In shade gardening, drainage frequently becomes a problem especially if a slope is involved. As our chosen high canopy anchor trees get larger in our landscaping, the grass below becomes thinner and shallower rooted. This leads to the possibility of rutting created by runoff in anything but a mild drizzle. Sometime between year 10 and year 20 of your landscape, shade will eventually take over where you have chosen to plant top of the canopy shade trees. Annual aerating and seeding will go a long way to keeping your grass lush and thick. This particular turf area and gardens are in year 24 from their installation but even with copious amounts of care, the turf will eventually thin out.

If the shade garden is on a hillside, steps will need to be taken to prevent rutting. These steps can be as simple as adding a decorative gravel to the bed edges. In the case shown in this photo, the original grade worked fine until the shaded turf thinned out and started to rut. It was necessary to start over and regrade the area with a swale to funnel runoff into the center of the turf. I then reseeded and used a woven mat in the bottom of the swale to stabilize the soil until the new seed establishes itself and fills in.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to forego turf and try shade loving but aggressive groundcovers such as Mazus or Ajuga. Several of the Ajugas, such as ‘Black Scallop’ and ‘Chocolate Chip’, are on deer resistance lists. Some of the super dwarf Ophiopogon (Mondo Grass) are so low-growing that you could run the lawn mower over them without touching a blade. Mondo Grass would be the best choice if you wanted evergreen groundcover for our area.

stone edge

stone edge

Pruning is one of the major tasks that we perform each year. If we have lots of moisture in May and June it starts to look as if we live in more tropical climes. The growth is just spectacular and abundant. This means we will spend two months pruning landscapes.

public space in an area neighborhood

Cherries in the Kenwood neighborhood

It is nice to drive and see the spaces that are wonderfully maintained by either neighborhood gardeners or even the jurisdictions themselves. Who does the maintenance of these public spaces is not as important as that it is being done and we the public get to enjoy it. In neighborhoods around our area early builders or even neighborhood groups planted thousands of Cherries along our suburban roads, many in small neighborhood communities. The primary tree planted has been the Yoshino Cherry emulating the gifted Cherries on the Tidal Basin in our nation’s Capital. There is obvious pride in these communities in their Cherries. Many have covenants mandating maintenance of these trees and, when removed, their replacement with like trees. The effect is ethereal for a too short period in early Spring.

public space along Reno Road, NW

Street planting along Reno Road, NW

There is the occasional small plot of land cut off due to road configuration that becomes public space due to its’ disconnection from any nearby home lots. My guess is neighbors cherish these open spaces, regardless of their small size, and band together to plant and maintain them. It gives them some much needed gardening space and a chance to enhance their neighborhood in so many different ways. Some are areas of reflection which may include a seating area or just a small walking path. Others are just a planted garden space providing neighborhood beauty and enhancing everyone’s quality of life. Regardless of the reason it also increase home values in the immediate neighborhood as it increase the “curb appeal” of the neighborhood. 

In some cases such as the bulb plantings by the Maryland State Highway Administration along our major highways, it is really right in our faces as we speed by. Some of these plantings look as if they may contain better than 5,000 Narcissus bulbs and the affect is both soothing and entertaining as we pass by. Large flowing sweeps of colors along our interstates provide us poor commuters a splash of brilliance in our otherwise dull commutes. Just spectacular!

Remember to: clean your gutters as tree flower drop is coming to an end. Deadhead and fertilize your bulbs for best flowering for next year. Do not band the foliage but do cut it off at the first sign of browning or yellowing. This indicates the plant is in the first stages of sloughing its’ leaves so it is ok to provide an assist. If you haven’t done so, prepare your garden for vegetables and remember, its’ pretty nice to stick the occasional vegetable plant in the landscape where it can get five to six hours of sun and provide your family with some fresh Summer produce.

Spring in Washington DC



Woodpecker searching for larvae

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Can it really be the start of Spring? It just seems so odd that here we are in the first full week of March and it feels like Spring. This time last year we were still experiencing snow with measurable snow on both March 5th and March 20th. The last couple of years, Spring has been so late, it just doesn’t seem right. But I’ll take this early warm weather knowing full well it may be just a brief interlude in Winter. It is such a pleasure to drive in DC and to see the first Cherries blooming along Massachusetts Avenue with Witch Hazel, Hellebores and crocus. With all the breeding work being done the last few years, Hellebores are quite spectacular with their deep red and dark maroon shades.


Now a week later, after several days of way above average temperatures, Spring is really busting out all over. Forsythias, Cherries, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Star and Saucer Magnolias are all in bloom. The forecasted arrival of the Tidal Basin Cherries has even been pushed up by almost 2 weeks. We are in full spring mode here, working nearly every moment of daylight available to us. Even though it is not really practical, we try very hard to get ahead of emerging Spring perennials and bulbs, so that we can get mulch and fertilizer down. There is no real reason for this except that it is easier to work in garden beds without bulbs coming up everywhere.


Osprey leaving the nest during nesting season

Osprey cruising the mouth of the Chester River

It’s also so glorious to watch the return of native birds as they either flood back into the area from warmer climes such as the Osprey or just simply make themselves known by singing up a storm now that breeding and nesting season is here. Robins are so funny as they congregate in the shallows of my waterfall bathing and throwing water everywhere as they frolic. Spring is here.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Late Winter 2016

With the warmer temperatures, I have been getting out and tackling early Spring tasks in the garden. Of course stick patrol is high on my list at this time of year just to tidy up my property. Second I have been cutting back perennials such as Liriope and ornamental grasses. I also do careful pruning of last years’ foliage on perennials such as Hellebore and evergreen ferns so as not to damage the new foliage coming up. Like most of us, I am ready for Spring. I am seeing a few signs though, so Spring is not that far away. I also had a brief show of color on some crocus and also several clumps of daffodil foliage peaking up in our big perennial bed in front. It also seems that as the temperatures rise above 45 degrees birds of all stripes start making themselves known by their songs. It is quite the happy sight when large numbers of Robins frolic in the shallows of the pond making it really seem like Spring.    

 Nature was kind to us in that the 24” of snow in January was gone in a relatively few days. Within 10 days the only trace was mountainous piles in the corner of parking lots. These will take some time to melt away. Since then we have been having a really up and down Winter, temperature wise. A few days of cold followed by several days of warmer weather has made it difficult for the body to adapt to the cold. Oh those heat bills!

I know that there is still a lot of Winter left and mother nature tends to remind us of this pretty sharply. So give it time and Winter will be done and Spring will be here and we can all start another spring season. Happy gardening!

Another storm of the century! It seems that the weather folks get off on scaring the heck out of everybody with their forecasts. I think they get paid by the descriptive word. It was a big snowfall, no doubt but the high winds never materialized and we got towards the low end of predictions. Most important – no power outages. An inconvenience but not a disaster.

On the bright side the snow will act as an insulating blanket providing protection and then moisture to newly planted plants. Not that we are having drought conditions but this type of snow really replenishes the aquifers. Real benefits from the storm. Did anyone see the full moon? It was spectacular Saturday night with all the snow.

Late Summer perennials

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ combined with pink Aster


What will September bring? By most standards we have experienced a mild Summer. No drought and no extended periods of high temperatures. Gardens and lawns are very much appreciative and growth has continued uninterrupted. Asters, Helianthus, Jo Pye Weed, Crepe Myrtles and Toad Lilies – all blooming or coming into bloom as I write this. Proof that late Summer has plenty of color to offer gardeners. So far mother nature has cooperated by giving us timely rain. Remember though that plants can still use about an inch of water per week so don’t forget to water if the rains did not soak your neighborhood.

We are entering the window to work on our lawns here in late August. Depending on your lawns’ needs, that may be as simple as aeration and seeding or even a total restoration. If it’s the latter make sure to get your herbicide down now as the area being killed off will need a little recovery time before proceeding ahead with seeding.




I have a late season nesting of Wrens in a little ceramic house that hangs at the edge of my deck with the pond being just a few feet away. You can see the Wisteria that provides cover as the parents zoom in and out of their little house. It’s fun to watch and listen to them as they chatter away as the parents perform housecleaning and feeding chores. I don’t have any idea how many chicks there are but they are noisy when they are hungry. It sounds like a good healthy nest full. Here’s to successful fledging.


Stargazer Lily

Stargazer Lily

August 2014


Well it’s been a heckuva season so far this year. First, Winter never seemed to want to let go, delaying the start to the Spring season by nearly 6 weeks. It seemed as if Spring bloomed all at once. Between early Spring pruning, the grass growing and planting annuals, it took us until the middle of July before we finished Spring cleanups. Without thinking too much about it, I’m sure that is some type of record. Since then we have had pretty good rains (certainly enough to keep us out of any drought) plus really up and down Summer weather. The few spurts of high temps combined with low humidity has made our weather very pleasurable this Summer.

As I thought, we saw plants die off for “no” reason well into July. The real reason being that many plants suffered root damage from the unusually cold weather. They had enough reserves to leaf out but then when it came time to support all the new growth, plants just didn’t have enough roots to support themselves. It’s rarely one thing that kills off an established plant. It’s usually a culmination of factors with one final blow delivered by the latest insult to their integrity. A suggestion to help plants get through Winter is a thorough watering as late in the season as can be managed. This will help any plants combat the effects of Winter cold and winds.

It’s also been a robust year for plant growth. Gardens have needed a lot of attention this year to contain all the new growth. We have been focused on pruning since completion of the Spring cleanups. It’s been a lot of work to hand prune as much as we do. I think though that our clients will tell you that the results are worth it.

Finally, it seems to be a bumper year for Crepe Myrtles. The bloom this year is fantastic!

Dutchman's Breeches & Celandine Poppies carpet the woodland floor

Dutchman’s Breeches Dutchman’s Breeches & Celandine Poppies carpet the woodland floor

I took my camera and revisited a property that the homeowner asked me to install deer fence 3 years ago to see the difference it has made. The change is pretty extraordinary. The garden has always been a woodland garden the homeowner really put a lot of work into improving while at the same time keeping the character of a native woodland garden. It had become a constant struggle though as the deer just devastated not only a lot of hard work but also the existing native understory plantings such as native Viburnums one would expect to see in a Maryland forest.


The transformation didn’t even take that long. Minus the presence of deer, it seemed as if plants that had cowered in fear for years just burst from the forest floor. Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerfolium), Possumhaw (Viburnum nudum) and Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) immediately sprang up and made their presence known. Natives such as Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), (Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) have made a huge comeback even so much as carpeting the woodland floor here in the 3rd Spring since the barrier went up.

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches


I observed an interesting comparison as the neighbors to either side have for the most part left their properties mostly natural but unfenced. It’s like the understory has been eliminated entirely and the woodland floor has limited diversity. Mostly Trout Lily (Erythronium sp.), a beautiful native but lacking any appeal to the deer, has thrived. This is also a plant that comes up in the Spring and then goes dormant as Summer heat starts to roll in. Its’ limited appearance at the time of year when there is a virtual smorgasbord of native and cultivated plants available has aided its’ survival.

Home of the deer

Home of the deer

It has just been recently that deer have become commonplace on my 3 acres. So far there has been enough woodland area to the North of me and, I guess, enough local landscaping that they are not a problem. Yet.




Daffodils framed by PJM Rhododendron

Spring has really been procrastinating this year but I think we are done with Winter (and snow) until next Winter rolls back around. Spring may be late but I know it will be renewing to our gardens and spirits as it always is. It’s just such a great time of year as everything in nature just seems so brand new. In our area, and in nearly half the country, the simple delight of seeing the first hints of Spring come with the expansion of the leaf buds of our native red maple (Acer rubrum). It seems an oxymoron but it’s a pleasure to drive on the highway and have great clouds of red along the side of  the road indicating the our earliest Spring tree is getting ready to leaf out. As predicted, this Spring will be one of an explosion of colors more so than the normal succession as plants roll out their Spring finery.


I am also seeing an awful lot of Winter damage to a wide variety of plant material. Things like Yews which qualify as one of the cold-hardiest plants grown in our area have Winter burn. Another surprising plant with burn is the overused Leyland Cypress. Less surprising are things like Holly cultivars, Hydrangea and Sarcococca. It remains to be seen the effect the cold weather had on Crepe Myrtle as this is one of the latest plants to leaf out. I believe we will not see the total effect until mid-Summer when hot weather will deliver the coup-de-grace to plants barely hanging on after unseen damage to their root systems. I think back onto the importance of late Fall watering of newly planted plants and less hardy shrubs to give them a better chance at surviving a harsh Winter. A good thing I am observing here on my property (Zone 6) is a windbreak of Yoshino Cryptomeria which are about 9’ tall that I planted 3 years ago. They are in perfect condition with no dieback or burning! They even held their good green color throughout the Winter. Kudos to the breeder of a Cryptomeria which appears to be Winter hardy in our area.

Snowdrops - a reliable late Winter bloomer

Snowdrops – a reliable late Winter bloomer

Casa Blanc Lily peeking through the snow

Casa Blanc Lily peeking through the snow


We are all confused/upset/frustrated with the never ending Winter we seem to be stuck in. 8” of snow on St. Patrick’ Day? Yes it seems totally absurd but our weather so far to me, is just another example of typical Baltimore-Washington weather. In other words – anything goes. Remember last Spring? It was gorgeous the way Spring unfolded with cool temps well into May. Spring blooming times were extended and the colors were just gorgeous. But then again, it was the first time in my 37 professional years that we had a frost warning as late as May 24th. Where weather is concerned in our area, crazy is a good descriptive.


The cold temperatures we have been having for nearly 10 weeks will lead to a lot of disappointed gardeners who regularly push the envelope (like me) with marginally hardy plants. Most of these will perish along with pretty harsh damage to old standbys like Nellie Stevens Holly, Crepe Myrtle and Camellias. Hopefully most will be in the form of winter scorched leaves and not dieback.  Anyone remember the Winter of 1979 when it seemed as if all the Crepe Myrtles in the Washington, DC area died back to the ground?


There are some good things that come out of Winters like this one. Spring will be delayed (obviously) and when it comes it will be sudden and spectacular. We will most likely experience a compressed flowering season where plants that normally bloom in something resembling succession will probably overlap. It could be gloriously long or spectacularly short show of color depending on the weather when Spring does happen. The melting snow over the last 3 months really helps to replenish our water table and also acts as a protective layer of insulation for those marginally hardy plants. Remember snow on the ground is very close to the freezing mark while the air temps could be well below that. We take water for granted in our area but there are portions of this country that have very serious decisions to make concerning their water supply. Lastly for serious gardeners, a brutal Winter just provides us with more space in our gardens to try new things.


Happy gardening!

Winter magic 02

A little snow to add to the effect!

The big snow

The big snow


A frozen waterfall

It’s so easy to love having water in your yard. The enjoyment to be had by the constant run of critters to water (as I sit here writing this I hear a crack of ice and a splash and I look up and see a neighborhood cat dragging himself out of the water and up over the rocks and I assume home – a little cold and wet but none the worse for wear) that you have supplied for them, the beautiful fish you have in your pond and the changing of the seasons in the garden that is your pond. I see a lot of ponds that are shut down in Winter which is a shame as Winter provides some magical moments with the ever changing ice sculptures that appear and disappear in your pond as the day progresses. Snow is another element that adds come and go beauty to your pond. As long as water is moving in your pond it is safe for the fish as oxygen is exchanging and it is safe for the pond itself. Moving water keeps an open area in any ice thus relieving pressure against the sidewalls. This last part is important only if you have a pond that is based on a concrete foundation. Even the strongest reinforced concrete is no match for the force created as the surface of your pond freezes and exerts outward pressure. This is where having a pond heater comes in handy. I have a simple thermostatically controlled heater that is economical to run and simply heats the space around the heater itself just enough to leave a hole in the ice layer. I don’t even use mine unless there is a power outage and the surface starts to freeze. Then when the power is restored, I just drop it on top of the ice and within an hour or so it has melted its’ way through the ice leaving an opening. A wise $30 investment. In the Baltimore Washington metropolitan area we are just as likely to get a 50 degree day as there is to be ice. So when a thaw comes right after a series of 20 degree days and the ice melts and the Robins suddenly appear, you know Spring is on the way. Reality intrudes though with tomorrow’s forecast of 4-8 inches of snow. Ahh well, Spring will surely come!

Spring is coming!

Spring is coming!