plant materials.

Salt Lake City Union Pacific Depot, Utah

Clock of Salt Lake City Union Pacific Depot made of cinnamon, acorn cap, anise fruit and driftwood

There are more than 20 replicas of railroad stations and two fantasy stations: Dino Depot (a large dinosaur) and the North Pole. Located in the West Gallery, the iconic stations take up the entire room with G gauge model trains running through. In addition, there is a “caboose” tall enough for kids to walk through to view dioramas of peanut farms, citrus groves, and grain fields. Outside the U.S. Botanic Garden at the front entrance is another train set among winter greens.

Point of Rocks Station, Maryland

In the Garden Court, there are 12 Washington DC landmarks plus the new Union Station. Each building is constructed on a frame of acrylic-based foam, casting resin is poured in the window cutouts, and wall surfaces are finished with sand-based grout. Each building is made of plant materials and if you look closely, you will see everything from walnuts to acorns.

Union Station in Washington DC

Statues of Union Station are made of corn husks, tulip poplar seeds, lafi pods, and other plant materials.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

Walnut shells on walls of Nat. Museum of African American History and Culture

Also in the Garden Court are thousands of poinsettias, from traditional red, to white, marbled, and lime green. Upright, red twigs and fully decorated live trees punctuate each river of poinsettias.

Many different types of poinsettias among ferns, red twigs, and decorated trees

The Season’s Greenings exhibit runs from Thanksgiving to January 1, 2019. The U.S. Botanic Garden, located at 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington DC, is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. On most Tuesdays and Thursdays in December the Conservatory will be open until 8:00 pm for live seasonal music concerts and after-dark holiday exhibit viewing. For more information and the music schedule, visit http://www.usbg.gov.

Cincinnati Union Terminal, Ohio

December Pegplant’s Post Giveaway: DRAMM garden apron and compact shear

I am very excited about the giveaway for the December 2018 issue of Pegplant’s Post. Sponsored by the DRAMM Corporation, the giveaway will be two items: a red ColorWear garden apron and a green ColorPoint compact shear (red and green for the holidays, get it?). DRAMM is a Wisconsin-based business that has produced well-known watering tools for over 75 years and has now expanded into gardening tools, fertilizers, and accessories.

The ColorPoint compact shear is perfect for cutting flowers, herbs, or bonsai. It has corrosion resistant, stainless steel blades and an ergonomic, non-slip handle for a comfortable grip.

The ColorWear garden apron protects clothing while holding tools, plants, or gloves. It is an ingenious three pocket design. The center pocket has side zippers enabling you to unzip the pocket and remove plant debris.

This giveaway opportunity is for subscribers of Pegplant’s Post, an online, free newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Each issue has:

  • Monthly events. Plan your social life with gardening events in the area. Each issue has at least 50 events but depending on the season, there can more than 100 events, many of which are free.
  • New books. Stay abreast of gardening trends and practices with newly published books. Use this list for gift ideas.
  • Tips and advice. Learn timely tips and advice relevant to the current gardening season in our area.
  • Giveaways. Enter the monthly giveaway contest to win items such as seed packets, books, tools, and plants.
  • Articles from pegplant.com. Catch up with seasonal articles about plants, gardens, and resources from pegplant.com.

To be eligible for this giveaway subscribe now. Click here or visit pegplant.com and enter your e-mail address in the box above “subscribe!” on the right column. Click here to see a back issue. Pegplant’s Post is published on the last weekend of the month.

Peg’s Picks: My Favorite Gardening Podcasts

Because I am always interested in learning about plants and gardening, I listen to gardening podcasts when I walk in the neighborhood in the evening, weed in the garden, or drive to work.  Although there are many gardening podcasts available on iTunes or Stitcher, these four are my favorites for several reasons. They offer an unusual perspective; they are extremely detailed, providing an in-depth examination of a particular plant or gardening practice; they are seasonally appropriate, focusing on what is currently happen in the environment; and the voices are easy on the ear, especially if you are fighting traffic. It is always a plus if there is a corresponding website with a transcript, summary, or photos of the topic with links to additional resources. There are other podcasts I used to listen to but they are not available anymore and I am sure after I post this there will be new ones that may interest me. The world of gardening podcasts seems to ebb and flow like the tide; it always best to search for them on iTunes or Stitcher. I recommend these four, in alphabetical order, to people interested in learning more about gardening and the environment.

A Way to Garden

Every Monday morning, Margaret Roach broadcasts her public radio show from Robin Hood Radio in CT. She has an insatiable curiosity and researches her guests well in advance of the show. The topics are seasonally appropriate, ranging from gardening chores and plants; the environment; all types of creatures, including birds; and preparing and cooking the harvest. Usually there is a giveaway such as gardening book. Listening to A Way to Garden is like drinking cappuccino during the morning commute, quick and satisfying. Each podcast is 30 minutes long and runs at a fast clip. If I want to delve deeper and learn more, I am comforted in knowing that she has posted a transcript complete with hyperlinks on her website. Margaret Roach is a well-known garden writer and lecturer, has written several books, and used to be the garden editor for Martha Stewart. Although she gardens in New York, her website, awaytogarden.com, is a wealth of gardening information for anyone who gardens in the United States.

Cultivating Place: A Conversation on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell produces this podcast every Thursday on North State Public Radio. I like to listen to Jennifer’s soothing, relaxing voice as she couch analyzes the people she interviews on her podcast. The range is vast, not simply gardening, but nature in all its forms, including businesses, art, and books. On her website she says she loves gardens, nature, gardeners, and nature lovers. Jennifer gardens with her daughters in California. She has a way of seeing her guest’s role in the natural world, weaving threads to illustrate the path that lead to that person’s purpose in life. Like a languid raft ride down the Mississippi River, each show is one-hour long and Jennifer patiently takes her time pointing out the person’s key impressions in life, points of impact, and choices made. I not only learn more about the person, who may have just published a book I want to read, but I also learn more about myself as a gardener. Jennifer has an excellent website, cultivatingplace.com. She summarizes the podcasts and provides images to complete the audio experience as well as lists an archive of podcasts.

Plantrama: Science, Art and Dinner — It’s All In Your Own Backyard

This podcast is produced by two women who are well-known in the gardening world. C.L. Fornari has published seven gardening books and numerous articles, given lectures across the county, and has talked about gardening on several radio stations. She gardens in Cape Cod, MA. Ellen also has written seven gardening books, is well-known for foraging and creating plant-based cocktails, has taught gardening and given lectures, and lives in New Mexico.

Every Thursday, for 30 minutes, they discuss seasonal topics including what’s for dinner, insider information, eat/drink/grow, product/plant review, and answering questions from listeners. They banter, they do not always agree, but I like hearing the two perspectives. It illustrates that gardening is personal. Although there may be a science-based principle behind a gardening practice, choices are personal and people choose to do what is right for oneself and one’s garden. The podcast is geared for people interested in gardening and eating from the garden although they also talk about houseplants and the full range of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. The website, plantrama.com, has large images to illustrate the podcast topics. There is no transcript but the website marks the seconds for each new topic during the podcast so you can jump to the different sections. This podcast is a nice snapshot of what is going on in the garden and what you can be planting, harvesting, or cooking during that particular week.

The Native Plant Podcast

The Native Plant Podcast is like sitting in your grandmother’s rocking chair on the wooden stoop of her Appalachian cabin, sipping ice tea and listening to an old-fashioned radio program. Intently (because they use the “real” plant names). John Magee owns Magee Design, a landscape design firm in Middleburg, VA, that specializes in native plants, sustainable landscaping, and eco-friendly designs. Mike Berkley owns GroWild, a Tennessee wholesale native plant nursery. Together they started this podcast, borne of a friendship from attending the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. Preston Montague, a North Carolina landscape designer also appears on the show. Sometimes the show is the two of them or three of them talking plants and sometimes they interview a person. Although their main interest is native plants, they are not purists to the point of excluding other flora. Each show opens by what they are seeing in the landscape at the time, what is blooming, what is buzzing (it helps to know the botanical names to the plants they mention). I like the way they explain what I too am seeing in the landscape at the same time. They are down to earth and they don’t rush; each show is about one hour. I feel that I am listening to a much slower, deliberate pace (compared to living here in fast paced Washington DC area) and my heart slows down and relaxes. They constantly kid each other and joke and eventually they get around to introducing the guest. Each show ends by opening a bottle of micro brewed beer with an unusual name. The website, nativeplantpodcast.com, has photos but there is no transcript and they do not air year round. However, there are archives on the website.

New Apple Variety Bred Specifically For Local Pick-Your-Own Orchards

We are in luck, a fresh apple experience is coming our way. University of Maryland has released the first apple variety developed for the mid-Atlantic region called Antietam Blush. Six more varieties will follow, all adapted to the area’s summer heat and humidity, with increased drought and disease resistance. Antietam Blush is the first apple variety bred specifically for this area.  The trees are shorter, thus eliminating the need for ladders, and designed to be picked in October (good for pick your own orchards). The stronger tree architecture makes it easier and less labor intensive to maintain plus this variety is bred to be resistant to the fire blight bacterial disease.  Because the trees are smaller, they can be planted closer together without support, which means more apples can be produced. The apple is blush red, sweet and slightly tart, with a high sugar/high acid fruit content that stores well. Dr. Christopher Walsh, Professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland, says that Antietam Blush combines the tartness of its parent, Cripps Pink, with the champagne fizz of its grandparent, Gala.

Dr. Walsh and then-graduate assistant Julia Harshman worked on this new kind of apple tree for nearly 30 years. When they started the main university apple breeding programs were at Cornell University, Washington State University, and the University of Minnesota. No one had bred an apple specifically for the mid-Atlantic region.  They recognized the need for an apple tree that would tolerate the hot, humid summer climate. Over time they bred trees to combine a heat tolerant fruit with a tree architecture that reduced the need for hand pruning and ladders. Dr. Walsh received the University’s first ever apple patent for Antietam Blush. Currently, several Maryland growers are growing Antietam Blush, which will be available to the local markets very soon. Check out the University of Maryland’s short video about Antietam Blush.

All photos by Edwin Remsberg, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland

Grow Your Climate Victory Garden to Help Fight Climate Change

Modeled after the World War II Victory Gardens, gardeners can do their part to fight climate change by planting Climate Victory Gardens. Climate Victory Gardens focus on rebuilding and restoring soil health and employs regenerative agriculture principles at home. Regenerative agriculture is a type of farming that turns dead or degraded dirt into rich, biodiverse soil that acts as a carbon sink. Healthy soil sequesters more carbon than dead dirt. A worldwide switch to regenerative farming could reverse climate change.

Ron Finley and Rosario Dawson teamed up to narrate a video explaining the Climate Victory Garden. Produced by Green America and Kiss the Ground, the video highlights five gardening practices. Together, Ron and Rosario explain the importance of growing food, not using chemicals, composting, keeping the soil covered, and encouraging biodiversity. Although the Climate Victory Garden principles are in alignment with sustainable gardening, Ron explains that sustainable gardening just leaves you in the same place. Regenerative gardening helps reverse climate change by building and restoring soil which can then help pull carbon from the air and store underground.

In order to create a Climate Victory Garden, gardeners are encouraged to commit to the practices mentioned in the video and a few more for a total of eleven. More detailed information on these eleven is on Green America’s website:

  • Grow edible plants
  • Keep soils covered
  • Encourage biodiversity
  • Plant perennials
  • Ditch the chemicals
  • Compost
  • Integrate crops and animals
  • Use people power
  • Rotate plants and crops
  • Get to know my garden

November Giveaway for Pegplant’s Post: Garden of Paradise Gloves

The giveaway for the November Pegplant’s Post is the Garden of Paradise Arm Saver Garden Gloves by Womanswork. A woman-owned family business, Womanswork sells gardening gloves that are made for women’s hands, plus related gardening accessories. The Garden of Paradise glove has an exclusive new print inspired by English cottage gardens. It has extra long cuffs to protect arms from scratches and bug bites and synthetic leather palms. Subscribers to Pegplant’s Post can enter the giveaway to win one pair of these gloves. Pegplant’s Post is a free, monthly newsletter for people who are interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Subscribe by entering an e-mail address at pegplant.com

Spotting Hardy Orchids in Spotsylvania

Years ago I wrote an article for Chesapeake Home magazine on terrestrial orchids that are hardy in the Washington DC metro area. Hardy orchids can be treated like perennials in the garden. They live in the soil instead of hanging from trees and are surprisingly relatively easy to grow. However, hardy orchids are not well known. With the exception of the hardy Chinese orchids (Bletilla), I find it rare to see them in someone’s garden. So imagine my surprise when I spotted Spiranthes cernua var. odorata ‘Chadds Ford’ at Tracy and Bill Blevins home in Spotsylvania, VA. Owner of Plantsmap, Tracy and Bill recently hosted an open house where guests were invited to walk around their personal garden and enjoy refreshments.

Plantsmap is a website community that anyone from the home gardener to professionals managing public landscapes can use to document, organize, map, tag, and share their plants. For many, it is a way of journaling and tracking what they planted with photos and descriptions. Since Tracy and Bill use Plantsmap for their own personal garden, this link is their entry for this particular planting of Spiranthes in their garden.

Spiranthes cernua var. odorata is a fragrant form of lady’s tresses. This hardy orchid is found in the coastal region of southeastern states. The plant prefers moist soil with high organic matter and will slowly form a colony. White flowers appear in the fall and are supposed to smell like vanilla or jasmine.

This particular cultivar, ‘Chadds Ford’, has an interesting history. In the 1960s, Dick Ryan, an orchid enthusiast, discovered this plant in the wild near his hometown in Delaware, just as its habitat was about to be destroyed. The area was slated to be razed to construct homes. Dr. Merlin Brubacker, a plantsman, obtained a division years later and named it ‘Chadds Ford’ after his own hometown in Pennsylvania.

Other hardy orchids include lady’s slippers (Cypripedium), hardy Chinese orchids (Bletilla), grass pink plants (Calopogon), fringed orchids (Platanthera), egret flowers, (Habenaria), and Calanthe. For more information, read Tony Avent’s article on his Plant Delights website, Growing Hardy Orchids by John Tullock, and the Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hardy Perennial Orchids by William D. Mathis. Local native plant societies also may have information. Or search Plantsmap to see if anyone is growing hardy orchids.