Category Archives: flowers

Thirty Tours Across the Commonwealth During Virginia’s Historic Garden Week

fountain turned planter

Sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV), Historic Garden Week (HGW) is an opportunity for the public to tour almost 250 private homes and gardens and historical sites in Virginia. A non-profit organization, the GCV is comprised of 47 member clubs and 3,400 volunteers. 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.

Japanese maple among tulips

This year there will be 30 tours hosted by volunteers at local GCV member clubs. The GCV has member clubs in 6 regions: Northern Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Coastal Virginia, Capitol Region, Shenandoah Valley/Central Virginia, and Southern Virginia. For example, in the Northern Virginia Region, there will be tours in Old Town Alexandria, Leesburg and Oatlands, Reston, Warrenton, Little Washington, and Winchester on various days between April 22 and 29. In 2015, I visited homes and gardens in Clifton and Fairfax Station one day and Warrenton another day (the photos were taken on my trips).

inner circle of kitchen garden

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 240-page, beautifully illustrated publication, which can be downloaded, purchased online, or picked up free at designated public places. I always find them in March at my local library. 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. For more information, visit http://www.vagardenweek.org; e-mail historicgardenweek@gmail.com; (804) 644-7776.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Shamrock Plants

Although it looks like a three-leaf clover because of its trifoliate leaf structure, a shamrock plant is actually a species of Oxalis. These green or burgundy foliage plants are often sold as novelty houseplants, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. The small flowers rise high above the leaves with five white or pink to white petals. Most people grow them as houseplants but they can be grown outdoors in the summer here in Virginia. Because they are small, it is best to grow them in containers (off the ground level) for better viewing. Shamrock plants grow from rhizomes called pips which can rot if overwatered so it is best to let the soil dry out a little between watering. Eventually the plant will go through a dormant period and produce more pips that can be dug up for more plants.

The plant is best grown in indirect light with cool temperatures. Usually it is only after you purchase the plant that you learn of its charm:  the leaves move up and down every day. In the daytime, at maximum light, the leaves are horizontal or open. By nightfall, when light levels are reduced, the leaves bend down almost as if the plant is wilting. Don’t worry, this is normal and does not mean that you have to water.

Shamrocks are beautiful houseplants but there is one caveat: they do not combine well with pets. Oxalis contains a high level of oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.

Beware the Bradford Pear Tree!

Spring is in the air and so is the white flowering Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana). You have probably seen tons of them in the Washington DC metro area. Right now in March, they are really pretty with so many small white flowers – like giant puffs of white clouds. But then you begin to see them everywhere: along the highway, in vacated lots, and in every industrial park – like weeds. The Bradford pear was originally thought to be a sterile tree. As new cultivars were created, the cultivars were able to cross pollinate, resulting in small “pears” favored by birds (thus spreading the seed). As time has gone by and the trees have matured, we have learned that they are structurally weak. They develop such a steep V-shaped branching structure, they can easily split in half. Recently, I learned another reason to not plant these weeds.

Last week, when I picked up the kids from school, they complaining of a foul, fish-like odor. I said it was probably the fresh mulch the landscapers applied on the school grounds but they said no, it was the white-flowering trees at their school. I pulled down a branch and sniffed. Sure enough, it smelled like fish! I never knew that about Bradford pears – just another reason not to plant them.

Spring Is Near: Is It Wise to Buy the Plants at the Garden Centers?

Pansy

Pansy

I was at a local Virginia garden center this weekend and saw four plants that are popular to buy now in the early spring. They had such small tags, you would not know the full scoop if you had bought them.

Pansies: They are beautiful and out of these four plants, pansies would have the most colorful impact now. They come in a range of colors and can be used in hanging baskets, containers, and in the ground. But, they prefer cool weather and will not last through our hot and humid summers. By the beginning of summer, you will pull them out if the deer and rabbits do not get to them first. These are annuals meaning they only survive for one growing season. In our area, they really are only useful in the spring when they bloom. They do not make good cut flowers.

 

Alyssum

Alyssum

Alyssum: Usually one only finds white flowered alyssum which is not my favorite color in the garden. They are not cut flowers but their form lends themselves to hanging baskets, containers, and in the ground, along the walkway. Alyssum likes cool weather but will do well in the summer. Their tiny flowers attract the pollinators including bees and beneficial insects but not deer. These annuals will die with frost in the fall but you will have gotten your money’s worth.

 

 

Dianthus

Dianthus

Dianthus: Related to carnations, this type of dianthus likes full sun and can be drought tolerant once established. The flowers are small, but could be cut for a small vase. The plant adds color, usually the flowers are pink to red, but the plant lies low to the ground. Its form does not lend itself for hanging baskets; they are best used on terraces, rock gardens, garden beds. The plant might come back the next year but they do not have a long life and are treated as annuals here.

 

Snapdragons

Snapdragons

Snapdragons: The flowers are beautiful, come in a range of colors, and can be cut for vases. They bloom in the cool spring months, the plant simply grows and persists during the summer, and they may bloom again in the cool autumn. Mine have come back the following year but not years after that.  Usually they are grown in the ground,  or containers, not hanging baskets. Snapdragons are deer resistant.

Winter is Witch Hazel Viewing Time in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area

Early Bird

Early Bird

One of my favorite winter bloomers is witch hazel, a small shrub like tree.  The flowers themselves are small, only a few inches big, but their unique shape and ability to cover dark, bare stems with flashes of color add quite a bit of excitement in winter gardens. The flowers are really clusters of four petals shaped like thin ribbons emanating from a dark, leathery base called a calyx. Depending on the cultivar, these inch to two inch long ribbons are translucent yellow or mustard yellow, red/orange or brown/orange, or scarlet red or rust red. On warm winter days, the ribbons unfurl but as temperatures drop, the ribbons curl back as a protective mechanism against the cold.

Gingerbread

Gingerbread

Witch hazels are deciduous, about 15 to 18 feet tall and wide, with wavy-edged, hazel-like leaves. In the fall, the leaves turn a striking yellow, sometimes with orange or red tinges, before dropping to reveal an open vase structure.

There are many Hamamelis species but the more common ones are: Hamamelis japonica (Japanese witch hazel); H. mollis (Chinese witch hazel); H. vernalis (Ozark witch hazel); and H. virginiana (common or Virginia witch hazel). The first three are hardy to zone 4 or 5 while the last is hardy to zone 3. Common witch hazel is known for its use as an astringent in cosmetics. Hamamelis x intermedia is a cross between H. japonica and H. mollis – many cultivars have been bred from this to extend the flower color range as well as fall color of leaves.

Amethyst

Amethyst

Witch hazels like well-drained but evenly moist soil. They are forest understory plants, small enough for suburban properties but possibly requiring shade from the summer sun unless one can guarantee against drought. Usually they are not troubled by pests or diseases.

Witch hazels plants are easy to find and purchase at local nurseries in the spring but now is the time to view them in gardens in order to select your favorite flower color.  In Alexandria, Virginia, Green Spring Gardens has more than 200 Hamamelis plants. Green Spring Gardens’ witch hazel collection became an official Plant Collections Network (PCN) collection in 2006. PCN, a part of the American Public Gardens Association, is a network of botanical gardens and arboreta that coordinate preservation of germplasm. Member gardens make the germplasm available for studies, evaluation, breeding, and research. While Green Spring Gardens has the most extensive collection in the Washington DC area, you also can see them in bloom in other public gardens such as Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, and the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington DC. Check out these perfect plants for the winter garden today so you can add few to your own garden this summer.

Hamamelis intermedia "Hiltingbury'; Hiltingbury WH

Hiltingbury

All photos are from Green Spring Gardens, courtesy of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Local Demonstration Gardens: Learn Which Plants Grow Well In Your Area

African Blue Basil

African Blue Basil

As the summer ends, I like to visit the local demonstration gardens to see how the flowering plants and vegetables fared (especially during this hot, dry summer). Demonstration gardens are a great way to learn what works in the Washington DC metro area and how to manage our local issues, such as deer. The gardens are open to the public, every day, from dawn to dusk, free. Each county that has a Master Gardener program usually has at least one demonstration garden, managed by the volunteer Master Gardeners. To find such a garden, call your local county Master Gardener program representative (your local extension agent) and ask if they manage a demonstration garden. Some have several to showcase various environmental conditions and some use the garden as a place to teach or host workshops.

The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (Arlington and Alexandria) have five demonstration gardens:

  • Glencarlyn Library Community Gardens, corner of S. Third and S. Kensington Streets, off Carlin Springs Road, Arlington
  • Simpson Park Gardens (E. Monroe Avenue at the end of Leslie Avenue, next to the YMCA in Alexandria
  • Organic Vegetable Garden, Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Marcy Road, Arlington
  • Rock Quarry Shade Garden, Bon Air Park on Wilson Boulevard and N. Lexington Street, Arlington
  • Sunny Garden, Bon Air Park, Arlington

The Prince William County Master Gardeners manage a very large “Teaching Garden” at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA. Within this large garden are mini gardens to illustrate certain conditions or issues, such as a deer resistant garden, shade garden, vegetable garden, and pollinator garden.

The Loudoun County Master Gardeners have Ida Lee Park on Ida Lee Park Drive, Leesburg, VA; which they also use as a teaching garden.

The Montgomery County Master Gardeners have a demonstration garden at the Agriculture History Farm Park, 18410 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD.

The Prince Georges County Master Gardeners are fortunate to use the Kitchen Garden at the Riversdale Gardens and House Museum, 4811 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park, MD.

To learn of more public gardens in the area, read the tab “Public Gardens” on my site, http://www.pegplant.com.

'Lady in Black' Aster

‘Lady in Black’ Aster

Start Hardy Annuals now for Spring Flowers

love-in-a-mist

love-in-a-mist

I forgot to grow zinnias. Every year I grow zinnias so I can put a vase of flowers on my desk at work but for some odd reason, I didn’t this year. Now in the heat of summer I don’t have many options to choose from but next year I will grow zinnias for summer blooms and on top of that, will start even earlier with spring flowers.

dianthus

dianthus

To learn more about increasing the diversity of flowers in my Northern Virginia garden, I have been following Lisa Mason Ziegler’s virtual book study for the past month. Each Friday for 10 Fridays, she posts a 10-minute video that corresponds to a chapter in her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques. The videos can be viewed on her website any time and she is more than happy to answer questions.  Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, Virginia. She is well known in the horticulture field, has written books and given lectures, and has an online garden shop called The Gardener’s Workshop. Lisa is an expert on hardy annuals, which prefer to bloom during spring’s cool temperatures. Hardy annuals differ from the summer annuals in that the seeds are sown in August/September or February/March, depending on the plant. In contrast, summer annuals, like zinnias, prefer the heat so they are sown after the danger of frost has passed in late April/early May.

Of the 30 plants mentioned in her book, I have seeds of six plants on hand. I can start snapdragon, dianthus, and feverfew indoors now and transplant at the end of August. I can direct sow love-in-a-mist, larkspur, and calendula seeds at the end of August to the beginning of September. All of these will bloom in the spring and peter out when summer arrives which will increase my number of cut flowers from spring to early summer. From then on the summer annuals can take over and I will look for a few more in addition to zinnias. In her videos and in her book, Lisa discusses her preference for direct sown versus transplants and starting in the fall versus early spring. If the plant is hardy to a zone colder than one’s own zone, plant in the fall. If the plant is not has hardy as one’s own zone, plant in early spring.  However, early spring can mean cold, wet soil so she suggests preparing the bed in the fall and covering with mulch or landscape fabric to prevent weeds and to enable the ground to be worked easily in February and March.

So far I have viewed 5 of the 10 videos and I have read the book. If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting her web site and listening to her videos or buy her book on her site or at a bookstore but it is not necessary to have the book in order to follow along with her videos.