Monday, December 24, 2018

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dear Garden Friends, 

May the peace and joy and beauty of this Holiday season grow like our gardens and bring us all a wonderful New Year. Health & Peace & Happiness to All in the National Capital Area family and all our NGC friends!

Lots of fun coming—rest, reflect, and recharge this Holiday season. In the meantime, take time to go back through this blog for some wonderful articles about gardening in the National Capital area.

See you all in 2019!

Robin Hammer, NCAGC President

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Choosing Evergreens for Outdoors and Indoors - A post by Christine Wegman

Choose evergreen trees and shrubs for your garden that will have the added benefit of making beautiful winter arrangements for the holidays and beyond. 

By this time of the year we all have a pretty good idea of what landscape designers refer to as the “bones” of our gardens:  those plants that act as structural elements by their shape, size and color.  Structural plants look much the same throughout the garden year.  Often focal points that draw the eye to perennial and annual color, they remain handsome during the winter.  Mostly evergreen shrubs, some are deciduous trees and shrubs that remain an attractive presence through the winter because of their beautiful form or the color of their bark.  They are the elements that give a garden winter beauty.    

Now is a good time to take a look at your garden with an idea to improving its structure.  Annuals have gone to seed and perennials have died back.  It is easy to see where planting a small tree or evergreen shrub would improve the overall look of the garden, both in summer and winter.  This could be a tall, narrow conifer for the back of a border, a small crape myrtle with attractive winter bark, or even some low-growing juniper for the front of a border.  Making room amongst the flowers for a few conifers or small broadleaf evergreens can make a garden beautiful all year.  Visiting a few conifer nursery websites – Iseli is a good example – will give you lots ideas for how this can be done.  There is a conifer or small evergreen for just about any place in a garden, even heavy shade.  This winter, make a note of where some evergreen plants are really needed and then search the web to find what might work in your situation.  As you plan for more winter structure, keep in mind those plants that are good for winter arrangements.  If you plant strategically, you can have a bit of fresh greenery in the house through much of the winter.  And, of course, you can bring a branch in to one of our meetings for horticulture credit. 

Conifers are the quintessential greens for holiday decoration, and almost any conifer you plant in the garden will look beautiful indoors.  Some conifers last better indoors than others.  Juniper, arborvitae, cryptomeria (false cypress), cedar and cypress are all long-lasting for holiday arrangements and will grow in our area.  Pine is another one that is beautiful in holiday arrangements, but I have had better luck with short needle pines than long needle types indoors.  Color, as well as texture, is an important factor, and there are many new small conifer introductions with colorful yellow or blue foliage that will make any arrangement pop.

Broadleaf evergreens are another staple of holiday decoration.  Magnolia is a southern favorite because it looks beautiful and is lasts well.  The leaves of the ubiquitous skip laurel are perfect for indoor greenery.  Boxwood is unparalleled for arrangements and will last throughout the holidays.  There are a number of variegated varieties that are easy to grow and make a beautiful eye-catching addition for any indoor arrangement.  Aucuba is a plant that many of us grow; it too lasts well indoors, and if kept in water, will often take root.  Nandina gives a light airy effect to arrangements, and ivy – variegated or not – does well in wreaths or arrangements.  Holly is not as long-lasting as some of the other broadleaf evergreens, but the berries (on female plants) are the best source of red, and are pretty on their own with the leaves clipped off. 

Bare twigs and branches give any arrangement added structure and interest.  If you plant red or yellow twig dogwoods, now is a good time to begin pruning them.  They will need to be pruned back in the spring, and if you have a mature plant, you won’t miss a few stems.  Harry Walker’s Walking Stick is another plant that works well in arrangements.  I have never had any success with willows, curly or otherwise, as we can’t offer them their preferred moist, sunny environment. 

Harvesting evergreens for holiday arrangements is not difficult.  Think of it as pruning the plants, rather than just cutting what you need for indoors.  This will give you a lot of leftover foliage, but will retain the plant’s good looks for the rest of the season.  The foliage will grow back in spring and the plant will be healthier for a good pruning.

I make two wreaths for the holidays and this strategy has worked pretty well for me over the years.  I still need to get yellow cedar foliage from my local Garden Center, but for the rest, I can bring it in from the garden. 

Christine Wegman 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. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

There's a Kid In My Garden! A Post by Thea McGinnis PLUS! a drawing!! See Below!!

If you’ve ever sat down with a gardener, dollars to donuts, they will tell you pretty quickly that they caught the garden bug from a family member – usually their grandparent(s) or parent, aunt or uncle.  While my mother wasn’t into gardening, when we moved to the ‘country’ from New York City, I helped her plant bulbs, iris and marigolds, and she took great pride in her flowering shrubs. My friend Dorinda’s grandmother swept her right into the family tradition of gathering to decorate the church and make the bridal bouquets from their gardens for their family weddings.

The curious child at your knee, watching your hands move, asking questions, leaning in to see what you’re digging at, or what you’re looking at inside that flower bud – touching, smelling, eating - that’s how children begin their relationship with gardening.

When they aren’t right down in the dirt with you, they are also learning all about science and nature in school and in after school activities, too.
I’m very proud of the partnership my garden club has with our local school district.  Our club sponsors two programs in two elementary schools.

One school has a junior gardener program for second grade boy and girls.  Working with the classroom teacher, our club member volunteers from our Youth Activities Committee execute an age appropriate curriculum once a month. The topics each month include seeds, pollination, birds, animals, the seasons, crafts, and culminates with a floral design project in time for the children to bring home for Mother’s Day.

Our other monthly program involves a pre-school class with challenges at another elementary school, with the club members of our Horticulture Therapy Committee. Our monthly lessons include reading aloud about a particular topic related to plants, animals and nature.  Creative lessons include making food for birds, planting seeds, the seasons, the sun and so much more.  Committee members create lesson plans that include dressing up as animals and write books. The children love it.

As well received as our programs are, I cannot discount the joy our club members receive working on our Youth and Horticulture Therapy committees. They are probably the most popular committees our members sign up for each club year, and probably one third of our club’s active membership are involved in these programs.

There are many ways garden clubs can get a Youth Activities committee started. With the many competing after-school activities, junior garden clubs might not be practical in your community. Asking around, I got a good idea what other clubs are doing.  Partnership with organizations like local schools, libraries, Pre-K schools, PTA’s, and Scouting is a good start. The Girl Scouts has a native plant merit badge that would be a great opportunity for club members to get involved in.  Clubs can also offer an age appropriate floral design program. Partnering with a school or a library that has a children’s garden is also a great opportunity to apply our knowledge and experience in the garden. It also creates an opportunity to include a Youth section in your next flower show.

Most school districts have a volunteer liaison that will work with you to find a school with teachers happy to incorporate a junior gardener type program into their lesson plan.  It might be more practical to do a monthly or quarterly gardening program, depending on the size of your club. A Youth initiative in your club can easily blend with your Plant America initiatives, too.

National Garden Clubs, Inc. offers lots of information and support to clubs that want to initiate or restart their footprint in the community with a Youth oriented program.  I can’t think of a better way to foster and enrich children’s lives than being in a garden club that’s a go-to organization in your community.  Here’s a link to NGC’s Youth activities page. As you develop your curriculum, keep in mind that NGC offers two children’s books that would be a great addition. Click ->here<-
for more information.

I also recommend my friend Sharon Lovejoy’s Camp Granny for project ideas and activities you can do with your junior gardeners – or your children, grandchildren, and even the children on your street.

My mass of zinnia flower bed, right outside my front gate, that is a major attraction for birds, bees and butterflies, is a source of endless fascination to the kids on my block.

Feel free to leave a comment and share what your Club’s Youth Activities projects entail.  All commenters will be eligible to win a copy of Camp Granny. The drawing will close December 20, 2018.

Thea McGinnis is a gardener and writer, blog mistress, and a member of District III's Rock Spring Garden Club in Arlington, Virginia. 

Photography by Sarah Farr