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 - May 2017
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
Questions and comments can be directed to
Please reference: "Gardening By the Yard Column."

NOTE: This gardening web site is not associated in any way
with the author or column appearing in the All Fairlington Bulletin

Tom's Garden 2015 - Photo by Ron Patterson
2017 Garden

Click Here for JULY 2015 Color

(Posted July 7, 2015)
Click Here for JULY 2015 Color

(Posted July 7, 2015)
Click Here for JUNE 2015 Color

(Posted June 15, 2015)
Click Here for SPRING 2015 Color

(Posted April 20, 2015)
Tom's Garden 2014 - Photo by Ron Patterson

From a walk in the woods to strolling through a park, and from gardening at home to visiting a public garden, therapeutic horticulture, nature therapy, and accessible gardening connect people to nature and themselves. Come learn how nature can improve human health and wellbeing. Demonstrated through accessible gardens, adaptive tools, engaging programs, and vignettes showcasing the intersection of humans and nature, a visit to the Garden will highlight how people flourish through interactions with plants. This exhibit, developed in consultation with the Horticultural Therapy Department of the Chicago Botanic Garden, will excite and motivate visitors to find their place through nature!

See more at:

Colorful Gardening in Shady Areas

Many gardeners in Fairlington are faced with gardening in shady patios and borders. Mature trees in our community are certainly an asset, but they make gardening within their shade problematic.

2016 Tulips - Tom's Garden - Photo by Ron Patterson

Trees near or overshadowing your patio means lots of roots in your planting space which deplete the soil's nutrients and also guzzle water. You will need to amend your soil with lots of organic material to provide good growing conditions. Arlington County offers free mulched leaves which help break up our clay soil and helps with moisture retention and drainage. Composted cow manure worked in bed also enriches the soil. Bagged potting soil can also be used to amend the soil - buy the cheapest kind available. Adding such supplements makes the soil friable and helps with drainage. Adding a slow release fertilizer, such as Ozmocote, when planting replenishes the nutrients zapped by the tree roots and gets your plants off to a growing start.

After you make your plant selections, water them well and mulch well with a double shredded hard wood mulch. It is imperative to keep all plants well-watered until they are established and then keep them watered regularly thereafter. Plants in competition with tree roots will dry out quickly during rainless periods. Don't believe it when the label says the plant can withstand dry conditions. This may be the case with some drought tolerant plants after they are well established, but remember that all plants need a regular supply of water. Good soil and water are the two mainstays of successful gardening in shady areas.

Click Above for advice from Marianne Willburn - the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

Plants with Colorful Foliage that Flower in Shade

Whereas there are annuals and perennials that flower in shade - plants with colorful foliage (and sometimes insignificant flowers) work well to provide color and texture in shady locations. The following is a sampler of shade-loving plants that grow well in Fairlington patios:

    Hostas (perennial) come in an amazing variety of leaf colors and textures - they also flower. They also come in a variety of sizes - small, medium and large - and bloom at various times from early summer to later in the season. Their flowers are usually shades of white or purple, but their foliage is the primary attraction.
    Coral bells (heuchera) also have amazing leaf colors, although their flowers are not that showy. The foliage of coral bells is also somewhat evergreen unless we have a really harsh winter.
    Hellebores, again an evergreen perennial, can begin flowering as early as December and continue to flower into the spring. These plants really have a four-season interest. They have been hybridized and come in many different colors and flower forms. Plant Delights' blog features one variety of hellebore:
    Here is a good video on hellebores from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina:
    Some ferns that grow well in dry conditions.
    A good, evergreen ground cover for shady locations is sweet box (not to be confused with the boxwood shrub). It grows to a height of about a foot by stolons, is evergreen, and has a wonderfully sweet smelling flower in very early spring. Here is a link to Plant Delights' blog featuring sweet box:
    An underused plant is wood mint, not to be confused with the herbal mint that likes lots of moisture. Wood mint is a native plant, pretty much indestructible, and has an interesting, long-lasting flower in the summer. It resembles the heirloom plant 'snow on the mountain' that used to be a mainstay in our grandparents' gardens. Wood mint is also a great attraction for pollinators. It's kind of hard to find but well worth the effort. I first saw it growing near some government buildings on 3rd Street in Washington where the conditions were less than ideal, so it will thrive with a little TLC.
Photo Courtesy Plants Delights Nursery, Inc. Web Site
Hosta 'Komodo Dragon'

Whatever you plant, plant in odd numbers - 3,5,7,9 - it just looks more natural!

Check out native plants too because they're pretty durable and easily adapt to woodland-like conditions. The Extension Office at the Fairlington Community Center (S. Stafford St.) may have some brochures on shade plants and native plants to guide you in your selection.

Coral Bells



Sweet Box

Wood Mint

Click Above for More Information on Plants for Dry Shady Sites
NOTE: This is not a promotion of the plants from this company, but is provided only as an informational listing.

Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs - tulips, daffodils, etc- will grow in the shade because they come up and bloom before deciduous trees fully leaf out. Daffodils are squirrel proof but tulips are not! Many folks in Fairlington say the squirrels get their tulip bulbs, but if you plant them six/ eight inches they usually leave them alone. Sometimes sprinkling rodent repellant over the planted bulbs discourages squirrels. Spring bulbs are planted in the fall for spring bloom.

Some annuals to consider for shady areas are coleus and begonias. The dragon-wing variety of begonia due well in shade, and coleus will give you wonderful leaf color. Note that there are now two kinds of coleus - one that thrives in full sun and one for shade. The sun variety will not color up well in shady locations. Both begonias and coleus are easily grown and really don't require any special care - a little slow release fertilizer and water and they're happy. There is always the old standby - impatiens. A couple of years ago impatiens developed a disease and so the plants weren't available, but I think they've now been bred to be disease resistant and are once again available.

It's always nice to have a mixture of annuals and perennials with some evergreen shrubs for winter interest. I find that boxwood works in semi-shade; there are also dwarf nandinas which are evergreen and have red berries that tolerate shade and again give winter color.

And one final note - large containers with colorful shade loving plants make a great statement in the patio area. They are portable so you can shift them around for effect. Just remember that containers dry out quickly especially as the plants grow and the roots fill the pots. For some height variety, put some potted ferns on plant hangers within the shady area. This will give some visual interest at eye level!

Here are a couple professional articles that give helpful tips for producing an attractive shady garden - both are from reputable sources: Horticulture Magazine and White Flower Farms, a nursery in Connecticut that has an excellent catalogue with lots of good information even if you're not ordering from them!

We would all like to have that "full sun" required for roses, iris, peonies and other sun loving plants, but with the proper soil preparation and plant selection, the shady garden offers much color, too!

Spring Flowers in Tom's 2016 Garden
(Click on Each Photo for Larger Image)

Photos by Ron Patterson and Tom Corbin

Summer Gardening

I'm sure most gardeners are engaged in the transition of spring to summer and are putting in summer material now that the soil has warmed up, and the night temperatures have stabilized and are staying well above 50 degrees.

Remember to feed, water, and mulch those new plants to keep them growing. Also remember to try something new this year - something you haven't tried before that will thrive in your growing conditions.

Match the plant's needs with your growing conditions - shade lovers need shade and sun lovers need sun! Plant naturally as they grow in nature (redundant, I know) - you don't see plants growing in straight lines, do you? No, of course not. Then don't plant your specimens all in a row; mix them up, clump them! Also plant in odd numbers - 3, 5, 7, 9 of a variety. This way they make a better show!

Think of making a flower border as somewhat like painting. You need a mass of color here; some shading there; and a little texture there! Voila! You have a masterpiece with the earth as your canvas.

Tulips - Toms Garden

Are You Serious About Learning More About Gardening?
"Garden How To University"
Horticulture Magazine Offers Free Study Guides
(PDF Documents Provided for Download - Click On Titles Below)

Conversations with Neighbors
OR - Do You Speak to Neighbors You Pass when Walking?
From the Outlaw Garden Web Site


Another question I get is "Do squirrels get your bulbs". Actually we have squirrels around but they don't seem to bother the tulip bulbs. I suspect that what happens is that many people forget to replant tulip bulbs each fall, and the old ones simple divide, become sparse with a few leaves and produce no flowers. Squirrels may not be the culprit.

Note: Don't discard your daffodil bulbs since they are reliable and will re-flower and grow larger clumps year after year. Just remember, don't remove the foliage until it begins to wilt and yellow. Also don't "braid" it. Just live with it and try to hide it under the other developing plant foliage.

Pruning Azaleas

In my community, the contracted grounds crew sheared and rounded many azaleas last fall. Then as if to add insult to injury, they came back in late winter and "rejuvenated" them with severe pruning. The result - fewer blooms this spring and unnaturally shaped shrubs.

Azaleas should be pruned immediately after blooming to open up the shrub (allowing light and air flow into the plant) and to remove some older canes to promote new growth. The plant may also be reduced in height, but remember to keep the shrub's natural shape. Fertilize after flowering to encourage new growth and the promotion of buds. Remember, azaleas set buds for next spring this summer. Pruning later will remove next season's blooms.

Advice on Pruning Hydrangeas from Horticulture Magazine


Like azaleas, the older variety hydrangeas bloom on "old" wood; that is, wood produced last season. It appears that hydrangeas did not take as big a hit this past winter as in the previous one, and the shrub should be showing small buds now.

The newer 'endless summer' varieties bloom on wood produced this season, so winter doesn't really affect them.

The real old fashioned variety 'Annabelle' (large white blooms fading to green) can be cut completely down to the soil and it will come back and bloom beautifully; unfortunately it is probably too large for our Fairlington spaces.

If you need to prune your non-endless summer variety hydrangea, do so after flowering to allow it to produce buds for next summer. You can shape it and even take down some of the older canes to the ground to encourage new growth.

Hydrangea - Tom's Garden


This link from Horticulture Magazine discusses watering in the summer months that can be time-consuming and expensive. They have a few tips to help you manage this crucial garden chore. See more at link below:

Tom and Ron's Patio - Ideas for Yours!!!
Patio Plantings/Hangings - Photo by Ron Patterson
Patio Plantings/Hangings - Photo by Ron Patterson

Birds Visiting Tom's Garden/Patio - Spring 2015 and 2016

Blue Jay

Mocking Bird

Cardinal (F and M)


House Sparrow One

House Finch




Mourning Dove

Downy Woodpecker

Redbellied Woodpecker

American Goldfinch


House Sparrow Two

Some Helpful Links

I have been saving some links to great gardening sources and plants worth considering, so what follows is a brief description of each link's content and the link itself. Hopefully you will find some of these useful.

Native Plants of Northern Virginia
Native Plants of Northern Virginia

Native Plants for Northern Virginia is the official guide of Plant NoVA Natives. It will help you choose plants for your landscape that are naturally beautiful, enhancing your property and requiring less special care while benefiting birds, butterflies and pollinators.

Guide Summary
Published in March 2015, this 48-page guide lists plants native to Northern Virginia (residents of the greater Washington DC area can benefit from this guide). The guide was not meant to be comprehensive but rather a showcase of natives that are attractive, easy for home gardeners to acquire and grow, and beneficial to wildlife and the environment.

The guide is organized by the type of plant: perennials (forbs); grasses, sedges, and rushes; ferns; vines; shrubs; and trees. For each plant there is a photo, cultural requirements, size and shape, and the insects, birds, or wildlife that benefit from the plant. The guide also lists native plants that would do well in particular situations such as wet or dry places, additional resources on native plants, native demonstration gardens, and invasive plants.

This link from Horticulture Magazine describes 'Bounce' impatiens which is recommended for the shady garden. A few seasons ago, impatiens were unavailable because of a disease which caused sudden die off. It appears that it has now been eradicated.

Peggy Riccio
Alexandria, Virginia, Horticulturalist
Offers Sound Gardening Advice

Here is a link to a new gardening blog I recently discovered - Pegplant! Peggy Riccio's content is vegetables and other edibles, but since many gardeners with small spaces are growing herbs and salad greens in pots and window boxes, many will find the tips useful.

According to Peggy, "Gardening is a lot like a play. There are several acts, each with its own set of actors entering the stage to give their performance and exiting to allow others the limelight." The author provides a wonderful list of Metro area sources and events - check it out on the "Classes/Events" page.

Most gardeners are thrilled to discover that their gardens are a source of food for hummingbirds. These exotic creatures, immortalized in Emily Dickenson's poem ("XV. The Humming - Bird"), bring delight and awe! P. Allen Smith - you may have seen his TV show on PBS or his plants at the nursery - has written a good article on attracting hummingbirds by providing plants that they love. In addition to his easy to read content, he has added some amazing photographs. Enjoy!

And thanks to P. Allen Smith for this wonderful look at some new plants for this season. Scrolling through the list will make you wish you had forty acres rather than that 15 X 20 foot patio in the back!

Plant catalogues and nursery web sites are a constant source of education and inspiration - and dreams! Using these sources is sort of like buying books - we browse the aisles at Barnes and Noble and then go home and order them from Amazon! So we study the plant catalogue and then go to our favorite nursery to find the plant because it is quicker and the plant is going to be larger than the one from mail order.

Here is a link to Wayside Gardens in South Carolina that gives a look at some new plants for this season. Putting in a new plant or a new variety makes gardening interesting.

And finally, here is a link to a blog produced by Tony Avent of Plants Delights Nursery in North Carolina. I usually don't mail order plants, but I have ordered from this company and have been pleased with their plants. They have one of the best catalogues around and some of the most interesting plants that you will want to plant in your garden. (Their catalogues' covers are always a satirical delight.) One of the great things about this blog is that Tony photographs the blooming plants in their gardens as they come into flower. This link which features an unusual, bright red form of 'flycatcher' (so named because its sticky leaves attracts insects) is a good example of his content. It's easy to subscribe to his blog.

Hopefully you will find something inspirational or educational in these links. HAPPY GARDENING! (And let's hope that the weather settles down and becomes more seasonal!)

Hikers Tour Tom's Garden
Click Here for Photo Gallery
(Posted August 15, 2013)
Tom's Garden Featured By Johnson's Florists
Click Here for Article    -    Click Here for Newsletter Introduction
(Posted July 11, 2013)
Tom's Garden Featured in
Washington Gardener Magazine

In its July/August 2006 Issue, Washington Gardener Magazine features the garden of Fairlington's own "Gardening Advisor" Tom Corbin. Tom's garden is on 34th Street, facing the street, between Wakefield and 36th.

"Gardening in Fairlington is a rather "public" activity, especially when one's garden is adjacent to a busy street, complete with Metro buses and rush hour traffic, and a busy sidewalk of pedestrians, dog walkers, and strollers!"

Click Here for Article
(July, 2006)

Turn your backyard into a haven for wildlife
Photo by Catherine-Miller - Courtesy Wildlife Federation

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.

Fairlington Historic District

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