Mamie D. Lee Garden

Mamie D. Lee Garden
Spring Spinach in the Garden

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Flower Boxes Blooming with Poppies

Flanders field poppy, Papaver rhoeas, in bloom.  (Photo courtesy of A. Cuellar)

The old flower boxes outside the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden are full of red poppies - Flanders field poppies - blooming just in time for Memorial Day. There are many ways to remember and honor those who have died while serving our country  - some lay wreaths or place flags at gravesites. Some have parades. I grow poppies, the flower that has symbolized the horror of war and its enormous cost in human lives for 100 years.

During World War I, the poppies grew abundantly where the soil was disturbed by shelling, fighting, and newly dug graves. The blossoms must have been incredible, for they have been described in verse and are used in remembrance ceremonies around the world.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

  In Flanders fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses row on row, 
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved and now we lie 
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you, from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow, 
In Flanders fields.  

These flowers are annuals, also known as common field poppies or corn poppies. The botanical name is Papaver rhoeas. The poppies will self sow; that is, the plants will grow wherever the seeds fall and the conditions are good.  Somehow, the poppies know to bloom in time for Memorial Day. 

Note: This post reflects the views of the author, not necessarily all of the members of the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

We Are a Community of Gardeners

We - the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden Association - had our annual Spring meeting this morning. We had a good turnout, with numerous returning gardeners from last year, and a few new ones. Some are recent graduates of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative. We had a good meeting, with a discussion of many things, including our community of gardeners.

Byron Adams and Ann Bemen led our meeting, while our secretary and treasurer collected dues in the back of the room. Our annual dues have increased for the first time in years, to build up a reserve to cover the costs of capital expenses, like water repairs, fence repairs, and replacing our aging tool shed. The Garden Board of Directors, elected last fall, made the decision to raise the dues, to the protest of some gardeners. One woman expressed concern that this decision was made without input of the garden community. From the board's perspective, this one-time increase is the simplest - and easiest - way to to cover capital expenses.

As a former community garden manager, I know the financial challenges of running a garden. It costs money to run a garden, and we were blessed to have gardeners donate significant amounts of money (over $1000) last year. This money went to repair the fence that keeps the deer from eating our Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, and to keep the midnight shoppers from helping themselves to the fruits of our labor. This money also went to repair the underground irrigation system that allows us to water our plots without having to drag hoses long distances.

At the same time, I understand that gardeners want to have input on major decisions affecting the garden. All of us want to know where the money goes. The board - and our brand new treasurer - shared major expenses from last year. They have also pledged to share that information at our fall meeting and to be more transparent in decision making.

I understand that the increased dues may pose a hardship for some gardeners. The board is offering scholarships to those who are unable to pay. (I have donated to this cause.) Gardeners who have been with Mamie D. Lee for over twenty years will continue to pay the lower dues. The grandfathers have been grandfathered in, so to speak, with lower dues. A few gardeners suggested alternative means of raising money for capital improvements, such as having those who are unable to work their community hours pay more, or applying for grants, or using Amazon.Smile. A fundraising committee was born today.

We are a community of gardeners, comprised of a lot of wonderful people. Among us, we have many lifetimes of gardening experience. We may not always agree - what group of people does? Let us put our differences aside and have a great 2017 garden season.    

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Poison Ivy - Leaves of Three, Let it be...

Our garden has few patches of poison ivy growing along and up the chain-link fence on the west side of the garden, between the garden and the school.  This weed is a potential allergen - leaves, stems, and roots all contains an oil capable of causing severe allergic dermatitis. Not everyone is allergic; moreover, allergies change over time. I used to romp in poison ivy as a child without getting a rash. I got poison ivy for the first time when I was in my 20s; now, I get it from my dogs when they brush up against it.  The last time I got poison ivy, in late July, I had blisters.    

The Park Service does not remove native weeds, such as poison ivy, because they enrich the habitat by providing food for wildlife. They will, however, cut back poison ivy, as they did in our garden, when it become hazardous for people. If you are any where near as allergic to poison ivy as I am, you really wish they would just spray it with herbicide, but they don't and they won't.and they are the landlord.  The best advice I can give is to learn to identify it, and avoid it.  There's an old saying,"leaves of three, let it be," Poison ivy leaves are shiny in the spring and scarlet in the fall.  

photo by CL Scheltema
Poison ivy: leaves of three, let it be...

If you must work in poison ivy, wear long sleaves, long pants, closed toe shoes, and gloves.  Wash all of your clothing immediately.  I you touch it, wash thoroughly with Technu, a special product that removes the poison ivy oils from your skin.  It this doesn't work, and you get a rash, you can use a special astringent containing Aluminum sulfate to dry out the rash. This is sold under the tradename Dombrom, but CVS also carries a generic version.  

Remember, leaves of three, let it be! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Weeds: If you can't beat them, eat them...

I hate weeds, especially those that spring up out of nowhere and smother my tender garden seedbeds just getting started; my transplanted tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Darn those weeds!  They compete with my garden plants for nutrients, sunlight, and water....This is not a good thing.

There can, however, be a good side to weeds. Some of them are edible.  This is something I learned as a child, when my father would take me foraging.  He referred often to a book by Eull Gibbons, Hunting the Wild Asparagus, published before I was born.  He would say often of weeds...."If you can't beat them, eat them!" and that's what we proceeded to do. However, some of the weeds that he gathered proved to be too much trouble, like pokeweed, or Poke.  It had to be boiled at least twice to remove the toxins so that it was safe to eat.  Only the tender young greens were edible. Other parts of the plants were poisonous, including the bright purple berries.  Even as a child, eating Poke seemed to be a bad idea.  I mention this because one has to be very careful when choosing to forage weeds or anything else.  Identification is key. You really do need to know your plants, and know what you know and what you don't. That said, some of our "weeds" are pretty tasty.        

A few weeks ago, I gave a workshop on edible weeds for the Neighborhood Farm Initiative's Open House.  I talked about three very safe and delicious greens that are prolific in the Mamie D. Lee Community garden.  These are considered weeds mostly because they are growing in the wrong spot. Some of our gardeners actually grow amaranth in their plots, and one can find lambsquarters and purslane for sale in farmers markets.  I guided workshop participants in identifying and gathering these greens, and then using them to make a delicious salad! 
Happy gardening, and weeding!

-Christina Scheltema    

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hope for Spring

In this bitter cold, I am thinking more about my garden, counting the days until the ground will thaw and I can play in the dirt once again. In the meantime, I am consoling myself with seed catalogues, which offer hope for spring.

Every year, the catalogues begin arriving in my mailbox before Thanksgiving.  Somehow they know that I’m an avid gardener, and that the coming winter cold will have me hoping for and dreaming of spring. The seed sellers know that I need a diversion from the holiday festivities, and that my green thumb will start itching in January.  

I must admit that I have great fun leafing through the catalogues and my leisure, looking at the new varieties and contemplating which old favorites I will grow again this year.  Jimmy Nardello and Yummy peppers are on my list, as are Juliette and Golden Jubilee tomatoes. I’m trying a new tomato variety this year – Genuwine – a cross between Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese - from Totally Tomatoes.  I will grow Ping Tung Long Asian eggplants, and Bride, a white variety I grew some time ago.  After growing Tokyo Cross turnips last fall, I will try Shogoin turnips this spring. These are two lovely Asian turnips, producing plump, tender white roots, ranging from the size of large marbles to golf balls. I also plan to grow a variety of spring greens – Swiss chard in many colors, red mustard, and two types of kale.  

My order from Pinetree Garden Seeds arrived last week, keeping hope alive. In the next week or two, I will start my winter greens indoors, in a special spot in my basement.  That’s a topic for another blog.


It’s time to order seeds, if you haven’t already done so. You can grow vegetables by seed that you could never purchase in a garden center or plant sale - unless you plan to spend all of your gardening time running from sale to sale. You may discover some favorite varieties.  If you are a seasoned gardener, please let us know what you like to grow...   

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Third Time's the Charm

This is my third attempt at resuming my blog posts for my beloved Mamie D. Lee Community Garden.  This year, for me, blogging has been a lot like gardening.  It takes a little while to figure things out and get it right.  Here's hoping that the third time's the charm!

Summer is officially here- the summer solstice was yesterday, June 21, 2013, the longest day of the year.  Lots of extra daylight for gardening.  It's not too late to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, cucumbers, and squash.  These are all "hot weather plants" and love the summer weather that is descending upon us.  Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant must be started from transplants, if you can still find any this late. Beans and squash can be started from seed.

Those of you whose garden plots were flooded with ample spring rains still have time to plant a nice summer garden.  Don't delay .... after July 4, you are running the risk of diminishing returns for heat loving crops.  More on that later.

Happy gardening!

Christina Scheltema

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In the Weeds - Alien Invaders

Rock Creek Park is home to many wonderful flora and fauna. Sadly, it is also home to a number of alien invaders. A few of these have crept into our garden.  Here are the invasive exotic plants that I have found in the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden, one of two community gardens in the park.

One hot spot for alien invaders is the fence adjacent to the Mamie D. Lee School. Clearing this fence was the project for a special work day. Ana Chuquin, a ranger from the US National Park Service, came out to help us identify invasive weeds growing along the fence. She showed us the difference between native and exotic vines - we have both growing.  Natives include poison ivy and trumpet creeper - whereas porcelain berry, pictured below, is the exotic invasive.  She also told us about the Rock Creek Park weed warrior program that trains volunteers in invasive weed species. This training, which she teaches, is 5 hours, half in the classroom, half in the field.  Once trained, weed warriors are asked adopt a piece of parkland - such as our fence or meadow - for a year.  The next weed warrior training session is September 16 and 19, 2015.  Please click on the link to register.

Porcelain berry vine with berries

The fence is covered with porcelain berry, which looks a little bit like a grape vine, except that the berries, which start green, turn a bright turquoise/blue color. This vine can take over an area.  The fence line is also home to some Japanese bush honeysuckle. Both spread readily by berries, eaten by birds and other wildlife. Remove the flowers and berries and you limit the spread.

Young shoot of  porcelain berry 

Porcelain berry pops up all over the garden, but it can be pulled as it emerges. The young shoots have a reddish brown tinge,  I find it growing near the hose bib in my plot.  This vine should not be neglected for long or it will cover anything and everything nearby.  

Porcelain berry wine with flower and green berries

 Japanese bush honeysuckle has lovely flowers that look just like honeysuckle vines but are not as fragrant.  The plant is a bush, with pinnate leaves.  The berries are a beautiful bright red; sadly, they are not nutritious for wildlife. I've heard them called "junk food" for birds.  This weed should be cut back and pulled. If you catch it before bloom, it can be composted. The blooms and berries should be bagged and discarded in the trash.

Japanese bush honeysuckle in bloom  

Japanese bush honeysuckle with berries

I've also see n mile-a-minute vine growing near that fence, but not this year.  This weed is a minute is a prickly green vine with triangular leaves that grows a mile a minute, hence its name.  This needs to be hand pulled as soon as it emerges.  The larger it gets, the pricklier it gets, and the harder it is to pull. Like porcelain berry, it also has turquoise blue berries.  This should be pulled as soon as it is soon.  If it is blooming, or has berries, it should be bagged and discarded in the trash.    

English ivy climbing tree along the fence
Another alien invader along the fence is English ivy.  This often escapes from yards and gardens.  It may be deliberately dumped in parkland by unscrupulous fly-by-night landscapers who want to dispose of it quickly and easily. The ivy takes root, climbs trees, and eventually kills them. It also destroys native habitat. Any English ivy in our garden should be pulled, bagged, and discarded in the trash. This weed should not be composted - it roots too easily.

Star of Bethlehem 

Scattered throughout the garden is a seasonal perennial weed that flowers in the spring - Star of Bethlehem.  I pulled lots of  this out of my plot this year - it has long and narrow green leaves, with a white stripe down the center, similar to a crocus - with green and white flowers blooming in later spring.  It is a late spring flowering bulb that goes dormant after flowering. These bulbs should be dug out, bagged, and discarded in the trash.

A few of our gardeners grow shiso, or Perilla, as an annual herb. This is a reddish Asian herb that is grown in many gardens - unfortunately it also escapes to the wild.  It looks like purple ruffled basil but with larger leaves and a very mild herbal fragrance. This can become invasive if allowed to go to seed.
Perilla, also known as Shiso  
There is a large healthy patch of Japanese Knotweed growing across the footpath from the garden. This is an incredibly invasive shrub that can take over an entire natural area, outcompeting native plants.  They say, however, that you can eat its shoots in the early spring.

Wineberry leaves and fuzzy stem

Wineberries grow along the Gallatin Street parking lot and footpath, at the edge of the woods to the south of the garden. These are my favorite alien invader - the berries are really tasty.  Wineberries are briar bushes, like raspberries, with small reddish fuzzy spines all over the stems.  The berries ripen in June, to become food for foragers - like me- and wildlife. I not-so-secretly hope that the Park Service is too busy to clear these.

Tree of Heaven Seedling
Last, but far from least, we have Tree of Heaven growing in the woods outside the garden, near the tool shed and compost. This is a dreadful invasive - when you cut down one tree, it sprouts shoots from the stump, like a hydra. It can form small thickets. I've heard forestry managers call it the "tree from hell," for this reason.  Tree of Heaven also reproduces by seed - I've pulled a few seedlings from the area near the compost, and suggest that you do the same. The National Park Service will be treating the parent trees with herbicide sometime this fall or winter.  

As I conclude this post, I'd like to share the National Park Service Publication on invasive weeds of the mid Atlantic.  It's a great reference book that I'm always giving away.  Learn to identify alien invaders, and remover them by any means necessary, even if that means you must ear them.
Happy gardening!