Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A "Greener" Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, Susan Harris, fellow garden writer, has asked me to highlight her new campaign Green the Grounds. Much like the Eat the View campaign to get an edible garden at the White House, Green the is a public education campaign aimed at getting sustainable landscaping installed at highly visible official residences (like our state governors) to inspire homeowners to "green" their own yards and gardens.

For Marylanders, we can rest easy that the Governor's mansion in Annapolis is Bay-wise and earth-friendly, reports Susan. Now, we locals need to out a bit of pressure on the Virginia manse and the DC mayor's abode.

Then there are the nearby White House grounds themselves, which are looked after by the National Park Service (NPS). I'm going to take the call for the "green" care of the White House lawns even further and demand that our taxpayer-funded public servants in the NPS green all their operations. See this recent post on the NPS poor practices and dependence on diesel fuel. Just one example of the disconnect in their mission.
Sure, the NPS issued this press release several years ago declaring their "green" stance. Yet, the web site they established for reporting on their green practices is now defunct and the one that has replaced it has not been updated since early 2007. So NPS, guess we can all tell where your department priorities area at?

BTW Is it ironic that today is also Admin Professionals Day aka Secretaries Day and the florists and gift shops are really pushing those pesticide- and herbicide-laced flower arrangements as the perfect gift for your office help? How about giving that Admin Asst a nice organically and locally grown plant to help clean the office air?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blue Skies Over Leesburg

Last Monday, David Furst of WAMU's Metro Connection and I went Virginia Bluebell Peeping at Carderock and taped a radio segment for that aired on Friday and repeated yesterday. Listen to the archived radio segment linked here. (If you don't find it at first, search under my name "Kathy Jentz".) I blogged about the location of our bluebell peeping spot and other suggested prime spots for peeping in a post here.

At our Washington Gardener Magazine booth at the Leesburg Flower & Garden Fest, many folks have come by to comment on enjoying the radio piece and that they too have been bluebell peeing on this glorious spring weekend. If you get a Chance to come out to Leesburg today, please stop on by.
UPDATE: Finally got a chance to upload some of my Leesburg photos and post them here. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

May It Never Happen To YOU

I woke up Wednesday morning to the dreaded black screen on my computer. Not just one hard drive had crashed, but also its twin! I tried not to panic too badly at the ramifications of the lost work and had several events to attend over the past 36 hours to take my mind off the disaster. This afternoon Cassio from Geek Techs (my new hero) was able to recover my computer up to the point of two months ago. Cassio has now installed redundant back-ups and assures me the nightmare is over for now. That is the good news.

The bad news is everything I'd been working on for the April 15 issue of the
Washington Gardener Enewsletter and the May/June issue of the Washington Gardener Magazine is GONE. I'm trying to recover what files I can from old emails and such, but that is patchy at best.

If you have sent me files for book reviews, event releases, or other content for our publications in the past 6-8 weeks, please re-send them to me in the next few days.

So now I try to reconstruct several weeks of work and stick to our original deadline dates as best I can. I'm off to have ice cream for dinner and watch the NBC comedies for serious stress relief.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Suzy Said You Should Garden

I'm now contributing seasonal (quarterly) garden articles to SuzySaid's local DC edition. SuzySaid started in 2007 in CT. SuzySaid is a free weekly e-mail and destination website for the best of everything – product, tried-and-true tips, deadlines, reminders and inside information to enhance your daily life in suburbia. Basically, it is a cool best friend who gives you the latest dish on what's hot, worthy of note, or should be on your personal radar.

Here is a link to the spring garden piece.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bluebell Peeping Spots

In the current issue of Washington Gardener Magazine, we have a story by Barry Glick of Sunshine Farm & Gardens on native Virginia bluebells along with a side-bar I added on two local bluebell fests (Merrimac Farm and Bull Run) that took place last weekend.

Since the festivals coincided with cold, rainy weather and the bluebells remain in bloom well past those limited festival dates, I wanted to expand on that story in this blog post to get folks out and viewing these special local wildflowers while they are at their peak 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

~ 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&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

On Easter Sunday, I was visiting family in Brunswick, MD, and we took a walk along the C&O path up there by the train yards. Plenty of bluebells stretched down in the ditches on both sides of the path, but not in quite the large groupings that I'd hoped to see.

Yesterday, David Furst of WAMU's Metro Connection and I decided to try our luck out at the Great Falls Carderock site that Marney Bruce and Paula Jean Harvey had recommended. We walk a short distance down the Billy Goat Trail towards the river and near Jan's Face cliff face. Bingo, Marney was right -- no shortage of bluebells in bloom! Click on the photo at left for an enlarged view. The bluebells are hard to photograph en masses as the light blue tends to blend in, but I think this one and the close-ups I posted here give you some idea. You can listen to us chatter on about bluebells on his show this Friday at 10am.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter

This pot of grass sprung up on its own late last fall. I had pulled the coleus out of there that had been thriving all summer and stuck the pot under the eaves of my gazebo to winter over. I suspect the grass seeds were from ones I'd sprinkled in the pot two seasons ago. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze us with her miracles.

Last week, I moved the pot to my back porch and added the fence and lamb. My cat was ecstatic over the new chew treat and she's been chowing down on the grass whenever she can stick her head out the back door. Last night, she even risked death by doing so as the screen door closed on her neck. She escaped unharmed though, not that she wouldn't have found it worth it for a taste of nirvana!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reach Local Gardeners

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Advertise with us for as little as $100 for a classified text ad or $200* for a 1/8 (one-eighth) page, full-color display ad. Our next issue is May/June 2009 and the issue theme is Easy Annuals. Space Reservations are due by April 15. Materials are due by April 20.

See full details in our media kit, downloadable as a PDF here.

*$200 each rate is for 1/8-page ads booked at 6-times frequency discount, pay just $300 for one-time placement or $250 each for 3-times discount.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Community Gardens? NIMBY!

We chatted a bit about Community Gardening during our NBC4 garden segment yesterday. Linked here.

It seems everyone wants a Community Garden except for my very own neighborhood. Well, let's rephrase that as a large number of my neighbors in East Silver Spring, South Silver Spring, and North Takoma Park DO very much want a community garden plot as they are in condos, rent their homes, or have heavily shaded yards. However, the majority has been out-shouted by a very vocal and ferocious minority who want "their local park" to remain as is because it is so "heavily used."

Every day I go by this park, which I can see from my front yard, the basketball courts are routinely full of kids who walked over from DC, took the bus in from PG County, or are just in the neighborhood. This court is pretty shabby condition-wise, but it is well-used as it has a reputation far and wide of being the place for serious street ballers -- which is cool and would remain completely untouched by any nearby garden plots. The only other section of the park I ever see used is the playground and that is sporadically throughout the day as groups of young kids come and go. Again, well away from any proposed garden plot areas.

This afternoon I walked over on what it undoubtedly the most beautiful day of the year so far. It is also Spring Break for the kiddies making this prime outdoor play time. Again, they were crowded around the basketball court and playgrounds while the vast fields of green remain empty (see photos). I waited around for anyone to even run across the green. Nada. Go figure. My suspicion lingers that the actual use of these green expanses is as an illegal, off-leash dog park.

Of course, no one will admit that this is the real use of this open land and that is why certain folks are so fighting mad about a portion of the field being converted to a sectioned-off vegetable garden. Meetings have been held, alternative options have been proposed, and compromise is not in the vocabulary of the NIMBY group.

Ugly words and personal attacks have been thrown about on our local list servs and I'm sure many more have been lobbed behind closed doors. The anti-garden group created rumors that the community gardens will bring in diseases, rats, pesticides, and, heaven-forbid, dust. No proof was very proffered for these ridiculous claims, just some vague "I heard other gardens had these problems." I've seen some really bizarre behavior in a few of my neighbors and wonder about their overall state of mind. One anti-garden fighter compared himself to Moses and Paul Revere in his fight to keep the park status quo.
One neighbor told me that she had to fight these very same folks to get the playground equipment updated at the park a decade ago. Who actually denies children splinter-free play equipment? Their reason -- it might be too nice and attract more outsiders to "their park." Hm, I think I'm seeing a pattern here.
See this week's Gazette for coverage of the frustrating, Kafka-esque story. See also the story reported in the Silver Spring Penguin in more detail with community comments.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Search No Further

You may notice a new feature on the web site -- we now have a Gardening Directory with an extensive plant database that is fully searchable. We joined the 10-20 Media Publisher Network and we are ecstatic to provide this enhanced service to our readers. You can search by plant categories, product types, for local garden centers, and much more.

Local garden centers can easily upload their entire inventory in the online database and allow customers to search on their offerings. Local businesses can take sponsored listings also to further enhance their profiles.
Our hopes are that these additional services will allow local gardeners to search for plants whenever they like online and then visit their local garden centers with their wish lists in hand to shop for them.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sage Advice on Salvia D.

So I awake this morning to my TV-alarm chattering about "salvia, the new teen drug choice -- and it is legal." Since I grow quite a number of different salvias (aka sages), I started picturing the hordes of passing college students in my neighborhood stopping by to strip some of the leaves for personal usage. That vision got me out of bed and googling.
What I found: Yes, Salvia divinorum is a hallucinagen, but no, unlike the many false media reports it is NOT a common garden plant. If you try to smoke the salvia from grandma's herb garden (usually Salvia officinalis), you'll just get a lungful on acrid smoke and a whooping for pulling out some of her favorite flowers.
Wikipedia says,"Salvia divinorum... The plant is found in isolated, shaded, and moist habitat in the mountain cloud forest in Oaxaca, Mexico. It grows to well over a meter in height. It has hollow square stems, large green leaves, and occasional white flowers with purple bracts." Nope, not native here or really any hopes of surviving outside in our climate aside from the dog days of summer.
According to the National Associations of Attorneys General, it is easily purchased online and the seeds are fairly cheap. They also note there how easy the seeds are to grow as a houseplant. Not that they want to give anyone any ideas or anything.
What irks me about all this and the rash of media interest is that I see the writing on the wall. First, it was the poor hemp plant that got banned from farmer's fields just for being related to the big MJ. Then poppies, whether Oriental or not, and their look-a-likes (okra?!?)are being yanked out of gardener's flower beds by overzealous local police. Now, I'm seeing a whole raid coming on Salvias/Sages and probably all mints. Don't think Datura will be too far off down the road.
I'm just hoping this guilt-by-association thing calms down a bit or we gardeners will be left with just bare dirt and a can of green spray paint.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Community Garden Listings

We have two new features on the Washington Gardener Magazine web site for you to explore. The first is our Community Gardens listing page. It was based on the DC listing formerly hosted at the DC Urban Gardeners web site and we've added on some new DC information plus expanded it to include Maryland and Virginia community gardens. So far, no listings have been submitted for Delaware, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania -- though I hope to be able to do some online searching for some of them soon to get the ball rolling.

I also just added a "how to start" section to the page as I've always gotten this questions, but lately they have grown exponentially. I've been directing most everyone to attend next year's RootingDC forum as the best way to get started. Of course, they all just missed this year's forum and that is too bad as it is the place to network and learn the basics on setting up a local community garden. I can see that this answer is frustrating to many as they want to start their community garden and get all the information NOW. So when I helpfully inform them they missed the window this year and next year another forum is planned, I usually get a ticked-off look and then they turn around on their heels and walk away without another word. No thank you. No further conversation. Nothing. As if I had personally and purposefully conspired to create an event and time-line that excluded only them. This has happened so many times to me now that I cringe when someone starts to ask the "how to start a community garden" question because I know exactly where this conversation is headed. Now, I'll just point them to the links on the listing page and let them come to their own conclusions about what a great event they just missed and that next year they may want to start thinking about planning their ambitious garden projects before the actual growing season begins and not afterwards.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

City of Trees Reviewed


City of Trees
by Melanie Choukas-Bratley
Review by Jim Dronenburg

As a general rule, guidebooks are not entertaining. This one was, but for all the wrong reasons.

Primarily, you expect a guide to be used in situ, and therefore it should be of a size which allows one to carry it. This seems a little large and heavy for long carrying, but that may just be me.

Reading the first part of the book, about the founding of the city, which explains much of why Washington is called “city of trees” in the first place, has nothing to do with what is here now. Although it must be admitted that the story about getting Martha Washington down out of the elm tree had me in stitches.

In the second part, which is stories about various individual trees at selected locations, we get a little more meat on the bones. Sites all over (and surrounding) DC proper are covered, and although no book can cover every square inch, this sometimes does a good job.

Lastly, and comprising at least two-thirds of the book, comes the guide to tree identification. This is arranged by characteristic, which makes sense when you don’t know the name of the tree. The illustrations are line drawings, which is all you need for a lot of the weedy, common sorts, and the average user of this guide probably won’t find or notice the rarities anyway, so there is no need to bother with more in the way of illustration for those.

Finally, there is an index section, which is useful primarily for those of us who DO know trees in the first place, as it allows us to go through and chuckle at the descriptions of whatever tree is in front of us at the moment. Tree habits, leaf types, and the like, are contrasted and explained.

Of course, there are some photographs, in their own section of the book, mostly of flowers. I still haven’t figured out the criteria for inclusion, the one that comes to mind is the flower of a tulip tree which tends to be forty-feet-plus above eye level, and never noticed to begin with until long gone and the resulting cones drop.

On the whole, I have to say that the author has gone to excruciating detail to make sure that your landscape services are well informed. What she should have included is a section on planting trees, so that one can see that the crews do it right.

Lastly, if you would like to add to/embellish my views of the book, you can post your comments online here or directly to me at

Jim's REAL review of Melanie's wonderful City of Trees book will be in the May/June 2009 issue of Washington Gardener Magazine. Have a wonderful April Fool's Day!

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