Garden show setup

“The garden looks like it’s been here forever.” But it’s inside a huge warehouse-type building. And the garden is “planted” on a concrete floor, so that’s impossible.

How does the setup for a garden show garden work? And, how long does it take?

dscf0066The garden begins long before the setup in the show hall begins. The design was developed months before, and construction of the larger structures began a month earlier. This story will show the progress from an empty concrete floor to a finished garden. And it’s not entirely accurate to call it a garden. It’s more a landscape, with patios, a fireplace, a stone arch, and water feature.

The “hardscape” elements add structure to the landscape, and in our display the path allows people to stroll through the garden rather than around it.

This display garden was created by Meadows Farms Landscape department for the Capital Home and Garden Show in Chantilly, Virginia in late February. Setup begins Monday afternoon with the show opening Thursday evening.

dscf00651On the first day the garden building, fireplace, and stone arch will be set in place. The fireplace has been constructed of stone and weighs almost two tons. The building has been pre-constructed, then taken apart so it can be moved. The stone arch has been built in three separate pieces, each weighing about a ton. With stone walls and stone paving for patios and paths there are more than twenty five tons of stone in the garden.

The floor of the our garden building will be more than a foot above the concrete floor of the Expo Center, so we will be building a base from concrete blocks and plywood to build our walkways and patios on. It’s important that the base be very stable since many thousands of people will walk through in the next week.

p1010789The larger photos are the finished garden. There are more than a thousand flowering bulbs (dwarf daffodils and hyacinths) and azaleas in the garden. We have three Red Sunset maples (which are not in leaf, unfortunately because they are too tall to force in our greenhouses) and three blooming Snow Fountain weeping cherries, a large weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, seven foot tall Cryptomeria Gyrokuryu, and eight foot tall Mary Nell hollies.


The water feature above has three basalt crystal boulders, weighing more than a half ton each. 

Work began at 1pm on Monday and was completed at 2:30pm Wednesday, with a little touchup done on Thursday. Tuesday and Wednesday we had 15-20 people working to construct the display garden. The show opens Thursday evening, and we hope that lots of people stop by to see us.


We built a garden building for the garden show with a two sided fireplace. The fireplace is faced with a veneer of North Carolina Chocolate Gray stone with an inset of multicolor slate.

If you’re in the area and see this post before you come out to the show, stop by and say hello. I’ll be there almost the whole time from Thursday evening through Sunday at closing. If you’re interested in the show you can visit their website through this link to the Capital Home Show.


The arch is more than 10 feet tall, and constructed with Chocolate Gray stone. The red maple just beyond the arch has just the thing to make every garden complete, a flock of blackbirds reminiscient of “The Birds”.

Despite all the effort the garden must be torn out Monday morning. Most of the plants and materials can be reused, and some of the hardscape elements will be recycled for other garden shows later this Spring. It takes almost three days to build the display, but four hours to tear it down and haul it off.



It’s not dead, just sleeping


It’s cold out there.

Temperatures reached zero degrees this year on January 17, the coldest in northern Virginia in more than a decade. We’ve had another couple nights in single digits, and will probably have a few more before February comes to an end.

And then comes 71 degrees on February 11, and a handful more warm days. People break out of their hibernation, walk through their garden and notice a bunch of dead plants. I’ve seen them too. Neighbors show them to me, and customers e-mail pictures.

But, they’re not dead, or often aren’t, even when they appear to be.

Our gardens have some plants that are near the northern edge of their hardiness zone, so when we get a period of unusually cold weather we can expect to see a bit of damage. Even plants that are hardy far north of our area can have some dead leaves due to cold temperatures and low humidity. In most cases it’s just cosmetic and nothing to fret about, they’ll be fine.

Plants that experience winter damage in the mid-Atlantic region


Nandina domestica – is the most common plant to exhibit foliage damage when temperatures go below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This variety is a semi-evergreen, meaning that it will drop leaves in a cold Winter, and stay mostly evergreen in warmer conditions. New growth begins about the same time that our native dogwoods begin to leaf after flowering around mid-April, but it can be two weeks later in a cool Spring.

Within several weeks new growth opens fully and there will be little or no evidence of the problem. In most cases no pruning is needed to rejuvenate the plant since only leaves are damaged and branches and stems are not affected. Other varieties of Nandina, such as Gulfstream, Moonbay, and Harbor Dwarf, will remain evergreen to colder temperatures. 


 Otto luykens and Schip laurels – many times will show damage to foliage in the first year after transplant. The cherry laurels are relatively slow to establish after planting, and may have problems with late Fall planting followed by persistent cold. After the initial Winter an established plant will rarely have problems with cold weather.

p1010782In most cases a light pruning will remove dead leaves and stem tips, but more severe damage can mean a much longer period for the plant to revive, and possibly determine that the plant needs replacement.


Hollies – minor Winter damage to leaves can be pruned off, and the plant will recover quickly. Small-leafed Japanese hollies are more likely to be all-or-nothing, either showing no damage or being dead.p1010783


Boxwood – although extremely hardy, boxwood will suffer damage to leaves that have grown late in the season. These leaves can be the result of pruning in late Summer. The remedy is to prune the dead leaves and branch tips.

Leyland cypress – are all-or-nothing. They do not have vigorous root systems and are prone to problems when planted in mid to late Fall.  Problems in the Winter with newly transplanted leylands usually result in death. After the first year, leylands rarely have Winter issues.

Crape Myrtle – often grow and bloom well into September, so branches do not have an opportunity to mature, or “harden off” prior to the onset of cold weather. Thus it is common, even in the deep southern states, to experience some dieback on the tips of crape myrtle branches. Sometimes dieback is no more than an inch or two, but it can be a foot or more.

Also, crape myrtle are just about the last plant to leaf in the Spring, often showing no growth until late April or early May. Don’t worry, the varieties we plant are quite hardy and rarely die from cold in our area. Wait until you see new growth before pruning out dead wood.

Japanese Maples – every year Japanese maples will have some dead branches, and some varieties will experience some tip dieback. Almost all varieties are extremely Winter hardy for our area, and will be fine once the dead wood is pruned.

Birch – will usually have some small dead branches, in particular lower branches. After the trees have leafed, prune the dead.

Azaleas – most varieties will shed some of their leaves early in the Winter, and many change leaf color. New leaves grow after blooming, which, for most azaleas is in mid to late April. If they have a stray dead branch it can be pruned at any time.  

Hydrangeas – will often have some dead tips. When new growth comes out in early April prune just above the top leaf. For older hydrangeas pruning dead tips will usually mean no blooms, since the flower buds formed immediately following last year’s bloom.  Newer types such as Endless Summer and Penny Mac bloom on old and new wood, so they will flower dependably regardless of Winter weather.  

Why not plant hardier varieties?

These are all hardy plants. There are many plants that are susceptible to cold injury until they have established a good root system, and thereafter are quite sturdy. And others that will do fine unless cold comes early in the Fall. The worst weather for most plants is cold and windy with low humidity. This combination will cause problems for most broadleaf evergreens, especially if we have had a drought through Summer and early Fall.

If you are in doubt whether a plant is dead or has just suffered some damage contact your garden center or landscaper, or e-mail them a photo. In the pictures above all plants will revive nicely in the Spring after some minor pruning. Don’t give up on a plant that appears dead too soon. Many times this is a natural cycle, and if you start over with a replacement you might have to go through it again the following Winter.

Variegated leaves

Variegated leaves are splashed, striped, or spotted with white, gold, pink, and other colors. Garden designers are told to beware not to use too many or they will clash. I don’t have any secret formula, but I have dozens, maybe hundreds of variegated plants in my garden. And it looks just fine to me.


This is one of a handful of variegated Yucca varieties in my garden. I think the first is Yucca ‘Golden Sword and the second ‘Color Guard’.



‘Carol Mackie’ Daphne has very fragrant blooms and foliage that brightens a lightly shaded spot in the garden.


Variegated bigleaf Hydrangea works great in partial shade. Flower buds are sometimes Winter damaged, so it isn’t a dependable bloomer, but the variegated foliage is lush and it makes a great ornamental even when it doesn’t bloom.


Variegated Pseudoacorus in the pond planted next to a dark leafed Elephant ear (Colocassia). It can be planted in water, or other damp ground.

p10104831Caladium is an annual tropical for shady spots in the garden. I’ve found that it grows much better in the ground than in a container, since I can never seem to keep it from drying out in a pot.

p1010723‘White Giant’ Calla lily with an oversized white calla bloom and variegated leaves almost as large as elephant ears. Most Calla lilies are not hardy in the mid-Atlantic region, but this one has survived three Winters in my garden.


‘Flaming Silver’ Pieris japonica, sometimes called Andromeda, is a wonderful deer resistant plant for sun to part shade. In my garden it is susceptible to lacebug, but well worth a little trouble. New growth is red, changing to green with white edges. And it has lily-of-the-valley type blooms in March.


Variegated Japanese iris is a great perennial to plant in the shallows of a pond, a damp area, or in drier soil in full sun. While its blooms last only a week or two the green and white striped leaves remain stiffly upright and are ornamental from late Spring through October.


There are hundreds, maybe thousands of varieties of hosta. Most are valued for their leaves that range from greens, blues, and yellows to variegated combinations with white or yellow. Some varieties will tolerate part sun, but they work best in partial shade. Most hostas are premium dinner fare for deer, although some of the large leafed varieties with thick, waxy leaves seem to be resistant.


‘Butterfly’ Japanese maple is a slow growing upright grower that works great in a small garden.

There are many more trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals with variegated foliage in my garden, and perhaps hundreds more available. I’ll be adding more this Spring.

Backyard wildlife habititats – certified or not

I recently filled out a questionnaire from the National Wildlife Federation to qualify my garden as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. The answers you give are on your honor, so I think that a toxic waste dump could probably become “certified”, but the concept is honorable enough.

my-house-kg-36In fact, certification or not, my garden is inhabited by just about every critter imaginable. I have bugs, bats, squirrels, frogs and toads, snakes, chipmunks, a groundhog, fish, mice, moles, and birds from herons and hawks to cardinals and everything in between. And lots more that I don’t know how to categorize. Are dragonflies bugs? Butterflies? Slugs?

No bears to my knowledge. Yet. Deer, fox, geese, occasionally ducks, and who knows what else visit regularly.

According to the National Wildlife Federation the elements to create a wildlife habitat are to provide food, water, shelter, places to raise young, and to practice sustainable gardening. But why invite wildlife into your backyard? Well, I think I enjoy the fauna as much as the flora.

Sustainable gardening is a much bigger topic to address another day, but a part of the certification is to submit that you don’t use pesticides, or do so as a last resort to prevent a coup, and of course I don’t. My intentions are not quite so noble, however. Other than deer decimating my hosta collection the past couple years I have rarely seen enough damage to plants to substantiate the labor and expense of spraying poisons to keep them away.

dscn0318At one time or another through the year there is an invasion of tent caterpillars, Japanese beetles, lacebugs, bagworms, spider mites, and others that come and go without my notice. Sometimes the coarse foliage of Harry Lauder’s Walkingstick looks like green lace, but it recovers, and I don’t recall more than a couple plants in my garden that have ever perished from insect damage. A couple years ago a Catawba crape myrtle (which is tough as a weed) perished from a heavy aphid infestation. I should have planted a more resistant variety.

For better or worse the garden presents ample shelter and places for wildlife to raise their young. A groundhog lives under the shed, with a second home on the other side of the swimming pond, but the worst I can figure he has done is steal a bit of water from the pond. One day the shed will fall over into the pit he has dug, but that’s a worry for another day. He’s not a bother to me, though I’ve accidently scared the bejeebers out of him a few times.

I assume that every garden this size (more than an acre) has its share of brush piles. I probably have my share and a couple neighbor’s. I shudder to think what critters may lurk within.

And there’s food and water in abundance. I haven’t picked a single blueberry the past couple years. I’m probably lacking in observation skills, but I’ve never seen fruit on my amelanchier. The birds see no reason to wait on me.

mahonia-beali-fruitSome berries persist for many months and others for no more than a day or two. Like blueberries, the grape-like fruit of mahonia never last for more than a day or two once they get ripe, but holly and nandina berries will often last until they fall off months later. I suppose that some berries are tastier than others.

The NWF gives suggestions on adding water sources to your garden with birdbaths and small fountains. From my experience in a garden with a variety of water features, birds enjoy shallow moving water, such as streams, or shallow areas at the margin of a pond, as long as the area is open so they can make a quick getaway from predators.

fish3And with ponds you can have fish. Goldfish and koi are wonderful pets. They don’t annoy the neighbors, and if I forget to feed them for a month or two, or even a year,  they survive fine without me. And as a bonus a garden pond attracts frogs, toads, and dragonflies, and you don’t have to pay for them.

I’m sure that many think that the ‘habitat’ must be an unruly jungle, and there are times when I think that mine is. My garden has room enough for me and a small park full of critters, but any garden can get a start toward being more wildlife friendly by simply not spraying poisons here and there, and using plants that will stand up to a bit of bug abuse.

So, I have a nice plaque announcing my certification that sits on a shelf in the shed amongst other odds and ends. Perhaps one day it will be mounted on a post in the garden next to the sign warning “Don’t feed the bears’.

For more information about all of this, or to become certified, visit the NWF website. And please, enjoy your garden, birds, bugs, bats, and all.

Plant collections

I just have to get one of those. And one of this-or-that. And before you know it I have a bunch of this-or-that’s and some more of those. Such is the sad fate of a plant addict.

pieris-flaming-silver2The worry is, I often buy plants before having any idea where they’re going in the garden. I don’t recommend this for others, but it all works out in the end for me I guess. Eventually a home is found for everybody.

I can’t look through a gardening magazine or plant catalog, or tour a nursery or garden without getting a hankering for something. As generally is true of addiction, nothing seems to stand in the way of adding the newest or oldest, or one that’s related to another that I’m fond of.

azaleaexbury2I have developed a number of collections with probably no end in sight. I have more Japanese maples than I care to count, and dogwoods, magnolias, redbuds, crape myrtles, hollies, cryptomerias, spruce, azaleas, bamboos, nandinas, mahonias, camellias, ferns, clematis, pieris, hydrangeas, and viburnums. And then there are maybe a hundred or so varieties of hosta out there somewhere. I used to have most plants labeled, but those are long gone and I fear I’ve forgotten the names of many. The agave, elephant ears, and banana collections on the deck and patios are expanding nicely, though I have run through decorative pots and must now plant many in the ground for the summer.

p1010620Those who have followed my tragic tale through prior posts will not be shocked to hear that the only stumbling block preventing the remaining lawn from being turned to garden is the property manager, also affectionately referred to as the Wife. Only her devotion to this task allows sufficient budget for food and shelter.  

My appeal to you is to have a plan, some guidance that will lead you in a somewhat organized manner toward a wonderful garden. Please spend liberally, as my livelihood  depends on it, but be assured that every cent pays endless dividends in satisfaction.

From quarry to backyard

I’m going to take off my gardening hat today and address a landscape topic. Rock walls, stepping stones, stone steps, boulders, and decorative gravels are an integral part of our business, and when I first followed the supply chain from the companies that Meadows Farms purchases stone from I was wason-curb-appealfascinated. I doubt that many people understand the path a rock takes from quarry to the backyard. 



quarry1In the landscape business we utilize quarried and collected stone. Collected stone is picked up and used in the form it was found. Most of the boulders we use are collected, although they are often buried. Some landscape gravels are collected, and fieldstone is generally collected from walls where farmers piled it at the margins of their fields. It’s hard for me to imagine someone stacking a ton and a half of stone on a pallet for a few bucks, but that’s what they do.quarry2

Quarried stone is usually more consistent quality because it is cut or snapped to the desired size, and then the usable stone is selected. The quarry photos show the stone being broken into slabs the size of cars.



The slabs are then cut into a smaller, more usable size. The blade on the saw in this photo is more than ten feet across. There is a constant stream of water that cools the blade. This saw shop at Semco Distributing has a handful of computer controlled saws of various sizes.  




Many of the rocks we use for steps and walls are split into smaller sizes with a hydraulic splitter. The slabs of stone are set on a conveyor then pulled under the splitter. The hydraulic jaws apply pressure from top and bottom, and the rock splits with a pop. The face of the rock is thusly called a “split face”. The rock is then graded by size, palletized, and delivered. The limestone quarry in these pictures is located in Missouri, so the trucking cost is significant.



Meadows Farms stocks stone in its garden centers in full ton-and-a-half pallets, and half pallets that can be safely loaded on pickup trucks. Many homeowners are capable of building stone walls as a do-it-yourself project. A sore back and a few squashed fingers are likely to follow, but the flat stones are fairly easy to construct into a decent wall.


home-073However, our stone masons take the same stones and shape them with rock hammers to create something that few amateurs are capable of. Their beautiful creations will last for many years.