About Mary

WIN_20200420_12_56_52_Pro (3)Thanks for paying a visit to Black Walnut Dispatch!  My name is Mary Gray, and I live and garden in Burke, Virginia, which is in the suburbs of Washington DC.  I started gardening in the spring of 2007 and have been obsessed with it ever since.  I am a 2011 graduate of the Landscape Design program at The George Washington University, and have done freelance garden design and coaching here in Northern Virginia.

I love to write almost as much as I love to garden, so in November of 2011 I began this blog.  The title was inspired by the half dozen or so Black Walnut trees that grow in or adjacent to my garden — trees that are difficult to garden under, but which are also very beautiful.  The motivation for this blog is to share my thoughts about gardens, landscape, and design, and to connect with other gardening souls around the world…I hope you enjoy it.

38 thoughts on “About Mary

  1. I’d like to know where you live, helps me understand your gardening world. I browsed your blog but didn’t see any references, just clues in the green photos. Where is your secret garden?

    • Hmmmm, you make an excellent point, Brenda. Now that people are actually reading it (!!) I will have to revise some parts of my blog. To your question — I live in northern Virginia, which lies in the dream-zone known as 7a.

  2. Hello Mary,
    Recently I joined linkedin and joined a few groups for landsape designesr and arists. I have enjoyed your voice in discussions and decided to check out your site.Black Walnut Dispatch You are very informative and I look forward to being part of the landscape design network
    Marylyn Wiedmaier

  3. I also live in no. VA. I’m an organic outpost in a congested suburb that should it ever secede, might name itself Chemlawnia. I live down the street from a crepe myrtle that is sent to the guillotine yearly. If only there were shelters for abused plants…

  4. Mary, I love your blog. I am also a graduate student of GW’s landscape design program and just finished in the spring of this year. I started my own business in 2008 “helping” friends which actually blossomed quite nicely but biz has been slow this Fall and the only substantial job I did was the design for (gasp) Extreme Makeover; Home Edition. That’s a story in itself and although I welcomed the opportunity and recognition I couldn’t help but feel a little sleazy! So now I’m using my oh so free time to figure out my next move whether it be growing “Grow” or working with others. I laugh out loud when reading your posts, which I then have to explain to my kids, and am inspired by your writing. Thank you for our good humor and wisdom.

    • Thank you, Annabelle! I remember you! I think we had a plants class together at some point…did you have Betsy?

      I would LOVE to find out more about your experience doing Extreme Makeover! OMG, I would jump at the chance to do that. Of course I would make fun of those makeover shows all over my blog but if I were actually given the opportunity to design for one, I think it would be a blast. (Or not. Was it?) Can I find the show online anywhere?

      I’m glad you stumbled upon my blog and are enjoying it. Thank you for writing and maybe I’ll bump into you at some alumi event sometime. In the meantime, here’s hoping lots of people hire landscape designers in 2012!

      • I did have Betsy for all of my plants classes – so maybe our paths have crossed. I will say hello if we happen to be at the same events and yes, let’s hope for a busy 2012.

        You can find Extreme Makeover online if you google it – the episode I worked on was the Johnson Goslee family. It was a good experience but challenging – there’s ghastly gaudy colored mums at the front of the house that the producers wanted for color and the lines for the beds and paths aren’t exactly how I designed them but some of the art is bound to be lost when you have 24 hrs to put in an entire garden, with an army of volunteers waiting to be told what to do! The camaraderie and volunteerism is heartwarming.

        Keep writing and Happy New Year!

  5. Mary! Good use of F!%KING in your very funny Top Ten Gardening Shows. You Bad Sista!

    Only three years into your career? I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I have, I have been in the industry for 31 years and I love it.

    Thanks for the laugh and breath of fresh air.

  6. Your post had me laughing out loud. You are SO right! I am the co-executive producer for Growing A Greener World on PBS and I really think we need to add some of your tips to our next season. It would certainly make it interesting to film. LOL

  7. Mary, just read your top 10 most annoying buzzwords of 2011. First of all I laughed when I saw Outdoor Room, but when I read your reasons as to why it’s so annoying, it clearly showed you don’t understand the concept of a garden being decribed as an outdoor room. And from someone who describes themself as a garden ‘coach’????? Now that really did make me laugh! Look at the website and try to think a little bit more deeply. I know you’re American, but try!

  8. Mary, I enjoy the blog. Thanks for taking the time to be a voice in the ironic wilderness! As to David Dodd’s post – poo on him! The real problem is that we are uncomfortable with discussing garden on its own terms. Discribing a piece of land as an “outdoor room” shows a lack of understanding of what “outdoor” means. It is not a room. I often repair gardens that are designed by architects who treat land as building. We need to hold to the language of garden and quit trying to assuage our guilt for spending resources and taking pleasure in such places by translating them into a more pragmatic sounding experience. A garden is a garden.

    • Thank you David McMullin! As for David Poo — I mean David Dodd — I think he’s taking me too seriously. I’m really not that opposed to the concept of outdoor rooms at all…I was just trying to be funny! Although I do agree with you…I generally like my garden experience to feel an outdoor one.

    • Jeepers, that was rude of Mr. Poo Dodd! I’m going to assume that he’s not realizing that “outdoor room” might just possibly have a different connotation on this side of the pond. In the U.S., I think outdoor room more often means pave over the yard and create a replica of your living room or kitchen outside, rather than integrating the garden into an outdoor living… um… space (it’s the only word I could think of).

  9. Hi Mary,
    It’s Donna from the Mary Janet Donna Mosquito Pokeweed Team. I’ve been enjoying your blog (and Thomas’s blog) very much! When I posted my comment to you I was very new to the blogosphere (Sp?) and never saw your response. Last night at 2am I could’t sleep and was playing around on the internet and finally saw it! Just finished the GW program and saw your comprehensive project. Your illustrations were as magnificent as always.

    • THanks, Donna! I have to tell you that comprehensive project was a bit of a nightmare. I can’t tell you how sick I was of our project and concept by the end of the class. congrats on finishing the program. I am still not sure how I will use my fabulous landscape design knowledge….looks like just the blog for now. Thanks for being a reader!

  10. I was totally over it too. I loved Thomas’s class though. It was my all time favorite and I really miss it. I don’t have any plant people friends so I really do love to read your blog. So, I appreciate your fabulous landscape design knowledge. You are pretty funny too, lady.
    Have a great weekend. I will be doing a LOT of planting.

  11. Hi Mary! I came here via a reference from athistleinmysensitivearea’s blog and what a surprise to see not only are you are in my area, but also the familiar black walnuts, which we collect to replant on other areas of our property since there are many acres denuded of trees. Growing up, I went to the National Arboretum every summer as my father loved rhododendrons and camellias, although I don’t get to garden as much (or as well!!!) as I like :-/ Hopefully, I can glean some knowledge here 🙂

  12. We have been in our shoreline ct house for 10 years and the 3/4 acre garden is ringed by black walnuts. It took me some time to figure out why so many of the trees and shrubs I planted failed. Great blog , I can confirm lots of plants that don’t do well under black walnuts but one perennial that thrives is dicentra spectabile or bleeding hearts

    • Yes, I had a bleeding heart growing in my garden for awhile but then accidentally killed it (it wasn’t the BWs) Such a great plant, I will have to plant another one! Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Mary, I just read your Serenbe piece, and while I’m sympathetic to your “creepy” argument, I think you missed the most interesting aspect of the project. The folks behind Serenbe actually got a law passed in Georgia that permits landowners to separate development rights from land itself. It’s a bit like the way mineral rights are handled in mining and drilling areas. The idea behind the law is to encourage development of something interesting, dense and livable in the midst of lots of permanently protected green space. An enormous swath of undisturbed land around Serenbe cannot now be developed because the total permissible density for all that property has been “spent” on buildings in the Serenbe development. While you might not love the vibe of the town they’ve built, the impact on land conservation from this kind of innovative, planned development could be enormous.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your comment. A couple of others have written to tell me that I really need to visit Serenbe to appreciate it, that it is not fair to judge it based on a few pics. I totally respect that. I wrote that post quite awhile ago, but I think I was really more critical of the way the town was presented on the HGTV website…very precious and contrived. I think they did it a disservice. Once again, thanks for your perspective.

  14. I missed your writing, so I had to come catch up and figure out how to get blog post notifications again! If you’re in town for Christmas, we’ll have to get together and catch up – it’s been way too long.

  15. Hi Mary, you are really good with pictures and have some great designs as well. My patio project seems very modest in comparison but I wanted you to know that I really enjoy your website and that I find inspiration from your site!

  16. I’d like to give you an update on one of your older posts. I didn’t see anyway to contact you directly and the comments are closed.

  17. I have googled “what to plant under a black walnut” so many times and this is the first time that your blog has come up…what a wealth of knowledge. Thank you Mary and all that have replied.
    We bought our house 12 years ago with one wonderfully huge BW and 10+ smaller but getting bigger BWs on our 3 1/2 acres. I look forward to reading each reply and give some thought to reply on what has worked and not worked in our yard. The reason I googled today…We planted 1500 daffodil bulbs under/around a line of BWs 2 years ago ( doing very well) and I was thinking of adding 8 or so Winterberry shrubs to the bed. From what I have read so far, it looks like this might be a good choice. Any thoughts would be helpful.

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