Tuesday, September 25, 2018

John and Ted's Excellent Conifer Adventure

John Auditore and Ted Williams purchased their north Arlington home in 1989. It is sited on a small, sharply sloped lot in a hilly area of suburban Arlington, Virginia.  When they bought the property,  the home's surrounding landscape was nothing more than trim grass, hydrangea, azaleas and irises.

John Auditore and Ted Williams
As a child growing up in coastal Massachusetts, John had an strong interest in plants and gardening. He helped his mother tend her garden.  His grandfather was a golf course groundskeeper.  Ted grew up in Ohio. From his paternal side, Ted descended from farmer stock. His maternal grandfather was a tree surgeon and his mother’s family always grew their own food. Throughout his childhood, Ted did all the gardening around the house. While in college, he landed a summer job on the landscaping crew at Ohio State University. John and Ted’s garden has always been a joint effort based on combined experiences.
Before: Their well-planned 'cottage style' garden
You can see the steep sloping as it rises
Their original 'cottage style' garden featured vegetables, annuals, perennials, roses, peonies, iris, lilies, spring bulbs, alliums, and ornamental grasses.  Early on, John developed an interest in collections and propagating plants. While he had no hesitation propagating plants from inexpensive ones from big box stores, his bulbs were always from New England.  His special collections, over many years, have included lilies, peonies, hostas and an array of spring bulbs.

Ivory Zinnia 'Dreamland'
Over time, though, John developed a keen interest in conifers. Conifers are a division of vascular land plants containing a single extant class, Pinopsida. They are gymnosperms, cone-bearing seed plants. All extant conifers are perennial woody plants with secondary growth. The great majority are trees, though a few are shrubs. Examples include cedars, Douglas firs, cypresses, firs, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces, and yews.[1] As of 1998, the division Pinophyta was estimated to contain eight families, 68 genera, and 629 living species. (see Wikipedia link here for more information).  For their garden, conifers added definition to the architecture of the landscape. The plants have many varied shapes, textures and colors. Some conifers even change color with the seasons.

3 year grafted Abies koreana 'Child's #1'
What John didn't recognize at first was that he was navigating toward a serious conifer garden. He and Ted began searching online for conifer specimens and discovered Conifer Kingdom                       ( Coniferkingdom.com ) in Oregon. They also travel regionally to Susanna Farm Nursery in Boyds, Maryland ( susannafarmnursery.com ) and Conestoga Nursery in East Earl, Pennsylvania. John prefers miniature and dwarf varieties in their garden beds, and with larger specimens bordering their property lines.
Chamaecyparis Nootkatensis Pendula "Weeping Alaskan Cedar'
Cedrus deodara (Himalayan cedar) 'Robusta Glauca'
To set off many of the garden beds, Ted built stone walls including one for a rock garden. Later in the rock garden he added an eye catching dry creek bed. This added depth and redirected water. The rock garden beds are mounded about three feet above the original lawn. As the garden evolved, Ted removed some of the stone and gravel paths he built that meandered through the garden and replaced them with grass. This was for safety reasons.

Miniature Thuja occidentalis Primo* ('IslPrim'); Hosta 'Lovely Rita" 

top left: Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butter Ball'  center right: Chamecyparis pisifera 'Tsukumo'
bottom left: Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Nymph' Dwarf Blue
Ted estimates that over the years through using mulch and composted materials,  they added sixteen or more inches of rich, black soil to their garden beds. As John has gotten older, he finds the Conifer garden easier to maintain than their cottage-style one. The Conifer garden”s neatness appeals to his sensibilities.
 Upper rear: Pinus strobus 'Diggy'; bottom front: Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann'
left: Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Ogon' Dawn Redwood in container,
surrounded by a collection of Caudiciform plants (which winter indoors)
bottom front: Daphne xburkwoodii "Carol Mackie'; 
Taxodium distchum 'Peve Minaret' dwarf bald cyprus 
In blue pot (accented with thyme): top right: Abies nordmanniana 'Dobrichovice' ;
upper left: Taxus cuspidata 'Nana Aurescens'; bottom left: Cedrus Deodara 'Golden Horizon' 
Their joint efforts have resulted in an eclectic, urban conifer garden that is serene yet full of surprises.  The array of conifers is amazing and probably includes about 150 specimens.

An array of John and Ted's collection. left: Raywood's Weeping Arizona Cypress;
front bottom: Taxus baccata 'Fastgiata Micro'
This garden shows well in all seasons. John especially loves it in winter when the negative spaces highlights the garden's structure, from the stone work to the shape of the conifers.

They have incorporated garden accents that create a unique mix of Asian and New England. Their garden attracts birds and beneficial insects. Morning coffee includes birdwatching and looking at the continual rippling changes in colors.
Acer palmatum 'Sango-Kaku' Coral Bark Maple  
Many of their flowering plants and bulbs have migrated to friends and fellow garden club members. Still, there are plenty of flowering bulbs, annuals and perennials around. Tucked into their coniferous landscape, they also have sixteen Japanese maples and gorgeous camellias. They also have space allocated for native pollinator plants that attract bees and humming birds. John also has an amazing succulent collection. He and Ted use container plants, many of which hold his some of impressive succulents. The containers  serve as accents throughout the garden.

Pinus parviflora "Tani Mano Uki' Japanese White Pine
Before John joined the Club, John and Ted won the Rock Spring Garden Club's Garden of the Year award in 2013. John is a resource and respected member,  earning several horticulture blue ribbons in a recent flower show for his specimens.  John and Ted are also members of the American Conifer Society. They enjoy attending the Society’s conferences and contributing articles to its newsletter. 

Any conifer questions? Leave a comment and we will respond.

Thea McGinnis is blogmistress for National Capital Area's website blog. She is a member of NCAGC District III's Rock Spring Garden Club.  

Photography by Thea McGinnis, John Auditore

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Dreams of a Cutting Garden - book reviews by Thea McGinnis

A cutting garden seems rather idyllic - picture a field with sunlight filtering through the morning mist, me wearing a gauzy, flowy dress, a large brimmed hat, a woven basket on my arm and a good pair of shears in my hand.  I'm barefoot, of course, and accompanied by my trusty pup who never strays off the path to crush any buds.  Ahhh, sounds pretty, pretty good.

This summer I've been reading like mad.  Okay, I read like mad all the time, but late summer is the perfect time to slack off with a good gardening book and read a hot and humid day away -- and perhaps dream of incorporating something new in next year's garden.  My friend, Jenny, dreams of a cutting garden (see her blog about it here) and recognizes the process involved. We can't simply snap our fingers and viola! a full grown cutting garden appears. There is work involved.  Two books I highly recommend if you're interested in adding a cutting garden are written by two women who are in the business of cut flowers - on opposite sides of our country.

Lisa Mason Ziegler hails from Newport News, Virginia (near Colonial Williamsburg), where she operates The Gardener's Workshop, a private, urban wholesale cut flower farm. The family farm she happily married into is one of the only farms left inside the city limits, I believe.  Her business of cut flowers has expanded into public speaking, seeds, garden supplies, and workshops. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she came to speak at my garden club. And I sort of lost my dreaming mind shopping at her pop up garden store (see paragraph one). (I highly recommend having Lisa as part of your garden speaker program during the winter months.)

Lisa and her beautiful golden

Lisa's latest book is Vegetables Love Flowers : Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty.  I pre-ordered an autographed copy last year and it is jam packed with information on not only cut flowers but vegetable and flower companion planting.

When I lived on Humblebee Farm some years back, my husband put in a vegetable garden for us, all fenced in with lovely raised rows.  What I found out after the first year is that I didn't need to plant more than one or two zucchini plants as after awhile, I couldn't eat or give away all the zucchini I grew that year.  The same went for squash. Anyway, the next year, I decided to dedicate a row for some flowers into my vegetable garden. My husband wondered if I was wasting good vegetable growing space. If only I'd had this book back then! I would have planted that garden so differently.

I must say there is an abundance of tried and true practical garden information in Lisa's wonderful book. It's full of ideas you can incorporate into your gardens now and into the future. It's loaded with tips and techniques. I really do love this book. Lisa also has a great Facebook page and offers a free newsletter.  Lisa dedicated her book to her sister, Suzanne, with whom she works closely. Her book is available through her website here or through Amazon here .

Me. Pike Place Market.  Flowers! It was hard to choose, obviously. If you've ever been to the Seattle's Pike Place Market, you know how spectacular the locally grown flowers sold there are. 

I discovered Floret Farms and Erin Benzakein through Facebook.  I post quite a bit about gardening and through the mysteries of those good algorithms on FB, the Floret Farms page came up as a suggestion. Erin and her husband are in Washington State and began their cut flower farm in a region I believe the Universe has blessed with a prime environment for growing flowers.

Erin's book, Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden with it's gorgeous photography, is all about their journey from first house to first farm to a bigger farm as they began their cut flower farm business.  (And as an aside, Erin, too, learning gardening at her grandma's knee - a familiar history for many of our garden club members. Her book is dedicated to her Grammy.)  Not only is Erin a wife, mother, daughter, farmer and gardener, she creates exquisite floral designs.

This book showcases all her talents and hard work and how she's expanded her wholesale cut flower business to include workshops, an online shop and seed business. This book gives you seasonal step-by-step information for plant/grow/cut/arrange for all sort of flower types and a host of good (business) practices for keeping your garden.

For more information about Erin's work, visit her website here , Her book is sold on her website and is also available on Amazon here

What I love most about both Lisa's and Erin's books is you get to see some one's gardening dream come true, without hiding the mud, sweat and tears.  And how willing they are to share their vision with us. And they blog, too! So they themselves are a continuous source of news and information about the love and business of cut flower gardening from either coast.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Life Is A Garden Party - A guest post by Judy Janowski

Oh, the joys of gardening.
Each morning something new blooming.
This morning the Spiderman lily
as well as other lilies.

The excessive heat wave this week
has caused other blooms to peak.
Zinnias are opening up.
Expecting monarchs to come sup.

Many daisy-like flowers:
purple cone flowers,
shastas, heliopsis,
gloriosa daisies.

Last year's compost grew freebies:
tomatoes, squashes or maybe pumpkins.
Recently secured netting around
as midnight unwelcome guests abound.

Fighting to keep deer and rabbits away.
Stimulating the economy by purchasing sprays.
Last year the compost pile grew sunflowers
and morning glories together.

A very pleasing picture it made.
Seeing this combo made me glad.
Remembered to do so purposely this year,
but morning glories and sunflowers eaten by deer.

Pleased to see little green tomatoes.
Only a few of the planted seed potatoes.
Vegetable seeds were hit and miss this year.
Others are saying few have appeared.

The clematis by the picture window doesn't seem to mind the heat
though the opposite is true for the rose bushes, they look beat.
Sorrel is appearing everywhere, considered a weed.
Will soon be collecting baptisia and lupine seeds.

Judy Janowski is a writer, photographer and gardener and she is a member of Elmira Garden Club in upstate New York. Visit her blog at http://lifeisagardenparty.blogspot.com to see more of her garden poetry and photography. Her books are  Life Is a Garden Party Volumes I, II, and III. FMI click here

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Gassing the Woodchucks - The musings of Jenny Sullivan

Do I have your attention? Not to worry: I am not gassing woodchucks, shooting rabbits, or doing whatever one does to deer who destroy a garden, but I am frustrated this summer. For some unknown reason, I have never had critter problems before on this property that I have occupied for over thirty years. I take that back, the squirrels and chipmunks steal and eat my flower bulbs. But I made my peace with that years ago. I submitted to the reality that what I call “my yard” is not my yard only. Dig a little deeper, try the folkways of putting some cayenne in the soil, and you can have enough bulbs to emerge to enjoy lovely flowers while supplying the more ambitious rodents with food to feed their families.

However, this year I have had deer come up to the patio in the afternoon, look me in the eye through my French doors,  then bite the tops of my tomato plants and defy me to do anything about it. Little fat rabbits scurry when they see me coming, but they don’t fool me. I know what they are doing. And as of today, I am sad to report that I have no Asiatic lilies left, no hostas left, and half my black eyed Susans are gone. My tomato plants (the only vegetable I am attempting this summer) are housed in a maximum security prison rivalling Attica.

Finally I can identify with the speaker in a poem by Maxine Kumin called “Woodchucks.” I used to teach it to my college freshman on the first day of Introduction to Literature because it is a great poem, amazingly written, and because it would engage students, especially some of the young men, in a subject—poetry—that they were not readily disposed to. It begins

Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone.
                but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

On the next day, the woodchucks are back. The speaker tells us that the cyanide overnight had done no more harm to the woodchucks that the “cigarettes and state-store scotch” the householders had partaken of during that same period. People and critters survived their toxins.  In the poem, the chucks plow through the supposedly protective marigolds and begin “beheading the carrots” and “nipping” the broccoli. The speaker goes on to say something that I quoted to that deer munching on my tomatoes at my patio. Shaking my fist at him, I declaimed, “The food from our very mouths.”

The gardener in the poem then does what I don’t plan on doing. She gets her .22 rifle and stalks the family of chucks with clearly mixed feelings.  On the one hand, “The hawk-eye killer came on stage forthwith." She is “righteously thrilling” to the hunt. But on the other hand, the “Murderer inside me rose up hard” as she shoots “the mother” and “another baby next.”  By the end of the poem we see her wishing they had all “died unseen” underground from the knockout bomb.  Nevertheless, she is still pursuing the remaining animal, the dad. In one of the best mono-syllabic sentences you will ever read, the speaker declares “There’s one chuck left.” She is obsessed with him, “Old wily fellow.” She hunts him all day and dreams about hunting him all night. He keeps her “cocked and ready.”

I love that poem. You can go online and read the whole thing Here. I love the poem, but in real life, I have decided to let go of my frustration and anger.  Anyway, I don’t own a rifle. And I ought not to be shooting one in my small suburban back yard if I did. No, I will feed the critters if I must. I will be wiser next spring.  For now, I’ll just get a glass of iced tea and go sit on my patio and relax. Oh, I forgot, a robin somehow made her nest on a slanted blade of my patio fan. I don’t want to scare the babies. I don’t want the parents to poop on me, and I obviously can’t turn on the fan to cool off on this muggy day. Hmm. I wonder what’s on TV.

Jenny Sullivan became a garden club member here in Northern Virginia, after retiring from 42 years of teaching English.  She has authored two books in retirement, From My Father’s House, a southern novel click FMI here and The Purpose-Driven Life: A Children’s Catechism click FMI.  Jenny recently taught a course on Flannery O’Connor in the spring for Arlington County’s Encore Learning Program for Seniors. She will teach a course this fall on Hawthorne and Melville, beginning October 1. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

What's In My Garden? Hollyhocks. And more! A post by Thea McGinnis

I'm not one to complain about rain. Rain and gardens are very good friends. And rain gives me the best of excuses for having an at-home day and getting some belated writing done. Of course, with all these showers, and lots of warm weather, I've got more than enough weeds but one must take the good with the bad, right?  So, what's been growing in my garden lately, besides weeds:

Hollyhocks! (Alcea rosea)  This one's a real looker.

I get plenty of folks who will stop off and ask me what they are. They are what some call an old-fashioned plant.  They definitely have  a place in cottage gardens and less formal beds. Although, I have found they are a plus in defining the architecture of a garden because they grow straight and tall, with attractive foliage, widening toward the bottom. They flower from the top down along the stalk. They are showy but not pushy.  In a previous garden of mine, I planted them on a corner of the house, like a traffic sign. Here in this picture, my friend, Sheila, lets her hollyhock speak for itself.

Your eye was captured by the hollyhock,  travel down the length of the plant. Then you'd check out the porch side of the house planted with roses, lavender, sweet peas, coreopsis and swaths of silver king artemesia (a bit invasive but spectacular in floral designs).  The other direction was more dark green shrubbery and lots and lots of cranesbill geraniums of a mysteriously glowing blue flowers.

Cranesbill geranium is a favorite of mine
Hollyhocks are simple to grow, too. Just cast the seeds where you want them to grow! However,(there's always a however, yes?) I find them prone to rust and bug nibbling.

see how the lower leaves are bug bitten? Ugh
They might grow five to six feet tall, but the bottom leaves can be messy and unattractive.  The other issue I have with them is it takes forever to see flowers.  The first year, they just grow roots, stalk, and leaves. They winter over, then finish growing and bloom, generously reseeding themselves. So it takes a good three to four seasons before you can enjoy an eyeful of hollyhocks. They grow very much like foxgloves. Those beautiful foxgloves you get at the garden center are year two.  They, too, drop seeds but it takes a season or three to achieve the show off stage you want from them. I haven't had much luck with foxglove from seed or from the garden center, although I find them quite lovely. Their flowers are like freckled fairy hats. Foxgloves are classified as biennials (Biennial means that the plant's biological life cycle takes two years. Hollyhocks are supposedly perennials.  But, for me, having grown them, they grow like biennials.

My friend, Rosette, decided to grow a dedicated garden bed full of assorted color hollyhock. The bed was against her lovely white farm house in the country.  She gifted me a baby food jar full of seeds for my garden and I've kept it in the freezer until I get around to clearing some space in my garden. They do require full sun and like well drained soil. You can see how nice they show en masse.

Another garden favorite of mine that Rosette gave me is a perennial Verbena (Verbena bonariensis). It also reseeds itself.  My verbena likes to wave in the wind showing off her purple sign of peace. Even though they grow tall wands, they don't block other plants so you can grow them anywhere in your bed, front to back.

So, what else is growing right now? I've got lilies, and some lovely native monarda (Monarda fistulosa L.) It's also invasive so plant only if you want a swath and you don't care if it takes over most of a bed. I have to ruthlessly pull.  It's easy to share with friends as is the Verbena and Gooseneck. Hey, what are friends for? But share with warning.

I've also got milkweed. This milkweed was given to me at garden club and it's quite pretty. I've put it right next to my over seeded zinnia beds. I plant them both especially for bees and butterflies.

Enough about my garden. What about yours? If you are of a mind, send me a photo of something in your garden you love. I'll post them on Fridays. Identify the plant or insect if you can. Send your photos to ncagardenclubblogger@gmail.com

Have a wonderful July!  Talk to you soon ~ Thea

Thea McGinnis is a member of Rock Spring Garden Club in Arlington, Virginia, NCAGC District III, and writes and administrates this blog and the Facebook pages of both her club and District III. Visit both as they are chock full of interesting information about gardening.