Curb Appeal, Part 1

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Our house, Summer of 2011. (Sorry, crummy picture, I wanted an overall image and this is from Google Earth since I neglected to take one.  Creepy how close that satellite image gets you)

Last summer was our five year anniversary in our house in Richmond.  And while we coasted for a while on a “move in ready” home, things are starting to need some attention.  One of those things was our front garden.  Though the mondo grass (who knew, it has its very own website and retailer) was pretty low maintenance at first, it was starting to look kind of overgrown and brown and nasty.  Plus, I tried to trim it, and apparently you should not do that to mondo grass.  It just gets all brown on the edges…FOREVER.  (Versus liriope which needs cutting once a year, they are related, but different members of the Lily family apparently).

Anyways, time for a new look.

I was not sure what to plant given the steep slope, full sun and size of the garden.  Plus lets be honest, I am a fair weather gardener and have not proven myself to very reliable when it comes to upkeep.  This is my first blog post in like, three years.  So follow through isn””t my forte. ANYWAY…My mom suggested we put in what she called an Alpine Garden.  Turns out this is a great, colorful, and pretty easy to care for option – and the subject of my next post…stay tuned.

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Fragrant Flowers

This is one of my absolute favorite times of year in my garden, and it isn’t just because it is FULL of Spring blooms.  Even with my eyes closed it is a treat to walk outside because of the wonderfully fragrant flowers in bloom right now.  Here are a few of my favorites….

WISTERIA: Well, this is just about my favorite plant of all time – always has been.  There is something wildly romantic about its twisting and branches wrapping themselves around anything in their paths and instantly beautifying their surroundings.  They create wonderful canopies, can cover lattice to provide shade and make the bumble bees happy.  In short, I love them.  Sure they are a little invasive, throw their pods everywhere and involve some serious pruning but they are just SO PRETTY.  And, of course, in bloom they have an intoxicating smell.  Mine greets me as soon as I walk out of the kitchen and into the yard – welcoming me to the garden.  I wish it would bloom forever.

HYACINTHS: I didn’t force any hyacinths inside this year and to be honest forgot how many bulbs I planted last year so their adorable blooms in the garden have been a welcome surprise.  They are such a cute shape, remind me of Easter, and smell AMAZING.  Unfortunately Blue likes them too and insists on marking them…so much for bringing their sweet smell indoors.

YELLOW JASMINE:  This bright ray of sunshine hides our ugly back fence that separates our yard from the alley behind us.  It is sort of taking over our gate at the moment, accosting us each time we get out of our car, but I can’t bear to cut it back – it just smells too delicious.

photo by Kirby Fong from 4/18/11

And finally, I have to mention a type of daffodil I learned about this week.  Typically I don’t think about daffodils being fragrant flowers but my Mom introduced me to this little gem she was growing in her garden called sugar cups.  They are miniatures and burst off the ends of the stalks in multiples.  They couldn’t be cuter and aha! smell so sweet.  A double winner – I am definitely ordering some from Brent and Becky next year.

Also, a quick note about Daffodils – there is a fantastic resource called DaffSeek online where you can look up any daffodil by name, species, shape etc.  It is pretty technical but has wonderful images and a ton of information!

Thanks for reading – now get out there and stop to smell the flowers!!!

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The Budding Gardener Goes South

Well…I am back! (After a longer than anticipated hiatus, apologies.)  My excuse?  I am settling into a new job scenario that involves some traveling etc. and haven’t quite figured out how to manage my time yet.  The truth?  I got kind of lazy and forgot how to use my computer after becoming addicted to my IPhone.

But enough about that..the REAL topic of this post is a fabulous little trip we took a few weeks ago to sunny Florida.   We spent a long weekend in Sarasota visiting my parents-in-law and basking in the sun.  We had such a great time and beautiful weather – I even got a little sunburn.  Bliss.  Anyways, one of the highlights was a morning visit and lunch at Selby Gardens.  The Marie Selby Garden, opened to the public in 1975, is a beautiful 14 acre botanical garden on the Sarasota Bay with an awe inspiring Bromeliad Identification Center (orchids!) and a Banyan tree that belongs in fairy tales.  But rather than telling you, let me show you.  I have done my best to identify these amazing plants but no promises.  So here goes: highlights from my visit to the Selby.  Enjoy!

From the Bromeliad Identification Center…


Tillandsia dyeriana


Dendrobium amethystoglossum

Out in the Gardens…

Brugmansia versicolor

aka Angels Trumpet








The koi pond

Unbelievable roots…


Moreton Bay Fig


Ficus microcarpa (Chinese Banyan)


And just a few more treasures…


Hibiscus ''Petra"

Red Silk Cotton Tree

Justica brandegeana (Shtimp plant!)

If you made it to this point thanks so much for looking at all of these pictures.  It was nearly impossible to choose from all of the beautiful plants! If you liked the pictures though be sure to visit the Selby next time you are in Sarasota, it was such a wonderful way to spend the morning with my mother in law.  And lunch was delicious!!!




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Pyracantha scab

One of my favorite features in my yard is in danger…my pyracantha is sick. It has pyracantha scab and I am determined to save it this Spring.  I noticed symptoms last fall – some of the leaves looked a little weird and when winter came and the berries should have been beautiful and brilliant (like they are in the picture above, taken last September), instead they were dull, ashen, and even black.  So I have done a little research and here is what I have learned about pyracantha and their diseases…

Pyracatha are prone to two common illnesses: Fireblight (a bacterial disease that may kill the plant) and Scab (a fungal disease).  Symptoms of scab include the spotting, yellowing, and browning of leaves before defoliation, and dark sooty colored fruit which can turn black when severe.  Here are some pictures of my infected plant (please forgive how terribly out of focus they are, I have no idea what I was looking at when I took them):

infected leaves

spotted backs of leaves

darkened berries

Pretty ugly huh.  When I started to notice symptoms last year I sprayed the plant with Neem Oil – thinking it might just solve the problem in an eco-friendly way.  Neem oil can be successful in treating insects and some fungal infections.  Since I also had a ton of aphids in my yard last summer, I thought perhaps it would solve both problems without making Blue, Me or my bees sick.  It didn’t work.  Then I thought perhaps the rough winter would solve my problem – but no.  Scab overwinters and will spread its spores in spring and early summer. Damn.

So, I am being more aggressive this Spring.  Yesterday was my first day of battle.  Since new growth is starting to peek out happy and healthy, I pruned the plant WAY back, getting rid of as many of the infected branches as I could without just chopping the whole thing down.  I pulled leaves off by hand as well where they shared branches with healthy new growth.  All the bad berries came off.  I dutifully bagged all of the infected cuttings and then raked and removed all of the fallen leaves and berries as well.  Cleaning up the surrounding areas is apparently really important since it overwinters.  Some websites advised putting all of the debris in an incinerator.  I don’t have one handy so I am bagging it and putting it on the curb!

Then I took a deep breath and bought a serious fungicide.  I read the instructions obsessively and tried to be very careful and responsible.  But lets face it – I have declared war on scab and I can’t afford to be Mr. Nice-guy anymore. Sorry beneficial insects – you are welcome to find homes in the rest of my yard.  I covered the few plants (parsley, sage) I had growing nearby in plastic before spraying and locked the dog inside.  I used a commercial product called Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 insect, disease, and mite control. I decided if I was going to spray the plant with something I might as well get rid of all of the issues plaguing my poor plant.

And now I wait for a couple of weeks before spraying again. According to the Pest Management folks at Illinois University you should spray once as the spring buds break open and then every 7-10 days until about two weeks after the petals fall.  The instructions on my fungicide said at the beginning of Spring growth and then repeating twice, each application 1-2 weeks apart.  Apparently the spores are spread in light rain, so it is particularly important to spray before the spring rains set in.

Here are a few websites I found useful in my research.  Wish me and my plant luck!

The University of Illinois

The University of Kentucky School of Agriculture


My pyracantha in happier days...





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Native Flowers and Trees for the Birds and the Bees

Last month I posted about how to attract birds to your yard in the winter.  But now is the time to think about how to provide a sustainable bird sanctuary in the warmer months.  My garden source recently attended a lecture by Dr. Douglass Tallamy – the Professor & Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.   The subject of his talk was related to his recent book, titled Bringing Nature Home.  So apply the the locavore movement to your own backyard – plant native plants and tell your neighbors (and their landscape companies!) to do the same.  Here is a quick summary of the lecture, kindly contributed by my garden source:
“Many gardeners feed birds during the winter, and figure they will do fine during the summer, but most suburban gardens feature non-native plantings, and they do not nourish our native birds. The problem is 97% of birds rear their young on insects (not seeds or berries). Insects only feed and reproduce on very specific plantings-and they are all native to this area. The most nutritious food for the birds-both those who are migrating, and those feeding their young- are caterpillars. You would think a butterfly bush would be ideal-they do provide nectar-but not a single species can reproduce on it.  Now is a good time to think about what to plant this spring to see new butterflies and birds in your yard.  By planting these species you can help reverse the decline of the native plants.  So consider planting the following:
butterfly weed, milkweed, joe-pye weed, black eyed susans, buttonbush, spicebush,Virginia sweetspire, violets, Virginia creeper, native dogwood and any native viburnum.  They are not weeds, despite the names-they are native wildflowers and all beautiful.”

Here are images of some of the plants mentioned above.  The images are borrowed from other websites, so click on the picture to be connected to its source. And again be sure to check out Tallamy’s website,

Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa)

milkweed (asclepias incarta)

Joe-pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Virginia Creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia)




Spicebush - lindera benzoin




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Signs of Spring

Though the temperature plunged a little this week this warm (rainy) Sunday and the blooms in the back yard today are a happy reminder that Spring has almost sprung.  This week I brought in my first cut daffodils and they are so wonderfully cheerful.  The hellebores (above) are starting to bloom as well and Blue and I are really looking forward to some more time out in the yard and in the sun this week.  So even if you are stuck inside because of the rain today remember how happy it will make your garden.  Here are a few pics of all the little signs of Spring in my yard this week…Happy Sunday!

Blue is also very excited for Spring. He was so happy to catch a quick nap in the sun this week!



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Lopping the Liriope

Liriope,* spider grass, monkey grass, lilyturf, ….whatever you call it, now is the time to cut it.  My yard is FULL of liriope – it is the border material along most of the patios and pathways.  It is a perfect plant for the lazy gardener.  It comes in many varieties (including variegated), is evergreen, has darling flowers in the late summer and will grow under almost any condition.  It is really popular here in Richmond where many of the front yards consist of steep sloping banks because it is also great for erosion control.  It’s best feature?  Super easy maintenance…

Once a year (now) you need to cut the grass to make room for its new Spring growth.  I read somewhere that you can remember it is time to cut your liriope when your forsythia starts to bloom.  You can use a mower, but I used shears in most of my yard because I didn’t want to damage the nearby flower beds. You can cut it quite short, but be sure to avoid the little crowns of new growth hidden within.

After pruning - the crown of new growth is visible in the center.

Our sloping front lawn in need of a haircut

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Forcing Branches…Early Results

Success!!  My very first forced branches and a little bit of indoor Springtime in February. The first to go were the forsythia (see below) followed by the quince.  Now, in my head these flowering quince were bright pink last year so either something has gone a little wrong or my memory is already failing at 30.  But, until they bloom outside and confirm my premature dementia I am certainly enjoying the white blooms.  They really go with the room better anyways! Here are a few more pictures.  Will let you know when the rest go.

The forsythia went first and very quickly, less than a week!

Here is the quince in my dining room. Now that it is blooming it can handle more direct sunlight. Maybe it will turn pink now?

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Spring Fever

This near 70 degree weather this week has really geared me up for Spring.  Sunshine! Warm breezes! Pleasant jogs! Drinks in the backyard with friends! AND SPRING BLOOMS!!!!!

Thanks to a wonderful suggestion from Vicky  Alexander, I am trying my hand at forcing Spring branches.  By bringing flowering branches in early, before they naturally bloom outside, you can have springy flowers indoors without waiting for mother nature. Just the buds already look beautiful and I can’t wait for the early blooms.  So while it is nice and warm out there today get out and cut yourself some Sprigs of Spring to have inside when it gets cold again next week!  Here is how you do it (I think):

1. Cut branches on a day above freezing (like today, hurray!).  You want them to be showing signs of budding so you know they are no longer dormant.  Choose branches that have multiple large buds (smaller buds are generally leaves, larger ones are flowers).  I have read you should try and go for 1 foot or longer pieces.  I dunno though, I ended up with some shorter ones and they look like they are doing great.  Good candidates for forcing include: forsythia, quince, dogwood, apple blossoms, honeysuckle, and spirea.

2. Bring the branches inside and slit the bottom inch or so to help it absorb water (see right).  You also want to trim off any leaves or buds near the bottom of the branch that will be underwater to help keep the water clean and clear.

3. Put the branches in warm (not hot!) water in containers.  I had fun picking out tall fun ones around the house, but a good ol beer bottle will do just fine!  Then place the branches in indirect light.  You want to gradually warm them up, so don’t put them too close to a heating source.  If they are forced too quickly you may end up with smaller blooms.  Change the water a couple times a week. Once the blooms start to open you can put them in more direct light.  Be patient, some plants take longer than others.

Here are all of my branches. I put them up in my guest room next to a window but with the blinds closed. They are on the far opposite side of the room from the radiator as well so they won't get too warm. My branches are (from left to right) spirea, quince, forsythia and dogwood. The little one in front is a mixture of all of them, the little scraps I couldn't throw away so I thought I would see how they do. Now I am just crossing my fingers and waiting!

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For the Birds…

My male cardinal

One of the things I love about my garden is that despite  Blue’s best attempts to scare them away, the birds happily tease him as they enjoy the yard.  We have a pair of cardinals (a male and a female) that hang out on a regular basis and I adore them. (Sorry, need a bigger lense, they were hard to photograph!)  I feel like I am doing my duty as a Virginian by giving them a happy place to live.

Here are some tips on how to attract them to your yard…

The three things birds look for in a habitat are fairly basic: food, water and shelter

our bird feeder

1. Food –

Different varieties of bird seed will attract different birds.  The one I am using right now is called Garden Treasures Premium Harvest and claims to attract a wide variety of birds.

Birds are also really attracted to yards with berries, such as Holly, Pyracantha and Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo).

For more info on feeders check out one of my favorite blogs called Design Sponge.  It has good info about different varieties of feeders as well as some links to other useful bird sources.


2. Water – a fresh water source  is just as important as food in the winter.  We keep our fountain flowing in winter to try to keep a running water source for the birds.  In addition to the fountain we also have an adorable bird bath.  It is a little easier to just knock the ice off this and refill it in winter.  Plus it adds some color to the yard.

There are so many beautiful baths out there, and the internet is FULL of them.  For example there is an entire site called which offers a huge variety, including heated baths.  But they can be as simple and economical as you want – the birds won’t care as long as you keep it clean!

A nest in our pyracantha

3. Shelter – evergreens (both with needles and leaves) provide cover for small birds. The nest to the left is from last spring.  Evergreens are great too because they provide basic shelter from wind and rain.

The other (cold) morning this is what I saw outside. I don't know what those birds were chatting about on our fountain-turned-ice-sculpture but they were very funny.

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