Friday, April 29, 2011

Friends with benefits: native + drought tolerant = good friends for the garden

I've done a lot of posts about native plants and have even listed some favorite native plants of local plant experts. Some of our readers have asked for MORE and I am happy to oblige.

So here is the first in a series of lists of Native plants that are ALSO drought tolerant, with live links, so you can view photos and care requirements of all plants.

Beneficial, drought tolerant native plants for the Metro DC area

I have also listed additional benefits of these plants such as whether they provide value for birds, butterflies or humans, and whether they have beautiful and/or fragrant flowers.

As you can imagine, this list took quite a bit of time to pull together, so please let me know if you find it useful and whether you would like to see more.

I've started another list that includes perennials, vines and grasses so be sure and subscribe to this blog to learn more about the great benefits of native plants!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

National Herb Day Celebration - May 7th

There is nothing quite like growing herbs in your home garden!

They add spice to your cooking, aromas to your garden walks and (if you want to share) are host plants for visiting butterflies. But many herbs also provide wonderful health and beauty benefits.

The benefits of herbs are so diverse that since 2006, a special day has been set aside  to raise public awareness about them.

The first HerbDay was held on Saturday, October 14, 2006. But due to requests from herb lovers all over the country, HerbDay was officially moved to the spring since  more people in more parts of the country have a larger variety of herbs growing at this time of year than do in fall.

For gardeners who would like to learn more about the wonders of herbs, plan on  attending  Celebrate Herbs at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory,   100 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, DC, on May 7th from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.

Discover the significance of herbs in our lives and the many ways herbs can be used safely and creatively for health, beauty and culinary enjoyment. Enjoy demonstrations, activities, discussions and displays. You won't want to miss this amazing opportunity to learn more about herbs!

If you would like to purchase some herbs before the HerbDay event, the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America will be having their annual plant sale on April 29-30th in conjunction with the Friends of the National Arboretum Garden Fair.

FONA Garden Fair & Plant Sale - April 29th & 30th

The Friends of the National Arboretum will be holding a plant sale in conjunction with their garden fair this weekend, Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30, remainders (if any) sold Sunday, May 1. The event will be held at the US National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave NE, off Bladensburg Rd.

This annual event from the Friends of the National Arboretum is a long-standing favorite among serious and weekend gardeners alike – with affordable prices and the widest range of plants and vendors of any gardening event in Washington, D.C. Buy new, rare and hard-to-find plants, with offerings from the finest specialty nurseries in the region and more local plant societies than ever before. A great opportunity to get advice from National Arboretum horticulturists, FONA master gardeners, landscape designers and other local experts. Also fun and educational activities for children, music performances, food vendors, and garden accessories.

The fair coincides with the Arboretum's spectacular display of more than 10,000 azaleas, so bring your friends, bring the family, and make a day of it!

HOURS: "Members Only" on Friday, April 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (but you can join at the door or in advance at

Open to the public on Friday, April 29 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturday, April 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Any remainders will be sold Sunday, May 1 from 9a.m. to 12 noon.

More information at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Landscaping for Water Conservation - April 27th

What:  Landscaping for Water Conservation: Xeriscape! – presented by Kimberly Knox
When:  Wednesday, April 27 · 7:30pm – 10:30pm
Where:  James Duckworth Regional Center, 11201 Evans Trail, Beltsville. MD

Why: Why waterwise landscapes help protect the environment
An American family of four can use 400 gallons of water per day, and about 30 percent of that is devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for almost one-third of all residential water use, totaling more than 7 billion gallons per day. As populations increase, demand on our water resources will grow. Conserving water will not only protect our natural resources but can prevent or postpone the expense of building or renovating new water supply facilities. 
By making changes to some of our landscaping practices, we can all make a difference in water conservation.
The Beltsville Garden Club is having a presentation about creating a water-conserving landscaping.  

The  speaker for this program will be Kimberley M. Knox, Community Outreach Manager for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) and a member of the Beltsville Garden Club.  Her topic will be "Water Conservation and Gardens".

Kim is the editor of "Landscaping for Water Conservation: Xeriscape!"  She is responsible for coordinating WSSC's demonstration garden, which highlights native plants for birds and butterflies.  She will also speak about the seven basic principles to incorporate into your landscape to ensure that you save water, money and time.

Please come on out  for this informative speaker.  Refreshments will be served after the meeting.  Bring a plant or plant related material for the club's door prize table.  The public is welcome and admission is free.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Basic Organic Vegetable Gardening Workshop - May 4th

What:  Organic Vegetable Gardening Workshop

Presented by: George Mason University Sustainability Institute (MSI)

When: May 4th, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Where:  Green Acres Center, 4401 Sideburn Road, Fairfax, VA. Room 113

Why: What are the benefits of creating your own organic vegetable garden?
    • Organic vegetable gardens are free from chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which helps to create less pollution.
    • Organic vegetable gardens yield fruit and vegetables with higher nutritional content.
    • Organic vegetable gardening is a great way to get your kids to eat more vegetables!
    • Organic gardening simply makes food taste better.
      The workshop will help participants learn basic gardening techniques for creating an at-home organic vegetable garden. The class will cover topics such as soil improvement and preparation through a variety of amendments. Attendees will learn how to prepare both in-ground and raised-bed gardens, as well as container gardens. Vegetable families, seed starting, crop rotation and soil amendments will also be discussed.

      Registration: Please visit

      Or, e-mail Danielle Wyman for registration inquiries.

      Cost: $20. Please bring cash at time of registration (exact  change requested).

      Instructor's Biography:

      Adria Bordas has a Master of Science in Plant Pathology from the University of California at Davis. She has been working on diverse programs that include pest detection and diagnosis of plant-insect problems, water quality and nutrient management, and invasive pest management. She also works with both residents and landscape and nursery industry professionals of Fairfax County. Adria is also responsible for two Master Gardener Volunteer programs, comprised of more than 400 volunteers; the Fairfax County Master Gardener Association; and the Green Spring Master Gardener volunteer programs. She lives in Burke with her partner and two rescued dogs-Coco and Pickles.

      Help keep our planet healthy and green. Spread the word!

      Compost for Healthy Soil & Gardening - Workshops - April 27th & 30th

      What:  Compost for Healthy Soil Workshop

      Presented by: George Mason University Sustainability Institute (MSI)

      When: Workshop 1: Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Time: 6:00-7:30 PM.; Workshop 2: Saturday, April 30, 2011. Time: 10:00-11:30 AM.

      Where:  Green Acres Center, 4401 Sideburn Road, Fairfax, VA. Room 113

      Why: Why do eco-friendly gardeners love compost?

      There are few practices which make as much economic and environmental sense as creating compost out of yard wastes and kitchen scraps. Composting yard waste recycles nutrients back into the yard, helps retain moisture and saves landfill space. Composting reduces yard waste volume by 50 to 75 percent. The cost of collecting, hauling, and handling yard trash is a large share of the solid waste management expense.

      If you have a space for it, a compost pile or bin can be used to recycle yard wastes and kitchen scraps to make a perfect, nutrient rich soil additive. Not only can you add leaves and clippings from your yard, but fruit and vegetable peelings, fruit pulp from a juicer, dryer lint, coffee grounds, teabags, eggshells, shredded paper and sawdust can all be recycled to provide nutrients for your plants.

      To learn more:

      The MSI compost workshop will introduce attendees to the basics of at-home composting. Participants will be instructed on creating a simple compost system, and how to use kitchen and lawn waste to make compost. Workshop participants will leave the course with a list of materials needed to start an at-home project. The other half of the lecture will introduce participants to vermiculture, or worm composting; a fascinating, fun and easy way to recycle your kitchen waste into some of the best fertilizer on Earth. Composting Workshop 1 and 2 offer the same educational content.

      Registration: Please visit
      Or, e-mail Danielle Wyman for registration inquiries.

      Cost: $15. Please bring cash or check at time of registration (exact change requested)

      Instructor's Biography:

      Dan Schwartz is a graduate of the University of Maryland and holds a B.S. Degree in Environmental Science-Soil Resources. He has been working as a soil scientist for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District for the last 8 years. His job duties include updating the county soil survey, helping citizens with erosion and drainage problems, and educating the public about soil and storm water issues. He would like everyone to know that it is called soil, not dirt!

      Help keep our planet healthy and green. Spread the word!

      Trashion Fashion Show - April 30th - Alexandria

      On April 30th, as part of Alexandria's 18th annual Earth Day celebration, there will be a fun Trashion Fashion Show showcasing clothing made by local students using recycled materials.
      Step on by and cheer for your favorite students AND their creations while enjoying other earth day events.
      Where: Ben Brenman Park, 4800 Brenman Park Dr. 
      When: April 30, 2011, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

      For more information, visit Alexandria Earth Day 2011

      Friday, April 22, 2011

      Brighton Dam Azalea Garden Open

      A sure sign of spring, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s (WSSC) Brighton Dam Azalea Garden is open and soon 20,000 gorgeous azaleas will be in full bloom.

      The Brighton Dam Azaleas are renowned for their beauty. Visitors can enjoy five acres of flowers expected to be in full bloom in time for the traditional Mother’s Day visit, Sunday, May 8th.

      Admission to the Azalea Garden is FREE and open to the public daily from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Elderly or disabled visitors can drive through the garden Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

      After touring the garden, visitors can relax along the Triadelphia Reservoir picnic grounds. There’s even a play area for children! For more information, please call Brighton Dam at 301-774-9124.

      WHAT: WSSC’s Brighton Dam Azalea Garden

      WHERE: 2 Brighton Dam Road, Brookeville, MD

      WHEN: 6:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily, including Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8th

      More congratulations are in order for our man of the year, Barry Louis Polisar

      Just received this news from Barry Louis Polisar, Metro DC Lawn and Garden's Man of the Year for 2010, so I wanted to shout out my congrats.

      One of his songs, "All I Want is You", is being featured in a series of Honda Civic Commercials.

      To find out why Barry was chosen as our 2010 Man of the Year, read this post about his efforts to clean the watershed property near his home.

      To read more about Barry's children's books and music, check out his website.

      It's Earth Day - Pick a Cause, Any Cause

      As a baby-boomer, ex-hippie, I've been celebrating Earth Day longer than some of my readers have probably been around. Like many, I am still over-whelmed by the questions that "being green" presents on a daily basis.

      Is it better to rinse plastic bags and re-use them, or does it really make sense to waste that water? Are cfl's good now, or have we decided they are bad? Is it okay to turn my A/C down a few degrees in the heat of the summer if my middle-age hot flashes are making me downright miserable?

      This year, I was inundated with emails about "new" green products and techniques that PR reps were clammering to draw a little attention to. For someone trying to make the right environmentally friendly decisions, the options can be overwhelming.

      A study conducted in 2008 indicated that having too many choices can actually result in people not making any decision at all:

      Having choices is typically thought of as a good thing. Maybe not, say researchers who found we are more fatigued and less productive when faced with a plethora of choices. 

      Researchers from several universities have determined that even though humans’ ability to weigh choices is remarkably advantageous, it can also come with some serious liabilities. 

      People faced with numerous choices, whether good or bad, find it difficult to stay focused enough to complete projects, handle daily tasks or even take their medicine.

      So in order to help ease the burden of those who think that "being green" is too stressful, here are a few tips from a boomer who's been there:
      1. Protecting the Planet is not a competition. Don't make it one: It's a little frustrating to me that there are so MANY organizations out there (each with their own website) that are trying to be the SINGLE number one source of info for protecting the planet. Wow! What power we would have if we all worked together instead of trying to compete! Let's try to look at it that way.
      2. It's the Ecology, stupid. Not the economy: Keep a wary eye on the websites that claim to be trying to protect the planet when they are obviously just trying to sell a product.
      3. Good green deeds deserve recognition: There are many people and organizations that devote countless hours of their lives trying to help others make the right decisions for the planet. If you can afford to make a donation to their cause or volunteer time for any of their projects, do it. Many of these organizations, including some great eco-friendly bloggers, allow you to make donations through their websites. Keep in mind that some of the smaller groups (and individuals) can really use your support more than the larger ones. Personally, I don't make a donation to groups that spend more money each year TRYING to get me to donate (by sending free wrapping paper, calendars and greeting cards) than I can afford to even give. If you can't afford to donate time or money, a few kind words sent in an email message in support of what they are doing can go a long way in keeping eco-activists energized. Even something as simple as liking their Facebook page and commenting every now and then or subscribing to their blog helps to show that you care.
      4. We are all still in the learning stages when it comes to protecting the planet. Teach each other: I'm certainly not an expert on anything. Are you? If you are, then great. Share that knowledge with others. Instead of condemning an incorrect opinion or action, offer to share your knowledge or expertise. Environmental groups AND green bloggers are always looking for contributions from experts.
      5. You can't do everything, but you can do something: The Earth Day network is running a campaign called A Billion Acts of Green in which they ask readers to post what action they Pledge to commit to for a greener planet. Pick one or add your own. You DON'T have to try to do all One Billion of them. Here's mine: 
      By creating an eco-friendly landscape, I pledge to: eliminate chemicalsconserve watercreate compost,   

        Create an Eco-Friendly Garden

        Favorite Native Plants - Alex Dencker picks Behnke Baysafes

        It's a little like "preaching to the choir" to tout the praises of Behnke's Nurseries to DC area gardeners. After all, Behnkes has a long history in the area, with their first store having opened over 80 years ago in Beltsville, Maryland.

        Behnkes also has a strong commitment to the environment, helping to educate their customers about plants and activites that are best practices for protecting the local eco-system.

        To help make eco-friendly plant choices a little easier, Behnke's has even developed their own labeling system for BaySafe plants, affixing a bright blue " Behnke BaySafe" label to native perennials and woody plants.

        Why should gardeners grow BaySafe plants?
        Native plants are critical for the environment. Many serve as food sources for native insects, which in turn are food sources for birds and other animals. Most native insects are unable to feed on non-native plants; thus, food sources for our song birds are reduced when we plant non-native plants. Yes, you will have some feeding damage, holes in leaves from caterpillars, but it is critical for species diversity that gardeners include native plants in their landscapes. In addition, since native plants are well-adapted to our local climate and native soil, they will require less care than many non-natives.

        I've been anxious to get a list of "Favorite Native Plants" from someone at Behnkes to add to my recent series on the topic, and Susan Harris, blogger for Behnkes (and Gardenrant, Lawn Reform Coalition and other great, fun sites) was able to help me out.

        Here is a list of Favorite Native Plants from Alex Dencker, who has worked at Behnkes for over 20 years and is currently the manager of the Potomac store.

        Alex Dencker is wild about native plants, and suggests them to customers at Behnkes Nurseries every chance he gets. Asked to choose his top "got-to-have" native plants for the garden, Alex gushed about these:  

        Ferns: New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis) , Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea L.)  

        Grasses and "grass-like stuff": Carex (sedges), River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), Panicum spp, and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

        Flowering Plants: Columbine, Milkweed, New York and New England Aster, Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa), Joe-Pye Weed, Heuchera villosa, Virginia bluebells, Penstemon digitalis, Mountain mint, Solidago ("goldenrod), and tiarella cordifolia.

        Trees: Serviceberry, River Birch, Cornus alternifolia, Redbud, American holly, Sweetbay Magnolia, Sourgum, and these oaks: White, Willow, Scarlet and Red.  

        Vines: Crossvine, Wisteria frutescens, and Decumaria barbara. To find out more about Behnkes, visit their website. And while you are there, bookmark their events page for upcoming events.

        Wednesday, April 20, 2011

        Earth Day Tree Planting - April 22nd

        Help plant trees on Earth Day to reforest ten acres of open grass at Oaks Landfill in Laytonsville. The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection owns the property, and they received a grant from Chesapeake Bay Trust to help restore 5 – 10 acres of open, mowed grass to native hardwood forest.

        Volunteer with fellow students from local high schools to earn Student Service Learning hours and help restore your local environment. Wear old shoes or boots, gloves, and clothing appropriate for planting trees. For more information and to sign up for the project contact Karen Walker 301-590.2855.

        When: April 22, 2011 - 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.

        Where: Oaks Landfill, 6011 Olney-Laytonsville Road, (entrance on Route 108 across from Fieldcrest Road, Laytonsville, MD)

        Tuesday, April 19, 2011

        You're putting those Easter eggs WHERE?

        This weekend, children across the country will be crawling across lawns and poking in flower beds looking for colorful Easter eggs. But before you start hiding eggs on your own property or looking for a public Easter egg hunt to take your children to, consider what chemicals might be lurking in the landscape.

        Because of their very nature, Easter egg hunts may provide one of the most direct routes for lawn chemicals to make their way into the mouths of children. Kids pick up hidden eggs or other "treasures" and place them in a basket along with candy and other edible goodies. Eventually, those tiny fingers are going to make their way INTO the mouths of babes.

        The EPA website explains why children may be more vulnerable than adults when it comes to pesticides in landscapes:

        Children are at a greater risk for some pesticides for a number of reasons. Children's internal organs are still developing and maturing and their enzymatic, metabolic, and immune systems may provide less natural protection than those of an adult. There are "critical periods" in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual's biological system operates.

        Here are some other facts I found online about children and lawn chemicals.

        • Children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that make them more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxins. (x) 
        • The National Academy of Sciences estimates 50% of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first 5 years of life. (xi) 
        • A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds home and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia by almost seven times. (xii) 
        • Studies show low levels of exposure to actual lawn pesticide products are linked to increased rates of miscarriage, and suppression of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. (xiii) 
        • Exposure to home and garden pesticides can increase a child’s likelihood of developing asthma. (xiv) 
        • Studies link pesticides with hyperactivity, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction. (xv) 
        • Children ages 6-11 have higher levels of lawn chemicals in their blood than all other age categories. Biomonitoring studies find that pesticides pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk. (xvi)
        I have wonderful memories of the Easter egg hunts that my sisters and I shared as children and I definitely don't want to be the Grinch that steals Easter. Just follow these simple suggestions to help make sure that your Easter is eco-friendly.

        1) Have your Easter egg hunt in a chemical free landscape - Whether its your own yard or the yard of a friend, chemical free is definitely a better choice for a healthy hunt.

        2) Make a call - If you plan on taking your child to a public park or other location for an Easter egg hunt, give them a call and find out what kind of chemicals they use on their landscape.

        3) Wash up after the hunt - Take sanitizing wipes with you and wash your children's hands and any wrapped products that they picked up off the ground before they start chowing down on their Easter goodies.

        For more information about

        Easter Egg Hunts in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia

        For more information: Children and Lawn Chemicals Don't Mix (pdf file)

        Effects of Lawn Pesticides on Children and Pets

        Earth Day Party for the Planet - April 22

        Here's another great Earth Day / Earth Week Activity!

        April 22, 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at the National Zoo

        Special activities will take place in the "Zoo in Your Backyard" exhibit, just off Olmsted Walk near Asia Trail.

        Eco-Craft Recycling is great, but reusing is even better! Find out how to turn newspaper into a plant pot and take home your own. You'll make a pot, fill it with soil and drop in some seeds—when you get home you can put it right into the ground.

        Recycle at the Zoo FONZ has partnered with an outside company to collect and recycle Zoo visitors' cell phones, batteries, and accessories. For many working cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras, calculators, Apple laptop computers, gaming devices, and external drives—FONZ will get money to support conservation! All other devices will be recycled under strict environmental guidelines, keeping hazardous materials from reaching landfills and harming human and environmental health.

        Bring all materials to be recycled to the front desk in the Visitor Center.

        Click here more information about Earth Day at the National Zoo.

        Monday, April 18, 2011

        It's Earth Week! Stamp out eco-apathy with the new Go Green Stamps

        Once you start making eco-friendly changes in your life, its hard to not want to share your new found wisdom with others. Perhaps you are saving money, energy and water in your eco-friendly garden or enjoying the delicious bounty of home-grown organic produce.

        It's easy to share what you learn with others. Ask your friends to subscribe to the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog or Like our Facebook fan page to learn the basics of green gardening and to keep informed of upcoming green events.

        But now you can share your green tips with people even if you DON'T know their email address.

        By using the new Go Green stamps from the United States Postal Service, you can send green tips along when mailing letters, notes, greeting cards, bills...even your taxes.

        Have you seen a beautiful landscape in your neighborhood that you would like to compliment? Write down their address and send them an anonymous note, telling them you appreciate their efforts to Go Green.

        Do you have a neighbor that is using too many chemicals or has invasive plants? Send them a photo of your beautiful eco-friendly landscape or print out one of your favorite posts from the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog and drop it in the mail.

        Whatever you decide to send, add one of the Go Green stamps to help pass along some of these great green tips:

        Plant trees
        - Besides producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide and contaminants from the air, trees and other plants provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife.

        Compost - leaves you rake, the grass you mow, and the branches you trim are some of the ingredients you can use to make compost.

        Buy Local Produce - Find locally grown organic produce or grow your own.
        To order your Go Green stamps online, click here. And remember, These Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

        Sunday, April 17, 2011

        What is your "Act of Green"?

        Are you planning anything special for Earth Day or Earth Week? Perhaps you are planning on attending Green DC Day on April 20th or  the Chevy Chase Citizen's Association Garden Club meeting on April 19th to learn how to save money and conserve water.

        Maybe you are committing to finally getting a rain barrel or starting a compost pile .

        Whatever you have planned for the week, I hope that you will squeeze at least one "Act of Green" into your week.

        If you need any ideas for Green Actions you can take, you can visit the Billion Acts of Green  page on the Earthday Network website.

        If you are doing something unique or special for Earth Day and would like me to spread the word, I'll be happy to do so! Just list it in the comment section below.

        Or, you can join me in my pledge to keep working on my Eco-Friendly garden by clicking the Pledge Button below. My pledge is:

        Create an eco-friendly garden

        4 others have joined this pledge.
        You Can Too
        I WILL:
        Create an eco-friendly garden

        Create an Eco-Friendly Garden

        Friday, April 15, 2011

        Green DC Day - April 20th

        The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is excited to host GreenDC Day 2011 on Wednesday, April 20th from 10am until 3pm on Freedom Plaza.

        GreenDC Day is an Earth Day Celebration where DDOE seeks to increase public awareness about environmental protection, energy efficiency and natural resources. While there is an exciting agenda planned - which includes the Mayor’s Press Conference and various fantastic music performances - the purpose of this annual event is to expose DC residents to the wide range of programs and services available to them, and to provide exposure to area businesses offering eco friendly options for greening their lives, homes, offices, schools etc. Local and federal VIPs are expected to attend the festivities and there will be vendors and exhibit booths informing the public about environmental practices.

        The event will be held at Freedom Plaza again this year - as this is a highly visible public location - situated on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC (between 13th and 14th Streets).  

        The rain date is set for the following day - Thursday, April 21st.

        For more information, please contact Robin Graham at or 202.741.532.

        Natives vs aliens - the great gardening debate continues

        I did a search on this blog recently to see how often I've mentioned native plants. The answer is: A LOT. That, of course, is because native plants are often mentioned as a good choice for environmentally friendly landscapes.

        In many cases, the use of native plants is cause for debate, and often, heated debate. Some advocates of native plants think that gardeners should plant ALL natives. Others feel that it’s okay to plant both natives and non-natives, which are sometimes called alien or exotic species.

        The debate has been a hot topic on local gardening blogs recently, in part because of a New York Times Op Ed piece entitled Mother Nature’s Melting Pot, in which writer Hugh Raffles expresses his opinion that “non-native animals and plants …provide significant benefits to their new home.”

        The debate has been a hot topic on local gardening blogs recently, in part because of a New York Times Op Ed piece entitled Mother Nature’s Melting Pot, in which writer Hugh Raffles expresses his opinion that “non-native animals and plants …provide significant benefits to their new home.”

        Raffles goes on to make statements such as  “many of the species we now think of as natives may not be especially well suited to being here” and “non-native plants and animals have transformed the American landscape in unmistakably positive ways.”

        The NYT’s piece has been noticed and mentioned on some of my favorite local garden blogs, including Garden Rant: Uprooting the Gardening World and Grounded Design.

        I've been reluctant to add my two cents worth to the debate, since I admittedly do not have any formal education on the subject. So instead of an opinion, I thought I would mention some of the key points that keep me, and others, so confused about natives.

        First, what is the definition of a native plant?

        Native plants are generally defined as those that occurred here without human introduction. In other words, they are the plants that were here when this continent was wild and natural. They sprung up on their own, were dispersed by wind and wildlife, and evolved and were acclimated to the characteristics of the local conditions: the climate, soils, timing of rainfall, drought, and frost; and interactions with the other species inhabiting the local community.

        This definition is the basis of why native plants are assumed  good for the environment. Plants which are acclimated to local conditions would logically be more adapted to surviving local conditions and supporting local wildlife.

        Now, before I go any further with the discussion of native plants, picture for a moment what this continent looked like before it was “discovered” and “civilized”. In many ways, it was a wild, almost hostile wilderness. Was it beautiful and self-sustaining? Probably. Did it need pesticides and fertilizer and irrigation systems to survive? Of course not. Was it an environment in which the “pioneers” chose to live? No. Immigrants to this country immediately began chopping and thinning and adding and taking away things from the soil and planting new things that they brought from their home countries. The definition of native plants says that they were acclimated to the conditions of the land hundreds of years ago. In my un-trained, un-scientifically educated mind, it doesn't make sense to assume that those same plants would necessarily be acclimated to current site conditions.

        My husband and I live on piece of property that is very, very wooded. We only have small  garden areas. So, yes, 95% of our yard consists of the native plants that have been here for hundreds of years. As for all of the other garden areas, when our home was built, huge truck loads of dirt were trucked in to raise the foundation. So whether we leave that dirt and try to plant in it or add supplements, whatever we end up with is NOT native soil. The truth is, not very many of the factors that affected the native landscape “before human intervention” are present in modern landscapes.  The soil is different, not just because it has been moved around  from place to place but also because hundreds of years of man-made "stuff" has seeped into it and trucks and homes have compacted it. The climate is different, the drainage patterns are different.

        There is a great resource on entitled Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration and Landscaping. Many of the points in the document only add to my confusion.

        Plants evolve over geologic time in response to physical and biotic processes characteristic of a region: the climate, soils, timing of rainfall, drought, and frost; and interactions with the other species inhabiting the local community. Thus native plants possess certain traits that make them uniquely adapted to local conditions, providing a practical and ecologically valuable alternative for landscaping, conservation and restoration projects, and as livestock forage.

        If plants evolve over time in response to the characteristics of the region (which certainly have changed over the last few hundred years), why is it logical to think that only the NATIVE plants have evolved to fit the characteristics of our present-day site conditions?

        In North America, plant species are generally described as native if they occurred here prior to European settlement. This distinction is made because of the large-scale changes that have occurred since the arrival of the European settlers. The Europeans imported a variety of plants to this country, many are still the major component of traditional lawns and gardens. They also include many beneficial plants important in farming, such as vegetables and grains. Today, approximately 25% of flowering plants in North America are non-natives or alien species, most of Eurasian origin.

        Again, if the European settlers brought plants over here hundred of years ago, wouldn't they now be adapted to current site conditions?

        I have never advocated the use of ALL native plants to anyone who doesn't make the choice on their own. First, because I think that gardens should be places of pleasure and creativity.  Gardens are where humans can work hand in hand with nature to create their own, personal work of art, and trying to direct what or how someone plants would stifle their creative process.

        But the main reason that I don't "push" native plants is because I believe much more in the theory of "right plant, right place", or choosing plants to fit your CURRENT site conditions, not the conditions of what your part of the continent was like before humans set foot on it. And it makes sense to me that if I choose plants that fit the soil, water and temperature conditions for my site, then they will need less maintenance, less water, less chemicals, and, therefore, will be better for the planet, as it is today.

        Again, I'm not an expert on the subject. I learned the lessons of  Right Plant, Right Place from various horticultural classes that I have taken and they have lead to my continued advice to learn to Work With Mother Nature, not against her. I believe that  getting to know your own property is key. Walk around, see where the water settles, get a soil sample, check out where the sunny and shady spots are. I'm pretty sure you will find out that none of that is the same as it was hundreds of years ago.

        I certainly understand the value of using some native plants. But the benefit of using plants that
        are suited to our current site conditions is that they shouldn't require extra water or fertilizer or pesticides, which will keep us from harming the current environment  even more and maybe, just maybe, will help us get the planet back to the way it was before we started "civilizing " it.

        To quote one of my favorite aliens, doing anything else would seem illogical.

        Resource for more information on the concept of Right Plant, Right Place:

        Landscaping and Gardening – Fairfax County

        Soils and Drainage - Fairfax County

        Plant Right for Your Site

        Waterwise Landscaping and Watering Guide (pdf)

        Thursday, April 14, 2011

        Chesapeake Bay Volunteer-a-thon - April 17th, 6pm

        We've all heard of telethons, and when times are good, many of us reach into our pockets and donate funds to help support our favorite causes.

        This Sunday, April 17th, starting at 6:00 PM, Maryland Public Television will be broadcasting their fifth annual Chesapeake Bay Volunteer-A-Thon, allowing environmentally concerned citizens to pledge  time,  rather than money, to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

        "The volunteer-a-thon gives families, individuals, clubs and organizations the opportunity to come together to make a positive impact on the environmental health of our communities," said Kristin Cook, MPT’s Volunteer Coordinator for Chesapeake Bay Week™ since 2008.

        "MPT offers volunteers of all skill sets the opportunity to help a broad range of organizations, everything from trail and river cleanups to answering phones and assisting with mailings."

        The broadcast also features profiles on organizations around the state that are already making a difference by lending their support.

        More than 500 groups and individuals participated in last year’s watershed restoration efforts, led by nearly 30 environmental nonprofits—a number Cook said is expected to grow in 2011.

        "With the help of our volunteers, MPT raised nearly 15,000 hours of support across the region in 2010, the equivalent of 46 calendar days of cleanup efforts," Cook said. "Each year Bay Week and the Volunteer-a-thon are gaining momentum in our communities as awareness for protecting and restoring the bay continues to grow," Cook added. "We just want people to know how easy it is to make a difference."

        The Chesapeake Bay Week Volunteer-a-thon airs Sunday, April 17 at 6:00 p.m. Interested volunteers are also encouraged to visit to print and return this form or call (410) 581-4035. WTMD (89.7FM NPR) is simulcasting the Volunteer-a-thon, and WTMD General Manager Steve Yasko makes a guest appearance.

        To read full press release.

        Citizen Scientists needed this Sunday

        Citizen Scientists Who Want to Help the Planet, Needed This Sunday! The American Chestnut Foundation's (ACF) has been developing a new blight-free American chestnut tree on an orchard that they are renting from Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.  This Sunday, they need your help in measuring the diameter of these trees-in order to help move the goal of creating a blight-resistant strand a little farther.

         Join ACF and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission this Sunday, April 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at ACF's orchard behind 2800 Triadelphia Lake Road (Cross Street: Georgia Avenue) in Brookeville.   Park along Triadelphia Lake Road.  We will provide all of the tools-we just need your help in saving the American Chestnut trees.

        Wednesday, April 13, 2011

        Water Wise - Saving Money and the Chesapeake Bay

        Learn ways to save money and conserve water at  the Chevy Chase Citizens Association Garden Club's monthly meeting to be held, Tuesday, April 19th at 7:30 p.m.

        This meeting is the club's  annual green meeting and will feature speakers from the EPA, the DC Dept of the Environment and a landscape designer who will discuss water-smart landscaping.

        The meeting is in the Chevy Chase Community Center, Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street, NW, at 7:30 pm. Everyone is welcome, come and bring friends.

        For more details visit the CCCA website.

        Tuesday, April 12, 2011

        Can we outwit the stinkbugs?

        Last fall I wrote a post called Stopping Stinkbugs without Poisons. Since these nasty little pests are predicted to cause more problems this year, I wanted to pass along this great post I saw on Susan Reimer's Garden Variety column.

        Susan wondered if there are any type of vegetable plants that are less susceptible to stinkbug problems so she asked Ellen Nibali of the University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center what she would recommend.

        Here is some of the information from Ellen Nibali, as excerpted from Susan's blog post:

        Early crops will probably avoid the wrath of the stink bugs, at least intense damage. Also, very late crops. So, timing is something to experiment with. ... 

        we can say for certain that legumes, tomatoes, pepper and sweet corn were heavily infested last year . 

        All of which is to say, plant other crops. Try lettuce or eggplant or any of the brassicas--cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radish, turnips, etc. Stink bugs have been seen on eggplant, but no injury has been officially reported. 

        In the case of tomatoes, we suspected that the thicker-skinned varieties may have been less attractive to the stink bugs. 

        Incidentally, blueberries and blackberries were reported to have no injury. Red raspberries, I can say from experience, were hammered. 

        To read the full post, visit Susan Reimer's Garden Variety column.

        More about the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug can be found on the Invasive Species page from the University of Maryland Extension.

        Monday, April 11, 2011

        Earth Day on the National Mall - April 16th & 17th

        EPA Earth Day on the National Mall
        April 16-17, 2011, Washington, DC
        National Mall between 4th and 7th Streets
        Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-3pm

        Come join the fun on Saturday and Sunday! EPA’s Earth Day tent will contain 40 exhibits on clean air, clean water, green technology, green jobs, rain gardens, composting, an environmental crime scene and other ways in which EPA works to protect human and health and the environment. For children, eco-activities will include:
        • "Earth Tales," co-sponsored with The Library of Congress, features environmentally-themed story time, read by VIPs hourly. Saturday 11-4.
        • "Bash the Trash" will be an exciting opportunity for kids to build musical instruments from trash and recycled materials and create an “earth symphony.” Sunday 10-3.
        • "Eco Art" is co-hosted by the Capital Hill Arts Workshop and invites kids to paint an earth-friendly image on a post card, and mail it from the event courtesy of the Post Office and their new “Go Green” stamp launch. Both days.
        For more information, visit: EPA Earthday events

        Friday, April 8, 2011

        Pros and cons for a White House wildlife garden

        "I have been astonished at the small epiphanies I see in the eyes of a child in truly close contact with nature, perhaps for the first time. This can happen to grown-ups too, reminding them of something they never knew they had forgotten."

        Quote from Robert Michael Pyle, one of the world's leading experts on butterflies.

        Okay. Maybe I was wrong.

        In a previous post, I said that I thought that Mrs. Obama should start a wildlife garden on the White House property to help encourage kids to get outside to appreciate nature.

        It's certainly no secret that I feel that getting kids outside, eye-to-eye with the critters in their own yards and gardens, is a great way to encourage future generations of environmental stewards. And I thought that a White House wildlife  garden would be a great way to combine the efforts of organizations such as The Children and Nature Network, The National Wildlife Federation, America's Great Outdoors initiative through the Council of Environmental Quality and Mrs. Obama's Let's Move campaign.

        But this week in my garden, I quickly learned that I was wrong. I now believe that  a wildlife garden on the White House grounds might not really be the best way to get kids to exercise and move more.

        Why did I change my tune? Because the birds and the butterflies and the hummingbirds are visiting my yard and I've had a really hard time trying to motivate myself to move. I'm mesmerized. I really want to just sit and enjoy them, and marvel at the fact that after YEARS of tending an eco-friendly landscape, the yard has gotten to the point where hummingbirds feel completely comfortable hanging out on a tomato cage in a potted plant that isn't more than 9 feet from our front door.

        Oh, I definitely still feel that eco-friendly gardens are a great place to get kids involved with nature. But the goal of the Let's Move campaign is to get kids moving and my husband will be the first one to tell you that when there are butterflies and hummingbirds in the yard, it's going to be really hard getting me to move.

        Still, a wildlife garden on the White House property might not be such a bad idea after all. There are many Health Benefits to tending an eco-friendly garden. The kids can burn all sorts of calories digging and weeding and planting veggies. And then they can run, run, run over to the wildlife garden and sit in awe as they  munch a fist full of fresh peas or beans. After all, there are lots of health benefits in joy, pride, inspiration and awe, too.

        Let's Move: America's Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids

        America's Great Outdoors Initiative: Council on Environmental Quality

        Thursday, April 7, 2011

        Sign up for Washington Youth Garden's Family Program

        Embark upon an exciting journey with your family and others in learning how to grow and prepare fruits and vegetables in creative and healthy ways with the Washington Youth Garden's family program, Growing Food...Growing Together. Participants learn and work collectively in communal gardening areas, share in the harvest of mutually grown organic produce, and experience healthy cooking demonstrations, nutrition instruction, farmers' market visits, and more!

        Program occurs every Saturday morning beginning May 7; for the first time this year there will be rolling enrollment March through July where families can enroll in anywhere from 5 to 15 sessions. Each Saturday is capped at 25 families, so early registration is strongly encouraged! Each Saturday will feature a cooking demonstration with a local chef - check their website throughout the season to see which chef will be featured each Saturday.

        Registration for any month's sessions must occur on or before the 15th of the preceding month. Registration for May Saturdays will be closed April 15th, so contact them now if you'd like to join them in May.

        For more information about the program, visit the Washington Youth Garden website.
        Information supplied by Kacie Warner
        Education Coordinator
        Washington Youth Garden
        Friends of the National Arboretum
        office: 202-245-2709

        Wednesday, April 6, 2011

        Anacostia Tree Planting - April 16th

        On Saturday, April 16, 2011, COG DEP is hosting a tree planting with the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission – Prince George’s County, in Riverdale, MD from 9:00 A.M. to Noon.

        We have 200 trees to plant and mulch and could use your assistance.  This is a great opportunity for students to gain community service credit hours while learning about the environment in their region.

        Come and get some exercise to start your Saturday and learn about the Anacostia Watershed and Chesapeake Bay Restoration efforts.
        • Come reforest the banks of the Northeast Branch to help clean the Anacostia River and fight climate change.
        • We will be planting approximately 200 native trees and shrubs (holes will be pre-dug).
        • No experience necessary.
        Anacostia Tree Planting Event

        Saturday, April 16th
        9 a.m. to Noon
        6600 Kenilworth Ave
        Riverdale, MD 20737
        (Behind the Elks Lodge)

         Location: The Anacostia River Park  isalong the Northeast Branch in Prince George's County. Traveling north on Kenilworth Avenue from River Road, the planting site is located behind the Elks Lodge. Parking is available in the M-NCPPC visitor parking lot located at 6600 Kenilworth Avenue (Riverdale, MD).

        For more information, visit Anacostia Tree Planting Event

        Takoma DC Library Grounds Workday - April 16th

        The Takoma DC Library needs your help cleaning up the library grounds to
        get the garden ready for Spring.

        WHEN:  Saturday, April 16, 2011 from 2 to 4pm
        WHERE: DC Takoma Park Neighborhood Library
                416 Cedar Street, NW
                Washington, DC 20012


        QUESTIONS?:  Contact Rachel Meit  at or (202) 576-7252


        Tuesday, April 5, 2011

        Celebrate Earth Month at H20 Fest - Thinking Green to Protect Blue

        Help celebrate Earth Month 2011 by joining WSSC and friends on Saturday, April 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for H2O Fest - Thinking Green to Protect Blue

        This free event will be held at 12900 Great Seneca Hwy, Germantown, MD 20874 (just past NW H.S.)

        Local students, staff from local government agencies and representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Izaak Walton League will be on hand to help the public celebrate how thinking green can protect blue.

        People of all ages can learn how to preserve and protect our water source through a variety of activities and resources, including: composting and recycling information, waste reduction ideas, rain barrel/pest control demonstrations, children’s activities and recycled materials crafts, tours of the Seneca Wastewater Treatment Plant, environmental car displays and demonstrations, and master gardener tips.

        For information about more great events planned for Earth Month, visit the WSSC website Earth Month Page or download the PDF flyer here.

        Monday, April 4, 2011

        Call 811 ~ Can you dig it?

        Have you ever been out digging in your yard and realized that you have just unearthed some sort of underground utility line? If you haven't, then consider yourself lucky.

        To make sure that this never does happen to you, remember the number "811".

        8-1-1 is a new federally mandated, easy to remember number that anyone can use to have utility lines marked before they begin a digging project.

        Homeowners often make risky assumptions about whether or not they should get their utility lines marked, but every digging job requires a call - even "small" projects like planting trees and shrubs.

        When you call before you dig, you'll prevent unintended consequences such as injury to you or your family, damage to your property, utility service outages to the entire neighborhood and potential fines and repair costs.

        After all, do you really want to be the person who knocks out the neighborhood's cable service during the big game? Want to avoid spending a day in the dark? It's as simple as 8-1-1.

        Call 811 from anywhere in the country a few days prior to digging, and your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Tell the operator where you're planning to dig, what type of work you will be doing and your affected local utilities companies will be notified about your intent to dig. In a few days, they'll send a locator to mark the approximate location of your underground lines, pipes and cables, so you'll know what's below - and be able to dig safely.

        Remember, always call 811 before you start any digging project! You'll avoid injury, expense, embarrassment - and a very inconvenient day in the dark.

        Website by Water Words That Work LLC