Central Virginia gardening

Photo by Lynn Stayton-EurellThree quarters of all flowering plants depend on the 200,000 species of animals to act as pollinators. About 1,000 of these are hummingbirds, bats, and other small animals. The rest are insects; beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths. Bees intentionally collect pollen while most others carry the pollen about while they are feeding on the flower nectar. Over 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need animal pollinators including blueberries, strawberries, apples, melons, squash and tomatoes.
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While picking up perennials the other day, I overheard a greenhouse worker say, “I would never have planted that if I had known.” She was talking about spiderwort, tradescantia, which a customer of mine had just purchased in quantity. It’s a beautiful plant and has its place in some of the finest gardens. At Ladew Gardens in Monkton, Md. it is planted in a huge circle with ‘Caesar’s Brother’ siberian iris and ‘May Night’ salvia. It is a startling ring of electric blue for at least a month coinciding with the soft pink of the rose garden. Well worth the visit. However, it is a spreader, popping up in the driveway and invading flower beds. I have many varieties and I dig up the volunteers and give them away which is how I got my first piece of it.
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Iris are not deer’s choice for dinner. Photo by Lynn Stayton-EurellDeer and voles are the bane of gardeners everywhere. Fighting them has not worked for me so I do my best to discourage them. Dogs help keep deer out of the garden and so do fences, but planting things that are not their favorites is a good place to start. They will eat anything when they have to, so know that nothing is truly deer proof. At Lake Monticello, a true test for deer resistance, barberry and its relative the mahonia are not tasty. The amaryllis family includes belladonna lily, known as ‘naked ladies’ or ‘resurrection lily’, which are not eaten by deer or voles. If you use mulch, make a pocket of sand and chicken grit where you plant to discourage voles. Many plants are listed as resistant but have they passed the Lake Monticello test?
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The sunflower is the backbone of the heliotropes. Photo: ©istockphoto.com/ SalawinOur wonderful sun, Helios to the Greeks, is so beautiful he turns heads. Especially in the world of flowers. Heliotropic plants turn their faces during the day to follow the sun. Alfalfa, soy beans and cotton are heliotropic but they are not ornamenting our gardens. The backbone of the heliotropes is the sunflower. Planted at the back of a garden facing south, their huge heads turn from right to left as we look at them seeming to be reading the garden before them like a book. Okra also follows the sun and is so ornamental in the vegetable garden.

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Having had some success growing the normal assortment of fruits and vegetables, I now include some more exotic homegrowns. Many gardeners have thornless blackberries which are big and juicy and dependable. The same is true for the paw paws, popular for their custard like flavor and consistency. The hard seckel pears are producing well this year and I use them for chutney but I’d rather make brandy. Young bamboo shoots are steamed and served. Currants and gooseberries, goji berries and josta berries are all grown here in Virginia. Even a non-bog type of cranberry graces my garden though my first harvest was less than a cup. My new shiitake mushrooms will take a bit longer to produce.
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