PVC Bulletin September 2006






Potomac Valley Chapter

North American Rock Garden Society



Volume 8, Number 5


September  2006


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

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


Calendar, 2006 & 2007 

September 30, Saturday, at 10:00 AM with coffee and donuts at 9:30 Jo Banfield's place,  plant exchange


October - Maybe John Page speaking on either Crevice Plants and Crevice Gardens or The Glorious Dolomites.  If this does not work out, perhaps a bus trip.

November 4 or 18 - Members' slide show, elections.  Betty has a Ruksans disc she can show. Time, place TBA.

December - still open

January -date pending, Chris Wiesinger from The Southern Bulb Company. Time, place TBA

January 19-21, 2007 Eastern Winter Study Weekend “The Evolution of a Rock Gardener” Rochester, N.Y. Hyatt Regency Hotel; hosted by the Genesee Valley Chapter; Registrar: Kate Van Scott, 555 Log Cabin Rd., Fishers, NY 14453; kpvansco@rochester.rr.com or check the chapter web site pvcnargs.org on the NARGS site.

February -date pending, maybe the  Tylers speaking on Hellebore; time, place TBA

March 31
-Dave Demers, writer and itinerant plant collector. Time, place TBA

April - still open, time and place TBA

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


Next Deadline October 15, 2006


Remembering John Mazaitis

 Remembrance and Appreciation


It is hard to speak about a friend who has recently died, and especially hard when that friend’s wife is also a dear friend. John Mazaitis was a reserved man. I came to know him through the Master Gardening program in Arlington in 1989, when Anne took the MG course and chose to do some of her volunteer hours working on the new Demonstration Shade Garden (now the Quarry Garden) in Bon Air Park. She proved to be a wonderful person to work with, and after a while John also started doing some work at the garden, which is a nice stroll or bike ride from their home off Washington Boulevard. Eventually, John ended up rebuilding some of the rubble-stone walls supporting paths and beds in that garden – he said it was by trial and error, but it certainly looked pretty good when he finished! Anne also worked often at the waterwise garden in DelRay, and I believe John pitched in on some of the multitudinous tasks Audrey and Bob Faden undertook in developing the various other Simpson Park gardens.


John was a builder of soil. He went right to the roots of good gardening and built and maintained a classic compost bin arrangement at home, the product of which was added in a regular way to his raised-bed vegetable garden as well as to the various island and berm beds he and Anne created throughout their awkwardly-shaped garden area. The Mazaitises have done prodigious feats of earthmoving and embankment creation, leveling off a very steep drop by means of a wall and stepped terrace arrangement, enabling them to plant an evergreen hedge to screen off the neighbor’s roof. I have no idea how many loads of county leaf mulch and “topsoil” they moved from the front yard to develop the splendid and verdant side and rear yards. The beds always look full and rich, and the happy plants generate lots of babies that they share generously.


John also started showing up at the MG plant sales at Green Spring to help at the sales booth – after he and Anne joined PVC they volunteered to be hospitality-persons and provided the usual coffee and doughnuts for a year or two. They were pretty regular attendants at PVC meetings and also started to attend some NARGS meetings – in 2003 they drove out to CO to the Annual Meeting there and kindly let me ride with them to the various open gardens before the meeting. From that meeting they drove on West to CA to visit their son Tom on one of several summer holidays in the Sierras that they enjoyed while Tom worked at Mammoth as a ski instructor.


Last year, during a visit to the Netherlands to visit Anne’s family, they attended a really grand European RG meeting as well as visiting a number of classic gardens, Piet Oudolf and Utrecht among them. I think John was inspired by these visits, for in the fall he created a small rock garden from scratch and enjoyed its first year of lavish growth - due no doubt to his soil prep. This last spring he created a mini-slab garden in a tin washtub, using old slates set vertically, and had begun to plant some of the mini plants gleaned from the PVC exchange. The Mazaitises are thrifty folks – John introduced me to Pine Tree Seeds, which offers small packets of standard veggy seeds at a low price, and sometimes we shared orders, and we always swapped excess veggy plants.  He liked to try different varieties of tomatoes and kept track of performance and yield – one of his standard varieties was Enchantment. The Mazaitises eat richly from their garden and economically from the markets – though one of their indulgences is regular bulk purchase of peaches and apples in their seasons.


John died suddenly after a wonderful week of walks with Anne and Tom in the mountains around Mammoth ski area, near Lake Tahoe. I could go on and on about him – how John introduced Dan and me to the joys of ice-cold Dutch gin, how every visit with them revealed another facet of John’s interest and knowledge – science fiction or classical music, for instance. Suffice it to say that we have lost a member whose interest and skill at rock gardening was just developing, as well as a dear friend. PVC is the poorer for John’s passing.

Alice Nicolson.



John Mazaitis: a Remembrance


On Friday, August 25th we were shaken to learn from Alice Nicolson that John Mazaitis had had a major heart attack and was near death.  My wife Audrey has known John and Anne much longer than I and will write about them separately below.  I remember John for his calmness, sense of humor and helpfulness and, with regard to the PVC, his and Anne’s contributions to our meetings, plant exchanges and, especially, to the 2002 NARGS Eastern Winter Study Weekend. 


The 2002 Eastern Winter Study Weekend, which the Potomac Valley Chapter hosted, was memorable for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which was the difficulty in dealing with the hotel in the wake of 9/11.  But mostly I fondly recall the way that members stepped up to help at critical times.  Early on in the preparations, Anne Mazaitis started working with Audrey in propagating and otherwise getting living plants ready for our chapter’s very successful plant sale at the meeting.  John started helping Audrey in the background with the accounts for the meeting.  She was “acting treasurer” but only by default and hated doing it.  When John recognized that we needed help he agreed to shoulder that responsibility. 


Two incidents come to mind.  One was a committee meeting during which we were discussing the costs for the speakers.  John mentioned that he had managed to save us some money by booking one of the speakers to arrive at BWI, the least convenient airport for most of us.  “You will be picking her up, won’t you?”, someone inquired, and indeed John did.  After the final session of the meeting was over, on Sunday morning, our organizing committee, including John, met to discuss the hotel’s handling of the meeting, and everyone including normally mild-mannered John was hopping mad about several shortcomings of the hotel.  The committee’s united and forceful stand got the hotel to reduce its bill by several thousand dollars, providing part of the nest egg that we have been living off ever since.

I will miss John’s quiet good humor and charm, characters that we can never have too much of.

 Bob Faden

Chairman, 2002 Eastern Winter Study Weekend



An Appreciation of John Mazaitis


John Mazaitis, a dear friend, was the kindest and most thoughtful person I have ever known.  Anne Mazaitis and I met as Master Gardeners working on the then new Sunny Garden in Bon Air Park, Arlington in the early 1990s.  A few months later Bob and I heard of an old house in Arlington that was to be destroyed, garden and all.  People were allowed to salvage removable items, including the plants, before the bulldozers did their worst.  We were looking for flagstones and were not disappointed.  As we were selecting them and loading them into our car we realized that we had some tough competition from a teenage boy who was also gathering flagstones and guarding his stash.  The race was on.  Presently his parents arrived, and they proved to be Anne and John.  It was the first time that we had met Anne’s family.  Tom (their son) always remembers the day of the rock grab, and we laugh about it.

Anne subsequently became my right hand helper in establishing the Water-wise Garden in Simpson Park, Alexandria.  She recruited John to produce the handout plant list for self-guided tours of the garden, which was updated regularly.  John also came to the gardens to lend a hand with the heavy work, both in Simpson Park and on the YMCA.  He was a hard worker and planned ahead so he always had the right tools handy. 

 Through the years, when Bob was traveling, I spent many evenings with Anne and John at the Dehli Dhaba restaurant, Arlington, or in their cozy home, where John would help prepare the meal.  This usually contained wonderful vegetables from the garden.  Before I left we would take a bag and collect some of the garden bounty for me to take home.  Those happy times spent with Anne and John meant a great deal to me.  Their love and respect for each other were an inspiration.

 I shall greatly miss John’s quiet presence at the PVC meetings.  I feel so sad that he did not have more time to follow his recent passion for growing alpines.  We would all have benefited from hearing about his ideas and successes.

 Audrey Faden



Election of new officers to take place at the November meeting

The Board of Directors has submitted the following slate of officers for 2007:

    President - Paul Botting
    Vice President - Jim Dronenburg
    Treasurer - Margot Ellis
    Secretary - Sandra Carlson
    Past President - Alma Kasulaitis




Thanks to all members who contributed time and/or plants to our booth at the annual Green Spring Park plant sale. We cleared about $1000, which will help our program committee pay for a couple of speakers during the year. We tried to keep track of everyone who contributed to the plant sale, hoping to thank you in print, but that proved impossible. We would like to give special thanks to five members who contributed an enormous amount of plants: Bobbie Diebold, Jim Dronenberg, Bob and Audrey Faden, and Alice Nicolson. Several members helped set up on Friday, worked the booth and helped tear down on Saturday:  Bob Bagwill, Bobbie Diebold, Dixie Hougen and Merry Bruns. Special thanks go to Treasurer Margo Ellis and her co-workers for keeping track of the money. And thanks go to members who bought our plants. We had a good time making some money for the chapter and providing good plants at a terrific price.                                                                                                                                                               

Mary Bruns and Dixie Hougen   



A sometime column by Robert Faden

The Downs and Ups of 2006


This year has been something of a disaster for the plants in our Alexandria gardens, including the YMCA and Simpson Park.  No doubt we have lost lots of little plants, but we generally consider them “the cost of doing business,” and they don’t make big holes in the landscape.  But we have also lost a number of woody plants, and their demise, after years of investment in them, is more noticeable and disappointing.

The reasons for the deaths were varied.  It was tempting to blame everything on the weather – drought, then deluge, then more drought – and on our inability to keep everything watered, but that would be too simplistic.  The deaths of some trees and shrubs may have been attributable to the weather, e.g., the Osage orange that blew over when the ground was very wet, and the Franklinia tree that showed a brief flush of growth after our 12 inches of rain in late June but resumed its final downward spiral thereafter.

Other woody plants died for seemingly different reasons, some obvious and some rather mysterious.  The large sassafras tree that came with the Y had been declining for years.  This year it barely pushed out a few leaves per branch and finally succumbed.  We considered at first that its decline and final death might have been due to the neighbor’s rapidly growing black walnut tree, but recently we read that sassafras is a species that can grow with walnuts and is not affected by juglone, the toxic chemical from the walnut’s roots. Moreover, all of the numerous sassafras suckers are doing well.

Another mystery was the death of the bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) that we had grown from seed and was about seven or eight years old.  It had started leafing out in the spring, and then the leaves abruptly stopped expanding, despite the tree’s being watered regularly.  We finally concluded that someone who had been helping us control the weeds around the bases of the trees by spraying Roundup may have done so on a breezy day, with fatal consequences for the magnolia.  We will never know for sure.

The tree that I was saddest to lose was perhaps the Japanese apricot (Prunus mume), one of the original plantings in the Simpson Park gardens. It was always an excellent winter bloomer with very fragrant, double pink blossoms.  It had a poor graft however, and the base produced shoots much faster than did the top.  We also learned some years ago that at the slightest hint of drought the leaves of this tree would dry up, and no amount of later watering could revive them.  This happened every year but the one when we had an unusually wet summer.  The tree had been declining for several years, and when a major limb died in the spring, we feared that the tree’s life was coming to an end.  Ultimately, borers did it in, we concluded, and some stalwart helpers chopped it down and chopped it up, and even got the base out of the ground.  We replaced it in August with a ‘Miami’ crape myrtle, which should be much more drought tolerant.  Last fall we planted out on the Y a sapling Prunus mume, grown from seed a few years ago of the tree that just died.  We hope its flowers will be as good as its parent’s.

 I don’t want to end this piece on a negative note, although I could list some additional losses.  Instead, let me note a few firsts.  We greatly enjoyed the flowers but felt little parental pride for the raceme-flowered redbud (Cercis racemosa), originally purchased as a seedling from the National Arboretum, that bloomed for the first time this year, or the single-stem form of Chinese fringetree (Chionanthus retusus), purchased from Woodlander’s Nursery, that also had its first flowers.  However, the seven-year old parasol tree (Firmiana simplex), which we had grown from seed, has truly made us proud.  Its continued excellent growth yielded some strange protuberances at the ends of many of the shoots.  In June they expanded into loose, many-flowered inflorescences that were visited by numerous medium-sized, slow-flying bees of a species that we had never seen before.  Now the tree is covered with many strange fruits.

We are developing two new gardens areas, both on the YMCA.  The tree-sized suckers of the deceased sassafras and a catalpa, just outside the Y property line, provide some shade for what will be a shrub border of native trees and shrubs.  We have already planted the native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) and two species of viburnum, V. nudum (possum haw) and V. prunifolium (black haw), and we have more than enough other plants in pots to fill up the rest of the space.

Our other project was started two years ago in the remediation ditch at the north end of the Y parking lot.  This depression is supposed to collect the runoff from the parking lot and the Y building, but it never actually fills up with water.  We had noticed in past years that the few native herbaceous plants growing wild in the ditch, mainly asters and goldenrods, seemed to attract butterflies and grasshoppers that were otherwise rare or lacking in the gardens.  We thought that by gradually replacing the weeds, such as Bermuda grass and crabgrass, with a diversity of native plants of prairies, meadows and fields, we could further increase insect diversity.

Our plants have come from two main sources: Master Gardeners’ plant sales at Green Spring and the going-out-of-business sale by Windy Hill Nursery last summer.  Because we still need large numbers of plants, we may try to raise more from seed, although we will have to settle for the species that will be available, rather than the ones that might be most desirable.  So far we have planted more than 30 species in the “ditch meadow garden.”

Now if we can only figure out how to discourage kids from sledding into the ditch and through the beds on snowy days next winter!                              

Robert Faden



After several false starts, there is finally a well-sited plant of the vesper iris, Iris dichotoma, in the garden. Although I’ve grown this plant on and off for years, the puny examples grown in the past gave little indication of its potential ornamental value. This year’s plant reveals the many good qualities of this old garden plant.

Do you know Iris dichotoma? It’s called vesper iris because its flowers open late in the afternoon. This year it began to bloom at the end of July, and now at the beginning of September it is still blooming freely. Every day there is a new set of blooms. The flowers are small  (think crested iris) and are produced on scapes about eighteen inches or two feet high. Although they have one of the typical iris shapes, something about the flowers reminds me of those of many  Tricyrtis. It may be the color: the vesper iris is a pale gray-blue blotched Trycyrtis-style with dark purple. There is a slight fragrance, although I don’t know how to describe it. It reminds me a bit of the odor of the flowers of  Iris graminea.

There happen to be some lavenders blooming near the iris, and they make a nice combination. The flower colors harmonize, and the foliage styles make a nice contrast. I have not tried it yet, but Iris dichotoma and so-called  Lycoris squamigera (almost certainly a clone and not a species) bloom at the same time and should combine handsomely.

Iris dichotoma is sometimes named Pardanthopsis dichotoma, although current practice is to include it in the genus Iris.  That name Pardanthopsis is the source of part of the name of the “candy lilies” ×Pardancanda norrisii. The other parent was the plant long known as Belamcanda chinensis. Belamcanda chinensis is now being called Iris domestica, so what was once regarded as a bi-generic hybrid with the nothogeneric name  Pardancanda becomes yet another Iris.

If you give the vesper iris a try, keep in mind that it can be short lived. It’s quick and easy from seed, so keep an eye on the seed capsules and sow a few yearly just in case the parent plant exhausts itself.


Iris dichotoma



Another odd little plant for late summer interest is the plant often called, among other things, Scilla scilloides. To my eyes it looks like nothing so much as a deciduous Liriope. It’s dormant during the summer, but out of the blue it appears in late August with six to eight inch scapes bearing tiny pink flowers in a spike. The foliage begins to grow at the same time, and it remains throughout the winter and early spring. It takes a lot of these to make much of a color effect, and even in a mass the effect is fleeting, but the plant grows readily from its freely produced seed. Over the years, this plant has had other names – Scilla chinensis among them. Recent reworking of the genus Scilla in its old broad sense gives this plant yet another name: Bernardia japonica. The photos below were taken by the Editor on a recent visit to Bobbie Lively-Diebold's garden.


Scilla scilloides




Now on to another topic and another plant: there are rock gardeners who eschew tall plants; some go so far as to exclude anything which exceeds a certain height, say six inches. Others among us go for plants which form low masses of foliage topped by an inflorescence of any height. Genetic dwarfs of conifers have their following, but most of us, on the other hand, show little enthusiasm for dwarf seed grown strains of ornamental herbaceous plants. How many of you have ever slathered the summer rock garden with dwarf scarlet sage?

I happen to like sunflowers, especially tall, late-blooming sunflowers such as Helianthus salicifolius. This one tops out at seven or eight feet: it’s hardly a rock garden plant. I recently bought a purportedly dwarf form of this plant, Helianthus salicifolius ‘Low Down’. It has formed a spiky dome about a foot high and a bit more across. Flower buds are now differentiating, so it looks as if the blooming plant will be under a foot and a half high. This might turn out to be that good rock garden sunflower I’ve been looking for! Look for an image of the blooming plant in the next PVC Bulletin.

The fourth plant is a pass-along plant distributed by Jim Dronenburg at the last chapter plant exchange; Jim said it was easily grown, not hardy, would bloom in late summer, was easily wintered as a house plant and was a member of the genus Bulbine. A search of Google images gives a likely match: Bulbine frutescens. It turns out that this species is widely planted and well known in mild-winter areas well south of here.  Until it blooms, it looks like a small Aloë. The individual flowers soon fall off cleanly and (in my plants at least) don’t set seed. How big will it get? The specific epithet frutescens means “becoming shrubby”; we’ll see. So far it has done everything Jim said it would. Next year I’ll try it in some big terra cotta pots with other summer bloomers.                Editor


Bulbine frutescens


The deadline for submissions to the next PVC Bulletin is October 15, 2006.