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 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

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. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Big Ideas in Small Bottles - Garden Books I LOVE! A post by Thea McGinnis

We all have our passions - and if you're reading our blog, chances are you love gardening, too.  I also love (LOVE LOVE LOVE) to read.  During spring, when we're quite busy getting our gardens up to snuff, there isn't as much time to read, except for the blessing of a rainy day like today, so I do want to recommend some of my favorite books - some new and some old favorites by wonderful authors who love flowers and gardening and nature and, maybe, foxes!

The first book, recently published,  I do highly recommend - if only for the sheer beauty of this publication. It's lovely, artistic, heartwarming and sophisticated.  Second Bloom by Cathy Graham, is a flower story that runs parallel to her life's journey - second blooms and new beginnings.

I had the privilege of attending Cathy's keynote talk at National Capital Area Garden Clubs' State Conference this past April.  I think what I most like about this book is how simply we can duplicate, even on a small scale, her seasonal, over-the-top artsy flower arranging ideas. It definitely hit my heart/home/entertaining/penchant-for-vintage buttons. What can I say other than this book totally charmed me.
All the artwork is Cathy's original art, from the book's cover to the endpages. You cannot help smiling as you read along.

This book is for sale at NCAGC's gift shop, Arbor House, at the National Arboretum, of course. But  if you can't stop by, you can also order it here - just click.  Do let me know if you enjoyed this work of art as much as I have.


My next book to share with you is another delight, and I consider it a form of morning meditation. Windowsill Art by Nancy Ross Hugo is one of those special books you'll want to gift to a good gardening friend - and they will cherish it.  I discovered this book from my garden photographer friend, Brigitte Bégué Hartke. Brigitte invited me to Nancy's speaking engagement at Five Hills Garden Club last year.

It was an honor to attend Five Hill's monthly meeting, and meet Nancy, who is herself a garden club member in Virginia Federated Garden Clubs, a top notch floral designer and instructor, who hails from the Richmond area.  Nancy is the author five books including Earth Works: Readings for Backyard Gardeners, Remarkable Trees of Virginia, Seeing Trees, Trees Up Close, as well.

Windowsill Art is a treasure of a book explores her discovery of plant materials for her deceptively easy windowsill designs during her early morning walks. No sidewalk crevice or frozen winter garden bed is safe from her designing eyes.

A simple design in a small bottle on my kitchen windowsill is something I can look at all day. It transports me away from my mundane home keeping chores (washing dishes!) back to the true benefit of taking a morning walk - finding that daily balance.  Nancy's daughter tagged along with her lovely pop-up shop and I was able to get some lovely small containers just perfect for the windowsills in my home.

You may order Nancy Ross Hugo's book here and do check out her daughter, Kate Vernon's shop, The Arranger's Market, here. Lot's of great floral designer 'stuff' you 'need'. And check out Nancy's design workshops schedule.  If you have this book already, do let me know how much you enjoy this book.

Okay, I will post part two of Garden Books I LOVE! in the next week or two (when it rains is when I find the time to write - not that I'm asking for rain, mind you.  But rain is a gardener/writer's friend! - t

Thea McGinnis is a proud member of NCAGC's Rock Spring Garden Club in Arlington, Virginia. She is an avid gardener and writer, and dabbles in all sorts of artistic and joyful activities - like floral design, watercolor painting, reading, poetry, dogs, children, and chaise lounges and reading - not necessarily in that order. 

Photography copyright 2018 by Thea McGinnis

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

ABOUT A DAFFODIL - A Poem By Giles Kelly

The daffodil I passed just now 

Looked so neat and sweet 

Bright yellow in a patch of green 

I would have passed her by

With satisfaction,

Had not just then,

She swayed and waved

In much beguiling ways

As if to say, Hey “look at me.”

And indeed, I did.

I stopped and smiled.

And said, “Hello, I see you."

To that she danced a little.

And in me stirred

A pang of love.

— GK 2018 

Giles Kelly is a retired U.S. diplomat and has written extensively on nautical and travel subjects. With his wife, photographer Ann Stevens Kelly, an NCAGC garden club member, he has authored Sequoia Presidental Yacht. His latest book, co-authored with his wife, is Diplomatic Gardens of Washington, is an exclusive look at gardens rarely seen by the public, behind the embassy walls of Washington, D.C. Click here FMI 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Camellias of Bon Air - A guest post by Jenny Sullivan

A great place to be on a chilly April morning is Bon Air Park on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia. Its claim to fame is its magnificent rose garden, which is lavish and has quite a history. But that is for another time. In April, it is good to take your cup of coffee to the park at about 7 in the morning and head for the path that I call Camellia Alley.

      All along the way, as you climb the rise, then crest the hill, and make your way down the other side to the little park road, you will find variety after variety of Camellia japonica. As the name reveals, Camellia japonica originated in Japan where, according to the American Camellia Society, they are called Tsubaki, which translates as “tree with shining leaves.” They came first to England with tea, of course, brought by the East India Company. Now there are believed to be 20,000 varieties worldwide, 200 known in this country.  Linnaeus gave the plant the name that we use in the West, Camellia, to honor a Jesuit priest serving in the Philippines, Joseph Kamel.

      In Bon Air Park in the early morning, the slant of the sunlight on the buds and blooms and the drops of dew catching that sunlight combine to create a sight that is at once simple and sweet yet grand and elegant. It is a tough decision whether to stop and gaze at exquisite individual flowers for one breathtaking effect or to stand back and be stunned by the profusion of blooms on the profusion of bushes for another breathtaking effect.  Either way, it is impossible not to have a grateful heart for the splendor of creation.

       As beautiful as camellia bushes are in the garden of a well-tended yard, when they line a nature walk and imitate the look of a wild hedgerow, as they do at Bon Air, they are even more special. When I was a little girl, I had an Alice in Wonderland book with beautiful illustrations. I loved the page with the picture of the well-tended garden of the Queen of Hearts. I know that her painted flowers were supposed to be roses, but they looked like camellias to me. (Camellias used to be commonly referred to as “camellia roses.”) The flowers on the Queen’s bushes in the picture in my book looked like the camellias in our neighbor’s yard—and like some of the camellias at Bon Air, for example this one.

      It is said that the Japanese do not use Camellias as cut flowers because, instead of the petals falling off one by one, often the whole head falls off intact. They consider that morbid. I think it is wonderful. The path is strewn at Bon Air with perfect examples under your feet of blooms just like the ones on the branches above, botanical gems scattered along the way.

The camellia in my yard blooms from January through March. What a terrific gift in winter to have those flowers. Because of the hybridizing of camellias, there’s one blooming somewhere at all times through the year. They are all colors, all sizes, all heights. In short, there is a camellia for everyone. And the camellias at Bon Air Park are something no one who can get there should miss.

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 will be teaching a course on Flannery O’Connor in the spring for Arlington County’s Encore Learning Program for Seniors.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Year In Review - Seasonal Observations A Guest Photo Essay by Judy Janowski

How quickly the gardening season comes and goes.
As quickly (and quietly) as each season flows.

We're always excited to begin.
We're saddened when the season ends.

Spring awakens hibernating bulbs.
You'll notice that bees also love.

Not just flowers but also bushes and trees.
Always a welcome sight to see.

Beware:  the month of May may bring
a surprise overnight snow covering everything.

All too soon we'll see dandelions in bloom.
At my house, within the flower beds most loom.

Spring flowers have come and gone.
It's time to mow one's lawn.

We notice other flowers now bloom.
A welcome sight each month of June.

So many flowers in bloom!
Overnight more zoom.

Stroll your garden at different times
as many photo ops you'll find.

At the end of the day be sure to take time
to enjoy nature's picture show shine.

Before you know it your vegetable garden will produce
a bountiful supply for your use.

Do take time to enjoy pollinators
who bring so much joy.

All too soon, yet none too soon,
one summer day sunflowers bloom.

Every August morning - harvest.
It was worth it.  Can't wait!

Look what else morning brings!
There's a time and a season for everything.

Gardeners are happy when harvest arrives.
Their work paid off and vegetables survived.

All too soon it's autumn.
Much work awaits to be done.

The hill is more colorful each passing day.
Too soon, this season hurridly makes way.

Garden cleanup as frost in the forecast.
A bountiful harvest.

In the morn, hoarfrost
means flowers are lost.

Quietly snow descends.
One season ends, another begins.

How quickly the year went by.
A new year before us lies.

Seed catalogs daily arrive
keeping the dream alive.

We peruse with much anticipation;
we forget the suffering that gardening brings.

It was worth it in the end.

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 to see more of her garden poetry and photography. Her latest book is Life Is a Garden Party Volume II. FMI click here