Category Archives: Tips

Plants We Love: Turtleheads -- Snap Them Up!

Chelone, (it rhymes with phony and baloney) is a native member of the figwort family. It is more commonly known as turtlehead. It's not hard to figure out how it got its common name; those blooms shaped like turtleheads are so adorable that even someone who is not a fan of turtles can?t resist them. They remind me of kids running around in the rain with their tongues sticking out to catch the droplets. Chelone was a nymph in Greek mythology that offended the gods by not attending the wedding of Zeus to Hera. To punish her, they turned her into a turtle.

I started out having a lot of trouble growing this plant. I wasn't giving it nearly enough water. It is happy down by the waterfront where its feet stay wet most of the time. In my yard it spends most of its time in the shade with 2-3 hours of sun in the afternoon. It will tolerate sun if grown in consistent wetness. I need to warn you ? native caterpillars love this plant so its leaves are very often munched on. This plant is a host plant of the endangered Baltimore Butterfly. Hummingbirds visit this plant as well but bumblebees are what I usually see. It is fun watching the bumblebees climb into the ?turtle's head? and then back out hiney first just to hit the next bloom and do it again.

Don't dig this up if you find it in the wild. (Go to for a list of nurseries that sell only nursery-propagated plants.) It is easy to find the pink version ?Hot Lips? at local nurseries. I had a hard time finding the white variety but a nursery in my area (shameless commercial here ? English Country Gardens) was able to locate some for me.

Growing from 1-3 feet, deer generally don't bother this plant. The blooms come in pink, rose, white and purplish depending on the variety. One of this plant?s best features is the bloom time from late summer well into the fall. If turtlehead does not get enough water or if it is planted where air cannot circulate, mildew might become a problem. If planted in too much shade this plant will become leggy and require staking. If you absolutely want to plant it in an area that is too shady, minimize the legginess by cutting the plant back by one-third to half in late spring. Moving the plant to a place that better suits its needs (right plant, right place!) will rectify these problems. Divide this plant in the spring to share it with friends. If you have a damp area in your yard, give this wonderful native a shot. You won't be disappointed!

Playing with Plants: Pinch the flowers like you would with snapdragons to make them ?talk.? Plus, look inside turtlehead's mouth to find fangs!
  Continue reading

This entry was posted in GardensNative PlantsTips and tagged in  | 1 Comment.

Native Plants for Every Environment

Natives are great for many reasons. But to give them a great start, they need to be planted in the proper environment. Whether you have shade, part shade to sun, moisture or a dry landscape, there is a group of plants that would be perfect for that site.

If you have a shady area, consider planting in layers. Woodland plants are suited for shade or part sun for the edges of the woods.

Here are some examples.

Understory layer
Amelanchier canadensis (Serviceberry)
Asimina triloba (Paw paw)
Cercis canadensis (Red bud)
Chionanthus virginicus (Fringetree)
Hamamelis virginiana (Witch hazel)

Shrub layer
Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)
Cornus stolonifera (Red osier dogwood)
Hydrangea arborescens (Wild hydrangea)
Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)
Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)
Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry)
Virbunum dentatum (Southern Arrowwood)

Perennial layer
Anemone virginiana (Tall thimbleweed)
Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard)
Asarum canadense (Wild ginger)
Cimicifuga racemosa (Black cohosh)
Dicentra eximia (Wild bleeding heart)
Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple)
Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon?s seal)
Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
Sedum ternatum (Wild stonecrop)
Stylophorum diphyllum (Woodland poppy)
Tiarella cordifolia (Foamflower)
Trillium grandiflorum (White trillium)

If you have sun to part shade, low medium or very moist areas, the prairie native perennials can give you a full season of color. You can add some exciting perennial beds, make large sweeping meadows or, if space is limited, you can do an urban meadow.

Low to medium moisture
Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
Aster novae-angliae (New England aster)
Baptisia australis (Blue wild indigo)
Baptisia tinctoria (Yellow wild indigo)
Coreopsis verticillata (Threadleaf coreopsis)
Helenium autumnale (Sneezeweed)
Liatris spicata (Dense blazing star)
Phlox paniculata (Summer tall phlox)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan)
Monarda didyma (Beebalm)

Medium to moist areas
Chelone glabra (turtle head)
Geranium maculatum (Wild geranium)
Iris virginica (Virginia blue flag)
Hibiscus moscheutos (Eastern rosemallow)
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)
Lobelia siphilitia (Great blue lobelia)
Physostegia virginiana (Obedient plant)

Come visit Garden Gate Landscape and Design, where all of these are available. There will be more in late summer and fall! I?d love for you to visit.
  Continue reading

This entry was posted in Native PlantsTips and tagged in  | 4 Comments.

Plants We Love: Bloodroot

Warning: Bloodroot can be extremely toxic, even fatal.

I'm not going to discuss the medical uses for bloodroot. There is plenty of information on the web (and from professional herbalists, which I certainly am not) explaining its benefits and dangers. Just let me say do your research very well. Also, consider pets and children before planting it in your landscape. As beautiful as this plant is, it is not worth risking loved ones? health or possibly even lives. Continue reading

This entry was posted in GardensNative PlantsTips and tagged in  | 2 Comments.

Plants We Love: Oakleaf Hydrangea, A Seasonal Delight

My favorite shrub is oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia (querci- oak, and folia - leaf). This native plant ranges from Tennessee to Florida and west to the Mississippi River. In Virginia, we are a bit north of its native range but it grows very well here. It grows naturally in forests, along streams and on forested hillsides. Continue reading

This entry was posted in GardensTips and tagged in  | 1 Comment.

Plants We Love: Iris Cristata

Iris is one of my favorite perennial genera consisting of over 300 species. When growing iris it is important to determine the species. Some like sun others like shade and some want wet. Others can't tolerate wet feet at all. They can be 4 inches or they can grow to be over 3 feet tall. Continue reading

This entry was posted in BayscapingGardensNative PlantsTips and tagged in  | Leave a comment.

Composting in Autumn

Many of you may already know that adding rich compost to your home garden can greatly increase the health and yield of your herbs and vegetables. But by recycling some of your own household scraps into compost, you can significantly reduce the amount of waste you produce. Not only do you decrease the volume of your garbage, but you can also cut down on the pollution created by landfills. Continue reading

This entry was posted in GardensSoilTips and tagged in  | 2 Comments.

Make a Day of It at Norfolk Botanical Garden

Garden lovers should mark their calendars for Sept. 22, when the Norfolk Botanical Garden will host two great events focused on conservation landscaping.

Start the day off with the Garden Symposium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The theme of this symposium is "How Sustainable Gardening and Landscaping Projects Improve the Health of Your Garden." Guest speakers will explain how gardeners can create nature-friendly landscapes and improve the health of their gardens at the same time. Lunch will be served, and door prizes will include a rain barrel and gift certificates for professional landscape consultations. Continue reading

This entry was posted in BayscapingChesapeake BayGardensNative PlantsTipsTrees and tagged in  | Leave a comment.

Working Together to Protect Riparian Buffers

In 2010, the Chesterfield County Environmental Engineering Department and Friends of Chesterfield's Riverfront launched the Riparian Stewardship Program. The program encourages county residents to cherish and protect the riparian buffers on their land. Riparian buffers are areas of vegetation along waterways that protect water quality by filtering pollutants from stormwater runoff, preventing erosion and providing shade and wildlife habitat. Continue reading

This entry was posted in BayscapingChesapeake BayNative PlantsStormwaterTipsTrees and tagged in  | 1 Comment.

Surviving the Dog Days of Summer

It is the season of "dog days," days so hot and humid that you can cut the atmosphere with a butter knife. Or, as our grandparents said, "days fit for a dog's activity - lying in the coolest spot available." The challenge for both people and plants is to keep cool. Continue reading

This entry was posted in BayscapingGardensTips and tagged in  | 2 Comments.

Gardener's Dilemma: What To Do With All Those Plastic Pots?

I'm not ashamed to admit I haven't thrown away a single plastic pot from this year's spring planting. Right now, my porch is a sort of plastic pot graveyard, where old pots have found (seemingly) eternal resting places over in a far corner. Continue reading

This entry was posted in GardensPlant More PlantsTips and tagged in  | 1 Comment.