Tag Archives: Green Spring Gardens

Cindy Dyer: A Photographer at Green Spring

Forever Stamps

A Green Spring visitor’s photos appear on Forever postage stamps.

“How can I make a living off of this?”

A question asked one day in Cindy Dyer’s garden would lead her to a successful career in photography. The buoyantly inspiring Dyer has been honing her craft with a camera since high school, where on the staff of the yearbook, which she lovingly refers to as “photography boot camp,” she discovered her skill in the art of capturing images.

“I first started noticing all that hard work paying off when I was doing a shoot for the football team during one of their games,” Dyer said. “I was taking some really great action shots; passes caught, touchdowns being scored, and players getting tackled. I’ve never been a big sports fan, but that was something that got me pumped to go to those games.” After college, Dyer became a graphic designer by trade, though she maintained a close relationship with photography, cataloging her botanical endeavors on her Zenfolio account. After being fervently pressured by her friends, she began to promote her photography skills and to do more with her abilities. Her first major triumph came a few years ago from a local park where she had already shot most of her material — Green Spring Gardens.

“A friend of mine introduced me there seven years ago now, and it’s just a lovely park,” Dyer said. “It’s smaller, so it makes it a bit easier to get around in, and the horticulturists are always planting some unusual stuff that you really don’t see anywhere else. To me, even the bigger parks don’t do as well for photographing as Green Spring.”

She pitched the idea for a gallery exhibition to the park’s volunteer manager, and then spent three winter months matting, framing and planning. She said her show in the spring of 2012 had “a really great reception,” adding that “it really solidified that I could make it doing photography.”

Her success continued with the help of a very important patron at the Green Spring show. During the first month of the show, she met the wife of one of the U.S. Postal Service’s art directors. “She bought a piece of mine, went home and talked about my show with her husband who, luckily for me, was tasked with putting together a series of stamps with ferns, palms, and orchids,” Dyer said.

Dyer received a call from Photo Assist, a procurement agency for the Postal Service, asking about her show and if they could license some of her fern photos. Those stamps were issued in January and re-released in March 2014 as a part of the Forever Stamps series.

Dyer’s photography also received notice in 2011 when Nikon web columnist Barry Tanenbaum interviewed her for a how-to piece illustrating the mechanics of photography and used 12 of her images to demonstrate tenants of the discipline. That led to another interview and photo feature with Tanenbaum when he later wrote for Talking Pictures Magazine, and she gained more exposure for her photography in Shutterbug Magazine.

In a tone that is both matter-of-fact and undeniably humble, Dyer attributed her burst of success to Green Spring Gardens. She said that the park takes an intelligent approach by endorsing an attitude of quality over quantity in terms of space and how it is used.

Discussing photography at Green Spring, Dyer said some plants are more predictable because they naturally grow there. “I can look in my calendar and say ‘okay, it’s mid-April, I’ll bet this is in bloom,’ and I’ll usually be on the money.” She also adores the park’s “beautiful bunch of lilies” and her personal favorite, the Love in a Mist. Those she described as “something you’d see in outer space.” She noted that Green Spring marks its flowers with both a plant’s common and Latin names, which Dyer calls invaluable. “Being able to add even that little bit of information to my photos helps make it look a bit more professional,” she said. Dyer added that the park’s intimate size limits the walking she has to do between shoots on her searches for interesting photo subjects.

Her tips for inspiring photographers center on the thought that “a good photographer can do a lot with a little.” Her point is that good photography is not about the camera and its associated toys:

“You need to not just have the gadgets; you also need to have a good eye for capturing the moment. Don’t be so obsessed with equipment. Get the best for what you can afford. If you really want to invest your money into an important part of the camera, invest in the lens. Scientifically speaking, photography is about capturing light and the piece of equipment that does that job the most is the lens. I’ve taken some great pictures that have ended up going on my website with my iPhone. Those things have some really solid lenses.

“Another essential piece of equipment, I’d say, for photographing still scenes/objects is a tripod. Even if you have hands steady as a surgeon, the tripod will do the job for you 100 percent right, 100 percent of the time, and it frees you up to move around the shot to see if there are better angles to get an even better shot without having to focus through the lens or lose where you were originally standing.

“And of course the big one is that if you really believe in your work, get it out there. Don’t be shy. Get a blog, get a website, and just post your photos somewhere. It really wasn’t until my friends started asking me, ‘why don’t you get a show for your work?’ that I started to truly push for my work to get more exposure. Getting my show opened so many doors for me, more people were seeing my work, and I was getting paid to do what I love. All because I was in my garden taking pictures of my plants wondering, how can I make money off of this?”

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Author Dominic Lodato is a summer intern for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division. To see more photos of Green Spring Gardens, visit Cindy Dyer’s website.

Editor’s Note: All professional photographers conducting business on FCPA property or in FCPA facilities must obtain a photography permit and submit appropriate fees in advance. To learn more and apply for a permit, visit Professional Photography in the Parks.

Toddlers Love Our Garden Oasis

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Are you looking for a garden oasis in the suburban jungle to explore with your toddler or little one? Go explore Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria , one of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s most popular sites. I am ashamed to admit that I have lived in Fairfax County for nearly 30 years and never knew that Green Spring Gardens existed until just a few years ago. Since then, Green Spring Gardens has become my “go to” get away to a not-so-secret garden paradise right in the heart of the community.

As a busy working mom and Park Authority Board member, free time with my three year old is precious to me and I am constantly trying to expose my little guy to nature and beautiful things. I was born without a green thumb but I am grateful to the hundreds of volunteers and staff who have transformed Green Spring Gardens into such an amazing place.

Green Spring is the perfect destination for a family with young children to explore. First of all it’s FREE! But more importantly, the paved pathways are stroller friendly and the surroundings are peaceful and gorgeous. If you are a new mom looking for a place to stroll safely and quietly with your newborn or if you have an active toddler that needs some space to run and explore, Green Spring is a wonderful place to visit for an hour or two any day of the week.

The great thing about Green Spring is that even on the hottest days of summer it seems a bit cooler in the park. There’s lots of open space to safely run and play and there are plenty of butterflies to chase.

My toddler is enchanted by the secret pathways that wind through the trees (Mommy Tip: one “Secret” pathway is directly to the right of the stairs from the parking lot – so you can begin your exploration adventure right from the start).

Another favorite draw for my toddler is the newly refurbished gazebo which he loves to run around and play in. We practice our stretches and “Simon Says” skills in the gazebo and he just lights up as he hops and jumps down the stairs.

As a bonus, Moms and Dads who are looking for ideas to renovate even the smallest of yards can explore the demonstration gardens. These are great examples of how to use native plants to transform a townhouse size yard into your own garden oasis. Little ones will love exploring these too!

Throughout the gardens there are small bridges to cross and hidden benches to climb. A stroll down to the ponds to look for frogs and lily pads is sure to delight any child. If your children are older, many of the plants and trees are labeled so you can begin to teach them the names of the species surrounding them.

Not only is Green Spring a beautiful and peaceful place but it’s the perfect environment to develop your child’s imagination and connect nature to the stories you are reading to them. Whenever we visit we always spot one or more of what I call the four B’s: butterflies, bumble bees, birds and bunnies! Is your toddler into getting their hands a little dirty? Then steer them to the recently renovated Children’s garden. Here children can dig in the dirt and practice their planting skills.

If it’s raining OUTside then head INside to explore the Glasshouse “jungle” to look for imaginary jungle animals. Little girls may dream of fairies and connect with fairy tales in patches in pretty flowers. Spend some quiet time in the library. There is a book corner with large and small chairs set aside just for children and their accompanying adults.

The Horticulture Center has a wonderful little gift shop that includes children’s gardening themed items. Net proceeds come back to the park to be used for programs. Even a few moments admiring the art on display will start your child on a lifelong appreciation of drawing and painting. Check out the program and events calendar. Garden Sprouts programs are targeted to the preschool set.

In this busy Mom’s opinion Green Spring Gardens offers a wonderful opportunity for you to find a place to clear your mind and for your little one to explore in an unstructured way and learn to delight in the natural world around them. As a parent I think one of the best lessons to teach our little ones in the early years is that beauty is everywhere and we need to protect and nurture it.

So bring your little one to Green Spring Garden to discover what a beautiful world it can be!

Here are some of my Mommy DO’s and DON’Ts for visiting Green Spring Gardens with your toddler or little one:

  • DON’T stress about parking. There’s plenty of parking with easy access to the gardens. If you have a stroller, park at either end of the parking lot (closer to the Historic House or Horticulture Center for the easiest access. No need to stress about long walks and you don’t have to haul a diaper bag along because the car is never far away.
  • DO bring bug spray and sunscreen.
  • DO bring a change of clothes. If your toddler has a little too much fun in the Children’s garden you’ve got a back-up plan.
  • DO explore the “secret pathways” which are marked with stepping stones.
  • DO explore the Children’s Garden.
  • DO encourage your children to stop and smell the flowers. Remember this is a no picking and collecting park, that includes flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and insects.
  • DO take photos of the flowers. These are a great teaching tool for your kids when you get home.
  • DO bring a snack (there are lots of benches and plenty of grass to lay on – bring a blanket just in case).
  • DO bring nature themed books to read with your child while you have a snack in the Gardens.
  • DO visit the horticulture center and the glass house!
  • DON’T worry about changing diapers – the bathrooms in the horticulture center have a place for you to change your little one. There are even footstools to give your child a boost so that they can wash their hands at the sink. In a pinch, there are always quiet out of the way spots and garbage cans throughout the park if you can’t get to the restrooms for an emergency diaper change.
  • DO visit the garden store. After exploring the gardens take a few items home for your child to continue to develop their green thumb and bring a piece of the adventure home.

Written by Kala Leggett Quintana, Fairfax County Park Authority Board Member, At-large

Time: When People Were The Analog

Green Spring’s Demonstration Garden/Sun clock

Time.

Sun ClockIn our society, we live by time machines. The clock awakens us each morning, regulates our day, signals sleep when the day is done, and drives us crazy on NFL Sundays. Time for humans is an analog clock with a face and hands or an electronic device with digital numbers. Nature has a different system. In nature, there are no numbers. Time is dictated by the sun.

At Green Spring Gardens, the Master Gardeners, with help from Boy Scout Troop 1128 of Vienna, have created a garden for children that celebrates time and the sun. In the center of the garden is an interactive sun clock. It’s made of cement stepping stones with numbers outlined in mosaics and tiled stones that represent the months of the year.

Children visiting this garden learn about time from the sun as our ancestors did. They stand on the stone for the current month, raise a hand high to become the device’s analog and let their shadow fall on the correct time. Daylight savings and regular time are both displayed on this sun clock.

Children also can tell time by the flowers in this sun garden.  The Children’s Garden is planted with morning glories which open as the sun rises; sunflowers that look skyward and move as the sun arcs across the sky; multicolored four o’clocks that awaken in late afternoon to brighten up a dark corner; evening primrose that heralds day’s end with a bright yellow flower; and the moon vine, a flower that sleeps all day and unfolds into bright whiteness when the sun slips under the horizon.

In addition to the sun clock, the Children’s Garden has a teepee that will be covered in bean vines by summer and a sensory garden that excites touch, smell, sound, and sight. Imagination flies at the garden as children take off on new adventures while hidden under the vines of purple string beans and pretzel beans. Scented geraniums, fragrant thyme and chocolate mint add to the taste of the air, while strawberries and jelly bean blueberries add flashes of color.

Like any garden, it grows and changes with the passing of days, so it can be worth several visits. This summer, take some of that time we’ve been talking about and spend it in the children’s garden at Green Spring Gardens.

Come and enjoy an afternoon with your children and celebrate time, the sun and the beauty and fun that nature provides. The Children’s Garden is one of more than 20 thematic, demonstration gardens at Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, Va.

Author Pamela Smith is the Community Horticulture Program Coordinator at Green Spring Gardens.

Got Plants? Get Answers.

Green Spring GardensSee spot. See spot grow. See spot grow on plant. See plant wither.

If you have a yard or if you have plants, you probably have problems and questions. There’s an endless variety of questions for an endless variety of plants, including “will it grow in my yard”, and the ubiquitous “what’s that”.

When you need or want information, the first two questions are always, “Who do I ask” and “What do I ask.” At Green Spring Gardens, the Who is our Master Gardeners and our staff.

Every day at the park, a staff person is assigned as Gardener on Duty. You can bring a photo or plant sample in a plastic bag to the Horticulture Center’s front desk. If the Gardener is out and about and not able to come to the front desk, our front desk staff can take notes for the Gardener, who will get back in touch with you.

Every Saturday from 12:30-3:30 p.m. through September, Green Spring Master Gardeners are at the tent you’ll see in front of the park’s Horticulture Center. The Master Gardeners are specially trained to help answer your questions. Bring your questions, photos or plant samples and sit down for a moment to talk.

Our Master Gardeners also help staff the Horticulture Helpline at the Virginia Cooperative Extension office. Phone 703-324-8556 to leave a detailed message for someone to return your call. The Master Gardeners also staff information booths at the county farmers markets.

The “what do I ask” query might better be phrased as “how do I ask.” Here are some tips for bringing real or photographic samples to Green Spring. If you need plant identification help, try to get a plant sample that includes the flowers and a few leaves still on the stem. If you take a photo, try to capture both flowers and leaves. If you can show the whole plant, that can be helpful, too.

If you need help diagnosing a disease or insect problem, try to get a sample from both a healthy and an affected plant or plant part. Place any diseased plant parts or insects in a separate, sealed plastic bag so that you don’t inadvertently spread pests around. Plant problems that we cannot identify, we may be able to send to Adria Bordas, our Virginia Cooperative Extension agent. Keep samples fresh by storing them refrigerated with a damp paper towel in the bag until you can bring them to Green Spring within a day or two.

Sometimes, heading over to Green Spring Gardens does not work for you. Here’s another option. You’re always welcome to send me an email with your question and, if you wish, a photo. If I can’t answer your question, there are several gardeners on staff who can help.

Whether you ask a staff member or a Master Gardener volunteer, we love plant question challenges. Bring your samples and come talk to us!

Author Mary Olien is the Site Manager at Green Spring Gardens. Green Spring Gardens is located at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria, Va. The park’s phone number is 703-642-5173.

Shop for unique plants at Spring Garden Day on Saturday, May 17, 2014 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Gardener’s Bag of Tricks

Gardeners choose tools that work well and stick with them.

You never know what you will find in a gardener’s tool bag.

What do you carry in your garden tool bag?

I became intrigued by this question while working with Program Assistant Jean Hersey in the Green Spring Family Garden. We were doing some direct seed sowing in the garden, when Jean turned to me and said, “Here, take my fondue fork.  I never go to any garden job without a fondue fork.”  I was puzzled.  I have never heard of anyone using a fondue fork in the garden.  “Oh yes. I use it to make holes to sow seeds and use it to mark where a plant should go. It has all kinds of uses. Oh yeah. And duct tape.”  Fondue forks? Duct tape? 

So I started asking gardeners: What do you carry in your garden tool bag?  The unanimous tool favorites among Green Spring staff were the Japanese Hori Hori soil knife for digging into tough clay soil and cutting through root balls (hori is Japanese for “dig”), the Japanese angle-necked weeder for working up shallow-rooted weeds, a good pair of pruners for keeping plants trimmed up, a pointed trowel, and a tip bag or trug to collect weeds.

I agree.  These are tools every gardener should have and the reason why the Green Spring Garden gift shop keeps them in stock.  I started giving angled weeders away as gifts because people were loath to return mine once they tried it. I also love the Hori Hori knife except for one design flaw: The natural wood handle blends in with the garden surroundings and I have all too often misplaced it.  I lose it in the fall and find it in the garden sometime in early spring, somewhat the worse for wear.  Needless to say, I own lots of replacement Hori Hori knives. Gardener James Van Meter says he sticks his Hori Hori knife straight into the ground instead of laying it down flat so chances are better for finding it again.  Another solution would be to wrap the handle in bright tennis racket grip tape (or Jean’s colored duct tape) so the knife is easier to spot.  As I relocate them, I’ll be sure to do that.

Propagation specialists Judy Zatsick and Mary Frogale both named the root knife as a multi-purpose tool of choice.  This knife has a serrated edge and curved tip and is designed to cut through root systems to divide plants. It is also great for opening containers. Along the same line as the fondue fork, gardener Carol Miranda carries chop sticks to sow seeds, mark plant locations and to stake small plants that flop over.  A little twine or a twist tie, and your plant is once again standing proud. My sister-in-law gave me a spool of cut-to-length twist tie that she purchased at a hardware store for just this sort of purpose.  Very useful. 

Local horticulturalist Karen Rexrode carries an inexpensive camera in her tool bag so she can document changes in the garden.  Great idea. This is especially handy in noting where your flowering bulbs are buried.  Heaven knows we have all mistakenly unearthed a few bulbs.

Green Spring Manager Mary Olien says she always has flower scissors in her bag to help with deadheading annuals and perennials.  The scissors make for quick, precise cuts with little damage to the plant.  But, sometimes you want the flowers to set seed and horticulturalist Nancy Olney is prepared. She always carries coin envelopes and a pencil in her tool bucket to collect seed from prized plants to sow for the next gardening season.  She even offers envelopes of seed to her garden volunteers.

 So what do I carry in my tool bag?

 In addition to  the must-haves (Hori Hori knife, angled weeder, pruners, trowel, and trug),  I carry a small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol to immediately disinfect my tools before putting them away.  A light spray on my pruners and I can reduce the spread of plant viruses and fungus. The alcohol doesn’t promote rust and evaporates quickly. I also carry tongue depressors and a sharpie in case I need to label something, like the location of my hostas before they go dormant for the winter.

So what have I learned? Gardeners should, and do, think outside of the traditional tool bag and we should always keep our minds open to new uses for nontraditional tools.  One thing that I already knew: Gardeners are happy to share their ideas and knowledge if you just ask. Thanks to everyone for sharing their favorite tools with me.

Written by Susan Eggerton, Green Spring Gardens program coordinator

A Whiff of Winter Witch Hazel

Subtle fragrance is a calling card for winter walks, and many witch hazels have their name on that card.

We simply call her ‘Jelena.’

Jelena's colorful blooms and subtle fragrance brighten up a winter day.

Jelena’s colorful blooms and subtle fragrance brighten up a winter day. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

We say, “Did you see ‘Jelena’ in the parking lot?” She is beautiful decked out in her copper-colored fringe.  A reliable bloomer and stunning. ‘Jelena’s full name is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena.’  She’s a hybrid witch hazel whose parents, H. mollis and H. japonica, are of Asian origin. She has greeted visitors to Green Spring Gardens since 1996. However, fragrance is not her thing.

To beguile you with a sweet fragrance, can we entice you to walk west of the site’s Historic House? In the grove nestled between the house and the path to the ponds, you’ll find a fine collection of more than 20 witch hazels. The Chinese witch hazels are among the most fragrant, and here two yellow witch hazels won’t disappoint, H. mollis ‘Early Bright’ and H. mollis ‘Kort’s Yellow.’

Winter Beauty blooms near the historic mansion.

Winter Beauty blooms near the historic mansion. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

Among the witch hazels, the strap-like petals and cup-like calyx both contribute to the color effect. The color ranges include yellows, oranges, reds and purples. The combinations, such as red blending to yellow found in H. intermedia ‘Feuerzauber’ and purple blending to cream found in H. intermedia ‘Strawberries and Cream,’ add intrigue and depth.

'Strawberries and Cream' is a popular variety of witch hazel.

Strawberries and Cream is a popular variety of witch hazel. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

The impetus to develop a strong collection of witch hazels came with our successful application to the American Public Gardens Association’s North American Plant Collections Consortium. Through this project, 65 member gardens focus on a particular group of plants, each site providing a documented repository of plant types for their particular group. We specialize in witch hazels.

H. Intermedia "Feuerzauber"

H. Intermedia ‘Feuerzauber’ Photo by Brenda Skarphol

Our collection started with a gift of six witch hazels from the Chapel Square Garden Club in Annandale. We now have selections from all the Hamamelis species, including the native eastern witch hazel, H. virginiana, the Ozark witch hazel, H. vernalis, and many of their hybrids. Our collection of varieties of the well-known Asian hybrid, H. intermedia, will soon top 100 specimens.

H. virginiana "Harvest Moon"

H. virginiana ‘Harvest Moon’ Photo by Brenda Skarphol

For many of you that regularly strolling the garden in the winter months, you know how the witch hazel beckons, furling and unfurling its petals as the day warms and emitting a come hither fragrance. If it has been a while since you visited, let our witch hazels be the calling card that brings you back to explore.

More than 200 witch hazels beckon you to visit Green Spring Gardens during their peak bloom season, January through March. Green Spring is at 4603 Green Spring Road in Annandale.

Author Mary Olien is the site manager of Green Spring Gardens.

Get Wild In The Parks This Summer!

Each July, the National Recreation and Park Association invites park and recreation agencies from across the country to join them in celebrating Park and Recreation Month. In support of this year’s theme, GET WILD, we will share our ideas for ways you can get wild in the parks this summer. Throughout the month, you’ll find new ideas posted on Facebook, Twitter, and on this blog, and we hope that you will share your ideas with us, too.

From sending your child to summer camp during Wild About Water Week to taking a wild ride down the twin waterslides at the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole, there are many ways to get wild in the parks. For thrill-seeking naturalists, the new Extreme Adventures program at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is your chance to explore the park’s wild outback for stream monsters such as Hellgrammites, water scorpions, and water snakes, as well as poisonous plants and lethal predators in the forest.

An elephant from the Reston Zoo bathed in Lake Fairfax in 1986.

Speaking of wild animal sightings, did you know that elephants from the Reston Zoo used to cool off in Lake Fairfax, or that black bears have been seen in Riverbend Park? While not quite as wild as elephant and bear sightings, keep an eye out for photos of Buddy the Wolf, Rec-PAC’s wild mascot, as he visits camp sites with his anti-bullying message.

Getting wild can be joining a fast-paced Zumba class at a RECenter, hiking the Cross-County Trail, or riding the mountain bike trails at Laurel Hill. To get wild on the water, head to Riverbend Park or our lakefront parks to launch a kayak, canoe, or paddle boat. Getting wild doesn’t always require working up a sweat. Take a stroll along the newly refurbished boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park to look for an amazing array of dragonflies, or wander the manicured paths at Green Spring Gardens to see what’s in bloom. If music drives you wild, find your favorite venue to enjoy free concerts from our Summer Entertainment Series

The point is to get off the couch, get out of the office, and get wild in Fairfax County parks. It’s summer, so make the most of it!

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer.