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

Sunday, February 4, 2018


The National Capital Area Garden Clubs' Judges Council will kick off the flower show season this March.  This Standard Flower Show is open to garden club members and guests. Mark your calendars and come join the fun! How about lunch out with your garden club friends and carpool to the show???

River Views
An NGC Standard Flower Show

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 1:30 3:00 p.m.
Open and Free to the public, parking near or on site

At the home of

Shirley and Frank Nicolai River View

12325 Hatton Point Road Fort Washington, Maryland 20744 

Presented By

The Council of Accredited Flower Show Judges

of The National Capital Area Garden Clubs, Inc.

Member of

National Garden Clubs, Inc.

Central Atlantic Region of State Garden Clubs, Inc. 

National Capital Area Garden Clubs Inc.

The Purpose of an NGC Flower Show is:
  •   To educate club members and viewing public,
  •   To stimulate interest in horticulture and floral design,
  •   To provide an outlet for creative expression,
  •   To communicate NGC goals and objectives.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mother's Marigolds - A Guest post by Jenny Sullivan

When we have a break in the weather, a touch of warmth in the middle of the bitter cold of January or February, I retrieve from my garage the shoe box where I store flower seeds. At my kitchen table I lay the packets out like an array of gorgeous photographs spread out on a magazine editor’s desk, photos the editor must somehow choose from among to decide which will be published.  My yard has room for only about 10% of the seeds that lie before me. I admire the envelopes of new seeds with their handsome pictures of purple delphinium, mixed dahlias, orange butterfly weed. I peek into the brown bags of my harvested seeds with the dried heads of straw flowers, daisies, and Echinacea and pretend that I could plant them all in my half acre yard. I can’t. But every year, the seeds from Mother’s marigolds make the cut.

I never travelled home from a visit to my parents in Norfolk in the summer that Dad didn’t ask me, “Don’t you want to take back some tomatoes and cucumbers?” Certainly I did. And if the marigolds were just coming up, Mother sent me home with sprouts carefully set into a Tupperware container of dirt for transport.  If the season was nearing the end, I was welcome to deadhead the plants for seeds. No reasonable person would have turned down the offer. Just look at those marigolds.

      Although I like the marigolds mainly because Mother got me started, that is not all they have going for them. The variety in my yard, Tegetes patula, is just so pretty. They’re not elegant and beautiful like calla lilies or gladioli, but no flowers could be more “just plain pretty.” Their curly petals with their brilliant golds and oranges just shy of red are packed onto the heads. Their deep green leaves are so dense that they form a ground cover. Where there are no leaves and flowers, there are buds-- all summer long. Everything about marigolds screams vigor and abundance.

     They have a sweet peppery smell, almost like carnations. Carnations are perhaps making a comeback after years of being held in disdain by floral elites and effetes. But when I was a teenager, every year on the Saturday before Easter, Turpin’s flower shop truck would pull up to our house in the late afternoon with carnation corsages from my father for my mother, my big sister, and me. I sat in church on Easter Sunday with my nose buried in that corsage perched up at my shoulder and swooned over that pungent fragrance. The scent of the marigolds in my garden always takes me back there.

     And marigolds are so easy to grow. Give them some decent soil and decent sunlight, and they will grow for you. Give them better soil and full sunlight, and they will reward you with glorious profusion. The seeds are easy to harvest, and the plants self-seed like crazy, unless you live on a hill and all the seeds wash away in the rain.

     I have never spent any money on marigolds. Mine, of course, came from my mother’s yard, about 20 years ago! These same marigolds have yielded seeds that have gone to friends all over northern Virginia and are the reason the rectory garden at my church looks so good even after the lilies, Russian sage, and phlox behind the marigolds have faded.  I have a picture of myself baking my fruitcakes around Thanksgiving time, and bright, fresh, happy marigolds adorn my kitchen table—in November! I have spent not a dime nursing my marigolds. No pests or diseases have ever attacked them. In fact, people use marigolds in their vegetable gardens to repel little buggers and nematodes that would go after the tomatoes and strawberries on the surface and underground.

     Marigolds are trending these days because of all the uses of them in medicine and cooking. They are said to be good for treating skin rashes, abrasions, and insect bites.  Organically grown, they can serve as a poor man’s saffron and enhance soups and salads. But who cares? All a marigold needs to do is be pretty. That is why my mother loved them. That is why she wanted me to have the beauty of them. And that is why I will grow them every summer as long as I am flexible enough to bend down and scatter the seeds.

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 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.

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 www.WashingtonGardener.com 

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.