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. 


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Herbs to Banish Evil


Guest blogger Jen Kostick shares this blog about herbs that may ward off evil spirits.


Legends say that on Halloween the veils between the real world and the spiritual world thin. Spirits, both good and evil, can cross from the beyond into our world. In fact, one of the most recognizable symbols of Halloween, the jack o’lantern, was thought to ward off evil from entering the home.

Many herbs were also used for similar purposes. Deemed to have protective properties, the herbs were scattered around the home, crafted into wreaths, even tied into bundles, and placed over doors and windows. Perhaps one of the most well-known herbs for this purpose is white sage. White sage is often burned as an incense after being formed into smudge sticks. The bundle is burned to cleanse a space of negative energy.


Other herbs such as dill and rue were also used to ward off evil spirits, while rosemary was used to increase happiness. A few cultures planted basil as a protective charm to rid the area of evil. Though not technically an herb, garlic is a famous deterrent to evil, specifically vampires, so the legends say. But a braid of garlic hung in the home was said to ward off evil as well.

According to the Aztecs, marigolds were the “flowers of death,” the only flower that spirits could smell from the other side of the veil. Not sure if the spirits can smell it, but it has also been widely used to keep bunnies out of the flower bed. My mother swears by it and I must plant it every year…but we do not have a bunny problem to begin with.

My research turned up many other herbs that have been used to banish evil, including angelica, borage, hyssop, horehound, and marjoram. I’m not sure how effective these are against banishing evil. I’ve planted them all in my garden and they certainly make it a happy place. But whether these herbs help keep you safe from evil; I hope you have a safe and fun Halloween.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Putting the Garden to Bed

 New gardeners have joined us this year as Covid 19 has changed our lifestyles and kept us at home much more. 

We've been asked by several organizations to provide a virtual meeting about cleaning up the garden and putting it to bed.  Fall is the single best time to promote good gardening habits. Start with simple observations. What did well this year, and what were some of the challenges? My phone records much of that for me.  For example, my tomato plants were perfect this year. When I went to harvest the tomatoes, I was surprised to see spots on the fruit. It turned out that I had a disease called anthracnose. As I researched the cause, I realized I had planted the transplants in soil from last year (in pots). That will not happen again. I will get rid of the soil, disinfect the pots, and be more successful next year. 

Here is a to-do list in the garden this fall. 

Late fall color ar Longwood Gardens

Putting the Garden to Bed and other Fall Chores

·         Observe, take pictures, keep a garden diary.

·         Remove dead branches from trees and shrubs.

·         Clean up leaf litter around diseased plants.

·         Is the right plant in the right place? What may have changed?

·         Don’t be too neat. Leave spaces for turtles, and native beneficial insects like mason bees.


The Lawn

John is adding Leafgro to add organic matter for a seedbed

·         Seed the lawn now. Fill barespots or redo entire areas that were struggling.

·         Feed with a fall lawn food, high in the nutrients that lawns are looking for this time of year. 

·         Aerate to create air spaces in compressed soil.

·         Mow high and let it lie. Most of the grasses we currently use are best at about 3".


The Perennial and Annual Gardens


A fall perennial garden

·         Move, divide, cut-back. Read The Well-Tended Perennial Garden for great tips.

·         Plant perennials from containers into the garden.

·         Use shredded leaves as mulch.

·         Don’t cut back woody or evergreen perennials.

·         Spray deer deterrent.

·         Clean up leaf litter around diseased plants.

·         To mulch or not to mulch…reseeding annuals, Ghost ferns, Black-eyed Susans.

·         Leave seed heads up or  collect seed for next spring.

·         Remove summer blooming bulbs.

Dahlias, Cannas and other summer flowering bulbs should be dug up andh stored over winter

·         Plant bulbs…deep. Use Bobbex as a bulb dip for protection against rodents. Consider many of the deer resistant bulbs. Plant them around tulips and other deer food.

·         Use pansies or violas as cover over the bulbs. 

 Trees and Shrubs

·         Plant while air is cool and soil is warm.

·         Continue to water newly planted trees  and evergreens as needed.

·         Consider an anti-dessicant for broad-leaved evergreens; use for cut greens at holiday time too.

·         Leaf drop is normal as is needle drop in some evergreens.

·         Prune as needed. Wait until March for butterfly bushes, and grasses. Hydrangeas that grow on old or new wood can be cut-back anytime. Do not over prune those hydrangeas that bloom on old wood.

·         Used decayed compost in beds and around trees. Leave a trunk flare. Avoid mulch or compost too close to the trunk of trees where voles may gnaw on bark.  Stamp down snow around trees as well.

·         Remove snow load from bushes, especially under the eaves of rooflines. Use a broom or blower.

·         Spray Deer Stopper to prevent rutting on bark of trees.

Deer Stopper comes in a spray as well. I like the ribbon around the garden or a group of trees. Use it 30" high for best results. 

·         Plant for wildlife…berried treasure like dogwoods, calicarpa and many hollies are sought after. 

Feed the birds. Trees and shrubs provide shelter for our feathered friends. 


·         Identify the evergreens and others to prune later for decorating for the holidays

Vegetable Gardens

Extend the growing season by adding Harvest Guard over the raised bed hoops

If you have knowldge and skills to share, reach out to a community garden

·         Harvest.

·         Clean out and do not compost diseased plants.

·         Plant radishes and carrots to improve soil drainage in spring.

·         Plant a cover crop of winter rye or clover as green manure.

·         Add organic matter, lime and other soil additives now. Test the soil for pH.

Though we are not offering soil testing at this time, we do sell DIY kits


·         Remove old soil from containers; clean and store pots.

·         Cut back, dry and preserve herbs.

·         Take photos, re-design garden to foster crop rotation.

·         Mulch strawberries and other berries. Cut-back raspberry canes.

·         Okay to add ash from fireplaces to the compost pile.

·         Protect figs.

·         Prune stone fruits…peaches, plums.

Tools, house, etc.

·         Clean and sharpen pruners.

  •      Sand wooden long-handled tools. Rub with linseed oil.  

·         Caulk around house to prevent rodents, stink bugs, lady bugs

·         Feed the birds; store birs seed and pet foods in rodent-proof containers

·         Use Mouse Magic around mowers, grills, covered furniture….



Houseplants add fresh air inside the home

·         Move houseplants inside.

·         Use horticultural oil, soap or systemic insecticide to treat any insects.

·         Fertilize one more time, then hold off until March.

·         Give the plants a shower.

·         Consider a humidifier.

·         Turn them a quarter a week to keep growth even. 

Add grow lights if needed.


·         Check leaves for sticky-ness; treat accordingly.

·         Keep Christmas Cacti cool.

·         Pot up paperwhites and Amaryllis for Christmas gifts.

·         Poinsettia, Cyclamen, Violets, Kalanchoe, and orchids offer beautiful color indoors.

·         Force bulbs. Use the beverage fridge to cool bulbs for about 12 weeks. Pot them amd put them in the refriferator. 

There is always something to do in the garden, but do take the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Working on these tasks now will save time in the spring when we'll all be ready to get started again. 

Enjoy and let us know if we can help.  





Friday, October 2, 2020

Harvesting Herbs by Guest Blogger and Herb Department Manager Jen Kostick

Fall is by far my favorite time of year. The crisp cool air after the heat of summer, apples, spices, pumpkins, and the changing colors of the leaves. My only regret is that another gardening season is ending and it’s time to clean up and cut back.

With the falling temperatures, it is time for the final harvest. It is a bittersweet moment, cutting down the last of the fresh basil, but use this time to preserve your bounty and let your hard work grace your table until you can plant again.

Here are a few tips for harvesting your herbs and putting the garden to bed for the winter:

·         Think about how you will use your herbs over the winter. This makes a big difference. For example, while I’ve made and frozen pesto already this year, I’m much more likely to toss some dried basil in the pot while I’m cooking dinner. 


      Most of my basil will be dried this year so that I have it available for just that. Herbs can be frozen, dried, and even turned into herb butter, oil, and vinegar. With the coming holiday season, these make simple but thoughtful gifts!

           What did you wish you grew? What didn’t survive the week-long trip to the beach you finally got to take? There’s still time to plant perennial herbs! Chives, lavender, oregano, sage, and thyme will overwinter beautifully in this area. If you have a dedicated area for mint you can plant that as well, but it can be quite aggressive so be careful where you plant it.


·         While I only have a little luck bringing my herbs in for the winter, there are many varieties that will do well inside in a sunny area. They may not look as lush as they did over the summer, but they survive well inside with minimal care and it’s a great way to get a jump start on the season. Scented geraniums, bay, myrtle, rosemary, and even lemongrass survive for me in a southern window. Just remember that while they don’t like the soil to be soaking wet all the time, you do have to water occasionally. Whoops!


·         Harvest! Get out there and harvest! Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. Offer fresh herbs to friends and co-workers, try adding a new herb to that dinner you’re cooking, or look up new recipes. This year I Googled recipes with lemon verbena. I’ve grown it for years and rarely used it. I’m super excited to try spaghetti with lemon verbena grilled chicken! And remember you can preserve herbs by drying, freezing, and making butters, oils, and vinegars – even in crafts! I make catnip mice for my cats, as well as shoe sachets out of old socks.


·         Finally, after a hard frost, remember to get out there and clean up. Cut back the perennial herbs to encourage new, tender growth in the spring. Take out annual herbs and, if they are disease and pest free, add them to the compost pile. Cover the area with straw so that weeds don’t spring up. Cleaning the area now means that come Spring, all you’ll have to do is plant and not deal with last year’s mess. I think we can all agree, we don’t want any part of 2020 in 2021!

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Sunday Gardener

 The Sunday Gardener returned to the airwaves on WBAL TV 11 two weeks ago. What a pleasure it is working with the people of WBAL, with the professionalism, dedication, and experience their people bring to the people of Maryland every day. Tommy, our photographer for the next several segments, is celebrating his 33rd anniversary at the station. My former colleague, of over 25 years, John Collins, has been with them even longer. Here he is with Susie Creamer, the director of The Patterson Park Audubon Center. 

Ava Marie and Tony Pann are both veterans at the station. Tony was there in 1993 when I first began answering plant and garden questions at the station. Both bring unique perspectives to the Sunday Gardener as they take turns to bring timely tips to our viewers.

Tony is wowed by the scope of subjects and new terms he learns as we shoot the episodes.

Ava is genuinely interested as we take on environmental lessons from gardening, like composting, and pollination. I am constantly amazed at how all of our gardening lessons are impacted by the weather, both globally, and in the micro-climates of our yards.  

We look forward to bringing some fun and knowledge to our gardening friends, both through TV and through our facebook pages, Valley View Farms Nursery and Garden Center, and, The Sunday Gardener on WBAL TV

Thank you to Jess, Tim, Dan, and Don at WBAL and to everyone else that helps us out at both the station and here at Valley View Farms. We appreciate your support.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Kay Foard

Kay on a visit to Longwood Gardens
The Foard family lost their matriarch earlier this week. And many of us at Valley View Farms feel that Kay was the matriarch of the Valley View Farms' family as well. Kay had style; she would stop in to see what might be new in our patio and pottery departments or choose some flowering perennials for her patio border.
Billy and Kay hosted our plant department party for years

She and Billy had container gardens all around their home. Not a big houseplant fan, Kay did grow some herbs in her home. I was in charge of watering one year while they vacationed. I never saw the rosemary in the front window. It didn't make it. I lost all credibility as a plant 'expert' that year.
Kay and Billy

Kay always had a smile. She'd ask about our families and had kind words for everyone around her. My friends and family became her friends, as she was open to new people and adventures in her life every day.
Kay, Julie, Jan, Mary, Susie, and Janet making wreaths 
Kay and Susie assembling wreaths

She had several loves in her life, husband, Billy, children Lisa and her partner Lisa, Andy, and Stuart and his wife Debra, and her four grandchildren, Kaylin, Will, Jackson, and Mason. Kay also loved her horses. She rode daily for many years. Of course, she adored her dogs. At one point, four labs rested on the Foard's front porch in Phoenix, MD. Kay was such a giver too. She would walk my large German Shepherd on weekends in the spring when she knew I would be getting home late from work. Tucker loved her.
Kay and Andy at the O's game!
Berta, Nancy, Kay, and daughter Lisa 
Kay and her grandsons Mason and Jackson (a few years ago)

Kay loved to spend time with friends and took many day trips, attended book club meetings, and shared many a bottle of wine and conversation with them. The two of us shared books and talked about topics far removed from the garden center business. Kay was intelligent and very well-read, keeping up with world events and local happenings in her country town.

Jan and Kay at Winterthur Garden Festival

Thinking of Kay makes me think of Billy too. How I miss them. Checking in on Billy's garden, and having a beer on the front porch viewing their beautiful property is a memory to be ever-cherished. Thank you, and everyone in the Foard family for your love of people and love of life. It is a beautiful legacy that has been passed by your remarkable parents. May they rest in peace.
View of the property from the pond
Pre-renovation Foard farmhouse