Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

For the past several weeks, my evening reading activity has centered on perusing the recently published third edition of The Northern Neck Gardening Handbook for Responsible Gardeners.

The tome is the work of a dedicated committee of Northern Neck Master Gardeners, who, in partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension, have updated and expanded the previous editions published in 2000 and 2007.

The subtitle is as significant as the main title, for it alerts the reader that this volume is not a mere coffee-table book with some nice photographs, but rather a serious compendium of information that can guide the reader through the process of becoming a serious gardener. For those already skilled in horticulture, it specificates the unique qualities and aspects attendant to gardening in the Northern Neck.

The book begins with an overview of our land, directed towards understanding the climate and “personality” of Zone 7. Careful reading of this section can save one having to correct innocent but costly mistakes farther down the gardening towpath. I make this comment based on personal experience. 

In the 1960s and 1970s popular understanding of the concept of invasive species had not dawned. Many national mail-order nurseries would sell and ship plants to remote regions with no regard for how the plants would fare in strange settings. 

My father ordered many trees and shrubs from nurseries in Iowa and Pennsylvania. They did not do well in our environment, causing me to spend significantly in having them removed. I notice that one of those companies still markets English ivy, a terrible predator on the native landscape.

The initial section of the Handbook also encourages drawing up a plan and thinking of future maintenance. For long-term planning, one must keep in mind that the energy level experienced in one’s 30s and 40s in most cases will have diminished in one’s 70s and 80s. The moral is that we should not over plant, producing gardens that we later in life will not be able to maintain.

In Part II, the Handbook covers what we should grow, from annual flowers, through bulbs, vegetables, trees and shrubs. The section on planting for pollinators is especially important, given the current national crisis caused by the collapse of honeybee hives. In Part III the importance of mulch and its proper application affords highly beneficial data for beginning gardeners. Volcano mulching around trees and shrubs can be counterproductive by providing nesting areas for rodents that can eat at the bark of the trees.

Pruning is another practice that can be beneficial or harmful depending on how it is performed. Improper pruning often does irreparable harm to trees and shrubs by leaving the plants wounded and unable to heal, thereby exposing them to fungi and hungry bugs. 

Insects can be friends or foes of the serious gardener. Particularly useful in our area is understanding the difference between the brown marmorated stink bug which is one of the gardener’s principal enemies and the spined stink bug, a true friend who feeds on bad bugs.

The Handbook also explains the difference between moles and voles. Although they disturb lawns, moles perform some useful services such as eating grubs and aerating the soil, but voles are vicious predators, particularly of tulips and roses. Several years ago, at the peak of the season, I had a yellow rose bush in full bloom. One morning I noticed all the blooms were shriveling at once; the next day all the leaves curled up. I went out to see what was causing the decline, and when I touched the plant, it fell over; the voles had eaten the entire root system. The Handbook offers advice on how to prevent that from happening again.

All gardeners, whether beginning amateurs or seasoned professionals, can learn from this publication. It belongs in every Northern Neck gardener’s library.

Rappahannock Record Staff
Rappahannock Record Staff
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