Casa Mariposa…

2017 Garden Bloggers Fling Director Tammy Schmitt (check her blog out at flung open her own Bristol, Virginia garden gate for us to see her exuberant cottage style garden. I knew I would love this garden when we entered through a gate crowned with a freeform trellis created by a long dead but quite sturdy vine trunk!

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This precious little Clematis was making its way up the trunk as fast as it could. This downward facing bell shaped flower is not one I see often in California.

Schmitt 14It is easy for those of us who garden in areas with short mild winters and long, long growing seasons to forget that many Zone 7a gardens like this one may be  blanketed with snow well past when we have all ready fertilized our lawns and deadheaded our roses for the first time .

Keeping that in mind, the riotous summer foliage and flowers in Tammy’s back garden are all the more impressive to me. Her garden is completely organic and features many native plants and ornamentals that attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. While perennials stay in place through the cold season, all Tammy’s pollinator friendly annuals are sown from seed while all else sleeps.

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I love the fact that this garden has no 5 or 6 foot privacy fence and can be enjoyed by Tammy’s neighbors as well as the wildlife and family dogs. This creative gardener met the challenge of her 5 rescue dogs’ favorite pastime of running back and forth in front of the low wire and timber fence by clearing the plants from their preferred footpath and rechristening it a dog run. Not even visible to those enjoying the garden but perfectly “dogscaped” for her pooches.

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A hand dug river bed over 60 feet in length ending in a rain garden prevents runoff from entering the storm drain that flows to the Chesapeake Bay.  Volunteers from reseeding annuals are free to take root in the river bed, adding to its very natural feel.

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Tammy has a great way with pots, with dozens forming living walls on either side of the steps into her home. There are some interesting posts on her blog chronicling her search for a way to get these yearly pots going through the winter weather to get the best jump on spring.

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Absolutely going to use this great idea for marking plants–mini clay pots with the plant names on the bottom casually top supports which disappear into the sea of green.

Tammy has been using a product called Penetrate from one of the Fling’s sponsors, John & Bob’s Smart Soil Solutions, to improve her clay soil.  We had an opportunity to be John Valentino’s audience as he filmed a promotional spot for the products in Tammy’s back garden.  It was interesting to hear the science behind the line of organic products and a few good questions from our group added to the filming, making us a truly captive (and quiet until called on!) audience. Thank you, John!

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A quick note to my Central Valley readers–John & Bob’s is a Fresno company. My Fling swag bag included both literature and sample products to try. We all know great gardens start with the soil–I am going to put several of these products into play in my garden. John cautioned us that these are not overnight fixes but I am willing to put the time in if I can reform my clay soil even moderately! I’ll keep you posted but in the meantime, check out what these local soil superheroes have to offer at

And it is so obvious that Tammy Schmitt loves to garden–thank you to her for the three years of blood, sweat and tears it took to organize the 2017 Capitol Region Garden Bloggers Fling. As a first year participant I had no idea what to expect. One description I read called the Fling “summer camp for gardeners” and I think that is quite apt. I spent time with new friends away from the normal routine of my life, shared stories and experiences, saw some beautiful scenery and created memories to last a lifetime. 2018 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Garden Bloggers Fling and that anniversary will be celebrated in its ‘home town’ Austin, Texas. Don’t worry–I’ll be there and by way of photos and words–you can be, too!

Virginia Gardener’s Virginia garden…

Virginia Gardener and her husband were married on their Middleburg estate shortly after purchasing the property in the 1970s. They share a passion for classic historic homes and the c. 1790 home on Seven Springs Farm met their hearts’ desires. Smack in the middle of Virginia horse country, the surrounding garden offers long views of rolling fields and distant hills.

Virginia’s property leads with her veggie garden and barn as any proper farm would. The plots for crops were not overly large but were chock full of really healthy looking produce, flowers and a bit of garden art here and there.



Virginia had walked down the driveway to welcome us. As we followed her back up toward the house it was hard not to be distracted by the views.



The gracious home comes into view. I am sure that 220+ years did not pass without changes to the house to meet the needs of the day but the home’s architecture remains  marvelously cohesive.


The garden is divided into many distinct areas; both sides of the home feature a little more formality while the back has an open family friendly lawn.

As we rounded the home on the stone end we enter the herb garden near this charming small structure which I believe Virginia identified as the original spring house.

This vignette on the side of this rustic outbuilding features an ancient looking fountain framed by symmetrical boxwoods and iron trellises.

A classic sundial provides a centerpiece for the herb plantings

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Meticulously maintained boxwood hedging of several heights separates the herb and secret garden from the broad expanse of the back lawn.

The perennial borders provide an area of transition from the lawn to the greater expanse of rolling grassland beyond the low rail fence. I loved that Virginia has provided numerous openings from the garden to the open fields, each one different and each one acting as the frame for a view worthy of a landscape painting.

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No shortcut here but a lovely place to rest and enjoy the garden

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Looking back at the home. The stone wall is a beautiful way to accomplish the elevation change and makes a nice background for the plantings. Classic boxwood define corners and walkways throughout the garden.

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The perennial borders were not riots of color but had lots of variety so that there would always be something  in bloom.

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Deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, in addition to a variety of conifers, give the borders year round structure and interest, allowing the seasonal plants to wax and wane as they choose.

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Wooden obelisks were staples of the border, offering vertical interest and a place for a variety of scrambling vines. Here you see one of the nodding bell shaped Clematis with blooms in all stages.

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I would have been happy to sit on one of the gardens benches or up on the raised deck fitted for outdoor dining for the rest of the day enjoying this exquisite countryside.

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I want this birdbath!

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Hands down this was my favorite place in Virginia’s garden. Another elevation change was accomplished with stone steps and this U shaped wall delineated a restful spot with a perfect view. Please take note of the bronze animal walking the back wall. I was not the only one who mistook it for coyote–several of us discussed it with interest for several minutes before a local took pity on us and identified it as a fox…you know, like in fox hunting…in horse country…duh.

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These beautiful weeping trees (maybe Katsura?) camouflaged a wide side gate.

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One of many great garden art rabbits.

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Yet another gorgeous framed view!

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A formal boxwood garden takes you from the sunken stone area up toward the shady swimming pool. Symmetry and sight lines rule.

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The back of this calming pond accommodates another elevation change.

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The faint limey green in these hosta leaves almost glows in this shady bed which delineates the boxwood garden from the pool area.


After several minutes rest in the shade by the pool and a glass of cold lemonade we weary garden bloggers bid good bye to Virginia Gardener and her Virginia garden. The distinct rooms of this garden estate have evolved over decades and speak to me of the cool mostly green gardens I remember so well from my years living in the Deep South. When you can achieve a beautiful garden that is also practical and looks good without spending every waking hour on maintenance, you have arrived!

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United States Botanic Garden

Located at the foot of the United States Capitol, the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) was established by Congress in 1820. George Washington had a vision for a botanic garden which would demonstrate and promote the importance of plants to our young nation. Today, three garden spaces make up the USBG: the Conservatory, the National Garden and the adjacent Bertholdi Park. Approximately 65,000 plants are maintained for exhibition, study, conservation and exchange with other institutions.

The Terrace Garden entrance to the Conservatory offers a peek-a-boo view of the United States Capitol building.


This gigantic shallow container, housing an interesting mix of tropicals and conifers, is the Terrace Garden’s focal point.  The architectural conifer in the background bed appears to sprout from the super-scaled dish garden!


Although I am not a huge fan of the heavy humid air of indoor conservatories, my analysis of this day’s prevailing weather was that inside the big glass house could not be any worse so…

The Garden Court acts as an anteroom for the plant life of the Tropics. The mirror image shallow reflecting pools are beautiful and the aqua tile and sparking water offer visual relief from the sultry day.



That would the Tropics be without a massive Ficus aurea?


Additional collections from around the globe are housed in several auxiliary glasshouses that surround the two story main conservatory. I walked all over the world on these wide flagstone paths!

The National Garden, established in 2006, was originally conceived in the late 1980s to features roses which had been declared the national floral emblem in 1986. The concept was later broadened to include native Mid-Atlantic plants (dubbed the Regional Garden), pollinator attracting plants and a fountain celebrating the First Ladies.


The Rose Garden


The First Ladies Water Garden


Above and below–small sections of the Butterfly Garden. Many evergreens are incorporated here to maintain garden interest during the dormant season.


Views of the Regional Garden




As with many of the gardens I visited on and around the National Mall, this garden was being used for rest and respite by both adults and children. There were folks eating lunch, reading the daily paper and just absorbing the surrounding nature. Large enough to provide a bit of insulation from the hustle and bustle outside its fences but small enough to pop in on from the street without needing a map to find your way out.


A Year in the Garden…Filoli in July

So let’s take a detour 3000 miles west of the wonderful gardens I saw as part of my recent trip to Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia to check in on one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most beautiful garden estates. I have a single public garden and two private ones still in the wings to share so don’t think the party on the East Coast is over quite yet.

I was a bit late getting on the road to Filoli, limiting my pre-class photo opportunities. I have been watching these pollarded trees since February. Take a look at how they have developed.

I think by October the leafy allee will be complete–then in a month or so the pruning process will start all over again. Just another example to remind me that this estate was built during a time of prosperity and by people with substantial resources to provide the regular maintenance required by this, and many other examples on the property, specialty pruning technique.

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I arrived in the Sunken Garden just in time to catch this interplay between a visiting heron (birdwatching friends–feel free to correct me on this) and the bronze herons who inhabit the pond.

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A bit too early in the day for these to be open.

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On my June visit the garden staff was busy clearing out the last of the spring annuals, amending the beds and putting in the summer color. Bright orange Zinnias take center stage in the boxwood edged beds, complemented by blue Salvia farinacea. Some of the last planted pots of blue pansies remain and new pots packed with petunias in purple tones have been added.

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Bed areas adjacent to the steps down to the garden are accented by small stands of apricot dahlias.  In spite of the fiery color scheme, the summer garden seems quite restrained in comparison to the spring planted beds just past.

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No buds last month…in full bloom today!

I will admit to being a little disappointed in the new planting in the Walled Garden, which lies between the Sunken Garden and the Rose Garden. Although I recognize that Filoli attempts to keep the all the gardens planted in the style of the 30s and 40s when much of the landscape was enriched by the estate’s second owners, Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth, the rows of small pink begonias fell flat for me and the pale lavender petunias just disappeared into the strong sun.

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In the Rose Garden, much was still in full bloom. A good bit of deadheading was called for on some of the earlier bloomers and that worked out well for one of today’s class topics–Pruning Principles II.

In March we concentrated on the basics of pruning–why pruning is needed, what tools are available and how to make a good cut. We also learned the 4 basic pruning methods: pinching, thinning, heading back and shearing. Most of our practical application in the garden involved spring flowering shrubs that flower on old wood such as the flowering quince which is pruned immediately after blooming to permit new wood to develop for the following season’s growth. If I could take a pruning class every month year after year, I would still sign up for another. Pruning is an art and, as such, improves with practice. As a hobby horticulturalist I still do not have a wealth of pruning CONFIDENCE even though I have a pretty good intellectual grasp of the how-tos!

Yet again, instructor Mimi Clarke stressed the importance of understanding the plant’s natural habit, when it blooms and whether flowers are produced on new growth or last year’s growth. Know what you are pruning and how it grows before you even get your clippers out of their sheath. Her reference recommendation from March lingered in my head–the American Horticultural Society: Pruning and Training by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce. I found the newest edition (2017) online. I am not sure why the book no longer bears the AHS logo but I am reasonably sure it has nothing to do with the actual content and wanted the most recent edition.

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There are very specific instructions, including timing and technique for hundreds of plants. Many plants that don’t have their own listing are included at the end of each section with a notation to “prune as_____________” with reference to a plant whose pruning scheme is similar. I bought the paperback so I could feel ok about dragging it around the garden and filling it with notes!

On our garden walk in search of plants needing a snip or nip we stopped at the Rose Garden where Mimi showed us examples of correctly deadheading roses to encourage new blooms. The three Ds (dead, diseased, damaged) come into play here. Mid summer is a good time to thin out some of the interior growth, especially when the inevitable black spot, rust or powdery mildew are present, to increase air flow and generally shape thing up. For many years I have done a pretty hard cut back midsummer on both roses and perennials and find that little bit of downtime now pays me back two fold in a more healthy and longer flowering period into the fall. Even an old gardener needs a little validation now and then.

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Check out the height of these roses in relation to Mimi. In our discussion we agreed that it may be time for these quite old roses to be pruned back really hard in January to decrease their overall size and reinvigorate them.

We wandered toward the Perennial Border and found the staff gardeners nipping into the Veronica ‘Pink Damask’ and salvias that had been spectacular less than a month ago.

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Most of the fabulous garden photos we see in the magazines and books are of plants at their absolute peak. The truth is that most perennials, even those with relatively long bloom periods, are only at that peak for 2 or 3 weeks in a season. Secondary bloom flushes can be stimulated with a dedication to deadheading. Even if you have ignored the spent flowers many perennials will signal their needs to be tidied up a bit by developing new growth at the crown. Below you see the Teucrium chamaedrys used as a border in the knot garden.

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In the lower photo the Teucrium (commonly called wall germander) is the bright green in the lower left corner. In June, it was not yet in bloom. The bloom detail above shows that it will only be another week or two before all the germander will need to be sheared back. Another bloom is not guaranteed but the least you have done is to neaten it up for the fall.

We finished our morning with a pass through the orchard. The variety of fruit trees call for a variety of pruning schemes–the key, of course, is to know your tree and how it produces fruiting wood. There’s a nice crop forming on the row of espaliered apple trees.

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Thank you, Mimi, for the wonderful written resource material included in our notebooks! I can use all the visual aids I can get to work through my pruning challenges.

Pest Management was our afternoon topic. Within the 2 hour window to cover this never ending subject Mimi stated the obvious: no way we can even mention every insect or disease, much less how to handle it. She took a practical approach: you will have pests, whether insects, rodents or disease AND your goal will be to MANAGE them as best you can.

Mimi’s philosophy on problem solving starts with trying to prevent those problems from ever showing up in your garden. Prevention starts with a healthy garden. To that end: LEARN to ask the right questions when buying plants; DIVERSIFY your plant selection; PREPARE your soil and REGULATE your irrigation practices.

Determine what population level (disease or critter) is acceptable to you. Eradication may not be a practical goal. Then look at CONTROL on four levels, using chemical controls as your last resource.

CULTURAL CONTROLS might include selection of resistant varieties, companion plantings, sanitary practices, pruning and proper use of fertilizers and water.

MECHANICAL CONTROLS can include mechanical devices such as paper collars around plant stems or sticky barriers on trees, hand picking of pests, water blasts and traps appropriate to the critter.

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Filoli’s staff garden grows their berries totally encased in wire structures to discourage raccoons and deer. Below you see row cages that can be placed over seedlings for protection.

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Even parts of the extensive cutting garden used for arrangements for the house and Visitor Center are permanently covered in wire mesh. The staff gardeners creatively fashion new cages, collars and trap routines to keep all the wildlife under as much control as is practical.

BIOLOGICAL CONTROLS are defined as any activity of one species that reduces the adverse effect of another and might include the introduction of parasites, pathogens, predators or competitors.

CHEMICAL CONTROLS are used when non chemical approaches have failed.

Mimi lists these steps to use when you detect a pest, weed problem or disease in your garden:

  • Correctly identify the problem
  • Determine if you can tolerate it or if it needs to be corrected
  • If your goal is correction, use mechanical/physical controls above first
  • Still need help, determine if a biological control is available
  • When pesticides are your last resort, read labels carefully and choose the product that has been identified as the most effective
  • Apply proper amounts in confined areas

I really appreciated this process driven approach to pest management. My tolerance for insect pests and weeds has grown as I have aged. I no longer even have an expectation of a weed free or non-beneficial insect free garden–although I would still pay BIG MONEY for a snail free garden. I am not alone in jumping past the first 3 types of control and landing on my feet with a chemical control in my hands! My goal will be to make pest management a more thoughtful process in the future.

Our class year is winding down. In August we will spend our entire class time in the greenhouses exploring plant propagation. September will bring a overview of fall cleanup and the presentation of our individual projects.

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The dahlia tubers have been planted. I hope we will get to see this in full bloom before our Year in the Garden comes to a close.



Bays and coves…

Was the way a fellow garden blogger described the the undulating borders and beds as we took in the big picture of the The Plains, Virginia front garden of Linda Hostetler. Her neat, cream colored stucco home sits smack on the main street of this little village with a population of about 200. Linda is a graphic artist turned landscape designer and she has used her narrow and very long one acre lot to compose a cottage style garden packed with trees, shrubs, conifers, perennials, annuals, bulbs and ground covers organized into hundreds of vignettes curated to delight the eye and senses.

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A little screening  from the busy street offers an alluring view of what’s to come!

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Linda repeats variations of the primary colors red, blue and yellow throughout her garden to create visual rhythm–keeping your eyes and your feet moving through her numerous plant collections.

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Japanese maples, both green and red, are a staple in the Hostetler garden and are used as focal points and architectural elements. By the way–we are still in the front garden which is probably 1/5th of the total garden space.

Thriving colonies of what I think are ladybells (Adenophora) and Agastache are loving the sunnier areas of the front garden.

There are plenty of shade dwellers also–notice the red, blue and yellow foliage working in harmony.

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Linda has used structure, in the form of pathways, conifers and other evergreens, low walls and hedges to define garden spaces and views. Her use of more than one path choice to move you through the garden offers the chance to see plantings from multiple angles and in different light conditions. As we start to wander toward the back garden via the side yard the first choice must be made–up or down.

I chose the pathway furthest from the house. Densely planted on both sides the path is not even visible from the lower one.

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The lower path at its ‘trailhead’.

The upper path appears to lead us to…?

My route was a woodland walk with civilization mostly obscured. Hydrangeas, ferns, hostas, Solomon’s seal and other dappled light lovers guided my way.

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The path opens up and a few stepping stones down bring me to the charming back patio.

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You can see a fellow visitor arriving by the lower route, stopping to photograph a rustic birdhouse. Linda has used a variety of garden art and artifacts throughout–and while they all look very random at first glance–each is as carefully placed as the plant grouping it highlights. Notice the curve of boxwood acting as a low wall to define this part of the garden from the pathway.

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A serene rock pond is the focal point for this patio area. The path on which I entered is actually above and behind (see the hanging basket on the tall tree trunk?) and circles around and down to the right of the waterway, allowing me to see it from above before I have even arrived at the patio level.

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Another example of Linda’s use of small boxwoods to define a curve. These greens and whites really sparkled in the dappled light.

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The barn–what a wonderful structure around which to build garden elements!

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This stacked stone bed provides an ending point for the patio area and the starting point for the rest of the garden which I’ll call the lower back garden. Buckle up! We are going on a wild ride!

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One of dozens of gorgeous conifers, large and small, which provide year round interest and structure in the Hostetler garden. This specimen sits proudly at the gateway to the lower garden and just begs you to come on down.

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This first level is the sunniest area in the garden and surely the gathering spot for family and friends. Multiple pathways, gravel, stone and mulched lead off from this open spot to all reaches of the garden. Linda’s pathways take you places you did not even know you wanted to go to! Ramble around with me…

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Cobalt blue is the color of choice for garden ornamentation–market umbrellas, metalwork and glass objects sport this happy hue.

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The garden is on so many levels that wonderful views can be found at every turn of the path. I wish I had thought to count the blue market umbrellas throughout the garden–I am guessing there are at least a dozen, each with a comfy spot to sit beneath it.

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Even from the highest paths there are lovely views up toward the fence line. This semi-shaded area sports all manner of greens nestled among large rocks.

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The ‘high road’ takes us from shade to sun and back again. I love the way the elevation and sighting of the paths make them invisible–offering access to all part the garden for maintenance but no distraction from the layers of foliage and colorful blooms.

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Standing on this rock to get the long view doesn’t quite make it–maybe a small helicopter?

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Linda and her husband dug this 16 X 24 foot pond and its 90′ stream to provide food and shelter for the garden’s resident amphibians. A small seating area is suspended over the water’s edge, offering a shady spot to watch the wildlife.


I loved the uses of stone throughout the garden as pathways, accents, interest and structure. Look at these great chunky steps taking us back up from the pond area to the more central part of the garden.

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Linda and her husband have created a garden that is the end of the rainbow for a plant junkie like me. Sadly for us, she was unable to be onsite during our visit. I would have liked to ask her about her design process–all of those paths and elevation shifts carefully planned out on paper or developed in stages as the spirit moved her? Master plant plan or “I love this and I’ll find a place for it.”? The garden is so relaxed and welcoming one could easily be fooled into thinking it just developed itself–if only that could happen I would have a garden just like this one!





Paradise 1, parking lot 0…

Ripley 1A narrow strip of land between the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, once designated in the master plan of the day as a future parking lot, is the site of the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Mrs. Livingston, who was the wife of the eighth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the founder of the Women’s Committee of the Smithsonian Associates, was an accomplished plantswoman and envisioned the open space as a “fragrant garden”. In 1978 she persuaded the Women’s Committee to sign on in support of her garden concept and the space became reality in 1988. In the early years of the garden Euonymus was transplanted from her home in Litchfield, Connecticut to form the east wall espaliers. The garden is supported today with funds from another benefactor, Mrs. John C. Folger, who established an endowment in 1994 for the care of the garden with the hope that others would be inspired by her generosity and add to the funds, enabling the garden to be enjoyed by the public well into the future.

Washington, D.C. architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen set the stage for a still evolving collection of perennials, annuals and tropicals with his curvilinear brick walkway flanked by serpentine raised beds. His use of red brick echoes the surrounding buildings and grounds the long narrow garden.

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As you enter from the National Mall end of the Ripley Garden an airy courtyard, anchored by a large fountain, offers spots to sit in both sun and shade. As with all of the Smithsonian Gardens I visited, year round structure takes the form of groups of conifers and evergreen trees and shrubs. Current horticulturalist Janet Draper states her goal for the Ripley Garden is to expose visitors to as many different plants as possible and to “expand the plant palette.” With over 200 plant varieties represented, meticulously labeled and beautifully maintained she has certainly painted a garden picture which is both beautiful and educational.

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ reaches to the sky. Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’, Acanthus mollis and Saxifragia stolonifera nestle at her feet.

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Cistus x hybridus ‘McGuire’s Gold’ is a shining light in this plant grouping. I am going to check this one out for my garden! I love how this shrub acts as a prop for some very tall lilies planted behind it.

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Here’s a great view of the winding chevron brick walkway which runs the entire length of the garden from the National Mall to Independence Avenue. What you can’t get a sense of is the undulation of the raised beds. At some points they are only a couple of bricks high as in this photo. At others they are raised waist high—they flow up and down so seamlessly it took me several looks to focus on the height difference.

Hosta 'Silver Bay'

There are blues and whites…

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Chartreuses and limes…that’s Jasminum officinalis ‘Frojas’, common name Fiona sunrise jasmine on the far right.

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Reds and grays–love the pop from these Caladium!

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Really nicely done living wall. Smithsonian Gardens greenhouse staff design and execute all the hanging baskets and containers feature in the Ripley Garden. They also propagate the annuals and care for the tropicals and succulents out of season.

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Cissus discolorThis interesting vine was new to me. Cissus discolor or rex begonia vine is being supported almost invisibly by a panel of fine chicken wire. A little research revealed that this species is a tropical and would generally be used as a houseplant in a cold winter area like Virginia. A great example of Janet’s goal to expose visitors to new and interesting plant material, in this case in  non-traditional setting.

insect house

I have been seeing these ‘bug houses’ on Pinterest for awhile now but this is the only large one I have seen in person. Not willing to miss a teaching opportunity, this great sign gives garden visitors a heads up!

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Hands down, the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden was my favorite of the 6 Smithsonian Gardens I saw. The original design of the curvy raised beds and brick walkways established a framework of open spaces to which structural and foundation plantings were added. Now mature, those plantings provide year round interest and a backdrop to showcase free flowing colonies of perennials, bulbs and their annual companions. This garden appealed to me as a plant collector and I am sure on every visit I would be able to see something either new to me or used in an inspiring grouping. The time and effort needed to maintain large expanses of turf or manicure bed-turf transitions can all be redirected toward creating interesting combinations of colors, textures and shapes in living plant tableaux.

Kuddos to Mrs. Livingston for pursuing her dream and creating this paradise which so easily could have become another parking lot.

Merrifield’s Gardening Advisor…

Local gardening legend, former television show host and aspiring blogger Peg Bier welcomed us to the constantly evolving two and a half acre garden paradise she and her family have called home since 1959. She readily credits the help of her four children and 12 grandchildren in being able to keep the bountiful beds, borders and overabundance of container gardens tended and watered. Then a full-time employee at local nursery, Merrifield’s Garden Center, she was the obvious choice to co-host the local cable TV call-in gardening show, Merrifield’s Gardening Advisor, which aired on Saturday mornings for over 25 years from 1990 until 2015. Check out the archived shows on You Tube by entering Merrifield Gardening Advisor in the search box! Her common sense advice and seasonal topics are timeless. No longer in her seventies, she has retired from television but remains a part-time Merrifield’s employee and a fixture in the Fairfax County, Virginia gardening community.

I feel sure that, in its youth, the Bier home and garden in Tyson’s Corner were surrounded by rolling farmland. Modern day development has grown right up to its property lines and Peg now gardens her acreage right in the middle of a neighborhood of well cared for homes. The riotous roadside garden filled with all manner of plants is the first hint that this garden is a bit different from its more restrained neighbors.




In Peg’s own words, “It is not the wow factor but the smile when some small discovery is made.”

Before we even get off the roadside I see that there are small vignettes and dish gardens tuck into the garden here and there. Many are so subtle you really have to be looking for them!



The first view of the family home–the elevation change is the perfect set-up for sunny raised beds viewed perfectly from the front porch.


Peg’s garden weaves in and out of sun and shade offering good growing conditions for a wide variety of perennial, shrubs and trees.


Peg shared that all the maples in the garden were propagated by her. Her home seems to grow right out of the garden, softened on all sides by greens, golds and burgundy.


The home’s main outdoor dining area, complete with seating for the whole family, is barely visible until you actually climb the few stairs to the patio.


This timber framed sunken patio offers shady respite and another opportunity for built in raised beds.


There are sun plants…


And shade plants..beautiful hostas on parade, big and small!


Comfy, resting and reading spots appear as you round curved paths–this one themed with red-orange blooms and bright blue garden accents.


This green roadway parallels a small riverbed and took me to Peg’s veggie garden.


Completely fenced to foil the deer, veggies are grown in and amongst flowers and small accent shrubs.


Above and below dish gardens planted with small scale shrubs nestle among carefully curated garden accent pieces.


Peg Bier’s garden is truly full of small discoveries but there is no absence of wow factor here either. My impression is that of a “gardener’s garden”–plantings are relaxed and re-seeders just go where they please, her less than perfect lawn reflects her commitment to organic gardening and I believe she will find a home for any plant she to which she takes a fancy. Her garden mirrors her personality and is a fitting legacy of the almost 60 years of devotion.


Kathrine and Enid…

2017 Capitol Region Garden Bloggers Fling participants had several hours to pick and choose among the 12 Smithsonian Gardens clustered on either side of the National Mall. I am sure Kathrine and Enid would be pleased to see the public garden spaces named for them and visited by thousands of garden and history lovers every year.


This garden is the centerpiece of the front of the Arts and Industries Building to the east of the Smithsonian Castle. The original garden was made possible by a donation from Mr. and Mrs. Lee M. Folger and the Folger Fund and was dedicated in 1998. The design called for a four season garden with specimen conifers and evergreens as anchors during winter months. Spring and summer would be dominated by an extensive collection of roses and their perennial companions. The 2016 redesign retained the four season focus and ground covers and additional perennials chosen for their ability to attract beneficial insects were added.

I will admit to some disappointment in this rose garden. All gardens have to be new at some point–I just happened to catch this one not even a full season after its renovation. Additionally, practicality has to reign sometime and the newly planted roses are almost all of the more modern shrub and drift types. This is perfectly understandable given that the Washington D.C. summer humidity inevitably fosters age-old rose issues such as powdery mildew and blackspot and these newer varieties are much more disease resistant. The newer landscape type roses also have less rigorous deadheading requirements and are probably better suited to public gardens than fussier varieties…oh well.

That being said, my nostalgia for the older, more classic multi-variety rose garden has not kept me from also going to the Knock-outs and Drifts in my own garden…


This urn along with an original 19th century three tiered fountain are part of the Smithsonian Gardens garden artifact collection.


Here’s our friend from Peace Tree Farms-Lavender ‘Phenomenal’. Lavenders are classic rose companions and this variety is used extensively in this garden. The ground cover Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ (spring bloomer) will eventual spread to fill in around the lavender and other perennials.



Catmint (Nepeta), yarrow (Achillea) and the hardy Geranium ‘Rozanne’ hold promise as mounding ground covers.


I would love to check back in on this garden in two or three years after the mounding roses have matured and the perennials have taken hold. For now, Kathrine’s garden is new again with promises of what’s to come.


This 4.2 acre garden is actually a rooftop garden, sitting directly over the underground museum spaces of the National Museum of African American Art, S. Dillon Ripley Center, and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. It can be reached from large gates on Independence Avenue, from entrances on either side of the Smithsonian Castle or by going out the Castle’s back door.

Philanthropist Enid Annenberg Haupt passionately supported the creation of public gardens and the preservation of horticultural institutions. Her three million dollar endowment made this garden possible as part of the redesigned of the Castle Quadrangle in 1987. The Smithsonian based Enid A. Haupt Fellowship in Horticulture is a much sought after academic opportunity.

The garden is actually composed of three separate gardens: the Parterre, the Moongate Garden Center and the Fountain Garden, each reflecting the adjacent architecture and the culture of the museums below.

As I entered the garden from the east side, the skies opened up and I sprinted to take shelter outside the African Art Museum. An inviting seating area complete with market umbrellas offered me a bit of protection from the shower and I got the opportunity to see several amazing potted plant specimens. The limited soil depth (remember we are standing on top of underground museums) and protection provided by the surrounding museums creates a microclimate milder than is typical of the region. I am reasonably sure none of these would be winter hardy if planted in the ground without shelter from the cold.

This gardenia was at least 12 feet tall and more than that wide!
Look at the trunk on this angel’s trumpet.
Mussaenda ‘Queen Sirikit’ –closeup of the bloom below


Just west of the museum’s entrance is the Fountain Garden, modeled after the Court of the Lions at Alhambra which is a 13th century Moorish palace and fortress in Granada, Spain.


At intervals throughout the gardens there are roof vents nestled among the foundation shrubbery, reminders of the museum activity below.


The Parterre is designed in classic Victorian style to complement the architecture of the Castle. Ornate iron borders harken to an earlier day when gardens full of fussy ornamentation and vast beds of stylized annuals were the mark of an affluent homeowner. Much of the Smithsonian’s collection of antique iron garden artifacts reside in the Haupt Garden.


A second brief shower drove me into the Castle for refuge and I never got to see the third garden highlight, the Moongate Garden Center. An interesting collection of potted specimens clustered at the buildings steps caught my attention-especially interesting was the unusual coloration on the conifer–maybe a pine?

I regret not taking time to read more about this garden before my visit. There was much to see and several interesting backstories that I missed because I did not do my research. When I return in a few years to check up on Kathrine’s roses and I will give Enid the time and attention she deserves!

Over the river and through the woods…

In all honesty, I am not sure there was a river and I don’t know if Ellen Ash is a grandmother (hmm..she does have a bubble machine in her back garden) but we journeyed through many tall trees on the way to her woodland garden in Great Falls, Virginia. California gardeners–except those in the coastal northern areas who have plenty of their own trees–get a little sappy about rural areas with rolling GREEN fields and stands of towering oaks maples and conifers. The Ash garden is no more than 50 miles from Washington, D.C. yet it seems to be in a totally different world.

The gated entry and long drive in flanked by mature woods reveal no clues of the contemporary home and treasure filled  2 acre woodland garden carved out of the forest.



This dry riverbed flows from the house to the drive. Mature plantings of hollies, flowering trees, junipers and other shrubs nestle up to the home. I often talk about designing plantings to give a garden a “sense of privacy and enclosure”. No need here! This property actually is enclosed on all sides with woods–no road or neighbor can be seen or heard. Check out our group as we left our bus to see the scale of the surrounding forest.


The highlight of Ellen’s garden for me was the extensive perennial bed–maybe 250+ feet long and 20 feet deep bordering the driveway directly in front of Ellen’s home. You can see just the end of it in the photo above.



In addition to small blooming shrubs, clematis, spring bulbs and lilies this bed is home to over 100 varieties of perennials and many of the fun garden chachkis Ellen adores. The low stack stone wall undulating through the bed adds a second level of interest.

We wandered through her woods which includes mature native American hollies, oaks, maples, hickories on our way to the back garden. I loved her use of very large stones set into mossy paths offering many side routes to areas filled with hydrangeas, azaleas and rhododendrons.


This little girl I met along the way made me laugh! Clearly she represents the joy this gardener takes in tending this beautiful piece of Virginia.


Among the ferns and hosta I spied this plant which appears to be an Acanthus-the variety is unknown to me as we pretty much just grow the Acanthus mollis which has the huge glossy dark green leaf. Can anyone help?


One of many areas to sit and enjoy the garden and its inhabitants, organic and inorganic!

The Ash back garden has a classic large lawn area–great for games and dogs–bordered by groupings of mature shrubs. When I gardened on an acre in Central Georgia I learned the value of having large areas which were less fussy and more maintenance free so that I would have time and energy to intensively garden other areas requiring more TLC. What a wonderful leafy background for these broad plantings.


While a large pool and pool house is the focal point for the back yard I was drawn to the variety of beds and plant material softening the perimeter and the areas between the home and the pool hardscape.


Ellen’s dahlia bed–so sorry I will not get to see these when they come into bloom in late summer.


The use of stone throughout the pool and patio area ties the manmade landscape to the natural landscape.


Layers upon layers of green made this garden seem cool even on a hot and humid late June afternoon.


As we say goodbye to Ellen Ash’s gracious garden I know you are wondering, “What does a can of spray paint have to do with a woodland garden?” Here’s the story!

Allium bascadore

The moment I got off the bus in Ellen’s driveway I was held captive by a number of groupings of brilliantly colored Allium. In my defense, your view is through my camera lens. In reality I was 10-15 feet away from the blooms. As I marveled at their clear color this late in the season, a Virginia garden blogger standing next to me clucked and shook her head as if I was a lost in the woods (literally). “They’re spray painted.”, she said. “No, really, they are.”, she added. Apparently spray painting your alliums is SOP in these parts. Many gardeners like to retain the spiky seed heads throughout the summer and then harvest them for fall and winter arrangements–presumably breaking out the spray paint again in an appropriate hue. I will admit to being a wee bit skeptical of the explanation until I saw spray painted seed heads in several more gardens over the next couple of days.

I can see the Ash homestead in the forest as the gathering place for friends and family far and wide–children and adults playing touch football on the broad lawn, going on scavenger hunts amongst the canopy of the forest or just sunning and swimming at the pool. In my mind’s eye I see Ellen with her sun hat and trowel puttering in her garden and enjoying the very personalized garden she has nurtured in this wonderful natural setting.

There really is a bubble machine!!


For the people, by the people…

The 2017 Capitol Region Garden Bloggers Fling opened my eyes to the great range of public gardens available to the the residents of the Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Remember when I told you the Fling’s itinerary was designed to give us a little taste of a lot of different regional garden experiences rather than whole meal of just a few? Hmmm…I may have only said that in my mind and not to you in a post! In either case–in that spirit our time was limited in both of the two public gardens I will share today. Both were beautiful spaces with a nice balance of open areas and display beds and would provide a full day’s enjoyment during any season of the year. The residents of their communities are so fortunate to have these public gardens and their resources right in their backyards.


Brookside Gardens is an award winning 50 acre public display garden within Wheaton Regional Park. The gardens are free to the public from sunrise to sunset every day of the year except Christmas Day. We disembarked at the modern (and air conditioned!!!) Visitors Center and I picked up their 2017 Spring and Summer magazine–packed with a full range of events including the Summer Twilight Concert Series, Shakespeare in the Garden, the Garden After Dark and a speaker series. Year round the garden offers cooking demonstrations, a full range of horticultural classes, a school of botanical art and illustration and a ton of children’s activities. While our tour remained remarkably on schedule over the 3+ days, given the sheer number of places we traveled, we needed to play catch-up when reaching Brookside. The hot ticket right now is the Wings of Fancy Live Butterfly and Caterpillar Exhibit at the South Conservatory and so I set off down the hill to find it. Take the walk with me and see what I passed along the way.



I am loving it all ready! Located close to the Visitors Center with easy access for families this great outdoor classroom is planted with alphabet topiaries and even has a miniature library. Each of several “classrooms” has a lesson that connects the garden to the concepts of Math, Science, Reading Art and Music. Even lunch and recess are more fun than the average school day!


Beautiful layers of color and texture flank the wide and easy to walk downhill path.


Pots tucked in here and there keep aggressive spreaders like this Equisetum hyemale, or horsetail reed, in check.


No shortages in this garden of breathtaking long views. As I saw in so many places on this adventure–conifers, evergreen hardwoods and deciduous trees mixed and layered with varying shades of green shrubs and perennials.


Astilbe, commonly called false spirea or false goatsbeard, flourishes in the shade canopy and softens the transition from hard surface to landscape.


The lime greens light up the shade and work so well with the little pops of purple Browallia.


Healthy, blooming Hosta-objects of lust and envy for dry California gardeners.

Cornus kousa 'Snowboy'

Cornus kousa ‘Snowboy’ had me at first sight. Its form is more upright and slender than my other favorite variegated dogwood ‘Wolf Eyes’.


Arriving at the South Conservatory I knew I did not have time to actually enter the  butterfly exhibit but very much enjoyed the long raised bed filled with plants attractive to all types of pollinators.


The educational signage was great and the area was full of moms and strollers plus touristy garden guests like myself–clearly Wings of Fancy is a popular destination.

Had to get my hustle on now to get back to the Visitors Center for our Panera Bread boxed lunch and a great presentation by Fling sponsors American Beauties, Organic Mechanics and Sustane. Left with more great goodies including a native Phlox, Sustane’s Complete (water dispersable fertilizer) and a big bag of root zone feeder packs called Fuhgeddaboudit! from Organic Mechanics. All of these sponsors are small ecologically  responsible companies–check them out on the web!


The beautiful Piedmont Hills are the backdrop for this 95 acre property which was once a family farm. Meadowlark is a garden devoted to conservation, aesthetics, education and community service operated under the auspices of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. We had the opportunity to meet Garden Manager Keith Tomlinson at our closing dinner in the Atrium to hear his vision for the garden–I was pretty amazed to hear that Meadowlark is essentially self sustaining. The garden is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. There is a small admission fee or you can buy a family yearly pass for $45–pretty good bargain. There are a number of themed gardens including: the Experimental Meadow, the Korean Bell Garden, the Perennial Color Border, the Herb Potpourri Garden and three native plant collections focused on Virginia and the Potomac Valley.

Meadowlark has some of the most phenomenal long views of any botanical garden I have visited. Paved and mulched walking trails meander throughout. Due to time constraints I kept to the center parts within an easy walk back to our dinner venue. Stroll along with me and enjoy this beautiful park which sits right in the middle of a residential   neighborhood.


My first stop was the Bold Garden, a fun collection of plants having bold coloration, size or texture. You can just get a peak at one of my fellow bloggers having a bit of a rest. Most of the display areas had places to just sit and soak in the surrounding nature.


While this meadow rue, Thalictrum rochebrunianum ‘Lavender Mist’ does not look very bold in this photo, the bloom stalks rose over 6 feet!


Another appealing resting spot–this one in the Herbal Potpourri and Salvia Garden where deep beds flank a winding center path. Over 70 species of Salvia are represented along with hundreds of herbs and medicinal plants.


Here’s one of those long vistas I promised you! Just a glimpse of Lake Carolina, one of 3 small lakes in the garden, as seen from the herb garden.


A glorious day at Meadowlark looking across the Great Lawn.


This meandering path of daylilies led me to the mass of bloom from the Stout Medal Daylily Garden downhill near one of the smaller lakes. This collection contains at least one of every daylily awarded the prestigious medal given in memory since 1950 in memory of  Dr. Arlow Burdette Stout, who is considered to be the father of modern daylily breeding in North America.


July 8 is Daylily Day at Meadowlark with a plant sale, a walking tour and a special exhibition by the Northern Virginia Daylily Society. As I followed the walking trail around Lake Carolina I passed impressive perennial beds in which daylilies and their companions were the stars.



The far side of Lake Carolina has large gazebo perfect for wedding and other events–what a serene setting.


Rounding the lake in my route back to the Atrium and our dinner I passed by so much more than I could ever share. Meadowlark had a meditative quality so appealing to me. Perhaps it was the wide open spaces where the collections were destinations you reached by way of just enjoying the natural flow of the land rather than being bunched up together one after another.


The sun disappearing behind the trees…

We enjoyed  lovely dinner together in the Atrium and heard some words of wisdom about staying current in a fast paced digital media world from  Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm, breeder of Lavender ‘Phenomenal’. I saw this interspecific lavender (hybrid crossed between plants in two different species) used extensively in several of the Smithsonian Gardens–full of blooms and drawing bees like a magnet! In Central California we don’t think twice about losing lavenders through the winter. ‘Phenomenal’ was bred in Pennsylvania and has excellent winter hardiness to Zone 4. Lloyd and his wife and business partner, Candy, spent the weekend with us touring gardens and even brought us all our own ‘Phenomenal’! Check them out at for more information about everything they grow. Just a heads up–you won’t find any seasonal color baskets with red petunias, white verbena and blue calibrachoa on their website.

Next up–2 acres  in Great Falls, Virginia where I learned how spray paint mixes with woodland gardening!