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."

Summer Gardening 2009
(June/July, 2009)
(Posted June 8, 2009)

"Water, water everywhere…"

I know - the quote above is from Coleridge, but wasn't it poet Robert Frost who said that people talk about the weather when they really want to talk about something else?

Well, gardeners talk about the weather because it is really is what they "want" to talk about! And the recent weeks have given us much to say!

In April when my tulips were in full glory, the temperatures went to ninety plus degrees, and they "melted"; the exception was the old variety "Queen of Night" which prevailed against the heat. (Note: Plant more of this tulip in the fall!) Later, when the azaleas were going to be splendid, it rained. And rained. And rained for almost ten straight days! After a few days, water laden azalea blossoms are not a pretty sight.

Photo of Gladiolus - Tom's Garden 2009
Tom's 2009 Garden
Click Here for Summer Color

(Posted July 7, 2009)
Photo of Calla Lily - Tom's Garden 2009

Photo of Dahlia
"Where are the Blooms?"

Somehow in one of the breaks during the "rainy season", I planted some tuberose bulbs, acquired from an heirloom bulb company. I fear they have rotted as I see no evidence of growth.

One dahlia tuber (the classic Bishop of Llandaff with purple foliage and bright red daisy-like blooms) planted at the same time has sprouted. Dahlias like sustained heat, so he's not doing too well!

The trees and shrubs certainly appreciate all this moisture (so does the water table) as evidenced by their luxuriant growth. Now is the time to fertilize and prune spring flowering shrubs - azaleas, spirea, lilac, forsythia, etc., to control the new growth.

The Flower Border

The "Tidy" Border - We are in the "between" phase of late spring/ early summer gardening. The lush spring blooms are a memory, and we have yet to see the flowering of the local hydrangeas and crape myrtles which add so much summer color here. Summer annuals really haven't "taken off" yet because the temperatures have been so up and down, especially the night temps.

Keeping your plot weed free and dead headed (remove spent blossoms) will add to the garden's attractiveness. A defined edge between the grass and border does much to accent the flower border. Removing discolored foliage and trimming plant growth aides in garden tidiness!

Bulb Foliage - Leave it alone!

Let daffodil foliage (yes, it is unattractive) be; it is producing the energy that's making next spring's flower buds. Sometimes you can hide it, particularly if you have hostas or daylilies planted near it.

Wait until it yellows before removing it - it should remain at least six to eight weeks after flowers fade. As I have said before, pull up and discard the tulips after flowering. The bulbs usually split producing only leaves and few flowers the next spring.

Tulip bulbs are usually cheap enough simply to replant each fall. I have noticed that whereas the big, bold flowers of some tulips are beautiful, they do take a "hit" in the wind.

Consider some of the tulip species and the smaller, late blooming varieties when you plant this fall.

Photo of Daffodils

Proper Planting Makes Perfect

Select summer plants that have flower buds with few blooms. Also the more compact plant is better in the long run. Some plants are root bound; to test for this, tip the pot on its side; if the entire plant, root ball and all, moves -- it's pot bound. Always gently untangle the roots when planting to allow contact with the fresh soil. If you don't do this, the roots continue to grow in the shape of their former pot. Make your planting hole large enough to contain the plant with some room to spare; work in some fertilizer and water in the new plant.


Photo of Coleus

To prevent summer annuals and perennials from growing as a single stem, remove the top half inch or inch so the plant develops lateral shoots along the stem thus producing a compact, bushy plant with more blooms.

Continue this process throughout the season. Perennial summer phlox will flower more prolifically when "pinched" as will most annuals. Coleus has gained in popularity, and this plant benefits from the removal of the growth tip by becoming more compact. Pinching out the tips of coleus also prevents it from flowering (the blooms are unattractive).

Pinch the chrysanthemums in your border until the first of July (most gardeners do it until July 4) - you will have a compact plant with more blooms come fall. Chrysanthemums are very leggy plants that flop over in the border unless treated this way.

If you want stronger, bushier plants with more flower power, prepare to give them a pinch. Pinching back encourages branching and more compact growth. This is especially true for such popular ornamentals as petunias, annual salvias and zinnias. The herb basil also benefits from being pinched back.

Variety is really the spice of the border!

Create interest in the summer border by working with color, texture, and height. Nature is not monochromatic! And nature does not grow in a straight line at the same height! The old rule of thumb is to plant in uneven numbers - 3, 5, 7, etc.

One of this and one of that creates a hodge podge effect - repeating the same plant throughout the border adds continuity. The eye is carried along the border through the repetition of a plant or color just like in a painting.

Use some white! Adding a few plants that flower white or have white/ yellow/ chartreuse or variegated foliage adds some "pop" to the border and makes your other colors shine. An easily grown annual with prolific white flowers is the euphorbia "Diamond Frost" which looks like a compact version of the florist's "baby's breath".

Photo of Euphorbia

Plant in clumps - not straight lines! Unless you are creating a border edge, plant in groups to simulate natural growth patterns.

Use foliage for contrast

Photo of Container Gardening

Mix smaller leafed plants with those of more dramatic foliage. Consider adding some tropicals to the summer border - such as Crotons, "peace" lily - for their leaf texture and color. Some hostas, for example, have smooth leaves, others have whorled ones, and still others have a puckered or seersucker look. All of these leaves add variety and contrast. Narrow leafed plants also create interest. The old stand by - "dracaena" or more commonly called "spikes" with its upright narrow leaves - adds another dimension to the border.

Garden "Cruelty" - OK, gardeners are not sadists! If the plant does not work (and gardening is a lot of trial and error), don't be afraid to take it out. And yes, it's OK to throw it away. By the same token, the plant that is taking over - pushy plant! - can be cut back to give its neighbors a chance. After all, plants need their "space", too!

Container Gardening - Remember that container gardens need good drainage to be successful. Also pruning to shape the plants keeps them from becoming spindly and leggy. And finally frequent watering depletes the soil, so be certain to fertilize regularly.

In With the New

Some popular plants are so familiar that they are kind of boring, but there are some new varieties of old favorites which are worth planting

1. A new red geranium called "Calliope" redefines red.
2. "Picobella" is a new variety of petunia, the "Portunia", which is compact and a prolific bloomer. It does not sprawl and become leggy as the other varieties do.
3. "Solenia" is a begonia with blooms larger than the Rieger variety and less temperamental that the tuberous begonia. It is also self deadheading, always a garden plus.
4. "Cora" is a new variety of Vinca with glossy foliage and vibrant color; it is also drought tolerant and likes a drier soil.
Photo of Geranium

Look for these new varieties; Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Maryland, promises to have them this summer. Davidsonville is on the Washington-side of Annapolis off of Rt. 50.

And Always a Good Read… is worth a look especially if you're looking for that long, lost bulb for which you have fond memories. But they don't come cheap!

Friends of Old Bulbs Gazette
Old House Gardens, 536 Third St., Ann Arbor, MI 48103, (734) 995-1486

Also "Virginia Gardener" ( has much practical information for the local gardener. Recently the magazine has had helpful articles about creating four-season interest in the garden.

Continuing Gardening Education

Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. ( has a wonderful, informative spring catalogue or as they say, "2009 Spring Sales Catalogue and Plant Owner's Manual"! Whether you're ordering or "just looking", all the new materials are here.

By the same token, Bluestone Perennials ( has an informative spring catalogue with 186 plants new for this season. It's a good "dream book"!

And remember, the American Horticulture Society is right in our backyard, located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22308 - right off the George Washington Parkway. Their website (, magazine ("The American Gardener"), and special events calendar always have something of interest to the gardener.

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 2008
Posted April 17, 2008
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

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