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Archives for September 21, 2017

How does this Arena Stage garden grow? Artificially, it turns out.

Joe Tilford can’t remember the names of the Northern Virginia neighborhoods he and his wife, Deborah Wentworth, skulked through early last year, but perhaps you saw the couple.

“We’d find a place to park, then walk around and hope that nobody called the police,” Joe said. “We’d get up close to the house and start taking detailed photographs of the gardens and just about every imaginable surface.”

That included the lawns, the flower beds, the sidewalks, the bricks, the painted exterior walls — all were captured by the couple’s cameras. And whenever a curious homeowner emerged and demanded to know what was going on, Joe had an explanation: “Well,” he’d say, “I’m a theatrical designer, and I’m designing a stage set.”

You can see the results of Joe’s research at Arena Stage, where “Native Gardens,” a comedy by playwright Karen Zacarías, is making its Washington premiere.

The action in “Native Gardens” takes place in two adjoining back yards in the District’s Ward 3. Young professionals Tania and Pablo Del Valle have just bought a fixer-upper next door to Virginia and Frank Butley, an older retired couple.

What those back yards looked like was up to Joe.

“The set has to be another character in the play,” he said by phone from his home in western North Carolina.

Joe was tapped to design the set for the play’s 2016 world premiere in Cincinnati. The script does not specify exactly where the action takes place, just that it’s in a “stately neighborhood” in Washington.

“Trying to put two full-size stately houses on stage is pretty impossible,” Joe said. “There’s just not enough room.”

So Joe pulled out some architecture books from his personal library — he’s designed sets for 40 years — and started looking for a relatively narrow domestic style. He decided that a style known as Italianate could work.

Then came Joe’s field trip to this area. (He thought close-in Northern Virginia was near enough and didn’t venture into the District.)

“They are absolutely the same,” Joe said of the two houses he designed. There are a few differences: “One has a back stoop, the other has a deck. One is painted, the other is the original brick.”

And there are those gardens. The Del Valles’ garden — like their house — needs work. A tall, untrimmed oak tree grows menacingly, an arboreal version of Chekhov’s gun. The Butleys, on the other hand, have been winning horticulture club prizes for their garden, though never the top prize, just honorable mentions.

“This is not an award-winning garden,” Joe said. “This is an award runner-up garden.”

To get a feel for what that meant, Joe consulted with a garden competition consultant. (“There are such things,” he said.)

The consultant told Joe that Frank Butley would probably force his plants to grow in such a way that they became a thick mass of colorful blooms. Unnatural, even.

The conflict between what is unnatural and what should be natural “is really important in the play,” Joe said. And the gardens — on one side a lush lawn, neatly trimmed hedges and compact flower beds; on the other, weeds and dirt — become the battlefield.

“We used dwarf roses — two different kinds,” Joe said of the Butleys’ garden. “We used azaleas. We used hydrangeas. We used peonies.”

The flowers are made of high-quality silk. Said Joe: “From five feet away, you say, ‘Is that silk or is that real?’ They’re that good.”

Best of all, they never need watering.

“Native Gardens” — directed by Blake Robison and a co-production with the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis — is at Arena Stage through Oct. 22.

Washington may smell like a bong these days, but the hemp is gone from the National Theatre. By “hemp,” I mean the old rope system that allowed stagehands to raise and lower scenery. Over the summer, the ropes and sandbags were replaced by a modern system that uses mainly cables.

A discovery — well, a rediscovery — was made during the renovation: The National once had a much larger proscenium. When the hemp system was removed and the fire curtain lowered (for the first time in years), the tall brick wall above the stage showed a second arch.

“You really just never got to see it,” said Sarah K. Bartlo-Chaplin, executive director of the National Theatre Corporation. “Our former operations manager was in one day during the renovation and said, ‘Oh, my God — I forgot there was a second arch!’ ”

There are actually two arches. The proscenium has been reduced in size at least twice since the theater opened in 1835.

On Monday, stagehands started loading in the sets for the first hempless show, the Broadway-bound musical “Mean Girls.” Performances start Oct. 31.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit

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How did this botanical garden grow? With the unlikely arrival of a rock-star designer.

The Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf is known the world over for his ability to weave dazzling tapestries of perennials and grasses. In the United States, he has created plant combinations enjoyed by millions: at Battery Park and the High Line in New York and the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Earlier this month, Oudolf found himself immersed in what may be his most unlikely public project to date, on the outskirts of the little Delaware town of Dagsboro, supervising the transformation of an old soybean field.

A team of volunteers had just finished planting 17,000 perennials and grasses, the first phase of Oudolf’s two-acre meadow at the nascent Delaware Botanic Gardens. If cultural institutions were boxers, the DBG would be Rocky Balboa, an underdog with a seemingly uncrushable spirit.

The 37-acre attraction is due to open in 2019 with a pavilion designed by the San Antonio architecture firm Lake/Flato, a parking lot, a deciduous creekside woodland and, by then, Oudolf’s fully planted meadow of 65,000 plants. In time, the gardens’ completed form will include an enclosed and expanded visitors center, landscaped ponds, more woodland and coastal plain demonstration gardens.

But for now it has just two employees, and its unpaid president, Raymond Sander, concedes that all the funds for the first phase are not yet gathered. Sander is a former federal government executive and among a cadre of business and public sector administrators — many now retired to the beach — who have joined forces with horticultural types to create the garden.

Plant designer Piet Oudolf at his newly installed meadow. Marker flags guided the complex planting schemes for which Oudolf is world-famous. The creekside woodland is in the background. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

As beachgoers to Delmarva will know, Dagsboro is seen as more a stop along the journey than a destination; it’s about the last inland community you drive through to get to places such as Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. The garden site is approximately half a mile northeast of town on land owned by a conservation trust that is renting it, at $1 per year, to the little botanic garden that could.

Despite the challenges ahead, there’s no denying the energizing effect of Oudolf’s surprise decision to take it on, or the thrill of seeing Oudolf arriving to direct an army of volunteers on a sunny, breezy day in late summer.

Converting an Oudolf design into a faithfully planted scheme is in itself a logistical challenge. Each of the 17,000 plants — of almost 60 carefully selected varieties (no substitutions, please) — was carefully mapped out in his studio in Hummelo, a town in eastern Holland.

Each planting block was considered in relation to its neighbors. A primary consideration of such herbaceous compositions is the look of their progression through the growing season and beyond. The autumn and winter interest of their dried stalks and seed heads is a key aspect.

All the plants are stored in Oudolf’s portable database, i.e., his memory, and the combinations flow from his explorations on paper with colored pens. The result is an interlocking puzzle. “It’s fantasy based on reality,” he said.

The planting took several days, though the plants had been custom-grown by five nurseries under the direction of Barbara Katz, a landscape designer from Bethesda. Eighty-five percent of the plants are native species, typically improved varieties.

A rendering shows the entry or Rhyne Garden, named for the central canal. (Robinson Anderson Summers Landscape Architects)

Just setting out the plants in their pots required its own method of flagging to avoid unintentional placement. A total of 50 volunteers formed a workforce drawn by the prospect of taking part in an Oudolf project. Some live locally and are among the 300 members of the DBG; the others, horticulturists and nursery growers from up and down the East Coast.

Oudolf arrived three days into the five-day planting. Earlier, the team had placed a grid of stakes and strings over the polygonal beds shaped by a network of paths. Plantsman and designer Roy Diblik had used orange spray paint to mark the boundaries of each planting block. Diblik, himself a noted prairie plant artist from the Midwest, had worked closely with Oudolf on other projects and knows how to convert Oudolf’s intricate plans into actual plant layouts.

Oudolf weighed the installation and declared it correct. “He had about seven comments about the plants, out of 17,000,” Katz said. “I think we knocked it out of the park.”

Katz had befriended the garden’s director of horticulture, Gregory Tepper, and when they discussed the plan for the meadow in early 2015, she said, “ ‘Why don’t you aim for the top, somebody like Piet Oudolf?’ and he literally burst out laughing.”

Later, Katz connected with Oudolf on Facebook, and he expressed an interest.

When Sander mentioned Oudolf’s response to the project’s landscape architect, Rodney Robinson, “Rodney said, ‘If you get Piet Oudolf to do a meadow, you’ll have people come to Delaware who don’t even know where Delaware is.’ ”

Oudolf first visited the site in October 2015 — he was in New York attending to other projects — and slowly, deliberately, decided to take it on. Why? He said he saw the possibilities of it and was drawn to the fact that it would be public. He has worked on sweeping private gardens for wealthy clients, but he prefers his work to be seen. “People call me at least once a week for a project,” he said. Most are turned away. “I’m a one-man office.”

Right after planting, butterflies and bees could be seen alighting on the flowers, including a variety of ironweed named Iron Butterfly. In two or three years, the plants will mature into a foaming sea of color and form.

When I arrived, Oudolf was fussing with a central viewing mound. It was too low and the shoulders not quite right. After it was reshaped, we stood atop it to survey the newly planted beds, fluttering with marker flags. Tepper explained the role of the little hill, rising just a few feet above the meadow soil. “It allows people to not only see all the different colors and textures, but the movement from the breeze,” he said.

Later, walking the site alone with Oudolf, the rock star from Hummelo turned to me and said: “The garden scene here is small. But so much energy. It’s unbelievable.”

@adrian_higgins on Twitter

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Check out a few Treasure Valley fall gardening classes

Saturday, Sept. 23

Focal Points in the Garden: 10 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Discussing how to direct and draw your eye with plants, art, fountains, sculpture and more. Free, but RSVP at 208-995-2815 or

Saturday, Sept. 30

Spice your Garden with Seasonal Layers: 10 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Sharing tricks of selecting plants to provide a succession of interesting combinations. Free, but RSVP at 208-995-2815 or

Saturday, Oct. 7

Winter is Around the Corner: 10 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Tips for preparing your garden for the winter and adding a little winter interest. Free, but RSVP at 208-995-2815 or

Saturday, Oct. 14

Fall Pop and Curb Appeal: 10 a.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Ideas for adding pizzazz to your home for the holidays and beyond. Free, but RSVP at 208-995-2815 or

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The 1 Gardening Mistake Millennials Make That Has Martha Stewart Saying WTF

When it comes to having a beautiful garden worthy of Martha Stewart, there are two crucial things you need for success, according to Martha herself: the right tools and the right attitude. Right off the bat, Martha said you need good tools that really get the job done, because if you’re using shoddy tools, your garden will show it. “Don’t buy a crappy pair of garden clippers. Period,” she told POPSUGAR.

Martha, who has created her own line of gardening tools as part of her upcoming QVC collection, touted her own products and said they’re very affordable and will provide you with the quality your garden needs. But something she said your garden also needs, which you won’t find in her collection, is the right attitude and dedication when it comes to keeping your garden beautiful.

“You can’t forget to feed it,” she said when asked what the worst mistake millennials make is when it comes to gardening. “You wouldn’t forget to feed your baby or your dog, hopefully, so you can’t forget to feed your plants. It’s incredible how many people forget that,” she said. “They’re living objects, those plants.”

So there you have it. The keys to having a beautiful garden come down to buying the proper tools and just remembering to take care of it. Sounds simple enough, right?

A post shared by Martha Stewart (@marthastewart) on Jun 14, 2017 at 7:14pm PDT

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Tips for New Mountain Gardeners

High altitude gardening is different from gardening at lower elevations.  Combine our altitude with Arizona’s dry climate, bright air, and ever present mountain winds, and you pretty much can forget what you learned from gardening in other parts of the country!  The high country of Arizona is unique, from its water to the soil, or lack thereof.  If you’ve moved from the deserts or low country of Southern California, you really, REALLY need to read on to learn how to be a successful gardener in these conditions.  

Our local USDA garden zone is 6b with a definite influence from zones 7 and 8. This defines our area as mild, but we experience a distinct winter with nightly freezing temperatures.   The secret when buying plants is to look for those that grow in zones 7 and lower.  Stay away from growing desert plants meant for zones 10 and 11.

Low winter temperatures provide the chilling necessary to grow all the deciduous fruits and perennials that thrive in colder climates. The list includes apples, peaches, cherries, grapes, and berries. This climate also is conducive to blooming deciduous shrubs such as lilacs, forsythias, hardy camellias, rose of Sharons, butterfly bushes, and Russian sages. 

Our cool season is so mild that we can garden and design landscapes 12 months of the year. Broccoli, spinach, lettuces, cabbages, and Brussels sprouts are available at local garden centers and should be planted now for harvests at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Few places in the country allow this type of two-season harvests.  Local Vegetable Planting Calendar. 

A mild cool season also is a boon for gardeners who grow for color. A splash of flowers blooming through the snow is an oasis of cheer during our winters. Our best winter-blooming flowers include pansies, snapdragons, violas, dusty millers, Johnny-jump-ups, and ornamental kales. All are available at garden centers now and should be planted ASAP so they are entirely rooted before our cold weather makes its debut. I fully expect my garden to provide brilliant color for each of our family’s holiday parties and on through the rest of the winter. 

Never underestimate the Arizona sun, wind, and dry air at this elevation.  They are major influences in determining which plants do well in our landscapes, and which ones don’t. Informed selectivity is essential when choosing plants for an Arizona mountain landscape. This region does best with plants that have thick, leathery leaves because they allow plants to retain extra moisture and to be less prone to tearing during the area’s fierce windstorms. This is when it pays to talk to a gardening expert with experience dealing with local landscapes; it can save you a whole lot of time, energy, and expense in creating your landscape.

Mountain soils change from home to home, even on the same street.  In many landscapes, the soil in the front yard is different from that in the backyard!  You need to learn how plants react in each new garden location.  Local soils typically are either sandy or heavy clay with very little organic material. Therefore, soil preparation for planting is of extreme importance. It demands the addition of organic mulch to your soil to either hold in the moisture for granite soils, or to keep clay soils from compacting. Our soil is alkaline, so don’t add either lime or wood ashes as they increase its already high pH. Instead, local gardens benefit from additives that lower the soil’s pH.

National Forest lands surround us, so mammals can be an issue for local gardeners. Javalinas, deer, antelope, rabbits, squirrels, and gophers all have the potential to devour portions of a carefully planned landscape. Garden here for more than a season, and you quickly find local gardeners that either gave up because of the critters or have found ways to garden with them.  Local Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plant List.

This week’s monsoon rains presented the perfect time to plant new trees and shrubs.  Not only is the extra moisture a balm for new plantings, but also planting holes are easier to dig after a wet cycle.  I took advantage of the weather to plant four new aspens and an additional lilac in my landscape.

The rains prompted this week’s ‘Plant of the Week’ idea because it is such a good time to plant large specimens.  The Blue Alberta Spruce is a rich silvery blue, slow-growing, 6-foot tall conifer. Its dense branches, with a pyramidal base spread of 3 feet, form a magnificent living Christmas tree that delivers winter-long enhancement to any landscape. Excellent in front yards with limited landscape possibilities, an Alberta Spruce is a good choice to fill up bare corners or provide mass in gardens with other low maintenance plants. Dense and durable, Albertas work well as windbreaks, shelter belts, privacy screens, and sound barriers. For the money, these are perfect specimen trees.

Free Gardening Classes are offered at 9:30 every Saturday morning.  If you really want the inside scoop on local gardening come to one of Watters’ gardening classes.  They are free, fun, interactive, with lively questions coming from local gardeners.  Join us to learn more:)

Until next week, I’ll be helping new gardeners here at Watters Garden Center.


Garden Classes

September 23, 2017: Western Natives the Water-wise Landscape

September 30, 2017: Easy-to-Grow Mountain Plants
October 7, 2017: Top 10 Trees and How to Plant Them

October 14, 2017: Autumn Colors Enjoyed at Home

Photo by Cecile Vedemil,

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or

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Loropetalum tolerates pruning, but it’s better to wait for spring

Q: May we prune our two huge loropetalum bushes severely? They are enormous and I’m ready to have them be short and low to ground.
Shelley Medders, Calhoun

A: Different loropetalum varieties vary widely in size, from 18 inches tall to 15 feet high. If you mistakenly plant one without knowing how big it gets, you might soon regret your choice. In my experience, loropetalum is very tolerant of pruning. Even so, it will put out new leaves much quicker if you wait until spring to do major cutting. There’s no reason you can’t do some thinning or topping now but my preference would be for you to wait until late February if you need to prune severely at one time.

Q: Our established daylilies were hit with a string trimmer. They are now little 2-to-3-inch stumps. What can we do to help keep them alive?
Clarke Weeks, DeKalb County

A: If the daylilies were healthy before they were damaged, I would expect them to come back just fine next year. They may not produce much new growth this fall but the roots in the ground should have plenty of energy to make new leaves next spring. Fertilize twice each year, in March and May.

Q: Are you supposed to cut mondo grass? How frequently do you fertilize and with what?
Marc Cochran, email

A: Mondo grass makes a very nice evergreen, shade tolerant, grass-like ground cover. The only time I might mow it is when it’s had freeze damage. I would set my mower just high enough to take off the brown, tattered tips. It does not need fertilizing much unless you want it to spread rapidly. In that case I would use Holly-tone or Milorganite in spring

Q: I have a bermuda lawn. I did not put out a pre-emergent in spring, hence I’ve got lots of weeds. I’ve put out a double dose of pre-emergent in September.
Joseph Schlachter, Tucker

A: This is a situation where reading the label is very important. Some of the pre-emergent products cannot be used on a lawn twice in one year because they inhibit root growth. Putting a double dose of chemical on at one time could be self-defeating. Consider applying a lawn fertilizer now at half-strength to give the grass a chance to store some energy in the roots before it goes dormant.

Q: Is there a weeping crape myrtle?
Missy Garrett, Decatur

A: I don’t believe there is a crape myrtle that could be truly called “weeping” but “arching” could describe the form of several cultivars. McKinney, Texas, “America’s Crape Myrtle City” ( has a collection of more than100 varieties, ranging in size from 18 inches to 40 feet, some more “weeping” than others. How the crape myrtle is pruned is also a shaping factor. Plants that are cut severely in winter produce thin branches that arch more than branches on unpruned plants. Visit the website mentioned above to learn more about crape myrtle selection and care.

Listen to Walter Reeves Saturday mornings on News 95.5 FM and AM750 WSB. Visit his website,, follow him on Twitter @walterreeves, on Pinterest, or join his Facebook Fan Page at for more garden tips.

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Tim’s Tips: Protect your soil from the wind with winter rye

Sometimes in the winter, we get very little snow or the snow that we get can drift around the yard. When this happens, you can have bare ground in your vegetable garden. As the wind blows, the soil is stripped away little by little. Over a period of years, you can lose inches of soil in your garden.

There is a way to protect your garden from winter soil loss. You want to apply winter rye seed onto the surface of your soil when you have taken the dead plants out of your garden.

Winter rye and many other plants are used as cover crops. As the name implies, winter rye is used to cover the soil in your garden. Once the plants are removed from the garden, you will loosen the soil and apply the winter rye seed onto the surface of the soil. You can slightly cover the seed by lightly raking the surface of the soil. If Mother Nature doesn’t supply you with water, you should water the soil as needed to keep the surface moist.

The good news is that winter rye will sprout quickly. As the seed sprouts, the winter rye will put out a wide-spreading root system in the soil. The seed will put up thick-bladed, grasslike leaves. As time goes on, the winter rye will form a dense mat of these blades of rye.

Once the ground freezes, the thickness of the rye will keep the wind from blowing away the soil in your garden. Come the spring and the thawing of the ground, the winter rye will spring back to life and continue to grow.

Once the soil has dried a bit from the winter/early spring moisture, you will till the winter rye into the soil. All that green growth will give you free organic matter that will provide nutrients to your garden.

With the arrival of fall, the mice will be looking for a home for the winter. Often, the mice wind up in your home.

Many people don’t like using the snap traps because they don’t want to deal with the setting of the traps and the disposal of the dead mice. Most people would be happy to just have the mice not wanting to come into their home.

There is a product called Mouse Magic that looks like a very large tea bag. It is filled with a material that is infused with several types of mint oils. Mice hate the smell of mint and will avoid areas where they smell mint.

Mouse Magic slowly releases its mint scent over a period of 30 to 45 days. It is meant to be used indoors or in protected locations outdoors.

You want to put the packets in places where mice will come into the house, like the bulkhead, inside the garage door, and places where pipes or wires enter the home. All you need to do is to place the packets close to those entry points.

As the mouse checks out these entry points, it smells the mint and will go away. By replacing the packets every 30 days or so, you make it an environment that will make the mice not want to enter your home.

Mice also tend to build nests in stored lawn mowers, snowblowers, motorcycles and even the car you use every day. The damage that the mice can do can cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. If you place one or more of the Mouse Magic packets in or on the stored equipment, you will save yourself a lot of grief come the spring.

Don’t forget to put the Mouse Magic packets in the shed and in the summer camp when you close it up. We have been selling the Mouse Magic for many years and have had many success stories told to us.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.


Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. Do you have questions for Tim? Send them to, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.

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KATHY RENWALD: Neighbourly garden tips from Stinson | TheSpec …

Pink cleome is in bloom, artemisia frames rocks and hostas appear all over the garden.

“Here’s a tip for you,” he offers. “I leave the hostas in pots, I upsize them every other year. The pots retain water longer so the hostas don’t dry out.”

Anton also collects leaves from around the neighbourhood. They get packed around hostas in the fall and, later, lightly packed on top. The leaves are a good insulating blanket.

“As they decay, they’re a worm farm,” Anton says. “Worms love rotting leaves. But it means you gotta clean up in the spring. No doubt about it.”

Against some of the craggier rocks, silvery kale appears to be growing in crevices. Look closely and you’ll see the kale is in pots and trimmed up like standards. I thought it was intentional but Anton says it’s not.

“I grew kale from seed for the first time, four types, and it got too leggy so I had to trim off the lower leaves.”

The garden will be better in about two weeks, he tells me. The angle of the sun will highlight the autumn-coloured coleus, and the centres of the kale will develop a richer colour. Oakleaf hydrangea will start turning purple, red and apricot.

“This is a good neighbourhood; we admire each other’s gardens. The lady across the street is 87 and still gardens. I like to cut flowers and take them to her.”

That’s Anton the anonymous gardener sharing tips and flowers from the Stinson ‘hood.

Update: The dahlia pals I wrote about last week had a good showing at the Harrogate Autumn Garden Show in England. John Mooney won a bronze for his red seedling and had three seconds overall.


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