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Public Rose Gardens Showcase Toxic Perfection

Public Rose Gardens Showcase Toxic Perfection

yjyuyIt’s a Victorian-style garden comprised mainly of hybrid tea roses, which, particularly in this hot and humid climate, require the regular spraying of fungicides and pesticides to perform as required. After all, they’re here to do a job – to enhance the aesthetics of this wonderful building using historically compatible plants and style.  But a mere 9 years after it was created, to my eyes the garden is already an anachronism because we’ve turned a corner (finally) in the U.S., and toxic landscaping practices are no longer acceptable.

Next, I spoke with Shelley Gaskins, the horticultural curator in charge of making those gardens perform their job duties.  Very nice person. She confirmed the regular schedule of spraying for these roses, even the ‘Knockouts’ now included in the collection, and the reason for it: in such a high-traffic area, it’s not acceptable to let the plants defoliate (lose their leaves and look crappy).

So of course I asked the obvious question: Has any thought been given at the Smithsonian to switching to plants that don’t need such a toxic diet, like the new easy-care roses?  The answer: People don’t have the same emotional reaction to shrub roses as they do to hybrid teas, which we associate with our grandmothers.  In other words, the Smithsonian believes or maybe even knows that this is what tourists want.  I have to say I think that’s probably true, but should tourists get what they want in this case?  How about transitioning to a garden that would showcase a different kind of beauty, one that not only looks more natural, but IS more natural.  Not to mention toxin-free.

I didn’t say all that, I just asked the final question:  What would it take to get the decision-makers to plant something different? Lobbying.  I should have guessed, this being Washington.

Now just 3 blocks away is a very different kind of rose garden – an organic one.  It’s a feature in the new National Garden, next door to the U.S. Botanic Garden.  Because most of the space is devoted to the sparse, ultra-native Regional Garden, which we hope will fill out and lose its sparseness in due time, the very formally-styled First Ladies Water Garden and  Rose Garden
look a bit out of place here.  And the weird mix of styles probably reflects the various funding sources but hey, at least the roses don’t get sprayed.  Margaret Atwell, the rosarian for this garden, tells me that unsuccessful plants ARE being ripped out.  That’s the kind of tough love I give almost all of my plants.


Both gardens – the National Garden’s organic rose garden and the Smithsonian’s stinky chemical garden – have plant labels, which is a good thing.  But if the chemically addicted roses are going to stay there, how about adding a sign telling the public the kind of care required for them to look so good?  At least educate.

Now can we please revisit the notion that our grandmothers grew hybrid teas?  I remember the Iowa garden of my own grandmother as a riotous mix of colorful plants that included roses of
some kind, but what impressed me no end was the swarming mass of pollinators it attracted, especially hummingbirds. And the childhood memory that I DO have of hybrid tea roses is of a neighbor’s large rose garden, which was always infested with Japanese beetles.  We kids loved grabbing them and dunking them in the many nearby insect traps.Helping to protect this man’s plants from insects was a mission we totally bought into.

Garden & Backyard

The Truth about Tree Boxes

The Truth about Tree Boxes

ffytNow that tree planting time has arrived, I just finished two Citizen Forester classes at Casey Trees and came away with this startling revelation: Our city’s tree boxes are all wrong.

We pass tree boxes everyday, everywhere. They are those rectangular spaces between the curb and the sidewalk where typically a tree has been planted and typically some neighbor has boxed in the box with 4 x 4s or 2 x 6s, poured in more soil and tried to grow a bumper crop of pansies or irises or even sunflowers. Sometimes the barriers are more elaborate: wrought iron, say, or decorative metal posts with black chains strung in between. And sometimes the plantings include exotic grasses or ivies or, in many cases, just a tall bunch of weeds.

Truth is all of that stuff is bad for the trees and bad for the city. I’ll explain why in a moment. Suffice to say, the best thing we could do with those tree boxes is simply apply a layer of quality mulch to hold in moisture and inhibit weeds. Then water the tree on a regular basis and leave it alone.

You’ve all wondered, I’m sure, who keeps planting all these trees and why many of them seem to wither and die. Well, as we learned in Citizen Forester class, that strip between the curb and sidewalk that exists just about everywhere in the city is the domain of a small agency called the D.C. Urban Forestry Administration. This agency used to be under the Department of Public Works.  But it was moved to the Transportation Department, enabling the city to use federal highway funds to plant trees.

As you know, the city has lost much of its tree canopy in recent decades. Trees are vitally important to create shade in the summer, provide habitat for wildlife and turn the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into oxygen we can breathe. Trees also transpire moisture into the air that later becomes rain. Mature trees lining a street or avenue even have a calming affect on traffic.

Almost all of the trees planted in tree boxes are the responsibility of the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA).Except the city doesn’t plant all the trees. That is the job of one contractor hired by the UFA.

Many of the trees don’t survive.  Sometimes, explained Urban Forester Duff McCully, that’s because the tree was planted improperly. Sometimes mulch is piled up like a volcano around the base of the tree, starving the tree of water or making a home for disease. Some trees are run over by cars or destroyed by rough-housing kids. Sometimes trees are killed by people who just hate trees. (Hard to believe, but McCully insists that not everyone is a tree lover.)

Mostly, though, newly planted trees fail to survive the critical first two years because people don’t water them, and are doing all kinds of wacky “gardening” things to the tree boxes. (You thought the city was responsible for watering those young trees? Think again.)

For instance, any barrier, whether wood or metal, that is placed around the tree box prevents water from running off the sidewalk and into the box. Not only does this deprive the young tree of water it needs to survive, it means more water running into the storm drains, carrying pollution into the watershed. These days, we need all the open soil we can get so that water finds its way back into the earth rather than carrying pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay.

Often after a would-be gardener builds his box around the tree box he then piles in more soil to create a place to plant flowers or shrubs. But the extra soil starves the young tree roots of air and water and creates a perfect environment for disease to attack the tree. In addition, plantings such as most perennials, grasses and ivies create a matt of roots that further restrict the flow of air and water to the tree’s roots.

The final irony: the stuff the gardener plants in the tree box often dies from neglect. How often do you run a hose out to your curb? Then after everything in the tree box is dead, the box becomes a perfect receptacle for beer bottles and other garbage.

If planting anything at all in a tree box, the best choice is some small annuals around the edge of the box. Otherwise, the ideal approach for a young tree is to cover the area with a 1-inch layer of mulch, such as cured hardwood chips or bark. Don’t mound the mulch in the middle. Mound it around the edges to create a saucer shape so that water runs from the outside of the box toward the tree.

Water the tree regularly, especially during hot weather when trees are transpiring like mad.

Casey Trees is working on a more perfect tree box design. D.C. Urban Gardeners will be doing what it can to get this message out to the public and help save our young trees. Do your part by not trying to create a garden in your tree box. And give your tree the water it needs .

Garden & Backyard

City Gardening Magazine

City Gardening Magazine

fgftgtCity Gardening magazine is written for the gardening hobbyist (non-professional) and gardening professional who grow and cultivate flowers, fruits, herbs, shrubs, trees and vegetables in a city. We define a city as a distinct and demarcated area that consists of a population density of a minimum of 6,000 people per square mile. City Gardening will provide articles and reports about the unique features, challenges and ultimate benefits of gardening in the considerable artificial environment of the city. Through well researched and well written editorial content, City Gardening will enhance the understanding, appreciation, and skills of the gardening hobbyist and the professional gardener who will practice their hobby or profession in the city.

Each issue of City Gardening will consist of three to four feature articles on a wide range of gardening topics of direct concern to America’s city inhabitants. Two to three gardening projects are included to help enhance the garden skills of readers. Other departments in the publication include news summaries, letters from readers, profiles of city gardeners, and occasional essays by the publisher and editor.

The editor and founder of City Gardening is Truby Chiaviello. For almost 20 years, Chiaviello has worked in the publishing business at almost every level. He has worked for a number of newspapers and magazines as a publisher, reporter with beats on crime, politics and the environment, managing editor, circulation manager and advertising sales manager. Chiaviello conceived of the idea of publishing City Gardening magazine when he and his wife moved to Washington, D.C., and started and maintained a vegetable, herb and flower garden in their small front yard. In his own words:

“I have always loved cities. I grew up just a few miles outside New York City. I have always been fascinated by the amazing diversity of people, shops, and buildings you will see in a city. However, when my family and I began to garden in Washington, I came to the conclusion that the plants, flowers and trees grown in America’s cities dwarfs all other city characteristics when it comes to diversity. Indeed, the last thing that comes to your mind when you think about a city is plants and flowers. Surprisingly, more than the suburbs or rural areas, cities are home to an incredible number of different flowers, vegetables and trees, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the country. The untold story of America’s cities is its gardens.

“My idea behind City Gardening is to convey to the world the dynamic and continuing story of the vibrancy, challenge and beauty of today’s private and public city gardens. We hope City Gardening will ensure the continuingm interest and enhancement of skills of America’s city inhabitants with regard to gardening so that gardens remain a cherished element and characteristic of America’s cities for years to come.”

Interior Design

The Best Alternatives to Teak Coffee Table

The Best Alternatives to Teak Coffee Table

jiloloSince coffee tables come in different materials, teak coffee table is considered as the best to opt for. Besides, metal, rattan, and glass are other options commonly used. Before settling into other materials, take into considerations like how long you desire the table for last? How often you will able to clean the table and many more.

Teak is the most popular choice for many furniture including coffee tables. It proves a traditional yet timeless material available. Luckily, if you cannot afford to buy this, there are a wide range of wood materials you can take into consideration as well. Some alternatives also offer similar combination of durability and beauty as teak at a lesser price.

The Best Wood Alternatives to Teak Coffee Table

The main benefit of teak wood is that it’s a solid wood that come with natural oil to protect from fungus, pets and weather. High cost is the only drawback to teak generally because of its inadequate availability. Alternatively, you can pick other solid woods that mutually look great especially for wooden furniture.

Let’s see in detail what best wood alternatives to teak coffee table that enable you to low-down your budget. First is Acacia wood. This is named as another variety of hardwood commonly used for coffee tables. You can use it if your budget is extremely low.

Next, there is Eucalyptus wood that’s natively from Australia. It is known as the koalas’ food. It produces oil that generally used for beauty and health products. It is assumed as an outstanding hardwood and able to last up to twenty five years with the elements untreated. By choosing it for your coffee table, you can save the cost significantly instead of choosing teak coffee table.

Furthermore, there is Shorea wood. It is natively from Southeast Asia and India. Similar to teak, it also has natural oil content that makes it resistant to insects and rotting. It has golden color looks like a teak and sometimes heavier. It means it has higher solidity due to the tighter particle.

As mentioned above, it is possible to get considerable savings if you can’t afford to buy teak wood for coffee table. You can save more money without too much sacrifice in term of wood quality as they are also durable and attractive. Teak coffee table is still the best option. However, if you want to save money by choosing those options, you will not be dissatisfied with your verdict.