Sunday, August 13, 2017

Summer Storms and the Garden

The storm that rolled through my neighborhood on Thursday was a doozy. I sat in my family room with my trusty Alaskan malamute by my side. Staring through the skylights, we watched hail coming down, high winds moving through the large trees that surround my home and hoped the storm would pass quickly. Like many others, I looked a the weather app on my phone to see how long the storm might last. After about 15 minutes, the weather settled down a bit. Looking out the front window, traffic had stalled where a tree had come down across the street. Cable wires were down, power kept going off and on again, and the sounds of emergency vehicles and chainsaws soon filled the area.

We went outside to survey the damage. We were lucky. Most of the branches that had come down were small. A few container gardens had tipped over, but the damage wasn't too bad. I'll be replacing some begonias that broke, my single tomato plant lost many branches, and leaves and twigs littered the landscape. The hail shredded some of my plants' leaves, but they'll grow back. Checking in over the next couple of days with neighbors, they weren't as lucky. One lost a cherry tree (it came out of the ground, roots and all) and saw damage to his pollinator garden. Another had contractors over to repair damage to his roof. Many, many others had major tree damage to fences, outbuildings, even cars. Luckily, no water damaged occurred as my property sits relatively high to the surrounding area. While we can't stop the storms, we may be able to prevent some damage to our yards and gardens by taking a few precautions.

A fifty foot tall hemlock hedge borders on side of my yard. Some branches did come down in the storm, but, happily, I had Bartlett Tree Experts do some work to limb up and remove damaged branches earlier this year. Some pottery had fallen off of the plant stand in front of my house. Next time, I will move them to the ground to minimize damage. After a quick yard clean-up Thursday night, we took a load of branches to the Cockeysville landfill where they will be recycled into mulch or compost. The place was crowded with many Baltimore County residents doing the same.

Here are a few tips to help minimize damage to the garden from summer storms:


  • Keep gutters and downspouts clear. 
  • Use downspout extenders or drainage hoses to divert water away from the house and gardens.
  • Install rain barrels at downspouts.
  • Create a rain garden in low lying areas of the yard and garden.
  • Avoid non-permeable surfaces near the garden. Consider gravel, mulch and other soil covers for paths and walkways.
  • Use raised beds in areas that don't drain well.
  • Consult with a certified arborist to see if any trees are at risk because of weak limbs, branches previous faulty pruning or any other reason. Bartlett Tree Experts offers free consultation. Our local office can be reached at 410-526-6655. I have one tree that has a major branch that juts out at a 90 degree angel from the tree trunk. Bartlett cabled the branch to the tree as much for my peace of mind  as anything.
  • Dig a channel  around gardens or dig an edge in to avoid losing mulch from around planting beds and trees.
  • Plant trees that will withstand elements of heavy rain, wind and snow. Leyland cypress and Bradford pear trees are easily damaged in storms.
  • Harvest vegetables before a heavy rain to avoid cracking on tomatoes, shredded lettuce, toppled tomato cages...
  • Tidy up debris frequently.
  • Place patio pots on pot feet (or pot toes) to keep drainage hole clear to allow excess water to drain.
Summer storms can wreak havoc on an area, as they have around the Baltimore area over the last few weeks. I hope these tips can help prevent some of the damage that our plants may have experienced. 
Now, on to replace my begonias!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Visit to Bob's Market in Mason, WV

We hit the road as a group to attend Cultivate '17, THE conference/trade show for people in our industry. Held annually in Columbus, Ohio, it is the perfect place to get away from the store to look back at spring '17 while looking forward to 2018.
My companions on this trip were Valley View Farms' owner Andy Foard, GM Tim McQuaid and our grower, John Miller. We traveled together, driving to Ohio, taking one stop on our way out to Mason, WV. Mason sits on a bend of the Ohio River in the northwest corner of the state.
Tim, Andy, our host, Bobby and John

We took the opportunity to drop in on one of our young plant suppliers, Bob's Market, to meet the folks who grow our baby plants.
John receives the plants in 144 or 288 count plug trays, then moves them up to a 4 1/2" pot to finish them to sell at our garden center. Bobby Barnitz took the time to show us around a part of his family business. It was incredible to see what goes into producing millions of plants for growers and garden centers in our region!

John, Tim, Andy and I learned so much from our visit with Bobby
Bob's Market custom mixes soils for planting along a gigantic conveyor, where peat, perlite, bark, water, fertilizer and other ingredients are combined to make the perfect media to grow any number of particular plants.
Two stops on the flat filling machine 
Seeds are housed in a temperature controlled room until planting
The automation is astounding. Once flats are filled, they go to one of several stations where seed is dropped into the mix, watered and sent to a germination chamber for a few days. Once the seed has started to grow, Bob's has an incredible machine that takes photos of 1/2 a flat at a time to see if any seeds failed to germinate in their 288 trays. Little mechanical fingers are guided to a donor tray, where tiny plants are taken and placed into the missing cells.
Each and every cell have a seedling...I counted:)
Flats are then moved to greenhouse benches where they will grow on.
This single greenhouse was 8 acres
They will be shipped via Bob's Market trucks directly to greenhouses, like ours in Hydes, MD.
Our visit in late July occurred just as our fall pansies were being planted. What a treat to see the process from the very beginning.
Thank you, gentlemen, for a fantastic stop on our way to Columbus.

Three generations of Barnitz's at Bob's Market
Alan, founder Bob, and Bobby




After our visit, we hopped into Andy's SUV and headed to Columbus, now just 2 hours away.

The next blog installment will feature the show itself.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

PLANT OF THE WEEK: Tropical Hibiscus


Sizzling hot hibiscus colors mirror the temperatures outside this June in Maryland. Shipped to us from southern Florida, hibiscus thrive in our hazy, hot and humid summer environment. Treated as annuals or overwintered indoors as tropical houseplants, hibiscus put us in a Caribbean state of mind. It's no wonder it is often calls 'The Queen of the Tropics'.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the perfect companion to patio pots, poolside containers and sidewalk cafes. The flowers are everblooming with proper care. They'd love to have four or more hours of sun, although on extraordinarily hot days, hibiscus would enjoy an afternoon respite. Flowers last a day or two, but are quickly replaced with new ones. Hibiscus will bloom less in the winter with reduced light availability,
Hibiscus do well with regular watering. They do not like to dry to the point of wilt as the leaves will yellow and buds may drop off. In pots, make sure the soil drains well and do not allow the pot to sit in a saucer of water for more that several minutes. Outside, use pot feet to keep pots elevated from solid concrete and stone patios to allow for good drainage.
Fertilize during the growing season. Let hibiscus rest and discontinue feeding from late November to early March. Bring plants indoors before the first frost and treat them like houseplants.
Hibiscus are available in several shapes and sizes. Small plants are great for tabletops and windowsills. Larger tree-like standards make superb focal points at entrance ways.
Can't get away this summer? Bring the tropics to you with a gorgeous, blooming hibiscus.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a magic day for plant people. Those of us in the business look towards Mother's Day with anticipation. The cold weather has usually passed us by now, flowers are blooming everywhere, and our mom's are ready to get in the garden with new plants. It's a perfect storm when everything comes together to create our busiest time of the year.
The state of Florida has been shipping gorgeous hibiscus, gardenias and mandevillas all month to garden centers in the north.
Hibiscus
This year has been a bit challenging, as colder weather last week meant all those tropical plants had to spend a couple of nights under a light cover of fabric.
New Guinea Impatiens baskets are almost ready!

Calibrachoa is a favorite for sun

They'll be spilling over by Sunday

Coco baskets are customer favorites
Gorgeous hanging baskets have been loaded up on lines in our greenhouse, moving just 12 miles east of where they were planted at Valley View Farms' growing range of greenhouses. We're lucky that we have fans installed in our outside shadehouses that we can turn on at night to "stir-up" the air. I hope that's all behind us for the season, and we can look forward to Maryland's comfortable spring and warmer summer weather.
Aisle after aisle of beautiful color

Begonias are made for the shade

We've always been so focused at work this time of year, that many of our moms have had to take a raincheck for a true celebration. My mom passed 9 years ago, and I feel a twinge of guilt even now as I think back to so many Mothers' Days where I was late to the party.
My mom...Happy Mother's Day

 On the bright side, she could always count on receiving beautiful hanging baskets, a pink mandevilla, and assorted roses, annuals and perennials as most of my siblings stopped by to add plants to her garden.
Gerber daisies

Begonias

Orchids too!
Yep, we grow these too!
In her later years, we determined that we should plant the items too so she would not be overwhelmed with gardening work. She took so much pleasure in her yard and the pots she planted.

Many of our key staff members are moms. They do not hesitate to work on Mother's Day as they understand the importance of the weekend for the business. Thanks to all of you. We even have a few mother-daughter pairs that will work together on Sunday. Mom Valerie and daughter Colleen (other daughter' Grace will have the day off) will be at the checkout area while Dotty and Suzanne will be busy in the plant department.

Here's to all the moms out there. Happy Mother's Day!



Saturday, April 8, 2017

FAQs for Early Spring

Frequently asked questions by our customers come to us via phone and email all the time. All of us at Valley View Farms love to talk to customers who ask questions about everything from plant availability to day to day care of plants. Here are some of the questions that we are hearing a lot this year.

I planted a crepe myrtle last year and it hasn't started to leaf out yet. Should I be worried?
Crepe myrtles are slow to leaf out in early spring

No. Crepe myrtles are late bloomers and often will start to leaf out in later April into early May. People occasionally wish to prune crepe myrtles, maybe to force new growth, but we find that they do best growing in their natural state. They may certainly be pruned to remove dead branches or  any that may get in the way of a walkway or driveway.

Speaking of plants that are slow to emerge in the spring, hardy hibiscus also show growth later than many other perennials. Be patient; the new stems and leaves will be up later this spring.

When should I cut my mums back to encourage blooms in the fall?
 Mums should be cut back a few times to promote good branching and blooming. Easy to remember holidays, St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day and the 4th of July, are ideal times to cut mums back to about 8 inches. Depending on the varieties planted, and, of course the weather, mums will bloom for 6-8weeks from September until November.

My hydrangeas have not bloomed well for the last few years. What can I do to encourage better bloom?
Look closely and you'll notice a few dead stems above the blue hydrangeas. Simply prune them off as leaves and blooms emerge.

 Hydrangeas do well in morning sun with some protection from the hot afternoon sun. There are several varieties that bloom on old wood and others that bloom on new wood. Pruning at the wrong time could impact the blooms on some varieties. Cold weather, especially late freezes for the last couple of years, may have hurt early blooms; plants will generally leaf out and bloom later in the season.

All sorts of weeds have emerged in and around my lawn this year. What is the best way to identify them and get them out of my lawn?
Mouse Ear Chickweed
 
Hairy Wintercress
Ground Ivy

Identifying the weeds is a good first step. University of Maryland Extension is a great resource for identification. Better yet, bring your problem weed to us to look at and we can discuss options for eliminating them using synthetic or natural controls. Bring a large coffee cup-sized soil sample as well. Simply correcting the pH of the soil is one way to help create a healthy lawn. Valley View Farms offers these services free of charge.

Several of my broadleaved evergreen shrubs have sections of browning and yellowing. What might be causing this damage?


It is hard to say without taking a closer look. Yellowing and browning can be caused by winter windburn, late season disease or insects, a dog doing his thing, and all sorts of other reasons. Bring in a large sample of the damage; we can put the branch under a microscope to look for pests and ask some questions to try to narrow down the problem and suggest a solution.

Is it safe, temperature wise, to plant my vegetable garden?

Hold off on planting tomatoes until all danger of frost is gone, usually about May 10 here in Cockeysville. Look for our Tomato Tornado on the last weekend of April for a selection of 70 varieties. Before and after the "tornado" lands, we will have 40 varieties available.

Cole crops, like broccoli, cabbage, collards and Brussels sprouts are ready to go out in the garden. Ours have been hardened off to withstand colder temperatures. Peas, onions, carrots and other cold hardy plants can be planted now as well. Wait until later in April or May, depending on where you live, to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squashes and cucumbers.

We will continue to add questions and answers to this blog for the next week or two.  Feel free to leave a question in the comments. For the quickest reply, call our garden center at 410-527-0700. Our receptionist will get you to the right person to check on availability or answer your question.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"How are all my friends?"


"How are all my friends?" was Billy's signature greeting to everyone as he walked into the office each morning. Billy passed away earlier this year. We sure will miss him. I feel like it is an end of an era for many of us here. Billy's brother, Punkey, passed in 2010. Many of the managers here started back in the '70s and 80's; it feels a little weird working without the generation that began with our founders.  The torch and ownership of Valley View Farms passed to Billy's son Andy a few years ago.
Andy and Billy among our farm greenhouse poinsettias

My memories of Billy are of a man who maintained extraordinary relationships with his staff and with growers and other vendors.
Store manager Tim, business associate Bruce, and Billy
He worked year round 7 days a week, with a few vacations over the year, usually one in the wintertime to Barbados with members of his family, and another in June with his fishing buddies, marking the end of a busy spring season. When he was doing the bulk of the plant order, he would arrive at 5:30 am to get orders to our suppliers and our grower John for vegetable plants, hanging baskets and other items from the farm. Early in the week, he would meet with our adman Dick and media salespeople to put together TV and radio advertising for the season.

Nora and Billy during our WBAL broadcast


Billy and Bob at the WBAL Kids Campaign broadcast
He checked numbers everyday for sales, adding information about the weather, traffic or anything else that may have contributed to the day. In the summer, Billy would leave earlier in the day to work on his vegetable garden.
At home in his garden, Billy taught all of us about gardening successfully
 The man knew how to grow vegetables, and was incredibly generous as he brought buckets full of tomatoes, cucumbers or whatever he had harvested to share with us at Valley View Farms. As the tomatoes came in, he spent time with his daughter, Lisa, canning batch after batch to be used later.
Billy's wife Kay and daughter Lisa
Billy was quite the cook too, and made some wonderful soups for winter consumption.

Billy had recently renovated the farmhouse he lived in with his wife, Kay.
Billy used his electric cart to carry the harvest from his garden back to his house
 While Billy grew vegetables, Kay worked on growing a flower garden, including many planted in containers.
Kay and Billy
She loved the garden, but probably not quite as much as she loved her horse, who, if memory serves, was named Will.

Billy last October with one of the big pumpkins
Billy took a trip "up the river" each fall with Matt and Andy in search of big pumpkins. We displayed the huge orange orbs throughout the month of October. Early on, Norm Lewis, then later Tom Tasselmyer, counted each seed as part of our annual contest here.
Tom T and Billy pose in front of the big pumpkins 
Billy lived a pretty simple life. He took pride in his business, his family and his garden. Billy kept up with a couple of fraternity brothers from Cornell and some close friends in the area.
Billy with his friend, Dyson
 As a grandfather, he spoke with pride of his granddaughter Kaylin and grandsons Will, Jackson and Mason. They called their granddad Buddy. He showed me the pumpkins he was growing for his two youngest grandsons a few years ago.



For me, Billy was the guy I talked to about current events. We usually met on Sunday mornings in his office to catch up. He genuinely listened to others opinion's before contributing his own. I think I'll miss those mornings most of all.
Billy loved his "people". During MANTS, a regional trade show, he would catch up with many of VVF's growers and suppliers. Instead of walking the trade show floor, Billy invited everyone to lunch in the adjoining hotel, or, if time permitted, for a beverage once the show closed for the day. At an international show in Ohio which Billy attended for decades, he'd do the same, catching up with old friends and making new bonds with business people from the horticultural world.
On a more personal note, I've lived near Billy for the last 20 years or so. He didn't stop by often, but did now and then, meeting my family and a few close friends. Billy supplied me with firewood that he cut and stacked himself. When I was out after a total knee replacement, Billy stopped by with home made soup. He's just that kind of guy.
Scott, Billy and John

Grandson Will, son Stuart, Billy and Vernon
I look forward to hearing more stories about Bill as we celebrate his life. His son Andy took over ownership of Valley View Farms some time ago, and we all look forward to carrying Billy's legacy of friendship and goodwill to our allies in business and our customers who have blessed us with over 50 years of being in business.
Once he crosses into the pearly gates, I can picture Billy once again saying "How are all my friends?" as he reunites with those who passed before him.
We'll miss you, Billy.

On January 25, 2017 William "Billy" C. Foard; beloved husband for 56 years of Katharine "Kay" Foard (nee Andrew). Devoted father of Elisabeth "Lisa" C. Foard and her partner Lisa, William "Andy" A. Foard and his wife Kristen and Stuart B. Foard and his wife Debra. Loving grandfather of Kaylin C. Foard, William "Will" D. Foard, Jackson D. Foard and Mason D. Foard. Brother of Suzanne Foard and the late John "Punkey" B. Foard, III.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Inspiration: Ladew Gardens



Ladew Gardens is a remarkable lesson in the history and majesty of gardening in our area. Within a half hour drive from Towson, Cockeysville, Bel Air and surrounding towns, Ladew is a world renowned topiary garden, but it is so much more than that. The gardeners at Ladew have done an amazing job creating themed color gardens, pollinator areas, water gardens, rose gardens and now a butterfly house.
I love the bench beneath the window with the climbing rose framing the scene

The brick wall enclosed rose garden was especially beautiful on this rainy morning
Unique benches, gates, statuary, fountains, trellis, arbors and an adorable tea house are surrounded by beautiful plants, lawns, trees and flowers.
Roses climb upon the rock wall behind the garden gate

Claire, a beekeeper herself, is at home in this space

Texture, color and design make for a relaxing area

Grassy walkways meander through many of the garden rooms at Ladew
 I became a member last year after visiting in late fall to see the gardens in a different light and season.
Fall colors abound in the perennial garden

The topiary fox hunt is an iconic scene at Ladew

Relax and enjoy the view
 But, my favorite time in the garden was during an early morning visit with the GWA, An Association of Garden Communicators.
A fine rainy mist changed the gardens into an otherworldly terrain and space. Colors were subdued and the contrast of the plants was remarkable.
Looks a lot like my house and garden...I wish
Ladew Gardens hosts classes for children and adults, has a wonderful May Fair each year, and is a summer destination for concerts.
What a great venue for concerts!
And, there is a wonderful cafe on site as well.
Gardeners and garden writers, know that breakfast is the most improtant meal
 Ladew Gardens is a special place filled with beauty and wonder. Take the drive out to see gorgeous gardens, a historic home, a fun gift shop and delightful cafe. You will be so glad that you did. 

Beautiful walkways