As we say goodbye to 2018, I want to say thank you to all my readers. I am wishing you a safe, happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019, filled with many rewarding gardening days!
Archive for Gardening in Alexandria
Hi everyone! We had an unbelievable amount of rain here this year, almost double our annual rainfall total. The air feels like a sauna even in October. It’s been hard to spend more than a few hours outside at a time in the heat and humidity — but you know I can’t stay inside, and there’s work to be done!
My priority now is renovating the lawn. Normally, I would finish this completely in September, but the weather has put me behind schedule. To do this right, I started by weeding the entire lawn by hand, as opposed to using an herbicide. When planning to overseed, one needs to make sure not to have any chemicals on the lawn which could interfere with the new seed sprouting.
I am using a specialized steel rake to get every bit of thatch out of the lawn — a tool I inherited from my grandfather. This is THE most grueling step. After de-thatching two-thirds of the lawn, I have collected more than a dozen full bags of debris (don’t worry — you know it’s going to the compost heap). I’m impressed with how effectively this steel rake pulls out the thatch — and it loosens the surface, which makes for great new seed contact into the top soil.
Everyone who walks by while I’m working asks me why I don’t just use a machine for this, but if you saw how much better this works you’d know why!
I bought a premium seed that has a variety of grass types: some that sprout within a week to stabilize the bare spots, and additional varieties that will be sprouting over the next few. This mix also had a seed-starting fertilizer mixed in, but if the variety you purchase doesn’t have this, I’d recommend using some.
Keeping things moist while the seeds are doing their magic is key, but with all the rain we’ve had, I’ve only had to water the new seed a few times.
I’m happy to say that I finally was able to easily pull out the last of the roots from two pear trees which used to grace the front yard. Now those areas are much smoother in elevation. The vast majority of the surface roots came out with the tree, but a few deep ones remained. On these areas, which were quite large, I used a couple of pieces of sod and more seed around the edges to completely fill it in. Now you’d never know that those were trouble spots!
Once the new seed reaches three inches tall, you can start mowing. We gave our newly-seeded lawn its first mow this week. I have a tip for this, too: Set your mower to highest level first, because after a few weeks of not mowing, the existing grass will definitely be quite long and would clog the bagging chute. In a couple of days, set your mower to the normal level and cut it again. This way your lawn won’t be stressed as much — and you won’t create new thatch by using a clogged mower!
I’m hoping the weather will cooperate so I can finish up my raking this week, but (if you can believe it) we have a new hurricane bearing down tomorrow night, and two more in the Atlantic pipeline. Hope everyone stays safe, and best of luck — I’ll be back with some pretty fall flowers next week!
Long ago, when I first designed the front yard of our house, I left a 15 foot wide gap between the boxwood bushes that wrap the front of the house. This was supposed to be very temporary. My intent was to change the path of the front walkway and bring it up the middle of the lawn instead of from the driveway on the side. Well, as years slipped by, I have had much more pressing projects. The front pathway took a back seat, but it’s time to get started with a new plan. I’ve changed my mind on moving the location of the walkway for now, but I still want to soften up the existing straight line of the boxwood garden. To improve curb appeal, I added some seating and space for seasonal color by the front entrance. I’ll show you how I went about it, step by step.
I’m not quite finished with it, but already I’m much happier with the amped-up curb appeal, and a new place to sit in the garden. I’ll post another photo in the fall when I add some flagstone pieces to transition from the walkway to the benches. I’ll transplant more ground cover to fill it in when the weather cools off. Hope you all have a safe and wonderful 4th of July! Happy gardening!
Happy Summer everyone! Trash to treasure is one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve been busy doing a few fun summer projects and want to share them with you. We’ve had a lot of rain here in the mid-Atlantic region, so as it’s been too wet to work the garden, I’ve been working on these projects between the storms.
Recently I was given some old Adirondack chairs with ottomans that a neighbor no longer wanted. They had sat in the woods for years and had gotten covered in sap, bugs, pollen, mud, algae and who knows what else. They were in pretty rough shape, but I scoured them down, power washed them twice, and finally brought out the palm sander and managed to get through all the grunge. It was quite a job, but I was determined to make them beautiful again. A few coats of my favorite stain and sealer later, and now they are fantastic! I moved them up onto the deck, and now they make a great spot to sit and relax or maybe even whale watch! Trash to treasure, for sure!
Also on the deck, I moved the teak dining table over to the arbor. I came up with a really fun and simple idea to create an outdoor chandelier above it. These were all things that I had, but easy to find at most garden centers. I took a wrought iron plant hanger and attached it to the center support post of the arbor, then with a few links of metal chain hung a garden orb. Inside the orb I hung a candle lantern. It makes a great chandelier, and no wiring necessary!
These were fun projects. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and apply some elbow grease — restoring old furniture is very rewarding. The chandelier project was very easy, and it will be nice to enjoy a meal underneath! Hope you’ll give them a try…
Hi all! It’s been a looong while since I’ve written a blog, and I have lots of catching up to do and some explaining as well. It seems that this entire last year has been a mess of frustration with construction and neighbors. Every one of the homes on my street has had multiple pieces of huge equipment visit for weeks on end, causing all kinds of mayhem and thoughtless behavior, making it impossible to get a worthy photo for my blog. So thank you all for putting up with my absence for so long. I will do my best to show you what I’ve been up to lately…
I’m ready for some nicer days — aren’t you? 2018 has been unusually frigid and foggy, wildly windy, and with sudden, crazy temperature swings. It makes me crave some tropical — or at least milder — springtime weather. Not to be had just yet, so until then, I’m doing some gardening indoors.
I’m always on the lookout for interesting new houseplants and couldn’t resist this one. It’s a weeping pussy willow, grafted onto a standard willow trunk. There is a legend that goes along with it: If you tie a loose knot in a trailing willow branch and then make a wish, the wish will come true. You then untie the knot and thank the tree, and it will grant you more wishes in the future. Well, I could use some of that! I’ll tell you if it works!
The peace lily and the shamrock also are starting to bloom. I’ve had both of these for a number of years and highly recommend them for low-light areas. Mine are both in need of re-potting in larger containers, but I’ll wait until the blooms fade. A good rule of thumb is to use the next size up in pots, and March is a perfect time to re-pot a houseplant.
I’m waiting on some orchid plants to come back into bloom and decided to do something fun with them — I made an orchid garden to use as a centerpiece in the dining room.
If you want to try to make one of your own, here’s how: I took a huge punch bowl and lined it with floral foam (mine took four bricks of floral foam). I then added the real orchids (still in their pots) into the punch bowl around the outside rim. (So they can be popped out easily to water and put back in.) With the space that was left, I added faux orchids (I used 9 stems/sprays), and filled in with pine cones to cover any remaining visible floral foam or open spots. (You could also use moss, or shells, or anything you like for this step.) Bunching them all together garden style like this creates a statement piece with lots of impact. It’s so tropical-looking — just what I was going for! It makes me feel like I’m in a Victorian greenhouse when I look at it — a real plus for these chilly days. This could be done with any flowers or greenery that makes you happy, so I hope you’ll give it a try. Good cure for the winter blahs!
This has been a crazy couple of weeks: the street was milled and repaved, and major renovations have been going on inside the house. So, the garden again proves to be my escape.
Well, it’s not quite the Chelsea Flower Show, but I have to say this year’s flowers have been gorgeous so far!
I will be a bit sad to see this season pass and have to wait another year to see these beauties again, so I’m creating my own 2017 Flower Show in pictures to revisit. I hope everyone has been enjoying their own gardens this year! Here are some highlights from mine…
Well, that’s my 2017 Flower Show — hope you enjoyed it! Please let me know what your favorite flowers are this year from your garden. Happy summer!
Hi all! I think I am finally ready to show you some of the garden areas I have been working on since last fall. My goal was to open up the areas that had gotten a bit too crowded and simplify the overall design. While we walk through the yard, I’d like to show some tricks and tips that might help solve similar dilemmas that many of us deal with.
I have never shown a closeup of this garden area on the blog before. It is the front corner of my front yard, where the cul-du-sac meets the street. Here on the corner a low wall of juniper bushes are very strategically placed. As cars round the corner at night into the cul-du-sac, this blocks the headlights, shielding the windows from the bright headlights. All you need is 3 or 4 foot high evergreen bushes in order to protect the house from an oncoming vehicle’s headlights. No one wants to feel like a search light is spraying the inside of your home, and this does the trick! This garden is layered with euonymous and liriope on the street side, and anchored in at the corner with a dogwood tree. We have an up-light that shines at night into the canopy of tree, which right now looks like a cloud of beautiful white blossoms.
Here is the updated front walk. I cleared out some of the jungle of large plants on either side of the Nellie Stevens holly and highlighted it by relocating the hostas to either side in a semi circle to add some visual depth and light to that side of the walk. The liriope on the lawn side of the walk were all divided and will stay low. They will add some seasonal interest in the late summer with their purple flowers. These carry through the front of the other two garden beds on either side of the front door to create a nice flow from one garden to the next.
I inherited the layout of the walkway, but if I were to design it myself, I would have brought this odd zig zag section forward to match up with the rest of the walkway and made the whole walkway 4 to 5 feet wide. It’s always nice to be able to walk side by side with someone on a front walk, and being on the north side of the house, it would have been smarter to bring the walk out of the shadow of the house. If I ever win the lottery this is one of the things on my wish list – LOL!
Moving around to the east side of the garden I have done a lot of work. There were many of the older perennials that needed dividing, and some areas requiring removal, like the lamb’s ears which never was happy in that location and the beautiful iris which were overwhelming their area. All is smoothed out, and in a few weeks this area will be teaming with color. I have simplified many of the waves of color on this side, and interspersed some of them with liriope and periwinkle which will provide more year round interest. I also want to suggest to those looking to brighten up an area that placing lighter colors or variegated plants in the dark recesses under trees will draw your eye in and create more dimension. Repeating the plant material, colors and varying the numbers of plants in a group is also helpful to pull your eye through.
One more thing worth mentioning in this region of the country and other drought-prone areas: limit the amount of lawn that is in your yard. For example, in my yard the side and back are fairly hilly, so the lawn is kept to a minimum through there, and treated more like a wide pathway flowing through the yard and the garden beds are much wider. In the front, the yard is flat, so we have kept a larger patch of lawn for activities– perfect for throwing a Frisbee, or a game of croquet. This limits the amount of water, nutrients needed, and even helps with the amount of time you need to spend mowing — bonus!
Moving around into the back garden, I’m really happy to see that all the roses I transplanted are really flourishing in the full sun. This is where I have amped up the flower power, and have sedum, orchids, astilbe, hellebores, ginger, lamb’s ears, yarrow, iris, peonies, lily of the valley and hummingbird vine. Many of these were started from gifts from my gardening friends! The idea was to have something blooming for as much of the year as possible. The only time there is a void is February, and don’t worry, I’m on it. I think I’ll add some crocus bulbs in the fall to make it year round. Will I ever be done? No, but that’s the fun for me!
Every year I’m working against the clock to have the yard looking at its peak when the cherry tree blooms. This year we have had an inordinate number of warm days, and I have almost finished — well, at least the front yard. It’s hard work, but the weeding, edging, mulching (90 bags!) and lots and lots of pruning are almost completed. We have lots of people who drive by and a few who take Easter pictures here when the tree blooms coincide with Bunny Day. I think this year I was lucky that this tree is a little behind the Tidal Basin cherry trees in D.C. The cold snap and late ice and snow storm that collided with them didn’t harm mine, just delayed it a few days. For those who are as in love with these trees as I am, this is a Kwansan variety. Its double flowers are magical!
The “Charleston pink” phlox that surrounds the tree is at its peak right now, and the tree is hours away from exploding with color, so this is just a teaser and I will post another photo when the tree is blooming — until then, Happy Spring!
Update, April 6th - The tree has started to open. I’ll post a photo each day until it’s fully open. We had an incredible Spring storm that blasted through here just now with intense wind and the darkest clouds I’ve ever seen. Everyone in its path — stay safe!
Update, April 7th – She is now in all her glory! It’s always worth the wait. I feel so happy to have her in my garden.
Each year on George Washington’s Birthday, the Mount Vernon Estate opens its gates to the public for free. As you might imagine, it is filled with people coming to celebrate the day. Since it’s right down the street from my home, I try to go every year. There is always something that is undergoing a renovation, and it’s great to see what’s newly been uncovered with all the advancements in technology they have. The mansion house has now been painted with colors that have been discovered to be the original — very different from the colors we all thought for years to be accurate. For at least the last century, it has been painted white and it’s bright red roof shown against the blue sky. Now the colors are much softer and more muted. A golden tan is on the field of the house, and the roof is a much softer red. It’s very pretty, but for those of us who see it everyday, quite a change!
The “back yard” of the house it is still just as it was when President Washington lived there. Believe it or not, the view from the veranda has been protected in a way that you cannot see any other structures across the Potomac River — 80 square miles of protection to be exact! I think that’s an amazing accomplishment. All the lawn that you see is trimmed by a scythe, no mowers used here. It’s quite impressive to watch. The estate’s team of gardeners have a wealth of knowledge about the colonial era tools, and there are special tours where they will demonstrate many of them. If you get a chance to visit, you might want to call ahead and request a special tour!
This year I went specifically to see the orangery and it’s surrounding garden. This area was used in housing the small citrus trees that they grew in planters. The trees would be outside in the warm months and moved indoors into the orangery in the winter. It has a dark colored slate floor, and masonry walls which would soak up all the warmth from the sun during the day through the south facing, floor to ceiling windows. Then in the evening, the shutters would be closed, and the floor would radiate it’s heat back into the room, keeping it above freezing, and all it’s tender trees and plants would be kept alive. They have not quite finished this renovation and the plants are not inside yet, but soon it will be full of tender plants.
On the outside of the building there is a large garden surrounded by brick walls to protect against nibbling deer and other animals. This area was mainly used to start new plants for transplant into the other landscaped areas and was used as sort of a colonial era plant nursery. President Washington was the recipient of many gifts of plants and new varieties of seeds and, according to his journals, enjoyed experimenting with them.
The walls of the garden have many different varieties of espallied trees — mostly fruiting trees like apple, peach, fig and cherry. They were grown against the walls for extra warmth to prolong the growing season, and also pruned to just a few feet tall, to make harvesting the fruit easy. The colonial people were very clever in their farming practices!
Along the brick lined paths they additionally would grow herbs and medicinal plants. A very diverse variety of plants grew there. The tiny little boxwood plants that you see edging the walk, figs trees, herbs and many other plants and seeds are sold in the annual plant sale fundraiser, coming up in Garden Week, another really fun event!
There is a huge vegetable garden on the other side of the mansion as well. With hundreds of mouths to feed, this was a most important garden, and it was in constant rotation of crops. Lettuces, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, melon and many more things grew here. This season the early spring onions and cabbages were looking great.
I always hate to leave Mt. Vernon estate, but the afternoon was coming to an end. So until I am back there next year, Happy Birthday George Washington! And happy gardening to the rest of us-
We are having some truly crazy weather here in Mount Vernon. Over the last week, we have had a daily high of 74 degrees and a daily high 38 degrees; snow, hail, sun, and rain; and three or four days with 60+ mile an hour winds! It seems like we are having records broken every day. You never know what will be in store from one minute to the next.
I’ve been making the most of the nice days and getting lots done in the garden. There have been some interesting things — and some not so — but it’s been great to just be outside soaking it all in. Here are a few things that I’m doing here that I hope will be a useful reminder to you in your gardens.
When we’ve had a nice afternoon here and there, I managed to get at least one or two ornamental grasses trimmed down. With more than a dozen out in the garden, this is the most time consuming of all of the cutting-back tasks. Mature grasses always start to die back in the middle after a few years, and it can start to look like a doughnut with all the growth around the edge and bare in the center. I have a tip for working with these: If you have a saws-all you can use a long blade to cut around the inner circle and remove it. This will dull the blade, but just keep it for this duty — makes it so much easier to cut out the fibrous, tough center. The bare center then can be then easily be filled in with a chunk of fresh, new growth from the outer edge, making the plant good as new.
These grasses can grow to be more than three feet in diameter in just a few years, so an alternative would be to divide it in fourths (or more) and turn one plant into many. Gardener’s gold! I have seven of them trimmed down now, so I’m well on my way. And — once you have finished trimming down the tops, don’t forget to clean out the old leaves and debris that settle in to the center during the course of the previous year. It will make the crown of the plant much healthier, and as a bonus it will look much nicer, too.
Now that we are starting to have warmer days, I like to stir up the mulch. It can become so compacted over the winter when it freezes and thaws. By stirring it up, it is much more porous so the spring rains can more easily soak in. It also makes the mulch look fresh and nice.
This is also the perfect time to check on emerging bulbs and perennials. I like to take the time to clear out the branches and leaves that have blown in, and give the garden beds a good edge for the upcoming growing season. Another tip — use your senses to evaluate your soil. It should have a beautiful fresh earth scent, as you stir it up. If it doesn’t, remember where and return with some nice compost to stir in when the soil has warmed. Ditto that if you see an area where rain ponds up, or there is moss or heavy clay.
Right now is the perfect time of the year to trim up rose bushes. Leave five or so main branches, and cut out any that cross. Make your cut about 12-18″ up the branch just above an outward facing leaf bud.
Last year I heard a new tip and really like it: sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surrounding the rosebush about a foot in diameter. It keeps fungus at bay. It really works. I had no black spot at all on the leaves of the bushes where I did this.
On to a reminder about some of the ugly necessities in the garden. After 17 years, we are replacing the A/C system. I wish they lasted longer, but even though we have ours serviced every year, there are only so many years of life in them. Here’s a tip I’ve mentioned before, but bears repeating: make sure to trim any bushes or hedging back so that the unit has at least a couple of feet of breathing room around it. You will have perfect air circulation around the unit and the technicians will have room to service it. Thank goodness for that invention, makes life so much more enjoyable!
I also made some progress clearing out a space to dedicate for storing my recycling bins and trashcan. It’s a little more visible than I’d like, so I’m still thinking about what I might do differently to improve on it.
In between some more wild weather, we had a beautiful day to take a field trip to George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon. I’ll be writing the next blog on some really inventive gardening tips from there that are still valid today!
I hope you’ve been able to get out in the garden on your good days, and may we have many more to come. Enjoy!
I always feel like my house looks so bare after I take down the Christmas decorations. The outside, too, seems so bleak and beige. It gives me a case of the blaahs. Here are a few simple things I’m doing to counteract those winter doldrums at my home.
I like to have colorful flowers to give some warmth to the home. For me, that means using tropical flowers and colors. I love the way tropical flowers work with so many furniture styles, too. From modern contemporary, to coastal, to traditional, they look wonderful.
I’m a practical lady and, as you know, and I like to grow a lot of the plants I use for decorating. But tropical flowers don’t grow around here unless you have a greenhouse, so my choices are purchasing them from a floral supply shop (very expensive!), or using silk replicas. Well, you know what this budget-minded lady is going to use! There are some amazingly realistic silks available now, too.
With many tropical flowers, you get wonderful impact with one or just a few flowers, especially with the larger flowers. The key is color — the more saturated the better, in my opinion. Luckily, readily-available square and round cylinder vases are great with almost everyone’s personal style.
Here are a couple of my favorite ways to display arrangements made for console tables or floor arrangements. These are tall so they are better positioned near a wall rather than as a centerpiece, which you would want to be low enough you could see across the table for conversation.
It’s also nice to have small “minis” that you can scatter around on side tables, or on a tray with other things, or even in multiples down a mantle or dining table. I’d suggest trying orchids or succulent plants that require very little care, great for busy lifestyles or those who travel.
Here’s a fun tip to give some extra zip to your floral creation: take advantage of the base of the clear vases by using interesting things to dress them up. Some favorite fillers are shells, beach glass, stones, wine corks, small fruit, moss or lining the vase with leaves.
When I was last at my wholesaler with a friend, we discovered that there is now a 4″ wide ribbon that is made exactly for this, and looks like a variegated leaf — pretty clever! We picked some up for her daughter’s upcoming wedding.
Another tip when using silk flowers in a clear vase is to add a couple of inches of water. This might seem funny to some, but it seals the deal, makes faux flowers seem real! And one more tip when using faux: make sure to keep them dusted.
Outside, I love to have a few pots of pansies for color, and I add branches of boxwood or juniper for some background. I also do the same with bare branches from the curly willow for some interest and height.
Well, these are a few of my favorite ways to combat the blaahs. Hope you find them interesting, and please share with me what you do in your home!
Hi there! It’s been a hard few months for me, trying to not worry too much about the future, but I’m doing my best to re-focus on what I can do. I urge all to stay aware of clean gardening practices and what we can do for the environment: not using chemicals, recycling/composting, participating in clean-up efforts in our communities, and last but not least, sending your Senators and Representatives a call or an email asking them to keep as many environmental protections in place as they can. You can reach them all at (202) 224-3121. The Capitol operators can help you find your Senators or Representatives, even if you don’t know their names.
We have a lot of work ahead of us! I don’t mean to rant on, but really, who doesn’t want a clean and healthy world? I think we can all agree on that! I think that is my biggest dream. I hope we can curb our losses at the EPA. Climate change is real!
Here in my little corner of the world, I managed to get quite a lot finished up in 2016, but I still have so much to do. This year’s main focus is on improving the areas under and around the deck.
Here are my goals: I’ll make an designated area to place the trash can and recycling bins that is both out of sight, but still easy to roll out to the curb. This also will improve the area where I store my flower pots, extra hoses, etc. And, there is one area I couldn’t work on last fall because I ran out of time — I need to lift some of the bricks on the back walkway and level them. After sixteen years, the ground has sunk around the plexi pipe that carries the runoff water from the downspout — should be an easy fix! Third, I will use my brick saw to cleanup the edge of the walkway where it connects to the driveway.
All the cosmetic work will boost the curb appeal, too — always a plus. When spring arrives, the garden around the base of the deck will get some annuals to really fill out the space and give some added color. Looking at the winter garden, when most everything is bare or died back to the ground for the season, things look bleak, so I will post a picture when everything has sprung back to beautiful life and show some before and after shots in a few months.
When I manage to finish all of that, the upper trim around the house and gutter system needs a complete cleaning and painting. Lots of the basics — weeding, mulching, trimming, mowing and edging — go on pretty much year round. Here’s a winter tip to make quick work of a messy, windswept yard: We find that it is much easier to run the mower over the grassy areas every month or so even in winter to pick up the leaves that blow in and smooth out the clumps of grass than it is to rake the whole yard over and over.
Last fall I did manage to finish re-making the planters and arbors and reinstall them. Using the leftover lumber from other jobs that I had stored in the garage, I added extra posts so that the planters could be used as privacy panels (hiding the less-than-pretty necessities that are stored under the deck). Then I planted the rose bushes, which had been in pots before, and divided and replanted the liriope to fill out the garden. Also, five other areas of the garden were edited and simplified. Plants had grown so out of bounds over the years, and it was time to selectively remove and transplant many to new locations. Now there is some breathing room, with nothing crowded. I added another three cubic yards of mulch to spruce up the beds, and then the cold weather set in.
On the creative side of things, I’m looking forward to making some stepping stones to access some of the deeper garden beds more easily.
Lastly, I received a really fun garden ornament from my sister, and it adds so much personality to the garden. Thank you, Tracy! It makes me want to incorporate a few more special things to spice things up! More on that later…
What are your goals for 2017 out in the garden? I’d love to hear!
Wishing a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to one and all-
Here in the mid-Atlantic, this has been a really rough summer, and the climate change has been very pronounced. Officially, it is the second hottest summer on record. With well over 50 days of temps in the mid-90′s and higher, the plants and trees are struggling — so much so that I am rethinking the location of many different plants in my garden. The micro-climate in my yard is hotter than the officially recorded temps by usually around five degrees. I think that is mostly due to the fact that we don’t have many shade trees on the property.
It’s a good time to take inventory of how the plants are faring. I think it’s interesting to compare how the same variety of plants do on various sides of the house, getting sun at different times of the day.
I am concerned about a row of euonymous that I planted along the front walk. Each spring, they start off looking amazing and full but lose their leaves by the end of summer, leaving them looking like bare stalks — not pretty. Those will be removed, and in their place I will add more liriope, and just fill the walkway garden with it, since it has done exceptionally well in that exposure.
The other hits in the front garden are the Hyacinth bean vine that I started from seed from last year’s winner, and also this gorgeous lemon/lime coleus with purple flower stalks. Both of these have been attracting butterflies and hummingbirds!
On the other side of the house in the east garden, I have a huge amount of beautiful white iris that are struggling in the intense amount of afternoon sun, as well as lamb’s ears that are always looking bedraggled. They will both be removed as well. The garden on that side is now getting established, and the crepe myrtle trees have grown to a point that they are blocking an unappealing view, so I couldn’t be happier about that! I might not even install anything else in that garden, and leave them some extra space. Deep watering has kept them in good health, so just adding some extra mulch is all that is needed.
In the back yard, I have some renovating to do. After 20 plus years, and even a move from our old house to this one, the planters we built from pressure treated wood are on borrowed time. I am rethinking how we might rework a privacy screen for under the deck, and then add to the flowering bounty underneath. The knockout roses and beautiful peonies that I currently have in pots, as well as some of the white iris I am removing from the east garden will be planted there. I’ll increase the garden’s size to accommodate them as needed. They’re my “green children” after all!
I have a couple of beautiful photos to share of the Labor Day weekend’s sunset here, and a last photo of this summer’s front door — next time you see it, it will be decked out for autumn, and hopefully a lot cooler! Until then — Happy gardening!
The outside chores are done, and now it’s time for a nice cold iced tea. I’m going through photos from this summer’s garden and want to share some of the plants and flowers that are thriving in my garden in this heat wave. These are my picks for this season’s best here — please let me know what your favorites have been in your corner of the world!
It’s summer, all right! With temperatures approaching 100° here, there is no more comfortable place to be than in my basement at the computer, blogging without feeling guilty that I should be out working the garden. We have just passed the 4th of July, and now we move on to the “3H” time of summer: Hazy, Hot and Humid. No matter how long you live in the D.C. area, you never really get used to it. Water of all kinds is your friend — whether it’s the beach, pool, sprinkler or hose! And, please make sure to drink your eight glasses a day; it’s not fun to get dehydrated.
With the exception of a couple of weeks in early June, this has been a very rainy season for us, and that has caused not only extreme growth on established bushes and trees, but also annuals and vegetables to rot because of heat and moisture. I had to replace all of mine, but they are looking fantastic now.
After losing the first set of annuals at the front door due to too much rain, I put in coleus. Sometimes I see plants in the nursery that seem to be doing so much better than others, so that’s what I bought. I love the huge colorful leaves! I have more of it growing on the back deck and in the window box — love it there, too.
I want to put out a reminder in this heat to please keep your bird baths filled with fresh water and a dish or two of water ideally in a shady spot for the wildlife. It’s sometimes hard to find clean water this time of the year for them, and it’s much appreciated!
I find myself just trying to keep up with the weeds when it gets hot like this even though I use a weed preventer in the garden beds. I’ve been adding some extra mulch here and there where it’s become thin and stirred it with a rake in other spots for good airflow to soil. This is a good practice to get into this time of year, and it boosts the curb appeal, too!
And while I was edging the other day, I found this wonderful heart shaped rock, nature’s gift!
I’m noticing about 100 brown spots in the grassy areas. They can be caused by so many things: fungus from too much rain, or a dull mower blade, pet spots or grubs like fire flies. I’m not sure what is causing mine, but I’m leaning towards the grubs idea. I’ll report more on this soon, and have a remedy for you, too, when I do.
Until then, try to stay cool — Happy Summer!
Soaking as a sponge doesn’t even come close to how damp the garden has been here in the mid-Atlantic region. With more than a month of rainy days and only a few sunny ones mixed in, some extreme measures are needed here. Almost half of the flowers that I planted ended up rotting from it all. On the other hand, it caused a lot of the established plants to grow a ton of wimpy new growth because they were growing so fast. So here’s my 911 to help manage this crazy season’s issues.
First, if you have heavy rain in the forecast and have flower pots or planters go ahead and remove the drain dishes so that the rain will drain through and not become soggy. This is also a good idea in general, with so many mosquito-borne diseases this year. If the flower pots are not too heavy and you have some overhead coverage, like a porch or under a deck, carry the pots underneath before the rain so that the blooms do not get damaged or rot. I did this with my roses, and was very glad I did. Open blooms will be destroyed by the heavy rains. If this happens, deadhead the plants as soon as possible.
If your grass is thoroughly soaked, try to stay off of it until it dries. When it’s walked on with standing water, it crushes the soil, compacting it which can then lead to other problems and weeds down the road. Clover is really difficult to get rid of and seems to love compacted soil, as do dandelions, and many of the weeds that we try so hard to keep away.
It’s also not a good idea to mow when the lawn is wet. That rips the blades of grass, instead of cutting them, so you will get brown tips to your lawn- not a good look! Beware of using the mulching option on your mower when there has been this much rain, it is better to collect and compost the clippings until the soil has had some time to dry out. Mulching the lawn clippings right now can cause fungus and mold issues.
Where extremely fast growth has occurred on plants you may need to either stake the plants to give them some extra time to strengthen, or trim them up some. This is the time of year when azalea and rhododendron bushes should be trimmed anyway, now that they are done blooming. And with all this rain that we’ve had, a granular slow release fertilizer can be helpful. Keep an eye out for wilting, and trim it out, ASAP. That will hopefully halt any further disease.
One last thing: if you do see wilting and fungus that need to be trimmed out, please have a small container of rubbing alcohol that you can dip the blades of your trimmer into between cuts, so you won’t spread infection from plant to plant.
I hope that you won’t have much damage in your garden, like I did, but it can’t help to know some plant CPR just in case! Happy gardening!
Hi, everyone! I’m about ready to start building an ark. We have smashed through a century-old record for the most rainy days in a row. The previous record was 13 days, and we are now in our 16th day of rain! The street lights are staying on all day, because it’s so drab and dark. I, for one, need some springtime cheer, so I thought I’d post some bright spots from the garden on this rainy day…
Well, that does it for today, a new downpour has started up! The upshot is no watering will be needed around here for a looooong time. Rain, rain, go away! I know later on in the year I’ll want some more, but for now I’d like some sunshine, please!
Here it is — the second half of spring already! The garden here is bursting with activity, both flora and fauna. We recently spent a leisurely morning with our fox friend, our feral kitty, the crazy squirrel, duck family, chipmunks and many songbirds to name a few. It’s always an adventure around here!
With the nice weather warming the soil, the garden is growing quickly now, despite the fluke ice storm that deposited an inch of slushy ice two weekends ago. The trees are blooming all out of sync again. Strangely enough, the dogwood was the first to bloom and has held on to her flowers for almost a month.
We have finally turned the corner on frost and freeze warnings, so I’ve been planting herbs and veggies. It makes me so happy to see how many heirloom varieties are now being offered in the garden centers! I’m trying out many old fashioned varieties this year, so I will have some fun things to report back on.
I’m so glad that the trees came through the winter alright in this region. We had such a strange autumn that many of the National Cherry Blossom trees bloomed around Christmas, about 1/4 of them! The affected trees didn’t rebloom, but thankfully they are all okay.
The same happened with many of the bulb flowers. The hyacinths that I have in my garden had sprouted at Christmastime, so they became freezer burned by the cold of winter and their flowers were all deformed this time around. Thankfully the daffodils had not gotten as big and were fine. On a better note, the patch of lily of the valley is looking the best that it ever has, and I’m so glad to report that it is covered in fabulously scented flowers. This is a fantastic ground cover with tons of old fashioned appeal, and will grow nearly anywhere, so keep that in mind if you are looking for something to fill a tough spot.
The allium bulbs are getting so huge as well. They were a gift at Christmas, so this is their first year. I will post some pictures when they start to bloom. I love how interesting the flowers are, and I planted them in a wave, between masses of iris, daylily, lamb’s ear and coreopsis. It’s getting so full that it should look amazing when they are all in bloom. While they are newly emerging, this is the perfect time to round up the edges on hosta, grasses, liriope, and lily to get them in shape for the new growing season. I like to do this now, rather than in autumn because they send out shoots underground over the winter months, and can start to look a bit messy otherwise.
On other fronts, I’m continuing to work on the storm window project, and I have a tip for you on fixing discolored brick. Years ago, way before we bought this house, someone had used some crummy paint on the trim work. It left long streaks of ugliness on the brick. I had tried all kinds of things to remove it short of sandblasting, and nothing could clean it off. My solution — more paint! I picked up half a dozen exterior craft paints in different brick colors and blended them. Just dab them into the offending areas and like magic the stained areas look fresh and clean. I have done this before on the front stairs and many other places on the house. If you didn’t know a stain was there, you never would. I won’t tell, if you won’t! Works like a charm. Give it a try!
I hope you are having a wonderful springtime and getting time in the garden. Here is one last photo, a bird’s eye view picture from the upper window looking out on the neighborhood trees. I just love how many bloomed all at once again this year!
This has been a very strange spring so far, with weather not being able to make up its mind between winter, spring or summer. There have been some really turbulent wind storms as well. Even still, I’m doing my best to get the garden and house in tip-top shape. There are many projects underway and inspections taking place. I will walk you through a few of the big ones that you might find helpful in relation to your own home and garden.
While I’ve been getting the perennials and bushes trimmed up and ready for new growth, the cleaning outside has started from the top down.
It’s been five years since we had our roof cleaned, and it had developed black streaks from algae and air pollution again. Last time only the north-facing front was grungy, but this time there were streaks on all four sides. The method of cleaning has improved greatly since the last time. Now the technicians spray the roof with a special soaking nozzle using a detergent that makes quick work of cleaning the shingles. This is far better because it does not damage or wear the roof like the machine scrubber of the past.
They also did an inspection and discovered 3 spots where squirrels had chewed up the shingles trying to get inside. We quickly had that fixed. I recommend that everyone have their roof inspected each year. The damage on ours wasn’t visible from below, so we would not have even known until water damage became visible inside. That would have been much more expensive to fix!
Many roofing companies will inspect at no cost and take pictures to show you damage that they find. Many thanks to the A Team Roof Cleaners, and Marshall Roofing for the repairs.
I am also back on track replacing ten of the storm windows on the main level of the house. I’m always a “bring the outside in” kind of girl, so having proper windows is important to me. The former storm windows didn’t match up with the style of window in the house, so instead of looking out of a pretty wooden window, we had been looking at an ugly metal bar in the middle of our view. The new windows are great, and even come with a new coating that helps them stay clean — YAY!!!! I love that feature.
Anyone who is considering window replacement look at this option first. The new storms provide great R-value, and in our case were 1/10th the cost of a window replacement.
That’s a fantastic savings! We chose Larsen Gold Series Storm windows — I’m not a paid spokesperson, but I do believe in sharing my sources.
I also still need to scrub down the north steps in front of the house. I like using oxygen bleach and then rinsing it well. Makes the stones and the grout look like new. And this year, I’m determined to actually finish power washing the sidewalk. There’s always some touch up paint needed on the trim work. It all takes time, but in the end, it makes everything so much nicer.
Those of us who live in the Washington, D.C. area are very happily watching our national cherry trees blooming, and that means mine are not far behind. So as I wait on my beautiful cherry tree to start opening up, I’m checking off things on my to-do list for this spring — hope that yours is on its way, too. Happy gardening!
Goodbye ice and snow! Spring is popping! We shattered high temperature records already, and went from heat to A/C in the house on the same day. The groundhog was right — it’s an early spring. I’m ready, or at least I’m try to keep up. This last week I managed to get a lot of grasses, sedum, liriope, iris, rose bushes and some of the straggly nandina trimmed up and ready for the new growth. I’m more than half done, but this year many of them are already showing signs of new growth. Normally that doesn’t happen until much later in March or April around here. Mother Nature has been confused, most definitely.
We also had some pretty awful rot in the arbors that we built only a few years ago. Before we installed them, I primed them, put on two coats of paint, and then annually gave them another coat of paint, but they completely failed anyway, full of rot — very discouraging! So this time around, we used PVC instead of wood, and there will be no chance of rot again. It looks great! We were rushing to get this project finished because this is one of the arbors that the wisteria is trained on, and we wanted to get it finished before it started to open up for spring. Just made it!
This is really my favorite time to be outside in the garden. I love getting the plants ready for the season. Things grow so fast you can almost see it happening, and it feels so fresh after being couped up during the winter. The robins have been coming through en mass, and I have already seen nests being built, so I know I’m not the only one ready for spring! Here are some of the early blooms already making their debut in garden:
We dodged a big one this week and are getting rain instead, but lately we have been using a four-letter word a little too much — SNOW! And a three-letter word, too — ICE!
Winter storms can really do some damage, and it didn’t surprise me that winter storm “Jonas” left some nasty damage in his wake a few weeks ago. I’ve got some ways to fix some of the worst damage, and ways to prevent damage in the future, as well as some interesting snow clearing tips for my readers. Hope you don’t have to use them anytime soon, but here they are just in case.
When you have really deep snow and drifts, it’s important to give first priority to clearing away the snow from your doors, and shovel a pathway out just in case you need to get out in an emergency.
Here’s my favorite new tip that I just tried out on my front porch. It is so easy to do, and I bet it saved an hour of shoveling! Before a snow storm, just spread out a plastic tarp over your stairs and porch leaving a foot or two of extra length at your door. Weigh down the edges with bricks or large rocks to keep it from blowing away. When the storm is over, slowly lift the tarp from both sides. It is like teflon — the snow simply slides off leaving a clean and dry porch and stairs underneath. I wish I had known this trick years ago; what a time saver!
I get lots of questions about snow pack on plants, and whether or not to remove it. In most cases my best advice is to leave it alone, and let it melt away naturally. Most plants have an amazing ability of springing back to normal all by themselves, but there are some tips I want to share which help them stay strong in the face of heavy snow pack. Starting from the base of a plant, loosely spiral some string or wire up through the branches to the top of the plant. I like to use this black plastic coated wire because it disappears into the branches, and is virtually invisible. This will help the plant to hold together and not split open under the weight of the snow. If you have extremely heavy wet snow you can very carefully lift it off with a spading fork or your hands. But, if the snow is frozen to the branches, it is best to leave it alone, it can easily tear the branches off.
Be mindful not to toss heavy shovels full of snow onto your plants when you are clearing your walkways and drives. It can be so heavy that it crushes the plants under the weight of the snow. If you have any broken branches, cut them off as soon as you can safely do so. To leave the broken/torn branches attached could cause disease to set in. Try to remember which plants those were and give them a really good pruning in the early spring to prevent damage in future winters.
We learned a lot from this deep snow, and can’t say this enough: work slowly, take lots of breaks, hydrate often, keep your back straight and lift with your legs. This is such heavy work, and it gives your heart a real workout! Be careful out there! And, as the groundhog predicted, spring will arrive soon… CAN’T WAIT!!!!
Well, it’s January 3rd and I’m already gardening! You know I can’t stay away from it for more than a few days.
We have had such a warm start to winter. Even when it has gotten cold overnight, the days are pleasant — so pleasant that here in the mid-Atlantic region, we have daffodils sprouting and cherry blossom trees flowering. Although it’s warm now, we will pay for it in February and March, according to the weather people. A classic El Niño with ice storms to come, so until then, I am getting as much done as I can and enjoying every minute in the garden!
I was a lucky gardener and received some fun gardening-oriented gifts for Christmas, too. A really nice gardening seat and tool tote, a pointsettia, a rosemary topiary and some beautiful allium bulbs. These were such thoughtful gifts! I spent this weekend planting the allium bulbs. Normally one would not do that this time of year, but because our temperatures have remained in the range you would expect an October day to be (between 50-70 degrees), I went ahead and got them planted. I just know they will be gorgeous this spring!
I also finished getting the roses ready for winter. They were still blooming until just this week! The last of the leaves dropped, so I scooped them all up. Its a good practice to always do that, as the leaves can harbor diseases which can cause black spot on the next year’s growth if left on the soil below the plant. Better safe than sorry, so I collect them. I had a little bit of it on my older roses this last summer and tried something new: a spray of half water/ half spoiled milk, and much to my surprise, it worked! I removed the affected leaves, sprayed, and within a couple of weeks new growth had sprouted showing no signs of the black spot. Remember this for next year in case you see any. I love it when there are simple home remedies that work! And have no harsh chemicals, either.
Inside the house, I re-potted my rosemary topiary and lightly watered the pointsettia. They both really don’t need much water this time of year, and both like bright light. I have the perfect east facing window that I keep the pointsettia next to, and in previous years this has proven to be just the right exposure. It even kept color long into March. I love to have the rosemary in my kitchen, and can’t resist brushing by it to release the wonderful scent. I often use it in cooking, and it is just so pretty, too! These are also natural air fresheners.
Looking forward to seeing what kind of weather tomorrow brings, but I’m hoping to get back out there in the garden. Hope to see you!
I’m finishing the last of the winterizing and want to share a few tips that will add polish to the holiday curb appeal, and make the perfect backdrop for seasonal decorations. These will make a big difference for just a weekend’s worth of effort. And as an added bonus, it’s also a great way to work off some of that turkey with all the trimmings that we love so much!
First up is finishing the leaf raking and weed removal. Reach in and pick out all the leaves that have gotten stuck in the bushes and then do a final pass in the mulched areas of the garden and your lawn. This alone will make a huge difference in the appearance, but we aren’t going to stop there! Next, give the mulch a rake to loosen it up, and add extra if needed. Winter mulch tip: As you are stirring up the mulch, make sure to leave a space of a few inches between the mulch and the wall of your home. This will discourage the unwanted “guests” (mice!) from burrowing there.
Now that you have pulled out the spent summer flowers and have areas that might be looking a bit too spare, here’s one of my favorite tricks of the trade: I trim the bushes in the yard and use those trimmings to create “instant plants.” Just take the branches and push them into the soil about 6 to 8 inches. I use about a dozen small branches to create each “plant.” On either side of the driveway where I grow vinca in the summer, there are now juniper. They look great, you’d never know they weren’t actually growing. I also do this in the pots and window boxes to create small boxwood “plants.” This trick lasts for months, usually into February, and since I trimmed the branches from my own yard, its free!
Speaking of planters and pots, this is the perfect time to give the clay pots a scrub and dry them in the sun before putting them away for the winter months. I like to use a scrub brush or a kitchen scrubbie with regular dish soap for this job. They easily get rid of the grime on the pots and make quick work of the job. Find a good place for winter storage where they won’t freeze. The clay can be very susceptible to cracking apart when it freezes. The same scrub is perfect for all the yard tools as well. A tip for the shovels and rakes: Once they have been cleaned, a light coating of cooking oil or spray will help guard against rust over the winter.
The final crowning jewel to get your home ready is clean windows. Now that your yard looks so nice you will want to have fresh, sparkling windows to view all your hard work!
Time for a nice hot cider…
What a beautiful day it was Friday! It is hard to believe that the weather is going to turn FREEZING in the next few days. Just a quick reminder to turn off your outside water spigots this weekend before the extended winter cold sets in. My Dad used to always call me and remind me to do this, so in his memory I want to send out this reminder.
Turn the valve off from inside your home, remove the hose, then drain the remainder of the water out of the outside spigot. Remove and drain your watering wand or nozzle from the hose. Drain and coil your hose. This way if you want to use your hose in the winter it won’t be full of ice!
What a busy summer it was! We had such a great start — with a perfect amount of rain and moderate temperature days — and then a completely different ending to the season. I’d like to say something nice about what happened the last half of summer, but can’t think of anything! Such a bad drought, terribly hot, very deep mud cracks filled the gardens, and almost all my perennials had to be cut down just to survive. I’ve never had to do that before — ever! Even still, there were high notes for the summer to report on, and some really fabulous new plants that I tried. On a better note, thankfully, this fall has had some beneficial rains, and things are green once again.
Remember in the spring I talked about adding lawn clippings into the garden to renovate it and lighten up the soil? In the veggie area where I did this, I planted a few basil plants and a jalapeno pepper. I had promised that if the soil was improved with amendments like these, that it would pay off in a big way, and did it ever! I harvested 125 jalapenos from just one plant! Believe it or not, I am still getting new growth, with no sign of slowing down. The cooler fall temperature will eventually end its growing streak, but what a testament to simple soil amendments and how they can make such a difference in your garden.
I gauge my garden “hits” on how many people who are passing by ask the name of a plant or comment about them, and this year’s biggest winner was the hyacinth vine I planted in the front yard. (It was purchased early in the spring at the River Farm Horticultural Center’s annual plant sale, and if you are ever in the Washington D.C. area when it’s going on, I highly recommend going to it.) This vine was gorgeous throughout the summer and was covered in beautiful purple flowers, which then became purple pods. It thrived in the heat and the drought and grew like crazy. By crazy, I mean growing 2-3 feet a week! It reminded me of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk the way it grew so fast. I saved many of the pods, which are filled with seeds, and plan on giving them away to friends and starting a few vines for myself next year. It had an old fashioned appeal, and I think it would be a show stopper in almost any garden!
I also received a lot of comments on the caladium plants on the front porch. I had never grown them before at the house. I was very pleased with how well they grew and what a beautiful focal point they became. They held their color and did well in the heat all summer and early fall. I have saved the bulbs and will see if I can re-grow them again next summer. I’m hoping to have plenty of these to share too.
The other plants that did fantastically well this Summer were the coleus, vinca, ivy, herbs, roses and my “pet” fav — the curly willows!
As we approach the midpoint of fall, this area is having an Indian summer. There was a frost a couple of weeks ago, and now the temperature is back up to almost 80 degrees. I am really looking forward to the beautiful autumn leaves and reporting back on some new varieties of fall flowers that I’m growing. Until then — hope you are enjoying the season!
With the temperatures in the triple digits these days, I am seeing lots of weeds coming out of the cracks in the pavement, especially along the gap where the curbing meets the asphalt.
I have a super easy, inexpensive and totally earth friendly way of getting rid of them — VINEGAR! In the heat of the day (the hotter and sunnier the better), just spray it on the weeds. The weeds will be dead the next day. (I buy a huge jug from the warehouse store — about $2.99 — which lasts the whole summer.) I prefer to scrape them out with the edge of a shovel, never to see them again. If you choose not to remove them, they will eventually disintegrate on their own.
The alternative is expensive weed killer, which is very toxic to wildlife and the waterways, so I urge everyone to give vinegar a try. It works great for me, and I hope it will for you, too.
Now if I could just find a great way to keep the wire grass from growing into my garden without having to dig it out — that would be fantastic!
It’s a beautiful summer day here in the Washington Metro area. The humidity is low, and the temperature is mild — time for a stroll through the garden! Enjoy the tour….
First of all, I would like to say that I hope all the Moms out there had a very Happy Mother’s Day! Did you know that there are more flowers sent for Mother’s Day than Valentine’s Day — interesting statistic!
The old adage “April showers bring May flowers” is very true this year. Suddenly, the gardens have sprung to life around here. We went from a freeze warning to 90-degree days in less than a week, and that brought on an amazing array of beautiful flowers overnight! The grass is growing about six to seven inches in a week. I hope that you are enjoying the warmer weather, and I have some tips for how to manage some of the spring tasks ahead.
This season came on so fast that almost all of my spring blooming plants are flowering all at once, creating fun combinations that almost never happen. Right now, the periwinkle, rhododendron and azalea are blooming together, and before that the Pear, Cherry and Dogwood trees all bloomed at the same time. Normally these are all spaced about two weeks apart, so it has created a magical display. The pollen is out in force, too, but we won’t talk about that… A-choo!
Since the overnight temps were still dipping too low to mulch the grass clippings (the overnight lows need to be above 55 degrees), I want to share a tip that your flowers are going to love. Just take the grass clippings and spread them on your flower beds about 3 to 4 inches thick, then turn them into the soil with a spading fork. This will lighten the soil and nourish the bed.
Let the garden rest for a couple of weeks until the clippings turn brown and it’s warm enough to plant your summer annuals. If you do this, I promise you will be rewarded with flowers that grow twice as big. I like to top dress the beds with a little mulch after the flowers are planted to help keep the moisture in the soil, too. In garden beds that have been established/planted you might stir in some leaf compost around the base of the plants instead.
We had a pretty harsh winter for this region and I lost a few plants, but I’m having fun filling in the spots with some transplants from other areas. Seems there is always change in the air around here, but that is what keeps it interesting.
Hope you enjoy!