Whimsical Touches

The Master Gardener volunteers who have the various beds in the Teaching Garden have added interesting touches to their beds.  Flowers are undoubtedly beautiful but whimsical additions add interest and amuse the eye.  Enjoy a stroll around the garden; these are just a few you’ll see among the blooms – –

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Fairy House - front yard

Fairy House – front yard

Fairy House - back yard

Fairy House – backyard

Jean, Master Gardener at the Cooks’ Garden, showed the cold-weather crops growing under the protective white floating row covers.  Growing under the covers are cabbage, lettuce, radishes and broccoli.  The row cover is used not to protect them from the cool evenings (because they like that), the cover is used to keep insects off the plants.  You would not use a row cover if you want to gather the seeds for future plantings because in that case, you would need insects to pollinate the plants.  wpid-wp-1430234508537.jpg   wpid-wp-1430234557689.jpg                                                  The summer plants have not gone in yet, hopefully next week.  The soil needs to be around 50 degrees before tomatoes, beans, etc. can be planted.

Reminders – Workdays in the Garden and Compost Day

Listed below are the Saturday Workdays in the Garden when Master Gardeners will be at the Teaching Garden as well as every Tuesday morning from 9 a.m. – noon and Thursday evening from 6:30 p.m. – dusk.

We can always use more MG hands to make our work go quicker so come out and join us when you can.  It is a good time to chat with other Master Gardeners, enjoy the garden and have a good time as well.

Saturday Workdays from 9 a.m. – noon (Please make note of the dates):

April 25th   Master Gardeners are needed as we will be potting plants from the Meadow.
May 2, 9, & 23
June 6, 13, & 27
July 11 & 25
August  8 & 22
September 5, 12, & 26
October 3, 10, & 24
November 7

Also don’t forget Compost Day this Saturday, April 25 at the Prince William County Ball’s Ford Road Facility from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Master Gardeners will be there and have two demonstrations on vermicomposting and proper tree planting and mulching.   See LINKS for more information and directions.

Woodland Garden is at peak

Ever wonder what to plant in shaded areas?  The Woodland Garden is inspirational right now.  Harriet, the volunteer Master Gardener for this garden, said some of these plants can be planted around trees and their roots don’t require much rich soil .   These flowering plants are at their peak and will be a treat for your eyes so do try to come out and see them in their glory.

Welcome to the Woodland Garden

Welcome to the Woodland Garden

Red bud with yellow wood poppy

Red bud with yellow wood poppy



Virginia bluebells, yellow wood poppy

Virginia bluebells, yellow wood poppy


The Rock Bed and Lavender Bed are under renovation this year.  The lavenders are planted high for drainage.


Lavender Bed

Lavender Bed

Another trick to keeping young trees from being nibbled by deer came from Leslie, volunteer Master Gardener.  Tall grasses were planted around the Coral Bark Maple tree when it was first planted.  After the tree grew some, the grasses were removed and the tree is thriving with its young bark unharmed.

Coral Bark Maple

Coral Bark Maple

The volunteer Master Gardeners for the Cooks’ Garden have been busy planting corn, rape seed, collards, celeriac, garlic, shallots, onion, lettuce, radishes, carrots, kale seeds, and the final row of potatoes.  Potted up for the upcoming Plant Sale were cilantro plants and one Egyptian onion plant.  Asparagus is being harvested but asparagus beetles and eggs were found on them.  Bugs and eggs were removed and Neem oil sprayed around the base of the plants.  Jean found a frog in the garden – always a good sign!

Your moment of Zen

Two views from the Zen garden – how peaceful!

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The flowering tree is a Patio Peach ornamental tree.  It produces non-edible peaches.  Great news – Leslie, the volunteer Master Gardener who is in charge of the Teaching Garden, says they have grown seedlings from the Patio Peach tree and they will be for sale in the MGPW Plant Sale on Saturday, May 9.  Word of advice – best to get there early that day as there are a limited number of seedlings.

Leslie was proud to show off the garden’s new shed earned from fund-raisers such as the Plant Sale.  This shed will house the new chipper shredder (featured in April 2 blog) among other items.


The Cooks’ Garden volunteers were turning under the cover crops.  Now they have to wait two weeks before they can plant but their plantings will benefit by the enriched soil.

First “Saturday in the Garden”

It was a wonderful spring day at the first “Saturday in the Garden.”  Volunteer Master Gardeners from the Cooks Garden – Ellen, Jean and Amye gave talks and shared their expertise and experience.

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Everyone received a pamphlet “Beneficial Insects : Natural Pest Control” put out by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Environment and Natural Resources.  Common beneficial insects found around here are lady beetles or commonly named “lady bugs”, spiders, ground beetles, green lacewings, wheel bugs, hover flies, parasitic wasps and praying mantis.  It is important to know these insects and what they look like at all stages of their growth from eggs, nymphs and adults so we don’t destroy them.  They will work hard for us by feeding on the harmful pests we don’t want in our gardens.  The squash borer was mentioned as a big concern, especially since it ruins zucchini plants.  Ellen suggested planting the crop twice in different places in your garden knowing that one may be sacrificed to the borer and doubling your chance to harvest the fruit.  A good “trap crop” for zucchini is Hubbard squash.  The borers may leave your zucchini alone if they can munch on Hubbard squash instead.  Of course, as Ellen joked, she usually has plenty of zucchini to give away until the borer gets them since the plant is very prolific.

Three complimentary seed packets were given out:  cleome, commonly called “spider flower”, marigold and cosmos.  These flowers attract pollinators to our gardens.   Marigolds have an added soil benefit by suppressing nematode pests.  Another flower recommended to grow were sunflowers which is a “trap crop” for stink bugs.  Birds come for the seed and eat the bug.  Anise hyssop is a wonderful plant to attract bees and other pollinators.  The Prince William Master Gardeners will be selling this plant at their plant sale during the next “Saturday in the Garden” May 9, 9 a.m. until noon, as well as many other plants.

A chart was given to attendees on Companion Planting  and also on plant rotation.  Recommended books to read:  Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte and Bob Flowerdew’s Complete Book of Companion Gardening by Bob Flowerdew.  You want to make sure not to plant the same plants in the same place year after year to ward off soil diseases and bugs that overwinter.  Jean showed how the Cooks Garden is laid out and how they rotate the crops and how cover crops are used to put nutrients back into the soil.  wpid-wp-1428760781440.jpgThe Cooks Garden use no fertilizers. Their success is due to good compost, cover crops and bad bug pool.  The “swimming pool” is the mixture of water and dish soap.  Bad bugs are put in there and since they don’t know how to swim, they’re gonners.  Be sure to look under leaves when you’re bad bug hunting and know the differences between good beneficial insects and the bad ones.

Amye demonstrated how to plant potatoes.  You use “seed potatoes,” potatoes with eyes which you can find at Southern States, Walmart, Lowes, etc.  You need a sunny, well-drained place.  You can even grow them in barrels.  You plant them 9 inches deep and 9 inches apart. In the beginning you cover them with 4 inches of soil until they are 12 inches high, then you add more dirt to the bottom leaves.  This is called hilling.  You keep repeating this step as the plant grows.  Final step would be to straw the hill to suppress weeds, maintain moisture and repel the Colorado potato beetle.  Potatoes generally go in around St. Patrick’s Day around here but due to the colder weather, now is okay to plant.  It is now recommended that you do not cut the “seed potato” into quarters.  Tom Bolles from the Cooperative Extension Office, said this was popular during the Depression to try to get more growth from the seed plant.  It is no longer recommended since it can invite disease and insects.  Plant your “seed potatoes” whole.

It is not possible to write about everything discussed and that is why it is recommended that you attend these free talks, next one will be on May 9.  It is a great opportunity to learn, see methods demonstrated and be able to ask questions.  If you want to know more about what today’s lectures offered or have any other gardening questions,  please contact the PWC Horticulture Help Desk (see Links).

Upcoming “Saturday in the Garden”

This Saturday, April 11 will be our first “Saturday in the Garden.”  A talk by Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers will be about Companion Planting.  Discover which plants, grown side by side, benefit each other and result in healthier plants and better garden yield.

Join the Cooks’ Garden Master Gardeners for planting potatoes and turning cover crops.

All programs are free and run from 9:00 a.m. until noon.  Please register so we’ll have enough handouts by calling (703) 792-7747 or email master_gardener@pwcgov.org.

Teaching Garden is at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136.

Rain is expected today (Friday) so the grass will be wet Saturday morning.  Please dress appropriately and we’ll see you at the Garden.

Martin house ready for occupancy

Bill Willis, President of Master Gardeners of Prince William, Inc., was in the garden setting up the house for the purple martins.  He hadn’t done it earlier because of the cold weather we’ve been experiencing. The weather has kept flying insects bedded down which means there is nothing for martins to eat.  Martins are known to “eat on the fly.”  Bill had cleaned out the house and the hanging natural gourds from last year and repainted them white with an outdoor acrylic paint (he stressed not to use oil based paint).

Acrylic painted gourds.

The birds are attracted to the white color.  The gourds are specially grown for martins and are cut with a special opening to keep swallows out.  Last year there were four families of martin that lived in the house, up from two families the year before.  Getting the right location for the house was a challenge.  The Martin House has been moved three times but Bill feels where it is now in an open area with no brush underneath will be a permanent location.

House ready for occupancy.

House ready for occupancy.

The white covering over the bottom of the pole is a snake cover.  Snakes like to slither up and raid their home.  A metal pole is not an obstacle for them.  Looks like the snake cover is working since families are thriving and increasing.

A visit to the “Native Bed” and the two ladies in charge of it, Jannell and Karen, was most informative.  They have the largest bed in the Teaching Garden with around 70 various plants.  In bloom was claytonia virginica, commonly called “spring beauty.” wpid-wp-1428421491518.jpg It is a Northern Virginia native plant.  Jannell said the witch hazel had flowered in February and March with yellow flowers.  Damaged branches from the red twig dogwood were pruned out. You can see the damage their antlers caused. wpid-wp-1428420702726.jpgThe stripped bark would have invited disease and insects so they were removed.  Last year the deer ate the oak leaf hydrangeas so a fence was put around it and they are now showing shoots and will hopefully give us a wonderful display.  They were digging up their mountain mint and relocating them to a less wet area and keeping an eye on it for southern blight.  This fungal disease strikes around  July where lower stems will turn black or brown and the plants wilt and die.  Starting to grow are “little lanterns” columbine, a cultivar of a native columbine.  This is grown in the garden because it is short and tiny and not as tall as the natives.  Two items growing are wild onions and daffodils which were not intentionally planted.  Jannell said they dug out the daffodils last year but they came back. This is why daffodils are used to naturalize a lawn or open space.  Not only are they colorful and multiply readily, the deer don’t like their taste and leave them alone for us to enjoy their beauty.wpid-wp-1428421846277.jpg

The Master Gardeners at the Cooks’ Garden rolled up their sleeves and replaced wood on two raised beds.  They continued working on the diseased (leaf spot) strawberry bed thinning out the old growth.   They removed the winter insulation around the artichoke plant and found the base was wet.  It is a wait and watch time to see if it will survive.

Importance of Compost

The last day of March was a typical spring day – great for working in the garden.  Wonderful news – the daffodils are out.  What a cheerful sight!wpid-wp-1427813620765.jpg

The Master Gardener compost guys, Joe Ray (in charge), Ethan and Bob, the “Compost Kings,” were doing their thing, having lots of material to shred.  They were happy to work with their new chipper shredder, bought with donated money.           wpid-wp-1427813422667.jpg                                      wpid-wp-1427813538421.jpg

The Woodland garden is in need of leaf compost.  Compost is one of the best things you can do for your soil and because the Woodland garden is dry shade, using leaf mulch seems to be a much better idea.  Woodland plants are made to grow in leaf litter.    See the LINKS page for various websites that cover this important topic – compost.  One of our own Master Gardeners, Ed Rishell, wrote an excellent brochure on the home composting process.  Be sure to read that one – most informative.  Also, Prince William County has a yearly Compost Day at their Balls Ford Road Facility.  This year it will be on Saturday, April 25 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Master Gardeners will host a table and will teach two demonstrations on vermicomposting and proper tree planting and mulching.

Master Gardener Tina, in charge of the Rock Garden, along with her assistant Gisela, were cleaning and straightening out their bed.  Their daffodils, ‘Tete a Tete’, were in full bloom.  They are the most popular miniature daffodil, worldwide. Their fragrant yellow blooms bring cheer to the garden in the early spring.  Removed was the weed, hairy bittercress or Cardamine.  It has a pretty white flower and is very low to the ground.  Don’t be fooled by this plant.  When it matures, the flower will go to seed, pop as you brush by it and reseed itself readily.  One plant will turn into many.  Best to dig it up now!

In the Cooks’ Garden, the Master Gardeners planted onions and shallots.   Bed C was planted with a cover crop of crimson clover in preparedness for a future crop of peanuts.  Cover crop that has been turned under in the planted beds has started growing again and will be snipped off with shears.  Thomas Bolles, staff member of Prince William County Cooperative Extension Office, came out and identified leaf spot on the strawberry plants.  He recommended old debris be raked out and to pinch off any stems with affected leaves.  The whole patch will need to be thinned.  All removed debris will be bagged and thrown out.  You do not want to compost diseased leaves.  Because the strawberry plants have this disease, none will be sold in the Teaching Garden plant sale on May 9th.  Please be sure to come out for the sale and get great plants at a great price.  Sales support our efforts at the Teaching Garden.