Blandy is oh-so Dandy!

To visit my children in Ohio, I simply hop into my car and head out on Rt. 17 in Gloucester and follow it all the way to Winchester before taking Rt. 522 out of the state.  It’s a beautiful drive through Virginia countryside with familiar state treasures that greet me along the way.  One of the most precious Virginia treasurers where I regularly pay a visit is our State Arboretum of Virginia.  Located just 10 miles outside of Winchester on Rt. 17 near Blandy, it beckons me to stop no matter how many miles await me on my travels.

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 12.58.48 PMFounded in 1926 after the property was willed to UVA,  approximately 170 of the seven hundred and twelve acre farm are open to the public.  It contains one of the most diverse collections of trees and woody shrubs in the eastern United States.  In 1986, Blandy Experimental Farm was designated The State Arboretum of Virginia and used by UVA for environmental research and abundant education for the public.

If you arrive in less than ideal weather and you’d rather stay snug in your car, there is a 3-mile loop drive through forests and meadows.  There to see are more than 8,000 trees and woody shrubs and more than half the world’s pine species, one of the largest collections of boxwood species and cultivars in North America, a collection of 340 mature ginkgo trees, herb gardens, azalea gardens, daylily gardens.  You get the picture.

If the weather is nice, I park and walk a little on the 10-miles of trails as I did in April. As I strolled, I passed families with excited children, shutterbugs, folks with excited dogs on leashes, note takers, a couple of horses and riders, and students from UVA. There was a smile on every face and color in every view as there is no more beautiful time than spring to see glorious native plants, wildflowers, grasses, colorful azaleas and a breathtaking dogwood collection.  On Dogwood Lane, a canopy of two hundred pink and white blossoms line a historic dry stone wall that was restored by the Garden Club of Virginia in 2004.  This is a must to visit in spring and again in the fall when the leaves turn red.

If you haven’t visited your state arboretum, please add it near the top of your list of to-do’s.  Take your children, your friends, grandchildren, or even your horse to enjoy this lasting Virginia treasure.  Oh, and it’s free and open 365 days a year, dawn to dusk.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Summer Solstice and Father’s Day, All Rolled Into One

Mr. Gardener's hobby Today, June 21, is the Summer Solstice, the longest day and the shortest night of the year.  Humankind has known about the relationship between the earth and the sun since the dawn of time and today, as in days of yore, it is still celebrated with bonfires all around the world. Early pagan couples leaped across the flames, believing that their crops would grow as high as they could jump.  There will be no bonfire or leaping in Gloucester today but with the bit of extra sunlight, we can take a Father’s Day peek at my mister gardener’s vegetable garden.


We have all heard and read much about sustainable gardening becoming more mainstream in the last few years but there are plenty of gardeners who have forever followed this philosophy.  Guidelines govern what sustainable or green gardening means but in simple words, it means a garden should be part of its natural surroundings and it should exist in harmony with the environment and the rhythm of nature.  My mister gardener built his garden from the soil up by amending with his compost and nourishing it with gifts from horses, chickens and the city of  Yorktown’s compost.  Wastes from the garden are composted and recycled into the soil.  He uses as few chemical resources as possible and he is learning about and using alternatives more each year, such as the principles of integrated pest management.

There is no landscaping rule that says a vegetable garden can’t be attractive or be aGarden ripe for Father's Day part of the total landscape.  Around his vegetable garden, he designed and built a handsome picket fence complete with two gates and an arbor.  Knock Out roses in three shades grace the sunniest side and apple trees bear fruit on the far side.  Inside his garden, friendly wide paths of organic pine needles lead you to the heart of the operation where he shares residency with a family of tolerant bluebirds.

Vegetable gardening for him is reconnecting to the Earth and every swing of the hoe is a satisfying exercise. Just strolling through his well-tended oasis brings a bit of serenity to visitors, but most importantly, these delicious and varied vegetables sustain us all summer.  Is there anything like the taste of a red, ripe garden tomato, still warm from the summer sun?Digging potatoes

Mister gardener and I both agree that the most rewarding aspect of the vegetable garden is passing on the knowledge to the next generation.  Last weekend our 5 year old granddaughter visiting from Ohio was astonished to discover that potatoes grow underground.  The look on her face as she dug and gathered potatoes for our evening meal was priceless.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


A Living Fossil Goes to Seed

Ginkgo biloba seedsI saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth last month, dressed in pink with a matching pink hat, marking the 250th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens by wielding a shovelful of dirt onto the base of a newly planted Ginkgo biloba tree.  In April, I read that Governor Schwarzenegger celebrated Earth Day by helping to plant a ginkgo tree in California.  These surviving relics date from the Permian period, over 270-300 million years ago, where the great forests of fern-like plants shifted to gymnosperms with offspring enclosed in seeds. The ginkgo actually predates the Age of Dinosaurs.

Two of these majestic trees, large and sturdy, grace the edge of my pond overlooking the river and a third, the runt, underdeveloped and frail, stands apart near the drive.  All three are approaching 40 years of age, mere babies for they can can live for a millennium.   When we first occupied this property, I fussed over the runt like a frail child.  Fertilizer. Water. Compost.  No response.  I eventually left it alone to grow ever so slowly until three years ago when I noticed unusual growths on the tree.  Those formations were the beginnings of seeds.  My runt had been a female all along and was finally fertilized by my robust males by the pond.  In her prime at age 36 she began to produce and drop marble-sized seeds. Dozens fall to the ground each summer and by spring, a large number of offshoots appear beneath her boughs.

Like rotting fruit under a tree, the ripe flesh around the seeds give off a pungent odor, a smell that suggests overripe cheese in my opinion.  Sadly, for this reason, the male is the preferred tree, an unfortunate fact that may impact future survival of the tree as it has made a plant endangered list.  I love my tiny ginkgo offspring and make them available for friends and neighbors who would like to adopt a baby… sex unknown for 30-plus years.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


Are You A Good Host?

If you are a good host and your invited dinner guest is the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly, there is a set menu you should provide.  Your guests, male and female, will arrive dressed in sleek formal black with tails.  Adorning the outfit of the female are bright yellow markings and a row of iridescent blue spots between rows of yellow spots at the base.  The male will have a yellow band near the edge of the wings.  Completing the look is a dashing red spot on each wing that forms a dot when the wings touch.

Black swallowtail caterpillarsWe have all have seen the fetching Eastern Black Swallowtail merrily dancing in our gardens amongst the nectar plants like phlox, thistle, butterfly bush and purple verbena but to encourage these lovelies, your party should include host plants as well.

Host plants in the carrot family include parsley and dill, fennel, rue, carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace.  My butterfly rule of thumb is one plant for me and two for my guests. Dill and parsley grow in sunny beds around my day lilies, my roses and peonies, forming a green and airy foundation for any plant.  Butterfly eggs are laid and eggs hatch.  In no time you will see the young caterpillars in vibrant stripes of black, chartreuse, cream and yellow.  Up one stem of parsley and down another they go.  Eat is the name of the game and molt is what they do to fatten up. Parsley disappears and dill disappears but, not to worry, the damage is fully cosmetic. The plants recover.  Soon the plump youngsters are ready to pupate, form a chrysalis, and within 1-2 weeks, an adult emerges fully dressed for the next party.

Providing a habitat for the Black Swallowtail is fun, easy, educational and good for the garden.  It’s time to stop squishing those parsley caterpillars and share the abundance of nature.  Be a good host to the Black Swallowtail butterfly.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


Be Still My Foolish Heart

Strolling through my gardens with a friend recently, searching for appropriate greens for flower arrangements, I led her down a path toward one of my all time arranging favorites, cleyera, with its glossy bronze and green leaves.  As I leaned in toward the shrub to point out some of its lovely properties, I realized my friend was not at my side.  She had stopped in her tracks looking elsewhere.  In fact she had her back to me, quite besotted by my Sciadopitys verticillate.  “What IS this?” she asked.  “That’s my Japanese Umbrella Pine,” I answered.  I could see that she was as hopelessly smitten with Sciadopitys verticillate as I was when I first spotted this exotic youngster 10 years earlier.  This 3-ft. tree was literally the first plant I put into the ground when we bought the property.  It now stands over 8-ft. tall.

The umbrella pine is unlike any other tree, the sole-surviving species that was once widespread throughout the northern hemisphere. The leaves form on the stem’s end in a whorl of 20-30 dark green needles looking much like the ribs of an umbrella.. thus the name. The bark is quite attractively reddish-brown. Grown in zones 5-9, it seems to thrive in my Tidewater garden with high humidity and moisture.  Other than water during dry spells and a bit of shade when the sun is highest, this lush tree is pest free and low-maintenance.  If you come across an umbrella pine at your local nursery, beware, for you will be dazzled by its beauty and will have difficulty resisting the urge to take it home.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


The Azalea Gardens of Art and Betty White, Gloucester VA

Whites' Azalea GardenThese spectacular azalea gardens were created by Art and Betty White on the North River in Gloucester.  In the dappled light of loblollies and dogwoods, the Whites have created a natural wonderland of hundreds of mature azaleas and rhododendrons in a riot of colors.  Gentle paths lead to small ‘rooms’ inside the gardens where one can linger on benches to enjoy the splash of colors and individual blossoms. The Whites have generously opened their garden to friends each spring and have twice opened for HGW.  Over the years they have delighted in using their garden as a teaching tool to pass on their special propagation techniques to a multitude of gardeners.  Betty is a member of the Garden Club of Gloucester.

Whites' azaleas Whites' azaleasWhites' AzaleasWhites' AzaleasWhites' Azaleas

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


Am I a horticulturist?

As a GCV member who likes all things technical and a bit of blogging, Nina asked me to be the administrator of the GCV Horticulture Blog.  “I’m not a horticulturalist,” I protested.  “You’re a master gardener…” she countered. “Just write what you know.”  I know all too well that being a master gardener makes me a little knowledgeable about a multitude of things and master of none, but trained to find answers.

I looked up the definition of horticulture: “|ˈhôrtiˌkəl ch ər|,the art or practice of garden cultivation and management.”  Well, maybe I can stretch the definition to include my amateur delight in gardening and I can communicate my adventures and misadventures in the garden.  I love to garden with a special interest all things insect, all things pond, all things photography, and all things birds.

Thank goodness GCV Horticulture Chair, Mary Eades, will continue her important educational ‘Hello’ blog filled with advice, monthly chores, garden instruction, and tips from gardeners in all the clubs. Her ‘Hellos’ will be the heart of this blog.  I will be posting Mary’s blogs, thus relieving Nina to concentrate of her many other duties.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester