Tag Archive for Virginia

Lawn Renovation Even in Sauna Weather – Got to Get it Done!

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!

This type of steel rake is my favorite choice for de-thatching the lawn and preparing the soil for overseeding. Just look how much debris it removes!

This type of steel rake is my favorite choice for de-thatching and preparing the soil for overseeding. Just look how much debris it removes!

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!

This is a photo of what the plugging machines do. They really don't get any thatch up, and compared to the steel rake- well, there is no comparison-

This is what those plugging machines do. They really don’t get any thatch up, and compared to my steel rake — well, there is no comparison, not to mention that the plugs of soil the machines leaves behind look like, um, something else we don’t really want to see…

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.

With the combination of sod, seed and fertilizer you can hardly see where the old tree stumps used to be!

With the combination of sod, seed and fertilizer you can hardly see where the old tree stumps used to be!

 

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!

Yes! Nice new seedlings emerging. What a good feeling that is-

Yes! Nice new seedlings emerging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front yard is finished, now on to the back-

The front yard is finished, now on to the back…

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Fall !

Happy Fall!

Spring 2018: I’m back – thank you for waiting!

Welcome Spring!

Welcome Spring!

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 wasn't kidding when I said that there has been HUGE equipment parked all around my property! definitely doesn't make for a pretty photo.

HUGE equipment parked all around my property 7 days a week, all year, definitely doesn’t make for a pretty photo.

And then there were 4 chemical spills by thoughtless neighbors, very illegal.

Thoughtless contractors and neighbors dumped illegal chemicals and detritus. Storm water management officials to the rescue. They explain to the offenders the right way to dispose chemicals, so that they don’t impose a health risk to the environment. Thank you beyond measure!

 

 

Even our feral kitty Stomper was greatly upset-

Even feral kitty Stomper was greatly upset…

Since I couldn't work outside, I got of projects completed inside. The flooring on the main level was all refinished, 2 bathrooms re tiled, and kitchen was updated quite a bit. How I missed the garden!

Since I couldn’t work outside, I  completed projects inside. I refinished the flooring on the main level. This is actually a deck finish! The nice thing about it is that it has UV blockers, and very little odor. We also re-tiled two bathrooms and updated the kitchen appliances.

Last fall I worked on repairing some of the damage to what used to be a beautiful view. 17 very large bushes were carefully transplanted by me, and when spring came, I was thrilled to see that they all survived the transplant and are looking healthy.

Last fall I worked on repairing some of the damage to what used to be a beautiful view. I carefully transplanted 17 large bushes, and when spring came I was thrilled to see that they all survived the winter and are looking healthy.

It was also touch and go for the last couple of years with this pyracantha. It had one after another issue- fungus killed half of it, then scale, whitefly, powdery mildew all took a great toll. After radically pruning and treating it with horticultural oil, and then spraying it with  a mixture of milk and water, it is now a picture of health! So glad for small miracles!

It was touch and go for the last couple of years with this pyracantha. It had one issue after another  — fungus killed half of it, then scale, whitefly, and powdery mildew all took a great toll. After radically pruning and treating it with horticultural oil, and then spraying it with a mixture of milk and water, it is now a picture of health! These are all earth friendly remedies. So glad for small miracles!

There were some beautiful moments last week when the sun popped out. The flowers all opened up on the same day! After such a nasty winter, I can even begin to say how much I appreciated it!

There were some beautiful moments last week when the sun popped out. The flowers all opened up on the same day! After such a nasty winter, I can’t begin to say how much I appreciated it! Each morning I add the coffee grounds to the base of a different plant to provide some natural feeding. By the end of the year, I’ve made it all around the garden. The plants love it!

And another couple of beautiful old faithfuls that never disappoint!

And another couple of beautiful old faithfuls that never disappoint!

Growing so fast you can literally watch the new foliage burst open to welcome warmer weather.

Growing so fast you can literally watch the new foliage burst open to welcome warmer weather.

The violas and pansies are having their last hurrah during this needed rain. I'm ready to be back out in the garden and have some more projects underway to show you next time. Here's hoping for some return to civility around this neighborhood, and for some lovely time outside-

The violas and pansies are having their last hurrah during this needed rain. I’m ready to be back out in the garden and already have some more projects underway to show you next time. Here’s hoping for some peace and quiet to return to this neighborhood and for some lovely time outside.

 

A Field Trip to Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon

Beautiful Mt. Vernon wearing her new "old" colors again.

Beautiful Mt. Vernon mansion house wearing her new “old” colors again.

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 amazing view from the veranda looks exactly as it did when George Washington lived there.

The amazing view from the veranda looks exactly as it did when George Washington lived there.

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!

The inside of the orangery at Mt. Vernon

The inside of the orangery at Mount Vernon.

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.

Enjoying a warm and beautiful walk in the brick walled garden. A cherry tree espallied against the wall is almost ready to spring back into growing from the extra warmth of the wall.

Enjoying a warm and beautiful walk in the brick walled garden. A cherry tree espallied against the wall is almost ready to spring back into growing from the extra warmth of the wall.

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!

Early Autumn is when the figs ripen to perfection!

This fig was from a past Mount Vernon plant sale, one of the Washington’s favorite!

 

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!

 

Here is a close up on the apple trees. February and early March are when the do a major pruning on them to keep them low, and easy to harvest

Here is a close up on the apple trees in the larger vegetable garden. February and early March are when they are pruned to keep them low, and easy to harvest.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

A dove with an olive branch sits atop Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington

A dove with an olive branch sits atop the cupola on the mansion house- — what a fantastic view!

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-

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Happy Thanksgiving to One and All-

Wishing a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to one and all-

 

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Save

Save

Save

A Walk Through the Garden on a Beautiful Summer Day

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….

The caladiums are just spectacular. Maybe my favorite new flower!

The caladiums are just spectacular; they may be my favorite new flower!

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side.

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side. The crepe myrtles have been flowering for a month and a half already!

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the "green fence" is almost solid now.

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the “green fence” is almost solid now.

This is the path up to the deck. Everything here is very full this year from all the rain we've had this month. I think we are on track to set a new record-

This is the path up to the deck. Everything is very full from all the rain we’ve had this month. I think we are on track to set a new rainfall record…

Up on the deck this year all the planters are spilling out with coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

All of the planters up on the deck are spilling out with sun-loving coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

Here's a close up of one of the planters. I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don't know which one I like best-

I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don’t know which one I like best…

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea- time for a nap!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea — time for a nap!

 

 

Gardening in Historic Alexandria

Rhododendren are native to Virginia. I am lucky to have this beauty in my front garden!

Rhododendron are native to Virginia. I am lucky to have this beauty in my front garden!

I’ve been asked what it’s like to garden in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and in a word I’ll say — interesting! We are in the middle of the Atlantic seaboard, so we experience the weather extremes of both North and South and everything in between. The weather seems constantly changing, so much so that we locals joke: “If you don’t like the weather, just turn around!”  It is rarely the same two days in a row.

I live and garden in the Mt. Vernon section of Alexandria, in Fairfax County, Virginia (what a mouthful!), on property once owned and farmed by George Washington. My home is by the banks of the Potomac River, just 1 1/2 miles from the estate’s main house. This is now the eighth house I have lived in since moving to Alexandria in 1969, and each has had its own distinct micro climate!

Front left- azalea

Azalea in full bloom in my east garden. These beautiful bushes are treasured by gardeners in our region.

We are most famously known for our cherry blossom trees, but there is an amazing bounty of other beautiful natives: azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, to name a few. We take pride in having a large number of flowering tree varieties. Many have been brought in by people from all over the world to represent their home cities, making for a stunningly beautiful springtime! In addition to many home garden tours throughout the year, we have the amazing U.S. Arboretum and the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

This is a blackberry lilly. These were grown by Thos. Jefferson as a curiousity. The beautiful coral flowers give way to seedpods which look like blackberries.

This is a blackberry lily. These were grown by Thomas Jefferson as a “curiosity.” The beautiful coral flowers give way to seedpods which look like blackberries in late summer.

This region is filled with history buffs (myself included!) who enjoy planting our gardens with some of the same plants as those of our country’s forefathers.

Colonial gardens were much more than ornamental; they served practical needs. Fruit trees lined walkways and often were grown in an espalier style (attaching the branches to walls or fencing) for convenience in harvesting. By growing fruit trees against brick walls, or lining herb and vegetable rows with brick paths, colonial gardeners would add warmth to the plants in cool months, extending their growing season — very important when one’s survival depended on your crop! In the picture below is a fig tree which I have been pruning to develop sideways branches for espalier. I will attach it to my east facing fireplace wall when it grows a little larger.

This is a fig tree grown from cuttings from Mt. Vernon estate.

This is a fig tree grown from cuttings from Mt. Vernon estate.

Many of the varieties of heirloom flowers, fruits and vegetables from those days are still very popular in today’s gardens. I have collected several for my own garden from the Virginia estates of two of our former presidents. My blackberry lily is from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, in Charlottesville,  and I have a special variety of boxwood from Mt. Vernon.  And of course, my favorite little fig tree started as a cutting from there, too.

An example of the homes in the historic section of Old Town Alexandria. My little green house in the center was built in 1790.

An example of the homes in the historic section of Old Town Alexandria. My little green house in the center was built in 1790, although very tiny inside, it has a 50 ft. deep back garden!

We have diverse architectural styles, from the quaint row houses of Old Town Alexandria dating back to the mid-1700′s, to the contemporary home designs of Hollin Hills (which was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in late June and has been recommended to the National Park Service for addition to the National Register of Historic Places), each with their own unique gardening styles ranging from practical to formal to natural. So, no matter what style appeals to you personally, we have it here!

If you happen to be visiting Washington, D.C., why not tour the surrounding neighborhoods to observe the pretty gardens? If you see me tending mine, please stop and say hi and tell me about yours. Happy gardening!

Update- Here is a photo of the blackberry lily with it’s “blackberries” in bloom. The seedpods really do look like blackberries!

Seedpods of the blackberry lily. They look so much like real blackberries- Ican see why Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by them!

Seedpods of the blackberry lily. They look so much like real blackberries- I can see why Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by them!