Sunday, February 5, 2017

Gardens in the Shire - A Very Special Visit to Hobbiton

Blog contributor, Diane Marsden and her husband recently took their dream trip to New Zealand. At the top of their list was a visit to the charming, tiny village of Hobbiton.  Yes, Hobbits love gardening, too!  Enjoy!

On a recent trip to New Zealand, my husband and I, fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien's books, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, decided to visit the movie set from the films based on these books. This was the perfect location for the filming of these stories.

Lush, rolling green farmland, the Shire brought to life - a peaceful place, a wonderful and quiet village.

We enjoyed a  delightful to visit Hobbiton, and the little Hobbit houses and pretty gardens at each one.  We could imagine the characters in the houses and visiting in the village.  I could visualize Bilbo writing his story of his adventures inside his Hobbit house.

There was a sign on the gate of Bilbo’s hobbit house,” No Admittance, except on Party Business."
I remember the scene from the movie.  Each house had garden gates, birdhouses and lots of flowers.

There was a vegetable garden and an orchard complete with a ladder to pick the fruit.  Clothes were hanging on the line waiting to be collected by a hobbit in the village when they dried.

There was a mill house and the Green Dragon Inn, which one could go inside an order a scone, tea or a pint. You could see in a mind’s eye the busy Inn from the movie.

We remembered the party scene from the movie of Bilbo’s birthday party and villagers having fun watching the fireworks of Gandalf’s making and celebrating There were many scenes in the movie, where the hobbits were in dangerous situations and they would wish to be back in the Shire.

We left with delighted smiles and a happy heart having been to a place brought to life by the creation of a movie and Tolkien’s  genius.

photography by Diane Marsden 

Diane Marsden moved West from the East Coast for college and never came back (except for visits with her family and friends!)  She is a photographer specializing in wildflowers and natural landscapes, master gardener, poet, writer, and world traveler. Diane and Lloyd opened their garden this past June for THE ART IN THE GARDEN, an art show displaying the work of local area artists – including Diane’s photography and Lloyd’s exquisite woodworking. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

NATIONAL SEED SWAP DAY - Grow By Seed Saving And Swapping - A guest post by Kathy Jentz (and some save the dates!)

Whether just among your neighbors, your garden club/plant society, or your wider community, a seed swap can be a terrific way to get lots of seeds, to meet new friends, and to learn a great deal about what grows best in our area.

Why go to the bother of collecting all those tiny seeds? The first reason is thriftiness. No need for anything in your garden to go to waste. Compost, recycle, and re-use. The second reason is frugality. Why buy new plants every year when you can grow your own for free? Even further, why buy unproven plants or seeds when you know the ones you are collecting from did well and obviously flourished in your yard.

Another reason to collect seeds is to ensure the propagation of heirloom varieties and rare, native plants that are not available through other means. Commercial growers and catalogs will often only carry the most popular plants and seeds. By collecting seeds from particular flowers and edibles, you are safe-guarding the future of these species. You are guaranteeing we will have a wide variety of genetic diversity in our future and not just the current “top growers.”

The final reason to collect seeds is to trade them. You may have 100s of Cleome seeds and another gardener has 100s of Poppy seeds. Why not trade a few hundred with each other? Again, you are getting new plants for free or close to it. Seed trading is a whole world unto itself. There are online groups, pen pal lists, and clubs for seed swapping.

This January, DC area gardeners will have the opportunity to meet up and swap seeds in person. Washington Gardener magazine is holdings its annual Seed Exchange on Saturday, January 28, 2017 from 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD and Saturday, February 4, 2017 from 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. at Green Spring Gardens in Fairfax County, VA. The Seed Exchange will include seed swapping, door prizes, planting tips, and gardening workshops by local garden experts. Details are posted at and at

Seed collecting is easy. Just wait until the end of the growing season when your current flowers form seedpods. Check on them every few days. They are ready when the pods are dry, brittle, and just ready to open. Don’t wait too late or they’ll break open on their own and cast their seeds to the wind. Pick a day with little breeze and no rain. Go out in mid-morning, after the sun has dried out the air and dewdrops from the leaves. Take a piece of paper and put it under the seed heads then shake them gently. Be sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you put them in tightly closed jars or zipper-closed baggies. Label them right away and store them in a cool, dark, and dry place.

That last step is the most important. Label them with the date and variety. Be specific as possible. Next spring you’ll be very glad you did – as many seeds look alike. The date is important as you will want to use up your seeds the next growing season or two.

A side note on seed collecting: not all plants can be propagated from seed. Many plants that you buy are hybrids or sterile. If you have hybrid flowers and vegetables, they may produce seeds. However, the seeds will often not produce offspring that is “true” to the parent plants. In other words, the seeds from hybrids are often a different variety than the plant you originally purchased and they are often inferior in quality.

A simple way to get started is to collect seeds from your common annual flowers that open-pollinate: zinnias, marigolds, forget-me-nots, four-o-clocks, cosmos, cleome, and sunflowers. Then, as your gardening skills grow, move on to perennials and biennials.

About the author:  Kathy Jentz  is saving seeds this weekend from her hollyhocks which came to her garden from her grandmother’s seed collecting. Kathy Jentz is Editor of Washington Gardener Magazine. Washington Gardener magazine, is the only gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs.
The magazine is written entirely by local area gardeners. They have real-world knowledge and practical advice with the same problems you experience in your own gardens. They share their thoughts on what to plant in deep shade, how to cover bare spots, which annuals work best throughout the humid DC summers, and much more. If you are a DC area gardener, you’ll love Washington Gardener magazine!

To subscribe to the magazine via Paypal/credit card, click on the “subscribe” link at  Washington Gardener magazine also makes a great gift for the gardeners and new home owners in your life!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Happy New Year! Warm Wishes From All Of Us At National Capital Area Garden Clubs

Just because it's winter time doesn't mean we cannot enjoy visiting gardens in our area.  Be sure to check out the U.S. Botanical Gardens in downtown DC, the US National Arboretum, as well as Hillwood Museum and Gardens.

Orchids in Hillwood's greenhouses

The Four Seasons Display at Hillwood

Our local gardens like Meadowlark Botanical Gardens has their festival of light walks through January 8.  Lewis Ginter Gardens have a wonderful lights display, too. There's never a wrong season to visit Longwood Gardens.

Lewis Ginter Gardens and Conservatory
Maymont House and garden views

Longwood Gardens conservatories

Stay local or enjoy a day trip to a regional garden.  It's also a great way to get ideas for your spring gardens.  Have a wonderful and peaceful garden year 2017!  

FMI, here's links to those gardens mentioned above.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The White House Holiday Decorating Elves

In garden club, we all volunteer to help with the myriad of projects we enjoy doing for our communities.  The White House depends on its crew of volunteers that include local garden club members, to decorate for the holidays!  Here's a clip from NPR - enjoy!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Giving Thanks And An Impromptu Visit To The National Cathedral - Thea McGinnis

Thea here.  A phone call from my friend and fellow garden club member, Anita, prompted a visit to the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

We drove over last week in the early afternoon. We enjoyed particularly good weather and hoped to get a peek into The Bishop's Garden.  The Cathedral is a must-visit for guests to our Nation's Capital, but this day, it was quiet yet busy with tours, students from schools, and worshipers.

When we walked into the Cathedral, though, we also got a delightful surprise.  The Alter Guild and Flower Guild members for the National Cathedral were busy at work adorning the many interiors with autumnal decorations. Anita and I found them breathtakingly gorgeous.

This is a huge endeavor for these teams of volunteers and the beauty of the floral designs and displays.  Next week, I expect they will begin with their Christmas and Holiday decorations.  Here's some shots (taken with my iPhone - sorry!).
We caught the floral team in the middle of creation, and it was fascinating to see how they planned their designs.

The cathedral has many chapels and most have their own baptismal fonts. 

Sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows created quite an interesting light display. 

After touring the cathedral and visiting their fabulous gift shops, we went outside for a bit to explore the Bishop's Garden.  The roses were still blooming!

For visitors, the cathedral has underground parking with elevators to ground level. For more information on the National Cathedral, The Alter and Flower Guilds,  and the All Hallows Guild that takes care of the beautiful gardens, I'm including their links.  It was such a treat to see the Thanksgiving florals. I plan to make another trip soon to see the Christmas florals.  I highly recommend a visit to the National Cathedral.  I believe the All Hallows Guild also sponsors Tea on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. FMI  

Post and all photos by Thea McGinnis. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bountiful Autumn - A Guest Post by Jenny Sullivan


It is autumn, the best time of the year in the opinion of this gardener and many another.  We plan road trips to Skyline Drive to swoon over the fiery trees. We find ourselves humming “The Autumn leaves (doodly doodly doodly doo) drift by my window (doodly doodly doodly doo). / The falling leaves of red and gold.”  The stop-you-in-your tracks beauty of those splendid, bold colors stirs the heart to give thanks in this season of Thanksgiving.

But my favorite autumn poem never mentions leaves at all! It celebrates the harvest, that other feature of autumn that makes any reasonable gardener grateful to creation for this amazing phase of the diurnal process. Here is the first stanza of John Keats’ poem, “To Autumn.”

 Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
 Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
 With fruits the vines that round the thatch-eaves run; 
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd and plump the hazel shell 
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
And still more later flowers for the bees,
 Until they think warm days will never cease,
 For summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Let’s slow down and go back. This 24-year-old Englishman, writing in 1820, is taking us on a tour of the abundance of autumn. If, like me, you have ever required your children or grandchildren to “stop and smell the roses,” you might want to follow the lead of Keats, whose poem invites us to look closely with awe and wonder at things we might be foolish enough in this busy world to fail to notice.

For instance, just look at those verbs, verbs that accentuate the abundance of autumn— deep, rich, wonderful autumn. Keats tells us that autumn and his close buddy, the sun, are “conspiring” together, hatching a plan to bring forth bounty.  They don’t want the vines to be puny or piddling. No, they want to “load” the vines, and in loading them, to “bless” the vines with fruit, with the blessing of food. These vines are so full of nature’s energy in this race to the harvest that they “run” around the thatch eaves.

The apple trees do not merely have apples hanging from the braches. Autumn and his friend the sun have caused those trees to “bend” with the weight of the abundant apple crop. Autumn and the sun “fill” and “swell” and “plump” the fruit and the gourds and the nuts all the way to their centers with ripeness.

The flowers, perhaps like your zinnias at this moment, just keep budding and budding so that the confused honey bees think that maybe the warm weather will never end. They are reaping such a grand autumn harvest because a lingering Indian summer has “o’erbrimmed” their cells, cells that look ready to spill a cascade of abundance.

Go back and read that stanza again if you like. I never tire of reading it any more than I tire of walking in an orchard, strolling through a garden, or looking out my window at the falling leaves.

Keats creates cornucopia of imagery in this poem, a word appropriate to our Thanksgiving season when images of fruit pouring out of cornucopias are pictured on the fronts of greeting cards and floral designers use the cornucopias in their arrangements for their Thanksgiving tables.

This might also be a good time to check out the Cornucopia Institute, a group working to promote family-scale farming.

Their website is full of interesting articles such as one by Cathy Clabby from North Carolina Health News about “the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians . . . using research and new partnerships [with Virginia Tech] in expanding access to wild foods at the heart of their culture.”  They are tracking and cataloguing the wild food of the Great Smokey Mountains, maybe some of the same kinds of food at the first Thanksgiving and perhaps, in the future,  food that will again appear on  this autumn holiday’s bountiful table.

Jenny N. Sullivan is a gardener, author and garden club member in Northern Virginia, and the daughter of a storyteller. Instead of reading nursery rhymes and fairy tales to little Jenny, her mother told her about "the olden days," the 1920s in her beloved small hometown in south central Virginia. Those stories provide the atmosphere, the local color for Sullivan's first novel, From My Father's House. Sullivan grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, received a B.A. and an M.A. in English from Old Dominion University and went on to a long teaching career in the Virginia Community College System in the Tidewater area and in Northern Virginia

Friday, October 21, 2016

Lilies - A Guest Post by Christine Wegman

Fall is perfect for thinking ahead and planting bulbs. But don't forget lilies - Thea

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”  Luke 12:27

You might get a hint from this well-known bible verse that lilies are not very hard to grow, and you would be right.  They take up very little space and can be tucked into many small spots in a mature garden.  They can be grown as singles or in groups.  They come in white and all the hot and warm colors, from reds through oranges to yellows, almost any shade of pink, and vibrant purples.  They come in short, medium and tall varieties, as well as early, mid-season and late bloomers.  And, of course, the later bloomers have matchless fragrance.

It’s not possible to do justice to these beautiful bulbs in a short article, but I will write about a few of my favorites.  Asiatic lilies make a beautiful show in early June and while not fragrant, are especially welcome after the azaleas and tulips have faded.  They are striking grouped together in the garden.  Breeders have been busy introducing many short, variates, some just about a foot tall.

A relatively new type of liliy, the LA hybrids, bloom next.  These are vigorous plants that make a strong show and fill the gap between the Asiatics and the orientals.  Some years ago my husband, Charlie, brought home three white LA hybrid bulbs.  We now have three strong clumps and need to divide them again this fall.  They are among my very favorite flowers.  As you can see from the group of LA hybrid lilies pictured below, the white ones stand out beautifully and give a cool effect as the weather heats up.

Perhaps my very favorite lily is the regal lily, discovered in China in 1910 by E. H. Wilson.
 It is aptly named.  The buds of this lily appear in early June and expand for almost a month before they bloom.  They are equally beautiful in bud and in bloom.  With their yellow centers and dusty pink stripes they will combine will with most flowers.  Plant them where you can enjoy their lovely fragrance.

Last to bloom are the fragrant oriental lilies.  We are all familiar with the pristine white ‘Casa Blanca’ and the deep pink ‘Star Gazer’, but there are dozens of others worth trying.  There are a number of relatively new hybrid double oriental lilies that are exquisitely beautiful and powerfully fragrant, as pictured below left.  These are exceptional plants and deserve a space along a walkway where they can be best appreciated.  They may need to be staked, but you can purchase curved stakes that will make the job easy.  They are also perfect for along a fence.

Lilies are easy to grow.  They will grow in full sun, but are happier with a bit of shade where their colors show to best advantage.  Lilies like to have their roots cool and moist, so if not shaded by other plants, they will need to be mulched.  They are hungry plants and need to be fertilized every couple of weeks with a high potassium fertilizer from early spring until about six weeks after they have bloomed.  Do not cut them back to the ground after the blooms fade or the bulbs will not be able to store enough energy to bloom next year.  You can trim the stems back by about one third.  Unlike tulip and daffodil foliage, spent lily stems are not a garden eye sore.  They just blend in with other foliage.

It’s not too late to plant lilies for next year, as long as they are in the ground before the first frost.  There are a number of good catalog sources for lilies:  Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in
 Virginia, B & D Lilies in Washington, and John Scheepers, the retail arm of the Dutch grower, Van Engelen, are among the best.

Picture credits & sources:  Nat’l. Gardening Assn. Learning Library, Plant Database, Lily; website;  ; website; Van Engelen, Inc.;

Christine Wegman is a Rock Spring Garden Club member in National Capital Area Garden Clubs' District III.  She is one of the go-to 'hort' experts in her club. Christine and her husband, Charlie Flicker, are avid and generous gardeners and have cultivated a delightful garden (for any season) in Arlington, Virginia.