Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy holidays!

I’d like to wish everyone a very blessed Christmas and happy New Years! It’s been a satisfying year in the garden and I hope it has been for you as well. Before you know it, those cherry and Dogwood trees will be in bloom and we’ll begin a new season of digging in the dirt!

Be well!

- Rudie

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Try a living Christmas tree

When you head out to look at Christmas trees, consider something that can contribute to your garden, and skip the hassle of hauling a dead tree to the dump. If you have a sunny spot in your yard, a living tree can add texture and year-round color to the garden. Many nurseries put their leftover plants on clearance or big sales this time of year. Here are just a few evergreens you can keep inside for Christmas (don’t forget to keep it watered!) for a week or so, then transplant right out into the garden.

  • Hinoki falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) – very slow growing, many dwarf cultivars, tolerates some shade
  • Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) – shade tolerant, slow growing, soft lacy foliage; lighter green new growth contrasts nicely with darker green older foliage
  • Junipers – (pick from J. chinensis or J. virginiana for upright/conical types), very tolerant of heat, drought, and cold; wide variation in colors.
  • Arborvitae – great for privacy screening; lots of different shapes and sizes and colors

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A neon sign of fall in the garden

In spite of the yucky weather today (low 40s, cloudy and drizzle) I ventured out into the garden, figuring there might be some fall color to enjoy, and I was right.


Ever since we took down two medium-sized sweet gum trees a few years ago, this part of the garden now sees full sun much of the day. The bright yellow/orange shrub in the foreground is Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’ with of course Burning Bush in the background with a few Nandina. If one were to ask me what my favorite shrub is, that would be a difficult question to answer. But my top five would certainly include Fothergilla…it’s a native shrub that tolerates full sun, part shade, heat, drought, and both clay and sandy soil. In spring, before it leafs out, it produces copious amounts of small white bottlebrush flowers that fade to green.


The fall color is very dependable in part to full sun and last for several weeks before all the leaves fall. This shrub has a rather irregular rounded habit and gets about 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, and suckers a bit from the base. In winter, one can enjoy the structural interest of the bare stems.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rotten squash?

We were about to fix up some nice butternut squash soup on this sunny, chilly day, but when we cut into the squash, found this:


Doesn’t look too appetizing, does it? Seems like the inside of the squash was damp or rotting. This is my first year doing winter squash, so I’m not familiar with winter squash issues. If anyone can tell me what the problem is here, and if there’s something I can do differently next time. My best guess is perhaps I overwatered when I should have cut back on watering. Anyway, leave a comment if you have an idea.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A blog for plant talk

For those of you, like me, who are “plant geeks” I have a second gardening blog devoted solely to talking trees, shrubs, perennials, conifers, all that good stuff.

It started out as simply putting together my own “wikipedia” of plants, but I’ve decided to make it less formal and rigid, and more like a garden journal. I’ll continue to keep this blog updated as well, to cover my more general garden happenings and thoughts. But if you enjoy the more technical/horticultural aspect, you’ll like Plantipedia.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Garden in transition

Not much going on in the garden right now...perennials are winding down, looking a little ragged and tired, shrubs are done blooming and are producing their seeds now. I had hoped to put in more plants that come alive in fall with reds, oranges, and bright yellows like witch hazel, witch alder, sweetspire, and others but long overdue chores took priority like putting in edging around the beds and laying down weed fabric in the paths so I can fill them with gravel.

While the ornamental garden takes a break, I'm keeping occupied with veggies. I recently picked the butternut squash and replanted the beds with several varieties of lettuce, collards, spinach, and arugula. This year, I decided to save some money and start everything from seed, and it's worked out quite well.

A few more things from around the garden, including a lucky shot I got of a downy woodpecker at the bird feeder, and caterpillars munching on my parsley:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who inspires you?

Every hardcore gardener has certain professionals that they look up to and admire and draw inspiration from…P. Allen Smith, Jamie Durie, Andre Viette, Michael Dirr, to name just a few.

All of the above certainly inspire me in my gardening work, but one stands out: European garden designer Piet Oudolf. His work spans from New York to many cities across Europe, and includes both public and private gardens and parks. I love his use of native perennials and grasses, the way he groups plants to create different textural effects. Check out this video of him explaining a garden he designed in New York:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Garden pressing on through midsummer lull

Overdue for a garden update. After a pretty hot and dry summer, we’ve finally started to see some good downpours. Of course, right after water restrictions were implemented. The garden at the moment is in that usual late summer “lull” when perennials and flowering shrubs have already peaked and are now putting energy into seed pod production (which reminds me, I need to remove the pods off of my Rose of Sharon if I don’t want a jungle of hibiscus out there next year).

My attention lately has been on the herbs and veggies. I’ve been growing several types of bell and chili peppers this year and am getting excellent harvests from all of them.


But what I’m most anticipating is the butternut squash, which are still going strong in spite of heat and powdery mildew. This is my first try at any kind of winter squash, and am pleased to have 3 squashes maturing from two vines. The waiting is the hardest part as the squash slowly turn that pale tan color and the skin hardens. Turning to the herbs, I’ve found several eastern swallowtail caterpillars on my parsley, all of which have morphed into beautiful butterflies. I’m content to let them have a buffet of parsley knowing that I’m helping preserve these endangered garden friends.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

America’s (unhealthy) perfect lawn obsession

Apparently, if you can’t get the real thing…just spray paint and fake it. That’s what some people are doing in areas where drought has taken its toll on lawns. ***Warning: I’m about to get up on my soapbox here and get preachy.***

As if America doesn’t dump enough chemicals into the ground to get that perfect, lush, thick lawn. I’ll never understand this obsession we have with slaving over the lawn….constantly seeding, re-seeding, aerating, watering, dethatching,  fertilizing, liming, and so on. And then doing it all over again if it didn’t work the first time. The cost of all this long term is polluted run-off that goes into our streams and rivers, and soil that gradually loses it’s nutrients and becomes more and more dependent on fertilizer and other chemicals to keep it green and weed-free.

There is a better way. I’ve seen pictures of yards where the homeowners have carved out much of the lawn and replaced the grass with long, sweeping beds of perennials and shrubs. Or you can do what these folks did and turn your front yard into a “grocery garden”…never buy produce from the store again:

Of course, these homeowners are having to deal with the HOA yard nazis. But if you’re in an older neighborhood or you can get permission to replace even just part of your lawn (no need to get this elaborate!), it’s a great way to be sustainable and get something in return for all your hard work (besides just boring old green grass).

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I neglected to mention that I have a second garden blog devoted exclusively to highlighting excellent plants (shrubs, perennials, trees, etc.) for the Mid-Atlantic region. Included in each post is a photo, and growing info such as hardiness zone, light and soil requirements, as well as special characteristics of the plant. Follow along here:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Plant profile: ornamental grasses

Great video from Meadows Farm and Nursery here in Virginia about ornamental grasses! Durable, add four season interest, and help wildlife. What could be better?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Garden photo update: edibles

As promised, I’m finally getting around to posting a few more photos of the garden. Everything is coming along nicely in spite of record heat this past weekend (reached 105 at one point) and violent thunderstorms that brought down trees and power lines (still thousands without power).


These are butternut squash and various hot peppers, planted in the bed where the lettuce and spinach were previously.


Yellow squash and zucchini


Really hoping I get to harvest this plump tomato before the (bleeping) squirrels do!


Heavy rain and wind have caused the coneflowers to lean way over and sprawl out, but otherwise they’re looking great


Chives and parsley are still going strong in this container


As are catmint and lemon balm, which I use to make soothing teas


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer veggies underway

Quick update on the vegetable garden…enjoyed the last of the green leaf lettuce last week, and pulled those out (Black Simpson is my new favorite…very slow to bolt). In went three more pepper plants (two different chilis and one red bell) and butternut squash. The heirloom cherry tomato plant is faring well…started picking from it the other day. All of the determinate tomatoes have been under siege from squirrels who have been running off with plump green tomatoes. They’re lucky I live in a suburban setting and not way out in the country where I could fire off the BB gun. I’ve done everything I know to do, but there seems to be no outsmarting them. On the other hand, the yellow squash and zucchini are looking fantastic, so it seems I can look forward to some good stir fry soon! Also harvesting lots of basil right now and drying some leaves for future use, and using the rest on tomatoes and mozzarella and chiabata (sp?) bread.

I’ll post pictures as the harvest comes in. In the meantime, I found a Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching on my parsley…we’re waiting to see if he’ll do his thing and turn into a butterfly.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Native Plants for Conservation

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has a great website to help gardeners in Virginia learn more about using native plants:

Plants can be looked up by plant type (herb, grass, perennial, shrub, etc.) as well as by light and moisture requirements, use (wildlife, ornamental, conservation, etc.) Virginia is broken down into 3 regions: Mountain, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain. Some plants will be native to all three, while others will be limited to one or two of those regions.

As I’ve said many times before, there are a lot of great reasons to choose native plants…they hold up better in your area and greatly benefit local wildlife who depend on them for food and shelter. I believe if everyone plants just a few natives in the garden, we can help pollinators like bees make a comeback…and that benefits everybody!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The summer show begins

Snapped these pictures of the garden earlier today; the “summer shrubs” are about to begin their show as are the perennials. By mid-June, the garden is hopping with bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and birds. I’m hoping to be able to get certified this year for the National Wildlife Foundation “Wildlife Sanctuary” designation.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

A fist full of herbs!

I can’t recall if I posted yet about the herbs I’ve been growing in the garden, but here’s a quick update. The oregano plant has gone to town and I just harvested a good several handfuls of it, which I will dry and put into glass jars for use in future cooking endeavors.


I planted lavender, cilantro, parsley, and chives in pots that sit by the side porch. All of them are coming along nicely and will soon be ready to be cut for harvest. The two rosemary bushes further back in the garden will be ready for a small trimming as well. I see a pizza, salsa, and focaccia bread coming soon!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A look at JMU’s arboretum

Just got back this evening from my brother’s graduation ceremony at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Besides the obvious excitement of seeing his hard work pay off and his determined efforts rewarded, I got to take a brief look at JMU’s vast arboretum next to the campus. The arboretum is a sprawling woodland setting packed with native perennials, shrubs, and trees anchored by a small lake and criss-crossed by mulched pathways.




The park is so well designed, you would be shocked to learn that JMU (as of this writing) does not offer a horticulture program. Nevertheless, I plan on returning to spend more time getting lost in the woods!

The red pin below denotes the location of the arboretum relative to the rest of the JMU campus.

Map picture

Monday, April 30, 2012

Plant sales: Christmas for plant geeks

It’s been a busy week hitting up all the local plant sales and farm markets in search of bargains on perennials and herb/vegetable plants for the garden. One of the plants sales I look forward to the most every year is at Maymont Estate and Gardens in Richmond. The sprawling grounds host hundreds of vendors selling vegetable and herb plants, fresh produce, crafts, ornamental plants, and educational groups offering classes on gardening.  You could easily spend an entire day there; in fact, it’s not unusual to see people leaving with several red wagons full of plants. Remarkably, I was able to have some restraint this year and only bought three plants: a giant-leafed basil called ‘Mammoth’ (see pic below), an ornamental grass, and a Japanese painted fern for my mom. Well, or it started raining before I could snatch up more goodies.


Late this week is a plant sale at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, which is fairly similar to the one at Maymont. I enjoy going to this one because I often run into my Plant Materials professor from college, and both of us being major plant nerds, we chat for a while about our experiences with different plants, and generally  all things gardening. He also teaches the plant propagation course, and sells a lot of plants he propagates, including some new varieties developed from seed or genetic mutations, as well as grafted plants. I’ve also had the pleasure to talk to the gentleman who is doing major research and propagation on new cold-hardy varieties of flowering magnolias at the Gardens. His work shows promise of new magnolias that boast more impressive flowers that should bloom after the threat of the last spring frost.

So, take the time to hit up your local plant sales…you’ll get quite an education and come away with plants you’re not likely to find at the big box stores.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Would you like Agent Orange with your corn?

I don’t like to stray too far into political issues here, but after taking a class in college on sustainable agriculture that opened my eyes to the horrors of GMO crops/food, I felt this was too important not to share.

Dow Chemical is currently requesting an unprecedented USDA approval: a genetically engineered (GE) version of corn that is resistant to 2,4-D, a major component of the highly toxic Agent Orange. Agent Orange was the chemical defoliant used by the U.S. in Vietnam, and it caused lasting ecological damage as well as many serious medical conditions in both Vietnam veterans and the Vietnamese.

Exposure to 2,4-D has been linked to major health problems that include cancer (especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), lowered sperm counts, liver disease and Parkinson’s disease.  A growing body of evidence from laboratory studies show that 2,4-D causes endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity and immunosuppression.  Further, industry’s own tests show that 2,4-D is contaminated with dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemical compounds that bioaccumulate, so even a minute amount can accumulate as it goes up the food chain, causing dangerous levels of exposure.  Dioxins in Agent Orange have been linked to many diseases, including birth defects in children of exposed parents; according to EPA, 2,4-D is the seventh largest source of dioxins in the U.S.

USDA approval of Dow’s GE corn will trigger a big increase in 2,4-D use – and our exposure to this toxic herbicide.  Yet USDA has not assessed how much, nor analyzed the resulting impacts on public health, the environment or neighboring farmers (2,4-D is prone to drift and cause damage to nearby crops).  Instead, USDA has once again bowed to the pesticide industry, by giving preliminary approval to still another pesticide-promoting crop that will likely harm people and their children, including farmers, and the environment. USDA claims to be adhering to a scientific process, yet the Agency is blatantly ignoring the science on 2,4-D.

Tell USDA To Do Its Job And Reject 2,4-D Resistant GE Corn! It only takes 30 seconds. Please send your comment here:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Good Honeysuckle

Today’s plant profile: Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)


This non-aggressive, well-behaved honeysuckle is native to the eastern United States and boasts beautiful sunset red tubular flowers (hummingbirds love it!) from late spring to frost. It scrambles up trellises and any structure nearby, yet without choking out nearby plants or becoming weedy. The flowers are followed by bright red berries in fall that are attractive to birds. Coral honeysuckle does best in full sun with well-drained soil but also tolerates some clay; it also tolerates pruning.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coming soon: plant lists

It occurs to me that I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about changes I make to my garden generally, or issues in the horticultural world, but rarely do I highlight specific plants I’m crazy about. I want to change that, because there are certain plants I believe no gardener should be without. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share those with you, broken down into categories, based on their performance in my own garden. In the meantime, head on over to my Pinterest page and check out some plants and landscapes I like.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Leftovers for sale

There is a benefit to having plants that seed themselves all over the garden: extra income! Last year, I allowed the spent blooms on my butterfly bush to stay on dry up. That fall and winter, the seeds dispersed in numerous spots in the garden and shortly germinated, and now I have lots of Buddleia seedlings ranging from 8-12” high.


They sprouted mostly in the paths around the garden, so they would have had to be moved anyway. Since I don’t really have much more room for large shrubs like Butterfly Bush, I’ve potted them up and will likely sell them for $7.50 a piece. Similarly, I have tons of volunteer spiderwort plants (Tradescantia spp.) that are slowly taking over the garden, so those two were dug up and put in pots to be sold. In the next few days, I plan to do the same thing with scores of volunteer Rose of Sharon hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) that have popped up as well. What could be better than de-cluttering the garden and making a few extra bucks while you’re at it?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Signs of spring

Now that I've adjusted to the time change and one less hour of sleep, I'm finding it hard to come inside in the evenings once I get home from my landscaping work. I grab a quick bite to eat, and head into the garden to continue clean-up work..pulling back the leaf mulch, cutting back the fountain grass, moving a few things around. This is my favorite time of the year in the garden, watching everything come back to life, finding surprises such as my pineapple sage plant that came back, despite being listed as an annual here in zone 7. I took a few pics from the first blooms of the season. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Opening act

March and April are like the 4th of July for gardeners…flowering cherries, pears, peaches, plums, magnolias, redbuds, and dogwoods are blooming at full power. Few sights are more magical than gazing down a row Bradford pears or a woodland mix of dogwoods and redbuds, or a solitary ‘Jane’ Magnolia lighting up a front yard, with no leaves yet to obscure the showy flowers. It’s the grand kickoff to a new year of gardening, and while I don’t quite have room in my already-crowded garden for these trees, I do have a spring-blooming Camellia japonica called ‘Romany’ which is bursting with double red flowers. It catches my eye every time I glance out the window.


This particular Camellia has held up very well in our zone 7 winters. Granted, this winter has been unusually warm but we did have a few cold spells back in January where temperatures dipped into the 20s for a few nights, with some frost. Both foliage and the young flower buds were undamaged, which is rare for a japonica that isn’t a hybrid crossed with the cold-hardy Camellia oleifera or sasanqua species.

Next to bloom in my garden will be Viburnum x carlcephalum ‘Cayugga’, a snowball type viburnum with a heavenly spicy scent. This viburnum is closely related to V. carlesii, or Korean spice Viburnum. After flowering, it doesn’t offer much the rest of the year, but the early spring burst of those fragrant, white puff ball blooms is worth it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Invasion of the weedy plants!

When most gardeners hear the word “invasive” in relation to plants, most likely they would think of common weeds in their own garden. But in many cases, an ornamental plant can be invasive with no signs of taking over in the immediate area. For example, Nandina (also known as Heavenly Bamboo) and Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) feature bright red berries in the fall. These berries are eaten by birds, then “deposited” in natural settings wherever the birds travel. Those seeds germinate and become new plants. The shade from those new Nandinas and Burning Bush plants then makes it difficult for neighboring native plants to survive, plants that were  used to full sun conditions. The loss of native plants is never a good thing…that’s less food sources for wildlife. Over time, it has implications for the food chain and the health of entire ecosystems.

This issue of invasive, non-native plants is just now starting to garner some attention from gardeners and others throughout the horticultural industry. Many state agriculture departments have lists of invasive plants (such as this one, for Virginia) but they are, for the most part, voluntary. Nurseries and garden centers, as far as I’m aware, have discretion as to whether they want to sell some of these plants or not. As a landscaper, I try to steer my clients away from these non-native invasives, and towards the many wonderful native plants that can be just as showy and beautiful as the ones that have been introduced from China, England, Japan, and other parts of the world. [Click here to read a great article on the benefits of using native plants]

It’s hard to fault nurseries for wanting to sell long-time favorites like Burning Bush and Nandina…they’re tough and durable, standing up to heat and drought exceptionally well, and put on quite a show in the fall with a wide range of reds and maroons. But my hope is that as more and more gardeners become educated and interested in native plants and their benefit to not just their own gardens but to the whole ecosystem, the trend will continue at the retail and wholesale levels as well.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

And stretch!

The vegetable seeds I planted last week have already germinated! I had bought a cheap $10 seed starting kit at Home Depot, one with a self-watering capillary mat and plastic dome, and peat pods. I planted kale, spinach, broccoli, and romaine lettuce. Everything has germinated well except broccoli, which I’m still waiting on. My difficulty now is keeping the young seedlings from stretching too much, so I’m having to rotate the tray to keep all the seedlings under the light equally.


Once the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, I’ll separate them and move them into individual biodegradable pots, and then transplant into the raised beds in mid April (or sooner, as this winter has been quite warm. I have a hunch we’ll see our last frost in March this year rather than April.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Outgrowing the AeroGarden


So much for growing tomatoes/peppers in the AeroGarden. This is how much I had to trim off to keep the plants from growing up into the light bulbs. I have to do this pretty much every week. I bought the tomato/pepper kit under the premise I was buying a special dwarf variety, but as you can see…not so much. Fruit set has been delayed over 5 times now because of all the trimming I’m having to do. So my advice for prospective AeroGarden customers…stick to herbs, lettuce, smaller flowers. Save the tomatoes and peppers for an outdoor garden.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Seed time!

My favorite time of the year is fast approaching…time to start the vegetable seeds! My AeroGarden™ is already occupied with tomato and pepper plants (which I’m having to trim back repeatedly to keep them from growing into the light bulbs), so I ran down to Home Depot and bought a self-watering seed starting kit, which comes with the watering tray, the pods/seed pellets, and bio dome. I want to keep this under $100 so instead of forking over $80 for one of those industrial looking grow lights, I’m going to buy a CFL at the store and put that into a regular desk lamp, which I’ll place over the seed tray.

As for seeds, I’m starting with cold weather crops…kale, spinach, lettuce, and broccoli. Those will go in the first bed, while I prep the second bed for the warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, etc. With this system in place to grow more seedlings, I can keep a steady crop going the whole year, which I’m excited about. I’m also looking into getting a new watering system, some sort of drip irrigation so I don’t have to constantly run out to save my vegetables from wilting in the hot summer sun!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

When plants go crazy

Great article here on native vrs. non-native shrubs and perennials, and how the ability of some non-native plants to profusely re-seed is wrecking havoc on ecosystems, displacing important native plants that are a source of food to good insects and wildlife. While there are enough good native plants for me to stay away from many of these invasive foreigners, I have a hard time resisting Butterfly Bush (which is actually banned from being sold in the Pacific northwest due to it’s ability to easily re-seed and pop up everywhere). On a warm, breezy summer afternoon, I find myself drawn to the fragrance and sight of those long purple-red blooms, humming with butterflies drinking up the nectar. I believe I’ve alluded to this situation in one of my first posts to this blog. I do confess to having a number of non-native shrubs in my garden, but I haven’t really encountered much of an issue with them getting out of control. In fact, just to see if I could (having had no luck with propagating plants from cuttings) I grew some Nandina from seeds, and have allowed my Buddleia to spring up where seeds fell last fall.



Of course, being an avid lover of wildlife, I’ve balanced these with natives like Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirons, and Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).

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