Evening Bloomers: Four O’ Clocks

yellow four o’ clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm

A few years ago my family visited Monticello in the summer. I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’ clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he grew and could still be grown today. Four o’ clocks are heirloom, perennial plants that bloom in the summer. Continue reading

A DC Gem: Lotus Flowers and Water Lilies at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

Before the pandemic, I visited the annual water lily and lotus festival at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. The free, family event was all day long in July.  I arrived early to park nearby but there was a shuttle that ferried people from the metro station and other parking lots. The music had already started. There was a stage with a band, plenty of picnic tables, and paper lotus-shaped lanterns strung from trees. People from several local organizations were setting up tables to either inform the public of their organization, offer crafts for kids, sell or make the paper lanterns, try lotus tea, and other activities. Many families brought coolers to eat lunch. Later I spied several food trucks parked on the street. There was a small gift shop, plenty of bathrooms, and very informative rangers. There also were volunteer from the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens distributing brochures. Continue reading

Garden Staple: Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil

lemon basil flowers

Lemon basil flowering in August

Every summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large containers and in the vegetable garden.

Throughout the summer I harvest the leaves and use them fresh in fruit salad; with seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes; as garnishes for drinks, desserts, and salad; and in syrups and vinegar dressings. My family particularly likes using the fresh leaves for tilapia and other white fish fillets. We layer a bunch of leaves and stems on aluminum foil on a broiler pan, then layer the fish fillets on top, drizzled with butter and chopped scallions or bread crumbs, and broil. The leaves turn black, which is fine because you can throw them away before you serve the dish but the fish is infused with a unique smoked lemon flavor.

We also like to make a simple syrup with the leaves. Bring one cup of sugar, one cup of water and about one cup of loosely packed leaves to a boil in a saucepan, smashing the leaves against the side of the saucepan with a spoon. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. After straining and removing the leaves, let the syrup cool and pour in a glass jar. We like to drizzle the sweet lemon liquid over fresh fruit, cold lemonade, or ice tea.

lemon basil plants

Lemon basil plants in containers

Mrs. Burns lemon basil is an heirloom cultivar of a sweet basil and yes, there really was a Mrs. Burns. Mother to Barney Burns who co-founded Native Seed Search, Mrs. Burns and son moved to Carlsbad, NM, in 1951. Mrs. Burns received the seed from Mrs. Clifton, a local gardener who had been growing it since the 1920.  Because they noted that this particular variety had a great lemon flavor, they saved the seed each year to preserve the trait. In time, other learned of this fabulous plant and shared the seed so now one can often purchase this through various seed catalogs as well as Native Seed Search.

In addition to its culinary uses, Mrs. Burns lemon basil can be cut for floral arrangements. I always like to add an herb to my cut flowers that I bring indoors. If left to flower, the small flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects. I deliberately do not harvest some of my plants to have a stand of tall flower stalks with whorls of small flowers by August. In September, yellow finches flock around the plants for the seeds. In October, before the first frost, I cut the stalks and put them in a large paper bag. Later, while watching PBS Masterpiece, I pull the stalks out of the bag and extract the seeds to plant next year in May. It’s a full circle but then so is gardening.

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter

Enter your e-mail here to subscribe to Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter, an e-newsletter about gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Each issue lists local gardening events, recently published gardening books, articles, and tips specific to this area. Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter always has a giveaway, an opportunity to win a free plant or gardening-related product. For the upcoming July 2022 of Pegplant’s Post, the giveaway is one Rise Up Lilac Days™ rose plant.

This is a one-gallon container of a rose plant that is part of the new Rise Up™ mini climber series from Proven Winners® Color Choice® shrubs. This plant has a neat, dense habit and can be grown as a climber or a shrub rose, depending on how it is pruned and trained. It has a unique lilac-blue flower color and fragrance. It can grow to be 5 to 8 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide. Only subscribers of Pegplant’s Post are eligible for this giveaway opportunity so enter your email today to receive this free, local gardening newsletter!

Fennel Finds its Place in the Garden

fennel in the summer with caterpillar in right corner

I grow fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, in my Virginia garden for many reasons. First of all, it is easy to grow from seed. In the garden, the plants can be showstoppers at five feet tall but sometimes they bend from the weight to weave among the perennials and shrubs. Their tubular stems mingle with the pumpkin vines on the ground or rest on top of the chrysanthemum shrubs while their green, fern-like foliage peak through the zinnias.

Throughout the summer, I can harvest the foliage for use in the kitchen. The leaves have an anise flavor and are good for flavoring fish and chicken dishes and root vegetables. Snips of the foliage can be sprinkled on salads, soup, eggs, and tuna salad sandwiches. Continue reading

Flowers for the Evening: Four O’ Clocks

yellow four o’ clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm

A few years ago my family visited Monticello in the summer. I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’ clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he grew and wrote about in his journal. These heirloom flowers are still grown today.

Although I had a few small plants in dry, lean soil in full sun, I was inspired to start new plants from seed. I planted them in very rich soil, in an area of the garden that received morning sun and afternoon shade. They thrived and grew to be about 2 feet tall with light green leaves and many yellow or pink blossoms.

Although they are named for opening at 4:00 pm, mine never do. The blossoms are sensitive to light and temperature and prefer to open when the evening cools down, closer to 7:00 pm in my garden. They stay open all night long. In the fall, they develop large black seeds that are very easy to pick and save.

flower begins to open in evening

Flower colors come in pink, white, red, yellow, magenta, or mixed, liked speckled. They are tender perennials which means they will grow as perennials in the south. In my zone 7 garden, they should grow as annuals but mine must be in a special micro-climate because mine come back every year.  For people who are north of me, they can try to dig and save the tubers for next year, or start new seed next year. I have a friend who says they are considered aggressive in southern Virginia but I have not had any issues with mine. I heard a horticulturist at a public garden in Atlanta, GA, say that they grow them for the evening visitors, who come to walk the gardens when the temperatures have cooled down.

Four o’ clocks were cultivated and selected for various colors by the Aztecs prior to the Spanish Conquest. They were then introduced to Spain and England and were in cultivation in Europe for about 200 years before Linnaeus first described the species in 1753. Thomas Jefferson received his from France. In July 1767, he noted in his journal “Mirabilis just opened, very clever.”

Try these heirloom plants for an evening garden. The seed are very easy to save so you may see some at seed swaps but if not, try these seed companies.

pink four o’ clocks at Monticello, early afternoon

Taking Stem Cuttings From Your Garden

Weigela shrub, ready for stem cuttings

Plant propagation is just a fancy word for making more plants from what you have. To me it is magical that an entire shrub can be created from cutting six inches off the stem. Taking stem cuttings is an easy way to make more shrubs to fill in gaps in the garden or to share plants with gardening friends. Continue reading

Visit a Public Garden This Summer

Summer is the time for traveling, exploring, and spending time with family. Thinking of where to go? Consider public gardens and arboreta. Many of these are historic places as well, great for teaching your kids. On my website, pegplant.com, I list local public gardens as well as gardening books written specifically for the Washington DC metro area. Several of these books, copied and pasted below, are resources listing botanical, public, or historic gardens in east coast states. Check out these books from your local library and plan a day trip with the family. Enjoy your summer!

A Garden for All Seasons: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood by Kate Markert and Erik Kvalsvik, Rizzoli Electa, 2020

All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses: How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America by Marta McDowell, Timber Press, 2016

Gardens of Georgetown: Exploring Urban Treasures, text by Edith Nalle Schafer; photos by Jenny Gorman, Georgetown Garden Club, 2015

Maryland’s Public Gardens and Parks by Barbara Glickman, Schiffer Publishers, 2015

Capital Splendor: Parks and Gardens of Washington DC by Valerie Brown, Barbara Glickman Countryman Press, 2012

A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens by Carole Otteson, Smithsonian Books, 2011

Historic Virginia Gardens: Preservation Work of the Garden Club of Virginia by Margaret Page Bemiss, University of Virginia Press, 2009

Virginia’s Historic Homes and Gardens by Pat Blackley and Chuck Blackley, Voyageur Press, 2009

Garden Walks in the Southeast: Beautiful Gardens from Washington to the Gulf Coast by Marina Harrison, Lucy Rosenfeld, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006

Garden Walks in the Mid-Atlantic States: Beautiful Gardens from New York to Washington DC by Marina Harrison, Lucy Rosenfeld, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005

The American Horticultural Society Guide to American Public Gardens and Arboreta:  Gardens Across America, Volume 1, East of the Mississippi by Thomas S. Spencer and John J. Russell, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2005

A City of Gardens: Glorious Public Gardens In and Around the Nation’s Capital by Barbara Seeber, Capital Books, 2004

Barnes & Noble Complete Illustrated Guidebook to Washington, D.C.’s Public Parks and Gardens, published by Silver Lining Books, 2003

Complete Illustrated Guide to Washington DC’s Public Parks and Gardens by Richard Berenson, Silver Lining, 2003

Giveaway for June Issue of Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter

Enter your e-mail here to subscribe to Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter, an e-newsletter about gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Each issue lists local gardening events, recently published gardening books, articles, and tips specific to this area. Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter always has a giveaway, an opportunity to win a free plant or gardening-related product. For the upcoming June 2022 of Pegplant’s Post, the giveaway is one First Editions Little Hottie hydrangea plant, courtesy of Bailey Nurseries.

Little Hottie is a panicle type of hydrangea with cone shaped flower heads. This is a compact shrub, reaching 3 to 5 feet tall. The deep green leaves are a beautiful backdrop for the late summer flowers, held up on strong sturdy stems. The blossoms are green initially opening to a creamy white. Later they mature to a rose/pink. Bailey Nurseries is a fifth-generation, family-owned company that offers a wide variety of landscape plants. Its mission is to help retailers, growers, and landscapers create a landscape that is more beautiful, diverse, and sustainable. Gardeners can find their plants in their distinctive containers at local independent garden centers. This giveaway is for Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter subscribers so subscribe today to be eligible to enter.

 

Wanted Dead or Alive: Spotted Lanternfly

Spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a non-native, invasive insect first seen in September 2014 in Berks County, PA, when a shipment of stone arrived from China with the eggs attached. The insect is native to China, India, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. By 2017, the insect moved to 13 Pennsylvania counties and a single county in both Delaware and New York. It is highly invasive, has a wide host range, and lacks natural, native enemies. To date, spotted lanternfly, also known as SLF, has been identified in 11 states: New York, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, and New Jersey. Continue reading