Have a Wonderful Winter and See You Next Spring!

I will be out of town for the rest of the month and during much of the holidays, so I wanted to take the time to thank ALL of you that have helped me at the Teaching Garden throughout my internship and as a new Master Gardener.  From the first day, last April 4, all of you have been so welcoming and helpful! I have truly learned so much from each and every one of you. What a learning experience to walk up to each bed and have long chats not only about the plants, but the insects, mammals, microenvironments, cultivation tips and history. I have been so impressed with each one of your knowledge and dedication to your small piece of this Earth that you carefully nurture and tend with love every week.  You all are just so awesome!

I will post a few blogs during the winter as spring begins to show her earliest signs. Until then, my warmest regards!

Signing off, Robin

The Four Season Bed

A beautiful bed found in the southeast corner of the Teaching Garden in the Four Seasons bed. Designed to always have something blooming in the four season from March to November, this bed has an array of blooming perennials as well as small trees and shrubs that add color at different times of the year.  In the winter months, the garden has plenty of color from red and yellow twigs of dogwood and texture from ornamental grasses.  A great idea for all home gardens which will showcase the many plants available in Northern Virginia that provide year round color.  IMG_5928

The Four Seasons bed is managed by Jean Bennett, and is also supported by Marie Scanlon. Jean has been a MG for 10 years, and the bed leader for 8.  Marie has been a MG for 2 years and has been helping with this bed for the season.  The ladies both come at least once a week, sometimes twice; Marie on Tuesday mornings and Jean Thursday afternoons and/or Saturdays. They describe the bed as providing some plant interest for all four seasons.  New plants are watered regularly, and the rest of the bed during times of drought in  July and August.

Some of the bed’s best features are shrubs that bloom in the spring and summer, a variety of perennials that bloom in the spring, summer and fall, red twig and yellow twig dogwoods and grasses that provide winter interest. Right now,  the “Korean mums” (Dendranthemums) are blooming, in both white and faintly pink (in the shaded areas).

In spring one can find witch hazel flowers, daffodils, lenten rose, bugleweed, iris and catmint blooming. Late spring brings Astilbe, sweet woodruff, bear’s britches and dogwood flowers.

During the summer one can find Echinacea, Coreopsis, Clethra, day lilies, Sedum, witch hazel, coral bells, phlox, Heliopsis, and Hibiscus blooming. Fall is the best time to see the Korean mums.

Like all  gardens in our area, weeds and pests are common.  At the Teaching Garden healthy populations of bunnies and deer roam freely at night and routinely feast on plants in just about all of the gardens. Deer repellents are sprayed often, but is often ignored especially in the fall.   Four-lined plant bugs (Poecilocapus lineatus) can be found on the Korean mums. The Teaching Garden works to encourage beneficial insects and this year has been very productive. Integrated Pest Management works to build beneficial populations to prey on some of the common garden pests.

Some of the changes that the gardeners have done over the years include adding new things and moving plants as the smaller trees  grow and cast more shade. For more information, check the plant list below:

Plant List

4 seasons plants Oct 17 (1)

Benedictine Sisters Holydays Festival and Craft Fair:

HH Sale 2017 final

Happy Outcomes

Our cook’s bed has had its fair share of challenges this year and as the season comes to a close it’s exciting to see the positive outcome of everyone’s effort and support.  By far, our biggest challenge is the creeping shade looming over our fenced vegetable garden which has contributed to plants struggling to germinate, grow and thrive. As a team we pondered various ways we might be able to solve this issue. Leslie Paulson listened, brainstormed, and advocated with the monastery. The outcome…our vegetable garden has been approved to relocate to a sun drenched area! This will require more teamwork, but we are motivated by the support we have received from the teaching garden as a whole, from Sister Pat and the monastery, and the public attending the Saturday in the Garden seminars who are eager to learn the best practices being demonstrated.

Another recent happy outcome came in the form of purple sweet potatoes. Early this season we said goodbye to one of our cook’s team volunteers, Dawn Barr, as she embarked on a new adventure to Germany. Before leaving she gifted us with some purple sweet potato slips. These little slips endured an early summer of cool and wet temperatures and a few encounters with wildlife breaching the fencing protection. We were starting to doubt if anything edible would be found in the soil, but I’m happy to report that despite all these challenges we still harvested a generous handful of sweet potatoes. A few MG’s took some home to try this All Purple variety in the kitchen. Dawn, thank you for the gift!

Our current challenge has been the very long spell of hot and dry weather. If reports are correct, a fix in the form of rain should be on its way. It’s always a good outcome when nature decides to side with Team Gardener!

Amye Foelsch

Leslie Paulson, Master Gardener Extraordinaire!

The season is winding down at the Teaching Garden, and its a great time to honor Leslie who is the coordinator of the program.  I met Leslie last April when I took over as a TG blogger.  Right away I was impressed with her diverse knowledge on just about every topic. She introduced me to everyone, showed me the beds, sent me a list of all the bed leaders and their emails, and answered just about any question I had. I felt at home right away, and this has made my new job so much easier. I still remember that chilly, sunny day in April. Leslie was up on the ladder setting up the Purple Martin house, tending to the Deer Resistant bed, checking on all the beds, pulling weeds, and talking with every bed leader. Throughout the season I heard her voice from the other side of the garden, “Where’s Robin? Come take a picture of this!”  This season has gone so quickly, and I am thankful for the chance to learn from the best.

I asked some of those that have worked with Leslie for many years what their memories of her were. This from Paige Thacker:

“Oh my gosh, where to start!”

“Leslie has volunteered for just about every activity we have.  She has led many activities including running the MG class the year between the transition from Pat Reilly to Nancy Berlin.”

“She has worked the help desk sine probably 2005.  She used to help us  coordinate sign ups, answer questions, manage the MG computer, train new volunteers and answer hundreds of questions coming through the help desk.  She headed up ordering  class tee shirts, cobras and other items MGPW used to sell.  She ran the Basics of Gardening or has hand a hand in supporting the series since 2004.  She for many years camped out in front of the Chinn Park Library in June to reserve class dates for the following year for MGPW and for the office.  (so glad they changed that process.) Since they changed the process she has shown staff how to do this and help us locate rooms and speakers for many educational programs.”

“She has been on the board of MGPW for many years.  She helped for Audubon at Home, she is a volunteer for VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Habitat at Home program, has taught wildlife, coordinated or been a important part of the Teaching Garden since its revamp in 2006.”

“She is an Advanced MG Land Care steward, a tree steward and water steward and has gone through those trainings at MG College.  She has been to MG College almost every year since she became an MG.  I am sure there is more.  She is amazing!”

Nancy Berlin also had a long list of volunteer programs that Leslie has been involved with as a Master Gardener:

“Hours accumulated 808.25 (continuing ed),  9894.25 (service)”

“She has been involved in the following projects:

“DGIF habitat gardens at PWCPS  and Detention Center,  Audubon Ambassador – administrates and teaches, teaches Wildlife for MG training – 10 years?,  attended MG college (all but one? year) organized VMGA auction many of those years, Served as MGPW president (a couple of terms), teaching Garden manager for past (6?) years, taught at Saturday in the Garden on deer, organized highly successful plant sales for MGPW (10 years +) which have made the TG sustainable, interfaces with Monastery on changes to the Teaching Garden,  an advocate for the MG program wherever she goes, mentored me when I started the job 10 years ago,  she handled the job in the interim before I was hired (2007),  serves in her neighborhood as Neighborhood Plant Expert, has taught habitat programs for schools in FX, PWC, others(?) in cooperation with DGIF, runs TGBEES meetings for planning purposes for teaching garden programs, and Leslie teaches wildlife for Fairfax County MGs.   She was also Volunteer of the Quarter with VCE a couple of times and Volunteer of the Quarter with PWC .”

If you ask around the Teaching Garden, the MG’s have great things to say about Leslie!

“She knows every plant in all the beds”

“She can spot even the most hidden weed anywhere!”

“She has such a wide knowledge of everything! You can ask her any question and if she doesn’t know the answer right away, she gets back to you very quickly!”

“Leslie, along with Ruth, are the soul of the garden. They are the ornamental plant experts”

Her friend Harriet: “Leslie works with Bob and I as part of the Detention Center project, which takes a lot of time. She has a heart of gold!”

From another bed leader: “Leslie is super dedicated and tireless. She takes on any project that others don’t want to do. ”

“Leslie is the force behind the high school wildlife habitats”

“She is a HUGE asset to Prince William County!”

“She is always at the TG with practical and well thought out ideas, for any problem”

Thank you Leslie, for everything!

Signed, your MG/TG Friends

The Deer Resistant Bed

Deer pressure is high on landscapes in Virginia, especially at the Teaching Garden.  Leslie Paulsen, the coordinator of the Teaching Garden, is the bed leader of the Deer Resistant bed, and also a volunteer for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. She has been a Master Gardener since 2004, and the bed leader of this bed since 2008.

The Deer Resistant bed is a triangular shaped garden found in the northeast corner of the TG. Its outer location puts it in the pathway of foraging deer which are common at the Monastery.  Leslie has planted plants, including natives, not attractive to  deer as they forage high protein and high moisture food sources. Feeding pressure on the entire garden is greater in the spring as adults and fawns recover from weight loss in the winter. Foraging slows down a little in the summer, but picks up again in fall. Females especially need to put on weight as they will be pregnant during the winter.

The design of the garden not only uses plants that are unpalatable, but also includes those that offer interesting leaf textures and fall foliage, such as Amsonia and Cut Leaf Sumac.  Leslie has a number of grasses that also provide color and texture, such as red and blue switch grass.  Catnip and Russian sage are examples of plants that have repellent odors, and lambs ear, with its fuzzy leaves are usually ignored. As with any garden, deer may change their minds and start eating a plant they didn’t care for before, so it is important to check often for damage.  Leslie has also selected plants that are drought resistant.

You will find Leslie at the TG Tuesdays and Thursdays. She waters the bed only as needed, and prefers to give longer and less frequent waterings. She loves the Amsonia, especially how it waves in the wind and turns a golden color in the fall. There have been some challenges with invasive plants as with all the beds, and also with aggressive plants. As neighboring pine, oak and crepe myrtle around the bed get larger and create more shade, plants will eventually have to be moved.

List of plants in this bed:   Deer Resistant Plant List 2017

White-tailed deer, (Odocoileus virginianus) native to North and South America, were reintroduced in the 1950’s for sport hunting, to supplement declining populations. Rampant market hunting in the late 1800’s reduced the white-tail population to historic low levels of less then 500,000 in the US. In 1900. the Lacy Act, the first federal wildlife law, was enacted. This law prohibited the interstate trafficking of wild game including venison. As a result of this law and a restocking program, deer populations have steadily increased to record high levels we see today. Combined with a decrease in natural predators and a move away from agricultural land to suburban landscapes, white-tail deer populations have flourished.

Deer prefer the “edge habitats” created by suburban landscapes, as human populations have moved away from agricultural land use. Human created landscapes provide a high concentration of high protein plants close to the ground where they can reach them. Combined with almost no hunting pressure or predators, deer roam almost freely munching on our landscape plants. Well fertilized garden plants provide energy from carbohydrates, minerals and salts, as well as protein. Deer also get 1/3 of their water from moisture in plants, and prefer moist and tender new growth, outer parts of plants, new leaves, buds and immature stems.

With any pest including foraging animals, it is important to use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system. For deer management,  homeowners should consider the following options.

  • accept the damage
  • choose deer resistant and native plants
  • erect fencing (8 feet or more)
  • pick safe locations close to the house
  • use scare devices, including pets
  • use repellents

Deer are creatures of habit and a low impact way to control them is to disrupt their feeding patterns. This can be done in several ways including erecting barrier fencing in their pathways, moving containers plants, scaring with loud noises, or letting  dogs out at feeding times.

Scare devices such as lights, whistles, loud noisemakers  and scarecrows work well for a while. Deer adapt quickly (habituation) and will begin to ignore these devices very quickly. It is important to consider neighbors and HOA rules before using such devices.

Repellents have limitations since they need to be reapplied every 4-5 weeks, and after rain and snow. Deer become used to repellents within 2-3 applications, and completely ignore them if the plant is highly desirable.  There are two categories of repellents: Taste and odor. Odor-based compounds are either biological or chemical and mimic scents of predators.  These include fermented blood, feather meals, human hair, and urine from predators such as coyote or wolf.  Chemical odor-based (and toxic) repellents include mothballs, lime sulfur, creosote, nicotine and ammonia.  Taste-based repellents include hot sauce, garlic, rotten eggs and pepper oil. There has been much research on which formulations work the best in different areas, and it is best to check with your local Extension office. Since deer become habituated quickly,  it is recommended to use multiple repellents and change them often.  It is important to note that any repellent can only reduce browsing, not prevent it. They can be costly since frequent applications are needed, and your neighbors may not appreciate the smell.

There are many suggestions in gardening books on how to reduce browsing through psychological means. Two examples are stringing 3 or 4 strands of monofilament line around the garden, or planting small shrubs just inside deer fencing.  You can find many references about hanging bars of soap from trees and putting human hair in mesh bags hung from stakes 3 feet from the ground. Deer fencing has been proven to be effective but must be at least 8 feet or more. You can find suggestions such as these and more about repellents in the links below.

The best way to reduce deer browsing of your valuable landscape is to use native plants that deer avoid. They will not usually browse plants that are poisonous or that make them sick, ones with milky sap, or fuzzy leaves. They also will avoid plants that have a strong smell, prickly leaves, bitter or alkaloid tastes. As with the designs of many of the Teaching Garden beds, gardeners can interplant undesirable plants with desirable ones to reduce browsing.  Examples: Lambs ear, Daffodil, Foxglove, Prickly Pear, Barberry, evergreen Holly, Yarrow, Catmint, Sage, Thyme, and Lavender.

Plant NOVA Natives: Deer and Native Plants: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/deer—native-plants.html

Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance: Rutgers NJAES: https://njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance/

Native Plants for Northern Virginia   https://www.novaregion.org/DocumentCenter/View/10615

Deer: A Garden Pest, VCE Pub: https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/HORT/HORT-62/HORT-62-PDF.pdf

Home Grounds and Animals: 2017 Pest Management Guide, VCE:


Prince William Conservation Alliance:


Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, White-tailed Deer


Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; Deer Damage Management Options.