As the weather warms up and rainy days become a norm here in Northern Virginia, many have taken the time to turn a small patch of land into a garden landscape. And, while gardening is a great hobby to take part in during the global pandemic, it can also be quite challenging if you don’t know where to start.
Lucky for you, there are plenty of plant experts in the NoVA region who can help, including the horticulturists at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, who have launched several virtual offerings to better your garden this spring as the stay-at-home order remains in place.
On April 23, Mount Vernon started its annual Historic Plant & Garden Sale in honor of George Washington’s early days as a plantsman and a farmer. While typically this affair serves as an opportunity for local residents to explore the gardens of the estate and purchase plants grown on the property, this year the sale is taking place entirely online. The sale will continue until all flora and plants are sold out. Then, on Friday, May 1, Sunday, May 3, Tuesday, May 5 and Thursday, May 7, shoppers will have the opportunity to come to Mount Vernon and pick up their items curbside.
In addition to plants, annuals, perennials and heirlooms, online shoppers can choose from The General’s Choice plant line this year, which were inspired by the estate and designed by Greenhouse Manager Melanie Welles Creamer. The varieties include American beautyberry, American boxwood, common fig and so much more, all of which can be added to your at-home garden. Mount Vernon is also currently selling various garden accessories online, such as colonial black lanterns, suncatchers, a distressed outdoor clock and more.
While the Historic Plant & Garden Sale will only last about two weeks, aspiring gardeners can learn from Mount Vernon experts through several live and pre-recorded videos found on the organization’s website. The most recent course? A container gardening workshop, hosted by Welles Creamer.
For a full schedule of Mount Vernon’s daily workshops, which vary in topic each week, click here. Plus, Mount Vernon has a variety of other garden-focused resources, including virtual tours and fact sheets of the grounds, history lessons on gardening’s roots and so much more to keep you informed and entertained at home.
Looking for ways to social distance and keep yourself occupied could be giving you Instagram envy of all sorts: baking bread, redesigning your home or even planting a garden.
If the latter has caught your eye lately, Nikki O’Rourke, owner of Modern Foliage Designs, LLC, is here to help. Gardening not only will get you outside and in the fresh air, but it will also give you the opportunity to turn a small patch of land into something even more beautiful.
In highlights from our conversation below, find tips on how to plan for your garden, what you should and shouldn’t be planting in early April and how to add a few plants to your life even if you don’t have an outdoor grassy patch.
If someone is trying to plant a garden for the first time, what are a few starting steps they should take?
Before you even think about breaking ground, think about how much time you will actually spend in the garden. Are you willing to go weekly, or are do you just want to let it do its thing? Knowing your realistic gardening time allotment, you can start to select the plants you want to grow. Annual and perennial flowers require more work than shrubs and trees (with exceptions).
The next thing I would recommend is understanding what type of light you have. Are you full sun, no sun or part sun? South-facing yards get the most sun, while north-facing get the least. East gets morning and cool sun, while west gets afternoon’s hot sun.
The beginning of spring is warm but still has those cooler nights. What are the best things to plant in early April for the mixed weather?
Now is a great time to get your cold crops growing: broccoli, kale, cabbage and peas. You can even get your early flowers in too. This year may prove to warm up sooner than last, so I’ve been taking risks in my own garden and getting some summer flowers in the ground early.
If you want to plant shrubs and trees, you’ve got a small window to get things in the ground and established, I would wait no later than Friday, May 1. Otherwise, I would wait until fall to do a major overhaul. With proper care you can plant anytime, but for low maintenance I would abide by these suggestions.
Since many might be planting gardens with some newfound free time, what advice would you give them on enjoying the process?
Don’t strive for perfection. Gardens are organic and growing and evolving; don’t stress over perfect pruning (unless it’s a hedge). Let plants do what they want to do for the first year. If it gets too leggy, clip it. If you prune too much and it’s ugly, wait two weeks and it’ll grow back. It’s the imperfections in a garden that make it perfect. I think that’s why I enjoy gardens so much is because my lack of perfectionism allows the gardens to move organically in the space. Nature does a much better job of designing than any person can.
How do you make the most of a garden with only a small amount of space?
I love planting annuals in my small-space gardens and coupling them with just a few evergreen plants to last all season. Annuals can get expensive to change season after season, so I reserve them for my smaller spaces where I can afford to go all out and make a bigger impact.
If you don’t have space for a garden but are dreaming of one, what are some good balcony plants for early April, or indoor plants to adopt this spring?
All your indoor plants can make it outside in one location or another. But just like people, they can get sunburned. Don’t just put them outside in bright light without expecting damage. You need to acclimate them to the sun, maybe a couple morning hours at a time, before they can stay out all day. I love putting palm trees on my deck. They screen me from the neighbors and are easy to maintain in a pot. For flowering plants, try hibiscus or mandevilla. They bloom most of the summer and are pretty no-fuss.
Are there any plants people should avoid planting right now?
Monday, April 20 is our usual last frost day. This year has warmed up significantly early so I’m taking the risk, but anything below 45 degrees has a chance of causing damage to sensitive tropical plants or flowering annuals.
What is your personal favorite springtime plant?
This year I’m loving my newest addition to the garden—Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ (for full to partial sun). It bloomed even before my daffodils came up and is still going strong. I divided it from a friend’s garden last fall and it has tripled in size. It’s a ground-cover plant and hopefully will take over some of my bare spots in the garden. But each year my favorite plants change season to season. I always love finding something new!
Why do you think it’s a good activity to get out and plant during social distancing and quarantine? What about it can be beneficial?
This can be a little hard to answer without sounding cliché, but a garden is such a peaceful oasis away from all the city life. I can really focus on watching the little bugs move around or the squirrels hopping around in my trees (and stealing my tulips). I love to focus in on these sounds and colors and it just feels rejuvenating. There are also the many therapeutic qualities of dirt itself and how it has been shown to decrease anxiety and even increase health.
Is there anything else you would want readers to know about starting spring gardening in early April?
Don’t be afraid if your plant hasn’t come to life yet. Some plants wait until late May to even put on new leaves! Gardening is a lesson in patience, so just wait and see what happens.
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But there are other less-crowded locations across the region boasting the same cherry blossoms. According to Destination DC, the region will welcome an estimated 1.5 million people for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Here’s where you can find cherry blossoms with more peace and quiet.
Green Spring Gardens Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Green Spring Gardens is ready to welcome visitors from across the region and show off its 9.5-acre garden, with cherry blossom trees found throughout the park along with other budding spring flowers. Find your peace while walking over the bubbling streams and valleys, take a peek at the 18th-century plantation house and greenhouse, and be sure to let the kids explore the children’s garden. Family-friendly activities are already planned for cherry blossom season too, meaning you can plan a whole day of fun around spending time outside, packing a picnic and letting the kids create something new related to the season. // Green Spring Gardens: 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria; free entry, event prices vary
Kenwood, Maryland Cherry blossoms already change much of the natural scenery across the region for the better, but if you’re in search of a true change outside of NoVA and the nation’s capital, head to Montgomery County, Maryland. The Kenwood neighborhood is home to an estimated 1,200 cherry blossom trees, which were planted in the 1930s and 1940s to attract homebuyers to the area. The area is conveniently located near downtown Bethesda and Chevy Chase, meaning you can plan your visit and still have access to everything you might need or want, including access by public transportation. Be sure to check out the bloom watch for updates since these groves tend to bloom a few days after Washington. // Kenwood Golf and Country Club: 5601 River Road, Bethesda; free
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens This 95-acre park is filled with walking trails and around 100 cherry blossom trees. When you arrive, next to the visitor center there is a paved circular trail that is lined with cherry blossoms. Feel free to take a stroll, or have a seat at the entry garden (best for those not looking to walk far) and enjoy a collection of additional spring flowers. If you do take the long way around, pass Lake Caroline, where you’ll find an estimated 60 cherry blossom trees, or catch a glimpse of the Korean Bell Garden, one of the iconic pavilions in the park. This location is a perfect way to enjoy a nice day, take a walk or even pack a picnic and let the kids play in the open fields. // Meadowlark Botanical Gardens: 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna; $6
National Harbor If you’re just too excited to wait for the festival to get into full swing, take a drive across the water and check out the already-blooming 200 Okame cherry trees at National Harbor. The trees are different from the blooms you might be used to (Yoshino trees), and have only been planted on the property for three years. Catch the slightly darker pink blooms as a preview of what’s to come in the nation’s capital, but also be sure to check out the calendar. Cherry-blossom-inspired and pink-inspired events will be taking place in the coming weeks, including a lantern festival and Sakura Sunday, where visitors can enjoy drinks (including sake, of course), learn about Japanese culture, explore a vendor market and enjoy live entertainment. // National Harbor: 150 National Plaza, National Harbor, Maryland; Sakura Sunday: April 5, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; free
River Farm Making the most out of cherry blossom season doesn’t have to mean only seeing the pale pink blooms. It’s the start of spring, after all! Head to the American Horticultural Society’s headquarters at River Farm, where you will find cherry blossom trees near the entryway, followed by several acres of gardens and blooming flowers. The property is 25 acres and was once a part of George Washington’s original farmland, and is home to the Manor House, the Andre Bluemel Meadow (filled with native grasses and wildflowers) and a children’s garden. Need a new family picture? Skip the Tidal Basin and head for this backdrop and serene experience instead. // River Farm: 7931 E. Boulevard Drive, Alexandria; donations encouraged
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The warm days of gardening are just around the corner, and spring is in sight. Get started with your own digging, planting and growing with these local events this month.
Growing Edibles in Containers Sunday, March 1, 2-4 p.m. So you don’t have the space (or the yard) for a garden … no problem! You can still grow sustainable produce in the space that you do have on a balcony, in a windowsill or on a porch. Learn from the Piedmont Environmental Council about soil, drainage, container sizes, plant types and placement. Then come summertime, you’ll have your own bright red tomatoes, fresh herbs and more. // The Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows: 39990 Howsers Branch Drive, Dulles; $20
Greenstreet Gardens Alexandria 2020 Bus Trip Tuesday, March 3, 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. It’s time to start getting inspired for your garden this year, so hop on a local bus ride and head to the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show. Exhibits will be on display in almost every square foot of the space, filled with succulents, geraniums, roses and a variety of other international blooms. Check out handcrafted yard art exhibits, make-and-take areas, live butterflies, potting parties and more. Plus, you’ll make your way back to NoVA in a reasonable time frame. // 1721 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria; $80
Home & Garden Show at Fair Oaks Mall Friday, March 6-Sunday, March 8, various times Taking on outdoor landscaping and gardening on your own can be a challenge. But no one ever said you have to do it alone! Browse vendors and local service providers at the the Home & Garden Show at Fair Oaks Mall and you might just leave with an even better plan for your spring and summer landscaping. // 11750 Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax; free
Plot Against Hunger Spring Garden Kick-off Saturday, March 7, 10 a.m. The seventh annual Spring Garden Kick-off won’t have you digging and planting in your own garden (not quite yet, anyway), but will have you getting your hands dirty for a good cause. Learn how to start your own garden and help plant sustainable produce for the local garden that provides healthy, fresh produce to families in need. The event will also feature guest speakers, break-out sessions by local experts and hands-on activities. // Arlington Central Library: 1015 N. Quincy St., Arlington; free
Basics of Gardening: Rain Gardens, Diseases and Pest Management Saturday, March 7, 10:15 a.m. There’s a lot more that goes into gardening than just digging a hole and putting a seed in the ground. Much, much more. Stop by the Haymarket Gainesville Community Library to learn all about rain gardens (which treat stormwater runoff and can help prevent erosion), as well as how to handle plant diseases and local pests that could seek shelter in your garden. Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners will be sharing university-based research and personal experiences to help teach you everything to know about gardening in Prince William County. // Haymarket Gainesville Community Library: 14870 Lightner Road, Haymarket; free
The Art of Pruning Workshop Sunday, March 8, 1-3:30 p.m. Merrifield Garden Center wants to make sure you’re ready for the spring and summer gardening season. Kicking off a busy season is a workshop on pruning. The activity may seem intimidating, especially due to the potential ladder-and-shears combo, but it is a beneficial treatment for a variety of reasons. Learn why and how you should be pruning your trees and shrubs, as well as seasonal timing, effective tools and more. // Merrifield Garden Center: 12101 Lee Highway, Fairfax; $25
Why Native Plants? A Lecture by Elisa Meara Sunday, March 8, 4-5 p.m. Virginia Master Gardener and trained garden designer Elisa Meara is a local expert on environmentally sound garden practices and design, and she’s ready to share some of that knowledge with curious local residents. Stop by to listen to Meara share her experiences with adapting to different climates while maintaining a garden, and how you can create the healthiest, environmentally friendly garden in Northern Virginia. // GreenFare Organic Cafe: 408 Elden St., Herndon; free
LCMGA 11th Annual Garden Symposium Saturday, March 21, 9 a.m. This all-day gardening event sells out every year, so you definitely don’t want to miss your chance to grab tickets! The 2020 symposium will be welcoming Ginger Woolridge, a landscape artist, garden consultant and writer; Ira Wallace, owner of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange; Sam Droege, wildlife biologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; and Dennis Dimick, a retired journalist and photography editor for National Geographic. // Leesburg Community Church: 835 Lee Ave. SW, Leesburg; $72
Scrapbook Garden Journal Workshop Saturday, March 21, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Dream up all of your gardening goals and ideas at this workshop, where you’ll be able to make a full-size journal with dedicated, personalized sections for your own needs. You might want areas to keep track of your plant growth, or areas with notes on certain types of produce. Whatever it may be, local book artist Bel Mills will help you choose paper, binding and more so you can create the garden notebook you desire. // Green Spring Gardens and Horticultural Center: 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria; $74
Garden Talk: Gardening in Climate Change Friday, March 27, 1:30-2:30 p.m. There’s no denying that this has been quite a warm winter aside from a few chilly days in the low 20s. If you’re concerned about climate change and how it’s affecting our area (as well as how it can affect your garden), head to this talk to hear from Virginia’s extension master gardeners. The team will offer plant selections, water management and other sustainable practices, and answer questions about local sustainability. // Green Spring Gardens and Horticultural Center: 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria; $10
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Need new inspiration for your house’s interior design or just simply love taking a look at beautiful homes? Pre-order these new coffee table books, featuring great photos and tips on all-things home, which hit store shelves in March. You’ll not only get expert tips, but the books serve as home decor all on their own too. Below, find details on all six.
Live Beautiful By Athena Calderone Creator of lifestyle blog EyeSwoon, Athena Calderone wrote this book in hopes of improving the quality of home spaces, and the quality of live for those living in the spaces too. Inside, you’ll get a glimpse into how interior decorators, fashion designers and tastemakers carefully craft interiors. You may even see two of Calderone’s own residences inside. // Available March 3; $36
London in Bloom By Georgianna Lane Showcasing the English city in spring with florals in full bloom, this coffee table book includes shots from parks, gardens, florists and flower markets in London. There is also a field guide of common spring-blooming trees and shrubs and a step-by-step guide on how to create your own London-style bouquet. // Available March 17; $17.99
A post shared by Susanna Salk (@susannasalk) on Jul 30, 2019 at 4:47pm PDT
At Home in the English Countryside: Designers and Their Dogs By Susanna Salk Celebrating the country life in England, this book includes British country homes and gardens owned by some of the world’s most famous designers, as well as their dogs. Designers included are Paolo Moschino, Kit Kemp and Veere Grenney. // Available March 17; $36.70
In recent years, Northern Virginia counties have introduced several regulations in an effort to increase local residents’ impact on the environment. From the newly implemented purple bins for glass recycling to programs centered on water conservation, sustainability reform is constantly popping up throughout NoVA.
One way to can take part in lowering your carbon footprint on your own in 2020 is through composting—an easy, effective and often misunderstood form of repurposing organic material as fertilizer to help plants grow.
According to the United States Environmental Agency, food scraps and yard waste currently make up more than 28% of what we throw away, ultimately ending up in landfills and releasing potent greenhouse gas methane into the air. Yet if composted, these organic materials can enrich soul, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and encourage the production of beneficial bacteria that breaks down organic matter.
For those who don’t want to make a compost garden in their backyard, there are plenty of sites in the region where you can drop off your organic waste and here, we share them all.
The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) has launched its Landscape Management Program in the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, area as of July, and is actively looking for interested candidates.
The program hopes to offer an alternative career and educational opportunity for local residents to fill the current labor shortage in the landscaping industry taking place across the country.
Apprentices will learn how to properly care for lawns through the use of equipment and technology, horticulture skills, design techniques and how to properly install lighting, irrigation, paving and other landscaping materials.
As a requirement, students must be a minimum of 16 years old, have a high school diploma (or an equivalent) and be physically able to perform the work. The program’s requirements include 2,000 hours of paid job training spent in the field, and a minimum of 144 hours in the classroom or through an online equivalent.
Candidates can learn more about the program or get signed up with a local landscape professional on the website.
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There’s a new trend buzzing in the gardening scene: pollinator gardens, which are designed and planted with specific nectar and pollen-producing plants to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.
We spoke with him about the importance of creating more pollinator gardens in Northern Virginia and how everyone, even those with limited space or resources, can help protect them for the many seasons to come. Highlights are below.
Can you explain what a pollinator is and why they are important in Virginia?
Pollinators are a very diverse group. They include any species that moves pollen from the flowers of one plant to another. This includes bees, butterflies, moths, some beetles and flies, hummingbirds and bats. However, the two main groups that we tend to focus on in the world of gardening are the various native bee species and butterfly species.
As pollinators, honey bees tend to get a lot of attention (which they should), but honey bees actually are not native to North America. Although they are obviously extremely important to a large percentage of our crop plants. But a lot of new research has shown that many native bee species actually also contribute to pollination of our crop plants, as well as pollination of our native plants. Otherwise, butterflies also get a lot of attention by gardeners since they are so beautiful. There are other pollinators like some fly species such as hoverflies or syrphid flies (which look sort of like bees) that are flower visitors as adults.
Regardless of which species a gardener focuses on, studies have shown that even the smallest of gardens can have a very positive effect on the population of pollinators, many of which are at risk or endangered for various reasons.
What’s the best way to start a pollinator garden? Plant more flowers! I would start with couple of species native to the mid-Atlantic with a focus on either bees or butterflies, or both. With native bees, your goal should be to create a rich habitat of flowers over the longest period possible. Specifically, you should look for plants that flower continuously over a long period, with numerous, often small individual flowers. This will provide an abundance of nectar and pollen for these species.
If you are seeking to build a butterfly garden, you have two options: one is to provide larval food source (such as milkweed species for monarch butterflies), and the other is to provide an abundance of small flowers for the adult butterflies, which would be similar as for attracting native bees.
Why are pollinator gardens important?
Pollinators provide a key service in our ecosystems with their interactions with plants and animals. They provide the pollination needed for the seeds of many of our native species to form. Plants are, in many cases, utterly dependent on pollinators for their reproduction and spread. Pollinators also serve as an extremely important food source for many other animal species, especially native bird species. Providing a pollinator-friendly habitat is really providing a habitat for many other plant and animal species.
What are the “don’ts” of creating a pollinator garden?
Pesticide use is one of the most important factors to be aware of for pollinator health. Obviously, chemicals designed to kill insects might pose a risk to these beneficial insects. It’s important to hire and use companies with certified applicators. These licensed professionals are trained on proper use, care and timing of pesticides and have significantly more knowledge than home gardeners on chemicals and methods that aren’t overly harmful to pollinators. A great example is not applying most pesticides on plants that are in full bloom. Even organic chemical controls can kill pollinators if they are frequenting the flower when or soon after you spray.
Another big problem is fragmentation and loss of habitat due to development. This is where even a small garden can really help the local pollinator populations. Specifically, the emphasis on extremely tidy, turf-grass dominated landscapes with an over-application of mulch removes much of the habitat that these pollinators need to live. For example, native bumble bees (many of which are ground dwelling) need some open, wildly-managed soil like those found in pollinator gardens. Consider getting rid of more turf, mulching less thoroughly and less deeply (less than 3 inches!) and planting more flowers and pollinator plants in Northern Virginia.
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It’s time to get your hands dirty! The Reston Town Center will host a home and garden marketplace fit with live music, informative presentations and a variety of décor, plants and vendors on May 5.
At the HGRTC event, being held from noon to 5 p.m., guests can see Mina Fies, a feng shui and zen remolding expert of synergy design and construction, in her workshop on how to turn your home into a zen zone.
There will also be a seminar by WTOP’s Mike McGrath, who will teach attendees how to grow tasty tomatoes in their gardens, as well as present a lecture titled, “Grow a Crazy Mixed Up Garden!”
Vendors include Mayflowers, who will host a succulent bar and more; a pick-a-pot pop-up, L’Occitane, with hand massages and samples; Fairfax Master Gardeners; Plant NoVA Natives; Reston Association Environmental Resources; Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy; and more.
The event will conclude with a free showing of Hometown Habitat, a 90-minute educational and environmental documentary by The Meadow Project. Food and drinks will be available for purchase to enjoy during the film.
For more information or to digitally RSVP, click here. // Reston Town Center: 11900 Market St., Reston; free
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Spring has sprung, and Loudoun County is welcoming it with its annual Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival.
Set for April 27 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and April 28 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), the festival will host 150 vendors, including landscapers, gardening suppliers, plant sellers and outdoor furniture. There will also be live music, activities for kids and food.
Landscape displays get put together overnight, and guests vote for their favorite displays every year in the People’s Choice Landscape Competition. Past winners include Blue Sky Landscaping LLC and Amazing Earth Landscapes.
This year the festival will also have a beer garden with offerings from the region’s breweries.
The festival is located in downtown Leesburg, and portions of King Street, Market Street and Cornwall Street will be closed for the event. Parking is available at the two parking garages in Leesburg, on Loudoun Street. Additional parking is available at Ida Lee Park.