One yard beautification project down…

Following up on my last post, I finally finished that section along the back of the house; the arborvitae and dogwoods are planted, with a nice coat of pine bark nugget mulch topping it all off. I couldn’t be more pleased with how it looks! This will look especially striking in snow, between the green of the arborvitae and the red of the dogwood shrubs.


A few details on what I planted:

Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’ – these evergreen conifers grow slowly into a narrow, upright pillar about 12’ by 4’ at maturity; maintains its rich green color through the winter.

Cornus sericea ‘Arctic Fire’ – this shrub variety of dogwood boasts a nice red color on the younger stems, slightly fragrant white blooms in spring followed by clusters of white berries in late summer and early fall. When the weather cools, the leaves turn red/burgundy before dropping off.

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Fall projects in the garden

Despite my all-too-infrequent posts on here, I have in fact been keeping busy in the garden. The weather has been cooperating, with only a few spurts of rain here and there, and temps still mostly tolerable (50s). In a semi-shady corner of the yard, up against a fence, I did some major tilling and weeding and planted several Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’ and a seedling Camellia ‘Winter Star’ the other week, and topped it off with a nice dressing of pine bark mulch. Then, of course, I neglected to take a picture, and now the mulch is covered up by needles from the giant pine that hangs overhead. But you can take my word for it that it looks really nice! There’s still more I want to do in that section; it could use some shorter plants in front of the shrubs…hosta, ferns, perhaps some solomon’s seal or bleeding heart.

I’m also working on a 15’ x 3’ section up against the back of the house; last week I cleared away the weeds and grass, and the last few days have been spent pouring over my gardening books and my landscape design software to see what would work and look nice in this space.

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My goal is to, as much as possible, always have something to look at regardless of the season: flowers in spring/summer, colorful foliage in fall, and berries and evergreen foliage in winter. With that in mind, my plan so far is to have three Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitaes, followed by either Ilex verticilata (Winterberry holly) or Cornus sericea (Red Osier dogwood), and rounding it out with either Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’ sweetspire or Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’ witch alder.

I also have an alternate scenario in mind: a couple of these new columnar apple trees (Scarlet and Golden Sentinel™) since this space offers protection from harsh winter winds and the brick keeps it a bit warmer than other spots around the yard. How awesome would it be to just walk out the back door and pick apples right there?

Needless to say, I have some decisions to make!

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Getting figgy with it!

With the onset of overnight low temperatures in the 50s and highs only hitting the 70s lately, fall is now officially here. The summer crops I had going have been pulled up, and the beds re-tilled, and replanted with broccoli, lettuce, spinach, nappa cabbage, and beets. This year, I’m not making the same mistake I made last year in not keeping up with squishing the cabbage worms. I didn’t realize just how voracious an appetite they have, and they turned my kale and cabbage into swiss cheese in no time.

My wife has been dropping hints for a while that she would like a fig tree, and the final impetus for getting one came on a visit to her grandparent’s about a week or two ago. They had a few figs sitting on the counter after dinner, and after tasting one, knew right then and there I had to go get one that week. It was so sweet and juicy! And so, the latest addition to the garden:



Celeste is a variety that is reportedly more cold hardy than others, with slightly smaller fruit that are very sweet (hence, this variety is also called honey fig). Otherwise, it looks like all other cultivars. This winter is forecast to be cold and snowy again, so I will certainly post an update on how this fig tree fares over the winter.

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The summer garden’s winners and losers

The veggie garden is fading a little sooner than I was hoping this year, thanks in large part to a prolonged period of humid and rainy weather that caused prolific mildew and rot on the squash plants and some of the tomato plants. Then mother nature reversed course abruptly and brought hot and dry weather that caused some of the watermelons to split open before they could mature. But it’s just as well…we’ve had so much produce coming in, between our own garden and what my father-in-law gives us from his (much, much larger) garden, that we’ve had to can, freeze, and dehydrate like preppers bracing for the end times!

So, with the summer crop drawing to a close, this seems to be a good time to rate and review the varieties I planted this year.


  • Big Boy
    Superb flavor, good size fruits on healthy, vigorous vines; unfortunately, some of the fruits succumbed to rot and fungi during a spell of high humidity

  • Yellow Pear
    Rating: StarStarStar
    The flavor and productivity lived up to the hype! My plants were loaded with juicy, very sweet tomatoes; unfortunately, it seems this variety is prone to wilt and blight


  • Dark Star zucchini
    Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
    The best zucchini variety I’ve tried thus far! Compact plants were very tolerant of heat and dry conditions; yield was heavy and continued for a longer period of time than most other varieties; excellent flavor!


  • Perkins Long Pod
    Didn’t much care for this particular variety; the plants never showed much vigor and were slow to set pods; lackluster flavor and texture


  • Arkansas Little Leaf
    Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
    My new favorite cuke! Planting just one vine gave us more cukes than we could handle, and we ended up pickling quite a few. The plants are extremely resistant to disease and pests (at least from my observation), without a trace of bitterness in spite of dry conditions at times. Very crisp and juicy with a superior flavor to most others I’ve tried.
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A royal pain in the (gr)ass

Have I said how much I HATE Bermuda grass? I did? Oh, well I still hate it. Nothing makes more more ragey in the garden then spending hours and hours stooped over and pulling up seemingly miles of roots, only to have it crawl back in around my veggie and ornamental plants just days later. You can see in the photo below where it’s already returning where I had tilled up the soil. Round-Up is out of the question, since preserving a bee-friendly habitat is the idea. It seems the best I can do is just keep pulling up what I can, and otherwise learn to live with some weediness around the plants. But despite its omnipresence, the perennials I planted there seem to be doing well, and the coreopsis has been flowering nicely (2nd pic).



I’ve had better fortune keeping the Bermuda grass away from the herbs and veggies I planted around the perimeter of the deck. I planted big leaf basil, rosemary, Dark Star™ zucchini, and Perkins long pod okra and are coming along quite nicely.


The salad garden is looking great as well, been collecting a nice harvest of spinach, lettuce, arugula, and kale, though the kale has been infested with cabbage worms (yuck!). Otherwise, I’ve been enjoying fresh greens just outside our back door!


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Garden update, video tour

Thought I’d share a more visual update of how my garden is progressing (part of it, anyway) now that I have a good tiller to help speed up the process!

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Spring has sprung!

Spring is in full force now in Richmond, Virginia. The flowering cherries are at their peak, as are forsythias, with deciduous magnolias and redbuds not far behind. I snapped these pics yesterday before the first lawn mowing of the year. The first is flowering quince, the second I believe is a species of Spirea but am not certain (post a comment if you know what it is!). In any case, a welcome sight after a long, cold, snowy winter.


As far as veggies, my first round of seedlings I started indoors (broccoli, kale, lettuce, and spinach) germinated well enough but then just pooped out so I’m having to scrap that batch and start again (outside in a raised bed this time now that the weather is warm enough) with those, while I start the warm season crops inside. I guess certain crops don’t actually like to be pampered with grow lights. The winter rye cover crop I planted last October is really coming along well. When it reaches flowering stage in May, I’ll cut it down at ground level, let it lay, and use it as a mulch to plant the warm season crops into.

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