Monday, March 29, 2010

The Bare-Bottom Test

"Sow warm weather annuals when you can sit on the soil with your bare bottom comfortably." In other words, when the soil (not outdoor temperature) is warm enough. That is according to Janet Draper, Smithsonian horticulturist and solely in charge of the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. (If you have not visited the Ripley Garden or not been there lately, you owe it to yourself to stop by a drink in this oasis between the Hirshhorn Museum and Arts & Industies Building.) Her old-fashioned annuals talk for us this past Sunday was a hoot. Janet shared her favorite self-sowing annuals and those that may need a bit of assistance from us humans to seed about the garden. That is her pictured here championing the lowly marigold, which she says she herself used to scorn as too "common," but is now back in thrall with it. Per her recommendation, today I sprinkled Alyssum 'Basket of Gold' seeds in several window boxes. One of the annuals she highlighted that I don't currently grow is larkspur. I have no idea how that one just passed me by and I'm going right out and buying a pack of seeds this week.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lawn Flamingo Adoption Program Launched!

Lawn Flamingo Adoption Program Launched!

I'll take in any homeless, legless, faded, or unwanted birds and give them a good home. I'm looking to create a big flock for an art project. (And yes, I do NOT live under an HOA or other mean, repressed, rule-making entity.) So far I have 4 - two big 'uns and two babies. With offers of two more coming in. Hoping for at least a couple dozen total.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Rainy-Day Reading

Here are a few of my articles published in a couple local (free) newspapers. Pick up the actual paper copy or you can read them online at these links:

~ March issue of Takoma Voice (also in the Silver Spring Voice and Kensington Voice)
How to Take Gorgeous Garden Photos - Every Time

10 Quick Tips and Some Bonus Advice As Well

~ Spring issue of Pathways Magazine
Final Frost Dates and Just When to Plant
How to Grow Your Own Easter Basket
(see pages 56 and 57)

Pictured here my hellebores just fully opening now. Guess that is why they are called "Lenten Rose."
PS I'll be speaking on Thursday, April 8 for the Anacostia Watershed Society(AWS) Spring Gardening Lecture Series: "Preparing Your Garden For Spring" from 7:00 - 9:00pm at the AWS Office in Bladensburg, MD. It is free to AWS members. They are asking for RSVPs.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Forgotten Annuals and Old-Fashioned Seed Swap


This Sunday, March 28  at 2:00 - 3:30 p.m.
i sthe first in our monthly DC Urban Gardening Series:

The Forgotten Annuals and Old-Fashioned Seed Swap

Presented by Washington Gardener Magazine and the Historical Society of Washington DC

Janet Draper, Horticulturist of the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution, will discuss: "What Happened to Growing Things From Seed? The Forgotten Annuals." She will describe those wonderful self-sowing and easy-to-start annuals many of us remember from our grandmother's gardens. From Columbine to Nasturtium to Cosmos, Janet will walk us through each flower’s attributes and the best ways to start them from seed.

Janet's talk will be followed by an old-fashioned seed swap. Bring your new, un-used, or self-collected seed packs for a fun seed trading session. Please fully label all your seeds and be sure that none are on the Mid-Atlantic invasive plants list. Be prepared to say a little about the seeds you have brought to trade.

Janet Draper is Horticulturist of the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution. For about a decade now, Janet has been refining the Ripley garden and also maintaining the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden plantings, along with the numerous security planters along Independence Avenue. Janet’s training includes what she refers to as her ‘Pedigree’ in Horticulture from Purdue University, but her real hands on training came from internships after college where, she says, the real education began. Her first stop was at Mt. Cuba Center for the Study of Native Piedmont Plants in Delaware, then on to Maryland to learn ornamental grasses and perennials at the nursery of Kurt Bluemel. The next stop for the Indiana farm girl was at the Staudengartnerei Grafin von Stein-Zeppelin (Perennial Nursery of Countess von Stein-Zeppelin) in Germany’s famed Black Forest. She was then accepted to work at the nursery of Beth Chatto, one of England’s Victoria Medal of Honor holders.
(Ages 16 to Adults)
No RSVP required. FREE
Historical Society of WDC
801 K Street, NW
at Mount Vernon Square
Washington, DC 20001
Please take metro.bus/bike/walk - street parking is very limited.

Mark you calendars for future garden talks through November onthe 4th Sunday ofthe month at 2pm.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Crocus Lawn Envy

There is a house in NW Washington DC (Takoma neighborhood, 6th and Cedar just off Piney Branch Rd.) that I pass by frequently and never notice. Until that is, March rolls around, and their entire yard explodes into a crocus lawn. Oh, how I want it! I got rid of all my turf grass lawns, but for 2-3 weeks each year, this lawn is like a faerie kingdom and I almost regret that move.

To get one of your own, start with a turf grass lawn. Mark your calendars for this October/November. Buy at least one hundred crocus bulbs (actually pretty cheap project - you can get a bag of 100 for $30). Plant them randomly. A good technique is to throw them out, scattering by hand, and plant them where they land, unless of course your yard is like mine, and they'd all roll into one sunken spot together. Sit back all winter. Enjoy the following March. Now here is the real key: do NOT mow in the spring until all the crocus blossoms and foliage have died back on their own. If you mow too early and cut off the foliage, you are cutting off their food and they won't come back well for you in future years and what you want is for them to not only come back but also to multiply.

(Click on photos to see in larger detail.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WG Enews March 2010 edition - Cherry Tree Peeping Alternatives

~ Cherry Tree Peeping Away from the Tidal Basin Crowds
~ Mid-Atlantic Garden To-Do List for the Next 4 Weeks
~ Upcoming Local Garden Events for the DC Region
~ Spotlight on Baptisia australis - perennial plant of the year
~ Reader Contest for tickets to the Glass Show at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, VA
and much more...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Rainy Garden Blogger Bloom Day

It is pouring out for the 4th (5th?) day in a row. But, hey, it is NOT snowing! So there is a something to be happy about. Out in the garden, my bulbs have exploded out of the ground and in bloom now are snowdrops, crocus, and dwarf iris. Near my back door the heathers and winter jasmine are daintily flowering. A cheap-o primrose from Giant supermarket has returned with at least 10 blooms on the one tiny plant (pictured here). My Tet-a-Te daffs are just now opening. My other daffs, forsythia, and hellebores are all a week or so behind. My tulip foliage is on average 3 inches high and that is a good sign. Check out what my felloe garden bloggers have in bloom at May DreamsGardens' Garde Blogger Bloom Day March 2010. So what is blooming in your garden today?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Escape this weekend's Rainy, Gray Days at the Wash Home & Garden Show

The Washington Home & Garden Show is turning 50 this year! (Accept no substitutes!) There are many new features including townhouse yard landscape displays and several new exhibitors and speakers.

You can see me there in booth #226 and I am offering a show special of $2 off new Washington Gardener Magazine subscriptions placed at the show. You can also renew, order gift subscriptions, buy the current (Winter) issue, and stock up on any back issues you may have missed. I'll have free seed packs with every purchase, while supplies last.

Also, I'll be giving a talk on Pruning ER at 5:00pm on Saturday at the main stage. Bring your post-blizzard pruning questions. We'll mourn over our lost plants and give each other pep talks. Spring is almost here!

Download a $3 discount coupon for coming to the show on Friday, print it out from a link here:

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lasker? I Hardly Know Her

For any new subscriptions that fall between our quarterly issue mailings, I have been sending out the first issues first class. That costs $1.56 each or two .78 cent stamps. Everytime I go to the local post office, they say they are out of 78s, but I push, they check, and miraculously some are found "in the back." The 78-cente stamp features a woman named Mary Woodard Lasker. The postal clerks and I always look at her and shrug. No one has heard of her, which I found said especially as March is Women's History Month, so I decided to investigate. Turns our, Mrs. Lasker actually has some bonafide garden and Washington, DC horticultural connections!

According to Wikipedia, she lived from November 30, 1900 – February 21, 1994 and was a "highly influential American health activist. She worked to raise funds for medical research, and founded the Lasker Foundation. Mary Lasker is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1989. Born in Watertown, Wisconsin, Lasker attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison and graduated from Radcliffe College. She was married to Lord and Thomas advertising executive Albert Lasker (his third marriage). The Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service was renamed in her honour in 2000."

Now here is the important part:
"Lady Bird Johnson wrote about Lasker numerous times in her book A White House Diary, calling her house "charming ... like a setting for jewels" and thanking her for gifts of daffodil bulbs for parkways along the Potomac River and for thousands of azalea bushes, flowering dogwood, and other plants to put along Pennsylvania Avenue."
Bonus! According to, "As a tribute to Lasker’s work, a pink tulip was named for her during the 1980s."  (If anyone knows a source for these bulbs, please enlighten me. I think they are Tulipa Triumph variety, but can find no source that carries it.)

For shame on me not knowing that local garden history already! Marie Woodard Lasker, I shall think of you each time I send out a new subscription order and every time I visit your plantings in our city.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

It's About Bloomin' Time!

Cherry Blossom Blooming Time, that is! I have been trying for the past few years to make the opening press event for the National Cherry Blossom Festival and this year finally the stars-aligned and I was able to make it to the media event at the Newseum this past Thursday morning. The place was swarming with local and international press all waiting to hear them tells us just WHEN the cherry blossoms would start to bloom and when they'd be at their peak.

   First though, they fed us a nice breakfast and had us chat with event sponsors, participating organizations, Japanese dignitaries, and related DC events. Sure, I think Ikebana at the USNA is cool and the Kite Fest on the Smithsonian mall is fun, but really, let's talk blossoms!

   Okay, we are seated. Cameras roll. Microphones are on. We then get to hear from (a tardy) Mayor Fenty (pictured at left) and several others about how great the event is, yeah, we know, but WHEN are the blossoms coming?!?

   Finally, the last speaker takes the stage. National Park Service horticulturist Rob DeFeo (pictured below) is already sweating and on the defensive. He starts off by debunking all the guff we've heard about blizzards damaging our precious cherry trees. A bunch of hooey, Rob scoffs, just like those sensationalistic beaver-attack media reports. They lost 4-5 trees and that is very normal for winter. He says they are replaced and we'll never notice the diff. He goes on to say, yes, a few branches were broken, but again, normal. They will be trimmed up and we'll never know the storm happened. Rob says in Japan heavy snow is normal and the trees don't care. Then, he gets to the heart of it. If you follow my Twitter feed (@WDCgardener) you read it virtually live as Rob said it. Drumroll, please...

   The cherry blossoms will bloom from March 31 through April 11. The peak will be April 3-8 when 70% of the blooms are doing their thing. He predicted this will be the 10th year in a row the cherry trees have bloomed right in time with the festival, of which he felt quite proud.

   On a side note, he said the longest bloom period was 17 days and that was in 2008. That aspect is harder to predict than when they'll start, Rob noted, as storms and other weather elements can cut the length of the actual bloom time shorter.

  So now we know and we can mark our calendars, check our camera batteries, invite our out-of-town kin, and start picking out our pink dresses and ties for DC's beautiful blooming tradition. See you at the Tidal Basin!

UPDATE: The National Park Service has announced the bloom time is coming earlier than predicted. Our warm, sunny first weekend of spring means the trees will be flowering about 3 days earlier and peak will be around April 1. Don't fret if you planned on visiting later, not all varieties bloom at once and blossoms due hold on for a while (barring any nasty, windy storms).

UPDATE ON THAT UPDATE: According to the National Cherry Blossom Festival's bloom watch today (3/29), the peak bloom dates have now moved up to April 1 and 2, with the blooming period from March 27 through April 8 (shorter than usual). Now who still doubts Global Warming?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Philly Flower Show Photos

I have posted three albums and two short videos from our Philadelphia Flower Show trip up on Wednesday, 3/3. They are all on my facebook page: or follow this link.

Over 40 of us, led by Cheval Force Opp of Cheval's Garden Tours, had a day full of flowers, fun, and food.
We viewed landscape displays, took notes at garden talks, sampled wine and spirits, and shopped til we dropped. Hope many of you can join us for the trip up next year. The 2011 theme is "Springtime in Paris." The 2012 show will be their 200th anniversary and you can already feel the excitement.

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