Over The Garden Fence: Blogs From The Merrifield Garden Center Team
By David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist
This amazing opportunity is open to everyone, regardless of age, experience or physical abilities. However, only those with patience, commitment and vision will succeed. Be one of the few and the proud - grow your vegetables, herbs and flowers from seed.
Planting seeds, nurturing them to maturity and harvesting the fruits of your labor is truly participating in the wonders of nature.
Seeds contain a tiny, embryonic plant, a bit of food and water - all wrapped together inside a protecti
ve cover. Your job is to provide a safe, comfortable home for these plants to thrive. If you have decent soil, sunlight and keep the soil moist, the plants will do the rest.
Since we’re all tired of winter and can’t wait until warm weather arrives, sowing seeds indoors is a great wayto get started. You can begin planting your seeds indoors about four to six weeks before the date that they will be planted outdoors. That means now!
Cool season plants, such as lettuce, broccoli, parsley and sweet alyssum, will tolerate a light frost and can be planted two to four weeks before the average frost date. Warm season plants, such as tomatoes, basil and zinnias, will perish in cold temperatures and need to be planted two to four weeks after the average last frost. For most of the area around Merrifield Garden Center, the last frost date is typically between April 20 and 30.
Being able to select unusual varieties is a big benefit of growing plants from seed. Purchasing your garden seeds from Merrifield Garden Center allows you to choose from six different suppliers at the same time. If you want to grow purple tomatillos, striped tomatoes and green zinnias, you can find them all here at MGC - along with all the supplies you’ll need to successfully grow plants from seed.
In addition to seeds, you’ll need containers and seed starter mixture for growing your plants, a small watering can or mister to keep them moist and - most importantly - bright light so that your plants can begin producing food for themselves as soon as the seed germinates.
A sunny window is good, but it often doesn’t provide enough light to grow healthy plants. If the seedlings don’t get enough light, they become thin and leggy. A grow light, which produces the full spectrum of light, can be very useful and should be left on 14 to 16 hours per day.
Check your plants daily to be sure the soil is moist - not wet. As the seeds start to sprout and the first leaves appear, you can begin to fertilize with a very dilute mixture of all-purpose fertilizer. About this time, something strange will happen. You’ll begin bonding. In my case, it started one morning while having a cup of coffee. I began talking to my seedlings! Don’t be alarmed if you start naming your plants or play music for them.
When the seedlings are 2” to 4” tall, they’re ready to move outdoors. Don’t do this hastily. It takes a bit of time for them to acclimate to the sun and wind of life outdoors. Place them in a sheltered, slightly shaded area for about five to seven days to get them adjusted before planting them in your garden.
You’ll still need to check on them frequently and continue to care and protect them. As time goes by, they won’t need you as much or as often. But that’s OK. It is nature’s way. Who would ever think planting a seed could be such a life changing experience?
Posted: 3/20/2013 12:18:21 PM
By David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist
During a recent visit with my mother, I found this 1962 photo of my visit with Santa.
I’m the one on the left. My older sister, Kay, is standing behind me and my younger brother, Steven, is pulling my hair. This picture has brought back many fond holiday memories and leads me to think about how much our lives have changed over the past 50 years.
At the time of this photo, we lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment. Our holiday decorating was limited to one small Christmas tree. Our family would all climb into the ’57 Chevrolet to drive around the area and look at our neighbors’ amazing Christmas lights and decorations.
I was too young to understand the full meaning and significance of Christmas, but I sure could grasp the concept that Santa was going to bring a gift to all good boys and girls! I was fully, 100% consumed with desire for the Big Bruiser Wrecker Truck (battery operated with flashing lights, wrecked car and repair kit). Nothing else seemed to matter. I just needed to behave, make it to Christmas and maybe the Big Bruiser would be mine.
I also remember - with some embarrassment - the year we switched from a fresh cut tree to an artificial tree, which was made of silver foil. It came with a spotlight and a revolving color wheel so the tree could change colors every few seconds.
Wow, have things changed! Montgomery Ward, where we went to visit Santa, is out of business. Phones areused to take photos, children ask Santa for computers and a Big Bruiser now costs $329.95. Artificial Christmas trees outnumber fresh cut trees and energy efficient LED lights are replacing incandescent bulbs.
All these changes also remind me of the quote: “The more things change, the more they stay the same. “ Even though technology, economics and politics are changing how we live, holiday memories and traditions are still coming to life at Merrifield Garden Center.
Children who came to visit “The Real Santa” at Merrifield years ago are now bringing their own children to Merrifield to meet Santa. And even though this generation wants Xbox games, iPhones and iPods, baby boomer favorites such as Legos, G.I. Joe and Barbie remain popular.
Families still go shopping to find their perfect Christmas tree, only now there are more choices. At Merrifield Garden Center, we offer only the freshest and the very best cut trees.
If you prefer an artificial tree, we have you covered. You’ll be amazed at just how realistic today’s trees look and how much easier they are to assemble and maintain. And there’s even a product called ScentSicles, which are scented ornaments to add fragrance.
When it comes to holiday decorating, you’re going to be blown away by our Christmas shop. We feature more than 15 different displays, each with its own theme, tree and a phenomenal quality and selection of decorations. Some of this year’s themes are Hope Parke, German Glass, Virginia Hunt & Wine, Cowgirls, A Gilded Life, Diamonds & Pearls, Cardinal Christmas, Forest Frost and Deep Creek Lodge.
Of course, plants are our business, so poinsettias, cyclamen and more fill our greenhouses with gorgeous color.
We still follow the old-school tradition of hand-making wreaths, fresh green arrangements and custom bows, while also offering the newest in silk flowers, artificial garlands and Christmas lights.
Another old tradition that you can find at Merrifield Garden Center is personal and professional service. If you’re tired of speaking to computers, self-check-out and no help loading up your car, you need to come see us. We are here, waiting to help make your holiday shopping a pleasure and want to be in your holiday memories for years to come!
PS: Santa did not disappoint. The Big Bruiser Wrecker was under the Christmas tree.
Posted: 11/26/2012 11:21:35 AM
By David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist
In the past several weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to feature several small gardens on our TV program, “Merrifield’s Gardening Advisor.”
First there was a courtyard for outdoor dining, created by MGC landscape designer Mary Kirk Menefee in Old Town, Alexandria. Then we visited the townhouse garden of MGC landscape designer Amy Strunk to see how native and introduced plants could be incorporated with a koi pond and patio into a limited area. Then MGC landscape designer Renatta Holt showed us how to plan ahead and use compact plant varieties to fit into their allocated space.
All of this reinforced what I already know: Good things come in small packages!
In 2004, I moved from a log cabin on 11 acres of woodlands into a suburban townhome. Gradually adjusting to my new lifestyle, I sold or gave away a riding lawnmower, gas-powered string trimmer, backpack leaf blower, chainsaw, 200’ garden hose, 400’ soaker hose, etc. Then it was time to begin planting a new garden.
Before pic of David's townhouse garden
Here’s a sample of the planting list from my previous home: Skip Laurel (7), Leatherleaf Viburnum (10), Green Giant Arborvitae (3), Deador Cedar (1), Southern Magnolia (1), Fothergilla (5), Tam Juniper (7), Flower Carpet Roses (3), etc. etc. ……..
Here’s the planting list from my townhouse landscape: Hinoki Falsecypress ‘Compacta’ (1), ‘Little Rascal’ Holly (4), Nandina ‘Plum Passion’ (1), Insularis Boxwood (6), ‘Arnold Promise’ (1), several perennials, annuals, etc. The small garden also requires less time and effort to maintain.
15 cubic yards
Current pic of David's townhouse garden
I’ve been discovering that I really enjoy being able to develop and maintain a garden without having to devote entire days or weekends to its care. There’s always something blooming, and I get to witness the changing of the seasons and all the pleasures of gardening, just on a smaller scale than before.
Oddly, my townhouse garden has required more time and effort in planning and selecting the right plants. In my previous landscapes, I often evaluated plants in terms of getting the maximum coverage per plant. If I wanted to buy something on impulse or friends had plants to share, there was always room to fit them in.
Loaded with color and texture
Now every square foot is valuable and each plant must earn its place and fit the color scheme. There’s no room for impulsive plant collecting and this has been the most difficult part of having a small garden.
But as we have seen on our TV show and I’m learning through my own experience, it can be done. Small gardens can be a joy and with a bit of creativity and planning, you’ll be surprised how much can be fit into a small space. Come in soon and speak with any of our designers or plant specialists for expert advice and great ideas.
Posted: 9/6/2012 11:23:33 AM
By Mary Kirk Menefee, Merrifield Landscape Designer
Design inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes, it comes from an aesthetic you admire, a place you’ve been or a particular plant you’ve always wanted. Sometimes the site just tells you what it wants. Every once in a while, sources of inspiration converge quite beautifully.
I was reminded of that fact on a recent visit back to a garden I designed four years ago. When I looked at how fantastically the garden has developed, it was hard to imagine its rough beginnings.
I arrived at my new client’s home in a woodsy suburban enclave with a vague request for new plants at the front of the house. My expectations were set on “typical foundation plantings switch out.” The site and the clients quickly shook me out of that ho-hum mentality.
As I assessed the current condition of the property, I was puzzled by a deep depression with an electrical outlet in the center of the front yard. The depression and most of the yard were overgrown with weedy brush, but the depression appeared to have been purposeful. As the depression narrowed to a thin channel, a small wooden bridge had been placed over it to provide access to the front door. The scene conjured the image of a pond and a stream flowing through.
I asked my clients if there had been a pond at one time. Not being the original homeowners, they didn’t know, but clearly the inspiration caught on. The idea of a pond tapped into a fond memory. Several decades ago, the couple had been stationed in Japan, and at their residence there, they enjoyed a beautiful Koi pond. As my clients told me their story, photos of the old pond came out, and reminiscence turned to inspiration. We would create the pond and stream worthy of the memory but fitting the woodland setting in the front of the house.
Construction on the pond, a new walkway and a woodland garden lasted only a couple of weeks, but it produced a complete transformation. The overgrowth was removed and a garden was built to marry the house to the wild landscape around it. Plants with varying textures and small mature sizes provide a woodland feel without overwhelming the front porch. A large stone integrated into the pond edge replaces the old wooden bridge. Bright goldfish swim through the shimmering water.
Right After The Pond Was Installed
To ensure that the pond looks as natural as possible, we utilized the existing grade without building up any soil to create a larger waterfall. The result is more like a quiet stream than a mini-golf extravaganza. We also paid special attention to details that would add the kind of variation – random yet repetitive – seen in the wild.
For example, we used multiple sizes of river stone in the bottom of the stream, transplanted moss existing in other parts of the site to edges of the walkway and planted effusive perennials and ferns all around the edges of the pond.
While my crew and I were very proud of the garden we produced, it’s all the more special because the homeowners have made it their own. Every time I visit the garden, it looks improved. Plants have grown in, grown together, been added and been moved. The fish – at first in constant peril and now beloved by grandchildren – have thrived thanks to some ingenious engineering by the homeowner that keeps them from washing downstream. Little objets d’art inhabit nooks and crannies, providing some personality.
The care given to, and the pleasure taken from, the garden are obvious. I’m very pleased to know that my efforts were just a starting place for making many new memories for years to come.
Posted: 8/22/2012 3:16:21 PM
By David Yost, Plant Specialist
This weekend is Father’s Day! It’s a great time to recognize the contributions and influence our fathers have made in our lives. And it also happens to be a fantastic weekend for gardening.
For me, this is a great opportunity to combine my love of gardening with the love and memories I have of my father.
My father had only a passing interest in gardening. Every year he planted zinnias, and sometimes he would try growing a few vegetables or put some grass seed on the lawn. I don’t remember that he ever planted a tree or shrub. His passion was his family and painting.
We lived in Arlington, Virginia in the typical red brick rambler on quarter acre lots that were being built everywhere in the 1950’s. When I was 13, I was already spending money earned from delivering the “Northern Virginia Sun” newspaper to purchase small terrarium plants from the Arcadian Gardens and making an occasional visit to Merrifield Garden Center.
By the time I was 14, I was working for Arcadian Gardens and had turned our back yard into a vegetable garden. I took my first landscape design class when I was 16 and proceeded to tear up the front yard to redo the landscape. Thirty six years later, I’m here at Merrifield Garden Center still doing what I love.
I’ve often tried to figure out where my passion for gardening came from. Nothing in my suburban surroundings or upbringing would lead me in this direction.
Then one day I had an “a-ha” moment. I realized it came from my grandfather. My father’s father was a gardener. Not just a casual gardener, but the kind who packs up and moves to California so he can garden year round.
When we were kids, we made a trip to California to visit grandma and grandpa. I can remember it like it was yesterday. We picked juicy, fresh oranges and grapefruits from trees in their front yard. Gorgeous poinsettia shrubs framed the entrance to their home. Their backyard was a rock garden covered with spectacular agave, cactus and succulents. I even remember his favorite flowers - gladiolus.
While grandpa spent his days outdoors tending to his plants, my grandmother enjoyed decorating their home. As a result, their home looked amazing, like something from “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine.
We didn’t get to spend much time together, but I truly believe my love of gardening was inherited from my grandfather.
This is a perfect time to share the gift of gardening. June is an excellent planting season. Roots establish quickly in the warm soil and regardless of whether you’re planting in April or July, watering is always the most critical step in getting plants established. New plants need to be checked frequently and when they need water, hand watering directly on the root ball is the best method. For 15 years, I have done most of my planting in June.
So please take some time this Father’s Day for gardening. If Dad is a gardener, treat him to a Merrifield Garden Center gift card, a nice pair of work gloves or a new plant. I guarantee it will be appreciated.
If you’re a dad, spend some time gardening with your family. You never know what may come of it and as we all know, life’s greatest gifts are free. Thanks dad for supporting my dreams.
Posted: 6/16/2012 8:40:14 AM