Sunday, December 6, 2015

Pie season

Cranberry pie

As we head out of the growing season and into the holiday season, my thoughts turn more towards food than gardening.  A few weeks ago my friend Irvin Etienne, horticulturist and blogger at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, posted a photo of a cranberry pie on Facebook and the recipe sounded interesting (and easy) enough that I decided to try it out on my family over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The pie went over so well that I made it again last night, this time two of them (along with a focaccia) for the annual holiday party of a local garden club.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Big news in southern Delaware

Delaware Botanic Garden
It may not look like much right now, but in Dagsboro, a small town in southern Delaware surrounded by farmland, there's a little plot of land that's causing a lot of excitement.  This is the future site of the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Two years of blogging

Tricyrtis 'Sinonome'
Tricyrtis 'Sinonome' brightens the fall garden

On October 8, 2013 I posted "Welcome to DC Tropics", the first of what has now become two years of blog posts.  I missed the official anniversary because I was traveling, which seems to be my life lately.  Because of my frequent travel during the past year, my blog posts have gone from 97 in the first year to only 58 in the past year... even though I've had a lot more to blog about!  Little did I know when I started this blog how my life and my garden would change over the next two years.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Perennial Plant Association: the garden tours (part 2)

Harness Creek

Looking through these photos, it's hard to believe it has already been more than two months since the Perennial Plant Association's annual symposium in Baltimore.  I've already written one long blog post about the symposium (see Five days of plant geek pleasure), and another with photos from the Wednesday garden tours (see Perennial Plant Association: the garden tours (part 1)).  As promised, here's part 2, with photos from the Friday tours.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Perennial Plant Association: the garden tours (part 1)

Garden tour mob

 I would be terrified to let these people see my garden.

This horde was one of the tour groups for the Perennial Plant Association's national symposium in late July, a gathering of "green industry" professionals that included wholesale growers, garden center retailers, landscape architects, garden designers, garden writers, and garden bloggers like me.  The gardens below were part of Wednesday's design/landscape tour, featuring five different private gardens that differed greatly in size, character, and style.  The photos below represent only a small fraction of the several hundred I took; for the rest, check out my Perennial Plant Association album on Flickr.  I'll do a separate blog post about the Friday tours, which were great in an entirely different way.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Five days of plant geek pleasure

The flock is gathering

For five days in late July, I convinced myself and everybody around me that I was (a) a morning person and (b) an extrovert, neither of which is remotely true.  It takes a pretty special event to pull off a stunt like that, and that was the Perennial Plant Association's 2015 national symposium in Baltimore.  Every time I think about distilling five very busy, very intense, and overwhelmingly pleasurable days into one blog post, I get slightly dizzy.  Instead, I've broken it into two blog posts. In this one I'll give my general impressions of the event, and I'll follow up in a few days with the gardens we saw on the tours.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cannas for the lazy gardener

CannasCanna indica 'Red Stripe' (September 2012)

I don't think I've gone a single year since starting this garden without growing cannas.  They are a lazy gardener's dream, producing maximum "oomph" with minimal work.  They look tropical, they grow fast, they love heat, they require little care, they have handsome foliage, and hummingbirds love their flowers.  What more could we ask of any garden plant?  Well, a bit of hardiness, for one thing.  I'm sick of people telling me that their cannas overwinter in the ground when I've had no luck with them surviving any but the warmest winters.  That means digging up the rhizomes and storing indoors, buying new ones in the spring, or bumming them off a gardening friend or family member.  Let's see, which one of these requires the least effort?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Labor day laziness

Deck, early September

Monday was a holiday and I woke up a bit earlier than I would have liked, but the morning sun and cool breeze were worth it, hinting at fall just around the corner.  It was a perfect long weekend and the perfect end to the summer, three straight days of blue skies, warm sunny days with low humidity, and cooling down nicely at night.  Aside from finishing a blog post and puttering in the garden a bit, I didn't accomplish much but what better place to laze on a pleasant end-of-summer day than the roof deck.   

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Testing the limits: 2015 winners

Garden, early September

If you're going to "test the limits" you have to be willing to take a few losses.  That was the point of my previous blog post (see Testing the limits... and finding them: 2014-2015 losers) when I wrote about the plants I lost last winter, which along with 2013-2014 brought my area's two coldest winters in 20 years.  Each of those two winters, on its own, wasn't so unusual; we get winters like that every 10-15 years and we were several years overdue.  What was unusual was getting two such winters back to back.  That makes the survivors all the more special to me.  They don't necessarily look their best this year, but considering the minimal protection I gave them I'm more than happy.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Testing the limits... and finding them: 2014-2015 losers

Garden, late August
August 2015: no more windmill palms

I've always been interested in testing the limits of marginally hardy plants, plants that are new to cultivation, and plants whose hardiness is otherwise unknown.  For better or for worse, my last two winters have been very good ones for testing hardiness!  The low temperature in my back yard in Washington, DC (zone 7a) during both winters was about 5 degrees (-15° C), my area's coldest temperatures in 20 years.  Despite the similar low temperatures, the two winters were very different in terms of wind, snow cover, and timing and duration of the cold.  Several plants that survived the first of the two winters didn't make it through the second; in some cases I think they were weakened going into the second winter, but I also think the ground froze more deeply, doing more damage to otherwise healthy plants.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Green roof surprise in Allentown

Green roof
Renaissance Allentown Hotel, view from hotel room window

I was in Allentown, Pennsylvania last weekend for a niece's wedding reception.  As my husband and I checked into the Renaissance Allentown Hotel, I was looking forward to a view of the city from our room's fifth floor windows.  When we got to the room and I opened the curtains, I was disappointed to find only a view of walls and rooftop.  My disappointment turned to surprise as I realized there was a thick carpet of plants on the roof: it was a green roof.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A perfect August weekend or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the summer

Capitol columns
Capitol columns, United States National Arboretum

This past weekend was about as good as summer gets in Washington, DC: sunny with relatively low humidity, not too hot and cooling down nicely at night.  I spent Saturday morning touring the United States National Arboretum's gardens (more on that later), and on Sunday I spent the morning watering my garden, took an afternoon nap, and did a little light pruning and weeding in the afternoon.  I relaxed in the evening on my roof deck with a gin and tonic in my hand, enjoying a light breeze.  Rain is the only thing that would have made the weekend better, because my garden is getting awfully dry and many of my plants start to look stressed after just a few days without rain.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Backlighting makes all the difference

Ornamental millet
Ornamental millet, backlit by the morning sun

Too many gardens, too many photos, too little time!  I'm still trying to catch up with the 500+ photos I took during the Perennial Plant Association symposium two weeks ago in Baltimore; since then I've been to Buffalo and back for a family visit (150 more photos), and just this morning I was treated to a tour of some of the gardens of the United States National Arboretum by one of the gardeners, Bradley Evans.  250 new photos to sort through!  How will I ever catch up?  (Does anybody remember the days when you had a couple of rolls of film and had to make sure every one of those 48 or 72 frames really counted?)  So for now, just a couple of photos from this morning, showing an ornamental millet that was catching the light just right.  This plant has never really excited me, until I saw it with the morning light behind it, imparting it with an almost mammalian mystery.  Below, the same plant photographed from the other side.  It definitely loses something.  If I ever have this plant in my garden, it will have to be in a spot where the sun is always behind it!

Ornamental millet
Ornamental millet

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tooting my own horn: Seemannia 'Little Red'

Seemannia 'Little Red'
Seemannia 'Little Red' in my Washington, DC garden

I haven't worked with gesneriads for a couple of years so I got a bit of a thrill this morning when I found one of my own hybrids, Seemannia 'Little Red', listed for sale in the Fall 2015 catalog of Plant Delights Nursery.  Plant Delights is considered one of the premier nurseries for rare and unusual plants, so having one of my plants listed is a pretty big deal.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Big Begonia grandis

Begonia grandisBegonia grandis in a private garden near Baltimore, Maryland

I'm just back from attending the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) national symposium in Baltimore, Maryland.  I've only recently joined this organization, having been talked into it by my friend Janet Draper.  And I'm so glad she did!  I just spent an amazing, exhausting, energizing 5 days of talks, garden tours, trade show, and best of all, spending time with several hundred fellow plant geeks, including at least a dozen people I already knew from Facebook but had never before met in person.  I took over 500 photos, and it's going to take a while to get them processed and uploaded to my Flickr account.  For now I'll just quickly share some photos of the first plant (of many!) that blew me away: Begonia grandis, a.k.a. "hardy begonia".

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Begonia update

Begonia hybrid seedlings

Begonias have been a sorely-needed bright spot in an otherwise bad gardening year.  Two cold winters in a row, combined with more than my usual degree of neglect, have taken a hard toll and I've had many losses.  But those losses have opened up some opportunities, bringing more sun into what was an increasingly overgrown garden, and opening up some space to try new plants.  And among the losses, I've had a few pleasant surprises.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

And now for something completely different

Eye Dream of Genie
Eye Dream of Genie

I'll never look at my garden the same way again.  I've just spent the last two days wasting my time playing expanding my repertoire of blogging skills with Google Deep Dream and it brought out my long-dormant artistic side.  As soon as I saw what it did to a photo of my eye (see original below), I was hooked.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

I've been making an effort to get out and visit more gardens this year, so when Washington Gardener Magazine and DC Gardens announced they were having a "tweet-up" at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC last weekend, I decided it was about time I re-visited a garden that's practically in my own backyard.  I'll keep my comments brief because my friend and fellow garden blogger Teresa Speight has already written a great blog post about the garden and the event: A Gem in the City – Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer means great gardens in Washington, DC

National Museum of Natural History (Constitution Avenue entrance)

I'm privileged to work at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC and a beautiful garden greets me as I arrive at work every morning.  As the summer gets hotter and hotter, it just keeps getting better and better.  I know a lot of people don't like the heat and humidity of a Washington, DC summer but this is when our public gardens really start to hit their stride.  Don't get me wrong, I love spring gardens with their tulips, daffodils, peonies, bleeding heart, foxglove, poppies, and bluebells, but by mid-summer, most of these plants look the worse for wear.  Some of them, like oriental poppies, bleeding heart, and most spring bulbs, have the good sense to go dormant in our summer heat but gardens that depend too heavily on these spring-flowering plants aren't worth seeing the rest of the year.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

New begonias, off to a late start

Begonia seedlings
Begonia seedlings, about to be planted outdoors

I should have done this 6 weeks ago, but this morning I finally got some of my begonia seedlings outdoors and in the ground.  These are hybrid seedlings from a cross I made last summer, and they've been growing under fluorescent lights since germinating during the winter.  They got off to a slow start because begonia seedlings don't like the cool temperatures and low humidity of winter, but they grow explosively in the spring.  If I wait too long, as I did this year, they get a bit too crowded.  Summer also brings heat they don't appreciate and I know from past experience that they'll begin to decline indoors, succumbing to pests and diseases.  The south-facing sun porch where I grow them is the hottest room in the house, and even with air conditioning gets a bit too warm for comfort in July and August.  They do quite well in the ground, and are best planted out in early May but this year I held off, waiting to see what might come back from last year after a very cold winter put my plants to the ultimate test.  Many plants didn't make it, but I did have a few surprises.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stormy weather

June sunset
Washington National Cathedral at sunset (click here for larger image)

Having lived here for 24 years, I often take for granted this amazing city.  Washington, DC has given me some interesting views of some familiar icons, over the years and through the various seasons, and the unsettled weather of the last couple of days has given me some especially good photo opportunities.  Above, this was my view of the Washington National Cathedral from my roof deck last night, looking west over Rock Creek Park.  Please be sure to click on the link below the photo to see a larger version!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Good-bye basil, hello purslane

Purslane flowers
Purslane flowers

When I wrote about purslane (Portulaca oleracea) a year ago, I commented that I had never seen its flowers despite re-seeding prolifically (see Eat your weeds).  I speculated that it was cleistogamous, with flowers that self-pollinate without ever opening.  It turns out I've been looking at the wrong time!  I finally caught some open flowers one morning, and while it's true that the tiny yellow flowers are easy to miss and rather forgettable, it also turns out that they're only open for about an hour.  Not being a morning person, that might explain why I've never seen them before!

Sad basil
Purslane growing with some very sad basil

Since I let it go to seed last year, purslane is coming up all over again, in all my pots, including my container of basil.  Which is probably just as well, because my basil contracted basil downy mildew again, this time succumbing just two weeks after I planted it, when it was barely past the seedling stage.  This may be my Year Without Basil, which would be a true tragedy because I love, love, love fresh basil but I'm not sure what else I can do; any I plant now will just pick it up immediately.  Fortunately, this disease affects only basil and does not spread to other plants.

So purslane is my new go-to home-grown green.  But because even weeds have pests, I have to be careful when I harvest it not to also harvest purslane leaf miners.  They're easy to spot because they make the leaves look pretty ugly, and while they would be harmless enough to eat, I just don't want to eat bugs.

Purslane leaf miner
Purslane leaf miner

Purslane is a delicious and nutritious vegetable and I've experimented with it in several different recipes, always raw because for some reason, the idea of cooked purslane doesn't appeal to me (nor does the description of the cooked vegetable as "slimy"!).  I do a lot less cooking in hot summer weather anyway, unless I can cook on the grill!  Purslane makes a great salad, combining especially well with cucumber, onion, avocado, and citrus.  I always try different combinations, and this time I had some grilled corn left over from the last meal I actually cooked over a week ago, so tonight I threw together a cold salad with grilled corn, black beans, cucumber, avocado, and purslane.  I called it a salsa and scooped it with tortilla chips, and it was pretty darn tasty if I say so myself.

Summer dinner
A quick and easy summer dinner (alcoholic beverage optional)

Summer salad
Salad/salsa with purslane (among other things): recipe below

Summer salad/salsa 

Serves 2-4, with or without tortilla chips (all measurements are approximate)

1 small can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 medium Hass avocado, ripe but firm, chopped small
1 medium cucumber, finely chopped
1 cup grilled corn (kernels cut from 2 ears)
1 cup purslane, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper to taste

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Everybody should have a fernery

Grotto, Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery

Where to begin?  After a bit of a break from blogging, I came back energized and inspired from an exhausting yet exhilarating three days in Philadelphia for a regional meeting of the Garden Writers Association (GWA).  As part of the meeting, GWA members toured the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, including Bloomfield Farm (a part of the arboretum not open to the public), with a visit to Chanticleer Garden the next day.  But let's start at the beginning: everybody should have a fernery.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spring waits for no man

Herbaceous peony (unknown cultivar)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the three days of glory (rarely four, often two, sometimes as little as one) my tree peony gives me.  It's always one of the first plants to bloom in my garden, in fact one of the first to stir at all, showing new growth long before the threat of frost is past (although oddly enough, the flowers have never been nipped by a late frost).  Tree peonies aren't really trees; they are hybrids derived from Paeonia suffruticosa (whose Latin name means "kinda shrubby") and related species with persistent woody stems that might grow a few feet tall at most.  Now it's time for the more familiar herbaceous peonies, the perennial kind that dies to the ground every winter, and tend to bloom a bit later.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Iris time

Iris 'Buckwheat'

Spring in Washington, DC is a delightful season but all too short.   We've just had 10 days in a row with temperatures above 80 (a new record for May), reminding me that heat and humidity often arrive early and that it's best to get most gardening chores out of the way by mid-May, before that window closes.  But spring-blooming plants like my bearded irises look so nice this time of year with no care at all, whispering we don't need anything, look how well we're blooming, just sit back and enjoy us for a while.  It's positively hypnotic.  By the time I snap out of it, June has arrived with its muggy summer heat and perhaps worst of all, bugs.  I was bitten by my first mosquito of the year just yesterday, marking spring as effectively over.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

High school graduation, 1980

[Note: I originally wrote this for my mom's birthday last year, and I hope she'll forgive me for re-running it for Mother's Day!]

I was going through some old photos last night and came across this one from my high school graduation in 1980.  I really like this photo because we all look so happy, and I especially love my mom's smile.  It's hard to believe that in this photo from 34 years ago, my parents are both younger than I am now.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Three days of glory

Tree peony

After a long, cold winter and a late, chilly spring--followed by a week in Buffalo--I finally enjoyed a perfect spring weekend, feeling a bit guilty about not working in the garden but happy to just enjoy the warm weather and appreciate the flowers.  Stealing the show today is my tree peony, an unknown cultivar that is one of the very few plants I've kept from the previous owner.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

No-name begonias

Begonia 'Helen Teupel'
Begonia 'Helen Teupel', sold unlabeled

In an online begonia group that I frequent, not a day goes by that somebody doesn't post one or more photos of begonias they got from a friend, or purchased without any label, asking "what is it?"  These are often rex hybrids, one of the groups I most often see offered without any names in garden centers.  There's something about rex begonias that seduces people into buying them, but there's apparently also something about them that makes people lose their names.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pollarding, or just plain murder?

Pollarded crape myrtle
Pollarded crape myrtles, National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

It's that time of year again, when southern homeowners and landscape crews look at crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia species and cultivars) with murder in their hearts. "Crape murder", as the brutal pruning of crape myrtles is often dubbed, is also becoming depressingly common here in Washington, DC with many mature, beautiful specimens being hacked to bits. Who on earth thinks this looks good? Who on earth thinks this is the right thing to do?  Enough "professionals" do this that my biggest question is, who on earth is TRAINING people to do this?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Washington, DC: more than just cherry blossoms

Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Castle and Enid A. Haupt Garden, July 2014

If you asked almost anybody what Washington, DC is known for, cherry blossoms would probably be in the top five things they list.  This time of year, tourists start taking picture of pretty much any tree with pink flowers, thinking they're cherry blossoms.  In reality, these are often flowering plums or magnolias, both of which bloom a bit earlier than the cherries.  There are a few early cherries blooming here and there, but this has been a late spring and it will be another week or so before the cherries reach their peak.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

DC Tropics on TV!

Photo:  Michael K. Wilkinson

[Re-posted from November 2013; the episode is re-airing on Thursday, April 2, at 7:30 am (Eastern) on HGTV; check your local listings.]

In 2007, Dan and I started planning a renovation project for our 1927 rowhouse in Washington, DC; construction was completed in late 2008.  Earlier this year, part of our project was featured on an episode of HGTV's "Bang For Your Buck".  In case you missed the episode, it will be airing again on Friday, November 15 at 10:00 am Thursday, April 2, at 7:30 am (Eastern) on HGTV (but check your local listings).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring forward?

Crocus carnage
Crocus carnage: Bird?  Squirrel?  Gremlins?

Spring is never a straightforward season and March is especially unpredictable.  I had 77 degrees (25° C) two days ago, and a frost last night.  I guess I shouldn't complain too much because it snowed in Buffalo yesterday!  But complain I will, because when I came home from work last night I discovered that, just as they were about to open, some critter had nipped off nearly every bud on my 'Ruby Giant' crocus.  @$%&#!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A bird of a different feather

V-22 Osprey

I've had neither the energy nor inspiration for blogging the past couple of weeks.  It happens.  So to go completely outside the box, here are some photos I took yesterday.  I felt like crap in the morning and called in sick, but as I was trying to sleep in some large low-flying aircraft kept circling over my neighborhood for at least an hour.  I looked out the window and this is what I saw.  This is the kind of thing that reminds me that Washington, DC isn't like other cities!

V-22 Osprey

I had no clue what this thing was until I saw a flurry of activity on Twitter and somebody identified it as a V-22 Osprey.  I've seen many different kinds of military aircraft flying over the District, but this was a first for me.   There were also several large military helicopters flying over, which usually means the President is on the move.  Since I was awake anyway, I grabbed my camera and was able to get a few decent shots from my roof deck, including one that also captured a jet flying far overhead (which I didn't even notice until I downloaded the photos from my camera).

V-22 Osprey

V-22 Osprey

V-22 Osprey

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I hate the Philadelphia Flower Show

Flower show (2)
Marquee should read: abandon hope, all ye who enter here

I hate the Philadelphia Flower Show.  There, I said it.  It's heresy, I know.  The Philadelphia Flower Show, which bills itself as "the world's longest-running and largest indoor Flower Show", is certainly one of the best-known and best-loved flower shows in the entire country, with a practically cult-like following built around it.  I managed to avoid it for over 20 years, having found it just too damn crowded the last time I went.  This time around, I was already in Philadelphia for another event on the first weekend of the show and decided what the heck, I'll give it another chance.  I arrived at the show at 10 am on Sunday morning, and fled at noon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Losing Fort Lauderdale

Poolside view, Alhambra Beach Resort

In a recent post I wrote a bit about our first trip to Ft. Lauderdale 10 years ago.  For that first trip, as I usually do, I made arrangements at the last possible minute.  We were lucky enough to book a single night at a motel just a block from the beach that had been recommended by an online friend.  We liked it immensely, and we've been staying at the Alhambra Beach Resort ever since.  In fact, the last few years we've been making our reservations there a year in advance!