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; e-mail; (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?



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: 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: 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: 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.

Peg’s Picks: March 2017 Gardening Events in the Washington DC Metro Area

Every month I have listed my pick of gardening events in the Washington DC metropolitan area. This list has grown so much that March has over 60 events. Such a long list is cumbersome on a website so from now on I will post monthly gardening events on the “Classes/Events” tab at

U.S. Botanic Garden’s New Exhibit: You Can Grow It!

img_4450Check out the U.S. Botanic Garden’s new exhibit — You Can Grow It! From February 18 through October 15, you can see tips and answers to some of the questions people ask most frequently about caring for plants in their own homes and gardens, including how to choose the best plant for their space and care abilities. The exhibit will provide answers to common issues about lighting, watering, fertilizing, and pests, as well as how to rescue a plant that experiences problems. If you are unsure of what kind of plant you can grow, you can find tips based on which direction your window(s) face in a four-panel “house” diorama.img_4446

The Conservatory gallery will feature separate sections with tips on topics such as foolproof plants (for those with a less-than-bright-green thumb); today’s popular succulents; tropical house plants; seasonal plants like amaryllis, Christmas cactus, poinsettia, and more; expert care tips on orchids, carnivorous plants, and others; how to propagate plants from seeds and cuttings; and even hydroponics. Outdoors, You Can Grow It! will showcase plants for growing outside including items for kitchen use like herbs and vegetables, container gardening, and more. 

img_4414Throughout the exhibit run, the U.S. Botanic Garden will offer programs, workshops, lectures, tours, and cooking demonstrations to showcase and provide training on gardening at home.

The U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue, SW Washington, DC is open every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., free. To learn more about the exhibit, visit Photos courtesy of the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Book Review: The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray

februarygardenkids2017-042The day that Wendy launched her new book at Politics and Prose in DC, I was at home reading about her life. Normally I skip the preface of any book but this time I enjoyed reading Wendy’s journey into gardening, which began when she became a mother, and her parents’ journey from China to Maryland, resulting in a successful business and a large vegetable garden. The Chinese Kitchen Garden is Wendy’s first book, a sublime integration of gardening and Chinese cooking. Divided into the four seasons, her book melds her own gardening advice on growing Asian vegetables with her parent’s ability to incorporate such vegetables into classic Chinese cuisine.

Wendy features 38 vegetables that are either native to China, commonly thought of as Chinese, or play a role in China’s culinary world. Each plant is labeled with its common and botanical names, Chinese transliterations, and pronunciations in Cantonese and Mandarin. Wendy describes the plant’s general use in the kitchen such as side dishes, entrees, soups, and salads and gardening methods for this area. Throughout the book are 20 family recipes incorporating the vegetables grown in her and her parent’s garden. Published by Timber Press, this book has excellent graphic elements such as Chinese characters, plenty of colored photographs, and easy-to-read sidebars plus resources for recommended reading, websites for more information, and companies that sell plants and seeds.

The first chapter, Spring, provides instruction on improving the soil, Chinese intensive beds, raised garden beds, container gardening, composting, and seed sowing. Wendy provides information on growing and cooking bamboo shoots, garland chrysanthemum, garlic chives, a variety of peas, and watercress. Recipes include “Bamboo Shoots and Pork Belly Braised in Sweet Soy Sauce” and “Stir-fried Flowering Chive with Roasted Duck.”

Summer addresses the typical problems of pests, diseases, weeds, and the need to water.  Wendy covers a variety of beans and greens, amaranth, bitter melon, bottle gourd, bunching onions, Chinese cucumbers, Chinese eggplants, Chinese peppers, daylily buds, fuzzy melon, and luffa gourd.  Recipes include “Bottle Gourd and Chicken Stir-fry” and “Long Beans with Garlic and Preserved Olives.”

Fall involves succession planting, seed saving, food preservation, and cleanup chores.  This chapter describes how to grow and cook with a choy, bok choy, choy sum, cilantro, gailan, ginger, kabocha, mustard greens, napa cabbage, radishes, stem lettuce, taro root, tatsoi, water chestnut, and winter melon. Recipes include “Kabocha with Ground Pork in Black Bean Sauce” and “Steamed Sea Bass with Cilantro, Ginger, and Scallions.” Several pages are devoted to her father’s signature dumplings with a recipe for “Crab, Pork and Napa Cabbage Dumplings.”

The story ends with Winter: techniques to extend the season, including cold frames, row covers, hoop houses, and cloches; growing cold-hardy vegetables; planning for the next year; and growing sprouts and microgreens indoors.

Throughout The Chinese Kitchen Garden, Wendy tells stories about her family: her husband and daughters, her father and mother, and her sister and her family. She has a very relaxed, easy-to-read style, as if she were chatting at the kitchen table, surrounded by her family. Those who are new to gardening will find this book to be a great introduction to growing Chinese vegetables in the Washington DC metropolitan area while those who are interested in cooking will be inspired to try the delicious recipes. Wendy provides more information on her website,, her blog,, and on her Facebook page, The Chinese Kitchen Garden. This coming Saturday, February 18, Wendy will speak about her book at Rooting DC, an annual event in Washington DC.