Friday, June 18, 2021

Rainbow, Rainbow, Rainbow

On my first day working at Valley View, my new boss, Retail Greenhouse Manager Carrie Engel, called a meeting and asked each of us to name our favorite plant. Favorite plant? Singular?

Angelonia in a local plant trial

Panicked, I chose Angelonia, a pretty yet sturdy annual I’ve used in containers for years. When a co-worker chose ferns, I thought, “Dang! Can I change my answer?” How could I have forgotten ferns? They’ve been around since dinosaurs for good reason. They’re perfect. Why change?

Boston Fern...traditional
Staghorns and more

Having been at Valley View for a couple of months now, my favorite plant changes daily (sometimes hourly). One day it might be showy Crossandra, the firecracker flower, or the dainty white Vinca with the hot-pink center, or Gartenmeister, a cheery upright Fuchsia that I’m ashamed to admit I bought the last of.

Soiree Kawaii Peppermint Vinca

 By the end of a week, I’ll have fallen in love with a fat-leafed begonia or the Caladium imaginatively

Shade combo: begonia, caladium, torenia
Euphorbia Diamond Frost

named “Frog in a Blender.” (Green leaves, red flecks.) And what about Euphorbia, with its cluster of white buds like a handful of stars, or Torenia--those little trumpets‑-or any of the inventive petunia hybrids, NightSky, Blue Stardust, Bee’s Knees? Then there’s the classic Geranium, with its vibrant, peppery scent. Speaking of scents, don’t forget the herb section, where scent reigns supreme and the plants are edible to boot.  

Crossandra Orange Marmalade

As Carrie surely knows (I think the question was a test!), asking plant people to choose a favorite is like asking a mother to choose among her children, if she had a thousand of them. At Valley View, we pretty much do.  

Fragrant Heliotrope Marine

 Editor's note: Today's guest blogger is Lisa Beyer. Stop in to see her for some great ideas for your garden!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Caring for Hanging Baskets and Other Container Gardens

This year at our farm greenhouses, Valley View Farms grew about 6,000 hanging baskets and another 10,000 8 inch and larger pots for gardeners to use on their porches and patios. Many of the pots were most likely transferred to other containers to have for the growing season. Here are some basic care tips that will help the plants provide great results for your summer pleasure. 

First, when choosing the plant, consider lighting. Plants like petunias, calibrachoas, cascading vincas, and geraniums will thrive in full sun. For our purposes here, we will consider 6 hours or more to be full sun. Shadier areas, that receive from 2-4 hours of sun, will brighten up with the addition of impatiens, fuchsias, and begonias.

 Foliage plants like ferns, pothos, and other houseplants may be considered for full shade or part-sun. 

Second, learn to tell when your hanging basket or container needs water, then water thoroughly. Your finger is your best indicator. If the soil is dry to your second knuckle, it likely needs water. Sunny, breezy days may mean watering daily. Overcast days allow us to skip a few days between watering. Hanging baskets are also easy to judge just by checking on their weight. A little practice and you'll be to tell exactly when the baskets need water. Our waterers in our greenhouse water until they see water running for the drainage hole before moving on to the next basket. A few actually give the water an eight-count to ensure that enough water has been added. Be careful; most of the soils that we grow in are peat-based. If allowed to dry out too much between watering, the soils shrink, and water just pours through the sides and not into the center of the soil. If this happens, soak the whole container or just go back a second or third time until the water is soaked up by the soil mix.

Next, use a fertilizer regularly in all of your pots. Watering frequency will help determine how often fertilizing your plants are effective. Our grower uses fertilizer several times a week; once home, we recommend fertilizing every couple of weeks to keep the plants blooming. We like a water-soluble plant food for ease of use and fast action. 

Fourth, groom your plant. Remove faded blooms, pick off yellow leaves, and, cut-back growth that may have gotten leggy. I love to cut back my petunias and calibrachoa before leaving on vacation because they will use less water and will be re-flowering in no time. Also, turn shady plants regularly as they will typically grow towards the sun. 

Hanging baskets and containers are a joy to have around us as we find ourselves spending quality time in our outdoor spaces. As we move into the hotter days of summer, different heat-loving plants like lantana, angelonia, and vinca will take the stage. 

Enjoy all the beauty that flowers bring to our homes. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Our Connections to Gardening (and gardeners)

 Wow! What a year! People are learning that plants can provide so much for us during a pandemic. When groceries and essentials became tough to get, gardeners grew more gardens! Edibles like fruit trees, berries, vegetables, herbs, and so many other food plants were sought after by old and new gardeners alike. The plant connection continued through so many parts of our lives to help us find comfort in our own homes, gardens, and selves. 

A friend's raised vegetable garden

I spoke with my niece Becca recently. She has recently moved with her boyfriend Raf and dog, Nala, to a new place. Her job has been downsized, so she is looking for a new one. Away from her friends and family, life has changed. I asked her if having plants helped her out. She started collecting succulents awhile ago.

Her collection takes up the better part of a room in her new home. She answered yes. She said that "while the world is on fire", these little plants make her focus on a routine. They get checked daily, though Becca waters sparingly. When new leaves appear, she is happy. Becca said that while she has been stuck indoors, unable to go on all the adventures she once did with friends, the plants bring life inside. The first time she went to re-pot her plants was intimidating, but she powered through it. She encourages her sister and friends to try to grow something just for the fun of it.  Becca and I have spoken about the lessons learned when a plant doesn't thrive. It is instantly compostable, causing no harm to the environment. It happens. We move on and try again. 

Last summer, I got a chance to walk through Ladew Gardens a few times, either alone or with a friend.  Emily Emerick, Ladew's Executive Director, told me that the gardens had more first-time visitors there than ever before. The walk through the gardens was both calming and inspirational. I took note of many of the plant combinations in pots and in the garden and copied parts of them for my garden. On a side note, I took my physical therapist, Megan Rich, a true lover of plants with me. 

Megan framed in a hemlock doorway

She loved the gardens and showed me some better ways to navigate the sometimes challenging landscape physically. Now I can claim that Ladew, and gardens in general, help me both physically and mentally. 

Truth be told, I already knew that. Having worked around plants for a lifetime, the air I breathe is fresher, the humidity in the greenhouse is invigorating (except for in the heat of summer), and being outside in the sunshine is wonderful! But it's the people who make my job so fulfilling. When Anne Lynn stops in with a bouquet of dahlias, Nolen sends photos of his prized hardy hibiscus,

One of many of Nolen's prized hibiscus

Eric and his family put in a beautiful new pond; Don shares the hot pepper plants that he grows from seed; it's understood that gardening connects us. My neighbor, Chuck, who helps me out all the time, is putting in raised beds this year. I foresee a collaborative garden between neighbors. Friends and families working together in the garden this year have been a remarkable experience that working from home has enabled us. The Weinberg Village Community Garden in Owings Mills has raised bed gardens that residents are able to plant. Volunteers, including students from The Jemicy School, help on planting days and garden clean-up days.

The Weinberg Village Community Gardens

We are lucky to live in a region where so many plants grow with ease. Our communities come together to help each other, even providing extra garden harvests to food banks. Gardening brings us together, helps us enjoy nature and the outdoors, and offers too many other benefits to mention. 

Weinberg Village Volunteers

Are we ready to keep this momentum going? Everyone I've talked to has answered a resounding yes!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Jen Plans Her Vegetable Garden


Jen's country property is ready for a garden expansion

I opened the curtains to see the snowfall and decided that it was the perfect time to plan my garden. Well, to finish planning it. I’ve planned for the spring; now it’s time to get the summer planned. And since my snow day has given me loads of extra time, I can get those spring vegetable seeds started! YAY!

Read the seed labels. Marshmallow needs cold stratification before planting; that means time in the refrigerator before planting.

Every time I sit down to plan out the garden, I'm nervous. Can I grow everything that I want to grow? Do I have space? Can I find the seeds? Every. Single. Time. Having a plan for the spring already in place doesn't stop me from being worried about planning my summer vegetables today. 

Here are 3 steps to planning the garden. 

Step #1: Ask yourself, what do you want to grow?

It was quite easy for me this year. I had a problem starting seeds last year and ended up buying the plants. I still have all the seeds though, and they are still good. I already know what I want to grow. I also know that last year I didn’t grow enough San Marzano tomatoes (I have watery salsa to be eaten this winter…YUCK!).

Jen's snowy day project

Armed with my list of vegetables to grow, I drew out my garden. Ask yourself, what do you enjoy eating? For example, I like eggplant, but not enough that I want to grow it. I can get it at the farmer’s market and still have it fresh if I get a hankering for it. If you are going to eat it or preserve it, then you should grow it!

Plant your friend's favorites

Step #2: Plan where it will go

This part is easy/difficult. That makes no sense, I know – but, hear me out. I grow my vegetables and herbs in-ground, in raised beds, and in containers. Most of my herbs, because many are perennial, are in the ground. That leaves me with raised beds and containers for my vegetables. That’s the easy part. I have space; I know where it is and how much I have. The difficult part for me is how to get ALL of what I want to grow in that space. Even if you can’t grow in-ground, there are many options for growing in containers that make gardening more accessible than ever.

Jen makes use of many materials to create her garden plots

Beautiful surroundings make this garden even more enjoyable!

Plenty of space between plants

Pots come in a variety of colors, sizes, and materials

Earthboxes are a favorite 

Smart Pots are easily stored and are a lightweight option for garden pots and beds

If you look at my garden plan you can see that I have more than one plant per bed. This is where your garden center is your best friend. Another example: from working at Valley View, I have learned that tomatoes need space around them (it helps to cut back on diseases with better airflow and means they are not fighting for nutrients and water). If you have questions, call and ask us. I personally love to talk about growing veggies and herbs! So, in my 4’x3’ raised bed I’ll plant 3 tomatoes maximum, but I’ll throw extra basil and dill plants in the bed too. Just because I can!

Upright supports allow for better air movement and easier harvest

Raised bed gardens look ready to harvest

Salad for dinner tonight!

A quick google search will give you more information about plants that can be grown together. Also, use the University of Maryland Extension's Grow It, Eat It page for recommendations. My personal favorite is to  type into google,  “can I plant (blank) with (blank)?” I was checking if it would be okay to plant my peppers with beans. I got a few mixed messages but decided that I would try it. A lot of gardening and companion planting is all about experimentation. Most of the sites talked about green beans, so I decided I would plant my black beans there and plant my green beans with squash and zucchini which I know do well together. Hopefully, it turns into a winning solution.

Step #3: Prepare

You have the list of what you want to plant, and you know where it is going to go The next step is to prepare for the planting. Do you have enough fertilizer? Is your soil at the proper pH for your tomatoes to thrive? What problems did you have last year that could be fixed this year?

Invest in good, ergonomic garden tools

Plenty of organic and synthetic fertilizer options

I’m planning on putting my tomatoes in at the end of May. Knowing when you are going to plant means that you’ll know when to start your seeds, or when to buy the transplants. Remember to talk to your garden center employees; they can answer your questions.

This year I will have 6 more rows of peas than I did last year and 4 more rows of beans. I don’t have enough supports for all of them, so I will be looking for stakes, netting, and fencing to add to my garden structures. Knowing what you are planting, when you are planting them, and how to head off any problems is the recipe for success.

Another gardener's bean crop

We are here for you at the garden center to help inspire and guide you through planning and planting your garden. Stop in for helpful handouts and informational signage to get started. 

Informational signs help with plant selection
Over 70 varieties of tomatoes!

A free Vegetable Planting Guide provides tips, planting dates, and more

The snow will be gone soon. 


Friday, January 8, 2021

Bonsai Styles

 The following post is presented by Jen Kostick, our in-house Bonsai expert. As many of you know, we usually hold Bonsai classes on the first Saturday of most months. Unable to do so during the pandemic, we will be reaching out via Facebook to our Bonsai enthusiasts. We will be using Facebook live for various classes on Saturdays. Last week's class featured Bonsai Basics (and an audio issue). We will be repeating the class in a week or so. Here is Jen's post on Bonsai Styles. 


Bonsai Styles

 Let’s talk about some of the more popular bonsai styles. Bonsai trees are meant to mimic the trees found in nature. Today we are focusing on formal upright, informal upright, semi-cascade, and cascade.


Formal Upright vs. Informal Upright

Trees with formal upright styling mimic trees that have received ideal conditions – proper light, water, and fertilizer with no crazy weather – Marylanders will not know what that is like! They have strong, straight trunks that narrow to the top. Having enough space around them, the bottom branches are longer than the top and naturally create a pyramid shape.

Conversely, an informal upright has not received the same ideal conditions. In nature, these trees have competed for light, water, or food with other trees. The trunks and branches twist and bend, searching for what they need. This is one, if not the most, popular bonsai style.


Against All Odds: Semi-Cascade and Cascade

The most striking of bonsai styles, to me anyway, is the cascade and semi-cascade. These are the trees that live, even thrive, though the cards are stacked against them.

Semi-Cascade mimics the trees that you find reaching over the water. The tree grows horizontally, clinging to the soil of the bank while still reaching for the light.

Cascading trees are found high up on mountainsides. They have the same reaching habit as a semi-cascade, but the weight of the tree, gravity and even harsh mountain weather will push the trunk of the tree down.


Tips to achieving your style:

·         Think nature. Now is a great time to get out and see how trees are growing. Bundle up and take a walk around to see the trees without their leaves; you can really focus on the trunk line.

·         Visualize the triangle. Keeping a basic triangle shape allows light to reach every branch. Branches should climb from the bottom of the tree to the top like a spiral staircase.

·         Use wire to add bends in branches to shorten them without needing to prune. You can also use wire to bend the ends of the bottom branches slightly down to make the tree seem older. Bending a branch slightly upward will encourage new growth in that branch.

·         Semi-cascade trees grow horizontally and should not dip below the top of the pot.

·         Pinch out new growth on your trees to force more growing energy into the tree. A tree with a thick trunk will look older than it really is. Pinching out the new growth will also force the tree to add branches lower on the trunk.



Saturday, November 21, 2020

Poinsettia---La Flor de Nochebuena

Poinsettias as tree decorations at Longwood Gardens

 My Mom's favorite flower, the red poinsettia, has been associated with Christmas since the Ecke family, growers in Encinitas, California, began marketing it as such in the early 1900s. Paul Ecke saw how the poinsettia grew and bloomed late in the season, and established greenhouses that began to cultivate the plant through breeding.
The Ecke name is synonymous with poinsettias

As the business grew, his son and grandson, Paul Ecke Jr. and III found ways to market the plant to the American consumer first, then to Europe and beyond. In the USA and Canada, poinsettias are the best selling potted flower in the land. Orchids own the title worldwide. 

Today, poinsettias are grown and sold in the millions. While red plants reign supreme, shades of pink, bi-colors, and white plants with interesting bract shapes and even variegated leaves are available from area growers and our own greenhouses in Hydes. Maryland. 

Poinsettias on display in our greenhouse 

Princettias, with bright colors and unique growth habits, arrived on the scene a few years ago. They have become popular in our own greenhouses, especially in smaller pots and in our custom holiday baskets. 

Princettias are more compact than most poinsettias

The poinsettia is named for Joel Poinsett. As a scientist and diplomat, Poinsett traveled much of the world, though he called South Carolina home. He brought poinsettias back from Mexico, where he served as ambassador, and began cultivating them in his greenhouse. National Poinsettia Day is observed on December 12th each year, the day of Poinsett's death. The Congress passed the proclamation that created Poinsettia Day in honor of Paul Ecke Jr. who tirelessly promoted the plant.
Like pink? These poinsettias are for you

Poinsettias are easy to care for if a few simple procedures are followed. They thrive in room temperatures between 60 and 75 F. The cooler temperatures in the 60s will help the color last longer on the bracts which give the poinsettia its color. Remove plant sleeves that protect the plant from cold, as soon as they are home. Also, provide good drainage for the plants. Remove the foil pot cover often used for decoration when watering the plant. Place the poinsettia back in the foil cover or a decorative container once the excess water has drained through the soil. 

Suzanne and Katie, our 2019 Poinsettia Duo

Poinsettia displays in our greenhouse a few years ago

Poinsettias bloom with the arrival of short days. Would you like to rebloom last year's poinsettia? It will need about 14 hours of darkness daily, with no light interruption during those hours, starting about October 1. 

Most of our poinsettias are grown in our own greenhouses

November poinsettia color

Happily, tests conducted by the Ohio State University,  Penn State, Cornell, and other veterinarian learning institutions have concluded that the poinsettia is not poisonous. The white sap in the stems can be irritating and cause diarrhea and nausea, so do keep the plants away from pets. 

This plant with such a varied history was used as dye and medicine by the ancient Aztec civilization. My favorite story is the legend of the Poinsettia. Little Pepita, a young Mexican girl, was traveling to the chapel to view the manger and Baby Jesus. Being poor, Pepita had no gift to offer. She picked some weeds by the side of the road and laid them at the manger, where they turned into beautiful red flowers. La Flor de Nochebueana, Flowers of the Holy Night, has been part of our shared cultures' holiday remembrances for about a century.