Central Virginia gardening

Did you clean up your garden last fall; beds all cut back and mulched, leaves shredded and decomposing in a compost pile? Or have you left the perennial debris and leaves, all crushed down now into a pile of mush lying on the beds? Either way, you can see what is left standing and it is time to do some pruning.
With a more open view and no distracting bloom all around, it is easy to see where removal is needed. Crossed branches on the Japanese maples, broken limbs dangling up in the beech and oak trees, water sprouts and suckers on the shasta viburnums and the crabapples; all are more obvious now.

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I like to visit topiary gardens in winter. Undistracted by parterres of roses or patterns of bedding plants, the fanciful forms of topiary glisten with dark evergreen distinction.
Topiary is a living sculpture where pruning is done to sharply define a shape with dense foliage. Geometric shapes are the standard, cones or hedges, balls on top of balls, spirals, etc. Some are very intricate, depicting horses galloping after hounds or swans sailing on the top of an ocean of hedge.

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Colorful Crape Myrtles can be found growing along Tufton Pond at Lake Monticello. Photo on right by Lynn Stayton-EurellAbelia, forsythia, quince, weigelia, kolkwitzia, eleagnous, rose of Sharon; these are the old fashioned shrubs which are the backbone of many gardens. None is more beautiful than the crape myrtles blooming right now. There are hundreds of selections available from 1’ to 100’, from white through shades of pink, red and purple. They come in all shapes from spiky ground covers, to weeping forms, upright and vase shaped. Many have four season interest with bright orange, red and burgundy fall foliage, sinewy limbs and exfoliating bark.
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While visiting my aging mother, my sister and I began to do some gardening which she is no longer able to do. My sister dumped out her garden tool bag and out fell a security vest in neon green. When I asked why that was in with her garden tools, she said she uses it when she goes out with the “citizen pruners” in her town.
She has taken a course with the cooperative extension service in her state to prune trees and shrubs using “correct technique, common sense, and a feel for aesthetics.” After taking the course and getting a five year license, members go out as a team with an extension leader and prune overgrown public areas. They prune bicycle paths and parks, clear brush and limbs from blocking highway signs and generally keep the town looking good. Any time a limb is damaged or there is a danger to pedestrians, the citizen pruners are called on. If you participate in the pruning program, the $100 fee is paid for you.
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A yellow finch perches on a basil plant. Photo by Lynn Stayton-EurellI am visiting an extraordinary garden where vegetables pop up in the flower border and flowers shine among the vegetables. Vegetables are often ornamental, especially if left to flower and go to seed as with cilantro, arugula, parsley and kale. When seedlings appear, they are transplanted into a new pattern for the next season’s crop. In this garden, parsley and thyme hedges surround geometric beds of early broccoli followed by green beans. Mexican sunflowers (tithonia) are interplanted with yellow, pink and lime green State Fair zinnias shading summer lettuces planted underneath.
Basil and garlic surround the tomatoes, each in its own square. When the garlic is dug out, fertilizer is added as the tomatoes set fruit. A few elephant garlics are left to flower just for fun. Egyptian onions with odd edible seed heads twist around in several places. Yellow onions have been dug but some are left to bloom with softball size seed heads.
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