Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999

Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener

Questions and comments can be directed to - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."

(June-July, 2007)
(Posted May 30, 2007)


The traditional flower for the Memorial Day season is the red poppy. Does anyone else remember when veterans' associations sold the red crape paper poppy to commemorate the war dead? This tradition grew out of the poppies which naturally decorate some of the European cemeteries and battlefields from World War I.

If we had all the space in the world in our Fairlington gardens, wouldn't it be wonderful to have a stand of oriental poppies? These magnificent plants bloom in reds, pinks, creams, in addition to the traditional oranges.

Their blousy, crepe-like flowers rise above silver gray foliage and make a spectacular display, especially when combined with iris.

In Fairlington Arbor, off of Wakefield Street, one resident has a clump of oriental poppies near her stoop. What a magnificent display they make when in flower. This poppy goes dormant after blooming, so we need neighboring plants to cover the spot after blooming.

Unlimited Spaces

And speaking of room for more plants, wouldn't you really love an iris bed? Just the imagine the colors! And one for roses? And peonies? The list goes on and on, doesn't it?

Unfortunately with our small spaces we can accommodate only a peony plant or an iris and then have to imagine the color and fragrance of more of these early summer beauties.

And most of us have learned that roses require too much work, are prone to diseases, and do not tolerate the shade of our Fairlington gardens, so we must settle for savoring their displays in public gardens.

Shade Loving Caladiums

Many Fairlington gardeners have to contend with shade, so a frequently asked question is "What can I grow in my shady patio?" One shade loving, annual plant to consider is the caladium which grows well in the ground or in containers.

It is a tropical plant which gives bold color and leaf pattern in shady areas. You can plant the bulbs directly in the soil once it attains a temperature of 70 degrees, but it is easier to purchase an already established plant. Cool, damp soil, not to the caladium's liking, results in root rot. Too much sun will bleach the leaves; they thrive in shade and dappled light. The soil needs to be moist, not soggy.

A disease and pest resistant plant, the caladium does not tolerate over watering which results in droopy leaves. One of the newer varieties has bright yellow leaves.

Caladiums, interspersed with hostas and some "angel wing" begonias, will brighten up that shady spot! Set all of this against a background of lush English boxwood and you'd think you were in a Georgetown garden!

Early Summer Garden Tasks

  • Daffodil foliage that has not turned to "hay" (browned and shriveled up!) can be cut off for the sake of tidiness! Most of us discard tulips altogether after flowering and plant new bulbs in the fall. Most tulip and hyacinth bulbs "split" after one season producing few if any blossoms the following year.
  • Pinch garden mums regularly until the first of July to produce a more compact plant. Simply snip the plant back to a set of leaves; new shoots will arise below the "pinch", giving you a more sturdy plant with more blossoms.
  • Lady's Mantle
  • Pinching back summer flowering annuals and perennials now - phlox, marigolds, coleus, salvia, for example - will produce a more compact plant with more blossoms. Also deadheading many perennials (removing the spent flowers) will result in a tidier garden and usually a second flowering. Pruning the dead flowers of Lady's Mantle, for example, means a second set of flowers. Lilies, daylilies, astilbe, etc. will only flower once in a season, so deadheading these plants simply keeps the garden tidy.
  • Remember also to deadhead summer annuals - petunias, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, dahlias, etc. - to keep them flowering well into the fall. Also when these annuals become spindly and leggy, cut the plants back and fertilize them to give them a "new lease on life"!
  • Keep container and hanging gardens well watered and remember to fertilize regularly either with a weak liquid solution or a slow release granular fertilizer. As container plants mature, they become "pot bound" requiring more frequent waterings, which ironically washes out the nutrients, hence the need for fertilization.
  • Don't prune "traditional" hydrangeas until after flowering, if needed. Taking out some of the older stalks down to the ground will help rejuvenate the plant. Remember, most hydrangeas bloom on "old wood" with the buds set the previous season. But the newer "Endless Summer" varieties bloom on old and new wood, so deadheading them keeps them blooming for a longer season.

Favorite Plants

Most gardeners have their plant favorites - those tried and true plants that perform well each year. For me it is the upright fuchsia, "Fuchsia Gartenmeister Bonstedt" variety, available in red and new for this year, a salmon color.

By summer's end these plants have reached 36 to 40 inches and with some regular pruning, fertilizer, and watering they continue flowering into the fall. Not to be confused with the hanging variety of fuchsia, these plants become almost shrub-like when planted in the border or in containers.

Recently the Washington Post "Home" section profiled a new- for- this- year begonia, "Bonfire", available locally at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Maryland. It is a magnificent plant with red/ orange somewhat pendant "fuchsia-like" blooms. Just spectacular! I am trying some plants in the border and others in containers.

The more traditional "angel winged" begonias run a close second to this new variety, but it puts the old fashioned bedding begonia to shame! I think it will soon become a "favorite" plant.

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