Tag Archives: Green Spring Gardens

Register to Learn How to Grow and Use 13 Culinary Herbs

On Saturday, June 23, from 10:00 am to 11:30 am, I will teach a class on culinary herbs at Green Spring Gardens. I will discuss 13 herbs, the cultural requirements, culinary uses, and harvesting and preserving methods. This is not a Powerpoint presentation. I will bring the actual plants so you can touch, taste, and smell!  Everyone will receive a handout with herb information and local resources. And, if you know me, you know there will be a giveaway. Someone will go home with an herb plant. Register online for the “Plants and Design: Herbs–A Baker’s Dozen” class at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/parktakes using code 290-387-4801 or call (703) 642-5173. See you on Saturday, June 23.

Pegplant’s Herb Class: Learn How to Grow and Use 13 Culinary Herbs

On Saturday, June 23, from 10:00 am to 11:30 am, I will teach a class on culinary herbs at Green Spring Gardens. I will discuss 13 herbs, the cultural requirements, culinary uses, and harvesting and preserving methods. This is not a Powerpoint presentation. I will bring the actual plants so you can touch, taste, and smell!  Everyone will receive a handout with herb information and local resources. And, if you know me, you know there will be a giveaway. Someone will go home with an herb plant. Register online for the “Plants and Design: Herbs–A Baker’s Dozen” class at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/parktakes using code 290-387-4801 or call (703) 642-5173. See you on Saturday, June 23.

Celebrate National Public Gardens Day on Friday, May 12

This Friday is National Public Gardens Day, an annual tradition of celebrating public gardens on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day weekend. Communities nationwide are invited to explore the diverse beauty of their local green spaces and to take advantage of the conservation, education and environmental preservation resources that public gardens provide.

The American Public Garden Association (APGA) manages a database of APGA-member gardens participating in National Public Gardens Day. The APGA is the leading professional organization for the field of public horticulture serving public gardens. People can view the database to see which public gardens are having celebrations in their area but be advised that this is a self-reporting tool, it is up to the members to inform APGA of their plans to provide discounts, promotions, demonstrations, and other great celebratory incentives to visitors. There also are non APGA member gardens that celebrate National Public Garden Day as well so it is best to call your local public garden or arboretum to see if they have planned any special activities.

In the Greater Washington DC area, the following APGA member gardens have special activities for Friday, as posted in the database:


Adkins Arboretum

Historic London Town and Gardens


James Madison’s Montpelier

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Green Spring Gardens is an APGA member but you will find their activities on their own website at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Washington DC

U.S. Botanic Garden

Smithsonian Gardens

Tudor Place Historic House and Garden

Philadelphia Flower Show Celebrates Holland’s Contribution to Gardening and Landscape Design

artist rendition, courtesy of GMR Design LLC

artists rendition, courtesy of GMR Designs

Now is the time to think about planning your trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show, the nation’s largest and longest running flower show in North America. This year the show will run from Saturday, March 11, through Sunday, March 19. The theme is “Holland: Flowering the World.”  Celebrate the beauty and ingenuity of Dutch culture, from vivid flower fields to innovative eco-design. The Philadelphia Flower Show will transport guests to the rainbow landscapes of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils and the cut-flower and bulb markets that have shaped Dutch history. The Flower Show will explore the innovation that has defined Holland’s approach to its unique landscape from windmills–one of the earliest uses of natural energy–to 21st century ecodomes and the Dutch Wave movement, which takes a natural and sustainable approach to landscape design. Leading designers from Holland, including Nico Wissing, Bart Hoes, Bart Bresser, and New Jersey born Carrie Preston will share their extraordinary floral and garden styles in major exhibits at the Flower Show.

artist rendition, courtesy of GMR Design LLC

artist rendition, courtesy of GMR Design LLC

The Flower Show is held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch Street, but you don’t have to drive by yourself. In the Washington DC metropolitan area, there are several nurseries, garden clubs, Master Gardener groups, public gardens, and park systems that offer day trips to the Convention Center. Green Spring Gardens, Brookside Gardens, and Greenstreet Gardens offer bus trips, contact them directly for more information. The Washington Gardener magazine offers two trips on different days: one from Behnkes Nursery and one from Silver Spring. Check out the various venues for date/time of departure, meeting locations, and prices which could include admission ticket, food, or entertainment. This is a walk-till-you-drop event: wear tennis shoes and bring your camera!

Philadelphia Flower Show http://www.theflowershow.com

Green Spring Gardens http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Brookside Gardens http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside

Greenstreet Gardens http://www.greenstreetgardens.com

Behnkes Nurseries http://www.behnkes.com

Washington Gardener magazine, Kathy Jentz, http://www.washingtongardener.blogspot.com

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.



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.



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


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

Epic Tomatoes, Epic Stories: Learning How to Grow Tomatoes in Virginia

Epic_TomatoesLast Sunday I had the good fortune to hear Craig LeHoullier speak about tomatoes at Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, VA; part of the annual Harry Allen Winter Lecture Series. Armed with a PhD in chemistry, Craig used to work for a pharmaceutical company and always grew vegetables as a hobby. In 1986, bored with nursery-bought tomato plants, he tried starting heirloom tomatoes from seed and developed a passion for growing them.

That same year he joined the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom plants. SSE members receive the annual SSE Yearbook, akin to the toy-filled Sears Wish Book that used to come out every Christmas. The Yearbook has over 13,000 types of seeds, 4,000 of which are tomatoes. Craig started growing these obscure types and corresponding with other gardeners who also shared “hand me down” tomato seeds.

Currently, Craig resides in Raleigh, NC, with his wife Susan who also was at Green Spring Gardens. In addition to growing heirlooms, Craig researches old types, collects old nursery catalogs, and exchanges seeds with other gardeners. For 10 years, he organized the Tomatopalooza, an annual tomato tasting event.

In his talk, Craig explained the history of tomatoes and how there were very few varieties up until the mid-1800s when the process for selecting desirable traits changed. Since then more types have become available so that now there are so many types, it’s hard to choose. He suggested considering two criteria:  first, hybrid, heirloom, or open pollinated; and second, indeterminate, determinate, or dwarf.Craig

Hybrids, he explained, are “a cross between two parents” and are bred for a particular characteristic. “Hybrids are good if you want maximum yield or you want to avoid a disease or if there is one that is so good, you can’t live without like ‘Sun Gold.’” Saving seed from a hybrid may not give you the same desired characteristics. With open pollinated types, the saved seed will produce successive generations with the same characteristics. Heirlooms are a type of open pollinated where the plants “have stood the test of time or have a story associated with them.” For him, an heirloom pre dates 1950 which is when Burpee produced the hybrid Big Boy. Thereafter, seed companies focused on selling hybrids. Open pollinated may or may not be heirlooms depending on how long people have grown them.

The second criterion depends on space. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow so tall they need staking but they produce wonderful fruit all season long.  The vast majority of heirlooms are indeterminate because the gene for short growth occurred around 1920. Determinate plants are “tomato machines,” they produce crop quickly, can be grown in pots, and may need short stakes or cages. Harvesting time is condensed but yields are great enough for canning or sauces. Dwarfs, his new project, provide the best of both, since they grow at half the rate of an indeterminate but bear fruits gradually with great flavor. Dwarfs are open pollinated but not heirlooms yet, they have not been grown for generations yet. He has been growing his dwarf plants in 5-gallon containers in a soil-less mix and they get as tall as 3 to 4 feet.

Craig described his dwarf tomato breeding project where he wanted to grow a container size plant that produced good tasting fruit. He started to work with Patrina Nuske Small in Australia and between the two hemispheres were able to combine two growing seasons in one calendar year. In 2006, they created a collaboration of more than 100 amateur gardeners across the world to produce new but stable dwarf varieties. To date, about 60 varieties have been produced and are sold through a few, small seed companies.

Craig illustrated how he grows many different types of tomatoes from seed at his home, using only fluorescent lights – he does not have a greenhouse. When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted into the ground, he recommends planting deep into the soil, “any part of the plant that is underground will root,” and mulching to prevent disease. Plant about 3 feet apart: “Spacing is important to increase sun and air circulation to prevent disease.” Watering from the bottom also is important to prevent diseases. He has many containers on his driveway full of fresh, soil-less mix every year – he does not re-use the mix in the containers in order to prevent diseases. He concluded his talk by briefly describing straw bale gardening, common tomato diseases, and saving seeds from fresh tomatoes.

I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. Craig genuinely wants to help people learn how to grow great tasting tomatoes. Afterwards, he spent time answering questions and signing his two books, Epic Tomatoes and Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales (both published by Storey Publishing). Check his website, http://www.nctomatoman.com or http://www.epictomatoes.com, for his lecture schedule and information on growing tomatoes.


Free Master Gardeners Plant Clinics to Help You With Your Garden

Tomato hornworm, plucked off plant

Tomato hornworm, plucked off plant

School is out, summer is here and the garden is in full swing. Now is the time for gardening questions — what is that bug, why does my tomato look like that, and what should I do about my zucchini! Fortunately for us, the Fairfax County Master Gardeners offer free advice on caring for our gardens. They provide gardening fact sheets, soil test kits, and help us to identify bugs, insects, diseased plants, and assorted problems. It is always best to actually bring a sample of the diseased plant or the bug in a jar to show the Master Gardeners but if not, just talk with them at their plant clinics, no appointment necessary. The Master Gardeners staff plant clinics at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets, several Fairfax County libraries, Green Spring, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension office at the Fairfax County Government Center. Plant clinics at the farmers markets and libraries are open May through September 2015.

Farmers Markets

See the link below for street addresses. Note the times below are for the plant clinics, not necessarily for the rest of the market time; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/farmersmarkets

  • Annandale, Thursday, 9 am to noon
  • Burke, Saturday, 8 am to 11 am
  • Fairfax County Government Center FM, Thursday, 3 to 6 pm
  • Fall Church City, Saturday, 9 am to noon
  • Herndon, Thursday, 9 am to noon
  • Kingstowne, Friday, 4 to 7 pm
  • Lorton, Sunday, 9 to noon
  • Mclean, Friday, 9 to noon
  • Mt. Vernon, Wednesday, 9 to noon
  • Vienna, Saturday, 9 to noon
  • Wakefield, Wednesday, 2 to 5 pm
  • Reston, Saturday, 9 to noon


  • Chantilly, Saturday, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm
  • Fairfax Regional, Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
  • Kings Park, Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
  • Oakton, Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
  • Richard Byrd, Tuesday 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
  • Tysons-Pimmit, Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm

Other Locations

Simple to Grow Culinary Herb: Cilantro Leaves, Coriander Seeds

cilantroI am a firm believer in “right place, right plant,” but there is also “right time,” which is especially true with edibles. Here in Virginia, Memorial Day Weekend brings down the curtain on Act 1, cool season herbs and vegetables. As the sunny days approach 80 degrees, the cilantro leaves the scene and the tomatoes enter stage right.

I love cilantro and I plant it every spring even though I am the only one in my family who likes it. It is a love it or leave it herb but it is used extensively in Asian, Mexican, Indian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, is a member of the carrot family. Because of its tap root, it is best to sow seeds directly in the garden bed or in a container in late March/early April. Often called Chinese parsley, the leaves do look like parsley but if you rub them you will smell a somewhat citrusy/woodsy scent. Cilantro is a cool weather annual; it will “bolt” or flower as the days get hotter, often in May or June. Mine are in morning sun and afternoon shade which tends to cool them down and delay bolting. I noticed a patch of blooming cilantro at Green Springs Gardens in Alexandria a few weeks ago. The plant sits in full sun in their vegetable garden, topped with tiny white flowers. It’s not bad that it is flowering because the flowers attract beneficial insects and the result are coriander seeds but the flowering causes the leaves to become bitter so they are no longer useful in the kitchen.cilantro flowers

I like to harvest the leaves on a regular basis from April through June for fried rice pad thai, stir fry chicken, salsa, Mexican dishes, and any type of fish or shrimp. The trick is that you have to either add the leaves toward the end of cooking because they cannot take a lot of heat or use the leaves raw. Always use fresh cilantro leaves, don’t dry the leaves.

Last year, I made a point of letting some plants go to seed so I can start to use the seeds in cooking and baking. I simply put the head of tan seeds into a paper bag and let them sit for a few weeks. I then pulled the seeds off the stems and stored them in a glass jar. My first experiment with coriander will be to make cookies. If you have any other ideas/recipes for coriander or cilantro, please send them to me, I am always collecting recipes for herbs.

Coriander Cookies

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons ground coriander seeds

3/4  cup soft butter

1 egg beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk

Mix first 3 ingredients, stir in butter. Mix next 3 ingredients and add to first bowl, roll into 2 inch balls and place on cookie sheet, flatten with a fork. Bake at 400 F for 6-8 minutes, don’t overcook.

Plant NoVA Natives Campaign’s Free Guide

nativeplantsfornovaMy family and I had a great time at Green Spring Garden’s Plant Sale this past weekend. It seemed there were many more vendors than in the past. There were so many plants to choose from, as well as a baked goods sale and representatives from several local garden clubs. One interesting gem of information that I wanted to pass on is a new guide called Native Plants for Northern Virginia. Volunteers of the Plant NoVA Natives Campaign were selling the guide for $5.00 but the four-color guide can be downloaded from the Plant NoVA Natives Campaign website free (http://www.plantnovanatives.org).

Published in March 2015, this 48-page guide lists plants native to Northern Virginia (residents of the greater Washington DC area also can benefit from this guide). The guide was not meant to be comprehensive but rather a showcase of natives that are attractive, easy for home gardeners to acquire and grow, and beneficial to wildlife and the environment. The guide is organized by the type of plant: perennials (forbs); grasses, sedges, and rushes; ferns; vines; shrubs; and trees. For each plant there is a photo, cultural requirements, size and shape, and the insects, birds, or wildlife that benefit from the plant. The guide also lists native plants that would do well in particular situations such as wet or dry places, additional resources on native plants, native plant demonstration gardens, and invasive plants.

The Plant NoVA Natives Campaign is a partnership of the organizations listed below. Its goal is to promote the use of these plants in the urban and suburban landscapes in Northern Virginia for their social, cultural, and economic benefits, and to increase the availability of Northern Virginia native plants in retail nurseries throughout the region. For homeowners and gardeners interested in native plants or new to Virginia, this guide is a great introduction and a useful compendium of local resources.

  • Audubon Society of Northern Virginia
  • Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy
  • Mason Sustainability Institute
  • Nature by Design
  • Northern Virginia Regional Commission (lead organization)
  • Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Potowmack Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society
  • Prince William Wildflower Society Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society
  • Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Virginia Department of Forestry
  • Virginia Master Gardeners
  • Virginia Master Naturalists

Peg’s Picks February Gardening Events Washington DC Metro Area

You would be surprised at how many gardening events occur in February, there are a variety of workshops, lectures, and symposiums. February events also will be on the “Classes, Events” Page of http://www.pegplant.com

Sundays, Harry Allen Winter Lecture Series at Green Spring Gardens, Sundays in January, February, and March from 1:30 to 2:30. After lecture, meet presenter and enjoy refreshments. Can register for individual topics or for all; fee. See http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring for topics and speakers.

  • February 1: Ornamental Edible Gardens, Sandra Clinton
  • February 8: Windowsill Floral Displays, Nancy Ross Hugo
  • February 15: Winning Against Weeds, Mary Godinez
  • February 22: Rhododendron and Relatives, Steven Kristoph

Sunday, February 1, 1:00 pm, Garden Talk: Your Edible Garden, Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD. Free but must register. (301) 937-1100; http://www.behnkes.com

Monday through Wednesday, February 2-4, Garden Club of Virginia gardening symposium in Williamsburg. Fee and must register. Contact is Ann Heller, GCV Communications Coordinator (804) 643-4137 or communications@gcvirginia.org and http://www.gcvirginia.org/symposium/speakers.cfm

Saturday, February 7, the 10th Annual Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchange, at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, VA. This event includes two lectures on two different topics, the seed swap, and a “goody bag” of freebies. 12:30 to 4:00 pm. Must register and fee, for more information call Kathy Jentz, (301) 588-6894. http://www.washingtongardener.blogspot.com

Saturdays, February 7 & 21, 10:30 to 1:00 pm Sustainable Vegetable Gardening series, VCE-Prince William Master Gardeners, Chinn Park Regional Library, 13065 Chinn Park Drive, Woodbridge, VA; free but must register; (703) 792-7747; http://www.mgpw.org

Saturdays, February 7, 14 and 21, Merrifield Garden Center, free lectures at 10:00 am in three locations

  • 2/7: Merrifield, Tips From Your Extension Agent; Fair Oaks, Evergreens for Every Garden; Gainesville, Shrubs: A New Look at Old Favorites
  • 2/14: M, Romance in the Garden; FO, It’s All about the Birds and the Bees; G, Romancing with Plants
  • 2/21: M, Success with Seeds; FO, Boxwood and Flowering Shrubs; G, Gardening for the Birds.

In addition, on February 7, 2:00 pm, Fair Oaks will have a seminar to introduce children to gardening, activity targeted to children ages 6-12 years to complete, adult must be present, sign up online. (703) 560-6222. http://www.merrifieldgardencenter.com

Vegetable Gardening Series, three-part series, hosted by the VCE Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, at Fairlington Community Center, 3308 South Stafford Street, Arlington, VA.

  • Session 1: Planning the Vegetable Garden, Sat, February 7, 9:30 to 11:00 am; or Tues, February 17, 7-8:30 pm (same content repeated)
  • Session 2: Preparing the Garden, Sat, March 14; or Tues, March 17
  • Session 3: Managing the garden, Sat April 11; or Tues, April 21

Free but must register, (703) 228-6414; e-mail: mgarlalex@gmail.com. Register at http://www.mgnv.org

Wednesday evenings, February 11 to March 25, 6:00 to 8:00 pm, (first one till 8:30 pm), plus one field trip on Saturday 3/21. Organic food gardening winter class. Fee and must register in advance. Neighborhood Farm Initiative. 1525 Newton Street, NW, Washington DC; (202) 505-1634; http://www.neighborhoodfarminitiative.org

Saturday, February 21, the 11th Annual Eco-savvy Symposium: Evolving Landscapes 8:30 to 4:00 pm at Green Spring Gardens, fee and must register in advance, (703) 642-5173; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Friday, February 27, Green Matters Symposium, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. Theme is “Protecting our Pollinators,” an annual symposium at Brookside Gardens but this year will take place at Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza. Fee and must register. (301) 962-1451

Saturday, February 28, RootingDC Forum, an all-day, free gardening forum with many lectures and vendors, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm (a ten dollar donation is suggested). Registration started January 15. Wilson Senior High School, 3950 Chesapeake Street, NW, Washington DC. http://www.rootingDC.org

Saturday, February 28, Middleburg Horticultural Symposium, 8:30 am to 3:15 pm, sponsored by the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club at the Salamander Resort and Spa, 500 North Pendleton Street, Middleburg, VA. Fee and must register. E-mail elaineburden1@aol.com or call (540) 687-6940. www.flgardenclub.org

Saturday, February 28, 1:00 pm, Garden Talk: Discouraging Deer in Your Garden, Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD. Free but must register. (301) 937-1100; http://www.behnkes.com