Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tomato Musings

It is getting near Christmas, and I am listening to holiday music. We have four, measly, poorly-ripened tomatoes left from the garden that likely won't taste very good.  The season of craving that homegrown, sun-ripened tomato has arrived.

You know how how people in a state or area with decent tomato-growing conditions say their tomatoes are the best?  In Virginia, many counties claim their 'maters have no equal, are the ultimate in tomato-ness, including Hanover, where I live.  And I grew up in New Jersey where the same claims are made.

Why is this?  I have a theory.  When you bite into that perfect homegrown tomato in July, to what are you comparing it?  Perhaps you are comparing it to those nasty, styrofoam-like, tasteless red orbs purported to be tomatoes that are sold in the grocery store year round.  Those things are often grown in Florida (terrible conditions for tomato growing), picked green and artificially ripened in a warehouse flooded with ethylene gas.   Gross!  They taste nothing like a good tomato...or even like a marginal homegrown one.  So, any homegrown tomato that is ripe, and has never been refrigerated, is infinitely superior, whether it comes from Jersey, Virginia, Delaware or North Carolina...or any zone good for the solanaceae. Oh, and sometimes when you buy tomatoes at a farm stand, they have been refrigerated or chilled.  Nothing ruins their flavor faster.
I just about never buy off-season tomatoes, choosing to add beets, carrots, olives to my salads and sandwiches instead. 
And "I'm dreamin' of a red tomato...just like the ones I used to know..." 
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pokeweed: Friend or Foe?

Why is this pokeweed in a vase?

Gosh, I hate pokeweed.  Or, perhaps the more accurate word is "hated."  You all know pokeweed:
That large, though somewhat handsome, plant, huge taproot, that sprouts like a hydra if you break it off when removing the plant.  Pokeweed is also poisonous and the berries stain (thanks birds!).
I actually drew it:

Hum, so why draw a plant you "hate?"  OK, OK.....As I said, the plant is handsome, and the green, rose and purple berries are stunning.  And maybe I don't hate it so much, after all, because the berries are favorites of some cool birds, like mourning doves, bluebirds, catbirds and mocking birds (I can listen to mockers sign for a long time, trying to identify their songs).  Indeed, these birds feed heavily on pokeweed berries.

Yes, I know, too much is too much.  How to remove pokeweed?  It is good to wait until after a rain, when the soil is saturated. This helps loosen the roots' grip on the soil.  Young plants can usually be pulled out by hand. Established plants need to be dug out, getting all the taproot.  Quite a chore.  So you might think of letting a few plants stay in a corner of your yard, for the birds!

One more image for you: look at this speckled-leaf cultivar of pokeweed at the Denver Botanic gardens!  Wow!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pine Straw

Like many of you, I have been buying wood chips/mulch for the paths in my flower garden.  This is despite the various concerns about mulch: it breeds artillery fungus that can permanently stain houses, it robs the soil of nitrogen as it breaks down (not such a problem in paths), it can encourage voles and it costs money!  So, I have started doing what I should have been doing all along: using the free mulch that drops from my pine tree and the trees of neighbors.

At first, the pine straw (some call it pine tags) is fluffy, but it soon packs down (I walked over it a few times).  Like wood chips, it might encourage voles and take up nitrogen, but it is free and I don't have to drive somewhere to get it, load it, unload it and spread it.  Plus, I already rake it up every fall.  Win Win! And, after it packs down, it looks pretty good,  It likely will not last as long as wood chips, but I easily renew it every year.

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Happy to see me?

(Warning: this is rude)

So, is this a mutant persimmon or is he happy to see me?

Happy gardening!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Persimmon Update

I have written about my Ichi Ki Kei Jiro persimmon before (a fuyu type).  The tree is fabulous: beautiful in fruit and in fall. and very productive.  Nothing really bothers it.  This year I estimate I got over 150 persimmons from one tree (and I planted two more last fall!)  You can purchase this tree (a small tree) through the good folks at Edible Landscaping (http://ediblelandscaping.com/buyPlants.php) (they also have other fabulous plants).

Fall persimmon foliage

The fruits from fuyu persimmons, unlike the native American persimmon, are not astringent and are eaten while still firm, like an apple.  They are seedless, crispy and sweet.  And. when you dehydrate them, they are amazing!
A bowlful!

Candy in the dehydrator!

As my friends know, I studies for my certificate in botanical illustration so I could document my garden.  Here is my persimmon drawing:

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Field Trip: Denver Botanic Gardens

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Denver Botanic Gardens. I have been to a bunch of botanic gardens, but the Denver Gardens is a standout.

Display of bee houses at the DBG

Why is it a stand out?  There were three characteristic that I noted.  First, the planting beds in the garden were full, there was no space for weeds to invade and no real empty spots.  Second, someone has paid a great deal of attention to the plant architecture, that is, the height, spacing, color, texture and form were perfect, sometimes in total harmony, other times pleasant surprises.  Third, there were some real show-stopping plantings, for example huge pots full of flowering brugmansia (Angels' trumpet) and towering castor bean plants:

The garden has many, themed garden rooms and a great conservatory.  If you go, plan to stay all day!
Some more "eye candy" for you:

From top left: Chihuly glass "tree," perennial walk, tropical bromeliads, desert garden and the brugmansia.

From top left: colorful flowers, the stunning staghorn sumac, potted sedum, 2 photos of Chihuly glass on the lake.

Boat on the lake with Chihuly glass

And, for the veg gardeners, nice chard! 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Growing Cotton

I have written about growing cotton before.  Now I want to post some photos from a good friend who grows it too (she got me started!  And here initials are JT, too!). This year, she grew black cotton. No, the actual cotton is not black, but the leaves and unopened boll are deep red-purple, a color often referred to in the horticultural world as "black." The blooms are a pretty shade or pink, unlike the cream-tinged-with-green-and-pink of the blooms of the standard cotton plant.  Handsome plant.
Eye candy time!
Top left, clockwise: a black cotton plant next to a regular cotton plant; bright white cotton coming out of a newly opened boll; a beautiful cotton flower (cotton is a member of the hibiscus family) and: the unopened boll.