PVC Bulletin March 2007



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Potomac Valley Chapter

North American Rock Garden Society



Volume 9, Number 2


March 2007


This bulletin is a bimonthly publication of the Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS

Jim  McKenney , Editor   jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com  301-770-1867

Next deadline: April 15, 2007



Calendar 2007

It's time to pay dues for 2007! Send your check for $15  to Margot Ellis, 2417 N. Taylor St., Arlington, VA 22207

March 10, 2007 For those who did not come to the meeting on January 27, the Production Facility of the USBG is  having another open house on March 10;  the choice of times is as follows:


You do have to register, and the amount is $3.00 per person, check payable to NFUSBG.

Mail to:  USBG Registrar
245 First St. SW
Washington DC 20024

No telephone reservations.

Fax reservations with credit card to 202 225 1561.

For additional information, contact Betty Spar, Administrative Officer, United States Botanic Garden

245 First Street SW,  Washington DC 20024, (202) 225 5002, Fax (202) 225 1561

 March 18, Sunday, 1:30-3:00 Green Spring Gardens Park:   A “Blast from the Past”  Don Humphrey

Don will share his latest garden design: a mixed border of tall perennials, a wildlife garden filled with fruit for the birds, a vegetable garden for the humans, a garden for the hummingbirds, a berm with shrubs and shade plants and...whew, a peaceful patio to rest!  Don’t miss a chance to see this garden and our forever friend.  $11.

March 31 -Dave Demers, writer and itinerant plant collector. 10 A.M. Walter Reed Community Center, 2909 S. 16th Street, Arlington, VA 22204

April 7 Bobby Ward returns, speaking on rare and unusual southeastern natives suitable for us, followed by a walk through the National Garden with Bill McLaughlin and Bobby discussing what’s out there.  U. S. Botanic Garden Conservatory new classroom. 

May 19 Our plant sale at Green Spring Garden Park. Contact Jim Dronenburg to volunteer to help.  

May 20 Our chapter plant exchange. To take place at Alcova, 3435 8th St.,Arlington, VA. Note that this year the plant exchange is taking place the day after the Green Spring event, not the week after.

June 14-17, 2007 Canaan Valley Resort State Park, West Virginia, 2007 NARGS Annual General Meeting, Chairperson  Martha Oliver, 921 Scottsdale-Dawson Rd., Scottsdale  PA 15683

July 14, 2007 our annual picnic , home of Bob and Bobbie Diebold, 505 Foxhill Road, Front Royal, VA, 540-635-9635

Bobbie invites us to arrive anytime after noon to allow time to enjoy the garden; the official starting time will be announced in a future PVC Bulletin as will driving directions.

October 7, 2007 Janis Ruksans will be here on October 7 (Sunday) at 9:30, place TBD. 

Next deadline: April 15, 2007




Bouchard, Sharon

Annapolis, MD 21409


Clark, Jan

Elllicott City, MD 21042


Cross, Monty and Robin 

Midland, VA.  2728


Lahn, Elaine 

Crofton, MD.  21114


Partridge, Terry 

Washington, D.C. 20005


Rogers, Beverly H.

Vienna,VA 22182-1701


Kathy and Bob Rushing

Silver Spring, MD 20904


And welcome back:


Wallick, Kyle

Laurel, MD 20708


PVC Member Peter Jones Honored


PVC Member Peter Jones was recently honored at the 2007 Feel the Heritage Harambee Ceremony. The announcement for the event explained “The Ceremony honors elders from Arlington’s African-American village who have demonstrated unsung leadership through their commitment to community, friends and/or family.”

Congratulations, Pete! Pete was in the news a few months ago when he donated a home-grown, lovingly nurtured maple tree for the grounds of the Walter Reed Center. He was in the news a week or so later when, sadly, the newly dedicated tree was stolen. Pete is an enthusiastic promoter of the Walter Reed Community Center, the site for our March 31 meeting.






And  Then Came Winter


      It is the eve of my departure for the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew where I will spend the next month surrounded by unaesthetic, flattened and dried  plants attached to standard size sheets of   paper and filed away in special cabinets.  The collection of these cabinets and specimens constitutes the Kew Herbarium, with more than six million specimens, one of the largest and most famous herbaria in the world. This herbarium is especially rich in specimens from Africa, and that is why I am about to make my annual pilgrimage there.  I am studying the species of the spiderwort family (Commelinaceae) for the Flora of Tropical East Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania), and the bulk of my studies is done at Kew.

     I can’t sleep.  I never like to travel.  There is a howling wind outside, and now and then the screen door rattles even though it is firmly closed.  I am thinking about gardens; no, not the ones at Kew, which are a constant temptation, especially when progress in my work is slow, but our gardens at home.

     It was less than two months ago that we were congratulating ourselves about all of the species and cultivars blooming on January 1.  With Zone 8 temperatures we were thinking about all of the new plants that we might order from catalogs.  But this self-delusion ended abruptly in the middle of January when we were plunged into winter for a month.  The joke now, of course, is: “What ever happened to Global Warming?”  The cold weather should not have come as a surprise, and perhaps for most of us, the low temperatures were still comfortably Zone 7, but what effect the prolonged cold, not to mention the recent ice and snow, will have had on the plants that had committed to flowering remains to be seen.

     We had 40 species and cultivars blooming at the beginning of the year.  During the next two weeks Crocus ancyrensis ‘Golden Bunch’, blue-flowered Crocus antalyensis, a dwarf Ornithogalum species, and the shrub Sarcococca confusa ,among others, started flowering.  A real surprise was our young Japanese apricot (Prunus mume), the seed-grown offspring of the tree that died in Simpson Park last summer.  We were certain that it was too young to flower, but it did indeed produce its first double, pink, fragrant blossoms, at least until the cold arrived.

     The cold weather was forecast, but the continued balmy temperatures through the New Year had made us complacent, and we had yet to provide the usual winter protection for a number of plants.  Fortunately, we had ordered some protective bags  (‘Fleece Jackets’ made by Haxnicks, which come in three sizes and are sold by Kinsman Company
www.kinsmangarden.com), and shortly before the cold arrived we covered the broad-leaved evergreens until we ran out of bags.   Then we used the branches of a Christmas tree that we had rescued from a neighbor’s trash.  We soon wished that we had had rustled more of them. A few pieces of burlap strategically placed here and there (also much appreciated by squirrels for their nests), some pine needles put on tender low plants, and tree wrap wound around the trunks of the thin-barked igiri trees (Idesia polycarpa} were about all we could furnish.

     Warmer, seasonable weather returned a few days ago.  As the snow and ice have melted, plants are reappearing and we have been trying to assess their condition.  The winter aconites are looking the worse for wear.  Some evergreens, like Osmanthus heterophyllus, have brown edges to their leaves.  Despite the snow guards installed a few years ago on the metal roof of the YMCA building that faces our house, sheets of ice had gone over the eaves and crashed down on some of the shrubs growing near the building, causing considerable damage.  The garden now is full of uncertainty.

     I very much enjoy my winter visits to Kew.  Who wouldn’t, you might ask. With normal weather in both places, I frequently miss a good part of the winter here, enjoy the predictably early spring there and then return to have another spring here.  A very nice arrangement indeed!  But this year we have already had an ersatz spring in January.  Our month of winter temperatures colder than normal will certainly have had some effects on the plants.   And I wonder whether it is really warming up now or are those howling winds a harbinger of the return of more cold weather. Although sodden southern England is still appealing, I long to experience what will happen next in our own garden and to see first hand how plants will have fared after our unusual winter.

Robert Faden
The Expanding Garden
22 February 2007


Guest speaker Chris Wiesinger visiting with Thornton Burnet

                                                                                                             Photo Alice Nicolson

The Texas Bulb Rustler

The guest speaker for our  January 27 meeting was Chris Wiesinger of the Southern Bulb Company. Going into this, I anticipated a Christians-thrown-to-the-lions sort of event: I had checked out his website and found that it offered a handful of plants, not one of them a “rare bulb” candidate. Our chapter includes professional botanists of international reputation, hyper-enthusiastic master gardener types, people who have been gardening since dirt was invented, professional horticulturists, folks who are probably on a first name basis with Janis Ruksans and several other confirmed bulb fanatics. Nor is it the sort of group which sits back and listens quietly: take one step out of line, Mr./Ms Speaker, and someone will almost certainly pipe up and set the record straight. What in the world would Mr. Wiesinger  have to offer this group?


A few minutes into his presentation and this personable young man (all of 26 years old!) had all of the big cats eating out of his hand. It’s been awhile since we’ve been so well entertained. I doubt if it would have made much difference if he had been talking about collecting old cars instead of old bulbs: he conveyed such a sense of his enthusiasm for what he is doing that I now wonder how many of us might have signed up to work for him had the opportunity presented itself. There was this room of largely older people, many retired or nearly so – the sort of people who have breathed a lifetime of stale office air - and there was this 26 year old guy showing us a picture of the little red house (a glorified shed) in the middle of a red dirt farm in Texas where he and his coworkers live and work: the sense of wistful longing among the audience members was palpable. We sent him on his way showered in good wishes for continued success – and wondering how a quality guy like Chris hasn’t been snapped up by some corporate head hunter. Good Luck, Chris!                                                                                                         Editor



Dick and Judy Tyler

photo Editor

The Tylers on Hellebores


On February 10, we had the pleasure of hearing Dick and Judy Tyler speak on Helleborus.  More than one witty garden writer lately has acknowledged – no doubt enviously - the huge popularity of this group of plants and their ever expanding presence in both the horticultural press and in gardens by slamming them as helle-bores. There wasn’t a bit of boredom in evidence on that Saturday morning. To begin with, the Tylers had brought a handsome selection of plants for sale, and the activity around the plant table threatened to delay the start of the presentation. They must have been good plants, because among others, even Bobbie Lively-Diebold, who evidently numbers her plants in the thousands and had to move out into the country recently to accommodate her ever expanding hellebore collection,  found several she just couldn’t get through the weekend without. 


Of particular interest were the many photos of plants growing in the wild. Dick and Judy recently traveled in Bosnia and Croatia  where such plants as Helleborus multifidus, H. foetidus, H. dumetorum, H. atrorubens, H. niger and others grow wild. Luckily they encountered no land mines remaining from the past strife in those areas. A lot of it looked like rough, squelchy going. They did a good job of negotiating the ever shifting nomenclature of this group. For the wild forms, it might be a good idea to write your labels in pencil, not in indelible ink. In the wild these darlings of the garden often seem to occur in frankly ruderal conditions. Some of these must have been the source of the red-neck hellebores which were the occasion for  some spirited repartee during the presentation.


The Tylers drew the largest attendance we’ve had at a recent meeting. I don’t think I was the only one thinking that a bus trip down to Pine Knot Gardens and a side trip to Plant Delights might be a great way to spend a day (and a bundle!).                                                                                                   Editor


Editor photos

Can't someone please find a home for these poor orphan plants?

Ha! Try to stop us! 


One final comment on these programs seems appropriate. We have been enjoying so many first rate programs recently that it’s easy to forget that these great events just don’t happen on their own. As members, all we have to do is show up, relax and enjoy the show. What you may not know is how much planning and work go into these events. Scheduling speakers is not as easy as it might seem; scheduling meeting places is becoming more and more difficult; finding accommodations for our out-of-town speakers is a challenge in itself. It might not always suit the proprietors of the Pension Alcova to run a boarding house. If there is one committee whose activities cry out for a broader based support from the group, this is it.  As it stands, one person, Betty Spar, is doing most of this herself.  Let her know how much you appreciate her efforts. And by all means, to the extent that your circumstances allow, consider stepping up to the plate when she asks for help.

 Or would you rather hear some local hayseed telling us how to grow tomatoes or pokeweed?  


Crucifers in the garden and on the palate


The cultivation of food crops doesn’t have much to do with rock gardening, but rock gardeners have to eat, don’t they? My gardening interests have had a benign influence on my grocery shopping: I’ll bet that those of us who dabble in the ornamental garden are more inclined to know or be curious about the wide variety of vegetables which now routinely appear in most grocery stores. Certainly anyone who has planted Aubrietia, Aurinia, Draba, Alyssum and the other ornamental crucifers in the rock garden has a head start in appreciating the wide range of edible crucifers. Decades ago, I remember reading in seed catalogs about rocket, rucola, roquette, old-fashioned salad greens. The trend setters got hold of it and sent it out to huge acclaim as arugula. I won’t forget the first time I tasted arugula: it was in a salad of mixed greens (mesclun is the trendy name). After encountering that taste that first time, I carefully picked my way through that salad until I discovered which leaf provided that delicious jolt of flavor.

In recent years even the corner supermarket is likely to offer a wide array of Asian greens, especially in the winter. We’re lucky in having two Asian supermarkets nearby. I’ve been trying all of the unfamiliar (to me, at least) winter greens I can spot in the local Korean supermarket.  This has become a game: I buy the vegetables and then when I get home I “key them out” in the Rix & Phillips Vegetables. Once I know what they are, I consult Bruce Cost’s Asian Ingredients to get some ideas about how to use them.

Three species of Brassica provide most of these greens: Brassica rapa (in its western incarnation, the turnip and broccoli raab), Brassica oleracea (whose western incarnations include kale, collards, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and others) and Brassica juncea (broadly speaking the leafy mustards). The ones in the Asian markets are more likely to be cultivars of B. rapa or B. juncea. In many of them the assertive bite of their wild ancestors has been sufficiently dulcified to obscure their relationship. All of the ones I’ve tried have responded well to quick cooking – here they generally get cooked only enough more than it takes to wilt the greens.

I grew up in a degraded culinary tradition which called for cabbage to be boiled. When boiled, cabbage becomes a vile, slimy, malodorous mass not fit for discriminating palates. Leftovers here, at least those not destined for my lunch the next day or for Biscuit’s bowl, generally go outside for the raccoons. Raccoons, I’ve noticed, are enthusiastically catholic in their culinary pursuits. But even raccoons won’t eat boiled cabbage. Or maybe our raccoons are spoiled?

For decades, the only use we had for cabbage was the preparation of coleslaw. Then I discovered how delicious cabbage is when quickly sautéed in flavored oils. Now there is almost always a cabbage in the vegetable crisper. 

Remember years ago when so-called broccoli raab began to appear in the stores? We prepared the first bunch as if it were broccoli – and it was so bitter that we could barely get it down. We’ve since learned the two simple secrets to enjoying all of these robustly flavored brassicaceous greens. One way is to combine them with something bland such as potatoes or cream (see the comments below about curly mustard). The other way is a quick blanching for a minute or two in boiling water: this transforms the pugnaciously pungent raw vegetable into easily enjoyed greens still vivid with plenty of flavorsome character. A quick sauté in an appropriate oil with a bit of garlic and anchovy (take my word for it, you’ll like it), and you’ll have something really delicious. Don’t omit the anchovy; until recently, I wouldn’t let an anchovy approach my lips, but with age has come wisdom.  Even our dog Biscuit will eat broccoli if it’s cooked with anchovy.

In recent years I’ve rediscovered champ and colcannon. These are similar preparations based on the combination of bland and sharp: boiled potatoes and cruciferous winter greens. A current favorite among these greens is curly mustard. Eaten raw, this has a pleasantly sharp bite and makes a nice addition to many a sandwich. If you find that bite too strong, try this: mince a fat handful or two of the mustard greens and then combine them with hot boiled potatoes; mash the mixture, add some butter or olive oil; the resulting mixture should combine the two about evenly. A food processor makes this whole process quick and easy. Now be prepared to discover the other side of mustard’s flavor. For in addition to the hot bite, mustard has a distinctly floral aroma and taste. It reminds me of the scent of pansies or of that of some daffodils. The blandness of the potatoes ameliorates the hot quality of the mustard and allows the timid palate to open up and appreciate this distinctly floral quality. Yummy!                                      Editor


 A Protected Cold Frame

Necessity might be the mother of invention, but just as often, necessity is the mother of, well, just more necessity. Two years ago some poor planning on your editor’s part found him with a broad selection of newly purchased bulbs and no place to plant them. The idea was to build another raised bulb bed, but it didn’t happen. He wasn’t sure where to plant the bulbs, but then the idea of planting them in pots occurred. The idea here was that once a decision about where to plant the bulbs had been made, it would be easy to slip them form their pots into the ground. Sometimes he forgets that his garden is already FULL. Of course, he’s in deep denial about this, and he frequently day dreams about using this site or that for some new acquisition. The daydream does not include the inconvenient fact that the area in question is already crammed with well crowded residents.

Why anyone would order one each of one hundred and fifty varied bulbs is another story. Let’s just admit that it happened. And that it necessitated one hundred and fifty pots. The pots in question are not the sort that come from Smith & Hawken. They are cut down plastic  soft drink containers (he spent all of his money on the bulbs and soft drinks, how can he afford pots, too?).

So, here’s the scene: he’s got all these bulbs which have to be potted up because he doesn’t know where to plant them. The pots will have to be protected somehow during the winter – protected from the weather and from inquisitive (raccoons) or hungry (rodents) local fauna. Did he mention that some of the bulbs are not fully hardy, or bloom during mid-winter?   

It was at this point that necessity came up with a great solution: a cold frame. Here’s a link to some images of the construction of the frame and some of its current inhabitants. See what you’re missing if you read only the paper version of this PVC Bulletin?                                Editor                                                                


After viewing the cold frame page (which is on the editor's personal web site) use your browser's back button to return to this page.



Potomac Valley Chapter of NARGS

February 10, 2007


The Board of Directors of the Potomac Valley Chapter of NARGS was called to order by the president, Paul Botting, at 9 a.m. on Saturday, February 10, 2007 at Brookside Gardens.

Board members present were: Paul Botting, Sandra Carlson, Jim Dronenburg, Margot Ellis, Linda Keenan, Jim McKenney, Alice Nicolson and Betty Spar. Jo Banfield and Alma Kasulaitis were unable to attend.


The minutes of November 4, 2006, were approved as submitted.

 Treasurer’s Report

Margot Ellis reported that there is $5,305.06 in the checking account as of 2/9/07, $5,323.15 in the CD plus $600 in undeposited dues for total assets of $11,228.21. The CD is due April 17, 2007, and the Board authorized Margot to roll it over.


Jim McKenney requested contributions for the PVC Bulletin and encouraged people to write articles for the national organization’s Quarterly. He had nothing to report regarding the website.


Alice Nicolson reported that 45 members have not yet renewed for FY 2007. A new membership list will be sent out at the end of April.

 It was noted that two long-time members have not paid their 2006 dues. A Board member will contact them and ask if they are still interested in receiving the newsletter electronically.


Following a brief discussion, the Board authorized Dixie Hougen to continue to pursue the memorial for George Phair.


Betty Spar said the next meeting will be on March 31 at 10 a.m. at the Walter Reed Community Center. Dave Demers, writer and itinerant plant collector will be the speaker. The April 7 meeting will be at 10 a.m. at the U.S. Botanic Garden and at 11 a.m. there will be a walk in the garden.

 Other Activities

-2007 NARGS Annual General Meeting will be at the Canaan Valley Resort State Park in West Virginia. It was the consensus of the Board that they did not want to organize a caravan.

 -The Green Spring Plant Sale is scheduled for Saturday, May 19.

 -The Plant Exchange will be held at Alice Nicolson’s on Sunday, May 20.

 -The annual picnic will be at Bobbie Diebold’s. Time and date to be announced.

 New Business

-The Board briefly discussed a bus trip but tabled any decision until a later time.

 -Paul Botting asked the Board if they were interested in having a rock garden plant show. They declined.

 -A tufa workshop was discussed briefly. Betty Spar offered to have it at the U.S. Botanic Production Center. No action was taken.

 -Paul Botting raised the topic of hosting an Eastern Winter Study Weekend. He said the Mason-Dixon Chapter might be interested in co-sponsoring one in Baltimore. It was the consensus of the Board that it was something to consider in two or three years.

 There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 11 a.m. to hear Judy Tyler give her slide lecture, ‘Shade Gardening with Hellebores in Mind.”

                                                                                                                Respectively submitted,

Sandra Carlson





President                              Paul Botting           301-869-3742     pmbotting@comcast.net
Vice President                      Jim Dronenburg     301-834-6515     rutlands@adelphia.net
Secretary                                Sandra Carlson      703-548-3825
Treasurer                                Margot Ellis           703-312-1147     margotellis1@yahoo.com
Immediate Past President    Alma Kasulaitis     703-312-1147  amkasul@starpower.net


Committee Chairs:

Archives and History                                          Jo Banfield                            301-762-6771

Communications                                                  Alice Nicolson                      703-979-5871

Finance                                                                  Margot Ellis                          703-312-1147

Membership                                                          Linda Keenan                       301-434-9671

Program, Education & Outreach                        Betty Spar                             703-549-0214