Tag Archives: October

My Garden, My Friends

Although fall is here, October is still a time of harvest in my Virginia garden. I am still picking (and freezing!) tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and even goji berries and little pumpkins. Zinnias, asters, mums, and dahlias are cut for my office every week. The pineapple sage plants just began flowering and my new mums are showing their colors for the first time. Basil and cone flowers have gone to seed but I let the finches enjoy them. For next season, I have gathered seeds from plants such as marigold, calendula, and okra and later I will collect four o’clock. Right now, the four o’clock plants are still blooming while at the same time, some have seeds nestled in like black eyes and I cannot bear to change this fantastic image.

Despite this abundance, I felt that I was saying goodbye when I was cutting the yellow peppers yesterday. I know frost is around the corner; I have to think about bringing in the hibiscus and bay plants. But the concept of “putting your garden to bed” escapes me. I feel like I garden all the time. If not in my actual garden, then in my house with seeds, bulbs, houseplants, and even microgreens. To me, a garden is alive all the time, it is a living community and it does not go to sleep in the winter. My kids had a math teacher who said “a day without math is like a day without sunshine.” A gardener would say: “A day without plants is like a day without sunshine.”

A few months ago I was listening to Erika Galentin, a clinical herbalist, speak on an episode of the Native Plant Podcast. Erika said something that was a real eye opener. I am paraphrasing below but this is the gist of what she said:

Plants bring something to the human spirit. Plants can communicate to us and it is not through fantastical means, it is through our senses, our eyesight, our sense of smell, our sense of taste, our sense of touch. When I tune in to that and I learn how to “listen” to plants I feel something deep inside me, I feel an understanding, a connection, the knowledge that has transferred from the plant to myself because I am focusing on it, seeing it, I am touching it, I am tasting it, I am growing it. A relationship has formed with that plant and like any kind of relationship that can bring us spiritual enlightenment, it can bring us emotional enlightenment, and it can bring us physical enlightenment.

Listening to Erika made me realize that I have a relationship with my plants in my garden. Conversely, I have lived in my house for over a dozen years and would never say that I have a relationship with my house. Outside, however, I have interacted with my plants through the five senses whether for years, or in recent plantings, for this year only. They have all, however, grown like my own children have grown in this space, a typical suburban plot in Virginia.

I have trained the peas up the trellis, wrapped the passion flower vines around the banister, re-positioned the morning glory to get full sun, and moved many plants to other places in the garden where they could get more water or more sun to be happier.

I have enjoyed the taste and nutrition of fresh vegetables such as beans, squash, peppers and fruits such as raspberries, goji berries, and ground cherries. I even enjoy the relaxing herbal teas made with holy basil, pineapple sage, and roselle. I have enjoyed the smell of fruity melons, pungent rosemary, and sweet hyacinths. While I am picking vegetables in the garden, I hear that satisfying “thunk” when a large red tomato falls to the ground while bees buzz around the zinnias and marigolds. My ornamental grasses rustle in the wind and the birds squabble over the seeds on the dried flower heads.

I have the plants’ cries for water, met their needs for fertilizer, and provided support with bamboo stakes and trellises. I grow many plants from seed, constantly nurturing them inside under lights until they are mature enough to be on their own outside in the ground.

People might think of this as “work” but for me as a gardener and horticulturist it is about having 200 friends who live directly outside my house (some actually in my house). I am always thinking of my friends as I think of my family: are they okay, is it too hot or too cold for them, do they have enough water, do they need food?

Although some people may not be interested in this type of “work,” they too benefit from plants, especially when they visit a garden. The impact of nature on our senses, on our being, is overwhelming and can be and should be championed as the positive experience it clearly is for most everyone. That is the value that gardens and the act of gardening can provide.

Fall is a Great Time for Planting Shrubs, Trees, Bulbs, and Perennials!

Fall is Fantastic! from Prides Corner Farms

Fall is Fantastic!
from Prides Corner Farms

It’s October — time to plant shrubs, trees, bulbs, and hardy perennials. Fall is a great time to plant in our area. The cooler temperatures, increased moisture, and decreased sun/heat allow the plants to settle in the ground, send out roots, and get established. While the soil is still warm, roots continue to develop until the ground actually freezes so the plant’s energy goes into getting firmly settled in the soil, not on top growth. The plants you buy now can be planted with minimal stress to them as well as to your wallet. Many garden centers are concerned with moving their inventory, especially the container grown plants that are outside. As winter approaches, discounts increase thus increasing the possibility of finding bargains.

Visit your garden center this month to enhance your landscape, support a healthy environment, and boost your well-being! For a list of garden centers in the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC area, view the “nurseries” tab at the top of my website, http://www.pegplant.com.

Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program Features Three Private Gardens in Washington DC, October 16

gc_web_logoOn Sunday, October 16th, visit three private gardens in Washington, DC, open to the public through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to each garden is $7; children 12 and under are free. Open Days are rain or shine, and no reservations are required. Visit www.opendaysprogram.org  or call 888-842-2442 for more information. Gardens featured include:

Sessums + Biles Garden, 5081 Lowell Street, NW (near American University)

The Sessums + Biles Garden is a horticultural treasure where sustainability and design embrace. The client, a passionate gardener bored with traditional “green on green” landscapes, commissioned a garden with careful consideration to all seasons and where plant form, texture, and color are of equal importance. The result is a dynamic, ever-changing tapestry of predominantly native trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers. Sweeping paths, walls, terraces, and a water feature form the backbone of this unique garden. No herbicides or fertilizers are used, and pesticide use is strictly limited to the aging stand of hemlocks. The site is not irrigated, site water is reclaimed, and all garden material is composted on site. The garden is also a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and the client is physically involved in all aspects of the garden’s maintenance.

Sessum + Biles garden, photo courtesy of H. Paul Davis

Sessum + Biles garden, photo by H. Paul Davis


The Barbara Downs Garden, 3321 P Street, NW

Located in Georgetown, this town garden exudes the spirit of Japan, a favorite travel spot of its owner. A dry streambed of randomly placed stones descends from the elevated rear of the garden and meanders to the house, terminating in a circular arrangement of stones that mimic a pool. The centerpiece of the garden, a sculptured millstone-shaped pink granite fountain surrounded by lavender plantain lily (Hosta x ‘Honeybells’) bubbles with life. Framed by crepe myrtle ‘Natchez’ (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’), the terrace of Stoneyhurst flagstone provides a reflective escape in this hidden urban garden.

The Nancy Gray Pyne Garden (street address will be given at other locations)

A journey through this secret garden in the heart of Georgetown takes the visitor up a series of formal terraced gardens and past a number of outbuildings that include a library, two greenhouses, and a freestanding theater. It culminates in a decorative walled vegetable garden designed and planted by Washington Post garden writer, Adrian Higgins. The garden had been assembled over the course of a century or more, but it was given its character in the 1930s as one of the major Washington projects of a pioneering landscape architect named Rose Greely. The main terrace is a walled garden perched above the house. Its most animated feature, a geometric fountain, is aligned with both the rear entrance of the house and, at right angles to it, a rectangular lawn framed by a path and boxwood plantings. The upper garden functions as its own formal garden of shrubs and small trees, as well as an entrance for the theater, known as the playhouse, and the larger greenhouse (and potting shed). The upper garden is also a place of paths. One leads to a parking lot at the end of an alley. Another passes a long boxwood walk that leads past a fenced swimming pool, which was once an ornamental garden and, later, a tennis court. The vegetable garden is bounded by more brick walls and by the back of the garage and a cedar fence. The space, sixty feet by thirty feet, also contains the second greenhouse built by Nancy Gray’s husband, Gordon Gray, who was a passionate orchid grower.

Nancy Gray Pyne garden, photo courtesy of The Garden Conservancy

Nancy Gray Pyne garden, photo courtesy of The Garden Conservancy

In addition, at the garden of Nancy Gray Pyne, bring your questions throughout the day for Andrea Filippone and Eric T. Fleisher of the New York-based firm, F2 Environmental Design. Andrea Filippone is a boxwood expert who has advised Mrs. Pyne on boxwood selections in her garden, and Eric T. Fleisher is the organic guru in the firm, who believes that the basis of all successful gardening is an understanding and nurturing of the soil biosphere.

The Garden Conservancy created the Open Days program in 1995 as a means of introducing the public to gardening, providing easy access to outstanding examples of design and horticultural practice, and proving that exceptional American gardens are still being created. Its mission to share American gardens with the public is achieved each season, through the work of hundreds of private garden hosts and volunteers nationwide. Digging Deeper, a new series of Open Days programming, is designed to offer a deeper look into the gardening world through immersive experiences with artists, designers, gardeners, authors and other creative professionals. The Open Days program is America’s only national private garden-visiting program. For information and a complete schedule of Open Days visit the Garden Conservancy online at www.opendaysprogram.org.

October In My Garden – A Weekly Report

Japanese anemones

Japanese anemones

October is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities. In anticipation of frost, I threw away the eggplants (they don’t fruit anymore) and the remaining cucumber plants, but left the peppers and Swiss chard in the ground.

Octobergarden2014 055


My zinnias and Japanese anemones are still blooming, the yellow mums are happy with the purple asters (a great color combination), and (finally!) the roselle is blooming (see my September 13 post).

mums & asters

mums & asters

Plants are starting to change color, my favorite hydrangea, oak leaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), has a few red leaves. The panicles of tan and bone flowers are fragile dry but still very pretty (makes great cut flowers for vases that cannot hold water). However, my Annabelles (Hydrangea arborescens) have turned on me; their round flower heads are so black I cut them off and threw them away. The stems will get it in March next year to keep their shape.

oakleaf hydrangea

oakleaf hydrangea

Fall is a great time to get rid of the plants that are just getting out of hand. A few years ago I would have praised balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) as a great kid plant. Just before the petals open, the purple flowers inflate and my kids would pop them like bubble wrap.  A perennial, balloon flower emerges every year and grows to about 2-3 feet tall with arching stems.  In the fall, the leaves turn gold and the large seed pods disperse across the garden. Now, years later, I guess my garden has reached the point of significant mass of seeds, I can see small balloon flower plants all across the front garden, taking up space and creating havoc.  I ruthlessly cut the original plants back to prevent any more seeding and pulled out all the small, baby plants I could find. If you see a plant getting too aggressive, don’t be afraid to cut it back or pull it out.

balloon flower

balloon flower

Fall is also a great time for bean stew and I throw whatever greens I have into the crockpot. This time, I added Swiss chard (leaving a few leaves on the plants so the plants can still photosynthesis and grow) plus dried rosemary and thyme. For another dinner, I harvested the spinach, a cool weather green, and the red peppers to cook with chicken in a skillet.

Fall also is the time to lift and divide perennials. The previous owner had planted purple flowering, bearded irises and when we first moved here, I had divided them to the point that I had enough to fill the two front beds. Every April, a mass of purple would color the house for a few weeks but then for the rest of the summer, the green leaves would just sit there. Sure, they provided a green background for the front garden but now that I want more space for edibles, I decided to re-design the two beds. I cut the iris foliage back to 6 inches, pulled the rhizomes out, cut off the old & diseased parts, and gave the rhizomes to staff at the kids’ school, friends, and coworkers. I re-planted a few irises and I will lift and divide the yarrow (Achillea), red hot poker (Kniphofia), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) from other beds to add color. In the spring, I will plant herbs and vegetables. Because the beds look a little empty now, the kids and I went to Grist Mill Park in Alexandria, Virginia, to fill bags with wood mulch to cover the beds. In Fairfax County, you can help yourself to free wood mulch year round at certain parks.  Later, as the county picks up the autumn leaves, you can get free leaf mulch, which is good for increasing organic matter. Since we don’t have a truck, we double bagged the Fiskars Kangaroo garden bag with 45 gallon plastic bags (get them at the hardware store). Wood mulch is heavy, we could only fill the bags half full but the leaf mulch should be much lighter, which we will get in November. November is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities . . .Septemberingarden2014 091

Peg’s Picks October Gardening Events Washington DC Area

Oudraat-Brown Residence in Washington DC Photo by Roger Foley

Oudraat-Brown Residence in Washington DC
Photo by Roger Foley

October is the time for harvest festivals and pumpkin patches. Check the “public gardens” and “nurseries” tabs on my blog for events; I have only listed a few “edible” ones below. That being said, there is one annual event that isn’t covered in those lists. This year, on Saturday, October 18, the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program will share four private, DC and MD gardens with the public, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission to each garden is $7, no reservations required. The Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in New York, introduced the Open Days program in 1995 as a means of introducing the public to gardening, providing easy access to outstanding examples of design and horticultural practice, and proving that exceptional American gardens are still being created. The Open Days program is America’s only national private garden-visiting program and is made possible by volunteers. Private gardens are open to the public across the country throughout the year. The proceeds from the Open Day program support the national preservation work of the Garden Conservancy. Visitors may begin the self-guided tour at either one of these locations:

Macleish Garden, 3525 Springland Lane, NW, Washington DC

Meandering walks, vistas, and garden rooms distinctly different from each other, offering surprises of color and texture throughout

Underwood Property, 4002 Underwood Street, Chevy Chase, MD

Garden and house support each other through the use of rainfall, natural ventilation and drainage, and solar and geothermal energy, with rooftop vegetable gardens, gabion walls, green roofs, rain gardens, and native plants

Directions will be provided to these locations in DC.

Oudraat-Brown Residence: a playful, non-traditional garden of bold colors, a curving “ribbon wall,” a cantilevered deck, repeating rounded boxwood and hawthorn trees, and perennials that spill over and soften the edges of the walkways.

Rauser Garden: a Japanese inspired woodland garden featuring fall highlights of nandina, camellias, and beautyberry, a fishpond and waterfall, pebble paths, and a hidden Zen garden

For more detailed directions and descriptions of these gardens, visit http://www.opendaysprogram.org. To learn more about the Garden Conservancy, visit http://www.gardenconservancy.org.

Other gardening events in October

Friday, October 17, U.S. Botanic Garden, noon to 1:00 pm, “What Science Says about GMO Food,” lecture by Beth Burrous, biochemist and USBG volunteer, free but must register. 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC (202) 225-8333 (general) and (202) 225-1116 (to register for events). http://usbg.gov

Saturday, October 11, U.S. National Arboretum, “Under the Arbor” is a series of informal, drop in demonstrations on an herb or herb related topic, presented by members of Mid Atlantic Units of the Herb Society of America. In October the topic is Chile Peppers, 1:00 to 4:00, National Herb Garden, free. 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002 (202) 245-2726. http://www.usna.usda.gov

Saturday & Sunday, October 18 & 19, Loudoun’s 2014 Fall Farm Tour. A free, self-guided tour of privately owned farms (about 21 farms & wineries in Loudoun County). Visit farm animals, gather eggs, pick pumpkins and apples, and enjoy many family oriented activities. Visit the web site for more information and for a brochure with a map of the farms and description of activities; Sponsored by Loudoun Virginia Economic Development. http://www.loudounfarms.org