Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Video Wednesday: Container Gardening Tips from the US Botanic Garden

Here is a timely share of a Washington Gardener Magazine video from our Youtube channel. As you pot up your containers this season, keep these tips in mind from the U S Botanic Garden on the National Mall in Washington, DC. In the summer, you have seen their wonderful container plantings -- big, bold, and healthy in the hot sun. In this video, USBG gardeners, Margaret Atwell and Beth Ahern, share some of their container gardening tips.

A few extra tips I learned from them that are not in the video footage:
~ Margaret likes to use 6 different plants per container.
~ They use their own soil mix -- basically a light potting mix.
~ After potting up, they sprinkle in Osmocote slow release fertilizer.
~ They do not use any rocks, gravel, or other fillers in the bottom of their pots for drainage.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Win a Leesburg Flower & Garden Festival T-shirt

For our April 2014 Washington Gardener Magazine Reader Contest, Washington Gardener is giving away a two Leesburg Flower & Garden Festival T-shirts (prize value $20).

   The Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival is held annually on the third weekend of April. Standard event hours are 10am-6pm on Saturday and 10am-5pm on Sunday. There is a $3 suggested donation for visitors 10 years or older. This annual event heralds the coming of spring and features more than 120 vendors on the streets of historic downtown Leesburg, VA. Amazing landscape displays, plant material, annuals, perennials, tools, furniture, garden d├ęcor, and much more is on hand at this event.

         To enter to win the Leesburg Flower & Garden Festival T-shirts, send an email to by 5:00pm on April 25 with “Leesburg T-shirts” in the subject line and in the body of the email, please also include your full name and mailing address. Tell us: “My favorite local plant sale or garden festival is.. ” The T-shirt winner will be announced and notified by April 30.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Transform an Invasive Bradford Pear Tree into a Fruiting Pear ~ Washington Gardener Enews ~ April 2014

The Washington Gardener Enews ~ April 2014 issue is now out. It is also posted and archived online at:  

• Back Issue Sale
• April-May To-Do List
• Hardy Ferns Magazine Excerpt
• Latest Blog Links
• Local Garden Events Listings
• Transform an Invasive Bradford Pear Tree into a Fruiting Pear
• New ‘Wild Boar’ Tomato
• Reader Contest to Win Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival T-shirts

Subscribe to Washington Gardener Magazine today to have the monthly enewsletter sent to your inbox as a PDF several days before it is available online. 

Fenton Friday: Frozen Foods

The Mid-Atlantic was hot by a late cold snap this week and it is still lingering. The past three nights have hit below freezing (or close to it) temperatures sending many of us gardeners scrambling to cover up newly planting seedlings and all our tender plants. I threw a cover cloth over my Broccoli, but left everything else exposed at the Fenton community garden plot. Most of the rest is below ground, or like the perennial Asparagus and Strawberries are fairly frost-proof.

Between arctic wind blasts, I did manage to plant several rows of cool-season vegetable seeds. Those include:
~ Radish 'French Breakfast' from Botanical Interests
~ Slow-Bolt Cilantro from Renee's Gardens
~ 'Bloomsdale' Spinach from American Meadows
~ Lettuce Garden Blend from a mix given out by the Maryland Master Gardener
~ Sweet Curly Parsley from Renee's Gardens
~ Carrots 'Danvers 126' from Botanical Interests
~ Rocket aka Arugula from Love and Carrots
~ 'Purple Top White Globe' Turnips from Botanical Interests
~ and some unnamed seed potatoes shared by another gardener at the Fenton Community Garden

Given the frosty temps, I will give all of these an extra week to come up and see if any need re-seeding.

So what is growing in your edible plot today?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Video Wednesday: PlantBot Genetics

If you are in the DC area, I highly recommend spending a few minutes at a clever, interactive art exhibit "PlantBot Genetics" at the Montgomery College TP/SS campus on the Maryland-DC border. The artworks are a satire of modern industrial agricultural practices, but really, even if you don't care a fig about GMO or Big Ag, I think you'll still get a kick out a dahlia plant that sing's Warrant's Cherry Pie at full blast.

Here is a video of the Attackaratus. I promise the other "plants" in the exhibit are a lot more friendly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Monsoon for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

New Gnome Friend
 This month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day arrives with a huge rainstorm and dip in the temperatures. Just as we dared hope that spring had finally sprung, we are getting hit by this one-two punch. In between the winds and rain, I managed to run out in the garden and take this two photos. The gnome above is one of a set of three I bought at last weekend's Beltsville Garden Club plant sale. What do you think of him? One friend remarked that he is appallingly phallic. I think he (or she) is adorable.

   Below is the Spring Snowflake (Leucojum), which resembles the early Snowdrop (Galanthus) bulb as well as the later Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis). I first saw the Spring Snowflake with its elegant nodding bells scattered along a woodland pathway at Hillwood's Gardens in DC and had to have it. A gardening friend said she had lots of extras at her place and dug three small clumps for me. Aren't fellow gardeners the most generous people on this planet?

   The rest of the garden is bursting with blooms and I hope they survive tonight's freeze. They include: Lilacs, Daffodils, Veronica, Snapdragons, Hellebore, Sweet Violets, Lobelia, Pansy, Hyacinth, Muscari, Tulips, Forsythia, PJM Rhododendron, Flowering Plum and Crabapple trees, Weeping Higan Cherry Tree, and Violas. Those are all that I could quickly jot down running around in the rain. I'm sure there is more, but it is growing late and I'll end with those.

   What is blooming in your garden today?

Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Best Spots for Viewing Virginia Bluebells

Favorite Bluebell Peeping Spots (updated from a previous blog post)

Native Virginia Bluebells are unfurling all over the Mid-Atlantic this week. (Yes, it is not just all about the Cherry Blossom here in the DC area!) Get out to view masses of these special local wildflowers while they are at their peak over these next few weeks.

I asked the folks on the Native Plants East discussion list for their bluebell peeping suggestions. Here are their combined responses:
~ On Sunday, the Virginia bluebells were blooming at McCrillis Gardens in Bethesda, MD. Not sure about when they peak. - Eric Raun, Silver Spring, MD

~ I was just out at Carderock and in some areas the bluebells are almost fully out. In others they are still in bud... I also go to places on the Virginia side such as Riverbend, Scott's Run, and Turkey Run. These will all be better Easter weekend especially since the orientation of the Virginia side of the Potomac is more northerly, so gets a bit less warming than the Maryland side. But many native wildflowers are out now and 'peeping' is great just about any time.
- Marney Bruce, Montgomery County Master Gardener

~ There are two local Bluebell festivals (Merrimac Farm and Bull Run) that took place last weekend and both parks welcome visitors. - KJ

~ Lovely stands of bluebells occur at BlockHouse Point Park which is also along the Potomac, but further out River Road. If possible park at the second (small) parking area and take the BlockHouse Trail into the woods. - Cheryl Beagle, Conservatory Gardener, Brookside Gardens

~ I've seen them on the C-and-O canal (years ago) near the locks above Swains (like Pennyfield Lock). Not sure how many are still there, and it wasn't a huge field or anything, just patches alongside the towpath. If you can get a bike out there to ride the canal, you can cover more miles to discover more patches. - Cindy Walzcak, Takoma Hort Club member

~ Turkey Run Park (the trail down to the Potomac River from the first parking lot) has wonderful bluebell displays in mid-April. This site mentions Balls Bluff east of Leesburg and also here is a link to bluebells at River Bend. - Mary Ann Lawler, VNPS

~ Last weekend, I saw a lot of bluebell "buds" at Great Falls, on the Maryland side, near the Billy Goat trail. I imagine this weekend they would be in full and glorious bloom! - Paula Jean Harvey

~ I saw Bluebells blooming along the steam in the hosta garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens last week. I know they also have them in their Potomac Wildflower collections, but I didn't get to walk through that part of the garden. - Mona Miller, Volunteer, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna, VA

~ Turkey Run has bluebells along the Potomac: from parking lot C-1, take zig-zag trail down to the Potomac Heritage Trail ; wander either up or down river from there. Also some nice smaller patches along Woods Trail heading east (north? In the same direction as the river flows) from the Parkway Headquarters Building. - Margaret Chatham, Falls Church, VA, Potomac Gorge Weed Warrior at Turkey Run

Do you have any favorite spots for viewing Virginia Bluebell in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them in the comments section below.

Click on this photo of the Great Falls Carderock bluebells for an enlarged view. The bluebells are hard to photograph en masses as the light blue tends to blend in with the sky, but I think this one and the close-ups I posted above give you some idea of this plant's beauty.

Be sure to read the companion blog post today on how to grow Virginia Bluebells in your own garden!

How to Grow Virginia Bluebells

Guest Blog by Carol Allen

When I first moved into my then-rural neighborhood, deer sightings were a chance occurrence and I loved to ramble the TROT maintained horse paths through the adjacent Seneca State Park.  I had known of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginiana) through pictures and maybe seeing one or two plants.  Nothing quite prepared me for that first spring! I had noticed the huge numbers of the emerging cluster of leaves where the horse path forded a stream and the banks were wide and gently sloped. I wondered what could possibly be so numerous. Some sort of alien invasive? Back then the biggest concern was Japanese Honeysuckle and abandoned home sites with their masses of Vinca minor. By the last part of March and the first week of April, the plants were uncurling and showing color.  There were hundreds and hundreds of Virginia Bluebells covering areas bigger than city lots! Yes, I succumbed to the temptation and dug up a couple of the younger plants.  I found that mature plants had deep, heavy parsnip-like roots that resisted transplanting.  That was 40 years ago.

The spot down by the ford is long gone, a victim of deer overpopulation and an upstream housing development causing massive erosion of the stream bank. My "little" patch? now a couple of hundred feet square!

Virginia Bluebells are true spring ephemerals and complete their life cycle before the tree's leaves are fully mature. The clustered buds are pink and the flowers open and mature to a beautiful lavender-blue. The leaves are oval and grey-green with the plants reaching a height of 1 - 2'.  They are summer dormant and are gone by late June in our area. Bluebells can be found in floodplains and areas of moist soil.  Mine have flourished in good garden soil with the occasional summer drought-relieving watering.

Seed can be collected in early June as the stems collapse. They can be sown in the fall for spring germination or stored, cold stratified and sown out in the early spring. Crowns can be divided as well. Virginia Bluebells are easy to propagate and can be found in most good nurseries.

Native Americans used the roots of Virginia Bluebells to treat tuberculosis, whooping cough, and other ailments.  Today it is listed as either vulnerable or threatened in both New York and Michigan. Virginia Bluebells are reported to be rabbit-resistant, but sadly they are not deer-resistant.

About the Author
Carol Allen describes herself as a committable plant-a-holic. She has more than 25 years’ experience in the horticulture industry with special interest in plant pests and diseases and is a Licensed Pesticide Applicator in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Carol can be contacted at Carol is also the "InsectIndex" columnist for Washington Gardener Magazine.

Be sure to also visit the companion blog post on great spots in the DC-region to view masses of Virginia Bluebells in bloom.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fenton Friday: Broccoli In, First Asparagus

'Packman' Broccoli
I ate my first asparagus from the garden plot -- two spears that I gobbled raw right there at Fenton Community Garden, so no photos to share with you. After waiting 2+ years for my first harvestable asparagus, I could not wait any longer.

This week I out in a 6-pack of 'Packman' broccoli seedlings that I bought at American Plant nursery. Since I have not had much luck with broccoli in the fall, I decided to take a chance on growing it in spring. I covered them with reemay fabric in hopes of keeping cabbage worms and other pests off them. I hope they form nice heads before the summer heat sets in.

I think my pea seedlings are starting to come up, but they are so tiny that I will have to wait a few more days to see if that is them or if they are returning weeds.

What is growing in your edible garden this week?

Cherry Blossom Viewing Alternatives in the DC Region

(One of our most popular and imitated blog posts -- updated for 2014.)

It is Cherry Blossom Festival madness again in Washington, DC. If you have been there/done that, hate the crowds, or just can’t get enough of those dainty pink and white blossoms and want more, here are a few local alternatives to the Tidal Basin display:

Public Gardens

~ The National Arboretum has a splendid and more varied display and LOTS or parking. Stroll around Fern Valley and the other gardens as well while you are there. Take the Self-Guided Tour: Beyond the Tidal Basin: Introducing Other Great Flowering Cherries  to explore the arboretum’s collection of over 2,000 cherry trees representing 600 different cultivars, hybrids, and species of various shapes, sizes, flower colors, and bloom times, including trees that have been created by arboretum scientists. Note: The free tour covers several miles of arboretum roads, and can be driven, biked, or walked. Pick up a brochure in the Administration Building. (The USNA is only open Friday-Monday, so plan your visit accordingly.)

~ Tudor Place hosts three Cherry Blossom Teaa and also a Blossoms and Bubbly night. Or take a stroll on your own through the spectacular Yoshino Cherry Blossoms during the full bloom. Inside the Historic Mansion, enjoy an up-close look at Tudor Place’s collection of early 20th century Japanese fans. Event and entry fees apply.

~ Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, WDC, has a marvelous orchard of cherries. There is an $8 admission fee that goes to support the gardens. Parking is also a bear in that neighborhood -- I recommend you walk or take the bus.

~ Hillwood Estate in NW DC is pleased to celebrate the National Cherry Blossom Festival with short guided tours of Mrs. Post’s Japanese-style garden. Docents will be available to answer questions between the tours. The suggested entry donation to Hillwood is $12 per adult.

~ Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD, also has beautiful cherry blossom trees and many other flowering trees like plum, apricot, magnolias, and quince in bloom right now, and you don’t have to fight the crowds to see them. The gardens are also full of flowering bulbs like hyacinths, tulips, and hillsides of daffodils.

~ Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, VA, has over 100 cherry trees surrounding a lovely lake that you can stroll around. Admission to the gardens is $5

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, VA, has a ring of Yoshino cherry trees around their lake and Okame cherry blooms throughout the gardens. There is an entry fee of $10 to visit the gardens.


~ The Bethesda, MD, neighborhood of Kenwood for their stunning display. Park and walk in for an immersion in cherry tree lined streets.

~ An anonymous post to my blog, tipped me off that there are several blocks of cherry blossom trees creating an arch above the streets of Garrett Park Estates in Kensington, MD. Take Strathmore Road near Holy Cross Church, turn onto Flanders and then I think it’s Waycross. The trees span several streets, are lovely, and totally free of crowds!

~ Adam Bailey let me know that “Stanton Park and Lincoln Park on the Hill — and the Capitol Hill neighborhoods in general — have a good display of blossoms, too.”

Grow Your Own!

~ In the very first issue of Washington Gardener Magazine, we did a PlantProfile column on the selection and cultivation of cherry trees for our area. Ever since getting my weeping ‘Higan’ cherry, I feel no need to rush downtown. I keep a daily watch on my baby tree and celebrate loudly when the buds finally burst open. I highly recommend it.

Got other DC-area Cherry Tree viewing locations? Please share them in the comments below.