Category Archives: gardening in the Shenandoah Valley

June In My Garden


Climbing Out of the Rabbit Hole


A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King…
~Emily Dickinson

If anyone wondered at my long blog absence and reappearance, I had a flare up of my weird form of chronic leukemia (T-cell LGL) this past year, resulting in many and persistent infections. After months on antibiotics, my oncologist started me on oral chemo. Heavy fatigue accompanied the med, but she tweaked my dose, the infections are better under control, and I’m feeling more myself. Not only that, but spring, the great motivator, launched me into action. Spring fever has me sowing dozens of flowers, sweet peppers, basil, tomato seeds, potting up dahlias (to give them a head start), digging holes for roses and scouring the garden for spots to plant the many new ones I ordered.

(Native Virginia phlox and coral bells)

‘The sun has come out… and the air is vivid with spring light.’ ~Byron Caldwell Smith (1849–1877), letter to Kate Stephens (1853–1938)

I’m adding two varieties of dwarf delphiniums, and salvia, violas, peach colored hollyhocks…I started from seed. More catmint (nepeta), hardy geraniums, Oriental lilies, clematis, and lavender have gone into the Memorial Garden, or soon will. And the list goes on of roses, bulbs, and plants I’ve specially ordered or started from seed. I’m also putting in a salad/vegetable garden. It’s downsized from before but will still produce plenty of greens and veges. Mixing flowers with vegetables and herbs is a favorite of mine and is good for attracting beneficials to the garden. I’m sprinkling seed around like a flower fairy. 

Yes, I get quite tired, but after a good rest I return to the garden, digging, planting, dividing clumps of asters and phlox and, and. It’s truly a magical place, apart from our crazy spring weather that seems bent on wreaking havoc. After several days of ridiculously warm days, we’re windswept with a cold bluster and threated with frost. This is a recurring garden challenge in the Shenandoah Valley in spring. Another bullet is headed our way tonight. Fingers crossed we dodge it.

I’ve gardened forever, but my endeavors really took off when I decided to create the Memorial Garden after my dad and younger brother, Chad, died. This living memorial is also for my mother-in-law whose garden this was before me and who passed soon after my father. I got really serious about taking care of my plants and went stark rose mad. Once you catch rose madness, there’s no return, so take care. I’m now committed to caring for dozens of roses with more on the way. Can you have too many bulbs or roses? Nae. I’m also taken with Oriental lilies…

Stay tuned.

Now that I’ve recovered some energy, I might even work on my long-neglected time travel. Here’s hoping.

Lasagna Bulb Pot Garden


(Tulip and viola container gardens)

This fall I was on a bulb planting craze (typical for me), and still hadn’t lost my zeal by Christmas. An unseasonably warm start to winter lured me into ordering A Lot more bulbs when Holland Bulb Farms had an amazing sale. Boxes labeled ‘Open Immediately’ arrived as the temperature took a dive. Overnight, the ground was too frozen to dig without a drill and I wasn’t outfitted with specialty power tools.

An idea occurred. I’d seen something on YouTube about making container bulb gardens so flung myself into researching the how to’s of what is called Lasagna growing. The aim is to layer various bulbs, according to size and variety, in a large container with several inches of potting soil in between the layers. The bigger bulbs like tulips or daffodils go on the bottom of the pot and you continue upward until the smallest bulbs make up the final layer. The only snag was that I had never done this before, and any potted plants I’d ever left out over winter always froze solid. I lacked funding for the pricy frost/freeze proof pots I discovered online after learning about them from the brilliant British gardener, Monty Don.

After assembling my largest plastic, metal, and wooden pots (plus others), I fell to and filled each one with potting soil (my favorite brand is Proven Winners/P.W.) mixed with bags of compost and raised bed soil. It took a heaping lot to fill all these containers. I layered in various tulips, daffodils, alliums, hyacinths, miniature iris, and windflowers, finishing up with crocus and a generous dash of viola seed. I also tossed on Shirley poppies, sweet alyssum, tiny snapdragons and marigold seeds. The violas are thriving. All seedlings are battling for space. After every pot was crammed full of bulbs and seeded, I circled the containers in a nook outside my kitchen. Heat from the dryer vent blows that way and I figured that would help warm them. I wrapped the pots in old towels, topped with cardboard from Amazon boxes, and weighted each with rocks. Then I banked the pots with extra bags of soil and compost, like sandbags bracing for the river to rise. Over the assembly, I spread a blanket, tucked them in, and weighed it down.

You may ask, was this attractive? No. Not at all. But I reminded myself of the glories to come. Most of the bulbs survived to spring, except for the crocus that froze to mush. Crocuses were the top, most vulnerable, layer. The seeds are germinating like mad and don’t begin to have room in these stuffed full pots. Pity. I must rethink how to better do seeds next fall, but they’re coming up. Growing seeds outdoors in winter/containers really does work. Also, it’s recommended to start these lasagna bulb gardens in late fall instead of January, but my pots did well. Given enough protection, they don’t freeze solid.

I am gardening in zone 6b, in the windswept, at times bitter cold, Shenandoah Valley. If you decide to tackle this project, watch for super late season bulb sales and good potting mix. And may God bless all who grow with you.

(Tulip, hyacinth, and daffodils layered in pots.)

I’m moving the pots I can lift to other spots in the garden that need a pop of color. Safe to say they ARE hardened off now. True story.

April in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia


(In front of our farm-house)

You are likely to find me out in the garden, because the garden is where life is. Everything is green, growing, flowering, or with the promise of blooms and fruit to come.  The garden is a vibrant place, and yet, deeply peaceful, too, and ever-changing. No two days in the garden are the same.  Each day holds new discoveries. Spring is a giddy time, with so much to do at once.

Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there. ~Thomas Fuller 1732 (This is very true)

While much of the country is still buried under winter, those of us fortunate enough to dwell in the Shenandoah Valley, or ‘The Shire’ as I call it,  are blessed with spring loveliness. Not that the weather doesn’t waffle here, because it has and does, dipping back into frigid temps after luring everything into bloom. But most plants are hardy enough to withstand this whimsy. We are well accustomed to the annual dance. I cover my gullible lilies and pray for the blossoming trees.

A new project has opened up in my gardening world with the redoing of our farm pond–digging out years of accumulating silt–and the expansion of the surrounding fence.  This gives us much more room to grow our dreams, safe from munching cows, and a lot of tree planting has ensued. Yesterday, daughter Elise and I planted thirty additional trees and bushes on the pond banks, after a long planting session this past Saturday with the enthusiastic help of my three oldest grandsons. While we labored, we were surrounded by birdsong from meadowlarks, red-winged black birds, the song sparrow, killdeer, cardinals… It’s hard work, but the pond will be glorious. Our aim is to plant for the birds, water fowl, fish, pollinators, and people. I’m envisioning magic.

(One end of our Pond)

(Elise, Me, and my three grandsons after a long tree planting day)

As for my writing, admittedly it has sagged as planting and gardening take priority, but I have a new story idea buzzing around in my head. Outside time gives me the opportunity to ponder my emerging plot. How can I not be inspired while enveloped in all this spring beauty?

(Virginia Bluebells in front of our house)

“Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.” ~W. Earl Hall

“April is a promise that May is bound to keep.” ~Hal Borland

“The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s kiss glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze.”
~Julian Grenfell

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” ~Mark Twain

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
~Robert Frost

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” ~Mark Twain

***Images by daughter Elise Trissel

A Glorious June In The Garden


The Shenandoah Valley has been blessed with a lovely June this year, not too hot, and we’ve received enough rain to water the crops and the garden(s). I relish the good earth while I can. Summer inevitably gets hit with heat, drought, and bugs, but before all that, this is the Garden of Eden, or as near as I’m likely to come. The battle to survive without succumbing to nature’s harsher summer side lies ahead. But I have prepared the gardens as best I can. The plants we grow are hardy wildflowers, heirlooms, and herbs, with some vegetables mixed in. Nothing fussy.  Many of the flowers choose their own sites. And every single day in the garden is different. A perpetually changing world, magical in its way.

Below is an image of my mini wildflower meadow. I’ve ordered more seeds from Eden Brothers, my favorite site, and am expanding. I shall need a longer hose for those dry days. I absolutely love seeds, brimming with possibility. What wonders may come…all from a packet of tiny life-bearing seeds. If they grow. I can’t stop planting them to see. Then watching,  gleeful when they sprout. And waiting for the blooms, like an Easter egg surprise, because only I know what will be when the majesty unfolds. A wonderful secret to hold and to tend.

In every gardener there is a child who believes in The Seed Fairy. ~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

This would be me.