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."

Fall Gardening 2010
(Posted October 18, 2010)

Photo of Daisies - Tom's Garden 2010
Tom's 2010 Garden
Click Here for Summer Color

(Posted July 5, 2010)
Photo of Day Lily - Tom's Garden 2010

Photo of Azaleas
Photo of Daylilies
Photo of Petunias

End of Summer (whew!)

Photo of Fall Color

This past summer certainly wasn't a growing season to remember, was it? Well, it was memorable in terms of the toll the landscape took from the excessive heat and dry conditions. And it was memorable in terms of the amount of watering one had to do in order to keep a modicum of blooms and greenery going.

If you were able to keep up with the watering (and accompanying expense), your summer plants have revived somewhat with the cooler night temperatures, but they certainly have not returned to what should be the last blast of color before the frost. Now is a good time to take inventory of what did survive the sweltering summer heat and to plan for next summer and what probably will be a continuation of the extreme conditions that Virginia gardeners have come to expect as the "norm".

Summer Successes

In my garden, I have had success with coleus and begonias in terms of plants that are still thriving and blooming. I planted some reiger begonias from Home Depot, and they were lovely until the most sweltering of the heat put them in eclipse. Regular begonias also bloomed constantly in the shade. And the "hardy" begonia (usually pink but also available in a white variety) has been especially beautiful this fall.

The perennial begonia is one of the last perennials to show growth in the spring, so it's wise to mark its location to avoid removing it when planting spring materials. It is attractive from earliest growth with red/ pink stems and large leaves, but its fall flowering is spectacular if planted in mass.

It is a true shade loving perennial, so it works well in Fairlington gardens. It can become aggressive as it is a free seeding perennial. I have it planted with hostas and "regular" angel wing begonias, and the leaf color and texture, as well as the blossoms show well with variegated and chartreuse hosta leaves.

Ferns are another accompanying plant to consider.

Photo of Perennial Begonia

Photo of Dark Star Coleus

My coleuses have also survived beautifully. One particularly striking variety is a "black" coleus (variety 'Dark Star') which I have planted in a window box on my patio. A single plant has filled most of a regular sized window box and has gracefully draped itself off the side. Accompanied by a single, salmon colored impatiens, it has made a dazzling display.

Another form of coleus - the old fashioned "Jacob's Coat" variety has also worked well in window boxes and it still quite showy. I have it planted with a variegated; dwarf scented geranium (no blooms, just showy, sweet green and white leaves) and upright fuchsia. Regularly pinched, "Jacob's Coat" (a deep wine colored leaf) makes for a bushy plant. The combination of wine colored coleus, white and light green scented geranium, and red fuchsia still looks attractive as a fall planting.

Plan for Spring

Fall should signal the planting of pansies, but I have delayed this due to the hot conditions. Some nurseries have told me that they are not stocking as many pansy plants this year due to the economic slump. I hope some are still available for planting once I have cleared off the summer plants. It is also the time to put in spring flowering bulbs - tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, etc. Putting in pansies under planted with spring bulbs makes for a colorful spring.

Mums and Winter Container Plantings

I now forgo planting mums and let the remaining summer plantings carry the border into the fall. I do have a couple of Korean chrysanthemums about to bloom. Unlike the mums available at the super market and hardware stores, the Korean variety (pastel daisy flowered) are routinely hardy in this area

They are very fragrant, and if the bees have not died off in your area, provide a feast for these beneficial creatures. The Korean variety, available at some nurseries, flower in pastel colors - pinks, ambers, light yellows, etc. The key is to divide them in the spring (which I always forget to do), thus renewing the plants.

I have one planted in a large pot which survives the winters here and still flowers with the addition of some fresh soil and the occasional light fertilizer. Unlike the "regular" chrysanthemum, it tends to keep its leaves and does not get that leggy, dead leaf look of some varieties. Look for this variety when plant shopping; it will not disappoint.

Usually nurseries put shrubs on sale at this time to reduce the plants to carry over during the winter. Fill those soon-to-be empty pots with dwarf conifers, dwarf grasses, small boxwoods, liriope, etc. for winter color on your patio. Some out of the ordinary dwarf conifers to consider are hinoki cypress, cedrus diodara ('Blue Mountain'), Pinus parviflora ('Tanima-no-uki' - white tipped variety), and Chamaecyparis obtuse ('Nana')

Photo of Korean Mum Blossum

You can be guaranteed that your neighbors won't have these! Simply change out the pot soil where you had summer annuals, work in some slow-release fertilizer, and plant a variety of items in a large pot. The larger the container, the less frequently you will have to water.

Photo of Witch Hazel

Speaking of watering, always remember that even as the temperatures cool, landscape materials - shrubs, trees, perennials - continue to grow roots even though the tops go dormant. It is important to keep them watered until the ground freezes. Materials in pots need regular watering if they are to survive the winter, so keep track of the amount of rainfall and water as needed.

And if you're feeling really adventurous (and have the spare change), add a small witch hazel to a large pot and under plant it with pansies, evergreen ferns, and some liriope. The witch hazel will bloom on warm days in the winter, scenting the air with its sweetness. When the temps drop, the blossoms close only to reappear on the next warm day. Recommended for this area is the cultivar 'Harvest Moon'. When it outgrows the pot, plant it out where it will make a small tree suitable for a patio area.

My To Do List for Fall

  • Plant pansies
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs.
  • Remove the tops of perennials.
  • Remove and discard summer annuals.
  • Check nursery stock for any unusual varieties now on sale.
  • Prepare houseplants for a return to the inside.
  • Prepare the summered outside amaryllis for winter flowering. Remove several inches of soil and add fresh. Remove the leaves. Store in a cool dark place until new growth begins; do not water for 4-6 weeks. You should see new growth by early December, and then begin regular watering.
  • Lightly mulch after the ground turns significantly cold - usually early to mid December.
  • Prune any deadwood or leggy summer growth from shrubs.
  • Enjoy the fall foliage and cooler temperatures.
  • Buy a pumpkin!
Final Note

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:

  • The American Gardener (American Horticulture Magazine)
  • Virginia Gardener, and
  • Southern Living (lots of practical and easy advice for time challenged gardeners)!

Practical Web Sites

Gardening Resources Galore - Offers great links on "Residential Gardening", "Indoor Gardening", "Native Plant Gardening", and much more. 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

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