Feed on

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator &  Brian Vick, Community Kitchen Garden Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

The Community Kitchen Garden is thriving in this summer heat, and so are the weeds. That’s why we were so grateful when a team of CarMax associates showed up on Monday to help us with  a variety of  garden tasks including staking and tying tomatoes, harvesting cucumbers, and weeding.

These employees harvested 100 lbs. of vegetables, supporting 400 meals. (4 oz. veggie portion per meal.) The amount of weeding they did … priceless. Be sure to check out the photo below — literally a tractor-load of weeds!

Total donations of fresh local veggies to FeedMore’s Community Kitchen this year so far: over 1,600 lbs!


CarMax Tomato Tying 072114

Tying the Roma tomatoes.

CarMax associates and Cukes

Harvesting cucumbers for the Community Kitchen Garden

Weeds pulled by CarMax volunteers

This is how many weeds they pulled! These are in the tractor on their way to the compost pile.

Erica with a Giant Cuke

A giant cucumber shaped like a crescent moon.

CarMax CKG Group 072114

CarMax volunteer associates at the end of the morning after working in the Community Kitchen Garden.

by Jonah Holland , PR and Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

john and water

John Niemczyk, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Irrigation Technician, testing and trouble-shooting the watering system on the terrace lawn. While we might test our watering system during the day, we don’t typically water during peak daylight hours, due to loss of water through evaporation.

john and the sprinklers

If you look in the center of the photo you can see the Garden’s irrigation tech, John Niemczyk, just in front of the brick Robins Visitor Center, as he adjusts the Garden’s sprinkler system.

Did you know that the irrigation water we use at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden comes from lakes built specifically to collect rainwater and recycle it into water we can use to sustain our plants during dry spells?  That’s the plan anyway. We collect the water run off from approximately just over 40 percent of the Garden’s property and buildings — a pretty good number.  But ultimately during a drought our irrigation lake may go so low that we have to look at water alternatives. We are currently weighing whether we may have to add county water to the irrigation lake this week, if we don’t get some rain soon. But thankfully, most of the time Mother Nature provides enough rain in summer to refill our irrigation lakes as we use them.

John Niemczyk, Irrigation Technician here at the Garden, and our horticulture staff schedule the Garden’s watering to run early in the morning (which is the best option). Watering in the evening is a good second choice, but sometimes can encourage disease, particularly fungal ones, we we try to water in the early morning whenever possible.   Niemczyk says when you avoid watering during the heat of the day, you can “save on both watering time needed and water evaporation.”  Most of our Garden’s irrigation is on an automated system, to make watering during early hours an easy choice.

a very low irrigation lake

When the irrigation lake is full, the overflow is at the northern end of the lake, and only the top portion of the pipes in this photo are visible. You may have to click on the photo to see a larger version to see the pipes in detail. Photo by Shane Tippett

Using the earth’s natural resources carefully is really important to the Garden. So is educating others about what they can do to help at home.  So, here are three easy things you can do at home  to help with water conservation:

    • Water in early morning or later in the evening when less evaporation is likely to occur.
    • Use recycled water — you can collected it in a rain barrel, or cistern, or if you have a larger property like Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, you can collect it in a lagoon or irrigation lake. Recycled water is also cheaper (you don’t have to pay the county for it).
    • Plant natives that don’t need much watering. Native plants are plants that would occur naturally in this region — ones that were here before European settlers. The Virginia Native Plant Society is a great place to learn more about Virginia natives, including 2014 wildflower of the year, coral honeysuckle, (Lonicera sempervirens).
native honeysuckle

Coral honeysuckle, (Lonicera sempervirens).


by Jonah Holland , PR and Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Hosta in vole-proof cages

Hosta in cages — protected from voles.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Flagler Garden Horticulturist George Cowart has been fighting a battle.  A battle of the voles.  The truth is, I never met a gardener who didn’t hate voles. They are known for wreaking havoc in a garden, destroying an array of plant-life, but hostas in particular.  Shortly after meeting my father-in-law for the first time, I remember the searing image of a death-trap he showed me that he used to control the vole population in his suburban yard in Burke, Va.  He and the voles had something in common — they both loved hostas. Voles like to eat them, which precluded him from enjoying them his way — planted in his landscape.

Luckily,  here at Lewis Ginter, horticulturist George came up with a far kinder and more humane solution: vole cages.  No, it’s not what you are thinking.  And in fact to avoid confusion, we stopped calling them “vole cages” and we stared calling them hosta cages.  The goal: keep the hostas in, and keep the voles out! George and his volunteer helpers made an fleet of these cages using on winter on days it was too cold to work outside all day.  We think he’s pretty crafty, so we’re sharing his step-by-step process so you can make your own at home.  The vole cages are easy to make using  1/2-inch wire clothGeorge has been installing them, one-by-one in the Flagler Garden landscape.  And the hostas? They’re looking better than ever.  Thanks George.

Want to know how to make your own hosta cages? Here’s what you’ll need and a step-by-step process.

Supplies to make hosta cages

Supplies to make hosta cages. Start with 1/2-inch wire cloth, tin snips and cable ties. A great way to measure what size you’ll need to cut the wire cloth is to take the pot that the hosta comes in from the nursery and measure a piece that is just as high, and can wrap fully around the pot, then add a few extra rows of wire mesh so you can overlap it when you create the circle. Ours is 48 block sections long, and 15 sections high. The bottom piece is 15 x 15. Be sure to use eye protection when cutting the wire, pieces can snap off. It’s also a good idea to wear gloves, the edges of the wire can be sharp.

Cable ties and tin snips

You’ll need cable ties like this — 18 lbs, interior, 4-inch cable ties is what we used. Make sure they are rated for 185 degrees.


First make a circle with the larger piece of mesh wire cloth, be sure to overlap the wire cloth (don’t fold it back). Thread cable ties through the wire in 3 spots, top, middle & bottom. You can wrap it around a garden pot to help make the form if it is easier. Be careful, often the wire cloth wants to spring back into its original position.


Then attach on the bottom piece with cable ties so that all of the circle is covered.


The corner view from the top. Cut slits in corners to bend up (fold up without bunching, like you would for wrapping a package) and place 4 more zip ties, one on each side to hold the bottom.


Cut the corner and fold it up.

The finished product!

The finished product!


by Jonah Holland , PR and Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

Cynara cardunculus

Cardoon ‘Rouge d’Alger’ (Cynara cardunculus)

After spotting this artichoke-like bud on the cardoon in the Children’s Garden, I was excited to see what it would look like when it opened up into a flower.

Quite a beauty! …And yes, it is related to the more widely-known globe artichoke that many folks love to eat. Cardoon, like its cousin, is also edible.


Helenium flexuosum 'Tiny Dancer'

Sneezeweed or Helenium flexuosum ‘Tiny Dancer”

by Jonah Holland , PR and Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

Sneezeweed or Helenium flexuosum ‘Tiny Dancer is a great example of a beautiful native that can add alot of texture and movement to your garden (the blooms tend to dance in the wind, on its leggy stems).

by Randee Humphrey, Director of Education, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Randee Grace Kelly by Steve High res

The three amigos in Denver

The American Public Gardens Association’s “Everyday Magic” conference was held in Denver in late June, and I was fortunate to attend, along with Grace Chapman, the Garden’s Director of Horticulture, Kelly Riley, Children’s Education Manager, and the intrepid traveling Stickman.  It was a whirlwind week, full of inspiring lectures, invigorating sessions (I presented one on Public Gardens and Community Engagement) and special events, hosted by the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Gardens on Spring Creek, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, and the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

Generally I return from conferences like this exhilarated and exhausted—there’s so much information to absorb, so many contacts made to follow-up on, and many ideas to share with my colleagues.  And always I come away very proud of our Garden, our community of patrons, and especially my staff colleagues, who work so hard and unselfishly to keep the many wheels of success in motion.  At only 30 years-old, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is among the younger of public gardens, and even so, we’re pretty mature by every measure in the sophistication of our operation.  It’s a good feeling to come away from a national conference with the knowledge that on the whole we’re doing a really good job.

Stickman loves Denver

Stickman loves Denver

Over the past year, I’ve been spending a portion of my time nurturing Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s role in the larger community, through an initiative we’ve dubbed Beautiful RVA.  It’s a  regional coalition of public and private agencies and organizations all invested in improving the quality of life in greater Richmond through public horticulture, urban greening, and beautiful place-making  initiatives.  The Garden is at the center of this coalition.  With other key partners, we are working to increase local capacity to accomplish urban greening and beautiful place-making projects that are often beyond the reach and resources of local government.  The Garden is fostering community momentum and seeing where civic will, grassroots engagement, and collaborative spirit takes us.  And in many ways, we’re positioning the Garden for the next stage of its evolution and influencing others to follow our lead.  We not only want to be at the table, we want to offer the table around which these fundamental civic opportunities can be explored with other willing partners.

Denver Garden Block

Denver Garden Block

So, through this lens — with a sharp focus on how public gardens use their leverage and leadership to help transform the urban landscape — I paid special attention in Denver to the quality of its urban landscape, and whether the Denver Botanic Gardens had played an influential role.  And the answer:  the Denver Botanic Garden is everywhere—at its flagship site on York Street; at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, a working farm located along the banks of Deer Creek in southern Jefferson County near Littleton (where Denver Botanic Gardens runs a 5-acre Community Supported Agriculture operation); and  tours at Mount Goliath, a mountain peak in the U.S. Forest Service Mount Evans Recreation Area in the Arapaho National Forest.  Within two blocks of the Marriott conference center was the 16th Street Mall, at all hours the friendly, clean, safe, and bustling heart of the City.  Downtown Denver describes the scene:

….considered the premier pedestrian environment in the Rocky Mountain region, it is the commercial heart of Downtown Denver and a main attraction for a rapidly growing number of visitors and conventioneers. On average, 2.3 million pedestrians visit the Mall every year, and in the summer, 30,000 pedestrians walk the Mall every day. Nearly 50,000 people use the FREE MallRide on an average weekday, and the Mall has become the linchpin of RTD’s transportation system by connecting light rail stations, express bus terminals and local bus routes between Union Station and Civic Center.

And yes, the Denver Botanic Garden’s imprint was on the 16th Street Mall, too, with the Denver Garden Block installation.  Is there anything that this public garden doesn’t do?  I can’t imagine—they also are among the keystone organizations funded by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, a regional consortium that provides over $40 million a year to over 300 local and regional institutions, through a 1/10 of 1 percent sales and use tax adopted by a seven-county metropolitan area.

It’s exciting to imagine how our City and region will grow in the years ahead.  Personally, I live along the promising Boulevard corridor, and wonder how the planning process for this area will unfold.  Denver inspired me to imagine — as I strolled the 16th Street Mall and dined at its outdoor cafes, enjoyed impromptu concerts on upright pianos scattered along the Mall, and easily navigated to nearby museums and Coors Field on foot (or by rent-a-bike, stations everywhere! )— that our Boulevard could become THE BOULEVARD.  A walkable, bike-able (and still car-friendly), local, eclectic, and beautiful Garden District.  And naturally I wonder, what role might Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden play in transforming this urban landscape, so full of potential.


Chihuly installation at the Denver Botanic Gardens

by Jonah Holland , PR and Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

It was a great day! First Children’s Garden Educator Ms. Dawn read The Great Big Enormous Turnip, based on a Russian folk tale about a turnip soooo big the whole family had to work together to pull it.  As each member of the family helped the papa pull the turnip, this little girl held up the picture of the family member who helped with the pulling.

story best

Then we found an enormous turnip in the Children’s Garden and had to work together to pull it!  Even little brother and mom helped!


pulling the turnip

Teamwork — everyone has to pull together! Just like in the story.

It really was super-big! Bigger than any of us thought, really.

surprise turnip

Wow, that’s a big turnip!

Dawn and turnip smile

Ms. Dawn and her new friend! It was a most excellent day.

I’m sharing this with you because just yesterday, I got a note from this little girl’s mom asking if we have any good children’s activities at the Garden that they could come to. I explained that we had lots of great choices!  Happily, I ran into her and her little ones on the way into the Garden and walked down to the activity with them and took these photos. Then afterwords,  the little girl’s mom emailed me this photo and some comments, “…Thank you again for letting us know about the children’s activities. She was just gesturing to me and saying “pull the turnip.” She is showing me that she has really learned from Ms. Dawn.”

Did you know the Garden offers a wide variety of drop in programs for kids that are free to members and free with admission? This program mentioned above is called Drop in and Dig. We also have Garden Art Studio, activities at Flowers After FiveGood Green Fun and Drop in and Move.  You can learn more about all these programs on our website: http://bit.ly/happeningnow


by Jonah Holland , PR and Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

Verbena hastata

Verbena hastata

At today’s “15 minutes in the Garden” with Horticulturist Jay Austin, one bloom stole the show —  Verbena hastata or swamp verbena. It loves the boggy area around the West Island Garden, and has an unusual pointed form that caught our eye.  It’s certainly pretty enough to be considered a knockout in my book!

It took us a few minutes to identify it — yet another reason I’m sharing it here.  But another great way to identify blooms  you see at the Garden is by viewing our Blooms by Month page. There you’ll find blooms that typically bloom in any given month — all labeled, so it’s a great way to identify plants by what they look like, and a great way to learn names of plants you are familiar with, but don’t know the name.

by Jonah Holland , PR and Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

During June, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was the fortunate recipient of 258 hours of volunteer service donated by 86 Richmond area CarMax Associates. They tackled nine Volunteer Team-Builders  projects here, making the Garden eligible for an additional $9,000 donation.  The CarMax Foundation had a record-breaking volunteer blitz in June, completing more than 250 projects nationally. Here at the Garden,  CarMax associates, mulched, weeded, and planted all around the Garden, including the front berm of the Garden and in the Children’s Garden.

In the Children’s Garden alone, CarMax had 56 volunteers who worked  working a total of 168 hours on four different days!

CarMax volunteers on June 6th, 2014 in the Children's Garden.

CarMax associates volunteered in the Children’s Garden on June 5, 6, 13 and 17th. Here’s the June 6th team.

children's garden vols  june 13

A few of the CarMax volunteers who worked in the Children’s Garden on June 13th.

Children’s Garden horticulturist Heather Veneziano reports that CarMax associates weeded and mulched, assembled bags that we hand out to schools,  divided plants, stained benches and wrapped safety foam on structures, and then weeded  some more!  Another team worked near the front berm of the Garden, removing invasive species from in between established plants. Horticulturist Seth Roadman, who worked with the group, said the team removed mostly grapevine, honeysuckle, thistle, and wire grass.  He remarked that the group showed great energy and seemed to enjoy being out in the garden.

CarMax associates and eggplant

The CarMax team planting and mulching eggplant.

CarMax Associates with cucumber trellis

CarMax associates made quick work on a cucumber trellis. The trellis will allow the cucumbers to have more room to grow in a small space.

…And then they started work in the Community Kitchen Garden.  On their first visit in June, the CarMax team mulched pathways, planted eggplant, built a support structure for fava beans, and accomplished a huge amount of weeding. A few weeks later, a new team arrived to  harvest 160 lbs. of red potatoes, harvested sweet peppers and Swiss chard, they tossed a mountain of weeds into the compost pile, completed a trellis for cucumbers, weeded a bed of  fava beans, and mulched beds of eggplant. If you’ve ever wondered how many people 160 lbs. of new potatoes can feed, that is enough potatoes for Feedmore’s Community Kitchen to provide 400 servings of mashed potatoes or 800 servings of potato salad to Meals on Wheels recipients!

Harvesting new red potatoes with Carmax.

Pulling the new red potatoes out of the ground to dry in the sun, before delivery to Feedmore’s Community Kitchen. On this day, the team delivered 192 lbs. of fresh vegetables to FeedMore (red potatoes: 162 lbs, Swiss chard: 22 lbs, red okra: 1 lb, sweet peppers: 7lbs).

harvesting new potatoes at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

CarMax June volunteer blitz showed lots of great teamwork.

carmax before and after

CarMax associates before (left) and after (right) a very productive day in Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Community Kitchen Garden growing food for Feedmore Inc.

Brittany & Chastity carrying a basket of new potatoes.

Carrying the bounty of new potatoes to be loaded onto the truck to be delivered to Feedmore.

We love that CarMax is such a positive influence in the Richmond community,  and we are honored that they’ve partnered with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. On July 4th join us for CarMax Free Fourth of July! On Friday, July 4, 2014, all visitors to the Garden will receive free admission throughout the day (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) The free admission includes entrance to the popular Butterflies LIVE! exhibit.


by Buz Sawyer, Volunteer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Bluebird eggs

Bluebird eggs.


Wren Eggs

Wren eggs — brown, not blue.

We are well into the 2014 nesting season and have seen a lot of activity so far. The season began a little late this year with many Carolina chickadee nests and way too many house sparrow nests. Happily, we saw our first bluebird nest in mid-May. The nest resulted in four fledglings by mid-June. I have included a picture of bluebird eggs from one of our nest boxes for you, in case you have not seen them before. Note that they are blue, like robin’s eggs, as opposed to brown, like the wrens eggs also shown.

Blue bird chicks

Healthy bluebird nestlings!

With 14 nest boxes you would hope to have many bluebird nests, but bluebirds tend to be less aggressive than some of the other cavity nesters and can be easily turned away from a potential nest site. Our chickadees seem to start nesting early before the temperature gets warm enough for the bluebirds, so they seem to be the ones that occupy most of our boxes in early spring. House sparrows are a different matter altogether. They are the bullies of our cavity nesters. Aside from making nests with trash, twigs, straw, or anything they can find, they also have no respect for nests occupied by other species. Unfortunately they will sometimes kill other nestlings, crush eggs, and even build nests on top of another active nest. So, our goal is to check the boxes often and remove house sparrow nests before they get established.  The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries gives some tips on how to attract bluebirds and discourage house sparrows from nesting in bluebird boxes:

Do NOT allow HOUSE SPARROWS to use the box! The house sparrow (weaver finch) is a non-native, aggressive species that will drive bluebirds away. House sparrows are known to kill parent birds on the nest as well as their young, if given an opportunity. Since house sparrows tend to prefer nesting near buildings, you can deter them in part by locating the bluebird box away from buildings and out in an open field instead. Also, you can try removing the sparrow’s nesting material as it tries to build a nest. (Since the house sparrow is legally defined in Virginia as a nuisance species, it is legal to remove and/or destroy house sparrow nests and eggs.) Although fairly persistent, the house sparrow may give up and move on.

As the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries mentions, house sparrows are not native to North America, sort of like the bird version of an invasive non-native plant.  So far we have had house sparrow nests in at least 7 out of 14 of the boxes on the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Bird Trail. With some persistent monitoring of the boxes we hope to eventually see more healthy families of bluebird nestlings like these each year.

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