Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999
Photo of Tom Corbin, Gardener
Photo by Ron Patterson
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
Questions and comments can be directed to - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."

Spring Gardening 2011
(Posted March 30, 2011)

Photo of a Day Lily - Tom's Garden 2011

Tom's 2011 Garden
Click Here for SUMMER Color

(Posted June 15, 2011)
(Posted June 23, 2011)
Photo of Hydrangea - Tom's Garden 2011

Photo of Daffodil
Photo of Daffodil
Most of us remember William Wordsworth's
immortal poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" - his paean to daffodils
- from our school days:

"…all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line…

And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils."
See Graphic Below
Photo of Daffodil
Photo of Daffodil

Why begin with Wordsworth? Because the daffodils have been especially spectacular and long lasting this year.

Whereas, we may not enjoy the damp, cold weather of the end of March, the daffodils revel in it.

They, along with the Forsythia, are the true harbingers of spring! In Fairlington, we see them brightening the border or punctuating the still leafless shrub row.

Drifts of them adorn the George Washington Parkway and even banks of dreary interstates startle with Wordsworth's "never-ending line" of daffodils.

Remember, these bulbs are planted in the fall and properly planted will reward you with years of bloom. (Note: Daffodil foliage needs to mature a minimum of eight weeks in order to set buds for the following year. Do not remove the foliage until it begins to yellow.)

An excellent article on daffodils that do well in our area may be found in The American Gardener (March/ April 2011 edition). This is the official publication of the American Horticulture Society.

Thinking Spring

A couple of weeks ago, spring seemed to be here, but the recent cool weather has put the brakes on our thoughts of planting out. Don't be "April fooled"! The last "killing" frost in this area can occur as late as the end of April, so be very careful what you plant. Planting summer flowering annuals should wait until May 1 when the night temperatures usually do not go below fifty degrees.


Take advantage of early spring days to divide perennials and to plant new ones (be certain they have been hardened off and do not come directly from a greenhouse). "Hardening off" plants involves slowly acclimating them to the conditions outside. Those blooming bleeding hearts, columbines, verbenas, and salvias that are so attractive at the nursery may be "shocked" when planted too early. Most reliable nurseries still have their plants under plastic cover - a hint to the buyer that it may be a bit early to put them out!


When dividing massing perennials - hostas, daylilies, grasses, monadra (bee balm), etc. - simply dig around the clump to lift out the plant; then cut it to pieces, and replant the divisions. Be sure each division has a crown (point where leaves and roots meet) and ample roots. Consider the old tradition of "pass on" plants, and share, or pass on, some of the extra divisions with your neighbors!

Cold hearty plants - calendulas, pansies, snapdragons, candytuft, stock, etc. - should be OK unless there are days of sustained freezing weather.

Pruning Shrubs

This is a good time to prune your late-summer flowering plants like butterfly bush. Most summer flowering shrubs bloom on this year's growth, so pruning now ensures vigorous new growth.

It's also the best time of year to prune Boxwood to help promote dense, compact new growth. Don't shear boxwood; rather, remove selected stems to open up the plant for better air circulation and light. The shrub will respond by filling in the spaces where you removed branches.

Boxwood used to be only classified simply as "English" or "American", but there are now many new cultivars resistant to disease and winter burn. The dwarf specimens grow well in Fairlington's semi-shady patios and provide year round interest.


In addition to boxwoods in the patio, another small evergreen to consider is the skimmia.

Usually we see these shrubs at the nursery in the fall when they are covered with beautiful red berries. The skimmia, like most hollies, are male and female, with the female bearing the berries.

The male plant (larger blooms in the spring) is needed to fertilize the female. If you don't have both "sexes" you won't have any berries. (A little lesson on the birds and bees!) Even without berries though, the skimmia is an attractive plant, providing evergreen leaves all year and fragrant white flowers in the spring.

Unless absolutely necessary, do not prune spring flowering shrubs like Azaleas, Quince, Forsythia, or Rhododendron until after they have finished blooming.

Sometimes we mistakenly prune hydrangeas in the spring,
resulting in little or no blooms later in the season.

Your best bet is to prune only dead wood in hydrangeas now, and leave any heavy pruning until after they bloom, at which time you can remove old canes reducing about a third of them from healthy shrubs to promote new growth.

Note: The fairly new variety of hydrangea - Endless Summer - blooms on new wood, and once established, blooms throughout the summer season. It can be pruned at any time without bud loss.

Summer Annuals

After the weather settles, plant summer annuals. As you shop this year, consider planting something new and don't rely solely on the old tried and true - impatiens, petunias, marigolds, etc. There are lots of new and interesting and surprisingly easy to grow annuals.


Just take a few minutes to study the growing habits of any new plant and your garden conditions (sun, shade, part-shade, etc.) and match the two.


Just take a few minutes to study the growing habits of any new plant and your garden conditions (sun, shade, part-shade, etc.) and match the two.

When purchasing annuals consider the following:

  • Look for stocky, healthy green growth.
  • Select plants in bud rather than in full bloom.
  • Avoid plants with roots growing out of the drainage holes.
  • In planting annuals, be sure (gently) to loosen the soil away from the roots so that the plant has easy contact with soil. It is also good to "unwind" any roots that are circling within the pot. Water well when planting and continue watering until the plant is established.

    A light application of an organic fertilizer at planting (worked into the existing soil) benefits the plant.

    And don't forget about your house plants. Don't forget your indoor plants - this is the time to start feeding your houseplants with a good general houseplant fertilizer. Think about repotting them if they've outgrown their pots and summering them outside in a shady area.

    Garden Tours

    April and May are the traditional months for area garden tours providing an opportunity to visit exciting private gardens and obtain ideas for our gardens. Seeing the interiors of architecturally and historically significant homes is a bonus!

    Virginia Historic Garden Week (April 16 - 23), an opportunity to see state-wide gardens and homes, is one of the nation's oldest such tours. The Warrenton tour (April 20 and 21) features several professionally designed gardens - several designed by noted landscape architect Richard Arentz. Mr. Arentz's home, Running Cedar, is open for the tour. Complete information about all tours is available at .

    Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage is held on Saturdays and Sundays (two) from May 1 - May 22. For architecture buffs the Baltimore City tour (May 1) centers around Baltimore's historic Mt. Vernon area, featuring late nineteenth century homes of the "robber baron" kind! The Anne Arundel County tour (Annapolis vicinity) on May 21 features several historic homes, gardens and churches and two opportunities for a traditional church lunch (Christ Episcopal Church) or dinner (St. James Episcopal Church) - yum! Complete information about the 6 tour days may be found at

    River Farm Spring Market sponsored by the American Horticulture Society runs April 14 (AHS members only) and April 15 and 16 (open to the general public). This is an excellent opportunity to purchase unusual plants and shrubs. River Farm is located on the south end of the George Washington Parkway near Mt. Vernon. Further information may be found at

    Georgetown Home Tour on April 30 gives you the opportunity to see how "the other half/ third/ fourth/ fifth" live - well certainly not how I live! It's pricey at $50.00 a ticket in advance or $55.00 if purchased on tour day - but it does include a tea at Christ Church. Information at

    Georgetown Garden Tour on May 7 features 9 gardens opened by the Georgetown Garden Club.

    Tours Highlights

    Cedar Creek Farm
    Cedar Creek Farm
    Morven House
    Morven Farms
    Morven Farms

    Final Note

    Even though Fairlington gardeners are limited by our spatial constraints, it is always a treat to keep up with gardening trends by exploring noteworthy garden publications. I highly recommend the following:

    • The American Gardener (American Horticulture Magazine)
    • Virginia Gardener, and
    • Southern Living (lots of practical and easy advice for time challenged gardeners)!

    Practical Web Sites

    Gardening Resources Galore - Offers great links on "Residential Gardening", "Indoor Gardening", "Native Plant Gardening", and much more. offers some simple, practical videos on garden maintenance and general gardening advice.

    Note to Readers

    As some of you probably remember, I used to do this column for the All Fairlington Bulletin as an effort to offer to local gardeners some practical advice based on personal experience. I am always interested in who (if anyone) actually reads or uses this advice and will respond to your questions or comments. Drop me a line at and reference "Web Site Garden Column" in the subject heading.

    American Horticultural Society
    Web Site
    Photo of Gardener

    The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is one of the oldest national gardening organizations in the country. Since 1922, we have provided America's gardeners with the highest quality gardening and horticultural education possible.

    We accomplish this with the help of an impressive network of experts -- from the members of our Board of Directors, specialized Advisory Committees, National Great American Gardener Award Winners and corporate sponsors.

    At AHS you’ll get connected -- to great gardens around the world, gardening education for all levels of skill, sources of information on any garden subject imaginable, a community of gardeners eager to share their experiences, other great gardening events and activities, and much, much more.

    "Go Green"

    In the interest of protecting our environment, there are many thing the small-time gardener can do to limit our impact on the planet.

    Plant native species. The American Horticulture Society (located near Mt. Vernon), Blandy Farm (the VA arboretum near Winchester, VA), Green Springs Farm (located off Little River Turnpike), and local farmers' markets offer native species which will grow in our area.

    Use natural products. Limit the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers in the garden.

    Consider drought tolerant plants. Once established many plants, including native species, are drought tolerant. Discover them through a little garden research.

    Promote Natural Growth Patterns. Encourage the natural growth form of plants and shrubs. Sheared plants are stressed out and use more water than those left to grow in their natural pattern.

    Photo of Earthtaken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972.

    Photo of Flowers
    Photo of Flowers
    Signs of Spring
    Tom's Garden - April 2010
    Posted April 5, 2010
    Photo of Flowers
    Photo of Flowers
    Photo of Flowers
    Photos by Andy Eschen and Larry Fickau
    Fairlington Flowers - May 2008
    Posted May 28, 2008
    Photo of Flowers
    Turn your backyard into a haven for wildlife

    Fairlington Historic District Links

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