Monthly Archives: September 2019

A Great Time for Larkspurs

Larkspur

Photo credit: Arizona State University Cooperative Extension

Spring in 2019 in Northern Virginia brought just the right amount of precipitation, and the air temperature warmed slowly and stayed in comfortable ranges for weeks. Consequently, spring flowers lasted for a long time, unlike years when the temperatures rise too quickly.

One plant that benefitted was Consolida ajacis, also known as rocket larkspur. At Green Spring Gardens, larkspur was a standout in garden beds, and we received many inquiries for the name of “that tall blue, purple, lavender … flowering plant out by the gazebo, in front of the glass house, by the traffic circle, etc.”

Consolida ajacis is an annual species, meaning it germinates from seed, grows, flowers, sets seed, and dies within one year. However, it self-sows so abundantly that crops can return year after year. New colonies also develop nearby because seed is transferred by wind, water, people and animals. Allow the flowers to go to seed, and you will have larkspurs year after year.

Consolida ajacis is native to Europe and Asia but was introduced to North America, perhaps by European settlers, and has naturalized in North America. It is grown as an ornamental plant in flower beds, as a cut flower and for drying. It’s not a plant commonly sold in pots in nurseries because it does not transplant well, however, seeds are available through catalogues.

Growing Consolida ajacis from seed is simple. Scatter fresh seed in a prepared flower bed in autumn, and lightly cover the scattered seed with a thin layer of soil or leaf mulch. Make sure the planting bed receives full sun and is moist but well drained. After sowing, lightly water the bed and let it be until spring when seedlings should start appearing. Seeds need darkness and the winter’s cold temperatures to germinate in spring. Once seedlings appear, gently thin them so the remaining seedlings have adequate space to grow. If you have a successful crop, simply let a few plants go to seed before removing them after they die in early summer. Most plants will brown out, die, and set seed in our area by mid-June.

Two species of larkspur are native to Virginia and, unlike Consolida ajacis, are perennials. The first, Delphinium tricorne, sometimes referred to as dwarf larkspur, is a spring ephemeral that breaks dormancy and flowers in early to mid-spring, then returns to dormancy when temperatures rise. It grows in woodlands where it takes advantage of spring sun before the tree canopy leafs out, but it still benefits from some shade. It has blue, sometimes white, and sometimes blue and white flowers, and it grows one to two feet in height. The second native species, Delphinium exaltatum, also known as tall larkspur, prefers full sun and blooms in summer. It can grow from 4 to 6 feet tall and has beautiful blue flowers. In hot, humid areas it does appreciate some afternoon shade.

Native larkspur can be purchased as potted plants or sometimes as dormant bare roots in autumn through specialty nurseries or online. All three species can be grown from seed.

Growing from seed starts in autumn. Seeds can be directly sown in garden beds, however, it may take a year or two for them to flower. It may be easier to care for the seedlings if the seed is sown outdoors in seed flats placed in a protected area or a cold frame. Protect seed flats from digging critters and downpours with a covering of mesh or screening material. Seeds also need the cold of winter to force germination. Once seedlings appear in spring and have developed true leaves, they can be transplanted into nursery pots or nursery beds.

All parts of all three species, including the seeds, are toxic if ingested. This makes them safe from deer and rabbit browsing, but keep them away from small children, pets and grazing livestock. It is best to wear gloves when handling all parts of the plants.

Author Alda Krinsman is the Garden Gate Plant Shop Coordinator at Green Spring Gardens.

Historic Green Spring and The Importance of a Name

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet….”

~ William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet, Act. II, Scene II

What’s in a name? A lot. It’s how others identify and refer to us, and it’s important to get names right — people’s names and place names.

Green Spring_109The Historic House at Green Spring Gardens and the land on which it stands have gone by many names. In their early days, both the land and the house were known by the owners’ names. In 1853, the property was advertised for sale as “the well known FARM known as Green Springs (formerly Moss’s Farm.)” This is the first known use of the Green Spring name. By 1859, the ‘s’ had been dropped, and it was listed as “The very desirable FARM known as GREEN SPRING.”

By the 1880s, the site was again referred to by its owner’s name and was identified in a 1924 auction announcement as “The Old Captain Beattie Farm.”

 

In the 1930s, the name reverted to Green Spring Farm, which stuck until 1970 when the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) acquired the property from Michael and Belinda Straight. The FCPA changed the name to Green Spring Farm Park to reflect its use as a recreational resource, however staff and volunteers received incessant questions from eager callers and perplexed visitors about farm animals!

By the late 1980s, the site’s horticultural mission was firmly established, so in 1991, “Farm” was changed to “Gardens.” In the early 2000s, the name Green Spring Gardens Park was further refined to the present-day Green Spring Gardens.

Green Spring_190510_0058The Historic House has changed names a few times, too. It’s been known as the “Old Moss House” and the “Beattie Residence.” In early sales advertisements, it’s described as the “Brick Dwelling House,” and an 1840 survey plat of Green Spring Farm identifies it as the “Mansion House.”

Michael Straight seems to have been the first to refer to the house as a “manor” — he sometimes referred to it as Weyanoke Manor, after the neighboring subdivision — and the name “Manor House” was adopted by the Park Authority in the 1970s. In 1995, the Fairfax County History Commission questioned the accuracy of the name, which was historically a European term and hadn’t been used in Virginia since the early 18th century. However, in the interest of continuity, the FCPA kept it.

In 2003, the current nomenclature was established. As the listing of Green Spring on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places was nearing completion, former site historian Sherrie Chapman announced a new all-embracing name for the historic portion of Green Spring, which included the house, the spring house, and the Beatrix Farrand landscape: “Historic Green Spring.” And, because the house was never, in its historic period, called the “Manor House,” it became the “Historic House.”

Sherrie understood the power of a name, that incorporating the word “historic” more clearly defines identity and accentuates the historical significance of the house and surrounding landscape to visitors.

Green Spring_180830_0171Places like Green Spring are never static, and their names often change to embody their histories, to differentiate them, and to convey their mission, relevance, and value.

So, what’s in a name? According to Juliet, not much. But names are important, and it behooves us to get them right. After all, a garden by any other name is not as sweet as Green Spring Gardens!

Author Debbie Waugh is the Historic House Coordinator.

Water Ex Offers A Powerful Cross Training Option

Water Ex 0513_0248If you’ve ever thought about water exercise, you probably thought of it in terms of injury rehab, physical therapy, or a social activity for retired ladies. It can, in fact, be all those things, and I admit that when I attended my first water exercise class, that is what I was expecting.

Wrong. I have never been more wrong.

Have you ever heard one of those stories about a mugger who mistook gray hair for a sign of vulnerability? You know, the ones that end with a mugger getting beaten with a handbag, because anyone who has been alive long enough to have gray hair probably doesn’t want to put up with any more foolishness? My first aquatic exercise class was the metaphorical equivalent of that experience. Although I’m a distance runner and have spent most of my adult life involved in fitness one way or another, it didn’t matter what exercise we were doing, or how many people around me made it look easy, I was doing it wrong.

Water Ex 0513_0424Now, I realize that “I was terrible, can’t wait to do it again” isn’t the criteria for everyone’s bucket list, but the things that made water exercise so challenging are also the things that made me fall in love with it. (I went to every water exercise class I could manage, and pursued instructor certification. You may consider that overkill, but I’ve always said that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, and it seems this was no exception.)

I happen to be a person who struggles with including cross training and recovery in my weekly plan. Cross training is often less fun than my preferred activity (mostly running) and feels like it takes time away from things I would rather be doing. And while I know that I cannot make progress without taking time for recovery, recovery days still very often leave me feeling restless and like I want to MOVE.

 

What water exercise has given me (after I mastered the basics and stopped flopping around like a cat in the bathtub) is a powerful cross training option that multi tasks; it boosts my recovery at the same time it boosts my training plan.

The reason for that is also the reason for the association between water exercise and rehab or therapy. The extreme accessibility of water exercise comes from the properties of the water — primarily buoyancy. That’s why you, if you’re like me, have associated it with programs for people with chronic pain, mobility issues, injuries, and other limiting factors.

What I didn’t know is that buoyancy also creates a need to stabilize yourself while the water lifts you, which activates the muscles in your core. This makes every water exercise a core exercise. That makes every water workout a two-fer — whatever muscles I am targeting plus core. Since poor core strength leads to poor form for every type of activity, and poor form leads to injuries, having a core component for every minute of my cross training was amazing.

Water Ex 0513_0086Another thing that makes water workouts so efficient is that the resistance comes from the water rather than from gravity — meaning that instead of having to do one exercise that isolates the biceps and one that isolates the triceps, I can do one exercise that works both. That leads to a more balanced workout in half the time.

But the real epiphany came when I realized that water workouts have so little impact on my joints. Exercising in deep water is “zero impact,” meaning the stress from hitting the ground is entirely absent. Exercise in shallow water ranges from 20% impact to 50% impact, meaning the stress from hitting the ground is greatly reduced. Adding one zero impact workout a week supercharged my weekly fitness plan. It made more room for things that just make me happy. I can run after flowers, or to pet all the dogs, or because a friend wants company. I can play tag with the kids. Help someone move. Whatever I need to make room for in my life is easier to fit in because I don’t have to plan as much recovery as I would if that workout was land based.

In other words, I’m able to exercise more and recover less. Some weeks I only use water workouts for my active recovery, and some weeks I use a more intense water workout to make up for miles I missed due to illness, weather, or schedule conflicts, and the payoff is reduced soreness and fatigue, even when I’m in a “loading” phase of progressively harder workouts each week. If that sounds good, all it takes to get started is a swimsuit and access to a pool.

Author Meghan Gray is a Red Cross WSI and a water exercise instructor certified by the Aquatic Exercise Association teaching at Mt Vernon REC Center.