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!
Tag Archive for Virginia
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!
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…
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-
Wishing a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to one and all-
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….
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!
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 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.
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.
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!