Archive for Coastal gardens

The Calm Before The Storm

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Hello my gardening friends! I’m hoping that everyone is safe and healthy! As Hurricane Laura approaches I’m photographing the garden, and hoping that we don’t sustain the category 4 status for too long. It seems this is another weather record to be already this far into the hurricane naming alphabet.

Here in the Washington suburbs, we have surpassed doubling our normal annual rainfall total already, and with several inches of more rainfall predicted, I am hoping that the Potomac river doesn’t flood the low lying areas too badly.

I am hoping for all to stay safe, and be careful. Take photos of the exterior of your home and garden just in case you need backup for insurance purposes. Pull in your outdoor furniture, and potted plants if you can. The high winds can make projectiles of even some of the heaviest things. Fill a bathtub with water for emergency. And please don’t go out in the storm, let it pass. Mother Nature is a force like no other!

These are all the volunteer vinca grown from seeds from last years flowers. They have filled in beautifully. We are veterans of many hurricanes in this area, and have found that these cement benches hold up to even the worst weather. Any of the wooden furniture we have on the deck will get moved to safety.

All wreaths, flags, lanterns and potted plants can become airborne in hurricane winds, and need to be brought in. Better safe, than sorry!

Here’s the back perimeter garden now. I have done so much work this season to facilitate better drainage, through loosening up the soil, adding amendments like compost and grass clippings, and this hurricane will be an extreme test. There is also an aqua drain system in place, with two additional drains which feed into the storm sewer hidden behind the large junipers in the corner. Finger’s crossed this will be enough!

Lastly, the two wisterias and hyacinth vines have been pruned back to hopefully reduce the weight, and improve wind resistance.

Take care, friends!

My Favorite Picks – 2019’s Best Hardy Plants

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What a crazy year this has been! Extremes of all kinds, but through it all there were some clear winners. In this year’s picks I want to talk about some of the hardiest plants in the garden.

Boxwoods have gotten some bad press of late, due to the blight that has been going around, but by following some simple, clean gardening practices, they are one of the best and most beautiful of all the plants in my garden.

I’m going to start with one of my all time favorites, the boxwood. The boxwoods in the photo above are about 45-50 years old and are the true stars of the garden. I prune them in early December each year and use the trimmings for Christmas decorating. Beyond that annual pruning, I hardly need to do anything to them. They have weathered every kind of extreme in their lives and continue to look amazing!

For several years, there has been a disease affecting boxwood plants called boxwood blight. The boxwood blight is passed by using infected tools. Just by cleaning your tools thoroughly before pruning or trimming, you will protect the plants from getting the disease. I clean my pruners with rubbing alcohol prior to using them. Another tip would be to have a pair of pruners dedicated strictly for use on these beauties, but I would still recommend swabbing them between cuts with alcohol to be ultra safe.

Here’s another surprise entry in this year’s top plants — grass. In the early season, when this photo was taken, we had just gone through the wettest spring ever! Everything was green beyond measure, and then by the end of June, we entered a severe drought. For four months we didn’t really have any measurable rain. I did not water, except for the trees, and let the grass go dormant all through the summer months. It turned completely brown, and the dirt was like dust. I was truly worried that I’d taken the no–watering thing too far. In September, I started watering, although we were still having 95-100 degree days and no rain, my hopes were to at least save the roots. Nothing greened up at all. Then finally as October started, we had 5 beautiful soft rains, and like a miracle, the grass came back into health again, like nothing ever happened!

Which brings me to the point of this story: there’s nothing like real rain! What comes out of a sprinkler just doesn’t compare. When you water in the triple digit heat of the summer, it encourages weeds. Grass doesn’t grow in extreme heat. I will stand by allowing the grass to go dormant in that kind of condition. It’s much kinder to the roots, than to stress grass into trying to grow — which can kill it. Another giant help to the health of this year’s grass was dethatching the lawn and applying a root stimulating turf builder last fall, which gave us a thicker and virtually weed free yard this year. I highly recommend working your way around your yard using a dethatching rake. It’s very hard work, but pays off in a beautiful way, allowing water and nutrients to easily get to the root system.

Here’s the same area again just last week. You would never know how harsh a summer the grass weathered! It’s hard to not water and to watch it go dormant, but it’s the best thing you can do for the health of the root system. Have faith in Mother Nature, she will bring it back in the fall.

I also want to point out one of my all time tried-and-true flowers: my pansies! After the summer of gorgeous color from the vincas, I wanted to continue with some hardy winter flowers. With any luck they will provide color until the end of April.

This year the pansies in the ground were joined by the pansies I planted in this wreath that my sister gave me! It really brings the whole Fall theme together! Thank you, Tracy!

The beautiful mums have some competition this year. I was so happy when the weather finally cooled down some, I put in 125 pansies across the front. A fresh start to celebrate the season. And gives the frontage some great fall curb appeal. I was thinking ahead to Christmas when I chose the colors — gold, burgundy red, purple, and white — to complement the traditional fruit wreath I’ll be hanging in December.

I know I’ve given props to the knock out roses in the past, but they were really beautiful again this year. We had a swarm of June bugs that came in with the 100 degree heat in the summer, and they did interfere a bit, but I use a granular three in one formula that kept their dirty work to a minimum. It fertilizes, prevents diseases, and for the most part deters bugs- Bio Advanced- worth a try next year, if you have these issues. (I am not paid to endorse, but this is really great stuff in my opinion.)
Another stunner this year were these emerald euonymus. They are incredibly easy to grow and maintain, really no special treatment other than to shape them after the spring growth. This is only two plants! They provide privacy to our back yard from the cul du sac and make a gorgeous living fence, don’t you think? They are beautiful year round, too, and are a favorite nesting place for our flock of cardinals and bluejays.

Before I say good night, I hope that next year’s growing season is not as harsh as this one has been, but just in case it is, here’s hoping that we can all adjust to our changing climate by seeking out the most hardy plants. Let me know what changes you are planning; I’d love to hear!

Happy Fall, everyone!

Autumn Joy!

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The calendar says it’s autumn, but wow is it ever still hot! We have now had almost double the number of over-90 degree days in a normal summer and almost no rain since June. Drought has taken hold even though we had a massive amount of rainfall for three full months in the spring. The poor heat-stressed grass is having a hard time bouncing back, so I’m really happy to have at least one stalwart perennial to count on looking beautiful. Sedum, or Stonecrop — also known as Autumn Joy!

Despite the ultra hot weather and drought conditions, I can always count on these beauties this time of year! They look beautiful all summer ranging in color from green to white, then in late August to early September they start their transformation into every different shade of pink and onto a lovely shade of coral.

They are beautiful mixed in with other plants, or in waves or borders of all sedum. I love the look here mixed in with the knock out roses.
If they grow too fast in the early season, they can sometimes get very top heavy and split open from the center. I have two remedies for this. First, you can always pinch them back to about a foot tall before July, but if you love the taller look, here’s a solution to that: Place six or so garden stakes in the ground an inch or so in from the outside diameter with another circle of three or four of the stakes about half way in to the center of the plant. From there wind some really strong twine or coated wire carefully from stake to stake on the outside and drawn in to the (hidden) stakes in the center. Lift the branches carefully above the wire as you go. (Think about how a spider web looks.) Sometimes you need to do this in stages an inch or two at a time while raising the branches, as too much at one time can split a heavy branch. Another tip is to use black coated wire. (I use old, recycled wire from a former invisible fence.) It almost disappears even up close, but six feet away you can’t see it at all!
When I moved here 19 years ago I brought only two sedums from my last garden. Every two or three years I split each one into 2 or 3 plants, and now I have masses of them here and there throughout the garden. I’ve turned the original two into probably 60! It is a definite main staple in the garden here, and with so many extras to give to away to friends. Gardening gold! Another big plus is that the pollinators and butterflies love them!

A question about these fantastic perennials from a friend a few days ago inspired me to make them my feature plant for this blog segment. Thank you, Cathi!

If you are looking for a plant that does well in virtually any climate, even the harshest of summer weather, there is no more perfect choice than Autumn Joy!

One last look from the other direction-

Happy Gardening!

A Field Trip to Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon

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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-










A Very Busy Second Half of Spring

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Our resident fox enjoying a nap and a sunbath.

Our resident fox enjoying a nap and a sunbath.

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.

This ice/slush storm was winter's last hurrah. Most plants had started to get their new Spring leaves, so this storm was most unwelcome.

This fluke ice/slush storm was winter’s last hurrah. Most plants had started to get their new spring leaves, so this storm was most unwelcome.

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.

The flowering trees were a welcome sight, and the dogwood is still blooming!

The flowering trees were a welcome sight, and the dogwood is still blooming!

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.

This patch of lily of the valley has doubled in size this last year. The scent is wonderful!

This patch of lily of the valley has doubled in size this last year. The scent is wonderful!


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.


Not in bloom yet, but this area is planted with large masses of flowers. I can't wait to see the alliums in bloom!

Not in bloom yet, but this area is planted with large masses of flowers. I can’t wait to see the allium in bloom!

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!

BEFORE- ugly white streaks on the brick.

BEFORE: ugly white streaks on the brick.

AFTER- Looks like new! Blending a few different brick colors and dabbing it on the stained bricks works great, and east to do!

AFTER: Looks like new! Blending a few different brick colors and dabbing it on the stained bricks works great, and it’s easy to do!

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!

Bird's eye view of the tapestry of colors of the blooming trees.

Bird’s eye view of the tapestry of colors of the blooming trees.



The Beautiful State of Maine

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Out on Casco Bay in a 1928 Sailboat, the "Bagheera"

On Casco Bay in a 1928 schooner, the “Bagheera”

It has been so hot here in the D.C. area that we decided to escape the heat and go up to Maine to explore the Scarborough area, where eleven generations ago my husband’s ancestors first settled in the early 1600’s. The heat followed us, but it was a fabulous trip anyway.


We stayed on Black Point in the Prout’s Neck area, which was the home to the famous American painter Winslow Homer, and the inspiration for so many of his gorgeous nautical works.

Hiking the cliff walk.

Hiking the cliff walk. Winslow Homer’s studio in the distance.



Fabulous garden along the walk.

Fabulous garden along the walk.

There is a cliff walk all the way around the point to take in the amazing views. The rocky coastline is just gorgeous.


Stacks of stones in remembrance of others.

Stacks of stones in remembrance of others along the beaches.

There are lots of small islands and lighthouses — all picturesque, but what struck me most were the beautiful gardens. I never would never have guessed that the summer gardens would be so nice in Maine, having such harsh winters.


Many of the same things grow here as in my region of the mid-Atlantic, but the star of the show has to be the rugosa roses that are everywhere. They were all at the stage where the spent roses turn to rosehips, and it was gorgeous. Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that rosehip tea has more vitamin C than orange juice?

Another photo on the cliff walk.

Another view along the cliff walk.

The terrain is so steep that you see exposed roots like this wherever there is a large plant.

The terrain is so steep that you see exposed roots like this wherever there is a large plant.

Wild aster and goldenrod were all along the coastline

Wild aster and goldenrod were all along the coastline

Great place to sit and take it all in!

Great place to sit and take it all in!

The other side of the point- great beach club!

The other side of Prout’s Neck. Great beach club and dogs are allowed – yay!

I set about looking for heart shaped rocks and found several in no time. There are some really nice beach areas with benches made of driftwood, where people have placed stacks of stones in remembrance of others.

I will miss the slow pace up there, and sitting in the Adirondack chairs in front of the Black Point Inn watching the tide roll out in the setting sun after a long hike. I hope I get back to see it again!

Here are a few more photos of some of the highlights…

























The rugosa rose or rosehips plant is seen everywhere in Maine. So beautiful!

The rugosa rose or rosehips plant is seen everywhere in Maine. So beautiful and must be moose resistant!









The sun sets on this trip, but I hope to be back again soon-

The sun sets on this trip, but I hope to be back again soon!







I could look at these views forever-

I could look at these views forever…

Summer Field Trip to New England

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Summer blooms- golden yarrow, lamb's ears and coreopsis taking there turn in the spotlight.

Summer blooms in my garden — golden yarrow, lamb’s ears and coreopsis taking their turn in the spotlight. Before leaving for vacation, don’t forget to give your garden a deep watering!

With summer here, it was time to hit the road and see some of the beautiful sights this country has to offer. We hadn’t been to New England for a while, so we packed our cameras and took off. In eight days we covered a lot of territory: we took the train to Boston, rented a car and drove the coastline through Plymouth, Cape Cod, Newport, Mystic and more. The weather was fantastic, and we walked all over the place. There is so much of our country’s history stemming from New England, and we had fun seeing the sights.

I was impressed by what beautiful flowers were spilling from containers all over the city in Boston. I love the hanging boxes that so many of the North End restaurants and shops had above their entrances. The flowers were all so healthy, and you could tell a lot of effort had been put into taking care of the wonderful pocket parks all over the city.

The flowers above the entrances of shop and restaurants were amazingly beautiful all over Boston.

The flowers above the entrances of shops and restaurants were amazingly beautiful all over Boston.


I have a special love of beautiful entrances and enjoyed seeing how many fabulous carved doors had been lovingly restored in the historic district of Beacon Hill. It seemed each one was different, adorned with gorgeous topiary or some other equally special planter of flowers. Here are some of the highlights from a massive amount of photos — ENJOY!

Beautiful entryway in Beacon Hill.

Beautiful entryway in Beacon Hill. Lovingly restored doors flanked by urns of ivy and hydrangea.

Everywhere you looked- more beauty!

Everywhere you looked – more beauty!

The rocky coastline in Plymouth. The rock is in the impressive shelter on the beach.

The Plymouth Rock is in this impressive shelter on the Cape Cod coast.

This is a fence in Cape Cod. I love the natural element in coastal villages.

This is a fence in Cape Cod. I love the use of natural elements, wood and stone in all the coastal villages.

Although most of the really large,old trees were in great health this tree in Boston Common shows what can happen when termites attack.

Although most of the large old trees were in great health, this tree in Boston Common shows what can happen when termites attack.

Ivy topiaries were on the front porches of many homes.

Ivy topiaries were on the front porches of many homes in the historic districts.

The iron gates of "The Breakers" in Newport.

The iron gates of “The Breakers” in Newport, R.I. along the famous 10 Mile Drive.

The beautiful harbor in Hyannis. Can't wait to go back!

The beautiful harbor in Hyannis. Can’t wait to go back!

Back home again now- I did miss my pumpkin patch. Like Dorothy says- "There's no place like home."

Back home again now – I did miss my pumpkin patch. Like Dorothy says- “There’s no place like home.”


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