Monday, November 28, 2016

Christmas Pickles, Spiders, Ladybugs...

Today, Sunday, November 27, marks the beginning of the liturgical calendar for Western Christians. It is also the 1st day of advent, a countdown of four weeks until Christmas.
Classic wooden Advent calendars contain small drawers to be opened on each day as Christmas nears

For many, it means its time to decorate, bake, shop and get ready for our biggest holiday of the year. For children, it is a test of patience and a time to reflect on how naughty or nice they've been this year and what gifts Santa may leave for them under the tree.

Our International Christmas Shop displays items from around the world, celebrating many facets of the winter season. Here are a few, many with a nature and gardening bent, that I find fascinating.

Spiders are a gardeners best friend as they spin webs to attract garden predators that may be after our prized plants. But, inside, they are not welcome. According to a German legend, a spider family moved into the Christmas tree, even as it was banished from the corners of a cozy home on Christmas Eve. Here they scurried about, gazing at the beauty of the ornaments, leaving a trail of gray webs as they climbed the tree. The Christ child smiled but knew the family's mother would be unhappy with a tree covered in spider webs. It was then that He reached out His hand, touched the webs and turned them into shimmers of gold and silver tinsel. So, as you add tinsel to the tree, it is customary to include a spider among the decorations.

Ladybugs, according to folklore, are also a good luck charm. Just as they do today, aphids fed on flowers and crops of all kinds and were a constant threat to farmers' harvests. When the farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary, swarms of red beetles appeared, eating the aphids and saving the crops from destruction. Farmers named the beetles Ladybugs, in honor of "Our Lady".

A pickle, placed in the tree among many ornaments, will provide luck or an extra gift to the person who finds it. Long thought to be a German tradition, the pickle ornament is probably, in reality, an American one. Woolworths began to import German glass ornaments in the 1880's, about when the story took hold. Still,it has become a tradition for many American families to hide (and find) a glass pickle in the tree.

The pickle is in the top left corner in this picture


Any of us who have seen the movie Mary Poppins remembers chimneysweep Bert singing, "Chim, chimney, chim, chimney, chim, chim, cher-oo, good luck will rub off when I shake hands with you." In Germany, an ornament may be given as a New Year's gift as a wish for a happy New Year.

Chimneysweep with his own Ladybug good luck charm
The red mushroom spotted with white is called a Fly Agaric Mushroom (Amantha muscaria). It has been traced to the Lapplands and recorded in mythology from around the world. The mushroom's hallucinogenic properties may have led to sightings of a guy dressed in red and white flying in a sleigh propelled by reindeer...or not. Whatever; the mushrooms are a good luck symbol used in German, and Nordic traditions.

Elf on the Shelf is a newer tradition. Since 2004, the Elf has helped Santa keep an eye on children to see who is being naughty or nice. The Elf's family continues to grow as do his antics and YouTube following.

Nutcrackers have been a part of our own history at Valley View Farms for many years, as we have imported handcrafted pieces from Germany since very early in our International Christmas Shop. Creator Herr Christian Steinbach visited annually to sign his company's unique designs. Prized nutcrackers came from the Erzebirge region of Germany (as they still do today) and have been tooled by craftsmen since the late 1600's. They are used to ward off evil, keeping homes safe.

Nutcrackers became much more popular as The Nutcracker Ballet has become a holiday event around the world.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is giving a poinsettia to a friend. The red poinsettia was my Mom's favorite flower, and so, it has become mine. Ecke, the breeder and family responsible for marketing the poinsettia as one of the world's most popular potted plants, tells The Legend of the Poinsettia on their website. Here is a copy of that story:

A charming story is told of Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy. “I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes,” said Pedro consolingly. Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel. As she approached the alter, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season. Today, the common name for this plant is the poinsettia!
These beautiful poinsettias have been grown in our own farm greenhouses

May your holidays be filled with good luck, love and a miracle or two. Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Putting the Garden to Bed

Late blooming roses flowering in early November

Our first frost arrived Wednesday morning. Roses handled it just fine. It was not enough to kill my lantana and begonias, but the annuals will soon succumb to winter cold. Now is the time to prep our garden for winter. Doing so now gives gardeners a chance to get ahead of all the spring chores.
Here are a few tips:
Weed beds one last time to get a headstart on winter weeds. Veteran garden blogger Kathy Purdy, of Cold Climate Gardening, shares some great tips on triage weeding. She gives a wonderful how-to on removing weeds in an order that can work for even the most procrastinating of gardeners.
Get as many weeds as possible out before seeds drop 

Mulch as the soil temperatures cool. Add just an inch or two of shredded bark, compost or your favorite mulch, leaving a little space around trees and stems.
Large mulched areas keep weeds out, warm soil temperatures and are a good preparation for planting

Prune after the leaves fall off the trees. In Pruning Tips from the Chicago Botanical Gardens , professional gardeners suggest pruning deciduous trees once they are dormant. Their Plant Health Care department recommends pruning evergreens in the growing season to avoid tip burn during harsh, cold temperatures.
Wait for spring to prune hemlocks, though dead wood can be cut out anytime

Mow trees' leaves right into the lawn as they will add nutrients to the soil. If leaf fall is too heavy, shred leaves and add them to the compost bin or use as a mulch in gardening beds.
A leaf rake and lawn mower can work together in the garden

Save annual seed from flowers to plant next year. Pull out dead annuals and add to the compost pile if they are disease free.

Plant bulbs like daffodils, tulips, hyacinth and scores of other spring blooming varieties. Dig, Drop, Done is a fun and informative website to help with bulb questions, design and all-around care. I have planted bulbs as late as January with good results.
Deter deer and other wildlife by using deer repellent sprays and granules like those available from Messina Wildlife. Deer Stopper tape is also very effective to keep deer away from prized trees, shrubs and perennials.
Long a personal favorite product for deer-heavy areas
Photograph or journal this year's triumphs and challenges to help plan next year's garden.
Test the soil before it freezes. Bring it in to our garden shop for a free pH analysis.


John checking soil pH
Check houseplants for any hitchhikers that may have come back in with the plants that summered outside. Give them an occasional shower with tepid water to keep leaves clean. Spray with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil if insects appear.
Bad bugs, bad shot

Enjoy the autumn and winter seasons. It won't be long until seed and gardening catalogs arrive in the mailbox.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

National Indoor Plant Week September 18-24

Longwood Gardens displays houseplants with other seasonal plant in the conservatory

The third week in September has been designated National Indoor Plant Week. One of my favorite groups, Green Plants for Green Buildings , has long recognized the benefits of plants in the home, workplace and in classrooms and study halls. The information on their website is very detailed about the advantages of having plants in our interior spaces. According to a study done by Dr. B. C. Wolverton for NASA and later by Dr. Margaret Burchett and Dr. Ron Wood, common indoor houseplants can remove volatile organic compounds (VCO) like benzene, formaldehyde and other pollutants commonly found in interior spaces.  

This book is a go-to for finding our which VOCs can be reduced indoors
Dr, Wolverton's book, How to Grow Fresh Air, profiles 50 houseplants that purify homes and offices. A Baltimore company, Furbish, creates interior living green walls they call Biowalls that enhance the interior work space while delivering on the promise of cleaner air. Other wholesale greenhouses and "green" businesses have worked with architects and planners to incorporate green wall technology into new and revitalized buildings and interiorscapes. The largest interior green wall in the country is located just an hour and a half away. Longwood Gardens installed a phenomenal green wall in their restroom area connected to the lovely conservatory in Kennett Square, PA.
Longwood's living wall is fourteen feet high and three hundred feet long!
In our own homes, plants also play a vital role. Houseplants make us feel good, inspire creativity, relieve our stress and give us something to nurture. Plants can provide a beautiful form of shade too, by blocking some light from a sunny window. What a great, natural way to make our lives more comfortable.

Following is a list of  houseplants, some featured in Dr. Wolverton's book and available in our greenhouse now and most of the year.

Bromeliads are a group of plants that include the very colorful Guzmania, Neoregelia, Vriesea , Aechmea and Tillandsia varieties. Known for the cup-like centers, the 'flowers' (bracts) last for months before the plant sends out attached offsets or 'pups'. Bromeliads need very little water as they have tiny roots that attach themselves to trees in their native habitat.

Guzmanias and one Vriesea

Assorted Tillandsias are suitable for framing

Boston Fern, Nephrolepsis exalta, is best grown in a hanging basket or placed on a plant stand. The Boston fern is a graceful addition to the home interior. Provide plenty of water and humidity, being careful not to let the root ball get too soggy. Provide moderate sunlight. Ferns grow well in temperatures ranging from 65-75 F, and up to ten degrees cooler at night.
Boston Ferns are a covered porch's staple
Bird's Nest Ferns Asplenium nidus are one of the easier-to-care-for varieties
Peace Lily Spathiphyllum is a houseplant favorite. It features lush, dark green foliage with bright white spathes. The Peace Lily has a high transpiration rate and will thrive with regular watering. This plant does well in lower light areas.

Peace lilies are easy to grow, as long as they are regularly checked for water
The Snake Plant Sansievera is a perfect choice for someone new to houseplants. Snake plants are durable; they tolerate low light to full sun and are drought tolerant.
Great houseplant for beginners or a college dorm
White Bird of Paradise Strelitzia nicolai has become the go-to plant for interior designers, replacing Ficus lyrata as the favored large-leaved tropical.  The large gray-green leaves add an architectural flair to larger indoor spaces. It's easy to care for, requiring moderate light,  and plenty of space for the large leaves that can reach 5 feet in length.
White Bird of Paradise in our greenhouse

Gray-green leaves can be five feet long!


Strelitzia reginea is the more recognizable of the Bird of Paradise varieties

Scores of other houseplants, in pots ranging form 2 inches to 14 inches in diameter are on display in our greenhouse. Take a plant home today and enjoy all the healthy benefits houseplants have to offer.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Transitioning the Garden from Summer into Fall

This year's summer plants will move into fall with a little help from all of us who garden. High temperatures punctuated by rain brought on by summer storms have been good for my garden this season, though I was stressed at times during the dry spells. Trees, shrubs, perennials and the lawn have come through summer beautifully. Have you ever seen perennial hibiscus look as gorgeous as they did this year?
Perennial Hibiscus


Beautiful potted plants welcomed me on a recent visit to Chanticleer Gardens 
And it seems that our efforts to plant for pollinators have really paid off; Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies have rebounded in our area. The perennial Agastache 'Blue Boa' was a particularly favorite pollinator magnet. Go to our facebook page to see a quick video on this amazing plant.
Our sunflower seed giveaway helped kids enjoy pollinators like bees and butterflies

Many annuals, including petunias, calibrachoa, verbena and dusty miller, will grow in our hot summer temperatures but also do well in cooler fall weather. In fact, they will handle fall frosts quite well.
Annuals echo fall colors

Other annuals, like ornamental peppers, zinnias, coleus and fountain grasses, echo the colors of autumn, but may need to be pulled out of pots and the garden after being hit by frosts. Mums, pansies and ornamental cabbage and kale are the perfect plants to switch places as annuals succumb to heavy frost.
Glamour kale has beautiful fall color and is frost hardy

September and October are great months to add perennials, trees and shrubs to the garden. Cooler air temperatures countered by warm soil allows plants to root in quickly with little heat-induced stress.

The early fall months are also a good time to transition tropical plants and houseplant back indoors. Keep in mind that they are humidity-loving plants and add pebble trays or even a humidifier to keep the plants healthy.
Begonias and philodendron add some fall color to the indoors
 Pull up summer blooming bulbs like dahlias and cannas as the cold weather approaches. Caladiums, colocasia and other tropical bulbs can be stored in a cool, dry place until it is time to replant again in spring.
Speaking of bulbs, September is an ideal time to shop for bulbs, while the selection is good. But wait until  October and November to plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips. Alliums, crocus, hyacinths and a host of other minor bulbs should be selected soon too, but wait until we have a couple of frosts before planting.
Art in the spring garden at Longwood


Start planning soon for incredible spring color. Plant spring flowering trees and bulbs this fall.


Fall gardening is less stressful on the plants and on us. Our love of gardening is year 'round. By easing from summer into fall, our plants will join us as we enjoy the coming cool temperatures. Hope your summer has been relaxing and fun.


Monday, July 18, 2016

How is Your Garden Doing This Summer?




Lotus are beginning to bloom
Summer arrived this year after a long, cool, wet, spring. Temperatures are up, flowers are looking beautiful and our gardens are bringing us the joy and tranquility we can escape to now and then. So, now what? To keep plants looking good, here are some tips from some of my coworkers and customers.

Use mulch as a weed barrier and a way to keep plants from drying out. Don't over do it; Jen keeps mulch at just 1-2 inches deep in her perennial/pollinator garden.
What a great garden for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds!

Combine plants in containers that have similar sunlight, water and fertilizer needs. Joann's planting of caladiums and New Guinea impatiens offers bold foliage and color for an area with part shade.
Wow! Love these caladiums!

Beware the summer storm. A surprise storm in Middle River last night wreaked havoc on Scott's garden. Today, Scott is expecting scores of people at his home for a party. A morning of clean-up is on his agenda. He is proactive and has kept trees trimmed so that leaf and limb loss was limited.
The yard was back in shape by party-time

Have a pond? My friend Jan works for a company that has a water garden at their entrance. Look at these gorgeous lotus flowers! Add plants to ponds and water features; they filter the water to keep it clear. Add koi and other fish to keep mosquito larvae under control.
Lotus blooms and the unique pods...love them!


Harvest early and often. Sheila picked her peaches and herbs earlier this week. How great it is to provide food for your own table? Herbs grow in poor soil, usually in full sun and are better when they are cut back often.
How much fresher can you get? 
Eric has a yard so filled with flowers that there isn't room for weeds to grow! The Madagascar palm in the foreground serves as a focal point to other plants in the garden.
Eric is addicted to plants like the rest of us
Jennifer is a Maryland Master Gardeners, as well as a Valley View Farms plant expert. This is her new raised bed vegetable garden. Once again, mulch serves as a weed block. Look at the various materials Jen has incorporated to have vertical growth in her garden. Vines, vegetable or ornamental, create vertical interest, and allow for better air circulation around the plants. Pallets serve as structure for compost.
That's a lot of work! It's sure to be very rewarding.
Sue, her husband Charles and twenty-six other residents all garden on the fifth floor of  the Edenwald community. By summer's end, mandevillas and other vines cover the built-in trellises. Summer color abounds with the use of petunias, vinca, calibrachoa and other favorite annuals. Charles and his helpers have all the planter boxes on irrigation, providing fertilizer and water all season.
26 of these large planter boxes are displayed on a 5th floor patio

As do several of these round planters
Hostas and a small statue create a shady respite in Joann's garden. We all preach about "right plant, right place" to keep our gardens healthy.
Foliage is fun too!

We trial many plants in our gardens; here is a new coleus and white annual daisy that I'm trying at home. New plants create excitement, but we make sure that they grow successfully before carrying them in our store.
Seems to be a good year for lantana and sun-loving coleus
Many tropical plants survive indoors in the winter, but thrive in our hot, humid conditions outside. Here are some of Jen's citrus and other tropicals on vacation out on the patio. When they transition back to indoors, give them time to acclimate and provide them with plenty of humidity.
Jen's tropical plants are enjoying life outside on the patio

To keep plants healthy and blooming:

  1. Deadhead by removing spent flowers. This encourages annuals and most perennials to keep blooming.
  2. Water at the root zone of the plant. Less evaporation of water and avoiding the leaves of most plants is key to maintaining healthy root systems and foliage.
  3. Water deeply and less often. Encourage roots to grow deeper in search of water. Frequent watering keeps roots at a shallow depth.
  4. Mulch lightly to discourage weeds, even-out moisture and provide a finished look until plants fill in.
  5. Use tree gators, watering bags specifically for trees, especially during our expected heat wave
  6. A right plant, right place approach will help to eliminate problems before they start. For example, choose plants for sun exposure, water needs, and disease and deer resistance.
  7. Prune dead or diseased trees to keep them from becoming a problem later with summer (or winter) storms.
  8. Manage the garden by walking around and taking pictures or notes of successes and challenges. Many times, insect or disease problems can be taken care of early.
  9. Be careful of standing water. Empty old pots, tires or other reservoirs. Keep water moving or keep fish in ponds. Use safe products like Mosquito Dunks in birdbaths to control mosquito larvae.
  10. Potted plants should be checked daily for water, and fed often to keep plants green and blooming.
Please feel free to share photos of your garden this summer. We look forward to a sunny days and time spent enjoying our plantings.