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 http://www.peacetreefarm.com 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!



Meeting nature halfway…

Two Arlington, Virginia gardeners faced very different challenges head on to create wonderful spaces in which they can relax and entertain and welcomed our group of garden bloggers ready to inspire us with their stories.

Scott Brinitzer is a landscape designer and owner of Scott Brinitzer Design Associates. He has been gardening at his 1917 Federal style (I’ll take any corrections on the style–not really my specialty) home for more than 26 years. His street is part of a neighborhood built in what was once an oak forest and he continues to encourage neighbors to retain the ambiance with the addition of new trees whenever possible. The leafy canopy surrounding his home provided us with a cool respite on a hot day.


The unique pea gravel and concrete hardscape, also found on the porch balustrade, is original to the home and deserves a closer look.


This is an area of copious rainfall and Scott’s street drains directly downhill into the Chesapeake Bay which is profoundly polluted. Every feature of his organic garden is designed to eliminate run off and offer water an opportunity to percolate back into the ground.


This wide side yard once had an impermeable concrete driveway from the street to the garage at the back of the lot, partially seen at the far right. Water on the driveway formed a deluge down the driveway right out into the gutter leading to the bay. Scott removed about 2/3 of the hard surfaced driveway, replacing it with wide beds on each side and an attractive gravel pathway which allows rainfall to pass through to the underlying ground. An area directly in front of the garage and adjacent to the classic arched trellis work is recessed even further to alleviate a particularly stubborn flood prone area. This area of the garden is lushly green with plant material of varying heights including this structure covered with mature wisteria. It has classic southern garden written all over it!


The back garden is intimate with structure provided by boxwood hedges, specimen shrubs and bamboo. This garden shed is charming enough to live in.


Throughout patio areas and bed edges are cut stone, allowing water is drain through; walkways are gravel. A sunny back bed offers ferns and Liriope spicata. Lath panels allow vines to scramble up, softening the fence line. Pots abound including those clustered around this small water feature which is in perfect harmony with the home’s style.


The (non-garage) side garden is also very wide and is often used for entertaining. Below you see part of our group of about 40 doing what we do best: talking plants, taking photos, jotting notes for blog posts and use in our own gardens. Scott could easily do a dinner party in his lovely side yard!


I managed to snap this photo before the group flowed toward the front part of the side garden.


The combination of non grouted cut stone patio work and the gravel paths provides continuity on all three sides. This shady bed is filled with Pachysandra or Japanese spurge and the classic southern backdrop of mostly glossy green trees and shrubs provides a feeling of enclose and privacy although we are almost in the front yard. Intimate seating areas invite you to just relax and take in the afternoon.

Dutch elm disease has been encroaching on this neighborhood for some years but until recently Scott’s trees had been spared. A stately elm in his garden is now affected and he has been working with Bartlett Trees to manage it. Tree specialist Steve from Bartlett was on hand to talk to us about tree care and disease management. We were able to look at the diseased tree first hand–sad to see that a huge limb was beyond help and had been recently removed.



The Brinitzer garden felt supremely liveable to me. Although Scott described it as a small garden at 10,000 sq. ft.; for me it was very comparable to the property sizes commonly seen in California. Scott analyzed the garden’s issues and designed solutions to meet the challenges in an environmentally responsible way. The space was a wonderful example of a garden whose substantial use of evergreen plants and shrubs as “bones”–structure, screen and background–guarantees year round beauty. There were fun places to sit and vignettes to ponder. Color was restrained and the landscape in no way competed with the beauty of the home itself, rather it wrapped the home like a leafy green cape! Thank you, Scott, for sharing your home and your talent with us.

The front garden of Jeff Minnich’s home is no bigger than a minute but packed with classic southern plantings. A door side plaque introduces us to Woodland Cottage.


Nothing in this charming postage stamp front garden prepares you for the extensive woodland garden planted on a very steep rocky slope behind the cottage.


I think my fellow blogger has stopped to get a photo but it is possible that she is evaluating whether she will need oxygen on the way back up.


This rock waterfall flows from the level of the bamboo seen in the upper right of this photo and the same position in the photo before. The steps are to the right of this long drink of water which ends in a peaceful pool. We are not even close to the lowest part of the garden yet–less than half way.

At the elevation of the waterfall there is a shallow patio area which extends the width of the house–to me it was the perfect spot for this garden designer and owner of Jeff Minnich Garden Design, Inc. to sit with an adult beverage and survey his domain. However, there was no way to take a quick shot of it without falling off into the woodland below! The lower garden is accessed by a stairway on one side and the tree root studded path on the other, basically forming a U. Suit up, folks–we’re going down!

These were great chunky stone steps with a thoughtfully provided handrail. Colonies of ferns and what I think is Tricyrtis, commonly called toad lily flank the steps. If I am right on this identification these would be loaded with gorgeous flowers spotted like toads in the early spring. A large Cryptomeria cast its shade over the walk and I think the temperature dropped 10 degrees by the time I reach the lower packed earth path. Look at this profusion of white hydrangeas just falling down the steep slope. For the sake of scale don’t miss the orange shirt worn by one of us at the very bottom of the garden.


The coloration of this large conifer on the lower path caught my eye. Unknown to me but readily identified by one of the Virginia gardeners as Thujopsis dolobrata ‘Variegata’, a member of the cypress family. She shared that it was a favorite of hers to cut for arrangements at Christmas time–the white needles just lit up the shadowed lower garden.

When you go down you have to go up again–the path on the far side of the U took advantage of large tree roots to act as anchors going up. Jeff had warned us about these and so forewarned I used them like steps rather than tripping over them.


This peaceful garden was rich in texture, leaf shape and texture and is layered with both evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees, as well as conifers. Many traditional woodland plants tend to be early spring bloomers so I was not surprised to minimal color at this hot time of year. I have always yearned for a classic green and white garden but never come close to achieving it, giving in to the lure of all that color at the garden center. These two Arlington gardens have renewed that desire. Now I just need a new garden with a lush, high shade canopy in which to develop it–not sure one is waiting for me in hot, dry Central California. No gardener has a perfect site but these two Virginia garden designers have been great examples of balancing their gardening goals with  their property’s assets and challenges and meeting nature halfway.