Monday, June 30, 2014

Our Favorite Mid-Atlantic Trees and Why We Love Them

Corkscrew Sassafras Tree
by Ronald Springwater

Congratulations to Suzanne Ives Dunkley of Alexandria, VA, who won a signed copy of  City of Trees by Melanie Choukas-Bradley (Retail value: $28) in our June 2014 Washington Gardener Magazine Reader Contest.

Washington, DC, boasts more than 300 species of trees from America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and City of Trees has been the authoritative guide for locating, identifying, and learning about them for more than 25 years.

We asked our readers to tell us their favorite trees and here are some of their responses:

“My favorite tree: gingko. I love its ancient history and rediscovery, its leaves and awkward spiky shape, and I especially love my gingko tree, which has two trunks because of early trauma - it's a survivor.”
- Erica Smith, Germantown, MD

“My favorite tree is the Eastern redbud.  I love this native tree's compact size, it's elegant sculptural form, and the beautiful fuchsia flowers in early Spring.  The flowers are edible too!”
- Madeline Caliendo, Washington, DC

“My favorite tree is the absolutely unique sassafras located in the National Arboretum on Mt. Hamilton where the azaleas are found (pictured above). It twists around itself to resemble a corkscrew.”
 - Ronald Springwater, Washington, DC

“Any day I am asked, I might choose a different "favorite" tree… I will say that today my favorite tree is a Sycamore tree - because of the beauty of the peeling bark, the stark whiteness of the trunk and the stately way the trees line certain watery passages such as the Potomac, particularly visibly in winter.  [But tomorrow, my favorite tree will be a Persimmon, because of the interesting "crocodile" blocky bark, the unusual form of the tree and the preference many birds seem to have for the tree - at least the one along my property line.]”
- Linette Lander, Takoma Park, MD

Eight years ago the ancient white oak that stood guard over our backyard relinquished its post. It had stood for 100 years but finally laid itself down when its forked trunk did what forked trunks tend to do eventually: split down the middle. On that day, I realized that oak trees are my favorite, strong and constant, beautiful yet resilient. It had sheltered us from many Atlantic storms, such as the nor’easters that pummel us in the mid-atlantic from time to time, or the occasional wayward hurricane. It allowed hostas to flourish in its shade and songbirds to frolic in its canopy. Skinks and centipedes slid over its exposed roots while raccoons and black snakes lazed in its branches. The oak tree is a true microcosm of life. When it is gone, you realize there was none like it.”
-         Suzanne Ives Dunkley of Alexandria, VA

“My favorite tree (right now) is the Japanese threadleaf maple in my backyard, because it provides cover for the fledging bunnies who were born in its shadow.  I can see it from my basement door each morning and, often as not, a rabbit is resting beneath its umbrella like branches.  It also managed to collect forget-me-not volunteers at its root line, and they are far more welcoming than the plantain weeds that I never get around to pulling!  My yard has dozens of much larger trees, mostly natives, but this one, with its protective shape and showy colors (it's the gren type), is my current favorite.”
-         Elaine Dynes, Silver Spring, MD
“My favorite tree is most definitely the Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)! I have mine planted in what can only be described as a raised, stone alter, so I can smell it from most of the rooms in my house. I first smelled and saw one, of all places, at the Cactoctin Zoo and it immediately went on 'the list'. It's fair to say that I will never live in a home without this tree nearby :).”
- Alison Mrohs, WDC region

“That is difficult to answer because I love many different trees for different reasons. For now I'll say the dogwood because its flower has always been a favorite of my mother's. Because of that it was probably one of the first flowers I could recognize and name as a child. I love how it lights up the woods in spring and how the vivid red berries feed the cardinals and squirrels in the fall.”
- Renay Lang, Leesburg, VA

What are YOUR favorite trees and why?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fenton Friday: Turnip the Heat!

This week at my community garden plot at the corner of Fenton and Rt. 410 in downtown Silver Spring, MD, the heat moved in. We had one wonderful overnight rain, but otherwise dry, windy, and hot. Surprisingly though my broccoli (which I meant to pull out weeks ago) is still producing nice little heads and my lettuce has yet to bolt. My sugarsnap peas though are looking pretty fried. The strawberry harvest has ended too.

'Danvers' Carrot
The 'Danvers' carrots and 'Purple Top" turnips are getting a nice size on them.I plucked a few early 'Sungold' tomatoes, sorry, no photo, too yummy to wait for a camera.

Lettuce mix
I harvested all the garlic as few days ago. Last fall, I cut way back on how many cloves I planted, but I still have over 20 heads and some of them are as big as baseballs. A few are puny though, guess I will eat those first and save one of the bug guys for planting again this fall. They are all now curing in my sunroom and the cats are taking turns chewing on the brown-tipped foliage.

I'm terribly behind on all my gardening chores. I did manage to plant some green beans and a small cantaloupe. Maybe this weekend I will get a few hours to be able to get everything else in and the rest of the plot weeded and tidy.

How is your edible garden growing?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Win a Signed Copy of City of Trees by Melanie Choukas-Bradley

For our June 2014 Washington Gardener Magazine Reader Contest, Washington Gardener is giving away a signed copy of City of Trees by Melanie Choukas-Bradley. (Retail value: $28.)
   Washington, DC, boasts more than 300 species of trees from America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and City of Trees has been the authoritative guide for locating, identifying, and learning about them for more than twenty-five years. The third edition is fully revised, updated, and expanded and includes an eloquent new foreword by the Washington Post’s garden editor, Adrian Higgins.
   To enter to win City of Trees, send an email to: by 5:00pm on June 30 with “City of Trees” in the subject line and in the body of the email, please also include your full name and mailing address. Tell us: “Your favorite tree and why.” The book’s winner will be announced and notified by July 1.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Video Wednesday: Vote for Woodridge School Garden in WDC

Vote for Woodridge School Garden in the Guaranteed Rate Neighborhood Give Back Challenge here:

"The Woodridge Garden will directly improve science education, nutrition, and environmental awareness for over 500 preschool to 8th grade students. Their families will benefit as students develop interest in healthy food sources and cooking. The surrounding community will be an active partner, gaining a neighborhood garden and increased access to healthy foods."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Assessing the Winter Damage ~ Washington Gardener Enews ~ June 2014

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

• Back Issue Sale
• June-July To-Do List
• Magazine Excerpt: Profile of Patterson Clark

• Latest Blog Links
• Local Garden Events Listings
Assessing the Winter Damage

• New ‘Ruby Fusion' Weigela
• Reader Contest to Win a copy of "City of Trees"

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. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fenton Friday: Open Garden Potluck

You are invited to join us TOMORROW (Saturday, June 21 -- the eve of summer solstice) for an OPEN GARDEN POTLUCK from 5-7pm at the Fenton Street Community Garden at the corner of Fenton and Rt 410.

We will throw open wide the front gate for YOU, our garden neighbors, to come in and tour the gardens, ask us garden questions, see our fancy cistern, etc. Children are most welcome.

Please bring a dish to share. We have paperware and cutlery, soft drinks and ice, chips and salsa, and cookies.

As you likely know, parking is tight as we are on a dead-end strip, so please walk or bike over. If you must drive, there is a small public lot near the end of the 900 block of Philadelphia near the Lotus Cafe and also the public lot down Fenton next to the Greyhound and behind the World Building.

(It looks like the rain should stop well before 4pm, but just in case it is storming at 5pm, note that the Rain Date is Sunday, June 22 from 5-7pm.)
PS Bring a folding chair or camp chair, if you have one, as seating will be limited.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Video Wednesday: Agastache, a Native Plant with Bling


Stephanie Cohen, “The Perennial Diva,” spoke on "Native Plants with Bling" at the US Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, on May 9, 2014, National Public Gardens Day. This short video is on Agastache, a great plant for attracting pollinators to your garden and it is very appropriate that I'm finally getting a chance to edit and post this during National Pollinator Week.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Serviceberry Sauce Recipe

What is a Serviceberry?
It is the fruit of a small, native tree the Amelanchier canadensis, which grows wild from Maine to the Carolinas. It is also called Saskatoonberry, Juneberry, Shadberry, Shadbush, and many other names. Serviceberry is being used extensively now in native landscaping so you can find small groves it in many public areas. (As with all fruit gleaning, please be sure to get the property owners permission before picking any.)
   It is similar to a blueberry in size and flavor, but is much sweeter and has a small, edible seed inside each berry. The seed is reminiscent of an almond in flavor.
   The season to pick the berries is late May to mid June. They do not have to be fully blue to be ripe, so pick them when they are any shade from burgundy to purple. Do so quickly before the birds do so and before any signs of rust (orange powder) appear on the fruit, which happens in our area's high heat and humidity. 
   You can adapt most any blueberry recipe and substitute in serviceberry -- just drastically drop the amount of sugar or leave it out entirely.*

*Yes, that is right, NO sugar or sweeteners needed!

Use this Serviceberry Sauce by adding it to:
- yogurt
- vanilla ice cream
- cheesecake
- poundcake
- angel food cake
- graham crackers
- toast
- oatmeal
- pancakes
- waffles
- turkey
- pork
- tilapia
- any more suggestions?

Serviceberry Sauce Recipe
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup water
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 quart fresh or frozen Serviceberries
Cook and stir constantly over medium heat until thickened.
You can add in 3 tbsp. of Grand Marnier, if desired.
Serve warm or cool. Can it in small jars or freeze for use later.

Pin this for later:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: Sample Plants

For this month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day share, I thought I'd take a photo of one of the many sample plants that I get set to review as a professional garden communicator. This tropical hisbiscus bloom opened up today and it is 'Spin the Bottle' in the HibisKiss Viva plants collection from Floragem.

I get set a number of plants every year. Some are drop-dead gorgeous, like this one. In the last few years I have had some real traffic-stoppers (literally) and have enjoyed trialing many new echinacea, coreopsis, dozens of heuchera, etc.

Every year in Washington Gardener Magazine I share a "New Plants and Picks" spread and almost all of these choices come from the plants I've personally trialed and know work well for us in the Mid-Atlantic US. I also enjoy sharing new plant discoveries that I know are coming to market soon in the "Spotlight" column of the monthly Washington Gardener Enewsletter.

The only plant I think I have to say "enough!" to are all the bare-root roses. I do not want to sound ungrateful, but there IS a such thing as too much of a good thing. I just don't have one-inch left in my garden in a spot with the full sun that they need. Recently, I visited a convent in Washington, DC, while on the Brookland House and Garden Tour and I noticed they had a half-acre or so of clear, sun-filled space just crying out for planting. So I'll be taking any more I get down to donate there.

The majority of trial plants I receive are like the annual above. I have plenty of containers to stuff annuals and move around into available sun spots... and when those spots are gone, I start hanging and stacking them up on any wall or fence space that I can, so there is always room for more of them.

What is blooming in your garden today?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fenton Friday: Is THAT my plot?

Have you ever had one of those "Is that MY garden!?!" moments? Well, I had one when arriving at my community garden plot this week. I rounded the corner and had to stop in my tracks to figure out which plot was mine. I was so disoriented! It seems our plots have gone from little scraggly rows of seedlings to booming jungles of green overnight. All the heavy rains we have gotten of late have definitely made the plots burst with activity.

The strawberries and peas have started to peter out. Lots of salad greens still and today I cut a handful of garlic scapes.

I also harvested several small heads of broccoli. I was supposed to have yanked that out a few weeks back and planted the tomatoes in that spot, but never got a chance to do so between my busy schedules and the daily rains. Procrastination pays though as this is the third harvest of broccoli I have gotten from the plants.

How is your edible garden growing?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Video Wednesday: Thinning Vegetable Plants in the Garden

Here is a new video I shot out at the community garden plot with Chris Mills, local realtor. I demonstrate how to thin out vegetable seedlings and what to do with the discards -- eat them!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Penstemon Digitalis – Beloved by Bees and Me!

Guest Blog by Rachel Shaw

The spring ephemerals have departed. The False Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis, is just finishing its glorious cascade of blue and is starting to form the seedpods that will later turn black and rattle in the wind. The Monarda didyma is tall, even after being cut back, but is not yet blooming. Butterflyweed (Aesclepias tuberosa), which always emerges late, has made its appearance and is coming along nicely, but bloom time is a ways off.

Enter Penstemon digitalis, sometimes called Foxglove Beardtongue, one of the few native plants currently in full bloom in my yard. With its delicate bell-shaped flowers on graceful stalks, this reliable bloomer is a bee magnet.

This year I’m especially grateful to my Penstemon. After part of my front yard had to be dug up to replace a broken sewer line, my yard and I were feeling pretty devastated. I did some plant rescue beforehand, but still lost a lot of plants. I wasn’t sure how the transplants would take, as what had been pretty decent soil was now buried in hard compacted clay from the trench. I did not have time to amend the entire bed immediately, so plants got some got some decent soil in and around their planting holes, and that was it. The Penstemon had buds when I transplanted it from the back yard, and it settled right in to its new, not so lovely neighborhood and began blooming. It was heartening to see, and reminded me yet again of how resilient plants can be!

Other natives blooming (in my undisturbed back yard): Arrowwood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum (first time!) and Spigelia marilandica.

What native plants are blooming in your yard or nearby?

About the Author
Rachel Shaw focuses on vegetable gardening and growing native plants in her small yard in Rockville, Maryland. She blogs at


Monday, June 09, 2014

Tomato Patch: Cherokee by Another Name is Chocolate

In this guest blog series by Bob Nixon, he explores various tomato varieties and how well they grow in the Mid-Atlantic region. Look for Tomato Patch posts every Monday for the next few months as our local tomato season gets underway.

Typical Cherokee Chocolate tomato
When I received my seed order from Tomato Growers Supply Co. last winter, it contained a complimentary packet of 'Cherokee Chocolate' tomato seeds.  Hey, chocolate, I thought—what is there not to salivate over?

Here’s how Tomato Growers describes Cherokee Chocolate:  “A stabilized version of Cherokee Purple, this 10 to 16 oz. mahogany-colored variety has excellent flavor and beautiful large fruit.  Very productive plants are vigorous and yield a large harvest of these chocolate-colored tomatoes with the ample size and wonderful flavor associated with Cherokee Purple.”

I’m not sure I know what “stabilized” means in a tomato variety, but my Cherokee Chocolate plants produced more fruit per plant than the Cherokee Purples I’ve grown.  Fruits are larger, mine averaging just under 16 oz., though Chocolate seem more irregular in shape than the global Purple, and slightly more juicy and less “smoky” in flavor, as some catalogs describe the Purple.  I found it more convenient to cut the irregular-shaped fruit in half and then to slice or chunk the two halves.

Will I grow them again next year?  I have left-over seeds stored in the fridge from this year’s complimentary packet, so why not?  But I probably wouldn’t buy another packet unless I really wanted to grow a Cherokee that produces more and larger fruit than Purple.

Cherokee Chocolate tomatoes
sometimes challenge your slicing skills

About the Author
Bob Nixon is a retiree who lives at Meadow Glenn, a rural residential home near Clarksville in the piedmont region of Maryland. He loves gardening with emphasis on veggies and perennial flowers, and he is gradually reforesting parts of his home lot with native trees. And while he is gardening or mowing or just walking about, he sometimes reflect on life and what’s happening beyond Meadow Glenn at his blog:

Friday, June 06, 2014

Fenton Friday: The Bolted Blues

I knew I jinxed myself by talking about how much I love Arugula in my weekly community garden plot posting here last week! It bolted the next day and is now firey and sharp as hot pepper. I guess that is why they call it "rocket!" I should pull it all and compost it, but I don't have the heart yet. May let it go to seed and collect those to try again in the fall.

Elsewhere in my plot, the SugarSnap Peas appeared literally overnight! One day I had a few spindly vines, the next I had pea pods and nice-sized ones at that. I did not plant half as many vines as I did in the last few years so will just have a handful to add to my salad each day, unlike the quarts of them I am used to getting. This is good though as I'm so busy planting other things and harvesting strawberries, salad greens, broccoli, and herbs, that any more peas would be wasted.

I checked on my Turnips by pulling one out. It is still baby-sized. I took it home and cleaned it and shaved it to taste it. It was awful! Baby turnips are not like baby carrots or greens in that respect. Anyone grow turnips? This is my first time. When are they really ready to eat?

BTW, you'll find me at the Washington Gardener Magazine table tomorrow at Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville, MD, from 9am-3pm for their annual Garden Party. It is to benefit the Friends of Brookside Gardens and is a wonderful event for local gardeners to learn about local garden clubs, participate in a plant swap, enter the raffle, attend garden talks, and much more. I hope to see many of you there!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Video Wednesday: Freaks of the Garden

Get freaky with these gardeners! Love this clip and wish all garden marketing was so energetic and inventive. What do you think?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Tomato Patch: Buckets of SuperSauce

In this guest blog series by Bob Nixon, he explores various tomato varieties and how well they grow in the Mid-Atlantic region. Look for Tomato Patch posts every Monday for the next few months as our local tomato season gets underway.

Large SuperSauce tomatoes are eye-catching

I was skeptical but intrigued by Burpee’s 2013 description of a new paste tomato called 'SuperSauce':
“It’s SuperSauce! The new tomato superhero. A whole lot bigger, a whole lot better, a Roma with aroma. Weighing in at 2-lbs., a whopping 5.5” tall x 5” wide, SuperSauce produces gallons of luscious, seedless sauce from a single plant harvest—one tomato fills an entire sauce jar.”

The description continued: “Very few people in the gardening world consider a paste tomato for anything other than to make paste or sauce. SuperSauce is extraordinarily delicious and versatile as a salad tomato, as well as having a distinctive quality in that its large segments of fruit often make a shape that is perfect for a meaty and tasty hamburger slice, quite different from the horizontal slice commonly used from a large round tomato. Easy-to-grow, indeterminate, disease-free plants yield a summerlong supply of the exquisitely-flavored marinara, tomato gravy or meat sauce plus plenty for slicing and salads.”

How could I resist ordering a packet of seeds to try, even at a pricey $6.50 plus shipping?

SuperSauce is solid, as a paste tomato should be
My first impression of SuperSauce was negative.  When the seeds sprouted and the plants began to grow, they were what you might call “leggy,” “scraggly,” or “spindly.” Their leaves seemed odd shaped, healthy but somewhat droopy or turned down.  I wasn’t expecting much from SuperSauce, but I transplanted them into the Tomato Patch at four weeks, and SuperSauce grew, blossomed, fruited.

What do I think of SuperSauce now?  I like it—I like it a lot.  SuperSauce is a SuperPasteTomato.

How does the fruit coming out of my garden compare to Burpee’s advertising hyperbole?

“Two pounds and 5.5” long and 5” wide”?  Mine averaged 5” long, about 2 1/2” wide.  From four SuperSauce plants I picked several bucketsful during just two weeks in August.  Fruit of an early picking averaged about 11 oz. and of two later pickings averaged 14.5 oz. and 18.75 oz.  In mid-season, one SuperSauce weighted 1 lb. 13 oz.  Fruit production peaked in August, but I picked numerous smaller fruit into October.

One SuperSauce almost filled a quart container
“Gallons of luscious, seedless sauce from a single plant harvest—one tomato fills an entire sauce jar”?  I originally thought that Burpee ad writers need to get out of the office and into a kitchen, but by mid-season I thought that one SuperSauce plant might, over a season, produce enough fruit to make up to one gallon of sauce.  One average SuperSauce tomato may pretty much fill a sauce container, as you can see in the photo of one fruit in a 4-cup container, but one large tomato does not yield, by far, a “jar” of sauce, at least any jar a respectable sauce maker would use at home.  Compared to the Amish Paste variety I’ve preferred in recent years, the average SuperSauce weighs about the same but has less waste from cracks and blossom end rot when processing for sauce making.  It also may be a few shades lighter red than many paste varieties.

“Delicious and versatile”?  Reasonably tasty, yes, more so than some paste tomatoes, and flavorful enough to pass as a slicer or salad tomato, especially tomato gourmands who find the flavor of supermarket varieties such as Compari acceptable.  Solid and meaty, a slice or two of SuperSauce on a sandwich doesn’t send juice racing down the eater’s arms to drip off elbows—a definite plus.

“Easy-to-grow, indeterminate, disease-free plants yield a summerlong supply”?  Yes, yes, yes.  And the size and number of the growing fruit gives even a tomato fanatic cause to pause and admire.

Enough, already.  I plan to plant SuperSauce hybrids again next year.  It has replaced Amish Paste as my top choice of paste tomatoes.

About the Author
Bob Nixon is a retiree who lives at Meadow Glenn, a rural residential home near Clarksville in the piedmont region of Maryland. He loves gardening with emphasis on veggies and perennial flowers, and he is gradually reforesting parts of his home lot with native trees. And while he is gardening or mowing or just walking about, he sometimes reflect on life and what’s happening beyond Meadow Glenn at his blog:

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