Care for a Black Walnut?

I’ve got plenty.

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And plenty still to come:

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This is a nifty nut collector made by the folks at Garden Weasel.  What a treat to discover a yard device that requires no engine and makes no noise, that is so simply designed and yet works beautifully.

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Just roll it along the ground and the nuts become trapped in the wire cage.  To release them you push a doohickey on the handle (like when you squeeze out a mop) that spreads the wires so the nuts can fall out again.  The only trouble is that there SO MANY NUTS and collectively they are very heavy.  A plastic trash can should only be filled about a quarter full; otherwise, there is risk of it busting wide open as it’s dragged (ask me how I know).

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Still, I never tire of this canopy:

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And there are some other pleasant distractions from the tyranny of the black walnut trees.  Some toad lily and sedum:DSC_2195

The Winterberry holly never disappoints:

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Bottlebrush Buckeye fruit:

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Some white wood aster:

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Zigzag goldenrod, now fading:

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This cute little bottle gentian that I nearly ripped out over the summer thinking it was a weed:

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A Japanese combo — bloodgrass and anemone:

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Blackberry lily:

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This year’s crown jewel — a Red Abissynian Banana.  I adore it so much! The leaves are insane!

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This lantana and bloodgrass was a good combo:

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This lantana was so exuberant this year that it shaded out my herbs:

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Elephant ear and celosia refusing to back down in the face of autumn:

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Sedge Allegiance

This WaPo article by Adrian Higgins about sedges has been going around among my garden-oriented acquaintances, so I thought I’d share my own sedge experiences.

I’ve got two types of sedge in abundance: Carex pensylvanica and Carex flaccosperma. Here is a spot where I’ve got quite a bit of C. pensylvanica:

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This started as 3 quart-sized plants about 4-5 years ago and it has spread (and as you’ll see I’ve lifted many chunks of it to other areas of my yard.) It’s planted behind a retaining wall in extremely dry soil in part sun.  As you can see in the photo, it does go a bit tawny by the middle of summer, but I don’t mind that.  I really like its fine texture and the way it splays.  I’ve always had the urge to comb and braid it.

Here’s some more that I transplanted about 2 years ago in attempt to make my ceramic fish look like they’re swimming through a river.  It sort of works:

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The thrust of Higgins’ article is that sedges make a good alternative mulch, and my experience does bear this out.  Before I planted the sedge above, this was an area that I had to weed and mulch to keep looking decent.

Below is a shot taken a bit further up the slope where the sedge has not filled in yet.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  And you do have to keep weeding and/or mulching during the years that you are waiting for it to fill in.

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Here is another spot way in the back of my yard where I transplanted some C. pensylvanica a few years ago.  It has spread very nicely.  Again, this is dry clay soil, part sun:

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I’ve got tons of these garden phlox seedlings all over my yard (the taller pink flowered plant), so I experimented with mixing some of them into the sedge.  It’s not bad, but I think a shorter plant might make a better complement.

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A word of warning about the idea of sedge as a mulch.  It’s definitely not foolproof.  I’ve had places where weed seeds had no problem sprouting up through the sedge, and then it’s kind of a nightmare to get them out.  For example, this big patch of sedge (above) was pretty infested by some weedy grass last year (maybe stiltgrass?) and I went nuts trying to pull it out.  I finally resorted to buying a spray-on grass killer from the nursery; it killed the grass but not the sedge and now this area is pretty weed free.

Here’s another place where I moved some C. pensylvanica:

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Again, it’s a place where I use mulch to fill in the gaps around the plants, but you can see that the sedge is starting to fill in those spaces.  I was even thinking of planting it in between some of those irises on the right.  Irises are a headache for me because weeds appear right down among the plants all tangled up in the rhizomes.  I was thinking of trying either the sedge or perhaps Japanese painted fern interplanted with the irises.

Now for the Carex flaccosperma.  This is a much coarser sedge with an agreeable blue color that seeds all over the place.  Unlike the C. pensylvanica, which spreads via stolons, C. flaccosperma spreads via seeds that pop off in the spring.  I have a lot of it an area of my backyard where I am trying to use lots of natives and make a sort of mixed woodland floor type thing:

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In the pic above, the C. flaccosperma is the strappy looking plant in the foreground.  It’s planted among wood poppies, bluebells, lady ferns, eastern wood ferns, and heucheras.  This is my attempt at a “matrix planting” that we hear so much about lately.  It has been an interesting experiment.

Here’s another shot of this matrix with the C. flaccosperma visible throughout:

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I took this shot today (mid July) but this planting looks best in spring and fall.  In spring it has blue bells and wood poppies blooming, and in fall there are many flowers of Heuchera “Autumn Bride” that emerge. The sedge is definitely the background plant that stays more or less constant while the other plants ebb and flow.

But again, the weeds can invade here, too.  In the pic above, you can see some dastardly bishop’s weed has snuck in, which is really hard to get rid of.  Also, oxalis, crabgrass, and other weeds pop up in there fairly regularly and need to be dealt with.

So it’s not like you can just have this great sedge matrix and then sit in your lawn chair for the rest of your summer.  There will always be some maintenance.  But yes, it is less work and less money than a sea of mulch, and it is infinitely more interesting to watch it change over the seasons.

It hardly needs mentioning, but of course sedges aren’t the only plant that can act as a living mulch.  Behold my Sweetbay magnolia amid a sea of plain green, absolutely indestructible hostas:

sedge1 Unlike the sedges, once the hostas are filled in there is rarely an issue with weeds.  Those wide green leaves pretty much shade out any weed that has the audacity to emerge from the soil.  I can move these hostas, hack them in pieces, plop the pieces in a hastily dug holes in some barren part of the yard, and they are sure to survive and cover ground despite my subsequent neglect.  They are tough! (I should mention that, sadly, most of the fancy hosta cultivars aren’t this accommodating).

The hosta-scape is functional, but is definitely somewhat static and boring; the sedge matrices I’ve played with are definitely more dynamic and more fun.

I leave you with a non-sedge-related picture of a plant I grow more in love with each year — my bottlebrush buckeye bush, in bloom right now:

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Fairfax County Sustainable Garden Tour

A few shots from Fairfax County’s 2017 Sustainable Garden Tour:

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This year the gardens were in the Alexandria area — some down around Mason Neck, others near Mount Vernon, and then all the way up to the Rose Hill area.  There were 9 in all but I only made it to four because it was 95 degrees out today.

This place was in a nice old neighborhood just off Rte 1.  It had about an acre of land.  You never would have expected it to be there:

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It had an amazing artificial stream, which they had landscaped very skillfully.  Note the little bridge in the distance.  What is it about those little bridges?  You just HAVE to cross them.

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Very nice fountain:

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The bright blue birdbath and the variegated hostas.  Very bold.  I like it.

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They had another project underway as well.  Very busy, these folks:

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Garden #2…they converted their front yard to a meadow just a few years ago. You can tell they probably don’t have an HOA:

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The mulched paths really help the wildness look intentional.  If you’re in suburbia doing the no-lawn thing, it’s definitely helpful to have some element within the landscape that says, “Yes, I meant to do this”…like paths or sculptures or a bit of nice hardscaping.

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Even a short, narrow path lends a sense of adventure to the suburban yard.  Actually, to lure kids around a garden, the narrower and curvier the better:

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The backyard of this house actually looked much neater and more traditional than the front yard.  It had a great little artificial pond and waterfall.  Check out that purple weeping beech.

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A few other random items.  I thought this was a very classy looking rain barrel:

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Cute:

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I sooooooo wish I could have chickens, but our property is too small.  This place had more than 7 acres for these birds to roam:

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Not on the tour, but I loved this guy’s workshop/shed:

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One last thought: I’m not sure what Fairfax County’s definition of “sustainable” is when it comes to residential gardens.  A couple of these gardens seemed fairly resource intensive to me.  Oh well.  Sometimes all of the arguing back and forth about what makes a garden ecologically virtuous gives me a headache.

What I loved is that all of these homeowners were hanging around, eager to talk about their gardens.  They loved tending their yards and were proud of what they’d created.   I think the love has to be there before anything else can be sustained.

Click here to learn more about the properties on this tour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wealthy, Benevolent Homeowners Open Homes and Gardens to the Great Unwashed

Well, another season of open homes & gardens has come and gone.  This year I spent three full days touring a variety of homes and gardens in my state, Virginia.  They were all great!  I loved the old stone home overlooking the Potomac with the lush shade garden of bleeding heart and ferns, the gigantic Tudor on a hilltop with the infinity pool, and the fully renovated 19th-century Georgian with the silk rugs that took 12 years to make.

I like to take pictures and mental notes.  I must a get a Red Buckeye tree was this year’s big takeaway.

Here was another takeaway: I feel like a slack-jawed yokel walking through this person’s gigantic dining room. 

As I shuffle along with a pack of other middle-aged-to-elderly folk so I can get a better look at the Tiffany lamps adorning some stranger’s parlor, well, sometimes I feel a bit like a salivating voyeur.  A starry-eyed member of the teeming masses who swarm upon these forbidden domains once per year.

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Photo Credit: http://practic-al.blogspot.com/2012/08/more-on-shepherds-sheep-fences-religion.html

I don’t know how difficult it is to get these affluent homeowners to open up their homes and gardens to the public each year, but I wouldn’t blame them for being hesitant.  I know I wouldn’t want to.  Some properties can get hundreds or even thousands of people in one day tramping through their private living spaces.

And it’s not just dirty shoes and curious stares that we bring to these homes.

On a recent trip to a large property in central Virginia, the homeowner was nice enough to take fifty of us on a personal walk-through of her magnificent gardens.  When she asked if there were any questions, one of my fellow travelers waved her hand around.

“Where do you get the money to pay for all this?” was her question.

Ugh.  I wanted to crawl behind the homeowner’s imported French tuteur and hide.  C’mon lady!  I thought.  Don’t make us look like a bunch of mouth-breathing hoi polloi!

But we kind of are, really.  On many of these tours, the chatter among the visitors (myself included) focuses on how much things cost, how much help would be required to clean and maintain everything, with a great deal of speculation about how the wealth was acquired.

Sure, we are all generous with the compliments, but they are often followed up with vague suggestions that perhaps the amount spent by the homeowner was a tad grotesque.

“Sally, check out the field stone wall along the drive.  It’s absolutely gorgeous! I bet this wall would pay for three years of long-term care at Mom’s assisted-living place.”

Another homeowner was nice enough to let my tour group use the bathroom in her pool house if we needed to.  I did, so I got in line behind a gentleman shaped like a large butternut squash, who occupied the bathroom for a full fifteen minutes.  After he finished, I went in and the room was absolutely toxic.  It felt so wrong that this bathroom, with its beautiful limestone tile floor and high-end fixtures, should have been defiled by the gastric system of this man.  Such bad form!

I now envision the wealthy homeowners bringing in a team of cleaners at the close of open garden day, swooping in and disinfecting everything we’ve touched.

And me, driving my ordinary car back to my rather ordinary home and garden, wondering if crowds of people would ever want to come tour it.

Being mostly relieved that the answer is no.

 

 

 

I am Not a Science-Based Gardener

If my Facebook feed and many prominent gardening blogs are any indication, “science-based gardening” is trending.  Here is my feeling about that:

Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Hey, I know there’s a lot of bad gardening advice out there, and it’s great that there are strong and trustworthy voices ready to stamp it out, but gardening is just not something that I (and dare I say, the majority of gardeners?) approach scientifically.

For me, gardening — like cooking — is something to be approached intuitively, even sentimentally, rather than methodically.  I would rather bake and eat the chocolate chip cookie made from my mom’s recipe on the yellowed index card than the one whose sugar/butter ratio was tested and deemed superior by a panel of food science doctoral students.  (Yes, I can taste her love in the cookies, don’t tell me I can’t!)

Same with gardening.  My planting choices are often guided by pure emotion, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  The little voice that tells me I really oughtn’t to plant a banana tree in my yard just because I saw it done in that little garden in Charleston with the amazing wrought-iron gate with the pineapple motif and the whole vignette just about made my heart stop — that’s a voice I often just ignore.   The banana is going in!

Years ago I got a soil test done.  I carefully followed the instructions given to me by the Master Gardeners: I selected several different spots in my yard, dug a few inches down, collected the prescribed amount of soil, placed it into the designated receptacles, and sent it down to the lab at Virginia Tech.  The helpful people at the Extension service sent back a detailed report indicating acidity levels and the presence of micronutrients, etc.  I recall they suggested that I add a quantity of lime to my lawn — even specifying how much per square yard and such.  It was awfully nice of them.

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I carefully folded the report back into the envelope, stuffed it into my Gardening for Dummies book, and drove to the garden center, where I purchased plants that spoke to my eye and heart, which that year was probably columbine and clematis.

I never did lime my lawn.

Unfortunately, the way I usually learn what NOT to plant in my yard is by heartbreaking trial and error, and not by flipping through Foolproof Plants of the Midatlantic.  I have learned many other life lessons in this same painful and unscientific manner, and it seems to be the only way that things stick.  And let’s face it, sometimes it’s more fun not learn the lesson at all.  Sometimes life is best lived by moving from one gloriously impractical idea to the next.

So I shall continue to stumble along, letting my ridiculous, irrational brain guide my gardening choices.  And the banana shall be planted forthwith!

 

Great Day to Be Alive

When it’s close to 70 degrees on February 18 it seems like there is very little in the world worth complaining about.  Even the traffic on New York Avenue seems worth it once you’re finally at the National Arboretum walking among these beauties:

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(Prunus mume and Edgeworthia in the Chinese/Japanese Pavilion Gardens)

Even the often dour blooms of hellebore knew enough to perk up and tilt their faces toward the sun:

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(I know, I know, many hellebores are bred that way, let me just do my personification thing, will you?)

I liked the stark contrast between the black mondo grass and the old stalks of ornamental grass (Northern Sea Oats, I think):

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Cherry blossoms!  (I think it’s another Prunus mume, so technically apricot but I’m in a t-shirt in February so who gives a toss!)

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Terrible photo of one of my favorite plants in the whole arboretum: Chimonanthus praecox:

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This specimen is perched on a steep slope above the Anacostia River, where the winter sun warms its buttery yellow blooms, which emit THE most delicious fragrance in the floral world (except maybe Vibunum carlesii???) a sort of warm vanilla spice that definitely makes you forget it’s winter.

And last but not least my beloved Camellias.  It always surprises me seeing such perfect, extravagant blooms on such awkward, lanky plants.  Kinda like seeing a beautiful young girl with knock-knees and pigeon toes…all the more charming for their imperfections.

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Melania Trump Vows to Preserve Obama Garden

Though many of her husband’s projects are likely to be uprooted, there is good news for Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden.

Looks like Melania Trump is fond of gardening, too.  Or at least fond of gardens.

This weekend, Mrs.Trump accompanied Akie Abe, the wife of the Japanese prime minister, to Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden in Delray, Florida.  Based on the brief video footage available, it looks like the two women strolled around the gardens somewhat awkwardly, posing for pictures, smiling at the guide, and feeding some koi.

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http://time.com/4668035/melania-trump-michelle-obama-vegetable-garden/

But it is this statement from Mrs. Trump that is most noteworthy if you’ve been fretting about the fate of the White House gardens: ‘As a mother and as the First Lady of this country, Mrs. Trump is committed to the preservation and continuation of the White House Gardens, specifically the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden and the Rose Garden.’

Trump also spoke of the positive effect of gardens and nature on young people: ‘I hope that together Mrs. Abe and I can continue to inspire our youth to enjoy the beauty around them and to restore their minds in the peacefulness of their surroundings.’ 

There are many minds that need to be restored in the aftermath of this election — I won’t say whose! — and one thing most of us can agree on is that gardens are a good place to do that.

It’s interesting that before she left the White House, Mrs. Obama reinforced her garden with more permanent fixtures of cement, stone, and wood; she did not want this thing torn out!  It will be ironic if something as mutable and unpredictable as a garden turns out to be the most enduring Obama initiative of them all.

obamagardenhttp://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/michelle-obama-garden-changes-white-house-229204

Random Thoughts About Floral Design

Here are a couple of arrangements I made in a flower arranging class I took last week with my sister:

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Now for my random thoughts:

1) The theme of this particular class was “Succulents.” Apparently succulents are all the rage in the flower design world as well as the gardening world generally.  The owner of the flower shop said that brides are now carrying bouquets featuring succulents, which is neat, but what about brides carrying full-on CACTUS bouquets down the aisle?  The closest I could find is this really cool desert-inspired bouquet below, but it looks like they snipped off the spines.  Too bad.  I like the idea of the bride being able to literally — rather than just figuratively — impale anybody at the wedding who displeases her.

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2. Flower arranging is one of those things I would love to take up as a hobby, if only my time, dollars, and closet space weren’t already depleted by other expensive, time-consuming, stuff-heavy hobbies.

3. There are many different styles of flower design.  The shop where we took the class specializes in Pave (imagine an accent mark over the “e”) style, which is where you really pack the flowers close together to create a jewel-like effect.  I actually like the naturalistic style of flower design a bit better, like the ones featured in this awesome book, but I like the Pave style, too.  It is opulent!

4. Here is a helpful primer about floral design published by the Garden Club of Virginia, if you are interested.

5. I really have no aptitude for floral design at all, which is why I appreciated this class. The instructors talked a bit about design theory, but also told you exactly how to make the arrangement, so that even a talentless doofus could walk away with something amazing.  The instructors are so nice as they come around and help, too: “hmmm, why don’t we just take this” (green branch that juts awkwardly from the vase) “and trim it and tuck it right here?” (where it won’t look like a kindergartener put it).  Yes, thank you!

6. Flower arranging has an interesting history, going all the way back to ancient Egypt.  Certain cultures were really into it (e.g., Victorian England) and others not so much (Communist China).  In fact, during the Cultural Revolution in China, flower arranging was seen as an extravagant capitalist luxury, and Chairman Mao encouraged citizens to dig up flowers and smash flower pots.  I am so glad that I live in America, where you can pry my opulent succulent arrangement from my cold, dead hands.

7. I greatly admire the skill involved in floral design and love gazing at elaborate arrangements.  However, never underestimate the power of a few flowers/cuttings snipped from your very own yard and put in a glass of water.  Even herbs from the grocery store!  This winter I’ve been growing herbs under lights, and right now I have a juice glass stuffed with basil sitting next to my kitchen sink.  Whenever I wash dishes, I reach out and crush a leaf and the smell of it transports me to Provence or Tuscany, where I unfortunately also seem to be doing dishes, but still.

 

 

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