Monday, January 15, 2018

Grow and Share by Seed Saving - A guest post by Kathy Jentz

Did you know that Mother Nature provides you with hundreds of free plants in the form of seeds? Many of the annual and perennial flowers as well as herbs and edible plants in your garden are a little seed-production factories just bursting with bounty. Most people let these go to waste, but smart gardeners know seeds are the best way to grow!

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 winter, 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 27, 2018 from 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD and Saturday, February 10, 2018 from 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. at GreenSpring Gardens in Fairfax County, VA. The Seed Exchange will include seed swapping, door prizes, planting tips, and gardening workshops by local garden experts. Details and registration links are online 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.

Photographs by Kathy Jentz

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!  Kathy is currently labeling and packing up seeds from her hollyhocks which came to her garden from her grandmother’s seed collecting. For more information on subscriptions, go to 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Holidays!

the lovely home of our state president, Robin Hammer

FROM OUR GARDENS TO YOURS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND ALL THE BEST FOR A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR 2018!  - From all your friends at National Capital Area Garden Clubs!

Monday, December 11, 2017

US Botanic Garden Presents The Latest Poinsettia Varieties - A guest post by Carole Funger

Having guests coming to town? The Poinsettia collection at the US Botanic Garden is the place to go!  Enjoy this lovely and informative article by Carole Funger. - Thea

One of the many beautiful poinsettias at the US Botanic Garden

I’ve been to the US Botanic Garden (USBG) many times and have always enjoyed the beautiful displays that change with the seasons. But in December, I bypass the holiday dazzle of the evergreen-draped lobby, work my way through the steamy medicinal plant and orchid gardens and head straight to the restrooms. There, behind the glass atrium in a quiet passage all its own is the USBG’s best-kept secret: a one-of-a-kind poinsettia display.

And the collection grows year after year to include an increasing array of spectacular varieties. Sharing the limelight with the traditional reds are the latest, eye-catching hybrids in bright white, soft yellow, light pink and salmon. There are marbled varieties, spotted ones and some that are the result of crossbreeding with other species (more on that below.)

US Botanic Garden poinsettia passage

The effect is of a rich winter garden filled with unusual, multi-colored flowers. Luckily there are benches just across on which a visitor can sit back and take it all in.

The leaf is not the flower

It’s important to note, when looking at a poinsettia, that it’s the bracts (modified leaves) that provide the color. The real blooms are the tiny yellow buds called cyathia in the center. Once the flowers have shed their pollen, the plant drops its bracts and leaves. Because of this, it’s always good when shopping for a poinsettia to select a plant with little or no pollen showing.

Poinsettia flowers are yellow

Poinsettias are referred to as a short-day photoperiod crop, meaning they naturally flower once the nights become longer. To create their colored bracts, the plants require at least 12 hours at a time of darkness over a period of at least five days in a row. Once they have completed the process, however, poinsettias require bright sunlight during the day to attain the brightest color.

Once considered a weed

In its native Mexico, the poinsettia is a perennial flowering shrub or small tree that typically grows to a height of 10 to 15 feet. A member of the spurge family, it goes by the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima. Poinsettia shrubs were once considered weeds. Today they are the best selling potted plant in the United States and Canada, with more than 100 varieties available.

A poinsettia shrub as it might appear in the wild

The Dogwood poinsettia, Euphorbia cornastra, was first discovered in 1973 growing in the high elevation tropical forests of Mexico. Although similar in growth habit and inflorescence to Euphorbia pulcherrima, it has gray-green foliage and is summer flowering. Dogwood poinsettia is prized for its pure-white bracts. This year’s USBG display includes a stunning example.

Dogwood poinsettia, Eurphorbia conastra

Close up of Euphorbia conastra's brilliant white inflorescence
White varieties followed traditional red

The first white poinsettia varieties were introduced in the 1970s. Since then, there have been many improvements. An example is Euphorbia ‘Princettia Pure White’, which features pure white bracts and barely visible flowers. The Princettia series has a unique bract form whose blooms mature early, resulting in a more clean-looking ‘flower.’

Cross-breeding has spawned an array of new colors

Growers have been tinkering with hybrid poinsettias for some time now, making the plants more compact and increasing their longevity. The past five years, though, have seen a surge in cross-breeding specifically to produce unconventional colors. The new hues are created by crosses between poinsettia and other euphorbia species.

‘Luv U Pink’ is one such variety produced by the Paul Ecke Ranch for Breast Cancer Awareness. Its hot pink bracts have a thin, pale pink edge. The bracts have an otherworldly iridescent shimmer.

Euphorbia 'Luv U Pink'

A newer variety incorporates a white splash.

Euphorbia 'Luv U Pink Splash'

You can’t lose these marbles

The marbled varieties, first pioneered in the 1970s, provide a spectacular contrast to the traditional reds. I love their painterly quality, almost as if someone has splashed them with a brush.

Euphorbia 'Red Glitter'

Eurphorbia 'Peppermint Ruffles'

Euphorbia 'Christmas Feelings Red Cinnamon'

Euphorbia 'Ice Punch'

Pretty in pink

Then there are the soft pink varieties, which provide a quiet respite from all the bright hues. Among them, these three are standouts:

Euphorbia Love U Soft Pink'

Euphorbia 'Princettia Pink'

Euphorbia 'Autumn Leaves' 

Back to basics

Of course, traditional red still makes up the bulk of the sales, with growers hesitant to spend the time and money it takes to develop too many new varieties. Usually they choose just a couple to focus on and leave the rest of their energy for the reds. Below, USBG’s 2017 display includes Euphorbia ‘Jester Red’, Euphorbia ‘St. Louis’ (shrub) and a beautiful rose-shaped variety called Euphorbia ‘Winter Rose Early Red’.

Traditional reds: "Euphorbias 'Jester Red', 'St. Louis', and 'Winter Rose Early Red'

Close-up of Euphorbia 'Winter Rose Early Red'

Before you go rushing to the nursery (as I did) to purchase some of these gorgeous new varieties, though, it’s worth noting that many are not yet commercially available. Still, I was delighted to find two varieties of the marbled ‘Jingle Bells’ at my local grower. Here’s hoping more hybrids will come onto the market in the coming years.

For more information on poinsettias’ namesake, Ambassador Joel Roberts Poinsett, and how the plant came to be so famous, click here for my blog post on the Paul Ecke Ranch here .

For more information about visiting the US Botanic Gardens, here's the link US Botanic Gardens

All photographs copyright @2017 by Carole Funger 

 Carole Funger is a member of District IV's Hoe and Hope Garden Club in Bethesda, MD area. Carole is also a freelance writer and Maryland Master Gardener, and owns a gardening business ,Here By Design LLC,that includes clients from all over the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia area.  Carole is also the co-chair a demonstration garden in Montgomery County that draws thousands of visitors annually. Carole's blog, Here by Design is about gardens and gardening; about living life in harmony with the environment and appreciating the intrinsic beauty of the natural world.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Welcome, December!

Thea here - 

The Capital region has been enjoying warm temperatures lately and it's given us all some extra time to get our gardens cleaned up and ready for Winter.

Okay, I'm going to be perfectly frank.  Winter is not my favorite season, but it's in my top four. There are parts of it I really love, and you probably do as well.  Like hot chocolate with lots of mini marshmallows, and parties, and shopping, and baking, and eating, and that first snow fall and tree limbs precisely outlined with a snow, and Hallmark Channel's lineup of holiday movies...

Every evening I drive home through my neighborhood and the houses and apartment buildings are starting to glow with holiday colors, hologram spotlights, fresh wreathes and pine roping on fences. Oh, and let us not forget the blow up Santa and his workshop helpers.  The littles in my family really get a kick out of them and during the day we walk a few blocks, noting the decorations.  Mondays are the best for walks, of course, since our neighbors have been busy elves over the weekend.

I was out early this morning and saw lots of Christmas trees in pick up trucks and station wagons, heading home to be decorated.  Are you partial to fresh trees, too? Good advice: if you're putting up a fresh tree, give it a good soak overnight before putting it up.  I usually cut off the bottom and soak in warm water.  You might notice your tree gives off that wonderfully pungent evergreen fragrance.

Being a gardener, I like to keep my decorating natural. So I'm definitely using my evergreens like holly and magnolia leaves from my garden to create floral designs for my table and sideboards. I haven't had much luck keeping poinsettia alive all year, but I love them surrounding the fireplace. So I'll buy them soon.

My only words of wisdom to kickstart your December, it to do everything with deliberation and with a smile on your face. In other words, slow down and have some fun! If you have time, leave a comment and let us know what your favorite decorating ideas to welcome the holidays to your home.

P.S. - Holiday Lights - a perfect family experience: just click the links

In Maryland:  Brookside Gardens in Wheaton/Silver Springs. FMI:

In Northern Virginia: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. FMI:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

We Wish You All a Wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving!

On behalf of Robin Hammer and the National Capital Area Garden Clubs, we wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.

We are so very grateful to all the generous and hardworking members of the National Capital Area clubs that do and share so much of themselves all year long.  Thank you!

Thanksgiving in the City and Sweet Emotion - A guest post by Teresa Payne

It has been too long since I have had the inspiration to sit down and write.  Life has been busy and moving way too fast.  So, I sit here – old school style with a pen and pad of paper – and channel my inner Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City even though she is way more stylish, dramatic, and articulate than me.  In contrast to her fast-paced lifestyle, I really enjoy my relaxing Friday nights watching a romantic comedy with a glass of wine rather than hitting the latest trendy urban bar or restaurant.  If you haven’t seen the movie Green Fingers yet, I highly recommend it!

Susie Poseman

Last night, though, I did venture out and attend a wonderful design event held by District III's Rock Spring Garden Club.  Susie Poseman from Heavenly Hydrangeas in McLean inspired us with her creative holiday wreaths and centerpiece arrangements.  I also picked up some handy tools of the trade, such as ribbons, glass frogs, and flower adhesive to try my hand at my own pumpkin design with succulents for the Thanksgiving table.  Check this out!!

I did it!

I arrived nearly late after battling rush hour traffic (in the city), but just in time to hit the buffet table after saving a seat for my dear friend who was similarly stuck in traffic.  I was parched, so I filled up my plastic cup from a container that held fruit in the bottom.  I quickly gulped down the clear liquid thinking it was water, only to realize it was white wine.  Not planning on imbibing on this Thursday evening, I decided, “c’est la vie,” and thoroughly enjoyed the spritzer.

We watched the speaker from Heavenly Hydrangeas inspire us with her creative holiday wreaths and centerpiece arrangements.  I also picked up some handy tools of the trade, such as ribbons, glass frogs, and flower adhesive to try my hand at my own pumpkin with succulents for the Thanksgiving table.

It was so fun to be able to connect with people who also love gardening and flowers as much as I do.  I attended the event with one of my oldest friends from elementary school.  She and I are in the same garden club, so we are lucky enough to see each other at least once a month.  I only hope we did not disturb the nice gentleman next to us in the front row while we were whispering and giggling (a little) just like in grade school.  After the inspiring program, we had time to shop and socialize some more.  I met some wonderful women from District 3 who all love garden club!

During a brief group chat with a bunch of women, we all introduced ourselves.  What a serendipitous moment when I found out that I was talking to the one and only Thea McGinnis!  We have only communicated over the past few years through emails about articles that I have submitted to THIS blog, but we have never met in person.  It was a perfect way to meet her – by pure coincidence, at a garden club event, after I was already talking to her about, you guessed it, garden club.  We hugged each other like we were long lost friends and she gave me the inspiration I needed to start writing again.  She challenged me for a Thanksgiving article – due within 3 days!!!  No pressure there, but how could I let that challenge go unanswered?

On my way home I started mulling over the evening and thinking about the best part.  The unexpected wine, learning something new about flower arranging and design, or shopping?  All of those things are lovely, of course, but going to the event with an old friend, and meeting a new one, was priceless.  As I was listening to the radio, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith started belting out the song “Sweet Emotion” through the car speakers. Click here to hear I turned up the volume, started singing along (I’m glad I was alone so nobody could hear me) and thought what a perfect song to end a perfect evening.

This Thanksgiving I will pay it forward to everyone out there to discover your own sweet emotion.  I challenge you to take time out of your busy schedule and connect with an old friend and maybe you will meet a new friend along the way.  Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! - Teresa

Teresa Payne was born and raised in Alexandria, VA where she also currently resides.  Teresa joined the NCAGC's District II Red Hill Garden Club in January 2014.  Her mother, Janet Baker, is also a long-time member of Red Hill and is Teresa's inspiration.  When she's not gardening, writing and parenting, Teresa works full time for the federal government.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

You Are Cordially Invited to A Standard Flower Show on November 4 & 5, 2017! Free and open to the public!


 Hi all!  The purpose of an NGC  National Garden Clubs, Inc.) flower show is: to educate club members and the viewing public; to stimulate interest in horticulture and floral design; to provide an outlet for creative expression; and to communicate NGC goals and objectives. 

I am pleased to announce National Capital Area Garden Clubs' District IV is hosting a flower show!  It will feature chrysanthemums and SO MUCH MORE!  This is a flower show not to be missed!

Hope to see you all there!

Presented By
National Capital Area Garden Cubs, Inc.

Bountiful Harvest
An NGC Flower Show
 A Standard Flower Show

 Brookside Gardens
1800 Glenallen Avenue
 Wheaton, Maryland 20902

Free and Open to the Public
Saturday, November 4, 1:30 – 5:00 p. m
Sunday, November 5, 9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. 

Member of National Garden Clubs, Inc.
Central Atlantic Region of State Garden Clubs, Inc.
National Capital Area Garden Clubs, Inc.

Entries open to Members of the
District IV Garden Clubs
And by Invitation