19 March 2015

Winter Walk Off

With a few minutes until the deadline for a winter walk off post, it seems I am almost late for everything these days. For yet another year, I chose to walk around Old Town Alexandria where I work. There is so much detail and little things to see. I start by heading to the water. The Potomac River was the lifeblood of our early historic seaport town.

This anchor is placed prominently at the intersection of two paths. There is no information displayed.

The McIlhenny Seaport Center. I don't know much about this place in such a prominent location along the river. Having looked through the window a time or few, there are boats being built inside.

This boathouse stores the shells from the high school crew teams. They are getting ready to go out for their practice. Across the river is Washington DC and the Naval Research Lab.



Mr. & Mrs. Mallard



Now selling priced from the upper $1 million. This used to be a national association headquarters, until being gutted and remodeled for condos with river views and planes roaring overhead on their approach (or takeoff) to the airport.

Wreaths are popular on doors of the homes. This year, apples on this house . . .

. . . and white twigs on another. I think this house had a wreath of lemons during last year's walk-off.

Tress have problems in Alexandria. Looks like this poor soul had bad shoes removed from his feet a while back.

I expect this tree to start talking and throwing apples at me (...Wizard of Oz.)

And this is a native tree that grows transformers after you top it off.

Chastity?

The elephant not in the room. The window of an antique shop.

I have always liked this alley. A dark passage off a main walk intrigues as the light in the courtyard at the interior of the block pulls you in.

I don't know. It just made me laugh. A chia head and glove on a garden gate.

Carlyle House was ready for the British. The Prince of Wales is in town as a tourist, but I don't know if he stopped here. John Carlyle was a founder of Alexandria. General Braddock and company met here to plot strategies during the French and Indian Wars.

And finally, this is the Wise's Tavern Building. George Washington gave his first public speech as president here on the way to New York to assume office after being elected. It is also home to my office. (The interior is not historic in the least.)

Finished before the deadline ... Hawaiian or pacific time.

Hope you enjoyed your walk around. Visit other winter walk-offs at A Tidewater Gardener.

10 February 2015

The Quincunx And The Olitory

I added quincunx and olitory to my lexicon. Read on and you will too.

2015 gardening began this weekend. I packed up and labeled my contributions for the Washington Gardener Magazine annual Seed Exchange. This one held in Virginia is scheduled on the first weekend in February. The day's program began at the registration table to pick up my goody bag of seeds and promotions. Then on to peruse the table full of garden catalogs, old magazines, and more promotions. Then down the ramp to the main attraction: the seeds.

I brought some packets of my famous bombast rose poppy seeds [posted 2013.06.02], and some purple oriental poppy seeds (papaver somniferum). They were deposited into the basket at the registration table to be cataloged and checked for non-native invasiveness. It seems that for this year, fewer gardeners brought seeds for exchange, and relied instead on the hundreds of expired commercial seed packets from previous years.

I arrived early, so like a hired agent at a private Southeby's auction, I slithered through the tables of the seed packets, taking notes of prized spoils, and ranked them for possible acquisition later.

First, the speakers presented their talks to the crowd of about 50 gardeners. The more interesting to me was Pat Brodowski, vegetable gardener at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Pat talked about the gardener, his horticultural exploits, and his history. Did you know that Jefferson experimented to a point of trying 230 vegetable varieties, including 13 tomatoes, 48 beans, 38 herbs, and 7 pumpkins?

He employed a classic planting pattern for spacing crops that was more efficient that a rectangular grid. A quincunx pattern is made of alternately arranged rows, depending on the spacing of the crop, and was a pattern used in classic early gardens. Today you find it widely used for fruit orchard layouts.

In his writings, Thomas Jefferson also mentioned his garden olitory. This referred to his terraced vegetable garden, although the term today is more widely reserved for a kitchen garden for cullinary use. Pat also talked about Jefferson's and early America's connections to European horticulture, especially Italian; climates, the difficulties in translating horticultural terms from writings of the 1700s; and the seed exchange with native peoples around Fort Mandan from whom Lewis and Clark brought seeds to Jefferson.

Pat brought a boatload of seeds from Monticello for us to scarf up. I picked up some nigella, early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, gaillardia, veronica, and scabiosa from our third president's garden. Oh, and for my entrance fee and poppy seeds I also went home with seeds for:

National Pickling Cucumber
Oriole Zinnia
Purple Calabash Tomato
Tip Top Mahogany Nasturtium
Royal Burgundy Bean
Spacemaster Cucumber
Waltham 20 Broccoli
French Breakfast Radish
Oriental Giant Japanese Spinach
Monarda Lambada
White Icicle Radish
Green Envy Zinnia
Big Jim Chili Pepper
Autumn Beauty Sunflower
Datura Metal (white)
Rocky Mountain Blue Penstemon
Blue Lake Beans
Pennisetum Orientale
Russian Tarragon
Siam Queen Thai Basil
Black Beauty Squash
Red Oriental Poppy
Black Pearl Pepper
Yellow Pear Tomato
Mary Lou Heard Sweet Pea
Danvers Half long Carrot

With the Garden Stamp I won as a door prize, I think I am now set to start my own public botanical garden.

24 January 2015

In Between

Here am I between two storms. A rain-sleet-snow-freezing rain "event" happened overnight and snow is predicted for tomorrow night. We are also between the seasons; at a midpoint with the light at the end of the winter tunnel. Next stop on the bus: spring.

The signs are there. Some things in the garden are beginning to stir. And next Saturday is the annual Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchange in Virginia. Coming home afterwards with a bucket full of new seeds to try out gets the gardening juices going again.

A trip around the yard found some heads poking out. No sign of the crocus though.

Daffodils need not be afraid.

This tangled muscari mess actually started coming up in November. Does muscari need dividing? The hairy bittercress beyond is doing nicely.

Dutch iris always starts in the fall, unless you plant the bulbs in the fall - then they start late. I see the spiny sowthistle is also getting a jump on the season.

The incredible spreadable rose campion. Started with two plants, but now it is traveling down the hillside. Invasive is my middle name. The blue fescue is enjoying the weather.

Miniature iris planted first time this fall. I can't remember what they are, but think they were dual color. There is a story about that white marker:

I hosted our neighborhood plant swap last May, and one of the neighbors brought some cut up vinyl blind slats to use as plant labels. They work well. Until then, I used popsicle sticks that would compost into the soil. But the titles washed off these over winter, and they degrade before they are supposed to. This one is holding up.

30 December 2014

Last Year's Resolutions Scorecard

This year 2014 saw the least number of posts to this blog because there were fewer new additions to the garden. How did last year's resolutions go? Let's see how your resolutions ended up, too.
  1. Post thoughts and gardening results on the blog more than once a month, even if no one reads them.
    Do the math: 24 posts = at least two per month. (But only one post in November, and one in December.)

  2. Start working on getting the poinsettia to bloom earlier in the fall, to be sure it blooms in time for Christmas, instead of later at New Year's.
    Cross this one off. The poinsettia up and died on me this summer -- some kind of bugs or whiteflies.

  3. Same goes for the amaryllis.
    The amaryllis was a late bloomer this summer. It needed its beauty rest before another bloom, so I did not have the heart to awaken it so soon after going to bed.

  4. Keep working in the garden into August, instead of losing ambition, telling myself I need to sit back and enjoy it, while slowly watching it wane.
    Worked well into the fall this year. I am proud of myself.

  5. Create a map of where things are planted instead of planting items on top of others that have not come up yet, or slicing into dormant bulbs with planting trowels when planting annuals.
    Christopher Columbus made maps. I took digital photos. Only my own garden GPS will solve this problem.

  6. Clean my garden tools after using them instead of thinking they will be used again soon, or thinking cleanliness doesn't matter, or thinking they will clean themselves.
    I did a better job of this past year, but still have room for improvement.

  7. Keep trying to grow those uncooperative and challenging flora that have never succeeded in my garden but do in others, instead of giving up and moving on to something new.
    Carrots. Radishes. Need I say more?

  8. Finish development of the Garden Inventory page of my blog.
    Is there a database administrator out there?

  9. Develop New Year's resolutions at New Year's Day, instead of a week later.
    Still one day to go.

30 November 2014

Tending To The Tender Snacks

Root crops and I just don't mix well. Carrots are one of the first creatures (they are supposed to be easy) that I tried growing, year after year, without much success. They ended up dry, splitting, deformed runts. After a few years of adding sand to my garden soil more appropriate for clay pottery than gardening, the results were no better.

Then, I discovered compost and organic material, and thought to try that to improve the soil density. Building upon last year's carrot success, I gave it another shot this year with the Tendersnax hybrid purchased a year or two ago. The results are truly amazing considering I ignored the carrots this year.

They suffered with a low germination rate, being seed that was two years old. And, they suffered through a few mini-droughts of my own doing, neglect, and the overgrowth of a white nicotiana jungle. After garden cleanup this fall, there they were; green and happy after the subfreezing temperatures last week. Two were split lengthwise, and a slug was chewing its way through a third for its Thanksgiving dinner, but most were in great shape. This was the first year I have had any hint of beasties bothering carrots, but then, I haven't had any carrots to speak of to bother.

These will make a great side dish in my annual holiday dinner in a few weeks. And I believe I found a good carrot compatible with my garden: Tendersnax.

03 November 2014

Last Gasp Before Winter

Most of the garden has fallen asleep before winter arrives, but some defiant plants refuse to give up. Acidanthera, members of the glad, family look as lush and healthy as a summer day. They continue to flower, albeit with fewer blooms than in summer.

The pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is in its glory at this time. It waits until just before frost to throw out its red threads against its chartreuse foliage. This year the plant really took off after a severe winter that I thought would have killed it off like its neighbor the rosemary. Now, every day brings new branches tipped with new flower buds. I wonder what this would look like after one more frost-free month.


The tricolor ornamental peppers Garda did not grow as large as last year when it was in a pot on the raised deck. Even though this year in ground, it received a little more sun. I am thinking the rich soil in the pot gave the plants there a boost. These peppers are a favorite of mine with their circus colors. Fruit starts out a light cream color, then turns purple, then turns orange, then turns red. Yes, they are edible and incredibly hot.

Zinnias never give up. Even if all their leaves have turned crispy brown in the crisp autumn temperatures, they want to keep on blooming. The free zinnia seed mix curiously have only the red ones going strong. Pinks, purples, and yellows died out.

The Mexican Zinnias (Zinnia agustifolia) are very slow to start themselves, reseeding year after year -- the zinnia that keeps on giving. I got my money's worth when I got these several years ago. Once they get growing, there is no stopping. Throughout the summer they thrive on the heat, producing balls of oranges, yellows, and whites. And in the fall, they also seem to love the cooler weather as much as the late pollinators love them. I usually let them spring up wherever they want, especially along a walkways to soften the edge.

The overnight lows are flirting with freezing, but these friends are holding out until the end after their comrades gave up.

12 October 2014

Vacation In Quirky Cedar Key

A few days before the convention were spent on the gulf coast of Florida in the small, quaint, walkable, low-key town of Cedar Key. There are no stop lights, no chain restaurants, and no chain hotels in the town that is known as 'old Florida' (before the mouse arrived.)

I will spare the 'where is this place' theme from last year's trip because I doubt anyone but local residents would know the answer. As this is a gardening blog, I will try keeping to that subject with some photos I found interesting around town.


Tuesday was Burger Day at AdaBlue Cafe on the outskirts of town. The gardener's theme on the 'sign trailer' out front attracted me. AdaBlue Cafe was at the entrance of an RV park with a great view facing west over the water, and a deck out front with lots of plants. The outdoor deck was as non-pretentious as the town, with plants and a tree growing up through the middle.

The burgers were real, with locally grown tomatoes, strong onions, and sharp cheddar. While admiring the plants in the yard on the way out, the owners came out and chatted extensively about their collection -- very friendly people. Most plants I recognized as houseplants in Virginia.








The town seems to have integrated some 'art' with 'garden.' I walked by the old man in the tree a few times before noticing, and it was the light fixture that first caught my attention in the garden.


I did not stay at the RV park, but rented a condo in town. The welcoming attendant at the front desk was an animal, who's attitude at first 'gave me paws.'


A garden wall was adorned with tiles in, what else, a seaside theme. The overflowing red trumpet vine turns out to be in the fern family and used as a ground cover. Russelia equisetifolia or Red Firecraker Fern is a tropical native to Mexico.


Two concrete heads are better than one, in the front yard of a home. Are these meant to be small bird baths or drinking wells for the geckos?

What I believe are agaves sit quietly near the entry of a local hotel. Most all sidewalks along the historic main street are covered, so these must be watered, and are not in full sun.

There were a few very large cycads with cones around town. Cycads originated millions of years ago during the time of the dinosaurs. They fascinate me because their biology is nothing like other plants.

I did find some time to spend on the water. The bottle nose dolphins did not visit me in my kayak. They did, however, swim along side us during a power boat tour of the outer islands.

27 September 2014

My Three Garden Tips

We all pick up secrets along our garden journey. I have a few that I will call tips since I picked them up from somewhere in the past, but they are no longer secrets since being published here. I wish I could take credit for thinking of them, but will take credit for passing them on.

Tame Your Buddleia
Everywhere I look, I see Buddleia growing wild and free, out of control. I wanted to keep my buddleia tamed. First, I cut it down to within a foot (30 cm) of the ground for the winter. When it begins its spring growth, I will pinch every shoot after two pairs of leaves. Two shoots will develop from the last leaf to three more times. The result is a well-behaved, manicured bush with a neat habit.

The plant blooms are smaller, and blooms later than most near mid to late summer, but this more closely corresponds to the time butterflies and pollinators are out. Deadheading the spent blooms encourages more branching, too.

Micro Watering
Sometimes, I need to water tomato plants in hot weather without wetting the leaves and encouraging fungus. My veggies require more frequent watering than ornamentals, and when mixing vegetables with ornamentals in the same bed, I need to separate watering rituals. The plastic milk jugs with three pin holes poked in the bottom do the trick.

They are filled with water and placed on the ground next to the thirsty plant and left for a while. Water takes about a half hour to drip out slowly from the holes, soaking into the ground instead of running off, does not wet the plant leaves, and does not water surrounding plants. It only takes a few minutes of my time to water. Two jugs per tomato plant is sufficient, so when empty, the jugs are refilled for another plant.

Dust To Dust
The powders that are used for insecticides and fungicides are difficult to apply with the squirt containers, or with no containers at all. Filling an old sock with the powder works well as a duster. I shake the filled sock above the plant, and the powder is broken into fine particles, never coming out in clumps and never all at once.

Each sock is labeled with the contents, such as COP for copper fungicide, and EARTH for diatomaceous earth -- the two powders I use. Of course, the resulting fine dust particles only settle on the upper leaves, so I welcome a tip for getting it on the undersides.

It has been a long time since the last post due to work and vacation, and catching up on work after the vacation.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, dahlia, acidanthera, cosmos, aster, zinnia
  • Harvested: 6 bell peppers, many tomatoes
  • Planted: bush green beans 9/7