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.



A Beautiful Evening for the Autumn Equinox

It’s officially the autumnal equinox, and what a wonderful way to celebrate it’s arrival than a beautiful evening party at the Benedictine Sisters Monastery Teaching Garden! Last Friday we were treated to a lavish spread of delicious food, violin music by Michael Francis Haley, and a very informative and entertaining class (by flashlight) with Capital Naturalist Alonso Abugettas.  The evening was so lovely; you could here an orchestra of a of chirping insects and croaking amphibians, bats were busy keeping the mosquitoes at bay and the hundreds of tea lights and candles made for perfect lightening. The tables were elegantly set with flower arrangements by Nancy Berlin (and others), tables of savory and homemade appetizers, and scrumptious desserts. There was so much attention to detail and it was evident that many people worked hard planning  and  setting everything up. Most of all, it was a delight not only to see people from your own MG class, but also meet others that you had not met before.  It really was a splendid evening in the beautiful setting of the Teaching Garden, and true to it’s description, the White bed was in full “moon glow”.

Thanks to Tina Chappell (chair of event), the MGPW board provided funding, Paige Thacker (who did SO much),  Nancy Berlin and the support of Brenda Hallam, Linda Ligon (and her husband Tom), Terri Anderson, Sally Peterson, Val Chappell (Tina’s husband). If I have forgotten anyone, let me know! I will add their names. I also would like to give a HUGE shout out to all the Master Gardeners that faithfully come out every week to keep this beautiful garden and  composting going. Please come out and see us more often!


Alonso Abugettas was the guest speaker and he has agreed to speak again on June (details coming later…..) Alonso is a well-known local naturalist, environmental educator and storyteller in the Washington, D.C. area. He is the natural resources manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation and the co-chair for the Beltway Chapter of Region 2 of the National Association for Interpretation. He has been trained as a master gardener, was made an honorary Virginia Master Naturalist for his role in starting two chapters and serves as an instructor for both. He is a co-founder of the Washington Area Butterfly Club and has held several offices, including president, for the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society.

He invites you to check out his personal blog “Capital Naturalist” and Facebook group where he posts regular nature notes using his own photography.

Alonso took us out into the garden after dark and found lots of interesting things going on in the Lesley’s Deer Resistant bed.  The Teaching Garden is designed to support pollinators in all of the beds, but special attention is paid to Monarchs. Throughout the season we find all stages of metamorphosis and for the last several weeks the generation that leaves on the long migration to Mexico has been emerging from their chrysalis’. Monarch catepillars have been munching away on the many milkweed plants planted to attract them. Alonso found them of course, busy consuming as much as they can. He also found many other stages in the life cycle of beneficial insects we have been supporting, as well as the sticky aphids that supply honey dew.  Some of the things that Alonso talked about: There are 13 species of milkweed found in Northern Virginia, aphids found on milkweed are not native, but are native to oleander bush, and the Monarch caterpillars that we saw that evening are probably at least, the 3rd or 4th generation this season.   We learned to cut back the milkweed in late August to encourage a new flush of leaves to feed the last generation before migration, to wash the aphids we find off with fresh water, and that young milkweed leaves are edible. Alonso also found plenty of milkweed bugs and lace wing nymphs eating aphids. One interesting we also learned is that if a catepillar bites directly into a vein of the milkweed, the latex can glue its moth shut!

Please come again! We love to see everyone. Thanks again to all that worked hard to make this a special evening!



The White Garden

The White Bed is a very unique and beautiful garden tended by Master Gardeners Nancy Hanrahan and Spencer Williams.  Nancy is on sabbatical this season, so Spencer has been taking great care of it, in addition to the Rock Garden.

The White garden provides four seasons of interest using a combination of perennials, annuals and bulbs. Using a monochromatic color scheme, the overall effect is achieved with contrasting flower form and leaf shape, color and texture. A White garden is also a clever way to brighten a shady area and works well as a “moon garden” with flowers that are open and fragrant at night. This garden is a symmetrical oval, with pairs of identical species on adjacent sides. This design has been a study in how differing microclimates can affect individuals of the same species, as the sides receive differing amounts of light and shade.

When you look at the White Bed you see this oval and plants arranged symmetrically.  In the center there is a white Clematis and white Lilies. White Phlox, white Daisies, and white Echinacea are next to the Clematis on both sides, also giving height to the center area. One side of the center piece side is a tall, variegated Euphorbia, that may eventually thought be removed since it self seeds, and is aggressive. It does add very distinctive foliage and texture to the bed. Other perennials and annuals moving outward from the center and in a symmetrical pattern include white mums (a favorite of the deer), Stokes aster, white Roses, white Iris, Mule grass, tall white Salvia, dwarf white Salvia, white Catnip, and at the ends, Lambs Ear.  Spencer has added white flowering annuals such as Snow Globe throughout the summer.

This bed is considered a full sun garden, but there is some shading at different times of the day from trees. What is interesting to observe is the different growth habits of identical plants receiving differing amounts of sunlight, in this symmetrical design.

Since this season has had a fair amount of rainfall, Spencer has not watered it much. The deer have been consistent visitors to all the beds, but in the White bed, they mainly dine on the flowers of the mums. They prefer some of the tasty treats in the other beds next door!

White Garden 2017 Plant List (1)

Laudable Legumes!

Legumes are found in the plant family, Fabaceae,  (also called Leguminosae) the third largest plant family on Earth. An enormous and incredibly diverse family, these plants are the most common family found in the tropical rain forests in the Americas and Africa. They range from rain forest to deserts, lowland to alpine habitats. There are even some aquatic species. Legumes are grown worldwide and are a rich protein source for human and livestock consumption.

In agriculture, legumes are grown for the grain seed, called the “pulse“, and these dried seeds are harvested for livestock, forage or silage. Legumes are also grown for human consumption and green manure. Important legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, mesquite, carob, soybeans and peanuts.  Lupines, a famous wildflower in Texas, and a common  landscape plant, is also a legume. There are also some undesirable legumes which are invasive species such as kudzu and wisteria vine as well as poisonous legumes to cattle.  Legumes are not always an herbaceous plant and can also be trees. The Brazilian Rosewood, Honey Locust, Black Locust, Acacia, Red Bud and Honey Mesquite are examples of legume trees.


Types of Agricultural Legumes

Leguminosae is divided into three major subfamilies, each having a huge range of biodiversity. They can be identified by the pinnately or palmately compound leaves, (although some have simple leaves), flower parts are usually in 5”s, but some are in 4’s, they have axillary branches, they may be covered with small hairs, or no hairs (glabrous), and most have dry, seed “pods” that split into two pieces.

The vast majority of legumes have symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria in structures called root nodules. This important bacteria (Rhizobium) fixes atmospheric, molecular nitrogen (N2) into ammonia (NH3), then into ammonium (NH4), a usable form by the legume plant. This form of nitrogen is used by the plant to make amino acids, which are combined to make protein. Important in the ecosystem as well as agriculture, ammonium is then converted into nitrate (NO3) by aerobic soil bacteria, a usable form by all other plants. In agricultural practice, legumes are used as an organic way to amend the soil and reduce crop nutrient deficiency. Planted as green manure, they used as cover crops and are tilled into the soil in fall and spring. The plant material breaks down quickly and releases valuable nitrogen back to the soil.  High in protein, legumes are the second most important source of human food and animal forage.

It is believed that legumes evolved somewhere around 35-54 mya, with “nodulation” (infection with nitrogen fixing Rhizobium) evolving shortly after. It is believed early humans foraged on the rich source of plant protein from legumes growing in Africa. Legumes have been cultivated by man for thousands of years. Archaeologists have found evidence of pulse production in the Punjab region of India dating circa 3,000 BC. Evidence of lentil cultivation as been found in the pyramids of Egypt and dry seed pods have been found in a Swiss village dating back to the Stone age.

As an excellent food source, seeds from legumes are typically low in fat, have no cholesterol, and are high in folate and thiamin. Seeds from legumes are an excellent source of essential minerals such as phosphorus, copper, manganese, magnesium and iron, and are also a good source of riboflavin and vitamin B6. They contain beneficial fats, soluble and insoluble fiber, and are an excellent plant-based protein source and healthy substitute for meat. They contain a small quantity of mostly unsaturated (healthy) fats, and contain complex carbohydrates giving them a low glycemic index.  The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating about 3 cups of legumes, including beans, per week. If you eat about ½ cup of beans every day, you’ll meet the weekly Dietary Guidelines for legumes.

At the Teaching Garden, Hairy Vetch and Crimson clover are used as a winter cover crops in the Cooks’ Garden beds and are turned over in the spring as green manure. Other legumes  grown throughout the season are Scarlet Runner bean, Provider bean, sugar snap pea, and chick pea.

September is Legume Month and Charlene Toloso has put together some fabulous recipes which can be found here, downloaded and printed: Legume recipes


Charlene with her delicious Lentil Balls. Check out her monthly recipe collection for Legumes!

Publications of interest:

Northharvest Bean Growers, including The Bean Institute:


No-Till Seeding of Forage Grasses and Legumes (VCE Pub):


Planting Cover Crops (VCE Pub):


Building Soil Organic Matter with Cover Crops (VCE Pub):


Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage, Native Plants:



Signs of Fall at the Teaching Garden

Notice! Mark your calendars for the “Autumn Equinox Party” at the Teaching Garden, Friday September 22, from 6:30-8:30. Bring a finger food to share.  Beverages provided. Violinist, Michael Francis Harvey and Capital Naturalist, Alonso Albuegattas will be there. Please RSVP at Horticulture Help Desk 703.792.7747 or master_gardener@pwcgov.org

We all look forward to the cooler temperatures of autumn and it is exciting to see these changes in our gardens! Driving out into Fauquier and Loudoun counties we can already see maples starting to change color, and the hay fields are a beautiful crimson color. Thistle, aster, goldenrod and sunflowers can be seen along the roadsides as well as ripening fruit of sumac. All the walnut trees in Middleburg seem to be covered in fall cankerworm!

Depending on the local weather, we can often see these changes in the beginning of August. This year, we did not experience the drought conditions often seen in our area in late summer, so changes we are seeing are probably due to the change in daylight (actually, night time) hours. High pressure, continental air masses have been sweeping down from Canada bringing us the cooler and drier days, with fair weather cumulus clouds. These changes in temperature trigger senescence and dormancy. Insects and animals also detect these changes, and prepare by storing energy for the winter or migrating.

Some of the signs I have been noticing for a week on my walks are the gradual break down of chlorophyll in sassafras, poison ivy, and Redbud. Chlorophyll a and b start to break down, leaving red (anthocyanin), yellows (xanthophyll) and orange (carotene) pigments. These pigments gather light at different wavelengths to make that last bit of carbohydrate for the plant. My woods are filled with the sounds of dropping pignuts, black walnuts, and acorns, and squirrels are busy burying them in the middle of the yard.  The young neighborhood bucks are still hanging out together and the velvet on their antlers is noticeable. I have noticed the hummingbirds are particularly competitive at the feeder, trying to store as much energy as they can before migrating. Sumac, wild grape and pokeweed berries are ripening and the annual return of ragweed is in full force.

The Teaching Garden is also showing lots of changes. The Echinacea in the beds have gone to seed and died back. Switch grass is beginning to turn red and Amsonia is starting to turn yellow. The Woodlands dogwood leaves are changing color, they are setting fruit and the Nachez Crepe Myrtle is peeling, and also setting fruit. In the the Woodlands,  Toad lily is now blooming, as well as Ligularia.

The Master Gardeners have been sending lots of pictures of Arachnids and insects getting ready for fall.  One of the most intriguing Arachnids has taken up residence in the drought tolerant bed, the Yellow Garden spider (Argiope aurantia). These spiders are active in late summer and early fall. Known for their large web up to 2 ft across, early fall is the time of year when the female mates and then eats the male. The spider’s eggs overwinter and spiderlings hatch in the spring. Her large, circular web has a characteristic vertical, zigzag shaped “stabillmentum” in the center. A nightly ritual is to consume the circular center and rebuild it each morning with fresh silk. This spider is non-aggressive, rarely finds her way indoors (by accident) and prefers garden areas.

The gardeners have also seen an increase in adult Praying Mantis getting ready to deposit their eggs in a frothy secretion that hardens into a case. These cases are attached to twigs, leaves and fences and stay protected from predators and severe winter weather until spring.


We have also seen many butterflies this summer, and many of the gardens have milkweed for the Monarchs.  Monarchs begin their annual migration in August from all over North America, to Mexico to overwinter. Some scientists believe this migration may be as old as 10,000 years, beginning around the end of the last glacial period. The earliest reports recorded are from the 1860’s,  in California.  Monarchs will only lay their eggs on milkweed, and during breeding season, will have up to 4 broods.  The largest population is found in the fall, when they are getting ready to migrate. This migratory generation are the great, great grandchildren of the ones that left Mexico last spring. In Mexico, they cluster in a 2 acre area in the mountainous Oyamel fir forests, where they are bathed in moisture from fog and clouds. In the Bee, Bird, and Hummingbird garden, Teri Madden tells me that she is still seeing adults and caterpillars. By the road side, Milkweed bugs are also feeding. Not harmful to Monarchs, they do compete for resources. If you see them in your Milkweed garden, just pick them off and give them a swim in the “swimming pool”. Never spray pesticides!

A few of the gardeners have seen Woolly Bear and Blonde caterpillars already.  Folklore has it that the ratio of black to red on the Banded Woolly bear (Pyrrharctia isabella) is an indicator of the severity of the upcoming winter. There has actually been some scientific studies to correlate these two things that found (maybe) some evidence, but for now, its mainly considered an old wive’s tale. We do see more of them this time of year because they overwinter as a larva, and go searching for protected sites under bark or inside cavities of rocks and logs. They can be seen traveling pretty fast to get across the road!

Whatever your favorite things about fall are, its always fun to mark these changes every year!  Some see the back to school supplies in the middle of summer, the yellow buses practicing their routes, pumpkin lattes offered at coffee shops, mums, pick your own apples, or the last episode of Game of Thrones. Master Gardeners celebrate the (almost) end of weeding, (especially Japanese Stiltgrass), squash and vine ripe tomatoes, and planning for our next years gardens! Happy fall everyone!






Signs of Fall in Our Local Birds

One of our guest bloggers this week is Brian Smith, husband of master gardener Marlies Smith. Brian is a wildlife photographer, and I asked him if he had seen any changes in our bird populations this week.  I would like to thank him for sharing his photos as well and these are labeled below. Just click on the image.

If you are on Facebook, you can follow Brian’s page at:


His blog:

The first reaction of many nature-lovers is to think of fall in nostalgic terms — the beautiful songbirds that have been with us all spring and summer are leaving and our green vegetation is giving way to shades of red and brown.  Just as easily, however, we can think of fall as a time of new beginnings.  There are a number of stunning birds that arrive from the north at this time to spend the winter with us.  The yellow-bellied sapsucker, the two species of kinglets (ruby crowned and golden crowned), the brown creeper, the red-breasted nuthatch, the winter wren and the yellow-rumped warbler immediately come to mind.  Then there are many species of warblers that have spent their summer in Canada and are migrating through Virginia on their journey south.  The Cape May, the black-throated blue, the black-throated green, the magnolia, and the Nashville warblers are a few of the species that a diligent birder can observe at this time of year.  Mother Nature never sleeps — She has plenty to offer the dedicated nature-lover in every season.

The Mailbox Garden


Lynne Lanier is the bedleader of the Mailbox garden. She is our Blogger for this week. Thanks Lynne! Its a beautiful garden.  

I have been the bed leader of the Mailbox garden for two years. I don’t have a co-leader but get lots of help and advice from my master gardener team at the TG. I am now in my third year as a Prince William MG Volunteer. From the very beginning I was drawn to the TG for its beauty and peacefulness. I love learning about growing plants and garden design so the TG is a perfect match for me. You can find me working at the TG on Tuesday mornings.

There have been quite a few changes since I took over the Mailbox garden. I decided to design the bed in such a way that would enable me to maintain the plants that were in the middle. To do this I took almost all the plants out and put pavers through the middle of the bed and off to one side. I then replanted some of the plants I took out so that the bed was easier to maintain. I added a few new plants such as Achillea ‘Laura’ and ‘Moonshine, Salvia nemorosa ‘Sallyrosa Jumbo Pink’, threadleaf Coreopsis ‘Rosa’, Ziza aurea ”Golden Alexander’. I put low white fencing on two diagonal
corners of the bed. This spring I added Myosotis sylvatica ‘Forget Me Not’ on the outside of the fenced corners.

The Mailbox garden contains plants that are mostly drought tolerant, do well in full sun and are fairly easy to maintain. Several of the plants are very attractive to bees and butterflies such as the Salvia, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and catmint.

In the fall I plan to rearrange some of the taller plants to the center of the bed and smaller/shorter plants to the outside. I also may remove the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ because the deer are quite destructive to it. The deer also nibble on the white phlox and flower buds on the Echinacea.

A Mailbox garden is an important part of a landscape design as it is frequently the first part of the property that guests and passersby notice. On the other hand, because of its location right next to the street, it can pose significant challenges. Plants are often subject to pollution, fumes from cars, road salt, heat from pavement, dust, animals, etc. Also, if your house sets back quite a distance from the road, it may be inconvenient or impossible to drag the garden hose to the mailbox to water the plants. This would mean the plants that are not drought tolerant are at risk of dying unless you carry water to them.

In planning a Mailbox garden one would want a vibrant and long lasting succession of colors. Some examples of annuals, perennials and vines that can do well, require little maintenance and make great companions in a mailbox garden design are:
California poppy, Coreopsis auriculata ‘Nana’, purple Verbena, purple wave petunia, Clematis, yarrow, stone crop, Phlox paniculata, violet blue aster, Echinacea cone flower, marigolds, Salvia, Lantana ‘new gold.

Plant List:

Salvia nemorosa -‘ Sallyrosa Jumbo Pink’
Echinacea – cone flower
Salvia ‘May Night’
Salvia ‘Ultra Violet’
Salvia ‘Hot Lips’
Tickseed Coreopsis Lil’l Bang –
‘Red Elf’
Achillea Yarrow ‘Laura’
Achillea Yarrow ‘Moonshine’
Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’
Delphinium ‘Blue Mirror’
Liatris spicata ‘Blazing Star’
Clematis ‘Jackmanii’







How Plants Cope with Drought and Low Water Conditions

Drought is a major abiotic stress for crop production and landscape plantings in the world.  Arid, semi-arid and desert climates are be found in the United States, as well as semi-tropical areas that see frequent drought with high temperatures. Arid and desert regions receive precipitation below the potential transpiration rates of plants. There are three strategies that plants use to cope in low precipitation climates: Succulence, drought tolerance, and drought avoidance.


Succulent plants store water in fleshy leaves, stems and roots.  They are often adapted to absorb large quantities of water in short periods, such as desert rains. Thickened leaves and globose stems minimize the surface area through which water is lost. Waxy cuticles provide a physical barrier to water loss. Surface hairs or spines provide a microclimate that also reduces transpiration. Some succulents have vestigial leaves and rely on the stem to harvest solar radiation.  Nearly all succulents have extensive, short root systems which are adapted for increased water absorption. Often their leaves have trichomes to absorb atmospheric water in dew, mist and fog.  Some species of succulents can survive for months without rainfall. Succulents may occasionally appear as epiphytes, growing on other plants with limited or no contact with the ground, and are dependent on obtaining and storing water in storage organs. Succulents are also found on sea coasts where they are exposed to high levels of dissolved minerals toxic to other plants. Succulents commonly use Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) as a biochemical strategy to minimize water loss during photosynthesis.

Drought tolerant plants can withstand desiccation without drying. They often shed leaves during dry periods and enter dormancy. Most water loss from these plants is transpirational loss from leaves, and dropping leaves helps to reduce this loss.  Some drought tolerant plants have resinous coatings. These plants typically make use of C4 carbon fixation or CAM to conserve water during photosynthesis. Other adaptations include reduced number of stomata, trichomes (small hairs) on leaves, adaptations in the root system to increase water absorption, and water storage organs such as tubers. Drought tolerant and succulent plants often have a thick, waxy cuticle to reduce water loss, reduced leaf surfaces and the ability to accelerate senescence.

Drought avoidance or “drought escape” plants are often annuals that escape unfavorable conditions by completing their life cycle during times of higher precipitation. One strategy are the spring ephemerals found in deserts. Desert ephemerals take advantage of spring rains, and the species survives through seed dormancy.   Other strategies include tight folding or rolling of leaves to reduce transpirational water loss. Perennials will die back to their underground parts and become dormant.

Many drought tolerant and succulent plants take advantage of C4 carbon fixation or CAM pathway to fix carbon during photosynthesis. Both are improvements over C3 carbon fixation and are more energy efficient. The CAM pathway is particularly good for arid conditions because carbon dioxide can be taken up at night allowing the stomata to be closed during the heat of the day. This reduces water loss through transpiration.

Xeriscaping, a landscaping style which requires little or no irrigation, was first developed by Denver Water in Colorado because of pressure on it’s water system. Xeriscaping is now recommended in regions that do not have easily accessible, plentiful or reliable sources of fresh water. Also known as water-conserving and drought tolerant landscaping, these designs often use plants that are native to the local climate, but not exclusively.  This allows for a lower consumption of water and also reduces maintenance. There are seven principles of xeriscaping:

  1. Orient your plot by grouping watering zones according to watering needs. Take into account north/south and east/west facing areas, as well as sun in water-conserving landscape and shade. Study natural contours and drainage of the plot and determine if terracing is necessary.
  2. Ideal soils for water conserving landscapes drain quickly and store water. It is important to increase organic matter in your soil, as well as aerate it.
  3. Create minimal turf areas, while retaining turf for activity areas.
  4. Right Plant, Right Place! Check nurseries for drought resistant and native plants
  5. Mulch using leaves, coarse compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark or gravel.
  6. Irrigate using soaker hoses and drip irrigation. Water deeply, and less frequently, and avoid watering during the heat of the day
  7. Maintain your landscape by keeping weeds from growing up through the mulch. Avoid over fertilization.

For more information on planning drought tolerant landscaping and recommended native plants for these areas:

Beneficial Drought Tolerant Plants for the DC Area:


Native Plants for Northern Virginia


Drought Tolerant Plants for Virginia


Drought Tolerant Plants for the Mid-Atlantic


Creating a Waterwise Landscape


Waterwise Plants and Landscaping





The Drought Tolerant Bed

Using drought tolerant plants in the garden are important in the arid parts of our country, and in some areas they are the only ones that grow successfully. In our Mid Atlantic climate we typically have hot and humid summers, but it is not unusual to have periods of drought. Drought resistant plants need far lower amounts of water to successfully grow and bloom, and since many are natives, they are excellent additions to the home garden. Many are foraged by our diverse populations of pollinators.


The Drought Tolerant (DT) bed at the Teaching Garden is  beautifully maintained by Linda Ligon and Charlene Tolose.  Linda has been the bed leader for 5 years, along with Sally Peterson for the first few years. Together, Linda and Sally volunteered to work in the bed as part of their internship. This year, Charlene volunteered to be the co-leader and has already made excellent suggestions to improve some of the problem areas. Charlene is the one who made the baskets to protect the Sedums from the ever present deer at the Monastery. In addition to these ladies, interns have helped with edging and weeding, and special thanks this summer to Collin, the intern from VTech. You can find Linda and Charlene out at the TG on Tuesday mornings. Linda can be found taking accurate notes about the weekly changes and environmental conditions. Charlene can often  be found pulling a wagon of freshly baked, juiced and strained goodies that are made from the Cook’s Gardens’ bounties following recipes from her monthly collections that feature the vegetable of the month.  This month it is the tomatillo!


Linda describes the DT bed as a beautiful and easy to maintain garden that is attractive to pollinators. She is also an apiarist, or beekeeper and keeps her hives in West Virginia. The DT bed is a great place to experiment with pollinator attracting and drought tolerant plants, and good examples of this are fennel and Liatris, which bees love.

Linda and Charlene water new plantings twice every week, but once established, the entire bed needs water only during an extended dry spells of three weeks without rain, or longer.

I asked Linda what were some of the bed’s best features. She responded that everything is perennial, and reseeds/spreads easily from year to year.  It rarely needs supplemental watering.  The variety of colors of the flowers  attract numerous pollinators all year long. The shrubs are somewhat unique and attract a lot of attention when in full bloom, such as the complete coverage of white blossoms on the mock orange in late spring, and the copper-colored blossoms and leaves of the two Ninebarks.

Some of the bed’s environmental challenges that homeowners might also have include   plants that reseed or spread prolifically,  e.g.,  Nepeta. It smells great and pollinators are all over its beautiful purple blossoms, but it is a mint that grows and spreads rapidly, so they have to work to keep it thinned and pruned in order to stay confined and not take over other plants.  The Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan) reseeds very well, and seedlings pop up all over other areas of the bed, so they just keep pulling those.

When I asked Linda to describe some of the changes made over the years she wrote, “First year we removed the very aggressive Oenothera “Mexican primrose”, which was reseeding throughout the bed and still is sending up seedlings all these years later.  We planted many more daffodil bulbs (donated by Nancy Hanrahan from her White Garden), and we designed the Nepeta to grow in a swirl pattern from one end of the bed to the other, in order to tie together what was once three separate beds into one long curving bed.  About three years ago, we added a Sedum Rock Garden section to the bed, near the mock orange – the tiny plants have filled out well among the rocks that I brought from WV and the bed is very well established now. There are now four types of Sedums in the  Drought Tolerant Bed: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (delicate bright pink flowers on large heads) is getting ready to bloom, Hylotelephium ‘Matrona” (an old English variety with purple heads),  Sedum spectabile ‘Variegatum’, and Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emporer” (the one that hides!) There are lots of ground cover Sedums like ‘kamtschaticum‘ [aka Golden Carpet], ‘spurium‘ [aka Dragon’s Blood], Sempervivum’ tectorum [aka hen & chicks], as well as some miscellaneous unnamed succulents that we put in our small rock garden section.  Technically, the 3rd and 4th ones are a type of showy stonecrops called Hylotelephium.”

Future changes Linda and Charlene have been considering are adding more red-flowering perennials, such as Salvias, to the already numerous and pollinator friendly  purple flowers.  They have had good luck in past years with annuals such as Celosia “cockscomb” because they grew tall and were very striking.  This year they added some of those again, as well as some orange/apricot “Mango Tango” Agastache perennials. No pollinators on them yet since one or two plants of something is not really enough to attract too many pollinators.

Problem spots including wet spots have been an occasional problem for some of these drought tolerant plants.  They have lost lavenders, an Artemesia, some Gaillardias in past years.  So they replaced the lavenders and Gaillardias a couple of years ago, and they have done better.  This year they added another Artemesia, relocated to a dryer, sunnier spot. There haven’t been any invasives in the DT bed yet, but plenty of aggressives.

 Deer have been a problem, and rabbits – always chewing on the Echinacea and Sedums, and the lower branches of the mock orange.  Ruth has sprayed them as much as possible as a deterent,  and they added some netting over the Sedums this year, which has made a big difference.  The Echinacea have survived the chewing, and they sent out more numerous side shoots with flower buds, which are flowering now.  

Beneficial insects in this garden include lots and lots of pollinators:  Bumble and honey bees, butterflies all the time, even visiting dragon flies.  This spring they found four praying mantis egg cases, but they don’t seem to have hatched quite yet.  


Linda gives the following recommendations for homeowners wanting to start a drought tolerant bed:  “Stachys monnieri is an excellent, compact plant with striking fuschia-colored flower spikes in June, very deer and insect resistant.  It doesn’t spread like the Stachys byzantine (lamb’s ear), which some people don’t care for.  Also, the Buddleia davidii “white ball” that we have is a compact, non-aggressive, non-invasive butterfly bush with pollinator-attractive white blossoms.  One of our favorites, is the Sedum “autumn joy” – it’s a gorgeous plant all season long, if you don’t have deer or rabbits!  It will soon be full of large, flat-head pink/red blossoms that the pollinators will be all over.  It’s one of the best-looking, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants that a gardener can have.”

For more information on growing drought tolerant plants: