Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999
Photo of Tom Corbin, Gardener
Photo by Ron Patterson
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
Questions and comments can be directed to - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."

Early Summer Gardening 2012
(Posted June 5, 2012)

Photo of a Hydrangea - Tom's Garden 2011
Tom's 2012 Garden
Click Here for SUMMER Color

(Posted June 6, 2012)
Click Here for SPRING Color
(Posted June 11, 2012)
Photo of Lily - Tom's Garden 2011

Having written this column for several years, I find that most of the "seasonal" information is already available from previous postings. So rather than a repeat of "early summer" information, I thought I would put together a list of frequent questions that I have been asked.

And hopefully at the same time this is posted, you will find a slideshow of my border from "spring bulb time" to its early summer blossoms!

  1. Where do you buy your plants?
  2. There are several "local" nurseries that have a variety of excellent plants.

    The most reliable source in terms of quality and variety is Merrifield Garden Center with three locations in the Washington Metro area: Fair Oaks, Merrifield, and Gainesville, VA.

    Not only do they have healthy annuals, perennials, and shrubs, but also their personnel are also very helpful in answering your garden questions either in person or on the phone.

    Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, MD (just off Rt. 50) also has excellent stock if you don't mind the drive since their operation is located near Annapolis, MD

    Campbell and Ferraro in Annandale, VA (on Rt. 236 above Pinecrest Golf Course) is another source. I have found that the quality and selection of plants varies here. There seems to have been a rejuvenation of this nursery in recent years.

    If you hit Home Depot at the right time (usually just after plant delivery), you can find the usual variety of plants, especially annuals. I find the problem with Home Depot is that they don't water their plants once they stock them and that frequently their plants are root bound.

    Toms Flowers June 2012
    Thanksgiving Farms

    Thanksgiving Farms (located near Frederick, MD on Rt. 85) is a family-run nursery which does wholesale and retail business. If you catch them early in the growing season, you can be guaranteed a variety of the latest annuals and perennials. Walking through their greenhouses is always a treat, and you'll always find something your "must have".

    This nursery is a great day trip possibility - since there are lots of things to see and do near Frederick.

  3. What's the "secret" to creating a flower border that is interesting year round?
  4. A border must have "bones", a skeleton if you will! Bones are the shrubs, evergreens, and small trees which remain once the annuals have been removed and the perennials cut down.

    Dwarf Fire Power  Nandina

    These plants give interest every growing season, providing color and texture in winter and background for the annuals and perennials in spring and summer.

    Some deciduous shrubs have interesting patterns even after the leaves have dropped; others have berries which give color in the non-growing seasons. Deciduous hollies (available with yellow, orange, and red berries) are vibrant from fall to spring with bright berries. These shrubs require a male and female variety with the female bearing the berries.

    There are many varieties of Nandina (from dwarf to the more commonly found "domestica" which are well suited to our area. Their leaves (with varying shades of greens and reds) are evergreen except in the harshest of winters. Their berries are spectacular in the winter months and are usually not eaten by birds. And they can be pruned radically only to come back with a flourish.

    Crape myrtles (again available in several sizes) provide color in the heat of summer and also provide wonderful bark colors and textures in winter. They are also good for "vertical" interest. Be sure to check the mature size before planting because some grow into tree-like forms at maturity.

    Some of the newer crape myrtles come in a variety of sizes designed to fit all spaces - or pots!

    Boxwoods provide a softer, mounded effect in the border. Again, there are many varieties with different leaves and textures other than the traditional English (slow growing, dwarf) and American varieties.

    Crape Mrytles

    Some of the smaller euonymus comes in a variety of leaf colors from green/ white variegated to yellow leaf colors.

    Euonymus tend to be strong growers, so check the mature size before planting, otherwise, you're going to have a problem keeping them in check.

    An underused plant which can grow to small shrub-like proportions with mild winters is Rosemary. The soft gray, needle-like foliage makes a nice contrast with other plants; brushing against them releases their fragrance, so plant them near a walk way or entrance.

    Skimmia is a small evergreen shrub which does well in partial shade. It produces lovely blooms in early spring followed by clusters of bright berries. You must plant male and female varieties in order for the females to set berries.

  5. How should I place annuals and perennials for the best effect?
  6. Since plants naturally don't grow in straight lines, you should not plant them this way!

    Group plants in clumps (always odd number plantings of 3, 5, 7 etc.) and repeat the same plants (for continuity) throughout the border. Planting one or two plants of many varieties in a border creates a "plant collection" and not a border.

    Plan for a variety of height. Everything at the same level is boring! Don't limit the taller plants to the rear of the border. Pull some plants with height to the middle and even to the front of the border; this causes the eye to move around and take in the whole landscape. (In your patio garden, include some hanging plants to create interest at eye level.)

    You can also have color in the border that doesn't come only from flowers! Hosta and coleus come in a wide range of colors, are easily grown, and provide interest primarily from their foliage.

    Coleus Rustic Orange

    Old fashioned coleus used to be exclusively a shade plant but it has been hybridized to grow in the sun. Hosta cannot take full sun which causes the leaves to scorch in July and August.

    Lower growing grasses also provide texture and movement in the border, but don't use the tall varieties (unless you have a lot of space).

    Using tropicals in the summer border is also fun! Elephant Ears planted directly in the ground when the soil warms provide a splash of color and texture.

    Even Crotons interspersed in the partial sun areas provide a wonderful effect.

    A bright croton, perfect for the summer border!

  7. How about garden maintenance?
  8. Unfortunately once the plants are put in, the tasks don't end.

    Deadheading is a routine chore for maintenance of annuals. Deadheading is simply the removal of the spent flowers so the plant does not go to seed but rather reblooms.

    "Pinching" plants (removal of the plant top at a leaf "intersection) causes the plant to branch resulting in more blooms and a less leggy plant! If you're growing chrysanthemums, pinch the top when the plant is about six inches tall and continue to pinch the branching stems until the first of July. You will have more flowers in the fall and a plant that will withstand wind and rain.

    Weeding - enough said!

    Watering is the key to any gardening success. Mulching will help keep the soil moist, but plants must have sufficient water (which means regular waterings) in order to thrive. Water thoroughly!

    Don't just sprinkle the tops of the plants and call it watering - it doesn't work. Remember container plants need frequent waterings as the season progresses because they become root bound and cannot hold the water.


    Fertilize! Applying some slow release fertilizer (Ozmocote or Plant Tone are good fertilizers) when you plant (work it into the soil) and then applying some throughout the growing season keeps plants happy.

    Annuals tend to become spent and leggy about mid-season, so it's important to cut them back so that they rebloom with vigor for the rest of summer and fall.

  9. What do I do about spring bulb foliage after blooming?

  10. Sedum

    Foliage (although unsightly) must remain after blooming since the leaves produce food which enables the bulb to produce buds for next spring. Interspersing bulbs with plants such as hosta, ferns, and hellebores helps to hide the foliage.

    As the other plants grow they cover the bulb foliage.

    Remove tulips after flowering. Tulips do not regularly rebloom the year after initial planting because the bulb tends to split producing smaller bulbs which only produce foliage. For guaranteed tulip blooms, replant each year. (And remember to plant lots of tulip in clumps for a fuller effect!)

    The sedum plants here will eventually hide the yellowing tulip foliage.

  11. What are some good sources of gardening information?

    Three reliable publications are Virginia Gardener, The American Gardener (publication of the American Horticulture Society), and Horticulture.

  12. What are some general rule of thumb reminders about gardening?

  13. Remember gardening is not a passive activity. Don't expect to put out some plants, walk away, and have them survive and thrive on their own! This doesn't work for they require attention! There are no plants which don't require care!

    Gardening is also a "trial and error" activity! Some plants will grow; others won't. You can generally be assured that a plant will prosper if you identify the plants' growing preferences (full sun, partial shade, full shade, etc.) and plant it accordingly.

    Don't expect petunias to grow in the shade, and by the same token, don't expect most ferns to grow in full sun.

    Have fun with your garden. Try some new plants in addition to the old tried and true ones. Experiment!

    Don't hesitate to remove any plant that doesn't grow for you.

    I have found that thyme makes an interesting edging plant for the front of borders.

    Keep your border neat. This means not only regular deadheading, but cutting down perennials after they bloom and trimming overgrown plants.

    Plants are available all season, so it's possible to pull out those that are not growing and putting in something new to rejuvenate the border. This is especially true in August when some plants are on their last legs!

    Tom's Border Garden

    Buy healthy plants that are green and setting buds (not in full bloom). Loosen the soil from the plant before planting so that its roots make contact with the soil; otherwise, the roots will continue to grow in the circle as they were in the pot.

    Field of Flowers

    Wishful Thinking! Happy Gardening!

    Even though Fairlington gardeners are limited by our spatial constraints, it is always a treat to keep up with gardening trends by exploring noteworthy garden publications. I highly recommend the following:


    Practical Web Sites

    Gardening Resources - Cornell University Gardening Site - Offers great links on lawn, garden, landscape gardening and much more.

    Online resource for gardening enthusiasts - Garden - offers some simple, practical videos on garden maintenance and general gardening advice.

    Note to Readers

    As some of you probably remember, I used to do this column for the All Fairlington Bulletin as an effort to offer to local gardeners some practical advice based on personal experience. I am always interested in who (if anyone) actually reads or uses this advice and will respond to your questions or comments. Drop me a line at and reference "Web Site Garden Column" in the subject heading.

    American Horticultural Society
    Web Site
    Photo of Gardener

    The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is one of the oldest national gardening organizations in the country. Since 1922, we have provided America's gardeners with the highest quality gardening and horticultural education possible.

    We accomplish this with the help of an impressive network of experts -- from the members of our Board of Directors, specialized Advisory Committees, National Great American Gardener Award Winners and corporate sponsors.

    At AHS you’ll get connected -- to great gardens around the world, gardening education for all levels of skill, sources of information on any garden subject imaginable, a community of gardeners eager to share their experiences, other great gardening events and activities, and much, much more.

    "Go Green"

    In the interest of protecting our environment, there are many thing the small-time gardener can do to limit our impact on the planet.

    Plant native species. The American Horticulture Society (located near Mt. Vernon), Blandy Farm (the VA arboretum near Winchester, VA), Green Springs Farm (located off Little River Turnpike), and local farmers' markets offer native species which will grow in our area.

    Use natural products. Limit the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers in the garden.

    Consider drought tolerant plants. Once established many plants, including native species, are drought tolerant. Discover them through a little garden research.

    Promote Natural Growth Patterns. Encourage the natural growth form of plants and shrubs. Sheared plants are stressed out and use more water than those left to grow in their natural pattern.

    Photo of Earthtaken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972.

    Photo of Flowers
    Photo of Flowers
    Signs of Spring
    Tom's Garden - April 2010
    Posted April 5, 2010
    Photo of Flowers
    Photo of Flowers
    Photo of Flowers
    Photos by Andy Eschen and Larry Fickau
    Fairlington Flowers - May 2008
    Posted May 28, 2008
    Photo of Flowers
    Turn your backyard into a haven for wildlife

Fairlington Historic District Links

Back to Garden Advisor Home Page