Sunday, August 25, 2013

Attended a good conference yesterday at the Irvine Nature Center near Baltimore. Doug Tallamy was the first speaker and he had a new talk about fragmentation of habitats that was riveting. Janet Davis spoke about using native plants as ground covers and was very well-received by the crowd. She will be speaking to members and guests of our new Blue Ridge Chapter of Wild Ones this winter. Thomas Rainer was inspiring as he spoke about adding natives to landscapes in beautiful ways and drawing pleasure from our gardens. 

As Thomas noted, most people are not going to bulldoze their existing landscape and make it a native ecosystem. But adding nice stands of beautiful natives is valuable and will build better habitat over time. People who have added lots of natives are amazed about the quick return of many birds, bees,  and butterflies to their gardens. When you can support life in the garden, nature responds with lot of activity.

I've heard each of these speakers before, but each time, I hear something new and interesting. Each works in a different way to increase biodiversity in home habitats and encourage us to share the space with other creatures in our environment. 

I am still learning about native plants. This was my first year growing wild quinine. You can see it in the picture above. It is white and has solid little flowers that look like low-dose aspirin tablets with tiny ears on them. The flowers are held up on a candelabra like stem that doesn't fall over. Frothy and beautiful! Can't wait to collect some seed and grow more of these - I think they will be beautiful massed with coneflowers or maybe little bluestem. So many possibilities!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August in Northwestern Virginia

Somehow I don’t mind August. When I first moved to Virginia in 1978, most of my neighbors and colleagues would dramatically complain that the “dog days” would be brutal. In my life, June and July can be major heat engines blowing in your face and wilting your enthusiasm.

August brings noticeably shorter days. Because we are harvesting our gardens rather than planting them, there is time to look around and enjoy the bounty. And the annuals are fabulous! Enjoying my Aztec marigold – 3 feet tall! Bought the seed from a tiny company out in the West during one of last winter's snowstorms. Turns out to be a real beauty!

Big and fabulous 3 foot tall marigold with bachelor buttons

My dahlias are abundant in August and well into October, having gotten a good start in May. My tomatoes are delicious and there are enough to start some canning for winter. The basil is fresh and wants to flower. Chopped leaves with olive oil mixed in and then frozen in ice cube trays (and bagged up in freezer bags once frozen) keeps the flavor fresh – welcome during a snowstorm!

The peppers are developing beautifully. Canning sliced jalapenos is easy – pack sliced pepper rings in jar, fill with white vinegar, and process for 10 minutes. Just remember to wear gloves when slicing hot peppers…no eye-rubbing either.

There seems to be a little time once the lawn grass slows down and we try to tidy up other plants. Pruning woody plants in late summer and fall is still a bad idea.  Folks inadvertently end up pruning off next year’s spring extravaganza – the flower buds are already on the forsythia, lilac, viburnums, hollies, and others.

Better to consider where you might plant young trees and shrubs this fall. It’s a great time to plant woody plants. Fall rains and cool temperatures reduce stress and encourage growing of good roots.And don't forget to add more spring bulbs.

Many books tell you to divide and replant perennials in fall. I don’t do that. Maybe it’s that roller coaster of temperatures, but I can’t tell in advance what kind of winter we will experience and perennials need some lead time to get well rooted in the ground. Otherwise, they can be heaved by frost and air space under and around the roots will damage them badly.

One more thought about replanting. There are warm and cool season grasses. Many of the ornamental grasses we use in the landscape – panicums, miscanthus, muhlenbergia, and others, are warm season grasses. They come up late in spring and flower in the fall. After that they go dormant. Their roots will not knit into the ground during dormancy. Don’t move them until spring.

Cool season grasses like stipa (Nassella tenuissima), fountain grass (Pennisetum spp.), helictotricon, blue fescue, and others are movable in fall because they are coming out of summer dormancy and will develop roots. Don’t move them in the summer. So many little rules!