Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

From My Window

Have you ever noticed how quiet it gets when it snows? 
Yet the cardinal sings, unafraid to show himself. 

Foraging where the berries grow 

The fox awaits, leaving a silent trail of footprints. 

I know, though, how busy it is beneath that snow.

 So I wait. Watch. Hope. Smile.

- No snow yet in our Capital region, but I have a good memory.  Have a fabulous year in the garden, my dear garden friends. - Thea

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays From All Your Garden Friends in National Capital Area Garden Clubs!

Lots of magical things can happen when you celebrate in a winter garden...Happy Holidays
From all of us in National Capital Area Garden Clubs!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rock Your World - A Guest Post by Teresa Payne

 Let's give a big NCAGC woot and welcome to our guest blogger and NEW TO GARDEN CLUB! Teresa Payne.  Teresa 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.  Teresa works full time for the federal government, has a supportive husband (who plays guitar) and two lovely daughters , one a drummer, who also like to make their own mini-arrangements with Teresa's leftover flowers! (This is a family that passes the baton of gardening love down through the generations!)  

“Music” Notes from a New Member
December 2015

                As the Cowsills so aptly put it – I love the flower girl!  Flowers in her hair… flowers everywhere. 

                I look forward to making flower arrangements and gathering horticulture samples from my garden every month.  As a new member to the garden club scene, I had no idea how fun the monthly meetings would be.  The new friendships, beautiful flowers, delicious food and learning opportunities that abound are truly amazing!  After having two children, it was the first thing I really decided to do for myself.  And, I’m so happy that I did!

                While preparing to make my arrangements on a Sunday evening, I get all my materials organized and set up my work station right next to my most critical component – my iTunes player.  What I decide to play depends entirely on my mood and may subconsciously impact what I create.  I could pick anything from Beethoven to country to hard rock to classical jazz. 

I somehow visualize the flowers swaying to the music as I cut, snip, clean, and start placing them in just the right spot in my latest creation.  Who knows, they may even like the music, too!  As a result of the music coming out of the speakers, the end result may be a more classical, linear, or abstract arrangement.

                Gardening, flowers, and arranging are a creative outlet from my everyday routine of work, motherhood, laundry, dishes, etc. 

And it’s really all about some quality “me” time as I take a journey into another world where I’m creating something that reflects my innermost mood as expressed through the music I’m hearing from my playlist.  When I set my final product on the table with all the other beautiful arrangements to be judged, I’m judged on my creation alone that is brought to life through the joy of music, and oh how sweet that is!
photo by Teresa Payne

photo by Teresa Payne

As Mick Jagger would say … It’s only rock and roll and I like it, like it, yes I do!!! ~ Teresa

Teresa's essay is inspirational! I could not keep the smile off my face while I read it. I cannot emphasize enough the fun, the friendships, the creative challenge, and the joy of being a member of a garden club. Whether you are interested in horticulture, gardening, or floral design with a community service component, there's something for everyone in garden club. No matter where you live, there's a garden club nearby.  Interested in joining a garden club or finding out about one in your area? Just drop me a private message at - Thea McGinnis, your NCAGC blog host

Saturday, November 7, 2015

In the Orchard - A guest post by Jenny N. Sullivan

In the Orchard

I like to read memoirs. So often they are written by people who have lived lives of heroic virtue—like the saints. Adele Crockett Robertson is surely a saint in an apple orchard as revealed in her memoir, The Orchard, about her valiant efforts to rescue her family’s apple farm from foreclosure during the height of the Great Depression. A young woman of 32, Radcliffe educated, she left a job at the Hartford Museum when her father’s sudden death put the orchard, sitting on “glacial till and clay,” in danger of foreclosure.

Most of us will never keep an orchard, but this memoir deceives us into believing that we have. In her lyrical writing style, reflective of her deep love for the land, she takes us through the most mundane chores of the farm, and we find ourselves fascinated by how she gets the tractor, “crouched rusty and crusted with mud, just where last summer’s hired man had left it,into operation again.

She has the knowledge of a child who grew up on the farm, but a child with no intention of taking it over one day. However, this orchard was her father’s heart. Although he made his living as a physician, she remembers his farmer’s spirit and how he loved his apple trees and the smaller number of peach trees he also grew.

When we worked with pruning saw and shears in the orchard on winter afternoons, he studied the apple buds—how they lay close to the twig, folded tight, protecting the green heart of the spring leaf against the cold of winter. Or the triple bud of the peaches, in which were hidden the deep pink flowers that would precede the leaves when the warm winds blew and the snow melted.

Her only companion is her Great Dane, Freya, with whom she would spend the first long, snowy winter back home in Ipswich, Massachusetts, burning wood in the kitchen stove for heat, the kitchen being the only room in the house she could afford to maintain. But it is spring when she first returns and perches on that restored tractor, ready to begin the season. It is hot, and she has long hours, days, weeks, months of work ahead of her. But from her vantage point, sitting high on that most essential piece of farm equipment, she can feel “the breath of an east wind” and see “the lavender fog” offshore waiting for the sun to go down.

Her farming techniques might shock conscientious gardeners and farmers of today, the way opinions on the use of liriope can spark debate among garden club friends of long standing. But she was using the “best practices” of her day. She consulted other fruit growers, the county agent, and seemingly knowledgeable hired hands. She explains,

When I sprayed [with lime Sulphur and arsenate of lead], the trees looked as though it had snowed: every leaf and twig was coated with the powdery poison….The Sulphur and the broiling sun among the trees burned my skin raw.

But never mind that because

I sang and whistled and rejoiced as I rattled along on the tractor because all through that first summer, the fruit stayed clean and I stayed dirty.

The pleasures of this memoir continues with episodes about capturing a bee swarm to pollinate her trees, digging a well, learning how to harvest, pack, and market the fruit and to fend off the banker who came around from time to time hoping to take possession of the property. She commits to being a virtuous employer who will pay a fair wage in a time of national and personal economic crisis and makes important business and emotional connections with the community in which she now finds herself.

The memoir was published by Robertson’s daughter, who found the pages of it under a phone book on the bottom shelf of a bookcase after her mother’s death. It was first published in 1995 and is still in print. The Orchard is that kind of wonderful find on a library shelf that one hopes many hands have pulled out from among its companions and taken home for a gratifying read about a venerable woman and her mesmerizing orchard.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Staying Local - My visit to Hillwood Museum and Gardens

My sister is a docent at Hillwood Museum and Garden so I visit this lovely, local gem semi-regularly, especially when they have a new exhibit.  And a number of my garden club friends volunteer in Hillwood's gardens year round. For our international guests, you cannot visit  the Washington, DC area without stopping by to enjoy Hillwood's fabulous fine arts collection  - and gardens.
You experience this incredible collection of French Decorative Arts and Russian Imperial Art from the viewpoint of its collector, Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post

 Then you happen to glance out a window, and you cannot wait to explore the gardens below.

 Sloping views and meandering pathways lead you to aspects that take your breath away.  

My favorite garden, tucked into a hill, is the Japanese garden. I enjoy the melodic flow of water down into the lily pond. I walk over arching bridges and stepping stone paths slowly. There are many hidden gifts in this garden. 

The woodland surrounding the property appears peaceful. Untouched. Every archway seems to lead to a surprise.

 A  colorful, fragrant rose garden surrounds the memorial for Mrs. Post. bees and the butterflies love it here.

A cutting garden in the center of the property provides this mansion with fresh flowers for most of the year.

 Don't forget to stop in the orchid greenhouses to see the lovely collection of orchids.

Pretty spectacular, yes?  And this is just a glimpse. For more information about visiting Hillwood, go to

Photographs by Thea McGinnis

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Green Force, Gardeners, and the Poetry of Theodore Roethke - A guest post by Jenny N. Sullivan

Writer Jenny N. Sullivan is a garden club member from Northern Virginia and today's guest blogger. Enjoy! t

The Green Force, Gardeners, and the Poetry of Theodore Roethke
by Jenny N. Sullivan

                  Soon the leaves will be raked into the street where they will vanish as the roaring vacuum truck crawls along the curb.  The lawn will be aerated and the beds put down for the season. Then what is a gardener to do with no pruning, planting, weeding or raking to make demands of time and energy? The wise gardener can soothe that restlessness by visiting the poems of Michigan poet Theodore Roethke, a man who grew up with a German immigrant father who owned and operated 250,000 square feet of greenhouses in Saginaw.  That’s right, almost six acres of greenhouse, the largest compound of greenhouses in Michigan at the time.  Young Theodore, born in 1908, also had the run of 22 acres of open land behind his house as well as woods and wetland his father owned.

                  Perhaps it was inevitable that Roethke, once he began writing poetry, would write about plants. A collection of these poems has come to be known informally as his “Greenhouse Poems,” even though many poems go beyond that single location, as their provocative titles make clear. He writes about a “Root Cellar,” about a “Weed Puller,” and about “Transplanting.” Other poems with horticultural titles such as “Moss-Gathering,”  “Orchids,” and “Child on Top of a Greenhouse,” among many more, are irresistible to anyone who loves flora and the tending of it.
                  Roethke was interested in observing what Stanley Kunitz called the “green force” of a leaf or flower or stem. The poet was in awe of that force, saying in one poem that it caused him to “quail.” Many of us who cannot write poetry feel the same way about the “green force” and can relate to what he describes in, for example, his poem “Cuttings.”  Anyone who has successfully propagated a new plant from a cutting appreciates the joy this poem conveys.  This cutting, a thing that looks like a mere “stick,” is only sleeping, “in-a-drowse.” But put it into a good mixture of “sugary loam,” loose like sugar, to a gardener also sweet like sugar, and see what happens.  The plant drinks nourishing water until, in a beautifully restful and satisfying monosyllabic line of the poem: “The small cells bulged.” The closing stanza gives the reader an image like time-lapse photography of the growing plant pushing through the potting mixture to unfurl its glorious, delicate new self, its “tendrilous horn.”  I too “quail.”
                   Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is best appreciated by those who love compost piles and natural fertilizer, those who can respect and admire a good manure. In this root cellar, “dank as a ditch,” things are growing uncontrollably, like those store-bought onions sprouting in the cabinet under your counter in spring. To some, Roethke’s root cellar would be just a dark and smelly place. The poem calls it “a congress of stinks.” To lovers of plants, that organic material is a repository of energy.  That energy comes from the plants that have grown beyond ripeness to pulpiness and decay to become “silo-rich.”  In decay and death, they feed new life. Why, even “the dirt kept breathing.”
                  Many gardeners grew up loving plants because a parent or grandparent nurtured this love in us. Theodore Roethke gives us a stunner of a moment from his childhood with his father in the greenhouse in an excerpt from “The Rose.” “And I think of roses, roses…/And my father standing astride the cement benches,/Lifting me high over the four-foot stems…/What need for heaven then,/With that man, and those roses?”

                   Roethke’s collected poems are available from major booksellers and can be found on the shelves of the public library. They are well worth picking up and reading this winter when snow covers everything and the ground is rock solid. They are the perfect cold weather companion for the housebound gardener sitting at the window, by a warm fire, occasionally glancing out at the fallow yard.

Monday, September 7, 2015

September: Last of the Summer Wine - A guest post by Christine Wegman

Welcome to guest blogger, Christine Wegman! Christine 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.  Enjoy! t

Fall is my favorite season, but at the beginning of September I am not quite prepared to give up lazy summer days for the rush of color and energy that the season brings.  September in this area seems more summer than autumn, and so I will imagine that you are still enjoying pleasant evenings with a glass of wine on your porch or patio. 

A good way to extend the feeling of a summer garden is through white flowers and foliage.  In the heat of July and August nothing seems as cool as touches of white. 
White Garden at Barrington Court
A small border of green, white and pale yellow can have a calming and cooling effect, especially if other parts of the garden contain lots of hot reds, pinks and yellows.  Sprinklings of airy white flowers throughout a garden draw the eye and create a beautiful shimmering effect. 

Cool white and blue contrasts well with hot pinks
In the evening, as the sun fades, the last color that the eye perceives is white, so white flowers will bring the eye out into the garden. 
For large masses of white, there are a few good choices.  The late blooming hydrangeas
Hydrangea paniculata
produce panicles of white flowers that eventually fade to shades of pink and green.
  Any number of these lovely shrubs, in almost any size, are on the market.  The ‘Grandiflora’ or PeeGee hydrangea, is probably the best known.  This can be trained into a small tree or kept as a bush.  Others, such as ‘Limelight’, ‘Little Lime’, and ‘Tardiva’ (which blooms a little later than most), are a just few of the available cultivars.  The Rose of Sharon, hibiscus syriacus, is another shrub that continues into September.  Probably the best of these is the white flowered and nearly sterile ‘Diana’, that blooms almost till frost.  Both these shrubs do best in a sunny situation with plenty of water.  Among perennials, white phlox will really catch the eye.

Touches of white in Monet's garden

In his book, The Magic of Monet’s Garden, Derek Fell devotes an entire chapter to the effective use of white in the artist’s famed garden.  “Monet took the Impressionist’s idea of a glittering, sparkling, glimmering, shimmering visual experience into his garden, and it is the sensation of shimmer that identifies his garden more than any other feature.”  Fell explains that, “Delicate touches of white or pale yellow throughout Monet’s garden are mostly achieved through flowering plants that have their flowers widely spaced on a tall flower stalk.”  In September, this effect can be achieved with white colored asters, garlic chives, Japanese anemones, tall chrysanthemums, and bugbanes.  The delicately variegated ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus grass combines beautifully with other perennials and will shimmer when it catches a breeze.

So, enjoy the last days of summer with fresh, cool white and look forward to the glorious hot flashes of fall colors in October.